Crack Shot

Crack Shot

by Sinclair Browning

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Part dirty-shirt cowgirl, part Apache, and part-time private eye, Arizona rancher Trade Ellis doesn’t have time to waste chasing down bad boys like Eddy Gallegos. And besides, finding the runaway teen in the middle of a blistering Tucson summer swarming with kids isn’t going to be easy.

But Trade’s doing it anyway. She’s doing it for Eddy’s grandmother–a friend of a friend–and because she has this thing about justice. She believes in it.

At first Trade figures Eddy is just a juvenile delinquent who broke out of a detention center with a couple of his compadres. But when her questions get answers the fragrance of cow pies, and one of his homeboys, a senator’s son, shows up dead, she realizes the barrio teen is actually running for his life.

Hot on his tail are a team of crooked cops, a suspicious homeless kid on a bike, and maybe an X-rated movie producer. For a yet-to-be-discovered reason, a dangerous race is on, leading Trade down a deadly path of violence and scandal. And from the looks of things, if the good guys finish last, they finish dead....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553583281
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/29/2002
Pages: 382
Product dimensions: 0.40(w) x 0.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Sinclair Browning's work covers a broad spectrum including thrillers, suspense, mysteries, historical and metaphysical novels along with nonfiction books.

For more information check out her website at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The party was in full swing.

Jimmy Burton's finger had been broken catching a football thrown by one of Lolly MacKenzie's grandnieces; the bunkhouse toilet had stopped up twice; Charley Bell was making eyes at Burdger Harris's wife, who, at eighty-one, was eating it up, much to the consternation of her husband, who was looking a lot like a rained-on rooster; four kids had been thrown in the pond; Chi Chi Tapia, the chickenshit cowboy, had passed out in the hay barn; Top Dog, my triathlete firefighting cousin who lives on the San Carlos Reservation, had filled his plate three times; and Prego, the local mechanic, was wearing a muscle shirt featuring the Statue of Liberty and slow dancing with Shiwoye, my Apache grandmother, who appeared to be having some trouble figuring out just where to put her hands on his naked shoulders.

All that and we’d had close to two inches of rain in twenty-four hours.

That probably doesn't sound like much if you're from Wisconsin, but in Tucson, in early July, it's unusual. Our summer monsoon season starts the end of June and usually doesn't get really cranking until mid-July.

But here it was the fourth of the month and the rain gauges on the ranch had already measured one-sixth of our annual rainfall. Not that I was complaining, for southern Arizona ranchers never bitch about moisture. Still, I was hoping that if rain was in store for Independence Day it could at least hold off until after the barbecue.

As a private eye and the owner of the Vaca Grande Ranch just outside of La Cienega, Arizona, you'd think I had enough to keep me busy without having an annual Fourth of July shindig. Truth is, all of us here on the ranch actually look forward to our parties. They give us the opportunity to enjoy old friends, eat a lot of good beef, and drink a few margaritas. It's good for the ranch, too, as the weeks beforehand find us in a flurry of activity to spruce things up for the fiesta and raise the American flag.

And what is the Fourth of July without the American flag? I'm fanatical about our flag and have considered it my personal mission, on more than one occasion, to go wheeling furiously into assorted businesses and hotels to berate them for flying a tattered, ratty flag. I take this seriously. The old flagpole in my orchard is graced with the national banner only on special occasions. Like today. I don't want to get home late at night and find it flying, unlit, in the dark, or worse, drenched by a thunderstorm.

We'd been collecting patio chairs and tables from our neighbors all week long for the fiesta, and they were scattered around the pond and in the front orchard. Plastic red-and-white-checked cloths adorned each table, and the centerpieces were huge paper flowers that my foreman's daughter, Quinta, had picked up in Nogales, Mexico.

Two one-hundred-gallon water tanks, liberated from one of the corrals, were filled to their lips with cubed ice and loaded with Corona, Budweiser, and Tres X's beer, wine coolers, and sodas. Serape-covered folding tables held chips, salsa, guacamole, lemonade, iced tea, and huge pitchers of frosted margaritas.

Cars and trucks had been pulling in all afternoon, and we'd had to open one of the horse pastures to accommodate everyone's wheels. Ranchers, town folk, local business owners, politicians, Mexican cowboys--even a federal judge--along with many of my Apache relatives and friends had all found their way out to the Vaca Grande.

The animals were dressed in their party clothes. Mrs. Fierce and Blue, my two dogs, and Petunia, my cousin Bea's potbellied pig, who has every indication of becoming a permanent ranch resident, were decked out with red and blue bandanas tied on their collars. They were definitely in the party spirit as they played Hump Dog, or in some cases, Hump Pig, darting in and out among our guests' legs. Every time I looked at Petunia she seemed to be dribbling watermelon out of her mouth. Her passion for the juicy fruit reminded me of my own for Twinkies.

It seemed like all of my animals were excited for the party. The pond ducks were out of the water, scooting here and there in hopeful anticipation of someone dropping a crumb for them, and the horses in the pasture were hanging their heads over the fence attracted by all the activity and the mariachi music.

I found Martin Ortiz, my foreman, and Sanders, one of my dearest friends and a neighbor, out behind the hay barn. They were both shoveling dirt off an old piece of tin that served as the lid to the deep pit barbecue. Last night Quinta and I had wrapped forty pounds of assorted beef roasts in tin foil and then tied them in wet burlap sacks. At four a.m. Martin and I had dumped them in the pit, on coals that he had started hours earlier.

Now, more than twelve hours later, the results of our labors were being unearthed from the dirt pit.

"How's it going?" I asked, feeling somewhat guilty that the men were doing the work, but also knowing that they considered this pit business their domain.

"Well, Trade, I guess the good news is nobody ever drowned himself in his own sweat," Sanders said.

Martin reached into the smoldering pit with his gloves, grabbed the packages of beef, and handed them to Sanders, who put them into galvanized buckets. The meat would end up in the kitchen, where Quinta and Alicia, a woman I used as a roundup cook twice a year, would shred it by hand. Shortly thereafter, the tender beef would end up on the buffet table, along with paper-thin flour tortillas that Alicia and Quinta had made on smoking fifty-gallon drums earlier in the day. Frijoles and green salad tossed with jicama and cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers from the garden would round out the menu.

Sanders, a bucket in each hand, started dancing a lively jig in tune with the Mexican music that was wafting over from the mariachi band performing out near the pond.

"Cuidado, pinche," Martin warned. "You drop that and the boss lady will have your huevos."

Most of the guests had arrived. On my way back to the pond I ran into Lolly MacKenzie, from the Singing Star Ranch down in the San Rafael Valley near the Mexican border. She'd been a good friend of my parents, so I've known her since I was a child.

"Great party." She tipped her margarita glass in my direction. "But then, yours always are."

"Nice bracelet," I said, teasing her for the fresh cast she was sporting on her left wrist.

"Ranch patrol," she said with a wan smile. "We were out checking boundaries the other night and I tripped in a gopher hole."

I didn't have to ask what she was checking for. The papers had been full of stories about hordes of Mexican illegals pouring into Arizona. It was a huge problem for the Border Patrol, especially since they were desperately short of agents. Because of this, some ranchers had taken matters into their own hands and were patrolling their properties and detaining illegals if they found them. Some even held them at gunpoint. A few shots had been fired, but so far no one had been killed. Realistically, it was probably just a matter of time.

The ranchers' actions had pissed off the Mexican government, which was screaming bloody murder about how the rancher vigilantes were putting the U.S./Mexico relationship at risk. Right. If they'd taken care of their own people, they wouldn't be leaving home. In a lot of ways it was sort of like the cattle business. If your cows were happy on their home pastures, they'd seldom leave. Hell, I guess that's true of all us, not just Mexicans and cows.

The problem had gotten so bad that the Cochise County sheriff had requested that Governor Hull deploy the National Guard to help out the Border Patrol. She'd refused to send the guardsmen miles from their jobs and homes. As far as I knew, the Santa Cruz County sheriff had kept quiet.

"Sometimes I wonder if ranching is worth it," Lolly said. "What with the cut fences and stolen saddles and tools. We've lost two bulls and I won't even go into the discarded Pampers, plastic milk cartons, piles of poop, or the '65 Chevy that was left on the ranch."

"Well, unfortunately there's probably not much of a solution. People have been traveling that corridor for hundreds of years."

"It's bad down there, Trade. Real bad. The whole thing's going to blow sky high one of these days."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Lolly. I guess maybe we've created a monster, by hiring illegal workers."

"If they'd stayed on the ranches, it would probably still work," she said, acknowledging that a lot of ranchers in the past had used illegal help. "But now, it's really gotten out of hand."

We walked over to my Aunt Josie, where I left her, since the two of them hadn't seen each other in a long time.

I was refilling my margarita glass when my cousin Bea sidled up to me. "Did you see Clayton Bowen?" she asked in a low voice.

"He's here?" I was surprised. Although Bowen had been invited to the party, he'd also buried his wife last week and I really hadn't expected to see him today.

"Well, it is an election year."

"Bea!" There was an edge to my voice. My cousin, who was a television newswoman, was a bit sarcastic at times but I loved her for her honest remarks. "Besides, he doesn't have much opposition," I added.

Clayton Bowen had represented Arizona's fifth congressional district for three terms. After defeating an elderly, long-term congressman who had held the seat for years, Bowen had done his constituent work well and appeared to be in little danger of being forced from his office any time soon. He'd had no Republican opposition in the primary, and with a whining, liberal college professor who had just been caught propositioning an undercover officer in the men's room at Himmel Park as his opponent, he was probably assured of a free ride into yet another term of office.

Bowen was also the cattleman's friend in Congress. He'd come to our defense on more than one occasion when forest service grazing permits had come under fire. While I couldn't say we were warm, close personal friends, I did have a lot of respect for the man and was happy to have him in my camp.

