Double-Blind (Chapter IV)

A Modern Crime Novelette

 

IV.

 D.E.A. Safehouse, Nuevo-Laredo

Reyes sat up in the bed. He was breathing easier now. The Doctor had given him some pills and put him on oxygen. There was a gentle knock at the door and Agent Kessler of the D.E.A walked in. Reyes felt his face get hot. “You guys should know better than to rough up a fifty-year old man like that, Jesus on the Cross!” Kessler took a chair by the bed and sat down “We are sorry Captain Reyes, we truly are, but it was necessary to make your men believe the cartel had snatched you to maintain your cover” Reyes smirked. “Hell, as good as your guys are, they should go work for the damn cartel!” Kessler laughed at the comment and started sifting through some photos and papers in a folder he was holding. “I have been thinking. How did you get to the girl I was with, Jasmine?” Reyes asked. “She has been an informant for the Mexican D.F.S. and the D.E.A. for the past year.” Kessler replied still looking at the papers in the folder. “You have to protect her!” Reyes sat up in the bed. Kessler noticed Reyes’ blood pressure spiking. “Easy their Captain. We have already pulled her from circulation. She will be living a comfortable life in the U.S. with a new identity by the end of the week.” Reyes took a breath and relaxed. After settling down he began examining the room. “Where are we anyway? I don’t recognize this building.” Kessler smiled. “I would hope you would not recognize it. We are here unofficially at the request of your President. We were assigned this place for its overall shitty appearance from the outside…” Reyes shook his head. “If I had a peso for every U.S. agency that has been in Mexico ‘unofficially’ in the last decade, I would be a rich man!”

Kessler leaned forward and placed some black and white photo’s on the tray table in front of Reyes. “”You have met with this man, correct?” Reyes looked down at the photo and pushed them away. “Before we get into any of that I want to discuss my terms again.” Kessler let out a breath and leaned back in his chair. “The lawyers have already shown you the papers. When we are done with this investigation and secured the indictments, you and your family will be placed in Witness Protection and moved.” Reyes shook his head. “Not good enough. I want guarantees on where we will go. I do not want to go the U.S., the cartels have just as much power there as they do here. I want to go to New Zealand.” Kessler smiled, trying to diffuse his frustration. “Captain we have already told you we don’t handle that part of it. But we did notate your re-location preferences when we passed it on.” Kessler watched as Reyes’ face got red and the numbers on his blood pressure reading begin to climb. “Pedazo de mierda mentirosa.” Reyes cursed under his breath.  “Look you are not doing anybody any good, especially your family, getting upset like this. We are going to honor our side of the agreement but we need you to honor yours, now tell me about the man in this photo, you have met with him before, yes?” Kessler tapped the photo with his finger.

Reyes took a deep breath and picked up the picture. “Yeah. I’ve met with him before. Chandler, Logan Chandler, that was the name he gave me anyways.” Reyes replied. “And how many times have you met with him?” Kessler asked, taking out a small notepad. “Twice. The first time was three months ago and the last time was just a week ago.” Reyes replied. “Are you scheduled to meet with him again?” Kessler asked, still scribbling. “Yeah in three weeks if I have information on the load.” Reyes replied taking a drink of water. “Do you have a location?” Kessler asked. “No. I have a burner number I call. They call back with time and place.” Reyes replied dryly. “Have you seen any of these men with Chandler?” Kessler laid out pictures of Jolt and Tarzan. “Nope. He did have a driver the last time I met with him but I don’t see him here.” Reyes replied laying his head back on the pillow. Kessler gathered the photos and put them back in the folder. “So tell me again what it is exactly what information this Chandler was paying you for.” Reyes let out an exasperated breath. “How many times am I gonna have to tell this fucking story?” Kessler’s smile faded as his frustration with this cranky corrupt mexican cop boiled over. “Look, we have been more than patient with you, not to mention generous. If we wanted we could turn you over your own agency on dozens of corruption charges but instead we have brought you into the fold to work for us. Now the least you can do is help us with the details…” Reyes sat back up in the bed. “They wanted specific intel on anything related to CJNG and only CJNG. Loads, Processing sites, names of command hierarchy, etc. and they paid really fucking good for this intel.  I mean unprecedented prices.” Kessler was scribbling again. “So who are these fucking guys anyways?” Reyes asked. Kessler finished what he was writing and closed his book. “Well, best we can tell they are all Private Security Contractors, all well-trained ex-military spec-ops types.” Reyes shook his head. “You mean Mercenaries?” Kessler got up and started for the door. “Yeah, except these guys are not your average opportunistic war profiteers. Something tells me they have an agenda in mind.” Reyes cocked an eyebrow. “What agenda?” Kessler opened the door. “That is what you are gonna find out for us Captain Reyes at your next meet.” As Kessler walked out the door he could hear Reyes yelling. “I never agreed to that! Dios te maldiga Kessler!” A big grin spread across Agent Kessler’s face as he walked down the hall to his office.

3 weeks later – Near Monterrey, Mexico

Reyes was nervous. Sweat had begun to form on his brow and he felt nauseous. He did not know why he agreed to do this other than he did not want to go to a mexican prison for the next ten to twenty years. Corrupt cops had a lifespan of maybe a week inside if they were lucky. A Former associate, Lieutenant Juan Carlos Ramirez had been busted by an internal affairs investigation and got twelve years. Four days after he went inside they found him strung up in the showers, his cock and balls cut off and placed in his mouth and his intestines wrapped around his throat like a rope. The thought of it almost made Reyes puke. He took a drink of water. “I need another one of them sedatives.” Reyes asked Kessler sitting across from him in the van. “We need you focused and alert, not spaced out on xanax.” Kessler said. “Just take some deep breaths. Jesus, I don’t know why you are so nervous, you been doing this kind of shit your whole career!” Kessler laughed, looking at Reyes with a smirk. Reyes wanted to choke this conceited yanqui gringo. “I am nervous because these are obviously some serious people you stupid fucking pendejo! They think for a second I am a snitch and I am dead!” Reyes took another drink of water and wiped his brow with a handkerchief. “Look, just act and speak normal. Don’t push for anything, just let the conversation flow. Give them the information we gave you and that’s it. Your job is done. And don’t worry, We will be close by in case something goes wrong.” Kessler reassured him. “How will you know something’s gone wrong?” Reyes asked, his eyes wide. Kessler smiled. “If we hear a gunshot or if we find your body hanging from a bridge tomorrow, that’s how we will know.” That is what Kessler wanted to say to this slimy, piece of shit, but he didn’t. “Look, we can’t bug you, they are too smart for that, even with a cell phone, so if you don’t get out of that car in ten minutes we will close in, fair enough?” Color returned to Reyes’ face upon hearing that. He straightened his shirt, checked his hair in the mirror and got out of the van. Kessler watched him as he walked over and got in the car that was to take him to the meet. One of their guys, dressed up like a Mexican Federal Cop, would drive him there. After they had driven away he reached underneath the seat and took out a small flask of Johnny Walker Black. He took a long drink. Twenty years ago Kessler could have never lied to an asset like he had just done with Reyes, but who was he kidding? There would be no saving him if things went sideways. There would be no wit-sec to New Zealand. The only thing that awaited Captain Reyes at the end of this was a Mexican prison and most likely a gruesome death once inside. Kessler expected to feel something for the poor sod. Remorse? Compassion? No, he felt none of it. This job had twisted him inside out and made his heart a stony rock. Besides, Reyes had made his bed. He had made his choices. He was just another corrupt mexican cop. When he was gone there would be a thousand more fighting to take his place. It was a never-ending cycle down here. If these guys killed him, so what, it saved him a ton of paperwork. Just as long as he delivered the information the D.E.A. had given him to deliver, that was all that mattered.

The meet was to take place at a small cantina twenty minutes out-of-town. When Reyes arrived Chandler was already there. Walking in, Reyes noticed Chandler had taken a booth which afforded him a view of the front and back door plus the parking lot. “Am I Late Senor Chandler?” Reyes asked smiling as he sat down. “No, not at all.” Chandler responded. After a few moments, a young, petite waitress comes over and take their order. Chandler orders Pozole’ and a beer while Reyes, still nauseous, just ask for bottled water. “You sure you don’t want to eat something Captain? You look a bit peaked.” Chandler ask. Reyes smiles. “No. Thank you. I think I am trying to come down with something.” Chandler nods in understanding and scoots his chair away from him a few inches. Reyes laughs. “Don’t worry Mr. Chandler I don’t think it is catching.” Logan remains stone faced. “Well, no offense but I don’t want to take any fucking chances, I know how you like the whores…” At first Reyes was inclined to take offense, but then he laughed and realized this is just the way these Americans joked. The waitress came over and sat down the drinks, plus a basket of chips and salsa. “So what you got for us today Captain?” Logan asked. Without missing a beat, Reyes began reciting the story the D.E.A. had him memorize. As he talked a surreal feeling came over him as if he was sitting in an audience, watching himself perform. He suddenly became nauseated and had to excuse himself.

An hour later Logan, Tarzan and Luis were headed back to Camp Inferno. Logan sat  in the back seat with a digital camera scrolling though the stills. “He stayed in that van for twenty minutes then got in another car and came to meet you.” Logan studied the pictures. “I don’t recognize these dudes. They’re not contractors or agency. What about the plates?” Logan asked. “The van and the car were both registered to a leasing company out of Houston. I got my guy digging deeper on it.” Tarzan replied. Logan looked out the window. There was a storm rolling in from the east off the gulf. “What kind of information did he give?” Luis asked, turning around in his seat. Logan did not answer, he was still lost in thought looking at the approaching storm. Luis reached back and touched Logan on the shoulder, stirring him back to the present. “Hey, Logan, what did Reyes say?” Logan took a breath. “Same thing as last time, heavily protected convoy, twelve to sixteen armed men, blah, blah…” Luis turned and looked at Tarzan with a confused look. “Well whats wrong with that? Sounds pretty good to me!” Logan shook his head. “No Rookie, it’s not good. It’s pure bullshit. No way the CJNG is gonna transport the same way after losing 4 tons of fucking product.” Logan replied. “Well, what then? You think he’s trying to set us up?” Luis asked. “There is no thinking about it. I KNOW he is setting us up, the only question is WHY.” Logan replied as rain begin to fall from the storm. Tarzan turned on the wipers and Logan cracked his window. He loved the smell of fresh rain. “Snatch and Grab Job Coming up Tarzan, your specialty…” Logan said as he slapped the big South African on the shoulder from the back seat. Tarzan smiled and gave Logan the thumbs up. “No worries, we will snatch up that little piggy and make him squeal!” Tarzan replied laughing. Luis shook his head. These guys were born too late he often thought, They would have been right at home as 9th Century Vikings.

D.E.A Safehouse – 3 Days Later

Kessler was finishing up some reports when Hopkins, their in-house surveillance man and former CIA spook, knocked on the door. He was a tall, lanky fellow in his mid-forties who was one of the few in the office who still had a full head of hair. A career bachelor, he always was dressed to the nines, able to actually buy decent suits, not JC Penney off-the-rack specials.”Yeah what you got Hop?” Hopkins smirked at the abbreviation. Why the hell couldn’t people just say his whole name? He laid a folder on the desk and plopped down in a chair. “We put a revolving tail on them when they left Monterrey. They drove into Quetzalcóatl International where they split up into three cars. We had a one out of three chance so we stuck with Chandler. After playing ring around the rosy with us for two hours, which included taking a cab to the racetrack and getting on a bus to the library, he ended up here.” Hopkins pointed to a black and white photo of a house at 2713 Rosevine. Kessler stared at the photo. “OK, so he went to a house, Whatta we know about it?” Kessler opened up a roll of life savers and popped one in his mouth. He did not offer Hopkins one. “Well, not a lot. It and three more houses on the same street are all owned by a Construction consortium based out of Panama called OPTIMO TRADING Inc.” Hopkins took off his glasses and began cleaning them with a handkerchief. Kessler sat there waiting for the briefing to continue. “OK, so these mercenaries work for a construction consortium? What am I missing here?” Hopkins continued cleaning his glasses. Making Kessler wait for information he badly needed was the only way he could get back at him for abbreviating his name. It was office politics 101. “Hopkins!” Kessler’s frustration boiled over. “Ok, Ok, don’t blow a gasket!” Hopkins got up from his chair and walked around the desk. “When I saw the OPTIMO name it rung a familiar bell, so I went back to a report I remember EUROPOL put out last year.” Hopkins leafed through the papers in the folder and pulled out one marked CLASSIFIED with the heading Possible Foreign Intelligence Shell Companies Operating in Europe. Kessler read through the entire list and then looked up at Hopkins wide-eyed. “You’re telling me these Mercs are working for the CIA?” Hopkins nodded. “I called in one of my last favors for this and what I learned amazed even me.” Hopkins walked over and sat back down.

Sensing how big a favor Hopkins had just done him, Kessler loosened up the formality. “You wanna drink?” Kessler opened the bottom file drawer and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two glasses. “Sure, why not, it’s only ten in the morning.” Kessler poured each of them a mild snort. “So tell me what is so amazing about what is going on at 2713 Rosevine?” Hopkins sipped the scotch and leaned back in the chair. “Before I do, our prior agreement still stands, yes?” Kessler nodded. “Of course, mums the word!” Hopkins smiled. “OK, You joined the DEA in what? Ninety-One, Ninety-Two?” Hopkins asked. “March of Ninety-One, why?” Kessler replied arching an eyebrow. “Did you ever hear about a joint CIA/DEA-Operation called Hallowed Thunder?” Hopkins asked, taking another drink. Kessler shook his head in disbelief smiling.”You’re shitting me! The CIA and DEA actually worked together in a meaningful way?” Hopkins kept a solemn face. “Yeah. They did.” Kessler’s smile faded. “Doing what?” Hopkins stood up and walked to the window, which had been painted over with a paint the color of faded limes.”Consolidating the Cocaine trade in South America.” Hopkins replied still staring out the window. Kessler gave Hopkins a crazy look. “Consolidating? As in ensuring there is only one Cartel? One Boss?” Hopkins turned around and looked at Kessler for a long moment. Then the proverbial  light bulb went off.  “Holy Shit!” Kessler exclaimed. He felt as if he had just been punched in the stomach. Hopkins smiled. “I know it’s a bitter pill. Especially from the law enforcement side. But you gotta remember there are bigger things at stake here. After all, we are talking about an income stream that can prop up the entire U.S. Economy! Illegal or not, that is worth protecting.” Hopkins stopped at the door.”Now remember our deal Kessler. You never heard this. I was never here…” As Hopkins left the office Kessler reached for the wastebasket and vomited.

