Red Mist (the novel)
I’ve posted teasers before and this is me, re-posting part of the prologue, yet again. This novel is a collaborative work between Juliette Smith and myself. We each lend our sense of authenticity to the novel and it’s working as we push to conclude writing and move on to editing and proof reading.
Besides shameless self-promotion, the Easter holidays begin with Palm Sunday this weekend, Passover if you’re Jewish, and the Feast of Ishtar if you’re a pagan. (shouldn’t you be out sacrificing a cat or a goat or something if you’re pagan?)
How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange
roof, thinking of home. – William Faulkner
In spartan room with bare bunk-beds, Alan Frazier, 28, brown crew cut, blue eyes, cut muscles, sits on a lower bunk, shirtless. Rain pounds on a window that looks out into a stormy sky over the godforsaken ruins of what must have been a very nice town. He can’t recall how he got where he is or precisely who he is. A worn OD green duffle bag rests on the deck, next to his bare feet. There is a name, FRAZIER, A; SSG; XXX-45-5277; ODA5116; US Army, and it is hand stenciled, maybe by using a template and a sharpie. He knows what ODA5116 means. He understands that it means that he’s assigned to the First Battalion, Fifth Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. When in town, he lives off base in a small, poorly furnished bungalow and has a mongrel dog named Rex that his buddy’s girlfriend is taking care of while he is deployed.
Looking away from the rain on the window that has hypnotized him, a mirror hangs from a wall and he stares at an unshaved man that he doesn’t recognize, all the time suspecting that he’s looking at himself. Scars and bruises of varying age crisscross his torso. Fresh, unstitched cuts stretch from his hairline all the way down to the bottom of his ear. They are not deep, but they bled a lot are still weeping, dripping down onto his shoulders and chest. There is another cut, lower on his face, crudely stitched. He recalls taking a few tucks at it with a surgical needle and thread from his aid kit. It distorts his lip slightly. Other wounds form an inkless tattoo carved crudely onto the flesh his upper chest, ‘de oppresso liber’. It could use stitches too. He knows what it means and in probing his memory he realizes that he does not speak Latin. He suspects that he may have carved it into his own chest. He looks down at the knife resting in a puddle of blood on the mattress next to him. Yeah. He turns in the mirror to see an ink tattoo on his shoulder. Crossed arrows. He knows what that represents as well. The details of how, who, where and when he was inked remain fuzzy.
You can’t survive certain experiences. But sometimes despite the odds, you do and afterward you don’t fully exist precisely because you failed to die. The failure gives him a pang of guilt.
Death brings with it a sense of authenticity that Alan Frazier does not feel. He is disturbed because in a strange way he is inauthentic. That lack of sense of self embraces him coldly.
He’s not the only man in the room. There are others, wearing t-shirts, BDU’s, and there are plate carriers spread here and there. Some of the armor appears to have been hit more than once and is in a state of disrepair. Their firearms are on the bunks, very close at hand. Many have green tape here or there on them to perform some personalized function. A man sits on a bunk across from Frazier and methodically field strips his rifle, and then reassembles, the component parts, oiling, wiping off oil, stripping oil, swabbing the bore. A small mountain of cleaning rags surrounds him and he smells of solvent and oil.
“Patrick, knock that shit off.” Patrick ignores him and begins to tear down his rifle for the eighth or twentieth time. Frazier doesn’t know how many times.
He realizes that he knows that the man’s name is Patrick.
The rain plays in sheets across the glass of the only window in the room that serves as a temporary barracks. The others either stare into space or they watch the rain beating on the windowpane. Patrick is the exception and it has become unclear to Alan whether he is a robot or SFC Patrick O’Donnell, 18B, Special Forces Weapons Sergeant. Doc Coulter, MSG Malcolm Douglas Coulter Jr., 18D, Special Forces Medical Sergeant should help if it’s a human problem, not a robotic issue, but he is watching the rain on the goddamned window along with everyone else. Coulter is not completely motionless. He’s dragging a plastic safety razor over his bald scalp – again. That inattention to Patrick O., further underscores his concern that Patrick is a robot and not an authentic human being. If he was human, he’d be loading those empty magazines instead of stripping and reassembling his M-4.
