Fast Justice – A Jack Lamburt 1.5 Vigilante THRILLER SHOT Preview

Fast Justice Vigilante Thriller by John Etzil

Fast Justice – A FREE Vigilante Thriller Shot, by John Etzil

 

Chapter 1

The slow opening of her bedroom door produced a single squeak that stirred Debbie from a light sleep.

First she thought she was dreaming, but when she opened her eyes and caught sight of a tall silhouette holding a gun in her doorway, a bolt of adrenaline shot through her and she froze.

She mentally scolded herself for an inappropriate response, and went to work on a plan of action. She focused on her breathing, relaxed her body, and her training from her previous career kicked in. Her thoughts snapped into focus, and she formulated a plan.

She heard a soft male voice, a little on the nervous side, coming from the hallway. “She in there?”

The silhouette turned and whispered over his shoulder in the gravelly voice of a guy who sucked on too many Marlboro Reds. “Be quiet, ya dumb ass.”

The silhouette leaned in and fumbled for the light switch, found it, and flicked it on. A small lamp next to Debbie’s king-sized bed illuminated the room. She bolted upright, letting the covers fall to reveal that she slept in the nude. She feigned fright, and her voice came out in rapid panic mode as she slid backwards on her bed until the headboard stopped her.

“Who are you? What are you doing here? Get out or I’ll scream!” She knew her best chance of turning the table on her home invaders was to appear to be scared and defenseless.

The giant of a man stepped into her room, his big head rubbing against the top of the door frame. He had short red hair, parted on the side, and a pock-marked lily-white face with a bulge of chewing tobacco in his cheeks.

He must have been seven feet tall.

His dark eyes never left her chest, and he pointed his pistol, a Smith & Wesson six-shot .38 revolver, at her.

She hadn’t seen one of those in years, and had to fight back a chuckle. Really? A revolver? How old-school. What’s next, a flip phone?

The giant held a hot dog–sized finger to his lips. “No noise. Or I shoot.”

He walked over to the side of the bed, tore the covers from her grasp, and dropped them on the floor. Debbie pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, leaving just enough space between her arms and legs to be a distraction.

It worked. The giant tilted his head like a confused dog and studied her, leaning in to get a better view.

The second man stepped into the room and took her nakedness in with open-mouthed glee, almost trancelike in his wide-eyed stare. “Holy shit,” he whispered, barely audible.

Debbie sniffled and pretended to cry. She wiped at her damp eyes with her palms, exposing her breasts. “What do you want?” The fear in her voice was worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The giant laid his revolver on her dresser and drew a foot-long hunting knife from his belt. “My boss is upset. He sent us here to deliver a message.” He placed the tip of the knife against her nipple and pressed. The sharp point sunk into her, but not deep enough to draw blood.

He smiled, a lightbulb of an idea going off in his head, and withdrew the knife. “I have a better idea.” He stabbed the knife into the top of her dresser and it stuck with a twang.

He looked back to the other man and gestured for him to leave the room. “Get out.” He took off his belt and smirked down at Debbie. He grabbed her hands and tied her wrists together with it. He backhanded her across the face and sent her reeling sideways on the bed. His meaty hands wrapped around her ankles, and with ease he slid her down the bed and pushed her hands over her head, fully extending her arms. Perfect.

“Don’t move”— he raised his hand—“or you’ll get another one.”

She lay there, naked and exposed, her hands touching the headboard. She bit her lower lip in concentration and slid her hands down between the mattress and headboard, where she kept one of her Derringer pistols duct-taped to the wall.

“Jesus, Eddie,” the second man said, snapping out of his voyeur’s trance and shaking his head side to side in firm defiance of the giant’s order. “No. This wasn’t part of the job. We’re just here to deliver a message, remember?”

“I’m delivering the message my way. Now get out,” Eddie said.

Debbie looked over at the second man. She guessed that he was half the age of the giant. Maybe in his late teens or early twenties. Just a kid, really. She forced out a few tears and asked, “What message? I didn’t do anything.”

She felt the end of the Derringer handle with her middle finger. Almost got it…

Eddie picked up his gun and waved it at the young man along with a quick head nod.

The kid refused to move and stood up to the giant. “No, Eddie, let’s just do our job and get out of here.”

Debbie slid backwards another inch, and managed to wrap her finger partially around the pink handle. Just a little more…

Eddie pointed his revolver at the young man’s face. “You leave, or die right here. Now what’s it going to be?”

The young man stared at Eddie, holding his gaze for too long, and the giant cocked his revolver and delivered his final ultimatum: “Last chance, kid. This bitch ain’t worth dying for. Three… two…”

The kid held up his hands in surrender. “Fine,” he said. He looked at Debbie, held her gaze for a second, and dropped his eyes to the floor. He shook his head and left the room.

“Good decision, kid.” Eddie uncocked the gun and put it back on the dresser.

He turned towards Debbie, knelt on the bed, and grabbed her around the neck with one of his meaty hands. His hand was so large that his fingers touched behind her neck. He squeezed until her face turned dark red.

