Sunday, February 28, 2016


                                                      Chapter 4


            “Uranium,” Nick said.  “There was a brick of Uranium in the trunk of your car.”

            Dane squinted.  “What?”

            “Uranium 238 to be precise.”

            Dane suddenly became aware of his exposed arms.  “Isn’t that dangerous?”

            Nick nodded slowly.

            Dane held out his hands and said, “Am I . . . contaminated?”

            “No,” Nick said.  “The container was lined with lead for protection.”

            Dane’s shoulders slumped as he took in the information.  Matt sipped his coffee from the corner of the room and coughed.  The cue.  When interrogating a terrorist the good cop, bad cop routine was still a tried and true tactic.  But with a confused and intimidated teenager there was an entirely different approach necessary.  Good cop, better cop.

            Nick got up from the table and Matt slid into the seat next to Dane.  He pointed to Dane’s cup.  “That good?”

            Dane stared at the hot chocolate and appeared to absorb the enormity of his new world.  “So, that guy wasn’t a drug dealer?”

            It was a rhetorical question that Matt didn’t feel the need to answer.  “Tell us about this friend who introduced you to the Mexican?  Is he a close friend?  An acquaintance?”

            Dane glanced around at the bare walls, suddenly looking like an animal in a cage.  “Can’t I call my folks?”

            “What would you like to tell them?” Matt asked.

            Dane’s innocent eyes peer up.  “I could tell them I’m in trouble.  Maybe they could help me.”

            Matt took a long sip of his coffee, then gently placed it down on the table.  “Dane,” he said, “the two most important people in your world right now are inside this room.  We can do things for you no one else can.”

            Dane swallowed.  “Like what?”

            Matt smiled.  “We can open that door and let you walk out a free man.  No one else can offer you that kind of authority.”

            Dane was forced to imagine what his life would be like once he left the safe confines of the FBI.  Maybe imagine what was waiting for him.

            Matt waited for the reality to set in before he said, “He knows you can ID him.”

            Dane seemed to whither in his seat, looking like he wanted to curl up into a ball. 

            “He will want you out of the way,” Matt suggested, giving Dane the euphemistic version of his demise.

            Dane’s face melted into a fragile pool of despair.  His eyes darted between his hands as if searching for an exit strategy.  Matt was right there to offer it to him.

            “When you meet this Mexican again, you’ll—”

            “Wait, what?” Dane jerked back in his seat.  “I’m not going down there ever again.”

            Matt tapped the boy’s arm gently.  “When you leave here and go back home, you’ll be by yourself.  Yes, mom and dad might be around, but when you lay your head on the pillow, don’t even think about falling asleep.”           

            Dane’s face was frozen while staring off into the ether.  Matt played it cool and let the idea fester in the kid’s head. 

            “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” Matt said.  “I’m sure you never bargained for this kind of drama, but the Mexican won’t forget about you.”

            Dane nodded faintly, but Matt could tell he wasn’t registering everything properly. 

            “How much did they tell you they’d pay you?  Ten thousand?”

            Dane’s eyes widened.  “How’d you know?”

            Matt shrugged.  “That’s the going rate for this type of mule work.”

            “Mule work?”

            “Well, that what they call it.  You’re a mule carrying their product into the states.  They risk the product, but that’s all.  You, however, risk everything.”

            Dane’s eyes kept wandering.  “Why would I even go see him?  I mean, I haven’t even told you his full name or given you a description.  Maybe this is a different Mexican person altogether?”

            Matt slipped his hand into his inside jacket pocket and came out with a photograph.  He placed it on the table and slid it in front of Dane.

            The kid dropped his head into his hands and began to sob.

            “I’m so sorry, buddy,” Matt said.  “But you’re on our team now.  And in this game, you can’t afford to be on the losing team."  


Sunday, February 21, 2016


                                                        Chapter 3

            Dane Kanter sat in a plastic chair with a towel over his shoulder even though he’d been out of the water for a couple of hours.  He was in a correctional facility just south of LA, where FBI Agent Nick Bracco was rushed over from his home in Arizona.  Bracco watched the kid clutching the towel like a security blanket. 

            They were in a small meeting room designed for attorneys to meet their clients without fear of being overheard.  Dane sat behind a square table while Nick stood with his arms folded, looking down at the boy who exuded every form of apprehension he’d ever seen in an interview.

