Silencer (Thorn Series #11)by James W. Hall, Ed Sala
Earl Hammond, the wealthy patriarch of a family of ranchers, lies dead, shot just as he was to donate his Coquina Ranch to the state to preserve it from developers. Spearheading the plan to save this environmental treasure was Thorn, a reluctant heir to a secret family fortune, who now finds himself in terrible danger as well. A pair of deviant brothers, both
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Earl Hammond, the wealthy patriarch of a family of ranchers, lies dead, shot just as he was to donate his Coquina Ranch to the state to preserve it from developers. Spearheading the plan to save this environmental treasure was Thorn, a reluctant heir to a secret family fortune, who now finds himself in terrible danger as well. A pair of deviant brothers, both contract killers, kidnap and imprison him in a sinkhole-a dungeon from which there is no escape. But Frisco Hammond, the dark sheep of the family, is drawn into the investigation of his father's murder and Thorn's disappearance. He suspects the crimes are related. Helping him is his brother's beautiful, troubled wife, Clare. They uncover a trail that leads back to the 1930s, to a cabal of powerful and rich men with a sinister plan. Silencer pits brother against brother and wife against husband in a thriller that proves once again that James W. Hall is "a master of suspense" (Publishers Weekly).
Read an Excerpt
By James W. Hall
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 James W. Hall
All rights reserved.
THE RAPPER AND HIS GIRLFRIEND, Janiqua, stood in the sunny corral, paging through the color brochure, selecting the animal they wanted to kill.
With the Remington twelve-gauge tipped against her shoulder, Claire Hammond drifted away, letting her husband, Browning, walk the couple through their choices. She waited in the shade of a cabbage palm, listening to him work his sales pitch, pointing out the Manchurian sika deer, the blackbuck antelope, the wildebeest, the eland, and the rest, describing which might be most challenging to stalk, which horns or heads would make the most impressive mount on the rap star's living room wall.
An hour earlier, DirtyX and Janiqua had arrived without reservations at the front gate of Coquina Ranch on a day Browning was scheduled to go down to Miami for business. So the way it was shaping up, once these two made their choice, it would fall to Claire to supervise the hunt.
After another minute of conversation, Browning broke away from the couple and came over. He put his arm around Claire's shoulders and steered her to a wedge of shade near the far side of the barn.
"Ten thousand bucks," he said quietly. "How could I say no?"
"Ten thousand?" It was five times their daily rate.
"I took one look at the limo, the way he was dressed, I said ten grand. The guy didn't flinch. He's doing a concert tomorrow in Miami, wants to bag something big to impress his homies back in L.A."
"What am I supposed to call him? Mr. Dirty?"
"Come on, Claire. Ten thousand bucks. Be cool."
Thirty yards away, over at the lodge, Earl Hammond, Browning's grandfather, stepped outside into the sun, paused for a moment on the deck to stare across the corral at the would-be hunters. From that distance Claire couldn't read his expression, but his disgust was unmistakable as he turned sharply and slipped back inside the lodge and shut the door.
The rapper wore a magenta jumpsuit, a bright yellow pirate scarf wrapping his skull, and big white shades like early Elton John. Janiqua had on a tight green dress that shimmered in the October sunlight. Scooped low in front, barely restraining her breasts. Not exactly regulation hunting outfits. Normally their customers, beer-drinking good ol' boys with their cheeks full of chaw, favored fatigues and camouflage.
Earl Hammond didn't much care for those fellows, either. He'd never approved of the whole hunting preserve venture. Thought it was cheesy and disreputable. A violation of the time-honored traditions the ranch stood for through the generations of Hammonds. But Earl didn't have the heart to deny his grandson anything, so he silently endured this desecration.
"Look, Claire, I have to get going. I'm late as it is. If you don't want to do it, say so. I'll send them away. But you know we could use the money."
"I'll do it," she said.
"Thanks, babe, I owe you one." He kissed her cheek, then stood back and gave her the hangdog grin he'd charmed her with in their college-sweetheart days. Though lately its magic had been waning.
Claire climbed into the back of the open Jeep, settled the Remington on her lap. Browning strolled back to DirtyX and Janiqua to close the deal.
