Friday, September 23, 2016

Exclusive Content for Wicked Obsession

Here's your first exclusive look at Chapter One of Wicked Obsession, the latest release in the New Orleans Connections series, which releases today.  This is book #8 in the series, although it can be read as a stand-alone, and you don't have to have read the other books to read and enjoy Wicked Obsession.  
The incessant ringing of the phone finally broke through Nate Blackwell's intense concentration, and he paused the streaming video, wiping the sweat from his brow.  A few drops still dripped into his eyes, the salt sting irritating him further.  Who in the hell would interrupt him at…he looked at the clock on the DVR…five thirty in the morning?  Any rational person would still be buried under the covers, wrapped in the arms of Morpheus, dreaming pleasant dreams.  Not him though.  He rarely slept these days, getting by on about four hours a night, if he was lucky. 
“What?”  At this hour, whoever it was didn’t deserve the courtesy of a polite greeting.  He picked up the towel he’d tossed onto the back of one of the bar stools lined up with military precision like little soldiers awaiting their orders, and wiped the sweat from his face, before running it across his bare chest. 
Every motion ceased at the sound of that voice.  Her voice.  One he hadn’t heard in over three years, right after she’d dashed every hope, every promise of the future he’d dreamed of and planned for—when she’d handed back his engagement ring. 
“Yeah, it’s me.” 
Something was definitely off.  Her voice sounded strained.  The woman he knew always had a happy-go-lucky brightness in her words.  Rarely unhappy, she’d been the bright spot in his life from the day he’d met her, yet this morning she sounded—wrong. 
“What do you need?”  He couldn’t stop himself from asking the question, knowing deep in his gut she wouldn’t have called him if it wasn’t important.  She’d sworn never to speak to him again on that rain-soaked afternoon in that Dallas high-rise where her father’s corporate offices resided, and where his life had come to a screeching halt. 
“I need to talk to you.  Can we meet?”
“Didn’t you hear?  I’m not in Dallas anymore.   When my company relocated, I went with it.”  How had she missed the news?  He’d have thought her meddlesome mother would have made a beeline straight to her before the trail of dust had settled behind his U-Haul trailer. 
“I know, that’s why I’m calling.  I’m in New Orleans.  Can we meet…please?”  He heard the imploring tone in her voice.  Bet that grated, having to come crawling to him when she’d been the one to walk out on their engagement. 
“Where are you staying?” 
When she rattled off the name of one of the higher-end hotels, he realized it wasn’t far from his place.  It might be vain, but he needed her to see how far he’d come up in the world since she’d discarded their engagement like yesterday’s garbage.  When they’d met, she’d been the pampered princess, born to one of Dallas’ finest families, with a silver spoon wedged tightly between her perfect lips.  He, on the other hand, had been a kid from the wrong side of Mesquite, Texas, whose single mother was raising four rambunctious boys while working two full time jobs, and squeezing her pennies so tight they screamed. 
“You’ll have to meet me at my place.”  He tossed it out like a challenge, waiting to see if she’d pick up the gauntlet.  He didn’t have to wait long.
“That’s fine, what’s the address?”
He rattled it off, along with the time to come over and hung up, wondering what kind of trouble she'd gotten herself into.  Not that she courted trouble—it just seemed to find her anyway. 
Heading toward the shower, he tossed his workout shorts into the hamper, turned the water on scalding hot, and stepped under its needle-sharp spray, hoping the shower would help wash away the impending feeling of doom seeping into his pores.  Because it was a sure thing—where Sheri went, trouble followed. 
# # # # #
Sheri paid the cab driver, and stepped out into the summer heat.  It was still early, yet the temperature was already in the high eighties and steadily climbing.  It reminded her of Dallas, where it could easily reach a hundred degrees by lunchtime in July and August. 
The address Nate gave her belonged to a large brick-fronted building on Canal Street, which appeared to have undergone remodeling.  The changes still managed to preserve its historic charm.  Definitely nothing like the small apartment he’d maintained in North Dallas when they’d first gotten engaged, a tiny one bedroom apartment that was little bigger than a studio, and she’d loved everything about it.  Looking at Nate’s new digs, apparently he’d come up in the world. 
The glass front door opened before she’d reached it, and Nate stood silhouetted in the opening.  Damn, he looked good.  If anything, he’d filled out, with sleek muscles rippling beneath the T-shirt and jeans he wore.  His dark hair was longer, with soft waves around his ears and neckline she suspected would curl if he didn’t keep it under rigid control.  He’d never worn it this long when they’d been together.
“It’s good to see you again, Nate.”
