I’m a trained killer – an Intelligence professional and highly skilled; the US Government spent five years and countless taxpayer dollars to train me how to kill with both my bare hands and with a myriad of weapons.
I’m an expert, according to Uncle Sam, with most of them.
I was trained to jump out of planes in both the darkness of night and when the sun is at its Zenith – fast roping from helicopters or rappelling the sheer side of a cliff is what I do, too.
I’ve seen men die in horrible places. I’ve operated covertly on my own, and have conducted missions with platoon sized forces. Jungles, deserts, oceans, and mountains: it doesn’t matter.
I spent many months at the Army Intelligence Center fine-tuning my craft in Interrogation, and was cross-trained in Counter-Intelligence. Two different languages, Military Intelligence ordered me to learn.
But those days are over; civilian life and writing thrillers suits me just fine now – it’s much safer.
Now, whether it’s under cover of darkness, or during a frantic, disorganized day, I have a new target to chase; a new set of operation orders to complete – my mission is the most complicated that I’ve seen, and I’ve see a lot.
Her name is Sonia; she’s eight months old; faster than a rattler, slicker than a wet eel; she operates independently of any organized structure, and changes her demeanor at even the slightest of whims. She’s wiry, wily, evasive, and unpredictable.
She’s the toughest challenge I’ve faced – the following is a true story, it happened earlier today:
I furrowed my brow at the mission at hand. It was going to be a tough one.
With the same focus I used when firing a round at a target during the twilight hours and nearly one kilometer away, I inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly – it was at this point, when the breath has escaped my lungs completely; when the body is most relaxed, that I would pull the trigger – today, however, it is when I gently place my half-asleep child into her crib for her afternoon nap.
My breath is exhaled at its apex; the tension in my muscles has escaped. Into the crib she is lowered – but her eyes are only half-closed. Is she awake? Is she asleep? I can’t tell; I gamble. My mission is close to failure; I can sense it, but onward I push.
On the mattress, I lay her; slowly I remove my arms from underneath her head. My breath is held, I know not to inhale; not to exhale. When I was behind the cross-hairs of a rifle, that breath would make my bullet stray. Now, it would wake a sleeping baby.
My eyes narrowed and I waited.
I’m careful to not let the new tension cascade from my brow and down my arms. She would feel it; this I’ve learned.
My arms are freed; she still sleeps.
Downstairs, I made my way; I’ve my next book in the Sterling Novels to complete. This is a rare moment of idle Father-time that I desperately need.
I sat at my desk and prepared to begin, but, first, I had a phone call to make to a buddy from my Special Ops day; it had been some time since we last spoke and the opportunity was at hand. I reached for my cell phone, but my hand grabbed nothing.
Eyeing the place it should be, there was only empty space. I searched for it mentally: where did I put it? Where the hell was it last?
It didn’t take long to remember.
I looked upward, and through the ceiling I imagined my daughter’s nursery above – in it, my cell phone sat on her dresser.
I sighed heavily and shook my head. By now, I should have learned. My mission suddenly became clear; my objective known. Inside my mind, I ran through my Operation Orders: 1) Infiltrate, 2) Use stealth, 3) Secure and retrieve the package, 4) Do not be seen, 5) Do not get caught, and, 6) Do not fail.
I ran through a mental check-down of my plan; and then I did it again. It had to be executed perfectly. This is how I was trained.
The stairs were my first obstacle: wooden and full of unknown creaks. I made my way – heel to toe; careful to distribute my weight evenly over each piece of dried wood – up them. At the top, I kicked off my shoes; they were dead weight; they made too much noise – a potential hazard. I checked for any loose clothing, something that might get caught on the door handle; I tugged at my pockets inspecting for loose change - I can't risk even the slightest noise. Like dropping from a Huey into the midnight-colored waters of the Mediterranean, everything I carried and didn't carry was purposeful.
Behind me the shoes stayed. No coins in the pocket; all loose clothing tucked tightly away. Forward, I tiptoed one painstakingly slow step at a time. This was not time to be impetuous; to rush. I controlled my breath and my movements, I edged forward. At the frame of the door I peered into her room one eyeball at a time; a flash of fear ripped through me!
I snapped my head back, hoping that my position hadn’t been compromised.
Her eyes had briefly met mine – did she see me?
My breath was held; every muscle frozen – I waited.
Nothing. Not a peep.
I dropped to a crouch not making the same mistake twice; inward I peered again. I was undercover of the crib’s bumper; she hadn’t the skills yet to pull herself up and over. I wasn’t in her line of sight. I reconnoitered the objective; I watched for movement. I analyzed the terrain. I sought out the unseen dangers.
Ahead of me was a small, red & yellow plastic ball – it made noises when it was rolled. It had to be avoided. Near it was a toy snake – I knew this one well. Seemingly innocuous, this was the furthest from the truth: like the venom of a cobra that attacks the nervous system, get too close to this one, and a myriad of tunes like “itsy-bitsy spider,” or “humpty-dumpty” would spew forth from its belly; it was an IED - an Improvised Ear-Splitting Device.
I had to be careful – there were booby-traps everywhere.
I shot a careful glance at the dresser; I could see the Package - the corner which was hanging slightly over the dresser’s edge: my objective was at-hand.
I dropped to my back and melted into the floor. Taking one final breath, I let it out even more slowly than the last. This was it. It was now or never. It was not going to be without pain, this I knew. My elbows ground deeply into the Berber carpet, every passing inch rubbed more of them raw.
I inched myself backward, my face stared into the ceiling. I made no noise. Inside my head, I scoured over the mental-map of the room, and booby-traps I had identified on the floor. I slithered slowly past them, my path was by no means straight.
The minutes rolled by; the sweat started to bead. One lone drop trickled down my forehead and into my eye. The salt stung, but I ignored it; this was no time to succumb to pain; to be weak. My mission was foremost and I was only half-way there. Onward, I pressed stopping momentarily to listen. I tuned into the rhythms of her breathing, counting each breath against the seconds. They were slow and methodical – they were the signs of deep, infant-sleep.
At the base of the dresser, I reached up for the phone; victory was so close.
The damn thing rang! Who the hell was calling me now! Don't they know it's naptime - friggin' single friends!
Sonia started to scream!
I jumped to my feet! Stealth would no longer be my approach. I was compromised; a new tactic would have to take place!
I snatched the phone but across the room it flew and against the wall it smacked!
Sonia screamed louder; my mission was still clear in my mind; my objective clearer – Do not fail!
I grabbed the nook; plugged the hole. The screams escalated behind the rubber of the nook; I refused to give up-my focus never wavered. I sensed it; the screams turned to cries; and the cries soon to whimpers. I sang, I rocked, and I caressed her face. One lone tear trickled down the side of her cheek; I wiped it gently away.
Two big, round eyes stared back at mine; from behind the nook, a long smile stretched followed by a yet to be discerned one-syllable consonant.
And then her eyes closed.
Epilogue:Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.
Sterling Novel: Book 1