Authors: T.L. Gray
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Saint Copyright© 2008 T.L. Gray
Edited by Shannon Combs.
Cover art by Croco.
Electronic book Publication April 2008
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This book is a work of fiction and any
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It was too quiet.
Buck’s off-key humming could usually be
heard this time of day. Or Ray’s light snoring.
Maria missed the sounds of cars passing by.
Street sounds, the bustle of civilization. Those were her sounds, not this
endless silence or the dizzying heat of the desert or the dry, rustling winds
that coated her throat with dust. And the nights…God, the nights were so
soundless and restrained, except for the occasional mournful howl of the coyote.
But then, she’d never really been a nature lover.
The months of running and hiding were
wearing on her nerves. Her Latino blood longed for the strumming of a guitar,
the noise of children running through the yard, her father’s booming voice
echoing through the kitchen.
No more. Those sounds had been silenced.
Like she had almost been silenced, all because of an insane stubborn streak
that wouldn’t allow her to leave well enough alone.
Outside it was pitch black. Only the gloomy
outline of the mountains, great hulking shadows against the star-studded sky,
could be seen. The air was close and hot. But that didn’t bother her as much as
It wasn’t right.
Somewhere out there a killer was waiting to
strike. She now knew that no place was entirely safe. Her nemesis had very long
arms and a web of interconnecting tentacles that reached from the lowest den of
thieves to the highest points of democracy.
cursed herself inwardly. But how could she have known it would come to this? Hunted
like an animal. Forced into hiding. Still, she wasn’t a quitter. Never had
been. Someone had to stop him.
Once upon a time Maria thought she was
noble and brave and that she was doing the right thing by putting her life on
hold to obtain justice for the dead. Now she was only tired of the waiting.
Tired of the running.
How long before Benito Juarez and his band
of drug-running cutthroats found her again?
The trial was still two, maybe three months
away. The closer it loomed, the more intense and frenzied Juarez’s efforts to
find her became. Several agents had already lost their lives trying to protect
her. She was weary of looking over her shoulder, of being shuffled from one
hiding place to another like airport baggage. She just wanted it to be over.
“Buck?” she called out, turning from the
window she’d been gazing out.
Several tense seconds dragged by before he
answered. “Yeah?” He appeared at the kitchen door of the ranch house—one of the
few ready for occupation in the unfinished development.
She allowed herself to relax a little. “You
weren’t humming. You always hum.”
“Sorry.” Buck smiled sheepishly, holding up
the haphazard mound of salami, cheese and something resembling wilted lettuce
meant to pass as a sandwich. “Want one?”
“No.” He knew she liked the humming even if
it was off-key. There was no television or phone. No communication with the
outside world except through Buck or Ray’s digitally coded phones.
“Something wrong?” Buck asked around a
mouthful of salami.
She smiled thinly, a shiver of dread
running up her spine. “It just seems…” The hair on the back of her neck
suddenly stood up. “It’s just too—”
The explosion rocketed her full force
through the window, along with shards of broken glass, propelling her
helplessly through the air.
There was no time to think, breathe,
scream. She hit the water hard, bouncing against the concrete bottom. It took a
second or two for recognition to seep in. The pool. She’d landed in the
partially filled pool. Maria opened her eyes but the water was murky and dark.
Something smashed against her skull, sending a shaft of pain reverberating
through her brain.
Swim, dammit. Get air.
Pushing off, she broke the surface and
sucked in great gulps. Strands of long black hair tangled themselves across her
face, blocking her vision, while around her flaming debris continued to fall,
hissing angrily as shredded pieces of the house made contact with the water.
Voices. Ray? Buck?
No, she decided instantly, too rough for
Impatiently swiping her hair from her eyes,
Maria treaded water, glancing over her shoulder at the house. It was nothing
but an inferno of rubble now. She wanted to call out, but smothered the urge, knowing
if she did someone other than Buck or Ray might hear and discern her location.
Her head pounded.
