Authors: Harry Hunsicker
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Conspiracies, #Crime
Hunsicker’s latest book imagines a frightening scenario: private military contractors—the corporate soldiers usually found roaming the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan—are operating within the borders of the United States. With a relentless pace and doses of black humor, Hunsicker creates a thrilling combination of What-If with an altogether plausible What-Actually-Might-Be, giving the reader a remarkable post-9/11, War-on-Drugs novel.
—David Morrell, best-selling author of
The Brotherhood of the Rose
, co-founder of the International Thriller Writers
is the fully loaded model with all the options. With streetwise and wisecracking Jon Cantrell and Piper at the wheel, they take the reader for one hell of a ride through the drug- and crime-ravaged parts of Texas that don’t appear on picture postcards or tourist brochures. Hunsicker’s eye for detail, sense of place, and his snappy dialogue shine through.
—Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award–winning author of
is film noir without the film, cyberpunk without the cyber. It’s a world to lose yourself in, a fascinating tale that lives in shades of grey. The prose is muscular, the images vivid, and the pace relentless. Simply put, Hunsicker kills it.
—Marcus Sakey, author of
and host of the Travel Channel’s
ALSO BY HARRY HUNSICKER
The Lee Henry Oswald Mysteries
The Next Time You Die
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Harry Hunsicker
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
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Cover design by
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014939678
This fear has no name.
Raul Delgado, eleven years old, wishes it did.
With a name it would be easier, like dealing with the barrio toughs down the street or with Papa after he’s had too many cervezas.
But the terror is nameless, a dark coil that wraps around Raul’s insides and squeezes until there’s nothing left, just a hollowness without end.
Everything that is good in Raul’s world—his mother’s tamales, Christmas morning, lunch at Pike Park after Mass—all that has disappeared into the blackness.
Raul’s brother, Carlos, huddles next to him in the hall closet. Mama’s winter coat dangles above their heads, fragrant with her perfume and the metallic tang of mothballs.
Raul wonders if Carlos feels the fear in the same way. He decides not.
His brother is different. Mama and Papa say so, as do their teachers.
Carlos is twelve, a year older than Raul. Carlos is smart and quick with his words. He is the instigator, of course. His actions have caused this nameless fear. It is all his fault.
Raul’s teeth chatter. He smells the sweat on his body and the dust in the closet, overpowering the illusion of safety created by the aroma of his mother’s coat.
Carlos touches his arm, tries to reassure him, but tears leak from the corners of Raul’s eyes. He recites a Hail Mary in his head, the only prayer he can think of at the moment.
His brother shifts his weight slightly, puts his lips near Raul’s ear. He speaks in a voice so quiet it is like a daydream.
“It’s okay,” Carlos whispers. “Just be cool.”
Raul nods, too scared to speak.
The wood floor of their house on McKinnon Street creaks. The light at the base of the door changes; someone is in the hall.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
Raul stares at the ribbon of light. It is a Tuesday in July, early afternoon, and nothing good can be outside the closet. Mama is at her second job, cleaning the house of a rich family in Highland Park. Papa is at a bar somewhere.
The knob before them squeaks as it turns. Raul takes a sudden breath, presses against his brother.
The door opens.
Light floods in, silhouettes two large figures in the hallway of their home.
Two gringos in blue uniforms, guns on their hips.
A stocky man with red hair and one who is bald with thick blond sideburns.
The officer with the red hair nods slowly as if this is what he’s suspected all along, two kids hiding in a closet. He reaches down, grabs Carlos’s shirt, and pulls him into the hall.
The bald cop sticks a cigarette between his lips.
“You little shit,” the red-haired cop says. “Where’s the money?”
Carlos shrugs, and the cop slaps him across the side of the head, palm walloping the boy’s ear. Raul cringes.
Carlos grunts and falls to the floor, but he doesn’t speak. After a few seconds, he pushes himself to his hands and knees. A growth spurt has left him tall but painfully thin. In a sleeveless cotton shirt and his frayed Ocean Pacific shorts, he looks frail.
“Damn wetbacks.” The bald cop pulls Raul from the closet.
Carlos stands, shoulders squared. He rubs the side of his face where the officer struck him. He looks at both policemen, face determined. He says, “Get out of my house.”
The fear inside Raul spikes as high as the tallest building in Dallas and then lessens, replaced by something else: pride, and more than a little envy. He is proud of his brother, the strength he possesses, the way he stands up to the gringo cops. He is also envious because he knows this strength will never be his. He is weak, a follower. Not a leader.
The red-haired cop, the older of the two policemen, stands absolutely still.
There is no movement inside the house. Even the specks of dust seem to have stopped their dance in the light from the living room window.
Outside, the Popsicle man rings the bell on his
cart. A dog barks.
The bald cop chuckles, lights his cigarette with a Zippo.
“The Delgado boys. Hard-ass criminals.” The red-haired cop shakes his head. “Looks like we’re gonna have to take us a little a ride.”
He grabs the brothers by the neck, shoves them toward the front door.
Raul’s knees are wobbly. He knows his brother has had encounters with the law before, but he is startled to hear their family name mentioned. His stomach rumbles and he worries that he might wet his pants. Or worse.
