excerpted from The Green Berets: Chasing the Son
“Three can keep a secret if two are dead,” one of the three said.
The other two responded: “Except for the Ring.”
They put their fists together, Institute rings shining on their left hands. It was a complicated move, but they managed to bump rings with each other. They were seated in a booth in the back of the High Cotton Bar on East Bay Street in Charleston. It was an upscale place, full of tourists and a scattering of locals. It was early afternoon but several empty glasses littered their table, a sign of nerves not as steady as their oath. For two of them, at least. For the third, he had a half-full glass of water in front of him.
“I heard this Dillon guy was a bad ass on the football team,” one of the men said. He was the youngest of the three, having just graduated and not yet taking his ‘position’ at his daddy’s firm in Savannah.
“Jerrod, I was a bad ass on the football team,” the biggest man at the table said; he was seated on the same side as Jerrod. He was a former lineman for the Institute team, whose gut had not seen the inside of a gym since graduation. The mound of flesh pressed up against the table. His name was Chad Mongin Jr., a first name he hated, but his father had been a Chad, his father’s father had been a Chad and so on down the line until some fellow who’d stepped off a boat in Charleston harbor carrying the name Chad from whatever country he’d departed from. Thus he came from a long line of Chad’s. And the last name, Mongin, represented a family that had come to the Low Country in 1685.
Despite his size, it was obvious to any observer, and there was one, that Chad was not the dominant figure at the table. That honor fell to a young man sitting alone on the other side, dressed casually in expensive jeans, and a button down shirt, which rested inside a sweater. He was a page in Esquire come to life with his brown hair, sculpted cheekbones, and overall model looks. Those pages where they showed other men how they were supposed to dress and look, although most could only do the dress since looks had something to do with genetics.
Preston Holland Gregory was the son of the senior Senator from South Carolina and chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. While Chad might fit in at a toga party chugging beer, and Jerrod in a library perusing literature, Preston would fit perfectly in the halls of power, which is what all twenty-two years of his life had been directed toward and his future portended.
“Gentlemen,” Preston said, not calling his friends by their names, since he actually didn’t consider them his friends, although they didn’t know that. “My father’s aide informed me that this Dillon fellow comes from Mrs. Jenrette and—“
“Shit,” Chad muttered. “When is that old witch going to let it go?”
“I do not believe,” Preston said, “she will let it go as long as she breathes. Hopefully, that won’t be very much longer. Nevertheless, we are to cooperate with this Dillon chap.” He said that with the slightest of English accents, an affectation he’d started at the Institute and was growing stronger each month, since no one pointed it out to him. It might have been too much Downtown Abbey; or the fact he was heading off to Oxford for Graduate School in a few months and his subconscious was preparing him. Or he might simply be one of those dicks who need affectations like a fake English accent.
“I don’t like it,” Jerrod said, looking nervously around the bar. “We told the investigators everything they needed.”
“There are deeper forces at play,” Preston said. “People are coming after our parents. Our parents finalizing a deal with Mrs. Jenrette concerning Sea Drift on Saturday.” He nodded at Jerrod. “I know your father has a lot of capital tied up in the Sea Drift proposal.”
“My father doesn’t exactly fill me in,” Jerrod said.
Chad snorted in derision. “My family gave up too much on the island, but they still have a slice. An important one.”
“Yes,” Preston said. “And your family will be well paid for that slice.” He looked at one, then the other. “We are the future. We can do much better than our parents have.”
“Your father is a United States Senator,” Jerrod noted. “What more do you want?”
Preston simply smiled back at him, without saying anything.
Chad downed his drink in one quick swallow. “You two might. My family squandered almost everything.”
Preston graced both of them with a smile. “Don’t worry old chaps. I’ve got both your interests in mind despite what our parents do. We’re the next generation of the Ring. But we’re going to be bigger than our fathers. We’re going to own everything of importance from here down to Savannah. And then we move on to Atlanta and Washington.”
“You sound like Sherman,” Jerrod muttered.
“Fucking Brannigan,” Chad cursed. “Why did he have to show up in the Sinks?”
