Authors: T. Jefferson Parker
Summer of Fear
The Triggerman’s Dance
Where Serpents Lie
The Blue Hour
The Border Lords
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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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, Auckland 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 2012
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Copyright © 2012 by T. Jefferson Parker
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Parker, T. Jefferson.
The jaguar : a Charlie Hood novel / T. Jefferson Parker.
1. Hood, Charlie (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—California, Southern—Fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
Set in Sabon Lt Std.
Designed by Leonard Telesca
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.
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For Those Who Make the Music
Every hundred feet the world changes.
HE BLACK VAN ROLLED ACROSS
the barnyard in the rain and stopped beneath an enormous oak tree. It was a large vehicle but under the canopy it was poorly visible, a dark shape within greater darkness. From it the men spilled and advanced quietly to a stable where they paused, then to the flank of the barn, then in single file to the ranch house where they pooled in the overhang of the deck.
Upstairs a young man watched through a window as he buttoned on his jeans. He saw the dull glint of the van under the tree and men snaking through the night. He counted ten of them. He looked back across the bedroom at his security monitors but they told him that the gate had not been breached and none of the doors or windows of the outbuildings had been disturbed. No warning indicators, no audio alerts. Yet this. The dogs were kenneled for the storm. The rain belted the roof and he saw the silver lines of it slanting outside the windows and he understood that he might die here tonight but she did not have to. He was twenty-one years old.
He went to her and put a hand over her mouth and rocked her upward from sleep as he whispered.
Men are here.
Men with guns. We only have seconds, Erin. Get up now. Please.
How can this happen?
They beat the security. Up. Hurry. We have our plan.
She let out a small cry and held his hand tight and pulled herself up and out of bed. In the near darkness he put his arm around her and walked her across the suite and down a hallway and into another room lit by a faint nightlight. Her shoulders were white and her hair was red. Outside the wind hit the walls and the rain raked down upon the world. He let go of her and slid open the door of a walk-in closet and threw a hidden switch. The interior pivoted away with a motorized hum and was replaced by an alcove with a leather recliner and a fire extinguisher and a small refrigerator and a rack of weapons along one wall.
He kissed her and pressed a hand against her middle and felt the slight warm bulge through her nightgown.
I love you, Erin.
I love you, Bradley. Is this a nightmare? Why us? I hear things downstairs.
I’ll handle it. You wait here and I’ll come to you by moonlight. Like in your song. This is a promise. Hurry.
He guided her by the hand into the alcove. She sat on the recliner and he kissed her and pushed the switch and they held hands and gazes until Erin glided away and was gone. Bradley pulled the silenced machine pistol from the upper shelf and slung it over his shoulder, then took another and pushed off the safety and trotted back out into the hallway.
He heard feet on the stairs. He backed away from the balustrade and when the first man came up and looked from under the brim of his helmet Bradley shot him and he arched back down into the stairwell. Another followed and Bradley shot him also but three more boiled up hydralike, shoulders hunched and faces down, and Bradley sprayed them but they surged toward him while he loosed his last few rounds and raised the second gun.
They knocked him over just before he could fire and pinned his
arms to the floor. More men piled on. He expected their knives but he could barely move beneath their weight. He could smell their bodies and their breath and the gunpowder in the air and he could feel the hard ballistic armor that crushed down on him and none of his clawing or tearing or biting could damage that armor or the men inside it.
They grunted and cursed in Spanish and they kept their voices low and they had not fired a shot. He felt his lungs being squeezed empty and still the men were piling on, heavier and heavier upon him until the last spark of his breath flickered and he could not catch it. Bradley thrashed and grunted against them. He entered the darkness cursing them and he heard their voices above his own—profanities and nervous laughter.
He awoke and opened his eyes and saw nothing but black. He was on his back and tried to sit up but hit his head on something just a few inches from his face. He touched it with his hands: fabric over metal. There was a smell he knew. His knees were bent and he tried to straighten them but the space was too small. When he tried to raise them they too hit the low ceiling and Bradley felt the panic gathering in his body. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Breath, sweet breath. Calm. The panic sat and waited. Bradley had always suffered in close places—in sleeping bags and crowded elevators and below decks—as had his mother and their ancestors deep into history.
He reached out and felt the curve of his enclosure and the smallness of the space. He heard one of the terriers yapping. I’m in the barn, he thought. His fingers found a plastic crate and when he got a hand into it he felt the familiar air compressor with its power cord wrapped snug around the bottom, and the spray can of tire treatment that smelled of cherry, and the rubber blade of the window wiper. The
Cyclone, he thought: I’m in the trunk of my old Cyclone, in the barn. Nineteen seventy, aftermarket trunk release.
The panic launched and Bradley shoved the crate away and braced both hands on the lid and pushed mightily but it did not give. He wriggled over onto his front side and got his knees under him and he drove his back up into the top. He felt the muscles of his thighs and groin flaring but the lid was unmoved. He turned over, breathing fast and hard, strangling on the closeness. Sweat ran off his face and neck and he felt it accumulating in the cleft below his larynx. He wondered how much oxygen was left. He heard voices from above him. He tried to calm his heart and listen to them but he could not.
The panic came again and he chopped at the ceiling with both elbows but the ceiling did not give. He flipped over again, and again drove his back against the lid but the trunk was Detroit-built and it gave not even the smallest sign of coming open. So he pushed up on his young strong arms, arms that could easily press his own weight and more, but they were no match for the steel.