August 30, 2013

Hell's High Turnover: a review of Richard Kadrey's "Kill City Blues"

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim #5)
by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager (2013)
400 pages
ISBN13: 9780062094599

Richard Stark might be back from Hell--again--but he just can't help doing the Devil's work. Since getting out of his job as the new Lucifer, and passing it off to one of five pieces of God himself, Mr. Munnin, Stark is trying to settle back into life in Los Angeles. He's rejoined with his angel half, has the key to the Thirteen Doors once again, he's back with his main squeeze Candy, and he still has the run of Lucifer's penthouse. Compared to board meetings and other forms of infernal bureaucracy, life is pretty sweet for Sandman Slim. And then the mechanical men show up and ruin everything.

Turns out that the "Magic 8-Ball" he found during his exploits in the last novel, Devil Said Bang, is a weapon of biblical proportions. And everyone with an ax to grind against him wants it. Too bad he doesn't have it anymore. Aelita, the renegade angel with a hate-on for all of human existence has hidden it away, and Stark needs to find it before the divine psychopath figures out how to use it.

Okay, first off: if you haven't read any of the Sandman Slim novels, then nothing in this novel is going to make sense beyond "bad guys have something that good guys want back." There's four novels worth of back story playing out here, and while the fourth novel was a bit of a letdown for me, Kill City Blues brings the series back to its full FTW glory. If you've been a faithful follower of the series, maybe your opinion differs a little. But I felt Kill City Blues got into the nitty-gritty of the story much sooner than Devil Said Bang, and it really did a lot to push the characters in new directions. Heck, this is probably the first novel where Stark has been in full-on boyfriend mode, as his entanglements with Candy has turned into a long-term relationship. And that relationship is strained when Stark starts falling into his old habits of going all Sandman Slim on his enemies, while Candy is repeatedly discouraged from going Jade on goons. Ah, the mating habits of abominations.

Stark's Scooby-Doo gang of friends finally get to band together on his latest mission, though Kasabian is still stuck on the bench. At least the decapitated sidekick has that nifty, albeit slightly beat-up, robotic hellhound body to get around in now. As for the gods imprisoned in another dimension, the ones bent on bringing all of creation to and end, it turns out the ghostly girl with the butcher knife in Devil Said Bang was just a whisper of what they're capable of should they get loose, and they're gaining allies both in Heaven and Hell. How Kadrey keeps track of all these allegiances and betrayals in his series is beyond me. His concordance of characters and storylines must make the King James Bible look like a pamphlet by now.

Kadrey's writing style offers so many quotable lines, he doesn't so much have a handle on the language as he does a stranglehold. If the plot doesn't have you turning pages, just seeing what string of eloquent expletives he'll use next will. It's a return to form in my opinion, and the same great level of quality in the eyes of others, I'm sure.

Available at

August 29, 2013

The (Blessed) Lash of Time: an excerpt from N.D. Wilson's "Death by Living"

N. D. Wilson is the author of Leepike Ridge, a children's adventure story, the 100 Cupboards fantasy series, and Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. He enjoys high winds, milk, and night-time. He received his Masters degree from Saint John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, is the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and is also a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in Books & Culture, The Chattahoochee Review, and Esquire.

About Death By Living: A poetic portrait of faith, futility, and the joy of this mortal life. In this astoundingly unique book, bestselling author N.D. Wilson reminds each of us that to truly live we must recognize that we are dying. Every second we create more of our past—more decisions, more breathing, more love and more loathing, all of it slides by into the gone as we race to grab at more moments, at more memories made and already fading.

An excerpt of Death by Living
Chapter 8: The (Blessed) Lash of Time
by N.D. Wilson

On Saturday nights, our family gathers at my parents’ house to eat and laugh and drink to grace. My sisters and their husbands come with their tribes and I with mine.

My grandmother, mother to my father, went into the ground on top of a hill two years ago. James Irwin Wilson comes to these Saturday dinners alone (and yet not). He is the one most likely to ask if he can invite an ex-convict, or to need a ride because he loaned his car (knowingly) to a thief, and now it is gone. His heart struggles. His blood struggles. The man who rowed at the Naval Academy now walks with a cane. The boy who was there when a stallion was rearing and his father was falling to the ground, the boy who ran a ten-acre farm and finished high school and worked eight-hour shifts every night in the Omaha stockyard is now eighty-five and not yet spent. Though he is trying to be. My grandfather has no intention of ending his life with closed fists. His hands will be open and they will be empty.

