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By Brendan DuBois
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 19, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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In a perfect world, Ronald Temple wouldn’t be sitting in his Barcalounger in the living room of his retirement home in Levittown, New York, with the side window open and a blanket across his legs, wishing a rifle was in his lap, ready to kill the terrorists living next door.
Yeah, he thinks, lowering his Zeiss 7x50 binoculars. In a perfect world, the Twin Towers would still be standing, scores of his friends would still be alive, and he wouldn’t be slowly dying here in suburbia, lungs clogged with whatever crap he breathed in while working the pile for weeks after 9/11.
The light-blue house next door is normal, like the rest of the homes in his neighborhood, built in 1947 in an old potato field on Long Island. It was the beginning of the postwar rush to suburbia. Levittown is now a great place to go to school, raise families, or retire, like Ronald and his wife, Helen, are doing.
But their new neighbors?
Definitely not normal.
Ronald lifts up the binoculars again.
They had moved in just three days ago, when it was overcast, the dark-gray clouds threatening rain. A black GMC Yukon had pulled into the narrow driveway and a family had tumbled out, all dark-skinned, all in Western clothes they looked uncomfortable wearing. An adult male and an adult female—apparently the parents—and a boy and a girl. Ronald had been sitting in this same chair, his oxygen machine gently wheezing, tubes rubbing up against his raw nostrils, as he saw them hustle into the house.
And the woman and the young girl both had head coverings on.
It was a bit suspicious at first, so Ronald had watched the activities next door as much as possible, and he became more concerned with every passing minute and hour. No moving van had pulled in after that first day. Only a few suitcases and duffel bags had been brought into the house—quickly, from the Yukon. And the adults had not come over to introduce themselves to either him or his wife.
He moves the binoculars in a slow, scanning motion.
He sees a large man walk past the kitchen window across the way.
That was the other thing that had gotten his attention three days ago.
Oh, yeah, their driver.
He had emerged first from the Yukon and Ronald could tell he was a professional: he wore a jacket to hide whatever hardware he was carrying, his eyes swept the yard and driveway, looking for threats, and he had kept his charges inside the Yukon while he had first gone into the house to check everything out.
Like the other four, he was dark-skinned. He was nearly bald. Although he wasn’t too muscular—not an NFL lineman on steroids—he was bulky enough, similar to those Emergency Service Unit guys Ronald had met during his time in the NYPD.
A bodyguard, then?
Or maybe the terrorist cell leader?
Ronald sweeps the house again, back and forth, back and forth. He keeps up on newspapers, television, and internet news and knows this is the new way of terrorism and violence. People nowadays move into a quiet neighborhood, blend in, and then go out and strike.
The husband and wife?
Like that couple that had shot up that holiday party in San Bernardino, California, last year.
They blended in.
And the bulky guy…maybe he was their trainer, or maybe their leader?
He was probably ready to prime them to go out and kill.
Ronald lowers his binoculars, adjusts the oxygen hose around his head again. It was just too damn strange, too damn out of the ordinary. No moving vans, no friends stopping by; neither the husband nor the wife—if they were really married, who knew—left to go to work in the morning. No deliveries, no lawn mowing, nothing.
They are definitely hiding out.
Ronald wishes once more for the comfortable weight of an AR15 across his lap. To take down a cell like this one requires firepower, and lots of it. With a 20-round magazine and open iron sights—he sure as hell didn’t need a telescopic sight at this range—he could take care of the three adults with no problem. If, for example, he saw them walking out to the Yukon, wearing coats, trying to hide weapons or a suicide bomber’s belt, he could knock them all down with an AR15 before they even got into their SUV.
A series of cramps run up his thin legs, making him grimace with pain. And the kids? Leave ’em be…unless they picked up a weapon and decided to come over here and get revenge. Lots of kids that age were doing the same thing overseas, tossing grenades, grabbing AK-47s, setting up IEDs.
He picks up the binoculars once more.
In his twenty-one years on the New York police force, Ronald drew his service weapon only three times—twice at traffic stops and once while checking out a bodega robbery—but he knows that if he had to, he’d do what it took to get the job done, even today, as crippled as he is.
