Excerpt From “Crystal White” by David DeLee

DEA agent Nick Lafferty leads the investigation to track down a new and deadly form of synthetic crack cocaine called Crystal White that has hit the streets of Southern California. But when everything he holds dear is suddenly ripped away from him—and the cartel kingpin responsible escapes—Nick Lafferty is left a broken man, a man with nothing left to life for.

On forced leave from his agency and not knowing if he’ll ever go back, Nick Lafferty returns to his hometown in the suburbs of New York to attend his father’s funeral. While there, he learns that the street poison he knew as Crystal White—whose production and distribution he stopped at an overwhelming personal cost—has begun to appear on the streets in cities and towns in lower Westchester County.

With nothing left to lose, Lafferty sets out to determine if the same person who destroyed his life is also responsible for this new wave of synthetic death. Aided by his ex-partner, Delmar Harley, an alcoholic cop on the edge, Lafferty is dogged by a beautiful assistant district attorney who believes Lafferty is a rogue agent, a danger to himself and the public at large.

Undeterred and driven by rage, Lafferty relentlessly embarks on a dark and vengeful journey of revenge, mounting a full-on assault against the Crystal White drug cartel. He will stop at nothing to make them pay—with their lives…or his.

Excerpt:

Warehouse District
Ontario, California

SPECIAL AGENT NICK LAFFERTY swore at the vibrating cell phone, trapped in the breast pocket of his suit jacket under his DEA-issued body armor. He ripped open the top Velcro strap and fished his hand under the vest trying to reach the damn thing before it buzzed again. A passing police sergeant, dressed in urban fatigues and body armor, and carrying an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, said, “Sharp shooters are in position, Agent Lafferty. Ready when you are.”

He nodded thanks. With the cell phone firmly in hand, he flipped it open. “Lafferty here.”

“Lafferty here, too.” His wife, Renee, mimicked what she called his command voice before bursting out laughing. “Except, for us, here is on the boat. We’re missing you. Any chance you’ll be able to join us later?”

It was Sunday morning. He’d promised to take Renee and Vicki, his seven-year-old daughter, out for a cruise on their thirty-two-foot Chris-Craft Catalina, You Can Run. The two “girls” were on the boat docked at the marina off Harbor Drive in San Diego Bay. By now, the sun would be full up, warm, baking the dry, gray wharf and the teak aft decking of the boat.

Gulls would be circling and cawing, begging for handouts from the early-morning fishermen lining the piers. A light breeze would be snapping the harbor flags, carrying on it an intoxicating aroma of salt water, wet rope, and diesel fuel. Lafferty could practically hear the lapping of waves, the thump of fiberglass hulls against rubber bumpers, the creak of straining ropes.

He glanced around at the warehouse he had commandeered for that morning’s ad-hoc operation. A far cry from the sunny marina where he wanted to be on his boat, with his family.

Instead, he was with his Mobile Enforcement Team, all of them dressed in heavy bullet-resistant vests under their official, blue, DEA windbreakers. With them was a Special Operations Bureau team from the Ontario, California PD alongside the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Tactical Services Unit, also decked out in urban camouflage, full tactical gear, and body armor.

“I don’t know, honey,” Lafferty said into the phone. “I need to see how this thing plays out.”

“This thing” was an undercover investigation started eighteen months before. One he’d begun and had worked on, supervising a young Latino undercover agent named Oscar Ortiz. Their objective was to bring down a drug cartel kingpin named Ruben Nazario, a Mexican national who dealt a new and deadly kind of street poison called Crystal White. Lafferty had high hopes of wrapping the whole thing up this very day. If they could, it would put Ruben Nazario and his entire crew of poison pushers out of business forever.

“Don’t wait for me,” Lafferty told Renee.

“Well, poo,” Renee playfully pouted. Lafferty smiled. After eight years of marriage to a DEA agent, she knew the drill. She was one in a million. Lafferty snapped the phone shut after an ‘I-love-you’ and dropped it into his front pants pocket.

Lafferty had learned from Ortiz early that morning that Nazario planned to inspect a distribution operation his gang was running out of a small warehouse in the two hundred block of Wanamaker Drive, just off the crossroads between the I-15 and the San Bernardino Freeway, one of seven warehouses clustered together and serviced by three paved roads, each a hop, skip and a jump to the freeways. The building in question had been well chosen and was particularly difficult for Lafferty’s men to reconnoiter and secure without giving themselves away.

Lafferty looked at the men and women gathered inside the warehouse. If they could catch Nazario with the product red-handed, it would be a home run. He said, “All right, you clowns, ready to go to work?”

To a person, they enthusiastically grunted, roared, and called out: “Let’s do it.”

Lafferty climbed into the first of three unmarked panel trucks and sat down with his people. He would lead the two DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: his, and one joining them from the L.A. field office. They would make the initial approach through the building’s office entrance. The sheriff’s Tactical Services Unit would cover the fire exits along the east side of the building, and the Special Ops guys from Ontario had agreed to cover the west side exits and the five overhead bay doors. Also, the building was covered by SWAT snipers, and additional uniform patrol units were in the vicinity, on standby to assist, if needed.

Lafferty’s teams drove the three short blocks to the target warehouse in silence. When the van stopped, Lafferty looked down the two rows of faces, then nodded. They nodded back. Ready. He threw open the van doors. The front entrance to the building was locked but the aluminum frame held little resistance against the battering ram his agents brought to bear. The doors flew back, smashing into walls. The glass panels shattered and rained down a gazillion shards.

Once the entrance was breached, Lafferty’s markswoman and her utility man rushed in, their M14 rifles at the ready. Lafferty, armed with a SIG Sauer, followed, while two more agents brought up the rear. They quickly spread out to the left and the right.

He signaled team two to proceed to the second floor while his own team cleared the first floor waiting area, each of the small offices, and the restrooms, where they encountered no resistance. In fact, they encountered no one at all.

Any misgivings Lafferty had, he dismissed. Everyone would be in the back, examining the product, he reasoned. Team two radioed Lafferty from upstairs. It was empty too.

That left the warehouse itself.

At the single door leading into the warehousing section, agents took up positions on the left side: one high, one low. Two others mirrored them on the right.

