About the Author
Intrigues where danger and honor collide with love. Using actual Texas settings and realistic characters, this award-winning 11th generation Texan creates stories with characters who put everything on the line. Angi lives in Texas with her husband and 'four-legged' kids. Find her at AngiMorgan.com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Please, please. I beg you. I I have money. Lots of money. I can pay you more than Tenoreno."
Rosco had awakened from the drug and would soon become annoying. The drive was almost over. The first part of his assignment almost complete.
"Sorry, man. It's nothing personal. Just a job," he answered, trying to prevent the inevitable. He still had to make a decision on how to kill this man.
Gun. Knife. Swizzle stick. He chuckled at the idea. Of course, he could do the job with anything. He was that good. The swizzle stick he chewed on, however, would retain his DNA and he'd never be that stupid.
The perfect set of gloves sat on the seat next to him along with the rest of his tools. Some killers went so far as to shave their bodies so as not to drop a single hair. For him, the diving suit worked just as well. He'd changed a few minutes ago before continuing down Texas 349 to find just the right abandoned spot.
There were no witnesses on this stretch of deserted road. No cameras. No recording devices of any type. Rarely a car or driver that would think twice about seeing his ordinary vehicle. He'd deliberately left the burner phone at the Kerrville hotel. An automatic text message would be sent to indicate he was hundreds of miles away on Interstate 10. Not that anyone would call, but it was there in any case. No one in the nearby town would notice a plain blue rental car that looked black on this moonless night.
No one ever noticed. As he'd said many timesat least to himselfhe was very good at his job.
He didn't tire at becoming better, striving for more. He was a professional, after all. Thomas Rosco kicked his seat.
"Stop that. What do you hope to accomplish by annoying me?"
"I want you to see reason. Let me go."
"Mr. Rosco, don't you know who I am?"
"I haven't seen your face. You could leave me here and I'd never be able to identify you."
Pulling onto a dirt road leading under an old faded gate, the single windmill made him feel lonesome. That was ridiculous. He was completely at ease in this desolate country and never tired of his work. The fun was just about to begin.
"I'm hurt that you thought Tenoreno would hire anyone other than myself."
"You you you're Snake Eyes?"
"It seems an appropriate name." He turned around to stare directly at his prey. "Don't you think?"
He knew what the crime boss saw. Almost glowing eyes, slanted and the color of a reptile's. The contacts added a dimension to his persona that made his victims quake. He laughed, the sound deliberately sinister. It normally put fear in his victims' eyes.
Rosco wasn't any different than the other men. A sad example of a tough guy. Tough men bled just like the rest. Their bodies rotted under the sun just like that of a man with a good soul.
The gloves slid over his hands, and then he helped Rosco stand from the car. No rough stuff was necessary.
The man was about to die. The fear rushed through Rosco's veins. The poor fellow might get a burst of adrenaline. Might make a run for it. Whatever. It didn't matter.
"You should make peace with your God, if you have one. Maybe ask forgiveness for all the men and women you're responsible for killing."
"Do you tell that to all the people you're about to murder?"
"Let's get moving."
The answer was yes. It was his thing. He believed in a higher power and that he'd be punished accordingly. But he had a calling to be the best at his work as he could.
They walked into the field. The knee-high tobosa grass crackled under their feet as they shuffled through. Near the dried-out gully was the perfect place to leave a body. He doubted anyone would find Rosco for months. Not until the hunters returned for wild turkey or deer in the fall.
"No wailing? No more pleading?" he asked, curious.
"I know you get the job done. That's why we employed your services so often. I There is nothing I can say?" Rosco sank to his knees near some mesquite scrub. "Nothing you'll accept in payment over what Tenoreno is paying you?"
"No. This is a waste. I wish I had time to play, but sometimes work comes first."
With one stroke he pulled his knife and sliced left to right across the windpipe before him. Rosco's eyes widened as he realized he couldn't take a breath. The gurgling sound of him choking wasn't unpleasant. It was satisfying to Snake Eyes that he'd completed the job. Rosco fell forward, hands secured behind him, twitching as his lifeblood soaked the parched earth.
Slicing easily through the plastic handcuffs, he gathered the remnants and shoved them inside the diver's bag at his side.
Now the fun really began.
He flipped Rosco to his back, not bothering to wait for the body to grow cold. He methodically removed the lifeless eyes in Rosco's face. He wouldn't keep them. He wasn't sentimental and didn't need a souvenir, just a way to identify himself as the killer.