Just down the hall Captain Reyes sat in his “holding cell”, which was nothing more than a twelve by twelve square foot room with a locked door. He had been sitting up in bed reading a novel given to him by one of the agents, The Godfather by Mario Puzo when he began overhearing a conversation through the paper-thin walls that was taking place down the hall. The D.E.A. had made a mistake in choosing this location he thought to himself. In Mexico, unlike the United States, construction standards were lower. Only exterior walls were insulated, not interior. Combine this fact with the cheap sheet rock that was often used and Conversations had in rooms down the hall could be heard very easily, as if you were present in the room. Reyes took a pen and in the back of his book jotted down the following: Operation Hallowed Thunder.

 

To Be Continued…

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Double-Blind (Chapter III)

A Modern Crime Novelette

 

 

III.

Camp Inferno

After the meeting Luis’ head was spinning. He did not know what to worry about more. The fact they were involved in an illegal operation that could send them all to prison for the rest of their lives or that they were about to ambush a convoy of heavily armed narco’s jacked up on coke that outnumbered them four to one. “OK guys, the boss wants us to do a dry run’s of the ambush, but first I asked Steven to give us a little demonstration of the close air support that we are going to receive on this job.” With that Jolt got up and left and after a few minutes, the high-pitched whine of the helo’s engines could be heard. Logan opened the door and led Luis and Tarzan over to the east side of the camp behind the shoot house. “I had some old piece of shit junkers drove or towed out here just for this so you guys could be reminded of what close air support really is!” Logan laughed with excitement. The three men walked to the edge of an old dried up riverbed. Decades of erosion had created a natural depression in the land that resembled a huge salad bowl. The small valley was two miles long and a mile wide at the widest point. Five cars had been parked in a staggered, single file line on the valley floor. Logan handed Luis a pair of binoculars. “I even had a few mannequins set up down there just to add to the realism…” Luis smiled as he scanned the targets below. Logan keyed up the radio in his hand. “Whenever you are ready Jolt.” The radio crackled with static and then an excited voice broke through. “Coming in HOT from the south! Romeo Foxtrot Shall we Dance!”  All three men turned around at the same time to see the Little Bird approaching from half a mile out. Luis and Tarzan realized right away the distinctive whop-whop sound of the rotors was much quieter. “Logan how is he being so damn quiet?” Tarzan asked. Logan beamed with pride. “We had a new type of blade called Blue Edge installed, amazing, huh?” Both Tarzan and Luis shook their head in disbelief as the chopper, like a sleek, quiet panther, closed in for the kill.  The first salvo of 2.75 inch rockets were launched from just under five hundred yards. When the warheads hit the explosion shook the ground like a small earthquake and all three men instinctively went to the dirt with Tarzan laughing like a five-year old at the circus. While everybody else was covering up their heads, Luis looked down into the valley to see a panorama of fire and explosions, pieces of molten orange metal flying in every direction with indigo and yellow colored flames blooming out of each explosion like a deadly flower.  Jolt followed up the rockets with a burst from the twin .50’s. Green tracers had been loaded every fifth round, so every staccato burst resembled a loose, wavy rope of death as the big .50 caliber lumbered slow and sure to their intended target. All three men whooped and hollered like Comanche’s with blood lust. Something primal had been awoken deep inside and despite nobody wanting to admit it, each of them yearned for combat. Each of them yearned to see the enemy, regardless of who it was or what they represented, placed down there in that box of unforgiving death, being eviscerated like sheep in a meat grinder. Logan’s radio crackled to life. “How did that look down there?” Jolt’s voice asked with excitement. “Awesome. Spectacular gun work Jolt!” Logan replied with equal enthusiasm. “Cool! Gonna come around for another pass and clean it up!”

After they all had run through the basics of the ambush and put in some trigger time on the range and in the shoot house, Tarzan held a shooting clinic on how to take out somebody wearing body armour. “The default shot to defeat body armour has always been the head shot, we all know that. We also know a head shot is a shit low-percentage shot in any situation. Here’s an alternative: Aim for the gap above the clavicle. Most body armour vest, unless they are wearing a full suit, will leave anywhere from a 3 to 4 inch gap between the top of the vest and the neck.” Tarzan took some paper plates and drew a line through the middle. “Work on hitting the top half of the plate from varying distances, especially while moving…” After a while, the competition mentality took over and all four men were betting on who could place the most rounds from 15 yards with a pistol while moving. Two hours later all four men sat under the lounge canopy drinking cold Dos Equis. “The key to this ambush is going to rely on us separating the semi from the escort vehicles. Only then can Jolt open fire and take them out. Under no circumstances can the semi be fired on or damaged. We have to be able to drive it away.” Logan looked around at all three men so they understood. “What about collateral damage?” Luis asked. “We chose an ambush spot that is fifteen miles outside the city limits and not close to any residential or commercial areas. Combine that with the time this is going down and I think we will be OK on civilian casualties.” Logan replied.  “Tarzan, you have the most experience with convoys, what do you think is going to be the best way to separate the semi from the escorts?” Tarzan leaned back in his chair and took a long drink of beer. “May I see the proposed convoy route again?” Tarzan asked. Logan reached into his portfolio and handed it to him. After studying the map for a few minutes Tarzan spoke up. “At first I was thinking of using IED’s. The only problem with that is if they stagger their escort, meaning one vehicle in the front and two or three in the back, that means we have to separate the two or three vehicles from the semi at the same time and in the process not damage the semi and trailer. That means we have to have perfectly spaced and timed explosions not to mention having to take out any stragglers that survive. Even with air support, I just don’t see that as having a high probability of success.” Tarzan sat forward in his chair and looked at Logan. “OK, then what are our other options?” Logan asked. Before Tarzan could speak, Jolt answered. “We stop the entire convoy at once.” Jolt looked around at the rest of the crew. Tarzan looked at Jolt for a long moment and shook his head in the affirmative. “I agree. We stop the entire convoy, take out the escort vehicles at the same time then secure the load.” Logan stood up and began pacing. Luis could sense the nervous tension building. “OK, so how do you stop an entire drug convoy on a dime?” Logan asked looking at the entire crew. There was a long moment of silence as everybody racked their brains. Luis, sensing the nervous tension, also got up and began pacing. As he walked to the end of the trailer he turned and looked in the middle of the camp where the road ended. “That’s it!” Luis exclaimed out loud. “What!” Logan said walking over. Luis pointed to the orange and white barriers with the quote from Dante hanging down. “Road Construction!” The next day Logan made a phone call to Skeeter and told him their plan. “Since we are all dark-skinned and don’t look like your typical yanqui, gringo asshole, I think we can pull it off…”  Logan said excited, He told him he was going to need three road construction outfits, barriers, flags, the whole nine yards plus some small C4 magnetic charges with detonators. Also he asked that he talked with his contacts in the D.F.S., the Federal Security Directorate, which was Mexico’s version of the F.B.I. and C.I.A. all rolled into one. They could pass the word to all local and Federal cops alike to steer clear of the ambush area on Highway 85 between the hours of midnight and four a.m.”You will have everything you need .” Skeeter replied and the line clicked dead.

 

15 Miles South-East of Nuevo Laredo on Hwy 85

By 10 p.m. that night the entire crew was loaded and ready to go. Logan, Luis and Tarzan began setting up the barricades on the highway while Jolt ran recon at a higher than normal altitude with Night Vision to watch for the convoy to approach. Three nail-biting hours went by before Jolt radioed in. “I got em’! Four escort vehicles, two in front and two behind. Will be at your location in twenty minutes or so.” Logan called a quick meeting. “OK, first things first. Radio silence from here on out. They will most likely have radio comms and a scanner going, so we can’t risk tipping our hand. As for the plan of attack, Tarzan and Luis you take the front two escort vehicles. I will be responsible for the semi driver and the back two. When I am ready to go, I will get where you both can see me and set down my flag. When you two have planted the charges and are ready to go, take up position in the median and then take off your hard hat. That will be the GO signal. Luis you will detonate first and then everybody will follow, understood? Remember: if you have to shoot, head shots only. These guys will most likely be coked up, so wounds are not gonna impress them.” Tarzan and Luis nodded with excitement. All three men gave each other one final look and then took up their positions. As he waited he nervously to reassure himself Logan felt the bulge of the suppressed MP-7 SMG hanging concealed under his arm. He wondered to himself if the combination of the concealed sub-machine gun and the Body Armour vest made him look too bulky and might give him away to the narco’s? “Shut down your anxious brain Luis and focus on the Op!” he told himself.

The three earpieces crackled with Jolt’s excited voice. “A thousand yards from you, get ready.” Luis looked up to see the headlights of the convoy approaching. He took a deep breath as he felt the nausea give way to adrenaline. All three men began waving their flags, directing the convoy over to the shoulder where flares and flashing barriers had been set up. As soon as the convoy spotted the flashing lights and flags, they did exactly what any good Convoy security team would: The lead vehicle separated from the pack, leaving the other three vehicle with the semi. Logan was the first to meet the scout truck. It was a Red Chevy Avalanche and looked to have four men inside. Luis could hear Logan conversing with the driver in Spanish telling them they were repairing pot holes and re-striping up ahead. After a few minutes, the truck moved forward toward  Tarzan and Luis. They both waved their flags to the left directing them to the shoulder. As the scout vehicle passed it was close enough that Luis could look into the cab. Luis could tell right away the guys were sicario’s and not common street thugs. All of them were suited up with body armour and had AK’s resting between their legs. After they parked Luis knew this was the best time to plant the C4 before the other truck pulled up behind them. Luis casually walked around the vehicle, kneeled down as if he was tying his boot and placed the charge beneath the gas tank. The sound the magnet made when it attached was loud but thank God the semi’s engines covered it up. As Luis stood up he saw Logan motioning for the semi driver to stay put. This would keep a safe distance from the lead vehicle explosion.

Logan could not believe it. The two trucks behind the semi only had two men each. Combined with the eight men in front two trucks, plus the driver of the semi, that made for only thirteen men total. Of course there could be a fucking platoon hiding in the trailer with the drugs, but that was highly unlikely. He decided right then he was NOT gonna use the C4. He would shoot them. That way there was less chance of damaging the load. After they parked, the driver of the third truck rolled down his window and got Logan’s attention. “Hey vato! How long is this going to take? We got someplace we need to be.” Logan just smiled. “Please be patient sir.” he replied in Spanish. He knew it was a lame reply, but it was all he could think of at the moment. The driver gave a smirk and said something under his breath and rolled up the window. Logan’s heart jumped when he saw him take out his phone and make a call. “Shit, he’s calling the other trucks to tell them he doesn’t like this. They are all gonna blow trough the barriers and then we are fucked. He glanced up the road to make sure no cars were coming and then took up a wide position where he could see Tarzan and Luis plus all three drivers. Logan took a breath and laid down his flag. Seeing this, Tarzan and Luis moved to the median and took off their hard hats. As Logan gripped the MP-7 to bring it around an explosion shook the ground. He felt a hot wind blow past his face and the smell of gas-filled his nostrils. As Logan stood transfixed at the fireball in the night sky, he heard several truck doors open. “Shit!” he said to himself as he spun around to see the semi driver, who was every bit of three hundred pounds, plus all four sicario’s getting out. At first, there was confusion on everybody’s face. But it only took a few seconds for the sicario’s to piece together the game that was being played.  Logan saw fat boy, the semi driver, move first. He did not know how he had missed it, most likely the excitement of the explosion, but the bastard was palming a small .38 revolver. As the driver straightened out his arm to shoot, Logan had already brought the MP-7 up from underneath the workman’s vest. The five watt red laser was automatically activated by a pressure switch in the grip and as soon as Logan saw the red dot on the drivers chest he pressed the trigger. The MP-7 belched and a controlled, suppressed burst of 4.6×30 caliber hit the driver right above the sternum and zippered him right up into his neck and jaw. The bullets made splashes of pink and red as muscle and bone were ripped apart.The obese man dropped like a puppet whose strings had suddenly been cut. By this time the four sicario’s had taken up positions behind the trucks and Tarzan and Luis had made their way down the median to help.

