Previews

In appreciation of my readers’ continuing interest in my novels, from time to time, I’m going to post snippets from the novel I’m currently writing. Fans of Whelan and the Dogs will be able to enjoy their adventures while waiting for the next book to be published. It’s kind of like being a beta reader, so if you want to comment on these postings, please do.

Excerpted from The Dogs of War © 2017 by John Wayne Falbey. All rights reserved.

The following is excerpted from The Dogs of War, A Sleeping Dogs Thriller.

PART ONE: A GATHERING OF WOLVES

For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

—Rudyard Kipling

VIDEO

Here is a link to a YouTube video of the reading by the author of Chapter 14 of Dogs of War. It was selected because it features dialogue involving eight different characters in the novel.

https://youtu.be/HApxESefS2I


PRINT

The following is Chapter 3 of Dogs of War.

—Pueblo, Colorado—

The Pueblo County Detention Center was a sturdy-looking, multistory buff-colored building constructed in an X-pattern. With its institutional public-use architecture and rows of long, narrow, barred windows, it looked like a lot of jails around the country. An inscription on a stone marker in front of the entrance read Pueblo Justice Plaza. Behind it, atop a tall flagpole, the U.S. and Colorado flags whipped and snapped in the thin air that was over six thousand feet above sea level. Inside, the sheriff, Frank Tuccio, was drinking his third cup of coffee in his glass-enclosed office on the building’s top floor. He looked up when the head of the detention center, Captain Alonzo Parnell, tapped on one of the glass panels. Tuccio waved him in.

   “Got a minute, Sheriff?” Parnell said.

   “Sure.” Tuccio pointed to a chair. “What’s on your mind?”

   “It’s about the John Doe in solitary, the one we call Prisoner X.”

   “The guy that did society a favor and killed that fucking deserter Kevin Johnson.”

   “Yeah, him, the one with the crazy-ass eyes.”

   “I hope you’ve come to tell me that you’ve finally been able to identify him.”

   Parnell shook his head. “Nothing so far.”

   “And you’ve checked every database there is? FBI. Interpol. All of them?”

   “Yeah, all of them. It’s crazy. It’s like the guy just arrived from outer space. There’s no history of any kind. No police record, no military, no SS number. There were no labels in his clothes. No nothin’. We even ran the DNA from his eating utensils. Again, nothin’. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

    “Nothing on social media?”

   “Nope. Drew a blank there too. The guy looks and speaks like an American. He’s probably in his late thirties, give or take. How in hell does someone spend nearly four decades on planet Earth and leave no trace?”

   Tuccio shrugged. “Doesn’t make any sense. You still haven’t been able to get him to say anything during interrogations?”

   “Not a word. He just smiles that nasty cold smile. And those fucking eyes…,” Parnell’s voice trailed off. “He’s unnerved everybody who’s come into contact with him. I’m at a loss to know where to go from here.”

   “Well, we’ve got eyewitnesses to the killing, so a confession isn’t necessary to convict him. But it would help to know who he is and whether anyone else was involved.”

   “More like an assassination. Eyewitness testimony makes it clear he was stalking the victim.”

   The phone on the sheriff’s desk buzzed, interrupting the conversation. Tuccio leaned forward and picked up the receiver. “Yeah?” He listened for a few moments and then said, “The Bureau? Shit. All right, bring him up.” 

   He replaced the receiver and looked at Parnell who raised his eyebrows quizzically.

   “There’s an FBI agent here. Says he wants to speak to our Prisoner X,” Tuccio said with a sigh of frustration.

   “What the hell does the Bureau want with this guy?’

   Tuccio shrugged resignedly. “Seems clear the perp killed Johnson because of his military record. I guess, somewhere under the mountain of government regs, there’s grounds for the Feds to get involved.”

*     *     * 

A uniformed female deputy showed the federal agent into Tuccio’s office and closed the door behind her as she left.

   The agent looked around. New, modern facility, he thought, but all jails, new and old, have the same look and feel—cold, sterile. 

   The sheriff nodded at him and offered his hand. “I’m Frank Tuccio, and this is Captain Parnell.” He pointed to a vacant chair. “Have a seat, Special Agent…?”

