Sep 182014
 

The post Horror Reading, Then and Now appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Andrew Pyper, the ITW Award–winning author of six bestselling novels, has read a lot of horror stories. Here he writes about one novel that truly got under his skin.

The other night, drinking in my backyard with some other writers, some of whom write thrillers and horror as I do, the question came up as to when was the last time we read something that really and truly terrified us. Not a piece of writing we admired for the way it constructed its scares, not something we found unsettling or offputting or creepy, but the real gut-level deal. Bona fide horror in book form.

It took me a while to come up with my answer. Partly because there are so many horror novels I’ve read over the years that I have admired and found unsettling or creepy, but not to the point of slapping the covers closed with a scream. Partly because I think I’ve always read thrillers for the ideas or mythologies they can uniquely explore, as much as the thrills themselves.

While we all cited different titles in the end, what my writer friends and I had in common was that the last books that truly scared the bejesus out of us were ones we read as young people. Why? We worked up some theories. They all seemed to boil down to immersion. Back then, we could dive all the way into the worlds we read. There was no EXIT sign at the end of the dark hallway, no call of “Time out!” that had the power to return our disbelief from wherever it had been suspended. These were books that possessed us. Ones we believed in.

Salem's Lot by Stephen KingFor me, that book was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Which is kind of funny, as I’m not much of a vampire guy when it comes to favorite horror sub-genres. I like pondering whether I’d drink the blood of innocents in exchange for immortality as much as the next goth, but to me vampire stories too often present their monsters as pompous dandies, suave seducers, poor man’s Hamlets. Vampires invite the campy in ways many writers have found irresistible.

But when the 12-year-old me read King’s story of a small town besieged by the ravenous undead, I was all in. It was his particular version of vampires that did it: savage and single-minded, relentless and recognizable. But it was also, I think, the way the town of the novel reminded me of my own small town where I grew up. The monsters of the fiction lined up with my own neighbors, the tree-shaded streets were my streets, my imagination seeing the darkest possibilities in the everyday just as the world of the book did. It wasn’t just a good vampire story. It was personal.

Reading ‘Salem’s Lot was the last time I could check off each of the points in the unholy trinity of horror reading: I was young, the fictional setting and circumstances directly matched up with my own, and the monsters were presented not as fantastical, but possible.

The thing is, while I treasure the experience of reading that book, I’m not sure I’d like to return to it. What I mean is that I’d be happy to read it again today, but not transported to my reading of it then. It’s simply too dangerous. Who knows how close I came to being lost in it for good? How real could I have made it? What would have happened if a vampire had come scratching at my window and instead of pulling the covers over my head I got up and let it in?

Andrew Pyper is the author of six bestselling novels, most recently The Demonologist, which won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel.  His new book, The Damned, is to be published in February 2015.

The post Horror Reading, Then and Now appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Sep 112014
 

The post “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest“A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan is the winning story of Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest, which invited participants to write a short work of fiction featuring a lawyer as a main character. You can read more about the contest from Alafair Burke. Thank you to all the writers who did the legal thriller genre proud with their entries. And congratulations to Lucian Dervan!

The years passed faithfully, each one much like the last, and yet each distinctive and filled with its own memories.  George Duncan, known simply as Duncan since his first year of school, sat in his large recliner.  Though the chair was old and tattered, the fabric was woven with far too many memories to discard.  Duncan, currently in the eighth decade of his life, had never felt the cold beneath his skin as he did now.  But, somehow, sitting in his chair, gazing through the window, and thinking about the past seemed to warm him as the sun set outside.

Duncan’s mind often wandered over his decades as a feared criminal defense attorney.  On some days he would laugh out loud as images of a floundering witness succumbing to his blazing cross-examination replayed in his mind.  Other days were filled with deep reflection on those few times during his career when mistakes had led to perpetual recollection and regret.  Despite the innumerable and varying memories from which to select, one image drifted uninvited into his mind more than any other during the many days he spent in that timeworn chair, the face of his client Billy Brandon.  As that face flickered in his consciousness once again, Duncan’s hands clenched in anger and anxiety.

“Duncan.  Duncan, dear,” his wife, Martha, called from the kitchen.  “It’s time for dinner.”

“Just a moment,” Duncan responded as he unbound his hands and strained to push himself up from his seat.

Once standing, he paused and gazed out the window for a final second.  Then, turning to face a large bookcase at his side, Duncan reached out and withdrew a massive leather bound edition of a Dostoyevsky classic.  After using both hands to lower the literary masterpiece onto a small library table, Duncan lifted the front cover to reveal the book was actually a safe.  Reaching into the hollow middle, he pushed aside a piece of paper and withdrew a heavy black revolver.  Holding the gun in his hand and spinning the chamber, he took note of the four bullets and two empty shells still lying in the cylinder.

