Wed
Aug 2 2017 10:00am

Jack Getze Excerpt: The Black Kachina

Jack Getze

The Black Kachina by Jack Getze involves a desperate search for a missing top-secret weapon that could be used to blow up the Hoover Dam and kill thousands (available August 7, 2017).

The white man killed a million American Indians. It only takes one to get even.

When a top-secret weapon goes missing on Colonel Maggie Black's watch, her honor and her career are on the line. There were airmen who said the Air Force's best female combat pilot would never be the same after losing her arm in Iraq, but state-of-the-art prosthetics have made Maggie better than new, and she's not about to lose what she battled so hard to regain.

But finding her experimental missile won't be easy—thanks to the revenge-fueled ambitions of Asdrubal Torres, whose hallucinatory encounter with the Great Spirit challenges him to refill Lake Cahuilla, the ancient inland sea that once covered much of southern California. To fulfill his blessed mission, Torres needs wizardry and weaponry, and the Great Spirit provides both: Magic, in the form of a celebrated shaman's basket returned to the tribal museum by San Diego reporter Jordan Scott; Might, in the form of Maggie Black's top-secret weapon that falls from the sky.

From that moment, it's a race against time for Maggie and Jordan, who together must stop Torres from destroying Hoover Dam—and turning the Colorado River into a tsunami that would kill hundreds of thousands and wipe out the Southwest's water supply. In the final showdown, it's Maggie who must disarm the stolen missile's trigger—one-handed or not—and save the day.

TWENTY-NINE

Maggie crawled between thickly bunched rows of spiked-leafed greens, her head down, her nose close to the wet dirt. The long, tubular leaves kept her hidden, under cover, but they also stunk and made her eyes water. Leeks, shallots, or plain old onions, she couldn’t be certain, although when the smell grew extra pungent, Maggie guessed garlic. The jumping wet things were toads or frogs; the slimy sticks chasing them, probably snakes. Something bigger croaked every few seconds, too, a throaty rasp.

Were the tears in her eyes really from the smell of the garlic? She tried not to doubt herself, but the feeling slipped through all her defenses. Snakes, toads, and a special forces deserter with nothing to lose were her adversaries. Who the hell did she think she was, Superwoman? Maybe that famous old cowgirl, Calamity Jane? How about Joan of Arc? Sure, Billy, I’ll shoot my way in and disarm the missile. No problem. Not for Maggie Bullseye Black, a trained pilot with a few hours of small arms experience and an artificial hand.

She stopped crawling and almost burst into tears. She stifled the would-be sobs by burying her face in the sticky mud. What the hell was she doing playing combat hero? Disabled. Trained to play electronic video games in cramped spaces, not to shoot or fight people, Maggie was no match for trained killers.

She caught hold of her emotions when the negativity reached a near-laughable level. Disabled woman? She rolled onto her back and stared up at the sky. A hole in the clouds showed her perhaps the thickest patch of stars she’d ever seen from the ground. Hundreds, maybe thousands of lights above this one garlic field. Eternity. The place everybody starts and ends, the bookends to a life of doing something—getting married and having babies, traveling, making money or a thousand pursuits and hobbies, some honorable, some not so much. For many people, Maggie included, earning a living while helping or doing for others was the way to go. Not because she was a saint, but because the work made her satisfied and happy by being worthwhile. The pay good enough. Not everybody in America appreciated the country’s military, but Maggie thought a majority did. Most understood what Maggie and so many millions of others had sworn to sacrifice; what so many millions of dead and wounded Americans had already given.

Do your job, Colonel, a voice inside said. The people who live along the Colorado River are counting on you to save their homes and families. They know you’re a woman. They know you have an artificial hand. And they know you have a bad back and just crashed in a helicopter. So what? They know you lost your mother, your F-15, and the experimental weapon. They don’t care. You, madam, are all they have. They’re depending on you. Act like a warrior, Maggie Black: That’s what America pays her soldiers to do. Now get the hell off your butt and kick some ass.

Whoever the hell that voice was, wherever the hell she came from, Maggie knew the woman was right. Maggie rolled onto her belly again and crawled forward with a good picture in her mind of the river channels, the garlic farm and both drainage ditches. On the topography map, there hadn’t been many features to remember.

