High Desert Vengeance Chapter 1

Yes, despite launching a new series last month and all the associated work that’s gone into that, Brannigan’s Blackhearts #5 – High Desert Vengeance is coming soon.  The preorder should be up shortly.

You might remember from Frozen Conflict that Gomez was having some troubles at home.  Well, they got worse…


Juan Gomez was elbow-deep in the old F-100’s wiring bus when a yell from the house startled him.  His head snapped up, cracking his skull on the underside of the hood.

He didn’t swear; it wasn’t his way.  None of his children had ever heard a word of profanity pass Juan Gomez’s lips, and even fully grown, they were often the targets of his dire glare when they indulged in his house.  Even Mario, Marine that he had been.

Rubbing his head, he glanced up toward the house.  Emilio was standing on the porch, shading his eyes as he stared south, pointing with the other hand.  “Dad!” he called again.  “Look!”

Juan almost didn’t have to.  Slowly, heavily, still rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head, he turned and looked.  Sure enough, there were three plumes of dust coming up the valley.  Coming from the south.

Nothing good ever came from the south, these days. Continue reading “High Desert Vengeance Chapter 1”

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Frozen Conflict Chapter 2

John Brannigan sank the bit of the double-bladed ax into the log round he was using as a chopping block and lowered himself painfully to sit on a bigger log nearby.

His breath was steaming in the cold air, and looking down at his bared forearms, he could see steam rising from the graying hairs there, as well.  It was well below freezing, but he was sweating and stripped down to his shirt.

He gulped air, wincing slightly at the stitch in his side, as he critically looked at the woodpile.  He might have gotten a quarter of a cord split.  It wasn’t bad, given how long he’d been working, but it wasn’t up to snuff in his mind, either.

Stretching, he felt the scar tissue on his side pull.  It had been months since he’d been shot out on the Gulf of Mexico, and the wounds were healed, but it felt like it was taking forever to get his conditioning back.  His leg and his side were tight, and his leg especially didn’t seem to want to work quite right.

Getting old, John.  He was further reminded of the fact as the cabin door swung open and Hank walked out.

“You okay, Dad?” the young Marine Lieutenant asked.  Hank had decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Marine officer.  Brannigan hadn’t approved of the young man’s decision to pursue a commission right off the bat; he’d been a mustang, and just about every other officer he’d known and served with who’d been worth a damn had been, as well.  There were exceptions, but he had always felt that an officer needed to spend time in the dirt as an enlisted man before he could really have the insight and the experience to lead them effectively.

“I’m fine,” he grunted, as he heaved himself off the log.  He wanted to rest a bit longer, but his pride wouldn’t let his son see him getting feeble.  “Just taking a bit of a breather.”

Hank eyed him skeptically.  The young man took after his mother, with thick dark hair and dark eyes, and a fineness to his facial features that always reminded Brannigan of Rebecca.  He had his father’s build, though, tall and rangy, broad-shouldered and given to lean muscle.  The Marine Corps had only honed what Brannigan had already trained.

“You sure?” he asked.  “I’ve seen men shot up a lot less than you were who took longer to get back on their feet.”

Hank had a deployment under his belt, now.  His unit hadn’t done a lot in Syria, but they’d seen some action, and Brannigan knew that his son’s platoon had taken a couple of casualties.

He still shot his boy a hard glance.  “Listen to the hardened combat veteran,” he said.  Hank flushed and looked away for a moment.  He didn’t know everything his old man had been through, but he knew that there was a lot worse in his father’s past than he’d ever seen yet.  “I’m fine, Hank.”

Stiffer and slower than I’d like, and I’m definitely not bouncing back like I used to, but what do you want for fifty years old?

Hank shrugged out of his sheepskin coat and hung it over a low-hanging tree branch, then grabbed the ax.  “Sit down and take a breather, Dad,” he said.  “I need to get some work in, too.”  He shot his father a sly glance.  “Can’t have you grumbling about the younger generation getting soft, can I?”

Brannigan snorted, even as he struggled to keep back a grateful sigh as he sat back down.  His thigh ached where the .300 Blackout round had torn a ragged hole through the muscle, and he straightened the leg out to try to ease it.

Hank put a log round down and hefted the ax, bringing it down with a practiced swing that sank the bit deeply into the wood.

