Among the former prized military elite of the Vietnam War is a psychopathic killer, Seneca. A highly trained warrior with the finely honed tactics of a commando and a genuine thirst for blood, he's been hired to eliminate the president of the United States and three top Middle Eastern leaders. Only the mysterious Cain, a brilliant and lethal former assassin, can track down his one-time comrade and stop him. Against a ticking clock, Cain must hunt this deranged slayer and destroy him before he ruthlessly murders again.
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About the Author
Tom Wallace is a sportswriter, an editor, and a ghostwriter for books such as Lead to Succeed and Success Is a Choice. He is the author of The Devil’s Racket, Kentucky Basketball Encyclopedia, and What Matters and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Author’s Guild. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Read an Excerpt
Dark Secrets Of The Old Oak Tree
By Dolores J. Wilson
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Dolores J. Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt could have been anything making its way through the Georgia underbrush. The loud crunching of dried leaves and snapping of brittle twigs called the tiny hairs on the back of my neck to full attention. I sat perched on a huge oak limb on what was left of the floor of my childhood tree house. Fear of the unknown caused my body to tremble.
Beyond the stand of trees edging the meadow between me and my home, the early evening sun was still bright, but shadows shrouded the small clearing beneath me. The thrashing in the bushes was too close and coming too fast for me to climb down and escape to the safety of my house. I was so high up in the leaves, I felt I could stay hidden, but my sweat-soaked clothes smelled of fear, and my heart pounded so loudly, any animal would sense my presence.
Whatever I was expecting to pop into the clearing-an armadillo, a raccoon, or even a bear-would have been welcomed compared to the reality of what appeared below.
The huge form of Jake Harley broke through the palmetto bushes and briar thicket. Across his broad shoulder, he carried a nude body. He threw a shovel down, and then, with no more effort than if he'd carried a bag of chicken feed, Jake shifted what I was pretty sure was a dead woman and dropped her to the ground with a thudthat rocked my teeth. Chills crawled the entire length of my body.
Jake disappeared beneath my perch in the tree and out of my line of sight. Trying to see him again, I slowly leaned forward and peeked over the side. Terror drummed through every inch of my being, and bile climbed higher in my throat. I swallowed several times, hoping to keep from throwing up.
The scene below me played out like a horrible nightmare. The corpse lay on its side. Leaves and twigs matted the woman's long, dark blonde hair and hid most of her face. Dried blood formed a trail from the corner of her mouth, across her cheek, and disappeared into her stringy hair.
As Jake dug shovels full of dirt from the hard ground, I watched in horror. He made it look easy, leaving me no doubt that I couldn't possibly defend myself against the powerful man. From the mounds of dirt, broken roots pointed like gnarly fingers to my hiding place. I prayed with all my might that Jake wouldn't look my way.
I glanced at my watch-7:05. I'd now been trapped in my hellacious hiding place for over forty-five minutes. During that entire time, I'd sat with my legs folded. Any sense of normal feeling had long ago deserted me, and I felt nothing but painful needles stabbing every inch of my flesh. I didn't dare move. I barely dared to breathe. But what I really wanted to do was cry. Cry for the poor dead soul lying on the hard ground, waiting for Jake Harley to finish digging her grave.
I shivered. The painful pounding in my head was rivaled only by the raw aching in my heart. A family was missing a loved one, and I knew where that person was, but I couldn't get to a phone to tell anyone. Even if I hadn't left my cell at my house, it would have been too noisy to use it to call for help.
Earlier, when I had first made my way into the clearing, all I'd really wanted to do was have a moment of peace and quiet. Once there I'd wondered if I could muster the strength to climb the two-by-four planks still joined to the tree to form a ladder where Dad had nailed them. The sides of the tree house were mostly gone, but the floor, although smaller than I remembered, was still sturdy.
Oh God, I wished with everything inside me that I hadn't tried to prove something to myself by climbing the tree. Had I done it because I'd turned forty that day or because my husband of fifteen years had traded me in for a red corvette and his legal assistant? Was I trying to prove I was still young? Given where I was at that moment, only one thing was for certain-I was too young to die.
