Todays fave reader quote comes from my romantic suspense book about a former Marine, a boy with no identity, and a woman looking for her sister’s child. If you know the military at all, you know what FUBAR means. If you don’t know it, the first word is a common swear word beginning with F. Using asterisks the whole thing is F*ed Up Beyond All Recognition.
The excerpt that contains that quote is found at the end of Chapter 1, so you get the entire chapter below.
Reed Adler lifted the mug of coffee to his lips and inhaled the earthy, robust aroma. This was his favorite time of day, early morning, sitting outside his cabin looking across the small meadow and into the trees. Filled with purple lupine and the first bursts of crimson Indian Paintbrush, the meadow shimmered like an image in a kaleidoscope. A slender trail emerged from the forest into the clearing and then plunged back into the trees. Reed often enjoyed hiking the steep trail, which wound for several miles along the Sandy River. As the last vestiges of winter faded and soft flowers erupted along the trails, it was easy to forget the dangers present when hiking in the late spring and early summer. On his first mountain rescue last year, Reed had learned that rain and ice were still a very real danger. The deceivingly clear skies and bright sunshine tended to fool hikers into thinking it was warm outside.
He pulled up the collar on his Pendleton. “Protect yourself,” he mumbled into his coffee. He took a sip and sighed as the crisp air of early summer mixed with the invigorating taste of a strong, powerful dark roast. This was the life he wanted—one without the guns of war, the heat of the desert, or having to say “Yes sir” to yet one more idiot.
Coffee sprayed across the deck. Reed’s training kicked in as he took cover behind his chair. All senses alerted as he built a wall against the shrapnel of fear strafing his chest. The meadow blurred and he tightened his focus on the mountain trail, his gaze cataloging every rock, every tree as he prepared for an enemy attack.
Reed peered into the stand of trees. Something wasn’t right. Afghanistan didn’t have Redwood trees. Where are the rocky, desert mountains? Reed glanced over his shoulder. Where is the rest of his unit? They never went on a mission alone in broad daylight. They must be hiding in the trees. He scanned left and right for the enemy. Seeing none, he jumped off the deck, crouching low as he ran toward the tree line.
A boy burst from the trees running as fast as his short legs would carry him, the sun glinting off something metal.
Reed shouted to his unit. “Down! Gun! Down!” He hit the dirt and covered his head, waiting for the boy to start shooting.
He turned his head slightly. The kid had stopped dead in his tracks, as if not moving a muscle would make him invisible.
Why wasn’t his unit responding? Shit. He must be the only one left. The bastards must have killed them. He reached beneath him for his backup weapon in an ankle holster.
Fuck! Where’s my gun? No uniform? No flak jacket? What the hell is going on here?? Have I been drugged? Escaped? Why can’t I remember?
Flat in the dirt, Reed raised one knee to his side and placed both hands beneath his chest so he could push up quickly. He would spring forward when the boy made a move. He’d have to kill him with his bare hands. Reed would have to kill him before being shot—before joining the rest of his unit in hell.
The kid did nothing. The gun. Why hadn’t he drawn it? The boys always had a gun. Usually a rifle, but sometimes a handgun. Was the kid the pawn? Were there others hidden behind the trees?
Dammit! He should have been prepared. He knew that young Afghan boys were often sent on suicide missions. How did he let himself get in this situation?
The boy’s eyes were wide and frightened. It was like he was paralyzed by Reed’s deadly stare. When no one else fired, Reed looked up the trail again, trying to find where the others were hiding. He frowned in confusion.
Conifers. Heavily treed. What the hell?
Where were the brown hills, the scrawny, sparse trees barely hanging on to the white peaks above him?
Oh, God. No. Please God. Not again.
He closed his eyes and let out a breath. He wasn’t in Afghanistan. He was home. Mt. Hood. His own backyard. The adrenalin still pumping through him, he took a shaky deep breath and let it out slowly.
Reed took his time getting up to one knee, then pushed carefully off the ground. The boy flinched. Reed stood motionless. He worked on slowing his breathing, stopping the automatic kill reflex.
“Sorry, kid.” His voice was rough, dry from eating dirt when he hit the ground. “You okay? You lost?”
The boy screamed, turned, and took off back the way he’d come.
Fuck! It was a lost kid and he probably just scared the shit out of him.
Reed pursued. It wasn’t safe for a young kid to be climbing around these mountains alone—especially at six in the morning. If he stepped off the wrong side of the trail, the boy would be dead.
“Hey, kid. Hold up. I’m not going to hurt you.”
The kid stepped off the trail on the up slope and started climbing cross-country, then scampered further south again. Reed closed the gap. Only a few more strides and he’d have him. The boy slipped and screamed, tumbling down the slope. Reed braced himself, scooped his arms down and caught the boy, bringing him up against his chest.
The boy flailed at him, kicking and crying.
