Many novels start with a knock on the door, a phone call, or someone setting off on a journey. I prefer to thrust the reader immediately into the opening scene. Catch their attention. Make them wonder what’s going on – but more importantly, what’s going to happen next?
Every action has a reaction, followed by more action to keep the reader turning the pages. That’s the essence of a good action thriller.
I tell my stories from the third person omniscient perspective, which gives me some latitude to address topics that will educate the reader with factual data as well as entertain them with the story. That’s why I like to call my novels “intelligent thrillers.” I try to carefully balance exposition and the dialogue necessary to have the characters move the story along. This may slow the pace at times, but I’d like the reader to learn something in each novel. For instance, how Anthrax is considered a WMD or how a submarine produces oxygen under water…
My first novel, Cabo Caper, opens with an action scene while my protagonist Biff Roberts is on vacation.
Vacation in Baja
“Biff! Biff! Hurry, get out here! They’ve got Boo!” Mary Beth yelled.
Biff Roberts, done with his morning shower, had just wiped the steam from the mirror and started shaving when he heard his wife. He dropped his razor and grabbed his .9 mm Beretta from the holster hanging on the bathroom doorknob. He rushed to their suite’s balcony overlooking the Sea of Cortez and the southeast corner of the parking lot of the posh resort.
Mary Beth, hopping hysterically from one foot to the other, pointed in the direction of the parking lot eighty yards away. Biff followed her finger and saw three scruffy Mexicans dragging their kicking and screaming fourteen-year-old son toward a beat-up VW Kombi van in the far corner of the lot. Boo was putting up a frantic fight, but unfortunately he was no match for the burly Mexican abductors who overpowered him.
Biff vaguely noticed Boo’s surfboard abandoned by the edge of the beach pathway adjoining the parking lot. Moments earlier Boo had caught a nice wave off the Zippers reef, surfing it perfectly for a hundred yards to shore, a thrilling experience on his trimester break from prep school. Now he was engaged in a terrifying fight for his life.
At the sound of Mary Beth’s scream, the early-morning diners on the resort’s breakfast terrace rushed to the rails to witness the sudden disturbance. They watched, open-mouthed and paralyzed with shock, at the kidnapping unfolding before them.
How could this possibly occur at this famous Cabo resort noted for its beauty and serenity?
“Look up there! That man has a gun!” one tourist shouted, pointing to Biff standing at his balcony’s edge. The crowd’s focus shifted in that direction, and they gaped at the large blond American wearing only boxer shorts, half his face covered with shaving cream. He was pointing a pistol at the three Mexican abductors. The man’s wife stood next to him, crying and hysterically screaming, “Stop them!”
A sudden shock wave surged though the tourists. They had come to Cabo for fun and frolic—and maybe even a little adventure—but not this graphic violence.
The vacationer had no sooner let loose his warning when a shot rang out from the balcony. The terrified crowd scattered, ducking for cover as they heard a yell of pain from the parking lot.
Biff’s shot had hit one of the kidnappers in the shoulder, spinning him around. The wounded man grimaced. “Jesús Cristo!” he cursed loudly enough for the crowd to hear. The abductors roughly tossed Boo through the van’s sliding side door. The driver revved up the engine as the injured abductor jumped in behind Boo.
The patrons in the restaurant pavilion remained under cover, fearing more gunshots. This scene was not part of their package deal. Certainly not the “piña colada scene” depicted in the resort’s glossy brochure. Despite their fear, they shivered in anticipation of what would happen next.
“Dammit! I can’t see well.” The morning sun had melted Biff’s shaving cream, and during the action, a little glop had inadvertently smeared up into his left eye, impairing his depth perception. The cream stung. Biff squinted, handicapped by monocular vision. He had to avoid hitting his son with his second shot. Usually Biff was quite accurate at this range; however, he’d never had to make a shot with an eye full of shaving cream before.
“Gotta be careful…” He took aim and squeezed out a second shot, shattering the van’s rear window with a loud concussion of crashing glass. The van lurched, spinning out on the loose gravel and pebbles. Tires squealed. The Kombi swerved wildly, almost out of control.
Gasps and cries of “Oh my God!” rose from the stunned crowd. What next?
Biff readied his third shot. “Got to get a tire with this one.” The van was about a hundred yards away, approaching the exit, as Biff fired his third round.
“Missed! Hit the bumper, dammit! They’ll be on the ocean highway in minutes. The bastards are getting away!”
The opening chapter in Retribution, my third novel, also opens with a dramatic action scene that captures the readers’ imagination.
ST. PAUL’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
San Francisco, Easter Sunday
“That’s her, next in line to shake hands with the minister… wearing the blue hat… Wait for her profile…” He spoke in a quiet tone of Farsi, belying his excitement.
The sniper adjusted the red dot laser scope of his 91/30 Mosin Nagnt rifle. He had the target in its crosshairs, but waited as ordered.
“Can’t believe they’re paying me fifty grand for this job. I could take her out with an air rifle from this distance. This gun is accurate at a thousand yards and she’s just across the street from this rooftop!”
“I enjoyed your sermon, Reverend.”
“Thank you, Mary Beth. Sorry your husband couldn’t attend the service.”
“He’s in Washington on diplomatic business. He called last night to say he’s tied up with some problem.”
“I understand…” The minister frowned. “What is that red spot on your temple?”
She had no opportunity to reply as a .30 caliber full metal jacket bullet shattered her skull, sending fragments flying, injuring churchgoers standing nearby. She collapsed into the minister’s arms, mortally wounded.
“Someone call 911!” the astounded minister shouted, wiping blood and brain from his face that was lacerated from a bony fragment.
Parishioners scattered, screaming in horror at the unexplained, sudden graphic violence. Shocking and senseless, especially on this Easter morning.
Some rushed back into the church to pray. Several rushed to Mary Beth’s aid, including a physician who pronounced her dead on the scene from the massive cranial wound.
The doctor then noticed a man grimacing in pain, bent over holding his chest, several feet away, experiencing difficulty breathing. He sank to his knees.
After quickly examining him, the doctor yelled out, “Call an ambulance. This man is severely wounded!”
After the bullet had exited Mary Beth’s skull, it hit another parishioner coming out the church door. The wounded man coughed up blood and gasped for air. The doctor diagnosed clinical signs of a hemopneumothorax.
“Better get him to a hospital. Unfortunately, there is no hope for this poor woman.”
“Nailed her, Amir!” the sniper proudly announced.
“Nice job…Good shot,” said the Middle Eastern man who hired him. Seconds later, he executed the unsuspecting hit man he had hired for this assassination, firing, from a close range position behind him, a single .9mm bullet into the back of the sniper’s head with his PC-9 ZOAF semiautomatic pistol.
He then furtively slipped away down the fire escape and walked casually one block to a waiting car that would whisk him to a private airport terminal in Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay. From there, a small Mexican jet would ferry him to Mexico City. Two hours later he would catch a prearranged flight to Tehran via Geneva.
The conspirator purposely left the dead hit man and the assassination’s evidence on the rooftop to send a message, knowing that with time, the authorities would figure it out. He wanted them to discover who did it. That was the intended point and poignant purpose of his long journey.
The Fatwa had missed their primary target on many occasions.
Today’s soft target was an installment on their retribution plan.