<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> No one believes they're going to die until it happens, and then it's too late. <p> If Danny had been watching himself run, he would have screamed <i>give up</i>. Surrounded on three sides by men with guns. The pain in his side making it hard to breathe. <p> Any minute now they'd release the dogs. He could hear them barking in the distance, straining against the leash. Pit bulls, six of them. Beams of light zig-zagged across the grass less than twenty yards away. He was running out of time. <p> Danny had never been in the Army, never carried a gun, but he played a lot of video games, first-person shooters mostly. His sister always thought he'd outgrow them, but the endorphin release was better than exercise, even better than getting high. Sometimes he gripped the controls so tight his hands would ache, his thumbs flattened like pancakes from trying to make his character run faster or shoot the other guy first. <p> There's a moment in every game when your world gets turned upside down. You're running along, dodging the obstacles, when suddenly you step on a land mine, a robot hidden in the shadows blasts you to hell, or some guy standing behind you blows your brains out. One second you're invincible, the next you're dead. <p> No warning, no sound of a bomb whistling down from above. No chance to see your life flash before your eyes. As sudden and irrevocable as a car crash. He'd never given it much thought, but Danny suspected that's how it would be in real life. You'd never get to see the end coming. <p> The game would be over. Just like that. <p> Danny's hands clenched involuntarily as he ran, as if he held the controls to his life and could jam his thumbs to run faster, hit the right combination of buttons to fly away. <p> He flew sideways before he realized he'd been hit. The pain in his right calf told him where as he landed on his side in a broken heap. He twisted in the mud as the air <i>snapped</i>—sharp sounds like breaking twigs—and Danny knew they must be using suppressors. Nobody would hear the shots, least of all him. <p> He grabbed at his pants and his hand came away wet. Tears sprang to his eyes as he brushed the wound, but it felt like the leg was grazed, not blown apart. There wasn't a slug in him yet. <p> He wondered if they had night vision goggles. He could see the hotel lights in the distance, but everything close was black-on-black. Clouds obscured the stars, and there was almost no moon. They'd be on top of him before he could even see them. <p> Danny felt the ground sloping as he scrambled backward. Maybe he could hide behind this low rise until they passed. He tried to ignore the pain in his leg as he slid on his belly, face pressed into the grass. <p> His right foot suddenly cold and wet. At first he thought it was blood filling his shoe until he realized he'd touched water. Craning his neck he saw the dull sheen of the pond and felt a thrill of hope. Maybe the game wasn't over, after all. <p> Danny used to be a swimmer. He could hold his breath a really long time, and the dogs might not smell him in the water. All he had to do was lay low, then submerge if they came too close. <p> He slid backward until the water enveloped his chest. He could feel the bottom under his knees and wondered how deep it was at the center, being careful to keep his arms loose so he didn't make waves. The water was surprisingly cold, given the tropical climate, but Danny could feel the heat from his own blood as it streamed from his leg. <p> That's when he felt a tugging at his foot. Sudden, sharp, insistent. <p> The water exploded and Danny felt himself lifted into the air. His first thought was <i>grenade</i> until his brain caught up with his nerve endings. <p> Teeth. <p> Something was biting his leg, and it was no dog. <p> Danny's scream was cut off in a riot of bubbles as he was pulled under, the surface of the water only inches out of reach. He sensed movement and twisted violently, his leg almost dislocating. He started to black out. <p> Lights danced across the surface of the water, criss-crossing and breaking apart. His pursuers had reached the pond. <p> Danny heard muffled voices arguing as he swallowed water. A burst of light, maybe the report of a gun. Splashing overhead. The sudden displacement of water, like a sailor falling overboard. <p> Danny wondered if he was still alone but couldn't turn his head. Spots flashed before his eyes. The beams of light drifted away as the voices faded. Danny smiled with the knowledge that they'd never find him now. <p> And much to his surprise, Danny realized he was dying. He never expected to see it coming, but he did, right before his lungs filled with water and his vision went black. <p> The game was over. Just like that. <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Two </h3> When he stopped to think about it, Cecil was glad they'd found a dead body. <p> Anything that made his brother Bud speechless was a welcome distraction, even if it looked like something out of a coroner's nightmare. <p> They were just shy of the tenth green, working their way through the back nine of the <i>Pete Dye Signature</i> golf course in Puerto Vallarta. Bud was playing the best game of his life, Cecil the worst. According to the rules of scratch golfers everywhere, this gave Bud permission to spend the entire day ragging on Cecil's swing. <p> Bud used his lucky seven-iron to reach the green, the ball rolling tantalizingly close to the hole. He had a jaunty gait as he