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The Pretender Rebirth

 

Written by the creators of the hit TV show the Pretender, Rebirth is a slick mystery thriller about a brilliant human chameleon named Jarod, who after escaping from the notorious Centre, plunges headlong into his newfound freedom. While also discovering the joys
and intricacies of everyday life with the pure wonderment of the man he is, Jarod uses his unequaled abilities to literally become anyone he wants to be. Coupled with his dazzling mind over muscle vigilante skills, Jarod brings down the powerful and corrupt and protect those who can‟t defend themselves, all the while staying ahead of his relentless pursuers from the Centre.

Chapter 1

 

Like a slowly spinning top, the glass eye twirled on the metal table between an onyx ashtray and glass syringe. It came to rest staring at a man it no longer recognized.

Kaj stared back at the glass ball and realized he hadn’t felt the backhand that had sent it flying out of his head and onto the rusty surface. The Libyan had lost feeling on the left side of his face hours earlier, after the twenty-eighth blow had fractured his occipital bone. Counting the strikes had helped him keep his wits. But his wits had flown out of his head in the same instant as the glass eye – the eye in which his face reflected.

What number blow had knocked it out? 115? 118? His short-term memory was nearly gone. He fought to regain a sense of what was happening, to remember why he was being tortured in the first place.

Kaj wearily rubbed his weathered face. A face much older than his 34 years and one that looked more like that of a goat herder’s than an operative for hire. A face, just like his damp clothing, drenched in sweat that stank of his own fear.

Kaj wobbled in a wooden chair that was cut unevenly so as to purposely keep him off balance. The chair was maddening. So was the buzzing from the bare fluorescent tube in the ceiling. In fact, everything in the room that he’d been locked in since he was taken – hours? days? weeks ago? – was designed to be maddening.

A design that was working.

In his delirium, he watched the other man’s hand reach down and pick up his artificial eye, staring at the sphere as it rose towards the other man’s face. As the reflection of that man appeared in his glass eye, the throbbing in Kaj’s head dissipated, replaced with marvel at the surreal vision he was witnessing. It was as if a drawing by Escher, like the ones in the picture books Kaj had always been fascinated with, had come to life before him.

The tall man, whose image glistened in Kaj’s eye, was named O’Quinn. In contrast to the battered terrorist seated across from him, O’Quinn looked younger than his 44 years. Militarily fit, ramrod-straight spine, a shaved head, the swaggering alpha male was as much a testosterone machine today as he was in his youth.

In fact, O’Quinn’s demeanor reminded the Libyan of another cocky bald man he’d seen in an old movie playing the King of Siam. But that remembrance was from a lifetime ago – a life whose memories began flashing through Kaj’s fading mind. Recollections of a childhood spent playing in the dusty streets of Benghazi, of his mother serving warm – never hot – kabob. As a teen watching George W. Bush’s effigy burning, of being promised “72 virgins” and getting his first taste of that kind of pleasure from an old whore missing her left incisor. Of watching the first car bomb he planted explode. And then the next.

Kaj was watching his life flash before his eyes – a life that would surely end if he didn’t get out of that room – and soon.

O’Quinn rolled Kaj’s glass eye between his fingers and began pacing. “A man with one eye can only see the world in two dimensions. Without the perception of depth he’s never truly sure how close he is to another. Hopefully now you can see how close I am to you and that I was the wrong person to blackmail.”

Adrenaline flooded Kaj’s system, bringing him back to the moment. O’Quinn smiled. “Nice to see you’re with me again, Kaj.” But as quickly as it had appeared, O’Quinn’s smile faded and his eyes filled with intensity. “Now, for the hundred and twenty-first time, where is my property?”

Kaj finally remembered why he was there and what O’Quinn wanted to know. He took a breath, trying to exhibit some measure of strength. “Why should I enlighten you with this?”

“I’ve given you a hundred and twenty reasons – and old friend, the truth is – you can’t take many more of them.” O’Quinn pointed at the syringe – “Or of these.”

Kaj knew O’Quinn was dead right.

Key word, dead.

Kaj searched his brain for the right thing to say to save his life, but all he could come up with was “And you will release me when I tell you what you want to know?” .

O’Quinn was not a malevolent man. He was a professional warrior of intense focus and in that way – in that one way only – he was honorable. “I could say, ‘yes,’ but that would be an insult to both of our intelligences.”

Kaj felt warm liquid slip from his eye and down his cheek. He hoped it was blood, but knew it was a tear.

O’Quinn studied the pitiable figure before him. “Though you betrayed me, I will still make you a deal.” He picked up the syringe. “Two of these will make it painless and quick – like going to sleep.”

Kaj felt a lump forming in his throat. In his life, he had killed many people. Today though, he feared, it was he who would die.

“I – I have money…” Kaj blurted.

Even in the Libyan’s weakened state, the patronizing on O’Quinn’s face was not lost on him.

Defeated, Kaj continued. “I try not to buy freedom – that too would be an insult to intelligence. But blessed my soul would be if my mother were to receive this money – since ten years now she dream of owning her own Kabob stand – served warm – never hot.”

