Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hey! Win a Copy of Tribulation House

The blog tour for my brand-new comedy-thriller, Tribulation House (Harvest House), is wrapping up -- but you can still try to win a copy of the novel by posting a comment here. (The rules are there, too.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Heir by Paul Robertson

It is May 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature is:

Paul Robertson

and his book:

THE HEIR

(Bethany House March 1, 2007)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Paul Robertson is a computer programming consultant, part-time high-school math and science teacher, and former independent bookstore owner in Blacksburg, Virginia. This is his first novel.



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



I couldn't take my eyes off the casket. It was expensive, and it glowed, resting among the candles and the heaps of flowers. It so perfectly expressed the man inside.

The dignitaries droned, and I didn't hear them. We knew it all. We knew what he had done with his life. If a man knows his purpose, then everyone else will know it, too.

They'd been told what to say and to keep it short, and they obeyed. They'd all gotten where they were by doing what they were told.

It was tribute by catalog listing: achievements, philanthropy, and Senate career. The real man was never mentioned—the companies he inherited, the rivals he crushed, the cold blood behind the politics—but everyone knew. Was anyone else listening? It's easy to eulogize a man who knew why he lived his life.

I just stared at that gleaming box and wondered why I was living mine.

We sang a hymn, and that brought me back—words obscure enough to drive any clear thoughts from a man's brain. A voice behind me sang off-key.

I watched the man's wife instead. Her name was Angela, and she was sitting between my brother, Eric, and me. I might have given her a hug, but she had always objected to my familiarity. It was nothing personal; she objected to anyone. Her brother and sister were not at the service.

She was his second wife. The other one died young of cancer, which had been worth a lot of sympathy in his first election. If he had grieved for her, I wouldn't know.

I looked back. The off-key voice behind me was another senator, a man I'd never liked. He had no speaking part. It was probably a snub.

For a moment it seemed a pity the whole thing was going by so fast. The church was flawless, and the funeral was such a good use for it. Now I even knew the true purpose of candles: to reflect off that casket. They were going to look tacky anywhere else. And there I was staring at it again.

Candles knew their purpose, but I didn't have a clue about mine.

The governor said his few words about what he had felt when he heard about the accident—the shock and sadness, the great man cut down in his prime, what a loss to the state. He shook his head at the whole sad mystery of life and death and checked his watch.

"Jason?"

I pushed past Katie and got up to the pulpit. Now the box was right in front of me, shining like a waxed floor. I needed something else to look at.

The back wall of the place had a row of statues in it, saints or angels, and one had his hand up waving at me. I never had written anything to say.

"Why am I here?" The little saint seemed friendly, so I figured I'd just talk to him. "I wish I knew." Maybe it was a her, not a him. They all wear robes.

"I think he could have told me. He knew why he was here, what he was doing. He never doubted anything he did." Somehow, I was staring at the casket again. I found my friend on the wall. "Maybe he is now."

They were all watching me, but I watched the back of the church. "The one thing I ever really knew for sure in my life was that he was there. I only saw him a few times a year and I won't miss him for that. It's more like a mountain is gone—one you'd see off in the distance."

Katie wanted me to be impressive for the assembled personages. She knew they'd be measuring and calculating, putting me in their equations. After three years of marriage, she also knew me enough to know I didn't care. I did hope she wasn't embarrassed. Her mother was sitting behind her and she'd be embarrassed enough for all of us.

I wouldn't inherit anything anyway. It was all going to his foundation. Eric and I would just get our monthly checks, as we always had.

The saint's stone hand was palm up, as if it had been holding something that had just flown away. "Anyway, he's gone and we're still here, so we'll get by without him." I finally got myself to look at the people. What a well-dressed crowd. "And everything he knew about life is gone with him, so I'll get by without that, too."

I didn't have anything else to say. I smiled at Angela, and then I nodded at Eric on her other side.

I waited at the end of the pew as Eric got out, and he patted me on the back. Katie gave me a tight smile as I sat. She was annoyed, but not mad.

Eric was tall, dark, and clueless behind the heavy wood pulpit. We look alike, especially with him wearing one of my suits. For all the money he has, he'd never figured out how to buy clothes. It was loose on him, and maybe that was why he looked so young. Or maybe it was because he was so young. There were no questions about life beneath that spiky black hair.

