Emotionally scarred special ops veteran Jake Delgado comes home from Afghanistan only to discover that he’s been blackballed by his enemies. He becomes a hitman to support his family and is sent to Mexico to take out a notorious crime boss, but ends up falling for Hanna, his target’s captive girlfriend. She’s a beautiful, sexy woman and it’s instalove at first sight! His employer doesn’t want any loose ends and when Jake refuses to kill Hanna, they both become the target of another killer–a vicious one with ties to Jake’s own past.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult audiences.
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 4 – R Rated
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Killer Instincts was inspired by a story I read years ago about a contract killer hiding in plain sight by posing as a college student and I think this sowed the seed in my imagination for my ex-Green Beret turned assassin. I've had an enduring fascination with heroes and heroines who are tested in extreme situations. Writing gives me the freedom and the satisfaction of living out this struggle through my characters.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
It seems as if these characters jump into my head full-blown, but really, they an accumulation of inspirations, experiences and all that we wrestle with in life – joy and grief, mysteries and revelations. They share certain traits with people in my life, those close to me and acquaintances, but mostly they are their own personalities.
“How’s everything, Rosie? You okay?” I ask my sister over a burner phone. Not that this is a conversation about my work, but you can never be too careful. That’s the motto I live by, and it serves me well.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” my sister says on the other end of the line. I’m in New York; she’s in Santa Fe, in a nice house I bought for her, Cesar and Mami.
It’s been seven years since Esteban died, and a lot has happened in between. Rosie mostly did fine while I was in the service, although she’s had her ups and downs. She took up with a new boyfriend, Hector, who took care of them for a while until the two of them broke up. She was having a hard time and I was really worried for a while, but things eventually settled down, and I was sending home enough money to support her, Cesar and Mami.
My military career was very promising—until it all went to hell. I’m no longer in the service, although I’m still in the same line of work, I guess you could say. I’ve been earning good money and was able to move the family out of that bad neighborhood in Albuquerque and into a suburb of Santa Fe. Still, Rosie has been on her own for a long time, trying to look after Mami and raise Cesar by herself, and I worry about her. My sister is a beautiful woman, and I have to ask myself why she doesn’t have a man.
“How’s Mami?” I ask.
Rosie lets out a weary sigh. “About the same. You know.”
Our mother is finally paying the price for her life of drugs, booze and fornication. She’s ill in too many ways to count. Not to mention slightly demented, surly and very hard to live with. Why the two of us should take care of her after the way she neglected us, I’ll never know. But we do it anyway. She’s our mother.
“I’m tired, Jake. Why don’t you come back and take a turn? Cesar really misses you. He talks about his Uncle Jake all the time. He’s even forgiven you for missing his seventh birthday party last summer.”
“You know I can’t do that, Rosie.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Because of your work.”
I don’t say anything, and she sighs again, a small resigned sound this time. Then she says, “Thanks for the extra this month, by the way. You didn’t have to do that.”
“I know. I got a good bonus on my last job,” I lie. I don’t want to tell her how much money I actually have sitting offshore, it would blow her mind. Let’s just say that I passed millionairehood a while ago.
“Why don’t you hire a nurse to look after Mami, and you and Cesar fly to Acapulco?” I suggest. “I’ll get your tickets. Christmas is coming up—we can spend it together someplace nice and warm.”
“Okay, thanks, bro. I might just do that.”
My sister is fairly understanding about my line of work. I think she knows what I do and worries about me, but we don’t talk about it much. She’s a good sister, was there for me when I got home from Afghanistan. Sat up with me night after night when I was having my nightmares, and pestered me until I told her the whole thing. How I stopped them from killing that Afghan woman and her son.
When you’ve been over there in the shit for a while, you understand that most of the people aren’t terrorists or even extremists; they’re just trying to survive the damn war, like everybody else. But Master Sergeant Malcolm Wells and his boys had a nasty habit of executing suspects and non-suspects alike, when they thought they could get away with it.
That is, until I was recruited to the Army Special Forces and joined the 5th SFU ODA team operating in Northern Afghanistan.
At first, I didn’t know what was happening. As a weapons specialist, I was in sniper position that day and wasn’t seeing anything suspicious. The news came over the radio that the target was not present, so I climbed down from my perch and went inside.
I found the team gathered in a room inside the house. Malcolm was glaring at a skinny Afghan woman who was cowering in a corner. Her face was reddened and puffy, the skin split in places. Her nose was streaming blood. “No kill,” she begged over and over. “I children. I children.”
I looked around and saw two kids sitting huddled against another wall, terrified.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This wasn’t happening—not if I had anything to do with it. I love my country and I’m ready to fight and die for it. To me, that means fighting terrorists and extremists. But at that moment, it also meant stopping hate-driven assholes like Malcolm Wells from smearing our name in the eyes of the world.
