Thursday, March 31, 2011

New On The REVIEWS Page

Don Gates, author of the upcoming Challenger Storm: The Isle of Blood and just all round nice guy was good enough to write a review of DILLON AND THE VOICE OF ODIN that he posted up on Amazon.com.  Now you could go there to read it or you could just go to the Reviews page here .  And for more information about Don and his epic pulp hero Challenger Storm, check out the Challenger Storm Facebook page

Monday, March 28, 2011

CHAPTER FIVE


B.I.T.E. maintained an impressive array of vehicles that were indispensable in the work of protecting British citizens and interests against various domestic and foreign threats, but Colonel Alvin Thompson’s favorite had to be the long, midnight black eleven-car train he and his men were currently using.  The train contained complete sleeping quarters for the sixty members of B.I.T.E., a full kitchen and dining car, electronics and forensics laboratories, a medical car that was as well-equipped as the emergency room of any major metropolitan hospital, two weapons cars that were stuffed with a truly amazing and lethal variety of destructive hardware, and a communications car that could put Thompson in touch with any location in the world that he wished to speak with in a matter of three seconds flat.

            Thompson stood near the still smoking ruin of the observation car that had been destroyed by a grenade some hours before.  The report of a passenger train being attacked by a helicopter had sounded exactly like the sort of business Dillon would be involved in, and Thompson had lost no time in getting out to the scene where he was greeted by hysteria, disgruntled and babbling passengers, and out-and-out pandemonium.  It had taken Thompson nearly five hours to get everybody and everything sorted out, and his technical boys had gone over the train at least twice from one end to the other.  Thompson himself had searched the sleeping car Dillon had slept in, finding nothing at all.  But then again, he hadn’t really expected to.

            It was the girl’s place in all this that puzzled him.  Exactly why was Dillon dragging her around with him?  Maybe he’d talked her into selling out Lady Thelma?  Could she be working for Dillon?  Thompson tended to doubt that.  Nothing in her background indicated anything of that sort.

            Lt. Hastings approached.  One of Thompson’s trusted aides; they’d worked together for about seven years now.  With his severe crew cut and square wire-framed glasses, coupled with his long, serious face, he always reminded Thompson of a young Michael Caine.

            “We’ve finished with the train, Colonel.  There’s nothing more we can learn here.  As for the passengers… quite frankly, sir, I’m tired of hearing their complaints.”

            “Have some compassion, Hastings.  You’re used to having your sleep interrupted by bullets flying all round the place.  Some of these people won’t be able to have a good night’s sleep for months.”

            “Still and all, sir, you’d think that somebody would be able to give a reasonable description of what happened here!  We’ve got bodies, spent shells, the burned out husk of a car that was blown up with what we’re pretty sure was a grenade, but nobody can tell us anything of any importance!”

            “The only thing of importance that we need to know is that Dillon was here.  I’ve got accurate descriptions from a couple of the conductors and a young lady Dillon fell on.”

“Beg pardon, sir?”

            “Never mind.  Now, where’s that map of the area?”

            Hastings passed over a mapboard, a computer about the size and shape of an ordinary kitchen cutting board.  The mapboard could display maps of just about anywhere in the world with simple verbal instructions or by tapping the touch sensitive iconic display panel.  Thompson and Hastings walked back to the last car of the B.I.T.E. train, Thompson’s private command car.

            “There’s quite a few small towns and hamlets in the general area, I see,” Thompson mused, sitting down heavily in a high-backed swivel leather chair.  “Dillon might have headed for any one of them.”

            “You think that’s just what he’s done, sir?”

            “If I had an untold number of hired guns after me, I’d find someplace I could eat, rest up and get in touch with one of my mates to make arrangements to get me the hell out of the country.  Dillon’s done just that, I’ll warrant.”

            A phone on the desk rang and Thompson motioned for Hastings to answer it.  Thompson knew it was Gregory Tipp calling.  The phone was a private line between them.  Hastings said little, did a lot of ‘yes, sirs’, and hung up.

            “Mr. Tipp requests that you wait here for him, sir.  He’s flying out himself to join us.  Said he couldn’t sit in the office while you were haring around the country having all the fun.  Said he wanted to be right there when we lay our hands on this chap.”

            Thompson nodded.  “Round up the lads.  I want them in civilian clothes and I want them to start canvassing the towns in the area.  We’ve got how many vans on the train?”

            “Seven, sir.”

            “I want you in charge of transporting our lads.  Spread them out and let’s see what they can find out on foot.”





            “Aren’t you going to do anything else besides stare at those old swords?” Kris asked sourly.

            Dillon was standing with his hands folded behind his back, looking at the collection of blades hanging on the wall.  “These aren’t just any old swords.  What you’re looking at here are Montoya swords, handcrafted by Inigo Montoya, one of the greatest swordsmen who ever lived.  His father was a great sword maker and his son Inigo followed in his father’s art.  I believe he lived in the early 16th Century…”

            Dillon and Kris had been brought to Numby Manor, a spectacularly large and sprawling castle that stood on a hill some fifteen miles outside of Numby Dell.  Chew Mi and her cyborg guards had not spoken during the drive to Numby Manor and upon arriving, Dillon and Kris had been escorted through corridors as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel, adorned with rich tapestries and priceless portraits some eight to ten feet high.  Although the castle was obviously centuries old, it had been retrofitted with modern touches, such as the computerized locks on many of the doors.  Chew Mi had ordered them to wait in this room, which seemed to be some sort of guest reception chamber.

            Dillon noticed men and women walking the corridors wearing simple, dark brown jumpsuits with the Numby family crest on the shoulders.  Many were carrying laptops or smaller computer devices.  Whatever this Doctor Aristotle Numby was into, it took a hell of a lot of scientific staff and security.

            “What will it take for you to realize the danger we’re in?”  Kris demanded.

            “I know exactly how much danger we’re in.”  Dillon was walking around the room, examining the portraits, the Indian and Spanish vases resting on five-foot high pedestals of smoky Carrera marble.  “It’s a source of great worry to me.”

