Hector looked over to the passenger seat and saw Jim sprawled there, blood seeping from his wounds. Jim smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Leaning forward from the backseat, Liam spoke, “‘Scuse me, Hector.” and plunged his knife into Jim’s side.
Turning his attention back to the road, Hector addressed his only friend. “Jim, you okay?”
“This? Oh, it’s nothing. I was a top-notch Ranger, SEAL, military guy. Happens all the time.”
Hector felt Liam looming behind him as the addict spoke again. “Sorry, ‘scuse me. Don’t mean to interrupt.” Once more, he slammed the knife into Jim who looked up, smiled and gave him the same thumbs up he gave Hector.
The phone was attached to the dashboard and squawked like an old-time CB. “Sir, this is Dr. Snafu from the hospital. How far out are you from the Emergency Room?”
Hector started frantically looking for road signs, afraid that he was too late. He had his foot pushing the pedal to the floor, but it felt like they were driving through molasses and every block was miles long. “I don’t know. We’re going really slow.”
“Okay, and what other preexisting conditions are there?”
“Pre... ? I don’t know. He was in the Army. Call, like, the VA or something.”
“No, sir, I meant for you. Have you always been a pussy? Did you just recently become a pussy? I’m looking at Jim’s file and it says that he was your only friend and that you sat on your fat ass and did nothing to Liam until after Jim was dead. Is that accurate?”
“What? No, no, that...” The ringing out of the gunshots pulled his attention up from the phone to the gravesite where the men in uniform were firing their rifles into the sky. One of them knelt by Ann’s side, presented her with a folded flag, turned and pointed to him. The disgust on his face was visible.
Hector was standing under a tree more than 150 yards away as he watched the funeral. He could hear Ann’s voice distinctly as she looked up at him with hate in her eyes. “You killed him. Jim loved you like a brother and was the only person that treated you like you mattered. You let that piece of shit rape me and then you let him kill Jim.”
He was sitting upright in his bed, sweat dripping from his shaking, heavily scarred torso. It was that fucking dream again. Jim had been dead for five years, and Hector made sure that Liam followed him to the grave days later. Hector had left the MC, chapter president or not. Killing a member should have resulted in his own death.
His skills were easily transferable, and he worked as a diesel mechanic. No longer riding tore at his soul, but he couldn’t afford anything that tied him to his previous life. Jeans and leather were replaced by dockers and sweatshirts at home and blue uniforms at work. $10,000 had purchased him a new identity and shedding 70 pounds while letting his hair grow back-in drastically changed his appearance.
He fled Idaho and moved to San Diego, but he hadn’t been able to outrun his guilt.
Trying to banish the nightmares from his mind, he strode naked into his backyard, slipped into the pool and swam laps until he was exhausted. After showering, he got dressed and opened the shop early, at 5 AM. By mid-morning, his employees were enjoying their egg sandwiches while he had an egg-white, ham and broccoli omelet. This keto diet sucked, but his knees no longer ached and clicked audibly.
Angelina’s voice came over the speakers. “Teddy, call on line three.”
Wiping his hands on a rag, he walked over and picked up a phone. “AAA Auto, this is Teddy.”
“Why don’t you just go all the way and make Whitebread your last name? My cousin, Teddy Whitebread.”
“Whadda ya want, Vic?”
There was silence.
“Yeah, listen, you gotta stay cool, okay?”
“What’s going on, Vic?”
“Alma, she’s, well, she’s missing.”
“Missing? What the fuck are you talking about? Where the fuck is my sister?”
“Hec, you gotta stay calm. I’m on it.”
“Cousin or not, if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m going to drive to Idaho and beat it out of you.”
“Okay, I said I’m on it. Wally is telling the family that they went on a cruise in the Caribbean, got separated while shopping and she disappeared. I’ve been checking with the cruise line’s security and law enforcement in Mexico.”
“Checking with them? When the fuck did this happen?”
“A few weeks ago, but I just found out last night.”
“Son of a bitch. That squirrelly fuck didn’t say anything for weeks? They still live in Riverside?”
