In the Line of Ire
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 1
by Edwin Dasso, M.D.
Genre: Medical Thriller
Book One of the Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles
2200, 23 December, 1989
Forward Medical Facility outside of Panama City, Panama
Two soldiers kicked open the entrance doors to the triage area of the field hospital and hurriedly carried one of their comrades inside on a stretcher. The prone man moaned loudly and writhed, obviously in great pain. “Hold still, man! You keep moving around an’ you’re gonna set that damn thing off!” one of the stretcher bearers hissed. Jack’s eyes shot wide as he noticed the fins of a rocket round protruding from the arm opening in the man’s body armor, a large bulge obvious beneath the chest portion. The two stretcher bearers dropped their burden on an empty gurney and scrambled to the far side of the room. “What the hell?” Jack exclaimed, inching to the side of the soldier on the stretcher and grasping the man’s wrist to feel his pulse. The heartbeat was rapid but not thready, and Jack saw no evidence of active, significant hemorrhage. His cursory assessment told him the soldier was stable and he backed quickly away, eyes glued on the tail of the mortar round. He spun and looked at the former stretcher bearers where they crouched on the far side of the room. “Is that a live round?” Jack called to them, pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the soldier on the stretcher. Both men nodded like bobble-heads, staring at Jack with saucer-sized eyes. “It ricocheted off a tank and nailed him,” one of them whispered through cupped hands, as if afraid he’d set off the explosive if he talked any louder. “It could explode any second.” “Holy shit, guys! Why didn’t you talk to me before you brought him in here? That round could take out this whole room!” “Where the hell else we gonna take him, Doc? This is the field hospital,” the apparent spokesperson for the pair whined. Jack rolled his eyes, spun away from them and shouted, “Everybody out of the room! Right now! Move stable patients to another tent; move the unstable ones back into the hallway between the ORs.” Jack looked around the room as his medical colleagues all stood and stared at him with puzzled looks. He pointed at the soldier with the unexploded RPG round in his chest. “That guy has a rocket round in his chest that could blow any second!” All those who were staring at Jack turned in unison to look at the injured soldier then they looked back at Jack. “Now, goddammit, people! Let’s get these patients out of here!” Major Lori Darden, the head OR nurse, with whom Jack had worked during past assignments, yelled like a drill instructor. Jack shot her a quick, thankful nod and smile. The staff started scurrying about, grabbing wounded patients, pushing them on gurneys, in wheelchairs or just helping them hobble out of the large triage area. Though they were all swarming toward the doors, they did so in a relatively coordinated fashion. While everyone else hurried to exit the room, Jack turned back to the two soldiers who had carried in their explosive comrade and stated firmly, “One of you guys help me lower his stretcher to the floor. While we’re doing that, I want the other to go out and find as many sandbags as you can, and bring them back here to put around his stretcher.” The two young infantrymen looked at each other and then hesitantly at Jack. “C’mon, you dumbasses, hop to, before that round blows and shreds us all!” Jack shouted. Jack watched impatiently as the two did a quick, “rock, paper, scissors” thing, and the loser shook his head and yelled, “Shit!” “Jesus Christ, you guys gotta be shitting me! Get the hell over here, now!” Jack bellowed in his best command voice. One of the soldiers stepped forward and helped Jack gingerly lower the stretcher to the floor. “Now go help your buddy find some sandbags and pile them around this guy,” Jack told the man who’d just assisted him. “Aw, c’mon, Doc, I already helped you move him…” Jack finally lost his patience. At six-foot-two-inches tall and weighing two-hundred pounds, he rarely felt the need to throw his weight around, but he knew he could present an intimidating figure when he needed to, and now was one of those times. He straightened, towering over the other man, and shouted, “Shut the fuck up and do what I say, or I’ll make sure your squad sergeant knows what a chickenshit you are! I’ll help you as soon as I make a quick call.” Jack ran to a desk, picked up the field phone, and asked hurriedly to be connected with the Chief Surgeon, Colonel Robert Blackburn. Jack had only met Dr. Blackburn briefly when the surgeon had done a quick tour of the facility soon after his arrival at the field hospital. Jack hadn’t seen him in the several days since then, though, since the surgical cases were all being handled by the two junior surgeons on staff. “Colonel Blackburn’s quarters.” A woman’s voice came over the line. “Uh…this is Dr. Jack Bass,” he said, a bit taken back by the unexpected female voice. “I’m the triage OD for the field hospital, and I was calling for Dr. Blackburn regarding a case that needs his personal attention. All the other surgeons are in the middle of cases.” She responded in a cool tone. “I’m sorry, but he’s…indisposed right now. Can’t one of the junior surgeons handle it? They are real surgeons, aren’t they?” Jack held the receiver out and looked at it incredulously. “What? Of course they are, but as I said, they’re both doing cases as we speak—” “Then the case you’re calling about will just have to wait, won’t it?” she asked in a brusque tone. Jack bit back the swear words that were on the tip of his tongue. “Do you mind if I ask who I’m speaking with?” he asked tersely. “I do mind, but I’ll tell you anyway…was it Dr. Bass, you said?” “Yes.” “And your rank, Dr. Bass?” “Seriously? You need to know that now? Shit! I’m a Major, okay? For whatever difference that makes!” “Well, Major Bass, this is Lieutenant Colonel Thornhall, and I’ve been a nurse in this army for over twenty-five years and am your superior officer, so you will address me accordingly! For the last ten of those years, I’ve been the traveling chief-of-staff for Dr. Blackburn, so if I say he’s unavailable, that means he’s unavailable.” Jack glanced fleetingly over his shoulder as the two privates quickly deposited some bags near the foot of the stretcher before turning to leave the room again. Jack covered the phone receiver and yelled after them. “Hey, you guys aren’t done yet! I want a row of sandbags at least two feet high completely surrounding him.” Their shoulders sagged as they made their way back out the doors of the triage room. Jack took his hand away from the phone’s mouthpiece. “Look, Lt. Colonel Thornhall, sir…ma’am, whatever the correct term is, I’ve got a guy in the triage area with an unexploded RPG rocket in his chest, and I need a surgeon here, stat! I don’t have time to wait until one of the other surgeons is done because this thing could blow up any time! As the Triage OD, I’m formally requesting Colonel Blackburn’s presence urgently! If he is truly so indisposed that he can’t come over here right now, please let me know now, so I can go up the chain of command to try to get another surgeon here ASAP!” Jack tried to keep his voice calm but could hear the edge in his tone. “You’d better be careful how you speak to a superior officer…” “I don’t give a rat’s ass right now about military protocol! Can’t you get it through your head? This guy could blow up any second…and probably take out the whole goddam OR suite if he does!” Jack suddenly heard a man’s gruff voice in the background. “Give me that goddam phone, Maggie!” “This is Colonel Blackburn. Who the hell am I speaking with?” The man’s voice boomed so loudly from the receiver that Jack had to hold it away from his ear. “Major Jack Bass, sir. I’m the lead anesthesiologist at the field hospital and the triage OD. We met briefly the other day—” “I