            “You have a gun!  You could have put up a fight back there in the tavern!”

            “There were a lot of innocent people back there who don’t have a blessed thing to do with my problems.  I could’ve gotten us out of there, sure.  And more than likely, somebody who didn’t deserve it would have gotten killed.”

            “And this is better?  We have no chance of getting out of here!”

            Dillon turned sparkling copper eyes on her.  “I don’t know about you, but I always have a chance.”

            The doors suddenly opened and Chew Mi swept in with two of the cyborg guards escorting Dr. Aristotle Numby.

            He was a well built man of average height with curly red hair and small, twinkling green eyes that never stayed on one object or person for long, but constantly roved back and forth, here and there, hither and thither.  He grinned amiably at Dillon and walked over to shake hands with him.

            “Delighted to have you here, fellow!  Simply delighted!”  Numby’s accent was odd.  Dillon was good at placing regional accents, but Numby’s seemed to be a curious blend of Scottish and Hungarian, of all things.  “You can’t imagine how happy I was when I learned you were visiting Numby Dell.  Really excellent stroke of luck all the way round!”

            “For who, exactly?”

            “Why for me, of course.  Have you been treated well?”

            “So far.”

            “Is there anything I can do to make things more comfortable?”

            “Two first class airplane tickets to the States would be nice.”

            Numby threw back his head and laughed, a trill, high laugh.  “I’ve heard tell that you possess a delightful sense of humor, my friend.  I can see that it was not an untruth.”

            “So glad I can provide you with an amusing moment.  Helps to break up the monotony of both our days.  Now how about those plane tickets?”

            Numby’s laughter subsided and he waved to a comfortable couch nearby.  “Well, that’s something we need to talk about, my friend.  Has Chew Mi offered you and your lovely companion any refreshments?”

            “No, she hasn’t.”

            Numby fixed the diminutive Asian girl with a mock glare of reproach.  “Chew Mi!  You mean you didn’t offer Dillon and--Miss Quinlan, isn’t it?--so much as a drink?”

            Chew Mi shrugged carelessly, tapping her swagger stick against her knee. 

            “What can I offer you?” Numby asked.

            “Whatever you’re having,” Dillon said.  “I don’t think we’re in a position to be choosy.”

            “Indeed not . . . indeed not.  Chew Mi, the best champagne our cellar has to offer for our guests.  Please sit while I explain what is to happen.”

            “Dr. Numby, what say I give you the ring right now in exchange for letting us go?” Dillon asked abruptly.  Kris looked at him in surprise.  Giving up the ring was the last thing she had expected him to offer, considering all the trouble he’d gone through to hold onto it.

            Numby shrugged.  “What ring?”
           
“Aren’t you holding us for Odin?”

            “I certainly am, but I know nothing about any ring, and I don’t much care for jewelry.”

            “Then why—?”

            “Odin has placed a bounty of considerable value on you, my friend.  He wants you alive and he’s offering quite a bit of money to anybody who can deliver you to him.”

            Dillon waved a hand around in the air to take in the opulent room and the castle beyond.  “It doesn’t look like you’re hurting for money in any sort of way.  I find it hard to believe that six million would make that much of a difference to a man with your obvious wealth.”

            Chew Mi handed them tall crystal flutes of sparkling Waller champagne as Dr. Numby crossed his legs and continued to speak.  Kris sat next to Dillon, holding her glass in both hands.  It was the best way to keep them from visibly shaking.

            “Now that’s where you’re wrong.  You see, my area of scientific research is quite expensive.  I have a personal fortune, yes, which I keep separate from the funds I use to further my work.”

            “Which is?”

            “Genetic enhancements, sir!  Surely you’ve noticed Chew Mi’s security force?  Cyborgs, sir.  Cyborgs that I provide to several organizations and government agencies in return for a sizeable price I pour directly into even more research involving genetic enhancements.  The ten million that Odin is offering for you is nothing to sneeze at.”

            “Ten?  I thought it was six.”

            Numby winked at Dillon.  “If the grapevine is to be believed, Odin is quite upset with you, young man.  You appear to have disrupted some private timetable of his.  Accordingly, he has… raised the ante, let us say.”

            “I seem to be making quite a lot of people mad at me these days.”  Dillon finished off his champagne and stood up.  “So what’s going to happen now?”

            “Well, I shall now turn you over to the gentle ministrations of Chew Mi who has an excellent place where you shall be kept until Odin’s representatives have arrived.  And as for Miss Quinlan . . . well, I’m certain I can think of things to keep her occupied.”





            Dillon was flanked by three of the cyborgs as the elevator dropped deeper into the earth under the castle.  Naturally, the bag with his weapons and survival gear had been taken from him, and in addition, the cyborgs had searched him most carefully.  Dillon had put up token resistance to test their strength and quickly gave up the idea of trying to outfight them.  The cyborgs were easily able to outmatch him in sheer muscle, and he was willing to bet they were pretty fast as well.  No, getting out of this was going to take more than using his mouth or his fists.  And he had Kris to worry about.  Better to let Chew Mi throw him in whatever holding cell she had waiting for him.  Dillon hadn’t yet seen a prison or jail cell that could hold him.

            His mind raced, weighing options, running through various plans; discarding this one, evaluating that one…

            Chew Mi suddenly spoke, looking up at her captive in quiet, amused contempt.  Dillon easily towered head and shoulders over her, but it didn’t seem to intimidate her one little bit.  “You know, Dillon, I thought you’d be tougher.  You certainly haven’t lived up to the formidable reputation you enjoy.”

            “Stick around.  I haven’t gotten warmed up yet.”

            “You make light of all the dangerous situations you find yourself in?”

            “No.  I make light of the ridiculous situations I find myself in.  Such as the present one where I find myself being held captive by a little girl who likes to dress up like a bad guy out of a G.I. JOE cartoon and the poorest excuse for a mad scientist I’ve seen in quite a while.  Just what is the deal with you two, anyway?”