O’Quinn placed a hand on Kaj’s shoulder. “I’ll ensure that she gets it.”

Tears flowed freely down Kaj’s cheek. He watched one drop land on the table near his right hand – a hand that had just begun to shake. “May I have one last cigarette?”

A shadow of a smile came and went across O’Quinn’s face. Kaj raised an eyebrow. “Did what I say amuse you?”

“Sorry, Kaj. It’s just – I’ve never heard someone say that in real life.”

“Unless you have kabob, it is my final wish.” Kaj looked at his ocular prosthesis in O’Quinn’s hand. “And that…” Kaj gazed downward, his vanity getting the best of him. “I’d like to look my best, when…”

O’Quinn considered the request, then gently rolled the glass eye across the table. Kaj cleaned it as best he could on his sleeve and had just finished placing it in his socket when O’Quinn walked over to the heavy metal door and Boom! Boom! Boom! – banged on the wall next to it. Three times.

As if he were one of Pavlov’s dogs, the sound of the three Booms immediately caused Kaj’s body to tense – a conditioned reflex triggered by the anticipation of a series of events he knew would follow.

The Libyan looked to a midpoint on the door a split second before he knew he’d hear the sound of the slide bolt slashcrack to the unlock position. His eye then moved to the doorknob an instant before it turned, as if he had seen this happen a million times before. Or maybe just a hundred and twenty. The door opened and Kaj found himself anticipating the Glock 17’s 9mm barrel the instant before it poked its nose into the room. As the gun guided the guard that carried it, Kaj’s short-term memory began to return. Three bangs on the wall and the guard with the grin like a butcher’s dog enters.

As he focused on the barrel and the dried blood on it, Kaj suddenly felt a wave of ice-cold anger and red-hot fear. He intuitively touched his cheek. As his fingers met raw flesh where the skin was split open, he was hit with a memory flash of being pistol-whipped by the sadistic butcher’s dog himself. Right. That was strike number sixty-four. I’ll never forget that one. Kaj exhaled slowly, his wits returning.

O’Quinn held out his hand to Dog. “Give me a smoke.”

Dog patted his empty pockets, then stepped into the hall, yelling to the outer room. “Yo, Dick Face, you got any more Red Apples?” Kaj watched as Dog raised his paw and caught an incoming box of Marlboros.

Dog walked over to Kaj, flipped the lid and offered him one. The Libyan opened his cracked lips, accepting it. Dog fired a Zippo, Kaj leaned the tobacco into the heat and took a long, deep drag into his lungs – his one good eye never losing contact with Dog’s two.

Desperate for a way out, Kaj knew if he was going to make a move, he’d have to make it now.

MOVE! his brain screamed. But who was he kidding? He knew in the shape he was in he couldn’t take both O’Quinn and the mad Dog. And if he tried and failed they’d make him suffer more than he had up until now – and he couldn’t take any more suffering.

So he sat and puffed.

O’Quinn motioned for his puppy to take a walk. After Dog exited, slash – crack! The bolt was slammed into the locked position on the other side of the door. As its echo died within the room, so did Kaj’s hope.

O’Quinn moved the table aside, pulled up a chair and took a seat – knee to knee, eyes to eye in front of Kaj. “Now tell me what I want to know.”

The terrified man took one last long pull from his Marlboro cigarette, the hot embers burning brightly, giving his glass eye a sad but eerie glow.

As smoke slowly floated up from his lips, Kaj rubbed his brow with the shaking hand holding his Marlboro and began to speak in a low whisper. “I hid what is yours far away. It is being guarded by a friend.”

“I can barely hear you, Old Friend.” O’Quinn leaned in. “Now, tell me exactly where to go.”

Kaj looked into the bald man’s eyes and whispered.

“Straight to hell.” Moving insanely fast, Kaj grabbed O’Quinn behind the neck with one hand and shoved the red-hot cigarette ember into the bald man’s left eye with the other. O’Quinn reached for his sizzling eye, but that was only the beginning of his pain as Kaj grabbed the onyx ashtray and smashed its sharpest edge into the screaming man’s temple.

Before O’Quinn hit the floor, Kaj was at the door and Boom! Boom! Boom! banged on the wall next to it. His mind more intensely focused than it had been any second since he’d been kidnapped and brought to this hellhole, Kaj peered at the midpoint of the door.

Slash – crack! The bolt unlocked. The door slowly opened. The Glock’s barrel entered the room. And just as B Dog’s elbow was almost inside, WHAM! – Kaj slammed his body onto the door, breaking Dog’s arm with a sickening crack. “Aughhhhh!”

Kaj caught Dog’s falling gun before it hit the floor then flung the door open to a small hallway outside. The K- 9’s grin had been replaced by shrieking agony.

And more was in store.

As Dog looked up from his shattered arm, Kaj roundhouse kicked him in the throat. The blow sent Dog flying out of the hallway and into an adjoining room of what Kaj now realized was a small adobe cabin.

Kaj stepped over the Dog and immediately locked eyes with and rushed towards a man with a smoke dangling between the lips in his aptly named mug. Dick Face stumbled backwards, fumbling for one of the many pistols and automatic weapons hanging on a wall-mounted gun rack. But before he could grab one, Kaj’s Glock was pointed directly at his dickish face. That was DF’s first mistake.

