Power Stalker

Jack Slade #5

by Richard Dawes

A Dark Power has broken through from the Other Side, and the vampire nation asks Jack Slade to look into the problem.

When Jack Slade's car breaks down outside a southern Arizona town, he runs afoul of a drug cartel. As blood flows and bodies stack up, Slade discovers that the cartel is actually controlled by the vampire nation. A Dark Power broke through from the Other Side and is centered in Mexico. It threatens the vampire nation and the world. The king of vampires asks Slade to travel to Mexico and take care of the problem.


Excerpt

The thumping sound that had been a rhythmic accent to the deep roar of the Jaguar’s engine suddenly became a deep boom, as if someone was inside beating a kettledrum. Jack Slade took his foot off the gas pedal and let the car coast to a halt. Shaking his head in disgust, he took a moment to look over the countryside. He was passing through a particularly desolate section of southern Arizona. The sun was a red ball of fire blazing in a sky the color of white-hot metal. Low hills and desert flats covered with cactus and stunted trees rolled in both directions to the horizons. In the far north, red sandstone buttes rose sheer into the sky, reflecting the sunlight in shades of crimson and amethyst.

Then he saw the sign: Cochise 2 Miles.

Could the Jaguar make it two more miles? Or would he ruin the engine?

Slade glanced at the heat rising in rippling waves off the black simmering asphalt and made his decision. With the thumping sound pounding sickeningly against his eardrums, he inched the car down the highway at five miles per hour. With every foot of ground covered, fresh sweat beaded his brow and poured in sheets down his chest and back, drenching his shirt. In addition to the thumping, the engine temperature was rising dangerously.

Forty-five agonizing minutes later, Slade reached the outskirts of Cochise.

Looking through the grey cloud of smoke rising from under the hood, he saw a white stucco building on the right side of the road. The sign over its open double doors read: Big John’s Garage. Slade spun the wheel, limped the Jaguar into the open space in front of the doors and cut the engine. As he climbed out, the terrible heat from the sun struck his head and shoulders with the force of a sledgehammer. Gasping for breath, he looked up as a man of massive proportions, wearing a dirty T-shirt and greasy Levis walked out of the dark interior of the garage, wiping his hands on an oily rag.

He was almost a head taller than Slade. A layer of fat covered an otherwise muscular frame. Brown hair, cut short, sprouted quill-like over a perfectly round head. Hard black eyes shifted from Slade to the Jaguar, and the gash of his mouth stretched grimly beneath a handlebar mustache twirled up at the ends.

“You got a problem, mister,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“Looks like it,” Slade replied. “Are you Big John?”

“I am.”

“You fit the description. Can you repair Jaguars?”

Instead of answering, Big John’s eyes flicked over Slade’s black hair, combed straight back, six-foot muscular frame, black leather jacket, cut long at the waist, black silk shirt and dark trousers. His gaze lingered over Slade’s cold grey eyes, harsh bronzed features and wide, pitiless mouth. Then he noticed the butt of Slade’s Colt .38 automatic peeking from under the edge of his jacket. It rested in a black leather holster set to the left of Slade’s belt buckle, angled for a cross-draw.

Alarm flared in his eyes. “You a cop?” It was more an accusation than a question.

“No, I’m not a cop.” Slade grunted. “What does who I am have to do with whether or not you can work on a Jaguar?”

“They ain’t no car I can’t fix.” He shifted his attention to the Jaguar. “Pop the hood.”

Slade reached inside, depressed a lever, and the hood sprang open.

Big John dispersed the cloud of smoke billowing off the engine with the rag, then rested his hands on the frame and looked things over. “You prob’ly threw a rod,” he said over his massive shoulder. “Won’t be able to tell ‘til I get inside how much damage you done to the motor by drivin’ it here instead of walkin’.”

Slade sighed with relief. “But you’ll be able to repair it?”

“Yeah.”

“How long will it take?”