            “Dr. Numby is engaged in a quest to control the very building blocks of life itself.  A power like that can change the very course of human destiny.”

            “You even talk like a cartoon character.  Amazing.”

            The elevator smoothly hissed to a stop and the doors whooshed open.  Dillon was shoved into a long corridor.  He was seized by the arms and hustled into a circular metal room whose lone unusual feature was a large, round metal hatch in the stone floor.  Dillon was held tightly by two of the cyborgs as the third unsealed the hatch and yanked it open with one hand.

            The sound of rushing water was suddenly very loud in the metal room.

            Chew Mi whacked her swagger stick against one highly polished boot and spoke loudly to be heard over the water.  “I understand you have something of a reputation as an escape artist.  I can’t chance placing you in a conventional cell since you’d be out in no time, causing havoc.  But I think that what you will find in the Fishbowl will keep you sufficiently occupied so that you won’t have time to make mischief for me or Dr. Numby.”

Dillon looked down into the open hatch and saw only intergalactic blackness.  “You’re going to put me down there?”

            Chew Mi nodded once with satisfaction.  “Pitch him in, boys.”

            The cyborgs lifted Dillon bodily and tossed him head first through the open hatch.  Chew Mi bent over, a gloved hand cupped behind an ear, listening.  Fifteen seconds went by.  Thirty seconds.

            She heard the splash and grinned widely.  “Close the hatch.”




            Kris Quinlan had planned exactly what she was going to say.  She would simply explain to Dr. Numby that she was most definitely not a part of Dillon’s insanity.  In fact, she was the victim, if anything.  She was sure that being the proper English gentleman that he was, Dr. Numby would act accordingly, see that she was blameless, and allow her to go on her way once she told him the truth of her being in Dillon’s company.

            Inside Dr. Numby’s comfortable den, she felt reassured by the roaring fireplace which was large enough to roast an entire ox with room left over for a pair of sheep and a couple of chickens, the life-sized portraits of the Numby ancestors, and the ornate decorations in the wall sconces.  Numby seemed to have a thing for collecting relics, she noticed, since every room she’d been in so far had boasted rare and valuable knick-knacks from nearly every country in the world.

            She’d been taken to a restroom as large as her entire suite of rooms back at Lady Thelma’s estate and allowed to freshen up before being brought to Dr. Numby’s den to await his pleasure.  Kris turned as the door opened and Dr. Numby entered, taking off a white lab coat and throwing it carelessly over the back of a chair.

            “I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting, my dear, but I have half a dozen critical experiments all going at the same time and I must be kept abreast of their progress.  But that’s enough of me.”  Numby motioned for her to sit down.  “You’ve had quite the ordeal, my dear.  Kidnapped by a lunatic.  Dragged halfway across England.  Shot at repeatedly.  Quite an adventure, I should say.”

            “Hardly an adventure, Dr. Numby.  More of a nightmare, I assure you.  I hope you’ll allow me my chance to explain to you exactly how I became involved in this affair against my will.”

            “Oh, dear lady, I’m convinced of your innocence!  Dillon is nefarious for his criminal activities in many parts of the world.  I’m sure that after some meaningful dialog on your part we can sort this entire nasty affair out.”

            Kris felt her spirits rise when Numby first spoke, but that last part had a somewhat ominous hint of darkness behind it.  Kris smiled nervously.  “Why, whatever do you mean by that, Dr. Numby?”

            “While it is true that Dillon’s only value to me is the fact that Odin is willing to pay ten million in gold for him, my natural scientific curiosity cannot help but wonder what it is that Dillon has that would allow Odin to place such a high value on him.”

Numby smiled amiably, like a favored uncle about to allow his niece to stay up past her bedtime.  “Perhaps it might even be something that I could use to increase the price Odin is willing to pay?  After all, if he’s raised it from six million to ten, might he not raise it further?  Maybe from ten to twenty?  Maybe even thirty?”

            “Dr. Numby, Dillon is in possession of a ring that Odin wants desperately.  That’s all I know.  I swear.”

            Numby’s smile faded a bit as his eyes narrowed, and became chilly.  “Do you expect me to believe that?  Dillon blathered on about some ring earlier, as I recall.  Why should I believe such an obvious and transparent lie; a fabrication meant to divert my attention from Dillon’s true worth to Odin?”

            “Dr. Numby, if I could make up something more plausible that you would believe, I would do so happily.  But I can’t.  I’m too afraid to lie.  Odin wants a ring that Dillon stole from a ship two days ago… you heard of the ship that blew up back in—”

            “Enough.”  Numby waved a hand in dismissive impatience.  “I am an extremely busy man and don’t have time for these games.  Odin’s representative will be here shortly and Dillon must be alive and well in order for me to collect the bounty.  However, there is no bounty for you and therefore I feel no constraint whatsoever to keep you alive and well.”

            Kris suddenly found herself unable to control her shaking as the full impact of Dr. Numby’s words struck her fear-choked brain.

            “I am very much afraid that unless you tell me what this is all about… very unpleasant things indeed are about to happen to you, young lady.”


And Now, Behind The Scenes: "Dillon And The Bad Ass Belt Buckle"

With the impending publication of FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON coming soon (How soon?  Real soon.) I thought it might be a good idea to let you know what stories are in the book and a little bit about how and why they came to be written.  So for the next four Mondays you can look forward to these short essays that I hope will be entertaining and informative enough to justify the time you put in reading them.

DILLON AND THE BAD ASS BELT BUCKLE was inspired by a drawing that you can find on the FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON page.  I was both intrigued and amused by the drawing and the more I looked at it, the more intrigued and amused I got.  To the degree that I challenged myself to see if I could write a story where that scene actually took place.  And have it make total sense that Dillon would find himself in such a situation.

It also enabled me to write another adventure with Eli Creed partnered up with Dillon.  His previous appearances were very popular with readers who asked for more stories with the two of them, especially as I made reference to them having worked as a team for a time before Eli decided to retire.  A retirement he cheerfully breaks whenever Dillon needs his assistance. 

I introduced a couple of other characters in this story, the Academy Award winning actress Jenise Casile and the apish Kudro Mayoka.  I wanted Dillon to have a cast of characters I could rotate when needed and who would be his ‘supporting cast’.  Jenise and Kudro will be making a re-appearance in DILLON AND THE ANIMATED SERIES which I plan to write later on this year. 

What else can I tell you about the story?  It was a lot of fun to write.  Not that writing Dillon stories aren’t a lot of fun usually.  But this one didn’t have the fate of the world and the lives of millions in the balance.  It’s just a cool adventure story set in the jungle with what I think is some really nice character moments, especially the ones between Dillon and Kudro Mayoka.  Kudro’s a character who gets under Dillon’s skin and it’s a change to see Dillon in a situation where all the other characters are in charge and know what’s going on and he’s more or less reacting to what they’re doing and not reacting well.




Monday, March 21, 2011

CHAPTER FOUR

The pickup truck lumbered into the gas station with a rusty wheeze and clattered to a stop.  Dillon opened the passenger door and climbed out, offering his hand to Kris.  The Pakistani driver of the truck said something in his own language that made Dillon roar with laughter.  They exchanged a few more words in the driver’s native tongue before Dillon pressed money into the man’s hand.  He slammed the door shut and the truck grumbled on its way down the road.

            Kris looked in dismay at the gas station.  Small enough to fit into a hip pocket, with two lone pumps, it looked as if it were being held together by the ancient dirt and grease that seemed to coat everything here.  Kris looked down at herself.  Two hundred dollar shoes, a five hundred dollar dress, a three hundred dollar hair job, and all absolutely ruined in just two days.  She looked a total wreck and felt it.  They had tramped through pitch black woods most of the night until at last coming to a road where Dillon flagged down a ride and then spent four uncomfortable hours riding in a rusty truck that smelled like a barnyard.

            Kris fixed Dillon with a hot, hateful look.  “I have had quite enough.  I demand that we part company as soon as possible.”

            Dillon yawned and stretched like a huge lynx.  Joints and muscles popped and cracked, making him sound like a huge rice krispy.  “Fine.  There’s the road.  Have a nice life.”

            “I wish to be taken to a place of safety first!”

            “You want this; you want that; what are you so twisted about?”

            “You nearly got me killed last night!”

            Dillon shrugged, reached around to scratch under his right armpit.  “I admit; my plan didn’t work out the way I’d hoped.”

            “Do any of your plans go the way you hope!?  In the two days I’ve known you, nothing you’ve planned has gone right!  It’s a total mystery to me how you’ve managed to gain the supposedly sterling reputation you enjoy!”

            “I must be doing something right or we wouldn’t be standing here having this delightful conversation, now would we?  And since you wanna play ‘point the finger’, if you hadn’t called Lady Thelma and told her where we were, that train wouldn’t have been attacked.”  Dillon had dropped his bantering, joking tone and his voice was pure ice.  “If anybody’s responsible for anything that happened back at that train, it’s you.”

            Kris looked at Dillon silently for a minute, her large eyes guilty and nervous.  “You know I called her.  How could you know that?”

            “Do I have imbecile written on my face, or what?  Who do you think you’re dealing with?  Trust me when I say I know everything you said to Lady Thelma.  I was beginning to think you understood this situation we’re in and maybe you were starting to trust me a little.  I’ll be sure to know better from here on out.”

            Kris bit her lower lip, all the fight gone out of her.  “I… I was confused and scared—”

            “Save your sidewalk act for the innocents back at the train who were hurt and maybe even killed.”

            “I said I was sorry!  What else can I do?”

            Dillon said nothing.  He turned away and walked inside the gas station.  A lean, mournful looking youth sat on the counter, reading a Michael Moorcock paperback.  He barely gave Dillon a glance as he walked over.

            “’Morning, young man.  You got any local maps?”

            The youth jerked his peach-fuzzed chin at a spinner rack near the pay phone.  Dillon walked over and began looking for a local map of the area while taking out his cell phone.  He dialed Lavimore Watson’s number.  Kris had followed Dillon inside and she walked over to the large wall cooler, looking for something cold to drink.  The youth’s eyes freely roved over her as she looked for an iced tea.  Even looking like a wreck, Kris was a helluva sexy looking wreck.

            On the seventh ring, Watson answered.  “Hartin Restorations.”

            “It’s me, Watson.  What’s going on?”

            “What in God’s name have you been doing?”

            “Trying to stay alive, mostly.  What the hell’s wrong with you?”

            “Dillon, I can’t talk to you anymore after this.  That train attack was all over the news.  MI6 has put B.I.T.E. on your trail and they’ve been tearing up the town looking for you.  I’ve just gotten home after a four-hour grilling.  They know we’ve got history and they made it clear that they want you in the worst way.”

            “This doesn’t sound good at all, bro.”

            “Where are you?”

            “I don’t have the slightest idea.  I had to put as much distance between the bad guys and me as I could.  I’m trying to figure out where I am right now, so I can get the hell outta this country before somebody puts a bullet in my ass.”

            “The girl still with you?”

            Dillon was watching Kris read the ingredients on two different brands of iced tea with the intensity of a bomb squad trainee attempting a first time disarming of a nuclear device.  “Unfortunately, yes.  Look, I need a pilot to fly me out of here and there’s no way I can go near my usual contacts.  Do you know anybody?”

            “I’ve got a guy I use for emergencies.  He’s got to come from Austria so he’s going to charge plenty.”

            “I don’t give a monkey’s maybe what he charges.  You set it up.  Here’s how we’ll do it.  You get hold of him; tell him to fly to England.  Be here as soon as he can.  I’m going to call you back in four hours and you tell me where he wants me to meet him.  I’ll make my way to wherever he wants but he’s got to fly me to Africa.  I’ll pay for everything; he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

            “He’ll fly you to friggin’ Oz if I say so, don’t worry about that.  You just take care, man.  B.I.T.E. is no joke.  And ditch that damn girl!  She’s nothing but a magnet for trouble.  And make damn sure the next time you call me is the last time—”

            Dillon cut off Watson and stowed the phone away in a jacket pocket.  Considering that it was Watson who had gotten him into this mess, Dillon couldn’t understand what he was so upset about.  Hell, it wasn’t as if he had hoards of bloodthirsty killers chasing him.  He unfolded the map as he walked over to the where the youth sat.

“What’s the nearest town, young man?”

            “Numby Dell.  ‘Bout three, four mile walk up the road.”

            Kris paid for her iced tea.  “I don’t suppose you’d have a car we could hire?”

            “Sorry, miss, me old man’s got the wheels t’day.  Took th’ day off on a personal holiday, y’know?”  The boy waved his paperback to take in the gas station’s dismal interior.  “That’s why I’m stuck in here.”

            “That’s okay, son,” Dillon said.  “It’s a nice morning and we don’t mind the walk.”

            As they left the gas station and began their hike, Kris handed Dillon a bottle of orange juice.  “Here’s breakfast.  Hope you appreciate it.”

            “Why, thank you, Kris.”  Dillon opened the bottle and drank half of it in one long gulp.  “That’ll do until we reach Numby Dell.  A nice three-mile hike in the morning is just the thing to work up an appetite.  By the time we get there, we’ll be hungry as New York sewer rats.”

            “I’m hungry now,” Kris complained.  “Whom were you talking to on your phone?”

            “A friend in London.  I’ve got to make plans to get out of Europe altogether.  I’ve got B.I.T.E. after me.”

            Kris’s eyes opened wide.  “Oh, dear… you do have a problem, don’t you?  Is there anybody you don’t have chasing you?”

            Dillon gave her an unpleasant look.  “Thanks a lot.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I feel some sort of obligation to keep you from getting your cute little ass shot to pieces, I’d probably be sitting on a beach in the Bahamas right now instead of running from British Intelligence’s best gunslingers.”

            From the gas station, the boy watched them walk down the road.  It was obvious from their gestures and body language that they were arguing, although the boy couldn’t imagine that he would have anything to argue about with a bird that looked that good.  He pulled a cell phone from his pocket and tapped in a number.  When it was answered, he spoke rapidly, giving an amazingly accurate description of both Dillon and Kris.  He put the phone away and returned to sitting on the counter and reading his book.


***


            Numby Dell was a town filled with quaint shops, small, cozy houses and many narrow, cobbled streets.  Dillon expected Julie Andrews to come gaily tripping down the street singing loud enough to make his ears bleed.  He noticed that most of the cars seemed to be of makes and models fourteen or fifteen years old.  Not that there were all that many cars in the first place.  Most everybody seemed to get around on foot or on bicycles.  He even saw a couple of horse-drawn carts and carriages.  The people seemed friendly enough, though. Women smiled and men tipped their hats in greetings.

            “I feel like I’ve stumbled into a G-rated movie,” Kris said.

            “I know just how you feel,” Dillon answered.  “Doesn’t this burg have a Wendy’s or a Mickey D’s?  They call this civilization?”

            “Are you always hungry?”

            “I’m still a growing boy.  I need my nutrition.”

            “It’s a wonder you’re not overweight.”

            “You’d be surprised at the amount of exercise I get,” Dillon answered with a straight face.

            They found an inn named The Broken Saber and entered the cool, dim interior.  It was a comfortable, old-fashioned establishment that smelled of cigar smoke, whiskey and old wood.  The conversation lulled as the strangers walked in.  The regulars sitting at the bar, looking as if they had been sitting on those same stools since the day Jesus rolled back the rock, eyed the newcomers carefully as Dillon steered Kris to a booth in the back.  He could watch pretty much the entire room from there, and it wasn’t far from the swinging doors that led to the kitchen and a rear entrance… just in case they needed to leave in a hurry.

            The barflies turned back to their drinks and conversation.

“I don’t appreciate the way we’re being stared at,” Kris muttered.

            Dillon’s copper eyes sparkled with amusement as he yanked off his gloves.  “I wouldn’t take it personally.  They probably don’t see many strangers, much less an interracial couple dropping in for lunch.  Lighten up.  They don’t mean any harm.”

            A broomstick thin waitress ambled over to the table to take their orders.  Kris simply asked for salad and a broiled steak with French fries.  Dillon’s order was a bit longer.

            “Gimme a whole roast chicken, very greasy.  Double order of mixed vegetables and melt some cheese over ‘em.  Two grilled pork chops, make ‘em well done.  Keep the beer and coffee coming every fifteen minutes until I say stop.  And if you’ve got any honeydew melons you’re hiding in the back for yourself, cut one in half and bring that by as well.”

            The waitress cocked an eye at Dillon in approval.  “Be me pleasure.  Be right back wit' th’ coffee and a pitcher of beer.”

            Dillon cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers.  “You may have to go to the authorities and tell them everything you know about Lady Thelma’s illegal activities.  Have you thought about that at all?”

            Kris sighed and sat back, pushing her disheveled hair out of her eyes.  “You don’t understand at all, do you?  Lady Thelma’s been good to me, despite what you may think you know.”

            “How’d you get mixed up with her anyway?”

            “Lady Thelma and my mother went to the same school in Switzerland.  When my parents died in a plane crash, there wasn’t much of a reason for me to stay in Cristobal.  My sister had gotten married and moved to New York and I really didn’t want to stay.  Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of my parents.  Lady Thelma had come to the funeral and offered her help so I decided to take her up on her offer.  She said I could come work for her and sent her private plane to fetch me.  I’ve been with her ever since.”

            Dillon frowned.  “So when did she lose her mind?”

            Kris thrust an angry finger at Dillon.  “I’ve had just about enough of your—”

            The door of the inn was thrown open with a Wham! and six men dressed in matching black uniforms with silver piping on the legs and arms marched inside.  Muscular, hard-looking men with no nonsense looks on their pale, emotionless faces.  They marched right up to the booth where Dillon and Kris sat and lined up in front of them, hands folded behind their backs, all of them looking directly at Dillon.

