Since the U.S. collapsed into chaos, Conor Maguire has fought to keep his family and friends safe, turning away attackers who threatened their community, seeking to live off the spoils of theft and murder. Fortunately, Conor is no stranger to fighting. In fact it’s his job. He’s an old-school assassin with an arsenal of wicked tricks up his sleeve.
When Conor is called back to work for the first time since the terror attacks, he learns that business is good. With no media and no law, anyone with a score to settle is working hard to take out their enemies before order is restored. A high-end assassin with an impressive resume can set their own price.
When Conor and his partner reach their target they find that all is not as it seems. One small job, killing a shady financier, quickly becomes something larger. However, this discovery will pale in comparison to the biggest revelation of this mission—a secret that will change Conor’s life forever.
Release date: September 9, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 382
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Jewell Ridge, VA
“I hear a chopper,” Barb said.
Conor nodded in acknowledgment, ignoring the fact that Barb wouldn’t see the gesture in the pre-dawn darkness. His shot out ears were less sensitive but he could feel the thrum of it. He flipped an electrical switch mounted to a wooden post, routing power from solar-charged batteries to the landing pad. A circle of LED landing lights sprang to life.
“I know you ain’t the emotional sort, my child, but I love you. Take care of things.” Conor pulled Barb to him and gave her a tight hug.
She hugged him back. “I got this, old man. You just worry about yourself. You’re nearly too old for this business. Hang onto your scalp.”
Conor grinned at his daughter, the expression barely visible in the ambient glow of the landing lights. “Too old? Nah, I’m just reaching my prime, daughter. It’s the old men in this business that people need to worry about. We know all the tricks and we don’t hesitate to kill.”
The chopper closed in on them, the sound of the engines changing pitch as it prepared to land. Conor swung his pack onto his back. He picked up a hefty Pelican rifle case in one hand and a gear duffel in the other. When the chopper touched down, he gave his daughter a final look before trotting off. That look said everything he needed to say and they both knew it. They’d crossed this bridge before.
The rear door opened and a hand shot out to help Conor with his gear. Before climbing in, he gave Barb another wave and she waved back. In seconds, he was on board, the door closed behind him, and the chopper disappeared into the night. He hated leaving his compound and his de facto clan, but they’d be fine. They’d become a solid team. They’d support each other even in his absence.
Conor watched from the window, smiling when the landing lights winked out. “Good girl, Barb.” With solar you couldn’t forget something like that. Anything you accidentally left on would be a continuous drain on the batteries. Those were the little things he worried about in his absence.
He slipped on a headset and addressed the pilots. “See any excitement on the ride in, boys?”
“Negative. All quiet.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
Conor positioned himself near a window, taking this opportunity to scan the dark landscape of his community before it disappeared from sight. He was looking for light sources that might betray activity he was unaware of—concentrations of campfires indicating group encampments, perimeter lighting revealing someone with a higher level of preparedness than their neighbors, or a fully-illuminated house with solar power, like his own compound. None of those things necessarily presented a risk to the community, but it was good intel to have. It might point out people he needed to pay a visit to. He was certain there were local players that he hadn’t come across yet.
He saw no light sources anywhere below him, though. It was a dark world out there and maybe that was better. He wouldn’t spend his entire trip wondering what he’d seen. He wouldn’t be distracted.
“You guys see anything lit up on your way in?” he asked.
“Not much,” one of the pilots offered. “The FEMA camps along Interstate 77. A few power plants they’re trying to repair. That’s it.”
They rode the rest of their journey in silence. They all knew the routine. This wasn’t the environment for shooting the shit and getting to know each other. You had to maintain a certain level of operational security. People didn’t exchange names and hometowns, didn’t talk about the wife and kids. Sometimes everyone kept their face covered for an additional layer of security, though Conor didn’t feel the need to do that on this particular ride.
Thirty minutes later one of the pilots radioed a request for landing lights. He hovered momentarily until his request was granted, then the chopper banked and dropped.
Conor unfastened his harness. “Thanks for the ride, boys.”
“Not a problem, sir.”
Conor wasn’t a “sir” but didn’t correct them. He slid the door open and climbed out. The co-pilot passed him his gear, which Conor stacked a short distance from the chopper. When the door slid shut, Conor crouched and shielded his eyes. The whine of the engines increased rapidly, then the chopper was up and gone.