The sicario’s first few AK burst were wild and off-the-mark, kicking up dirt and grass and causing Luis, Logan and Tarzan to go to the ground behind the protective berm of the median.  “Well fuck! This did not go as planned!” Tarzan yelled. “Does it ever?” Logan replied, slamming a new magazine home. Luis rolled over and crawled up the bank of the median to try to get a shot, getting a face full of dirt and chipped asphalt for his trouble. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Luis yelled, as he recoiled back, touching his face to see if there was blood. “Fuck it!” Logan said. “I’m calling him in!” “Eagle One, Eagle One, this is War Hammer, do you copy?” Logan spoke calmly into his mic, despite being jacked on adrenaline and fear. Immediately their earpieces crackled with Jolt’s excited voice. “Loud and Clear War Hammer, So I am guessing that Radio Silence thing did not work out?”  Logan smiled and shook his head. “Always the smart ass, huh? Listen, I Need you to come in with Gun’s Only, no rockets. We got 4 assholes behind two trucks. Will signal our Position with the IR Beacon. Please Jolt, DO NOT Shoot us!  War Hammer OUT.” Logan took out a small IR Beacon, turned it on and placed it on the ground. “Well guy’s let’s hope his aim is as good as it was yesterday.” Logan said half-smiling. Tarzan crossed himself and Luis hunkered down behind the berm even tighter. Soon the faint drone of the helo’s engines could be heard but it was hard to distinguish the direction because of the wind. Suddenly all three men went to the dirt on instinct as a chain of green .50 caliber tracers rained out of the dark sky from a quarter-mile away. Luis peered over the median to see pieces of sheet metal, tires, a human head, an arm, all flying up into the air like a wood chipper was spitting them out. “Jesus God!” Tarzan yelled as he covered up his head and tried to get lower into the ground. There was a sudden loud boom as one of the tracers pierced a fuel tank and one of the trucks exploded. As soon as the attack had begun, it ended and Luis felt the rotor wash as the helo passed low over their heads. Luis then crawled to the top of the berm to examine the damage. There was nothing but bits and pieces of junk scattered all over. Radiator fluid mixed in with dark pools of blood, an arm, pieces of a foot. “How does it look up there?” Logan asked. “Like the end of the fucking world.” Luis replied. Logan crawled up beside Luis and scanned the area. Not seeing any movement, he got up and ran over to the semi, making a quick check of everything. “Outside looks good!” he yelled. He then opened up the back and quickly shut the door. “Cargo intact!” he yelled. He then crawled up into the cab. “Gauges are in the green! Let’s get the hell out of here!” he yelled. Neither Tarzan or Luis had to be told twice. As the Semi began to roll away from the carnage, Logan keyed up Jolt. “Hey Brother, awesome shooting! Four bad guys dead and the Goods are intact. We are rolling to the rendezvous!” All three men could hear Jolt laugh and howl like wolf through their earpieces. “Something really fucking wrong with that guy, but damn do I love him!” Logan said smiling as he shifted gears and the big diesel engine roared to life, busting through the construction barriers as if they were paper mache.

*************************

Curacao, Venezuela – Two Days Later

McRay’s intermediary with the Gulf Cartel (CDG) had finally gotten back with him via one of the burner numbers. They would meet but only at a place of their choosing. McRay stressed the meeting had to be with somebody in the top-tier of leadership. The confirmation finally came back. The meet would be in Curacao in twelve hours under the legend of Daniel Andrews. A Houston Banker.  Against Company regs, McRay decided he would fly himself. He took his normal security detail with him of course. Five D-Boys that had been with him since the early days of hunting Guzman. He did not know why the agency always got their panties in a twist over him flying himself. He had never crashed a plane and could out fly any Agency jock, except maybe the old-crusty Air America yahoos, but there were only a few of them left. No, McRay’s flying record spoke for itself. He had been burning up the skies over the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America since the early eighties. He knew every homemade narco airstrip between the Keys and Bogota by heart, including the one they were going to at Curacao. It was located on the Northwestern tip of the island near Watamula. For this trip they gave him one of the older Hawker 900XP’s. They required less runway and had good fuel capacity to boot.

McRay did not know the exact location of the meet until after they landed and were in the car. McRays burner rang and a very British woman’s voice told them to head south toward the Beach Lodge at Westpunt. An hour and half later they pulled up to the lodge and after letting the valet take the cars, McRay walked to the front desk and asked for a Mrs. Virginia Adams. “Well of course sir. Mrs. Adams and her party are expecting you. They are in the Aruba Bungalow. Juan will show you the way.” The lodge was swanky and reeked of indulgent European excess,  It was Full of wealthy European families on holiday. Walking up to the front door  of the suite, McRay was greeted by two large security men. A Good Sign he thought to himself. Scrubs don’t have security like this. After the standard pat down, McRay left his team there with the other attack dogs and was led into a huge living room by a butler of some kind. “Mr. Morales will be with you shortly.” Skeeter’s stomach did a back flip and his bowels suddenly became loose. Morales? As in Alberto Pena’ Morales? The el patron of the Gulf Cartel? Holy shit! Straightening his shirt,  McRay mentally composed himself and walked over and sat down. He began mentally going over what he was going to say. He could not give the standard “come work for us” sales pitch he had been giving to would-be assets for the last three decades. No, that would not do. Morales was in a class all by himself. This time ole’ Skeeter was gonna have to do what he did best: Improvise.

When Morales walked in he did not look like the billionaire cartel boss who got his start guarding poppy fields in Sinaloa at twelve years old, but a man carefree and happy, on vacation with his family. “Mr. Andrews you will have to excuse my tardiness. My 10-year-old son has discovered snorkeling and I must admit, it is very fun, even for a fifty year old man!” McRay got up as Morales came over and shook hands. He was a short, round man, around five foot seven and two hundred pounds. He had curly black hair but was clean shaven. He was wearing a Hurley T-Shirt and his khaki board shorts were damp on the bottom from wading in the ocean. “Can I offer you a drink?” Morales asked as the butler brought over a towel. “Yes, ice water please.” McRay replied. Morales nodded to the butler as he dried himself off and sat down. “So, you will forgive me for being direct, but my time is valuable as you can imagine. My associate told me you are in banking and had a proposition for me.” Morales made himself comfortable on the couch. McRay noticed how the man’s demeanor had changed in an instant. “Yes, I…” McRay was interrupted as the butler brought over his ice water and Morales a cold Heineken. McRay smiled as he took a sip of water and began again. “Yes, I work for a rather large bank in Houston and I…” Morales interrupted him. “I’m sorry, Did you not hear me Mr. Andrews? I said my time is valuable. Now what does the CIA or DEA or whatever other crooked ass yanqui agency you represent want?” McRay was caught off guard by the remark but not really surprised. You did not live to fifty-years old in this business by your organization not having a good intelligence branch.

McRay smiled. Morales was stone faced, his eyes a bluish-grey, like dirty smoke. “OK, so here it is. With Guzman out of the picture, everybody is scrambling to fill the vacuum and get their piece. It’s a bloodbath. The bodies are stacking up so fast the coroner is having to use refrigerated meat trucks to store the corpses. What you need right now is calm. Nobody makes money when everybody is killing each other.” Morales took a drink of his beer and looked out the window at the beach where his wife and kids were playing and surrounded by half a dozen men who looked like the starting D-Line for the Dallas Cowboys. “So far all I am hearing is a recap of the evening news.”  Morales replied smirking. McRay smiled. He liked this guy. “What WE want and when I say WE I am talking about the United States Government, is to help you consolidate your Power in Mexico.” Morales turned and looked at McRay. “And Why would you want to help me do that Mr. Andrews?” McRay stood up and walked over to the window. As a salesman he was now in his element. He had the customer interested, now it was time to close this fucker.

“As you may or may not know Mr. Morales, America is no longer the shining beacon of Democracy and Freedom. We are an Oligarchy, pure and simple, where Business and Government are intimate bed partners, actually, come to think about it, ‘fuck buddies’ would be a more appropriate term.” Morales cracked a smile. Good. He was building rapport, McRay thought to himself. “I represent a large portion of those business interest to whom this consolidation would benefit greatly. Now like all great business partnerships, this one is symbiotic, meaning we could provide services to you that in the past you had to go overseas to find such as large-scale money laundering, real estate investments, etc. We could also help you on the distribution end in certain capacities in the major cities. In return, we would only ask for a few bust and major arrest each year to keep up appearances that the ‘War on Drugs’ is progressing nicely.” McRay sipped his water and looked at Morales. His eyes betrayed nothing, but McRay knew he had a hook in him.

“You know what you are suggesting is nothing new. If my memory serves me correctly this was tried with Escobar back in the eighties and it fell apart, and when I say ‘Fell Apart’ I mean your Government killed him.” Morales looked at McRay with disdain. But McRay was ready for this one. “You are correct. We did try this arrangement with Escobar, except it was HE, not US, that broke the deal. You cannot be in business with a man who blows up airplanes and detonates car bombs in his own country, killing hundreds of innocent civilians.  I mean his own press invented a brand new word for the kind of shit he was doing: Narco-Terrorism. You just cannot be in business with a man like that.” McRay walked away from the window and over to the book-case. “You see what I am saying Mr. Morales? You have to be prepared to keep your end of the deal.” McRay pretended to look at the books on the shelves, all the while watching Morales in his peripheral vision. Morales was looking square at him, thinking hard.

“OK, let’s say just for the sake of speculation I agree to this. How do you intend to use your words ‘Consolidate’ my Power? I don’t have the manpower or resources to take on all my enemies at once and wipe them out.” Now McRay was getting excited. But he had to be careful not to overplay his hand. “You are correct in your thinking that war would be a mistake. Me and my associates feel the same way. What we do think will work is to take your biggest threat right now, which my analyst tell me is the CJNG, the Jalisco New Generation and bleed them until they come to the table.” McRay walked back over to the couch and sat down. Morales cocked an eyebrow and sat down across from him. “By Bleed them you mean jack their loads.” McRay paused for a few moments to let it sink in. “Yes. Jack their loads, shut down their processing sites, assassinate their command structure. Basically wage guerilla war until they come to their senses it would be more profitable to join you than fight you.” Morales shook his head and cursed in Spanish. “Hijo de puta loco.” McRay smiled. Yes, he was a crazy motherfucker. “And before you give me any more reasons why you CANNOT do this, we know the Los Zetas, The Templars and the Juarez Cartels are all on peaceful terms with you and would be receptive to a respectable offer, an offer we can help coordinate.” McRay set back on the couch. He had nailed it. A fucking home run, the crowd goes wild. Morales had nowhere to go except to agree. Several minutes passed while Morales mulled it over. “OK, let’s say I say yes, what can you offer me right now to prove you are serious?” McRay smiled like the cat who ate the canary and leaned forward. “How is four tons of CJNG Coke sound for starters?”

 

To Be Continued….

 

 

Double-Blind (Chapter II)

A Modern Crime Novelette

 

II.

 

45 Miles South-East of Nuevo Laredo – Off Highway 2

They kept following the road for a few more miles as the little bird made wide circles around them.”That helo pilot is a real hot dog isn’t he?” Luis asked. “Oh yeah, that’s Jolt, he’s a certified retard.” Logan replied nonchalantly. Eventually the road ended into a large embankment of orange and white construction barriers. Luis had to laugh at the home-made sign hanging down. It was a line from Dante’s Inferno:

“CAMP INFERNO: ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE”

As Luis got out of the vehicle he took stock of this “camp”which consisted of a few run down portable buildings, some honda generators, two huge above ground gas tanks and a water well. A make shift helipad had been constructed in the rear of the camp along with a shooting range and two-story shoot house. “Not much of a going concern.” Luis muttered under his breath. About that time Logan and the bearded lumberjack appeared, “Luis I would like you to meet Chris Bell, aka Tarzan.” Luis extended his hand and the lumberjack grabbed it and shook it as if he planned to rip it off and beat him with it. “Welcome to Camp Inferno! Logan tells me you are a Marine. Damn nice to finally have a devil dog on the team…” Luis smiled and thanked him. He was intrigued by both the name of the camp, which made sense because of the quote on the sign and the man’s accent. It wasn’t British or New Zealand, maybe Australian?  “Say where are you from?” Luis asked. Logan and Tarzan looked at each other and started laughing hysterically. “You owe my $20 bucks Logan.” Tarzan said smiling. Logan reached into his wallet and produced a twenty. “We made a bet on how long it would take you to ask where I’m from. Logan said 10 minutes, I said Immediately…” Tarzan smiled as he folded the money and placed it in his pocket. “We are gambling degenerates just so ya’ know.” Tarzan said as he smiled and looked at Logan. “Got some stuff to do in the office, introduce him around will you? And don’t fill his head full of too much bullshit, OK?” Tarzan nodded and as Logan began walking away he casually flipped him the middle finger. “I feel your disrespect.” Logan said walking away. Both men laughed. Tarzan gave Logan a serious look. “We get really bored around here sometimes…”

“Come on Marine, let’s go over to the lounge area and get out of this heat.” Luis nodded and followed Tarzan behind one of the portable buildings. There he had a huge beach canopy set up with very nice high-end patio furniture. “Have a seat. Something to drink? Tarzan opened a Yeti cooler beside him and got two ice-cold bottles of water. “Yes, thank you” Luis replied taking the water. “We don’t start drinking alcohol around here until 1830 just so ya know. Bosses orders.” Luis noticed two gunshot wounds on Tarzan’s right arm as he shut the cooler. “So yeah, I am from South Africa. Jo-Berg. Bred and spread. Retired from the Recces when I was thirty-seven after twenty years of crawling around in the fucking dirt. I was not retired a year when I decided I had not had my fill of people shooting at me in anger, so I got into the Contract Security game.” Tarzan laughed and shook his head. He was in his mid forties, but his face looked much older. He stood around six feet tall and one hundred ninety pounds. He had dark skin like a Greek with a huge black wiry beard that stretched at least six inches below his chin. He wore a filthy, sweat stained New York Yankees cap turned backwards and was dressed in a pair of British DPM BDU’s and a Brown army t-shirt with a chest rig in which he carried a Glock 17 in one of the AR Mag pouches. “The beard right? Everybody wants to know about it.” Tarzan said looking at Luis through his Ray-Ban’s. “Call it extreme fucking vanity” Tarzan replied with a smirk. Luis could tell this was a touchy subject, so he quickly apologized. “Sorry bro, did not mean to pry.” Tarzan smiled. “Hey no worries man. It was an accident while in the Recce’s. Me, my platoon leader and our EOD guy were ambushed near Mogadishu; our jeep took a RPG rocket up the ass and I was trapped underneath with it on fire. I got third degree burns on my face and back before they eventually cut me out of there. I was the only one to survive.” “Jesus brother, I am sorry!” Luis replied with empathy. “Yeah it sucked. Spent six months in a burn unit in Jo-berg. The only upside was the ice cream and the nurses. They would give you banana splits and sympathy blow jobs…really nice perk.” Tarzan smiled broadly and laughed. “So what’s up with the chopper pilot, Jolt is it?” Luis asked.. “Oh yeah, where is that fuck-tard?” Tarzan replied, looking around in the sky. About that time the little bird made a fast low pass over the camp, imitating a strafing run. Tarzan un-clipped a Motorola push to talk from his chest rig as he got up and walked out from underneath the canopy. “Hey Jolt, when you gonna stop wasting gas and come and say hello to our newest team member?” About that time the helo made a wide circle and flared up in front of them, the rotor wash sending anything not nailed down flying into the air. Tarzan yelled into the radio. “Dammit Jolt! Land that fucker!” Luis could see the pilot smiling through the cockpit glass. After a few more minutes of hot-dogging, the pilot finally relented and landed.

