I don't do how-to's very often. It sounds pompous to have the recipe for a good thriller locked up into one blog post. However, I do have some tips to help authors who endeavor to write thrillers. There are certain ingredients to the recipe that make for a great reading experience.
First of all you need a protagonist who is flawed. Even Ian Fleming's, James Bond, had his flaws. Yes, he was a womanizer who drank and smoked. The same goes for Raymond Chandler's, Phillip Marlowe, who had a weakness for scotch and long-legged women. Think Macbeth or Gatsby or Jason Bourne. Very flawed indeed. Even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.
Second, you need an antagonist who is believable. I know we're conditioned to seeing movie villains who are simply there for maniacal reasons. They're trying to blow up the White House, or poison the planet's water supply, but why? The best antagonist has a plausible reason for their behavior. Make him/her have an underlying reason for their actions. This makes it compelling for the reader to understand the plotline and stay with you until the end.
Finally, and the most important part of the process, is the rhythm of the story. This can be characterized as a writer's style. How you negotiate the mixture of dialogue and narrative will eventually determine the ability to force the reader to turn the page. Resist the temptation to show off all your knowledge of a certain subject. If you're a gun enthusiast, don't spend three paragraphs explaining the intricacies of a 9mm Beretta. It's what the character is doing with the Beretta that matters. The ultra successful Elmore Leonard famously said, "Try to leave out the part that the reader tends to skip." That's probably the best advice. You probably never skipped over dialogue did you? I'm not saying you should leave out important details, but mix it up.
The best way to do this is to "Show not Tell." This is also a popular saying that needs to be followed. Don't say, she was mad. Show her slamming her fist on the desk. It's rhythm. It's the cadence of the story that keeps you reading. A good way to make sure this is employed is to use the 5 senses in every scene. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore as the detective searched for the body. The smell of formaldehyde during the autopsy. All of these pull the reader inside the room and place them right there in the scene itself.
If this sounds like basic stuff to you, then you're already a seasoned author with a solid grasp of the fundamentals. But as with any profession it requires talent and routine. Even major league baseball players hit off of a tee every day during the season to keep that muscle memory going. As long as you employ these features in your writing, you're bound to have a successful product on your hands. And I'll let you decide what success is, but for my money, success comes from reading your work with a smile on your face knowing you did your very best to write the story you were trying to tell.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
When Nick Bracco was just 16, his parents were gunned down by gangbangers in their hometown of Baltimore. We learn about this event in the short story, In the Beginning. Nick ends up living with his cousin Tommy and they become inseparable. They spend lots of time at Pimlico Race Course, hanging around the stalls and picking up information about lame horses and crooked trainers. This is where their childhood accelerates into adulthood.
Around this time, Tommy gets mixed up with a bookie who offers them the identity of the two kids who murdered Nick's parents. Both kids want revenge. The bookie offers the boys the resources to get the murders alone and Nick and Tommy get their chance to retaliate.
This is the very moment that defines the two cousins. Tommy wants to kill the boys and he’s ready to put them down and move to Florida to escape prosecution. Nick is onboard, but something stops him. Maybe guilt from his Catholic background. Maybe the ethics engineered into his system by his father who was a Baltimore Police Officer. A man who reeked of integrity and fairness. A man who insisted on having a black partner so he could better understand the plight of inner city kids and their challenges in a white world.
So when it came time to fire his weapon and change the fate of their lives, killing the two souls who took away his father, Nick hesitated. Tommy urged him on, but Nick could feel his father looking down on him.
It must be understood that Nick had no interest in following his father’s footsteps and joining the Baltimore Police Department. It never even occurred to him, until that defining moment when Tommy insisted that Nick didn’t follow him into a life with the Mafia.
You can learn exactly how Tommy prevented Nick from other bad choices and how Tommy acquired the colored toothpick habit and much more in the very first Nick Bracco short story: In the Beginning.
