The Breakout by Ryan David Jahn is a military thriller where Marine Corps sniper James Murphy is captured and thrown in jail while seeking revenge for his murdered sister, leaving his troop to risk their lives to break him out (available January 31, 2017).
James Murphy is a Marine Corps sniper. He’s done two tours in Afghanistan. He’s considered an American Hero. And James is out for revenge.
Alejandro Rocha, a massively powerful drug kingpin who operates out of La Paz, Mexico, is responsible for James’s sister, Layla’s death, and he intends to make Rocha pay for it.
James goes AWOL from his unit and travels to Mexico, ready to enact bloody vengeance, but before he can go through with his plan, he is arrested by the crooked police of La Paz. He’s quickly thrown into a dangerous prison on trumped-up charges. He knows he is marked for death while in this prison and there’s nothing he can do about it. However, there is a group of people who can do something about it.
Discovering that James is wasting away in a Mexican prison, the marines in his unit decide to risk court-martial themselves and go AWOL as well, ready to go to war in order to break their brother out. And that’s just the beginning of the mayhem and violence.
Layla Murphy was sitting at a small table in El Niño’s Pizza, a dingy joint in La Paz, Mexico, thirty minutes west of Juarez by car. Paintings of sugar skulls and men in sombreros hung crooked on the yellow plaster walls. Layla had her hands clasped in her lap, head tilted down, unwashed ropes of hair hanging in her face. She looked at a hangnail on her right thumb. Nibbled at it, spat it to the floor, and laced her fingers together once more. A slice of pizza sat untouched on a chipped white plate in front of her, oil pooled in the concaved bowls of the pepperoni rounds punctuating its surface. Layla Murphy had ten minutes left to live.
She had blond hair and green eyes. She stood five foot five and weighed just under a hundred pounds, but a year earlier, before she’d gotten hooked on heroin, she’d weighed one hundred and thirty. Her hip bones hadn’t jutted. Her cheeks hadn’t been hollow. Her joints hadn’t looked like large knots on thin branches.
But a lot could change in a year.
She was twenty-four, and had she known she was about to die, it might have crossed her mind she was too young to face such a fate. She hadn’t had a chance to live life yet; she’d never even been in love. But she didn’t know death was coming for her so soon; people rarely do.
“I’ve seen you struggling with your problem.”
She looked up at the sound of the voice. The face across from her was pale and handsome and clean shaven except for a small patch of stubble on the outside curve of the chin missed during the last shave. The wavy hair was brown, except at the temples, where age had dusted it gray. The eyes were large and brown and glistening with sympathy.
The man’s name was Francis Waters and he was a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He wore a navy two-button suit, probably off-the-rack Armani, a French-blue shirt, and a red-and-brown diagonally striped tie. The brown in the tie matched both his shoes and the leather band on his Burberry watch. It didn’t occur to her that a man working for the DEA was unlikely to be wearing a two-thousand-dollar suit and a fifteen-hundred-dollar watch. Nor did it occur to her that he might be getting additional income from somewhere else, from someone else, maybe someone dangerous.
If it had, she might’ve been more cautious.
“I think this might be a way for you to escape your current situation,” Waters said, “a way to get your life back. I know you want that. I can see it in your eyes.”
She nodded. More than anything she wanted her life back. She wanted herself back. She missed the person she used to be. All she felt anymore was either lost in the nothingness of the heroin sky or a heavy need to be lost again, to drift away from this world like the balloon she became when she shot up, no longer weighed down by the emotions that normally pressed themselves upon her, her head drifting off while her body sagged limp. At some point she’d become a person she didn’t like, a person she hated, and she didn’t want to hate herself anymore.
She wanted to be the person she used to be.
“I do,” she said.
“I know. Like I said, I can see it in your eyes. They’re desperate. You want to know the truth, it’s why I chose you to contact. I saw you in the park across from Rocha’s estate and I knew. But to get that life back you’re gonna have to testify against him. You agree to that, we can keep you safe and get you treatment. Get you straightened out.” He paused for a moment, folded his slice of pepperoni in half, and shoved it into his mouth. While chewing he said, “Is that something you’re willing to do?”
