Saturday, July 21, 2012

First Look: The sequel to Number 181

It's been a busy several months putting pen back to paper (or, in this case, fingers to keyboard) trying to write down Shawn Kidd's next adventure. I'm through the framework of a first draft, though I know that I still have more to go back and add. I was in such a rush to get my thoughts down, I put placeholders in some areas... Strange, I know. But, Shawn wasn't going to wait on me before he started making waves. He pulled me along, so I had to go.

But, since things are beginning to come together, it seemed appropriate to give you guys a bit of a peek at the sequel to Number 181. The excerpt below is from word 1 of the sequel.


Raul Rojas felt exhilarated as the car bounced down the rutted road. Nearing seventy years old, he found that few things in life coaxed any real emotion from him anymore. Yet, he found himself badgering his driver with repeated entreaties to hurry as the caravan made its way along the rough roads of eastern Paraguay. Rojas had lived his entire life within a day’s drive of where he now sat, and he could find their destination blindfolded.

Still, he asked once more how long they’d be.

“We are nearly there, jefe,” came the reply. The young man behind the wheel didn’t turn as he answered, choosing instead to keep his eyes on the dark road in front of him. The thin shafts of light that traced outward from the lead car twenty yards ahead of them helped, but the beams of the pick-up trucks that trailed behind slashed across the car’s mirrors and blinded him every few seconds. The effect was harrowing in the midnight fog and exacerbated by the incessant prodding by Rojas. The elderly man still instilled fear in his men, though. If he wanted to risk blowing a tire or striking some wandering goat, his men would press on.

“Yes, yes, Manuel. I’m certain you find my badgering annoying, but this is certainly a meeting for the ages.” The sedan rocked as one of the right wheels dropped into a deep cut caused by the early spring showers. Manuel’s foot bit down hard on the pedal and forced the car to bounce wildly back onto the comparatively-level dirt road. The jostling slammed Rojas roughly against the sedan’s roof, but as he had the previous times, he simply ignored the impact.

A soft glow formed off to the right as the crumbled road began a lazy turn in that direction. Though they were only ten miles from Foz de IguaƧu, a tourist destination just over the border into Brazil, no light from that city reached the quiet plains. Instead, the squat buildings that served as Rojas’ family business appeared around a sharp bend and the trio of vehicles passed a long, low metal sign.

Rojas Agrochemical.

Born into family money, Raul Rojas leveraged his land holdings and government contacts to establish a sprawling agricultural empire with his chemical plants at its heart. The business was lucrative to the point that he and his two sons could live in luxury, but they padded their profits by devoting any unused factory space to the low-tech processing of drugs. What started as a hobby, an experiment in chemistry, had turned into the largest production ring in the region. And, it had turned Rojas into an unlikely kingpin.

Rojas had a nervous disposition and was quick to anger, two traits that did not mesh together well. His reputation as a just and fair employer among his agricultural workers was offset with his brutal and impulsive nature with the employees of his illegal ventures. Retribution was severe and immediate. Men had simply disappeared. At the heart of it stood this short, balding man whose suits appeared two sizes too large as they hung from his wiry frame. The wisps of gray hair that remained may have indicated an aging businessman, but many a missing person had underestimated Rojas or assumed he had softened with age.

Still wary of drawing the attention of local and regional law enforcement, though, Rojas tended to avoid high-profile dealings and the transfer of large amounts of product. But, tonight, he was making an exception.

“This is thrilling, Manuel,” Rojas said as the car turned toward one of the darker buildings in the back, a lone floodlight marking a rusted metal door.

“What is, jefe?”

“Our organization has been evolving and making its presence known on the global stage. Tonight, we will be doing business with one of the foremost men in his field and securing our future. It is truly a great time for us.”

The cars came to a stop, and the three other vehicles poured out their passengers into the small clearing near the doorway. The seven men took up protective positions between the sedan and building, one of the larger men forcefully directing them. They were armed with a mix of available weapons, and Rojas scoffed at the image for a moment. Except for his lieutenant, the men were dressed sloppily and showed little professionalism, any sense of order and discipline failing them immediately after exiting the car. The various firearms they presented swung randomly through the night searching for nonexistent targets.

The guns.

Sadly, each man carried a different firearm, and Rojas took it as a the clearest sign that his organization would never gain the respect it deserved if he didn’t take a more active role. One man spun a Baretta 9mm hand gun on his finger. Another awkwardly cradled a Soviet-made AK-47 on his hip. Still another stared down the sights of a SPAS-12 shotgun. It was a formidable display to be sure, but it also reeked of amateurism and chaos. Order and symmetry commanded respect, and Rojas’ team was as asymmetrical as one could be. This meeting would help change that, though.

“Hector!” Rojas yelled as his driver jumped from the car to open the door for his boss.

The burly lieutenant turned from directing the men and stomped back toward the sedan. He was well over six and a half feet tall and nearly 250 lbs, but he moved deliberately. The 38 year old had been in Rojas’ employ for the better part of a quarter century but had the misfortune to be cursed by bad luck for nearly all of it. Even so, it appeared the cloud was now long gone. In recent months, he had begun to dress better and stand taller, his wardrobe having slowly improved to match his buoyed demeanor. Rojas was pleased with the change as it played well into his ideas for a more professional force.

“Yes, jefe?” The man’s voice was low with a tinge of exasperation in it, but Rojas didn’t notice.

“We are certain he is here?” Rojas attempted to straighten the suit’s soft wrinkles that he had received during the hour-long drive from his home. He ran his hands down over the sleeves to ensure none of the dust they had kicked up upon their arrival had settled on them. His heart raced as it had years ago when he first entered the drug business. He felt alive.

“We are, jefe. Diego is inside with him even now. They have one of the weapons for our… evaluation. Diego assures me he has seen ten others and believes there are considerably more.”

“Excellent! This will indeed be a big day for us. Let’s get inside.” Rojas strode purposefully toward the door and rapped loudly on the metal frame. He pressed it open without waiting for an answer, and his men followed him silently inside.

The walls of the interior were lined with empty crates and rotted boxes, the forgotten trash of Rojas’ legitimate business dealings. Each crate had held tanks of chemical fertilizing agent or test crops at one point, but the frames were all aged and thoughtlessly discarded in the dimly lit room. All, that is, with the exception of one crate that had been upended in the center of the room to form a table of sorts.

On it sat the most beautiful thing Rojas could remember seeing. The compact submachine gun seemed to pulse under the single, overhead light and his eyes remained locked on its sleek lines. Heckler and Koch designed the MP5 decades ago, but dozens of military groups around the world still used the weapon, many exclusively, thanks to its reliability, light weight, and abundant supply of ammunition. Even the lowliest of groups had boxes of 9 mm rounds lying around. The gun appeared to be in pristine shape and was, in fact, brand new. It, along with a significant number of others like it, disappeared from a transport truck in Germany ten months earlier and had somehow ended up in the hands of the man that stood across the crates from Rojas.

Rojas fascination with the gun distracted him for a short time, but once his eyes fell on its seller, his heart jumped. The man was well-known in mercenary circles for being both brutal and fair, two characteristics others might find at odds with one another. Rojas saw it for what it was. If you dealt fairly with the man, he would do so in turn. Cross him at your own peril.

Rojas had never met him before, but the shoulders were broader than he’d expected. The dark thermal shirt and chest gear he wore tapered to a thin midsection that disappeared into black cargo pants. Though his arms were crossed, the man held them in a way that allowed Rojas to make out the handgun and knife blade stored in the folds and hooks on the man’s vest. It was the eyes, though, that sent Rojas’ mind reeling. Bright blue eyes sparkled through the black mask and bore down on the Paraguayan. They were the only exposed skin on the man’s body, but even the tiny amount of light in the room caught them dancing evilly.

Rojas had met the Norwegian.

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