Walk Away


By Sam Hawken

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Camaro Espinoza is “the deadliest female protagonist since Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong and Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander” (Booklist).

Camaro Espinoza is a former combat medic whose past is shrouded in mystery. Having finally achieved a measure of calm and anonymity, Camaro receives a distress call from her sister Annabel. Living a modest life in a small town in California, Annabel has become trapped in an abusive relationship with a man named Jake Collier who threatens to make her daughter his next victim.

Camaro rushes across the country to defend her sister for what may be the last time. And Jake has a sibling of his own, an ex-Special Forces operative named Lukas who is every bit as unhinged as Camaro is uncompromising. For all Camaro’s stealth and wit, she can only last so long against such a relentless force.

As a pair of federal marshals pick up the trail, and a bounty hunter with a debt to settle closes in, Camaro’s smart enough to know that standing her ground is the last thing she should do. But if there’s one thing Camaro can’t do, it’s walk away — even with a freight train like Lukas barreling towards her.


Chapter One

CAMARO ESPINOZA DRIPPED with sweat. There was no time, no place but the moment, and she thought of nothing but fighting. The bag dangled to the floor in a line of others, all undisturbed. She alone forged ahead with the war.

She'd gone thirty minutes on the heavy bag and had ten minutes still ahead. She shifted from a jab-cross-and-takedown combination to a jab, jab, and cross as she circled the bag clockwise. Her hands were swathed in wraps, and the leather bag popped as she laid into it punch by punch.

A punch started at the floor and worked itself up through the rising heel, the turn of the hips, the torsion of the shoulders, and then the final explosion. Camaro's fists ached in time with her muscles, every heartbeat pushing fresh pain through her in a steady, rapid pulse. She breathed in through the nose and out through the mouth, exhaling on the follow-through, emptying her tired lungs completely.

The timer sounded again. Thirty seconds down. She caught the bag between her hands and drove her knee into it, alternating leg to leg. When the timer marked off another half minute, she released her grip and fell back, leaving smears of perspiration behind.

Camaro went down on the mat, back flat against it, and forced herself into a series of spring-ups that felt like torture. She did as many as she could squeeze into the time and then labored onto her feet again to begin a fresh set of jab-cross combinations.

She heard Miguel clapping his hands as the timer wound down. It went off. Camaro stepped back from the bag, panting heavily, her shoulders rising and falling. Her arms were as heavy as lead.

Miguel crossed the empty gym, passing the sparring cage, and stepped onto the mat. "Sixty seconds!" he called. "Get some water in you. Go!"

A liter-and-a-half bottle of room-temperature water sat near the wall in the pool of a ratty white towel. Camaro bent, feeling the strain in her back, and picked it up. She was careful to only sip and not to guzzle.

"Thirty seconds," Miguel reminded her. He was a sturdy man, built low to the ground. His dark hair was shot through with gray. "That's enough water."

Camaro tossed the bottle away. Miguel came close, and they bumped fists. "One more round," she managed.

"You can do it. Focus and power. Focus and power. You don't feel no pain."

The timer sounded, sharp and clear. Camaro turned back to the bag.

She did another five minutes. Jabs, crosses, knees, and takedowns. The last two sets of spring-ups were nightmarish. After the second set she made it to her feet only with effort. Thirty seconds remained, and she bulled through it. When the timer sounded its last alarm, she fell against the heavy bag and hugged it.

Miguel cheered her. "¡Lo hiciste!"

He picked up her towel for her and offered it. Camaro mopped her face and then her arms. She had stitches in the brow over her left eye. The gym felt stifling, but it was only her body heat and the remnants of the workout.

"Feeling that, huh?" Miguel asked.


"You don't pace yourself. It's full throttle all the time."

Camaro fetched up her water bottle. This time she took a mouthful, swirled it around, and then swallowed. "You don't get to call time-out because you're tired."

"True that."

The gym was clean, swept, and quiet. The whir of the fans overhead was the only other sound. Even the interval timer was silenced now. Camaro glanced around. "Where is everybody?"

"Gone. You're the last one."

"What time is it?"

"After nine."

"You could have stopped me."

Miguel shrugged. "I figured you had to get something out. None of my business. As long as I'm home by midnight."

"Let me get cleaned up."

"Take your time."

Like the rest of the gym, the showers were deserted. Camaro rinsed her body until it was free of every trace of the workout she'd done. The hot spray pounded her muscles. She stood a long time with her head bowed under the flow, her honey-brown hair turned dark by the water and falling around her face.

When she was finished, she looked at herself in the mirror for a long moment. The stitches in her brow were marked with a single butterfly bandage. She let it be, shouldered her bag, and went out.

She found Miguel near the front of the gym. His office was a raised cubicle built of wood painted white and red, a desk, and a chair where he sat and looked down on the people coming in. His cash register was a simple metal box. He didn't take credit cards or checks. Those who trained here paid cash on the first of the month. It got them a locker and guaranteed one-on-one time with Miguel or his son, Rey.

"All done?" Miguel asked.

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's not like I never went to a New Year's Eve party before. They're getting along fine without me."

"I'll drop something extra in the box when I come back."

Miguel made a face. "I can't be bought."

"All right, then. I'll take a discount."

"I can't be ripped off, either."

"Okay," Camaro said. She turned toward the door.

"Hey, where you headed off to tonight?" Miguel asked.

"Nowhere in particular."

"You want to swing by the house? Have a few beers, watch the ball drop?"

Camaro considered. "Thanks, but I think I'll probably just go home."

"Nobody at home, though, right?"

"Not this time."

"You change your mind, you got my number. We're gonna party till dawn, so…"

"I'll think about it. Happy New Year, Miguel."

"Happy New Year, Camaro."

She went out through the front door and onto the street. Out there the palm trees on Washington Avenue were still ringed with Christmas lights, and the liquor and tattoo shops across the street were open for business. All around South Beach, the holidays lingered in the final hours of the year.

Camaro's bike was at the curb. She strapped her bag to the pillion seat and swung a leg over the saddle. The engine started with thunder, and then she was gone.

Chapter Two

IT WAS IN the low seventies on the ride home. In the north it was cold, very cold, and the news was full of reports about how much snow they were getting, how much school the children were missing, and how the airports were jammed with weather delays. Florida escaped all that. There was a time when Camaro welcomed the kind of isolation only a blizzard could bring, but she was far away from it now.

She paid the toll and took the Causeway to get out of Miami Beach, cut through Overtown, and skirted the northern edge of Little Havana before turning toward home. Off the freeway the Harley glided through well-lit stretches where revelers partied in the streets, and delved into the shadows between the streetlights before coming out the other side unscathed. The sky was stained orange by the sodium vapor of the lights, and she was one woman alone on a bike, moving through the city without being caught up in it. There was the solitude of being free of people altogether, and there was the aloneness of being among more people than could easily be counted. Camaro was overlooked completely, and there was a comfort in her anonymity.

Ahead of her a limousine cruised in the right lane with the sunroof open. Two young women in party dresses and costume-jeweled tiaras drank from bottles of wine and took turns tooting on a plastic horn. The other windows were wide open to the night. Music and laughter spilled out, and as Camaro caught up with them a man leaned out and flicked his tongue at her before cackling drunkenly and blowing her a kiss. "I love you, baby!" he called to her. She accelerated past.

Camaro headed into the heart of her own neighborhood of Allapattah. Here there were no clubs and no limos, and the lights and bustle tourists called Miami were far away. All the whitewashed architecture and pastels were left behind in favor of little houses with one or two bedrooms and bars on the windows, duly kept lawns, and no questions. But she didn't live far from a park, and on New Year's Eve they played live music all night long.

Only the sidelight in the carport was on when Camaro arrived home. Her truck waited silently, abandoned for the evening. Camaro sidled past it and put the bike under the carport roof. She killed the engine, pulled off her helmet, and let her ears adjust to the sudden quiet. She listened. A surge of loud voices from a nearby house carried to her, followed by a few light pops of fireworks set off too early. A dazzle of sparks erupted in the sky, flaring red and dying in green. Her neighbor, old Mrs. Cristiano, was already in bed with hours left to go before midnight, the windows of her house black.

Camaro dismounted and unstrapped her gym bag from the pillion seat. She let herself in through the side door, made sure it was locked behind her, and stepped into the utility room off the kitchen. Her workout clothes were damp with sweat. Camaro fed them to the washing machine and dropped in a detergent pod before switching it on. With the sound of water rushing in the utility room, she went to the kitchen and fetched dinner from the refrigerator. The fluorescent bulbs in the light fixture overhead gently buzzed, an insect noise that only barely registered on the ear.

The rib eye was thick-cut and weighed almost a pound and a half. Camaro set it aside while she steamed carrots and green beans for one. As the vegetables worked, she seasoned the steak with kosher salt and ground pepper, then seared it off in a cast-iron skillet with butter. It went into the oven to finish.

She found a bottle of Jack Daniel's in a bottom cabinet and took it to the kitchen table with a clean tumbler. While she waited on the meat she broke the seal, poured herself a single, and downed it. For a moment the heat in her belly pulsed with the ache of her muscles.

