Sunday, October 17, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 11

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 11

Pike and Drake rode separately in the back of different Hummers. The owner of that tortured bullfrog voice was ahead of them in the third vehicle.

A large Mexican man with a Beretta 93R automatic pistol sat sideways in the passenger seat, keeping the barrel pointed at Pike. No one spoke, and that was fine with him. He was trying to come up with a way to rescue Gemma.

The ride was short and the vehicles carrying Pike and Drake stopped side by side on a circular drive at the back of the house. Thanks to the spotlights, the entirety of the structure was visible. The size was even more impressive up close. There were many little flourishes -- gold filagree inlaid around the windows and the back door – that struck Pike as tacky. Knowing now who the owner was, Pike wasn’t surprised.

The brute with the Beretta motioned for Pike to get out. He obeyed, and found himself standing next to Drake.

“I was hoping they would drive you back to the jungle,” Pike said.

“Me too.”

A skinny man from Drake’s Hummer rapped on the door and it opened. Pike and Drake were led down a brightly lit hallway, decorated with framed photographs, jerseys and other memorabilia of American football.

“Who is this guy?” Drake said.

Their walk ended in a large room, cooled by silent air conditioning. Expensive leather furniture was arranged in a semi-circle in the room’s center. More football keepsakes were on the walls and bookshelves. In the corner of the room, a football sat atop a gold pedestal on a large wooden desk.

The door closed behind them. Pike didn’t hear a lock click. Not that it mattered. He didn’t plan to escape. Not until he got to a phone.

Drake lifted the football and slowly turned it in his hands, studying the writing on its pebbled surface.

“Super Bowl II,” Drake said. “He’s got Bart Starr’s autograph.”

He almost sounded impressed.

“Great. You two will have lots to talk about.”

The door opened. The big man with the Beretta from the Hummer came in first, followed by a short, fat man with skin the color of milk chocolate.

“It was the first football game I remember watching,” the fat man said. “I paid a lot for that ball.”

He waved the big man away. “It’s okay, Miguel. If they try to leave, shoot them.”

The fat man sat down hard in a big chair. He indicated that Pike and Drake should take seats on the couch across from him.

He gave Pike a menacing look, then collapsed in laughter. When he got his breathing under control he said, “You should see your face.”

“It would be better than what I’m looking at now.”

“Pike, it is good to see you.”

“You too, Nugget.”

Drake raised an eyebrow but didn’t speak.

With a grunt, the fat man leaned forward, extending a hand to Drake. Drake shook with his good hand.

“Pablo Edgardo Jimenez.”


“You a friend of Pike?”


Jimenez laughed again.

“This is something I can understand.”

“Stop it,” Pike said, “before you make me cry.”

“Still a badass. I could have used you on my crew back in East L.A.”

“You’re American?” Drake said.

“Nugget was a gangbanger,” Pike said. “Now he runs one of the world’s biggest drug cartels from Southern Mexico.”

“Far away from the prying eyes of your DEA,” Jimenez said.

“Your DEA, too.”

“Local officials are easier to bribe here, too.”

“Nobody knows how Nugget managed to get from Lincoln Heights to his current position.”

I know,” Jimenez said with a large smile.

A helicopter approached the property, growing louder as it landed near the house. Jimenez didn’t seem concerned. The conversation halted until the engine shut off.

“How do you know each other?” Drake said.

Jimenez looked at Pike for a moment.

“I saved his life.”

“After I saved yours, Nugget.”

“Some smugglers interfered with my, ah, distribution network.”

“They were smuggling Aztec artifacts,” Pike said. “I was trying to stop them.”

“Loco hombres. They thought they could get rid of us.”

“They almost did,” Pike said.

“But I fed them to my pigs.”

“You didn’t have pigs.”

Jimenez shrugged. Pike noticed his accent came and went. Probably depended on who he talked to.

“Why does he call you Nugget?” Drake said.

The door opened and a man Pike hadn’t seen before came in with a tray. He sat it down on the coffee table in front of the chair. The tray was heaped with golden crusted chunks of food and several small bowls of brightly colored sauces.

“He’s addicted to Chicken McNuggets,” Pike said.

“I fly them in from Cancun.” He gestured at the table. “Help yourself.”

It had been a while since they’d eaten. Pike and Drake dug into the food. It wasn’t great, or even very good. But it would get Pike through another day. That would be a day closer to finding Gemma.

Between bites, he said, “I need to make a call.”

Jimenez stood more gracefully than expected and made his way to the desk. He returned with a bulky black phone.

“Satellite phone,” he said. “After you make your call, I want to hear how you ended up in my backyard.”

Pike punched in the number for the satellite phone on the Triton.

Pug answered after two rings.

“It’s me,” Pike said. “How’s Professor Chapin?”

“Pretty good. Did you know he was a poker champ? I didn’t, until he had my 300 bucks.”

It was good to hear his friend’s squeaky voice again.

“Where are you?”

“About 8 hours out of Miami. You?”


“Need me there?”

“I don’t think so.”

“It’s weird that you called now.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because someone just called for you.”


“Dunno,” Pug said. “A guy. No name. Left a number.”

Pike gestured for a pen. Jimemez pulled a cheap roller ball pen from his pocket. Pike took a napkin from the tray and copied the number Pug gave him.

“I’ll be in touch. We’ll get together soon. Make sure the professor gets to a hospital.”

“If I make him do anything, it’ll be to play another game. I want to win my money back.”

“Good luck.”

Pike ended the call. He entered the new number.

“Pike?” the voice said.

“Yeah. Who’s this?”

“The girl will be in front of the Imperial Laguna in Cancun at 3 A.M.”

“Which girl? Gemma?”

“She’ll be there for three minutes. That’s your window. Then she’s gone.”

The call disconnected.

“What time is it?” Pike had lost his watch somewhere along the way.

“Just past ten,” Jimenez said.

“Who was it?” Drake said.

Pike didn’t answer. He had less than five hours.

If the caller wasn’t lying.

If it wasn’t a trap.

It didn’t matter. If there was a chance to find Gemma, he would take it.

“Nugget,” Pike said. “I need to borrow your chopper.”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 10

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 10

Gustav saw the gun in Pike’s hand.

“Throw it down”

Pike didn’t move. Gustav pulled a pistol from his holster. It was a Ruger 3301. He aimed it at Gemma.

“I only need Dr. Crassberg,” he said. “It will not trouble me to kill the other one.”

Gemma was a little pale, but otherwise showed no emotion.

Pike tossed Drake’s gun to the ground.

Helton took a step toward Gustav.

“Hey, asshole,” the pilot said, “are you the reason my plane is on fire over there?”

“Yes,” Gustav said. He shot Helton. The pilot doubled over, clutching his stomach. He fell to the jungle floor.

A whimper came from Elizabeth. No one else made a sound until Pike spoke.

“I’ll remember this, Gustav, and I’ll make it right.”

Gustav holstered his pistol. “Very good, yes. You remember me, and please mention my name to St. Peter. You’re on your way to meet him now.”

Pike grabbed Drake’s arm, pulling the other man into the deep jungle growth. As soon as they were hidden, both men dived to the ground..

Bullets crashed above them.

“They’re aiming where we would be if we were stupid enough to still be standing,” Drake said.

“I was counting on it,” Pike said.

Before the enemy could rush them, Pike and Drake crawled to a group of thin trees. Drake did pretty well with his inured arm.

When they were behind the trees, Drake whispered, “Not much protection.”

“They’re papaya trees,” Pike said. “The jungle’s thick with them. Hopefully, they won’t have to stop any bullets. We just need the shelter for a minute.”

The shooting stooped. Men were coming. Someone used a machete to cut away the thick cover.

Two of the men in white appeared through a freshly-hacked opening in the green vegetation. The man in front held a machete in one hand and a lightweight machine pistol in the other. The man in the rear used both hands to carry his M249.

The path of the two Brotherhood agents took them next to Pike’s hiding place. Pike let both men pass by. He stepped from cover and got an arm around the throat of the second man. The second man made a sound that was somewhere between a shout and a gurgle. The first man spun around, raised the machine pistol and squeezed off a three-round burst. The bullets stitched a bloody line across the chest of the man Pike held. Pike reached around and clasped the trigger hand of the now-dead Brotherhood agent. The sound of the M249 was enormous. The man with the machete was nearly cut in two by the fire from the light machine gun. Pike held onto the gun and let the dead man drop. Drake bent over the other victim, recovering the machine pistol.

Pike headed back toward Gemma and the other Brotherhood men.

“Too many of ‘em,” Drake said.

“Not as many as a minute ago,” Pike said.

Pike followed the rough path that had been hacked by the machete. At the edge of the path he peered through the brush. Gemma and Elizabeth were gone. So was Gustav and most of the Brotherhood soldiers. Four men remained.

Pike stepped from cover and raised the M249. He held the machine gun steady until the four men were cut down.

Drake appeared at his side as the last shot was fired. Pike’s ears rang.

“Didn’t leave any for me,” Drake said.

Pike dropped the machine gun.

“Empty,” he said. “And too damn heavy.”

“Hard to keep the barrel down?”

“A little.” Pike examined the dead men. Two of them wore holsters like Gustav’s. The guns were also Rugers. Pike stuck one of them in the waistband of his jeans and carried the other.

The sound of a helicopter came from nearby.

“Shit,” Pike said.

“Where’s Helton?” Drake said.

The pilot’s body was gone.

“Maybe he survived and crawled away.”

Drake examined the spot where Helton fell.

“He was gut shot. You see a blood trail?”

Except for the area around the four dead agents, there was no blood.

“It doesn’t matter,” Pike said. “It doesn’t help us find Gemma and Elizabeth.”

Pike walked back to the jungle path.

“Got a destination in mind?” Drake said.

“Wherever there’s a phone.”

Pike retrieved the machete from the dead man in the jungle. As it turned out, he didn’t need it for long. They soon stumbled across an old path, created by centuries of footfalls.

“Maybe this leads to an Aztec cell phone store,” Drake said.

“I liked it better when you were the strong silent type.”

Drake grunted.

Neither of them spoke again for almost an hour, when Pike noticed Drake’s ragged breathing.

“Let’s take a break,” he said.

“Don’t...need a break,” Drake huffed.

“Sure. But I do.” Pike sat down at the edge of the path and leaned against the trunk of a papaya tree. The butt of the Ruger dug into his back, so Pike pulled it out and set both guns on the ground next to him. Drake settled next to him, resting the machine pistol across his lap.