But he kept his eyes on the audience the whole time and told them what a loving father the man had been. He did a good job. I appreciated him because he did the right thing, what I should have done, and maybe he thought what he said was true.

Then the priest said whatever he had to, and it was over. When I got out into the light of day, I was so glad it had lasted no longer than it did.

* * *

The rest of the festivities went about the same. In the limo, Katie chattered and Angela sighed about how nice the service had been. Eric was watching boats in the bay.

I watched them, too. I prefer water to land because land is unmoving; the water is never still and has nothing fixed. Long Island Sound, Nantucket Sound, Block Island Sound—we were surrounded by silent waters named for the lands that confined them.

Eric turned to me. "What did you mean, you wouldn't miss him?"

"That's not what I said."

"And what were you looking at?"

"Nothing."

He turned back to the boats and I did, too. I would rather have been out there. Anyone whose ancestors lived on these coasts would feel the same pull.

Across from me, Katie was glaring, so maybe she was mad after all. She had her hair down straight, over her shoulders. Her simple, dark blue dress with the string of pearls was as perfect as the church. She had me done up just right, too, with the black suit she'd picked out a year ago for weddings and funerals. She had a tailor come every six months to keep all the suits fitted. That's why it hung so loose around Eric's shoulders.

Change the subject. "He really was a great man," I said to Angela.

She smiled, and it was genuine. The funeral had penetrated the pink plastic armor. She wasn't even fifty. Her husband had been fifteen years older, but she'd still expected a lot more years with him. They'd been married for nineteen.

Katie smiled at me, and I was out of trouble. I pushed my luck.

"What do you think he would have been most proud of?"

"Most proud?" Angela always spoke so quietly, like a kitten. I'd wondered if it was an act, but it was no asset to a political wife, being so fluffy. She wasn't striking or brilliant. Why did he marry her? He must have actually loved something about her. I wouldn't even recognize her without the platinum hair and bubblegum lipstick. "He did so much. He didn't enjoy Washington, but he accomplished so much there. He was happier here at home. And he was proud of his foundation. I think that's what he was most proud of."

Not of his sons. Not of his oldest son, anyway. "I hope it will keep going," I said.

"Mr. Kern will run it. He's always done such a good job there. And now he'll have charge of all of Melvin's companies."

Melvin. The name of the deceased hovered in the air for a moment like cigarette smoke, and Nathan Kern's name was the smell of stale beer that went with it so well. I was not a patron of that saloon. I'd get my little allowance, and the big wad would go to the foundation. Melvin had made it very clear that Eric and I should have no expectations beyond simply living in the style to which we had become accustomed.

We were born to be idle rich, Eric and I, and we'd never risen above it. I wondered what our new allowance would be. Katie was feeling constrained by our thirty thousand a month.

Ahead of us, the hearse turned onto the gravel road into the cemetery. We parked beside it. As we waited for the other cars to park, I walked to the open grave. What a view he'd have, of the cliffs and the waves breaking. I was about fifty feet from the edge of the grass, and it was twenty feet straight down from there into the violent water. In a thousand years the whole place would be gone, worn down by the surf. Usually he planned better than that, but while it lasted, it would definitely be a view to die for.

There were six pallbearers. Nathan Kern and the governor took the middle on each side, for show. The casket was heavy, though, and it needed at least four strong men out of the six. So Eric and I were in front, and two gardeners from the estate were in back. We walked the short distance slowly. The sun was bright, between clouds; the better to dramatize the moment. The mourners added darker colors to the brilliant blue and greens, and the brown of the earth piled by the grave.

Five minutes after we set the box down, we were done with the words and the gardeners were lowering it into the ground. I took the shovel they handed me and dropped some ceremonial dirt down on top of the box, and then a couple more good heavy loads just for the exercise. I was just kicking into gear, and I would have filled the whole pit, but then I had to stop. I felt lightheaded and my vision blurred and my breath stuck in my throat, and that was when I knew he was gone. I dropped the shovel and walked over to the cliff, and I didn't know if the pounding I heard was the waves or my own blood filling my ears.

Then Katie was beside me. "Jason? Are you all right, dear?"

I nodded. Wherever we all end up going, he was there now—where he knew the answers to all my questions and where I couldn't ask them of him. I looked around again at the strength and ferocity of that place with its hard stone and unrelenting breakers. It was everything hard, without mercy or forgiveness. I hoped he'd enjoy it.