“All right, you stay in front of your computer with the rest of your cop friends. Get a box of donuts or some shit, and I’ll call you back in a couple of hours.”
Hopping into his GMC Sierra, the man living as Ted drove to his home, removed a large paving stone on the back porch, retrieved the waterproof box under it and got back in his truck. He took I-15 north towards his sister’s home and the little man she married.
It was mid-afternoon by the time he was done scouting out some dives in San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, and Ontario. A large water sat on the table next to his two salads with chicken breast when he picked up the phone to call his cousin.
“Hey, Hec. You up there?”
“Yeah. Sitting at a Chick-fil-A outside of that huge mall in Ontario. You got anything new?”
“Actually, we made some progress. There was no missing persons report made for Alma with the police, but Wally did file something with the cruise line, and I should be getting a copy of that this afternoon or tomorrow morning.”
“Okay, send me a copy of whatever you get to my phone. I’m going to find out who’s the biggest bookie in the area and see what he has on Wally. No sense in me doing leg work when my degenerate gambler brother-in-law probably has someone who has already done it.”
“All right. Hec, you stay safe, hear me? Call me if I can do something.”
Wanting to kill time until it was dark, he dawdled over his food, bought some new sneakers at the Sketchers outlet on the outside of the mall and drove over to Rancho Realty, the last place he knew his sister had worked. The thermometer on the dashboard read 103 degrees and the wind was pushing dust everywhere.
Hustling into the building, he sighed as the air conditioning wrapped around his large frame. The interior was a mix of cool shades of green with chrome fixtures. He approached the receptionist and smiled.
“Hey, I’m looking for Alma. She in?”
“I’m sorry sir, uh, Alma doesn’t work any longer.”
“Yeah? When did that happen?”
She looked conflicted. “You know, I’m not really sure. Let me get my supervisor.”
After a few seconds on the phone and a minute or two wait, a dour matronly looking woman stepped into the atrium. “I’m Mrs. Kendall; may I help you?”
“Hi, I’m Alma’s brother. I came into town to surprise her and thought I would take her out to dinner. I was told she doesn’t work here anymore?”
“Uhmmm, do you have any ID Mr...”
“Shit, yeah sorry. I got better, actually. And it’s Ted.” Pulling out his phone, he went to his photos and standing next to Mrs. Kendall scanned through a dozen of him with his sister over the years. “You the gentleman with the motorcycle? Alma talked about you often.”
He took a risk. “Yeah, but I’ve been out of that for years.”
“Well, she never came back after her vacation. I heard she went on some sort of cruise and when we called the week after she was due back, her husband said she was quitting. It happens sometimes, but it was out of character for Alma. The least she could have done was told us herself.”
“Yeah, I getcha. All right, thanks for your time.”
Halfway towards the door, he used the remote to turn on his air-conditioner, stopped and turned. “Oh, one other thing, you guys get good insurance here? Employees, I mean?”
“That include life insurance?”
“Okay, thanks again.”
He slowly drove to a dive bar in Rancho Cucamonga. Sitting in the parking lot, killing time until dark, he called his cousin. “Hey, I need you to check up on something for me. I just left her job. They haven’t heard from her since before she left for the cruise. Supposedly, they’ve got great insurance. I need you to find out if Wally has put in a claim on her.”
There was a pause before Vic replied. “What the fuck has Wally gotten himself into? You really think that’s necessary?”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth checking out. You know he’s still into me for over 10 grand? Me. Super Bowl bet from over a decade ago. And you know what I was like. He’s a fucking degenerate.”
“Fuck. All right, text me the name of the company she worked for and any details you have, and I’ll find out tomorrow. I’ll get the insurance info from her HR and then call corporate.”
“You just love that badge, doncha?”
“I don’t remember you complaining when I covered your biker ass.”
The big man chuckled. “Yeah, you were well compensated. Call me tomorrow.”
Rooting around the pickups cab, he found a light long-sleeved shirt. It was a long painful process, but he’d had all of his ink removed. There was some scarring that he didn’t want to be questioned about in a place like this, so covering up was the best option.