“You can beg all you want, you raghead bitch,” Malcolm said, spitting the words. He stepped up close to the woman, pointing his M4 carbine straight into her tearful face. “This is for James Foley and every other American you bastards have tortured or beheaded. You’re gonna learn there are consequences for fucking with—” He froze.
That was because the muzzle of my Beretta M9 semiautomatic was pressing hard into his spine. “Put your weapon down, Master Sergeant,” I said. “Let them go, and no one has to die today.”
He didn’t move, but he didn’t lower his weapon, either. “What are you gonna do, Delgado?” he sneered. “Shoot me in the back right here in front of everybody? My boys will make sure you don’t get out of here alive.”
“You got that right, Master Sergeant,” someone said behind me, and spat on the floor. This was followed by shuffling sounds and metallic clicking noises that told me they were getting ready to put some lead into me.
There would be an investigation, of course, and the fact that my body would be full of rounds from military-issue M4s wouldn’t look good for them. But they could say the suspect was hiding in here. He jumped out and surprised us, got hold of somebody’s weapon and used it to shoot Malcolm and me, and then got away in the confusion, while everyone was trying to take cover. With support from our unit assistant commander, Warrant Officer Frank Ackerman, who’d always been pretty cozy with Wells, they could definitely pull it off.
But did these guys have the balls to shoot me in the back in cold blood? I wasn’t sure. Not many people can do that sort of thing, although being Green Berets maybe these guys were cold enough. But fuck it. I wasn’t about to back down now.
“So be it,” I said. “Either way, Wells, you die right here, right now.”
I was a rookie and hadn’t been in this unit for long, but I was sure they were aware of the reputation I had already built up during my training days and my time as a Green Beret recruit. I don’t say a lot, but I damn sure mean what I say, and they all knew this to be true.
“All right,” Malcolm said, lowering his weapon. “You win this time, asshole.” He turned to face me, and his eyes were like a couple of stones, as they bore into mine. “But I’m gonna make you regret it.”
I never regretted it, but they made my life a living hell for the rest of my tour. It was obvious that Malcolm had brought the assistant commander in on it, and maybe even the unit commander. I’m a crack shooter and trained as a sniper, but ever since that day, instead of getting the sniper assignments I was trained for, I was suddenly on the ground at the forefront of every dangerous assignment that came along. Every moment of every day, I expected to walk into an IED or be hit by a bullet from a rooftop. I can’t count the number of close calls I had. And I knew my unit most definitely did not have my back. In fact, they harassed me constantly. From stupid stuff like stealing all my bedding, to putting disgusting things into my food. I was shunned by most everyone on the base, and was constantly getting into fights when I had to defend myself. Most of the time I was sporting a black eye or a split lip—although the other guy usually had worse. They found out about my fighting skills soon enough and stopped attacking me personally, but it only made them try harder to put me in harm’s way.
Then, as if things weren’t bad enough, I fell in love with an Afghan woman. Aina died because of me, and I carry that with me still. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and tell her how sorry I am about what happened, hoping that wherever her soul might be, she can somehow hear me.
I was badly injured in the same action that got her killed. By the time I got out of the hospital, processed out of the service and went home to my mother and sister, I was a real mess.
Rosie’s the only reason I made it through. She’d wake me from my nightmares and sit up with me, make me drink tea until I calmed down. She listened patiently as I talked it all out, and I listened in turn as she told me her own troubles. In the end, she got me to accept that it was all behind me. It was over and I’d made it through alive. And that was something to be grateful for.
The first day I got home, I went in to say hello to Mami, but I don’t think she knew who I was. She was sitting up in bed, watching a soap opera on the small television on her dresser. When I stood in front of it, she impatiently waved me aside.
“Godammit, I’ll take my medicine later! Now get out, let me watch my stories in peace.”
Rosie pulled me out of the room, telling me that she gets like that, doesn’t really know what’s going on. It made me realize that Rosie’s own life while I’d been away had been no picnic, trying to take care of Mami and raise Cesar on her own.
She showed me the tattoo she’d gotten in memory of Cesar’s father, Esteban, who’d been killed by a gang. It was gorgeous—a heart laced all around with roses and thorns, and pierced with a knife. I decided to get the same tattoo myself. One led to another, and before long we were going to the salon together. The tats told our stories in a code only me and Rosie could understand. The whole process was therapeutic for me, and going under the needle tended to calm me down. Pretty soon my arms and parts of my upper body were covered.
Spending lots of time with Rosie and Cesar helped, too, and eventually I got better, got my head back on straight. Like Rosie said, Aina would have forgiven me by now; I just had to forgive myself. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in that, but the thought of finding a way to punish that bastard Malcolm is what kept me going. Hate and rage drove me, although I tried to keep that side of myself hidden from Rosie. I didn’t want her to worry about me.