Friday, September 16, 2016
In the early 70’s, the Mafia was a prevalent part of New York society. The Mafia understood that people enjoyed to gamble and they became the conduit for all those who needed an outlet for their gambling habit. If I’m making it sound like they were performing a service to society, it’s the Sicilian in me that’s talking. Anyway, my father owned a Candy Store/Luncheonette in Brooklyn an hour and a half away from our home on Long Island. We had an apartment in the back of the store, so my father would stay there all week and drive home on weekends. When I was sixteen, I would meet him halfway to the city on Friday afternoons and he’d give me the keys to the store and our German Shepherd dog for protection. Think about it, I was sixteen years old and running a business by myself each weekend. But, as you will soon find out, I was never alone.
Now, my dad’s Sicilian friends knew that I was working there all weekend and they would be frequent guests in the store. At the same time, they would take their daily bets from our customers for the football game or play the numbers (This was basically a lottery before the government took over the business.) These gentlemen would linger around and talk sports with me, or school, or family matters, with great interest. Of course their sense of loyalty and honor among friends became instrumental in my upbringing. In particular, a gentleman named Max would spend hours telling me about his family and how he was raising his kids to be better than him. A trait all parents can relate to. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Anyway, when it came time for me to write a novel, for some reason I gravitated to a Sicilian FBI Agent whose cousin was in the Mafia. Nick Bracco and Tommy are direct reflections of my experiences with these fine gentlemen. I could actually here Max’s voice coming out of Tommy’s mouth when I sat down to write a scene. There’s no doubt these formative years had molded me to the person I am today.
I will leave you with one true story that will reflect the serious nature in which these men took my status among their tutelage: There was a neon Dreyer’s Ice Cream sign that hung in the front window of our store, something that I could reach from behind the counter. That sign was always to remain lit 24 hours a day. The reason? Across the street was a popular hangout for some of the Sicilian boys called Young’s Tavern. It was privately known that if I was ever in trouble, I was to turn off the sign. Well, at 10:55 one Friday night, just five minutes before we closed, a teenager came in to buy a fountain drink. (Yes, I would mix coke syrup in a glass with seltzer water to create Coca Cola.) He sat at the counter and glanced around the store for a couple of minutes, then asked where my help was. He also asked how much cash I would collect in a day. Now I was just sixteen, but I wasn’t stupid. This was when I decided to turn off the Dreyer’s Ice Cream sign.
After an excruciatingly long two minutes, the front door opened and three very drunk and large Sicilian men came lumbering into the store and circled the kid sitting at the counter. One guy placed his arm around the teenager and picked up his drink and drank the remainder of the Coke. The kid looked like he was going to puke. Then the guy said, “I don’t think you should ever come back into this store again.” The teenager was a blur running out the door. As my Sicilian friends left, one of them said to me, "Hey, kid, turn the light back on.”
No one ever spoke about the incident. There was no need.
Now, we live in a different world and Tommy’s character has been modified to represent the world we’re living in. However, the essence of his loyalty and respect for the underprivileged shows through in every scene. My Sicilian friends probably did some unseemly things back in the day, but their sense of honor was the only side they showed to me. And as an author, I’m grateful for their stories.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
A Touch of Defiance
In a mere ten seconds the Garvey Space Systems building went dark and the front door burst open with a flash of light and an earsplitting blast. Two men wearing Halloween masks barged through the opening with their assault weapons pointed at Amir Hassam. They wore headlamps which bored into Amir’s face as they ordered him to the floor. They had to shout because his ears were dullened from the blast. Amir’s stomach catapulted in circles as he slithered along the tile floor until he was up against the wall, pleading for the men not to shoot. A third masked man entered behind them holding a computer tablet and tapping the touch screen with quick fingers.
Amir was the only security personnel on staff that night, yet he was completely baffled why these men were even there at three in the morning with such little value inside.
He threw his hands in the air and blurted, “Please, take anything you want. I will not stop you.”
“We know,” the leader said, swiveling his head around the room and shining the headlamp along the interior of the lobby. They seemed to be waiting for the computer guy to do something.
