QandA with Greg Wendleton Author of The Garret Cooper Series


Can you, for those who don’t know you already,
tell something about yourself and how you became an author?

I spent more than forty years in sales, first in the life insurance field and then a long career in food service sales.  I never had formal training and was quite a poor English student.  Way back in elementary school, I scored extremely low on the Ohio Basic Skills test for spelling.  So, I am very thankful for spell check!   I was afflicted by a rare eye malady, Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy, in November 2018, which has left me with very low vision.  Since travel was a major part of my job and I could no longer drive, I retired in October of last year.

I had always harbored dreams of doing something creative and was an avid reader of mystery/action novels.  So, I decided to test my imagination and started writing this past February.  My typing skills, once very good, have been negatively impacted, so my brain gets ahead of my fingers and I have to do several rewrites.  Regardless of the hindrance of poor vision, I am having a blast writing and am so humbled by the reviews that my first book has received.  “Roads to Redemption” was released on July 16, 2021, and the early reviews and feedback have been equally encouraging.  

Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!

I selected this question because it actually answers several other potential questions.  I was born on Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.  My dad spent more than twenty years in the Air Force, so I’m what’s known as an Air Force brat.  I loved growing up on bases and lived in Okinawa for three years.  The best place we lived was on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.  I met Jan Merck, who would eventually become my wife, while she lived on Hickam AFB as well.  We met at Radford High School, the alma mater of Bette Midler, in 1971.  I claim she approached me while I was leaving cross country practice, but she denies the veracity of my claim.

Unfortunately, military life took us in different directions and after a few years of trying to stay in contact, we drifted apart.  Thirty-five years after we last saw each other, Jan sent me a FaceBook message and friend request.  It took me about half a heartbeat to respond and in November we will celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary.  Together, we have four adult children, all of whom are married, and four grandsons.  We are also dog lovers.  After our wired-haired dachshund, Nic, passed we went in the opposite direction and now have an eighty pound labradoodle, Chief, who is the face of Loyal Pup Books. 

What inspired you to write this book?

My best friend lives in San Antonio, Texas.  His name is Steve Cooper, and he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it; no questions asked.  So, I had an idea to create a character that would pay homage to his personality.  When San Antonio experienced a freak snowstorm in February, I used that weather event and Steve’s persona to start writing. 

I had an idea of where I was headed with the story, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there.  With the COVID pandemic gripping the world and the release of several vaccines, I figured the United Nations would be looking for a way to help underdeveloped countries, and some criminal organizations would be looking for a way to take advantage.

That is where the premise for “The Greatest of These” and the Garret Cooper Series came from.  Honestly, I changed directions, added characters, expanded the reach of certain characters, namely Scott Crowley, who is in reality a dear friend of mine, on an almost daily basis.  My wife asked me if I had an outline that I was following and I had to confess that I didn’t.  I was keeping notes so I could refer back to them for details, but I knew where I wanted to go, so I just let the words flow.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

If it’s okay, I’m going to answer this question and incorporate a few other questions into one.  The most enjoyable thing I experienced writing both released books in the series, has been sharing what is in my head with friends, family and readers that have found their way to the series.  

As I wrote and shared small sections with friends, I gained encouragement and confidence.  So, I began asking if I could use their names and persona in my stories.  Scott Crowley’s family was in the Coca-Cola business in Minnesota, so he always has a supply of Coke on hand.  His personality is reflected in the character.  Alex Ramirez was never in the Army or an undercover DEA agent, but he is a man of great character and powerfully built.  Charles Ivory is a friend of great integrity and he allowed me to use his name and physical likeness as a key character.

Turning my friends into characters, whether using their actual names or a mash-up of their name has been a blast for me and provided great inspiration.

Do your characters seem to hijack the story
or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? 

I feel like I have the reigns of the story as opposed to the characters hijacking the story. Nearly all of my characters are flawed and battling some demons that haunt them.  My title character is definitely a flawed man!  While I want to create and develop strong characters that readers will feel strongly about, I want to weave them in and out of the stories.  I believe this is part of the maturation process that will hopefully lead me to being a better writer, not just someone putting a bunch of words on paper.

The feedback I’ve received seems to indicate I’ve succeeded in my goal.  They have mentioned the “interesting and well developed characters”, but more importantly that the story line caught their attention and kept them reading.  Hearing and reading comments like, “a real page turner” and “I had to force myself to put the book down”, reinforce my belief.

Here is where my forty plus years in sales come into play!  As a salesman, I was crafting stories every day.  Why my product best meets your needs.  Why are “The Greatest of These” and “Roads to Redemption” must reads?  Both books are fast paced, page turners.  They are set in the relevance of our current world situation and focus on the fact that while we are all flawed individuals, we can change.  We can work together to overcome obstacles or bad choices that leave us in precarious positions.  Not always can we extract ourselves from the holes we have dug, there are consequences for our actions, but if you strive to overcome your past you just might succeed.  

Do the characters all come to you at the same time
or do some of them come to you as you write?

When I started writing “The Greatest of These” in late February 2021, I had five main characters in mind.  Garret Cooper, Fonda, Chad Wilhite, Jamie Wilhite and Conrad Bishop.  I had inklings of other characters that would be introduced, but I had no idea that Jackie Ming would become a character of how he would evolve.  Likewise, Scott Crowley initially was going to be a character that was introduced and then forgotten.  I’m so very glad that I changed my thought process on that! 

After the initial start up, most of the characters come to me as I’m writing.  How does a specific character fit into the story line?  I prefer to insert the character into the story as opposed to writing the story to fit a character. 

