Coyote Rules, A Charlie Draper Thriller by Dave Folsom
Writing a book, and the eighth is no different that the first, is an interesting process, one that after seven published works, I thought it would get easier. Unfortunately, not, at least for me. For example, the cover. After multiple tries and hours playing with Photoshop, I succeeded in creating a cover that passed muster among my long-standing critics. You will see it here and as always comments are encouraged and welcomed. Selecting a title is another hurdle and one I depend on my beta-readers for consensus. As for writing, I’m reminded of a long ago creative writing professor, who when commenting on one of my short stories quipped, “as a story-teller you’ve come a long way, but a master of the English language you are not.” I confess that he was likely correct and I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years trying to prove him wrong. Only my readers will judge how well I’ve done. Here’s a sample of the newly re-titled Charlie Draper #4, Coyote Rules. Charlie Draper #4 Coyote Rules I am hard at work on #4 in the Charlie Draper series of action, adventure, suspense/thriller novels, now re-titled Coyote Rules. Determined to retire for the second or third time, (he has lost count) since his last adventure nearly cost him his life, Charlie is at home basking under the Arizona sun with nothing on his plate but a hungry gecko and looking out for Dog. Almost content, which in Charlie’s world means bored, he receives a call from his adopted daughter, Gabriella. With little else to do, he dusts off his seldom-used attorney’s license to lend a hand to Gabriella’s friend who is caught smuggling drugs across the United States/Mexican border. The first five thousand words or so appear here as a teaser. Comments appreciated if you have the time. The other books in this series are Finding Jennifer, Sonoran Justice and Big Sky Dead. They do not need to be read in any particular order as each is an independent novel. Other books by Dave Folsom are Scaling Tall Timber, The Dynameos Conspiracy, The Zeitgeist Project, and Running with Moose. Find books by Dave Folsom here: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004G8153I http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/dave-folsom?srt=r&sze=10&refgrp=1&dref=1 http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/davefolsom Excerpts and more information is available on Dave’s Website: http://www.davefolsombooks.com
Fiona Cardeno stood beside her car gripped in icy fear. The hot Mexican morning sun beating on her shoulders did little to ease her panic. The derelict garage and used car lot in front of her contained an eclectic collection of vehicles of questionable ownership. Most damaged with missing hoods and crumpled fenders, a few on the front row sat whole and roadworthy. Surrounded by rusting woven wire stapled to rotting wood posts topped with sagging barbed wire, the yard corralled a varying assortment of partially disassembled vehicles. The garage, a dilapidated frame building fronted the road with a single overhead door sitting askew and half open, exposed a cluttered interior. Situated on a dead-end road a mile north of Altar, Son, Mexico, and surrounded by miles of harsh Sonoran Desert on every side, the business resembled a junk yard in financial distress. It served different illegal purposes, including a drug transfer activities and a gathering point for walkers waiting for a coyote guide to lead them across the steep, treacherous landscape between Altar and the United States border. Today’s group included a diverse group of old and young Hispanics, male and female, including a child not yet walking. Fiona knew if they reached the border, evaded the hawk-eyed Border Patrol, sophisticated cameras, radar, and ground detectors, the walk to civilization on the U.S. side was another twenty rugged miles. She saw a ragtag group knowing it was likely most would not make it alive.
Fear rose in Fiona’s throat while she watched two armed and tat-covered men oversee the final modification of a two-year-old Buick she drove to work in Ajo, Arizona. The day was Tuesday, the morning after she received the call, a once a week ritual over the last few months. A raspy deep tone, the same one each time, striking frozen dread into her breast, his words directing her to the junkyard once again. There she waited, while they loaded the Buick with drugs. The process completed, her task was to drive it across the border into the United States. During the day, while she was at her desk working at a job she loved, the Buick would disappear for a few hours and returned in time for her to drive home. On the selected day for her trip north, the vehicle contained drugs destined for American consumption and when she returned that same night American dollars were secreted somewhere in the car. She did not know where, nor did she want to know its location. The cartel was careful and required she carry contraband one day a week on varying days.
Fiona, a so-called ‘anchor baby’ by virtue of her mother’s repeated border crossings when her baby’s birth was imminent. Her mother’s efforts to make the delivery happen north of the border successful, Fiona became an American citizen, the first in her family.