Lafferty stood to the side and nodded his go-ahead. The door swung open, and a flash bang grenade was tossed inside. The device exploded, then Lafferty charged through the diffused light and noise, shouting, “DEA! Put your hands in the air!”

Behind him, agents rushed through the open door, their feet thundering across the concrete floor, their gear clattering while they spread out, ready to shoot anything that moved. Having cleared the second floor, team two quickly followed them in to assist in clearing the warehouse space.

Lafferty’s shouted commands echoed in the vast emptiness.

There was no scraping of chairs or tables as people jumped to their feet, no snatching up of weapons or frightened yelling, no scrambling of gangbangers trying to run away or preparing to fight their way out. Like the front offices, the warehouse was completely empty.

Lafferty had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, suddenly afraid they’d been duped.

The teams spread out, cautiously checking the open space, searching the nooks and crannies created by flimsily constructed, unpainted plywood offices and rows of empty metal racks.

Lafferty keyed his radio to speak to the Ontario sergeant in charge of the motorized response team outside. They would be in play by now, screeching to angled stops, blocking each of the five bay doors, preventing anyone from fleeing by car or on foot. But there was nobody inside trying to escape.

Before he could speak, Lafferty released his hold on the radio when he heard an agent cry out. “Oh, fuck, no. Fuck!”

Lafferty charged around a plywood office built on wooden pallets at one end of the row of overhead bay doors. Rounding the corner, he stopped short, coming face to face with his young undercover agent Oscar Ortiz.

Ortiz’s wrists were strapped together with plastic ties, his arms hoisted up and over his head.

The agent hung from a chain and hook. His feet dangled inches off the oil-stained concrete floor and his head lolled forward, stringy, black hair curtaining his handsome, swarthy face. He had on an Army field jacket and a plaid work shirt. Both hung open. His black tee shirt underneath had been torn to shreds, revealing a narrow brown chest—carved open by long, jagged lacerations etched into his skin.

More cuts marred his smooth cheeks and crisscrossed his forehead. Some were superficial, but others were deep and had been fatal. Ortiz swayed over a shiny red puddle, blood from where the man had bled out. Droplets of blood still dripped off the toe of the young agent’s sneakers. The grisly image of his mutilated body reflected up from the macabre, wet pool.

His death had been sadistic, torturous, and painful.

Lafferty stared at Ortiz, unable to move.

An agent stuck his head out from one of the plywood offices. The rough-hewed door he held open was marked receiving in scrawled black magic-marker lettering. “Agent Lafferty. I’m sorry, but you need to see this now.”

I can’t leave. Look at what I’ve done.

When Lafferty failed to respond, the agent called out again. “Sir. You really need to see this now.”

Lafferty wiped his face with his hand, breaking eye contact with Ortiz’s corpse. On stiff, protesting legs he backed away from his young agent, wondering what could be more damned important than…

He stepped into the temporary office. Inside, there was a cheap metal folding table had been set up. Six feet long. On it sat a computer tower, speakers, a gaming joystick, and other ancillary computer and audio-visual devices arranged around five plasma screens: four small, nineteen-inch ones and a large, forty-two-inch model.

On one small screen, Lafferty recognized the dark, mustached visage of Ruben Nazario staring back at him. His sun-saturated flesh, the color of dried leather, showed up craggy and lined with deeply etched crevices, the result of a youth spent working outside under the harsh Mexican sun. A thick, black moustache shot through with grey framed his mouth looking like a caterpillar glued to his upper lip.

“Ah, Agent Nick Lafferty. A pleasure to finally meet you.” Nazario smiled, adding, “In a manner of speaking. But fear not, Agent Ortiz has told me much about you, so I feel as if you and I are old friends. A shame he didn’t live long enough—”

Lafferty’s blood ran cold. “Where the hell are you, Nazario?”

“Oh,” Nazario said. “I don’t believe it would be in my best interest to divulge such information. I’m quite sure you understand.”

“Why did you do it?” Lafferty asked. “He was just a kid.”

A kid I failed to protect.

Nazario shrugged. “It was nothing personal, Agent Lafferty.” He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “But I couldn’t allow such a violation of my…trust to go unanswered. What sort of message would that send to others who might consider spying on me, huh?”

Lafferty ground together his back teeth. “You’ll pay for this, Nazario. I swear. If it’s the last thing I do. You’ll pay. Do you hear me?”

Nazario shook his head. “No. I don’t think so. Besides, we have unfinished business of our own to conclude.”

“What unfinished business?” Lafferty blinked when the big screen, along with the remaining smaller ones, suddenly snapped on. He stared at each of the multiple images, his eyes moving from one, to the next, to the next. A cold shiver coursed through him. He recognized immediately what the screens showed: the marina off Harbor Drive in San Diego Bay.

He took a step forward. “What is this?”

But he knew. The cameras were part of a security and surveillance system the management company had installed to protect the marina. Part of a comprehensive burglary, fire, and access control system monitored and operated via a secure Internet connection.

Apparently not secure enough. Nazario had somehow hacked in and hijacked the system.

The large main screen zoomed in on the aft deck of a single boat. His boat. The You Can Run.

“Tell me, Agent Lafferty, do you not recognize your own boat?”

A live feed. He could see Renee and Vicki sitting on the aft deck, a red-and-white-checked picnic cloth spread out between two. An open picnic basket beside Rene, paper plates and napkins, soda bottles, and cups arranged around them while they sat eating fried chicken and, since the large screen came without any audio, laughing silently.

“What is this, Nazario? You trying to scare me? Show me how close you can get to my family?” Lafferty didn’t tell the man he was succeeding. Lafferty, his throat so dry he could barely speak, was terrified.

The primary screen remained on Renee and Vicki. Close up. But the three small screens displayed other areas of the marina. Lafferty watched as three young Hispanic men emerged from shadowy hiding places wearing gang colors and baggy cargo pants, open plaid shirts, and untied sneakers. Each man carried a 9mm handgun. Silently, they moved along the wharf, passing docked boats, and advancing on the You Can Run. Advancing on Renee and Vicki.

Lafferty’s palms began to sweat. “You son of a bitch!”