I began meeting with him early on those Saturday afternoons, and I set up a camera. He was uncomfortable that first time, because I was demanding that he talk about himself, and because he had forgotten to wear a tie. I laughed (in my sweater and jeans). He hasn’t forgotten his tie since.

When he turned eighty-five, he asked for no presents. Like a good hobbit (though I have always said that he is more entish), he wanted to give to us. He is not in the business of accumulating, especially now, as he hears the crowd counting down. He had some birthday menu requests (with pie for dessert), and then he wanted to tell stories to his great grandchildren.

That Saturday, aunts and uncles and cousins came, and when we had eaten and sung and laughed, we settled him in an armchair and sixteen great-grandchildren wrapped around his feet on the floor.

He had no doodads to give. No cheap party favors. Instead, he gave those kids what they could never buy for themselves, what they could never find on their own. He gave them the memories of a boy on a Nebraska farm with brothers, a boy trying to break a wild prairie mustang. He gave them memories of his mother, born in a sod dugout in the prairie grass.

He gave a crowd of mostly small people (who all exist because of his choices in his moments) a glimpse at a time long gone, at moments extinct, at vapor seen with his eyes and remembered.

I—and all of those children—reap a tremendous daily harvest thanks to his faithfulness, thanks to the man with the cane who has received his life with joy, and whose large hands have always been open. Thanks to the Author who crafted such a character and set him on his path, who claimed his heart and carried his burden.

For my part, as he sat and talked, I held a camera. A time will come, I pray, when I am the spent one in the chair still aiming to give. And if I reach his age in 2063, I hope, even then, to introduce this man to generations unborn, to give them more than words, but the flickering image of this face, and the sound of this voice.

On his birthday, this grandfather is not yet done. He has more wealth to give. He chose a passage of Scripture for each of his children and their spouses, for each of their children and their spouses, and for each of their children. Forty-six souls (and counting). He asked a son to arrange and print each passage on archive paper, and he wrote a note of marginalia to each of us, in the sharp, perfect handwriting of another time.

To the youngest of all, my sister’s two-month-old son, he handwrote a simple message next to Colossians 1:9–12: “You may not remember me. I remember you and prayed for you when you were one day old. -Great Grandpa”

My sister cried.

My grandfather’s accounts are in order. His seed is sown. His hoard is elsewhere, in the faces at his feet, and in the hundreds and thousands of stories his own story has touched and will continue to shape.

Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.


If you're interested in picking up a copy of Death By Living or just learning a little more, you can always take a closer look at AMAZON.COM

August 28, 2013

Wish List Wednesday #144: Seanan McGuire's "Discount Armageddon"

WLW is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book I have on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

I'm not great with pseudonyms, figuring out who really wrote what. So, it really wasn't until last year that I figured out Mira Grant, author of the Newsflesh zombie trilogy, is really Seanan McGuire, author of the October Daye fantasy series. I bought the first Mira Grant book, Feed, and the first October Daye novel, Rosemary and Rue, but I hear Seanan has a new series started up through DAW.

Discount Armageddon is the first novel in her InCryptid series. The cover is definitely more cheesecake than the covers of any of her other books, but I like cheesecake (in moderation). Verity Price is born into a family of cryptozoologists, helping and hunting monsters for the sake of mankind, but all Verity wants to do is dance. All right. Hey, why not. Dancers are athletic, and you're gonna need some cardio is you plan to chase down monsters--or hope to outrun them. Actually, the gal on the cover could pass for a dancer with legs like that, so I guess it's slightly less prurient at second glance. Aw, who am I kidding?

Anyway, Seanan McGuire is a talented wordsmith, urban fantasy is a genre I love, and I just dig monsters, so that's a trifecta in my way of seeing it. That's why I'm putting it on my wish list.

So, does Discount Armageddon strike you as the kind of book you'd go for?

August 26, 2013

Slim to None: a review of Richard Kadrey's "Devil Said Bang"

Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4)
by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager (2012)
400 pages
ISBN13: 9780062094575

If you haven't read the first three Sandman Slim novels, chances are you are going to have a helluva time trying to keep track of what happens in this fourth installment. I half expected a reset of some kind with this fourth book, since the third book (Aloha from Hell) had put a nice cap on a major story arc and set up a new chapter in the life of Sandman Slim. Devil Said Bang offers nothing of the sort. If you've been following along with the series though, you're going to feel right at home.