When Pike found a phone, he would call Pug on the Triton. Depending on where the ship was, they could hook up with him at the coast or Pug could send a plane for him. Then the search for Gemma could begin.

Drake was silent, until his breathing evened out.

“This what it’s like for you?” he said.


“Running around the world, pissing people off. Hiding in the jungle.”

Pike nodded. “Pretty much, Except for the hiding. I’m not a big fan of that.”

“Why do you do it?”

“Run around the world? Or piss people off?”

“You’re a rich kid. Shouldn’t you be clubbing in Miami or dating Paris Hilton?”

Pike didn’t answer for a long moment.

“I’ve only loved two things,” he said. “My freedom. And excitement. The only thing the money means to me is I get to live my life the way I want.”

Drake made a sound that might have been a chuckle.

“There was a time you loved something else.”

Pike stared at Drake, then shrugged.

“I was young. Gemma wanted to follow her dad into the business. I didn’t.”

“You always were a restless kid, Donny boy.”

“We need to have more of these heart-to-hearts, Dr. Phil. Really. I feel so much better.”

Drake stood up.

“Nap time’s over. Let’s move out.”

Pike stood, and the walk resumed.

They continued on the path until the sun went down. In the twilight, the path ended at a barrier of green.

Pike pushed the machete into the vegetation. It encountered an obstruction.

“A wall,” he said. He jammed the point of the blade in the ground and shoved the Ruger into his waistband next to its mate. He used both hands to feel along the wall. When he found the gate, he used the machete to hack through the undergrowth.

The gate was metal, flecked with rust, and locked.

“Doesn’t look very sturdy,” Drake said.

Pike kicked it. With a squeal, the latch broke and the gate swung open.

“They must not get many visitors from this side,” he said.

Pike let the machete fall to the path. He carried both Rugers as he stepped through the gate. Drake followed with the machine pistol in his good hand.

They were on the lawn of a large estate, standing on perfectly manicured grass. A massive house was in the distance, perhaps 300 yards away. A light shone from every window.

“I’d hate to mow this yard,” Drake said.

Pike headed for the house.

“Let’s knock on the door,” he said.

They had covered perhaps 50 yards when they heard the vehicles. Big trucks. Maybe Hummers. It was hard to tell. All they could see were headlights. Three vehicles stopped 10 yards away. The trucks were equipped with big spotlights. Pike squinted into the glare. He heard the familiar sound of a shotgun as a shell was racked into the chamber.

Pike looked at Drake. Drake shrugged. They both dropped their guns.

A voice on the other side of the lights shouted in Spanish: Who are you?

“Our plane crashed in the jungle,” Pike replied in the same language. “We just need a telephone.”

Someone else replied. In English. The voice was deep and guttural, as if the speaker had endured an injury to the throat. It was a voice Pike recognized.

“Donovan Pike? Is that you?”

Drake made that sound again, the one that might have been a laugh.

“Pike,” the voice said. “You have balls to come here, you son of a whore.”

“Of all the people I could get stuck in the jungle with,” Drake muttered, “I end up with Mister Charm.”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

No Pike Again This Week

Due to impending deadlines on another project, the next chapter won't be posted until July 18th. Talk to you then.


Obviously, I didn't make it this week. It looks most likely that regular posting will resume again sometime in August. Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 9

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 9

The jet almost leveled out. Pike pushed off from the bulkhead, and was able to stand again, though the cabin leaned to the left.

Pike’s first instinct was to run to the back of the jet. That was rumored to be the safest place in the event of a crash. The Ravenscroft jet was small, though. It was designed to hold 8 passengers. When it crashed, there wouldn’t be a safe place.

Unless Early Helton was a magician.

“How’s it looking?” Pike’s mouth was very dry.

“Not the best time for a conversation, partner,” Helton said. “If you want to be useful, why don’t try to put an eyeball on that Martian plane?”


“You never saw War of the Worlds with the Martian death ray?” Helton shook his head. “Kids these days.”

“I thought this wasn’t a good time for chit chat.”

“It’s not. I tend to babble when I’m lookin’ at certain death. Now leave me alone.”

“Certain death. Got it,” Pike said. He placed a hand on the door frame to steady himself and returned to the passenger area.

Gemma looked composed. She buckled her seat belt and nodded at Pike. There was no use whining about something you couldn’t change. Pike nodded back before taking a seat. He agreed. He and Gemma were more alike than either of them wanted to admit.

Elizabeth was on her knees in her seat facing the window.

“Uh, in case anybody cares, our wing is gone!” She turned around until her butt was on the seat cushion. “Did you guys get that? WE HAVE NO WING!”

Drake, in the seat next to Pike, looked vaguely amused.

“We still have one wing,” Pike said. “That’s something.”

He thought, but didn’t add, unless that bastard out there shoots it off.

Elizabeth shook her head rapidly, as if Pike’s words were the annoying buzz of a fly. She turned to Gemma. “Planes need both wings, right? Right?”

“Buckle your seat belt, honey, and shut the hell up,” Gemma said pleasantly.

Amazingly, Elizabeth obeyed.

The jet was losing attitude. Helton was trying to control their descent, something that was virtually impossible with one wing missing, even for the best of pilots.

Pike watched the patch of sky that was visible through the window nearest his seat. He did not see the enemy craft.

“What was it?” Gemma said from across the aisle.

“Some kind of experimental plane, armed with...with a weapon that fired a wave of black light. That’s what got the wing.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth. She thought better of speaking and shut her mouth again.

Gemma paled. Pike saw the truth in her eyes.

“You know something. What is it?” he said.

Now it was Gemma’s turn to shake her head. Pike got the feeling that she wasn’t refusing to answer his question. Rather, she seemed to be rejecting an idea that had just occurred to her.

“What?” Pike urged.

“That weapon. It’s sounds like–”

“This is it!” Helton’s voice was loud yet calm. “I’ll do the best I can.”

First, the jet tilted crazily. If not for their restraints, Gemma and Elizabeth would have been hurled from their seats. The back of Pike’s head slammed against his chair.

Then the plane spun. For a second they were upside down, and Helton’s curses could be heard from the cockpit. He managed to get the jet right side up, but now the nose was pointed at the earth.

They broke through the clouds and Pike saw the jungle below, a world of green getting closer by the second. Pike glanced at Drake. The only sign of anxiety in the older man was the frantic motion of his jaw as he chewed a stick of gum. He caught Pike looking at him and winked.

“Hell of a week, eh?” he said.

“You’re not the guy I’d choose to die next to,” Pike said. “On the other hand, at least you’ll stay dead this time.”

“We’ll see,” Drake said.

The jungle rushed up at them faster than Pike thought possible. The belly of the jet struck the treetops. The cabin was rocked and Elizabeth screamed. Pike thought Gemma would slap her, but Gemma – like the rest of them -- did not want to turn loose of her armrests.

The jet hit something else, wrenching Pike’s neck. The world outside the cabin windows had turned green. They were plowing through the upper levels of jungle growth. Pike wondered if the trees could possibly slow the craft without disintegrating it.

The roar of the engines and the crunch of shattering wood grew so loud Pike couldn’t hear Gemma as she shouted something at him. He could only make out the words “my father” before the jet struck something hard, bounced and turned on its side. A gigantic screech of wrenching metal told Pike the other wing was now gone. The limb of a tree, brown and green and deadly as a javelin, broke through the window between the heads of Pike and Drake.

The jet came to a stop.

Pike was at a 90 degree angle, with his knees above his head. He unbuckled his belt and used the arm rests to pull up. He climbed out of the chair and looked up at Gemma and Elizabeth, both hanging from their seats by their restraints.

“I’ll be right there.” Without the noise Pike felt like he was shouting.

“No. Help Drake first. He only has one good arm,” Gemma said.

Pike planted a foot between the backs of the two chairs. He punched the button that released Drake’s seat belt, then pulled the older man to the edge of seat.

“Still here, Donny Boy,” Drake said.

“Don’t remind me.”

There was a thud and a moan. Pike whirled to see that Gemma had freed herself and landed on her hands and keens. He helped her to her feet.

“I’ll get the girl. You see to Helton,” she said.

Pike worked his way to the cockpit, stepping carefully through the tilted funhouse the jet had become. He found Helton slumped against the instrument panel. Pike felt his neck. The pilot’s pulse was strong. He sat Helton upright. A gash on his forehead was bleeding. Helton moaned.

“Helton, you with me?”

Helton’s eyelids fluttered open.

“How you feeling?” Pike said.

“Like I was in a plane crash.”

“What a coincidence. Let’s get out of here.”

Pike helped Helton to his feet. The pilot insisted on flipping a couple of switches on the instrument panel before they exited the cockpit. The others were waiting for them.

“He’s been knocked around, but he’s alive,” Pike told them.

“What now?” Elizabeth said.

“We assess the situation,” Gemma said. She sniffed the air. “Is that smoke?”

A dark cloud drifted out of the cockpit, followed by the crackle of flames.

“Let’s get outside. Figure out where we are and go from there,” Pike said.

The main door was on the port side of the plane, the side closest to the ground. Drake turned the handle and pushed. The door didn’t budge. He threw his shoulder into it, to no avail.

“Judgin’ by the scenery out there, I guess it’s blocked by the vegetation,” Helton said.

Gemma immediately went to the back of the jet and threw open the emergency exit on the starboard side.

“How far?” Pike said.

“Not far,” she said. Gemma jumped. There was a soft thud and a gasp. Pike left Helton leaning against the bulkhead and rushed to the emergency exit. Gemma was sitting on the brown and green floor of the jungle, rubbing her ankle. The drop had to be sixteen feet or more.

“It’s not broken. Just a sprain,” she said.

Pike turned to find Elizabeth staring over his shoulder.

“Come on, Red. Elevator’s going down.” She nodded, and he lowered her by her arms out the door. “Bend your knees and roll.” He let go. The young archeologist did as he instructed, tucking and rolling to absorb the impact. She hopped to her feet and waved.

Soon, they were all on the ground. Helton had recovered enough to go next. Then he and Pike helped Drake off the plane. Finally Pike dangled from the exit, then dropped. Gemma was up and limping around by then.

The passenger cabin of he jet was engulfed in flames. They moved away, in case of an explosion.

“Where do you think we are?” Gemma said.

“My best guess is southern Mexico,” Helton said.

“Next question: will anybody be looking for us?”