The steak came out extra rare, and she ate it alone at the table with two more fingers of whiskey. When the food was all gone, she put the plate in the sink and carried the bottle to the living room. She turned on the television and switched to Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve to watch Ryan Seacrest and some idiot blonde emcee the musical entertainment all the way up till the midnight hour. Now and again Camaro tilted the glass to her lips before pouring out another measure.

Finally the ball dropped in Times Square, and the new year was begun. Camaro powered the TV off and heard the sizzle and shriek of rockets soaring and exploding all around Allapattah, plus the rattle of firecrackers set off by the string in the streets. Somewhere not so far away, men's voices shouted, punctuated by the higher-pitched noise of excited women. Camaro missed the coffee table with her tumbler, and it fell on the floor. She picked it up and set it right. Threading the cap onto the empty bottle was a challenge for awkward fingers.

She weaved her way to the bedroom and undressed in the dark. She slept in her underwear and woke only once before dawn to pull the covers over her body.

Chapter Three

MORNING CAME SLOWLY, with pain. The blinds were shut, but slivers of light escaped the slats and arrowed across the bedroom to strike where they could cause the most damage. Camaro put a pillow over her face and attempted sleep again. Finally she rose and tried to brush the taste out of her mouth. What toothpaste could not destroy, she attacked with coffee and sausage and eggs. The food helped.

She washed the remains of the previous night's meal away, careful to grease the inside of her skillet before hanging it up by the sink. A liter bottle of water from the refrigerator was cold and bit into her headache while she sat in front of her computer.

Camaro browsed the news, but there was nothing she cared to read. She navigated to Craigslist. She selected the list of U.S. cities and saw them arranged alphabetically from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. Choosing Atlanta first, she found the Missed Connections listings in the personals and scanned the ads there. When nothing caught her eye, she moved on to Austin and from there to Boston.

There was nothing until she reached Detroit. The message was simple:


Camaro paused, her finger poised over the mouse button. She read the message again, then clicked Reply.


There was no immediate response. She used a dummy e-mail account for Craigslist and for nothing else. Every fifteen minutes for three hours she checked it, until she couldn't stay in her seat anymore and had to move.

Pacing was good for a while, and then she brought out a yoga mat and placed it in the center of the room. She worked her way through poses, straining muscles and tendons until her limbs felt hot and ached dully. Only when she was done did she allow herself to check again. There was a single e-mail in her box.


Camaro typed.


The next reply came within minutes of Camaro's message. It was a phone number.

In the drawer of her nightstand there was a simple flip phone capable of little more than calls and texts. Camaro turned it on and checked the charge. It was nearly full. She dialed the number. It rang on the other end three times, then picked up.


"Is this your regular phone?" Camaro asked.

"No, I bought it from a 7-Eleven."


The woman on the other end of the phone sighed. "I'm glad you called."

"You're my sister. I'll always call."

"It's been a couple of years."

"You're still my sister, Bel."

"And I'm still glad."

"Is there a problem?" Camaro asked.

Annabel fell silent.

"Bel? Tell me."

"Things were going really good here," Annabel said. "I got a job and a place to live. Becca's in pre-K now. I have friends. We have playdates."

"Bel, you wanted me to call you. We can't talk about playdates. If it's not important, I have to go. You won't be able to call this number again."

"No, wait! It's Jacob. Jake. He's my boyfriend. We met about a year and a half ago. He was real nice. Becca likes him. He has a job and everything. He's not like Corey was. We went out a lot. It was good."

"What are you telling me?" Camaro asked.

"It's not so good anymore."

"What can I do about it?"

"You don't understand," Annabel said. "He's in my life. We go out, we stay in…he's always around. Or most of the time, anyway. It's hard to get rid of someone when they're so close to you."

"Why do you want to get rid of him?"

Annabel sounded small. "I'm afraid of him."

Camaro sat forward. "Did he hurt you? Did he hurt Becca?"

"No, he didn't hurt Becca. I don't think he would ever hurt a kid. He likes her. They get along real well."

"Did he hurt you?" Camaro asked Annabel again.

"It was my fault," Annabel said.

"Jesus Christ, Bel."

"We were getting along great, but I can't make him happy. He tells me what he wants and I do it, but it's never good enough. And he drinks. Camaro, I can't deal with this. I need your help. It can't go on."

Camaro reached up to rub her brow and touched her stitches instead. She sighed into the phone. "I don't understand how this happens. Everything you've been through and you can't…I don't understand."

"I know. I know."

A sob carried over the line. Camaro frowned at the sound. "Don't cry," she said.

