Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Debriefing

Jeffery Deaver

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2020 by Jeffery Deaver

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Amazon Original Stories, Seattle

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Amazon Original Stories are trademarks of, Inc., or its affiliates.

  eISBN: 9781542016087

  Cover design by Adil Dara



  The air broiling up from the desert was easily 120 degrees. His body screamed for water but water would have to wait.


  As a gunshot cracked, fifty yards ahead of him, Tony Wright dropped. Ridiculous. If he heard the sound the bullet was well past him. It was true; you never heard the shot that killed you. That was the story. He had no objective proof.

  He was behind a wall or hill—it was really both, it seemed, starting as the first and ending up, hundreds of years later, as the second. He found himself face to face with a Thelocactus bicolor. He knew the name because Lucy cultivated them in their backyard.

  Beautiful. Radiant pink flowers atop spiky stalks. Nothing in the desert should be pink, you’d imagine, but much was. This was the first time he had ever had this thought, though he’d lived in and around deserts all his life.

  More bullets, shattering on rock, digging graves in the sand behind him. Those boys were crappy shots.

  Lean, clean-shaven Tony, in cap and jeans and black T-shirt, was sweating his soul out.

  His body armor contributed to the roast but the Kevlar was staying.

  Thirty feet away, he saw one of the men he sought. Stocky, with broad shoulders. Beneath the camo baseball cap was a head smooth as an egg.

  “It’s me—Tone,” he shouted. “I’m coming up.” Taking breaths. Tensing. Then Tony was moving again. He covered the remaining distance fast and flopped onto the ground beside Boyd, who spun around, eyes wide, raising his Glock.

  “No, no, no, it’s me!” Tony squinted away any bullets from the muzzle—a pointless, if not silly, reaction—and instinctively raised his hands. “I just told you!”

  Boyd shouted, “The fuck’re you doing here?” The volume explained it. Jonny Boyd was half deaf from firing his gun. “You’re not on this op.”

  “Nice to see you too,” Tony called. “Thought I’d follow your asses out here. In case you needed some help. Which you look like you do.”

  A flash from a window of the factory fifty yards ahead of them, the bullet zipped by with a snap of fingers. Bullets did that. Breaking the sound barrier, he’d heard.

  Boyd nodded toward the low, dust-shrouded buildings fifty yards away. “Bit off more than we bargained for, didn’t we, El Paso? Or bought more than we could chew.” Boyd’s legendary good humor had returned.

  Tony had worked Street Crime, then Narcotics, with El Paso PD, for thirteen years. He’d been in a dozen firefights. Nobody ever joked during one. And most DEA agents didn’t joke at all, especially supervisors. He liked working with Jonny Boyd.

  Tony asked, “You have any water?”

  “Just margaritas. I forgot the salt.” He fired a round.

  “Where is everybody?” Tony was shouting now too.

  “My guy and gal are over there.” He pointed to a rise on the right, where his two DEA agents were hunkered down behind another ancient wall-hill.

  “And Matt?”

  Boyd said, “That’s why we’re still here and not the fuck gone.”

  A spray of bullets humped the ground in front of them.

  The men shuffled deeper into the sand. A scorpion stalked leisurely past, a big one. “He was checking that place out.” Pointing. Ahead and to the left was a low building, a warehouse maybe. Scabby, lopsided, the beige adobe siding sun bleached. It was ringed with weeds. “Then we started taking fire. He’s trapped.”

  “He okay?”

  “Yeah, just pinned down.” Boyd was then shouting into his microphone attached to an earbud: “Confirm ETA? . . . Well, as fucking soon as you fucking can. They’ve got AKs and M fours . . . Of course they’re full auto. What difference does it make? Get here as . . . soon . . . as . . . you . . . fucking can!”

  Turning to Tony. “Twenty-five minutes, they said.”

  “That’s specific.”

