For the world’s most dangerous bad guys and bad gals, Gabin Endre Rocc is a good man to have on their side. Ruthless, efficient, cold-blooded, and lethal, but always available… for the right price. Rocc is a highly skilled freelance gun-for-hire with only one specialty: keeping criminals safe from the consequences of the lives they lead. No one knows where he came from, no one knows who trained him, no one is even sure what he looks like, but about him one thing is certain, he has never failed on an assignment. And considering Rocc’s client list, this says a lot. However, there is one more thing that most people don’t know about Gabin Rocc, the man does not exist, never has. Rocc is the secret creation of a select group of American intelligence officials, a convenient fiction used as a cover for various off-the-books and totally unsanctioned clandestine operations over the past twenty years. But now Rocc’s creators need him to come to life for a very dangerous mission with far-reaching implications.
Democracy is under siege in every corner of the globe, countries once seen to be moving toward freedom and stability have suddenly found themselves marred by violence and unrest, prompting the rise of autocratic demagogues who promise a return to better times… in exchange for absolute loyalty and total obedience to The Leader. Meanwhile in the United States, many in the intelligence community have begun to see disturbingly familiar patterns emerge, a deliberate and coordinated strategy at work. As Shakespeare might have put it, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” But with little direct evidence to point to and an increasingly dysfunctional administration in the White House, the career professionals realize that they will have to take matters into their own hands in order to stop this threat before it spreads to America, and it might already be too late. They have the perfect asset groomed and ready to infiltrate into the heart of the conspiracy, however, given the level of danger, The Asset isn’t too keen on going in alone, and then someone in the know makes a joke: “Gabin Rocc would be the perfect man for this job. Or would be if he existed…”
A few days later, an old friend calls in every marker in the book in order to transform Derrick Olin from Birmingham’s best bodyguard into the world’s most dangerous MERCENARY!
It was late on a Sunday afternoon in January when I came home after being away for a week. It was already dark and cold and despite the fact that it wasn’t even six p.m., I could feel my bed calling to me. After I made something to eat, or more likely ordered in because I probably didn’t have much in the kitchen, I might decide to make it an early night. The universe knows I could use the rest.
I backed into my assigned parking space, shut off the jeep’s engine, and sat back with my eyes closed for a few moments, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly. Damn was I tired. Curious thing though, I hadn’t been away on a job. A personal matter. Comforting a friend, sort of.
CeCe Hopewell, who until recently had been the head of the Alabama Republican Party, AL-GOP, lost her husband to cancer a little over two weeks ago following a two-year battle that they initially thought he had a decent chance of winning, given that it was caught in the early stages. In the end, however, the Big C was just too much for Bill Hopewell and he shuffled off to the great unknown with his present wife and the children from his first marriage surrounding him at the family home in Montgomery.
CeCe had taken a leave of absence from her duties as party chair early last year, but six months ago, as Bill’s condition deteriorated, she decided that politics was the last thing she should be concerned about and permanently handed the reins off to the man who had been running the shop pretty much on his own for the last year anyway, her deputy, so she could focus all of her energies on Bill. She was also co-owner and a full partner at a CPA firm in Montgomery and her partners there all pitched in to take up the slack so she could look after Bill.
When he died, CeCe became the caretaker for everyone else, his children, his siblings, even his nearly ninety year old bedridden and barely lucid mother. She kept them together, got them through the roughest parts, made sure all arrangements were taken care of, and then stood holding their hands as everyone wept at the graveside while Bill’s ornately decorated metal coffin was lowered into the ground.
I was in the far background that day, watching everyone mourn, seeing the fifty-five year old widow dressed in black from head to toe, stoic in the numbness that enveloped her. She watched until the coffin came to its final resting spot, watched as the rest of the family dropped single yellow roses into the grave, then stood alone with her head bowed, praying in silence for several minutes. She was holding a single red rose in her left hand. She kissed it, then dropped it into the grave.
And that was that.
I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn on Interstate Park Road, approximately seven miles northeast of Gunster Road where CeCe and Bill Hopewell had lived since they were married a little less than eleven years ago. Two days after the funeral, at about one in the afternoon, I was eating a slice of veggie pizza when a knock sounded at the door. Wiping my hands on a paper towel, I went to answer it.
CeCe stood there wearing a plaid overcoat unbuttoned over a white turtleneck sweater and blue jeans. She wasn’t wearing a hat despite the cold and the light rain that had been falling all morning, but the coat did have a hood attached. Her short cut blonde hair was a little mussed, as if the hood had been up before she got inside. And she was wearing water splashed brown Timberlands. We stared at one another for several long moments before I reached out a hand and led her inside.
For the rest of that day, and the two days following, CeCe did not leave my hotel room, barely left the bed, and never put on one stitch of clothing after I undressed her about ninety minutes later. First she cried, then she talked, and cried some more. I listened, I held, I comforted, and said very little. From long experience I learned that it was hard to say the wrong thing if you didn’t say much, or anything at all. Kind of made me think of that Keith Whitley song (later remade by Alison Krauss) from my college days, You Say it Best When You Say Nothing At All.