I slid the key into the ignition of the Ford Mustang. Ever since the merger of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the concept of the "all-American" car had all but faded away. None of the manufacturers had bothered to slap that label onto any of their advertisements because they knew better-all of the cars were made south of the Rio Grande.

People in the circles I ran were torqued that the government had gone and made their move without the approval of the people. But then again, the people had forfeited their ability to defend themselves. They'd bought into the lies that the politicians had sold them.

Give up your guns! We're a civilized people! Guns kill!

I've yet to see a Glock stand on its butt and fire two-rounds in the X ring at twenty-five meters without human intervention.


My Kimber 1911 rested snug beneath my suit jacket, tailored to hide the tell-tale bulge.

Pleasure of being a licensed contractor.

I started to get that eerie feeling that made my neck hairs stand on end. My hands gripped the wheel tentatively while I scanned the parking lot. Nothing tripped my senses. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing presenting a threat.

Who knows. Maybe I was getting old and crazy.

The drive took about forty-five minutes. I lived quite some ways outside of Phoenix, in seclusion. Most of my work with Pharamcom, I did via video-conference, which was fine with them. They didn't require my presence every waking moment, just as long as I continued to produce results.

I loved the drive because it always clears my head. Well, almost always. Right now, all I could think about was Isis, what she'd said to me in the airport. It was almost as if she was afraid Homeland Security was watching her or something.

It wouldn't have surprised me. One of the remnants of the United States government was the Department of Homeland Security, which had grown from a well-intentioned bureaucratic nightmare into something akin a secret police organization. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that the threat from terrorism was real, but the problem with Homeland Security was that it was afforded too much leeway without proper checks and balances. Lo and behold, it'd become a hinderance to the freedom it was tasked to defend, but as long as the average joe could still watch the Super Bowl without having violence visited upon him, he could care less.

 I scratched my five o'clock shadow. Getting too political, Jack. You're getting old.

I thought back to her words: Your life will be in danger if you accept my proposition.

This was something rather big to be bringing to me. Yeah, I did private security. Mostly, that consisted of traveling from city to city and advising local police forces on cutting-edge close quarter battle tactics, or training security guards on what to look for while guarding their principal. Every so often, I'd get an off-the-books contract to make a less-than-desirable "disappear," but most of my stuff was rather-bland advisory duties.

The point was that there were better people to be hiring for something this high-risk (and in all probability, illegal). Isis knew this. What could possibly compel her to bring this to me?

And the fact that she knew my background…she and I went back a ways, but I never talked about my past. General rule of thumb. But she'd somehow managed to get a hold of that information. That tidbit was enough to get me curious.

Curiosity killed the cat, sure. But satisfaction brought him back.

Plus, I could use the dough.

That was that then. I'd made my decision as I pulled into my driveway. I got out of the Mustang, locked it, and strolled up to the front door.

The door was unlocked.

Immediately, I reached two conclusions.

1) Somebody was waiting for me inside. I doubted it was to share a beer.

2) They were stupid, cocky, or both.

The Kimber felt good in my right hand as I flicked the safety off. The hammer was already thumbed back. I kept my finger along the trigger guard, just as I'd been taught back at Force Recon, before Iraq. Very slowly, I pushed the door open.


I looked down. Broken glass.

I couldn't help but think of how big a dummy I was as the first of three slugs slammed into my chest, sending me stumbling backwards and falling on my tail, on the porch. I deserved the broken ribs I was going to have to suffer through.

I lay still, body sprawled, eyes closed. It hurt to hold my breath, but they couldn't know I was still alive, not until they got close. I could go about four minutes before I blacked out, but that was without the cracked ribs.

Footsteps. They were coming closely, but carefully. I had to admit-they weren't as stupid as I took them for initially. I wished they were, though-with how deliberately they were approaching, I wasn't sure how much longer I was going to be able to hold my breath.

I heard the crunching of broken glass.

I sat up with a quickness that even surprised me, bringing my Kimber up in both hands. The point man wore a black off-the-rack suit with Ray-Ban shades, holding a Kriss Super V submachine gun at the low ready. Homeland Security's action arm, the aptly mis-titled Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, had gone to the weapons about seven years earlier. Compact, lightweight, and holding twenty-eight rounds of .45ACP, the Kriss packed a punch.

Forget the fact that it looked like a staple gun. I was still on the wrong end of it.

I shot the man twice between the eyes. Only after the fact did I consider that this man and his cronies were, in all actuality, federal agents. At this point, though, I couldn't give a damn-I had a few cracked ribs and I figured it was only fair that I return the favor.

Thing is, though, I tend to overcompensate when people give me gifts. Case in point-one dead man in black.

I switched aim to his buddies, double-tapping each of them in the head. I wasn't going to make the same mistake they had.

"Crap," I growled, wincing as I rose. I stumbled forward, finding my footing before moving forward. I knelt over the body of the point man, keeping my pistol leveled at the doorway as my left hand searched him. I came up with a badge and credentials.

I hate it when I'm right.

"What's going on out there?" a voice called from within my house.

I slid my Kimber into its holster, plucking one of the Kriss room brooms from the pile of corpses and snagging a couple of magazines, stuffing them in my pockets. The voice seemed to come from the living room.

Slowly, I ducked my head into the kitchen. Nobody posted there. Good. This would make things simple, then.

I went to my alarm panel and quickly hit the red Panic button. I stood in the threshold of my kitchen, waiting to see which way the feds would come. In between the obnoxious beeps, I heard shuffling coming my way from my left, the living room.

That cut my work out for me. I ducked right, into the kitchen, crouching as I walked to keep my movement silent. I reached the door and slowly opened it as I heard the crunching of glass. I held the Kriss at the ready, scanning and finding that they'd all gone to investigate the source of the alarm.

"What's going on?" a young male voice asked.

"Turn the thing off!" the one who'd called for a status report demanded.

I gave them credit for their primary plan…but their contingency sucked.

So much the better for me.

They never heard me creep up behind them. The first man I saw, I let out a three round burst, sweeping his legs. He howled and screamed while his buddies turned around to face the gunfire. I failed to afford them the same courtesy, putting .45ACP rounds on target.

Thank God for Samuel Colt.

I walked up to the living one and flipped him over. He was in bad shape, but I could keep him in this realm.

Well, if I wanted to, anyway.

"You fool," the kid laughed through tears. "You friggin' fool! You just killed federal agents!"

"Yeah, no bull," I said gruffly, kneeling over him. "I've got no reason to leave you alive. By the time first responders show up, you'll bleed out. But I can make it easy on you."

"Yeah?" The kid was defiant. "How so?"

"Tell me why I've got the Keystone Kops forgetting to read my rights and skipping straight to capital punishment, and I'll make it quick."

"I'm not talking."

"Suit yourself," I told him, feeding him a bullet for his troubles.

I could've made him bleed out, suffer. But I'm not a sadist. And chances are, the first responders would've shown up before he bled out, and he knew that.

I plucked keys from his pocket and walked out the door. I didn't have to get anything. There wasn't anything in the house I couldn't walk out on. It had to be that way, even though, up to this point, my life had remained monotonous.

I had a few places I could lay low at, just in case. The government would be looking for my car first, which gave me a few hours before they realized I was taking their car-in this case, a black Chevrolet Suburban.

Some things never change.

As I walked out to the SUV and hopped behind the wheel, it occurred to me that the next two days were going to be intense.

Laying low isn't as easy as it looks.

The End

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