            Their leader then strode in.  Clad in a pearl-gray military style costume with a sparkling black sash across her chest and a great black cloak that billowed behind her like smoke.  The cloak was fastened at her left shoulder with a solid gold clasp fashioned into a sunburst and a dazzling riot of medals and ribbons festooned her right breast.  She wielded a swagger stick and looked no older than eighteen, an Asian girl playing grown-up, with a torrent of midnight black hair that cascaded around her thin shoulders.  Large green eyes peered from under the stingy brim of her cap.

            The girl swaggered up to the booth and stopped, smiling at Dillon and Kris, who could only look back at this apparition in amazement.

            It was Dillon, of course, who found his tongue first.  “I certainly hope somebody’s paying you to dress up like that, ‘cause I’d sure as hell hate to think you’re doing it ‘cause you like it.”

            The Asian girl smiled and clicked her polished booted heels together smartly.

“Good afternoon to you, Mr. Dillon and Ms. Quinlan.  On behalf of Dr. Aristotle Numby, I offer the hospitality of Numby Castle for dinner, conversation, and good company.”

            “Who’s your tailor, little girl?” Dillon asked.

            The Asian girl flushed bright red as the barflies burst out laughing.  She whirled to eye them angrily and they all turned back to their drinks, falling silent.

            “My name is Chew Mi.  I am in charge of Dr. Numby’s security force.”

            Dillon could barely contain his laughter.  “You gotta be kidding me… Chew Mi?  I’m going to take a wild guess here… your parents didn’t give you that name, did they?”

            “In regards to Dr. Numby’s generous offer…?”

            “Well, you just run along back to your doctor friend and tell him that on behalf of myself and my companion that we’re truly honored he would take the time to extend such gracious kindness to strangers visiting the area.  However, we are pressed for time and must be moving on right after our meal.”

            Chew Mi snapped red nailed fingers.  One of her men stepped forward and lifted a hand.  He stripped off the black glove to reveal a metal hand that glittered silver-gray in the light.  The man flexed his metal fingers and they clicked like a locust in a box.  The cyborg fixed his eyes on Dillon, closed the hand into a fist, and smiled.

            Dillon quickly took the hint.  “But on further reflection, we’re not in so much of a hurry that we can’t take a few minutes to pay our respects to Dr. Numby and maybe have a bite of lunch with him.  How about it, Kris?”

            Dillon was smiling pleasantly enough and Kris forced herself to smile back and nod.  It was either that or start screaming and Kris had the definite feeling that if she started doing that, she wouldn’t be able to stop.

Monday, March 14, 2011

CHAPTER THREE

“Did you have enough to eat?”  Dillon asked, placing his knife and fork aside carefully and wiping his mouth with a silk napkin.

            “Indeed I did.  Thank you.”  Kris sipped her tall glass of iced tea and reflected on how much better she could think once she had a full stomach.  The food had been quite excellent and Dillon had even sprung for a bottle of Nospinal.  He popped the cork and poured them both glassfuls.  “You’ll understand if I don’t care to share a toast with you, given the unusual circumstances by which we have been thrown together.”

            Dillon shrugged.  He had retrieved his incredibly thin computer from his bag and had opened it, placing it on a small worktable that folded out from the nearest wall.  Kris watched with great interest as he powered it up.  The thing came on in a nanosecond.  Dillon pressed his thumb to the screen and the computer went to work, establishing a secure Internet connection through its built in satellite uplink system.  While he waited, he pulled out a sterling silver cigar case from his inside jacket pocket.  He thumbed a stud on the side and out popped a Canonero Double Corona.

            “May I have one?”  Kris asked.  Dillon looked at her suspiciously.

            “Have you never seen a woman smoke a cigar?”

            “Sure I have.  Plenty.  It’s just that you don’t exactly strike me as the stogie puffin’ type.”

            “It’s a habit I got from my mother.  She was Brazilian and she smoked cigars all the time.”

            “You’re from Brazil, then?”

            “No, I was born in Cristobal. It’s a country located in South America. My mother married a British diplomatic attaché who was assigned to the British Embassy there.  But due to his work we traveled.”

            Dillon passed over a cigar and lit it for Kris.  “I’ve been to Cristobal.  Lovely country.  The food there is wonderful.”  Soon the both of them had the car filled with cigar smoke.  Dillon pressed a button and the air filtration system went to work, gently sucking the air out of the car.  He bent over his computer, typing furiously.  “I was there last about nine years ago.  One of the few times I could take a vacation without having somebody trying to shoot me in the back.”

            Kris sat back, glass of champagne in one hand, cigar held in the other and thought that under other circumstances, this would have all been rather nice.  “May I ask what you’re doing there?”

            Dillon looked up and removed the cigar from his mouth before answering.  “There’s a large number of websites, messages boards and newsgroups that are used, maintained and run by people in my profession.  I’m checking them out to see what the latest word is about me.”

            “Really?”

            “Truly.  They’re used to pass along information, share business tips and ideas, gossip, spread rumors, alert friends when the heat is on.  I also need to check my email to see if… ah… here’s a bunch from Lavimore Watson.”

            “What does he say?”

            “He suggests that I leave Europe and don’t ever come back.  Turns out that some people have placed some sizable bounties on my head.  Including the Order of the Black Sun, who’ll pay six million in any currency if I’m delivered to Odin alive.  Now that’s a name I didn’t expect to hear come up in conjunction with this mess.  What’s Lady Thelma’s connection to Odin?”

            Kris puffed furiously on her cigar and stared up at the ceiling before answering in a very definite and curt tone.  “I will not betray the trust that Lady Thelma has placed in me.”

            “Lady Thelma will probably have Frayne cut your throat when she catches up to us.”  Dillon had to say this last with a straight face.  When he had returned to the car, he had retrieved his cell phone and had gone into the bathroom to listen to the recorded call; and he had to smother his laughter while doing so.  Kris was putting up a good loyal employee act, but if Dillon were any judge of character, he would have to say that Miss Quinlan and Lady Thelma would soon be on the outs.

