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It's been a while. Hope you're okay in these tough times
BUT to get back to the point, I'm writing because I have a new book out: No Mercy: A gripping, action-packed British noir crime thriller. Self-standing, complete, no cliffies and a new series with a dark noir hero, Trigger Cullen.
There will be an origin story coming out soon too. After some years of struggling with various work and family obligations, I'm finally back into a space where I have time to write again. And boy am I writing up a storm! A regular 1000 words a day over the last month. The origin story should be done by Christmas.
I'm looking for reviewers, so if you have time to write a review (four lines and a star rating is enough, it need not be long!), hit reply and drop me an email. Reviewers get an ARC and I ask that you post in several places, like Amazon, BookBub, your social media, Google Books etc
If you prefer to buy, current pre-order price is $2.99 and it will go up to $3.99 in December. I'm not doing 99 cent books anymore as double taxes and international bank fees eat up what's left. Sorry! Costs have risen drastically in the last year or two.
So here's Trigger Cullen in his first adventure. Blurb and first chapter.
And before I go, THANK YOU for supporting me through all these years. I really, really appreciate it. ❤️❤️❤️
Hugs, Ellen aka AJ Adams
Trigger Cullen left home to forget his past, but when his family run into desperate trouble, he can’t say no. But returning to Ringmere is fraught with tension. With his family’s crisis and his manipulative cousin Alex trying to lure him back into his old job as enforcer, Trigger has his hands full. To complicate matters, Rachel Fox, an old flame, is back.
Stunningly beautiful, clever and hardworking, Rachel is a rising cam star. But money attracts predators. Trigger deals swiftly and ruthlessly with Jaffa, chief enforcer for the Razors. But Rachel is also falsely accused of blackmailing her ex, Ringmere’s married and publicly pious mayor, Lucian DeVere.
Trigger fears that entering the fray will ensnare him into returning to his old life. However, the murder of Rachel’s cam partner, plus his family’s urgent need combine to force his hand.
To Alex’s delight, Trigger promises to hunt down the blackmailer turned killer. But he can’t guess how violent his quest will become. Trigger Cullen is about to be catapulted into a web of blackmail, murder and deceit.
"Infidel!" The whip cut across my shoulders. I swung from the rafter, the rope cutting into my wrists. "Ya kalb!"
The hut was pitch black, lit only by the light from his phone. The rest had trooped out hours ago, but this little bastard had come back for some private entertainment.
Tucker bumped against me. He was still out cold, mercifully past all feeling. Beyond him, Jarvis looked dead. I couldn't see Smith.
They had taken Nemir and Khalid away. I hoped to God they were protected as nationals and set free, although it was more likely they'd been killed. In Iraq, foreigners are valued for the ransom companies pay; locals caught up in trouble are often iced instantly.
"Pigs!" The little bastard pushed between us, punching the unconscious Tucker out of sheer frustration. The beatings had broken my nose and blacked both my eyes, but the furious gaze above the long beard was unmissable. My being conscious registered. "You," he snarled. "You will suffer for what you have done."
They had built the hut to accommodate camels, but it was annoyingly suitable as a torture chamber. The beam was sturdy enough to take my weight, and the bugger had enough room to swing his goddamn whip.
The lash rose and fell. As the sole entertainment west of Bagdad, the phone camera was aimed at me. I was not saying cheese. In fact, I wasn't saying much at all.
After a half dozen strokes, the hater stopped, posed and screamed artistically for the camera. "Yankee pig!"
"I'm British, you plonker."
The lash got me right in the side, wrapping around my body. From the soft sharp pain, another rib went. My tormentor wasn't good at taking criticism. "You will die screaming!" Another red-hot explosion of fire, this time hitting my junk. "Pig! Dog!"
