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by Spencer Dane
Description: Stopping a holdup at a convenience store, rescuing hostages from a bank robbery, saving a dog from a burning building, and bringing in a fugitive from justice are all in a day's work for Federal Agent Zach Taylor-until a chance encounter with his former girlfriend, Erin McShane, a television journalist hot on the trail of a popular Congressman with ties to organized crime, stirs up feelings he thought were long gone. Meanwhile, a bag of rare blue diamonds stolen from Greek Jews during the Holocaust holds the key to bringing down a modern day Miami crime lord selling high-tech weapons to terrorists. Zach goes undercover when a key Government witness is murdered and his partner seriously wounded, teaming up with his former prisoner, Matt Crawford, and a mysterious, beautiful diamond dealer known only as "Malone." Using the blue diamonds as bait, Zach must penetrate the Don's inner circle, gather evidence, and re-establish the government's case.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2006 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: January 2007
8 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [305 KB]
Reading time: 190-266 min.
Along a well-trodden path through Parker Forest outside of Chantilly, Virginia, a moonless April night provided cover for three men bent on committing murder. Sonny Domingo, thirty-two, tall, swarthy, and movie star handsome, led the way, followed by Leo Cisco, thirty-five, short, stocky, unkempt, pot-bellied, and balding. The third man, Juan Nova, nineteen, was lean, wiry, and dressed like a teen-ager trying to act like an adult.
With each step, Cisco panned a shotgun back and forth, turning around every two seconds to see if he and his associates were being followed. Nova also carried a shotgun. His was slung over his shoulder. He brought it around into both hands only when the three men were about twenty feet from their destination, a large, one-room log cabin.
When they arrived at a clay driveway leading up a slight incline, Domingo drew two nickel-plated automatic pistols from under his coat. With one, he directed Cisco around to the rear of the cabin. With the other, he motioned for Nova to take up a position outside the window on the right. While the two men moved into position, he checked the ammunition clips in both of his weapons.
Inside the cabin, the broad liturgical themes of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture poured softly from a portable boom box sitting on an end table. In front of the wood-burning stove sat Zachary James Taylor, thirty-six, reading a fine arts magazine by the light of a battery-powered lantern. As the French horns played the Overture's main theme, Zach put the magazine in his lap, closing his eyes.
Domingo stood on the porch outside of the only door, his guns ready. He peered through a crack in the frame, sizing up the shadowy form of his target. Stepping back, he positioned himself to kick down the door.
Behind the cabin, Cisco opened the breach of his shotgun, removing one shell, then the other, shaking them next to his ear, and then gently placing them back in the breach. He peered through a small window, which was big enough to shoot through, but too small for his burly frame to fit through. It didn't matter. From where he was standing, he had a clear shot at the target's head through the curtains.
Slowly, he closed the weapon, cocking both hammers.
Inside, Zach's eyes still were closed. He looked like he was sleeping but he wasn't asleep. Instead, he was focusing on sounds, detecting a telltale click above the Overture's French horns, violas, and cellos.
It came from outside the cabin.
Was it a cricket? Or was it the hammer of a gun being cocked?
His body tensed. His mind raced. He was familiar enough with the 1812 Overture to know that clicks that sounded like hammers of guns being cocked were not part of Tchaikovsky's arrangement.
One more time, he thought. Come on. Let me hear it again.
On the right side of the cabin, Nova stood outside the window. It was slightly open, its curtains wafting in the nighttime breeze. He brought his double-barrel shotgun up to a braced position against his shoulder, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Cocking each hammer one at a time, he aligned his weapon with the opening in the window, taking dead aim at the shape sitting in the high-back leather chair.
Inside, the man who looked like he was sleeping but was not really asleep recognized the two clicks.
He knew it wasn't a cricket.
A strong cool breeze blew through Parker Forest, sending a chill down the back of Domingo's neck. He took a deep breath, nervously fingered the triggers of his guns, kicked down the cabin's front door, and burst in.
Immediately, Zach tossed the magazine at the door, revealing his hand on the automatic pistol he had hidden underneath it. As he dove for the floor, he squeezed off a round in the direction of the doorway, shattering the frame. Simultaneously, his free hand took down the lantern, plunging the cabin into darkness.
