Mind off Bauer, Adam told himself. You got plenty of other mad dogs in this yard.
Even as Adam thought that, Big Ferg walked by. Big Ferg had been in the Federal Holding Facility for up on a year now, waiting for his trial on weapons charges. He was a leader of the Aryan Bloc. Truth was, he didn’t seem to cause much trouble himself, and he and Adam had formed a kind of grudging respect for each other. But in a jail full of blacks and Latinos, a white supremacist was a trouble magnet, and Adam had been forced to break up a dozen fights that Big Ferg hadn’t started.
Adam’s eyes were on Big Ferg, so he was the first to see the black inmate move toward him. He didn’t know the guy’s name — he was a new arrival. But he was as wide as a truck and nearly as tall, and he moved through the crowd at the chow line like a semi roaring down the road. He and Big Ferg were on a collision course. Adam was on the move, raising his hand in a signal to the other guards.
Adam got there just as the black man threw his first punch. Ferg, though, was no dummy, and no big black man approached without him knowing it and getting off his heels. He ducked the punch and put an uppercut into the other man’s ribs. He might as well have hit a side of beef for all the effect it had. The black inmate slammed both hands down and Ferg dropped to one knee.
“Break it up!” Adam roared, stepping between the two fighters, facing the truck-sized newcomer to shield Ferg. “Get the hell back!”
He didn’t feel the first stab. He was only aware that he’d been shivved in the back when the blood seeped out, warm and then suddenly cold against his skin. He felt Big Ferg’s bulk against his back, holding him with one arm so he couldn’t spin around as the other arm pumped forward, backward, forward, backward, over and over.
“Sorry, dude,” Ferg whispered. “Just business.”
Goddamn, Adam Cox thought as his legs seemed to disappear beneath him.
Jack sat at a library table closest to a wall. He didn’t like having his back to a room under normal circumstances, so in this place his caution was even more extreme. At the warden’s orders, the guards had brought food to them in the library.
Ramirez had been brought along, too, simply because it was easier for the guards to keep track of both of them. Ramirez lifted a clump of gray, dripping food halfway to his mouth and grimaced. “I knew the food in here would be bad, but Jesus—”
Jack wolfed his food down without tasting it. He didn’t expect to like it, but he knew he needed the nutrients while he was locked up in this place. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be here, and he needed his strength.
“Salt,” Ramirez said. “I gotta have salt. Guard, is there any salt?” He turned around in his chair to look at the spot where the guard had been standing. There was no one there.
“The minute you want one of those guys to do some work, they’re gone,” he muttered. He stood up, but Jack grabbed his sleeve, his face going hard and his eyes narrowing.
“Stay here,” he ordered.
Jack knew what was coming the minute the guards disappeared. This MS–13 gang had some connection with the guards, or some hold over them, otherwise they’d never have been able to clear out the showers the way they had. Now they’d done it in the library, too. Jack cursed himself for allowing the isolation, but then he figured it wouldn’t have mattered. In a crowd, he wouldn’t see it coming. At least here he had some warning. Jack stood up and went to the nearest bookshelf. He scanned the books — not the titles, but the sizes — finally finding a short, thick one that fit his hand nicely. He stepped out of the aisle and back to his table just as they appeared.
The thin Latino — Adam Cox had called him Os-car — was there again, this time with three thugs to back him up. Ramirez squeaked and backed up, bumping against the chair behind him.
“You didn’t think we was finished, did you?” Oscar said, sauntering closer. One of his thugs disappeared down one of the aisles, meaning to flank Jack.
“Your two guys seemed finished to me,” Jack said. “You’d have been finished, too, if the guards hadn’t saved you.”
“You gonna want those guards this time, ese,” Oscar said. “We gonna—”
Jack threw the book at him. It wasn’t heavy enough to do much damage, but it made him flinch, giving Jack time to step forward and kick him in the groin. The kick landed hard, lifting Oscar’s feet off the ground, and the thin man doubled over with a cough. Jack grabbed him by the orange collar and shoved him at the two thugs on his left, then bolted right, down the stack of books. He didn’t like that third man hiding in the stacks, and wanted him neutralized.
“Javie, he’s coming!” one of the other gang-bangers shouted.
The Salvatrucha Javie jumped out from behind a corner and was surprised to see Jack already on top of him. Jack punched him in the face and drove his forehead in right behind the punch, feeling the crown of his head connect with a cheekbone, splitting it. He grabbed Javie’s collar and put a knee into his ribs. Then, stepping past him, he kicked his legs back, sweeping the gang-banger’s feet out from under him. Javie hit the ground hard. Jack raised his knee and stomped on the man’s face.
He walked back down the aisle to the table. Oscar was still curled up on the ground. The other two were on top of Ramirez, one holding him and the other punching him in the face. They were bullies, not soldiers. They had pounced on the weakest member rather than focusing on the real threat. Their mistake.
As soon as Jack reappeared, the puncher turned on him. He was fast, and probably tough, but not skilled. He came at Jack with a killer sneer and two big, flailing hands. Jack threw two straight punches right down the middle. He felt one of the Salvatrucha’s punches box the side of his skull, stinging but doing no damage, while both his punches hit the man in the throat. He gagged. Jack ducked low and put a left hook in the man’s liver. The man stood back for a minute, blinking as though Jack’s punch had no effect. Then his knees buckled.
The last attacker was faster. He’d already thrown Ramirez off, and before Jack could turn he grabbed him from behind, lifted him, and slammed him onto the table. Jack felt his left shoulder go numb and hoped it wasn’t broken. The Salvatrucha tried to lift him again, but Jack dropped his weight, going heavy, then spinning around inside the man’s arms. He dug both hands into the gang-banger’s face and eyes, not just pushing but tearing at the flesh. The man gave a strangled cry and tried to push Jack away, but Jack forced the man’s chin up, then drove it backward and down, doubling the inmate over. Jack released one hand and punched him in the face.
He paused, gasping for breath. His heart was pounding, but his senses were alert. He scanned the room, searching out additional threats. Finding none, his eyes settled on Ramirez, who was staring at him in utter astonishment.
“Holy shit,” the man said. “Who are you?”
“The guy you want on your side.”
“No kidding.” Ramirez looked at the four men, two unconscious, two groaning and quivering in the middle of their own misery. “Who, what do these guys want with you?”
“I don’t know,” Jack said truthfully. It couldn’t be that old event, could it? He’d needed some information from an MS–13 member, but the case itself had little to do with the gang, and once he’d gotten his information, Jack hadn’t touched them again. He couldn’t believe they’d hold a grudge for that, especially against someone they knew to be law enforcement. But he couldn’t think of any other reason. He certainly hadn’t attracted their attention inside the jail.
“You okay?” he thought to ask.