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The List

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Detective Jack Dantzler always believed his father was killed by a sniper in Vietnam. Dantzler’s world is rocked when a stranger shows up and informs him that his father died in Laos, and was killed by the CIA. Dantzler asks the stranger how he can uncover the real truth. The stranger tells Dantzler there is only one man who can help him—the legendary assassin called Cain.

Dantzler contacts Cain, and Cain agrees to help. But when a U.S. general is assassinated in Las Vegas, Cain’s priorities change. He knows who killed the general, and he knows the names of the men who ordered the hit. He also knows they must pay for their sins, and he’s the one who will collect the bill. Cain and Dantzler are on the trail of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to save their empire, an empire built on greed, treason and murder. But what Cain doesn’t know is that a Russian assassin has him in her crosshairs. The hunter has become the hunted.

The List is a fast-paced thriller that takes readers on a deadly journey, and proves once again why Night Owl Review called Tom Wallace a “powerful and compelling” writer.

EXCERPT: 

CHAPTER 1

Lexington, Kentucky, Present Day

Detective Jack Dantzler dropped into a catcher’s squat, and with his right hand swept dead leaves and grass from two grave markers. When the debris had been brushed away, he carefully placed a single rose on each marker, whispered a soft “I love you and miss you” and stood.

John David Dantzler
1942—1970

Sarah Elizabeth Dantzler
1941—1978

Dantzler was six when his father died in Vietnam. Even now, he could remember with perfect clarity that cool Saturday afternoon in September when the two uniformed officers came to the house to deliver the grim news that Staff Sergeant John Dantzler had been killed when his squad was ambushed by Viet Cong snipers.

The rest of what the officers said came out as one long run-on sentence: bullet to the chest . . . died instantly

. . . died a hero in the service of his country . . .burial with full military honors . . . you have our condolences.

The men spoke in whispers, as if by keeping a six-year-old boy from hearing the bad news, then the dreadful event somehow had not actually occurred. But he had heard. And it had happened. His father was gone. Forever.

Dantzler could still see the dazed, disbelieving look in his mother’s eyes. He had thought at the time that this was how a boxer looked after being hit by one of Muhammad Ali’s lightning-fast jabs. Dazed and disbelieving. At that moment, he wanted to run and hide, to make it all disappear like a horrible nightmare. But there was nowhere to run, no place to hide. This was a nightmare that would never end.

For what seemed like an eternity, he felt a depth of sadness and hurt he doubted could ever be rivaled. No one experiences this level of pain more than once in a lifetime. It wasn’t possible. God would never allow it. But he had been wrong. He would feel it again, and the second time would cause more pain and hurt and sorrow than he could possibly have imagined.

Eight years later when his beloved mother was murdered.

He had often been told that God never gives us more than we can handle. Well, he wasn’t buying it. It was bullshit. A bogus platitude. God gives us plenty that we can’t handle, and anyone who believes otherwise is blind to what’s happening around them. As a cop, Dantzler understood this better than most. He had come face to face with too much suffering caused by evil men and women to ever believe any platitude could hide the plain truth—that God not only gives us more than we can handle, he also turns a blind eye to what is happening.

Sarah Dantzler murdered. Her killer never apprehended. What platitude covers that?

*****

Leaving the cemetery, Dantzler gave some thought to dropping by the tennis center and playing a couple of sets. But with night rapidly closing in, he chose to pass on visiting the tennis center. Beating another hapless opponent held no appeal for him.

Instead, he grabbed a hamburger and fries from franchise row and headed home, arriving at a little past nine. Dantzler lived on Lakeshore Drive in a small ranch-style house he purchased in the mid-1990s. Nice and cozy. Nothing special. Three bedrooms, two full baths, den, living room, kitchen, basement, and screened-in back porch. The back yard, though relatively small, bumped up against a large lake. The lake had been the selling point for him. Dantzler loved the water, and although the lake was a long way from the ocean, it would do just fine until the day he could retire and move to the beach.