But first things first. Before I could do anything about getting revenge, I had to earn some money. Rosie could barely pay the rent, and now I was eating all her food and driving up the bills. I had no skills and only a high-school education from a poor school in Albuquerque. About the only thing I learned there was how to fight dirty to protect myself and Rosie. I’d refused to join a gang and they didn’t much like that, so they were always after me. It’s why I joined the Army.
Turned out I was pretty good at shooting, and I ended up a sniper in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces—a Green Beret. It was great until that shit went down in Afghanistan. Now here I was, a civilian again, with no prospects.
My time in the service made me realize how uneducated I was, and I resolved to change that. I got a veteran’s scholarship—thanks very much, Uncle Sam—and went back to school, first taking remedial courses and then earning a two-year degree in business. I studied hard, taking heavy credit loads to graduate in a year. I needed to work part-time as well, to help Rosie with my upkeep, but with my current lack of education, the only jobs I could get were flipping burgers or cleaning. I opted for cleaning, figuring I could work for an agency at night and attend school during the day.
But even after I got my degree, I still couldn’t get hired. I guessed it was a combination of being Hispanic, my lack of experience, and my tattoos. Maybe my size, too. Hey, I know I wouldn’t like to run into myself in a dark alley.
I figured I would’ve hated most of those jobs, anyway; it would only be a matter of time until I had it out with my boss and walked out. With my military and sniper background, I knew lots about guns and ammo, and I was a fucking good fighter. So I decided to start my own security business, something with low overhead. But somehow, Master Sergeant Malcolm Wells and that bastard Ackerman had managed to blackball me. The warrant officer must have known some people in high places. No one would lend me any money or work with me. When I tried to network with other people in the business, I got shut out. So that was that.
One night, Rosie and I were sitting around watching TV after Cesar had gone to bed, and a special segment about the Dark Web came on. My ears pricked up. This might be a tool I could use to get my revenge against Wells and the W.O. So I delved into the underbelly of the Internet.
That’s how I found Diabolus. It’s a Dark Web marketplace, advertising all sorts of illicit goods and services. There I found a jobs board like no other I had seen. You could hire people to do everything from issuing warnings, to roughing people up, to killing them. Or hire yourself out to perform such services. All I had to do was register on a board anonymously, using a handle. I chose “Lobo,” thinking of myself as the lone wolf I’ve been my whole life.
An anonymous contractor would provide all the info I needed on a target, and I would study it carefully and refuse the job if it wasn’t someone I thought needed to die. I refused to kill anyone innocent, and because of that I had a hard time getting in at first. Luckily, there are plenty of scumbags out there that people tend to want dead, and finally I pulled off my first few jobs and the big money started coming through. I lost no sleep over the slimeballs I killed, especially the ones involved in pedophilia rings. I couldn’t wait to take those dickheads out.
The first thing I did once money started coming in was buy Rosie a small house in the outskirts of Santa Fe. It was a beautiful place and I was overjoyed to be able to get us out of the barrio. I knew that now, Cesar would be able to get a good education and play outdoors without fear of gangs.
But I was still inexperienced in the trade and not nearly careful enough. I was stupid and naïve, and almost got myself caught. That’s when I realized I couldn’t stay in Santa Fe with Rosie and Cesar. I began to move around the country, watching my tracks all the time, changing my identity often. I switched to using special software I kept on a separate, encrypted thumb drive to access the Darknet and get my assignments, keeping nothing on my laptop itself. I began to build a reputation for completing my assignments fast and well, without any complications, and pretty soon I was attracting the bigger fish as my clients. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure Uncle Sam was one of them. I began making some serious money, most of which I stowed in various offshore accounts.
Living in hotels, constantly on the move—it’s a lonely, restless life, and most days I feel a yawning emptiness inside. I tolerate it for as long as I can but when it gets too much, I go on one of my binges. I party for days and then end up in the sack, fucking some chick I barely know. It feels great at the time, but afterwards, when I’m sober, I realize that all I’ve done is feed that feeling of emptiness inside that I carry around with me. But that doesn’t stop me from doing it again.
After one of these binges, I’m in no shape to take on an assignment, so I switch back into my monk mode for a while, doing juice fasts, exercising and meditating until I’m sharp again.
At least, I tell myself, I’m providing Rosie and Cesar with a good life. That gives me my only real satisfaction.
That, and planning my revenge. When I became flush and could pay for top-notch private detective work, I hired people to track down Wells and Ackerman. The W.O. was still in the Army Special Forces, and had been promoted. Malcolm Wells, however, had left the service, and even the highly recommended detective I had looking for him couldn’t find any trace. But he’s bound to pop up sometime. And I’ll be waiting for him when he does.
I talk with Rosie for a while longer and then hang up after promising to arrange a visit with her in Acapulco. I plug my special thumb drive into my laptop and begin to surf for my next job. Somewhere in Mexico, so I can take a little vacation in Acapulco after it’s done. It’s been too long since I’ve seen my family.
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