Read an Excerpt
THE SAVAGE DEAD
By JOE MCKINNEY
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Joe McKinney
All rights reserved.
"Juan, you monitoring?"
It was Tess Compton, his second in command. Juan Perez touched the mic on his wrist. "Yeah, go ahead, Tess. Anything?"
"I've got nothing out here. A bunch of bankers and lawyers and soap opera stars, but nothing else."
Damn, he thought. "Okay, search it again," he said. "Top to bottom."
Juan had been checking the kitchen and the back hallways of the Washington Hilton for the last half hour, and so far he'd found nothing but a bunch of dishwater puddles that had soaked his best pair of shoes through to his socks. His feet were wet and he was pissed with himself. He had more than fifty agents working for him tonight, and another hundred uniformed cops working the perimeter outside. They had searched every bathroom, every closet, every inch of the Grand Ballroom where Senator Rachel Sutton was about to drive her latest nail into the coffin she'd made for the Mexican drug cartels. They had cameras everywhere, and the finest facial recognition software in the world scanning every person entering the building. There just weren't that many places an assassin could hide.
And yet they'd found absolutely nothing.
Juan took a deep breath and let it out to a slow ten count. There was some little thing he was missing. He was sure of that. He and his team were missing something. He glanced at his watch again. They were down to the wire on this one. The senator was set to give her speech in less than fifteen minutes. Once she took the podium and the cameras started rolling, they'd lose any hope of dealing with this quietly, behind the scenes.
There was a soft electronic chime in his earpiece and he switched over to the command frequency only he and Tess shared. "Yeah, Tess, what's up?"
"You ask me, I think we got bad intel on this. I'm looking around but there's nothing going on out here but a bunch of drinking and hand shaking. We've been through every inch of this place, ran everybody through the computers. I think this is a bust."
"The intel's good," he said. "We're just not looking in the right place."
"Then tell me where to look."
Juan nearly snapped back at her, but closed his eyes and forced down his temper instead. It wouldn't do to bark at her over the radio. She was just frustrated, like him. The Washington Hilton was a known quantity. He and his team had done at least fifty events here. They knew every inch of it. This shouldn't be that hard to figure out.
"Just get everybody to turn their areas over one more time. Top to bottom. We've got a few minutes still till go time, so let's use it wisely."
"You got it, boss," Tess said. "You on the way out here? Piper is asking about you."
"Piper" was the Secret Service code name for Senator Rachel Sutton. The name held no special meaning. It was just easy to say and easy to understand when heard over the radio.
"What does she want?"
"She wants to know what the holdup is."
"Tell her I'm on my way. I want to make one more pass through here first."
They switched back over to the unit's main frequency, and while she relayed further instructions to the rest of the team, Juan continued searching the kitchen. This area was, really, the only weak spot in their plan. Outside the hotel, several hundred protestors had gathered. Already there had been clashes between Senator Rachel Sutton's supporters and those who wanted to see her impeached, but Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department had those well in hand. And the protests were actually working in his favor. It gave him the convenient excuse—not that he needed one, but it was always nice to have—to lock down every exterior door the hotel had. Anybody wanting to get inside would not only have to get through the Metropolitan PD's barricades, but through armed teams of Secret Service and uniformed officers at each door.
Still, he wondered if it was enough. Senator Sutton had all but declared war on the Mexican drug cartels, and they on her. The International Asset Seizure Act, of which she was both architect and author, had given U.S. law enforcement agents the authority to seize, by computer hacking and piracy if necessary, the entire fortunes of confirmed cartel members, no matter where in the world they hid their money, and no matter what banking laws existed to protect those fortunes. It had been a risky political move, with both sides of the political aisle holding their collective breath to see how the world's banks would react. But in the year and a half since its implementation, the act had proven more effective than the rest of the forty years of the War on Drugs put together. This last was a fact not lost on Juan, who had been a member of the U.S. Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta, the famed Delta Force, for five years before joining the U.S. Secret Service. He'd fought the cartels all over Mexico on countless undercover operations, and again in the United States as a federal agent. He'd fired a lot of bullets, shed a lot of blood, killed more than his fair share. But the senator's pen had, in the end, proved the mightier weapon.
