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By Andrew Bourelle
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Across the ranchlands and cities of his home state, Rory Yates’s discipline and law enforcement skills have carried him far: from local highway patrolman to the honorable rank of Texas Ranger. He arrives in his hometown to find a horrifying crime scene and a scathing accusation: he is named a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, Anne, a devoted teacher whose only controversial act was ending her marriage to a Ranger.
In search of the killer, Yates plunges into the inferno of the most twisted and violent minds he’s ever encountered, vowing to never surrender. That code just might bring him out alive.
I PUSH MY boot against the gas pedal, and the needle on the speedometer surges past one hundred miles an hour. The Ford's lights are flashing and sirens are howling, but I'm going so fast that I'm on top of the pickup in front of me before the driver even knows I'm there. I make a move to pass him, pulling into the oncoming lane, but there's a semi headed toward me like a freight train. I don't back down. I jam on the gas and yank my F-150 back into my lane, missing the semi and the pickup by inches. Horns blare and brakes screech behind me. I'm sure the two drivers are having heart attacks.
Right now, I can't let myself care. My heart is thumping like a bass drum. But I keep my hands steady.
I grab my radio and call the local dispatcher.
"This is Rory Yates of the Texas Ranger Division," I say. "I need backup."
I give the dispatcher my badge number and the address where I'm headed. She says she has no patrol cars in the vicinity. The closest one is twenty minutes out.
That's bad news because I'll be there in two.
The whole reason I've been working down in McAllen, a border town on the southern tip of Texas, is that I had to rush into another situation with no backup. When it's your word against a dead man's, there's always a lot of controversy and scrutiny—and media attention.
My division chief sent me to a hotbed of drug and human trafficking.
If this situation also goes south without any witnesses to corroborate my story, that won't help my chances of returning to my old post.
But I can't wait. There's a woman who might be dead by the time backup arrives.
Hell, she might be dead before I even get there.
I slow at an approaching intersection and take the turn as fast as the Ford's tires will let me. The rubber squeals against the pavement. As soon as I'm around the corner, my foot is back on the gas.
I check my cell phone again and study the message my informant sent me, the text that set me off on this high-speed race.
Four words: he knows about you.
The text message is from the girlfriend of an ex-con who's been working with Mexican coyotes, moving illegal immigrants over the border. The boyfriend, whose name is Kevin Jones but who goes by Rip, keeps those illegals locked in a storage shed somewhere until their families fork over more money. Sometimes the families can't come up with the money fast enough, and the illegals die of starvation, dehydration, heatstroke, or a combination of all three. Then Rip dumps the bodies in the Rio Grande.
I know all this. But I don't know where the storage building is.
That's where the informant comes in. Her name is Chelsea, and her daughter is in a state home. I promised her that if she helped the Texas Rangers, we'd get her visitation rights restored. And it was the truth. With her past, Chelsea will probably never get custody of her daughter again, but at least there's a good chance she'll get to see the girl again.
Chelsea said she could find out the secret location of Rip's storage building, except now it seems like it's Rip who found out Chelsea's secret.
And though Chelsea is an ex–meth user with terrible taste in men, she's not a bad person. She loves her daughter.
If Chelsea's dead, the blood is on my hands.
When I'm close, I kill the lights and the siren, and I roll into Chelsea's gravel driveway as quietly as I can. She lives in a manufactured home with chipped paint and a yard full of overgrown weeds.
Chelsea's car is parked there, and so is Rip's jacked-up four-by-four.
I am about to step out of the car when my phone buzzes again. I go cold, thinking it's a message from Chelsea. Worst-case scenarios roll through my head. I imagine Rip sending something from Chelsea's phone: a photo of her dead body lying in the mud on the bank of the Rio Grande.
But when I grab my phone, there's no message.
I hear the buzzing again and realize the call is coming from my other phone, my personal cell with a number that only my friends and family have.
There's an incoming call from Anne, my ex-wife.
When she calls, I usually drop whatever I'm doing to answer. True, she's not my wife anymore, but the two of us are still close friends. This time, Anne's going to have to wait.
