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Enjoy This Free Excerpt From KND Thriller of The Week: Award Winning Cooch by Robert Cook

On Friday we announced that Robert Cook’s Cooch is our Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!

Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt:

Winner of the e-Lit Gold medal for best national thriller


by Robert Cook

4.4 stars – 23 Reviews
Or currently FREE for Amazon Prime Members Via the Kindle Lending Library
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:
Alejandro Mohammed Cuchulain, called Cooch or Alex, became a Marine at sixteen and a CIA special-operations trainee at 17. His father is a wheel-chair bound former Marine and Medal of Honor winner who gives Alex advice as to how to survive in a violent world. His mother is the daughter of a Bedouin sheikh who sends a young Alex off, during his summer breaks, to experience the Bedouin life. The combination of a very young start in learning the art and craft of violence, combined with a thirst for knowledge combine to help him to become both a noted designer and user of explosives and an expert in Islamic affairs. Violent, yet thoughtful, Cooch represents the best in fast-moving, popular thrillers.

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:



New York


Choppers was jammed and loud. Smoke curled around cheap

lamps hanging from an ancient, bulging ceiling, and the sounds of

Ernest Tubbs blared from huge speakers mounted high in two corners

above a tiny dance floor. Groups of young men and women in jeans

mingled with tattooed men in cutoff, black T-shirts, and leather

vests, but mostly the groups were of their own. The smell of stale

sweat competed with the essence of Happy perfume and the pungent

stench of marijuana.

Alex and Caitlin slipped into a booth just as another couple left

it. A large-breasted waitress, going to fat, in shorts and a fitted body

shirt came to take their order. “I’ll have a beer, Sam Adams,” Caitlin


“Me too,” Alex said.

There was a strange medley of people on the dance floor. Bikers in

leather were dancing close with preppy young women with barrettes

in their hair. A few of the women were trying to pull their hips away
from their sweaty, bearded, unwashed dance partners, most of whom

had both hands on the girls’ buttocks, pulling them into their erections.

But a few of the other women were grinding their hips back to

their dance partner, enjoying the danger and the forbidden fruit.

A huge, bearded man walked up to their table, his body odor

preceding him. His belly pushed an old denim shirt over his belt,

which had a wide, silver Harley-Davidson buckle, and a sheath knife

strapped on the right side, facing back. Thick, black hair covered his

arms and curled from his shirt, which was open halfway to his navel.

He smiled at Caitlin, showing his yellowed teeth, one with a prominent

gold cap.

“My name’s Billy. I run this gang. Let’s dance,” he said, and

reached to grasp her hand.

Caitlin pulled her hand from his. “Thank you, but no. I don’t


He laughed loudly and reached again for her. “I’ll teach you.

You’re gonna like it.”

Caitlin grabbed his little finger and bent it back. “I said I don’t

want to dance. What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

Billy ripped her hand from his finger. “Listen, bitch,” he snarled.

“This is my bar. If I want to fuckin’ dance with you, you’re going to

fuckin’ dance with me. If I want you to suck my dick, you’re going to

fuckin’ suck my dick and swallow, not spit. Your little fairy boyfriend

there don’t have shit to say about this. I’m the boss here.”

Billy turned to glare and lean menacingly at Alex. “You got the

message, pansy?” he said.

Alex watched two bouncers rush across the room, separating to

approach Billy from either side. Others were flowing among the

crowd, ready to stop budding trouble.

Alex turned his head and stared at him. “Yeah, I got the message,


Just then the bouncers got to either side of Billy, and grasped his

arms. One of them said, “It’s time to go, Billy. We’ve talked about

this before.”

They started to pull him away when Billy said to Caitlin, “Listen,

you snotty cunt. If I ever see you again, and I fuckin’ well hope I do,

then we’re gonna have some fun. You’re gonna find out why they call

me big Billy!”

“You’re an animal!” Caitlin shouted at him. Then she turned to

Alex. “As for you—thanks for all your support! Let’s get out of here.”

Billy crowed loudly as they pulled him away. “No pussy for you

tonight, pansy. No head, neither.”

Alex stood, tossed a twenty-dollar bill on the table, and followed

Caitlin from the bar. As the bouncers hustled Billy out of the bar,

several bikers stood staring at Alex and Caitlin, grinning. Another

made little kissing sounds as they walked by.

When they got outside, Alex said, “Let’s get out of sight and grab

a cab.” He had her arm and was moving her quickly down the street

when she pulled her arm from his grasp.

“Keep your hands off me, Cuchulain!” she snapped. “You weren’t

so forceful back there in the bar. I’m not afraid of those people, and

I’m not going to run from them. They‘re animals! God, that was


They walked at a slower pace and finally turned the corner.

“Well, are you going to say anything, Cuchulain?” she asked.

He waved down a cab and they jumped in. “Let’s go back uptown

and have a drink somewhere quiet and talk about it,” he said as the

cab pulled away from the curb. “I know just the place.”

“You’re sure there are no bad guys there?” O’Connor sneered.

