Primates are being smuggled over the Mexican border, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Racheal Porter has a hot tip that they're hidden somewhere on the Happy Hunting Ranch. Bad enough that the game ranch provides rare antelopes, Indian deer, and African oryx for the rich to hunt. Now Rachel's sure the hidden illegal chimps are being used for a far more nefarious purpose than exotic target practice.
But when a smuggler is murdered minutes before Rachel can get his insider information, and a mysterious thug comes gunning for her after she unearths enemy territory. For on the border, where coyotes roam and mountain lions prowl, the rule is kill or be killed, and Rachel's no longer a hunter-now she's become the prey.
About the Author
A freelance journalist specializing in wildlife enforcement issues, Jessica Speart has been published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, OMNI, Travel & Leisure, Audubon, and many other publications. She is the author of several mysteries and lives in Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
"I'm gonna let you in on something big, Porter. But you've gotta come out here now and see what's about to go down!"
The insistent whisper curled into my brain, gnawing like a rodent's incisors. Prying open an eye, I glanced at the clock. Five A.M. I'd been dreaming of Harrison Ford; my reality was Timmy Tom Tyler. I was tempted to hang up the phone and roll over, picking up where Harrison and I had left off.
"You're gonna owe me big time on this one." Then Tyler shrewdly dangled his bait. "Hell, this might even get you one of those cheap gold-plated stars."
Damn! Those were the magic words I couldn't resist. Harrison gave me an understanding "see ya later, kid," smile as I groaned. Timmy Tom was undoubtedly calling from some godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere. I was beginning to hate cell phones.
"Where are you?" I croaked. My tongue felt as fuzzy as a hair ball, coated with the residue of one too many frozen margaritas from last night. This was my newest approach to the "I-can't-believe-the-man-loved-left-me" remnants of a heartache.
"Just head out on the Anapra till you hit a dirt road after Marker 63, and hang a right. Don't worry, Porter.
You won't have any trouble finding me," Tyler declared mysteriously. The phone clicked dead.
Like this was just what I was itching to do at the crack of dawn: run around playing sleuth in the middle of the desert. But Timmy Tom was the first snitch I'd developed since my transfer to El Paso four months ago, and with the way things were going, I had little choice but to cultivate his good will. Fish and Wildlife refused to pay informants. Hell, from what I heard, the Service wasn't all thatcrazy about paying me these days.
I groggily dressed, made my way out the door, and pulled myself up into the monster Ford F-150 pick-up I'd inherited from the posting's previous agent. Since it was too early to stop at a convenience store for coffee, I washed my Pop-Tart breakfast down with a can of Coke that had been sitting in the cupholder since yesterday.
Then I hit the road, with the serrated peaks of the Organ Mountains rising like a set of mismatched musical pipes beside me. In the rear view mirror, the barest wisp of a cloud played hide-and-seek with a waning moon that was loath to cede the last vestige of night. But an expanding sliver of sun was inevitably winning. I raced toward where it rose, liquid as a broken egg yolk, its rays spilling onto the ebony asphalt in widely splayed fingers of warm, yellow fight.
Forty-five minutes later, I veered sharply onto a dirt path studded with creosote bushes and a wide array of rocks that were "bigger than a pebble, and smaller than a breadbox." The ideal spot to practice what I'd dubbed as driving aerobics. Less boring than a Stairmaster, it was the perfect solution for the exercise-impaired. This morning's workout consisted of bouncing through the middle of no-man's land: a patch of bleached desert on the New Mexico-Mexican border. My body shimmied and shook as the Ford vaulted over rocks, my hips swinging from side to side. Who knows? If my career with Fish and Wildlife didn't pan out, maybe I could host an infomercial and make some bucks teaching these moves to Midwestern housewives. A few more months of jiggling around like this, and Sharon Stone would be asking me for some tips.
So, what was Tyler talking about? The only thing I'd seen so far was a flock of glossy starlings bolting out of the brush, resembling a bunch of cheap-suited Joes on their way to a funeral. Then I caught sight of a shimmering shape on the ground up ahead. The crumpled form caused my heart to flutter as rapidly as the wings of the avian throng, and soon crystallized into a body lying flat on the parched desert floor. A cadre of buzzards flew directly above, slowly circling lower and lower. Unless. this was Tyler's way of catching a few rays, my guess was that things weren't looking too good for him right about now.
I parked my Ford and walked over to where Timmy Tom silently scowled up at me. My breakfast instantly turned to a cold, hard lump in the pit of my stomach, even though the Chihuahua desert heat could have fried a tortilla. Someone had taken the jingle "reach out and touch someone" a little too far: Timmy Tom's cell phone was rammed halfway down his throat.
My eyes traced a distant set of tire tracks that approached from the sun-baked earth of Mexico and came to a halt at a broken-down barbed-wire fence. Its rusted tines sliced across the landscape like a jagged line of stubble left after a bad shave. On this side of the border, a different set of tire marks picked up not far from the body. Their treads revealed them to be fairly new, showing little wear-so the vehicle clearly hadn't been government issue. The tracks disappeared in the direction of the Anapra Road, taking with them whatever secrets had been here. It was business as usual on the border.
I walked back to the pick-up and dug out my own cell phone, since Timmy Tom's line was out of order, and placed the emergency call to the local sheriff's department.
"Hold on to your caballos, lady. We'll get out there eventually." The reply was delivered in a cowboy twang.
I chalked up the laid-back response to an overabundance of lithium in the local water supply. Not about to stand around and count rattlesnakes while waiting for the local law enforcement to show up, I decided to start my own investigation. Once the police arrived on the scene, they'd greedily claim the corpse as their own. Call it quirky, but I tend to get possessive of dead bodies that I find. Especially when the cadaver happens to be my one and only, true-blue, "boy-have-l-got-something-for-you" informant.
I swiftly emptied my glove compartment of its survival gear a stash of Snickers and Hershey barsgrabbed a pair of latex gloves, and pulled them on. When I turned back around, I found that a vulture had already begun noshing on Timmy Tom's arm. A few deft Jackie Chan moves established that I was the one with first dibs, then I set to work, getting better acquainted with Tyler than I had ever wanted to...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Agent Rachel Porter is the US Fish and Wildlife Service's answer to National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. While Anna defends the environment from the 'bad guys,' Rachel puts her life on the line to protect endangered species. In 'Border Prey,' it's helpless primates who are threatened by the greedy and ruthless. Rachel is a protagonist with 'attitude,' giving as good as she gets with humor and heart on every page. As usual, author Speart has surrounded Agent Porter with an off-beat cast of characters to spice up the plot and also adds a slam-bang climax. If you like the writing of Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, and Katy Munger, you'll love Jessica Speart's books. While 'Border Prey' stands on it's own, you might also want to read the author's earlier works -- 'Gator Aide,' 'Bird-Brained,' and 'Tortoise Soup' -- to quadruple your mystery pleasure.