As she crossed the border from Mexico to the United States
in the dead quiet of a suffocating July night, Consuelo Maria
Jimenez didn’t thrill to the possibility of beginning a new
life, but instead felt the intense dread of entering a strange
land. She shifted to a less painful position in the back of the
stifling panel truck, filled to bursting with other illegal immigrants
and lit only by the shaky glow of a few scattered
flashlights. Her gaze alighted on her two children, and as she
stared at their wary faces, she wondered again if this hazardous
journey into an unknown futurewas the right choice.
The decision to leave her homeland had been the easiest
part. Years of slow, insidious death by corruption from the
Mexican government had choked the life out of hundreds
of small villages across the country, including her home
of San Pedro Canon, forty miles west of Oaxaca de Juárez.
The only choices for jobs were either menial work for
barely living wages in the city’s factories, or joining one
of the regional drug cartels, with all of the risk, violence
and death that entailed.
Consuelo’s sister, who had settled in the U.S. several
years ago, had been persuading her to head north and make
a new life in America. She had written of the possibilities
in Wisconsin, where she and her family had settled, and
her persistence—along with the money she had wired each
month—had just about convinced Consuelo. The last straw
had been when her husband had left without a word,
leaving no trace or contact information for her to follow.
With two children to support, one look in their eyes was
enough to make up her mind.
The trip so far had been long and difficult. She had
heard horror stories from the relatives of those who had
gone over, being left to die in a trailer or back of a truck,
getting lost and suffering an agonizing death by thirst in
the desert, being raped or sold into sexual slavery. Consuelo
had asked her sister to find a reasonably reliable
coyote—one of the men who made their living transporting
people across the border. When the same name came
up three times by other immigrants, Consuelo knew she
had found the right person.
With help from her sister, she paid the fee of two
thousand dollars apiece for herself and her two children,
more money than she had ever seen in her life. They had
left San Pedro Canon late one afternoon, the tears in
Consuelo’s eyes at leaving her home rapidly drying in the
desert heat. From there they had traveled steadily north for
two weeks through a dizzying array of cities and towns—
Toluca, León, Mazatlán, Torreán, Chihuahua—staying in
dingy rooms in small, crumbling motels, crammed with a
dozen other people into shacks in festering slums and once
even spending the night in the backseat of a car, sleepless,
hungry and thirsty the entire time.
But at long last, their journey would soon come to an
end. While crossing the Rio Grande the night before, they
had dodged the Border Patrol, which had made a large bust
at their planned crossing site, the bright lights and the dark
green vehicles forming an ominous cordon on the American
side of the border. Instead of canceling the attempt,
their guides had simply shifted the crossing point a few
miles farther east. Now, about thirty miles outside of the
notorious border city of Ciudad Juárez, their long trip out
of Mexico was ending, and the journey through America
to her sister’s family was about to begin.
Still, Consuelo worried about their chances of making
it at every moment, what with the increased border patrols
and unmanned observation aircraft she had heard the
coyotes discussing. The thought of someone watching her,
unseen from thousands of feet in the air, made her shudder.
The men guiding them had insisted there would be no
trouble at all, that “it had all been taken care of.” But their
furtive glances and whispered conversations to each other
did little to reassure her.
“Are we almost there?” her oldest, Esteban, asked, his
dark brown eyes shadowed with worry.
“Yes, sweetheart. Drink some morewater.”As Consuelo
looked at her son, she felt a flush of pride. As if they had
sensed the importance of what was happening, both of her
children had been very good during the prolonged trip,
hardly complaining at all and listening to her with unusual
patience. Even when they had first boarded the truck,
Esteban had staked out a seat on the metal wheel well for
his mother. Consuelo had promised herself that one of the
first things she would do once they reached their new home
of Milwaukee—such a strange name for a city—she would
take them to the largest store she could find and let them each
pick out one toy apiece as a reward for their good behavior.
Gently shifting her daughter, Silvia, asleep on her lap,
to a more comfortable position, Consuelo wiped sweat
from her forehead and glanced around at the rest of the
people crossing the border. The truck held a mixture of
men and women from across Central America—from
fellow Mexicans to those from El Salvador, Honduras,
Nicaragua and other places, all looking for a new life.
But sitting at the front of the truck were three men who
looked markedly different from the others, and whose
intense gazes made her flesh crawl. Whereas no one else
carried anything with them save the clothes on their backs
and perhaps a bit of food and water, the three bearded men
had brought a large crate, roughly two and a half yards
long. They always stayed close to it, hauling it across the
border and through the desert without a word of complaint.