She gave up on the pursuit of the Derringer, and her hands grabbed at his wrists to try and relieve some of the crushing strain of his choke hold. She felt the pressure start to build in her head and knew that she had seconds before passing out from the lack of blood to her brain. She gagged and coughed, spittle forming on the edge of her lips and running down her cheeks to the bed.

The giant released her neck. “Good thing for you I like my women awake.” He leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek, tonguing up her saliva. She swallowed back the bile rising in her throat, and he grabbed her hands and placed them back over her head. “Don’t move. Understand?”

She looked away and didn’t respond, tears dripped off her face and onto her sheets. He grabbed her hair with his free hand and yanked her head back to look at him. “Look at me when I speak to you, bitch. Do. You. Understand?”

She nodded yes, working hard to fight back a smile. Oh, I understand, all right…

The giant stood up and kicked off his sneakers. He dropped his jeans and stepped out of them, never taking his eyes from her body. A wide smile broke out on his face, and Debbie saw that he was missing more teeth then he had. What was left was stained dark brown from his chewing tobacco.

He pulled his T-shirt over his head and stood naked next to her, hands on his hips, posing like some kind of proud superhero.

She looked up at him and cringed. He was tall and hairy, reminding her of an orange Bigfoot. Dear God, you’re disgusting…

Eddie reached down and pulled her legs apart. He knelt between them and ran his big hands along the insides of her long thighs, smiling at her firmness. “You’re quite the filly. This is gonna be a fun romp.” He leaned forward and placed his left hand on her right shoulder, pinning it to the bed so she couldn’t move. He spat a glob of brown phlegm in his right hand and lathered himself up, then started to position himself at her opening. She could feel his moist heat, and it took all of her mental strength to stay focused. Wait for it, wait for it…

He looked up, made eye contact with her, and flashed his toothless grin…

 

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Fatal Justice – Jack Lamburt 1 Vigilante Thriller Preview

Vigilante Thriller Fatal Justice by John Etzil

Fatal Justice – A Vigilante Thriller, by John Etzil

 

Chapter 1

I killed an FBI agent last week.

I had nothing personal against the agent and I wasn’t proud of what I’d done, but it wasn’t my fault.

It wasn’t like in Hollywood, where the FBI storms into an arrest situation, everyone sporting one of those dark blue windbreakers with FBI stamped across the back in big white letters so large that a guy could read ’em from two blocks away.

Nor did the dead agent come screeching up in a cloud of tire smoke along with twenty other dark-windowed SUVs and jump out with a megaphone, announcing their arrival.

None of that really mattered though, because I was put in a position where I had no choice.

Chapter 2

I was hanging out in my favorite bar, the Red Barn. Yeah, I know, corny name, but it was a red barn, built in the late 1800s and located on Route 10 at Charlotte Valley Road in the quaint little town of Summit.

Sometime around the turn of the century, the owner of the red barn had decided to throw in some light fixtures, add running water and a toilet, install an oven to warm up finger food, and build a bar close to the front door so you could grab a stool and get drunk as soon as you walked in. Not much else to do on a Friday night in upstate New York.

A three-songs-for-a-quarter jukebox sat between the sawdust-covered shuffleboard table and the lone restroom, belting out country tunes on a crackling speaker. “Elvira” and Garth Brooks having friends in low places were the two most popular. If it happened to be a holiday weekend, there was usually a live band playing, and “Elvira” and Garth Brooks having friends in low places were the two most requested songs. What can I say? Summit had its share of simpletons.

The locals drank beer and danced to their favorite songs until they were too drunk to move. Come closing time, they’d stagger and weave their way home, most of ’em staying on their side of the faded double yellow line that ran down the center of Route 10. It wasn’t pretty, but that’s all we had in our quiet little town, so we were happy to have it.

“Can I freshen that up for you?” the bartender asked. She looked at me with those sultry almond-shaped eyes, courtesy of her Japanese mother, that made me melt every time she made eye contact with me. I felt knee-wobbling weak around her, but I thought I did a good job of hiding it.

“Nah, I’m good for now. Think I’ll play a little pool, though. Can I get some quarters?” I whipped out a five and handed it across the bar to Debbie. She sauntered over to the cash register and I admired the snug fit of her Levi’s. I didn’t bother raising my eyes or killing my grin when she turned around and came back with my night’s worth of pool table money. She was used to me undressing her with my eyes, so she didn’t bother to comment. Her sly smirk said it all.

She placed the quarters on the bar in front of me. “Good luck at the pool table,” she said. “Those guys look like players to me.” She gestured over to Max and Gus, the two old men that were smacking the balls around the beer-stained pool table as if they were playing bocce ball. “I wouldn’t play them for money if I were you.”

They were at least two times my forty-three years, but they moved pretty well and still had a bright sparkle in their eyes. Ice-cold beer worked wonders.

“Yeah, thanks. If I lose my pickup truck to them, I’ll be counting on you to give me a lift home.”

“Oh, I’m taking you home anyway, unless Frances over there gets to you first.” She turned to the other end of the bar and waved, her arms swinging overhead like she was waving off an errant F-18 that was attempting to land on the deck of the USS Stennis on a stormy night.

I looked over and there she was. My number one fan. She must have been pushing ninety-five, but goddamn, she still drank whiskey by the shot glass. She sat ramrod straight on her barstool and sucked on a Marlboro Red. At least she’d switched from those filterless Lucky Strikes.

