Doctors of Death Chapter 2

“You’ve been rather elusive lately, John.”

John Brannigan cupped his hands around his coffee mug and looked across the table levelly at Mark Van Zandt. General, USMC, Retired Mark Van Zandt.

“I live in the mountains, Mark,” he said. “It’s not like cell service is all that regular up there.”

Van Zandt didn’t react, at least not by much. He’d gotten better at that, but Brannigan could still read him like a book. He was pissed. It was written in every faint line of his movie-poster Marine face, above his usual polo shirt and khakis.

Unlike Van Zandt, Brannigan had shed most of the Marine Corps’ appearance upon his forcible retirement several years before. A forcible retirement, he remembered all over again, that had been enforced by the very man sitting across from him at the table in the Rocking K diner.

Still big and powerfully built, Brannigan had let his hair get shaggy and grown a thick, graying handlebar mustache. He looked more like a mountain man than a retired Marine Colonel, while Van Zandt looked like he’d just taken his uniform off to come to the diner.

“We’ve heard some…faintly disturbing things lately, John,” Hector Chavez said carefully. Brannigan’s old friend had been medically retired for heart problems, and his body had gone soft in the years since, though his mind was still keen. He was dressed down from when he’d first showed up in the Rocking K in a suit for the Khadarkh assignment, but not by that much.

“It’s a disturbing world, Hector,” Brannigan said. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Let’s quit beating around the bush, John,” Van Zandt said sharply, leaning forward and putting his elbows on the table. The entire thing rocked, coffee sloshing a little in cups as it took his weight. “Mario Gomez’ family gets murdered. Next thing anyone knows, a whole bunch of Mexican gang-bangers get slaughtered, to include what has been reported as a balls-out firefight in the hills just over the Mexican border. Now, that sounds awfully coincidental to me. Especially when a bunch of you disappeared from Childress’ bedside at just about the same time.”

Brannigan sipped his coffee. “That does sound like an interesting coincidence,” he said mildly.

If you think I’m going to give you an inch, you’re sadly mistaken, Mark. I’ve been crucified by your type before, remember?

“Cut the crap, John,” Van Zandt all but exploded. “You know as well as I do that you went full vigilante on those assholes. I’ll admit, they probably deserved it.” When Brannigan’s face hardened, he amended, “Okay, they definitely deserved it. If the reports are true, the Espino-Gallo gang was as vicious as they come. The world’s better off without them. But dammit, you went way off the reservation on this one.”

“Oh, come off it, Mark,” Brannigan snarled, finally losing his patience. “Everything we’ve done since I agreed to go into Khadarkh has been off the reservation. You show me the Congressional authorization for any of these little operations, and then we can talk about staying on the reservation.” He all but slammed the mug on the table. “We do this because it has to be done, red tape be damned.” He stabbed a finger at Van Zandt. “And don’t try to fob this off on me alone. You knew we were going to do something, or else you wouldn’t have promised legal top cover when we talked before things kicked off. Now that the bodies are on the ground, you’re getting squeamish.” He snorted. “Not that I really should have expected anything else.”

Van Zandt actually sat back a little at that. He took a deep breath, looking down at the table. Brannigan knew he was right, and he knew that Van Zandt knew it, too. Whatever kind of legal trouble they could potentially be in if anyone went digging too deeply, he knew that the Espino-Gallos had needed killing, and that Sheriff Thomas wouldn’t be pressing charges anytime soon, either.

Having the men whom you had tried to drive off suddenly deliver your kidnapped daughter to your door with a curt, “You’re welcome,” could tend to make a man rethink his position a bit.

“Look me in the eye and tell me it was a righteous killing,” Van Zandt said.

Brannigan’s eyes narrowed at that. He didn’t need to justify his actions to Van Zandt. But he looked the former General in the eye and said, “They had it coming. They had a lot worse coming than we dished out. And if the local sheriff had done his job, we would have stood by and let him do it. You’ve got my word on that.”

His lips pressed tightly together, Van Zandt nodded, breathing a long sigh through his nose.

“Well,” Chavez said, “now that that’s out of the way, can we get down to the main reason we came here?” Continue reading “Doctors of Death Chapter 2”

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“Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 1

Brannigan’s Blackhearts #3 – Enemy Unidentified is up for Kindle pre-order, due out the 15th.  So, here’s the first preview chapter.


