Rich Wyeth’s life is off the rails. His midlife crisis has morphed into a Shakespearean tangle of drugs, insane women, the Sinaloa cartel, $100 million in cash, and ex-special forces assassins who have the green light to end his life. Wyeth is on the run, fueled by cocaine, trying to escape Los Angeles before he winds up hanging from a billboard on the 405.

Excerpt – Chapter 12

“What’s this guy’s name?” Campbell asked Pinder as they drove into downtown Los Angeles. The buildings loomed in mass and height. It was like being swallowed by a steel and glass monster.

Campbell, Pinder, and Wyeth were in Wyeth’s four-door Tundra. They left Campbell’s Chrysler backed into the space next to Pinder’s Mercedes at the Drexler. Campbell had stripped off the plates before they went up to Pinder’s apartment and snorted cocaine and drank vodka until they relaunched in Wyeth’s leg-cramping truck. Campbell was relieved when Pinder directed Wyeth to pull into an alley. They double-parked in front of an unmarked door.

“What’s this guy’s name?” Campbell repeated as he sidestepped between the building and Wyeth’s truck to get to the door.

Pinder was ahead of Campbell. Campbell watched Pinder bang the steel face of the door before saying over his shoulder, “His name’s Klichko. Let me do the talking.” The heavy door popped open, and Pinder disappeared into the building. Campbell followed. He could hear Wyeth behind him.

“Make sure the door locks,” Pinder said, reaching around Campbell and Wyeth, pulling its handle. “It’s alarmed.”

Pinder led Campbell and Wyeth down a short hallway to another unmarked door. Pinder repeated his banging. This time, a tall man in a waist-length black leather coat opened the door.

Campbell and Wyeth followed Pinder into a large windowless room as Klichko closed and locked the door behind them. Campbell saw a cigarette burning in an ashtray on a workbench and lit one of his own. The room was filled with rows of guns. Crates of guns. Rifles, handguns, containers marked with warning labels and stencils in several languages that read Not for Export filled the warehouselike shelves. Ammunition was stacked to the ceiling. Most of it had European or NATO markings on the vacuum-packed cans. The tiny armory smelled like cigarette smoke and Cosmoline.

“I’m telling you, Pinder,” Klichko said as he walked to the workbench and picked up his cigarette. He took a long drag and blew smoke toward the low-hanging fixtures on the ceiling. The light in the arsenal had been siphoned out of a World War II submarine. “This is the last time I sell you cats and fucking dogs, Pinder. I don’t do retail anymore. You know that.”

Klichko was a hulking man, big with wide thick shoulders and a square jaw covered in black bristle. It made his face look dirty. To Campbell, Klichko seemed out of place, especially in downtown Los Angeles. Klichko was New York City. He was old-school East Bloc immigrant and had enough of a Russian accent to snag a profile check in customs. But Klichko spoke English well. When he turned to address Pinder, Campbell noticed a large automatic hanging beneath the man’s coat.

“Let’s get this over with. I’ve got real business waiting.”

“Shit, Klichko,” Pinder said. He walked to the workbench and leaned against it. “Relax, will you? I’m giving you business.”

“I don’t need your business,” Klichko said. “I don’t even want it. You do me no favor. I can go down to Compton and sell ones and twos all night. I don’t do that anymore. I only deal in quantity. This is the last time I make an exception.”

“And I appreciate it, Dimitri,” Pinder said. “Don’t think I don’t.”

“What do you want?” Klichko asked.

“I want two automatic rifles and a pump shotgun,” Pinder said. “The home-defense kind.”

“I can give you M-16s, the old ones,” Klichko said. “I’m not breaking open a case of any of the new shit to sell two goddamn units.” He stepped in front of Pinder and snubbed his cigarette in the ashtray.

“5.56?” Pinder asked.

Klichko nodded as he French-inhaled his smoke.

“How about a sawed-off shotgun?” Pinder asked.

Klichko grunted. “Sawed-off? What’re you going to do, rob a fucking gas station?”

Campbell laughed.

“I’ve got Sportsman Warehouse shotguns,” Klichko said to Pinder.

“How about grenades?” Pinder asked.

“No explosives,” Klichko said. “I don’t carry them. It’s the terrorist shit. DHS will ship you to a fucking dungeon if they smell C4 on your fucking breath.”

Campbell laughed again. He was starting to get into Klichko’s rap.

A dungeon.

Pinder laughed too. “Afraid they’ll send you back to the Ukraine, Dimitri?”