She caught me looking over at her and winked at me, an exaggerated gesture that looked like she was having a stroke. Oh, jeez. She waved and called over to me. I cringed, praying she wouldn’t lose her balance and fall off of her stool.

“Sheriff Joe, come drink with me.” She raised her glass and smiled. “I’m buying.”

Sheriff Joe retired a few years ago. Nice enough guy, but aside from being about a foot shorter than me, sporting a walrus mustache that complemented his combover, and carrying around a gut twice as big as mine, he looked just like me.

Ever the polite civil servant, I grinned back and raised my mug. We made eye contact through the smoky haze, and her toothless grin widened to the point of nausea. Ugh. She had probably been attractive sixty years ago, but old age and dementia didn’t excite me like they used to, so I kept my distance from her.

She was nothing if she wasn’t persistent. If I had a dime for every time she grabbed my ass when I made my way to the restroom, I could’ve retired. I swear she took the stool at the end of the bar every night so that she could reach out and touch all the men that walked by her to get to the restroom or the jukebox. Or the ones who just happened to be unlucky enough to walk past her before being warned about the Frances Fondle.

I shook my head and turned back to Debbie. She was grinning like the cat who ate the canary.

“Thanks for that. I owe you one.”

“Sure. Anytime.” She blew me a kiss, flashed her killer smile, and went off to pour a drink for one of her many fans who spent their nights across the bar from her, getting drunk and savoring the eye candy. Everybody loved Debbie. I couldn’t blame them. What’s not to like about a beautiful woman who laughed at all of your drunken one-liners?

Okay. I admit it. When we first started dating, I was a bit jealous at all the attention she received from the male patrons, but I’d grown and I was mature enough to handle it. Sometimes.

We’d been dating on and off for over a year and had talked about moving in together, but neither of us were ready for that, so we killed that idea. My hesitation was from some past relationship baggage, along with a few other issues I had. Nothing major, but they still needed to be addressed before the start of cohabitation.

I wasn’t sure what her reluctance to live with me stemmed from. We enjoyed each other’s company and got along great. Most of the time. We had many mutual interests. Hiking, working out, the great outdoors, dark beer, red wine, gin, whiskey, relaxing with a good book in front of a warm fire on a cold night, Barry White, love of animals, especially dogs. And hot sex. Man, did we light up the planet.

That wasn’t enough for her, though. Maybe it was the age difference, me being ten years her senior? I don’t know. I’m almost six foot six inches and still in great shape. Not as good as when I played basketball at Notre Dame, but still better looking naked than most men half my age. I silently toasted Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I’d idolized growing up. He’d turned me on to weight training when I was just a kid, and man, does that pay huge dividends. I flexed my pecs, just ’cause I can, and drank some beer.

Maybe Debbie was thinking longer term? As in, when she’s turns seventy, I’ll be eighty? Perhaps, but damn if we weren’t smoking hot together right now. Have I mentioned that? After a glass of red wine and a little Barry White, she looked at me with a sultriness that all my pole dancer friends combined couldn’t equal.

I looked at her one last time before heading over to play some pool, and I regretted it right away. A drunk named Bobby was leaning across the bar, a dirty hand cupped tight to her ear, no doubt whispering something inappropriate. I saw her lean away and laugh right before I rolled my eyes. Jeez.

She played along like a good bartender, and guys like Bobby always left her a big tip before stumbling home, flopping into bed with their flannel shirts and jeans still on, and wet-dreaming of my Debbie.

I grabbed my beer and walked over to the pool table.

“Evening, gentlemen.” I placed a dollar’s worth of quarters next to the money slot.

“Howdy, Sheriff Jack. How’s business?”

“Nice and slow, just the way I like it.” I raised my glass and silently toasted the lack of criminal activity in our neck of the woods. Lots of folks think that being a sheriff in a peaceful no-stoplight town would be boring. They’d be right. But I’ve had enough excitement for two lifetimes, so I’m perfectly fine with my simple existence.

Mary Sue came over to me, put down her serving tray, and gave me a big hug. “How’s my favorite sheriff?” Her mom, Meredith, and I have known each other ever since we went to Richmondville High School together more years ago than I cared to count. Spitting image of her mom, too. A little taller, about five-ten, curvy, dirty-blond hair, and a warm smile that invited everyone into her circle.

“Wow, it’s great to see you.” I grinned and gave her a fatherly hug. “How’ve you been? How’s college?”

“Good. Eh, it’s okay.” She shrugged.

“Boys treating you well?”

“Heck yeah, once I tell them that my Uncle Joe’s a sheriff.” She loved digging on me about Frances’s inability to remember my name.

“That’s good. Tell ’em about my gun collection too.” I winked at her.

“Oh, don’t worry, I do.”

“Mom and dad good?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. They just left for their annual Florida jaunt.”

“Key West?”

“Yep, fisherman’s paradise. You know my dad and his fishing.”

“Yeah, I do. Kindred spirits, he and I.”

Stuart is a well-known cardiac surgeon and works in Albany, a fifty-mile trek up Route 88. They live in a spacious but modest two-story colonial on over sixty acres that adjoin Clapper Hollow State Forest. When he’s not mending broken hearts, he’s planning his next fishing trip to the Keys.