He was enjoying himself, but I was tired of it. His mates had taken their turn earlier that day and although they had been careful not to kill us, we were bruised purple and suffering from broken ribs, noses and other little bones. The hate had flowed freely, but they had stopped short of inflicting serious damage. From their talk, they aimed to ransom us, either to the construction company or to the ISIS fighters over the border.
Thanks to extensive experience with pain, dishing it out and taking it, I had my wits about me. However, I knew that unless I got down from the beam quickly, I'd not be able to help myself. Also, with this crazy fucker in the mix, death was a distinct possibility. Curiously, I minded that. I decided I didn't want to die in a stinking camel hut in the middle of nowhere.
"Oh God, we'll never get out of here." Smith lay in a corner behind us. There not being enough room on the beam, they had chucked him out of the way. Turning my head, I saw they had hogtied him. Seeing me, he whined, "I don't want to die."
It had been Smith who had led our team off the secure road. He was a public-school prick who thought having a rich family made him clever. I had known he was a moron, but it never occurred to me that his arrogance had a suicidal bent. I had sat in the back of the truck after a double shift because I wanted a nap well away from bloody idiot Smith. So, I had been helpless as he fucked up.
It sounds wild, doesn't it, that taking a detour will cost your life? But that's Iraq for you. There are always eyes on the road and so Smith going AWOL had been noted instantly. They were on us within a mile of leaving the green zone.
Although Smith had tried to turn tail, they had surrounded us. By the time it was over, Easy was dead and there was a gun in my face. Poor Easy. He was a good bloke. He didn't deserve to die because fuckup Smith wanted a go at driving cross-country in the Arabian Desert.
Even now, he wasn't taking responsibility.
"Let us go!" Smith moaned. "Or call the office. They'll pay. They're loaded."
The hater stepped over. "Coward!" A muffled squeal and then silence.
"Your mother is a whore." My tormentor stood before me, gloating. "I will kill you slowly." He had a long knife tucked into his belt. "And then, for the glory of God, I will burn you alive."
The little prick fancied himself an ISIS jihadi. That was what the camera was for. From the endless posing and faffing around, he planned to make a splash online by murdering us. He was filled with glee and so was I. His yearning for glory was my opportunity.
He stood next to me, grinning at the camera while punching Jarvis in the gut. When the man swung soundlessly, Tucker got a punch too. He moaned without opening his eyes.
I made my move. "I'll never tell."
It didn't come out great. But he heard and forgot to hit me. "What?" He had foul breath and rotten teeth. "What won't you tell?"
"Never." Ridiculous, isn't it? But Iraq is stuffed with treasure and it's not unknown for construction companies to dig up ancient temples stuffed with goodies. "You'll never see it."
Offering gold would have made him laugh and ignore me, but the threat of dying in stubborn defiance convinced him. The fetid stench came closer. "Tell me, pig."
A deep breath had him right in front of me. "Secret," I murmured.
He was so keen to hear that he lost all caution. "What secret?" He stepped up close, his face right next to mine. "What did you find?"
I flexed, whipping my feet up around his chest, pulling him in close and trying to headbutt him. I'm strong, I'm a black belt, and I was brought up in one of the roughest towns in England, so I fight to win.
"Gah!" He beat my legs, trying to break free whereas he should have pulled out his knife or at least punched me in the balls, the idiot. But although I had the little bastard in an unbreakable hold, I couldn't finish him because the prick was too small. Also, with my hands tied to the beam, his knife was way out of reach.
We struggled in silence; me because I was shattered and he because I crushed his windpipe. His face turned purple. I squeezed and tried to snap his neck. He convulsed and threw his arms around me. The rope around my wrists tightened and the weight nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets.
For a moment, I worried I might kill him and end up dangling helplessly over the fucker's corpse. Then the beam creaked. There was a snap as the wood splintered and we crashed to the ground. Jarvis and Tucker lay where they fell; I landed smack on top of the jihadi wannabe.
He was still breathing, but he didn't have a hope. My bound hands smashed into the bottom of his chin, snapping back his head and breaking his neck with an audible crack. When I kill, I don't mess about.
