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Army of One: Introducing Joe Beck

by Alastair Brown

Army of One: Introducing Joe Beck Book Cover


They never knew each other, but Mike Sikorsky and Walter Redmayne shared something in common. It wasn't that they were accepting of their own eventual mortality or that they were well prepared for when the time would come, holding life insurance to help their loved ones when they were gone. Nor was it that they were buried on the same day, at approximately the same time, and in virtually the same place. All that was a mere coincidence. What it was, was something darker.

Mike Sikorsky’s burial was held at La Piedad Cemetery in McAllen, Texas, in the early evening hours, under the hot, setting orange sun. It was a somber, honorable occasion attended by a crowd of mourners. Maybe sixty in all. Men, women and children. Family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. All of them standing huddled together in a crowd by his graveside, sad and depleted expressions across their grieving faces as they prepared to pay their last respects to a man whom they understood had taken his own life.

The women were wearing black dresses and black heeled shoes with black hats sitting atop their heads and dark sunglasses covering their eyes. They carried black handbags and purses and held soft, white Kleenex tissues in their hands. Most of the men were wearing dark shades and black suits with crisp white shirts and black neckties and black dress shoes that were polished to a shine.

Joe Beck was one of them.

He was standing in a chilling silence a few paces from his friend’s graveside, dressed in a dark fitted suit, polished black shoes, a crisp white shirt and a demur, respectful black necktie. His hands were clasped in front of his lap and his head was slightly bowed. His heart felt heavy, there was a lump in his throat, and there was a solemn expression across his heart-shaped face.

He listened to the children cry while the women sniffled and blew their noses into their tissues, and he watched as a few stray tears trickled down grown men’s cheeks when the white hearse carrying Mike Sikorsky's casket slowly eased up La Piedad Cemetery's red gravel path toward them. Its entrance played in to the tune of bagpipes by a sole piper, dressed in a white shirt, dark waistcoat and purple tartan kilt, standing behind his gun-gray granite headstone.

The gravel crunched under the hearse’s tires as the vehicle turned and slowed to a halt a few feet from the crowd, its trunk in perfect alignment with a guard of honor that flanked a black velvet carpet pathway to the six-foot-deep grave.

On one side of the guard was a row of nine proud men and women. Nine men and women that Joe Beck knew. Police officers from Lincoln, Nebraska. Mike Sikorsky's former colleagues. They were wearing dark flat-soled shoes and navy-blue pants, white shirts, and navy-blue neckties with navy-blue peaked caps resting on their heads. The arms of their shirts were embroidered with a blue-and-yellow stitched shield and the front of their caps sported polished silver badges. There was sadness in their eyes and sorrow on their faces, and they, too, looked like they were mourning a fallen friend rather than a former colleague.

On the other side of the guard were another nine men. Nine typical, average height, dark-haired men whom Joe Beck didn't know. They were all dressed in smart black suits, white shirts and black neckties, and wore dark aviator-shaped shades over their eyes. Their faces were stern, almost expressionless. He presumed they were Mike's most recent colleagues: hard-nosed federal agents from the ATF's McAllen field office.

The eighteen members of the guard raised their right hands to the side of their forehead in salute as six brave-faced, grieving men stepped forward from the crowd and lifted Mike’s casket from the back of the hearse. The red, white and blue of the stars and stripes, draped over the top, fluttered in the warm evening breeze as the men strode past the guard and along the black velvet carpet. They laid Mike’s casket down into its gray concrete burial vault with gentle precision, then stepped backward and rejoined their friends, family and colleagues in the crowd.

A silver-haired minister who was standing by the grave, dressed in a black robe with a silk purple stole, clutching a thick heavy-looking bible in his left hand, said a few final words of committal, while looking at every saddened face in the crowd together but at no one individual in particular. When he finished speaking, he bowed his head and clutched his bible in his hands in front of his body and waited.

