Breaking Cover

Breaking Cover

by J.D. Rhoades

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940610214
Publisher: Polis Books
Publication date: 08/04/2015
Series: Tony Wolf/Tim Buckthorn , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 145,730
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Born and raised in North Carolina, J. D. Rhoades has worked as a radio news reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, attorney, and newspaper columnist. His weekly column in North Carolina’s The Pilot was twice named best column of the year in its division. The author of The Devil’s Right Hand, Good Day in Hell, Safe and Sound, Breaking Cover, and Broken Shield, he lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage, NC. Follow him on Twitter at @jd_rhoades.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


THE FACES OF THE TWO BOYS WERE EVERYWHERE: stapled to roadside telephone poles, tacked to bulletin boards in Laundromats and grocery stores, taped to the sides of cash registers in convenience stores.


The pictures were grainy and blurred from repeated copying on creaky, overused public machines. The photo had been taken at a birthday party or some other festive occasion. The younger boy wore a cheap paper party hat with a tuft of plastic streamer jutting from the top. The older boy had his arm around the younger one’s shoulders. The gap-toothed grins on the boys’ faces contrasted grotesquely with the desperation of the hand-lettered caption.


Sanders’s eyes flickered over the familiar poster as he waited in line. He knew who the boys were; everyone knew by now. The missing Powell boys, Evan and Earl, had seized as much news airtime as a dozen small wars. They had been taken from their suburban Raleigh home by someone invariably described as "an unknown assailant." There were also pictures of the unknown assailant, a drawing made by a police artist from the description of witnesses who had seen him talking to one of the boys. The boys were widely presumed to be dead, although no one would actually say this, least of all on the local news.

Sanders turned his attention back to the counter. The clerk was a bulky teenaged girl with bored eyes, a sullen mouth, and a gold stud through her tongue that flashed in the glare of the fluorescent lights when she spoke, which wasn’t any more often than she could help. Her demeanor indicated a stubborn resistance to the idea ofhurry. She rang up the gas purchase for the man in front of Sanders with short, erratic stabs of her fat fingers on the cash register keys.

"Mbackseeus," she mumbled at the customer, dismissing him from her consciousness as she said it and turning to Sanders in the same motion. "Atbeall?"

Sanders put a Mountain Dew and a pack of Nekot crackers on the counter. "No," he said, "I need to fill up on pump number four. Supreme."

"Leave the gas card," the girl said.

"Don’t have one," Sanders said.

The girl looked at him in exasperation. "You gotta come back an’ pay, then."

"I know," Sanders said. "But you won’t turn the pump on until I come in and ask."

The girl heaved a heavy sigh and turned to the console that controlled the gas pumps. She punched the keys to turn on the pumps as if she were imagining poking Sanders in the eyes. She turned back. "Well?" she said, as if she were offended that Sanders was still there.

"I want to pay for the drink and the crackers now."

"You gotta pay all at once," the girl said.

"Says who?" Sanders replied.

"There some kind of problem, Alison?" a voice said.

Sanders turned. The man standing a few feet away was about the same height as Sanders, but he was slim and wiry where Sanders was stocky. It was hard to tell his age; he looked about forty at first glance, but his skin was lined and creased by long exposure to the outdoors and pockmarked with ancient acne scars. He had thinning sandy hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He was dressed in a light brown deputy sheriff ’s uniform. The gold star gleamed on his right breast pocket. There was a rectangular gold name badge over the other pocket. Sanders could make out the raised black lettering against the gold background: T. BUCK-THORN.

"He’s got to pay for the stuff all at once," Alison complained to the deputy.

"I’m thirsty," Sanders said. "I want to drink my drink while I fill the tank. I don’t know why this is a—"

"Tell you what, Alison," the deputy said, "I’ll walk out and keep an eye on him. I’ll make sure he doesn’t drive off without paying, okay?"

"Well…" the girl said doubtfully. People had begun lining up behind Sanders, and the way they were shuffling their feet and looking annoyed decided the question. "Okay," she said, giving Sanders a look of smoldering disgust as she rang him up.

Buckthorn was right behind Sanders as he walked out to his truck. It was a Ford F250, brand-new. Sanders got a new truck every year. He worried sometimes that maybe it was too conspicuous, but it was the one luxury he allowed himself. In another time and place, he had ridden a motorcycle, but pickups helped him blend into the landscape these days. Plus, the road he lived on tended to get tricky in bad weather, the kind of tricky that called for four-wheel drive.

