Jul 222014
 

The post Start Reading Bravo by Greg Rucka appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Bravo by Greg RuckaIn his explosive new novel, Greg Rucka reveals that the plot against America is far from over. Jad Bell saving the day in Alpha? A minor setback. Read the first chapter of Bravo below and watch the wheels set back in motion.

Chapter One

“You look tired,” she says, moving out of the doorway to let him inside. “Do you want to talk about it?”

The soldier enters, moves his cover to his hands, holding the hat in a way that makes him feel half her age, though he’s most of the way through fifty and she’s not seen the edges of thirty yet. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t move as she shuts and locks the door behind him, comes back to put a gentle touch on his elbow. She looks at him curiously, concerned, then shakes her head in such a way that her hair shifts and gently sways, exposes bare neck from collar to jawline. He sees her skin, feels an almost magnetic tug, an immediate urge to wrap his arms around her and inhale her scent. He’s too old to believe that doing so will make it all better, but it’s what he feels. He thinks about the fact that he should’ve waited before coming here, before talking to her. He thinks that he doesn’t have a choice.

“Jamieson’s dead,” the soldier says.

She nods slightly, a touch of sympathy in her expression, in the movement, and he thinks it’s for his sake, and not for the dead man she has never met, hardly even knew.

“I’ll make you a drink,” she says. “I’ve got some of that rye you like.”

He nods, moves into the large front room. Floor-to-ceiling windows that would show the gleam of the capital at night, but the curtains are drawn, the way they always are when he arrives. He’s never seen them open, never seen the view out of her condo here in the West End. This town, he knows, keeps a secret like a four-year-old at a birthday party. When he visits, he visits at night, drives straight into the underground lot, takes the spot that’s always open. Normally, he changes out of uniform before coming here.

Tonight is not normal.

The soldier takes a seat, sets his hat beside him, loosens his tie and his collar. When she comes back with the drink, he takes it from her hand, sets it aside. She raises an eyebrow.

“You don’t want a drink you should’ve said so.”

The soldier pulls her to him, meets her mouth with his own. She kisses him back with full hunger, uncaged; it’s what she’s been waiting for.

When they reach her bedroom, he keeps much of his uniform on, at least for a while.

Afterward, embracing every cliché, she lights a cigarette and shares it with him, resting on her elbow, the ashtray balanced on his sternum. He stares at the ceiling. It’s the lost hours, between three and five in the morning, and the only sounds are the hum of the air-conditioning and, just beyond, the muted tick of the clock on the bedside table. He can feel her gaze, studying him. Her patience is unnerving, and he cannot stop his mind from spinning into questions. He knows what she’s waiting for.

“He can name his price.”

She sucks on the cigarette, exhales toward the ceiling, places the filter back between his lips. He swears he can taste her on it.

“I’ll tell him that,” she says.

“I want to talk to him this time. No middleman, not like it was with Jamieson. I want to deal with him directly.”

She shakes her head slightly. He knew she would.

“We bought a service,” the soldier says, recalling her own phrasing. “It didn’t execute.”

“You knew there was an element of risk. You embraced that when you told me what Jamieson and the others wanted to buy.”

“It didn’t execute.” He puts the cigarette out in the ashtray, feels the sharp point of heat of the cinder dying on the glass against his skin. He moves the ashtray to the nightstand, and when he rolls back, she is exactly as she was before. “We’re no better off than when we started.”

“I’ve seen the news, baby. We both know that’s not true.”

“It’s not enough. It’s not what we wanted.”

She shrugs, and it’s as elegant as every other movement she makes. He wonders, not for the first time, what she was before she was this. He used to think she was as American as he, but over time he has revised that theory. There’s an Eastern European touch to her beauty, to the dark hair and dark eyes and almost too-fair skin. When he’s tried to look into who she really is—carefully, very, very carefully—all the answers come back entirely plausible, the banal lies of espionage that he has come to recognize from thirty years of service. When he’s asked her, her response has always been the same.

“I am what you need me to be.”

She’s been a lot of things for him. She’s been an ardent and eager and skilled lover. She’s been a woman who has made him feel adored and strong and potent. She’s been a comfort, laughing at the right time at the right jokes, asking the right questions when he needed to talk about himself. She’s been a confessor, listening to secrets he has no right to tell anyone else. She’s been the gateway. When the soldier and Jamieson and the others concluded what they needed to do to save their country, she heard the edge of conspiracy in his voice, and she offered the way to the means. It was she who told the soldier she knew a man who knew a man who could provide the terror they wanted. It was she who put Jamieson and the Uzbek in the same place at the same time.

She’s been all these things, but right now, he needs her to be something else. Right now, he needs her to be a rope, he needs her to keep him from drowning. Right now, the soldier needs her to tell him that what he’s done, what they’ve done, cannot come back to harm them, and that there is still a way forward.

She moves against him, lays her head against his chest. One hand finds his, laces fingers.

“Tell me what you want,” she says. “Tell me what you’re offering. I’ll speak to him, and I’ll tell you what he says.”

A sudden, sharp anger bursts in him. He resents her patience, resents what feels like condescension from this woman so much
younger than he, who makes him hard despite himself, who has secrets he cannot uncover. He grips her wrists and rolls atop her, pins her arms over her head, and the way she yields only makes him that much more frustrated and aroused. She’s looking up at him unafraid, that same expression, as if anything he might do to her now is what she wants him to do, or, worse, what she expects from him, that he is entirely predictable to her. She pushes against his grip, but only just. She opens her legs.

“We want what we paid for,” the soldier says.

She arches, receiving him, makes a sound that thrills him.

“Yes,” she says.

“You tell him that. You tell him that.”

“Yes.”

“You tell him…oh…goddamn it…”

“Yes.”

“…damn you, goddamn you, woman…”

“Yes.”

“…tell him…”

“Yes.”

“…we want…”

“Yes.”

“…we want the war we paid for!”

After a time, his hands leave her wrists, and she wraps her arms around him, and the silence returns, the air conditioner, the ticking of the clock, the racing of his pulse. Her lips brush his ear.

“He’ll want something in return.”

The post Start Reading Bravo by Greg Rucka appeared first on Mulholland Books.

May 132014
 

The post Start Reading SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Jackal appeared first on Mulholland Books.

SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Jackal by Don Mann with Ralph PezzulloToday Mulholland Books is proud to publish Book 4 in Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo’s SEAL Team Six series, which plunges us into Guadalajara, Mexico, where the lawless streets are ruled by drug cartels. Captain Thomas Crocker and the rest of SEAL Team Six have been sent there to rescue a senator’s wife and daughter from the clutches of The Jackal, a drug lord who may bring to mind El Chapo. But Pezzullo and former Navy SEAL Don Mann remind us that serving one’s country isn’t just about taking down the bad guys—it’s also about facing death and taking responsibility. In this short excerpt from Hunt the Jackal, we meet Crocker at a vulnerable moment.

Pushed by the same wild, relentless energy he’d had since he was a kid, Crocker rode his Harley south, winding through country roads, not really aware of where he was going or why, just enjoying the rural scenery, the sunshine, smells of nature, and fresh air. There was something liberating about being on the open road with no real destination. Edenton, Tarboro, Rocky Mount, Smithfield, Clinton, Whiteville, Marion, Lake City. Towns flew by, schools, churches, golf courses, junkyards filled with rusting cars and buses, lakes.

He was searching for an answer or direction. Was it time to retire, leave the teams, and start something new? Had his string of narrow escapes from tragedy run out?

As he rode, he thought about his mother and father, and the cycle of life and death.

His mother had died of emphysema several years ago, but his father was still alive and living in Fairfax, Virginia. Lately, he’d befriended a thirty-five-year-old Gulf War vet named Carla and her nine-year-old son. According to Crocker’s sister, their dad had been giving Carla money—possibly as
much as twenty thousand dollars so far.

Maybe the old man was lonely and she was taking advantage. Or maybe Carla was a good person and meant to pay him back.

When Crocker was eighteen and constantly in trouble with the police, his father had told him a Cherokee story about a man and his grandson.

The grandfather, seeing that his grandson was being self-destructive, said, “My son, there’s a battle between two wolves inside us. One is evil. It’s jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is good. It’s joy, hope, humility, kindness, and truth.”

The boy thought about it and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old man replied quietly, “The one you feed.”

For the past twenty-some years, since joining the navy, Crocker had fed the good wolf. But now he could sense the bad wolf’s hunger. It was a big hole at the bottom of his soul carved out by the people he’d killed in the line of duty, and his anger at life’s injustices, and the wrongs that had been visited on the people he loved.

Last night he had stopped in Santee, South Carolina, and eaten blackened catfish for dinner, washed down with several Skull Coast Ales. Later he’d parked near the state park, watched the stars, and reminded himself that even they weren’t immortal. Everything in nature came and went. Stars died and broke up into asteroids. Trees felled in lightning storms rotted into mulch. People died and were consumed by worms. Maybe there was such a thing as reincarnation. He didn’t know.

What he understood was that life went on, mysteriously, hurtling toward something new, like he was now.

Don Mann (CWO3, USN) is the author of the national bestseller Inside SEAL Team Six and the SEAL Team Six series of thrillers and has for the last thirty years been associated with the Navy SEALS as a platoon member, assault team member, boat crew leader, advanced training officer, and more recently, program director preparing civilians to go to BUD/s (SEAL Training). Up until 1998 he was on active duty with SEAL Team Six. Since his retirement, he has deployed to the Middle East on numerous occasions in support of the war on terror. Many of the active duty members of SEAL Team Six are the same guys he taught how to shoot and conduct ship and aircraft takedowns, and trained in urban, arctic, desert, river, and jungle warfare, as well as Close Quarters Battle and Military Operations in Urban Terrain. He has suffered two broken backs, two pulmonary embolisms, and multiple other broken bones in training or service. He has twice survived being captured during operations.

Co-writer Ralph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author and award-winning playwright, screenwriter and journalist. His books include Jawbreaker (with CIA operative Gary Berntsen).

The post Start Reading SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Jackal appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Apr 152014
 

The post Start Reading Overwatch by Marc Guggenheim appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Overwatch by Marc GuggenheimToday marks the publication date of Marc Guggenheim’s thriller, Overwatch. Equal parts legal suspense and espionage thriller, Overwatch follows CIA lawyer Alex Garnett as he unravels a worldwide conspiracy, a hazardous path that leads him directly to his own superiors within the intelligence community. Below, read the harrowing opening, which takes place in an Iranian hospital—across the world, but only one button away, from Washington, DC.

OVER YAZD, IRAN
2330 HRS. ZULU

The desert sand stirs for a moment before coiling up like smoke in the direction of the blowback created by the Sikorsky MH-53J’s titanium-and-steel rotor blades. The Sikorsky sails just a few feet above the sand dunes, flying low to avoid radar detection. In whisper mode, the helicopter makes a sound more evocative of a golf-course sprinkler than a 38,238-pound troop carrier. Inside, the men of the 21st Dust Devils Special Operations Squadron of the 352nd Special Operations Group wait without a word of chatter passing between them. This silence, however, is not tactically mandated. This silence is a function of the fucking heat. On a night like this, the stale, hot desert air can push the mercury well over one hundred degrees, which is uncomfortable, at best, when one is completely naked but almost intolerable when wearing thirty pounds of ordnance and Kevlar. Even with years of training, these soldiers have to concentrate simply to keep from passing out. That kind of effort takes focus that’s best not wasted on talking.

Not that the Dust Devils have much to talk about in any case. The pre-op briefing they received in Iskenderun has been repeated and reviewed so many times, the mission objectives are as familiar to them as their home phone numbers. These objectives were applied to the general insertion-and-extraction scenario the men have drilled on so often that muscle memory will do more than half the work for them. So long as the hostages are where the intel indicates they are, the Dust Devils think, this op will not be unlike going to the grocery store to extract a quart of milk, a confidence shared by every man in the unit, even the more historically fluent who recall Captain Edward A. Murphy’s famous remark “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

But then, Captain Murphy was air force, not Special Forces.

The Sikorsky’s two rear wheel sets kiss the roof of Ardakan Charity Hospital. A falling leaf makes more noise. Less than two seconds later, five pairs of boots spill out. In one fluid move, Sergeant First Class Robert Gundy takes the point as his men fall into a standard two-by-two cover formation behind him. The deployment is only slightly more coordinated than a ballet you might see on any given night at Lincoln Center.

