This is an excerpt from Chapter 1

Fall, deep in the woods, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Though the oak and pine trees were thirty to sixty feet tall, deep foliage made Jeff Kreig nearly invisible. He was looking across a small clearing that extended some thirty yards before the woods and brush became dense again. The trees were full, and though the sun was brilliant that day, and high in the sky, shade engulfed the entire opening. All around, birds chirped in a symphony-like cadence. Overhead, two squirrels scurried from branch to branch.

Jeff inhaled deeply. From the spicy aroma of witch hazel to the aromatic perfume of white pine, everywhere was the sweet fragrance of life and beauty. For a moment his conscience objected to the irony that his intent, his purpose, his great effort, was to kill.

The thought quickly passed. He could see his prey through the trees.

Jeff’s pulse quickened. His muscles tightened. His breathing became rapid and deeper. Relax, he told himself.

Hours on the practice range. Months of anticipation. Hundreds of dollars on lodging, gas, and greasy-spoon meals. And hours of stealthy movement through these woods…
All for this moment.

His prey took another step and was standing at the far edge of the clearing in the apparent belief that there was adequate cover.

It was time to kill.

Carefully, Jeff raised his left arm, making sure to not stir the surrounding brush; any visible or audible movement could warn his prey. Silently, he drew back the arrow toward his right ear. The arrow’s razor-sharp point glistened in a thin band of sunlight that pierced the overhead tree cover. A drop of perspiration snaked its way down his forehead to his eyebrow, where it filtered through and spilled into his right eye. The salty tear stung and he fought the urge to blink.

Jeff’s muscles easily pulled the 80 pounds of tension in the compound bow. At close to 350 feet per second, the arrow would cover the distance in less than a second. If properly aimed, it would rip into its target with all its force concentrated on its razor-sharp edges. If unimpeded by bone, the arrow could slash all the way through the body and emerge out the other side.

Jeff trained the arrow at the precise location necessary to strike directly in the center of the breast—now!

He let the arrow fly.

The combined sounds of the vibrating bow cord and the acceleration of the arrow raced to the target about three times faster than the arrow itself. Instantly sensing danger, the victim’s eyes darted toward the sounds.

He looked right at Jeff. His eyes were big, watery, and sullen.

The arrow plunged into the center of the deer’s chest and its eyes went wide in confusion. A moment later its nervous system registered the damage. The leg muscles gave away and the deer collapsed to the ground.

“You got him!” Miles yelled, his voice piercing the quiet of the deep woods.
Jeff swallowed hard. “I guess so.”

“Gee, don’t sound so excited. Did you see? He looked right at you!”

That, of course, was the problem.

The deer’s eyes had seared into his mind. This was his first try at bow hunting. His churning stomach was telling him that it might be his last.

“Looks like an eight-pointer, Jeff! Come on! Let’s make sure he’s dead.” Miles pushed his way through the underbrush and into the clearing.

Jeff hesitated. He had thought about the possibility that his first shot might not kill the deer. That possibility was now real—and those beseeching eyes! How could he finish him off? Jeff hadn’t accounted for those damned eyes. A lump formed in his throat and he thought he might be sick. Reluctantly, he pulled himself up and trudged after Miles with one hand to his stomach.

Miles and Jeff had become best friends while competing on the wrestling team in high school. Now, both 22 years of age and a shade under six feet tall, they had maintained their muscular builds and six-pack abs. Jeff’s round face, blond hair, and boyish blue eyes contrasted sharply with Miles’s chiseled face, curly black hair, and brown eyes. Where Jeff seemed young and confident, though quite harmless unless you noticed his muscular neck and forearms, Miles looked tough as nails, with a massively thick chest and broad shoulders which rose up in a distinct “V” shape from his waist.

Jeff reached the deer. Miles was already on his knees, working to free the arrow. It had been a perfect shot and the deer was quickly expiring. But there it was—a huge animal still so warm its body steamed in the cool air. Its chest was heaving, fighting for its last breaths. Lord, Jeff thought, This is a nightmare, a living—no, a dying nightmare.
Jeff shook his head. “I’m done.”

