Patrol Lieutenant Buck Shelton:
Buck Shelton runs the rural Elfrida branch of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. A rancher and an unhappily married man, Buck throws everything into his quest to find Lulu Lavender and the killer of her family.

“Jeannie held her hands over her mouth like the speak-no-evil monkey, trying to digest what the lawman had told them. Anyone bearing news like his should look more distressed, she believed. This man just sat upright with his cowboy-style hat across his lap and his hands on its brim. There might have been sadness in his brown eyes, hooded by heavy lids and with a slight downturn at the outer corners, but she had never seen him before so that could have been his standard expression. His hair was dark brown, with a flattened ring where his hat usually rested. He had a prominent nose, a wide mouth with thin lips, a pronounced jaw. Exposure to sun and wind had leathered his skin, so that the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth resembled cracks or fissures in its surface. He was probably six-one or two, and his tan uniform was clean but worn, with long sleeves snapped at the cuffs, black cowboy boots mostly hidden beneath the pants. He sat on the edge of the leather chair so his gun, handcuffs and whatever else dangled from his belt didn’t mar its finish.”

Lulu Lavender:
An eighteen-year-old of mixed black and Hispanic parentage, Lulu is a student at Cochise College, passionately involved in social causes, including Bridges Not Borders, a migrants’ rights group. Her parents and brothers have been murdered and she has been kidnapped, for reasons she doesn’t understand.

“Buck remembered the last time he had seen Lulu Lavender, down in Douglas on the Fourth of July. She had been at the park for the fireworks display with a young man from Bisbee. They had been holding hands, kissing, laughing together. She was a beautiful girl, with coloring and eyes like her little brothers’ but with a glow all her own. She was eighteen, slender, active in the community, always pushing a petition or putting up posters about some cause or other.”

Back to top

Oliver and Jeannie Bowles:
Lulu’s neighbor and a teacher at Cochise College, Oliver’s past hides a secret that threatened his marriage to Jeannie—is it dark enough to kill over?

“Oliver looked to be in his late thirties. Lean but muscular, he appeared to be a guy who worked out some. Maybe he played tennis or soccer, not football or baseball. That was just a guess, but a cop had to learn to make quick judgments about people, sometimes instantaneous.

Oliver had short black hair, about a third of which had turned to gray. Black wire-framed glasses, stylish, with small oval lenses. Deep creases in his thin cheeks that probably acted as dimples when he smiled. He wasn’t smiling now. He wore a black polo shirt, jeans, leather moccasins, with no socks or jewelry.”

“Jeannie was thin, with pale skin and straight hair the color of straw framing a narrow, high-cheekboned face. At thirty-six, she could pass for late twenties or so. The black T-shirt was cropped, lifted slightly by breasts that swelled beneath it, large for such a slender woman, and Oliver admired the stretch of flat stomach he could see extending down into the waistband of her faded jeans. Her grin illuminated her whole face, glowing from her cornflower blue eyes, crinkling the sides of her nose and making the freckles there stand out, and every time Oliver saw it he knew he was incredibly fortunate to have met her, luckier still that she’d stuck with him through everything.”

Back to top

Barry Drexler:
Laid off from his low-wage retail job, virtually unemployable, widower Barry Drexler is easy prey for border vigilante group American Pride Ranch.

“Barry sat around his house for a while, but he couldn’t get comfortable there. The place reminded him of Clarice. Her framed picture stood on the buffet, the look on her face mildly disapproving. The buffet contained dishes bought for them as wedding presents that he hadn’t used since her death, but couldn’t bring himself to get rid of. Over the couch hung an Indian-style wall hanging she had bought in Phoenix, a dream catcher that he pointed out wasn’t really made by Indians and should be in the bedroom anyway, but that she had thought looked perfect over the sofa. Even the coiled cloth rug in the entryway, which she’d found at an antique store up in Benson. These things made him think about everything he’d lost in his life and everything he stood to lose. After a couple of hours he stormed out, slammed the door behind him, and climbed back up into the truck. He needed to get away, to be around other people, to get outside of his own head for a time.”

Back to top

Ed Gatlin:
Sheriff of Cochise County, Ed is under the media spotlight for his handling of the disappearance of blond and beautiful teenager Elayne Lippincott.

“Ed’s elbows rested on his desktop, sleeves neatly buttoned. His meaty hands wrung each other like he wanted to squeeze all the moisture out of them. His uniform shirt bit into his thick, veiny neck, but he kept it crisp and his tie neatly knotted and he looked every inch the law enforcement professional, as if he expected a camera crew from CNN at any moment. His blunt featured face had a wide mouth and oddly feminine eyes. Usually florid, now it verged toward eggplant, as if he’d spent his whole morning working himself into a rage while he waited for Buck.”

Back to top

Gabriel Rodriguez Loreto:
Gabriel turns his back on his brother and his position as a soldier in the Sonora Cartel to follow a barely understood impulse deep in Mexico’s interior.

“The club was a riot of loud music and sweaty bodies writhing in dance and other activities, flashing lights and the smells of perfume, tobacco, alcohol, sweat and sex. A low ceiling made the bass boom even louder than it might have, made the lights more blinding, the whole scene more intense. On the second floor of a downtown block in Sonoita with a shoe store and a bakery below, the club held a hundred people comfortably, but half again that number had crammed inside. Two months before Gabriel would never have been allowed through the door. That was before Enrique had arranged for him to become a soldier in the Sonora Cartel. With that position had come cash, nice clothes, respect, and the opportunity to meet the kind of women he had only dreamed of. He was strapped, with a nine-mil tucked into a leather shoulder holster—just like James Bond’s, according to the guy who had sold it to him. He had a buzz on and a film of perspiration coated him and he would end the night in the arms of one or both of the fine babes who were coming on to him.”

Back to top

Raul Bermudez:
Buck’s second-in-command at the Elfrida substation, Raul is a flashy dresser angling for detective. Will the Lavender case help him achieve his goal?

“He smoothed down his thick black mustache. He was slender, muscular, and liked to think of himself as a sharp dresser, and maybe he was—Buck was redneck enough not to know Armani from Perry Ellis, and not ashamed to admit it. Today Raul wore his uniform, which he’d had tailored to fit better than most sheriff’s officers’. Off-duty he favored suits and ties, or on particularly casual occasions bright polo shirts with dress slacks. Always, he kept his hair neatly combed and his shave close, except for the mustache of which he was so proud. Buck knew he hoped to be a detective some day so he could dress nicely all the time.”

Back to top