   “Christie,” the newcomer said and showed his credentials to the two men. He sat down facing them.

   “So, Special Agent Christie, what’s the nature of the Bureau’s interest in our prisoner?”

   “I’m with CTD, the Bureau’s Counterterrorism Division. We suspect he may have been involved in other acts of terrorism. I’d like to talk with him. Also, while it may seem like a tenuous connection, because Johnson was on probation for United States military crimes, he remained under federal jurisdiction.”

   The two members of the sheriff’s department exchanged glances. Parnell snickered.

   “Well, I suppose I don’t have any reason to refuse the Bureau’s request, but you’re wasting the government’s time. The prisoner hasn’t uttered a peep since we apprehended him. And it hasn’t been from lack of effort on our part.”

   Christie smiled. “Maybe I won’t get anywhere with him either but trying is part of my job. I’m sure you understand.”

   Tuccio nodded.

   “There are some questions I want to ask him. His responses may help shed some light on matters I’m investigating.”

   “In the event you get anything outta this guy, you are gonna share intel with us, right?” Parnell said.

   Christie smiled again. “Absolutely. I’m a big believer in interagency cooperation.”

   “Then you won’t have a problem with one of our people sitting in on your session?” Tuccio said.

   “Actually, there is a problem with that. The matters I’m dealing with here are of a highly-classified nature. For that reason, there can be no surveillance—oral or visual. Sorry. But I assure you, I’ll share any information that’s relevant to your investigation.”

   Tuccio and Parnell looked at each other for a long moment. Christie could tell by the expression on Parnell’s face that the jailer was angry about the arrangement. 

   Finally, Tuccio turned to Christie and shrugged. “Sure. What the hell. We haven’t gotten anywhere with this bird. Maybe you can. Besides, my department is always happy to help the Bureau.” His tone of voice said otherwise.

   “One question…Special Agent…we haven’t found a shred of evidence to identify this guy. He’s like a ghost. You got any idea who he might be?”

   Christie shook his head a couple of times and smiled again. “No idea. We just want to eliminate the possibility that he’s involved in other…highly classified matters.”

   Christie thanked Tuccio for his time, and followed Parnell out of the office. The deputy escorted Christie into the bowels of the cellblock where Prisoner X was being held in solitary confinement. Before passing through the cellblock’s outer door, Christie surrendered his weapon and was subjected to a wand search for other prohibited devices. His cellphone was not one of them. As a federal agent, he was required to have it with him at all times. The sheriff’s office was aware of the regulation.

   When they reached Prisoner X’s cell, Parnell triggered a switch, and the heavy metal door slid open almost soundlessly. Parnell nodded for Christie to enter. “You got thirty minutes.” There was a surly edge to his voice.

   The door slid closed, and Christie heard the bolts click into place. He turned and looked at the occupant of the cell. The man was stretched out on the metal bunk, hands behind his head, eyes closed. Even lying down, he looked powerful. His facial features were angular. They reminded Christie of a hawk. The FBI agent pulled out his cellphone from a pocket and triggered a special application. It was designed to detect any electronic surveillance. It showed none. The sheriff may not be happy with my being here, but at least he seems to be a man of his word.

   Christie couldn’t tell whether the prisoner was asleep. “I’m Special Agent Christie with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

   The man showed no response.

   For the sake of caution, Christie said, “I’m going to approach you. I have something you’ll want to hear.”

   No response.

   Knowing who the man was, Christie approached him with a fair amount of apprehension. Speaking softly, he said, “You’re Nick Stensen. I have a message for you from Cliff Levell.”

   The man slowly opened his right eye and rolled his head to the right until the eye was fixed on Christie. There was a bright red dot in the center. He gave a barely perceptible nod and closed the eye.

   “Levell needs you. He’s sending Brendan Whelan to free you.”

   Christie was a little surprised when the man showed no response. But, he thought, this guy’s a Sleeping Dog, something that often seems more than human. Maybe nothing rattles their cages. 