He stood over his pile of gear and waited patiently. The landing lights went out, leaving him in total darkness. He briefly felt like a stripper at the end of her act, the lights going down to let her know it was time to get the hell off the stage and let the next girl earn her money.
In the distance, Conor heard an engine start. Muted blackout lights flickered to life on the bumper of a vehicle. These guys were taking no chances. The vehicle headed toward him, coming to a stop just beyond the landing pad. Conor heard the parking brake set but the engine remained running. The driver got out and came toward him, silhouetted briefly against the downward-facing running lights.
“Sir, my orders are to deliver you to your meeting.”
Again with the “sir” business. Who the hell did these people think he was? Without a word, he slung his pack over his back. Conor let the uniformed man carry the gear duffel while he hauled his own rifle case. Some things you didn’t trust to strangers. They stowed the gear in the rear of a Humvee, then Conor climbed into the passenger seat.
The driver turned the vehicle and proceeded slowly. You couldn’t hurry with blackout lights. Metal hoods shielded the bulbs so the light wouldn’t carry for any distance. The arrangement didn’t allow Conor to see much of his surroundings. He was fairly certain he was in West Virginia but couldn’t tell if he’d been to this particular facility before. He’d bet a nice Bridgeport milling machine this wasn’t a military base. It didn’t have that vibe to it. It was likely one of the many private high-security compounds scattered around the country.
After five minutes of cruising gravel roads through deep forest, the Humvee stopped in front of a steel Quonset hut. The metal structures came in all sizes. Some were big enough to serve as aircraft hangars, although this one was more like a nice-sized machine shop or a barn.
A red light bulb, shielded against the sky, illuminated the windowless door directly in front of them. Conor could vaguely make out camouflage netting draped over the structure to break up the outline from the air.
The driver slipped out and Conor took that as his cue to do the same. The driver picked up his gear duffel, leaving the rifle case and pack for Conor. At the door, the driver set Conor’s duffel on the small concrete pad.
“Sir, if you don’t mind, please wait until I’m gone and then knock on the door.”
Conor set his rifle case down and waited patiently in the cone of red light while the driver turned the vehicle and crawled back down the road. There was a fancy biometric reader on the door. This wasn’t just any Quonset hut. Someone had spent some money here.
When the driver was gone, Conor gave the steel door a firm knock with his gloved hand. Almost immediately there was a click from within the door strike. Having been through his fair share of electronic doors over the years, he understood that it had been unlocked remotely. It was his cue. They were welcoming him inside. He turned the knob and the door opened.
He shoved it inward, then picked up his gear and went inside. The room was outfitted like hundreds of other conference rooms and classrooms Conor had seen on military bases around the world. The ceiling contained dozens of hanging florescent light fixtures but only a single strip along the center of the room was illuminated. A round plastic folding table was positioned in the long stripe of cool light. It looked like the perfect setting for a high stakes poker game in the back room of a nightclub or a sit-down between two mob bosses.
Two people were seated at the table. One of them, a slight man in a European suit, stood from the table and opened his arms toward Conor. He had a ponytail and neatly trimmed beard. He spoke with an accent that Conor assumed was Spanish or Portuguese, though he’d never asked.
“So glad you could join us, Conor.”
Conor heard the door automatically close and lock behind him. He stooped to set his gear on the floor. Sliding the pack from his shoulders, he propped it against the gun case. He was fully aware that the other person at the table had not yet turned in his direction. Conor didn’t sense a trap, didn’t sense danger, but as always his escape plan was already forged. If this was something shady, like an ambush, the stranger died first. Conor would then drag Ricardo out by his ponytail and find out why he’d been set up.
Conor was laser-focused on the stranger’s back, trying to figure out if he knew this person or not, when Ricardo stepped in between them, blocking his view. He extended a hand to Conor.
“Welcome aboard, my friend. Glad you were interested in the assignment.”
“I needed a break,” Conor said. “A little vacation from home. I don’t get out much these days.”
Ricardo shrugged. “Who does? I’m afraid we’ve all had our wings clipped a little. Most folks aren’t circulating quite as far as they used to.”
“Even you, Ricardo?”