            The door opened and Nick’s partner, Matt McColm came in carrying a drink tray with three containers.  He placed the tray on the table in front of Dane, then removed a cup of hot chocolate and left it in front of the kid.  He handed Nick his coffee, then took his own coffee and went to the corner of the room and leaned against the wall.  Matt was the enforcer, so he’d let Nick do the heavy lifting, then move in when the time was right.

            “I guess I’m having a hard time understanding the payoff,” Nick said.  “You were going to drive into a car wash, where some guy was supposed to jump into the passenger seat and give you the ten grand while another guy unloaded the package in the trunk.  Is that it?”

            Dane put his hands around the warm mug of hot chocolate and leaned over the steamy beverage.  He stared into his cup and said, “I was drunk.”

            “I’m not disputing that.”

            “And they forced me.”  The kid looked up searching for compassion.

            Nick wasn’t there to coddle the kid.  He’d flown over from Arizona where he was working another terrorist operation when he’d received the call.  Nick was the FBI’s lead terrorist specialist, so he prioritized his time with the most imminent danger first.  And this was definitely a priority situation.

            Nick took a sip of his coffee and said, “Do you know who I am?”

            Dane sat still, still staring at the steam rising from his hot chocolate.  “Yeah, I seen you on my vine.”

            Matt raised his cup and gave Nick a mock toast, as if he’d finally made the big time.  The Internet. 

            Dane’s eyes darted at Matt, then back to Nick.  “You’re the guys who captured that Kharrazi guy a couple of years ago.”

            Now Matt was beaming.  He stuck out his chest with pride while Nick shook his head at his partner’s antics.

            “Okay,” Nick said, “then you know we’re not here about your traffic violation.”

            This time the kid looked at Nick as if they were at the penalty phase of the interrogation.  “Do my parent’s know yet?”

            Nick wanted to kid to be completely exposed.  He needed Dane to experience a sense of isolation, so he could become the kid’s surrogate.  The only one who could help.

            Nick pulled a chair away from the desk and sat next to Dane.  He placed his coffee on the desk and leaned toward the kid.  “No,” was all he said.

            The teenager kept his eyes glued to Nick when he asked, “Can I call them?”

            Nick had the kid dripping with anxiety.  He leaned back and said, “Tell me about the device.”

            Dane seemed insecure about this request so he said, “The bomb?”

            “Who told you it was a bomb?”

            “The Mexican guy.”

            “Did he have a name?”

            “I think . . . Jefe?”

            The Spanish word for ‘Boss.’  Nick couldn’t tell if the kid was fabricating the answer to this one, so he forged ahead.  “And did Jefe show you the bomb?”

            “No.  Just the case.”

            “So you never looked inside the case?”

            Dane shook his head.

            Nick gestured to the cup in front of Dane.  “Drink.”

            Dane followed his instructions and a couple of shaky hands put the cup to his lips.

            “So you decided not to report this to the police once you were inside California?”

            The kid put the cup down and said, “You make it sound like I had a choice.  There was a detonator strapped to my chest and they were watching my moves with that camera on the dashboard.”

            Nick frowned.  “There was no camera on your dash.  That was just the tip of a miniature lense.  There was no feed to go anywhere.  Also, there wasn’t a detonator on your chest because there was no bomb in the trunk of your car.”

            Dane’s shocked expression told Nick everything he needed to know about the kid’s complicity with the scheme.  He was just a tool.

            “How could that be?” Dane asked.  Then he asked the better question.  “And why?”

            “They wanted you scared and obedient.”

            Dane patted his chest.  “What about the detonator?”

            Nick shrugged.  “You said it looked like a flash drive.  It was probably a flash drive.”

            Dane’s eyes grew wide.  “Then what was in my trunk?”    

Sunday, February 14, 2016


                                                           Chapter 2


            The morning fog drifted across the road and obscured Dane’s vision.  That and the tears swelling up in his eyes as he sped down the two-lane highway at eighty-five miles per hour.  The sirens grew louder as he fought with the steering wheel, desperately trying to keep the Honda on the right side of the road. 

            Up ahead Dane could see the curvature in the coastline and a flashing light blinking along the serpentine highway.  They were heading in his direction.  Sirens behind him, lights up ahead.  He was being squeezed in with nowhere to hide.