“Is it?”  She winced at his tone.  Looks like he hasn’t forgiven me.  Not that she blamed him—she’d been the one who’d broken his trust, and tossed away everything they had without giving him any explanation. 
“Let’s go inside, where we can have some privacy.  The rest of the crew will start showing up soon, and it can get a bit rowdy.” 
She followed him inside, taking note of the sophisticated reception area.  He must have some high-end clientele to afford a place like this.  “This is nice.” 
“Whole place belongs to my boss, Samuel Carpenter.  Carpenter Security Services has clients around the world.”
Her brow rose at the mention of Carpenter’s name. He was one of the movers and shakers in her parents’ social circle.  Although, truth be told, he was so far out of their league, he left them in the dust.  Though her parents would never admit it—they had too high an opinion of themselves, and their worth. 
“How long have you worked with Mr. Carpenter?” 
“Three years, since right after our breakup.”  Ouch—direct hit
She bit her lip at the feel of his hand against the small of her back.  The touch of his hand, even through the cloth, sent a little frisson of excitement through her—just like always.  There hadn’t been a single time it didn’t elicit a response, and she was afraid it always would. 
They rode the elevator up to the fourth floor, and walked down a hallway until they reached a door at the end.  Nate pushed it open without unlocking it.  Obviously he trusted the people living around him, if he kept his door unlocked.
“Nobody here’s going to steal anything, plus we’ve got the best security money can buy.”  He answered her unasked question, as if he’d read her mind.  But then again, he’d always been good at that, as she recalled. 
“This place is gorgeous.”  It truly was, with its open floor plan, the exposed brickwork, and hardwood floors gleaming in the morning sunlight.  Huge windows along two walls allowed sunlight to flood the east-facing apartment, meaning he got a lot of the early morning sunshine. 
“Want some coffee?” 
“Please.”  She hadn’t even stopped to make any this morning, too anxious to meet with Nate.  The nerves had assaulted her right after she’d hung up, and she’d been afraid if she took even the tiniest swallow, she’d have tossed it right back up.  And she loved her coffee. 
He walked into the kitchen, right off the huge living space, and she followed along silently, noting the high-end appliances, the dark cherry cabinets.  The light-colored granite was cool beneath her fingertips. 
“This is nothing like where we used to live, is it?”  She couldn’t hide the wistful tone in her voice, hoping he’d ignore it.  Now wasn’t the time to be taking a stroll down memory lane—she was here to ask for his help, not to reconcile, although it would be nice if they could at least be civil. 
She watched him pop a coffee pod into the maker, and place a mug beneath it, smelled the fragrant brew as it filled the cup.  Within no time, she had a fresh piping hot cup before her, and watched him pull a carton of milk from the fridge.  She felt a stinging warmth in her chest when she realized he’d remembered she always took a ton of milk in her coffee, though no sugar. 
She took a sip, waiting while he made his own cup, watching every movement.  Each was effortless and smooth, like everything else he did.  He’d always reminded her of a combination of two different people, one the happy and playful man she’d fallen in love with, and one a deadly predator, willing to lay down his life in defense of someone in need.  She prayed that was still the case—because she needed him. 
“Why are you here, Sheri?”  Nate peered at her over the rim of his cup, his brown-eyed gaze intense.  She knew better than to beat around the bush or try evasive tactics with him.  He didn’t tolerate it.  He might joke and tease, and sometimes flirt, but when it was time to get to business—he was all business. 
Gently placing her cup on the granite peninsula, she drew in a deep breath and wrapped her hands around the cup, feeling the warmth sink into her cold fingers.  It was time to open up and tell him what was going on, tell him the whole truth, even if it hurt.  Because she knew he would be hurt—devastated that she’d hidden the truth from him for so long—even if it had been to keep him safe.
“We need to talk about what happened three years ago, Nate.  It’s time you know the whole truth.” 
“I don’t want to talk about it.”  His words held a finality that chilled her to the bone, and she knew it was going to be an uphill battle to get him to understand, even if he didn’t agree with the choices she’d made. 
“We have to talk about our engagement, and what led up to me breaking it.”  She lowered her gaze, unwilling to see the hurt in his eyes.  Watching him walk away had nearly killed her, and she couldn’t bear to see the hatred she knew would reflect back at her. 
“If that’s what you came for, you might as well leave now.” 
“That’s part of it, but not the whole story.  I need you.”
The laugh that erupted from him was ugly and bitter, and she wanted to curl up in a ball and cry at the level of hurt he tried to hide.  But she’d come too far to back out now.  She was damned if she’d be a coward—never again. 
