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Author J.R. Hampton

The Snapback

(Completed Manuscript)


Jessica Eden grabbed the only thing in her pocket—a blue one-milligram Xanax tablet, her third of the day. Or maybe the fourth. She’d lost count. All she knew as she watched her partner walk onto the hot set of the press conference was that she needed more.

A reporter spotted him and waved him over. The Mexican agent stepped in front of the cameras with a blazing smile. Jessica shrank against the seat of their unmarked SUV, pressing her spine deep into the leather. “Don’t be stupid, please don’t be stupid,” she said. But Oscar Descante couldn’t hear her. She’d stayed behind, parked outside the Mexico City cargo hangar, knowing her height (pushing six feet) and the prematurely white hair grazing her shoulders (she was only thirty-one) made her stand out at events like this. Her lips drew to a thin line. Descante knew better than to take a risk like this. He knew to leave the pressers to the PR people. La Grava cartel would be here taking careful note of anyone involved in the seizure of their plane—a plane loaded with laundered drug money inbound from the U.S. This plane marked the end of the first month of a successful revenue seizure blitz orchestrated by a joint Policía Federal Ministerial PFM-DEA task force. The PFM, despite the DEA telling them it was a bad idea, had insisted on a press conference to mark the occasion.

Jessica pressed her thumbnail into the blue oval until it broke in half. She debated: all now or half later? Descante stood in a halo of light, hands animated as he answered reporters’ questions. His recklessness was dangerous for them both. Hell with it. She tossed both halves into her mouth and chewed. Jessica functioned perfectly well on Xanax, had for years. Even the higher doses she’d been taking this past six weeks on assignment in Mexico hadn’t changed that. The same could not be said for feeling she was about to step out of her skin. Her anxiety was seriously rattling its cage tonight.

The next morning on her coffee run, she noticed a black sedan parked across from the building that housed the joint PFM-DEA task force. The vehicle was there when she ran out to grab lunch a few hours later, and again the following morning when she arrived for work. She alerted Fidel Roye, the PFM director, who said he’d put someone on it. Jessica thanked him and made a mental note to give it to the end of the week before escalating to Evan Leigh, the Mexico City DEA Special Agent in charge. The six weeks she’d been working with the PFM-DEA task force, Fidel had given lip service to her suggestions, but done nothing. She’d asked her partner Oscar to help her at least get the important stuff across. He was a good sport about it, telling her Fidel was old school, not a good listener, and not to take it personally.

“Seriously? He listens to everyone else,” she’d said. “I’m the only one he ignores.”

Es dificil ser la reina.” Hard to be the queen.

“That’s not helping,” she’d said. Oscar had laughed.

Jessica waited and watched the car on her trips outside the building. It sat parked across the street, blacked out windows and chrome grill leering, the rest of the week. The next Monday, it was gone.

She followed Fidel to his office after the Monday morning team meeting. She asked if he’d found out anything about the surveillance.

“What surveillance?” Evan Leigh entered Fidel’s office behind her. He bobbed his shaved head as he came through the doorway, a reflex from many years of doorframes an inch shy of his height. She bit the inside of her cheek. His history with her boss, Xavier Ekhardt was the reason she was here. Evan had an opinion about everything it seemed, and his about her was sure to get back.

The two men had gone through Army Ranger School together and served in the same military intelligence unit. Evan had joined the DEA after the army and Xavier had founded Quanticore, a private intelligence agency. Evan asked her boss for help when the Mexico City PFM found a scrap of scribbled flight schedules on the body of a baggage handler—a known La Grava associate. It was Jessica’s work that led to the seizure of the first La Grava plane. Fidel hadn’t been able to ignore that. Based on that first success, a full-on revenue denial operation had been launched. Jessica had been partnered with Oscar Descante, Fidel’s righthand to help with intel analysis. She suspected it was more to keep an eye on her. That had been a month ago.

She told Evan about the car. “It didn’t move all week, like they wanted us to notice they were there watching. All of which makes sense given the stunt Descante pulled.”

“What stunt?” Evan asked.

Why didn’t Evan already know? Weren’t he and Fidel supposed to be jointly running this joint task force? “Showboating at the press conference.” Jessica crossed her arms.

“He did?” Evan looked at the PFM director.

Fidel shrugged. “Descante answered some reporters’ questions, that’s all.”

“And the next day a car showed up and stayed parked across the street while you did nothing,” she said. “Descante’s stunt blew our cover. La Grava for sure knows all the agents on the task force by now.”

“I already said we’d look into it.”

“And did you?” Jessica was all out of polite. Her eyes landed on the wall clock above Fidel’s head. She was pissed and it wasn’t even lunchtime.

“Descante’s handling it. He led the team after all.”

“What he led was La Grava straight to our—”

“Sounds good, Fidel. Keep me posted,” Evan said. He made a move for the door, then turned. “Where is Descante anyway? I missed him at the team meeting this morning.”

“He’s in the field.” Fidel looked at Jessica over his half-rim glasses. “Probably looking into it.”

“Like y’all would even know.” The Texas accent Jessica had meticulously trained out of her speech snuck through, hitching a ride on her frustration.

Evan shot her a look. “Keep up the good work.” He walked out of Fidel’s office. Jessica loped after him.

“Your report ready for the debrief this afternoon?” Evan asked as she caught up to him.


“Good. How about giving Roye a break and focusing on that instead?”

“How about the surveillance?”

“Director Roye said he’s got Descante on it.”

“You believe that?”

Evan’s shoulders rose and fell. “Look. Fidel Roye is the PFM director and we’re his guests. There’s no dick for me or you to swing here. I’ll follow-up with Fidel about the surveillance later.”

“What if there isn’t a later? I mean, that car was out there for three days.”

“Let it go, Agent Eden.” Evan continued to his office.