What were the magazines emptied into? And if it was a firefight, who picked them up and brought them here after they were emptied. Such are his thoughts.
He hears thunder in the distance and flashes of light play across the window. Frazier, Alan R., can’t tell for sure whether it is artillery or thunder, but as he resolves what he just heard against his memory, it is definitely thunder and lightning. It lacks the high order crack of military explosives or demolitions such as C-4. The flash of lightning is different too with its flickering intensity.
Nobody flinches when a door opens and sunlight streams in. Her shadow precedes Olga, a woman of thirty-five who is attractive, but not in a glamorous way. Hers is a natural beauty, worn with intelligence and dignity.
Blank eyes turn toward her.
“We need you all to gear up and go back into the cauldron.”
Rain slashes Alan’s face as he runs, his eyes staring vacantly ahead as his legs pump evenly, his feet chopping through mud, jumping over rocks, solid footing despite the landscape. His uniform looks as though he climbed through razor wire. His armor has taken hits and we can see through the camouflage fabric into the ballistic plate below. He carries his rifle with a practiced ease and slides one magazine out, replacing it by rote. He runs toward the threat without fear or rancor, slinging the rifle, sliding a hand grenade out of its pouch. He straightens out the pin and then pulls it as he runs, allows the spoon to release, counts one-two, throws and drops. BANG!
None of the men move except for SFC Patrick O’Donnell, who stands and looks for more cleaning rags, ignoring Olga completely. Doc Coulter has moved his razor from his scalp to his cleanly shaved face.
Olga now faces WO2 Jason Miles, skin black as anthracite, the old man of the outfit at age thirty-five, 180A, Assistant Detachment Commander. Something in Frazier’s memory triggers. Captain Carlos Sanchez, 18A, Operational Detachment Commander, had his head blown from his shoulders. Frazier’s brain recorded the event from behind Carlos. There was a loud pop and the captain’s head burst like a balloon. It happened in the caldera, that Olga is calling the cauldron. That means that Jason is now the boss.
But Jason’s attention turned from Olga back to the rain on the window.
“Warrant Officer Miles, I’m addressing you directly. Your men need to gear up and recon that target site again. We need to know what’s going on and you are the only ones who can do it.” Olga isn’t in Jason Miles’ chain of command. She’s a spook, CIA case officer. Even if she was the Army Chief of Staff, it wouldn’t have had much impact on Jason.
The warrant officer’s hand moved from his knee to the zipper of his trousers and he reached in, pulling out his meat and began to pound it softly, in an absent, almost asexual way — watching the rain.
Pat O’Donnell has found more cleaning rags and he’s back on his bottom bunk hard at work.
Staff Sergeant Frazier, Alan R., has returned his gaze to the window and the rhythmic sheeting rain.
Olga has left the building, and walked out to her white Land Rover with USA diplomatic license plates and Icelandic national license plates, parked out front. She takes a satellite phone from a bag on the front seat and speaks into it.
“They say that it’s raining, Mr. Lawson.” Olga Shearer tells the man in charge as he steps out of the haze gray OV-22 Osprey with no markings, that had just landed vertically, and very loudly. “They’re combat ineffective. They won’t re-engage.”
Lawson folds the briefing papers that Olga cabled to him earlier in the day. He puts them in his pocket and looks up at the clear, blue sky through dark aviator sunglasses, absently running his fingers through his thinning white hair. “Raining?”
“That’s what they say.”
“All of ’em?”
Olga shrugged a ‘yes’. Bryce Lawson has been around The Company for a long, long time. Rumors abounded that it was Lawson himself who’d deflowered the Virgin Mary. Others suggested that he’d held the cloaks of the Romans while they pounded the nails into Jesus-on-the-cross. Some said that he pounded the nails himself giving the Roman executioners tips while doing so. A lot of people fear Bryce Lawson but Olga doesn’t know anyone who understands him beyond the legend that grew up around him. He looks so normal, just an old guy — but still possibly the same guy who gave advice to Eve in the Garden.
