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Paul Grayhorse stepped back into the shadows as a jagged flash of lightning sliced across the darkened New Mexico sky. He had a bad feeling about tonight, and it had nothing to do with the storm raging around him.
Ignoring the pain coming from deep inside his right shoulder, he remained focused. The bullet wound had healed, but the nagging ache that remained was a reminder that even the briefest lapse in attention could have devastating results. In less than three seconds, a sniper had taken the life of his partner, Deputy U.S. Marshal Judy Whitacre. Her death, and the high caliber bullet that had torn through his own shoulder that day, had changed his life forever.
He shook off the bitter memory as he continued to keep watch. It was a typically cold, rainless New Mexico storm, one of hundreds he'd seen while growing up in the Four Corners. There was the usual blend of wind and stinging dust, but no rain or sleet to ease the parched desert.
Given a choice, most people would have stayed inside on an October night like this one. That's where he should have been, too, sitting in his armchair, beer in hand, watching the football game next to a bowl of corn tortilla chips and hot salsa.
Yet here he was, standing on the lawn beside an old brick office building in downtown Hartley waiting for an arranged meeting with a mysterious, prospective client.
The skies rumbled again and the ground shook, rattling windows all the way down the block. Tense and ever alert, he kept his gaze on the darkened street. He'd considered staying in his parked truck, but this wasn't a stakeout, and his visibility and mobility would be restricted inside the cab of his pickup.
Tonight was a first. Since leaving the U.S. Marshals Service he'd worked several cases that had involved teaming up with his brothers, but this time he was going solo, and he liked it.
The woman who'd called his agency asking for help had captured his interest right from the get-go. Yolandaat least that was the name she'd usedhad dialed his office late last night. She'd spoken in a harsh whisper, her words coming out in a rush. Certain that her abusive, soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, an officer in the Hartley P.D., would be at his own home tonight watching the game, she'd insisted on meeting in this tiny downtown park after hours. It was near her workplace, she'd said, and on her way home.
All things considered, Yolanda, or whoever she was, had come to the right P.I. He'd never had much patience with bullies, particularly those who preyed on women.
As the minutes stretched by and the temperature continued to drop, he reached into his pocket for his cell phone and dialed his foster brother, Preston.
Like it was with all his foster brothers, Preston and he had come from completely different backgrounds. Yet, once they'd been taken in by Hosteen Silver, the traditionalist Navajo medicine man who'd become their foster father, they'd grown as close, or closer, than blood brothers.
Preston Bowman, now a Hartley Police detective, lived for his job. Even though it was getting close to seven, Paul knew his brother would still be clocked in.
Preston picked up on the first ring and barked his name.
"It's me," Paul said.
"What's up?" Preston asked.
"I'm supposed to meet a clientYolandano last name.
She contacted me last night claiming she'd been trying to break up with her boyfriend, a Hartley cop. He's apparently started using her as a punching bag, so she's asked for my protection."
"Hook her up with the chief's office or Internal Affairs. We have ways of dealing with this kind of thing," Preston answered immediately.
"I suggested that, but she doesn't trust the police. She thinks they'll cover for one of their own."
"No way. We try to keep things in-house, sure, but we make sure the situation gets handled. We take a dim view of domestic abuse," he said. "Give her my number and tell her to come see me."
"I'll pass that on when she shows up, but if she says no, I'm taking her case."
"You're waiting for her right now?"
"Yeah. She's late. She said six-thirty."
"You thinking maybe her boyfriend found out she was looking for help?"
"The thought occurred to me, yeah," Paul said.
"She wouldn't give you a last name?"
"Nope. She was whispering when she called, so wherever she was, she was worried about being overheard. All I got was a description so I could spot her," Paul said.
"Blonde, five foot seven, average build. She said she'd be driving a green Ford SUV, wearing a denim jacket and jeans, and carrying a red handbag. She sound familiar?"
"You mean do I know an officer with a girlfriend named Yolanda who fits that bill?"
"Sorry, doesn't ring a bell. Give me her number and I'll run it through the system."
Paul gave him the number straight from his caller ID, then waited.