“You never needed me, sweetheart.  Go back to your parents and their money.  Hopefully it’ll keep you warm at night.” 
“I can’t go home.”  The finality in her tone must have finally gotten through to him, because he straightened from his lounging position against the sink. 
“What do you mean, you can’t go home?” 
“It’s not safe anymore.”
The way he placed his cup on the counter, so precise and gentle, should have clued her in, but she wasn’t firing on all cylinders.  She’d barely slept, and when she did it was barely enough to get her through the day.  Before she could blink, he’d grasped both her forearms, his grip solid, though not hurting.  He’d never hurt her—she’d bet her life on it.  She was—otherwise she wouldn’t be here now. 
“What the hell is going on, Sheri?” 
“Somebody’s trying to kill me.”


NOTE:  Links for iBooks and Google Play are pending and will be added as soon as they are available.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Greetings!  Wow, two releases within a week.  It has been a roller-coaster ride of excitement.  I wanted to share the first chapter of Saving Sarah with you.  This book releases on Thursday, 7/21/16 (or maybe late Wednesday).  I had a blast writing Ranger and Sarah's story and I hope you love reading it.  Here's chapter one.  
Gaston "Ranger" Boudreau stared at the encrypted message displayed in bold capital letters on his laptop screen. 
He'd barely had a chance to plop down on the sofa, having climbed out of his pirogue only moments earlier.  Walking into his camp, which was little more than four walls, a tin roof, and a floor, he'd paused long enough to toss the freshly caught fish into the metal sink, ready to be cleaned and cooked for his lunch. 
Then his damned gut instinct told him to check his messages. 
He wished he could've ignored that antsy feeling which forced him to cut short his fishing and head back to his tiny cabin deep in the bayou.  But he didn't—because he knew better. 
The encoded message was brief but succinct. 
That was it.  Four words that caused a gnawing hollowness deep in the center of his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger—no, it engendered an impending feeling of something momentous about to happen.  Like that subtle buildup of pressure when you're sitting on the edge of the deck watching an electrical storm approach, see the flashes of lightning arc across the clouds, smell the ozone waft on the breeze, and hear the deep growl of thunder, and you expect the lightning to strike precisely where you're sitting.  Yeah, that feeling.
Wolf wouldn't have contacted him if it wasn't an emergency, and Ranger owed him. 
Matthew "Wolf" Steel had saved his life.  He was forever indebted to the man, though if you asked Wolf, he'd say he was simply doing his job.  After the hell he'd been through in Afghanistan, Ranger had made a solemn vow to repay that debt—now Wolf was calling in his marker.
He tried to not dwell on that dark time when he'd almost lost all hope, sitting in a bombed-out shell of a house on the outskirts of a crap-hole in Afghanistan, waiting for an extremist faction of the Taliban to execute him.  Instead, he did his damndest to put it behind him. 
Except in my nightmares
Still, it looked like Wolf planned on calling in the chip he owed him and his team.  One he'd pay, no matter the cost.  He owed them, and a Boudreau never shirked his debts.  Gator Boudreau, his daddy, taught him and his brothers from the time they were knee high to a grasshopper that you always pay your debts.  Otherwise you're no better than a coward and a liar.
Frowning, he pulled up the encryption program Tex had installed in his e-mail browser and shot a reply back to Wolf.  It didn't matter what the man wanted, he got it.  No questions asked. 
Within seconds, he heard the ping of the answering e-mail. 
Must have been waiting for my response. 
The only words in Wolf's reply were a date, time, and address in the French Quarter.  The simple fact it was in his neck of the woods had Ranger more than intrigued.  What happened to bring Wolf to The Big Easy? 
Born and raised in Orleans Parish, Ranger knew both the city and its surrounding bayous and parishes like he knew his own name.
He wouldn't ask the man outright, though.  As a fellow Navy SEAL, Wolf played his cards close to the vest, and would tell him what he needed to know when they met up.  Glancing at the corner of the screen, he noted the time.  Per Wolf's instructions, their meet-up would take place in just under four hours at a local bar on the backstreets of the French Quarter. 
Not a bad place to meet.  Wolf could play up the whole tourist angle without raising any suspicions, and keep a low profile at the same time. 
Since he'd come home after the FUBAR in Afghanistan, Ranger kept mostly to himself, out at his camp hidden in the depths of the swamp.  Stayed isolated.  Except when his busybody family decided he'd been alone too long and showed up unannounced and dragged him back to civilization.  Lately that seemed to mean just about every Friday night, playing and singing on the street corners in the touristy section of the French Quarter.  Man, his daddy loved making music.  Didn't matter who was listening.  Music fed something in his soul, he always said.
