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Authors: Chuck Barrett

Blown

Blown
Chuck Barrett
Reviews Of Chuck Barrett's Previous Books


F
ollowing
last year's
The Toymaker
, Barrett's third Jake Pendleton adventure,
Breach of Power,
has Jake and his partner Francesca Catanzaro settled in with an “off the books” private intelligence firm and the President of the United States needs their help.
Breach of Power
opens the superlatives spigot. Its plot is as fast and solid as anything on the market. The good guys have all the right stuff and the bad guys will bring nightmares…it's guaranteed you will lose sleep with this one.”

—
Lee Scott
,
Florida Times Union,
March 10, 2013


T
he Savannah Project
signals the arrival of a new member to the thriller genre. Chuck Barrett. The tale contains all of the danger, treachery, and action a reader could wish for. The intrigue comes from all directions, slicing and stitching with precision. A worthy debut from an exciting talent.”

—Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author


F
rom the tree
-lined streets of Savannah to the mossy stones of an ancient Irish castle, The Savannah Project weaves a fast moving tale of murder, mystery and suspense. Chuck Barrett has written a winner here. A must-read novel for thriller lovers.”

—William Rawlings, bestselling author of The Mile High Club

"
T
he Toymaker
is a fun
, fast moving thriller with plenty of gadgets and a lot of action."

—
Phillip Margolin
,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Capitol Murder


T
he Savannah Project
is a bona fide suspense thriller. Rife with abundant mystery and intrigue, author Chuck Barrett's standout tale takes the reader on a tortuous path of all-engrossing action and adventure. A highly recommended instant classic.”

—Apex Reviews 


T
he Savannah Project
is an exciting thriller that will prove hard to put down.”

—The Midwest Book Review 

A
taut
, pulse-pounding thriller.”

—ForeWord Clarion Reviews


C
huck Barrett's
The Savannah Project grabs your undivided attention from the very first sentence and does not let you truly exhale until the very last, chilling-to-the core line…”

—Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson/Reader Views

"
T
he Toymaker provides everything
a thriller reader would want. Characters that jump from the page, a deep plot that feels timely and current, and all the action you've come to expect from Mr. Barrett. I found the book a page-turner and as always, filled with tidbits and information that taught me things I did not know. Mr. Barrett's exhausting research shows in every scene, and his pace and plot development held me enthralled from the first page to the last."

—Richard Hale, Author of Near Death and Frozen Past

"
H
aving
read and enjoyed
The Savannah Project
, Chuck Barrett's first novel, I was eager to read more.
The Toymaker
is great! I was captivated by the suspense, the characters, the fast pace, and the plot twists and surprises. I particularly marveled at Barrett's ability to explain and educate about real spy toys on the cutting edge of technology in a way that makes them understandable, without getting in the way of the driving story and thrilling tension."

—Artie Lynnworth—author of Slice the Salami: Tips For Life and Leadership

Also by Chuck Barrett

T
he Savannah Project

The Toymaker

Breach of Power

N
on-Fiction
:

P
ublishing Unchained
: An Off-Beat Guide to

Independent Publishing

B
LOWN
. Copyright ©2015 by Chuck Barrett. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher/copyright owner except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, please contact Switchback Press, [email protected]

B
lown
is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

C
over design
by Mary Fisher Design, LLC,
http://www.maryfisherdesign.com

F
IRST EDITION

ISBN: 978-0-9885061-6-9 (Print)

ISBN: 978-0-9885061-7-6 (Digital eBook)

Library of Congress Control Number:  2015900067

Barrett, Chuck.

Blown / Chuck Barrett

FICTION: Thriller/Suspense/Mystery

Published by Switchback Press

www.switchbackpress.com

ISBN: 978-0-9885061-7-6

For Debi.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

1

N
ew Year's Day

Baalbek, Lebanon

F
our hours
.

That was all the time he had to stalk his prey, kill his target, and leave the country.

There was no fame or recognition for what he was about to do, only right and wrong. He didn't have to justify the targeted killing; it was sanctioned well above his pay grade. The decision had already been made—the world must be purged of this evil.

All that mattered was completing the mission and getting the hell out of there.

If he failed, he did not exist. That's why he was chosen for this clandestine operation.

The moonless night was selected deliberately and the cover of the olive grove offered the assassin an advantage. His orders were unambiguous; the commander's killing must look like a political assassination and not a random killing.

A warning must be sent.

A shot across the bow.

The message to the Sheik must be clear.

