Authors: Tom Lowe
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
A FALSE DAWN
ALSO BY TOM LOWE
The 24th Letter
The Butterfly Forest
A FALSE DAWN
A Sean O’Brien Mystery/Thriller
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, and events portrayed in the novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A False Dawn
– Copyright © 2009 by Tom Lowe. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, photocopying, Internet, recording or otherwise without written permission from the author. Please do not participate or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Published in The United States of America. For information, address Kingsbridge Entertainment, P.O. Box 340, Windermere, FL 34786
Library of Congress Cataloging in–Publication Data
Lowe, Tom 1952-
A False Dawn
/ Tom Lowe – 2nd edition
1. Human Trafficking - Fiction. 2. Ocala National Forest - Fiction. 3. Florida - Fiction.
A False Dawn
is distributed in ebook and trade paperback print editions. Printed books available from Amazon Inc. and bookstores.
Cover Design by Marty Martin, Jade Graphics: jadegraphics.net
First Edition: October 2009, St. Martins Press. Second Edition: April, 2012, Kingsbridge Entertainment. Published in the U.S.A. by Kingsbridge Entertainment.
The publication of a book is a collective effort coming from a lot of people. I want to thank them all for helping me to bring my first novel to you, the reader. I will forever be indebted to the late Ruth Cavin, legendary editor at St. Martins Press. Ruth and her staff first embraced Sean O’Brien and his world and helped bring the stories to the real world. Thank you. My thanks to author Steve Hamilton, who was the first Edgar Award winner to ever blurb my book.
Before all the pros left their imprints on the novel, there is one person who makes the biggest difference in my writing and my life. She is my wife, Keri. Her editorial skills and sense of story structure are intuitive and insightful. She gives me the time, space, and opportunity to create. Most importantly, she gives me her heart.
My thanks to my children, Natalie, Cassie, Chris, and Ashley for their continued encouragement, all delivered with a great sense of humor. They’ve been my balancing act that keeps me somewhat balanced.
Finally, to you, reading this right now. I want to thank you because you bring our group into a circle. A writer’s job isn’t done and the story not finished until it is read. The circle becomes complete when the book is shared through the imagination of the reader. I’m glad you’re along for the journey.
Come a little closer to the campfire...the story is about to begin.
Your sacred place is where you can truly find yourself again and again.
- Joseph Campbell
It was Hector Ortega’s turn with the girls, and he was nervous. He backed the nine-passenger van up to a run-down mobile home, turned off the engine, and said, “Make it quick. Don’t like doin’ this shit on Passover.”
Ortega watched as Silas Davis, a black man with the build of a linebacker, got out of a parked pickup truck and entered the trailer. Ortega punched the radio station selector buttons. The pulse of Jamaican Reggae rocked the van.
He opened the glove compartment, took out a small plastic bag of cocaine, shook a loose line on the back of his hand, and inhaled through both of his bull-like nostrils. Ortega closed his eyes, feeling the drugs enter his system and mix with the music.
When he opened his eyes a shadow moved. Beneath a live oak. Somebody watching. A single streetlight illuminated half a dozen ramshackle trailers. Ortega felt his night vision enhanced from the cocaine in his system.
The shadow was a man. Standing. Staring.
Ortega reached for the pistol under his seat. He turned on the van’s lights, flashing the high beams. A farm worker wobbled from under the tree, holding a low-hanging limb for support. Ortega could tell the man was drunk.
The man ambled to a utility pole supporting a street lamp. He leaned his back against the pole for support, unzipped his pants and urinated in the dirt and mud.
Ortega lit a cigarette, took a deep drag, and blew smoke out of his nostrils. He set the pistol on the seat beside him and opened a bag of Fritos. He shoved a dirty handful of Fritos into his small mouth.
The farm worker finished urinating. As he started to walk, he held one hand up to block the glare from the van’s headlights. The man fumbled with his zipper, tripped and fell down in the mud-soaked puddle of urine.
“Stupid shit,” Ortega mumbled.
Silas Davis escorted five women toward the van. They were all young. Eyes wide with fear. “Let’s go ladies,” Davis said, opening the side-panel doors. The first four women timidly did as ordered, each taking her seat in the dark interior.
Angela Ramirez stood next to the van, light from a nearby trailer falling across her striking face.
“Let’s go,” Davis ordered.
There was no fear in her eyes. She looked at him like a warrior might stand up to her sworn enemy. Resolute and bold. “I did not come to this country to be a whore!”
laughed. “Get your ass in the van. We ain’t got all night.” As he reached for her, a dog barked a wolf-like howl. Davis turned his head in the direction of the howling.
Angela bolted into the night. She ran behind the van, straight into the dark of the vast tomato fields.
“Bitch!” Davis said.
“Get her!” Ortega shouted. He turned around in his seat, holding the pistol so the other women could see it. “Don’t make me bury any of you in these fields.”
Angela ran as fast as she could, losing a shoe in the soft dirt. Davis easily caught her, lifting the screaming woman over his shoulder and carrying her back to the van like he was holding a kicking child.
“Shut up bitch!” he said through clinched teeth. He tossed her into the van and slammed the door.
Ortega pointed the pistol directly at Angela’s face. “Who do you think you are, huh? It’s payback time! Now don’t fuck with me, understand?” He tossed his cigarette out the window. “Cause of you, I gotta use the child locks.”
Davis leaned in the open window of the front passenger side of the van. He used the back of his hand to wipe a stream of blood from his cheek. “Look at this! Crazy bitch opened my face with her fingernails. She claws like a wildcat.”
“She’ll learn,” Ortega said, slipping an unlit cigarette behind his right ear. “Silo, one of your boys done pissed on himself. He’s lying over there in the mud and shit. Must have drunk some bad wine.”