Amir was just glad they weren’t firing at him, taking each second as a gift. He was a security guard at the propulsion laboratory owned by a billionaire who decided to create a rocket ship for passengers to orbit the earth. There was an abundance of one-percenters who were willing to part with the hundred-thousand-dollar down payment and wait the five years for production. It’s why Amir was confused. There wasn’t anything inside that complex that would be of interest to anyone besides a competing laboratory. This gave Amir hope, thinking these men could be white collar criminals and not thugs after some big payday.
The computer guy made one last tap on his tablet and the lights came back on. Amir could see the three men clearly now, their faces hidden behind the rubber mask, but their lips and eyes were uncovered. Was it an old President? He couldn’t tell.
The leader of the trio shoved his rifle into Amir’s face and said, “Get up.”
Amir jumped to his feet, his heart pulsing throughout his body.
The leader pointed the rifle to the seat behind the reception counter and ordered Amir in front of the computer.
“Get us in!” the leader yelled.
At first Amir didn’t understand, then the computer guy said, “He won’t know the password to the company system.”
Amir nodded fervently. “Yes, that is correct. I know nothing about the company except that they make rocket ships. That is it.”
“Turn it on,” the leader insisted.
“Not that one,” the computer guy said. Then he pointed to a computer sitting by the end of the long countertop that fronted the reception area. “That one.”
“What’s the difference,” the leader said with a little attitude.
“Only one person uses that computer, so she’ll have the same login every time.”
The leader stared at the computer guy as if he were about to challenge him, but decided to point his rifle at the other computer and yell, “Now!”
Amir was nearly about to faint. His brain was lacking blood flow as he stumbled like a drunk and sprawled to the floor.
Computer guy quickly maneuvered around the leader and stood in front of the computer. He placed his tablet on the counter and zipped open a small pouch. He removed a test tube from the pouch and sprinkled a blue powder over the keyboard.
From the doorway, the third guy was looking toward the street. “Let’s get going here.”
“Relax,” the leader said. “It’s an industrial park. There aren’t any neighbors.”
“Still,” the guy said with an eye on the empty road.
Amir sat motionless hoping they might forget about him sitting on the floor. His hands were clammy and his stomach was cramping.
The computer guy lowered some microscopic lenses over his eyes, the mask making him look even more sinister. “There are oils on the fingers of the woman from the lotion she uses each morning. I can see the keys that are smeared with the lotion. It’s the same six keys each day. Now I need to decipher the sequence by the direction of the smears.”
“C’mon,” the guy by the door shifted his weight from side to side like someone with a full bladder.
After a minute, there was a faint chime.
“I’m in,” computer guy said.
He tapped the keys with extreme dexterity, as if he knew exactly what he was looking for. From the back hallway there was a metal-sounding click. Computer guy looked up at the leader and said, “Go.”
The leader ran to the warehouse and Amir could hear him push through the iron gate that sealed off the laboratory from the rest of the building. Everything was happening so fast, Amir couldn’t catch his breath. The computer guy leaned over the counter and said, “Give me your phone.”
Amir quickly pulled the phone from his pocket and tossed it to the guy. The guy snatched it out of the air, then grabbed his tablet and began tapping again. Amir sat there frozen, grateful to be alive.
The leader emerged from the hallway carrying a shiny canister and jogging past the counter, then slapping the computer guy on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The door guy pulled something out of his jacket, then ran over to an open space in the lobby and began spraying something on the wall. Amir was afraid it was some kind of chemical and he began hyperventilating. When the door guy was finished spraying, he sprinted out the door. The computer guy tapped his tablet and the darkness resumed. The leader was the last one to the entrance. He stood in front of the opening and swung his rifle around, pointing it at the weaponless security guard.
Amir thought about his infant daughter who would only know her father from stories told by family and friends. He was about to beg for his life when the leader dropped the rifle to his side and said, “Wait ten minutes before you leave.”
Amir let out a whimper as he heard a car start. He waited a full twenty minutes before he got to his feet and crept outside. It was cloudy and cold. A typical winter night in Baltimore. He walked almost a mile before he reached a convenience store and dialed 911.
When the police finally arrived, the first words out of Amir’s mouth were, “I want to see my family.”
