Merry Christmas everyone!  Here’s my present to ya’ll.  Have a go at this chapter from the suspense novel I’m working on, Tough Target.

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Chapter 4

Washington D.C.

Cass Elkins stepped off the private jet and wrinkled her nose at the unmistakable odor of a city. The smell of too many people crammed together like cattle. More like sheep actually, cattle had more spirit. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to be here long. Too much time in a place as populated as D.C. tended to fray her nerves, resulting in attitude that made her normal, less than accommodating personality seem rather pleasant in comparison.  Not that she cared, but anybody unfortunate enough to bother her would.
The sun was dimmer than she was used to, but it was bright enough to make the man standing on the tarmac squint and shade his eyes with his hand. Cass figured him right off for a government employee.  He was wearing one of those nondescript suits with a bland tie, dress shoes, and no hat.  Cass always found it strange how people would rather burn their face and shade their eyes than wear a decent hat. Go figure.
When they were making the arrangements for Cass to travel to Washington, Alan Dobbs had recommended that she wear a suit in order to better blend in the city. She had taken his advice and wore her best black suit. His definition of suit and her definition turned out to be a bit different.  Cass owned a nice, black leather suit coat.  She wore it to church, funerals, weddings and other functions that called for formal attire.  She had a fine, dark gray, button-up shirt which she wore with the top couple of buttons undone so that her necklace could be seen.  She had made the necklace herself, for she rarely if ever found any bought jewelry that she liked.  Most of it was flowers or hearts or something else she didn’t care for.  Around her neck was a plain black leather cord with a beautifully expanded, silver colored, .44 caliber, hollow-point bullet hung on it.  She had recovered the bullet from the ground after she had blown a large diamondback rattlesnake in two with her Eagle.  It was one of a kind.
She appreciated Dobbs sentiment that she should try to fit-in in Washington, but she knew that no matter what she wore she would stand out. Her purposeful stride and confident look marked her as much as the black hat, boots, and dark blue jeans that she wore. 
As she approached the man, Cass could see the subtle bulge under his right shoulder. Cass may have been annoyed that she was going un-heeled, but she was far from helpless.  She had been told to leave her guns at home since handgun possession by private citizens in D.C. was frowned upon if not outright outlawed. No wonder they had such a high murder rate. The only people that bothered to abide by the wishes of the government were law-abiding citizens. The criminals don’t have any problem breaking the law to murder someone. Why should they pay attention to any other laws?
“Looking for me, mister?” asked Cass.
The man looked around questioningly for a moment before replying, “I’m not sure. Are you C. Elkins?”
“I reckon so. Didn’t see anybody else get off the plane. I thought ya’ll were expecting me.”
“Yes. I was just expecting someone, ah, older and more, um, never mind. I’m Justin Wallace and I was instructed to drive you to your hotel.”
Cass laughed mildly and said, “I understand. You weren’t expecting a girl. I’m a bit disappointed, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m used to it.  I wouldn’t expect one either.”
 Wallace didn’t know how to respond so he just pointed to a dark sedan with government plates that was parked nearby and said, “This way.”
The drive from the airstrip to the hotel was relatively uneventful. Cass spent most of the trip looking out the windows at the landmarks. She had been around a fair bit, but this was her first time in D.C. She might not go out of her way to find populated areas, but she always found big cities interesting– for a short time. 
They arrived at the hotel. She checked in and started for her room. Wallace offered to escort her upstairs. “You should be relatively secure here, but D.C. is a dangerous place, especially for a nice young lady by herself.”
Cass just looked at him and grinned.  He was obviously in the dark about her.  Either that or he didn’t believe she was competent.  “I appreciate your concern, Mr. Wallace, but I can take care of myself. If some unsuspecting lowlife mistakes me for a nice young girl, that is to say, a likely victim, he’ll find out that even though I may be young and I might be a girl, I ain’t all that nice.”
“Miss Elkins, I still don’t think it would be wise for you to wander around by yourself.”
Cass didn’t appreciate anyone telling her what to do. “So, you’re gonna protect me then?  What makes you think you can do better?  Are you referring to the gun under your coat?  What is it, a Glock, a Sig?  A forty-five, a nine mill?” asked Cass as she stepped closer to Wallace until she stood within arm’s reach in front of him.  He was beginning to annoy her.  Usually she would have let it pass, being an even-tempered person, but today she had a reason to get a reaction out of him.  She wanted to know more about the whole situation and sometimes the most efficient way to gain info about something was to force a reaction.  Most people showed their true stripes when pushed.  Besides, it had been a long flight and she was spoiling for a confrontation.  She innocently asked Wallace, “Tell me, are you considered to be a well-trained and competent agent?”
Wallace looked indignant and he quickly answered, “Of course I’m competent. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. And I’ll have you know that I carry a Glock 19.”