“Probably,” he said. “This crate has a beacon that should have activated on impact. And there’s another one that I manually keyed before bailing out of the cockpit.” He glanced back at the burning craft. “It worked for a while, anyway. Somebody will show up sooner or later.”

“Let’s plan for later,” Pike said. “We need water now and, eventually, food.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Feel like a walk, Red?”

Her face lit up. “Sure. I mean, I just survived a plane crash. Now I’m going trekking through the jungle like Indiana Jones. I wish Amanda Reeder could see me now.”


“A girl I went to high school with. Her daddy had more money than God. She always said I would end up working for her. Last I heard, the SEC busted her daddy and took all his money. Amanda is working at a hair salon doing manicures.”

“Amanda Reeder can suck it,” Pike said. Elizabeth whooped and gave him a high five.

Gemma sighed and rolled her eyes. “She’s still the enemy, Pike.”

“Sorry,” Pike said. “The enemy and I are going to look for fresh water.” He stepped close to Gemma. “You were trying to tell me something when the plane went down.”

“Later,” she said.

“Wait,” Drake said. He removed the big handgun for his shoulder rig and handed it to Pike. “Just in case.”

Pike stuck the gun in his waist band. “Come on, Red.”

That’s when they heard it.

“Choppers,” Helton said.

“More than one,” Gemma said.

“Probably Mexican military,” Helton said.

“We have a good relationship with the government,” Gemma said. “Maybe we can still get home today.”

The choppers landed south of them, on the other side of a dense wall of foliage.

They heard murmured voices and the tromp of many feet. Soon, the blade of a machete hacked through the brush and a white-garbed figure appeared. He carried an M249 light machine gun in his other hand.

“Not the Mexican army,” Pike said. Within seconds, twenty similarly dressed men faced them, each with a M249 pointed at Pike and the others.

A final man made his way through the opening in the growth. He was taller than the others. His black hair was slicked back and he had a thick black beard. He smiled when he saw Elizabeth.

“Gustav,” she said.

The man who had destroyed the pyramid at El Castillo pointed at them.

“Take the women,” he said. “And kill the men.”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 8

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 8

Chapter 8

As soon as the jet was in the air, Pike went to the restroom. He washed his face and tried to clean the blood from his arms with the restroom’s thin, inadequate paper towels. He checked his face in the mirror and found signs of fatigue but no indication he was coming down with the Gray Death.

“The only good thing that’s happened all week,” he mumbled.

Returning to the cabin, he found the atmosphere to be tense. Gemma was seated next to the red-haired woman from the Brotherhood of the First. The younger woman wasn’t restrained, though the large knife in Gemma’s hand was holding her attention. She had pressed her self as deeply into the chair as she could. Across the aisle, Drake appeared to be sleeping.

Outside the windows Pike saw only white clouds, dappled by sunlight.

“Donovan!” Gemma’s voice was filled with false enthusiasm. “Our guest refuses to answer any questions about the mass murder she participated in. Do you have anything you’d like to say before I show her to the door?”

At the sight of Pike, the man who had knocked her out, the girl seemed to sink further into the chair, if that was possible. There was naked terror in her eyes. Though she appeared to be close to Gemma’s age, the Brotherhood agent looked helpless and frail. Pike didn’t believe she knew anything about the killing of Gemma’s team. He wasn’t sure if Gemma felt the same way. She may have been bluffing. On the other hand, she could be planning to drop Red into the jungle 20,000 feet below. Pike wasn’t going to let that happen. For now, though, he would play along.

“Come on, kid, at least tell us your name,” he said. “That’ll make the story better years from now when we sit around, having a few beers and say, ‘Remember that time Gemma dropped Mary Smith out of a plane to her screaming death?’”

The girl cringed.

“Hey, your name isn’t really Mary Smith, is it? That would be a hell of a coincidence.”

She started to cry. Pike suddenly felt sorry for her. He tried not to let it show on his face.

“E...e...e..” she said between sobs.

“‘E’ what?” Gemma said.

“Elizabeth,” she whispered. “Elizabeth Crassberg.”

“Okay, Elizabeth Crassberg, anything you’d like to tell us before we say our tearful goodbyes?”

Elizabeth drew in a deep, shuddering breath. She wiped the tears from her eyes. “They recruited me when I was working on my Ph.D at Cornell. They called themselves the Aegis Corporation. The company had a great reputation. Privately-funded archeological research. They were doing some of the best – and only – work outside the world of academia. And after being in school that long, working for Aegis was like a breath of fresh air. I was there for a year before I found out the truth.”

“That Aegis was a front for the Brotherhood of the First,” Pike said.

Elizabeth shook her head. Talking about her work had calmed her a bit. “Not a front. Aegis is a real company, doing solid work. But the money comes from the Brotherhood. That fact isn’t publicized since the Brotherhood has a reputation that’s, ah, a bit on the fringe.”

“If ‘fringe’ means a bunch of freakin’ whack jobs, then I agree,” Pike said.

“How did they recruit you to their cause?” Gemma said. She no longer held the knife in a threatening gesture. It rested across one thigh.

“You really don’t get it,” Elizabeth said. “There was no recruitment. The Brotherhood isn’t a cult. It’s like an ancient order of monks, interested in preserving history.”

“Would it be rude to point out how well you guys preserved El Castillo?” Pike said.

“You don’t know that. Maybe Gustav didn’t do this. Or if he did, he could have been working for someone else.” But Elizabeth didn’t sound like she believed her own theories.

Pike had a different idea.

“What if the Brotherhood of the First has divisions you don’t know about?” he said. “Maybe there’s the PR department – the guys who meet the new recruits and tell them they’re doing noble and important work. Somewhere else there’s a not-so-public division. The black ops department.”

“Ridiculous,” Elizabeth said.

Pike recalled his conversation with Jimmy Swift.

“If the Brotherhood really wants to protect historical artifacts, then they would need the means to enforce that protection,” he said.

“They have a security force,” Elizabeth said. “It’s purely defensive. The Brotherhood is a peaceful organization. They don’t go around blowing stuff up.”

A shout came from the open cockpit.

“We got trouble,” Helton announced.

Drake was instantly awake, his hand on the weapon inside his jacket.

Pike rushed to the cockpit. Helton pointed forward. The jet was barely above the cloud cover. Pike was confused for a few seconds. He didn’t know what the pilot was pointing at. Other than the clouds and blue sky, there was nothing there. Then Pike saw it.

It was little more than a dot. As he watched it grew larger.

Another aircraft was headed for them.

“Smaller than us,” Helton said. “Faster.”

“How can you tell?” Pike squinted, desperate to make out any features of the other craft.

Helton held up a pair of Steiner military binoculars. Pike took them and sighted on the other aircraft.

“Maybe they’re just lost,” he said. “Or we are.”

“Maybe,” Helton said. “Tell me what you think after you get a good look.”

Pike raised the binoculars. The magnification of the Steiner was fantastic. Once he steadied his hand and found the target, details jumped out. The other jet was black with smaller wings than he’d seen before.

“Is it experimental?” he asked Helton.

“Has to be. Otherwise I’d recognize it. But that ain’t what’s botherin’ me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look again.”

Once more, Pike focused on the target.

“Now concentrate on the area right above the cockpit,” Helton said.

An object protruded from the top of the plane. It was cylindrical and, like the jet, it was black.

“What is that?” Pike said.

“No idea,” Helton said.

“Is it a weapon?”

“If it is, this will be the shortest dogfight in the history of aerial combat. We got nothin’.”

The other jet was now close enough that Pike didn’t need the binoculars. Its speed was incredible. It must be 90 percent engine, with a seat in front.

“Got any ideas?” Helton said.

“Just one,” Pike said. “Run.”

Helton grinned. “We can’t outrun her, but I can head inland. Maybe find a place to set down.”

He turned to the doorway of the cockpit. The door was held open with a bungee cord.

“Hang on to somethin’, people. I need to make a course adjustment.”

Helton pulled the wheel to the port side, and the Ravenscroft jet responded. As the jet began its turn, Pike saw something on the other craft that disturbed him.

There was a series of flashes from the odd cylinder on top of what he now thought of as the enemy. Unusual flashes, like discharges of electrical energy. Only the light wasn’t white or yellow, like lightning. It was black, like the jet itself.

Black lightning.

As Pike watched, the flashes of black started to spin around the tip of the cylinder, creating a dark pinwheel.

“What the hell is that?” Helton said.

“I don’t think we wanna know.”

As if responding to Pike’s words, the spinning black flashes coalesced into a ebony beam. The beam instantly crossed the distance between the two aircraft. The Ravenscroft jet shuddered.

Helton cursed. The jet tilted wildly and Pike slammed into the bulkhead.

“What happened?”

‘Nothin’ good,” Helton said. “That Star Trek ray gun just sliced off one of our wings. We’re goin’ down.”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Return of Donovan Pike

The serial resumes on June 13, and will hopefully remain weekly until it's complete.

During the hiatus, I've had an offer to publish the novel in book form. I'll have more about this as the story nears its end.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What I Haven't Been Doing

One thing about my life. It’s never boring.

Here in the middle of April, I can say with absolute certainty that 2010 has been the worst writing year I’ve had.

In a prefect storm of circumstance, my schedule has been derailed by my day job, a family illness and some health concerns of my own. The last two items should come more clearly into focus over the next week or two. My sincere hope is that the remainder of this year will be eight blockbuster months of productivity.

As of now, I’m behind on everything: short stories, novels, reviews, interviews, correspondence and cleaning the litter box. If I owe you fiction, a package or a favor, please know I’m sorry, and that my failure to meet these obligations haunts my dreams. I hope to be caught up on everything soon.

Well. The cats are giving me nasty looks. Time to scoop.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 7

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 7

Pike took off at a sprint.

“Donovan! Wait!” Gemma’s shout did not slow him. Pike knew he wasn’t a patient man. He long ago stopped trying to be. He embraced his flaws and tried to make them work for him.

He ran straight for the pyramid, changing his course only to avoid the sprawled, mummified corpses that littered the ground. He reached the corner of El Castillo and rounded the edge of the massive stone structure. The thick jungle air filled his lungs. He heard the cries of exotic birds and a screech that may have come from a monkey.

The white-garbed figure ran toward the gravel parking lot. Several trucks sat there, presumably the vehicles that ferried the archeological team to the site.

The person he chased was smaller than Pike had expected, and he was slow. A hazmat suit was not conducive to covering distances quickly.

A cloud of dust hovered above the parking lot. Pike heard the crunch of gravel and the roar of a big truck engine. It grew fainter as he closed the gap with the other runner, and he realized what had happened.

The getaway vehicle was gone. Whitey had been left behind.

The figure in the hazmat suit ran onto the gravel of the lot, then came to a stop with shoulders slumped in resignation or disbelief.

Pike hurled his body at the other man, and both of them skidded across the lot. The sharp edges of the gravel tore at Pike’s arms.

That’s gonna hurt later, he thought.

He rose to his knees and yanked on the hood of the hazmat suit. The owner of the suit grabbed at Pike’s wrists. With a rip of Velcro tearing loose, the hood came off, and Pike saw a mass of red hair. The figure rolled over and tried to push Pike away with a jab of a knee. The knee grazed Pike’s crotch, and he instinctively lashed out. His right fist only grazed the side of the other’s head. It was enough to stop the struggle. The figure in white grew still.

For the first time Pike saw it was a woman.

She stared up at him with eyes the color of emeralds. But the green eyes were dazed and unfocused. He rolled off of her.

The crunch of gravel alerted him to the arrival of the others.

As usual, Gemma instantly assessed the situation.

“You beat up a girl?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “Thanks for asking.” He brushed gravel from his scraped forearms. Dirt and blood were caked in streaks along his skin.

Drake and Helton were right behind Gemma. The two BDF officers stood at a distance.

“Who’s she?” Helton said.

“You beat up a girl?” Drake said. He chuckled.

“I didn’t know she was a...she. Aw, screw this.” Pike stood up and pulled the red-haired woman to her feet. “Snap out of it. I didn’t hit you that hard.”

The woman moaned. She touched a hand to the spot on her chin where Pike’s fist had landed. The area was already bruised. The contact shook her out of the daze. She realized her face was exposed to the air.

“No!” She tried to free herself from Pike’s grip. Her gaze settled on the hood of her hazmat suit, which lay a few feet away in the gravel.

“Forget it, sister,” Gemma said. “What happened here?”

The woman gaped at Gemma. Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out.

Gemma grabbed a handful of the woman’s hair and yanked. The red-haired woman squealed. Gemma followed up with a hard slap across the other female’s face. Pike released his grip on the hazmat suit.

“Gemma,” he said.

“Shut up.” She dragged the girl to Drake by a fistful of red hair. Gemma pulled Drake’s handgun from the shoulder rig he wore over his polo shirt. Drake’s expression never changed. He appeared to be vaguely amused by the proceedings.

Gemma jammed the barrel of the weapon under the bruised chin of the woman in the white outfit.

“Tell me what happened here.”

“Please,” the woman said. “Shoot me. Please.”

“Excuse me?” Gemma said.

“I’d rather be shot. Anything’s better than the Gray Death.”

“The what?”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Helton said.

“What’s the Gray Death?” Gemma said.

“It‘s what happened to them,” the woman said. She pointed to two mummified corpses that lay at the base of El Castillo.

The reminder of the fate of her employees enraged Gemma. She pulled on the woman’s hair hard enough to bend her backward.

“How did you kill my people? And why?”

“I didn’t...” the red-haired woman began. “You think I did this?”

“You’re dressed for the part.”

“I’m not a killer. I’m an archeologist.”

“For the Brotherhood of the First,” Pike said.

The red head’s eyes darted to him.

“Yes,” she said. “We’re doing good work. We’re protecting history and we’re protecting mankind.”

“Tell that to those dead people,” Gemma said. She increased the pressure of the Glock against the young woman’s chin.

“I don’t know what happened! They were dead when I was brought in. We were told to wear these suits as a precaution. I examined the site, that’s all. The chamber under the pyramid. Then you showed up and the rest of them left me behind.”

“How many of you were there?” Pike said.

“Four. Billings, our team leader. Niles Freeland, the other archaeologist. And Gustav.” She shuddered as she mentioned the third name.

“Who’s Gustav?”

“He’ He’s the one who told us about the dead bodies and he made us wear these suits.”

Pike considered her words. Whatever this Gray Death was, it could be what Jimmy Swift had warned him about. If it was, then Pike suspected this Gustav had made an earlier trip to El Castillo.

“Pardon my concern.” Early Helton said, “but should we be worried about getting mummified?”

“Doubtful,” Gemma said. “If this thing was airborne we’ve already been exposed. Based on the position of the bodies it looks like it was fast-acting. My guess is it dissipated in the air.”

“Did this Gustav carry anything with him?” Pike said.

“A gun. And a case, like a small tool box. After I finished my examination of the chamber, Billings ordered Gustav to go back down there.” A dawning realization lit up her face. “When he came out, he didn’t have the tool box.”

“What does that mean?” Helton said.

“It means we have to get out of here,” Pike said.

It started as a rumble, like the coming of distant thunder. They quickly felt the vibration in their feet.

“Earthquake,” Helton said.

“No.” Pike pointed at the pyramid. A cloud of white chalky powder flew from the front entrance of El Castillo. A crack appeared in the center of the narrow steps that led up the face of the pyramid. The force of the vibrations grew stronger. Stones fell from the face of the ancient Mayan structure until the pyramid collapsed upon itself.

The shaking of the earth ceased.

They all stood silently until the dust was carried away by the light jungle breeze. When they could see what remained, all of them were stunned.

Finally, Pike spoke.

“Son of a bitch.”

Where a glorious testament to the skill of a lost civilization once stood, now there was only a pile of rubble.

The Brotherhood of the First had destroyed El Castillo, and buried the chamber beneath it.

“Madre de Dios.” The speaker was one of the BDF officers. Pike didn’t turn to see which one it was.

Gemma’s face was contorted with rage and grief. She slapped the red-haired woman again.

“Gemma, she didn’t do this,” Pike said.

“Yes, she did.” Gemma’s voice was tight. “She’s a part of this. She killed my people. She destroyed any clues that might have led to my father.”

“This is going to be hard to hide,” Drake said. “Are we sticking around to answer questions?”

Gemma glanced at the two BDF officers. She spoke to them in Spanish. The debate quickly became heated. She switched to English and said, “Drake, did you pack the gold like I asked?”

“It’s on the jet.”

“Good. Our hosts are taking us back to the airport. And thanks to my...generosity, they’re letting me take Red with us.”

“Why?” Pike said.

“Because we’re going to have a nice civilized conversation on the way back. And if I don’t get the answers I want, I’m going to toss her out of the plane.”

The other woman closed her eyes. Pike leaned toward her.

“Nice job on that protecting history thing,” he said.

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 6

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 6

Pike arrived back at the airport a few minutes before Gemma’s deadline. He parked the Hummer next to an identical vehicle at the side of the Ravenscroft private hanger.

The interior of the building was brightly lit. Two black jets were parked side by side, one was massive. He didn’t see the plane he’d been in a few hours ago.

A tall man was strolling around the smaller jet, stopping every few feet to examine the exterior of the aircraft. He wore jeans and a denim jacket, and he needed a haircut. Pike guessed his age at close to 60.

Noticing him, the man said, “Hey. You Pike?”

Without waiting for a response, he ambled over and stuck out a hand. “I’m Early Helton. The pilot.”

Pike shook with him. “Anything wrong with the plane?”

“What?” Helton chuckled. “Aw, no. Just my pre-flight inspection.”

“Don’t you have gizmos that do that?” Pike said.

“Sure, but I try to eyeball the crate before we take off. Old habit. Hey, everybody else is on board. Climb on in and we’ll get this show on the road.”

Pike carried his gym bag up the stairs.

The interior of the passenger cabin was comfortable without being flashy. Eight plush chairs lined the walls. Each one had a foldaway work table. Gemma had hers open, and was typing away on a laptop. A door in the rear of the cabin presumably led to the restroom and the galley.

One other chair was occupied. Pike hadn’t expected another passenger. Especially one who had recently been shot.

“Miss me?” Drake’s voice was a little weak and his left arm was in a sling. Otherwise he appeared to be the same cocky jerk Pike remembered.

“I knew it,” Pike said.

“That I’m hard to kill?”

“No. I knew that sniper needed glasses.” Pike stowed his bag under one of the chairs. He settled into the soft leather seat.

Gemma looked up from her laptop.

“Any problems?”

He had planned to tell her about the visit from Jimmy Swift and the warning about the Brotherhood. Now he decided to save it for later. He wasn’t sure he could trust Drake, and he was little pissed he wasn’t told the security head would be joining them.

“Not until I got here and found out Chuckles was along for the ride.”

Gemma smiled at him.

“He insisted. The bullet went through his shoulder. And the doc loaded him up on antibiotics. We can always use an extra hand.”

“Sure,” Pike said.

The jet taxied out of the hanger. Pike buckled his seat belt and rested his head against the padded cushion. It had been almost three days since he’d slept. He closed his eyes and dozed off instantly.

It seemed like only seconds had passed when someone touched his shoulder. An attractive young woman with eyes of black smiled at him.

“Mister Pike,” she said in a soft voice, “would you like to dine? I have grilled salmon with an orange and fennel salad.”

“Got a burger?”

She smiled, revealing two of the most perfect dimples he had ever seen.

“Sorry, no.”

“Then fish and fennel it is.”

She turned and returned to the galley. Pike noticed that she wore a skirt that hugged her curves like a second skin.

“Hands off the employees, Donovan.”
From across the aisle, Gemma gave him an exaggerated look of disapproval.

“Hey, I was just trying to get along.”

A snort came from the direction of Drake’s seat. But when Pike turned, the older man’s eyes were closed. Pike thought he saw the hint of a smile on Drake’s face.

Pike pointed a thumb back at Drake as he said to Gemma, “Does he need to have his bandage changed? Or maybe his diaper?”

“Are you volunteering?” Gemma said.

Drake snorted again.

Pike stood up to stretch his legs. It was still dark. The only thing he saw in the window was his own reflection. He needed a shave. And he needed his life back. He felt guilty about it, but even though Pike loved his father, the man’s presumed death had brought to a conclusion his endless search for La Ciudad de los Dioses. That quest had driven away Pike’s mother, and stolen years of Pike’s childhood. It drove Pike away as well, but it wasn’t until his father disappeared that Pike felt he was free to be his own man. Now it felt like his freedom was slipping away.

“Mister Pike?”

The flight attendant had returned with his meal. But Pike’s appetite was gone.