I step out of the car and take a deep breath, inhaling South Texas air as humid as a greenhouse.
I unbuckle the strap on my hip holster, freeing my SIG Sauer for quick access, and approach the front door.
I hear Chelsea crying inside.
I try to see through the front window, but the house is too dark and the sunlight outside is too bright.
"Come on in, Ranger," a voice calls from inside. "But keep those hands where I can see them, or I'm gonna blow this lying bitch's brains out."
I OPEN THE door and step inside. The room is dark, but I can make out the TV—a muted Dr. Phil talking to a guest—and then a chair, a couch, and the two people sitting in them.
Chelsea is frozen on the couch, plastered up against the armrest, as far away from Rip as she can get while staying seated. Rip is in a recliner, holding a long-barreled shotgun with one muscular arm. The barrel is aimed at Chelsea, dead center of her chest, and at the range of only a few feet, it wouldn't matter if it was loaded with bird shot or double-ought buck: the shot would open her up like a sardine can.
There's blood on Chelsea's lip, and one of her eyes is swelling and beginning to turn blue. She can't seem to stop crying, and she looks at me with pleading, apologetic eyes.
She shouldn't be apologizing to me. I should be apologizing to her.
"Don't do anything stupid," I say to Rip, holding my hands away from my body.
"Chelsea's the one that's gone and done something stupid," Rip says. "She caused this shitstorm of a mess, telling you a bunch of lies about me."
Rip's file said he was six four, but he looks even bigger than that because he's so broad and burly, built like an NFL tight end. He's wearing a wifebeater that has long since faded from white to the color of urine, and his exposed arms are muscular and veiny, painted here and there with amateur jailhouse tattoos. The shotgun he's holding—a single-shot 12-gauge with an extra-long barrel—would probably be hard for a normal person to keep steady with two hands, yet he's doing just fine with only one.
My strategy is simple: keep Rip from doing anything crazy until backup arrives.
There's a pile of paperback books next to Rip's chair, each one torn in half as if it were an envelope full of junk mail.
"Is that where you get your nickname?" I ask, nodding at the stack of torn-in-half books.
Rip tries to hold back a grin. "It's what I do when I get antsy," he says. "I'll rip anything I get my hands on: books, magazines, aluminum siding. I ain't never ripped the arms off a Texas Ranger before, but I bet I could."
I try to imagine how strong someone must be to tear a four-hundred-page book as if it were only a few sheets of paper. I feel a wrench of pity for Chelsea—she's lucky to be conscious.
I gesture toward Chelsea and her battered face. "Is that what you do when you run out of things to rip? Punch women?"
Rip fixes me with cold black eyes.
As earnestly as I can, I say, "How do you think this is going to play out, Rip? My backup will be here any minute. And you've only got one shot in that gun of yours. If you pull the trigger, you'll be dead one second later."
Rip grins, showing a gold cap on one of his teeth.
"If I pull this trigger," he says, "then you won't do anything. You'll be shooting an unarmed man. I know who you are. I heard about what happened in Waco. You don't want to get in any more trouble."
"I could always tell the police that I tried to shoot you before you pulled the trigger," I say, trying to match Rip's defiant grin with my own. "In Waco, there were no witnesses, but we've got one here. Your best bet here is keeping Chelsea alive."
Rip's grin falters.
"I'll ask you again," I say. "How do you see this playing out?"
In the distance, I can just make out the sound of a siren. It is a long way off. Sound carries far on the flat plains of Texas.
"This is what's going to happen," Rip says. "When the cops get here, you're going to tell them this was all a big misunderstanding."
Rip gestures with the gun to Chelsea.
"Chelsea's gonna tell the cops she made up every damn thing she said. She would do anything to get her daughter back, so what she done was lie to y'all. Ain't that right, Chelsea?"
Chelsea bows her head, saying nothing. Her listless hair hangs over her eyes.