“I see. Then how come you just let me kill you?”
“What are you talking about?” cried the obviously confused Wallace.
“I’ve been standing close enough to you to kill you half a dozen different ways since we started talking.”
“I let you approach because you are not an enemy or an unknown,” said Wallace defensively.
“That was stupid. You don’t know me. I might not be who a say I am. You obviously didn’t have a description of me back at the airstrip. You wouldn’t have been so surprised. I gotta say, so far you guys ain’t impressing me very much.”
“I am still better armed. I have a gun and you don’t.”
Cass laughed incredulously, “You want me to prove it?  Fine. Go for your gun and see if you can get it out before I can get you.”
“I don’t know,” said Wallace, “We’re in public.”
Cass was beginning to enjoy herself. She continued to goad Wallace.  “Come on. Don’t worry about anybody seeing. There’s no civilians here except me. Come on. You afraid of a girl?  Tell you what, if you’re fast enough, I’ll take your advice. If I win, you quit telling me what I can and can’t do. Deal?”
“Okay, you asked for it. Ready?”
“Whenever you are. You go first.”
They stood facing each other. Cass stood calmly with her arms at her sides, waiting for Wallace to make his move. “I’m waiting,” she drawled.
Suddenly, Wallace tensed and his right arm pulled his jacket back to expose his Glock while his left hand reached for the gun. At least that was what he tried to do. Even though his right arm moved first, as soon as he moved, Cass grabbed his left arm with her right. She had noted earlier that he was left-handed and so she knew which hand to be concerned with.  Meanwhile, her left hand hardened into an arc and accelerated quickly towards Wallace’s exposed throat, stopping only a thousandth of an inch from his neck.
She stood there for a moment. Wallace stood frozen. Staring into his eyes, she could see the fear. That was good.  Somebody once told her that the difference between fear and respect was small enough that one was a good substitute for the other.  He nervously eyed the hand which had stopped a fraction of an inch from crushing his throat.
He croaked, “You win.”
Still grinning maliciously, Cass released him. 
He took a step back and straightened his disheveled suit. “You were just lucky,” he stated with fake bravado, more to himself than anybody. He didn’t want to admit that it had shaken him. She had moved so quickly, without hesitation, and smiled the whole time. He had been in serious situations before, but something he had seen in her blue eyes unsettled him.
“Just keep telling yourself that, if it makes you feel better, bub. Now get along, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Cass turned around to see a short wiry man with close-cropped, graying hair, dressed in a nondescript suit, step out of the shadows and begin clapping slowly. About time.
“Not bad. Not bad. You’re even better in person, Miss Elkins. I can also see why Mr. Dobbs thought you a bit blunt. Do you test everyone you meet this way?”
Cass laughed, “Only when I’ve got an audience.”
“You knew I was here?  I’m impressed. I must be losing my touch.”
“I don’t know about that, mister. I thought you were pretty good. But I’ve always been good at knowing when somebody was around. Comes from living in the boonies I guess. I notice people.”
“Curious,” said the mysterious man. “Let’s go some place more private and we’ll discuss the matter of you working for us. Are you hungry?”
“Always,” said Cass.
“Excellent. We’ll have dinner. Wallace will pick you up in an hour.” 
Cass watched critically as the man casually walked out of the room. His outward appearance had been regular in every way, but to her eye, his walk gave him away. Confident, relaxed, balanced, smooth, a predator amongst the unsuspecting prey. A man to be feared by most and respected by those like him.
Cass wasn’t afraid.
The Christmas Ambush
Twas the night before Christmas
And just so no one gets shot
There’s no front door delivery
And we keep the gates locked
Down the road we go
A few miles and more
To pick up the presents
From Grandma’s back porch
After some coffee
We drank hot and black
We said goodnight
And then we made tracks
It was just about then
On the way home
I heard “Rawhide” playing
So I answered phone
It was my dear mother
On her way home from town
Said she needed some gunners
To chase someone down
Of course we were packing
My brother and I
Not to mention little sister
(Better known as deadeye)
We grinned at each other
Our eyes shining bright
And drove on more slowly
And turned off the lights
Then there it was
Parked at our gate
Some kind of red vehicle
Unknown model and make
We waited for word
From all our kinfolk
Till we had them surrounded
With no place to go
We rolled down the windows
And freed up our guns
Turned on the lights
And moved in as one
There in the headlights
We saw real clear
A big ‘ol red sleigh
And some strange lookin’ deer
I guess that the driver
Was takin’ a break
But all of the sudden
He came right awake
Before we could get out
And ask that old man
Just what he was doin’
‘Round our patch of sand
He started a hollerin’
And callin’ some names
Them deer sure paid attention
When he popped them big reins
It’s a good thing our fence
Ain’t too much higher
‘Cause short as is was
They broke the top wire
Early next morning
Under the tree
There was a roll of barb wire
Addressed to me
“I meant no offense!”
Read the short note
“Here’s for the fence,
That my sleigh broke.”
There were lots of presents
More than we’d ever seen
And so many new guns
We took two days to clean
Now Santa’s list
May seem a bit off
When you look up my family
I’ll bet naughty is crossed off
Now if there’s a lesson
In this story somewhere
It’s next time call our uncle
‘Cause he can cover the air


