Monday, March 25, 2013

Sneak Peek at The Perfect Day!

The Perfect Day
Gunnar Angel Lawrence  
Other books by Gunnar Angel Lawrence Fair Play
Copyright 2013 by Gunnar Angel Lawrence Publishing.

What follows is the first chapter of the sequel to Fair Play. If you have read Fair Play the first section entitled, “12 Days to the Perfect Day” is included at the end of that book. Some of the details had to change because in doing some research and using a little more creative license I changed the identity of the bad guy, so minor details were altered to account for what was to come. The remaining section is entitled, “8 Days to the Perfect Day”.

Some of the same characters from Fair Play will appear including a couple of surprises for readers who were paying attention. Orlando Detective Paul Friedman, Lynn Putnam, Sheriff Wilson and a few others will be there. Some new characters will be introduced and at least one deceased character will make a splash of an appearance. And remember Jerome Eisman, the smarmy public television reporter? He will land smack dab in the center of the events leading up to the Perfect Day.

New Characters:
Mica Grant – Orlando’s Crime Scene Unit lead investigator and close friend of Paul Friedman.

Samantha Quinn – Certified Fraud Examiner and Lynn Putnam’s AA sponsor. Samantha is a divorced mother with an autistic son, Jeffrey. She investigates financial fraud for companies and police agencies.

Ali The Sand Viper – the mysterious former commander of the Al Qaeda led attacks in Iraq.

And a new ‘old’ character: Gary Michaels (Remember Waldo?) – Former POW who spent months being tortured by Ali.

The Perfect Day is due to be released in December of 2013, (with writers you never know if the due date is the actual due date, so while I hope to be done before November, and release in December, that may not be possible.) This is a more ambitious project than Fair Play with a lot more time covered in the story as there is a whole LOT going on here. So I hope you enjoy the first chapter.  