As there's a tiny chance of surviving a broken neck, I pulled out his knife and cut his throat. His blood was still up because the splatter sprayed everywhere. All over me too, but I didn't care. All I felt was satisfaction.
"Cullen," Tucker's eyes were open, but his voice was a whisper. "Jesus, that was real James Bond stuff."
"Hardly. We're missing the love interest."
"They're all kinky, mate."
"I rather like that."
Sawing through the rope is a snap in the films, but in real life it's a bugger. The hater's knife was sharp but notched. I cut myself twice. Not that it mattered because my wrists were red raw where they weren't black and blue. My back ran like a tap, too. What I wanted to do was lie down for a week and sleep. But I had to move, and fast.
A quick check of the hater's mobile revealed zero bars. It wasn't a satellite phone and the chances of getting a call out were slim to none. He had it for status and for taking selfies, the prick.
Tucker had fainted again. Not surprising, really. They'd beaten him first In the afternoon torture session, so he got the brunt of their anger. A quick check showed a strong pulse. As he'd made sense, I was hopeful. Tucker was unused to punishment, but he was tough. He just needed some time to recover.
Jarvis lay deadly still. I couldn't see or feel him breathe, but as he was still warm, I hoped for the best. He was older than us, due for retirement, and he was in terrible shape. He needed a doctor, and urgently.
Smith was out, but definitely alive. Without conscious thought, I reached out. I actually had my hands on his neck when I remembered I wasn't that man anymore.
I sat on my heels and considered. The old me screamed it was his fault we were in this mess. The fucker deserved it.
But I was done killing. Smith would live. Possibly. If I could get us all out. We were a hundred miles from home and the enemy was just outside the stable door. I was stark bollock naked, not ideal for running around the desert. As I'm six foot two and jihadi Joe barely topped my shoulder, his kit was too small for me.
I took his coat, drenched in gore, and ripped the lining under the arms so I could at least pull on some cover. His keffiyeh was sodden with blood, but turning it inside out worked. Pulling it up high hid most of my bruised and bloody face. Luckily, his gun, a decrepit AK-47, had a full clip. He also had two grenades. I blessed the little hater; his ambitions to be an ISIS star would save our lives.
It was pitch black outside. But as I slipped out of the shed, I walked slap into a guard.
"Infidel!" The knife came in low, aiming right for my gut. A twist got me out of the way of the blade and my fist in his gut cut off his call of alarm. As he hunched over, my knee came up and smashed his nose. His jacket dipped, exposing the back of his neck. My knife slid into the base of his skull a split second later. He died without a sound; without knowing, probably.
Killing comes easily to me. Good job too, as we were in a tight spot. Propping the dead man against a rock, I took stock. We were perched on a small plateau, sheltered on three sides by cliffs.
It was a classic defensive spot: one way in and one way out. That looks good, but if the enemy gets above you, you're a sitting duck. Whoever our abductors were, they weren't too smart. The thought cheered me up considerately.
Getting out was a problem because a camp lay between us and the exit. It was still dark, but the camels were moving about, sniffing the air. Dawn wasn't far away. In the sea of tents, one structure in the centre stood out: a small shack topped with webbing. I spotted our truck parked underneath. But there was no sign of Nemir and Khalid.
As I watched, a single woman appeared. She moved swiftly to the well and then looked through a stack of crates. From the clucking, it was a makeshift henhouse.
I sat back on my heels. I had expected a dozen men, perhaps two dozen at most. From the number of tents, I had miscalculated by a factor of five. Not good.
There was no way we could sneak out and hope to get away. Even if we were pursued, walking back to the city would take weeks. And Jarvis urgently needed medical care. We needed the truck.
The guard had a Sten that was straight out of World War II but well maintained. So, I had two guns and two grenades. Taking cover behind the ridge and picking off dozens of men was impossible. I had to even the odds. Excited clucking from the chicken coop gave me an idea.