After a few minutes Jolt came wandering over. He was short and squat, around five foot six and a hundred and sixty pounds. He had dirty blond hair cut high and tight and was wearing a pair of classic aviators. His OD green flight suit was “sterilized” with no name tags or unit ID patches of any sort. “So how goes it ladies?” Jolt said as he walked over to the cooler and grabbed a water. “Luis this is Steven Percy, aka Jolt, our resident helo pilot and town retard.” Jolt smiled at the jive as he walked over and shook hands with Luis. “Nice to meet you Luis.” Jolt then collapsed in one of the chairs. “Man this heat is something else!” He took a long drink of water. “What the hell was all that hot dogging for Jolt?” Tarzan asked. “Logan wanted me to practice some maneuvers and strafing runs. I think he has a job coming up.” Jolt replied as he leaned his head back in the chair, exhausted.”So Steven, why do they call you Jolt?” Luis asked, leaning forward in his chair. Both men burst out laughing. “You owe me $20 you cheeky bastard!” Tarzan exclaimed looking at Jolt with tears in his eyes from laughing. “I told you Luis, we bet on everything around here!” Tarzan replied. Luis began shaking his head, remembering the exchange they had an hour or so earlier. Steven got up from his chair and slapped Luis on the back. “It’s the cola bro, Jolt Cola. I’m addicted to it and have it flown in sometimes special if I cannot find it at the local shops.”About that time Logan’s voice came over a bullhorn. “Attention! All Personnel report to the Conference hut ASAP.” Tarzan gave Luis and Jolt a strange look. “Conference Hut? Since when are the fucking trailers referred to as Huts? What are we back in 1942 at Bletchley Park?”All three men gave a chuckle and started making their way over to the “hut”. Walking inside, the three men were met with a blast of cold arctic air. “Come on in guys, we got a lot to go over.” Logan said excitedly, closing the door behind them. The inside of the trailer was decorated like an upscale executives office. A half-moon shaped polished oak table with padded chairs took up most of the space while a Sony seventy-inch 4K TV on the wall took up the rest. As the three men sat down, Logan began passing around red binders with he word SETBACK printed on front. “This is Operation Setback Gentleman.” Once the binders were passed out Logan took a seat at the end of the table and using a wireless keyboard began punching in commands. “As you will see on the screen here is the expected route of the convoy…”

For the next two hours Logan laid out the plan to rob the CJNG ‘s (Jalisco New Generation Cartel) four ton cocaine shipment. After an extensive Q and A session, Logan directed his attention to Luis. “So I know this is your first gig like this and you got questions about what it is we exactly DO here Luis, so this is your chance to ask them now versus finding out as you go along…” Logan paused and waited to see Luis’ reaction. Surprisingly, Luis did not hesitate. “OK,  so who are we working for? the CIA?” There was a long pause and immediately Luis felt stupid for asking such a blunt question. He glanced at the other men nervously. “No, it’s the usual deal of contract deniability. Officially, on paper, we are Private Security for Optimo Trading Inc.” Logan replied. “So what up with the Op? Why are we messing around with drug shipments, isn’t that stuff for DEA or Border Patrol?” There was a murmur in the room and again Luis felt like an ass. Logan paused for the ruckus to die down before answering. “Think of it like this: We are in the drug recycling business.” A funny look came across Luis’ face. “Recycling? Are you telling me we are ripping off drug shipments so the CIA can sell or trade it?” Logan laughed at the look on Luis’ face. The rest of the room was silent. “Don’t act so surprised man, Uncle Sam has been doing this kind of shit forever. Remember Iran-Contra?” Logan exclaimed “Are you telling me the CIA is having us rip-off four tons of coke so they can sell it on the black market?” Luis asked, his mouth agape. “Yeah.” Logan replied flatly, still looking at him seriously. “For what reason?” Luis asked, his eyes wide. “So the United States can prevent ISIS from spreading across the globe of course.” Logan replied, leaning back in his chair smiling.

Luis’ heart rate was elevated and sweat had begun to form on his forehead despite the air conditioner blowing full blast. He could not believe what he was hearing. “I did not think this kind of illegal shit still went on!” Luis exclaimed, looking around the room. The room, in turn, erupted in laughter. Logan was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes. After a few minutes Logan raised his hand for quiet. “OK, guys, let’s cut him a break, we all had our cherries popped at one point too…” Slowly the laughter died down and Logan looked at Luis. “You gotta look at it this way man. We are killing two birds with one stone. On one hand we are helping stop the flow of illegal narcotics across the border and on the other we are helping to kill terrorist.” Luis shook his head as if he was trying to keep some kind of bad thought from taking root in his brain. “But where do the drugs go once we steal them? Who does the CIA sell them too and what do they get in return? Money, Guns, Both?” Logan smiled at the question and knew there was no easy way to put it. “I’m a contractor just like you bro, but what I am told is the Agency has contacts all over the World. The drugs are often traded for weapons and sometimes converted into other forms of currency.” Logan looked around the room. The rest of the guys looked bored. “So what you are saying is the drugs end up being circulated in other parts of the world, just no the U.S.?” Luis asked, still amazed. “Yeah I guess so.” Logan replied. Luis had to take a breath. All of this was just too much. After a few moments Tarzan spoke up. “Look, Luis, I can tell this is a big shock to you man, but you gotta realize this is the way the world works. Governments do illegal, crazy shit all the time. Most of the time it for a good cause, sometimes, it is for personal gain. Either way, we are just cogs in a machine man; small parts of a massive endeavor. Now you can sit here having a personal moral crisis or you can get your shit together and act like a soldier. Besides man, you are getting paid a Shit Ton of money for this job, so what’s it gonna be bro?”  Luis felt the eyes of the rest of the team on him. His heart was still racing like a rabbit and he could feel sweat popping out of the pores on his back. “Yeah. I hear you Tarzan. Let’s go to work!” Luis replied and the room erupted into cheers. “That’s the spirit Devil Dog!” Jolt yelled, getting up and slapping Luis on the back. Luis looked up to see Logan smiling across the table. giving him a thumbs up.  After a few minutes, Logan stood up and addressed the room.  “OK guys, so let’s develop a training schedule for today starting with a mock-up dry run of the ambush…”

**************************

D.E.A. Safehouse, Nuevo-Laredo

Captain Reyes awoke with his hands and feet zip-tied to a hardback chair. It was pitch black but he could tell he was naked. A slight breeze from above him made him keenly aware he had no pants on. “Shit! I thought I was dead” he thought to himself quietly. Unlike most people in a situation like this, he wished for death instead of having to endure the torture he knew was coming from these cartel barbarians. But how did they get to him? His last memories were being with Jasmine in her house. It was like remembering a foggy dream but he had seen her standing there by the bed with a, what was that? a syringe? Why a syringe? Had that bitch betrayed him to the cartel! He had her vetted and followed for a month after they met, how was this possible? He shook his head slowly. “Done in by a traitorous, double-crossing woman, that is so fucking cliché Reyes!” He began to laugh and then sob. It was all so fucking pitiful. He was ready to ask these bastards just to shoot him now and end it. “What a fucking idiot I am!” He said to himself in Spanish. His grandiose session of self-pity was suddenly broken up by the sound of a heavy metal door opening and light spilling into the darkness of the dungeon like room. Reyes squinted at the bright light shining out of the next room. He could make out the profile of two people standing in the light but he could not see their faces. Wait! Maybe he was already dead and these people or beings had come to take him to the other side? Yes! That was definitely a possibility. Suddenly he worried what the other side would be: heaven or hell? He hadn’t exactly led a virtuous life. Suddenly all of his senses were shocked as ice-cold water was thrown on him. He tried to catch his breath in several gasps, but failed. “Captain Reyes! Captain Reyes! Can you hear me?” It felt as if he was surrounded by a group of people. Why? Wait! The man’s voice was in English, not Spanish! Were these people not the cartel? He kept hearing a strange mumbling, like a drunk man speaking in riddles, until finally he realized it was his own voice. “Captain Reyes! Can you hear me? Get a Doctor in here! I think he’s going into shock!” the voice said. He tried to open his eyes to see these people’s faces but he couldn’t, a warm black blanket, like the one he felt after he got stung in the neck ,was wrapping around him again. He tried to fight it, but it was so warm and cozy. Suddenly he felt a pinch in his arm and just like that his eyes opened and the bright room he was in came into view. It looked like a hospital room? He was surrounded by several people he did not know. White people, all with looks of concern on their faces. “Captain Reyes! Thank God! We thought we had lost you!” The voice that had been talking to him this entire time finally came into view. It was a white man in his thirties. He had sandy brown hair and blue eyes. “Captain Reyes, I am Special Agent Kessler of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Welcome Back! We have a lot to talk about!”

 

To Be Continued….

Double-Blind (Chapter I)

A Modern Crime Novelette

 

 

I.

15 miles south of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico – Present Day

Logan Chandler sat in the back seat of a glossy black Cadillac Escalade parked on the shoulder of Highway 1. He was watching the wind whip up miniature dust devils in the dry flats on both sides of the highway. The scene took him back to his childhood growing up in rural West Texas. Him and his younger brother would sit on the back porch waiting for one to appear so they could go chase it.”The wind is a real bitch today.” Luis the new driver commented, snapping Logan out of his daydream. Logan looked up but did not say anything to the kid. He found people who felt the need to fill quiet, serene moments with useless chatter annoying as hell. Luis was the newest member of the crew, coming on-board after their old driver, Mike T, had taken a gig in London guarding some rich asshole who had made his fortune in plastics. Luis had done a dime in the Army Rangers with two tours in A-stan, so he wasn’t completely green behind the ears. As Logan began to find interest again in the dust devils, two white trucks pierced the heat waves up on the horizon. As they passed Logan could see The Policia Federal Star emblazoned on the truck door and an officer in full ballistic gear manning a M-240 belt-fed Machine Gun standing up in the bed. The trucks made a wide u-Turn, both of them turning on their overhead lights with one parking in front and another behind the Escalade. Luis shifted nervously in his seat and began to fidget.”Take it easy kid, this is all for show.” Logan said flatly, a hint of aggravation in his voice. After a few minutes, an older, fat hispanic man got out of the passenger side of the truck parked in the rear and slowly walked up. After peering inside the window, he opened the door and poked his head inside, letting the over-heated air and stirred up dust flood the cab. “Gentleman, how are we today?” The Mexican policeman asked in perfect English, smiling broadly. Logan invited him inside to sir down. It took a moment for the man to maneuver his wide ass into the seat. While this was happening, Logan had to smile at his appearance. He resembled the stereo-typical fat mexican cop in a bad 80’s action movie. He was wearing a pair of Gold Oakley shades too small for his bloated face, with a crew cut of thinning salt and pepper hair. His shirt was unbuttoned to mid-chest exposing two large gold chains tangled in a mass of curly black and grey chest hair. Noticing the twin silver bars on his lapel, had to stifle a giggle as he responded “Fine Captain, and you?”  “Me? I am always good Mr. Chandler, always good!” The cop continued to smile revealing, not surprisingly, two gold teeth. After a few moments of silence, Logan sensed the cop was waiting on Logan to do something, so he casually reached under the seat and grabbed an overstuffed envelope of cash and handed it to him. The cops eyes lit up like a child in a candy store and he quickly started counting. After ensuring all of the Fifty-thousand dollars was there, the cop took the money out of the envelope, rolled it up with a rubber band and stuck it in his pocket. He then reached into his shirt and unfolded a small piece of paper. “The convoy from Culiacan will be here tomorrow night. We do not have a concrete time, but typically these things happen around midnight, sometimes a couple of hours later. Their Destination is a warehouse on the north side of town where they offload and prep for transport across the border. The semi-truck will be escorted by three to four smaller trucks. Expect between 12 and 16 armed men with automatic weapons and grenades. The estimated Load is four tons.” Reyes handed Logan the Map. Logan removed his sunglasses and quickly studied it, nodding his head with approval. “Are we clear on how you are to report this terrible crime?” Logan asked smiling. Reyes smiled back. “Of course. Two rival cartel’s fighting for control of the lucrative smuggling routes, nothing more…” Reyes replied waving his hand as if he was a magician willing the story into being. “We still on for next month?” Logan asked. Reyes smiled.”God Willing Mr. Chandler, God Willing.” As Reyes opened the door another blast of hot wind breached the cab. Logan and Luis watched Reyes walk back to his truck. “I will wager five thousand dollars right now that this time next month we will be meeting a different Police Captain.” Logan said as he placed the map in a small black portfolio on the seat. After the two trucks rolled by, Luis made a U-turn in the road and headed into town. “Why is that? Because you have to pay off more than one cop?” Luis asked innocently, looking at Logan in the rear-view mirror. Logan shook his head at the rookie’s inexperience. “No, because despite all of our precautions, the Cartel will eventually discover the leak and plug it.” Logan replied flatly. Logan caught a glimpse of two more dust devils dancing out in the flats like carefree children and again drifted away into his memories.

