A disgraced Chicago cop launches a one-man war against organized crime in this novel by the New York Times –bestselling author of the Doc Ford series. A man holds twelve children hostage at gunpoint. Across the street, James Hawker dangles from a skyscraper, watching the terrorist through a sniper’s scope. Hawker has a shot, and he wants to take it, but the police brass say no. By the time he gets permission, it will be far too late. The terrorist opens fire, killing two of the children before Hawker can take him out. When the smoke clears, the madman is dead, and Hawker’s career is toast. No longer a cop, he’s about to become America’s deadliest defender. The father of one of the murdered children hires Hawker as a private vigilante, and gives him an unlimited bankroll to wage a nationwide fight against organized crime. The first battle will be fought in Florida, where drug smugglers have taken root like a cancer—and Hawker will have to cut them out.From the author of Mangrove Lightning and the Hannah Smith series, who “raises the bar of the action thriller,” this is a hard-charging story of one man’s quest for justice (The Miami Herald). Florida Firefight is the 1st book in the Hawker series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Randy Wayne White was born in Ashland, Ohio, in 1950. Best known for his series featuring retired NSA agent Doc Ford, he has published over twenty crime fiction and nonfiction adventure books. White began writing fiction while working as a fishing guide in Florida, where most of his books are set. His earlier writings include the Hawker series, which he published under the pen name Carl Ramm. White has received several awards for his fiction, and his novels have been featured on the New York Times bestseller list. He was a monthly columnist for Outside magazine and has contributed to several other publications, as well as lectured throughout the United States and travelled extensively. White currently lives on Pine Island in South Florida, and remains an active member of the community through his involvement with local civic affairs as well as the restaurant Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar and Grill.
Read an Excerpt
By Randy Wayne White
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
All rights reserved.
Only minutes before he lifted the sniper rifle and took the shot that would end his career as a Chicago cop — and force him to become America's deadliest vigilante — James Hawker adjusted his climbing belt, cradled his weapon and flipped out the little pocket transceiver.
"SWAT One to Ground Leader. Copy?"
The transceiver crackled.
"Yeah, what's up, Hawker — besides yourself, I mean." It was a rare attempt at humor for Captain Boone Chezick, and his laugh sounded like grinding glass.
Hawker was seventeen stories high, strapped to window-washer bollards on the outside of the Fidelity Insurance Building.
He wore a black oilskin sweater and black watch cap.
A bleak November wind pounded across Lake Michigan, ricocheting around the cement and stone canyons of downtown Chicago. South, toward Lake Shore Drive, the Playboy Club beacon scanned the night, as if seeking Jap Zeros from some 1940s war movie. The Sears Tower — the tallest building in the world — and the twin towers of the Hancock Building loomed above the city, bathed in piercing light.
"Our boy's getting nervous, Chezick," Hawker said softly. The rubber antenna of the transceiver was frigid against his cheek. Hawker flexed his fingers, trying to work away the cold and stiffness. "He's got all twelve kids lined against the north wall of the room. He's been pacing back and forth, swinging that .357 stainless around. The telephone is on a desk in the west corner of the room. Every time he goes to the phone to negotiate with the governor, I get about a second-and-a-half look at his face, free and clear."
"So give me the shot, Chezick."
"What, the great James Hawker is finally asking permission to kill?" There was another hack of laughter. "Maybe that private warning you got from the police superintendent made it through your thick Irish skull, huh?"
Hawker willed his voice to remain calm, and it came out a hoarse whisper. "Chezick, those hostages in there are kids. Maybe fourteen or fifteen — about the same age I was when old Ed knocked you on your ass for trying to force payoff money on him. That was twenty years ago, so let's cut the crap, huh? You hated my dad; you don't like me and, to tell the truth, I'm not going to be inviting you on any canoe trips — but that's all personal. This is business, Chezick. You're a good enough cop to know the difference. We've got a crazy Guatemalan locked in a room with a bunch of rich school kids, and I want permission to put him away."
