I topped off my 870’s tube as I walked toward the lead box truck, where it was lying on its side in the median. Harold Juarez, the senior Harmon-Dominguez rep on this little convoy, had crawled out once the shooting stopped, and was already on his phone. The driver was shakily pulling himself out.

I went to help the driver get down off the sideways cab. Harold was standing in front of the truck, talking earnestly and quickly. I’ll admit I took the opportunity to listen in, as I helped the driver down to the ground. The poor guy was shaking, and looked a little sick. Good thing he’d had the transmission between him and the shooting; he really wouldn’t have liked what had happened only two lanes away. I steered him away from the carnage as I got him down.

“I know,” Harold was saying. “What you don’t understand is that it isn’t just the office that’s going to be pissed if this shipment’s late. We’re talking about Alonzo Reyes here.”

That made me take notice. Alonzo Reyes. This job just got a hell of a lot more interesting. Renton hadn’t been blowing smoke, after all.

I got the driver sitting down against the truck and checked him for injuries. He was shaken up, that was all. Harold was still talking, urgently demanding a replacement truck be brought down from Tucson as soon as possible. In the short time I’d dealt with him, Harold had been a friendly, personable sort, but had always seemed nervous, especially when anything threatened to disrupt the schedule. Now I had some idea why.

“Harold,” I called. He didn’t notice, but kept talking. “Harold!” He looked up. “Are you all right?” I asked. “Are you hurt?”

He stared at me for a second, as if it took a moment for the question to sink in. “Yes, yes, I’m fine,” he said. “I’m trying to get a replacement truck down here so we can get back on the road.”

“Not going to be that easy,” I said. The sirens were already starting to sound in the distance. “Local law’s on the way, and I’ve got two security vehicles totaled. We won’t be back on the road for a little while. At least a day, maybe two, depending on how the sheriff’s feeling.”

He didn’t like that. But I didn’t give him a chance to retort, as I walked back to my Expedition, pulling my own phone out. Before I dialed, I joined Larry, who was examining the bodies in the Crown Vic.

“Look at that,” he said, pointing to the tattoos adorning a limp arm. “Seen those before?”

I nodded. “Mara Salvatrucha.” MS-13. One of the most vicious street gangs in the Western Hemisphere, the gang had been founded by refugees from the El Salvadoran civil war living in Los Angeles. They’d gone from a vicious street gang to a trans-national criminal syndicate in their own right, with a reputation for ferocity that came near to rivaling the paramilitary Los Zetas in Mexico. We’d crossed paths with them briefly the last time we’d worked the border. “Question is, are they here on their own initiative, or are they hiring out again?” MS-13 had acted as mercenaries for other cartels off and on through the years.

“What were they doing here in the first place, and why were they after us?” Larry asked.

“We’ll find out pretty soon,” I replied, as I hit speed dial and raised the phone to my ear. “Harold just invoked the name of Alonzo Reyes.”

The phone rang once. Renton’s voice was complete deadpan as he said, “Talk to me.”

“Alonzo Reyes,” I said. Alonzo Reyes was one of the names we’d been instructed to keep an ear open for before we started this job. In the military we would have called him a Person of Interest.

I filled Renton in on the ambush and Harold’s phone conversation. He didn’t interrupt, but just listened.

Renton was a spook, and not in a “works for Langley” sort of way. He did, once upon a time, but those days were past, and he pretty much lived “in the cold” anymore. He’d gone underground years ago, only cropping up, to my knowledge, the year before, when he contacted us about The Project. He worked for a quiet network of military and intelligence professionals that was, apparently, trying to act to stem the tide of chaos and terrorism from outside and inside the system.

We were an instrument to generally be used outside the system.

When I finished, he was quiet for a short moment, as if thinking over what I’d told him. He wasn’t terribly forthcoming when he did speak, however. “Where are you now?”

“About three miles south of Green Valley,” I said.

“Don’t go far,” he said. “Juarez will probably want to push as soon as possible, but I need you to stall him. I’m on my way.”

“Do I need to get a mission package coming south?” I asked.

No hesitation. “Yes. Expedite it. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Snippet 3

Peter Nealen

Peter Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. Since he got out, he's been writing, authoring many articles and 24 books, mostly Action/Adventure and Military Thrillers, with some excursions into Paranormal Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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