Alex smiled. “I certainly hope not.”

A few minutes later they settled into a corner booth at a small

wine bar in the West 70s. O’Connor looked intently at him.

“So talk to me, Cuchulain. I sort of assumed you were the type to

jump to my defense, whether I needed help or not.”

“And you like men who do that?” he said.

She sat back in the booth and took a sip of her wine. “No, for

the most part, I detest it. It’s just so macho. Billy scared me. What a

fucking pig! I think he scared you too. He did, didn’t he, Cuchulain?”

“Caitlin, of course I was scared. Billy had a knife and a ton of

friends there. I know this is going to sound like bullshit. I’m sorry

about that, but I think it’s the truth. Quite simply, there was no need

for me to do anything. So I didn’t.”

She studied him over the rim of her glass. “And you think you

could have? Is that bodybuilder look just a bit of narcissism or do you

have that much animal in you? I’m pretty damned sure you don’t, but

I would have been less sure before watching you tonight. And if you

were that much of an animal, I’m not sure I’d like you.”

Alex chuckled. “Ah, the conundrum of civilized behavior. If you

deal with animals by using animal behavior against them, are you

civilized for protecting the society, whatever it takes, or have you

become an animal and consequently not fit to mingle in civilized

society? Do we say thank you and give out a medal and invite him

to speak at graduation, or do we keep our would-be hero chained

in the backyard like a pit bull, always half afraid he will turn on us


O’Connor sat tapping her foot reflexively, studying him. Finally

she said, “In your case, I suspect that the argument is academic, but

I’ll probably never know. I do know that Brooks Elliot would have

reacted differently.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Well, I’m going to be in New York for another week and a half.

Before I go back to California, I’m going back there. Back to that

animal farm. I hate this feeling of intimidation that I have right now.

I’m going to exorcise it.”

“That’s probably a bad idea,” Cuchulain said, “but it’s none of my

business. Do you mind if I trail along with you? I didn’t get to drink

my beer.”

Caitlin studied him for a second. “You’re welcome, but you may

get spanked if you’re not careful.”

Cuchulain smiled and said, “Sounds kinky. I can’t wait.”

New York


Several days later Caitlin walked beside Brooks Elliot from a
conference room at Goldman Sachs. Axial was trying to schedule

another round of public fund-raising in a difficult environment;

Brooks Elliot was leading the charge at Goldman. As they stood

awaiting the elevator, Caitlin said, “Why don’t I buy you lunch? I

want to ask you about something.”

“Sure!” Elliot said. “Any ‘druthers?”

“You pick, I’ll buy.”

“Deal. There’s a great sushi place that’s not too far.”

Fifteen minutes later they sat in a booth at a Japanese restaurant

named Hana, each sipping hot miso soup from black lacquer bowls

held in two hands. No spoons.

“Okay, what’s on your mind, Caitlin?” Brooks said.

“Have you talked to Alex lately?”

Elliot nodded. “I played squash with him yesterday morning, and

then we had breakfast. Why?”

“Did you win?”

“Yeah, I won. I usually do.”

“Why do you usually win?”

“Alex is fairly new to the game. He tends to muscle the ball.”

“Did he tell you about taking me to that biker bar the other


“Why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind, Caitlin,” Elliot

said. “You may recall that I don’t like to be quizzed about Alex.”

She sat for a moment, phrasing in her mind. “I’d just like to get

a better handle on him,” she said. “I don’t know, Brooks. Alex just

seems so calm, so cautious. But there seems to be this underlying

aura of menace—of ruthlessness. I can’t seem to put my finger on it. I

thought that I had a beginning handle on him until the other night,

but it looks as though I was wrong. He puzzles me enough to make

me uncomfortable.”

Elliot sat, waiting.

“You’ve known me too long,” she said. O’Connor gave a faint

smile and shrugged her shoulders almost imperceptibly. “But let’s

just say that I’m curious. He says he’s interested in me. I’m trying

to figure out if I’m interested in him. I just can’t get a handle on

him. He seems like the kind of guy who would jump up, all macho,

and embarrass the shit out of me if anyone said a cross word to me,

and you know I just hate that bullshit. But we were in a nasty situation

in a biker bar downtown the other night. I was pretty scared

and really pissed too. I’ll spare you the details, but this fat pig was

saying some strong shit to me, and Alex just sat there; he didn’t

say a word. If the bouncers hadn’t shown up, it could have gotten

ugly. Alex didn’t defend me; he didn’t tell the guy to back off. He

just sat there like a wimp. Dumb—and probably terrified. I know

I was.” She shifted in her chair, thinking.

“Alex is not a coward, Caitlin,” Elliot said with an odd smile on

his face. “He wouldn’t bring dishonor on your warrior clan. It’s even

possible he could bring something to the table.

“Caitlin, there’s something I just don’t get here,” Elliot said as he

gazed at her still, closed face. “This just doesn’t sound like the Caitlin

O’Connor I know. You could have broken the fat guy’s finger, but you

didn’t. Your father once told me you got a brown belt in judo when

you were thirteen and wanted boxing lessons too. He worried for a

while about the way you got violent when you didn’t get what you

wanted—anger management expense for him, wasn’t it?”