Stunned by door fragments, Domingo fired blindly, missing twice. Zach pointed his gun at the flashes, squeezing the trigger three times. The power of the slugs slamming squarely into Domingo's chest blew him back against the front door. As his legs gave way his body slowly slid down the wall. It painted a trail of blood behind him.
With gunfire and the 1812 Overture's digital cannons filling the room, Nova fired his shotgun at the boom box, shattering it to pieces. Zach rolled to his right, squeezing off two shots at the flash. The cabin window's glass exploded a split second before both bullets hit their target. Nova's body jerked forward, his momentum carrying him through the window and onto the cabin floor.
Outside, Cisco aimed at the twin gun flashes and fired. Zach rolled to his left. Buckshot whizzed past his head, nicking his ear. He rolled to his right, aiming in the direction of the flash, looking for movement, a shadow, anything to shoot at.
The smell of blood and gunpowder filled the cabin. Zach stayed down, his muscles tensed, ready to react, a firm grip on his pistol. In the darkness of the cabin, he closed his eyes and listened.
At first, he heard nothing.
A shotgun blast, followed by a loud thud and the sound of a pump-action weapon chambering a round broke the silence.
Then, he heard nothing again.
Suddenly, a woman's voice shattered the dead calm inside the cabin.
Zach recognized the voice as belonging to his partner, Sabrina Calabrese.
She called out again, her voice somewhat more frantic this time.
"All clear out here!" she exclaimed. "Where are you?"
Rising to an upright position, Zach felt the tenseness ooze out of his body. "I'm in the cabin."
There was no emotion in his voice, which was a mix of rich baritone with just a slight hint of western drawl. He fingered his ear lobe. It was still bleeding and it stung like mad. He removed a small flashlight from his belt with his free hand, shining it on the two gunmen sprawled out on the floor, panning his pistol back and forth between them.
"Wise guy," muttered Sabrina, not loud enough for Zach to hear. "Of course I know you're in the cabin!" Her tone was sarcastic but relieved. "Are you hurt?"
Zach fingered his wound again. It was still bleeding.
"I'm alright. But I've got two down in here."
Outside, Sabrina secured Cisco's weapon. She checked the gunman's body for signs of life. There were none. Again, she called in to her partner. "One down here. Backup and medical are on the way." Then, she started talking to herself, something the high-strung young women did pretty much on a regular basis. "Just for once I'd like Backup to be here during a shooting."
Her partner overheard, shouting back, "If they were here during the shooting, they wouldn't be called Backup."
She thought about his logic for a moment and then said, "True."
Leaving the gunman's corpse, she swiftly made her way to the cabin's front door, panning her pump action sawed off shotgun in all directions, looking for any sign of movement. Once inside, she secured her weapon in her shoulder holster. Then, she drew a flashlight from her utility belt, scanning it over the bodies, blood, and broken glass.
To her immediate right, Domingo sat propped up against the wall and what was left of the front door, motionless. Sabrina knelt down next to him, feeling his neck for a pulse.
There was none.
Young Juan Nova lay on his back, twitching, blood pouring from his wounds. Zach put his pistol on safety, slipped it into his canvas belt holster, kneeling down next to him. "Let's get some more light over here."
His partner found another battery-powered lantern, turning it on. Zach propped Nova's head up. "Who sent you?"
Reacting to the sound, Nova stared straight ahead, coughing.
"Who ... are ... you?" he wheezed.
"You're ... not ... the ... woman ... the bookkeeper."
Nova's chest heaved. His eyes locked.
Zach felt the young man's neck for a pulse.
"He needs the Last Rites," said Zach, shining a light on the gold cross hanging from a chain around the dead man's neck. "The others probably do, too. Better call Father James."
Underneath the cross was a medallion hanging from a second gold chain. In the center of the medallion, a large raised "S" stood out prominently.
"See this?" He showed his partner the medallion. "It's a Santiago medallion. All of the family members wear them."
Sabrina made the Sign of the Cross, shaking her head, frustrated. "He was so young. He had his whole life ahead of him. What a waste."
She speed dialed Father James.
"As my Grandpa Zachary always says, if you're young enough to be a killer, you're young enough to die."
Sabrina used her handkerchief to stop the bleeding coming from Zach's ear. "Here, hold this." She put his hand on the handkerchief to keep it in place.
Still coming down from the excitement of the shoot-out, Sabrina started talking a mile a minute.