This question she’d been asking herself for three days now, since the morning Francis Waters sat next to her on that swing in the park and introduced himself. She’d been around Alejandro Rocha and his organization long enough to know if she agreed to testify she might be killed. But death would be better than the life she’d been living. If she could escape herself, find the person she used to be, it might be worth living again; and if she died trying to do that, at least she wouldn’t feel the things she felt now, when she felt anything at all.
“It is,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
“That’s good. That’s very good.”
Waters wiped orange grease from the corners of his mouth with a small napkin, balled it up, tossed it on the table. He looked toward the large window facing the parking lot and raised his hand, holding up two fingers, gesturing to someone unseen. The restaurant was lit up while outside it was night, so all she could see in the glass was a dim version of the room reflected back at her, ghosts of herself and the man she was sitting across from, ghosts of the tables and chairs, but the gesture made her nervous. Francis Waters was communicating with someone outside and she was afraid to find out who.
Diego Blanco pushed through the front door, which knocked against a bell, and it clinked a sour note. He stepped inside and stood a moment on the vinyl floor, door swinging closed behind him. His head turned toward the table where she was sitting and his eyes locked on hers. They held no emotion, no clue as to what he might be thinking. Looked as empty and dark as the mouths of caves.
He was a stocky Mexican man about five six with a square head and close-cropped black hair salted with white. His eyes were always bloodshot. He was missing the upper portion of his right ear. A toothpick poked from the left corner of his mouth. He wore black slacks and a white button-down shirt with short sleeves. If it weren’t for the green prison tattoos that covered his arms to the wrists, and the knuckle tattoos on his left hand, EWMN, one letter for each finger, he might have looked like a server at a mid-range restaurant.
“Sorry, honey,” said Francis Waters. “Money talks and Alejandro Rocha’s got plenty.”
He shrugged, showed his teeth, a so-sue-me grin that lit up his eyes for a moment, and took another bite of pizza. His nonchalance disturbed her more than what was about to happen. She couldn’t understand playing with another person’s life so carelessly. She’d played with her own life carelessly, but it was hers to play with.
Diego walked to the table and held out his right hand. She looked at it as if it were an alien thing: the dirty crescents under his fingernails, the blood blister on the side of the middle finger, the three dots tattooed on the webbing between index finger and thumb.
“Let’s go, Layla.”
She put her hand in his—it was like clamping a small bird in a vise—and he pulled her to her feet. His fat hand was rough and callused. He dragged her forward and together, hand in hand, they walked toward the fingerprinted glass door that would take them outside.
* * *
Diego walked her through the dark night to the far side of the parking lot where a beat-up Ford pickup truck sat waiting. The local billiards joint was just across the street. Several men and women stood outside, smoking cigarettes and laughing with bottles of sweaty beer gripped in their fists, but they wouldn’t help her. No matter what happened they’d pretend not to see. If she called out to them across the street, they’d just look the other way. If things turned violent they’d head back inside, chalk their cues, and rack some balls. But they wouldn’t help. They wouldn’t even discuss what happened amongst themselves. Alejandro Rocha owned this town. Nobody interfered with his business, or even discussed it, and everybody knew that she was his business.
When they reached the truck he pushed her forward and told her to get in. She pulled open the passenger door and stepped up and inside. The air was thick with the smell of Diego’s deodorant and aftershave.
He got in behind the wheel, looked at her with bloodshot eyes, tongued his toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the other, and said, “You’re shaking. Let’s get you a dose of medicine to calm your nerves.”
She nodded despite the fact she knew what was coming. She could fight—push him away, climb out of the truck, and run into the night—but it would only delay the inevitable. She had nowhere to go. La Paz was surrounded on all sides by desert. For miles in every direction one would find only sand and low hills, desert grass, shrubs, and stones.
Francis Waters had been her last hope and he’d betrayed her. It wasn’t even a surprise. But she had no more fight left in her. So she sat there while Diego cooked her shot, while he drew the liquid into a syringe, while he unstrapped his belt and wrapped it around her arm. She sat there while he stuck the needle into her, while he drew back the plunger, pulling blood into the syringe to ensure he’d struck a vein, while he thumbed down on the plunger and injected her.