"Come on, let's go back." Katie sounded nervous. She knew me well enough to want me away from the cliff.

"Don't worry." The moment was over. I took her hand and we strolled back to the others.

* * *

We stood for the right number of minutes in the rolling clouds and sun, nodding to the mourners, saying the proper words. The cloud shadows were chill, a reminder that the New England summer would soon have its own abrupt end.

"I'm getting cold, dear."

I hadn't noticed Francine next to us. The last I'd seen her, she'd been talking to the senator.

"You should go home, Mother," Katie said. "I'll call tonight." We watched her skitter across the grass, like a little crab.

"I'm getting cold, too," I said.

"No, you aren't."

"Let's go home anyway."

My own car was waiting for us. I was about to open the door for Katie when Melvin's lawyer waddled over to us.

Fred Spellman was a nice man. He must have been very smart to have been Privy Counsellor, but I'd never seen him in action. To us, he had always been Uncle Fred, and I had better childhood memories of him than of Melvin.

He gave me a paternal pat on the back and kissed Katie's hand, and I might have thought he'd been crying. But he took a deep breath and pulled himself together.

"Well, well." Then he paused and took another breath and tried again. "Well. We have some things to discuss, Jason, my boy. I need to have you and Eric come see me."

"Right. The reading of the will."

Melvin's secretary, Pamela, was next to us. She really had been crying, and she still was. She hugged Katie, patted my shoulder, and walked on, all without words. I watched her.

"It won't take long," Fred was saying. "Would tomorrow morning be too soon? Or do you need time to ... adjust? I don't want to hurry you, but there are some things that will need attention, sooner rather than later."

"That's fine. The body's still warm, but at least it's underground." I looked away from Pamela to my watch. "We could do it right now, sitting on his grave. That would be poetic. I'll call Eric."

"He's not serious," Katie said. "What time tomorrow?"

Maybe I had gone too far with him. He stared at me in a way I hadn't seen. "Nine o'clock?" he suggested. "Eric is available."

"What about Angela?" I said. "The grieving widow, you know. The scene wouldn't be complete."

"She will have her own meeting."

"Whatever." I opened the door and Katie slipped in. "May I bring my wife?"

"That will be at your discretion." He smiled, the old teddy bear smile. "I think you should. It helps to face these things together."

I shrugged. "It's really not a big deal, Fred. Not to me. We'll just putter along like always. Nathan Kern will have the headaches."

That look again. I couldn't read it, and it was not from the kindly family friend I'd always known. But then we both turned to watch Eric vroom vroom out of the cemetery on his Yamaha. Nice touch, or it would have been if the thought had occurred to him. I would have done the motorcycle-at-the-funeral thing to make some kind of statement. He did it because he was oblivious.

Or maybe the bike was the most presentable thing he had. None of his five cars was very solemn. The leather jacket was going to mangle the borrowed suit.

"Tomorrow morning, nine o'clock."

"I'll be there, Fred."

I got in the car, but not fast enough. Nathan Kern floated elegantly up to the window.

"Jason! I don't know what to say." Not that that had ever stopped him from saying it. "It just doesn't seem possible." If Fred was the king's chamberlain, Nathan was the archbishop.

"Apparently it was," I said. I was the court jester.

"We will need to talk. I know the foundation will be as important for you as for your father." Selfless nobility, thy name is Nathan Kern.

"I don't plan to have much part in it."

He was surprised at that, and he shouldn't have been. He knew me better. "But it was always Melvin's foremost concern." His elegant fingers were trembling. I thought the diamonds would fall out of his cuff links.

"He left his estate to it. I feel sorry for you, Mr. Kern. You have some big responsibilities now." I was getting tired of the day or I might have been a little nicer. I could feel Katie preparing the lecture. "Give me a week, and I'll be glad to come see you." By then I might even build up some curiosity about him and his world. There had to be something beneath the sanctimony.

"Yes, yes, of course," he said.

I took that as a good-bye and closed my window.

* * *

We finally got out onto the road. "You could have acted like an adult," Katie said.

"That's not my way."

We'd come up behind a truck, and there was no place to pass. The coast road went on a few more miles like this, two winding lanes. "Everyone there was looking to you to take your father's place."

"I'd rather die."

"Jason."