“Fuck you,” Klichko said. “M-16s are what I got. Take or leave.”

Campbell wondered whether the terrorist shit applied to the crates of automatic weapons and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. It looked military. It had to be stolen. This was more serious than getting caught with your pants down in a bank. Campbell was concerned, but he was also impressed by Pinder’s demeanor. Pinder was acting like he bought illegal weapons every day.

Pinder looked at Wyeth and asked, “You ever shoot an M-16?”

At the same time, Campbell watched Pinder remove the chrome cocaine shooter from his pocket and hold it out to Klichko. Klichko took the device and raised it to his nose. He jerked his head back as he snorted the drug.

“I’ve shot an AR-15,” Wyeth said.

To Campbell, Wyeth looked like he was into the deal. Maybe into it too much. Campbell watched Wyeth light a cigarette. Wyeth’s hands seemed steady. Maybe he could handle what Pinder was talking about doing that night. Campbell wondered.

“Same thing,” Pinder said. “The only thing different is you got a rock and roll switch on an M-16.”

Wyeth laughed. Pinder turned his attention to Klichko. “How much for the three pieces?” he asked. Pinder took the cocaine from Klichko and slipped it into his jacket. “Keep in mind I got you a couple of grams of what you just put up your nose. Call it a gift.”

Klichko snorted like a farm animal. “Six thousand for the two rifles,” he said. “I’m throwing in the Mossberg and the ammo. Call it a gift.”

Pinder laughed. “Like I’d call cancer a gift.”

Campbell’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at its screen. It was a text from Cherokee: COPS HERE. TOLD U WR OUT TWN 4 2 DAYS.


Wyeth laughed again. Klichko scowled.

Campbell suddenly wanted out of the back-alley armory. It felt as if ants were crawling over his skin. Campbell fought panic. He lit another cigarette. The feeling would pass. He needed to call his attorney. Not that it mattered, Campbell thought. They were already across the border and well into the land of no return. The only way out was through the other side. Campbell felt his heartrate ramp down a notch. The paranoia passed.

“They’re full auto,” Klichko said. “Nothing like AR-15.”

“Five thousand or I’m going to drive over to Yuma,” Pinder said.

“Yuma,” Klichko said. “I wish you would.” He held out his hand. “The cocaine.”

Pinder reached in his jacket and came out with a small plastic envelope. Campbell could see the dope. It looked like powder, not flake. Pinder handed it to Klichko.

“This is same cocaine as in your pipe?” Klichko asked.

“My pipe,” Pinder laughed. He pulled the shooter out of his pocket. “You want to try it again?”

“I’ll try this,” Klichko said. He turned toward the workbench.

Pinder shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Campbell watched Klichko sweep away an area on the cluttered workbench and dump a little pile of coke on the oil-stained steel. He picked up a business card and began cutting out several short stubbly lines of the drug. Wyeth walked to the gun dealer and pulled a bill from his folded cash. Klichko glanced at him and nodded. Wyeth turned the hundred-dollar note into a tube, rolling it like a joint. He handed it to Klichko, who bent over and sucked two of the lines up his nose.

“Feel better, Dimitri?” Pinder asked.

Klichko didn’t answer. He handed the rolled bill to Wyeth. Campbell knew after snorting two lines of Pinder’s cocaine, even diluted, that Klichko’s head would be close to floating from his shoulders and flying around the cavernous room. The man’s eyes looked like slits in a nuclear bunker. It made Campbell want another hit. He watched Wyeth suck a line greedily up his nose. Klichko gestured to Campbell, and Campbell walked to the workbench.

“Go ahead,” Klichko said. He nodded at the clean white powder. The dope was surrounded by gun parts and dirty tools.

Campbell took the bill from Wyeth and hit one of the lines. Campbell was beginning to think that he might be able to handle what Pinder was talking about doing that night in Chula Vista. Pinder had said that they were dead men, but Campbell wasn’t particularly motivated or demotivated by that judgment. He’d been told this on more than one occasion. Campbell was thinking more about an escape plan. Pinder had said that they could make it out of the country before the cartel tracked them down. Campbell was counting on it. He was thinking about Belize. At least in Belize, they spoke English.

This novel is available for representation. Email the author from the contact page or send a letter to:

Stephen R. Cox
P.O. Box 6145
Albuquerque, NM 87197-6145

Stephen R Cox

Born in Oklahoma, Stephen R. Cox now lives in New Mexico.

He was in the military. He has a BBA from West Texas A&M and an MA from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Other novels by Stephen R. Cox: