Think “Lee Child’s Jack Reacher meets David Baldacci’s John Puller… on steroids.”
There’s a new special-ops hero in town
and he has it all —
brawn, brains, looks, cool —
and his own deadly brand of violence.
He’s Alejandro Mohammed “Cooch” Cuchalain and he’s out to get the bad guys in this
action-packed national security thriller.
by Robert Cook
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.
5-star praise for Cooch:
Fabulous fast-paced action!
“…a great addition to my collection of government action thrillers…the story will hook you…”
Cooch is a kick!
“…a refreshing new look at a smart, calculating, good looking, and, yes—deadly hero who defends the United States against any and all bad guys. And he does it before they know what hit them!…Lots of action and lots of fun!”
an excerpt from
by Robert Cook
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. Caitlin said, “This is disgusting. I’m done proving whatever I was proving to myself. I’m going to the ladies room. I’ll see you outside.”
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 and 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; that 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 face.
“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 again.”
Alex said loudly, “I don’t think so. That would be really 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 very 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 that 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’s eyes. 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’s Seals was tattooed on the inner arm, starting to fade, but unmistakable.
“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, Okay?”
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 and said. “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 had swollen 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’ 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.”
Dodd said, “I’m tempted. 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 dead.”
“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.
He said softly to Cuchulain, “Okay, I’m in. 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,” Dodd said. “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 that 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.
Dodd said, “Our lives won’t be worth a shit if we don’t let him and her go. 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!”
Billy bellowed, “That’s bullshit! 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 do!”
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,” he said. “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!” he said. “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 upwards 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 the 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.
Dodd said, “Okay. 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 that 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 place.”
“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 that 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 that 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 East.”
“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 that 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 that she could see them shaking. “It’s part of the adrenaline depletion,” he said. “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 said.
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 that you were going to be hurt very badly, if not killed,” she said. “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 excited.”
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 awhile, 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 and poured another full glass of cognac and drank half of it. “I thought that 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?” Caitlin said. “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?” she said.
“He was wary, not afraid,” Alex said. “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 that 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 that 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 really 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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