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Operation: Save the Innocent [MultiFormat]
eBook by Tony Ruggiero

eBook Category: Dark Fantasy/Science Fiction
eBook Description: John Reese thought it was all over--all except for the nightmares. As he begins his teaching career, John Reese is suddenly recalled to active duty. The strings behind the recall come from a dark governmental agency buried deep within the Pentagon as well as the American political system. Reese learns that General Stone had additional vampires that he never knew about. But what's worse is that they have been kidnapped or stolen from the secure holding that Reese helped design. Now it is an issue of National Security because if the two young vampires fall into the wrong hands they could potentially attack those that captured them. Reese becomes the hunter as he is watched not only by his military leaders, but by a government group known only as the Agency. He is bluntly warned that if he fails to cooperate fully in finding the vampires, he may spend the rest of his life in a military prison. As he studies the escape and those that were responsible for it, he recognizes that only one group could be responsible for it and it is the group that he has sworn to his superiors he killed as they tried to escape: The Team of Darkness. Reese now has a double edged sword at his throat. Does he tell the General that he lied and knowingly loosened General Stone's prized vampire team on the city to feed off of the humanity that they had sworn to protect? As Reese searches for these answers he meets Christina, a mysterious and voluptuous woman that he is taken with. Their relationship follows the twists and turns that the search takes Reese on-leaving one to wonder if Reese and Christina have their own secrets that seek to reveal yet another mystery to be told.

eBook Publisher: Dragon Moon Press/Dragon Moon Press, Published: tradepaper, 2008
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2008

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Dear J,

It's been a while since I've written. I thought ... well, I thought perhaps it was over and I didn't need to talk to anyone about what was happening. But now, I feel like something is going to happen--something very bad. How do I know this? I don't know--call it a hunch or something. I've been having this dream lately. I feel as if a dark curtain is descending and the audience is applauding and demanding an encore performance. But the performers are dead. All of them--dead. They are from the past, yet they demand entry into today as if they have a right to be here. They refuse to be dead and instead play a role...

God, if only you knew how ironic those words are ... the past just won't stay dead. But it's not just past events. It's them. They're dead, but in a way they're more alive than many of the living. They ... well, really he, can be so damn philosophical about this subject and at times, no matter how repulsive I find the subject, I almost have to agree with him. I have never felt so torn between two diverse beliefs.

But--wait, I'm sorry. You'll have to forgive me; I'm talking like you know everything that happened since the last time I wrote. After looking at what I sent you earlier, you must now realize what I did; the discovery of the vampires, their capture and their use on dark operation missions. I know it sounds bizarre, but it's the truth. You have in your possession the facts and they are as substantiated as I can make them in case ... well, in case anything ever happens to me.

So much has happened since I first wrote, but I know that you don't need to hear everything. If you did, well you might question things ... namely my sanity, which would cast doubt upon the entire chain of events. I'm not crazy. At times I think I am like Dante, with my own vision of looking into Hell. But mine is a much more realistic version, non-fiction rather than fiction. Look at me ... now I'm the one philosophizing. It's catching. That bastard, he has that kind of effect on you after a while. When you have been around something so presumed evil, and yet so damn rational, you no longer know what to believe.

Let me try and get back on track. Since I am sending a new letter, I obviously survived the mission. But more importantly, my attempt to try and end the madness ... I wanted to say succeeded, but that may not be correct. As I mentioned in my previous letter, with either outcome, I still lost by trading one form of a nightmare for another. Regardless, my plan to release the creatures was successful. It came off well and satisfied everyone and to my surprise, General Stone took it well. First mistake: that should have started setting off the alarm bells, but I guess I wanted to see it end so much I never interpreted his reaction correctly. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to what happened.

Several months after the operation, when it appeared that it might truly be all over with, I saw in the newspaper that something unusual was happening with the criminal element here. They were disappearing. It didn't take long for me to understand what was happening. Dimitri and the rest of them were adapting, and learning how to survive in their new environment. Hence my other form of punishment--knowing that those mysterious disappearances--aw, hell--I should call it what it really is, all those deaths were due to my decision to let the creatures free upon the peoples of the world!

I went out to meet him. I knew they would be able to figure out I was looking for them. I caught up with Dimitri in a seedy bar near the Naval base. I was amazed at how he had transformed himself! He blended in perfectly. But it wasn't only his clothes; it was his demeanor as well. They had adapted to their new environment as well as any creature struggling to survive. Not only that, but he had quickly learned his way around the ever so important financial aspects of living in our society. You see, this is why I find it hard to hate them. They are so good at what they do--survive.