I punched the accelerator and passed blind on a curve. The road ahead was clear so I kept the speed up. Katie held on to her shoulder belt.

"You don't have to kill me, too."

I slowed down. "All right, I won't. But the only reason I'm not taking this car off a cliff is because I don't want to die the same way Melvin did."

"Thank you." She would have bitten through the guardrail, her jaw was clenched so tight. I needed to make a gesture.

There was a gas station after a few minutes, and I stopped beside some landscaping and pulled up two flowers.

"Here."

She relented. "I accept your apology." We got back out on the road and she held them, treating them with far more respect than they deserved. "Why did I marry you, anyway?"

"For my money," I said.

"Then I made a big mistake." She said it with a smile, though, for which I was very grateful. "I don't know if your money is worth putting up with you. If you worked with those people—Nathan Kern and all the rest of them—you could be rich."

"I am rich."

"Not as rich as you could be." The edges of the smile hardened a little. "He'd put you on the board of the foundation, and you could get control of everything your father had." She looked out the window. "It should have been yours anyway."

"Look, all I did was get born into this family," I said. "It wasn't my choice. As long as they send my check each month, nobody gets hurt. If they want anything else I'll inflict damage." I waited until she looked back at me. The two daisies in her hand were a little damaged. "You like your flowers?"

"Yes."

The road was bending through hills, away from the ocean. I stopped again, just off the edge, where the guardrail actually was bitten through. Out of the car, I stood and looked down the hillside at the scraped dirt and torn bushes and the broken tree at the bottom. They'd cleaned away the wreckage, every piece of it.

Katie got out with me.

"Why am I here?" I said. "What is the point?"

She pulled a knot of wildflowers from the ground, much nicer than the daisies, and handed it to me.

"Here."

"You don't need to apologize for anything," I said.

"I just want to give you some flowers."

I stood for a moment. Then I tossed them down the steep hill and the wind caught them and they landed just where his car had. I'd seen it there, with yellow police tape and spotlights, and the trucks pulling it up the embankment.

"He's gone, Jason," she said. "It might really be different now."



Excerpted from:The Heir by Paul Robertson

Copyright © 2007; ISBN-13 9780764203244

Published by Bethany House Publishers

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Feisty Crime Novel Skewers 'Left Behind' Generation

Tribulation HouseEnd-times mania has generated a booming industry ever since Hal Lindsey tagged 1988 as the year Jesus would return in his 1971 bestseller, The Late, Great Planet Earth. The legacy continued in Edgar Whisenant's 4.5 million-copy bestseller, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988, and reached its zenith with the 60 million-copy best selling Left Behind series (which had the good sense to admit to being fiction).

Unfortunately, date-setters throughout history have always ended up with egg on their faces, because Jesus has steadfastly refused to follow their timetables.

Author Chris Well gleefully reminds his readers of the trouble that follows when we forget that "of that day and hour no one knows."

Chris Well, the undisputed master of the feisty crime novel, takes aim at the ultimate mystery in his latest novel, Tribulation House. Set for release in May 2007, Well skewers the Left Behind generation with a wink and smile in this laugh-out-loud funny mystery complete with high rollers, mobsters, loan sharks, and Apocalypse-predicting preachers.

What Others are Saying about Tribulation House:

"With an engaging cast of characters and a plot that clips right along from start to finish, this book is a satisfying crossover novel that pokes fun at some of the farther-flung fringes of Christianity while remaining, like the best classic mysteries and comic books, a morality tale in which crime doesn't pay and justice -- as well as grace -- prevails." -- Dru Pagliassotti, The Harrow

"A powerful cautionary tale." -- Harriett Klausner

"A must read for fans of quality fiction full of powerful spiritual themes." -- Jake Chism, Armchair Interviews

Tribulation House
By Chris Well
ISBN: 978-0-7369-1741-4
$11.99, Trade
Harvest House Publishers

Friday, March 09, 2007

Roundup Friday March 09

Bethany Dillon's WAKING UP in stores April 3 (CCM Music News)
AMERICAN IDOL alum MANDISA to release debut album, book (CCM Music News)