remember you. I’m not sshhenile, you jackass. Why the hell are you calling me?” Jack glanced at the phone again and frowned. Did they have a bad connection or was the surgeon really slurring his speech that badly? “I have a soldier here with an unexploded RPG round lodged in his chest. Both of the other surgeons are in the middle of cases…” “What kind of cases?” the surgeon demanded. “Uh…gunshot wounds, sir. One with multiple abdominal penetrations, the other with head and neck wounds.” “Schhhit!” the surgeon exclaimed. “And they aren’t going to finish up anytime sshoon, Major?” “Both likely have a couple of hours of operating time yet, sir.” Jack suddenly noticed the presence of Lori Darden at his side; she had donned an armored vest and was also wearing a Kevlar helmet that was too large for her head. She shrugged and raised her hands, as if to question Jack about what was going on. Jack held up an index finger, indicating for her to wait, but then quickly regretted his action as her ivory complexion turned red and her eyes narrowed to slits. Jack cringed. Geez, I’m managing to piss off every nurse in the army tonight! “Is he stable?” “Yes, sir…currently, anyway.” “Then why can’t you jushht put him outshhide somewhere away from everybody else and wait for one of the other surgeons?” “Sir? Seriously? You’re suggesting I just set him aside and come what may? Really?” Lori suddenly snatched the phone from Jack’s grasp. “Sir, this is Major Lori Darden, the head nurse of this surgical unit, and if you can’t come over here right now, I’ll be happy to call General Smithson, whom I know very well, and ask him if he could fly down from Tampa and do this surgery.” There was silence on the phone for several seconds. “Major, you’re playing with fire…” Blackburn replied menacingly, speaking loudly enough for Jack to hear. “I understand any possible risks, sir, and I’m stating it again. General Smithson has been a friend of my family for as long as I can remember and is largely responsible for me choosing nursing as a career, and I’m sure he’ll take my call.” “Alright, goddammit! But you and I are gonna have a chat after I get there, Major. Nobody threatens me!” “Of course, sir,” she replied with a hint of sarcasm. Lori handed the phone unceremoniously back to Jack and then immediately moved to the stretcher, where she began stacking sandbags around the soldier as the man continued to writhe and moan. Jack stood dumbfounded, looking at Lori. He held the phone to his ear and heard Major Thornhall pleading in the background. “Rob, you can’t go over there like this…just come back to bed and let them take care of it.” The comment roused Jack from his daze. He shook his head. “I beg your pardon?” he asked. What the hell was going on? he wondered. Instead of a reply, someone on the other end slammed down the phone. Jack placed the receiver back on the base then cautiously approached Major Darden. “That was pretty…ballsy. Thanks,” he told Lori. “No problem, Jack.” She didn’t look up, and her tone told him she didn’t think her actions were any big deal. “Help me stack these sandbags and then get an IV in this guy.” “Um…yes, ma’am,” Jack replied quietly, not wishing to raise her ire again.
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 2
1100, 4 March, 1991
Western Iraq Desert
The responding US soldiers darted from one piece of cover to the next as they leap-frogged through the smashed remains of the medical compound. Upon reaching the doors of the OR tent, they kicked them open, yelling as they entered with their rifles to their shoulders. Once inside, they quickly worked across the large triage area to where Dr. Jack Bass squatted on his knees on the wooden floor, the soldiers halting as they encircled him. “Clear!” the sergeant yelled. Jack held the lifeless body against his chest, weeping softly as he rocked gently. Though he’d wrapped it in a clean, white sheet, the linen was now darkened with congealed blood. A pale, flaccid arm protruded from beneath the cloth, flopping slightly with each rocking motion, as if beckoning the soldiers closer. The sergeant scowled at Jack, his gaze holding for several seconds on Jack’s Lt. Colonel insignia. “Colonel, sir, we’re here to rescue you…you’re safe now,” the sergeant announced smugly. Jack didn’t respond. Didn’t acknowledge their presence. He just silently rocked, tears cascading downs his cheeks and falling onto the sheet, creating random specks of pink on the crimson background. The experiences of the last twenty-four hours had left Jack feeling as if his soul had been ripped from him. He was now nothing but an empty shell remaining where the essence of Jack Bass used to reside. The sergeant pegged two privates in his squad with a glare. Get this guy squared away for exfil. I’m gonna scout around outside the tent.” Two young Army privates rolled their eyes at each other as they gawked at the Army Medical Corps Colonel, his eyes closed, tears streaking his dirt and soot-covered cheeks. The soldiers tried but were unable to pry the body from Jack’s unyielding grasp. “Medic!” one of them finally called out in exasperation. “Better bring a straightjacket over here—looks like we got ourselves a nutcase!”
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 3
“Yes, sir. I’ll keep her safe,” Lt. Colonel Jack Bass, MD, said as his gaze met General George Smithson’s. The memory of those words now echoed in his mind, eerily reverberating as if he’d shouted them within a dark, dank cavern. “Yes, sir. I’ll keep her safe.” Spectral passages flowed from one to the next like eddies in a stream that traversed Jack’s dreams. His subconscious recounted the image of him holding Major Lori Darden’s lifeless body in his arms, rocking her gently, a hot breeze swirling about him in gritty wisps as he knelt in the warm sand of the Iraq desert. His hand moved even now in his dream, just as it had then, to cradle her head closer to his chest. He watched as his tears fell onto the blood-soaked sheet covering her head, its crimson smear soaking through his shirt, mixing with sweat, tears and sand to chafe his skin. The heart beneath that skin also chafed, each beat painfully pounding out the missive that his love was dead. “Yes, sir. I’ll keep her safe.” The words rang hollow. Taunting him. Teasing him. Haunting him yet one more night as he tossed restlessly in his bed. Jack Bass caught his breath as he bolted upright in his bed, his sheets soaked in sweat. Doubt battered at his mind, leaving Jack uncertain if he’d confused illusions with reality…again. As had become his habit before opening his eyes, he crept his hand across the sheets, his fingertips probing to assure he sat on cloth, not a layer of fine desert sand. The softness of the sheets greeted his touch and his eyes snapped open, his head turning apprehensively toward the female body lying next to him. His held breath trickled between his pursed lips as he wiped the sweat from his brow. As always when he awakened like this, he reached for the comforting feel of her warm flesh, only reassured when he could feel it and see her chest heaving softly as she slept. Jack took a deep breath, sighed loudly and lay back down, wiped his sweaty palms on the sheet and closed his eyes, debating whether to risk sleep again. Like water, it was necessary for his survival but, like water, offered its own risks. Tonight, like so many others, he knew sleep risked his drowning in anguish, this dogged nightmare waiting patiently to pounce again on his slumbering mind.
You'll Be Safe
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 4
Jack Bass had learned to hate dreams. And, because sleep was the playground of dreams, even exhausted, he’d also learned to dread sleep, for when he slept he could not control those dreams. In spite of a well-disciplined mind, drifting off into unconsciousness resulted in nothing but fitful slumber and loathing of the dreams until wakefulness again allowed him to escape them. This night was no different.