“That shit!” O’Connor said, her eyes flashing. “He never told me

he told you that. Anyway, that anger counselor was dumber than a

fence post and tried to look up my skirt all the time. Jesus H. Christ,

where do they find those idiots and give them a PhD?”

“Remember me?” Elliot said quietly. “I’m the one who doesn’t

get distracted easily. Give up on the defensive time warp, and let’s

continue to discuss your relationship with the lovely and charming

patrons at Choppers.”

“Oh, fuck you, asshole,” Caitlin exploded loudly. The other Hana

patrons turned to stare.

“You had never been afraid before like that, had you? I mean really

stark terrified,” Elliot said. “You lost your nerve because of it, because

that much adrenaline was a new thing, and you had more than one

potential assailant, all armed. Now you’re trying to rebuild your ego

by laying the problem off on Alex. Jesus, Caitlin! I’d forgotten how

self-centered you are—how driven by your view of yourself!”

“Up your giggy, Elliot,” O’Connor whispered. “Take your tabletop

psychoanalysis and put it where the sun don’t shine.”

“And what would you like to discuss instead, my charming, articulate


Caitlin leaned forward, her right hand extended toward him, long

fingers curling repeatedly back in supplication. “Come on, Elliot—

give! This is not about me, right now. What’s the story on Cuchulain?

You know I wouldn’t ask lightly. This is embarrassing enough without

me having to beg.”

His mind was racing. She was tough to brush off. “What do you

want to know? Alex is my best friend, and I’ve only known him as

an adult. He’s honest, incredibly bright, even by your standards—a

wonderful and loyal friend, and hardworking. There’s no one on the

planet I respect more.”

“I bare my soul and you give me platitudes—pablum!” she spat,

while coolly thinking she never dreamed she would hear that kind

of endorsement from Brooks F.T. Elliot IV, about anyone. Cuchulain

suddenly became more interesting to her. She decided to take a different


“Brooks, Brooks—I’m lonely,” she said softly. “I’d like to have

someone in my life. Someone presentable to take to the occasional

charity ball, someone to take a vacation with, someone who just likes

me for me and not what my press says I am. You know what it costs

me to have this conversation with you; it’s just not the kind of thing

I do.”

“Yeah, I know it’s not.” Elliot sat for a few moments, sipping

green tea, thinking. “Caitlin, you know I want to help, but I’m not

going to act as Alex’s unauthorized biographer. Okay—if I’m going

to answer the question, I’ll answer it short and straight, or I’ll decline

to answer and take a pass on not just the subject, but the whole topic

area. If you structure and phrase your questions carefully, I’ll answer

them. Don’t ask me anything you could just as well ask him. Don’t

game me.”

She picked up a piece of raw tuna with her chopsticks, dunked

it into a film of soy sauce in a ceramic saucer, and popped it into her

mouth. Then she picked up her tea mug.

“Okay, here goes,” she said, sipping. “Is he a wimp, or a wuss, or

something dressed up like a wolf that isn’t a wolf?”

“No,” Elliot said.

“Is he a wolf?”

“Pass,” he said.

“Does he have the courage of his convictions and the willingness

to defend them?”

Brooks smiled. “Maybe more than anyone I’ve ever met.”

“That’s interesting,” Caitlin said, sitting up a little. “Could be a

little scary, though. Do I need to think or worry about that?”


She gazed intently at Elliot. “Tell me about that.”

“No, and the broad topic is off the air.”

“Is he dangerous?”

“Is he dangerous to you?” His eyebrows rose and he allowed a look

of incredulity to flicker across his face. “Absolutely not.”

“That wasn’t what I meant, and you know it!” she fumed.

Elliot shook his head. “Broad topic’s gone. You’re winning. I’m

giving you more than I said I would. This little interrogation is close

to being over.”

She held her hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. Just a couple

more. Do you want to hear the biker story?”

“No. I already heard it from him.”

“Really! Tell me what Alex said.”

“No. Ask him.”

O’Connor was fighting her temper, and losing. “Goddammit,

Brooks, this just doesn’t compute. Why are you being this way?

Jesus, remember me? I’ve known you for more than ten years, and we

were sleeping together for three of them. I was a virgin when I met

you, for Christ’s sake. You’re one of my best friends. Why won’t you

help keep me from being hurt? You’ve managed to hurt my feelings

a little, which I didn’t think you could do anymore.”

Elliot started to speak, then stopped, groping for the right words.

“I’m not comfortable with this conversation,” he said. “But I’m going

to give this one more try, because even if you’re gaming me with the

hurt feelings to get more information, I think you should probably

know anyhow. You’re a good friend, and I want to help keep you from

getting hurt.”

Elliot leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling, then

said softly, “First, I’m more loyal to him than I am to you, even

though I very much like and respect you. You should take that

feeling into consideration. I agree with you on the marriage and baby

thing—probably wouldn’t have worked. I owe you big for that.