The dapper man flashed a smile. “I said most folks. I still get around. Alas, most of my circulation is work-related.”
“No rest for the wicked,” Conor said, his ambivalent grin not revealing whether the comment was made in jest or not.
“That’s the pot calling the kettle black, as you might say.” Ricardo gestured to the empty seat. “Please join us. I think you know Shani.”
The name hit Conor like a slap in the face. “Fuck me running,” he mumbled. He walked around the table like he was studying a lion in a cage. He never took his eyes off the smiling face of the beautiful, dark-haired woman, nor did he return the smile.
When Ricardo again gestured to the empty seat, Conor took it and glowered, his eyes going between Shani and Ricardo.
The enigmatic smile never left the woman’s face. “Lovely to see you again, Conor.”
“Unfortunately, Shani, I can’t say the same. I feel like I’ve been set up. What’s this about, Ricardo?”
Ricardo had retaken his seat, lacing his fingers together in front of him. “When we last spoke, I mentioned I had work for you. Three possible assignments at this point, all of them especially suited for your skillset.”
Conor’s eyes were locked onto the woman’s. She calmly met his gaze, the inscrutable smile locked into place. “Why is she here?”
“Because our interests overlap on this particular job,” Ricardo replied.
“What if I refuse to work with her?”
Ricardo’s head tilted and he raised his eyebrows, looking at the table like a disappointed parent. “You certainly have that option, but if you’re not working for me, I can’t fly you home. Air assets are in high demand. Getting you back to your remote mountaintop would be a low priority.”
Conor broke eye contact with Shani and glared at Ricardo. “You think you can threaten me? You think I’m scared to walk?”
“No, I don’t think you’re scared to walk, Conor. I know you’d walk out that door right now and walk home if it took you a year to do it. I’ve got a decent incentive package, though. I think you’ll be interested.”
“What is it?”
“I know about this little Mad Mick army you have going on back home. I’m sure a little more food and firepower would make life easier. You do these three jobs for me and I’ll drop a container at your compound full of whatever you want. You make the list. If I can get it, it’s yours. Food, ammo, weapons, grenades, rocket launchers, medical, whatever.”
“If I have to work with her, I want three containers. One for each job.”
Ricardo screwed up his mouth and inhaled through his teeth. “I thought I was being exceedingly generous, Conor.”
“Three or I walk,” Conor said. “And that’s me being exceedingly generous.”
“There are other contractors,” Ricardo pointed out.
“But there’s only one Mad Mick.”
“Ricardo,” Shani said, “if you’ll agree to provide two of the containers, my government will provide the first. We don’t want Conor to feel that he’s unappreciated and undervalued.”
Conor raised an eyebrow at Shani. “So this first mission is important to you, dearie?”
Shani gave a single nod. “Important enough that I’m willing to meet your terms.”
“Then let’s hear some details. I’m not shaking on anything until I know the job.”
“I have the green light to deal with some individuals involved in the terror attacks that pummeled the United States,” Ricardo said. “The masterminds are all overseas and will be dealt with through other means. They couldn’t have pulled off the attacks without extensive logistical support on American soil, though. We’ve identified some of the players and they’re to be eliminated.”
Conor looked from Shani to Ricardo, then back again. “To be clear,” he said, “you’re not talking arrest and show trials, are you?”
Ricardo smiled. “There are certain advantages to operating within this lawless window of time we find ourselves in. It presents opportunities not normally available to us.”
Ricardo exchanged a glance with Shani. “Meaning that you have full authorization to eliminate these targets with extreme prejudice. Our client is not concerned with collateral damage, nor with property damage. No one gives a rat’s ass what it takes, they just want these jobs done before the three-ring circus in Washington gets cranked back up.”
“Three rings?” Shani asked.
“Congress, the White House, and the media,” Ricardo explained.
Conor processed what he heard. He wasn’t particularly concerned about who the client was. He imagined in this particular case the client was either the acting United States government or some intelligence agency with access to sufficient funds for Ricardo’s fee. It had to be an agency powerful enough to deflect any scrutiny that might come along if word of the operation got out.
“I’ve never known you to be hesitant to eradicate an enemy,” Shani said, noting Conor’s silence.
Conor glared at her. “You obviously already know what’s going on here. I don’t. I’d appreciate it if you’d kindly keep your trap shut until I’m up to speed.”
