by Gregg Hurwitz
Walker Jameson, dishonored Recon Marine, has pulled off an impossible break from California’s Terminal Island Penitentiary. After starting a riot, he literally vanishes from his cell, leaving behind only a cup of mouthwash, a strand of dental floss tied to one cell bar, and the body of a sadistic killer.
Tim Rackley, elite manhunter, must solve the riddle and track Walker down. But uncertainty begins to color the mission the more that Rackley learns about his quarry, and the more he probes the death of Walker’s sister, a suicide that looks increasing like a murder. Walker has begun a bloody investigation of his own, a mission that propels him through the dark underworld of a big pharmaceutical company and its cutting edge therapeutic viruses. But the life of Walker’s nephew, a young boy suffering from a fatal disorder, hangs in the balance, and if Rackley hopes to stop the bloodshed, he must put the pieces together, even if it means battling a lethal opponent every inch his equal.
A riveting thriller, a shocking look behind the scenes of one of America’s most corrupt corporate sectors, and an exploration of the depths of a mother’s love, Last Shot is a white-knuckled, complex drama, full of razor-sharp action and startling twists and turns, written by one of the finest suspense novelists working today.
The mood inside was nice and mellow until Spook taped razor blades to his hands and slashed up two Aryan Brothers and half a correctional officer. So that meant Terminal Island was on edge and the population unshaved—disposable razors being accountable items the screws hadn’t kept accountable. Every morning this week, Walker had to stand in line with the other boarders for his shot with a piece-of-shit Norelco, the CO dipping the cutting head in Barbicide between shearings.
The inside heated up in August. Air like fever. Men slept worse, got antsy. Got violent. Some, like Spook, got creative. Walker steered clear, as always, of the ensuing bullshit. He kept out of the yard—too much trouble brewing—to sit on the stacked footlockers in his house upstairs and take in the sights.
Two wind-battered palm trees, row of Dumpsters, anchor resting atop a concrete pillar at the Coast Guard facility across the way—all strained through two layers of chain-link and some nifty coils of razor-wire. The view wasn’t much. But it was all he had. He loved the two palms—Sally and Jean Ann. Loved how their crowns could hold the evening light, bathed in gold a good half hour after the grounds were puddled in shadow. If he mashed his face to the concrete wall, he could make out the edge of a third tree, but he didn’t know that one well enough to name her.
Walker pulled back from the iron bars and regarded his house. He knew this view well, too. All six-by-eight of it. Bunk beds, metal, one solid piece. Stainless steel toilet and sink. Technically, the walls were supposed to be bare, but by the window Walker had used chewing gum to put up a picture of Tess, mostly because he didn’t know what else to do with it. Aside from the photo and a few cigarette burns on his footlocker, he hadn’t made much of an imprint on the place in two-and-a-half years.
His cellie, a soft-spoken rapist renamed Imaad, had been more active in his nesting. An Arabic phrase, rendered in gold calligraphy, glittered from a black velvet banner. Below it, a postcard of a mosque was stuck to the wall with paste, since Wrigley’s contains—Allah forbid—gelatin. A prayer rug, woven from lovingly twisted cords of toilet paper, stood rolled up in a corner. Atop the frayed end, safely above belly level, rested a worn Koran, the leather binding long gone to pieces. Imaad, who was well-behaved and aggressively introverted, tolerated Walker as Walker tolerated him. Yesterday, Imaad had drunk ammonia with his Cup ‘O Noodles, his puking buying him a lay-in at the infirmary so he wouldn’t have to mix with the general pop. A good move for a model prisoner, given the smoke on the horizon.
After Spook’s Schick escapade, the Gorillas and the Aryans were due to let more blood. And the cholos weren’t about to get left out either. The Norteño cell lieutenant’s punk had gone renegade and gotten picked up by a jocker from Surrenos, stoking the embers of a dormant vendetta. An unnatural silence had permeated the block the past few nights. Convicts were stockpiling food. Despite the heat, gang members only ventured out in canvas jackets, padding their undershirts with magazines and newspapers as insurance against stickings. It was like gas had been leaking through the grounds all week and everyone was holding their breath, waiting for somebody to strike a match.
