Beyond Salvage: Excerpt 1

bkcotton-72dpi-1500x2000

**WORK IN PROGRESS. DOES NOT REFLECT QUALITY OF FINAL DRAFT**

Gabe sat in the driver’s seat and his head started to pound again. Unlike previous episodes, the pain was tolerable this time. No sound came from the truck’s engine and the neighborhood was quiet. Time slowed down for him as he looked around the nice neighborhood. There was a park behind them and a row of modest two story homes lined the street. In front of him was his target. A beautiful, two story yellow home with green shutters. A swing was put into place on the front porch since the last time he was here. He looked on and the best memories of his life started to retrace themselves into his brain.

With his eyes closed, he remembered like it was only yesterday. His shoes dug into the green grass of the lawn. For the first time in their lives, Gabe and Angela were home owners. The love of his life stood in front of him with a brand new hand held camera in her right hand. The wind blew at her hair and white sun dress. Gabe had on a Navy dress suit. The wind sending his maize tie to the west. Nothing but a large smile was on his face. His hands gripped the sign which had the word “SOLD” tapped across the real estate company’s logo.

“Are you ready, yet?” Gabe wondered, his back sore.

“Just a minute,” Angela replied while she fiddled around with the black camera. “I can’t get this…damn thing to work.”

Gabe’s smile grew wider. There was something about the way she cursed that always brought a smile on his face. She was so innocent, so pure, and even when she cursed it sounded like gospel. He looked down to the lawn, his lawn, and he knew that this would be one of the best days of his life.

“Okay!” Angela cried. “Its recording! Do it!”

Gabe looked into the camera. “This is Gabriel Black and this is our house!”

With a furious pull, the sign was ripped from the ground, and brown dirt blew through the wind. He held up the sign high in the air like he had just caught the game winning touchdown at the Super Bowl. A furious, over enthusiastic cry hammed up for the camera escaped his lungs. Angela wailed in hysteria behind the camera. Whoever watched the botched film would no doubt feel vertigo and maybe a touch of epilepsy. After a moment, Gabe started to laugh, too. He threw down the sign and approached his wife. While she was still recording, he grabbed her and pulled her close. The footage afterward was nothing but grass and the sound of their lips smacking against one another’s. Without a doubt, the best day of his life…

Gabe’s head jerked to the right as he brought himself back to the present. In a moment of panic, his head darted around from the right to left and then to the front. The mid-90’s Mercedes sedan was still parked in the drive way in front of him. The house still in front of him as well. Gabe didn’t see any agents, police, or any other kind of threats. It was a quiet, empty neighborhood still. Once he got that clear to himself, he looked to the back. Lauren was still sound asleep on the bench. A stolen white sheet from their motel room the previous night providing her with warmth.

The thought of leaving her behind crossed his mind several times before he left, but he decided that he would have to label himself a fool if he did. She knew too much about him. Too many answers were locked away inside of her brain. Not to mention that he did, in fact, want to help her. If the CIA fucked around with his brain, and they planned to do it to innocent civilians, they had to be stopped. For a brief moment, she twitched, causing Gabe to tense up for a minute and grip the handle of the P99 pistol in his lap. It was only a twitch and she remained asleep.

Whenever she did wake, the rouge agent was going to be none too pleased with him. During the night, he feigned sleep until he was certain that she was sound asleep on the second bed. When he was sure, he snuck out of the motel room and started to search the truck. After fighting back those thoughts of ditching her, he found what he was looking for. Inside the glove compartment, in a small, orange box were interrogation enhancers. There were needles filled with pain inducing drugs, a small club hammer, and a tiny baggie with two pills of Rophynol. He smirked when he saw it. If for some reason Lauren needed to get away and leave him behind, she would slip him a roofie, and then leave him for dead. This rationalization caused a brief moment of distrust, but then, he couldn’t blame her for taking precautions. Lauren Winters thought he was a crazy man, after all.

No matter his feelings about it, he would use this to his advantage. In the morning he walked into the motel room with a box of doughnuts and two coffees. One coffee in a black cup, the other in a dark brown cup, with the doughnut shop’s logo emblazoned on each. Though he didn’t drink decaf, he told the pretty young cashier that he needed one regular and one decaf, giving him the two different cups. The black cup was regular and contained the sedative at the bottom.

Lauren looked to him in shock at first and leapt from the bed. “What the hell were you doing out there?”

Gabe put up a façade as Lauren slammed the door shut behind him. “I thought you might be hungry.”

“Jesus Christ!” Lauren’s voice now rose. She moved the curtains from the front of the windows her eyes darting. “Do you want us to get dead?”

“I was careful.”

Once she saw there was no danger, Lauren’s polka dot panty covered ass slammed down on a chair by the table. She was wearing a white tank, with no bra underneath, and she now made an effort cover her nipples. Not that Gabe was looking, in his mind, he was in love with another woman still. He placed the pink box down on the table and handed her the black cup of coffee. They ate in silence, drank their coffee in silence, and within minutes she was passed out on the floor.

Minutes later, Lauren started to move again. In one fluid motion her body shot up from under the sheet. Her eyes were wide with fear. The sheer suddenness of her awakening caught Gabe off guard. He fumbled with the pistol before the muzzle was aimed at her head. Her breathing quickened, she held her hands in the air, still not sure what was going on. Not knowing where she was or how she ended up in the back seat of the four door F-150. She was fully clothed and she wasn’t even sure how she got that way.

“Gabe,” she said. “Put the gun down.”