"How about I make an alternate proposal?" I say. "You put the gun down. I cuff you and take you in. Then you tell me every damn thing you know about these coyotes you're working for. I'll get the DA to recommend leniency because you've been so cooperative. Don't that sound reasonable?"
Rip looks contemplative. He doesn't seem like he's seriously considering my offer, more like he's thinking about his next move. I don't think I'm going to be able to stall him until the backup gets here. The sirens hardly sound any closer.
"You don't get it, do you?" Rip says.
"There's six illegals in a storage building only I know about," Rip says. "You take me in—or shoot me—and they die. They ain't got no food. No water. There's a tin roof on that building, and sitting in there is like sitting in an oven. You think I'm just bargaining with Chelsea's life? I ain't. It's those other six lives that are depending on what happens here."
I stare at him, saying nothing, thinking. The sirens sound like they're five minutes away. Not close enough.
I need a new tactic.
"Looks like we got ourselves a stalemate," Rip says, grinning with genuine pleasure.
"I don't see it that way."
"Yeah?" Rip says. "How come?"
"Because I'm calling the shots here," I say. "And I'm giving you until the count of three to drop that gun."
RIP'S GRIN DISAPPEARS, and I steel myself for what's next.
My hand is eight inches from my gun, hovering there like a coiled snake ready to bite.
"You go for that gun," Rip says, "and I'll squeeze this trigger before you get it out of the holster."
Chelsea begins to weep again. I don't take my eyes off Rip.
When I was a boy and my daddy was teaching me to shoot, he said to think of a gun as an extension of my arm. When you're good enough, he said, you can hit what you're aiming at just as easily as reaching out with your hand and striking it right in front of you.
Through all my practice growing up and all my training in law enforcement, it's a lesson I learned and never forgot.
"You heard about what happened in Waco?" I say, keeping my voice cool despite the blood pounding in my veins. "It was a lot like a standoff in an old Western. He went for his gun, and I went for mine. I got him before he got me. Simple as that. All the hubbub happened because the investigators said my story didn't add up. He wasn't even touching his gun. They said I must have shot him without provocation."
Rip stares at me, the fear in his eyes betraying the cool confidence he's trying to project with his stony facial expression.
"But the truth," I say, "is that I'm just that fast."
A bead of sweat rolls down Rip's temple.
"One," I say.
"I'll kill this bitch," Rip says, trying to be threatening, but his voice cracks. I know he's scared.
Rip doesn't wait for three. He swings the shotgun toward me.
What happens next takes less than a second.
My gun is in my hand.
My gun fires.
Rip's gun fires.
Then the second is over and the room is full of gun smoke and confusion.
Rip drops the shotgun to the floor and starts roaring in pain. He holds his hand in front of his face. His index finger dangles from the second knuckle, held on by a strip of flesh. Blood cascades down his hand and arm.
Chelsea is crouched in a ball at the end of the couch, her eyes closed and her hands over her head like she's in a tornado drill.
Behind me, glass tinkles down from the front picture window where the buckshot hit it. I'm lucky it was a long-barreled shotgun, keeping the pattern tight. If it was sawed-off, I might have taken a pellet or two on the periphery of the spread.
"You shot me in my trigger finger?" Rip whimpers, looking at me in disbelief. "How the hell did you do that?"
"If I hit you anywhere else," I say, "you might have been able to bring the gun around and get a shot off. I had to pull the trigger for you."
He stares at me, dumbfounded, his mouth quivering like he's fighting back tears.
The sirens sound very close now. I keep my gun on Rip.
"Chelsea," I say, "why don't you go on out there and meet the officers when they come rolling up the driveway?"
She doesn't need further prompting. She jumps up and runs for the door. I lower my gun during the instant she runs in its line of sight. Then it's back up and leveled on Rip.
"I figure my backup will be here in about thirty seconds," I say, "which means you've got about ten to tell me the location of the storage shed where you've imprisoned the immigrants."
Rip's skin has gone pale, and I'm not sure if it's from the blood loss or the fear of what might happen next.