Fifteen minutes later they pulled into the driveway of  2713 Rose Vine, a modest two-story affair on the north-eastern side of town. The entire neighborhood had been built-in the nineties in response to the housing crisis for middle and upper management executives of the big three auto-makers. Of course the Big three had all but gone away in Mexico, but the houses still stood. The Company that owned this particular house (and the three across the street as well) was listed as “OPTIMO TRADING INC.” On paper, they were a consortium of construction firms in Mexico and Central America. Of course if one looked deeper they would find that Optimo was what folks in the agency called a “Paper Tiger” ie, a “Ghost Firm”, a “Shell Company.” One of hundreds the CIA had put into place beginning in the fifties to battle the rising surge of Communism in the Southern hemisphere. Logan and Luis walked to the front door and looked up into the small black bubble that was a CCTV camera. An electronic buzzing could be heard and Logan turned the door knob and walked inside. For all the landscaping and formal appearance of the house on the outside, inside, it was vacant and sparsely furnished. The only real furniture was in the dining room where a conference table, several chairs, a  large 60 inch flat screen TV and a whiteboard sat. As Luis was walking to the kitchen he noticed activity in one of the downstairs bedrooms that served as the Security room. Two geeky IT guys were arguing while sitting in front of a bank of CCTV monitors. When one of them saw Luis, he quickly slammed the door. As Luis and Logan walked into the kitchen to get a beer, they were met by the agency honcho, James L. McRay, known affectionately by those that worked under him as “Mr. Skeeter”. McRay was 53 years old and a dyed in the wool Company man. He had begun his career in 1981 and made a name for himself during the Iran-Contra affair, being one of the few agents that escaped with his name and job intact. Built solid and low to the ground like a tank, the last five years of desk jockeying had betrayed his athletic build, creating a slight paunch. Combined with his thinning grey hair and glasses, on the street one might assume he was nothing but an old, out of shape accountant. But Logan was not fooled. McRay was nothing short of a stone cold killer. It was said that during his “Counter-Interrogation”  training on the farm, which taught agents how to withstand and if possible, escape interrogation, McRay had killed one if his mock interrogators by stabbing him in the neck with a pencil. He claimed he did not know it was a mock training scenario. “So how was the good Captain Reyes?” Skeeter asked, sitting down at the kitchen table and opening a bottle of Budweiser. “Good. No surprises. He offered a map this time, which I thought was a nice trade for $50 Thousand Dollars.” Logan replied smiling, taking a sip of beer and sliding the map across the table. Skeeter laughed as he unfolded it. “And you were clear on how he was to report the hijacking?” Skeeter asked, looking at Logan over his glasses. “Yes. Two rival cartel factions vying for control of the lucrative smuggling routes…blah, blah, blah.” Skeeter nodded his head and sat down the map. “So are we all set for tomorrow night then?” Skeeter looked at Logan then Luis. “Oh Yeah we are ready.” Logan replied, leaning back in his chair drinking his beer. Skeeter nodded and shifted his gaze to Louis. “What about you? Logan tells me you have combat experience but have never did any kind of work like this?”  “No Sir, but I am a fast learner.” Luis replied with a nervous smile. Skeeter got up from the table, tossing the empty bottle of beer in the garbage and then looking at Logan.”You better run him through some live fire drills tomorrow with the rest of the team.” Skeeter walked out of the kitchen and up the stairs to his office. “Damn kid, you need to work on your confidence.” Logan replied, finishing off the beer. Luis nodded his head, embarrassed. “I am sorry man…” Logan interrupted him. “Don’t worry about it. Get your driver hat back on and let’s go meet the rest of the Hole-in-the-wall Gang.”

They drove east out-of-town for around thirty minutes before coming to a small dirt road with no markers. “Stop here for a minute.” Logan said.  It was a cloudless day, with the temperature hovering around a hundred degrees. Heat waves danced on the highway and a blistering wind out of the south rocked the vehicle. “Before we go any further, I am gonna need your phone.” Luis nodded and handed it over. Logan promptly removed the battery and slipped it into a silver mylar bag with his. “You would be surprised at how high-tech the Cartels have become.” Logan said as he placed the bag in the center console. As they continued to drice in silence, Luis studied Logan out of the corner of his eye. He was a big guy, around six-four and two hundred and thirty pounds. He had light brown hair that was cropped close on the sides. He always wore a pair of Oakley Turbines and a sweat stained and ragged Multi-Cam ball cap with a subdued Texas Flag Patch. “You are going to come to a metal gate up at the top of this hill. Stop and I will call them to come meet us.” Luis nodded at the instruction. As they approached the fence and gate, Luis could tell right away it was of Military construction. Five minutes after Logan got off the phone with somebody called ‘Tarzan’, the unmistakable hum and chop of a helicopter could be heard on the horizon. When the helo finally landed on the other side of the gate, Luis had to do a serious double-take. It was a fully armed MH-6  little bird, aka “The Killer Egg.” The helo bristled with twin GAU-19 .50 Cal Gatling Guns and 2.75 inch Hydra rocket pods. The crew had also went the extra mile and painted a red and white shark mouth over the entire nose. As if that was not enough, a burly lumberjack looking guy with a full black beard down to his chest got out of the passenger side of the helo and unlocked the gate. Logan jumped out of the SUV and they both shook hands and embraced. After a few minutes of conversation, Logan came back to the vehicle. “Just follow them up to the camp house.” Logan said placing a pinch of Copenhagen in his lip. “What’s up with the helo?” Luis asked. “Oh, just a little added security. You gotta remember, we are playing in the cartel’s backyard here.” Logan replied smiling. “One of the many perks when you do contract work for the agency, right?” Luis asked. “Agency? What agency are you referring to Luis, the Employment agency?” Logan replied, taking off his sunglasses and giving him a wink. Luis smiled. “Yeah, that’s the one I mean.”

**************

Captain Jorge Reyes was looking forward to a wild night with his twenty-three year old mistress,”Jasmine”. Of course that was not her real name, it was a “stage” name, but he like to call her that. Thursdays were always reserved for the mistresses, while the weekends were for the wives, in Reyes’ case, his third wife, Gabriella. Both women were half his age, but he stopped worrying about appearances long ago. The security team escorted him to the townhouse and took up positions around the block as he walked up to the front door and rang the bell. Jasmine answered the door in a Japanese kimono that was untied. “I was wondering when you were going to show up papi…” she purred. Reyes smiled and kissed her, smelling the cigarette smoke and tequilla on her breath. He then motioned for the security team to go in and clear the house. After a few minutes, the team leader gave the all clear to Reyes. He nodded, closed and locked the door and then followed Jasmine into the house and up the stairs to her bedroom, both of them shedding clothes as they went. Once they reached the bedroom, Jasmine led him over to the bed, laying him down flat on his back. At first she teased him by running her long nails over his hairy chest and stomach, scratching as she went. After a few moments, Reyes’ lust boiled over and he impatiently tried to take control, but she smiled and shook  her head, placing him back down on the bed. “Close your eyes and relax…” Reyes relented and closed his eyes, letting Jasmine play her little games. “You really are driving me crazy my love…” he said. After a few minutes, he felt her hands stop exploring and then suddenly, something stung him in the side of his neck. “Son of a bitch” were the only words he got out and then everything slowed down to half-speed. As he put his hand up to his neck to see what stung him, he suddenly felt dizzy. He tried to get up off the bed, but his legs would not respond. The last thing he saw before a warm blanket of black washed over him was Jasmine standing there naked by the bed with a syringe in one hand and a cell phone in the other. “Yeah, it’s done, come get this fat piece of shit out of my house.”

To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter V)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

Chapter V

La Voyant Ranch

It was a few hours before dawn and the cabin was dark and quiet. Everybody was fast asleep except the three men on watch at the windows. Creed had been on guard for an hour when Eve came over and brought him a cup of coffee and some fried cornbread. “My mom’s recipe.” she whispered, brushing her hair back from her eyes. Creed admired her beauty in the dim shadow of the candles. “Thanks. How’s Tick?” Creed whispered in reply. “He’s resting. The bleeding has stopped but he still has a fever.” Creed noticed the look of concern on Eve’s face. “Will he be OK you think?” Creed asked. “The fever worries me. It means there is an infection. He really needs a Doctor.” Creed just shook his head in frustration. “You think we can get out of here soon?” Eve asked. “I hope…” Creed did not finish his sentence as a sound outside caught his attention. “Pssssst” Creed got Knowles attention at the next window and Grissom’s at the back. Instead of talking Creed pointed to his ears and then outside. “Eve go take cover by the bunks and keep that revolver handy.” Creed whispered. Eve nodded her head and quickly moved over to the bunk with her waiting mother who already had a shotgun loaded and ready. Knowles, Grissom and Creed all shouldered their carbines and went on high alert at their windows scanning the area. It was a moonless night, and with the combination of the pre-dawn hour, the darkness outside was a sheet of complete blackness. Creed cleared his mind and listened. There! The sound he heard earlier, a rustling. Creed slowly cocked the hammer on his carbine and aligned the sights, scanning with the barrel of the gun. The sound, as best he could tell was coming from in front of the corrals next to the barn. Movement in the shadows! Creed aligned the sights and right before he squeezed the trigger Grissom whispered. “Hold your Fire! Coyotes! They are eating on the dead horses!” Creed let out a sigh of relief and relaxed the hammer on the carbine and withdrew the barrel back inside.

Creed shot a glance over to Grissom, who was smiling. “I guess we forgot there was half-a-dozen rotting horses out there!” Creed smiled at the remark. He glanced over at Eve and Sarah who were also smiling in relief. “Well since we are all up now, I think this calls for some coffee.” Rojo said, climbing out of his bunk. Creed was just about to say “I would love some” when the cabin exploded in gunfire. Knowles and Grissom were already calling out targets before Creed could get back behind his carbine. “Looks like they got reinforcements!  I count six guns back here!” Knowles yelled as he returned fire. “I count eight, No! Make it Ten! Jesus! Where did they all come from?” Grissom exclaimed as he returned fire as quickly as he could. By the time Creed had drawn a bead with this rifle, there were upwards of twenty mounted gunman surrounding the bunk house. Splinters of wood flew as bullets pierced the cabin. The women yelled in sheer terror as bullets impacted all around them. Rojo quickly herded the women into a corner away from the windows. He then took one of the mattresses off the bunks and laid it over them. He repeated this with Tick. “They are setting up some kind of barricade back here!” Knowles yelled as light first appeared outside and things could be seen more clearly. “Same thing in the front!” Creed replied. Creed watched in horror as three wagons were rolled into place not twenty yards from the bunk house. “Ammo!” Grissom yelled. Rojo crawled over and retrieved the saddlebag Knowles had brought and flung it over. “This all we got?!” Grissom looked up in distress. “Si!” Rojo replied. Grissom shook his head in disgust and continued firing. After the wagons were rolled into place, Newton and his posse stopped firing. Creed likewise ordered everybody to cease-fire. After a few moments, Creed watched two men ride up and dismount behind the wagons. Directly, a voice pierced the silence. “This is John Randolph speaking. I need to speak to the man in charge in there.” Grissom and Creed looked at each other in amazement. “This is Creed La Voyant Speaking Randolph.” Creed yelled out through the window. “Listen son, this thing has gotten way out of hand. I don’t want to see anybody else killed. So here is what I propose: You hand over the nigger and the mexican and we let Sarah and Eve go back home safe and sound.” Randolph replied. Creed shook his head in disbelief at the gall of Randolph. “That dirty sum-bitch!” Grissom exclaimed, shaking his head. “Tell me something Randolph, how many people out there know why you want this land so bad?” Creed asked. There was a long pause. “Well, I guess now, just me and you.” Randolph replied amused. ” Go ahead and laugh, you’re finished Randolph regardless what you do to Rojo and Tick, you  are still going down for all the evil you have done in this town! Right now John Lewis is in Austin at the State Attorneys office with a certain black ledger, sound familiar?” Creed replied. Five minutes passed in silence. The next voice was that of the hired killer, R.T. Newton. “OK Indian, you have heard the offer, either you send out the nigger and mexican and we let the women go or we just blow you all to hell, your choice. You got two minutes to decide.” Newton held up several sticks of dynamite wrapped together with a long fuse for all to see to give a visual aid to the seriousness of the threat.

Feeling like he needed to stall for time, Creed quickly answered. “One of the men you want is badly wounded and cannot be moved…” Newton could be heard laughing. “Oh Yeah, the gut shot nigger, forgot about that. That’s OK, you can just lay him out here and we will finish him off…” Creed’s anger boiled over immediately. “I’ll be damned if I will! And you all can go to hell!” Newton continued to laugh. “OK, have it your way. It is everybody’s funeral in that cabin in exactly one minute.” Rojo immediately stood up. “Tell him I am coming out, but only after the women are allowed to ride off safely.” Creed and Grissom traded glances, frustrated. “We don’t have a choice kid. The bastard has us by the balls.” Grissom whispered. Suddenly Sarah stood up. “Tell Randolph I want to talk to him face to face.” Creed looked at Sarah for a long moment. “It’s risky.” Grissom replied, looking at Creed then at Sarah. Creed paused and then yelled out. “Sarah Patterson wants to talk to John Randolph, face to face. I am sending her out, unarmed. Everybody hold your fire!” “You are trying my patience kid!” Newton replied from behind one of the wagons. Without warning and with the boldness of a lioness, Sarah burst out the door before Creed or Grissom could stop her. “John Randolph stop hiding behind your attack dogs and come out here and face me!” Sarah yelled out, her face red with anger. “Knowles, you and Rojo keep a sharp eye out back there, they may try something!” Grissom whispered. Meanwhile, Eve was glued to the window, watching her mother intently.

After a few minutes, Randolph came slowly walking out from behind the wagons, two armed goons following him. He stopped ten feet from where Sarah stood. “OK Sarah, here I am, what’s on your mind?” Sarah took a deep breath and stared at Randolph for a long minute, the anger seething out of her. “John Randolph for the last six years I refused to believe the truth about what happened to my husband. But then yesterday as me and my daughter were comforting Marshall Prescott’s widow and she told me the rumors that were going around town about you, I realized how big a fool I have been. I refused to acknowledge the truth about what you really are Randolph.” Sarah had a look of utter disgust on her face. “And what am I Sarah?” Randolph asked, an impatient smirk on his face. “A Murderer.” she spat., glaring at him. Randolph chuckled. “You know every man who has ever accomplished something great in life have had accusations thrown at them. The Carnegie’s, The Rockefeller’s…” Sarah interrupted him. “Oh For God’s sakes Randolph! Stop your illusions of grandeur! You are nowhere close to an Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller! You are a lucky tin pan who turned into a crook, pure and simple. You have lied, cheated, extorted, bribed and murdered to get where you are and I hope to see you swinging by the end of a rope before all of this is over! And if you think me and my daughter are simply going to crawl away like whooped dogs while you and your goon squad murder those brave men in there you are sadly mistaken!” When Sarah finished her speech, you could have heard a mouse fart. Everybody, including his own men, were now looking at Randolph to reply while Sarah stood there with her arms crossed, a look of stern defiance on her face. Visibly agitated and embarrassed, Randolph took two-steps toward Sarah. As he raised his hand as if he were going to strike her an arrow burst out of his chest from behind, spraying Sarah with blood. Randolph’s eyes went wide as he looked down to see the black flint head  protruding from his chest. “Indians!” Randolph’s men yelled as they dove under wagons and Gunfire erupted from every direction. Grissom quickly went out and grabbed Randolph and Sarah and pulled them back into the bunk house. Creed took one look at Randolph and knew he would not live long, the arrow was too close to the heart. Knowles and Rojo had already took up positions at the windows and were firing at any of Randolph’s men that were still out in the open. Creed yelled at Rojo who was manning the back window. “How many riders back there?”. “I count ten, no twelve!” Rojo replied. Creed smiled. His uncle had been true to his word. He had returned, and in the nick of time.

