Authors: Allison Brennan
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Women Sleuths
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Many people have helped me with the Lucy Kincaid series, and I greatly appreciate their time and effort in providing information, details, and support.
First and foremost, I couldn’t write this series without the support and guidance of my sharp-eyed editor, Kelley Ragland, and the entire St. Martin’s Press team. Special thanks to agent Dan Conaway who is my steady advisor.
The Lucy Kincaid series has been greatly enhanced by the continuing input from the good men and women of the Sacramento FBI office, in particular Special Agent Steve Dupre. He doesn’t blink, no matter what I ask, and has shown a knack for helping me brainstorm. Steve was the first one to explain how inter-agency warrant sweeps work. He also connected me with SA Michelle Lee in the San Antonio office which helped immensely as my character Lucy transitioned into her new assignment. And a very special thanks to SWAT Team Leader Brian Jones, who always includes me in training scenarios and introduced me to more men with guns than I dreamed possible. If there are any errors or omissions, it’s solely my fault.
The writing community is a warm and friendly place, and I want to give a shout-out to my brothers and sisters in the Kiss of Death chapter of RWA. When I put out a message for help with details about San Antonio—commute times, housing information, and the best place to get BBQ and Tex-Mex—I had a deluge of responses. If I didn’t pick your favorite place, know that it was because I didn’t get to taste-test all the fabulous possibilities.
My family has always supported my writing career, and without their support I wouldn’t be able to do what I love. My husband Dan has been a rock, understanding that writing is my true passion and knowing I need to put in the time. My kids have provided me with inspiration and laughs. And my mom has always been my first reader. Love you all!
The thin chain rattled against the metal cot when Michael turned from his side to his back. His sleep had been restless, minutes of deep slumber followed by heart-pounding moments of full alert.
He was sure tonight they would kill him.
His fists tightened until his nails dug into his callused palms. He’d never been prone to anger, but this last year had unleashed something inside him that he only subconsciously understood was a survival mechanism. Maybe it was because his father was a violent man, and Michael feared he was becoming the man he hated.
The key turned the lock at the top of the moldy wood staircase. He sat up and the chain rattled again. He froze. It was always better to be compliant. When there was an opportunity to fight or run, he would seize it.
The door opened, a tiny creak the only sound.
No light came from above, which meant it was still night. No stars or moon cast shadows down here. Night was a good time to kill. No one around to witness his last breath. His body could be thrown into a ravine and eaten by coyotes and vultures until there was nothing left but his chewed bones. Like Richie.
I’m so sorry, Richie.
After they tortured and killed him, they’d go back for the others, kill them now or let them die slowly. Maybe they were already dead. All because Michael had taken the box. Because he thought the box could buy their freedom.
“Boys should never play the games of men.”
The general’s voice teased Michael, made him squeak in fear even though the general was hundreds of miles away. He had the box back, but none of Michael’s blood brothers had been released. He’d killed Javier in front of Michael, as punishment. Javier’s pleas were forever burned into his memory.
“Save us, Saint Michael.”
Javier had prayed to the archangel, but looked at Michael. At that moment, Michael swore he’d rescue all of them even if he died in the process. He didn’t want to live, not after Javier and Richie, not after all the things he’d been forced to do. Except if he didn’t survive, who would know what had happened? What about the others? The ones still imprisoned and the ones who would be taken in the future?
The only reason he hadn’t died with Javier or Richie was that the general had a special job for him, a suicide job, that would, from what the other boys told him, punish the general’s enemies and take back territory the general believed belonged only to him.
This wasn’t gang warfare as Michael understood it. Michael had grown up on the rough side of San Antonio; he knew about drugs and gangs and how to steer clear of those who would stab you or shoot you just because they didn’t like the way you looked. He’d grown up with a father who worked for men like the general, and he’d seen the evil his father had done. He’d seen worse evil after his father went to prison.
The games of men
, the general had said.
This game was
, and the loser got death. A battle waged beneath the surface of the city. Everyone could see, but they were still blind to the truth. It was a battle even the police didn’t want to fight. They would lose because they had rules.
The longer he was alive, the better chance he had of saving his brothers. He had no one to trust, except the people who had once taken him in. If he could go there, they would believe him.