Gabe maintained his resolve. He didn’t want to have to shoot her but he was prepared to do so if necessary. “I need assurances.”

“What kind of assurances? You’ve done lost it.”

“That’s all right, according to you, I already have lost it.”

“Where are we?” Lauren demanded again. Her eyes focused on the yellow house. She recognized it from somewhere… “Oh my God, Gabriel. You really do want us dead, don’t you?”

“I wanted to see it one last time,” Gabe replied from behind the gun. “And to prove to you that I’m not crazy.”

“You’re doing quite the opposite. They’ll come for us here.”

“I’ve been sitting here for over an hour. Everything’s quiet.”

“But, they will come. Christ, I can’t believe that you are this stupid.”

“Maybe your department didn’t do as good a job of ‘engineering’ my consciousness. As you so eloquently put it.”

Lauren’s heart pounding against her chest like it was trying to escape. “Listen to me, Gabe. You don’t have to prove anything to me. Let’s just get out of here before we’re spotted.”

“No,” Gabe said. “I don’t believe you.”

“We’re wasting time here. I will bring you back after our job is over, I swear it.”

“That’s not how this is going to work. We’re going to go in there and I’m going to prove to you that I’m not insane. Or I’ll put a bullet in your head.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” Gabe inched the muzzle closer to her frightened face. “We’re going in there, you and me, you got it?”

Lauren nodded her head in defeat. “All right, Gabriel. Your show. But when we end up dead, or in some torture chamber, it’s all your fault. Where’s my gun?”

“In my possession.” Gabe replied. Her handgun was fit snug into the shoulder holster underneath his left armpit. His dark suit jacket concealed it from view.

“Hand it over, please.”

“No.”

Lauren persisted. “I want protection.”

Gabe smirked. “You’ve got me. Now, out of the car.”

He kept the gun leveled at her head as she moved out. His movements were in sync with hers. He opened his door at the precise moment that she opened hers. Their feet hit the pavement of the driveway at the same time. With a motion forward with his head, Lauren took the lead. Gabe’s eyes darted from left the right as they moved. His fear now was not of an agent seeing him hold a woman at gun point, but a neighbor out for a stroll appearing out of nowhere. As they inched closer, he began to lower his weapon.

“No sudden movements,” Gabe said from behind. “Remember what you told me. I was built to be a ruthless killing machine. My instincts and reflexes unparalleled.”

“I got it,” Lauren said without looking back. “You don’t have to threaten me. What’s your plan for getting us in there?”

“You’re going to get us in.”

Lauren moved her feet up the two concrete steps up to the porch one at a time. “How do you expect me to do that?”

“Improvise.”

“Improvise. Yeah, just great.”

“Stop.”

His hostage obeyed. She faced forward and remained that way. Gabe flattened his back against the yellow siding, inches away from the door. He whispered for her to get on with it. She put her head down and walked to the door. In that brief moment, she began to regret bringing Gabe along, but Frost had insisted upon it. It reeked of disaster, but she played along with it anyway, trusting Frost’s judgment. She thought that he could be controlled, as he had been for the past seven years, but she was wrong. She just hoped that her minor lapse in judgment didn’t cost her life.

“Do it.” Gabe whispered again.

Lauren gripped the black handle of the screen door and pushed in the black button. To her surprise, the screen door wasn’t locked. She then reached for the aged, gold painted door handle of the front door. With nothing to lose, she tried to open it, but it was locked. Faint sounds from the television filled her ears. She could feel Gabe’s stare on her and she pounded on the door. Her mind raced for something, anything, to get them in the house. She didn’t want to die. Whoever lived in this house didn’t deserve to die for her mistakes, either. Through the window, she could see an elderly woman walking towards the front door. Her heart sank.

Don’t you dare do anything to harm them, Gabe! Don’t you dare!

The old woman unlocked the dead bolt and inched the door open. She smiled at Lauren. “Can I help you, young lady?”

Lauren nodded. “Yes, it’s my truck, it…”

Before she could get out another word, and before either of the two women knew what happened, Gabe sprang to life. Like a lion pouncing on its prey, he was in front of the door. He gave the door a wild, hard kick, which sent the old woman flailing backward. Lauren moved in to attend to her.

“You’ve hurt her!” Lauren cried.

“Ethel!” the old woman’s husband cried from his old recliner. “What in Sam hell is going on over there!”

Gabe ignored it all. He slammed the door shut behind him, locked the dead bolt, and then turned. His gun leveled, but his aim at nothing in particular, just the sight of the gun caused Ethel and her husband to cry out in terror. Lauren was hunched over, attending to the old woman. Gabe kept his attention to Lauren, hoping that he wouldn’t have to shoot her.

“In the living room,” Gabe shouted. “Now!”

Lauren stood in front of Gabe once the old woman was to her feet. Ethel ran into the living room and sat her ass down on the couch. Lauren’s wits started to come back to her. In the confusion of her hangover, the thought of how to diffuse this situation hadn’t occurred to her. She cursed herself for not thinking of this sooner.

“Gabe,” she said. “Do put down the gun.”

Gabe flinched for a moment and the pain started to go to his frontal lobe. To Lauren’s terror, the gun hadn’t lowered. The commands hard wired into his brain weren’t working! Gabe’s face changed to that of a stone cold killer. The thought then entered Lauren’s mind that she had unwittingly commanded him to kill her, to open fire on the elderly couple, holy shit!

“I said,” Gabe said with a snarl through his clinched teeth. “In the living room.”