Gundy shoots a look to his right to find that the roof-access door is precisely where the briefing given by his CO said it would be. With a sharp jab of his finger, he gives Sergeant Bellamy the signal to unlock the door, which Bellamy does with practiced efficiency and the aid of a hydrosulfuric acid mixture that bubbles and hisses through the lock like a destructive Alka-Seltzer. After a few seconds of chemical activity, Bellamy pops the lock as easily as if he were walking down a flight of stairs.

The Dust Devils navigate the utility stairwell, taking the steps two at a time, and arrive at their designated floor. Gundy places a gloved hand on the bar that their briefing indicated would open the door into the intensive care unit, the lone barrier now separating him and his men from the rest of a hospital staffed and occupied mostly by civilians. He hopes he won’t have to kill any of them but knows that such hope is futile. The thought gives him pause for maybe half a second.

Gundy pushes the door open to reveal the ICU. The room is both dark and quiet, two things no hospital anywhere in the world is. Shit’s wrong, Gundy thinks. Too damn quiet for a hospital. A hospital in the States, at least, he corrects himself. No electricity’s just SOP for a BFC like Iran. “Standard operating procedure” for a “backward fucking country.” He gives the signal for the men to don their AN/PVS-22 Night Vision goggles.

Gundy taps a button and the view through his goggles shifts from murky blackness to the ethereal green light of infrared. Activating the infrared also toggles the settings on the mini-cam mounted to each man’s helmet, so the video feeds transmitted via WiFi back to the Sikorsky are simultaneously shifted to Night Vision. The Sikorsky, in turn, uploads the data—after encrypting it—to a KH-11 satellite flying in geosynchronous orbit directly overhead. It takes approximately 1.68 seconds for the bird to decode, re-encrypt, and relay the video back to Earth, where the data stream can be unencrypted yet again and displayed on an LCD flat-screen. “As good as the feed is, it’s not much good,” a professorial-looking Paul Langford mutters, scrutinizing the video.

Behind Langford, the Operations Center is abuzz with focused activity. A cadre of a dozen men, all wearing nondescript business suits, dutifully attend to their jobs at workstations consisting of computer displays, ebony keyboards, and touchpad interfaces. There is no reason other than personal habit that Langford is peering at the LCD monitor. The same footage plays on a matrix of flat-screens arrayed on the op-center wall, almost as large as a movie screen. With the overhead fluorescents dimmed, the green-tinted night-vision imagery provides most of the lighting in the room, casting the entire space in a ghostly emerald hue.

Watching the images come in from Gundy’s helmet cam, Langford takes all of eight seconds to verbalize his misgivings, which he does in three syllables: “Call it off.”

“Misplaced your balls, Paul?” William Rykman, a taciturn man five years Langford’s senior, says. He has a military bearing to go with his thick, marine-like physique. A Brillo pad of hair tops a severely angular face that frames eyes as cold as a New England winter. He’s got a knack for simultaneously criticizing Langford and challenging his manhood with the most economy of words.

Langford and Rykman aren’t on each other’s Christmas-card lists, but what they lack in friendship, they make up for in mutual respect. They share a bond that’s closer than blood, even closer than marriages lasting for decades. It’s the type of bond born of holding another man’s intestines inside his torso with your bare hand while concussion grenades explode over both your heads.

“Balls have nothing to do with it, Bill, and you damn well know that. Something’s not right here.”

“We’re not going to get another chance at this,” Rykman reminds him in a level voice.

“Jahandar got wise to what we’re trying to pull, Bill. It’s time to go to plan B.”

“Agreed. Soon as we get the men from plan A back.”

“Those men are acceptable losses. An entire division of Special Forces troops is not.” Langford tries to keep his voice as even as Rykman’s but can’t quite pull it off. At the end of the day, that’s what really distinguishes the two men: Langford’s heart may have grown cold decades ago, but Rykman’s has always been at absolute zero. Assuming he has one to begin with.

“I hope I don’t have to remind you that I’m in command here,” Rykman replies. “I make the tactical decisions. I define the acceptable level of loss.”

“Bill—”

“Green light.” Rykman says this not to Langford but to Tyler Donovan, a short but stocky crew cut of a man who had any trace of independent thinking removed by time and training long ago.

Donovan glances over to Rykman’s seat, slightly removed from the table, before repeating the “Green light” order into the system that keeps him in real-time communication with the Dust Devils, half a world away.

Those two syllables are all Gundy needs. He flashes the signal to commence the next stage of the operation, extraction: His index and middle fingers in a V-for-victory sign, he points to his goggle-clad eyes and then pulls the fingers down. Night Vision off.

Bellamy is up next. He throws a flash-bang grenade down the hospital corridor. The hallway lights up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, blinding and disorienting the armed guards keeping watch at the other end. It takes only three silenced shots—which sound like someone spitting out watermelon seeds—to send the guards to Allah. The corridor now secure, the Devils continue their practiced attack, moving down the hallway and into the room where their pre-op briefing told them the hostages would be.

Gundy switches on his Maglite, tacitly giving his men permission to turn on theirs. The high-wattage flashlight beams cut the room into sections. Light dances around before coming to rest on the faces of six men, all strapped to gurneys. Faces, however, would be inaccurate. One of the men has been relieved of his right eye. Another is missing a nose. A third has had his skin peeled off, and an eyelid, which exposes a milky white sphere that glows in the reflected light. The eye, like those of the other men, has no spark of life.

None of the Devils blanch. They’ve seen worse done to men, and worse still done to women and babies. If they have an emotional response at all, it’s not disgust or sorrow, but rage. And the rage is fueled not by the depravity done to their countrymen but by the realization that comes too late: They’ve been had.

Marc Guggenheim practiced law at one of Boston’s most prestigious firms before leaving to pursue his dream of writing for television. He is currently the co-creator of the hit CW show Arrow and lives in Los Angeles.

The post Start Reading Overwatch by Marc Guggenheim appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Mar 142014
 
(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on October 18, 2007.) PAL JOEY is an early novel of John O'Hara's from 1940 that’s told in the form of letters from Joey, a struggling nightclub singer in the Midwest, to his friend Ted, a much more successful singer and bandleader. I was aware of PAL JOEY only as a movie musical I’ve never seen starring Frank Sinatra and didn’t know
Mar 112014
 

The post Introducing Marnie Logan appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Watching You by Michael RobothamThe wait is finally over! From New York Times bestselling author Michael Robotham comes the newest book in his Joseph O’Loughlin series, Watching You. This suspense novel builds tension and raises the stakes with every page—Booklist notes in their starred review that “Robotham slowly, expertly begins tightening the screws…Revelations increase rather than release tension until the last page.” And when you get to that shocking ending? Entertainment Weekly promises, “It’ll keep you guessing and gasping.”