"I'm an idiot."

"You're not an idiot."

"I am. And I need you."

"What exactly do you want me to do?" Camaro asked.

"You have to make him go away. I can't leave this place. It's too good for me and for Becca. We have to stay. He has to go."

Camaro was silent.

"Camaro, I need your help."

"Tell me where you are. I'll come."

Chapter Four

THE CURTAINS WERE drawn in the motel room's window, but Lukas Collier knew it was snowing outside. It had been snowing all day, and the day before and the day before that, too. Snow lay six feet deep in places, with drifts twice as high, but somehow the city of Denver went on functioning.

Three days before, Lukas had skidded on some ice in his stolen Buick and crushed the right side of the front bumper. The headlight still worked, but it was pointed in the wrong direction. Rather than draw attention with a wonky headlight, Lukas used one of the credit cards he'd taken from the Buick's owner and bought himself a room to rest and drink and see in the new year.

The room was festooned with beer bottles and a couple of empty fifths. It reeked of cigarette smoke, and the ashtray by the bed overflowed. When one credit card was declined, Lukas switched to another. He had a third for when this one died. They were all lasting a while because the man Lukas took them from was laid up in a hospital somewhere with his head broken open. A man in his condition did not call his bank to cancel cards.

He had the television on. It was a rerun of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and he paid no attention to it, nor had he to anything that had come on before it. He lay nude atop the sheets with a beer to hand. He hadn't shaved in a week, and his hair was messy.

The toilet flushed, and the bathroom door opened. A naked girl emerged, her skin looking pinched and tight from the chill in the room. She hurried to the bed and threw the covers over herself. Orange hair spilled on the pillow. Her makeup needed redoing. "You should turn up the heat, baby," she said.

"Cold's good for you."

"I think you just like seeing my nipples get hard."

"That, too."

He pushed himself up against the headboard and fished a cigarette out of the pack by the bed. He sparked his lighter to it and inhaled deeply before exhaling through his nose.

The girl touched his arm and traced one of his tattoos. His right arm was completely sleeved, the left partly done. His chest and stomach were inked, and he had a grizzly bear on his shoulder blade. He wore his hair long.

"You got any money left?" she asked.

Lukas eyed her. He tucked the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and used his free hand to pull the covers from the girl's body. She might have been twenty-one, but she had a teenager's looks. A pink heart inked her right hip. She lay back to let him look at her.

"So…you got any money left?"


"How much?"

"What does it matter?"

"You don't need to be rude. I'm just asking."

He smoked and watched the television. She started to cover herself again. He stopped her. "Keep 'em off."

"I'm cold."

"You know how to warm up."

Lukas saw her smile out of the corner of his eye. "Yes, sir," she said.

When they were done again, she left the bed to throw away the condom. Lukas sat up and gathered his jeans off the floor. His wallet was fat with cash. He counted out a hundred and put it on the bed beside him. She snatched it up and spirited it away in the little pink-and-yellow-striped purse she brought with her.

Lukas lay down again. He wanted beer, but there was no more.

The girl sat on the edge of the bed with her purse on her lap. She rummaged inside until she came up with a small glass pipe and a baggie the size of a postage stamp. "You want to smoke with me?" she asked.

"That shit? Hell, no. My body is a temple."

"If you let me smoke a little, I'll do you once for free."

"Whatever," Lukas said. He searched for the television remote.

The first blow to the motel room door did not burst the lock, but it bent the cheap metal inward. The second blasted the door open, and a flurry of wind and snowflakes chased into the room. Blazing headlights framed a tall figure made burly by a tactical vest and winter gear.

The girl screamed and dropped her pipe on the carpet.

Lukas saw a heavy pepper-spray canister in the figure's hand as the man surged forward into the room. Lukas's hand went beneath the pillows.

Orange spray erupted, painting the wall where Lukas had been. Lukas rolled off the bed and crabbed sideways, putting the girl between him and the newcomer. The Colt in Lukas's grip was hard and cool. He brought it up and fired, three shots at a range of less than ten feet. The report was thunderous in the small room. The man with the pepper spray buckled and collapsed to the thin carpeting. He didn't move.

"Oh, Jesus!" the girl screamed. She clawed for the bedsheets to cover herself. "Oh, Jesus!"

Lukas shoved her out of the way and jumped into his jeans. He put his boots on without bothering with socks and grabbed a T-shirt and jacket off the back of a chair.

The room was still bathed in light from the vehicle outside, and despite the ringing in his ears Lukas heard the engine rumbling. He paused over the motionless corpse on the floor. "Sorry, Stanley," he said.

