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Continue Reading Triple Crossing by Sebastian Rotella

On August 10th, we’ll be publishing TRIPLE CROSSING by celebrated journalist and investigative reporter Sebastian Rotella. Continue reading the novel Michael Connelly calls “one of the most accomplished first novels I have ever read,” and which Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called “unflinching and provocative … a superb debut.”

Missed the first except? Read it here.

“Come on over here. I wanna show you something.”

Pescatore pulled up alongside two Wranglers sitting side by side on the north riverbank. He got out to talk to Garrison and an agent named Dillard, a boyish and reedy cowpoke who was telling the supervisor: “Them old boys wouldn’t pull over, so I cut on my lights and sy-reen.”

And they all rag on me, Pescatore groused to himself, because supposedly I’m the one who talks funny. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window of a vehicle: Pescatore was twenty-five, bantam, built low to the ground with sturdy corded arms and legs, thick black curls. He had big wary eyes and flared nostrils. He liked to play with his appearance as if he were on undercover assignments. He cultivated mustaches that made him look like a Turk, a Hells Angel, a bandit. Back in Chicago before he joined The Patrol, he had on occasion grown out his hair like the Mexican soccer players in the parks near Taylor Street. But now he was close-cropped and clean-shaven. Trying to tone it down, play the role and, as Garrison would say, get with the program.

“There’s my buddy,” Garrison said. He engaged Pescatore in a palm-smacking, knuckle-crushing handshake and let it linger with Pescatore off-balance, as if he were going to yank him forward and shove him down the concrete embankment. “You need anything, Valentine? Coffee? Water? Oxygen? We wanna keep you awake. Don’t want you running that government vehicle into a tree.”

Pescatore rescued his hand from Garrison’s, which was encased in a black glove, and affected a sheepish look. “Oh man, you know I’m king of the road anytime. I haven’t been sleeping so good, that’s all.”

Pescatore hadn’t slept well for months, even after the drinking sessions at Garrison’s house or the gloomy mini-mall bars of San Ysidro, Imperial Beach and National City. After reading an article somewhere, he had decided that his affliction was caused by all the chases. The article had said the experience of a hot pursuit produced a cocktail of fear, rage and adrenaline that caused chemical changes in the physiology of a police officer. All Pescatore knew was that when he finally managed to doze off, he drifted into a zone between wakefulness and oblivion. The border seethed on the edge of his sleep. Haunting him. Disembodied faces surging up out of the riverbed at him. He would wake up, freaked out and exhausted, afternoon light streaming through the window, to see the green uniform draped across a chair. Ready for work.

“So you oversleep,” Garrison said. “You roll in around six for the five-to-one shift. You got your radio problem. You’re back at IB getting it replaced. Maybe hitting on that little Lupita works at the front desk. It’s eight-thirty and the shift is going by quick. Good thing you got me looking out for you, Valentine.”

“Damn right.”

“At least you work hard once you’re here. Not like some of these slugs.”

Garrison had put in ten years in the trenches of Imperial Beach. During the previous ten years, he had served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and worked as a security contractor in Latin America and as a self-described “white hunter” in Africa. He was six feet three. His back and shoulders were slabs stretching the green uniform. He wore his baseball-style uniform cap high over the rampart of a balding forehead.

Pescatore had once seen Garrison deliver a headbutt that dropped a prisoner to his knees. Talk about permanent chemical changes, Pescatore thought, assessing the gray-eyed sniper stare. What had a decade of chases done to Garrison?

Garrison turned in his muscle-bound way and pulled binoculars off his dashboard.

“Guess what,” he said. “Your boy Pulpo is back.”

“No way, Jack.” Pescatore took the binoculars. “I referred him to Prosecutions, they were gonna do him for illegal entry. He got lucky because he jumped in the back of the load van. The aliens wouldn’t give him up as the driver.”

“Well, he must’ve slipped through the system. Isn’t that a surprise.”