“That’s true,” she said. She smirked and turned a little snarky on me. “He’s almost as bad as you and your hunting trips.”

“Hey, don’t be jealous now. Just ’cause I pack up my rifles every summer and fly all over the place killing ferocious animals, that doesn’t make me a bad person. At least I feed the needy.” I raised my mug and toasted my annual meat donations to the local food banks.

“Yeah, that’s swell of you, but you disappear for like eight weeks at a time.”

“So? Wait a minute… You miss me, don’t you?”

“You go by yourself and nobody knows where you are. What if something happened to you out in the wild?”

“Aww. You worry about me. That’s sweet Mom.”

She laughed at my teasing. “Fine. Be that way. I have to get back to work, see you in a bit.” She grabbed her tray and went to take an order from a young couple two tables away. What a great kid. Her parents did a fantastic job raising her.

I sat down on a stool, my back against the wall, and watched the two ball-smacking grandfathers engage in teenage banter while they took turns missing shots. I’ve always loved math, and after a few minutes I calculated that they each averaged seven missed shots before they sank a ball. My quarters were going to last me a long time tonight.

In between the errant shots, I glanced over the pool table, across the sawdust-covered dance floor, and into the far corner of the room. That’s the real reason I was sitting here. Playing pool was fine and all, but if I measured that up against sitting at the bar and chatting with Debbie all night, I’d pick ogling her every time. But not tonight. I needed to watch someone, and this was the perfect position to observe without being noticed.

I spied on the three middle aged men at the corner table for a while, and as the night wore on, I felt a bad feeling grow in my gut that our long run as a sleepy little town was about to end.

Chapter 3

If you counted the two-inch heels on his ostrich cowboy boots, he probably topped out at five foot six. Slicked-back hair, pinky rings, flashing cash, gold chains parting his half-unbuttoned silk shirt that hid his potbelly. It was the complete wise guy costume, straight out of a Goodfella’s wardrobe closet. Throw in his NYC accent and he stuck out like an honest politician.

As soon as I’d walked into the bar, I’d found him. It was too easy. One of the habits I’d formed from being in law enforcement was scoping out every structure I entered, even while off duty. Whenever I walked into a room, my eyes went right to the corners. Also known as the power seat, it’s a location where you could see everyone and where no one could sneak up on you from behind. There I’d find cops, military folks, or bad guys. Sheepdogs or wolves. It was easy, even for a novice, to distinguish between the two. Tonight, it was the wolves who were setting up camp in that corner.

But tonight wasn’t a normal night. Earlier today I’d received a heads-up, and now I was doing recon for my third job. The secretive one that I do for free. I smiled and took a sip of beer.

Ostrich Boy’d been holding court with two of his hammerhead associates at that table for a few hours, and the three of ’em looked to be tying a good load on.

They were boisterous, with exaggerated table slapping and hand movements, and when the fatter of the two underlings stood up and worked his way over to the restroom, I saw the outline of a pistol under his shirt. He might need that to fight off Frances, but I doubted he knew about her male molestation practices, so I was confident he’d had other things in mind when he’d strapped it on.

Fatty returned a few minutes later, none the worse for wear after his transition through Frances’s fun land, and when he sat down, the other man rose up to make his trek to the restroom. He was thinner than Fatty, and the outline of the pistol wasn’t as clear under his loose-fitting shirt, but it was still visible for microseconds at a time to the trained eye.

With each round of drinks, Ostrich Boy got a little hands-on friendlier with Mary Sue, who unfortunately got stuck waiting on their table, and with each passing refill, he became a little louder and his jokes more colorful.

When the latest round was delivered, he’d put his arm around Mary Sue’s waist and pulled her in close to him, resting his ear against her stomach, the top of his greasy head nestled tight against the bottom of her breasts. His fat tongue wagged like he was a hungry dog about to be fed. I thought he was going to start drooling.

“Hey, someone do a selfie of me and my wench,” he said.

The two underlings guffawed and fumbled with their smartphones while Mary Sue, eyes wide as saucers, looked horrified. She was just a college kid who waitressed part-time, and she probably didn’t have much experience with handling clowns like him. I thought she was going to whack him with her serving tray—that’s what I would have done. But to her credit, she stayed cool. She pushed his arms open, freed herself from his unwanted pawing, and walked away while brushing the germs from the front of her blouse.

Ostrich Boy’s friends laughed at him and smacked the table with childlike glee at her rejection. Sure enough, he took Mary Sue’s reluctance to share in his Kodak moment personally, and got all pissed off. He stood up from his chair and shouted towards her, loud enough for everyone to hear. “What, I’m not good enough for ya?”

She kept walking, the scowl of disgust on her face so obvious that even drunken Bobby noticed it and stopped his conversation with Debbie to look at her. At least something good came out of Ostrich Boy’s juvenile tantrum. I made a mental note to thank him.

Fatty tugged at Ostrich Boy’s belt, waving him to sit back down. “Jeez, Sammy, take it easy, we’re only messin’ with you. Besides, she’s just a kid, young enough to be your daughter.”

