Friday Sampler: South of Good by Randall Reneau
August 28, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler is an excerpt from South of Good, an action-packed crime thriller from Randall Reneau.
As one reviewer said: This book is great for those who enjoy a crime adventure with a realistic yet interesting main character.
Forced out of the DEA after twenty years, Hardin Steel, Stainless to his close friends, has managed to get himself elected Sheriff of Cameron County, Texas.
Twice divorced, with a bit of a drinking problem, he’s now dating Rory Roughton, a fiery sixth-generation Texan who’s as rich as she is beautiful—and hell-bent on keeping Steel on the straight and narrow.
But then his best friend, Wes Stoddard, is nearly shot down flying in a load of pot, Rory is kidnapped by a Russian mercenary working for the most dangerous cartel in Mexico, and the Cuban Mafia decides they’d like the former DEA agent—dead.
Steel is forced to take unsanctioned, unconventional—and mostly illegal—action in order to save himself and those closest to him . . .
When you stop and consider it, most of us are pretty much just hanging on by our fingernails. Think about those folks sitting at their desks having a morning coffee, and looking up to see, very briefly, the nose of a Boeing 767. Or the rogue cell in your pancreas that decides to heed the call and “go forth and multiply.” Five billion offspring later, a shadow shows up on your x-ray.
Beneath the Ozzie and Harriet veneer, the world is in a constant flux of good versus evil. And in 2010, Cameron County, Texas—was way south of good.
In ten more days I’d be forty-six. I shook my head in disbelief and propped my dusty cowboy boots on a desk that’d been in the Cameron County Sheriff’s office for as long as anyone could remember. I fired up my last Nicaraguan cigar, took a deep pull and let my mind wander back to what I considered the beginning—Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets.
I’d graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in chemistry. Hell, I’d have made a better drug dealer than most of the cretins I was currently locking up.
After college, I was commissioned as a “butter-bar” second lieutenant and was obliged to give Uncle Sugar four years of my life. He conveniently arranged to extend my tour long enough so I could participate in the first Gulf War.
After discharge from the Army came twenty years as a DEA agent, two wives, two divorces, a drinking problem, but no children, which, all things considered, was probably a blessing.
In three more months, I’d have served a full year as the duly elected Sheriff of Cameron County—what used to be a sleepy South Texas border county.
Thanks to America’s insatiable appetite for Columbia’s white lady, the cocaine drug-gates had opened and the border area of Cameron County had become a war zone
I still cannot comprehend an America where so many people feel their lives are so hopeless that the only way they can get through the day is by snorting lines of pharmaceuticals.
But maybe that’s always been our nature. Before drugs flooded our culture, we were awash in a sea of booze. I watched alcohol kill my father, and by extension my mother. And it has its delicious tentacles firmly entwined in my gray matter. Randall Reneau
My best friend from high school, Wesley Stoddard, was up to his nose in drugs. Not that he used the white powder; he didn’t. Wes liked pot and hated cocaine and the people behind it. But he was in the trade and once you’re in, it’s usually for life—however short.
Wes had attended UT-Austin for a couple of years, studying aeronautical engineering. His major accomplishment during his brief stay in Austin was obtaining his pilot’s license. Turned out Wes was a natural pilot, and before long he was ferrying bundles of marijuana in an old, beat-up, Cessna 210. It was good money, the authorities tended to look the other way, everybody got high, and nobody got killed.
When I was with the DEA, I’d heard rumors about Wes’s little smuggling operation. Fortunately, I worked the Eastern Caribbean, and Wes never strayed from the Texas-Mexico border area.
I took another drag on my cigar and blew a perfect smoke ring. Smoking was prohibited in county-owned facilities, but the powers that be cut me a little slack. I knocked the ash from the end of my cigar into the wastepaper can and answered my cell phone, which was vibrating like some kind of dildo in my shirt pocket.
“Sheriff Hardin Steel.”
“Stainless, it’s Buck. How about lunch?”
I laughed. Only a few of my oldest friends remembered my high school nickname. “Sounds good. Where are you?” south of good
“I’m in downtown Brownsville. How about Mexican at Lupe’s?”
“Perfect. I’ll see you in ten.”