A rifle party of three men standing off to the side of the cemetery raised their black Remington Model 700 rifles up into the air and fired blank cartridges toward the sky. The gunshots of three-volley salute rang loud amid the sad and deathly-silent setting as tears trickled down many somber-looking faces. It was a procedure Joe Beck had seen and heard many times before. It was a tribute to a fallen officer.

On the last gunshot, Mike Sikorsky's pregnant wife, Kim, stepped forward carrying a single white rose. Slim and petite with long blonde hair, she was a beautiful woman, but she was nowhere near her full glory. Her bottom lip quivered from her first step to her last and her eyes looked heavy, growing big and full and red. Tears streamed down her face as she laid the white rose on top of her husband’s stars-and-stripes-covered casket.

Beck watched on with a heavy heart as she raised a soft white tissue to her face and dabbed her running eyes, staining the tissue's white fibers with black smudges of mascara as a pale-skinned and dark-haired short and fat funeral director dressed in a tight black suit sealed her husband's casket inside the vault and looked at the piper, who piper played a soft chorus of Amazing Grace as Mike Sikorsky was lowered to his final resting place.

The customary shovelful of dirt was tossed, gently, into his grave and the mourners dispersed shortly afterward. Most people made their way back down the red gravel path and climbed into their cars - a variety of red, blue and white sedans and SUVs, and black Lincolns in the case of the federal agents, that were parked up by the grass, bumper-to-bumper in a long, neat line. A few others hung around for a few more minutes, talking to Kim and her family, offering them their condolences, giving warm hugs and apologizing, again, for their loss; while a few others paid their last respects and laid colorful wreaths and floral bouquets by the base of his headstone. White and purple roses, yellow daffodils, and violet carnations with green leaves and thick green stocks.

Joe Beck hung around longer than most. Until almost everyone had gone. He felt it appropriate to do so, considering he thought of Mike like the brother he never had. He walked forward and stood beside Kim, who was standing by the graveside staring at his headstone in a distant daze.

"I'm sorry, Kim," he whispered, glancing at her, sombrely.

She said nothing.

He nodded, slowly, then stepped forward and glanced down into the grave and shook his head. Lifted a handful of dry, brown dirt from the near four-foot pile on his right-hand side and cupped it tight in his hand. It felt dry and powdery, disheveled from sitting under the searing sun and out in the hot humid air. He closed his eyes tight and sighed. "Rest in peace, my friend," he whispered and scattered the dirt onto the top of the vault.

When he turned around, Kim was looking straight at him, a blank expression on her face with tears spilling over her bottom eyelids.

"Go home, Kim," Beck said to her, softly. "Get some rest."

She sucked a deep breath and nodded slowly but said nothing.

He nodded back once, a sympathetic expression on his face, a nod of acknowledgment, and then, slowly walked away. He made his way down the cemetery’s red gravel path and out through its rusting black gates.

On the other side of the fence, he climbed into a black Ford Mustang which he had left parked up by the curb, closed the door and then closed his eyes and exhaled, slowly. He sat in a brief, sad moment of silence. It was only a few quiet seconds, but his mind raced, thinking through all of the possible reasons why Mike would possibly have taken his own life.

I don't get it, he thought. I just don’t get it. Beautiful, pregnant wife. Nice home. Good job. Great income. He made federal agent, just like he had always wanted. He was never the sort of guy way...was it debt? Did he owe somebody money? Money he couldn't pay? How much? What for? Or, was it guilt? Had he done something he couldn't live with? What? To who? God knows.

He was asking himself questions he didn't have the answers to. And he knew it. He decided to grab a drink, thinking a few neat bourbons would loosen him up, change his mindset and, maybe, bring some old, long-forgotten but positive memories about Mike to the forefront of his mind. He drew his cell phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and searched for bars in and around McAllen. A couple of results popped up. He flicked through the listings, not being familiar with the area, and settled on a placed called Diamondback's on North McColl Road that promoted itself as a trendy rock bar. He laid his cell phone down in the cup holder on the Mustang’s center console, fired up its V8 engine and set off.



