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If a grief-blinded cop can’t find the man who murdered her husband, millions will die in a doomsday attack on the United States . . .
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico washes a secret cache of Cold War doomsday weapons onto a Mexican beach: VX nerve gas bombs laced with anthrax, invented by the Nazis during World War II and perfected by the United States to use against Russia during the Cold War. The bombs soon fall into the wrong hands and create an unstoppable opponent—a cartel boss consumed with hate for America. Only one Chicago Police detective stands in the way of those bombs being exploded on American soil. Reeling from the recent murder of her husband, as well as allegations of police misconduct, Detective Superstition “Sue” Davis is thrown into an undercover assignment filled with treachery, assassination, double-crosses, and death. She infiltrates the Mexican narcotics cartel responsible for the death of her husband, Derek, in order to close on the cartel’s sociopathic enforcer, Jiménez “Jimmy” Garcia . . .
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But when Garcia’s entire family is wiped out in Mexico by a U.S. Special Forces raid gone horribly wrong, the cartel kingpin will stop at nothing at wreak vengeance, including triggering his newly acquired bombs on American soil. Superstition’s assignment turns more dangerous than a truckload of nerve gas as the chances of a mass terrorist attack on American escalate from “maybe” to “must be.” But are her undercover skills, along with her thirst to avenge her husband’s assassination, enough to stop Garcia? Or will millions die in agony while a terrorist pumps his fist in triumph as nerve gas and anthrax blow across America?
Gulf of Mexico
Aboard the Deepwater Horizon
April 10, 9:44 P.M.
The rig began trembling like caffeine withdrawal.
Kemper, panicked, spun to warn his crewmates but saw them stampeding for the lifeboats, having felt the deadly vibrations too. Relief washed his sunburned body, and he broke into a run. Then remembered his best friend was perched in the superstructure, fixing antennas.
“Blowout!” he screamed at the blue-black sky. “Blowout! Hit the line, Pie!”Pieton jerked around, wild-eyed at the dooming word. He leapt for the “Geronimo line,” the emergency escape cable that would zip-line him to the sleek orange lifeboats squatting in their launchers, ready to spit desperate men into the sea.
Instead, he caught the leading edge of the shock wave as the first cloud of methane gas exploded, turning a hundred million pounds of oil rig into a fiery chainsaw of shrapnel.
“Help me!” Pieton’s head bleated as his body detached from his neck.More
Kemper froze as rivets, brains, and elbows rained down on the drilling deck, which the BP recruiter bragged was bigger than an NFL football field. The superheated deck made his boot soles smoke, jerking him back into action. He picked up a wailing, blinded toolpusher and staggered toward the nearest lifeboat, the abandon-ship klaxon driving needles through his ears.
“Thirty… feet… to go,” Kemper wheezed, coughing lung and burnt petroleum onto the blind man’s face. The man writhed frantically. Kemper gripped tighter, shoved one boot forward and then the next, slipping on flesh and seaweed. “Twenty feet . . . now just ten . . . and guess what, man, there’s plenty of seats!” He cackled like a lifer paroled. “We made it! We’re gonna sail off this hell-beast as soon as I pull the ripcord—”
He was knocked off his feet as methane and crude oil roared out of the well-hole in the bottom of the Gulf, past the ruined blowout preventers, up a vertical mile of pipe, and into the oceangoing behemoth, belching like too much Schlitz, catching a spark and going supernova, the fireball disemboweling riggers, roasting crane operators, gobbling wrenches and life rings and blueprints and overalls and cell phones and gimme-hats, Cat and Bud and Deere. The blind man exploded into pink confetti. I-beams flew like drinking-straw wrappers. Fuel barrels lit off, bashing the superstructure like cannonballs. “Oof!” Kemper blatted as Pie’s scorched torso pile-drove him into the deck. He faded to black.
He blinked a dozen times at the stadium roar in his ears, then frantically patted himself tip to toe. Nothing broken, no parts missing. His survival was a miracle, plain and simple…
At once remembered where he was.
Kemper struggled to his feet, reeling like he’d mainlined a quart of Scotch. He watched Pie’s head skitter along the deck and drop off the edge. He cried out as a flying snake of drilling chain wrapped him like a straitjacket, fracturing his jaw with the slam of its hot, whippy tail.
He staggered to the edge of the quaking rig, spitting broken teeth, the night sky boiled yellow and sulfurous from oil- and gas-fed flames. He peered over the edge and considered the astronomic odds of surviving the seven-story leap to the foaming green seas. He shook his head and backed away, thinking maybe there was just enough time to find another lifeboat…
The curly black hairs on his neck ignited, and he knew he was out of options.
He whimpered, afraid, then snugged up his charred Levis and faced the water. He stared at the half-moon brightening the waves that pounded the Godzilla legs of the platform. He prayed he’d see his children again. He pinched his nose and closed his eyes.
And he jumped.
As the metal bones of the Horizon, the pride of British Petroleum, crashed noisily into the sea.
The duct-taped Buick swam north on Rush Street, hunting whores like a lesser white shark.
Superstition Davis pushed out her chest and waved. The driver flashed high beams in response. He clicked on his turn signal and angled for the curb. She licked her lip and kicked out a hip, sealing the deal.
He immediately straightened out and shot past.
She pouted, stamped her feet, and made a motion, come back.
When he didn’t, she hiked her skirt from micro to vanishing, tossing her chocolate tresses and widening her violet eyes.
He screeched to a halt, then back-whipped the Buick into an empty slot, scattering pedestrians like ten-pins.
Superstition hurried as fast as her towering stilettos allowed. She peered through the windows as she moved around the car, noticed his hands were already below his waist, moving furiously.
Hey, buddy, wait for me, she thought, amused. There’s a penalty for early withdrawal—
But he was shaking Tic-Tacs into his hand.
“Aw,” she murmured. “You’re new at this.”
She leaned into his window as his round, hopeful face appeared over the descending glass line. The streetlights and humidity gave her cleavage a damp orange shadow.
“Wow, you look like a Creamsicle,” he murmured.
She ran a hand over her scanty clothes. Her figure-hugging micro-dress was the blinding neon of Orange Crush. Likewise the five-inch stilettos accenting her long, lean legs. Her skin was the white of pastry cream, and her smile, moonglow on piano keys. “A Creamsicle, huh?” she teased. “Does that mean you’ll lick me?”
He wiggled in his upholstered seat. “Uh, yeah, I’d like . . . um . . . where . . .”
“My place is around the corner,” Superstition said, scouting for clues the driver was what he appeared. Like fortune-tellers and con artists, she had to read clients accurately if she wanted to avoid fatal mistakes.
He was middle-aged and clean-shaven. Bald on top, styled on the graying fringes. He smelled like Drakkar Noir, lightly applied. He wore pleated tan chinos, a parrot shirt from Tommy Bahama, and beef-roll loafers without socks. His Buddy Holly glasses had silver insets at the temples, and there was a pale indent on his ring finger, where a wedding band used to gleam. He was freshly divorced, or stepping out. She guessed the former. Players didn’t waste breath mints on street hookers. They also spray-tanned their telltale divots . . .
“I’m, uh, John,” he said, his anxiety thickening his voice.
“Fantasi,” she lied back as she slid into the passenger seat. “With a heart-thingy over the i. It’s a pleasure to meet you, John.”
“Likewise.” He glanced at the rearview, then back at her. “Is your place, um…”
“I’m at the Wainwright Hotel,” she said. “There’s free HBO if you don’t like me.”
John looked her over again. “That’s not remotely possible,” he murmured. He caressed her knee with trembling fingertips, but didn’t move higher.
Horny, but polite.
She decided he’d been dumped for Higher Earning Potential. He hadn’t seen it coming, got shellacked by wifey’s law-shark, was forced into an efficiency under an O’Hare flight path. He paid for her golf lessons and tooth bleaching, saw his kids Saturday afternoons at the Woodfield Mall food court, and lay awake nights wondering how his carefully charted life had gone so completely to hell. After months of Internet porn because all the women he knew were her friends, he showered, groomed, hopped into the only car he could afford after alimony and child support, and headed into the Viagra Triangle—the Near North Side club district prowled by Important Men, the tanned and bejeweled divorcées who adored them (or at least their investment portfolios), and the upmarket hookers who serviced the rest.
