Everyone has a past. Jack never revisits his. At least not until an unfortunate event brings him back home. And trouble follows Jack wherever he goes.
Never Go Home is part mystery, part suspense, and all Jack Noble thriller.
Below is an excerpt from the novel
The woman emerged from a pack of pedestrians. They parted as she passed. They stared at her in awe. I imagined them asking each other, “Who is that woman?” She drew attention in part because of her beauty. In part due to her confidence.
Surrounding her were six men.
Dressed in black.
Not a sight you see every day on the outskirts of London.
Yet people didn’t notice them. She made them look invisible.
I presumed the men had training on a level close to my own.
The woman and the men continued their approach down the street. Her black hair was parted down the middle. It splashed across her shoulders. The breeze lifted it at the edges and it danced in the wind.
They stopped in front of Cataldi’s. The restaurant had a wood burning stove. The cooks had started it a few minutes ago. The exhaust fan spit flavored smoke into the sky. It passed by me. My stomach ached with anticipation. As much for the meal as for the job.
The woman and her bodyguards continued on. They’d stopped in front of the restaurant the previous three days. They never went in. Three doors down sat the cafe. If the woman was as much a creature of habit as I thought, and counted on, they’d go in there again this morning.
The roof offered a view of the entire street. The downside to that was that I could be seen from the street from both directions. With the woman and her security team close by, I retreated. No big deal. Their plans weren’t secret.
I touched the button on the device connected to my ear. Steady static ensued. “I’ve got visual confirmation. Heading inside now.” I tapped the button again. The static faded away.
Noise crawled along the building’s two hundred year old facade. The chatter of those passing, a moped racing by, the steady thud of the bodyguards’ hard soled shoes, and the woman’s stilettos attacking the sidewalk.
They stood out from the rest.
Staying low, I crossed the rooftop, coming to a stop in front of the building access. Nothing in the surrounding environment had changed. I pulled the door open, kicked the prop out of the way and hit the stairs, taking them two at a time.
The lobby door crashed open. Heavy steps hit the stairs. The person ran up. Their heavy breaths indicated that they had been running even before they entered the building.
I froze in place, pulled my Beretta and leaned back against someone’s door.
A mother scolded her child. The little kid raced through the apartment behind me. A door slammed. The mother let out a frustrated sound.
The footsteps kept coming toward me. Had they spotted me? I moved away from the wall and toward the stairs. The person stopped. I held my breath. They let out theirs. Then they took a deep breath and exhaled again.
“Good run,” they said, followed by a door opening and closing.
Shaking my head, I reflected on how close I’d come to killing an innocent bystander. No time to dwell. I continued my descent.
Sasha’s voice filled my ear. “She’s in front of the cafe, Jack.”
I didn’t stop to reply. Five steps separated me from the lobby. I’d see for myself in a few moments.
Black and white checkered tile led to the front of the room where double doors swayed back and forth a few inches. I ran up to them, stopped, scanned the street in front of me. I couldn’t see her. The two men positioned behind her were too tall and too wide.
Where’d they find these guys? The pro wrestling circuit? They sure as hell weren’t former Special Forces.
I drove my shoulder into the door, pushed it open and stepped onto the sidewalk. Down here, the smell of the grill was stronger. It combined with that of the pastry shop next door. It was almost enough to throw me off.
I turned left and started walking, using the windows next to me to watch the scene on the other side of the street. One of her security detail studied me. He was mammoth in size. He stayed outside along with another big guy, while the other four accompanied the woman into the cafe.
“They’re heading inside, Jack.”
I reached up and activated the speaker. “Are we set up?”
“We never got inside.”
“They had two waiting.”
“So she’s got eight bodyguards today?”
“The threat was high. You knew this. You said you were prepared for it.”
Three elderly women approached. I said nothing with them in earshot. One of the women smiled at me. Bright red lipstick coated her lips, and the area above and below, and her teeth. I nodded at her.
“Jack? Do you want me to call everyone back and abort?”
I looked over my shoulder. The woman was no longer in sight. Two men stood in the doorway. The elderly women crossed the street. One of them skipped a step. Must be one good cup of coffee inside.
The older women approached the two behemoths standing guard. The guards demanded that the ladies open up their purses so they could search them. They tossed items on the ground. One of the women protested loudly. The guy said something to the effect of, “Don’t like it? Get lost.”
“Jack?” she yelled.
“Call them off,” I said.
“You’re giving up?”
“They weren’t doing this yesterday.”
“I’ll see you in an hour.”
“Jack, what are you going to do?”
I pulled the device off my ear, tossed it into the trash, continued on another half block. I reached behind my back and drew my Beretta. It went into the trash, too. I stepped off the curb, paused for a white Fiat that honked at me as it passed, then crossed the street. A group of teenagers told me to go back to America. I ignored them.
Ahead, the last of the elderly women stepped inside the cafe. The guard closest to me turned his head in my direction. He watched as I approached.