“After these many years,” Duncan said aloud, yet in a whisper, “my representation will finally come to an end.  Until tomorrow, Mr. Billy Brandon.”

Replacing the weapon and returning the book safely to its original location, Duncan began to move into the kitchen for dinner.  “It smells wonderful, dear,” he said to his wife.  “I think I’ll turn in right after we’re done eating.  I’ve got a few errands to run tomorrow, and I’ll need all of my strength.”

The next morning, Duncan sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the newspaper’s front-page story on the impending execution of convicted murderer Clive Caldwell.  Martha peered over his shoulder as she fixed herself a bowl of oatmeal.

“Are they finally putting him to death this afternoon,” she inquired.  “That horrible murder of the two children from Augusta must have occurred almost fifteen years ago.”

“I think you’re right,” responded Duncan.  “But the wheels of justice must be slow to be fair.  Heaven forbid we put an innocent man to death because of a rush to judgment.”

“Still the avid defense attorney I see,” chuckled Martha as she sat down to enjoy the start of her day.  No sooner had she taken her seat, than Duncan rose, placed his dishes in the sink and kissed her goodbye.  “Off already,” she asked.

“Yes, as I said, I’ve got a busy day.”

“Doing what?  You haven’t been out of the house in weeks.”

“I’ll tell you this evening.”  And with that, Duncan slipped on a jacket to brace himself from the cool autumn air and walked out of the house.

An hour later, Duncan arrived at the Augusta State Medical Prison.  Having visited the facility countless times over the years to call on various former clients, he was well known and highly regarded by the guards.

“Welcome back, counselor,” said one of the correctional officers at the front entrance to the hospital.

“Hello, Deloris,” responded Duncan.  “I see the metal detector is still broken.”

The officer looked over at the dusty metal contraption that had failed to work for the better part of a year.  “With our budget,” the officer said with a laugh, “we lucky to even have someone here watching the door.”  As Deloris gave Duncan the usual cursory pat down reserved for only the most trusted of visitors, she inquired, “Who you gonna see today?”

“Ah, the infamous Billy Brandon,” answered Duncan.

“Infamous?  Compared to your other clients, I’d say he’s practically a saint.  Just another three-time loser serving life-without-parole.  Damn shame.  Remind me what he did to get that last strike?”

“Possession of a felony amount of marijuana.”  Duncan paused before adding, “As you said, in many ways, he does appears to be just another one of the many lost souls in places like this.”

“Mm hmm.”  Then the officer shook her head.  “You know, he’s not doing too well these days.  Something about his liver giving out.  Got him up in the intensive care unit.”

“Well,” said Duncan, “I’d better get up there then before he leaves us all for a better place.”

“You know the way,” said Deloris as she stepped aside.

Duncan proceeded through a set of doors leading to an elevator bank and pushed the button to call his ride.  As he did, two beads of sweat ran down his forehead and into his eyes.  Wiping his brow, he realized that even his many decades of trial experience had not prepared him for the battle he was about to wage or the consequences if he failed.

As he entered the private room containing his client, Duncan peered around at the many tubes and machines assisting the prisoner to live another day.  He pushed the door gently closed, and the lockset made a soft click as it hit the strike plate.

Upon hearing the noise, the prisoner slowly opened his eyes and peered over at his attorney.  “Mr. Duncan.”  Billy Brandon struggled to sit up slightly in his bed.  “I’m so glad you came.  I thought I might be receiving a visit from you today.”

“Then you know why I am here?”

“I do.  It appears you believe we have come to the end of the road, Mr. Duncan.  That the time for our special arrangement has arrived.  But, I’m afraid I can’t agree.  I was clear about my terms, and they have not yet come to pass, as you can very well see.”

Duncan reached in his left jacket pocket and clenched the item he had earlier that day removed from his leather book safe.  “At this point, the timing is merely a technicality for you.  You’ll be dead before long.”

“True, but I plan to live out the few days I have left in comfort, not locked in some dark cell at the maximum security prison.”

Duncan looked fiercely at his client.  “You’re a monster.”

“Mr. Duncan,” said Billy.  “Of course I am.  You’ve known that for more than a decade.  Tell me something.  Do I keep you up at night?  Do I haunt your dreams?  I so hope I do.”  A menacing grin appeared on his face.

Duncan withdrew his hand from his pocket and thrust the item he had been concealing at the bedridden, yet very capable prisoner.  “Do you think I won’t use this?”

“I’m sure you will use it eventually, Mr. Duncan, but today is not that day.  You are bound by your oath, and you are bound by your profession to keep that piece of paper confidential until I die.”

Duncan lowered his hand and let the affidavit signed by Billy all those years ago linger at his side.  “The execution is today, and it should be you in that chair being injected with poison, not Mr. Caldwell.  You killed those two children in Augusta all those years ago, and yet you are going to let an innocent man die of lethal injection despite having the power to stop it.”