In a way, that is an advantage to being self-published.  I can create and write what comes to me.  If I need to pivot, I can pivot without running it past my editor.  I have more freedom and certainly more flexibility.  Don’t take me wrong; in this highly competitive field, I’d love to have a publisher.  As you know there are millions of books available on Amazon and other sources and it is very difficult to break through.  That is why I appreciate what you are doing for the writing community.  I’m hopeful that the doors that you open will lead new readers to the Garret Cooper Series and my future stories.

The Greatest of These
Garret Cooper Series Book 1
by Greg Wendleton
Genre: Thriller, Mystery

What happens when a global pandemic, a life-saving vaccine and a criminal conspiracy come to a boiling point? Garret Cooper is a naïve, paid assassin who is leading a double life. Conspiring against him and looking for a massive payday are his mentor and former teammates. When they attempt to frame him for murder, conspiracy and treason, he must question everything he thought was true, and confess his hidden life to his wife. In this first book in the series, Garret Cooper uses his wits to overcome the obstacles he faces on the beautiful island of Maui.

The Greatest of These is a fast-paced page-turner that will capture your imagination…a must-read!

Goodreads * Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

I woke to an unusually bright light blasting through the
transom window above my king-sized headboard I
wearily rose from my bed and stumbled toward the closed
blinds covering the window overlooking my backyard
I opened the blinds and was dumbstruck by the white,
flakes falling from the sky to join the several inches that
glistened in the early morning sunshine as it covered the
ground

“What the hell…”, I mumbled to myself

“It’s called snow”, said my wife, Fonda, who lay
propped on her side in our bed One strap of her nightie
had slid off her slender shoulder and exposed a tantalizing
view

I stared at her and then blurted, “I know it’s snow,
but where did this come from?”

“The sky babe, where else would it come from? It
was predicted ”

“Predicted? What are you talking about? We live
in San Antonio, Texas, for crying out loud We don’t get
snow!”

“Jim Cantori”, Fonda stated matter of factly.

“What?”

“Jim Cantori, The Weather Channel? He’s been
talking about it for the past several days. An Arctic blast
all the way south to Houston.”

At this point Fonda was sitting upright and the
other strap had slid lower off her shoulder leaving her
nearly full exposed. At my present age of 47 I was no
longer built like the 5’10” fullback who had played at the
University of Texas…..at San Antonio twenty-five years
ago. I carried 210 pounds on my thick frame, but had
gotten a little soft in the core. Right now I was feeling a
little firmer.

“Well, I don’t pay attention to the Weather Channel,
but I’m paying attention to you.”

Fonda smiled, a devilish grin erupting on her
beautiful face as I confidently strode back toward our bed.
Right as I was getting ready for my smoothest of moves I
felt a cold, wet nose goose me from behind. Damn, it was
Chief, our neighbors Chocolate Labradoodle. He had
just woken, probably because of my Ric Flair strut and
the Nature Boy “woooo” that I had just let escape from
my mouth. I forgot we were dog sitting for our good
friends, Chad and Jamie Wilhite while they were on a
vacation trip to Maui. Now, of all times, he needed to go
outside and take care of his business. Damn!

I have to admit, I’m not a dog lover at heart. If they
are someone else’s pet, that’s cool. But generally speaking,
dogs are high maintenance and I had my hands full
maintaining Fonda. Of course, we don’t have a fenced
yard that I can just let him out and hustle back into bed,
so my body was quickly returning to it’s 47-year-old state,
a little soft around the middle. I’ll have to get dressed,
hunt down a coat, and take Chief for a walk. What was
I thinking when I told Chad I’d be happy to keep Chief
for the next week? I sure wasn’t planning to go on a walk
in several inches of freshly fallen snow.

“Sweetie, do you want to go on a walk with us?”

“Uh, no! It’s Saturday and I’m going to stay right
here in my bed. I’ll be here when you get back though.

Oh, don’t forget to take a grocery bag with you.”

I looked dumbfounded and said, “Why do I need a
grocery bag?”

“To pick up Chief ’s poop.”

“What? I have to pick up his poop?”

“Oh yeah. Bless your heart.”

“Shit!”

“That’s right.”

How did I not know this stuff? My name is Garret
Cooper and, after all, I’m a fucking spy!

CHAPTER TWO

Chief didn’t want to just take care of his business, he
was fascinated by the snow and wanted to romp
around and play and play and then play some more
Forty-five minutes later we fumbled our way into the
kitchen with grocery bag in hand

“Don’t bring that into my kitchen! Leave it outside ”

Damn, Fonda was fully dressed So much for
sneaking back in bed for some undercover work this
morning “Oh, right, I guess I should put it in the garage
trash bin ”

“You think babe?” Fonda softly said as she rolled her
eyes at me like I was eight years old I guess sometimes I
acted like I was still a boy Young at heart, what’s wrong
with that? “You need to feed Chief His food is in the
garage Would you like an omelet for breakfast?”

“Sure It’s a small consolation prize for what I was
hoping for ”

Fonda just smiled and cracked some eggs saying
nothing in response She was an interesting woman
Athletically built, standing 5’ 8” and a few years younger
than me. Her parents were big fans of the movie “Easy
Rider”, hence her name. I’m pretty sure her mom had a
crush on Peter Fonda. She grew up tough in the rough
towns of west Texas where her father worked in the oil
fields. She was a lanky kid who developed into a strong
distance runner and earned a scholarship to UTSA,
where we met her sophomore year. She wasn’t so lanky
when we met after practices one Wednesday afternoon
bumping into each other in route to the student union.
She thought I was a meathead and I thought she
was hot! We were both right. I was at least a gentleman
and picked up the duffle she was carrying. What I
mumbled wasn’t really important, but I apologized and
offered to escort her the rest of the way. A few minutes
later, when we arrived at the student union, I told her I
was going to grab a pizza and asked her if she wanted
to join me. To my utter amazement, she said yes. We’ve
been together ever since.

