Jack Novak is a smart, savvy hero for today. Novak isn't afraid to let the bullets fly or let the bad guys get what's coming to them.
The year the Guadalajara cartel tortured and murdered Kiki Camarena, Jack was working out of the Nogales DEA office. Within six months he'd find himself facing down the worst of the Central American drug traffickers, avenging the kidnapping of an innocent and stopping a crooked politician with his sights on the Mexican presidency. In a desperate effort to help the beautiful and mysterious Susana, Novak quickly learns he must take the law into his own hands.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
E. Howard Hunt has been a correspondent for Life magazine in the South Pacific, a Naval aviator, a guerilla fighter in China behind Japanese lines during WWII, and an agent and officer in China in the Office of Strategic Services. He spent 22 years in the CIA, mostly in Latin America. Howard Hunt is the author of over 70 novels and lives in Miami, Florida.
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By E. Howard Hunt
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2000 E. Howard Hunt
All rights reserved.
The year the Guadalajara cartel tortured and murdered Kiki Camarena I was working out of the Nogales DEA office. For six months I'd been on temporary assignments in Phoenix, San Diego, and El Paso, so I was becoming accustomed to living out of a suitcase in third-rate motels. The acid stomach came from diner food.
Nogales was an improvement over the other cities because Manny Montijo was there. We'd been partners working cases in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and I liked him. He was dependable and resourceful, and a couple of cuts above the average DEA agent. He endured his share of slurs about being a cucaracha, a Mexican-American, even though his heritage was Spanish and he had a degree from USC. That bothered me more than it seemed to affect Manny, who was a lot more diplomatic than I wanted to be. In fact, my recent gypsy-style assignments reflected my lack of popularity among empty-suit regional supervisors, who prized docility over production.
After flying Navy fighters in 'Nam I'd come home to find my young wife, Pam, addicted to heroin. At the time, she was a top-earning model, and though I tried for weeks to get her into detox her addiction was too strong, and she ended up with a needle in her arm, chalk-white and dead. Whether the fix was too heavy by chance or intention I never knew. But I resigned from the Navy and signed up with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which seemed glad to have someone with a valid four-year degree from a recognizable college — in my case the Naval Academy.
It was about ten o'clock on a Monday morning when Manny came over to my desk with two Styrofoam cups of coffee. He set mine down, sipped from his, and said, "Whatcha doin'?"
"The usual. Finishing reports due a week ago." I signed at the bottom of one, on the line provided, and slid it into my outbox. "What's on your mind, compadre?"
He grimaced before saying, "Not sure, Jack, but here it is." He drank more coffee and I sipped mine as he said, "I go to a local church, San Ramón, where one of the priests asked me a couple months ago if I was a Spanish Montijo. Turns out he came from northern Spain, where the wealthy branch of my family has vineyards and makes wine. Someone had told him I was with DEA and he gave me his blessing."
I smiled. "Always good to have."
"Right. Nothing after that until yesterday. Following mass, Father Jerónimo asked me into his study and told me he has a priest cousin serving in a little village south of here, Santa Victoria."
"Never heard of it."
"Who would? Anyway, a while back his cousin came here for medical attention — high blood pressure — and stayed with Father Jerónimo for a few days. The cousin, whom the villagers call Father Gardenia, told him a strange story about receiving a big bundle of U.S. dollars anonymously. No note, no apparent source, nada." He cleared his throat.
I drank from my cup and asked, "How much money?"
"At least three hundred thou."
"Not a bad day's offering. I hope Padre Gardenia didn't inquire too closely for the donor's identity."
Manny shrugged. "The good father's using some of it to floor the church, buy a bell for the tower, and establish a soup kitchen — in that part of Sonora a few bucks go a long way."
I nodded. "Piss-poor country, barren as the moon."
"Yeah. Inhabited mostly by surviving Tilma indians." He cleared his throat again; the air around Nogales was laden with dust and diesel fumes that affected us all. "That it?" I asked.