He'd studied serial killers, read up on them. If it had been possible, he could have shared his checklists of how to get away without a trace. But then if everyone knew his methods, he wouldn't be in such high demand.
Laughing, he withdrew the artificial snakelike eyes, using a cleaning solution and a polishing cloth to make them shine. Then he meticulously placed the stones in Rosco's face, leaving him staring at the heavens.
The eyes would be anonymously shipped to his employer. Proof of the completion of his task. He popped them into the jewelry case he carried in his bag.
Many of his victims had never been found. Some never would. But those who were the eyes were an eerie sight when his handiwork was discovered. As a calling card, they were unique and rarely reported to the press.
But they knew. He was precise and unique. He methodically went through his mental list. Then he opened the notebook and verified he'd performed everything on the list again. He would not get sloppy and make a mistake. Or bored.
Admitting that he was bored was why he took on the next challenge. Keeping a captive alive long enough to extract information. A definite challenge that needed a new notebook of lists. He flipped the pocket spiral closed, satisfied that he'd covered everything.
Now it was time to discover the details of his next victim. How she lived her mundane life. What drove her to make a mistake. He had a short time to get to know Avery Travis. His new commission would be a test case. Careful planning would be the key to a successful kill.
* * *
Two weeks later, Company F, Waco, Texas
"Thomas Rosco is dead. His throat was slit by the Snake Eyes Killer."
Texas Ranger Lieutenant Jesse Ryder had to replay the words in his mind to verify that he'd heard the major correctly. There really wasn't another interpretation of Thomas Rosco is dead. Everyone in the room quieted, probably replaying the same words.
Rosco was a crime boss, rumored to have been partnered with Paul Tenorenobrought to justice earlier that year. The Rangers received the credit, but the man mainly responsible had been his best friend, Garrison Travis, and his witness, Kenderly Tyler, a beautician. They'd witnessed a double homicide orchestrated by Tenoreno. Her courage, along with detailed files left by the murder victims, provided the prosecution with an excellent case.
Then they'd turned Rosco to testify against his partner, but he'd been missing for the past week. Tenoreno had one play left eliminating the witnesses. Rosco was just the first. He'd be after Garrison and Kenderly next.
Major Josh Parker stood at his office door to make the announcement. If he expected a response, there wasn't one. It looked as though the other rangers in the room were just as dumbfounded.
Tenoreno had hired an assassin who left no trace of evidence. He was a virtual ghost. Lawenforcement agencies across the country hadn't collected more than a page of notes on the man. Or woman, whatever the case may be, since they had no DNA to prove either.
So far, Snake Eyes was known for killing bad guys. The bodies found had all been those of people wanted for other crimes. If there had been more evidence, maybe someone would look harder.
"Property owners came across the body off of Texas 349 south of Sheffield," the major finally continued. "The medical examiner estimates he's been dead six days. Pure luck on our part that the owners were dropping off a hunting blind."
"His death blows a huge chunk of the case against Tenoreno." Bryce Johnson hadn't realized what he'd said until the sputters grew in number around the room. "Okay, okay. Huge chunks. Got it. Ha-ha. We all know that it has to be Tenoreno pulling the strings from his jail cell to order something like this."
Bryce was the resident expert on Texas organized crime. He knew better than any of them how much the state's prosecutor was depending on the rival crime family's testimony.
"Tenoreno's been in solitary. No visitors. No communication other than his lawyer." The major might have been waiting on answers or ideas, but none came forth. "No apparent connection to Rosco's murder. No one believes that to be true."
"How was he killed?" someone behind him asked.
"What does that do for Garrison's detail?" It was no secret that Jesse was more concerned about his best friend's safety than putting Tenoreno away. One couldn't happen without the other, but Jesse knew what his priority would be.
"Who's taking the lead on the investigation?" Bryce asked.
The major gestured for the two of them to come to his office. Jesse followed Bryce, ready to work with him, ready to get some real action instead of tracking criminal activity through the internet.
"The murder of Thomas Rosco will be handled by the local PD with the aid of Company A. Headquarters is ready to roll if they think there's a problem. They've got it covered and don't need our help. Before you begin objecting, the two of you are needed other places."
Jesse was ready to object anyway, but his commanding officer turned his back as he walked around his desk. He sat and propped his feet on the corner, taking his thinking position.
