Well, it can be officially announced now! After weeks of planning and preparation, the book that was a dream has become a reality.
That’s right, you can purchase the Adventures of Black Mask & Pale Rider direct from Lulu.com. You can find the main buyer’s page for the book here. It should take six to eight weeks before the book is finally ready for mass distribution, and the another 3 to 5 business days to mail direct copies.
Digital versions are also available for download direct through Lulu as well. I will add this information to the Black Mask & Pale Rider series page soon!
Columbus, Ohio – 7:54 am. -August 20, 2002
The office was small, and dark. Only one light hung from the ceiling in an attempt to fill the room with anything at all. But it only succeeded in making the long shadows look more and more menacing. For Johnathon Tiberius Walker, this only made his dark thoughts seem that much more so. But he sat, hunched over in his chair, tired arms propping himself up on the old, metal desk. His hands gingerly holding a picture that he would turn over in his fingers every so often. A gift from an old lover. The reason his thoughts became so heavy as of late.
His daughter, Danielle Walker. She was twelve years old now, but he’d only seen her twice. When she was first born, and again when she had turned five. And both times were fleeting and short, not enough for father and daughter to really connect. Perhaps the passing of years was what drove his thoughts. But he knew that he wanted this life as a mercenary to end. He wanted to live the rest of his years in a normal life. Just one last job. But he had to send a message to those he answered to. He had to let them know there would be those that would defy them.
As the metal door creaked open, he continued to stare at the photograph. He knew who it was, he needn’t hide this worn old photo from him. Malcolm Montgomery Watt merely stood across from the old gunslinger and waited. The news he had could take it’s time in the telling. If there was one thing the Aussie learned from this old Texan, it was patience. No need to hurry something if you didn’t need to.
Walker let out a deep breath and sat back in the old wooden chair. His eyes drifted up to meet Monty’s as he pocketed the photo. A wordless acknowledgment of what was coming. Walker took out a metal tin and flipped it open, taking out a cigarette and carefully lighting it. As he inhaled, he waited for Monty to speak. The Aussie knew when the time to pass information was, and the ritual of the cigarette was almost like a signal.
The younger of the two men sat heavily in a chair across from the old gun hand. He leaned back, kicking his feet up onto the desk. Had this been anything else, it would have appeared as a very relaxing conversation. But it was anything but that. “Orders ‘ave come in, mate,” Monty informed Walker. “The target is attendin’ Ohio State University. Second year student.”
“Makes him ’bout eighteen. Maybe twenty at the oldest,” Walker added. Monty noted the emphasis on the age. “So we’re sinkin’ so low as ta kidnap children, I take it.”
“Accordin’ ta the paperwork, the kid’s the son of a Senator with a lotta clout in Congress.” Monty let the information sink in as he took his feet off the desk and leaned forward, resting his frame on his elbows as he leaned on the desk. “They’d like this done quickly as possibly. An’, o’ course, as quietly as possible.”
“In a university,” Walker replied with a slight scoff. “Yeah, they’ll ‘ppreciate that.” The echoes of some of the worst school shootings in history in the United States still rung in the minds of the people. And it was even worse in this post-9-11 era. “Who’s on the crew?” Walker asked as he kept the memories of the news reels close in his mind. He had to remain focused, and these thoughts would help him keep that.
“Your hand picked,” Monty said with a smile. Hand picked meant Walker’s faithful. The soldiers that would stick by whatever play he needed to make. And the Red Hand couldn’t demand any changes, not with Walker’s record. “Crimson, Indigo, Grey. An’ me. All loyal, an’ all ‘ave been told what ta expect.”
Walker sighed as he took another drag of his cigarette. Slowly he rose to his feet, stretching to get the kinks out of his frame. He looked around the room for a long moment, then turned to his second in command. “The Masters o’ deception,” Walker slowly mused with a smirk. “Well t’day, we try an’ deceive the deceivers.” He watched as Monty rose to his feet, an encouraging smile forming on the Aussie’s lips. “Well boy, t’day has just b’come our first judgment day. Let’s hope that maybe the good Lord’s watchin’ down on us.”
Whitecap Dakota First Nation, Saskatchewan – 4:15 pm. – August 20, 2002
The horse came to an easy stop, guided by the skilled hands of the rider who sat on top of him. Maxwell Running Cloud was getting in some relaxation before the start of the new semester at the University of Saskatchewan, and he could find that easily here on the ranch that he called home. But in this world filled with technology, even the serenity of a peaceful ranch wasn’t enough to block out the rest of the world. Especially when Maxwell failed to leave his cell phone at home.
He dug through his duster as he calmed the horse so it wouldn’t spook from the sounds of the cellular. Maxwell flipped it open carefully so he wouldn’t drop it in the tall grass and he spoke in his usual calm and quiet manner, not something one would expect from the large Dakota man. Standing at six feet seven inches tall, and weighing in at 270 pounds, he was a sight indeed. Add to that his smooth demeanor and rugged good looks and he definitely had the attention of many on campus. “Hello,” he said into the cell’s receiver. “Doctor Filmore, good to hear from you. I thought you would be getting ready for your final term at Oxford.” He laughed aloud at some joke told by Filmore and calmed the horse as it let out a nervous whinny.
