Monday, May 21, 2012

Chapter 1: A Stash House NEW VERSION

Now that I'm about 42,000 words into the rough draft, I changed my mind about the opening scene. You can read the original version here.

The original version was an Ice Monster! scene, but to give the reader a taste of danger and excitement before the novel backs off and goes into foreshadowing mode. (More on that at the original post, link above.)

However, the original scene was a bank robbery, which had little to do with the plot. Here, I've changed the location of the crime to a stash house in the affluent community of North Scottsdale. A stash house is a house or other location where human traffickers kidnap the very people they led over the Mexican-US Border and then demand ransom from their families back in Mexico or points south. This relates more closely to the Border themes in the novel.

Hope you like it. I'll take comments off of moderation soon. In the meantime, if you'd like to talk about it, feel free to Tweet me. My twitter handle is @TKKenyon, and there's a button over in the right hand column to follow me.

Chapter One: The Stash House

Angel Day trained the optics of her telescopic gunsight on the man holding the shotgun.
In the magnified circle, under the crosshairs, the suspect’s shining black hair hung loose and past his shoulders. His hair obscured the small sweet-spot where his skull met the rolls of fat on his neck.

Angel pressed the stock of her sniper rifle, raising the crosshairs to meet the suspect’s neck. She was coiled and ready for the shot, but perfectly still and calm.

A bullet to the brainstem, where the spinal cord connects to the brain, will drop a man without a twitch or a whimper, which was imperative, because that blubbery walrus of a suspect had duct-taped his hand around the stock and trigger of a shotgun, and then duct-taped the barrel of the gun to the back of a small woman’s neck.

Angel could hear the hostage crying and begging, the slow beat of her own heart, and the grating growl of the police vehicles in the street around the target, waiting for the suspect’s next move.

The suspect yanked his shotgun and wheeled his hostage around in front of him like a spaniel on a choke chain. The woman’s hands were duct-taped behind her, so she couldn’t catch herself when she fell to the sidewalk. Her knees bled through her ripped, pink pants.

Angel inhaled smoothly, then held her breath, and then exhaled smoothly, and held it again, always ready to calmly take the shot. Her finger was taut on the trigger, but not jittery. She had trained her body to not squirt hot adrenaline into her blood.

This standoff was at a stash house, a domicile where human traffickers change the rules of the game. Most illegal immigrants cross into the US with the help of traffickers, or coyotes, who know the better routes across the Arizona-Mexico border. A few, like this woman, end up in the hands of evil men, who kidnap them and hold them for ransom, often sending small body parts to their families in Mexico to hurry up payment or raping the girls while their parents listen on the phone.

This stash house was in North Scottsdale, where the evacuated neighbors had been shocked to discover such a travesty in their area. Sure, this type of atrocity occurred in the Alhambra district, but North Scottsdale was a nice area.

Angel hadn’t been surprised at all. The best neighborhoods bred the worst crime. There was more money to be made, and the police had to be more circumspect about the busts.

The suspect yelled something to the police negotiators, who were taking cover behind their cars, trying to negotiate though bullhorns.

Angel had wedged herself into an improvised sniper hide under a jacked-up truck. Strong, thick muscles cushioned her bones from the hot, pebbled driveway. She felt like a hunting snake down there, perfectly still and ready to stab and kill the suspect.

Her field of fire was across three large suburban lawns and a neighborhood street, over two hundred yards. She was lying prone, behind a monster-truck tire, aiming around the rubber. Her body—her arms, her chest, her shoulder—interlocked around the rifle. The desert sun beat all around her, reflecting off the cement to bake even the undersides of her arms that held the gun. Her helmet was getting hot. At least there was shade under the truck.

If this were a long shot, like a mile or more, the sun warming the ammunition might make a difference in how fast the propellant in the rounds burned, and she would have to adjust her point of aim accordingly.

Angel waited, patiently, as she had waited for the last four hours of this stand-off. She had been aiming at the affluent house for most of that time, until eight minutes ago, when this suspect had exited the McMansion with his hostage. She was always ready to squeeze the trigger and was always relaxed as she didn’t.

