Happy Samhain! The Spirits have guided me to do a giveaway of ALL my books (with the exception of SWORD OF MICHAEL, which still technically belongs to Baen Books till my lawyers wrest it back — SOM would be a PERFECT Samhain book if you want to buy one though!)
The book giveaway starts at midnight tonight, and runs until midnight tomorrow, all through Samhain/Halloween. All my books are FREE. Download and tell your friends!
And click away after midnight…cue Jonny Maxwell courtesy of Patsy Cline: “I go out walking, after midnight, in the moonlight, just a-searching for you…”
If you don’t know Jonny, download NO OTHER OPTION and check him out!
Here’s the cover from the next book:
I’ve been bogged down with Other Life Matters on this book, and a more interesting temporary work slow down. For the first time, ever, in a very long time of writing, I’ve had to stop myself, and ask: Do I really want to go here?
”Here” is into the dark place of this particular bad guy’s head-space. As my long time readers know, my bad guy and gal antagonists have been regularly lauded by readers, other authors, and reviewers as some of the “best of the best in bad” — and I get more than a few sideways glances when people ask “How do you come up with characters like these?”
I’m a student of human nature and a street psychologist, and finding examples of evil isn’t hard to find when you spend a lot of time close to the street as I do. My friend Lance Storm of WWE fame sponsored an international book club for years, and the essay I wrote for him and the readers who tackled WARRIOR IN THE SHADOWS kind of says it all about my preoccupation with evil characters:
In this latest book, I’ve been experimenting with classic pulp fiction structure as exemplified in the old DOC SAVAGE, EXECUTIONER, and STARK book series. You take an approximate word length of 60,000 words, break it into four quads of 15,000 words, subdivide into two smaller pieces of 7500 words, and structure your acts along those lines. Act One is the first 15,000; Act Two is the middle 30,000; Act Three is the final 15,000. So classic Aristotle structure, yeah? What happens in the STARK books is something I wanted to try: the first half of the book is all about the protagonist(s) setting up their heist, hit, whatever, when they get betrayed/set up/ambushed at the mid-point. The third quad is all from the perspective of the bad guy who has set them up at the mid-point. The fourth quad is the final act and is breakneck action culminating in a satisfying resolution and set up for the next book.
Dead easy, right? I’ve done it in all my novels, short stories, screenplays.
I slammed — hard — into a stoppage on my third act and I’ve spent some time reflecting on why that is so. Part of it is that the bad guy in this book is a very perverse and corrupt cop, and I generally avoid painting LE as bad guys (which is not to say there are none). I had a discussion with a Super Cop I’ve known most of his career who’s a long time reader, and he agreed that a lot of the cops who read my books disliked, for instance, Nina Capushek a Super Cop portrayed as an alcoholic who deals with on the job stress with alcohol.
”Yeah,” he said. “They don’t like reading about it, even when they’re off getting hammered when they’re off shift and before they go home so they can manage their own stress.”
So that was part of it.
The other part of it is I had fun with evil in my last three books (compiled into a Game of Thrones length multi novel titled WYLDE: BOOKS 1-3). This bad guy wasn’t and isn’t fun to write, but I feel compelled to do so anyway.
Why? One is to explore my own resistance. Two is that this character was inspired by some true life stories that have come my way from various sources, stories that left me, as a long time supporter and trainer of LE, as someone who wore a badge, completely and totally repulsed and outraged. Three is that my readers LOVE bad guys…
I’ll save the gut wrenching intro to our bad guy for the release. In the meantime, meet Salt and Sanchez, two honorably retired disabled veterans, minding their own business, which is ridding the world of the worst assholes like a Two Fer Equalizer collaboration.
When the call came to kill a man, Salt was in his garage, systematically breaking the bones of the last man he’d killed. He ignored the buzzing of his iPhone. He only answered when he expected a call which was not often. Anyone who knew his cell phone number knew he’d call back.
His usual disposal method was to transport the body to one of his designated dump points, remove the head and hands, then open the torso to expose the intestines. He prepped his dump sites for months in advance. They were all out in the country, on the edges of older or abandoned farms, where feral dogs and coyotes competed for dinner.
He trained the canids by dumping pig carcasses in his site, and returned over a period of weeks to gauge progress. After two or three carcasses, the scavengers knew to check the site, and within twenty-four hours the meat was rent and spread wide. What scraps remained melted into the old farm soil beneath the trees and in the brush.
Heads and hands were different.
He hammered the teeth out and scattered those by the handful as he drove along a country road, or the night highway. The head and hands would go into a spring, or a pond, or a river, to be fed upon by fishes, turtles, water birds.
He enjoyed watching the fish snap at the meat, or a turtle or osprey dive for a treat. Salt found it satisfying to participate in the Great Wheel of Nature, returning meat to the Great Cycle, to feed another one of God’s creatures.
He rarely brought bodies home. Don’t shit where you eat was Marine wisdom. Don’t kill or take bodies home was a logical progression from known wisdom. This kill had become complicated when someone drove through the kill zone and slowed to watch the target struggle against the rear naked choke Salt had laid deep on him. Salt bundled the unconscious man into the stolen car and exfiltrated in a hurry. Per tradecraft the vehicle was compromised, so he finished killing the man in the alley beside his car. With the body stuffed in his trunk, he drove off to beat the sunrise and returned home where he could work in the privacy of his garage.
He liked his garage. He had room for any of his five vehicles. The one that he associated most with this address was a discreet and battered Honda Accord. The USMC globe and anchor flag took up the back wall over a heavy work bench with his gun smithing and reloading equipment set up. Hand tools were mounted on pegboard, each tool outlined on the pegboard in black paint, so that any visitor, and he occasionally had some, would replace any tool they laid hands on to the exact place it came from.
Salt required order in all things.