Duncan cut himself short upon hearing the doorknob being turned.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw a nurse wheeling a food cart into the room.

“Oh, Mr. Duncan,” said Billy.  “You’re here in time for lunch.  Would you care to join me?”  Duncan shook his head in rejection of the offer.  “Oh now, I’m sure Nurse Tania could rustle you up something.  Without her, you know, I don’t think this place would function at all.  She’s our angel here in the ward.”  Billy gazed appreciatively at the nurse and smiled.

“Oh, Billy,” said the nurse, blushing slightly.  As she finished placing a tray of chicken and rice in front of her patient, she said, “You let me know if you or your friend need anything else.”

Duncan did not speak.  While the nurse walked into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind her, the slightly distraught counselor sat down in a chair beside Billy’s bed.  Though the initial adrenaline of the encounter had spurred the old barrister to renewed strength, he now needed to rest.

Billy took a large scoop of food and thrust it in his mouth.  Without waiting to swallow, he began to speak again, flecks of rice and chicken escaping from the sides of his mouth as he continued to taunt his advocate turned adversary.  “You know, I am almost glad Mr. Caldwell will die before the truth is revealed.  I think it will make us even more famous.  Don’t you?  I wonder who will play me in the movie version of our life together, Mr. Duncan.  Perhaps Sean Penn.  I think he would capture my true soul very well.”

“You know,” said Duncan, his head facing down towards the floor, “I could release this signed confession without your permission.  I could save that man’s life today without you.  The details you gave in here are so specific, no one would doubt you were the true perpetrator.”

Billy set down his plastic spoon.  “Yes, you could do that Mr. Duncan.  But we both know you never will.  You take that oath to your clients too seriously to end your career as a traitor to the bar.”  He picked up his spoon and took another enormous bite.  “If I had ever thought you were the type of person who didn’t believe the attorney-client privilege was the eleventh commandment, I would never have told you what I did to those kids.”

“Why did you tell me,” barked Duncan.  “Why have you forced me to live with this all these years and now stand by while an innocent man dies?”

Billy leaned forward and looked Duncan deeply in the eyes.  “What other amusement do I have here in prison?”

Duncan clenched his fists and stood.  Then, reaching into his right pocket, he pulled out the heavy black revolver.  Billy froze for a moment, stunned by his counselor’s surprising offensive.  “I brought the murder weapon to turn in as further proof of your guilt,” said Duncan, “but, perhaps, I should just use the remaining bullets to kill you for what you did and what you’ve put me through all of these years.”

Billy smiled.  “Oh, Mr. Duncan, I hope you do.  Wouldn’t that be the most fitting end to our story?  To have you turn out to be a monster just like me.”  Billy laughed and then took another enormous bite of his meal.

Duncan lowered the weapon and placed it safely back in his jacket pocket.  “I’m not like you,” he said calmly, now fully aware of what he must do.  “I’m better than you, and that’s why I’m going to save that man despite what it might mean for my license, my reputation, and my oath.”  Duncan turned to walk away.

“You stop right there,” yelled Billy, food once again spraying from his mouth.  “You get back here.  You’re my attorney, damn you.  You owe me your silence.  You.”

Duncan did not hear another word.  As silence fell behind him, he moved with speed he had not mustered for years.  Practically galloping to his car, he slid inside and jammed the key into the ignition.  As he ran a stop sign and maneuvered the car onto the main road outside the prison hospital, he looked at the watch on the dashboard.  The execution was only two hours away, and he needed to present the affidavit and the gun to the Attorney General in hopes of securing a recommendation for an emergency stay of execution.  He pressed the accelerator further towards the floor, and the car jumped forward with even greater speed.

Just over an hour later, Duncan pulled his car into a space next to a fire hydrant outside the Attorney General’s office and leapt out into the road.

“Hey,” yelled a parking attendant on the other side of the street.  “You can’t park there.  You’ll get towed.”

“Do what you must,” yelled Duncan, and he continued into the building.

Forty-five minutes later, just five minutes before the execution was to occur, the Attorney General emerged from his office.  Duncan, who had paced back and force in the reception area after briefing his old friend, stopped in his tracks and looked up with hopeful eyes.

“We got the stay, Duncan,” said the Attorney General.  “We’ll reopen the investigation, but, based on the specificity of this affidavit and the gun, I’d say Mr. Caldwell will be going home very soon.”

Duncan breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you, Roger.  Thank you.”

“You did good,” said the Attorney General as he patted his mentor and former boss on the back.  “Oh, and I made sure that everyone knew that you didn’t violate your oath to the bar.”

Duncan drew up a puzzled look.  “What do you mean?”

“You know, I thought people should know that you didn’t break attorney-client privilege in brining this to us.  I made sure they knew that just as your client had requested in the affidavit, you brought this to us only after he died.  A close call though.”  The Attorney General shook his head in disbelief.  “To think, Mr. Caldwell was saved by a matter of minutes thanks to the true perpetrator choking to death on a plate of chicken and rice the very day of the scheduled execution.  Well, as they say, timing is everything.”