Second, Cuchulain is fully formed, intellectually and emotionally.

He’s not your intellectual equal, but he’s in the neighborhood,

and anyway, formed in a far different mold. He’s applied intelligence;

you are pure.”



He looked back down and smiled. “God, I could sell

tickets to Mensa for a chance to listen in on the two of you if you ever

get serious. Third, you should avoid putting him into situations where he

may have to react violently. The biker bar could have been ugly. He

and I play by different rules than most people.”

Caitlin looked thoughtful. “I’m going back down there. I just

have to, and Cuchulain said he wanted to come along. Maybe I should

just go without him.”

“You should probably take him, my previous comments notwithstanding.

He’s useful in places like that. I assume that drinking one

beer and sitting for a few minutes in defiance will satisfy this unreasonable

compulsion of yours to be the Irish Rambo.”

She delicately raised her middle finger to Brooks as she screwed

her face into a grimace. He laughed.

“Look, Caitlin. You should give him a chance. This is a wonderful

guy. He’ll try to keep from hurting you. He’ll try to deal with your

ego and your intellect, and they are about equal in size. Dealing with

them together is no day at the beach—I’ve been there.”

“Oh, I see. I’m fucked up and he’s perfect?”

“Don’t you pull that shit with me, Caitlin,” Elliot snapped.

“You’re not perfect and neither is he. What I’m not going to do is go

down that road with you—or for you.”

New York


Alex and Caitlin were back in Choppers, once again in business

clothes in a booth at the corner of the room. Billy was nowhere to be

seen, and Caitlin had nearly finished her beer. The nachos proved nearly

inedible. Bouncers converged on a bearded drunk who was standing

behind a girl with his hands cupped over her breasts, pretending to

dance as she fought and scratched at him over her shoulder.

“This is disgusting,” Caitlin said. “I’m done proving whatever

I was proving to myself. I’m going to the ladies room. I’ll see you


Alex waved for the waitress as Caitlin slid from the booth and

walked away. When she finally waddled over, he handed her thirty

dollars, then turned to walk toward the restrooms and the exit. There

was some sort of fuss at the door. As he got closer, it faded to the outside

and he walked into the men’s room behind a biker in full black

leather regalia. When he stepped back into the hallway, Caitlin was

not there. He felt a faint tug of alarm. He pushed the door to the

women’s room partly opened and said loudly, “Caitlin, you okay?”

There was no answer. He stepped partway inside. There were two

women at the sinks, but no Caitlin. He ducked to look under the toilet

stall doors. No feet. He could feel the familiar sensation of adrenaline

rushing into his body.

“You looking for a tall blonde in a suit? A looker?” one of the

women asked, as she glanced at him in the mirror.

“Yes. You see her?” he said.

“She left a couple of minutes ago with a bunch of bikers,” she said.

“Didn’t seem real happy about it.”

Alex spun and raced outside. The street was empty except for one

Harley at the curb. Just then the biker from the john hurried out,

pulling keys from his pocket and moving to his machine, a cigarette

hanging from the corner of his mouth.

Alex walked over to the biker, and just as he looked up, Cuchulain

grabbed the man’s nose between the knuckles of his index and middle

fingers and twisted sharply, breaking it. He dropped his hand and

snatched the cigarette from the man’s mouth, as he grabbed the front

of his shirt, rushed him to the outside wall of the bar, and banged his

back against the old bricks, hard.

“Where did they take the girl?” Cuchulain demanded.

The biker sprayed blood on him as he spoke. “Fuck you, asshole.”

“I don’t have a lot of time,” Alex snarled. He pushed the lit end of

the cigarette into the man’s cheek for a second, and the smell of burnt

flesh filled the air. When the scream ended, he pushed the cigarette

within an eighth inch of the biker’s eye, singeing the eyelashes from

the lid. “You’ll be blind in ten seconds if you don’t tell me, then I’ll

dig around in the sockets. Believe it.”

The biker was suddenly aware that his feet were not touching the

ground; he was being held in the air against the wall with one hand

while the other held the cigarette. His cheek felt on fire and urine

was burning down his right leg. He quickly blurted the address.

Alex slapped him on the forehead with the heel of his hand, bouncing the

biker’s head against the wall; the cigarette fluttered to the sidewalk.

Cuchulain grabbed the keys from the hand of the falling, unconscious

man and jumped onto the motorcycle, kicked it to life, and

accelerated down the street, necktie flapping wildly behind him.

The cooling motorcycle engines were still ticking when Alex

jumped from the bike and ran to the door, just as a roar of approval

and laughter went up from inside. A large man in a black T-shirt and

dirty jeans stepped in front of him, blocking his way as he stuck a

hand in Alex’s chest.

“Beat it, asshole,” he said. “This is a private club.”

Cuchulain grabbed the hand with his left, just below the wrist,

then gave it a hard snap up and out, breaking the wrist, as he stepped

under the raised arm and drove his right elbow down and back into

the guard’s lower back, just above the belt on his right side, then

again. Cuchulain reached down quickly, and pulled the man’s thighs

back from just above the knees so that his face was driven to the pavement

with a resounding thunk. As Cuchulain reached for the door,

he snapped a kick into the man’s left ear.