* * *
“Yes, sir. I’ll keep her safe,” Lt. Colonel Jack Bass said as he gazed intently into General George Smithson’s weary eyes, responding to the General’s solemn request to protect Major Lori Darden, RN while she was deployed during the Gulf War. She had grown up around the General, a close friend of her parents, the General often acting as a parent Lori never really had, in spite of the two people who’d procreated her. The General has grown to think of her as the daughter he’d never had, never having found opportunity to marry and have a child of his own. Jack knew the General was agonizing over having agreed to approve her request for deployment to the Gulf War as part of the Army medical group that Jack Bass would command. This night, like many in the past, Jack’s promise reverberated inanely, swirling endlessly in Jack’s mind, just as the sand swirled about him in the desert wind as he held her lifeless body in his arms after failing to keep his promise to the General.
* * *
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you,” he reassured Amy, the nurse who was Jack’s coworker and friend at Recombinant Healthcare Management, RHM, as they chatted over lunch about some of the Machiavellian activities occurring at the company. Again this night, those words tore at his heart, leaving him feeling as if someone had reached into his chest and was trying to painfully wrench it from his body. In spite of Jack’s promise of protection, Amy had been killed in a suspicious car accident the day after Jack had given her the ultimately meaningless promise. He again stood at her funeral, an immobile mute, torment churning his guts as he gazed upon Amy’s children frenziedly clawing at her casket, crying for their mother to come back to them. Jack kicked harshly at the sheets which had entangled his feet as he tossed in his bed.
* * *
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” he’d said to his pregnant wife, Janice, as she lay in the hospital ICU bed. A machine now breathed for her, the result of a failed murder attempt after she was targeted by contracted killers working at the request of leaders from Jack’s own employer RHM. The words reverberated incessantly, the drumsticks of guilt pounding relentlessly at the kettle drum of his mind, the empty promise restated as if he stood within a dark, dank cavern, the echoes repeatedly hounding him, taunting him, the shame of those uttered words ground into his soul like hot embers being pressed into his eyes.
* * *
The rapid staccato of obscure images now deposited Jack in the baked sand of western Iraq, perplexed as he knelt on the warm soil gazing at the indistinct features of the pallid, lifeless face of the woman he was clutching to his chest as he rocked gently. He drew back in alarm as her facial features began alternating rapidly between those of Lori’s, Amy’s and Janice’s. As always in this recurrent nightmare, the faces eventually morphed into some hideous death mask, the sunken eyelids opening to show dark, empty eyes which stared disparagingly into Jack’s own. As he stared into those black, vacant eyes of the skull-like face, he saw a reflection of the immense emptiness he felt in his own soul, the overwhelming guilt branded yet again on his already battered psyche. A haunting moan soon pressed painfully on Jack’s eardrums, the pain he felt was as if someone had pressed an icepick deeply into his ears. “You promised me I’d be safe, Jack…” a spectral voice wailed accusingly, now pressing painfully directly on Jack’s brain like an intense migraine. He became confused, angst gripping at his mind, crushing his throat, suffocating him as he fought for even a single breath. He suddenly dropped the body into the sand in which he knelt, reaching to pull the invisible hands from their lethal grip on his neck. “I-I’m sorry, Lori…I mean Janice…I mean…” he rasped through the vise-like clutch of the hands compressing his throat.
* * *
Jack Bass hungrily gulped in a large breath of air as he bolted upright in his bed, his sheets once again a sweat-soaked tangle about his legs and feet. The haunting sensation of the nightmare lingered as his mind fought to escape the incubus, his fingertips exploring the surface he sat upon to determine if it was sand or linen. He struggled to again reach reality. His hand unconsciously crept across the sheets to touch the curves of the woman’s body his mind told him should be there. As always, when his hand failed to feel warm flesh, his eyes shot open and his head snapped to the side to view the empty mattress next to him. “Dammit! I am so tired of this shit!” he grumbled as he looked at the ceiling and sighed deeply. His eyes slowly moved about his room, his mind cataloguing every detail to reassure himself that he’d escaped the specters that had just hounded him, finding comfort even in the murky, gray shadows that confirmed he was back in a reality he could control. He threw the damp sheet aside, swinging his feet over the side of the bed, leaning his elbows on his knees and rubbing his eyes. “Sometimes I think death would be a welcome relief from this damn PTSD,” he said despondently as he shook his head and tiredly stood. As was usually the case after this nightmare, he felt an overwhelming compulsion to get up and check on his and Lori’s daughter, Amanda, an obstinate uneasiness gnawing at him unless he completed the obsessive routine. He padded softly to her room, standing at the doorway to listen for her soft, rhythmic breathing as she slept. Jack unconsciously heaved a sigh of relief as he heard the reassuring sounds coming from his daughter’s room, calming him like a soft, jasmine-scented breeze wafting over him on a balmy summer’s eve. He stealthily made his way to her bedside, smiling as he looked at her face then stroking her hair lightly, careful not to wake her. The irrational distress about whether she was alive and safe once again quelled, he took a deep breath and went to the kitchen to get a glass of wine in hopes it would help him get back to sleep. “Hey, Jack. You couldn’t sleep either?” Jack startled as the baritone voice emanated from the dark near the kitchen table. “Jesus, George, you scared the crap outta me! No, I was tossing and turning from some rough dreams…” “Lori?” General George Smithson, MD, US Army (ret) asked. General Smithson had retired soon after learning of Major Lori Darden’s death in Iraq. He’d subsequently become a recluse until Jack had contacted him after learning of the existence of Amanda, a love-child resulting from Lori and Jack’s one evening of heated love-making during a deployment in Panama years before. General Smithson had immediately asked Jack if he could move closer to Jack and Amanda, offering to be another guardian available to watch over the young girl, much as he’d done for Lori in her youth. Jack had not only eagerly responded yes but had even suggested that General Smithson was welcome to move in with he and Amanda since there was plenty of room at their house. General Smithson had immediately accepted the invitation and had acted as a doting grandfather to Amanda since his arrival. Jack hesitated. “Yeah…Lori…and some other stuff. I guess a lot of things have just built up in my head over the years…” And a there’s a trail of my broken promises to people who are now dead, Jack thought forlornly. I don’t blame them for haunting me. “Seems to plague me mostly at night…I guess that’s when my guard’s down.” “I understand, Jack. Unfortunately, I understand very well. She comes to visit me at night, too. I hate to say it but the visits are never a pleasant experience for me,” General Smithson said glumly. “Wanna talk about it?” Jack flipped on the overhead lights and exchanged dejected gazes with the General, smiling sadly as he shook his head slowly. “No…thanks, but, no, George. It won’t help and I’m afraid it would only make things worse.” He smiled sadly at the General and winked. “Don’t tell the Army shrinks I said that, though.” “They might be right, Jack, it might help to talk. I know I haven’t been the same since Lori’s death…nor have I had a good night’s sleep. Maybe it would help both of us…” Smithson’s voice trailed off, a distant look on his face. Jack looked gloomily at Smithson, too familiar with the uttered words and the accompanying distant look that thoughts of Lori’s death always evoked - he saw that look nearly every morning when he looked in the mirror after a night like this one. He broke General Smithson’s gaze and looked at the floor. “I’ve haven’t been the same either, George, I’ve changed in ways I don’t like…and can’t always seem to control. Some of my actions back in Iraq, at Southern Medical Center…and what I did to Janice’s murderer make that painfully clear.” He shook his head, a distasteful look coming to his face. “Hell, there were times at Southern Medical when my PTSD was so bad I wasn’t so sure I hadn’t murdered those lab techs…” He grunted softly and shook his head slowly, “I know the shrinks at Walter Reed might disagree but I’m afraid talking about all of this might only worsen those changes in me - I just don’t want to take the risk of making my PTSD flare up any more than it already does.” Jack’s gaze again fleetingly met Smithson’s. “I have it rough enough, Jack,” the General shook his head slowly, “I suppose I can’t imagine what it must be like for you.” Jack noted the indolent mask of Smithson’s face and walked to his side, patting his shoulder softly. “Like that Tom Hanks character in the movie, ‘Green Mile’ I guess it’s just my cross to bear until I die – like that character, I also let one of the wonderful people in the world be killed.”