“It really—“ Preston paused as a figure loomed up to their table. Dillon was wearing a long black overcoat, jeans and a black t-shirt.
“How y’all doing?” Dillon asked, a bit heavy on his own southern accent. He didn’t wait to be invited, but slid in next to Preston, who could not hide his irritation at the close proximity of another human being and scooted away, until he was against the wall. And trapped.
Dillon pointed. “Jarrod Fabrou, right? Chad Mongin? And you must be Preston Holland Gregory. Your pappy is the Senator, is he not?”
“Did you check our yearbooks photos?” Preston said, trying to reclaim some ground. “Or Google us?”
Dillon ignored the question. “I’ve been watching y’all for a little bit. Habit of mine. In Afghanistan, I’d have my platoon set up recon at least twenty-four hours before we were supposed to hit a target. I was never a fan of those midnight swoop ins with no advance eyeballs on the target. Those can go to shit in a heartbeat. At first my company commander wasn’t thrilled with it, having to detail a chopper to send the recon element in. But it worked so well, eventually every platoon in the company was doing it.”
“You were in combat?” Jerrod asked.
“No,” Dillon said. “I’m making it up because I’m a liar.”
An awkward silence followed, one that Dillon allowed to last.
Excerpt from The Green Berets: Chasing the Son, which explains why Horace is ‘chasing’ after a son he didn’t know he had. Until now:
The Present—Wednesday Evening
“You broke my heart, Horace,” Erin Brannigan said. “You broke it when I was seventeen, and then you broke it again when you came back. You put your life on the line, searching for a boy that didn’t exist. I couldn’t believe it. But I saw it. It was like you were going out of your way to slap me in the face with your every action.”
A cool breeze swept over the pool near them, blown in off the Caribbean Sea onto this isolated side of the island. Chase’s friends waited offshore for him to finish what they all believed was one last mission to close this clusterfuck out.
Chase did what would have been unthinkable just five minutes earlier, turning to Sarah Briggs for amplification. “All this over a teenage fling?”
Sarah sighed, and Chase could clearly see it in her eyes now, something he’d seen in a handful of men in combat. She was one of those who had no real fear outside of them. A psychopath, through and through. One to whom everyone was like the large chess pieces outside Erin’s office back on Hilton Head. Pieces to be moved and played. She was topless, reclined in her chaise, sporting only a bikini bottom, but there was no allure to her nudity and she wasn’t pretending any more. She’d fooled Chase, fooled him bad, drawn him into a battle with the Russian mafia and she’d gotten away clean, with all the money. She’d faked her death somehow and disappeared.
But Erin Brannigan was a wild card; Chase had been stunned when she walked out of the mansion and joined them.
“Horace,” Sarah said, with a hint of exasperation, “Erin is upset because you walked away when she got pregnant.”
Chase blinked in stunned disbelief and Sarah registered that, leaning forward, her first surprise of the unexpected meeting. “You never knew?”
Chase could only shake his head.
Sarah glanced over at Erin, who was as still as one of those life-sized chess pieces she’d kept outside her vet clinic. She wore a simple sundress and was the last person Chase had expected to run into when he’d infiltrated this island to deliver the economic coup de grace to Sarah for her deceptions and lies.
“Don’t act like you didn’t know,” Erin said, her voice cold.
“Of course he didn’t,” Sarah said, nodding in understanding. “He nearly got killed trying to find my kid, who didn’t even exist. You don’t think he’d have given a shit about his own?”
“I called you,” Erin said to Chase. “I wrote you.”
Chase’s mind was racing, thoughts tumbling over one another in a confusing cascade: what had happened to the child? Did she have an abortion? Adopt it out? Raise it? “I didn’t know. I was in Beast Barracks at West Point. We couldn’t get calls. Or even letters, for those two months. Nothing.”
“He’s telling the truth,” Sarah said to Erin. Backing from a psycho wasn’t exactly what Chase was looking for at the moment, but he was too rattled to care.
“Shut up!” Erin finally cracked, screaming at Sarah. “How the hell can you know?”