The son of John Brannigan had been raised to hard work.  Brannigan had been away for most of the boy’s upbringing, but he and Rebecca had always seen eye-to-eye on most things, and if anything, she’d been less forgiving with Hank than he had.  She expected the boy to grow into a man, and she set him to the chores that would make that happen.  They hadn’t had a woodstove for most of the time they’d been moving back and forth between Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune, and Okinawa, but there had always been other work to have him do, and he’d done it, or faced his mother’s wrath.

He handled the ax well, though he wasn’t quite as practiced as Brannigan had gotten over the years since he’d moved up into the woods following Rebecca’s death.  He wasn’t as smooth as Brannigan could be at his best, though at the moment he was about equal, given his father’s recovering wounds.

Hank hadn’t known exactly what had happened.  He’d suspected that his father was involved in “The Business” again, ever since he’d put Hector Chavez back in touch with him, but he’d never known the details, and had never asked.  He probably suspected; the blowup on Khadarkh had happened too soon after Chavez had gone looking for Brannigan.  And there was no mistaking the coincidence of his father showing up in the hospital with three bullet wounds in him shortly after the worst terrorist incident since September 11th.

But Hank knew better than to ask, and he’d never even hinted at suspicions.  As Brannigan watched his son work, he thought he knew why.

Hank wasn’t happy as a Marine officer.  Brannigan had known it would be the case; he hadn’t been particularly happy by the time he’d been forced to retire, either.  The bureaucracy that ran the Marine Corps was rapacious, and eager to crush anyone who didn’t color inside the lines.  To some extent, that was necessary in a military organization; mavericks often got men killed.  But when the lines were all about garrison discipline and paperwork, and less and less about combat effectiveness, it wore on men.

It was wearing on Hank, and he was nearing the end of his first contract.  He might pick up Captain within the next year, but that was often the breaking point, in Brannigan’s experience.  He’d been fortunate in his superiors and his subordinates.  He’d never have made it to Colonel otherwise.  By all rights, he should have been forced out long before he was.  He’d been a fighter, not a politician.

Something caught his ear, and he turned, his thoughts coming to a halt as he listened.  There wasn’t a lot of noise up there; just the wind in the trees, the occasional bird, and the ringing notes of the ax striking the wood.  The snow muted most sounds, too, and Brannigan’s hearing had taken a beating over the thirty years he’d been in the profession of arms.  But he’d definitely heard something.

Hank must have heard it too, because he stopped, hefting the ax in both hands, and listened, his chest heaving a little.  “That’s a vehicle,” he said.  He looked at his father.  “You expecting somebody else?”

Under normal circumstances, that question could have been taken innocently, or even as a faint ribbing.  Brannigan hadn’t shown any particular interest in women since Rebecca had died.  Hank had always left it alone; he knew that his father wouldn’t have taken kindly to his son playing matchmaker.  Or anyone else, for that matter.

But there was an underlying tension in Hank Brannigan’s voice that had nothing to do with normality.  He might not know everything about what his old man was up to, but he knew bullet wounds, and he knew that Chavez hadn’t been looking for Brannigan just to share a few beers.

Brannigan stood, stretching his back, and shook his head.  He wasn’t expecting anyone.  Hank had a few more days of leave left, and then he’d be alone again.  And contact for the little mercenary crew known amongst themselves as “Brannigan’s Blackhearts” wasn’t handled up there at his cabin.

He didn’t ask if Hank was armed.  While his son had showed up empty-handed, he’d quickly borrowed Brannigan’s Beretta 92FS, and was even then carrying it on his hip.  It wasn’t Brannigan’s favorite gun; he’d never really liked the Beretta.  But it had been a gift, so he’d kept it.  He would have preferred something that hit a little harder, especially given the big cat tracks he’d seen out back, but he only had the one Redhawk.  And that was currently resting in a well-worn leather holster on his own hip.

He looked through the trees toward the road.  His “driveway” was about five miles long, and it went over a small ridgeline before it got anywhere near his cabin.  There weren’t any other houses within about ten miles, either; he’d made sure of that.  There wasn’t much call for anyone to go up there unless they were there to see him.

