The Hangman's Soliloquy
Chapter 1 Sample
A convoy of trucks eased onto the exit ramp at Limon, Colorado, leaving I-70 for US-24 toward Colorado Springs. Traffic was moderate, allowing the assorted trucks to maintain a brisk pace through small and scattered towns. The late evening light threw shadows onto the asphalt; the glow of the full moon transformed the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains into the jagged shoulders of some long-sleeping behemoth. An unmarked road ten miles east of Peterson Air Force Base brought a change in course, guiding the vehicles past little more than scrub brush until a small security booth appeared. Inside stood a lone guard who rubbed his eyes when he saw the approaching headlights.
As the procession stopped one hundred yards from the shack, a man exited from the lead SUV clutching a rifle. Kneeling, he took a deep breath as he raised the weapon, remaining perfectly still, with a clear view of the doorway leading into the guard hut. The patrolman emerged from the structure, flashlight in hand. He managed two steps before collapsing to the ground. The sniper smirked, returning to his vehicle as the line of trucks resumed their progress, stopping when they reached the shack.
A man in black tactical gear let himself into the guard station, pressing the button for the front gate. The line entered a compound comprising two drab gray buildings, each standing three stories tall. To an imaginative person, they looked like structures you would find at a prison in some futuristic dystopia. The twelve-foot-high razor wire fence that enclosed the site only added to that effect.
Proudly perched in the center was a seven-story building. Moonlight gleamed off of its glass facade. Lights illuminated a random series of offices, each devoid of movement. The same held true for the other buildings. QNI Research, the company that owned and operated this facility and six others like it across the United States, was currently under a federal investigation focusing on a host of legal and ethical violations. As a result, all of their facilities were inactive until they completed the inquiry.
The man made his way to the rear wall of the patrol station. He knelt down, placing a small toolset on the floor. With the appropriate implement selected, he set to work, opening a circuit board and scanning the labyrinth of wires inside. He clipped, clamped, and rerouted them into a pastiche of bows and loops before walking back to the entryway. Taking care to step over the guard, he took a flashlight from his pocket, issuing three bursts.
Drivers began aligning box trucks at their designated targets; one each at the loading docks of the shorter buildings. The third truck sped toward the office building, bounding over a curb and smashing its way into the lobby, creating a blizzard of shards and dust. After killing the engine, the driver stepped out, glass crunching under his boots. He lit a cigarette before strolling out to the courtyard in front of the structure.
A man stood at the edge of the lawn, a wraith among the shadows, surveying the movements of his crew. He eschewed the tactical outfits of the others. Instead, he wore jeans, a button-down shirt, and a black overcoat. He fixed his eyes on some distant point, a fire burning behind them, fueled by a mix of rage and disgust. With his plan unfolding before him, his lips turned up, baring his teeth aggressively.
His name is Greg Schultz, and he once worked for the conglomerate that owns this facility. He saw the vicious nature of their actions and was an active participant in a particularly nasty one. For that, he had paid dearly. They had dragged him down to a place darker than he ever imagined existed; It’s a place that most never return from. Greg, however, had made it through and came back with a vengeance.
Tonight was the first major step in that vengeance.
His gaze shifted as he focused on the approaching driver. “Rendezvous with Thompson, Hodges, and Stroud. Pull up to the gate and load the guard into the rear. We’re rolling out in five.”
The man nodded and walked away, leaving Schultz alone. The other drivers emerged, throwing quick nods to the man. Respect paid, they marched toward the rest of the group. They moved in lockstep, each stride marked with purpose and conviction. Tiny beads of sweat began peppering their foreheads despite their goosebumps. They all realized what they were doing. They also knew the implications.
One by one, the SUVs came to life, the harsh glare of their headlights casting an ominous glow across the derelict facility. Three pulled away from where they parked and headed back to the front gate, the foremost stopping at the security booth. A trio of men emerged, two taking possession of the guard, while the third opened the liftgate. The men returned to their seats after stowing the subdued man in the truck’s rear before awaiting the order to move out.
The last SUV pulled up behind Schultz, projecting his shadow onto the ruined face of the office building. He raised his arms, slowly bringing his hands together as he watched his silhouette mimic the gesture. If only it were that easy.
“What an absolute abomination.” He retrieved a two-way radio from his coat and lifted it to his mouth. “Okay boys, the time has come for us to complete our first test.” A shiver ran through him as he returned the device to his pocket, but it wasn’t because of the cold. He was excited, inspired. “Another one bites the dust.”
He entered the backseat of the truck as the compound fell silent. Five minutes later, the convoy was back on US-24, heading north. They drove for three miles before pulling into a rundown convenience store, its old and yellowed lights illuminating an empty parking lot. What is more important is that there are no surveillance cameras to capture their visit.
Two men removed the guard, carrying him to the far side of the building, where they placed him against a wall. Any passersby would see a drunkard taking a nap and carry on with their travels. One man produced a cheap flip phone, checked the battery, and dropped it into the guard’s lap. They then joined the others in a huddle next to the vehicles, looking in the facility’s direction.
Schultz strolled over, a tablet in hand. The screen showed a countdown ticking under the one-minute mark. His chest was tight; acid burned his esophagus. What if this didn’t work? He couldn’t afford to waste the planning and resources, not with everything that was left to be done.
He tried to purge the doubt, reminding himself of why he was doing this. Fury ate away his anxiety; apprehension was giving way to a single-minded purpose.
Faces danced across the stage of his mind.
First was his son, Evan.
Then came his daughter, Isabel.
Finally, he saw his wife, Elizabeth.
He fought back tears, raising his eyes just in time to see a luminous orange glow paint the sky to the Northeast. A smile inched across his lips as a cacophony of explosions touched his ears. The pane glass windows of the old store rattled in their rotting frames. It was the most beautiful thing that Greg had seen since everything in his life had gone to hell. The parking lot filled with a mixture of laughter and celebratory hoots.
“Each of you did an exceptional job tonight and you should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.” He held his hands in the air, a gesture intended to quiet the group. “Okay, okay, let’s knock off the circle jerk. It is time to leave and catch some rest. We still have a long way to go.”
He looked at the eager faces of his team; the smile widened across his face. He let his family down, a fact he’d have to carry with him for the remainder of his days. To let down his new family was unacceptable.
“We’re just getting started.”
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the devil's backyard
Ten miles north of Raleigh, along a winding two-lane road, sat an old, stately manor. Few people knew of its existence, thanks largely to the thick belt of oaks which lined the perimeter of the property on which it stood. None of those who could be considered neighbors—all of whom lived at least two miles away—ever saw a car enter or leave the estate.