Sitting in the shade of a tree, he turned the A/C down to low, tilted the seat back and went to sleep for two hours.
Hector took a table where he could have his back against the wall and still have a good view of the TV. Staring at the bowl of popcorn on the table, he kept his hands on his knees and waited for the waitress. If he had a handful of popcorn, he would have the bowl-full. If he had one bowl, once he started drinking, he would have three.
She was a little thicc, which is how he liked his women. Her blue highlighted hair had a buzz undercut on one side of her head. As she approached, he placed two twenties on the table. Her smile was a little warmer after she saw the cash.
“What can I get ya?”
“Whatever you have on tap, as long as it’s cold and it keeps coming. Can you do me a favor? Can you take the popcorn back with ya?”
Hector sat there watching the Dodgers lose to the Mariners. By the fourth inning he had watched enough people in the bar to know that there was no bookie on-site. Leaving a nice tip, Hec made his way out to his truck and drove to another bar about 10 minutes away.
Arriving in time for the seventh inning, he watched the Dodgers tie up the game. A tired but pretty woman around 50 seemed to be the waitress for his section. Hector was a little surprised that they had more than one waitress, but he replayed his earlier scene, placing two twenties on the table.
“How y’all doing tonight?” She had a delightful southern accent that immediately perked up his interest.
“Good, good. Thanks. I’ll take whatever is on tap and that double cheeseburger special? Can I get the burgers without the bun? Extra bacon. And skip the fries. I know it’s a stretch, but if you guys got a salad, could I get that with oil and vinegar? If not, can I just get some lettuce and tomato slices, maybe some pickles?”
“I know we don’t look like much, but we got good food. I’ll set you up, honey.”
Smiling, he took out his wallet and put another 20 on the table. “Thanks.”
All things being relative, the food was actually good for that sort of bar. He drank and watched and drank some more. A second TV in a different corner had the Knicks and the Lakers. Some money would exchange hands, penny-ante bets between friends. Hec paid attention to who was watching the ESPN crawler on the bottom of the screen.
One guy was visited numerous times by patrons who would slip him cash. The guy would often check his phone after seeing scores scroll by. Getting up, Hector made his way over to the man’s table.
“Hey, can I get 50 on the Knicks to cover?”
“Do I know you?”
“Nah, just in town for a few days and wanted to get some action.”
After looking him up and down, the man gave him a beckoning gesture, asking for the cash. “You sure as hell don’t look like a cop. Okay, we don’t know each other so cash up front.”
Hector took out a roll of 50s and 100s kept tight in two thick rubber bands from his pocket, and peeled off a 50. “Oakland is playing the Padres tonight, right? Give me 200 on San Diego.” He peeled off two $100 bills, left them on the table and went back to his drink.
The next time the waitress walked by, he signaled her over. “That guy in the blue button-down? Whatever he’s drinking, send one over on me.”
Times slid forward slowly, and Hec nursed his beers. When the bookie finally left, he followed him into the parking lot.
“Hey! Hey, hold up.”
The man spun, gun in hand. “Stay the fuck back!”
“Whoa. Just want to talk, dude.” He slowly lifted the waist of his shirt and turned around. “We got no beef. I’ve got some questions. You may have some answers. I’ve got cash. I need some info on a local named Wally Dacosta. If you have the information I need, you walk away with $2500 of my money.”
“Wally owe you some money?”
“Yeah, he owes me.”
“You’re in luck. That sad piece of shit is flush for the first time I’ve known him.”
“When did this happen?”
“Don’t know. Went on some sort of vacation and paid off a bunch of debts when he got home. Couldn’t have had better timing either. Some people higher up than me were looking for him and were looking hard, if you get my drift. Maybe he hit some out-of-town casino and got lucky.”
“How did he get out of town if those sort of people were looking for him?”
“His wife bought him some time. Got him a grace period and a hold on the vig.”
“Look, could you lower the fucking gun? You could shoot me three times before I was able to reach you. Tell me the full story and the money is yours.”