"That matches a residential landline for a woman named Yolanda Sharpe. The address is on Hartley's south side485 Conejo Road. Hang on a sec. Here's more. Yolanda's got a recordshoplifting, check fraud and a few misdemeanors," Preston said. "She's served six months jail time."
"Interesting background, but she still doesn't deserve to get batted around."
"True, but I think you should back off, at least for now. Look at the facts. She didn't give you her full name or even the first name of her boyfriend. Now she's late. Who knows what might have gone down? What if the boyfriend shows up instead, mad as hell and looking for a fight? With that bum shoulder, if he comes at you, you're going down hard."
"Look, bro, something's off. You felt that too or you wouldn't have called," Preston said. "Anyone who checks you out on the internet knows you like riding to the rescue. Remember that roughneck you threw out the window after he cornered the waitress at the Blue Corral? Made the cable news."
"That was self-defense." Paul chuckled softly. "And my shoulder didn't hold me back. He flew a good ten feet."
"Okay, so you're not backing off. Give me your location and I'll join you. You might be able to use a little backup."
"Just don't get in my way," Paul growled. "I'm standing behind the pines in the park beside the Murray Building on Main. My truck's across the street."
"I'm in my cruiser now. My ETA's only three minutes or less, so try to stay out of trouble till then."
Paul hung up, his gaze still on the empty street. His brother was right. He had a sixth sense about some things, and right now his instincts were telling him trouble was close at hand.
Muscles tensing up, Paul reached for the lynx fetish he wore around his neck on a leather cord. The slivers of pyrite that comprised its eyes glittered ominously. He'd never been able to figure out why, or how, but whenever danger was near, the eyes of the lynx would take on a light of their own. Tonight, maybe it was the lightning or the cold playing tricks on his senses, but either way, he'd learned not to ignore the warning.
After checking his watch one last time, Paul decided to walk back over to his pickup. He'd just stepped out of cover when a blue truck pulled up to the curb and the driver leaned toward the passenger's side window. As a brilliant flash of lightning lit up the night sky, he saw the pistol in the driver's hand.
Paul dove to the ground just as two loud gunshots ripped through the air.
Paul rolled to his right, and using a tree trunk as cover, he rose to one knee, pistol in hand, but it was too late. The truck was already speeding away. Making a split-second decision, he ran after it, hoping to read the plates.
He hadn't gone fifty yards when he heard the wail of an approaching siren. A heartbeat later Preston rounded the corner and pulled to a screeching stop beside him.
"You hit?" Preston asked, leaning over and shouting out the passenger's side window.
"No." Paul opened the door of his brother's unit and jumped in. "Blue pickup, turned south down Applewood."
"Make and model?"
"Ford 150, I think," Paul said, reaching for the shoulder belt as Preston hit the gas. "Or maybe a Chevy. The tailgate was down and it happened in a flash."
"Let me guess. No Yolanda?"
"I never got a look at the driver. All I saw was the pistol sticking out the passenger's window. If that lightning flash hadn't lit up everything at just the right time, I would have been on the ground right now, a soon-to-be chalk outline."
"You were set up, bro." Preston turned the corner at high speed, yanking Paul to one side. "The shooter can't be far. Keep an eye out for taillights on the side streets."
Paul kept a close watch on the area as his foster brother raced down the street. Traffic here was light. Hartley was barely a city. Most downtown businesses were closed before six, and the area restaurants and bars were all farther east or west.
"In your gut you knew all along that this wasn't just another domestic abuse situation. I'm right, aren't I?" Preston said as he took another left, then slowed down and directed his spotlight into the darkened alley they passed.
"I didn't know, but I had a feeling something wasn't right," Paul said. "I'd just decided to call it a night when it went down."
Preston slowed as they passed a bank parking lot, giving them time to study every inch of the well-lit area. "I think we struck out. The pickup's gone."
After another ten minutes, Preston picked up his radio and called off the other patrol cars in the area.
"So, you gonna report this to the marshals service?" he finally asked Paul.