As Duncan walked back into his house that evening, Martha greeted him from the sofa with a smile.  “So how was your day, dear?”

Duncan sat down next to her and reached out to hold her hand.  “I guess you could say that I won my last case today.”

Martha looked surprised.  “What do you mean you won a case?  Are you representing clients again?”

“Oh, no,” said Duncan with relief.  “Quite the opposite, I’m happy to say.”

“Well, you’ll have to tell me more.  Let’s go in the kitchen for dinner.”

“Wonderful,” he said, pushing himself up off the sofa.  “I’ll tell you all about my day over a good meal.  What are we having?”

“Your favorite, dear.  Chicken and rice.”

Lucian E. Dervan is a law professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, where his research and teaching center on domestic and international criminal law.  He also enjoys writing legal fiction and is completing work on his first novel.

The post “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian E. Dervan appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Sep 082014
 

The post Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Hofstra Law School's Mystery Short Story Contest

Not too many years ago, an influential editor told me that the “legal thriller was dead.” Readers were bored. They wanted to read about “real people,” not a bunch of lawyers.

Well, since then, readers have proven that editor wrong. They have fallen in love with Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller, watching the defense attorney struggle to redeem himself in the eyes of a daughter who does not understand how her father can put dangerous people back on the streets. They could not put their books down as William Landay told the masterful story of Defending Jacob, about a prosecutor who comes to fear that his own son committed a grisly murder.

I often joke that the term “legal thriller” is an oxymoron. Most of my time in a courtroom was spent waiting around, the New York Times crossword puzzle tucked discreetly into my case file. “Objection!” and “Hearsay!” do not make for good dialogue. So why do we keep following stories about lawyers?

Lawyers are investigators. Their job is to ask the right questions and let the answers lead them to the next step. They think critically and analytically. They know—and are supposed to keep—our darkest secrets: our family situations, our finances, our worst sins. They owe duties of loyalty to clients, even when they don’t want to, and despite the demands of their own moral compass and those of the people they care about.

The work and lives of lawyers remain fascinating. To highlight that fact through fiction, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University sponsored a mystery short story contest, calling for submissions of stories featuring lawyers. The only rules were that submissions had to be original, previously unpublished short works of fiction (under 3,500 words) featuring a lawyer as a main character. I was honored to serve as a judge, along with Lee Child, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series (and a law school graduate!), and Marcia Clark, the former OJ Simpson prosecutor who has written a highly-praised series of novels featuring a Los Angeles prosecutor named Rachel Knight.

We received 137 submissions from around the world, depicting the legal profession from perhaps every conceivable angle. We were impressed by the quality of storytelling and the depth of knowledge about the lives of lawyers. Choosing the winners was not an easy job.

The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University is happy to announce the three finalists of our writing contest.

“The Best Defense” by Bev Vincent. Bev Vincent is the author of The Road to the Dark Tower, the Bram Stoker Award nominated companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, which was nominated for a 2010 Edgar® Award and a 2009 Bram Stoker Award.

“Reasonable Doubt” by Andrew Italia. Andrew Italia attended the University of Maryland School of Law and works as a trial lawyer in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in family law, criminal law, and assisting victims of domestic violence. In his spare time he enjoys writing, martial arts, scuba diving, traveling, and the pursuit of the immovable spirit. He currently lives with his family and Great Dane Theodore Roosevelt in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

And the winning story is “A Prisoner of Time” by Lucian Dervan. Lucian E. Dervan is a law professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, where his research and teaching center on domestic and international criminal law. He also enjoys writing legal fiction and is completing work on his first novel.

The law school is grateful to all of the writers who submitted their stories for consideration and to Mulholland Books for both publicizing the contest and publishing Professor Dervan’s story here. I hope readers enjoy it as much as we did.

—Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke is the bestselling author of ten novels, including the thrillers Long Gone, If You Were Here, and the latest in the Ellie Hatcher series, All Day and a Night. A former prosecutor, she also teaches criminal law and procedure at Hofstra Law School. Her co-authored novel with Mary Higgins Clark, The Cinderella Murder, will be published on November 18th. www.alafairburke.com

The post Hofstra Law School’s Mystery Short Story Contest appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Aug 052014
 

The post Start Reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David ShaferDavid Shafer’s debut novel follows three young adults as they attempt to navigate their way through international intrigues, corporate cabals, and, well, life itself. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot opens with Leila Majnoun, who is working—or at least trying to work—for a nonprofit in Myanmar. Read on for an excerpt, and pick up a copy of WTF to determine how deep the deception goes.