The dead man's jacket was rank and his headdress equally revolting, but he had a tunic that gave me the right look. Thankfully, his boots fit me. With the low light, I would pass casual muster. He was a smoker, and he had a Zippo. Those lighters are fantastic because they work even in a storm. I took that and kept going. Then, a gift right from heaven: a bottle of vodka. Russian, from the label.
I took a swig and pocketed the rest. Grabbing the AK-47, I stood up and marched over the rocks, sauntering into the camp with a casual swagger.
The camels turned around and stared, hoping for food. The woman appeared out of the dark, a bucket of water in her hand. Looking away modestly, she pulled the corner of her veil over her face before going to tend a fire. So far, so good.
As the truck was the most valuable item in camp and would have eyes on it, I stayed away, avoiding even looking at it. I made straight for the well. Taking out a pail of water, I took a long drink and a quick dekko. Here and there, a shape moved. The camp was wakening; the men having their first smoke of the day and preparing for the morning call to prayer.
Nobody looked my way. Also, the predawn dimness was working for me. With swift cuts of my knife, I opened the coops. As the birds stepped out, I grabbed handfuls of straw rich with chicken shit.
Then I walked back to the hut, stopping briefly behind a tent. I never was a Boy Scout, but I grew up with a rough crowd. Apart from killing, I had a fine education in arson. Vodka won't burn, but the vapour does. And if you sprinkle fertiliser-rich crap over booze-soaked tent rope, you get a nice fiery flame.
It took ten seconds to set up and another sixty to climb the ridge and take up position by the hut. To the casual eye, I was on guard, looking out over the plain.
"Yalla!" A woman charged about, chasing the hens. At her cry, half a dozen others ran out. There was a toddler too.
"Ahdhar!" The tent was up in flames, the fire crackling merrily. As the women stood well away, clutching the birds, the men rushed about, trying to beat out the flames. I gave it a long minute, on tenterhooks for action, but knowing I had to wait for them to gather.
When the fighters crowded around the extinguished flame, I stood up, pulled the pin on a grenade and bowled like I was Jimmy Anderson. It flew true, landed right in the centre and exploded. In the screams and confusion, I let rip the second. It dropped right in front of the fleeing crowd, blasting flame, shrapnel, and rock.
I reckon the impromptu fire brigade consisted of sixty men. My bombs cut down most of them. I picked up the AK-47 and took aim. A few survivors got off some shots, but it was game over. They fell where they stood.
I emptied the gun and then picked up the Sten. It cut down the men emerging from the tents. They went down before they knew what was going on. To be certain, I blasted the tents too. Strafing the area ensured our safety, but it made a hell of a mess. By the time I finished, the ground was strewn with bodies.
When the dust cleared, five women and a toddler stood by the hen coops, open-mouthed in horror. My head told me to take them out; women are just as lethal as men. But I couldn't do it. It's a weakness, I guess.
Walking down to the camp, I picked up a gun and a second for luck. Then I looked at the truck. Bad news. Two tyres were shredded. Examining it further, I saw they had driven on, regardless. One rim was just pitted, but the other was totally trashed. From the way the truck sagged, the axel was broken.
The key was still in the ignition. I hopped in and tried to start it. Nothing. The engine didn't even turn over. The petrol tank was empty too. I cursed the buggers for killing our transport. We'd not be back in Bagdad in a hurry.
Looking at the fallen, I still couldn't spot Nemir and Khalid. I was on my way to turn over a few likely looking bodies when I heard a groan. A quick search took me a few dozen steps outside the camp and over another ridge.
They'd buried Nemir and Khalid up to their heads in the ground and stoned them. Nemir was dead, brains all over the place, but Khalid was alive. I was at his side, hands on the ground, and talking, "Hey buddy, it's okay. I'm getting you out. Hang on, all right?"
