BITTER END COVER REVEAL COMING

Tuesday. May 10.

Unless you subscribe to my newsletter. Then you’ll get the cover a day early. Want that and other exclusive goodies (like, say, a free novella just for subscribing)? Then click here!

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: Betrayal

Two years ago yesterday–April 14, 2020–I released by sixth novel: Betrayal, the fifth entry in the Jill Andersen series.

Cover by Sarah Anderson

Yep, I released a book in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oops.

It wasn’t on purpose, just a really unfortunate case of timing, but the launch wound up being relatively successful. I managed a couple preorders and actually had a few ARC reviews in-hand come launch day (making Betrayal the first book to have a successful ARC campaign). All told, I sold 52 books that April (my second-best month ever), and I followed that up in May 2020 with another 38 sales.

Whatever I did back then, I need to get back to doing.

The hope is to have book six in the series, Bitter End, out within the calendar year. I’ve secured both an editor and a cover artist, so we’re officially in what I call “pre-launch” territory.

Hopefully, no renewed plague this time.

Betrayal (Jill Andersen #5)
Someone is killing Baltimore’s heroes.

The ones with badges. The ones who put out fires. The ones who debate laws designed to make the citizens’ lives better. None of them are safe, and their deaths amount to little more than public spectacle. A mysterious band of militants called The Collective takes credit for the killings, but the origins and identities of its members are unknown.

Jill Andersen now has an FBI badge on her hip. She is tasked with bringing down the cult, and she must make sure she doesn’t wind up in their crosshairs in the process. All of her theories and leads come up empty – none of the usual suspects are behind these ghastly murders. They might just be in the line of fire themselves.

With those closest to her now targets, Jill must race against the clock to determine who’s killing the best Baltimore has to offer. But along the way, she’ll discover a jarring secret – one that threatens to make her question everything that has happened in her life to this point.

Assuming it doesn’t kill her first.

Betrayal, the gripping, hard-hitting fifth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (BountyBlood TiesBehind the BadgeBehind the Mask), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

Betrayal is available in paperback and all major ebook outlets.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Project Updates: February 2022

Progress! Is being made! It’s a thing! Promise!

Exclamation points!

(Okay, I’ll stop. Maybe.)

Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6)
Revisions are complete, and the manuscript will shortly be in the hands of my series editor once logistics and payment are sorted out. I’ve also solicited the outstanding Sarah Anderson for the cover, so be on the lookout in the coming weeks and months for a cover reveal, a blurb, and possibly even a release date. All signs point to the longest, most intense, and violent book in this series hitting (virtual) shelves sometime in 2022. Then work will start on book 7 in the series, tentatively titled Big Apple, and the plan is to not wait two or three years before that one’s out.

Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries
I’ve begun my third attempt at a full first draft of the closest thing I will ever write to a true love story. My 2020 NaNoWriMo project had a lot of potential, and most of the words from that go-round have survived (largely) intact, but I think I’ve found a much more streamlined way to tell this story of lesbian assassins and all the naughty things they do (maybe so streamlined that this will become a standalone novel, rather than a duology or trilogy). There may or may not also be a cover of sorts in the works, but I’m going to keep the lid on that at least until I have a completed first draft. I’m excited for this project, have been since the day it first popped into my head. Now I just have to, you know, write it.

Prelude to Hellion
This short story collection, meant to launch a brand-new series, is roughly 3/4 done (in fact, newsletter subscribers have been receiving an exclusive sneak peek into one of the stories that will be in this collection; if you want in on goodies like that, just sign up for my newsletter). The stories within will set the stage for the new series, while taking concepts from both Notna and the Jill Andersen series, and some of these stories, on top of being fun to write, will also be crucial building blocks to the world these characters–new and familiar–inhabit.

Land of the Free (Hellion #1)
The first book in a series I’m dubbing West Wing meets Supernatural began as my 2021 NaNoWriMo project, and while I fell way short of the 50,000-word goal, it’s not because I didn’t know what to write. The story is there, the characters are there, it’s simply a matter of me putting together all the puzzle pieces in a way that will satisfy those who’ve been with me from the beginning, while also enticing new readers. I’m really excited by the potential this series has, even as time is making parts of this series far more relevant than I’d like.

Y’all have no idea how great it feels to have actual progress to share. I came into 2022 with the intent of getting back on the proverbial horse, and so far, that effort is bearing fruit. Maybe not fruit that’s edible any time soon, Bitter End aside, but rest assured the words are being typed and the creative juices are flowing.

