“A powerful novel…that is especially timely.” —Booklist (starred review) “Taut, compact, and suspenseful, the novel raises important questions about war.” —Kirkus Reviews
From award-winning author Todd Strasser comes a gripping novel that explores the struggles of war, the price paid by those who fight in them, and what it really means to be a hero.
Jake Liddell is a hero.
At least, that’s what everyone says he is. The military is even awarding him a Silver Star for his heroic achievements—a huge honor for the son of a military family. Now he’s home, recovering from an injury, but it seems the war has followed him back. He needs pills in order to sleep, a young woman is trying to persuade him into speaking out against military recruitment tactics, and his grandfather is already urging him back onto the battlefield. He doesn’t know what to do; nothing makes sense anymore.
There is only one thing that Jake knows for certain: he is no hero.
Price of Duty ALJAHIM You are trained to be a soldier, not a hero. But sometimes the other thing happens.
BOOM! CRAUNK! Both sounds are unbelievably, painfully loud. Loud beyond imagining. Like your head being smashed between metal garbage can lids. So loud you can’t believe you’ll still have eardrums afterward. If you have time to believe anything. But you don’t. There’s no time.
A moment ago you were riding down a road in a Humvee. Now the vehicle’s lying on its roof forty feet off the road and you’re the only one left inside. Heavy munitions fire, screams, shouts, and explosions join the loud ringing in your ears. Metallic plangs ricocheting off the Humvee. Thudding pocks when rounds slam into the bulletproof windows. Inside the vehicle, you’re hanging upside down, restrained by your seat harness. Half a dozen burning points of pain are distributed around your body. Vision is a reddish blur. An IED headache has your brain in a death grip. Something warm is running up your cheek and into your right eye. It’s bright red.
Someone nearby is screaming, “I’m hit! I’m hit!” Someone farther away is shouting, “Where’s the triggerman? Find the triggerman!”
Bratta! Bratta! Bratta! Plang! Pock! Zang! Multiple weapons fire. It dawns on you that there is no one triggerman. There are dozens.
Boom! The Humvee is rocked by the blast of an RPG.
“Ahhh! Ahhhh!” More screams of pain.
Where are my buddies?
* * *
My eyepro’s gone. There’s nothing to protect my eyes from flying shrapnel and dirt. The reddish blur in my vision is blood. It’s coming from a piece of shrapnel lodged painfully under my chin cup. How it got there, I’ll never know. It’s one of a dozen pieces of shrapnel that the Army docs will eventually remove from my body.
But right now most of those shrapnel are just vague burning points of pain. Right now it’s all adrenaline, shock, shouts, and explosions. I’m upside down. Rollover training kicks in. Orient, establish three points of contact, brace, and release the seat harness. Egress. My gloved hand jerks the door handle, but the door won’t open. Wait, my head is closer to the ground than my feet are. In this position, you don’t push the door handle down. You pull it up.
An instant later I roll out into the heat, sunlight, and mayhem. Intense machine gun and small arms fire bashing my eardrums. Supersonic lead bees whizzing past. But the firefight is good news. Someone on our side must be shooting back. The hot air stinks of gasoline and sulfur. A fusillade of bullets rips into the ground, spraying grains of dirt into my face and mixing with the blood in my eyes. I’m in the kill zone, in what must be far ambush conditions. How do I know it’s not near ambush? Simple. If it was a near ambush, I’d be worm dirt by now.
More metallic bees whiz by. The closest ones cutting through the air inches from my head. I get prone, jam some QuikClot under my chin cup. Damn, that hurts, but it stops the bleeding. Blink the remaining blood out of my eyes and try to establish where the enemy fire is coming from. Glance around for cover. Where are my guys? Skitballs, Magnet, Clay? Remind myself that I’m in a mined area. I can’t stay exposed like this for long without getting hit. But where will the land mines be if I move?
These thoughts race through my head in a matter of milliseconds.
“Ahhhh! Ahhhh! I’m hit! Jake! I’m hit!” It’s Skitballs. He’s somewhere to my right, where a lot of enemy fire is coming from.
Todd Strasser has written many critically acclaimed novels for adults, teenagers, and children, including the award-winning Can’t Get There from Here, Give a Boy a Gun, Boot Camp, If I Grow Up, Famous, and How I Created My Perfect Prom Date, which became the Fox feature film Drive Me Crazy. Todd lives in a suburb of New York and speaks frequently at schools. Visit him at ToddStrasser.com.