Read an Excerpt
Kyle Goodluck liked living on the edge. He carried his NCIS badge with honor, stood tall and faced things squarely. He'd served his country well, first as a marine and now as a federal agent. This time the case he was working on had brought him back home.
Kyle watched his brother, Hartley Police Detective Preston Bowman, take a call. Preston's face was characteristically impassive and hard. Once finished, he put the cell phone back in his pocket.
"Sorry for the interruption," Preston said. "Now talk to me. What's going on? I thought you were going to turn in your badge and come home for good this time."
He wouldn't lie to his brother, but Kyle wasn't above sidestepping the issue. "You know how it goes. Sometimes you have to step back and think hard about long-term decisions, particularly ones that'll affect your future."
"So you're not ready to talk about what's really going on."
He laughed. "Nothing much gets past you, does it? Forgot who I was dealing with for a sec."
"You and I have always been able to read each other," Preston said. "I'm guessing you're under orders, but this is my turf. You may need my help and HPD's cooperation somewhere along the way. Keeping us in the dark is a bad idea."
"I hear youloud and clear." Preston's warning was unmistakable. He wouldn't take it well if an undercover op went down under his nose and he knew nothing about it. Unfortunately, orders were orders.
"I better be shoving off," Preston said. "Where are you planning to stay? You can use the ranch house at Copper Canyon, if you want. We've continued with the upgrades and it's in pretty decent shape right now. You've also got Hosteen Silver's letter waiting for you there ," he said, pausing for a reaction.
"No way I'm opening that, buddy. The first four of us who did ended up getting married. I'm leaving that envelope unopened in the desk drawer for the foreseeable future."
"Guilty," Kyle answered laughing. "Hosteen Silver was a good hataalii," he said, using the Navajo word for medicine man. "He could do some amazing things, like predicting future events, but sometimes it's better not to know."
"There's a lot to be said for advance notice," Preston said. "Forewarned is forearmed."
"Maybe, but my work, my life, is all based on what happens minute by minute. The future well, it's still going to be there waiting for me to arrive."
"I hear you," Preston answered.
Kyle phone's rang, and seeing the display, he glanced back at his brother. "I've got to take this."
Preston stood. "I'm going to work. You know how to get hold of me if you need me."
As Preston left the table, Kyle answered the call. "Kyle here."
"We've had a new development," Martin Hamilton said. "Call me back on a secure phone."
The next thing he heard was a dial tone.
Slipping into his black leather jacketthe early-morning fall breeze was briskKyle walked out to his service-provided SUV. He'd arrived about three hours ahead of the man he was supposed to tail, and had found the $100K prize waiting for him at the airport. His ride had come equipped with bulletproof windows, integral ceramic and Kevlar armor, a special mobile data terminal and satellite phone in the center console. GPS tracking gear was also hidden within the body, so his exact location would always be known to any agency with the right equipment.
Under the seat was an easy access M4 selective fire assault rifle with night vision capability and three thirty-round magazines. The spare-tire compartment contained tear gas, smoke and flashbang grenades beside a first-aid and survival kit that would provide a week of food and water for two people. No spare tire was needed because they were all run-flat, immune to road hazards, spike belts and any weapons smaller than fifty caliber.
He picked up the satellite phone and entered the number. It was answered almost immediately at the other end by a female voice he recognized.
"Hello, Kyle," a rich, sultry voice greeted. "In place yet?"
"You bet. Just heard the boss wants to talk."
"I know. Don't I always? Patching you through now."
A moment later, a male voice came through clearly. "Regarding your target, Lieutenant Henry Leland. Any suspicious activity, any contacts?"
"No. This morning Leland's at Secure Construction. I've monitored his movements since his arrival. I'm currently down the street. He's there with his regular staff."
"Unless there's a specific reason for keeping him under surveillance, I suggest you break cover and meet up with him. He just called NCIS and asked for our help. He says he's being blackmailed by terrorists."
"Interesting development. What are my orders?"
"Check out his story, then stick to him like glue. Find out every detail of what's going on, and keep me in the loop. Leland just spent weeks in Spain at a U.S. naval base, working in restricted areas. We could be talking about a major breach in security."
Kyle switched on the ignition, pulled out of the parking lot and drove down the street, alert for anything that might seem off or unusual. Nothing drew his attention. It was just another weekday morning in Hartley, New Mexico, a town just off the rez in the Four Corners region of the state.
This section of town was industrial, and most of the businesses were oil and gas field related. There were container-storage or building-supply warehouses and the occasional hole-in-the-wall fast-food place or gas station.
Kyle approached Secure Construction's five-acre, fenced compound from the east, passing the large warehouse and model structures, which were facing the street for maximum exposure. Ahead was the big double gate, parking lot and offices. All the buildings were constructed from the strong, corrugated metal-ceramic laminate components the company had built its reputation upon.
Making a right hand turn through the open gates into the parking lot, Kyle noted two vehicles in front of the office. One was Hank Leland's Silverado pickup, the same truck Kyle had bugged, followed here from the airport last night and, lastly, to Leland's home. This morning its travel route had been more directhome to office.
Just then a man in a light jacket and ball cap stepped out of the office's front entrance, Leland right behind him. Another man was on Leland's heels. Behind them, a woman was being forcibly pulled along by a third man.
Kyle recognized the stunning brunette from her file photo. It was Erin Barrett, Leland's office manager. Either Leland and the woman had just been arrested by undercover cops, or something was seriously wrong. His gut went with the latter option.
Kyle whipped his SUV around and skidded to a stop, placing his vehicle between him and the people coming down the sidewalk.
