Last month was a good month, with 200 books sold between the three novels. THANK YOU!!!
Plugging along on #4, title still unresolved, but the words are getting on ‘paper’. Running some of the chapters by folks for comments, and listening to their feedback.
Here’s another tease, again this is a rough, not edited for punctuation, spelling, etc…
The old man had gone back and forth on what to do about the letter from Montoya. He’d called Billy and had him reach out and get some info. That had only confirmed that one Carlos Montoya was in fact the number two in the Los Zetas cartel. The old man was of two minds, one was to just call him and set up a meet, the other was this was yet another setup to try to kill him.
He finally called Bucky, asking if he’d ever heard of anything like meetings between good guys and bad guys. Bucky said he didn’t remember any, but promised to see what he could find out. A couple of days later, he’d gotten back to the old man with a phone number in California and a name, saying “Call this guy. If anybody knows, he does. He’s got some strange connections down that way. He’s expecting you to call.”
Since it was quiet, the old man headed for the ranch early, saying he needed to check on some things with Felix and Ricky. Nobody batted an eye at that, and he felt a little guilty for lying to them, but he figured this was one of those calls that needed to be made in private. Getting to the ranch, he did actually spend some time talking to Felix and Ricky about the longhorns and pasture arrangements, and how Ricky was coming with the colt. Ricky was ecstatic that the colt was responding to him, and he bubbled over with pride, but also admitted he’d been calling Eddie for advice.
The old man slipped into the house and went to the office, taking off the hat and gunbelt with relief, and popping the radio into the charger. As he was doing so, he remembered the burner phones Billy had brought them what seemed like long time ago. He pulled one out of the desk drawer and stuffed a battery into it. Much to his surprise, it lit up and showed a fifty percent battery charge. He figured this was an omen, so he pulled the email from his pocket and dialed the number. Hitting the speaker button, he set the phone carefully on the desk and pulled out his pen as he flipped the email over. He heard a scratchy “Hello?”
“This is John, I’d like to speak to Larry, please.”
“This is Larry, go ahead.”
“I was told by a mutual friend you might be able to answer a question for me about some meetings.”
He heard a chuckle on the other end, then “Yeah, I thought that was what this would be about. The answer is yes. They do meet. It’s always above board, and out in the open. No chance for guards or anyone else to take them out. Doesn’t happen often, but it has, and it will again.”
The old man just looked at the phone, “Uh, okay, thanks.”
He heard the chuckle again, “Sounds like you got a request. Up to you how you play it. Anything else?”
“Ah, not that I can think of right now.” The next thing he heard was a dial tone. Shaking his head he hung up the phone and sat back in the chair, petting Yogi on the head as he leaned against the chair. The old man reached into a pigeonhole in the desk and pulled out the letter from Montoya, opened it and read it again. Shit. What the hell do I do. I want nothing more than to kill that sumbitch, but I can’t figure out why he wants to talk now. Well John, its shit or get off the pot.
The old man reached for the phone, pulled his hand back, then grabbed it and dialed the number. He hit speaker and laid it down again, it rang four, then five, then six times. He was getting ready to hang up when he heard “¡Hola?” Then he heard a rustle as if the phone had been handed to someone else.
Rather than answer in Spanish, he said, “I was asked to call this number about a meeting.”
A different, much more cultured voice said, “Ah, si, yes Senor. I sent you a letter about a meeting to discuss mutual concerns. I’m very happy to hear from you.”
The old man looked at the phone, then said, “How do you want to do this?”
The voice on the other end chuckled, “Senor, I know you can’t come here, so I will come to you. I have to be in Texas next week, and would be happy to stop by and have a chat with you.”
“I take it this will be a private meeting, correct?”
“That would be preferable Senor. I have no desire to advertise our meeting and I don’t think you do either.”
Remembering what Larry had just told him, the old man thought for a minute, “Well, I can offer to meet you at my place. It’s open enough and far enough out of town…”
The voice on the other end chuckled again, “I consider you an honorable man. I will be happy to meet you at your home. I have no fear of doing that.”
The old man found himself giving directions to the ranch, as his hind brain gabbled at him that he was being completely and utterly stupid. He tamped those thoughts down, even as Yogi sensed the changed attitude and growled softly, his ruff rising in response to the old man. He reached down and petted Yogi soothingly, and Yogi relaxed back to the floor.
After he hung up, the old man walked into the kitchen, went to the pantry and pulled out the Macallan Scotch. Pouring himself a shot, he sat at the kitchen table swirling the dark liquor and realizing his hands were shaking. He threw the shot back with a grimace, and washed the glass, dried it and put it back in the cabinet before he could change his mind and pour another shot.
