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Following 9/11 a legion of top secret operators were dispatched to protect the American homeland at all costs. Operating in the dark–independent and unsupervised–these solitary soldiers jumped into the fray. Years later and unable to sustain congressional scrutiny, this risky operation and all of its operatives have been terminated . . . save one.
Jack Studder is still out there and he’s not coming in.
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Musical Inspiration: Beth Hart – Caught Out in the Rain
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San Francisco, California—Past midnight and a dense fog enshrouds the Bay Area in a slimy ooze. A lone street person—matted hair, scraggly beard, stained hoodie—shuffles along a slippery sidewalk. Reaching a dark alleyway he rests against the corner of a building. He polishes off the dregs from a take-away coffee cup, crumples the cup in his fist and stumbles into the shadows of the dingy alleyway. In the distance, a grimy light bulb bounces feeble reflections off condensation-soaked walls and discarded canisters.
The way the bum’s ragged hoodie casts his face in shadow he resembles a medieval priest about to perform some forbidden rite. Spying a Dumpster, he tosses the crumpled cup through its open maw. Only instead of moving on, he takes a knee and reaches far back behind the Dumpster, where he withdraws a black leather satchel from its place of hiding. The satchel is an expensive designer affair with big straps and a sturdy zipper running its entire length.
He unzips the bag and peers inside to find it packed full with cash. Tidy bundles of hundred-dollar bills arranged in nice neat stacks. As he calculates the sum, his concentration is interrupted by a thumping chorus of stampeding feet closing in on him from behind. Hooking an arm through the bag’s strap, he turns to face the onslaught.
The first attacker comes in high, allowing no time for thinking. Now it’s up to his central nervous system to resurrect a particular skillset long gone dormant. After dipping his head, the bum throws a little shoulder slip that gets him in tight with his attacker. Then a quick hip-turn sends the guy headfirst into the brick wall. As the guy rebounds off the wall the bum steers him directly into the path of the next attacker.
Now this guy is totally tactical—dressed head-to-toe in a special all-black outfit, night-vision goggles parked atop his head. Got his mouth open wide, like he’s about to say something. Only before word-one can escape, his buddy’s forehead slams into his face, and down they both go. With these two out of the way, the bum legs it down the alley, moneybag clutched up tight beneath his arm.
Up and down the alleyway, attackers are swarming from their hidey-holes. Two new guys swinging aluminum bats block the bum’s escape. Using the moneybag to deflect the first attacker’s bat, the bum throws a quick knuckle jab into the base of his nose, snatches the stunned attacker’s bat and clocks him in the forehead with it.
Behind him a second attacker winds up to deliver a mighty roundhouse blow. Before he can connect, the bum slams the small end of his newly acquired bat straight into this one’s gleaming grille, busting off two front teeth at the gum-line. A final wallop drops him and the bum’s on the run once again.
“Get him, nowww!” someone shouts. ”Shoot the sumbitch!”
A volley of hot slugs from an M4 carbine snaps into the bricks above the bum’s head, showering him with fragments. Without breaking stride, he rounds the corner and beats feet down Third Street. Already it’s far too late to turn this thing around.
Now two more attackers join the chase. The way their silly leather shoes are slapping against the wet pavement, the bum figures he’ll outrun these clowns easy.
At the intersection of Third and Townsend a small black car lurks in the darkness—headlights off, brake lights disconnected. Its silent electric engine makes this the perfect stealth vehicle. Right off the driver recognizes the muffled triple-tap as a burst from a suppressed M4 carbine. And right on the heels of those shots, he watches a large man leap from the alleyway and haul ass down Third Street, heading toward Brannan Street. The guy’s clutching a baseball bat in one hand and a bulging dark satchel in his other.
Speaking aloud to himself Electric Car Guy says, “Well, there goes my fuckin’ hundred-grand hoofin’ it down the street. I certainly hope these clowns got themselves a good backup plan.” Moments later two pursuers dressed in black run by. Slow as they are, the watcher can tell there’s no way they’ll ever catch up with the bum or with his money. As he drives away, five more pitiful individuals stumble from the alleyway. One guy, looking like he might be the boss of this operation, shrieks into a handheld device as the remnants of his dismal crew flounder in a heap on the sidewalk.
Uh-huh. So much for the backup.
Electric Car Guy steers out onto Third Street, accelerates to sixty and flies past two more would-be pursuers—one guy on hands and knees barfing with his partner standing over him yelling. So quiet is the electric stealth car’s engine, its swift passing goes unnoticed. An instant later the fleeing runner up ahead comes into view. In a blink he rounds the corner at Brannan and is gone, heading for Second Street.
Thinking he’s finally lost them and is now home free, the bum hears the clanking of car tires impacting a metal plate in the street. Fearing they’re upon him, he ducks into the shadow of a stoop. There he watches a small black car silently zip past with its lights off. When it brakes hard, there’s no sign of visible brake lights. A subtle click betrays the opening of a car door. Hugging the shadows, the bum hustles down Brannan Street. If he can get across Second Street, he’ll find a million passageways and open basements in which to hide.