"Not quite. A federal policeman told Father Gardenia they'd found four bodies outside a plane in the desert ten or twenty miles south of Santa Victoria. Apparently the men had shot each other. I figure it as a soured drug deal, but there were no drugs and ... no money."
"Definitely a deal gone stinko." I sat forward. "The padre went to the site?"
Manny shook his head. "It's on property belonging to a bigtime Mexican named Paredes — Felipe Paredes — who doesn't like strangers on his land."
"Not even a priest?"
Manny grunted. "I gather Paredes isn't the church-going type."
"Plane still there?"
"My priest didn't say." He looked at a scrawled sheet in his hand, and said, "We have a pretty heavy file on Paredes — enough to arrest him if he showed up this side of the border. But down there, of course, he's immune."
"And protected by the police."
"And army, probably." He sighed. "You know how it goes."
"Sure. So Paredes is either a trafficker or lets his land be used for aircraft flying to or from the States. Big profits either way." I frowned. "But if only three hundred thou showed up that wasn't exactly a big deal — not big enough to interest us, right?"
"Except, who knows how much Padre Gardenia didn't get, Jack. And, there's this: presuming the green came from where the bodies were found, who took it to the church? Did the guy shoot all four, and get conscience stricken afterward? Did he donate dirty money to Padre Gardenia to square himself in his own mind? Or did he just stumble across the scene, and scoop up the money afterward?"
"Hell, Manny, either way he did the right thing."
"Yeah." He squinted at his note-sheet. "I'd like to get a satellite scan of Paredes's rancho. If the plane's still there the wing numbers could tell us something."
"Why would the plane still be there?"
"You tell me, you're a pilot."
"Could have run out of gas, or landed with engine trouble. How long would it take to get a sat scan?"
"Least a week, considering all the paperwork and approvals." He eyed me. "Quicker to drive there for a look."
"Quick and dicey," I muttered, "but you're right. How far is the place?"
"From here I figure about a hundred and fifty miles, mostly desert roads. Interested?"
"Maybe. But let's see what sat photography produces."
A week of bureaucratic paper shoving between Nogales, Phoenix, and Washington, and I'd almost forgotten about Padre Gardenia, the plane, and the corpses in the desert. Manny phoned a pal in Washington headquarters and learned the sat scan request was rated low priority, no way to tell when the satellite would be diverted to cover Paredes's land.
We were dining on good Texas beef at the Embers steakhouse and quaffing Coronas and Tecates when Manny said, "I don't hold out much hope for the satellite, Jack, but you could take an office pickup —"
"With sleeping bag, food, water, extra gas and spare tires. Why doesn't the idea thrill me?"
He smiled. "Or you could fly there and back in a couple of hours."
"True. And who's going to ask permission to fly in Mexican air space and eyeball land of one of their affluent nationals?"
"Not necessary. Put a couple fishing rods in the plane and say you're headed for Guaymas, it being marlin season."
"Who says it's marlin season?"
"Who says it ain't?"
I downed more Tecate. "It's a reasonable plot, amigo. What've we got on inventory?"
"Couple of jets and some single-engine prop aircraft."
"I'll check them out."
When I went to the federal joint operations hangar, a mec strolled out to intercept me so I showed him my DEA buzzer and FAA qualifications card. He read every line before returning them to me. "Okay, Mr. Novak, what can I do you for?"
"I hear you've got jets and prop aircraft on the books. What's recently rated airworthy and flyable?"
He tugged at a broad mustache and gave me a half smile. "Not necessarily the same, right?" I followed him deeper into the hangar and stopped when he swept an arm across the far end. "Them five's forfeited aircraft. Cessna Citation's got bullet holes in the fuselage, so forget pressurization. The Lear's got two flat tires — from just sittin' around there — and most of the avionics are shot."
"Sat too long in the sun, wiring insulation melted."
I walked to the nearest prop aircraft, a high-wing Piper, and opened the cockpit door. Hornets swarmed out and I got busy slapping them away from my face. After I slammed the door shut I said to the mec, "Wouldn't hurt to fumigate the fuselage." I moved toward a yellow Comanche.
