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CHAPTER 1, Excerpt 5

Patrolman Henning jogged back to his darkened cruiser where it sat idling, lights off, a hundred yards down Gamble Gulch Road from the Chevy minivan. He’d considered putting a few rounds from his sidearm into the van to give it that Texas “been-here-a-while” look but decided against it because noise carries and crime lab nerds can identify slugs.

Having stuffed the cash in a military-surplus duffel he’d found in the back of the van—Christ, a ton of money in wrapped packets, all denominations—Henning threw the olive-drab bag into the trunk of the cruiser and drove back to the Interstate.

Nothing on I-37 but blackness.

Good.

His watch ending soon, Henning needed to get the hell down the road and make a bust a long ways from Gamble Gulch before some citizen called in the abandoned minivan. Tearing down the highway at eighty-five, passing everything in sight, which fortunately wasn’t much—couple tourists and a few semis—Henning got to Lake Corpus Christi Road in a few minutes, made a U and started back north. Wasn’t long before he came up behind a blue Ford Focus with its rear license plate light out.

Henning pulled the loser over. And when the kid rolled down the window, reefer smoke floated out thick as the pubes on a Jaurez whore. Just like I figured, Henning thought. Young spic doper out for some fucking and sucking. And the girl was white. No crime, but maybe her parents would want to know the company she was keeping. No doubt he’d find contraband if he searched the car—but Henning was feeling too good tonight for complications. And it was getting late. And hell, when you got down to it, spics weren’t that bad. Worked hard for shit wages and were better than niggers any day.

Going through the motions, Henning scanned the kid’s license with his flashlight, wrote out a ticket for the faulty light and gave his usual stern lecture about the dangers of inattentive driving. And how kids should be home doing schoolwork or sleeping this time of night instead of out on the highway looking for trouble.

The driver, likely thinking he was off the hook, seemed about ready to jump out the window and give Henning a kiss. Kid was looking at the ticket and slobbering. “You’re right officer, it is very late. I lost track of the time. We’ll go directly home, I promise.”

Something in the boy’s tone annoyed Henning. Now he couldn’t help himself. Staring down at the nervous kid, he said, “Before you leave, Alex, I’d like you to do one thing for me.”

“Yes, sir?”

Henning believed Alex would get down on his knees and slurp the snake if he asked him to, anything to avoid a search of the car. Grinning slightly, enjoying his power and rushing behind thoughts of the cash in the trunk of his cruiser, Henning said, “Come around to the passenger side with me, Alex. I have a favor to ask of you.”

Alex got out of the Focus and moped around to the other side, glancing warily at Henning. “Alex,” Henning said, stopping by the passenger window, “Open this door and reach inside the car. Push the button on the glove compartment with the back of your hand and then step back out of there. I have this sneaking suspicion there’s something in there going to do you and your friends harm. Would you do that for me, Alex?”

Henning stood there grinning, watching the kid and tapping his fingers on the butt of the Glock 17 in his hip holster. Henning saw subservience in the kid’s eyes, the boy’s hands trembling. Henning hoped there wasn’t a weapon in the glove box. There was, he’d have to brain the dumb kid, same as the last fool he baited into trying something.

Alex Ruiz looked scared shitless and did exactly as told, leaning in to push the button on the glove compartment with the back of his right hand before backing out quickly. Then Henning’s flashlight beam settled on a pint of lime vodka inside the glove box. And reaching in to lift it out, Henning saw the edge of a plastic bag peeking out from under some papers. He lifted out the liquor bottle and set it on the roof of the Ford, reached back in and grabbed the baggie and let it unfurl, saw a few brown buds of marijuana. “Just as I expected, Alex, you were about to travel down this public thoroughfare without your rear license plate light and in the possession of dangerous drugs and cheap alcohol. I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz would think about this, Alex? You do have parents, don’t you, boy?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s good, son. A boy needs two parents in this world today. What about your girlfriend here? What’s her name?”

“Jenny.”

“Jenny what, son?”

“Jenny Lang, sir.”

“So, Jenny Lang,” Henning said, bending over with the baggie in his hand and leaning in closer to the frightened girl. “You have an ID with that name on it, young lady?”

The girl had her driver’s license ready and handed it up to him.