MANDALAY, MYANMAR

The little room was so hot that Leila tried not to move inside her clothing. She’d chosen the plain tan shirt with the piping on the pocket because bureaucrats are swayed by even the smallest impression of martial authority. Ditto the shiny black shoes. But the lady who took in Leila’s laundry had really gone to town on the shirt, and the result was like a suit of armor made from paper bags. Leila could feel a line of sweat trickle south down her back. A large beetle somehow injured buzzed and rattled in a corner of the stifling room.

It had been nearly two hours since one of Colonel Zeya’s underlings had instructed her to Wait here, someone will come for you! You please must not leave this room!

Fine, she’d thought then. Leila Majnoun could wait. She wasn’t going to fall for that make-the-Westerner-sit-until-she-is-undone-by-her-ownimpatience trick. She pulled out her notebook. She favored Gregg-ruled steno pads; went through them at a rapid clip. She wrote in a swift and flattened cursive that was nearly illegible to anyone but herself and maybe her big sister, Roxana. She wrote mostly in English, but she also used Pashto, and some stenoglyphs that she’d invented along the way. Leila was no Luddite, but she trusted her paper notebook over any of her electronics. They usually let you keep a notebook even when they took your passport and pocket computer. Though in a secure airport interview room once, they’d taken Leila’s notebook from her hands. That’s as dicey as it had ever gotten for her. Soon after that, she’d done a job that put her in proximity to commando-type soldiers, and one of those guys had his instructions in a sort of sheet protector Velcroed to his inner wrist. The commando wrist slate—that’s the kind of personal organizer she could use.

Leila let the tedium flow around her like lava while she filled her pad with notes that would help her get through the next week of this frustrating job. Her title was director, in-country, Myanmar/Burma. But back in New York there was a country director, Myanmar/Burma. The silliness of the titles should have been her first clue that Helping Hand was a bush-league NGO. Though deep-pocketed, apparently—HQ was two floors of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. They’d hired her to do the advance work on what they said would be a twenty-year commitment to public health in northern Burma. She was supposed to be establishing a country program!—and her New York bosses said it like that, like she was a general in a tent or something, when what they really meant was rent an office, buy some desk chairs, and find out who else was working there and what wasn’t getting done. But beyond that, her two or maybe three New York bosses couldn’t even agree on what the Burma mission was. One of them thought Helping Hand should be identifying strong female candidates for full-ride scholarships to the school of nursing at Boston College. Another one thought the organization should be setting up village-based primary-care health clinics. Mainly her bosses sent her conflicting e-mails and sabotaged one another’s goals.

And in truth, Leila had herself underestimated the difficulty of achieving anything in a place like Myanmar. She had done war-torn, she had done devastated, but this living-under-tyranny thing was a superbummer. The Myanmarese (Myanmartians, she called them in her head; the stenoglyph was an M with an ovoid helmet and antennae) spent all their energy protecting what little they had or avoiding persecution; there was nothing left over for hope. And no one on the outside cared that much, or was even sure of its name. Was it called Burma, which had something to do with Orwell? Or Myanmar, which sounded like a name cats would give their country? The rest of the world just avoided this place, as on the street you’d avoid a stinking, pantsless drunk—because where would you even begin?

And where was that stupid little colonel? Leila was running low on anti-impatience techniques. The room seemed to have been designed to distill boredom and discomfort and focus it on the occupant. It was like being under some sort of time-stretching ray. There was the stippled layer of dust on everything; there was nothing to read but the No Smoking sign; there was one plastic fan in the corner, its electrical cord shorn off as if with a serrated knife. Smells seeped from the wooden benches and plastic blinds—cigarette smoke and greasy food and the vapors emitted by anxious humans.

Once she had done all she could reasonably do on the work flowchart, Leila just sat and thought about her family. A low-level concern for them had been rising in her lately. Roxana had written that their kid brother Dylan’s new GF was a battle-ax. Dylan hadn’t mentioned a girl to Leila. Also according to Roxana, their mother had had two suspicious falls in the last nine months, the second one resulting in a broken wrist. Leila couldn’t tell by e-mail how exactly Roxana had meant suspicious. Like, neurologically? Or alcoholically? She noted again that no one ever informed on Roxana like this. Birth order did seem to trump the other personality predictors, Leila thought. Would that be forever? What about after their parents died? How far away was that? None of the Majnoun children had spawned yet. Was that breaking their parents’ hearts? Her mom’s, yes, probably. But her dad was a beloved middleschool principal in Tarzana, California. Maybe that job satisfied some of his grandpaternal needs?