Watching You introduces us to Marnie Logan, a woman in a desperate situation. Michael Robotham explains:

)

Eager to dip into the book? You can read the opening chapters on Michael Robotham’s Facebook page.

The post Introducing Marnie Logan appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Jan 072014
 

Our favorite books are the ones that surprise us, either by deviating from the clichés of crime fiction, reclaiming those motifs in fresh new ways, or blurring the boundary between genres. Thomas Sweterlisch—whose terrific debut scifi-noir novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, will be published in July—shares with us a list of a dozen books that bridge the gap between science fiction and crime fiction.

Crime writers have perfected the art of fusing the mechanics of plot to explorations of the human condition, so it comes as no surprise that crime and mystery novels often serve as the primary influence for some of the greatest science fiction writing.  Narrowing down a list of novels that blend science fiction with mystery writing is difficult—so, please, if I’ve left out a great book, let me know!—but here is a list of twelve of my favorites:

The City and The City by China Miéville

The City and The City by China Miéville

A young woman’s corpse is found in a rubbish-strewn skate park near the docks of a city called Besźel.  he senior detective on scene is Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad, but what begins as an investigation into this woman’s death escalates into an international conspiracy involving Besźel’s neighboring city, Ul Qoma—two cities separated by fierce political and cultural differences. Or are they, in fact, the same city? Miéville’s brilliant procedural is set in this labyrinthine world of overlapping cities, lending a Borgesian complexity to a story of crime and conspiracy.

Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Early in his career, Jonathan Lethem wrote genre-bending science fiction that was as equally bleak as it was comic. “Gun, with Occasional Music” torques Chandleresque P.I. fiction into a future California where Conrad Metcalf tracks the wife of a doctor who soon turns up dead—a classic set up for a private eye. Metcalf is forced to negotiate government-sponsored mind control, tracking his own “karma points” and dealing with highly evolved animals that can walk and talk, including a kangaroo hit man—problems Marlowe never had to deal with.

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl: Poems by Karyna McGlynn

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl: Poems by Karyna McGlynn

One of the most compelling collections of poetry I’ve ever read, this book has haunted my imagination for quite some time. These poems distill the essence of noir and the mind-bending sense of fragmented identity of the best time travel narratives. Highly recommended.   

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

Houellebecq is among the most challenging and brilliant writers of our time—many of his works use science fiction tropes to explore sexuality, religion, science and death. The Map and the Territory is Houellebecq’s most accessible book, an examination of visual art told through the story of Jed Martin, a world-famous painter preparing for a show of new works. Although this book is neither science fiction nor a mystery novel per se, it uses elements of both—a near future setting that speculates on art’s role in our current and future society, and the investigation of a startling and gruesome murder that drives the book to its conclusion.

The Nova Trilogy by William Burroughs

The Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded, Nova Express) by William Burroughs

Radical in his use of experimental technique and graphic sexual content, Burroughs remains one of the most influential literary figures of the past century—playing an important role in Beat poetics, “postmodern” fiction, New Wave science fiction and Cyberpunk.  Following his most famous novel, The Naked Lunch, The Nova Trilogy is Burroughs’ masterpiece of the “cut up” method of writing, in which he cut apart and randomly rearranged passages of his own writing to recombine language into startling effects. The plot of the Nova Trilogy follows the Nova Police as they track the Nova Mob, a cops and robbers parable set in a media-nightmare dystopia that serves as an exploration into addiction and recovery, while at the same time interrogating the mechanisms of societal control.

El Borbah by Charles Burns

El Borbah by Charles Burns

Widely known for his darkly surreal take on teenage angst and sexuality in the graphic novel Black Hole, Charles Burns’s earlier work includes a comic strip about El Borbah, a private detective drawn like a mashup of King Kong Bundy and a Luchador, solving crimes in a Mike Hammer punch-first-ask-questions-later style that takes him through a science fiction crimescape of criminal androids, perverts and mutants.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Gaining popular success and critical acclaim with her noir-infused science fiction novels Moxyland and Zoo City, Beukes’s most recent book, The Shining Girls, refracts the serial-killer thriller through the lens of time-travel science fiction. The novel is polyphonic as we meet the horrific Harper Curtis and his various “shining girls,” young women of different historical eras that form the insane constellation of Curtis’s lust for blood—including Kirby, the one shining girl who managed to survive Curtis’s attack, now tracking her would-be killer through time.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Famous as the inspiration for Blade Runner, Dick’s novel is a somber and philosophically reflective story about a bounty hunter charged with retiring escaped Nexus-6 androids by testing their levels of empathy, the only characteristic that still sets humans and androids apart.  Less hard-boiled in tone than Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? utilizes the detective narrative to not only ignite the plot, but to ask questions about desire and what it means to be human. Essential reading.

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

The Last Policeman is a procedural following a thoughtful detective, Henry Palace, as he investigates the ostensible suicide of a depressed man, Peter Zell—only in this story, the procedural plays out against the background of an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, set to strike in a matter of months and almost certain to wipe out all life on the planet.  Winters refrains from playing up sordid violence or the mayhem of a disaster movie, but wisely focuses on the detective as he puzzles out what exactly a man’s life is worth.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Fans of Spillane, Chandler and Hammett will recognize the setup: a hard-as-nails private investigator is coerced by a wealthy old man to track down a killer—but Morgan sets this hardboiled mystery in the far future, where “resleeving” (the ability to download consciousness into a new body) is commonplace. The first in the popular Takeshi Kovacs series of mysteries, Altered Carbon keeps the narrative raw-knuckled and brutal.

Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Told in alternating chapters, the driving plot of this dreamlike novel concerns a Calcutec, one of the agents of The System, involved in an infowar against the Semiotecs of The Factory; it is also the story of a man who finds himself in a strange walled city, tasked to read the dreams from the skulls of unicorns. Indebted to Chandler, Hammett and The Maltese Falcon as well as Cyberpunk, this novel is quintessential Murakami, full of hallucinogenic imagery, pop-culture intelligence and middle-aged ennui.    