Now grown, Fiona recalled her elation when the hospital in Ajo phoned a week after she sent in an application. The Personnel Director tried without success to communicate with her mother who spoke not a word of English. The poor man went through a confusing dialog with her three older brothers, all named Jose, before the trio, in a collective discussion, realized Fiona was the one he wanted.
Fiona grew to age five in Mexico, but her American citizenship allowed her to attended school in Arizona by staying with relatives. She became bilingual and spoke fluent English and Spanish. At nineteen and the proud recipient of a nursing assistant certificate after extra schooling, Fiona searched for a job. Ajo General Hospital’s call was her first response. She answered the phone hesitant, afraid of unknown trouble. Instead, the man offered her a job because they needed a competent nursing assistant who could converse in Spanish. Fiona accepted and worked less than three months before the cartel, in the form of a young man she knew from childhood, accosted her.
Different now, older, meaner, and covered with gang tats, he told her if she refused to mule drugs and cash across the border, her family would suffer consequences, threatening a long-term nap in a sandy desert unmarked grave. He followed with a hint about her personal safety, mentioning rape and worse. Terrified, Fiona agreed, and lived in fear thereafter.
The cartel furnished a car, modified in ways she did not want to know. At first, she traveled empty, a move designed to get the Americans used to seeing her and the car. After a two-week dry run initiation period, she made one loaded run a week, on alternating days as dictated by the cartel. At first, the American workers at the border crossing checked her close. Drug sniffing dogs and pointed questions analyzed her car and her responses, but as time passed, the checks became routine. She started to know the agents and sometimes they would simply wave her through, especially when traffic was heavy with workers travelling north to work. Fiona did not know how many others like her made similar trips with contraband, but suspected many. The difference in her mind was that she loved her birth country and only participated under threat.
After two months of her once a week deliveries, Fiona pulled into the line at the border crossing on a sunny, cloudless July morning. The agent working her line was new, serious, and thorough, spending extra time with every car despite a long backup of traffic. When it was her turn, he walked up to the car stiff and without a hint of welcoming. A wave of guilt ran through her breast. Her hands gripped the steering wheel tight and guilt sweat gathered on the small of her back.
The agent peered into her window and said in a flat tone, “Good morning. What is your destination today?” His voice neutral, he looked young, probably early twenties, but he did not sneak second glance at her as most young men did. He stared instead into her eyes as if looking for guilt. Fiona felt certain he could see it.
“Miss?” the agent said when Fiona did not answer.
Fiona could not speak. It was as if her throat closed and nothing came out except a hopeless look. She saw her world collapse when the agent signaled for a working German Sheppard dog. The dog made one circle around the car and alerted at the left rear quarter panel.
“Miss, I need you to get out of the car,” the agent said. His voice turned all business as he directed her to open the driver’s door. “Please get out of the car, Miss,” he said again.
The rest became a blur as her mind flashed to an end of her job, and her dreams; her life as she knew it faded to black. She felt rough hands as two female agents pulled her from the car, handcuffed her, and guided her inside where they searched her person before moving her into a cell for processing. When the steel door slammed shut the finality of it struck like a knife in her chest and tears rolled through smeared mascara. She struggled against it; but it was futile. She began to cry.
Charlie Draper sat on his front porch watching the sun peek over granite topped mountains miles distant from his perch. The yellow orbit peeked between two volcano chimneys sitting in a gun-site formation. Early morning shadows played around towering saguaro cactus and mistletoe-infected palo verde trees. His favorite time of day, he watched first rays of a new morning chase away the dark. Dog liked it as well, lying with his head between his paws and eyes half closed. The Sonoran Desert woke with cactus wrens, geckos, and other desert creatures darting about on a never-ending search for water and nourishment, ignoring the man and his dog. George, an over-sized gecko, who came every morning at the same time while developing a taste for white bread, sat on the porch railing waiting for his morning treat. Draper supplied it on any morning at home. Grasping the quarter-slice, the lizard ate half or so, before scampering off to his well-hidden lair with the remainder.
Draper’s sat with feet propped against the ironwood porch railing and his chair leaning back against the thick stucco wall when his ringing cell phone disturbed casual musing. He waited to the third ring before looking, debating, not wanting to move. When he saw Gabriella’s name he dropped his feet and answered.
“Hi, Babe, what’s up?”
“Hi Dad,” Gabriella said, in a tone that alerted Draper in an instant.
“You sound stressed,” he said. “Is anything wrong?”
“I’m not sure,” Gabriella said, “let me tell you about it and see what you think.”