She kissed his downy cheek. “Gonna rock your world, Johnnycakes,” she murmured into his ear, making sure he felt the tip of her tongue. “As soon as we get to my room. Does that sound all right?”
John nodded like a puppy as he shoved the Buick into gear.
The mosquito landed on the narco’s sun-crisped arm, preparing to sink its blood-fang.
It died in a crushing splatter.
“The courier is late,” Ortega said, scratching the bloody pieces. “Should I call?”
“Road construction in South Phoenix,” Garcia reminded, calculating the circuitous route the man had to take to this remote desert canyon, fifteen miles north of the Mexican border. “Give him another thirty.”
Ortega nodded, went back to sweeping the canyon with binoculars. “Makes me nervous, sitting this long exposed.”
“Eleven million in drugs will do that,” Garcia agreed.
“This, my friend, is your work cubicle,” said Brian Charvat, waving his bony hand at the cactus and boulders lining Peck Canyon Road, a potholed rattletrap that reminded his passenger of the Dan Ryan Expressway back home. “And this bad boy,” he continued with a knuckle-thump of the dashboard, “is your company car.”
“Impressive,” Derek Davis said over the engine whine of the Border Patrol Jeep. He surveyed the dusk-bitten landscape. They were only a few minutes west of Interstate 19, which connected Nogales—the nation’s busiest border crossing—with Tucson an hour north. Yet, they were deep inside smuggler country. He heard the whissssh of speeding cars—and the random pop… pop-pop of gunfire. Since it was too dark for hunting, the shots were most likely from smugglers, the hard cases who plied their deadly trade in the big lonesome of Arizona’s border with Mexico. He tingled with excitement. His job in Chicago was hazardous, no question. But this was bad to the bone.
They drained their water bottles, then headed into Peck Canyon. “Smugglers hide in these rocks,” Charvat explained as they bounced along the hard pack. “Waiting for the drivers who’ll haul the drugs up to Phoenix and Tucson. You want to hunt bad boys, you start here.” He gave Davis a long look. “I know, vacation postcard, right?”
“It’s dangerous,” Davis agreed, hearing the warning underneath. “But I’m used to that.”
Charvat grinned. ” ‘Course you are, tough guy—Chicago SWAT’s no picnic,” he said. “But this isn’t the big city, with backups just seconds away. It’s . . . Mars.” His lips pursed with long-held frustration. “Your department has, what, ten thousand cops?”
“More or less.”
“I’ve got two hundred for a wilderness the size of Rhode Island.” He bit into the half-a-burrito left over from their supper at a lime-green cantina on the Mexican side of the fence. Made a face. “Not as good cold as I’d hoped,” he said, throwing the rest out the window. It splattered on a cactus, beans flying one way, tortilla and jalapeños the other.
Davis stared at the passing scenery. The tangerine-infused sunset had dissolved, replaced by a velvet-Elvis starscape and a full yellow moon that shimmered through crevices in the canyon wall. A wild dog howled, setting off an orchestra of beasts. A lively wind brought scents of juniper, mesquite, and grasses, spiced with animal spoor and road dust. Hawks swooped and soared on the heat eddies. It was achingly beautiful.
And dangerous as a rabid wolf, he reminded himself. The borderlands were awash in desperation: Illegals who’d do anything for a job to feed their children. Coyotes who guided them across in exchange for their life savings—and sometimes their lives, if the water ran out. Bandits who robbed everyone except the apex predators: the traffickers, the narcos, who hauled billions of dollars’ worth of drugs, weapons, and human beings across the invisible border that separated Venus from Mars.
“Out here, you’re on your own,” Charvat expanded. “Put out an SOS and you might get help in an hour.”
“If the radios don’t work, sure,” Charvat said, skirting a beagle-sized lizard moving sluggishly across the road. “You know, I get lots of cops asking for ride-alongs. I’m happy to oblige because it’s good for both of us to see how the other half lives.” He shook his head. “But you’re the only fella ever asked to work a week for free just to see if you liked it enough to take your job and shove it.”
Davis shrugged. “I’m a moron.”
“Good. You’ll fit right in with the Killer Bees.”
Davis arched an eyebrow.
“B for Brian. BP for Border Patrol,” Charvat explained, flicking the toy bumblebee hanging from his rearview. Its zigzag grin glowed coppery in the moonlight. “Which makes me the Killer Bee.”
Davis laughed. “I’m going to work in your hive?”
“Yep. We’ll even issue you a government stinger.”
“Don’t need it,” Davis said, spreading his hands. “Mine’s a mile long.”
“Mine’s a mile, too,” Charvat said. “Wide.”
“Rock breaks scissors,” Davis laughed, holding out his fist for a bump.
Ortega stiffened as if electrified. “Quick, Jefe. Top of the ridge,” he grunted, blading his hand to the south-southwest. “Behind those dead saguaros.”
Garcia peered through his night-vision scope. Saw the Jeep with the forest-green stripe. It was the Border Patrol, kicking up dust on the road into the canyon that hid Garcia, his crew, and carefully bundled sacks of profit.
He studied the jouncing vehicle for clues to its destination. One agent sat shotgun, elbow out the window. The other was behind the wheel, hands at ten and two, head on an easy swivel, reading the landscape. Both appeared relaxed. Not on the radio and not clutching weapons. Not scanning the sky for tactical teams in helicopters. Not looking for anything in particular. Just seeing what they could see.
“Routine patrol,” he decided.
“And if it isn’t?” Ortega challenged. “If someone ratted us out and they’re coming to check?”
Garcia patted the backpacks stuffed with enough Taliban heroin and Colombian cocaine to ease the withdrawal pains of Godzilla. He stroked the ammunition belts crossing his chest, the cartridge at the top of each curved magazine winking brassy in the moonlight.
“Ten of us. Two of them. Do the math,” he said.
“My boss has juice in D.C.,” Charvat said. “She’ll get you assigned you to my sector.” He wagged a crooked finger. “Assuming, of course, we accept your application, you graduate with distinction from the Border Patrol academy, and you don’t kill your dumb ass training.”
“You will, no problem, and har-de-bleepin’-har.”
“That’s the spirit,” Charvat said, slapping the dash. Dust scattered like fruit flies.
A long, comfortable silence ensued as they bounced along the ridge. Another good sign, Charvat thought. Nothing worse than a partner who never shut up.
“You married, Derek?” he said.
“High school sweetheart,” Davis said.
“Nice when that happens. What’s her name?”
“Superstition.” He smiled at Charvat’s arched eyebrow. “It’s a long story.”
Charvat laughed. “Best ones are. You have kids?”
A long silence.
“No. We don’t have children.”
The flatness implied a touchy subject, so Charvat changed the subject. “What’s she think about picking up and moving?” he said.
“She’s psyched,” Davis said, rebrightening. “Sue loves Chicago, but the winters get her down. She’s a sunshine kinda gal.”
“We got even more sunshine than we do illegals,” Charvat said. “Though some days it’s a toss-up. She’ll like it just fine. Wanna call her with the good news?”
Davis scratched his head. “Well, sure, I’ll try, Chief,” he said, pulling out his phone. “But she sees it’s me, she might not answer.”
“She’s trying to get laid.”
He let Charvat stew in that while he speed-dialed her cell. Not surprisingly, he got: At the tone, please leave a message . . .
He did, and Charvat goosed the accelerator over a hill. Davis felt like a kid again as they both went weightless.
“I trust there’s a story behind that little statement?” Charvat said.
Davis heaved a sigh as he pinked himself with discomfort. “Yeah. And to tell the truth, I wouldn’t mind talking about it,” he said. “But I hardly know you.”
“Easier, sometimes, with strangers.”
“I guess. Hell, Bee, I gotta tell someone. About what Sue does when I’m out of town. Sometimes, when I’m home, even.” He clenched and unclenched his fists.
Charvat nodded encouragement.
“She puts on this neon dress,” Davis said in a voice just above a whisper. “It’s cut up to here and down to there. She paints on lipstick and slips into do-me heels. She gets in her car and drives to known pickup spots in the city. Then she parks and starts looking for men. Women too, sometimes.” He cleared his thickening throat. “My wife is a . . . she’s a . . .” He waved his hands as if batting flies. “Ah, shit, man, I can’t believe I’m telling you this . . .”