Ranger stood and stretched, heard the audible clicks as his joints popped.  Yeah, he'd been cooped up far too long.  An afternoon down in The Quarter might be just the ticket to ease his boredom. 
But first, he needed to shower because he was rank.  Grabbing the fish he'd caught earlier, he made quick work of gutting them before tossing the filets into the small generator-run ice chest beside the sink.  Barely big enough to keep his beer cold, it would handle the three fish until he got home to cook 'em. 
A short time later, he'd showered and shaved, electing to pull his hair back with a piece of leather.  It had grown out a lot since leaving the military and the rest of his SEAL team behind.  The dark length came in handy when he didn't want people staring at him or the long jagged scar decorating the right side of his face.  Angling toward the dim light, he studied the scar running from the edge of his eyebrow, where it bisected his cheek, and ended right above the corner of his lip.  He'd been damned lucky not to lose his eye. 
Should he stop at Gator's place on the way?  If anything was brewing in the area, chances were good his daddy would have the heads-up.  The man knew everybody, from the fat-cat politicians to the homeless vets living hand-to-mouth down on the waterfront.  If even a whiff of something was going down in New Orleans, word always got back to Gator Boudreau.
No, he'd wait.  Talk to Wolf.  The SEAL would provide the intel needed to get the job done—whatever it was.  But that burning, insistent pinging in the corner of his brain, the one he associated with trouble coming?  It had been building for days and now blared like a red alert siren. 
Steering his boat to the rented dock space he kept handy year round, he climbed out, tied off, and headed for the rendezvous point Wolf had picked.  The bar he chose wasn't dead center of all the activity and nightlife.  Instead, it was a place frequented mostly by locals, though a few tourists sometimes ambled through its doors looking for local flavor.  They didn't hang around long.  Lucky, the owner, set them straight pretty quick. 
Taking a deep breath, he absorbed the unique smells of the city he called home.  A myriad of scents assaulted his senses.  The over-arcing brine of the Mississippi flavored everything, like a layer of salt coating the back of the throat.  Ever present, always in the background, as familiar as his favorite pair of jeans.
Then there was the yeasty smell of the bakery at the end of the block.  Fresh French bread baked to order all day long, along with croissants and fancy pastries.  Floral notes from the flower shop blended into the mix.  Exhaust fumes from the busy streets and the docks never seemed far away. 
Smells like home.
Weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic got a little trickier the farther he walked.  Tourists congested the sidewalks at the outer edges of The French Quarter, and he maneuvered around them with predatory ease.  When his path got too obstructed, he detoured around a corner and took an alleyway between buildings.  It wasn't long before he stood at the back door of Lucky's, the hole-in-the-wall bar that was today's rendezvous point. 
Lucky's bar wasn't some chic New Orleans hot spot.  It wasn't on any list of tourist attractions, though it had been around for decades.  Nope, it was the kind of place men like him frequented when they wanted a cold beer and a distinct lack of conversation. 
The bar's scarred and pockmarked wooden floors had seen customers come and go for the last ninety years.  Though gouged and rough in spots, the golden brown patina felt warm and welcoming.  Huge plate glass windows heavy with painted advertisements fronted onto the street, where people strolled past, intent on seeing the sights of the touristy part of The French Quarter.  Lucky's didn't broadcast its location with fancy neon lights or huge signs trawling for customers.   Lucky claimed the garish neon was too pretty for his place.
Ranger looked around the half-empty bar, scoping out the dark corners for Wolf or any of the other guys from his SEAL team.  He'd met them all during the rescue, except Tex, though he'd talked to the man several times since he'd been back stateside.  Another SEAL, Tex had stayed behind and coordinated the extraction of him and his teammates.  Ranger respected each of the men who'd helped save their lives, and brought home the ones who hadn't been so fortunate.  Not a single member of Wolf's squad was here in the nearly empty bar.
Knocking his knuckles against the huge wooden bar top, he got Lucky's attention and within seconds held a longneck bottle in his hand.  With a practiced ease that came almost second nature, he checked out the smattering of tables spread out throughout the right half of the bar.  Some held bikers wearing leather jackets and a lot of attitude, but they kept mostly to themselves and weren't causing any trouble—yet.  A couple of dock workers sat at another table, nursing longnecks, and one couple doing their best Hoover imitation rounded out the motley crew. 
He eased his tall frame into a chair in the farthest corner from the front door, his back against the wall, leaving a clear line of sight to both the front and back entrances, and twisted off the cap of his beer.
