2022 Writing Snippet #6

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from my current WIP Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries.

“Shit!”

Summer looked up with her eyes as wide as they’d ever been, her heart leaping up into her throat. “Shit? Lola, what do you mean…’shit?’”

Yanking the ski mask off her head, her curly purple locks springing free, Lola bit her lower lip as she began the laborious process of taking apart her sniper rile. It was a process Summer had seen several times over the past week, but she still couldn’t pull it off herself. “I missed.”

Summer blinked. “I’m sorry, what did you just say? Because it sounds like you said you missed.”

“Because I did!”

Summer watched as pieces of the sniper rifle came apart, like some bastardized form of Legos for bloodthirsty adults. The scope and barrel were one piece, until they weren’t, and then they disappeared in separate compartments of Lola’s black duffel bag. There were pockets inside pockets on that thing, so it appeared to hold more than it should. Like some magic fantasy bag or something.

“You told me yesterday you don’t miss!”

“Yeah, well,” Lola huffed, yanking a zipper shut before pulling off the shoulder stump and tossing into the opposite end of the bag, “I do when the wind gusts just as I pull the trigger.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4
Writing Snippet #5

2022 Writing Snippet #5

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6). Pretty proud of this character moment for Det. Stevens.

Earl Stevens couldn’t remember the last time he was this angry.

Maybe when he was a linebacker at Nebraska and had been called for a facemask penalty that cost his team a spot in the Big 12 championship game (well before that nonsensical decision to join the Big Ten). It had been third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, with the Cornhuskers leading by two. He had sniffed out a slant route and tackled the receiver two yards shy of the first down — but his fingers had gotten tangled in the other player’s helmet, and he had twisted his head just so to give the refs the visual of the ball carrier’s head yanking to the side.

Whistle.

Yellow flag.

Fifteen yards and an automatic first down.

Seconds later, the football sailed through the uprights and Nebraska’s hopes for a national championship were done.

That night was the only time Stevens had ever felt the need to hit someone outside the confines of the gridiron. It hadn’t been his proudest moment, even as he did and said all the right things in the immediate aftermath. But merely thinking of lashing out against the referee had embarrassed Stevens, even though no one else ever knew what had been in his head. He had carried that memory throughout his law enforcement career, using it to keep him calm when dealing with uncooperative suspects or departmental red tape.

But right now? There was a dead body in a hospital within his precinct’s jurisdiction, and someone with the FBI wasn’t letting him by.

The FBI was keeping Earl Stevens from doing his job.

That was unacceptable. He didn’t care if federal law enforcement was around. He didn’t care if the body in question was an FBI agent, as was rumored. Stevens was a homicide detective, and the burly agent standing in front of the hospital room in question was not letting him through to do what he did best. He wondered how many years he would get if he simply drove the guy to the floor. His knees were shot, but Stevens figured he had one more tackle left in him.

What was that song Juanita said reminded her of Stevens? I ain’t as good as I once was…

“See this, hoss?” Stevens smacked his lips and waved his badge in the FBI agent’s face. Again. “This means I get to go in that room and poke the dead body.”

The agent, whose own badge read Bryant, stood motionless. Bulging eyes were hidden by black sunglasses, and his upper lip curled into a sneer. His shoulders lifted, then fell, and he stretched out his hands, fingers interlocked, until knuckles cracked in unison. “See this?” he asked, smacking his large thumb against the badge protruding from his breast pocket. “This means I’m FBI, which means I outrank you.”

“Yeah, but see…” Ramon Gutierrez seemed to appear out of nowhere, placing a gloved hand on Stevens’ shoulder before he could respond. “I’ve got one of those too, and as the lead investigator here, mine says the good detective here can poke away.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4

2022 Writing Snippet #4

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Prelude to Hellion. This is another one I get pretty chuffed over every time I read it.

“Are you two alright?”

“I…I think so.” Frances sighed and plopped herself onto Logan’s couch, which was when he saw the massive gash running along the back of her faded brown leather coat. There was no red to go with it, which was a relief, but Logan shuddered to think of all the creatures capable of that kind of cut. “Just…Dave and I were attacked across town. Found a nest of Skarlak demons and they were less that welcoming.”

“Those weren’t Skarlaks,” Dave muttered, his attention on Logan’s overstuffed bookshelf on the opposite end of the living room. It was a normal shelf, unremarkable in the fact that it was stuffed with Stephen King and James Patterson and volumes upon volumes of Marvel and DC collections.

Logan was never going to leave his real library out in the open.

“I know a fuckin’ Skarlak when I see one,” Frances snapped back. “The giant green horn on their forehead is a pretty big giveaway.”

Logan cleared his throat. “That, uh…that’s not a horn.”

Both Frances and Dave turned to stare at Logan. “What?” they said in unison.

Skarlaks don’t have horns,” Logan said, pursing his lips and choosing his words. “That…thing on their foreheads is actually their…you know…”

Logan’s eyes flicked downward; the teenagers’ gaze followed suit and their eyes widened when they realized what they were being told. Specifically, the fact that Skarlak demons were notorious for having their reproductive organs on their foreheads.

Dave went pale and he brought a hand up to his mouth. “You mean I grabbed that thing’s…?”

Logan nodded with a cringe, even as Frances buried his mouth in her hand to suppress a chuckle. She failed.

Dave swallowed hard. “Where’s your bathroom?”

The boy was gone down the hall before Logan could point the way with his bat. Frances bit back another smirk as the door slammed shut and the faint sound of retching came through the wall. “Well,” she said, “that explains why they all ganged up on him.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 | Writing Snippet #3

2022 Writing Snippet #3

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Prelude to Hellion. This is another one I get pretty chuffed over every time I read it.

Hey, lady!” Angelo bellowed through the unlit cigar clutched between his yellowed teeth. “Can’t ya read the damn sign?!”

Josef, who had begun putting chairs upside down on top of the tables and sweeping the floor, tightened his grip on his broom. Something told him smashing it against the side of Angelo’s head wouldn’t be good for him—no matter how tempting it was. Josef still wasn’t clear on what rent was, but Pamela insisted having a job was key in making it.

“This is my friend, Pamela,” Josef introduced instead.

Angelo’s bushy eyebrows shot skyward, and he nodded once as his lips puckered around the cigar. “Friend, eh?” He backed away and ducked his head. “My apologies, miss. Welcome to Angelo’s.” Shaking his head, Angelo turned and stomped up the stairwell in the back. “Don’t forget to lock up, Joey! And no funny business!”

Josef frowned and shook his head as Pamela approached. “I am afraid I only understand half of what Angelo says sometimes.”

Pamela cringed and lifted her purse over her shoulder. “Probably for the best.”

“What are you doing here?” The crease in Josef’s brow disappeared and he slipped behind the bar to put away the broom. “Did you want some pizza?”

“Nah, I already ate. Besides…” Pamela glanced at the stairwell before taking a seat at the bar, shaking her head, leaning forward on her elbows, and whispering conspiratorially, “Angelo’s on Broadway is better.”

Wiping the marble surface of the bar, Josef frowned again. “Then why…?”

“Because we haven’t seen each other much lately. With you working and me going to summer school to catch up, we don’t cross paths all that often.” Pamela shrugged and stared out at the street. Even at this late hour, the traffic was nuts. One of this city’s many charms. “Just wanna see how you’re doing.”

“You know,” Josef said, pausing to lean against the counter, “in a place like this, I see things aren’t that different from my day. The technology is…frighteningly advanced, and there are still a lot of things I do not know. But I see people come in here, and all they want after a hard day is a hot meal, a cold drink, and perhaps some friendly company.”

Pamela smiled, resting her chin in her hand. “Like taverns back in your time?”

“But cleaner.” Josef chuckled. “No plague. Indoor plumbing.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2

2022 Writing Snippet #2

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a couple paragraphs from the forthcoming Prelude to Hellion. This is another one I get pretty chuffed over every time I read it.