Although the box had attracted curious looks from
several people in the back of the truck, no one had asked
the trio about it, since they didn’t speak to anyone save one
another, and then in a melodic language that Consuelo
couldn’t understand. The only potential trouble had come
when everyone had entered the truck for the last leg of the
trip. One of the Mexican men had tried to sit on the box,
but had been ushered away by one of the three men with
a determined shake of his head and violent hand gestures.
Whoever they were, Consuelo was certain they weren’t
from anywhere in Central America. She wondered why
they were traveling this way, but the idle thought passed
quickly, replaced by more pressing matters—like the wail
of a siren that suddenly pierced the walls of the truck. Her
heart sinking, Consuelo knew what that sound meant—
they had been caught by the Border Patrol. The truck
lurched forward, everyone in the back swaying with the
sudden motion, but a cooler head must have prevailed in
the cab, for they started to slow down.
Conversation throughout the truck stopped, and all eyes
turned toward the large metal door at the back. Several men
uttered quiet oaths, but most of the people around her
looked resigned to their fate. As Consuelo shook her
daughter awake, her eyes strayed to the three men at the
front of the truck. They were clustered together, two of
them with their backs to the rest of the group. She heard
a strange metallic clicking sound, then two of them turned
and stood in front of the crate, while the third pushed his
way to the rear of the vehicle, his hand resting against the
colorful tail of his loose-fitting shirt.
The truck stopped, and the engine died. A loud voice
outside called out in Spanish. “Attention, everyone inside
the truck. This is the United States Customs and Border
Protection. When the door is opened, you will file out one
at a time, keeping your hands in plain sight, and kneel at
the side of the road in a single line.”
Consuelo’s son exchanged a troubled glance with her.
“What should we do, Mama?”
“Listen to the men, and do as they say. If we are sent
back, we will try to find another way across,” she replied.
She had no idea how they would manage another crossing.
It would be months before her sister could send the money
to try again, and who knew what might happen to them in
A metal rattle echoed through the cargo bay, and the
segmented door was pushed up, revealing the bright headlights
of a white SUV illuminating the men and women
packed into the truck.An agent stood a few feet away from
the back of the truck, one hand hovering above his holstered
pistol. “Step out of the truck one at a time and take
your place over here. Kneel on the ground, cross your legs
at the ankles and keep your hands in plain sight,” the agent
Blinking in the sudden bright light, the men and women
jumped down to the dirt road and lined up as directed. As
the first bearded man stepped off the truck bed, the Border
Patrol agent’s eyes narrowed. “Hold it—” The bearded man
pulled a compact pistol out from underneath his shirt and
fired, spraying several rounds at the agent, hitting him more
than once and shattering one of the SUV’s headlights.
As Consuelo watched in horror, the agent fell to the
ground and slowly tried to drawhis pistol. The man stepped
over him and fired once at the agent’s head, stilling him.
The group of immigrants burst into panicked motion,
those still inside the truck jumping out while others on the
road scattered into the darkness. The gunman continued
firing, mowing down several fleeing people. Grabbing
Esteban’s hand, Consuelo lurched toward the open back
as she heard another strange metallic clatter behind her,
then the deafening sound of some kind of terrible weapon.
“Run, Esteban!” she shouted. Pulling her son along, she
scrambled toward the open door. Around her, men and
women died in their tracks, bullets from the chattering,
deadly weapons punching through their bodies. Shouts and
screams were heard both inside and out, and Consuelo
realized one of the voices was her own, shrieking in dazed
terror. One arm was wrapped tightly around her daughter,
and her other hand clutched Esteban’s fingers in a death grip.
And suddenly, they were at the door, miraculously unscathed.
Consuelo didn’t stop, but leaped out of the truck,
dragging Esteban behind her. She fell hard, landing on her
knees, right beside the body of the Border Patrol agent who
had collapsed against the side of the truck. The woman’s
oozing blood stained her uniform black in the bright lights
and heat. Around her, the three foreign men methodically
killed everyone in sight. The first one now stood on the
patrol vehicle’s hood, shooting anyone who moved. Bodies
were strewed everywhere, cut down as they tried to escape.
Sucking in a breath of hot night air, Consuelo staggered
to her feet, helped by Esteban, whowas nowtugging on her.