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer by William Gibson

One of the most startlingly original and influential novels written in the twentieth-century, Gibson’s Neuromancer is the essential Cyberpunk text, credited with coining the term “cyberspace” and glimpsing into the future of the internet, here called the “Matrix.” Amidst visionary descriptions of networked computer systems and the rise of a self-aware Artificial-Intelligence, Neuromancer is, at its core, a heist novel—the main character, a “console cowboy” computer hacker named Case, is hired by an ex-military man named Armitage to carry off a seemingly impossible theft.      

What’s missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!

Jan 022014
 

Ship of Theseus by V.M. StrakaExperience V.M. Straka’s Ship of Theseus in a way the author could never have imagined: as a downloadable audiobook. Award-winning actor Grame Malcolm reads the forgotten classic from 1949, in which a mysterious figure, known only as S., struggles to discover, remember, or invent his identity.

Sample the audiobook below—and who knows? Perhaps by listening, you’ll be able to contribute to the conversation about Straka that unfolds in the margins of S., created by J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst.

Download it now: Audible | Barnes & Noble | Downpour | eMusic | iTunes

Jan 022014
 

 
 PROTECTOR  a piece of flash fiction by Jochem Vandersteen

I’d done what I’d been doing for a few years now. I became the kid’s friend, got him his patch, rode around with him on my bike. I was there next to him during the court case. I made sure everyone knew he was under my protection. It’s what I do with a big group of bikers around the world.

Joshua was a good kid, eleven years old and heavily into baseball. I got a referral from the local cops, telling me he’d been abused by his baseball coach. The sonofabitch sodomized him on three separate occasions. He’d told the boy to keep quiet, or else he would kill his mother. The boy loved his mother more than anyone in the world, already having lost a father to that dreaded decease called cancer. When the kid started to shit blood he became worried enough to tell his mom and together they went to a doctor where the whole story came out.

Joshua was in bad need of a father figure and a protector, and I became just that. I ached to be more for him. I ached to be an avenger for him, to kick the shit out of that evil bastard that raped him. To send him right to the hell where he belonged. But that wasn’t the way of my group. We were protectors, not avengers.

The phone call came in the middle of the night. I’d fallen asleep behind my laptop, writing a story about the best way to maintain your bike. I’d been making my money as a freelance writer for as long as I’d been riding a bike.

Joshua’s voice was shaking, the fear clearly audible. “He’s here, Trask. The coach is here. You gotta help me.”

“Wait, what do you mean? He’s in your house?” I asked.

“Yes, he…” That’s when the line went dead.

I was as wide awake as anyone can be, adrenaline giving me an energy boost no Monster or Red Bull could ever hope to give. I didn’t even really think about calling the cops. Joshua lived very close to me and on my Harley I’d be there before any cop could. I left my trailer and jumped on my hog.

The devil himself couldn’t have ridden faster than me. I was like a missile, targeted for the kid’s home. In my hurry I almost fell off my bike when I arrived.

The door was open, the lock broken. Splinters of wood covered the floor. I ran inside.

Joshua’s mom was on the floor. On her knees, bleeding from her nose and mouth. She tried to talk to me, but the fear or the blood in her mouth prevented her from it. She just pointed to the stairs.

I understood and ran up them. I prayed the kid was okay. I felt the anger course through my veins at the thought of what that evil bastard might do to him.

The kid’s bedroom. Joshua was sitting on the floor, the coach standing in front of him, dressed in sweats. Big, fat and bald. His fist was frozen beside his temple, ready to strike.

“Asshole,” I said.

The coach turned to face me. He didn’t look happy to see me. I wouldn’t be happy to see a six foot tall guy full of tattoos in biker gear either when I was just beating up a little kid. “What the fuck?”

“Yeah. That’s right. What the fuck. What the fuck are you doing here.”

“I need to teach this little shit a lesson for telling on me. Fucking pretending he didn’t like it.”

Two steps and I was in front of him. One punch and he was on his ass.

I stood over him like he’d been standing over the kid. “You’re the one who’s going to be taught a lesson.”

“Fuck you! You hot for the kid, is that it?” I could hear from the odd way his voice sounded I’d probably broken his nose.

I time traveled like that fucking British ponce does in that TV show. Instead of in a phone booth I traveled back in time with my mind. The man who was supposed to protect, care and love me was on top of me as I was lying on my chest, bent over a chair. I could hear him breathe as clearly as if I was really there.

The coach become that man then. I was so full of hate I boiled over. My right boot connected with his nose so damned fucking hard I thought I’d kick his head from his neck.

It took two cops to peel me off him. When I was done it was clear he’d be a vegetable for the rest of his life.

I’d done what I’d sworn to do. I’d protected the kid, just more permanently then I’d at first set out to do.

 

END

 
Dec 032013
 

SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Falcon by Don Mann with Ralph PezzulloToday the newest adventure in Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo’s SEAL Team Six series featuring Captain Thomas Crocker lands in bookstores, and reviewers are saying it “delivers exactly what fans want” (Publishers Weekly) and “puts the reader in the center of the action—the smells, sounds, savagery of war” (Kirkus Reviews). Below is an excerpt from Hunt the Falcon—enjoy, and don’t blame us if your heart starts racing!

Chapter One

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. —Rabindranath Tagore

John and Lenora Rinehart had just watched their thirteen-year-old son Alex dress himself for the first time. It was a special morning. Usually days at the Rinehart house started with a delicate dance, determined by their son’s moods.

Just because his son Alex was autistic didn’t mean he wasn’t smart, John Rinehart reminded himself as his shoes met the uneven surface of the slate walk and he punched the electronic button that opened the door to his dark blue Saab 900. His son was exceptional in the IQ department. But his brain’s ability to control the warp-speed flow of information, and his emotional impulses, was out of whack. When it didn’t work the way Alex wanted it to, the boy got frustrated. And when he got frustrated, he got mad as hell. Screaming, beat-the-shit-out-of-whatever-he-could-get-his-hands-on angry sometimes.

Ask him to find the positive difference of the fourth power of two consecutive positive integers that must be divisible by one more than twice the larger integer? No problem. But little things like buttoning a shirt or fastening a zipper often tripped him up.

“Little things…little victories,” forty-two-year-old John Rinehart said as he reached across the console between the front seats and squeezed his wife Lena’s hand.

She smiled past the straight black bangs that almost brushed her eyes and said, “I credit Alex’s new school. It’s been a major positive.”

“Yes,” John whispered back. His heart felt like it might leap out of his chest with delight.

John felt things strongly. Like his son. Sometimes so strongly that it scared him and he, too, had to fight hard to control himself.