"Cute couple," Jonah Faust said.
Behind the steering wheel, Jonah sat erect, giving Claire a grin in the rear view mirror as if they were in on the joke together. Jonah had a shaved head, a sneaky manner, and a bleak glitter in his eyes. She'd never liked him, felt a creepy vibe, and didn't understand what Browning saw in him and his brother, Moses. A couple of moochers, as far as Claire was concerned. They bunked in the primitive cabin on the game preserve and guided hunting parties now and then, did a few odd jobs around the ranch, but mainly they loafed. Old college buds of Browning's still hanging out six years after graduation.
It was a warm morning, cloudless with just enough breeze to stir the tops of the live oaks, the pines and sabal palms, and riffle the tall grass beyond the corral. In the barn the horses were nickering as Gustavo Pinto mucked their stalls. From a stand of palmetto near the lodge came the tetchy call of a scrub jay, and filtering through the yellowed light was the scent of brittle grass blowing in from the sunbaked rangeland. Early October in central Florida felt a lot like midsummer anywhere else.
Across the corral, DirtyX raised his hand and gave Browning a jive-ass, three-part handshake, then came strutting over to the Jeep, his girlfriend tagging behind, plugged into her iPod. Browning waved good-bye to Claire and headed for his car.
The rapper was a skinny man, short, with dreadlocks, unimpressive till he got close, removed his shades, and gave Claire a look at his fierce glare. Then, yeah, she could picture him up on stage, swaggering and chanting for an arena full of screamers. The harsh brown eyes of a man whose secrets outmatched anyone he met.
"I didn't see no rhinos or elephants in your pamphlet," he said to Claire.
"We don't have any of those."
"Your husband says to ask you what's the biggest baddest monster you got? I'm after something nasty, with fangs and shit."
Right there, Claire was ready to cancel things. Climb out of the Jeep, march back to the lodge, get busy with her chores. Screw the ten thousand. They didn't need the money. Not this bad. Browning would be pissed, but he'd get over it.
"Baddest thing on the ranch is the Watusi bull," Jonah said.
"Biggest horns you ever saw," said Jonah. "Eight feet tip to tip. Fucker gores you, you stay gored."
"Don't be scaring my little boy," Janiqua said.
"Ain't nobody scaring me." DirtyX gave his girl a snarly look. "They ain't nobody been born could scare me."
Jonah Faust glanced in the rearview mirror again, sent Claire a wink.
"Not the Watusi," Claire said. "We're not hunting that one."
"It's old and slow. There's nothing sporting in going after Immambo."
Janiqua plucked one ear bud out.
"The thing has a name?" she said. "Like what, it's a family pet?"
DirtyX leafed through the brochure until he found the photo of the Watusi bull. He tapped the page with his skinny finger, held up the picture.
"I want this fucker," DirtyX said. "That's what we're going for."
"Then it's twenty thousand dollars, nothing less," Claire said. She was pissed, just wanted to spin this guy around and kick him back where he came from.
"Boss man said ten for anything on the preserve."
"Okay, forget the whole deal. I don't negotiate. Case closed."
Claire started to climb from the Jeep, but the rapper said, "Okay, twenty."
Then he settled his butt in the passenger seat and that was that.
"Twenty K is lunch money," he said to Jonah. "Lock and load, bitches. Let's go whack this beast."
"Last I saw," Jonah said, "the Watusi was in Crook's Meadow."
"Big-ass horns, right?" Man to man, leaving the women out.
"Eight feet tip to tip," Jonah said.
"That's what I'm talking about."
Claire settled back in her seat.
Last month the vet from Miami had visited to check on Immambo. The bull had been stumbling around, lethargic. After running tests he'd determined it was nothing infectious, nothing that might spread to the other animals. Just a failing heart. The time had come to put the old boy down. Jonah knew the story. Probably thought it was a big goof, suggesting the Watusi. Taking the man's money for doing what they had to do anyway.
It took almost an hour to travel from the lodge to the game preserve, crossing a hundred acres of Hammond ranch land, all the rutted roads, gates to open and close, passing through cattle pastures and the tomato fields. Janiqua jiggled with her music, making little peeps of song.
