Thursday Sampler: The Crossing by C. Ed Traylor

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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. Thursday’s Sampler is an excerpt from The Crossing, a suspense thriller from C. Ed Traylor.

The Story

A routine traffic stop in the Illinois heartland uncovers a sinister secret – a sweeping terrorist plot endangering the lives of thousands of Americans.

The intricate detail of the plot, and the breathtaking intensity of the response by authorities, are captured in The Crossing, a police thriller on a contemporary issue.

The Crossing focuses on Racheed Ul-Bashar, a Pakistani whose grandfather and sister are killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan’s northwestern territories. Driven by revenge against the United States, Racheed develops a plan to smuggle terrorists across the Mexican/American border and attack specific targets.

The obsessive Racheed develops a minutely detailed plot, a synchronized attack that will hit three American cities on the anniversary of September 11. He obtains contact information of Juan Rodrequs, a violent, ruthless drug cartel leader in Juarez, Mexico, who agrees – for a price — to move terrorists across the border and supply all materials needed for the attacks.

All goes well until Diego Garcia, a trusted ally and confidant of the cartel leader, is stopped for a speeding violation in Illinois. There, 400 kilograms of cocaine are discovered, concealed in his vehicle, and he is facing significant prison time. To save himself, the trusted ally, Garcia, becomes an informant for agents of the FBI Terrorism Task Force.

Garcia is allowed to deliver the drugs and return to Juarez under the watchful eye of the FBI, whose Task Force leader, the obsessively focused Jack Hudson, sets up a command post in El Paso and feverishly coordinates a plan to foil the terrorist plot with the assistance of the DEA, CIA, and Homeland Security.   A covert surveillance operation in three countries is established to monitor Racheed as the plot is finalized.

The reluctant Garcia keeps in contact with the FBI, advising when and where the terrorists will enter the United States. The route will be a sophisticated tunnel underneath the Rio Grande that spans from Mexico to an auto body repair shop in a remote location on the outskirts of El Paso.

When the call comes in, an FBI SWAT team descends on four of the six terrorists in a brutal firefight that leaves two agents dead – as well the four terrorists. Unbeknownst to the other terrorists, the informant, or the FBI Task Force, Racheed and his partner, the only suspects left, change plans at the last minute and enter the U.S. at a different location. This unexpected move forces the FBI Task Force to scramble to eliminate the threat to some of America’s largest cities and most cherished attractions.

The Sampler

C. Ed Traylor
C. Ed Traylor

By now, it was nearing four a.m. Rosa navigated the truck around the interchanges near Bloomington, Illinois, home to the international State Farm Insurance headquarters and a beneficiary of the jobs created in Normal, its twin city, the home of Illinois State University. She motored past the spurs and cutoffs and was approaching Exit 160 when she saw red flashing lights in her rearview mirror.

The flashers were on the Illinois State Police squad car of Officer Pete McCord. It appeared a normal traffic stop to McCord, a forty-something family man who had racked up thousands of miles on these Illinois prairie highways in his twenty-one years on the force.

He picked up the Garcias on the south side of Bloomington, and, following procedure, radioed the state police’s District 6 headquarters. “6-97. District 6 traffic stop.”

As usual, the response from headquarters was nearly immediate. “Go ahead 97.”

McCord ran a license check on the vehicle. “Traffic stop on I-55 northbound. Near mile post 160. Texas registration OH 5402.”

With sophisticated equipment, these checks now take only seconds for the headquarters to run. “Plates are clear. Registered to Torres Santiago.”

“10-4.” McCord then activated his red lights and pursued the truck.

After a couple of seconds, it became obvious to Rosa that the lights were for her. An icy chill ran down her spine, and she thrust her hand out to rock her sleeping husband awake. “Wake up, Diego!” she screamed. “We are in trouble!”

Startled, he turned over, wiped his eyes, and saw the reflections of the red flashers that now filled the cabin. “Shit!” he yelled before his thoughts returned to practicality. “All right. All right,” he said excitedly. “Just pull over nice and slow. Let’s see what they want.”

Both thought of their payload in the secret compartment. “What about…” started Rosa.

His response was firm. “No! Just remain calm, and answer their questions. We can get this over with, and get on our way.”

Rosa eased the Ford onto the right shoulder and turned off the ignition. Nearly a minute of uneasy silence passed before McCord walked up to the truck.

“Good evening,” he said in a businesslike manner. “How are you tonight?”

“Fine. Fine,” stammered Rosa, her thick accent coming through.

“Just out for an evening drive or something?” asked McCord.

“Yes.” Her quick reply left an awkward silence. She turned and waved her hand at her husband with a couple of jerking motions. “This is, this is my husband, Diego,” she stammered.

McCord had noticed the unidentified passenger, and now addressed him. “Good evening, sir.” His attention switched back to Rosa. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

Rosa replied in the negative, so McCord provided his reason. “I was sitting back at the last exit and clocked you at eighty-two miles per hour. The speed limit through here is sixty-five miles per hour.”

Rosa knew she and Diego were running a little behind schedule and had wanted to maintain a constant speed. But, tiring from the grueling trip, her foot sank harder on the gas, and she failed to pay attention to the speedometer.

“Oh? I see.” Rosa had little idea what to say. “I guess I, I guess,” she stammered as her grasp of English lagged amid the moment. Large beads of sweat broke out on her forehead as the mid-summer humidity poured through her open window. “I guess I did not realize it.”

“Well, you were,” said McCord, who was used to such excuses. “Can I see your driver’s license and registration, please?”

