Sam Calder knows prison changed him, and not for the better. Still, when he’s suddenly freed, he goes home wanting to make things right. Unfortunately, that hope fades when he stumbles into the midst of an assault on none other than the President of the United States and the one-time Navy SEAL leaps to the man’s aid. In the aftermath, the nation comes to believe its leader is dead and the ex-convict is somehow involved. With no other option, Sam flees with the badly injured chief executive in tow and the real assassins and every cop in the land in hot pursuit. Their only chance at survival now lies in Sam’s willingness to unleash that part of himself he wanted left in prison, and this time he can’t hold back.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Forced Succession by Dave Bullock, Sam Calder has just gotten out of prison after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. Finally exonerated when new evidence comes to light, all Sam wants now is peace and quiet, but, alas, that is not to be. On a peaceful fishing trip with his brother, Sam runs head long into a VIP assassination attempt with some powerful people behind it. Now he’s on the run with only his wits and his special forces training to help him survive.
Bullock tells a gripping tale, filled with realistic, well-developed characters, fast-paced action, and numerous twists and turns. An enthralling read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Forced Succession by Dave Bullock is the story of a man who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Coming out of a restaurant with his wife, Sam Calder runs into some drunken cops, resulting in the shooting death of Sam’s wife. Falsely accused of her murder, Sam goes to prison until new evidence finally clears him. Once released, Sam returns home to Montana, hoping to repair his relationship with his father and brother. But a few days later, while on a fishing trip with his brother, Sam is in the wrong place again, witnessing a political assassination and even rescuing one of the intended targets. Now Sam is running for his life, trying to keep an important political figure alive as well, and the only thing Sam has on his side is his Special Forces training—and his smarts—against the forces of a corrupt shadow government. Will it be enough?
Forced Succession is definitely a page turner, hooking you from the very first one. I couldn’t put it down.
Sam Calder stared down at the jam-packed New York City street five floors below. Rush hour, damn it, he thought. We’re not gonna make it if she doesn’t get her ass in gear.
“You’d better hustle up, babe,” he said. “The concierge got us a cab for seven.”
“What time is it now?”
“You’ve got four and a half minutes. He’ll probably start the meter if he has to wait.”
Judith Calder paused with her eyeliner brush and leaned around the edge of the bathroom door. “He can’t start the meter without a fare, and you know it. Now stop rushing me, or I’ll end up looking like a kabuki dancer.” Her head disappeared, but she continued speaking. “We’re just going to dinner and a show, not on one of your precisely timed SEAL missions. This is a celebration, remember?”
She’s right, he thought as he walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. I need to chill out, get used to the idea of being a civilian again, and becoming a father. Both scared the hell out of him.
When they climbed into the cab twelve minutes later, Sam was sure they would have to forget the show, but the Pakistani-born cabbie assured them he knew of a nearby restaurant that didn’t require a reservation and served excellent seafood, Judith’s favorite.
Maybe we’ll make it after all, Sam hoped as they inched their way into the heavy traffic.
But when they pulled to the curb in front of a dingy downtown bistro twenty minutes later, Sam’s concern returned. As he climbed out and held the door for Judith, his nose was assaulted by the aroma of something spoiled.
He looked around for the source and saw a dozen overloaded garbage cans lining the alley alongside the restaurant. The overwhelming stench countered his hunger but didn’t seem to deter the rats scurrying about.
“Oh my, that stinks,” Judith said as she joined him on the sidewalk, pinching her nose.
“This place looks kinda sketchy, babe.”
“No, no. It is a fine restaurant,” the driver called out from the cab. “My good friend from Islamabad is owner.”
“I’m too hungry to look for another, Sam. Besides, the show starts in less than two hours, and the theater’s back uptown.”
Sam relented, paid the cabbie, and led her to the door. He reconsidered that concession the moment they entered and saw only empty tables. “That’s not a good sign, either,” he whispered in Judith’s ear as an elderly woman in a blue burqa moved toward them.