On a bumpy jeep trail crossing Telegraph Prairie, DirtyX put his elbow on his seatback and cranked around to face Claire.
"What is this place, the Everglades?"
She shook her head.
"Everglades is half an hour south, a shallow river, eighty miles across. This is pine flatwoods. Completely different."
DirtyX shrugged, whatever.
They made it to Crook's Meadow by eleven. Immambo was standing in the shade of a grove of loblolly pines, grazing on knee-high wire grass. So old and weary, the bull didn't even look up when they arrived.
Jonah stopped forty feet off, cut the engine. Claire had been battling with it the entire way and had finally resigned herself to the inevitable. The twenty thousand didn't tip the scales one way or the other. Immambo had to be put down. The fact was, she'd been stalling for the last week. That's how she was going to look at this: euthanasia by rapper.
"There's your monster," Jonah said.
The Watusi gazed across at them blankly. He was no bigger than an average feedlot cow, but his horns extended four feet from either side of his head, thick and unwieldy, more burden than menace.
"Fucking horns, man." DirtyX's face shined with sweat. "Those are some big-ass horns. Got to weigh four hundred pounds, horns like that."
"You have a wall big enough for those puppies?" said Jonah.
The rapper took off his white sunglasses, and he and the Watusi checked each other out. A staredown that seemed to wake Immambo from his stupor.
"You ever used a shotgun?" Claire said. "You need a lesson?"
DirtyX grinned back at Janiqua.
"Fired a sawed-off once or twice. Believe I can manage."
"That's one strange-ass animal," Janiqua said. "It's staring at us funny."
"Give me the gun." DirtyX got out of the Jeep, never looking away from Immambo. "I'm shooting this bad boy."
"No," Claire said. "Forget it. This is wrong."
"What's wrong?" Janiqua said.
"That's a gentle creature. It's sick and dying. This isn't hunting. I've changed my mind. I can't let you do this."
"Gentle?" the rapper said. "I don't fucking think so. Watusi, man. I never heard of no gentle Watusi."
"Those horns keep him cool," Jonah said, off in his own time zone.
The rapper grinned uneasily.
"Hey, Niqua, you hear that? Horns keep him cool. Just like my horns."
"I don't know about this, baby. Maybe we should go shoot something else."
"How those horns keep him cool?" DirtyX asked. "Like a hat in the sun?"
"There's blood vessels inside them," said Jonah. "Blood flows through the horns, gets cooled by the air, flows back into the body. Like a radiator."
"Like a radiator."
"Go ahead, baby," Janiqua said. "Do what you gonna do. I'm sweating through my clothes, all this sun."
The rapper couldn't take his eyes off Immambo. And the bull seemed to sense this was a showdown like none he'd experienced before.
"I think we got us a chickenshit," Jonah said.
"Who you calling names?" The rapper didn't look away from the bull.
"I don't see anybody else around here pissing all over himself."
DirtyX tramped around to Claire's side of the Jeep and held out his hand. She took a long breath, let it go, then handed him the Remington.
A couple of years back Immambo had been the first exotic Browning brought to the ranch. In the two years since, Claire had witnessed many large and remarkable creatures tracked down and shot. She'd learned to blunt her sentimental attachments to most of them. But there was something about Immambo that still stirred her. She supposed it was the dignified way he endured the weight of those oversized horns. Rambling around as if the load he carried was of no consequence.
Until today she'd managed to steer all the hunters away from the Watusi. Even when the bull was younger and healthy, it was hardly fair game. A ten-year-old child could outrun the thing. There were no Watusi females on the ranch for it to protect, so it had never shown aggression of any kind. Though what she saw in Immambo at that moment was clearly different. Its hackles rising, a forward shift in its stance.
"Shoot him in the brain or what?" the rapper said.
"Don't mess up his face," Jonah said. "Taxidermist hates that shit."
"Go get him," Janiqua said. "Do it, baby."
Claire got out of the Jeep. She looked back at the sandy road they'd followed out to this meadow and thought briefly of hiking back to the lodge, just leave these craven children to their blood sport, let them assume the moral consequence. But of course she couldn't. This was her own weight to manage.
