Justified Action

JA FLYER 2:1:14- Signarrows8- Sign



Earl Staggs



A month after his thirty-eighth birthday, Lieutenant Tall Chambers sat in his gray cubicle in a crowded gray room in the Pentagon filled with eighteen identical gray cubicles. He leaned back, folded his arms across his chest, and yawned.

He watched his computer scroll through a long list of codes, compiling data he’d pulled together from thirty-six sources detailing yesterday’s shipments of supplies to Army bases in the Middle East.

When this report finished running, he’d do the same thing for bases in Asia.

Every day, the same sources, the same supplies, the same reports.

A year ago, he was a Captain stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, training new recruits and leading special ops in country. After an ugly incident with a drunken Colonel, he was demoted to Lieutenant and sentenced to desk duty here in the Pentagon.

He sighed. So much for being a boy scout.

He would have enjoyed hard labor more than this. He grimaced and rubbed his face with both hands, hoping to wipe away the boredom.

He’d recently put in his papers. When he reached his twenty-year anniversary in the Army, he’d retire. He hadn’t decided what he’d do then, but anything would be better than sitting on his butt eight hours a day.

Three more months to go. He wasn’t sure he could stick it out that long. He glanced at the clock on his desk. Only ten-thirty. Hell, he wasn’t sure he could stick it out until lunch.

He’d spend his lunch hour in the gym, as usual. Being stuck at a desk made it hard to stay in shape. He’d joined the Army at eighteen, a gangly stick figure at six feet three inches tall. The Army taught him how to build a solid muscular body, and he liked keeping it that way. He was determined not to turn into a pear-shaped eunuch like the men in the cubicles all around his.

When his cell phone rang, he snatched it off his desk and looked at the caller ID. An unlisted number. He answered it anyway. Hearing any human voice would be a treat.

“Tall, it’s Stephen Winslow. How the hell are you?”

Stephen’s voice triggered a lot of memories. They’d worked together in Special Forces and did a number of ops together.

“Stephen! You son of a gun. I’m bored to tears. How about you?”

“I’m not bored, but I heard they busted you down to a desk job. Is it that bad?”

“Worse. All the fun and thrills of watching paint dry.”

Stephen laughed. “That’s what you get for punching out a superior officer.”

“He didn’t give me much choice. I have to hang in another three months. I’ll have my twenty and I’m gone. What’re you doing these days?”

“That’s why I called you. Meet me in an hour. Take a ride with me.”

“I think I can tear myself away from the excitement here for a little while. Where are we going?”



“Meet me at Dulles. On the west service road, look for the Regional Air Service hangar.”

“Why are we going to Texas?”

“To blow up two carloads of people. Don’t worry about packing. We’ll be back tonight.”

“Uh, did you say blow up–”

“Get a move on, Tall. Wheels up in one hour.” Stephen hung up.

Tall thought about it for only a few seconds. Stephen was a good friend he hadn’t seen for two years. It would be fun to spend some time with him. He didn’t know why Stephen wanted him to fly to Texas. Surely not to blow anyone up. Stephen liked to kid around. Whatever the reason, It would be a nice break from punching computer keys.

Tall followed protocol for signing out of the office for the rest of the day, parked in front of the Regional Air Service hangar fifty minutes later, and saw Stephen waiting for him.

Stephen smiled, waved and walked toward him. “You made good time.”

“I was anxious to see if you’d grown any,” Tall said.

Stephen countered with, “I may not be as tall as you, but I’m still better looking.”

The two men were night and day in appearance. Tall had dark hair and eyes. At five-ten, Stephen was five inches shorter and slender with sandy brown hair and blue eyes. They shook hands and bumped shoulders.

“You look great, Tall. That desk job agrees with you.”

Tall grimaced. “No, it doesn’t. I don’t know how people can stand sitting at a desk and staring at a computer all day.”

“I hear that. So what else you been doing with yourself? Find a woman who can put up with you yet?”

Tall grinned. “I’m, uh, between relationships at the moment.”

Stephen grinned back. “Same here. Remember that sheik who offered us his daughters? Maybe we should have taken him up on it. I hear they make good wives.”

