It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
Davis Bunn is a three-time Christy Award-winning, best-selling author now serving as writer-in-residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Defined by readers and reviewers as a “wise teacher,” “gentleman adventurer,” “consummate writer,” and “Renaissance man,” his work in business took him to over forty countries around the world, and his books have sold more than seven million copies in sixteen languages. Among those titles are The Presence, Winner Take All, and Lion of Babylon.
Visit the author’s website.
Simon Orwell is a brilliant student whose life has taken a series of wrong
turns. At the point of giving up on his dreams, he gets a call from an old
professor who has discovered a breakthrough in a device that would create
unlimited energy, and he needs Simon’s help.
But once he crosses the border, nothing goes as the young man planned.
The professor has been killed and Simon is assaulted and nearly killed by
members of a powerful drug cartel.
Now he must take refuge in the only place that will help him, a local
orphanage. There, Simon meets Harold Finch, the orphanage proprietor
who walked away from a lucrative career with NASA and consulting
Fortune 500 companies to serve a higher cause.
With Harold’s help, Simon sets out on a quest to uncover who killed the
professor and why. In due time, he will discover secrets to both the world changing device and his own unlimited potential.
List Price: $8.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (September 1, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The car’s radio worked, but one of the speakers was blown. The iPod’s headphones were hidden beneath the sweatshirt as well. Simon doubted the border authorities cared whether he listened to music on an in-ear system. But he didn’t want to give them any reason to make trouble.
He didn’t know what he had been expecting for a small-town border crossing, but it definitely was not this. An American flag flew over a fortified concrete building. The flag snapped and rippled as Simon pulled forward. In front of him were three trucks and a few vans. One car had Texas plates, one produce truck was from Oklahoma, and the other half-dozen vehicles were Mexican. That was it. The crossing was four lanes in each direction, and all but two were blocked off with yellow traffic cones. The border crossing looked ready to handle an armada. The empty lanes heightened the sense of desolation.
As he waited his turn, a harvest truck rumbled past, bringing sacks of vegetables to the United States. The driver shot Simon a gold-toothed grin through his open window. As though the two of them shared a secret. They were passing through the only hassle-free crossing between Mexico and the USA.
Or so Simon hoped.
To either side of the crossing grew the fence. Simon had heard about the border fence for years. But it was still a jarring sight. Narrow steel girders marched in brutal regularity out of sight in both directions. The pillars were thirty feet high, maybe more, and spaced so the wind whistled between them in a constant piercing whine, like a siren, urging Simon to turn back while he still could. Only he didn’t have a choice. Or he would not have made this journey in the first place.
Simon passed the U.S. checkpoint and drove across the bridge. Below flowed the silted gray waters of the Rio Grande.The Mexican border officer took in the dusty car and Simon’s disheveled appearance and directed him to pull over. Simon heaved a silent sigh and did as he was ordered.
The Mexican customs official was dressed in blue—navy trousers, shirt, hat. He circled Simon’s car slowly before saying,
“Your passport.” He examined it carefully. “What is the purpose of your visit to Mexico, señor?”
“I’m making a presentation to the Ojinaga city council.”
The officer glanced at Simon, then the car, and finally the black duffel bag that filled the rear seat.
“What kind of presentation?”
“My advisor at MIT retired down here last year. We’ve been working on a project together.” He plucked the letter from his shirt pocket and unfolded it along the well-creased lines.
The officer studied it. “Do you read Spanish, Dr . . . . ?”
He started to correct the man, then decided it didn’t matter. The officer had no need to know Simon had dropped out. “Dr. Vasquez, my professor, he translated it.”
“You have cut this very close, señor.” The officer checked his watch. “It says your appointment is in less than two hours.”
“I expected the trip from Boston to take two days. It’s taken four. My car broke down. Twice.”
The officer pointed to the duffel. “What is in the bag?” “Scientific instrumentation.” Simon reached back and unzipped the top.
The Mexican officer frowned over the complicated apparatus. “It looks like a bomb.”
“I know. Or a vacuum cleaner.” He swallowed against a dry throat. “I get that a lot.”
The officer handed back Simon’s passport and letter. “Welcome to Mexico, señor.”
Simon restarted the motor and drove away. He kept his hands tight on the wheel and his eyes on the empty road ahead. There was no need to be afraid. He was not carrying drugs. He was not breaking any law. This time. But the memory of other border crossings kept his heart rate amped to redline as he drove slowly past the snapping flags and the dark federales’ cars.
His attention was caught by a man leaning against a dusty SUV. The Mexican looked odd from every angle. He was not so much round as bulky, like an aging middleweight boxer. Despite the heat, he was dressed in a beige leather jacket that hung on him like a sweaty robe. The man had a fringe of unkempt dark hair and a scraggly beard. He leaned against the black Tahoe with the ease of someone out for a morning stroll. He caught Simon’s eye and grinned, then made a gun of his hand and shot Simon.
Welcome to Mexico.
A hundred meters beyond the border, the screen to his iPod map went blank, then a single word appeared: searching. Simon did not care. He could see his destination up ahead. The city of Ojinaga hovered in the yellow dust. He crossed Highway 10, the east-west artery that ran from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He drove past an industrial zone carved from the surrounding desert, then joined the city traffic.
Ojinaga grew up around him, a distinctly Mexican blend of poverty and high concrete walls. The city was pretty much as Vasquez had described. Simon’s former professor had dearly loved his hometown. Vasquez had spent his final two years at MIT yearning to return. The mountains he had hiked as a boy rose to Simon’s right, razor peaks that had never been softened by rain. Vasquez had bought a home where he could sit in his backyard and watch the sunset turn them into molten gold. But they looked very ominous to Simon. Like they barred his way forward. Hemming him in with careless brutality.