Sanders popped the top on the Mountain Dew can with one hand while he took the gas nozzle off the hook of the pump. As he started pumping the gas, the deputy leaned against the metal light pole between the two banks of pumps. He took a toothpick out of the pocket of his uniform shirt and stuck it in his mouth. Sanders didn’t look directly at him, but in his peripheral vision, he could see the man watching him.

"Alison’s a sweet girl," Buckthorn said to Sanders. "She just doesn’t want Jeff—that’s the owner—to get mad at her. He’s kind of particular about how he wants things done."

"Uh-huh," Sanders said.

"See, I know Alison. I know her family. I try to know everybody around here."

"I’m sure they appreciate that," Sanders said.

The deputy scanned him for a few moments, looking for sarcasm. "Thing is, Mr. Sanders, I don’t know you. And what bothers me is that I can’t seem to find out anything about you. Beth Anne at the Pine Lake Realty says you pay your rent on the old Jacobs farm in cash every month. Y’don’t see that much. And you don’t seem to have a job, so I’m figuring you’re pretty well off."

"I have a trust fund," Sanders said. "My uncle died and left it to me."

"Lucky you," Buckthorn said. "But then, like you said back there, you don’t have any credit cards. That’s kind of odd, don’t ya think?"

There was a clunk as the gasoline reached the level of the nozzle and it shut off. Sanders pulled the nozzle from the intake and set it back in its niche on the pump. "You do keep pretty well informed. Some folks might call that invasion of privacy."

Buckthorn shifted the toothpick to the other side of his mouth and smiled. "I call it good community policing. So do most of the folks around here. They don’t mind me checking up. Makes ’em feel safer. ’Course, they’ve got nothin’ to hide. You got something to hide, Mr. Sanders?"

Sanders began walking back toward the store. He saw the girl’s pale face staring at him through the glass of the front window. It showed the most interest he had seen in her face yet.

He heard Buckthorn’s footsteps behind him as he reached the door. He stopped and turned. "What do you want, Deputy?"

Buckthorn stopped and crossed his arms across his chest. "I want to know who you really are, Mr. Sanders. I want to know why you’re here."

Sanders turned back to the door. "I’m here because I like peace and quiet," he said. He took hold of the door handle and looked steadily at the deputy.

Buckthorn uncrossed his arms. "Well, then, we should get along okay," he said. "I like that, too. Have a good evenin’, Mr. Sanders." He flicked the toothpick into the nearby trash receptacle and walked off toward his cruiser, parked at the edge of the concrete lot.

Sanders took a deep breath and went inside. He tried to ignore the girl’s stare as he paid for the gas. He felt her eyes on his back as he walked to the truck.

The deputy’s car was pulling out as Sanders got behind the wheel. He started his own vehicle and pulled out behind, careful to keep below the posted speed limit. The little store was located on a country road a few miles outside of town. He pulled up to the stop sign at a crossroads. Straight would take him onto Main Street in the little town of Pine Lake. The left turn took him out the long two-lane country road to his house. The deputy’s car pulled away, going straight toward town.

Sanders noticed his hands were shaking. Nobody was coming in either direction, but he sat there for a moment while he calmed down. Just a redneck deputy throwing his weight around, he told himself. It’s nothing.

As he sat there, a white van came down the road from his left. It was unmarked, nondescript. If it hadn’t been the only vehicle on the road, Sanders wouldn’t even have noticed it. As he watched, the van went through the intersection and pulled over to the shoulder. Sanders saw that the rear windows of the van were covered with cardboard taped over the inside. His brow furrowed slightly.

Suddenly, the piece of cardboard was ripped away from the left rear window. Sanders found himself staring into a face he had seen before. He had just seen it on a poster in the store. He had seen it on every news brief and local news show on TV. It was the face of Earl Powell.

The boy’s face was contorted with terror. He mouthed what looked like the word "help" before an unseen hand jerked him out of the window. The cardboard was replaced. There was a brief pause; then the van jerked back into motion.

Sanders sat for a moment, paralyzed with shock and uncertainty. He wondered if he had really seen the boy’s face. His hand seemed to move of its own accord as he put the truck in gear. He fell in behind the van, following at a good distance. He passed the driveway to his house. He thought for a moment about stopping and calling the cops. Then he remembered Buckthorn and changed his mind. He didn’t want to have to deal with the deputy again. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but he reached behind the passenger seat and pulled out a black pistol, a Glock 9 mm.

