Table of Contents
ALSO BY T. JEFFERSON PARKER
Summer of Fear
The Triggerman’s Dance
Where Serpents Lie
The Blue Hour
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.); Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England; Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd); Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd); Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India; Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd); Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, January 2011
Copyright © 2011 by T. Jefferson Parker
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
has been applied for
eISBN : 978-1-101-47546-1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Bride, Partner, Sister in Arms
“Charlie, Gravas here.
Reporting live from the Wild West.”
“Good to hear from you, friend.”
“My machine gun peddlers got a whiff of something. Me waiting there with my cash and meth like a dude with flowers and chocolates. They stood me up. How’s my Seliah?”
“She sounded great like she always sounds.”
“She doesn’t tell you how hard this is for her.”
“Neither do you.”
“I feel strong, and clear in the eye. I want someone bigger than those machine gun punks anyway. I want someone with heft. I’m making some contacts out here. I’ll get within spitting distance of Carlos Herredia if it kills me. Maybe I shouldn’t put it that way.”
“You’re where you need to be. And when it’s done you’re out and rolling home.”
“If Seliah needs something, she’s going to call you.”
“I keep coming back to her, don’t I?”
“You’re supposed to come back to her.”
“Gotta go now. Bad actors, incoming.”
“Vaya con Dios.”
“Yeah. I always go with God when I waddle around in hell.”
Just before sunset
the first bat fluttered from the cave and came toward him, wobbling and breeze-blown, like a black snowflake ahead of a storm. It rose and navigated between the trunks of the banana trees, then climbed into the magenta sky. Another flew, and then another.
The priest stood facing them, his feet together and his back straight and his hands folded before him. The reeking cave mouth yawned and the bats spilled out. He watched them come at him, then veer abruptly.
From the first few, he heard faint chirps but soon there were too many and all he could hear was their muffled flight. Then the air was heavy with them, a great dark blanket of membranous wings and small faces and tiny feet. One of them brushed his cheek and another glanced off his hair and another screeched at him in fear. Some of them dropped guano that tapped against his windbreaker but the priest stood motionless and let the flood of hair and skin rush past.
, he thought. He considered the centuries and still the flood rushed.
When it was over he stepped inside. The smell was stronger. He lit a candle with a plastic lighter. Before he spoke he cleared his throat as he would before the homily.
“Yoo-hoo, little creatures of the night. Father Joe, here to see you.”
His candle revealed the holdouts still hanging from the walls by their feet, wrapped like football fans, not in blankets but in their wings. Some of them squinted into the insult of the light; some shifted irritably like insomniacs, all snouts and elbows.
“Not quite feeling up to it tonight? The halt and the lame and the old and the sick. Feeling just a little off, are we?”
The priest strolled deeper into the darkness and the stench. A bat ran across his path, upright, wings raised overhead like a tiny man with an umbrella, looking back and up at him.
The priest stopped and held up the candle. A bat peered down from the wall and the man saw the glitter in its purblind eyes, the quivering, inquisitive expression on its face. The man cocked his head. The bat bared its teeth and screeched. The mouth was large for the face and the incisors were large for the mouth, and needle-like. The leafed nostrils were flared and its ears were enormous. The little animal began breathing faster, and it extended its wings and resettled them back around its body.
“Cold, my little friend?” The man saw the froth of saliva gathered at the chin, and when the bat sneezed the foam flew off.
The priest extended his free hand toward the animal. Again the bat bared its teeth and screeched but the priest didn’t move, and a moment later the animal crawled down the wall a few feet closer to him. It was a cumbersome movement, with the thumb hooks grappling for purchase on the rock, and the minute toes spread for traction, and the sheer wings clumsy and useless. “Come closer, little
I’m not going to climb up there to get you!” The bat clambered closer and the priest stood on his toes and offered his finger and the bat climbed on.
The priest relaxed and lowered both arms and studied the animal in the light. Its eyes were bright in spite of their weakness. The man blew a puff of breath onto the animal, rippling its thin fur and revealing the almost-human shape of the rib cage. The bat cringed and screeched and bared its teeth again, and in this the priest saw humankind’s embodiment of evil distilled into a single horrific face.
“Thank you,” said the priest.
He dropped the candle to the cave floor where the guano devoured the flame and left him in darkness supreme. He gently cupped the bat between thumb and forefinger, then put it in his windbreaker pocket, zipping it halfway for security and oxygen. Then he carefully picked his way back out of the cave.
Charlie Hood sat in
the ATF field station in Buenavista and watched the live-feed monitors. Hood was thirty-two, tall and loose, with an earnest face and calm eyes. He had been watching the screens for eight hours, doing his job for the ATF Blowdown task force. It was not pure excitement. He was on loan from the L.A. Sheriff’s Department but by now he had spent fifteen months in this often infernal, often violent, often beautiful desert. He liked this place and he feared it. He palmed another handful of popcorn from its paper container without taking his eyes from the screen.
Buenavista was a California border town with a population of thirty thousand and an elevation of twelve feet. The monitors displayed live feeds from a “safe house” in one of Buenavista’s nicer neighborhoods, three miles away. The Blowdown team called the house
. ATF had bought it on the cheap as a foreclosure, then wired it for sound and video. Hood’s friend Sean Ozburn, an ATF agent operating deep undercover as a meth and gun dealer, had arranged to have it rented as a home for four young gunmen of the North Baja Cartel.
The assassins ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-two, and ATF figured them good for thirty murders between them. Some in Mexico. Some stateside. Almost all business related, the business being recreational drugs. Sales of those drugs brought Mexico some fifty billion dollars a year—by far the single largest contributor to its economy.
Hood watched one of the pistoleros, Angel, standing in his kitchen while a pot of
warmed on the stovetop. Hood knew it was
because two nights ago he’d watched Angel prepare the pork for boiling. Now the pot was on the stove again and a tortilla was warming on one of the electric burners and there was a skillet of eggs going.
It was unusual for any of the young killers to be up this early but Angel was here in the kitchen and Johnnie and Ray were in the living room. Angel was the only one who ever cooked anything. He was a skinny little guy with a wisp of a mustache and an overbite. He stood still a moment and watched his own monitor, a little kitchen-size DVD player on which he watched nothing but American gangster movies. This morning it was
again, in Spanish, Angel at times mumbling along with Pacino, mimicking his expressions. A machine pistol with a noise suppressor and an extended magazine lay on the counter by the DVD player.
These guns had first come to Blowdown’s attention in Mexican crime scene photographs late last year. Nobody at Blowdown had ever actually seen one except possibly Hood, two summers ago, though he wasn’t totally sure at the time
he was seeing. He knew for certain that brand-new semiautomatic handguns were being packed for shipment at a Southern California gun factory. This he had confirmed with his own eyes. Then these illegally made guns had slipped away from Blowdown, right under their collective noses—one thousand gleaming new handguns, gone. Hood suspected they were headed south to Mexico.