“They got to feed the fever.”
“I’d leave him there.” Ortega laughed as he drove away.
Davis strolled over to the man who was passed out in vomit and mud-soaked urine. Davis kicked him hard in the buttocks, lifting the man off the ground, rolling him onto his back. He slowly opened his eyes, squinting in the glare from the streetlight. His eyes were red, heavily bloodshot with disease and alcohol, smoldering like two pieces of ashen charcoal that had caught a breeze for a fleeting second.
leaned over him. “Wake up, asshole, I want your ass on the bus at 5:30 in the mornin’.
The man tried to focus on Davis’ face. He held a hand up for a second, like a baby trying to focus and touch something above its crib. The man coughed up bile and said through a raspy voice, “Why you kickin’ me? Ain’t right to kick a brother when he’s down.”
“Not your fuckin’ brother.”
The man rested his spinning head in the mud, the red slits staring at the cloudless night sky. “You can’t be doin’ this to folks. I’m a man.”
The sounds of throaty snarls and hisses from feral cats fighting each other came from the shadows. They fought under one of the trailers with an exposed light bulb over the door. From inside the trailer came a woman's terrified scream.
Gnats and moths circled the light bulb in a silent cloud.
WHEN THE VAN PULLED
onto State Road 46, Hector Ortega glanced in the mirror to check his cargo of women. All looked as well as could be expected. He didn’t see the calm in the eyes of Angela Ramirez.
And he didn’t see a black car pull out from a side road and start to follow.
Max saw him first. Then I saw him out of the corner of my eye. A hundred yards downriver from my dock, a man stood chest-deep in the river. He held a long pole, prodding underwater as if he was searching for something. Maybe it was because I’d clocked too many years in law enforcement, but it looked like he was searching for a body. He was coming my way.
“Think a gator will get him before he can make it to the dock?” I said to Max as she cocked her head and trotted to the end of the dock. Max, my ten-pound dachshund, let out a slight whimper. She watched the man in the distance. He didn’t look our way while he poked and prodded the riverbed.
I turned and got back to the work I was doing, searched through my open tool box for four-inch nails and I found a hunting knife under my hammer. I glanced back at the man. He was still a good ninety-five yards downriver. I saw him put something in the pouch he carried.
After sniper training, after my time in the first Gulf War, I still calibrated distance in trajectory—what I had to do to make sure a .50 caliber rifle bullet hit a target the size of a grapefruit a quarter mile away. I looked at the river’s surface. There was no wind. The man walking in the river wore a wide-brim hat. From where I stood, I could aim with a scoped rifle, if I had one, for the middle of the hat, right above the brim. From this distance, the bullet would hit him dead center in the forehead.
I blinked hard.
Not everybody is a hostile. Not everybody is homicidal or a homicide suspect. I swatted a deerfly and took a deep breath. It was spring and the river carried the smells of renewing life. Alligators building nests out of sand, sticks and river mud. Spoonbills and herons feeding live fish to squalling young. Honeysuckles and wild roses blooming.
I removed the knife from the toolbox and laid it on the wooden bench. I looked over my shoulder at the man in the distance and began driving a nail into the wood. I wanted to replace worn and broken planks on the long bench. The morning was already hot, near eighty I guessed. I was shirtless, jeans. Sweat rolled down my back as I hit the nails.
My Uncle Bill, a World War II vet who never spoke of the war, only the demons he fought after it, used to say that anger drives the nails into your own coffin. He also said that every man has his breaking point. After a thirteen year career as a homicide detective, I began to understand what Uncle Bill meant.
It’s gut rot of the soul, and it was the most pervasive part of the job in fighting crime. In homicide, I didn’t fight crime. The crime had happened before we arrived. I fought the motivation, the detached switch that allowed someone to derail another person’s life. And it fought back. It had pierced the scab covering a dark ember in my marrow, and the buried ash smoldered beneath the surface of night sweats.
I pounded another nail so deep into the wood I couldn’t see the head. After my wife, Sherri, died of ovarian cancer six months ago, I moved here to this remote spot on Florida’s St. Johns River with Max. Sherri had bought the miniature dachshund when I’d been away on a three-day stakeout. She named her Maxine and allowed her sleeping quarters at the foot of our bed on her own “doggie blanket.” When I’d returned home, my wife said that Maxine was the only other warm body she’d let in our bed. I couldn’t argue that, and so this little dog, with her soft brown eyes, permanent eyeliner and heart of a lion, became our companion.
Now it was just the two of us, and Max was sleeping under the blanket on her side of the bed. I’d sold everything with the house in Miami. My new home was an old Florida cracker house with a large tin roof, plenty of rambling rooms, huge screened-in porch, and a generous view of the river. The house sat on one of the few high banks overlooking the river. Most were bluffs of ancient Indian shell mounds. The native people had lived off the river, eating fish, clams and oysters. They piled the shells and bones into mounds up and down the river.
“Dog’s gonna be a meal for a gator if it gets too close to the edge.”
I whirled around and saw the man, now less than fifty feet from my dock. How had he walked that quickly? Had I been pounding the nails so hard I didn’t hear Max bark? Did she bark? She stood there, little paws at the edge of the dock, tail wagging looking at the man in the river.
He wore an Australian outback hat that looked as old as Ayers Rock. He walked along the river bottom, water up to his chest, the pole tapping the unseen. Max uttered a low growl.
“It’s okay, Max,” I said. She looked back at me like she didn’t believe me. I glanced at the knife on the bench and looked at the man.
He held his hat and slowly dropped down into the river, the dark water covering him. Within seconds, he was gone.