"There aren't any witnesses now," I say. "Just your word against mine. I'll tell them you tried to lunge at me." I add, "I'm surgical with this thing," and lower the gun so the barrel is pointed at Rip's crotch.
Rip hesitates about as long as it took me to draw my gun. He spills the location, the names of the coyotes he's been working for—everything he can think to tell.
When the first patrolman comes through the door a minute later, I tell him to radio for a couple squad cars to go out to the storage building and find the prisoners. Then he calls for an ambulance.
"I doubt they're going to be able to reattach that finger," I say to Rip. "I guess you won't be ripping any books in half anytime soon."
THE SUN IS high in the sky, bleaching the landscape in a bright, oppressive glare. I lean against the fender of my pickup, squinting my eyes under the brim of my hat, and watch the aftermath of my encounter with Rip. Chelsea's front lawn is crowded with police vehicles and ambulances. Rip is sitting in the back of one ambulance, with an EMT wrapping his hand in a bandage while two officers stand watch. A female officer is talking with Chelsea in the back of the other ambulance while a paramedic applies an ice pack to her swollen eye. There are officers taping the perimeter of the property with yellow police tape, another officer fending off questions from a local newspaper reporter. Chatter from police radios fills the air.
There isn't much for me to do at this point but stand back and stay out of the way. I have already given a statement to the incident commander and called in a report to my company commander.
The local police chief showed up about ten minutes ago, and the incident commander took him inside the house to explain the situation. I figure that he'll be out to talk to me any minute, and a few seconds later, I'm proved right. They appear at the doorway, and the incident commander points the chief my way.
"So you're the one who got into trouble up in Waco?" he says. "I've heard about you."
"That was a lawful shooting," I say, unsure of whether I should be on the defensive or not. "Just like this one."
The chief eyes me with an expression that's hard to read. His name is Duncan Sandoval, and he's of Mexican descent, probably in his midfifties, with silver beginning to show up in his mustache and close-cropped hair.
He has a no-nonsense, take-no-shit reputation.
And I've got a hell of a reputation.
Sandoval's poker face breaks into a wide, toothy grin. "You did good work here," he says. "You got the bad guy and saved a bunch of people. And you didn't kill anybody, which makes the paperwork a hell of a lot easier."
Sandoval extends his hand, and I shake it, feeling relieved. There will be an investigation, of course—there is any time an officer of the law pulls a trigger—but it's a good sign that the chief's initial assessment is positive.
Sandoval explains that his officers found the storage building where Rip kept the immigrants locked up. "Some of them are in pretty bad shape," he says. "Dehydrated and starving. But all of them are going to make it."
I try to stifle my smile, but I can't help but feel elated. Being a Texas Ranger is a hard job—and a dangerous one—but there are days when it's rewarding. Days like these, when you save lives and don't have to take any.
"They'll have to be deported, of course," the chief says, shrugging, "but at least they are not dead."
Sandoval and I talk for a few more minutes, sweating under the late-summer sun. We talk about coordinating the investigation as we move forward, and then Sandoval says he better go give a statement to the press.
"Don't worry," he says. "I'll leave your name out of it for now."
I climb into my truck and feel the exhaustion wash over me. I want to go to my apartment, take off my boots, and crack open a beer. I start the engine and remember the phone call from Anne. In the panic of the day, I'd completely forgotten about it.
There are four missed calls from her on my phone.
What the hell is going on?
I press Play on the message.
"Rory," she says. Her breathing is fast and her voice is shaky. Immediately, I know that something is up. "I need help. I'm scared. Can you come home?"
I GIVE MY phone a voice command to call Anne as I speed from the crime scene.
"Rory," Anne says, her voice calmer. "I'm sorry to bother you. It's probably nothing. I'm just a little freaked out."
"What's going on?"
"I've been getting threats," she says, her voice trembling.
"Threats? What kind of threats?"
She hesitates, as if reluctant to say the words out loud. "Death threats."