WHAT IF GHOST RIDER GOT SAVED? (Sightings)
THE FRAY: Nobodies No More (Sightings)
DREAMLAND CHRONICLES: Dreaming of One Million (Sightings)
Mat Kearney on AOL (Sightings)
Urban D gets "Unorthodox" May 8 (Sightings)
Anberlin on LATE LATE SHOW (Sightings)
Newsboys "GO" tour in full swing (Sightings)
TRIBULATION HOUSE Update (Sightings)
BLOG TOUR: The Watchers by Mark Andrew Olsen (Sightings)
Top myCCM Profiles (Sightings)
Youth Conference releases GOD'S NOT DEAD (Sightings)

Holy hip-hop ascending, music industry takes notice (The Clarion-Ledger)
U2's 'Joshua Tree,' 20 years later (Yahoo! Music)
Pope opposed Bob Dylan singing to John Paul in 1997 (Reuters)

"Ultimate Gift" Poses Important Life Questions (Crosswalk Movies)

'Amazing Grace' is a Sweet Sound to Congress (Citizenlink.com)
Evangelical Leaders Challenge Global-Warming Rhetoric (Citizenlink.com)
Do You Know Your Religion? (Faith and Ethics)


THE BRAIN BLOG:
How do you get to be FEATURED ARTIST around here?
MUSICIANS: What is your favorite instrument?
If You Could Ask Your Favorite Artist Three Questions ...
Ask The Brain: HOW DO I FIND MEMBERS IN MY AREA?
Changing your blog's comment settings
RSS and what it means to YOU
HOW DO I MODERATE COMMENTS?
HOW DO I FIND MUSICIANS ON MYCCM?
HOW DO I ADD A SONG TO MY PAGE?
HOW DO I CHANGE MY BACKGROUND?
HOW DO I CHANGE MY PRIVACY SETTINGS?
WHERE DO I FIND PEEPS?
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH 'TAGS'?
HOW DO WE SIGN OUT?

Announcing THE GREAT myCCM INVITATION EXTRAVAGANZA! Invite your friends and family to join the myCCM community ... and you could be the winner of a shiny new 2GB iPod Nano -- pre-loaded with 25 songs from the best of the myCCM bands! Details and rules here.



TRIBULATION HOUSE
"I Can't Believe It's Not KINGDOM COME!"(tm)
More advance praise: TRIBULATION HOUSE
Armchair Reviews: TRIBULATION HOUSE
TRIBULATION HOUSE Update


BETHANY DILLON on myCCM: myCCM.org/BethanyDillon
MAT KEARNEY on myCCM: myCCM.org/MKearney
NEWSBOYS on myCCM: myCCM.org/Newsboys




A Social Community Especially for Christians

myCCM.org is a social networking service that allows its members to create unique personal profiles, write blogs, and find new friends. myCCM.org also features a customizable RSS aggregator. Now you can get the news that matters to you, designed around your interests and delivered straight to your desktop. Plus, enrich your experience by searching the community tags and add some of your own!

Getting Started:
  1. Register with myCCM. Just a small amount of information will get you started.
  2. Once registered, you'll be able to use all of the myCCM functions for FREE.
  3. Help is never far away – just click on the Help Icons located on the upper right hand of each page for more detailed help.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

CFBA: The Watchers by Mark Andrew Olsen

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring THE WATCHERS (Bethany House), by MARK ANDREW OLSEN. Olsen, whose novel The Assignment was a Christy Award finalist, also collaborated on bestsellers Hadassah (now the major motion picture: One Night With the King), The Hadassah Covenant, and Rescued. The son of missionaries to France, Mark is a graduate of Baylor University. He and his wife, Connie, live in Colorado Springs with their three children.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Just below the surface among the family of God lives another family tree--one traced in spirit, invisible and ageless, known as the Watchers. For two thousand years they've seen beyond the veil separating this world from the next, passing on their gift through a lineage mostly overlooked. Throughout history they've scouted the borders of the supernatural frontier, but now their survival hangs by a thread. And their fate lies in the hands of a young woman, her would-be killer, and a mystery they must solve....


"Congratulations. You just reached my own little corner of cyberspace.

Who am I?

Abby Sherman, that's who.

Who are you? And why are you checking me out?

Drop me a few pixels, and let's find out!"


With that innocent invitation, Abby Sherman unwittingly steps in the crosshairs of history, and thus begins her harrowing tale--taking her from ocean-front Malibu to the streets of London, the jungles in West Africa, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and to the very gates of heaven itself!