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Friday, June 3, 2016
They were driving north on I-10 toward downtown Tucson with Nick in the passenger seat and Matt and Dane in the back. Jesse Martinez was already in custody and going through the bargaining process of reducing his sentence for information on Reynoso’s Uranium-trafficking deal. The Familia Reynoso was greeted quite harshly by a CIA-FBI taskforce a half mile offshore from the Puerto Vallarta port. It would be a long process, but the FBI’s Russian contacts would eventually lead them in the right direction. In the digital era there were always trails to follow and the FBI would get their due.
Matt was looking down at his phone scanning his emails when he glanced at Dane. “We found your friend.”
Dane’s mouth opened and stayed there. “How? Where?”
“He crawled his way to the front door of some unsuspecting family just inside our border,” Matt informed him. “He was suffering from multiple gunshots and many broken bones, but it looks like he’s going to survive.”
“What? That’s crazy!”
Hal looked over his shoulder at the kid from behind the wheel. “Really? That’s crazy?”
“Leave him alone,” Nick said. “He’s delirious.”
“That’s the nicest thing you could say about him,” Hal said.
Hall turned onto an exit ramp with the sun lighting up the eastern horizon.
“Where are we going?” Dane asked from the back seat.
“You think we’re going to let you go free after all the trouble you caused?” Nick asked.
“But . . . but . . .” Dane stammered, his eyes pleading with anyone who would look his way.
No one did.
Hal turned right and maneuvered down a two lane road, then turned into the entrance to a small hospital overlooking the highway.
“But I helped you find that Reynoso guy, right?” Dane said, looking at the parking lot and recognizing something. “Wait, that looks just like my mom’s car.”
“That’s because it is your mom’s car,” Nick said.
Hal swung the SUV around the semicircle drop-off area fronting the entrance to the hospital and stopped.
“What’s going on?” Dane asked.
Nick swiveled around in his seat and said, “Your friend is inside and I’ll bet he’d like to see you.”
“So . . . I can go?”
Dane looked at Matt and he nodded without looking up from his email check.
Dane pulled the handle on the door and when it opened, he said, “Are you coming with me?”
“No,” Nick said. “We’re leaving. We have more important challenges ahead of us. You’re free to go.”
“Your car is at Palisades Repair Shop a mile from where you drove it into the ocean. I hope you have good insurance.”
“And I’m not going to be arrested?’
“What about those guys that were waiting for me outside you complex? You said they were going to be at my house.”
“We lied,” Nick said. “It was a couple of college kids. The driver’s mom is an old friend from Baltimore. They were glad to sit in the rain for a couple of hours for a little extra cash.”
Dane tried to put the pieces together while sitting there with his hand still on the door handle.
Nick finally raised his eyebrows. “You can go, Dane. You did something very stupid and broke some laws in the process, but you are a guppy in an ocean of sharks. We’re after the sharks. Stay out of Mexico for the rest of your life and you’ll be just fine.”
Dane still couldn’t believe his ordeal was ending. “What if I have more questions?”
Matt rolled his eyes, then pulled a business card out of his coat and tossed it at the kid. Dane lifted from his lap and gave it a serious examination, as if it might be a fake.
“Go,” Matt said, “before we change our minds.”
Dane got the hint. A smile creased the side of his face. He jumped down out of the back seat and just as he was about to shut the door, Matt said, “Hey kid.”
Matt gave him his best FBI agent glare and said, “Don’t be greedy.”
Monday, May 16, 2016
They were driving across the desert once again, Hal Dixon behind the wheel asking questions and Nick explaining the results of their trip from the back seat. The SUV’s headlights swept through the darkness while Jessie poured coffee from his thermos into Hal’s cup on the console.
Hal thanked him and glanced into his rearview mirror at Dane who was pinched between Nick and Matt like deli meat. “You see what you’ve done kid?”
Dane was doing his best to keep his eyes open but losing the battle. He was safe now and the drama of the past twenty-four hours mixed with the relief of escaping a death sentence had overtaken his body. His head was dropping with each bounce of the suspension system over the dips in the desert terrain.
Nick elbowed Dane. “Hey, someone’s talking to you.”
