Authors: James Raven
This one is for my good friend Ken Jacobs who has sadly moved away and taken his bar with him
' prison in Huntsville, Texas is where hundreds of death row inmates have been executed by lethal injection. I was in Huntsville in 2007 as a journalist researching an article about capital punishment in America.
I spoke to a former prison official who made an astonishing claim about what really happens to some of the inmates who enter execution chambers in the United States.
His shocking claims inspired me to write this book.
James Raven â 2012
HERE WERE FOUR
bodies in the alleyway. They were lying next to each other, fully clothed and drenched in blood.
They’d all been shot – two in the head, one in the chest, one in the back. From the look of them they were all young Hispanic men.
They had dark hair and olive skin. Some of their bare arms were covered in intricate tattoos. One of them was wearing shorts and his left leg was bent at an impossible angle beneath him.
The sheer scale of the crime had prompted the cops to send out an alert to all the other law enforcement agencies in the city of San Antonio.
That was why Aaron Vance had left his warm bed and rushed straight across town to the scene. He’d arrived five minutes ago and had been put in the picture by one of the uniforms. As the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s local field office Vance knew that the killings were going to send a shockwave all the way to Washington.
As he stood in the mouth of the alley, surveying the gory scene, he could feel a tight ball of tension forming in the pit of his stomach. The contorted bodies were about fifteen feet away and they seemed to come to life whenever a police camera flashed.
Murders were not uncommon in San Antonio, the second largest city in Texas. In fact, in the four years he’d been based here there had been a huge increase in the number of homicides, especially those involving drugs. But nothing like this. This was the kind of bloodbath that happened across the border in Mexico where the cartels ran amok. Not in the tourist mecca of San Antonio.
The alley was in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from the famous River Walk and close to one of America’s most treasured sites
– the Alamo. Both were major tourist attractions. The River Walk with its myriad restaurants, bars and hotels. And the Alamo mission where, in 1836, a band of brave volunteers sacrificed their lives fighting for Texan independence.
The cops had yet to confirm whether the men had been gunned down in the alley or if they’d been slaughtered elsewhere and dumped here. But whatever the outcome of the forensic examination the
were going to be enormous. An outraged media would use it as more evidence that the authorities were no longer in control of the streets. They’d demand tougher action to combat the crime wave that was raging across this and every other city in Texas.
Vance was in no doubt that these were gang-related killings. The four men had been executed. And he suspected that those responsible were members of the notorious Texas Syndicate – recently described by the Justice Department as the most dangerous gang in American history. They’d been particularly active this past year, racking up a shameful body count during territorial disputes with other gangs.
The Syndicate was founded inside a prison in the 1970s. Since then it had been recruiting Mexicans in prisons across the state and latest
put their numbers at eight thousand, with twice as many on the outside. The gang controlled many of the street operations across Texas, including drug trafficking, murder, extortion, prostitution, robbery and loan-sharking.
Their illegal activities were netting them tens of millions of dollars every year and although the Bureau had managed to jail scores of them for racketeering and other offences, the gang just kept getting bigger and more powerful.
‘Well if it isn’t my favourite federal agent.’
Vance turned towards the voice. It belonged to a silver-haired
named Chris Koppel. He was of average height, thick through the neck and shoulders, with a face as rumpled as his blue suit.
‘Hi, Chris,’ Vance said. ‘This looks bad.’
Koppel nodded. ‘It’ll cause a shit-storm for sure. We’ll all come under pressure to ratchet up our operations.’
Koppel plucked a bottle of water from his jacket pocket and swigged from it. It was a humid night and he was sweating.
‘It looks like a Syndicate hit,’ Vance said.
Koppel swayed on the balls of his feet. ‘That’s what I figure. Those bastards are taking things to a new level. How the hell are we supposed
to stop them?’
It was a good question, and one they had all been asking themselves for some time. The rapid growth of the Texas Syndicate – along with other organized gangs – had become a matter of grave concern. But drastic cuts to law enforcement budgets meant they had fewer officers and resources to cope with the problem.
‘Who’s running the show?’ Vance asked.
‘Lieutenant Fernandez. He’s over there with the medical examiner.’
‘Are there witnesses?’
Koppel shook his head. ‘Not so far, but it’s early days. We might get lucky.’
‘Who found them?’
‘Some wino looking for a quiet place to bed down for the night. He got the shock of his life.’
The alley ran between the rear of an empty department store and a warehouse. It was just about wide enough to accommodate a
truck. Vance stared at the bodies and felt a flash of heat in his chest. The dead men were spread across the alley. Two of them were lying on their backs, one was face up and the fourth was on his side.
‘They took two bullets each,’ Koppel said. ‘I reckon they were wasted somewhere else and their bodies were offloaded here in the alley earlier this evening.’
‘What about street cameras?’ Vance asked.
‘They’re being checked. But whoever did this would have used a vehicle that can’t be traced back to them.’
Koppel was called away by another detective so Vance lit a cigarette while he waited to speak to Fernandez. It was already clear to him that he would be heavily involved in this case. It was almost certainly linked to organized crime and therefore within the Bureau’s jurisdiction.
He inhaled deeply and sent smoke towards a cloudless sky that was crammed with needles of frozen light.
Just then, his cellphone rang. He took it from his pocket and glanced at the small screen. The caller’s name was withheld. He answered it anyway.
‘Is that Special Agent Vance of the FBI?’ It was a male voice. Deep and husky.