Even though the suspect was two hundred and nine yards away, through her scope, Angel saw the target as close as if the end of her rifle was resting on his fat neck.

The gunman roared something to the encircling police cars and crouching officers. His whole body bowed back like he was belting out a high note. The woman cowered, bending forward as far as the shotgun would let her.

Above Angel, flags snapped on another house’s flagpole. The wind had freshened, so she turned the calibration wheel on the turret of her sniper scope. At two hundred yards, a ten mile per hour wind will cause a bullet to drift six and a half inches.

The sniper rifle’s stock was hot against her cheek. “Day to command post,” Angel muttered into her microphone. “I have a bead on the suspect. I can take the shot, cold zero.”

“Hold your fire. Repeat, hold your fire.” Tony’s voice was calm on the radio in her ear. Tony was her cousin and the Phoenix Police Chief. “The rules of engagement are still at compromised authority. The risk is too great for the hostage outside and the hostages still in the house. Let the negotiators do their job.”

Compromised authority rules mean that, if an authority team member is compromised, which means injured, grabbed, or shot at, then everyone—the snipers, the entry team, and the inner perimeter officers—has the authority to take any immediately necessary action to protect the team member, including sniping the bastard.

Angel had to wait until the gunman down there killed the hostage and shot at a police officer.
The hostage negotiators had been doing their job for four hours. When the suspect was still inside the house, he had been allowed to talk to his girlfriend on the negotiators’ phone, and he had told her that he was going to kill a hostage, out front, where the television cameras would record every splatter. A conservative radio station had interviewed him via another hostage’s cell phone because authorities cannot use cell phone jammers in any situation. The hostage-taker had told the radio station that he was going to kill a hostage in plain sight and to keep the cameras rolling, evidently not understanding that he was on the radio.

Since then, the television cameras had arrived and, despite the police’s best efforts, had set up their cameras at the end of the block where their telephoto lenses could capture every shot.
Now, the gunman was going to do it.

Angel’s calloused finger tightened on the trigger to two pounds of pull. At four pounds, the sniper rifle would fire. Angel had fired a thousand rounds a week through her rifle for six years, over three hundred thousand rounds. She knew the feel of this rifle better than most people know the feel of their car’s accelerator.

She whispered into her mic, “I can make this shot.”

Tony said, “Hold your fire. Rules of engagement are not, repeat not, at shot of opportunity.”

Shot of opportunity rules of engagement are a license to kill the suspect at the first chance.

“I can make this shot with a handgun,” she said.

“Hold your fire,” Tony said.

The hot wind blew the target’s voice to Angel’s rooftop. His voice was tinny and too high. Through her scope, Angel watched the target roar, “Ten!”

Over the radio in her ear, Angel heard police near the scene confirm that the suspect was counting, beginning at ten.

Jesus, he was counting down. At one, the gunman would fire that shotgun and tear that terrified woman’s head off her neck. He was not negotiating his way out of a bad situation; he was a psychopath performing terror theater.

Angel said, “This is not a hostage situation. This suspect is an active shooter. He will kill her.”

Tony said over the radio, “Keep your position. Rules of engagement remain at compromised authority. Hold your fire.”

Angel settled herself and watched the target through her scope.

She breathed in, held it, and out, and held it. Her finger was tensed and strong on the trigger, ready to move it a fraction of an inch more and release the shot.

The gunman grinned, enjoying the spectacle he was making. All those cops were scampering around at his nutcase bidding.

Angel was disgusted at his evil act and her own inability to stop it. They should shoot him now and end this crime. She could do it. She wanted to.

The target threw back his head and hollered, “Nine!”

From her other radio channel, Jack Jordan’s deep bass voice whispered, “Bravo three has an unobstructed shot with a stucco wall behind the target. Do we have authorization to take the shot?” Jordan was her side two sniper, meaning he was the third-ranking sniper on her team. As the primary sniper, Angel covered the front of the building. Her side-three sniper, Luke Johnson, covered the back.

“Negative,” Angel whispered to Jordan over the radio. “We do not have authorization. Rules of engagement remain at compromised authority. Maintain position.” Jack Jordan was a good sniper who probably wanted to tag this asshole gunman as much as Angel did. To Tony on her other channel, Angel said, “Bravo three has an unobstructed shot with a stucco wall backstop. If I shoot and have a through-and-through wound, the round will strike the house’s front wall. Other hostages are not in danger. We can take a sync’d shot that will stop him.”