“Yeah, right. One of them weighed four hundred pounds, the other one had no teeth.”

Stephen laughed. “I remember. Ready to go to Texas?”

“I’m ready.”

Tall followed Stephen alongside the hangar to an auxiliary landing strip behind it where a Lear Gulfstream jet sat warming up.

As they climbed the boarding steps, Tall said, “Nice wheels. Yours?”

Stephen snorted. “I wish, but it’s available to us when we need it.”

“Okay, I’m impressed.”

Tall was more impressed when he stepped inside the cabin. At the front were three white leather armchairs on each side and two matching sofas facing each other behind them. The plush carpet was also white except for a circle three feet in diameter between the two sofas. Inside the circle was the blue and gold seal of the President of the United States.

“You think he’ll mind us using his plane?” Tall asked.

“Naahh, he has a bigger one if he needs to go somewhere.” Stephen dropped into the first seat on the left and pointed to the one opposite it. “Buckle up.”

As soon as Tall settled in, Stephen pushed a button on the arm of his seat and said, “We’re ready to go.”

A voice from speakers on the ceiling said, “Yes, sir.”

A few minutes later, they were in the air and leveled off. Seeing Stephen again reminded Tall how much he missed being in regular service. They’d spent a lot of time together in Kuwait and Afghanistan, many times having to depend on each other for survival. He’d heard Stephen left the Army and moved into Homeland Security two years ago.

“There’s coffee in the back if you want some,” Stephen said. “Help yourself.”

“What, no flight attendant?”

Stephen grinned. “’Fraid not. We’ll have to rough it.”

“I’m good for now. You said Texas. FortHood?”

“Dallas. We’ll land at D/FW Airport. There’ll be a car waiting for us. From there, we’ll drive about half an hour to a location at the southeast corner of the city.” He checked his watch. “We should get there at just about the right time.”

“Then what? You were joking about blowing up people, right?”

“No, I wasn’t joking. We wait till two black vans come along, and when they do, we blow them up.”

Tall raised both eyebrows. “You’re serious?”

“Very.” Stephen returned Tall’s look for a moment, then turned to stare into the wall in front of him. “There’ll be six men in each van, Muslims with ties to Al-Qaeda. They left Phoenix early this morning, headed for a shopping mall in Dallas. Each man is packed with C4 and Semtex. When they get there, they’ll wander into the mall like regular customers and make their way individually to twelve designated locations. At exactly six o’clock Central Time, each one will push a button and go boom.”

Tall let it sink in. “So your plan is to blow them up before they get to the mall.”

“That’s it. They want to meet Allah and collect their virgins, we’ll put them in the express lane.”

“Maybe I will have that coffee,” Tall said.

He went back to the kitchen area and found a pot already made. Stephen had a healthy sense of humor, but he was dead serious about this. Tall had seen the results of bombings in Iraq, and the memory of the sudden and merciless act of taking lives with explosives sent a chill down his back. Stephen was asking him to be part of the same kind of thing. They had gone on raids against insurgent groups together in Afghanistan, but their goal was always to take them alive and bring them in for interrogation.

He returned to his seat with two cups and handed one to Stephen. “Suicide bombers,” he said as he sat down. “You hear about one acting solo once in a while, but not in a large group like this.”

Stephen tasted his coffee and placed it in the cupholder in the arm of his seat. “No. Doesn’t happen often.”

“Why not just intercept them before they get to the mall and arrest them?”

Stephen shook his head. “Not possible. They were packed and wired when they left Phoenix. If anyone confronts them in any way, they’ll push the button then and there and take anyone in the area with them. The only way to take them out safely is to blow the vans in an isolated area where no one else will be hurt.”

Tall turned and looked out his window. When he agreed to take a ride to Texas with Stephen, he hadn’t expected anything like this. He’d thought Stephen might be going to a meeting to talk about security procedures or meet with local brass to discuss  some routine problem and simply wanted company.

After a moment, Stephen said, “I could use your help, Tall, but I’ll understand if you’re not up for it. You can opt out if you want, and there’ll be no hard feelings.”

Tall continued staring out the window. For the past nine months, he’d been relegated to desk duty in the Pentagon, far removed from the atrocities of war. Everything he’d seen and done in the Middle East seemed like a distant memory, as if it had happened to someone else.  The only action he’d seen lately was when his printer ran out of paper or his computer malfunctioned and he had to call in an IT specialist. Now, Stephen was asking him to do something that would put him back where he was in what seemed a lifetime ago.  He wasn’t sure if he could return to it, or if he wanted to.

Tall turned back from the window, but didn’t look at Stephen. He stared into his coffee cup as if he’d find an answer there.

Stephen gave him another moment, then said quietly, “Tall, there’ll be between two and three thousand civilians in that mall, and these people have enough explosives to reduce the whole structure to rubble. Those not killed in the explosions will be crushed when the building comes down on them.”

Tall raised his cup and drained it. The hot liquid was bitter all the way down. Then his eyes met Stephen’s. “When you put it that way,” he said, “we have no choice, do we?”

* * * * *

7 Responses to JUSTIFIED ACTION – Chapter One

  1. Coco Ihle says:

    Well, Earl, you got me! I have to read this book!

  2. Joan Regen-Ramirez says:

    I just started reading today and already I LIKE IT.

    Will be back with more feedback when I finish. Joan

  3. Jake says:

    As always a reader grabber. Looking forward to reading & reviewing in full.

    • Hi, Jake. Always a pleasure when you drop in. I’d love to have a review from you. Best regards.


      TALL CHAMBERS uses his wits and weapons to stop terrorists before innocent people are killed. When someone close to him is murdered, he puts all that aside and devotes his skills and experience to finding the killer.  His pursuit becomes complicated when he learns he is also marked for death. 

      Tall has to fight to stay alive and find the killer. Nothing will stop him, even if it means making a deal with the worst terrorist of them all.


      Earl Staggs crafts a high-octane thriller that will keep you reading through the night. Move over Jason Bourne. Tall Chambers is a hero for the ages. Readers will not be disappointed with the relentless pace of this story.  Mark Troy  

      Fast action with twists and turns makes this novel a thrilling read from award winning author Earl Staggs.  Jan Christensen

      Two time award winning author Earl Staggs once again has created a compelling read with his latest book, Justified Action. Combining a search for terrorists at home and abroad with a realistic and very human action hero in Tall Chambers, justice and freedom have rewards, but come with a price. Complex characters, a search for justice, and complicated storylines have drawn readers to the work of Earl Staggs again and again. While Justified Action takes readers in a very different direction from Mr. Staggs’ previously well received novel, Memory Of  A Murder, the new book showcases once again this award winning author’s talents. Kevin Tipple

      Tall Chambers takes readers on a terrifying, unauthorized assignment to eliminate those who would destroy the United State and discovers new meaning for the word “betrayed.”  Dee Stuart

      NOW AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON AS  PRINT OR EBOOK. . . . . . . . . . . .  http://tiny.cc/e85ftw

      SIGNED COPIES FROM AUTHOR. . . . . . . . . .Email:  earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net

      Have an iPad?  No problem.  Download a FREE Kindle for iPad. . . . . . . . . .  http://tinyurl.com/y3tqvvm

      12 Responses to MY NEW BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE!

      1. Can’t wait to read it, Earl. I’ll be digging into it this afternoon!

      2. Hope you like it, Ginny. Come see us soon, why doncha! We miss you.

      3. Tall Chambers, just like the author, is my kinda guy!!!! I know we’re going to be hearing great things about this one. Well deserved great things.

        • Kaye, Darlin’, thanks for the kind words. And congrats big time on all the rave reviews for WHIMSEY. Just proves what I’ve always said. To get great reviews is easy. All you have to do is write a great book. And you sure did that.

      4. Got yours downloaded, Earl, now I’m going to download Kaye’s and post on my FB about you two!

      5. Thanks, Sylvia. You’ll love Kaye’s book, WHIMSEY. I won’t even mind if you read hers first.

      6. tstraw2@verizon.net says:

         Where can I get a copy of a print book… I don’t have one a th

      7. Joan Regen-Ramirez says:


        Today was my first day with the third graders–cute kids who wore me out.