He went back in the office, drug out the receipts and finished typing them into the spreadsheet Jesse wanted to get every week for the books. He glanced at his phone and realized he’d missed a call because he’d inadvertently turned off the ringer again. Thumbing the phone on, he saw a voicemail and quickly punched in his code. It was Clay, wondering if he wanted to get some dinner at Monahan’s truck stop, as Clay was coming back from Dallas and was going to be too late to get dinner at home.
The old man called Clay and agreed to meet him at the truck stop in an hour. He washed up quickly, and debated whether to take Yogi or not. He went out the back door and checked on Ricky, finding him putting the last of the supplies away, “Ricky what are your plans for tonight?”
Ricky stretched, “I’m finished with the supplies Senor, and mama wants me to come to dinner. She thinks I don’t eat well out here, and she thinks I’ll get in trouble if I go to town by myself.”
The old man laughed, “Mothers. They are always like that. They always think you’re twelve, regardless of how old you really are.”
Ricky nodded, “Si, Senor. But I turn nineteen next month! I’m not skinny, I have muscles now.” Ricky flexed his biceps and the old man realized, Ricky really was maturing, filling out and he wasn’t a skinny kid anymore. He’d never be a big man, but he would be taller than Felix and Olivia by a good three or four inches.
Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out his money clip and handed Ricky $60, “Go have a good time, and get yourself something you need. You’re a good worker Ricky, and I couldn’t ask for better help between you and your dad. You’ve earned a day off too. I’m sure you can find something to occupy your time tomorrow, right?”
Ricky’s face lit up, “Yes, sir! I’m sure I can! Thank you!”
Knowing Ricky would be leaving, the old man decided to take Yogi with him, and got his leash, then loaded him in the car. He drove slowly up to Monahan’s truck stop enjoying the scenery and thinking how he seldom got up this way anymore. He pulled into the parking lot and parked next to the little dog run they had. He didn’t see Clay’s car, so he let Yogi into the dog run and watched him romp playfully with what looked like a miniature Rottweiler.
Leaning against the gate, he saw a lady coming back toward the dog park, a cup of coffee in hand, “Is that your Rotty pup?”
The lady laughed, “Believe it or not, he’s not a pup, he’s three years old.”
The old man looked again, “Really? What happened…”
The laughter continued as the lady said, “Well, Butch is a cross between a Rotty and a Beagle. But he doesn’t show any Beagle does he?”
The old man shook his head, “Nope. He looks like he’s pure Rotty. I’m almost afraid to ask…”
“Male Beagle, female Rotty, and no I didn’t see it,” the lady said with a smile.
The old man laughed, “Determined kinda fits the bill doesn’t it.” Looking over, he saw Clay pull in, “Excuse me, I’ve got to go meet my friend. Yogi, come!” The lady nodded and watched as Yogi trotted over and the old man put him in the car.
After dinner and catching up, Clay and the old man were enjoying a piece of pie and a cup of coffee, when Trooper Wilson walked in, along with Sergeant Michaels. They took the table next to them and quickly ordered, then Wilson turned, “Captain, it’s good to see you up and about. I hear you are back on duty.”
“Michelle, Mike. Yep back on full duty, and playing catch up. Y’all been busy?”
Wilson shrugged and Michaels laughed, “It’s early yet Captain. You know how Fridays can get around here. It’ll either be feast or famine. I’m kinda hoping for famine.”
Wilson chimed in, “Hey Sarge, you only have to follow-up the paperwork. Us grunts are out here doing the work. And famine would be nice. I’ve been getting writer’s cramp lately with all the tickets we’ve been writing.”
Clay and the old man both chuckled, and Clay asked, ‘Michelle, what are you doing up here? You usually run ten, not twenty.”
Michelle smiled, “Catering to my boss,” pointing to Michaels, “He’s going off and I’ve got an hour before I actually go on. So I’m sucking up.”
Mike Michaels spit coffee laughing at that, and started a retort when a panting disheveled truck driver came running over, “Officer, there’s something in the parking lot you gotta see. I think there’s a problem.”
All four of them jumped up and followed the driver, catching bits and pieces of what he was saying, “IDC trucks… Hand… Ain’t movin’…”
Coming around the last row of trucks, they looked up and sure enough, there was a hand sticking out of the vent door at the top of one of the IDC truck’s trailer. The old man looked at the trailer latches, realized they were locked and said, “We’re going to need to pop the locks.” Pulling his radio out, he quickly flipped to LAW#1 channel and keyed the mic, “Ward County dispatch, Pecos car four on law one. Monahan’s truck stop. Need to roll a unit and at least one ambulance to the back row of trucks. White IDC truck, unmarked trailer, Texas license follows.”
The dispatcher came back immediately, “Roger Pecos four, do you need DPS?”
“Negative, DPS is on scene. We have a hand sticking out of a trailer vent door. Trying to access trailer now.”
“Ward County, go ahead, Pecos four.”
“I’m out at Monahan’s truck stop. Need to roll a unit and at least one ambulance to the back row of trucks. White IDC truck, unmarked trailer. Copy Texas tag.” The old man gave the plate of the trailer, and said, “Stand by for the tractor tag,” as he swiftly walked to the front of the rig to read off the tag on the front bumper of the semitractor to which the trailer was hitched.
The dispatcher came back immediately, “Roger Pecos four, do you need DPS?”
“ Negative, DPS is on scene. We have a hand sticking out of a trailer vent door. Trying to access trailer now.”
Clay came screeching around the line of trucks in his car, slammed to a stop, and jumped out with a pair of bolt cutters. He handed them to Michaels, who made quick work of both locks on the trailer door latches. The popped the doors open carefully, and were assailed by the stench of waste products and heard screaming, crying and pleas for help overlapping each other from the inside of the trailer, which appeared to be full of boxes of TVs.
Not knowing what they had, but seeing the limp arm over the top of the boxes on the right side of the trailer, they began pulling boxes quickly off the truck until Michaels could stand up in the trailer. He continued to move boxes to get to the hand, as they heard sirens in the distance. Finally Wilson also climbed into the trailer, and began moving boxes to go forward toward the noise, calling in Spanish for them to be quiet.
Michaels finally got enough boxes moved that he could get to the man he could see, but the man didn’t appear to be moving. Gently lowering him down to Clay and the old man, he shook his head. Clay and the old man laid him gently behind a line of boxes on the ground after determining he was dead, and had been at least a couple of hours from the lividity.
Wilson had finally moved enough boxes to have a small passageway forward, and was assailed by a fresh blast of waste. She shined her light in and the men heard her cussing vehemently, “Sumbitching bastards, gonna need help up here. Got between twenty and thirty women and kids in here.”
The old man was keying the radio again when a Ward County car turned the corner of the trucks, followed by an ambulance. Rather than report it, he decided to let the Ward County officer handle it. As he turned toward the car, somebody grabbed his shoulder and spun him around, “What the fuck are you doing to my trailer you assho…”
The man shut up suddenly when the old man put his 1911 between his eyes rather forcefully, “On the ground, on your belly now!”
Deputy Ernesto Valdez came out of his car gun drawn, “What you got Captain?”
“Cuff and stuff this one Ernesto, we’ve got what is probably a truck load of illegals with at least one dead.”
“Shit,” keying his radio, Valdez called dispatch and activated the mass casualty tree, reinforcing with dispatch that it was not a drill, and requesting extra ambulances and the morgue wagon. Cuffing the driver, he shoved him in the back of his car and hustled back to help Michaels, Wilson, Clay and the old man get people out of the trailer. A half hour later the last body had been brought out, and a total of thirty-four living and four dead were accounted for.
Sheriff Allen showed up with a school bus, driven by one of the school mechanics, and they checked each person for weapons, then loaded the twenty-eight remaining survivors on the bus. Assigning two deputies to ride the bus to the hospital, he called dispatch to have Monahans PD respond and also asked dispatch to activate the reserve deputies and send half of them to the hospital for security and guard duty.
He walked over and looked down at the four blanket covered bodies, then carefully pulled the blankets up enough to see what lay beneath. Two of them were very small, and the sheriff came over cussing, “Kids, dammit, why does it have to be kids?” He nodded to the troopers and said, “John, Clay, what’s y’alls involvement in this?”
The old man looked at Clay, who nodded, “Jason, we were just having dinner, and talking with Troopers Michaels and Wilson when a driver ran in saying he’d seen a hand sticking out of a trailer. I got on law one and called your dispatch while we got the trailer open. The troopers climbed in the trailer and Clay and I handled things on the ground.”
Clay said, “We were cheap labor Jason, not our case. It’s either y’alls or DPS. I’ll call and see if our CID wants in.”
Allen shook his head, “Just what we need. I’ve got a call in to Border Patrol and they are supposedly responding,” looking around he spat, “But as usual, who knows when they’ll get here. Who’s got the details?”
The old man pointed at Deputy Valdez, “Ernesto, and he’s got the driver cuffed and stuffed. I don’t think he’s even questioned him yet. Figured the priority was the live ones and getting them to the hospital.”
“You’re kinda an expert in this John, what do you think?”
“Coyotes. These are Hondurans and Guatemalans, probably smuggled across the border around El Paso or Arizona, put in the trailer and locked in. My guess is the driver doesn’t know anything. He was probably told to pick up a sealed trailer, and drop it somewhere, maybe Forth Worth, or Dallas or maybe Ok City.”
The old man scuffed his boot, “Looks like they’ve been cooped up in the truck for three days, and only had a couple of gallons of water, and no food other than a few burritos. I think the one man that died decided getting out was more important than making it to where ever they were going. He apparently crawled to the back sometime early today or maybe yesterday. He pretty much cooked up there.”
Sheriff Allen asked, “You want to do the investigation for us?”
The old man held up his hands, “No, I’ll help Monte if he needs it, but this is his, or DPS CID or Ranger CID. This whole thing is a set piece, I think they shoved more than usual in there, it’s about the size we’ve seen for twenty, and they had what, thirty-eight stuffed in there. There isn’t even room for anybody to lay down. It was probably supposed to be a straight through trailer, no stops, but that didn’t happen. I’m betting you’re going to find drugs in the trailer too. Sinaloa is probably the cartel that did this, so I’d get a drug dog down here before I let any of these boxes get out of here.”
“Why John? Why do they do it?”
The old man shrugged, “Money. At their normal prices, that’s about a hundred and ninety thousand on the hoof right there, prepaid. There’s a good possibility those boxes are going to have a couple of million worth of either heroin or coke. Now that I think of it, you need to call Bucky and get him to send some folks out here to tear the trailer apart.”
The sheriff thanked them both, shook their hands and turned to the troopers. Clay was extracting his car, and the old man walked slowly back to the restaurant. Looking at his watch, he realized it’d been a couple of hours and he picked up the pace, knowing Yogi was probably going nuts and needed to go do his business. He got Yogi and took him over to the pet area, as Clay parked beside his car.
After Yogi finished his business and the old man cleaned it up, he brought Yogi over to Clay, who played with him for a minute or two. Michaels and Wilson came slowly up the walk and joined them. Michelle went down on her knees and hugged Yogi, allowing him to lick her as she buried her head in his ruff.
Michaels finally said, “If I ever make a comment about feast or famine again, somebody shoot me please. Damn.”
Wilson chimed in, “Amen to that! I’ll even shoot you with your gun!”
Clay and the old man laughed, and Wilson finally stood up, “I hate shit like this. Especially the dead kids.” Turning to the old man she asked, “How do you deal with this Captain, I know you’ve been doing it a long time.”
Sobered, the old man said, “I just do the best I can to remember the good things Michelle. That’s one of the reasons I always sit on the front porch in the morning with a cup of coffee. It’s calm and quiet, I can look out over the land and see the sun rising. That grounding and my faith are what have kept me sane all these years. You’re going to have nightmares, you just can’t let them beat you, or drive you into booze or drugs.”
Reaching down and petting Yogi, he said, “Get a dog. Not a cat, a dog. They love you unconditionally and they’ll defend you with their lives. They’ll also ground you and give you a reason to care.”
Clay nodded, “Yep, animals help. They don’t ask dumb questions, and there’s the starfish story…”
Wilson and Michaels both looked at him and Wilson said, “Starfish?”
Clay said softly, “It’s about an old man and starfish. Go look it up.”
Michaels and Wilson’s radios both went off, and Clay’s phone rang at the same time. Clay stepped away to be able to hear, and the old man heard the DPS dispatch saying a CID team was on the way, and DPS would take the lead on the case. The old man shook his head as he watched both of their faces fall, knowing they would be here for hours now. Michaels rogered up for the DPS lead, and reminded dispatch that they would need to replace Trooper Wilson on I-Ten.
Clay walked back up, “Well, looks like DPS got it. I get to go home now,” he said with a smile. I’m too old for these long days and nights.”
Wilson looked around, then stuck out her tongue at Clay, prompting laughter from everyone, turning to Michaels, she asked, “Can’t we keep him here and make him fill out a witness statement or something oh sergeant of mine?”
Michaels snorted, “Ah, no. Your daddy may be his boss, but I am not going to step into that briar patch. Ranger, if you and Captain Cronin could get us statements by tomorrow that should be fine.”
Clay and the old man both nodded, and left while the leaving was good.