The Shady Hill Mobile Home Park isn’t shady or hilly—this is West Texas after all. To military vet John Howard Stark, it’s home. And worth fighting for. A vicious Mexican drug cartel starts terrorizing the residents of Shady Hill—retirees mostly—leaving severed heads in vegetable gardens to scare them out. As usual, the Feds and the local police run for cover. The good people of Shady Hill make a stand, electing Stark as their chief of police. Once a rancher, always a Texan, Stark and his fellow patriots send the Mexican cartel into a bloodthirsty fury by daring to fight back: the bad guys start slaughtering innocent high school students. The God-fearing folks of Shady Hill are totally on their own and deep in the heart of a bloody battle that can only end in a fight for survival, liberty…or death.
Holding his straw Stetson tightly in one hand, John
Howard Stark stepped out into the Texas heat. The glass
door of the medical office hissed shut behind him on its
pneumatic closer. Stark, a tall, broad-shouldered man with
the sort of compelling presence that made people look at
him twice, paused, standing there in the bright sunlight for
a long moment.
Six decades of living had put plenty of silver in his
thick, dark hair and in his mustache. But he still stood
straight, an obviously powerful man despite his age.
Right now, however, something had etched furrows in
his weathered cheeks. The things the doctor had told him
had come as no surprise, and he had nodded stoically as
he listened, but something inside him had drawn tighter.
Now he stood there looking at nothing, his gaze pointed
out at the Texas town around him. Across the street from
the brick complex of medical offices was an elementary
school. Beyond that was the high school, the bigger buildings
around it visible from where Stark stood whether he
actually saw them right now or not. A block to his left, a
nice Italian restaurant on the corner of the highway that
also served as the town’s main drag, with its multitude of
fast food joints, auto supply stores, gas stations, and big
box discount stores. Traffic along the road was a never-
Stark ignored all of it.
Then something besides his own thoughts finally
caught his attention. He lowered his gaze to something
more immediate, the parking lot right in front of him. He’d
had to park on the outer edge of the lot when he’d gotten
here an hour earlier. His pickup still sat there.
And some damn fool was trying to break into it.
Stark’s eyes narrowed. He put his hat on and stepped
down off the sidewalk to cross the parking lot. The young
man standing next to the pickup either didn’t see Stark
coming or didn’t care. He continued trying to work the unfolded
wire hanger down to the door lock. Stark’s pickup
was old enough that it didn’t have electronic locks, just a
little knob that had to be pulled up.
Old and out of date, just like me, Stark thought.
The would-be thief wasn’t alone. He had two companions,
both dressed like he was, in baggy blue jeans and
floppy shirts, with bandannas tied around their heads. One
of them nudged the guy working on the lock and said,
“Hurry up, Chuy. Somebody’s comin’.”
Chuy glanced over his shoulder at Stark and said, “It’s
just an old man.”
Stark came to a stop near the back of the pickup and
asked, “Can I help you fellas with something?”
“Go away, hombre,” Chuy snapped. “This ain’t none of
Stark laid a hand on the sidewall around the pickup’s
“This is my truck, so I think that makes it my business.”
“It was your truck,” one of the other young men said.
“It ain’t no more.”
Disgustedly, Chuy slid the hanger out of the tiny gap at
the top of the driver’s-side window. He threw it to the
pavement and said, “The hell with it. Gimme that pipe.
I’m gonna smash the window.”
“What’s it matter to you, old man?” Chuy demanded.
“Like Angel said, this ain’t your truck no more. It belongs
Stark shook his head.
“I don’t think so.”
“You gonna give us trouble?” Angel sneered and lifted
his shirt to reveal the butt of a revolver tucked into the sagging
waistband of his jeans. “You better run, man, ’fore I
light you up.”
The one standing next to Chuy grinned and said, “Better
run, better run,” in a singsong voice.
Stark lifted both hands, palms out.
