Here is an excerpt...(With some blemishes! I'm still working through the final edit.)
Chapter 1 - Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan
The terrain beyond Bagram Air Base, in eastern Afghanistan, was dark. Dark as interstellar space. Or as dark as Afghanistan on a moonless night. As far as Captain Ryan Clark was concerned, the two were the exact same shade of nothingness. The mountains that surrounded the base were invisible, though he knew from landing that they were looming tall all around them. There was the faint glow on the horizon to the south. He knew that was Kabul, which was just about forty miles away. He’d never been there, nor did he ever plan to be.
And he sure as hell didn’t want to be here, for that matter; and with every passing second the enormity of what he was doing seemed to multiply, tightening his already aching shoulders, and turning the sweat glands under his armpits into tiny open faucets.
At thirty-two feet above ground, the height of a three story building, and the height of the 747 400 cockpit seat he sat in, Clark could see most of the base to the south. Through the glass in front of him was the white paint of the nose cargo door, still flipped up and blocking the straight ahead view, but to his left and right he saw dusty tan tents under dollops of dim yellow lights, and the void beyond. Next to the plane on the right was a row of cargo containers - blue, red and brown - stacked in a line that he that he couldn’t see the end of, but knew extended hundreds of yards.
He squinted into the dark and willed something to happen. Whatever the hell it was going to be.
Someone entered the cockpit behind them and cleared their throat. “We’ll be ready to go in thirty minutes.”
Clark turned, already knowing it was the loadmaster, Vick.
Before the big bald man left, he locked eyes with Captain Clark and gave him a sustained expressionless look that spoke volumes. Thirty minutes left, I can’t stall anymore.
“All right! Let’s get outta here,” said the first officer with annoying cheer.
“Thank you, Vick,” Clark said, and turned to look back out the window. Let’s go, damn it.
Part of him was starting to hope it wouldn’t happen, and his breathing actually deepened at the thought. Now he found himself fantasizing that they would call in their flight plan, button up the aircraft, fire up the engines, and just leave. Just like any other of the hundreds of flights he’d done around the planet.
Of course, if that happened, he wouldn’t be living out the rest of his life in style. Without a care in the world. With all the money he could imagine, and then even more money than that.
And what would they think? They would laugh at him, and his entire idea, and think he was crazy for even bringing it up. No, they’d be disappointed in him, and probably be pretty pissed off. And how about Vick? Would he demand his money? Was that part of the look he’d just given him? Well, he wouldn’t get it. Not unless this thing went down. That would be some tension in Clark’s life he could do without. Vick was one of those iffy guys you didn’t want to mess with. Of course, that’s just why Clark had approached him months ago in Dubai. Because he was iffy.
Let’s freaking do this, guys. Clark rubbed a hand underneath his arm, then on his pants to wick the sweat off it.
“You want to program the FMS, and I’ll call ATC?” asked the first-officer. This Brad Renton character was getting on Clark’s already frazzled nerves, with his hopped up on coffee efficiency, and chipper attitude about everything.
“Yeah,” Clark said, because stalling anymore would have been just plain psychotic. “Yeah.”
Clark ignored the confused look Renton gave him and punched the buttons on the Flight Management System with shaky fingers. He wondered if it was the nerves, or if he needed a drink. Probably both. Probably more of the latter. No matter what happened, he was going to have a quad Crown and water when he landed in Dubai. And then another.
“Topaz,” Renton said into his microphone, “this is World Cargo 638. We are at cargo ramp Charlie, final altitude three-six—“
Clark’s stomach twisted and his vision swirled for an instant as he heard a muffled explosion somewhere out in the night. He turned and looked to the right and left of the nose-door, and couldn’t see anything. No smoke, no flash of light, no explosion. Then he realized the sound had come from behind them, through the open L1 door. It was happening.
Renton and Clark looked at each other with wide-eyes.
“Whoa,” Renton said.
Before Clark could come up with a response, the area erupted with sirens, and then the entire base flipped off to black. And this time when Clark looked out the window, it was like they were in interstellar space. He couldn’t remember seeing such darkness, other than up by his cabin in Colorado on a cloudy night.
A second later, Clark heard at least ten low thumps, followed a few seconds later by a series of huge explosions, this time in the far distance, too far to be on the base. He knew that would have been the almost instantaneous retaliation from the base. The anti-artillery radar would have triangulated the origin of the attack and sent a barrage of bombs to the exact spot, like a return lob in a deadly tennis match.