Walter Redmayne's burial wasn’t honorable at all. Instead, it was like something from the darkest of nightmares. He was buried in the dirt somewhere between Santa Catarina and McCook with just three men in attendance. Three men whom he had only known for about six long, arduous hours. Three men who wore scuffed work boots, faded blue jeans and black leather jackets to his funeral. Three men who picked him at random and knocked on his door, then dragged him from the doorstep at gunpoint sometime in the afternoon and drove him out to the barren Texan desert because they had a job that needed to be done. Three men who beat him black and blue in the dirt and tossed a shovel at his feet, then held two black 12-gauge pump-action shotguns at his head and ordered him to dig his own grave. And, then, stood watching, smoking cigarettes, while he did.

By sunset, Walter was dehydrated, sore and exhausted. His throat felt like sand. His arms were limp, his bones ached and his joints burned. The arthritis howled up through his hands and the back of his sunburned neck looked like a raw cut of beef. But the hole had been dug. Which meant his job was done. Which meant the men’s use for him was up.

One of them, a huge, obese man with a red, round bulldog face covered in a thick and dirty black beard, flicked his eyes along the length and breadth of the hole. He nodded his approval at a job of work well done and whipped the cigarette from his mouth, flicked it to the ground and looked down at Walter’s frail figure with a grim look in his eye. "Shift’s over, Grandpa. Time for ya to punch out," he said, then raised the muzzle of his shotgun up through the air.

Walter stared up at him, squinting against the glare of the red setting sun. His heart raced and his eyes widened with every beat. He knew what was coming, but he did what any other man in that situation would have done. He drew upon all the might he had left in his body and raised his sore and shaking hands above his head and pleaded.

"Please," he shouted, in a weak and exhausted-sounding voice that made the word sound like a whisper.

The black-bearded guy merely smirked.

"Plea..,” Walter began to say, again, in the same exhausted intonation, when the guy pulled the trigger.

The shotgun blast echoed loud around the empty landscape, blast after blast ringing through the air, each sounding as if it had been fired from another shotgun farther and farther away, until it finally faded to a faint whisper in the distance.

That's one thing about a shotgun blast. The bark may be loud but the bite is much worse. The shrapnel severed Walter's legs from his thighs down and he crumbled to the bottom of the grave, letting out an excruciating groan that was muffled to nothing more than a moan underneath the loud, ringing gunshots.

The three men chuckled as he twisted his head left and right, clutched the shovel in his left hand and snatched for handfuls of dirt with his right, while a crimson torrent of blood spurted from the torn arteries hanging from his thighs and the life left his body with each and every heartbeat.

The guy in the middle, a similar-built guy to the man with the black beard, but his face and chin covered in a thick ginger beard instead, raised his shotgun and pumped the forend. It clicked, then it clocked, and he took a step forward, his toes overhanging the edge of the grave.

The black-bearded guy, behind him on his left, raised his left hand and shook his head. "Put that down, Wyatt," he said to him and glanced at the third guy. A slim-built blond-haired mouse of a man. "Go fetch the shovel,” he said, then grinned, sinisterly. “We’ll bury him alive."

The little blond guy smiled and nodded his understanding and the ginger-bearded man lowered his gun and stepped backward, the corners of his mouth angling up his cheeks, wickedly.

The little blond guy jumped into the grave and ripped the shovel from Walter's grip. He climbed back out almost as quickly as he had jumped in and drove the shovel’s dull steel head into the brown pile of dirt that Walter had accumulated through his own efforts by his own graveside.

Walter knew it was a matter of time. Seconds rather than minutes. He realized he was going to die, and he was powerless to stop it. He simply closed his eyes tight and smiled through the pain, trying to hang onto what precious few seconds he had left, finding solace in the thought of seeing his late wife, Mary, once again. He imagined her waiting for him, her hand outstretched and reaching for his to help him through the huge set of golden gates that led to a vast lush, tropical garden behind her.