He fought to keep the panic from his voice. “OK. You made your point. What do you want?”

From the remaining screen, Nazario said, “I want to know, Agent Lafferty…to what lengths will you go to save your family?” When Lafferty didn’t answer, Nazario narrowed his eyes to reptilian slits. “Answer me!”

Lafferty blinked. He shouted, “Anything, you bastard! I’ll do anything!”

Nazario sat back, a sadistic smile spreading across his face. “As I thought.” He shrugged. “Unfortunately, you have nothing that I want. Goodbye, Agent Lafferty.”

Nazario’s image on the screen snapped to black.

Lafferty rushed forward. “No!”

On the three small screens left operating, he watched, helpless, as the gunmen moved closer, advancing on his family. On the large screen, Renee and Vicki had begun a napkin war, blissfully wading napkins up into balls and tossing them at each other, unaware of the danger they were in.

“We’ve got units on the way,” someone said.

Gripped by panic, Lafferty groaned. “I’ve got to get them out of there!”

He fished his phone from his pant’s pocket. His fingers trembling, he opened it and hit Renee’s speed dial number. Lafferty silently prayed while Renee and Vicki sat cross-legged and went back to eating and talking, laughing between bites of fried chicken and potato salad. The phone to his ear, he heard it ring, connecting. Pick up. Pick up. He watched as Renee raised a finger, stopping Vicki in mid-sentence. She reached for the cell phone on the red-and-white picnic cloth next to her.

Lafferty saw her check the LCD readout, read her lip as she said: Hold on. It’s Daddy.

She flipped the phone open, completing the connection.

And the boat exploded.

***

David DeLee is a native New Yorker, though he and his family now make their home in the great state of New Hampshire. He holds a masters degree in Criminal Justice and is a former licensed private investigator. David is the author of the Grace deHaviland Bounty Hunter series, including the short story, Bling, Bling, which first appeared in the Mystery Writers of America anthology The Rich and the Dead, edited by Nelson DeMille and published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011.

David DeLee can be reached through Dark Road Publishing at
darkroadpub@live.com

And for more information check out our website at
http://www.darkroadpub.com

CRYSTAL WHITE is available in e-format here:
http://www.amazon.com/Crystal-White-ebook/dp/B008A6Z2RM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339436090&sr=1-1
here:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/crystal-white-david-delee/1111487304?ean=2940014764018
and here:
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/170335

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Excerpt From A Cold Wind, a Grace deHaviland Novella by David DeLee

A Cold Wind. A Grace deHaviland Novella — Bounty hunter Grace deHaviland’s latest case involves a young Hispanic man named Rico Sanchez who’s jumped bail after a simple DWI and minor weapons possession arrest. It should have been a simple case, but as Grace digs deeper, she discovers there is greater interest in this young man than the charges warrant.

Drawn into a complex, joint federal and state investigation involving organized gun-runners, the U.S. Marshals Service, the ATF, and multiple murders, Grace soon finds she and her best friend, sheriff’s deputy Suzie Jensen, must do what the feds and her friend BCI agent Eugene Booker can’t, if they are to find Sanchez before time runs out…for him and for them.

Excerpt:

BROAD STREET BILLIARDS. I pulled open the pool hall’s heavy oak door and stepped inside. I’d been to this particular dive before. In my line of work as a bounty hunter I often visited the seediest a city has to offer, and Broad Street Billiards ranked right up there at the top of the list.

I stood in the doorway for a minute to give my eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness. A blue haze of cigarette and cigar smoke hung in the air like a low lying fog. The place reeked of pot, stale booze, and sweat, laced with the sour stench of yesterday’s vomit. I tried not to breath.

Inside, I counted six pool tables, each under a low-hanging fixture encasing a single, bare light bulb. Booths with cracked, plastic seats and chipped, faux wood tables lined the far wall and ran under the windows that would have given the place a view of the street outside, if they hadn’t been painted matte black and covered with thick, maroon curtains and dark, wooden shutters. A mahogany and black lacquer bar ran the length of the place, alongside plastic padded barstools and with a TV hung up in the corner.

The crowd was a mix of Hispanics and blacks, men mostly, men with hard eyes, large muscles, and a whole lot of elaborate, blue-ink tattoos. For sure, the testosterone ran high in a joint like this. All of the pool tables were being used, several of the booths were filled, and most of the stools at the bar were occupied. It was there that the heavy drinkers sat watching the OSU and Michigan State game on the TV wedged at a precarious angle above the mirrored wall and rows of whiskey bottles.

I ignored the stares, the wolf-whistles, and the rude propositions I received as I made my way over to the bar. The bartender, an ex-con named Herman Boone, was big and black, and kept a sawed-off baseball bat and a handgun under the cash register, both within easy reach.

“Hey, Herman, how ya doing?” I asked, slipping on to one of the few empty stools.

“Fuck,” he said, with a disgusted shake of his big, bald head.

Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy to see me in here—since Boone knew I was a bounty hunter. The last time I’d stopped by, I left with two low-level drug addicts who’d been arrested for boosting a car and thought not showing up for court would make their problems go away. I made sure it didn’t.

“I don’t want no trouble, Grace.”

“Herman, I’m hurt.” I said. “I just stopped in for a drink.”

“Yeah, right.” He eyed me suspiciously. His bald head was beaded with sweat and gleamed in the harsh backlight of the bar. He wanted to throw me out, but I hadn’t given him a reason to…yet. He asked, “What’ll ya have then?”

“Beer. In a bottle.”

He popped the top to a Budweiser and put it on a soggy coaster in front of me.

I pulled the bottle toward me, and said, “And information.”

“We don’t sell that here, Grace. You know that.” He eyed me downing half my beer in one long gulp. It tasted good.

“That’ll be seven-fifty.”

I dropped a twenty on the bar, and he scooped it up fast, like he was afraid I’d change my mind about paying him. “There’s more where that came from.” I gave him my you know what I’m talking about look.

Boone sneered. I could read the anger in his eyes. He leaned in close and lowered his voice. “I ain’t no snitch. Don’t you never dis me like that again. Now, as foxy as your ass is to look at, Grace, you ain’t welcome in here. Now, drink your drink, then get the fuck out.”