Officer Lou Hall had been on the San Diego PD for about a year.  He’d just gotten off night shift, and frankly wasn’t sure whether the tradeoff had been worth it.  Sure, he got to see the sun a lot more, and with the sun, in San Diego in the summertime—the winter tended to be pretty gray and damp—usually came the California girls, dressed in as little clothing as they could get away with.

But his partner, Fred Dobbs, was a surly, balding cynic, he wasn’t getting paid that much more, and most of those same attractive California girls turned up their noses as soon as they saw his badge.  He’d even gotten berated by one for, “just wanting to shoot minorities.”  He was half Mexican, himself, so he didn’t know where the hell that had come from.

Then he looked on social media, and didn’t have any more questions.

Dobbs was grumbling, as usual, and Hall had tuned him out after about the first five minutes, as usual.  It was always the same thing.  Dobbs was in the process of a nasty divorce, and couldn’t talk about anything besides what a bitch his soon-to-be ex-wife was.  So, Hall was scanning the sidewalks and trying not to think too hard about how much he hated his life, and really should have applied to El Cajon, or somewhere that actually paid their cops well.

Something caught his attention, and Dobbs’ incessant bitching faded even farther into the background noise.  At first he wasn’t sure why he was looking at the parked taxi so intently, then he saw that it was unoccupied.

Taxis parked in Horton Plaza were nothing new.  There was always far more traffic than there was available parking, and most people didn’t try to drive to Horton Plaza.  But an unattended cab?

Maybe the driver just went to take a piss.  Yeah, that was probably it.  He knew full well what a full day sitting in a car was like.

He didn’t notice the second cab parked just around the corner; there was no reason to.  It wasn’t out of place.  But the man sitting behind the wheel certainly noticed the San Diego PD car cruising past the abandoned taxi.  He toyed with waiting, but there was a crowd coming out of the Lyceum Theater at the same time.  Perfect.

The man ducked down below the dash and touched a remote.  The unoccupied taxi exploded, the detonation shattering every window within sight, including the windshield of his own cab.  He was showered with fragments of safety glass, as the vehicle rocked on its shocks.  He’d parked a little too close; the concussion hammered him into the floor of the cab, and he blacked out for a moment.

When he came to, he had to kick the door open.  The Plaza was a nightmare hellscape.  Where the taxi had been parked, only a crater filled with twisted, fiercely burning wreckage remained.  The cop car was burning, the windows shattered and the side panel crushed in and peppered with shrapnel, both men inside obviously dead.  The sidewalk was littered with bodies and parts of bodies.  People were screaming, the noise only then managing to register to his deadened hearing.  His ears were ringing from the explosion.  A young woman staggered away from the crater, bleeding, half of her face flayed away by the blast.

The man staggered out of the cab and joined the mass of screaming, panicking humanity fleeing the blast zone.  Wounded were being trampled.  The panicked mob was going to seriously impede the first responders; it was just too cramped in downtown San Diego.

The man felt no particular satisfaction in what he’d done.  He’d been well paid for it.  It had been a job, nothing more.  He blended into the crowd and disappeared.

*** Continue reading ““Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 1″

The Line Between Real and Rambo

I got talking action movies with a buddy recently, and we got on the subject of where the line of realism versus entertainment lies.  We’re both combat veterans, and we’ve both seen long periods of mind-numbing boredom and moments of chaotic weirdness that happen in combat.

There are often comments on action movies, and action novels, about how “realistic” they are.  And while some things are easy to quantify, some elements aren’t so much.  Including the question, “Just how ‘realistic’ should a piece of action entertainment be?” Continue reading “The Line Between Real and Rambo”

More SOBs: Butchers of Eden and Show No Mercy

Been a bit behind on these posts; it’s been a busy couple months.  While I don’t have the complete series, I have a good chunk of the Soldiers of Barrabas, and I’ve been working through them.  While Stony Man was kind of my gateway drug to the Gold Eagle paperback scene, the SOBs series is generally, in my opinion, slightly better (in no small part because it becomes evident early on that none of the team members–except maybe Nile Barrabas himself–have plot armor).  There are a number of influences in the Brannigan’s Blackhearts series, but the SOBs are a big one, in large part because I’ve adopted some of the storytelling tricks of a short, team-based, fast-paced action adventure story from them.  (Introducing each of the team members in the first couple chapters as the team gets rounded up is one of the main points I’ve adopted, as opposed to the in media res, on-the-fly intros we got in the Praetorian series.)

