To March Into Hell - Excerpt
Copyright © Ron Parham
The old gray-haired gringo stumbled into the musty Tijuana bar, holding a cane in his left hand and mumbling to himself, oblivious to everyone else but her. He raised his head and smiled through brown, broken teeth. The young bar girl smiled back as she sauntered up to him, giving him a kiss on the cheek as she walked him to a table.
“That is him?” a man watching from the back of the El Californian bar said to the young man next to him. “How could he be the one we’ve been looking for?”
The young man leaned in closer. “That is him, Raza. Everyone calls him the old gringo and thinks that he is very old, but he is not as old as he looks. He’s the one, for sure.”
“What is his name, and why does he need a cane? He is half the size of the one we seek.”
The young man, Rafael, put his mouth close to Raza’s ear, the music from the jukebox nearly drowning him out. “His name is Freddie and he had his leg blown off in the war in Vietnam. He is stooped because of many years of drinking, drugs and, well, life. But he is the one.”
They continued to stare at the old man sitting at the table with the young bar girl, watched him run his hand up and down her back, caressing her long, black hair, a disgusting smile on his unshaven face.
“Why does she do it? He’s ugly, old, and unwashed. He must smell like Tijuana garbage. She is beautiful, young, her whole life in front of her.” Raza looked at Rafael. “She is probably your age.”
“He gives her much money.”
“What is her name?”
Raza turned back to look at the bizarre scene in the front of the bar. “Where does he get the money to pay Jessie?”
“U.S. Army disability, I think. I’m not sure.”
“His family name, it is the same as the one we seek?”
“The stinking bastard that killed my brother while I was rotting in prison,” Raza said, staring at the old man at the bar.
“Si,” Rafael said, looking at the scar on Raza’s right cheek.
Raza turned in his chair and peered at Rafael. “Why do you look at me? Am I ugly?”
Rafael dropped his head. “No, Jefe. Forgive me, but I was wondering why you don’t have the same last name as your brother?” Rafael cringed at his boldness. “I never knew him to use the family name of Raza, just Rojas.”
Raza grinned, showing gleaming white teeth, contrasted by one gold tooth in front. “My father used to watch an old gringo movie called The Professionals, back when Angel and I were young, probably eight or nine years old. The movie took place in Mexico, on the border somewhere. There was a character in the movie called Jesus Raza, a very bad man, but macho, and much respected by his countrymen. He was known as the bloodiest cutthroat in all of Mexico and everyone was afraid of him. My given name is Jesus, but because my father loved that movie and that character, he began calling me ‘Raza’. No one calls me Jesus anymore, just Raza, or sometimes El Matador.”
“It means the one who kills the bull – the killer. That was my nickname in the cartel before I went to prison.”
“You were a bullfighter?” Rafael asked.
Raza laughed. “No, but I am the one who kills.”
Rafael saw the gleam in his eyes, the same gleam he used to see in his brother’s eyes before he was killed, but there was something else about Raza that made the sweat run down Rafael’s back. He saw hatred.
“I know what you are thinking,” Raza said, leaning close to Rafael. “Two brothers named Angel and Jesus turned out to be very bad people, but you did not know our father. He was the meanest son-of-a-whore who ever lived. My brother and I had no choice but to become what we became.”
Rafael stared wide-eyed at the man, knowing Raza had a reputation of never talking about his past, to anyone.
“I want you to get this old gringo’s brother down here to Tijuana,” Raza said, still staring at Rafael. “Do whatever you have to do, but get him here. I will avenge my brother, do you understand?”
“Si,” Rafael said, “I will do my best.”
Raza grabbed him by the front of his shirt, his eyes wide and threatening, his face just inches from Rafael’s. “You are the only one who has seen him face-to-face, amigo. You will do it or you will die in his place. Now, are you sure you understand?”
Rafael gulped air. “Si, Jefe, I understand.”
Raza released his grip on Rafael’s shirt. “You are a good soldier, Rafael. You served my brother well as a young boy, but now you are a man and must do this for me.”
“Si, Raza, I will do it.” Rafael tried to hide his trembling hands as he turned and stared at the old gringo in the front of the bar.
Raza grinned at Rafael, his white teeth shimmering in the darkness. “Who am I?” he said, staring into the young man’s eyes.
“You are Raza.”
“No, Rafael,” he said, sitting up straight. “I am Raza, the bloodiest cutthroat in all of Mexico.” Raza laughed loudly as he put his finger to his throat and slid it slowly across. “Do not let me down, amigo. I want Jake Delgado.”