  Boyd grunted a laugh. “Didn’t we sell the Mexicans a half-million helicopters? Can’t they send somebody? I’m pissed and writing my congressman. Yee-ha. Let’s turkey shoot!” He rose and let off a few rounds with his Glock.

  Tony shouted, “Hit anything?”

  Boyd called, “Don’t care. I’m just trying to keep ’em humble.”


  “Who else, ’round here?”

  Tony rose fast and scanned the shooters’ building. He noted a dozen black windows, two dozen shadows in the gaps between the structures. Hundreds of sites for cover, from machinery to tires to pallets to a carton of toilet paper that looked more or less new.

  He spotted no targets and dropped back. “Should’ve shot the scorpion.”

  “Naw. I like scorpions. Son of a bitch. I’m pissed.”

  Tony called, “How many hostiles?”

  “Eight hundred and forty-two.”

  “How’d you get that number? Count the feet and divide by two?”

  “I thought I was the funny man here, El Paso.”

  “Why the hell did he go in alone?”

  Boyd’s face tightened. “We all know Matt.”


  Tony called, “I’m getting him. Cover me.”

  “No, you’re not!” Boyd was fierce. “We’re waiting for backup.”

  “They could overrun him, come up that arroyo on the side. We couldn’t light ’em up from here.”

  “Do not leave, Officer.” Not a gram of humor now.

  But Tony Wright didn’t work for the DEA.

  He began to sprint.

  “Shit!” Boyd shouted. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

  Scrabbling over the rocky and sandy terrain, Tony ignored the itch and sting from the heat.

  A barrage of gunshots from the cartel. But the shooters apparently didn’t see him; they were still aiming in the direction of Boyd and the other two DEA agents.

  Encouraged by his invisibility, Tony covered more ground in a hunched-over sprint, then pitched into an arroyo, through which he scrabbled closer to the building Matt was trapped in. Tony paused and after a no-fucking-bullets-nearby moment, he looked up. He could see Matt inside the fifty-by-fifty-foot building, crouching near a window, his gun in his hand.

  Matt looked every inch the war-movie hero with his trim blond hair, football quarterback’s shoulders, and six-foot-plus height. He was a portrait of calm.

  The man cocked his head, touching his earbud to listen. He frowned. Boyd would be telling him about Tony’s presence. Looking out, he squinted in dismay as their eyes met. Then grimaced. His left arm gave broad sweeping gestures, meaning: Get back. It seemed that he mouthed—or even shouted—those very words.

  Tony rolled over the dusty ridge and sprinted, crouched to half height. Then he was rolling through the doorway onto the warped wood flooring of the ancient building.

  Matt shouted, “Jesus Christ. This isn’t your op. The hell’re you doing here? Who told you to come?”

  A shrug. “Nobody told m
e not to.”

  “Who authorized you?”

  Tony raged in return, “The fuck does that mean? You go to Cartelville, only you from EPPD, and nobody tells me? You don’t tell me?”

  Tony looked around the dim place, scabby walls, hordes of dust motes floating in the sun. A number of recent footsteps in the dust told him that the factory probably was a way station for the Cardozo cartel, a drug drop.

  Matt had stepped away from angry. He was a professional and the pro was now back. He scanned outside, his weapon ready. Still no rounds from the factory were coming their way. The cartel shooters didn’t know they were here. Nodding toward the main buildings, he said, “Place was supposed to be unoccupied. The intel was righteous. I came over here to plant some eyes.” He nodded at a small surveillance camera and Wi-Fi unit on the floor. “Then the supposed-to-be-empty part went to hell.”

  “There’re four of you, and you came here by yourself?” Gesturing around the building they were in.

  “T, I don’t need interrogation right now.”

  “No, you need some sense knocked into you. We’ve gotta get out. They could come up from the south, that arroyo.”

