A u 7 9 Excerpt

 

 

One

Texas

 

He hated undercover assignments. Most could be defined with one word—sleazy. Despite its ominous purpose, this one wasn’t any different. The bar stank. Smoke from the grills hung in the air, adding another layer of grime to the windows filled with flashing beer signs. Grease and dirt, and probably a good bit of blood mixed in, stained the wood floor. A rank odor of sweat rose from the bikers that edged the bar and grouped at the tables. Their attention was riveted on the action that flashed across the large TV screens mounted on the walls. An occasional cheer would resound when a touchdown was scored.

FBI Tracker Adrian Dillard leaned back in his chair, his long legs outstretched under a table tucked in a dark corner of the room. One arm rested on the scarred wood near a long-necked beer bottle. The other was on his leg within easy reach of the gun concealed by a grungy leather jacket.

He took a sip. His gaze wandered around the room, then back to the TV screen. While outwardly relaxed, his every instinct was alert. His neck tingled with a familiar sense of danger. Despite the rough stubble of whiskers and hair that brushed his collar, several of the bruisers in the place had already cast suspicious looks his way.

Would the informant show? He hoped the promise of the hundred-dollar bills in his pocket would be enough. An ATF agent, Stuart Dyson, was missing, and this might be his only shot at finding his whereabouts, or to learn if the agent was alive.

He glanced at the wall clock. Damn! The man should have been here by now. A whisper echoed in the tiny receiver in his ear. “Biker just pulled into the parking lot. He’s wearing a red bandana. May be our guy.”

Fellow Tracker Cat Morgan had the entrance covered from her position in a vehicle parked across the street. As he watched the door, Adrian shifted in his chair. His fingers inched closer to the gun.

When it opened, a burly man dressed in a black leather vest, t-shirt, jeans, and black motorcycle boots strode toward the bar. Tattoos covered his arms. A scraggly beard hung down his chest, and mousy-brown hair was tied in a ponytail. Wrapped around his neck was the red bandana.

With one foot propped on the rail, he leaned on the bar, and his eyes skimmed the tables until he spotted Adrian in the corner. His glance lingered on the black ball cap with the red and orange entwined circles before he turned to greet the bartender.

Adrian lifted the bottle to cover his lips, and whispered, “This is our man. He recognized my cap.” When Adrian set up the meet, the recognition signals were the cap and bandana.

Cat said, “I got a picture of his face. I’m sending it to Nicki.”

Adrian knew if anyone could do a fast turnaround on identifying the man, it was the unit’s research guru, Nicki Allison.

 

The biker watched the TV while he waited for the bartender to hand him a beer, then crossed the room to Adrian’s table. He turned a chair, straddled it, and laid his arms on top of the wooden back. After another quick look at Adrian’s battered ball cap, he asked, “You the one looking for information?”

“Yeah.”

“Where’s the woman?”

After a sardonic flick of his eyes around the room, Adrian said, “I decided the atmosphere was unhealthy.” Cat’s snort echoed in his ear.

 

She was listening to the conversation through his open mic.

The biker’s lips peeled back in a leer. “Too bad. I heard she was a real looker. You got the money? If you don’t, I’m not saying anything.”

 

“Tell me what I want to know, and you’ll get it. Where’s Dyson?”

 

“Dead.” He grinned and took a swallow of beer.

 

Adrian’s expression didn’t change, though a sudden jab of anguish coiled in his gut. He pushed aside his bottle and leaned forward.

 

“How do you know?”

“Ain’t you a cool one? I just tell you the man’s dead, and you don’t even blink.”

His gaze relentless, Adrian repeated the question.

The man answered, “I hear things. That’s the scuttlebutt.”

“Who killed him?”

The biker’s eyes dropped to the bottle in his hand. “I don’t know.” He took another deep swig.

“Where’s his body?”

“Can’t tell you that either.”

“So far, you haven’t told me much. Why was he killed?”

With a shrug of his shoulders, the man said, “Word is that he was sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.”

“What was he investigating?”

The biker motioned with the bottle, pointing it at Adrian. “That’s gonna cost you a lot more cash.”

“How much?”

“Twenty-five grand.”

“I’ll need to set up another meeting. For that kind of money, I want to know who killed him, where’s the body, and why he was killed. Is that clear?”

“You know where to leave a message when you get the dough. But I want my thousand bucks now. If you’re not willing to fork it over, don’t bother with another meet.”

“Not here. Outside.” Before Adrian pushed back his chair, he paused to scan the room. Everyone, even the bartender, was watching the game. He stood and followed the biker out the door.

The man stepped to his bike, turned and held out his hand.

Adrian stopped in front of him and pulled the envelope from his jacket pocket. “Are you sure he’s dead?”

When the man grabbed the envelope, Adrian’s fingers brushed his hand.

“I said he was dead, and it’s what I meant.” He flipped through the bills before stuffing them in his pocket. Crumpling the envelope, he tossed it at Adrian’s feet. Astraddle his bike, he sneered and revved the engine. With a roar, he pulled out of the parking lot.

 

From down the street a truck accelerated and passed the motorcycle. A shot rang out. The bike tilted and spun. The biker’s body catapulted over the handlebars, struck the pavement, and rolled several times. With a squeal of tires, the truck skidded around a corner and was gone.

 

Adrian sprinted toward the twisted body. Son of a bitch! There goes our chance to find Dyson. He knew the man lied when he said the agent was dead.

 

Disgusted, he stared down. There was no point in checking for a pulse. The shattered face and head was unrecognizable, and his blood smeared the roadway. At the sound of footsteps, he glanced over his shoulder. Cat raced toward him.

 

“I called nine-one-one.” She skidded to a stop alongside Adrian. “Hells bells, there went our lead.”

 

The roar of engines echoed in the night air. Their heads swiveled to watch the exodus of bikers from the bar as they hauled ass in the opposite direction.

 

“Guess they didn’t want to talk to the cops,” Cat quipped.

 

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