“Convention, you say,” he replied to an obvious explanation. “At Ohio State University. Well, I’d love to attend, even though it is short notice. I’ll contact the dean of the college and let him know. I built up some holiday time. Besides, an opportunity such as this, with a meeting of some of the most impressive minds on anthropology throughout the world… I’d be a fool to miss this.” He chuckled lightly as he listened to the doctor, then his voice grew slightly somber. “I’m sorry, Doctor, but my wife was … she passed away two years ago.” He held back his feelings as he remembered the night of the fire, holding his dying wife in his arms as he called out to his daughter. It had been two years, and he still didn’t have any evidence to finding her. “No, it’s alright, Doctor, you didn’t know. But yes, I will be more than happy to attend. Thank you very much for the information. Take care now.”
Maxwell clicked the end button on his cellphone and slipped it back into his duster, leaning back on the horse for a moment. The South Saskatchewan River Valley in late August was beautiful. The leaves were just beginning to turn, and from Maxwell’s vantage point he could see forever. God’s country. That’s what they called it. The Creator’s masterpiece. Perhaps he would need this, for a time. He hadn’t done anything except work on campus since his wife’s death.
Oh, there was his alter ego. But that really wasn’t an alter ego when the entire city of Saskatoon knew. The media had dubbed him Hawk’s Scream. His feathered wing harness along with the amplification unit he’d managed to piece together was a familiar sight over the city, as he often would assist police in apprehending criminals. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was something he could do to give back to his community. And at the same time, maybe he could find Raven.
“Well, Ironside,” he said to the horse. “Guess I’ll be gone for a few days. You gonna be alright without me?” The horse shook its head and let out a soft chuffle. “You’re a big suck, you know that?” Maxwell said with a chuckle. He sighed as he guided the horse back toward the stables, thinking of this opportunity as he rode calmly through the scrub brush. While the quiet and serenity of the ranch was to his liking, he had needs outside of this small piece of heaven. His horses and his cat Zachary were his only company, really. Aside from his students, he had no one.
And then the idea came to him He wasn’t the only one who shared this existence. His sister shared a sort of longing that he had himself begun to realize. He smiled as he thought about her, and his nephew.
“Ya know,” he stated to no one in particular as he guided the horse back toward the stables. “I wonder what Naomi is doing these days.”
Ottawa, Ontario – 4:20 pm. – August 20, 2002
Petey Running Cloud Simonson sat on the floor of the two bedroom apartment and watched TV. For this eight year old, he was going to grip onto his summer holidays for all he could. But there was some excitement in his eyes at the concept of school. Especially a new school. But this was so much more of a change than his school in Moose Jaw, and Ottawa was so much bigger. At least they had a triple A baseball team with the Ottawa Lynx. Maybe, his mom would drive him to Toronto to catch a Blue Jays game sometime.
If she could get past her period of mourning.
Naomi had just begun to let it sink in that her husband was gone. Killed in action as the Canadian Armed Forces assisted the United States Military in the search for Osama Bin Laden during the months that followed September 11th, she returned to Canada not to a hero’s welcome, but to say good bye to the love of her life. It was then that Canadian Secret Intelligence Service Paranormal Division contacted her. They had been watching her, and she was invited to join their ranks.
Like a good soldier, she did, though, her new posting was not without it’s oddities. Her superiors were, to say the least, a rather odd group. As she would learn, Naomi was the first human brought into the ranks of CSIS Paranormal Division. Often she would question herself, and question why she was brought into this organization. Just being there meant everything she grew up knowing, was so very wrong. But at the same time, it confirmed so much.
Those thoughts were not filling her mind on this day as the phone rang.
She looked up from her comfy chair, mildly annoyed at the interruption, and glanced toward the phone’s call display. At least it was her brother, Maxwell. He could at least make her smile when things looked at their worst. Only he and Petey were the two things keeping her anchored. “Hello,” she spoke with a soft voice as she picked up the phone.
“How’s my favourite sister these days?” Maxwell said with a smile in his voice. He had news, and from the sound of it, good news. That was something she needed to hear. Although, even hearing the sound of her brother’s voice was enough to lift her spirits.
“I’m your only sister, Maxie,” Naomi chuckled in reply. She set her book down on a side table next to her reading lamp, after bending over the page to mark her place. “You sound like your in a good mood.”
“As good as I can be for someone who was just invited to attend one of North America’s most prestigious anthropological conventions,” he explained. The joy in his voice could not be contained. He was more than likely as giddy as a school boy on Christmas Eve. “The university is going to give me a little time, seeing how I got most of my work done in June and July.”
“Nothing like prep time to give you some stress free time,” Naomi replied as she relaxed in her recliner. It was good to have a normal conversation for once. One that didn’t involve her work. “Sounds like you’ve got a chance in a life time.”