His final, blissful thought was interrupted by the sound of the dirt crunching as the little blond guy shoved the blade of the shovel into the mound, then scraping as he dragged it back out, followed by the feeling of the dirt being tossed over his body. He died right there and then, course gritty dirt itching at his eyes, sticking to his lips and slipping down the back of his sun-scorched neck the last things he ever felt.

The black-bearded guy nodded, watching Walter's body all but disappear under the thin layer of dirt, and raised his right hand, signaling the blond guy to stop. "That's enough," he said to him. "Leave room for later, for when we come back with the whore," he added, then drew his cell phone from his jeans and made the call.

The little blond guy wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and plunged the shovel into the dirt mound and waited, listening quietly, alongside the ginger-bearded guy named Wyatt, as the black-bearded guy made the arrangements.

The call was short. Maybe only a minute. But that was all it took. Everything had been set up. The black-bearded guy tucked his cell phone back into his jeans and looked at the two men and smiled. "Ten-thirty. Tonight. Diamondback's Bar."



Diamondback's Bar wasn't the trendy rock bar its advert made it out to be. It was more like the type of place Beck figured would appear in often-overlooked the section of the things to do in McAllen listings somewhere below the dull and grubby old man's bars but above the sleazy strip clubs. The air inside was warm and it reeked of stale lager and the bar area was dimly lit to a dull orange glow by a row of low-watt pendant lights that hung about a foot above the bar's beaten wooden countertop. The bar itself was just as tired. It looked as if it had been assembled from discarded casks of ale, broken apart haphazardly, then slung into place and tacked together by hand by somebody with a weak, shaky grip using a small handheld hammer and a single jar of old rusted nails.

Beck was sitting off to the right-hand side, on a cracked red leather bar stool at a dusty, faded wooden high top. A few neat bourbons had turned into a five-hour session. He hadn’t planned on it. It just, sort of, happened. And, in that time, he had ignored the advances of four women, devoured two foot-long cheesesteak sandwiches and three portions of overly-crispy fries and drank ten double shots of Jack Daniels. But he wasn’t drunk. It was a unique trait that he had. No matter what he drank, the alcohol didn’t affect him. He was about to knock back his eleventh neat double shot of bourbon when another woman walked in the door.

This time, different from the rest.

She was wearing a tight red lace dress and matching pointed-toe stilettos with four-inch heels and carrying a black Versace purse in her left hand. She had long dark-brown hair that curled outward at its ends and long tanned legs that looked like they had been kissed by the sun. Her skin shone under the glow from the bar’s orange lights.

She paused a beat, stepping inside. Glanced left, and then right, then noticed him up ahead. The big guy in the dark jacket sitting drinking alone at a high top. The guy she was told to look for. The client. She flicked her eyes up and down his frame and smiled. He was tall and smoulderingly handsome. Dark-haired and masculine-faced. He had a square, stubbly jaw, and he was dressed in a fine-looking dark fitted suit that did little to hide his muscular stature.

Suit looks designer, perhaps. Which means he must have money. Which means I could probably tag on a few extras. This one will be a pleasure, she thought, watching him neck a double shot of bourbon and nod to the barman, a short, bald fat guy with tattooed arms standing behind the bar up ahead, to bring another.

The barman nodded back at him and lifted lowball glass from the pile and what was left of a bottle of Jack Daniels from the middle of a row of bottles sitting high above the bar on a shaky, unvarnished pine shelf.

She clip-clopped across the hard wooden floor, stopped about a foot short of him and placed her right hand on his left shoulder.

“Hey,” she whispered. “Are you the guy?”

Firstly, Beck caught a whiff of her light, floral perfume and the fresh mintiness of her breath. Then, he heard her speak. Her voice sounded soft, feminine. He glanced around from his empty glass, curiosity in his eyes.

