An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
Lightning flickered in the blue-black distance. Somewhere in the sultry, moonless night, a coyote yipped. Still farther away, another answered. There was no movement in the barren, walled yard. A single light burned in the second story of the pueblo-style house.
“I don’t like it,” Will muttered, ducking back from the gate to land against the thick adobe wall next to his partner.
Taylor shot him a quick look and laughed, a ghost of a sound. Taylor hadn’t liked this setup since they’d arrived in Denver to find their prisoner, suspected terrorist Kelila Hedwig, had somehow charmed her way out of police custody and was once more on the run.
Hedwig was the prime suspect in the death of Los Angeles Field Office Director Henry Torres, which was why DSS Special Agents Will Brandt and Taylor MacAllister had been tasked with escorting her back to the City of Angels. Technically, pursuing and reapprehending her was a job for the US Marshals, not the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. But Taylor, ever a cynical and suspicious son of a bitch, had suggested that the cowboys on Nineteenth Street had already had their shot and blown it -- in his opinion, a little too conveniently. From the first, there had been an ugly rumor that Hedwig was getting help from the inside.
Will doubted it. He’d seen a couple of photos of Hedwig. She was a frail slip of a girl behind oversize spectacles. True, he was no expert, but he thought it unlikely she’d seduced anyone. He figured Denver PD had underestimated her resourcefulness -- and desperation. It happened. It didn’t automatically follow that there was a conspiracy afoot.
If she was getting help, it wasn’t very expert help because, after fleeing Colorado, she’d headed straight back to the mountains of New Mexico and an ex-boyfriend, Reuben Ramirez.
Ramirez was Hedwig’s high school sweetheart. Not that either of them had attended high school on a regular basis. He was an ex-con currently on probation for drug-related charges. Apparently Hedwig wasn’t too much of a bad-girl superstar to forget the little people.
“It’s too quiet,” Will said.
“Nah. Ramirez is a punk. Strictly small-time. It’s not like he can afford to keep a standing army.”
Taylor’s eyes looked silver in the gloom as they met Will’s. His broad but bony shoulder was hard warmth pressing against Will’s, and Will felt a disconcerting stirring in his groin. It caught him at unexpected times, this distracting awareness of Taylor. They’d been partners and best friends for three years, but lovers for only four months. They were still adjusting.
Some parts needed more adjusting than others. He shifted uncomfortably against the still-warm adobe bricks.
“Are we doing this?” Taylor asked when Will didn’t say anything else.
Were they? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now as they waited outside the mud walls of Ramirez’s hacienda, listening to the crickets, the hot wind skipping across the rocks and sand, and the distant rumble of thunder, Will wondered if they shouldn’t maybe have requested backup from at least the Ruidoso Downs Police Department.
Taylor’s view, unsurprisingly, had been that local law enforcement was likely to get underfoot and complicate things. Taylor had a refreshingly direct approach to such matters. He was also, for such a deceptively graceful-looking guy, a little on the forceful side.
The thought brought a faint, self-conscious smile to Will’s face.
It was too dark to read each other’s expressions, but Taylor must have sensed the smile, because he whispered, “What?”
“Nothing. Are you sure you don’t want to bring in some support on this?”
“I don’t like the fact that it took the feebs nearly a year to track her down, and then twenty-one hours after she’s finally incarcerated, she manages to slip through the cracks again.”
That bothered Will as well. “All right. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way.”
“Rape and pillage?”
“And people say you’re the sensitive one.”
Taylor’s grin was a glimmer of white in the darkness. He turned from Will, slapping his hands against the dusty brick. “Give me a boost.”
No. Let me go first.
Will caught the words back in time. Technically Taylor was the senior member of the team. Besides, lighter and faster than Will, Taylor had always taken point on this kind of op. But four -- no, nearly five -- months ago on a routine investigation, Taylor had been shot in the chest and nearly died. He’d recovered and was back to full field agent status, but Will was never going to be able to erase the memory of Taylor slumped on his side, scarlet spreading across his chest as his life’s blood pumped out…
He was smart enough to keep that worry to himself, though. He linked his hands together. Taylor planted his boot squarely in the stirrup and vaulted lightly up, balancing briefly on the wall before dropping down.
