Excerpt from SPIRITs of Retribution

President Sandra Hendrickson motioned the former president to a chair inside the Oval Office.

“Trent, I could use your help.”

Though her visitor thought, “Why now?” he merely said, “Of course, Madam President. What can I do for you?”

“After the approval of the Joint Resolution today, I’ve suddenly begun getting some pushback on the decision to launch an initiative against the Russian Federation.”

“Is that what you’re calling it now?” observed Weston silently. “An ‘initiative?’” But aloud he said, “In what way?”

“Some of the networks and online outlets have spoken out in ways they haven’t up to this point. The criticism has been sharp. I’m sure they’re just playing devil’s advocate. Maybe they’re getting cold feet.”

The mind of the man who had previously occupied this office was racing. “Or maybe you’ve been moving so fast that you haven’t been listening.” After his private thought, he spoke aloud again. “I see. Are you having second thoughts?”

“Not at all. As you’ve agreed, this is the only acceptable course of action.”

The former commander in chief verbalized his thought this time.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. In what way have I stated my agreement?”

The expression on the present commander in chief was of genuine puzzlement. The tilted head and the furrowed brow, along with the slightly agape mouth made her confusion clear.

“Mr. President, you sat in this very office and gave your support for the war effort.”

“Madam President, I believe what I said was that I supported your preparations for war. My advice to you, if I may call it that, was that you knew too much to not prepare. But we are far past preparations now.”

Weston could see that Hendrickson was grinding her teeth.

“So, you think a military reprisal is a mistake?”

“I’m not saying that, either. I’m suggesting that it might be premature. I fully supported your expulsion of the Russian diplomats, but I wouldn’t have sought the war resolution just yet. We’re just – what? – nine days since our conversation about preparedness. May I speak frankly?”

The president’s words were abrupt and harsh. “It sounded like you were already being frank with me.”

Excerpt from Half of Faith

The blindfold was removed roughly and even though the light was minimal, Former United States President Trenton Weston’s eyes winked shut. He had been handled roughly but was uninjured except for the scrapes and bruises from the train attack. He tried to turn his head toward the presence he felt behind him, but a hand forcefully spun it back around.

First a crease of light, then a fully opened door appeared before him. The opening revealed the silhouette of a man, small in stature, but stocky, legs spread slightly, hands folded behind his back.

The figure strode toward him at a firm, even gait. The olive drab of his camouflaged military-style garb was interrupted by patches of dirt and stains. Rips in the fabric of his jacket exposed a dingy undershirt.

“I am Subcomandante Morales,” he said in Spanish. “I know you understand me, so do not pretend that you do not. I wished you to see the man who has conquered you.”

“You have kidnapped me. You have not conquered me,” the former leader of the free world returned in perfect Spanish.

The left side of Morales’ moustache rose significantly as he circled his captive, hands still behind his back, black eyes remaining fixed on the American.

“We will see who has been defeated.”

“Where am I?”

“You are on the brink of your judgement. You are going to face the verdict for your country’s evils against the world.”

“I wasn’t aware we had committed any ‘evils’ against the Mexican people – or any part of the world.”

Morales halted his pacing directly in front of the former American President. He placed his hands on the knees of the seated hostage and moved his face to within inches of Weston’s. In spite of the other demands the circumstances placed on his senses the sixty-six-year-old Weston still recoiled slightly at the mixture of tequila, tobacco, and dental neglect that assaulted him.

“Your government has helped the Mexican officials in their cruelty to the indigenous people of my country. You gringos have assisted them in stealing from us. Your trade treaties let them rob us of our resources and justify it to the world.”

Morales stood and lifted his head as he snapped around and marched away from his hostage. “You Americans are rich enough, but you want to take from us.”

“So why have you taken me?”

“You are a prisoner of war. You are a war criminal,” shouted the self-proclaimed Subcommander.

Excerpt from The Calendar

Of the many truly great things about fishing, among the best was that it never required a lot of energy or equipment to do it right. A bobber, a cane pole, and worms for bait were more than adequate for a child of Texas on a barely-flowing creek in the late evening of a perfect summer day. And every summer day, with its absence of school, was indeed perfect for two young neighbors in rural Texas in the late fifties.

Toby Anderson had held a pole in his hands since long before he could remember, though the extent of time he was capable of remembering was limited. After all, he was just short of nine years old. And his fishing pal – his everything pal – was a pal in the very strictest sense of the word. So what if Cassie Blalock was a girl? Toby had never really thought about it one way or another. Cassie was simply his buddy. She could deliver a right jab or jump a fence with the best of them. And in this part of Johnson County, Texas, the “best of them” meant Toby. At ninety pounds and a height of four feet and eight inches, he was on the big side for his age. The boy never bullied but he also never backed down. He placed the right fear of God in every boy his age and a great many that were older. And Cassie enthusiastically matched him tit for tat and mischief for mischief. Cassie was six inches shorter and over thirty pounds lighter, but her smaller frame belied her physical and emotional toughness. Aside from size, distinctions between the pair were hard to arrive at because the children were in lock-step in every endeavor. Wherever you found one, you found the other – always.

It was August and the heat was of the sort you always heard about in the Lone Star State in the late summer – eight hundred degrees and humidity of two hundred percent – perfect for fishing. Oh, you seldom caught fish when it was like this, but – and this was another wonderful thing about fishing – it required water. So when the fish weren’t biting, stripping down to your skivvies and cannonballing into the water was a satisfactory replacement. Though most creek beds and stock tanks near the children’s homes were mere patches of scorched, cracked earth by this point in the year, this particular creek constantly flowed. It had a pool that always held the water fed into it from springs. Beside the stream hung the requisite rope swing of the proper length to elevate you to the perfect altitude for a drop into the refreshing water with a ker-splash.