Now the tension built. During her years in Chicago, Rosa held an Illinois driver’s license, which she had renewed on a subsequent visit. But that was years ago, and the license was now badly outdated. The registration also did not help the situation. The owner of the truck, Torres Santiago, was an El Paso resident familiar to Juan Rodrequs but much less so to the Garcias.

McCord accepted the license from her outstretched hand and walked back to the squad car. He noticed that the driver’s license had expired and radioed headquarters.

“District 6, driver’s license check.”

“Go ahead 97.”

“Name is Rosa Garcia. Date of birth is 11-8-75. Driver’s license is G-100-9997-5987.”

The verification from headquarters was swift. “Driver’s license has expired.”

McCord exited his squad car, methodically walked back to the truck, and informed Rosa that the license was expired. The date of the expiration, so far in the past, concerned him.

“Ma’am, did you know this license is expired?” McCord’s eyebrows were raised at the years-past date, and why she would not have realized that. Still, he had to follow protocol.

“It is?” Rosa asked. “Oh, officer, I am sorry. I guess I did not realize it. I had to go back to Mexico to visit my parents, and it must have expired while I was gone.”

The flimsy excuse provided nothing satisfactory to McCord. “Then I will have to ask you to step out of the truck, and come back to the squad car. You will need an explanation on bonding.”

Rosa looked over at Diego, and he shifted his head backwards signaling her to go back to the squad car. She deliberately opened the door, crept out of the truck, and walked ahead of McCord though staying at a considerable distance. Terrified, her legs felt stiff, her stomach twisted, her feet leaden. The red flashers reflected off the dark truck and created a visible shadow of her.

When she finally reached the patrol car, she paused, collected herself, and opened the door, sitting on the seat beside the officer. The air conditioner in the squad car did little to alleviate her nervous perspiration. McCord engaged her in small talk to gain some more information.

“Why were you driving so fast tonight?”

Rosa now offered several excuses. “Oh, officer. I did not realize how fast I was going. It’s so late, and I was tired. I guess I never thought to look at-what do you call it-the speedometer.”

“And your driver’s license? That expired a long time ago.”

She stammered her response. “Y-Y-yes. Well. Like I said, I had to go back to Mexico for my parents. It must have expired before I came back.”

That excuse was just as shallow as before. “You must have been in Mexico for a long time then,” prodded McCord. “Why were you heading to Chicago tonight?”

Rosa and Diego had offhandedly discussed this beforehand, and in passing came up with an alibi if needed. “I have family in Chicago,” she said, knowing that was verifiable. “We were also picking up furniture for the man who owns the truck.”

“He must have really wanted that furniture,” McCord said with skepticism evident.

“Oh, yes. It was a family heirloom.” Rosa seemed proud that she could pull that word from her limited grasp of the English language.

McCord spied that Diego seemed to be slumping in his seat almost as if trying to hide. “Your husband. Could I have his name and date of birth?”

She provided McCord with the name “Diego Garcia” and his date of birth. McCord wrote down the information and called back to headquarters. “District 6, wants and warrants.”

“Go ahead, 97.” As the radio conversation opened, beads of sweat broke out on Rosa’s forehead, and she squirmed in her seat. McCord’s eyes slid toward her, seeing the sudden uptick in her discomfort.

“Wants and warrants on husband’s name, Diego Garcia. Date of birth 11-24-73.”

Again, technology provided the data within seconds. “Subject has been arrested. Served time for drug trafficking. Arrested by DEA in Texas. Served four years in federal penitentiary.”

The arrest was the only other time that Garcia had failed to complete a drug run for Rodrequs. Eleven years before, he had attempted to deliver a large load of cocaine to a dealer near Houston only to find the dealer was actually an informant.

That was all McCord needed. “10-4. Is there a K-9 unit in the area? If so, send unit to my location.”

To his right, Rosa whimpered softly as headquarters responded. “10-4.” A few seconds of silence followed before another response. “K-9 unit 6-11 en route to your location.”

“10-4.”

Tears flowed down Rosa’s weathered face. Less than ten minutes later, two patrol cars arrived on the scene. One was driven by Doug Madden, backup, while the other held Neptune, a German shepherd trained in sniffing out narcotics. Both McCord and Madden exited their cars and approached the truck once more.

Neptune briskly trotted around the vehicle. In only seconds, his body became tense, and he stretched his front paws on the back of the truck. He stared at the bed, barking and trembling.

That was all his human partners needed to know that something was amiss. McCord requested that Diego get out of the truck, while Madden returned to McCord’s squad car, to ask the same of Rosa. Both were handcuffed as their Miranda rights were recited. Rosa was placed in the back seat of McCord’s squad car, while Diego went into Madden’s squad car for the drive to District 6 headquarters of the Illinois State Police.

Before they left, McCord radioed to headquarters for another trooper and a tow truck. He did not have to wait long, and the third officer was on the scene. McCord and Madden then drove away, prisoners secured in their respective back seats. The tow truck took a little time in coming, as the company the police employed was in downtown Bloomington. Finally, it arrived, hooked on to the abandoned black F-150, and towed it to headquarters.

Neptune’s reaction and Diego’s prior record were ample reasons to request a search warrant on the truck. One was swift in coming, and a team of trained officers was ordered to the holding area to pour over the vehicle. It was certainly not the first time they had searched a possible drug vehicle as those were among their most common inspections.

As they meticulously went over the truck, they noticed what appeared to be a slot in the bed. One officer ran his fingers into the slot and noticed that the bed shifted with it. He slowly raised the bed to reveal the false bottom, stuffed with the four hundred kilograms of cocaine.

No one on the team reacted strongly, for they had seen it all before. Still, it was a sizable load, and there was more work to be done. Procedure called for the Drug Enforcement Agency to be informed, and a call went to the office of agent Tony Martinez.

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