If anyone had still been outside the air base near the origination point, or any other mortars were waiting to go off nearby, they were now tiny pieces floating on the wind.
But Clark knew the retaliation would be a useless gesture.
Clark knew the men who set off the round would have been somewhere with a cell phone, activating a crude motor that would drop the mortar to the bottom of the tube, discharging it into the bustling air base with a push of a button. Somewhere much closer.
He looked out the window toward the line of containers to the plane’s right, now totally invisible in the darkness. He just hoped they were smart enough to aim the round in a place to minimize casualties. He’d seen death before. And he never wanted to be part of it again.
“All traffic hold position, stand by,” said a voice through their earphones.
Footsteps clanked up the L1 door stairs, and a few seconds later Vick was back inside the cockpit door. “Turn everything off, and come with me, gentlemen.”
They shut down everything and followed Vick down to the warm tarmac.
“This way,” said Vick as he swiveled a flashlight beam ahead of them. The radio on Vick’s chest was crackling with orders and responses, and there was a cacophony of muted, unseen noises coming from all over the base – revving engines, doors slamming closed, shouting men, and hurried footsteps.
Clark looked at the open main cargo door, and the aft belly door, black yawning mouths in the darkened plane, and wondered just how they were going to pull it off.
It didn’t matter to him. Vick was guaranteed one hundred thousand dollars on top of the five he’d already paid him to worry about it, a sum that would buy him all the liquor and hookers his heart could desire for years, and he said he would get it done, that’s all that mattered. Clark didn’t need to know how, and in fact, he was grateful he didn’t know. Plausible deniability and all.
Gretchenweld, the ride-on mechanic, joined them out of the darkness and stepped in stride. “What the hell’s going on?” he asked.
Vick slapped Gretchenweld on the shoulder, and looked over at Clark with a nod. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
Clark gave a quick nod, not knowing if his gesture was visible or not in the black night.
“You ever been through one of these before?” Renton asked.
Clark shook his head.
“Second for me. Last time, holy shit, they sent off three Tomahawks over the mountains. It was the loudest, brightest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You know what those Afghani guys out there do?” Gretchenweld said, “They pour ice into the mortar tubes, and put the round in. Then they take off into the mountains. A few hours later, ice melts, the primer hits the firing pin, and boom. We send out the return fire, but they’re long gone. You,” he pointed at Renton, “since you saw Tomahawks, they musta had some target they were hitting.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Damn, this is insane.”
Clark nodded, already growing weary of the conversation. “Damn,” he said.
Clark moved himself to the rear and stayed silent as the two men conversed behind Vick. They walked in front of two other 747’s and picked up another group of men along the way. Finally, they reached a bunker, which was a rectangle box of concrete with a steel roof. Clark thanked God it wasn’t a real attack, because the shelter looked damn inadequate to him.
Clark shuffled inside the open bunker, which was already occupied by five more men, and looked out onto the base. It was pitch black. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t see any of the planes.
“How about you?” The pilot took another drag of his cigarette, dimly illuminating the mustache on his upper lip. It was so dark that no one could see, yet for some reason the group of pilots huddled on the benches decided swapping life stories was a good idea. Forty-five minutes holding out in a bunker in war territory apparently did that.
And now it was Clark’s turn. “Uh, seven years now.”
The group broke out in a chorus of glib remarks.
“So why the hell are you here? I’d be flying to Hawaii, or the south of France with your seniority. What, did you screw up your scheduling this month? Or you piss someone off.”
None of your fuckin’ business.
“Nah,” Clark said jovially, “I just wanted to see what we were doing over here. You know. Curiosity I guess.” Clark shrugged, and realizing no one would have seen the gesture, so he finalized his statement. “I just like to go everywhere, ya know? Europe, Africa, South America. Australia. I want to see the world.”
“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” a voice came from the darkness, “I’ve been coming here exclusively for nine months.”
“Yeah.” Clark said, “Well, keep at it. You’ll get your seniority, and you’ll get some more freedom in your schedule. Then things get a lot more fun.”
The men inside the bunker grunted in approval.
Clark stood and stepped outside, through the stagnant cloud of cigarette smoke. He looked into the night again, then down at the glowing hands on his Breitling watch. It had been fifty-two minutes, and he’d been sensitive to the sounds of the base the whole time. He’d heard some vehicles driving by, some loud metal scraping, some large diesel engines, and other unidentifiable noises coming from unidentifiable destinations. There was no telling if he’d heard anything from the direction of the plane.
Just then a bouncing light materialized in the distance and came toward them.