“Because if he’d have known, he’d have crawled over broken glass to help you,” Sarah said. Her head was swiveling back and forth between the two of them, as if sorting out a Gordian Knot from so many years ago, and looking for her own angle to play. “You gave up,” Sarah suddenly realized, staring at Erin. “You made a feeble attempt to contact him, just to cover yourself, and then you just gave up. Because you did know he’d come back. He’d give up West Point, everything. He’d have come back for you and for the child. You did understand him. Even if you don’t know you did. You didn’t want him to do that, and, ultimately, you didn’t want him.”
Chase felt stupid, listening to them talk about him as if he weren’t even part of this, when he most definitely was, but Sarah’s words sent a chill through him on another level.
“No,” Erin said. She seemed confused. “My father. He wouldn’t have it. When we didn’t hear back from Horace right away, he said I had to leave. I had to go to my mother’s in Oklahoma. That she’d take care of me. My father got rid of me. Just like you did, Horace,” she hissed at the end, drawing her hatred back to the present.
Chase took a step toward Erin. “I’m so sorry. I would have come. I’m sorry you had to go through it alone. I’d have held your hand.”
Sarah laughed, sending Chase’s thoughts tumbling into freefall.
“Horace! Erin knew you so much more than you ever knew her. She didn’t want you there holding her hand while she got an abortion. Because she didn’t get one. She didn’t want you there holding her hand while she gave birth to your son.”
Chase’s knees buckled, and he almost fell. “My son?”
Sarah got to her feet, finally putting the pieces together. She was focused on Erin. “That’s what this has all been about to you, isn’t it, you bitch?” There was real anger in her voice. The betrayer, betrayed. “This has been a game to get Chase here, right now, because you knew he’d show up. You want to hurt him. All you’ve ever wanted to do is hurt him. It was never about the money. Why? Why, Erin? Why was that so important to the point you’d get us both killed to do it?”
“Because he left me,” Erin said.
“I didn’t leave you,” Chase protested weakly. “I had to report to West Point.”
“You left me,” Erin said. “Everyone left me.”
“You never asked me to stay,” Chase said. “We have a son?”
“You left me,” Erin said, and then her right hand snaked behind her back and she brought the gun out.
Chase didn’t even attempt to lift the MP-5 as she brought it to bear at his head.
She was the mother of his son, two intertwined facts so staggering he was incapable of even protecting himself.
The shot startled him.
Erin looked down at the small black hole in her upper chest, just over the top of her sundress. From hard experience Chase knew the exit wound wasn’t as pretty. Erin gave the slightest of smiles. “His name is Horace, too.”
And then she crumpled, in the inelegant way the dead do, to the tiled deck, blood pooling underneath her body.
At least Gator hadn’t used the Barrett, was the bizarre thought that went through Chase’s brain as he looked down at Erin’s body. The massive .50 caliber round would have blown Erin in half.
Chase turned to Sarah.
Her face was white. “I didn’t know she was crazy like that, Horace. You have to believe me.”
Chase stared at her, the weight on his heart gone. “The money—whatever’s left—will switch accounts in”—he looked at his watch—“twelve minutes.”
Sarah stiffened. “What?”
“Sarah.” Chase shook his head. Clearing it. Feeling a warm glow growing deep inside. “I might have my faults, but stupid isn’t one of them.” He reached into his waterproof bag, tied to his waist, and pulled out the USB key. “My acquaintance in black ops programmed this. He did what I should have done. As soon as I called him on my way down to see Karralkov, he checked on you. He learned you didn’t have a son. Or a husband. He knew who you were, and what you were. But he let it play out for his own reasons. And it worked for him. You might be good, Sarah, but he’s in a world you can’t even imagine.
“Before I left the Fina, I sent a retrieval code so that it automatically moves your money to several pre-programmed destinations. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” He checked his watch. “Eleven minutes.” He turned and headed back toward the cliff and ocean.
“Horace?” Her voice had lost all its allure.
Chase turned. “You know, if I can find you, so can someone else. And they’re looking. Hard. Karralkov had friends. And the bettors, those whose millions you took, they aren’t happy, either.”
