Authors: Matt Hilton
Also by Matt Hilton
Dead Men’s Dust
Judgment and Wrath
Slash and Burn
Cut and Run
Blood and Ashes
Dead Men’s Harvest
No Going Back
Rules of Honour
The Lawless Kind
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Matt Hilton 2014
The right of Matt Hilton to be identified as the Author of the Work
has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that
in which it is published and without a similar condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978 1 4447 2880 4
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
Dedicated to my brothers, Davey, John, Jim and Raymond
‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’
– Ernest Hemingway
The strength of human resilience can be shocking.
Take the bruiser running at me with his gun raised.
I’d already placed two nine-millimetre rounds in his chest and one high in his forehead and still he kept coming. He was dead, of course. He just hadn’t realised it yet. He only managed another two steps before his legs went from under him. Even so his finger was caressing the trigger of his MP5 and bullets blistered the air around me. Would have been a poor end to a good day if a corpse had managed to finish me off. As it was there was no guidance to his shots and they all went way over my head: I was in more danger from the falling corpse than the bullets. I met him with a sweep of my left forearm and sent him on his way, even as I targeted the next man to come out of hiding. I placed a single round between the second man’s teeth as he shook a machete and shouted a challenge. He went down on his back, surrounded by a billow of desert grit.
‘Heads up, Hunter!’
My friend, Jared ‘Rink’ Rington’s shout turned me and the instincts honed through countless hours of point-shooting meant I had placed two more bullets in the third man to rush at me before I even saw him clearly.
‘Three o’clock.’ Rink again.
Twisting to my right, I rattled off three shots in quick succession, knocking down another machete-wielding man, and then the slide locked back on my SIG Sauer P226. I didn’t have to inspect the gun to tell that it was empty. I thumbed the magazine release and allowed the empty mag to fall clear, even as I slapped in a full clip and released the slide. All of this while racing towards the arroyo from where the first living-dead man had emerged. From behind my right shoulder Rink’s Mossberg assault shotgun laid down a thunderous accompaniment. Somewhere to my far left our other buddy, Harvey Lucas, halted any attempt by our enemies to flank us. We were covered on the right by a high cliff of sandstone, ribboned with countless striations of colour. We were making ground faster than I’d anticipated, thanks to our opponents’ lack of discipline. If they’d had the sense to stay put, instead of charging us like kamikazes, they would’ve been able to halt our progress. Not that I was complaining.
I slowed on my approach to the lip of the gulley, checking that gunmen weren’t hidden beyond the line of sagebrush at its edge. Clear of any resistance, I carried on, and then knelt to offer cover while Rink joined me.
‘You see the tunnel mouth?’ I indicated an abandoned mineshaft at the end of a natural ‘V’ formed by the tapering arroyo. ‘It’s just as Walter said.’
Rink grunted at the mention of Walter Hayes Conrad’s name. He still hadn’t forgiven our old Arrowsake handler for using us for his own ends while fighting off a white supremacist plot to irradiate the Statue of Liberty. Walter was still using us now, but to be fair, we were also using him. In my book, that made us even.
Rink hadn’t been happy when the elderly CIA agent approached us with a view to eradicating this particular pit of snakes, but his sense of honour won out when Walter showed us photographs of the latest shipment of workers to be smuggled over the border. There had been twenty-seven of them, all young Mexican girls and pregnant women who’d paid dearly to be transported into the USA in search of better lives. The gang had abandoned them to a terrible fate, sealed within the steel tomb of the container of a gas truck. By the time the truck with its horrendous cargo was discovered, it was estimated that three weeks had gone by. The bodies were in such a state of decomposition that you couldn’t tell where one ended and another began. Apparently the driver had taken to his heels when he thought that the Border Patrol were on to him. When no such thing had come to pass, none of the gang deemed it necessary to go back and release those trapped inside the sweltering confines of the converted gas container. Why bother when they’d already been paid up front? They had promised to carry their passengers over the border and they’d done just that: no guarantee had been given that they’d be alive when arriving in the US. Those bastards would probably lament the loss of their truck more than the lives they’d so callously disregarded.
So Rink had joined me, as had Harvey, when Walter had pointed the finger at the human traffickers responsible. They were known as coyotes, or
, but to me they were just shit. Some people claim there is a grey area between the coyotes that take a high fee to sneak illegal immigrants into the USA, and those that traffic people to the sex trade and various sweatshops, but I see them all as part of the same problem. This wasn’t the first time a truckful of people had been left to die. If it were up to me, it would be the last.
‘So this is one of their drops?’ Rink eyed the mine with distaste. ‘It’s an odd place to bring their cargo.’
Normally coyotes would deliver to a drop-house in Phoenix or elsewhere rather than out here in the desert, but this was not your run-of-the-mill operation. These guys were controlled by one of the Mexican drug cartels, and most of those that they smuggled across the border ended up sold into slavery. The mine was a holding area until their ‘product’ was classified and moved on to other destinations throughout the States.
‘Odd or not, we’re closing it down.’
‘Just watch out for collateral damage,’ Rink warned.
Intel from Walter promised that the mine was currently free of innocent migrants, but Rink was a worrier. Or perhaps he was more level-headed than me.
Giving him a nod, I slipped down the side of the embankment and into the arroyo. The space had been cleared of shrubbery and boulders, making the gulley a rat-run for trucks, and also an exposed place from which to approach the mine. I hugged the wall as I neared the entrance, while Rink and Harvey offered cover from above. Going slow and easy, I listened for signs of life. I could hear only one voice, and it sounded like a one-sided conversation. He was speaking Spanish but I caught enough to tell he was frantically calling up assistance from his cartel buddies. Whether they answered his plea or not wasn’t the issue: the cavalry would arrive too late. I slipped into the mouth of the mine, the stink of sweat and urine invading my senses. Many poor souls had been held within these stuffy confines, and I could make out small cells lining the back end of the tunnel. I concentrated on the man hunched down behind an oil drum. The glow from his iPhone gave his features a blue cast. His eyes rolled white in their sockets as he stood up and reached an empty palm my way.