            Dane had two minutes, maybe less, before he was cornered.  The car fishtailed around a turn and the bomb clattered in the trunk.  Dane flinched, waiting for the end to happen, knowing he had just moments to live. In the rearview mirror a flashing light.  To his right was the side of a cliff hugging the coastal road like a barrier placed there to keep Dane from turning.  The ocean was to his left.  For a moment he considered driving headfirst into an oncoming police car, maybe control his death.  He couldn’t stand the pressure of waiting for his demise.

            Up ahead there was a narrow path that led to an oceanfront property.  His window was still open and he could smell the beach to his left.  Without a plan, Dane steered the car onto the dirt pathway, bouncing along the road with a pained expression.  Each bump caused his stomach to lurch upward.  The road dipped quickly and Dane had to pump the brakes as he skidded sideways down the steep incline, the car threatening to come up on two wheels.

            As he fought the steering wheel, he managed to control his slide and maneuver the vehicle toward an open stretch of packed sand in between two large beach homes.  He had no idea where to go, the stress taking him away from the chasing law enforcement, but now toward a dead end of raging waves.  The bomb rolled in the trunk and reminded him of his main concern.  The explosion would finish him off quicker than a trip to a jail cell.  His brain was malfunctioning, the strain causing him to misjudge his priorities.  He needed to do something about the bomb.

            Dane’s lungs seemed to be collapsing as he forged toward the ocean, considering the possibility that the bomb might not be waterproof.  Maybe he could submerge the car and buffer the explosion.  It worked in the movies.  But how?

            It was high tide and the waves were crashing onto the packed sand in large coiling slaps.  Dane felt the tires sink as he paralleled the ocean and knew he’d have only one chance to make it happen.  He unsnapped his seat belt, then timed the undertow.  Just before the waves receded into the sea, he swerved the Honda into the mouth of the ocean and accelerated.  He caught a perfect swell and the car dove into the bottom of a curing wave.  The Honda was swamped and instantly submerged.  The cold salt water forced its way through Dane’s open window and he battled the powerful surge as he tried to get through the small opening.  With a mouthful of water, Dane struggled to get outside the vehicle, his lungs desperate to purge the sea water.

            After one big lunge forward, Dane was knocked around by the current.  Every second that he was still alive gave him a sliver of hope.  He was pushed and pulled and thrown, but still alive.  When he finally worked his way to the surface, he choked out a stream of salt water and saw the immersed Honda, now floating among the waves.

            Dane’s body fought fatigue and stress and the powerful movement of the ocean as he forced one stroke after another.  The waves pulled at him as he struggled to swim.  Somehow he felt safer underwater so he kept diving down and lunging and scissor-kicking and fighting the massive power of the Pacific.

            When he was completely exhausted, he poked his head up and saw his car almost a hundred yards away being tossed around in the waves.  Sirens blared.  A police car and two Border Patrol SUV’s were on the beach now with a handful of officers jogging along the shoreline following Dane’s progress.  He wanted to scream at them about the bomb, but they were too far.  He kept swimming on the surface, suddenly feeling the detonator strapped to his chest.  While staring at the vehicle he tugged the device from his chest and threw it into the ocean.

            Nothing happened.  The water must’ve caused it to malfunction.  Maybe the same thing happened to the bomb itself.  A series of waves knocked him down and he let it drift him closer to shore.  A Police officer stood on the beach with his pistol out and ready to fire.  Dane was thrust forward and landed on his knees near the officer.

            “It’s not my fault,” Dane said, crawling up the beach.  “I was forced to do this.”

            “Of course,” the officer shouted above the waves crashing around them.

            Dane dropped onto the saturated packed sand and felt the officer pull his arms behind his back and snap handcuffs around his wrists.  With his head twisted to the side, Dane could see his Honda bobbing up and down in the ocean.

            “Uh,” Dane said with a face full of wet sand.  “I would get everyone away from that car.”


Monday, February 8, 2016


                                                                        The Greed Factor

                                                                    Chapter 1            


                Every time the bomb rattled in Dane Kanter’s trunk, icy neurons fired through his bloodstream.  With each sharp turn his heart stuttered with anticipation.  It was pure greed that put him in this situation, driving up the Pacific Coast Highway at five in the morning, heading toward Los Angeles.  A college dorm prank that turned into the scariest driving experience of his life. 

