Here’s a little teaser from my soon-to-be-released novel “May Day”.
Tree limbs scraped the top and sides of my Ford Expedition as I navigated a two-rut trail in the dark. The SUV pancaked into an axle-deep rut, then bunny-hopped out; all four wheels churned sand. The seat belt saved me from a concussion by cutting me in half.
“Oof,” Reyes grunted from the passenger seat. “Are we there, yet?”
“Do you see the fossilized remains of an Airstream trailer sunk up to its windows in weeds?”
Ferdinand Reyes, a detective from the Gregg County Sheriff’s Department, peered through the windshield and shrugged. “I saw the Boggy Creek monster a ways back. He was seven feet tall. Taller than you, even.”
“More handsome, too.”
“Now I know you’re lying.”
Reyes tapped out a Marlboro Red and rolled down the window. Muggy night air huffed into the cab. Engine noise and dust came with it, followed by the smell of pine trees and weeds.
My nose twitched, anticipating a sneeze.
High beams white-washed the narrow tunnel of vegetation lining the track. Grasshoppers flickered through the light, buzzing away or ticking against the grill. Other night bugs kamikazied into the windshield; I smeared their greenish remains with the wipers every once in a while.
I caught a whiff of acrid backdraft when Reyes lit his cigarette off a disposable lighter and blew smoke toward the open window. He said, “At least tell me you know where you’re going, Ranger Cable.”
We rocked and swayed through another series of dips before I answered. “Mostly.” It was my turn to shrug. “Beaver said the Thigpen brothers have taken up an old trailer on Ten Mile Creek. The only abandoned trailer I know of is back down here somewhere. I saw it about two years ago, pokin around.”
Reyes’ cigarette flared and he nodded.
I added, “Unless he meant the Ten Mile Creek in Rusk County, in which case that’s a whole different trailer and we’re way ‘n hell gone the wrong direction.”
Smoke snorted from Reyes nose. “Three o’clock on Saturday mornin, I should be in bed with my wife.”
“And ruin her sex life?”
“You know what today is?”
“Friday the 13th, man.”
I grunted a laugh. “You’re not superstitious, are you?”
“No, not me.” Reyes shook his head. “Besides, I got on my lucky socks.”
A low-hanging limb slapped the windshield and squealed across the roof. Beyond it, the headlights picked out a jumble of rotted barb-wire fence posts, part of a gate built before man discovered fire. Arcs of rusted wire twisted around the gap in the trail, just begging to give someone a bad case of tetanus.
“This is as far as we go by car,” I told Reyes. “Any further, they’ll hear us for sure, or see the headlights.”
I shut off the motor and killed the lights.
“Holy shit,” Reyes said, “it got dark out here.”
“Did you bring your blankie?”
Reyes’ teeth gleamed and a metallic sound clattered in the dark. “Yes, I did. Mr. Glock is all the blankie I need.”
“You say that now.” I stepped out of the SUV and settled my Stetson. “Junior and Ray Thigpen are poison mean and lower than armadillo shit. And they enjoy the quaint title of Crazy-Ass Gun Nuts. You may want something heavier than a puny nine-mil if things go to hell.”
Reyes joined me at the tailgate. Built on an R2D2 frame, Reyes’ flattop haircut came to my shoulder.
“Take this.” I handed him a Rock River Arms LAR-8. “Three-oh-eight caliber, two-stage trigger, twenty-round mag, and a red dot sight.”
“Holy mackerel,” Reyes whispered, taking the weight of the rifle.
“Safety is on the left, bolt is here. The mag is full, chamber empty.”
“I’m feeling warmer already.” Reyes used the same voice he would for a full Hail Mary. “What’s that?”
I held up the weapon I’d removed from my gun locker. “My new toy: HK G36C. Seven pounds of space age fire stick.”
“What was that about gun nuts?”
“Hey!” I fitted one of the HK’s translucent magazines in place, seated it with a slap. “I’m an enthusiast. C’mon, Rambo, let’s go find some Thigpens.”
I flashed my Mag-Lite to negotiate the gutted remains of the gate, then switched it off.
Two days ago, Ray and Junior Thigpen held up a convenience store-and-bait shop near Cherokee Lake, on the border of Gregg County, Texas. They shot and killed the owner, a Pakistani immigrant named Tarik Bhatti, for reasons unknown (the silent security video footage showed a lot of shouting and gesturing by Bhatti and the Thigpen brothers), then crashed their way out—two bowling balls in a china factory—with seventy-eight dollars and a case of Michelob Ultra.
A snitch—Mason “Beaver” Cleaver—gave up a potential nesting ground: a rusty trailer on a mosquito-ridden bank of God’s sewer line, a trickle of snake-infested muddy water known as Ten Mile Creek.
Now, guided more by feel than sight, I led the way down the pitch-black tunnel of pine trees, squelching through the occasional mud puddle and stumbling into wheel ruts. Behind me, Reyes slapped at vampire mosquitos and griped under his breath.
Thirty sweaty minutes later, a patch of lesser gloom ahead indicated a change in the trail. I slowed from a stumble to a creep, then hissed at Reyes to stop.
“What is it?” he whispered. He sounded a little hoarse and out of breath.
I snuck back to where he was, nearly running into the deputy before I saw him. I put my head down next to his and murmured, “I think we’re close. Looks like a clearing up ahead. Fan out to my right and watch where you put your feet.”