His half-Asian wife was the more emotionally balanced of the two. She understood that tomorrow morning might be completely different; that life with a child like Alex was unpredictable at best.

John found it much harder to let go of the hope that his son would one day lead a normal life. He kept looking for a path, or an unopened doorway in his son’s psyche, that would lead to that result. Which made sense, because part of what he did for a living as the economic counselor at the U.S. embassy was to look for patterns of activity and use them to try to predict future events—Chinese-Thai trade, baht volatility, Thai-U.S. trading algorithms.

He was a brilliant man who studied the world and saw tendencies, vectors, roads traveled, like the one he steered the highly polished car onto now, into the knot of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles on what the Thais called Thanon Phetchaburi.

He’d learned to expect the eight-mile ride to the embassy to take forty minutes because of the traffic, but he didn’t mind. It gave him and his wife a chance to listen to music and spend some quiet time together.

This morning he didn’t want to think about the embassy where she also worked, as an administrative assistant in the CIA station. Nor did he want to consider the problems he’d deal with when he got there.

Instead he listened as Stan Getz played a smooth, moving “Body and Soul” over the stereo, and he hummed along, feeling unusually optimistic and calm. He even entertained the possibility that when his tour in Thailand ended in a year, he would return to teaching. Maybe even accept the position on the faculty of University of California, Berkeley that had been offered him a little while back. Lena would like that.

The sky above was a murky, almost iridescent yellow. Bangkok was a surreal blend of staggeringly beautiful and disgusting, rich and poor, spiritual and depraved, all living pressed together. He found the yin-yang dynamic of the city fascinating.

Adjusting the air-conditioning, he turned to his wife. “I’m proud of you, darling,” he said.

“I’m proud of you. And Alex, too.”

“Our Alex,” he added.

Through the windshield John noticed a battered blue truck squeezing into the little space between his front bumper and the Nissan taxi four feet to the right. He applied the brake, hit the horn, then turned to his wife.

He noticed the way the light accentuated her cheekbones, then out of the corner of his right eye glimpsed a motorcycle near the back bumper. Two helmets, both black with mirrored visors. The driver and rider looked like aliens.

Past the soaring saxophone solo and through the soundproof door panels, he heard a metal click. Seconds later the motorcycle roared past, narrowly avoiding a bus.

He was thinking about the first time he had seen Lena, standing near the entrance to the Georgetown University library. She was a sophomore; he was pursuing a master’s degree in economics.

He remembered how he had stopped to ask her for directions to White-Gravenor Hall even though he knew where it was. And how when she turned, he was struck by her beauty, and the strength and intelligence in her eyes.

John Rinehart opened his mouth to tell Lena how he had felt at that moment, how certain he had been that something important was happening. But before he could get the words out, the small but powerful explosive device that had been magnetically attached to the car’s rear fender exploded, tearing through the chassis, igniting the high-octane fuel in the gas tank and causing the car to burst into flames.

John and Lenora Rinehart were dead within seconds. Another eight poor souls riding bicycles and motorbikes in the vicinity also died. Twenty-three were seriously injured.

Before Thai police officials had finished their inspection of the site and carted away the wreckage of the Saab 900, a similar magnetic device had killed a U.S. military attaché and his assistant in their car a half mile away. That same day bombs placed by riders on motorcycles killed fifteen more U.S. and Israeli officials in Rome, Athens, Mumbai, and Cairo.

The pain the bombings caused was incalculable—children denied fathers, wives turned into widows, friends and colleagues left questioning their faith in God.

Alex Rinehart, on hearing the news that his parents had been killed, retreated inside himself and refused to talk.

That night, 2,410 miles northwest of Bangkok, Navy SEAL Team Six leader Thomas Crocker wiped the snow from the goggles fastened to his FAST Ballistic Helmet and adjusted the seventy-five-pound pack on his back.

“This remind you of anything, boss?” his blond commo man, Davis, asked in a gravelly voice behind him, little icicles clinging to the half-inch reddish growth on his jaw and chin.

The Nightmare Before Christmas?” Crocker replied as he retaped the straps on his backpack so they wouldn’t make noise as he approached the target. His left hand burned from a frigid wind that whistled through the craggy rocks along the ridge in southeastern Afghanistan.

“K2,” Davis said, referring to a training climb Crocker had taken the team on, during which a female friend of his had died in an avalanche. Then, noticing that his chief’s left hand was bare, he asked, “What happened to your glove?”

“Lost it attending to Dog.” Dog, a.k.a. Timothy L. Douglas, was the new guy who had just completed Green Team. He trudged ahead of them favoring his left leg and carrying “the pig”—SEALspeak for the MK43 Mod 0 machine gun, which Crocker preferred to call “the nasty.”

Dog, a former middle linebacker at the University of Tennessee, had slipped about a half mile back as they were climbing and ripped a foot-long gash in his right thigh, which Crocker had bandaged up.

“I got a spare pair,” Davis said, white fog shooting from his mouth and mixing with the condensation around them. He removed a pair of black cold-weather gloves from his drop leg pouch and handed them to Crocker.

“Colder than a witch’s tit,” the team leader groaned, shaking his exposed hand to keep the blood moving, then slipping them on. “Thanks.”

He was leading twelve men, all SEALs from Team Six, who had been at Jalalabad Airfield chilling, listening to music, playing video games, reading, sleeping, shooting the shit, when the urgent message came over the radio that Observation Post Memphis (OPM) was under attack. Two things made this significant and alarming: One, the difficulty of the terrain in the middle of the Hindu Kush range combined with the blizzard made it impossible to reinforce the post by air or provide it with any sort of air support. People who had been to OPM referred to it as being “on the dark side of the moon.” And two, five operators from Six had been dispatched to the post a week earlier and were now trapped and fighting for their lives, along with a dozen marines, several national guardsmen from Pennsylvania, and a platoon of soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 17th Infantry Alpha Company.

As a general rule, when teammates are under attack, you don’t sit back at base with your thumb up your ass.

Adding to Crocker’s sense of duty was the fact that one of the Team Six operators fighting for his life in OPM was his running partner Neal Stafford—a former cowboy from Waco, Texas, with two wild young boys and a lovely wife named Alyssa, who was the best friend of Crocker’s wife, Holly. Crocker’s teenage daughter Jenny babysat for their kids.