So, at the end of Aloha from Hell, Stark managed to not only rescue his dead ex, Alice, from the bowels of Hell, but also got his revenge on Mason, the maniacal sorceror who condemned him to Hell the first time around and killed Alice while he was trapped there. On top of all that, he also managed to save Lucifer's life and avert a new holy war between Heaven and Hell. Ande what did the devil-may-care crusader get for all his troubles? Trapped in Hell once more, this time as the new Lucifer, while the old one sits on the throne of Heaven and the old Heavenly Father has gone outhouse crazy and splintered into multiple little gods. Wonderful.

Hell was bad enough for Stark the first time around, battling demons in the arena for the amusement of the underworld, but now he's in charge and it's even worse--now he's stuck in board meetings everyday going over fabric swatches and bureaucratic B.S. as Hell is rebuilt from the ground up in the aftermath of the almost holy war.

If not for Stark's serrated sense of humor, the first hundred pages of this novel would have been Hell for me, too. It felt like it took the longest time for anything of substance to actually happen. Finally though, Stark gets wind of a conspiracy to bump him off, which winds up helping him figure out how to escape Hell and return to Los Angeles. But once he's back in his old stomping grounds, he finds the city being terrorized by a ghost on a killing spree--demons, humans, even other ghosts aren't safe from the ghost of a little girl and her very sharp knife.

Once Stark is topside, Devil Said Bang became the profanely action-packed series I've come to know. But that first half of the book was a bit of a slog while waiting for the plot to kick in. In fact, the first half of this novel feels disconnected from the second half, like it's two novellas mashed together. Kadrey offers more of the tried-and-true dialogue and Starkisms that have made the first three novels so fun to read, but I had my hopes up for something a little less murky heading out of the whole Get Mason story arc of those three novels. It's fun, gruesome stuff, but I'm hoping the fifth novel, Kill City Blues, offers something more clear cut and in quicker fashion.


August 22, 2013

Everybody Out of the Dead Pool: a review of Chris F. Holm's "The Big Reap"

The Big Reap (The Collector Book 3)
by Chris F. Holm
Angry Robot Books (2013)
ISBN13: 9780857663436

I liked Dead Harvest, and I loved The Wrong Goodbye, so I kind of had my hopes up when I started on the first page of the third book of Chris Holm's Collector series, The Big Reap.

Sam Thornton has been collecting souls for so long, hopping in and out of bodies and losing a shred of himself each time he does, that he feels a little less human each day. He's barely human anymore anyway, what with selling his soul to save his tubercular wife and serving eternity as a reaper of wayward souls, but what remains of his humanity feels like it's eroding faster than he had anticipated. The events of the previous two books are finally catching up to him. Now, Lilith has tasked him with hunting down the Brethren, a group of Collectors turned monsters. Their humanity is entirely gone and now that it's been discovered they can be destroyed, that's precisely what Sam has to do.

The novel actually feels like a collection of novellas interluded with flashbacks to one of Sam's first collection jobs during World War II. Through the flashbacks, we get a much richer history of his relationship with Lilith and how he got roped in with her private agenda and manipulations. Any time you can mix up Nazis with the occult, it's a fun time seeing those evil buggers get some supernatural comeuppance. Back to the main story, though. The Brethren, those Collectors gone rogue, serve as a wonderful homage to the famous monsters of classic horror. Each one that Sam has to hunt down is reminiscent of iconic characters like Frankenstein's monster, werewolves, vampires, and even one tentacular adversary I particularly enjoyed.

Given the episodic nature of each mission Sam goes on in this book, along with the flashbacks, the story can feel a bit disjointed, even jarring with how the focus shifts or jumps back and forth. But The Big Reap actually does more to give readers a closer look into Sam Thornton's past than the two previous novels, and the revelations that come about surrounding his roll as a Collector and his allegiances with those close to him just put this book on a new level. It's still great, pulpy action the whole way through, but it feels like the attention to Sam's character development was intensified a good deal.