His jaw dropped from shock. The cig fell from his lips. He glanced at the crumpled pile of Dog meat and pleaded: “I just work for them.”

“You should rethink your career.” Kaj shoved the Glock into DF’s mouth and dragged him along the wall towards a window.

Kaj looked outside into the pitch-black night and saw two vehicles parked in front of the cabin, dimly lit by a porch light. A Mercedes S600 and a 4WD F-150 both faced away from the cabin, pointing towards a long driveway that led out into the sand. Sand? Kaj knew he’d been transported after being kidnapped in Philly, but he had no idea how far until he saw Texas plates on the vehicles. He hated Texas. Especially West Texas.

Kaj pivoted DF’s face so he could see the cars. “Keys?”

DF gurgled, “Screw you.” That was DF’s second mistake.

Kaj spotted two sets atop the wooden table. Dick Face lunged for them. That was his last mistake. Blam! Kaj splattered the adobe wall with Dick Face.

The Libyan grabbed a set of keys, ran outside and flung the Mercedes door open. He hopped into the driver’s seat and was struggling to get the key into the ignition when Zing! – Shatter! A bullet whizzed by his ear and into the side view mirror.

Heart pounding, Kaj looked back and saw the now rabid Dog shooting from inside the open door. O’Quinn stumbled up, grabbing Dog’s Beretta. “I need him alive!”

Kaj fired two rounds, shattering the porch light. The men dove for cover. Kaj slipped in the key, fired up the ignition and rooster-tailed it the hell out of Dodge.

O’Quinn grabbed a MP5K from the weapons rack and he and Dog raced to the F-150. Dog got behind the wheel, O’Quinn in the passenger seat. “Go! Go! Go!”

The Mercedes screamed down the long driveway. Even with the headlights blaring, Kaj could barely see. Squinting, he thought he could make out an asphalt road a hundred yards ahead that ended the driveway at a “T’ – but was suddenly blinded by the reflection of high beams in his rearview – the F-150 rapidly gaining ground.

Leaning out the window, wind buffeting his bloodied eye, O’Quinn was trying to steady the 5K to get a clear shot at the Mercedes. It was his turn now to not have depth perception.

Kaj caught only a fleeting glimpse of the machine gun’s muzzle flashes before O’Quinn’s shots blew holes through his trunk and spider-webbed his rear windshield. The Libyan looked over his shoulder, panicked at the sight of the truck quickly catching up. But when he returned his gaze forward he saw immediate trouble ahead of him – he was coming upon the “T’ where the driveway met the asphalt road – across which was a stonewall he was rocketing towards.

He yanked the 600’s wheel, sending the Benz into a wicked power slide until WHAM! – the car slammed sideways into a wooden mailbox post. The tires regained traction. Kaj floored it, began eating asphalt as he raced down the two-lane road. Up ahead he could see overhead lights of a freeway. If he could get there, maybe, just maybe, he could get away.

Dog pulled the truck off the pavement and into the desert. He exploded through prickly pear and tumbleweeds until he was parallel to the Mercedes – the only thing separating them, a roadside service ditch.

Kaj pushed the Mercedes for all it was worth, racing toward his freedom. But Dog was not going to let the Libyan escape and veered erratically down, through and up over the lip of the ditch landing hard in a flash of sparks right next to him.

The Libyan took a screaming right up the freeway on- ramp, hotly pursued by the F-150.

Dog swerved left, blazed around and up next to Kaj, jamming the Benz into the guardrail. As sparks flew, O’Quinn opened fire on the car’s tires. Kaj returned fire until the Glock and his luck played out. He looked up to see he was headed straight at a concrete barrier. At the very last second, Dog slammed on the brakes as Wham! – the 600 flew right into the concrete barrier, which sent $160,000 of German engineering cartwheeling across the desert floor. With a sickening thud it finally came to rest on its roof.

The Dog and his Master rushed out of the pickup and ran to the Mercedes, just as an explosion erupted at the rear of the car.

O’Quinn glared at spreading fire and then to his one- armed underling. “I need him alive.” Dog doggy-tilted his head as if O’Quinn was insane. “It’s gonna blow.” O’Quinn pointed his gun at Dog. “So’s this if you don’t move.”

Dog cautiously approached the burning Benz. He found Kaj unconscious, dangling upside down in his seatbelt. With flames growing, Dog pulled his Whiplash knife and furiously sliced through the webbing until the Libyan tumbled onto the Benz’s ceiling. With his working paw, Dog grabbed the terrorist by the collar and dragged him clear of the wreckage just as the flames reached the leaking gas tank.

Dog put a finger to Kaj’s jugular, then pulled out and shined a pen light into his one good eye. “Barely.”

O’Quinn looked at Kaj’s eyes, both of which were open. The glass one stared blankly into a place that no one else could see – while the good eye, with its dark pupil swallowing the retina, was now quivering spasmodically. “We can’t let him die. I still need to know what’s in his mind.”

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