We talked. By the time we were done, he made it pretty clear that my allowing them to escape merely evened the score between us since I was the one who had implemented their capture in the Balkans. Was it a threat? Perhaps it was, but even I have to admit that it was well grounded. Regardless, it didn't matter. He said that they would be leaving and returning to their home country. At that, I felt the most relief. I knew I had interrupted some kind of cycle by bringing them here. If there was any chance of setting things right--then that was the one thing that might do it. Then he did what they do so well--he looked into my soul. Call it a weird feeling but I knew he saw two things: what I feared the most and what he desired the most. And for a moment, I think we shared an almost brotherly attachment. Sounds silly, doesn't it? That I, a purely rational and scholarly man, could feel an attachment to a century-old, cold-hearted killer? Yet, it really isn't that far of a stretch when you think about it. We all have attachments or roots in the past. Are we really that different?

We parted ways shortly after that. He disappeared from my life as quickly as he had entered. There was one thing, though ... he said that they had something to do before they left. What that was--he didn't tell me. And at the time I thought perhaps that was best as well. Ignorance is the best friend we can have at times. It absolves us of the guilt in a way. Still, at a subconscious level, it nagged at me. It was later, when I heard about what happened, that I made the connection.

When I got the call from Sam ... that's Lieutenant Colonel Sam Barkley, the medical officer from the original Team of Darkness operation, he told me about General Stone's unusual death ... and the collars that were found around his neck. I knew what that one thing had been. Revenge. They had killed both Stone and his assistant, Commander Scott, taken their blood, and left the collars as a souvenir. I knew none of that would ever make it into the papers. It was reported as a break in and during the struggle, they had been killed. Besides, reading about victims who had their blood drained from their bodies is even a little too much for sensational fanatics as they devour their whole grain pastry and slurp it down with a caramel whatever as they read their morning papers. Kind of spoils the mood.

Still, as morbid as it might seem, in a way I felt like that was the end of it. Perfect symmetry, so to speak. General Stone's end was a confirmation, in a certain way, that it was truly over. The files would be conveniently destroyed or stored somewhere, maybe next to the Lost Covenant, and all would be buried. Plus, Dimitri and the others, having achieved their final desires would leave, return to the Balkans, and everything would turn back to normal.

Sounds like a happy ending, doesn't it? I thought so, until I remembered what Sam had said to me. When we were talking, I remember taking a swig of beer and then I had one of those ... what do you call it? An epiphany of some sort, I guess. What hadn't made sense earlier suddenly seemed like it should be important. It was after the creatures escaped, the way General Stone had taken the news. He appeared mildly disturbed about the loss of the creatures, but not irate. Not irate. General Stone was always irate when things did not go his way. He'd tear your head off and use it to wipe his ass if need be--that's just the way he was. So why did he take it so calmly?

I don't know how I could have missed it. The man was a general. You don't become a general without always having a contingency plan. There was something else that I had not known of and obviously not been told about. You also can't do everything without outside help even at his level. So whatever he had going, he was not alone in it. And that was what made me think of what Sam had said, the feeling that he thought he was being watched. Not to mention the cover up of the murders of Stone and Scott: that had to have some authority behind it.

Do I have proof of any of this? Guys in black suits running around flashing identification from some obscure but powerful agency? Armies of these creatures being covertly dropped into areas and wiping the inhabitants out? No, I don't. Perhaps I'm just imagining this to make myself useful again--to find some purpose for the madness that I have to deal with. Madness I say; yes, that's what it is. You can't go through something like this and not wonder if you've lost your mind. I do. I can't even make love to a woman and not get ... well, that's too much information, isn't it? Sorry. Suffice it to say, before all of this, it was about my work, and now it's about my haunting obsession.

I also have dreams. Frightful dreams. They come often. I wake up shaking with fear and yet hiding another feeling that pervades every pore of my body, leaving me feeling exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. These dreams make it hard for me to indulge in anything because they always come back when I give in, and let my defenses down. Talk about mixed feelings, huh? But recently I met someone, someone that I feel very comfortable around and it seems to help somewhat. I haven't been able to endure any kind of relationship--hell, I have never been good at that kind of thing. I guess there is too much emotional baggage I'm carrying. But with her, it's different somehow. I know that it is a good thing, the only real good thing that I have had in a long while. It sounds like I have been seeing this person for a long time but in fact, it has only been a few times. Yet, it's good to have hope in something, isn't it? We all need to try and find a certain peace in our lives; otherwise, we might go crazy from the loneliness.

I have to apologize for my ramblings. I seem to have lost track of everything I wanted to say to you. Perhaps it's best if you just go through the information in this package and see what sense you can make out of it. Remember to be careful with this information. Put it in a secure place where no one can find it. Am I being paranoid again? Perhaps, but I think that caution is warranted. Just do it for me--it makes sense.

