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From the Shamus Award-nominated author of the critically-acclaimed Jack Keller southern crime series comes an explosive stand-alone thriller about an undercover federal agent, a chameleon whose specialty is assaulting criminal organizations from within.
He was the most talented undercover agent in FBI history, until he dropped completely off the grid, and hasn't been heard from in years. Did he go native, or was he discovered and killed? When Tony Wolf is finally driven out into the open, torn from deep cover during the rescue of two kidnapped children, he becomes the number one target of both the vicious biker gang he double-crossed and a massive Federal manhunt.
But Tony’s tired of being the hunted, and as both the gang and a traitorous FBI agent converge on a small southern town, they’re all about to learn a hard lesson: When the Wolf breaks cover, he doesn’t always run away.
Sometimes he comes straight at your throat.
Critically acclaimed author J.D. Rhoades has written his most compelling thriller to date--a pulse-pounding novel that leaps off the page and will leave readers begging for more.
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J.D. RHOADES lives and practices law in Carthage, North Carolina.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneHAVE YOU SEEN US? THE FACES OF THE TWO BOYS WERE EVERYWHERE: stapled to roadside telephone poles, tacked to bulletin boards in Laundromats and grocery stores, taped to the sides of cash registers in convenience stores. HAVE YOU SEEN US? The pictures were grainy and blurred from repeated copying on creaky, overused public machines. The photo had been taken at a birthday party or some other festive occasion. The younger boy wore a cheap paper party hat with a tuft of plastic streamer jutting from the top. The older boy had his arm around the younger one’s shoulders. The gap-toothed grins on the boys’ faces contrasted grotesquely with the desperation of the hand-lettered caption. HAVE YOU SEEN US? Sanders’s eyes flickered over the familiar poster as he waited in line. He knew who the boys were; everyone knew by now. The missing Powell boys, Evan and Earl, had seized as much news airtime as a dozen small wars. They had been taken from their suburban Raleigh home by someone invariably described as "an unknown assailant." There were also pictures of the unknown assailant, a drawing made by a police artist from the description of witnesses who had seen him talking to one of the boys. The boys were widely presumed to be dead, although no one would actually say this, least of all on the local news. Sanders turned his attention back to the counter. The clerk was a bulky teenaged girl with bored eyes, a sullen mouth, and a gold stud through her tongue that flashed in the glare of the fluorescent lights when she spoke, which wasn’t any more often than she could help. Her demeanor indicated a stubborn resistance to the idea of hurry. She rang up the gas purchase for the man in front of Sanders with short, erratic stabs of her fat fingers on the cash register keys. "Mbackseeus," she mumbled at the customer, dismissing him from her consciousness as she said it and turning to Sanders in the same motion. "Atbeall?" Sanders put a Mountain Dew and a pack of Nekot crackers on the counter. "No," he said, "I need to fill up on pump number four. Supreme." "Leave the gas card," the girl said. "Don’t have one," Sanders said. The girl looked at him in exasperation. "You gotta come back an’ pay, then." "I know," Sanders said. "But you won’t turn the pump on until I come in and ask." The girl heaved a heavy sigh and turned to the console that controlled the gas pumps. She punched the keys to turn on the pumps as if she were imagining poking Sanders in the eyes. She turned back. "Well?" she said, as if she were offended that Sanders was still there. "I want to pay for the drink and the crackers now." "You gotta pay all at once," the girl said. "Says who?" Sanders replied. "There some kind of problem, Alison?" a voice said. Sanders turned. The man standing a few feet away was about the same height as Sanders, but he was slim and wiry where Sanders was stocky. It was hard to tell his age; he looked about forty at first glance, but his skin was lined and creased by long exposure to the outdoors and pockmarked with ancient acne scars. He had thinning sandy hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He was dressed in a light brown deputy sheriff ’s uniform. The gold star gleamed on his right breast pocket. There was a rectangular gold name badge over the other pocket. Sanders could make out the raised black lettering against the gold background: T. BUCK-THORN. "He’s got to pay for the stuff all at once," Alison complained to the deputy. "I’m thirsty," Sanders said. "I want to drink my drink while I fill the tank. I don’t know why this is a—" "Tell you what, Alison," the deputy said, "I’ll walk out and keep an eye on him. I’ll make sure he doesn’t drive off without paying, okay?" "Well..." the girl said doubtfully. People had begun lining up behind Sanders, and the way they were shuffling their feet and looking annoyed decided the question. "Okay," she said, giving Sanders a look of smoldering disgust as she rang him up. Buckthorn was right behind Sanders as he walked out to his truck. It was a Ford F250, brand-new. Sanders got a new truck every year. He worried sometimes that maybe it was too