The desert is like a damn rock, but the loosely packed dark soil told its own story. We weren't the only people this lot had taken. And from the ease with which I dug out Khalid, this was a regularly used execution ground.
"Cullen." Khalid was a tough bugger and actually smiling. "Run, you crazy bastard."
"No need. There'll be no more trouble."
They had tied his hands behind his back, folded him small and dropped him in. A quick slash through the bonds did the job.
Khalid stretched and groaned. "Pigs. May they burn for a thousand years."
Nemir was gone, but he had a wife and kids. I dug him out, too.
Khalid helped, muttering curses the whole time and weeping. "Why did they have to kill him? He was a good man. A husband and a father too."
What can you say? "I'm sorry."
"They laughed! As he suffered, they laughed!"
They had enjoyed beating us, too. A big day for the camp, catching us.
Khalid wiped his eyes. "They killed him first. I was to die at dawn today. After prayers."
"Go get a sheet so we can shroud him."
After we wrapped him, Khalid said prayers as I stared out over the camp. So much for turning over a new leaf. There were bodies everywhere. They'd asked for it, but I felt bone-tired and depressed looking at the slaughter. This part of my life was supposed to be behind me.
One of the women wailing brought me out of it. She was on the ground, kicking and screaming. The others stood around, staring helplessly. A small part of me knew I should feel guilty, but the rest of me held fast to the truth: if you decide to play rough, you can't moan if you get wiped.
Just in case the women had ideas of revenge, I walked over. When they stared, hunched in fear, I put it to them straight, "Trouble and he's dead."
I pointed a gun at the toddler. I repeated it in Arabic, not certain if I got it all right, but they understood.
"Get the hell out of here." I pointed at the mouth of the canyon. "Go on, out!"
They scuttled off, circling around me and making for the plain. I knew they'd not go far, but as long as they were away from the camp that was strewn with weapons, we could get on with it.
Once they were out of sight, I scavenged. Aside from the essential water bottles and guns, I also came across plenty of blankets and tunics. There was little food. I picked up a few chocolate bars and some tinned beef. The only thing in plentiful supply was apples. They must have raided an orchard recently.
A couple of days of lean pickings wasn't an issue; as long as we had water, we'd make it okay. I gathered it all. Then, on a brainwave, I raided the chicken coops and scored a dozen eggs.
Camels are nasty buggers. They have huge teeth and a kick from their massive feet will put you into next week. I approached them with caution and grabbed eight. Two for supplies and one each for the rest of us.
Saddling them was a bitch. As I struggled with straps and tried to figure out what went where, the buggers nipped, shoved and spat. The offer of apples placated them, but I could see they thought I was soft and that they planned to make my life hell.
Thankfully, Khalid pitched up. Following his instructions, we got the job done. But by that time, the sun was well up and the camp inundated with flies. The stench was rising too. As we worked, I saw the women peeking at us from the entrance of the chasm. The second we were gone, they'd be hunting in the tents for phones. If one was satellite connected, they might call for reinforcements.
Combing the place would take hours. And if others were already on their way, looking to share in our ransom, we would be properly in for it. Leaving and fast was the sensible option.
I walked the camels up to the hut. Wrapping the reins around a rail, I pushed the door open and threw down the clothes I'd sourced. "Come on, let's go."
"Oh, sweet Jesus." Smith crept out, eyes wide with shock. "What did you do?"
"I took care of business."
As Smith became preoccupied with throwing up, I went inside. Tucker was on his hands and knees, checking over Jarvis. "I think he's dead." He was in tears but holding it together. "The bastards killed him."
I checked again, holding my hand to his mouth and a finger on his neck. "He's breathing. He may still make it."
"What about Nemir and Khalid?"
"Khalid is alive."
"Oh fuck. Nemir has two daughters. And his wife is expecting."
I took in Tucker. He was a mess, but he was a solid bloke. "The truck is dead, but I've got camels. Let's get a move on."