Ali stared through the darkened truck at the eyes of the immigrants who had boarded three hours ago. Upon meeting his gaze, they would turn away quickly, as if aware of who he and his companion were and what they were doing there. He had met Maher only the day before, and though they seemed to agree that what they were doing was the will of Allah, Ali wasn’t entirely convinced of Maher’s loyalty. He would have to earn a place in Ali’s trust.
The transportation of the southern border into Texas, had been arranged through men who claimed to be the best coyotes in Mexico. They bragged about their experience in getting people across the US border without attracting attention. $8000 per head was a hefty sum, and Ali trusted no one, especially the infidels.
The truck sped across the dry riverbed road with no lights, on this night of the new moon, no one would see their approach. The drivers would give the signal when they had crossed over. The goal was to reach the middle of a farmer’s field ten miles into Texas. The instructions were clear, three sharp raps on the wall panel in the truck meant they were in America. Two sharp raps meant they’d been spotted and everyone should scatter. Every face Ali saw seemed to be expecting the two raps, as if they had tried this once before and failed, in all likelihood, they had. The young pregnant lady cowered in the corner with her husband and young daughter. A middle aged gentleman tried not to stare too long at anyone. The rest seemed to be in their mid-20’s, all looking to escape the economic devastation that was Mexico.
The truck lurched up and over unseen immovable boulders. Some of the smaller passengers bounced off their seats and came crashing down in the bed of the truck. Aside from the grunt of pain in landing there was no sound, no scream from the injured. The only sound heard was the muffled squeal of the shocks at each bump.
Ali went over the plan in his head, a plan in place for years and only now coming to fruition, when the Americans had given up looking for conspiracies born in Islam in the name of political correctness. He stirred and eyed the young girl sleeping in her mother’s arms, Allah’s work came with some distasteful tasks, but it was all for the greater good.
The raps came quickly.
There was a pause and the occupants started to bolt for the exit when the third rap came. They were in America. They breathed a collective sigh of relief and waited for the final stop that would place them in the US.
Maher glanced at Ali and nodded. Ali returned the gesture and both men reached into their coats for the daggers they had hidden from the coyotes. Ali turned and smiled at the young man next to him, who was happy to know he was in America now. The young man nervously returned Ali’s smile, but never saw the blade that slit his throat. Maher moved much more quickly than Ali did and within a minute, they were the only passengers still alive.
It was the darkness that aided them, no one saw the attack coming. No one saw them move about slicing, stabbing and killing each one. The pregnant lady gurgled once but her husband was dead before he could respond. The little girl was easy, she was sleeping on her mother’s lap and would simply never awaken.
They would wait now. The coyotes would come around back to release them, and they too would have to die. Ali knew that they carried at least half of the money with them, and that money would come in handy. He would meet the rest of his team in a matter of days at the target location. They would teach the infidels a lesson.
They would strike fear in the hearts of the Americans. In less than two weeks, the Perfect Day would begin. What better place for it to start than in Orlando, Florida?
Lt. Gary Michaels ran. His unit had advanced on the town located just outside of Bagdad, the well thought out and planned assault had failed to catch the insurgents by surprise. The firefight that broke out had killed the unit commander first. The mortar whistled down from above and landed behind the advancing team seemingly in the very center of the commander’s position. The boulder that he and two others had taken shelter behind sparked with each round that hit it.
They emptied their guns in the direction of the gunfire, but were unable to crawl out from the protection the boulder offered. Gary watched as each of the thirty-man team died, cut down or blown apart. Some got farther than others, but none reached the town border.
The pinging of bullets against stone continued sending shards of stone and sand into their faces. The man next to Gary reached for his grenade, pulled the pin, and launched it in the direction of the enemy. The explosion sent a cloud of sand and rock into the air. One after the other he tossed the grenades.
For a moment, it seemed as if the bullets ceased, but that may have been the result of the dense ringing in his ears. The other man ripped another grenade from his belt and tossed it high over the boulder. Gary felt the blood spray over him before he heard the scream. When the soldier brought his hand down after throwing the grenade, Gary saw the man’s shattered wrist where the bullet had struck him.
He collapsed forward grasping his wrist howling in pain. Gary didn’t hear the explosion that followed, but he saw the injured man’s head open up as something passed rather easily through his skull sending brain matter spraying in all directions. Gary pulled the pins from his grenades and sent them up over their heads.
“Get ready!”
When the explosions began, he and the remaining soldier ran. Bullets whizzed by, more explosions sounded behind them, hopefully providing enough cover for them to gain distance from the battle. He felt the round slam into his shoulder knocking him to the ground.

Gary bolted upright, disoriented and soaked in sweat.
“Damn.” He thought.
With the noise from his dream still echoing in his ears, he stood up and stumbled slightly. Every night it was the same damn dream, the same damn noises, the screams of his fellow soldiers, his friends as they died. It was getting more frequent that the dreams would come. He hung his head and wept, he just wanted the dreams, the noises, and the memories to stop.
The cool dew of the morning had settled over his home. Today, it was the hollow area in the woods behind the 7-11 in Kissimmee. Tomorrow, it may be somewhere different. The darkness of this December evening had not yet retreated, which meant that there was still time to get a meal at the homeless shelter. Gary grabbed his bag/pillow, reached in for his radio headphones, put them on and started walking.
With a click, the music began and Gary began to sing. Sometimes, if he sang loud enough, he couldn’t hear the noises. So he sang, and he ran.