He opened the gate and took the stairs down to the beach. He threw the USB key into the water, took off the running shoes, and retrieved his fins. He couldn’t see the Fina at this level, but knew it was just a couple of hundred yards offshore. He whistled, and heard Chelsea’s short bark. Chase whistled back, turned in that direction, and dove into the water heading toward his dog and his friends.
It was over, but it wasn’t over.
It was just beginning.
He had a son, and his son’s mother was dead.
It was all just beginning.
But once more, Horace Chase was heading into the murky future without much information.
He was going to have to correct that.
He began finning, heading toward the Fina and his teammates and his dog.
And his new future.
Twelve Years Ago
She exited the Combat Talon at 30,000 feet altitude and offset from the border eighteen miles. Arms and legs akimbo, she became stable in the night air as her mind counted down as she’d been drilled.
She pulled the ripcord and the parachute deployed at an altitude greater than that of Mount Everest. She was on oxygen, had been on it for forty-five minutes prior to exiting the aircraft. The ground, and objective, were over five miles below vertically and over three times that horizontally, leaving no time at the moment for her to enjoy the view.
She had a long way to fly.
She checked her board, noting the glow of the GPS and then double-checking against the compass. She began tracking to the north and east. Then she looked about. She was high enough to see the curvature of the Earth. To the west, there was a dim glow from the sun, racing away from her, leaving her a long night of fell deeds ahead. Far below there were clusters of lights: towns, not many, spread about the countryside. She remembered the nighttime satellite imagery and aligned the light clusters into a pattern to confirm both the GPS and the compass. While she was reasonably certain the aircraft had dropped her in the correct place, mistakes had been known to happen and it was on her, not the crew racing back to the safety of the airfield. She also had to factor in the wind, which would shift directions as she descended through various altitudes.
Her hands were on the toggles attached to the risers of the wing parachute, specially designed for this type of operation. Despite the thick gloves, the minus-forty temperature at altitude was biting into her fingers.
It would get warmer as she got lower.
Hopefully, not too warm.
She’d trained for two weeks in order to be able to do just this jump. The normal time to fully train a Military Free Fall candidate was four weeks: one in the vertical wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, then three out at Yuma Training Ground, in the clear Arizona weather. Like all her training, hers was quicker, harder and compressed. She’d been assigned individual instructors, hard-core Special Ops veterans who knew better than to ask what the female ‘civilian’ was doing in their school. She didn’t even have a name, just a number.
They followed orders, just as she was following orders.
She shook her head. Too much time to think as she descended. The time was necessary as she was crossing from a neutral airspace into not-so-friendly airspace. She’d already passed the border, the ‘point of no return’.
It did not occur to her it was only the point of no return as long as she didn’t turn the chute around and fly in the opposite direction. If it had occurred to her, she wouldn’t be here in the first place, as such people were not recruited into her unit.
Which also had no name. It didn’t even have a number. It just was what it was. Those in it, knew they were in it. Those outside of it, didn’t know it existed. A simple concept but profound in its implementation and implications.
Her chute did have a slight radar signature, but not a significant enough one to bring an alert, definitely less than that of a plane or a helicopter; more along the lines of a large bird. And she was silent as she flew through the air, a factor that would come into play as she got close to the ground.
She checked her altimeter, checked the GPS, checked the compass for heading, confirmed location by lining up the towns against the imagery she’d memorized.
Halfway there; both vertically and horizontally.
She was making good distance, almost too good. But better to overshoot and track back than fall short. She dumped a little air, to descend faster.
Of course she had to be on time. She had the small window every covert meeting had: two minutes before, two minutes after. Outside of that window her contact had strict orders not to meet. To evade. And the mission would be a scrub. A failure.
It would be a long walk back.
As she passed below five thousand feet, she flipped down her night vision goggles from their position on her helmet. The world below lit up in various shades of green. She could see the outline of the lake she was using as a final reference point, the flat surface reflecting the quarter moon, confirming her location. She focused on the drop zone, a small, square field, barely big enough to allow her to land her chute in it.