Leila decided she would wait ten more minutes and then go in search of someone, maybe Colonel Zeya himself. Though good luck finding that guy. He must have an office in every dingy little government building in Mandalay, and a henchman to keep people out of each one. This was the third time that Leila had been promised her shipment, a shipment that represented six months of work on her part. But this was the first time she had actually been brought to the airport. On the previous occasions, she had been summoned to the terrestrial passage entry station behind the clamorous bus depot, and those had turned out to be shakedowns—demands for the payment of newly discovered taxes and import duties. Most NGOs allowed for a certain amount of this. But Helping Hand was not playing along. New York said that to do so would “abet endemic corruption”—or perhaps this was just Boss 1 screwing with Boss 2—and at first refused to release the funds that might win Leila her shipment. Only by haranguing Boss 3 was Leila able to convince HQ that the extra money was in this case a cost of doing business.

Still; still. Leila had moved similar shipments hundreds of times. This was a container of palletized medical equipment—fourteen short tons—that she’d coaxed without incident from Miami to Doha to Yangon and then to Naypyidaw, the bizarre new capital that the generals had erected suddenly in the middle of the country. But then her shipment had been waylaid and effectively ransomed by an invisible mafia of Myanmarese customs officers who could be reached only by phone, and even then only via their underlings’ phones. Once Leila figured out which government building contained the Department of Leila Antagonism, she and her driver, Aung-Hla, took the half-day trip to Naypyidaw and attempted a frontal assault. But the stupidly hatted officials she located—though shocked that she’d found them—only asked her to return with obscurer forms and more exact change.

She worried that her shipment was getting picked through and pilfered from. It was high-end stuff. If the bozos at HQ had their way, the crates would probably be stamped expensive and ALREADY LOST and SORRY ABOUT COLONIALISM. Worrying about it kept her up at night. Though there were other things that kept her up at night also. The subtropical heat, the mouse-size cockroaches, the regretful thoughts about Rich. And how much regret are you allowed when you’re the one who did the dumping? And the loneliness. Sometimes—often—her day was a screen, a phone, a couple of merchants, and three meals by herself. That wore thin.

A man was coming toward her. One of Zeya’s underlings, but not the one who had deposited her in the infernal waiting room. She recognized this guy from an earlier fruitless wait; he’d brought her a Coke once. She did not stand up but tried to look unbothered as he approached.

“Follow me, please,” he said. It was five degrees cooler outside the little room, and that relief slipped down her collar and into the humid biome beneath her shirt. Leila could hardly wait. By the end of the day, she would have the crates de-palletized, inventoried, and stacked in the storeroom she’d rented beneath her office. She was having an effect; she was causing things to happen. Huzzah!

She tried to tamp down her excitement. Not until you see it. Not until you touch it. And was there something troubling in the way this lackey was walking through the little corridors of the big building? Some slump in his shoulders?

Shit. He didn’t want to get where they were going. He was actually slowing down.

And then her worry bloomed into certainty. Somehow she knew. That huzzah had been premature.

The post Start Reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Jul 292014
 

The post Start Reading Death Will Have Your Eyes by James Sallis appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Death Will Have Your Eyes by James SallisThe Mulholland Classic series is our initiative to bring our favorite classic mysteries back to print. Our fervent hope is that a new generation of readers will pick up one of our Classic paperbacks and discover the great authors who made us fall in love with this genre. First we published A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones, followed by Brian D’Amato’s Beauty. Today we welcome the return of James Sallis’s acclaimed espionage novel, Death Will Have Your Eyes. Sample Sallis’s inimitable writing style below.

The man kept opening his mouth, wanting something from me, but it was a language I didn’t know. Not Mandarin. Not Thai or Vietnamese. Only sounds. His voice rose and fell in pitch. Shouting, demanding. I shook my head, the sour, foul smell of my own body washing up over me in waves, tongue so swollen I could not talk, could not respond. Soon the pain would start again. And I would rise, hover near the ceiling looking down. Watching. Apart.

I woke suddenly, rushing to exchange the currency of dreams for coin I could spend. Morning light fell dazzlingly through the skylight onto the futon. Those wide shadows were not bars or slats in a cage—only the leaves of plants in hanging baskets up there. That sound was only the phone.

Nothing else in the room. No windows. The futon, a painted bamboo screen against one wall, an expanse of blond wood floor—tongue and groove I’d put in myself. About as close as the real world gets to the ordered simplicity of oriental drawings.

No one else, either. Only Gabrielle and myself.

She slept crosswise on the futon, my head cradled in her lap. Trying to get away from the light, I turned over. “Oh yes, please,” she said. But obviously the phone was not going to quit ringing, so I snaked along the bed to answer it. Gabrielle grabbed me as I went by and held on.

I listened for a moment and hung up. “Wrong number,” I told her. “I’ve got your number,” she said, head moving to replace her hand, but I stopped her, wrapping black hair around both my hands and pulling her up into a slow, easy kiss.

“I’m going for a run,” I said. “Get the sludge out. Want to come along?”

“At six in the bleedin’ mornin’?

With Gabby you never knew what accent you might get. Her features came mostly from an Irish mother and patrician Mexican father, but her extended family was pure goulash. Dad left when she was three, and she and her mother spent years shuttling from household to household, family to family, country to country. This early morning, the accent was British, a better choice than most, I suppose, for gradations of polite outrage.