  Matt took a fast look out the window. He hadn’t seen the gulley apparently. In his face was a curious look—disappointment. Tony had an idea: retreating meant he wouldn’t have a chance to take out some of the bad guys. That was Matt, all over. “Shit. Okay. You first, I’ll cover. Then you and the Feddies lay down covering fire for me.”

  “Fuck that, M. You go first.”

  “Excuse me. Who’s the better shot?”

  Tony conceded with a nod.

  “So, go!”

  Tony sighed, spit dust and started for the door, as Matt lifted his Glock and turned toward the window facing the factory.

  It was then that two dark objects about the size of apples flew into the room.

  “M! Grenades!”

  But before either man could move, one detonated with a huge crack and brilliant flash, like lightning striking feet away. Another explosion followed seconds later.

  Tony went down hard on the concrete floor, deaf and blind. But he could smell and he was inhaling smoke and fumes. The grenades hadn’t killed them outright but had set the building on fire.

  Get up, he raged to himself. Find Matt. Get out!

  He tried to rise but couldn’t.

  “M! Matt!” Was his voice shouting or whispering? “Out! Now! There’s a . . . fire.” Choking on the smoke, suffocating. Everything going dark. He debated: Fresh air outside. Should get outside . . . But it was so much effort. He lowered his head to the floor. I’ll just rest for a minute. That’s all. Just a minute.

  What could be the harm in that?


  The headache. The dry throat, searing.

  Was he going to puke?



  The nursing staff had apparently figured this was a likelihood and had left beside him in bed several plastic containers, like something that housewives would buy in triplicate at the Tupperware parties Tony’s mother hosted.

  He seized the gray plastic, bent forward and evacuated until his gut screamed. He set the container on a metallic tray attached to a set of wheels beside the bed, then pushed the repugnant thing as far as he could. Tony collapsed onto his back, gasping.

  White room. A hospital room filled with hospital things, all those gadgets and electronic panels and outlets and machines sprouting wires and armatures—accessories that managed to fill you with dread, even while you knew they were tools of healing. Signs too, with weird capitalization.




  Ugly and unsettling but, thank God, cool.

  He looked up. He was half surrounded by a beige curtain hanging from a U-shaped rod mounted to the ceiling.

  And Matt. Where was Matt?

  Was he alive?

  Oh, let him be alive. Please.

  Tony observed no decorations on the wall. This was a functional place, minimal, matter of fact. He soon understood why. Through the sealed window he could see an army Humvee, painted in desert camo. Just past were two flags on poles: one an American and one with an army unit designation. So, a military hospital, not civilian. Explained the stark room; no government money would be wasted on décor.

  He coughed hard.

  Which brought back memories of the incident.

  The grenades.

  Tony kneaded various body parts, in descending order of importance, of course, probing for shrapnel wounds. He was relieved to find none. A bandage on his palm. When he peeked it was only a scrape, Betadined to brown. The worst pain was in his ankle, maybe a sprain, twisted when he face-planted on the warehouse floor. But other than those minor injuries, the pain was minimal. Was he on drugs?

  Then he realized in horror that Matt must’ve taken the brunt of the explosion. M was the sort who would be awarded the Medal of Honor—posthumously—after diving on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. He imagined Matt’s shattered body.

  Or had he actually seen it?

  No, no . . .

  Then he thought: I’m going to puke again.

  I won’t.

  He did.

  Finally he controlled the retching, and set the second Tupperware on the bedside table. He was thinking, Where the hell’s the nurse to get rid of these things, when he heard a voice: “Could you fucking stop that? Makes me want to puke.”

  Matt’s voice.

  Tony barked a laugh. “Oh, man, Jesus. There you are.” The laughing started a coughing spasm.

  With a clatter and rustle, Matt swept the curtain back. The two men were six feet apart.

  Matt looked him over. “How are you?” He coughed too.

  “Jesus, I thought you got blown up.” More spasms in his lungs. “Damn smoke. You okay?”