We were married four years later and tried to have
kids, but it just didn’t work out. So, Fonda focused on
building her client base as a physical therapist and I
built my career as a sales representative for a major retail
packaged goods company. At least that’s the cover that I
use to hide my true profession. I work on a contract basis
hunting down and neutralizing traitors to our country
for an alphabet agency of the United States government.

After my dreams of playing professional football
were dashed by my stature, and maybe my limited talent,
I took the sales position to pay my student loans and
to look respectable for Fonda’s parents who had high
expectations for their daughter, despite their limited
means. I loved her, so I was happy to do whatever I needed
to do to please Rich and Jodie Murphy. Sadly, they were
killed a few years after our wedding driving on a long,
dark stretch of I-20 between Big Spring and Midland
returning home from a Dallas Cowboys football game.

Fonda was devastated having lost her entire family in a
single event. The Murphy’s had only Fonda and she was
alone, except for me.

I wasn’t much of a help. Instead of providing her
with a strong shoulder to lean on and strong hands to
pull her through the hard times, I let her suffer in her
depression and sink into some heavy drinking. It was
during this time that I met Conrad through a mutual
friend of ours.

With no last name offered, Conrad became a
sounding board for me to talk about Fonda’s depression
and how it was making me sad and unfocused. Conrad
reminded me that Fonda’s loss wasn’t about me and I
needed to be supportive and try to refocus her depression
into something positive.

I convinced her to go to the gun range with me one
day and we found a mutual passion that rekindled the
flame we felt for each other. The range also led me to my
second career. Conrad was an excellent marksman and he
worked with me to develop a keen eye and a steady hand.

After many months of working together he asked me to
meet him at his farm outside of Helotes, a small town
west of San Antonio. He had a modest house sitting on
about 200 acres of sand and scrub. What I didn’t realize
at first was he also had enough armament to outfit a third
world army that he kept in a secured basement.

Shit was about to get real!

CHAPTER THREE

I don’t want to bore you with details that don’t really
matter in the long run I could tell you about all the
different weapons Conrad had in his cache, but do you
really care? Let’s just say it was more than I could have
imagined and included hand guns, automatic rifles, sniper
rifles and shit I have, to this day, no idea what they are

The main thing you need to know is that instead
of going to the gun range with my beautiful wife and
watching her get all geeked up and then whisking her
off her feet and making wild animal love, I was out on a
sandy, hilly farm with a 55-year-old armorist What the
hell was I thinking I was way too young to be having
a mid-life crisis and you don’t have the seven-year-itch
with a gun toting middle aged white guy named Conrad
I didn’t even know if that was his first name or his last
name! To this day, I still don’t know

I just know I needed the excitement that this man
was offering to me Maybe I was compensating for the
lost glory of my mediocre football career Did I mention
that I’m originally from San Antonio? So, I didn’t even
leave home to chase my NFL dream. UTSA was the only
partial scholarship offer I had. Truth is, I probably should
have been seeing a psychiatrist. I have a totally hot wife
that made my knees wobble and I’m traipsing around
with snakes, scorpions and a mysterious man with a
shaved head.

Anyway, Conrad taught me a lot about weapons,
weapon care, tracking game, searching for clues in what
I observed and how to become an expert marksman. I
would make excuses to Fonda why I needed to be gone
for a weekend every three or four weeks and spend time
at Conrad’s farm, sleeping on an old army cot, curled
up in a stinky, sweat soaked surplus sleeping bag. We
generally ate MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat) and drank Jose
Cuervo straight out of the bottle. Hell, I’m lucky I didn’t
catch something and die out there. Do these sound like
the actions of a sane man?

This bizarre behavior went on for about six months
before Conrad started to share “secrets” with me that
began to shed light on his purpose in life and his plan
for me.

Conrad wasn’t a nut job, he was the head of a secret
force of special men that took care of delicate matters
for the United States government. Delicate matters that
could not be handled by the FBI, CIA or any number of
sanctioned organizations. They were the quiet assassins.
They were the covert killers. They were the men who
kept the wolves at bay. I wanted, no, I needed to be a
member of this team. I was the ultimate team player. I
was a fullback for crying out loud

As I dove deeper into the training, I learned that
each man worked alone and never interacted with other
team members. Conrad was the only contact I ever
had. We were all freelance contractors who were paid,
handsomely I might add, for each assignment.
Fonda was losing her patience with my “weekend
business travel” and it became harder to keep my secret
from her. Yet, I had no choice. I couldn’t tell her what
I was doing. The best thing that ever happened to me
would walk out of my life in a heartbeat. She wasn’t thirty
yet and had been through the loss of her parents already,
she didn’t need this crap dumped on her too. She could
easily start over and find a normal, stable man to build a
life with.

Regardless of that, I was about to cross a line that I
couldn’t come back from

.

CHAPTER FOUR

During spring break of 2005, the daughter of a well-known
and highly placed United States senator
from a Northeastern state was abducted from her hotel,
along with three sorority sisters while in Aruba The
abduction was devastating to the senator and his wife and
created ugly headlines for the tourism board of Aruba

The four girls had been on a “pub crawl” At one
of the last stops they missed the bus that had been
taking them to several of the stops along the crawl They
decided to stay until the bar closed for the night and
were convinced it was safe to walk the few blocks to their
hotel That was a horrible decision

According to the few eye witness reports the local
police were able to track down, the girls were picked up in
a late model, white Ford sedan in front of the marina in
Oranjestad Four young, blonde, pretty coeds disappeared
without any solid leads The local police had no ideas
and provided the family no solace The senator flexed his
muscle and the FBI began an in-depth investigation that
lasted most of a year Finally, they caught a break
During the spring of 2006, a similar event occurred,
but this time the local police were able to apprehend
the abductors before they could “disappear” the young
ladies. After some intense negotiating and more intense
questioning by the FBI, the authorities had the lead they
needed. A Venezuelan cartel that trafficked in drugs and
humans, had a small network of abductors on the island
nation that feasted on young, beautiful ladies for sale to
depraved men via the cartel.

