***Garcia compound, Torreon, Mexico***
Mercy was running through the desert. Running faster than she could ever imagine. How was that possible? Then everything went black. Just empty, soulless, darkness surrounded her. She felt like she was choking. Like she could not breathe.
She came awake suddenly. Sitting straight up in the large, ornate, and over-stuffed chair next to the man’s bed. There hadn’t been anywhere else for her to sleep. Cassies McBride was on the couch in the other room. The bleeding had slowed, just as Anna had said it would. The woman had come around just enough to eat some of the soup she had made for Ignacio. She still could not call the man her father.
As she expected, he had not done well since Consuela left. But he had been deteriorating quickly all week. She knew that the end was near. Hopefully, the others came for them before that.
Mercy shivered and swallowed back the back nausea as she thought about what she had discovered earlier. She had known that her brother’s wife was mad, but she had no idea the depths of it until she stepped into that room.
All of it was a deck of cards, and the slightest breeze would knock it down around them. Now she was isolated from her only support system. She did not even know where Will was or if he was even still alive. Though something told her she would know if anything happened to him.
And on top of that, she had the added responsibility of the McBrides. That weighed heavily on her heart, especially Callie. Grace. She wanted to help the girl. Tell her that none of this was her fault. But how could she? When she had never forgiven herself for what happened to Mama?
Mama? Where was she now? She had so little information. All Bebe could tell her was that Ryan and his cousin had brought a team to rescue them. But how many? It would take an army at this point between the Garcia and Dominguez cartels’ combined fighting forces.
She glanced towards the window. It was a new moon, which meant there was almost no light streaming in. But that would be good, right? It would make it easier for them to escape? But how? Sure, she and Grace could make it out. But Cassie could not walk. It might be days before she could.
Mercy stood from the chair and tiptoed to the window. She had no idea what time it was. But it was unlikely she would get back to sleep. She did not want to disturb Grace and her mother. So, there was nothing to do but sit here in the dark next to the man who was her father and think. She did not dare turn on the bedside lamp to write in her notebooks or read. She could sneak out of the house and walk around a bit, but that was not an option. She might end up shoot. Or at the very least found and taken to her brother.
Her brothers? She had written Diego off from the beginning. But some part of her had held out hope that Roberto was different from the rest of his family. That was gone now. Between what Will had told her and Bebe, she knew Roberto was no different from his brother.
She looked towards the man in the bed. Mercy could barely make out the shadow in the darkness. She tried to reconcile it all in her mind. What had her mother ever seen in the man? He was over fifteen years older, and Mama had been barely legal when they met.
Maybe it was his looks? Roberto said that he looked like their father, and he could grace the cover of the trashiest romance. Perhaps it was desperation? Mama did not talk about it much. But they all knew how she felt about her parents and the god they represented. Had it all been some teenage rebellion like Grace? But a drug dealer? A married one? It just did not seem like the woman she knew and loved.
“Cara Mia.” The words were the first clear ones the man had spoken in all the weeks she had been here. But who was Ignacio talking to? Was he dreaming? “Lo siento. I never meant to hurt you.”
Mercy stepped away from the window. She did not want him to wake the others. Cassie needed to rest. “It’s okay. Just go back to sleep.”
“No. Please, Anastacia, just listen. I’m so sorry. You are just so young, so innocent, so beautiful. I could not resist. I am weak. She always told me I was a weak man. And when it came to you, she was right.”
“I thought it would be different. I hoped that I could break away from them, from Consuela and General Sanchez. That I could take you far from this place. That we could start over someplace new. Remember, I told you, we’d go to Hollywood. You are so beautiful. You should be a movie star.”
Mercy sat on the side of the bed. The old man thought she was her mother. Was it the darkness? All of the Reynolds women had a strong resemblance to each other. But that did not explain it. His illness, perhaps? He spoke to her as if it were just yesterday.