“We hired a nursing assistant about three months ago and this morning she didn’t show up for shift. Up to now, she’s been regular as clockwork; hasn’t missed a day. I called her home in Mexico and they said she left for work. She’s a good employee. This isn’t like her.”
Draper could hear elevated concern in Gabriella’s voice. He felt certain his adopted daughter’s missing employee sparked memories of her captive years in a Mexican cartel-run house of prostitution. “What’s her name,” Draper asked.
“Fiona Cardeno,” Gabriella said.
“Have you called your Mom to see if there’s been an accident?” Draper knew Gabriella considered County Sheriff Molly Henderson her mother and Draper her father since her rescue her from Mexican banditos when she was seventeen. Now almost twenty-two, Gabriella finished nursing training at the University of Arizona and found employment at the nearby hospital in Ajo. Her reasons were twofold, and included Draper and Molly Henderson nearby as well as her marriage to one of Molly’s deputies. After Draper initiated legal adoption making her an official daughter, his relationship with the Sheriff, off and on in the past, was, for the last year, very much on.
“Of course; there’s none reported.”
“You know there’s not much Mom can do other than the usual checks without more information. Your employee could have returned to Mexico or, for one reason or another, been detained on the Mexican side.”
“I don’t believe that. Fiona has not missed a day of work since she started. I’m certain if there was a problem she would have called.”
Draper was familiar with the look he knew Gabriella shot at him through the phone. Her tone told him it was the same one used when she considered something he said obvious. “I’ll make some calls, Babe.”
Finding the young woman was not difficult. He started with Homeland Security and after a couple transfers, ended up with Customs and Border Protection at the Lukeville border crossing. The agent who answered said, “Anders,” in an impatient tone. Draper identified himself as an attorney looking for a client.
“I’ve never heard of you, Mr. Draper, are you licensed to practice in Arizona?”
“I am,” Draper said.
“I don’t find you on our list.” Anders said.
“That’s likely since I don’t normally deal with border issues as an attorney.” Draper said, in truth.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Draper?”
“I’m looking for a young woman who has been reported missing and I was wondering if she’d been detained at the border for some reason. She is an American citizen living in Mexico and crosses the border at Lukeville every day to work at the hospital in Ajo.”
“Name?” Anders said.
“Hang on a second,” Anders said.
The phone went dead and Draper assumed he was on hold. No music played to confirm it leaving him waiting in silence.
After several minutes, as he contemplated hang up and trying again, Anders came back on. “We have a young woman by that name in a detention cell. If you are an attorney you best get down here because she is in considerable trouble.”
“What’s the charge?” Draper said.
“I can’t tell you that, you need to come down here with ID and confirmation that you are an attorney and that she’s your client.”
“On my way,” Draper said. “Do not interview her until I get there.”
“Can’t guarantee that,” Anders said.
The drive to Lukeville from Draper’s place took an hour in his old Lincoln. He parked in a crowded lot and walked into a modern building with offices, a waiting area, and uniformed personnel staffing a counter busy with border crossers with questions and problems. He took a place in line behind a Hispanic family. The agents looked haggard and stressed by the numbers of bodies lined up before them. An agent seated at a desk saw him, and walked up to the counter. Draper recognized him and struggled to remember his name.
“Charlie Draper, right?” the man said.
“Yes, thanks for helping. I’m sorry; I can’t come up with your name.” Draper said.
“No reason you should. We met once a couple of years ago up in Tucson. Diego Cruz. What do you need?”
“I understand you have a young woman in detention for some reason. I’m an attorney and I’ll like to talk to her. Her name is Fiona Cardeno.”
“I’m glad somebody is here to help her. She’s in a bundle of trouble.”
“What’s the charge?”
“We have her for transporting illegal substances into the United States. She had coke, heroin, and a small amount of crack hidden in the car she was driving. Agents are still processing it but it looks in the neighborhood of several million bucks worth. This ain’t no small deal.”
“Can you put her in an interview room so I can talk to her? If you are talking to her I want it stopped until I’ve advised her.”
“You have a smart client. She hasn’t said a word,” Cruz said. “Let me check where she is.”
After a delay of ten minutes, Cruz returned and said, “Follow me, Counselor.”
Cruz led Draper through a maze of sterile hallways painted off-white. They turned into a hallway lined with steel doors with small barred windows and electronic locks. The Border Patrol agent stopped at one and punched a keypad to unlock the door.
“Sorry, but all the interview rooms are busy so you’ll have to talk to your client here. There’s a buzzer on the wall you can push when you are done and we will set you free.”
Draper heard the door lock behind him while looking at a small room with a built in benches on the walls for seating. The room lacked comfort in any form. The color mirrored the hue everywhere in the building. A window-sized mirror on the wall reflected a young Hispanic female – Draper guessed late teens – dressed for work in hospital scrubs. Draper knew the mirror was actually a one-way window through which someone monitored everything in the room. His client sat miserable on the bench, her world crushed and future stark. Her face streaked with tear-smeared mascara and terrified eyes, she saw Draper and tears began anew. Fiona Cardeno would have been pretty under different circumstances, but on this day, she looked downtrodden and helpless.
“Miss Cardeno,” my name is Charlie Draper. I’m an attorney and I’m here to help you.”
“I told them I can’t afford an attorney,” Fiona Cardeno said between sobs.
Draper sat on the bench next to the young woman and said, “I’m also Gabriella’s father. She asked me to find you and see what I could do. She’s worried about you.”
Draper’s statement made the young woman cry more and Draper waited, letting her get a grip her emotions. He thought about the options the young woman faced and none looked promising. Without a doubt, drug trafficking charges sat on the horizon, with refutation difficult. A crime like this one, if proven, could result in serious penalties. The charge was Federal and included mandatory prison sentences as well as stiff fines for the guilty.
Minutes later, she became quiet, staring at the floor. After a few moments she looked direct into Draper’s eyes and said, “I knew there were drugs in the car, but they said they’d hurt my family if I didn’t drive the car through the border. They also threatened to kidnap, rape me, and force me to work in a casa de putas if I did not comply. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Draper was familiar with casa de putas, Spanish for houses of prostitution, and the conditions under which they operated in Mexico. The thought made him shudder. His adopted daughter, Gabriella, spent three years captive in one only to escape into the desert where Draper found her. Draper felt anger knowing the threat to the young woman was real and difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.
“From now on do not speak to anyone unless I’m here. I’m not a criminal attorney, but I know somebody who knows good ones and I’m going to call him now.”
Draper dialed a number he knew ended in Washington, DC. After three rings, a female voice answered, “Congressman Randall Markham’s office.”
“Is he in? This is Charlie Draper.”
“Mr. Draper, he’s always in for you.”
“Thanks, Shirley; I’d rather talk to you, but I need the Congressman’s help.
“Sure, I know, always an excuse. Just a minute, I’ll put him on.” This time he heard music while on hold. It lasted less than a minute.
“Draper, you son-of-a-bitch, you only call when you want something. Don’t you know I have five hundred thousand other constituents with problems as important as yours?”
“I do know,” Draper said, “but none of them owe me for their job like you do.”
“Just because you eliminated my predecessor doesn’t mean I owe you, but I am willing to listen,” Markham said.
“This is a simple request. I need a damn good criminal attorney with immigration background.”
“Still trying to save the world, I take it.”
“Somebody has to,” Draper said. Draper spent the next five minutes covering his problem.
“Listen,” Markham said, “anything I can do to help, call me. The best I know is someone you’ve met. His name is Dan Gallardo. He’s been specializing in immigration law besides being a damn fine criminal man.”
“I do remember, four years ago, in Phoenix, right?”
“You’ve got it, tenacious as hell and damn smart.”
“Thanks, Randy; I’ll give him a call.”
Draper hung up and looked at Fiona Cardeno who sat staring at him. Draper got up and walked over to her. He sat, took her hand, and looked her straight in the eyes.
“Can I call you Fiona?” Draper asked.
“Yes, please,” she said.
“Fiona, I am not going to lie to you. The charges against you are serious, difficult to defend given the circumstances, and the current attitude about drug smuggling. Nevertheless, that does not mean we cannot help you but it may take some time. Therefore, I need you to be strong, truthful, and cooperative when asked, but do not talk about your case to anyone other than the attorney I am about to call and me unless one or the other of us is with you. Okay?”
“Okay,” Fiona Cardeno said.
“Start at the beginning and tell me what happened,” Draper said.
Fiona’s story mirrored ones Draper heard before, that of the cartels using innocents to transport drugs using intimidation and fear coupled with threats to family and friends. Unfortunate natives like Fiona were a throw-way delivery service if caught, abandoned and forgotten, replaced before the ink dried on the smuggling charges.
When Fiona finished, Draper called Dan Gallardo.