   “Because of the nature of the crime and who the victim was,” Christie said, “the federal government is taking jurisdiction of your case. You’re going to be transferred to a U.S. prison, ADX Florence. It’s about forty miles west of here. U.S. Marshals will escort you by ground transport, using the back way, State Roads 96 and 67.”

   Christie paused for some response from Stensen. There was none.

   “About thirty miles out, in a little settlement named Wetmore,” he continued, “the marshals will turn onto 67 from 96. Somewhere between there and the ADX, Whelan will make his move. Be ready.”

   Christie wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw Stensen nod his head again. “For what it’s worth, if you actually do get to ADX Florence, you’re fucked; nothing can be done once that happens. It’s a supermax facility. It’s where we’re keeping Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, Ted Kaczynski, and a number of other bad actors. 

“You’ll never get out, not even to go to court. They’ll put you in a prison ‘studio’ and beam all pretrial matters to a federal courtroom in Colorado Springs. The actual trial will also be beamed to a federal district courtroom. There will be no opportunities to escape. If Whelan doesn’t succeed, you’ll never set foot out of that prison. Ever.”

*     *     * 

Three days later, four deputy U.S. marshals presented the necessary paperwork to Sheriff Tuccio and took custody of Prisoner X. As they were waiting for Parnell and other deputies to bring the prisoner to them, Tuccio took the Supervisory Deputy Marshal aside.

   “You know much about this prisoner?”

   The other man shook his head. “There isn’t much information on him. Why?”

   Tuccio looked the marshal directly in the eye. “He’s dangerous as hell. Never seen anything like him. I recommend you keep him shackled at all times. Don’t take your eyes off of him.”

   The marshal cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. “This ain’t our first rodeo, Sheriff.”

   “I didn’t mean to imply that. I’ve been in law enforcement for thirty years. I’ve seen strong guys, I’ve seen mean guys, I’ve seen crazies, but I’ve never seen anything like this one.”

   “How so?” The marshal wore a patronizing smile on his face.

   “For one thing, his eyes. There are little red dots in the middle of them. The dots grow when…he smells blood.”

   “Hmm. Sounds interesting,” the marshal said with obvious disinterest. “We’ve transported a lot of crazies with wild-looking eyes.”

   “Yeah, but there’s more. A couple of days ago, we let him into the yard to exercise. A couple of the prisoners started to fuck with him because he was the new guy. He moved faster than anyone we’d ever seen. Grabbed each of them and picked them up like rag dolls…and they were a couple of two hundred pounders. He slammed them together, splitting open their heads. Then he slung them twenty feet into a brick wall. It happened so fast and was so unnatural that no one, not even the guards, could react. Everybody just stared. 

   “Then this guy sauntered over to the weightlifting area. All the prisoners using the weights scrambled out of his way as fast as they could. The guy slid four hundred pounds on the bar and began cranking out bench presses like he was lifting a bag of marshmallows.”

   The patronizing expression vanished from the marshal’s face, replaced by a look of concern. “Interesting,” he said slowly. “We’ll definitely follow the manual on this one.”

*     *     * 

Prisoner X was brought to the loading dock. The marshals placed him in full shackles and squeezed him into the back of a black Chevrolet Suburban, bracketed by two beefy marshals. The other two rode up front. There were two routes that could take them from the Pueblo County Detention Center to ADX Florence. The shorter way was more direct. It involved taking the Interstate north to U.S. Highway 50, then west to Florence via State Roads 120 or 115. The other route was more circuitous and slightly longer but less traveled. The marshals opted for that one. In fact, their choice of route had been entered into the U.S. Marshal Service’s computer database days earlier. And Levell’s people had hacked it. Whelan knew exactly where the Chevrolet Suburban would be and when.

*     *     * 

Shortly after the marshals departed the detention center, a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver took off from a grass strip on a ranch owned by a retired Marine colonel who had served with Levell in Vietnam. The men had remained close over the ensuing years. The colonel was a patriot as well as a member of SAS. The strip, approximately fifteen miles southwest of Pueblo, was private. It also was small, out of the way, and off the FAA’s grid. 

