Authors: Chuck Driskell
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To The Lions
Amazon Kindle Edition
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013 by Chuck
Published by Autobahn Books
Cover art by Nat Shane
This book is protected under the
copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other
unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the
express written permission of the author.
First Edition: September 2013
For Phillip Day, a great friend who
Hartline thought he’d cleaned all of the blood from his hands.
But he saw a little bit, right there, just
underneath his fingernail.
supposed to be much to the contract job he’d finished that morning—but Gage,
many years before, had learned to ignore the word “routine.”
Along with a team of other operators, he had been
contracted to provide transport and security for a remote meeting in the hills
of northern Mexico.
During the meeting,
however, as seems to occur in meetings of that sort, shots were fired.
By the time the smoke cleared, and the rival
faction had been dispatched, Gage was on a chopper, racing north, back over the
border, holding both of his hands to his fellow operator’s chest, providing a
seal of life so the man could continue to breathe.
had been this morning, just after dawn.
the man who’d been shot was going to live.
In fact, according to the two doctors who had performed very private
surgery on him, he’d been lucky.
bullet had missed his heart and spine.
And, per the doctors, whoever had provided first aid against the
bleeding and the sucking chest wound had most definitely saved the man’s life.
hands twisted on the wheel as a feeling of positivity coursed through his
Years before, he’d received
intense battlefield medical training at the Army’s Operational and Emergency
Skills Course—the training had served him well on a number of occasions.
Today’s shooting victim wasn’t the first to
benefit from Gage’s extensive training.
dealing with a shooting didn’t typically constitute a good day for Gage
Hartline, this day had been a success.
The operator was alive and would recover fully.
taking his money and the prearranged rental car, the originator of the job had
issued each of the operators a dire warning: “You’re radioactive right
lay low Gage would but, according to his rumbling stomach, it was long past time
He checked the mileage on the
highway—13 more miles to flavor nirvana.
the wheel of a silver, rental Chevy Impala, Gage motored to the north on Interstate
35, the air conditioner blowing cold white vapor at him in an effort to counter
the outside Texas heat.
was the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
He was more than halfway there, having
watched the southern half of Texas float by as he cruised at 79 miles per
prior experience, Gage had planned a food and fuel stop in Waco.
His reason for doing so was a transcendent
Texas barbecue joint, named Rudy’s, just off the interstate.
Though Gage lived in North Carolina, a place
that boasted of their famed brand of pork barbecue, Gage couldn’t understand
the regional rivalries and the constant bashing of the other barbecue
loved all of it.
minutes later, Gage exited the highway and parked between Rudy’s and the
adjacent gas station.
* * *
full for only the second time in a week, Gage refilled his half-gallon cup with
iced tea and sat back down to polish off the remainder of what had been a
massive pile of succulent beef brisket.
he ate, he powered up his mobile phone, seeing a text from Colonel Hunter, the
former leader of Gage’s special operations team.
Gage swallowed a mouthful of brisket and
called the colonel.
alive?” Hunter asked without preamble.
it seems, sir.
How are you?”
the reaper at bay.
Wily old bastard’s
gettin’ closer every day.”
“How’d it go?”
fine until daybreak.
There was a little
dustup at the tail end of the conference.”
on our team.
One guy had a hole in him,
Supposedly no permanent damage,
paused a moment before saying, “I need to run something else by you.”
you tell me, sir, just know that I really need to shut it down for a month or
not like you.”
realize that, but I need a little time to reset.
I’ve been gone eighty percent of the time in
the last six months.
There are bills to
Dentists to be seen.
Clothes to wash.
I also need to call our friends in the Unit,
too…do a little training.
I just need to
get caught up and feel my own pillow for a month.”
When referencing “the Unit,” Gage was
speaking of the 1
Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta,
most commonly known as Delta Force.
Located on the populated area of Fort Bragg’s western edge, Delta has
access to some of the finest training grounds and methods in existence.
know you’ve been on constant red cycle, son.”
Hunter cleared his throat.
understand, there’s big green to be made on this one.
Naturally the character you’d be
working for is the unsavory sort.”
Hunter let that last part hang.
thought about how little money he actually had.