The entire time he spoke, Hawker's eyes never left the seventeenth-floor window of the building across West Webster Street that held kidnapper and hostages.
"And I'm telling you, Chezick, if you make me wait too long again, and someone dies because I don't take the shot when I have it —"
"You've got your orders, Hawker," Boone Chezick said firmly, but his voice had changed. It was tinged strangely with regret. For the first time he sounded almost human. "And those orders come straight from the superintendent, and the superintendent is getting his orders from a hell of a lot higher than that." He cleared his throat, almost as if embarrassed. "It's a political thing, Hawker. It's an election year, and a certain public official likes the idea of all the free national coverage. They've got enough footage of him in sincere negotiations with that Guatemalan to make you gag — and the son of a bitch doesn't speak a word of Spanish. But that asshole up there with the .357 is a natural Dan Rather subject, and this politician doesn't want you blowing away his meal ticket —"
"So those are your orders, Hawker. You've got a rep for playing it close and acting on your own. I know you got some bum orders the last time you were in this situation, and we've all had bad luck —"
Bad luck, my ass, thought Hawker. A man and four women died the last time I followed orders and waited.
"But not this time," Chezick continued. "The superintendent says to tell you personally that if you fire without permission, it's immediate suspension — no questions, no excuses. From that distance, shooting through glass, there's too much chance of your hitting one of the kids. That's exactly the kind of coverage the politicians don't need. Also, if one of the kids dies because you don't take out the Guatemalan with your first shot, you're off the force — and in jail. Because you can be goddamn sure our elected officials are not going to take the rap."
"And what if he opens fire first?"
"The interpreter says the kidnapper sounds pretty stable. Says he's under control. All he wants is a million in cash and an air ticket home — everything but Dolly Parton's tits. Don't worry — if things start to go sour, the negotiating team will sense it and give you the word."
"And Hawk" — Chezick was suddenly awkward — "if it was up to me, that goat fucker woulda been dead fifteen minutes ago when you got your first clear look at him, and we'd all be on our way home. Your old man and me may not have been best buddies, but I respected the hell out of him. And I was as sorry as anybody on the force when those two sleazy punks put him away. God help them if a member of the Chicago PD ever finds them."
It hadn't been easy for Chezick to say, and Hawker thanked him. He signed off after making sure the other four men on his SWAT team had heard the orders, then settled back against his climbing belt, legs braced against the stone wall of the Fidelity Building.
The wind was gusting now, and he could smell the stink of the lake and the industrial stench of the city.
Below him miniature squad cars threw bursts of blue light across roadblock gates, and miniature people stood in groups, braced against the cold. Men shouldering television news cameras and young women carrying microphones hustled from group to group, hoping to squeeze out every last juicy detail.
Hawker knew the news people, and he liked most of them. But he also knew that to them, the difference between a local story and the chance to be picked up by their New York affiliate was death. A cop's death. A kid's death. A kidnapper's death. It didn't matter. It took a lot of death and misery to pay for Dan's penthouse or Walter's wardrobe.
He wondered if they slept well at night.
Movement across Webster Street caught his attention. He lifted his rifle and had a look. The rifle was a Remington 700, military issue, which meant it had a dull finish. Its five-round magazine held NATO 7.62 caliber ammunition, which produced a muzzle velocity of 850 meters a second. Effective range was close to a half mile. Atop the weapon was fitted a massive Star-Tron Mark 303a night vision scope. It had a 135 millimeter f16 lens, which worked on a light intensification system. All available light — from moon, stars, streetlights — was collected by the objective lens, then focused onto an intensifier tube, where the light was amplified some fifty thousand times.
The Guatemalan kidnapper had kept his stronghold in almost total darkness. But when Hawker sighted in, focusing carefully, the room across the street was bathed in amber daylight.
As usual, the kidnapper was out of view, but the twelve kids still stood in a line, backs to the wall.