Big John folded thick arms over his chest and considered for a moment. “I gotta tear it apart first to see what needs to be done.” Cold black eyes flicked to Slade. “Then I gotta order the parts. Parts for a Jag—what is this, a XJ?—are gonna take awhile to get here. Maybe a few days. Then I gotta put it back together.”

“We’re talking maybe five days!”

“Yeah.”

“Jesus Christ!” Slade shrugged fatalistically. “All right. Do you take credit cards?”

“Yeah.”

Slade turned and glanced despondently down into the town.

Cochise was one main street with run-down wooden and stucco buildings drooping listlessly on both sides. Ramshackle homes were scattered over the rolling hills to the north and south. It was a desolate sight, and he groaned at having to spend up to five days there.

He reached into the back seat and pulled out his tan leather traveling bag. “Is there a hotel or motel in this town?”

“Yeah.” Big John pointed a greasy finger. “Conchita’s Place is in the middle of the block, on the right. She runs a bar that serves food and rents rooms upstairs. She’ll fix you up.”

Slade was turning to leave when Big John spoke again.

“You ain’t never been to Cochise before.”

Slade swung back. “No.”

“Lemme give you some advice. Rent yore room, eat yore food, speak only when spoken to, and when night rolls around, stay in yore room. Oh,” he added as an afterthought. “Put that gun of yours inside yore bag. Flashin’ it around won’t make you pop’lar with the guys who run this town.”

* * *

“Guys who run this town?” Slade repeated as he walked down the south side of the street, taking advantage of the thin strip of shade thrown over the sidewalk by the buildings. “Who’d want to run this dump?”

He paused in the middle of town and looked around. The place reeked of hopelessness. The dilapidated structures sagged in the simmering heat. The sidewalk was cracked and chipped. The asphalt of the street was rutted and pitted with potholes. He couldn’t see a shred of evidence that Cochise was under any type of control. Just the opposite. It seemed to be in the final stages of decay and collapse. Unless—another thought struck him—whoever was in control wanted it to appear as if it was in the last stages of collapse.

Why would that be considered a value? he wondered.

His gaze rested on a wide, two-story wooden building looming directly before him across the street. A faded sign spanning the upper floor read: Conchita’s Place.

As he stepped off the sidewalk and started across the street, certain incongruities struck him. Six chopped Harley-Davidson motorcycles stood in a line at the curb in front of Conchita’s Place. He stepped around two dogs squabbling over a bone in the middle of the street, pausing to note that they were magnificently muscled Pit Bulls, born and bred for fighting. Down the block on the right, almost hidden in an alley, he noticed the back bumper, rear fenders and trunk of what appeared to be a late model Mercedes Benz.

Thoughtfully, Slade pushed through a glass door and entered the air-conditioned coolness of Conchita’s Place. He crossed a threadbare carpet stretched over the wooden floor to the sign-in desk directly to the rear. He glanced to his left into the cafe and bar where a group of young Mexican men were shooting pool and guzzling beers.

Then the woman behind the desk slipping envelopes into mail slots set into the wall captured his attention.

She was Mexican, in her mid-thirties, with thick black hair sweeping back to slim shoulders. When she noticed him moving toward her, she turned to face him, and he was struck by two piercing black eyes. As they swept over his lean frame, noting the breadth of his shoulders and the depth of his chest, small flames sparked in their depths. Full red lips smiled beneath a straight nose.

“I am Conchita,” she informed him in a deep lilting voice. “Welcome to my casa. How can I help you?”

“I was told I could rent a room here.”

Si, I have rooms to rent.” Bending over a ledger open on the counter top, she ran her finger down a list of numbers and names. Her blouse fell open, and Slade caught an aching vision of deep cleavage and the upper halves of heavy brown globes. She glanced up and caught his speculative expression. Her smile broadened, revealing straight white teeth. “I have a room looking out on Main Street. It was just vacated yesterday.”

“It’s my lucky day.” Slade flashed a big grin. “I’ll take it.”

Her smile faded. “The tenant was not so lucky.”

“No?’

“He died suddenly.”