Festival of Fear - Excerpt
Copyright © Ron Parham
Sunday, September 30, 1962
Sunday night was family night at the Paxton house, usually spent watching television or doing homework. Tonight the whole family was gathered around the black and white TV. Three year-old Ethan was lying on the floor playing with toy army soldiers, his seven-year-old brother next to him knocking them over when his mother wasn’t looking. Nick sat on the sofa next to his mother, staring at the fuzzy images on the screen. Clint Paxton sat in his easy chair puffing on a pipe.
“President Kennedy received the letter from Soviet Premier Khrushchev today, which stated that the young President should be under no illusions. An American attack on Cuba would bring retaliatory action against Berlin, or the United States," Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes said.
“What does he mean, retali…retali…,” Bo said, looking at his dad.
“Retaliatory, means the Commies will strike us back if we do anything in Cuba,” Nick said, glancing at his father. “Right, Dad?”
Clint Paxton continued watching the TV, nodding his head as he puffed on his pipe. “That’s right, Nicky.”
“Why are the Commies so mad, they’re the ones with all the weapons in Cuba?” Bo said, standing up. “Where’s Cuba?”
Nick shook his head. “What do they teach you in school, knucklehead? Cuba is off the coast of Florida, not very far away.”
“I knew that,” Bo said. “Why does President Kennedy say ‘Cuber’ instead of Cuba?”
Nick reached over and punched his younger brother in the arm. “’Cause he’s from Boston, they all talk weird.”
Clint Paxton, changing the channel on the TV, put his hand up and said, “shhh.”
And in local news, two small counties in southwestern Iowa, Walnut and Adams, are dealing with their own crisis. Three teenage girls from local towns have been missing for three weeks. The families are distraught, as can be imagined. Local law enforcement has no clues to the disappearance of the three girls. Residents of surrounding counties are urged to keep a watchful eye out for the girls on your screen and contact your local police or sheriff’s office if you see or hear anything. And a word to the parents in southwest Iowa. Keep your doors locked and your children close until this crisis is resolved.
Clint turned off the TV, taking the pipe out of his mouth, exhaling one last puff of smoke. “The last girl is from Walnut County, right next to us. You know any of these girls, Nick?”
Nick shook his head. “No, but we just played football against Walnut Hills on Friday.”
Eloise Paxton stood up and walked quickly to the front door and locked it. “Bo, go lock the back door, please.”
“I don’t think there is a lock on the back door, Mom,” Bo said, standing up. “But I’ll go check.”
Eloise looked sternly at her husband. “Clint, I want you to go to the hardware store tomorrow morning and get us a lock for the back door.”
Clint put his hands out, palms down, slowly moving them up and down. “Let’s settle down here,” he said. “Panic isn’t going to accomplish anything.”
Eloise continued to stare at her husband as Nick and wide-eyed little Ethan stared up at her.
“Okay, okay, I’ll buy a lock in the morning,” Clint said, looking at the two boys.
“What about tonight?” Eloise asked.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Bo said, walking back into the living room. “we have a hook lock so I locked it. I didn’t even know we had one.”
Clint smiled at his middle son, letting out a chuckle. “Neither did I.”
“Are there bad men outside?” little Ethan said, looking at his mother.
Eloise reached down and picked the three-year old up, cradling him to her chest. “No, we’re just being careful, Ethan. Nothing to worry about.”
Bo came running back into the living room carrying his little league bat. “I’ll break his legs if he tries to get into our house!”
Nick reached for the bat and grabbed it from Bo. “Hold on, slugger, nobody’s getting into our house. Besides, sounds like whoever is doing this only wants girls. We’re all boys in this family – except Mom, of course.”
Clint and Eloise laughed, with little Ethan giggling along with them. “Yeah we’re boys!”
Nick slowly lost his grin when he thought about Sarah. But Sarah’s a girl, and a pretty one. I need to talk to her tomorrow at school about this.
“I think we need to be more worried about the Russians,” Clint said, puffing on his pipe again. “Things look like they’re starting to heat up in Cuba.”
“That’s Cuber, Dad,” Bo said with a big grin.
Everyone in the Paxton family laughed, except Nick.
Copperhead Cove - Excerpt
(Excerpt of Chapter 13)
Copyright © Ron Parham
Bo shifted his eyes between the cottonmouth and the big man, trying to decide which predator was the most dangerous. He couldn’t decide, so remained still. The cottonmouth got its name from its snow white mouth when it opened it wide to show its fangs just before it struck. So far, it was just vibrating its tail. If it opened its mouth, he was a goner. He glanced to the left and saw the big man getting closer, looking at the brush next to the water.
Bo slid deeper into the water, just his eyes showing. It didn’t work. The big man locked onto Bo’s eyes and smiled.
“Hello, sunshine,” the man said, staring down at Bo.
