Sergeant J.J. Stoner has just brutally executed five Iraquis in retaliation for an attack on one of his men. His punishment? He becomes a civilian black ops assassin under the direction of an urbane but totally ruthless handler called, simply, The Hard Man.
In this excellent short story by standout author Frank Westworth, human life is cheap and the principal player waxes philosophically about the killing for which he’s just been recruited:
‘I don’t care.’ Stoner appeared to be looking at himself. He inspected his fingernails with some care. ‘Should it help? Should it matter more to me whether I’m drilling holes through a patriotic Arab with sunburn and an impossible language in a hot country, or a paleskin patriotic Paddy who prefers eating sheep to goats and worships his own gods in his own ways in Latin?’
The action matches the dialogue in this brief piece of fiction — wildly witty and effortlessly accomplished. Stoner is a virtuoso with both his hands and with silenced firearms. When he meets the enigmatic character named Blesses, his initial reaction is quiet attraction. In a later liaison, less so.
This is fine writing wrapped cunningly around a totally credible character. J.J. Stoner is a man you’ll hope to meet again. Just not in a dark alley.
Five stars to First Contract. The author is a professional with poise and we look forward to reading his next piece.