TIM BUCKTHORN glanced in his rearview as he pulled away, watching Sanders sit at the crossroads for a moment. He saw the truck turn left after a white van passed. His fingers drummed restlessly on the wheel as he returned his eyes to the road ahead, his mind still on his conversation with Sanders. There was something about the man that still bothered him. It was illogical, he knew; he had never had cause to arrest Sanders or even suspect him of anything wrong. The man paid his taxes, took good care of his home, and kept pretty much to himself. Maybe that was it, Buckthorn thought. After all, didn’t everyone say that after their neighbor turned out to have been a serial killer? He was a quiet guy, kept to himself… Buckthorn shook his head as his cruiser bumped over the railroad tracks at the edge of town. Now you’re thinking crazy, Tim, he thought. He glanced left at the pine-fringed lake that had given the town its name. The sunlight glittered silver on the water, bringing a smile to Buckthorn’s lips. The town had once been a prime vacation spot, the railroad bringing tourists from north and south to stay in the massive resort hotel that overlooked the big lake. An outdoor bandstand hosted big-name acts in the ’30s and ’40s. Benny Goodman was said by the town’s older residents to have played there on several occasions. The place had fallen on hard times after World War II and had closed its doors in 1952. The once-grand structure had fallen slowly into rot and ruin, becoming a place children dared each other to sneak into, the biggest danger being that their parents whipped their behinds if they caught them taking the dare. A careless vagrant had burned it down with him in it in 1972, and the old bandstand had been torn down not long after. Now only the foundation stood among the tall grass near the water. The town’s fortunes had also declined, the resort community bypassed by time and the interstate. Downtown had been struggling for years, with only the yearly Bass Festival and its related fishing tournament drawing tourists and money to the little community. Still, Buckthorn thought as the country road widened and turned into the tree lined avenue of Main Street, it was a good place to live. There were good people here.

I SHOULD call the cops, Sanders thought. This isn’t my business. It’s not my job

The phrase brought back a sudden memory, so vivid it was almost like a physical blow.

A pair of frightened eyes in a dark face, a high giggle, a voice behind him speaking in a high-pitched parody of a Mexican accent: "Ees not my yob, man…"

He steered with his elbows for a moment, racking the slide to chamber the first round. He saw the van ahead of him slow, then turn right. It looked for a moment as if the driver meant to steer the van into the trees that lined both sides of the road. Sanders noticed a deeply rutted dirt driveway coming out of the trees. The van disappeared as if swallowed by the woods. He drove past, not slowing down. He had passed the place before. The drive had been so overgrown, he had always assumed it was abandoned.

A half mile up the road, he stopped and made a three-point turn in the middle. He drove back to the hidden driveway and pulled in slowly. Branches scraped against the side of the truck. Gonna scratch my paint, Sanders thought. He stopped the truck and killed the engine. As he got out, he could hear the van on the road ahead, gears grinding as it tried to negotiate the corrugated road. "Dumb fucker," Sanders said out loud. "Should’ve got a four-wheel drive." He heard the engine stop. A door slammed. Soft clay mixed with pebbles squelched softly under Sanders’s boots as he crept up the drive.

There was a small clearing at the end of the drive. Sanders faded back against a tree to scope things out. The van was parked about fifty feet away, in front of a single-wide trailer that looked at least thirty years old. The supports in the middle had given way, and it sagged in the center. Several of the windows were broken out and boarded up with plywood. The propane tank leaning at one end of the structure was badly rusted. The place looked as if it hadn’t been inhabited in years.

Sanders heard the panel door on the other side of the van open. He heard a male voice grunt with effort, then a muffled squeal of pain.

"Shut up, you little bitch," a gravelly voice said. "I told you to stay still back there. Now you’re going to get what’s coming to you." Another grunt and another muffled sound of agony. Sanders heard the trailer door open, then bang shut. He started to move, but the sound of the door opening again stopped him in his tracks. He’s getting the other kid, Sanders thought.

When Sanders heard the door slam shut again, he moved across the clearing. He crouched for a moment behind the van. From inside the trailer, he heard a man shouting, the same male voice he had heard earlier. He couldn’t make out the words. He heard a sharp crack, then a cry. He slipped around the van.