[President] Crawford helped Pearson into a sitting position as the generals and other advisers slowly filed out of the Situation Room. Shrugged shoulders and arched eyebrows trailed them out the door, and Donaldson hung behind, too busy wiping at his face with a handkerchief to notice anything else. The sight of red on the otherwise pristine cloth made his heart skip a beat before he pushed his way out of the room.

“What was all that?” Pearson asked.

Crawford shook her head, stealing a quick glance at the ceiling fan. Which was no longer spinning. “Let’s just say this task force is even more necessary than we thought. And it might not be a bad idea to add a mystic or two to my Secret Service detail.”

Pearson’s brows shot skyward. “I think I have the Winchesters on speed dial.”

For the first time since Election Day, Crawford let loose a genuine, full-throated laugh.

Writing Snippet #1

2022 Writing Snippet #1

Not the final cover.

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a couple paragraphs from the forthcoming Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud of this one.

It wasn’t long before the hotel in question came into view. The Hilton Midtown, a hotel that stretched for the sky and had undoubtedly hosted many a high-class affair over the years. There was no telling how many companies and organizations around the world had booked this hotel for their meetings and conferences and black-tie dinners—whatever excuse to visit New York City, get dressed up for a night, and pretend they were more important than they really were.

That was another thing this city was good at: making people think they were better, smarter, more consequential than they actually were. How else could a failed real estate tycoon with multiple bankruptcies on his resume end up in the White House?

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.

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.

 

 

Want more sneak peeks like this than anyone else? 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.

SNIPPET: Life at the Speed of Time

This is the first chapter of my short story, “Life at the Speed of Time,” which is featured in the anthology Cracks in the Tapestry, which was released last month. It’s the first Cracks in the Tapestry coveranthology I’ve been a part of, and this story was a lot of fun to write. Enjoy!

The steering wheel shaking in my hands is actually soothing.

It distracts me from the bead of sweat running down the right side of my face. It gives me a reprieve from the oppressive heat in the cockpit, a stifling one hundred and forty degrees according to a thermometer placed on my seat. The cooling unit attached to my helmet gave out back on lap 120, not ideal for a muggy day in central Florida. I can barely make out my crew chief or spotter when they talk into my ear, the roar of my engine drowning them out.

But all things considered, I’m having a good race. Daytona has never been my favorite race track; I don’t care for this style of racing. I’m surrounded by forty of my closest enemies, our beasts of speed inches apart as we barrel along the banking so fast we should be soaring into the air. This is all I’ve known my entire life, but even if I’m more comfortable at a half-mile bullring, this place is the pinnacle of stock car racing.

And I’ve led laps today. The car’s fast. But a bad pit stop thirty laps ago has me stuck in 30th. I have nowhere to run. I’m stuck in the middle of the pack, with cars on either side of me. If one of us sneezes, or someone gets an itchy arm, calamity is sure to follow.

The field barrels into the first turn. To the fans, we’re little more than a blur of color. But with my competitors going as fast as me, I can read every sponsor logo on their quarter panels. Freddy Bocelli, who wrecked me going for the win at Bristol last season, is to my outside. He has a new team this year, but the way his left front tire twitches tells me he still hasn’t learned how to hold a pretty wheel.

To my inside is Stan Gordon. No relation and not even half the talent of the Gordon you’ve actually heard of. He’s only in that car because he has a sponsor – his father’s chain of hardware stores.

Don’t get me started.

The banking gives way and we’re screaming down the backstretch. Only a concrete wall with energy-absorbing protection, a catchfence, and a row of billboards separate us from the airport behind the track.

Three wide middle. Three wide middle.

My spotter, Earl Webber. He’s probably staring at my car through binoculars from his perch above the press box on the frontstretch. I can only see but so much in this car: out the windshield and through my rearview mirror. Earl helps me navigate through trouble and tells me what’s going on around me. His information is paramount, especially here where the drivers can’t get away from each other.

Clear high!

As soon as the words leave Earl’s mouth, I jerk the steering wheel to the right. My momentum carries me past Stan, then I find myself passing two more cars. Finally, I’m getting somewhere. Earl’s in my ear again, but I’m not listening as the banking tilts me going into the third turn. Several rows ahead, I see a car jump out of line on the high side, making it three-wide.

