Stacking the Deck - Charlie Cochet


“Watch out for the ceramic poodle!”

Words Jack never thought he’d say during the course of his career, and yet they weren’t the strangest he’d uttered, not by a long shot. He braced for the sound of shattering poodle, but instead silently cheered when Ace took a last-minute leap over the life-size pink-and-blue ceramic canine positioned outside the eclectic shop’s door.

“Sacha, ice cream shop on your left.”

“What did I say about that?” Joker grumbled, swerving just as a couple emerged, ice cream cones bigger than their heads in each hand.


Old habits die hard. This one more than most. His best friend had been Sacha Wilder long before he’d become Joker. Having despised his given name, Joker had embraced the new moniker appointed to him by one of their brothers-in-arms. Jack hadn’t, and it took him a long time to get used to. Even now he slipped up.

Joker shouted in German, and seconds later, a furry black blur whizzed past him. Jack’s team members jumped from their chairs and crowded him. As entertaining as it was to watch Ace and Joker chase a thief, nothing beat watching the seventy-five-pound black Belgian Malinois in action. Anytime Chip was on a job, Jack’s team fought over who would work the case with him just so they could spend time with Chip.

No question, Chip was the most popular employee at Four Kings Security. Jack shook his head in amusement as the three cybersecurity team members huddled around him, their eyes glued to Jack’s screen as Chip darted through the narrow brick streets of St. Augustine’s Historic District.

Chip didn’t miss a beat as he leaped, scaled, or swerved around whatever obstacle was in his way, including people. With summer tourists flocking to the old city, Chip had plenty of hurdles to maneuver around. His tactical vest, with the Four Kings Security and Special Forces patches, caught everyone’s attention. Pedestrians stopped to watch him bound like a rabbit, his huge pointy ears facing forward and on high alert.

“I swear that dog is part kangaroo,” Sil muttered, his fascinated gaze focused on Chip, who cleared a four-foot-wide hedge as if stepping over a branch. Silvano was the youngest member of Jack’s team, having been recruited straight out of high school. The young man was a talented hacker. He’d also been taking stupid risks, hacking into systems out of boredom. Jack stumbled across him while installing a new security system for a local college Sil kept breaking into. The kid was desperate to learn and be challenged, but his parents couldn’t afford the tuition. Jack offered him a full scholarship and a position on his team if he promised to stop doing what he was doing. Sil had jumped at the chance, and in just a few years he had become one of their top cybersecurity employees.

Megan let out a snort. “You ever see a kangaroo run up an eight-foot wall?”

“He’s part kangaroo, part bird,” Maury said with a laugh.

Megan and Maury had been with Jack the longest, and they’d taken Sil under their wing like a baby bird. The three of them worked every case together because of how in sync they were. From the day they met on the job, they clicked. They weren’t related, but they could have been, with how much they bickered. Yet somehow, they got the job done quicker and with more skill than Jack had seen in a long time. Maury, Sil, and Megan were his go team. Around the office they were often referred to as Jack’s Justice League.

“Okay, everyone back to your stations.” If Jack allowed it, they’d stay glued to the monitors, watching Chip all day. Not that he blamed them. On a good day, Chip saw more action than Jack did. Cybersecurity was hardly glamorous or adventurous, but Jack loved his job. He might not be parkouring on rooftops along with his Green Beret buddies, but that didn’t mean his role wasn’t without risk.

“He just turned onto Charlotte Street,” Jack informed his friends. Although he and his team were in the surveillance truck parked on King Street just a couple of blocks away from Four Kings Security headquarters, they had eyes on their thief, thanks to Jack’s toys. The state-of-the-art drones were equipped with top-of-the-line surveillance features, something he was more than familiar with after years of being a Special Forces communications sergeant.

“Shit, he just turned at the Casablanca Inn.” Jack sat forward, following their guy on his screen, his right hand on the small joystick controlling the drone.