Snipers don’t shoot to kill. Snipers shoot to stop, an important distinction. Police snipers aren’t murderers, just very effective at stopping a crime in progress.

“Negative,” Tony said. “No authorization. Remain at compromised authority.”

Down at street level, the police negotiators squatted behind their cars and held their bullhorns, talking, demanding, and pleading for the target to respond in English and Spanish. The long cable of a throw-phone snaked from their van to where the suspect had kicked it away from him.

“Eight!” the target yelled. He jerked the shotgun, and the hostage stumbled aside.

This was the kind of situation Angel had trained for: to save an innocent life by taking another. Her cold appraisal had earned her the nickname Angel of Death, but she thought of herself as a guardian angel for hostages. She coiled tighter around her rifle, ready to strike. “Bravo one to command post. Let us take him out. Jordan and I will drop him flat.”

“We can’t risk it,” Tony said.

“Request to elevate the level of engagement to shot of opportunity.” Her sight was dialed in so close that she was practically sitting on the gunman’s shoulder, ready to fire the bullet into the back of his head.

“Negative,” Tony said.

Across the clean, green yards, the gunman yelled, “Seven!”

Through her scope, Angel could see the target sweating greasy streaks in the heat. His meaty hands were probably slippery, but the duct-taped one couldn’t slip off the shotgun. No chance of him dropping it, dammit.


“Let me put him down, Cuz,” she said.

Tony whispered through their radio, “There are more people behind him, watching from inside the house. The round might ricochet and hit one of them.”

Angel knew that. She knew it better than her cousin Tony because she was far better trained, but she didn’t wave that red flag in his face. She also knew she could kill this target and save that woman.

Through her earpiece, another of her snipers, Hunter, said, “This is Bravo Eight, I have an unobstructed line of fire. I can take the shot.”

“Negative,” Angel said. “We are at compromised authority.”

“Goddamn,” Hunter said, and Angel wanted to agree with him but held her aim.

In the heat of battle, her body didn’t respond with hyped-up adrenaline. She watched the suspect, ready, but calm. She might have been meditating, but for her steady stare down the telescopic sight on the rifle.

“Five!” the gunman screamed.

She whispered into the microphone, “Bravo Three has a bead with a brick wall behind the target. I can make a brainstem shot from here. He won’t twitch. Give us the reins.”

Tony said, “Let the negotiators do their jobs. If you shoot him and that shotgun goes off and she dies, we’re liable.”

“The negotiators aren’t doing shit.”


They had been at the siege for over four hours. Angel’s head ached from the sun glaring on the cement and asphalt around her, and her eyes throbbed from peering through the scope. “When are we going to shoot him?”

“We’re not,” Tony said. “Unless he fires at authority personnel, we can’t shoot.”


The bedlam of the negotiators’ voices hollering at the criminal from all sides escalated. Angel kept the crosshairs on the gunman’s neck and steady pressure on the trigger because, after he shot that poor woman, he would doubtlessly open fire on the police officers and then, finally, she could shoot him.


Light glinted off the sidewalk from the overhead sun.

The woman hostage wrenched her head to the side.

The duct tape around her neck tore.

The shotgun blasted, spraying lead shot at the police cars, shattering glass and slamming on steel.
Angel squeezed her trigger slightly, sending the .308 bullet through the rifle and into the gunman’s brainstem.

He dropped straight down as if through a trapdoor, and lay in a glutinous heap on the sidewalk in front of the Desert Victorian house.

The woman hostage screamed as she ran away. Her hair was a mess of blood, but Angel could see that the shotgun blast had only lightly scalped her. She would be fine.

Other captives, at least fifty, ran out of the house and grabbed the woman, crying over her. A small boy clung to her neck and sobbed.

Angel worked the action on the rifle to chamber another round and kept her sights on the gunman, in case the mound of blood and blubber moved.

Angel murmured into her radio, “That counted as ‘firing at authorities,’ right?”


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