Ricardo’s body stiffened at the exchange. It was almost as if he’d been electrocuted. He seemed ready to leap up from the table and flee the room if a brawl erupted between these two deadly operators.
Conor continued glaring at Shani, trying to gauge which way this was going to go. If she made it physical, he’d give her a run for her money. It wouldn’t be the first time either. In an unusual gesture for her, she yielded. This operation was apparently important enough to her, or to her government, that she wanted his participation. She was willing to sit on her hands for a little while if that was what was required.
“Certainly,” she replied, plastering a fake smile across her face. “Mouth shut.”
Knowing she’d be simmering with anger on the inside, Conor got a small degree of satisfaction. “As I was preparing to say before I was so rudely interrupted, I’m up for the assignment. Considering the mission, I’m willing to compromise on my earlier terms. I’ll accept two containers of supplies. One from Shani and one from you. If it’s a deal, I’m at your disposal.”
“Good,” Ricardo said, relaxing again. “I think that’s manageable.”
“Happy?” Conor lobbed in Shani’s direction. He gave her a smug grin that he knew would only irritate her.
While she may have been sincere in wanting Conor on board, her expression did not belie her words. Like many women trained by the Mossad, she was a pro at hiding her true emotions. She could be anything she wanted. She could convince people that any emotion she was conveying was genuine. That was part of what Conor despised about her, that ability to deceive.
Ricardo reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved two devices about the size of iPhones. He placed one in front of Conor and the other in front of Shani. “This is the latest generation of sPAD from Saab. It’s basically a battlefield smartphone. It includes the background intel on your operation, mapping, navigation, and communication. If you open your device I’ll familiarize you with the target. You’ll find that it’s preprogrammed with your individual biometrics.”
Shani picked hers up immediately, apparently already familiar with the device.
“You’ll need to use your thumbprint and to enter an authorization code. The six-digit code is attached to the back of the device. Please memorize it and dispose of the sticker before you leave this facility.”
While Shani deftly accessed her device and familiarized herself with the home screen, Conor stared at his like it was a pile of dog crap on the table. Although he wasn’t against technology, he was of the belief that an important operation was not the place to learn a new device. He resented having it dumped in front of him.
“Conor, please keep up with the rest of the class,” Ricardo chided.
With a roll of his eyes, Conor picked up the device and provided the two means of authentication it required. The screen that awaited them inside was similar to that of a smartphone yet all the applications and icons were completely different.
“Please open the folder labeled Images.”
When Conor didn’t immediately find it, Shani leaned in his direction. “Do you require special assistance?”
Conor snarled at her, then jabbed a finger at the screen. He gave her a satisfied look, demonstrating that he was able to keep up. When he looked back at the small screen he found a digital image of a dark-haired, bearded man who appeared to be in his early 40s. He was dressed in business attire and attending some sort of reception.
“This man is Arif Mumin. He’s an American of Pomak descent,” Ricardo explained.
“What the fuck is a Pomak?” Conor asked.
“They’re an ethnic group from northern Greece,” Shani said. “Greek Muslims.”
“His parents immigrated to the US in the 1950s,” Ricardo continued. “They settled in the Detroit area, which has a large Greek population. His father ran a very successful restaurant in the Greektown community and Arif grew up in the business. He eventually earned a degree in finance from the University of Michigan and went on to become quite successful in real estate throughout the Great Lakes area.”
“Sounds like a guy who is living the American dream,” Conor pointed out. “That’s not someone I would expect to find financing terrorism or funding cells. Is he that dedicated to the cause?”
“It gets more complicated,” Ricardo said. “I’m sure you’re aware that Native American tribes have found a way to generate income by opening casinos. They often don’t have the capital for the initial investment so they partner with outside groups to fund the construction. It’s a smart move on the part of the tribes. Because Native American lands don’t fall under US law, they can pretty much do what they want. In Michigan, several local tribes partnered with Greek businessmen.”
“Let me guess. Our friend Arif?”
Ricardo nodded. “He now has casino partnerships in both Michigan and Wisconsin. It’s made him a very wealthy, very powerful man.”
“So what’s his angle? For someone who so benefited from the American dream, why would he want to bring down the country?”
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