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Special Smashwords Edition
(A Donovan Creed Crime Novel)
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Special Smashwords Edition
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Copyright © 2009 John Locke. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.
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ISBN: 978-1-935670-04-9 (eBook)
This eBook Published by Telemachus Press
Library of Congress Control Number: 2009930584
Visit the author website: http://www.lethalbooks.com
eBook published and distributed by: http://www.smashwords.com
The fire started in Greg and Melanie’s basement just after midnight and crept upward through the stairwell silently, like a predator tracking food.
Greg had never read the stats or he’d have known that home fires can turn deadly in just two minutes and that his odds of waking up were three to one.
And yet both he and Melanie had managed it. Was it because she’d screamed? He wasn’t sure. But she was screaming now. Groggy, disoriented, coughing, Greg stumbled to the door. Like millions of others, he’d seen the movie Backdraft, and although the proper term for the event depicted in the fi lm was a “flashover”and not a “backdraft,” he’d learned enough to touch the back of his hand to the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame before flinging it open.
As he did that, Melanie rolled to the edge of the bed and grabbed her cell phone from the charging cradle on the nightstand. She pressed 911 and cupped her hand around the speaker. Now that Greg was in motion, she felt better, like part of a team instead of an army of one. Only moments ago, Melanie had taken her panic out on Greg’s comatose body by kicking, punching, and screaming him awake. When he finally began to stir, she’d slapped him hard across the face several times.
Now they were working together. They’d silently assessed the situation and assigned each other specific roles in an unspoken plan. He’d get the kids; she’d get the firemen.
Melanie couldn’t hear anything coming from the phone and wondered if she’d misdialed. She terminated the call and started over. A sudden blast of heat told her Greg had gotten the door open. Melanie looked up at him, and their eyes met. She held his gaze a moment and time seemed to stop while something special passed between them. It was just a split second, but they managed to get eight years of marriage into it.
Greg set his jaw and gave her a nod of reassurance, as if to say he’d seen what lay beyond the door and that everything was going to be all right.
Melanie wasn’t buying. She’d known this man since the first week of college, knew all his looks. What she’d seen in his eyes was helplessness. And fear.
Greg turned away from her, shielded his face, and hurled himself into the rising flames. She couldn’t hear the 911 operator over the roaring noise, but she heard Greg barreling up the stairs yelling to the children.
She yelled, “I love you!” but her words were swallowed up in the blaze. The searing heat scorched her blistered throat. Melanie clamped her mouth shut and turned her attention back to the phone. Was someone on the other end? She dropped to her hands and knees, cupped her fingers around the mouthpiece, and shouted her message as clearly as possible to the dispatcher she hoped was listening.
That’s when she heard the crash—the one that sounded like columns falling in the foyer. Melanie figured the staircase would be next.
The kids’ room was right above her. Melanie instinctively looked up to launch a prayer and saw a thick, rolling layer of smoke hugging the ceiling. She let out a long, piercing wail. A terrible thought tried to enter her mind. She forced it away.
Melanie screamed again—screamed for her girls, screamed for Greg, screamed even as hot air filled her mouth and lungs and tried to finish her off.
But Melanie had no intention of dying. Not here in the bedroom. Not without her family. Coughing, choking, she crawled steadily toward the doorway.
The theory that the air was better near the floor apparently didn’t apply to basement fires because thick, gray ropes of smoke were sifting upward through the floorboards. Melanie’s lungs ached in protest as the heat and flames stepped up the demand on her oxygen. Her pulse throbbed heavy in her neck. The hallway, a mere twelve feet away, had been rendered nearly impenetrable in the moments since Greg had left her. During that tiny window of time, the flames had more than doubled in height and intensity, and their all-consuming heat sucked so much oxygen from the air, she could barely maintain consciousness.
As she neared the doorway, a bedroom window imploded with a loud crash. Hot, broken glass slammed into her upper torso like a shotgun blast, pelting her face, neck, and shoulders with crystals of molten shrapnel. The impact knocked Melanie to her side. She shrieked in pain and instinctively started curling her body into a protective ball. The skin that had once covered her delicate face was gone, and the meat that remained broiled in the heat.
That would have done it for Melanie had she been fighting solely for her own life, but she was fighting for Greg and the twins, and she refused to let them down. Melanie shrieked again, this time in anger. She got to her hands and knees, made her way through the doorway, crawled to the base of the stairs, and looked up.
The stairwell was an inferno, and the bottom half of the staircase was virtually gone. Melanie’s heart sank. She screamed for her family, listened for a response. There was none.
Then, as if an angel had whispered it, Melanie had an idea. She got to her feet and made her way to the powder room. She turned on the faucets, soaked the guest towels. She staggered back to the area where the steps used to be. Tapping into her last ounce of strength, she screamed, “Greg!” and flung the towels as hard as she could, upward into the rising flames, in the direction of the kids’ room.
Had he heard her? Had he answered? She couldn’t tell.
Emergency personnel arrived just four minutes after the 911 call was logged. Neighbors, hearing sirens, gathered in the street and watched in horror.
Later, when reconstructing the events at the scene, firefighters determined Greg had made it to the children’s room, opened the window, and hung a sheet from it to alert rescuers to the location. He’d had the presence of mind to gather both girls in his arms on the floor beneath him before dying.
Firefighters entering the bedroom through the window were impressed to find wet towels covering the girls’ faces. This is what saved their lives that night, they decided, though one of the twins died later on, in the hospital.
“Son of a bitch,” Augustus Quinn said. “You are one tough son of a bitch, I’ll give you that!” Shakespeare it was not, but Creed should have been dead by now and wasn’t. “Let’s call it a night,” Quinn said.