And, being nearly 44 years old, his body would likely start to fail him
in the coming decade.
He could use a
Then he truly could “shut it
down” for a while—maybe for good.
big green, are you talking high five figures?”
intel says the potential is well into seven figures.”
made Gage pause a moment.
“When are we
talking about, sir?”
soon as possible.”
Due in Raleigh on the first flight.”
you’ll need to leave tomorrow night.”
tell you that in person.”
stared down at his remaining brisket.
Rudy’s didn’t serve their food on plates.
When a person goes through the food line,
they carry a wax paper-covered sturdy plastic crate, like soft drinks come
This allows Rudy’s servers
to pile the meat and sides on in pound quantities.
his belly was full, Gage really wanted to finish his brisket and accompanying
cream corn and green chile stew.
he’d hoped to do so without the weight of a high-paying job on his mind.
He asked Hunter when he needed an answer.
Let’s meet mid-morning out at
Talk it through over a greasy
Can you get there?”
long as American Airlines does their part.”
as Gage was about to end the call, he heard a distant scream.
He turned, seeing some other diners standing
and pointing out the window.
See you around ten
Gage hung up the phone and
shoveled another bite of brisket in his mouth.
He continued to watch the crowd at the window.
like more of ‘em gang members,” an older man with a classic Texas drawl
“Little peckers are ruinin’
ever-thang ‘round here.”
boy ain’t done nothin’ to ‘em neither,” chimed in a heavyset woman.
piercing scream penetrated the restaurant, followed by yelled protests from the
it,” Gage breathed.
He threw down his
fork, took his buttery wedge of Texas toast, and stalked outside.
It didn’t take long to see what was going
Across the parking lot, between the
fuel islands of the gas station, four tough-looking post-teens had surrounded
The way they moved to block the
person made it clear they weren’t letting him pass.
they were cackling like hyenas.
Walk inside the gas station and
tell the attendant.
licked his lips, glancing at the gas station.
There was a line of people.
were watching the scene.
Call the cops, even.
Stick your head in, tell them to
make the call, and leave
turned back to the group of toughs.
were bumping the person in the center with their chests.
curses were vicious.
Leave it, Gage
bothering him!” was the yell from an unseen woman.
“Can’t you see he ain’t looking for a fight?”
the protestations of his inner voice, Gage took a bite of toast and edged
toward the encounter.
he neared the scene, the picture grew clearer.
The man in the middle of the circle was probably only about sixteen
He had dark skin and a pair
of thick glasses, and judging by his clothes and lack of musculature, it was
obvious he wasn’t the type to engage four violent gang members.
He looked like the type of kid that should be
on the debate team—not brawling at a gas station.
Once it was clear that he wasn’t getting past
the group, he lowered his eyes in an unthreatening manner.
He just stood there, not engaging his
tormentors at all.
was displaying patience.
The kind of
patience Gage Hartline did not possess.
the scene, at the gas pump, sat a battered old Buick with a Louisiana handicapped
license plate and sticker.
car was a woman of approximately fifty years of age.
She was utilizing a walker and was on a cell
phone, speaking frantically.
She had to
be the young man’s mother and she was looking around, frantically telling the
person on the phone anything she could to identify the gas station where they’d
just filled up.
attention turned back to the punks surrounding the young man.
They were probably a few years older than the
young man they were mocking, maybe as old as mid-twenties.
Covered in tattoos and adorned with numerous
piercings, they all wore the same style sleeveless jacket, each with the same
poorly-drawn logo pronouncing them as members of some piss-ant gang called the
Gage had almost reached them, the woman on the phone yelled at the gang members
that the police were on their way.
the police, fuck you, and fuck your bitch-ass son,” one of the punks yelled,
high-fiving his buddies as he laughed at his own insult.
one of the punks began mimicking the young man.
He put circled fingers over his eyes and began to walk in circles,
saying “I’m a little bitch,” over and over.
This drew riotous laughter from his friends.
wasn’t a racial incident.
There were all
manner of skin tones involved.
was nothing more than cruelty.
thought back to the warning he’d received this morning.
You’re radioactive right now.
You heard the man, Gage.
of the punks smacked the young man in the back of the head, sending his glasses
tumbling to the concrete.