“Hold on,” Reed said. “Just a minute. I’m not going to hurt you. What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
The boy kicked again, and Reed let out an “oof” as the boy’s foot connected with Reed’s kidney. He set the kid on the ground, tightly pressing down on his shoulders. The kid kicked his shin.
“F…if you do that again, I’m going to sit on you.” Reed said. The kid twisted in his grasp and Reed applied more pressure, forcing the kid to bend lower to keep his balance. “Now tell me what’s going on. Maybe I can help.”
For a moment, the boy quieted, tears streaming down his face. For the first time, Reed had a chance to actually look at him. Red marks encircled the kid’s wrists, as if they’d been tied for a long time. A large purple bruise on his left cheek looked like he’d been hit hard by someone strong. His shirt was ripped at the collar with what looked like dried blood along his shoulder.
Reed loosened his grip a little. “What’s happened here?”
The boy’s shoulders slumped and he looked down at the ground. Reed let go completely and the kid took off again, running up the trail.
Shit! Whatever had scared this kid was way beyond Reed’s stupid flashback.
The boy turned suddenly, jumping over a large boulder and then veered sharply to the left. Reed tried to adjust, but he stumbled and landed flat on his chest and face-to-face with a woman on the ground. Obviously dead. Reed scrambled back to a sitting position and scanned the woods for the kid.
Had the boy been part of this? Maybe escaped from the assailant?
The woman wore a nice suit—skirt and jacket—but she was bent in an unnatural way. One leg splayed out to the right crossing over the other, putting her almost completely face down, with one arm pinned beneath her. Her long blonde hair, matted with blood and needles from the conifers, looked sticky and stiff. She’d probably died several hours ago. He’d seen people bleed out in Afghanistan; he knew that look of resigned horror.
His training kept him close to the ground, though he doubted whoever did this was still around. If they had been, the boy would be dead too. He listened for a moment, unmoving, just in case.
Slowly, he turned the woman on to her back. Her clothes were intact except for an open shirt that showed some type of wound beneath her bra. Her hand compressed fabric against the wound, a torn yellow piece of paper clutched in her fingers with dried blood acting like a type of glue to keep the note there.
Based on the amount of blood, he guessed it had been a gunshot wound. Shit. No wonder the kid was running. He probably didn’t know the good guys from the bad.
Reed didn’t want to move her any more. The police would need to see her exactly as he’d found her. They’d want the kid, too. It’s likely the boy was a witness, and probably also a victim. He braced his hand against the ground and pushed himself up. To his surprise, the kid stood just ten feet off the trail. There were no tears now, no trembling, just him standing still as a statue with a tortured look in his eyes.
Reed didn’t move. He didn’t want to scare him into running again. “I’m sorry, kid. She’s dead.”
The boy stiffened and refused to look Reed in the eye.
“I guess you already knew that.”
The boy dropped his eyes to the ground and let out a big breath. His shoulders slumped.
“Do you know who did this?”
Again, the boy said nothing. He stared at Reed, his eyes wide, unblinking, as vacant as a sacrificial lamb. His lips trembled, but he didn’t cry out. Suddenly, he folded to the ground and curled into a fetal position.
Reed took a step forward, then another. When there was no flight reaction, he hurried to the kid and scooped him into his lap. Small arms went around his neck and held tight. Reed rocked him, hugging him to his chest.
“I don’t know what happened here, kid. But I’ll keep you safe. You hear? I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
The boy didn’t cry, didn’t say anything, but he held on as if his fingers had a death grip on a hand grenade.
Reed stood, shielding the boy in his arms, and started down the path to home. He’d have to call the police and get them out here. And he knew he’d have to tell them about the boy. He didn’t like the idea that some social service person would come and take the kid away, but that wasn’t his call.
At his cabin, he laid the boy on the sofa in front of the wood stove, covered him with a blanket, and just watched him for a while. He was waiting for the kid to say something or do something. Cry. Talk. Whatever.
After several minutes of silence, it struck him. The kid was like Reed. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t think. He was just trying to put whatever happened as far back in his mind as he could. Trying to go on without thinking, without feeling, hoping he would wake up tomorrow and it would all be just a bad nightmare.
Reed perched on the edge of the sofa, within inches of the boy in case he reached out. He wanted to say, “I understand. It’s okay. Do what you gotta do to get through this.” But he didn’t. He couldn’t get close. He couldn’t get involved. As soon as he called this in, someone would come take this kid away.
He dialed 911.
He’d barely gotten out the basic details about the body and the location when the operator began asking questions about Reed.
“Yeah, I found her on the trail. She’s been shot.”
“Look, I’m a Marine. I’ve been back from the Middle East for a year. I know when someone’s been shot.”
“Yeah, my name is Reed Adler, my address is…”
The boy grabbed the phone and ran out of the cabin.
Shit! Reed took off after him. He’d thought he had everything under control. He’d thought the boy had calmed down and wanted help. He scanned up and down the trail. The kid was nowhere.
It was going to be one of those FUBAR days.
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