He knew this for a fact from his contacts still working in Mexico. The cartels were hemorrhaging cash, and tearing themselves up internally through endless power struggles—and all of it because of the senator's law. They wanted her dead. And they'd already tried to kill her once, in San Antonio, about four months earlier. As the senator's motorcade had pulled away from the Mexican Embassy, it'd been attacked by twenty-three armed members of Los Zetas Cartel. The gunmen had descended on what they thought was the senator's limo. Instead, they found Juan and Tess Compton and the rest of his team. The resulting firefight raged down two blocks of downtown San Antonio, and by the end of it, sixteen cartel members were dead and the rest wounded and captured. It was a disaster for the cartels, but a huge shot in the arm for Senator Sutton, who used the failed assassination as a way to propose further measures against the cartels. She was scheduled to announce those measures tonight. He'd had good intelligence to warn him of that first attempt on the senator, and it was those same sources, sources that he himself had cultivated during his years in Latin America, in fact, that had alerted him to tonight's planned hit.
Busboys and dishwashers hustled all around him. The floor was a maze of dishwater puddles and scraps of food. Looking at bits of lettuce and half-eaten steaks, it never ceased to amaze Juan how much went to waste while putting on these events. As a boy growing up in the slums of Del Rio, Texas, he'd eaten dinners that weren't half as appetizing as the waterlogged trash on the floor here, and he'd been grateful for it. But he put that frustration aside, too, and refocused on the job at hand. Pots and pans clanged, instructions were yelled in a weird pidgin mixture of Spanish and English across the room, chefs and waiters barked at each other. None of them noticed him. Despite his tuxedo, and the radio earpiece, and the obvious gun bulging underneath his jacket, he was nothing new to them. They had all seen the Secret Service many times before.
He moved among them, watching them, studying their faces, comparing them to the background files his team had run on the entire staff prior to the senator's event. Everybody was accounted for. There had been no last-minute schedule changes, nobody had called in sick or switched shifts at the eleventh hour. Everything looked normal.
That is, until he saw a dishwasher carrying a large plastic bag of trash down to an open window along the back wall of the kitchen. It was the same wall that separated the kitchen from the loading dock.
A way in.
Juan froze, dread gathering in his gut.
"Oh, hell no," he said.
"Hey dude, come on," said a man's voice from behind him. "Trying to get through here."
Juan turned. One of the dishwashers, a slightly built white guy in a soaking wet T-shirt, black pants, and gray rubber Gators was standing there, holding a heavy tub of dirty dishes.
Juan said nothing, just gave the man a cold glare.
"Fine," the guy said, getting the hint. He backed up and walked around, muttering something that sounded like "Fucking asshole" under his breath as he went.
Juan ignored the insult. Instead, he grabbed the dishwasher who had just tossed the garbage out the window and demanded to know how long it had been open.
The guy shrugged.
"I don't know. All night, I guess. You guys won't let us use the door. All this stuff 's gotta go somewhere."
He let the man go. There was no use jumping his case about it.
Halfway down the wall, on the other side of the sinks and drying racks, was a heavy, wire-mesh metal door. During his preliminary walk-through earlier that day, he'd ordered the restaurant manager to lock it for the duration of the event. The man had objected, quoting health code regulations about keeping standing garbage out of the kitchen, but Juan overruled him. "I want it closed," he'd said. And he'd hoped that the man understood the seriousness of why it had to be done. Juan thought he'd made that abundantly clear. But apparently not.
He went to the door and rattled it. At least it was still locked.
Two Metropolitan PD officers were standing watch outside, both of them smoking, neither of them paying the slightest attention to their post.
"Hey, officers," Juan said.
The two cops looked up, bored expressions showing in the glow of their cigarettes.
Yeah, Juan thought. Yeah? Those worthless mother ...
"Can you come here, please?" he said.
One of the cops rolled his eyes. They both put out their cigarettes and walked over to the door. As they approached, Juan read their nametags. F. WALKER was a tall, lanky black man with corporal stripes on his sleeve. The other man, P. BOLAN, was a much older, and much fatter, white guy.
"You see that window down there?" Juan said, pointing to his right.
The white officer didn't even bother to glance that way. "Huh? What window?"
"That open window down there," Juan said. "With all the trash piled up below it?"
"Yeah, I see it," Bolan said. "What of it?"
Juan hated the sense of entitlement he sometimes got from uniformed cops assigned to his details. Cops like these two idiots, who were getting paid double time to watch an empty loading dock and a trash Dumpster, acted like national security was some sort of pain in the ass keeping them from their lunch breaks. And the fact that they couldn't see the problem disgusted him.
"I gave orders that all the windows and doors along this wall were to be locked up tight. Do you even know how long that window's been open? Have you been watching it?"
"I don't know," Bolan said. He was getting indignant now. "Go talk to the kitchen staff. They're the ones who opened it."
"Yeah, but—" Juan stopped himself from saying more. There wasn't any chance of impressing upon them the dangerous situation they'd allowed to happen, and besides, there wasn't time.