I stopped in front of the cafe. Placed my foot on the first step.
The guy stuck his thick hand out. He wagged his finger in front of me. When he spoke, his accent was Irish, thick, like he was from Cork. “I saw you exit the apartment building and head up the street.”
I nodded. “Had a coffee date with a woman. She called it off. Kind of happy, actually. This place has the best brew in town. First time I’ve seen security here, though. What’s going on? Did the Queen stop by today?”
The men glanced at each other. They looked like two defensive linemen about to converge on the quarterback at the same time.
“Come up here,” the guy on the right said. He was local.
I stepped up, held my arms out to the side.
“Turn around,” Cork said.
I faced the apartment building. A kid walking by looked up at me. I stuck my tongue out at him and crossed my eyes. He smiled. The guy behind me patted me down, stuck his hands in my pocket, and cupped me somewhere he shouldn’t have. I rose up on my tiptoes.
“You gonna buy me a pastry now?” I said.
“Shut up,” Cork said.
“Go on in,” the other said.
Neither held the door for me. I felt cheated after how close we’d become.
I used the hard toe of my right shoe against the door’s kick plate and nudged it open. The aroma of dark roast met me. My mouth watered. It was necessary to stay focused, so I scanned the room, breaking it down into quadrants.
The woman sat in the corner, surrounded by guys smaller than the two at the front door. These were the pros. The other two were meat heads whose only purpose was to scare the store’s patrons. I kept my eyes moving. Didn’t want to linger on her too long. Or on the men.
There were three people behind the counter. The day before there had only been two, and those two weren’t present today. I figure most people would assume that the biggest one would be the plant, if there was one. Not me. And not the skinny guy with red hair and acne either. I pegged it as the cute girl with the dimples. She smiled and winked and put my mind at ease.
Not an easy thing to do.
I ordered a Cafe Americano and took a seat across at a table fifteen feet away from the woman.
Her name was Marcia Stanton. The name meant nothing to me. I’d been told Marcia was an up and comer in politics. She had gained relevance by attacking and bringing down some powerful people. A grassroots movement built, and next thing she knew, people encouraged her to run for office.
At first, she declined. The offers didn’t stop. So when a heavy hitter stepped in and told her she owed it to her country, she agreed.
And that opened up a Pandora’s Box of hell for her. Death threats came. Bodyguards were hired. Three attempts on her life had resulted in the hiring of three more bodyguards to replace her core four.
All of that led to me being seated in that cafe, mid-morning, hungry, tired, unarmed and uncaffeinated. At least one condition was close to being remedied.
I glanced up at the cute girl with the dimples. She threw a pale elbow on the counter and held out my mug with the other hand. I rose, stole a glance at Marcia and her bodyguards, and walked to the counter. The girl watched me the whole way. One hand wrapped around the mug. The other dropped a tip on the glass top.
“Cream or sugar?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Black is fine. The rest of the stuff gets in the way.”
She shrugged. “Anything else?”
Behind her, the big guy glared at me. I noticed a swastika tattooed on his wrist. We engaged in a stare-off. He looked away first.
“Sir?” the girl said.
“I’m fine,” I said.
She turned around, rolling her eyes. I was just another schmuck to her, and that was OK. I returned to the same table, sat in a different seat. This one allowed me to see the counter and Marcia’s booth. The downside to that was that the table created an obstacle that I had to go around in order to do my job.
One of the bodyguards rose. He headed toward the hallway that led to the restrooms.
Hand Tattoo passed through a beaded curtain. I figured he went into the kitchen. Dimples glanced around the cafe. Her gaze came to a stop on Marcia’s table. A minute later, the girl joined the guy in back, leaving the skinny red-head all alone.
I stood, walked to the counter and leaned against it.
Skinny Red said, “Help you?”
“I’m good,” I said.
Skinny Red seemed too calm, relaxed, confident. If there was a plant, it had to be him.
The front door opened. A man stepped inside. A sheet of sweat coated his forehead. His breathing was erratic. His eyes shifted side to side. They never settled on anything. He looked at me, Skinny Red, the beaded curtain, and at Marcia. And when he saw her, he bent over and reached for his ankle.
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One hand reached to my ear, and the other around my back. Neither found what they were looking for. I’d thrown away the ear piece and pistol a few minutes ago. I hoped to recover them soon. Making it out alive became priority number one. There was no backup now. I had no idea who was and wasn’t trustworthy in the cafe.
The nervous man caught the attention of Marcia’s table. One of her men rose. He strolled over to the guy. This left Marcia with two bodyguards. One next to her, and one across the table.
The guy who’d stood up now blocked the path of the nervous man, who was bent over with two fingers in his sock. The man lifted his head three inches. His gaze followed along. His eyes angled inward. They focused on the barrel of the pistol aimed at his forehead. The expression on his face took a few moments to change.
“Don’t move.” The bodyguard’s accent wasn’t easy to place. South Africa, maybe? Perhaps New Zealand. I get those mixed up quite often.
