Canyon:The Traveler Series Book TwoBy: Tom Abrahams
Skinner was an area captain, a job which came with certain privileges and responsibilities. Being a captain meant all of the bosses in his area, which stretched from east of Abilene, west to Midland, and then north to Lubbock and Amarillo, reported to him. It was a triangular territory that had as many roadrunners as people, strategically important to the Cartel’s hold on power.
In the months after the Scourge, a coalition of previously warring criminal organizations had seen the mutual benefit of joining forces. They’d inflicted heavy casualties on a less-than-inspired US military.
Rather than engage in a bloody war with its own people during a time when there was no appetite for more death, what was left of the United States military and border patrol had retreated. It had given up control to the coalition of gangs, drug traffickers, and ex-cons, abdicating its claim to roughly two hundred and seventy thousand miles between Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. The Cartel had been quick to establish a wide area of influence, forming a paramilitary hierarchy to control and oppress those who lived within their staked claim.
The Cartel’s highest levels of leadership, who called themselves generals, chose the nastiest of the nasty to lead four key areas. They were called captains. Those captains then chose their bosses. Bosses recruited grunts. Grunts harassed, robbed, beat, tortured, raped, or killed whoever didn’t submit to their will. Sometimes they did those things regardless.
Among a mean lot of captains, Skinner was the meanest. He was the least likely to suffer fools. He was the perfect man to tame what his superiors called the Wild West. As long as he kept his bosses in line, his people under his thumb, and made sure the spoils made it to the generals in Dallas and Houston, the leadership left him alone.
With a rogue killer on land he didn’t control, Skinner was restless. He slid out of bed, his feet slapping on the cold wood floors of his bedroom as the nightlight flickered to life. He crushed the cigarette into a full ashtray and tapped out a replacement from the box.
He lit it, the paper sizzling, and took another healthy drag. Skinner stretched and walked across his room to a large monitor on the wall opposite his bed.
He cleared his throat. “Computer on,” he said. The screen blinked to life and the operating system cycled. He squinted against the bright light of the display.
“Computer, open email.”
The computer’s home screen gave way to an email program. Though Internet access in the Cartel’s territory was limited and slow, it worked. For most, the filters prevented most communication beyond what the generals approved. The captains, however, had unfettered access.
“New email message,” said Skinner. “Address to generals. Subject is…” Skinner paused. He didn’t know what to call the message. He didn’t really want to send it.
“Subject is Wild West,” he decided. The computer entered the email addresses for the generals, filled in the subject line, and presented a flashing cursor at the top line of a blank message.
Skinner sucked the cigarette. He pinched it between his fingers and pulled it from his lips. “Generals,” he began, “I’ve got a problem here in the Wild West. Long and short of it is a runaway thief wandered into some land we hadn’t secured. We chased her there but didn’t get her. The owner of that land killed some of our men and helped the thief.”
Skinner looked at what he’d dictated so far. He didn’t like it, and changed course.
“Computer, open live chat,” he said. “Call generals.”
The email program closed on the screen and a new application opened. Four windows appeared on the display. In the lower right, Skinner saw a delayed, choppy mirror image of himself, smoke trailing upward from the cigarette dangling from his lips.
The other boxes flashed the word “connecting” while the computer dialed the extensions for three generals. The first to answer was in Houston. His image appeared in the upper right box.
“Skinner?” he asked, rubbing his hands over his bald head. “What do you want?”
Another general answered the call from Dallas. His digitally distorted face filled the box in the upper left corner. “Skinner? Why are you waking me up?”
“I got a problem I need fixed,” Skinner said to the two of them. The box in the lower right was still dialing. The general on the other end wasn’t answering.
“You can’t fix it yourself?” asked the bald general. “This isn’t about the problems we keep having up near Amarillo, is it? Those people up there give me fits.”
“No,” Skinner said. “No problems in Amarillo. No problems with Palo Duro Canyon.”
“That’s a first,” chimed the second general. The resolution on his call was improving, revealing the general’s leathery face and neck. He was shirtless. “What’s the problem?”
Skinner took another drag and then thumped the ashes into a tray next to the monitor. “I’ll try to make a long story short.”
“You do that,” offered the bald general. “Otherwise I’m likely to hang up and go back to sleep.”