She looked to be a few years younger than he was, somewhere in the twilight of her twenties, with a bronze tanned complexion and a diamond-shaped face with azure-blue eyes that were flanked by long dark lashes.

“You the guy?” she asked him, again.

He flicked his gaze down her voluptuous figure. She was slim-waisted and curvaceous in all of the right places. He wasn’t the guy and he had never seen her before, but she was beautiful. Maybe up there with the most beautiful women he had ever seen, which meant he was interested. Which meant, this time, he was 'the guy.' That was for damn sure.

“I’m the guy,” he answered, in a deep-sounding, masculine voice, as the barman brought over his twelfth double shot.

“Great,” she replied, smiling. "Mind if I sit?"

Beck gestured her to take a seat. "Please."

She pulled out the chair next to him and sat down, careful to smooth down her dress before taking a seat. “You got a name?” she asked.

“Yeah. Do you?”

She paused a beat, startled. Then placed her hand on his forearm. "Course I do, honey. It’s Sapphire.”

"Sapphire," Beck said, slowly, lifting his bourbon, thinking about it, realizing she was a prostitute. He paused a beat, then continued, figuring what-the-hell. "It’s Beck. Joe Beck," he said and put the bourbon down, untouched, and stuck out his hand.

She shook his hand, raising her left eyebrow and offering him an admirable glance. "A strong grip."

Beck smiled. He knew her game. He re-lifted his double bourbon and gestured her to have one. "Care for a drink?"

She smiled. She realized his. "Sure thing, honey, it’s your dime," she said and drank his bourbon.

He waved the barman over and asked for another double shot and she asked for a vodka slimline tonic.

The guy brought them a moment later, the vodka tonic served in a tall glass with a fresh slice of lime and the bourbon in another lowball glass.

Beck necked it in one and Sapphire drank the vodka cocktail and they small-talked their way to a few more empty glasses over the next ten minutes, then left the bar arm-in-arm.



The two bearded men and the little blond guy pulled in to the Diamondback's parking lot at about ten twenty-eight. Two minutes ahead of schedule. They were in a black Chevrolet Tahoe. The little blond guy was in the driver's seat and the two bearded men were in the back. The blond guy nosed the car into a spot in the middle of the lot, facing onto the bar’s entrance, then turned off the lights. They sat inside the car in darkness like a pack of lurking predators poised and ready to ambush their prey on sight.

That was when they saw the impossible.

They watched, speechless, as Sapphire walked out of the bar on the arm of some random guy dressed in a black suit and then climbed into a car with him. A black Ford Mustang.

"Fuck," the black-bearded guy sneered, thumping the back of the blond guy's headrest.

He said nothing. Just glanced up at the rearview mirror and looked at his reflection. "What do we do now?" he asked him.

The black-bearded guy sighed. "We’ll wait."

"Wait?" the ginger-bearded guy asked, in a rising intonation.

"We’ll wait," the black-bearded guy confirmed, watching the Mustang through the window. "We’ll wait for them to leave,” he added. “And, then, when they do, we’ll follow them. His orders were that this has to be done tonight. So, that unfortunate asshole has just gone and made himself collateral damage."



"Your place or motel?" Beck asked, sitting on the driver's seat of the Mustang with Sapphire on the passenger seat on his right.

"Motel," Sapphire answered. She was an outcall girl, through and through. She felt it was more exciting. Different place, different guy, different night. No place and nobody was ever the same, and nothing was going to change that.

“Motel it is,” Beck said and fired up the Mustang's engine and moved the car out from the slot. They cruised across town and stopped at a thirty-five-bucks-a-night shack in the middle of McAllen called the Sundance Motel. It had a pink-and-yellow glowing neon sign out front advertising basic essentials like clean beds, coffee and running water as its main selling points. But it was the small print that caught Beck's eye: Cash payments accepted. No ID necessary. The perfect spot to shack up for the night without leaving any sort of imprint, he thought. His kind of place.