If you have been keeping up with this series thus far, this third installment will not disappoint. Readers new to the series should be able to get a lot of enjoyment from the story, too. The back story is delivered in drips and drabs that should help newcomers catch up on what's happened already, but you really should check out the first two books to get a full appreciation for the story. Some heartfelt drama amid the horror and hullabaloo make The Big Reap a big standout in the class of 2013. Don't be surprised if it winds up on my favorites of the year in a few months time.


August 21, 2013

Chasing Tale (8/21/13): They Did the Mash. They Did the Genre Mash!

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the books that I recently added to my to-be-read pile. Some are advance review copies, some I bought from one store or another, and others are freebies from promotional offers that caught my eye.

There are certain genres I just don't enjoy. Historical romance, cozy mysteries, hard SF, and legal thrillers are among them. That said, there are a lot of genres that I do enjoy, and a great many of them are blends of long established ones. Weird westerns would be a good example. Take a classic wild west setting and throw in some fantastical elements, whether it be steampunk or magic, and I'm probably going to enjoy the heck out of it. I like to think that my reading tastes are diverse and eclectic. I think I'm the minority on that front, though.

I find it funny how some readers will get their knickers in a twist because a book they read didn't strictly adhere to the limits of their favorite genre. Ew, there's horror in my sci-fi! And who put this fantasy in my noir novel?!

I grew up a genre mutt anyway. When I was a kid my toy box was a literal mash-up of genres. Voltron and Hot Wheels and G.I. Joe and a bunch of other stuff got thrown in the blender of my imagination when I played with my toys. It bled over into the nonsensical stories I wrote in class or doodled when the teacher wasn't looking. I had no problem with a Transformer coming to the rescue of Papa Smurf back when I was a boy, so why would I get cranky if there's a fairy in that detective novel I'm reading?

Look, if you're one of those compartmentalized people who just hates getting peas in their mashed potatoes, or vampires in their space opera, I'm sure you can reel off all your reasons why. All I'm gonna say in response is that you're missing out, because some of the best stories I've read are the kinds that would make a publisher's marketing department jump out the nearest window.

You might even see a title or two below that count as crossed genre (all of the links will take you to

Die a Little by Megan Abbott - I have a couple of Abbott's newer novels on my wish list, seeing her name pop up this year on more than one recommendation list, so when I stumbled upon a copy of her debut novel I just had to get it.

Dead Money by Ray Banks - I watched Glengarry GlenRoss not that long ago so maybe that's why, when I saw Ray Banks had a short novel about a slimeball salesman, I just had to get this book.hh

MalContents: Four Dark Horror Novellas by Randy Chandler, Gregory L. Norris, Ryan C. Thomas, & David T. Wilbanks - The title for this Grand Mal Press book pretty much speaks for itself. Each story looks to run about fifty pages, making for some fast, frightful reads.

Day One by Nate Kenyon - This is an ARC of a novel set for release in October, and I'm happy to see a new one from Kenyon, as I was really impressed with Sparrow Rock. This one takes the apocalypse and ups the ante, by the looks of it, and sounds like a summer blockbuster Hollywood hasn't discovered yet on account of it not being a sequel to Transformers.

The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale - This is a review copy from Mulholland Books that I can't wait to dive into, with Lansdale's unparalleled storytelling, and a coming-of-age tale tempered with a revenge story. I haven't even read the first page yet, and I already wonder if this might be my favorite book of the year. So much for objectiveness, eh?

The Unburied Dead by Douglas Lindsay - I stumbled across this book on the Kindle Store when I bought Ray Banks' Dead Money. This one is also published by Blasted Heath and I managed to get it while it was free.

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin - Here's another incredibly successful author whose books I've yet to read. I found a paperback copy of the first book in the Detective Rebus series, the series that put Rankin on the map, figuring it's okay to be late in jumping on the bandwagon.

Savage Night by Jim Thompson - According to some authors whose opinions are not to be dismissed, this ranks among the greatest psycho noir novels ever written. The last piece of praise that had me go get myself a copy came from the highly talented Dave Zeltserman.

Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children by Lee Thompson - This is the fourth book in Lee's Division Mythos series. I had gone searching out the third book in the series, but then I remembered Collected Songs of Sonnelion was a serial that was only available temporarily online and since taken down--still no e-book release of that one for some reason--so I decided to buy this one instead.

Flash Virus: Episode One by Steve Vernon - It seems there's no genre Steve Vernon doesn't enjoy, as evidenced by his serial sci-fi venture, Flash Virus. I downloaded the first entry to give it a test drive. I think the whole series has been collected into one e-book by now.

