It's been a long time and I do have that new series to promote. The idea for the Silent Nation books came to me in February of 2018 and I cobbled together ideas until I had the first book ready to go. As with every story, I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, and a good read as well. I think I have succeeded with the first book, Divided. While it hasn't garnered the glowing reviews I'd hoped, it has sold well and I fully intend to keep it going with the second book, tentatively titled Union. Since this is the first post in a few years, I'll give you a sneak peek at the first chapter. Mind you, this is unedited and first-draft quality, but it gives a good peek at the continuation of the Silent Nation series.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2 – 6:31 P.M.
Ben sat against the Mustang and closed his eyes. Maybe if he just shut his eyes, he could forget all the horrible things that were little more than an arm’s reach from him. He could ignore the five dead bodies lying around him, each one from their own individual gunshot wounds. The iron-like smell of blood was unmistakable, reminding him that not only was Vincent and three of his associates dead, so was his mother JoAnn. After losing his brother yesterday, his mother and stepfather today, along with over a half-dozen good people, he was already sick of death. There was no dignity in death, no matter the cause. An EMS call he’d had about a month ago that had proven that.
The call was early in the morning, just after four o’clock in the wee hours of the day. Ben and his partner had been dispatched to a single-vehicle accident on the four-lane highway outside of town. Normally, a single car accident wasn’t a big deal at that time of day. Plenty of people nod off or get drowsy and hit all kinds of things; deer and road signs mostly. After arriving on scene, the car had moderate damage and was about fifteen feet off the road in a ditch. While it wasn’t completely inaccessible, it had taken a moment to get down in the ditch to the lone patient in the car. In that car was a twenty-seven-year-old female, dead. Judging by the impact on a tree about fifteen feet above the car, the car had left the roadway and hit the tree, falling straight down into place underneath of it. The impact had killed the driver, a slightly overweight but attractive brunette nurse from a local nursing home. After the fire department arrived on scene, Ben, his partner, and three firefighters got down in the ditch and attempted to remove the body from the car. In the process of trying to get the – literal – dead weight out of the car, the woman’s top had accidentally been pulled off, exposing her breasts. The fire department had quickly thrown a blanket down to help cover the body, but the damage had been done. Passers by hadn’t seen it, but the responding units had. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but it hadn’t been the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time that it happened. Bodies in all sorts of inexplicable positions and situations made death a very embarrassing part of life; luckily, the person it affected wouldn’t have seen it or cared.
JoAnn was covered by a small blanket. Her body was the only one Ben or Jake cared to make decent. To hell with Vincent and whoever was unfortunate enough to be with him. The two women Ben had shot coming out of the house were inconsequential. Something told Ben he needed to dispatch the problem before they could become an issue, so he did with extreme prejudice. Jake hadn’t said anything when he had, as a matter of fact, Jake hadn’t said anything for the last twenty minutes. Ben heard his cousin get to his feet; Jake had been seated on the other side of the car, on the ground.
“I’m sorry, Ben, but we have to get out of here. If we don’t find a car soon, we’re gonna freeze to death. And I didn’t come all this way just to die now, and I’m sure you didn’t either,” Jake said.
Ben didn’t respond.
Jake stormed around the car and kicked his cousin’s foot as he sat next to the passenger’s side front tire. Ben looked up, and then back down.
“What’s the point, Jake? Every time I’ve tried to do something the last two days it blew up in my face. Fuck it. I’m just gonna sit here and wait for something to happen. Maybe if I try less, I’ll fuck up less,” Ben said.
Jake knelt down. “Look, we gotta get out of here. We got nothing left in Ohio, but you have everything left in Virginia. So, get your ASS OFF THE GROUND!” Jake yelled.
Ben looked up. “To what point? We don’t even have a ride out of here, Jake! So, shut the hell up! It’s not like we can…” Ben said, trailing off and looking away.
“Stop being a dick for five seconds, Ben! I can take an ass chewing just as much as the next person but…” Jake started. He noticed Ben wasn’t listening and his cousin was desperately looking around, like he’d lost something. “What the hell are you doing now?”