            “Lady Thelma means me no harm.  And she would not plan any violence against you if you would only return her ring to her!”

            “Oh, come on!  Even you can’t play this stupid forever!  Do you really think I’m going to believe that everybody is going through all this expense and blowing things up and pointing guns at each other over a lousy gold ring that’s probably not worth more than a couple hundred bucks?”

            “I’m not going to say anything more, so you can stop asking!  If you’re so bloody smart, you’ll find out soon enough what’s going on!” Kris snapped back.

            Dillon blew out smoke in Kris’s direction.  “You shouldn’t be worried about me finding out what’s at the bottom of this deal, sweetheart, because I’m going to.  And maybe sooner than you think.  No, you’ve got a more immediate concern.”

            “Which is?”

            Dillon’s copper eyes narrowed slightly as he answered “Concern yourself with what action I’m going to take in regards to you when I do find out what’s going on.”


***


            Gregory Tipp heard the firm knocking on his office door from inside his broom closet of a bathroom and shouted.

“Come in!”  He finished his business, washed his hands, banging his elbows painfully as he did so, and walked back into the office.  “Ah, Alvin . . .  good of you to come round so quickly.”

            Colonel Alvin Thompson handed Tipp a cardboard cup of piping hot coffee, a twin to the one in his other hand.  “If the great Greg Tipp says he has a problem and needs help, I know it must be serious.”

            “Sit down, Alvin, please.”  Tipp indicated one of two armchairs in front of his desk.  Instead of sitting behind his desk, he took the chair next to Thompson.  They weren't just co-workers, but also friends, going all the way back to high school.  They’d both served in the military and were both recruited into the Secret Service.  But Tipp had naturally gravitated toward the more labyrinthine corridors of intelligence gathering while Thompson had instead been assigned to the British Intelligence Tactical Elite, or B.I.T.E, as the squad was more commonly known.  They handled internal threats to England’s security and they were known throughout the European terrorist and criminal networks as some bad fellows to fool around with indeed.

            Thompson crossed his legs and sipped his coffee.  “So what’s all this about, Greg?  What do you need my lads and I to do for you?”

            Tipp passed over a folder some five inches thick.  “You ever heard of this chap?”

            Thompson took the folder and looked at the name stamped on the front.  “Dillon!  Well, I must say: if you’re going to chase someone, why not the bloody Prince of Darkness himself!”

            “Then you have heard of him?”

            “In our business, who hasn’t?  It’s been a while since he was in London, though.  Not that I’m complaining.  He took out quite a few bastards the last time he blew through town.”

            “Well, he’s back and he was involved in that business with the Goliath.  According to what I’ve been able to find out, he’s on the run with a lot of nasty customers chasing him.”

            “How’d you find that out?”

            “Cheeky son of a bitch knocked out two of my men and called me on their own cell phone.  I was sitting right here when he called.  Said he was trying his best not to get killed.”

            Thompson chuckled and flicked through the thick folder.  “Sounds like something he’d do.  He doesn’t lack for nerve.  So where was he calling from?”
           
“Pymberty.  I’ve got his description out and we should be hearing something soon.  I’m betting he’s on a train.”

            “And you want me and the lads to…?”

            “You get Dillon for me.  You get him and you sit on him and hold him for me.”


***


            When Dillon came awake, it wasn’t with the groggy disorientation that most people wake with.  Thanks to his rigorous training, not to mention the advantage of having spent years evading some of the world’s most dangerous professional assassins and killers, he came awake instantly alert and ready, totally aware of his surroundings. 

            He had fallen asleep dressed in his ‘working clothes’ and his hand slid under his pillow for his Magnum as he sat upright, cocking the weapon and pointing it at the door.  The car was dark and silent, save for a nightlight burning in the bathroom.  Kris still slept soundly, snoring quite lustily, her softly shining hair the only thing visible as she had completely covered herself with the blanket.

            Dillon stood up, holstering his weapon quietly and trying to figure just what had woken him up.  Then he got it.  The train had changed speed, slowing down considerably.  He looked at his watch.  They weren’t due to stop for another sixty minutes, which was when he had planned to get off.  It was quite possible that there was nothing to worry about, but he hadn’t lived this long by assuming anything.  He went over to where Kris slept and shook her shoulder.

            “Mrfph?”

            “Kris.  Wake up.”

            “G’way.”

            “Wake up, I said.”  Dillon hauled her into an upright position.  “This may be important.”

            Kris pushed her hair out of her face and gazed at Dillon, still half asleep.  “What in the hell is going on now?”

            “I need you to wake up and put your shoes on.  The train’s slowed.”

            “So?”  Kris snarled.  She obviously hated being snatched out of a sound sleep.

            “There’s no scheduled stop for another sixty minutes.  This could be trouble.  I need you up and awake.”

            “Maybe there’s some technical reason that the train is slowing.  Did you think of that?”

            “Just get up and get ready.  If you’re not by the time I get back and there is a problem, I’m not waiting while you fix your pantyhose, got me?”  Dillon didn’t wait for her answer and left their car to hunt up a conductor.  He passed through the series of sleeping cars toward the rear of the train.  He looked out of the windows but the night was as black as the bottom of a mineshaft at midnight.  He wished he had thought to bring his night scope so that he could have taken a look outside.

            In the observation car, he found three conductors consulting their watches and talking in low voices.  One was muttering into his wrist walkie-talkie.  Dillon joined them.

“Anything wrong, fellas?  The train’s going awfully slow all of a sudden.”

            Normally, the conductors would have just sent a passenger back to his car with well-used words of reassurance, but this chap definitely didn’t look like a fellow who was used to his questions not being answered.  One of the conductors replied; “Can’t rightly say, sir.  We’re trying to get hold of the engineer now to ask him why we’ve slowed.  Usually he drops the speed slightly when we go through the Hervis Tunnel, but—”

The conductor stopped as Dillon held up a gloved hand and his copper eyes looked to the roof, his head cocked to the side as if listening for something.