Would they? After a year they probably think I stole their money and ran away. They won’t believe the truth.
But if not Hector and Olive, who else?
The footsteps on the stairs were light. His body relaxed with relief. “Bella,” he whispered, before she flipped the wall switch that turned on the dim ceiling light. The switch he couldn’t reach when he was chained to the bed.
Bella stepped directly under it, her big brown eyes skittish, her light-brown skin pale.
“Michael,” she whispered with a Spanish accent, though she’d told him that, like him, she was an American.
Her little body shook, and she kept looking over her shoulder.
Michael’s anger returned. It was an anger that was taking over his body and soul. Sometimes, he thought that the anger was living and breathing inside him. He would become someone else if he lost the battle, but if he won the battle against his rage, he would be dead. Was that what people called a catch-22?
“Did someone hurt you?” he asked.
She shook her head rapidly. “Run away.”
He frowned. “What?”
She knelt at the foot of his cot and took a small key from her bathrobe pocket. She unlocked the chains that kept him there. They both jumped when the metal clanged, fearing discovery.
“Uncle Jaime is going to send you to the bad place. I don’t want something bad to happen to you, Michael.”
He almost didn’t believe that she was releasing him. Was this a trap? But he couldn’t see any scenario where it could be. Bella wasn’t supposed to be down here. It was her older sister, the girl who liked to hurt him, who was supposed to feed him and clean his bucket. But the girl was lazy and enjoyed bossing Bella around.
“Come with me,” Michael said without thinking. How would he care for a seven-year-old girl? How could he save his brothers if he had her in tow? Where would they sleep? When would they eat?
She moved away from him. “Everyone’s sleeping, but I don’t know how long. Mama seems to know when I’m not in my bed. Please, Michael. Just run far, far away. Maine is far away, I looked on a map.”
He smiled and stood. His muscles were sore, but he’d been exercising as best he could every day he was down here. He kissed the top of her head. “You are my sister, Bella, stronger than blood.”
“Michael, you are my brother. We are stronger than blood.”
Michael shook the vision of Javier from his memories. Javier was dead. Murdered.
The bastard who put a bullet in his head would pay. He had to. There had to be justice in the world for a boy who had done nothing to anyone.
“I’ll pray for you, every single day.” She crossed her heart the way little kids did.
Pray for him. Michael was done with praying. It hadn’t helped save Javier. It hadn’t helped save any of them. God had turned His back, if He was even there at all. Hector and Olive were wrong. They were all wrong.
Bella handed him a backpack. It was a small pink bag, worn, with blue denim patches. She’d filled it with food and water and a few crumpled dollar bills. He bit his lip, knowing what this backpack meant to her. “I can’t take this.”
“Go, go. Now. Before they wake up. They won’t know it was me, if I go right back to bed. Okay?”
He didn’t believe her, and he feared for the little girl, but he also feared for himself and for his brothers who were going to die if he didn’t cross the border to save them.
He reached for her hair. She flinched but didn’t move. He removed her barrette and twisted it. He scraped up the lock that had been around his ankle, then left the barrette on the end of the bed. “There,” he said. “Now they’ll think I did this on my own.” He hoped. “Be careful, Bella. Put the key back exactly where you found it.”
Then he left into the black night.
Two months of planning, two days for the execution, Operation Heatwave had commenced.
More than 150 police officers and federal agents from every major law enforcement organization coordinated to serve active warrants on violent criminals in the largest sweep to date in San Antonio, Texas. Newly minted FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid was thrilled to have been chosen to participate in the action, though it wasn’t a surprise—half the Violent Crimes Squad had been tagged. The sweep landed on her three-month anniversary as a sworn FBI agent; ever since her arrival in San Antonio ten weeks ago, she’d been working on this operation.
They were starting at five o’clock Saturday morning and would be working for sixteen hours straight, then start again at five a.m. Sunday. A separate processing center had been set up for those arrested in the sweep. The task force had processed over seven thousand active state and federal warrants to narrow and prioritize cases to those where they had verified intelligence on fugitives’ whereabouts, focusing on the most dangerous predators.
Lucy had been briefed and trained, but the execution was far bigger and more intense than she imagined. She and her team would serve the warrant, search the property, arrest the fugitives, and then turn them over to a patrol unit for processing while the team moved to the next target.