"A shockingly plausible political thriller that transcends the usual worst-case-scenario about American border security." — BestThrillers.com
"Bill King has successfully captured the spirit of Yellowstone and transported it to South Texas. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED." — BestThrillers.com
“A shockingly plausible political thriller that transcends the usual worst-case-scenario about American border security.” — BestThrillers.com
A badly-divided Texas border county declares its independence from both Texas and the US...and is immediately formally recognized by the UN and 60 foreign nations.
Just North of the Rio Grande
Consequences are always unforeseen when you choose to ignore them.
Life comes at you hard on this remote stretch of the South Texas Plains, even nowadays in the twenty-first century. A live-and-let-live attitude guides most societal interaction. Nights are usually quiet, and a little bit of moonlight can go a long way. The local wildlife, out for their evening hunt for food, tends to do so silently. Most of the sounds at night come from the gazillions of insects that make evenings a nonstop slap fest for any humans who happen to be out and about.
The only exception to the quiet solitude comes from the coyotes. They howl all night long. Any Texan who lives west of I-35 knows that.
In the evening calm, four men moved without a sound as they crept toward an old limestone ranch house that had been built in the late forties by a young Army veteran returning home from combat in the Pacific. His family had owned the surrounding property since the 1850s, not long after Texas became part of the United States. The house he built was a long overdue replacement for the old three-room cabin that had provided shelter to four generations of the Stephenson family.
One of the men, the leader of the group, raised his hand and whispered, “Stop here.”
He was speaking in Yucatec Maya, a local Mayan dialect widely spoken in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, as well as in Guatemala and Belize.
The four men, each dressed in black from head to toe, listened intently for the presence of anyone. They had information that their target, an important man in his sixties, would be at home alone that night.
According to their informant, the wife of the target was taking care of a sick sister up in Fort Worth. Still, these men were professionals who understood that an ounce of caution was worth a pound of cure.
“Be careful,” whispered the leader. Remember, this man is extremely valuable to Mother. We must take him alive. No injuries. No visible marks.”
“But what if he resists?”
“He is almost sixty, for God’s sake. Old enough to be your grandfather.”
There was no visible sign of activity coming from inside the sprawling, one-story house, so after about fifteen seconds, the leader of the group signaled for them to continue moving forward.
When they reached the covered front porch, the leader again raised his fist in the air, signaling for the men to stop. He sent a man around to the rear of the house to check for any signs of security.
“Remain pressed against the wall to keep out of the camera’s view,” he whispered before sending the scout on his way. Their intelligence had reported cameras mounted under the eaves at each corner of the house.
Less than a minute later, the crackling sound of the scout’s voice came over the team’s earpiece radios.
“There is a light on in the kitchen over the stove,” he said in a whispered voice. Someone probably left it on so the rats can find their way at night.”
The other men, each wearing an earpiece, laughed softly before the grim-faced leader held up his hand in a fist and said, “We enter the house in five.”
He counted off in his head—one, two, three, four, five—as he silently crept onto the porch to the front door. He was followed by all but the scout, who would be entering the house through the rear door that led into the mud room off the kitchen.
He slowly turned the handle on the front door. It was locked, so he attached a rubber suction to the glass sidelight, licking the rubber first to achieve a better grip. He removed a small glass cutter from his pocket and scored a four-inch square around the rubber suction cup before tapping the glass sharply with the end piece of the glass cutter.
It took three taps before the glass piece separated, snugly secured by the rubber suction cup which prevented it from falling and shattering on the hardwood floor inside the home.
“We are going in,” the leader whispered into his earpiece to the scout at the rear of the house.
He slowly pushed the front door open and stepped into the front hallway, switching on the flashlight attached to his handgun. He motioned for the two men behind him to begin checking the rooms on the right side while he checked the rooms to the left.
When the leader finally made his way into the kitchen, not more than forty-five seconds after first entering the house, he noticed a dim light coming from the stainless-steel overhead ventilation hood above the stove.
Resting on the granite countertop of a massive center island was a cup of coffee next to an unpolished brass ashtray. Wisps of smoke from a lit cigarette drifted lazily into the air. He touched the side of the stoneware coffee cup with the back of his hand before flinching.
The cup was still hot. Piping hot.