They pulled into the parking lot, went inside and checked in to room 106. The rooms were basic, and 106 was no different. It was small with magnolia pained plasterboard walls and a tired dark-green carpet. There was a small black portable television with a built-in VCR sitting on a pine table by the window and a double bed in the middle of the room. It had a yellow Caribbean bloom bedspread with a pine headboard at the top and matching pine bedside cabinets on either side, each three drawers high with brown plastic knobbed handles. The top knob was missing from both.

They flicked each other a glance that said, ‘c’est la vie,’ and stepped inside and closed the door behind them. Sapphire tossed her Versace purse on the carpet and kicked off her stilettos, while Beck placed his wallet and car keys on the cabinet on the right of the bed.

She padded over behind him and carefully slipped the suit jacket from his shoulders, then eased the tie from his neck and, slowly, undid the buttons of his shirt. She glanced up and down his tanned, muscular torso and smiled, then tossed his shirt in the pile beside her shoes and purse. That was when she slipped out of her red lace dress.

Beck watched, a grin on his face, as the dress slipped down her body and elegantly landed at her feet. Her breasts were full and round and free from tan lines, and there wasn’t a pinch of fat anywhere to be seen. He placed his hand on her left breast and leaned his head forward for a kiss.

She shook her head. "Not yet," she whispered, then undid his belt buckle.

Beck raised his left eyebrow.

She smiled. “Go sit on the edge of the bed first."

He smiled back and padded along the carpet to the foot of the bed and sat down, his legs spread apart and his feet square against the carpet.

She walked around and knelt on the carpet in front of him, wearing nothing but teardrop crystal earrings and a black breakaway thong. Its thin black straps sucked around her tight tanned waist.

She placed her right index finger over his lip and slowly moved it downward, tracing an elegant path over the dark shadow of stubble covering his chin, down his neck and past his collar bone. It was warm and pulsing and he could feel the smooth tip of her nail, colored red with polish, teasing against his skin. She continued, running her fingertip down between his pectoral muscles and into the deep creases between his chiseled abdominals. They felt firm and hard and looked like the European cobblestones travelers tend to find along the footpaths and side streets in places like Vienna or Brugge.

She caressed every inch and smiled, running her finger down and then across, left and then right, and down again until she reached the waist of his pants. Her fingertip slid past his undone belt buckle and onto his dark polyester pants. She gazed upward, looking into his emerald-green eyes and smiled. Then ran her tongue along her upper lip and bit down on her bottom lip and whispered, “Let’s get these off."

Beck grinned and, slowly, nodded his agreement.

Sapphire curled her fingers around the waist of his pants, took the slider of his zip between her right index finger and her thumb and began to pull downward. Firm and slow.

The zip’s teeth parted with a hiss as the zip glided over them. It had slid half-way down with just another half to go when the room’s plum wooden door came crashing from its white wooden frame with a thunderous bang.

It sounded like a direct hit from a sledgehammer. The white wood splintered from the frame and peppered the green carpet with chipped fragments that fell like snow. The door caved sideways from its brass hinges and fell to the floor, and two huge, bearded men charged in from the night.

They had skinhead haircuts over round bulldog faces, red wrinkled foreheads, dark puffy eyes and thin purple slits for mouths. Four flabby chins drooped over their necks and they looked as if they'd never seen a razor in years. They were covered ear-to-ear by thick straggly beards, one jet black and the other ginger. Their beards twisted and coiled at the ends and practically held pieces of black decayed corn and scraps of rotten, gray meat-like insects stuck to a spider's web. The men stood almost as tall as they looked wide. Maybe six-foot-two with somewhere beyond eight-hundred pounds of bulk between them. They were wearing tired-looking dark-brown work boots that had scuffs at the toes and dirt stains along the welts, faded blue jeans and dark-gray sweat-soaked t-shirts underneath black leather jackets that did nothing to contain the ghostly white rolls of flab that hung down over at their waists. They held black 12-gauge pump-action shotguns across their bulging stomachs and they had sinister grins across their faces. Their fingers were looped through the guns’ trigger guards, and their knuckles were a ghostly shade of white.