She ran.
The thin blades of the palmetto bushes sliced their way into her calves as she dove through dense cover, darting around the trees. Frantic footsteps crashed through the leaves behind her. It was him. If she could just keep running, until the sun was below the horizon, she could make it to help. His eyesight was not good in the dark. She wasn’t that far from the Wekiva subdivision and knew exactly where she could run for help. She gripped the paper tighter, knowing she couldn’t attempt to put it in her pocket at the speed she was running.
She could hear him swearing as he chased her, tripping over his feet and stumbling just a few yards away. She heard a car approaching on the road below and sped up. With the dense tree cover surrounding the road, the driver wouldn’t see her, she had to get down the hill and break through the tree cover to get the driver’s attention. There was no time to get there. She braced herself for the fall, crossed her fingers and launched herself off the steep hill. She hit the ground violently, bouncing off of the sharp, rocky surfaces.
Her descent picked up frightening speed as she hurtled into the thick underbrush. Spinning and tumbling, her arms wrapped around her head as best as she could manage before colliding with the gigantic pine tree. She cried out in agony as her leg bone snapped easily on impact, stopping her rapid descent.
Blood poured from the open wounds as she struggled to stand, to get to the road before the car passed. Her ears were still ringing from the blow with the tree, she could no longer hear how close he was behind her. She pulled herself up painfully to her feet and saw the stick jutting out from her thigh. Blood ran down from the point of entry and she swore she could see the stick quiver with each pained heartbeat. The wave of nausea hit her and caused her to retch. She stumbled around the tree and pulled herself through the remaining shrubbery.
“Help me!” she cried, lifting her injured arm as high as she was able and limping to the road. The car approaching slowed when she fell in the gravel. She shoved the paper deep into her shirt pocket, she wasn’t sure what it all meant, but she knew it was important. The driver’s expression was one of pure shock when she stumbled in front of his car.
“Help me, he’s going to kill me!” she shouted. “Call the police! They are going to kill people, a lot of people!”
The car stopped and the driver got out walking around to her. He kneeled down and offered his hand. She took it and pulled herself up. The man helped her lean against the car and looked intently into her eyes.
“My god, young lady, what happened?” he asked.
“We have to get out of here, he’s coming! Help me! He’s going to kill me!” she slid against the side of the car trying to get to the door. That’s when she saw him emerge from the trees, gun drawn and she screamed. The flash from the muzzle erupted and the man standing next to her dropped to the ground clutching his neck.
She cried as he came closer and lowered his weapon. The words formed in her brain as she collapsed on her wounded knees and spoke.
“Fuck y. . .” the bullet pierced her skull before the final syllable was out. She fell to the ground next to the man who had tried to help her.

Detective Paul Friedman surveyed the scene before him. The car was in pieces on the embankment below the entrance to the East West Expressway off of I-4. The guard rails splayed outward where the car had crashed through. Crime scene investigators had the debris field roped off and were busy snapping photos, measuring distances and picking up pieces of evidence. Paul had gotten the call from Sheriff Wilson personally but with the usual lack of detail that Wilson was famous for.
He glanced at the increasing line of cars building up with the morning traffic as the usually impatient drivers on I-4 had to slow down to watch the Orlando police at work. Paul shook his head and walked down the embankment toward the wreck that used to be a Mercedes M Class. The familiar sight of Mika Grant, lead Crime Scene Unit investigator met him and he smiled.
“Miss Grant. What do we have here?”
She responded without looking up.
“It’s a mess, Detective Friedman. The driver hit the guard rail head on, barely missed crashing directly on I-4.”
He nodded.
“And I don’t suppose you know why Wilson wanted a homicide detective here, at the scene of an accident?”
She turned to him. Her brown hair was tied neatly in a tight bun. Her expression was grim. The stance, uniform and glasses she wore gave her an air of professionalism commanding respect, conveniently hiding the beauty underneath. She gave him a terse look and pointed.
“I called him about five minutes after getting here. The man behind the wheel was dead before he hit the guard rails. He was shot in the throat and bled out probably a half hour before the crash. And this.” She walked to the trunk of the vehicle and pulled the broken lid upward. They stared down into the trunk. Inside, the decapitated body of a young girl lay slumped in the corner. The blood splatter coated the girl’s clothing, the carpet and the lid in a thick red ooze.
“Damn!” Paul exclaimed.
Mika nodded. “We haven’t found her head, it isn’t on the road up there and it’s not down here or in the car. She’s got several wounds on her legs, knees and hands and a branch that penetrated her thigh here.” She pointed to the wood that jutted out from the girl’s thigh.
Horns began to sound from the drivers less than a hundred feet from them as the already slowed traffic came to a dead stop. Paul looked up at the line of cars and shook his head returning his gaze to the trunk. The girls’ head had been sawn off quite unevenly shattering the bone that connected her skull to her spine.
The sight was enough to make him nauseated. He turned to Mika.
“Any prints?” he asked.
“That’s going to be a tricky one there Paul. There are prints all over the inside of the car. Unfortunately, the driver’s finger tips were removed, as were the girl’s. It won’t delay us by much in comparing prints to the victim, but it will delay us enough. There’s a smear pattern where whoever drove the car off the bridge sat when the driver’s blood seeped into the driver’s seat. Oh, and the license plate is missing. Again, it will delay us but not by much.”
“Let’s get a copy of the surveillance camera footage from the traffic cams. Check for any missing persons’ reports for the girl. We could assume that the owner of the car is the victim, but let’s be sure. Let’s see if we can get a picture off the vehicle registration number. ” He said, she nodded.  
“Already on the way to your office. I won’t know for sure until the autopsy, but it looks like she was killed before she was beheaded. We found this in her pocket, I’m not sure what it means but you should take a look at it.” She handed Paul a plastic evidence bag with a crumpled piece of paper inside. On it was written a date, eight days from today and the words, “Perfect Day” and “Ali” scrawled underneath. Paul didn’t know why, but at the sound of those words, a chill shot through his spine. He was getting a very real sense of déjà vu.

