By now you’ve probably heard the good news that my forthcoming novel is expected to be available for purchase somewhere around November of this year. At least I hope you’ve heard because I’m trying to get everyone excited for this project, as I’ve been working on it off and on for close to three years now. But some people may not be on board with the idea yet. As such, I wanted to tease you guys with a snippet from the first chapter of the book. I don’t want to spoil how the chapter ends, because its a huge part of what propels the narrative for the rest of the novel. This is a teaser, one which I hope leaves you wanting to read more.
Anyway, enjoy this sneak preview at One Fate For Failure.
I hate Mexico. Well, I hate the part of Mexico I always find myself in. I never wind up in the part of Mexico with the sparkling, crystal clear water and pristine white sand beaches, with resort lodging and expertly crafted margaritas delivered by handsome young men with impeccable tans. I always wind up in the part of Mexico that could easily be mistaken for the desert planet that Luke Skywalker so desperately wanted to escape from in the original Star Wars. Similarly, I usually find myself in a bar also resembling the one from the original Star Wars, complete with a frightening array of hairy locals who may or may not be of human origin. The chances of a bar fight ending in a severed limb is also a possibility.
So as I sat in one of those bars, nursing a glass of warm beer that had been watered down beyond all measure of comprehension, I promised myself that I would at some point visit Mexico on different terms and find some enjoyment during my stay there. That wasn’t going to happen this time, as I felt my skin crawl as the gaze of every person in the bar washing over me while I sipped on what the bartender had the nerve to call beer. I couldn’t blame them, I wasn’t exactly fitting in. My New England complexion contrasted heavily with the locals and I knew that I stuck out like a Lilly Pulitzer sundress at a tractor pull.
I knew that several people in the bar were trying to figure out how much ransom money they could score off my pretty little head and I also knew that the only reason nobody had already tried to pull a snatch and grab was because of the man seated immediately to my right. Rick Gardner Helmsley was six feet tall and built like living marble. He was on his second glass of watered down beer and he looked like the very definition of a man with whom you did not lightly mess. Nobody in the bar knew it but he also kept a Sig Sauer P227 in a rig underneath the light fishing shirt that he wore over a sweaty white tee. Of course I kept a Glock 31 inside the Kate Spade handbag I had laying on its side on the table. By the time he skinned his piece I could have popped off six rounds but I said nothing because how he liked to carry his weapon was none of my business. Rick was a professional and he didn’t need me cramping his style and although he would never admit it, having a female tell him where to shove his gun would embarrass and emasculate him and because I liked working with him I didn’t care to rub him the wrong way. I’m not saying my way is better, I’m just saying that if he wasn’t afraid to carry a purse he wouldn’t have to worry about the muzzle of his handgun getting caught in his shirt, that’s all.
So while everyone in the bar was watching us, we were watching the two men at the bar who were either too stupid or too brave to keep the volume level of their conversation down. They were talking at length about the gringo they had tagged and that their boss was promising them a big bonus for bringing him in. Only in a cantina so dirty that cockroaches would hesitate to touch the floor would two men discussing a kidnapping in broad daylight not seem out of place. Especially considering that the gringo in question was an American diplomat and the pretty white girl tepidly sipping on terrible cerveza next to the aggressive looking man whose eyes were seemingly always hidden under the brim of a ragged old baseball cap were operatives from the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
Our presence in this little bar in a town not too far away from Ciudad Juarez was the end result of several months of hard work by agents working south of the border, delivering actionable intelligence at the direction of the NCS. Over the last few years a new cartel had risen to prominence and more than any other criminal organization in recent memory had started to cause trouble for American interests on both sides of the border. Several intelligence missions were carried out by CIA and NCS operatives, gathering information about the new cartel and putting together a profile on what would become a major focus for the Special Activities Division.
What we had learned about Los Escorpiones filled several hard drives. The cartel had been the brainchild of Sergio Argueta, a former member of Mexico’s Federal Police who had utilized everything he learned during his time wearing a badge to evade capture and arrest. He had become a recluse and confirmed sightings of the man were few and far between. While he was considered a high profile target of opportunity, the likelihood of anyone working on Operation Alamo coming within spitting distance of the man was close to zero. The PAG boys were doing what they could to turn the tide with Argueta. I didn’t have the aptitude for PAG work. I was SOG through and through. Where the Political Action Group division worked to play political mind games the Special Operations Group, which included myself and Mr. Helmsley, were the company’s equivalent of “boots on the ground.” Of course, my boots usually had at least a three inch heel, but that’s neither here nor there.