Speaking of sense, I hope you can make some out of what I have sent, and then let me know what you think. It helps to have a sanity check every once in a while. Speaking of sanity, have you ever read the novel, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad? In the novel, Conrad insinuates that one person cannot judge another in terms of being insane. Do you think he was right? I don't know, but the last words from one of the characters, a man named Kurtz, who many claim was insane, were, "The horror! The horror!" There are many different interpretations of what he meant, but I think he means that we each have our own version of hell, and the horror that it contains comes directly from ourselves. Even our dreams possess that same quality as well; to be so close to the fantasy we desire or a nightmare to haunt us. So what is it that we have to look forward to? And on that cheerful note, I'll say goodbye.


John Reese

* * * *

Part I

Chapter One

MacDill Air Force Base-Special Operations Command: SOCOM
One Year Before the Formation of Team of Darkness

"I want them sent here," General Stone said, without removing his gaze from the report. "See to it immediately."

Stone was large, in excellent shape for a man of fifty-plus years. His close-cropped gray hair was characteristic of a career soldier, what was called typically the high and tight. His face always appeared unwavering; void of any emotion. His brown eyes, high cheekbones, and square jaw never gave away information about his position on issues. Stone was the officer in command of the United States Special Operating Forces Command, SOCOM, which gave him authority and control over all the Special Forces of the United States military services, and certain projects kept at the highest levels of secrecy. All of this made him one of the most powerful and potentially dangerous men on the face of the Earth.

Stone had just completed reading the latest situational report concerning the mysterious deaths reported from the U.S. peacekeeping forces at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. His action on the report completed, he picked up another report and began reading it.

"Sir?" Navy Commander Scott asked.

Scott was Stone's direct action person for the Kosovo region area of operations. A thin and weasel-like man in his 40s, he had made his way to this prestigious assignment through careful maneuvering of the personnel detailing system rather than by actual accomplishment. He was commonly referred to as the General's errand boy. Scott was aware of this and it didn't bother him in the least. He knew that if he survived this tour, he could virtually write his own ticket, which was his ultimate goal--regardless of the personal humiliation he had to endure.

"I don't understand. You want what sent here?" Scott asked, his voice wavering as he braced himself for the assault sure to come over something he had obviously missed.

Stone looked up from the report he was reading, his creased brow and pinpointing stare reflecting his obvious frustration with Scott. If the General hated any one thing, it was being questioned about something he had said.

He expected everyone to think like he did so that they would understand exactly what he wanted done without him having to repeat himself over and over again.

"Are you hard of hearing, Commander?" Stone said, his voice slightly raised above normal tone.

"No sir. I just don't understand what you mean," Scott said, as he tried to control his nervous fidgeting to avoid dropping the stack of folders he had in his hands.

"Did you not read the same report I did, Commander?" Stone said, picking up the folder he had previously placed aside and raising it so that Scott saw it.

"Yes, sir," Scott replied.

"And did that report detail the deaths of two civilians?"

"Yes, sir, and the death of Captain Block," he added.

"Very good, Commander; I'm glad to see that the damn United States Navy is still teaching its people to read. Now if only they could master the process of thinking for themselves--wouldn't that be a fucking grand accomplishment?"

Scott stood silently, waiting for the tirade to end. After listening to many of them before he knew it was best to remain silent, until the General had finished his berating, and then move on from there. Any interruption would usually involve a physical attack of the nearest object within the General's grasp being thrown at him. A tape dispenser or stapler when hurled with force could cause quite a bit of damage; Scott knew this very well from personal experience. The next few seconds would tell.

"Now, listen carefully, Commander," Stone began, his voice unmercifully cold and sharp. "I want the two civilian bodies sent back to SOCOM. The unfortunate Captain Block doesn't have any body remaining; it was torn to pieces, as I recall. So, given the obvious, my statement makes perfect sense as to whose bodies I am referring to. Does it not?" Not waiting for an answer, he continued. "So you make it happen--and quietly."

"Yes, sir, I'll have Major Barkley see to it pers--"

"No," Stone said adamantly. "Not Barkley. I want someone outside to do it so that this can't be traced through normal channels. Aren't there any dark op spooks in the area? Maybe some from Army Intelligence?"

"I'll have to check but I believe so, sir."

"Good. Have them do it," Stone said, replacing his glasses and going back to reading the report he had started earlier, acting as if nothing had just happened between the two of them.

"There may be strings attached, General," Scott said carefully.

"There are always strings attached to everything that happens," Stone said, still not looking up from the report. "That's the only way anything ever gets done these days. But that's okay. If things work out the way I think they might, we'll be in good with all of our clandestine friends. And if they don't--well, they can just have another piece of me. Soon it won't matter either way. If any of this is true, then even God won't have any forgiveness for what we are about to do."

