Clean Kill [A Sheriff Frank Quintana Mystery]
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by Al Alexander
Description: Frank Quintana was born into a niche between two societies and accepted by neither. His father was Hispanic, his mother Anglo, and in a socially divided town like Halliburton, he would be forever relegated to cutting grass and doing menial jobs. Then he discovered a way out: excel at football, win a scholarship, become quarterback for a professional team. Along the way, he would marry the girl of his dreams, Gina Westcott. Together, they would escape the social quagmire that enveloped Halliburton.
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2000
eBookwise Release Date: October 2003
16 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [470 KB]
Reading time: 295-413 min.
"Wow!! This new book by Al Alexander gets you hooked from the start. This is one of his best books to date. It provides great insight into the mixed culture of the South Texas Gulf Coast- a world most of us barely know. I found that I could barely put it down. Guaranteed to keep you up late reading."--Jerry Bylander
"Clean Kill establishes an accurate, if slightly exaggerated, atmosphere of small town life in south Texas. Alexander's characters are unusually well-rounded, although they do seem to be a quirky bunch. Of course, everyone knows small towns are filled with eccentric behavior. The strength of this book lies in the structure of political corruption and Quintana's fight to tame it. Alexander plans a series of Sheriff Quintana mysteries and has laid a firm foundation. The book starts at a good pace and continues throughout to offer a surprising but reasonable conclusion. It will definitely provoke enough interest to justify another Sheriff Quintana episode."--PJ Nunn, The Charlotte Austin Review
FRANK QUINTANA lay trapped in that surrealistic world which exists between sleep and wakeful reality, a place where the ground suddenly turns into quicksand, where people are smoke and soft putty, where strange vapors try to choke off life. He was drowning in a river of mud, clean air just above his head, just beyond his fingertips. No matter how hard he struggled, he couldn't escape from the muck, he couldn't breathe! The muck sucked him down and down and he knew life was over, and then there he was, lying on a field of green, surrounded by noise and bathed in bright light...sweet air flowing back into his lungs.
He knew this dream world, this bit of warped space two steps the other side of nowhere. He knew he had to get up. Crowd noise built until it became a relentless throbbing roar. An announcer's voice rose from the darkness, excited, high-pitched and overlaid with a stadium echo.
"...only 30 seconds remaining in this championship game. The Halliburton Hornets trail by three points, have no more time outs. Now that Quintana is back on his feet, officials have called for play to resume. Coach Parker has already sent in his play. Quintana took a terrible hit, but seems all right. It's fourth down and twenty-three, from the Hornets' thirty-five and, I'm sorry to say, the situation looks hopeless."
A hush fell. It was as if someone had pulled the plug on the speaker system. Then, rolling, rolling sound returned. The announcer spoke in a hoarse whisper. "I can't believe this! The clock is running but Frank Quintana has called his team back to huddle! Perhaps the hit he took scrambled his senses. Coach Parker is about to explode!"
Sweaty men in dirty red and white uniforms surrounded Quintana. Willie Gibbs, wearing number 81, said "Frank, what we gonna do?"
"Listen, defense has been playing zones, tight to the sidelines. That leaves an unprotected lane down the middle. Willie, run the seam--"
Gibbs grinned. "Gotcha!"
Quintana stuck out his hand. The guys slapped it for good luck.
The announcer's voice returned. "...and Quintana brings the Hornets out for the last play of the game. The play clock is down to five seconds.
"Quintana takes the snap! He fades back. The Wildcats are coming and he can feel their thunder! Still, he's holding the ball -- he's flushed out of the pocket. Quintana scrambles left. No one's open!
"He's running back to his right -- looking....
"Willie Gibbs! clear! Quintana throws. It's a scorcher! Gibbs takes it over his shoulder! There's not a defender within ten yards of the Hornet's star receiver! Gibbs streaks into the end zone! Forty yards in the air, the ball delivered with the precision of a laser-guided bomb by quarterback Quintana, who a few seconds ago appeared to be out of the game!
"The home-town crowd is going wild! What a play! and the kind of play that has made Quintana the most exciting quarterback in the league!
"You'll see this young man sparking a team like the Dallas Cowboys one day, you have my word on it! We understand, come next September, he'll suit up for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers..."
Quintana knew the worst of the nightmare was yet to come. Two men held him down. He fought his invisible foes but struck only bed covers. One man had a baseball bat. Quintana cringed against pain not yet delivered, knowing he couldn't change what had already happened. He screamed and then it was over. His knees felt as if they were encased in molten metal. From afar, he heard sardonic laughter and through a bloody haze saw the man who had broken his knees. He fell back into darkness. His father came out of swirling vapors and said, "It ain't easy to tell you, but you gotta know. You may walk, you may run, but you ain't ever gonna play football again."
As the cobwebs cleared, his mother leaned across and fluffed his pillow. "Frank, it's not the end of the world. There are more important things in life than football."
He shook his head. "Mom, there's nothing more important than football."
Quintana stirred, realizing the voice he'd heard hadn't belonged to his mother. Why had this terrible dream come back to haunt him? Twelve years had passed since that night, for God's sake, yet he'd had the dream three times within the last week. Why now? And why with so much rancor? He sat up and wiped sweat from his face.
Slowly, shapes in the room came into focus. Silvia Villareal, his swing-shift dispatcher, asked from the darkness, "Sheriff, you awake?"
Willie Gibbs said, "Frank, I know you sleep with your scanner on. Wake up. I need you real bad."
Quintana groped for the phone and punched the button which automatically dialed his office.
Silvia said, "Sheriff, sorry to bother you."
"It's okay. What's happened?"
"We've got a body."
"Deputy Gibbs won't say."
"Wha'daya mean he won't say? Where's Willie now?"
"Waiting for you behind the Dos Amigos in Tin Town." The Dos Amigos was a barrio beer joint where hardly a Saturday night went by without a fist fight or a stabbing.
"Tell him I'll get there soon as I can."
His bedside clock read eleven-thirty. What was wrong with Willie anyway? Quintana pulled on his socks, then returned to the phone. When Silvia answered, he said, "You alert Doc Ackers?"
"I called. He sounded, you know, a little out of it, but said he'd be there."
Saturday nights, Ackers skipped dinner and started sipping Wild Turkey about sundown. He never stopped until he either went to sleep or ran out of whiskey.
Thunder rumbled and light rain splatted against Quintana's roof. For three months, it hadn't rained enough to settle dust! Why now?
He strapped on his Beretta, which he wore high on his hip, Ranger style, the hammer back and secured only by the hold-down strap between hammer and chamber. In an emergency, having the hammer back saved maybe two-tenths of a second, and sometimes, that was all the margin you had.
Quintana's hands shook. He hadn't had that dream in years, and then suddenly, coming at him every other night. Long ago, he had learned to control his emotions, but he had trouble controlling the anger which welled up when he thought about Floyd Cousins and the wicked act which had ended his football career.
Cousins' name and picture had come over the teletype just before the dreams started...Maybe that was why football and pain and busted knees were fresh on his mind.
Quintana put on a yellow slicker, adjusted his hat square to his head and went outside. He lived in the old section of Halliburton where the houses were large boxes with wooden siding, huge windows, porches front and back, and inside, twelve foot ceilings. The native pecan and massive oaks that shaded his yard had been fully grown before Texas became a state. He couldn't guess how old they were.
Bozo met him at the front steps, his tail whipping from side to side. That dog -- you could open a can of beer at midnight, and in no time, Bozo'd be scratching at the back door, whining for his share!
Quintana rubbed the dog's head, which was easy -- the mutt stood thirty inches high at the shoulder.
"Heh! Nobody invited you!"
Bozo followed Quintana to the gate and began to moan like a kid with the stomach ache.
Bozo squeezed through the half-open gate, launched himself toward the pickup, bounced off the rear fender and banged into the far side-wall. He spun around and waited for Quintana, his ears pointed, his eyes glistening.
Quintana joined south-bound traffic on Route 77, the main highway through Halliburton. His windshield washer didn't work and his wiper-blades only turned dust on the glass into muddy smears. Once across the Mason River, he left the highway at Hidalgo Street, the main entrance to the barrio, where the complexion of the town immediately changed.
A few blocks up Hidalgo Street, a string of colored lights hung from the eaves of an old house which had been painted yellow and green, then trimmed with red. The Dos Amigos. He bounced across the parking lot and his high beams caught a busty young woman in the embrace of an old man, then flashed across the side of the building and faded hand-bills touting last year's circus. Campaign posters for candidates in the coming election partially covered the old ads, his prominent among them.
He drove around back and parked near an opening in a tall wooden fence that separated the saloon from the alley. Gibbs waved from atop a mound of half-burned garbage on the other side. He climbed up to where Gibbs waited.
"What's the big secret?" he asked. "A body's a body--"
Without speaking, Gibbs handed Quintana his flashlight.
Quintana saw patient leather shoes and the glitzy shine of a tuxedo, and then the face.
"Sweet Mother of Jesus!"
"Yeah, Sweet Mother of Somebody."
The glassy eyes of Thomas Westcott, president of the Halliburton National Bank stared back at Quintana. An ornate ice pick with a handle of chrome and smokey plastic protruded from the top of Westcott's head like a gear-shift on some fancy sports car.
Quintana swallowed hard. "What the devil was Thomas doing in the barrio?"
"Well, if I'da seen him before somebody put that pick in his head, I would'a asked him."
Quintana squatted besides the body. Thunder boomed. Apropos of the occasion, because with the death of Thomas Westcott, a political storm was likely to envelop DeLyle County and he knew the Sheriff's Department would be at the center of it.
Quintana looked toward the sound of thunder. His mood was as dark as the line of thunderstorms that had formed over Alamogordo Bay.
Gibbs said, "Olivares called it in. Told me he found a body when he come out to the dump. Played like he didn't know who it was."
"You touch the body?"
"Nope. I seen he was dead, figured let him be. I better get the camera." Gibbs went to his patrol car and returned with a camera bag.
Quintana fingered Westcott's tuxedo. "What Thomas paid for this sissy get-up would feed a family of Chicano's for six months!"
Gibbs grunted. "Would help my grocery bill a mite, you get down to it." In addition to three kids, Willie had his aging mother and a retarded sister to look after.
Quintana backed out of Gibbs' way. Already, he could feel the weight of Westcott's death, and the investigation hadn't even begun. Captain Wooten, his CO in the Army, always admonished, 'When you reach a crime scene, go for first impressions!'
Quintana looked around. The only impression he got was that this was a shitty place to die. Or be found dead since somebody had obviously dumped Westcott here. A spate of rain slapped paper bags and metal cans and plastic bottles. Nothing stunk worse than smoldering wet garbage.
He went back to his truck, got yellow tape, chased away spectators who had come out to see what was going on, then put a yellow barrier across the gap in the fence where a gate should have been.
He was half Mexican, half Anglo, and the fence grated on his Anglo sensitivity. That was the trouble with being half this and half that. In any given situation, he never knew which set of genes was going to dominate, the Latin or the Anglo.
Copyright © 2000 by Al Alexander