“Say what you mean, Derek, it’s all right.”
Davis took a deep breath.
They crossed under a neon sign that pulsed Wi-Fi/HBO/Best Rates In Town.
John centered the Buick between two faded stripes, turned off the engine, pocketed the keys, and glanced at the hotel entrance.
He turned white as ricotta.
“Are you all right?” Superstition said, alarmed.
“Yeah . . . yeah . . . fine,” he muttered. Sweat poured off his bald spot, soaking his banana-colored collar. “Just a little . . . nervous, I think.”
“Being here with me?” Superstition said.
He nodded. She squeezed his arm.
“Aw, that’s sweet,” she said. The cell in her pocket vibrated. She ignored it. “But I’m a nice girl, honest. I wouldn’t hurt a fly. We’ll talk, get to know each other a little.” Her smile turned naughty. “Then we’ll have to do something about your handsome clothes.”
He touched a green parrot dampened by his flop-sweat. “You like, Fantasi?” he said, clearly pleased.
“Very chic. So, are you ready?” She watched him closely for signs of a heart attack. The last thing she needed was a dead john named, ironically, John . . .
“I’m sorry,” he said, dabbing sweat with a monogrammed handkerchief. “I mean, for being such a doofus. It’s just that you’re the first.”
I knew it, I just knew it.
“Since she left you?” she said.
He nodded. Removed his glasses and dabbed at his eyes. “Yeah. My wife. Tabitha. Tabby. I thought we were doing great.”
“She thought otherwise.”
John shrugged. “She had me served at work. You know, with the divorce papers. She wanted everyone to know.”
“Wow, that’s cold,” Superstition said, meaning it.
“Yeah, I thought so.” John made a face, then sat a little straighter. “Aw, listen to me,” he said briskly, pulling the door handle. “You don’t want to hear about my troubles. Let’s go inside.”
Superstition joined him at the front of the Buick. The engine ticked. The neon buzzed like horseflies. She slipped her hand into his. He caressed her fingers, and she squeezed back. They were warm and gentle. They belonged to a husband, a father, a son, a friend. They were no longer trembling. John was right, he was ready.
Suddenly, she wasn’t.
“I’m sorry, I’ve changed my mind,” she said, releasing his hand and stepping away, wishing her hair wasn’t wired for sound. “Take me back.”
He looked like he’d walked into a buzz saw. “Back?” he squeaked, an octave higher than before. “To Rush Street?”
“The corner you picked me up on, right.”
He stared. “What the . . . I mean, why? Don’t you like me?”
She patted his face. “That’s the thing—I do like you. Which is why I want you to go back home. You shouldn’t be doing this, John.”
He stiffened, angry and embarrassed. She walked to her side of the car, motioning for him to use his remote opener. He planted his feet and crossed his arms. “Come on, John, it’s for the best. You’d regret this later,” she said, letting him down gently. “I don’t want you thinking of me when you do.”
“You’re wrong, Fantasi,” John said, hopping foot to foot to burn off his frustration. “I’m ready for action. Listen, I have cash in my pocket, a whole stinking pile—”
“Get this through your head, pal—I’m not going to date you,” she snapped, needing to stop him before he dug in too deep. “Drive me back or I’ll walk.” She knew he’d do it, as he was too nice to refuse forever.
He sighed like the world was ending, then pulled out his keys and pushed Unlock. Ten silent minutes later he screeched into the curb. “If it’s because you thought I was having a heart attack . . .” he muttered.
She touched his hand. “No. That’s not it. It’s exactly what I told you,” she said. “I know men pretty well, wouldn’t you agree?” she said.
His sullen shrug said, So?
“So, you’re not cut out for this. You’re a nice guy, you shouldn’t be picking up whores. You’d lay awake nights feeling terrible from the guilt.”
“Better than laying awake horny,” he tried.
She smiled. “Find yourself a real woman,” she said softly. “Not a rent-a-hole like me. There’s tons of nice gals out there who’ll fall for your good looks and personality.”
He looked at her and started to snarl a curse. But he couldn’t get it out of his mouth.
She patted his arm and hopped out to the sidewalk. He roared off, passing a knot of hotties not called “whores” because they slept with men for benefits, not cash. That he didn’t even glance at them reinforced her feeling that John would be all right.
A minute later, a blue car desperately in need of washing pulled to the curb. Superstition walked over, bumping her hips for effect.
“Superstition’s a vice cop,” Derek said calmly. “She trolls streets and hotels for johns, and her team’s out working tonight.”
Charvat stared, then burst out laughing at the gotcha. “I’m gonna deeply regret having you in my command, aren’t I?” he said, punching Davis’s arm.
“No probably about it. I take it she’s the bodacious decoy?”
“Yup.” Davis grinned slyly. “Really good at it, too.”
Charvat groaned. “Peckerwood like you don’t deserve anything that fine.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“She been on the job awhile?”
Davis nodded. “More than a decade. Before vice she worked patrol, tactical, and robbery. She’s a crack shot, and plans to compete in the Bianchi Cup next year.”
Charvat whistled, knowing Bianchi was the Super Bowl of national pistol competitions. “My kinda woman. Let’s drink to her health.” He pointed at a track shooting east from the main drag. It was narrow, dusty, and humped as a camel’s back.
“You want to toast her with . . . dirt?” Davis said doubtfully.
Charvat flung his hands like the devil had burped a blasphemy. “Imagine, if you will, a cantina. But not just any cantina, no sir. One with an old-fashioned jukebox, filled with Petty and Cash and Frank. Pretty waitresses who call you ‘Hon.’ All the beer you can drink, at only a buck a throw.” He flicked the bee on the rearview. “Then imagine it sits at the other end of that yellow brick road you so dismissively call ‘dirt,’ and that only the Killer Bee knows the password to get you in.”
Davis managed to look duly chastened, though it was hard through his choking laughter. “I stand corrected, O Kind and Worshipful Bee-ness,” he said, salaaming as best he could in the cramped Jeep. “And I’m happy to give alms to your innkeeper. But are you allowed to drink on duty?”
Charvat looked at his Tag-Heuer, which his own wife, Deloris, had given him for his promotion to chief of Nogales Sector. “One of the perks of being the cheese is I decide when I’m on duty. As of this moment . . .”
“It’s good to be king,” Davis said.
“They are . . . turning our . . . way,” Ortega said, his words coming in gasps as adrenaline flooded his body. “Accelerating . . . quickly.”
Garcia glanced at the sky. No helicopters. He looked at the landscape. No other dust clouds. He reacquired the speeding Jeep on his night scope. The headlights were pointed his way, the dust wake billowing straight back. “It appears I was mistaken,” he said. “Fortunately, they seem to be alone. Grenade, Manuel.”
The narco shoved a rifle-propelled grenade into the AK’s launcher.
“Don’t shoot until my order,” Garcia said as the rest of his men flipped fire selectors from Safe to Auto. “And for the love of God, don’t miss. We must destroy them immediately so they cannot radio for their drones.”
“We will not fail you, Jefe!” they shouted as one. Garcia grinned. They were good men who enjoyed the down-and-dirty. This was going to be fun . . .
“Fire!” he shouted.
The stubby grenade blasted from the launcher, propellant blooming like a fireworks display. The warhead accelerated to the speed of an Indy car. The narcos hugged the backs of their boulders. The grenade corkscrewed into the Jeep’s front bumper.
And exploded as ten AKs opened up.
Charvat and Davis clawed thin air as the Jeep flipped over, engine compartment roaring with flames and smoke. It slammed off a boulder, skidded into a gully, and crashed through a cactus-choked embankment, windows shattering, tires blowing. Bullets grazed the windshield. “Get outta here before she blows!” Charvat yelled.
Davis yanked at his belt, hardly able to hear over the thwock-thwock-thwock of bullet strikes. The buckle wouldn’t unlock. He dug a Strider combat knife from his pocket, flicked it open. “You free, Chief?” he said, hacking through the restraint.