"You know something, all these years we've been partners ... you have no idea how much I enjoy your grandfather's pithy pearls of wisdom. I'd really like to meet him some day. But I've always wondered. Do people actually talk like that in casual conversation where you come from?"
The bleeding having stopped, Zach removed the handkerchief from his ear lobe. "Only when it fits the situation."
Remembering the religious training from his youth as well as the time he spent with the Jesuits at Georgetown Law, Zach bowed his head to say three silent prayers. The first was for the souls of the dead men, the second was to ask forgiveness for taking their lives, and the third was to thank the Lord for not reversing the outcome.
He flashed a light toward the large cabin window. Again, he touched his ear lobe where the buckshot had nicked him. It was still a little bloody.
It could have been worse, he thought. Then, he surveyed the wreckage of his shattered boom box. It could have been much worse.
He eyed the shards of compact disc covering the floor, shaking his head. "My favorite CD," he said, resigned to the fact that it was gone at least until he had time to buy a new one.
Sabrina wasn't so sympathetic.
"What a shame," she said, sarcastically. "Next time, could you not play classical music all night? It drives me crazy. Don't you have any Jake Rhinestone?"
"Sure," said Zach.
He chuckled to himself, leaving Sabrina to decide which question he had just answered. Then, he added, "Next time, you bring the boom box."
When people asked Zach Taylor where he was from, he didn't answer with a place. Instead, he described his family. "My grandfather protected our nation's borders. My father was a war hero. My mother was the best at everything she did. And I try to be as good as all of them, every day."
Grandfather was Zachary Andrew Taylor, who tracked down spies, conspirators, and saboteurs along the Arizona border until he retired from the service at age sixty-five. Zach's father was Thomas Jefferson Taylor, a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant and recipient of the Navy Cross for rescuing a squad pinned down by enemy mortar fire during the Vietnam War. Mother was Dr. Janice Lee Taylor (nee James), a beautiful and successful Arizona country doctor.
Early on, Janice Lee instilled the values of honesty, self-reliance, and responsibility in Zach, as well as a love of classical music. When he was thirteen, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in her office and died. Zach never got a chance to say good-bye.
With the money from the sale of his wife's medical practice plus a pension for thirty years of service to his country, T.J. retired from the Marine Corps and purchased the 500-acre Rancho Conquistador, located south of Tucson, from Maria Della Hoya, wife of the late Luis Della Hoya. Maria stayed on at the ranch, ostensibly as housekeeper. She continued to do the same thing she had always done when her husband was alive, namely run the ranch from the saddle of a horse. Grandpa Zachary moved in with them, riding herd until he turned eighty-five and could no longer sit on the back of a horse for hours and hours.
Zach spent his teen years learning to be a rancher, getting up at the crack of dawn seven days a week to feed the livestock and clean out the horse stalls. His hobbies included riding, fishing, swimming and hunting, pursuits he shared with his father and grandfather, who trained him to be an expert marksman with rifle, pistol, and long-bow.
As he grew into a young man, his frame expanded to six feet three inches, and his adult weight became a lean, muscular 220 pounds. His appetite was huge, but no matter how much he ate, he always remained solid and muscular. In high school, he was an honor student and a National Merit Scholar, lettering in football and baseball. Upon graduation, he accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where he graduated with honors, earning a degree in mechanical engineering. Acquiring a passion for flying, he got his wings at NAS Pensacola, transferring to an F/A-18 Super Hornet squadron based at NAS Lemoore. From there, he was assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln, flying patrols over Iraq in support of American ground troops. On one mission, he was shot down over Baghdad but escaped capture, largely due to his own survival skills and the help of a Marine rescue team.
While at sea, Zach received word that T.J. had broken his neck in a fall from a horse. Again, Zach did not have the opportunity to say good-bye.
After eight years in the Navy, Zach resigned his commission, leaving the service as a Lieutenant Commander. But at age twenty-nine, he still had no real interest in being a rancher. He returned to the Washington D.C. area, graduating three years later from the Georgetown University Law School. Finding legal jurisprudence duller than watching cattle eat grass, he decided to pursue a different career path, following in Grandpa Zachary's footsteps with the border patrol. His success record there ultimately led to an appointment as an agent with the newly formed and elite Federal Law Enforcement Agency. His current assignment: investigating organized crime's connection to terrorist activity.