The voices came closer.
At the last second she took in a deep
breath and ducked beneath the murky water, feeling slightly dizzy from the blow
to her head.
Hold your breath.
Not again. Oh God, please let Buck and Ray
be all right. Let them be alive.
She prayed to the Virgin Mother, to God, to
every saint she could recall from her Catholic upbringing.
One of them must hear her prayer. They must—she
could no longer hold her breath. She was going to pass out.
* * * * *
Will Skaggs pulled into the deserted gas
station and parked his dark-blue sedan near the back of the building. Just
because he hadn’t seen another car on the lonely stretch of desert highway didn’t
mean he was in the clear. Several times in the last six months he had thought
he’d succeeded in outwitting Juarez and each time it had blown up in his face,
It seemed as if Benito Juarez’s men were
everywhere, like phantoms waiting to rise up from the shadows. No sooner than
he had Maria Carvania hidden away in a new safehouse, the shadows appeared and
the agents covering Maria began dropping like flies. Maria herself should have
been exterminated ten times over, but thus far she had miraculously avoided the
Some people had all the luck. Others, like
himself, had to palm an ace every now and again.
So now here he was in the Arizona desert,
breaking policy, making ready to call Buck to check that everything was all
right. Sliding from the car after one last look around the empty station, he
hurried to the pay phone, hoping the ancient machine was actually a working
unit and hadn’t been cut off when the station closed its doors for lack of
He breathed a sigh of relief at hearing the
dial tone but was soon holding his breath again when there was no answer on the
other end. Just as he was about to hang up a choked, rasping voice came across
The person on the other end was neither
Buck nor Ray. Will hung up and made a mad dash for the car, spewing dirt and
gravel as he swerved the sedan onto the highway, heading in the direction of
the housing development.
* * * * *
Maria huddled in a corner of the vacant
house, shivering more from fear than from the combination of wet clothes and
cool night air. Her palms were scraped and stinging. Her knees ached from
crawling over debris and heated metal. She could hear the newcomers sweeping
the nearby area for her, crunching over and through the wreckage before fading
away. Her life had literally flashed in front of her eyes too many times over
the last six months.
Just who the hell did she think she was
anyway? When had she decided she had the brains, cunning and nerve to take on
the Venezuelan mob? She was a journalist for God’s sake. She had a life once.
One that didn’t include cowering in dark corners waiting for fate to strike her
down. Yet that’s exactly what she’d been doing ever since the day she had
contacted the DEA with evidence that would, beyond of a shadow of a doubt, put
Benito Juarez behind bars.
She no longer thought of life in terms of
years, but in days, hours, sometimes minutes. Like now, when her heart was
pounding against her rib cage so hard it was a wonder the thing didn’t simply
She wasn’t sure how long she’d been hiding
here. Maybe only a few minutes. Maybe an hour. But all too soon the footsteps
returned and with them the fear of discovery. Her breath froze in her throat
when they neared and a beam of light split the darkness, wavering drunkenly
along the empty walls, ceiling and floor. Instinctively, she pressed her face
into the corner, hoping her ebony locks would blend with her dark clothes and
the surrounding shadows.
The shaft of light passed over her. Her
heart stopped. It started again as the beam flickered away.
The urgent whisper brought her head up. “Will?”
she croaked faintly, scrambling to her feet. “Oh Jesus, I thought you were one
“No time to talk. Let’s go.” He took her
arm and led her out the back and around to his car. After bundling her into the
passenger seat and sliding behind the wheel, he started the engine and drove by
the pale light of the moon until they were out of the development. Once they
were on the open road he switched on the headlights.
She was almost afraid to ask. “Buck? Ray?”
“No, Benito Juarez, thank you very much.”
Will ran a ragged hand through his hair.
“What do we do now?”
“We call in the big guns. Here, take my
jacket. We can’t stop now, but once we’ve put enough distance between us and
them, I’ll stop and round you up some dry clothes.”