The bum makes a mad run for it. As he rounds the corner at Second Street, he plows headlong into two more pursuers. This collision sends one guy sprawling and lays the bum out on the pavement. The moneybag skitters into the middle of the intersection. The bum pushes himself up in time to spot the pursuer lining up a shot on him with an M4 carbine. Now pure instinct screams to rush the shooter! So the bum goes to his feet, legs furiously pumping. Only they feel like they’ve turned to rubber. He might as well be wearing floppy clown shoes.
The bum hits the pavement rolling as three slugs whine overhead. Coming up from a forward roll the bum clips the shooter’s legs from beneath him, and the guy belly-flops onto the sidewalk, where he clocks himself in the head with his own rifle. As the bum grabs for the stray rifle, three distinct shots split the air.
“C’MON!” a voice hollers out. It’s Electric Car Guy. “Let’s get outta here ‘fore any more of ‘em show up.”
The bum rises to find another pursuer face down in the street and Electric Car Guy standing over him clutching a smoldering Glock Nine in his fist. Electric Car Guy has on a rumpled trench coat. No hat. Hair, barely two inches long, sticks out at crazy angles.
“Look, pal,” says Electric Car Guy. “I just saved your life here. Yunno? So, like, I’d wanted to kill ya, you’d be dead already. Huh? . . . So, c’mon. Let’s go . . . and don’t forget your moneybag in the middle uh street . . . considering what all ya just gone through to get it. . . . Yunno?”
Reaching the end of Brannan Street Electric Car Guy reactivates the exterior and interior electrical systems. Banks of red-accented LEDs kick in beneath the seats and the most amazing quadraphonic sound system busts loose in the middle of ZZ Top’s Well Dressed Man.
They take a right onto The Embarcadaro and head toward the huge stadium where the Giants play. Now the bum slowly turns in his seat so he can get a good look at Electric Car Guy. After one long uncomfortable moment the bum cracks a broad smile and says, “Yunno, dude, I got me one awful strange sensation that maybe I seen you somewhere before.”
“That right, huh?” Electric Car Guy replies.
“Yeah. Really. No shit. Was a long time ago. Fuckin’ years, man . . . like 1991. Yunno? Here, check this out: Middle uh night and . . . oh, hold on . . . yeah, I can almost see it. How ‘bout the outskirts of Baghdad? . . . . Now ain’t that some shit? Huh? That ring any bells for ya?”
“Okay. Okay.” Electric Car Guy says. “You’re shittin’ me. Right? The fuck you talkin’ about, anyway?”
“No way, dude. Listen. Listen to this. . . . See, what I’m thinkin’ here is that you were part of our old crew. Fifty of us there was. . . . Called ourselves the Nighthawks, dude. And Jack Studder is exactly who I am.”
“Get outta here . . . Studder!” says Electric Car Guy. “You are seriously fuckin’ with me here. Hell, dude, I’d have never recognized you in a million years. That hair of yours and your ratty-ass beard. But sure as shit, son . . . yeah, it’s you, awright. Yep, I remember. I’m Alec Romanesque, your old team tracker.”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Absolutely, you are!” Jack says. “Sure as shit, you’re him. Yeah, I knew it. Ah-haaa! I did. I certainly did! Huh?”
“Looks like ya got me, Jack. It was our crew led the way that one night, when we come upon that Republican Guard tank outfit, all holed up and outta ammo.”
“Oh . . . yeah. We sure did. It’s all comin’ back to me. Yeah. And what the hell was it we called you? You’d get so pissed. . . . The Italian! . . . That’s it? Huh? . . . Ah-haaa! Yes, it was. The Italian! Sure enough, now. That’s it.”
“Whoa! Hold up now, Jack. That’s one moniker I keep quiet these days. Okay, bud?”
Jack’s hands float up and cover his face. He slumps forward. “Yeah, yeah,” Jack mumbles. “I-I do remember now. It all . . . yunno, that time . . . it gets so foggy in my head. . . . Yuh-you saved my life then . . . ah-and th-then . . .”
“Hey! Hey, now, Jack. It’s no problem. All that’s long gone now. It’s all okay.”
Jack scratches at his head and his mood calms. “So then . . . ahhh . . . you tell me, Alec,” Jack says. “Just what in fuck was all uh that shit what just went down back there?”
“What? You saying you dunno?”
“Nuh-no. Not exactly,” says Jack. “I’m really not all that sure, actually. My head . . . it gets kinda fogged up. They said it’s that PSD shit. Yunno?”
“Well, Jack. It looks to me like you just walked yourself directly into the middle of one serious-ass shit-storm. That’s what it.”
“Well, huh. . . . I guess so,” says Jack. “Maybe it’s Karma, me runnin’ into you like this. I’m mindin’ my own business. Just walkin’ down the street. Know what I’m sayin’? Like I’d just finished the last of my coffee when . . . Well, fuck me. I dunno really. Next thing all these ultra-heavy dudes are after me and, hell, I’m runnin’ for my fuckin’ life. . . . Buh-but just tell me this much. Okay? This here is what I really wanna know. . . . The fuck’s up with this crazy-weird car ya drivin’? Why it don’t make no sound at all. I never seen nuthin’ like it. No, sir. I sure ain’t. Not in my entire life.”
Copyright 2017, 2018
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in ANY form.