“Shhh,” Judith answered, elbowing him gently in his ribs.
“Good evening to you. Welcome,” the woman said in thickly accented English. “Please to follow.”
She seated them in the center of the dimly lit dining room, handing each a menu.
“Thank you,” Sam said. “Just give us a minute, please.”
As the woman turned away, Judith squealed and erupted from her chair, knocking it over.
Sam looked up from his menu and saw the cause skittering across their tabletop. He smashed the scampering roach with his plastic-coated menu and dropped it there. As he stood to join his creeped-out wife, she shrieked again and began stamping her feet like a Mexican hat dancer. He glanced down to see another roach riding atop her sandaled foot.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” she insisted when the creature fell off.
Sam stepped on it and pushed Judith’s elbow toward the door of the foul eatery, ignoring the old woman’s offer of free desserts.
Outside, they found no cabs in sight.
Sam turned back to the door. “I’ll get us one.”
“I’m not going back in there,” Judith declared.
“Okay, stay here,” Sam told her. “I’ll be right back.”
He was forced to give the now angry old woman five dollars to summon a ride. He watched to make sure she did so before he stepped outside again.
Judith was several yards down the sidewalk, surrounded by three men she seemed to be trying to dodge. They countered each move she made, keeping her in the center of their triangle. All three wore open sport coats with holstered pistols and gold badges visible at their waists. Their slurred voices and stumbling stances told Sam all three were intoxicated. Oh well, drunk cops are better than gangbangers, he thought as he started toward them.
Though his wife was ten weeks pregnant, her twenty-one-year-old figure gave no hint of her condition, so Sam assumed the inebriated men were simply trying to cajole a strikingly beautiful woman standing alone on a New York City sidewalk to join them.
He expected they would apologize and move on once they realized she was not a hooker, nor alone. Before he could make his presence known, though, one reached out and groped her breast, braless under her thin-strapped summer dress. His pals ignored her terrified shriek and quickly fumbled to cop a feel in kind.
Enraged, Sam fell upon them like a vengeful wraith, five years of SEAL training and combat providing more than enough skill to match his fury. Grunts and howls of pain accompanied the discernible splintering of bone during those few seconds it took him to end the drunks’ bawdy revelry with his wife. In moments, the three lay sprawled on the pavement, blood gushing from mouths and noses and two arms bent at unnatural angles.
The first fondler yanked his revolver from its holster and shakily pointed it up at Sam.
Drooling a mixture of blood and spittle, he slurred, “Don’t fucking move, you–”
As the gunshot echoed off the surrounding buildings, Sam kicked the detective in the head, removing several teeth, fracturing his jaw, and rendering him unconscious. The pistol fell away. He quickly spun to the others and found them down for the count, too. Then he turned to Judith.
Instead of rushing to him as he expected, she was on her back, motionless, her blood-soaked blonde hair matted over what was no longer a face.
Sam woke as he always did at that exact moment in the nightmare, startled, sweat-drenched, and panting. His eyes snapped open in the semi-dark and strained to focus on the gray cement ceiling, trying unsuccessfully to blot out the image seared into his mind’s eye five years before. His jaw ached. I was grinding my teeth again, he thought as he flexed it and unclenched his white-knuckled fists.
Mercifully, warning whistles distracted him from his ghastly mental picture. A few heartbeats later, his ears picked up the stomp of heavy boots climbing the steel stairway beyond his door. Who’re they coming for? If he were the target, there would be at least three approaching. There were never fewer, though sometimes there would be more if they were training new people. He lay still, listening. Yep, three, he wagered himself. It’s me they want, but it’s early.
He heaved his muscled, two-hundred-ten-pound frame from the thin mattress atop the steel platform of his upper bunk, and faced the door with both hands clasped behind his head, elbows pointing at opposite walls only six feet apart. The position is assumed.
In response to his movement, the forty-something obese man sprawled on the bottom bunk produced a loud fart and turned his scraggly, bearded face to the wall.
