“Think: Elmore Leonard meets James Lee Burke.” —Jeffery Deaver
It’s a stunning attack, lightning quick and chilling in its execution. A merciless gang of terrorists seizes the Presidio County Courthouse in the midst of the worst blizzard West Texas has seen in a century. Loaded down with enough fire power to outfit an army, the attackers slaughter dozens, take all survivors hostage, and assume complete control. The nation—and the U.S. government—are at their mercy.
Or so they think. They don’t know that a seasoned Texas Ranger is also inside the courthouse. Sonny Hawke has hauled in some of America’s Most Wanted. Now he’s up against his most dangerous adversary yet. Sonny likes his chances. The enemy is his to take down—one by one. Until he’s face-to-face with the ruthless mastermind gunning for our very freedom . . .
Praise for Reavis Z. Wortham and His Novels
“The most riveting thriller all year!” —John Gilstrap
“A masterful and entertaining storyteller.” —Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
“Entertaining and emotionally engaging.” —T. Jefferson Parker
About the Author
Reavis Z. Wortham is the award-winning author of the Red River Mystery series, including Unraveled, The Right Side of Wrong, Vengeance is Mine, Dark Places, Burrows, and The Rock Hole (winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award). He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the Writers’ League of Texas, the International Association of Crime Writers, and International Thriller Writers. Reavis also pens a weekly self-syndicated weekly outdoor column for numerous Texas newspapers, writing on everything from fishing to deer hunting. He lives in northeast Texas with his wife. Please visit him on Facebook or at his website, reaviszwortham.com.
Read an Excerpt
A low-pressure front pulled a cold white blanket across the West Texas high-desert landscape. The mercury dropped in a way the residents hadn't seen in over a hundred years.
Heavy snow falling on a thick glaze of black ice almost obscured the temporary Border Patrol check station on U.S. 90. It sat astride the smothered two-lane road running between Ballard and Marathon, funneling the westbound lane to the wide, flat shoulder. The most recent tracks through the station were almost covered by fresh snow.
Mean as a rattlesnake and twice as likely to strike, the dark-complected driver slowed the dull white Ford conversion van. He straightened from his slump in the captain's chair as they approached the checkpoint. The weather at first surprised, then pleased him, though it made driving treacherous. The snow covering the slick surface gave them enough traction to reach Ballard. Had it been nothing but freezing rain, they might have wound up sliding into a ditch.
An attractive young woman with silky black hair rode in the other captain's chair. Both wore untucked and oversized Pendleton shirts.
The woman hadn't taken her eyes off the road since the black ice first appeared back in Ft. Stockton. She tensed at the sight of the check station and leaned forward. "I can't believe they're out here in this."
The driver stole a quick peek at the dimple in the corner of her mouth and turned his attention back to the road. "Me neither. This is the one reason we didn't come in from the south." Their plan was to avoid the permanent Border Patrol stations between the Texas border and the towns of Alpine and Marathon. "There's no telling when and where those bastards are going to show up."
She glanced over her shoulder at the passengers in the rear, then faced forward and spoke with a soft Spanish accent. "Stay quiet and follow our lead."
The tips of orange cones protruding from deepening drifts of white choked the van off the highway and into a narrow lane manned by five Border Patrol agents. A sandwich sign marked an open area on the wide, flat shoulder as the "Secondary Inspection." Beyond that, a five-strand barbed-wire fence separated the highway property from a ranch.
Agents in bulky green clothing warmed themselves in a tight group in front of a roaring portable heater that melted a wide semicircle in the fluff. The only tracks beyond that were foot trails around two white Border Patrol Tahoes parked parallel to the highway.
The television blared to life behind the couple, filling the van's interior with the deafening sound of an animated kid's movie. The woman's smooth face twisted in anger and she jabbed her forefinger at the driver's face. "I've had it with this trip! As soon as we get home, I'm filing for divorce. It'll be just you and these kids back there when I'm gone, then what are you gonna do?"
He steered into the funnel of orange cones. An agent stepped forward and held up a hand. Four others closed in and took up positions around the vehicle. The driver slammed the transmission into park. "I told you a vacation down here was a stupid idea!"
The woman glared across the van, thumbed the switch to lower the electric window. "They're your relatives! I don't want to stay with them!"
Her shrill voice boiled out in a rush of warm air and reached the reluctant backup agents who waited with their hands buried deep in the pockets of their parkas. Well-trained and hard-eyed, they were nevertheless victims of boredom and repetition, the same creeping malady known to lawmen and soldiers throughout the world. An uneventful month and the intense cold were the final ingredients to make the team complacent.
The driver lowered his own window, hung an elbow out the side, and rolled his eyes at the agent closest to the door. He spoke without an accent. "Want to trade places?"
The young commanding officer glanced at the driver, keeping one eye on the Belgian Malinois German shepherd at the end of the leash in Agent Baker's hand. The three-year-old canine sniffed the undercarriage.
"Good morning! I am Lieutenant Burke, United States Border Patrol," the lieutenant recited. "You'll only be here for a moment. How many people are in the van?"
"Two adults and two kids."
As Lieutenant Burke spoke, three other men in crisp green winter gear converged on the vehicle, at the ready but listening to the conversation through the now-open windows. "Of what country are you a citizen?"
DeVaca ran fingers through black hair combed straight back. He adjusted the horn-rimmed glasses on his nose with one finger. "We're Americans, at least I am. My name's Lorenzo DeVaca, but I think she's from some other goddamn planet!"
The senior agent, Agent Carlos Flores, stepped up to the passenger door and forced a grin off his face.
Agent Stone stopped where he could see both the passenger side and the rear of the van, narrowing his eyes at the drawn shades behind dark, tinted windows. Taking up a position at the left rear, Agent Rivera glanced at Baker's dog sniffing the driver's side.
"Y'all on vacation?" Lieutenant Burke's questions delivered in a mild tone weren't casual conversation. They were designed to elicit a specific response.
"Yeah. Some vacation."
If the travelers stumbled, looked away, or gave any of the signals the agents were trained to look for, the lieutenant would ask them to proceed to the parking area for an inspection. "Where do you folks call home?"
DeVaca turned his full attention toward Burke. "Dallas, Texas, and this ... this wife of mine is from Ft. Worth." He adjusted the glasses again. At the same time, his eyes flicked to the rearview mirror toward the darkness behind him.
The woman unsnapped her seat belt and twisted toward the rear and into a wall of sound from the television blaring Finding Dory. "You kids turn that shit down right now! No! I got a better idea. Get out. All y'all get out!"
She yanked at the door handle as DeVaca unsnapped his own seat belt. He grabbed for her arm and missed. "Dorothy! If you get out of this van, don't think you're getting back in!"
Burke's smile disappeared and he held out a hand. The fun was over. "Passenger! Ma'am, please stay in your vehicle!" His eyes returned to the dog sniffing without interest at the van's undercarriage.
Dorothy kicked her door open. "Kids, get out. Your father can go on ahead without us. We'll be safe here with these nice men."
The situation was spinning out of control. Burke pointed a finger at Flores. "Stop her."
Flores put his hand on the door, preventing it from opening all the way. "Ma'am, y'all need to stay inside."
The agents who'd been lounging near the big heater drifted toward the van to see the show, snickering and elbowing each other like junior high school kids watching the class cutup work his magic.
The van's side cargo door slid back, startling Agent Flores. He stepped forward to catch the handle. "Hey kids, y'all don't get out."
Lieutenant Burke reacted to DeVaca's partially open door and backpedaled from the argument unraveling right before his very eyes. "Driver, I said, do not —"
In seconds, a dozen things happened. Sharp cracks bit off the order as DeVaca produced a pistol from underneath his shirttail and fired. The 9mm rounds from a Glock 17 cut through Burke's jacket, but most were stopped by the agent's tactical vest underneath. He grunted, fumbling for his weapon with a broken right arm that refused to cooperate.
Dorothy produced a similar Glock from under her shirt and pulled the trigger. The first rounds slammed Flores in the chest, but as he fell back, the soft-nosed bullets stitched up his neck and face, blowing great gouts of blood across the white carpet behind him.
DeVaca dropped the pistol into the seat beside his leg and snatched up a CZ EVO 3A Scorpion from the floorboard. He twisted, planted his right foot against the front of the well-step, and spun to his left. Using the van's body as cover from the men behind him, he squeezed the trigger. The machine pistol awoke with the sound of a manic sewing machine.
The dog handler fumbled with the leash and his weapon. The vest under his parka absorbed several of DeVaca's rounds, but one struck Baker in the side of his throat. Blood from the mangled artery fountained against the van's large window like red water spurting from a hose. Ignoring the agent sliding down the vehicle's side, the killer lowered the muzzle and shot the dog.
The sliding door on the passenger side opened and a man called Lion hosed the stunned officers with a fully automatic H&K MP5. They dropped where they stood.
The van rocked on its springs, and the rear doors flew open. Two men dressed in ballistic vests squirted out. Nicknamed Scarecrow and the Tin Man, they poured it on agents Rivera and Stone at point-blank range with similar automatic MP5s, mowing them down from the sheer volume of firepower.
The coordinated attack came so fast Rivera had difficulty removing both hands from his coat pockets. He barely had time to grasp the battle-slung M4 hanging on his chest before Tin Man's bullets slammed him to the ground.
Agent Stone fired three times, one round punching a hole in the rear bumper as he raised his weapon. Scarecrow's stream of ball ammo ended the young man's life.
Gasping, Lieutenant Burke struggled to unholster a pistol with his left arm. DeVaca swiveled and squeezed the Scorpion's trigger again. Burke soaked up half the magazine. As he stilled, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion combined to form a frontal assault and cut down three more stunned agents.
Dorothy grabbed the MP5 from the step-well on her side and added the contents of a slender thirty-round mag to the withering hail of lead. The two remaining agents dove behind the nearest Border Patrol truck, scrambling to bring their rifles into service. The terrified agents' experience was no match for the battle-hardened mercenaries.
Lion and Tin Man split up to flank the agents' position while Scarecrow kept pressure on the official vehicles parked twenty yards away. A pistol popped up over the hood, fired toward Scarecrow, and swept back toward the van, driving Dorothy to cover. By that time, Lion had the angle and dropped the two men into the snow.
