West of Tomorrow
Date Published: 2015
“Fate hunts us down in our sleep.” Clay Conover, retired Marine officer turned corporate trainer has successfully re-careered and has a long-term plan. A plan grounded in a sense of duty, loyalty, and tempered by clear-eyed realism. Unfortunately, Clay’s plan doesn’t account for the hiring of Sheera Prasad. Young, hungry and ambitious, Sheera has an agenda of her own.
In the collision of wills that follows, Clay is confronted with a choice that will define him, not simply professionally but personally. Will he take the ethical high road, or opt for self-serving rathionalization? West of Tomorrow is an intelligent romance, laced with corporate intrigue, betrayal and the undiscovered phoenix living in all of us.
Chapter 1—Saturdays Never Lie
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The rain drumming on his helmet began subtly, rising in a crescendo Lt. Clay Conover had come to recognize only too well—overwhelming sound, drowning thought. Monsoon in Cambodia.
Late afternoon sucked the light out of the triple canopy, muting everything to shadow. Shadow that slithered into his thoughts, tugging subtly on his mood. A look back confirmed third squad following in trace, greasy orange mud sucking at their boots. Clay checked the progress of second squad up ahead—soundless apparitions navigating the downpour. It would be dark in an hour.
To his left, first squad’s nearest fire team struggled through tangles of liana vines, prompting Clay to move forward to adjust second squad’s rate of advance. Even before he got close, Corporal Knickerson glanced back. Clay signaled him to slow the advance, pointing to first squad, bogged down in heavier undergrowth.
Knickerson nodded, scrambling forward to match his squad’s pace to that of first’s. Should’ve made first squad base, Clay thought.
The rain subsided to a drizzle, making Clay’s breathing seem unnaturally loud. His pack straps dug into his soggy, rain-soaked armpits, raw now from days of chafing friction. His neck was stiff from the weight of his brain bucket and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been dry or when he’d been so tired. Static from the radio startled him back to alertness.
“Six this is deuce, over,” Thompson listened a moment. “Wait one.” Thompson’s gangly form covered the twenty feet between them in under five seconds. “It’s the Skipper,” he said, passing Clay the handset.
“Six Actual, this is Two Actual.”
“Two Actual, hold at the ORP. SitRep on arrival,” Capt. Mortensen commanded.
“Two Actual roger.” Waving Thompson to follow, Clay caught up with Corporal Knickerson to update his orders. In the forty minutes it took to reach the Objective Rally Point, the rain started and stopped twice. Clay halted second squad at the ORP, squinting through the waning light to confirm first squad had also stopped. Partially hidden by ground foliage and the gathering gloom, Clay could just make out the nearest fire team.
Third squad, ghostly in the jungle twilight, was closing up. Ramirez, the squad leader appeared in a sparser patch of undergrowth and Clay held up his fist, pointed at his eyes then back in the direction they’d come.
Ramirez nodded. Clay could count on him to tie his squad in with the other two. They could refine their positioning later, if necessary.
Clay took the handset from Thompson. “Seductive Snake Six, this is Two Actual. At the RP...all secure.” He headed for the left flank, waving his radio operator to follow.
Less that thirty-five meters over, they caught sight of Lance Corporal Brown, Clay’s youngest squad leader. Hunkered behind a decayed log next to his radio operator, Brown held the handset to his ear, beneath the rim of his helmet. Thompson’s radio crackled with static.
Brown heard it and rolled over. Eyes wide, he came to a low crouch on his knees, frantically waving them down. On his way to the mud, Clay heard the first round catch Thompson with a sickening smack, followed by the angry crack of its passage. More distant, the hollow thump of mortar rounds leaving their tubes came to his ears. The left flank erupted in pin points of light and the rattle of small arms fire.
Clay sprinted for his radio operator, dove prone and dragged him over on his back. Dead. He pried the handset loose and keyed it. Also dead. The first mortar rounds impacted close by and his gut jumped to the concussion, as his ears rang and went cottony.
From the flank, muzzle flashes winked in eerie, malicious quiet through the gathering darkness. The shadowy forms of the Peoples’ Army rose from spider holes, firing AK-47s that seemed not to miss.
Another mortar round impacted near Brown, blowing off his helmet to reveal a blood-soaked death mask. Brown stared at him reproachfully, with missing eyes Clay could nevertheless feel.
The throaty chuckle of a diesel starting up rose above the din. Tanks? When the hell did the PA get tanks? The engine noise swelled to the accompaniment of strengthening wind and the incongruous beep of a back-up alarm.
Clay came awake to the drone of the fan he used for white noise and the continued beep of a back-up alarm somewhere outside. Tow truck. He lay there, his chest jumping to each beat of his heart. As it slowed, the nightmare he’d always feared but had never quite materialized retreated.
But now as then, he remembered the endless wait that night for Kinseth’s medevac bird—his assurances as the morphine kicked in that the bird was on the way, knowing it would arrive too late.
He thought of the long, flight home from his first overseas tour, laced with a confusion of hope, disillusionment and dread.
After a cup of coffee, Clay stretched and prepared for his pre-dawn run. Seated on his front porch, he garroted his ghosts in the laces of his running shoes.
About the Author
Dirk came within a cat’s whisker of never publishing. Through two frenetic professional careers first as a Marine officer and then as a corporate trainer, he started way more stories than he finished, until full retirement left him with the focused attention he needed. West of Tomorrow, his first novel draws on his experience with the military, corporate America and the unpredictable nature of life.
Since then, he has published Best-Case Scenario, Act I of Nyra’s Journey a New Adult romance, Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives an anthology of short stories and Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle. He currently lives in Laguna Niguel where he surfs, snow skis in the winter and facilitates an author’s critique group.
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