Mariah Stewart

Dead End

The fourth book in the Dead series, 2005

I have been blessed to have had the most wonderful, incredible women in my corner for ten glorious, fun-filled years. Love and thanks to my personal dream team-Kate Collins, Linda Marrow, Gina Centrello, and of course, St. Loretta the divine.

Talk of devils being confined to hell, or hidden by invisibility! We have them by shoals in the crowded towns and cities of the world.

Talk of raising the devil! What need for that, when he is constantly walking to and fro in our streets, seeking whom he will devour.



CortesCity, Santa Estela

Central America

December 2002

An unhealthy dampness clung to the shacks of corrugated tin and rotted wood in the poorest section of a poor city. Beyond the mean dwellings, the river moved lazily to the ocean just a few scant miles away. Between the windowless shacks and the river stood a series of ramshackle warehouses-long abandoned by the banana trade-and several decaying docks where only the most dangerous or the most desperate dared to venture after the sun went down.

A street fair earlier in the evening had lured the residents of the shacks to the town center some blocks away, where reggae had blended with salsa and hip-hop to flavor the night. At this late hour, however, even the most die-hard revelers had staggered home, drunk and exhausted, leaving the unfriendly streets to the rats and little else.

The rattle of the old panel truck as it made its way toward the docks might have drawn attention had not the local population celebrated themselves into a stupor. Slowing as it came to the alley between the last two warehouses, the truck jerked to a stop, but its engine remained running. Within minutes, a black SUV with tinted windows pulled boldly behind the truck and made a half U-turn. The drivers of both vehicles got out and conversed in hushed tones, their gestures speaking more loudly than their words, as they negotiated a mutually agreeable amount for the truck’s cargo. Finally, a deal struck, the driver of the SUV motioned toward his car, and several more men got out. One carried a briefcase. The others carried rifles and made a semicircle around the driver of the SUV.

The truck’s cargo door began to rise as flashlights were trained on the opening. No fewer than forty children, stunned in terrified silence, turned their heads to avoid looking directly into the beams as the lights made their way from one dazed young face to the next.

A lone witness watching from the shadows between the buildings debated what action to take. The children-boys and girls, the youngest of whom appeared to be no more than five or six, the oldest perhaps twelve or thirteen-were obviously all headed for slavery or would be filtered into the international child-sex trade before the end of the week. Whichever hardly mattered at that moment to the observer, who knew only that something had to be done, and quickly. But he was wise enough to recognize that caution had to rule. There was one of him, and at least six of them, perhaps more inside the truck.

He’d come upon the scene by accident as he’d made his way to the last dock, where he was to be picked up by a small boat and whisked away to a larger craft, upon which waited the helicopter that would take him to a small airport in Mexico. From there, he’d be shuttled back to the States. His mission-totally unrelated to the scene unfolding around him-was now complete, and he was expected to give a full report to his superiors at Quantico at eight o’clock the next morning.

From downriver, he could hear the first hum of the boat’s motor and knew that he had to make a decision, and fast.

The driver of the SUV directed one of the men to shine the light onto the contents of the briefcase, and as he did so, his face was illuminated as well. The man in the shadows had more than enough time to study the well-lit features. A thin face, sparse dark hair that receded from his forehead, making him appear older than he probably was. Round dark eyes, small and wide set. A nose made flat by at least one run-in with a well-aimed fist. A humorless mouth.

The sound of the boat came closer, though the men in the alley appeared not to hear over the drone of the truck’s engine. The man in the shadows counted the rounds in his gun.

He heard a faint shuffle behind him and flattened himself against the wall of the warehouse, his gun drawn, hoping he wouldn’t have to fire and call attention to himself. He raised the gun as another shadow eased around the corner where he himself had earlier emerged, then lowered it as he cursed softly.

“Jesus! What the fuck are you doing here?” he growled.

“I might ask you the same question,” the newcomer whispered.

“Are you on this? You’re working this?”

“Yeah. Been following them for weeks. No one told me you were part of the operation.”

“I’m not. I’m supposed to be picked up in about three minutes down on the dock. I’m to brief the director in the morning on-” He caught himself. “On another issue.”

“Well, I suggest you get yourself down there, or you’re going to miss the boat.”

“You’re on this, though, right?” He grabbed the newcomer by the arm. “You know what’s in that truck, right? You know what’s going down here, what’s going to happen to those kids? And you’re going to take care of it?”

“Hey, relax. I said I was on it. Don’t worry, they’ll never get the truck out of the alley. We’re just waiting for the deal to be completed, then we’ll get them all.”

“You have backup…?”

“More than enough. Go on, man, get going. Don’t miss your boat. The engine’s cut, they must be right down at the shoreline. But I’d suggest you go out the way I just came in, down through the little stretch of woods to the water.”

“That’s one ugly son of a bitch, down there. Don’t let him get away.”

“Don’t worry.” There was a pause, then he asked, “You saw him? Saw his face?”

“It’s a face I’ll never forget. See you back in the States,” he said as he slipped into the darkness.

The man remaining in the alley leaned back against the wall and exhaled, a long tired breath laden with anxiety. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with both hands and wondered what the hell he was going to do.

The man with the receding hairline and the flat nose took an envelope from inside his jacket pocket and passed it to his companion, whose eyes darted around the outdoor cafe.

“Not to worry. No one here cares what we do,” he said as he signaled for the waiter to bring another coffee.

His companion merely nodded.

“All right, Shields,” the man demanded, “out with it. What’s on your mind? Not having second thoughts about our little bit of commerce, are you?”

“Someone saw you last night.”

“What do you mean, someone saw…” His small eyes grew even smaller. “Saw me?”

“When I came around the building, someone was there, watching you.”

“And you left his body where?”

“It’s not quite that simple.”

The waiter silently traded the old cup for a new one and disappeared back into the cafe.

“Explain to me what is complicated about getting rid of a witness.”

“It wasn’t just any witness. He’s with the Bureau and he’s…”

“He’s an agent? Another agent saw me with a truckload of kids…”

“I told him I was on the case. I told him I was handling it. He doesn’t know who you are.”

“What the hell was he doing there? That’s your job, to make sure that no one else in the Bureau noses around.”

“He was on his way to a pickup, on his way back to the States. He just happened to be getting picked up on the docks at the same time you were concluding the deal.”

“And the reason you didn’t kill him…?”

“If he hadn’t made the boat, there’d have been five or six coming ashore to find him. He was supposed to be meeting with the Director this

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