“I’m good,” Charvat said, pumping out rounds with his HK P2000, the forty-caliber pistol rounds deafening in the closed quarters. The front doors were jammed, so he turned around to scuttle over the broken driver’s seat. “There’s a cluster of tall boulders fifty yards back of us,” he said, unlocking his rifle from the carrier. “We’ll make our stand there. Hand me your rifle and I’ll—ahhhh.” Meat exploded from the backs of his legs as AK-47 rounds hit home. “Jesus, that hurts,” Charvat wheezed as he flumped unceremoniously into the backseat.
Davis snatched up the radio mike. The cord dangled in pieces. The radio face spalled from the engine fire boiling behind it.
We’re on our own.
He scooped up his own Colt AR-15 and shoveled it to Charvat, who chucked both out the window then squirmed through, ignoring the cactus punching needles into his face and the flames searing his arms medium rare. “C’mon, son, we got a war to fight,” Charvat said, loosing rifle rounds as Davis squirmed free. They crabbed backwards toward the boulders, firing at what seemed like a billion muzzle flashes.
“Don’t let them escape,” Garcia said. Manuel nodded and stuffed in another round. The explosion shook the landscape like an earthquake.
“Dammit,” Davis groaned as rock shards peppered their flesh. “That’s a grenade launcher.”
“Narcos protecting a big shipment,” Charvat wheezed, having abandoned the crawl for a full-out sprint. “Gotta be, carrying that kind of firepower.”
“We need to even the odds, Chief,” Davis said, vibrating like a guitar string as SWAT brain kicked in. “Once we’re secure, you put out covering fire. Pistol and rifle both, make it sound like we’re both there.” He pointed at the saw-tooth hills overlooking the dirt path. “I’m gonna sneak up that ridge, pick them off from high ground. Sound like a plan?”
“Brian? Bee?” Davis said, skidding and turning to see that Charvat had collapsed, blood spitting from the leg holes. He ran back, bullets pinging like hail stones around him. He slung Charvat’s rifle around his neck, hefted the fallen Border Patrol supervisor like a sack of potatoes, and headed for the rocks, firing behind him as he ran, every step a Taser jolt of pain.
“I can’t see them,” Garcia said, crouching to avoid the gringos’ return fire. That they had survived two grenade blasts was a very dark omen. “The flames from the Jeep make the night scope useless.”
“I think they’re heading there,” Ortega said, pointing at the boulders behind the disintegrating Jeep. “If their phones still work . . .”
Garcia snapped out orders. The men started toward the boulders, firing then dropping flat to the ground then firing again, moving from tree to cactus to rock.
Charvat’s eyes flickered open as he coughed up blood.
“Welcome back, Jefe,” Davis said between trigger bursts. “Thought you were gonna make me do all the work.”
“Did I pass out?”
“A few minutes. You were bleeding like a stuck pig.” He nodded at the shirts he’d knotted around the chief’s thighs. “We’re behind the boulders now.”
Charvat sized up the terrain, nodded. “You saved my life. Thanks.”
Davis answered with a rifle burst.
“Won’t last, though. Them boys’ll be coming over quick enough,” Charvat said, struggling to sit up. “We gotta bring the fight to them.”
” ‘We?’ ” Davis said.
Charvat looked at his legs, which were sticking out at odd angles. “Aw, hell. Just position me face-out so I can slow them down.”
Davis moved the broken agent. Charvat blanched, then rallied. Davis handed him three spare magazines, ninety rounds in all. “All right, I’m heading out,” he said.
“Screw this up, I won’t hire you,” Charvat said.
“Now you tell me?” Davis said.
Charvat grinned. The movement welled fresh blood over his lips. “Go get ’em, Capone.” He pushed his AR through a crack between two boulders and launched a bullet stream. The killers responded in kind. It sounded like a machine gun festival.
Davis slapped Charvat’s shoulder twice and charged up the goat path as narcos pockmarked the boulders with hundreds of high-powered bullets. The stocky desert fortress kept the American rifles from being silenced.
“Can you aim your grenades into the sky?” Garcia said, curving his hand to show the arc. “And drop one right behind those rocks?”
“Sí, Jefe,” Manuel said, working out the angles in his head.
Davis spotted a narco racing down the path from the other end. He slipped into a hollow in one of the high rock ridges and pulled out his knife, not wanting to tip his location with gunfire. He forced his breathing shallow and waited, waited, waited . . .
He leaped from the hollow and wrapped his arm around the gunman’s upper neck, squeezing like an anaconda. The narco kicked and gurgled, slamming them both against the sharp rocks. Davis, however, had size and leverage, and drove the blade into the side of the lower neck. A second later he ripped it straight out the front, the honed steel severing both windpipe and jugular. Blood spurted as if carbonated. The gunman’s AK clattered to the rocks.
Davis shoved the corpse into the underbrush, then looked for a good sniping position. Heard the whoomp of the launcher pouring rockets at Killer Bee. He found a decent spot and dug in prone behind his gun, praying Brian’s rock shields held.
Charvat’s eardrums popped as rock knives carved new divots from his back. But he was still alive. He peered through the crack and saw several bandits creeping his way. He stayed silent, letting them draw closer. He slowly laid his sights on the closest man.
“Fill yer hand, you son of a bitch,” he growled, channeling his best John Wayne.
“Get down!” Garcia barked as his compatriot’s blood wetted the ground like a summer squall. The sharp crack of an AR-15 sounded a microsecond later. “They’ve got us in range!”
“This is the Border Patrol,” he heard a hard voice bark. “Drop your weapons and put your hands in the air. If you don’t, my men will kill you. This is your final warning.”
Garcia laughed, impressed. “That one has balls of grapefruits,” he said to Manuel. “Blast them off.” Manuel nodded and reloaded. He’d spotted the rifle flash that killed his amigo, and knew exactly where to lay his next grenade—
The right side of his head exploded.
“Vaya con dios, asshole,” Davis muttered as he moved to the next target.
“Sniper at three o’clock, Jefe!” Ortega shouted, whipping his bullet stream to his right. Rock chips flew as if chain-sawed. “They split up! One is in the hills to our—”
Davis watched his bullet rip out the mustached killer’s throat. He moved the muzzle to the tall, rangy Mexican wearing crossed ammo belts, the one the dead man just called “Boss,” and fired. Garcia darted sideways, escaping death by millimeters.
Davis scooted to a fresh location as bandit bullets thumped where he’d just been. He aimed carefully, put another gunman in the spin cycle, hunted for the next—
“Phone,” he muttered, astonished he hadn’t thought of it already. He reached for the cell strapped to his belt . . .
. . . and slapped shredded nylon.
He looked around frantically and spotted a small moonlit object on the goat path, halfway back to Charvat. There’s my cell, he realized.
It ripped off my belt during the knife fight, when we scraped against that rock.
He bit back his disappointment and got back to work.
“Ayyyy!” a narco bleated as he twisted into the ground. A compatriot joined him a moment later, brains splattering on a nearby cactus.
A battered Land Rover bounced into view. “The transport!” Garcia shouted. “Load the cargo!” The surviving gunmen fired as they retreated from rock to rock, hauling the narcotics backpacks to the SUV, trying their best to save the white powder draining from bullet holes.
“Faster, damn you, faster!” Garcia shouted, his voice a braided whip.
“Derek! Ground that Rover!” Charvat hollered.
“Working on it!” Davis yelled back.
The knob of a saguaro disintegrated inches from his elbow. He speed-crawled to the next protective outcrop and risked a quick peek. Gunmen were ignoring him momentarily to pitch overstuffed packs into the back of a vehicle bearing Texas plates. He memorized the number. Put his sights on the closest narco. Stroked the trigger.
Davis tossed the jammed rifle in disgust and grabbed the dead man’s AK-47. A splintery piece of skull was wedged inside the trigger guard. He poked it clear, wiped the gore from his trigger finger, reinserted, aimed, and squeezed, praying the sights hadn’t been knocked adrift . . .
The AK barked. A gunman spun screaming. The next one flopped atop him, forming a bloody cross.
“Rosito. Grenade that bastard or we’re all dead,” Garcia ordered, whirling and firing at the scorpion in the rocks. But his man was hugging the rear tire, whimpering. He’d never been in a firefight this extreme and was scared to death.
“Next time, wear a skirt,” Garcia cursed, knocking Rosito aside. He picked up the launcher and swung it toward the rocks. Prayed the Yankee rifle stayed silent long enough . . .