The jet landed at Corozal Airport an hour before dawn. The passengers were not required to pass through Customs. They simply exited the aircraft and climbed into a pair of Hummers driven by officers of the Belize Defence Force. Pike and Gemma rode in one vehicle while Drake and Early Helton, the pilot, took the other.

“Why is the pilot coming?” Pike said.

Gemma shrugged. “He asked to ride along. Early’s a handy guy.”

Gemma began tapping at her smart phone. Pike watched the view. As the sun rose, the city turned to jungle. The four-lane highway became two narrow lanes of asphalt, then gravel and dirt. Despite the Hummer’s suspension, the last hour of the trip tossed Pike and Gemma like stones in a rock tumbler.

Finally, the vehicles stopped in the middle of the road. To the right was a clearing in the jungle. Pike saw a few tents and a couple of other vehicles, older American pickup trucks. The two drivers went to check out the camp, while their passengers stood and stretched.

After a minute spent poking into the tents, the two BDF officers returned. One of them – a short, stocky man who was Pike and Gemma’s driver, spoke in rapid Spanish. Gemma answered. She looked troubled.

“The camp is empty,” she said. “Our people and the other soldiers must be at the site.”

“They always go to work this early?” Pike said.

She didn’t answer. All of them got back into the Hummers. The dirt road lead back to a highway. They were only on the blacktop for a few minutes before the drivers found another narrow gravel lane. When the road ended, the divers continued plowing through the jungle. It seemed to Pike that the Hummers were making their own path.

The big trucks exited the green world at the edge of a vast clearing. A Mayan pyramid dominated the view.

They had arrived at El Castillo from the back door.

Before the Hummer had completely stopped, Gemma was out of the truck and jogging toward the ancient structure. Pike was right behind her. When Gemma abruptly stopped, he nearly slammed into her.

A mummy lay on the ground in front of her.

At least, it appeared to be a mummy. The skin was gray-black, and the lips had drawn away from the mouth exposing the white teeth.

It was definitely a mummy, Pike thought.

Except this mummy had long blonde hair and wore a T shirt, khaki shorts and New Balance running shoes. A cell phone was clasped in one hand.

Gemma knelt before the mummy. She reached out a hand, apparently intending to touch the blonde hair.

Pike grabbed her wrist.

“Don’t,” he said.

Gemma looked at him. There were tears in her eyes.

“This is Evie Donaldson,” she said. “We roomed together at college.”

“I remember her,” Pike said. “But you can’t touch her. We don’t know what did that to her.”

The others had joined them. One of the BDF officers muttered an oath in Spanish.

Helton, the pilot, walked past the corpse. He stopped and pointed toward the pyramid.

“There’s more,” he said.

Thirty yards away was another mummy, this one male. There was a third another ten yard farther. Closer to the pyramid, several corpse littered the ground.

“How many?” Pike said, still holding Gemma’s wrist.


“How many of your people were here? How many soldiers?”

“I...I think – ”

“Seventeen.” The speaker was one of the BDF officers, the one who drove Drake and Helton’s Hummer. He looked nearly as stricken as Gemma.

Seventeen people. And the way they were spaced out meant some of them had tried to escape.

“What the hell did this to ‘em?” Helton said.

Pike remembered his encounter with Jimmy Swift. Swift said the Brotherhood had found something. Something bad.

Pike believed he had just witnessed the handiwork of the Brotherhood of the First.

“Heads up,” Drake said. The security specialist pointed at the pyramid with his good arm. “Somebody’s still alive.”

A figure dressed in a bulky garment disappeared around the corner of the pyramid. The garment resembled a hazmat suit.

Pike had a feeling things were about to get worse.

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 5

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 5

Gemma pressed a button and the screens went dark.

“I’ll call our hanger and have the jet fueled up. It will be ready as soon as we get to the airport,’ she said.

“Slow down a minute,” Pike said. “You left something out.”


“The guys in the chopper. The one you blew up. Remember?”

“I remember,” she said. She dropped the remote on the table and settled back into the chair. She rubbed the bridge of her nose.


“It’s going to sound crazy.”

“I’m back at Ravenscroft,” Pike said. “I expect crazy.”

Gemma smiled for a brief second before her expression grew serious.

“They call themselves ‘The Brotherhood of the First’.”

Pike chuckled. “No, really. Who are they?”

Gemma glared at him. “Those were my people who were killed out there. I’m not joking about this, Donovan.”

“Okay. Sorry. But what does that ‘First’ stuff mean.”

“Apparently the group was formed long ago – we’re talking centuries – by men who believed they were descended from advanced beings who came from the stars to found the world’s great civilizations.”

“O-o-okay,” Pike said. “A secret society full of whack jobs. Got it. Why did they try to kill me?”

“We think they want to keep us away from La Ciudad de los Dioses.”

“So they know where it is?”

“I don’t think so,” Gemma said. “They’ve been looking for it, just like our fathers. Their claim is a little more personal, though. The Brotherhood believes that whatever secrets are hidden within the city belong to them. It’s their birthright.”

“Gemma, how to you know so much about this secret society?”

She smiled again. “First, it’s not so secret. They have a web site. Their headquarters are in London.”

“Anything on that web site about snipers in choppers?”

“Not so much,” she said. “By the way, we both know one of their key people.”


“Felix Coptas.”

That was a name Pike hadn’t heard in many years.

When Pike’s father had joined forces with Gemma’s dad to start the Ravenscroft Foundation, Coptas had been part of the original staff. He was a young man then, tall and skeletal, already balding. He had a neatly-rimmed goatee and he always carried an expensive cane. Pike remembered Coptas accompanying his father on several expeditions. The man was brilliant. He was also devoid of social skills.

“When did he leave here?”

“Five years ago. Maybe six. He thought our fathers weren’t working hard enough to find The City of the Gods.”

“Someone even more obsessed than my old man? Whoa.”

“Hard to believe, I know.”

“Anybody else I know from the other team?”

“Coptas took a couple of our people with him. Simone Brazier, an archeologist, and Jimmy Swift.”

He didn’t know the woman. Swift was a guy about his own age. They’d been friends of a sort back in the day. Swift had worked in security.

Pike stood up. “What about the site in Belize?”

Gemma held up her hand. “Easy. I can handle a few things on my own. We have heavy security in place, thanks to a small donation to the local government. But you’ll see very soon. Ready to go?”

Pike shook his head. “I have to go to my place first.”

Gemma frowned. “The sooner we get there – ”

“I know. We can be wheels up in 90 minutes. But you have to loan me a car.”

She also stood. Pulling a key fob from her pocket, she tossed it to Pike.

“Take mine. It’s out front. We leave in an hour and a half.”

He caught the key. On his way to the door, Gemma spoke his name.

“Are you about to pull another disappearing act?”

“I’ll be there,” he said.

“Welcome back, Donovan.”

“I’m not back,” Pike said.


Gemma’s personal vehicle turned out to be a full-sized Hummer. He drove it with the windows down and the radio off.

It was nearly dusk when he left the island, and the darkness was complete by the time he reached his warehouse 30 miles away.

The structure looked abandoned from the outside. A long and low building, it took up an entire block of property on the harbor. The exterior walls were rusted metal and faded paint. Graffiti artists had tagged their signatures on every available space. The only indication that the facility was not completely forgotten were the numerous sodium vapor lights mounted around the roof of the warehouse.

Pike parked the Hummer at the southern side of the structure. He pressed his right palm against the wall near a steel door. There was a soft click and a panel opened beneath his fingers. Once his handprint was identified, Pike had access to a keypad. He punched in a series of numbers. A second later the door lock disengaged.

The automatic lighting activated as he stepped into a foyer. With one touch, a darkened screen came to life. A colorful display showed him the status of the warehouse – the temperature, feeds from the hidden security cameras and incoming phone and email messages. Other than an update from Pug on the Triton, he ignored everything else.

He passed through a large room containing his cars and collection of classic motorcycles, and headed for the living area.

The room was sparsely furnished. There was a desk, a couch, a television mounted on the wall and a bed. From a closet, he removed a gym bag and tossed it on the bed. He quickly chose a change of clothes and a leather jacket. He stuffed those into the gym bag. Then from a safe in the back of the closet, he produced a M1911 automatic pistol, identical to the gun he had lost in Somalia. He added two full magazines and put it all in the bag.

On his way out Pike paused for a moment to observe the displays from the exterior cameras. He touched part of the screen to reactivate the warehouse’s sophisticated security system.

When he got outside, he put the gym bag in the Hummer. Before he could climb in the vehicle, he heard a sound from behind him.

Pike whirled and saw the shadowed form of a man. For a split second he regretted putting the .45 in the bag, then he launched himself at the man. Pike ducked his head and got his shoulder against his opponent’s chin. Both men went down. The other man swung a large fist into the side of Pike’s head. Pike managed to roll with it, but the impact still stunned him. He fell on his side and scrambled away. He got to his feet in time to see the other man was also standing. The guy was a little taller and heavier than Pike. And maybe a little slower. He rushed Pike and swung another fist. Pike dropped beneath the blow and used his left to jab the other man’s face. His opponent was staggered. With his weight on his back foot, Pike launched a powerful right that landed squarely on the other man’s nose. Pike felt the crush of cartilage collapsing under his knuckles. The mystery man crumpled to the parking lot.

Pike stepped back. His breathing was calm and even. The other man had fallen within a halo of illumination from the overhead lights.

Pike recognized him.

“Jimmy Swift?”

Swift rolled onto his stomach and got to his knees. It took several shaky seconds for him to stand. He leaned against the Hummer. Blood and mucus dripped from his nose. Otherwise, he looked like the guy Pike had known years ago.

“Jesus, Pike. Most people shake hands. Or do a fist bump.”

“I save my fists for assholes who sneak up on me,” Pike said. “How’s the nose?”

“Broken. Again.” Swift touched the flattened lump and flinched. “I wasn’t sneaking up on you. I was doing you a favor.”

“I’ve seen the favors you and your buddies hand out.”

“The sniper wasn’t my idea, man. And they don’t know I’m here.”

“Why are you here?”

“To give you a heads up. You were always a solid guy, even for the kid of one of the bosses. So I thought you deserved to know.”

“Know what?”

“There’s a traitor inside Ravenscroft. Everything they do, we know about.”

Pike took a menacing step forward.

“Who is it?”

Swift covered his broken nose.

“I don’t know. I’m just muscle. I came here to tell you to bail on this.”

Pike started to speak, but Swift raised a hand to stop him.