Tucker stared. "But what about the camp?"
"They're all dead."
We'd been mates, working well together and going for brewskies after. Now he realised what I was. I saw the knowledge dawn in his eyes. But he swallowed and looked away, whispering, "So we live."
A practical man, Tucker. "Let's get Jarvis out of here."
Smith had quit heaving and pulled on a tunic. The second he saw me, he tried to take charge. "Cullen, we need to contact Bagdad."
"There is no coverage out here. Our priority is to leave. Fast."
He drew himself up, squawking, "You don't give orders! You're just a plumber. I'm the senior engineer!"
I had him by the throat before conscious thought registered. "You do as you're told or you join the others, get it?"
The popping eyes and muted squeals signalled agreement. I shook him to underline I meant it. "Help Tucker settle Jarvis." When I put him down, Smith gasped and scuttled inside with his tail between his legs.
I went back down to the camp and looked for flammables. The flies were swarming, feasting on blood. They buzzed off as I chucked around cooking oil, lighter fluid and flour. Few people realise, but flour in the air acts like an explosive.
While I set up, Khalid and Tucker had the others ready to go. I waved them on, "Get to the entrance."
Tucker paled as he took in the bodies. "What about you?"
"I'm right behind you."
Khalid nodded. "Careful, my friend."
I watched him lead the camels out, checked the women and the kid were still well away, and then chucked a lit rag into the tents. It took a few seconds, but as the canvas went up in flames, the flour caught.
The boom and roar of flames sent the camels into a hasty trot. I was right behind them and accelerating. We ran like hell, with the rocky cliffs on both sides magnifying the boom of the exploding flour, running until we hit the open plain.
When we pulled up, I was panting like a tart riding joystick. My cracked and bruised ribs were on fire.
Tucker held on to Jarvis with one hand. With a broken nose, black eyes and two missing teeth, he looked like hell. The trousers that were three sizes too big, and a blanket soaked in gore, weren't helping either. But he was grinning like a bastard. "That was spectacular. What the blazing hell was that?"
"Flour." The camel I approached gave me an evil look. Then, taking in that I was not in the mood for nonsense, it stood still as I climbed up. It's uncomfortable transport at the best of times and with my body one big aching bruise, the trip home would be hell. But taking in the blue sky and endless rocks, my optimism returned.
Khalid beamed. "It's a miracle from heaven. I can't believe we made it."
"This phone isn't working!" Smith wasn't seeing the bright side. He brandished the hater's phone. "I can't dial out."
Tucker shrugged. "There's no signal out here."
"Why have a phone if you can't call?" Smith fumed.
There was a nice, stiff breeze. I took a swig of water and broke out the apples. My teeth were loose on one side. It didn't matter; I'd eat with the other side and crunch carefully. Wellbeing flooded me.
"It's going to take days to get back," Smith moaned. "And what if we're heading in the wrong direction?"
"Don't worry," Khalid assured him. "We aim for the hills. We'll spot the city easily enough."
Smith spat with rage. "Why should we trust you? You're one of them!"
My punch got him right on the button. As Smith slumped, the beauty of the plain before us stretched out.
"It's a lovely day for a ride," Tucker said cheerfully. "And Jarvis moaned when we picked him up. I think he's going to make it."
Khalid turned to me. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
"Casablanca? I'm a big fan."
The teeth flashed as he placed a hand on his heart. "Khalid Dabdoub Al-Faraj."
"The name's Cullen, Max Cullen." It came to me that there was no point in pretending anymore. They knew what I was. "My friends call me Trigger."
Buy No Mercy on Amazon UK
Buy No Mercy on Amazon USA
Buy No Mercy on Amazon Australia
Buy No Mercy on Amazon Canada
Buy No Mercy on Apple
Buy No Mercy on Google Play
Universal Link for other shops
Enjoy, and hopefully see you all soon!