Less than one kilometer from the Roman ruins of Baalbek, the apartment home belonged to Commander Hassan Bin Riyad, both a member of the inner circle and younger cousin to Hezbollah Sheik Hakim Omar Khalil or as the Sheik preferred to be called, Çoban.

The assassin's vantage point provided an unobstructed view of the garage next to the commander's apartment building. Equipped with enhanced night vision goggles, he monitored all activities around the building. Camouflaged in full black, with gloves and a balaclava, only his cold brown eyes were visible.

By morning, news of the assassination would have reverberated across the Middle East. Fingers would be pointed. Blame would be placed. The assassin, though, would be hundreds of miles away in Greece.

As a lone set of headlights approached the small apartment building, he crouched even lower behind the tree's twisted trunk. After the car passed, he rushed forward from the olive grove. Always mindful to remain in the driver's blind spot, he waited for the right moment to strike. When the car entered the unlit garage, the killer slipped in behind him.

The commander turned off the engine and opened his door.

The assassin grasped the terrorist by the arm and neck and ripped him from the vehicle.

Hassan Bin Riyad was short, thin, and weaker than expected. A spindly man used to giving orders, not taking them. The dossier said Riyad was a cruel man with an evil intellect and a reputation of a savage military style. He expected defiance and resistance, yet got neither. Instead, the man in front of him seemed somber and resigned.

He placed the Ruger Mark II .22 LR with its integrated suppressor against the commander's forehead and pushed the man to a seated position against the rear tire. He saw shock on the Riyad's face turn to panic as the terrorist stared up the long barrel of the handgun.

When the man's feeble attempts to talk and bribe his way out of death failed, he did something unexpected given his callous reputation.

He began to sob.

2

E
ight Months
Later

Little Rock, Arkansas

H
e was following orders
.

Officially, he wasn't there. Wasn't even in this country.

Gregg Kaplan walked across the street toward the restaurant reflecting on his handler's final instructions,
Disappear until you locate the woman.

The restaurant was exactly where his friend had described, a few blocks south of the Arkansas River and just west of downtown Little Rock on Rebsamen Park Road. From the outside it appeared to be a small building with an unexciting front exposure. In reality, it was not small at all. Like a row house, it was narrow and deep. A striped awning, faded from too many years in the sun, hung from the cracked and weathered façade. Four empty tables with open umbrellas were arranged behind a three-foot high wrought iron fence guarding the street level entrance. Now, on a late August evening, with humidity at eighty-five percent and the temperature still hanging near ninety, it was no wonder all the tables outside were empty.

In the South they were called the
dog days
, that period from July until mid-September when the sultry days were fraught with high temperatures, high humidity, and hot, suffocating breezes. That is, if there was any breeze at all. The
dog days
seemed to last longer now, what with climate change seeming to become a reality. They came sooner and stayed later.

He reached for the doorknob and hesitated. Something inside his gut urged him to run like hell and put Little Rock in his rear view mirror.

But he didn't.

Perhaps his instincts were wrong. They had misled him before, but only when he got too close. He looked up and down the street surveying for any sign that might explain this feeling. Nothing
looked
out of the ordinary in this small corner of Little Rock, it just
felt
wrong. Or, maybe he was just tired. It had been a long day, after all. He entered the restaurant anyway knowing his decision would prove to be uneventful, destiny, or plain old bad luck.

It didn't take him long to figure out which it was.

Within minutes after he set foot inside the restaurant and sat down, he recognized the impending threat. He'd seen similar situations before. Several times. And each time, somebody died.

He should have listened to his gut.

He had no reason to get involved; yet without his help innocent people might die. He possessed the skills and knew he couldn't sit idly by and do nothing. He never could.

Protect and defend
was the oath he took when he joined the Army. And even though it had been decades since he left Special Forces for a career on the civilian side of the government, that oath had become part of his ingrained psyche and he had to get involved.

Even if it meant blowing his cover.

It was the right thing to do.

Kaplan sat at a corner table near the front door allowing him full view of the open-air dining room. Full view of anyone entering or leaving. A force of habit developed from years of specialized training. The same force of habit that compelled him to subconsciously evaluate everyone in the room, assessing each one for potential threats.

Mental programming, courtesy of the United States government.

A finely honed skill infused into an integral part of his everyday life. Every thought process, every observation became a situational analysis. It might seem like a paranoid existence to many, but if truth were told, it had saved his ass on more occasions than he cared to remember.

The Cajun restaurant was divided into two basic sections, the dining room and the bar, separated by a waist-high wooden rail. The dining area had a row of booths against the wall, a row of tables in the middle, and another row of booths along the rail. Every table jammed close together to maximize seating capacity in the long, narrow space.

Dark wooden floors along with the faded cedar paneled walls gave the restaurant its rustic appearance. Pictures of the unique culture of New Orleans, such as Zydeco bands and jazz musicians, flanked each window. Acoustics were loud, voices carried, and the tantalizing aroma of spicy Cajun food filled the air and permeated his clothes.

On initial scan, Kaplan counted twenty-three other patrons, an even two-dozen counting himself. Then there were the hostess, the two overworked waitresses who were both dressed in matching khaki shorts and t-shirts, a bartender, and no telling how many kitchen workers in the back.

Nine couples sat at six different tables. None of them caused him any concern.

To his left was a table with two men, one mid-thirties, in jeans and a sports coat accompanying a silver-haired senior wearing khaki slacks and a dark blue tropical print shirt. To Kaplan's trained eye, he could tell the younger man was probably law enforcement. It wasn't the clothes; he was dressed like many men who had been in their clothes all day. Shirt wrinkled, top button undone, tie pulled loose around his neck, creases in the back of his jacket from sitting in a chair too long.

The
tells
were his body language and grooming. The way he held himself with a calm, confident demeanor, head high, back straight, feet flat on the floor, direct eye contact, and a strong voice. Put together, they screamed
LEO
. Law enforcement officer. It also didn't hurt that Kaplan had grown accustomed to recognizing LEOs over the years, domestic and abroad.

Both men were eating, drinking, engrossed in casual conversation, and seemingly lulled into a false sense of security. They were unaware of what was going on around them.

The older man had the LEO laughing. His features suggested Italian heritage—olive skin, dark sunken eyes, and the nose. When he spoke, the man's right hand was always gesturing, palm turned up, thumb touching his first two fingers, and his wrist moving up and down. Like he was holding a pencil upside down. Kaplan expected the old man to touch his fingers to his lips and say something like
molto buono.
Very good.

The bar was to Kaplan's right, across the dining room from the old man and the LEO, and on an elevated platform perhaps six or eight inches higher than the dining room floor. It was u-shaped with a television suspended above it on the upper corner wall. Behind the bar were mirrors and a counter full of liquor bottles and glasses. Strings of small lights outlined each mirror. A bartender with a white cloth draped over his shoulder stood behind the bar sink washing glasses, drying them, and putting them back on the shelf.

Three men sat at the bar. All about the same age. Fortyish. All overdressed for the weather outside. It was those men who had sounded Kaplan's warning bells, especially the way they continually glanced at the old man and his companion.

Kaplan held the menu in front of him so he could see over the top, closely scrutinizing the men at the bar. They wore black pants, black shoes, and black leather jackets, the kind that could easily conceal a weapon. All three had dark hair, one with too much grease, and they looked Italian. If Kaplan were to paint a picture of stereotypical mob men, these thugs fit the canvas.

From the reflection in the mirror he could see one of them had a prominent scar on his left cheek. Another seemed nervous. They were all sturdy men and probably had Italian names like Vito, Sal, and Nico. They weren't talking, just watching the old man and his companion.

Kaplan's instincts, profiling skills, and training told him the men were trouble and that the Italian man in the tropical print shirt was most likely a target. But Tropical Shirt and the LEO were talking to each other and not paying attention to the impending threat. Assuming, of course, he really was a LEO.

Kaplan was certain he was.

One of the two waitresses, the older one, approached his table and blocked his view of the three Italian men in jackets. Deep lines etched across her face, her dark skin was leathery, and he could tell she was a lifelong heavy smoker before she reached his table by the yellow circles under her hollow eyes. When she spoke, her raspy voice and the smell of smoke in her clothes confirmed his suspicions.

"What would you like to drink, honey?"

"Water. Half ice. No lemon."

He feigned a smile and leaned to one side to see around her. Tropical Shirt raised his arm to signal his waitress. The young, college-aged waitress walked over to Tropical Shirt's table. Kaplan overheard the old man ask for the check and her phone number. The young waitress handled Tropical Shirt as if she'd done it dozens of times. She smiled, shook her finger at him as if playfully scolding, and said something Kaplan couldn't hear. Whatever it was made both men laugh.

At that moment, he saw one of the Italian thugs nod and all three men reach a hand inside their jackets. A bulge in Scarface's jacket revealed the outline of a handgun. Kaplan was right. This was a takedown and the old man in the tropical print shirt was the only logical target.

As he watched the scene unfold before his eyes, he knew staying off the grid was no longer an option and blowback from tonight's events might very well drag him back on the radar, something he desperately wanted to avoid.

Kaplan felt a tingle shoot down his spine.
It's happening now
.

There wasn't enough time to make anything more than a cursory initial assessment and now he must engage based on gut instinct.

By the time the Italians turned around and pulled their weapons from underneath their jackets, Kaplan had already pushed his waitress to the floor and charged Tropical Shirt's table. If Tropical Shirt's companion was indeed a LEO he might perceive Kaplan as the threat, not the men across the room, and open fire on Kaplan. A risk he had to take.

In his peripheral vision he saw the Italians raise their weapons. He was cutting it close. He dove at the space between the young waitress and the old man, snagged one with each arm, and bulldozed them toward the floor.

Bullets flew before they hit the hardwood floor. Kaplan managed a glance at Tropical Shirt's companion. The man had already pulled his weapon, a standard law enforcement issue Glock, and taken a firing stance toward the Italian thugs. Attached to his belt was a badge.

Kaplan was right—a LEO.

Within seconds, the dining room erupted in pandemonium. Patrons screamed. Some ran for exits while others ducked behind tables and chairs. Although the Italians paid no attention to them, three were still mowed down in the crossfire. The thugs' true quarry was lying on the floor and Kaplan was on top of him. The old man was smaller than Kaplan, perhaps five-ten, a hundred-eighty pounds with some extra padding in the middle. He was in good shape for a man his age but a little soft. Probably spent most of his day behind a desk.

Kaplan flipped a table on its side and instructed the young waitress to lie face down on the floor. "Cover your head with your hands, turn away from the gunfire, and don't move until I tell you it's safe."

She nodded.

He flipped over another table and shoved Tropical Shirt behind it. "Is this about you?"

Tropical Shirt hesitated. His hands were trembling. Finally, he gave Kaplan a nod.

"Stay down and out of sight," Kaplan said. "I'll deal with you later… if we get out of here alive."

"Who are you?" Tropical Shirt asked.

"The guy who is trying to save your ass. Now stay down and shut up."

Bullets pierced the side of the table. Kaplan ducked, instinctively aware of all the firearms in the room and from which direction they were being fired. In the LEO's hand, a Glock. Across the room, the unmistakable muzzle blasts of two Smith and Wesson M & P .45 caliber handguns and what sounded like a Beretta Px4 Storm .45—just like the one locked under the seat of his black Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. What he wouldn't give to have it in his hand right now. Instead, all he had was the pocketknife hidden inside the customized pouch in his boot. He didn't like traveling on his motorcycle without locking his handguns under his seat. Too much explaining in the event he got pulled over and searched. A lesson he'd learned the hard way on one of his yearly pilgrimages to Sturgis, South Dakota.

Long shot odds—three against one. How long could the lone LEO hold off the assault?

Then he heard one Italian grunt followed by the distinct clunking sound of the man's gun bouncing across the floor. It stopped halfway between Kaplan and the LEO but remained within the line of fire of the remaining Italians, both of whom had taken refuge behind the bar. When he looked up, the dead Italian's body was draped over the wooden rail.

Gunfire filled the air with its burning stench as round after round fired across the restaurant. Windows shattered. Glass rained down on the floor. Injured patrons moaned. With every gunshot, a hysterical woman screamed. He heard another woman chanting a prayer and two others crying. A cloud of smoke coalesced with clean air by the slow moving ceiling fans.

After a momentary pause, the LEO and two Italian thugs resumed volleys of gunfire.

Two against one.

Better odds than before.

The LEO ducked behind his overturned table and glanced at the gun and then at Kaplan. He was noticeably unsure how Kaplan fit into the scenario. Kaplan understood the man's dilemma and gave him as much of a reassuring
I'm-on-your-side
kind of look as he could.

Maybe it was intuition, instinct, or sheer desperation but the LEO nodded. He held up three fingers and Kaplan readied himself to make his move. The LEO counted down with his fingers and at the balled fist he raised and fired. Kaplan sprang from his crouched position and dove toward the gun, grasping it in one smooth motion as he rolled into position next to the LEO. Both men ducked as another volley of gunfire emanated from the Italians.

"Who are you?" Asked the LEO.

"Someone in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Bullshit. You knew something was going down before I did. I want to know how."

Kaplan didn't want to answer questions. No one was supposed to know who he was, what he was, or that he was even here. "Look, I only stopped to get a bite to eat. I was just passing through. Maybe it was my Special Forces training. I don't trust anybody so it doesn't matter
how
I knew, what matters is we don't end up dead."

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