Which, after the past two years, is all I can ask for.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Just Who *is* J.D. Cunegan, Anyway?

Author’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Medium.

After 40 years, I think I’ve finally figured it out.

Hey, look! I have books!

Mostly.

I’m a self-published author. I’m a motorsports junkie. I’m a relatively new hockey fan and a lifelong baseball nut. My hockey team won the Stanley Cup in 2018 and my baseball team doesn’t look like it’s winning anything any time soon.

Pre-plague, I went to roughly five NASCAR races a year. Every weekend, there are fast cars on my TV. NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, NHRA, IMSA sports cars. If it goes fast and has four wheels, chances are I have at least a passing interest.

Heh, passing. Get it?

…Get it?

Okay, I’ll stop.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in middle school, when I first discovered the X-Men and then had designs on being the next Jim Lee. The next Todd MacFarlane. But once I got to college, I discovered I was a much better writer than artist. Mostly because majoring in art in college is a surefire way to fall out of love with art.

(Pro tip: if you wanna study art in college, go to an actual art school.)

But I also discovered sports writing. And sportscasting. I spent the latter half of my college days working for the campus newspaper and campus radio station, writing columns and laying out pages and calling basketball and baseball games on the radio (Old Dominion didn’t yet have football when I was there).

So now my day job involves working in college athletics. Writing press releases and handling media inquiries and doing what often feels like entirely too much. I’ve seen my share of NCAA Tournament games and spent more time on buses and planes than I care to admit. But I have a decent ring collection and the pay’s good; it’s helped finance my other writing.

You know, those books I’ve written?

I published my debut novel, Bounty, on June 1, 2015. As of this writing, I have six novels, a short story collection, a non-fiction book, and three anthology contributions to my name. My flagship work is the Jill Andersen series, a comic book-inspired mash-up of the murder mystery and superhero genres, and I’ve also written Notna, which I have trouble categorizing other than to quote a review I got, which said it was like “a cross between Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

I have several other novels in the works (including the next Jill Andersen installment and a brand new series), and if all things go as they should, 2022 should be a pretty big year creatively speaking for me. I can’t promise anything will actually release in 2022, but if I can finish the books I have in-progress, that will go a long way to getting me back on track.

Maybe I can also finally get to a track again in 2022. But knowing COVID the way I do (and those who still refuse to take it seriously), probably not.

Which sucks, because I haven’t been to a race since October 2019. I miss it.

I enjoy (most of) the MCU movies. I’m terrible at watching and keeping up with TV shows (seriously; I didn’t watch Buffy until it was already off the air, and most of my favorite TV shows are no longer running).

I’m an avid reader, because I can’t imagine being a writer and not reading. I firmly believe you need to be one to be the other — so much so, that’s the subject of my non-fiction book (The Art of Reading). I have a handful of authors whose work I love almost without reservation — Chuck Wendig, R.R. Virdi, S.E. Anderson, Sabaa Tahir — and I’m a big supporter of indie and self-published authors.

Because since becoming an author myself nearly seven years ago, the vast majority of the books I’ve loved the most have come from indie and self-published authors.

If you were to visit me, you’d find three things in abundance: books, superhero statues and figures, and race car diecast models (and other racing paraphernalia). That’s probably the greatest summary of who I am and what makes me tic.

Mostly because I can’t just leave chicken wings sitting around. For one thing, they’d go bad if I did that, which would be a terrible waste. Not to mention the bugs they’d likely attract.

I’m the kind of person who stays in during the weekend and enjoys the quiet of solitude (even before COVID became a thing). I’m not a particularly social person, I’ve never been one for the bar scene, and frankly, almost all my friends live elsewhere. I’m as happy on a Friday night in bed with a beer and a book as I am with just about anything else.

I have stories to keep me company, and the older I get (how the hell am I 40?!), the more I find that’s okay.

Unless you have wings. Or you buy one of my books. Then we can talk.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

NEWS: My Books Now Available on Smashwords!

HAMPTON, Va., Aug. 14, 2020 — My six novels — Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge, Behind the Mask, Betrayal, and Notna — as well as the short story collection Legends of the Gem are now available for digital purchase through Smashwords.Bounty Final

Smashwords users can now buy my books directly on that platform, for the same price as on other outlets. That means Bounty remains just 99 cents, with Blood Ties and Legends of the Gem each coming in at $1.99.

All other books are currently $2.99.

With the new channel, all of my books are currently available for purchase on Amazon (Kindle and paperback), BN.com (Nook and paperback), Kobo, Apple iBooks, Scribd, Smashwords, 24 Symbols, Baker & Taylor, and Vivlio. All future books will also be available on all these platforms.