Hector stood there on the broken asphalt listening to the story. There was a small isolated bubble in his mind that was filled with an emotionless clarity. That was the part that was paying attention and responding as a rational person should. The rest of his mind and soul were on fire.
He had spent six years in the Orofino correctional facility. He had killed men and ordered men killed. He had witnessed his only friend willingly and eagerly accept his own death. Hector had left the MC and his previous life and did what was necessary to not be found, but he had never been this angry before in his life.
He paid the man, got in his truck and drove to his brother-in-law’s.
Sitting on the couch while waiting for Wally, Hector flipped through his sister’s high school yearbook that he found on the bookshelf. Alma was a year older than he was and they had many of the same friends. He almost couldn’t believe he had ever been that young. Every picture that he was in, Jim was standing next to him.
Hector deserved to be in the pictures of the football team. He kicked ass on the field and had no false modesty where that was concerned. Every other photo was because Jim would see the photographer, throw his arm around Hector’s shoulder and make sure he was in the picture. That exemplified who Jim was.
It was also the best time of Hector’s life. With Jim at his side, Hector’s darker nature was held at bay. When Jim joined the Army, Hector took a different path, eventually climbing his way up to be the president of the local motorcycle club.
They both had some good years and success in the fields they had chosen. Everything seemed to go to hell around the time that Jim was injured. One of Hector’s men raped Jim’s cousin. Vic used his badge and pull to sweep everything under the rug, but he couldn’t do anything about Jim who came home after his medical discharge looking for vengeance.
Jim loved his cousin like a sister, and she was the only family he had left. Ann was in therapy when Jim got back to town and began his hunt for the rapist. Hector couldn’t give up his man to be killed and he couldn’t allow his only friend to be killed by the club. So he chose to do nothing.
Eventually, Jim beat the rapist almost to death, abiding by Ann’s wish that he not kill the man. For some reason he allowed himself to be killed when he could’ve easily taken his opponent out at any time. It took more than a year for Hector to realize that Jim had come home to die.
Carefully, gently, reverently placing the yearbook under the laptop at his side, Hector closed his eyes and tried unsuccessfully to not think of his only friend.
No one had been home when he had arrived, but it was clear that someone was still living there. After realizing his brother-in-law was out, he went back out to his truck, drove it over their grass, and parked in the backyard. The driveway was too obvious; Hector wanted to keep his appearance a surprise.
Going through the house, he destroyed every phone he found. Spying Wally’s laptop, he took care of some business there as well. That took more than an hour, so Hec fried up some eggs and ham he found in the refrigerator while he waited. When his phone rang, he listened to the young man’s explanation and sat down while the expert walked him through what he found.
Hector was finding it difficult to think and launched a kitchen chair through the patio doors.
At a little after 3AM, Wally ambled unsteadily through the door. The house was dark, and he flipped the switch on the wall. Nothing happened. He tried again.
“Leave it off, Wally. Had a late night?”
He saw the small wiry man jump in the near darkness.
“What the hell ... Hec, is that you?”
“Yeah. Drove up north to visit with my sister and favorite brother-in-law. Come over here, Wally. Sit down for sec.”
“I, uh, I gotta take a leak. I’ll, uh, be back in a minute.”
“Nah, that can wait. Sit down. We got to talk.”
Wally’s shaking was visible, but he took a few steps into the living room and sat down. “Okay, yeah, sure.”
“You know why I’m here, Wally?”
“You, uh, wanna see family?”
“I’m here for the money. It’s been over a decade. I never ran the vig. Family courtesy. But times up.”
Wally visibly relaxed. “Oh, shit, sorry. I should’ve paid that long ago. Just slipped my mind, you know? Good news though, I got it. We are all good. Let me go get it for you.”
“You got more than 10 g’s sitting in your house? What, you hit the lottery Wally?”
He laughed nervously. “Yeah, no, not that great. Just had a string of good luck lately. Let me get it for you.”
“Sit tight. No rush. Don’t you want to know how I’ve been?”
“Ah, yeah, of course. How you doing, Hector?”