She lifted his gnarled, cold hand. Did she try to explain that she was his daughter? The one he had never known. Or did she allow him to hold onto that warped reality? She did not dare upset him. He might be old and frail, but he was stronger than he looked. And more than once these past weeks, he had hit, bitten, or thrown things at her. They had lost two more nurses. Not even Diego’s money and threats could keep the women.
“It’s okay. Just be quiet, Iggy.” She used the name that her mother had for the man.
“I love you, Anastacia. From the moment I saw you in that diner. And god forgive me, I had to have you. I know that was selfish. But my marriage to Consuela was never good. I only married her so the old man would notice me.”
“But that didn’t work out. Even after her brother was killed. Consuela was sure that the old man would turn to me. That he would make me his heir. But he found out. Somehow he found out the truth.” Mercy shook her head. What was he saying? Had he had something to do with the man’s death?
“I might have been his son-in-law. The father of his only grandchildren. But he wanted me dead for what she did. So, I ran. She told me to run. She sent money.” Had Consuela sold out her family? Mercy was not that surprised. The woman would do anything for power.
“Until you. Then she said she would not support my whore. But I thought your father would help. You were their only child. We only needed a little bit of money, just a couple of thousand to get set up in a new life.” He sighed heavily, and Mercy thought perhaps Ignacio had gone back to sleep.
Her mind reeled with his words. The idea that this man had ever loved her mother was so foreign to her. Mama hated him, and Mercy and her sisters had followed suit. But he was right; he had been a grown man, and Mama not even out of her teens.
What was the difference between this man and Roberto? Was there really that much difference between fifteen and eighteen? Who drew these stupid lines anyway? Who decided that suddenly it was okay for a thirty-something-year-old man to be with a teenage girl?
“But you got pregnant and ruined it all. How could we make a living in Los Angeles if you were pregnant?”
Mercy felt the anger rise inside of her. Women didn’t get pregnant by themselves. Especially not barely legal ones. She wanted to grab the man by his pajama shirt and shake him. Tell him what a selfish, self-centered bastard he was. But she couldn’t. The others were sleeping in the living room. She could not upset him. Though the thing he said troubled her. “Go to sleep, Ignacio.”
That gnarled hand gripped her arm so tightly that she knew there would be bruises. “Forgive me, Anastacia? Tell me that you forgive me. I can’t… Not without your forgiveness.”
She wanted to scream and rail at Fate. This man did not deserve forgiveness. He had ruined her Mama’s life. Or had he? By Mama’s own admission, her teens were filled with alcohol and drugs. Until she met this man. Until she got pregnant with Laura. Had Mama ever stood much of a chance? Or had her childhood only made her vulnerable to someone like Ignacio Garcia?
Mercy wanted to believe that Mama could have gotten her life together somehow. Left Sebida behind. Gone to college or had a career. Maybe gotten married and had a real family. But did Fate work like that? How many abused little girls grew up only to find themselves in abusive relationships?
She felt the tears rolling down her cheeks. How many times had Laura offered to pay for Mama to go back to college, even if only a community one? Hell, she had wanted to buy them a house in Houston where they could be closer to her, but Mama said that was too expensive. That she didn’t like the city. So, instead, Laura had bought them another trailer. In Sebida.
“Why, Mama?” Mercy could only hope that one day, she’d get the chance to ask her mother that question.
For now, though, “I forgive you, Iggy.” Did she say it to quiet the man so the others could sleep? He certainly did that. His hand dropped from her arm onto the rough blanket.
Mercy sat beside him on the bed for a couple of minutes. Just to be sure that he was back asleep. Then she curled back into the chair next to the bed. She knew sleep was impossible. Her mind was like the roadways around Houston, major highways intersecting, leading off in so many different directions. Taking you places that you could not even imagine.