“Well, Alex,” Henning said after examining the girl’s license, the nervous eighteen-year-old boy shifting from foot to foot on the shoulder of the Interstate. “What do you think the Langs would think about this trouble you’ve gotten their pretty young daughter into tonight?”

“There’s only a Mrs. Lang, sir. Jenny’s old man split a long time ago.”

“So you thought you’d take advantage of a poor fatherless girl, huh, Pedro?”

“It’s Alex, sir, and it’s not like that at all. It’s her dope—her booze. I—”

“That’s where you’re wrong, boy. From now on, this contraband belongs to the State of Texas. And I’ll hang onto your driver’s license in case anything bad happens to cute little Jenny Lang here. In the case of said event, or any other goddamn stunts you might pull in the future, I will take this bag of dope with your license inside it and mail it to Ms. Lang’s mother. And I hope Jenny here has some second thoughts about givin’ it out to a whimpering snitch like you. So get your sorry ass down the road and have that light fixed or I’ll chase you down and bust your ass.”

Alex did what he was told.

(Chapter 2, to be continued)

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South Texas Tangle, Chapter 1, Excerpt 4

An hour later Jimmy Ireno was still sloshing through the creek bed, Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” cycling in his head. He was tired but thanking his lucky stars as he waited for the cover of total darkness to hide his sins and his ass. Getting pulled over for no plates was bad juju, no doubt, but getting pulled over next to one of the few patches of greenery in this dusty, vacant lot country was truly fortunate. Like other-wordly fortunate, dude, good luck on top of bad.

But after another seemingly endless period of struggling through the brush led to nothing, Jimmy began to resign himself to being overrun by sirens and dogs and inbred giants toting shotguns and cattle prods. He was about ready to let himself get caught, this running-through-the-briars-and-brambles shit being hard work. He could cop a plea, throw himself on the mercy of the court; give up Sam Arndt in exchange for clemency, tell them Arndt was threatening to kill him if he didn’t deliver the cash to the proper destination.

Jimmy saw himself in court standing in front of the judge, man up there in his robes looking stern: It was gambling debts and an addiction to terrible drugs that put me in contact with an evil guy like Samuel Arndt, your honor. The man’s an Arab, might be a terrorist. Sure looks like one, used to have a beard. And he changed his name from some unpronounceable Arab thing. I am so ashamed of myself I’d do anything to atone, your honor.

But if Jimmy pulled that, Sam might really have him killed, instead of just enslaving him for the rest of his life paying off the markers. So what was to gain from rolling over on Sam? A job selling shoes in Sandusky in the witness security program? Trustee gig in the slam proofreading license plates?

Gimme a break.

In frosty Minneapolis, Sam Arndt was searching his kitchen cabinet for Pepto Bismol. Trying to relax, he was gazing out his eighth-floor penthouse window at the mighty Mississippi and the glowing bronze embroidery of the city lights. But his heart was thumping in his chest and bile was climbing up his larynx, all for no reason he could put his finger on. Had a lot of cake riding on the Redwings-Blues playoff game, but the score was tied with two minutes left, no way Detroit would win by two unless there was an empty-netter. Wasn’t a big thing even if it happened; NHL playoffs are long. He’d recoup. Always did.

Baffled by this sudden attack of panic, Sam was glad he had some downs for moments like this. Must be worries about Jimmy and the cash bothering him. And he had reason to worry, didn’t he? This was a relatively new gig, this arranging for mountains of cash to be transported to the border. Profitable, yes, but this was only the third time. Drove it down himself the first two times, making sure things went smoothly to insure future business from the associates. But Sam hated driving long distances. He had numerous food allergies and couldn’t tolerate freeway fare. And he trusted Jimmy Ireno. Trust starting to wear a bit thin now.

Sam liked Jimmy. Kid was a degenerate gambler and a drug abuser, but still a nice young man. And most importantly, Jimmy was a coward, too big a chicken to pull anything stupid.

But something still felt wrong.

Standing there staring out at the lights, Sam drifted back to the days when Jimmy was playing high school ball at De LaSalle, little shit running the fast break like Ricky Rubio. Sam had some good nights with the book when Jimmy Ireno was throwing ’em in from downtown.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Jimmy “The Eye” Ireno was coming out for air. Out of the bush and up under that big starry sky they always called lonesome in the songs. Tonight he knew what they meant. He wanted to believe things were going to work out, like the voice in his head kept insisting, and now he could see the lights of a farmhouse up ahead.