"Nothing new on that, huh?" I asked Bea.

She shook her head and filled her glass. "Looks like a burglary gone bad."

A week earlier, Marjorie Bowen's bludgeoned body had been found in her laundry room by her next-door neighbor. Her bedroom had been ransacked and, upon the congressman's immediate return from Washington, he discovered that most of Marjorie's jewelry, along with a new DVD player and an old coin collection that had belonged to her father were missing. What was interesting is what hadn't been missing: a silver tea service and sterling flatware for twenty, a stunning Diane Maroscia bronze, and two original oil paintings--one by Sam Wisnom, the other by Anne Coe. The police had quickly dubbed the theft the work of amateurs, the murder an unfortunate sudden addendum to what had started out as a burglary agenda.

"How are my peas in a pod?" My uncle wrapped his huge arm around my waist, pulling me in close to his thick body as his other raked in Bea. He was right about the peas thing, for Bea and I are often mistaken for twins, although she's a year younger. We're both five seven and thin, and have thick black curly hair. Hers is cut in a stylish bob for her television work, while mine runs wild halfway down my back. Sort of that sexy, disheveled bedroom look, although my current sex life rivals that of the Virgin Mary.

"Great party, Trade." He gave me a peck on the forehead.

"Thanks, Uncle C." Charles Borden, Bea's father, was a detective with the Pima County Sheriff's Department. "We were just talking about Marjorie Bowen."

"Terrible thing. God, we're getting a lot of that."


"Drug stuff. Most crime is related to drugs in one way or another. It's just a damned shame that she wasn't with her husband in Washington that week. It would have been an in-and-out, and no one would have gotten hurt."

Twenty minutes later I found myself sitting in a cheap plastic patio chair on the far side of the pond next to Congressman Bowen. He wore pleated dress pants with what looked like new ostrich-skin boots; his lanky form was erect in the small seat. He was a good-looking man in an indoors sort of way with bushy eyebrows and a ready smile featuring huge white teeth. At forty-seven, his just-graying temples set off his carefully razor-cut muddy brown hair and his brown hound-dog eyes.

"Lovely shindig, Trade."

I smiled at his choice of words. Clayton Bowen was one of those people who would immediately take on the accent of the person he was talking to. At a moment's notice he could drawl, talk cowboy or plumber or welder or British nobleman. I doubted whether he'd ever used the word shindig in his life.

"You know, a lot of people will probably criticize me for coming here."

"Oh, I don't think so."

"No." He held up a pale, manicured hand. A major matrix of blue veins rested just below his skin. "I understand that. Understand that they might think it disrespectful to Marjorie and all." He shuddered. "But work's all I have now. It's the only thing that's keeping me from going crazy."

"Well, if it helps you get through the pain, I don't think anyone should criticize you for that, Clay."

He nodded and stared at his hands, which were now cradled in his lap. "She was everything to me. Why would anyone want to kill her?" He turned his doleful eyes on me. "Why?"

I had no answers.

"I met her when I was running for Congress that first time. She had just been elected the head of the Arizona Federation of Republican Women. What a dynamo." He exhaled sharply. "We were married a week after I was sworn into Congress."

It didn't take a genius to do the mental math. They'd been married a little over six years. Marjorie had been a young widow with a child when she'd married the congressman.

"How's her son taking it?"

The minute the words tumbled out of my mouth I wanted to rope them and pull them back in.

Bowen raised one of his bushy eyebrows. "Josh?"

Not knowing what else to do since I'd opened this track of conversation, I nodded.

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Crack Shot 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Part time private investigator Trade Ellis owns and manages the Vaca Grande Ranch near La Cienega, Arizona. To supplement her income, Trade accepts cases, but is very particular as to what she chooses.

Bartender Quinta Ortiz, the daughter of Trade¿s ranch foreman, introduces the sleuth to Josie Moraga, a regular at the Riata Bar. Josie asks Trade to visit her mother Lourdes Escamilla to discuss a case. Lourdes pleads with Trade to find her grandson fourteen-year-old Eduardo Gallegos who escaped from Los Hijos detention center along with one other teen Antonio Bernini. A third escapee Congressman Bowen¿s son died during the flight. Trade says she cannot help Lourdes, but agrees to accompany her to a meeting with the Los Hijos officials. However, the actions and reactions of the Los Hijos crowd is so out of character, Trade changes her mind and begins searching for a frightened adolescent.

CRACK SHOT is an exciting private investigative tale that contains several twists and turns that keep the audience guessing as to the identity of the villain. The story line retains the reader¿s attention because the diverse support cast (from a recently widowed Congressman to an escaped teen prisoner) provides the intensity to the plot that enables Trade to appear as a real person. As she has done with previous Trade novels (see THE LAST SONG DOGS; THE SPORTING CLUB; and RODE HARD, PUT AWAY DEAD), Sinclair Browning provides fans with another fascinating novel.

Harriet Klausner