            “Sir?”

            Dillon’s head snapped back to look at the conductor and the man was startled into silence.  Dillon’s normally sparkling copper eyes had darkened to a hot, molten gold and his voice held the pure steel of command.  “Get on your radios and call the authorities for help!  Tell them that your train’s being boarded and you need emergency vehicles and heavily armed police out here right now!”

            “Sir, have you been drinking—”

The conductor was cut off as the train lurched to a complete stop, throwing everybody except Dillon to the floor.  Dillon reached down and yanked the conductor he had been speaking with to a standing position.  “The damn train is being taken by armed men!  Get on the radio now!”

            He whirled and ran back toward his car.  The sounds he had heard faintly were booted feet on top of the train.  The sound of machine gun fire rang out.  A woman screamed and he could hear breaking glass from either end of the car.  A Sikorsky helicopter swooped over the train and powerful searchlights suddenly came on, illuminating not only the train, but the immediate surrounding area as well.

            Back in the sleeping coach, the door had been kicked in and Kris was gone.  Dillon reached under his bed, withdrew his backpack and slung it on his back, tightening the straps to hold it securely as he went in search of her.  The passengers were filling the passageways now, bleary-eyed and furious, shouting questions, demanding answers from each other.  Dillon ignored them, shoving past as he made his way through the forward dining car.

            “Dillon!”

            Dillon pushed past more confused passengers.  He could see past their heads to the forward observation car, where two men were dragging Kris up a short flight of stairs, with a third covering their rear. 

            “Dillon!” Kris screamed again.

            “Ain’t that just like a woman,” Dillon muttered as he yanked free his Magnum.  “Everybody down!  Police!”

            Upon seeing the huge gleaming Magnum, the passageway was filled with more screams as everybody hit the ground and Dillon charged forward, trying his best not to step on anybody.  “Scuse me, pardon me, sorry ‘bout that, ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me, comin’ through!  Make a hole there.  Make a hole, dammit, or lose that head!”

            The covering man cut loose with a short burst from his machine gun and bullets ripped into the wall and roof of the passageway.  Dillon threw himself onto something soft and his Magnum boomed.  The shooter fell back, pumping lifeblood from his throat.  He dropped his weapon and his hands went up to his neck in a futile attempt to stop the geyser.

            Dillon looked down into the surprised hazel eyes of the beautiful auburn haired woman he had thrown himself on top of.  She was wearing a blindingly red sheer silk nightgown and not much else.  “Sorry about that, miss.”

            “Couldn’t be helped,” the beauty gulped as Dillon got to his feet and resumed the pursuit.

            Thankfully, the forward observation car was empty and Dillon leveled his gun.  “Hold it right there!”

            One of the men turned and swung his AK-47 around to fire while the other shoved Kris out and down out of his way.  Dillon pumped off two shots and the first man was knocked back seven or eight feet by the sledgehammer impact of the heavy Magnum slugs.  The second man was frantically trying to pull the pin on a hand grenade.  The train lurched again and the grenade fell out of his hand, bouncing wildly.  The mercenary looked in horror at the pin in his hand.

            Dillon sprinted across the distance separating him from the mercenary and elbowed him to the side.  He reached down and yanked Kris to her feet.  “Hang on!”  He fired a shot at the nearest window and the glass disintegrated.  He wrapped a powerful arm around Kris and leapt out of the car, Kris’s scream knifing into his ear.  They fell, hit the ground and tumbled down a steep incline as the grenade went off and the observation car was engulfed in an orange explosion.  Flaming pieces of metal and plastic arced through the air in their wake.

            The helicopter hovered over the burning observation car, the searchlight hunting for them.  Lady Thelma’s voice boomed from the loudspeaker like a harpy’s scream of rage.  “Get down there after them!  I saw them jump out of the car!  Get them!”

            Dillon and Kris finally came to a stop.  Both of them were covered in dirt and small leaves.  Dillon brushed small broken twigs out of Kris’s hair.  He looked up, saw they had rolled some eighty feet away from the train down a sharp incline.

“You okay?” he asked Kris.

            She nodded dumbly, amazed at still being alive.  “C’mon!”  He seized her by the wrist and pulled her after him while he jammed his Magnum back in the holster.  He fumbled in a pocket of his weapons kit, found his night scope, placed it to an eye and stopped.  He’d almost run into a tree that was no more than four feet in front of him.

            Sending up a prayer to every god he could think of, including a few he made up right on the spot, he pulled Kris after him as he plunged into the stand of trees.  Hopefully, the trees would provide cover from the helicopter’s searchlight.

            The Sikorsky hovered overhead, the searchlight probing downward like the incandescent finger of an angel trying to pick out sinners.  Bullets ripped through the branches and Dillon threw both himself and Kris to the wet, mossy ground as more bullets tore through the trunks of the trees.  Leaves and chips of wood rained down upon them.

            “Enough of this shit,” Dillon muttered and rolled over on his back.  He pulled out his Magnum, aimed right for the center of the light and snapped off shot after shot, one right after the other until the clip was spent.

            The light went out, the helicopter’s engines coughing like the phlegm filled lungs of a twenty-year smoker, and the Sikorsky turned away.  Dillon smelled oily smoke.  He’d hit something that was for sure.  Whether it was something vital or not, he had no idea.  It might be minor damage that they could fix and get the chopper back into the air, but he had no intention of staying around long enough for them to do so.  And in any case, there’d be men on the ground looking for them.  And they’d have night scopes with infrared lenses, to be sure.

            He pulled Kris to a sitting position, reaching down to slip her high heeled pumps off her small feet.  He snapped off the heels, slipped them back on her feet and pulled her to a standing position.  “We’re going to have a lot a walking ahead of us.  And I mean a lot.  You keep up with me, you hear?  And don’t say a word!  I’ve gotta be able to hear what’s going on.”

            Kris could only nod dumbly.  She was still in a state of shock at their narrow escape.