His eyes scanned the kitchen, looking for the fourth member of his team, the scout who was supposed to have entered through the rear door.
Holding a Makarov PMM pistol in the close retention position—held back against his torso with the muzzle pointing straight ahead—he moved slowly but deliberately around the center island toward the doorway leading to the mudroom, where the back door was located.
There, just inside the tiny alcove, was a body sprawled on the floor, dressed entirely in black. He knelt down and removed the balaclava from the man’s head to reveal his face. It was the scout.
“Carlito is dead,” the leader whispered into his earpiece mic. “There must be someone else in the house.”
Those were the last words the man would ever speak.
* * * * *
DPS Office, Laredo
Doc Gunther had stopped by his office at the Department of Public Safety in Laredo early that morning to check on a few things. It was not quite six o’clock, so he was surprised to encounter his boss, Lark Camacho, who could usually be found at the gym at that time of day.
“Ah, Doc, you’re just the man I wanted to see,” said the lieutenant in charge of the Texas Rangers’ Laredo office.
Company D of the Rangers, headquartered three hours away in the McAllen suburb of Weslaco, is responsible for the southern counties of Texas strung along the border with Mexico. Its area of responsibility extends for six hundred forty miles along the Rio Grande, from the Gulf of Mexico in the east to Valverde and Edwards Counties in the west.
For comparison, that is roughly the same distance as between New York City and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Company D maintains subordinate offices in Corpus Christi, Weslaco, and Laredo, each under the leadership of a Ranger lieutenant.
“What’s up, boss?” said Gunther, a bear of a man whose five o’clock shadow usually began making its first appearance around five minutes after he shaved each morning. He had played defensive end on the Texas Aggie football team about twenty years earlier and still looked like he could play, despite having officially entered middle age the year before.
“Have you spoken with any of your old friends in Valdez County lately?”
Gunther had spent the better part of three months out there working on a case less than a year earlier. That was a few months before the county next door to Valdez decided to secede from both Texas and the United States.
“Yeah, I ran into Sheriff Martinez last week up in San Antonio while Vivian and I were visiting my mother,” he said. Vivian is Doc’s wife. “She looks like she’s aged quite a bit in the last year.”
“What does she think about what’s going on over in White Oak County?”
“She said it’s a real mess but hopes the powers-that-be in Austin and Washington will eventually come up with a peaceful resolution.”
“Do you honestly think that she really believes that?”
“That things will work themself out? No, I doubt even she is that naïve.”
Hanna Neumann-Martinez had been elected sheriff of Valdez County less than two years earlier in what could only be described as an electoral upset of seismic proportions. Only twenty-seven at the time, being sheriff of a Texas border county was her first real job—besides babysitting—after having spent nearly a decade as a carefree college student in Austin.
“By the way, I had a call from Bobby Estrada a couple of minutes ago,” said Doc. “He wanted to know if I could drive out to Arroyo Seco for a few days. They’ve been experiencing an uptick in home invasions…even by current standards along the border.”
Bobby Estrada was the new county judge. His predecessor, who had served in the job for over two decades, had been assassinated while in his office in the Valdez County Courthouse six months earlier. Estrada had been the police chief in Arroyo Seco the last time Doc had worked a case there.
“Sure, sounds like a good idea. The Major wants us to stay ahead of events out there.”
The Major was Mo Morales, the commanding officer of Company D of the Texas Rangers.
“Good,” said Doc. “Besides, my brother-in-law keeps bugging me about checking on his property out in White Oak County. I guess I can kill two birds with one stone. Anyway, I have a few things to take care of first, but I should be on the road by seven so hopefully I can beat the traffic.”
“Speaking of relatives, is your brother’s law firm still doing work for the folks over in Yucatec?” asked the lieutenant, a hint of disdain to his voice. “I don’t need to tell you that it’s one thing to represent scumbag clients in criminal cases. It’s quite another to represent traitors over in White Oak.”
Doc held up his hand in frustration.
“I gave up trying to influence my brother a long time ago,” he said in a weary voice. “I’ve barely spoken two words to the man in years. To the extent that we communicate, we almost always do so through our mother.”
The lieutenant took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Look, Doc, I’ll always have your back, but not everyone knows you as well as I do. Just remember that, as a state law enforcement officer, your brother’s frequently controversial actions can put a huge target on your back. It may not be fair, but no one ever said life was fair.”