Click here to view my work and my profile on Smashwords.

Readers can also purchase signed paperbacks directly from me.

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

RELEASE DAY: BETRAYAL

Here it is! Betrayal, book five in the Jill Andersen series, is now available!

Release day… there’s nothing like it.

Someone is killing Baltimore’s heroes.Betrayal High Res (2)

The ones with badges. The ones who put out fires. The ones who debate laws designed to make the citizens’ lives better. None of them are safe, and their deaths amount to little more than public spectacle. A mysterious band of militants called The Collective takes credit for the killings, but the origins and identities of its members are unknown.

Jill Andersen now has an FBI badge on her hip. She is tasked with bringing down the cult, and she must make sure she doesn’t wind up in their crosshairs in the process. All of her theories and leads come up empty – none of the usual suspects are behind these ghastly murders. They might just be in the line of fire themselves.

With those closest to her now targets, Jill must race against the clock to determine who’s killing the best Baltimore has to offer. But along the way, she’ll discover a jarring secret – one that threatens to make her question everything that has happened in her life to this point.

Assuming it doesn’t kill her first.

Betrayal, the gripping, hard-hitting fifth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (BountyBlood TiesBehind the BadgeBehind the Mask), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

Grab your copy! (available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Scribd, and paperback)

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

SNEAK PEEK: Betrayal

“I understand that, Mayor, but I have an 11:00 I cannot miss.”Betrayal High Res (2)

Commissioner Jackson Saunders’ phone was tucked between his broad shoulder and his barrel neck as he rolled his eyes at the voice on the other end. He’d barely had a chance to finish his morning coffee and the mayor was already on his ass. About what, he couldn’t tell. Closure rates in the city were improving. Public opinion had… well, improved wasn’t the right word, but at least the locals weren’t taking to the streets en masse for one reason or another anymore. The vigilante had even kept a low profile in recent weeks, and as much as Saunders wanted her behind bars, he had his reasons for leaving that alone.

Reasons the mayor didn’t need to know.

Leaving the Bishop L. Robinson Sr. Police Administration Building, known in some circles simply as The Bishop, and hanging a left on the sidewalk, Saunders approached a black SUV idling at the curb. His 11:00 was on the other end of downtown, and traffic was more of a mess than usual thanks to blocks of road work and construction. The end product was touted as a way to further revitalize downtown Baltimore, but in the meantime, it meant hassle and traffic jams for everyone.

Even important people like the police commissioner.

“Fine. I’ll call you when I’m finished.”

Saunders hung up without another word, cutting the mayor off and stuffing the phone into his coat pocket. He ignored the greeting the man in the three-piece suit whose name he forgot gave him, sliding into the back seat and slamming the door shut himself. Saunders hated being chauffeured around like he was a damn king. Last Saunders checked, he could still drive his own pickup truck, and he was still capable of opening and closing doors himself.

The security detail he understood, useless though they sometimes were, but the rest of it? Needless crap. Crap that never would’ve flown in the Army. At least, not back in the Vietnam days.

“Use the siren,” he ordered as the SUV rolled into traffic. “Don’t have time to waste on this damn traffic.”

Something cold and metal poked against the side of Saunders’ neck and he froze. The window separating the front of the SUV from the back lowered with a low-pitched whirr, and Saunders glanced into the rearview mirror — only to be greeted by the sight of a pair of green eyes staring back at him.

His driver did not have green eyes.

Other than the man’s eyes, the rest of his head was covered in a black mask. Saunders shifted his gaze to his right, finding another black mask and military fatigues. A handgun Saunders didn’t recognize pointed in his direction, the silencer digging into his neck.

“What the –?”

Silence.” The masked man’s voice was distorted, probably digitally altered. It sent a chill down the commissioner’s spine, and his hands went up on pure instinct. The man with the gun chuckled and his shoulders relaxed, but he didn’t lower the weapon. “You’re a smart man, Jackson. More than you get credit for.

A thousand retorts flew through Saunders’ head, but he kept his mouth shut. Whoever these men were, something told him they wouldn’t take kindly to sarcasm. He stole a glance at the front again. The driver was focused on the road ahead, and the SUV swerved to the left. Saunders looked out the window in that direction, his arms slowly returning to his sides. Wherever they were going, it wasn’t where his 11:00 would be waiting.

He hoped kidnapping was a good excuse for not showing up.

Ah-ah.” The masked man with the gun shook his head. “Push that button and I pull the trigger. I’d hate to ruin these fine leather seats.