Do I Know You?
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 5
A series for readers who love action thrillers with hard-hitting, complex characters.
An illegal marijuana farm in a remote area of the Eastern Tennessee Appalachian Mountains
Jack Bass, MD was knocked to the ground by a sledge hammer-like blow to his chest. As he lay on the hard, red clay, he swiveled his eyes downward, gazing in a detached fashion at the bloody hole in his jacket. A red froth bubbled out of the opening each time he tried to take a breath. Oh, shit! That doesn’t look good, he observed with his usual pragmatic approach, as if he were viewing someone else’s wound. He gazed up at the puffy, white clouds floating in the sky above, surprised by how surreal the experience felt, despite recognizing at some level that it was likely a mortal wound if not treated rapidly. The left side of his brain, though, told him he was being fooled—that he only felt that way because he was already in a state of shock. As usual, his left-brain won. He understood that it was his body, his blood…his life he was watching drain away…and he assumed he was living the last few moments of that life. But, still, that realization didn’t seem to trigger the survival alarm he would have expected. At some deeper level, a small sense of relief even started to materialize in Jack’s waning thoughts. How can this feel so…okay? A thin smile crept onto his lips as his breaths came in ragged gasps. Jack could vaguely hear Wes Watley, his long-time friend who was an FBI agent, his voice frantic but his words sounding as if they were coming from the far end of a large cavern. Words that weren’t registering in Jack’s mind. An out-of-body sensation slowly engulfed him, making his body feel weightless as he observed Wes sprinting toward him. Wes’s voice became more distant-sounding, even as Jack observed him getting closer. Jack cocked his head, confused, as he watched Wes fall onto his knees, his face floating over Jack’s. He smiled at Wes. Jack willed his voice to work so he could tell his friend he was okay. But he wasn’t quite certain if his body was responding to his brain’s commands, uncertain if his message was clear to Wes as a gray haze gradually enveloped Jack’s consciousness and closed down his senses.
* * *
“But, sir, h-he’s dead! He’s got no pulse,” the SWAT medic yelled to Wes Watley as he gazed up from where he knelt next to Jack Bass’s limp form in the center of the camp where Jack had come to free enslaved homeless veterans. The gunpowder smoke from the intense gun battle still wafted lazily above Jack and the medic. Jack and a veteran, Hank Greene, who had escaped from the camp a couple days prior, had broken into the camp earlier that day and the FBI had arrived as the two men were helping a group of escapees flee. Unfortunately, during the firefight that ensued between the FBI SWAT team and the camp staff, both Hank and Jack had been gunned down. “I don’t give a shit! Just get a goddam IV in him! I’ll start CPR!” The medic just shook his head slowly, staring at Wes. “Did you not hear me? I owe him my life several times over. I will not let him die!” Wes bellowed as he dropped to his knees, pressing repeatedly on Jack's chest, tears dropping from his eyes onto Jack’s blood-soaked shirt with each thrust. He put his face over Jack’s. “Hang in there, Jack! We’re going to get you out of here.” “I don’t think so, sir,” the medic stated smugly. “Like I said, he’s already dead!” “No! He’s not!” Wes snatched his Glock from his tactical holster, holding it pointed at the medic’s head. “Goddammit, you either do what I say, or you get to join him!” Wes growled. The medic’s eyes shot wide. “Okay, okay! You don’t have to get crazy on me,” he grumbled, as he held up his hands in surrender. “Now!” Wes screamed, his gun not wavering until the medic started laying out his medical supplies. “Okay, you’re in charge…here,” he snarled. “But you’re done in the FBI! I’m filing a formal complaint.” “Whatever.” “You can’t threaten me like that,” the medic grumbled as he slid a large needle into one of Jack’s veins. Wes shoved his gun back into his holster, again starting CPR, vigorously pumping on Jack’s chest. “Do whatever the fuck you want later, but, for now, help me save my friend’s life,” he said somberly, his voice cracking. “Please!” Another medic skidded to a stop next to the three men and tapped Wes on the shoulder. “Medevac helo is a couple minutes out, sir!” Wes just nodded and kept squashing Jack’s chest with frenzied, repeated thrusts, willing Jack’s heart to start pumping again on its own. “Sir, I’ll take over chest compressions after I intubate him.” Wes again nodded but continued to plunge his hands onto Jack’s chest. The second medic intubated Jack, connecting the breathing tube to an Ambu bag and oxygen when a junior agent appeared and hurriedly kneeled down next to Wes. “Agent Watley, you’re needed out in the courtyard—I’ll take over here, sir.” Wes turned his head, wiping tears from his eyes as he looked up at the new arrival, nodding once. Still on his knees, he slid back from Jack’s body where it lay on the cold, hard-packed dirt. Wes stood, swept a sleeve across his grime and sweat-covered brow and tied to convince himself the wetness on his cheeks was only because his eyes were watering from the stench of burned gunpowder that floated around him. He turned, quickly surveying the compound, then jogged toward the other SWAT members who were waving him over to them. He suddenly stopped after walking thirty feet, twisting slowly at the waist, gazing back toward Jack and the medics, watching as they attended to Jack’s limp form. “Christ, Jack! Did you finally use up the last of those nine lives you’ve always seemed to have?” He turned back toward his colleagues, head hanging as he shuffled toward them.
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 6
They can then legally unleash their new, but deadly, super-narcotic on the American public.
When Hank Green has a bad reaction to a drug during a study, Jack Bass, MD gets involved. He soon discovers that many Veterans are being conned into enrolling in the same drug study…and many are dying as a result.
Will Jack survive looking under the rocks of the political landscape as he attempts to stop this scourge?
Move over Jack Reacher, and make room for Jack Bass, MD.
“A fantastic thrilling adventure that kept me glued to the pages. Every story tops the one before it."