approached the pin. A day like this, he could probably sink that ball wearing a blindfold. <p> "Must be that spicy food we ate—put a little kick in my swing." <p> "Must be." Cecil tried to ignore the bastard and get his stance right. A thirty-foot water hazard sat between his ball and the green, uphill from where he was standing. He'd been slicing everything all morning, which put his ball on the opposite side of the hole from Bud. Within taunting distance but far enough away for a chance to regroup. At twenty dollars a stroke, he could not afford to lose his concentration. <p> "Use your seven-iron, <i>Cece</i>." Bud didn't even try to mask his delight. "You see the way I stroked that last one?" <p> "Stroke this one," said Cecil, grabbing his crotch. Jesus, the guy sinks a few putts and now he's Arnold-fucking-Palmer. Pretty soon he'll start designing courses, pushing rental cars in his spare time. <i>What an asshole</i>. <p> Cecil squinted across the water and lined up his shot. He twisted like a corkscrew, elbows high. Held it for a second then snapped forward. As his head whipped around, the ball vanished from his line of sight, only to reappear as a white streak hitting the far bank of the pond like a rubber bullet. It held fast to the muddy shore just long enough for Cecil's heart to skip a beat, then rolled backward into the water and disappeared. <p> Bud fell to the ground laughing. Cecil cranked his arm to hurl his piece-of-shit five-iron after the ball but caught himself. He'd never reach the water and just have to pick it up again, giving Bud one more reason to laugh his ass off. <p> Cecil looked over at Bud doubled over on the grass and considered practicing his swing on his brother's head. Maybe he'd switch to a seven-iron first, get a bit more lift in his stroke. See how Bud felt about his club selection then. <p> <i>Screw him.</i> Make up the lost strokes on the green. <p> Cecil trudged toward the edge of the water, wanting to make sure the ball wasn't just out of sight. Maybe it was stuck at the bottom of the far bank and he could climb down and chip it out of there, avoid the penalty. Like that French guy at the Masters who took off his shoes, ended up looking like an idiot. <p> But Cecil wasn't French, and hope springs eternal. <p> He leaned into his stride as the ground rose slightly, revealing hidden contours of the fairway designed to torment golfers. As he got closer, Cecil lost sight of the water completely until he crested a small ridge and found himself looking straight down the embankment. <p> That's when he saw the body. <p> There was no question in his mind. Though it bobbed just below the surface and wasn't exactly the right shape, it was definitely a human body. You didn't see fish that big in a water hazard, and fish almost never wore khakis. Cecil stared at it for a minute, not sure what to do next. <p> Bud couldn't see a thing, just Cecil gawking at the pond. Maybe Cecil was suicidal over his pitiful game, thinking about drowning himself. Bud shouted as he hopped into their golf cart and drove it toward the small footbridge. <p> "Hey Cecil, you gonna <i>swim</i> to the other side?" <p> Cecil glanced up from the body, noticing for the first time eyes staring back at him from the water. <p> Yellow eyes, with slits for pupils. Staring without blinking. Two, no—<i>three</i> pairs of eyes, all looking right at him. <p> A family of alligators, looking at Cecil like it was time for dessert. <p> Cecil unconsciously took a step away from the bank. He looked toward the body, understanding why it was such an odd shape. He forced a deep breath as he shifted his gaze back to the alligators, unwilling to let them out of his sight. <p> They didn't move. They didn't blink. <p> Bud was leaning across the passenger side of the cart, trying to see what was taking so damn long. "<i>I said</i>, are you gonna swim?" <p> Cecil answered slowly, without taking his eyes off the water. <p> "I don't think swimming's such a good idea." <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Three </h3> "<i>¿Ha encontrado alguien el brazo izquierdo?</i>" <p> The uniformed <i>polizia</i> scanned the crowd and concluded most of them were guests at the hotel, so he shouted his next question in English. <p> "Has anyone found the left arm?" <p> Chief Inspector Oscar Garcia watched the throng of tourists carefully as the question evaporated in the humid air, but no one answered. They were too busy holding their digital cameras and cell phones in the air as they jockeyed for position. <p> "The folks at home won't believe this." <p> "I'm gonna post this on my blog." <p> "I'm emailing this to my brother's phone right now." <p> Garcia shook his head sadly and looked at the uniformed officer, whose name was Fernando. <p> <i>"El mundo se ha vuelto loco."</i> The world has gone mad. <p> Fernando nodded. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. <p> "How about the right foot?" he asked. "Anybody?" <p> Nobody answered, not even the alligators. <p> "Anybody?" <p> The body had been mauled before it surfaced, that was clear even from a distance. In addition to the missing limbs, the face was all but gone, ragged holes where eyes should have been, sections of the skull exposed. The corpse was so bloated it looked like a manatee. Garcia figured it had been under for several days, the alligators gnawing away one piece at a time. Alligators typically lodged a carcass under a sunken tree branch, taking their time working on the leftovers. The victim would have been the special-of-the-day for another week if something hadn't dislodged him from the bottom. <p> Garcia sighed. They knew perfectly well what happened to the missing limbs, but they had to ask. It was their first attempt to politely secure a crime scene that had been trampled by <i>turistas</i> long before they arrived. But scaring the pampered <i>gringos</i> back to their rooms wasn't going to be that easy. <p> Garcia made eye contact with Juan Molina, head of hotel security, who was standing on the outskirts of the crowd with a nervous expression on his face. The two men had served together as beat cops in Mexico City a lifetime ago, but Molina knew his old colleague hadn't changed. Garcia still had the balls of a bull. <p> The tourists were oblivious as Garcia threaded his way into the heart of the mob. All eyes were focused on the alligators, the corpse, or the digital whirring of their cameras. Garcia winked at Molina as he reached under his jacket with his right hand and drew his pistol from a weathered shoulder holster. No one seemed to notice as he raised the firearm over his head. <p> The gun was a Colt Python, an old-school revolver slightly larger than a catcher's mitt and louder than an atomic bomb. Because he was feeling dramatic, Garcia pulled the hammer back until he heard the metallic <i>click</i> over the din of the crowd. That simple action reduced the force needed to pull the trigger from a ten-pound yank of his finger to only two pounds of pressure. Garcia held the gun high while jamming his left index finger into his left ear. No point in losing hearing in both. <p> He took a deep breath, counted to ten, and pulled the trigger. <p> The man directly in front of Garcia pissed himself, the stain appearing instantly on his linen slacks. The woman on his left started screaming. The couple to his right threw their hands up to surrender, even though they were facing away from the gun and had no idea who was shooting or why. Two young men ducked and raised their hands in what Garcia assumed was a defensive posture taught in a beginner's karate class somewhere in the American suburbs. <p> For an agonizing moment everyone froze, as if the shock of the blast was accompanied by an alien strobe light that glued them in place. Garcia had seen it before when chasing a fleeing suspect, the sonic boom of his gun turning a felon into a deer caught in the headlights. <p> Before anyone could regain their wits, Garcia pulled the trigger a second time. <p> If a single gunshot said <i>freeze</i> to the primordial brain, a second shot was a hot poker up the ass. Men and women screamed and ran in whatever direction they happened to be facing. The two men in the karate stances practically leap-frogged over the other guests as they tried to escape. The mob of <i>turistas</i> turned into a starting line for the Puerto Vallarta marathon. <p> Fernando braced himself against the embankment to push anyone running toward the water away from the alligators and back toward the hotel. Juan yelled at the top of his lungs. <p> "<i>Señors y Señoras</i>. Go back to your rooms. It is safe in your room. <i>Vamanos</i>!" <p> In less than ten seconds, Oscar Garcia had managed to secure the crime scene. <p> He waved lazily at the ambulance idling at the far end of the fairway. The driver flashed his lights in acknowledgment and slowly drove toward them over the uneven ground. <p> Garcia nodded toward Fernando. "More men coming?" <p> Fernando shook his head. "There's a game, remember?" <p> Garcia felt embarrassed at his own forgetfulness, his unhealthy obsession with his job. Mexico was playing Italy in a soccer match today, an event on par with a sighting of the Virgin Mary. No wonder only Americans had rushed to see the body. The Germans, Italians, and French guests of the hotel were in the bar placing bets. To Americans soccer was a game played by little girls in plaid skirts attending private schools that cost more each semester than Garcia made in a year. Soccer was not a serious sport, and it certainly couldn't compare to the thrill of seeing a mutilated corpse. <p> Garcia sighed and gestured vaguely at the trampled green, the muddy embankment, the water, and the three semi-submerged reptiles. <p> "Help the ambulance crew." <p> "Of course, Inspector." <p> "Take pictures. Measure things. Put body parts in a bag." <p> Fernando nodded. He wanted to go home and watch the game but had lost the raffle the local cops held during the World Cup to determine duty rosters. "Yes, Inspector." <p> "I will meet you at the morgue later." <p> Garcia secured his pistol in the shoulder holster with a small strap, then turned to face Juan, who was wearing an expression that blended admiration and exasperation in equal parts. <p> "You know how many complaints I'm going to get?" said Juan. <p> "About the alligators on the golf course?" <p> "No, they've been here all season. We tried to chase them away but they came back. The guests were warned." <p> "You think I was wrong to scare your guests to safety." <p> "You won't get the angry phone calls," said Juan. "I will." <p> "I could have started arresting them." <p> Juan made a face. "Get off my resort, Inspector <i>pendejo</i>." <p> Garcia gave him a mock salute. "Not yet, old friend. I have one more stop to make, and I fear it concerns someone staying at your hotel." <p> "The detective?" <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Greasing the Piñata</b> by <b>Tim Maleeny</b> Copyright © 2008 by Tim Maleeny. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.