Excerpt from And West Is West by Ron Childress, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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And West Is West

by Ron Childress

And West Is West by Ron Childress X
And West Is West by Ron Childress
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2016, 336 pages

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Print Excerpt

July, 2012
Nevada, Somalia, Florida



They are twined, all but, she and Voigt. He is leaning over her shoulder, his forearm atop her chairback. His lips are so close to her ear that each breath he exhales roars like a gale. This is all she hears inside the dim trailer. The glowing screens before her keep them immobile. They are frozen except for the motion of her hand as she centers the camera. The moment is near. This time he is going to let her do it.

"Aldridge. Are you ready for your first?"

"Yes, sir," Jessica tells Colonel Voigt as if they are in the same room. They are and are not. Sergeant Jessica Aldridge is also eight thousand miles away, ten thousand feet in the air, and so near the figures on the ground below her that she might reach down and pick them up like dolls.

They are five, outlined by their jalabiyas and the scarves that circle the glow of their faces. Jessica's squadron has been tracking them, a band of brothers, for the past two weeks as they acquired the rudiments of a device they are constructing in a desert hut miles from the nearest village and forty from Mogadishu. Tonight they must imagine themselves protected by a moonless darkness that even a hawk's eyes could not penetrate. Yet they are visible to Jessica. Irradiated by their own heat, each man appears to her as a distinct if ghostly blur.

A buzz returns Jessica to the trailer. Her eyes flick toward the noise, talk from Voigt's earpiece.

"That's it. We have a confirm. Go the angel," her commander says releasing her to arm the angel, their unit's euphemism for a missile.

As Jessica watches from the desert sky, the men cluster below her. Her partner, airman Bob Sanders, at his parallel station, locks the men's coordinates. A touch of Jessica's hand will give the men twenty seconds to live. They are beyond mercy.

"Fire at will, Sergeant," Voigt, standing behind Jessica, says. And then he waits for her to show him what she, the first enlisted person to pilot a drone strike, will do.

But Jessica takes Voigt's 'at will' seriously as her will and she hesitates. She senses something in the positioning of the men. That they are all, for once, traditionally dressed signifies the impending culmination of their mission. But that they have not dispersed to various tasks in or around the hut, that they stand near to each other at some informal attention - as if huddling themselves to be most effectively blasted to bits - this gives Jessica pause. Is their mission to be martyrs to anti American propaganda?

"They're waiting, Colonel," Jessica says.

"Right," Voigt replies. "It's like the're waiting for someone."

And so in the trailer they also wait ... hovering another half hour until a three car train of SUVs stops alongside the battered pickup that had carried their initial targets to the hut.

"It's Yarisi," Voigt says. Through his earpiece he's been receiving and relaying information to which Jessica is not privy. But she knows Jabir al Yarisi. He is a person of interest, a Yemenese suspected of bombing the British embassy in Addis Ababa. Lately he is believed to be recruiting rebels in Somalia, where Jessica's drone is. "This is the big time, Aldridge," Voigt says. "You up for this?"

"I am one hundred percent up for this, sir," Jessica answers.

"Good. We'll wait for a visual ID. Yarisi'll be the tall one."

Men with guns exit the front and rear SUVs. After searching in and around the hut they lead the men in jalabiyas to the central vehicle. Airman Sanders relocks the coordinates. A minute passes.

"Yarisi's not dismounting," Voigt says, his Carolina accent resonant. He leans closer to the screens and the glow of the monitors paints his crew cut blue. "Okay. We have a passive ID on the caravan," he says quietly. "Take the shot."

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Excerpted from And West Is West by Ron Childress. Copyright © 2015 by Ron Childress. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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