“Jake. The car. Where is the vehicle that Vincent used to get to the rest area? He’s got to have a working car around here somewhere. My guess is that there’s an old pickup truck around here somewhere. Come on! That’s our ride out of here!” Ben said, temporarily imbued with some energy and a sense of urgency.
“Dude, you seriously need to see a doctor about that…” Jake said, trailing off.
Ben stopped. “About what?” He said indignantly.
“One minute you’re dejected and really letting this shit get to you, the next you’re jumping up and down like your head’s on fire and your ass is catching. All those years on an ambulance have really messed you up. Do you even realize that?” Jake said, walking towards the barn.
Ben saw red. Jake had a point, though. Even if Ben couldn’t see it, his cousin still was hitting the nail on the head. He got to his feet and couldn’t figure out what to do next. His lungs ached, his heart was pounding, and he was mad at the world, but even if he wanted to, he couldn’t do anything about it yet. He just stood there, glued in place by some unknown force of his own making. His brain turned against him, misconstruing everything he was thinking. He knew they needed to search the area for the missing vehicle, but at the same time, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and just stood there like a statue. It didn’t take long for Jake to notice.
“Ben? You all right?” Jake said, glancing over his shoulder. As he saw that Ben wasn’t moving and wasn’t responding, he started to walk over.
“Jake…” Ben said.
“Ben? Seriously. Are you all right?”
Ben dropped to his knees, his legs giving out on him. He was too weak to stand, the world was closing in around him, and he couldn’t understand why. As he tried to take a deep breath, it became apparent why he was having such a hard time.
He’d been shot.
In the adrenaline rush of the events after watching his mother JoAnn shot, he’d either closed out the feeling, or honestly just didn’t feel it. As Jake sprinted over, he watched his cousin double over, panting.
“Dude! What the fuck?” Jake yelled. He got down on his knees and attempted to help Ben. The fading light of the day had now almost completely disappeared. It was dark, and Jake couldn’t see how pale Ben was becoming.
Jake grabbed him up, pulling him under the armpits. “Come on, cuz. Let’s get you inside there and see what we can do. There’s no sense in freezing our ass off out here when Vincent’s house is perfectly fine.”
Ben staggered to his feet, the world still on pinpoints and sounds coming from in a barrel. As much as he tried, he couldn’t get his feet to work properly. His brain was directing his body to perform the actions, but his body was stubbornly refusing to work correctly. He shuffled his feet along as best he could, leaning on Jake as much as he could to stay upright. Absently, he thought about what a pain in the ass it was going to be if Jake had to drag him inside the farmhouse.
“Come on, buddy. We ain’t going anywhere tonight. Let’s get inside and get warm,” Jake said, dragging Ben along.
Aside from the two bodies on the porch, there wasn’t anyone in or around the house. After getting Ben inside, Jake sat him down on a dusty couch just to the left of the front door. He didn’t like the idea of leaving him alone for more than a few minutes, but he absolutely had to clear the house first. After a quick sweep and an assumption that if there was anyone there that he would have heard them by now, he trotted downstairs to the couch. Jake shut the front door, hoping that Vincent and Bernard didn’t have any family left that might come looking for them.
Jake sat his rifle down beside the couch. “Dude, we gotta get that vest off you and see if you’re hit.”
Ben sucked in a deep breath and tried to talk finally. “Yeah, I am. My chest is killing me. I think I took a round to the vest.”
Jake scrambled and started pulling Velcro, undoing clasps, and removing parts. After he was satisfied that he could get the bulletproof vest off, he pulled it over Ben’s head. As soon as he did, Ben took another deep breath, this one filling his lungs and sending a sharp pain throughout his chest.
“Holy shit! Goddamnit, that hurts!” Ben exclaimed.
Jake sat the vest down. “You all right now?”
Ben took a couple deep breaths. “Shit. I hope so. Check the vest and see if there’s a round stuck in it.”