Long minutes passed with only the occasional straggler coming through Lucky's front door.  If he hadn't had that itchy feeling at the back of his neck, he'd have chucked it all after the first hour and headed home. 
But he didn't.  Couldn't.  Something big was headed his way—that damned psychic connection of his was buzzing, though he hated when it didn't give him anything concrete.  This lousy ephemeral woo-woo crap was for the birds.  Give him solid, concrete, hold-it-in-your-hands proof and he was a happy camper. 
Still, he couldn't discount his gut instincts, or whatever anybody called it.  They'd never let him down.  And the one time he hadn't paid attention, he and his entire team ended up in a bombed out hovel, surrounded by Taliban gunmen.  He didn't plan to make the same mistake twice.
A flash of light shone on the worn and gouged wooden floor of the bar as the front door eased open, but that wasn't what caught his attention.  It was the gorgeous brunette framed in the battered wood opening that held him mesmerized. 
Dressed in ragged jeans and a faded AC/DC T-shirt, there wasn't anything extraordinary to make her stand out from the crowd.  Except he knew, with a deep down, positive-to-the-bone certainty, she'd come to Lucky's to meet him. 
She slid off the dark glasses shading her eyes, and plunked them on top of her head.  From this distance, he couldn’t tell what color they were, but strangely found himself certain they'd be blue. 
Ranger watched her scan the room.  Yep, the woman definitely had a specific target in mind, and he had a sinking feeling he knew exactly who she searched for.  When their eyes met, he was positive. 
Wolf isn't coming.  Instead, he'd sent this raven-haired beauty.  Although casually dressed, she didn't seem the type to visit seedy biker bars.  Lifting the beer to his lips, he took a long pull, his eyes never leaving her.  Noted the second her eyes spotted him, partially hidden in the darkened corner. 
With determined steps, she strode across the floor, marching in a direct path toward him.  He couldn't help noticing the enticing sway of her hips as she crossed the floor.  An unconscious, sensual movement as she walked in his direction.  He found his eyes wandering upward, pausing on the lush breasts outlined by the old rocker T-shirt.
When she reached his table, she stared without saying a word.  He knew what she saw, though he admired she didn't flinch when she noted the scar.  A lot of people weren't so diplomatic.
"Are you Gaston Boudreau?"  Her voice held a husky tone, and sent a curl of need straight to his gut.  Damn, he'd been out at his cabin too long if he got turned on simply by hearing a woman speak.
"That's me."  He motioned to the chair across from him.  She slid onto its hard surface with an elegant grace that definitely didn't match the normal clientele of Lucky's. 
"Matthew Steel sent me."  She dug into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a folded envelope, creased and a little worn, though he noted the seal was intact.
"I…this explains everything."  She laid the envelope on the scarred tabletop, sliding it closer to him.  His name was scrawled across the front in bold black letters. 
"No.  Before I open that," he pointed to the envelope, "I want to know why me?" 
She drew in a deep breath and he found his eyes locked on her breasts again.  And some damn fine ones they were too.  Full and round and most definitely not silicone enhanced.  Leaning forward, she placed both hands on the tabletop and stared into his eyes.
He'd been right—her eyes were a startling ice blue, a striking combination with her midnight-dark hair.  A nimbus of light surrounded her in a haloed effect, the dappled sunlight streaming in through the large front window silhouetting her in golden rays.
His stomach knotted until it felt like he'd taken a punch to the gut.  Not a physical blow, but a metaphysical one, because he knew as surely as he knew his name she belonged to him.  No doubts, no questions. 
Love at first sight was for suckers and losers, and he didn't believe in it for one damned second.  But a single word circled around in his brain, echoing over and over until he didn't hear anything but it.
"Mr. Boudreau, I've documented everything inside that envelope.  It explains precisely why…"
"I'm sure it does, but I want you to tell me.  Why are you in New Orleans, and what in the hell do you need with me?"
Her blue eyes met his head on, no evasion, no pretense.  "I need you to save my life."

RELEASING 7/21/16 at  This is an Amazon exclusive, part of Susan SToker's Special Forcers:  Opeartion Alpha Kindle World.  Link to the book will be posted as soon as it is "live."  



Monday, July 18, 2016


Deadly Justice, New Orleans Connection Series #6 is now available at all vendors.

I wanted to share with my readers an exclusive look at Chapter One -- available here.