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn - Alright, ever since news hit that there was a new Star Wars trilogy in the works, fans pointed to this book, the first of a trilogy from the early 90s. I'm not that big a fan of Star Wars, but I hear Zahn is a helluva writer, and I'm willing to bet I'll like this book at least as much as I did Episodes IV & V.

Julius Katz & Archie by Dave Zeltserman - He can write horror, he can write crime, he can write blends of the two, even. And here, Dave Zeltserman has a blend of mystery and sci-fi. If he handles genres as well as the others, this one is sure to please.

So what goodies to you grab this week?

August 20, 2013

Novel Excerpt: Chapter 1 of Gleen Shepard's "Not for Profit"

What is Glenn Shepard's NOT FOR PROFIT about?

A prominent surgeon accused of murder and terrorism . . .

A corrupt healthcare administrator hell-bent on bloody revenge . . .

A mysterious seductress whose secrets could free the doctor and kill thousands . . .

A terrorist cell with missiles aimed at a leading hospital in America’s Bible Belt . . .

Not for Profit takes you on an action-packed thrill ride that will have you questioning suspects, motives, and outcomes until the very last page.

Here's an excerpt of the first and second chapter, provided by Glenn for your enjoyment.

Not for Profit
by Glenn Shepard

Chapter 1

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, 6 a.m., Three Months Earlier

“Alpha Charlie, Alpha Charlie, get ready for action! The target's on the move!”

The words vibrated in Charlie’s earpiece as he sat bolt upright, and flexed his 220 pound, 6 foot 2-inch frame. He had spent the last four days glued to the monitors, never leaving the control center, even as the other eight members of the Air Force forensics team took brief meal and sleep breaks. Alpha Charlie was a CIA-hired civilian contractor whose mission in Afghanistan was to control pilotless aircraft and destroy enemy targets. Ninety six hours ago, he was scheduled to return to his civilian job in America, when forensics identified the Al-Qaeda leader, Muhamed Bin Garza, only 230 miles away in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. He cancelled his flight home.

It had been two years since they had a positive ID on Bin Garza. And Charlie wanted blood.

The notorious Al-Qaeda leader was responsible for the suicide bombing in Mumbai, Amman, London, and Somalia, and had connections to the World Trade Center attack in New York. Now he was a sitting duck. He had been spotted while entering a complex of tents and adobe houses adjacent to the mountains and caves. He would be leaving any moment now. This was the one and only chance Alpha Charlie would ever have to eliminate Bin Garza. Bin Garza’s death would be the ultimate notch in his gun barrel. His job back home could wait. He had taken out terrorists before, but Bin Garza was the trophy he had been training and waiting his whole life for.

Alpha Charlie was stationed in one of two identical Quonset huts on the base, both sitting within 50 meters of each other. In the first hut, the US Air Force forensics team was housed. Their function was to make the drones airborne, to locate and identify targets, and to land the vehicles when their missions were completed. Alpha Charlie sat in a single chair in the second hut.
But this was no ordinary chair. It was a one-of-a-kind control chair loaded with hundreds of computer systems that required delicate manipulations. At the end of each armrest were two joysticks, one for each hand. Both were equipped with a dozen buttons, some black and others red, all with separate and distinct functionalities. Ever since he was 12 years old, Charlie played video arcade games. He had mastered the games almost immediately, having innately good reflexes and hand-eye coordination. He also lacked moral qualms... about anything. After winning several gaming competitions in his late 20s, he was contacted by the CIA and accepted their offer to move from murdering virtual foes to slaughtering real ones.

The CIA granted him access to a new program which involved piloting drones. Very quickly, Charlie had learned to operate them as well as the Air Force’s best pilots. His penchant for video games made his skills acute, and these gaming skills readily transferred to drone operation. His immediate mastery of the pilotless aircraft meant an underlying talent that many of the professional pilots lacked. They were readily trainable, but not one had the innate ability to pick up the controls of an aircraft with which they had no experience and so quickly be able to operate it with such a sharp degree of precision. Charlie had even proven himself to be brilliant under pressure and once he tasted actual combat, he gained a voracious appetite for it. The thrill of killing a virtual terrorist couldn’t compare to the rush of killing one made of flesh and blood.