“Why don’t you come along,” he suggested. Naomi merely perked an eyebrow at the suggestion. The sudden pause in the conversation was noted by Maxwell, which only allowed him to continue. “The Yankees are playing a series in Cleveland, we can take Petey to see the game. I know a couple of professors at Ohio State that can get me tickets. Plus, we can take him to the zoo.” Naomi didn’t reply right away, as she considered the offer. But again, there was a pause which Maxwell quickly filled. “I can meet you in Windsor tomorrow and we can drive down to Columbus.”
“Drive!” Naomi finally said incredulously. “Okay, but you’re driving from Windsor, buddy. I have to fight traffic through Toronto.” She sighed and shook her head, realizing that without any further discussion or thought, she had just accepted his invitation. Maxwell had a knack for doing that, and sometimes it drove Naomi nuts. “Means we’re gonna have to get going now.”
“You get ready,” Maxwell stated. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He rang off, leaving Naomi to just shake her head. At least her brother was still such a free spirit, and in some ways, it was almost contagious. As she placed the phone back on it’s cradle she looked to her son as he watched television. This might be a good trip for him. “Hey squirt,” she said as she leaned forward in the chair. Petey looked back, rolling his eyes as he gave her the mom! look. “Yankees are playing Cleveland this weekend. Your uncle can snag tickets.” Suddenly, her son’s eyes widened as the television was long forgotten. He rose to his feet, excitement in his eyes. “One catch,” she said as she held up her index finger, her son’s attention was fully hanging onto her words. “We leave in half an hour. Which means we need to get ourselves ready.”
She didn’t have to say anything else as Petey raced into his room, scrambling to wash and pack. Naomi just shook her head and laughed. Given the proper motivation, her son could simply amaze her sometimes. She slowly rose to her feet and went to her bedroom, and methodically began packing. She smiled as she did so. It would be a nice little holiday.
Even if she had to contact her director to let them know of her whereabouts. And, of course, see if they could let the proper authorities know she would be on American soil. Vacation or not, it was always best to let the American spooks know, that a Canadian spook would be in their midst.
Columbus, Ohio – 5:09 pm. – August 20, 2002
Malcolm Montgomery Watt kept a close watch as the supplies were loaded onto a black, unmarked truck. While most other soldiers within the organization called the Red Hand depended on computerized inventory marking, Monty trusted something his commanding officer always used. A simple clip board. If central command didn’t like it, they could talk to Walker. Besides, he’d grown used to it. It was much like an old, familiar friend.
The Aussie looked up as he heard the slow, methodical steps of the gunslinger. He knew how Walker moved. A smile crossed his face as he handed the clip board to his commanding officer. “Ev’rythin’s in order, mate. Even Indigo’s request made it.”
Walker looked over the list and chuckled. Monty had everything covered well enough, as he always did. One thing Walker could always admire about the Aussie, his attention to detail and near precise organizational skills. “We got the itinerary o’ the convention that’s goin’ on this weekend?”
“All accounted for, mate,” Monty replied with a smile. He turned as more footsteps sounded. Crimson Luna, the black beauty from New Orleans, her ability to trash talk had become legendary in the Red Hand. Indigo Beta, covert ops and intelligence picked up four years before after a run in with the Italian Mafia, she was a quiet one, and that was where she was most dangerous. Grey 6-2-6, weapons specialist and covert ops. The small framed man from China was equally effective with small arms as he was with his hands. “An’ ‘ere’s the rest o’ the crew.”
Walker moved to face each of them, studying their faces carefully. Each appeared confident, especially Grey. Walker didn’t know another man who could remain as calm in the midst of a storm as Grey could. “Y’all’ve received the orders?” he asked them in his calm and quiet drawl. They merely nodded in reply, indicating that they had indeed received the information. “There’s gonna be a slight change o’ plans. This is it fer me. I ain’t goin’ any further. I ain’t getting’ any younger. An’ I made a shit ton o’ mistakes in my life. Some say ya can’t ever go back, but I b’lieve that my life ain’t so down the drain that I can’t find some sorta redemption b’fore my final reward.” He reached into his pocket and produced the photo one more time, letting go of a heavy sigh before continuing. “We all have somethin’ more important ta think ’bout than the things we do.”
“Hell, Boss,” Crimson piped up, her familiar smile seeming to brighten the dower mood. “Count on us. We got yo back. Ain’t nuthin’ ta worry ’bout man.” Walker chuckled a bit as Crimson spoke her words.
“Ya always were a pistol, Chelsea,” Walker said with a smile and looked to Indigo and Grey. He could see it in their eyes, they were ready to back his play. “This here’s the most dangerous thing we’ve ever done. Not b’cause o’ the odds, ‘r b’cause we’re goin’ in heavy. But b’cause it’s ta defy them that wanna set the course o’ the world. Show ‘em that everyone deserves their own freedom.” He pocketed the picture and held out his hand. One by one, his agents placed their hand on his. Without hesitation. There was something in this world more important than trying to be the top dog. More important than setting the course of politics.
Honour. Family. Integrity. Trust.
And Walker knew, right then and there, a new chapter of his life had just begun. He had people he could count on, without having to worry if they were going to stab him in the back.