Sapphire screamed and crumpled to the floor. She crawled across the carpet and curled up in a ball with her back pressed firmly against the wall that separated the bedroom from the bathroom, holding her left forearm across her chest, barely covering her naked breasts, frantically shaking her head. She dug her feet into the carpet and pushed hard against its fibers, trying to move back even farther, but there was nowhere else for her to go.

The ginger-bearded guy waddled across the carpet and stood, leering over the top of her almost naked body. "Get up, bitch," he yelled in a thick Texan accent and grabbed her by a lock of her long, dark hair.

She screamed and jolted her hands above her head. Grabbed a hold of his wrists as he hauled her up to her feet like she was a rag doll.

He yanked her head downward to her left and leered at her bare round perfect breasts.

"We're gonna enjoy this," he said, sniggering and licking his lips, then dragged her across the carpet by her hair and pushed her out through the hole in the wall where the door had once been.

The black-bearded guy glanced at the bedside cabinet on the right of the bed and raised the shotgun to Beck's head. "Wallet and keys," he said. "Get them and put them in your pockets, Asshole."

Beck’s throat tightened and his heart raced. He was staring down the chilling hollow barrel of a loaded Winchester SXP Black Shadow shotgun and he was unarmed. He had left his firearm of choice, a Smith & Wesson 5906, in the glove box of the car, having put it there before the funeral because it seemed inappropriate to have a gun at the burial of a man who took his own life with a bullet.

His first thought was to rush the guy. At his weight, he figured all it would've taken was one hard shoulder tackle. His knees would have buckled beneath him and he would have collapsed on the floor like a big redwood falling over in a clearing. But his feet were spread apart, one slightly behind the other. There was no guarantee he would knock him off his feet and the shotgun would likely go off. The shrapnel would tear right through him and the other guy would hear it. He would kill Sapphire in a heartbeat. Or, worse, she would be left with them. Alone.

His second thought was his smartest. He realized that if the guy had wanted to kill him, he probably would have shot him already. So, he figured the best way to ensure both he and Sapphire made it out of this alive would be to do exactly as the guy said. For now, anyway. He leaned back across the duvet, twisting his body and stretching his arm and grabbed his wallet and car keys with his right hand.

"That's right, Asshole," the black-bearded guy said. "Now put them in your pockets and stand up."

Beck returned to a seated position, then stuffed his wallet into his left pocket and his keys into his right and stood up from the edge of the bed.

"Now hands above your head," the guy snarled, jabbing his abdomen with the muzzle of the shotgun.

Beck looked at him for a long moment, then raised his hands above his head.

"Okay," the black-bearded guy said and nodded toward what was left of the door. "Walk."

Beck kept quiet, taking deep, silent breaths, and moved toward the empty white door frame.

The guy followed closely behind, the shotgun’s cold steel muzzle pressed hard against the small of his back, and pushed him out to the dark and humid Texas night.

Copyright © Alastair Brown, 2020

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Published by Ablaze Books, January 2020.

Copyright Notice

Army of One: Introducing Joe Beck is held copyright © by Alastair Brown as at its respective creation date. All rights reserved. It, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form without permission. Anyone who displays, reproduces, copies, creates derivative works, or sells textual, photographic, video, audiovisual programs or other content related to this creative work/publication for commercial or non-commercial purposes without permission violates intellectual property laws and is liable for infringement of intellectual property rights.

Army of One: Introducing Joe Beck is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual business establishments, actual events, or actual locales is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, brands, establishments, and institutions referenced within this creative work/publication.