Advertisements

Cotton’s Reviews: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum

51cNYAk5T9L__SX277_BO1,204,203,200_

So, I’m thinking of trying something new for my blog. Though this is mainly used as promotional for me and my books, I figured that adding my own reviews of my personal favorite books could add a little depth to it. Also, these reviews will reveal to you, my readers, the books that have inspired me in my path of becoming a writer.

My first review will be of one of my all-time favorite novels: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum, my favorite author. This is one of the few books that I’ve read all the way through more than once. It is an excellent novel filled with intrigue, action, cold war espionage, a touch of romance, and great characters that you can get behind.

The book stars two spies: Brandon “Bray” Scofield of the USA’s Consular Operations and a KGB operative Visili Taleniekov. The two spies are bitter rivals, sworn enemies, they have both promised to eliminate the other. Back in Bray’s prime, Taleniekov orchestrated the murder of Bray’s wife. Now, the rival spies will be forced to work together once the Russian spy learns of a top secret cabal known only as “The Matarese”.

The novel starts fast, with executions of top US and Russian political figures, and the action never lets up all the way to the end when Scofield and Taleniekov confront the top secret leaders of the Matarese. One of the things about this novel, on top of the excellent action and spy games, is the fact that Ludlum creates characters that you care about. You feel deep sympathy for Scofield, who is simply existing after his wife’s murder, and when he thinks he’s found love again in Antonia, the reader simply is rooting for them. But, it is also apparent that his finding love again may have come too late. Ludlum also creates an intriguing character in Taleniekov. A brilliant spy, he has his own inner demons that he must overcome in chasing the Matarese.

At over 500 pages long, it is a novel that, for a slower reader like myself, could take a while to get through. However, the action never lets up, and there are only a few slower parts towards the middle. But, the slower parts are thankfully scattered about amongst the action. Overall, I would say that this is Robert Ludlum’s best novel, even better than The Bourne Identity of which I am also a huge fan of. Though I have yet to read this novel’s sequel, The Matarese Countdown, I have heard nothing but negative things about it and will likely not read it as to not ruin my memory of this excellent book.

I give the novel 4.5/5 stars, the only thing knocking it down from a perfect score are those slower parts. However, this could just as well be rated 5/5 stars. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for some old school, Cold War espionage and a thriller with heart.

THE FREE & THE BRAVE Excerpt 2

10683232_10101733190015522_1301748986_o

This is a work in progress. Text doesn’t reflect the quality of the final draft!

The loud sound of the sirens outside pierced through Kaspar’s ears. He cursed himself for getting sloppy. It would only be a matter of time before the guards would move in on this bedroom and everything would go to hell. The rebel didn’t have time for any of the old general’s bullshit: especially since he would love nothing more than to put a bullet in his head.

“How many men do you have patrolling here?” Kaspar demanded. He gripped a P99 from his right thigh and a P30 from his left. He clicked both safeties off with his thumbs.

“Not many tonight.” Blackman replied as he stood up. “I intentionally called off the majority of them, for obvious reasons.”

“It would have been nice to call all of them off.”

“That would have raised suspicion.”

The old man had a point. There was no time to sit and dwell on it, though. From the outside, the two men in the bedroom could hear footsteps as they crashed down on the aged wood. Kaspar caught a glimpse of Blackman reaching for an M1911-A1 pistol. He pointed one of the guns towards the old man, the other was aimed at the door.

“Don’t think so, old timer.” Kaspar said.

“You’re going to need my help to make it out of here alive.” Blackman replied.

“I said, I don’t think so.” Kaspar then moved his left hand towards his throat. “I have the package but the alarms have been tripped. Need picked up, now.”

“Roger.”

Kaspar moved the gun hand back to the door. Blackman still had the pistol, but he holstered it at his hip. Just as he did, the door was kicked in. Blackman pointed towards the masked man. Kaspar raised his gun filled hands.

“Drop your we….” the guard tried to say.

He took a bullet to the head from Blackman’s pistol instead. Another sentry moved in. Kaspar fired consecutive rounds from both of his guns with Blackman’s help. Kaspar then turned to the old man.

“You trust me, yet?” Blackman demanded.

“Come on, let’s go.” Kaspar said.

The two moved out of the bedroom and into the hallway. When they reached the vast space in front of the stairs, they could hear men move up. They both kneeled down and waited. An object, long and round in shape and gray in color, rolled across the aged wood. Kaspar recognized it as a flashbang. He reached over, took hold of it, and threw it over the railing. The grenade went off and the two men moved to the staircase.

Their targets were blinded and confused. There were four sentries and each was taken out by several rounds from the handguns. Kaspar’s went dry, so he ejected the mags and reloaded his guns one at a time. Blackman did the same with his vintage gun beside him.

The two moved down the stairs, stepping over the bodies, with their guns drawn. When they reached the bottom, they headed towards the living room. They were met by three guards armed with assault rifles. They were at the far end of the room.

“Put those down.” Blackman ordered.

“Sir,” the guard at the front said, his rifle aimed square on Kaspar’s head. “What’s going on? Who is this intruder?”

“He’s with me, now obey my orders, men.”

“Begging your pardon,” the guard replied. “We don’t take orders from you. We are only your personal guard, we answer to someone higher. Now, this guy is resistance, what the…”

The sentry didn’t get out what he wanted to say. He took a single bullet to the head from the M1911 and went to the ground. The others were confused at first before they turned their attention towards the two men. Kaspar and Blackman moved to the old couch and took cover behind it. As they did, the room was filled with the sound of automatic gunfire.