The man closest to him suddenly raised a pistol and pointed it at Kyle. "Stay in the car!" he ordered.
"Help!" the woman screamed.
Operating on instinct and training, Kyle threw open his door, reaching for his holstered Glock at the same time his feet touched the asphalt.
The men opened fire and he ducked down, moving forward behind the engine block as he heard bullets slapping against the passenger's side of his SUV. Taking a quick glance around the front end bumper, he saw Hank and the woman trying to pull free of their captors.
All three men had pistols out now, pointed in his direction. As Kyle ducked below the engine block, two more rounds whistled just over the hood. Kyle hit the ground, rolled left, and brought up his .40 caliber Glock.
The kidnappers sidestepped to their right, holding their hostages in front of them. They were moving too quickly for him to get a clear shot, so he rolled back to the right under the open door, jumped up and reached into the SUV. Holstering the Glock, he unhooked the latch holding the M4 assault rifle in place beneath the seat, and brought out the weapon.
Kyle ran around to the rear of his vehicle, still staying behind cover. He fed a round into the chamber, and thumbed off the safety, aiming his weapon as he came into view. The kidnappers had already slipped out of sight around the far corner of the office building, pulling along their hostages.
In a crouch, Kyle hurried to the opposite end of the building, veering to his right, sights on the back corner, waiting for someone to poke their head around.
He went down on one knee, and waited, finger on the trigger. Suddenly someone hurtled into view. His training forced him to ID the target before firing, and in that split second he saw it was the woman, Erin. She'd been shoved out to draw his fire.
"Hug the wall," he yelled to her, firing at the corner of the building just to the right of her. There was a groan and a man staggered out into the open, pistol falling from his outstretched hand as he clutched his chest.
It wasn't Hankhe'd known it wouldn't be. Only the bad guys would have pushed Erin out as a target.
Whirling around to his left, he heard then saw another of the armed men who'd circled back around the front of the building. As the man raised his pistol and fired, Kyle dodged, stepping toward the side of the building and out of his line of sight. The bullet tore off a chunk of building corner, but whistled behind him.
Kyle ran to the woman, who was crouched low, hugging the wall and staring in wide-eyed shock at the man on the ground in front of her. Kyle could tell at a glance that the gunman wouldn't be getting back upat least not in this world. "Stay down. They're going to circle back around to the front!"
Just to be sure, Kyle took a quick glance around the back, and, as he'd guessed, nobody was there anymore. He stepped closer, placing himself between Erin and the front, his M4 in position to take out anyone stupid enough to look around the corner.
"They've got Hank!" she whispered, reaching for the pistol on the ground. She pulled back the slide just enough to verify a round was in the chamber, then checked the safety.
Surprised, he looked directly at her. "You know how to use that?"
"I was born and raised in rural New Mexico. Of course I do."
He gave her a quick grin. Beautiful and gutsy. He liked her already. "Okay. Watch yourself," he said, never taking his eyes off the corner as he stepped forward.
Crouching low, he inched around and aimed his weapon at the two men holding Hank between them. Both were looking away, one at the far corner, the other at the street.
Silently, he moved across the gravel and managed to outflank them, placing himself in a position to cut them off if they ran for the street exit. "Put down your weapons or I'll drop you!" he yelled.
Both spun around and fired, one shot shattering an office window behind him, the other tugging at Kyle's left shoulder, ripping fabric not flesh.
The sudden distraction gave Hank Leland a chance. He broke free and ran for his life toward the street.
Hearing screeching tires as a gray van raced into the parking lot, Kyle hit the ground and rolled. "Hank, watch out!" he yelled seconds too late.
The van's passenger-side front end suddenly struck Le-land head-on, throwing him up into the air. Hank landed with a thud on the asphalt fifteen feet away, right in front of the fleeing gunmen.
As the van skidded to a stop, Kyle rose to one knee, weapon up. That's when he saw the assault-rifle barrel poking from the driver's-side window. He only had one quick look at the face but it was a woman, and she looked pissed.
He dove behind a whiskey-barrel planter to his left as a flurry of rounds dug into the ground where he'd been only a few seconds ago.
Prone, Kyle brought his M4 around and aimed it at the van. The men had stopped long enough to grab Hank by the arms and were dragging his inert form toward the van.
Kyle fired two quick rounds, aiming high, not wanting to hit Hank, but hoping to force them to let him go.
It worked. They dropped him and piled into the van.
Kyle rolled behind the barrel just as the woman fired another burst, showering him with chunks of the oak barrel. He moved to the left this time, but his own SUV was in his line of fire now, shielding the van as it backed up.
Jumping to his feet, Kyle tried to get a clear shot, but there was a school bus passing by on the street. He couldn't risk it.
Hearing running footsteps behind him, he turned his head and saw Erin Barrett jogging toward him in a crouch, gun down at her side. Her eyes were on Hank.
As the van raced down the street and disappeared around a corner, she ran across the asphalt and knelt by the wounded man. "Hank, don't you dare let them win. You fight and stay here with us!"
Kyle was already dialing 911 when she turned her head to look up at him, fear mirrored on her face.
"Who are you, and why didn't you get here sooner?"
The question threw him for a beat. "I'm an agent with the IRS," he said, using the cover that usually brought questions from the curious to an abrupt stop. "Help will be here soon," he said, coming up to her. "Mr. Leland's still breathing, so he's got a chance, just don't move him. The bleeding isn't bad, but he undoubtedly has broken bones and internal injuries."
She put her hand on Leland's. "I'm here, Hank. Hang on."
He watched her, trying to figure out if she was a well-placed mole working with terrorists, or the real deal. Until he knew, trusting her was out of the question.