The stench sickened Sam almost as much as the vile tattoos covering the fleshy man’s jelly-like flab and shaved skull. Sam knew each marking to be a tribute to some racial or ethnic prejudice the fat hater too frequently barked about. He also knew the faded ink evidenced decades of incarceration that would deservedly continue. Sam dreaded that thought. He loathed every waking minute he and Clyde Bucher had shared the cramped space.
Sam stifled a gag as he stared straight ahead and thought back on their first meeting, when Bucher had tried to establish some inane form of dominance over their two-man world as soon as the door closed him in it.
“Get your crap off my bed, asshole,” he’d said in greeting as he grabbed a handful of Sam’s hospital-cornered bedding and yanked everything onto the floor.
Sam conceded without argument, assuming the rotund newcomer would never be able to lift his bulk to the upper bunk anyway and not wanting to be underneath it should he miraculously manage to do so.
At lights-out that night, having foolishly misinterpreted Sam’s compliance as weakness, Bucher had stepped close behind and demanded a more personal act of submission.
A slight smile creased Sam’s lips as he recalled dropping to his knees and spinning to face the flabby man’s exposed genitals. Instead of giving Bucher what he expected, though, Sam’s fist slammed upward, and Bucher released a brief, girlish squeal.
Unable to determine where the cry had originated, searching guards found both inmates prone on their bunks, though only Sam, doing his best at pretend snoring, was conscious.
He quietly chuckled, remembering how Bucher had been unable to stand for the next morning’s head count. It had taken six guards to move the whimpering hulk to the infirmary. He returned days later, still pissing more blood than urine and carping each time.
Five years without a civil conversation, Sam thought. Five years of pretending the other doesn’t exist. Seems kinda pointless, with our toilet only four feet from where we sleep. That thought brought him to glance around the seven-by-nine-foot cage he considered his quarters. It certainly isn’t a home, he told himself. That’s where you live willingly.
Still, despite Bucher’s loathsome presence, he preferred the highly restrictive maximum-security abode to the general population zoo where the prison staff had initially placed him.
His thoughts drifted again, this time to the day his confinement in Attica State Prison had begun. During his three days in the orientation cell block, another inmate–a repeat offender–explained how things worked.
“How old are you, kid?” asked the balding, middle-aged man.
“Twenty-three,” Sam replied.
“How long you in for?”
“I got five to life.”
“Damn. Well, at least you’ll get a shot at parole at some point, if you can keep your nose clean.”
“You’re big, and you look strong. That’ll help you some, but you’re also young and good-looking. That’ll go against you. Once they move you into general pop, you’ll only have two options to keep the predators at bay. You can ask for protective custody, and they’ll move you into segregation with the stool pigeons, child molesters, and cross-dressing freaks, or you can join a gang for the safety of numbers.”
Sam knew residing amongst the perverted would never be an option for him, but his mentor made it clear that joining a racially oriented gang came with costly risks.
“They’ll demand unquestioned loyalty, demonstrated by your willingness to participate in their activities. In prison, those are generally limited to smuggling drugs up your ass and violence against other gangs, either of which can extend your sentence if you’re caught. But refusal to do as you’re ordered means death at your own gang’s hands. Believe me, I know. I hung out with the Aryan Brotherhood last time I was inside, and they ordered me to shiv some black dude a week before I was scheduled to be paroled. I said no and talked the guards into putting me into segregation until my release. If they hadn’t, those bastards would’ve killed me for sure.”
“So how’re you going to avoid them now?”
“I ain’t worried. That was eight years ago down in Ossining. None of the Brotherhood here will know me.”
Sam gloomily recalled the man being found on the shower floor the next day, a hand-honed toothbrush handle imbedded in his throat. As guards wheeled the sheet-covered corpse past, he overheard one say, “The camera caught that lifer who transferred up from Ossining following him in there.”