conspicuous, but it was the one luxury he allowed himself. In another time and place, he had ridden a motorcycle, but pickups helped him blend into the landscape these days. Plus, the road he lived on tended to get tricky in bad weather, the kind of tricky that called for four-wheel drive. Sanders popped the top on the Mountain Dew can with one hand while he took the gas nozzle off the hook of the pump. As he started pumping the gas, the deputy leaned against the metal light pole between the two banks of pumps. He took a toothpick out of the pocket of his uniform shirt and stuck it in his mouth. Sanders didn’t look directly at him, but in his peripheral vision, he could see the man watching him. "Alison’s a sweet girl," Buckthorn said to Sanders. "She just doesn’t want Jeff—that’s the owner—to get mad at her. He’s kind of particular about how he wants things done." "Uh-huh," Sanders said. "See, I know Alison. I know her family. I try to know everybody around here." "I’m sure they appreciate that," Sanders said. The deputy scanned him for a few moments, looking for sarcasm. "Thing is, Mr. Sanders, I don’t know you. And what bothers me is that I can’t seem to find out anything about you. Beth Anne at the Pine Lake Realty says you pay your rent on the old Jacobs farm in cash every month. Y’don’t see that much. And you don’t seem to have a job, so I’m figuring you’re pretty well off." "I have a trust fund," Sanders said. "My uncle died and left it to me." "Lucky you," Buckthorn said. "But then, like you said back there, you don’t have any credit cards. That’s kind of odd, don’t ya think?" There was a clunk as the gasoline reached the level of the nozzle and it shut off. Sanders pulled the nozzle from the intake and set it back in its niche on the pump. "You do keep pretty well informed. Some folks might call that invasion of privacy." Buckthorn shifted the toothpick to the other side of his mouth and smiled. "I call it good community policing. So do most of the folks around here. They don’t mind me checking up. Makes ’em feel safer. ’Course, they’ve got nothin’ to hide. You got something to hide, Mr. Sanders?" Sanders began walking back toward the store. He saw the girl’s pale face staring at him through the glass of the front window. It showed the most interest he had seen in her face yet. He heard Buckthorn’s footsteps behind him as he reached the door. He stopped and turned. "What do you want, Deputy?" Buckthorn stopped and crossed his arms across his chest. "I want to know who you really are, Mr. Sanders. I want to know why you’re here." Sanders turned back to the door. "I’m here because I like peace and quiet," he said. He took hold of the door handle and looked steadily at the deputy. Buckthorn uncrossed his arms. "Well, then, we should get along okay," he said. "I like that, too. Have a good evenin’, Mr. Sanders." He flicked the toothpick into the nearby trash receptacle and walked off toward his cruiser, parked at the edge of the concrete lot. Sanders took a deep breath and went inside. He tried to ignore the girl’s stare as he paid for the gas. He felt her eyes on his back as he walked to the truck. The deputy’s car was pulling out as Sanders got behind the wheel. He started his own vehicle and pulled out behind, careful to keep below the posted speed limit. The little store was located on a country road a few miles outside of town. He pulled up to the stop sign at a crossroads. Straight would take him onto Main Street in the little town of Pine Lake. The left turn took him out the long two-lane country road to his house. The deputy’s car pulled away, going straight toward town. Sanders noticed his hands were shaking. Nobody was coming in either direction, but he sat there for a moment while he calmed down. Just a redneck deputy throwing his weight around, he told himself. It’s nothing. As he sat there, a white van came down the road from his left. It was unmarked, nondescript. If it hadn’t been the only vehicle on the road, Sanders wouldn’t even have noticed it. As he watched, the van went through the intersection and pulled over to the shoulder. Sanders saw that the rear windows of the van were covered with cardboard taped over the inside. His brow furrowed slightly. Suddenly, the piece of cardboard was ripped away from the left rear window. Sanders found himself staring into a face he had seen before. He had just seen it on a poster in the store. He had seen it on every news brief and local news show on TV. It was the face of Earl Powell. The boy’s face was contorted with terror. He mouthed what looked like the word "help" before an unseen hand jerked him out of the window. The cardboard was replaced. There was a brief pause; then the van jerked back into motion. Sanders sat for a moment, paralyzed with shock and uncertainty. He wondered if he had really seen the boy’s face. His hand seemed to move of its own accord as he put the truck in gear. He fell in behind the van, following at a good distance. He passed the driveway to his house. He thought for a moment about stopping and calling the cops. Then he remembered Buckthorn and changed his mind. He didn’t want to have to deal with the deputy again. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but he reached behind the passenger seat and pulled out a black pistol, a Glock 9 mm. TIM BUCKTHORN glanced in his rearview as he pulled away, watching Sanders sit at the c...
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