Jerome Eisman slammed the receiver down on its cradle with a curse. His lawyer had called with the bad news that his lawsuit against the Orlando Police department and Detective Paul Friedman had been summarily quashed. There was no proof of what they had done to him. No corroborating witnesses, and with the entirety of the city police force on a massive man hunt for Jasper Davis, the urgency of the matter had trumped his civil rights. He had spent hours in a police cell with the meanest looking ‘criminal’ he had ever seen. The ‘criminal’ turned out to be a police officer with a convenient alibi for his whereabouts during the incident.
The television station had sent a junior journalist to interview him about what happened that night and he found himself leading his own interview quickly. His allegations were convincingly denied by Sheriff Wilson and now more than a year later, there was no recourse but to drop the whole thing. He stood up from his desk, left the cubicle and stormed down the hall. The staff got out of his way when they saw his expression. They knew well enough to avoid him when he was upset. Part of him enjoyed that fear the others had of him, he tried to tell himself at times that fear was a sort of respect. The sort he felt he deserved.
Jerome closed his eyes when he reached the water cooler and stood for a while trying to let the anger subside. He shook his head, snatched a cup from the dispenser and filled it. The ice cold water felt good as it passed over his tongue and quenched his thirst. He looked out the window at the seemingly never ending traffic below. The sound behind him snapped him from his thoughts and he turned.
The intern smiled pensively and spoke.
“Mr. Eisman? The footage of the anti-tax group protest has been pieced together, did you want to see it now?”
Jerome nodded. “Okay Robert, let’s go.”
Robert gave him a wide grin and spun quickly on his heels. Jerome followed him, envious of his youth.
“Oh to start over again. To have that enthusiasm and energy. To own the idealism of a recent journalism degree graduate, before editors, station managers and more crushed it out of you.” He thought to himself.
Their trip down the hall ended at the editing room door. Robert cued up the video and hit play. Jerome scanned the footage and as usual went through his mental list of everything that he could have done better. The protest had gone off as these anti-tax protests usually did, with no ‘bite’ his editor called it. Without arrests or some sort of violence a story without ‘bite’ wouldn’t survive one rotation.
“Can you cue up the footage from the protest last year, find the end part where I was standing by the counter protesters?”
Robert’s eyebrows lifted. “Um, yes. Why?”
Jerome turned to him, “I want to make sure to put the piece in there when the fight started.”
“You mean the fight when the counter protester punched the teenager with the anti-tax sign?”
Jerome nodded, “That’s the one. We have to remind the viewers that these protests spark violence. That’s our ‘bite’.”
Robert shrugged, “Isn’t that kind of dishonest?”
Jerome smiled. “Bite is bite as our editor would say. Do it.”
Robert nodded, “All right, what about the interviews with the participants?” 
Jerome shook his head, “Boring. No controversy. No bite. Cut them all. Use the crowd shots and I’ll do another voice-over. Can you have it ready by eleven?”
Jerome left the editing room, walking to his office. He was half-way there when the news manager sprinted around the corner.
“Jerome! I need you on location ASAP!” she shouted.
His ears perked up. “What’s going on?”
“Car crash at I-4 and the East-West entrance.”
Jerome scoffed. “I don’t do car crashes, Edna.”
“You do if there’s a decapitated body in the trunk.”