A sneak preview of eternity becomes her one-way ticket to danger--and discovery….

Two lives collide in a globe-circling adventure involving both peril and discovery: Abby, a young woman whose visions of heaven turn her into a Web-celebrity; and Dylan, a troubled young man sent by an ancient foe to silence her. From California beachfronts to Nigerian rain forests to Jerusalem and back again, THE WATCHERS is a high-octane blend of action, mystery, and spiritual battle spanning centuries.

A woman's awe-inspiring vision launches her on a quest through distant lands and ancient history, face-to-face with eternity and into the arms of a family line on the brink of annihilation...

A man who is hired to exterminate her discovers the folly of blind loyalty, then learns how to wage war in a realm he never believed had existed...

An extraordinary saga of the unseen war against evil, the reality of the supernatural, and the transforming power of forgiveness.
ENDORSEMENT:
"A writer who can take your breath away with a single sentence. A welcome, fresh voice that must be read!"--Ted Dekker

Monday, January 01, 2007

FIRST Day: Hell in a Briefcase



HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! It is January 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!




This month's feature author is:
Phil Little with Brad Whittington
and their book:
(A Matt Cooper Novel)



ELEVEN BRIEFCASES AND ONE UNLIKELY HERO...CAN MATT COOPER FIND ELEVEN NUCLEAR DEVICES AND HIS FAITH BEFORE DISASTER STRIKES?

With violence in the Middle East escalating daily, Americans are glued to their televisions wondering what will happen next. Meanwhile, Matt Cooper, jet-setting star of Phil Little's debut novel Hell in a Briefcase is doing something about it. A private security executive, his adrenaline-junkie days consist of last-minute first-class overseas flights, Hollywood parties with his actress girlfriend, and direct calls from top CIA brass.
A chance meeting with Mr. Roberts, “an old broken-down millionaire” and uncommon Christian, sends Cooper on a trip to Israel that will change his life. Matt goes behind the curtain of Middle East terrorism, witnessing firsthand the untold ravages of holy war. The deeper he goes, the closer he gets to a plot involving eleven stolen briefcase nukes and a plan infinitely more sinister than 9/11.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Phil Little, president of West Coast Detectives and a recognized expert in counter-terrorism, provides bodyguards to the stars and runs a detective agency that has served ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, Paramount, MGM, and hundreds of others (www.westcoastdetectives.us). He draws on this experience in crafting the tightly wound plot of this international thriller. In addition to his duties as a security expert, Phil has also written Hostile Intent, Protecting Yourself from Terrorism and will soon be the subject of a television pilot. In the meantime, you can read more about Matt's adventures in his blog, http://detectivemattcooper.blogspot.com.

In addition, Phil is available for comment on all aspects of international terrorism, both at home and abroad, and he makes for an interesting and colorful guest. His expertise in the area of international issues combined with his personable on-camera style would make for a great interview on this hot topic. From Lebanese terror camps in the 1970’s to American airports in the months before 9/11, Phil Little has witnessed the terror threat up close and can share eye-opening stories and information that all Americans should know.

THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Marjeyoun, Lebanon.


Thursday, 21 November 2002. 01:30.



A full moon. A glow seemed to rise from the sand, allowing them to drive with their headlights off. The five Jeeps kept to 40 kph on the dark road that wound southward between hills and wadis. In the third Jeep, Major Skaff allowed himself the brief luxury of picking out Pegasus in the sharp winter sky before he compulsively scanned the rocky terrain for signs of Hezbollah fedayeen. He was leading this patrol to check out rumors of increased activity near Shaaba Farms, the disputed area where three Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped two years before.


The ridge road ran from the town of Marjeyoun down to Qlaia’a under the ominous gaze of Shqif Arnoun-the castle called “Beaufort” by the Crusaders-to the west. Christians and Muslims had fought for this ground for centuries, trading possession of the castle as their fortunes rose and fell. In the 1970’s the Palestinian Liberation Organization had used the strategic placement of the castle to shell civilian settlements in northern Israel.


That was when Skaff, then a young recruit of the Southern Lebanese Army, had been a driver in a similar convoy, shortly before the civil war broke out between Christians and Muslims in 1975. Traversing this very ridge on a mission, he had come under fire from the castle. His evasive driving had saved the convoy and drawn the attention of General Lahd.