* * * * *
A portly, middle-aged woman casually removed her oversized glasses and wiped the perspiration from the thick lenses before returning them to the bridge of her rather large nose. Short and stout, her tired appearance was at odds with her exuberance and seemingly boundless energy.
“How are the arrangements going for the celebration?” asked the woman, whom most referred to as Chimalmat—pronounced chi-MAL-mat—which means Mother of Giants in the Mayan language.
The six-month anniversary of the establishment of the Revolutionary Republic of Yucatec del Norte was just weeks away, and she wanted to ensure the celebrations went off without a hitch.
Sitting across from her were Fabio Chan and Hector Rubio, two of her closest advisors.
“Everything is going according to plan, Mother,” said Chan, a longtime political ally and friend since childhood. “So far, we have received confirmation from twenty-seven nations that they will be sending a representative…and we expect even more as we get nearer to the date.”
“And the foreign press?” she asked.
“All the major U.S. networks will be sending news crews, as will most of the major big city newspapers,” said Chan, who was also the head of the Alux—pronounced ah-LOOSH—the secret police for the Revolutionary Republic. “We also expect many of the major media outlets from Europe and the Americas to send reporters as well.”
The Alux were gnome-like creatures in Mayan mythology who offered protection to a farmer’s land and its crops from outsiders in return for homage and respect. That was a pretty accurate depiction of Chan and his band of thugs.
They were sitting in a corner office on the second floor of the former White Oak County Courthouse, which she had commandeered to become her presidential office.
She and Chan had known each other as children back in the Yucatan, before she had left for the United States to attend college in California. Back then, she went by the name of Gloria Luna.
There was a fairly sizeable Mayan community in San Francisco, and after attending law school at Berkeley, she had remained in the Bay Area for a decade operating a legal aid clinic.
Eventually, she grew bored and made her way over to Texas in hopes of providing legal assistance to impoverished immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. She ultimately found her way to White Oak County, a popular crossing point for migrant caravans coming up from Central America.
“What about your excursion across the border, Fabio?” she asked, her eyebrows raised. “Did your men succeed in obtaining what they went after?”
The secret policeman looked uncomfortable because he suspected something bad might have happened to his men. Even worse, he feared they would be identified as having been under his command.
“They are not back yet,” was all that he said.
“What do you mean, they are not back yet?” she asked. “You assured me that they would be back before dawn with the North American. Did something go wrong?”
“I am sure that everything is fine,” he said, although not very convincingly. “The search party I dispatched just before dawn found two police vehicles parked outside the house when they arrived, so they themselves were unable to go inside.”
“Where do you think your team is? Do you believe they were captured?”
“No, Mother,” he said. He rarely called her Gloria anymore. Only Mother, just like everyone else did. “They would commit suicide rather than allow themselves to be taken into custody.”
“When will you know their status for sure?”
“We are waiting for the local public officials—most likely, the sheriff’s office—to make an announcement.”
“Is there any chance the gringos will track the team back to us?” she asked. “It was bad enough that they failed to capture the man, but that would be worse. Much worse.”
“There is certainly a possibility,” said Chan, who had a sinking feeling in his stomach that at least some of the men on the raid might be carrying their national identity card. “That’s why we are releasing a press statement saying that the four men have been absent without leave since yesterday morning. We are asking the public to notify the People’s Police if they see any of the four men.”
None of them gave it a second thought that their first reaction to this difficult situation was to throw these men under the bus. Unfortunately for humanity, this leadership style was neither unique nor, in fact, particularly rare.
“Oh…and have someone remove that silly bust over there on the credenza,” she said, pointing in the direction of a bronze head of a dour-looking Wilbur White, the first Northern European Texian to settle in what was, until six months ago, known as White Oak County, Texas.
“Right away, Mother,” he said.
“After all, we can’t very well scrub away all remaining vestiges of the gringo culture in our new homeland if we allow their paintings and sculptures to remain adorning the office of the president of the Revolutionary Republic of Yucatec del Norte.”
* * * * *
“Bill King has successfully captured the spirit of Yellowstone and transported it to South Texas. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.” — BestThrillers.com
A charismatic woman from the Mexican Yucatan sweeps into a rural border county on the South Texas Plains and establishes an independent nation within the state of Texas.