Sam judged gang membership a losing gambit, primarily because he found the majority of white inmates incapable of forming any sort of coherent band for security, and the white supremacists’ mentality held no appeal for him.
He was escorted to a general population cell the next afternoon. Standing just inside its barred door with his pillow, blanket, and sheet resting on his forearms, he sized up the three men staring at him from their bunks. No problem, he thought, but said, “I’m Sam.”
The biggest of the trio–all with swastikas tattooed on their necks–slid off his lower bunk and approached. “You queer?”
“Nope,” Sam replied as he stepped past the man and set his armload on the only empty mattress. He leapt up to sit on it with his legs hanging over the side.
The other two fell in behind the big one as he slapped at Sam’s dangling feet. “That’s too bad. You’re still gonna suck my dick.”
“Then mine,” another said from behind.
“Mine, too,” the third one added, laughing.
Sam was one second away from showing the three how wrong they were when a whistle sounded and a passing guard announced, “Fall out, yard time.”
His cellmates turned to the door, which automatically slid open.
Sam followed, keeping the three in sight as the entire cell block marched in single file. As the long line emerged into a bright summer afternoon, he watched inmates fanning out across the huge open space as if they all knew where they were supposed to go.
He did not.
He saw his cellmates meet up with a dozen other similarly tattooed brethren. The big cellmate pointed, and the entire group began moving Sam’s way. Thankfully, a couple of guards followed close behind.
At a whistle from someone, the gang made an abrupt left, with the big one calling out, “Later, bitch!”
Sam remembered how relieved he had been at not having had to kill anyone on his first day. The largest gathering of inmates, the blacks, took over all four hoops of side-by-side basketball courts. About half as many Hispanics crowded an area filled with weight-lifting equipment, and the white supremacists were lined up with their backs against the cell block wall, staring his way.
There were a few others scattered about in ones and twos. The closest were two old, white inmates playing checkers on a concrete picnic table, and a lone white man who looked to be in his mid-thirties lying on the grass near them. He was smoking a cigarette and appeared relaxed, as if he were spending his lunch break in the park.
That was when Sam noticed a roofed enclosure in a more distant section of the yard. It reminded him of the handball courts he had enjoyed at the Navy base, so he walked over to the checker players and asked about it.
And that changed everything, he thought as he recalled the incident.
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be a handball court,” one old man said, “but guys kept getting shived in there, so nobody goes there anymore.”
The other added, “Stay outta there, kid. There’s only the one door, and those Nazis over there are watching you like buzzards.”
Sam glanced at his cellmates, then at the figure sitting on the grass.
“Who’s the loner?”
“That’s Tony Deluca, Salvatore Deluca’s kid.”
“He’s just the head of the New York mafia, that’s all.”
“Oh, okay,” Sam said, unimpressed. “Thanks for the info.” He turned and headed toward the enclosure.
“You’re asking for trouble, kid,” one of the old men warned from behind.
Sam offered a half-wave of thanks as he walked to the concrete structure and stepped inside. He stood looking around at the huge, empty space. Yeah, this’ll do, he thought as he closed the squeaky steel door. After a few stretching exercises, he started jogging slowly along the wall, loosening up. His speed increased after only one lap. By the third, he was sprinting on the straight-aways and slowing in the turns to just below the point at which centrifugal force would slam him against the wall. With his mouth closed and his breathing deep and controlled, he began to relax.
The door opened with a loud clang. Sam stopped, expecting to see tattooed necks filing in. Instead, Tony Deluca entered after a shove from a guard.
“Got a handball?” Sam asked.
The mobster’s Bronx accent was thick as he answered, “F’get about it, kid. The bulls threw me in here. I think maybe they got a little surprise coming for me.”
Sam glanced at the still-open door and saw the camera above it swivel to face the wall. Uh-oh, he thought just before four black inmates sauntered in and a guard behind them closed the door.