“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t ask. So go back to sleep now, my little peasant.”

“Pheasant?”

“Peasant. Half an hour, tops, even with a head wind. I’ll bring breakfast.”

“And here I thought you were breakfast.”

“Miss, have you considered taking up a hobby?”

“No time for it.”

“That was my point.”

She shrugged. “One stays with what one’s good at. Run along now,” she said, and was asleep again before I got shorts and shoes on.

I stood watching her a moment—her compact brown body against light blue sheets, breasts just a little too heavy, rib cage set high—then went into the bathroom. Turned on the radio there. It was Mozart, a serenade performed on “original” instruments which the musicians wrestled valiantly to bring into tune. Thousands upon thousands of dollars, thousands upon thousands of hours, had been expended on this bogus authenticity, these elaborate counterfeits. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then stood at the window looking out till the piece was over. One doesn’t hang up on Mozart.

There were few others in the park that early: a handful of runners and dog walkers; one young mother who looked remarkably like Shirley Temple pushing a pram; another trotting along with three children at her heels, all of them androgynous looking and none over five years old; street people starting off on their day’s boundless odyssey. Birds and squirrels worried at yesterday’s leavings, perhaps hoping their investigations would help them understand these huge, dangerous beings that lived in their midst.

I swung around the park’s perimeter in an easy jog, following an asphalt bike path, and stopped at a pay phone on the far side, the kind of old-fashioned booth you rarely see anymore. There I dialed a number I still knew all too well. It was picked up on the first ring.

“Age has slowed you, perhaps.”

“As you must realize, I was in no hurry to return this call. At first, I was not even sure that I wanted to respond at all. And after eight years—”

“Actually, it just slipped over the edge into nine.”

“—I believed it likely that whatever business you think you have with me could wait a few more minutes.”

“Perhaps. However, your plane departs at ten or thereabouts. American, Flight eight seventeen. You are Dr. John Collins, a dentist on vacation.”

“Sir.”

Silence.

“It has been, as you say, nine years. I have a career, a new life, commitments.”

Silence still.

“I am no longer in your employ.”

A still longer silence. Then finally: “It will be good to see you again, David.”

I hung up and ran back the way I’d come, pushing myself now. A light breeze was coming up, and full sunlight struck the artificial lake at a slant, tossing off sheets of glare. Birds and squirrels didn’t seem any closer to understanding us. Neither did I.

They were waiting by the benches about halfway around, in a space partially screened by trees. You wouldn’t be able to see much, here, either from the street or adjacent apartments. So some thought had gone into it, at least.

One was in jeans, black sweatshirt and British Knights, twentyish, a broad, pale-complected man with bad skin. His head kept tic-ing convulsively towards his right shoulder, crossing and recrossing the same minute, almost imperceptible arc. The other was maybe ten years older, wearing what had once been an expensive suit, with a chambray dress shirt frayed to white at the cuff and loose threads at the collar, and a knit tie with the knot tugged down to his breastbone. Lank brown hair tucked behind his ears.

“Your money, sir?” the younger one said, stepping in front of me. “Don’t mean to hurt you. This can all be over with in half a minute, you want.”

Chest heaving, heart throwing itself again and again against rib cage, I sank onto one of the benches. A placard alongside documented this as STATION NINE (9). Pictographs indicated that I was to restretch muscles and tendons, check my pulse against my own personal MHR, perform ten to twenty deep knee bends.

“ . . . Minute,” I said. Then, catching my breath: “I don’t carry money when I’m running, boys. Better pick another pigeon.”

“Done got our pigeon.” The older one. He raked straying hair behind one ear with the open fingers of his hand. Ran his nose quickly along that coat sleeve. It was slick already from prior crossings. “Just got to fry it up now. Drumsticks.”

I glanced briefly at him, and when I did, the younger one made his move.

With amateurs, it’s always easier when there’s more than one. Then you can use them effectively against each other, the same way you use an attacker’s own momentum against him in classic judo. That’s the physical part. But they also get overconfident: safety in numbers and all that. And even those who know something about what they’re doing can get sloppy or, hesitating to check on the other one, let down their guard for that essential brief second.

With these guys I swiveled into a basic high-low, unwinding like a spring, low and moving inexorably right-ward to take out the younger one with a sideways blow to the knee as I spun past, then on past the older one, coming in high and behind as he was looking down to see what happened to his partner, watching him crumple from an open-handed blow just below the third cervical vertebra as I went past.

I followed the arc out to its natural stop and straightened, concerned. You never lose the reflexes, but the edge fades on you. You lose the exact touch, where imperceptible gradations can mean the difference between stunning an adversary and permanently damaging him. I was afraid I might have come down a little too hard.