Ali yanked open the door to the hotel room and ducked inside. Maher jumped at the noise and turned to face the door. Ali nodded, admiring Maher’s quick reflexes. The maps lay spread out on the bed with regions highlighted and circled. Ali crossed the room over to the window and looked out at the target. Khalid had been observing the target for the last six months and had notated the deliveries, traffic patterns and normal flow of people in and out of the building. Khalid was one of the first six who had been part of the planning. The meeting between the six and the other volunteers would take place tomorrow morning, as Ali understood it, there were twenty, and they would need all of them.
The authorities already knew that he was in the states. The bodies left behind in the coyotes’ truck tipped off the CIA that the Muslim leader known only as Ali the Sand Viper had crossed into the country. They wouldn’t know he was in Orlando until it was too late. And on the Perfect Day, they would have enough to do without worrying about him. He smiled and let the curtain fall back in place.
Maher’s help had been invaluable and it was his effort that had gotten them to the city quickly, but most importantly, with little attention. He was close to earning his trust. Ali’s satellite phone beeped. He picked it up and pushed the button to speak.
“Ali? Allah Akbar!”
Ali nodded, “Allah Akbar.”
“The situation is taken care of, the girl is dead.” Khalid reported.
“There would not have been a situation if you had been more careful Khalid!”
“I know. I apologize.”
“Your apologies mean nothing if we fail, Khalid. Do you have them, what I asked you for?”
“I am getting them tomorrow, after the meeting. They will be installed in six days.”
“And the bus?”
“We have the bus and the driver.”
Ali sighed, “I know you have it. Will the authorities know you have it by tomorrow?”
“Yes sir, they should know by tomorrow at the latest.”
“Very well. Allah Akbar.” Ali hit the button on the sat phone before Khalid could respond. Khalid had been a fool to try to get involved with an infidel and her teenage daughter. Fortunately, his weakness had played into their plans and given them the opportunity to add more confusion to the investigation that was sure to come.
“Maher, are you ready for tomorrow?”
He nodded.
“Then it is time to eat.”
He picked up the phone and ordered room service for dinner. After all, his fast would begin in six days. There was no need to go hungry until then.