                Traffic was light on this portion of the winding road, but his brain throbbed with every creak that came from the back of his Honda Accord.  The ocean waves were just peaking out of the morning fog to his left as the sun seeped between the tree line to his right.  He’d been gripping the steering wheel so tight that his arms were getting fatigued.  How did he ever consider taking the envelope from that stranger in Tijuana?

                A fine mist was spitting on his windshield as he manually engaged his wipers every thirty or forty seconds.  The road glistened with moisture and he felt his tires hydroplane on the sharpest turns.  Everything seemed to conspire against him.  Even the city planning wouldn’t cooperate.  His gas gauge had been on empty for twenty miles, but this stretch of road was quiet and lacking a gas station.  Just trees and asphalt and the continual threat of an explosion to keep him company.

                Dane kept imagining ways to rectify the situation.  He couldn’t abandon the car, the Mexican had made sure of that.  The detonation device was strapped to his chest and the bomb would explode should he move even three feet from the driver’s seat.  A code-locked keypad secured the chest strap and only one person knew the proper code to detach the strap.  One wrong sequence of numbers and Dane’s worries would disintegrate.  Along with Dane.

                The ‘low gas’ warning light blinked on and Dane almost puked at the sight.  He was being monitored with a GPS device and a miniature camera attached to the windshield so even a slight disruption to his movement would be considered suspicious.  A gas stop might be tolerated, but a prolonged stoppage like running out of gas on the side of the road could only expedite the explosion.

                Plus there was the deadline.  He’d been given eight hours to get to his destination.  At eight hours and one minute he became extinct.  There had to be a way of getting rid of this device without exploring the next world, but nerves and rain and wet roads kept him focused on just one thing.  Get to the drop and have the detonator removed safely. 

                He wiped a patch of sweat from his forehead, then squinted as he turned around a sharp bend and saw flashing lights swirl against the trees to his right.

                “Shit,” Dame muttered.  Less than a mile ahead was a road block with white and green SUV’s parked on each side of the single lane bottleneck of cars.  He thought about turning, but saw that it was Border Patrol vehicles.  It was rare to see a road block this far north, but Dane was a pasty white teenager with blonde surfer hair.  He should be of no interest to them.  Unless he acted suspicious. 

                Dane tried to control his breathing as he approached the line of cars waiting for the inspection.  Even in the morning chill, Dane’s hands were clammy around the steering wheel.   There were three cars ahead of him, the first car was waved through by the green-uniformed Border Patrol Officer as he bent over to inspect the contents of the small sedan.  The line crept forward as each car received a quick glance and a wave of an arm. 

                Finally it was Dane’s turn.  With his window open, he rolled the car forward expecting the officer to wave him through without stopping, but the guy held up a hand and Dane nearly dropped a load in his pants.  That’s when he looked at his side view mirror and spotted the German Shepherd sniffing at the back of his car.  Another officer was pulling on the leash to restrain the dog.

                “Are you carrying any weapons with you?” the officer asked.

                The question surprised Dane and he stammered.  “N-no, of course not.”

                The dog was sniffing so hard Dane could hear him snorting  at the base of his car.  The two guards glanced at each other.

                “Would you please pull the car over to the side of the road?” the officer asked.

                That was it.  There was no chance he could survive a car inspection.  And the Mexican was hearing everything.  Seeing everything.  He could detonate the bomb remotely at any moment.  Dane’s heart pounded the inside of his chest like a jackhammer. 

                There was no choice.

                Dane slammed on the accelerator.                 

Thursday, February 4, 2016


I am constantly getting emails from my readers asking when the next Nick Bracco thriller is being released.  This is both a flattering and yet stressful experience.  I want my readers to receive new content as much as possible but it does take time to create the quality of work they deserve. So, as I continue to write the next Nick Bracco thriller, I want my readers to enjoy Nick Bracco stories each week to keep them entertained.

Readers of this blog will now have exclusive Nick Bracco novellas to read with a brand new chapter posted each Monday.  To read the last novella "Killer on the Loose," which I collaborated with Jennifer Chase just click on the link at the bottom of this post.

This coming Monday I will begin a new book titled The Greed Factor.  These are stories that will not be available anywhere else but here.