“I know you won’t. You were always hard-headed and I guess that hasn’t changed. So I’ll tell you this: watch your back.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Brotherhood has found something. Something bad. It’s too much for me, man. I’m getting out. I just came over with Coptas because of the money.”

“What did they find?”

Swift shook his head, thought better of it, and gingerly touched his nose again.

“I don’t know. The Brotherhood is big, you know, and they like their secrets.”

“So come back and help us, Jimmy,” Pike said.

“‘Us’? You and Germma back together again?” Swift laughed. “Aw, man, that’s too funny.”

“The offer still stands.”

“No thanks. I’m done. I’m going to find some pissant part of the world and do some soldiering. Or maybe I’ll re-up with Uncle Sam. It would be safer than the shit you’re about to get into. Be careful, Pike.”

Swift turned and walked away into the night.

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 4

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 4

The heat of the Florida afternoon and the stench of burning fuel were instantly replaced by the cool air in the foyer of the building.

“Who were those guys, Gemma?” Pike said.

Walking beside him, Gemma smiled. “That is part of the story I’ll get to in a minute.”

“Should I set aside some time to talk to the cops?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s being handled.”

Ravenscroft Island was officially part of one of the coastal counties. The county Sheriff was an old family friend, and the Ravenscrofts had been very generous to the department and to the Sheriff’s reelection campaigns. Pike knew it was likely he would never speak to anyone in law enforcement regarding the helicopter attack.

When you were with the Ravenscrofts, the rules went out the window And a whole new set of rules came into play.

Ravenscroft rules.

It was one of the reasons he had left. He had moved out years ago, and he hadn’t been back since his father had disappeared with Gemma’s dad in 2008.

Gemma pushed through a door and they entered a room that looked roughly the size of a football field.

“Didn’t this used to be an apartment building?”

“You know it did,” Gemma said. “And you haven’t forgotten the way we celebrated your 16th birthday in my room.”

Pike’s face grew hot. Damn her. Gemma was the only woman who could get to him like this, thanks to their shared history.

“Anyway,” she said with a smile, “we built a new residential building a couple of years back. This is now the headquarters of Special Projects.”

“Special Projects? What’s that mean?”

“Whatever the Director of Special Projects says it does.”

“And the director is....?”

Gemma bowed. “At your service, Mr. Pike.”

She tossed the RPG tube onto a ceramic counter.

At the far end of the room, a small group was seated around a computer workstation.

“People, we need the room for a bit. Head down to the coffee shop and have a latte on me.

The group didn’t seem to find the request to be an imposition. They exited the room smiling and laughing.

“Coffee shop?” Pike said.

“Happy workers are productive workers. By the way, I could use a cup. You?”

The adrenaline rush was wearing off, and Pike realized he was tired from the hours spent traveling.

“Okay. But none of that fancy stuff. I want a cup of coffee. Black.”

Gemma simply stared at him.

“What?” he said.

“You always were the oddest mix of a kid and a grumpy old man.” She picked up a phone and spoke softly into it. “Okay, it’s on the way. Now grab a seat.” She pointed at a number of comfortable-looking leather chairs in the center of the room.

Pike sat down, sinking into the soft material. If the coffee didn’t arrive soon he would probably be asleep before Gemma could tell him what this whole thing was about. He sat up straight and studied the vast room. Computer workstations were prominent at both ends of the room. A number of cubicles were set up against one wall. Another wall held the largest television screen he had ever seen outside of a sports stadium.

A much smaller screen sat on the coffee table in front of him. Gemma plopped down in an adjacent chair.

“Comfy, right? I tried to have a staff meeting right here once, and three of my people dozed off.”

“I didn’t come all this way to talk about your furniture.”

A young man entered the room carrying a tray. He sat two thick white mugs in front of them and departed.

Pike took a sip of the hot coffee. It was strong and black. Perfect. Apparently explosives wasn’t the only thing they could get right.

Gemma ignored her beverage. She produced a small device that looked like a combination of a cell phone and a TV remote control.

“Okay, it’s time to pay attention. What do you remember about La Ciudad de los Dioses?”

Pike shrugged. “What’s to know? It’s a myth. A fairy tale. And the people who do believe in it need a check up from the neck up.”

‘Same old Donovan,” Gemma said. ‘Those people, of course, include your father and my father.”

Pike nodded.

“The story goes that long ago, say a couple of thousand years, strange visitors from the sky appeared to a tribe of Mesoamericans. The visitors built an amazing city filed with magical devices. The visitors and the natives lived in harmony for a hundred years, until they were attacked, either by a larger tribe or another group of sky people. Or both. It’s not clear. The original visitors eventually triumphed, but they knew they could never find let down their guard here. So they hid the city and left, promising to return one day when peace had been achieved. We don’t know if they meant peace among the natives or peace among the sky people.”

Pike snorted. “Isn’t that the plot of George Lucas’s next movie?”

Gemma continued. “We find references to the city from many Mesoamerican civilizations.”

She pushed a button on her remote. On the table, the screen lit up with a series of images, all carvings from Mesoamerican artifacts.

‘Okay,” Pike said, “so the Olemc, the Maya, the Aztecs and the other bloodthirsty pyramid builders share a common mythology. Why is that news?”

“Because of this.”

Another image appeared on the screen.

The scene was the interior of an ancient chamber. The carvings on the wall were definitely Mayan.

“Do you know El Castillo in Belize?” Gemma said.

“Yeah. I was there once. In my college days.” He remembered the large pyramid in the center of the archeological site, and how amazingly precise the workmanship had been.

“You may not have heard about the new find. A temple hidden beneath the pyramid. That’s what you’re looking at.”


“So let me give you a closer view of it.”

She tapped the small device. The picture on the table top screen changed, and the large monitor on the wall also came to life.

“Check out the wall screen.”

The display showed Mayan carvings of a half dozen tubular shapes above a pyramid.

“It’s more Chariots of the Gods stuff,” Pike said.

“This is the southwest corner of the chamber. Now look at the bottom right quadrant of the photograph.”

Pike did. There was something different. It was a drawing, not a carving.

“Do you have a closer view?”

Gemma tapped the remote again, and the massive screen was filled with the drawing.

It looked like black paint or a grease pencil. Maybe even a Sharpie.

The image was a circle. In the center of it was an arrow or clock hand in the twelve o’clock position.

But that wasn’t what amazed Pike.

Beneath the circle were a few letters and numbers.

BR JP 2009.

Pike couldn’t speak.

“That shut you up,” Gemma said. Her voice was tight.

BR. Bela Ravenscroft.

JP. Jonathan Pike.

And 2009...

“They were alive,” he finally managed to say. “A year ago, they were still alive.”

“I know you’ve been traveling all day,” Gemma said. “But do you feel like a trip to Belize?”

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Dead Sheriff

Western Dime Novel Tradition Resurrected with New Supernatural Series, 'The Dead Sheriff'

Evileye Books signs horror writer, Mark Justice, to multi-book deal, who will produce both prose fiction and graphic novels. The first comics series will debut in April, followed by book one of the prose line in fall 2010.

Western Dime Novel Tradition Resurrected with New Supernatural   Series, 'TheDead Sheriff' Chicago, IL, February 03, 2010 --( As the saying goes, there's a new sheriff in town.

A walking dead one.

According to legend, The Dead Sheriff was a lawman forced to watch the murders of his family before he was killed. His need for vengeance would not allow him to rest, and he rose from the grave to avenge himself upon his killers. Now he travels across the west, dispensing justice for those in need and sending the wicked to their graves.

He can never return to the grave until the western frontier is free of evil and tyranny.

The reality, however, is a little different….

So goes the premise of horror writer Mark Justice's new supernatural western tales of The Dead Sheriff, a multi-book series of fiction stories with echoes of the pulp and dime adventure novels of the old west.

"The Dead Sheriff stories bring together a few of my interests," said Mark Justice. "I love old pulp western novels and comics, and as a horror writer, it was only a matter of time before I came around to writing a story that blends cowboys and monsters."

Mr. Justice continues, "but I also wanted to explore the stereotypes and metaphors that are tried and true in the classic western tale. Take the hero figure of almost every western since the fifties. The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood—all cut the brave, stoic loner against the world. What if the hero wasn't so pretty? What if he was not so lovable? And what of the sidekick: always silent, loyal, not much more than a talking door stop. What if there was more to Tonto, for example, than he ever let on? What? Tonto with an agenda? Most people would say that's absurd and it goes against the literary figure we have come to love. But that's exactly the kind of default characters and symbolism I want to challenge and explore in the series."

The Dead Sheriff combines elements of the supernatural, humor and adventure in a framework that models the adventure dime novels popularized as early as 1860: taking real events or people of the western frontier and embellishing them for the entertainment of the masses. The pioneer, and perhaps most famous dime novels depicting high adventures of the Frontier, were the Beadle's Dime Novels, a series which ran an astounding 321 issues before the dime novel format gave way to an emerging format in the 1920s, the magazine.

"The wonderful thing about The Dead Sheriff," said Evileye Books Editorial Director, A.N. Ommus, "is that at first you're just delighted it's a fun mash-up of popular genres. But then, as you dig into the tradition of the western dime novels, you realize the outlandish potboiler stories—even the format—are the precursors to the modern magazine and comics formats. With The Dead Sheriff, we want to resurrect, as it were, the dime novel tradition and honor its contribution to both fiction and comics."

Under the terms of the deal, Mr. Justice will write a series of graphic novels in the style of the Sunday comics of the thirties and forties, the first of which will debut this April as a series of weekly webcomics on the upcoming Evileye Books Online Reader.

Debuting later this year, the first prose book, The Dead Sheriff: Zombie Damnation, will be published in a similar format to the original dime novels of the nineteenth century.

About Mark Justice

Mark Justice is the author of Deadneck Hootenanny and Dead Earth: The Green Dawn (with David T. Wilbanks). His short fiction has appeared in Damned Nation, In Laymon's Terms, Legends of the Mountain State 1,2 & 3, The Horror Library Vol. 2 & 3, The Avenger Chronicles, Dark Discoveries and many other anthologies and magazines. Mr. Justice edits Story Station, an online Young Adult fiction magazine. He also produces and hosts the popular genre podcast Pod of Horror. His next novel, Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road (with David T. Wilbanks) will be published in 2010 by Permuted Press and his first story collection Looking at the World with Broken Glass in My Eye will appear from Graveside Tales in 2010, as well. He also hosts a morning radio show in Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and cats.