So, let’s get started. Continue reading “More SOBs: Butchers of Eden and Show No Mercy”

It is Go Time

Brannigan’s Blackhearts #2 – Burmese Crossfire is now live!  And it’s still $0.99 for a few more days (going up to $3.99 on the 20th).  I approved the proof for the paperback on Saturday, so it’s available too (though still not linked to the Kindle page for some reason).

A Search And Destroy Mission…Deep In Hostile Territory

The Golden Triangle. One of the biggest heroin-producing regions in the world is also home to squabbling ethnic groups, clashing militarist paramilitaries, and Communist rebels.
Drugs are a means to an end. Drugs sell for money. Money buys guns and ammo. It’s how many of the small armies of the region have stayed afloat for so long. And now, another player is getting their hand in. Intelligence suggests that North Korea’s Bureau 39 is hiring out the Light Infantry Guide Bureau as advisors in return for heroin to sell on the black market.
It’s an unacceptable situation, but northern Burma is a long way from support. And the powers that be don’t want the signature on the ground that a full-scale operation might need. So, they’re turning to a man who can get it done on a shoestring, and have a hope of getting back out.

Brannigan’s Blackhearts are going in.

Burmese Crossfire Chapter 3

Well, there’s less than a week until Burmese Crossfire comes out.  One last peek before it’s go time.


Joe Flanagan was not a man given to many words or noticeable outbursts of emotion.  He was often best described as “laconic,” and he took some pride in that fact.  He was a quiet man, often a gray man, passing unnoticed through the crowd, and he liked it that way.  He and Brannigan were of similar temperaments in that respect, as both preferred the wilderness to the hustle and bustle of the city.

Right at the moment, though, Flanagan’s eyes were smoldering, and his jaw was tight under his thick, black beard.  He was not a happy man.

He checked his watch again.  He knew he was in the right place.  The Vegas apartment complex hadn’t been hard to find.  It had been a long drive to get there, and now Curtis was late.  He would have let the man make his own way, but he’d been hiking in Utah, so he’d been close enough to swing through Vegas and pick the other man up on the way up to Colonel Brannigan’s place in Idaho.  But they still had a long way to go, and here he was, sitting at the curb, and there was no sign of the little man.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket.  “Where the hell are you?” he typed.

Joe!  Just in time!  I need extract!  I’m in the Blue Lagoon!  Hurry!

“Son of a…”  Flanagan had to fight the temptation to punch the steering wheel.  “Leave it to him to go to a damned bar and get into trouble now of all times,” he muttered, as he put the truck in gear and headed down the street.  Only having something of a working knowledge of Curtis’ favorite hangouts in Las Vegas gave him a general idea of where he was going, without looking at a map.

Ordinarily, it would seem to be too early for anyone to be in a bar, but it was Vegas, it was mid-afternoon, it was a weekend, and it was Curtis.  The man had never seen a bar that he hadn’t wanted to go into, and Flanagan was pretty sure he knew just why the little man was in trouble, too.

He was fuming and ready for a fight when he stalked through the doors of the Blue Lagoon.

The place was dim, lit by blue neon lights set above the bar and in abstract patterns on the ceiling.  The walls, ceiling, and most of the floor were black, except for the mirrors behind the bar, which just reflected the blue light even more.  The atmosphere was somewhat relieved by the Nevada sunlight coming in the tinted windows at the front, but not by much.

It was easy enough to pick out where Curtis was, even though he couldn’t see the little man behind the knot of belligerents gathered around him.  He could hear the gambler and erstwhile machinegunner’s slightly high-pitched voice clearly enough.

Say what he will about Kevin Curtis’ judgement, he could never accuse his old friend of being a coward.

“Oh, look at you, big man!” Curtis was saying.  “Bow up all you want, it don’t matter to me.  Or to her, apparently!”

The other man said something, probably intended to sound threatening.

“Oh, look at me, I’m so tough, in my Hard Rock Café t-shirt with the sleeves cut off,” Curtis mocked.  Even without seeing him, Flanagan could picture Curtis puffing his chest out and pulling his chin in to ridicule the man.  “Man, get outta here with that noise!  If you were half the tough guy you think you are, she wouldn’t have needed to get to know me, now would she?’

Flanagan was halfway across the floor when the man raised a fist.  “Try it, bitch!” Curtis called.  “See what happens!”

The man let the punch fly.  At the same moment, his half-dozen buddies also converged, fists flying.

Flanagan waded in. Continue reading “Burmese Crossfire Chapter 3”