“Good. Good, good, good. Real good. Got an auto shop. We do diesel work. Mostly corporate contract stuff, some retail stuff on the side. Little autobody. Lots of turnover though. Always hiring new guys. Get a lot of good workers out of prison. They’re hard workers, and we see eye to eye, if you know what I’m talking about.”
Wally seemed confused and kept looking about the house. First the kitchen, then the foyer, then the room they were in. “Yeah? That’s good Hector, really.”
“Got a new kid a few months back. He was different. White-collar crap. Stuff with computers. He’s like some sort of genius or something. Got all our bills online, all our records straightened out, even got us a website. Really knows what he is doing.
“The others though? Different story. You know what it means when someone has a teardrop tattoo while on the inside? Means they killed somebody. I guess it’s like a sign to other people. ‘Watch out, I’m a bad ass.’ But it’s more than that. You know what I think? I think they get a thrill whenever they see it. Every time they look in the mirror, they get a little rush remembering why it’s there.”
Wally was back to looking nervous again. “That’s, ah...” He seemed to be at a loss. “Okay. Thanks for the heads up. Good to know who to avoid.”
Hector continued. “Not the same anymore, though. You got rapper pussies getting them now. It’s a fucking fashion statement. You know what it’s like though? It’s like in the old West, when they took scalps. Or like serial killers who take a memento. It’s a trophy. Every time they see it or feel it, it brings them back to that initial rush. What are they call it? Endorphins?”
“Uhm, yeah, Hector. I think that’s it.”
“Wally ... Where’s my sister?”
Wally’s foot started tapping and he put his wringing hands under his thighs. “She, uh, I’m not sure. We, uh, went on a cruise and when we got off the ship one time, we got separated. I, uh, haven’t seen her since. I don’t know if she ran out on me, or what.”
“Where did this happen?”
“Mexico? That’s a fucking dangerous place. What did you do? How long did you stay down there?”
“I, uh, I waited for her for a while and reported it to the ship. They could, you know, talk to the local cops. See what they could do.”
“Well, you just get back? I mean you must of been spending all your time down there, searching and shit, right?”
“Ah, no, not really. Listen, we weren’t really getting along too good, you know? I think she just took off. I mean she had money and everything and she had been pretty pissed off lately, and things had been pretty bad for a while. I came back here because I thought she might cool off and come home and I wanted to be here for her.”
“Yeah? That’s real nice. Real nice, Wally. Good thinking. Hey, that computer kid I was telling you about? It’s a fucking crazy what he can do. If you download a program from this site? He’s got this master program from the same site, and if you give him a number from your computer, he can take it over and work it from wherever he is. He can control the whole damn thing. Crazy, right?”
You’ve been back from your cruise for what, 38 days? Remember what I was saying about trophies, and shit? It seems that you visited the same webpage 114 times in those 38 days.”
Hector reached to his side, grabbed Wally’s laptop, and hurled it at him. Striking a glancing blow on his brow, blood started leaking down his face immediately.
“You want to explain to me how a Mexican whore-house has a website with a photo of my sister listed as ‘American MILF’? You wanna FUCKING EXPLAIN THAT?”
Wally started crying. “She was cheating on me! She was fucking some guy on the side. Everybody knew it. She was humiliating me! A friend of mine, someone I knew since we were kids told me. He had pictures, Hec! He had pictures. You have any idea how humiliating that is? She’s, she’s gonna be fine. Two years and they let her go. I couldn’t ... I just couldn’t ... It was like she was rubbing my nose in it.”
“You stupid, stupid fuck. You know who she was with? Arnie Coleman. You know how many times? Once. That name should ring a bell. He works for Northtown Billy, the fucking bookie you were into. It took me less than a day to find out that she was with that piece of crap to buy you time. They were coming to kill you, Wally. She sold herself to buy you two weeks and to stop the vig.
“What were you ... How could ... What the fuck? What sort of piece of shit would sell a woman to a whore-house? I don’t care what the fuck she did. She piss you off? She humiliates you? She cheats on you? Fine. Leave her. Take all the money. Send photos of her getting laid to her family. Burn the fucking house down. But sell a human being to a whore-house?
