James Travis Tyler stood next to the black SUV discussing this operation with his Mexican counterpart. It had not been easy to convince the man to put his reputation on the line or his men’s lives. Or perhaps, this man too was on Garcia’s payroll?

His eyes glanced at the next vehicle over. Mike Saunders had been with the agency since J. T. was in grade school. Yet, Garcia had somehow managed to pay the man off. J. T. wasn’t sure who he could trust anymore. His personal assistant and a supervisor with the agency? One on leave pending further investigation and the other under arrest.

He tried to focus on what the other man was saying. While his Spanish was good, he was not a native speaker. He needed to concentrate. But he was finding that harder to do since his brother’s wedding. No matter what the great Marianne Buford Walker Tyler thought of Alicia Flores or her daughter Hope, he was happy to see his baby brother find the happiness that Jon deserved. Someone in his family should.

But he knew that his brother’s happiness was not what weighed on his mind. It was seeing Steve McAllister again. After a quarter of a century, it was like a sucker punch to the solar plexus. Of course, his mother had gone ballistic.

“Señor Tyler?”

J. T. shook his head and looked at the other man. “I’m sorry. There’s a lot on my mind.”

“Sí, I understand. As I was saying…”

But before the Mexican official could repeat whatever he had said, a shot rang out. The convoy of almost two dozen US and Mexican law enforcement vehicles, close to one hundred men and women, all seemed frozen. They were less than a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the Garcia compound. Just out of the direct line of sight for the sentries posted at the gate.

“Dang it,” J. T. did not really cuss. His mother had taught them that such crass words were only used by people who lacked the intelligence to communicate their frustrations more eloquently. One of her many small strictures by which he had lived his almost thirty-nine years on this planet.

But what did he expect? He should have known better than to become involved in an unauthorized operation like this. He would have once trusted both Ryan Ranger and Caleb Williams to know better than such things. But both men had betrayed their oath of office. One for love, and the other for…

He still could not fathom Will’s reasoning for helping someone like Gerald McBride. For throwing away a promising career. But he would have time to question the man further after this. There was still a warrant for his arrest after all.

That, too, would have to wait as more shots rang out. Running into a firefight blind was not a smart move. He had the lives of over fifty men and women in his hands. Did he send them in now? Sure, he had made a promise to Jaycee and Laura Reynolds. But that was to take custody of the McBrides and escort everyone safely across the border. Not run into madness.

He pulled out his phone and tried texting the number that Jaycee had given him. He studied the screen. What if those vigilantes killed Garcia? That was not justice either. Still no response. How long did he wait?

He looked to the other man, who appeared just as uncertain. This was his jurisdiction. It should be his call. Or was that merely his way of copping out? Just as he had all his life.

His eyes fell once more on Mike Saunders. Did the man know anything? He seemed more nervous than the others. Was that because he knew what was happening? Or because he feared that Garcia would sell him out if apprehended? J. T. had taken the initiative of assigning two other agents that he could trust to stick close to the man. Just in case.

He paced in front of the vehicle. Were the shots more frequent now? It sounded like a war zone in there. Despite all those crime dramas on television and the movies, the truth was that it was exceedingly rare for there to be gunfire during sting operations. What should they do?

He looked up in time to see an old man running in their direction. What was someone that old doing running? Perhaps it was some servant. Likely given the white shirt and black trousers. The man appeared to be Native American, but many Mexicans were.

His colleague raised his gun and commanded the man to stop in Spanish. He slowed, but rather than respond to Cesar, the old man stared at him. “You need to take your people in.”

J. T. shook his head, “I don’t risk my people’s lives without intel.”

The man placed his hands on his knees and leaned over, drawing in several long breathes before he looked back up. “Consuela Garcia shot Rafael Dominguez. That’s what started the blood bath. Perhaps you believe it is right to let such people kill one another, but there are innocents in there too. They will get caught in the crossfire.”

“Shit,” it was the first cuss word since J. T. was thirteen, but maybe his mother was wrong. Perhaps sometimes, there just were no other words that would do.

“What do you know? Where are they?”

The man shook his head, “Probably all over by now. The party was to celebrate the marriage of Dominguez’s daughter to Garcia’s younger brother. But the old woman didn’t want the girl to marry her younger son. She wanted her to marry Diego.”

“Garcia is married already. The daughter of another cartel leader. The man…”

“A man who Garcia killed. Along with his sons. The woman is insane.”

“Or just evil. Consuela Garcia…”

“Not her. Anna was insane. Driven that way by what happened to her family and her marriage to their murderer.”

“Was? She was killed in this…”

“No, Consuela poisoned her. To make way for…”

Saunders stepped forward. He was the senior agent on this operation since Stephens had been relieved of duty. “How can we trust anything the old man says? We don’t even know who he is.”

“Raymond Greywolf. I’m Raymond Greywolf.” The man’s eyes held only revulsion.

The name rang a distant bell for J. T. The agency had a file on this man going back to before he was born. He was some civil rights leader among the First Nations. But generally speaking, the man advocated for non-violence. There was something else too, but he could not quite place it.

“My grandson’s cousin is Ryan Ranger. I have known the man since he was thirteen.”

“Ranger? Stephens fired him.” Saunders stepped closer to the man.

J. T. held out his hand to block the man. “Actually, Ryan quit because he had become involved with a potential witness. Are they involved?” He addressed the question to the older man.

“No, at least they weren’t when it all started. But they’re near here. I have no doubt they won’t wait for ‘intel.’ They’re here to rescue those women.”

“What women?” Saunders roared as he lunged at the man.

Those dark eyes that were deep as the night sky met J. T.’s. “Back off, Saunders. Now.”

So, Garcia did not tell his people everything. It was no surprise. But he did not want this man to know his boss held the McBrides. It might be too much of a temptation for the man. The old man smiled and nodded, ‘Wise, my son.’

J. T. shook his head. It was accustomed to voices in his head, but those were his mother’s whiny complaints and admonitions. Of course, he had hardly slept these past weeks since Jon’s wedding. Living a lie was catching up to him. So, auditory hallucinations should not surprise him.

He studied the man for another long moment. “Can you get us in?”

Ray Greywolf nodded, “The men at the gate ran towards the house when they heard the guns. I was able to get right past them.”

“Get in, then.” Saunders reached for the man’s arm, but he shook his head. “No, he comes with me. I want your team to secure the gate and the perimeter. This is not our show. We don’t have warrants or jurisdiction here. So, we follow the Federales.”

The other man opened his mouth as if to argue but closed it quickly. Yeah, he needed to make sure someone had eyes on Saunders at all times. He held open the door for the man, who only smiled as he got inside.

He had been right. J. T. would have never expected to just be able to drive up to the front door of the Garcia compound. An open door at that. Cesar and the man got out of the car. Cesar directed his men, some to both sides of the house, but most went straight ahead through those open doors.

They quickly encountered a couple of armed men, but they laid down their weapons as instructed. He would have sworn that one of them looked almost relieved when the cuffs were snapped into place, and he was pushed towards the door. They could hear more gunfire coming from ahead, but it seemed to be less frequent now.

J. T. was about to follow Cesar’s men further down the hall when a hand grabbed his arm. He turned to find the old man shaking his head. “This way.”

The door was partially closed. When the old man pushed it open, J. T. felt his chest constrict, “Holy fuck!”

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