Dane murmured, “I’m sorry. Could you repeat the question?”
Nick leaned his head back and sighed. “It’s amazing what people will do for money.”
“Greed,” Matt said resting his head against the window, looking like he was about to nod off.” “That’s what it is. Greed.”
“Hey kid,” Hal said. “What were you going to do with the money anyway?”
“I was going to buy a car.”
Matt shook his head. “You could make seventy-five cents an hour doing prison laundry. That’ll add up after a decade or so.”
“What?” Dane’s face exploded into a look of shock. “Prison? What did I do? You know I was forced to do it.”
“That’s a good story,” Nick said. “I’d stick with it.”
Dane pouted. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean you’ll be arrested and tried for acts of terrorism.”
Dane searched the inside of the SUV as if someone there could help him. Jesse was banging a flashlight against his knee to get it to work, when it sprung to life and shined directly onto his face.
Dane’s eye’s popped open, but he remained perfectly still. Jessie glanced back at him for a moment, then turned and put the flashlight back into the glove compartment.
Dane nudged Nick with his elbow.
When Nick looked at Dane he saw the wide-eyed kid staring at Jesse. Dane leaned into Nick’s ear and whispered, “That’s him.”
“Stop the vehicle,” Jesse said from the front seat. He had his pistol out and aimed at Hal.
“Oh crap,” Nick said.
“I told you,” Dane blurted. “That’s the guy I saw in your book.”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “You were right.”
“No one ever believes me.”
Nick let that one go.
Hal slowed the SUV to a stop. With a deep exhale, he said, “Jesse, how could you?”
“I’d give you a hundred thousand reasons why.” Jesse grinned, tapping on the interior lights.
“Greed,” Matt muttered from the back seat.
“Yes,” Jesse said. “A way to take care of my family without working sixty hour weeks and being too tired to play with my kids. That’s why. Now, put your hands on your head.”
Everyone in the car complied.
“Good,” Jesse said. “If anyone takes their hands off their head I will end this.”
“Are you going to let us go?” Dane asked with a quiver in his voice.
Nick answered for him. “No, Dane. He’s going to have to kill us because we know his identity.”
Jesse retained a smug grin.
Dane turned to Matt and said, “Do something.”
Matt shrugged. “I’m a good draw, but I’m not Superman.”
Dane was antsy, wiggling his torso while keeping his hands firmly on his head. “Why are we waiting here?”
“We are waiting for the Reynoso execution squad,” Jesse replied, giving a quick glance out the front windshield.
“Isn’t it worth something that Matt didn’t kill your boss?” Nick said.
“Sure,” Jesse said, turning the pistol toward the group in the back seat. “In return I’m going to let you live long enough to know that the Uranium you discovered was only the first ten percent. The other ninety percent—“ he glanced at his watch, then continued, “is going to dock in Puerto Vallarta in less that ninety minutes.” A beautiful craft by the name of the Familia Reynoso. Catchy name, huh?”
“I told you,” Dane said. “How come you didn’t believe me?”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Really?” You feel you have a credibility issue?”
“You told them what?” Jesse asked.
“Wait,” Dane said. “You told me he was an FBI agent. You lied to me.”
“It happens,” Nick said, ignoring Jesse’s request.
There was a flicker of light on the horizon, bobbling up and down with the contour of the rough desert floor.
“Well, no matter now,” Jesse said, “here comes my team.”
“But why would you lie?” Dane pleaded. His eyes glistening up. “Why? I told you it was him.”
“We believed you,” Matt finally answered.
Jesse looked at Matt with an inquisitive expression. “What did you believe?”
The headlights grew stronger, winding around the cacti and shrubs as it drew closer.
“He picked your face out of a book of Border Patrol Agents,” Matt said. “That’s how we suspected you were working with Reynoso.”
The charging headlights came to a skidding stop directly in front of their SUV. A black Ford Explorer sat behind a cloud of desert dust floating across its headlights. All the doors opened and four men wearing FBI windbreakers jumped out of the vehicle with their pistols out. They spread out and crouched their way toward the Border Patrol SUV.