Hawker fingered the safety to be certain it was on.
The Star-Tron made it seem as if he were in the room with them.
One by one he scanned the teenage faces. Two of the five boys had been crying; their eyes were puffy. The faces of the seven girls displayed various degrees of shock. The white designer slacks of the prettiest girl — a tawny-haired adolescent with the body of a twenty-year-old — showed a dark funneling stain at the crotch. She had wet herself, presumably when the Guatemalan had first threatened them with his .357.
Hawker sighed, disgusted. They were all students at the most exclusive private school in Chicago: Sherwood Anderson Prep. It was more expensive than Latin Private — which once had asked applicants for their bank account numbers — and even more liberal than Francis W. Parker School, which was a bastion of the noble and naive left-wing politics so chic among the very rich and the very spoiled.
Somehow these kids had become associated with the Guatemalan — probably through a student whose father had once been a South American embassy official. The Guatemalan was some kind of ultra left-wing political outlaw, and the chance to offer him help was just too romantic for the dumb little bastards to pass up.
Now they were paying a big price for it.
The climbing belt cut into Hawker's back, and the cold wind sieved through the oiled wool sweater.
He kept the Remington 700 sighted on the window across the street: ready, waiting. He had his orders, and reluctantly he would follow them.
Something Chezick had said touched one of his memory electrodes.
"I was as sorry as anybody on the force when those two sleazy punks put your dad away. God help them if a member of the Chicago PD ever finds them."
It was more than five years ago that the two amateur thieves, by taking him by surprise from behind, had killed his father; the father who had raised him, instructed him and inspired him to follow in his footsteps to the Chicago PD. Working alone, Hawker had tracked the bastards down within twenty-four hours of the murder — before the homicide squad assigned to the case had even gotten started.
And Detective Lieutenant James Hawker knew that if the killers were ever found again, it would be a piece at a time, in some very deep, very cold water.
Rigaberto Laca, a lieutenant in the Guatemalan left-wing guerrilla Tigre squad, felt a terrible roaring in his head, and his heart pounded high in his throat. If he was to die, he knew he must take as many Americans with him as possible.
It was all for the cause. He felt a religious thrill move through him. Yes, that was it — for the cause. He would become a martyr, a hero of his people, mourned by politicians and generals alike.
But why must he die? His brain scanned frantically for another answer. Wouldn't the million dollars, which he had demanded as "American War Tax," be just as helpful to the cause? That had already been promised him, to be paid by the rich father of the blond-haired boy who now stood with the others against the wall.
He was a defiant one, this blond boy. He had not cried like the others, and he had not begged. This boy the others called Jake was the one who had discovered that his classmates were secretly hiding and helping the Guatemalan. He was the one who had notified the authorities, then come to warn his classmates.
He was the cause of it all, and to Rigaberto Laca, he symbolized all rich and aloof white Americans — everything he despised about this country.
We shall see how brave you are, he thought. We shall see.
The pressure in his head grew worse, and he wiped the sweat from his mahogany-color face, slinging it at the blond boy. The boy did not flinch. The Guatemalan trembled with his hatred. Once again the girl with the yellow hair and large breasts began to sob.
"Cesá!" he yelled at her. He was sick of her squalling, for it made the awful roaring in his head worse. "Vamos, cesá!" He waved the .357 magnum with its scalpel-color barrel at her, and she began to cry louder. "Hey! Puta!"
Forgetting about the window, he switched on the light. He walked toward the girl, a wild look in his eyes, all the while thinking: Guillermo, why have you not telephoned? You are a diplomat; you are part of all this — yet you have not come forth and demanded immunity for me. Always it is that American politician who promises, promises, promises. But I know the pigs will kill me the moment I walk from this room. The Americans are weak; the Americans are pigs, and they have no honor. Guillermo, why have you forsaken me. ...
Someone had flicked on a light.