Olga has never met him before and the man she walks next to doesn’t impress her with any of those allegedly well-deserved reputations, but there is something about him that she can’t quite put her finger on. Maybe it is confidence? In a world of uncertain people, Lawson screams certainty. Breathes confidence. And while surrounded with insanity, radiates quiet competence.
He knows what’s going on and he may have a plan.
Olga worked with his ex-wife, also a Virginia Farm Girl, when she was state-side assigned to Global Targets Division. Sylvia Lawson, the ex, never said a single word about him. Not even when she was drunk on grappa and raving. Olga asked whether or not Sylvia’s refusal to comment was due to fear. Sylvia, a Rhodes Scholar and former Miss Florida said, “no, it’s respect.” Now he was married to the deputy director of a different alphabet agency, and they were a solid DC power couple
Olga follows in Lawson’s wake as he speaks to a few of the Agency’s contractors, who also disembarked from the Osprey and who now provide security. The egg heads who created the pig-fuck by sending in the Army departed as soon as Olga arrived, hours before. She fervently hopes that she will not be held accountable for a bad NASA decision.
There is the natural worry that Lawson will simply make a phone call and have her relieved short of tour and sent back to headquarters, where there would be a desk, and the trite, meaningless tasks as a cog in the great machine. That’s how it happens when things go horribly wrong. Thank God the press hasn’t caught wind of this. There would be the inevitable whispers and gossip within the bureaucracy, but her career would be finished. Lawson has the power to do that to her with nothing more than a grunt and a sideways glance. Her recourse, given the nature of what happened, consists of resignation, suicide or both. She’s seen that end in others and it holds no appeal for her.
It has been one of those incredibly strange things and Olga doesn’t know quite how the sequence of events had landed her there. She reasons that the Iceland government called NASA, and the NASA people who showed up were mostly ex-Air Force. One of their people encountered ‘something’ in the steaming, burning caldera and they panicked, grabbing the Special Forces A-Team who was training on the other side of the nation-island. It had nothing to do with her, nothing to do with the Agency. Just the sort of bad luck that ruins careers.
And as with so many things which had happen in the course of screw-ups, it defaults to the Central Intelligence Agency to try and determine what-in-the-heck was going on. As the ‘nation’s first line of defense’, it had that role, even in Iceland if the Icelanders, and Denmark, had handed it off to the US to deal with. The director send his favorite fireman, the ancient of days, Bryce Lawson.
Olga reasons that Lawson checked his options, maybe called his ex-wife, and picked her over the other two options at the tiny CIA presence at the well-worn US Embassy at Reykjavik.
He demands a run-down on what the NASA people told her before they fled.
He takes off his sun glasses and looks at Olga, “Ms. Shearer, shall we go in?” Bryce Lawson tries to be polite. She trails Lawson as he saunters slowly into the NASA Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) and looked at what remained of ODA5116. “Frazier. Staff Sergeant Frazier.”
Frazier turns his gaze from the window to Lawson. Lawson turns to Olga. “He’s the one who carried the decapitated captain out? Fireman’s carry?” Olga nods. “That’s why he’s drenched in blood?” Olga nods again. “Walk him into the shower, strip off his clothes, then take yours off and wash him down. He needs a woman’s naked body next to him under hot water.”
Olga’s eyes bug out and she wants to say something, but she doesn’t. She does precisely what Lawson asked because he is Bryce-fucking-Lawson, and his will is too great for her to resist. That and he speaks with such great compassion that she wants to do what he directed her to do.
The shower was meant for one person. The scalding water cascades over them in the shower and Alan Frazer senses that he is being washed. All of him. The fog lifts ever so slowly, as her nipples touch his back and she gently scrubs his hair and massages his scalp. He becomes aroused and she strokes and pulls until he releases. More hot water, more soap and he opens his eyes as she lead him from the shower and hands him a towel.
Seeing Olga as if for the first time, toweling off next to him, Alan covers himself and blushes. “Where the fuck am I?”
Photo h/t Frank