Additional investigation by the FBI led them
to the source in the jungles of rural Venezuela. Near
Tinaquillo, south of Valencia, hid a miserable excuse for
a human being and his billion-dollar empire. From his
lair he conducted his despicable business of selling young
women to the highest bidder. “Clients” would come in
every May to examine the merchandise and prepare for
the one night of debauchery and bidding. The senator’s
daughter and her friends had been enslaved the previous
May and the FBI had traced them to four regulars who
were expected to be present in May 2006. Thanks to the
FBI’s legwork, the young ladies were about to be rescued
in simultaneous raids in Brazil, Russia, Taiwan and Saudi
Arabia. The senator wanted his daughter back more than
anything. But, second on his agenda was the removal of
the four men and the cartel Don.

I received an email in the secure account that had
been set up for me. It gave me just a few details:
First assignment. Meet me at SAT
on May 17 6am. Long term parking
Level 3. Pack for the jungle.

Conrad and I traveled together to Caracas from
San Antonio via DFW on May 17, 2006. We were met
at the airport by local contacts who provided us with
route maps and detailed information on the location of
the compound outside of Tinaquillo. They also provided
us with the tools we would need to complete our mission.
There were five targets. I didn’t know at the time that
three other members of Conrad’s team, each traveling
separately, were given specific setup locations, weapons
and the identities of their targets.

We traveled southwest from Caracas on Highway
1 on the 18th arriving in Valencia late in the day. The
following day we made the journey to Tinaquillo
and located our target location. After a thorough
reconnoitering of the area and determining the setup
locations were solid, we returned to our one-star hotel
in Tinaquillo to hopefully get a good night’s sleep, one
that we would desperately need. I don’t know if you’ve
ever spent a night in a jungle area in a one-star hotel, the
sleep was anything but good. Mosquitos, bugs, probably
in the bed, and incessant noise kept me awake most of
the night. We met before the sun arose on the 20th with
plans to deliver a Saturday night these assholes would
never forget.

We continued to follow the highway south for about
thirty minutes before turning off the pavement onto a
barely visible dirt track. Conrad pulled the vehicle into
a small clearing and then conducted a three-point turn
so that we were faced out to enable a quick exfil. We got
to work cutting off some branches from the nearby trees
and hid the car as best we could. Satisfied with our camo
job, we began the hike to our set up locations, roughly
one mile into the jungle.

We arrived at our respective sites, 1,000 yards from
the compound, before the sun had made its way much over
the eastern horizon. In the dense jungle it was still mostly
dark and we were easily concealed. At this point, alone
and scared, I settled into my cover with my camouflaged
rifle and my surplus jungle camo fatigues. I sighted in the
poolside lanai where the scumbags would be perched for
the “party”. Satisfied that I was fully concealed and ready,
all I could do was wait for the festivities to commence at
six that evening. Their last evening.

The next eight hours were a mixture of topless
ladies swimming, snorting and servicing these stronzos.
Including the host, there were nine total men in
attendance. Four of them would never forget what
happened this night. Five of them would be forever cast
into the fires of hell.

We had no communication with each other during
this wait. Conrad and I planned to meet back at the spot
we had concealed the vehicle to exfil to Valencia and our
journey back to San Antonio. The other members of our
team were once again on their own. At precisely 5:55pm
I found my target sitting on the lanai, smoking a fat cigar,
Cuban I’m sure. He was morbidly obese, balding, and his
name was Boris. That’s all I needed to know. I began to
slow my breathing to lower my heartrate and prepare to
pull the trigger for the first time against another human.
Except, this fuck was anything but human.

At exactly 6:00pm, I gently squeezed the trigger
and watched as my bullet hit its target, entering his
forehead and exiting with what little brain matter he had.
Screaming erupted and all hell broke loose in the seconds
following the deaths of five subhuman beings at 6:00pm
on May 20, 2006.

By 6:23pm I was at our vehicle and Conrad arrived
moments later. I had cleared the brush we had used to
hide the vehicle. By 6:25pm we were on Highway 5
headed north leaving behind my first mission.
Shit had officially gotten real!

***

Excerpt from The Greatest of These by Greg Wendleton. Copyright 2021. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Roads to Redemption
Garret Cooper Series Book 2

Garret Cooper continues his search for Conrad Bishop and Jackie Ming throughout Central America in this, the second book in the Garret Cooper Series. While Garret and Fonda attempt to establish a new life on Maui, the threats posed by the dangerous fugitives continue to threaten their existence. Conrad finds himself embroiled in a feud and Jackie battles demons that continue to haunt him. Friends, both new and old, lend assistance to the manhunt as well as the efforts of many men to find a better path in life…their personal road to redemption.

Goodreads * Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Our jet touched down at Kahului Airport, on Maui’s
north shore, a little behind schedule due to the
strong headwinds we were battling most of the way from
Dallas It was just after six o’clock on Monday evening,
March 29 My wife, Fonda, and I had left our former
hometown of San Antonio, Texas before the sun had
risen to make this long, but exciting journey
My name is Garret Cooper, and due to a bizarre
twist of fate, I had lost two jobs within a matter of days

My activities had also caused Fonda to lose most of her
clients as well But now we were starting a new life, one
filled with endless possibilities I had spent twenty-five
years working for a retail, consumer packaged goods
company, in the field of sales Fonda was an amazing
physical therapist who had been working freelance for
several years Oh yeah, my second job I had also been
“moonlighting” as a paid assassin for the past fifteen years.

