In Iraq, a shipment of $9 billion in cash goes missing. Each effort to find it ends in death. In Southern California, a mercenary’s murder, a severed head, and a bloody hand-written message spark a massive manhunt.
The man connecting these two events is William Butcher, aka The Butcher. Those who stole the money want him dead. The cops want him for murder. Butcher’s only hope is his former NCIS colleague and closest friend, Linus Schag.
Torn between loyalties, Schag walks the thin line between doing his job or betraying his friend. Working from opposite ends, Schag and Butcher peel back the layers of conspiracy, revealing a criminal enterprise reaching into the highest levels of government.
Ripped from today’s headlines, the plot of The Butcher’s Bill ranges from the California mountains to the waters of the Pacific, and will keep readers on edge until its final, explosive climax.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush administration decided to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq with money drawn from Saddam Hussein's frozen U.S. bank accounts. Instead of using the funds to pay contractors as bills came do, the White House shipped some $40 billion in cash to Baghdad and simply handed it out to contractors in duffel bags. There was never any real accounting done. However, it is known that nearly $9 billion in cash simply went missing, apparently stolen. It was the biggest heist in history, and it's never been investigated. Wondering what happened to that missing $9 billion is what inspired my book The Butcher's Bill.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
NCIS Special Agent Linus Schag was the protagonist in my first novel, The Killing Depths. He was originally the hero of a short story published by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the mid-1990s. Bill Butcher, a former Navy SEAL and NCIS agent, is a man who becomes obsessed with finding the missing $9 billion, losing his job and his family in the process. When those who stole the money come after him, he responds with his military training and "attacks into the ambush," as they say. That puts on the cops on him and his only hope is his old friend and NCIS colleague Linus Schag.
Gideon Security International
San Diego County, California
HE STAYED IN THE THICK growth of the hillside, hidden by the shadows of its trees, and looked down on the training camp. A good twenty yards lay between him and the cyclone fence of the compound. The cleared area would give the guards an unobstructed view of anyone approaching during the day. At night, however, the poor positioning of the security lighting left deep shadows that extended from the fence to the trees. The bright lighting inside the compound also compromised the guards' night vision, making those shadows even darker.
Bill Butcher raised the small set of binoculars to his eyes and scanned the camp again, just as he had for the past four hours. There were four guards on duty—one at the gate, two walking the fence line, and one inside the main building manning a radio. Every hour on the hour, the guard in the building would relieve one of the guards outside and they would rotate positions. It was a good routine for watch standers on a ship at sea, but it was a terrible routine for compound security.
"Amateurs," Butcher muttered. He shook the rucksack next to him as if trying to wake someone. "And you guys call yourselves professionals."
The guard nearest him paused and lit a cigarette. The flame lit up a dark Hispanic face framed by a thick, black beard, and topped with a khaki baseball cap. Butcher couldn't see it, but he knew the front of the cap bore the logo of Gideon Security International, the so-called contract security company that ran this training site. Far beyond the security lighting, Butcher knew the compound extended another twenty acres. Built on that acreage were training areas used by Gideon to train its own security operators—mercenaries, really—as well as legitimate law enforcement and military personnel, a bunch of wannabes, and the occasional drug cartel member, though Gideon would never confess to the latter.
The guard took a drag, blew smoke, and carelessly tossed the match into a clump of bushes at his feet. He continued walking toward Butcher's left, never looking outside the fence. Butcher knew the guard would walk on for five more minutes, turn, and walk for ten minutes to Butcher's right. Fifteen minutes to complete the length of his part of the fence; thirty minutes for a complete lap.
Butcher timed it that way. Five minutes from that clump of bushes to one side, ten minutes on the other side. The innocuous bushes were a major factor in Butcher's plan. They grew close to the fence, their branches poking through the links from the inside. Their presence so close to the fence violated the most basic security precautions. It cast a shadow along the fence and the ground beyond, and offered a prowler concealment. There, as the guard made his ten-minute trek to the right, Butcher would cut his way into the compound.
The guard came back. He passed the bushes and flicked his finished cigarette over the fence. It arced through the night like a small meteoroid, a flash then gone. Butcher shrugged into the rucksack and began his crawl across the clearing. He moved slowly, carefully, the way he was trained, his dark clothes and rucksack blending into the shadows. The guard retraced his steps and, as he neared the bushes, Butcher stopped entirely, lying still. The guard marched on to the right, onto the long leg of his route.
It was winter and cold in the rural backcountry of San Diego County. Without the nighttime warmth of the Pacific Ocean felt by coastal Southern California, the backcountry would often see snow this time of year. Despite the cold, Butcher felt sweat drip down his face and soak into his black balaclava. He felt it dampen his black, long-sleeved sweater. He ignored it and crawled on.
