Hell’s Bells.

What do I do when I’m blocked?

Well Simon, it’s funny you should ask. Usually, I spent a few hours reading Miss Snark, then I go back and look at my own writing until I thoroughly hate it. After that, I tend to stare at the clock with twitchy eyeballs and wonder vaguely why I’m not sleeping–which would clearly be a much more productive use of my time. Then, I go post an excerpt of the book on my bloggie. Just to make myself feel like I’ve accomplished something creative today.

The beginning of the third chapter, somewhere around page seventeen…

Javid Fahran was the third most powerful arms dealer in the Middle East.

The contraband weapons he sold had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and countless civilians. In addition to funding several of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations, his success in the arms trade had given him the means to start his very own chain of low-class brothels. Anyone who’d ever met him knew that Javid was three things: ruthless, greedy and incredibly dangerous.

He was also a complete teddy bear when you got a little wine into him.

Now, the portly Afghani smiled wickedly as he gestured to an attractive young man sitting across from him.

“Tell me again about the spider,” he demanded.

“Okay,” the blonde American smiled back at him indulgently, flashing a set of perfectly straight white teeth and a disarming set of dimples. “You see, there’s this eensie weensie spider, and he crawled up the water spout…”

Before the young man could continue, a scuffling sound came from the guards outside the door. There were at least two guards posted at every entrance to Javid’s Kabul mansion-slash-fortress, and that wasn’t counting the small army that occupied the courtyard outside. So whoever was coming, he was either invited or soon-to-be dead.

“Not to worry, my friend,” Javid slurred happily. “It’s just Aasif.”

The man who had just entered the room was as thin and somber as Javid was fat and drunk, if the analogy was allowed.

“Matthew,” Javid said, but it sounded like ‘Maf-yew,’ due to the past hour and god-knew-how-many glasses of Pinot Noir. “I would like you to meet my dear friend Aasif.”

“It’s an honor and a privilege,” the man called Matthew responded, placing his own untouched cup on the table. “I’ve been a great admirer of your work for some time.”

Aasif Jahandar nodded slightly and sat down next to Javid, but said nothing.

Thin as a rail with long, graying hair and a matching beard, the new arrival wasn’t nearly as physically impressive as his fat, hairy friend. But Aasif Jahandar was incalculably more dangerous. While Javid’s knack for mass genocide was legendary, Aasif’s claim to fame was that almost no one knew what he looked like.

Not even the thirty or so American civilians Aasif had made disappear over the past three years had seen his face. At least, the ones who’d survived hadn’t.

Javid had killed a lot of people in his time, and everyone knew it. But Aasif didn’t just take lives. He borrowed them, traded them, or sold them to the highest bidder.

But first, he stole them.

“I understand you have a new shipment coming in next week,” Matthew continued, completely unperturbed by Aasif’s cold reception. “I’d like to have first pick of the goods, if you’d do me the honor.”

As far as “Matthew” was concerned, both of these men were card-carrying members of the People Who Don’t Deserve to Live Society. But it wasn’t really his place to judge. At least not until after he’d located the six American college girls Aasif had kidnapped a week ago and returned them safely to their parents.

It was what he’d been hired—and paid an insane amount of money—to do.

Aasif’s black eyes glittered coldly as he sized up the young American before him. The man was notoriously paranoid. Matthew told himself not to be concerned by this. After all, it was probably the way he treated everyone he knew, including his friends.

Still, as they sat across from each other, Matthew found himself surreptitiously examining the older man for any signs that he’d figured out what was really going on. It would be virtually impossible, Matthew knew. His disguise was flawless. His deep southern accent was flawless. His flippant personality was right on the money.

Even his money was right on the money, figuratively speaking.

In his mind the only thing that kept him from actually being Matthew McGovern, lecherous millionaire porn producer, was the fact that a large part of him wanted to leap across the gilded coffee table and murder both of his business associates in cold blood.

But other than that tiny, completely insignificant fact…the plan was flawless.

For all intents and purposes, he had become Matthew McGovern. And so the man he truly was would have to wait his turn, because at the moment, Matthew had a very important part to play.

“I am interested to know,” Aasif finally said, “why it is…how do you say? What a boy like you does in a place like this?” His voice came out throaty and dry, like a ghost’s.

It was very fitting, Matthew decided. Also, creepy as hell.

He pasted a lascivious smile across his—Matthew’s—face.

“Well, golly Aasif,” he drawled, “I’ll bet you say that to all the boys.”

For a few seconds, the entire room fell totally silent. The sound of practice gunfire had stopped echoing through the courtyard, the guards outside the door had stopped fidgeting, and even Javid’s heavy, labored breathing ceased. Even the hot breeze seemed to hesitate with nervous anticipation.

Except for Matthew, who simply smiled and winked at Aasif, though he was well aware the grey-haired man had killed people for much less.

Suddenly, Aasif broke the silence with a short, wheezy bark of laughter.

“I like this boy,” he said, and laughed a little harder.

After a few heartbeats of confused shock, Javid joined in too. His fat, wine-reddened cheeks wobbled drunkenly in time to the shaking of his massive belly. Even the two guards outside chuckled quietly with secondhand amusement.

Matthew pretended to laugh along, but couldn’t deny that inwardly he felt slightly disturbed at what he was witnessing: two of the most dangerous men in Afghanistan, giggling like schoolgirls. You’d think he’d have gotten used to it by now.

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