Miles turned away from his efforts with the arrow. “What?”

“I’m never killing anything again.”

“Oh, come on. You’ll get over it once you taste this meat.” Miles went back to work on the arrow. “There, got it.” He raised the bloody arrow as if it were a trophy. There was still bright red flesh trapped in the web of the arrow’s tip.

Jeff’s stomach went sour and he felt dizzy. He dropped to one knee for support. “No, really, I think—” A noise caught Jeff’s attention and he stopped speaking in mid-sentence. He turned his head in the direction of—

His heart instantly leaped into his throat. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Miles had also turned and looked up. They were both staring at the business end of what appeared to be a Colt m16a2 gas-operated 5.56 mm select fire assault rifle.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded the gunman, whose six-foot four-inch frame towered over both Jeff and Miles. He wore camouflage fatigues, complete with military-style black leather boots.

Jeff’s mind began to race. He and Miles had discussed the possibility that they might have inadvertently wandered onto private property; apparently, they had. And it was shaping up to be a very big mistake.

On the other hand, Jeff quickly analyzed, a landowner would not likely shoot them on his own property—incriminating blood and guts are not the things one would want strewn about. So, this guy was probably just bluffing with his… Wait a minute. What in the heck would he be doing with a military assault rifle? This was not making any sense: a nasty-looking gun, a face chiseled out of rock, and eyes that glowed with an eerie coolness… Clearly, this was one mean dude.

The gunman moved forward and motioned with the m16 for Jeff and Miles to stand. With a scarcely visible smile, the gunman jammed the barrel of the rifle into Jeff’s chest. The gunman kept a hold on the pistol grip of the m16 as he frisked Jeff with his free hand. Jeff looked down at the gun’s flash suppressor that was pressed into his coat. He could smell gun oil mixed with the faint odor of spent gunpowder.

Already nauseous and dizzy from the deer, Jeff started to panic. Faced with a deadly threat, his body was inexorably shifting into a fight or flight response. Suddenly, his eyes could see nothing but the gunman—nothing past or to either side—as though everything else had ceased to exist. And what he couldn’t see, he couldn’t hear. Instead of the comforting sounds of rustling trees and the chatter of birds—there was deathly silence.

Jeff shook his head to force his senses back into operation. The gunman smiled, as though he could read Jeff’s mind and knew he was struggling to maintain awareness.
The gunman pulled Jeff’s hunting knife from his belt pouch. Apparently satisfied, the gunman pulled the gun from Jeff’s chest and jammed it likewise into Miles and frisked him.
The gunman stepped back, eyed Miles and said, “We ought to have a little coon hunt.”

Jeff glanced over and saw Miles’s eyes go as big around as silver dollars.

The gunman laughed.

Miles stood motionless; he seemed to be holding his breath.

Jeff battled to gain awareness; somehow he cut through the panic-induced fog. If this jerk would only put his gun barrel back on my chest… In his senior year, Jeff had placed third at the Michigan High School Wrestling Championships. He was still very strong and fast. All he needed was a fraction of a second…

The gunman was a bit more relaxed, apparently satisfied that Jeff and Miles were now unarmed. He was standing only a gun’s length away as he again raised the M16 toward Jeff’s chest.

That was all Jeff needed.

As the M16 came up, Jeff reached out with both hands and yanked the barrel toward himself and to his side, pulling the gunman off balance and forward. Jeff stepped into the forward motion of the gunman and wrapped his left hand around the back side of the gunman’s right arm, just below the shoulder. Taking advantage of the gunman being off balance and falling slightly forward, Jeff lowered his center of gravity and shot his right arm into the gunman’s crotch. This folded the gunman at the waist and effectively positioned him across Jeff’s shoulders. Jeff then pulled down hard with his left arm and raised his right shoulder deeper into the gunman’s crotch, pulling the gunman off his feet and suspending him across Jeff’s shoulders, as if the gunman were being carried out of a burning home by a fireman.

Jeff continued his move by rotating his shoulders: the left, down; the right, up—cartwheeling the gunman to the ground. The M16 jammed into the turf, twisted out of the gunman’s grip, and fell harmlessly to the side.

