Want to read the first chapter? Keep reading.
I fully anticipate this going to print and E-book form in 30 days. Now, don't get hung up on the title, just yet. I'm not sure that is what it will be. It's already changed 3 times. There's a good chance it will be something else by the time I get to the end.
To wet your whistle on the next book, I have included the entire first chapter below. I hope you like it, and I have included a contact form on my website to sign up and be notified when it goes live. SEE HERE.
Enjoy chapter 1.
Chapter 1: Duality
Sam Kenny, a man with two first names, circled his opponent with the grace of a dancer. This was not a dance with choreography and trusting partnership. It was a dance of brutality. Only victory or defeat existed as possible outcomes. Win and you move on. Lose and, well, Sam didn’t like to think in those terms. Winning is what got him here. Winning would see him through to tomorrow. Never consider failure and you increased your odds of success. Confidence was just as important as training and skill. Ask any CEO of a Fortune 500 company and they would tell you the same. Ask any prizefighter. Ask any member of an elite combat unit. You would get the same answer every time. Without confidence leading the way, any victory could be chalked up to good luck and fortune. Sam didn’t believe in being lucky. He found the more effort he put into something, the luckier he ended up being.
His opponent feinted with a left jab. Instead of bobbing away or throwing a feint of his own, he grabbed his opponent’s wrist with leopard-like reflexes, latching on with both hands. Sam twisted, lifting the wrist high, stepping under, taking a quick step back, and jerking down with all his might. There was no choice for the other. They either follow the pull and flip over on their back, or they end up with a dislocated shoulder, pulled muscles, and a sling for the next week or so. And lose the fight, of course. Once on their back, Sam would deliver a punishing strike to the chin and end this quickly. He hated striking a woman this way, but Sam didn’t choose the rules or who his opponent would be. She might be pretty, and this duel might be a job application, but Abbi Slaughter was going to be unconscious in the next half-second.
And then she wasn’t.
Oh, she flipped over, all right, but she landed on her feet. It was quite the feat of acrobatics. If there wasn’t so much riding on this, Sam might have marveled at her skill and complimented her on her form. What a beautiful form it was, too.
Sam doubled over at the waist and all the fight left him in a flash of pain to his groin. Nausea hit him in a rush. It was Sam who found himself on his back, clutching his testicles and shriveling up into a fetal position. Man, she was fast. Man, she could hit hard for such a tiny thing. Man, he sure did feel stupid. He groaned a response to the woman above him. “Nice one.”
She smiled. “It’s not polite to gloat, but that’s what you get for holding back.”
He glanced around the room at the other members of the team out on the edges of the sparring mat gathered to watch his “interview”. They were all grinning. One was even handing over a small wad of bills to another in an apparent payoff for losing a bet. Sam felt his forehead wrinkle as he narrowed his eyes at Abbi. “I didn’t hold back.”
She tilted her head at him slightly. “That’s what they all say, but deep inside that lump of lead you call a skull, you can’t help but hold a little back when facing off against a female opponent. It’s good because it shows you have a conscience, a soul. It means that despite serving as a knuckle-dragger for an elite combat team with thirty-eight confirmed kills as a sniper, you’re not a psychopath. It’s bad because holding back in a fight means your chances of getting your head kicked in just increased. This wasn't really a test of winning a sparring match against a weaker opponent. It was a test of your character.”
Sam had rolled to his knees while she talked. “So that means I didn’t fail?”
Abbi turned and walked away, replying over her shoulder as she went. “I don’t have a vote when it comes to hiring muscle.” At the edge of the mat, she paused to scoop up a cute olive-skinned girl, a toddler who had been hanging on to the pant leg of an older black man. After perching the girl on her hip, she turned back to Sam. “It was decided in the beginning that the people you would have to fight with in the field would all get a vote when hiring a newbie.”
Sam shook his head, pointing to her husband, the man who spoke little and whom everyone referred to as DJ. “But he said I would have to spar against one of your best.”
Abbi smiled at her little girl, poking the child’s nose and prompting a giggle from the curly-headed kid. She spoke to Sam without looking at him. “He’s sweet that way, but I’m just tech support. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a diaper to change.”
Six hours later, Sam sat on a bench outside of a set of double doors. His shirt was plastered to his torso from sweat. He had been run through the wringer in a series of drills that tested his ability to problem-solve under pressure, fire under pressure, and navigate physical obstacles in specific time frames. He had functioned as a team member in a kill house with simunition, training ammo that functioned as paintballs, proving he knew the hand signals and the proper role no matter where he was placed in the lineup. He had to demonstrate first-aid techniques in a variety of situations. In order to be considered for this position, one had to prove they didn’t need to be trained from scratch. His service file said he was a seasoned warfighter. These were tests to make sure the contents of his records were not a lie.
This facility, located in West Virginia, butted up against the Monongahela National Forest. To the world, it appeared to be a several hundred-acre renovated farm. In reality, it was the location of a private combat group. They were small, but the word was they had a standing contract with many of the three-letter agencies in the federal government. This was normal. The U.S. often contracted private groups to take care of issues where it was not prudent to send in the military. That meant two things: financial opportunity and extreme risk. If you got caught with your pants down while on an op in another country, there was a good chance the cavalry wasn’t coming to rescue you. That was OK with Sam. Groups that handled this kind of mission were usually well trained, equipped, and prepared for every plan to fall apart at a moment's notice.