Jesse looked at Matt who took his hands down from his head and said, “Sorry Jesse. We’re the FBI. We don’t always play fair.”
Jesse’s face turned into a snarl and he pointed his pistol at Matt and pulled the trigger. A click. He pulled and pulled with no success. Then he looked at his gun as if it were betraying the laws of physics.
Hal yanked the gun from his partner’s hand and said, “I am so very disappointed in you.”
The doors flung open and a voice commanded them to get out.
Jesse’s face turned soft. As he was pulled from the vehicle, he looked at Hal with a childlike innocence and said, “I’m sorry.”
Monday, May 2, 2016
Reynoso made a familiar gesture to the bartender, then held up three fingers. The older gentleman hesitated for a moment, then recognized the signal and placed three shot glasses on the bar and filled them with Reynoso’s favorite tequila. Reynoso took one of the glasses, then pointed to the table with the Americans and the bartender shuffled out from behind the bar and placed the remaining shot glasses on their table.
The two FBI agents seemed to recognize the gesture. Their final drink before they died. Both men picked up their glasses and they toasted Reynoso as the three of them tossed the tequila down their throats.
“Very nice,” Nick said, sensing the end coming. “But in my introduction to my partner I failed to mention his prowess with a gun.”
The tall American, Matt, pulled aside his jacket and exposed a shoulder holster with a pistol. For some reason he smiled.
The bodyguards lifted their shotguns, ready to fire.
“You think this is some form of threat?” Reynoso asked. “I have two of my best men aiming a shotgun at each of you.”
Finally the partner spoke. “Here’s the thing. I’ve practiced drawing my weapon several hours a month. Sometimes I do it while watching TV just to keep fresh. I’ve been ready for this my entire life.”
Reynoso laughed. “You are a very stupid man. Wasting your life on such a useless activity.”
“So now I have a question for your men,” Matt said. “That’s a Mossberg 500 pump action shotgun they’re holding. What they need to ask themselves is--Can they actually rack and slide a shell into their chamber before I can draw and double-tap my Glock?”
Reynoso sensed a tightness in his bodyguards demeanor. He could tell they were wondering the same things themselves. Could this guy really be that good?
“Wait,” Reynoso said, pointing at Nick, “you will not be shooting your weapon?”
“Nah,” Nick said. “Be a waste of time. I’m pretty slow on the draw.”
Then he looked at Matt. “And you will draw your weapon and fire two shots before they can shoot their shotguns?’’
“Yes,” Matt said. “I think you’re catching on.”
“Come now,” Reynoso said. “Are you being serious with this?”
“Yeah, and listen, I want to make sure these guys understand English, because I warned someone earlier that might not’ve understood me. You see, I shoot to kill.”
Reynoso assessed his men and saw their nerve being tested. They didn’t have the same determination they had begun with.
“You should tell them to place their weapons down,” Matt said in a non-threatening tone. “It’s the humane thing to do.”
“And if I let you go?” Reynoso said. “Then what?”
“Then we leave,” Matt said. “And you go on with your corrupt lifestyle intimidating innocent people and killing anyone who threatens you.”
Reynoso was calculating the damage to his authority should he decide to let the Americans leave. With everyone watching, he couldn’t afford to be seen as weak. Word would spread. He needed something to save face.
“All right,” Reynoso said. “I will allow you to leave.” Then he nodded at the kid at the bar. “But he stays.”
The boy screeched, “No. You can’t do that.”
The two Americans looked at each other, considering the offer with a look of disgust on their faces while the kid sobbed and begged.
Finally Nick said, “Believe me, we’re tempted to leave him here, but we’re going to have to take him back home and deal with him there.”
The kid’s sobs became moans of gratitude.
Reynoso was up against a wall. He couldn’t afford to have these foreigners bully him in front of his people. He rubbed the back of his neck and frowned. “I am sorry, but the boy must stay. That is my final offer.”
Dane’s eyes were swollen and glossy with small childish noises coming from his throat.
Matt stood there with a look of disappointment. The fingers in his right hand fluttered by his side. “Then it seems we have a problem.”
“Yes,” Reynoso said. “We do.”