Persistence be my middle name. Ignoring him, I pulled a five-by-nine mug shot from my fleece-lined suede coat and put it on the bar, facing him. “His name’s Rico Sanchez. I know he hangs out here. Have you seen him around lately?”

“You hard of hearing, girl?” Boone didn’t even look at the picture. “I don’t seen nobody anywhere ever. You got that?”

“Come on, Herman. This was the last place he was before he got arrested.”

Actually, Sanchez was busted just a few blocks from the bar, for DWI and weapons possessions. He’d told the arresting officers he’d been shooting pool and drinking here at Broad Street Billiards. Apparently drinking to excess.

“Can’t help you, Grace.” Boone put the glass he was drying face down on a rubber-matted shelf, picked up another one, and started drying it. “Even if I wanted to, and I don’t want to.”

Boone wandered down the bar to serve other customers, leaving me alone to ponder just how hard I could push. The sound was turned low on the TV, but I still heard the announcers’ voices over the din of the bar, the occasional break of billiard balls, and the bray of laughter or a shouted curse over a shot that didn’t bank quite right.

From down the bar, Boone eyed me carefully, but left me alone until a skinny, Hispanic kid in his late teens bounded up next to me. The kid was wearing cargo pants two sizes too big for his narrow hips and a flannel shirt, open, over a sleeveless, wife-beater T-shirt. He had gangbanger wannabe written all over him. Hyped up on something of a pharmaceutical nature by the way his eyes looked, and half in the bag from too many José Cuervos, I guessed, he bounced on the balls of his feet beside me, jazzed.

After eyeing me awhile, he picked up Rico Sanchez’s picture off the wet bar. “Whoa, what’s with the pischer, sista?”

“Do you know that man?” I asked without much enthusiasm.

“Looks familiar.”

Boone returned, looming from his side of the bar like a massive brick wall. “You don’t know him, Luis.”

Luis looked up from the picture. “Sure I do. It’s Rico Sanchez.”

“Shut you mouth!” the bartender snapped.

“Do you know where I can find him?” I asked Luis, trying to draw his attention away from Boone and getting excited.

Luis continued to hold the mug shot, first closer then further away, as if he was trying to bring it into focus. “What’ve you got Rico’s pischer for? It is Rico, isn’t it?”

“It is,” I said. “Do you know where he is?”

“That’s it, Grace.” Herman slapped his towel down on the bar where it made a wet, plopping sound. “You’re outta here.” He started to head for the end of the bar where the top flipped open.

He seriously was about to throw me out of the place, physically.

By now the rest of the pool hall patrons had their eyes on me, and not because they were admiring my shapely legs and awesome derriere. This time, they were eagerly waiting to see me get my shapely ass kicked.

But I wasn’t in the mood to throw down with Boone. First off, it would do me no good to do so, and secondly, he outweighed me by over a hundred pounds, most of it steroid inflated muscle, meaning a better-than-fair chance I’d have to draw my gun to get out of there.

Since that was not the way I wanted it to go down, I snatched the mug shot back from Luis.

“Hey!”

“Gotta go,” I said. Already I planned to wait outside until Luis left. I’d get him alone and find out what he knew then, avoiding any more hassle with the formidable Herman Boone. That was the plan anyway.

“Give me that pischer back!” Luis made a grab for the mug shot but missed the photo by about a mile. He lunged forward, and, unsteady on his feet being an understatement, he stumbled into a guy sitting at the bar behind me. The guy looked like a WWF wrestler in an Army green field jacket. Shouldering into him, Luis knocked over the big guy’s beer.

Army jacket roared to his feet and shoved Luis backward into two other guys hunched over their drinks and a bowl of pretzels watching the football game, upsetting them all. They jumped to their feet and all hell broke loose.

“God-fucking-damn-it!” Boone bellowed, running back behind the bar to grab his sawed-off bat before weighing into the mass of shouting bodies and suddenly flying fists. “This is your fault, Grace,” he screamed over the sound of breaking bottles.

I guessed it was, not that the resulting brawl bothered me a bit. Made me laugh, actually.

But, I figured I’d better get out of there. As I backed away, one of the men Luis fell into took a swing at the skinny Hispanic kid, decking him. Luis then spun and stumbled onto a pool table. He sprawled across the felt, sending billiard balls scattering in all directions. That indiscretion was met with even more shouts and more men rushing around the tables to join in the melee.

Someone yelled, “Fight!” and around the room, the booths cleared. It seemed everyone in the place had jumped into the fracas. No doubt, just another night on the town, I guessed.

I ducked and twisted and turned, making my way to the front surprisingly unscathed and for the most part forgotten. I hit the heavy oak door, pulling it inward, and ducked, just as a beer mug crashed into the doorframe over my head.

“You’ll pay for this, deHaviland!” Boone shouted while I slipped through the exit out into the cold December night. I shivered at the sudden drop in temperature after the sweltering, overheated atmosphere inside the pool hall. Then I sucked in a cleansing breath of biting fresh air, and giddy, I smiled, not too worked up over the debt I’d just racked up with Herman Boone.

I was still smiling by the time I reached my beat-up van parked at the corner and leaned against the front grill, digging into the pocket of my skinny jeans for my keys. I figured to move the van to a closer spot where I could watch the entrance of the pool hall and wait for Luis to stumble out—or if I was really lucky, Boone would throw his skinny Hispanic butt out sooner for starting the fight inside—then I’d find out what he knew about Rico Sanchez.

With keys in hand, I stepped around to the driver side door, thinking about the laugh I’d have telling my best friend, Suzie Jensen, about the night’s wild events. But I stopped short, my smile gone.

A man stood waiting for me, barely visible in the darkness of the spot I’d chosen to park in, equal distance between two broken streetlamps. He wore a black jacket, black tee shirt, and black jeans and had on his head a dark wool cap pulled down low. His skin was black and shiny as polished coal. He kept his hands in the side pockets of his jacket.

I wondered: to keep them warm or was he concealing a weapon inside?

“That was some play back there,” he said with a smile. His teeth were sparkling white, in deep contrast to his dark face.