Finished with his meal, he went into the kitchen and fixed his favorite drink—Pernod and orange juice. After taking a sip, he strolled into the den and flipped on the TV. Within minutes, he was faced with an impossible choice. Which movie to watch? John Garfield in Body and Soul or Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity? Two of his favorite actors in two of his all-time favorite flicks. Most nights he was lucky to find a single good movie on the tube; tonight there were two classics competing for his attention. Solomon would have a hard time making this decision. Fortunately for Dantzler, his dilemma was averted. A knock on the front door saved him from having to split the baby and choose between Garfield and Clift.

Like all cops, Dantzler was wary of unexpected late-night visitors. And he had reason to be. Many of the scumbags he helped put away promised to extract revenge somewhere down the road. He viewed such outbursts as little more than angry rants from men about to be put behind bars for many, many years. False, loud threats, not to be taken seriously. But . . . there was always the chance that one of those scumbags was here to deliver on his promise. Given that possibility a wise cop never takes things for granted. He looked at his Glock lying on the desk, considered taking it, then decided he would take his chances.

Dantzler clicked off the TV, turned on the porch light, and cracked the door maybe six inches. Standing outside was a man he didn’t recognize. The man was probably in his mid-fifties, but looked much older. He was thin to the point of appearing emaciated, with long hair pulled back into a ponytail. Dark circles ringed his hollow eyes, his cheeks were sunken, and the color of his skin was an unhealthy yellow. Dantzler wondered if the man’s color was caused by the overhead light, or by an illness. Either way, the man did not look well.

“Are you Detective Jack Dantzler?” the man asked

“Yes. And who are you?”

“Roger Walters.”

“What can I do for you, Mr. Walters?” Dantzler said, pushing the door open a few more inches while keeping his eyes on the man’s hands.

“I need a few minutes of your time.”

“A little late for a chat, isn’t it? Can’t this wait until Monday?”

“I won’t be in town Monday,” Walters said, shaking his head. “And I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say.”

“If this is police business there are proper channels you need to follow.”

“This isn’t police business. It’s . . . well, it’s personal. Not for me. For you.”

“What’s this about?”

“Your father. Captain Johnny Dantzler.”

Dantzler eyed the man skeptically. “I’m afraid you are way off base here, Mr. Walters. My father was a staff sergeant, not a captain.”

“No. Your father was a captain.”

“I think maybe you’ve got the wrong Dantzler.”

“Believe me, I wish that were true,” Walters said, adding, “I regret having to tell you any of this, but you deserve to know the truth. And the truth is, there is much about your father that you don’t know.”

“I’m sure that’s true. I was only six when he was killed.”

“Where do you think your father was killed?” “Vietnam. Outside of Pleiku.” “How were you told that he died?” “Killed by a sniper while on patrol.”

“Your father died in Laos, not Vietnam. And he wasn’t killed by the Vietnamese or the Laotians.”

“Who killed him?” “The CIA.” Dantzler shook his head. “Mr. Walters, I don’t know where you obtained your information, but you are dead wrong. My father was . . .”

“Your father, Captain Johnny Dantzler, was in Special Forces. He was working for the CIA as part of a highly covert special op aimed at uncovering rogue elements within the CIA who were heavily into drug production, sales, and distribution. They used the dirty money from their operation to bring drugs back to the United States, and to fund what amounted to a private war in Laos and Cambodia. Your father died because he was a threat to the drug dealers. More important, he was a threat to those within the CIA who were running the operation. Based on what happened to him, it’s safe to assume he was getting close to uncovering the names of those men. They weren’t about to let that happen. Therefore, he had to be eliminated. That’s who your father was, that’s what his mission was, and that is why he was murdered.”

Walters waited several seconds, and then said, “Could we talk about this inside? I need to sit down and take a load off.” Dantzler led the man into the den and motioned for him to sit on the sofa. Dantzler sat in a leather chair across from him.