They all quieted and watched the light approach. A minute later, a man stopped at the bunker. It was Vick.
“All right. We’re all clear,” he said.
Another couple flashlights approached and the men in the bunker said their goodbyes and scattered, following their designated loadmasters into the night to their waiting planes.
Clark felt a squeeze on his arm, and glanced at Vick who was walking next to him.
Vick kept his eyes forward. “We’re loading a few extra things now, we’ve put an updated manifest on your seat. Otherwise, when we get there, I think we’ll be ready to go in fifteen minutes.”
It was done.
Clark’s pulse quickened for an instant. It was really happening. Now he just had to not crash the plane, and it would be out of his hands. “Okay, sounds good.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence, apparently Renton and Gretchenweld were talked out, and climbed the stairs, and then went into the cockpit.
Clark picked up the updated manifest and looked at it while Renton flipped switches overhead. There was a list a mile long. Humvees. Rations. Equipment for refurbishing. Containers.
“Pfft.” He flipped through the document as if he was looking at a Chinese newspaper, and handed it to Renton.
Renton laughed and tucked it into the metal folder.
“All right,” Clark said, “Let’s try this again.”
He pecked the buttons of the FMS with a steady hand now, feeling a mixture of exhilaration and pity. Exhilaration for his future that awaited him. Pity for theirs.
He shook his head. Forty days. And that was if the ocean conditions were good, and that wasn’t counting any hold-ups on the railways in the states. Forty days, and then what was coming to them.
It was too much to think about. For now, he only thought of the tall glass of whisky wetting his lips, and that was enough to make him content.
Chapter 2 - Rocky Points Police Department, Colorado
“My uncle and I used to hike up there a lot. I love it up there, actually…”
And there was four.
Wolf went back to blocking out the drone of the greasy-headed underachiever in front of him, and stared up at a spider web in the corner of the ceiling. It was high up, gently swaying on the breeze of the air conditioner vent. Too high to stretch up and swipe it away, even with Wolf’s six-foot-three reach.
At least Wolf liked that about his new office. The politics? The fact that he had to be interviewing this candidate? That he didn’t like about his new office – his new position. But the ceilings? He loved the airy and light feel of the tall space.
He could probably scoot a chair underneath it and get at it. Wolf blew a puff of air out his nose as he realized how much thought he was putting into the whole thing.
Wolf snapped back to attention and looked at the interviewee.
He was smiling at Wolf, like he wanted in on the joke. He looked to the corner of the ceiling. “Whoa, got a doozy of a web up there. Don’t they clean this place?” He laughed too loud and sat back with one arm hooked to the back of the chair. Then he wiped his nose with a sniff and crossed his leg, displaying a smudge of dirt on the knee of his jeans. The sudden movement pushed another wave of body-odor across Wolf’s desk.
Nineteen-year-old Kevin Ash, nephew of the new Chairman of the Town Council of Rocky Points, Charlie Ash, was a shoo-out, and Wolf had just about heard and seen enough.
The only points Wolf could give the kid on self-presentation were for the collared shirt. Of course, it looked like he’d been storing the shirt in a tennis ball can for the last year.
Kevin winked conspiratorially. “I’ll tell my uncle they need to get someone on that.”
Then there were the shameless mentions of his uncle in order to help his chances of getting hired. That was Five mentions, now.
And with that, Wolf stood up and held out his hand. “Thanks, Kevin. I’ve got your resume, and I’ll be in touch.”
A wide smile stretched across Kevin’s face as he stood.
Wolf shook his hand, walked around his desk, and pushed him gently towards the door. He opened it, and pushed him a little harder into the hall.
“Uh, I guess I’ll check in with my uncle, or whatever, or I’ll just wait and see—“
“Yeah, don’t worry. I’ll be telling your uncle what I think. I’ll definitely be in touch with him.”
Relief replaced worry on Kevin’s face and he strutted his way through the squad room in front of Wolf. Kevin nodded and slapped his hand on the corner of Officer Baine’s desk on the way by.
Baine raised an eyebrow and looked up from his paperwork.
Wolf walked Kevin Ash through the door into reception, through reception, and then propped open the outside door with one hand. He waved Kevin out, sending him into the cool early-June morning, and out of his life.
“Thank you so much Sheriff Wo—“
The door clicked shut and Wolf walked to the glass enclosed reception desk where Tammy Granger sat glaring.
“Tammy. If you let another—“
Tammy coughed loud, pointing a discrete finger towards the seating area behind Wolf.