I try to process what she's telling me. Anne is the nicest person I know. She teaches art and biology at the high school. She tutors struggling students on the side. She volunteers at the Humane Society's animal shelter on Saturdays. Why would anyone threaten to kill her?
But then I remember there's one person she knows who has a shady past.
"Where is Cal?" I ask, thinking about the asshole she's been dating off and on since we split.
"Oh," she says, her voice switching from scared to embarrassed. "We had a fight a couple weeks ago and I guess we broke up. I've been trying to reach him, but he must have a new phone because he hasn't returned my calls."
"Could it be him?" I ask. "Trying to freak you out?"
"No, Rory," Anne says, as if I just suggested that the Pope was the one threatening her. "It's not Cal."
I never liked Cal. Back when I was working for the highway patrol in our hometown of Redbud, I busted Cal twice: once for selling marijuana and another time for a bar fight. Cal has spent a total of a year in jail because of my arrests.
Anne always claimed that Cal cleaned up his act. He started driving long-haul trucks, worked enough to buy his own rig, and quit drinking alcohol and smoking pot. She always wanted me to cut Cal some slack, but I could hardly be in the same room with him. The guy is scum. If I let my mind wander to the image of Cal making love to Anne, I start to feel sick with rage.
"Did the threats start before Cal left?"
"No," Anne says. "They started after."
"And you're sure it's not—"
"Damn it, Rory. I called you for help. It's not Cal. Cal's halfway across the country. It's someone else. And I'm scared, Rory."
I let it go, but it sounds just like the Cal I know to prank his ex-girlfriend to make her miss him. He is probably listening to her voice mails right now, laughing, making her sweat a little bit longer before he comes rushing home.
The only reason she called me is because she couldn't get ahold of Cal. I'm her backup plan, the guy she turns to when her lover isn't available. It makes me ill to know I come in a distant second in her life now. But I would do anything for her, including drive four hundred miles just to give her peace of mind.
"I'm down in McAllen," I tell her, "but I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Are you sure you can?"
As a matter of fact, my division chief just placed me on a three-day paid leave pending an investigation of the shooting. This is common practice after a firearm is discharged in the line of duty. But I'm not about to tell her that.
"I can come," I say. "I'm already on my way."
"Thank you," Anne says, her voice so saturated with relief that it sounds like she might start crying.
I want to keep her talking. That will calm her down. Otherwise, she'll be pacing back and forth for the next five hours while I make my way from the southern tip of the state to its heart.
"Why don't you tell me what's happened?" I say. "Everything. From the beginning."
THE RANCHLANDS OF Texas roll past my windows as I listen to Anne. I am speeding, but I don't have my lights and sirens on, and I don't push the F-150 like I did earlier this morning. I don't think Anne is in any real, pressing danger. It sounds more like kids playing pranks.
She explains that after Cal took off, she started getting phone calls. The voice was distorted by a disguiser app available for phones.
"Was the voice male?" I ask.
"I think so," Anne says. "But those apps garble everything so much that it's hard to tell."
She says that as the prank calls continued, the caller started making disgusting comments.
"I'm not going to repeat them, Rory."
"Anne," I say. "How am I supposed to help you if you don't tell me?"
"They're just lewd, gross comments," she says. "That's all you need to know."
She didn't think much of it at first. She got into the habit of not answering her phone unless she recognized the number. She listened to the messages at first, but then she stopped doing even that.
A few days ago, she came home and her mailbox was stuffed full of cow manure. Last night, someone threw a rock through her window. A message had been attached to it with a rubber band.
"What did it say?"
She hesitates and then reluctantly says, "'Whores get what's coming to them.'"
"Jesus," I say. "Did you call the police?"
"I did, but they figured it was just kids."
"What did the handwriting look like?"
"It was typed," she says. "Any computer could have done it."
- "An effective mystery . . . Patterson and Bourelle's rapid-fire chapters squeeze in plenty of dishy small-town drama on top of the murder case [and] the story is picking up speed like a semi barreling down the Interstate." -Houston Chronicle
- On Sale
- Dec 11, 2018
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing