PRIMAL Reckoning (Book 1 in the Redemption Trilogy, the PRIMAL Series Book 5), страница 1
BOOKS BY JACK SILKSTONE
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2014 Jack Silkstone
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Jack Silkstone
PRIMAL Reckoning is dedicated to Eric, Frederick, and Cyril.
Men of a different era who give their all for those they loved.
Christina Munoz balanced her notebook on the thigh of her khaki trousers and glanced down at the shaggy black and white collie that had thrust his head onto her lap. She gave the dog a pat and looked back at the man she was interviewing. “So, Roberto, when did the expansion start?”
“Not long after they started mining,” the Mexican Rancher replied. “Started small. Small trucks, small mine, not much digging. But then, then they brought in bigger trucks and the hole grew.” His voice sounded exactly as he looked, rugged.
Christina listened intently to Roberto Soto’s story. He had lived his entire life on the land. Inheriting his father’s property at the age of twenty, he was the sixth generation of the Sotos to do so. It was all he knew, and all he wanted to know. His thick moustache and salt and pepper hair were tinged with dust, his brown eyes deep set in leathery skin. He was not a tall man but had broad shoulders and muscular arms.
“They lied to us. When we all voted we gave permission for a small mine. Now it has become monstruo, the beast that eats everything it touches.”
Christina was conducting the interview on the front porch of the Soto Ranch farmhouse. Nestled within the eastern edge of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, it was set in a landscape of rolling dusty hills and stunted vegetation. The farmhouse itself was centuries old; hand-built from local stone with a corrugated iron roof. It sat on a clearing with three other buildings: a kitchen, bunkhouse, and a small shed stacked with firewood. Together they formed a square in the middle of which two trucks were parked, dogs slept, and children played. A track led away from the buildings, past a cattle corral, before linking with the dirt road that ran into the town, Barrio Del Rancho.
“How many farms have been destroyed?” Christina asked.
“Three so far.” He gestured to the bunkhouse where a huddle of people was watching them. The men and women were dressed like Roberto: jeans, flannel shirts, and worn leather boots. They wore a look of desperation that Christina had seen before, on the faces of refugees in war zones. Two young boys chased the shaggy farm dog between pickups loaded with belongings. To them it was a grand adventure.
“This is just the start,” continued Roberto. “They’ve poisoned our water, and now they’re stealing our land, one ranch at a time.”
“What about the authorities? Won’t they do anything?”
He spat into the dust. “Who do you think pushed these people off their land? The only person who wants to help is a pretty journalist from New York.”
Christina blushed. She had arrived only a few days prior, and already felt a part of the Soto family. They’d welcomed her into their home and their lives. She wasn’t naive; she knew Roberto wanted her to tell their story to the world. It didn’t change the fact that these people had so little, yet gave so much. Roberto had also taken in the families made homeless by the mine. He provided them with food, water, and a warm place to sleep.
His youngest son dashed into the clearing and skidded to a halt in front the trucks. “They’re coming. They’re coming.”
Roberto issued sharp commands and everyone scrambled into action. Women and children were ushered into the bunkhouse. Shotguns and hunting rifles appeared in the hands of the men.
“You’ll need to hide,” said Roberto as he checked the breech of a double-barrel shotgun he’d retrieved from his truck.
“Who’s coming?” Christina slung her camera over her shoulder and stuffed the notebook in her daypack.
“The men from monstruo.” Robert led her around the bunkhouse and behind the shed. “Stay here until they leave. You can see through the back of the shed.” He showed her where she could hide behind the wood but still see through a hole in the rusted iron. “If something happens, go down the hill to the stream and follow it to the next farm.”
Perched on the wood, Christina aimed her camera through the rusted hole and zoomed in across the clearing and up the road. Her finger depressed the shutter release, snapping half a dozen shots of the approaching vehicles. Two black SUVs were following a white police pickup. The SUVs stopped at the fence as the police truck continued. It pulled up a dozen yards from the farmers’ heavily laden vehicles.
Roberto strode across and spoke to the policemen through the open window. She struggled to hear what was being said but it sounded heated. Roberto pointed back up the hill. His stance sent a clear message; get off my property.
She tracked the police truck as it turned around and headed back to where the black SUVs were parked. When it stopped the doors on the two vehicles opened and half a dozen men stepped out. They were dressed in a uniform of sorts: jeans, shiny black jacket, and an assault rifle.
Christina snapped more shots as a tall man wearing a Stetson hat appeared from the back of one of the vehicles. She zoomed in to the limit of the lens and photographed his face. He was dressed in a dark blue suit with a white shirt open at the collar. She watched as he listened to the two officers then spoke to one of the Black Jackets, all the while sipping from a disposable cup. Christina took a dozen more photos before her camera emitted a beep. “Damn!” The card was full. She rummaged inside her backpack, found a spare and replaced it. She slipped the full card into the back pocket of her pants.