Wolf glanced behind him and saw a girl sitting stiffly in the chair by the window.
She was tiny, childlike at first glance, yet she was wearing a pantsuit. She sat stiffly, with her gaze fixed straight ahead out the window.
Wolf couldn’t help but stare a few seconds too long.
The young woman turned to him and smiled with a curt nod, then went back to staring outside, looking like she was doing a particularly tough calculation in her head, and solving it.
Wolf turned back to Tammy and gave another glance over his shoulder, intrigued by his interaction with the girl. The young woman, Wolf corrected himself.
He caught Tammy’s scowl and felt his face flush. He shouldn’t have kicked Kevin Ash out of the building like he did. But the process of hiring a new officer was getting to him, and the presence of Ash’s nephew was a flick in the ear he hadn’t needed from the Town Council Chairman. It was one thing that they were pushing him with an unreasonable deadline to decide on a new officer to hire, and it was another to force him to look at candidates like Kevin Ash – complete wastes of his time.
Wolf leaned a forearm on the reception counter and raised an eyebrow.
Tammy kept a blank face and scooted a manila folder across.
He didn’t grab it, and kept staring. She wasn’t giving any tells. Wolf shook his head. He liked Tammy. She was the forebrain of the force, manning the phones and any walk-ins, and she was also a motherly presence on the force. She looked out for all the officers, keeping abreast of each and every one of their personal lives, as to make sure they were living right. If an officer came in hung over, she’d know about it, and brow-beat said officer into promising better behavior in the future. If an officer had wronged a spouse, or a town member, they would have Tammy to answer to when she heard about it through the grapevine.
At two hundred pounds, she was built like a mountain woman who’d spent as much time cooking as chopping wood to heat the fires she cooked with. She was imposing, but smart, and also compassionate. In Wolf’s estimation, it was a combination that made her one of the best employees on the force. He likened her to a good assistant football coach.
And since Wolf was the head coach now, having been Sheriff for a little over eight months, he valued his assistant coach’s opinion. Wolf knew she had an opinion of the candidate sitting behind him. She’d studied the resumes harder than he had, and had already had a chance to interact with the candidate.
But she wasn’t letting on anything. Maybe Tammy was too disappointed in the entire process to play the game. What they both knew, was that the young woman sitting in the lobby was the final candidate he would talk to.
Then time was up. He needed to choose a new officer by Thursday, in two days, or the money wouldn’t be coming from the state of Colorado. The Town Council had made it clear enough to Wolf — they needed that money, and he needed to make a choice, or they would for him.
As the days of Gary Connell, the deceased former town council chairman, and his bottomless pockets, receded in the rear-view mirror, the council’s money grabbing was beginning to take on the personality of a hungry bear. They were ripping through town, upturning every opportunity to get any sort of funding, every cent from every source.
First they had concocted the idea of the Rocky Points Music Festival, which was going to be this weekend, kicking off Friday, and now there was the new hire.
It was clear that Wolf and his force were being proactive, and were ready, for the upcoming music festival. But as far as the new hire went, the council thought Wolf was dragging his feet. He wasn’t. He just wasn’t going to hire some lackey to fill a quota. And he wasn’t going to hire Kevin Ash, the new Town Council Chairman’s moronic nephew just to fill the position and to score some political points.
Only, what Tammy knew just as well as Wolf, the seven candidates he’d seen so far had fallen woefully short. And now, here was the final candidate. She was also a “recommendation” by a Town Council member, Margaret Hitchens.
Chairman Ash’s nepotistic hopes were certainly going to be denied by Wolf. If he had to disappoint two council members — well, that was probably going to make things sticky for his future.
Wolf took a breath and slapped the manila folder on his leg, and then turned with a smile. “Heather Patterson?”
She scooted forward until her feet were flat on the ground, and then stood up and faced Wolf. “Yes sir.”
Wolf was startled by her short stature, and he knew he was showing it.
Her glacial pool blue eyes were unwavering as she stepped forward with an outstretched hand. Her shoulder length dark brown hair had a tint of auburn in it, and it was pulled back on one side, fastened with a series of silver hair clips.
Her handshake grip was small, firm, and confident, like the rest of her seemed to be.
“Nice to meet you.” Wolf said.
Wolf waved a hand towards the door. “This way.”
She stepped past Wolf, wafting a soft, flowery aroma into his nostrils. The smell of Kevin Ash was finally a memory.
The door clicked and they entered into the squad room.
See you December 5th!
See you December 5th!