Getting closer, it was more like a ranch house: sprawling two-story, reddish-brown modern with a two-stall garage and a blacktop driveway. On the edge of the driveway nearest to Jimmy, a yard fixture on a tall pole shined a cone of light on a glistening light-blue pickup truck, the pickup creating a shadow that a person might use to keep from being seen as he crept along.

Minute later Jimmy was looking inside the truck.

Keys were in the ignition.

More good luck.

Another omen?

Was there a lottery outlet nearby?

Truck door squeaked a bit on opening and creaked on the close, stoking Jimmy’s nerves as he turned the key and fired up the cherry Ford. Glancing toward the ranch house, Jimmy eased out the clutch and backed down the pavement to the dirt road, headlights off. Swinging the truck around, he headed away from the main highway, and, he hoped, the law.

Jimmy had often wondered what you might find on one of these strips of white dirt you saw running out from the highways in ranch country. Shifting into third, he watched the dust kicking up behind him in the red tint of the taillights, Jimmy thinking, This road could take me anywhere. Or nowhere.                             

Inside the tidy ranch house, Rachel and Dr. Robert Hayden couldn’t hear anything over the commotion from the most recent of their increasingly frequent fights. This time it was about the lazy hired hands and the amount of time the doctor was spending away from home, the reasons du jour Rachel chose when she really just wished Doctor Bob would stand up and face himself—perhaps accept responsibility for his actions—if it wasn’t too goddamn inconvenient. But honestly, these days, just about anything could set the two of them off.

Recoiling from his wife’s angry salvos, Dr. Robert huffed and mumbled as he retreated toward the sanctuary of his lockable home office, Rachel saying to his departing back: “You better start taking more of a part in this marriage or there’s going to be trouble, Bob. You can’t hide from the truth forever, Doctor.”

Calling him “Doctor” to express her growing indifference.

(to be continued)

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South Texas Tangle, Chapter 1, Excerpt 2

Cynthia Marie Mathews Henning felt light and airy, except for the tugging in her stomach when thoughts of her son came around. And now as the cool of dawn gave way to the heat of late morning, the elation of breaking free from Dan was fading with the dew. And as much as she believed what she’d done was necessary—mandatory even—second thoughts and second guesses were creeping into her head like scorpions seeking shade. Maybe she shouldn’t have listened to her sister Jean. Maybe she should’ve talked to Dan about marriage counseling before walking out. Maybe she should’ve stayed at home. But darn it, she couldn’t do things over, and Jean was probably right about Dan, her big sister saying Dan would pull a John Wayne and refuse any kind of help or counseling.

Cynthia knew state troopers could get mental health counseling within the department if they requested it. She also knew Dan would never request it on his own. Probably say he’d taken enough crap already from the guys about his “chicken-shit suspension.” Talk about a stubborn streak, the man was still sticking to his claim that the Latina whore was forcing herself on him, Dan insisting he’d pushed the tramp away just a second after the cell phone photo was taken. And the picture wasn’t that clear—really—so Cyn did have some doubt.

Just a little.

Or maybe not.

Yes, she was trying very hard to believe her husband. But sadly found herself coming back to the way she’d felt for the last few months: a big, aching hole inside her and despair when she looked ahead even so far as next week. Freedom demands eternal vigilance was one of her father’s favorite sayings, but what, exactly, was there to be vigilant about here? Was she supposed to be following Dan around 24/7? Hacking in to the NSA to track his movements? It was all too confusing and draining.

Her sister Jean kept telling her she just needed time on her own, Cyn having gone right from college into a “dead-end marriage trap,” Jean never bothering to soften her rips at Dan. And maybe it was good advice. Cyn wasn’t sure so she was giving it a try. But what the heck should she do with this time on her own?

That was the question all right.

Money wouldn’t be a problem if it came down to that. Her Daddy would be more than happy to help her cut loose from the “cretin with a badge,” her father’s exact words six years ago when Cyn told him she was marrying Dan. And perhaps a few weeks on her own was what she needed to get her thoughts in order. Her mother always said Jesus would guide the way and Cyn was hoping old J.C.—or anyone, for that matter—would come along and point her in the right direction. At the moment she could barely imagine spending much time away from her baby boy, so that needed some adjustment. And, well, a few days away might be long enough to get things straight, but if going back to her husband meant putting his penis in her mouth like he was always asking, she just didn’t know, thing smelling like stale Vienna sausage under the covers. Maybe after a shower….