“Hurry, Mama, hurry!” She let him pull her into the darkness,
stumbling past yucca plants and Amargosa bushes.
She saw a thick cluster of guajillo a few yards away, and
knew if they reached the thicket, they might be safe.
A shot cracked out from behind her, and Consuelo felt
something punch her hard in the lower back. All of the
strength drained out of her legs, and she collapsed in a
heap, still holding Silvia, who was clinging to her neck.
“Mama, get up, we have to get out of here!” Esteban
pulled on her hand, pleading, tears streaming down his face.
“Esteban, take your sister and go.” Consuelo shook her
head, trying to think. “Follow the—the road.” Scattered
shots came from behind them, the cries and pleas of the
others falling silent. Suddenly she was tired…so tired.
“No, Iwon’t let you. Don’t hurt Mama!” She felt Esteban
drape himself over her back, and all Consuelo could think
to do was to huddle over her daughter, who had suddenly
turned limp and heavy in her arms. Consuelo tilted her
daughter back and saw Silvia’s head loll on her shoulders.
Looking down, she saw dark blood from where the bullet
had passed through her and into her daughter’s body.
“Oh, no…no, not Silvia…” She felt Esteban, still yelling
and struggling, suddenly lifted off her, and then a
single, sharp crack, punishing her ears. Strange, but she
couldn’t hear her son’s voice anymore. The shot has deafened
me, she thought.
Consuelo drew her daughter close again, wrapping her
arms around the small body as footsteps crunched in the
sandy soil next to her. She looked up to see one of the men,
his eyes expressionless, a pistol held at his side.
“Please…my daughter…she is hurt….”
He spoke to her in mangled Spanish. “Your son had
heart of warrior. I give him quick death. Good death.”
“Please…help my baby…let her go….”
He raised the pistol again. “They will be at peace, if
Allah wills it.”
Just before she saw the blinding muzzle-flash, she heard
him say one last thing in that strange language, and in the
flash of a second before Consuelo’s death, she somehow
understood the words, although they did not ease her passing
Nathaniel Spencer tilted his cowboy hat lower over his pale
blue eyes and leaned back in the seat of the battered, primergray
Ford Bronco. He appeared to be just another gringo
taking a siesta in the ovenlike afternoon heat on the road in
front of a line of small businesses along Oregon Street. But
Spencer stared through the loose weave of his straw hat at
the auto parts shop and attached warehouse across the
street. He also kept one hand on the small, discreet earbud
to monitor the reports from his men. He and several
Customs and Border Protection agents had been stationed
around a drop point for one of the dozens of local drugsmuggling
rings that infested El Paso and its poorer half to
the south, Ciudad Juárez, for the past four hours, and Nate
would stay there until their quarry showed up.
“I still don’t see why I have to sit back here and suffer.
I think I’ve lost five pounds just from sweat alone.”
Nathaniel’s new partner, George Ryan, was a big, green
recruit not even six months out of training. Hewas huddled
in the backseat, out of sight, but not out of smell. Nate
wrinkled his nose at the sweet-sour stink coming off the
“Because two men in the front would arouse suspicion.
Now shut your trap and drink more water. At least you’re
still sweating, so consider yourself lucky. I don’t need my
backup keeling over from heatstroke.” Nathaniel eased the
straw of a plastic sport bottle underneath his hat and took a
long,warm gulp.After dozens of stakeouts just like this one,
he knewall too well the stealthy danger of the life-draining
heat. He keyed his radio. “Anybody got anything yet?”
A chorus of negatives answered him, from two agents
posing as loitering day laborers in front of the hardware
store next to Hernando, the unlucky guy who had drawn
the short straw and had to dress as a homeless person. He
had spent the past few hours alternating between rooting
through a small grocery store’s garbage and wandering up
and down the alley.
Nate would have preferred to have an extra half-dozen
agents on this raid, but they were stretched thin as it was,
and he’d been lucky to get the three additional agents in
the first place.
“Jesus, these guys are seriously late.” George sucked
down tepid water, draining the bottle. “Bet they ain’t coming
“Slow down, Tex—drink too fast and you’ll give yourself
cramps.” Nathaniel heard the growl of a truck coming
up the street, and his eyes flicked to the rearview mirror,
spotting a rumbling cargo truck turning the corner, heading
toward the back of the building. Emblazoned on its sidewas
the name of the auto parts store they were watching.
“Everyone look sharp. I think they just arrived.