Pinche Pulpo.”

“What’re you gonna do if you catch that turd?” Garrison asked. The bulging gray eyes fastened on Pescatore.

Pescatore hesitated, then said: “I’m gonna fuck him up.”

He took refuge behind the binoculars. He pointed them at the crowd on the south riverbank near the spot where man-sized letters painted on the concrete declared in Spanish:

NOT ILLEGAL ALIENS: INTERNATIONAL WORKERS.

The migrants sat with hunched shoulders, a huddle of hoods, caps and backpacks. They were like spectators in an open-air amphitheater between the two cities, waiting for the action to start. The smuggler known as Pulpo paced in front of a group of migrants, holding court, gesticulating like an old-time Mexican politician, the flames of a bonfire dancing behind him. Pulpo: buff and bowlegged in overalls, a wire cutter or pliers protruding from a low pocket, a red bandanna wrapped around his head, Los Angeles County Jail–style.

“He’d cut your throat and laugh about it, then go home and tell his mother, so she could laugh about it too,” Garrison said, close to Pescatore’s ear.

Pulpo enjoyed messing with PAs whenever and however he could. The smuggler moved back and forth between Tijuana and San Diego with the ease of someone crossing a street. Pescatore had once seen Pulpo drop over the border fence in plain view of a Patrol sedan in Memo Lane. Pulpo had jogged alongside the fence, his jaunty stride taunting the agents. When the Patrol sedan screeched up to him, Pulpo turned, bounded onto the hood and catapulted himself off it like a trapeze artist. He caught the top of the fence and clambered back over, making an annoyed growling noise as two agents scrabbled at his ankles. From atop the fence he raised an arm in lazy triumph. And a bunch of lowlifes popped up to unleash a cascade of rocks and bricks that shattered the windshield of the sedan and sent a PA to the hospital.

Garrison’s cell phone rang. Pescatore kept looking through the binoculars while he listened to Garrison hold a monosyllabic conversation, mostly in Spanish. Garrison’s Spanish was fluid, though he had a serious gringo accent. Pescatore lowered the binoculars as Garrison clipped the phone back on his belt.

“My guy says it’s on for tomorrow,” Garrison said to Dillard, who nodded.

Garrison turned to Pescatore. “How about you?”

“Tomorrow’s tough for me, man.”

“Hmm.” Garrison stooped to produce a pack of Camels tucked into the top of a sock. He swiveled away from the ocean breeze, cupped and lit a cigarette. “So Valentine, ready to play the Game tonight? How much you betting? Dillard’s down for fifty dollars.”

“Oh man, you know I don’t want none a that action.” Pescatore quickly handed back the binoculars. “Plus I’m short on cash tonight.”

“Don’t worry, buddy, you can add it to what you owe me. Let’s get to it.”

During the next hour, Garrison led Pescatore, Dillard and another agent in a series of maneuvers intended to keep back the crowd on the levee, four vehicles arrayed against the oncoming forces of history and economics. Garrison was a scientist of The Line and an artist behind the wheel. He knew just how close to come to the fleeing aliens without hitting them, how fast to run at the fence before swerving. Lights flashing, the Wranglers sped back and forth and down into the riverbed, frantic figures scattering at their approach. The Wranglers stopped short and spun doughnuts, kicking up dust, herding back groups of migrants who whistled and jeered as they retreated.

Periodically the agents tumbled out to catch small groups—probes by Pulpo and his cronies to gauge the defenses. Pescatore and Garrison chased down a trio of runners in tall grass. Pescatore nabbed a teenager who twisted out of his shoes in the mud and stumbled a few yards barefoot. Nearby Garrison had the other two prone on the ground. He gave each of them a kick in the ribs; Pescatore winced at the impacts. Garrison’s roar made him sound eight feet tall.

Pinche pollo mugroso hijo de la chingada no te muevas o te doy una madriza, joto! Don’t you run when I tell you to stop. Understand, pendejo?”