All of this explained why Crocker had sought out the one helicopter pilot from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) who was crazy enough to brave the fifty-mile-an-hour gusts and drop them off as high up the mountain as possible, and why they had slowly been picking their way through the snow, ice, and rocks like goats. The 160th SOAR was also known as the Night Stalkers. Their motto: Night Stalkers don’t quit.

Coming up the other side—the east side—was out of the question, since the whole Kunar Valley, and most of Nuristan Province, was firmly under Taliban control, and had been for over a year. Most Americans weren’t aware that this part of Afghanistan was called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and flew a white flag with a mujahideen call-to-arms slogan scrawled on it.

Which begged the question Crocker had been asking himself for hours: what the fuck was OPM doing there in the first place? Someone in Jalalabad had told him that a general had it built to monitor traffic along one of the most important access roads to Kabul. Another person had told him that Iranians had been seen in the area.

Was OPM monitoring the movement of arms, heroin, Taliban fighters? Where was that general now? Sitting in some warm room with his feet up watching college football?

Crocker stopped himself. It didn’t matter now. All he cared about were the lives of the SEALs and other soldiers trapped at OPM, and helping to fight back the Taliban assault until the storm abated and rescue helicopters could pull them out.

Judging from the unrelenting ferocity of the storm, that might be a while.

Crocker held up his right fist, indicating to the men that he wanted them to huddle around him. Facing him were twelve grizzled faces caked with ice and snow. Aside from his core five, which included Davis (commo), Ritchie (demolitions), Mancini (equipment and weapons), Cal (sniper), and Akil (maps and logistics), there were machine gunners Dog and Yale, Gabe, Langer, Jake, Chauncey, and Phillips.

“How you doing, Dog?” Crocker asked over the muffled sounds of warfare echoing up from the other side of the mountain.

“Hurtin’ a little and embarrassed, but ready to kick some ass.”

“I like that attitude.”

As long as Dog was physically and mentally strong enough to set up and operate the twenty-pound, gas-operated, belt-fed, air-cooled killing machine (capable of firing as many as fourteen 7.62 caliber rounds per second) he cradled in his arms, Crocker didn’t care how much discomfort he was in. To his mind, pain was weakness leaving the body.

“Refuel. Rehydrate,” Crocker barked. “In a few minutes we’re gonna reach the top of this ice cube and enter the shit. I want us all to stick together until I say otherwise. Maintain three-sixty security. Visibility is terrible. I don’t want us shooting at one another. Any questions? Any problems?”

Several of the SEALs shook their heads.

Cal, the sniper, spoke up. “This peashooter ain’t gonna do a whole lot of good in this weather, boss,” he said, slapping the MK11 Mod 0 sniper weapons system he carried slung across his back.

“Manny’s got an extra MP7. He’ll lend it to you. Right, Manny?”

“A round of beers at the Guadalajara when we get back,” Mancini said. The Guadalajara was a popular watering hole close to the SEAL base in Virginia Beach.

“With nachos,” Ritchie added.

Crocker said, “Davis, call the post commander. Tell him we’re approaching from the northwest ridge.”

A marine corporal back at Jalalabad had explained to him that the only possible land approach to OPM was along the northwest ridge, then down rope ladders that had been rigged along the rocks that formed the back wall of the base.

“Roger, boss,” Davis responded.

Guys squeezed energy gel into their mouths, wolfed down energy bars, and gulped water from their CamelBaks. Crocker checked his Garmin 450t GPS with a preloaded 3-D map of the area and confirmed that they were within four hundred yards of the observation post. Visibility was so bad he couldn’t see more than four feet ahead.

Davis pointed at him, and seconds later a transmission from the marine major in charge of OPM blared through the F3 radio transmitter in Crocker’s helmet.

“Tango-six-two, this is Memphis-five-central. I thank the Holy Father for your assistance. Condition double-red here. Need medevac, immediate support. Taking heavy casualties. Two of our guard stations have already been overrun!”

Crocker thought it was both strange and alarming that Neal Stafford was at the post. Last time he had seen him he was halfway around the world, tossing a miniature football to his two young sons on the front lawn of his house in Virginia. Now, as he considered how Neal’s safety might affect Neal’s family and the tender network of relationships and emotions that connected Neal’s life to his own, he felt a responsibility to get him out of OPM unharmed.

“Memphis-five-central, we’ll soon be approaching along the northwest ridge,” Crocker responded. “Alert your perimeter. Is the path clear? Over.” He’d been trained to compartmentalize his feelings in order to effectively do this job.

“Tango-six-two, we’re under attack from the east and the south. Keep following the ridge. I’ll send two men out to meet you. They’ll disarm the alarms and show you the way down. Do you copy?”

“Copy, Memphis. Have them whistle. Three short blasts in succession, so we know it’s them.”

“Three short whistles. Copy, Tango. Welcome and Godspeed. Over and out.”

Crocker saw the wary look on some of the men’s faces and barked, “Be sure to stay alert and stick together!”

“And don’t feed the trolls,” Akil added.

“You’ve got the wrong continent,” Mancini growled back. “Trolls are mythological beings from Scandinavian folklore.”

Akil shook his head. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, I’m serious. When you say shit, get it right.”

Crocker had taken a mere twenty steps along the snow-covered trail at the top of the ridge when the first rounds of automatic fire whizzed by, and he shouted to his men to hold fire and take cover behind nearby rocks and boulders. Then the firing picked up and was augmented by a barrage of missiles, mortars, and propelled grenades.

Pieces of hot metal hissed into the snow and ice. Explosions lit up the craggy landscape nearby, but visibility was still limited.

Crocker was high on adrenaline. His mind worked at warp speed, measuring distance, speed, the sequence of information, and making calculations. Something was very wrong.

“Should we return fire, boss?” asked Davis, crouched to his right.

“Negative!” Crocker shouted.

From somewhere behind him Dog muttered, “This situation is double fucked.”

“Double fucked or not, we’ll accomplish the mission.” Then Crocker spoke into his headset: “Hold your fire. We don’t want to give away our position. Pull back to the other side of the ridge.”

He was referring to the one they had recently climbed. On their way up they had followed a snow-covered trail, and now they literally clung to ice-covered rocks as they moved parallel to the ridge. The muscles in their arms and legs burned as they struggled to maintain balance while carrying roughly a hundred pounds of equipment on their backs. Akil led the way, carefully stepping from one toehold to another, in a generally southeastern direction, keeping his head down to avoid the rocks, snow, ice, and hot metal flying past.