“Fair enough.” Saunders pursed his lips and stared out the window, his left hand inching away from the red panic button on the side of his seat. “Don’t suppose you got a name?”

Not one you get to know.

Saunders shook his head. “Where I come from, if someone’s gonna kill you, you at least deserve to know who’s doin’ it.”

Who we are isn’t important.” The masked man waved the gun around before the silencer jabbed itself into the commissioner’s neck again. “All that matters is the mission. The message.

“This wasn’t part of the deal.” Saunders arched a brow but kept his gaze straight ahead. Given recent events, he had expected one of his long-held associations to come home to roost. Not all of his friends over the years had been on the up-and-up, and considering one of his captains knew of his ties to both the Russians and the Ukrainians, Saunders would’ve been naive to think one of them wouldn’t come calling sooner rather than later. After all, he was technically a loose end.

But if these people were to come for Saunders, then there was no telling what was in store. These masked men, they were going out of their way to keep their identities secret. Somehow, Saunders would’ve rather the Ukrainians had gotten him.

“The message,” he finally repeated once it was clear he wouldn’t get a response. “You ever try throwing a bottle into the ocean?”

In one swift motion, the masked man flipped the gun in his hand and smashed the butt end of it against the commissioner’s temple. Saunders grunted in pain, his head snapping back and bouncing off the window. He slumped forward, unconscious, both temples bloody.

The driver glanced at the rearview mirror as the SUV merged onto Interstate 83. “Shall I get the studio ready?

Yes.” The other masked man wiped the blood from his gun before returning it to its holster. “But not for Saunders. We have other guests to attend to first.

 

Pre-order Betrayal today! Available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, and paperback. Betrayal comes out Tuesday, April 14!

Want sneak peeks up to five days before everyone else, and other exclusive goodies? Sign up for my newsletter — which will also net you the short story Boundless — FOR FREE!

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Price Drops Galore!

These are strange times, to say the least.Bounty Final

On the one hand, I’m excited about Betrayal‘s impending release. It’s been almost three years since my last release in the Jill Andersen series, and I can’t wait for the emotional toll I’m about to inflict on my readers.

But I can’t ignore what’s going on in the world. How we’re all pretty much stuck at home, lest we catch a virus that might do nothing or might kill us. These are anxious times, made more so by inept leadership and the fact that a lot of people are now facing deep financial trouble through no fault of their own.

So in response to these trying times, and to celebrate Betrayal‘s release on April 14, I’m proud to announce a pair of price changes:

  • Bounty, the first book in the series, is now just 99 cents on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple iBooks.
  • Blood Ties, the second book, is now just $1.99 on those same platforms.

Paperback prices remain unchanged.

In addition, I’ve unpublished the digital short Boundless — opting instead to leave it as the freebie readers get when they sign up for my newsletter. I hate pulling a book from the market, but based on the sales charts, you won’t miss it.

But if you do want a copy of Boundless, all you have to do is subscribe to my newsletter.

So visit your favorite ebook provider (be it Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or Apple iBooks) and take advantage of these new, lower prices. And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Betrayal today!

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Cover Reveal & Release Date: BETRAYAL

Someone is killing Baltimore’s heroes.Betrayal High Res (2)

The ones with badges. The ones who put out fires. The ones who debate laws designed to make the citizens’ lives better. None of them are safe, and their deaths amount to little more than public spectacle. A mysterious band of militants called The Collective takes credit for the killings, but the origins and identities of its members are unknown.

Jill Andersen now has an FBI badge on her hip. She is tasked with bringing down the cult, and she must make sure she doesn’t wind up in their crosshairs in the process. All of her theories and leads come up empty – none of the usual suspects are behind these ghastly murders. They might just be in the line of fire themselves.

With those closest to her now targets, Jill must race against the clock to determine who’s killing the best Baltimore has to offer. But along the way, she’ll discover a jarring secret – one that threatens to make her question everything that has happened in her life to this point.

Assuming it doesn’t kill her first.

Betrayal, the gripping, hard-hitting fifth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge, Behind the Mask), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

Betrayal hits digital bookshelves on Tuesday, April 14!

PRE-ORDER: Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Apple iBooks

Betrayal will also be available in paperback. Click here to catch a sneak peek.

Click here to catch up on the Jill Andersen series!

 

Sign up for my newsletter! If you do, you’ll get a copy of Boundless FOR FREE!