When she repositioned the camera, the Black Jackets and a policeman were advancing along the drive. They held their weapons at the ready. The man in the suit stayed with the vehicles. He leant calmly against his SUV, still sipping his drink.
Christina’s heart pounded as the men got closer. They spread out aiming their weapons at Roberto, who was standing on the porch with his double-barrel shotgun. The black and white collie, stood before him, its hackles raised.
“That’s close enough,” Roberto’s voice boomed.
The men stopped. The policeman lifted his hand to his mouth. “Are you going to leave?”
The shaggy dog growled, baring its teeth.
“Why should we? This is my land, it was my father’s land, and it will be my children’s land when I’m gone.”
“That might be sooner rather than later,” one of the Black Jackets snarled, his eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. He was younger-looking than the others and wore a pistol on his hip. Christina knew that the sidearm meant he was in charge, a trusted lieutenant of the cartel boss. Given his age, it was likely he was related to someone in power.
Roberto ignored the comment. “This is illegal. You have no right.”
The collie positioned itself between the intruders
Tears formed in Christina’s eyes and she willed Roberto to shoot back. But the broad-shouldered rancher did not move. He met the cartel lieutenant’s glare, the barrel of his shotgun still pointed at the ground.
The Black Jacket holstered his pistol. “You’ve got thirty minutes to finish packing your shit, dirt farmer. Get your people out of here or I’m going burn it all down. You don’t want them getting all crispy.”
Roberto’s shoulders slumped. He turned back to the buildings and cupped a hand to his mouth. “Finish loading the trucks. We’re leaving.”
The Black Jacket grinned at the policeman standing beside him. “See, they’re not so tough.” He walked toward the house waving his men forward. “Make sure they don’t try anything sneaky, and someone shut that fucking dog up.”
Christina stuffed her camera into her backpack and wiped the tears from her eyes. She sat quietly for a minute before deciding it was time to leave. Trying her best not to disturb the wood, she clambered over it.
“And who are you, guerrita zorra?” a voice hissed.
She screamed as she was yanked out of the shed by her hair and thrown on the ground.
“Get off me!” she yelled as the attacker straddled her. She slapped him hard, knocking the sunglasses from his face. It was the boy-faced cartel lieutenant.
He grabbed her by the throat and pushed his pistol against her cheek. “Shut your mouth, puta. You make another noise and I’ll blow your brains out.”
She whimpered as he traced the muzzle of the pistol over the rose tattoo on her neck. “That’s a pretty little flower.” He slid a hand inside her shirt and squeezed her breast. “And nice firm tits.”
“No.” She squirmed under him.
“What the fuck did I tell you, bitch?” He thumbed back the hammer on his pistol as he tugged at her belt and tried to force his hand down her pants.
She caught a glimpse of movement. There was a dull thud and the Black Jacket fell sideways.
Roberto dropped the piece of wood. Effortlessly he tossed the unconscious would-be rapist into the woodshed. “Run downstream. You’ll hit the Chavez ranch. They’ll make sure you are safe.”
She sniffed, trying to hide her tears. “If I go they’ll kill you.”
He helped her to her feet. “No, we’ll be well gone before he wakes up. There’s a meeting at the church in Barrio Del Rancho tonight. I’ll meet you there. Now go.”
Christina scrambled down the slope that led from the back of the ranch house to the creek. She ran as fast as she could over the rocky terrain, not slowing until she hit the creek line. It was then she realized she’d left her backpack in the shed. It was too risky to go back for it. She needed to get as far away from the Black Jackets as possible.
George Henry Pershing leant against his armored Chevy Suburban and watched as the ranchers finished loading their trucks. He stopped eating from a bag of dry-roasted almonds and tipped his Stetson as Roberto drove past. The F250 rode low on its axles, the bed jam-packed to the brim. Two more pickups, overflowing with women, children, and possessions followed. “Not a bad morning’s work, if I do say so myself.”
The farmer gripped the wheel and stared straight ahead. Dust lingered in the air as the pathetic convoy disappeared down the dirt road.
“I guess he doesn’t feel the same way.” Pershing offered the bag to one of the policemen. “You see, the key thing to understand about people is what motivates them. Everyone has a motivator. In the case of these ranchers here, it’s fear. No amount of money will make them move, but if you throw in some fear they mosey right along.”
The cop nodded and took some of the almonds.
“We nearly done here, boys, or are y’all gonna screw around all day?” Pershing asked.
“The farmers are all gone,” replied one of the Black Jackets.
“Good, now where the hell is Burro?”
The man shrugged. “He was right here.”