He’d been in the pool hall. Now I remembered seeing him sitting at one of the booths along the back wall. I dredged the mental image up in my brain: He’d been talking with a young black man and a girl. A mug of beer for him. A mixed drink and a shot for the young man. The girl’d had tall glass with a plastic stir straw. Pop with rum or something else in it was my guess.

I looked around quickly. I saw no sign of the young man or the girl he’d been talking to.

My .45 automatic sat snug in its holster on my hip and I carried a back-up Beretta on my right ankle. They might as well have been in my lock box at home for all the good they’d do me if this man held a weapon in his coat pocket—and I had to assume he did.

“What do you want?”

I was tense. A shiver ran through me. It had less to do with the December cold then the adrenaline surge pumping through my body. I bounced on my feet, ready to spring into action. Or run.

“Easy,” he warned. “I’m not carrying. I’m going to take my hands out of my pockets.”

“Slowly,” I said, as if I were in a position to do something about it if he didn’t.

When his hands cleared his pockets and I saw they were empty, I took a step back and quickly drew my .45. With the gun in a two-handed grip, I sighted in on his forehead. “Okay, asshole. Hands up high. Who the hell are you? What do you want?”

He put his hands up. His breath fogged the cold air. “This isn’t necessary.”

“I’ll decide that.” My entire body trembled from the adrenaline. And yeah, okay, honestly, a little bit from fear. “Turn around. Up against the van.”

Again, he complied.

I pulled his legs out and apart, away from the van. With him leaning heavily against the side panel I could easily kick his feet out from under him if he made a wrong move while I patted him down. Part of me wanted to face-plant him onto the sidewalk, if for no other reason than he’d scared the shit out of me.

Then I found the gun.

That really pissed me off. I yanked the gun from the pancake holster affixed to his belt—a Smith & Wesson M&P .40 pistol with a 15-round clip. So much for him being unarmed. I finished frisking him. Convinced now he wasn’t carrying, I stepped back and told him to turn around. “Keep your back up against the van.”

I pocketed his .40 and kept my .45 trained on him. “You’ve got two seconds to explain yourself.”

“I only need one. I’m ATF.” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.

“Prove it,” I said.

“My credentials are in my inside jacket pocket.” He arched his eyebrows, seeking permission to lower his hands and retrieve his badge case.

When I patted him down I’d felt what I took to be a wallet in his pocket. It could have been a badge case. I nodded an okay. “Again, slowly.”

He pulled open his jacket, and his right hand disappeared under the material. I tensed. Then his hand came back out. Pinched between his thumb and middle finger was a leather billfold, or a badge case.

I took it and looked. Inside was a shiny gold ATF special agent badge and in the plastic window opposite it, an official looking ATF ID card.

“Fine. Agent Leon Anderson.” I handed him back his badge. “What do you want with me?”

He returned the case to his jacket pocket. “Can I have my service weapon back too?”

“When we’re done, and only if I don’t then still want to shoot you.”

“Damn, you are some kind of hardass, aren’t you?”

“You have no idea. Talk.”

“You and I, we’re here for the same reason.”

“Oh, really. What might that be?”

“We’re both looking for Rico Sanchez,” he said. “I overheard you talking to the bartender and that lowlife Luis. By the way, don’t waste your time on him. He’s a dead end. I spent an hour plying him with liquor before you came in. He doesn’t know a thing about Sanchez except that he hangs around the pool hall a lot. Not lately though.”

I knew why I was looking for Sanchez, he’d jumped bail. So, I asked, “What’s ATF’s interest in Sanchez?”

“I want to question Sanchez in connection with a gunrunning operation here in Columbus.”

The bail papers I’d received listed the charges against Sanchez as drunk driving and possession of a single illegal firearm: a cheap piece-of-shit Raven Arms .25 automatic. A gun commonly referred to as a Saturday Night Special, easily bought on any street corner in any decent-sized city in the country. I saw nothing there to justify a federal investigation, not unless there was more to this case than met the eye.

How often did that happen, I thought, bitterly. Like all the time.

“Rico Sanchez is involved in trafficking guns. As many as seventy-five weapons, many of them assault weapons, were seized recently from his home, incident to his DWI arrest.”

Leery, I said, “A judge granted bail to a major gunrunner? The bail ticket’s only ten grand.” Of which I stood to make ten percent when I brought the creep in. That would be fine for a couple of little misdemeanor charges, but, if I was chasing some major player…

Anderson shrugged. “Who can say what these judges will do. But, in this case, the search and seizure came up after the bail hearing. Already I hear noise that the weapons’ seizure gonna get thrown out. That’s why I want to put my hands on Sanchez, before he’s back in custody.”

“That’s all well and good. But why are you here, talking to me?”

“Well, I’m here because, like you…” He smiled. “I figured the best way to pick up Sanchez’s trail was to start right where he’d been arrested. Talk to his friends, people who knew him. Then, seeing you inside, I got an idea. Who better to catch this guy than a local bounty hunter? Can I put my hands down now?”

“Yes. But keep them where I can see them. Go on.”

“You might have noticed from my ID I’m not from around here.”

“I saw. New York.”

“The guns we’re after were stolen in a heist from a gun shop in Brooklyn.”

Something smelled fishy. “I thought you said some of the guns were assault weapons. No way a legitimate gun store’s selling assault weapons, especially not in New York City.”

“And, normally, you would be correct,” Anderson told me. “If, said gun store was not a front for a major pipeline of illegal weapons coming up the coast from Florida, the Carolinas, and Virginia, flowing into the Tri-State Area: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Think about it. What better way to sell illegal weapons than through a gun shop.”

The audacity—and sometimes sheer stupidity—of these people never ceased o amaze me. “You’re saying this genius, Sanchez, ripped off guns from other criminals?”

“We’re not sure exactly,” Anderson admitted. “It’s complicated, but we know for certain he’s involved with the people who ended up with the guns. That he is, was, sitting on the weapons until they were seized last week. Sanchez may be our key to bringing down a whole network of illegal guns moving through the Midwest, and the people responsible.”

Suddenly, my simple bail jumping case had become something much more complicated. I don’t like complicated. I like simple.

“So what is it you want from me?” I asked, having a feeling I knew the answer. And not liking it.