Brownsville Texas
Samuel Carpenter held the night vision goggles up to his eyes, watching intently.  He waited, every muscle in his body tensely coiled, ready to spring at a moment's notice.  He'd waited for this night for what seemed like years, and his DEA team, along with the feds, planned to shut down one of the biggest drug operations in South Texas. 
Every fifteen minutes another car slowly wended its way along the broken asphalt alleyway with its rutted potholes and grooves.  Scraggly weeds poked through the cracks beyond the falling down chain link fence, until the roadway merged onto the newly paved parking lot of the public storage facility.  A secondary gate in the rear of the lot led to rows of locked units, accessible only with a key card.   Perfect for the operation he was orchestrating tonight. 
This gateway wasn't for everyday renters' use.  When the property changed hands eight months earlier, customer access became limited to front-of-building units only.  The back gate remained locked to the general public.  Carpenter bit back a grin.  No, this entrance was for V.I.P. clientele only, and tonight he had plans to greet them in a manner they wouldn't soon forget. 
Street view was obscured from the rarely-used back alley by the last row of smaller rental units, sporting a pristine coat of white paint.  Those units sat empty, though each gave the appearance of being in use.  Shiny padlocks or combination locks graced the hasps of each.  They were only for show, because his team had opened every unit, replacing the locks without anybody being the wiser. 
The DEA had finally caught a break when a low-level snitch ratted out the owner, who had a nasty habit of turning off CCTV cameras whenever enough money changed hands to make it worth his while.  The slimy weasel had no idea his business was about to be seized by the DEA and ATF. 
Plastic wrapped bundles of marijuana hit the concrete floor with a distinctive thud.  Enough packing tape covered them that nothing spilled free, a good thing considering the potential flood of cash each one represented. 
Carpenter's whole body tensed.  Tonight was the night.  The intel they'd received was spot on.  Even without the night vision goggles, he could make out the four small rental trucks parked by the north wall of storage lockers, their engines idling.  The lift gates stood wide open while men loaded the plastic wrapped packages of marijuana into specially designed niches embedded within the walls of each truck. 
These weren't run-of-the-mill trucks. They'd been purchased and custom redesigned with special, neatly hidden side panels, where the drugs easily slid out of sight, virtually invisible to the naked eye.  Unless you knew where to look
The logo of a national rental truck chain was displayed on each one, making it indistinguishable from any other moving van on the city streets.  Well, other than the fact each one of these truck contained millions of dollars' worth of drugs and illegal weapons. 
Carpenter motioned for his partner to monitor the truck on the far right.  Enrique Chavez's crew was making fast work of unloading each car as it pulled in.  Within minutes the hubcaps and undercarriages were stripped of illegal contraband.  Trunks were disassembled, the deep wheel wells that normally held spare tires overflowed with illegal automatic weapons.
Tonight's operation was a joint bust for the DEA and ATF.  They'd surveilled Chavez's operation in the border town of Brownsville for the last several months, scoping out his routes and local business connections. 
The man seemed untouchable.  Every time they set up an op, he'd shut down his crew and close shop, only to reopen in another area where the grass was always greener and people greedier. 
This was the closest they'd come to putting a major dent in his cartel in…forever.  Tonight they'd take down one of his major footholds and put a solid crimp in his business.  It would take him months if not years to recover from the blow, not only to his organization but to his reputation in the cartel.  Carpenter wouldn't be surprised to find out Chavez had been made an example of by his bosses—but that would have to wait until they busted his operation wide open.
The only thing that would make things perfect was if Chavez himself was present and they could arrest his sorry ass.  Carpenter was convinced with a haul this big, the slimy weasel would show up in person, but so far only his second-in-command, Luis Avila, was here calling the shots.
Webster signaled he was in place.  The rest of their team stood by, waiting for his go command.  Hand raised, he paused as another set of headlights pulled up in front of the open storage unit's door.  The high beams of the huge black SUV outlined the men scurrying about in a well-organized, controlled chaos.  Two of the four trucks were nearly full, the others at least two-thirds, the drugs tucked away in the hidden panels, and the weapons crated and secured in specially designed wooden boxes.
Carpenter's heartbeat raced when Enrique Chavez stepped from the passenger side of the SUV, and his breath hitched in his chest.  Adrenaline roared through his bloodstream, so potent he felt almost lightheaded. 
Son of a bitch.  He's here!  He didn't dare look at Webster, his partner with the DEA for the last eighteen months.  Webster was the actual team leader for this operation, though he wanted Carpenter to get the credit for bringing in Chavez. 