Hernando, get your head out of that Dumpster and see if
you can verify that license plate.”
“With pleasure—you had to pick the day they threw out
their old meat, didn’t you? My wife’s gonna make me
sleep in the den again. Okay, Lima Juliet Kilo five-oneniner.
That matches the truck we’re expecting.”
Nate sat up and pushed his hat back. “All right, everyone.
Get ready—the cargo has arrived. We’ll give ’em a
few minutes, then move in after the truck has docked and
they’ve started unloading. Carter, Juan, you guys take the
front. Hernando, move to the back corner and keep an eye
on the truck. Ryan and I will circle around the block and
take them from behind.” He clicked off his radio. “All
right, George, get up here.” He leaned toward the door as
the stocky man clambered into the front seat.
“Damn two-door,” he muttered.
“Hey, do not insult the vehicle. This little son of a bitch
has gotten me through hell and back.” Firing the engine,
Nate pulled a U-turn and headed past the grocery store,
then turned right down the side street.
Hernando’s voice came over the radio. “Nate, I’m in
position. The truck just parked in the loading dock, and it
looks like our boys are in quite a hurry for some reason.”
“We’ll be there in thirty. Front team, you ready?”
“Give the word, and we’ll be inside in ten seconds.”
“Copy that. No one moves until my signal.” Nate turned
right again, aiming the Bronco down the alley toward the
auto parts store and pulling forward until he could just see
the white snout of the truck’s hood. Drawing his .40-
caliber HK P-2000 pistol, he chambered a round, waiting
until George did the same. “We’ll pull in front of the truck
as Carter and Juan sweep from the front, round everyone
up and be done with it. You remembered your vest, right?”
George thumped his chest. “You mean the thing I’m
swimmin’ in here? Hell, yeah.”
“Good man. Get ready.” Nate hit his radio. “Hernando,
are they unloading yet?”
“Looks like it.”
“Okay, follow us as soon as we’re in front of the truck,
and the three of us will go in together. Carter, Juan, on
The three other agents confirmed the orders, and Nate
slipped his SUV into gear, creeping down the alleyway
until he judged he was close enough, then flooring the accelerator.
The Bronco rocketed down the alley, and Nate
squealed to a stop in front of the truck, trapping it between
his vehicle and the building.
“Go, go, go!” he shouted. He yanked the key out of the
ignition and slipped out the door, running around the hood,
his cowboy boots slapping the pavement. George was
already covering the driver, and Nate headed around the
passenger side of the truck, seeing Hernando running down
the other side of the vehicle.
The truck had backed up to a concrete loading dock that
let people walk from the truck into the building without
climbing up. Approaching it at a full run, Nate leaped up
between the truck and the side of the building, squeezing
through the narrow gap, pistol first. “U.S. Customs agents.
The interior of the warehouse was large, easily several
thousand square feet, and was filled with rows and rows
of metal racks, stacked full of cardboard boxes and wooden
crates of every size. Five shocked men, all standing in a
line ready to relay the cargo into the warehouse, stared
back at him. The second-to-last man had just tossed a box
to the next guy, who had looked over in surprise, only to
have the heavy container smack into his chest, sending him
to the ground with a surprised grunt.
Nate heard the footsteps and shouts of his agents as they
came through the front door, but knew it would be at least
a minute before they secured the area and got to his
location. He knew that was plenty of time for something
bad to happen. He peered into the gloom, waiting for his
eyes to adjust and not liking what he saw. There was too
much cover where more men could be lurking, too many
shadows to hide people.
Nate’s gaze flicked over to the other side of the loading
bed, expecting his partner or Hernando to come barreling
through at any second. He turned back to the five men, three
of whom had put their hands up. Any day now, guys, he
thought. “Everyone down on your knees and raise your
hands—you know the drill.” He repeated the command in
Spanish, trying to keep all of the men covered. The man
farthest inside thewarehouse edged a step away, then another.
“Buddy, you take another step you’ll be missing your
knees something fierce,” he growled. Where the hell is
he? “Agent Ryan, report!”
A shadow fell over the other side of the loading dock,
and George Ryan forced his way inside. His face was red
and he was panting with exertion. “Sorry, bastard driver…
didn’t wanna…come outta the…truck. Hernando’s takin’
care of him.”