Or coming after him. Continue reading “Frozen Conflict Chapter 2”

Frozen Conflict Chapter 1

“You’re imagining things, Eugen,” Cezar Lungu said.  He was leaning back in an overstuffed easy chair with a massy, polished wooden frame, a blond, vacant-eyed Ukrainian hooker on his lap.  He was fully clothed; she was in her underwear.  He picked up the shot of Kvint and tossed it back with a grimace and a loud, “Pah!”  “We have an arrangement!  And with what we’re paying the Russians and the Transnistrians both, we should at least get a warning if anything has changed!”

Eugen Codreanu did not turn away from the window, but continued peering into the night.  He wasn’t looking out toward the Dnieper River below the dacha, either.  He was looking back toward the wrought-iron gates and the guard posts, through the trees.  He was looking back toward the city of Ribnitza, which was throwing its glow against the near-perpetual pall of smoke and steam coming from the steelworks.

When Codreanu still hadn’t replied while he poured more Kvint, Lungu tried again.  “You’ve been jumping at shadows for four months, Eugen,” he ventured. Continue reading “Frozen Conflict Chapter 1”

“Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 3

“Colonel Brannigan, I presume?”  Contralmirante Huerta stood up and extended his hand.  The Mexican officer was in mufti, a dark suit and shiny blue shirt.

Brannigan shook the proffered hand.  He towered over the Mexican admiral, who was showing a bit of gray in his slickly-parted hair and mustache, though not nearly as much as Brannigan was.

Brannigan had dressed up a little for the meeting; he was wearing khakis and a sport coat, in contrast to his usual “retired” outdoor wear.  He was still wearing boots, though, and the sport coat hid the Wilson Combat 1911 on his hip.  Even with Van Zandt and Gomez in the room, he didn’t trust this Mexican officer very far.  He knew too much about how much the bad guys had infiltrated the instruments of the Mexican government.

Van Zandt was in a suit, and was standing back to one side, watching the two men meet.  Gomez had posted himself up at the door, watching everything impassively with his hard, black eyes.

Gomez had become a Blackheart in the plus-up that Hancock and Santelli had conducted prior to the Burma job.  Nobody knew much about him.  He didn’t talk much.  In fact, getting more than a handful of words out of him on any particular subject was often an exercise in frustration, if not outright futility.  He was lean and hard, with short black hair that was almost as dark as Flanagan’s, and features that made him look like a younger version of Geronimo.  If he was an Apache, he never said as much, even when asked, but he sure looked the part.

He’d just shown up in Corpus Christi, unannounced, and had been waiting at the meetup when Brannigan had gotten there.  True to form, he hadn’t said much, but had simply taken up a position as Brannigan’s bodyguard.  Brannigan had just made out the outline of a pistol butt under his shirt when he’d moved just right at one point. Continue reading ““Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 3″

“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″

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”

“Older and Fouler Things” Chapter 4

Edit 2 is finished, and the preorder for the Kindle version of Older and Fouler Things is up!  It will release on September 22.  In the meantime, here’s a look at Chapter 4.

Oh, and there’s a cover, too.

Paul didn’t show up to breakfast, even though it was pretty late in the morning, and the sounds and smells of frying bacon and eggs were permeating the entire house.  After the events of the previous night, that was a matter of some concern.  I was about to go check on him, but Eryn put a hand on my arm.

“Let me get him,” she said quietly.  “If he’s as traumatized as I think he might be, a gentle voice will probably help him a little more.  No offense, hon, but you’re better at the ‘shooting monsters’ part, and I’m better at the ‘comforting victims afterward’ part.”

I just nodded, and stepped back.  I was still hovering in the hallway, though, and I still had my .45 on my hip.  The combination of Magnus’ reaction to him, the eerie activity at the witching hour that morning, and his silence and absence at breakfast were not serving to make me particularly comfortable.

Eryn knocked softly on the door to Paul’s room.  “Paul?” she called.  “We’ve got breakfast, if you want some.”  She waited, glancing at me.  “Paul?” she tried again, knocking a little more insistently this time.  “Are you all right?”

We waited, and I was gearing up to kick the door in.  Sure, he’d come to us as a terrified, traumatized victim, having narrowly escaped becoming a human sacrifice in a demonic summoning ritual.  But there was obviously something weird going on with him, and while Eryn had been right when she’d pointed out that some great Witch Hunters had started out that way, there were also some pretty gruesome stories floating around in which similar victims had ended up going bad.  Very, very bad. Continue reading ““Older and Fouler Things” Chapter 4″