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

SNEAK PEEK: Betrayal

To celebrate the fact that I’ve (finally!) finished writing Betrayal (Jill Andersen #5), I figured I’d reward myself — and all of you — by posting a sneak peek. Keep in mind this is an unedited snippet and that the book is far from a finished product. But with any luck, Betrayal will be out sometime around March. So without further ado… enjoy the sneak peek!

 

With a click, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling flickered to life.

It swung lazily on its rusty chain, illuminating the masked man who stood under it. The holes in his mask were barely large enough for his eyes, and they weren’t even visible when the light swung away. He wore an olive green long-sleeve t-shirt and camouflage pants that were tucked into a pair of scuffed and faded combat boots. Dried blood dotted the shirt. Some of it was from a war the man could barely remember fighting, having refused to fade despite countless washings. The rest was from just a couple hours ago, the result of a stubborn police commissioner who didn’t understand the meaning of “stop resisting.”

An AR-15 was slung over the masked man’s shoulder and cradled in his hands. The weight of it was comfortable in his palms, familiar. In fact, the masked man would admit to feeling naked without this particular weapon. It had never steered him wrong. Not in basic training. Not in war. And certainly not now.

He smiled under his mask when a tiny red light came to life just feet in front of him. This was the moment he had spent the last several years working toward. What came next was the culmination of a life’s dream, the very thing he had been destined to do ever since they unceremoniously threw him out of the Army and onto his ass. It hadn’t been easy. In fact, there had been plenty of sleepless nights in which the man was certain he wouldn’t live to see this day. And yet here he stood, mere moments from the beginning of his greatest triumph.

Only this wasn’t his victory alone. His brothers were as responsible for this breakthrough as he. Not that he would ever tell any of them that. But they knew.

And if they didn’t… oh, well.

“We’re live,” a voice called out from behind a video camera resting eye-level with the masked man.

Reaching up for his neck, making sure the digital voice masking device was still in place, the man’s smile grew. Not that anyone could see it. “Good evening, citizens of Baltimore. You may not realize it right now, but this city is on the precipice of a new age. The dawn of a new era is at our fingertips, and believe me when I tell you that nothing will ever be the same.”

Taking a step toward the camera, leaving much of the light, the masked man hoisted the gun over his shoulder. He kept a steady gaze on the red light, fighting the urge to peel off the mask. Deep down, part of him wanted the world to know who he was. He wanted to show Baltimore what its savior truly looked like. Let the citizens know that their hero was just a flesh and blood man, no different than them. No robots. No cybernetic eyes. No half-baked wannabe superheroes prancing around the rooftops.

He especially wanted her to know.

But not now. Not yet.

There would be time for that later, if everything went according to plan. For now, anonymity was the best course of action — for everyone’s sake.

Chances are, you woke this morning to the news that Councilman Franco has been murdered.” The masked man shook his head. “A tragedy, this is not. Do not let the media elite and his fellow councilmen fool you; Councilman Franco was not the Good Samaritan he is being painted as. He was corrupt. He was selfish. He was everything we assume our politicians to be. And he deserved what happened to him.”

The masked man clasped his hands together behind himself, pacing back and forth. He kept his steps short, careful not to wander out of the frame. His gaze never left the camera. The adrenaline throbbed as it coursed through the man’s veins. Yet he kept his steps slow, purposeful. He closed his eyes and steadied his breath, using the countdown techniques an old platoon mate had taught him when things were at their worst in the sandy nothingness of Afghanistan. The man would count from ten to one, then back again, until the image of his platoon mate’s disembodied head threatened to take over.

Only then did the man stop counting.

Councilman Franco is just the first, and make no mistake, he is far from the last. This city is overrun with the corrupt and the unjust. The deceitful and the vile. We cannot trust the police to tackle the problem. We cannot turn to our elected officials. They will not help us. They will not hold themselves accountable. We cannot ask federal authorities for help. No. This is a cancer that we must cut out ourselves. It will not be pretty. There will be names that shock you. Our actions will likely revile you. We accept that. If we must be the villain in order for Baltimore to regain its past glory, then that is a cross we will gladly bear.”

The man returned to his original spot beneath the light bulb. It flickered as if it was about to blow out, but the light remained true. A cockroach skittered along the bulb before retreating up the chain and into the darkness.

Chances are, we mean none of you watching harm. The decent, law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from us. The rest of you? Consider this the only warning you get.”

The masked man reached for the weapon slung over his shoulder again, cradling it in both hands and pointing the barrel directly at the camera.

We are The Collective,” he continued. “And we will be this city’s salvation.”

The masked man pulled the trigger.

 

 

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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

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