        Please send me the book and I’ll send you a check:

        Joan Ramirez 7100 Kennedy Boulevard East 5N Guttenberg, NJ 07093

        HOPE I’m next. Joan

      8. Wow, just saw a bunch of old friends here! Hi, Joan Ramirez – remember me?? We shared that class at the Marymount Writing Center with Lewis Frumkes, who is now at Hunter College doing the same thing! and a 92Y visit at what was I think S.J. Rozan’s lecture series! And, of course, MWA-NY meetings! Hope you are well! And Kaye, my new old friend – Kaye is my blog guest May 19 — be sure to read her at Crime Writers Chronicle http://www.crimewriters.blogspot.com … AND, ( trumpets sound here ) I’m haunting my mail box til Earl’s new book arrives and then you won’t hear a peep til I read the last page!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

      9. EARL STAGGS says:

        Thelma, great that you could hold a reunion here. Joan and Kaye are my good friends, too. I hope when Justified Action arrives you enjoy it from first page to last.

      10. Whoa, talk about leaving us in suspense! Though I rarely choose to read suspense (or terrorist-oriented) novels, probably partly because I only find time to read fiction right before I turn out the night at light, I am actually curious enough (and enough in love with the author) to buy and read this one.

      11. Radine, I’d be honored if you’d read it and thrilled if you liked it. I assure you, there’s nothing scary in it to keep you awake at night. All the best to you and John.


        When it was time to start on a cover for my new book, I happened to be sitting at a table in the driver’s lounge with Carole (pronounced “Carol” but spelled with an “e” on the end) Ryan. She made a huge mistake she would soon regret. She offered to help.

        Carole and I, you see, are part-time school bus drivers, and we share the same wacky, over-the-edge sense of humor. We have a lot of fun harassing and tormenting each other on a daily basis. For example, I carry my laptop to work and, between routes, I write. She likes to tie my computer cord in knots. Another favorite trick of hers is to hide my mouse. I get even. I bought a bag of realistic-looking plastic insects and placed them in strategic locations on her bus. I also found a street barrier sign, lightweight but about eight feet long, and carried it onto her bus. I know she had some difficulty wrestling it back off the bus. She reciprocated by covering my entire steering wheel in Saran wrap. Yes, we do have fun.

        She also gets along very well with my wife, also named Carol, but without an “e” on the end. They are of a similar mind about many things. Me, for instance. When Carole told Carol that her favorite nickname for me at work was jacka**, my lovely bride said, “Don’t call him that. Call him a**hole like I do.”

        No respect.

        Anyway, back to my cover. I mentioned to Carole that I wanted a picture of a man holding a gun on the cover of my book. She said she knew how to browse the Internet for pictures and would do that for me. She did, and came up with a number of pictures. Then, she also had some experience doing graphic layouts and went a step farther. She put together some ideas for the layout of the cover, and some of them were quite good. None of them, however, was quite right. I had a “feel” for what I wanted, even though I couldn’t describe it.

        So she tried it again. And again. And again. In all, she must have done at least twenty-five different designs. Each time, I would say something like, “That’s close, but not quite the exact one I want.” Or, “Can you move this over there?” Or, “Can you make this a little bigger?” She would stare daggers into my heart and say, “Forget it. I quit!”

        Fortunately, she didn’t. It’s not in her nature to quit. She stuck with it and kept trying, in spite of my being impossible to please.

        I’m sure there were at least twenty-five times when she wanted to kill me and end her frustration.

        Fortunately, she didn’t. It was close, but that’s not in her nature either.

        Finally, she came up with a design that clicked. Boy, did it click! This one made my head spin and sent me flying over the moon. This one was exactly what I wanted. I wanted a cover that was strong and dramatic. I wanted the cover to scream with mystery, tension, and suspense. I wanted the man’s stance on the cover to say he was on the prowl. I wanted the way he held the gun in both hands to say that when he found his prey, there would be action.

        And that’s exactly what she gave me. I’m more excited about this cover than any I’ve ever seen on anyone’s book.