When he reached the fence, his breathing was heavy from exertion. He drew a pair of wire cutters from the cargo pocket of his dark trousers and snipped the links, covering each one he cut with a gloved hand to muffle the noise. He snipped six up, ten over, and six down, removed the freed section of fence and hid it beneath the bushes. It left a hole twelve inches high and twenty inches wide, enough to let him crawl through without snagging his clothes or gear.
Butcher crawled through, pulling the ruck after him. Concealed by the bushes he listened for the guard's footsteps. They were still at a distance and diminishing, moving away from him. Butcher rose and glanced over the top of the bushes. Other than the guards, the compound was empty, the students having left for the day. In front of him was the main building that held the administration offices. That's where Cavendish would be.
The main entrance was at the front of the building. It was well lit and in direct view of the both the gate guard and the man on the radio. There was a back entrance, too; a large, solid utility door Butcher knew was unlocked so the guards could enter the building to use the toilet. Butcher considered that another sign of their lack of professionalism.
The guard's footsteps grew louder. The guard was on his way back. Butcher lowered himself and waited for the man to pass. When the guard was a safe distance away, Butcher stood and, gripping the ruck in his hand, trotted to the building, his soft-soled boots barely making a crunch on the gravel. He reached the side of the building and slid against the wall toward the rear. A quick glance around the corner showed him the guard on the other side of the building was out of sight. He slipped around the corner and tested the door. As he expected, it was unlocked. He opened it, and slipped in.
The compound had once been a military camp, a relic from some long-forgotten war. The buildings were of simple, practical design; a hallway ran the length of the building, with rooms or offices on either side. The hallway was dark, the only light coming from the front of the building where the guard sat with the radio, and from under the door of a room in the middle of the hallway to Butcher's right.
That had to be Cavendish's office.
Butcher knew Cavendish was in. He had watched him walking the grounds a few hours earlier, saw him enter the building, and never saw him leave. He stepped closer to the door and listened. A television was playing, and he heard a grunt of laughter. One live voice. No others.
Butcher shouldered the rucksack, drew a KaBar knife from a sheath on his belt, and entered the room.
Charlie Cavendish sat at his desk, his feet up on the desk. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat on the desk, and he held a glass of whiskey and ice in his hand. He didn't turn from the television.
"Yeah," he grunted, "What is it?"
"Special delivery, Cavendish," Butcher said, closing the door behind him.
Cavendish turned and froze.
Butcher's beefy six-foot frame crowded the doorway. He pulled the balaclava from his head, revealing a deeply tanned face with a wide mouth, a prominent nose, and cold gray eyes. A cleanly shaved head glinted in the lamp light. Cavendish let the drink fall from his hand and shatter on the floor.
Cavendish tried to stand, but Butcher was across the room in two steps and had him by the throat. Cavendish's face went red. His eyes bulged. He tried to yell but only a small screech came out.
"Why?" Butcher demanded. Cavendish shook his head. Butcher squeezed tighter.
When Cavendish still feigned ignorance, Butcher shrugged off the rucksack and held it out. The top flap straps hung loose. Butcher smiled.
"I know," he said. "I know you sent them after me. I have a snitch." Butcher flipped open the ruck. "Meet my little friend."
Butcher let the ruck fall. It hit the wooden floor with a thump, and Butcher kicked it over. A man's severed head rolled out, wobbled, then steadied. Opened eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, and the mouth stood agape. Butcher let go of Cavendish's throat, but the man didn't move. He stared at the head and gasped for air.
"We have a little talking to do, Cavendish."
When he had finished a few minutes later, Butcher studied his work. Cavendish sat dead in his chair, his throat slit and gaping like a second mouth. Butcher quickly searched Cavendish's office, finding nothing. That was okay. Cavendish had told him what he needed.
Butcher picked up his ruck, leaving the severed head on the floor, and started for the door. Then he stopped. His mouth puckered in thought. He turned back to the dead man, dipped a gloved finger into the pool of blood, and began writing on the wall. When he finished, he stepped back, admiring his work. A grin stretched across his face. The message read:
BRING ME LINUS SCHAG
Replacing the balaclava, Butcher retraced his steps and left the building. When the guard walking inside the fence line turned away, Butcher trotted back to the bushes and slipped through the hole he had made in the fence. Then he disappeared into the dark.
Martin Roy Hill is the author of the Linus Schag, NCIS, thrillers, the Peter Brandt thrillers, the award-winning DUTY: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, a collection of new and previously published short stories, and EDEN: A Sci-Fi Novella.
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