"True, but who's gonna pay for it? Not on my budget here."
I glanced down under the Comanche's nacelle where a pool of oil spread out over the concrete. I looked around at the mec, who shrugged. No point in asking about the leak — he'd tell me he couldn't afford a Phillips screwdriver to open up the cowling — so I walked over to the last of DEA's local aircraft holdings: a Gruman Skyhawk.
Its tires looked okay, and there was no oil pool under the engine. I moved the elevator up and down and shoved the rudder from side to side. No cables whined or snapped, so I said, "Charley, by dawn tomorrow I want this museum relic checked out, dipsticked, fully fueled, washed, and tires inflated. Ready for takeoff."
"My name ain't Charley," he growled.
"Sorry about that. Tell you what: I've got fifty says you can't do all that and have this crate on the flight line, engine idling by, say, zero six hundred."
He scratched his chin. "Possible. Hope you're a better pilot than a gambler. Bring your money."
At flight operations I took a chart covering Baja, the Sea of Cortez, and most of northern Sonora, then drove back to the office. I scanned the bullpen for Manny until a secretary told me he was in the conference room with a visitor. So I spread out the chart on my desk and used simple navigation instruments — ruler and protractor — to draw a flight line to the Santa Victoria area, noticing that it pretty much paralleled a fourth-class road.
I sensed Manny beside me, and looked up.
"Been talking with a young lady from Phoenix who's looking for a missing brother."
"What's the matter with Missing Persons?"
"Said she tried there last week, got nothing."
"Surprise, surprise. Why did she come here?"
"FBI suggested it. C'mon, Jack, talk with her, she needs an understanding face and a kindly manner."
"That's me? Okay, I'll dust her off so we can get down to business." I rapped the chart and followed him to the conference room.
Before he opened the door I felt a premonition that this was the wrong thing to do, but I went in anyway and saw a young woman seated at the table.
Her cinnamon hair was layered, her creamy complexion was lightly freckled, and a snub nose accented full lips. She was wearing a light beige turtleneck sweater, a gold chain necklace with a ying-yang pendant, and a pale sapphire ring. She looked up at me and I saw startlingly green eyes. Manny said, "Miss LaTour, my partner, Jack Novak. Jack, Miss Favor LaTour." She nodded, and kept her hands on the table. I sat down and said, "Your brother's missing — how long?"
"About three weeks."
"Eddie Flanigan." She half-smiled, "LaTour is my showbiz name; I was born Molly Flanigan. Do you think Favor LaTour is an improvement?"
"Maybe. Does your brother have any involvement with narcotics?"
She shrugged. "He was in Vietnam — Air Force — so I guess he's smoked pot. And inhaled."
"I don't think so. Ah — I work in Las Vegas, casino dancer, and Eddie and I have an apartment in Phoenix, but between his job and mine we're not often there at the same time." She paused. "In Vegas I share a room with another dancer, but I guess I think of Phoenix as my home. We grew up there."
"What work does your brother do?"
"Eddie flys charters."
"Pays his share of the rent."
"And you haven't seen him for three weeks?"
"About that. Said he had a flight to Guadalajara."
"In his own plane?"
"No. He leases planes when he needs them."
"Do you know who he was flying to Guadalajara?"
She shook her head. "He didn't say — but he hardly ever does."
"He leased a plane in Phoenix?"
"I assume so."
"Then he would have filed a flight plan at the airport. Did you check for one?"
She bit her lip before saying, "No, but I guess I should have. I'll do that this afternoon before going back to Vegas."
"Good idea, Miss LaTour — or should I say Flanigan?"
"Either way, it's me." She smiled lightly.
"And we can check on any ... ah ... accidents between here and Guadalajara, though I hope there's none reported." I paused. "It would be helpful if we knew what kind of aircraft he leased."
"By the way, if he was flying from Phoenix to Guadalajara, why are you asking about him here in Nogales?"
"Because, when he flys to Mexico, he usually stops here to refuel — he's done that twice when I was with him."
Manny said, "Jack, would there be a refueling record?"