After ten minutes creeping through field rows, Maggie figured to be close, but she crawled another twenty-five yards before she came to another break in the garlic. Slow-moving water filled the second drainage ditch. Frogs splashed. Wisps of fog rose on the other side. She unholstered her M9 and checked the side-mounted safety. Heading for a confrontation, she wanted her weapon ready. She gripped the semiautomatic in her real hand as she lowered herself carefully into the ditch, her BeBionic holding onto—

Nothing, apparently. She fell into the water, her face splashing beneath the surface, triggering an instinctive grab for purchase from her real hand. In a split second, the M9 was gone. She ducked under three times, searching the muddy bottom. But no luck.

She gave up in less than a minute. Too much soft mud. The current rolled fast near the bottom, too. Her experimental weapon could be launched at any second. There was no more time to search for her M9, nothing to do but wipe the mud off her face and continue stalking the truck at the end of this ditch. She’d have to figure something, a plan that didn’t involve shooting her way in.

Checking the map in her head, Maggie decided she was less than fifty or sixty yards from her target. She couldn’t see anything. The field mist had turned into a thin fog. But her previous estimates had been right, so she kept pushing her way through the waist-deep water, her boots and clothes soaked.

Voices froze her. Her pulse jumped. The night became a hundred different sounds as she tried to listen. Frogs, water, rustling wind, her own breathing. She inched forward and squinted through the fog: Only ten yards from the ditch, maybe twenty yards from Maggie, the left front fender of a truck cab emerged from the mist.

“If you have attended to your wound, we should launch the missile,” a voice said.

“I probably lost my fucking eye. I’m not losing that M107. I’m going to finish this bandage job, then go find it.”

Maggie didn’t know what an M107 was, but she could guess who’d done the speaking. The second voice, the baritone, had to be Henry, deserter from the Mexican special forces. The man sounded tougher than a box of nails, not complaining about his injured eye as much as he was telling the other guy—probably Torres—he was going after his M107. Maggie knew the weapon that brought down Billy’s Chinook had to be expensive and hard to get. Made sense that an M107 designated some kind of special ops rifle Henry didn’t want to leave behind. But she had to wonder how he’d lost the weapon as well as his eyeball. Could they still have Jordan? Hard to believe a newspaper reporter could do that kind of damage to a trained fighter like Henry.

The better news was Henry and Torres weren’t ready to launch. Henry’s departure from the trailer and the thickening fog encouraged her about reaching the missile without her M9. She might be able to sneak close enough, though not on this line. Lights on the truck illuminated big chunks of the ditch ahead of her.

She’d gotten a good look at the plans for the wooden launch ramp at Torres’s place in Yuma, and if she could crawl close to the back of that trailer, reach the missile undetected, Maggie wouldn’t need an instruction booklet, maps or even her BlackBerry to shut down that special AGM cruise missile.

She’d built the son-of-a-bitch.

Jordan heard voices. He lifted the gorilla-weight rifle to his shoulder and tried to find either Henry or Torres in the scope. Something was wrong, or more likely he lacked key knowledge. No matter how he rotated dials and rings or searched for buttons and switches, nothing removed total blackness from the rifle scope.

What if he just fired? That should draw Henry and Torres, at least one of them. They’d come look. Might give Maggie time to maneuver, find an off-switch for that missile launch. Of course, the powerful rifle in Jordan’s hands wouldn’t be the only weapon those two creeps had with them. Jordan might be in for a gun battle. But what was he supposed to do—wait for Henry to shoot her?

He couldn’t think of anything better. If he screamed Maggie’s name like he did at the chopper, the bad guys would know she might be close. He’d tip them off. Sighting along the side of the barrel, Jordan aimed at a dark chunk of river bank not far from the trailer. He fingered the trigger. Two things he knew—squeeze don’t pull and hold the rifle against your shoulder. No space.

The weapon fired.

With the butt firmly against his shoulder, the strong recoil didn’t break any bones. The mule kick only knocked him dizzy.

Or maybe it was the train-wreck explosion of sound.