The door was unlocked and Cuchulain stepped inside. O’Connor was being held in a chair by two men, bare breasts exposed, while Billy, the leader, had his penis out

from the fly of his dirty Levi’s, four inches from her terrified, furious


“Hey, whoa!” Alex yelled.

The room went quiet as heads snapped to see the intruder. Billy’s

face lit up in a delighted grin.

“Well, if ain’t the fuckin’ pansy. This is my lucky day! You can

referee a gangbang—me first. You know, pick out who gets to fuck

her next, make sure no one goes twice before everyone goes once, and

all that shit. By tomorrow we’ll be starting to wear out, and might

even give you a little. But first I want a little blowjob from Blondie. I

sort of promised it to my buddy here,” he leered, pulling the foreskin

up and back. “If she bites me, I’ll just knock her teeth out and try


“I don’t think so,” Alex said loudly. “That would be dumb. There

will be cops everywhere, and you guys are in enough trouble already.

For what?” He looked around at the gang, assessing them. He quickly

settled on a small, wiry man with still eyes and a telltale easy balance.

He knew the type.

Cuchulain eased toward him and spoke again. “I’ll tell you what.

You guys are supposed to be the baddest asses in New York. What if

I arm wrestle two of you at once for the girl? If you win, you keep the

girl and no cops. If I win, we walk. It would save you a ton of hassle

with the cops. You know I can’t beat two of you, so why not? I gotta

do something! Deal?”

Ignoring the others, he looked steadily at the small, quiet man,

who looked around and then said, “What if we all fuck her, beat the

living shit out of you, and toss you both in an alley somewhere? We’ll

just give you both some pills that Billy bought down in Mexico,

where you can’t remember shit about what happened lately. What

then? Cops? You won’t remember enough to make a decent witness.”

The room was quiet as the other bikers turned to look at Alex.

“No, slick. You get me,” Alex said coldly.

The small man felt a surge of recognition and imminent danger.

The quiet eyes moved over Cuchulain again, assessing him, noting

the familiar combat balance, feeling himself sink involuntarily

into a defensive posture as cold hostility oozed from Cuchulain. The

flesh on the outside edges of Cuchulain’s eyes began to bunch and

extend, giving him the facial cast of a hooded cobra. Breath whistled

loudly from his nostrils. The small man pulled up his right sleeve

and bared a veined, muscular forearm. The distinctive beer can logo

of the Navy Seals was tattooed on the inner arm, starting to fade, but


“I used to be in the navy. The name’s Dodd. Do I know you?”

Alex smiled coldly. “I need something from my right pocket,


Dodd reached behind his vest and swung out a small, stainless

steel automatic. He clicked the safety off, thumbed the hammer back,

and pointed the pistol directly at Alex’s navel. “Do it very slowly.”

Cuchulain reached slowly into his right trouser pocket and pulled

out a half-dollar coin. He offered it to the small man.

Dodd nodded in recognition, lowered the pistol, and said, “No. I

heard about this. I just gotta see it.”

Alex held the half-dollar in front of him, at eye height, showing

it to the crowd. Then he positioned his thumb on the bottom of the

coin and his middle and index finger on the top. He began to squeeze.

As he increased the pressure, veins swelled across his hand, and the

skin pad between his thumb and forefinger humped slowly up like a

ragged tumor. The room was still, except for the noise of Cuchulain’s

breathing. The coin began to bend, then slowly fold.Cuchulain’s hand was now quivering visibly, and his forearm hadswollen to stretch tight his suit jacket sleeve. Then the coin folded in half.

“Jeeesus Christ!” one of the bikers exclaimed softly.

Cuchulain casually flipped the folded coin at Dodd’s right shoulder

and shifted his weight toward him. The pistol came back up as

Dodd snatched the coin out of the air with his left hand.

“Nice try,” he said. “But I still got it. And I still got you. But I

know who you are.”

Alex waited.

“I’m tempted,” Dodd said. “You know we can’t just let you go.

What happens if we just waste you now? No fuss. You know I got

you, don’t you? And there’s twenty of us.”

Cuchulain nodded. “You have me. I might not even get you. But

I probably would. Probably Billy too, and three or four others when I

take your gun. For sure I wouldn’t get all of you.”

Dodd smiled faintly. “And?”

“And you get everyone here dead. Fast. No cops. No jury. Just

dead. Probably more than a bit of pain for you, if it’s convenient. But


“By?” Dodd asked.

Cuchulain smiled. Now he had Dodd. “The Horse, Jerome

Masterson, lives in town here,” he said. “You know about him and

me, and the folks that the two of us know well. Lieutenant Elliot is

here too. He owes me from a Middle East operation. You just might

know him.”

