Pre-Order TOO CLOSE TO KILL on Kindle

Banner_PreorderThe second installment in the Madeline McCallister series will be released on January 2nd, 2018. The e-book version is an Amazon Kindle exclusive and is currently available for pre-order!

Click here to get your copy!

As an added bonus, the first book in the series is only $2.99 on Kindle through the end of January or paperback copies can be found through Lulu for only $6.99.

Get on board the Maddie hype train, people!

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Bullet Truths

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Occasionally I will find a piece I wrote and squirreled away for some reason. This is a short-fiction piece I put together back in 2011. I figured I might share it just for the fun of it all.

Enjoy.

-J.


One of them was going to die.

I sat in the back of the smoke-filled room, my arms folded in front of me and my eyes locked on the two men standing across from each other, only a long polished oak dinner table separating them. I watched as they stood hurling obscenities and slander at each other like greedy politicians nearing election day. Spittle flew from their lips as they cursed and yelled and pointed their fingers all in a manner most heated. They both knew the gravity of the situation. They both understood exactly on what type of edge they were precariously perched. In the moment where a situation becomes a matter of life and death, a man’s instincts for survival take over and everything that society has imprinted on him; be it morals or values or a sense of honor, they all fly out the window like a canary let loose from his cage.

“You’re a lying sack of crap!” the man on the left yelled. “You don’t have the spine to admit when you screwed up and I won’t stand for it.”

He was breathing heavily. Exhausted under the weight of his own argument. I watched as his chest heaved and his left eye began to twitch. The man was mere seconds away from a violent physical altercation and yet I sat, calm and steady as a rock, knowing that my place was not to interfere.

“I know better than to lie,” his opponent replied. “I know things went to hell in a hand-basket today, but lying about what happened will only make things worse. If I did what you said I did, and I’m not saying I did, because I didn’t, but if I did, why would I shoot myself in the foot yet again by lying about it when everyone knows the truth will come out sooner or later? Why? It doesn’t make sense!”

My gaze drifted to the man seated at the head of the table. His hands folded in front of him and resting gently upon his lap. His eyes were hidden under the wide brim of his fedora. He showed no emotion. No indicator of his mood showed on his face. The man was a blank slate.

“Charlie,” the man said, his voice low, a hair-touch above a whisper. “I want you to tell me your story. Tell me what happened. In your own words.”

“Of course boss,” the man on the right replied, adjusting his collar.

“And Matthew,” the old man continued, “I want you to keep your trap shut while Charlie is talking. Am I understood?”

“Yes sir,” the man to my left replied, chilled to the bone by the boss’ icy words.

“Then begin,” he said, shifting ever so slightly in his chair.

I watched as Matthew took his seat, the fiery hatred in his eyes not daring to recede as Charlie cleared his throat and began his tale.

“It all started this morning when me and Matt went with Joey Q to pick up the weekly payment from Tommy Johnson, that old jerk who runs the antique shop. Every week the guy’s supposed to kick up ten percent of his take to Joey to pay off a debt for something I don’t quite remember.”

“Does it matter?” Matthew interjected.

“I’m trying to tell the damn story, alright?”

“You’ll get your turn, Matthew,” the old man said with a nod. “Continue.”

“Thanks Boss. Anyhow, Joey Q brings me and Matt along for backup because the old codger’s been busting his balls about the payments. Says that business is slow so ten percent is taking too much out of his bottom line or some other such line of crap. So he wants to bring us with him to show the old jerk that he’s got the muscle to take the money if he doesn’t want to hand it over willingly.

“So we get to the store and Joey says to the old man ‘Do you have my money this week?’ To which the guy says ‘I’ve paid my debt and then some, you’re not getting anything else’ and so Joey busts him one across the lip to show him who’s boss. Well the old guy reaches under the counter and Mr. Shortfuse sitting over there assumes he’s going for a gun and pulls a piece of his own. Before I know what the hell is going on he’s popping six shots off into the old shop keep.”

I kept my eyes on Matthew, trying to gauge his reaction to Charlie’s story but he doesn’t flinch. He knows he’ll get his chance to tell his side of the story. He doesn’t want to give up anything before he’s had his say. He’s smart and he’s collected. He knows his place.

“Turns out Johnson was going for his stash box to get Joey his cash, but Matthew got jumpy and plugged him. Of course, the gunshots bring the kid who works the back room running out and he’s got himself a shotgun. Matthew emptied his gun into the old guy, so he’s standing there like a squirrel on a railroad crossing while this kid racks off a shotgun blast into Joey Q’s face. Of course then I pull my piece and shoot the kid twice in the chest and we high-tail it out of there before the police get there.”