“Smooth!” Kaspar cried.

Blackman didn’t respond. Instead, he moved over the side of the couch and got a few rounds out from his pistol. Kaspar did the same with both of his handguns over the other side. The guards were taking cover by the doorway which led into the dining room. One of them moved to the side and fired an automatic burst at Kaspar’s head. Kaspar moved back over and avoided death for the umpteenth time.

The old general looked to his new partner. He moved his head to the left in gesture for Kaspar to go towards the family room. The bottom floor of the plantation was a giant, squared circle. Blackman knew the place well. Kaspar shook his head no. Even though he could see what Blackman was thinking, he didn’t feel comfortable leaving him.

“I’ve got to bring you in alive. No way I’m leaving you here alone.”

“Listen to me,” Blackman cried as a flurry of bullets tore through the couch in between them. “I’ll be okay. We’ve got to flank them!”

Kaspar, with reluctance, nodded and looked on the left side of the couch. The rebel told the old man that he would be right back and to not get dead. Blackman rose up and fired his pistol to give Kaspar cover fire. The rebel stayed low and moved with quick steps to the left. Once he made it safely to the family room entrance, Blackman moved back down and reloaded his pistol.

The family room was full of the finest china decorated all around the table in the center and in an oak cabinet in the far corner. Kaspar stepped over the body of a sleeping guard and moved towards the doorway with both handguns pointed forward. Once he reached the end of the room, he flattened his back against the wall. He moved his head over the corner to get a peek at what was going on. He could see the two guards alternating turns to fire away at the old man.

Kaspar counted to five and then he pivoted left which exposed himself to the guards. He aimed his handguns towards the direction of the guards at fired. The first few rounds from his shots entered the guard at the near end, closest to Kaspar. The second gunman turned and fired automatic rounds at Kaspar. Kaspar dropped low, did a roll to avoid the bullets, and then got back to his knees again. He aimed his two handguns at the guard and fired consecutively until both mags were dry. As the gunsmoke cleared, Kaspar could see Blackman walk into the dining room.

He aimed his gun at each of the fallen guards and finished them off with headshots.

THE FREE & THE BRAVE: 1st Excerpt

10683232_10101733190015522_1301748986_o

*This is a work in progress. Doesn’t reflect the quality of the final draft!*

The only appropriate reaction Sullivan had when he pulled up to the restaurant was a shake of the head. This place had to be the ritziest place of fine dining in the area. When he walked through the parking lot all he could see were citizens—no, people—walking around with their jewels and expensive suits. That sickening feeling, deep in the pit of his stomach, got worse as he saw them. This many rich people congregating in one spot meant one thing: there would be a heavy USR presence of some kind in this place. He couldn’t shake the feeling now, which was covered up by hope, that he was walking straight into a trap.

There was only one thing that stopped him from turning around and riding it the hell out of town. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a portrait of Davie. His eyes stared down at the photo as he paused his walk towards the front doors. He placed the picture back into his pocket and allowed himself to breathe for a moment. If he turned around and went home, so to speak, then he would never find Davie. The only thing the former Agent could do was get in, get out, and trust that his friends would have his back if everything went sour.

Upon approach to the front door, the attractive young brunette in her mid-twenties flashed him a smile that showed off her pearly whites. Sullivan pulled out his fake ID card when she asked for it, told her that he was meeting a Mr. Smith, and that she had a pretty smile. That bit of flattery caused the young woman to giggle a little bit as she thanked him. He had to break her heart an instant later, though, when he flashed his old wedding ring that he still hadn’t taken off. Too bad we couldn’t meet under better circumstances, Sullivan thought. For tonight, his name was Otis Vickers, married man with four children. He earned his wealth working for the Crimson Corporation, rising fast in their Southwest office.

“If you ever get bored with your wife,” the young woman said. “You know where to find me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Sullivan replied. Son of a bitch…

The atmosphere inside the restaurant was a festive one, to say the least. Everyone in the room wore their best, most expensive clothes as they chowed down on their green salads, and drank their fruit cocktails. Sullivan peered all around the restaurant as he was led to Mr. Smith’s table. All the while, he looked around for the exits. There were two fire escapes in each of the back corners. There was the front door, obviously, which wouldn’t do him any good if there was an ambush. The large, crystal clear glass windows all around the place could also be shot out and broken through.

He was also on the lookout for any potential Agents who could be stationed here. It would have to be a very distinct possibility, given the standing of the people who enjoyed a night out of fine dining, the restaurant would at least have employed their own security force. Being an Agent for so long, he could sniff out anyone who pretended like they weren’t there to put a bullet in the head of anyone who wanted to cause trouble for the more privileged of the USR’s citizens.

The first guard, or Agent, was easy enough to spot. He sat at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, near the entrance, where he had a good view of the goings on. The fingers of his left hand rubbed on his half empty glass of water, his right hand remained on his thigh. He no doubt had a gun holstered under the table. Number one didn’t seem interested in eating or drinking his water. He was just watching.

Number two and number three stuck out like sore thumbs. They each patrolled around the restaurant on opposite sides. Unlike the first one, their presence as armed security was intended to be known. They brandished their guns, which were not concealed very well, each man bore a shoulder holster underneath their expensive sports jackets. There had to be more than just the three though…

“Mr. Smith?” the host said. “Mr. Vickers has arrived to see you.”