Dodd shifted as memory rushed in. “Yeah, Lebanon. You saved

his ass. I missed that one. Lieutenant Elliot, huh? He ain’t no prize;

he’s meaner than a fuckin’ cottonmouth.” He looked around at the

gang. They were getting restless and stealing glances at Caitlin’s bare

breasts, thinking about their turns.

“Okay, I’m in,” he said softly to Cuchulain. “But I don’t think

they’re going to buy it—won’t believe me. We may have to kill

some—probably will. Shit!” He raised his eyebrows in a question.

“Try to sell us walking. If it won’t go, sell the arm wrestling.

Lacking that, I’ll take the Colt from the guy behind you and we’ll

nail eight or ten. After I kill Billy, go to one knee and work from the

right. Head shots. Killing a few more should end it, and the cops

will be here by then. That should end it. I’ll handle the mess. Anyone

looking for you?”

“The cops in a few cities have my prints and would like to find

me. Same with DEA. You sure about the arm wrestling? There’s some

big fuckers here, and I don’t want the shooting to start.”

Cuchulain nodded. “Sell it.”

Dodd shifted back slightly, turning to the group, keeping his

right arm hanging down and slightly behind him.

“Listen up, guys!” he said. “I know about this guy. A lot of Seals

say that he’s the baddest motherfucker that ever lived, and you guys

know there’s a bunch of mean motherfuckers among us. He is truly

a badass.”

Alex stepped back a little, as he chose his target if the balloon

went up. He’d need a gun and shifted slightly toward a fat, bearded

man with the checkered wooden grips of a Colt .45 automatic sticking

up from his belt. The hammer was down and the thumb safety

on; Alex would have the gun and take out his throat before the man

could ever get his gun into action.

“Our lives won’t be worth a shit if we don’t let him and her go,”

Dodd said. “Trust me on that. And if we kill him, ten or fifteen bodaciously

bad guys are coming for us. Gloves off. They wouldn’t dream

of using their fists if they could easier shoot or knife you in the back.

They’ll have machine guns, explosives, sniper rifles—all that shit.

It won’t be pretty, and none of us will live through it. For sloppy

sevenths on a piece of ass? And can you imagine the fucking cops?

They’re already like flies on shit around here!”

“That’s bullshit!” Billy bellowed. “I told her what I was going to

do and I’m gonna do it! This is prime pussy, and that pansy don’t look

so bad to me. If I wasn’t fucked up from spilling my bike the other

day, I’d take him myself. You don’t run this fuckin’ gang, Dodd, I


Dodd sighed as some of the men nodded at Billy’s speech. “Look,

Billy, there’s a bunch of us that don’t want to see the cops or the feds

up close. You’re left handed. Why don’t you arm wrestle him for it?

You’re messed up for a fight, but there’s nothing wrong with your left

arm. Besides, no one has ever beaten you but Bubba, and no one beats

Bubba. We’re getting enough shit from the cops already. It wouldn’t

be good for business.”

Billy looked startled, and then the ends of his lips curled up in a

cruel, wolfish smile. “Fuck that! He said he wants two at once, and I

want the girl. He gets Bubba and Kevin while me and One-Eye take

a rest so’s we have lots of energy for later. Whichever one slams the

pansy’s arm down first gets seconds on the pussy after me. The loser

gets the second blow job.”

Dodd took control quickly. “Deal! Let’s get a table cleared and

some chairs over here.”

Alex jerked his tie down and unbuttoned the top three buttons on

his shirt, giving him access to the throwing knife that always hung

at his back, just below his collar. If things went bad, Billy would find

himself with it buried in his throat. Cuchulain pulled his jacket off

and threw it over a chair backed to the wall and stood, casually rolling

his shirtsleeves, waiting and assessing the crowd for the ones who

could be trouble. Caitlin watched him, her eyes wide and her jaw

hanging slack, oblivious of her naked breasts.

Alex moved his chair across the wall to the table and waited.

Bubba and Kevin brought out chairs and sat down, grinning at

Cuchulain. Bubba had long, shaggy hair and a ragged beard, tangled

with the remnants of the past few days’ meals. He was well over six

feet and enormously fat, probably weighing upward of three hundred

pounds. He put a huge arm on the table, hawked his throat, and spat

a brownish wad of phlegm on Alex’s shirt, just splattering the edge

of his tie. There was a large tattoo on the inside of Bubba’s huge forearm

that spelled out “Eat Shit!” in Old English letters. Kevin was a

bodybuilder, and a big one. He had acne and his hair was sparse, but

steroids had given him enviable bulk.

Alex dropped into the chair and put his upper arms on the table,

with his veined and pulsing forearms vertical and shoulder width

apart. Then he began to focus his energy. He felt his local awareness

fade as he focused his conscious being into a core of energy just

beneath his navel, feeling as if each molecule of his being was rushing

to one central repository, then waiting to be dispatched. The sound of

his breath whistled even louder through his nose.

“Okay,” Dodd said. “Get them lined up, and I’m going to count

to three. On three, go for it.”