The trailer door hung crookedly in its warped frame. A set of rickety wooden steps rose unsteadily toward the doorway, leaving a gap of several inches. Sanders sprang onto the steps and yanked the door open.

The first thing that struck him was the smell. The roof of the ruined trailer had leaked rain onto the cheap carpeting, giving the place a musty wet-dog odor. Overlaying that was a sharp smell of fear-sweat and body fluids, a throat-closing stench of misery and pain sealed into the small space. Sanders nearly gagged as he stepped through the doorway.

The door opened into what had been the trailer’s living room. Someone had hammered sheets of plywood across the inside of all the windows, leaving the room as close and dark as a dungeon cell. The only illumination was provided by the harsh light of a battery-powered lamp that hung by a bungee cord from a dead ceiling fixture. The lamp swung as the violence of Sanders’s entrance caused the rickety trailer to rock slightly. The illumination jerked and wavered, giving the scene before Sanders a surreal, hellish quality.

The man was bent over a small struggling figure on the floor. The boy had his hands fastened behind him with duct tape. More strips of the silver tape secured his ankles. The man had one hand hooked in the waistband of the boy’s sweatpants, working them down over his buttocks. The other hand held a short knife that glittered and winked brightly in the unstable light. Sanders briefly registered another bound figure lying against the far wall. The man stood up, his eyes showing wide and white with shock in the jittering gloom. His mouth opened as if to say something. Sanders’s first shot struck him in the chest, the impact shoving him up straighter for the second shot to drive him backward. The third shot went straight into his open mouth and sprayed blood and fragments of bone onto the wall behind. Another rank smell combined with the sudden coppery tang of blood in the air as the man’s bowels and bladder let go. He collapsed like a house of cards to the floor.

Sanders crossed the room and stood over the man. He felt his heart pounding. His breath came in ragged gasps as he held the gun on the unmoving figure. After a long moment, he turned to the boy on the floor.

It was the older one; he couldn’t remember if it was Evan or Earl. The kid looked up at Sanders. His eyes were wide above the duct tape wound around his head. Sanders bent down. "This may hurt a little," he said as he started looking for the end of the tape to rip it off. The boy lay terrified, unmoving. Sanders located the end and started to pull. It looked like the kidnapper had used almost an entire roll of tape on the boy’s head alone. Sanders saw the knife lying a few feet away. He decided to try to cut through the tape. He bent over, put down the gun, and picked up the knife. The boy screamed behind the tape and tried to squirm away.

"Easy, kid," he said. "Take it easy. I’m not going to hurt you." The boy was beyond reassurance. He arched and bucked so violently that Sanders was afraid he’d hurt himself. "Okay, okay," he said. "Look, I’m putting it down, okay?" He dropped the knife back to the floor. The boy quieted slightly.

"Jesus,’ " Sanders said under his breath. He looked over at the other bound figure. The kid’s eyes were open, but they stared straight ahead, unseeing. Sanders went over and knelt down. He could see the rapid rise and fall of the small chest. The boy was alive, but out of it. Sanders hesitated for a moment, wondering what to do next. He bent down and started unwinding the tape from around the younger kid’s head. It took some time, and the boy quivered slightly every time the tape took out a clump of hair. "Sorry," Sanders muttered whenever that happened. "Sorry. Sorry." Finally, he pulled the last strip off the kid’s mouth. He still hadn’t moved. Sanders pulled the tape from his hands, then his ankles. The boy immediately curled up in a ball against the wall, his arms wrapped around his knees, not looking at Sanders, not looking at anything. Sanders turned back to the first kid. "Okay," he said. "That took a while, and I need to get out of here pretty soon. You can see I’m not here to hurt you. I can use the knife to cut you loose, or you can wait for your brother to snap out of it and unwrap you." He picked up the knife and raised his eyebrows questioningly. The older boy hesitated, then nodded. It took Sanders only a minute or so to cut him loose. The boy immediately crawled to his brother. "Earl," the boy whispered. "Earl, come on, talk to me." Earl didn’t respond.

"Come on," Sanders said. "Let’s get outside."

The older kid—it had to be Evan—looked up. "Are you a policeman?"

"No," Sanders said.

He walked over to them. "Come on, let’s get him outside. It stinks in here." He helped Evan get the unresisting Earl to his feet. They started walking him outside. Evan swallowed as he looked at the body on the floor.