No one goes with him, and he loses several positions.

Ten laps to go.

I curse under my breath. Ten laps?! I thought I had more time.

Clear low!

I turn left. The tires squeal in protest, but the car does what I need it to. Coming off the fourth turn, coming back to the start-finish line, I’ve picked up three more spots. I can feel the air propelling my car forward. I can’t see the air, but I can definitely feel it.

But I do see a car in the infield grass, on its roof and on fire. I blink and shake my head. The vision’s gone.

What the…?

I pass another car going into the first turn, but I have to jerk the wheel to the right when my rear tires lose traction. If I hadn’t caught it, I’d have wrecked at least five or six cars. That’s how close together we are. I catch my breath by the time we’re on the backstretch again; at this late stage, it feels like we’re taking forever to race along this two and a half-mile track.

The image of the burning car returns. But this time, I hear the crunch of warped sheet metal. Someone screams. The sky above is a ghastly mix of coal black and burnt orange.

But as I barrel into Turn 3, the image is gone.

“What the…?”

You okay in there, Randy?

Before I can answer Scott, my crew chief, Earl’s yelling in my ear.

The leaders are wrecking on the frontstretch!

Another scream startles me. I cry out and have to corral the car as it swerves back and forth. No one hits me, and I scrub off enough speed that I’m lingering hundreds of feet behind the pack. The scream returns, louder, and when I squeeze my eyes shut, the car on fire explodes. The driver was still inside.

I know because that’s when the screaming stops.

Randy! Randy?!

Other than Earl’s voice, everything is silent. My car comes to a complete stop by the entrance to pit road. My grip on the steering wheel is so tight my hands start to cramp.

Then I open my eyes.

Nearly half the field is wrecked in the curve along the frontstretch, torn sheet metal and roll cages strewn about the asphalt and infield grass. Safety vehicles have already begun approaching the carnage, and some of the drivers have exited their cars after lowering the black netting over the drivers-side window.

Most of the safety crews are heading for the infield grass. When I see why, my heart stops and my stomach drops. In the grass, there is a car, upside down and on fire. The red No. 54 car, piloted this season by hotshot rookie Chase Flanigan.

Randy, you alright?

I yank the cords from my helmet – both the cooling unit that no longer works and the radio. Gritting my teeth, my heartbeat far quicker than it had been when I was going 200 miles an hour, I pull off my helmet, and the neck restraint device attached to it, and head sock underneath. I dislodge the steering wheel from its column, tear down my window net. The six-point harness trapping me in my cocoon of a seat is the next to go before I pull myself out of the car and run toward the wreckage.

No one sees me. The safety crews and ambulances are too busy tending to the wrecked.

Stock car racing is as safe as it’s ever been. To the point where we sometimes foolishly think we’re invincible. Never mind the guy who at this track a couple years ago hit a concrete wall so hard he snapped both of his legs. Or the fact that our most beloved driver had to hang it up, in part, because of head injuries.

But no one’s died in almost twenty years, so…

The fire’s grown by the time I reach the grass. The car’s on-board extinguishing unit must have broken. I push my way through three safety workers, unable to shake the déjà vu. I gulp down air as fast as I can, willing myself not to drop to my knees and hurl. I’ll be sick later. Right now, I have to get Chase out of that car.

“Hey!”

I ignore the safety worker. Once I’m within feet of Chase’s car, the heat pushes back against me like a wall. I cringe and push through it as best I can, shielding my eyes from the brightness. The smoke is black as night pouring into the sky, and I drop to my knees by the passenger’s side. Peering into the window, I see Chase’s eyes wide as they can go through the visor of his helmet. He stares right at me, tugging on his belts. We’re always told to pull those belts a little bit tighter before the green flag waves; right now, Chase needs them to loosen.

Springing back to my feet, I run across to the driver’s side. One member of the safety crew grabs me by the shoulder. I shake him off and point at the fire. “Put that out!”

No… no no no no no!