I had been “moonlighting” for a man I had only
known as Conrad, who I naively thought was running
an off-the-books, yet legitimate team, tasked with
neutralizing some of the worst abusers of human rights
in the world. My first mission had been in Venezuela
in May of 2006. I, along with Conrad and three other
members of his team, who I never met, eliminated a
cartel boss and four of his guests during a human slavery
auction. My target was a Russian, who we named Boris.
Also targeted were; a Brazilian billionaire, a Saudi oil
sheik and a Taiwanese crime boss. The Taiwanese man
had purchased the daughter of a sitting United States
senator at a similar auction the previous year. The senator,
and the Taiwanese crime syndicate, had hired Conrad to
take out this band of monsters.

After that mission, I had conducted a dozen more
solo operations, similar to the first one, over the following
fifteen years. I had managed to keep this second career a
secret from my wife until the day Conrad ordered me
to “neutralize”, let’s be honest, murder, my neighbor
and father figure, Chad Wilhite. I knew something was
terribly wrong at that point. Chad was a retired United
States Air Force Colonel, and the President of Wilhite
Logistical Consulting. His company had been awarded
a contract to move fifty-million doses of the new, singledose
COVID vaccine, from Chicago to Thailand, for the
United Nations Humanitarian Aid Committee. They
had purchased the doses, at a cost of one-billion dollars,
for distribution to underserved areas of Thailand, Laos
and Cambodia. Conrad, through a relationship with the
United Bamboo Gang, was going to sell the information,
so the UBG could pirate the shipment and sell it to the
highest bidder.

Conrad had reached out to a man known as The
Red Assassin, who was an operative of the UBG, based
on Taiwan. They were a ruthless gang, numbering around
ten-thousand men, who dealt in drugs, human trafficking,
prostitution and other crimes. Their leader, Mr. Hsu, had
authorized a payment of fifty-million dollars to Conrad
for the information about the shipment.

In order to gain the full knowledge required to pull
off the heist, Conrad and his other three mercenaries,
kidnapped Chad Wilhite, and his wife, Jamie. The
Wilhites had been vacationing on Maui. They were
abducted on a Monday evening, after dining at the Rock
and Brews Restaurant in Paia, near their lodging at The
Inn at Mama’s Fish House. The couple was held hostage
in an old shack outside of Hana for nearly forty-eight
hours. Chad had been beaten, and physical harm had
been threatened upon Jamie, unless Chad gave them the
final details of the shipment that they needed to achieve
their big payday.

I had flown to Maui as soon as Conrad directed me
into action, but not to kill Chad. Instead, I had confessed
my second career to my wife, Fonda, who was devastated
by my revelation. She ordered me to rescue the Wilhites,
or “don’t bother coming home”.

Thanks to the help of an FBI
Special Agent, Jerry Presley, and the Captain of the Kula
Fire Station, Tommy Pang, we had located and rescued
the Wilhites from the abandoned shack outside of Hana.
Fortunately, by rescuing Chad, and of course Jamie, the
FBI was able to alert the United Nations of the planned
hijacking of the vaccine, and preventive measures had
been taken to safeguard the valuable product.

Only one captor was found at the scene of the
rescue outside of Hana, and he later died from food and
alcohol poisoning that he had inflicted upon himself.

Way too much Jose Cuervo and spoiled Poke had been
his undoing. The FBI and local police had located the
Wilhites rental car, still parked in the lot across from
Rock and Brews and were able to lift a clean finger print
they matched to one of two men photographed inside
the Kahului Airport who were preparing to fly back to
Dallas. They were not able to locate either man at the
addresses they cited on the fake identifications they had
been using. However, the FBI had learned that a meeting
between Conrad and his “three stooges” was scheduled
for Saturday, March 6, at Conrad’s rural Texas farm.

Conrad had been warned, by The Red Assassin, that
he was being misled by the FBI into thinking his entire
scheme was proceeding as planned. So, the two men
joined forces and made plans of their own. Conrad wired
his modest farm house to explode, ten minutes after the
scheduled reunion with his men, leaving no loose ends
behind. The FBI had deployed a HRT/SWAT team
to capture all the men, but the unexpected explosion
vaporized the structure and everyone inside. There were
only two men inside at the time. All three of Conrad’s
stooges were now dead.

Conrad and The Red Assassin had fled Texas earlier
that same day and entered into Mexico at the Nuevo
Laredo border crossing. Conrad Bishop and Jackie Ming,
The Red Assassin, had driven Conrad’s black, 2018
Cadillac Escalade into Mexico and stopped at the home
of one of Conrad’s old friends, Manuel Garcia in a rural
area outside of Mexico City. They had spent two nights
in the company of Manuel, who fed them and kept them
hidden away. As a reward for his hospitality, Jackie Ming
had murdered him, while he slept. Jackie then rigged his
house to explode in a fiery ball of propane gas that had
leaked from his oven and mixed with a smoldering cigar.

The two fugitives, who were on the run from the
FBI and the UBG, had tied up all their loose ends, except
for one. Me. I was the last person alive who could directly
implicate Conrad Bishop as the brains behind the
scheme to sell the secreted information about the vaccine
shipment. I could also prove his involvement in multiple
killings for hire on foreign soil.

As for me, I was fired by my real employer. When
the news channels turned an FBI statement announcing
that the Wilhites and I were missing during an elaborate
ploy to flush out Conrad, into a story implicating the
three of us in an attempt to profit from the vaccine
shipment, I was summarily dismissed. The buzz of that
story lasted a couple of days and my employer didn’t wait
to learn the truth. Unfortunately, the backlash hit Fonda
as well. Most of her clients were easily manipulated by
the media, just like my employer, and cancelled scheduled
appointments, leaving Fonda with only a handful of loyal
clients.

