"It has to be you, Paul. No one else has got the thunder it would take. Senators and congressmen know you. If it hadn't been for the shooting, you'd be the DEA or FBI director by now, and they all know it."
Paul walked to the door, his shoulders rolling from side to side as he went. "I can make some calls. Think it's someone we hurt in Miami?"
"It's Fletcher," Joe McLean said.
"Martin Fletcher?" It was as if Paul had been kicked in the chest. He all but staggered back against the doorjamb. His lip quivered and he blinked rapidly. "God, I had hoped he was dead."
It all came to the surface in a flash of pain. Martin Fletcher was the man who had had him shot. Fletcher had escaped from federal custody and vanished even as Paul had fought for his life in a Miami hospital's trauma unit. He had masterminded the hit on Paul's team from his prison cell and then had escaped the same day, before anyone could put it together.
"Far as I can find out, nobody's ever come close to catching him," Joe said.
Thorne sighed. "The family killings started four years back. That gave him a good two years from his prison break to plan it."
"I don't remember all of it. It's kind of fuzzy. I remember he escaped. If he was retaken, I never heard about it."
"Remember when he said he'd eat our hearts out?"
"Sort of. Yes. I know he was berserk last time I saw him. At the trial."
"What is this if not a way to eat our hearts out?"
"I remember sitting on the stand and his eyes as I testified. And the outburst when he was sentenced."
"He set us up, remember?" Thorne turned and looped out at the stream. "You know what he did to you...tried to kill all of us."
"I know what he did to me." Every time I look in the mirror or try to use my left hand or gauge depth.
"It's retaliation, Paul," Joe said, breaking in. "The ultimate twisting of the blade. Better than blowing our brains out."
"I'll make some calls," Paul said. "Some people still owe me, I guess. Maybe I can do something."
"I'd trade my life for two minutes alone with him," Thorne Greer said. "Look what he did to you, for Christ's sake. How long has it been since you left this goddamned cabin? Look around. You're stuck in a calendar shot. The closest town is a cluster of log huts. He's already fuckin' killed you, you just ain't noticed yet."
Paul looked out the window. "Five years since I came back here. Month since I even went to Aaron's store. I'm no good outside here. I just can't...you got to understand..."
"Goddamn it," Joe exploded. "You owe us. He fuckin' did it because of what you did. You nailed his ass to the cross. You set him against us."
"Come on, Joe. Fletcher's nuts," Thorne said.
"What?" Paul stammered. "I just arrested him."
"Nobody bothered to tell Martin it was merely an arrest and that you didn't mean anything by it," Thorne said.
"Martin left a note on Doris's body. Wanted you to know it was him. Said he'd leave you alone if you'd leave him be." Joe realized Paul was confused and frightened. But they had to have Paul to get Fletcher. Paul was once powerful stuff at DEA. At the time of the ambush he had been a heroic figure in the agency, a leader who went into the field and faced danger with his men. The files bulged with citations and press clippings on his career.
"I'm sorry...God, I'm sorry. I was doing my job. If I had known--Paul hung his head.
"Fletcher wants us to blame you. But we don't. Do we?" Thorne looked at Joe. Joe nodded slowly and slammed the flat of his hand against a beam. "Martin Fletcher's crazy as a shithouse rat."
"Crazy as a shithouse fox," Joe said.
"Couldn't it be anyone else? We made some people mighty unhappy. Maybe it's someone wanting us to think it's Martin. Hiding behind his mystique."
"The players we chased around after are mostly washed up--kids who were in diapers then are leaders now. Ochoa, Lopez, Perez," Joe said. "The ones that are still alive are in hiding in Spain, in jail, dead, or so deep in the jungle they're making monkeys."
"He butchered our families. He has to be stopped. You have to come out and help us," Thorne said.
"I'm sorry," Paul said. He looked out the window and took a deep breath and exhaled it. "I can't...can't think about going out there again."
"What the hell do you mean?" Joe snapped. "Haven't you been listening? Our families have been fucking wiped out! What makes you think he's finished?"
"There's only one family left, Paul. Yours."
Excerpted from The Last Family by John Ramsey Miller. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.