Mr. Smith gave an exaggerated look of recognition. “Yes, Mr. Vickers, it’s so nice to see you again. Please have a seat.”

“Thank you, sir.” Sullivan replied with a forced politeness.

“How’s business?” Mr. Smith wondered.

The host pulled a chair back for Sullivan. “Its fine, sir.”

“Oh don’t be so formal,” Mr. Smith said with a wave of his hand aimed at the host. “You can leave us, now.”

The host gave a polite bow of the head and then turned to walk away to the next customer. Sullivan noted that Mr. Smith seemed to be doing all right for himself, to say the least. Not only did the schools that he taught at pay him well, but he also earned some extra credits selling information, just like tonight. He wore a solid gold watch, which matched the solid gold ring on his right pinkie finger. His left pinkie ring had a white gold band with diamonds all around it. He reached out for a handshake which Sullivan didn’t want to embrace. However, for the sake of the cameras in the place, he did so anyway.

“So,” Mr. Smith sighed, “you want some information on one of my students?”

***

The young man named Peter stared with a blank expression at the monitors in front of him. With the seventh yawn in the past fifteen minutes, his eyes became moist. He grabbed a tissue from the desk in front and wiped at the tears. His job was truly the worst kind of prison to be put in. Being forced to watch all the well to do’s sit and talk about their riches, their women, whatever, made him sick to his stomach. Peter could barely afford his tiny place, yet he was tasked with making sure that they remained safe. What a crock of shit.

Not only that, but nothing, literally nothing, ever happened in there. The armed presence of restaurant security were more than enough of a deterrent against thugs who would want to rob these people, abduct them for ransom, etc. The only thing that interested him about his job was the new, still in development facial recognition software armed on the computers. The computers would automatically look at the faces of the camera feed and run those faces through the USR’s wanted list. If the face of any fugitive, known resistance member, or rogue Agent was recognized in the computer, it would send out an alert. But, again, no matches were ever found.

Peter reached over for his cup of water and took a sip. It was about this time in the work night that loneliness started to rear its ugly head. With nothing to do but look at a computer screen all night, there was nothing to distract him from agonizing over his own pitiful life. There was no woman at home waiting for him in the morning. He didn’t even have a dog. All he had for entertainment was a computer that he doodled on between sleep and dreading going to work the next day.

Something on a monitor to the left caught his attention. He put his cup to the side and rolled the chair closer to it. The facial recognition was starting to do its thing. It had never done this before, so Peter’s initial reaction was that the software glitched out on him. Still, there was nothing else going on, so he focused his full attention to it. The computer began to focus in on a young man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. The man had just shook hands with another well to do and sat down.

Peter could tell that the target of the computer scan was uncomfortable. He kept looking from left to right, as if he knew about the system, so he tried to prevent it from recognizing his face. The computer, though, was too good for that. Peter watched as small, red dots started to form all around his face. Each time the man moved his head, the system just paused, and then resumed from its last position. Next to the man’s face, it read “Potential Match”. Peter couldn’t contain the smile that grew on his face. Finally, some action! He reached for his walkie.

“What is it, Peter?” the agitated head of security said.

“Sir, I might have something.”

.11

Sullivan listened to what Mr. Smith had to say about the condition of the camps and how Davie was living. Mr. Smith mentioned time and again how great of a student his son was. He picked up on math instantly and also had a love for history. There was a mixture of happiness and dread as he continued to listen. On the one hand, he was overjoyed to hear that his son was making such great progress. The little boy was always the brightest in his class and it seemed as if that brightness carried over to USR controlled camps. And, that was the part that caused him to feel dread, he was being trained as a puppet for the USR. Sullivan just couldn’t allow that to happen, not after all he had learned and seen firsthand.

“You look nervous,” Mr. Smith commented as he sipped on a fresh fruit cocktail.

“I’m fine, just, please continue. Where can I find my son?” Sullivan replied.

“You see, that is where we are going to have an issue.”

Sullivan frowned, “What do you mean?”

“Why should I give up one of my brightest and best?”

“What did you think this meeting was going to be about, huh?”

“Well,” Mr. Smith took another sip. “I concluded that our conversation would come down this road.”

Sullivan clinched his fists under the table. “Where is he?”

“Now, come Mr. Vickers, there’s no need to make a scene.”

Sullivan bit down on his tongue as he restrained himself to the chair. If Mr. Smith wanted to see him make a scene, he would make one all right. When he climbed over the table and punched the prick’s lights out, that would really get everyone’s attention, but that would pose a huge problem for the reformed Agent. He would never get Davie back, for one thing, and he’d also find himself riddled with bullets and off to the nothingness with nothing to show for it.

“We had an agreement,” Sullivan said with relaxed breathing. “My son’s location in exchange for credits.”

“That’s going to take a lot of credits, son. I don’t think that you have them.”

Sullivan reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a Bank of Crimson debit card. Loaded onto it were 10,000 credits. When Mr. Smith took a hold of it, he dialed the number on the back of the card. He asked Sullivan what the pin number was and Sullivan gave it to him. When the computerized, seductive female voice told the teacher that there were, indeed, 10,000 USR credits on the card, he hung up the phone and placed the card into his wallet. A large smile grew on his face.

“You have come through, after all.” Mr. Smith said. He reached for the bowl of cherries in front of him. After devouring one, he offered the stem to Sullivan, who declined. “Have it your way then.”

“My son’s location?” Sullivan demanded once more.

