Book excerpt: Don Winslow's "The Border"

In Don Winslow's latest thriller, "The Border" (published by William Morrow, on sale February 26), the bestselling author of "The Cartel" and "The Power of the Dog" concludes his trilogy about America's war on drugs, in which Art Keller, of the Drug Enforcement Administration, finds himself a target within the country he's defending.

Read the riveting excerpt below, and don't miss Jeff Glor's interview with Winslow on "CBS Sunday Morning" February 17!


Washington, D.C.
April 2017

Keller sees the child and the glint of the scope in the same moment.

William Morrow

The little boy, holding his mother's hand, gazes at the names etched into the black stone, and Keller wonders if he's looking for someone—a grandfather, maybe, or an uncle—or if his mother just brought her son to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as the end of a walk down the National Mall.

The Wall sits low in the park, hidden like a guilty secret, a private shame. Here and there, mourners have left flowers, or cigarettes, even small bottles of booze. Vietnam was a long time ago, another lifetime, and he's fought his own long war since then.

No battles are inscribed on the Vietnam Wall. No Khe Sanhs or Quảng Trịs or Hamburger Hills. Maybe because we won every battle but lost the war, Keller thinks. All these deaths for a futile war. On previous trips, he'd seen men lean against the wall and sob like children.

The sense of loss heartbreaking and overwhelming.

There are maybe forty people here today. Some of them look like they might be vets, others families; most are probably tourists. Two older men in VFW uniforms and caps are there to help people locate their loved one's names.

Now Keller is at war again—against his own DEA, the U.S. Senate, the Mexican drug cartels, even the president of the United States.

And they're the same thing, the same entity.

Every border Keller once thought existed has been crossed.

Some of them want to silence him, put him in prison, destroy him; a few, he suspects, want to kill him.

Keller knows that he's become a polarizing figure, embodying the rift that threatens to widen and tear the country in two. He's triggered a scandal, an investigation that spread from the poppy fields of Mexico to Wall Street to the White House itself.

It's a warm spring day, a little breezy, and cherry blossoms float in the air. Sensing his emotion, Marisol takes his hand.

Now Keller sees the boy and then—to the right, back toward the Washington Monument—the odd, random glint of light. Lunging for the mother and the child, Keller shoves them to the ground.

Then he turns to shield Mari.

The bullet spins Keller like a top.

Creases his skull and whips his neck around.

Blood pours into his eyes and he literally sees red as he reaches out and pulls Marisol down.

Her cane clatters on the walkway.

Keller covers her body with his.

More bullets smack into the Wall above him.

He hears shouts and screams. Someone yells, "Active shooter!"

Peering up, Keller looks for the origin of the shots and sees that they're coming from the southeast, from about ten o'clock—from behind a small building he remembers is a restroom. He feels for the Sig Sauer at his hip but then remembers that he's unarmed.

The shooter flips to automatic.

Bullets spray the stone above Keller, chipping away names. People lie flat or crouch against the Wall. A few near the lower edges scramble over and run toward Constitution Avenue. Others just stand, bewildered.

Keller yells, "Down! Shooter! Down!"

But he sees that's not going to help and that the memorial is now a death trap. The Wall forms a wide V and there are only two ways out along a narrow path. A middle-aged couple run to the east exit, toward the shooter, and are hit right away, dropping like characters in some hideous video game.

"Mari," Keller says, "we have to move. Do you understand?"


"Be ready."

He waits until there's a pause in the fire—the shooter changing clips—then gets up, grabs Mari and hefts her over his shoulder. He carries her along the wall to the west exit, where the wall slopes down to waist level, tosses her up and over and sets her down behind a tree.

"Stay down!" he yells. "Stay there!"

"Where are you going?!"

The shooting starts again.

Jumping back over the Wall, Keller starts to herd people toward the southwest exit. He puts one hand on the back of a woman's neck, pushes her head down and moves her along, yelling, "This way! This way!" But then he hears the sharp hiss of a bullet and the solid thunk as it hits her. She staggers and drops to her knees, clutching at her arm as blood pours through her fingers.

Keller tries to lift her.

A round whizzes past his face.

A young man runs up to him and reaches for the woman. "I'm a paramedic!" Keller hands her across, turns back and keeps shoving people ahead of him, away from the gunfire. He sees the boy again, still clutching his mother's hand, his eyes wide with fear as his mother pushes him ahead of her, trying to screen him with her body.

Keller wraps an arm around her shoulder and bends her down as he keeps her moving. He says, "I've got you. I've got you. Keep walking." He sees her to safety at the far end of the Wall and then goes back again.

Another pause in the firing as the shooter changes clips again. Christ, Keller thinks, how many can he have?

At least one more, because the firing starts again. People stumble and fall.

Sirens shriek and howl; helicopter rotors throb in deep, vibrating bass.

Keller grabs a man to pull him forward but a bullet hits the man high in the back and he falls at Keller's feet.

Most people have made it out the west exit, others lay sprawled along the walkway, and still others lie on the grass where they tried to run the wrong way.

A dropped water bottle gurgles out on the walkway.

A cell phone, its glass cracked, rings on the ground next to a souvenir—a small, cheap bust of Lincoln—its face splattered with blood.

Keller looks east and sees a National Park Service policeman, his pistol drawn, charge toward the restroom building and then go down as bullets stitch across his chest.

Dropping to the ground, Keller snake-crawls toward the cop and feels for a pulse in his neck. The man is dead. Keller flattens behind the body as rounds smack into it. He looks up and thinks he spots the shooter, crouched behind the restroom building as he loads another clip.

Art Keller has spent most of his life fighting a war on the other side of the border, and now he's home.

The war has come with him.

Keller takes the policeman's sidearm—a 9 mm Glock—and moves through the trees toward the shooter.

Excerpted from "The Border," by Don Winslow, by arrangements with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright © 2019. 

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