The quiet after the attack was surreal. Weapon still at his shoulder, Scarecrow swept the area for other threats.
DeVaca's voice was calm.
None of the mercenaries replied in English, though all three understood the language. Lion changed magazines.
The Tin Man reloaded. "Claro!"
Scarecrow didn't take his eyes off the parked vehicles. "Claro!"
The Tin Man noticed a movement in one of the downed agents near their conversion van. He crossed the space in half a dozen steps and finished the wounded man.
DeVaca pulled himself back behind the wheel. "Excellent coordination, people. Everyone back aboard, and would someone please turn that ruido down on the television?"
He noticed a drop of blood on the back of his right hand as Dorothy reached through the open sliding door. The noise ended. Studying Burke's body lying in the splattered snow, DeVaca licked the blood off as the others climbed back inside the still running van.
Pleased that ten of the closest trained responders in the area were out of action, DeVaca slid back into his seat and turned on the radio as doors slammed around him. The weather report was on.
"This tropical system coming out of Mexico is pumping enormous amounts of moisture into West Texas and will meet an abnormally strong Canadian Arctic front. It looks like this historic system will produce the heaviest snow we've seen in our area for over a hundred years. Blizzard conditions have already closed much of Interstate 40 from Amarillo to Albuquerque, and heavy snow is now falling from El Paso and the Big Bend region of the Texas/Mexico border along Interstate 20 as far east as Weatherford, Texas. The National Weather Service is predicting as much as fifteen to twenty inches of accumulation in the Ballard/ Alpine/Ft. Stockton areas with drifts as high as four to five feet. Folks, hunker down where you are and avoid all travel as this storm moves to the northeast."
Dorothy ejected the magazine from her pistol and dug into a canvas bag on the floorboard. She slapped a fresh mag into the butt, registering the bright red sprays in the snow outside her window. "I thought you said we'd avoid this."
DeVaca shrugged. "It is one of those things. Every military plan becomes moot when the enemy is met."
"This shouldn't have happened."
"A lot of things should not happen, but they do." He steered over Burke's body as if it were nothing but a soft speed bump and accelerated onto the smooth, unmarked highway disappearing into the bleak and windy expanse of West Texas.
Visibility was worse than when they'd arrived only minutes before, and when DeVaca glanced into the side mirror, the swath they plowed was wide and deep. Huge snowflakes swept up and over the windshield. "We came this way instead of from El Paso or the border to miss the permanent stations, but there is no way to anticipate these mobile checkpoints."
Dorothy holstered the weapon under her shirt. "I don't like surprises."
DeVaca ignored her and turned up the radio's volume. "... most roads are already closed, or will be closed soon. Driving is treacherous out here in the Big Bend, folks, so stay home where it's safe and warm. I'll be back with the full forecast after this message from Ballard Plumbing."
DeVaca's stomach fluttered in anticipation. Safe and warm. That would soon change. A grin tugged at his mouth.
They were fortunate with the storm. His commander back in Houston, Marc Chavez, couldn't have scheduled it any better. The weather had paralyzed the region, giving them more than enough time to complete their mission and escape. He clicked his teeth together, as if chewing, and fantasized about what his team might encounter next.
DeVaca, a U.S. citizen, had joined Dorothy, Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow days earlier after the group had slipped into the U.S. across Lake Amistad, a reservoir straddling the border of Texas and Mexico. They came in with help from a human trafficker who provided a safe house in Comstock, Texas, where DeVaca picked them up in the van two days later.
Dorothy was there with counterfeit documents provided by DeVaca, because he was intrigued by the attractive Mexican national months earlier while visiting a whorehouse in Nuevo Laredo. Dorothy's smooth face and flawless skin made her look naive and delicious. He was pleased to find that she was almost as emotionless as he. It didn't take long to bring her into his cause. For her, his plans were exciting and dangerous, and the promised money didn't hurt, either.
Having her around soon fanned a fire he'd banked years earlier. Cutting his eyes across the van, he saw her nipples were hard against her shirt. Sometimes Dorothy made it difficult to concentrate.
Her appearance of innocence sparked DeVaca's amusing idea of nicknaming his team after characters in The Wizard of Oz, a distinctly American movie. The nicknames also kept their dispensable association impersonal, as were the other three components of his army converging on the Ballard Courthouse.
He passed the still-hot Scorpion to her. Dorothy ejected the magazine without a word and reloaded the stubby machine pistol with a fresh thirty-round stick. She watched her side mirror as the checkpoint receded into the falling snow. "With those migras out of the way, our chances have increased."
"Yes." DeVaca dragged his eyes back to the road before they flicked to his rearview mirror. "You gentlemen were magnificent." To throw them a bone, he said it again in Spanish. "Ustedes, señores eran magníficos!"
The mercenaries gave him a thumbs-up as they passed a snow-covered sign that announced their destination was two miles away. They reloaded their weapons with fresh magazines from the pockets on their vests.
Excerpted from "Hawke's Prey"
Copyright © 2017 Wortham and Wortham, LLC..
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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