Alex was barely aware as Kevin and Bubba lined up. As they each

clasped a hand and bore down with their grip, Cuchulain was only

peripherally aware that he was countering their force. He heard Dodd

at a distance, say, “One, two…” Cuchulain released his energy just

before Dodd said “three,” driving every ounce of his being into his

hands in a single, furious contraction. He felt both their hands collapse,

then yield under his sudden onslaught; the sound of snapping

bones could be heard in the room. Alex slammed both their hands

across his chest to the table and stood, then casually grabbed Bubba

by the front of his hair and smashed his face into the table, twice. It

had taken less than ten seconds. He folded his jacket over his arm.

“I think we will be leaving now, gentlemen,” he said, and turned

toward Caitlin.

“You cheated,” one biker yelled. “You went before three!”

“Sit down, asshole,” Cuchulain said coldly. “You go on three and

I’ll go on six. Then I’ll rip your arm off at the shoulder.”

“Fuck you,” the biker yelled. “Why don’t you just get the hell out

of here?”

Alex nodded and walked swiftly toward Caitlin. The gang was

momentarily stunned by the vision of Kevin and Bubba still at the

table, each holding a mangled hand, moaning softly as the swelling

started and blood began to pool around Bubba’s twitching face.

“Bullshit!” Billy yelled as he stepped in front of Cuchulain, pulling

his fist back. Cuchulain stepped in quickly and used his huge

neck to slam his forehead into Billy’s nose and eyes; he felt nose and

cheekbones collapse and eye sockets crack and crumble an instant

later. The web of his left hand slammed into Billy’s Adam’s apple and

his thumb closed on the carotid artery, shutting off the blood supply

to his brain. Cuchulain drove his right hand deep into Billy’s crotch,

squeezing his penis and testicles through his jeans. He began to rip,

focusing on delivering all the power he could generate. The sound of

denim tearing pierced the silent room.

As Alex felt resistance there collapse, he began to twist as he

squeezed, feeling flesh and tendons ripping and releasing. As Billy

lost consciousness, Cuchulain bent his knees to lower him to the floor,

his head up as he watched the gang. When he stood, he was holding

Billy’s pistol. The snap of the safety being released by Cuchulain’s

right thumb was eerily loud in the room. He worked the slide on the

automatic once, and a cartridge tumbled noisily across the dirty floor.

He turned and reached for Caitlin, looking coldly at the two men

holding her, who stepped back quickly. Cuchulain draped his jacket

over her shoulders and led her to the door. He nodded at Dodd just

before he stepped out and pulled the door closed.
Outside, Cuchulain stepped hard on the inert guard’s neck as

he grabbed Caitlin’s arm and guided her. He engaged the safety on

Billy’s pistol and slid it behind his belt at the small of his back. They

were almost at a run as they left the alley and moved down the street

and around the corner, Cuchulain waving to an approaching cab with

its “on duty” light on. He opened the door and pushed her inside,

almost roughly, then moved in beside her. He gave the cabbie his

home address, then put his arm around Caitlin. She was already shaking,

and her teeth were beginning to chatter.

“Just take it easy,” he said. “It’s over now. We’re going to my


“No, I want to go back to my room. I want to be alone!”

Cuchulain shook his head and turned to her on the ragged seat

“Listen to me, Caitlin. This is the worst possible time for you to be

alone. You could go into shock. Someone has to keep an eye on you,

and that’s going to be me. We’re going to my place.”

“I am in no mood for romance, Cuchulain. Okay?” she chattered.

“I promise,” he said.

They took the elevator to his apartment. It was sparsely but expensively

furnished, with the look of a place done by a decorator and seldom

touched since. The exception was two floor-to-ceiling bookcases

full of volumes and a small desk that held a dual computer setup with

neatly stacked papers around it. A large oil painting on the living

room wall depicted a group of fishermen in a traditional boat, pulling

in nets at sunrise under the shaded mass of Gibraltar. On the stand

beside a reclining reading chair was a worn leather-bound copy of the

Quran with a yellowed ivory bookmark placed partway through.

Cuchulain led her to the couch and said, “I’ll get some blankets

and make some tea. Tea’s good in this situation. Maybe a drink later.”

She wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. “A drink now! A

big drink!”

He walked quickly to the bedroom and came back with two wool

blankets and a towel. He wrapped the blankets around her, tucking

them tight, then smoothed the towel across her lap, pushing a little

dent in the middle. Caitlin seemed a little startled and curious by the

towel, but said nothing.

“I’ll get the drinks,” Alex said.

He came back with two glasses of cognac and the bottle. “Sip

this,” he said, handing her one glass with a light portion of cognac

poured into it. He sat beside her and sipped on his own glass, waiting

for her to give him a hint as to how to distract her from the evening’s

events. Caitlin tipped up her glass and drained it, then shuddered. “Oh,

my God, Alex. I’m still terrified,” she said, shaking. “I’ve never been

that afraid before, or that furious. I’m also sorry I didn’t kick that

asshole in the balls as we walked out! That was just awful! I hate that

those animals exist.”