It did not take long for the two dozen mounted braves to over run the disorganized posse. A large majority of the men were farmers and merchants that had no stomach for killing. Most dropped their guns and ran for town while others cowered under wagons and whimpered like children. Knowles put on his hat and holstered his pistol. “I am gonna go out there and make sure all the men who surrendered get treated fairly. Gotta have some semblance of Law and Order round here.” As Knowles walked out the door, Creed, Grissom and Rojo walked over to Ticks bunk. All three men removed their hats as they approached. They all knew from the way Eve was crying that he was gone. “When did he pass?” Creed asked quietly. “About the time the fight started.” Eve replied as she hugged him. Creed’s heart swelled with grief. Tick was the one who had found him wandering in the desert after his parent’s were slaughtered over three years ago. He had been the kindest to him out of all the men in Diaz’s gang, often sharing his breakfast and supper with him. Creed reached over and gently closed Tick’s eyes and then covered his head with the bed sheet. “Do you know what his real name was?” Eve asked, looking at all three men, all of their eyes wet with tears. “Tick was all we ever knew.” Suddenly Sarah’s voice broke the stillness. “Confess you son-of-a-bitch! Confess your sins before you go to meet your maker!” Creed jumped up and was surprised to see Randolph on the floor, still alive, with Sarah towering over him, shaking a cocked revolver at his head. “Confess you had a hand in murdering my husband and Marshall Prescott in cold blood! Confess right now!” Randolph’s face was ashen gray from the blood loss, his eyes going white as they rolled back in his head. His tongue, hanging loose from his mouth like a sick dog.  “Sarah.” Creed said in a clam and quiet voice. Sarah, surprised, spun around to face Creed, the revolver still in her hand. “Stay out of this Creed! That Bastard, That Monster, is going to confess!” Sarah’s face was contorted with hate, her eyes red and swollen from crying, her hands shaking from anger. “Sarah, how about we put down that gun before somebody else get’s hurt. He’s gonna be dead in a few minutes anyway Sarah, there’s no need for it…” Creed hoped he was making sense. After a few moments he took a deep breath as Sarah lowered the gun and handed it to Creed. Sarah then dropped to her knees in front of Randolph, who by now had died from massive blood loss. Between the great sobs and wails Sarah would try to speak but her pain was so great Creed could not make it out. Soon Eve came over and kneeled down with her mother and held her. Looking over at Randolph and then at Creed, Eve comforted her mother. “He’s dead mama. He’s dead. He will never be able to do this to anybody’s husband or Father ever again.” Both women cried for several minutes as Creed took a blanket and covered Randolph’s body.

Creed walked outside to find his uncle, Spotted Rabbit and Marshall Knowles conversing over the body of four dead men. Creed recognized one of them as R.T. Newton, Randolph’s hired gun. He guessed the other three were part of his outfit. “These four refused to lay down their weapons, fought it out and died like the dogs they were.” Spotted Rabbit spat. “Bury them with the rest.” Creed said as he surveyed the carnage. “How many dead?” Creed asked Knowles. Knowles shrugged. “I would guess around thirty, but I haven’t counted. What about Inside?” The look on Creed’s face told Knowles and Spotted Rabbit all they need to know and both bowed their heads in respect. “What about Randolph?” Knowles asked. “About ten minutes ago.” Creed said softly. “Good riddance.” Knowles replied coldly. “Tick was one tough sumbitch to have survived that long gut shot, most men would have died within an hour or two.” Knowles said as he put a plug of tobacco in his cheek. Creed nodded his head in agreement. “Well, on the bright side we won’t have to go to the trouble of a trial or building another damn gallows.” Knowles said smiling. “But, we still have a problem with Spotted Rabbit and his outfit being wanted renegade indians who have escaped an Indian Reservation. By law, I should arrest them and have them transported back to Mescalero. But hell, the way I see it, what you done here today makes up for all that Spotted Rabbit, so here is what I am going to do. I am gonna get on my horse and ride into town for a few hours. When I return, I want you and your boys Gone, and by Gone I mean out of Texas, comprende?” Spotted Rabbit nodded and turned to go talk to his braves. Knowles and Creed walked over the Barn where his horse was stabled. “I expect to hear back from John Lewis and the State’s Attorney’s office any day now.” Creed said, tightening up Knowles saddle straps. “Yeah, it’s a shame that bastard Randolph won’t be able to stand trial for the murders.” Knowles replied. “Yeah, but the main thing is the people who were taken advantage of in this town will get justice. That ledger proves he cheated this town out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hopefully a judge will give that money back to the people who were cheated.” Creed replied as Knowles mounted his horse. “I hope so Creed. Now don’t forget. Your Uncle and his outfit need to be gone. Preferably Mexico.” Creed nodded and Knowles lit out for town. Creed walked over to find his Uncle readying several horses. “I knew I would see you again Uncle.” Creed said smiling. Spotted Rabbit smiled back as he holstered a rifle in a saddle scabbard. “What are your plans?” Creed asked excitedly. “We will ride South.” Spotted Rabbit replied. “And you? What are your plans Nephew? To become the next Texas Oil Tycoon of Shafter?” Spotted Rabbit eyed Creed and smiled. “Honestly Uncle I have not thought about it. I just want to get things made right for the people who live here.” Creed replied. “Well with John Randolph out-of-the-way I am sure things will start to improve.” Spotted Rabbit replied. “And do I have you  and your bow to thank for that?” Creed eyed his Uncle smiling. Spotted Rabbit just smiled and mounted his horse. “Until next time Nephew!” Spotted rabbit yelled raising his hand as a red cloud of dust billowed into the air and thirteen riders and two loaded mules headed south to Old Mexico.

6 Months Later

Mayor John Lewis, Creed, Grissom, and Marshall Knowles sat outside at a picnic table under a large Elm tree in front of the main house. “So with the ledger, The State’s Attorney General was able to take it before a judge and seize all of Randolph’s cash and assets?” Creed asked. “Well, of course Randolph’s family is fighting all of this in court, but the bottom line is yes, that is exactly what he did. Plus the judge awarded all the business owners that Randolph had extorted all these years large cash settlements.” Lewis replied. “What about Sarah and Eve?” Creed asked.”The judge awarded them the silver mine that Randolph stole from her husband three years ago and a very large unspecified cash settlement.” Lewis replied. As Creed listened, his gaze shifted to the small hill behind his house where he had built a memorial for his dear friend, Tick. It consisted of a polished wrought iron fence and gate with a beautiful marble bench and a Tombstone, six feet high. The inscription on the tombstone simply read “Tick  1860-1903. A True and Noble Friend.” As Creed looked at the Memorial, his gaze shifted farther into the distance, where several oil derricks could be seen dotting the landscape. “Creed, excuse me, are you OK?” Lewis asked. Creed suddenly snapped out of his daydream. “Ah, yes. Sorry, I drifted off there.” Creed said smiling. “I was asking about the ranch, how are things going?” Lewis asked. Creed looked at Grissom to take over for him, still lost in his daydream. “Well, we have five wells producing right now and have plans to drill three more by years end.” Grissom said smiling. “Outstanding!” Lewis responded. Obviously happy at the revenue that was going to eventually produce for the town.”And Marshall Knowles, do you have any information on the band of renegade indians that attacked three months ago?” Knowles shot a glance over at Creed who was still lost in thought. “No, last I heard they were seen in Old Mexico.” Knowles replied with a smirk. “Well, let’s hope they stay on that side of the river.” Lewis replied standing up, signifying the meeting was over. All men shook hands and the Mayor and Marshall Knowles were driven back to town by their personal driver in one of the first Model T Fords in Shafter.

Creed and Grissom stood watching the automobile for quite a while, both of them amazed at the contraption. After a few minutes, Eve came from the house and coming up behind Creed, put her arms around his waist. Creed turned around to face her and smiled. “And what did our Good Mayor have to say?” Eve asked. “Oh, just that Randolph’s assets have been seized by the State and all the people in town that got swindled, including you and your mom, are going to be made whole.” Eve’s face lit up. “Oh Creed! Mom is going to be so happy!” She started to hug Creed and Creed suddenly recoiled, afraid he might hurt the growing baby inside her womb. Both of them looked at each other and grinned. “It’s OK, you’re not gonna hurt the baby!” she whispered in his ear. He smiled back and hugged her, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around as she giggled in delight. Suddenly in the distance, a loud explosion could be heard. As they all three turned around, they saw a fountain of oil spraying into the air out of one of the derricks. “There she is Creed! What did I tell ya! Number three hit!” Grissom yelled laughing, “Come on Boy!” Creed gave Eve one last kiss and set off toward the derrick, he and Grissom running at full sprint toward the derrick. Eve stood and watched them for a long while, the black oil raining down on her in a mist. She had never been so happy in all her life. She put her hand on her belly and felt the baby give a small kick. Eve smiled as she walked back to the house, content for the present and the future.

The End

A Border Redemption (Chapter IV)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

Chapter IV

 

La Voyant Ranch

Creed was dreaming he was soaring above the earth like the great eagle. The world entire lay below him like a painting that was alive and breathing. Colors were vibrant and the world was pulsating with the very rhythm of existence. Time moved around him in a blur and when he looked below he recognized his own ranch. Creed could see horses, cattle, he even saw Grissom mending a fence. “Look deeper” the voice said. Suddenly Creeds vision became different. He could see underneath the ground, into the dark nether places, deep within the earth. Below the ranch flowed a black river. It was as wide as the Rio Grande and swift as the Colorado. “What is this?” Creed asked. There was no response. The last thing Creed saw before waking up was the great black river flowing under the ground for thousands of miles, circling the earth many times over. As Creed awoke from the dream, he raised up out of bed and walked to the door of the bunk house. He walked out into the cool, pre-dawn morning. The sky was still dark but on the horizon that beautiful assortment of purple and red ribbons of color was beginning to bleed through the curtain of night. He went over and sat down. “What did I just see?” He asked himself. An hour passed and soon Grissom was up making coffee. “How long you been sittin’ out here by yourself?” Grissom asked, slightly perturbed. “For a while.” Creed answered. “Not smart Creed. You know we got people wanting us dead, right?” Grissom shook his head at Creed as he went inside to fetch the coffee pot. As Grissom poured two thick black cups of coffee, the image of the underground black river went through Creed’s mind again. “Say you ever seen a black river that runs underground?” Creed asked. Grissom smiled at the question. “You serious? A black river?” Creed shot Grissom a serious glance. “There is a black river running underneath our feet right now.” Grissom smirked at the remark. “What in the hell are you talking about Creed? You been sipping on Tick’s laudanum or something?” Grissom smirked. “No, I dreamed it about two hours ago.” Creed replied, still looking at Grissom seriously.  The smirk immediately disappeared from Grissom’s face. Grissom had known Creed long enough to know that his dreams were nothing to take lightly. Grissom pondered the question for a moment. Suddenly, as if snake bit, he jumped up from the table. “If this is what I think it is, we should be able to find some evidence around here somewhere. C’mon!” Creed smiled as he recognized the fire in Grissom’s belly. He jumped up and followed Grissom out the door. As they threw their saddles on their horses, Creed hollered “Where are we going?” Grissom smiled widely. “When we find what I think we are going to find all your questions will be answered kid, I promise!”

Marshall Knowles Office

Marshall Knowles was deep in reflective thought when Sarah and Eve Patterson stormed into his office. “Marshall, we need to talk!” Knowles had known Sarah Patterson long enough to know by her tone she was not in a good mood. “What’s going on Sarah?” was all Knowles could get out before Sarah verbally unloaded on him. “We just came from the widow Prescott’s house and you will not believe the rumors she has been hearing about how her husband died!” Knowles blood ran cold and his bowels suddenly felt loose. “What rumors?” Knowles replied sheepishly. “Rumors that John Randolph either killed J.T. or had him killed and then blamed it on those renegade apaches, you know anything about that?” Sarah stared at Knowles, waiting on an answer. Knowles’ mind raced and his heart pounded. Marshall Prescott may have been cut out for this corrupt business, but he sure wasn’t. He had known most of the families in Shafter all his life. How could he look them in the eye and lie to them? As Knowles searched for the right words, tears formed in his eyes. “Oh God, you do know something.” Sarah gasped, holding her had up to her mouth in disbelief. Eve stood up. “Marshall Knowles did John Randolph have Marshall Prescott killed? We demand to know!” Knowles looked up at Eve, his eyes red and swollen. “Please sit down Eve and keep your voice down.” Knowles whispered in a hushed tone. “What we are discussing could get us all killed.” Knowles got up and pulled the shade down on the large window facing the street and locked the door. “What I am about to tell you has to stay strictly between us for now, is that understood?” Both Sarah and Eve shook their heads that they understood. “Yes, Randolph did Kill Marshall Prescott and blame it on the renegade indians. But that is only half the story. The reason he killed him is because he failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit in the ambush at Preacher’s Gulch. Now there are two witnesses who can testify to attempted murder.” Sarah and Eve’s mouth dropped open and their eyes became big as saucers.