“My name is Lynn, and I am an alcoholic.”
The group responded in unison, “Hi Lynn.”
Lynn Putnam straightened her blouse and cleared her throat shifting her stance. She thought it would have gotten easier to address her AA group publically with all her years’ experience in addressing juries and judges, but it really hadn’t. She saw the eyes focused on her and continued.
“It’s been 18 months since my last drink, and even though that day was a hellish one, I didn’t take another drink afterwards. Some of you keep telling me that eventually it gets easier, I’m still waiting for that day.”
Some of the members of the group laughed. She shivered nervously and looked up at them.
“I drank because my life sucked. It was an escape from pain. All that ended up happening was more pain. And then more drinking. But I realized something had to change, because nothing else was changing on its own, I had to change.” She picked up the sobriety medal she earned and held it for them to see.
“This is important to me. To keep on the right road. To try to remember that being numb doesn’t mean the pain leaves, it just festers in your bones. Thank you all.” She nodded once and left the stage as the applause began. She embraced Samantha Quinn, the sponsor who had visited her for the first time 18 months earlier while she was still in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound and a broken wrist.
Samantha patted her on the back and followed her to her seat. They sat together as the remaining members spoke, accepted sobriety coins and finally closed out the meeting. The members milled around talking amongst themselves.
“Congratulations, Lynn.”
Lynn blushed, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Samantha blushed, “That’s what I’m here for. To help. After all, we’ve both lived through the husband abandonment issues.”
Lynn nodded, “Yeah, I guess so…”
A loud crash in the room caused both of them to turn and they noticed the haggard man raiding the refreshments table. His striped shirt was filthy, a pair of ear plug cords were tossed over his shoulder, plugged into the radio clipped to his waist. The metal tray of cookies had fallen to the floor with a clang scattering cookies and treats across the floor. He whipped around, realizing that others were watching.
Lynn approached him with Samantha close behind.
“Hey, can we help you there?”
He shook his head. She smelled the familiar scent of gin on his clothes, masked only by the body odor that surrounded him. That’s when she saw the scars, hideous scars that ran the length of his face over his cheek bones and chin. He saw her startled expression and hung his head, trying to walk around her.
“It’s okay, you can have the cookies. Take some more if you’d like.”
He hesitated for a moment and began gathering the cookies off of the floor and shoving some in his pockets and others in his mouth.
“I’m Lynn, who are you?”
He swallowed the cookie, cleared his throat and spoke.
“I’m Gary, Gary Michaels. Thanks for the cookies.”
He nodded once and left. They watched as he ambled out of the room and disappeared around the corner. Samantha sighed.
“He’s been here before. I’ve seen him around town. Maybe he’ll ask for help next time.”
Lynn shook her head, “That’s what I like about you Samantha, you are an optimist to the extreme. How do you do it?”
Samantha smiled, “I seem to remember a certain injured D.A. who asked for help and wasn’t sure she could make it.”
“Yeah, okay I get it.” Lynn put a hand on Samantha’s shoulder.
Samantha’s cell phone went off, she snapped it open and she put it to her ear.
“Miss Quinn? It’s April, Jeffrey’s having a fit, and I can’t calm him down. ”
“Be right there, April. Sorry Lynn, I have to get home.” Samantha bolted from the room.
Less than twenty minutes later she opened her front door to hear the sound of her son Jeffrey screaming in his room. She entered to see April, Jeffrey’s babysitter, holding his head in her lap. Jeffrey thrashed around on the floor, arms and legs pounding. Samantha raced to her son’s side and took his sweat-soaked head in her hands. His eyelids were slammed shut, his mouth open wide.
“What set him off?” Samantha shouted over her son’s earsplitting crying.
April scooted back as Samantha took over.
“He was asleep, there was a car backfire outside and he ran out here screaming.”
Samantha shushed her son and began rocking him.
“Loud noises, he hates loud noises. Okay, thanks April, I’ve got it. Can you lock the door on the way out?”
April nodded and stood.
“I’m okay, April, you did good. Remember, he still loves you, this . . it happens. Thank you for calling me. The joys of PDD.”
“I know. I was just a little scared.”
Samantha nodded. “I know you were. He hasn’t done this for at least six months now.”
Samantha embraced her son and pulled him close wrapping her arms and legs around him. April gave her a smile and left. She held her son against his frantic movements and began singing to him. Jeffrey’s autistic fits began when he was two and got progressively worse when her husband Allen left. In the last five years, the fits had lessened in intensity and frequency. Occasionally, something would set him off and it could take her close to an hour to get him quiet.
She sat with him singing and rocking until his spasms eased. This was one of the easier ones. She would get him to sleep soon, but it would be here more than likely, on the floor. It made for a long night for her, as Jeffrey didn’t like waking up alone. Wrestling a strong ten year old was a lot more difficult than a three year old. Soon, he would be too much for her to handle alone. She placed her chin on his shoulder and continued singing until his tremors stopped all together.

