The mirage in the center of the road resolved itself into three vehicles.
Three Chevy Suburbans, approximately two miles ahead. All of them dark in color, grouped near the road’s junction with a ranch road that wandered off to the right.
Cyril Landry glanced at the Heckler & Koch P2000 9. It lay on the seat beside him in plain sight. This was ranch country. The laws were lax, and the police wouldn’t look twice.
If they were police.
Orange traffic cones spread out across the road—one for each lane. But he saw no temporary speed limit signs meant to bring the driver’s speed down to a crawl. Landry squinted against the glimmer of the road in the sunlight. Yes, two cones. One planted in the center of the right lane and one in the left. For all intents and purposes blocking the highway.
Something wrong here.
The Suburbans didn’t look right. One of them dated back to the nineties.
Landry saw a figure leaning against one of the Suburbans. He was the picture of inattention. Another standing by the road. Both wore black.
Landry knew he could handle them. He knew he could handle their friends. He would have no problem kicking their asses into next week for impersonating a police officer or worse, a member of the armed services. The question was, did he want to?
He was dressed to fit this car: the tourist’s T-shirt, the flip flops, the shorts, the sunglasses. The average-guy haircut. The Timex. The fast food wrapper balled up on the dash and the Big Gulp in the console cup holder.
He removed the balled-up fast food wrapper—it was from a Dairy Queen brazier in Las Cruces—uncrumpled it and laid it over the Glock–
And slowed down like a good boy.
A big guy in combat boots, a ball cap with an official-looking insignia too hard to read, a black bulletproof vest, and Army fatigues you could buy online, stepped toward him and raised his hand. He bristled with weapons—a sidearm on his hip, a rifle slung across his back. Big kid playing dress-up. Another stood nearby, Bushmaster cradled in his arms.
Landry obliged by stopping. He buzzed down his window and looked up at the guy. His gape was excellent—sterling. He knew he looked like a cowed tourist.
The dress-up guy tipped the bill of his cap and said, “Can I see some I.D., sir?”
“May,” Landry said.
“May I see some I.D. You can, physically, but you’re asking.”
The man stared at him.
Landry gave him a vague smile—his professor look–and tried to look clueless. He knew the guy was no cop. Not even an undercover cop. Cops were not allowed to stop people and demand their I.D. Not in any state in the union, except for Arizona.
For a moment Landry considered taking one of the guns from the fake cop and pistol-whipping him across his beefy dumb face, but decided against it. Maybe the guy was from Arizona, and didn’t know any better.
So, innocent as a lamb, he dug out his wallet and handed the man his license.
“Is there trouble, officer?”
The guy held his license and looked at it hard. “Where are you going, Mr., uh, Keeley?”
“Is there something wrong? I’m going to Branch to see my sister.”
The fake policeman looked at the license one more time. Reluctant to let it go. But when you pretend to be a cop, you have to act like one. “May I look inside your trunk, sir?”
Landry pulled the latch and the trunk popped open.
The guy stood there for a few minutes behind the car. Landry watched him in the rearview. The guy raised the trunk lid for a quick look and pushed it shut again–
Which was a good thing for him.
The duffle inside the trunk was Landry’s “run bag”—a bag packed toiletries, First Aid, an extra phone battery, a suit and a dress shirt laid out and folded neatly, dress shoes and socks, work boots, jeans, a baseball cap, and an emergency medical kit. It also carried twist-tie plastic cuffs and loaded magazines.
One reason he rarely flew commercial.
Landry heard the crackle of the walkie-talkie. He got the sense they were prolonging this traffic stop, probably because not many people came through here and they were bored. For entertainment, Landry studied the two people leaning against the bumper of one of the Suburbans, a short squat woman and a stringbean man, both dressed in paramilitary outfits and black Kevlar bullet-proof vests. The bullet-proof vests were decorated with velcroed epaulets—a nice touch—and the camo pants contained plenty of pockets for their lip balm and breath mints. Someone had a mom who liked to sew. Landry thought it must be hot as hell in those vests, but if you want to play cops and robbers, it’s the price you pay. Landry also got a closer look at the two black Suburbans and the one navy-blue Suburban. All of them had a lot of miles on them, especially the one that was mid-nineties vintage. The others were in the right decade but dusty and dented.
The first man came back around to the driver’s side window. “You may go, sir,” he said, just as a walkie-talkie crackled on the hip of the fake policewoman.
Landry sat there, his hands on the steering wheel, ten and two.
Thinking: You have no idea how lucky you are.
You can read more about Cyril in Spectre Black, the third book in the “Cyril Landry” thriller series, published by Thomas & Mercer. The first two books in the series are The Shop and Hard Return.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on Thursday, October 1 for the chance to win a print copy of either The Shop or Hard Return. (US entries only, please.) Good luck everyone!
About the author
Hailed by bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker as “a strong new voice in American crime fiction,” J. Carson Black has written fifteen novels. Her thriller, The Shop, reached #1 on the Kindle Bestseller list, and her crime thriller series featuring homicide detective Laura Cardinal became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Although Black earned a master’s degree in operatic voice, she was inspired to write a horror novel after reading The Shining. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.