Not even five minutes ago, I had seen this exact scene unfold. And the first time Chase screams, I freeze. It’s the exact sound I’d heard just moments before the wreck happened. I still don’t know how it started. I imagine TV will be playing the incident over and over again on a loop, and non-racing media will even pick up on it. Train wreck spectacle, nothing more.

But Chase needs to get out of the car before the worst happens.

Reaching in, I tug with all the strength I’ve got. But those belts won’t budge. Cursing under my breath, I turn my head to cough. The smoke is so bad my eyes are watering. I gag and nearly lose my lunch. But a deep breath keeps me from blowing chunks all over the rookie, and I reach in again with both hands.

Still, the belts won’t move.

“Help!” he screams.

Part of me wants to be sarcastic in return, but the kid’s freaked. As he should be. His car’s on fire and he’s stuck in it. The plume of smoke has grown to the point where the wind gust is carrying it into the grandstands. Fans are fleeing, covering their faces as they seek refuge. Some fans have stuck around, either to get photos or to see Chase emerge from the car.

But if I can’t those belts off…

Three safety workers grab me by the shoulders and pull me away.

“No!” I try to free myself, but a fourth worker joins the fray. “I have to help!”

“There’s nothing you can do!” one worker, his firesuit reading Jenkins, shouts. “The car’s gonna blow at any minute!”

I whirl around in anger. “So you’re just gonna leave him there?!”

Jenkins points, and over my shoulder, I see two men in fireman gear drop to their knees. One reaches in, and after what feels like an eternity, both he and the other fireman begin the process of extracting Chase from the vehicle. What’s left of the crowd roars in excitement when Chase’s head emerges from the window, but his shoulders get caught on the damn belts.

Those six-point harnesses are great when you’re in the car. In a situation like this… my stomach falls again.

The four crewmen who had pulled me from Chase’s car grab me and yank me back again. We retreat to pit road and leap over the wall separating the crews from their pit stalls, and I don’t know why. I trip over the wall and grunt, scraping my hands on the pavement. When I turn around to yell at the crewmen, I don’t see them. Because they ducked.

Then Chase’s car explodes.

He had only been halfway extracted. Both he and the two firemen trying to rescue him are engulfed in the fireball. Fans scream in horror. Fellow drivers fall to their knees on the track.

And I throw up all over a set of unused Goodyears.

 

Like what you read? Check out the rest by picking up your copy of Cracks in the Tapestry, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions! The anthology also features work from Leslie Conzatti, Arthur David, C. Scott Davis, Benjamin D. Pegg, R. Eric Smith, and Lorna Woulfe.

 

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, 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, and you can also become a Patron.

Preamble

Okay, this is something I’m really excited about. I’ve got a secret project in the works (secret because I’m not quite ready to officially announce it yet), something I think you all will really enjoy. Anyway, my newsletter subscribers and Patreon supporters have already had access to this, but now, the rest of you get to catch this sneak peek into my secret project.

Enjoy!

*****

“Doctor… Lo, is it?”

Amanda Crawford tossed her glasses on top of the overstuffed file folder in front of her. There were so many files and papers crammed into the folder, it was a wonder the thing hadn’t torn yet. Maybe her advisers were right; maybe she should upgrade to a binder. But binders took up space, and space was one luxury her she didn’t have these days.

Well, her new office had plenty of space. Personal space? That was another story.

Sebastian Lo loosened his black tie for what seemed like the thousandth time since he stepped out of the limousine that had dropped him off here. Formal attire didn’t suit him in the best of situations, but with his nerves so shot that he could feel the sweat stains forming under his arms, it was a wonder the woman sitting next to him couldn’t smell him.

“Y-yes.” He gave a curt nod, pushed his black-rimmed glasses back up his nose.

“You have had quite the career,” Amanda offered with a shake of her head. “Normally, I wouldn’t give someone with a dishonorable discharge on their record the time of day, but right now, beggars can’t be choosers.”