“It takes a lot to rattle me. I’ve seen and done a lot of fucked up shit, but ... You’re not even a person. You’re a fucking cockroach. What sort of subhuman thinks that is okay? You tell your friends? You small-dicked losers sit around a table in a dark room thinking about what you did to my sister and laugh? They all clap you on the back, like you’re some sort of fucking hero? Bunch of pussy losers kissing ass to the king loser. That was what was going on?”
Hector slowly stood up. “You sold my sister to a whore-house for the crime of saving your life. I hope you enjoyed the last month, ‘cause that’s all she bought you. You ever hear of a curb stomp, Wally? Were gonna have some fun for the next hour, you and I.”
Within two hours, Hector was driving back south, leaving the corpse behind in the home for which his sister had paid the bills.
Hector drove with one hand manipulating his Samsung Galaxy. Getting his large fingers to press the right prompts, he placed the phone on the seat next to him and began.
“Hey, Ann. I guess this is another message I’m never going to send to you. Was thinking about Jim tonight. You know how he always had that thing? How he could always see what was right and what was wrong? And then fuck it if it was difficult, he did the right thing anyway? I’m not sure, but I think I had one of those nights tonight.
“It’s sort of hard for me to tell, but I think I did the right thing. Jim was always my, I don’t know, conscience or something. He’d laugh if he heard that. Anyway, I’ve been keeping my head down and staying under the radar for the past few years but some shit came up and some people that have been looking for me may be coming around.
“I know what you’re thinking. What would you care what happens to me? I get it. I should’ve looked out for you or at least taken care of things after the fact if Jim wasn’t around. I didn’t and I gotta carry that shit with me. Anyway, Jim was my friend and he would’ve loved your son to death. Probably been his godfather or something. So, I’ve got a little over 22 grand saved up for your boy for college or something. If shit goes wrong for me, I have some people that will make sure you get the money.
“If I live through this, I’ll just keep throwing more cash in when I can. You know, I can’t talk to Jim. I tried. A bunch of times. Tried to do it at a church. I thought that was a good choice. Chickened out there. Went down to a high school football field around midnight with a six-pack and set my fat ass on the 50 yard line. Couldn’t do it there either.
“It’s good though. What does he need to hear from me for, huh? He’s up there talking to the good people and hanging with your mom and grandma and his pop and I’m down here. I think we both know I’ll be headed in the opposite direction. I just woulda liked to have told him I was sorry, ya know?
“Anyway, calling you is out of the fucking question. I know where I stand with you, and I get it. I’m no good at writing, so letters are out. These messages seem to help. Maybe one day I’ll get the balls to actually send them to you. You deserved better, Ann.
“I’m trying to be a better man. I’m trying to be like Jim, even if it’s too fucking late. I’m really trying Ann.”
After wiping his eyes he leaned over and turned off the recording program.
Two hours later he was back in San Diego. Hector went directly to his shop and slept for a few hours on the couch in his office. The smell of coffee pulled him from his sleep and he slowly got up, stretched and audibly cracked his back. Opening the door, he called out to the office manager.
“Angelina! Got a minute?”
She was in his office by the time he was behind his desk and sitting down. “You look like crap, boss.”
“Thanks. Morning to you too. When Pedro gets in, I need you to quietly tell him I need to speak to him. It’s personal stuff, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. You okay?”
“Sure. All good.”
“All right. There’s one of those travel toothbrushes in the drawer to your left. You might want to use it.”
“Okay, thanks. Angie? I appreciate the help.”
There was an extra twitch in her hips as she walked out of the office. “That’s why you pay me the big bucks, Teddy.”
Pedro was one of the men he had hired from prison. Hector knew he had spent some time in Mexico and had relatives in the Yucatán. Within a few hours, Pedro had some leads for his employer.
Hector quickly met with Phil, a quiet older man who lacked ambition but knew the business better than anyone else he knew. Phil and Angie would keep an eye on the place until he got back. Angie booked him a flight leaving that evening for Manuel Crescencio Rejon International Airport.
It was time to dress for the party. Hector knew one, but he knew what to look for by experience. His Spanish was serviceable, and he hailed a cab. Cab drivers were always a good source of information.