A few seconds later both boys are in the back of the squad car parked in their driveway, hands cuffed behind them.
The peeling paint on the side of their house appears dirtier than usual. Heat waves shimmer above the air conditioner mounted in the front window.
The street is empty. Police cars in this neighborhood tend to do that. The Popsicle man is nowhere to be seen.
Raul blinks sweat from his eyes. Then he begins to cry.
The bald cop sits in the passenger seat. He looks in the back and says, “Pussy.”
Carlos Delgado is quiet as the red-haired officer pulls out of the driveway and speeds down McKinnon Street.
The neighbors’ houses pass by, clapboard shacks ringed by chain-link fences. Some are white, others painted a riot of different colors—green and purple, bright yellow, orange.
This section of Little Mexico is Raul’s home, the only place he knows. His parents moved to Dallas from the Rio Grande Valley when he was a toddler, ten years ago, and South Texas is not even a recollection now. He wonders if he will ever see any of these houses again.
The red-haired officer cuts across Harry Hines Boulevard, a large street that leads to downtown and the police station. He keeps driving, zigzagging his way toward the deserted area by the railroad tracks.
“Where are you taking us?” Carlos says, alert.
Neither officer replies. The houses become smaller and grubbier the closer they get to the railroad. There are more vacant lots, the packed earth covered in trash and cast-off junk, car parts, refrigerators, mattresses.
A few hundred yards in front of them looms the twin smokestacks of an old power plant, long closed. To the right of the power plant sits a huge concrete structure, a grain silo.
“Y-you can’t take us here.” Carlos’s voice cracks. “W-we have r-rights.”
The bald cop chuckles as the squad car rattles over a series of train tracks.
A few moments later, they stop by a grove of cedar trees shading an abandoned building.
The red-haired cop rolls down the windows, turns off the ignition.
The engine ticks as the bald cop lights another cigarette.
No people in sight, just the four of them in a hot squad car.
“Where’s the cash?” Red Hair looks in the mirror at Carlos.
Carlos blinks. His skin has grown pale. But he doesn’t speak.
Red Hair glances at his partner. “How many times we busted Carlos Delgado?”
Bald Cop shrugs and blows a smoke ring.
“And what’s your name?” Red Hair looks at Raul in the mirror.
“Leave my brother alone,” Carlos says.
Raul tries to speak but nothing comes out. He wants to tell the two policemen where the money is, the twenty-three dollars they snatched from the cash register of the convenience store an hour before. The theft had been Carlos’s idea, as usual. A little movie money, if they could ever get a ride to Northpark Mall.
Red Hair sighs. He turns in his seat, pulls his pistol from its holster, extends it over the top of the seat, and presses the muzzle against Raul’s forehead.
The weapon is a big black slab of metal. The hammer is already cocked.
Raul feels the wet warmth spread out from his crotch.
Bald Cop tosses away his cigarette and swats at a bug.
“Where’s the fucking money, Carlos?” Red Hair flicks a lever on the pistol with his thumb. “Don’t make me hurt your little brother.”
The steel of the barrel is hot against Raul’s skin. He shakes uncontrollably.
Red Hair laughs, enjoying himself. Raul wonders if he will ever laugh again.
Carlos hangs his head, defeated. He reaches into his pocket and removes the wad of currency.
Red Hair takes it with his free hand, chuckling, too. He moves the muzzle from Raul’s head, but the gun’s still looming in front of him, the muzzle like a cold, dark eye.
Bald Cop lights another smoke, waves away a fly buzzing around the interior of the car.
Raul realizes this has all been a big joke to the two officers. He is just a dumb Mexican kid, and the police have such power that they can threaten his very life for nothing but their own amusement. Anger mixes with his fear.
Carlos stares at the floor of the squad car. He hates to lose, even money he has pilfered.
“I got shit to do today.” Red Hair wags the gun at Carlos like it’s a finger. “If I didn’t, I’d run your ass down to juvie right now.”
Bald Cop swats at the fly as though pissed at it.
His hand accidentally strikes Red Hair’s shoulder, and in that moment all that was in Raul’s world is no more.
Sunlight and thunder burst forth inside the car, an explosion brighter and louder than anything he has ever experienced.
And water. Salty, warm water all over Raul’s skin.
His ears don’t work right. From a long way off, he hears Bald Cop yelling, his voice high-pitched, filled with terror.
After a period of time—he will never know how long—Raul opens his eyes, blinks away the thick liquid on his face.
The first thing he sees are the ghosts, two white-faced figures staring at him. Since one has red hair and the other is bald, he realizes they are the two police officers, their faces drained of all color, their souls altered in some way he cannot comprehend.
He looks to the left for his brother but no one is there, just a bloody lump of flesh wearing Ocean Pacific shorts. This is not his brother, of course. Carlos was just here; he’ll be along any moment.
Raul tries to make sense of the thunder and the sunlight, but he can’t.
He calls out for his mama but hours pass before he is allowed to see her. Instead he encounters more police officers, men in blue uniforms and gray business suits. The policemen are followed by reporters, dozens of people with notepads and cameras and video recorders.
Raul Delgado scans the crowd for his brother but he is nowhere to be found.