As Charlie took his seat I took a glance at the boss. He didn’t offer any reaction. He was always good at that. Keeping himself in check and letting nobody get close. He’d been a crime boss for close to forty years. He came to power back when gangsters were still gangsters. The kind who could walk up to a parked car in broad daylight and empty a clip into the guy inside and walk away without fear of police action. He was the kind of gangster that people wrote books about. The kind that stood covered in the shroud of American myth and nobody knew how to get to. His name was Vito Castiglio and he was the last of his kind.

I had seen Vito in many meetings just like this one. I had watched him sit there, unmoving and unyielding, as he boiled any situation down to its core and resolved the issue with the steely resolve that came with decades of finely tuned illegal business savvy. Today would be no different. While these two idiots yelled at each other, convinced that one’s story would influence the boss to their favor, neither of them understood like I did that the outcome had been decided before either of them had stepped into the room.

“Derrick,” he told me, “I’m a patient man. More patient than most men in my business. But people will always test my patience. The fact that even with my reputation people still try to pull the wool over my eyes forces me to treat every word that comes from the mouth of anybody as inherently false. There are three sides to every story, the way one guy sees it, the way the other sees it, and the truth. I make it a point that I find the truth. Every single time. Let someone get away with a lie once and they know they can do it again. The bold grow bolder when left unimpeded. You’ve got to show them that you are above them. So far above them that they’re almost beyond notice at all. That’s how you succeed in this business.”

That stuck with me. It’d been years since he gave me that speech and it still rattled in my brain like a song stuck on repeat. The way I saw it, someone like Vito Castiglio could make his own truth by sheer force, but he wouldn’t let himself work that way. I guess he could have just as easily been the greatest police detective the world had ever seen if the money was right. Vito Castiglio took enormous pride in cutting through the mystery and solving the puzzle. It was just another way to feed his ego.

It was hard to watch as Matthew told his version of the day’s events. “Look, we showed up to the store like Charlie said. Except Charlie decides he wants to play ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ and grabs the kid working there and says he’ll kill him if the old guy behind the register doesn’t pony up the dough. Turns out that old man Johnson isn’t as useless as he thought and he pulls out a shotgun from under the register and aims it square at Joe’s head. Charlie freaks and plugs away at the shopkeep, who as he’s falling down pulls the trigger, scattering Joe’s brain across the ceiling tiles. The kid rushes at me like a damn banshee and bites my damn arm so I pop him once in the head with my piece. I even got the bite marks to prove it.”

Matthew rolled up his sleeve to reveal a bandage wrapped around his upper forearm. Showing it off to Vito and proving nothing in the process. The bandage covered whatever the wound really was and for all I knew it could have been a cheap trick covering nothing at all. I wouldn’t put it past the guy. I hadn’t known

Matthew long but he was a con artist to rule all con artists and my gut reaction said that bandage was a fake out.

“Are you both finished?” Vito asked looking up from the table, his pale blue eyes glinting in the dull glow of the lamp hanging overhead. “Because my time is valuable and I have places to be.”

“I’ve said everything I have to say,” Matthew half-mumbled.

“Same goes for me,” Charlie echoed.

“Good,” the old man said.

Neither of them had time to react as the old man fired two bullets into both of them, his hand gripping a smoking gun underneath the table. The two men slumped over in their chairs and fell to the floor, groaning as the blood seeped from the holes in their gut.

“I know everything. You should have just left town, you might have lived longer,” Vito said, stepping around the table and aiming his gun at Charlie’s head. “You both had a beef with Joey and you wanted him dead. So you killed him and tried to use the shop keeper as a patsy.”

Another shot rang out as Vito put a bullet in Charlie’s head.

“You thought he would be alone, but the boy showed up and you had to take care of him. You not only cost me the money old man Johnson was kicking up every week but you betrayed one of your own to do it. And worse than that, you thought you could lie to me about it.”

Another shot and another bullet. This time into Matthew’s head.

“When you lie you dig your own grave.”

The old man handed me his gun and I wiped it clean with my handkerchief as he walked out the door letting it slam closed behind him. I shoved the gun into my waistband and walked over to where Charlie lay bleeding out onto the floor. I shook my head in frustration. I told them to be discreet. I told them never to panic. If I had known how this would have turned out I never would have asked them to kill Joey Q. I would have done it myself. The old man trusted me. In all the years I’d known him I’d been the only one to keep him fooled. All that talk and all that rhetoric meant nothing when it came to family.

My name is Derrick Castiglio and I am my father’s son.