Sam was upstairs in what appeared to be the HQ portion of the facility. On the outside, it looked like a classic red barn. On the inside, it was an insulated state-of-the-art headquarters. There were meeting rooms, offices, a kitchen area with tables for eating, and a small indoor pistol range. John Argo, the oldest in the group, and whom DJ referred to as “Sheriff,” explained that lunch breaks often involved friendly shooting competitions with the winner getting dessert. This seemed like a great place for a man with Sam’s expertise. But what would the vote be on his inclusion on the other side of this wall?
The door opened and Argo motioned for Sam to come in. Inside, including Sheriff, seven sets of eyes all aimed in his direction. The guy in the wheelchair, who seemed to have a major say in the day-to-day operations, was missing, as were Abbi and the geeky guy who went by the name of Carbon. Abbi hadn’t been lying. This vote had been conducted by only the soldiers who went into the field, the ones who would depend on him to watch their backs.
Of the seven staring at him, two were women, built like MMA fighters. Sam had previously never been willing to go into combat with a woman. It had nothing to do with thinking a woman wasn’t capable of being lethal; he knew they were. It had everything to do with knowing few women who could fireman-carry his six-foot frame two miles uphill to an extraction point if he became injured. These two certainly seemed the exception to the rule. They were broad-shouldered and beefy. They looked like they enjoyed showing a few of the men up when it came to the bench press in the weight room. When Sam had been told he would be sparring with a woman earlier in the day, he had assumed it would have been one of these two.
Slaughter was in the center, sitting at a large, round, glass-top table, looking through a file folder Sam knew was his service record. “You handled yourself well today,” DJ said without looking up. “But I have a question about what I see here in your jacket. Apparently, you think it’s OK to pick and choose what orders you’ll follow. Care to explain why?”
Sam had been prepared for this question. He was surprised it had not come up in the beginning. “It’s simple, really. The kid was being sodomized on our own base. When I complained about it, I was told that was how the culture was in Afghanistan. We were in their country, and the man was a high-ranking Afghan military leader. I was told to mind my own business. I countered that by reminding my command that he was on our base. I was told it didn’t matter. A few nights later, after having a few too many beers, I was walking by his quarters. I could hear the kid screaming in pain. I beat the man within an inch of his life and threatened to slice him ear to ear if he did it again.”
Sam kept his chin high, confident in his position. “Sir, it might have been different if I had been out in the field, if my team was on an op and I might give away our position or compromised the mission in some way. But this was on our base. That was on American soil, as far as I was concerned. My record shows that I have never once disobeyed a direct order prior. But on that day, I felt the order was unlawful. My command disagreed, court-martialed me, and barred me from reenlisting. I stand by my decision then, and I do so now. So, unless you guys plan on sodomizing an eight-year-old in my presence, disobeying a direct order will never come up again.”
DJ stared at him, hard. “So, you just told me that you would stand by and do nothing if this had happened on mission.”
Sam shook his head. “No, sir, that’s not what I said. I said I might. There can’t be any definitives on a hypothetical. If stepping in on behalf of a kid being abused would compromise the mission or risk the lives of my team, my brothers,” he gave a courtesy nod to the two women in the room, “or my sisters, then I might not step in. Honestly, sir, without knowing specific circumstances, I can’t give you a straight answer. I just know that on the day in question, the one time I disobeyed a direct order, I did so with a clear conscience.”
No one moved, but all eyes were focused on Slaughter. For a moment, he seemed to be thinking, weighing the decision. Sam had been told that all the door-kickers would have an equal vote. That might be true, but they seemed to be deferring to DJ. While no one had explained the hierarchy of the command structure, it was obvious DJ was the Team Lead. Wheelchair Guy must be the Operations Commander. Abbi and Carbon were logistics and tech support. But when it came to trigger time, DJ Slaughter was the alpha dog in the room.
Finally, DJ slid an envelope from under Sam’s file and tossed it over. Sam caught it, then looked at DJ, questioning. Slaughter nodded. “That’s twenty grand in cash. You get paid forty for every job. We run three to five contracts a year and there’s no telling when they’ll be. So, you’re going to want to ration that. Technically speaking, you won’t be an employee. You’ll be an independent contractor. Carbon will set you up with, shall we say, creative tax options. We have a bunkhouse on the property. When we go on mission, you will be required to stay there and report twenty-four hours in advance. That’s if you pass the next phase. Starting now, you’re on-site for the next thirty days. We’ll give you a day to get your affairs in order, but then you live here for your thirty-day evaluation. Consider yourself on probation. We do things differently than you’re used to. The next thirty days will be to drill these changes into your brain and teach you a few extra skills you may not have. You will be expected to be mission-ready at the end. If you’re not, you’re gone. You keep the twenty, and we part ways. Understood?”
Sam nodded and shoved the envelope into his back pocket. “No need for the twenty-four hours. Got everything I own in my truck. It’s good to be on the team.”
Argo spoke up. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, kid. You’re not on the team yet. Make it to the end of the month without washing out, and then you’ll be on the team. Welcome to boot camp all over again, probie.”
Outwardly, Sam was smiling, knowing he had made it to the next phase. Inwardly, he was smiling for a whole other reason. He was now one step closer to successfully infiltrating the team. Sam Kenny was not who they thought him to be. If everything went according to plan, they wouldn’t until it was too late.