When I did return home, she welcomed me
back and we attempted to move forward. With no real
prospects for work and a shattered reputation, we decided
to sell our home and start fresh, in Kihei, Maui, Hawaii.

CHAPTER TWO

Fonda and I rose from our first-class seats, I’m not an
idiot, and prepared to disembark from the American
Airlines, Boeing jet Bidding the friendly and diligent
flight attendants aloha, we walked off the plane and up
the jetway, into the Kahului Airport terminal We each
made a quick pit stop to freshen up before we continued
on to the baggage claim area We had four pieces of
luggage that we needed to claim, so I procured one of the
carts that were available for rent We didn’t have to wait
very long since our luggage, like us, had received priority
handling on the flights from San Antonio and Dallas
We collected all four large suitcases and checked inside
the two pieces that also carried our locked handgun
cases Yes, we had filled out the appropriate paperwork
and declared their existence in our luggage

I texted my friend, Scott Crowley, when we had
landed and arranged to meet his wife, Leilani, and him,
just outside the terminal They had driven two cars to
Kahului from Lahaina to greet us One was their new
BMW 7 series sedan, painted a beautiful metallic silver
with plush leather interior. The other vehicle, was their
old BMW 7 series sedan. It was a 2017 model, painted a
charcoal gray. I had purchased the older model Beemer
when Scott had informed me of his new acquisition. It
was a win-win, since they didn’t need two sedans, and we
needed a vehicle. We had sold both of our cars on the
mainland instead of paying to ship them to Maui.

Because of COVID, we were still wearing face
masks and did not hug each other. Instead, I grabbed
Scott’s hand and shook it with abandon. I was glad to see
him and from the gleam in his eyes, I could tell he was
glad to see me as well. I then took Leilani’s had in both
of mine and bowed slightly, before saying, “It’s so good to
see you. Both of you. Please, let me introduce my better
half.” Reaching for Fonda’s hand, I grasped it and led her
to the forefront. “Scott, Leilani, this is Fonda. The best
thing that ever happened to me.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard so much
about both of you and appreciate everything you’ve done
for us.”

Leilani spoke before Scott could formulate a
response. “We are honored to meet you as well. Garret
has spoken so much about you, I feel like I already know
you. I’m looking forward to really getting to know you.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I was going to say!” added
Scott.

We all laughed at his comment and began to load
the four pieces of luggage into the spacious trunk of
our newly acquired sedan. Scott and Leilani had made
a dinner reservation at Mama’s Fish House for seven thirty,
so we each settled into our respective sedans and
headed out of the airport and onto the Hana Highway,
for the short drive to Paia. Initially, we rode in silence
until Fonda spoke. “They weren’t really what I had
pictured.”

I asked her, “How’s that?”

“Well, Scott is pretty close to what I had envisioned,
but Leilani is absolutely beautiful!”

I laughed, then said, “Funny, that’s what people tell
me after they’ve met us for the first time.”

Fonda punched my right arm and we continued
the journey to Mama’s in silence. Passing through Paia, I
did not point out the Rock and Brews parking lot where
Chad and Jamie had been abducted. Some things are
better left unsaid. I followed Scott into the parking lot
and we parked in a remote area away from the majority
of the other vehicles. I allowed Fonda to take in the
moonlit night and the scenery that made this such a
special spot.

After a few moments, I said, “Shall we?”

“Oh, wow, yes, let’s catch up to Scott and Leilani.”

We took each other’s hand and strolled to the main
entrance of the restaurant. Fonda, spun around slowly,
taking in the scenery and the décor. I was so glad she was
enjoying this evening, so far. Much to my delight, Pat,
one of the managers of the property, saw me standing by
the hostess stand and walked over to greet our party.

“Mr. Cooper, I’m so pleased to see you again. We
have a special table for you with a beautiful, moon-lit
view of the cove.”

“Thank you, Pat. To be honest, I didn’t think I
would be back on Maui so soon. Please, let me introduce
you to my wife, Fonda.”

“It’s an honor to meet you Fonda. You and Mr.
Cooper will always be honored guests of Mama’s Fish
House.”

“Thank you, Pat. Garret told me of your kindness
when he was here last month. I am so happy to be here
tonight. This is such a beautiful spot; I can’t wait to try
the food.”

“Well then, let’s get you seated. Please follow me.”

“By the way, this is Scott and Leilani Crowley, dear
friends of ours from Lahaina.”

“Ah yes, I remember seeing you both before. It’s
good to have you back.”

Scott replied, “We love Mama’s Fish House, and

I’m sure we will have more reasons to visit in the future.”

We were seated at a round table and Fonda was
offered the prime seat, looking out the open-air window.
Leilani accepted the seat to Fonda’s left. Scott and I filled
in the spaces next to our wives.

Fonda whispered, “I can’t get over how pretty this is.
I grew up in the west Texas oil fields and never dreamed
I would be living in a place like this. Italy is the closest
place I can compare the beauty to.”

Leilani leaned closer to Fonda and replied, “Wait
until you see your first sunset at your new home. It will
take your breath away.”

Our waiter came to our table and greeted us,
offering to take cocktail orders as he placed tonight’s
menus before us. “We have a wonderful, fresh of course,
Ahi, that we can prepared broiled, charcoal grilled, or
pan seared. It would be served with a jasmine rice, fresh
grilled vegetables and our house salad.”

Scott asked for a wine list, and we deferred on
ordering cocktails. “We are celebrating tonight. To new
beginnings. Dinner is our treat tonight, so anything you
want, please don’t hold back.”

Fonda smiled and said, “That is very kind of you. I
will drink whatever wine you select.”