Counted Out – Chapter Five

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

10


Chapter V

Nicki O’Neil smiled pleasantly as she posed for photos with the fans who had stood in line for what must have been hours just for the opportunity to meet her. She had always been grateful for her fans, even the ones who sometimes bordered on the creepy, simply because she knew that without them she would probably be stuck in some menial job with little to no prospect for advancement and slowly dying in a loveless relationship with some loser she found on an online dating website. You could say that Nicki was the most optimistic cynic you could ever hope to meet.

Her appearance at the Orlando CultureCon had been a last minute deal, struck in the hopes of recouping the loss of a booking at a local promotion that fell through. The payout was similar but Nicki hated to be advertised for a match that never happened. It was that sort of thing that was likely to lose her some fans and make it harder for her to get booked the next time around. She still had close to eight hundred thousand followers on social media, and she logged thousands of interactions and digital engagements per day. That meant that Nicki could still command a price but independent bookers were notoriously tight with their wallets so those able to pay the price were few and far between.

She had considered taking a contract in Japan like so many in her situation usually do but decided against it simply because she did not want to upend her entire life to make the journey to the land of the rising sun. She had enough saved from her time working in the IWPA that she wasn’t going to starve any time soon. She had been smart enough to realize that the IWPA was never going to last forever. Some of the other names on that roster would have done well to remember that.

Nicki’s reputation as one of the smarter women in the business was well established. Every write-up about her career seemed to touch on it in some regard. She had a master’s degree in Library Science and had been a national debate champion in high school; the logline for so many thinkpieces regarding her place in the industry utilized some variation on the phrase “her brain is the strongest muscle she has” or some other such tripe. Nicki hated it. She hated the very concept that you could not be viewed as simultaneously intelligent and physically strong, and that somehow it was all the more impressive because she was a woman.

She also hated when her success in the business was somehow attributed only to her looks. Calling Nicki O’Neil beautiful would be akin to calling the moon a slightly large rock. Her father was a Scottish immigrant from Glasgow who settled in the warm sunlight of San Fransisco, California and managed to live comfortably there despite his fair complexion. Her mother was a second generation Chinese immigrant whose charm and grace had knocked her father for a loop and ultimately resulted in a daughter who grew up to be considered one of the most beautiful women ever to step into the ring. Nobody else in the business looked like her, and while that was great for selling herself as a commodity, she never wanted to be reduced to being photogenic. There were very few people in the world of professional wrestling as proud of their physical accomplishments as Nicki O’Neil.

“You were always my favorite,” a young girl wearing a shirt with Nicki’s face said, holding a copy of a poster from an old IWPA magazine. “Nobody else came close.”

“That’s so sweet,” Nicki gushed.

“Do you ever miss it?” the girl asked. “Being on TV every week?”

“Sometimes,” Nicki admitted. “But I also like having the free time to do things like this. I have gotten to meet so many of my fans since I left.”

“It was so nice to meet you,” the girl said. “I’m never going to forget this.”

Nicki smiled. She wasn’t lying. She really did love doing things like this. Something she never truly was able to do while on tour with IWPA.

“If I ask to talk do you promise not to murder me?” a voice asked.

Nicki looked up to see Marshall Ellis standing in front of her in the autograph line, wearing a faded old “Darling Nicki” shirt and holding an 8×10 photograph. He had a sheepish grin on his face and to Nicki it appeared as if he had aged a decade since she had last seen him.

“Marshall?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But keep that to yourself, most of these people don’t recognize me.”

“I barely recognized you,” Nicki said.

“That bad, huh?”

“No,” Nicki said, trying her best not to appear flustered. “It’s just been so long. And there is something different about you.”

“It’s probably just months of living with guilt and anxiety eating away at me from the inside,” Marshall said in a way that the tone undermined the severity of the words. “Also I got a new haircut.”

“I don’t like it,” Nicki said. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“Nothing ever did,” Marshall replied.

 

An hour later Nicki and Marshall were sitting at a booth at the back of a pub near the convention center. Everything was a shade of brown or green and the air smelled like a pitcher of the darkest draught you could imagine. Marshall nursed a pint of Guiness while Nicki ordered herself a glass of iced water. There had been a time when neither of them would be open to drinking alcohol, but Marshall’s resolve had been tested and found wanting in the aftermath of the IWPA’s demise.

“I can see why this would be tempting for you,” Nicki said. “But I don’t think it is a good idea.”

“You are probably right,” Marshall said. “But Mike can’t do this without me.”