About Evileye Books

Evileye Books, an imprint of Pul+Pixel Entertainment Co., publishes crime, horror, dark fantasy, science fiction and other speculative genres in the spaces of prose and graphic novels.

They are publishers of Bram Stoker Award Winner Mike Oliveri's new supernatural thriller series, "The Pack"; Cullen Bunn and Shawn Lee's dark fantasy series, "Raze"; John Urbancik's supernatural noir series, "DarkWalker"; among others.

Pulp+Pixel Entertainment Co. is an intellectual property rights management company.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 3

I'm a week behind, thanks to a brief illness and a couple of other issues. Thanks for the continued support.

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 3

Pike saw Drake’s motionless body on the other side of the SUV. Over the years there had been many times Pike had wished Drake was dead and that Pike himself would be the deliverer of the older man’s demise. But now Pike felt no joy, only puzzlement and a rising anger.

Drake’s left hand twitched.

Pike cursed. He couldn’t leave the wounded man in the open. He stretched his arm beneath the vehicle.

“Drake, grab my hand. I’ll pull you over here,” he said.

The fingers of Drake’s hand twitched once before growing limp.

Drake raised to a crouch. The driver, a young guy named Craft, squatted by the open door. The man in the passenger seat slumped against the dashboard. His blood was splattered on the windshield.

“Close that door,” Pike said.

“Huh?” Craft said. He looked confused, like he couldn’t make sense of what was happening.

The sniper in the helicopter fired again. The shot came at angle through the roof of the SUV and into the top of Craft’s head. Pike was splashed with warm blood and tissue. Craft collapsed.

Pike turned the body to find the shoulder harness, and removed Craft’s handgun. It was a Glock, and it looked new. The sniper put two shots into the pavement near the body. Pike rolled away as fragments of asphalt mushroomed into the air.

He didn’t know what kind of ammo the sniper was using but it was something big. The SUV wouldn’t provide any protection. He had to get away.

But the rear entrance to the building was 50 feet behind him. On the other side of the SUV, the paved driveway quickly became a rocky hill that descended sharply to the Gulf. If he went in either direction he would be easy pickings for the man in the chopper.

Pike crawled forward, hoping the truck’s big engine would make a serviceable shield. As if to mock him, the sniper blew a hole through the truck’s side, just a few inches from Pike’s face.

Who were these guys? Pike had made a lot of enemies over the years, and so had the Ravenscroft family. It irritated him that he might die without knowing why. And the odds that he would survive this fracas were growing smaller by the second.

Another shot punched through the engine block and the quarter panel, this time just above Pike’s head.

He decided to run for the building. Heading for the sea offered no chance of cover and almost certainly assured his death, even if he miraculously avoided a bullet. The other direction gave him a fighting chance. A slim chance, to be sure. But it was something.

He examined Craft’s handgun. It was a Glock 27, with the extended magazine from a Glock 23. He popped the magazine out and saw it was full. He had 15 rounds.

15 empty, futile chances to hit something as far away as the chopper.

The pilot and sniper probably knew that. On the other hand, if someone was shooting at you, your first instinct would be to get out of the way. Of the two men he knew were in the chopper, the sniper likely had the most combat experience. Maybe the pilot would get spooked and make a dumb move. It was a big maybe, but it was all he had.

Pike sprang to his feet and raised the Glock. He added a scream, to make certain he had the attention of the chopper. Despite the distance he could clearly see the pilot. He wore a headset and sunglasses. The sniper leaned through the opening on the port side of the chopper. He also had a headset but no sunglasses. Nothing to mar his vision. He was sighting through the scope for another shot when Pike opened fire.

He aimed high and at the cockpit of the helicopter. He knew his shots fell far shot and would land harmlessly in the Gulf. If the pilot took a second to think about it he would realize the same thing.

Instead, the pilot jerked the stick, spinning the craft almost 90 degrees. The sniper was suddenly facing open water.

It had worked. Pike ran for the building, knowing it would take the chopper only a second or two to return to position. He had covered less than half the distance to the building when the first shot struck the concrete walkway directly in front of him. He instinctively veered to his right, beginning a zig-zagging path to safety.

A hot lance of pain seared his left side, and Pike knew he’d been hit. Almost simultaneously the sidewalk ahead of him cracked like a frozen lake. Either the bullet had passed clean through him or he had just been grazed. He didn’t pause to check.

He changed the angle of his run again. The sniper had the distance now and Pike figured the next shot would land between his shoulders.

The black metal door to the Ravenscroft building flew open. The woman who ran out was tall and thin, with a mane of hair that trailed like a scarlet halo behind her. She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Once she cleared the building she raised a silver tube to her shoulder.

Pike saw a flash from the tip of the cylinder and heard a whoosh. He turned his head in time to see a thin trail of smoke flying toward the chopper. The pilot tried to turn the craft again, but it was too late. The object at the head of the jet trail hit the helicopter and there was an explosion.

The chopper hung in the air for a couple of seconds as flames burst from the cockpit and the now-empty door where the sniper had been. Then it fell straight down to the water and disappeared beneath the waves.

Pike stopped running before he collided with the woman. He lifted his shirt. A six-inch furrow had been gouged into his side. The cut was barely bleeding.

“Need a Band-Aid?” the woman said. “We’ve got the kind with pictures of little balloons on them.”

Three men came through the same door the woman had just used. They were dressed in the familiar black outfits.

“The others?” the woman said.

“Drake may still be alive,” Pike said. “Craft and the other guy--” He shook his head.

The woman said something to one of the men, who spoke into a small radio. The other two Ravenscroft employees jogged to the SUV.

Pike nodded at the silver tube the woman now held casually against her leg. “What the hell is that?”

She smiled. “A new RPG we’re working on for the military.”

“What’s the payload?” Pike said, thinking of the size of the explosion that had destroyed the chopper.

She shrugged. “Something big, I guess. Come on, you know that’s not my department.” With her free hand she pointed at the Glock Pike still carried. “Shooting at a chopper with that? What were you thinking?”

“Hey, it worked,” he said, then added, “For a second.”

“You want to know the sad part?” she said. “It wasn’t even the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen you do. As a matter of fact, it’s not even in the top five.”

Pike sighed. He felt like he’d never left this place.

“Thanks for save, Gemma,” he said. “Now can we get this over so I can get back to my life?”

Gemma Ravenscroft smiled and held open the door for him to enter.

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 2

Click to listen.

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods--Chapter 2

Drake nodded to one of his men, who produced a knife and cut the plastic ties that bound the Triton’s crew.

Pug was the last to be freed. The instant his restraints were cut away, the little man sprang from his chair like he had been launched from a catapult. His fist landed against the jaw of the man with the knife. The black-garbed intruder collapsed against the deck. His jaw was twisted out of shape.

Drake’s other men raised their weapons. Though unarmed, Pike’s crew tensed for battle.

“Hold it,” Drake said. He motioned to his men. They lowered their guns.

“Sorry, Donovan,” Pug said as he rubbed his knuckles. “That was the prick who snuck up on me. If he hadn’t slugged me first from behind we wouldn’t be in this spot.”

“It’s okay,” Pike said. “This isn’t your fault. Professor Chapin is in the Zodiac. I need you to get him on board. Then take the Triton back home. I’ll be there as soon as I can. “

“Sure thing, boss.” Pug sounded fine, but Pike knew his old friend blamed himself for the capture of the crew.

Pike first met the fierce bulldog of a man when they both served in the military. Pike’s enlistment was short lived due to what his superiors called an unwillingness to take orders. During his time in uniform, he and Pug had fought in a war together. Since then, they had been on the same side in a few unofficial wars.

Pike turned his attention to Drake. “You know how I hate it when you keep me waiting, sweetheart.”

A flicker of emotion crossed Drake’s face and instantly vanished. Good enough, Pike thought. That was the best you could hope for when you dealt with Drake.

Drake used a satellite phone – the Triton’s phone, Pike noticed – to make a brief call. Within minutes Pike heard an approaching plane.

Drake herded his men and Pike to the main deck. One of Drake’s squad helped the man with the broken jaw to his feet.

Pike leaned against the railing on the port side of the deck and watched the lights of a seaplane grow closer. The craft landed smoothly and held its position about 30 feet from the Triton. Thanks to the moonlight he could see the logo on the side of the black plane. It was identical to the design on the tunics Drake and his men wore.

Drake clamped a big hand on Pike’s shoulder. “Time for homecoming, Donny Boy.”


Pike sat in the back of the passenger compartment of the Antilles Goose. The seaplane had room to carry six people. Drake was up front next to the pilot. The other men were seated with Pike, including the one with the broken jaw. He turned out to be named Savini. He moaned every time the plane hit turbulence.

A few minutes into the flight, Drake came back to the passenger compartment and dropped into the seat next to Pike. He held a satellite phone.

“It’s for you.”

Pike held the phone to his ear and waited.


Pike said nothing.

“Okay, you’re pissed at me. I get that. Really, I do. But this was too important to wait.”

“Still the drama queen,” Pike said.

The woman on the phone sighed. “This is like dealing with a child. As always.”

Pike smiled.

“Then let me get to the point,” the woman said, “since I know you have a short attention span. We found something.”


“It involves La Ciudad de los Dioses.”


“I assume I have your attention?”

“What did you find?”

“I think it’s a message, Donovan. A message from your father.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s better if I show you.”

“Gemma – ”

“I’ll see you in a bit.” The line went dead.

“Damn it.”

Pike handed the phone back to Drake, who accepted it without comment. The older man returned to the cockpit.

Pike suddenly found his seat to be uncomfortable. He shifted restlessly and tried to calm his thoughts.

La Ciudad de los Dioses. It wasn’t possible.

But he knew Gemma Ravenscroft very well. While she certainly had an overdeveloped sense of drama, she was serious about this topic.

He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax.


The seaplane landed in Madrid. Pike and the others transferred to a small jet adorned with the Ravenscroft logo. Savini, the man with the broken jaw, was left behind for medical treatment.

It was late afternoon when the jet landed in Fort Meyers. After taxiing to a small private hanger, the passengers were transferred to a black SUV. Pike sat in the back with Drake.

He grew restless again on the drive to the island. When they finally turned onto the long bridge that stretched across the water, Pike thought he was going to come out of his skin. He decided that punching Drake would be very satisfying.

But he stayed still.