How had they come to this? Her grandparents had never helped them. So why had Mama stayed in Sebida? Why hadn’t she taken them and started a new life somewhere else? If not Houston or Dallas, then at least College Station? Someplace where they weren’t known as bastards. Somewhere that people did not whisper every time they left the room.
She was no better. Hell, Laura had offered to pay for university anywhere. But she instead had gone to A&M. Lived at home with Mama and driven back and forth to school each day. An hour each way. She had said it was because she did not want her sister spending more of her hard-earned money on her.
But was that really the reason? Or was it fear? Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Was that what stopped Mama too? Or did it go deeper? Maybe it felt like you did not deserve to be happy?
Mercy knew that feeling. She remembered the exact moment it had entered her little mind. Sitting in that dark hallway, listening to Mama’s muffled sobs. All because of a MilkyWay candy bar? Wanting just a bit of sweetness in her life that they could not afford. Something everyone else took for granted.
She was wrong, though. Sleep did come as the final sobs and exhaustion overcame her. She drifted off to just as the horizon began to lighten on a new day. At least for her.
***Abandoned house near Garcia compound***
Stacey Reynolds stepped outside of the abandoned house, set on the edge of Diego Garcia’s compound. The old men had discovered it on their walkabout, as the one called Grandfather said.
Their small band had split up earlier. Three of the men, including Reb, had headed into the village, looking for any sign of the kidnapped girl, Bebe, or any of the others. Grandfather had convinced them that he and Barry should scout closer to the Garcia compound. After all, who would suspect two old men out for a walk in the desert?
Ryan and Chad had stayed behind. It was possible, perhaps probable, that they would be recognized. Will had laid low, knowing he would be instantly recognized. She had talked a bit with the young man, who her baby had taken up with. He seemed like a decent enough guy, but the tension between him and Chad was intense. If not for Ryan’s intervention, she was confident it would have boiled over a couple times.
Ryan’s cousin had stayed behind too. Though he disappeared for a while. He said he knew where Mercy, Rose, and Grace were being kept when he came back. Maybe he did, but he would not tell any of them how he had discovered the information. That made her uncomfortable, even though Ryan insisted that he trusted his cousin.
She could make out the lights of the city in the distance and beyond it the mountains. Was Mercy out there like the man said? If so, this was as close as she had been to her baby in over a month.
Will said she had been alright when she left that morning. But she should have been back hours ago. That was why he had left the village, to find her. Shouldn’t a mother have some sixth sense about these things? The old man seemed to agree with Ryan’s cousin. That was good, right?
But there was more to it than that. Why was she so nervous? Not so much frightened. Though she feared for her child, of course, and her friends too. No, this was a restlessness, an emptiness that she had lived with all her life. Loneliness. She had always been alone. With only herself to count on.
Until she walked into the Lucky Wolf Casino that night looking for Mercy. Reb. Rebel Zappa Moonchild. Celestine had chosen the name well. Though Stacey doubted he would agree.
As if she had conjured him from her thoughts, she watched as Elvira kicked up dust. One of the reasons they chose this place was that there was no road or even a driveway leading to it. It wasn’t much really, no electricity or running water. Just a cinderblock frame. But it was better than tents or sleeping in the couple of vehicles they had brought with them. Jack’s baby, as he called the old Volkswagon van, was parked around back already. Where they would hide Elvira, she didn’t know.
Somehow she managed to hold herself back as they began to pile out of the truck. Mason got out first. Things were still tense between him and Reb, but at least they were civil to one another. Jack got out of the driver’s side. She felt her muscles tense for a moment. Where was Reb? He would never let anyone drive Elvira. Not if he was alright.
Jack walked around to the rear of the vehicle and opened the camper top and tailgate. A light-skinned black girl got out. This had to be Will’s cousin. They wouldn’t bring just anyone back here, right? And where the hell was Reb? Just when Stacey was about to lose patience and rush them, demanding answers, he slid from the back. He looked tense as his eyes searched the area. Then his gaze found hers.