I needed to take another glance at the things going on under the tree house, but it had grown too dark to see anything. Panic gripped my throat, making it hard to swallow. I could hear Jake moving around. Suddenly, a light brightened a large part of the clearing. Jake had turned on a flashlight and set it on its end with the beams shining up into the trees. I leaned back out of the glow, which kept me from seeing what was happening below.
Jake's grunting accelerated. An alarm went off in my head. Was he climbing the tree to where I was? My pulse raced out of control. With the beams shining through the slits in the wooden floor, I glanced around for a weapon, but found nothing. I looked down again and sighed with relief when I saw that Jake wasn't climbing the tree. He had dragged the body to the hole. A second later, he rolled it into the grave.
The dead woman landed on her back. With her mouth and eyes frozen open, she stared up at me. Uncontrollable anguish shook me to the core. Tears flooded my eyes, blurring my vision, but not enough to close out the grotesque image. I wrapped my arms across my chest to steady my body's violent shaking. I wanted to wake up and deal with the horrific nightmare, but that wasn't going to happen and I knew it. I'd never experienced such torture from a nightmare.
I squeezed my eyes shut to clear away the tears. When I dared to look again, Jake was shining the flashlight into the hole. I saw her face clearly and knew for sure the woman was Denise Farrell. A pain stabbed so deeply into my heart, I almost screamed. I hadn't seen her since we'd graduated from high school and I'd left Hyattville to go to college in Chicago, but that hadn't mattered. Twenty years and death didn't matter. I would have known her anywhere.
Sleeping legs, painful stiffness, sweat, and terror pounding against my tightly strung nerves weakened my whole body. Weighted with an overwhelming need to sleep or faint, I had to fight against the sensations. I had to stay alert in case Jake discovered me.
As he buried Denise, I didn't watch, but I couldn't close out the sounds of the heavy dirt hitting her body or the sour smell of the damp earth. Through the branches I could no longer see the meadow. Nightfall had claimed everything around me. Everything but the private little world surrounding the big oak tree.
Many times Denise and I had sat on the very boards that were keeping me hidden from Jake. The branches around me had heard our life's dreams and secrets. A place that once held pleasant and happy thoughts was now a keeper of deadly, dark secrets.
Remorse mixed with fear. It all had to end soon. I couldn't take much more. Suddenly, I realized I was hearing dried leaves rustling. Was Jake leaving?
I stole a glance. No, he wasn't leaving. He was getting handfuls of dried leaves from the edge of the clearing and dumping them onto Denise's grave. When he had enough piled up, he scattered them evenly over the ground, camouflaging the freshly spade dirt. I would never again hear the crunch of dried leaves without remembering this night.
Finally, Jake picked up his shovel and flashlight. Before he made his way back through the overgrown thicket, he said, "Bye bye, Denise." His deep, masculine voice contrasted starkly with the childlike words.
More tears made their way to my eyes. How had this mild-mannered man with the mind of an eight-year-old come to this juncture? If asked before this, I'd have bet my new boutique that Jake Harley would not be capable of something so heinous. But regardless of what my heart said, my eyes told a completely different story.
The road was quite a distance from where I sat praying Jake was gone, but I faintly heard a vehicle start. Once I was sure he was out of earshot, I stretched my legs and tried rubbing them back to life. I had to wait a while before I felt ready to climb down from the tree. I needed to have my body working properly so I could run home to call the sheriff, and I had to make sure Jake wasn't on his way back into the clearing. I waited. Hoping to hear nothing. Hoping to hear help coming.
No help came.
I would guess I'd been sitting in that tree a good thirty minutes after Jake had left the clearing. Time was wasting. I had to get someone out there right away. Of course, nothing could bring Denise back, but the earlier the authorities were alerted, the faster they could get her out of that dark hole and make her ready for a proper burial.
I was stalling, and it wasn't because of the weakness in my legs. I was scared half out of my mind, and I couldn't force my body to cooperate. Except for a small glint of moonlight hovering over the meadow, everything was hidden by pitch-blackness. Anything or anybody could be waiting at the bottom of the makeshift ladder, and I would never know until I landed in their arms on my descent from the tree. But I couldn't just stay up there.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard my Grandma Carson's sweet voice whispering in the wind that lightly rustled the leaves. "The unknown is always scarier than reality." True.
