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