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:
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
“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
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
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
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.”
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
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
“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
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
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.”
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.”
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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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