“For us to work together,”

Yeah, that’s what I thought. “Sorry. I can’t do that.”

I stepped around Anderson and opened the van door. He spun around and slapped his palm into the door, slamming it shut.

The burst of temper startled me, which got my Irish temper up and my Latina blood boiling. “Excuse me.”

“I’m sorry.”

I ignored his apology, and laid down the law: Grace’s law. “I don’t have to do anything. I don’t work for you. I don’t work for the feds, or any other law-enforcement agency. You understand?” He nodded. “And, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I can’t.”

What I was saying was true. As a bounty hunter, I had a tremendous amount of latitude when it came to how I conducted my business. I’m not bound by constitutional constraints the way police and federal law-enforcement are. I do not need a warrant to effect a search or seizure. I can chase bail jumpers across jurisdictions and into other states. I do not need to knock and announce when I pursue a runner into a private home or domicile. From me, a bail jumper has no safe havens.

If I teamed up with Anderson, I could be seen as an agent of the ATF—of the police—and as such, acting on their behalf. I would be legally bound by their restrictions. I wouldn’t do that.

I didn’t explain that to Anderson. He should have been bright enough to already know it. “You’re on your own. Now, get out of my way. I have a runner to catch.”

“Look. I’m sorry,” he said, moving to one side. “I overstepped, but listen here. I’m not from around this area. I’m operating completely in the dark. You can still help me.”

I climbed into the van and pulled the door shut. I started the engine and sat, grateful for the warm air spewing out of the dashboard vents. Leon Anderson rapped a knuckle on the glass and waved at me to roll down the window.

I did.

“I get it, Grace,” he said, suddenly contrite. “And you’re right. How about this then? When you catch Sanchez, just call me before you bring him in.”

I furrowed my forehead. “Why?”

“Because I want a crack at Sanchez before he gets processed. Once he’s in custody, he’ll lawyer up and I’ll get nothing out of him. When you have him, just call me. That’s all I ask.”

He handed me a business card. A white card with a blue border, it had a raised image of the ATF badge and a Department of Justice seal along with Anderson’s name, Special Agent, and the New York City address and phone number of his office. Handwritten on the back was a phone number.

“My cell,” he said.

“I’ll call. That’s all I promise.” I twisted the key in the ignition. The van roared to life.

“I’ll take it. Oh, and …um, Grace?”

“Yes?”

He held out his hand. “Can I have my gun back, please?”

“Oh, yeah. Right.” I took the S&W .40 out of my coat pocket and handed it to him before I drove off. By the time I reached the far corner and looked back, Agent Anderson had disappeared into the dark.

***

David DeLee is a native New Yorker. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, and is a former licensed Private Investigator. He is the author of the Grace deHaviland, bounty hunter series. His previous short stories have appeared in Daw’s Cosmic Cocktails, in three consecutive volumes of Pocket Books, Strange New Worlds, and the Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Rich and the Dead, released in 2011.

David is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers Association. He currently lives in New Hampshire with his family where he’s hard at work on a novel featuring Columbus, Ohio-based bounty hunter, Grace deHaviland.

A Cold Wind is available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Wind-Grace-deHaviland-ebook/dp/B006RGFK4W/ref=la_B004FS1RTG_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1337118124&sr=1-11

Click here for an interview with David DeLee, Author of  A Cold Wind and “Fatal Destiny”

And BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-cold-wind-david-delee/1108107867?ean=2940013796898

Excerpt from “Fatal Destiny” by David DeLee

For bounty hunter Grace deHaviland, the job seemed simple. Track down Barry Keegan, a white collar defendant in a corporate embezzlement scandal who’d jumped bail. How hard could that be?

But the case turns deadly when Keegan’s co-defendant ends up murdered, and Grace’s best friend, sheriff’s deputy Suzie Jensen, is nearly killed.

Drawn into a web of deception involving stolen mob money, old scores, and ruthless hit men, Grace must track down the elusive Keegan–a man who is more dangerous than anyone could have guessed-while she tries to protect his wife and son from a past they thought was dead and buried.

Excerpt:

God must hate me.

Here it was, just the second week of October and a cold snap had moved into the area, plunging the temperatures to near freezing already. Unseasonably cold, the TV weather people said. A stalled Canadian cold front, they explained. Yeah, right. I knew what was really going on. It was God. I could hear him up in heaven, telling the angels with a laugh: Grace deHaviland’s doing surveillance. Let’s make it cold as a cadaver’s crotch down there.

I cupped my hands and blew into them. Damn.

Parked in the Grandview Heights section of Columbus, I’d been sitting for hours in my beat-up cargo van in the shadows of an overhanging elm tree down the road from the only working lamp post, my full attention on a dilapidated old colonial across the street. The house was one on a block of rundown homes earmarked for demolition, something the city never seemed to get around to. In the meantime, they became havens for drug dealers, users, crack whores and the homeless.

This one had a large front porch. The paint on the wide steps was worn to the wood and the once-white railing had so many spindles missing it looked like a boxer’s punch-drunk grin. A rusted glider was set off to one end and an old, moldy couch sat under the large front window. The cushions on it were so worn out, they sank. Broken crack vials, fast food wrappers and a busted up tricycle littered the yard. An old box spring and rusted iron headboard leaned against the peeling siding. Junked.

I covered the light of my cell phone and checked the time: 6:30 a.m.

The darkness before the dawn.

A lone figure rounded the corner, coming from Avondale Avenue, and walking in my direction. His hands shoved in his pockets, he had his hoodie pulled up over his shaved head to ward off the chilly, pre-dawn breeze. I checked him against the mug shot I had of Tyrell Parks. It was my guy.

I opened the well-oiled van door without a sound. The dome light remained off because I’d removed the bulb months ago. The van’s decrepit appearance—I’d picked it up at auction about a year ago—its dings, dents and splotches of matte-black primer paint were deliberate, all carefully applied so no one looked twice at it. Yet mechanically, its care and maintenance was top shelf, as good as money could buy. The perfect decoy vehicle.