Although procrastination is known to be one of my virtues,I’ve decided that it is not the biggest threat my writing faces.  Even writer’s block, that classic foe, cannotclaim the title of biggest reason why my writing slows.  No, it is very simple really, myproblem.  It’s called busy.
Don’t take it to mean that I find useless or dull things tooccupy me.  I don’t watch much TV, myPlay Station is covered in dust (and ash, but that’s another story), and the onlything I ever go shopping for is guns.  Ijust have way too many important and interesting things to do.  In a random act of randomness, I have decidedto compile a list of ten of these great distractions.  It is as follows:
  1. Work. Whether the tractor needs driving, greased, or repaired, or maybe the crops need planting/harvesting/plowing/spraying,there is neveran end to the farm work.
  2.  Work[2] If and when there is a break fromfarming*, the cows and the ranching side of the business are happy to fill anyspare time I might find. And always a cowboy’s job security, fencing.  There is always fencing to be done. Alas. 
  3. Martial Arts. When I ignore the work (see above)and pretend I don’t need to be doing it, the next most common demand on my timeis Taekwon-Do. In the off-season, I teach the all-ranks adult class once a weekand I go to (or teach) the advanced/black belt class once a week.  In the on-season, when I am training forWorlds, I add two to three days of training per week. 
  4. Muscle Cars. In a exemplification of insanity, my brother and I have started buyingand restoring cool cars.  We startedhumbly one year ago with a mad-dash midnight trip to Seminole to buy a ’68 Mustang.  That car is almost done (we’re in the laterstages of ‘work the bugs out’).  Ofcourse, instead of stopping there, or even finishing the first project, in theyear since, we have added a .68 GTO, a ’69 GTX, a ’69 Roadrunner, a ’68 Roadrunner,and a ’54 Hudson Hornet to the to-do list. I’m not including the three othercars that we plan to use as parts cars and/or strip down to stunt/racing cars.
  5. Guns.  Bigguns, little guns, and guns in between—but mostly big guns.  I love shooting and I seem to be pretty goodat it.  I go hunting occasionally andspend the rest of the year trying to figure out how to make it harder next time.  I prefer a challenge.  Last time, I used a scoped .500 S&WMagnun revolver and that turned out to be a one-shot hunt anyway.  I’m pondering open-sights and a Desert Eagle.44 Magnum pistol next time.  Cleaningand buying guns takes up plenty of time too. And if that wasn’t enough, I’ve started doing USPSA (United StatesPractical Shooting Association) competitions. 
  6. 6. School.  Two degrees in four years.  Yes, I was crazy.  But I did it. With great pleasure, I hereby remove this distraction from furtherconsideration.
  7. Music.  I sing, play the guitar, play the fiddle, andplay some other instruments (not at the same time, I’m afraid) and all too often,I find myself agreeing to play in a band for some gig or another.  Of course, said gigs are invariably withoutpay and in the rain, the wind, or some other undesirable venue or weather condition.  Oh, I did I mention those weekend jams inratty hotels?  Gotta love those.
  8. Pushing Sand. It fills up the roads and my tires push it around until it gets so bad Ihave to blade the sand out of the way with the maintainer.  It also fills up the house and it needs to bedusted and gotten rid of (I’ve pretty much given up on this, it’s just not feasibleto maintain).  All too often, we get agood, ground-scouring, yankee-ridding, burn-your-eyes, fill-your-nose, andscrape-the-skin-off-your-face, sandstorm. In which case it’s best to stay inside, but there is usually work thatmust be done outside. 
  9. Making Stuff. Lately it has been leatherwork. Making holsters, chaps, dusters, andother good stuff out of leather. Sometimes it is woodworking, jewelry-making, fly-tying, rod-building, andif I kept going we could be here a while.
  10. Staying Alive. Sleeping, eating, and other time-consuming acts that are necessary tothe continued operation of my body. And/or, avoiding water-starved/homicidal cows, not getting run over, notgetting bit by poisonous snakes (or poisonous spiders), not getting eaten bycougars, and otherwise surviving all the dangers that I encounter in myeveryday life.
Whoa, I could keep going. But I won’t. 
Back to it, then! 
*Definition: “Break From Farming” A rare moment when there is no desperate emergency that needs taken care of;  There is lots of work that needs doing, butit can wait at least a day.