“Maddie,” Rick said in a hushed tone.
“Yeah,” I replied, sipping my beer.
“I think the fat one is about to make contact with Espinoza.”
Santiago Espinoza was the guy we were hoping to come within spitting distance of. When Argueta went all Obi-Wan to hide in the desert like a hermit he handed day-to-day operations of Los Escorpiones to Santiago Espinoza, a career criminal who had earned the nickname of “El Lobazno,” or “The Wolverine” because of his tendency to utilize edged weapons to intimidate and more than occasionally eviscerate his enemies. It was Espinoza who was behind the kidnapping of the American diplomat these two bozos were talking about in plain sight, a man named Paul Quesada, who had been down in Mexico settling some sort of trade dispute. Of course, now El Lobazno was looking to trade Mr. Quesada back to the US for a substantial amount of money. The only thing is, after months of keeping tabs on Los Escorpiones, the United States government wasn’t willing to lose money hand over fist every time they grew bold enough to snatch an American citizen prominent enough to warrant a ransom.
That’s where myself and Rick came into play. The stated objective of Operation Alamo was to retrieve Mr. Quesada and take action that would dissuade Los Escorpiones from committing acts that directly interfered with American interests in Mexico. Anyone considered associated with Los Escorpiones was marked as a target of opportunity.
“Él quiere a su encuentro para que podamos tomar algo para Héctor,” the larger of the two men said loud enough for me to hear. “Él dice que trae el camión .”
“They’re meeting someone,” I said to Rick. “They’re supposed to bring a truck.”
“They might be moving Quesada,” Rick said. “We need to stay on them.”
“We can’t go in solo,” I said. “And what was the point of bringing twelve guys from SOF if we aren’t going to use them?”
“I never said we’d go in solo. We tail them, we reconnoiter, then we make a plan.”
“If we get there and they are moving him we can take him on the road,” I said. “A lot better option than getting boxed in somewhere.”
“That was my thinking.”
The two men pushed off of their stools and made a straight line for the front door. I cocked an eye at Rick and he nodded. I stood first, grabbing my handbag. Rick stood slowly and unfolded a couple of bills to drop on the table. While his eyes were cast down and his attention not on me, one of the locals approached and grabbed me by the crook of my arm. Not strongly enough to hurt but firmly enough that I would have to put in some effort to break free.
“You should come with me chica,” he said. “I promise you haven’t seen the city like I can show you.”
Rick looked up and measured the situation, he saw that the man holding me was making a display of the revolver shoved in his belt. I indicated to Rick the two men who had circled behind him. He caught my meaning and I saw him loosen up. The man holding my arm smiled.
It was premature.
I stamped my heel down on his foot and spun, smashing my forearm directly into his throat. He dropped my other arm and I did a quick pivot and slammed my now free elbow directly into his nose. I felt the crack of cartilage and felt a dribble of blood splatter onto my arm. I turned to see that Rick had already incapacitated the two men behind him and dropped them to the ground. I didn’t see how, but based on the clearly broken leg of one of the men writhing on the floor I could make some educated guesses.
He stepped over them and picked up the bills he had previously dropped on the table and put them in his wallet. “Poor service,” he said to the waiter who stared at him as he made his way to the exit.
The heat of the Mexican sunlight hit me like a tidal wave as we exited the cantina and stepped onto the sidewalk. The air was hot and dusty. My throat immediately begged for a sip of water and I pulled a bottle from my handbag. I smuggled in a few bottles from the other side of the border so I wouldn’t have to worry about drinking the glorified laxative they had running through the pipes here.
I spied the two men hopping into a box truck half a block down. Rick rushed to the opposite side of the street and climbed into the cab of the rust-covered pickup truck we had selected as our ride during the operation and turned the engine over. It was inconspicuous enough. It blended in the way I could never hope to. Rick pulled a u-turn in the middle of the street and I hopped in with him.
Rick and I had worked together more than a few times. We were both in SOG but I was designated Specialized Skills Officer and he was a Paramilitary Operations Officer. I often joked that no matter what you did you couldn’t wash off the smell of POO. My humor is childish and asinine. Rick’s humor is nonexistent. I think that is why we work so well together. There are plenty of other operatives involved in Operation Alamo, twelve guys pulled from SOF for starters, and a backup squad of men hand selected from DEVGRU if things started to head in a particular direction. I hoped things didn’t devolve that far.