He removes one hand from the binoculars, checks the lumpy shape under his blanket, resting on his lap. It’s his backup weapon from when he was on the job, a .38 Smith & Wesson Police Special.
Ronald nods with satisfaction. He’d had a chance once to be a hero on 9/11, and he blew it.
He’s not going to let another chance slip by.
Lance Sanderson walks into the kitchen of the rental home to get another cup of coffee. His wife, Teresa, is working at her laptop set on the round wooden dining table, and he gives her neck a quick rub as he goes by. Teresa has a nest of notebooks and papers and other reference books nearby as she types slowly and deliberately.
After pouring himself a cup, Lance asks, “Get you a refill?”
“Not right now, hon,” she says. “Maybe later.”
He stands at her side, takes a sip. Due to the last few weeks out in the harsh North African sun, his wife’s skin has darkened, making her look even more radiant than usual. The sun had streaked her light brown hair, wavy and shoulder length, and had bronzed her legs and arms. Even after two kids, she’s kept her body in good shape, with long legs and a cute round bottom. He remembers with pleasure the first time they made love, when both were in grad school. She had whispered, “My boobs aren’t much, but they’re designed for babies. The rest of me is yours…and wants a real man.”
Lance rubs her neck again and she sighs softly, like a satisfied cat. “What’s new?” he asks.
She doesn’t look up from her keyboard as she continues writing. “The old perv next door is still staring over here with his binoculars.”
“I told you to stop flashing him your butt,” Lance says. “What do you expect?”
“Har-de-hah-hah,” she says, which cheers up Lance. Nice to see her in a good mood after the past week. “If I did that, all he’d see is the desert sand I’m still picking out of my butt crack.” She lifts her head from the keyboard and gives the kitchen a glance. “I miss home,” she says. “I miss the ocean. I miss the fruit trees. I miss our backyard.”
She nods at the avocado-colored refrigerator and the bright-yellow kitchen countertop. “Just look at this dump. It looks like it was redecorated when we had a peanut farmer for president.”
“Or a movie actor,” he says. “How goes the guidebook?”
“Oh, that,” she says, running a hand across her notes and the piles of books scattered across the table. “In these times, m’dear, it sure is hard to do research without having internet access.”
Lance sips again from his coffee. “I know. Trying to do the same, cataloguing Carthaginian potsherds without knowing if you’re repeating yourself or the work of others.”
Then Lance feels a sudden chill, like a window has been opened in the house, or an unexpected eclipse has blocked out the sun.
The man they know as Jason Tyler is in their kitchen. Lance tries not to step back in fear. At first glance, Jason isn’t too large or hulking, but that’s just the first glance. In the few days he and his family have gotten to know him, Lance has learned that Jason likes to wear comfortable sneakers, loose slacks, and short-sleeve shirts, like the ones he’s wearing today: gray slacks and black shirt, shirttails hanging over his slim waist. It took Teresa one night in a hotel room in Marseilles to point out the obvious: “Honey, he dresses like that to hide his muscles and whatever weapons he’s carrying.”
The man is six feet, with broad shoulders and a head that is covered with just the bare stubble of black hair. His skin is dark, and it’s funny, but if Jason turns one way in the light, he looks vaguely Asian, but from another angle, he can also look like he’s from the Middle East.
A chameleon, Lance thinks, a chameleon who is tougher than steel.
Jason says, “You two all right in here?”
Lance says, “Doing okay.”
Jason’s eyes never stop. They’re always moving, looking, evaluating. He nods just a bit. “I know you like to work here in the kitchen, ma’am, but I wish you would find another spot. That window makes you vulnerable.”
“I like the light,” Teresa says.
“It makes you vulnerable.”
Lance sees his wife’s hands tighten. “Are you ordering me?”
A slight pause. “No.” Another pause. “I’ve checked in on Sandy. And Sam. Both seem to be doing well. I’m going out on the grounds for a few minutes. You know the drill.”
Lance sighs. “Yes. Stay indoors. At all times.”
And Jason leaves. Just like that. A big man, with those hidden muscles…Lance thinks he would move like an ox or a bull, trampling and bumping into things. But this man…he moves like a dark-colored jaguar, on the prowl, always hunting.