“Tango-six-two this is Memphis-five-central. Report your position!” screamed the voice in Crocker’s headset. “Tango-six-two, report!” The fear in it was palpable.

He wished he could tell the major to hold his shit together. Instead he said sternly, “We’re proceeding, Memphis-five-central. Over and out.”

A large explosion shook the top of the mountain, dislodging an icy boulder that tumbled and hit another outcropping of rock with a large smash, splitting the boulder in two. A refrigerator-sized piece spun toward the spot where Dog, Phillips, and Jake were standing.

“Watch out!” Crocker screamed.

The men had little room to maneuver, and there was nothing the other SEALs could do but watch the massive hunk of rock glance off the backs of their three teammates, who had pressed themselves against the snow and ice.

Time slowed down. Jake froze, his legs went limp, and he fell backward. Phillips stretched his arms out and caught him. Dog’s whole body twisted violently to the left. Crocker saw the acute agony on his face, then watched as the MK43 Mod 0 machine gun flew out of his arms and disappeared into the shower of falling snow. He didn’t even hear it land. Could have ended up hundreds or even thousands of feet below.

Gone. Not that Crocker was worried about the weapon as he squeezed past Mancini, Davis, and Chauncey, reaching for the emergency medical pack at the back of his waist and looking down at Jake lying on the narrow ledge, his blue eyes frozen and staring into space as Phillips tried to remove Jake’s backpack.

“Don’t!” Crocker said.

“But—”

“Don’t touch him!”

“Sir, he’s breathing but can’t speak.”

“He’s in shock,” Crocker replied, feeling along Jake’s neck for a pulse and finding it higher than normal. He knelt in the snow and carefully reached under Jake’s backpack to the place below his neck where the rock had struck. There was swelling and loose, dislocated bone under the skin. Damage to some of the vertebrae.

“Tango-six-two this is Memphis-five-central. Report your position!” the army major from OPM screamed in Crocker’s headset.

Ignoring him, Crocker turned to Phillips. “Help me lay Jake on his side and wrap him in some Kevlar blankets,” he said. “He can’t be moved. You hear me? Don’t move him!”

“Yes, sir. You want me to stay with him?”

The major from OPM screeched again, “Tango-six-two this is Memphis-five-central. Do you copy? Report!”

“Yeah, I copy!” Crocker barked into his helmet mike.

Panic was dangerous. Phillips touched Crocker’s arm and whispered, “Sir, you want me to remain with Jake?”

The sounds of combat had moved farther down the mountain to the approximate location of OPM. The Taliban had stopped directing fire at the ridge.

Crocker waved Mancini over and said, “Manny, go back the way we came. First reconnoiter the ridge. If it’s clear, retake it. If there are a number of Taliban there, call and inform me. We can’t let the enemy hold that position.”

“No, boss, we can’t. If we do, I believe the base will be surrounded.”

“Which will make it real tough for us to fight our way in.”

“Roger that.”

“Take three men with you, and let me know.”

“Got it.”

He looked down at Jake again, then watched Phillips carefully slipping a Kevlar blanket under him. A gust of wind rushed up the side of the mountain, creating what sounded like a wolf’s howl.

A voice in his head reminded him that Phillips had previously asked him a question. He squeezed Phillips’s arm and said, “Yes, I want you to stay with him.” Phillips’s long, narrow face reminded Crocker of a marine he had served with in Okinawa, who fell in love with and married a Filipino prostitute—something straight-arrow Phillips would never do.

Phillips looked up with calm, intelligent, light-brown eyes. “You want me to try to monitor his vital signs, sir?”

“Every ten minutes or so, try at least to check his pulse. If it gets below sixty or over a hundred beats a minute, let me know.”

“Will do, chief.”

Crocker scooted over to Dog. Dog was leaning against the side of the mountain holding his left shoulder, which was hanging at an odd angle. A rocket whizzed overhead and Crocker instinctively ducked. For a second he forgot he was in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan—the setting of one of his favorite movies, The Man Who Would Be King, and throughout history a very dangerous place to be.

Who wants to be king now? he asked himself, looking at Dog, whose head was turned away from Crocker. The Tennessean’s stocky body trembled. Crocker whispered his name, and when Dog turned, Crocker saw tears streaming down his freckled face.

“Fucking new-guy bad luck,” Dog snarled through small, gritted teeth. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Crocker asked, inspecting Dog’s shoulder.

“Letting go of the pig.”

“Fuck the pig. Bite into this,” Crocker said, handing Dog a thick square of rubber he kept in a plastic bag in his emergency medical kit.

“Why?”

“Bite on it and tell me something: Who was quarterback at UT when you played there?”

“What—” Dog’s answer was interrupted by an unbelievable jolt of pain as Crocker pulled Dog’s right arm away from his shoulder, then forcefully pushed it up and into the socket with a pop.

“ELI-FUCKING-MANNING!”

Happier tears streamed from Dog’s blue eyes as he lifted his arm and realized that his shoulder worked again and was almost pain free.

“You’re a lucky man,” Crocker said in a low voice.

“Thank you,” Dog responded, removing the piece of rubber from his mouth, wiping it on his sleeve, then handing it back.

“Grab an extra weapon from someone.”

“Right away.”

“Let’s go kill some fucking Taliban.”

Crocker joined Akil at the front of the column. The barrel-chested Egyptian American former marine raised his arm and pointed out a route he had just explored, which he said would take them along the top of the mountain up to the ridge.

That’s when Mancini’s voice came over his headset. “Boss, Mancini. We’ve taken the position. All secure. Advise.”

“Hold, Manny. As well as you can, try to protect the northwest access.”

“Roger.”

“Holler if you see any enemy activity.”

“What’s your location?” Mancini asked.

“We’re proceeding south.”

Crocker and the remaining six crossed three hundred yards until they were directly above OPM. There they assembled behind a low wall blanketed with snow. Since visibility was still terrible, Crocker blew three times into the whistle he kept on a chain around his neck.

Someone to his right whistled back. He rose with his HK416 ready and tried peering through the swirling mass of snow. In a crouch he proceeded another five feet, until he saw a blurry dark shape standing beside a collapsed stone wall.

“You Chief Crocker?” the voice asked through wind.

“That’s right, who are you?”

“Lance Corporal Novak, sir, of Alpha Company. Welcome to OP Memphis, otherwise known as the House of Blues.”