Silently, I counted to three and then started down the ladder. In a matter of seconds, I was out of the tree. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I started running.
I'd only taken two steps when my foot sank into the newly spaded dirt. I landed face down, sprawled across Denise's grave. My skin instantly turned to gooseflesh, and chills shivered through me.
As I struggled to stand, I kept apologizing. "I'm sorry, Denise. I'm so sorry."
Was I losing my mind? As fast as branches and briar bushes allowed, I ran toward the moonlit meadow. Once there, I could see my home standing stately on the other side of the field. I ran in the direction of the two-story farmhouse left to me by my father, who'd died two years before. It looked forever away. The high, meadow grass wiped its evening dew on my jeans, and I fought to keep from screaming. I imagined someone was chasing me. I could barely breathe, but I was afraid to stop.
Miraculously, I was able to hit the latch and shove the gate open all in one fell swoop. The tall house hid the moon and cast a black shadow from the fence to the front porch. Tall, thick branches fortified with sharp thorns snagged my clothing and tore my flesh. Blinded by darkness, I had stupidly run through Dad's rose garden.
"Aw," I cried and grabbed at my arm only to get my hand locked around the barbed stalk. "Damn." I slowly unhooked myself from the rose bush and then cursed the rest of the way to the front porch. How could I have forgotten about the garden? It had been in that very spot all my life.
I bounded up the porch steps, flung the screen door open, and sailed into my house. After slamming the heavy front door, I slid the safety chain into place and collapsed against the wall. My eyes were closed tightly. I was gasping for air, giving thanks, and, since I hadn't locked the house before my walk across the meadow, praying I was the only one there.
When I opened my eyes, I found it dark and scary. As fast as possible, I flipped on a table lamp and then scanned the room. Everything looked just as it had when I'd left. After grabbing the telephone, I called 9-1-1.
"Hyattville Sheriff's Office. Deputy Douglas speaking." The familiar voice startled me. At that moment, my old friend Lonnie Douglas, class clown, was the last person I wanted to talk to.
"I need to talk to the sheriff. It's an emergency," I spoke quickly, hoping Lonnie wouldn't recognize my voice.
"Evie? Is that you? It took you long enough to give your old buddy a call. How ya been?" he asked with his mouth obviously full of food.
"What part of emergency don't you understand?" I choked out in heart pounding fear mixed with instant aggravation. "Denise Farrell is dead, and Jake Harley buried her in the woods on the other side of my meadow. You gotta get the sheriff and get out here," I demanded.
"Jake buried Denise? Slow down, Evie. You've got to be mistaken. Jake is just now backing out of a parking space in front of our office. He's been in with Sheriff Beasley for the past ten minutes."
Lonnie's words buzzed in my head like I'd been zapped with lightning. Had there been enough time for Jake to get to Hyattville and spend ten minutes with the sheriff? Evidently there had, because he'd done it.
"Did Jake confess?" I asked. "Why is he leaving? You have to lock him up?" Panic stole some of my voice. I wasn't sure Lonnie could even understand what I was saying. I certainly couldn't understand anything that had happened in the past ... how long had it been?
As if it heard my thoughts, the grandfather clock standing in the corner of my front parlor began to bong. I jumped so hard, I nearly dropped the phone. It was eight o'clock.
"Evie? Evie?" Lonnie shouted through the phone. "Are you there? Are you okay?"
"No. Yes. I don't know, Lonnie. Please come quick," I pleaded, all the while trying not to sob uncontrollably.
"Okay, we're on our way."
I slumped into the overstuffed sofa and pulled Grandma Carson's afghan around me. I shook so hard, the decorative crocheted roses danced. I couldn't keep my mind on one facet of the last two hours. It kept jumping from one detail to another. I'd always been the cool one in troubled situations-but what was I thinking? I'd never been in a situation remotely like this one.
For fifteen years, I'd been the wife of a high-flying prosecuting Chicago attorney. One who loved to toot his own horn by telling me and everyone in earshot what pieces of evidence he'd brilliantly used to bring down a killer. Some of that had sunk into my brain. I threw the blanket aside. I raced to the window facing the meadow and stared at the oak tree outlined by the glimmer of the moon.