“You don’t owe him anything,” Nicki said, barely able to contain her disdain for Michael Hill’s name as she spoke. “And let’s be honest, if he wants the thing to work he’ll get the thing to work, with or without you.”

“I know that is true,” Marshall sighed. “But I don’t work without Mike.”

“That’s bullshit,” Nicki said.

“It is bullshit,” Marshall nodded. “It’s bullshit that my options for working boil down to Michael Hill or not working at all. So when it comes right down to it, I’ll choose Mike. I would choose Mike every goddamn time.”

“I’m sorry,” Nicki said. “I do have options. And going back to work for Michael Hill isn’t the best one for me. Not right now at least. I’m happy where I am.”

“I think this would be good for you,” Marshall said. “I think this could give you the cache to go anywhere you want for the rest of time. This lady, the one from the network, she asked for you by name. The network knows how valuable a commodity you are. I think you could ask for any number you wanted and you would get it.”

“What are you getting?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Marshall said.

“How much are you getting, Marshall?” Nicki pressed.

“Enough,” Marshall said. “Enough to pay off my backlog of medical expenses and move out of the apartment I’m co-renting with a hoard of large rats. Enough to make sure that when I die they don’t leave me in an unmarked ditch.”

Marshall sat back and let the air settle. He took a large swill from his beer and gazed across the table at Nicki. He hated that he had to be the one to ask her. He knew he had to be because Michael would have turned the whole ordeal into an argument before there was ever hope of a discussion but he did not want the responsibility of urging Nicki back into Michael Hill’s circus. He knew how Nicki felt. He knew the terms on which they had parted ways. While she and Marshall had always been very close, he did not like the idea of taking advantage of their relationship in order to push her into something she did not want to do.

“If you decide not to come in on this, I will understand. I really will. Everyone has their reasons for wanting you back. The network wants you because you’re the damn best female wrestler in the world and they know the publicity for snagging you will be worth whatever price tag they have to pay. Michael wants you back because he hopes that he can fix something that he damn well knows that he broke. He knows it probably will never be square between the two of you, but damned if he won’t at least try to make up for what happened.”

“Why do you want me to come?” Nicki asked.

“What?”

“What are your reasons?” Nicki clarified. “You said everyone has their reasons so what are yours? What dog do you have in this fight?”

Marshall hesitated. He took another drink and carefully considered his words.

“Because I miss you,” he said. “And because this is going to be hard. And most of the people walking around that locker room are going to look at me out of the corner of their eyes. I need a friendly face, Nicki. And yours is the friendliest I have ever known.”

Nicki took a sip of water. She had never seen Marshall Ellis the way he looked now; desperate, filled with a hope he did not fully believe in. She set down her drink and leaned back in the booth.

“Make the call.”

One Fate For Failure – Available for Amazon Kindle

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After a lot of hype and hooplah, the big day is here. The digital edition of One Fate For Failure is now available on Amazon Kindle. This is the culmination of a long road filled with endless stops and starts. The end product is something I believe in and really want to put out into the world. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did writing it. As I sit looking at the first few pages of my new project for NaNoWriMo, seeing the polished result of what has honestly been about two years worth of work available for purchase really fills my soul with a warmth I’m not accustomed to in these late months of the year.

For those of you who stumbled onto this page at random, maybe through hashtags or some other wacky internet magic, you may not know the story of One Fate For Failure and wonder why you should bother giving it a read. The short version is that it is an inversion of the tropes found in pulp spy stories such as the James Bond series that serves to stay true to the genre while subverting most of the conventional ideas. First and foremost our hero is a female, and there is something to be said about filtering the hyper-masculine world of special operations and espionage through the lens of a lady protagonist. The story follows Madeline McCallister, a SAD/SOG (Special Activities Group/Special Operations Divison) operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Madeline, or Maddie as she is more affectionately referred to, finds herself caught up in a massive government conspiracy after a sanctioned operation in Mexico leaves her in hot water. She is forced to travel across the globe trying to take down the man responsible for soiling her name and staying one step ahead of the government agents who want to see her taken down.

I cannot emphasize enough how much fun the book was to write and how much fun the story is to read. Maddie is probably my favorite creation and I really hope that folks latch onto her because she definitely deserves some love. I implore you to give the book a chance. It’s only $4.99 to own, and if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can read it for free. You don’t even have to have a Kindle to read it. You can get the Amazon Kindle app on Apple or Android devices and read away!

For fans of hard copies, fear not, a physical edition is still in the works for December, so you can still stuff some stockings with a spiffy print edition this holiday season as well.

Thank you for the support, I hope you enjoy the new book.

Click Here to View ONE FATE FOR FAILURE on Amazon.