The rocket grenade leapt like a bee-stung horse. It covered the distance in less than two seconds and exploded in a fiery crump.
“Uhnnnnhn,” Davis grunted as a big hand bounced him off a tree. Disoriented, he staggered like a drunken ballerina into a clearing between the rocks.
Narco guns roared like lawn mowers. One AK bullet entered Davis’s chest, below the right nipple. It deflected off a rib and exited through his armpit. Another ripped a deep, U-shaped groove across the left side of his head, creating the shock wave of a ball-peen hammer. Other bullets laid crimson his belly, feet, and legs.
“I got him! The bastard is down!” Garcia crowed when he saw the agent collapse.
“Guhh,” Davis said.
Then faded to the pinpoint of grandpa’s old TV.
“What are you, Dudley Do-Right?” Chicago Police Lieutenant Robert Hanrahan growled through the window of his unmarked car, his craggy Irish face pulled into a horseshoe of annoyance. “We don’t do catch and release. We fry our fish.”
“He was a nice guy,” Superstition said.
“So was Ted Bundy.”
“Tommy Bahama wasn’t a serial killer,” she said. “His wife dumped him. He was lonely, so he dolled up and came out here. He’s human, Robbie, and he made a mistake.”
“Yeah, by asking you for a ‘date,’ ” Hanrahan said as the remainder of the vice team pulled to the curb. Four men with quarter-inch crew cuts scrambled out of their unmarked car and walked her way, limbs loose and jangly. “Just like he was supposed to, considering how glammed up you are.”
She touched her Creamsicle skirt. “What, this old thing?”
Hanrahan cursed in Gaelic, then sighed. “All right, you felt sorry for the guy,” he said. “No harm, no foul. But next time, remember your job isn’t to judge these creeps, it’s to arrest—”
“He wasn’t a creep, and I’d let him go again,” Superstition said, crossing her arms. She was the one wearing the Crayola-colored happy sack to reel in the men who hunted prostitutes. The rest of the team shadowed her on the street or waited in the adjoining hotel room, ready to pounce when the unlucky john said any approximation of Here’s plenty, let’s party.
“I’m the girl on the griddle, so it’s my decision.”
“That’s right, Loot,” the tallest of the squad hooted as the others clapped and cheered. “Girl on the griddle makes the call, that’s what you always say.”
“My own people, using my very own words against me,” Hanrahan said, shaking his head in mock sorrow. “What would poor Mother Hanrahan say if she wasn’t already in the clouds rocking sweet baby Jesus?”
” ‘Gonna kick yer hairy butts for making me baby cry’?” the cop suggested.
“Amen,” Hanrahan said, steepling his hands as if in prayer. “Now let’s get on with the mope hunt.”
Superstition winced theatrically. “I need to stop at Bubbles first.”
“Icky girl stuff you don’t want to hear about,” she said.
“Oh, well, then, shoo,” he said, motioning her away with both hands. “We’ll set up down the block and await your tangerine presence.”
She ran for the lounge as her team headed south.
Derek Davis blinked.
Looked at his hands.
Saw twenty fingers.
Shook his head.
“Oh, man,” he groaned.
He tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t work. His arms did, a little. He clawed out of the blast hole and onto the hard-packed flat, panting like hundred-meter gold.
Where am I?
He slapped himself a couple times to wake his memory. Examined his palms.
Slippery with blood.
He spit. More blood. He saw holes in his flesh, round and puckered and burning like arc welders. There was a constellation of cuts, scrapes, and gouges, plus a raw furrow on the side of his head. He slipped a finger into the trough. His nail tapped something hard.
He blew out his breath. He wasn’t dead, but it had been close. “World of hurt, cowboy,” he muttered. The cobwebs cleared a little. He looked around. “Bee,” he yelled in a phlegmy voice that sounded like nobody he knew. “You out there?”
“Damn tootin’, son,” the reply as sweet as apple cider. “They’re gone. You drove ’em off.”
“Good. That’s good,” Davis coughed. He wiped the dribble, took a look.
Frothy and pink.
Lung shot. Bullet or frag, he couldn’t tell. It wasn’t bad, since he was still breathing.
Not good, either.
“They banged me up some,” he said.
“Me too,” Charvat said. They traded explanations. “You gonna live?”
Davis shook his head. Then nodded, trying to be optimistic. “I’ll try my best,” he said. “Legs aren’t working. Arms are all right.”
“See if you can crawl,” Charvat said.
Davis was sure he couldn’t. Tried anyway. Made it a foot from the blast-hole. Strained real hard and made another foot.
“Slow as a constipated goat,” he said.
“You’re on a goat path, so that makes sense,” Charvat said, trying to move away from the boulders. He got nowhere, a turtle flipped on its back. “I’m stuck. I can bandage your wounds if you can get to me.”
“Deal,” Davis said. Dynamite kept erupting in his head. His vision swam in and out. He throbbed in places he didn’t know existed. “Does your cell phone work?”
“No. Shot up. Yours?”
“It’s on the path between here and you.”
“Can you get there?”
“Yeah, but you’d better pray that signal’s good.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Ma Bell,” Charvat said, folding his hand over his heart.
Davis locked his eyes on the phone. Grunted like he was messing his pants. Moved a foot. Then another. Thought of Superstition. Made a yard.
“Any chance you saw the man in charge, Derek?”
“The jefe?” Davis said. He recalled a rangy Mexican with a perpetual scowl, wearing crossed ammo belts. “Yes. Caught a decent look from the ridge.”
“Could you describe him?”
Davis did, added the license plate. Charvat whistled.
“What, you know this guy?” Davis said.
“Nope. Just pleasantly surprised at your good description. I’ll hire you if you pass the physical.”
Pass the physical???
Davis began laughing. It turned into a hacking cough that brought up pieces of . . . well, he didn’t want to know. Accompanied by a thick, black fog he feared wasn’t actually in the air.
“I’m finding it a little hard to see all of a sudden.”
” ‘Course it’s hard to see, son,” Charvat said gently. “Sandstorm just moved in, doncha know.”
Davis looked up. The Man in the Moon grinned bright.
“Yeah, that must be it,” he said.
He coughed up more blood, kept crawling with his arms, which burned with effort and pain. Now the cell phone was within two yards. One yard. One foot. One inch. He wriggled his swollen hands from under his body and touched the lifesaving device . . .
Which snapped to attention with a silent blue glow.
“It works,” Davis said, his voice cracking with awe. “The cell’s got power.”
“Cool beans, Derek. Does it look like it’ll dial out?”
He hadn’t actually considered that it wouldn’t. He felt the rest of his dinner climb the stairs . . .
The phone bleated.
It bleated again. He looked at the display, hands trembling.
“It’s Sue,” he breathed, wide-eyed. “She’s returning my call.”
“So, you gonna answer?” Charvat said. “Or make that poor gal leave a message?”
Derek poked Connect with a badly trembling finger—the pain from his wounds was starting to horse him around. He dropped his ear to the phone and heard his wife talking a mile a minute. It was the sound of an angel.
“Sue,” he grunted as the black fog pulsed at his eyeballs.
Superstition felt an elbow smash her shoulder as she reached for Bubbles’s door. The unstable orange stilettos launched her sideways, and she banged off a wrought iron fence, mashing her opposite arm so hard that she knew it would purple before she reached the bathroom.
“Hey, jerk,” she snapped as she regained her balance. “You want a punching bag, go find a gym.”
The tall, muscled black man who’d shoved her to get in first stared down with eyes as chilly as buckshot. “One more word from you, whitey,” he said, his voice a November grave, “and I’ll tear off your head and shit down your neck.”
She bristled and started to snap, “Make my day,” then held up her hands. Knocking him around would be fun, but she really had to pee. One more minute and she’d do it right here in the doorway, swear to God . . .
Mistaking her reaction for submission, he turned away and pushed through the door. The two men behind him shrugged. It was as close as she’d get to an apology, she figured, because hookers got respect from exactly nobody.