Mr. Smith stared cold into Sullivan’s eyes. The former Agent then began to think that this teacher in front of him had betrayed them after all. It wouldn’t be above this guy to stall so the cameras could get a good look at Sullivan’s face, so that he would know who he was really dealing with. But, Sullivan didn’t have time for that. He continued to press on. After he asked for a third time, Mr. Smith’s ice cold stare turned into a friendly one. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small manila folder and began to slide it across the table. Sullivan didn’t give him much of a chance to slide it all the way to him. As soon as it touched the table it was in his hands.

“It’s all…” Mr. Smith began to say.

Before the teacher could get another word out, the glass which held his cocktail shattered from a single gunshot. After the round tore through the glass, it pierced his rib cage and penetrated his heart. Next came the screams from all those in the dining hall. There was another gunshot, the bullet tearing through the white cloth on the wooden table. Sullivan had to think fast. He quickly ducked and rounded the table to where Mr. Smith’s dead body laid. He then drove his shoulder into the table to knock it over and provide him with some cover.

The screams from the rich eaters made it difficult for Sullivan to hear or get a good feel for how many gunmen were in the restaurant. He quickly gave himself a quick inspection. There was red all over his shirt. At first, he panicked that he had been hit, but almost instantly realized that it was just the teacher’s fruit drink which splattered on his shirt. Next, he reached his wrist to his mouth. One of the buttons on his jacket sleeve was a button shaped microphone that Pinkie built.

“We’ve got trouble in here!” Sullivan yelled.

“We’re coming in, Puerco!” X yelled back into Sullivan’s ear.

Sullivan ripped off his jacket, yanked the bottom of his shirt from out of his pants, and then reached to his side for the plastic gun. Once it was pulled free he held it close to his chest with one hand. With the other, he grabbed the manila folder off of the ground and stuffed it into his pants. The puny thing never looked as cheap as it did now. No time to think about that right now, though, as he heard gunshots amongst the screams.

He inched his way over to his left and took a peek. All that could be seen were civilians running towards the exits. He caught a glimpse of one of the gunmen with a Glock aimed forward, the guard ready for the kill. From Sullivan’s lowered position, he went undetected for the moment. He pointed his gun towards the guard’s leg. He hoped that he wouldn’t hit an unsuspecting civilian when took the shot.

His shot was not precise, but it did the job. The small round entered into the gunman’s shin which forced him to the ground. The screams grew louder. Sullivan took another shot at the now fallen gunman. The round pierced through his neck. A hail of bullets came his way as the other guards took aim at the table. Things were not going as planned, Sullivan thought, bullet holes forming all around him.

Sullivan scooted over to the right, not sure if a bullet would strike him at any moment. Once he arrived at the end, he moved his head over to get a look at what was going on. The guards were distracted. The bullets stopped flying his way as he could see some men moving in from the entrance, pushing their way through the crowd. They each had submachine guns in their hands of various types. His friends had shown up.

The former Agent moved up from cover. He caught the attention of the three gunmen who turned to fire on him. Sullivan was able to get two shots into one of them, each round to the shoulder, before he was forced to move back down as the guard’s returned fire. Just as he got down, he heard the sound of automatic gunfire rippling its way through the air. The three guards didn’t stand a chance. Above the screams, Sullivan could hear X’s booming voice call out for him.

“It’s time to go, Puerco!”

John Woo: Greatest Action Filmmaker Ever!

woo2

“Give him one handgun and he’s Superman. Give him two and he’s GOD!”

John Woo is the greatest action filmmaker ever. Of this, I am certain, there is no debate about it in my mind. All due respect to Christopher Nolan, but he’s also my all-time favorite filmmaker. Period. To understand why I feel this way, we have to examine his body of work, and why it’s damn cool, if nothing else. He’s the most copied, most influential, filmmaker here in the States. His staples are everywhere. Only he gets no credit and those ignorant to his foreign work think he’s a joke. It’s tragic.

To get started, I will have to go ahead and admit that Woo has had some terrible films, mostly because of Hollywood. It’s unfortunate that Woo was brought overseas from Hong Kong because he was different. While, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Hollywood was making generic and boring action films with muscle bound guys like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Van Damme to name only a few, Woo was changing the game in Hong Kong. But, when they brought him to America, who starred in his debut film? That’s right: Jean Claude freaking Van Damme! They never let him be himself. The exceptions were Woo’s excellent Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2. Even with Face/Off, according to the special features on the Blu Ray version, it was a battle of wills to allow him to have his pigeons in the climatic moments. Of course, pure white pigeons are Woo’s staple, and even with them they fought to disallow it. Paycheck, Windtalkers, and Hard Target were all laughable movies that became, and were allowed, to become a parody of the man’s excellent work.

However, when one looks at A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled the true genius of this action auteur is at the forefront. We have everything that makes Woo great: ultraviolent, ballistic, a gun in each hand mayhem, Mexican standoffs, and the battle within of justice vs. loyalty. Watching a “real” Woo gun fight is like watching a work of art…a violent work of art! But, it’s not even these elements that makes them what Woo’s films are: they just prove that he’s damn good at creating gun fights that are as artful as they are exciting.

woo1

No, it’s the subtexts and the contrast between light and dark. Violence and purity. In the opening battle of Hard Boiled we see Tequila (played by the one and only Chow Yun Fat) mow down guys in Woo’s signature style. There is no standard hiding behind cover, trading shots, or extreme close ups of ultra-muscular men mowing down the bad guys with .50 caliber machine guns. No, Woo’s heroes look average. And, they are mobile. They are not the most realistic fights, I can’t remember ever seeing Chow reload (!), but they are what we watch movies for in the first place: escapism! At the end of the fight, Chow rolls through a table covered in flour, and gets the upper hand on the villain. Covered in pure white flour, we see him spit out his toothpick, and end the fight. Blood spatter hits his face. Purity vs. Violence. Light vs. Dark.

woo3

And, then, also in Hard Boiled, which speaks for itself. I have yet to see an action scene as good as this one. Watch, keeping in mind the themes discussed above:

What beauty! Singing a nursery rhyme, trying to cover the babies eyes, blood spatter on the baby…this action scene, like so many of Woo’s, is a short story. It’s not just a bloody gun fight like in so many lesser films: it’s telling its own story.