"Yes, sir, I'll see to it," Scott said and then turned to leave.

"One more thing," Stone said.

Scott felt himself flinch as he stopped. The last time he had heard those words, it was the prelude to a tape dispenser attack. He slowly turned back toward the General as his eyes scanned the air for flying objects. He cautiously watched as Stone took out a small note pad from his desk drawer and scribbled some things upon it. A breath of relief escaped Scott's lips.

A smirk appeared on the General's face as he continued to write. "Somebody will think I've gone off the deep end for sure on this one," he said. When he finished, he looked over the piece of paper, verifying what he had written. Satisfied, he held it up for Scott.

Scott took the few remaining steps to where the General sat and took the note from his outstretched hand. Stone did not look at him but returned to reading the report he had begun only moments ago.

Scott studied the contents of the note for several seconds. His eyes moved over it repeatedly, re-reading it several times before he spoke.

"Sir, I don't--"

"Just precautions," he said calmly, obviously allowing Scott some leeway because the content of the note was a bit untraditional. "We aren't really sure what we are dealing with here yet and I am not one to take chances. Just have them do exactly as I have instructed. Remember those words: exactly as I have instructed. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"I know it seems odd, but this way it's safe ... well, just in case. When is your so-called expert supposed to arrive?"

"Commander John Reese should arrive in country soon."

"Good. I don't want him to know about this little item. I don't care if he is one of your butt partners on the high seas. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. This will be our little secret, Commander Scott," he said, looking up from the report. "You know how I feel about secrets, right?" Stone asked, as his hand moved toward the tape dispenser that sat on the desk. He picked it up in his hand and balanced it carefully in the center of his palm. His eyes remaining focused on Scott.

"Yes, sir, I do," Scott said, with a slight tremble in his voice he tried to hide.

"Secrets are our business. Secrets to us are like mud to a pig. They roll in it and love every minute of it. Wouldn't you agree?" Stone asked. "Isn't that what we are like?"

"Yes, sir. Just like pigs."

"Good. Now that we are clear--get back to work, Commander."

"Yes, sir," Scott answered as he turned and walked back toward his desk. Before he had gone two steps, a loud crash of metal on metal sounded from behind him. He quickly turned back toward the General. A metal garbage can near the desk had been overturned. Lying on the floor next to the can was the tape dispenser.

"Piece of shit," Stone growled. "Goddamn supply people can't even buy decent tape dispensers that are worth a shit. Useless garbage is all they are; they can't perform the task they were designed for; they belong in the shit can."

Stone brought his sharp gaze to bear upon Scott.

"Don't you agree Commander, that if something cannot perform the assignment it is tasked with, that it belongs in the shit can?"

"Yes, sir," Scott answered tentatively.

"Good. Glad to see that you agree, Commander. Yes ... it's like the pig analogy that you made earlier. The tape dispenser is useless; therefore, it belongs in the trash. Now if someone was to be useless and not perform the way they were expected to, they too might be analogized as trash, would they not, Commander?"

"Yes, sir," Scott agreed.

"And they could end up being disposed of in the trash--so to speak."

"Yes, sir."

"Well then, I guess that clears all that up. Sorry for the distraction, I realize that you have something very important to do--so get to it, Commander."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Scott said and quickly turned away and headed back towards his desk.

However, before Scott made it, he felt a stab of pain in the square of his back as an object struck him. He collapsed forward, grasping the surface for support. As he turned back, he saw a stapler lying on the ground near his feet. His eyes watery with the pain and shock of the attack and his breathing irregular, Scott slowly turned back toward Stone. The General was sitting at his desk, his hands resting folded on the surface.

"Commander," Stone began, "I just wanted you to know I did take offense to your earlier comment about us being like pigs."

"But you..." Scott began and then stopped.

"I what?" asked Stone as his eyes bore down on Scott.


"I know what I said. I was trying to see if you have any backbone. Apparently you don't. Pigs! Pigs are fucking stupid creatures, which is why their ass ends up on the dining room table! I have no intention of that happening through either my own doing or someone else's. Are we clear?"

Scott fought to control the anger in his voice as he replied, "Yes, sir."

"Good, glad to hear it," Stone said sincerely. "By the way, I am having some people over this weekend for drinks. Why don't you stop by?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Good. I'll look forward to it," Stone answered and then returned his gaze back to the folder on his desk.

Scott slowly sat in his chair, wincing at the pain that seared through his body, both physical and mental. He struggled to read the note that the General had given him earlier as he tried to calm himself. He forced his eyes to remain focused on his desk and not look up when he heard the General quietly laugh.

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