Between the border and downtown, Simon checked his phone six times. Just as Vasquez had often complained, there was no connection. Landline phone service wasn’t much bet- ter. Skype was impossible. Vasquez had maintained contact by e-mailing in the predawn hours. He had claimed to enjoy the isolation. Simon would have gone nuts.
The last time they had spoken had been almost two weeks earlier, when Vasquez declared he was on the verge of a break- through. After months of frustrating dead ends, Vasquez had finally managed to make their apparatus work. Since then, Simon had received a series of increasingly frantic e-mails, imploring him to come to Mexico to present the device to the city council.
What neither of them ever mentioned was the real reason why Vasquez had taken early retirement and returned to his hometown in the first place. Which was also the reason why Simon had made this trip at all. To apologize for the role he had played in the demise of Vasquez’s career. That was something that had to be done face-to-face.
Simon found a parking spot on the main plaza. Downtown Ojinaga was dominated by a massive central square, big as three football fields. Simon imagined it must have really been some- thing when it was first built. Now it held the same run-down air as the rest of the town. A huge Catholic church anchored the opposite side of the plaza. The trees and grass strips lining the square were parched and brown. Skinny dogs flitted about, snarling at one another. Drunks occupied the concrete benches. Old cars creaked and complained as they drove over topes, the speed bumps lining the roads. In a nearby shop-front window, two women made dough and fed it into a tortilla machine.
The city office building looked ready for demolition. Several windows were cracked. Blinds hung at haphazard angles, giving the facade a sleepy expression. A bored policeman slumped in the shaded entrance. Simon entered just as the church bells tolled the hour.
The guard ran his duffel back through the metal detector three times, while another officer pored over the letter from the city council. Finally they gestured him inside and pointed him down a long corridor.
The door to the council meeting hall was closed. Simon heard voices inside. He debated knocking, but Vasquez had still not arrived. Simon visited the restroom and changed into a clean shirt. He stuffed his dirty one down under the apparatus. He shaved and combed his hair. His eyes looked like they had become imprinted with GPS road maps, so he dug out his eye- drops. Then he took a moment and inspected his reflection.
Simon was tall enough that he had to stoop to fit his face in the mirror. His hair was brownish-blond and worn rakishly long, which went with his strong features and green eyes and pirate’s grin. Only he wasn’t smiling now. There was nothing he could do to repay Vasquez for what happened, except help him get the city’s funding so they could complete the project. Then Simon would flee this poverty-stricken town and try to rebuild his own shattered life.
He returned to the hall, settled onto a hard wooden bench, and pulled out his phone. For once, the phone registered a two- bar signal.
Simon dialed Vasquez and listened to the phone ring. The linoleum floor by his feet was pitted with age. The hallway smelled slightly of cheap disinfectant and a woman’s perfume. Sunlight spilled through tall windows at the end of the corridor, forming a backdrop of brilliance and impenetrable shadows.
When the professor’s voice mail answered, he said, “It’s Simon again. I’m here in the council building. Growing more desperate by the moment.” The door beside him opened, and Simon turned away from the voices that spilled out. “Professor Vasquez, I really hope you’re on your way, because—”
“Excuse me, señor. You are Simon Orwell, the professor’s great friend?”
Simon shut his phone and rose to his feet. “Is he here?”
The two men facing him could not have been more different. One was tall, not as tall as Simon, but he towered over most Mexicans. And handsome. And extremely well groomed. The other was the product of a hard life, stubby and tough as nails. The only thing they shared was a somber expression.
Even before the elegant man said the words, Simon knew. “I am very sorry to have to tell you, Señor Simon. But Professor Vasquez is dead.” “No, that’s . . . What?”
“Allow me to introduce myself. Enrique Morales, I am the mayor of Ojinaga. And this is Pedro Marin, the assistant town manager and my trusted ally.”
“Vasquez is dead?”
“A heart attack. Very sudden.”
“He thought the world of you, Señor Simon.” Pedro spoke remarkably clear English.
The mayor was graceful even when expressing condolences. “Nos lamentanos mucho. We lament with you, Señor Simon, in this dark hour.”
For some reason, Simon found it easier to focus upon the smaller man. “You knew the professor?”
“He was a dear friend. My sister and I and Dr. Harold, per- haps you have heard of him? The professor was very close to us all.”
“You’re sure about Vasquez?”
“Such a tragedy.” The mayor was around his midthirties and had a politician’s desire to remain the center of attention. “You came all the way from Boston, is that not so? We are glad you made it safely. And we regret this news is here to greet you.”
“I . . . we’re scheduled to meet the city council.”
A look flashed between the two men. “I believe they have completed their other business, yes? Pedro will escort you. I must hurry to the city’s outskirts. We are dedicating a new water treatment facility. Long in coming. But so very needed. It is our attempt to aid the poorest citizens of our community. Like the professor’s bold project, no? So very noble.”
Enrique was clearly adept at filling uncomfortable vacuums. “Please join me for dinner tonight. Yes? Splendid. We will meet and we will talk and I will see what I can do to assist you through this dark hour. The restaurant by the church. Nine o’clock.”
Enrique turned and spoke a lightning-swift sentence to Pedro, whose nod of acceptance shaped a half bow. The mayor’s footsteps clipped rapidly down the hall. He tossed quick greetings to several people as he departed, clapped the senior guard on the shoulder, thanked the second guard who opened the door for him, and was gone.
Simon stared into the empty sunlight at the corridor’s end, wishing the floor would just open up and swallow him whole.
Then he realized Pedro was waiting for him. “This way, señor. The council will see you now.”