The nervous man let out a sound I’d once heard a dying squirrel make. A couple seconds later, drips of water hit the floor. It wasn’t water though. A puddle formed at his feet.
“Disgusting,” the bodyguard said. He jabbed the end of his pistol into the nervous guy’s chest.
Around the cafe, patrons stared in horror at the scene unfolding. It seemed everyone was enthralled by the event. All except for one of the elderly women. She bit into her pastry and refused to put it down.
I remained still, watched the scene play out.
“Get up, slowly,” the bodyguard said.
The nervous man shook. He came up halfway, convulsed, then straightened his body. The front of his shorts were wet. His weapon shook in his hand. The bodyguard swatted at it. Two five-pound notes drifted to the floor.
The bodyguard looked over his shoulder. He laughed, and said, “You believe this?”
The other two members of Marcia’s security detail laughed. One held up his hands and shrugged.
I heard footsteps behind me. The fourth bodyguard, presumably, returning from the bathroom.
I was wrong.
Dimple’s perfume hit me before she passed on my left. Hand Tattoo’s body odor eradicated her sweet smell. He had a gun dangling from his right hand. He lifted his arm and aimed at the bodyguard who stood in the middle of the cafe.
The bodyguard’s training forced him into action. Already armed with an M40, he spun. He drove his shoulder into the nervous guy’s chest. The man flew backward, sprawled out, skidded to the door. Hand Tattoo fired first. He caught the bodyguard in the gut. A crimson bloom formed near the man’s navel. He fell backward, landed on the nervous guy’s legs. Feeble attempts to lift his sidearm failed.
I heard another shot, glanced toward Marcia’s table. One of her men lay face down on top of it. Unfocused eyes stared toward the display cabinet. Above them, blood flowed from a hole in his forehead. The bullet he took ended his life.
I grabbed a mug off the counter. It felt thick, heavy. I whipped my arm around and slammed the mug into the back of Hand Tattoo’s head. His scalp split in two. The coffee cup shattered. The only thing left in my hand was the handle. Hand Tattoo fell to his knees. I struck him twice with each fist. He fell forward, unconscious.
The men out front tried to get back inside. One drove his shoulder into the front door. It dinged as it opened. It didn’t get far, though. The nervous man and the bodyguard who took the gut shot blocked the door’s arc, preventing it from opening all the way. That didn’t stop the two men outside from driving it open repeatedly. The nervous man took the brunt of the door’s steel frame. He screamed with every thrust.
I looked away after his arm broke. There was other business to attend to.
With Hand Tattoo out of my way, I had a good view of Dimples. She fired a second shot. The live guard at the table covered Marcia Stanton. The bullet entered through his lower back. Dimples fired again. It hit the wall. A plaster cloud loomed in the air. Dimples cursed.
I glanced over the counter and located Skinny Red. He lay on the floor, hands over his head. I felt disappointed in being wrong about the guy.
Dimples retracted then extended her arm. The trigger clicked. The bullet didn’t fire. She turned the gun sideways. Her head lowered an inch. She shook the weapon and tried again. Nothing happened. The pistol had jammed.
Already moving forward, I reached inside my pocket and pulled out a pen. Dimples looked over her shoulder. Her eyes grew wide. Her right shoulder ducked. She turned on the ball of her left foot. Four feet separated me and my pen from her and her gun.
She reached out and screamed and squeezed the trigger.
I cocked my left arm back, and twisted and jumped.
Her pistol roared. The muzzle flash was bright and instantaneous. The bullet sliced past me and smashed into the plaster wall. A chunk fell to the floor.
She looked pissed. Her mouth contorted. She turned and reset her aim.
I swung my left arm and drove the pen into the side of her neck. I wasn’t going for her jugular, or even a kill shot. The pen did damage in a different way. My only job was to insert the tip. The fluid inside the hollow body did the rest. I watched and waited. She brought her hand up to her neck, wrapped it around the pen. Her twisted expression told me that the fluid coursed through her system.
Dimples dropped to one knee. She fell sideways against the display case. Her lips smeared against the glass as she slid down it on her way to the floor.
“What just happened?” Marcia Stanton said.
I pushed myself off the floor, got to one knee, and said, “You’re OK now. It’s safe.”
The front door burst open. The two men came in shouting.
“Just stay there,” Marcia told them.
Like well-trained dogs, they remained in place.
With one foot off the ground, a pen in one hand, and the Glock in the other, I rose. The adrenaline letdown had begun, and delayed my reaction to the footsteps behind me.
Marcia’s hands went out and she shook her head side to side. I think she might have said, “No, no, no,” but I can’t be sure.
Something smashed against the back of my head. I fell forward, catching the side of my face against Marcia’s table, inches from the dead bodyguard’s blood. Might have slid into it. Maybe not. Hard to tell, because that was about the time that I blacked out.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. Remember to mark your calendar for the September 24th release of Never Go Home!
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