She'd never heard Immambo's bellow before. It startled her. It startled all of them. Beginning as little more than a wheeze but deepening quickly into a throaty rumble, then rising in pitch to a bleating scream that sent the rapper stumbling sideways into the Jeep.
He swung the shotgun up and aimed from his waist, the barrel wavering as if he couldn't locate his target. The Watusi had caught the scent of peril and started forward in a shaky canter, its massive horns cutting from side to side.
Janiqua squealed and spilled from the Jeep into the dry grass at Claire's feet.
"What the fuck!" the rapper yelled.
"Not in his face," Jonah said.
DirtyX dodged to his left as Immambo trotted toward him, the rapper waving the shotgun from side to side as if simply brandishing such a weapon had always worked for him in the past.
Claire circled the Jeep, and cut in front of the rapper, putting herself in the path of the Watusi, waving her arms back and forth for it to halt. But the bull had disappeared into its dream of combat, eyes as vacant and sightless as chips of coal. Claire yelled its name, a futile and silly act, losing a second and another as she waited for Immambo to respond. The bull trotted onward as though the rails it was mounted on ran directly through the Jeep and shot west across the farthest prairies.
"Get back!" she yelled to the others.
Claire kept her focus on the closer horn, waited till it was a foot away, then cut to her right, ducking below the slash, feeling a hot rush of air as the Watusi passed.
Immambo rammed the Jeep just above the front right wheel. He twisted his head and dug the point of his horn into the rubber tire and gouged away a fist-sized chunk. He rooted under the chassis as though whatever demon he'd conjured might be hiding in the shadows there.
The rapper dropped the Remington and backed toward the sandy trail, his girlfriend huddled at his shoulder.
Immambo jimmied his head beneath the carriage of the Jeep and seemed intent on flipping the vehicle onto its back. Some imaginary rhino armored for battle must have been flickering in its head, a squat adversary sheathed in metal. The Watusi found the leverage it was after and the right side of the Jeep rocked a foot from the ground.
"Get out of there, Jonah! Get out!"
"Hey, fuck this, okay."
Jonah bent forward, dug beneath his seat, and came out with a compact automatic weapon with a banana clip. He climbed atop his seat, lurching once, then grabbed hold of the windshield with one hand and aimed at Immambo with the other.
Before Claire could order him to stop, Jonah fired twenty rounds, then twenty more into the back and shoulders of the furious bull. Another dozen were required before Immambo gave up the battle it must have been anticipating for years, sinking silently to its belly in the yellow grass.CHAPTER 2
"COQUINA RANCH," RUSTY SAID. "YOU ever heard of it?"
"Up near Lake Okeechobee? That place?"
Rusty said, "Yeah, that one. The Hammond family, seventh-generation Floridians, here before Ponce de León."
It was a sheer afternoon in early November. A few minutes earlier Rusty Stabler had returned from a business trip and located Thorn in his customary spot, on the dock by the lagoon, tying bonefish flies. Selling those handcrafted lures to Keys fishing guides and a few longtime customers brought in a meager income, though it was the only income Thorn had ever required.
After they kissed, Rusty began to pace along the dock, a twinkle in her smile.
Thorn watched her for a minute, then went back to work on his bristle worm.
"So what about Coquina Ranch?"
She halted, her back to the water and the early-morning sun.
"Okay, but not until I have your undivided attention."
Thorn knotted the thread, snipped the end, and turned away from the fly-tying vice. Rusty was wearing one of her new business outfits: olive twill pants, a white linen blouse, and a burgundy jacket. Around her neck was a gold chain with a plump antique pearl her mother bequeathed to her.
In the last year, as her corporate duties consumed more of her time, Rusty had been forced to supplement her wardrobe of shorts, sandals, and T-shirts. Since most of her adult life had been spent on fishing boats, she'd never even owned a steam iron or coat hanger, much less a business suit. Which was one of the many things she and Thorn had in common.
With so little fashion sense, Rusty chafed and squirmed in those first store-bought outfits, and for weeks all the skirts and blouses seemed to fit her angular frame as awkwardly as starched cardboard. Little by little she discovered a style that suited her — clothes with a sporty grace, just proper enough to allow her to slip in and out of the boardrooms and the wood-paneled chambers of various elected officials that were now on her appointed rounds.