Gary finished the last of the cookies and part of a sandwich he found in the trash can behind the McDonalds. He settled down in the dirt, leaned against the sapling there and twisted the cap on the bottle he had bought with his ‘will work for food’ money. The AA people were always nice, and something about what they talked about rang true inside him. His life did ‘suck’. He was a damned war hero, a freed POW, and as soon as the welcome home was over, the nightmares began.
The drugs helped him deal with the pain of the surgeries he needed after being released from the VA hospital, the drinking started when the prescription benefits stopped, it was mainly to help him cope, to welcome the numbness as opposed to the pain. But that lady was right, the pain was still there when he awoke. He thought of his wife, his daughter, neither of which stuck it out for him. He didn’t blame them really. ‘Something had to change’ she said. Eventually, he hoped, it would.
Not tonight.
He pulled the cap from the bottle and took a long swig of the fiery liquid inside. Tonight, he would welcome the numbness. Maybe tonight, the dreams wouldn’t come.
He was wrong.
Gary awoke in the desert staring up into the eyes of the insurgents who had killed everyone on his team. One approached his comrade, the pistol aimed carefully, just to make sure that he wouldn’t rise with half his head intact. This one then turned the gun on Gary and aimed.
A voice barked an order and the man lowered his weapon. The insurgents gave a whoop of victory and began firing rifles into the air as their leader advanced. Gary twisted, searching for any weapon he had left. There was no way he was going to let them torture him if he had a choice. His gun was empty, the grenades were gone. An insurgent had relieved him of his service dagger, he was wholly and completely unarmed.
His wound throbbed in his shoulder as the leader now loomed over him instructing the men in Arabic what to do with him. Gary’s Arabic was less than adequate and he was able to pick up only a few words. One of those words, was ‘prisoner’. They secured his hands behind him, stretching his shoulder to its breaking point.
They lifted him onto a gurney and carried him through the desert to a waiting vehicle. The leader climbed in next to him, examined his wound, and shouted something to the driver. Gary looked out the back of the truck at the desert behind them. The smoke from the burning vehicles and bodies rose into the air drifting over the dunes.
The truck didn’t stop until well after nightfall. Gary felt himself being lifted out of the truck and carried down a flight of stairs into a building below ground. The leader of the insurgents walked quickly beside them. The gurney pitched a couple of times almost sending him tumbling off only to correct at the last second. The throbbing progressed to a dull ache that radiated outward from the gaping hole in his shoulder. His blood became tacky and cold plastering his shirt to his chest.
Gary watched as they passed through the dim hallway, maybe he could snatch a gun, a knife, something to take his own life, maybe take a few of the bastards with him before he went. Before he had the chance to do so, they veered out of the hall and into a darkened room where they turned the gurney to the side and let him fall to the concrete floor.
His uninjured shoulder hit the ground with a crack. The impact jarred the blood clot from the gunshot wound sending a fresh pulse of blood seeping through his matted clothing.
“Damn it!” he said rolling on to his back.
Each breath he took seemed to burn as the pain washed over him in wave after intense wave. He glanced around trying to see anything in the dim lighting. The room was bare, with no windows and only the one door. The concrete floor clearly had never been swept of the desert sand that settled in the corners.
Gary heard the voice come from behind the wall.
“Hey?” it came again.
Gary turned toward the noise, “Yeah?”
“You with the Marines?”
“U.S. Army. Lieutenant Michaels. You are?”
“Private First Class Will Thompson, sir.”
“I think we can drop the formalities Private. Where are we?”
Silence greeted him and he was about to ask again when he heard boots scuffle by the door. They passed by and Will answered.
“I’m not sure. My unit was attacked a month ago, just west of Bagdad. There were three of us still alive after the attack, the other two were killed here last week, by him.”
“You haven’t met him yet? The leader?”
“Oh him? Who is he?”
Gary heard Will pause.
“He is the most sadistic son of a bitch alive. He tore the skin off of the Marines who were here with me. One inch at a time just to get some information they wouldn’t give him. Even his men are scared of him, he will kill one of his own just as soon as he would kill one of us. They call him the Sand Viper, Ali the Sand Viper.”


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