We end the month of March with a bang. This week Texas author and good friend Earl Staggs drops by to talk about his novella, Rescue. This ties into his novel Justified Action that he shared back in February here. Both books are good ones well worth your time.
In my novel JUSTIFIED ACTION, I introduced Tall Chambers. After a twenty-year career in Army Special Forces, Tall joins a secretive agency which tracks terrorist groups and stops them before innocent people are harmed. Tall puts all that aside, however, when someone close to him is murdered. After that, he devotes his wits and weapons to finding the killer.
After JUSTIFIED ACTION was published (and received great reviews, I might add) I decided to write a short story featuring Tall and his team. I called the story RESCUE, and it picks up after the novel with Tall’s team of professionals on a mission in the Middle East.
It turned out to be a long short story, coming in at just under 9,500 words. That’s why I did something different and called it a “Mini Novel.”
This is the beginning of the first chapter of RESCUE.
A Mini Novel in Five Chapters
featuring Tall Chambers
by Earl Staggs
Alongside a dirt road twenty miles east of Abu Dhabi, capital city of the United Arab Emirates, Tall Chambers crouched behind a boulder the size of a jeep. On his left, Mountain Brown rested on his knees. For a man who stood six-eight and carried well over three hundred pounds of tight muscle, that was as close to a crouch as he could get.
On Tall’s right, crouching easily six feet away, Airman First Class Kevin Mason shielded his eyes with an open hand and looked up at the blazing sun. “Sure is hot,” he said.
“Shouldn’t be much longer,” Tall said.
“You’re in a desert, boy,” Mountain grumbled. “It’s the middle of August and it’s only ten o’clock in the morning. By noon, it’ll hit a hundred and ten. If you can’t take the heat, get an office job.”
Tall grinned. Mountain liked to push buttons. Anyone’s.
“I can take the heat,” Kevin shot back. “Don’t worry about me, old timer.”
Tall liked it that Kevin stood up to the big man. Kevin was well-built and obviously worked out to stay that way, but was maybe five-eight with boots on and weighed one-sixty at most. Mountain could twist him into a pretzel without breaking a sweat. The kid had spunk.
Mountain leaned toward Tall and spoke in a low voice. “Who is that boy and what’s he doing here?”
“Our usual interpreter wasn’t available. The Air Force loaned him to us.”
“I know we need somebody speaks the language, but Christ! What is he, twelve?”
Tall chuckled. “He’s twenty-five, not as young as he looks.”
“Well, I feel a lot safer knowing I have a baby-faced interpreter watching my back. Does he know how to use that rifle he’s holding?”
“I looked over his records. He’s a qualified marksman, and he’s had some experience in recon ops.”
“Does he have any idea why we’re here?”
“No, I haven’t had time to read him in. I need to do that.”
Mountain raised his M-16 rifle and checked it again to make sure it was ready. “Okay, as long as I don’t have to babysit him.”
“He’ll be fine.” Tall lifted his binoculars and looked back down the road to his left. Thin swirling dust devils rose from the parched sandy soil and dissipated into gassy heat vapors. He felt like it was already a hundred and ten degrees.
He saw nothing coming and turned his attention to the other side of the road. He couldn’t see them, but he knew four more of his operatives were there, hiding behind boulders and squatty bushes dotting the flat desert landscape. Ben Goldman was one of the ops. Ben would set off the small explosive device buried in the road when Tall gave the signal.
Tall scooted over next to the Airman. “Kevin, just so you know what we’re doing here, a bus will be coming down this road any minute. On board is a group of armed Muslim terrorists on their way to a street festival in downtown Abu Dhabi. There’ll be a big crowd, many of them tourists and American service personnel. These people plan to mingle with the crowd, open fire, and kill as many as they can. Our plan is to stop them right here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“So we’re going to stop the bus and take them prisoner?”