A feeling of warmth washed over her, as if she were suddenly submerged in bathwater, and she sank into it deep. Her vision faded from the periphery toward the center, darkness creeping in from the edges until she could see nothing at all. The warmth overwhelmed her, surrounded her, and then suddenly stopped.
She felt nothing at all.
* * *
Diego tongue-shifted his toothpick and pushed out of the truck. The warm night air enveloped him. He walked around to the passenger side, looked at Layla’s face pressed against the smudged glass, the eyes blank despite the tears still standing in them, the mouth hinged open but incapable of speech, the oily hair hanging down into a face blanched and beaded with sweat.
She’d been beautiful once. Now she was garbage, the only part of her that remained a shucked husk.
Diego pulled open the door. Layla’s body fell out of the truck and into his arms. He dragged it around to the back of the truck and heaved it onto the open tailgate. Walked back to the side of the truck and picked up a shoe that had fallen off her left foot. With the shoe in hand he climbed up after the body and dragged it into place, putting it on top of a tarp spread across the bed of the truck. He replaced the shoe and folded the tarp around the body. While he did this he thought of a butcher wrapping a cut of meat. He tied the tarp into place with twine, jumped from the tailgate, truck springs creaking, and walked around to the cab. Got in behind the wheel. His right hand turned the key in the ignition while his left foot pressed down on the clutch. The engine sputtered, backfired, and roared to life.
He jammed the transmission into reverse and released some of the pressure on the clutch while simultaneously gassing the engine. The truck jerked backward out of its unmarked parking spot. His hand shoved the transmission into first and the truck jerked forward. He turned the wheel left while the truck rolled off the curb and onto a narrow, cracked street.
He reached out and twisted a knob. The headlights splashed angles of light onto the street and the truck chased down the darkness in front of the beams. He headed northwest until he hit Avenida Hidalgo, then made a soft right without bothering to stop at the graffiti-besmirched ALTO sign. He continued north on Hidalgo, passing several businesses along the way.
Finally he reached the northernmost point of the city, a large white church with a forty-foot spire. A crucified Jesus hung on a large wooden cross at the top. The street led directly into the driveway, faded asphalt giving way to gravel, which ground like teeth and popped from the pressure as the truck rolled across it. He parked in front of the church’s concrete steps, pushed open the driver’s-side door with a creak of hinges, and stepped out onto the gravel. Walked through the warm night air to the back of the truck and pulled the wrapped body out. Saddled it over his shoulder with a grunt. Headed up the steps to the church’s double doors, grabbed one of the door handles, thumbed the paddle, and pulled.
The door swung open, revealing the dim interior of a large, empty church. It smelled of aging wood, old bibles, and the smoke of candles that had guttered out.
He carried the body down the center aisle, past several rows of empty pews.
The only illumination in the room was what splashed in through the stained-glass windows, both from the moon and sodium-vapor streetlamps, multicolored angles of light slanting against time-yellowed plaster walls and mahogany wainscoting.
He carried the body to the raised platform from which the people of La Paz received their sermons every Sunday and Thursday. Bent at the knees and set it down gently.
He walked back out to his truck, grabbed a length of rope, and returned. Tied the rope around the corpse’s ankles, and with that done, walked to a hand-carved Jesus at the back of the stage. Stained oak with fine chisel marks, the face a permanent mask of pain. He reached around behind it and yanked up on a metal lever. Pulled at the plinth on which Jesus stood with spiked feet. Jesus pivoted clockwise while hinging around a metal pin in the front left corner of the plinth, the open palms and pained eyes turning to face the left wall. As Jesus turned, as the plinth hinged out of place, a concrete tunnel leading straight down into darkness was revealed.
Diego dragged the body to the tunnel, and using the rope, lowered it into the darkness below. When El Paso police found the body it needed to look like a simple overdose, nothing more, which meant it couldn’t have broken bones or an excess of posthumous damage. He’d been down that road before and it always led to serious investigations, and investigations led to questions that needed answers, and answers led to him.
No fucking thank you.