“What the hell do you mean, the monkeys died last night?” The director of the well-known, Ohio-based zoo bolted upright in his chair and blinked rapidly several times. “I mean…they’re dead, sir—every last one of them!” the lead primate caretaker responded. He rocked from foot to foot as he stood in front of the director’s desk. “There’s not a live one left in that special enclosure you had us put them in.” The director leaned forward on his desk. “Did you give them the antidote? The one I provided you?” “Yes! I administered it immediately! Hell, some were barely breathing, so I didn’t waste any time.” The director loosened his tie and tugged at his collar as sweat began running down his neck. “As per the instructions?” “Yes! Of course—I’m not stupid, you know!” “And?” “That’s when they all died! Some just keeled over right then and there.” He yanked his collar down, pointing a shaking finger at bloody scratches on his neck. “Some went bat-shit crazy first…then died!” The director plopped his forehead onto his desk top, rolling his head slowly from side to side. “Shit, shit, shit!” he mumbled into his lap for a few seconds. He snapped his head up and hopped from his chair, leaning over his desk, eyes bulging. “Burn ‘em! Every last one of them!” “What?” The caretaker staggered back a step, shaking his head. “B-but…that’s not our usual protocol—” “I don’t give a shit!” the director screamed. “I said burn them!” He flopped back into his chair, his gaze darting around the room as he held a finger to his lips. “We’ll make up some story about them having symptoms like Ebola victims.” He nodded vigorously. “Yeah, that’s it! We’ll say we were afraid it might be contagious to zoo staff. No! Better yet—the zoo visitors.” “But…won’t that just get the CDC sniffing around?” The primate caretaker backed away and held his hands up in front of him, shaking his head. “I-I don’t want to get sucked into something that’s going to get me into hot water—especially with the government.” “Just shut the hell up and burn them! Every last carcass. I don’t want to see anything but a goddam pile of smoldering ashes when you’re done!” The caretaker chewed at his lip. “I-I just don’t know if I can do that—” “I’m not giving you a choice! Just do it!” The director leaped from his chair and stabbed his finger at his underling. “I swear, if I see so much as a tuft of fur left behind, I’ll make sure your career here will be nothing but a pile of ashes, too!” “All right, all right! You don’t have to go all psycho on me.” He turned and walked away, stopping at the door as he put a hand on the knob. “But I’m not going down with you if this blows up,” he grumbled over his shoulder. He yanked the door open and rushed out, slamming it behind him. The zoologist flopped back into his chair, resting his head on his palms. “Dammit! How the hell am I going to explain this?” He fingered the cellphone in his pocket for a few seconds then inched it out. He stared at it briefly then punched in a number—the number he’d been told not to keep in his phone “contacts” file. “I guess I better call and see if he has any ideas.” “Yes?” a man answered on the first ring. “Um…I’m afraid I, uh, have some…bad news.” “Yeah? What?” “They’re all dead.” “What? All of them?” “Yes.” “What the hell did you do to them?” the man on the phone yelled. The director jerked the phone away from his ear. “Nothing! The primate caretaker said he found them unconscious this morning—” “Did he give them the antidote immediately?” “Of course! He’s not stupid, you know! He gave them the reversal agent you sent me.” “And?” “And…they all fricking croaked. Right then and there!” He held an index finger up, as if to make a point. “But not before some of them went nuts…some attacked him before they died!” He blew out a long breath. “He got pretty scratched up—he’s really pissed off right now.” “I could give a shit less about him. You sure he gave the right dose?’ “I wasn’t there…but he’s competent, and there’s no reason to expect he didn’t.” “This could be a setback for me…” “A setback for you? Dammit, this could be the end of my career!” “Relax—you were well paid.” “Not well enough to lose my job,” the director groused. There was silence on the line for several seconds. “So, what are you doing with them?” “We’re burning them—just like you told me to if something went wrong.” “Good.” “I’ll make sure there’s nothing but ashes.” “That would be wise on your part.” “I’m worried, though—what if my primate caretaker tells somebody what happened?” “For his sake, let’s hope he doesn’t. If he does, I’ll have the issue addressed.” Again, silence filled the line for several seconds. “Did you get the serial MRIs done before they died?” “Yes,” the director mumbled. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense! Did they show the…desired changes in the ventral tegmental area?” The director huffed. “Are you serious? That’s what you’re worried about now?” “Yes. Very serious,” the man replied in a threatening tone. The director fidgeted with his laptop, rapidly flipping through the closed-circuit TV monitor images from various stations around the zoo. He stopped at a screen that showed his caretaker step into the cage with dead monkeys strewn about it. He flopped back in his chair, his gaze glued to the TV screen. “In a word…yes. The radiologist I’m using reviewed a series of films with me. She said she was amazed at how much actual anatomical change there was in such a short time.” “Excellent!” “I think it’s safe to say the changes occurred to a greater extent and much quicker than you’d expected.” “Well, it’s about time our overpaid research staff finally earned their keep.” “Say what? Who the hell you working for, anyway?” the director asked. “You with the government or something?” “That’s none of your concern. Besides, this experiment is more complex than someone like you could understand.” The man cackled condescendingly. “You just go sweep up the monkey shit and send me those MRIs—all of them! Then destroy any records you had of our little project.” The director watched on his screen as his primate caretaker dragged a monkey from the cage. He flipped his laptop closed. “Of course!” he snarled through gritted teeth. “Just remember, you told me there wouldn’t be any problems if I agreed to do this. Now I’ve got a bunch of dead animals to deal with.” He slapped his hand on the desk. “It’s not what you led me to expect!” The man on the phone laughed. “Don’t get haughty with me! You whored yourself out, and now you’re having to deal with some downside. Get over it!” The line went dead.
Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles Book 7
From USA Today and Amazon International Bestselling Author Edwin Dasso comes the Seventh book in the Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles.
Jack Bass, MD, discovers that new medical technology can work wonders...if it doesn't kill you first. Jack is working feverishly with two of his favorite past students to figure out what is behind the chaos of medical technology gone crazy.
Is it a bigger issue than anything they could have imagined?
Although, this book is part of a series, it is easily enjoyed as a stand alone novel.
Praise for Death Hub:
"I love to read a good thriller and I was not disappointed with Death Hub."
"... entertaining, exciting and scary at times."
"Cyber Security is a Priority... definitely a scary idea."
Text Copyright 2019 Edwin Dasso
All Rights Reserved
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold, given away to other people, or replicated or distributed in any fashion without the express written approval of the author. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to events, names, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental and are purely fictional or used in a fictional manner.Acknowledgements
Thanks to my wonderful wife who is becoming quite an accomplished editor for me, not to mention her usual role of motivator. Thanks to my children, Brittany and Leo, for their ongoing support. Once again, they were all my major motivators for this effort, as well as my life in general. Thanks to my friend, Dr. Jerry Frank, who continues to demonstrate his skill as a beta reader and editor; his comments always make my storytelling better. And, of course, thanks to my editor, Jill Noble, for assuring the book is an acceptable final product.