   The de Havilland was the quintessential bush plane. Although commercial production of the plane stopped in 1967, the rugged-looking workhorse was still one of the most cherished rough-country aircraft on the planet. In addition to the pilot, there was a single passenger. Whelan was seated on a tube-frame, web-fabric seat in the plane’s spartan interior. The pilot was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Special Operations Wing. One of its chief roles was agile combat support, including infiltration and exfiltration, for U.S. Special Operations Force operational elements. In civilian life, the pilot was a loyal and trusted employee of one of the Mueller brothers’ global enterprises. 

   The plane, a STOL aircraft, designed for short takeoffs and landings—features that made it a good choice for this operation—flew almost due west, paralleling Colorado Route 96. The pilot kept it at a low altitude to avoid detection and tracking. When its course intersected Route 67, the pilot swung its nose to the north and followed the road. About six kilometers north of the wide spot in the road, known as Wetmore, the road began a slight curve to the west. Another four hundred or so meters farther was a deep arroyo and a bridge. Whelan signaled to the pilot to put the plane down.

   The pilot located a twisting gravel farm road nearby, scoped it out for the presence of power poles, and finding none, prepared for a STOL landing. The pilot set the aircraft down with amazing ease, given the bumpy surface of the road and the short distance between curves. He left the prop turning over as Whelan scrambled out of the cabin and opened the cargo door. Whelan was wearing a U.S. Army Desert Battle Dress Uniform, or DBDU, and matching balaclava, in case any unexpected witnesses showed up. He removed a duffle bag from the plane and began jogging with it toward the nearest point of intersection with the arroyo. 

   The pilot spun the plane around and taxied along the road to where he originally had touched down. He turned the plane again, revved the prop and, with the benefit of its STOL characteristics, took off. In a matter of seconds, he was airborne and began circling the area about one thousand feet above the bridge. 

   Whelan reached the edge of the arroyo and slid down its steep side to the bottom. The dry creek bed was flat and sandy with a scattering of boulders and gravel. He navigated it with an easy lope until he reached the bridge. There, he slipped on surgical gloves and climbed up the bank beneath the span. Moving quickly but carefully, he removed a small brick of Semtex 1 from the duffle and, using his hands, fashioned it into a long strand. The gloves prevented any DNA material, like sweat or body oil, from getting on the explosive. He knew the government would reconstruct the scene and run tests on anything it could find that might be related to the crime. It was amazing what could be gleaned from the residue of an explosion. 

   Whelan stuffed the reworked Semtex into the crevice that was formed where the foot of the bridge extended out from the arroyo’s bank. Semtex, a high-order explosive, created a blast wave in the form of an intense over-pressurization impulse. Whelan arranged the explosive so that the wave would travel upward rather than horizontally. He took into consideration the blast wind and forced superheated airflow. Both effects were capable of inflicting traumatic injuries, even death. To the extent possible, Whelan wanted to mitigate potential damages to the marshals and especially to their prisoner. The goal was to render the marshals temporarily inoperative, not slaughter them. Or Stensen. Finally, he inserted the detonating cap, which was attached to the guts of a cell phone. The explosive material would be triggered by a signal from another cell phone in Whelan’s pocket. IED, Yankee-style.

   When he was finished, Whelan slid down the bank, peeled off the gloves, and slipped them into a pocket in his DBDU. He trotted back along the bottom of the twisting arroyo. When he was about a quarter mile from the bridge, he climbed the steep bank and hunkered down behind a Bebb willow tree, its growth stunted by the arid climate. He pulled out the cellphone and waited for the black Suburban to approach. He knew there would be injuries, perhaps critical ones, as a result of the explosion. Even with body armor, the marshals would not fare as well as Stensen. They lacked his genetic benefits. He remembered one of Levell’s favorite sayings: Some collateral damage is almost inevitable. He just hoped Stensen survived the incident in sufficient physical condition to participate in the exfiltration. If not, Whelan was prepared to sling him over a shoulder and carry him out.

   About twenty minutes later, the pilot’s voice crackled in the earbud of Whelan’s comm gear. “Black Suburban approaching from the south at sixty-five mph. ETA the bridge in approximately one minute.”