"You shot the bad guy," Evan said. "Doesn’t that make you the good guy?"

"Not exactly," Sanders said. "It’s… kind of complicated." They guided Earl down the stairs. Evan blinked in the sudden light. Earl still didn’t respond.

Evan looked at Sanders. "That guy," he said in a whisper. "That bad guy… he hurt my brother. He hurt him real bad." A single tear rolled down his cheek. "I tried to stop him, but… but I was too little…" His lip started quivering.

Sanders knelt down to look him in the eye. "Kid," he said. "Evan. Look at me, man." The kid’s lip stopped quivering.

"Evan," Sanders said. "It’s real important that no one knows I was here. You can’t tell anybody about me."

Evan’s look of despair turned to confusion. "Why?" he said. "You saved us. You shot the bad guy."

Sanders nodded. "Right. So you guys owe me, right? I did you a favor, you do me one, okay? Even Steven."

The invocation of the magic words of childhood justice got through to Evan. He nodded. Then his brow furrowed. "How are we going to get home?" he whispered. His lip started to quiver again.

"Shit," Sanders muttered as he stood up. He hadn’t planned ahead. He walked over to the van and pulled the passenger side door open. The floor was littered with fast food wrappers and empty plastic bottles. There was a hole in the dash where some-body had pulled out the radio. Sanders finally located what he’d been looking for. He reached over and picked up a small black cell phone from the dash. It was one of the cheap models typically given out for free to people who signed a one year contract for cellular service. He handed the phone to Evan. "You know how to use one of these?" Evan looked dubious. Sanders flipped the phone open. It was on, the indicator light showing a good signal. "Look, just dial 911. You know how to do that, right? Then hit this send button. When someone comes on the line, tell them that you’re on Sutter Church Road. Can you remember that?"

"Summer…" Evan began.

"Sutter," Sanders corrected him. "Sutter Church Road. I don’t know the number, but tell them about the trailer here. Somebody’ll figure it out."

Evan looked alarmed. "Where are you going to be? You’re not going to leave us!"

"It’ll only be for a short time, kid," Sanders said. He started backing down the road toward the woods where his truck was hidden. "Go ahead," he called out. "Make the call. Your brother needs a doctor. And remember, I was never here." He saw the kid start to dial. Sanders turned and bolted down the road toward his truck.

Excerpted from Breaking Cover by J. D. Rhoades

Copyright © 2008 by J. D. Rhoades

Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Minotaur

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher

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Breaking Cover 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every J.D. Rhoades book is a can't-put-down thriller. If you like action, a quick pace and memorable characters I highly recommend all of his books.
RobertHawk More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much and will keep an eye out for this author. Good dialogue, character development and an exciting plot. A nice change from the other (more boring) crime fiction books I've recently read.
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KenCady More than 1 year ago
When an undercover FBI agent can't trust his own agency, well, all hell breaks loose. Author J. D. Rhoades does an excellent job at creating a real thriller involving betrayal, violence, and true honor. It was disappointing that he had to throw in some gratuitous homophobia, because the book really soared without it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Pine Bluff, North Carolina, undercover FBI agent Tony Wolf using the name Sanders faces a morality issue. He has infiltrated the meth dealing vicious Brotherhood, but just saw one of two young brothers Evan and Earl Powell, whose posters with their faces on it begs 'Have you seen us?' If he follows the van to rescue the child four years of hard dangerous work vanish and he becomes an open target and perhaps his wife too of the brutal Trent trio who lead the Brotherhood who are after him already if he does not the kids are probably dead after suffering from abuse. --- However the decision is easy Wolf follows the vehicle and rescues the kids from their abductor. Now he has surfaced due to a TV reporter the Trent brothers who loath him for what he did to their empire already send their minions, which includes Feds, after him. Trusting no one except himself, this lone wolf prepares for war. --- While Jack Keller takes a SAFE AND SOUND breather, J.D. Rhodes provides an action-packed Carolina thriller that grips the audience from the opening scene and never lets go as readers will find their adrenalin levels off the charts. Wolf is terrific as he does the right thing with an understanding that the road to hell is paved with good intentions in his case a good deed means he will spend more than just A GOOD DAY IN HELL as the devils will come after him. Although the story line requires disregarding the logic gaps, the enthralled audience will relish this action-packed thriller (Governor Arnold has his next role). --- Harriet Klausner