"Yeah. I have to because Miller is still at large." Paul understood his brother's lack of enthusiasm. Local departments hated dealing with the feds. But locating Chris Miller, the man who'd killed his partner and wounded him, was a priority. "It's been ten months since the shooting, so this is probably unrelated, but no matter. I still have to report an incident like this."
Silence stretched out between them.
"What's eating you?" Preston finally asked.
"What happened tonight matches the prediction Hosteen Silver left for me," Paul said. A traditionalist medicine man, Hosteen Silver had respected his culture by avoiding the use of proper names. Instead, he'd gone by a nickname that fit him perfectly. Hosteen meant mister and Silver alluded to the color of his long, shoulder-length hair.
"You're talking about the letters we all got after his death?"
Preston nodded thoughtfully. "The old man he knew things. At first I thought it was just tricks, him picking up on subtle clues, like some savvy street hustler. But it was more than that. He had a real gift."
"Yeah, he did, and whatever he foretold was usually right on target," Paul said.
"So what did he say would lay ahead for you?"
Paul recited it from memory. "'When Dark Thunder speaks in the silence, enemies will become friends, and friends, enemies. Lynx will bring more questions, but it's Grit who'll show you the way if you become his friend. Life and death will call, but in the end, you'll choose your own path.'"
"You saw the pistol because of the lightning, that's what you said, right?" Preston said, then seeing him nod, added, "And the business district was pretty quiet."
"Yeah, but this time, our old man's prediction is going to be somewhat off the mark. Face it, the day Grit greets me as a friend will be the day after never." Hosteen Silver's horse hated him.
"Yeah. Whenever he hears your name his ears go flat and his eyes bug out."
Silence stretched out again.
"I'll call the marshals service as soon as I get home," Paul said. "A landline will get me a better connection, particularly on a night like this."
"Better not wait or go home either, if it's really Chris Miller. You should stay at a secure location with backup nearby. Let me get hold of Daniel and Gene and have them meet us in Copper Canyon. For us, that's the most secure place on earth."
Paul nodded. All five of his brothers knew that formation like the back of their hands and, there, in a narrow, deadend canyon, the tactical advantage was theirs.
Paul thought back to the phone call from Yolanda that had led up to this. He had no regrets. He'd been growing restless these past few months, eager to do something more than watch surveillance monitors, the bulk of his business these days.
Now, maybe, fate was finally giving him a chance to get back to the work he loved and pay his debt to the past. Throughout those long months of rehab, he'd kept going by telling himself that someday he'd find Miller, that it was inevitable their paths would cross again.
The possibility that Chris Miller had actually come after him now seemed almost too good to be true.
"Don't expect me to hide out," Paul said, then after a second added, "If it's Miller again, our face-off is long overdue. This is personal. Come morning I'm heading back to town."
U.S. Deputy Marshal Kendra Armstrong was nearly exhausted after another eighteen hour day. It was two o'clock in the morning, pitch-black outside, and she was alone in a remote corner of New Mexico's badlands. The headlights of her tiny rental car were the only illumination within miles.
She should have been back in Denver, in on the takedown of the fugitive she'd been after for the past six months. With effort, she pushed back her anger.
According to reports, it was possible that Chris Miller, a high-threat outlaw, had finally surfaced here. Her record for tracking down and capturing runaways fugitives was second to none, so she'd been immediately ordered to New Mexico. Still, the sudden reassignment had taken her by surprise. She hated surprises.
As she eased the tiny rental sedan along a dried-up stream bed, the car's tires began to lose traction. Feeling the sedan bogging down, she decided to leave the soft, sandy track.
She'd traveled less than one hundred yards when the undercarriage scraped loudly, the screech so loud it hurt her teeth. The car suddenly stopped, her tires spinning from lack of grip. The wobbly tilt of her vehicle told her she'd high centered on bedrock.
Kendra switched off the ignition and climbed out. The light in the distance teased herthe ranch house where former Deputy U.S. Marshal Paul Grayhorse awaited her arrival, no doubt. She was reaching inside the car for the bottle of water on the seat when she heard something moving in the brush behind her. Kendra instinctively reached for her weapon and turned in a crouch, gun in hand.