The Renegades: A Charlie Hood Novel | Chapter 48 of 57

Author: T. Jefferson Parker | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1487 Views | Add a Review

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Hood’s prisoner was out cold. The cut on his scalp was bleeding, but not hard. Hood used the hiker’s headlight to find his gun, then he slid the gunman’s forty-caliber into his jacket pocket.

He locked the Charger and began the descent, stepping sideways down the embankment. There was prickly pear and cholla cactus, and the rocks were loose and slick from the rain.

By the time he made the building the rolling door had clanged into place and the lights had gone off. There was still a slit of light from inside, visible at the bottom of the rolling door, and the rough sound of the generator burning gas to make electricity.

He drew his gun and put his hand on the doorknob. He took a deep breath, then threw open the door and rushed inside, weapon up. Close to the M5 he ducked down and scanned the concrete floor for feet. Just a dusty car and a black dune buggy and two small BMX bikes with dirt-covered tires and exhaust pipes.

Draper was gone and so was the luggage. The rain hit the metal roof. The generator labored patiently in one corner. Gun still up, Hood went through a door and into a smaller room. There was a desk and chair, and a couch. Shop lamps burned overhead. No windows. On the floor between the couch and the desk was a woven Mexican blanket with pictures of jumping swordfish on it. He knelt to catch the light better and saw the muddy footprints on the floor. The blanket was bunched carelessly.

Hood went to a window and looked out and saw nothing. Then he came back to the rug and kicked it into a pile in front of the desk. Beneath it was a sheet of plywood fitted into the concrete floor. It was about a yard square, with a black enameled handle screwed onto each side. He chose a side and lifted, then pulled away the plywood.

Below him was a cavern approximately ten feet square. A ladder down. There, another generator along one wall, vented with metal flex tubing through the ceiling of the tunnel. Two red gasoline containers. And a lightbulb hanging by a wire that ran down a tunnel, overhead and out of sight. The tunnel walls were framed with two-by-fours, and the bottom planked with two-by-sixes.

His training told him to stop right here, retreat and come back in daylight, with help. But that was a long wait, a cold trail, and hours for Draper to disappear, hide evidence, reappear. Standing on the ladder and reaching up, he moved the rug over the opening as best he could, then pulled the wooden door fully into place. It thumped solidly shut. A wiggle of fear came up Hood’s back and crawled across his scalp.

When he got down into the cavern he strapped the hiker’s headlight on and walked into the tunnel.

Smuggler’s tunnels are not long. A tunnel is a slow and difficult thing to make, and once located by an enemy, they are pure liability. Two hundred feet is average. Hood knew the Mexican border was close, but he didn’t know how close.

The light was good and the tunnel was straight for twenty steps. It went right. The overhead lights were twenty feet apart. It was cold and Hood heard the patient drip of water. Between the walkway slats he saw the oily blue reflection of light on pooled liquid.

The tunnel went on. Twice more it made a right turn of thirty degrees. On his fiftieth step Hood stopped and listened. Still, the drip and the distant groan of the generator. The lights flickered off, came back on.

Hood felt the proximate terror of being underground. He was mildly claustrophobic and he felt the first flicker of panic deep inside him, sharp and small, a spark made by flint. He ignored it.

At step one hundred he stopped again. He believed that he was halfway through but this was only a sense in a place that confounded sense. On his one hundred and ninetieth step Hood found himself in a small room. There was a generator here, too, but it was not on. There was a ladder.

He climbed to the top and waited for a long minute. He found it hard to believe that he was a man of sound judgment. There was no light around the edges of the hatch. He heard nothing. He sensed open space on the other side of the wood but again, this was only a feeling.

Hood tested the plywood with the fingertips of both hands. It rocked slightly.

The hatch opened on hinges to an interior darkness: no stars, no breeze, no rain. In he climbed, closing the hatch and turning on the headlight. He was in a very small room. There were brooms and buckets and a fire extinguisher and two toolboxes and stacks of toilet tissue. He looked down at the wooden door through which he had come, and saw the big red-and-white plate with the graphic bolt of electricity and the electrocuted cartoon man tilting off his feet and the word Peligroso!

He pushed open the closet door to rows of student desks. Beyond them was a table and a blackboard stand. There was a Mexican flag in a stand in one corner and a Baja California flag in another. Between them was a sliding glass door through which he saw nothing but darkness. Rain on the roof. Through the dripping windows on his left Hood saw only night, and through the ones on his right flickered the lights of the village of Jacume.

The suitcases from Draper’s car—side by side and handles down—stood by the door on the other side of the classroom.

Hood turned off his light and stood still for a moment. He tried to see through the windows but only saw darkness and rain. There was just enough light to pick his way past the rows of desks to the luggage.

The suitcases were heavy. He rolled one onto its back and unzipped it. He turned on the light again and saw newspapers and rocks the size of softballs inside the bag. No cash. The other was packed with the same thing. The papers were the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, recent dates. The rocks were the ones you’d find all over the vast borderlands between California and Mexico. He turned off the light again and squatted on his haunches beside the suitcases.