The kitchen’s temperature seems to warm up about five degrees.
Teresa goes back to the keyboard, types two or three words, stops. Looks up at her husband.
“Do you trust what he says?” Teresa asks.
“That if we were to use the internet, we could be dead by the end of the day?”
He reaches out, rubs the back of her neck, and it’s tense. No sweet sighs this time. “We have to trust him. We have to.”
Lance feels out of time, out of place. How in the world did his family end up here?
“We’re in too deep,” Lance says. “We have no choice.”
Teresa turns so she’s looking directly at him. His hand falls away. Her pretty dark-brown eyes tear up.
“But what about our kids?” she asks. “What choice do they have?”
From the other side of the house, a boy’s voice cries out. “Dad! I need you! Right now!”
His own eyes watering, Lance rushes out of the kitchen without saying a word.
Ronald Temple is startled by the noise and realizes he has drifted off. His hand automatically goes under the blanket to his .38 Smith & Wesson revolver as Helen comes in. He relaxes his hand when he sees his wife, thinks how close he came to doing something stupid. In his years on the job, he knew of at least two instances where fellow patrolmen were accidentally shot by their partners in a moment of panic or fear, and it feels good to bring his empty hand up.
In those two cases on the job, the shootings had been successfully covered up, but Ronald doubts he could get away with making up a story about some random gangbanger shooting his wife in their living room.
Helen manages to smile at him as she comes over. It’s not that warm a day, but she’s wearing a knee-length simple floral dress with a thin black belt around her thickening waist. Decades into their marriage there are wrinkles and more bulges than usual, and her black hair is secretly colored, but he knows he’s lucked out with her, a now retired schoolteacher who most times has the knack of calming him down.
She kisses the top of his head and pats his thin shoulder. “How’s the spying going?” she asks.
He resists snapping back at her, not wanting to hear what might come out of her mouth, even though she’s got a cheery expression on her face. Helen is almost always cheerful, but she keeps a tight lid on her resentments and frustrations. He recalled with regret getting into a fight with her some years ago, after mention was made of their two sons, Tucker and Spencer. One worked as cop in the LAPD and the other was an Oregon State Trooper. Helen had said, “Of course our boys moved west. Do you think they wanted to listen to you bitch at them about how they’re doing their jobs wrong, and how you would do it better?”
So Ronald smiles and says, “Just keeping watch, that’s all. If more people kept watch, this would be a safer country.”
Helen keeps a slim hand on his shoulder, rubs him for a few seconds. “You’re right, but…really, Ronald. You really think that family next door means trouble?”
Ronald takes a breath, tries not to cough with all that 9/11 crap in his lungs. He had been a security officer for an investment firm in the South Tower. Although he had been home sick on 9/11, he had spent weeks there later, working and doing penance.
“Look. They’re not from around here. They keep to themselves. And I don’t like that big guy walking around, like he’s their private security or something. It just doesn’t make sense.”
His wife looks out to the house and he’s irritated again—as a civilian, she can’t see what he sees. All she sees is a simple house with simple people living inside. She can’t see beyond that.
Helen says, “Really? You think terrorists are going to hide out here, in Levittown? And besides…they’ve got kids.”
“Terrorists have used kids as a cover before,” Ronald says impatiently. “And why not Levittown? It’s got history, the first true suburbia in the country, it’s as pure America as it gets. A perfect hideout, a perfect target. You know how terrorists like to hit at targets that make a lot of news. Why not here?”
His wife turns around, heads to the kitchen. “Then call the cops already, Ronald. If you feel that strongly about it, don’t just sit here and fume. Do something about it.”
Ronald feels the weight of the revolver in his lap. He is doing something about it, he thinks, and aloud he says, “The cops are too PC now. They won’t do anything. Hell, they might even charge me with a hate crime or something.”
Helen doesn’t say anything in reply and he wonders if she didn’t hear him, or is ignoring him. What the hell—what difference did it make?
Ronald picks up the binoculars, looks over at the house again. The man is talking to the woman, who appears to be working on a laptop.
But where’s the big guy? The muscle? The cell leader?
- On Sale
- Jul 19, 2016
- Page Count
- 144 pages