"Prosecutors have asked for your help, Bryce," he continued. "They have a lead that needs your knowledge and expertise. Vivian has the information. Hand over anything you're working on to her and we'll get it taken care of."
Bryce didn't hesitate. He was out the door and gathering his things after a hurried "Yes, sir." Jesse's nerves began twitching. Whatever was about to come, he didn't get the feeling that Major Parker felt comfortable, either.
"What's happened? Did they discover the location of Garrison's detail?"
"No, nothing like that. But while Tenoreno was at the pretrial, he plainly stated that no one close to Garrison would be safe. It's a threat most criminals make. That's nothing new. But we have intel that someone accepted a contract on Garrison's sister."
"Avery's a deputy in the Panhandle. Has she been made aware of the situation? Have you alerted Sheriff Myers?"
"Headquarters believes this could be another nail in Tenoreno's coffin if we can capture the assassin and get him to turn state's evidence."
"That would mean they're using Avery as bait. Did anyone tell her?"
"It's been handled. Her participation, on the other hand Well, Jesse, the attorneys think it would be better coming from you when you arrive in Dalhart."
"Then they should think about that again, sir. I'm the last person Avery wants to see. The title's mine with Garrison a close second."
He actually missed Avery. They'd grown up together, gone to the same schools, same concentration of studies. He'd made the Rangers and she hadn't. She quit everything, packed up, left and hadn't spoken to him since. Of course, the real reason for not talking to him was a little more involved.
"Our information is credible, Jesse. The hit is happening soon, so you don't have much time." Major Parker wasn't pondering any longer. He had both feet on the floor and leaned forward on his desk. "It's already been decided, Lieutenant. Already in motion. This isn't a debate."
"I had her thrown in jail to protect her the last time this happened, sir. She's not going to listen to me. And I doubt I can get her near the county lockup again."
"Make her listen. The last thing we need is for Garrison Travis to be lured from the safe house and be killed. Take care of his sister or you'll be searching for her murderer instead."
The two choices hit him between the eyes like the baseball Avery had thrown when they were nine. His head was whirring just as badly as back then. Murdered?
No one else would try as hard as him. That was a certainty. And if something happened to her, he'd never forgive himself. Neither would Garrison.
"We call. Now. She needs to be warned." And Garrison needs to be kept in the dark.
"The state's attorney informed the sheriff as soon as we knew about the threat."
"Who else is on the protection detail?"
"Did I mention a detail? One riot, one ranger. That's our motto. Right?" Parker stood, looking ready to dismiss Jesse. "You'll be coordinating with the county sheriff. Keep the element of surprise on your side. You know the hit man is coming. He doesn't know about you. Handle it."
"Of course, sir. I'll catch the next available flight."
"Vivian arranged a private flight to Amarillo that leaves as soon as you arrive. Then a rental car. We've got Tenoreno on lockdown, but somehow he's getting directives to his men." Josh Parker picked up a stack of papers and tapped them into a neat pile. "Did I ever tell you why you have Garrison as a partner here?"
"We both knew it was improbable." The suspicions he'd had for eight months were going to be confirmed. The major waited. "You mean why it's me and Garrison. Not me and Avery."
"Exactly. You've had a relationship with her. A close one, from what I gathered. You didn't lie to cover it up. If you had "
"If I had, sir, none of us would be rangers."
"That's true." He nodded his agreement.
It was a fact. He was the reason Avery hadn't become a Texas Ranger. Somewhere while they were being secret, kissing in corners, or sneaking glances at each other. Someone had seen them.
When asked about it at the end of their training, he'd come clean. Avery had discovered she wasn't selected, then said the Texas Rangers was an old-boy organization and would never consider her good enough. Well, he'd known she'd never forgive him for what he'd said in the interview.
Of course, she didn't know and she'd left anyway.
"This isn't the time to rebuild bridges. There's no evidence that will help you pick out the Snake Eyes Killer. He's good at what he does. Killing. You're there to protect Deputy Avery Travis. It's not going to be easy. If it were, a ranger wouldn't be needed. Go on. Vivian's waving information for you on the other side of the door." Parker opened the first file, ready to get to work. "And, Jesse, remember, we want to interrogate the man hired to kill her. Try not to kill him."
"Always up for the challenge, sir."
If he survived the assault of the green-eyed deputy he was being sent to protect, he might be able to capture Snake Eyes.