   In the distance to the south, Whelan saw the vehicle approaching. Timing, he knew, was everything. He punched in the speed-dial number, placed his thumb above the call icon, and waited. The seconds seemed to drag by. And then the Suburban was only a few car lengths from the bridge abutment. Whelan pressed the call icon.

   Immediately, the south end of the bridge erupted in a large fireball. Even a quarter of a mile away, the sound of the explosion hammered Whelan’s ears. 

   He had purposely used a measured amount of explosive and carefully arranged it so that it would blow away a portion of the bridge. If all went well, the vehicle would plunge into the resulting gap in the paved surface. The combination of the effects of the high-order explosive’s power and the resulting crash should achieve the desired results. Overkill was to be avoided.

   Whelan sprinted toward the billowing cloud of smoke, and quickly reached the shattered bridge. The badly damaged Suburban was nose down at the bottom of the arroyo, its rear wheels still spinning. From where he stood at the top of the arroyo, the five occupants all appeared to be motionless. Whelan, pulling the gloves back on, slid down the embankment and took a quick look inside. Stensen was in the center seat in the second row. He was hunched forward, not moving. The four marshals also were bent forward, held in place by their seat belts. There was blood oozing from all five men. Whelan pulled a thick rag from the duffle. Using it, he grabbed the right rear door and yanked. Even with his remarkable strength, it wouldn’t budge. The effects of the blast and the crash had torqued the vehicle’s frame and jammed the door. Shit! I should have anticipated this.

   He looked around quickly and spotted a piece of concrete that had been part of the bridge. It weighed close to two hundred pounds. He picked it up and smashed it against the window. The laminated safety glass didn’t shatter but did break into a crazed pattern. He used the piece of concrete to push the remnants inward and out of his way.

   Whalen leaned in the opening and looked around the interior of the badly damaged vehicle. He immediately smelled the acrid odor of the explosive that had released the airbags. There also were other smells—blood, fear, and the talcum powder used by the airbag manufacturers to keep the bags pliable and lubricated while in storage. The powder residue was strewn around the Suburban’s interior, but the bags appeared to have done their jobs in preventing more serious injuries. 

   The occupant closest to Whelan was a beefy marshal. The man was unconscious and bleeding from a number of superficial wounds. But Whelan didn’t see signs of traumatic injury. Reaching through the opening where the glass had been, he undid the man’s seat belt and dragged him out of the cabin. He laid him on his back on the ground with his head slightly elevated. Whelan frisked him quickly and found what he was looking for—keys to the shackles binding the prisoner.

   Stensen was bleeding steadily from a gash in his scalp, and his nose was bloodied. Whelan leaned in and undid Stensen’s seat belt, then unlocked the shackles that bound him. As carefully as possible under the circumstances, he pulled his unconscious friend out of the vehicle and stretched him out next to the marshal. Whelan quickly checked Stensen for injuries. Aside from the scalp wound and bloody nose, the man didn’t seem to have any. Stensen’s breathing was steady. Whelan pulled a vial of smelling salts from a pocket of his DBDU. He broke the cap off and held the vial under Stensen’s nose. After a few moments, the unconscious man grimaced, coughed, and opened his eyes slowly. They were badly bloodshot from the concussive effects of the explosion. He struggled to focus on Whelan. For the moment, there was no red glow in their centers.

“Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty,” Whelan said wryly.

   Stensen stared at Whelan’s lips and reached up with his hands to touch his own ears.

   “It’s temporary,” Whelan said slowly and with exaggerated mouth movements so that Stensen, hopefully, could read his lips. In planning the mission, Levell’s people had told Whelan that temporary deafness would be a given for the occupants of the Suburban.

   Whelan knew that time was essential. When the marshals failed to report in, the state and federal authorities would quickly begin searching for them. He pulled Stensen to his feet. Standing directly in front of the man, he mouthed the words, “Can you run?”

   Stensen nodded slowly.