Walker’s right arm sported a dark comma above the biceps—yin of yin-yang fame. Tommy LaRue from D-Block was the ink slinger, but the tattoo had gone unfinished after his kit was confiscated in the wake of the May riot. Walker had smuggled the needles out of Unicor, where the prisoners toiled for a buck twenty an hour stitching and packing and making useful things like paper targets so cops could practice shooting them. He’d shoved the needles beneath the surface of his heel callus and delivered them to LaRue, who tied them with a shoelace to the point of a pencil. The ink was easy—burn a Bic pen filler heroin-style in a spoon, then mix the soot with toothpaste and soap. The lace soaks up the ink, the needles open the skin, and—had no shakedown occurred—Walker would’ve gotten his yang. But since Kelly O’Connell felt inspired to throw a flaming mattress off the third tier, Walker had to walk around for three months like an asshole with a big tadpole on his arm. To be fair, Kelly’s riot had also provided free entertainment. First the bedding and burning trash raining down onto the range floor, showering sparks. Then the boarders got to sit on the bare mesh of their beds and watch the mini-frontloaders at work, scooping up the charred mounds below. That one had made the papers and they’d paid for it. Petty reprisals for a month. No basketballs. No magazines. No dessert.
Walker glanced at Tess on the wall and felt his thoughts sharpen, needling him with imagined scenarios. The only treatment, he’d learned, was to tune out. Weights, headphones, or the four-star view.
He was just reconvening with Sally and Jean Ann when Boss sent for him. Walker didn’t like being sent for, and if it was anyone else, he would have ignored the summons, but Boss hadn’t sent for him in months and when Boss sent for you you went.
When Sweet Boy repeated the request, leaning against the doorway with a bent wrist propped against a smooth cheek, Walker said, “I heard you.”
“Boss says now.”
“Boss can wait.”
Sweet Boy’s eyelashes flared, like Walker had wiped his nose on the Pope’s robe, and he made a snitty little noise at the back of his throat and withdrew.
Walker rose and stretched. The powdered eggs from breakfast had left a foul taste in his mouth, so he brushed his teeth, tapped the rubber Department of Corrections toothbrush on the lip of the sink, and dropped it in a cup from the chow hall. A titanium cross escaped his shirt when he leaned to spit. His first month in, LaRue had gotten the thin black cord—more like a shoestring—for Walker to hang the pendant on. LaRue could get anything, from Albanian hash to the email for Catherine Zeta-Jones’s publicist so you could write and get a signed head shot. LaRue was the closest thing to a friend Walker had in here. Or for that matter, anywhere. He served everyone and no one and Walker liked him for his democratic refusal to cultivate alliances.
Walker stepped out onto the catwalk, glancing over the waist-high rail to the concrete plain of the range floor forty feet below. He could hear the clink of weights and shouts from the bocce court out on the North Yard. The echoes bounced off the high ceiling, came back distorted.
LaRue was scurrying toward him, head down, elbow pressed to his side to hold firm whatever contraband he was muling under his shirt. They clasped hands, bumped opposite shoulders.
“Let’s see the tat.” LaRue shook his head at Walker’s forlorn yin. “We’ll get it finished up as soon as this shit blows over.”
“You got word for me?”
“Expect to have it by lunch.” He produced a cigarette from thin air, handed it to Walker, and scurried off to finish his rounds.
Walker stuck the cig in his mouth and continued down the catwalk. Boss Hahn, a shotcaller for the Aryan Brotherhood, occupied the best cell on J-Unit’s third tier, right next to the TV room. Kelly’s arm greeted Walker at the cell door, but Boss tipped his chin in a faint nod, the limb withdrew, and Walker stepped inside.
A red sheet over the window cut the light to a soft glow. Sweet Boy reclined on the bed reading a romance paperback. Boss’s cellie, Marcus, was taking a dump, one foot out and clear of his pants in case a brawl broke out; if nothing else, prison kept you ready for dirty fighting. The smell mixed with that of the ramen noodles on the hotplate. After a while, you barely notice stuff like that. An AB strongman, Marcus was missing two front teeth, so he could smile clench-jawed and still stick his tongue out at you.
His weight bowing the footlocker he straddled, Boss leaned over a paper chess board. The pieces were carved from soap, half of them blackened with shoe polish. A bottle cap stood in for a missing pawn. Boss tapped a knight’s head. Blunt fingers, wide at the nails. His arm was so loaded with muscle, the bulges met one another in tangential circles—delt, biceps, forearm. Like Walker, Boss wore the standard fare: khaki pants, tan button-up. His influence showed in his Nikes—Walker wore issued canvas slip-ons—and in the red-and-white cartons stacked up the wall opposite the bed. Boss was rich in cigarettes, and in prison, cigarettes bought you anything from a punk to a shiv in your enemy’s kidney. Inked on Boss’s neck was the Aryans’ symbol: Shamrock and triple sixes. He was old-school AB, before they wised up and started hiding the brands.