When the sheriff arrived, he would have questions for me. Mentally, I started to outline what they would be. I grabbed a notepad and pen from Dad's roll-top desk. While it was still fresh in my mind, I scribbled down the timeline. I wrote what Jake was wearing, but then scratched through that info. Since he'd gone directly to their office, they already knew what he was wearing.
What else could I tell them? Nothing other than that Denise was dead.
The grandfather clock sounded again-8:15. Lonnie and Sheriff Johnston Beasley should be arriving any minute. I turned on the front porch light and waited by the front window. A thick row of trees separated my front yard from the highway. I heard the sirens first, and then I saw the display of flashing lights from two sheriff's department vehicles, a fire truck, and an ambulance.
Hurrying out to meet them, I reached Lonnie first. Once he had been lanky, but life, or maybe a few too many doughnuts, had filled him out. On him, it looked good. He put his thick arm around me and kissed my cheek.
"Welcome home, Evie," he said sarcastically.
"Yeah. Some party, huh?"
Sheriff Johnston Beasley took longer to get to us. He pulled his hat from the passenger seat and positioned it on his head; then he finally made his way to Lonnie and me.
"Miss Carson." He tipped his hat. "What's going on?"
"Jake Harley buried Denise Farrell over there in that wooded area." I pointed at the woods beyond the meadow, and then I noticed the EMTs. "You won't need them. She's dead." Sadness lodged in my throat. I must have staggered a little. Lonnie put his arm around me, led me to the porch, and urged me to sit down.
"Thanks." I forced a wobbly smile.
"What happened?" Lonnie asked.
I told them everything I'd witnessed. My written timeline was inside, but I didn't need it. It was blazoned in my mind forever.
"What's the best way to get over there?" Beasley asked.
"You can't drive across the field. Too many potholes. You'll have to go down Miner's Road. That's how Jake got in there."
"Do you think you can show us?"
"You ride with Lonnie, and we'll follow."
I grabbed my house keys and locked my front door. In Lonnie's car, he and I rode along in complete silence. Our parents had been best friends, so he and I had grown up almost like brother and sister. Even though I'd been back in town a month, I hadn't seen him since Dad's funeral over two years before. There was much we could have talked about, but the tragedy surrounding us had shoved idle chitchat asid.
The official vehicles formed a caravan, each shining spotlights erratically swirling over the impregnable span of trees. They resembled Hollywood searchlights announcing a movie premier. But this was not Hollywood, and it wasn't a movie. It was real life with consequences that would change lives forever.
Excerpted from Dark Secrets Of The Old Oak Tree by Dolores J. Wilson Copyright © 2010 by Dolores J. Wilson . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
I must confess, this is one funny book! The perfect combination of mystery, romance, and humor. (Kimberly Llewellyn, award winning author, Tulle Little Tulle Late )
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1971 on both sides of the DMZ that supposedly divided Viet Nam, everyone in the North and South feared Cain the assassin who killed with his hands while looking at his victim's eyes though some Communists are skeptical about the monster's legend. However, most know he and his six guerilla warfare comrades (Snake, Cardinal, Deke, Seneca, Rafe and Moon) are the best just ask their superior officer General White who assigns the kills. However, after their deadly nightcrawler missions into the north end, the magnificent seven return to the States to accept their most difficult mission: becoming non-lethal civilians. Four decades later, one of them Taylor is murdered in the exclusive Pinewood Estates on Pawley's Island; his dying words to night watchman Moss is "Fallen Angels". One of the seven Seneca has killed one of his former compatriots and is targeting the others as well while honing terrorist skills for a big attack on America. Professor Michael Collins learns of Seneca's recent activity and decides that Cain must return knowing that he marks either himself or Seneca for death. This is a dark thriller that asks intriguing questions about whether those deployed by the government as legal assassins having killed many of the enemy using any tactic necessary can truly return to civilian life. Although moral issues re government ethics of training and deploying assassins in combat are implied but sadly ignored for the High Noon suspense, readers who enjoy a fast-paced showdown thriller will want to peruse Tom Wallace's exciting tale as Seneca and Cain complete the personal battle started in North Viet Nam forty years ago knowing only one will be left standing. Harriet Klausner