‘That’s right. Who is this?’
The guy cleared his throat. It sounded like a nervous gesture.
‘At this stage I intend to remain anonymous,’ he said. ‘My identity will be revealed to you when we meet.’
‘Is that right?’ Vance said. ‘So what makes you so sure that we’re going to meet?’
‘Because I know you’ll be desperate to find out who I am when you hear what I have to tell you.’
The FBI agent’s ears pricked up. He said, ‘Mind my asking how you got this number?’
‘I have access to all kinds of useful information, Mr Vance. That’s how I know that right now you’re at the scene of a multiple homicide in the city centre.’
Vance looked around. There were people about, mostly cops and crime scene investigators. At the entrance to the alley a small crowd had gathered beyond the police tape. He didn’t spot anyone looking at him.
‘OK, fella,’ he said. ‘You’ve got my attention. What do you want to tell me?’
The guy paused, maybe for effect, and then said, ‘The four dead men in the alley are members of the Texas Syndicate. They were rounded up earlier this evening and then shot out at the quarry near the airport.’
Vance raised his brow and blew smoke from the side of his mouth.
‘Well I appreciate you telling me that,’ he said. ‘I’ll pass it on right away to the detective in charge.’
‘That’s not all, Mr Vance. The men are all police informants. That’s why they were dumped in the alley. The gang want to show you who’s running this city. And they want to send out a message to their own people who might be thinking of turning against them.’
Vance experienced a spot of dread in his stomach. If what the guy was telling him was true then a terrifying new phase in the war with the Texas Syndicate had begun.
‘I know who carried out the killings and I know who sanctioned them,’ the man continued. ‘And I know a lot more besides. Such as the names of the people inside the San Antonio police department and legislature who are on their payroll. Plus, how they launder their cash, where they get their drug supplies and just about everything else you’ve been trying to find out about their organization for years.’
This guy had to be kidding, Vance thought. Only high-ranking members of the gang would be privy to that kind of information, and those guys rarely snitched.
‘I don’t get it,’ Vance said. ‘If you know all this shit then why are you telling me?’
‘Because you’re the FBI’s head honcho in this town,’ he said. ‘And you’re in a position to cut a deal between the Bureau and me.’
‘What kind of deal?’
‘One that will finally deliver a hammer blow to the Syndicate’s operations and to their leadership structure. It’ll set them back years and save countless lives. I’m at the heart of the organization and I know everything. All of the information I have is supported by documents that will stand up in court. It’ll more than justify what you have to do to get your hands on it.’
Vance could feel the adrenaline start to move through his veins. Could this guy really be on the level?
‘So what exactly do we have to do in return for this information?’ Vance asked.
‘Just one simple thing,’ the guy said.
He went on to spell out his extraordinary demand, which caused Vance’s heart to kick up a notch.
The FBI agent drew in a rapid breath and said, ‘The powers-that-be will never go for it.’
‘Then it’s up to you to convince them, Mr Vance. If not, you can kiss goodbye to the opportunity of a lifetime.’
Vance’s thoughts raced wildly. He blew out a stream of smoke that settled in blue-grey clouds above his head.
‘How can I be sure that you’re not just bullshitting me?’ he said.
The guy issued an audible sigh. ‘OK, I’ll give you a little nugget for free. One of the people on the Syndicate’s payroll is a detective Dennis Cross who works in the San Antonio police department. Check out his bank accounts. He receives a fixed amount each month of two thousand dollars. Get him to try explaining where it comes from.’
Vance dropped his cigarette and pummelled it into the ground with the heel of his shoe.
‘I’ll check it out,’ he said. ‘How can I reach you?’
‘You can’t,’ the guy said. ‘I’ll call
in a couple of days. Give you time to talk to your bosses. Once I know the Bureau’s keen we’ll have a face-to-face and start the process.’
‘You better not be wasting my time,’ Vance said.
‘I’m not. You’ll see. Just agree to my terms and what you’ll get in return will blow your fucking mind.’
With that, the guy suddenly hung up. Vance felt his lungs itch for tobacco so he lit up another cigarette. His pulse was racing. After a minute he bounded over to Lieutenant Fernandez and asked him if the victims had been identified. The detective took him to one side and told him that he’d known each of them personally because they’d been police informants who’d been working for the Texas Syndicate.
Vance felt a kernel of excitement take root in his chest.
‘I just got an anonymous tip-off,’ he told Fernandez. ‘The caller said these guys were shot out at the quarry near the airport.’
Fernandez gave Vance a surprised look. ‘Who the hell would know that?’
Vance shrugged. ‘Someone on the inside I guess. You’d better check it out.’
He decided not to ask Fernandez if he knew a detective Dennis Cross because he didn’t want to spark his interest. Instead he stepped away and called the police department’s main switchboard. Sure enough, Detective Cross existed and he’d be on duty the following morning.
Vance then put in a call to his section chief in Washington. He passed on every detail of his conversation with the mystery caller and said he wanted the go-ahead to act on it.
‘Sounds interesting,’ he was told. ‘I’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as I can.’
Vance pocketed his cellphone and realized that his heart was in a sprint. He was glad he’d set the wheels in motion. His intuition told him that Detective Cross would turn out to be a crooked cop. And that the Bureau would stop at nothing to get their hands on every other piece of information in the mystery man’s possession.
Even if it meant crossing the line to do a deal with the devil.