Bad Blood,” the newest zombie story is now available for download.  Set in the same post-apocalyptic world as “Gone Green,” it chronicles yet another Z-Day Incident.


Z-Day.  The end of civilization. The beginning of an age where humanity is scattered, decimated, and engaged in nothing but survival in the face of the zombie hoards.  In this post-apocalyptic wasteland,  one family of gunslingers is having fun. 

“Five strands of rusty barbwire, held up by widely spaced cedar posts. Just a cow fence.  Good enough to keep most bovines from trying to get through, and known to tangle up a zombie now and then, but unfortunately, it don’t do much against smarter foes–like people.  I use the term liberally when I’m talkin’ about rustlers.  They ain’t real smart and callin’ them people is a compliment. But they can work a pair of side-cutters and cut a hole in our fence like the one I was staring at.
“Tracks are still fresh,” I heard Hanna say.  “Musta been made since this mornin’ cause the wind howled all night, as usual.” Sliding off her horse, she squatted down for a better look. “Only one set, Will.” She looked out over the sandy desolation in the direction the tracks led and grinned.
That smile wasn’t what most folks would call pleasant.  It was anticipatory, predatory, two hundred odd years of gunslingin’ lead-dealing history rolled up into a short, skinny, red-headed young’un. 
I reckon mine looked about the same.”