The intervening thirty years had been a generation of unremitting war. Israel, tiring of mounting civilian casualties and the Lebanese government’s refusal to expel the terrorists, invaded southern Lebanon in 1982 and captured the castle. Eighteen years of occupation followed, during which Skaff had risen through the SLA ranks while working openly with the Israelis to keep the various Muslim factions at bay. When he had started, Hezbollah did not exist. Now the radical Muslim army controlled the south and dealt severely with the Christian resistance.


As the occupation had grown increasingly costly and casualties mounted, the pressure increased for Israel to withdraw. When the SLA collapsed in 2000, Israel destroyed what was left of the castle walls and pulled back behind the Blue Line specified by the UN. The SLA scattered. Thousands fled to Israel or went into hiding. Those who didn’t were imprisoned and tried as enemy collaborators. As Hezbollah gained control of the area, the anticipated slaughter of Christians didn’t materialize. But any SLA militiamen emboldened to return were also imprisoned.


As he scanned the distant ruins of the castle in the moonlight, Major Skaff reflected on change and constancy. Where PLO guns had once rained death on Israel and Lebanese Christians, now tourists snapped pictures and rushed home to post them on the Internet. And the same General Antoine Lahd who had brought him up in the ranks and fought beside him for decades had fled to Paris. Only a week ago he had opened a fancy restaurant in Tel Aviv called Byblos. It had a nice ocean view.


True, Lahd had a death sentence hanging over him for treason and war crimes, but so did Skaff. And so did many of the two thousand SLA in Lebanese prisons.


But some things had not changed. Southern Lebanon was just as dangerous for the men in these Jeeps as it had been when Skaff was driving instead of commanding.


Skaff was drawn from his reflections by a dark shape ahead. At the end of the ridge the road snaked through an outcropping of rock. He had passed through it many times, always with reluctance. This night he felt a peculiar sense of revulsion as he squinted at the misshapen lump of stone looming before him.


He nudged his driver and nodded toward the rocks. Hassan nodded back. He could feel it too. Skaff reached for the radio to signal the lead Jeep. A lifetime of guerrilla fighting had convinced him that such premonitions were not without merit. His transmission was brief, but they were already entering the outcropping when he put the radio down.


Five seconds later a rocket hit the grille of the lead Jeep. The explosion lit the rocks towering over them. He saw the silhouettes of two men blow out on either side of the vehicle, which was tossed onto the nose of the next Jeep. Hassan narrowly missed them, skidding left and stopping next to the driver of the lead Jeep, who was lying half off the road.


The two Jeeps behind slid sideways to a stop in the road as machine gun bursts echoed from beyond the lead Jeep. Skaff was exposed to the attack. He dove from his seat to the rear of the second Jeep, between two men already returning fire with an Uzi and an M-16.


He rolled to his feet and yelled to the two back Jeeps, motioning for them to form a double barricade with their vehicles, keeping the men covered both in the front and the rear in case the attackers attempted to sandwich them in the gap. Skaff turned back, confident that his men needed no further direction. This mission called for battle-hardened veterans, and he had personally selected the nineteen men who were with him now. Every man among them had proved himself in years of combat. Some even owed their life to his cool command in battle. Some had returned the favor multiple times.


Skaff scanned the forward battle to account for the remaining eleven men, his position shielded by the lead Jeep transfixed on the grille of the second. To the left, Hassan was pulling the driver of the first Jeep to safety. The other two men from Skaff’s Jeep were covering him with sporadic fire from their Uzis. Ahead, the driver of the second Jeep was placing a case of grenades handy to his partner, who had fitted his M-16 with a grenade launcher and was set up in the backseat. Skaff was standing beside the other two passengers in the second Jeep. That left the three passengers from the lead Jeep.


He spotted Saif on the right. He had been thrown clear onto the sand without apparent injury. He was crouched behind a boulder, occasionally returning fire with his Desert Eagle .50-caliber side arm. Failing to sight the other two, he shouted to the driver, who had acquired an Uzi.


“Rafik? Sayyed?”