Buck “bite ’em in the butt” Bateman and I had been friends since grade school in Harlingen. He got the “bite ’em in the butt” handle from our high school football days. Woe be the ball carrier at the bottom of the pile if he was within chomping range of Buck. Our team recovered more than one bite-induced fumble.
Buck was a licensed PI and worked out of a small office on the second floor of a partially restored historic building on the corner of Adams and Eleventh Street in downtown Brownsville.
He was waiting in front of Lupe’s Café when I pulled up in a sheriff’s cruiser. As I parked, I noticed a few of the local panhandlers scurrying off like so many cockroaches.
Buck was smiling when I walked up and shook hands. “Boy, you sure cleared out the local winos.”
I looked around. “Yeah, I guess I did at that.”
Buck was two inches taller than me, at six-foot-four, and, at 250, outweighed me by fifty pounds—if you caught him before lunch. He wore his reddish hair in a close-cropped crew cut under an omnipresent Aggie baseball cap. Buck favored pastel T-shirts tucked into khaki slacks, and cordovan penny loafers.
Back in my serious drinking days, we’d put away a prodigious amount of liquor. And we both had a few busted capillaries in our cheeks to prove it.
Buck grabbed one of the double doors in his huge hand. “Let’s get some chow. I’m about to faint from Randall Reneau hunger. And I’ve got some info you may be interested in.”
We took a booth at the back of the small restaurant and ordered cheese enchiladas, guacamole salads, a large bowl of queso, chips, and iced tea.
I knew Lupe’s cooks probably didn’t have their green cards, but that was a problem for Immigration. All I was interested in was a good enchilada.
Buck dipped a tortilla chip into the artery-clogging bowl of queso and spooned on a large dollop of guacamole. He managed to get most of it in his mouth. When he finished chewing he looked around the café and then leaned forward.
“Word on the street is our old teammate, Wes Stoddard, has a planeload of shit coming across the border in two or three days.”
I leaned back in my chair, took a long drink of my iced tea, and set my glass on the table. “Any idea where the drop is going to take place?”
“Word is Wes is using the old airstrips on Roughton Ranch. You might mention it to Rory, next time you see him.
I nodded and worked on my enchiladas. “I’m having supper with Rory on the island tonight. I’ll pass it on.”
Buck took a drink of his iced tea and shook his head. “You know, Wes is not a bad guy. Hell, he started out flying in a few kilos of weed and just kind of got sucked in. And he’s never been convicted of trafficking.”
“I know,” I replied. “I think there’s a part of him that wants out. But I suspect that’s no easy thing.” south of good
Buck snorted. “Not when you’re transporting coke for Frederick Ochoa.”
I looked at Buck. “Do you know the story on Ochoa?”
Buck shook his head. “Not really. I just know he’s a brutal son of a bitch.”
I dipped a chip into the queso. “His father was a Nazi, and a bad one. He fled to Argentina after the war and eventually worked his way to Durango, Mexico. He married into the Ochoa family and took their name. Toward the end of his life, the old man managed to knock up one of the Ochoa women.”
Buck chuckled. “Those old Nazis were hard to the bitter end.”
I snorted and nodded. “I guess so. Anyway, the old man died shortly after Frederick was spawned. And the rest, as they say, is history. The DEA’s been trying to punch FreddieO’s ticket for years. But he’s too well protected in Mexico.”
Buck finished his enchiladas and pushed his empty plate away. “I’ll bet.”
I nodded and pointed my fork at Buck. “It’s not only his drug money and connections, the Ochoas made millions in silver mining, and old Frederick controls that money, too.”
Buck shook his head. “Jesus, how much is enough?”
I chuckled. “More.” I paused for a second. “How do you know Wes is using the old airstrips on the Roughton place?”
Buck wiped his mouth with his napkin. “I know the ranch foreman. He said his cowhands have seen a Randall Reneau big twin-engine doing touch-and-goes from some of the old dirt strips. Wes is smart. He doesn’t stop, just touches down long enough to have a helper kick the dope out the back door.”
“Was it a King Air?” I asked.
Buck nodded. “Could’ve been.”
I put my knife and fork on my now-empty plate. “Wes flies a King Air 350.”