Tall raised his binoculars again. “That’s up to them. We’ll give them a chance to surrender, and we hope they do. We want to take them in for interrogation. Some local politicians are supporting the group, and we want to find out who they are. But sometimes, these people choose to die for their cause. If that’s what they want, we’ll accommodate them.” He lowered the binoculars. “They’re coming. About a half mile away.”
Tall keyed his headset mic. “Get ready, Ben.”
“I see them,” Ben Goldman responded. “Let’s rock ‘n roll, Tall man.”
Tall turned back to Kevin. “When the bus stops, I want you to tell them in Arabic to put down their weapons and raise their hands in the air. Tell them if they don’t, we’ll open fire. Got it?”
“Good. Then I want you to level your rifle on the bus driver. If he tries to move the vehicle or shows a weapon, shoot him.”
Kevin stared at him for a moment as if shocked he might be involved in a gunfight. He licked his dry lips and raised his rifle into firing position across the boulder. “Copy that, sir.”
A minute later, the bus, no more than an ancient flatbed truck with bench seats, two slat rails for sides and a ragged canvas roof, drew within thirty yards of where Tall and his team waited. Tall guessed about twenty of them on board, scattered throughout a vehicle large enough for twice as many. They wore Western clothing instead of traditional Arab outfits. To fit in with the festival crowd, he guessed, and he saw four women mixed in with them.
Tall keyed his mic and said, “Do it, Ben.”
No more than a second passed before an explosion ripped the still desert air and a wide geyser of dust and gravel spewed upward from the road in front of the bus. The driver pulled to a shrieking, sliding stop just short of the spot where Tall stood behind the boulder. Mountain Brown stepped sideways down the length of the vehicle with his weapon in firing position and stopped at the rear corner. Ben Goldman and three other operatives took up positions along the other side.
Kevin shouted what Tall had instructed him to say.
One of the women on the bus vaulted over the side rail and landed on the ground. She wore a black tee shirt and black pants and her dark hair frizzled in all directions. Her mouth was pulled into a tight line and her eyes flashed with rage. In her hand, she held a hunting knife with an eight-inch blade.
“Infidels!” she shouted with a thick accent. “I kill all you Yankee pigs!”
Ben Goldman moved to the front of the bus. He said and did nothing, but waited with the others to see what she would do next.
She moved toward Ben and tossed the knife back and forth from one hand to the other. “Come get me, American man. Come see how I slice you like melon. What’s your matter, dog shit bastard? You left your balls home with your momma?”
Tall started to say something to her, but felt the vibration of his cell phone and pulled it from his pocket. When he recognized the caller ID, he decided he should answer it.
“Uh, hello, Tom.”
“Tall, I’m sorry to bother you, but the President asked me to call you. We have a serious situation and need your help. To be honest, I don’t think even you can pull it off. Is this a good time to talk?”
“Actually, I. . .uh. . .”
The woman with the knife turned her attention to Tall and walked toward him, shouting obscenities in Arabic.
“. . .I’m in the middle of something right now,” Tall said into his phone.
The woman raised the knife above her head and ran at Tall.
“Can I call you back in a few minutes?”
Tall let his M16 dangle on a shoulder strap, pulled a Beretta M9 pistol from his shoulder holster and shot the woman in the chest. She staggered backward a few feet, then forward, and fell face down in front of him.
The voice on the phone hesitated, then said, “Uh, sure. Yes. Do that, please.”
* * *
Tall may seem like a cold-blooded monster for shooting the woman, but that’s not really what happened. He didn’t really shoot her. It was all part of the plan to take down the bus load of terrorists.
When the story progresses, Tall returns the call to the White House and gets his next assignment. What the Presidents wants him to do is next to impossible, but Tall and his team have to try. Innocent lives are at stake, and it all comes down to one shot.
RESCUE is available as an ebook for $.99. Details are available at http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com.
You’ll also find Chapter One of JUSTIFIED ACTION there.
Earl Staggs ©2014
Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.