“Take it easy, son. I’m not looking for trouble.”
Angel curled his fingers around the gun butt.
“I ain’t your son, you—”
Filth spewed from his mouth as he cursed Stark. He
was so caught up in his creative obscenity that he failed to
notice Stark edging closer.
When he finally noticed what was going on, he yelled,
“Hey, man, don’t crowd me!” and jerked the gun from his
Before he could lift it, Stark kicked him in the balls.
It was a swift, hard kick that made Angel scream and
crumple forward. Stark closed his right hand over the revolver,
gripping the cylinder so tightly that even if Angel
managed to pull the trigger, the gun wouldn’t fire. With his
left hand he grabbed the front of Angel’s shirt and heaved
him against the pickup. Angel’s head cracked against the
Stark ripped the gun from Angel’s hand. He was on the
passenger side, with the pickup between him and the other
two thieves. As they yelled angrily and clawed under their
shirts for their guns, Stark bent low and quickly circled
around the front of the vehicle, putting himself behind the
sturdier protection of the engine block.
As Chuy and his companion opened fire, shooting
wildly in Stark’s general direction but not really coming
close to him, Stark went even lower and triggered two
shots under the truck. Each bullet found its mark, shattering
bone and spraying blood across the pavement. Chuy
and his companion went down howling in pain, each with
a destroyed ankle. They would be lucky to ever walk normally
Still moving fast, with grace and agility that belied his
years, Stark charged around the pickup and kicked away
the guns Chuy and the other thief had dropped. Then he
backed away so that he could see all three of the young
men. Angel was on the ground, too, still stunned and senseless
from having his head rammed against the pickup.
Stark reached in his pocket for his cell phone to call the
police, but it wasn’t necessary. The door of the doctor’s
office opened and the young woman who worked there as
the receptionist rushed out, calling, “Mr. Stark! Are you
“Yeah, I’m fine, Bonita,” Stark told her.
“I saw everything that happened. I already called the
Stark heard a siren in the distance. He smiled and
“Muchas gracias,” he told the receptionist. “You better
go back inside now, in case these fellas try to cause any
The two crippled thieves were lying on the pavement,
clutching their ruined ankles and whimpering. Bonita
looked at them and shook her head, saying, “I don’t think
they’re going to be bothering anybody for a long time.”
“We can hope not,” Stark said.
Chuy twisted his head around to glare up at Stark. Panting
breathlessly because of the pain, he said, “You’re dead,
man! You’re . . . dead! You hear me?”
Stark ignored the threat. It wasn’t like he and death
hadn’t been close companions for many years.
Lights flashing, a police car came around the corner
off the highway, onto the side street where the medical
offices were located. It squealed to a stop, and the uniformed
officer inside got out hurriedly, crouching behind
the open door and pointing his gun at Stark.
“Put your gun on the ground!” he yelled. “Now!”
Stark could tell the cop was young and inexperienced.
Moving carefully and deliberately so there wouldn’t be
any excuse to shoot, he bent over and placed the revolver
on the ground at his feet, then backed away from it and
held his hands up at shoulder level, in plain sight.
“Now you get on the ground, too!” the cop ordered.
“Oh, stop it,” Bonita said in a scathing tone. “Don’t you
know who this is? This is John Howard Stark.”
The cops eyes widened.
“One of the heroes of the Alamo?”
Stark tried not to wince. He had never thought of himself
as a hero, and certainly not as a latter-day equivalent
to Crockett, Bowie, Travis, and the other men who had
died defending the Alamo in 1836. They were true heroes.
“That’s right,” Bonita said. She pointed at the three
young men on the ground. “And he was just defending
himself from those three punks who tried to steal his truck.
You shouldn’t be yelling at him. You should be pinning a
medal on him!”
Stark had to smile ruefully at that. With the way things
were in the country now . . .
Well, the chances of anybody ever pinning a medal on
the likes of him were pretty doggoned small.