Air Force Colonel Ben Edwards, the director of the operation, ran into Charlie’s hut. He glanced at Alpha Charlie's hands as they moved the joysticks. Edwards marveled at how Charlie’s fingers glided over the controls and easily performed maneuvers that his other “pilots” struggled with.

Suddenly Edwards saw it - the blinking red light on the fuel gauge. One hundred pounds of fuel left. Seventy two miles of "life" left in the fuel tank, not enough to get the aircraft halfway back to Kandahar. He screamed, "Charlie! You're running out of fuel!"

Alpha Charlie pretended not to hear. He had already extended the flight time five hours using the updrafts of the mountains to conserve fuel and lowering the speed to 320 MPH, but he was concerned. An hour ago, he ordered his Global Hawk fuel carrier, yet it was not on his radar screen. Well, that's a problem he didn't have time for.

His focus remained locked on the three monitors in front of him. Screen A showed a scurry of activity in the small, peaceful Haqqui tribal village. Bin Garza was going for a ride. That was it! Charlie's waiting was over. He leaned forward and watched carefully.

In the center of the village, a 1960s Mercedes sedan and a 1980s Chrysler New Yorker were parked in front of an adobe house. Alongside the two cars, a small entourage surrounded three men who had just left the house and were walking to the vehicles. A dozen cheering villagers reached to touch the men as guards pushed them aside. On Screen B, the forensics experts focused on the faces of the men and enlarged them. Screen C showed a broad view of the 5 square mile area surrounding the target.

Screen A showed the men getting into the two cars, while screen B flipped through stills of the faces. Then the camera fine-tuned portrait quality images. Charlie heard excitement build from the other hut, “That's definitely Bin Garza!”

“And that's his number two, Shakel, with him! We can get two for the price of one, if we hit 'em now!” The third man on the screen kept his shumag pulled over his face and was not able to be identified.

Colonel Edwards shouted across the room, “Alpha Charlie, we have Al-Qaeda's two top men together. Targets confirmed! It's now or never. Get 'em!”

Alpha Charlie turned to Screen A, the target monitor showing live pictures from the MQ-4A Global Hawk drone he controlled. This model was the largest and best equipped drone in his fleet, but it was brand new and untested. It had been airborne for nearly 48 hours and circled the area at 50,000 feet, filming the area where Pakistani intelligence had said these men were staying. Sweat dripped down Charlie’s brow as he saw the plummeting fuel gauge now reading empty.

Time was running out. Charlie focused the camera, centering it on the now moving car.

A pissed off Edwards looked at Screen C. “Fuck! There's a hill! They'll disappear behind it in 20 seconds! Charlie, you gotta strike NOW!"

Alpha Charlie did not respond, but he heard Edwards. He had one shot and didn't want to fuck it up. His mental clock ticked down - 20, 19, 18; he remained calm and showed no signs of tension. His left hand guided a blinking red target square over the car. With the image of the square fixed to the target, Charlie centered the X.
CLICK! The Hellfire missile locked on the Mercedes. Twelve, 11, 10...

Charlie quickly touched the red trigger button with his thumb and fired the 5 foot long missile which carried over 30 pounds of explosives. At a speed of 950 MPH, the missile would be paying the Mercedes a surprise visit within 3 seconds.

But would it get there in time?

The Mir Ali Village, 6:04 a.m.

A high-pitched WHIRRR, like that of a model airplane, filled the sky above the village. The driver of the Mercedes looked up and saw the silvery flash of reflected sunlight emerging from the obscurity of the mountain behind.

As the driver accelerated, he saw the 5 foot long Hellfire missile speeding towards them. Bin Garza screamed in terror as he gripped the seat of the car and braced himself. The explosion was tremendous, ripping the men and car to pieces.

A hundred feet away, the unidentified man in the shumag, Omar Farok, felt his Chrysler bounce around like a toy ball. The concussion of the impact nearly deafened him. He watched from the Chrysler as a fireball swallowed up the Mercedes; then, there was only a blinding cloud of smoke and dirt.
Fortunately for Farok, his driver was familiar with the terrain of this village and the Chrysler instantly turned left onto a mountain path dodging around three trees. As the Chrysler slammed to a halt, a petrified Farok dove out of the car and ran into a mountain cave. He sat trembling in the cave as he watched another Hellfire missile devour the Chrysler in a ball of red flames, engulfing his driver as he tried to escape.