Sighing heavily, Slade reached into his jacket for his wallet. A movement on his right caught his attention, and he glanced around. A young boy, perhaps twelve or thirteen, sat at a round wooden table in the corner, reading a textbook and jotting down notes on a pad. Slade realized he had been aware of the boy all along, but, sensing no danger, had focused his attention on the woman.

“He is my son,” Conchita said, her voice ringing with pride. “Pablo,” she called. “Carry the gentleman’s bags up to his room.”

The boy put down his pencil and started to rise, but Slade lifted his hand to stop him.

“It’s alright. Stay where you are.” He glanced back at Conchita. “I only have one traveling bag. I can carry it myself.”

“What brings you to Cochise?” she asked, spinning the ledger around so he could sign it.

Slade took the pen she offered and wrote his name where she pointed. “My car broke down a couple miles outside of town. It’s at Big John’s Garage. It’ll take a few days to repair.”

She spun the ledger back around and read his name. “Jack Slade.”

The way she said it shot an electrical charge all the way down to Slade’s toes.

Her dark eyes flashed. “We will take good care of you while you are here.”

* * *

Slade carried his bag into the cafe, cut right and bellied up to the mahogany counter running along the back wall. The young men shooting pool paused to look him over curiously. Slade caught glimpses of short hair and colorful bandannas, unfriendly faces, T-shirts, leather jackets, Levis and plenty of tattoos. Alarm bells went off in his head when he recognized some of the tattoo designs. Pieces of the puzzle suddenly came together, and a sentence etched itself across his inner vision in letters of flame: A drug cartel controls Cochise!

That explained the expensive bikes out front and the Mercedes down the block. It explained why the town appeared to be dilapidated. The cartel didn’t want to attract attention to itself. And it explained why Big John warned him to tread softly and keep to his room at night.

One didn’t run afoul of a drug cartel and live to tell about it.

The bartender, a bald, middle-aged Mexican, moved down the counter. “Senor?”

Cerveza,” Slade grunted.

As the bartender reached into a cooler and pulled out a frosty bottle of beer, Slade glanced at a skinny Mexican girl, somewhere in her twenties, sitting on a stool at the end of the bar. Her black hair was pulled back off her thin face and held with a rubber band. She wore a white blouse and a black short skirt. Her nose was buried in a movie magazine open on the counter.

As Slade picked up his beer, the young men called out something in Spanish. Evidently, they ordered more beer, because the bartender started lining bottles up on the bar. The girl stood up and placed them on a tray.

She carried the tray to the pool table by the wall. One of the men took a beer, poured a long swallow down his throat, then turned to Slade.

Hola, amigo,” he called in a friendly tone. “You shoot pool?”

“I never was very good at it.” Slade shook his head. “As tired as I am now, I’d be downright awful.”

The Mexican shrugged good-naturedly. “Okay. Enjoy your cerveza.”

The others laughed, then they went back to the game.

Slade finished his beer and slid off the stool, picked up his bag and walked out of the bar. He crossed the lobby, nodded to Conchita, who was still behind the sign-in counter, then went up the stairs. The hallway was narrow. Yellow paint was peeling off the walls, and the same threadbare carpet was a pale brown strip along the floor. He pushed open the door, tossed his bag on the bed against the wall and moved to the window overlooking the street.

The sun was slipping behind mountains in the west, washing the peaks in shades of scarlet. Slade blinked to dispel a grisly vision of fangs dripping blood. Purple shadows swam over the street below. More vehicles appeared along the road—motorcycles and late model cars. A few stopped in front of Conchita’s place, but most of them drove to the end of the street and turned right. Losing interest, Slade kicked off his shoes and shrugged out of his clothes. Taking his automatic into the bathroom, he placed it on top of the toilet and started the shower. He frowned at the brown water streaming out of the nozzle.

Shrugging resignedly, he climbed in and grabbed a bar of soap.

 

 

 

"Jack Slade: Power Stalker" by Richard Dawes

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Available
May 29, 2018


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Genres

Paranormal
Mystery/Thriller



? Heat Level: 2