As another example, in The Killer, we see Chow Yun Fat play an assassin trying to come clean when he falls in love with a bar room singer. After the exciting opening gun fight, the muzzle flash from Chow’s six shooter blinds the woman. Chow must do one last job to afford to send her to America for cornea replacement surgery. In the final battle, it ensues in an old catholic church, with catholic symbols such as the virgin Mary getting blown to bits. And, it’s um, in a church. Light vs. Dark. Purity vs. Violence. The ending to this film is also highly emotional and doesn’t cop out. Great stuff.

woo5

Finally, in Woo’s only truly great American film, Face/Off, there is the church shootout at the end. But, the best scene in that whole movie comes midway through. There’s a raid on Castor Troy’s hideout. Bullets and mayhem. Classic Woo stuff. But, there’s also a touching moment where Castor’s son, wearing ear phones to drown out the sounds of guns and death. We watch the mayhem ensue through his eyes. He’s standing solitary and the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is playing. Awesome stuff! Light vs. Dark. Violence vs. Purity. Yes, Woo’s films are action films, but behind all that, there is more substance than those who don’t like Woo will give him credit for.

Woo, of course, has been a huge influence in my own writing. In my debut, Rebels & Lies, I pay homage to my favorite director with a climactic gun fight that ensues in a church. All the Woo staples are there. It wasn’t to copy him but to pay homage to him, to show my respect for the greatest action filmmaker ever and the influence he’s had on my writing. If I’m ever fortunate to have my book optioned off to Hollywood, I would want Mr. Woo to direct!

What do you think? Who is your most favorite action filmmaker? Do you disagree? I would love to talk about this in the comments below. Also, if you happen to love Woo’s work as much as I, then take a look at my books. They are online right now at Amazon.com for Kindle. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I surely hope that, before Woo retires all together, that he’s welcomed back to Hollywood.

Batman Begins: 10 Years Later

swear-to-meIt has donned on me that this year marks the 10th anniversary that the world was introduced to “Batman Begins” and Hollywood’s best blockbuster director, Christopher Nolan, was formally introduced to the world at large. I still remember going to see it for the first time. If it had not been for my seeing it with a group of people from my Dad’s Bible study, I would have immediately turned around and bought a ticket for the next show!

There are only a select few films which have blown me away at a theatre. The list is much larger when talking home video, but to keep it short, let’s keep it to theatre watching. I’m not talking enjoyed or thought “X” movie was really good: I’m talking completely blown away, wanting to go watch it again, right now, this instant! Movies that stuck with me after leaving the theatre. The first such movie was “The Land Before Time” if only because I was a five year old boy going to a theatre for the first time. That is precisely where my obsession with filmmaking, storytelling, and theatre going started! Next was “Jurassic Park” many years later. Followed by “Independence Day”, “The Matrix”, “Sin City”, then “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, “District 9”, “Inception”, “Looper”, and most recently “Jurassic World”.

But, there is always something about “Batman Begins”. While many, justifiably so in many ways, will point to “Begins” as the weakest of Nolan’s trilogy, I disagree. Yes “The Dark Knight” stands tall as by far the best Batman, Nolan, and Comic Book film of all time. However, “Begins” holds a special place in my heart. I remember watching it, completely engrossed, lost in the dark brooding world that Nolan and his team created. I watched an actual plot unfold, unlike other lesser Bat-films (this includes Batman ’89, which was more about the style with no substance). The film was over before I was ready for it to end. The time flying by. I left the theatre with a childlike, nostalgic exuberance. “Now THAT is a Batman movie!” I told my Dad.

Christopher Nolan did make an almost perfect Batman film. While many complained, I thought the super close ups during the fight scenes was brilliant “This is what it must feel like to fight Batman” I thought. Disoriented, not being able to see him, getting knocked out before you know what hits you. But, alas, people complained and I feel the fight scenes suffered later on.

But, Jim Gordon. Holy crap! Gone was the stupid, witless, let’s put on the Bat signal and not do anything Gordon. Gordon was such a dull, boring character dating back to Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) that he didn’t feel like a true character or ally he was in the comics. This Gordon was not Commissioner, yet. However, he was an active participant in the story. He actually helped Batman instead of playing it safe on the sidelines. He was an actual character. It was awesome to watch unfold. This was all done by a masterful performance by Gary Oldman who became completely lost in the character. I was like “That’s Gary Oldman, the dude from Fifth Element?!” I had no idea who was even playing him.

And, Nolan, along with Christian Bale, completely nailed the Batman/ Bruce Wayne character. Unlike other, lesser Bat-films, we saw “Public Wayne, Private Wayne, Batman Wayne”. Each handled with the care of a master craftsman and some good acting from Bale. And, this Batman was badass. The scene where he interrogates Flass still stands tall as my all-time favorite scene from the trilogy. This was where, watching Batman yelling “SWEAR TO ME!”, raindrops beating against the cape and cowl, that I was like “THAT is Batman”.