Garrison had explained his philosophy to Pescatore. You have to scream and yell and cuss at them like you’re going to tear their head off. That’s called command presence. That’s what they expect. That’s what the Mexican cops do. If you’re all quiet and polite, they’ll take you for a wussy, Valentine. A PA demands respect. And if they keep running from you, they just signed up for an ass-kicking. Thump ’em if they run.

Back behind the wheel of the Wrangler, Pescatore peeled away from the levee, pursuing a family into a maze of chain-link pens filled with construction machinery. The family of three held hands as they fled among cranes and bulldozers. They looked like the image on the yellow freeway signs that depicted a family of running migrants to alert drivers to the fact that the roads around here swarmed with frightened, exhausted pedestrians who got run over in gory and spectacular ways.

Unlike the girl in the freeway sign, though, the little girl he chased did not wear pigtails, but rather ribbons in her hair and a silver party dress with a jeans jacket over it. For Christ’s sake, Pescatore thought, put a coat on her. It’s cold. He cut the lights and sat for a moment by a storage shed. The family emerged, hurrying toward the blue neon of a supermarket in the distance.

He zoomed alongside them, lights flashing, and bellowed over his rooftop loudspeaker: “Parense ahí, parense ahí! Migración!

They froze. Pescatore patted down the father, dumping the contents of his pockets on the hood: cigarettes, a lighter, a plastic Baggie holding weathered identification documents and wadded cash. The father grinned tentatively, lines crinkling a caramel-colored face with long sideburns. A well-groomed dude dressed more for Saturday night than slogging through canyons: cowboy boots, a purple Members Only jacket, gray slacks.

“Tired,” the man said in English.

His daughter whimpered in her mother’s arms. Pescatore felt bad about making so much noise. He could have whispered out of the window and they would have climbed aboard without a fuss.

“That’s OK, baby, don’t worry, everything’s under control,” Pescatore told the girl.

In Spanish, he asked how old the girl was. The mother said she was four. The mother’s trim body contrasted with a chubby face. She was decked out in designer jeans, a sweater, boots with some kind of embroidered design. She wore makeup, high corners painted onto her eyes. Her hair, like her daughter’s, was arranged with multicolored ribbons. It had been important to this family to dress up tonight. He wondered if it was an attempt at disguise or if they just wanted to look sharp for an expedition to El Otro Lado.

The mother whispered to the girl, who had the same round face and shiny black hair and eyes. The girl stared at Pescatore, spilling tears. She clutched a little red backpack decorated with faded images of cartoon characters.

“I’m one of the good guys,” Pescatore told her. “Hey, those the Dalmatians? Pongo and Perdita? Cruella De Vil? Woof woof.”

He was rewarded with a brief snuffling smile. He escorted them to the back of the Wrangler. He hoisted in the girl first, helped the mother with a carefully applied hand to her elbow.

Then came the moment Pescatore anticipated and dreaded. As the father got in, Pescatore intercepted him. He pulled a wad of bills from his pocket without looking; he estimated it was about twelve dollars. He palmed it into the father’s hand down low.

The man looked from the cash to Pescatore, startled. He began to say something and moved his hand as if to return the money. Pescatore waved him off, tight-lipped.

“Take it, ándale.”

He drove them to a detention transport van. The couple exchanged brief words in the caged backseat. They sat stiffly. The girl leaned forward behind Pescatore on the other side of the steel grillwork. In a chirpy little voice, she sang “Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil…”

Sebastian Rotella is an author and award-winning reporter. He has covered international terrorism, organized crime, homeland security and immigration for Propublica and the Los Angeles Times where he servied as bureau chief in Paris and Buenos Aires and covered the Mexican border. He was a Pulitzer finalist in international reporting in 2006. He is the author of Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (Norton), which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 1998.

Mulholland Books will publish TRIPLE CROSSING in August 2011.