   Whelan scooped up the duffle bag and, grabbing the sleeve of Stensen’s orange prison jumpsuit, pulled him along the creek bed. When he came to where the side of the arroyo was less steep, he helped his friend scramble up it. At the top, Whelan looked out toward the gravel farm road the de Havilland had used as a landing strip. The pilot had already landed and was taxiing toward the two men as they jogged in his direction. Whelan threw the duffle bag in the cargo compartment and helped Stensen, who was still groggy, get belted in. Then Whelan climbed aboard next to the pilot. In a matter of seconds, the plane was roaring upwind across the bumpy surface. Another few moments, and, the STOL craft was airborne. It banked to the east, putting distance between itself and the wrecked Suburban as fast as the pilot could get the old airplane to go.

*     *     * 

Sheriff Frank Tuccio was studying a sheriff’s office budget report when he looked through the glass interior wall of his office. One of his deputies was striding briskly toward him. He followed the deputy with his eyes and thought, Now what?

   The deputy saw the sheriff watching him, but started to knock on the glass door anyway. Tuccio sighed with an air of resignation and laid the report on his desk He waved the deputy in.

   “You look like your pants are on fire, Roscoe.” He pointed at the report on his desk and said, “I’m busy. Is what you’ve got important enough that I need to know about it right now?”

   Roscoe’s head nodded up and down vigorously. “Yessir, it is.”

   “That’s what I was afraid of.” The sheriff sighed again and leaned back in his chair, motioning for Roscoe to continue.

   “It’s that Prisoner X guy, Sheriff. One of the deputies over in Fremont County found the truck those marshals were using to transport him to ADX Florence.”

   The sheriff sat bolt upright. “Found it? Found it where?”

   “In an arroyo about five miles south of the prison.”

   Tuccio jumped to his feet. “A fucking arroyo! How did it get there? Where are the marshals? Hell, where is the prisoner?”

   Roscoe gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbed visibly. “Somebody blew up the damn bridge over the arroyo. The marshals are alive but pretty badly banged up.”

   “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tuccio said, his voice rising. “But what about the prisoner?” 

   “Gone. No trace of him. Dogs tracked him for a ways, but then he seems to have disappeared into thin fuckin’ air.”

   “Sonofabitch!” Tuccio slammed his palm against the top of his desk. “He must have been picked up by someone in a vehicle. Hell, maybe even a plane or chopper.”

    “The U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons are organizing search parties,” Roscoe said. “They tried to put out an APB too. He can’t have gotten too far, what with being banged up in the wreck and all.”

   Tuccio waved his arms and yelled, “Jesus H. Christ, that’s the one sonofabitch that should never have seen the light of day. He’s the scariest bastard I’ve ever run across.” He paused and looked at Roscoe. “Wait a minute. What did you say…tried to put out an APB?” 

   Roscoe looked down at his feet. “Well…there’s sort of a problem.”

   “Problem?” Tuccio screamed. Beyond the glass walls of his office, all activity had stopped. His employees were staring at him.

   “What the hell kind of problem?”

   “Uh…it seems that neither the Bureau of Prisons nor the Marshals Service can find any of the information we gave them.”

   “Did those dumb-ass bureaucrats try looking in their computer databases?”

   “Yessir. There’s nothing there. They asked us to resend it.”

   “And you’ve sent it?”

   “Uh…sir, that’s the problem. There’s nothing in our databases either. It’s like they’ve been wiped clean. Like the guy never existed.” The words spilled out of Roscoe’s mouth in a torrent.

   Tuccio stared at the deputy, his mouth moving but no words coming out. Finally, he was able to say, “But how can that be? I know we had a record on this guy, if only for the time we had him in custody. Fingerprints, DNA. How the hell does that kind of data disappear? Do we have a traitor in our midst?”

   “Doubtful, sir. The FBI says someone outside did it. A hacker.”

   Tuccio shook his head in wonderment. “Good God, who is this Prisoner X? What the hell are we up against?” 

The complete version of The Dogs of War is now available on preorder for a July 4, 2017 release date at Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Smashwords, and most other online booksellers.

The print version is available today at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine booksellers.

© John Wayne Falbey 2017 All Rights Reserved