“But why? Why would Randolph want Creed and his outfit dead?” Eve asked. “It has something to do with that land Creed bought, from what I understand John Lewis was supposed to hold that Land for Mr. Randolph to buy but instead sold it to Creed.” Knowles replied, blowing his nose on a handkerchief. “Have you talked to John Lewis about this to find out about the land?” Sarah asked. “Can’t find him. He most likely left town when all this kicked off, and I cannot blame him. Randolph does not tolerate people who make mistakes.” Knowles gave Sarah and Eve a look of disgust. “You said Randolph failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit, who are the two witnesses?” Eve asked. “His mexican foreman, Rojo and a creole negro called Tick.” Knowles replied. “There’s more bad news.” Knowles continued. “Randolph has hired a group of killers led by a man named R.T. Newton to kill Creed and the other men. They arrived in town the other day.” Sarah took a deep breath and shook her head in disbelief as Eve reached over and squeezed her hand.”So I guess the question is what do you intend to do about all this Marshall?” Eve asked. Knowles stood up, adjusted his gun belt and hat. “I intend to stop John Randolph.” Eve looked at her mother for a long moment, nodded and then looked up at Knowles. “Well since I am guessing there is nobody crazy enough to join you in standing up to his ‘highness’ John Randolph, you can count us both in to help you.” Knowles smiled at the gesture. “Thanks Eve, but I don’t want anymore innocent people getting hurt.” “What? You think because we are both women we cannot shoot a gun? We both got trigger fingers Marshall!” Eve’s eyes flashed with anger. “Whoa! I am not gonna step into that argument! OK Eve, you and your mom can help. But First things first. We get out to Creed’s ranch and warn him about what’s going on.” Eve and Sarah both jumped up and prepared to leave as Knowles went over to the gun rack and got three carbines and a shotgun. Handing two of the carbines to Eve and Sarah he then reached under his desk and grabbed a large saddle bag full of ammunition and revolvers. “I see you have been preparing for this.” Eve asked Knowles as they walked out the door. “Been thinking about nothing else all day.” Knowles replied.

Randolph Estate

“I have had a man watching that ranch since yesterday. He says this indian boy, the mexican, the nigger and another white man are all holed up in the bunk house. You give the order and we can take care of all of them.” R.T. Newton spat tobacco juice into one of Randolph’s manicured flowerbeds. Randolph grimaced at Newton’s coarse manners. “Any sign of the land man, John Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No sir. No sign at all. His office and house are empty and nobody in town knows where he is at.” “Son-of-a-bitch!” Randolph spat in frustration. After pacing a few more times around the patio Randolph spun around to face Newton. “To make this look legal and not to draw too much attention from town, you are gonna need Marshall Knowles to accompany you out there, that way when the shooting starts you have the law on your side.” Newton laughed loudly at the remark. “Funny how the law works isn’t it Randolph? Law and Order always going to the highest bidder.” Randolph dismissed the remark with a smirk. “Stop by his office on the way out there, he will be expecting you.” Randolph walked over to the patio table and opened a satchel. Reaching inside he took out a large stack of banded hundred-dollar bills. “Here is the five thousand I promised. When this is all over, ride straight out-of-town. Do not come back out here, understood?” Newton shook his head. “Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Randolph.” As Newton tipped his hat, Randolph smirked and waved is hand, as if he were a king dismissing a lowly subject.

La Voyant Ranch

After riding only a few hundred yards from the bunk house, Grissom and Creed found what they were looking for. Creed watched in amazement as Grissom wrapped a handkerchief around a stick, dipped it into the black puddle of thick goo on the ground and then lit the torch with two matches. As the flame began to burn brightly, Grissom smiled. “That my apache friend is Oil! Liquid Gold!” Creed’s eyes got wide. He had heard about oil being found in Texas. Just two years prior at a place called Spindletop near Beaumont, a huge gusher had been discovered. “A Black River underground! I’ll be damned!” Creed exclaimed smiling. Grissom threw down the small torch and stomped it out. “You do realize this explains why Randolph was trying to have us all killed, right?” Grissom squinted up at Creed on horseback. “Yeah, there is damn fortune right underneath our feet.” Creed replied. Suddenly Grissom’s ear perked up. “Riders…Coming this way.” Grissom jumped back on his horse and him and Creed raced back to the bunk house. By the time they had dismounted and took up positions with their rifles, Knowles, Sarah and Eve could be seen riding up. “I don’t like this kid. Could be a trick.” Grissom remarked, aiming down the rifle. “Steady Grissom, let’ see what is on their minds…” Creed replied. Knowles stopped twenty yards from the bunk house and waved a white handkerchief. “We come in peace. We all just want to talk.” Knowles yelled out. “That fine Marshall, but just to be safe, how about you surrender all your guns.” Grissom responded. Knowles nodded and offered the small arsenal he and Sarah were carrying. Grissom’s eyes widened at the amount of firepower. “My God Knowles, what were you expecting? The Battle of the Alamo?” Grissom remarked as he picked up some of the guns and started carrying them inside. “Let’s all go inside out of the heat.” Creed said, helping Sarah and Eve down from their buggy. As Creed opened the door, Eve gave him a smile. Creed smiled back and felt himself blush. After everybody was seated, Rojo sat up in bed across the room to hear the conversation also. Grissom retrieved a bottle of rye from the cabinet and six glasses. and poured everybody a drink. Knowles talked for over twenty minutes explaining everything he had told Sarah and Eve about Randolph, Marshall Prescott and R.T. Newton. As he talked, Grissom and Creed just looked at one another shaking their heads. “What is it?” Knowles asked excitedly. Creed proceeded to fill in the blanks concerning the oil they had discovered and how John Lewis was on his way to Austin with a ledger containing evidence that, when combined with the testimony of Tick and Rojo, could put Randolph in prison for a very long time.

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Five hundred yards away from the bunk house on a small ridge, Taylor, Newton’s sharpshooter, was camped out watching the ranch through a pair of binoculars. He watched a negro water, feed and then curry comb the horses that had just rode in. Taylor heard riders approaching from behind and as he drew his pistol he saw Newton’s familiar black stud, followed by the others. “Please tell me a wagon with two women in it and Marshall Knowles arrived a short while ago.” Newton said as he dismounted. “You got it boss, how did you know?”  Taylor asked, arching an eyebrow. “The tracks are as plain as day coming from town. What else is going on down there?” Newton replied, spitting tobacco juice. “Not much. The negro is up and around. He is down there taking care of the horses right now, the rest are in the bunk house.” Taylor replied, handing the binoculars to Newton. As Newton watched Tick, a smile formed over his yellow teeth. “You think you can take him from this distance?” Newton asked. “Not a problem boss. What about the others?” Taylor replied. “Me and the boys will stage up in that stand of trees yonder.” Newton pointed below. “As soon as we hear you shoot, we attack. Your job will then be to cover us. Anybody steps out of that bunk house, put a hole through them, understood?”Newton replied, mounting his horse. “What about the lawman and the two women?” Taylor asked concerned. Newton paused looking down at the bunk house for a long second. “Casualties of War.” Newton replied coldly. Taylor stood looking dumbfounded as Newton and the other two men rode down into the trees, the dust from the horses swirling up around him.

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Tick had just finished forking some hay for the horses and was about to go up to the bunk house for a drink when something hit him in the stomach, almost like a hornet sting. Reaching down to investigate, his hand immediately filled with dark oozing blood. As his brain was registering that he had just been shot and not stung, Tick looked up to see three riders, several hundred yards out, firing carbines and pistols. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Tick yelled as he drew his revolver. He managed to get off two aimed shots before someone grabbed him from behind. “Come on you crazy bastard!” Grissom exclaimed. Tick continued firing his pistol as Grissom dragged him up the steps and into the house, slamming the solid wooden door behind them. Creed and Knowles were already returning fire with rifles through the two front windows, with Rojo manning the single back window. The windows had instead of glass, double reinforced wood shutters with cross-shaped shooting slits, which allowed the shooter to fire left to right and up and down. It was an age-old design found in forts all over the southwest. As Grissom dragged Tick to the kitchen table, Sarah and Eve jumped into action and quickly cleared the cups and dishes away. “Eve get me a pail of water and as many clean bandages as you can find!” Sarah yelled above the gunfire. After Grissom had helped Tick onto the table, he quickly ran to the window where Creed was at and began returning fire with his carbine. “I count three, you see anyone back there Rojo?” Creed asked. “Nada.” Rojo yelled back. “They are taking cover in the barn.” Knowles yelled. “Shoot their horses.” Creed commanded. The sound of the horses bodies dropping to the ground could be heard as each men put a bullet into heads, painlessly dispatching them. Sarah and Eve rolled Tick over to see if there was exit wound. Finding a hole about the size of an acorn dangerously close to his spine, they gently laid him back down. “The bullet went clean through.” Sarah yelled out. “Can you stop the bleeding?” Grissom yelled back, reloading his rifle. “I am gonna try.” Sarah responded as she began packing the wound. Tick’s face had grown gaunt and very pale. “I’m really thirsty.” Tick said, hoarsely. Eve gently gave Tick a drink of water. After he finished the cup, Tick smiled and tried to put on his standard charm. “I gotta tell you, if getting shot get’s me cared for by pretty women like you, I gotta think about getting shot more often.” Tick winked at Eve and Sarah and then grimaced as a wave of pain hit him. “Let’s move him over to one of the beds.” Sarah suggested. Rojo came over and helped Sarah and Eve move Tick to his bunk. He then went over and retrieved a bottle of laudanum from the cabinet. “Give him some of this, maybe it will shut him up.” Rojo gave Tick his rough smile, patted his hand and then resumed his post at the back window. As Sarah gave Tick a spoonful of the opiate she noticed a tear roll down Rojo’s cheek and heard him whisper a prayer in Spanish and cross himself as he kept watch outside.

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During the night, Newton and his two men made their way out of the back of the barn and back to the ridge on foot where Taylor was set up. “Those crazy bastards shot our horses.” Pike said as they walked into camp exhausted. “Nothin’ crazy about that. Indian tactics. Take away your enemies mobility and you have a better chance of killing him.” Taylor replied as he cleared a place for the men to sit down and poured them each cups of coffee, “Looks like you gut-shot that nigger Taylor. Getting rusty or what?” Newton asked Taylor with a smirk as he sat down.”The drop on that aught-six load was more than I expected at this range, won’t happen again.” Taylor re-assured Newton with eye contact. “So what’s the plan Boss?” Jackson asked, lighting a cigarette with a brand from the fire. Newton smiled and opened up a saddle bag he had left at the camp. Pulling out two bundles of brown wax paper, he tore them open to reveal two cords of dynamite. “I brought this in the event we could get all the rats hemmed up and it looks like we have. Before dawn we will attack again and use the dynamite and this job will be over.” Newton carefully placed the dynamite back in the paper and the saddle bag. Taylor shook his head in disbelief. This whole job was spinning out of control fast.

To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter III)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

 III.

The Randolph Estate

Marshall Prescott had been waiting in the parlor for over an hour. Twisting his hat in hand like a nervous child on the first day of school, he was running through several scripts in his mind that would attempt to explain the events of the last twenty-four hours. Prescott knew from long experience that Randolph did not take bad news, nor worse yet, failures, well. Suddenly, Prescott was jolted out of his dread by Randolph’s booming voice as he walked in. “What the hell was so important you had to ride out here to my house?” Randolph walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink, glancing at Prescott with a look of disgust. “Well sir, it appears the posse I dispatched to apprehend La Voyant’s outfit has been massacred by a group of renegade indians.” Prescott prepared himself for Randolph to fly into a blind rage. “And what of La Voyant’s outfit, were they killed also in this massacre?” Randolph asked. “Well sir, it appears the posse managed to kill the ten men La Voyant’s outfit was attempting to bring over, but Grissom, the Mexican and the creole nigger were not among the dead.” Prescott was now gripping his hat so tight his knuckles had turned white. Randolph spun around quickly to face Prescott. “These renegade indians, you think they were working with the boy?” Randolph asked, his face red and flushed. “No sir. It appears to be the band that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. The US Army at Fort Sumner has been dispatched as well as the Texas Rangers.” Prescott replied. “So these red niggers just up and decided to attack our posse, huh? Are you stupid Prescott? One or all of them damn apaches are kin to that indian boy somehow.” Randolph replied. “Well sir they took all the posse’s horses and weapons but there is no sign they went to the La Voyant Ranch.” Randolph took a drink and then turned around and looked out the window. “So these three from the boy’s outfit, where are they now? Back at his half-ass ranch on my land” Randolph asked. “We believe so sir.” Prescott replied. “Well Prescott, you need to get another posse together and go over there and finish off these pieces of shit before they run off to the Federal Marshal in Austin claiming we tried to kill them.” Randolph spat out his words in frustration. Prescott swallowed hard at the suggestion. He could not believe what he was hearing. “Mr. Randolph I just cannot go and attack these men on their own property without just cause, that would draw more attention than we need. We need to stick to our original plan and ambush them on the road. That way we can claim bandits or indians killed them.” Prescott replied with a small glimmer of pride in his eye that he actually stood up to the mighty John Randolph.

There was long pause as Randolph pondered the situation. Suddenly, in a flash, Randolph spun around, and with Prescott’s face frozen in disbelief,  drew a small Colt pistol from his pocket and fired at a distance of less than six feet. The small thirty-two caliber round hit Prescott in the upper neck, tearing apart flesh, bone and artery, sending blood spurting halfway across the room like a fountain. Prescott dropped down to his knees, his left hand clutching at his neck and his right hand still trying to draw the gun on his hip. Calmly, Randolph walked over and at point-blank range, shot Prescott square in the head. The impact of the blast scorched the bone and threw Prescott’s head back in a violent whip. Like a limp dish rag, his body crumpled to the floor. Prescott’s eyes were wide and almost cross, a ghastly look of confusion and horror fixed on his face. The smell of scorched flesh and bone permeated the parlor so much that Randolph had to waft away the smoke and odor for fear of gagging. Randolph kneeled down and unbuckled Prescott’s gun belt, placing the rig on a table. He then reached down and unpinned the gold star from his shirt and placed it on the table beside the gun.”You are officially relieved of your duties.” Randolph mumbled with a smirk on his face. Randolph  then walked outside and got the attention of two of his goons. “I need one of you to dispose of that lump of shit in my parlor. Burn it, do not bury it, you understand? I also need one of you to go to the telegraph office and have this message sent.” Randolph handed the man a folded slip of paper. “After that, go and fetch Deputy Knowles, tell him to come straight out here, as it is a matter of supreme importance regarding the Marshall. You understand me?” Both men responded with a “Yes-sir” and headed in separate directions. The telegram Randolph sent had been written the previous night and was to be sent in lieu of Prescott’s failure. It read:

From: John Randolph, Shafter, Texas

To: R.T. Newton, Tombstone, Arizona

Mr. Newton I have a job for you and your crew in Shafter.