Kelly returned to his seat across the board from Boss. Boss continued to study the situation, a mildly pained expression on his face. He jerked his wide head in Sweet Boy’s direction. “Why didn’t you come when she told you to?”
Walker shrugged. Shifted the unlit cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other.
“Answer him.” Kelly sprang up in Walker’s face. “You gonna make a move, GI Joe? No? Then fuckin’ answer the man.”
Four men. Sure, they could take him, but it wouldn’t be worth the injuries. Walker repeated his mantra. Sixteen months. Two weeks. Four days.
Boss made a noise of assent, though nothing had been said. “Walk don’t talk much, ya see. He keep to hisself. Ain’t that right, Walk?” He picked up the knight, tapped it to his lips thoughtfully, set it back down. “Things are coming to a head. Jiggers are watching all my regulars. You’re a fighter. All that army time. I need you to blade up Spook when he comes off lockdown.”
“What do I get?”
“I’m being serious.”
Boss snorted, waved a hand at the wall of Marlboros. “You can live like a king. Hell, you never know when someone wants in for better living.”
Walker took in Marcus wiping himself. “Thanks anyway.”
“You’ll be part of the new order.”
“I don’t even like the old order.”
“Right. Serve your time like a good Christian and get back to the world. Like it’s always been.”
“Like it’s always been.”
“Okay,” Boss said. “Okay okay okay.” He raised his head slowly, gave Walker the famous blue stare. “I keep order ’round here. Don’t you go forgetting that.” With sudden violence, he added, “And keep the fuck outta my way.”
Sweet Boy lowered the book to his chest. It took a moment for Marcus and Kelly to de-tense. Walker waited to see if he was dismissed, but Boss had returned his attention to the makeshift chessboard. He occupied himself with his fingers, fussing with the miters of the Ivory bishops.
Boss finally grimaced and settled his weight back. “Never was any good at this game.” A resigned sigh. “How many moves he gonna beat me in, Walk?”
Walker’s eyes flicked to the board. “Three.”
He stepped back and walked out.
– — –
Plastic picnic tables bolted to the concrete. Crumbly meatloaf, watery corn, a stiff cube of cake on a white saucer. Despite the food, Walker had gained fifteen pounds on the inside, mostly lats and chest. A joint body, they called it, built by barbells and bench presses and having nothing better to do. The added weight—and a few early, effective displays of his hand-to-hand prowess—had earned him the right to eat alone. Non-aligned. Even LaRue left him be during meals, preferring to zip around and work chow hall deals.
That’s why Walker was pissed when Moses Catrell ambled up to his table at dinner and took a seat. On Moses’ ebony forearm, the Black Guerrilla Family dragon coiled around a prison tower, a correctional officer in its clutch.
“Spook was just retaliating,” Moses said, picking up the strain of an argument Walker didn’t know he was having. “Boss had him ganged in the learning lab, two big fuckers. Eight stitches.”
Walker had sixteen months, two weeks, and four days to go and the last thing he needed to be concerned with was the state of Spook Roberts’s asshole. He choked down a mouthful of meatloaf, took a pull of apple juice.
“If Boss gonna escalate this motherfucker,” Moses said, “people gonna die up in here.”
“I got no beef with Boss. I keep outta his business, he keeps outta mine.”
“You the only one could do something ’bout the shit comin’ down the pipeline.”
“Not my concern.”
“Shit, fool.” Moses blew air through pursed lips, seemingly unimpressed by Walker’s grasp of altruism.
Walker knew his type—little-boy temper backed up by a hood’s body. Still trying to wrangle fair from life. Never learned that the world doesn’t care about just and right, not when it comes to fuck-ups and down-and-outs like them.
“You take Boss the peace pipe,” Moses said, “he’ll listen to you.”
Walker let corn juice drain through his plastic fork. “That so?”
“Hell, yeah. I heard about how you fight.”
“Then why’s even the AB stay off your back?”
“Don’t involve me.”
“That all you got to say?”
Walker considered for a moment. “Get off my table.”
Moses’ mouth twitched to one side in an elaborate display of indignation. He sucked his teeth at Walker, and withdrew. Walker downed the rest of his juice, chased some more corn around the plate. When he looked up, he saw LaRue coming toward him—not quite a run, more a walk with a charge in it.
Walker said, “Well?”
LaRue bent over, breathing hard from making double-time, his whisper humid against Walker’s cheek. “Left.”