She watched the trio drift toward the back of the airy room, which wrapped around a thirty-foot mahogany bar. A tidal wave of bar-gabble engulfed her as she navigated the Moorish floor tiles. A hunky young man with three-day stubble smiled her way. The dirty blonde at his elbow shot her eye-daggers, then stepped closer to her prize. Superstition, amused, nodded at both, kept moving. Beautiful people were the norm at Bubbles. The place reflected its owner, one Bubbles Frankenberg, whose real name was Donna but preferred both dramatis personae and chilled Dom Pérignon. Superstition reached the bathroom door, her insides trembling from the strain—
Four fingers and a thumb grabbed her wrought-iron bruise, making her yelp.
“Back the way you came, street meat,” growled a man thick with drugstore cologne. “Don’t want your kind pollutin’ the decent folk.”
Superstition turned to see a bullet-headed bouncer with a ruby in his left ear. “Wow. Did you think that up all by yourself?” she said. “Or read it in a comic book?”
His jaw twitched with annoyance. “Cracking wise is really bad for your health,” he said, moving in so close that the cologne assaulted all her senses.
“Or yours,” Superstition said, sneezing. “You’re new here, right?”
He nodded, his little piggy eyes suddenly wary. “First night,” he said.
“Tell Bubbles I said hi,” she said, pushing into the bathroom with her butt.
He opened his mouth to say something, but decided against it. Instead, he lumbered away, adjusting his waistband and muttering under his breath.
She entered a stall, latched the door, did her business with a tabernacle choir of relief, then called her boss.
“Hanrahan,” he said.
“It’s me. I wanted to let you know I’m in position.”
“Position?” he said, confused. “I thought you were using the—”
She held the phone next to the bowl and flushed.
“Har-de-frickin’-har,” Hanrahan said.
“Frickin’?” she said.
“The captain says I shouldn’t swear in front of the troops. Says it makes me suboptimal.”
“I think it means ‘big pecker,’ ” Hanrahan said. “So, you coming?”
“As soon as I get hold of Derek. He left a message, but I haven’t had time to call back. Do you mind?”
“You? Asking for permission?”
“Thought I’d try something new.”
A snort this time. “You’re full of laughs tonight. Sure, go ahead. We’re still setting up.”
“Thanks, Loot,” she said, using the cop diminutive for Lieutenant. Hanrahan was a tall, meaty man, born in Hegewisch, formed on the streets, polished by the Jesuits, and pipelined from junior college to the cops. He had no peer in commanding detectives, but his personal life was the very definition of WTF, dude?
Movie-star handsome in a bulky, film noir way, he enjoyed walking on the wild side, which, among other things, meant dating a Chicago Bulls cheerleader, a runway model, and a CIA analyst, all at the same time—while he was married. Predictably, it ended in disaster and divorce court, but he remained cheerful about it, saying “Little Robbie” wanted what it wanted, so what could he do? He was the best boss she’d ever had, though, treating his cops, male or female, gay or straight, color or none, with great respect—and, if needed, some private ass-kicking, which became forgive-and-forget unless the kickee didn’t get the point, in which case he or she found him or herself combing sewer tunnels for important clues. She’d take a bullet for him, and most of her colleagues shared that assessment.
“G’wan, call your old man and talk dirty,” Hanrahan elaborated. “Then hurry on down our way. A medical convention just let out, so the fishing looks excellent.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Superstition said, saluting. Her shiny orange fingernails whipped up and back in Bubbles’s vintage gilded mirrors.
“You said that respectfully. But I know better.”
Smiling, she hit speed dial One. Derek’s phone rang. He picked up. She heard him say “Sue.” She smiled and started to talk but then heard screams from the bar. She couldn’t make out the words, but she knew the unmistakable tone.
“Trouble,” she said, her heart beginning to race with adrenaline. “I’ll call you back, hon.” She disconnected and hurried to the door, pulling it open and peering through the gap. One of the men from the doorstep encounter was holding a twelve-gauge pump. He noticed the movement and pointed it at her face. “Come join the fun, white eyes,” he jeered, waving the slaughtergun. “We’d hate you to feel left out.”
“Omigosh, is this a robbery?” Superstition wailed, praying the squad wasn’t too far away to pick up the microphone under her hair, which Hanrahan used to document her conversations with johns. “What are you three guys doing with guns?”
Robbery . . . guys . . . guns?
“Shit,” spat the driver, accelerating their heads into the rests. The shotgun rider called Hanrahan. “Robbery in progress at Bubbles,” he reported. “Superstition’s inside.”
“Oh, shit,” Hanrahan said.
“What we said,” Shotgun said. “Three guys with guns. She’s broadcasting live.”
“Pedal to metal,” Hanrahan said.
“This is a robbery! Get on the floor!” the man who’d elbowed Superstition bellowed as he waved a Desert Eagle, a mammoth steel pistol whose forty-four-caliber bullets carved not holes but tunnels.
“Move it, whitey,” Shotgun said, jabbing Superstition with the hard black muzzle. She hurried toward the bar as patrons began diving to the floor. Desert Eagle ordered the bartender to clean out the cash register, but the earringed hipster froze like a deer in headlights. Desert Eagle raked his face with the gun, misting the bar with blood and cartilage.
“Give him whatever he wants,” Bubbles ordered.
“Smart move, mama,” Desert Eagle said. “Give us the money and nobody gets hurt.”
“Be advised, undercover officer is inside the bar,” Hanrahan huffed as he sprinted down the service alley behind Bubbles, leaping potholes and trash. “She’s wearing an orange dress and high heels. Repeat, undercover officer is inside the bar.”
“Orange dress,” the emergency dispatcher confirmed. “What’s your status?”
“Five in plainclothes, two minutes out. Tell responding units to run silent. Repeat, no lights and sirens, we don’t want to spook them into opening fire . . .”
The bouncer flexed his fingers as he reached for his dangling shirttail. Superstition spotted the familiar imprint through his tight black jeans. She caught his eye and shook her head.
They only want money, she tried to tell him telepathically. Don’t be a hero and you’ll come out of this alive.
He sneered as he pulled up his shirt. He wrapped his fingers around the checkered brown grips of his pistol and pulled it free of the holster. The third robber spotted it and swung his nine-millimeter pistol.
“No, don’t shoot!” Superstition yelled, lunging to shove the bouncer to safety as Shotgun and Desert Eagle joined Pistol for the kill.
“Shots fired!” Hanrahan barked as he ran. “ETA sixty seconds. We’re going in.”
“All units, active shooters inside bar, plainclothes team entering in sixty seconds,” the dispatcher told the blue tsunami. “Officer needs help, repeat, officer needs help.”
Sirens lit up across Chicago.
The crowd erupted as flesh plugs sprayed out of the bouncer. “Stay on the floor!” the gunmen screamed. “Throw out your wallets and purses!”
Instead, the crowd bolted, billiard balls smacked by the white. The unexpected uprising startled the gunmen into redirecting fire. The man with the three-day beard stutter-stepped, then collapsed. A shrieking redhead tried frantically to reattach her blown-off earlobe. Superstition lowered her head, ran faster. She snatched up the fallen bouncer’s pistol and pumped bullets into Shotgun, who’d turned his back to shoot women off bar stools. He collapsed, blood spraying from the four holes clustered between his shoulder blades.
Desert Eagle and Pistol swung her way, pulling triggers. She emptied the magazine at them as she leapt, forcing them to break off. She sailed over stools and black granite bar top and crashed into the back mirror, slicing herself from shoulder to elbow. She tumbled to the floor as the gunmen’s bullets blasted wine and whiskey, the glass shelves shattering and falling. Her ears rang from the thunderstorm.
“Bitch shot Rancey, get her!” she heard Desert Eagle bellow.
She speed-crawled toward the cubbyhole where she knew Bubbles kept a gun. Glass exploded and booze rained, their droplets brown, blue, white, and clear. The shards deepened the red ribbons in her knees and hands. She ignored it, kept crawling.
She reached Bubbles’s well-worn Glock and confirmed it was loaded. She quick-glanced between two shattered beer pumps. Saw waitresses gasping for air, dozens of patrons writhing in agony, and the two remaining predators who caused it. She hissed like a coiling snake, rose to a combat crouch, and laid the muzzle on Pistol, who was reaching for his dead buddy’s shotgun. He spotted her, jerked back from the twelve with a curse, and whipped his barrel her way. She shredded his heart just as he fired. He corkscrewed to the floor, his final rounds splintering the dense red wood of the bar.