Jogging across the street, I avoided the splash of piss-yellow streetlight, and carefully navigating my interception point, I jammed my hands into my jacket pockets too, returning the mug shot of Tyrell Parks to one pocket and wrapping my hand tightly the stun gun I carried in the other. My Colt .45 auto-loader sat snug and heavy in its holster, pressing into the small of my back. I didn’t have to check for my backup piece, either. The weight of the small .32 revolver strapped to my right ankle was hard to forget.

I crossed in front of Parks, about an arm’s length away, blocking his path. “Tyrell Parks.”

He snapped his head up. Dark, suspicious eyes stared at me. I grabbed for his arm but he bolted around me fast, dodging like a linebacker avoiding a tackle so that I ended up snatching air. He ran for the ramshackle old colonial.

Shit.

Up the worn steps two at a time and across the porch, he plunged through the front door, slamming it shut behind himself. Running close, two steps behind, I reached the decaying wood-and-glass door and paused, pressing my back against the clapboard frame. My heart pounded from the adrenaline surge, not the effort. I took a deep breath of cold, crisp air, drew my .45, spun and kicked in the old, weathered door.

The latch splintered inward. The door banged against the far wall with a sharp thwack and a rattle of glass. I rushed inside. Low. In the entryway, an absence of light greeted me save for the pale glow from the outside streetlamp and what little moonlight managed to leak in through the door and broken windows. Dust particles danced in the pale, ghostly hue.

I faced a center staircase. Beside it, down the left side, ran a hallway. Open archways dotted the left wall. What had once been a living room lay to my right, and opposite that, a den. Wind whistled through windows where panes were broken or missing. The walls were graffiti tagged. Broken boards, cinderblocks and other building debris littered the floor and chunks of sheetrock and gravel crunched under my feet as I moved inside.

A skinny Hispanic teen stood frozen in the den, watching me. Shirtless, he had his fly open. I’d caught him urinating in the corner. He stared at me with wide, fearful eyes as his breath puffed out quick plumes of cold air.

I shoved Tyrell’s mug shot into his startled face. “Where is he?”

He shook his head, muttering something I didn’t catch. I jammed the picture into the pocket of my leather coat and pressed the .45 to the kid’s forehead. His wide eyes grew wider. I wrinkled my nose. Ewww. He’d started peeing again.

“Where?” I repeated. “In English.”

His answer came out as one long, fast word. “UpstairsIdidn’tdonothingpleasedon’thurtme.”

“Gracias.” I took the stairs two at a time.

At the top of the stairs, an open bathroom faced me, reeking of feces and vomit and urine. I cleared a small room to the right with a quick glance and sweep of my gun.

Down the far end of the hall I heard a door slam.

Moving quickly, I made my way forward. Darkness filled the hallway. The air was thick with cloying dust and odors too offensive to try and identify. Open doorways stood both to my right and left. From inside came the sounds of irritated druggies rousted out of self-induced comas by the commotion. They shifted and groaned. A few shouted curses. Others remained dead to the world. Those who woke, like rats sensing danger, sat upright, listening, afraid to move and afraid not to, their addled brains racing at the speed of glaciers to make a decision. Freeze, hide or run.

At the end of the hall, I hit the one closed door I came to with my shoulder. It gave a little then bounced back. Not locked—someone holding it.

“Tyrell Parks!” I shouted, shouldering the door again.

Pain radiated down my arm, but this time it flew open.

Inside, a soiled mattress lay on the floor. Around it were some grubby blankets, matches, candles and other drug paraphernalia. Dull light streamed in through a busted window. Tattered, once-white lace curtains billowed from the window frame. The sash was thrown open.

Climbing out to the porch roof, Parks banged a knee on the sill and cursed.

I darted fast across the room. Crack vials and who-knew-what-else crunched under my sturdy black sneakers. I grabbed Parks by the belt…and yanked.

His hands scrambled to hold onto the sill as his baggy, oversized pants slipped down his hips, exposing even more of his purple boxers. He banged an elbow on something, cursed again and fell back into the room. At six-one, two-hundred-twenty pounds—all of it prison yard muscle—he was built like a bull on steroids. All of that came stumbling back at me.

We hit the floor, hard.

I grunted, worried I’d cracked a rib. Shoving him off, I gasped for air and rolled in the opposite direction. Things jabbed at me through my jacket, rusted nails, broken glass. I worried about needles, and my jacket.

It’s a Piero Tucci, damn it. If it’s ruined…

I scrambled to my feet, spun to face him, trying to control my breathing. If I appeared winded, Parks would see me as weak. I couldn’t allow that. Being a woman in this business caused me enough grief as it was.

“Tyrell Parks,” I said. “You’re coming with me.”

“Youse the cops?” On his feet too, he faced me.

“Bail enforcement.”

He cocked his head to the side like a confused puppy. “Say what?”

“Bounty hunter, asshole.”

“Shit. A sista like you? No fuckin’ way.”

I brought up the .45, reluctant to shoot him. They don’t do dead or alive anymore. Too bad—it would make things a lot easier. “No sista, bro, a hot-blooded Latina with an Irish temper. Someone you don’t wanna mess with.”

I planted my feet. Reading him, afraid he might lunge.

“Sheeeet!” He charged.

A knot formed in the pit of my stomach. For an instant I reconsidered shooting him, but I drew back my gun. I’d cold-cock the son of a bitch instead.

But he was too fast. Like lightening on crack cocaine. He swept away my arm, clamping his hand on my wrist and stopping my swing dead. He squeezed.

I gasped.

With a sharp snap of my wrist he sent my gun flying. It landed a dozen feet away in a debris pile of studs, drywall and pipes. With his free hand he seized my throat and tightened his grip, lifting me off the ground. “Bitch come at me. Sheeet.”

I gurgled. It was all I could do.

“Tyrell’ll be learnin’ you a thing ‘bout manners now, bitch.” He slammed me into a wall. My head bounced off the plaster. The wall shook. I saw stars, and tears filled my eyes. I’d pounded the pooch on this one, hadn’t I?

He grinned, revealing a grill full of gold-capped teeth. He pressed his body into me, pinning me to the wall with all his crushing weight. Sweat and aggression radiated from him, sour and hot. And some god-awful smelling breath. So bad, I’d’ve gagged if I weren’t being choked to death.

I thrashed around, wanting to get my loose hand inside my coat pocket. I kicked out, trying to push off the wall. Hopeless efforts.