It was so quiet in the bar, the only sound came from a squeaky ceiling fan above them. Reynoso glared at the Americans with a determined expression. “It is unfortunate.”
“We don’t need to do this,” Matt said with a hint of sympathy in his voice.
“Yes,” Reynoso said. “We do.”
Matt’s stare was intense, but Reynoso noticed he was staring directly at Reynoso’s torso, as if looking through him. It became apparent that Matt was watching for any quick movement his bodyguards might make with his peripheral vision.
In the silence, Nick said, “Please, let us go. You can save your men’s lives. These are good men. They work hard for you. They have families.”
The entire room stool perfectly still, as if posing for someone to paint scene.
Reynoso lifted his finger like a gun and aimed it at the two FBI agents. Immediately the bodyguards took their cue and furiously pumped back on the rack of the shotgun. Two loud shots exploded inside the low-ceilinged room. Reynoso flinched. The two bodyguards dropped hard to the floor. As they landed Reynoso could see a bullet hole in the center of both of their foreheads.
A woman screamed. A bottle of tequila slipped from the bartender’s hand and crashed by his feet.
Nick Bracco walked over to the kid at the bar and grabbed the back of his shirt, then pulled him from his bar stool and tugged him toward the door.
Matt holstered his pistol and moved toward Reynoso. He looked down at the dead men lying next to their boss and with a look of disgust, he said, “Better call their families, Jefe. Tell them how brave they were.”
As Matt was walking out the door, he turned to Reynoso and added, “Have us followed and you’ll be making phone calls the rest of the night.”
Monday, April 25, 2016
Juan Carlos Reynoso sat at a poker table in a dusty back room of the Chico Rico Grill in northern Tijuana and stared at the pair of threes as if they might somehow become Aces if he stared long enough. The rest of his poker playing opponents were becoming impatient, but were too afraid to rush the mafia mogul. The room was musty and subbed as a storeroom for the supplies, with cases of beer and boxes of taco shells piled in the corner. Reynoso’s two large bodyguards were playing their own private game of gin on top of one of the stacked cases, never out of reach of their shotguns.
“Jefe,” one of the players said, pointing at the cards in his hand. “Por favor.”
Reynoso looked at the large pot and grunted while slapping his cards face down and shoving then under the pile of chips in the center of the table.
The door opened and Reynoso’s cousin stuck his head in. “Jefe,” he said looking at Reynoso. “That kid. The one with the briefcase.”
Reynoso’s cousin glanced around to be certain he didn’t say any more than he needed. “He is here.”
Reynoso squinted. “What?”
Reynoso’s cousin just nodded.
“He can’t be,” Reynoso’s voice elevated. “Our contact never received the package.”
“Maybe he is here to return it?” his cousin suggested.
Reynoso slid his chair back and gestured to his two bodyguards. That’s all it took. They were already at the door, one of them holding it open, both of them with their shotguns. They strode down the short corridor to the bar where the kid sat on a barstool sipping a glass of beer, his eyes darting everywhere. The Chico Rico Grill was packed and the Mariachi band playing up against the wall in the back had five couples dancing in front of them. The rest of the bar was filled with partiers around wooden tables with small unlit candles in the middle of them.
As if the regulars knew to stay away, the kid was alone at the bar, five empty stools around him. As soon as Reynoso showed up with the two shotgun-wielding bodyguards, a hush came over the crowd, while the band played on eerily.
Reynoso dropped into the stool next to the kid and rested his arm on the bar. “You came here to bring me back my briefcase, yes?”
Reynoso was close enough to see the kid’s lips trembling. He was clutching the glass of beer as if it might escape.
“I uh . . . not really,” the kid said, shooting glances at the dirty mirror behind the bar.
Reynoso examined the mirror and found the reflection of two Americans staring directly at him. Two men dressed in collared shirts hanging over their pressed blue jeans. These were not usual customers. Reynoso turned to face the table where they sat.
“Quien es los gringos?” Reynoso asked the bartender.
The old man behind the bar could sense the gravity of the question and didn’t want to have the wrong answer. He simply said, “No se, Jefe.”