His words fell on deaf ears. I’d read enough reports and eavesdropped on enough witness protection candidates to know that guys like Sammy lost their temper fast, and took abnormally long to regain their composure. Small penis insecurity, no doubt.

He smacked Fatty’s hand away. “Don’t ever fuckin’ touch me. She needs to learn some respect.”

Wow, tough guy. I yawned.

He shot daggers in Mary Sue’s direction one more time before sitting down. He took out a cigarette, flipped open a gold lighter, and inhaled deep. He exhaled so hard that the smoke traveled across two tables before being sucked up by the smoke eater that hummed from the ceiling. You didn’t need to be Dr. Phil to see that this guy had deep anger issues, which made sense since he was a suspect in twenty-eight missing people cases. Missing, as in dead. Just that their bodies haven’t been found.

That’s a few more bodies that I could take credit for, but at least I only killed bad guys.

I was off duty and planned on coming out to relax and spend some time with Debbie while she worked the bar, but once I was alerted to Ostrich Boy’s proximity, everything changed. I did a quick mental inventory of my hardware to make sure that I didn’t forget anything.

Glock 17? Check, in my right hip holster under my untucked flannel shirt.

Spare magazines? Check, one in each cargo pocket of my Vertx tactical pants. A total of fifty-one nine-millimeter rounds. Wait a second. Fifty-one divided by three is seventeen. I love math. I could shoot each one of them exactly seventeen times. With my Glock 17. Hmm. Coincidence? I didn’t believe in them.

Enough. Back to work on my mental checklist.

Osprey silencer? Check, left cargo pocket.

Cable tie handcuffs? Check, coiled up in my back pocket.

Swiss Army knife? Check, right cargo pocket.

Blackjack? Check, right next to my Swiss Army knife.

It might seem like I was sporting a lot of hardware, but when you’re six foot six, you can get away with carrying an arsenal and folks won’t notice. Even if they did, they wouldn’t dare ask.

Attitude? Oh, um, not so good. I needed to work on that. The mental health experts say that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you had one.

I had one.

I shook away the vision of shooting all three of them in the parking lot and stuffing their bodies in their trunk in a compromising sexual position before taking a photo, posting it on their Facebook pages, and driving their car into the woods and setting it on fire.

I grimaced and chastised myself for thinking such crazy shit. Jeez, what the hell was freakin’ wrong with me? I could start a forest fire, for God’s sake.

I blamed my temporary lapse of judgment on the warm beer in my hand, looked down at it, and drained it before it could do any more damage.

The three of them finished their colored drinks, threw some cash on the table for Mary Sue’s tip, and headed over to the bar to pay their bill.

Ostrich Boy tried to make eye contact with Mary Sue, but she ignored him. Good girl. Skinny Guy stayed behind, dug into his pocket, pulled out another bill and dropped it on the table before falling in behind them. He must have felt guilty for his friend’s behavior and wanted to make it up to Mary Sue.

Fatty and Skinny split the bill. Once they were done paying they just stood there, hands in pockets, while Ostrich Boy, hands moving a mile a minute, flirted with my Debbie. In the mirror behind the bar, I couldn’t help but notice his bleached thousand-watt smile as he tried to woo her. I smiled at the thought of his expensive pearly whites being shattered by the heel of my boot as he lay unconscious in the parking lot.

My fantasy was interrupted when it dawned on me that during his entire conversation with Debbie, his two friends had stood with their backs to the bar, overlooking the crowd. They stood out like the Secret Service agents you see at political gatherings, except they didn’t have those coily earpieces and weren’t dressed as nice. I realized that they were as much his bodyguards as they were his friends, which made sense since he was a bigshot in the underworld. I made a mental note that if it came down to it, I would drop the wingmen first.

After a few more minutes of bantering with my woman, Ostrich Boy turned and signaled the two hammerheads that he was finished and it was time to leave. They sauntered over toward the main entrance, bought a pack of smokes from the old-style pull-knob cigarette machine, and left.

I had no idea why they were in our little out-of-the-way town. My experience had taught me that men like them never just stopped in out of the blue. They were here to meet somebody or conduct some type of illegal business. Maybe it was a drug deal, or maybe they were here to kill somebody who’d wronged them, but I was just happy to see them leave. Good riddance, hopefully forever. They were somebody else’s problem now.

Except that I couldn’t let it go. I was torn between letting them leave and forgetting about them, or being more proactive. I hadn’t planned on doing my third job tonight, but I couldn’t help but think that I shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth.

I was still unsure how I was going to handle this, so for future reference, just in case, I decided to see what kind of car they were driving and jot down their license plate number. Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow them and see where they were headed either…

“Back in a second, boys,” I told my pool cue whiffers. “Hold my place in line.” I glanced at the table and saw that there were still a full set of balls spread across it. Looked like their ratio of seven missed shots to one made had grown a little worse. Must be the beer. I figured I had an hour or two before my turn came up.

I made my way towards the back door, keeping a wary eye out for a sneak attack from Frances, and slipped out unmolested. The clear cold air was a nice change from the stuffy smoke-filled bar, and it felt refreshing to take a deep breath and not cough out someone else’s exhaled smoke.