He raised the rifle and pointed it at Bo’s head. Bo glanced to his right and saw the white mouth and fangs, but the cottonmouth wasn’t facing him, it was facing the big man. The man took one more step towards Bo, his left foot just inches from the deadly snake. The cottonmouth struck with lightning speed, hitting the big man’s calf. The man screamed and dropped his rifle. The cottonmouth, still feeling threatened, recoiled and got ready to strike again. The man dropped to his knees, holding his leg. The cottonmouth struck again, this time in the man’s arm. The man yelled at the top of his lungs, causing the cottonmouth to recoil. It struck the big man again, this time in the neck, near the jugular vein. No sound came out of the man as his eyes grew wide as he stared down at Bo, who was just a few feet below him. He slowly collapsed forward, landing only inches from Bo’s face, his head in the murky water, twitching and making gurgling sounds. Bo turned to face the cottonmouth. All he saw was a white mouth and fangs, this time facing directly at him. Bo pushed off of the shore with his one good leg, out into the green water. He saw the cottonmouth close its mouth and retreat, evidently satisfied that the threat was gone.
Molly’s Moon – Excerpt
Copyright © Ron Parham
Jake Delgado rubbed his forehead as he walked into the Cozy Hut café, just a few blocks from the bustling Gas Lamp District of San Diego. He had a first-class hangover from the night before, having passed out again at the El Toro Bar and Grill. He rubbed the six-inch scar on his left cheek as he glanced around the small restaurant. Everyone in the cafe was looking up at the television set in the corner, their eyes fixed on something.
Every table was full so he slid into the only empty seat at the counter, his back to the television, not really caring what they were staring at.
“Morning, Jake. Coffee?” asked a small, wrinkled, gray-haired woman behind the counter.
“Yeah, thanks Helen.” Jake winced from the pain in his head.
Jake looked up and down the counter to see if there was anyone he knew. Not recognizing anyone, he decided to give the TV a look, just to satisfy his curiosity. He turned sideways on his stool and glanced up at the small TV. What he saw didn’t compute in his alcohol-muddled brain at first.
“What the hell is going on?” he said to no one in particular, staring at the TV.
The man sitting next to him looked up. “Are you serious?”
Jake looked at the younger man in the suit and tie. “Yeah, I’m serious. What the hell is going on?” Damn yuppies, always invading his little joint.
The man looked Jake up and down, shaking his head in disbelief. “The World Trade Center has been attacked! Planes flew into them! Where the hell have you been?”
“First of all, it’s none of your damn business where I’ve been, and second of all…what the hell do you mean ‘planes flew into them?’” Jake took a swig of coffee to ease the pain in his head.
“Airplanes, commercial airplanes with passengers, flew directly into both towers. Hell, it’s been on TV for the past two hours!” the man said, staring at Jake’s scar.
Jake knew the man was staring at him but decided he wasn’t worth it, and turned his attention to the television. He saw large buildings with smoke pouring out of them. This can’t be real – it’s a damn movie. He turned his back on the guy in the suit and looked at an older, gray-haired man on his other side. Not a regular but not a yuppie either.
“Hey, what’s this all about?” Jake said, hoping for a straight answer.
The man looked at him in the same way the other man did. “What he said,” pointing to the man in the suit. “Damn, mister, you been sleeping under a rock?”
Disgusted, Jake grabbed his coffee, slowly got up from his stool and walked towards the tiny TV in the corner, his head pounding. Words were streaming below the picture. Maybe they would give him a straight answer.
At 8:46 a.m., eastern daylight time, American Airlines flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center……..At 9:03 a.m., eastern daylight time, United Airlines flight 175 flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center…..At 9:37a.m., eastern daylight time, American Airlines flight 77 flew into the west side of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C……At 9:59 a.m., eastern daylight time, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed….At 10:28 a.m., eastern daylight time, the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed…..
Jesus Christ! It’s true! He looked at the picture on the screen which was showing the collapse of one of the towers. Ash was spewing out and people were running in all directions. Jake stared at the picture, shaking his head in disbelief, which made his head hurt again.
At 10:03 a.m., eastern daylight time, United Airlines flight 93 crashed in a remote area of Pennsylvania, killing all on board. It is believed that the flight was hijacked by terrorists and was heading for Washington D.C., possibly targeting the White House or Capitl……
Jake turned around, looking at the clock behind the counter. Eight thirty. He slowly looked around, staring at the people in the café. They were all oblivious to him, all mesmerized by the pictures and words in the little box in the corner. Turning back to the TV he saw the second tower collapse. He backed away, shaking his head. Finally, he turned around and walked out of the café, leaving his coffee and two dollars on the counter. No one noticed.