Lukas stepped out into the freezing twilight and found a Ford Super Duty idling with the driver's door left open. The dome light was on, and the vehicle pinged a steady warning. He climbed into the truck and slammed the door. He put the transmission in reverse and peeled backward out of the parking space, wrenching the wheel around and skidding the tires on the sloppy, icy asphalt. One glance back, and he saw the girl in the room, still naked and wailing. He put the truck in drive and stomped the accelerator. He was gone before the first siren sounded.

Chapter Five

IT WAS RAINING, a cold rain that alternated between sleet and droplets. Annabel Espinoza sat in the living room on the couch with all the lights off but one. Her daughter, Rebecca, was asleep.

The house was small and welcoming, with big front windows to let in the sunlight when there was any. Annabel had flower beds on both sides of the front walk and in the shadow of the picket fence enclosing the lawn. All were barren now, fallow for the winter months, though the lawn still held a fresh emerald under a mantle of water and ice.

She got up from the couch and went to the kitchen. She set a kettle on the stove to boil and selected a bag of chamomile tea to go with her teacup. After a time the kettle steamed, and the sound of Jake's engine carried from the street. She heard his footfalls on the doorstep before his key in the lock. Automatically she got a second cup and saucer for him and put them on the kitchen table with sugar and milk.

"Michelle?" Jake called.

"I'm in here."

He entered through the dining room, still wearing his wet jacket. When he swept the knit cap off his head, his blond hair stood up crazily. There had been a time when she found his perpetual look of untidiness boyish, even handsome, but that time had passed in bits and pieces until now there was nothing except a pit in the bottom of her stomach. She faked a smile, but it was weak.

"I didn't think you'd be awake," Jake said.

"I wasn't feeling good. Why are you here so late?"

"You don't want me around?"

"No, it's…I didn't expect you now."

Jake drew her close and kissed her on the forehead. Annabel put her arms around him reluctantly. "I'm going to have some tea," she told him. "Do you want some?"

"I don't have tea on my mind." He reached around to grope her behind.

"Jake, I'm really not feeling good."


  • "Hard-boiled action...Camaro Espinoza, who did tours in the Middle East, is tougher than an army boot....it's deeply satisfying to watch her take out an animal like Lukas."—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
  • "A trifecta of triumph . . . A complex and compelling protagonist (coupled with richly defined secondary characters), authenticity of voice and vista, and resonant timeliness. . . . Camaro Espinoza is a name to remember, and readers will find themselves rooting for her despite the many liberties she takes with conventional law and order. Justice is in the eye of the beholder, after all."—John Valeri, Strand Magazine
  • "Fast, violent, and starring a lead character with a private code, and to hell with those law books. . . . Like a good action hero, Camaro is solitary, vengeful, and fond of beer and motorcycles-a female 'tough guy' who defies stereotypes with engaging bravado. Hawken calls her 'a lean, mean thrilling machine.' He's nailed it."—Booklist

    "Sign on for The Night Charter, Sam Hawken's hot new thriller captained by Camaro Espinoza, a protagonist that'll light up the literary seascape unlike anything before."—Craig Johnson, bestselling author of the Walt Longmire mysteries, the basis for Netflix's Longmire
  • "The Night Charter is a heck of a book by a fine writer. Camaro Espinoza is a captivating heroine, whether shooting it out with the bad guys or standing, unflinching, in the face of the law. Drawn into this saga by a strong moral code and her own dark past, Camaro is impossible not to root for, and Sam Hawken's deft, assured prose keeps the pages turning--and your heart pounding--all the way to The Night Charter's adrenaline-soaked finale."—Owen Laukkanen, author of The Professionals and The Stolen Ones
  • "The Night Charter caught me completely by surprise. In precise, neon-soaked prose, Sam Hawken launches a promising new series headed for the high seas of John D. MacDonald and the relentlessness of Lee Child. Camaro herself is a wonderful creation, an uncompromising heroine whose adventures many readers, including this one, will look forward to for many books to come."—David Morrell, bestselling author of Inspector of the Dead and Murder as a Fine Art
  • "The Night Charter is a terrific thriller. Riding her Harley and settling scores, Camaro Espinoza takes us on a gritty, fast-paced adventure. Sam Hawken has produced a great riff on the lone wolf hero, a kind of female Jack Reacher."—Matthew Quirk, bestselling author of The 500 and The Directive

On Sale
Jan 31, 2017
Page Count
336 pages
Mulholland Books

Sam Hawken

About the Author

Sam Hawken was born in Texas and currently lives outside Baltimore with his wife and son.

Learn more about this author