Morgan Stark, a retired mercenary soldier and Felicity O’Brien, a retired jewel thief operate a security business. Stark and O’Brien have a special gift, a psychic link that alerts them to danger. Their newest case involves a drug called Ice and a Columbian group known as the Escorpionistas. The leader of the Escorpioistas, a woman known as Anaconda, has a secret weapon: clairvoyant brothers who are able to alert her of the threat that Stark and O’Brien will pose before it happens. After one of Anaconda’s psychics escapes her control, the heroes dodge killers from California to Texas while following the clues that lead to discovering how the Ice is getting into the United States. The battle intensifies as Stark and O’Brien take the battle to Colombia where they face the killers head on and risk their own lives trying to find answers.
About the Author
Austin S. Camacho is the author of seven novels about Washington DC-based private eye Hannibal Jones, five in the Stark and O’Brien international adventure-thriller series, and the detective novel, Beyond Blue. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including Dying in a Winter Wonderland – an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008. He is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. Camacho is also editorial director for Intrigue Publishing, a Maryland small press.
Read an Excerpt
The Ice Woman Assignment
By Austin S. Camacho
Intrigue Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Austin S. Camacho
All rights reserved.
"This raggedy kid?" Morgan asked. "This is the incredibly dangerous threat to society you brought us here to see?"
The three figures lay at the roof's edge, across the street from the boy they watched. At the other end of their binoculars, a teenager with Mexican features was about to enter a crumbling building half a block away. He had stopped at the door, reached inside his white baggy pants, and produced a thick wad of bills.
"Just keep watching," Chuck Barton said. Four men trotted toward the door. The pair coming from the left wore gray suits and carried big revolvers. The other two had on blue jumpsuits. SWAT team uniforms. One carried an automatic, while his partner held a shotgun. Morgan didn't envy them. Whoever chose those SWAT uniforms had not considered Southern California summer temperatures.
"Your boys, Chuck?" Morgan asked over Felicity's head. "CIA?"
"No way," Felicity said, turning her green eyes on her partner. "The two suits are FBI. I could spot them a mile away."
"She's right," Barton said, stroking her waist length red hair. "The other two are DEA. You just might get to see the first joint raid on an ice house that doesn't ..."
The Spanish boy started into the door. One of the gray suits shoved him forward and dived in after him. An explosion of a shotgun blast, and the FBI agent flew out the door before he was completely in. Gun barrels smashed out windows on the second floor and a hail of automatic fire showered down.
One of the DEA agents dived and rolled behind a car to return fire. His partner was down, his body bouncing as bullets continued to punch into it. The second FBI agent sat leaning back against the front of the building, alternately holding his left arm and shooting into the door until he ran out of bullets. Rifle fire burst from the building facing the target house, but it sounded feeble compared with what the criminals sent out their three windows.
"What have they got?" Felicity asked.
"From left to right, I see an Ingram Mac 10, an AK-47, and that looks like a Skorpion machine pistol," Morgan Stark said.
"Still think it's kid stuff?" Barton asked. As they watched, five very young men darted out the front door, firing submachine guns as they moved. One stopped to coolly put a bullet in the seated FBI agent's head. Gun fire from the facing building slapped him onto the sidewalk a moment later.
"The building's too well covered," Barton said, running stubby fingers through his brown curly hair. "The back's sewn up. The boys on this side are expert snipers. If they'd put their guns down ..."
"They won't," Morgan said. "They'll all die. For the ice."
"We need one alive," Barton said. "If only ..." He stopped because the boy in baggy white pants was edging slowly up the street in their direction. He moved like a professional, from car to car, firing two machine pistols in a deadly spray. In front of the building directly opposite Morgan and Felicity he fired out his two guns, then dived backward, up the four outside steps and into the door.
"I can track him," Felicity said, leaping to her feet. She was racing for the stairs, her long graceful legs pumping.
"Red!" Morgan shouted in his rough baritone, jumping up. "Get back here!" He sprinted after her. Barton followed, but Morgan and Felicity easily outdistanced him. He had on a suit coat on this hot July afternoon, while his friends wore only jeans and tee shirts. He was working. They were supposedly only observers.
Felicity was down the stairs and across the street before anyone could stop her, but she knew Morgan was right behind. In her tennis shoes she figured she could move silently enough to follow the youth to ground. Then she would let the men take over. She did not fear running into danger. Her finely honed senses always warned her in time.
She reached the door about two minutes behind the boy, but once inside the building she knew he was gone. She flowed up four flights of stairs without a sound, but sensing no life inside. She had not spent much time in the barrio, but she doubted these buildings had secret passages or trap doors. Only one option remained.
Felicity opened the door to the roof. At the other end of that tar paper expanse, the boy was just putting his foot down on a fire escape. Felicity raced after him.
A rending squeal of rusted metal set her teeth on edge. The boy leaped back onto the roof and looked over his shoulder, eyes wide with hate. She could hear what she knew was a large iron structure tearing away from bricks and, seconds later, crashing to the ground. The fire escape had given way, falling into the empty lot below. As the boy turned toward her, she realized he was no longer fleeing prey. He was now a dangerous, cornered animal.