“All right, read ’em their rights,” Nate ordered. Keeping
his pistol trained on them, he walked to the other agent and
removed two pairs of handcuffs from his belt. “I’ll start
His pistol in one hand, George took the laminated
Miranda rights card out of his pocket and held it up. “You
have the right—”
The loud, unmistakable sound of a shotgun slide being
pumped echoed throughout the warehouse. Ducking, Nate
barely had time to yell “Get down!” before the dark interior
lit up with a booming flash as the scattergun let loose. He
twisted around to see George stumble and go down, a
cloud of buckshot tearing at his body. The five men scattered
in different directions as Nate squeezed off several
shots in the direction of the ambush.
“Shots fired, shots fired! Hernando, get in here, Ryan’s
down! Carter, Juan, watch for suspects coming out the
front!” Nate crawled over to George and dragged him behind
the nearest metal rack, his chest hitching as he struggled
for breath. He checked George’s vitals, seeing blood
stain his fingers. It looked as if the vest had stopped most
of the pellets, but at least two had penetrated. “You’re
gonna be all right, buddy,” he said.
The shotgun boomed again, and a shadow fell over Nate
as Hernando hit the floor beside him. “I called for backup and
the medics. Jesus, boss, what did you get us into this time?”
“Just the usual—hip-deep in shit.” Nate heard a flurry
of shots from the front of the store, and knew the other two
agents had bottled up anyone trying to leave—at least he
hoped that’s what was happening. Another boom from the
front made him wince. “Goddammit, these bastards are
fuckin’ with the wrong guys. Take the right, I’ll take left,
let’s see if we can pin ’em in a cross fire,” he said.
Hernando nodded and rolled over to a rack of crates,
rising and ducking into the shadows of the warehouse.
Nate checked George again, finding his breathing had
steadied. “How you doin’?” he asked.
“All right—just prop me against the jamb, and I’ll
cover the back.”
Nate nodded admiringly. He’s tougher than I thought.
“You got it. Let’s give ’em something to think about first.”
Sticking his pistol around the corner, he shot three times
toward where the shotgun blasts had erupted. He propped
George against the back wall. “Medics will be here soon
enough. Keep your powder dry.”
George coughed, but held his pistol steady. “Go get ’em.”
Nate fired two more rounds, reloaded, then ran to the
other side, hunching against the expected fire. Just as he
ducked behind the parts rack, the shotgun roared again, and
the corner of a wooden crate exploded into jagged splinters.
But the shot had given him valuable information—he
now knew the shooter’s location.
Nate looked up at the sturdy shelves around him and
decided to take the high ground. Holstering his gun, he had
just gotten a firm handhold when a shape barreled out of the
shadows toward him. Caught in the act of lifting himself up,
Nate had just turned his head when the man tackled him at
thewaist, shoving him off the rack and to the concrete floor.
The breath rushed out of Nate’s lungs, and pain stabbed
through his elbow and knee. Pinned by his attacker, he
couldn’t snake an arm around to his pistol, and was forced
to throw up his hurt arm to keep the man’s clutching hand
away his throat. Squirming, he ended up flat on his back,
with the attacker sitting on top of him and throwing wild
punches at his face. Dodging a swing that grazed his cheek,
Nate lashed out with his fist, clouting the man’s head so hard
he rocked back. The agent hooked his arm underneath the
smuggler’s leg and heaved him over. Rolling, Nate threw a
knee into the man’s chest, doubling him up, then scrambled
to his feet and slammed his opponent in the head twice with
his boot heel. The man struggled to his hands and knees, but
Nate put him right back down with another hard shot to the
back of the neck. He checked his pistol, then keyed his mike.
“Hernando, come in. Hernando, do you read?”
Nate didn’t even hear the hiss of static, but instead
caught a rattle of something broken inside the radio. He
dropped the useless device and hoisted himself up the
shelves while ignoring his throbbing elbow and knee.
Scrambling up and over the final row of boxes, Nate began
creeping in the direction he had last heard the shotgunner
fire from. It had now gone ominously silent.
Geez, I could really use that radio now, he thought,
since he had no idea who was dead or alive, who was shot
or not. He couldn’t even hear any sirens in the distance,
and wasn’t sure when any backup would arrive. For all he
knew, he was on his own.
He heard the noise as the shotgun slide racked again and
another boom thundered through the cavernous warehouse.
Nate homed in on the sound, climbing over the
uneven terrain of boxes and crates, his pistol always
pointing toward the direction of the shotgun fire. At one
point he had to leap from one rack to another. He barely
made it, dangling from one arm for a few tense moments.
