wo months, one week, three days was all that remained of Tito Orrozco’s sentence.
The raised voices of the corrections officers announced the imminent clang of a closing metal door at the far end of the cell block, but Tito’s stare didn’t falter from a map of Arizona on the wall opposite his bunk. He pictured himself on the cutting edge of history.
While he languished in prison, a group had sprung up, La Espada, The Sword, a coalition of violent street gangs and underling drug lords. Sensing a weakness in the American government, they decided it was time to reclaim the land of Arizona, New Mexico, part of Texas, and Southern California for Mexico. While the administration in Washington was distracted with dissent among its citizens, the Southwest United States was ripe for the picking.
La Espada had the fighters, the fervor, and the money. It was the perfect storm. They were getting stronger as the imperialistic Americanos were getting weaker. It was time. It was his time.
And his hometown gang, Las Cobras, would be el punte de La Espada, the point of The Sword. Las Cobras would spearhead the fight because his gang members were the best fighters. He had trained them himself. They had the fire in their stomachs. They would lead the way.
He smiled and crossed the short distance between his bunk and the wall to touch the place on the map where his war would begin. With a short nod of his head, Tito smiled and tapped his index finger on the map at a bowl-shaped area twenty-two miles north of the Mexican-American border. It was surrounded by the Tohono Indian Reservation on the West, the Ironwood National Forest on the northeast, and the Saguaro National Forest to the east. This dusty patch of ground would become the corridor for future incursions.
Yes, this is the spot, he thought as he crossed his arms and nodded at the map.
His gang had researched the land and told him it was the Pennington Ranch owned by a gringo named Jake Pennington. Tito circled his finger over the bowl-shaped area then tapped the map again. This was the spot where this historic war would begin, and Pennington and his crippled wife would be the first casualties.
Movement at his cell door brought him out of his self-congratulatory, silent monologue. A dark-skinned man hovered there, his face and neck glistening with nervous sweat. He licked his lips, as if unsure about entering the cell uninvited. Tito glowered at the interloper—this inmate was not an associate. He was merely a go-between, a runner, nothing more.
The man hesitantly reached into Tito’s cell and whispered in a heavy Mexican accent, “Samir sent this message. It is set. When you get out, call this number and ask for Rashid.” The man pressed a small folded piece of paper into Tito’s hand. “Tell him the code words, ‘the lantern is lit,’ and he will know it is you. He wants to be a part of this war you talk about.” The man’s eyes darted left and right when the buzzer sounded, indicating lights out in two minutes. He repeated the code and disappeared into the shuffle of men heading toward their cells.
Two months, one week, three days. That’s all that stood between Tito and his rightful place as Latin America’s newest revolutionary leader.
Two miles east of the spot on the map where Tito had tapped, on the western border of Ironwood National Forest, Joan Bowman knelt and tucked the end of the strap through the slide to secure her sleeping bag that looked like a dusty Tootsie Roll. She looked over at Duncan who sat on the sandy ground poring over a dog-eared map.
After the prison break, he could have disappeared off the task force’s radar, but he didn’t go on the run until she joined him. He had been her mentor, her champion, and, at times, her savior. Only toward the end did their relationship change from professional to intimate. A few months of sporadic, lusty sex ended when the Legion fell apart—because of her. Now they were fugitives—former Constitution Defense Legion fighters running from the CDL Task Force. Duncan rose above the betrayal and saved her from going to prison. Went on the run with her. Chose her for his partner.
The sleeping bag forgotten at her feet, she eyed the man whose freckle-faced, fresh look of the boy next door now had a hard set to his jaw and war-carved creases around his eyes—a battle-hardened soldier. He must have felt her looking at him because he turned his head and pinned his hard-stare on her. She didn’t flinch under the scrutiny. Then, as if a ray of sunlight burst through heavy gray clouds, he smiled and her stomach flipped.
“You want to come and look at the map—just in case we get separated in the dark,” he said.
Joan pulled the strap tight, walked the short distance, and knelt on one knee by his side. As he pointed to landmarks to use as visual guides, she tightened the band that held her long brunette hair in a low ponytail.
Hoping the authorities had followed their trail to Mexico, they had dropped hints they were headed south for Cabo San Lucas. Instead, they headed north across the Sonora Desert for the United States. While the task force searched for them in Mexico, they were heading north to Laguna, Arizona to meet up with Kearney, another Legion fugitive. He would provide them with false identification and handguns.
Duncan folded the map and stood up, signaling it was time to move out. As they fastened their bedrolls to their rucksacks, a pickup truck appeared at the end of two ruts that were barely a road. Its spotlight found them, pushing back the dusk, freezing them in the light beam while dust and mosquitoes danced around them. It was too late to run. All they could do was wait for an opportunity to escape.
A man got out of the truck and, with a slow, western drawl asked them what they were doing on his land. When Duncan told him they were hikers who were lost, the rancher lowered his rifle.
“Sorry for the rude greeting. Illegals cross my land, leaving their trash behind and cutting my fences. Don’t mind ‘em coming and trying to make a life for themselves, they’re just so doggone destructive.” He studied the gaunt faces of the two people standing in the wash of his headlights and felt the tension they were trying so hard to hide. His eyes narrowed.
Joan braced herself to fight. Every nerve ending screamed he knew who they were.
He held out his hand. “I’m Jake Pennington. I bet you two could use a shower and some good home cooking.”
Excerpted from "Hottest Places in Hell (Iron Angel) (Volume 2)" by Janet McClintock. Copyright © 0 by Janet McClintock. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.