And that was the actual truth, but she wouldn’t be putting it on her Facebook page anytime soon.

(to be continued)

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CHAPTER 1 (Excerpt 2)

Patrolman Dan Henning of the Texas State Troopers watched the rabbit crashing and sloshing away from him down there in the brush. Then he slid his pistol back in the holster on his hip and began wrestling with greed. And soon the deadly sin got the best of him. Opportunity knocking like this and the fact he currently hated his life providing all the motivation he needed to take a roll of the dice at Gamble Gulch Road.

Henning knew any freak desperate enough to rabbit off and leave his vehicle behind had to be carrying something illegal—and in all probability, something valuable. Most likely drugs, but you never know for sure. Henning had collared more than a few of these smart guys hauling dope and guns along his piece of highway, none of them ever attempting to drive through without license plates, however. Reason it surprised him when the burnout took off. Hard to imagine anybody running contraband without license plates. And sure, chances were good some beaners had, in fact, stolen the plates, and were now out lifting new ones in someone else’s territory.

One man’s bad luck becomes another man’s good luck.

Henning got up inside the van. Took him less than five minutes to find the stashed cash. Wasn’t necessarily a bad job of concealment but Henning was a pro, had seen more than a few of these deals in his time. The side panels hardly ever matched up perfectly once removed. Real difficult to make it look like original factory condition on an old vehicle. And shoddy work got you trouble, no matter what the job.

So there it was, a piss pot full of cash in wrapped bundles, Henning’s reward for busting his ass trying to keep this one small slice of the country safe. Up until now, for all his efforts on this lonely stretch of Texas asphalt, only thing Henning ever got was a couple of half-ass pats on the back from Captain Theodor and one mention in the newspaper. And—oh yeah—occasionally a congratulatory fuck from his wife, Cynthia, the woman sometimes seeming like she actually enjoyed it.

Cyn. If only she’d embrace a little more sin, maybe they’d have a chance. Skipping church one time for some Sunday morning action would be a start. It hadn’t happened yet.

And if that wasn’t enough shit to deal with, lately it seemed like the sonofabitch Theodor was trying his damn best to keep Henning down, keep him from rising in the patrol. Yeah, Henning had those pissy citations for reckless driving—off duty—and maybe he didn’t always follow the book to the nad, but lately it seemed everything good he’d done in the past had become worthless. Okay, sure, there were a couple excessive force complaints and this and that, and then that one damn time a do-gooder snapped a pic of him getting a blowjob in the back of the patrol car—but who was it made the best busts out here?

Fucking Dan Henning, that’s who.

But what the hell, all that would be far behind him in the not too distant future. Just look at all the cash the rabbit left behind. Stuff was shouting out Hasta la vista, baby, loud and clear.

(to be continued)

 

 

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CHAPTER 1 (Excerpt 1)

South Texas Tangle is a tribute to the work of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, and follows Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing.”

Jimmy Ireno was strung out on speed, bad freeway coffee and fear. But the big problem was the state trooper with the absurd wide brimmed hat, shovel-blade chin and linebacker shoulders waiting at his window.

“Driver’s license and registration please, sir.”

Saying it nice and polite.

But those were the last words Jimmy wanted to hear anywhere, let alone the middle of flatlands nowhere, hundred miles south of San Antonio. Thing was, he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. Revoked last year for a couple of chicken-shit DWIs coming home from the clubs. Cops on that shift can be real assholes. And registration? Nothing like that in here. They run the VIN they’ll find the listed owner to be some long-dead Minnesotan or an incarcerated miscreant, maybe someone only exists on paper. That’s the system.

“Are you aware that your vehicle has no license plates, sir? Seems that the mounting hardware was, ah, substandard.”

Jesus, no plates?

And why was the cop dangling a gnarled-up garbage bag tie in Jimmy’s face? Did somebody back in Minnesota not know that screws work a lot better? Jimmy didn’t have a clue. And was also totally clueless about a lot of other things—like what the hell he was going to do now.

Looking up at the cop, Jimmy said, “What? No plates? Seriously? That can’t be right. They were on there when I left Minneapolis.” And coming up with the best lie he could think of on such short notice: “Someone must’ve taken ’em. Probably at the campground last night in Oklahoma. Some Mexicans were checking out the van, they must’ve—

“Your driver’s license, sir.”

