Author of the bestselling Kate Jones Thriller series, DV Berkom is no stranger to reading and writing fast-paced, exciting stories. Having grown up on a steady diet of spy novels, James Bond movies and mysteries, her natural inclination is to keep the reader on the edge of their seats and guessing until the last page.
She grew up in the Midwest, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes whenever she gets a chance.
(Excerpt from the Kate Jones Thriller Series, Vol. 1)
Something didn’t feel right.
My left side ached, and I could barely swallow. I sat with my eyes closed and tried to recall what happened. The events from the previous night came crashing back into the present, and the fear of discovery threatened to overwhelm me again.
I peeked around the corner of the corrugated steel building. A lone goat munched on some dried grass near a split-rail fence. A few yards away a rooster pecked at the hard, dry earth. An older woman with salt and pepper colored hair and skin like a walnut scattered seed in front of him. She clutched a brown and white serape around her against the early morning chill.
Everything appeared calm, bucolic, even. I leaned back against the metal wall and took stock of my position.
Salazar ruled this little section of Sonora with an iron hand. The woman outside would not help me, for fear of payback. In fact, no one who knew him would be fool enough to assist Salazar’s crazy American woman.
Especially when she took something that belonged to him. Something he valued above all else. And it wasn’t only his pride, although that would be enough to get me killed.
I opened the canvas backpack next to me to make sure the contents were still safe, that I hadn’t somehow lost it all in my mad rush to escape.
The cash was all there. I breathed a sigh of relief. It meant my survival. Without it, I would have nothing with which to bargain for my life, if it came to that. As it was, the stash wouldn’t get me the immediate help I so desperately needed. It wasn’t like I could call a cab in this part of Mexico, even if I had a phone.
If I knew Salazar, he’d already locked down the small airport a few miles away, and was probably trying to bribe aviation officials in Hermosillo, Obregón and even Puerto Peñasco, although each of the towns lay miles from his hacienda.
I needed to get to San Bruno, a small fishing village on the Sea of Cortez. Salazar didn’t have much pull with the ex-pats who lived there. Besides, they’d help a fellow American.
Especially one with a boat load of dinero.
I zipped the backpack closed, stood up, and heaved it over my shoulders. Funny how much money weighed.
I waited until the older woman had stepped inside her weathered home, and then I quietly slipped away down the dirt road, careful not to disturb El Gallo as he strutted past the disinterested goat.
I tucked my blonde hair up under a baseball cap to hide it and hitched a ride west on the back of an ancient Ford pickup. The driver looked me over once and waved me into the truck bed to sit with the alfalfa, probably thinking I was some silly gringa on a tourista’s adventure. I was glad I had grabbed an older jacket from one of Salazar’s bodyguards. All of my clothes were too new, too expensive. I’d be a prime target for bandits. As it was, I was a sitting duck lugging around the cash, paranoid that everyone knew I’d stolen millions of dollars from a notorious drug lord.
What I’d seen last night confirmed my worst fears, and then some. I’d been in denial about Salazar’s true nature, and it hit me like a bullet to the brain. His expression held no remorse, even as he sliced through the man’s throat- a man who, until that moment, had been a loyal soldier in Salazar’s increasingly bizarre attempts to own the Sonoran drug trade. My sense of self preservation skyrocketed, and I took the only way out.
It seemed like the Hand of God had intervened, and I’m not given to religious hyperbole. I’d abandoned the delivery van a few miles from the ranch the night before, and grabbed as much cash as I could stuff in the backpack. The vehicle had been parked in the drive with the keys and money in it. I simply took the initiative.
I made myself comfortable, and had to inhale great gulps of dusty air to counteract the nausea and shaking as I watched the sun rise in the distance, and the road race away from the back of the pickup.
“This is as far as I am going,” the driver said in Spanish. I thanked him and asked where I could get a good breakfast. He pointed down a nearby street and indicated the second restaurant I would come to served the best Huevos Rancheros in town.