Tyler drove his county sheriff’s squad car slowly up the pot-hole filled gravel drive of the crumbling farmhouse, steering around the rusted, broken-down pieces of farm equipment scattered haphazardly about the muddy barnyard. He stopped the cruiser at the end of a cracked sidewalk, heavily overgrown by weeds and what passed for a lawn. The picket fence bordering the drive had long ago rotted, fallen over, and been swallowed by the tall grass. He clambered out of the car and exchanged a quick glance with his partner, Sherry, over the roof of the car. He tugged his ballistic vest into position and checked that his pistol slid freely from the holster. “You want to do the talking, Tyler?” Sherry asked as she stood in her open car door, hiking up her gun belt. “You know Rankin doesn’t like women cops.” “Not a problem, Sherry.” He turned toward the house. “This dump reminds me of that old TV show, Green Acres.” This wasn’t the first complaint they’d had for this particular household, an isolated farmhouse in the lightly populated fringe of the county. The occupant had a well-known penchant for getting drunk in local bars and picking fights with anyone he happened to dislike on that particular day. Tyler and Sherry had been sent out this time because Child Protection Services had received a call from a concerned neighbor. They’d been hiking in some nearby woods and claimed they had spotted a young boy chained to a chicken coop on the dilapidated, old farm. “When we get to the door, you stand off to the side.” Tyler pointed at the porch. He flashed her a quick, tight grin. “Don’t want him to spot you right away, eh? Once he opens the door, go ahead and step up.” “Sounds like a plan.” Sherry leaned into the open door of the car and looked at the Child Protection Services counselor sitting in the rear seat. “You wait here. If we find a kid, we’ll come get you.” “S-sure thing, Officer.” The counselor nodded, her head moving like a bobble toy as she squirmed, sliding lower on the rear seat. “D-do you think there will be any trouble?” Sherry shrugged, tugging on her bullet-proof vest. “Hell, if I know.” Sherry tiptoed next to him as they crept toward the front porch. The sound of clucking chickens emanated from behind a shed near the house and Sherry crinkled her nose. “Jesus! This chickenshit stink makes me want to puke!” she whispered. Tyler shot her a quick glance then slid a foot onto the first rickety step, which looked like it hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades, cringing when it creaked. “Shit!” He vaulted up the remaining steps and bound across the porch of warped planks. He skidded to a stop at the door, banging on it with his fist. “Mr. Rankin! It’s the sheriff’s department. Open up—we need to ask you a few questions.” He brushed away the dust and paint flakes that had floated from the ceiling onto his shoulders, shifted his weight from one foot to the other. C’mon, old man, stop playing games and open the friggin’ door! He rested a hand on his gun, his fingers drumming on the grip. Sherry slid over near a window, sneaking a quick peek around the edge. She turned her gaze back to Tyler and shrugged. Tyler hammered on the door again, the glass panes rattling in the weathered wooden frame. “C’mon, Rankin. Open the damn door!” They waited a couple of minutes, Tyler craning his neck as he listened for sounds of life within the house. He jiggled the door knob, and the door clicked open a small notch and he twisted his head to gaze at Sherry. “What do you think? Probable cause?” He pushed the door open a few inches and peered into the dank interior. “Should we go in?” Sherry nodded and pulled her Glock pistol from its holster. “Yep. I don’t think we have a choice—something doesn’t feel right here.” Tyler held his gun at his side and stood to the side of the door then threw it open and stole a quick peek around the doorframe. He nodded once at Sherry, took a deep breath and stepped into the murk, dropping to a knee a couple of feet into the room. The only light inside came from a TV in the far corner, a national news station talking-head rambling on about the latest D.C. liberalist conspiracy theory. As Tyler waited for his eyes to adjust to the dimness, Sherry appeared next to him, swinging her pistol and her gaze around the space. She tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at a pair of feet hanging off the end of a recliner situated in front of the TV. “Probably still sleeping it off from last night,” she whispered. They rose together and slowly moved deeper into the room, kicking away empty beer cans strewn on the floor surrounding the recliner. An ashtray overflowing with cigarettes smoked down to the filter sat on a dingy, stained end table next to the tattered chair. Jesus! How can somebody live like this? The old man was sprawled in the seat, a cigarette butt with an inch of ash hanging from it, still clasped between his fingers. His eyes were open but unmoving, clouded over by a fog of death. Tyler holstered his gun and reached down, putting his fingers over the man’s carotid. He slowly withdrew his hand then gazed up at Sherry and shook his head. “Nothing. Dead as a doornail. From the temp of his skin I’d say he has been for a while.” Sherry snorted. “From the looks of him and this place, probably a long overdue heart attack.” They both jumped as a commotion came from the rear of the small home. Sherry swung her gun in that direction and Tyler yanked his pistol from the holster, pointing it toward the noise. “What the hell?” Tyler said. “That sounds like a bunch of damn chickens back there.” “And it sounds like they’re inside the house,” Sherry grumbled, shaking her head. They slinked toward a shadowy hallway leading to the rear of the home, stopping to lean their backs against the wall to both sides of it. Cold sweat ran down Tyler’s back as he peered into the murk. A wildly squawking chicken flapped past Sherry and she threw her arms up in front of her face. “Jesus! Really? Chickens in the house?” “I sure hope the neighbor was wrong about seeing a kid here,” Tyler muttered. “This place is a friggin’ pig sty!” “You got that right.” Sherry held a hand over her nose, pinching her nostrils closed. “Smells worse than it did outside.” They stopped at a closed door and exchanged quick stares, then Tyler flung the door open. Several chickens ran around the room in a flurry, feathers flittering in the air amidst a cloud of dust. A couple of the birds burst past Tyler and Sherry as they stood at the door, Tyler’s mouth hanging open as he stared into the room. Sherry spit dust and crud from her mouth, holstered her gun, then rushed in and kneeled on the floor next to the large cage. “Jesus Christ! You gotta be kiddin’ me!” The boy appeared to be about eight-years-old, and he bounced around inside the cage like a pinball, clucking and flapping his arms like wings as he fired glimpses over his shoulders at Tyler and Sherry. Sherry took her phone from a pocket and hurriedly videoed the scene then undid the latch on the cage door. She inched out her hand, reaching toward the boy. “We won’t hurt you, little buddy… We’re here to help,” she whispered, wiping tears from her eyes with her other hand. The boy pressed himself against the far side of the cage, clucking frantically. Sherry turned to Tyler. “You better go get that CPS lady.” She turned back to the child in the cage. “I’ll stay here with him.” Tyler remained frozen for a few seconds, gawking in disbelief at the scene then shook his head hard. “I’m on it,” he said, bolting toward the door. “And call an ambulance!” Sherry called after him. The child calmed slightly after a minute, eventually squatting down on his haunches in a large nest of straw as he stared at Sherry, twitching his head like any chicken would when regarding something. She scowled toward where the dead man sat in the other room. “You piece of shit!” Sherry growled. “The world’s a better place with you dead.” She crawled farther into the cage and rested a hand gently on the kid’s knee.
* * *
Mark Quinn, MD, the on-duty physician, peeked through the window into the ER exam room, watching as the young boy walked around, flapping his arms and jerking his head like a chicken when it walks. Quinn opened the door a crack and listened to the boy clucking like a nervous hen. The doctor let the door slip closed and turned back to the EMT who had just brought the boy in, arching an eyebrow. “Is this for real?” The EMT shrugged and held his hands up at his sides. “Don’t ask me, Doc. I just brought him in. When we picked him up, though, we found him locked up in a big cage with a bunch of chickens. They were in a back room in some beat-up, old farmhouse out in the boonies.” He rubbed at the back of his neck as he glanced through the window at the young boy. “He was squatting in a big straw nest on the floor of the cage when we arrived. When we pulled him out and asked him if he was okay, he just started clucking and running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” He grimaced. “Sorry—bad choice of words.” He tapped on the window with a knuckle. “Cops think he might be a kid who disappeared from east of here a couple years ago.” He stepped back and locked eyes with Mark. “Damnedest thing any of us have ever seen—and in this business, that’s sayin’ something.” Mark nodded slowly then opened the door, inching closer to where the boy now perched on a gurney like a bird on a power line. What kind of person could do this to a kid? “Hi, buddy,” he said in a soothing voice. “I’m Dr. Quinn… I won’t hurt you.” The boy clucked and moved away on the stretcher. Mark tried to examine the child, but the boy jumped from the bed. Every time Mark moved closer, the youth would flap his arms, squawk, and run to a far part of the room, wedging his back into a corner. Mark decided to forego the physical exam for the moment and see if the child would respond to a few questions. The only response Mark got was the child jerkily tilting his head from side-to-side and more cackles. Mark sighed then shuffled to the door, watching in amazement as the boy grabbed a bedpan, set it upside-down on the exam table and squatted on it like a hen warming it eggs. Mark backed out of the room, locking the door behind him. “Nothing I can do for him,” he mumbled then groaned. “Hoo, boy—the psych folks aren’t going to believe this one when I call them.”