He'd felt a moment of kinship with his boss he hadn't felt before.  It was unheard of for Webster to relinquish any aspect of an op to a subordinate.  When he'd joined the DEA five years earlier, he'd worked his way through the ranks, doing the grunt work right alongside fellow agents.  He'd earned the nickname The Ghost from his teammates, because he could get in and out of places nobody else could access.  He was a chameleon, comfortably blending in with ease among both the lowlife dealers or the rich and famous.  Whatever it took to get the job done. 
Chavez sauntered through the oversized unit, pausing long enough to watch a P.O.S. Ford with rusted side panels and a busted headlight get stripped down to its rims, his lips curving up like the Cheshire cat.  Standing at just over five foot six, he was a cocky little rooster.  A bully with a mean streak who'd smile at you while putting a bullet between your eyes or a knife in your gut.  He ruled his little territory through fear and intimidation, his iron fist quick to strike at any minor infraction.  Rumors abounded he'd sold his own little sister into prostitution at twelve to finance his first big score. 
At least ten men bustled about, boxing up the weapons and stacking the drugs, their movements quick and efficient, though to the naked eye it seemed chaotic.  With Chavez and whoever had driven him, that made a total of twelve.   He had Webster, his DEA team of three, two additional ATF agents and himself.  Seven armed DEA and ATF agents against a dozen armed men.  Seemed like fair enough odds. 
With a wave of his hand, he gave the signal.
"Drug Enforcement Administration.  You're all under arrest." 
"ATF, lay down your weapons."  That shout came from behind him.
Pandemonium erupted.  Carpenter's team flooded into the warehouse, guns drawn, intent on taking down everybody involved in the operation.  The cornered men scattered like rats caught in the beam of a flashlight, darting for any hidey hole they might slip through, darting behind crates and vans, trying to escape into the darkest corners.  His team proceeded into the confined space exactly like they'd practiced, each man covering their assigned area, which left him free to pursue his target.  Carpenter heard the shots fired behind him, but his sole focus was Chavez.  Slapping the cuffs on the smarmy bastard would be his privilege. 
Grunts of pain echoed as more shots were fired.  His men were doing their jobs, which left him free to—
He froze when he felt cold steel press against the back of his skull.  Ah, hell no.  An eerie quiet settled over him and he raised his hands, his SIG Sauer held up by one finger.  A black gloved hand reached around him to snatch it, then Chavez strutted forward, puffing on a fat cigar.  
"You're screwed, my friend."  The heavily accented American words sounded strange coming from the cocky little bastard.  "How does it feel to be betrayed by your own man?" 
What?  Nobody on his team would…
The black gloved hand who'd confiscated his weapon.  His team wore all black.  Chavez's men didn't need gloves.  With a sense of the inevitable, he slowly turned and stared at Richard Webster, Glock steady as it pointed at his head.
"Why?"  Does it matter?  His best friend had turned on him, and he'd rather Webster shoved a knife between his ribs than realize the son of a bitch betrayed him.  Taking a deep breath, he looked around, spotted the five black-clothed bodies of his team lying on the concrete floor.   Dead?
"Why not?"  Webster replied, holstering his weapon.  He didn't need it now.  Chavez's men had a dead bead on him and a front row seat to this fiasco.  At least six of Chavez's men held pistols trained on him.  Kevlar vest or not, he wouldn't survive that many gunshots. Hell, one bullet to the brain would do the trick.
"You never do anything without a reason, Webster.  It's not in your nature.  You're a plotter, a planner.  This is too well-orchestrated to be spur of the moment.  So, what, you're in Chavez's pocket?" 
Webster threw his head back and laughed like it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.  "You're such an idiot.  I'm not in Chavez's pocket.  He works for me.  Who the hell do you think fed him the info every time he was about to get busted?  Me.  Damn, you really are clueless."
At Webster's nod, two sets of hands grabbed him from behind and he struggled against their hold.  With a smirk, Webster caught his hands and stripped off the black gloves he wore, then shoved a different SIG Sauer into his hand. 
"What the hell are you doing?" Carpenter asked, although he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach he already had the answer. 
"The SIG in your hand is the weapon used to take out your entire team.  Nope, don't even try, the clip is empty, so you can't shoot me."  Webster chuckled and it took every ounce of discipline to keep from trying to kick his teeth down his throat.  He jerked against his captors' hold, but they didn't budge an inch. 
"It's been truly pathetic watching you with your goodie-goodie Boy Scout mentality, thinking you could make a dent in trafficking in South Texas.  Stupid fool.  Nobody will ever stop it, not when there are so many people practically lining up to buy.  Pot, cocaine, meth, heroin.  That's where the real money is.  It's all about supply and demand, Sammy.  Junkies demand and we," he waved between himself and Chavez, "supply." 