In competition, Jeff usually followed his fireman’s carry with a half nelson to pin the opponent’s shoulders to the mat. Instead, he threw the gunman to his stomach and promptly drove the gunman’s right arm up behind his back. Jeff slowly raised the gunman’s wrist until he started writhing in pain. At that point, Jeff knew he had, at least temporarily, resolved the matter. He raised his head away from the gunman’s back as much to get his nose away from the stench of stale cigarettes as to locate Miles.

Miles had grabbed the M16 and had it trained in their general direction, but with the barrel pointed safely toward the ground. Jeff leaned into the gunman, applying a little more upward pressure on the wrist. It elicited another wince of pain and caused the gunman to arch his back in an attempt to ease the strain on his arm and shoulder.

Jeff tried to sort things out, but his heart was pounding between his ears so hard and fast he could barely think. He needed a few moments, so he leaned a little harder into the gunman. The problem, Jeff realized, was that once a wrestling match was over, the opponent shook your hand and walked off the mat. This match was over—but letting this guy up would be a very different story.

Suddenly Jeff realized that the protrusion he felt around the man’s waist underneath the camouflage jacket was a holstered gun. It made him wonder…

“Miles, point that thing at this jerk’s head while I check him for another gun.”

“Gladly.” Miles moved closer and put the flash suppressor to the gunman’s temple. Jeff noted with satisfaction that Miles had his finger off the trigger but alongside the trigger guard. For their high school graduation they had both received a week-long training course at the famed Gunsite Training Academy, where they had quickly learned that the finger goes inside the trigger guard only upon a decision to discharge the weapon.

Keeping upward pressure on the gunman’s arm and wrist, Jeff pulled the gun out of the holster at his waist and began to search.

“Miles!” Sure enough. There was another gun—this one in an ankle holster. Jeff tossed both guns into the bushes several feet away.

“Hell!” Jeff pulled a small radio transmitter from a deep pocket on the gunman’s pants.

Miles choked, “What if he used that before we got him?”

“He did,” came a voice from the woods.

Miles wheeled around in the direction of the voice. Jeff frantically scanned the bushes but saw nothing.

Again from the woods: “Drop the gun before we blow your head off!”

This time Jeff could tell the voice came from behind Miles, and as Jeff strained to see through the bushes, several men appeared, dressed in the same fatigues as the gunman they had disarmed.

Each one had an M16.

They were approaching from all sides.

Miles cast a defeated glance at Jeff and, without further prompting, he let the M16 drop to the ground.

One of the men spoke, “Well, lookie what we got here.” Jeff figured he was the leader.

Another said, “I didn’t think spooks had any brains. But this one was smart enough to toss the gun.” They all laughed.

Jeff counted five men.

The leader motioned his m16 at Jeff. “Why don’t you get off our friend before I blow your damn head off?”

Jeff wondered whether that might occur anyhow. As he got up, he tried to create some space between himself and the man he had taken down. The guy would be pretty pissed, and with all his buddies around he might come up swinging, or worse.

Jeff felt himself pulled from behind. He saw black hands wrapped around his waist.

One of the men shouted, “Hey, Sambo! Smart of you to pull your friend back. Leonard would probably like to rip his head off!” The armed men laughed.

Leonard stood and began rubbing his right shoulder. “Let’s just get these punks back to the lodge.” He retrieved his guns from the bushes.

Several men nodded in agreement, and one of the men stepped forward. “Just turn around and head toward that clearing and then left along the tree line.” The man motioned the M16 in the direction he wanted them to go.

Miles and Jeff turned around and began walking. Miles was in front and a gunmen followed Jeff. Suddenly Jeff felt a hard jolt to his back, followed by a searing pain just below his shoulder. The man had apparently slammed the barrel of his M16 into Jeff’s back. Jeff lurched forward from the impact, lost his balance, and stumbled into Miles. He grabbed Miles’s coat to stay up. Jeff moaned as he straightened himself and moved forward in silence. His back and shoulder started to throb. Oh God, he thought, this is just the beginning…

 

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