When he was safely positioned again, he took a second not
only to listen, but also to try to calm his jackhammering
Should be close now, Nate thought, peering over the
edge to see if he could spot the gunner in the gloom of the
warehouse. In the sudden quiet, the faint scream of sirens
reached his ears, and he knew if they didn’t take this guy
soon, he would bolt. He reached the end of a row and
looked over again. Spotting a crouched form, he raised his
pistol and aimed, but pointed it toward the ceiling when
he saw Hernando moving cautiously through the racks.
Nate instinctively reached for his radio again, silently
cursing when he remembered it was on the floor. He considered
trying to get the other agent’s attention, but didn’t
want to risk giving away his position.
Standing slowly, he looked in all directions, wondering
where in the hell their common enemy was. The slam of
a door at the front of the warehouse drew his attention,
along with Hernando’s, and another loud blast echoed as
the jumpy shotgunner loosed more buckshot in that direction.
This time it sounded as if the guy was directly below
him, and Nate stepped to the far side of the rack in time to
see the man taking cover behind a pile of boxes, his scattergun
aimed at the end of the row. Nate glanced over to
see Hernando appearing from around the end, squinting to
see the smuggler in the gloom.
Nate extended his gun and yelled, “Drop it!” The shotgunner
blinked in surprise and raised the scattergun. Nate
squeezed the HK’s trigger twice and two 165-grain hollowpoints
smashed into the man’s chest, dropping him where
Hernando ran up and kicked the shotgun away as the
sirens finally echoed off the buildings as cars pulled up. “I
got mine on the other side. You?” he asked.
“Number three’s sleeping off a kiss from my boot up
front. The other two probably lit out for the front.” Nate
clambered down the rack, sliding the last several feet.
“Cuff him, and I’ll clear the store.” Running from rack to
rack, he reached the set of double doors, which now
sported several bullet holes and a spiderwebbed Plexiglas
window. “Carter? Juan?” he called out.
“In here!” Carter replied.
Still keeping his pistol ready, Nate eased the door open,
not wanting to walk into another ambush. The storefront
looked like a war zone, with damaged cardboard display
racks lying on their sides amid fluttering car-parts brochures.
A black puddle of oil slowly grew from rows of
blasted, leaking containers. As Nate walked forward, he
heard Carter’s voice counting steadily.
dammit, breathe! Where’s the damn medics?”
Nate ran through the racks to the far side of the store,
where the damage was even worse. The counter had taken
so many bullets and shotgun blasts that it had broken in
two, the pieces leaning against each other. An overhead fan
lazily stirred the smoky air. Nate spotted two bodies right
away, one behind the counter, the other near the door,
brought down while trying to make a break for it.
Seeing his two remaining men on the floor in the center
of the room, however, chilled Nate’s heart. Agent Juan
Menendez lay unmoving, his side a soaked mass of blood.
Next to him, his partner leaned over and performed chest
compressions, stopping after every fifth pump to breathe
into his partner’s mouth.
“We need those medics in here now!” Nate shouted
over his shoulder as he ran to them. “Stay on mouth-tomouth—
I’ve got this.” Locking his arms, he began chest
compressions, leaning in to drive the wounded man’s
breastbone down and manually keep his heart pumping
blood. “Come on, Juan, you still haven’t given me that
damn barbeque recipe yet, and I ain’t lettin’ you go until I
The two agents continued CPR until the medics arrived
a few minutes later, but Nate knew it was a lost cause. Juan
had shown no response to their ministrations, and even
electric shocks directly to the heart had done nothing. In
the end, the agent was taken out in an ambulance with the
lights flashing on its way to the hospital, but Nate was
pretty sure they would call it on the way. He put his hand
on Carter’s shoulder. “Sorry, man.”
“There’s still a chance—they might save him at the
“Yeah, he might pull through—Juan’s a tough old
bastard.” What else could he say? he wondered. “Come on,
we better get back and clean up the rest of this mess.”
He helped the shaken Carter through the ruined shop
and into the back room, where apparent chaos was unfolding.
Uniformed El Paso police officers were everywhere,
cordoning off the area, taking pictures and trying to keep
some semblance of order. “Aw, Jesus Christ.” Nate shook
his head as he surveyed the scene.
“Nate, over here!” George, who was being pulled out
on a guerney, was holding on to the side of the garage door
while the medic tried to dislodge his hands. “I didn’t want
to leave until you’d secured the scene,” the big man said.