James Hawker tensed as he watched the Guatemalan suddenly appear in the window, revolver leveled, dark face soaked with sweat.
Hawker instinctively brought the cross hairs of the Star-Tron night vision scope to bear on the side of the kidnapper's head.
With his left arm wrapped through the sling, bracing the Remington, Hawker grabbed the transceiver in his right hand and began to speak. He didn't take his eye from the scope.
"Chezick! He's moving. Something's wrong. One of the girls in there is crying. Damn it, Chezick, let me have him!"
"Hold it, Hawker! Let me check! They're calling him now; it'll divert his attention. Don't fire yet, damn it! Do you read me? Acknowledge, Hawker. Acknowledge, damn it!"
Coldly and steadily, James Hawker clicked off the safety of his sniper rifle and took aim, sighting in on the base of the dark man's skull.
At that very instant the Guatemalan disappeared from the window, drawn to the telephone.
Later the interpreter working for the Chicago Police Department would realize that the seeming gibberish the kidnapper, Rigaberto Laca, had shouted at him in their final telephone conversation was really a combination of political slogans interspersed with a single unexplained name: Guillermo.
Not sensing how desperate the situation had suddenly become, the negotiating team still didn't turn Hawker loose.
When the Guatemalan finally threw down the phone with a choking cry of "Death to Americans!" he turned on the dozen frightened teenagers against the wall.
They saw the new look on his face, and several more of them began to sob softly. Laca found himself about to step in front of the room's single window, then thought better of it. He decided he would kill as many as he could where they stood, then turn the gun on himself rather than die at the hands of one of the pigs.
A horrific grin froze his face as he lifted the .357 and drew the hammer back.
He had decided to kill the blond boy, Jake, first. But, unexpectedly, the yellow-haired girl with the big bosom gave a piercing scream and bolted for the door.
The Guatemalan grabbed her with his left hand and hauled her back. His laughter was like the scream of a hyena. With a jerk he ripped her blouse away, scattering buttons across the linoleum. She tried to cover her heavy breasts with her arms, but he slapped the arms away and began to squeeze her hard, the knuckles of his left hand white with effort.
"You bastard — let her go!"
The Guatemalan didn't see blond-haired Jake coming. The kid shoulder tackled him high, like a linebacker hitting a dummy. The kidnapper stumbled toward the middle of the room, squeezing off three deafening shots.
Jake's chest exploded, the impact slamming him against the wall.
The second shot severed the girl's right wrist.
The third shot caught her low in the abdomen, and she spun dead on the floor.
The remaining ten teenagers were frozen, already deep in shock. A chubby sixteen-year-old boy was on his knees, praying incoherently. Someone was crying for her mother, over and over and over again.
The kidnapper, with blood splattered over him and the horrific grin still fixed on his face, took two slow steps toward them. He lifted the .357, pulled the hammer back, and Rigaberto Laca was just about to fire when splintering glass crashed to the floor — and the Guatemalan's head disappeared.
The corpse took two hesitant steps, as if unsure what had happened.
The headless creature collapsed on the linoleum then, jugular pumping.
Lieutenant Detective James Hawker ejected the spent cartridge jacket and slammed the bolt of the Remington closed.
Through the Star-Tron scope, he could see the body of the teenage girl, her face strangely peaceful. Beside her was the brave, hard-nosed kid who had tried to save her.
The Guatemalan lay in the middle of the floor in a lake of blood.
"You son of a bitch," Hawker whispered. "You lunatic son of a bitch."
From the transceiver in his pocket came the voice of Captain Boone Chezick. "Ground Control to SWAT One. Hawk? I think permission to fire will be coming soon. But play it safe, damn it — pass it on to your team. The interpreter says the Guatamalan is starting to sound a little crazy, and someone has already reported hearing shots. You got that, Hawker?"
Excerpted from Florida Firefight by Randy Wayne White. Copyright © 1984 Dell Publishing Co., Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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