  Matt, shrugging. His bandages were minimal. Wrist and a patch on his forehead. “Hit the floor hard. That’s all. You?”


  The men’s eyes swiveled to the door, as a round Latina in blue scrubs decorated with pictures of tiny pandas stepped inside. “You hit the call button?” She looked mildly irritated.

  “I wanted to know where he was.” A gesture toward Tony. Often edgy and impatient, Matt was presently polite. In hospitals patients exist at the bottom of the food chain. Best to be nice to those higher up. Even the lower higher up. Maybe especially.

  She stared, not sure how to answer. “Someone will be in, see you soon.”

  Tony asked, “Could you . . .” He gestured toward the Tupperware containers. Without reaction, she collected them and left.

  Matt said, “I’m not leaving a tip.” Then: “Where are we?”

  Tony nodded to the window beside him. Matt learned forward and saw the Humvee. “Hendrix. Probably.” The army base closest to El Paso.

  Matt did the probing thing, then coughed hard too. When the bout was over he said, “No shrapnel. You?”

  “No, just the fucked-up ankle.”

  “What the hell kind of grenades were they? Smoke?”

  Another voice, from the door: “Incendiary. They wanted to burn the place down.”

  The man was big. Bald, six four or so, stocky but muscle bulk, not fat bulk. He wore a suit that he’d have bought for price, not fit. The sort that was in Tony’s closet. Around his neck was a chain lanyard holding a DEA badge.

  “Officers . . . I’m Bill Holmes, regional district supervisor from Dallas.”

  So, a top gun.

  He squinted at Tony. “I think I met you once. While ago. Rio Grande operation.”

  “Could’ve been.”

  “How are you doing?” Holmes asked.

  “The others on the team?” Matt asked bluntly.

  Tony was ashamed he hadn’t thought to ask that question, he was so happy to be alive. Matt had a more fatalistic view of life. As if he assumed deat
h was around every corner and didn’t bother to waste any effort describing how he was feeling or doing or getting along. And the way Matt lived, death could very well be waiting.

  We all know Matt. . .

  Holmes’s face shadowed.

  “Who was it?” Tony asked, heart thumping.


  “Christ,” Tony muttered. He closed his eyes momentarily, as anger and dismay flowed in.

  Matt asked, “What happened?”

  “Sniper got him.”

  Tony fought down another urge to throw up. He seized a covered water glass and sucked from a straw. He noted he had only one plastic pan left.

  Matt said grimly, “Anybody ID the shooter?”

  “No ID yet. We’re putting the word out. But you know the Cardozos. We’ll never get a name.”

  The cartel made the most talkative turn mute.

  “Jonny,” Tony muttered.

  I thought I was the funny man here, El Paso. . .

  “Any other injuries?”

  “No. As soon as Jonny was down, they tossed the grenades and got away.”

  Tony said, “Yeah. Why the firebombs?”

  Holmes nodded. “There was some supply inside. Oxy and fent. They didn’t want it to fall into anybody’s hands. That’s what happened to you two. The fumes, you know. The other agents on site got you just in time.”

  Fentanyl . . . That explained the disorientation . . . and giddiness.

  And also explained how close he’d come to dying. Gram for gram, fent is the most dangerous drug on the planet.

  His face still, Matt said angrily, “The intel was it was unoccupied.”

  And a sharp, brave, funny man was now dead, as a result of that error.

  “I know,” Holmes said.

  Matt continued, “We didn’t just walk in blind. We staged at four hundred yards, then one hundred. No sign of life. Scanned for transmissions. Everything negative. Something’s wrong here . . .”

  Holmes gave no response but glanced into the corridor. “Ah, here we go.” A woman of about thirty-five, attractive in a severe, pulled-back-ponytail way, strode into the room, a computer bag over her shoulder. She, too, had a Justice Department shield but she played with a different team. FBI.

  Shea Talbot was with the Foreign Narcotics Operations Task Force in Dallas.