It seemed as if both of them exhaled the same breath as he walked towards her. Stacey swore she would not embarrass herself by flinging herself into his arms. Thankfully, she did not have to. He scooped her into them and buried his face in the side of her neck instead. He simply held her for a long moment before asking, “Where’s the others?”
“All of them?” Jack had his hand on the girl’s shoulder, guiding her.
“Yeah, Rex got back awhile ago. Barry and your uncle came back an hour or so ago. I take it things went well?” Her eyes met those of the young woman. “And there’s a newcomer. Ryan found Will walking down the road to Garcia’s a while ago.”
The girl shrunk back. She even turned and looked over her shoulder as if contemplating escape.
“It’ll be okay, kiddo,” Reb reassured the girl. “We’ll talk inside, darling.” His hand never left Stacey’s back as he guided her inside.
It was dark. Though they had a couple of camping lights and an old camp stove with them, the abandoned house was so close to Garcia’s compound that they had not dared to light them. Instead, the men sat on sleeping bags, murmuring and eating cans of beans and spaghetti-ohs.
The old man was the first to look up. Something about him gave her the creeps. It was those eyes. It was as if she were naked. Not her body, even worse, her soul. What was even stranger was that it made her feel almost safe. Like someone besides Reb saw her. The only comparison she had was how she had felt with Cellie.
“Welcome, child.” The man spoke as he held out an unopened can of something.
Will rushed towards the girl, “Oh, god, Bebe.” Stacey saw the relief on his face turn to pain as the girl drew back from him. He stopped a few feet from them with his hands in the pocket of his jeans.
The girl watched her cousin for a long moment before snatching the can from the old man’s hands. She tore off the easy-open lid. Stacey got the feeling that she would have used her fingers to eat if Ryan had not passed her a spoon. She shoveled half the can quickly into her mouth in less than two minutes. Only then did she looked around the room. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t eaten since last night.”
“Sit, child. Eat your food.” The old man’s eyes sought his nephew’s. “Bring her a blanket, Jack.”
“How did you find her, son?” Barry nodded towards the girl.
Reb chuckled, “She found me, Dad.”
Jack turned back from the stack of supplies in the corner, wrapping a blanket around the girl as she continued to eat. “Just in time, too. If I had to… With that woman…” he shivered, and the girl looked at him with a snarky grin.
“So, Esme wanted you to scratch her itch? Diego doesn’t come around much. And these days, he never stays long enough to…” color rose in her cheeks.
Stacey saw Will drop his head. She could see the tension in his body as he held himself quiet and off from the others. She knew the girl’s meaning must have registered with him. As a mother, she understood that pain. If this was one of her girls? She’d kill someone. And she knew exactly who.
“She runs the place?” Mason asked.
The girl nodded as she scraped the bottom of the can. Ryan held out another can, but Bebe shook her head. “After we talk. Which one of you is, Rex?”
“I am, Bebe. And welcome.” Ryan’s cousin stood from a sleeping bag in the corner and held out his hand. But the girl only ignored it.
“I gave Mercy your message. Though, we couldn’t talk much. The old bat came to see her husband. Or that’s what she said. It doesn’t make sense, though. Bobby says his mother doesn’t have anything to do with his father.”
“She’s okay? Mercy is alright?” Will lifted his eyes and met his cousin’s gaze.
Ryan stepped forward and waved to the sleeping bag that Rex had vacated. “Take a seat and slow down, Bebe. Who is this old bat? And Bobby? Are you talking about Roberto Garcia?”
Stacey saw the way that the girl looked around the room and backed closer to the door. She recognized that look. How many times had she felt the same way? Especially if whatever job she was working at the moment required her to work closely with men. “It’s okay. I’m Stacey. Mercy is my daughter,” she stepped closer.
“Yeah, you look like her.”
Stacey spent the next couple of minutes going around the room, introducing the men. Then she drew the girl to her sleeping bag set up a bit apart from the others. Bebe smiled as they sat down.