Jake took off the flashlight he had on the front of his rifle and scanned the vest. Sure enough, there was a large chunk of lead embedded just to the right of center. Jake took his knife and pried the round loose. It was what was left of a twelve-gauge frangible slug. The round should have knocked Ben square on his ass, but he’d barely noticed.
“Jesus, Ben. That should have ended you. How in the hell did you not feel that?” Jake asked, turning the round over in his hand.
Ben gasped a few more times, trying to take a deeper breath as he did. “I took two 7.62 rounds to the chest once in Afghanistan. Slowed me down and it was with better armor, but I still managed to do my job. The adrenaline gets going and you don’t feel anything. It just makes you numb, literally. After the rush wears off, then you start feeling it.”
“Dude, it’s been a good ten minutes since then. You are one lucky sonofabitch, you know that?” Jake said, handing Ben the spent lead.
Ben grabbed the lead slug from Jake. He was right. Judging by the size of the round, it should have put him down, or at least made more of an impression than it had. The IIIA soft plates in the vest combined with the thick Cordura nylon had saved his life.
Ben sat up, feeling the intense pain in his chest. More soreness on the way. As if walking sixteen miles the day before wasn’t bad enough, now he had to deal with the aftereffects of being shot. He swung his legs over the edge of the couch and leaned over.
“I’m sorry, Jake. I’m not trying to sabotage us, I swear. Truth is, I’ve been dealing with bipolar depression for a long time, and I haven’t done anything about it,” Ben said.
“You gotta take that medication they give you, buddy. You’re not going to be any good if you don’t,” Jake said. “Trust me, the way Mom was, she was intolerable without the meds.”
Ben chuckled. “I’m not on any medication, Jake. Never have been. I don’t reckon I ever will be now. I had panic attacks years ago, and I never took meds then, either. I don’t really believe in them. I hate altering my state of mind for the sake of feeling a little better.”
Jake shook his head in the darkness. “Between two deployments and twenty-plus years in EMS…Jesus. You’re in for a violent case of PTSD if you haven’t already. That shit is gonna hit you hard.”
“I know. I’ve had instructors tell me that over the years. Every time I go to a new class and make some off-color comment or make a joke about something that probably shouldn’t be joked about, I get this look of disdain from them. It’s like they’ve pegged me for that PTSD conversation as soon as I say something.”
“You’ve seen your brother killed, your mother and stepfather killed, and lost several other people under your care in the last twenty-four hours. Something tells me that bullet to the chest might have been a blessing in disguise. Maybe that bullet can show you how to get your head on straight and you can realize that you’re damn lucky to be alive,” Jake said.
Ben nodded. “Fair enough. I think we need to find a way to get warm in here and get some rest. First thing tomorrow morning, we’re gonna get the hell out of Ohio and get back to Virginia. No one else is going to suffer. I’m going home, Jake.”
“As far as we know, the only ones that are suffering are us, buddy. We can mitigate that as best we can, but in the morning,” Jake replied.
“Jesus Christ on a mountain bike, this sucks. I’m too damn old for this, Jake. Sixteen miles of walking, crappy weather, not to mention the fact that I’m about forty pounds overweight and five minutes from a mental breakdown at any given time. Fucking-A, dude,” Ben said.
Jake shook his head as he sat down. “Is that why you cuss so much?”
Ben laid his head back and smiled. “Being around infantrymen kind of makes you into a parrot that repeats what you hear. Unfortunately, those parrots use ‘fuck’ like a noun, a verb, and an adjective. Every third word or so is ‘fuck’ or some derivative of it.”
“Grandma wouldn’t want you cussing like a sailor. Besides, that’s my job,” Jake said jokingly.
“That’d be the only thing you Navy fuckers can lay claim to,” Ben said, laughing.
Jake had laid down himself on a couch not far from Ben. “Language!”
Ben closed his eyes and got comfortable on the couch, oblivious to the conversation Jake was trying to have with him. After berating his choice in language, Jake was trying to explain that the house was heated by a large cast-iron stove and that stove had a large wood box beside it filled with good, dry wood. It was the first thing they’d had go right all day. Ben didn’t hear any of that; he was warm and fast asleep in less than a minute.