“Goddamn it, do I have to babysit that idiot twenty-four seven?” Pershing pushed back his jacket revealing a chrome 1911 holstered on his hip. The belt buckle on his pants was emblazoned with an enameled Texan flag. He unconsciously tapped his leather holster as he walked down the drive.
The men in the black jackets were members of the Chaquetas Negras, a local gang that Pershing had hired as muscle for the mining project. In return for a small cut of the profits, they ensured the security of the mine and took care of any dirty work. They weren’t exactly the consummate professionals that the security consultant was used to dealing with, but they were ruthless and that in itself was useful.
“Burro, where the hell you at?” he drawled.
“He’s here, Mr. Pershing,” said one of the Chaquetas. He was supporting the dazed lieutenant as they walked slowly toward him.
Burro had blood running down from a lump on the side of his head.
“What the hell happened to you, son?”
“I found some gringa bitch behind the shed then bang! One of those filthy dirt farmers must have hit me.”
Pershing folded the top of his bag of almonds and slid it inside his suit. “A gringo bitch? Do you mean an albino hound or an actual woman?”
“A woman, Mr. Pershing. Pretty, with brown hair and a hot body.”
His eyes narrowed. “Burro, you need to keep that dick of yours in your pants.”
The lieutenant smirked. “It doesn’t fit, that’s why they call me Burro.”
“Really, and here’s me thinking it’s because you’re dumb as a mule.” He pointed to the backpack the other man was carrying. “Is that hers?”
“She must have dumped it.”
“Show me.” Pershing took the bag and peered inside. He pulled out a camera, powered it on, and scrolled through the pictures. There were only a few shots saved, pictures of him and the Black Jackets. Who the hell was this woman? He stuffed the camera back into the bag and searched through the woman’s other belongings. One by one he dropped them in the dirt. Sunscreen, face-wipes, lip-balm, pens, a bottle of water, and other random items piled up before he found a notebook. He flicked through the pages. The writing was scribbled in shorthand. He turned it on its side and a white business card fell out. He stooped, examined it, and slid it in his pocket. He handed the backpack to Burro. “Put it in the truck.”
“What do you want to do with the farmhouse?”
“Burn it.” Pershing turned his back on the farm and walked to his SUV. Once he was inside he pulled out a black satellite phone and dialed a number. As he waited for it to establish a secure connection he re-examined the business card. “It’s me. Find out everything you can on a Christina Munoz.” He read the phone number and email address off the card.
“Got it. Now I’ve also got some intel you might be interested in.” The voice on the other end of the phone was casual. “All your buddies are going to be having a little support group in town tonight. It’s at the church. You might want to drop by.”
“How do you know that?” Pershing asked.
“Hey man, you live in the Stone Age, you heard of social media?”
“Is that all?”
Pershing terminated the call as he glanced out the window at the farmhouse. Thick black smoke was billowing out from under the tin roof. He sighed; he didn’t enjoy this part of the job. When he was in the CIA he’d worked in northern Mexico for over a decade and felt a close affinity with the region. The rustic architecture and harsh terrain reminded him of his hometown in Texas.
A knock on the window interrupted his thoughts and he lowered the heavy armored glass.
“What are we doing now, Mr. Pershing?” Burro seemed to have recovered, at least partially.
“Back to the mine. There’s a meeting at the church tonight in Bar
Burro grinned. “Fuck their shit right up.”
He closed the window and took off his Stetson revealing a receding hairline and ears that stuck out from the side of his head. “Goddamn animals.”
Roberto parked his truck outside the small church that serviced the parish of Barrio Del Rancho. He’d spent all afternoon driving his family and the other refugees to his cousin’s property outside of Juarez, then returned to make the meeting.
Chavez, the neighboring property owner, greeted him at the door. “Glad you made it.”
Roberto crossed his heart and glanced up at the statue of Christ that hung over the altar. “Have you seen Christina?” he asked quietly as they sat on one of the wooden benches at the back of the church. The meeting had already started; a member of a non-profit organization was speaking from the pulpit. A dozen other farmers and the town mayor were seated, listening.
“The journalist?” Chavez whispered. “No. Why?”
“I sent her to your farm.” Roberto was half listening to what the young activist was saying. He was advocating a campaign of demonstrations and petitions to stop the encroachment of the mine on the environment and the local ranches.
“Does anyone have anything they want to add?” asked the Mayor when the activist was finished.
There was silence as the farmers looked at each other. Many of them cast enquiring glances at Roberto. Word of what happened at the Soto ranch had spread.
Roberto stood. “You’re sadly mistaken if you think you can negotiate or petition these people. They’re not like us.”
“You’re right, they’re not like you at all. But, they are a legitimate corporate entity and they have to follow rules,” responded the young man. His groomed beard complemented his hip clothes and the intricate tattoos that covered both his arms. “We can raise awareness, sign petitions, generate social media interest, and force the mine to adopt cleaner, safer methods.”