But apparently not. If anything, from my concern over going in too hard and fast—when I shouldn’t have been thinking at all, simply reacting—I’d held back. The older guy had already climbed to his feet and was staggering towards me with a hunting knife he’d tugged out of his boot.

I felt all consciousness of self melt away, felt myself dissolving into motion, reflex, reaction.

The knife clattered onto cement and he lay in a grassy patch beside a bench, elbow shattered, face draining of color.

“Please,” he said. “Oh shit. Please.”

I stood there a moment. Yesterday, even an hour ago, what had just happened would not have. I’d have handed over whatever money I had, talked to them. Or simply run. And yesterday, even an hour ago, once it had happened, I would have called the police and awaited them. I’d spent years trying to turn myself off, shut the systems down, before I was finally successful. And now the switch had been thrown again: deep within myself, whether or not I wished it, whether or not I accepted it, I was again active, and on standing orders.

So I left the muggers there, knowing they were people with complicated histories and frustrated needs like my own and probably didn’t deserve what had happened to them, and went home to Gabrielle.

She stumbled into the kitchen just as I was finishing breakfast, wearing one of my T-shirts, which hit her midthigh, and white socks that had started off at the knee and now were bulky anklets. She took the cup of tea I handed her, looked at my face and said, “What’s wrong, Dave? Something has happened.”

“Sit down.” I slid a plate of buttered rye toast, fruit and cheese in front of her. Ceramic plate, thrown on a wheel near Tucson, signed by the artist, all brilliant blues and deep greens. I sat opposite her with my own tea, in a mug from the same set.

“This is going to be difficult.”

“Yeah, looks that way. But we’ve been through a lot together. And we’ve always handled it.”

“Nothing like this, G, believe me.”

I looked at the window, wondering how the birds and squirrels were doing, then at her face. So familiar, so filled with meaning for me. So open to me now.

“Everything you know about me, everything you think you know, is false.”

“No,” she said.

“Yes. I have to tell you that much, have to insist on it. But for good reason I can’t tell you more, not now. Now I have to ask you to do something for me, to do it immediately and without question.”

After a moment she nodded.

“I want you to pack whatever you absolutely must have and I want you to go away. Not back to your apartment, but
somewhere—anywhere—else. Preferably out of the city. I don’t want to know where you are. In a week, a month, whenever I can, if I can, I’ll come and find you.”

“It would be easier if I knew why, Dave.”

“Yes. It would.”

“But I don’t have to know.”

She was away maybe ten minutes and came back into the kitchen with a huge over-the-shoulder bag and one small suitcase. I sat at the table and drank my tea, looked out the window. Heard sirens nearby, then, as though just an echo, others far away. Watched an ambulance pull up at a brownstone down the street, lights sweeping.

“Well,” she said.

“You’re an extraordinary woman, Gabrielle. I love you, you know.”

“Yes. You do.”

And she was gone.

Outside, several million lives went on as though nothing had happened.

After a while I walked through the archway into the studio. Began capping tubes and cans of paint, turning off burners and hot plates under pots of wax, soft metals, glue. It would be a long time before I came back here, if I came back at all.

At one end of the long room, by the windows, sat the piece I’d been working on, a forbidding mass of mixed materials—burlap, clay, metals, wood, paper—from which a shape struggled to release itself. You could feel the physicality, the sheer exertion, the intensity, of that struggle. I threw a tarp over it and as the tarp descended, the sculpture’s form, what I’d been seeking, what I’d been trying to uncover for so long, came to me all at once: suddenly I could see it.

The post Start Reading Death Will Have Your Eyes by James Sallis appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Jul 282014
 

The post For Your eReader: Spree by Michael Morley appeared first on Mulholland Books.

Spree eBook by Michael MorleyAt Mulholland Books, we’re surrounded by great book publishers. We’ve got our parent imprint, Little Brown and Company (hi, mom/dad!). We’ve got Orbit Books downstairs (hi, Comic Con partners!). And we’ve got Grand Central Publishing down the hall. Today we’re highlighting a new eBook available tomorrow from GCP  that we think readers of Mulholland Books—including fans of James Patterson, David Baldacci, Jeffery Deaver, and Harlan Coben—will love.

A madman is on the rampage in the Los Angeles streets. The City of Angels has become The City of Fear. And everyone from the Oval Office down wants a quick result. The heat is on Jake Mottram, head of the FBI’s new Spree Killer Unit, and psychological profiler Angie Holmes to find the madman responsible.

Until now, they’ve been great together. Both at work and in bed. But a killer is about to come between them, in ways that could cost them far more than their careers. Will they survive the spree about to come?

Spree: Life and death in LA—like you’ve never seen it before. Click here to read an excerpt.

Preorder the eBook from Google Play | iBooks | Kobo | Nook

The post For Your eReader: Spree by Michael Morley appeared first on Mulholland Books.

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