Every Mexican in the city knew to obey Reynoso’s orders, so he never had to ask twice for anything. On occasion, however, an unwitting American would cause him a temporary moment of disrespect. Now one of the Americans leaned back in his chair and placed his feet on the table, as if in complete disregard for Reynoso’s authority.
Reynoso simply flicked an index finger toward the men and his body guards began to move toward the table. The second man at the table stood up. He was tall and lean and was favoring his left leg, as if he was suffering from an ankle sprain.
The bodyguards stopped, one on each side of Reynoso taking a protective stance with their shotguns aimed at the tall American. The band immediately stopped playing and in the silence there was shuffling of feet moving away from the confrontation, creating a open pathway between the two combatants.
“Who are you?” Reynoso asked indignantly.
Surprisingly, the guy sitting with his feet up spoke. “I’m Nick Bracco, this here is my partner Matt McColm.”
The kid’s words came out scratchy and insecure. “I didn’t want to come, Jefe, but they forced me.”
Reynoso looked at the kid, then the two men. “Is that true?”
Reynoso didn’t like the tone of the man’s voice. There was a certain attitude that came with it. As if he wasn’t sitting in the middle of Reynoso’s home bar and staring down the barrel of two shotguns.
Reynoso got to his feet. More shuffling. More whispers. “If you want to live another thirty seconds I suggest you take your feet off that table.”
The man calling himself Nick slowly removed his feet from the table top and remained seated. “Your problem,” he said, “is that you rely too much on fear and intimidation. That’s what causes you to travel with such a small crew. Two gunmen. That’s not enough.”
Reynoso shook his head in pity. “You do not think I have men protecting this place?”
The tall American frowned and said, “Not anymore.”
Reynoso was intrigued by this brash invasion. He wanted to know more about these men. He asked the obvious, “You have other men outside?”
Nick shook his head. “Nope. Just us.”
There was no conceivable reason why such an admission would be made. Even if they were alone it made no sense to admit this.
Reynoso pointed to Nick. “Keep your hands on the table where I can see them.”
Nick leaned forward and placed his hands palm down on the table.
“Good,” Reynoso said. “Now why don’t you tell me why you are here.”
“We’re with the FBI,” Nick said. “We came to ask about the package you sent with Dane.”
Reynoso almost laughed. “You want to know about its contents?”
“And why would I tell you this?”
“Well, full disclosure, we already know it came from a Russian courier. One of your men already admitted this to us outside.”
Reynoso cursed under his breath, knowing it must’ve been his nephew Pedro. The kid was always a weak link. That was the danger in running a family business, you were always dealing with weak links that you couldn’t kill.
“Is he alive?” Reynoso asked only mildly interested.
“Yes,” Nick said. “All three of them are alive. Just tied up and gagged.”
Reynoso kicked at the floor. Dust particles drifted up and dissipated under the slow moving ceiling fans. “That is enough insults.” He lifted his hand and the two bodyguards brought their shotguns up and aimed them at the two men.
Nick held up a hand. “Before you shoot us. We’re curious about the briefcase you gave the kid. This Russian. Was that a onetime thing, or was it part of a series of deliveries?”
Reynoso tapped one of his bodyguards on the arm to get him to stand down. “You are quite inquisitive about this package. I will tell you before we kill you. The Russian who gave us the package is now dead himself. He did not tell us all the details about the package until the delivery was already moving. He will not be using our services, or anyone’s services any longer.”
Nick rose to his feet. “Good,” he said. “That’s really all we came for.”
Reynoso placed his hand on his chest. “Do you think you have jurisdiction in my country?”
Nick slowly shook his head. “No. We’re here on our own. Just a couple of American citizens having a beer.”
“And do you think you can just leave now?”
“I know we can.”
Reynoso like the man’s bravado, going down with dignity. He searched the crowd and saw no one who could cause him trouble. He owned the police department so a killing inside the Chico Rico Grill would never even raise a solitary question.
Reynoso turned toward the kid at the bar, who was shaking like a wet dog. “You think you will survive this too?”
The kid’s eyes widened.
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