I hate cliffhanger endings. So obviously I had one at the end of “A Place Called Hope.” Sorry! Had to be done!
So you’ll be glad to know that the cliffhanger is resolved fairly early on in the follow-up. Spoilers ahead.
This scene overlaps with the end of Sandy’s final POV scene from APCH and is from Pete’s perspective.
May 13, 2026
Z-Day + 3,129
There was a strange undercurrent of tension in the air—more than Pete would have expected, at least. The first time Marines had come upon Hope, he’d been on the receiving end. But an LAV was a darn sight more intimidating than a fluffy balloon. Why is everyone so—
Corporal Robb jumped in front of Pete and slammed an arm into Sandy’s neck. The spokesperson for the settlement tumbled to the ground. At the same time, LoPresto swung his SCAR-H off his shoulder and trained the barrel on Scopulis’ head.
“What the hell, LoPresto?” Pete barked.
“Major! It’s him, sir, sure as the world. Jack of Hearts.”
Jack of Hearts? Pete moved closer to LoPresto while the other survivors whispered under their breath and traded worried looks. On the bright side, the situation was only half of a Mexican standoff. None of the civvies brandished any weapons.
On the ground, Sandy swallowed and called out, “Everybody relax. It’s going to be all right.”
Big brass ones on you, boy.
Robb didn’t seem to appreciate the comment. “Give me an excuse, asshole. I’ll blow your head off and feed zulu the rest.”
LoPresto handed over a ratty playing card. Pete turned it over in his fingers and studied it for a moment. He’d seen their like in Iraq, with mugshots of high-value targets replacing the normal figures. Rather than a mugshot, this hard had what looked like the picture from a GenPharm ID badge—he’d seen his nephew Miles’, more than once, though that one bore a red ‘IT’ logo.
The man in the picture had a little more hair and fuller cheeks, but it was unquestionably the survivor on the ground. Doctor Alexandros Scopulis, Pete read. Research and Development. He clenched his jaw. Motherfucker. He lowered his gaze to stare at the man on the ground. “You a doctor before the end, Mr. Scopulis?”
It grew strangely quiet, and the man on the ground closed his eyes. “That’s right.”
“What kind of doctor? You work in a hospital, back in the day?” There was always the chance of mistaken identity, but the chances seemed to be nil. This was one of the architects of an event that had left billions dead.
“No,” he whispered.
Pete leaned closer. He flipped the playing card over for Sandy to see. “Every bill comes due sooner or later, boy. And it’s time to pay the piper.”
A woman screamed from among the crowd of survivors. “No!”
Even in the face of death, at the furious mercy of foreign invaders, Sandy’s face seemed to harden, and when he made eye contact with Pete, he found that he couldn’t look away to see who’d cried out.
“Do whatever you want,” Sandy said. Exhaustion filtered through his voice, but there was steel there, as well. “I deserve it. At least do me the courtesy of not blowing my head off in front of my wife and son.”
Robb jammed the muzzle of his rifle into Sandy’s cheek. “You want to talk about courtesy, you son of a bitch? How about—”
“Corporal,” Pete barked. “That’s enough.” He surveyed the hardening faces of the civilians and turned back to his men. “Weapons on safe and slung, Marines.” The tension crested, and for a moment he thought he’d broken one of the cardinal rules of being an officer—never give an order that can’t be obeyed—but the Marines brandishing weapons moved to follow. There were some looks exchanged, but he could deal with that later. He met Sandy’s eyes. “What did you mean when you said you deserved it?”
Now the man on the ground looked confused. “What do you want me to say, exactly? It’s not all my fault, but I helped. Are you fishing for a confession, or what?”
Pete stuck a hand out. Sandy hesitated, but he took it, and he hauled the doctor to his feet. “Agent Guglik,” he called out.
If the situation discomfited the petite blonde CIA agent at all, he couldn’t tell. She moved out of the crowd of Marines and stood at Pete’s side. “What’s up, Major?”
He indicated Sandy with a nod. “You get much in the way of remorse out of the other GenPharm people, Anne?”
Sandy’s jaw dropped in surprise as Guglik cocked her head to one side, a thoughtful look on her face. “No, as a matter of fact. There’s usually much more spitting and name-calling. They really liked ‘jackbooted fascist thug’ until I water-boarded it out of them.”
“Other GenPharm people…” Sandy started, but Pete raised a finger to cut him off.
“Agent Guglik, when command printed these cards up, why did they choose Jack of Hearts for Dr. Scopulis?”
She smiled, then looked at Sandy with what seemed to Pete to be new eyes. “Because he was in a relationship with one of the other researchers.”
“She a true believer?” Pete asked. “She one of your spitters?”
“One of the worst,” Guglik replied.
Sandy snorted. “That sounds like Melanie, all right.”
Pete stuck his hand out again. The doctor looked at it for a moment, then shrugged and shook it.
“Doc, can I interest you in a job?”
The other man frowned. “What kind of job, exactly?”
“Saving the world, of course.”
Hi Daniel, I just discovered your books! Where have you been all my life? (I’m 70, so that’s a long time!)
I love ‘a place outside the wild’! It’s wonderful.
I’d like to listen to part two, do you know when it will be available on audible?
Looking forward to reading and listening to all your other books!
Thanks for writing,
Marlene, wow, thank you so much. I’m not sure when the second book will be available through Audible, I’ve got a pretty busy summer ahead and haven’t had the time to get the ball rolling. Thanks for the listen!
OMG! You’re killing me here. A Zulu bite would less agonizing than waiting for this! Any thoughts on a publishing date?
Aiming for the end of the year. The next book in the Paxton series comes out next month, so I have been keeping busy. 😉
Well played, sir.