“Estoy buscando un cierto tipo de Club nocturne,” he said. Likely, a nightclub or bar would be the best chance at a contact.
“Qué clase de Club nocturne? Buscas para una dama?”
Hector laughed. He was looking for a lady, but not there and not for entertainment.
“No, necesito algunas herramientas.” he said. “ He didn’t want to spell it out, but he needed the driver to get the idea.
“Quieres un arma?” the driver asked. Well, that had escalated quickly. Evidently the driver had no problems with Hector wanting a gun.
“Sí, tal vez varias armas.” Hector said.
“No, problema. Roberto conoce a alguien.” Of course, cab drivers always knew someone.
“Cien dólares, dólares americanos, para que me presents, “ Hector said.
It was a twenty minute drive, and the cab pulled up in front of a nondescript brick building. There was a sign outside advertising auto-body work. Roberto got out and held Hector’s door. They went inside and Roberto spoke briefly with a man at the desk. The man got on the phone and spoke a few words. He got up and led them down a hall and opened a door at the end. Hector was unprepared for what was inside.
It began with the rich mahogany paneling and woodwork, included the leather furnishings and concluded at the woman behind the desk. She was stunning. She stood, and Hector found her eyes almost on his level. As she moved around the desk he could see the platform sandals, but she was still tall. There was a mane of dark curls sweeping down her back, almost to her waist, highlighted with auburn tints. She was slender but muscular, and the white sheath dress she was filling to perfection set off her dusky complexion perfectly. It was her eyes that captivated him the most. They were dark, almost black pools, liquid and mesmerizing. He was tongue-tied as introductions were made. She was Ms. Flores, and her handshake was firm and cool.
Roberto and the man from the front desk left Hector and Ms. Flores alone. They both took seats, she behind her desk and he in a very comfortable chair.
“No sé por dónde empezar,” Hector said.
She laughed and it sent a thrill through him. “Why not start at the beginning,” she said. “I speak English, Mr. Whitebread.” Her eyebrows rose at the use of the name he had offered.
“Whew! That’s good,” he wiped his brow. “My Spanish hasn’t been out of storage for a while.”
“I understand,” she said. Hector loved hearing her voice. It was low and just a little husky, sounding like she should be singing old jazz.
“Okay, the beginning,” he said. “I have a sister...” Hector held nothing back, giving her the whole story. For some reason, maybe because of that breath-takingly beautiful vision she made, he felt like she was someone he could trust.
“What are your plans?” she asked. “Are you going in like an avenging angel? I know this place. They specialize in Anglo women, most held against their will. There are many guards, armed ones. How tough are you, Mr. Whitebread?”
“Please, it’s just Hector,” he said.
“Héctor,” she said, as if tasting the word. “Me, I am Jacin. How tough are you, Héctor?”
“She’s my sister, Jacin. As tough as I need to be,” he said.
“Good, because you are going to need to be very tough,” she said. “What do you want from me?”
“Well, I didn’t expect a hell of a lot when I came in here,” Hector said. “Now, I think I need to reevaluate. I need weapons, any information I can get on the place and the organization, whatever support you’ll let me pay you to give.”
She steepled her fingers, placed her elbows on her desk and rested her chin on her fingers. She appeared to be thinking, and Hector didn’t want to disturb her.
She sighed and settled back in her chair. “No, I cannot risk it,” she said.
“Can’t risk what?” he asked.
Jacin looked at him. “I have my own reasons for... como se dice ... wishing these people harm. I have done so for a long time. They are quite powerful, though, and taking them down will not be easy. I have no idea how capable you are, but I know how capable my men are and how capable their men are.”
“Tell me how capable they are. I’ll tell you how fuc ... capable I am.”
She smiled at his slip. “I know many swear words,” she said. “We call them palabras sucias.”
He laughed. “Dirty words, huh? Well, I use a lot of them, but I try to keep it in check around people I don’t know, and especially ladies I don’t know.”
She shrugged and it was a motion he wanted to see again. “Me, I have class, but I swear a little.” She flashed him a mischievous smile. God, she was beautiful!