Jordan sat on the ground. He thought he’d been standing. The ease with which Henry handled the weapon had fooled Jordan. Henry had shoulder-fired the light fifty like the handheld cannon was a BB gun, but the pain in Jordan’s shoulder nearly debilitated him.

The furrows were drier than her previous crawl, so Maggie hoped fewer amphibians slithered between the tall, spiked rows of garlic. Of surprisingly uniform shape and size, she imagined these clone-like plants would become dried garlic bulbs, individually wrapped in local supermarkets across America.

Her mind cranked in a dozen directions as she worked her way toward the truck and trailer that housed her experimental weapon. Of course her path was based on what she had seen, not what she could actually see. Having come from the second drainage ditch, she’d crossed back by the cab, turned right and traveled an appropriate distance before wheeling right again. She calculated herself as close to the trailer, but this time from the opposite direction.

A wheel appeared in the white mist—Torres’s trailer. She was close, but maybe not where she thought. She scurried forward on her hands and knees, slowing when her BeBionic made a splash. In the forced quiet, she heard Torres and Henry talking again.

“We should launch,” Torres said.

Maggie’s heart rate spiked. The man who stole her missile was so close. But he didn’t seem to have heard her splashing.

“Five damn minutes,” Henry said. “We brought the gringo so you could kill him with the missile launch, remember? I promise that recovering my weapon won’t be half the disaster that idea was.”

The man’s thick voice carried an edge Maggie had heard before. Visiting friends in a wartime hospital, she’d heard the grit of excruciating pain behind their words, the kind of pain therapy and medication couldn’t calm.

“Why not launch first and—”

A rifle report cut off Torres. There’d been a simultaneous flash on her left, a wink in the fog about fifty yards away, as if the shooter hid inside the river channel. The report had been big, too, probably the M107 Henry had mentioned, the weapon that brought down her chopper. If Henry didn’t have his M107, that made Jordan the likely shooter. That he was alive qualified as wonderful news, but incredibly he’d provided a perfect diversion. This could be her chance to prevent the U.S. Air Force’s experimental bunker-buster from being launched by terrorists.

Time for Maggie to move.

“I’m going to get my rifle back,” Henry said. “Take the other panels off the truck while I’m gone. We’ll launch as soon as I’m back.”

Maggie waited for the sound of someone jumping inside the river channel, the thud finally coming from right behind the trailer. The pungent smell of garlic pervaded her nose and mouth. She might never look at pizza the same way.

Maggie remained still as Torres chased Henry to the river bank. “We need to launch now. Forget the rifle. I will buy you another.”

“I’ll be back in minutes,” Henry said. His voice traveled as he spoke, fading. “You can put on your stupid mask. I know you’ve been dying to get dressed up all night. Mr. Black Ogre.”

Maggie worked her hands and feet like a crab in the mud, then her elbows and knees, everything driving and thrusting forward. Glove or no glove, her BeBionic would need a steam-cleaning after this sludge safari. If she survived.

Straight ahead, emerging from the fog as she crawled forward, Maggie recognized the dogface shape of a truck cab. She’d estimated her position less than perfectly. She sought access to the rear of the trailer, not the cab. No big deal. She’d have to drag herself over another half-dozen rows of garlic.

Forget pizza. She might never eat Italian again.

As she topped the sixth and final raised row of thick garlic, Henry’s baritone cut through the silence of the river channel, fifty or sixty yards away.

“Here I come, gringo.”

Gringo in the riverbed had to be Jordan. She hoped he’d be okay. But stopping that missile launch had to be her first priority, and with Torres slamming one of the cab doors, everything had clicked into place for Colonel Maggie Black.

No one watched the rear of the trailer. This was her chance.

 

Excerpted from THE BLACK KACHINA courtesy of Down & Out Books. Copyright (c) 2017 Jack Getze. All Rights Reserved.

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Jack Getze, former reporter for The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, is Fiction Editor for Anthony nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His Austin Carr Mysteries Big Numbers, Big Money, Big Mojo, and Big Shoes are published by Down & Out Books. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios, Passages and several anthologies. The Black Kachina is his first thriller.

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