A light was flickering in the middle of the field, an infrared strobe light. Invisible to the naked eye, it was a clear beacon in the goggles. It went out for a few seconds, then back on, repeating a pattern.
A pattern that meant it was safe for her to land. At this altitude, if the no-go signal, non-stop flickering, had been present (or no signal at all), she still had time to peel off and land at least a couple of miles away and go into her escape and evasion (E&E) plan.
She dumped more air, quickening her descent, aiming for the light, estimating that she would land about a minute early. At two hundred feet she dropped the rucksack full of gear on its lowering line so that it dangled below her.
As she reached the treetop level, she flared, slowing her descent. The ruck hit terra firma, and then she touched down lightly, right next to the light, the chute billowing down to the ground behind her. She quickly unbuckled her harness, looking about through the goggles. A person appeared, moving out of the tree line toward her.
She was pulling her submachine gun free of the waist strap when the person raised a hand, not in greeting, but with something in it. Her gloved fingers fumbled to bring the sub up.
The taser hit her on the arm, sending a massive jolt through her system and immobilizing her. She collapsed, unable to control her body. As she curled up on the ground, she could see others coming out of the tree line, armed men, weapons at the ready.
Her muscles wouldn’t respond. Not even her tongue.
Someone knelt next to her and reached toward her face. Fingers dug into her mouth and probed. The ‘suicide’ was ripped out of its hide spot in the upper right side of her gum.
How had they known about that?
Compromised. She’d been comprised right from the start.
The person who’d removed her suicide option spoke. “We’ve been expecting you. We have quite the welcome waiting for you.”
Her muscles wouldn’t work as her gear was ripped off her body. And then her clothes, until she was lying naked in the small field. Her hands were chained behind her back, the cuffs cinched down, but not too hard, a small fact she processed but found odd.
Her legs were also shackled, but the restraints were padded on the inside, another strange thing.
Like a sack of meat she was lifted by four men and carried. It was cold, the air biting into her naked flesh, but she barely noticed it, her muscles still trying to recover from the massive electrical shock; along with her brain from the betrayal. There was a van underneath the trees and she was tossed in, onto a carpeted floor. Someone grabbed a chain off one wall and locked it to the shackle chain between her legs.
The chains were thick.
She lay on the floor, staring up the ceiling as the engine started and they began driving. There were two men in the back with her. Despite her nakedness, they seemed barely interested in her; they had their weapons at the ready across their knees as they sat on seats on either side and their demeanor told her they were professionals, men who knew how to use their weapons. They had small, bulletproof windows next to their seats and gun ports, and they alternated between glancing at her and watching the world outside.
They drove for a long time, hours. Movement returned to her muscles and she covertly tested the restraints, she had to, one never knew, but these were professionals. She was cold but knew better than to ask for a blanket or her clothing. If they wanted her covered, she’d be covered. Everything they were doing was according to a script, one she knew most likely ended badly.
Excerpted from: The Green Berets: Chasing the Son
Here’s the blurb for my next book, The Green Berets: Chasing the Son, going live a week from today:
Place, time and family. Three things that shape individuals. Sometimes with love. Other times with violence.
Former covert operative, Horace Chase, has just discovered he has a son; a son who fled the Military Institute of South Carolina a year and a half ago after being accused of murder. The victim is the grandson of the most powerful woman in Charleston, South Carolina, who has sworn vengeance.
Chase teams up with another former covert operative Dave Riley and one of Riley’s old CIA friends, Kate Westland to find his son and uncover the truth. Barely into their investigation they become caught up in a land development deal for Daufuskie Island worth hundreds of millions.
Chase and Riley’s covert background has taught them many things, but the most valuable has been that nothing is ever as it appears as an old nemesis rears her head, hell bent on revenge against them both along with a good helping of greed.
And in the shadows hovers THE CELLAR, the agency that polices the world of covert operations.
One by one, the competitors of the land deal are being killed and the threat to Chase’s son grows. And nothing, not the present, not the past, and no one, are as they appear to be.
From now until publication next week, on 5 May, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book here.
Nothing but good times ahead!