She swung her muzzle onto Desert Eagle and fired. He jerked out of range, lips in a feral snarl. She ducked as forty-four magnums sizzled back her way, thwacking the bar like steam hammers.
She crawled to the end. Peeked around. Saw him looking for her. Bad angle to take him down. Looked for options. Saw an overturned steampunk table with cast-iron legs and a three-inch granite top. Good cover, ideal firing angle.
Nine feet of air, here to there.
She coiled and sprang. He tracked her and fired. She landed in a heap as his bullets carved chunks from the protective rock. She earthwormed across the tiles and stuck her head, hands, and gun out the right side of the table. His bullets sent tile chips into her face. She didn’t flinch. Her Glock jumped. Flames spurted. Bullets flew.
And Desert Eagle collapsed, bleeding from forehead to belly.
She jumped to her feet and hustled over, ready to resume firing if he was playing possum.
“Go, go, go!” Hanrahan roared as the team raced into the bar, muzzles up, triggers straining for release.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t!” Superstition shouted, waving wildly as her squad mates bulldozed through the doors. “They’re down, they’re down, they’re down!”
Hanrahan jerked his gun front, back, side, side. No bullets. No explosions. Just cries from the wounded and silence from the dead. He called for paramedics, crime scene, crowd control, and the medical examiner. “Are you all right?” he said, racing to Superstition, who was slumping down a blood-streaked wall, looking dazed.
She blew out her breath. Felt a sticky wetness penetrate her gossamer dress. She patted herself, found no holes. Somebody’s blood. Not hers. She grimaced, shifted away. Saw cell phone cameras waving like dandelions and tugged down the orange the best she could. Hanrahan handed her his raid jacket. He was so big that it fit her like a blue circus tent, but it kept the looky-loos from photographing her privates . . .
“I was coming out of the bathroom when they announced the robbery,” she said, voice squeaking from adrenaline. “The bouncer intervened, despite my warning him not to. They killed him, then started on the patrons. Gave me no choice but to open fire.”
Hanrahan was nodding vigorously. “You did an outstanding job, Detective Davis.” He said it loud for the benefit of the cell phone Tarantinos. “Your quick reaction saved a lot of people from dying tonight . . .”
She looked at the three gunmen as he continued in that vein. They’d been young and filled with energy. Now they were broken, a child’s doll abused till the plastic disintegrated. Their limbs were loose and floppy, their eyes dull. Blood rivulets sparkled against their cooling, espresso-colored flesh.
It made her sad, those meandering rivulets. She’d shot people before, and she’d undoubtedly do it again—that was the nature of jobs with guns. Unlike some of her colleagues, who relished the thought of kill-or-be-killed gunfights, she preferred cajoling suspects into giving up, or, failing that, “convincing” them hand-to-hand. But these three called the play, not her, and she wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. She hoped not, anyway. Logic didn’t always fall in lockstep with emotion.
“Go call Derek,” Hanrahan said gently. “Take all the time you need. I’ll deal with the shoo-flies till you’re ready.”
Officer-involved shootings were investigated by the police department’s internal affairs unit—the dreaded “shoo-flies”—then again by independent review teams. Superstition had no doubt she’d be cleared. There were a hundred witnesses led by Bubbles Frankenberg, plus the hair-radio recording. But it grated going through the drill at all. There were guns under the killers. Spatter on the walls. Bullets in the bouncer. Didn’t that explain what the hell had happened . . .
“Bureaucracy,” Hanrahan said, knowing what her heavy breathing meant. “I guarantee you’ll be fine.” He extended a hand and helped her to her feet. Her squad mates gathered and tapped her back and arms. “Ya done good,” they said, the highest compliment in Cop Land. Bubbles ran up and hugged her so hard that she momentarily lost her breath.
Superstition thanked everyone with counter-taps but kept her face blank. The natural exhilaration of surviving a deadly shoot-out had been used against cops in the past, as “proof” of their “bloodthirsty nature.” She excused herself and headed to the restroom, where there’d be a tiny bit of privacy. Several patrons stopped her to say thanks. She murmured, “You’re welcome, glad I could help,” but kept walking; the need for Derek’s voice was beginning to overwhelm.
She pushed through the door then leaned against the wall tiles. She drank in the chilled calm—the bathroom was empty save for her—then pulled her cell and speed-dialed One. It rang twice, connected.
“Hi, baby,” she said. “I’m sorry it took so long, but we just had a terrible—”
“Who’s this?” an unfamiliar voice said.
“Uh, you first,” Superstition said, taken by surprise—Derek guarded his cell like Fort Knox. “Why are you on my husband’s phone?”
“Are you Detective Davis? Superstition Davis?”
“Yes,” she said warily. Two women strolled in, chattering about the gunfight. She glared at them to curdle milk, and they immediately backed out, wordless.
“This is Commander Rivera with the Arizona Highway Patrol. Is it possible for you to get to Tucson right away?”
Panic clawed her insides. “Why?”
“You really need to get here, ma’am,” the commander said. “Your husband was shot tonight. There was a gunfight in one of our canyons and—”
“Is he dead?” she said, horrified.
“I’m a cop, Commander, so just tell me, goddammit,” she demanded, her heartbeat jacked back to middle-of-a-gunfight. “Is. Derek. Dead?”
“Yes, ma’am,” River said with a genuinely mournful tone. “I’m afraid he—”
“Robbie!” she shrieked.
Ten seconds later Hanrahan was barreling through the door. “What’s wrong?”
She held out the phone like it was radioactive. “He’s gone,” she gargled, tears carving gorges in her heavily rouged cheeks.
“Huh? Who’s gone? What do you—”
“Derek. He’s . . . he’s . . . dead.” She flashed on the three gunmen who’d kept her away from her childhood sweetheart in the final moments of his life. “Those dirty . . .”
“Sue, wait,” Hanrahan said, reaching for her arm.
But she already out of the bathroom, bursting through a gob of startled medics, and running up to the corpses. “You black-eyed son of a bitch!” she screamed, drop-kneeing Pistol in the back, which snapped his spine like a dry stick. “My husband died alone and it’s your fault, you motherless . . .” She mule-kicked her stiletto into Desert Eagle’s face. The heel sank through his right eye like a golf putt, then snapped off at the base. “Tear off my head, huh, blackie?” she snarled as the heel vibrated like an orange tuning fork. “Shit down my neck, huh, black eyes?” She screamed and kicked and stomped, blood puffing from the dead men’s wounds like air from a blacksmith’s bellows. “He died without me, he died all alone—”
“Get hold of yourself, dammit,” Hanrahan hissed as he wrestled her away from the corpses and the cell phone cameras. “The whole world is watching.”
She squirmed out of his grasp and launched a molar-shattering kick at Shotgun. Her squad mates blocked her like the Bears’ front line, pushing her away from the targets of her wrath. Her brain boiled over and her cursing grew multisyllabic.
Hanrahan moved in nose-to-nose.
“Shut the hell up, Detective,” he snarled, squeezing her biceps so tightly that she yelped. “You don’t, I’ll put you in handcuffs.”
The searing pain of the grab-hold plus the unexpected threat of arrest snapped her out of attack mode. Her energy leaked away, and she began to sag. Hanrahan held her steady. “I’m good, I’m good,” she murmured.
“I know you are, I know,” he replied.
The squad hustled her to the bathroom. Superstition slumped into a corner, trying to regain her composure. A cop wrapped a blanket around her. She nodded numbly. Hanrahan picked up her cell and dialed the last incoming number. Rivera picked up. Hanrahan asked questions but mostly listened. “Okay, thanks,” he said, finally. “We’ll get on the next flight.” He told a detective to search O’Hare’s outbound schedule and book a pair in business class. “I’ll call when we hit your airspace, Commander. Thanks for offering to pick us up.”
“Tucson?” Superstition croaked, vaguely remembering what the highway patrolman had mentioned before her brain turned into a road flare.
“Yeah. That’s where the medevac took Derek after he was—”
She held up her hands.
If Hanrahan didn’t finish, it couldn’t be true.
January 17, 1937
IG Farben Chemical Laboratories
“Be careful!” Dr. Gerhard Schrader chided as the dense, slippery poison splashed toward the top of the bottle. “Even sealed, that’s a bottle of dynamite.”