"Not if he paid cash."
She said, "That's most likely, his credit cards are pretty much maxed out. Besides, he prefers having the client pay for gas, then he doesn't get stuck with it at the end."
"Sensible," I said. "Sound business practice."
She stared at her hands before asking, "Anything else, gentlemen?"
Manny said, "Give us contact numbers in Vegas and Phoenix, Miss LaTour — ah, you perform in a casino?"
"The Splendide, one of the new ones." She wrote on a pad and handed the sheet to Manny. "If I'm not at either place you can leave messages on the machines. I check them daily."
He nodded. "And you'll call from Phoenix airport?"
"I will." She got up, and I saw she was wearing fashionably faded designer jeans that fitted her legs like latex. When she moved from the table I noticed sensible flats on her feet, not the spike heels I detested. Manny handed her his office card and said, "This number will reach both of us, so feel free to call any time."
"Thank you." She hesitated, and I thought her lip trembled as she said, "Do you think there's ... hope after so long?"
"There's always hope," I responded. "If your brother went down somewhere in Mexico he could be walking as we speak. After all, as a Vietnam pilot he had survival training."
"That's so, isn't it?" She brightened, gave us her hand briefly, and left the room. Manny turned to me and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Probably. Eddie flew a low-grade drug mission and either crashed or got himself killed."
"Yeah. And it's possibly connected to Father Gardenia's find — right?"
"Right. I'm planning a flyover tomorrow, see if there's anything to see on Paredes land."
We went back to our adjacent desks where I showed Manny the course I'd plotted. "The Skyhawk is old and slow and I'm hoping the mec will get it airworthy before takeoff."
"Which is when?"
"As soon as there's light. It'll be Visual Flight Rules all the way."
"No later than midday. I'm taking along an extra five-gallon can for if I'm low on fuel and have to land."
"Good idea. Take along a camera, too. And a piece."
"I'll draw them from Supply. MAC-10 with spare clips — just in case."
"Jack, for Christ's sake don't go shooting Federales and provoke an international incident."
"Only if I'm fired at first. Besides, my policy is no surviving witnesses."
He shook his head and sighed, "I'm less sure this was a good idea."
I looked at my wristwatch. "This time tomorrow we ought to know."
After lunch a call came in from Molly Flanigan aka Favor LaTour. She said her brother had rented a plane for a round-trip daylong flight to Guadalajara, and taken off with one passenger. The plane was a Cessna 414, and the company wanted it back. "I'm leaving for Vegas now, so I can be reached there if there's any news."
"Thank you," I said, "and we'll be sure to let you know."
As we replaced phone receivers Manny and I exchanged glances. "A serious young woman," Manny remarked. "Dependable."
"And attractive as all get-out. It would be nice if we could locate Eddie — alive — but the odds are against it."
"What I've been thinking," Manny agreed. "I like it she has a Vegas roommate of the female persuasion, not a floor gorilla, pit boss, or a high roller. You?"
"I sort of like it, too. Encourages me to do what I can for the lass. Did you see those emerald eyes? They melted me down like wax."
"So you want to see her again."
"Away from the office — in a nonrestrictive atmosphere."
"Where your natural inclinations can have full play ..."
"Why not? She's single, over twenty-one, and hip to the way of the world."
"In which case she's probably smart enough to avoid the likes of you."
"Possibly, Manny, just possibly. And in my world it's always ladies' choice."
"Making you a gentleman of old-fashioned values, the kind mothers dote on."
"So I've been told by many a mother. Let's check the files for Eddie Flanigan and fax a query to the Pentagon. I'd like to know if he was messed up in dope shit in 'Nam. And a file run on Sis wouldn't be amiss."
"Jack, I ran her name before talking with her."
"As LaTour or Flanigan?"
"Only LaTour — I'll check Flanigan, too."
I looked down at the air chart on my desk. "Can you pinpoint Paredes's place?"
"Be in his file, I'll look for it."
Excerpted from Sonora by E. Howard Hunt. Copyright © 2000 E. Howard Hunt. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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