Webster held out his hand and Chavez handed over what looked like a sandwich baggie containing an uncapped hypodermic inside.  Peeling away the plastic, Webster held up the syringe, its barrel filled with an unknown golden-hued liquid.  Handling it with care, his black gloved fingers depressed the plunger, and a drop of liquid pearled at the tip. 
"Best stuff money can buy, Sammy.  It's too bad, really.  If you'd been a little more flexible, we could have worked together.  Kept the DEA in the dark and made a bloody fortune.  A couple of years and we could've been living like kings in the South Pacific." 
Webster gestured toward him, and one of the goons shoved Carpenter's sleeve up past the elbow. 
"No!"  He couldn't stop the single word from spewing forth.  No matter how hard he struggled, he couldn't budge.  Immobilized, Webster yanked his arm forward, and plunged the needle into his vein.  One quick press on the plunger, and it was over. 
The SIG fell from his limp hand onto the cold concrete beneath his feet.  A strange warmth flooded his body and he knew whatever Webster'd shot him up with was invading every cell.  Whether a fast-acting poison or heroin, it didn't matter.  He'd be dead within minutes anyway, because Webster was too smart to leave him alive. 
"It's too bad you took out your whole team, Sammy.  This crap really fries your brain, and it looks like you've sampled too much of the product you're supposed to be stopping.  Just one more thing to take care of and then I'll let you rest."
Webster placed the syringe into Carpenter's hand and made sure his thumb print was on the end of the plunger.  Prints to prove I injected myself.  The man was nothing if not smart, and knew how to cover his bases.  Then Webster reached down and picked up the SIG Sauer he'd forced Carpenter to hold minutes earlier.  He slid out the magazine and put it into a pocket, and pulled out another one, identical to the first he'd pocketed.  He forced the clip into Carpenter's hand, and wrapped his fingers around the outside.
"Have to make sure your prints show up nice and tidy on all parts of the weapon, don't we?"  With his vision growing fuzzy, Carpenter watched as his former partner slid the clip into the gun and chambered a round. 
"Sammy, I'm gonna need you to pull the trigger.  You have to have gunshot residue on your hands for the cops to believe you took out your teammates.  That's right, slide your finger onto the trigger.  Good boy." 
Carpenter tried to raise his hand and point the gun at Webster, but there wasn't enough strength in his arm.  It felt like it was attached to his shoulder by rubber-bands and dangled uselessly at his side.   
Webster tutted.  "Here let me help you."  He stepped behind Carpenter and brought his arm up, shoulder high.  "There we go, Sammy.  Are you ready?" 
"Sure you are.  You do this one little thing, and then you can lie down and take a nice long nap, 'kay?" 
Inside his head, Carpenter heard himself screaming.  The echoes rang inside his brain, but only garbled nonsense emerged from his lips.  Webster's hand wrapped around his, finger pressed against his index finger. 
In a move faster than he could anticipate, Webster swung the gun straight at Chavez's laughing face, and squeezed Carpenter's finger onto the trigger.  The gun jerked in his hand.  He felt the recoil, watched the bloom of red spread across Chavez's chest where he'd been struck.  Droplets of blood splattered through the air.  The impact knocked him backward, off his feet, and Chavez's head hit the concrete with a sickening thud.  Sightless eyes stared upward, empty and devoid of any sign of life.
The SIG slid from his hand onto the ground at the same time his knees buckled.  He slid in an inglorious heap onto his knees, head lolling on his shoulders.  Blinking, he struggled to bring his surroundings into focus.  A dark shape shifted and wavered in front of him.
"Well, Sammy, I'd say it's been fun, but you've been a real pain in my ass from day one.  All the big boys at the DEA are going to be so disappointed their rising star turned out to be just another junkie, looking for his next fix."
"You're gonna…rot in…hell."  His tongue felt huge and thick within his mouth.  He could feel his lips moving, and wondered if anything he'd said even made sense.
"I'm sure I will, Sammy, but you'll be there long before me.  Have a good life—what's left of it."  With that, Webster's shadowy figure made a motion with his hand, and he felt a burning pain in his thigh, felt something warm spill across his skin as the bullet slammed into him.    
His eyes didn't seem to be working right.  He couldn't focus, and all he made out were blurry, shadowy blobs moving away.  One of them was Webster, escaping with the rest of Chavez's crew, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do.
"You'll pay…I swear…you're gonna pay…"
The slamming of car doors was the last sound Carpenter heard before surrendering to the blackness. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

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