Dantzler said, “My mother received dozens of letters from my father. He was awarded medals. He was given a military funeral. There is a photo of him in his uniform, and he has staff sergeant stripes. There’s no mention anywhere of him being a captain.”

“That staff sergeant stuff was bullshit, part of his cover. Your father operated in a world of shadows, lies, secrets, and deceit. His task, his mission, was dark and dangerous. The only thing you know about your father that is true is he died in Southeast Asia. Everything else is as fictional as a John Sandford novel.”

“How do you know this?”

“Because I served with your father.”

Dantzler leaned forward. “You were with him when he died?”

“No,” Walters said, shaking he head. “I was in the hospital in Hawaii, recovering from malaria. None of the other three guys in the squad were with him either. But they were the ones who found his body.”

Dantzler leaned back, confusion written on his face. “I’ll need to check on you, Mr. Walters, before I can believe any of this.”

“That would be a waste of time. If you check on Roger Walters, you’ll learn that he died in Hawaii in nineteen-seventy from severe wounds received in Nam.” “You’re not really Roger Walters?” “My name is Kaleb Daniels. If you check on me, you’ll learn that I was reported MIA in nineteen-seventy. Two years later, I was reclassified as KIA. But as you can see, I am alive. For the past forty years I have lived in Amsterdam.”

“Why the subterfuge?” “Several days after your father was killed I received a phone call from Terry Jackson, one of the guys in our squad. He told me about finding your father’s body. Terry was mystified and scared. All he kept telling me was ‘some serious shit’ was going down, and he had no idea what it was. Within ten days, Terry and the other two men in the squad were dead. Naturally, it was reported that they died in combat in Nam. Of course, that was another falsehood, more of the cover up. Who knows where they really died, or who actually killed them? “I was a staff sergeant, so I knew more about the mission than the other three guys did,”

Daniels continued. “I didn’t know it all, but I did have some idea what your father was into. He shared some things with me that he hadn’t shared with the others. Anyway, when I heard about Terry, Damon, and Kenton, I figured I was next on the hit list, and that it was in my best interest to disappear. I knew Roger Walters had just died—he had been in the hospital room next to mine—so I swiped his driver’s license and a couple of other pieces of ID. I left the hospital early and caught a flight to New York. I put my photo on his DL, bought a ticket to Amsterdam, and left the country. I only came back three days ago.”

“You’re not worried about your safety anymore?”

“I was recently diagnosed with inoperable cancer. I have less than three months to live. If there is anyone out there who still wants to kill me, they would be doing me a huge favor. It would certainly be a lot easier than what I am about to go through. My parents are dead, but I do have a younger sister I want to see before I die. She thinks I’ve been dead for forty years, so I’m sure she’ll be more than a little shocked to see me.”

Daniels looked down for several seconds. Tears welled in his eyes. “There is another reason why I came to see you today. It has to do with your mother.”

“What about my mother?”

“I’m the reason she is dead.” Dantzler’s entire body tensed, his hands balled into fists.

“You killed her?”

“No. But I may be responsible.”

“How?”

“I sent your mother a long letter detailing what I have just told you. I’m sure she was as confused and disbelieving as you are. At some point, in an effort to uncover the truth, she must have made some phone calls. That’s only natural—anyone in her position would have done the same thing. Obviously, she contacted someone who knew the truth and didn’t want it to come out. She had to be silenced. I should have warned her not to mention to anyone what I revealed to her. Not doing so was a fatal mistake on my part.”

“Any idea who she might have contacted?”

“No.”

“Do you know who killed my mother?” Dantzler asked.

“No, I don’t.”

“How can I find out who did?”

Daniels shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Do you know David Langley?”

 

“No. Who is he?” Dantzler shrugged. “His name is mentioned in my mother’s murder book.

“Never heard of him. Sorry?”

“What about Lucas White?”

“I knew of him,” Daniels said. “Big-time four-star general. How do you know about him?”

“His name is also in the murder book.”

“That’s strange.”