Farok’s voice echoed inside the cave, “American pigs, I swear on Allah's blessed name, you will pay for this!"

The Kandahar Drone Control Center, 6:05 a.m.

Col. Edwards and his forensics team cheered!

But Alpha Charlie did not celebrate, even as the refueling aircraft in the sky above saved his drone from sputtering to the earth on its last pound of fuel. Sure, Charlie was pleased about the millions that he had made from this kill. This extra money would allow him to shift his drone control station and missiles back home and continue his missions from there, but still, he wasn't about to jump up and down and cheer. He'd done his job.

He stood as bottles of Dom Perignon were uncorked. Without fanfare, Charlie grabbed a drink and downed it. Then, he poured himself another.

As he swallowed, he thought to himself, ‘All in a day's work’.

Chapter 2

The Surgery Center, Jackson City, N.C., 7 p.m., Three Months Later

If you were to walk into my cosmetic surgery office, you’d see that I designed a space that is healing, orderly and serene. There are no crystals or there is no new age music playing, but there's a little waterfall and many of the walls and open spaces feature my favorite flower – the orchid. 

My orchids are always resplendent with gorgeous colored blooms – hot pink, deep magenta, white with mauve spots. I care for all the plants myself by watering them, limiting the amount of sunlight, and constantly measuring and altering the composition of the soil. In my office, you’ll always find a colorful Doritaenopsis.

My favorite is the pure white Phalaenopsis to the left of the waterfall. When I first opened my office, a patient sent that to me, but it was solid blue -- an unnatural color for an orchid. I sensed that someone blue-inked the roots, like the blue roses in Kipling's poems. Saturating a flower in ink always seemed wrong and angered me in the same way that a bad facelift did. In my mind, there were absolute rights and wrongs in this world. A person's face shouldn't be stretched so tight that their eyes and lips get distorted, and a white orchid should remain pure white.

I became obsessed with that Phalaenopsis, nurturing it (in a back room, of course) until it bloomed again and this time, it was the purest white of any orchid I ever had. I look at the broken pieces of Orchis sitting in my waiting room every day and I try my best to put her back together. And most of the time, I succeed. Except today. Today was not going so well…

"Why's it taking her so long to recover from the anesthetic?" I asked as I removed my surgical gown and gloves. I arched my back, stiff from bending over so much. After 12 hours of surgery, I was exhausted. I’d just hit 40 and I was really starting to feel it.

I smiled at my anesthesiologist, Dr. Boyd Carey. "Two face lifts, two liposuctions and three augmentation mammoplasties is enough for one day."

Dr. Carey did not return the smile. He looked over his half-frame glasses and shrugged. "If you hadn't bowed to Keyes' ridiculous demand to keep her privacy by sending your two nurses home early, her "auggie" would have only taken 45 minutes." Carey was a thin vegan who would’ve probably been happier if he ate a burger once and awhile. Fine wrinkles in his 45-year-old dark skin made him look 60.

I took off my surgical cap and finger-combed my hair. "Come on now, Boyd. Relax. Hey, at least we aren’t working in the tobacco fields.”

“Oh God, you’re not going to start in again on your childhood stories of slaving away in the fields to pay for college—"

“I could if—"

“Please, spare me.”

Carey turned to the patient for a minute and then tilted his head back and faced me again. "No. She's still sound asleep. And that's another thing, Scott. We should have given her Propaphol, like we do on all our patients. She'd be awake by now. But no! You always grant all your patient's every wish and kiss their surgically-raised asses."

Ethel Keyes had been my office manager for the past two months. She was a hard worker with a sweet personality; everyone who came in contact with her liked her. I had never before employed anyone who so quickly endeared herself to everyone. And it probably didn't hurt that she was a 32-year-old blonde who looked like a high fashion model.

Just a few days ago, Keyes had confided to me that she always felt uncomfortable with her body as she thought her breasts were too small. She had done such a great job in the office, revamping my billing system, changing the office health insurance to a less expensive and more comprehensive plan, and computerized all my office records, that I offered to do a breast auggie surgery for her - pro bono.

