Crazy Enough: Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Mexico's ChihuahuanDesert was sweltering enough without airplanes exploding all over the place.

Okay, so it had been only one small, single prop aircraft, but the explosion was still hot and unsettling. Corkie Brooks resisted the urge to shield her face from the hot inferno and crouched further behind a cropping of rust-hued rocks high on a ridge, five hundred yards away. Her Nikon clicked like crazy, taking on a life of its own while she photographed the whole scene below. Scores of men from a variety of countries recklessly fired automatic weapons and ducked behind dusty SUVs and abandoned cargo. Bullets whizzed through the dry, hot, air, plunking into rock and metal as often as live flesh. Thank the Lord, none of those men knew she was up here, working silently and secretly, as a mini-war raged down in the valley.

The July sun beat down, burning the back of Corkie's neck, but being one of the best independent photojournalist in the world-if she didn't say so herself-she didn't notice the heat as the photos framed themselves before her eyes.

Arriving at her current location hours before, Corkie scouted the best place to hide and still see all of the valley below her. At first, only a single, black Escalade idled next to the old hanger, looking pristine and out of place. Then all sorts of vehicles arrived, men pooling out into the open and went through the usual greetings. Their business together seemed primarily normal. They could have been discussing the stock exchange around an oval conference table in Manhattan for all the mediocrity she witnessed. It was kinda boring, actually, if not for the dozen bodyguards standing diligently behind each V.I.P., casually holding semi-automatic rifles.

But then a small aircraft descended onto the crude runway, rolling to a stop, emitting more well-dressed visitors, and the arguments began...and then the shooting. Men started dying or fleeing, and the plane exploding during a hasty take-off had just been another casualty.

Corkie wanted to squeal with delight; she could not believe her luck. The action, the bloodshed, all those international criminals in one place! Even Hibram Espinoza, the Mexican cartel boss who had his hands, elbows-deep, in nearly every major criminal-and some innocent-business dealing in the Western Hemisphere, was out in the open for the first time in six years! There was a Chinese gang boss, a few Middle Eastern arms dealers, an American drug lord, and...and...yes, there! There he was. Niro Sultanovich. The only reason Corkie hopped a plane out of D.C. two days ago and hiked several miles through the desert to set her butt on this ridge.

Her informant told her no other details of the meeting, just the location where Niro would be. He was only son of a Slavic crime boss, Anton Sultanovich, and Corkie would know his face anywhere. She'd been chronicling the Sultanovich family for darn near ten years. They were her fascination, her obsession. Niro, especially, got her camera buzzing, since he was rumored to be dead.

Dog-sledding accident, my butt, she thought when she heard about his demise two years ago, not believing it then either. Now, he popped up, out of the blue, and in Mexico.

Got you now, Niro, you bastard, she sang in her head as she clicked his photo over and over. Corkie zoomed in on the light-haired man. He huddled behind a stack of steel barrels while his personal guard attempted to clear a path. This was the story of the year-the World's Most-Wanted Reunion and Niro's presence -and she solely knew about it. Her only task today was to get in, get the pictures, and get out unseen. Just few more...then I'm out of here.

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