“Yes, Herr Doktor,” his assistant said, firming his grip. “I’ll treat her like a virgin, I swear.” He placed the bottle on the polished steel table in the center of the test chamber. A German shepherd with a kinked tail smiled up at him, brown eyes glowing with adoration. Schrader, amused, tapped its solid glass crate with a precisely trimmed fingernail. The puppy, tail wagging, followed the taps with her nose, leaving smeary slug trails on the glass. The chimpanzees in neighboring crates flung poo as they howled. The cats across from them stretched languidly, looking bored, and a pair of chestnut-maned horses, one of each gender, whinnied between mouthfuls of hay.
Schrader nodded, satisfied. He’d come a long way since discovering last month that an experimental crop pesticide could be turned into a weapon of mass destruction. The memory of the remarkable find played in his head like a film reel, with the good doctor, brilliant and strong, taking front and center as the star . . .
The little white lab mouse stared at the blue-veined cheese.
Glanced at the exit.
Back at the cheese.
Twitched its whiskers.
Wiggled its behind.
It ran past the wide-open escape hatch in favor of the food, which wasn’t a tough choice for the mouse, not really, having not been fed since yesterday. It skidded on all four paws as it reached nirvana, plunging nose-first into the soft triangle of Edelpilzkäse, the tiny blowholes of which pumped an aroma so rich that it flooded the glass cage with olfactory cries of Eat me!
The mouse happily obliged, stuffing its cherry-sized cheeks with breakfast.
The handsome chemist observing this jotted a page of notes even as he cried toward the heavens: This has to work, Herr Doktor! The world depends on you!
His new pesticide looked fine on paper. All his formulas did. But he hadn’t had a real-life success in months, and his bosses were grumbling that their star researcher couldn’t seem to kill anything anymore.
He sighed, then sealed up the exit, trapping the mouse. He squeezed a brick-red rubber bulb. A microscopic amount of chemical puffed into the airtight cage. The dirty mist rained down on the mouse, which jerked as if electrified. It spasmed uncontrollably and curled into a comma.
Then it died, head in a blow-hole, leaking cheese.
“Mein Gott,” Schrader breathed as he trembled from the knowledge that he had just changed the world forever. “Mein holy, holy Gott . . .”
Schrader waggled his head in self-amusement. Of course he wanted that feeling to continue forever! Who wouldn’t? But it was time for bigger breakthroughs.
He walked to the crates and shook them as hard as his short arms could manage. Solid as granite. The air hoses that fed them were properly gasketed. He lit a smudge pot to generate an oily black smoke. He waved it around each cage, checking the caulking for air leaks. None. The confinements were perfectly engineered.
“Sehr gut,” he said.
They moved to the table holding the liquefied nerve gas. “You remove the lid. I’ll place the hose in the bottle,” Schrader ordered.
“Ja, Doktor,” his assistant said, handling the lid like a land mine. Schrader slid the pump hose into the urine-colored poison and sealed it with a stopper. The assistant transferred the lid to an airtight container. Neither noticed the pin-drop of solution dripping onto the tiled floor from the inside rim of the lid.
The assistant started the movie camera as Schrader switched on the pump. The liquid hummed as if alive, moving up the hose and into the misting devices, spraying poisoned perfume into each crate. The puppy’s eyes bulged. It barked once, twice, and then flopped over dead, its coffee-and-white body curling into a comma, joined quickly by the cats, parakeets, monkeys, and jackals, their screeching fading to nothingness.
“Fourteen seconds,” Schrader noted approvingly. “Twice as fast as last time. I wonder if the finer vaporization helped—” He clutched his throat as his lungs suddenly caught fire.
“Dok . . . tor,” the assistant belched.
“Eyes . . . let me see . . . your eyes,” Schrader gasped.
The assistant peeled back his swollen lids as he reeled drunkenly. Schrader, laboring to breathe through the wool stuffed in his nose and mouth, saw the pupils had receded to pinpoints. “Poisoned. We’ve been poisoned,” he gasped. “There is a leak inside the laboratory . . . out . . . get out . . .”
They stumbled for the exit. The assistant crumpled to the floor. Schrader grabbed his arm and clump-dragged him to safety as his vision faded to battleship gray and the room spun to the choking whinnies of dying horses.
Praise for THE FURY
“THE FURY is one of the most remarkable thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Shane Gericke’s twenty-five years in the newspaper world make every scene resonate with a you-are-there authenticity, as if I’m reading fact, not fiction. His characters feel remarkably real also: vivid, likeable, and compelling. I want to spend more and more time with them. Every scene has an intensity that made me turn the pages faster. The action is state-of-the art. Pay attention—this one’s a winner.” David Morrell
Tension and turmoil add up to high-stakes suspense as the characters are skillfully played across a global chessboard. Written like a born bard of old, you won’t be disappointed. But be warned, treachery comes from all directions, even those that cannot be seen.” Steve Berry
“A fireball of awesome!” Joshua Corin
“Gericke has written a new recipe for high-adrenaline suspense. Take one part police procedural; add in parts of an espionage thriller and vigilante justice; sprinkle in generous amounts of a historical thriller . . . blend and heat until it boils over. The end result is a pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat thriller that refuses to be put down.
THE FURY takes us inside the ruthless drug cartels and the border wars between the United States and Mexico. We witness, first-hand, the death of a hero and watch the birth of a greater one. Gericke has written a high-stakes poker match between two adversaries who refuse to lose, but with every great poker game, only one can be declared the winner. It all comes down to who can bluff the best and who holds the ace up their sleeve.
In Superstition “Sue” Davis, Gericke has written a female character who is as dangerous and smart as she is beautiful. She will do whatever it takes to protect her friends and avenge her family, regardless of what is considered to be ‘politically correct.’
In The Fury, Gericke takes us deep inside the Mexican cartels while masterfully adding in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Nazi chemical weapons experiments that to this day change the way the world looks at war.
Gericke has blown the boundaries off all thriller genres and has created his own.” J.M. LeDuc, writing in Suspense Magazine
“Bestselling author Shane Gericke has created another explosive thriller for his legion of fans. THE FURY is set in real-time Chicago, Nogales, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and Mexico, and historically in World War II-era Germany, Japan, and Manchuria. It is ambitious in scope and relentless in its hang-on-to your-armchair quality.
Superstition “Sue” Davis, a vice-squad undercover officer with the Chicago Police, heads down to Nogales, Arizona to bring her own brand of high-kicking justice to Mexican drug cartel leader Jimmy Garcia for killing her husband, undercover special ops agent Derek Davis, in a desert shootout.
Far from being a vanilla Mexican drug kingpin, the ever-vigilant and opportunistic Garcia has a secret concerning a cache of bombs that went awry during World War II and has been sitting ever since off Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The cache is old and rusty, dead in the water, yet still carries a payload capable of inflicting unthinkable suffering and death to millions. It is now in the hands of Garcia, and with it, he possesses the ability to avenge the death of his family by the gringos from the north many times over.
Having received permission from U.S. authorities to assume a key role in apprehending and killing Garcia, Superstition’s trip to Mexico becomes a race to reach the narco at his mountain hideout before it’s too late.
In THE FURY, Gericke brings an assertive style to plot development, as he rapidly shifts scenes and points of view. He head-hops among his protagonists and antagonists with impunity, tugging the reader along on a wild ride. With uncanny ease, he then manages to slow the frenetic pace to a crawl, allowing his readers a few moments to breathe as he delves into the mindsets of his characters, sharing their thoughts, and injecting a certain sardonic wit with clever expressions that lighten a story otherwise pockmarked with a number of dark and grizzly scenes.
Shane excels in the plot line’s necessary flashbacks, showcasing his acquired knowledge of the details surrounding particular persons, places, and events of World War II. He has clearly done his research.
THE FURY is not for the squeamish, nor is it for those who deny the atrocities committed against humankind by callous and immoral leaders. Broad in scope and memorable in its style, Gericke’s book is a great read for anyone who loves to be thrilled on every page. It humanizes the tough-minded and resilient Superstition, an enigma in her own right, a woman thrust into immense danger and yet somehow able to remain true to herself and her ideals. She follows her own path, keeping us firmly planted on the edge of our seats to the very end. Then and only then, do we sit back and try to imagine “what if”?” Gunter Kaesdorf