A row of green lights flickered then blinked to life on the large, wall-mounted video monitor, hues of jade reflecting on the faces of a small contingent of people forming a semicircle around it. The VIP guests visiting the federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—or CMS—computing center that Monday morning all focused on the flashing display. “That’s it! We’ve done it!” Lincoln Stennet, the lead computer scientist at CMS, yelled, throwing his arms into the air like he was signaling a touchdown. “We’ve completed the last step! We’ve now added the connections from our master patient database to the electronic medical records of eighty percent of the hospitals in the US.” He turned triumphantly toward the crowd of government officials standing in attendance. “Our new health hub is officially open for business!” Several members of the small celebration group smiled and nodded approvingly, a few even clapping. Stennet began pacing back and forth in front of the group, his gaze darting between them and the video screen. “That, combined with our connection to the computers of the vast majority of retail pharmacies and physician groups across the country, gives us a real-time view into the health status of most of the patients enrolled in government health insurance programs.” A scholarly looking man in the group of observers turned from the display to Stennet. “Now what?” “Now, our analytic algorithms constantly monitor patient health markers in that data feed and flag downturns—actual or potential—in a patient’s health. Then it will send real-time notifications to patients and their doctors to help avert any further deterioration”—he waved an arm at the electronic console—“and help avoid major health events like heart attacks or strokes, among other things.” He stopped suddenly and pumped his arms in the air again. “It’ll be a whole new era for healthcare!” Senator Franklin, a well-known Democratic advocate of patient rights, stepped close to the electronic display. He turned to Stennet, a frown creasing his face. “Even though I was behind getting this project funded, it still makes me more than a little nervous. I worry those ‘algorithms’ won’t have adequate human oversight.” He jabbed a finger at Stennet. “Opportunity for error is pretty apparent to me. Not to mention, I think it’s likely that doctors will feel like they’re being left out of the loop on patient care decisions.” He pinned Stennet with an intense stare. “Tell me again, exactly, your plan to assure the best patient care through the deployment of this ‘health hub’ of yours.” Franklin turned away from Stennet and leaned in toward the control panel, resting a hand near the keyboard. A heavyset man shoved people aside as he elbowed his way through the small group of people, stopping near Franklin. “Please stay back from the control panel!” he barked. Franklin jerked upright and spun toward the man, stiffening as he glared at him over the rim of his glasses for several seconds before clearing his throat. “I beg your pardon, Mr.…” His gaze slid down to the man’s CMS nametag. “Wayward?” “It’s pronounced, ‘Way-urd’. The second W is silent.” The senator arched an eyebrow, shooting a quick glance at Stennet before turning back to Wayward. “Uh…okay, Mr. Way-urd. What were you saying?” “I said, please keep your hands away from the control panel. I don’t want you messing up anything. This is very complicated programming.” Franklin’s mouth dropped open, and his brow began bunching. Stennet jumped forward, pressing himself between the two men; he scowled at Orville then quickly spun around, smiling awkwardly at Franklin. “I’m sorry, Senator Franklin. Allow me to introduce Orville Wayward, the lead programmer for the project.” He turned and again scowled at Orville. “Orville is just here to answer questions.” He pushed Orville back. “And that’s all!” Franklin leaned around Stennet, eyeing Orville intensely for several seconds, then pushed Stennet aside and held a hand out to Orville. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Wayward. Thank you for your efforts in bringing this to life.” Orville shook the offered hand as if he’d been forced to touch a leper and grunted, his smudged, heavy-rimmed glasses fogging as he stared silently at Franklin. “You obviously have strong feelings about this project,” Franklin said. “Tell me—do you have any concerns about potential program errors? Are there sufficient safeguards in place to avoid inadvertent harm to patients?” Orville sighed dramatically. “Of course, it’s safe!” he blurted. “We’re not stupid! My team and I have taken great care in designing the decision-tree algorithms and put a number of safety backstops in place. There can be no mistakes.” Franklin’s eyelids shot wide, and his mouth dropped open. “You seem very…confident.” “One hundred percent,” Orville interjected. “I don’t expect somebody such as yourself to be able to understand the complexities of the programming, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.” Orville crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Franklin. The senator’s cheeks reddened, his face contorting into a frustrated expression as he turned slowly toward Stennet, who quickly stepped in front of Orville and twirled him away from Franklin. “I think that’s all we’ll need from you, Orville. I’ll take it from here.” He shoved Orville away from the group. “Go back to your cube and get to work.” Orville shuffled away, grumbling something imperceptible. Stennet slowly turned back to Franklin, trying not to look as cowed as he felt. “I apologize for that, Senator. Like many technical people, Orville is used to interacting with computers, not people. He’s also quite protective of his…baby.” Franklin scowled at Stennet then glanced quickly after Orville. “Yeah, sure…I get it. I suppose that’s good…” He pinned Stennet with a glare “To an extent.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward Orville. “Just make sure his exuberance stays within the project parameters.” He turned back toward the control panel. “I’m going to be watching this closely, Stennet. I want weekly updates.” He whirled back toward Stennet and poked him in the chest. “And immediate notification of any problems! Am I clear?” Stennet nodded energetically. “Of course, Senator, of course. You’ll be the first to know.” “I’d better be…or I’ll shut this whole thing down and send you packing.” Stennet’s stomach churned and burned, his shoulders drooping as he watched Franklin storm away. Goddamit, Orville!
