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I ducked under the crime scene tape the way I always do, like I
know exactly what I'm doing, but this time I was a little more
careful on account of the black-clad SWAT guys drawing down
around the perimeter. Sometimes I think the only things standing
between me and certain doom are instinct, pure dumb luck,
and a kick-ass hairdresser.
"Little early, aren't you, Cauley?" Jim Cantu was lounging
against his cruiser looking like a Hispanic Marlboro Man as he
surveyed the rugged limestone hills and gnarled oaks at the back
of the Barnes' ranch. "What we got here is your basic suicide
threat," he continued, squinting into the hot Central Texas sun.
"Don't obituaries get written after somebody's turned up a
"This isn't for the Sentinel," I said, swatting dirt from the seat
of my jeans. "Scooter called me this morning and said he wanted
"Doesn't matter. No media behind the line," he said, nodding
toward the SWAT guys. "You're lucky you didn't get shot."
"Calling me media is pure charity on your part," I said. "And I
almost never get shot."
Cantu grinned down at me as I settled in beside him. Every
now and then, Cantu cuts me a break because once upon a time,
he'd been a rookie beat cop when my dad was a detective, and he
sometimes steps in where my dad left off.
Cantu and I stood, staring at the tumble of weathered planks
that comprised the shed where Scott "Scooter" Barnes had holed
up, presumably sucking on the business end of a shotgun.
This wasn't the earth-shattering incident it might seem elsewhere
in the world. Here, you don't ask ifyou have any crazy
people in the family; you ask which side they're on. In Texas, we
believe our own myths, and the wet heat of summer presses
heavily on already fanciful minds.
Crossing his arms, Cantu looked at the bruise that was blooming
on my forehead. "All right, blondie, I give. What happened to
"Banged it on a big piece of wood," I said. Despite a raging
hangover, I'd climbed a crosstie fence to get past the police line. I
was hot and sweaty, and I had enough dirt under my nails to repot
a geranium. Plus, now I had a bump on my head and a hole in
my jeans, which showed a big patch of Wal-Mart underwear.
These things almost never happen when you're wearing nice
"Hurricane Cauley." Cantu shook his head. "You want off
obits? Go chase a real story. I hear El Patron's on the move."
I had to stop myself from growling. Cantu knew I'd sell my
great aunt Kat's china for a story that would get me off the obituary
page, and while I'd been assigned to do some of the research
on El Patron-the latest South American syndicate to set up shop
in Central Texas-the News Boys on the City Desk got the byline
on the story. For the most part, I spend my days rewriting death
notices, and if I'm lucky, I occasionally get to do legwork for the
But getting something on El Patron could fix that for me.
Organized crime was nothing new in Texas, but El Patron crossed
the city limits into Looneyville when they shoved a heavy-duty
Firestone around some poor bastard's shoulders and burned him
alive. Talk about a front-page scoop.
"Yeah, well, El Patron will have to wait," I said, and winced as
one of the SWAT guys with an orange-stocked sniper rifle disappeared
into a thicket of sage. "Did you have to call the Jump-Out
Boys?" I said, staring at the rest of the SWAT team, which was
scattered among bushes and perched in the gnarled forks of live
"Had to," Cantu said. "I got dinner duty tonight."
"You called SWAT because it's your turn to cook?" I said,
thinking of Cantu's three kids, who could make a sane person call
SWAT on a good day. "You know Scooter would never hurt anybody."
"And he won't hurt anybody. Captain's called a negotiator."
"We don't need a negotiator. Let me talk to him."
"You talked to him last time."
"Hey," I said. "That thing with the goats was not my fault."
Cantu snorted. "You busted in the back of that pet store and
scared los cabras so bad they passed out cold."
"They were those weird fainting goats," I said, staring at the
shed. I shook my head. "Exotic animals. I don't know why Scooter
can't sell dogs and cats like a normal person."
"He's not a normal person. He's a serial suicide. This is the
second time he's threatened to bite a bullet this month. It's standard
procedure to call SWAT and I shoulda never let you talk me
out of it the first time."
I started to say that serial suicide was an oxymoron and that
Scooter had issues, what with his wife leaving him and all, when I
sucked in a breath and stopped dead in my tracks. "Who is that?"
Near the fence line, a lone man loomed, speaking into a cell
phone as he surveyed the scene. I'd practically grown up in the
West Side substation, and I knew all the precinct cops and most