They were on opposite sides of prison cell bars, sixty feet below the earth’s surface. It took a while, but Donovan Creed staggered to his feet, a vantage point from which he now grinned at the hideous giant manning the torture device. “What was that?” Creed said. “Eight seconds?”
The ugly giant nodded.
“Give me ten this time.”
“You’ll die,” Quinn said. Though the two men had worked together for years, Quinn’s words had been uttered simply and gave no evidence of warmth or concern.
Creed supposed that for Quinn it was all business. Creed had paid his friend to administer the torture, and Quinn was expressing his opinion about continuing. Did he even care if Creed died tonight? Creed thought about that for a minute.
The ADS weapon had been created as a counter measure to the terrorists’ practice of using civilians as human shields during the Iraq War. Effective up to a quarter mile, ADS fires an invisible beam that penetrates the skin and instantly boils all body fluids. The idea was simple: you point the weapon at a crowd, flip the switch, and everyone falls to the ground in excruciating pain. You flip the switch off , collect the weapons, and sort out the terrorists. Moments later, everyone is back to normal. Unfortunately, during the testing phase, word got out about soldiers suffering irreversible heart damage and ruptured spleens. When human rights organizations got involved, the public outcry was so severe the weapon had to be scrapped.
Donovan Creed had been among the first to test the original ADS weapon without receiving permanent organ or tissue damage. From the first exposure, he believed the weapon held enormous potential as a field torture device, provided it could be modified to a handheld size. To that effect, Creed had persuaded the military to allow one of the original prototypes to go missing long enough for his geek squad to turn it into a sort of ham radio project.
The weapon currently aimed at Creed through the prison bars was one of a set of three that had been produced to date. The other two were locked in a hidden closet twenty feet away. These three weapons were second generation, meaning they were much smaller than the original but not as small as they would ultimately need to be for his purposes. Still, each phase required human testing.
“You don’t believe that about me dying,” Creed said. “You’re just hungry.”
Quinn ignored the remark. “Two hundred soldiers tested against the machine,” he recited. “Forty-six with battle-field experience …”
Creed waved the words away with his hand. “Old news,” he said.
Quinn turned to face the video camera. “I want it on record I’m advising you to stop.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Creed said. “If you leave, I’ll just figure out a way to do it alone.”
“My point,” Quinn said. “I leave and you pass out, who’s gonna shut off the beam?”
Creed studied the giant’s dark, dead eyes, searching for the proverbial ounce of humanity. “What,” he said, “you going soft on me?” Quinn didn’t answer, and Creed realized if there was an answer to be had, it wouldn’t come from Quinn’s eyes. Quinn’s eyes were not the gateway to his soul. They were the place mirth went to die.
Look,” Quinn said, by way of clarification. “I keep pushing the switch till you die, and every assassin, every kill squad, and half the country’s armed forces will try to plant me in the ground.”
“Aw hell, Augustus, these guys try to kill me every time they invent a new toy. Don’t forget, they pay me well for this shit.”
“In advance, I hope.”
Speaking to the camera, Creed said, “If I die tonight, hunt this ugly bastard down and kill him like the dog he is.” Creed winked at his monstrous friend and set his feet.
Quinn shrugged. “I can always edit that last part.” He held Creed’s gaze a second and then checked his stopwatch and threw the switch.
Ten seconds later, Donovan Creed was on his back, lifeless, though his screams continued to echo off the prison cell walls.
Augustus Quinn, a man entirely unburdened by sentimentality, left Creed where he dropped and removed the video card from the camera. Tomorrow he’ll send copies to NSA, the CIA, and Department of Homeland Security.
Quinn pocketed the video card but stopped short after hearing a small sound. In the absence of certainty, he preferred not to squeeze his huge frame through the narrow cell door opening, but this was Donovan Creed after all, so Quinn entered reluctantly, knelt on the floor, and tried Creed’s wrist for a pulse. Failing to find one, he cradled the dead man’s head in his giant hand and placed his ear close to Creed’s mouth.
A raspy whisper emerged: “That all you got?”
Startled, Quinn drew back. “Son of a bitch!” he said for the second time that night. Some day he’ll be drinking in a biker bar or hanging on a meat hook somewhere, and some guy will ask him who the toughest man he ever met was.
Quinn will say Donovan Creed, and he’ll give a dozen examples of Creed’s toughness, ending with these most recent events. He’ll tell it just the way it happened tonight, no need to embellish, and he’ll end the story with a recitation of Creed’s final words, “Is that all you’ve got?” The guy hearing the story will smile because, as final words go, Creed’s were gold.
As it turns out, those were not Creed’s last words.
“This time,” he said, “give me twelve seconds.”
Quinn sighed. “I should’ve brought a sandwich,” he said.
Quinn fears no human or beast in the world, save for the man at his feet. Specifically, he fears that thing inside the man on the fl oor that drives Donovan Creed to sleep in a prison cell every night when he’s here at his headquarters in Virginia—or in the attics and crawl spaces of homes owned by clueless strangers the rest of the time. Nor can Quinn fathom what fuels Creed’s insane desire to build his resistance to torture by scheduling these horrific late night sessions in order to play human guinea pig to the latest military death weapon du jour.
Quinn makes his way back through the cell door opening and places the video card back in the camera. He peers into the aperture, presses the record button.
The lens displays a stark prison cell measuring six feet by nine. A narrow bed with a bare mattress hugs the left wall, separated from the toilet by a stainless steel sink. The reinforced cinderblock walls and concrete floor are painted institutional gray. Two-inch-thick iron bars span the front of the cell. A center section can be slid to one side to accommodate prisoner access. The ceiling is high and holds fluorescent lighting above a grid designed to discourage prisoners from hurling food or clothing upward in an attempt to obtain shards of glass from which to fashion a weapon.