“They’ve been around since the beginning, Caitlin. Society just

doesn’t let them out that often, at least in this country,” Alex said,

happy she had picked a topic familiar to him. “More of them were

in Nazi Germany, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina lately than elsewhere,

but they’re always around. There’s still a bunch in the Middle


“With all of our technology and power, why can’t we just get rid

of people like that?” Caitlin fumed.

“I’ve thought a lot about that,” Alex said. “I don’t know of a politician,

alive or dead, that could be trusted with the power to accomplish

that, if even we could do it. Politicians are, by my definition,

megalomaniacs to some degree, and most of them care only about

money and votes. Those bikers tonight were one form of villain, but

religious fanatics are worse, because they think they can both interpret

and enforce the word and the will of God—to their personal

benefit, of course. I think we should just kill the leaders of those

sociopaths, one by one. Their followers will disappear with no piper

to follow.”

Caitlin snorted. “I don’t think they know the first thing about

God, or what she thinks!” she said, throwing up suddenly, and barely

catching the foul mass in the towel on her lap.

“Sorry,” she said. “That came from nowhere. Gross!”

Cuchulain held his hands in front of her so she could see them

shaking. “It’s part of the adrenaline depletion. Try to relax and take

your mind away from tonight. It will make things seem more normal,

and you’ll recover faster. It happens to everyone. This is what

happens when you’re scared, and I was scared too.”

He sat for a few seconds sipping his drink, then started to push

the conversation back to something distracting. “I sometimes have

nightmares about Torquemada returning in modern form,” he said.

“People should study the Spanish Inquisition to see what happens

when vast power is granted to religious fanatics. It’s a shame no one

killed him early.”

“So, if you’ve thought about this a lot, what’s the right answer?”she asked, studying him, still shaking.

“Darned if I know,” he chuckled. “I guess if I’ve reached any tentative

conclusion at all, it’s that we should worry about our own country

first, and then the others—and pick off the bad guys’ leaders, one

at a time. Without us the world could once again become a real cesspool—

and quickly. It’s happening slowly anyhow, it seems to me.”

The images of the evening suddenly came back to Caitlin. She

turned quickly to Cuchulain, the blanket falling from her shoulders.

She pulled his jacket around her ripped blouse. “When you came

through that door, I was so proud of you for coming in there to defend

me from those animals, but I knew you were going to be hurt very

badly, if not killed. I don’t even want to think about all of those fucking

vermin above me, humping and pumping, one after the other.

How did you know what to do? Your behavior seemed so bizarre, but

it worked!”

He sat for a second and took another sip of his cognac. “Bizarre

behavior freaks people out and limits what they think they can do.

I stunned them with it until I lucked out enough to find a guy who

knew me a little; my face change helps to create bizarre when I’m


Caitlin sat silent for several moments, wrapping the blanket more

tightly around her shoulders, still shivering. “Yes, you looked like a

fucking snake, and I hate snakes! But how did he know you? Who are

you that he said, and I quote, ‘He is the baddest motherfucker in the

whole world’?”

Alex sat silent for a while, then said, “I was an active marine for

quite a while—eight years, in fact. I told you about it, briefly. I was

good at it. Dodd had been a Navy Seal, and he just knew me, or knew

about me. I have unusually strong hands, as you saw, and that kind of

word gets around.”

She sat thinking for a while longer, as the shivering subsided. She

took the bottle from the table, poured another full glass of cognac,

and drank half of it.

“I thought I was going to be humiliated and debased. I was terrified—

I was consumed with fury! I wanted so badly to kill them, but

had no way to do it. They are such a bunch of worthless pigs! And

then you came in—and I was afraid for you. But I didn’t need to be,

did I Alex? That reptilian little man was afraid of you, wasn’t he? You

had it under control, didn’t you?”

Alex sighed, and said, “No, Caitlin. I didn’t have it under control.

I just worked with what I had, and I got lucky. But thank you

for being afraid for me. It could have gotten very ugly, very quickly.”

“And that little man wasn’t afraid of you?”

“He was wary, not afraid. He had heard about me when he was a

Seal. Because of what he had heard, he believed what I told him, and

didn’t like the odds.”

“Jesus Christ!” she said. “You told him Brooks Elliot and some

horse person would kill them all if they didn’t let us go. And he

believed you! Was it true?”

Alex gave the shrug she had seen before. “Who knows? They

probably would have tried, and I can’t imagine that a bunch of hoods

like that would have stood much of a chance against them. Dodd

knew that.”

“Who the hell are you, Cuchulain? You force your way into my

life, and I think that you’re a nice, good-natured guy with a great

body and a good mind, who happens to own a bunch of my stock.

And God, I was worried you were a fucking wimp! You’re clearly a

lot more than that, and a lot of what you seem to be is disturbing to

me. I didn’t even know that people like you existed; you were like an

animal, and your face got spooky—not that I wasn’t glad to have you

there tonight, but God, you’re not what I thought. You were probably

some kind of killer or something, trained by the government,

and Brooks was probably one too. Again, who the hell are you?”

And how did you get this way? she asked herself.


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