Soon, they were on the island, which was dominated by the massive glass and stone headquarters of the Ravenscroft Corporation. When he sighted the buildings, Pike’s first reaction was to quickly head in the other direction. He had spent a lot of time here in his youth, much of it unpleasant. He wasn’t happy to be back.

The SUV stopped behind one of the buildings. The residential quarters. Drake opened his door and stepped out. Pike could smell the salty tang of the Gulf.

“Let’s go,” Drake said. “You’re somebody else’s problem no– ”

Drake made a funny noise, like air squeaking out of a balloon. Pike turned to see him fall to the ground.

He heard the gunshot almost immediately. And he heard the beating thump of a helicopter’s rotor.

Pike climbed out of the SUV. He shielded his eyes from the sun and spotted the chopper. It was painted gunmetal gray. Completely unremarkable. Expect for the sniper leaning out of the side of the craft. Sunlight glinted from the scope of the rifle in the sniper’s hand.

He fired again. The rear window of the SUV exploded.

Pike dived to the pavement.

To be Continued

© Mark Justice 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Donovan Pike Plug

Thanks to Bill Thom at Coming Attractions, the pulp field's number one source for news, for the mention of Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods. Bill updates the site every Friday night with the latest pulp-related data. It's amazing that so much is happening in the field, and I usually end up making a purchase or two after reading each week's column.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Chapter 2 goes up Sunday, along with the podcast. I appreciate all the feedback.

Here's the blurb for the novel, as it would appear on the back cover of a cheap paperback on a spinner rack at the drugstore:

Ten years ago, the father of Donovan Pike disappeared while searching for the City of the Gods, a mythical metropolis that legend says contains technology from the stars. Now a clue turns up that could mean Pike’s father is alive, and the City of the Gods is real.

The adventurer must team up with an old enemy to battle a dark army that will stop at nothing to prevent Pike from finding his father and discovering the location of an ancient city that will change the world – or destroy it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Donovan Pike Podcast--Chapter 1

I'll be podcasting each chapter of Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods. To listen to Chapter 1, click. here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Donovan Pike and The City of the Gods

Chapter 1

Donovan Pike felt the wind from the bullet as it zipped past by his ear. He hunkered down and increased the throttle. The Zodiac leapt across the uneasy waves.

“They don’t seem inclined to let us leave peacefully.” The speaker crouched down in the big rubber boat. A battered leather satchel was clasped tightly by liver-spotted hands.

Pike smiled. With his free hand he wiped a trickle of blood from his lower lip. The wind whipped his black hair. He stood well over six feet all and had to squat down to make a smaller target for their pursuers. He was thankful the moon was hidden by the clouds. At least that was in their favor.

“Professor, when we reach the Triton, it won’t matter,” Pike said. “Hang on to that bag and keep your head down.”

As if to punctuate Pike’s words, more gunfire sounded in the distance. Something shattered on the Zodiac’s instrument panel, and Pike responded by pulling the wheel hard to starboard. After a moment he turned back to port, continuing a weaving motion that he hoped would increase their odds. The night was dark and he wanted to make it difficult for the men who followed them to take aim.

The Triton, Pike’s personal yacht, was waiting less than a mile into the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia. That was the plan, and Pike never doubted that Pug and his crew would be ready.

Pike yanked a small radio from a mount next to the wheel. The device didn’t have a tremendous range, but the Triton should be close enough to hear him.

“Pug, we’re coming in and we’ve brought some friends. I need you and the boys up top to give us some cover.”

Pike waited a few seconds for a response. When none came, he keyed the radio a second time.

“Pug? You read?”

The only answer was another bullet flying overhead.

“Donovan, is there a problem with your ship?” Professor Jefferson Chapin’s voice was relaxed, even though he squatted in a wet boat while bullets zipped past him. Pike knew if there was more light, his old mentor would look tired and ill.

“We’ll see in a minute,” Pike said. He was committed to protecting Professor Chapin, even though the man would be dead in a matter of months, if not weeks. When he asked Pike to accompany him to Somalia, Chapin had disclosed his illness and his prognosis.

Chapin had been an anchor for Pike several years ago when the younger man had been lost and without purpose. The two bonded over a mutual love for Chapin’s areas of expertise: history and archeology. Chapin’s passion had always been the early Somali civilization, one of the oldest in the world. Somalia had an ancient written language that had never been deciphered. But that was about to change. Professor Chapin had been contacted by a source within the country who claimed to have what had been a mere rumor for decades, a Rosetta stone for the ancient Somali language. Like the original stone discovered in the 19th century, this artifact was said to be inscribed with a dedication written in not only the ancient Somali language but also in Greek and Egyptian, two cultures the early Somalis regularly traded with.

Chapin’s contact couldn’t leave the country. But he would be happy to meet Chapin and turn over the artifact for a reasonable consideration in the form of gold.

Pike and Chapin landed on Somalia’s northeastern shore at night and easily found Chapin’s contact, a small wiry man with the nervous demeanor of a drug addict. The transaction went smoothly until the following night, when it was time to depart. Chapin’s contact apparently shared the news of his recent good fortune, and the local warlord wanted his share.

Pike and Chapin were ambushed as they approached the hidden Zodiac. The attackers were four in number. Pike dispatched two with his favorite weapon, the reliable M1911 automatic, before the gun was knocked from his hand and lost in the darkness. Pike had to subdue the remaining two thugs with his fists before he and Chapin could put out to sea. Pike ended up with sore knuckles, but was filled with the exhilaration he always got when faced with physical danger.

“Donovan, I fear our ‘friends’ are growing closer,” Professor Chapin said.

Pike risked a glance behind him. Less than a hundred yards away, their pursuers were in a cigarette boat, that favorite of drug runners back in the Miami Vice era. Ordinarily, the fiberglass go-fast boat would easily catch the Zodiac. Pike suspected this particular craft had been poorly maintained. And the Zodiac was faster than the standard model, thanks to some engine modifications by Pug.

Despite the gloom, Pike was pretty sure the cigarette boat only carried two men. Two armed men. From their silhouettes, he suspected the Somalis had a couple of old bolt action rifles. Old but reliable. Those .22 caliber rounds weren’t fancy, but they would get the job done if they hit the right spot.

“Sit tight, Professor. Our salvation is dead ahead.”

The Triton’s running lights were visible just just off the Zodiac's bow. Even if the radio was dead – which seemed unlikely – Pug and the others should be on deck watching for him.

The guns of the Somali thugs grew silent. They, too, had spotted the Triton, and were likely waiting to see what kind of response was coming from the yacht.

“Professor,” Pike said, “when I come to a stop, lay flat and put that satchel with the artifact over your head. Don’t move until I say it’s okay.”

“Whatever you say.”

The running lights provided enough illumination for Pike to get a fair idea of the location of the Triton’s ladder. He jerked the wheel and threw the engine intro reverse. In one motion, he put the Zodiac into neutral, then launched himself at the ladder.

He was only off by a few inches. He grabbed the right side of the ladder with his left hand, swung his body over and scampered up the rungs. Within seconds he was on the main deck. It was empty.

He would have to worry about the crew later. Pike flipped up the seat of a bench and removed two objects.

The first was an HK417 assault rifle, capable of firing 600 round per minute. Pike didn’t plan to waste that much ammo on his pursuers. He stood quietly for a few seconds. The Somali pilot killed his engine. In the stillness of the night Pike heard the water lapping against the fiberglass hull of the smaller boat and the furtive whispers of two men.

He fired a short burst across what he hoped was the bow of the boat, then fell to the deck and rolled to his left. He popped up six feet away and peeked over the rail in time to see the muzzle flashes as the Somalis returned fire. Bullets smacked against the Triton’s superstructure very close to where Pike had been standing.

Now that he knew the position of his enemy Pike lifted the other object he had removed from the bench. The RKG-3 anti-tank hand grenade wasn’t a very sophisticated weapon but it was brutally effective.

Pike raised the cylindrical device to his mouth, grasped the pin between his teeth and pulled. He hurled the Russian-made grenade into a high arc, where it was instantly lost in the darkness. He knew from experience that the tiny four-panel parachute had opened and the RKG-3 was drifting down toward the cigarette boat. Pike dropped to the deck again.

Within seconds the night was ablaze with a spectacular light, followed almost instantly by the hollow thump of an explosion. Small pieces of debris slapped against the Triton’s hull.

Pike ran back to the bench. He removed two flares, ignited them and tossed them over the rail.

The Zodiac appeared to be untouched. Beyond it, the water’s surface was covered with the wreckage of the cigarette boat.

“Professor! You okay?” he called.

“As well as can be expected,” Chapin answered. “Permission to come aboard?”

“Not just yet,” Pike said. “Hang tight.”

Pike retrieved the assault rifle. He carefully stepped through the aft entrance to the salon. The large room was empty. He moved to the next door and entered the galley.

The Triton’s galley was open and comfortable. When Pike had the yacht built, he knew he would be spending most of his time here with a small crew, and he wanted that time to be enjoyable. The galley was outfitted with a state of the art kitchen, a massive oak dining table and large, study chairs.

Tied into four of those chairs were his crew. Short, barrel-chested Pug Benson, the Maynard twins and Andre Romanov, the ship’s chef, were gagged with duct tape. Their arms had been secured behind them to the back of the chair by the type of plastic ties used by law enforcement.

“Easy with that gun, boy,” a gruff voice said.

Four figures stepped forward. They had been huddled together in a dark corner of the room. Dressed all in black, each man’s tunic was adorned with an insignia, the silhouette of a black bird in flight over a scarlet, stylized letter R.

The speaker was older than Pike. His steel-gray hair was worn in a crewcut. He had a scar beneath his left eye.

Pike knew him well.

“Thank God it’s you, Drake,” Pike said. “From the smell in here, I thought Andre let the meat spoil.”

Drake smiled. “We came to take you home, Donny.”

“No thanks,” Pike said.

“The boss is very insistent.”

“When you get back you can tell her to go to hell.”

“She said we couldn’t mess you up,” Drake said. “She didn’t say anything about your playmates.” He removed a handgun from his holster and placed it against Pug’s head.

Drake’s other men produced their own guns, which they used to cover the other three members of the Triton’s crew.

Pike's pulse throbbed in his neck. This was his boat, and he was strongly tempted to unleash hell with a gentle squeeze of the trigger. Damn the consequences.

He drew in a breath before lowering the assault rifle to the deck.

“Okay, I’ll go,” he said. “But I owe you a serious ass-kicking.”

To Be Continued

© 2010 Mark Justice