Scott chuckled and added, “I’m not much of a wine
guy, so, maybe, you could recommend something?”

Fonda accepted the wine list and spotted a
Cakebread Chardonnay and recommended they try
it. When the waiter returned with the Sommelier,
Scott accepted Fonda’s suggestion and a bottle of the
chardonnay was ordered. With a flourish, the Sommelier
bowed, acknowledging his approval and slipped away to
select the vintage. Meanwhile, the wait staff removed the
red wine glass and freshened our water glasses. Moments
later the wine steward returned and presented the bottle.

Being helpful, Fonda stated, “That looks lovely.”

With expert care and panache, the cork was
removed and placed on the table in front of Scott. Scott,
thinking quickly, said, “Please allow the ladies to give you
their opinion.”

The gentleman poured a small sample into Fonda
and Leilani’s glasses and the two ladies sipped the wine
and nodded their approval. With that, the four wine
glasses were filled and the Sommelier, placed the bottle
into an ice bucket and excused himself. “Enjoy your meal
and the excellent wine you selected.”

Scott raised his wine glass and offered a toast, “To
your arrival on Maui and to new beginnings!” We clinked
our glasses and repeated, “To new beginnings.”
The wine was excellent. The apple and peach notes
hit our tongues and was going to be great with the Ahi,
no matter how it was prepared. Scott took a second sip
and then set his glass down. “You know, I’m a Coke man
myself, but I could get used to this.”

Once again, we all laughed with Scott, and then
ordered dinner. We all chose the Ahi, Scott and I going
with the charbroiled preparation. Leilani chose the seared
and Fonda selected the broiled preparation. We ate our
house salads and shared tidbits about our past lives and
got to know one another. The ladies seemed to have
found a rhythm and were soon discussing decorating
ideas for our new home.

Scott, seizing the opportunity, said, “Since the ladies
are discussing decorating, I should bring you up-to-date
on the status of your house. It is coming along very nicely.”
I had fallen in love with a three-bedroom house
that Scott and Leilani owned in Kihei, on the west,
or southwest coast of Maui. With its unique shape,
sometimes it’s hard to say what coast you are on while
on Maui. It had been their home prior to building their
current home in Lahaina. It was being used as a short term
and vacation rental when Chad, Jamie and I stayed
there, sequestered by the FBI. The backyard lanai and the
sunset view had captured my heart.

After returning home and discussing our future
life on Maui, we had agreed to purchase the house from
Scott and Leilani. He was wanting to sell it. I think
Leilani would have been happy to move back into it,
but that wasn’t to be. So, when we sold our San Antonio
home, very quickly for more than asking, we decided
to take most of the proceeds and pair it with another
three-hundred-thousand dollars from my ‘other career’
earnings and pay cash for the house. We just needed to
wait until April 15, when we were scheduled to close on
the San Antonio house to conduct the transaction here.
There were several improvements and updates that I felt
would really make it a home. So, Scott had taken on the
role as general contractor for the updates.

“The tile flooring has been removed from the whole
house and the engineered hardwood has been installed. It
looks great! Both bathrooms are just about finished. The
workers just need to finish the grout and set the toilets.”

“Scott, we’re eating.” Leilani gently spoke to her
husband, but got her point across.

“Sorry. Well, those rooms will be done in another
few days. The kitchen has been gutted and the new,
larger sliding door has been installed. It really opens up
the house to the outdoors. The cabinets are in and the
appliances will be delivered within a week.”

“Wow, they have been really busy!”

“Yes, they have. It looks like they might need
another seven to ten days to wrap it all up. It will be the
best hundred grand you ever spent!”

Fonda said, “I can’t wait to see it.”

Leilani added, “And to start furnishing and
decorating it.”

“Well, we have reservations at a hotel in Kihei that
we can extend until all the work is done.”

“Nonsense,” said Scott, “you’ll stay with us. We have
plenty of room and we’d love to have you.”

Fonda replied, “We couldn’t…”

Leilani didn’t let Fonda finish her statement.
Looking into Fonda’s eyes and placing her right hand
upon Fonda’s arm, she said, “You must.”

It was settled. I called the hotel and explained our
situation and they graciously canceled our reservation,
only charging us for the current night. It wasn’t an issue
since I had paid a one-night deposit when I made the
reservation. They already had the money for tonight.
Our meals were delivered and the Sommelier came
by and asked if we wanted another bottle of Cakebread
Chardonnay. Since we had to drive to Lahaina, we begged
off and enjoyed what was remaining in the bottle with
our exquisite Ahi. Scott accepted the check and paid for
our first meal together on Maui.

I was full of hope as we left Mama’s Fish House and
drove the forty miles to Lahaina.

CHAPTER THREE

Scott and Leilani’s home was beautifully illuminated
by professional lighting that accentuated the natural
appearing, native landscaping The clean lines of the
stucco and stone exterior stood as a strong backdrop to
the greenery and blooming floral accents A double door,
filled with frosted glass welcomed us into the interior of
their home As beautiful as the exterior was, the interior
was even more stunning A clear view from the front
door led to a twenty-foot set of wood and glass doors
that slid in sections, all the way to the wall Outside those
doors was an infinity pool and an ocean view.

“My goodness, Scott, this is breathtaking!” I couldn’t
contain my appreciation for the workmanship and the
view

“Thank you We found this piece of property
about ten years ago and then had this home built to take
advantage of the view The sunsets here rival the ones
you’ll experience at your home ”

Leilani led us into the living room and invited us to
make ourselves comfortable Two eight-foot-long cream
colored sofas faced each other, framed by the sliding doors.
A live-edge, monkey pod tree coffee table was centered
between the two sofas, and two rattan accent chairs with
floral printed cushions faced the ocean and pool view. It
looked like a spread from one of those design magazines.
I was sure Fonda was getting some great ideas. If we were
going to spend the next seven to ten days here, it was
going to cost me dearly.