Did anyone else ever notice how the previous “Batman” films, the four that preceded “Begins”, were more about the villains than, well, “Batman”/ Bruce Wayne? Let me tell you, I always thought Bruce Wayne, without the mask, was a freaking lame character in Burton/ Schumaker’s films. This all started with “Batman Returns” which was a Tim Burton film, “Batman” in name only, boring film. Wayne at least had some character moments in “Batman” 89, but even then, that film was about Jack Nicholson as Joker…Returns was about Danny DeVito as Pengiun and Michelle Pfeifer as Catwoman…Forever was about Jim Carey and Tommy Lee Jones trying to top Nicholson’s Joker…Batman & Robin was about Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze…It was nice that “Batman Begins” choose an unknown Cilian Murphy to play the villain, thus insuring that this film was about “BATMAN” and not “X big name actor playing a villain”.

From beginning to end, “Begins” was wholly about Bruce Wayne’s journey from devastated little boy, to rich man discovering the art of criminality and martial arts, to becoming the Caped Crusader (to becoming “The Dark Knight” in the sequel). Could this Batman have been a better detective? Sure. But, this interpretation of the character was an honest, real attempt to explore the “character” of Bruce Wayne AND Batman. I would also argue that this Batman was no less a detective than Tim Burton’s and, especially, Joel Schumaker’s. The closest detective work Batman does in Burton’s films was figuring out the Joker’s poison. And, forgive me, all that work was done off camera and was the work of a man who knew how to operate a chemistry set NOT a true detective. We didn’t even see him do anything! “Let’s go shopping” then 45 minutes later handing over the results of his research to Vicky Vale “take that to the press”. Batman interrogating Flass, on camera, in “Begins” was more detective work than in any of Burton’s films. Just saying.

It wasn’t perfect. As before mentioned, the fight scenes did leave a little to be desired. Also, Katie Holmes was a terrible choice and one can tell that he wasn’t Nolan’s choice for the role. It was more of a WB casting, I feel, to put the attractive young actress out there when a more serious actress (like Maggie Gyllenhaal) was a far better choice. There were also the cheese lines that felt out of place: Gordon going “I got to get me one of those” is one such example. Completely out of character, out of touch with the dark feel of the film, put in there for laughs. Thankfully, as the trilogy continued, one can easily see the reigns being handed to Nolan. and the later two in the trilogy were wholly his. Also, Scarecrow was kind of a lame villain for the opening act of this trilogy. Just saying.

But, overall, in spite of its flaws, I can remember no other film which moved me in such a way. I’ve always been a huge Batman film and wanted to forget Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and, yes, I hated Batman Returns. The only Batman film I ever got that was worthy was Batman ’89 and the animated Batman Mask of the Phantasm. But, after watching the care in which Nolan handled the source material, the respect he had for the Batman mythos, I was totally sold. While “The Dark Knight” was infinitely better and completely raised the bar, I always go back to “Begins” as the film that changed my perspective on what comic book films can be. And, being introduced to Nolan properly, my film going habits have never been the same!

Alas, WB is now playing catchup to Marvel and their lesser “Avengers” “Team up” films. Batman, for the forseeable future, will only be a role player in a much larger DC universe. While some will be giddy with excitement, I look at this as a huge waste of the character and the fictional world of Gotham. Batman deserves another trilogy, from another young and rising director. No, Nolan’s Bat films are not the end all, be all. I would *love* for somebody else to come in and make a *better* Bat trilogy than Nolan’s. That would mean more great Batman films. However, with this new agenda of getting in a pissing contest with Marvel, Batman and his world will suffer. Here’s to one day the mantle being passed down to someone else. And, may that man or woman beat Nolan at the Batman game!

Welcome to the New Blog!

412dOrqxd6L__SX350_BO1,204,203,200_Hello, my wonderful readers, and thank you for checking out my new blog! LWP (Lone Wolf Project) Digital Press is a self-publishing vehicle founded and ran by myself. LWP has been around since 2012 with the release of Rebels & Lies my first novel. The original title? The Lone Wolves which is where I got the name for my imprint. When starting out with self-publishing, then creating LWP, my mission statement is to bring to you, the reader, action packed stories that give you a little something to think about on the side. There are far too many forgettable thriller novels, traditionally published or otherwise, and my mission to break that mold!

Rebels & Lies was originally intended to be a solo, one shot, no sequels intended novel. However, once it was finished, an idea popped into my head which would eventually turn my intended one novel into a trilogy! Patriots & Tyrants was busted out in less than a year and I’ve been working on the ending to the trilogy: The Free & The Brave which is an epic conclusion and took a year and a half to write. It is now in the editing stages and should be ready to go in the coming months! After that, I am currently working on my 4th novel, the first draft nearing the end. I will keep all of you aware of all that when the time comes.

In the meantime, thank you for stopping by, and thank you to anyone who has bought and read my work. I can’t thank you enough! I know that I’m most likely not going to make any money or become “large” doing it this way. On the other hand, I love to write, it is my passion, and I literally do it for free 99.99% of the time. You can trust me when I say that I have you, the reader, in mind and not my wallet! That’s what LWP is all about: bringing you quality, action packed, thought provoking fiction at a reasonable price.

Keep it locked here for further updates!