I know: it’s been quite a while since I continued the epic undertaking that is at hand. My recent infirmity has resulted in a hasty departure for regions unknown, which is to say, the torturous bureaucracy of public health care; and, due to a criminal lack of foresight on my part, I left the odious tome in question at home.

This meant I’ve had to read something worthwhile instead, Hugo Wilcken’s Colony, which, not to put too fine a point on it, was bloody good. “Joseph Conrad meets David Lynch”, if you like that kind of ham-fisted summarising. Anyway, between the agonising stones in my kidneys and the nuggets of characterful stimulation hiding behind Colony‘s sadly rather pitiful cover, I’ve just about had my fill of man pearls for the time being. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m somehow letting everyone down not delving into genuine thriller territory for so long, so I thought I’d grace you with a little Don Brawn to tide you over. You can thank me at the book signing.

Don Brawn slowly lifted the hem of his shirt, revealing and unclasping the little strap at the top of his holster that kept the gun safely in even during the rough and tumble that had come before. He carefully teased her into his dry but anxious palm, comforted by the familiar grip, polished to familiarity by the long years of faithful use. He judged her heft: just three bullets left. But I only need one.

Squinting between the pipes, Brawn could see the black military boots of his adversary as he turned on the spot, searching. For him. Now the heel. Now the instep. Now the toe, or rather the matt-painted steel toe-cap. Don Brawn craned lower, so by dropping his eye-line he could actually look upwards more effectively and see different parts of the enemy’s body. Blood on the right thigh – Brawn smiled, grimly. He thought they’d winged him. Now he knew.

“Why don’t you come out, Mister Brawn?” Baron Lucius Arrowhead was nothing if not self-confident. As his silvery, snaky voice whispered across the silence Brawn felt himself bristling in spite of himself. “There’s nowhere for you to go, now. I know every inch of this castle. Even the grounds outside couldn’t hide you forever.”

“Your wife found a place, Arrowhead,” Brawn countered, preparing to move. “That’s not all she did – or said,” he added, wondering if he could provoke him into a mistake. “Baron by name, but barren by nature.” Brawn scurried sideways, slipping fluidly between the larger ducts to safety as a hail of bullets rained through the space he had only moments before been occupying.

“Agent… Don… Brawn.” Arrowhead was, for the first time, flushed with rage – but there was an edge to his fury. A dangerous edge. “Yes, it is true. You have penetrated more than my lair… plundered more than my plans… but, my dear foe, I knew of Marion’s betrayal before you spoke.”

Don Brawn felt his skin grow cold as Arrowhead’s pale composure quickly returned. “So, you’ve taken her once… Do you mean to take her again? To take her with you, when you no doubt escape? Be my guest – I think she’s ready.” He sneered, contemptuously. “I’m certain, in fact, that she’s waiting for you. In the grounds…

“Beneath her high balcony.”

Don Brawn realised his hands were shaking with anger. “You swine!” he growled. Arrowhead bared his remaining teeth in a foul grin of ghastly menace.

“There’s no place in this world for herpes, Brawn,” he crowed, his eagle eye flicking with hawkish intensity as he focused on a tiny movement in the shadows. “Not… any… more.” And he leveled his weapon.

from The Candid Voice, a Don Brawn thriller, by Cliff Knoetz

There. Hopefully that will keep the wolves from the door for a little while yet. You damned wolves.

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