“Was Lucas White involved with the CIA?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“How do I contact Lucas White?” Dantzler said, looking around for paper and pen.

“You can’t. He’s dead. Committed suicide last year.” Daniels thought for a second. “There is one man who might be able to help you. If you could locate him.”

“Who?”

“Cain.”

“Cain? Who is he? How can he help me?”

He was something of a legend in Nam. An assassin. Spent almost five years in those jungles, doing God knows what. Tales of his exploits are almost beyond belief.”

“What is Cain’s first name? And where does he live?”

“Cain is only his code name. You know, like the biblical Cain, the first assassin. His real name is Michael Collins. Mickey. Until recently, he taught literature at a college in North Carolina. But it’s my understanding he quit and kind of dropped off the radar.”

“How do you know about Cain?”

“Everyone who was in Nam knows about him. Like I said, he’s a legend.”

“Where did he teach?”

“I don’t know. But you might try contacting a guy named Andy Waltz. His code name was Houdini. He’s a reporter for the New York Times. He and Cain were close. He might be able to give you some help.”

“Could Cain have killed my mother?”

“Could have, but he didn’t. That’s not his style. Now, the same can’t be said of Seneca.”

“Who the hell is Seneca?” Dantzler said, scribbling the name on an envelope.

“A full-blooded Cherokee named Dwight David Rainwater. He was part of Cain’s squad. He had a reputation for being extremely ruthless. Killing your mother would have been just another job for him.”

“Where can I find Seneca?”

“I don’t know.” Daniels’s eyes again filled with tears.

“I’m truly sorry about your mother, for what happened to her. I ask your forgiveness if my actions played any part in her death.”

“If you didn’t kill her you have no need to apologize.”

Daniels stood. “Johnny Dantzler was a great man, a terrific soldier, a true patriot. He talked about you all the time, about what a great kid you were, how much he loved you and missed you. Said he called you ‘Doc’ because of how you would imitate Bugs Bunny and say, ‘What’s up, Doc?’ He said you sounded exactly like Bugs. Any kid who loses a parent at a young age misses out on a lot. You missed out on plenty and that’s sad. Johnny Dantzler was the real deal.”

Stepping out onto the porch, Daniels turned, said, “Find Cain. If you seek answers to your questions, he’s your best bet for finding them. However . . . the smart play, the safe play, would be to let the ghosts from the past rest in peace.”

“I want the truth about my father and justice for my mother,” Dantzler said. “I need to know what happened.”

“You already know what happened, Detective Dantzler. I just told you. The two people you loved most were murdered. What you’re looking for is who and why. Finding the answers will not be easy. If you’re lucky, the ones who did it are dead and buried. But if you’re not lucky and they’re still alive, they will be more dangerous than a thousand rattlesnakes.”

“I’ve faced danger before,” Dantzler said. “I know how to handle myself.”

Daniels smiled. “The kind of danger you’ve faced is far different from the kind of danger I’m talking about. Something like this is a spider’s web that branches out in all directions. Who knows where it goes, or how high up it goes? But know this: Wherever it goes, it will be guarded by men with too much to lose to let a lone homicide detective crash the party. That’s why you’ll need Cain. He’ll at least even the odds, maybe give you a fighting chance.”

Mind racing, more mystified than confused, Dantzler watched Daniels drive off into the night. What to make of the man’s tale? he wondered. How much was truth, how much was fiction? Was any of it true? Dantzler’s detective instincts said the man was telling the truth. A dying man has no reason to lie. However, his instincts as a son whispered something different. How was it possible that so much of his father’s past didn’t fit with what he had been told all his life? A captain, not a sergeant? Special Forces? Died in Laos, not Vietnam? Worked for the CIA? Was any of this possible? Could so many secrets be buried for so long? Did his mother know or suspect any of this? If so, did it play a role in her death?

Only one way to find out for sure—start digging.

Closing the door, he went back into the house, grabbed his cell phone, and placed a call to the New York Times. He had to speak with Andy Waltz. He needed Houdini to perform some magic.

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