However, it was a mistake. Beyond the ethical issues involved in operating on employees, she proved to be a difficult patient from the beginning: refusing Propaphol as her anesthetic because it killed Michael Jackson; forbidding the use of the second best medication, intravenous Versed, because she didn’t like its amnesic properties, and insisting on an older style of anesthesia, Valium and Demerol, but in reduced doses.
She argued that she was sensitive to all sedatives. Sure enough, it took only 2 mg of Valium and 50 mg of Demerol to knock her completely out. Most people required 10 mg of Valium and 100 mg of Demerol with touch-up medications given as the patients got "light". No additional drugs were needed today as she slept soundly. And kept on sleeping even after the procedure ended and Dr. Carey and I waited ... and waited for her to wake up.

I leaned over the OR table and tapped her cheeks lightly. "Ms. Keyes, Ms. Keyes, can you hear me?"

Her response was a snore.

I clasped my hands behind my back, pressing on my tired paraspinal muscles. My perpetual smile turned to a frown.

Dr. Carey growled, "She hasn't had enough sedation to hurt a fly. You should just go home. I'll watch her until she wakes up. At least one of us should be able to enjoy this evening."

"No. I'm not leaving until she's awake."

"Fine. Go into your office.” Carey reached out, cupped her left breast and with a smirk uttered, “I’ll keep you abreast of everything here.”

"Jesus, Boyd, get your hands off of her. She’s under for Christ’s sake!"

"Alright, Sir Galahad, guardian of fair maidens. Go get some coffee and I'll call you when she's awake enough for discharge. It shouldn't be long.”

I hesitated before leaving the room. "I'll be in the waiting room. Call me and I'll be back in a second it there's a problem."

As I left the OR, I pulled out my IPhone and called my wife, Alicia. I told her of the situation with Keyes.

She answered, “Alright, do what you have to. But there's always something to keep you there late. The boys wanted to see you and--- I'll put the boys to sleep and keep your tuna casserole hot in the oven," she sighed as she continued, "Again!"

I walked to my waiting room to talk to Anna Duke, the friend that was to pick up Keyes after surgery. But when I got there, she wasn't there so I sat down on the sofa and relaxed.

This room is my favorite part of the office. It’s got a huge skylight, custom stereo, a waterfall with a 4 foot drop, and a dozen blooming orchids. I turned on a Miles Davis CD and flicked on the multi-colored lights that glowed behind the flowing water. When my architect had told me that it was impossible to put everything I wanted in this room without knocking down all the walls, I paid him his fee and let him go.

Then I went online, did my research, and installed it all myself. I'm sure I could have hired someone else to do it faster, but I found that I really enjoyed learning about plumbing and wiring. In fact, I'd had so much fun doing it, next on my agenda is to buy and fix up an old Victorian house in the low country of the Carolinas one day. The operative word being "one day" since these days I really couldn't imagine doing much of anything else with my 80-hour work schedule.

I sat back, smelled the sweet fragrance of his cymbidium and zygopetalum orchids, closed my eyes, and dictated the seven operations I performed that day.

* * * * *

Meanwhile in the operating room only 30 feet away, a shadow caught Dr. Boyd Carey’s eye. Carey quickly turned and saw a light reflect off of something in the air, something swinging at him.

It hit him hard in the neck, almost knocking him over. Immediately, he reached towards his neck and felt a painful jab and a burning sensation.

He tried to turn to face his attacker, but his body wouldn't move. Again, the hand slammed him with the sharp object. Carey wanted to lift his arms to protect himself, but they dropped limply at his side. His legs grew weak. His muscles quivered uncontrollably.

His mouth opened to scream, but he couldn't make a sound. Both knees buckled and his body dropped to the floor.

* * * * *

I heard a THUMP! I ran to the OR, opened the door and saw Dr. Carey lying there!

I looked over at the OR table. Keyes was still sleeping with the monitors showing a normal blood pressure, pulse, and EKG.

I dropped to my knees beside Carey. There was no pulse. Jerking the stethoscope from his white lab coat, I listened to his chest. There was only a faint bump...bump...bump. I pounded my fist on Carey's chest and listened again. Placing the heel of my hand on his lower sternum, I compressed the chest six times before blowing into Carey's mouth. His heart sounds were slow and distant.

For the first time in my surgical career, I felt panic-stricken. What had happened? I'd only been gone a few minutes.

Quickly, I dialed 911. "A man's been stabbed. He's dying! I need help. Please send an ambulance STAT!"

* * * * *

If Not for Profit sounds like the kind of book you'd like to read, you can pick yourself up a copy over at!