Walker did his best to take in the news calmly, his fist tightening around the fork until his fingers went numb like the rest of him.
LaRue gave him a concerned glance, tapped him on the back solemnly, and darted away.
– — –
Walker bailed out the toilet to make it a conduit for eavesdropping down the unit. He sat, head tilted over the empty metal commode, listening to a rape underway down in Boss’s house. The sounds of five or six large men moving quietly around a cramped space. Guttural cries stifled by a cloth gag, loud enough to reach Walker and maybe even the CO below, who sat at a sad little desk before the unit’s sole exit, a rolling steel-reinforced door. The kid getting initiated was Orange County, a surfer type with shaggy hair. He was tan and skinny and didn’t stand a chance. It was fifteen minutes past count time, so it wouldn’t be over for him till it was over for everybody. Terminal Island was medium-security, no supermax, so no central lever locked the cells. The old fashioned key-in-door setup meant lockdowns were few and night movement easy.
Good for the wolves, bad for the sheep.
Finally, the muffled struggle ceased. Boss would make his trip to the shower room at the end of the tier. He was a creature of habit, Boss, and a stickler for hygiene.
Walker moved to sit Indian-style by his open cell door, looking out at the black drop beyond the railing. The silence, when it asserted itself, was awesome. A concrete warehouse, shocked at its own purpose. From time to time, the COs put on moccasins and crept into the pipe chases between cells to spy on the boarders. Of course, everyone heard them, shuffling behind the walls like giant mice.
He could still smell the aftermath of the day. The musk of a hundred close-quarters men with poor ventilation. Lingering odors off illicit hotplates—rice, beans, noodles stirred in tuna cans. He closed his eyes, waiting for the creak of the catwalk. A stress that said 280 pounds, a familiar cadence of steps. He’d spent enough time alone in the dark to read the whine of the mesh underfoot, the identities behind the breath patterns. He hadn’t acquainted himself with the specific noises of men this intimately since his days with Recon.
First the vibration came through the floor, then the faint groan of metal on a half-second repeat. Another few steps and the raspy inhale joined in.
The harmonics of Boss Hahn on the move.
Walker rose, staying just inside the dark of his cell. He counted the steps, gauged the approach, and pivoted onto the catwalk, face-to-face with Boss. A ragged white towel wrapped the big man’s waist and thighs. Exertion pulled Boss’s lips back, revealing oddly square teeth. His cheeks and chest shone with sweat. The startled expression gave way to an arrogant smile.
Walker clenched the hard plastic against his palm. His hand was down at his side and then it swung up and tapped Boss high on the neck. A black spray fanned two feet in the air and Boss grunted and waved his dense arms as if trying to keep his balance. Walker put one hand on the bullish slick chest and one under the chin and flipped the Boss over the rail. He fell into darkness, the white afterthought of the towel fluttering down in his wake.
An instant of silence.
Then he hit the ground. The CO flipped the lights and there Boss lay, gasping and shuddering, limbs bent in the wrong places. Blood pumped lazily from beneath his ear, widening the pool that had already encircled his torso. One arm managed a single paddling rotation against the floor, painting a sloppy arc, then stilled.
The CO stared down at the pink body, its mouth caught in a perfect O. He stepped slowly back to the single steel door that could make J-Unit airtight, his hand grabbing for the radio at his belt and catching it on the second try. A moment of breath-held anticipation as a hundred sets of eyes peered out from fifty cells. A giant roar came all at once, as if from a single throat, and then the convicts charged from their cells.
The foregoing is excerpted from Last Shot by Gregg Hurwitz. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Awards & Accolades
“Hurwitz’s compelling action hero, Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Rackley (aka “the Troubleshooter”), takes on a formidable adversary in the fourth installment of this literate series….Hurwitz, who moves easily between the gritty scenes of violence and the more subtle abuses of power in corporate boardrooms, should gain new fans with this exciting thriller.”
“Hurwitz has the literary background to infuse his stories with an intelligence that is a welcome complement to the pulse-pounding action…Last Shot is an exciting thriller with plenty of great action scenes. But it also probes some interesting moral questions.”
CHICAGO SUN TIMES
“I find myself wondering if Hurwitz is ever going to write a book I don’t love…Last Shot opens with a prison break that is genius….Hurwitz is a writer with the ability to write a mystery with all the elements needed for a perfect thriller. The pacing and suspense build like a piece of classical music coming to a wonderful climax…Hurwitz [is] a writer people will be talking about decades from now.”