Once he felt the body settle on the floor below he let go of the rope. It coiled into the darkness. He followed it, climbing down a wooden ladder until he reached bottom. He rolled the body onto a flatbed cart usually reserved for cocaine, grabbed the rope and coiled it on top of the corpse, and began pushing it through a tunnel lit only by periodic forty-watt bulbs, thin metal chains hanging down from them. The tunnel extended for over a thousand yards, something more than half a mile. The front left wheel squeaked and rattled while he pushed. He had to fight to keep the cart from swerving into the tunnel wall, and he made a mental note to bring WD-40 next time he planned to be here.
By the time he reached the other end of the tunnel he was covered in a layer of sweat, his own stink hanging thick around him. He’d have to take a second shower when he got home. But his part was almost finished, which was a relief. He didn’t mind killing, so long as it was someone he had no feelings for, but he disliked dealing with dead bodies, one to two hundred pounds of incriminating evidence. Even in La Paz it made him nervous.
While walking underground he’d crossed the border between Mexico and the United States. Alejandro Rocha didn’t want the corpses of Americans found in Mexico. It caused all sorts of trouble, and though La Paz police were paid well, there was only so much trouble could fall on a person before that person broke under the weight. Best for everybody if La Paz seemed a quiet desert town and nothing more. Best for everybody if dead Americans were found in America. Especially pretty white girls.
He buried bodies when he had to, but when you buried a body you ended up waiting for discovery, and unintentional discovery was a nightmare. Best to determine when and how a body was found, to control the circumstances before it happened.
He picked up the end of the rope tied around the corpse, and holding onto it, climbed up a wooden ladder, emerging from the floor of a feed shed on an ostrich farm just north of an unnamed county road in New Mexico. He pinned the rope under a brick and pushed out through the feed shed doors. Looked left and saw a dirt driveway leading south to the road, a two-lane stretch of blacktop surrounded by sand, stones, desert shrubbery, and not much else. Farther to the south, two border fences had been erected, chain link lined with tattered tar paper, and in the hundred-foot gap between these fences stood glowing sodium-vapor lamps meant to illuminate any border jumpers, but he’d bypassed all of that.
A dusty gray Nissan Sentra sat parked in the driveway, a man leaning against the front right fender smoking a cigarette. The ember glowed bright orange as he took a drag. He exhaled through his nostrils, the smoke drifting on the still night air.
“Help me pull her up.”
The man pushed off the car, flicked his cigarette away, and walked over. The two of them hauled the corpse up out of the tunnel and put it into the trunk of the Nissan. The man slammed down the lid.
“Guess we’re done here,” Diego said.
The man nodded, lit another cigarette, held out his open pack.
Diego tongued his toothpick and said, “Quit last month.” He turned around, walked back to the feed shed, and glanced left at the ostriches sleeping behind a tall cedar fence. A breeze blew into his face, and their stink came with it. He stepped inside, made his way to the tunnel, and climbed down into darkness.
He trudged back toward Mexico, pushing the cart in front of him, that squeaky wheel whining at him the entire fucking time.
The man with the Nissan would drive the corpse into El Paso. He’d find a building where drug users were known to squat, or an alley where junkies were sometimes arrested, and dump the body there, making it look as though that was where Layla had overdosed.
The dead body might lie there for two or three days before the smell got bad enough for someone to realize something was wrong. Junkies weren’t the most observant of people, and regular folk tended to avoid places where junkies hung out. Once the corpse was found, police would arrive, see she’d given herself a shot of bad medicine, and the case would be closed before it was opened. Accidental death due to overdose. End of story.
Diego climbed out of the tunnel Mexico-side and pushed Jesus back into place. Walked out of the church, down the steps, and across the gravel driveway to his truck. Slid in behind the wheel, started the engine, and shoved the transmission into gear.
He drove away from there and almost immediately forgot about Layla.
But he’d soon get a hard reminder.
Copyright © 2017 Ryan David Jahn
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Ryan David Jahn’s UK debut, Acts of Violence, went on to win the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey Dagger. He has since published several others UK novels: Low Life; The Dispatcher, which was long-listed for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger; The Last Tomorrow; The Gentle Assassin; and Dark Hours. Acts of Violence, retitled Good Neighbors, and The Dispatcher were both published in the US by Penguin. Jahn now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and two daughters.