Since I’d arrived a few hours ago, the temps had dropped and a coating of snow had covered the ground. Not an uncommon occurrence for this time of year in upstate New York. By now it had stopped snowing, and I could see the moon and a few stars through the parting clouds. The effect of the full moon on the fresh snow had an eerie fake-looking brightness to it. But fake-looking or not, it was bright outside, and I had to be careful not to be spotted by my prey.

I stayed in the moon’s shadow on the backside of the Red Barn to keep out of sight, and as I made my way towards the front corner of the building, I could hear the three of them laughing and cursing. They reminded me of my drunken frat brothers in my freshmen year at Notre Dame, except they were twenty five plus years older, less mature, and dumbed down by a couple of hundred IQ points.

They sounded far enough away that I wasn’t concerned they’d see me when I poked my head around the corner and peered into the parking lot. Before I spotted them, I heard Ostrich Boy talking about Mary Sue. Other than the cursing, I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but his tone was bad.

His maniacal laugh was even worse.

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Airliner Down – An Aviation Thriller Preview

Airliner Down Aviation Thriller by John EtzilAirliner Down – An Aviation Thriller, by John Etzil

 

Chapter 1

December 27, 9:43 p.m.

Two hours before the event

As the big airliner climbed past twenty-four thousand feet, the air pressure detonator worked exactly as planned. In retrospect, it was all too easy. A small metal box, about the size of a child’s shoebox, held the components of the bomb: a nine-volt battery, a small brick of C-4 plastic explosive, a sealed glass capsule, and a digital timer.

The box was attached to the forward bulkhead in the nonpressurized nose cone of the airliner. The reduction in air pressure as the airliner climbed in altitude caused the air inside the thimble-sized glass capsule to expand until it burst. The shattering of the capsule completed an electrical circuit and started the digital timer.

In two hours, the timer would reach zero, and the nine-volt battery would fire an electrical charge to the blasting cap in the C-4. The blasting cap would detonate the C-4, and the explosion would rip apart the big airliner, sending the three hundred plus holiday vacationers to their deaths.

Chapter 2 

Five hours before the event

Inside Terminal Six at Los Angeles International Airport, off-duty airline pilot Kevin McSorley rolled his carry-on luggage over the gray tiled floor towards the check-in station at his departure gate. Midevening on a Tuesday in the week between Christmas and New Year’s was a quiet time for the airlines, and he had the terminal mostly to himself. Off-key, he sang out loud, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” as he made his way through the terminal. He daydreamed about his upcoming flight to Hawaii and the six nights he would spend in a five-star hotel with a beautiful woman. His woman. “Tis the season to be jolly…”

His iPhone vibrated in his pocket, indicating a new text message. He retrieved it, and as if on cue to verify their strong mental connection, it was Margie.

Margie: Just got in, hotel rocks!

Kevin: cool, you naked yet?

Margie: Still in the lobby

Kevin: is that a yes or no?

Margie: Sophomoric

Kevin: just at gate now

Margie: Wow, u r early. Can’t wait, eh?

Kevin: u bet, baby!

Margie: Hitting the gym and then the lounge for food

Kevin: don’t pick up any strangers

Margie: Define stranger??

Kevin: sophomoric

Margie: Kisses. Hurry here!

Kevin: XOXO all over

Margie: Waiting up for u w cold beer

Kevin: nice! send photo

Margie: Of coors light?

Kevin: of u naked

Margie: No, use your imagination

Kevin: roger. gotta check in now, babe. Kisses

Margie: Luv u

Kevin: u 2 😉

Kevin smiled, pocketed his phone, and headed over towards the gate that had “Flight 2262 LAX–HNL: On Time” illuminated above the check-in counter. He looked around at the near-empty terminal and checked the time: 6:47 p.m. He had arrived early for his 9:15 p.m. flight and looked forward to putting on his headphones and relaxing to some classical music for the first time in a while.

Kevin recognized the slim brunette ticket agent at his gate as soon as he spotted her. Tess. Her dark skin and long, slightly wavy black hair that reached down to the middle of her back were a perfect complement to her bright smile and pretty features. Close to thirty, she still showed off the athletic remnants of being a collegiate swimmer in the form of a tight body, something every man within fifty feet took notice of.

“Hi, Tess,” he said.

Tess stopped what she was doing, looked up at him, and greeted him with a smile. “Well, hello, Captain.” She looked him up and down, and a look of snarkiness overtook her as she noticed his unusual attire: sneakers, jeans, and a button-down Hawaiian-style shirt along with an LA Dodgers baseball cap. “Wow, someone’s letting their hair down,” she said in reference to his normally streamlined and stoic captainly appearance. “Will you be joining us to Hawaii tonight?” she asked.

“Yes, I will.” Kevin smiled back at her, leaned on the counter, and handed her his buddy pass, the airline employee equivalent of a general admission ticket. Even if his flight was sold out, the buddy pass allowed him to sit on the fold-down jump seat in the cockpit. The jump seat was small, and the two-person cockpit was overly snug when a third person rode along, but it got the job done.