“Well, Ms. Class, I can only tell you that I was once the president of an MC. You know what that is? Like the movies and shit, but real?” he said. “I’ve been in wars, had more fights than I can remember, and I’ve got the scars to show for it. I gave that up and I’m not a violent person anymore, but I’m ready to get that way. Do you know who John Wick is?”
She flashed him another of those blinding smiles. “Si, the movie character. But you have no dog, Héctor.”
He felt the belly laugh rumble out. “You’re a hell of a lady,” he finally managed. He got serious. “I have a sister. I love her and I’d die for her. I’m going to get her out, Jacin. I’m going to maim and kill and destroy anyone who gets in my way, and I’m not going to stop.”
“This thing, Mr. Héctor Whitebread, it will take considerable money. You can pay up, as they say?”
He offered a grim smile. “That won’t be a problem. I have a good chunk of what the brothel paid my capullo brother-in-law. They’ll be paying for the weapons and services used against them.”
“Ah. I see. Well, no discounts then. Brothel pays full price.”
She looked into his eyes. He didn’t know what she was searching for, but she seemed to make up her mind. “I will help you,” she said.
She nodded. “I, too, have a sister. She is many years older than I. She had a daughter, my niece, not so much younger than me. She was ... taken by those people. Not the same ones, but like them. I could do nothing. It was then that I began this business. My niece, she did not come back. I loved her very much. I can now protect myself and those I love. I have done many evil things to get in this position, and I will help you.”
“What kind of weapons do you have?” he asked.
“Many,” she said. “I will show you. They are not here. Will you have dinner with me, Héctor?”
“Believe me, Jacin, you’re a beautiful woman, and under normal circumstances I’d like nothing better. Hell, I would never ask you out. You’re way out of my league, lady, but if you asked me, I’d be all over it. This isn’t a normal circumstance.”
Her obsidian eyes flashed at him. “I decide what class I am in,” she said. “You do not tell me!”
“Whoa, sorry,” Hector held up his hands. “Yes, God yes, I’ll go to dinner with you.”
“This is good,” she relaxed in her chair. “It is necessary.”
That remark seemed cryptic until after dinner. She took him to a restaurant and most of the food was delicious. She took great delight in his expression of pain as he sampled one dish that had him breathing fire. She ate it like candy, but he sweated in misery after one bite, gulping his water, then beer, in an attempt to put out the flames in his mouth.
They finished, and she slid out of her chair, standing and waiting for him to get up. She took his hand, leading him back into the kitchen area, through and down a corridor to a set of stairs leading down into a basement. No one objected to them passing through the kitchen and she smiled at his apprehension. “I own the restaurant,” she explained.
There was a heavy metal door at the bottom of the stairs and a very tough looking armed man outside. He nodded at Jacin, took keys from his pocket and unlocked the door.
They walked inside. The room was climate controlled and he could hear the swish of air-conditioning. What greeted him was row upon row of shiny metal, lining the walls and in racks around the room. Guns: as she had said, many guns.
“Holy shit, Jacin! You could outfit an army!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, perhaps,” she said. “I do not have an army. This is, como se dice, merchandise. I have five good men. One may hire not-so-good men, but they are just street criminals. Do you see anything you like, Héctor?”
He walked down the rows. She had quality weapons. The rifles were mostly AK47s and AR15s. Both had advantages, but Hector was interested in the AKs. The 7.62x39 round just packed a bigger whollop. She had several from Arsenal, in the SLR series and he picked one of the SLR107Rs with the fixed stock.
“Nice,” he said. “How much do you sell this bad boy for?”
“That one is about $1300, American,” she said.
“Nice little profit, but I gotta say, you aren’t breaking the bank.”
“I try to deliver a good product at a good price,” she said.
There were rows of hand-guns across the room, and Hector looked them over. They all seemed to be chambered for the 9x19 Parabellum, except one, and he picked up an FN Five Seven. It felt good.
“Good choice,” Jacin said. “This weapon will pierce a standard CRISAT vest at 100 meters.”