I sat in the shade under the palm roof, aviator sunglasses on, a can of Fanta in my hand, as the aged Mexican woman prepared my breakfast. A dark-haired boy, about four years old, played hide and seek with her while she cooked. I’d always loved the casual, family-centered vibe of Mexican restaurants. No hurry, enjoy your meal. It didn’t matter what you looked like, or where you were from, you were there to share in one of life’s greatest gifts: food.
The woman set my plate down in front of me and smiled shyly. The little boy stood next to her and peered over the edge of the table, curious to see how the gringa ate her breakfast. I grinned at him and thanked her, and poured her homemade salsa on my huevos. Then I topped it off with a few jalapeños. The woman walked away and after a moment’s hesitation, the little boy scurried after her, giggling.
I finished my soda and had walked to the counter to pay for my meal when a white SUV with smoked windows drove by, slowing as it passed the restaurant. I moved behind one of the roof supports. The truck looked familiar. The woman behind the counter glanced at me, then shoved the little boy underneath the brick counter with a terse admonition.
The SUV moved past us and turned the corner. Not waiting for the change, I grabbed the backpack and ran out the rear of the restaurant, into the alley.
The white SUV sat idling at one end. The passenger side door opened. I heaved the pack over the fence in front of me and scrambled after it, scattering chickens and dogs as I landed hard on my ass. The sound of squealing tires told me I needed to move, now.
I sprang to my feet, shouldered the pack, and sprinted through the backyard, headed for the door of the cinderblock house. The teenage boy sitting on the couch didn’t have time to react other than to open his mouth in surprise as I burst through the door and plowed through his living room, knocking over chairs and leaping over plastic toys on the floor.
I skidded to a stop when I reached the front door and eased it open, careful to check each end of the dirt street that ran in front of the house. The SUV was nowhere in sight, so I slipped out the door and started to run.
I heard the SUV before I saw it and veered right. I ignored the heavy pack mashing my kidneys as I ran, determined to escape with both my life and every ounce of the money. I caught a glimpse of the kid from the last house out of the corner of my eye, running parallel to me. If he kept it up, there’d be two dead bodies in the street.
“Get back inside!” I yelled. He continued to match my direction and motioned for me to follow him. I couldn’t think of a better plan, so I did. He slipped behind a rusty corrugated building and I tracked right behind him.
The sound of the SUV skidding to a stop on the gravel street followed by angry male voices spilled over me. I ran like I’d never run before, knocking crates over, oblivious to anything not nailed down in front of me, never once losing sight of the boy’s red shirt.
He led me into a rabbit warren of alleyways, jogging first one way, then the other. I was completely disoriented by the time we stopped. I bent over, trying to catch my breath, and let the backpack sag to the ground. He was breathing heavy, too, although not as much.
He held a finger to his lips. I struggled to slow my breathing and listened. A television commercial for a sports drink blared a few doors down. Somewhere a dog barked. There was no sound of Salazar’s men or the SUV. I sighed with relief.
“Who are you?” I asked the kid in Spanish.
I held out my hand. “Manuel, I am so happy to make your acquaintance.” He smiled and shook my hand, nodding.
“Why did you help me?”
Manuel shrugged. “You were in trouble.”
Good enough for me. I inspected the area where we stood. A six foot high concrete wall surrounded us, the space open to the sky. Mismatched plastic chairs surrounded a white plastic table covered with a cheerful flowery table cloth. A metal bird cage hung from a wrought iron stand, with no bird in sight. Two wooden cases of empty Seven-up bottles stood in the corner.
“How do I get out of here?” I asked.
Manuel frowned. Then his face split into a big smile.
“My Uncle Javier can give you a ride in his truck. He will take you wherever you want to go.”
“I have a little money. I can pay him.”
Manuel grinned. “Even better. My uncle will do almost anything for money.”
Links to DV’s books:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/DV-Berkom/e/B004EVOYH6
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/15XaQd5