"All right," he said into the mic wired into his sleeve, "listen up, all of you. I've got an open window here in the kitchen off the loading dock. Frank, Soto, Sarantino—I need you three to break away and get down to the kitchen. I want this place searched. Somebody locate the PD supervisor, too. I want him down here right now. Tess, you monitoring?"
"Yeah, boss, I'm here."
"Get close to Piper, okay? I want you right on her shoulder. And make sure her husband and Mr. Godwin are accounted for as well."
"I'm on it," she said.
He was about to turn back to the two Metropolitan PD officers and chew their asses, but just then his earpiece chimed with a private message from Tess.
"Yeah, Tess, what is it?"
"Just wanted to let you know that the Good Doctor is already pretty deep in his cups. You want me to get Waller and Strahan on him?"
Damn, Juan thought. "The Good Doctor" was their unit's call sign for Dr. Wayne Sutton, Senator Sutton's infamously and perennially drunk husband. The man was still a practicing dentist, though how he managed to keep a handle on his practice Juan had no idea. He'd dealt with the man at least twenty times over the last six months, and each time Dr. Sutton had been resoundingly drunk. It was enough of a problem that every plan Juan and his unit came up with to get Piper out of danger now included a separate plan to deal with her husband.
"Yeah," Juan said. "Get Waller and Strahan to keep him close. Tell Piper to hold off on her speech. I'll be out on the floor in a just a moment."
"Boss, she's not gonna like that."
"I don't care, Tess. Just tell her to hold what she's got for a little bit."
The Metropolitan PD supervisor showed up a moment later. He was a young, clean-cut lieutenant named Brian Roth. He glanced from Juan to his two officers standing outside the metal door, and then back to Juan.
"Is there a problem?"
"I want you to get a squad down here to go through this area. I want every person checked and cleared against the staff roster, and I want it done right now."
The lieutenant's boyish smile evaporated. "I don't understand. Why the sudden change in plans?"
"You can thank your two all-stars out there," Juan said.
"Now hold on a second—"
Juan cut the man off. He didn't have time to be polite. "No, you hold on a second. Those two have been out there smoking and grab-assing all night while that window down there was standing wide open. Now you will get a squad down here, and you will account for every person who has been in and out of this kitchen since five o'clock this afternoon. Do you understand?"
"Now, listen," Roth said, "you can't talk to my men like that—"
"Save it for another time," Juan said. "Just get your people together and do as I tell you."
Roth looked like he wanted argue, but after meeting Juan's stare, he backed down. He finally nodded and said, "Yeah, all right."
"Good. I'll assign an agent to help you."
Juan walked off, toward the Embassy Ball Room.
He passed Randy Soto, one of his agents, on the way out of the kitchen and explained what he wanted him to do with the cops back by the open window.
"You got it, boss," Soto said.
He nodded to the man and stepped through the doors that led to the ballroom. It was crowded with movers and shakers from both sides of the border, most of them bankers and lawyers, a few Washington hardballers here and there. Juan scanned the room until he saw Tess chatting with a Mexican banker and his much younger soap opera star wife.
Tall and blond, able to move from English to Spanish with fluid ease, Tess Compton was in her element at parties like this. She wore a flowing red halter-top evening gown, a string of pearls at her throat, and was easily the match for any of the many beautiful women in attendance, even the soap opera stars. Despite his urgency, Juan managed a little smile. Very few people in this room had any idea Tess Compton was with the Secret Service, and none of them, save the other agents, had any idea how deadly she could be. Though she'd been raised in the finest country clubs in Atlanta, the daughter of a top executive for Kraft Foods and a Vassar graduate, there was nothing soft about her. He'd once watched her take down, and choke out a man twice her size when he tried to throw pig's blood on a federal judge they were escorting through the Senate lobby. She'd even made it look easy. Juan had seen a lot of agents come through the service. He'd even trained a good many of them. But none were as good as Tess. That was why he'd made her his second in command, and that was why they had become such good friends.
Tess spotted him as he approached, turned, and touched Senator Sutton on the shoulder, leaning in to whisper something in her ear. The Good Doctor stood a few feet off, a martini in his hand. He was swaying drunkenly, smiling at nothing in particular. Happy as a pig in slop, Juan thought. The senator's long-time aide, Paul Godwin, was standing just behind the senator, his fingers busily flying over his iPhone.
Both women turned to face him at the same time. The senator, dressed in one of her signature Hillary Clinton-style pantsuits, spoke first. "What's this all about, Agent Perez? You're cutting it kinda close, aren't you?"
Excerpted from THE SAVAGE DEAD by JOE MCKINNEY. Copyright © 2013 Joe McKinney. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.