Five-year-old Sasha wrapped her arms tightly around her mother’s neck, the child’s gaze constantly darting about the surroundings as the small group walked through Arlington National Cemetery. The rays of the rising sun cast orange hues on the white tomb markers that dotted the rolling knolls, and Jack Bass, MD, took in the scent of cherry blossoms that drifted on the slight breeze. Jack smiled at Sasha and tweaked her chin. “We’re almost there, sweetie.” Sara and Sasha were natives of Turkey, but Sara had been educated in the US and had worked there until she’d returned to Turkey for her husband’s funeral. He’d left the US, abandoning his wife and child, to return to Turkey to join the terrorist group led by Sara’s always-angry father. Jack had been kidnapped while vacationing in Turkey and held captive by Sara’s father in their isolated home village. While imprisoned, he’d saved Sasha’s life when she was choking on a piece of food. In return, Sara’s father had freed Jack, but Jack had risked his life to go back and rescue both Sara and Sasha, who’d been detained by the terrorists since the burial of Sara’s husband. Jack had then arranged for asylum for them in the US, ultimately welcoming them into his home until they could settle into their new life. Jack’s daughter, Amanda, now in her mid-teens, and Sasha, had quickly developed a sisterly bond. Jack looked at the faces of the other members of the small troupe. Hank Greene, who Jack had rescued from a homeless veteran slave camp and who had subsequently become Jack’s and his extended family’s devoted protector, marched next to him. Jack smiled as he noted Hank’s gaze constantly darting from one spot of possible ambush to another. Hank had been a career Green Beret, but the torments of too many wars that were entrenched indelibly in his memory had bludgeoned him psychologically. After his discharge, he’d become homeless, choosing a life of debauchery to deal with all that mental trauma. Hank had been kidnapped from the streets by a group of ruthless men and taken to an isolated camp. There, enslaved, homeless veterans were forced to tend to illegal marijuana fields, their captors often killing the veterans on a whim. The camp organizers sold the illegally-raised product on the medicinal marijuana market for a huge profit. Since Jack had rescued him from that plight, Hank had cleaned up his life and gotten back into outstanding physical condition. Since Jack had a life-long penchant for inadvertently stumbling into scoundrels, Hank had decided to become the personal bodyguard of Jack and his extended family. Rounding out the group was Amanda, Jack’s teenage daughter with Major Lori Darden, RN. Jack and Lori had met years prior when both were assigned to a Level II army field hospital during the Panama conflict. Lori had been Jack’s first true-love experience as an adult, and he’d cherished her beyond description. They’d quickly fallen in love and had a single night of passion during that assignment, Amanda being the result. Separate assignments had kept them apart over the ensuing couple of years, until they were assigned together in Iraq—and he’d been standing next to her there when she’d been brutally killed. He had not become aware of Amanda’s existence until quite some time after Lori’s death. Amanda had been a toddler when she and Jack were first introduced, but Jack had loved her at first sight and had protected her fiercely over the ensuing years. He looked at Amanda now, a sense of pride welling within him as he watched her strutting toward her mother’s grave. Jack again regarded Sasha, noting the fear still in her eyes. He held his arms out to her. “How about if I carry Sasha for a while, Sara? I’m sure your arms are getting tired.” Sara held Sasha out to Jack, and she jumped into his embrace, immediately wrapping her arms tightly around his neck as she gawked at the rows of grave markers. Jack chuckled and hugged her. “I know it can feel like a creepy place, Sasha, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. There are more people of high-integrity at rest here than at anywhere else in the world. These men and women died so you and I could be safe.” Sasha turned her dark eyes to his face, her tiny body relaxing in his arms. She nodded, a slight smile coming to her lips. “Why?” Jack snorted. “That’s a long story—” “Dad, are we going over to Granpa George’s grave after visiting Mom’s?” Amanda asked. “Absolutely! Can’t come here and not visit George.” Jack tried to sound cheery, but his heart twisted at the thought of General George Smithson, the closest thing Jack had ever had to a father, lying dead beneath his feet. They stopped at Lori’s grave, and Amanda carried on a hushed, one-sided conversation with her mother, as she always did during these visits. Jack smiled wanly, feeling hollow, as he usually did when he observed this interaction between Amanda and her dead mother. Amanda stopped talking, stood and kissed the grave marker then turned to Jack. “Your turn, Dad.” Jack stepped forward and placed a small bottle of Kahlua against the base of the headstone then kissed the marker. He’d started the tradition the very first time he’d visited her grave, and even though the bottles disappeared between visits, and he knew he might be fueling somebody’s drinking habit, he refused to halt the ritual. “I still miss you every day, Lori,” he whispered then glanced over his shoulder at Amanda. “I know you’d be very proud of our daughter, though. She reminds me more of you every day.” He stood and saluted before turning to the group. “Shall we go over to visit George now?” Everyone nodded, and they turned and trundled across the pristinely groomed lawn. From in front of Jack, Hank growled. Jack moved a little faster to catch up and put a hand on Hank’s shoulder. “You’re not still blaming yourself for George’s death, are you?” While guarding his brood, Hank had grown quite fond of General George Smithson, MD, who’d helped guide Hank through his challenging addiction recovery process and treated him as a son. Hank had then become temporarily incapacitated by inadvertently becoming addicted to a narcotic being used illegally in a sham research study. Smithson had been murdered during Hank’s relapse, and Hank blamed himself for not being there to protect the older man. Hank shot Jack a glare. “What do you think? Of course, I am! I should have been there. I’m reminded of that every time we come here.” “You know it wasn’t your fault—George knew you were a victim in that whole scenario. If he was here, he’d tell you the same thing.” “Yeah, well, he’s not here, is he?” Hank scowled and jabbed a finger at Jack. “Because he’s dead! And I let that happen.” Hank stormed off, moving ahead of the group. Jack watched him and sighed. He had a very good idea of how Hank’s burden of guilt felt—Jack blamed himself for not preventing the deaths of the only women he’d ever let himself love. They arrived at Smithson’s grave and formed a loose circle around it, each of them bowing their heads. After a couple of minutes, they all looked up, wiped their eyes, then shuffled away from the stone marker. Hank buried his face in his hands as he strode away. Jack took a step toward his friend then stopped. He twisted back to the marker, watching over his shoulder as his colleagues walked toward where they’d parked their car. When they were several yards away, Jack dropped to a knee, shivering as he rested a hand on the cold, hard gravestone. “I’ve been following your advice about addressing my anger issues, George,” he muttered. “As usual, your suggestion was a good one… Dr. Love says he’s impressed with my progress.” Jack had religiously followed one of General Smithson’s last requests; Jack had resumed regular visits to his long-time psychiatrist, Brent Love. The doctor was continuing to address Jack’s probable brain injury, which had been caused by a gunshot wound he’d received back when he’d rescued Hank. Love told Jack he was still unsure if his psych issues were the result of that physical injury or due to a lifetime of being subjected to repeated childhood abuse and psychiatric trauma. Jack still wouldn’t admit he had been traumatized by his life experiences. He did feel as if he had his emotions under much better control these days, though…except for the tremendous guilt he still maintained for the deaths of his loved ones. Jack stood and brushed the grass clippings from his knees. “If you see Lori, tell her I said hello.” He started to walk away, stopping suddenly and twisting back. “I know you don’t know her but…the same goes for Janice…and her and my baby.”
Edwin Dasso, MD, a USA Today and Amazon International #1 Best-Selling medical thriller author, writes works of fiction that leverage many of his "stranger than fiction" experiences from years of practice at major medical centers and community hospitals.
"You might be shocked at some of the events in the books that are based on an actual experience."
Member of the International Thriller Writers.
His "Jack Bass Black Cloud Chronicles" series has been developed into a TV series, "Jack Bass, MD," (https://www.facebook.com/jackbassmd/?ref=bookmarks) which is actively being discussed around Hollywood. Network feedback has been very positive.
Fiction writing is reviving a lost love from earlier periods in his life where he enjoyed writing short stories. In addition to a number of years as a practicing anesthesiologist and critical care specialist, he has published articles in national healthcare journals, written many "Ask the Doctor" columns and has spoken frequently at national healthcare forums. He has also been instrumental in designing and deploying population health programs to help people deal with depression related to poor health.
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