Scott asked, “Can I get anybody a beverage? We
have water, Coke, Diet Coke and hard stuff to add to
those.” Fonda replied, “I’d really like some water.”
“Same for me,” I added.

Leilani stepped into the center of the room and
said, “I know it’s been a really long day and I’m sure you
would like to get some rest. Let me show you the house
and your suite.”

Surprised, I said, “Our suite?”

Scott answered as he returned from the kitchen
with our bottled water, “Yes, we built the home with
double master bedrooms. We wanted our visiting guests
to feel like they were at home.”

“That was great thinking Scott.”

“Every once in a while, I have a brain storm.” He
laughed at himself, then added, “Hey, let’s go get your
bags while Leilani shows Fonda the rest of the house.”
Scott and I walked out to the driveway and we
removed the four suitcases from our trunk and started
to pull them into the house. “This is truly an amazing
property Scott. Business has been good to you.”
“Trust me, it wasn’t all legally earned money. As you
know, I have a dark side, that has paid me better than the
real estate business has. But I learned a valuable lesson
from this last job. Not knowing who you are working for
and who it is impacting, just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

“I know what you mean. I’m not proud of what I
have done in the past, even though I know that most, if
not all of them, deserved exactly what they got.”

“Yeah, when you have a skill, it’s good to use it, for
the right purpose. For a higher calling, I guess.”
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you
did for us. It has given us a new lease on life and the
freedom to chase our dreams.”

“Have you thought about my job offer, speaking of
chasing dreams?”

“I have, but I haven’t made a firm decision. Before
we left San Antonio, Fonda got pretty much on edge
because Conrad escaped before the FBI could snatch
him up. She gave me a mission that I need to follow
through on.”

“Oh. Can I ask what that mission is?”

“Track down Conrad Bishop and kill him.”

Scott didn’t say anything right away. He looked me
in the eyes and nodded his head, then said, “Leilani gave
me pretty much the same mission.”

“Are you serious?”

“I was an MP for eight years. That was my job when
I was shot and had my hip worked on at Tripler. That’s
where I met Leilani. I’ve kept my fingers busy tracking
law enforcement activity, while staying a few steps ahead
of them hacking security systems, banking and other
areas for clients.”

“So, dark web activity?”

“Exactly. I think I can help you track Bishop and
that Asian man, Jackie Ming.”

Without speaking another word, Scott extended
his right hand in front of him. I looked him in the eye,
grasped his proffered hand, gave it a firm squeeze and a
single shake. “Good to be partnered with you Scott.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Scott and I pulled the rolling bags into the house and
he locked the door securely behind us He pointed
down a hallway, to our right, that had a home office on
the left and a guest bedroom on the right At the end
of the hall, the door opened onto a spacious bedroom
with another glass sliding door that led to a private lanai

The lanai led to the pool and that magnificent view,
that was illuminated by additional professional lighting
and tonight’s full moon Beside the wall that hosted the
headboard and king-size bed was a cased opening that
led into the closet area and then into the bathroom It
was right out of a five-star resort A free-standing soaking
tub anchored the room with a large walk-in shower and
double vanities The toilet was tucked into a water closet,
providing privacy for those delicate matters

“Damn, Scott If this is your guest suite, I don’t
want to see the master suite How do you expect to ever
get your guests to leave?”

Scott put his hand on my shoulder and in all
sincerity said, “Garret, we only allow guests who we don’t
want to leave to stay in our home.”

I turned to face him, and COVID be damned, gave
him a giant man hug. “Thank you. I can’t begin to tell you
how much you have become a dear friend in such a short
period of time. It’s not because of what you have done for
us. It’s because of how you do it.”

“I have a lot of things to make up for, to tell the
truth. I want to be a man Leilani and my friends can be
proud of.”

At that, the ladies called out to us and then walked
into our suite. Fonda stopped in her tracks as she took
in the guest suite. “Leilani, oh my word, this is amazing.
I thought your master suite was gorgeous, but…”

“Yes, by design, this suite is nicer than our bedroom.
We wanted our guests to feel pampered and have the
finest our property had to offer.”

Fonda walked over to me and fell into my arms and
began to cry. I held her tightly for a minute allowing her
to let it all out. After a bit, she stood back up to her full
height and looked at Scott and Leilani. “You two have
captured my heart. I will never forget your generosity and
your hospitality.”

Leilani replied, “You are most welcome. We will
leave you to unpack and make yourselves at home.
Anything you want or need, help yourself.” Then looking
directly at Fonda, she added, while rubbing her hands

***

Excerpt from Black Label by Greg Wendleton. Copyright 2021. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Greg Wendleton is a resident of Overland Park, Kansas where he lives with his wife, Jan, and their Chocolate Labradoodle, Chief. Greg and Jan first met in Hawaii while attending Radford High School. Their fathers were both career Air Force NCOs. Life took them in different directions until they reunited thirty-five years later. They have four adult children, all of whom are married, and four amazing grandsons.

After more than forty years in food service sales, Greg retired due to a rare eye malady. Afflicted with Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy which left Greg unable to drive or travel alone, he discovered a new passion. Always harboring a desire to write, but lacking the time to dedicate to the craft, his recent life changes opened new doors.

“The Greatest of These”, an action/suspense novel introduces Garret Cooper, a flawed man who must overcome his own demons to rescue his father figure from imminent death. The author utilizes exotic settings, current events and a touch of self-deprecating humor to develop his characters and to create his stories.

“Roads to Redemption”, book two in the Garret Cooper series was released on July 16, 2021, and “Judgement”, book three in the series is slated for release in late 2021.

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