Lo’s frown deepened. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t understand…”

The annoyance on Amanda’s face melted away, replaced with an exhaustion and a weariness that typically didn’t befall those in her profession until after a couple years. The bags under her eyes were darker than her brown irises, and in the harsh light of her office, she appeared so pale as to be dead.

But she wasn’t a corpse on Lo’s slab. She was the newly-elected President of the United States. And why she was bothering to meet with Lo, he had no idea. But the nausea told him whatever was in that folder wasn’t good.

“Are you familiar with the attack on D.C. several months ago?” she asked.

Lo’s frown disappeared. He quirked an eyebrow and stole a glance at the rest of the Oval Office. What was pristine in photographs, awe-inspiring, was surprisingly ordinary in-person. Sure, it looked like the Oval Office should, but the mystique Lo expected to feel wasn’t there.

Maybe it was the nerves. Sure, that was what he told himself.

“I’ve heard rumors,” he admitted, again pushing his glasses. “Not sure what to believe.”

“Well, it’s all true.” Amanda stood with a sigh, walking past Lo and staring out the massive windows overlooking the lawn. The American flag flanked her to her left, much larger than the pin she kept on her lapel. “There are monsters in this world, Doctor. Things far more dangerous than any threat we’ve ever faced. And I mean to do something about it.”

Lo blinked. “I don’t recall monster slaying being part of your platform.”

“No one will ever know,” she said, hands clasped behind her back. Her gaze never left the window. “What I’m proposing, Doctor, is completely off-the-books. Unofficial, doesn’t actually exist.” She glared over her shoulder. “That means nothing we discuss leaves this room. Understood?”

Lo nodded.

Amanda’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes,” Lo answered with a placating shrug.

“I’m impressed with your work, moral judgments aside,” she said. “I daresay that in many ways, you’ve honored Dr. Roberts’ legacy. Human prosthetics and cybernetics are as advanced as ever, and something tells me we’ll need that technology and expertise in the coming battles.”

Lo shook his head, removing his tie entirely. For the first time since entering the Oval Office, he could take a full breath. “Are you offering me a job, Madame President?”

“I’m offering you a choice.”

Lo opened his mouth. Amanda turned away from the window and took the large leather seat behind her desk. She seemed to sink into the cushion, crossing her arms over her chest and giving Lo the same sort of look the dean used to give him when he was an undergrad and spent more time chasing bottles and skirts than textbooks.

“I know what you did for David Gregor,” she said. “And I know all about your… other experiments. Rest assured that not only are they grossly unethical, they also break several laws.”

Lo pursed his lips. “I see. I either accept your offer or you throw me to the wolves.”

Amanda offered a thin-lipped smile. “So to speak.”

“What’s the offer?”

Reaching into a drawer to her right, Amanda produced another folder — this one far thinner than the first. It was plain manila, with large red letters spelling out CONFIDENTIAL – EYES ONLY scrawled along the front. She tossed the folder at Lo, and he watched it land in his lap.

“Open it.”

With shaky hands, Lo did just that. He frowned at what appeared to be autopsy photos — only these were no ordinary humans. One specimen had his mouth pried open, revealing fangs. Another looked to be an oversized slug split open down the middle, like it was a middle school science class dissection. A third photo was of a man-sized bat, half of his body scorched and rotting.

“Operation: Hellion is our answer to the growing supernatural menace,” she explained as Lo thumbed through the rest of the folder’s contents. “If the monsters are intent on invading our planet, threatening our way of life… well, what kind of president would I be if I didn’t try to protect my people?”

Lo frowned. “I’m not a monster fighter.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not asking you to be one.” Amanda leaned back in her chair, hands steepled together. “I could put the most capable military might at our disposal on this team, and they wouldn’t last two seconds against a nest of vampires. No, I need a super team. I need people with… abilities.”

Closing the folder in his lap, Lo sighed and shook his head. “You want to resurrect Project Fusion. Officially.”

“No. I want something better than Project Fusion. And you’re going to give it to me.”

*****

Want access to content like this before anyone else? Subscribe to my newsletter and support me on Patreon!

Bounty has been nominated for a TopShelf magazine Indie Book Award! Pick up your copy 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, 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.