It was only one part of Rusty's makeover in the last twelve months. Using two decades of business smarts she'd acquired from running her own charter fishing operation, Rusty Stabler was now very skillfully managing Bates International, the third-largest privately held corporation in the United States.
Excerpted from Silencer by James W. Hall. Copyright © 2009 James W. Hall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
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Meet the Author
Edgar Award–winning author James W. Hall has produced four books of poetry, a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, and fifteen novels, including Under Cover of Daylight, Tropical Freeze, Bones of Coral, Buzz Cut, and Red Sky at Night.
Ed Sala, an actor and a writer, has won numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audiobook narrations, including one for Finn by Jon Clinch, and his performance of White Doves at Morning by James Lee Burke was selected by AudioFile as one of the fifteen best audiobooks of the year.
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This is an entertaining tale, albeit not if you are claustrophobic. (Well, the one part in the handmade prison.) The not so silent part is that the story is told in such a way that the outcome is never in doubt. The fun is in watching it take place. The characters are well-drawn, and the sense of idealism that prevails is a nice touch in this age of shoot-em ups and explosions.
James W. Hall doesn't rest on his laurels. He keeps on delivering - One great Thorn book after another. This was a clever, fast, fun read. Just what I needed in the cold Northeast winter - Thorn heating things up in Florida!
Another great book in the Thorn tradition.
Silencer is not in the same category with Under Cover of Daylight or Gone wild but it is a great book. You should buy James W. Hall the minute he hits the shelves. One of the most underrated writers of our time.
We all came to love Thorne for his personality, ability to attract trouble, and mostly lifestyle. This latest entry lacks the latter and, perhaps, introduces too many caracters, depriving Thorne is deserved central role. Otherwise very entertaining and suspensful.
Thorn has become a favorite series character of mine. James W. Hall began this series several years before the first of Randy Wayne White's 'Doc Ford' novels. While the 'Doc Ford' novels are perhaps known better, the 'Thorn' series is written better. Anyone who enjoys one series will enjoy the other. This offering is a fast-paced read where Thorn is kidnapped by two ne'er-do-well thugs, characters accurately reflecting the 21st century amoral itinerant criminal-for-hire. Like many criminals of this type they aren't the sharpest tools in the shed and Thorn eventually gets the better of them. But throughout there is an interlocking thread of suspense involving Thorn's lover, friend Sugarman, and a small collection of villains determined to undo a land deal between Thorn and a family patriarch. One of the reasons this novel moves so quickly is that it short, less than 300 pages. There was no sense of anything being missing, with excellent character drawing and a substantial plot. But I could have read this one for another 50 or 100 pages. Note to Hollywood; the brevity of the novel, the fast-moving plot and the expense-friendly settings practically yell 'movie'. Everyone new to the Thorn series should read the first Thorn novel, 'Under Cover of Daylight' as well as 'Hell's Bay' which will bring readers up to date and set up this novel. All of the Thorn novels are worth a read.
In Key Largo, Florida Rusty Stabler offers a deal to her reclusive boyfriend private investigator Thorn who has come into a nice but unexpected inheritance. He appreciate what she proffers as that will environmentally protect 300 square miles from avaricious developers. Part of the consideration would shut down Earl Hammond's Coquina Ranch game-hunting operation as he plans to donate his property to the State to keep it safe from greedy developers. However, soon after Rusty pitches her proposal, someone kills Hammond and Thorn is kidnapped. While the sleuth is struggling to come around and escape, his friend Sugarman searches for him unsuccessfully. Meanwhile professional killers Jonah and Moses Faust are working a serial killer memorabilia deal on the side of their paying gig of abducting Thorn; and Hammond's sons (ex-football star Browning and Miami cop Frisco) want justice and plan to obtain it for their late father. This is an excellent Florida wilderness thriller that grips the audience throughout while also making a strong case for the environment. Thorn is at his best digging his way out of ironically a natural prison of a deep sinkhole while Frisco and Browning's wife Clare investigate the murder and the abduction that they tie together by the protect the land deal; neither realizes the real connection dates back to Depression Era developers in this great suspense thriller. Harriet Klausner