“Damn,” Tess said. An exaggerated pout appeared on her otherwise perfect face. “Wish I was going to Hawaii. I did my friend a favor and traded flights with her.” Her almond-shaped green eyes looked right at him. “Now I’m sorry I did that. Your flight crew has a three-day layover in Hawaii, and a three-day layover with you would have been fun.”

Gulp. Kevin’s heart skipped a beat. When she turned on the charm, she had the ability to make him feel like a nervous freshman, and despite his allegiance to Margie, his brain shut down and Margie was but a faint thought. Excitement churned in his stomach like a runaway freight train, and his mind was consumed for the moment by Tess.

“Yeah, that would have been fun.” Kevin felt guilty about his enticement and tried to be nonchalant. “But don’t worry, I have a feeling I’ll be passing through these parts again soon.”

“How long are you staying in Hawaii?”

“Seven days.”

“Wow, nice.” She smiled at him and leaned over the counter to get closer to him, her face just inches from his. “Hey, I’m on break in about twenty. Can I buy you a Coke before you leave on your little holiday vacay? Your flight’s not leaving for a while.”

“Uhm, not tonight. I, uh, have some work to do before we board,” he lied, and stepped back slightly to create some distance between them. He was on the verge of caving in and needed some space. “But I’ll take a rain check.” He followed up his rejection with a thousand-watt smile.

She leaned in closer. Some of her hair brushed against his face and feathered his nose as he inhaled. He closed his eyes and savored the moment. He thought of Margie. Guilt came, he inhaled, and the guilt disappeared. God, she smelled so good.

“You know,” she whispered in his ear, her breath warm and perfect, “we can go to the pilots’ lounge. I’ll show you my tattoos.”

Tattoos were a common thread between them, and they discussed them often. “All of them?” he replied, his nonexistent impulse control once again rearing its ugly head and sabotaging his potential relationship with a member of the opposite sex. What was he doing?

“Every. Single. One.” She punctuated each word, and Kevin felt his composure wavering.

Thinking of Margie, he sputtered, “Oh, man. I’d love to, but it’s just not a good time. Sorry.” And with a meek shoulder shrug, he waited and looked at her with a sheepish smile.

With a deep sigh, she looked down at the papers in front of her and finished her work. It was clear to Kevin that she wasn’t used to being rejected by the opposite sex and that she didn’t take it well. After a few seconds, she regained her happy demeanor and smiled at him as she handed him back his buddy pass with his seat assignment. “Have a great flight, sir.”

“Thanks.” He took his buddy pass, grabbed his bag, and rolled it away. He fought the urge to look at his seat assignment to see if she’d stuck him in the ass of the airliner, next to the bathroom.

After finding a seat far enough away from Tess so that he could focus on his work, he broke out his laptop. Since FAA regs mandated that airline pilots could only fly one hundred hours per month, they didn’t really work that much. Most wound up flying eighty-five to ninety hours per month. That left them with plenty of free time for a pilot’s two favorite pastimes—getting drunk, and chasing women. Plural.

Kevin had decided early in his career that it was in his best long-term financial interest to have just one wife rather than supporting a handful of women who would eventually collect alimony from him. So to keep himself busy and out of trouble, he’d opened an Internet store that sold pilots’ supplies: sunglasses, watches, and other miscellaneous items that pilots found appealing. That had worked out well up until a few months ago—the one wife part, anyway.

He attempted to check his sales numbers for the day, but he couldn’t focus on the spreadsheet. He was distracted by the encounter with Tess, and his mind drifted to his younger days. Days of opportunity.

But not now. There was too much going on in his life, and the last thing he needed was another emotional attachment. And make no mistake about it, intimacy with Tess would create an attachment that would make his personal situation look like World War III as opposed to a minor skirmish in the field.

Just the same, if she kept it up, he didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to resist her.

Chapter 3

Two hours and forty-five minutes before the event

Kevin was so excited about his trip to Hawaii that he forgot to check and see who his pilots were. He usually reviewed the flight crew lineup a few days ahead of time, and if he liked the guys, he’d sit up front in the cockpit and ride jump seat with them instead of sitting with the flying public in coach. Although uncomfortable, the little fold-down seat behind the captain’s seat was tolerable for an average sized person like Kevin.

He boarded the plane and looked into the cockpit, where he saw the first officer, Tom Burns, sitting in the right seat. He was chatting with a fellow in a dark suit that was standing behind the captain’s seat. He didn’t recognize the visitor, but Kevin had flown with Tom many times and thought of him as a good pilot. Equally important, Tom was a good cockpit mate. Sometimes the younger guys that had just gotten promoted to the bigger airliners were a little nervous or hesitant in their actions or decision making, oftentimes deferring to the more experienced captain. Kevin tolerated that, figuring that it was all part of their learning and getting comfortable with the big aircraft, but he could never tolerate a bad cockpit mate. He had compiled a mental list, a personal “No Fly With Me” list, of guys who never shut up, ranted about politics or bad exes, or were all-around miserable beings who made five hours next to them in the cockpit intolerable. Tom wasn’t on that list.

The left seat, where the captain sat, was occupied by Captain Roy Peterson, a thirty-five-year veteran of the airlines. Roy turned in his seat and, with the agility of a man half his age, extricated himself from his chair. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said as he made his way out of the cockpit.

“Bathroom already? No more coffee for you, old man,” said Tom.