He nodded forward. Skaff crawled over the middle of the jeep to the hood. Sayyed was wedged between the lead Jeep and the grille of the second Jeep, most likely dead. Rafik was lying on the hood of the second Jeep. Skaff checked for a pulse. Nothing. He closed Rafik’s eyes and whispered a short prayer. Skaff couldn’t play favorites with his men, but this loss was harder than any other would have been. At nineteen, Rafik had already spent four years with Skaff, rarely more than fifty yards from his side. Four years of relentless, driven hate. Skaff had been Rafik’s ticket for revenge. Perhaps now he had found the peace revenge had not been able to bring him.


Skaff was crawling back to get a weapon when the second rocket hit the bottom of the lead Jeep. The gas tank exploded, sending most of the shrapnel back toward the attackers. The force of the blast threw the second Jeep back five feet, knocking over the two shooters behind. The grenade launcher and the man with it fell into the front seat. The driver was standing to the side. He returned fire with the Uzi.


Skaff helped reposition the grenade launcher and crawled out of the Jeep. The two in back were already firing again. He scanned the area and then dove toward the two Jeeps in the rear. Of the eight men between the jeeps, one had taken a round in the right shoulder but was still firing left-handed, propped against a door. Three were facing the rear but indicated they hadn’t seen any action, yet. Two were covering the walls on either side with M-16s, but also hadn’t seen action. The final two had grenade launchers on their M-16s. They waited until they saw several volleys of tracer bullets originating from a single location. Then they fired three seconds apart at the source. The machine gun fire stopped. Skaff slapped them on the back. Perhaps they would get out of this thing alive.


Then a rocket hit Skaff’s Jeep. Hassan was behind a curtain of stone, firing with an Uzi, having propped the injured driver in a cleft in the rock. But the other two were using the Jeep for cover. One tumbled backward, clear of the Jeep. The other was knocked down as the Jeep rolled over, pinning his leg under it. Skaff ran through a volley of automatic weapons fire and pulled the first man to his feet. They raced to the Jeep, joined by Hassan, and rocked it back over. Then they dragged the injured man to safety next to the injured driver.


Skaff felt a shudder of unease ripple through the adrenaline-laced focus that always came over him in combat. If this kept up, the whole team would be shredded before they had used half their ammo. He grabbed Hassan’s arm and yelled into his ear over the din.


“We have to take out that rocket launcher or we don’t get out of here. Take those three and circle around.” Hassan nodded and stepped away but Skaff grabbed his arm. “Take a radio.”


He let go, and Hassan ran to the rear while the others laid down covering fire. Skaff used the opportunity to race to the front two Jeeps and get the four there away from the vehicles and behind the cover of the rocks. As they ran for cover, another rocket hit the top of the lead Jeep, sending fragments of the grille and fenders flying in all directions. Skaff ran through the explosion back to the rock curtain. When he fell against a boulder the injured man pointed at Skaff’s leg. He looked down and saw that his left trouser leg was slashed in three places. Blood was seeping down to his boots. He looked around to see how the others had fared.


Saif seemed to have been hit in the arm by something. He was now firing the Eagle while holding his upper arm with the other hand. The other four seemed to have escaped unscathed. Skaff’s radio had not survived the rocket. He nodded to the man next to him, who wielded an Uzi while he made it to the two back Jeeps, getting an Uzi and a radio. He turned it up all the way and slung it over his shoulder. Then he began firing at the source of tracers beyond the rubble of the Jeeps.


Looking for some encouragement, Skaff probed his memory. In almost three decades of fighting, he didn’t recall anything quite as dire as the current circumstance. He had two confirmed dead, one unconscious, three wounded but still firing. Almost a third of the force. The numbers were bound to increase as long as that rocket launcher was working. His calculations were interrupted by Hassan’s voice squawking through the pandemonium.


“We got the rocket launcher, but I think they have another on the left. And now we’re pinned down, so we’re going nowhere.”


The last word was drowned out by a rocket blast on the rock curtain above the injured men. Skaff doubted he could get a team around the other side. Even if he did, the enemy would be expecting them. No way around. No way through. He scanned the sheer rock walls on either side. No way over. The fedayeen had chosen their positions well and appeared to have ample men, weapons, and ammo. It seemed likely that most of this team would share the fate of Rafik and Sayyed. Probably all. The thought sickened Skaff, turning the adrenaline in his veins to bile in his throat.


There was one last hope, but it might be too late. He selected another frequency on the radio and shouted over the gunfire, “Lehafil Levanon Sanctzia. Lehafil Levanon Sanctzia. (Activate Lebanon Sanction.)”