“Okay, I’m here now, so settle down, George, and let
them take you to get checked out.” He made sure his
partner was on the way to the hospital, then turned to the
rest of the men and women on the scene, holding up his
badge. “Everyone listen up! I’m Customs and Border Protection
Agent Nathaniel Spencer, and this is my crime
scene, so would all of you please clear out so our guys can
process it, thank you very much!”
The police officers filed out, grumbling at missing out
on the bust. Nate and Hernando made sure all of them were
gone, then turned to the half-loaded truck.
“Well, let’s see what we got,” Nate said. Pulling on a
pair of latex gloves, he grabbed a crowbar and pried open
a large crate. The stenciled lettering on the side claimed it
contained a pair of automatic transmissions. Clearing out
the packing material, he saw two shiny metal casings, as
promised. He pushed one to see how heavy it was. The
round metal housing shifted easily under his hand. “Looks
like they’re importing something more than metal here.”
He scrounged up a wrench from the warehouse and unscrewed
bolts until the housing came apart. Instead of the
gears, clutches and bands that would have been inside a
normal transmission, this one was filled with dozens of
bags of white powder. “Hey, Carter, Hernando, take a look
at this.” The other two agents walked over. “Must be five
kilos in here easy, and more in the rest, I’ll bet. We got ’em
dead to rights.”
Hernando smiled and nodded, while Carter just looked
numb.They all glanced up as more footsteps approached, and
several other agents came in, including the crime-lab group.
One of the agents, a tall, bony redhead, took off his
mirrored sunglasses and surveyed the scene. “Heard something
about a war breaking out over here, and look who
we find—Shootin’ Spencer.”
“Aw, Billy, don’t be so sad—after all, you did arrive just
in time to help clean up,” Nate said. He held up a plastic
bag full of white powder. “And you certainly can’t argue
with these results.”
Billy Travis—the department’s hotshot until Nate had
arrived eighteen months earlier—snorted. “Maybe, but I
could have done the same job without sending two agents
to the hospital.”
Carter started at his words, but it was Nate who carefully
set the bag down and strode toward Travis. He was
intercepted by Hernando, who put a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, big guy, it’s not worth it.”
Nate shrugged him off and walked up to the other agent,
pinning him with his gaze. “You best take that cork out of
your ass and shove it in your mouth, ’cause if you ever
accuse me of being sloppy on a bust again, we’re gonna
have more than just words about it.”
Travis looked around for support, but Hernando and
Carter studiously ignored him, and the rest of the team
busied themselves with processing the scene. “You’re a
goddamn hot dog, and everyone knows it, Spencer. It’s
only a matter of time before you really fuck up, and I hope
to hell I’m there to see it,” he snarled.
“Well, son, you do what you gotta do, and in the meantime,
I’ll be busy doing my job. By the way, if you want
to see what twenty kilos of coke looks like—you know,
to refresh your memory—they’re in the truck there.”
Turning away from the other agent, Nate headed outside
to cool off. He pulled a battered cheroot from his pocket
and lit up, jetting the pungent smoke out of his nostrils.
Standing by the front of the truck, he climbed on the
external gas tank and peered into the cab. He shoved aside
a layer of fast-food bags and empty soda bottles, looking
for anything interesting. He found a clipboard with the bills
of lading on them, no doubt forged, and which should
match the numbers on the boxes in the back. He bagged it
and was about to jump down and give the board to a tech
when a soft beeping sound caught his attention.
Leaning back in, he cocked his ear, trying to pinpoint
where the noise was coming from. Running a hand
between the seat cushions, he was rewarded with the feel
of smooth plastic and withdrew a small handheld device.
“Looks like our smuggler got himself an e-mail,” he
muttered. Nate bagged that, as well, and walked back
inside the warehouse, finding one of the techs he trusted,
a short, stocky brunette named Claire.
“Do me a favor. Give me all the e-mails on this when
you have a chance—and don’t let the walking asshole over
there get wind of it, okay?” he said with a wink.
Claire nodded, and Nate turned to help with the rest of
the crime scene, throwing Travis a cheery false smile as
he did so. He had a feeling that the e-mails would take him
further up the smuggling chain—and while he loved to
bust the bad guys, it would be even sweeter to throw that
in Travis’s face, as well.
Look for AIM AND FIRE by Cliff Ryder on sale July 8, wherever books are sold!