Diplomacy in action. Like the slogan said.
Will heard the dull impact of his landing. A few seconds later, the wooden entrance gate was swinging creakily open.
Will slipped through the gap, the soles of his boots whispering on sand.
In the kennels behind the house, dogs were going crazy. Not guard dogs, fortunately. Ramirez fancied himself as some kind of hot-shit breeder. Over the past thirty-six hours, Will had observed that no matter how much noise the dogs made, no one from the house came out to investigate. Being a dog lover, he found himself irked by that on a number of levels -- though it was a plus for their immediate purposes.
A minus was the long empty stretch of unlandscaped yard around the house. There was nowhere to hide once they were out of the deep shadow of the surrounding walls. No way to reach the house without running across several very exposed lengths of dirt and rock.
On the bright side -- or, actually the not so bright side -- the moon was down and there was a heavy indigo cloud cover pierced only by the occasional fork of faraway lightning. Taylor was a swift shade zigzagging through the darkness toward the garage.
Will went left, jogging for the main entrance in the portico beneath the exposed wooden beams. The familiar surge of adrenaline lent him speed, feet pounding the hard-packed earth, pebbles skittering as he ran, ears attuned to the night sounds.
He reached the heavy front door without incident and spared a quick look over his shoulder. There was no sign of Taylor. He would be in position by now -- or nearly.
Will wiped his forehead with his arm -- the moist air was surprisingly warm -- and knocked on the door.
Will’s official knock was not easy to ignore, but there was no response from within.
He rapped again, and a dog began to bark inside the house.
Will swore under his breath. He could get a lot louder and a lot more vehement, but he and Taylor had discussed this, and their idea was to attract as little attention as possible since they were, in a manner of speaking, out of their jurisdiction.
Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned to spot Taylor sprinting across the flat top of the garage.
Now what the hell was that about? Taylor was supposed to be watching the back entrance, not playing one-man assault team. No way was he going inside without Will to back him up. Will took a couple of steps in brief retreat and sized up the front door. Kicking any door down was nowhere as easy as movies made it look, and this was a massive and rustic structure. But as far as Will was concerned, that door was kindling. He launched himself at it.
Light flared behind the downstairs windows. Will stumbled to a halt as the front door opened a crack and two suspicious black eyes peered out at him. One eye -- a bleary, red-rimmed eye -- was human. The other was canine and belonged to some breed of shepherd with a black rectangular muzzle and a lot of sharp white teeth.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” growled the human.
The dog was less articulate but more convincing.
Will kept his voice low. The last thing he wanted to do was spook Ramirez’s houseguest. “Special Agent William Brandt. I’m with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” He held his badge up so there could be no mistake. “You better hear what I have to say.”
The dog made another lunge through the opening between door and frame. Will took a hasty step back. “Hang on to that mutt if you don’t want me to shoot it.”
“He’s not a mutt. He’s a purebred Anatolian shepherd.”
It didn’t really seem like the time or place for semantics. Will opened his mouth to make himself heard over the snarling dog, but the sound of a shotgun blast from overhead ripped through the night.
A woman started screaming.
The shotgun wasn’t Taylor’s. Taylor and Will were carrying their roscoes and wearing underarmor, but that was the extent of their regulation equipment. Which meant Taylor was under fire.
Will grabbed the edge of the door. Ramirez, if it was Ramirez, let go of the dog, which lunged through the doorway, nails scrabbling on brick as it tried to get to Will.
“Shit!” Will twisted left, then right, like a bullfighter dodging a set of razor-sharp horns. He flung himself forward, bursting through the entrance in the opposite direction of the charging dog, almost simultaneously slamming the door behind him. His heart drummed in his chest as he slumped back against the uneven wooden surface. Shit, shit, shit. Their plan, such as it was, was already crumbling away like sandstone.
The snarling dog threw itself against the door. It sounded like a bear clawing the timbers.
Will had other, more immediate concerns. There was another blast from overhead. The shotgun’s second barrel -- definitely not Taylor’s .357 SIG. Taylor was not firing back. There were plenty of reasons for that and none of them meant Taylor was in trouble, but Will still had to fight that instinctive and all-consuming rush of fear.