Politeness fading.

But Jimmy’s really huge problem was the million dollars in small bills hidden behind the cheesy Chevy conversion’s simulated wood paneling. Jimmy and the cash were on the way to McAllen, Texas, just a short jaunt over the Rio Bravo from Reynosa, Mexico, a place where—Sam Arndt had told him—they might as well put up a sign: Cash Wash—Cheap. Come one come all to Javier’s Pawn Shop. Bills Cleaned Daily. We Don’t Ask No Stinking Questions.

Up ahead now in the near dark, Jimmy could see a green road sign in the splayed beams of the van’s headlights, fluorescent white letters spelling out Gamble Gulch Rd.

Gamble Gulch?

This was clearly an omen. And Jimmy believed in omens. It was all the impetus he needed. Reaching down like he was going for his wallet, Jimmy jerked the door handle, put his shoulder to the door and drove it at the cop’s chest. But the trooper, evidently no rookie, was standing far enough back that the door missed him by three inches. Despite his miscalculation, Jimmy continued his burst from the truck, raced by the surprised trooper, dove down the bank and rolled to a stop in the high weeds directly below the Gamble Gulch sign.

Jimmy Ireno could always run. And the trooper had a decent-sized gut hanging over his belt, making it unlikely he could catch up to Jimmy, now slogging toward a grove of trees, the image of a speeding bullet coming at his back filling his troubled mind. Once inside the sheltering foliage, Jimmy listened for the clomping of the cop’s long boots or the wailing of sirens.

Neither one came.

Whattaya know.

(To be continued)

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Now available at all online bookstores for $2.99!

CHAPTER 1 (Excerpt 2)

Patrolman Dan Henning of the Texas State Troopers watched the rabbit crashing and sloshing away from him down there in the brush. Then he slid his pistol back in the holster on his hip and began wrestling with greed. And soon the deadly sin got the best of him. Opportunity knocking like this and the fact he currently hated his life providing all the motivation he needed to take a roll of the dice at Gamble Gulch Road.

Henning knew any freak desperate enough to rabbit off and leave his vehicle behind had to be carrying something illegal—and in all probability, something valuable. Most likely drugs, but you never know for sure. Henning had collared more than a few of these smart guys hauling dope and guns along his piece of highway, none of them ever attempting to drive through without license plates, however. Reason it surprised him when the burnout took off. Hard to imagine anybody running contraband without license plates. And sure, chances were good some beaners had, in fact, stolen the plates, and were now out lifting new ones in someone else’s territory.

One man’s bad luck becomes another man’s good luck.

Henning got up inside the van. Took him less than five minutes to find the stashed cash. Wasn’t necessarily a bad job of concealment but Henning was a pro, had seen more than a few of these deals in his time. The side panels hardly ever matched up perfectly once removed. Real difficult to make it look like original factory condition on an old vehicle. And shoddy work got you trouble, no matter what the job.

So there it was, a piss pot full of cash in wrapped bundles, Henning’s reward for busting his ass trying to keep this one small slice of the country safe. Up until now, for all his efforts on this lonely stretch of Texas asphalt, only thing Henning ever got was a couple of half-ass pats on the back from Captain Theodor and one mention in the newspaper. And—oh yeah—occasionally a congratulatory fuck from his wife, Cynthia, the woman sometimes seeming like she actually enjoyed it.

Cyn. If only she’d embrace a little more sin, maybe they’d have a chance. Skipping church one time for some Sunday morning action would be a start. It hadn’t happened yet.

And if that wasn’t enough shit to deal with, lately it seemed like the sonofabitch Theodor was trying his damn best to keep Henning down, keep him from rising in the patrol. Yeah, Henning had those pissy citations for reckless driving—off duty—and maybe he didn’t always follow the book to the nad, but lately it seemed everything good he’d done in the past had become worthless. Okay, sure, there were a couple excessive force complaints and this and that, and then that one damn time a do-gooder snapped a pic of him getting a blowjob in the back of the patrol car—but who was it made the best busts out here?

Fucking Dan Henning, that’s who.

But what the hell, all that would be far behind him in the not too distant future. Just look at all the cash the rabbit left behind. Stuff was shouting out Hasta la vista, baby, loud and clear.

(to be continued)

 

 

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