He didn’t want to deal with blood, fecal matter and urine in the garage, so breaking the big bones would make it easier to stuff the target into the wheeled duffel he’d pulled out of his bin of assorted carriage methods for just these instances. He had a folding tree saw and pliers set aside for the fine work, which he’d do out in the field. The particular one he had in mind had a nice isolated pullout down the dirt road.
He’d already shattered the spine and was dislocating the hips when his phone buzzed.
He was curious who would call him twice. He paused in his work and checked the phone.
He’d return that call.
Her phone rang in his ear. She answered.
“Baby, I got a problem.”
He waited. She, as usual, became nervous with the prolonged silence.
“You tell me not to talk about this kinda stuff on the phone, baby.”
“It’s one of those things.”
“Can you come by?”
Salt considered the remaining tasks. Break the body, pack it up, take it to the dump site, cut the head and hands off, drive those to a water location and dump them…estimated another 2-3 hours. He looked at his battered and scratched USMC issue GSAR wristwatch. 1100 now, be done around 1400, get something to eat and a cup of coffee, swing by and listen to Lydia.
“Be there at 1500.”
“Baby…what is that in regular people time?”
He did the calculation. “Three o’clock.”
“Georgie gets home about three thirty or so…”
She paused. “Okay…thank you.”
He disconnected the call and went back to his task.
Raul Sanchez sauntered. He no longer ran. The Marines got his knees, his ankles, his feet after too many long runs on hard pavement and too many hard parachute landings. He got 75% disability and would likely hit 100% in a few years. As a proud Latin man he had the swagger down, but with a limp, so he worked on his saunter. When the weather was bad — cold, wet, windy — the deep ache in the bone got to him and then he’d use a cane. It enraged him that at 38 he’d be on a stick, but it was what it was.
It is what it is.
That’s what his lawyer from the VFW said after he’d ramrodded Raul’s claim through a four year backlog.
It was exactly 2.7 miles once around Lake Harriet, and the walkway was clear and flat and well paved. If he worked his saunter, it took him between an hour and a half to two hours, depending on the scenery, all the fit lovelies running, jogging or power walking the same pathway. Even more if he worked his patter on some, which was often.
It had been a long winter. In spring everyone came out. There were early rude ones who would dominate the paths in hot weather — shouting “On your left” as they biked by, or bumping past you, handicapped limping veteran with a cane or not, which occasionally pissed Raul off enough to say something, though he was careful not to go overboard.
Not that he was worried about going overboard on some rude asshole.
He parked his van near the bandshell in a handicapped spot. By way of recompense for his four year wait for his disability claim to be approved, his VFW lawyer had wrangled a significant grant to modify or purchase a handicapped accessible vehicle even though technically he wasn’t quite to the point where he needed one. It made for a good walking loop though — he made his clockwise circuit around the lake and ended up in his van, then drove to one of a dozen coffee shops where he was known by name to the baristas — the cuter the better — and he’d work on his morning linger over coffee.
Between his medical retirement and his disability he had almost $3500 tax free monthly, which for a beat up Force Recon Gunnery Sergeant with simple tastes kept him in gas, beer, coffee, and bullets.
And for the occasional classy date when he got lucky.
It enabled his side hustle, too.
His business partner in the side hustle was sitting where you’d expect him to be, perched on a bench, watching the crowd, being the Invisible Man he was in the city or in the woods or in the mountains or the desert. Salt sipped from a large paper cup, and another large cup was tucked into a carrier beside him, with a white paper bag with the top folded neatly, twice, beside that.
Just as reliable as death and taxes.
Raul limped to the bench, plopped himself down.
“How’s the spotting, dude?” Raul said. He took the larger cup, sipped. “Good. Where’d you get it?”
“That old man I like. Up the hill.”
“Linden Hills Coffee. Old Jim. He’s a character.”
“He likes dogs.”
“I like an old man that likes dogs and coffee. He’s got the right attitude about things.”
“True that, Guns. True that.”
“Nice sweet roll in there, too.”
“Nice of you to look after my diet.”
“I don’t eat that shit but I know you need it. Gets your brain working.”
“My brain works all the time, Salt. That’s my problem.”
“Less time thinking, more time doing.”
“I did get laid the other night. Does that count as doing?”
Salt grinned. “I reckon.”
“She liked being done.”
“You got a gift.”
“True that, Guns. True that.”
Salt watched an osprey circling high above the lake.
“You ever see one of them take a fish?” Salt said.
“Beautiful. Just hangs there then drops like a stone. Bang! Comes up with a fish.”
Raul fished out his roll. A chocolate bear claw. Good.
“Little while ago.”
“So what we got?”
Salt took a long contemplative pull on his coffee. “A cop.”
“A cop? A fucking cop? Since when we war on cops, Salt?”
Salt stared at the lake. Gulls circled. Their squawk carried over the water.
“We war on cops when they dishonor the oath. When they dishonor their badge. When they become the fucking criminals and hide behind the shield they’re supposed to be when they pin that badge on.”
Raul grinned. “Dang. Not pissed or anything are you?”
“Not enough to be a sick animal. Got to be a sick animal with a badge.” He drained his coffee and crushed the cup in his fist. “Got to be a sick animal with children.”
“That’s the trifecta,” Raul said. “I guess I get to be the adult in this conversation?”
“No,” Salt said. “We both get to be adults. Only time I might get childish is when it comes time to do this guy.”
“You know how I know when you’re pissed off, Salt?”
“Been around me most of your adult life, I reckon.”
“There’s that.” Raul stared out at the lake, the birds circling, the oblivious passerby deep in conversation or listening to their music, headphones pressed deep in their ear, blocking out the rest of the world. “It’s about the only time you say more than a sentence or two. You get downright garrulous.”
“What the fuck is that?”