Please come in person to discuss details.

Enclosed is $1,000 cash for your trip and trouble.

The money is yours regardless if you take the job or not.

Upon completion of job there will be a bonus of $5,000.

Regards,

John Randolph

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 The La Voyant Ranch

The next morning as Tick and Rojo recuperated in their bunks, Grissom and Creed began work on the main house. Around noon time, Creed spotted a lone rider approaching. Grabbing their carbines Creed and Grissom both walked down to the barn and waited. As the man got closer, Creed recognized him as John Lewis, the Land Office Owner. “Hello! I am unarmed and come in peace!” Lewis yelled as he put his hands in the air, smiling. Creed and Grissom both waved and smiled back and lowered their rifles. “Come on inside the bunk house Mr. Lewis. Got sum’ coffee brewed.” Creed hollered back. “Stick around for this” Creed told Grissom. Grissom nodded and headed inside. As Lewis walked into the bunk house, he noticed Rojo and Tick in their bunks. “What happened to your two men?” Lewis asked concerned as he sat down at the table. “They were wounded in an ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed replied, pouring Lewis a cup of coffee. “Oh Yes, I heard about that. Those damn renegade indians are really causing a lot of trouble, I suppose we should be grateful your men survived..” Lewis replied, sipping at his coffee. Hearing this, Creed and Grissom quickly looked at each other. “What exactly did you hear Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked, moving closer. “James Redding, the Telegraph Operator told me that one of Randolph’s men told him a group of renegade indians massacred around twenty-five cowboys at Preachers Gulch. He said a majority of the men were Mr. Randolphs and the others were hired men out of Mexico he thinks. Why, did you hear something different?” Lewis asked, a quizzical look on his face. Creed and Grissom’s face both got two shades of dark red. “That lying son-of-a-bitch!” Creed exclaimed, jumping up from the table and pacing the room. “Randolph had a group of fifteen hired killers set to ambush Rojo and Tick as they returned from Mexico with ten men who hired on to help build the ranch. That group of “renegade indians” was led by my uncle, Spotted Rabbit, who SAVED Rojo and Tick just in time before they were slaughtered by those hired killers.” Creed explained with fervor. Lewis sat at the table shaking his head, trying to absorb the news. “I knew Randolph was trying to take this land from you. That is the reason I rode out here, But I had no ideal he was going to go this far!” Lewis exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “You say this Telegraph Operator was told about the news of the ambush by one of Randolph’s goons? Well, it all makes sense. Randolph used my uncle and his band as scapegoats to cover up his botched ambush.” Creed explained, sitting back down. “You said the reason you rode out here was that you knew Randolph was going to try to take this land from us, what did you mean by that Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked pointedly. Lewis reached into his jacket pocket and placed a folded leather-bound black ledger on the table. “For the last twenty years I have been in charge of every shady, illegal land deal Randolph has been a part of. And unbeknownst to him, I also recorded every dollar of extortion, bribe and kickback money that changed hands. With this ledger gentleman, you can put John Randolph in prison for a very long time.” Lewis replied.

“Prison is too good for that piece of goat shit.” Tick weakly hollered from his bunk across the room, taking a big swig of laudanum. “The only way we can tie Randolph to the ambush and murders is the testimony of Tick and Rojo.” Lewis replied, looking at Creed and Grissom. “Somebody is going to have to contact the Federal Marshall in Austin directly.” Grissom replied. “Why not just telegraph them?” Rojo suggested from across the room. “Because James Redding, the Telegraph Operator is on Randolph’s payroll, and any information he is told goes directly to Randolph.” Lewis replied. Creed paced the room, thinking.  “The only thing to do then is to take the ledger directly to the Federal Marshall’s office in Austin, Mr. Lewis.” Creed said, looking at Lewis intently. “Why me? Why not you or Grissom?” Lewis replied, shrinking in his chair. “Because Me and Grissom need to stay here to protect Tick and Rojo. As you said, they are the only living witnesses to his crime, so he is definitely going to try to kill them, and me in the process if he can.” Creed answered boldly. Lewis sat there silent for a few minutes, contemplating the situation. Grissom walked over and placed his hand on Lewis’ shoulder.”You said yourself you are tired of Randolph running rough-shod over the people of this town, including you, Mr. Lewis, this is your chance to stop him.” Creed walked over and placed three hundred dollars on the table.” This will cover your round-trip stage fare plus hotel and food.” Lewis stood up from the table. He looked at Creed and Grissom for a long moment, then over to Rojo and Tick in their beds. He reached down and picked up the money and placed it in his pocket. “Do you own a revolver or pistol, Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked. “Ugh, No, never had the need for one.” Lewis replied. “Well, now you do sir. We are dealing with dangerous men, and you have to be prepared to defend yourself.” Grissom handed Lewis a Smith and Wesson M&P Model .38 Caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel and a box of shells. “You can keep this in your jacket pocket without having to wear a holster.” Grissom added. “The gun holds six rounds, but the hammer rest on an empty chamber for safety.” Grissom showed Lewis, breaking open the cylinder. Lewis nodded and pocketed the gun and ammunition. The three men walked outside to Lewis’ horse. “I will have to ride to Fort Davis to catch the Stage. I will go by my place and pack a few things and head out. If I ride hard, I can get there tonight and catch the first stage in the morning. If all goes well in Austin, you should be hearing from me within a week, hopefully with a dozen federal marshalls in tow!” Lewis extended his hand to Grissom and Creed, who both shook it.”Please let the Federal Marshall know my uncle had nothing to do with the ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed reminded Lewis. “I will be sure too.” Lewis replied. “Be Careful Mr. Lewis, there is a lot riding on this trip!” Grissom said smiling. “I will. You two be careful and protect those men in there! Right now they are more valuable than silver or gold!” Lewis spurred his horse and took off for town, a trail of dust swirling up into the noonday sun. “What do you think his odds are?” Creed asked Grissom, squinting into the bright sun. “Right now kid, he is our only hope at stopping this bastard so I gotta believe his odds are good.” Grissom replied, spitting brown tobacco juice into the dirt.

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The Randolph Estate

“Congratulations Marshall Knowles! I know you will make the town of Shafter proud with your service!” John Randolph smiled as he shook hands with the newly promoted Marshall while a local newspaperman snapped their picture, the bulb flash blinding both of them temporarily. Afterwards, Randolph walked over and slipped a hundred-dollar bill in the newspaperman’s vest. “And make sure to include something about Marshall Prescott being killed by that band of renegade indians, OK Bill?” Randolph shook hands with the newspaperman as the man nodded and winked that he understood. “Come on out to the back patio Marshall and have a drink.” Randolph said waving his hand to Knowles. As Knowles followed Randolph through the house, he noticed a group of cleaning ladies in the parlor scrubbing the floors. That must have been where he killed Marshall Prescott. Knowles thought to himself, his stomach suddenly getting nauseous. “Knowles come on over here and sit down.” Randolph motioned from the patio table. “Now that you are Marshall, I am gonna be leaning more heavily on you to get things done.” Knowles nodded and tried to hide the fear that was welling up inside him, turning his stomach inside out. What the hell had he gotten himself into! “Now as you know your former boss let me down in taking care of this indian boy and his friends squatting on my land.” Randolph eyed Knowles for his reaction. Knowles just nodded. He knew what Randolph was implying. After the failed ambush, the two living witnesses, Rojo and Tick, had to be silenced. Knowles did not say it, but one thing had always bothered him since this all started. Why was Randolph so concerned about this particular piece of land? What made it so special?  “To help speed up the process of taking care of this problem I have called in R.T. Newton and his boys, I assume you have heard of Newton?” Randolph smirked as he looked at Knowles for his reaction. Anybody in Law Enforcement had heard of R.T Newton. He had made a name for himself as a mercenary, a gun-hand for hire working for rich ranchers and railroad tycoons. “Yes sir I’ve heard of him” Knowles said. “Good. Then you know he is more than capable of handling this band of misfits. Just stay out of his way and let him work.” Randolph lit a cigar and exhaled the grey smoke. Knowles stood and shook hands with Randolph. “If that will be all Mr. Randolph, I better get back into town and see about hiring me a couple new deputies.” Randolph stood also. “By all means Marshall and by the way, I will be increasing your salary to two hundred dollars a month and your deputies to seventy-five. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your hard work.” Randolph smiled as he chomped down on his cigar. “Thank you sir.” Knowles tipped his hat and turned around and left. As he was riding away from the estate Knowles felt used. He realized that this was the moment he could either become just another Randolph stooge or stand-up and do something. Regardless of the money and perks, he did not want to end up like Prescott and become a by-line in a fictitious newspaper story. He had to do something, and fast.

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The Palace Hotel, Shafter TX

R.T. Newton and his three associates checked into their rooms at the Palace Hotel John Randolph had reserved and paid for in advance. “How long will you be staying with us Mr. Newton?” the clerk asked smiling. “That is to be determined young man, but let’s just say a week for now.” The clerk handed the men the keys and snapped for the bellhop to get their luggage. “That’s not needed, we can handle our own bags.” one of the men said gruffly. “OK Gentleman you are all set, here are your keys.” As the clerk handed Newton the keys he took stock of the man he had heard so much about over the years. He stood close to six-foot with coal-black hair and a neatly trimmed handlebar mustache to match. He was lean for a man his age, the familiar paunch belly was absent and in its stead was lean muscle that made his arms and legs appear like braided steel cables. His hands were the hands of a working man, large and scarred, with dislocated knuckles from many a bar-room brawl. He was dressed impeccably, with a tailored gun-metal grey suit, low-cut Wellington boots and being a native of Mississippi, an elegant black string tie. Newton did not wear a traditional gun belt like most hired guns of the day. Instead, he wore a shoulder rig with a Colt Semi-Automatic .38 Caliber handgun. Always a careful man, Newton also kept a back-up gun, a custom-made Colt 1903 Hammerless in a pocket holster and a .22 caliber derringer in his boot. As the clerk watched Newton ascend the stairs, he also took stock of the men following him. None of them really stood out, they were all about the same height and weight and dressed basically the same. Each of them in custom tailored dark suits with tan dusters. All of them wore tie down gun belts. As each man entered their room, they took care to set down their bags gently. Each of them carried an assortment of small arms including rifles, shotguns, revolvers and pistols. One of the men who went by the name Taylor and fancied himself a sharpshooter had one of the new 1903 Springfield Rifles with a telescopic sight. It was said this rifle with the right man behind the trigger could kill a man from over five hundred yards away. Taylor intended to put that theory to the test.

Later that night, the front desk clerk, a man named Peters, stepped outside for a cigarette and met the young bellhop leaning against one of the stone columns in front of the hotel, loafing as usual. After bumming a smoke, the bellhop’s curiosity got the best of him. “So tell me Mr. Peters, who was that old man and them three guys that checked in earlier? You acted like you were kind of scared of them…” Peters smiled at the remark. “Yeah if you knew who they were son, you would have been scared too…” The young bellhop’s eyes got big and excited. “So tell me!” Peters rolled his eyes and relented. “His name is R.T. Newton. He’s a mercenary. A Gun-Hand. Some say he has killed upwards of thirty men, maybe more.” The clerk exhaled the cigarette smoke into the cool night air. The bellhop laughed in excitement. “Hot Damn! I knew there was something about that old man! What about the other men, who are they?” Peters took a moment to answer. He could hear the piano playing at the saloon at the end of the street and men talking loudly. “Those men are Newton’s ‘associates’. In a word: Killers, just like him. Some of them are ex-army, some of them outlaws. All of them are dangerous.” Peters took one last drag of his cigarette. “Wow. I cannot wait to tell my friends about this!” The bellhop gushed. Peters shook his head at the young boy’s foolishness and crushed out his cigarette with his foot. As he was about to turn around and go back inside he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly out of the darkness in the alley beside the hotel, a man appeared. It was one of Newton’s killers. Peters froze. “Good evening sir.” the bellhop said startled. The man said nothing as he ambled up the hotel steps. Peters moved aside to allow him to pass but the man stopped before entering the hotel. Being so close, Peters could smell the whiskey on his breath. He also got a good look at him. He was young, around twenty-five or so. He was unshaven and grizzled and had a nasty scar across his neck. As Peters was examining him, the man suddenly turned to face the bellhop. “You’d best keep your goddamn mouth shut about Mr. Newton kid. He don’t like people who gossip…” The man slurred his words slightly as he stared at the kid with coal-black eyes. The bellhop’s face went white. “Uh, yes sir, no problem.” the boy squeaked. Satisfied he had made his point, the man turned back around to make his way to his room. As he got to the stairs the man stopped and smiled. In a low voice he said “You were right Mr. Hotel clerk.” Peters walked over closer, straining to hear. “I’m sorry sir? Right about what?” The man turned and in the blink of an eye and in one smooth motion, with the simultaneous sound of iron clearing leather and the hammer being cocked, drew his revolver and pointed it right at Peters head. “I am one dangerous son-of-a-bitch!” The man eyes were wide and crazy, like a feral animal. His crooked smile revealing yellow and black teeth.  Peters felt his bowels and bladder release and all the blood drain from his face. Suddenly the world went black and he crumpled to the floor in a pool of his own piss and shit. Smiling broadly, The man holstered his gun and made his way drunkenly up the stairs. The bellhop just stood there staring with his mouth agape and his eyes wide, scared to even move or make a sound.

To Be Continued…