“You got that right,” Roy said. “The caffeine might interfere with my midflight nap. Can’t let that happen.”

Tom sighed, closed his eyes, and smacked his forehead in pretend anguish at his peer’s old joke. “Need new material, Captain.”

Roy stepped out of the cockpit, his always present smile lighting up his face, and recognized Kevin right away. “Hey, young man,” he said. “Nice to see you.” He held out his hand and Kevin took it—his shake was strong and firm, like a man twenty years younger than his real age.

“Hi, Captain,” Kevin said. “We going to have a smooth flight tonight? I need to catch up on some sleep.”

“What, you’re flying and you haven’t checked the en route weather forecast?” the captain ribbed. “Seems like they’ll hire anybody to drive these aluminum tubes these days.”

“Ha, no, I’ve been a little preoccupied,” said Kevin. Yeah, with Margie.

Roy paused, and a seriousness crept into his look, “Can I talk with you a second?” He waved Kevin away from the other passengers and over to a quiet spot in the galley.

“Sure.”

“This might not be any of my business, but I heard about you and Patty, and I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

“Don’t feel bad if you need to take some time off. Clear your head and all.”

“Yeah, I was thinking about that…but you know how it is. Work is good for the soul. Keeps your mind off your troubles.”

“True, just as long as your troubles don’t interfere with your work. But I trust that you’ll know if that happens. If you ever need anything, just let me know.”

“Thanks, I will.”

“So how long are you staying in Hawaii?” The smile came back and Roy put his hand on Kevin’s shoulder.

“Seven days.”

“Nice. Bringing in the New Year in Hawaii is a real treat. Elizabeth and I did that a few years ago. It was a great time. The Hawaiian people are just so friendly.”

“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Most of our crew will be laying over for three days at the Hilton. If you want to hang with us, we have some sightseeing planned for later in the day tomorrow, followed up with dinner and drinks at this awesome restaurant that I discovered a few months ago. You’re welcome to join us.”

“Thanks, Cap. I’m good, though. Just going to relax and hang poolside for a few days.”

“Roger that. If you change your mind, the offer is always open.”

“Okay, thanks again.” Kevin shook his hand and made his way back to the seat that Tess had assigned him. At the ass end of the aircraft. Right next to the bathroom.

He appreciated Roy’s gesture and he was going to miss him when he left. He hoped he’d get one more flight tour with Roy before he retired, but he kept getting shut out on his bids. The monthly bid schedule for pilot routes favored the guys with the most seniority, and most of the pilots with higher seniority than Kevin also wanted to fly with Roy one more time before he retired. Kevin had no way of knowing it, but he would never fly with Roy again.

He sat down in his aisle seat, loosely fastened his seat belt, and thought of Margie. Seven days of uninterrupted quality time spent with his soul mate. Margie’s uplifting energy was the perfect remedy to his marital woes.

His daydreaming was interrupted by his vibrating phone. He took it out and saw a text message from Margie.

Margie: Room is awesome

Kevin: not flying to HNW for the room

Margie: Me neither. Taking a bath.

Kevin: alone?

Margie: Ass

Kevin: hot crew on board this flight

Margie: Bring 1 with u

Kevin: ur a perfect girlfriend!

Margie: Make sure he’s young AND fit

Kevin: uhm…meant SHE crew!!!

Margie: Oh! How silly of me. Just kidding…tee hee

Kevin: now Im bringing 2

Margie: Ha! Better take your Viagra!

Kevin: we’ll c

Margie: Might have 2 nap, wake me when u come

Kevin: I will w/ XOXO all over

Margie: Sleep on the flight, NO flirting! Bring energy. NO excuses!

Kevin: kisses baby

Margie: XOXO!!

Kevin heard the solid thunk of the cabin door as it was closed and secured in place. A few minutes later, he felt the firm nudge as the tug connected with the nose gear of the big airliner and pushed it back from its gate. He heard the familiar soothing sound of the jet engines starting, and the aircraft started its taxi.

One of the ladies from the cabin crew came on the intercom and began her preflight announcements to the passengers, which included the locations of the emergency exits, the reminder that your seat cushion was a flotation device, and best of all, instructions on how a seat belt worked, just in case there was a Neanderthal on board. Captain Roy came on the mike and, with the authority that only a seasoned airline pilot possessed, advised the flight crew to take their seats: “We’re number one for takeoff.”

On the runway, the two engines spooled up smoothly and the familiar feeling of being pushed back in his seat as the airliner accelerated made Kevin feel at home. The tires bumped along the runway expansion strips, getting softer and softer as the wings started to rise and take on the weight of the big airliner, and then silence as the nose rose and the massive two hundred and fifty tons of machine defied the laws of physics and took flight. The landing gear was raised, completing its journey into the wheel wells with a solid thunk, and the flaps were retracted.

The symphony of events that culminated in flight helped Kevin shake off the negativity of the past, and he plugged his headset into his iPhone and relaxed to some music. He closed his eyes and thought of Margie, and his mood elevated even higher. He relished the feel of her breath on his cheek, the excited way she hugged him when she saw him, the tenderness in her touch. She was perfect for him in every way.

Except that she was married…

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