        I thought she would be pleased when I told her how thrilled I was. I thought she would be excited when I told her she could design all my future book covers.

        Instead, her response was, “Forget it. I never want to see another book as long as I live.”

        But she’ll change her mind. She has to. No one else would put up with me.

        Within the next few days, I’ll be announcing that JUSTIFIED ACTION will be available as both a print book and ebook, with the cover created by my friend, Carole Ryan. Sign up to follow this blog or stop back soon for the details.

        And now, here’s the cover. Tell me what you think.


        30 Responses to THE BEST BOOK COVER EVER!

        1. I agree! Love the cover.

        2. Kevin says:

          I like this one way better than the four I was asked to look at some time ago. Definitely works.

        3. ellisv says:

          Very nice, Earl. Dramatic and engaging. Good work, you two!

        4. Polly Iyer says:

          Terrific cover, Earl. The best part is you’re happy with it.

        5. Great cover, Earl. Also, the blurb is terrific!

          Morgan Mandel

        6. A good choice on your part, Earl, and very nicely done, Carole.

        7. I hope you put CarolE on the payroll and dropped the other one. E-Carole scores big with this one.

        8. I think it’s a great cover, worth all the trouble! I’ve had some beautiful covers that I’ve been given input for and appreciated, I’ve also had some that were terrible and the editor refused to change.
          I’ve never self-published, but I can see that there’s an advantage in that you can have the cover you really want. Congrats, I’m sure this will be a winner for you.

        9. jennymilch says:

          It’s exactly what I would’ve pictured–which shows all the work that went in! I am so excited for you, Earl.

        10. Ginny Melara says:

          I love it, but I love the story more! Good for Care-oly! Tell her hello for me.

        11. Jake says:

          Hang on to Carole she knows how to cope and produce outstanding result.

        12. Whoop, Whoop, Whoop, Mr. Staggs – this cover rocks!!!!!

        13. Perfect! Also enjoyed the post.

        14. It’s a really good cover, Earl! That lady is a treasure. Treat her right!!

        15. Ruby says:

          You cover is great. Enjoyed reading about your antics with your friend.

        16. I like the book cover. It looks like it would definitely be the type of thriller one would pick up, if that were his/her genre. Congrats.

        17. I’m curious about the previous 24 covers (but not that curious that you need to show me). Love love love this one!

        18. Earl, it’s gorgeous. I would buy this book in a N Y second just because of the cover, and I will soon as it’s on sale.

        19. Roberta Moore says:

          I love this Earl. It reminds me of the ones I used to sneak out from underneath my Dad’s bed when he was at work. There I was at 6 increasing my vocabulary and admiring the cover art. Well done.

        20. gailfarrelly says:

          Wonderful cover! Having Carole as a coworker is a fabulous fringe benefit of your job.


          Gail Farrelly http://www.farrellysistersonline.com/

        21. Coco Ihle says:

          Wow, Earl! It’s a winner!!! Congrats to Carole and you!!! Best of luck with it, too!!!

        22. Love the cover and love the story. I quit my first designer because he didn’t like the process of getting to something I was wild about. Now my cousin does my covers. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with him and he’s willing to stick with the process – sometimes longer than I am.

        23. This is a wonderful cover! I’m so glad Carole stuck with you long enough to get it done to your satisfaction. Looking forward to seeing the whole thing!

        24. This is a great cover! It shows that he means business and he is determined to right a wrong! It is enticing to get the reader’s attention to stop and read the blurb and press buy on their Amazon 1 click account.. :) Best of luck to you! :) My blog is on WordPress too and I am now following you!

        25. john Hathaway says:

          Who is the picture of? Would be happy to give the book a review.

        26. A ton of thanks to everyone who commented on the new cover. It means a lot that people such as you liked it. I told Carole I appreciated all the hard work she put into it so much that I should stop harassing and playing practical jokes on her. I won’t, of course, but I should. I’ll be announcing the availability of print and ebook versions of JUSTIFIED ACTION very soon, so stay tuned.

        27. Leigh says:

          Great cover. Dark and intriguing.

        28. Judy Dee says:

          I think this cover is a winner. All the right touches.


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