Parks laughed at me.

I wheezed like a tire losing air.

I grew lightheaded. I was running out of oxygen and time. I tried to ignore the pain, the pressure against my chest, his smell, all of it, while I worked on getting my hand into my jacket pocket. I missed.

Fear seized me, as tightly as Parks’ grip.

“We’s gonna have some real fun now, bitch.” His face came in close to mine. I had no doubt about what he intended. Thoroughly disgusted, I turned my head. His mouth mashed wetly across my lips. His tongue raked my cheek. I vowed it wouldn’t happen. I’d kill him first. Somehow.

I got my hand inside my pocket.

“Fine. No foreplay.” He reached between our compressed bodies, began fumbling with his belt buckle. “We’s just go right to the main event then.”

“I don’t think so.”

My words were raspy but I didn’t care. I had the stun gun in my hand.

He got his belt unbuckled.

I jabbed the stun gun into his side. It crackled, and his body convulsed. He stumbled back, shuddering like a short-circuiting robot. I dropped to the floor—incredibly, he didn’t. Though his eyes were wide and his teeth clattered like those joke dentures you see in novelty stores, he managed somehow to stay on his feet.

Angry and scared, and thinking about what almost happened to me, I charged him. A second jolt from the stun gun dropped him to his knees. Spittle drooled out of his mouth as he sputtered while his body continued to quiver. Incapacitated now, still he didn’t go down.

I zapped him a third time, panting and aiming to light up his nuts. I missed, hitting his rock-hard thigh instead. Too bad, but the jolt was enough to get the job done.

His eyeballs rolled up into his head. He gurgled. Then he crashed to the floor. Down and out, but incredibly, still conscious.

Face down and twitching, he murmured something unintelligible.

I cuffed him behind his back, retrieved my .45, and coughing gave myself a minute to catch my breath before I hauled him up on his feet. After I did, I said, “You good to walk?”

He muttered something and nodded.

“Good.” His skin was slick with sweat and his knotted muscles still trembled. “You mess with me,” I went on, “and I’ll Taser you all the way down to the van. Understand?” His head lolled as if it was too heavy for his neck. I shook his arm. “Understand?”

“Yeah…yeah.”

“Good.”

I led him into the hall, but stopped short.

A dozen shadowy figures lined the gloom of the hallway. Strung-out hopheads. Emaciated drug-zombies. They wore soiled clothes that hung off them like rags on a scarecrow. Stringy hair curtained their skull-like faces in greasy, limp ropes. Dark circles rimmed their lifeless eyes. They truly were the living dead.

“Ain’t got no beef with none of y’all,” I shouted. Talking street, sounding tough I hoped. “Just Tyrell here. Don’t give a rat’s ass ‘bout the rest of you.” To me the trash talk sounded foolish, but I kept it up as I pulled Parks along. “Y’all mess with me,” I warned. “Then we throw down. You don’t want that, so y’all just stay fly.”

They did, and Parks and I made it downstairs and out to the street without incident. The dopers followed at a distance, gathering around the sagging porch. I yanked open the back doors of the van and pushed Parks toward it. “Get in.”

I’d stripped bare the interior except for a black-iron security fence welded between the cargo space and the front seats. It was covered with a scratched-up, laminated sheet of Plexiglas. I’d been spit on enough times to have learned. Welded to the ribbed floor and along the van walls were several iron tie-down rings.

At the sight, Parks hesitated. The effect of the stun gun was wearing off. I waved it in his face and squeezed the trigger. White-blue electricity crackled between the metal prongs.

“I feel you,” he said, climbing in. Knowing the drill, he knelt near the rear doors. “Where’s you taking me?”

“Jail.” I cuffed him to a short length of chain then to the iron ring welded into the floor.

“Ya know, bitch…” He rattled the chain for effect. “Da bruthers on them slave ships was treated better than this. Ain’t no way for a sista to treat a bruther, you feel me?”

“Oh, shut up.” I slammed the back doors shut.

I took Northwest Boulevard and headed downtown. Driving from the crack house, I tried to relax. But I was sore and cranky, and no amount of rolling my neck and shoulders did anything to relieve my aches or improve my mood. Excess adrenaline surged through my body, making me jittery. Fear made me shake. I tried not to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t reached my stun gun in time—it had taken three zaps to put the huge bastard down. I shuddered, unable to chase the dark thoughts away.

Neither could I force away the image of those gaunt, washed-out faces I’d left behind. The drug zombies who stared at me from the front porch with their empty expressions: lost, helpless, wasted kids with nothing to live for beyond their next fix…and the sure promise of an early grave.

As I drove south on Neil, passing Nationwide Arena on my left, my cell phone rang.

The caller ID read LOUIE. The readout also read 6:53 a.m.

Large Louie Gravelle is a bail bondsman, one of several I freelance for. For Louie to be calling me at anywhere near this time of the morning could mean only one thing, and that was trouble. I flipped open the cell: “deHaviland.”

***

David DeLee is a native New Yorker. He holds a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice and is a former licensed private investigator. He is the author of the Grace deHaviland, bounty hunter series, including the short stories, First Impressions, Fatal Tryst and Family Matters.

His other short stories have appeared in Daw’s Cosmic Cocktails, in three consecutive volumes of Pocket Book’s Strange New Worlds, and the Mystery Writers of America anthology, The Rich and the Dead, released in 2011.

David is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers Association. He currently lives in New Hampshire with his family where he’s at work on his next novel to feature Columbus, Ohio-based bounty hunter, Grace deHaviland.

For more information, check out Dark Road Publishing. The website is – http://www.darkroadpub.com

And, David’s author’s page at amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/David-DeLee/e/B004FS1RTG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Fatal Destiny is available in e-format and in print from Amazon.com & BN.com.

Here are the links:

http://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Destiny-Grace-deHaviland-ebook/dp/B00557TWVG/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_7
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fatal-destiny-david-delee/1103392348
http://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Destiny-Grace-deHaviland-Novel/dp/1466275537/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_6

As well as at my author’s bookstore here:
https://www.createspace.com/3679697

Click here for an interview with David DeLee, Author of “Fatal Destiny”