Ramirez had already fled the tile entryway and was running barefoot for the wooden staircase. His feet slapped the tiles, the tiny, desperate sound carrying oddly down the hallway. Will tore after the man and managed to tackle him three stairs up. Ramirez fell back, and they tumbled down the steps to the tile floor below.
Will’s forehead grazed the edge of one step; his elbow and knee connected sharply with the floor. A goddamned disaster was what this was. He grunted and wrestled his way on top of Ramirez, who was short but muscular, compact and pumped up on adrenaline and possibly other things.
Ramirez flailed with arms and legs. He jabbed at Will’s throat with a move unapproved by the WWF. Will blocked and grabbed Ramirez’s hand, bending it back in a maneuver also frowned on by most wrestling associations. He followed it up with a knee in the groin that would have ended the fight then and there if it had connected as intended.
Ramirez screeched and began kicking with renewed energy -- if not accuracy.
Upstairs the woman was still screaming, which Will distractedly registered as a positive sign. If she was screaming, chances were Taylor was still a threat to her, and that meant he was likely unhurt. In fact, over Ramirez’s gasps and curses, Will could just make out Taylor’s muffled tones.
Will got his handcuffs out and half dragged, half wrangled Ramirez over onto his front side. Straddling his quarry awkwardly, he snapped the cuffs around thick tattooed wrists.
Ramirez yelled. “What the fuck do you want?”
“I tried to tell you. You’re harboring a fugitive, asshole.”
“You’re no cop!”
“If you don’t stop resisting arrest, you’ll find out how much of a cop I am.”
Ramirez tried to rear up and throw Will off. “I’ll fucking kill you if you hurt her.”
“Nobody’s going to get hurt if you shut up and settle down.” Will checked the cuffs and jumped up from Ramirez, avoiding one of his wilder kicks.
“You’re dead. You’re a dead man!”
Ramirez’s curses and the barking of the Anatolian shepherd outside followed Will as he took the stairs two at a time. His footsteps pounded on wood, the staircase shaking beneath him.
He reached the second story and scanned the unlit hallway. At the end of it, light pooled from an open bedroom door. The woman had stopped screaming. The sudden absence of sound was nearly as jarring as the shrieking had been.
Will heard Taylor say quite clearly, “Oh fuck.”
Will drew his weapon, holding it at low ready. “MacAllister?” Something in the tone of Taylor’s voice had raised the hair on Will’s nape. It brought to mind too many alarming -- though as yet unrealized -- images: Taylor looking down to see he’d been mortally wounded, Taylor realizing he’d just pulled the pin on a grenade, Taylor --
“Brandt, you’d better get in here.” Taylor’s voice interrupted Will’s alarmed speculations.
Will was already on his way down the hall.
Taylor blocked the doorway. He was holding a shotgun in one hand and his weapon in the other, but neither was trained on the room’s occupant.
There was no noise from within the room at all. Jesus. Was it not Hedwig? Had Hedwig been shot in the altercation? Or worse, had someone who was not Hedwig been injured in the altercation?
Will came up behind Taylor, trying to see past him into the room. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Taylor retreated another inch -- actually stepping on Will’s toes. Will manfully managed not to yell. In their entire three years of partnership, he had never known Taylor to retreat so much as a centimeter. From anything.
He put a steadying hand on Taylor’s back. “What’s the matter?”
Taylor jerked his head as though it should be obvious what the matter was. Will stared past him. There was a chunk of plaster on the floor where one of the shotgun blasts had taken out a section of the ceiling. The woman was not dead. She didn’t even appear to be injured. She was sitting on the foot of the bed. At first glimpse, Will thought it was not Hedwig. She’d dyed her long, lank hair blonde again, but that was her only effort at disguise. She looked older, her face was a little fuller, and she was not wearing her glasses, but it was unmistakably Kelila Hedwig.
Will threw Taylor a quick, questioning look. Taylor’s profile was grim.
Will turned back to their prisoner. Studied her more closely. She was wearing a big, white, voluminous nightgown, and her skinny arms were wrapped protectively around her midriff. Around her basketball-sized midriff.
“Oh shit.” Will turned back to Taylor. Taylor was shaking his head, repudiating what was only too obvious. “She’s pregnant?”
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.