Hood realized that Draper had seen the transponder way back in Orange County. Some quick thinking and a call to Israel Castro was all it had taken to turn his luck. Hood figured the money was now headed back to Tijuana from Jacumba in the black Durango, driven by Castro. They’d made the luggage switch in Israel Castro’s garage. Draper had drawn him into the labyrinth of Jacumba, then lost him like a fox playing a hound. Hood saw that the man with the gun was supposed to deliver him to Draper, or a shallow grave in a big desert. The cost of the huge error began to settle on him.

An engine started outside and headlights suddenly splashed against a window. He saw the big SUV, tucked back in the darkness until now, lumbering toward the classroom through the rain. Then two more sets of headlights blazed to life from the darkness on the other side of the building, and the vehicles converged through the night.

Hood scrambled back to the closet and flung open the hatch and started down the ladder. But even before he reached the bottom he heard the footsteps pounding through the tunnel toward him, closing fast. He reached out and yanked the electrical line from the tunnel frame. The line slapped down and fixtures sparked and the circuit shorted and there was nothing but blackness and the cursing of men less than a hundred feet away.

He struggled out and let the plywood drop into place and closed the closet door. He stood in the classroom and surveyed his few options. The only door was at the front of the room and Hood was at the back. Through the windows on his right he saw the dark SUV hunker to a stop and the doors fly open. To his left, the two other vehicles slid to a stop.

Hood saw his chance. He pulled the heavy oilcloth hat down hard, holstered his gun and zipped the canvas jacket to his chin. Then he jammed his fists deep down into the pockets and ran toward the slider. He tried to think of a prayer but couldn’t.

Outside someone racked a shotgun. The front door shuddered from a kick. Hood hunched his shoulders and launched himself headfirst through the glass.

It was cheap and thin, and Hood broke through with a shower of shards. He slipped and faltered but stayed up, then took off running for the darkness where he could not be seen. He fell down a steep embankment and rolled, hitting rocks and branches, then sprawled into a bed of rusted cans and bottles and litter at the bottom of the barranca. He was breathing hard as he pulled a long triangle of window glass from his cheek. Then he was upright and climbing the bank on the other side. He heard voices behind him and he saw men and the shapes of men in the headlights of an SUV barreling in his direction.

Hood topped the ridge, then jumped down and cut toward Jacume. There was a narrow pathway to follow—a game trail, or maybe a motorcycle path through the dense brush. But almost instantly he heard the rumble of the SUV close behind him and he saw the headlights strafe the ground ahead. He scrambled down into another barranca leading into further darkness. He was no longer sure what country he was in. The flashlight beams crisscrossed around him like the strands of a spider’s web. He clawed up a hill.

The first gunshot cracked and the bullet hit the ground in front of him. Then another. The SUV groaned closer through the brush and the flashlight beams closed in.

The gunfire came fast and brief, as in the alleys of Anbar, and a bullet hit him down low on the side of his back. It felt like he’d been kicked by a horse. He fell forward and got to his knees in the mud. It didn’t hurt but he felt a terrible, terrible disappointment. He drew his gun and turned and fired off three shots at the vehicle windshield. The glass shattered and dropped like a blanket of diamonds. The SUV veered wildly and flipped.

Hood stood and ran but he could gain no speed. His heavy canvas jacket was soaked by rain, and his oilcloth hat seemed to weigh thirty pounds, and his side suddenly felt like a red-hot poker had gone through it. His hand came away from it black with blood. He was short of breath and suddenly, extremely tired.

He made it up a hill to an outcropping of rocks. He crawled into them and found good cover and a place to brace his gun. He thought of the hundreds of Westerns he’d seen and the hundreds of boulders that men had died behind. He thought about not making thirty years old. And he thought this was a rough place we live in, where a bunch of bad guys could run down one decent cop and murder him right under God’s nose. It wasn’t even personal.

He looked out at the flashlights flickering toward him, then at the SUV, overturned on a hillside with the headlights still on and its wheels still turning. The men converged with short, purposeful steps. Hood could see mist in the light beams. He knew they didn’t know exactly where he was, only that he was close and armed. He was irrationally happy that they didn’t have dogs. He steadied the handle of the .45 on the rough boulder and waited for someone to come into range. He thought of Ariel Reed, and Allison Murrieta, his mom and dad, his brothers and sisters. With awful surprise, he realized that his life had been short.

Then the world in front of him went white. The men froze in a bright blizzard and their flashlight beams vanished, and the SUV was blanched by snow. A wind came up behind Hood and he thought, Oh, so this is how it happens: the light comes and brings the wind, and the wind lifts you out of your body and you become the wind, rising up through the rain and into the kingdom of air and sky.

Hood realized another thing: there’s this tremendous roar. It comes suddenly and it’s really loud, then it gets even louder. It’s rhythmic and monstrous and powerful. Your enemies scatter.

And then the roar lowers from the sky and pivots to the ground on runners. It’s an official machine, God’s own, an emblem on the side, spilling out angels with guns.

So you push yourself up and stumble or roll or crawl or all three down the hill to greet them.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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