“You voodoo-pray’n sons-o’-bitches are asking for trouble,” Deluca barked. He backed up and motioned for Sam to stay out of the way, as if he would handle the menacing-looking foursome by himself. “Anyone moves on me, and my old man’ll whack your whole family, even your dog.”
Sam knew pretending he was not involved was pointless. Even if I’m not the target, he figured, I’m a witness, probably the fall guy.
The dreadlock-wearing quartet split up. Two pulled sharply pointed objects from their pockets and continued slowly toward the retreating gangster.
The others turned in Sam’s direction. Both smiled confidently, displaying numerous gold-inlaid teeth as they produced their own shanks.
“Dis telling your daddy, mon, dat da Kingston Yardies is in it ah d’way,” said one of Deluca’s would-be assailants with a distinct Jamaican accent.
Observing the casual nature of his own attackers’ approach, Sam surmised they knew nothing of their quarry, since he was new. That’ll cost you, he thought.
He opened his eyes wide and remained motionless, feigning a fear-frozen state, until both Jamaicans came within five feet of him.
He moved too fast for the startled duo to counter, driving the bottom of his left foot into the closest assailant’s kneecap. The blow produced a sickening crack as the leg snapped rearward, taking on the oddly jointed shape of a grasshopper’s rear limbs.
Half a second later, he punched his other attacker in the larynx just hard enough to incapacitate him. Spinning around, he slammed an elbow into the choking man’s temple, sending him to the concrete floor, unconscious.
As the thug plopped down, Sam leapt atop the other already there. His powerful arms slipped around the wailing man’s neck, squeezing and temporarily stopping blood flow to the brain. The man’s struggling ceased. To ensure he stayed out, Sam elbowed him in the face, knocking out several glimmering gold teeth and dislocating his jaw.
Unwisely, Deluca’s attackers never looked over, perhaps thinking the scream they’d heard was Sam’s dying yelp. If they had, they would have seen him approaching at their backs.
He viciously crippled both without warning and then pulled the insensible cohorts to the center of the enclosure. He laid their now bent and blunted weapons atop the pile and moved to the wall opposite Deluca.
“That was fucking awesome,” the mobster exclaimed. “How’d you learn to do shit like that, kid?”
Sam held a finger to his lips as the door cracked open. A guard peeked in, and Sam called out, “Hey, those fellas opened up a big ol’ can of whoopass on each other.”
The door opened wider, and the guard raised his radio and made an announcement Sam couldn’t hear over Deluca’s roaring laughter. Moments later, a flood of uniforms rushed in and roughly dragged him and Deluca out.
Sam knew the incident was mob business, but figured his role would likely bring some form of retribution his way. He was not wrong. He had no idea where Deluca was taken, but he was placed in a deep isolation cage he could only stand inside. Just before its mesh door closed, a guard nailed him with a stun gun.
The sadist held the trigger down until another advised, “You’ll give him a heart attack if you don’t let up. I don’t give a shit, but that’s a lot of paperwork, and they’ll drug test us.”
The guard ended the jolt. “You got any idea what Deluca’s old man’s gonna do to us because of this asshole?”
“I ain’t gonna wait to find out,” the other replied. “I’m getting outta town tonight.”
Sam remembered standing in the cramped space for hours before the warden ordered him transferred to the maximum-security cell block. He could still hear the man’s lie. “I’m doing this to protect you, Calder. You won’t live to see tomorrow if I leave you in general population.”
Since that day five years ago, with the exception of a five-minute supervised shower every third evening and forty-five minutes each morning in a fully enclosed exercise pen built inside the cell block, the sixty-three-square-foot cell had been the extent of Sam’s world.
The only windows in the entire block were small slats high up the wall opposite the cells, but all he could tell from them was whether it was day or night. Still, the warden may have been right, he thought. Maximum-security may be mind-numbingly monotonous, but it’s relatively nonthreatening. Of course, I still have to sleep with one eye open as long as Bucher’s around.
His reverie ended when a gruff voice outside the door ordered, “Assume the position, Calder.”
© 2013 by Dave Bullock