She saw surprise and perhaps confusion on his face. She imagined she was just about the last thing he expected to see: a tall, beautiful Anglo standing in the center of the roof in designer jeans and a tight tee shirt.
"You cannot win," she said with a slightly Irish accent. "There are too many guns, and yours are empty."
"Who needs them?" The boy said with a laugh. Dropping both machine pistols, he pulled a butterfly knife from a pocket in his baggies. There was a swish-swish sound and suddenly, a knife's blade pointed at Felicity. With a sick grin he stepped forward, his movements slow but his breathing accelerating. Felicity considered her situation. She had thought of him as a boy, but he stood a good six feet tall, weighing maybe a hundred and sixty pounds. Very thin but wiry, and probably hopped up on drugs, making him all around a dangerous customer. She wished she had gotten further in her martial arts lessons.
When she saw the boy's face fall, she knew it did not matter. She turned and Morgan, her martial arts instructor, was there.
"Get behind me, Red."
The boy's smile returned when he realized this big black man's hands were empty. Nothing had really changed.
"I'll leave you both bleeding on this roof," the boy said. Morgan's massive shoulders dropped.
"Look again, son. I've got you by two inches and maybe fifty pounds. You don't want to mess with me. You don't know what you're facing here."
"Fuck you," the boy shouted, advancing slowly. "Fuck you and the bitch."
"Move out of the way, Morgan." Barton's voice came from the roof door. His revolver was drawn.
"He's mine, Chuck." Morgan's angular face settled into an expression of resignation. Then, to the boy, "I don't know what your story is, son, but to face down sniper fire like you just did, you must be serious. Trust me, kid, it ain't worth it."
"Don't matter. I'll kill you." The boy leaned in, taking a vicious swipe at Morgan's stomach. Morgan dodged to the side, his steps light for a man so big.
"Now that pissed me off!" Morgan snarled, dropping into a deep ready stance. The boy seemed crazed and frantic, but nerves and drugs gave him maniac speed.
"End it," Barton said.
"Morgan, don't hurt him," Felicity said.
"Shit," Morgan said. The boy thrust lightning fast for Morgan's midsection. Morgan dropped to the roof on his left side. Hot tar burned his hands as he thrust a side kick up into the boy's armpit. The knife arced skyward. The same leg curled and snapped a foot into the boy's chest. He hit the roof before the knife did.
"Pretty," Barton said.
Morgan was on top of the boy in an instant, pressing a forearm across the boy's throat. "Why?" he asked. "Why take such a stupid risk? Huh?"
"Let's try that again." Morgan pulled a double-bladed dagger from his boot top and pressed its edge against the boy's throat. "Now. Tell me why you'd walk into the middle of a fire fight with no cover when you could just give up and live."
After a moment's silence, the boy croaked out "I need the ice, man. You can't get it in prison. I'd have died anyway, without the ice."
Morgan kneeled up straighter, his nostrils flaring. He remembered that odor from younger mercenaries he had worked with: the sharp, stagnant smell of the speed freak.
"Drugs," he muttered. Before standing, he reached into the kid's pocket, pulling out a plastic bag. Its contents looked to Morgan like lumps of rock candy, like his grandmother used to give him.
"Ice," Barton said. "That's the drug I was telling you about. Maybe now you'll reconsider the job." He turned to Felicity. At six feet tall, he only had an inch or two on her. He slipped a hand around her waist and looked her almost directly in the eye. "Well my buxom lass, will you and Morgan be able to help us get these drugs off the streets?"
Felicity looked at the boy. Then she glanced at her well-muscled partner, who gave an almost imperceptible nod.
"Make an appointment and we'll talk," she said.CHAPTER 2
"So, what do you think?" Felicity asked, pulling out of the underground parking garage of the Manhattan Beach building that housed Stark and O'Brien's offices.
"I think this'll be the most boring briefing in the history of talking," Morgan said, turning on the radio. "Still, we need the facts to decide if we want to get involved."
"You know, I just keep seeing that kid's eyes." She eased into traffic and took her position among the luxury vehicles that clogged the street. She drove her Jaguar XKE, in an attempt to at least enjoy the drive. Like all her customized sports cars, it was jet black with an emerald interior that matched her eyes. She pushed it onto Route 405 and opened it up. The car was not new, but time's passing had no effect on the V-12 engine's incredible smoothness.
"Funny, my mind keeps going back to those poor FBI boys trying to crash the house," Morgan said, raising his voice over the throaty roar of the engine. "Those guys aren't anywhere near ready to fight these people. I mean, they're in the dark ages."
"You saying the FBI isn't up to dealing with a pack of children hustling drugs?" Felicity asked. She frowned as the predictable glut of traffic forced her to cut her speed in half.
"I'm saying Al Capone didn't have this kind of armament, and his boys weren't all hopped up on drugs, you know?" He stared out the window, watching the city fly past. It kept on changing, like a living thing. Freeways no longer got you around seeing the parts of town where the living happened. South Central Los Angeles had become downtown.
Their meeting place was a nondescript hotel hidden in L.A.'s central business district. Neither of them had ever heard of it. From habit, Felicity drove past it and around the block. They trusted FBI security measures about as well as they trusted IRS auditors.
Felicity parked a block away from the hotel in a small parking garage. Once they reached the sidewalk, they saw Barton in the hotel doorway. He glanced at them and gave a slight nod. Barton free-lanced for years before joining the agency. If he checked the area, it was probably okay.
Felicity and Morgan walked at a moderate pace toward the hotel, all the time scanning the area. They saw no loiterers or anyone out of place. But just before they reached the door, Morgan spun around, his right hand moving halfway to his holster. It was not a danger warning, really, but something pulled his attention.
A long Mercedes limousine pulled past them, just a bit too slowly. It had frosted windows, but a back one powered down an inch or two as the car slid past. All Morgan saw was a pair of silver eyes. Then it was gone.
"What?" Felicity asked.
"Nothing. Trick of the light."
Barton led them out of the elevator and down the hall. They stopped at the door to a suite. Felicity was surprised this hotel even had suites. Barton took a deep breath, exasperated in advance.
"Now, do you suppose you two could go in here and just listen a while? I mean, you don't have to piss these guys off."
"Well, yeah, we probably do," Morgan said. Inside, two grim faced men greeted them, rising from straight chairs around a small table. Felicity smiled at them, while placing her attaché case on the table. She and Morgan both wore tailored navy blue business suits, while everyone else in the room had on gray suits, clearly off the rack, and most likely the same rack.
"This is Mister Alvarez, representing the Drug Enforcement Agency," Barton said, indicating the stocky Hispanic man. "This gentleman is Mister Conrad, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation." The tall balding man with big ears nodded. "I'm here to represent the Agency. Gentlemen, this is ..."
"Not yet," Felicity said. Morgan pulled a device no bigger than a television remote control from Felicity's case and started scanning the room.
"The room's been swept already," Conrad said.
"Not by us," Felicity said, still smiling and controlling her reaction to the federal agent's terse comment. "Our equipment is a little more sophisticated than what you use. Yours isn't the best on the passive devices." Barton looked embarrassed, but Morgan finished in two minutes.
"All clear," he said, putting his listener detection device away. "I'm Morgan Stark." Morgan shook hands with both strangers. "The lady is Felicity O'Brien. Chuck tells us you guys can use some help, so we're here to listen. What can we do for you?"
"You can help with some street surveillance," Alvarez said, stepping to the bar. "Want a drink?"
"No thanks," Felicity said. "What we want is to know what your problem is." She sat on the sofa, hoping no one would notice her nose wrinkling. This had been a room for smokers, and the odor seemed to puff up out of the cushions when she sat. Morgan continued to stand.
"The problem, as always, is drugs," Alvarez said. "We have a new thing taking over the streets."
"This stuff called ice?" Felicity asked, leaning forward to protect her clothes. "So what is it? I thought crack was the latest thing in suicide."
"You're behind the times," Barton said. "Crack is yesterday's news. This stuff's a lot worse. It's really a form of methamphetamine."
"What, like crystal meth?" Morgan asked. "Okay, so it's speed. I met that stuff in the Far East. Guys used the stuff to stay alert. What's so dangerous about that?"
"What is so dangerous, Mister Stark, is that this is in a purified crystal form," Alvarez said. "Technically it's not the same thing. It's a different but related chemical called 4-Methylaminorex. It has effects comparable to methamphetamine but with a much longer duration. Sometimes on the street they call it euphoria, spelled U4Euh. It looks like crack and it smokes like crack but it's not cocaine. Crack might keep you high for half an hour. This stuff can keep you flying for twelve, fourteen hours."
"Can't be," Morgan said.
"Don't kid yourself," Conrad said, speaking for the first time. "This stuffs synthetic and what we've found on the street is unbelievably pure."
"It must be serious stuff to convince the FBI, DEA and CIA to work together," Morgan said. "Where's the stuff coming from?"
"Originally from the Philippines, Korea, and Hong Kong," Conrad said. "It made a big hit in Hawaii. Now it's all over the West Coast. We believe the operation's been taken over almost completely by a Colombian organization."
"There's news," Morgan said, rolling his eyes. "Drugs from Colombia. So? You want us to drive down to Medellin and bring in a drug lord for you?"
"You don't seem to take this very seriously," Alvarez said, a little louder than necessary. "There's more than five hundred people every month getting turned on to this stuff, and they might not matter to you, but ..."
"Easy," Felicity said, maintaining her smile. "I think you misunderstood my partner's meaning, although we do want to maintain a realistic view here, right? After all, I doubt all those people using this ice are being force fed it. Let's agree that all these victims won't be asking for a drug enforcement effort, or be too willing to help us out with getting the drugs off the street. However, I think what Morgan meant was, what is it that you need from us? We're not the police; we deal with security matters."
"The point is," Barton said, "I thought you guys might have the connections to find out who the distributors are at this end. Your record indicates you're very good at getting information. We don't want you to take any real risk, just help us find out how this stuff's getting distributed."
"Your people on the street can't find these boys?" Felicity asked.
Excerpted from The Ice Woman Assignment by Austin S. Camacho. Copyright © 2012 Austin S. Camacho. Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
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