Rick was ex-Delta and I was Naval Intelligence. We were as different as two people could be, but we had a mutual respect that made us gel in ways that lots of people wished they could. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community who didn’t care for me much at all for one reason or another. I couldn’t tell you why. Well, I could but I won’t because it’s crass and I don’t have the stomach for it. I come from a family that was always big on being proper. My parents were New England blue blood through and through. Cape Cod in the summer type of folks. They raised me to have manners and be respectful like a lady should. Then they died in a boating accident like the worst kind of east coast cliché and in my adolescence discovered a lot of things about myself while rebelling to manage my grief.
I went through all of that with a therapist. It took me a long time to come to terms with it. My parents death shook me. I was sixteen when they died. It was hard. I acted out, changed everything about myself. Went from pretty dresses and bows in my hair to ripped blue jeans and cigarettes in bathrooms. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t hate the person my parents raised me to be and learned to embrace that part of myself. Of course by then I had already been through basic training and was a few years into my career with the Navy. The person that came out the other side was a strange amalgamation of two worlds that was distinctive enough to catch the attention of certain people within the Company.
Two years in and I’ve been working in conjunction with Rick a few times now. The intelligence community is large and sprawling and yet somehow we wind up working the same gigs time after time. Somebody must have noticed a pattern that yielded the appropriate results and sought to replicate them. I didn’t mind.
“If we get there and we have to move fast you might not have time to change,” Rick said, his eyes locked on the rear bumper of the box truck a few car lengths ahead of us. “That going to be a problem?”
“I can strap a vest on top of this,” I said. “It won’t look cute but it’ll do the job.”
“You think you can manage an op in unfamiliar terrain wearing those?” He indicated toward my shoes, a pair of wedges that gave me the extra height I liked so as not to appear like a pixie. I’m not diminutive per se, but next to Rick I look like a child so if I’m not in field gear I usually put myself in some sort of heel so I look more like his peer and less like his child.
“They’re called wedges and I look cute in them,” I said. “I’ve got a pair of running shoes in the back of the truck. Again, it won’t look cute…”
“But it’ll work,” he finished for me. He had heard me say it enough times to know when it was coming. I wasn’t one of those military girls who lose all touch with their femininity the first chance they got. I had gone through that phase in high school so now I prided myself in my appearance. I knew how to dress to turn heads and enjoyed doing so. I wouldn’t have chosen a sundress that was so low cut for this little excursion otherwise.
The box truck took a turn off of the main road once we were outside of town and passed through the gate of a villa that looked especially well maintained for the area. It was a red brick structure that stood out from the surrounding sandscape, and its lawn was a lush garden green. The fence was chain link with razor wire at the top and I could see at least six men walking the perimeter. They were armed with MP-5 submachine guns although at least one looked like he was rocking a Benelli shotgun.
After several hours watching the compound we worked out that they weren’t planning on moving the hostage anytime soon. The waiting game had started.
“Call in Daniel and his guys,” Rick said. “We’re going to need them.”
“We can’t do that,” I said.
“Think about it,” I said. “This place is maybe ten minutes away from a city center. If we go in hot the local cops will be here guns blazing before we can get close to the target.”
“I count six men on the outside,” Rick said coldly. “You think we can manage to sneak by?”
“I think we need to spook them out,” I said.
Rick nodded. He was right there with me. He pulled out a compact phone from his pocket and dialed out. “Six,” he said. “I need you to make a home call to patient number four. He needs a refill on his prescription.”
We had established early on a code for identifying targets within Los Escorpiones. Some genius had established that we would refer to them through medical terminology. Every target had a numerical designation as on a patient roster and the actions to be taken against them were referred to by medical procedures; a surgery implied a quick and efficient strike that didn’t make a lot of noise, an amputation was any operation that removed a player from action temporarily, by detaining them or otherwise incapacitating them, and if someone phoned in a prescription refill like Rick had just done the medicine being delivered was intended to be a harrying strike, a show of force to disrupt operations and make a lot of noise.
By calling in a prescription refill on “Patient Four,” Nick and I hoped that the commotion would be enough to reduce the numbers at the villa we were observing down to a skeleton crew allowing us to slip in and hopefully abscond with our missing diplomat. All we had to do was sit and wait for the boom.