Then the girl turned back to Ryan, ignoring her cousin and his question as if Will was not even there. “Yeah, Bobby is Roberto Garcia. Diego’s youngest brother. And the old bat is his mother, Consuela.” She faced Stacey as she spoke again, “His father is Ignacio Garcia, your ex-husband?”
Stacey closed her eyes. For the first time, she realized how many old memories coming here might trudge up. She fought back the whirlwind of emotions until she felt a firm hand on her shoulder, “It’ll be okay, I promise.” She nodded to Reb before turning back to the girl. “Is my daughter alright?”
“Yeah, or she was a few hours ago when I saw her.”
“Was my daughter and Rose with her?”
Bebe started to shake her head until Stacey clarified, “Was Callie or Cassie McBride there too?”
The girl finally looked at her cousin, Will spoke up then, “Is Callie still with Mercy, Bebe?”
She nodded her head again but would not answer his question or look at the man. The girl bit her lower lip and stared down at her hands, “They sent her mother to Mercy to nurse, too.” Bebe looked up at Chad, “She was pretty beat up. But she was awake, and they got her to eat a bit of soup.”
Stacey watched the man tense up until his friend placed his hand on Chad’s shoulder. “We’ll get them back.”
“What the fuck!”
Mercy sat bolt upright in the chair. She shook her head to clear the confusion of sleep. For a moment, she was not even sure where she was. She looked around the room.
The house where she had been caring for Ignacio Garcia for weeks. The man slept in bed. While her half-brother, Roberto, paced next to it. Except something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He looked like he could kill.
“This is how you care for my father?” He screamed at her as he practically charged the chair. Before she could react, his hands were threaded through her hair. Roberto tugged until he pulled her from it. Tears streamed down her face from the pain and fright. He dragged her towards the sleeping man.
That was when Mercy realized. Ignacio Garcia was not sleeping. His skin was funny shades of gray, blue, and purple. Though his eyes were closed, his mouth hung open.
Though the pain was almost excruciating, and she left a chunk of her hair in Roberto’s fist, Mercy used all her strength to pull away from him. She covered her mouth as she ran from the room to the bathroom next door.
She had not eaten much yesterday, but what little she had, she projectile vomited into the toilet. A bit missed its target, but at the moment, cleaning vomit from the bathroom tiles was the least of her worries.
Of course, they all knew this was coming. The man’s health, mental and physical, had been in decline for years. These past few days, Mercy had watched him go downhill fast. But this could not have come at a worse time. With the others somewhere out there, she had hoped the man would hang on long enough for them to escape. But now….
She was down to dry heaves when she felt the cloth pressed into her hand. “Are you okay?” Mercy tried to force a reassuring smile onto her face as she looked up at Callie McBride.
But it seemed they had run out of time. Would Diego keep her here to care for Cassie McBride and this girl? Or would she, perhaps even the girl, find themselves in that place alongside Bebe? Her hand covered her lower abdomen; it was for sure that her brother would kill this baby’s father. She tried to think of some way to get a message to Will. But unless Bebe came today, that was impossible.
They could not expect any help from Roberto. Not with the way he was acting. It wasn’t her fault. She had been up all day. How could they expect her to stay up all night to watch the old man sleep? They were the ones that canceled the night nurses because they didn’t want anyone to see Callie or Cassie McBride.
“How’s your mother?” Mercy tried to pull herself up from the floor, but this pout of nausea was worse than usual, and it left her weak. Grace held out her hand and helped her to stand. She smiled her thanks to the girl. Hoping the news was good. If they had to make a run for it, she did not want to leave the woman behind.
The girl looked down at the floor, “Still, sleeping.”
Maybe a better plan would be for them to sneak the girl out alone? She would stay with Cassie McBride. And hope for the best? It was unlikely this girl could locate whoever was here for them in time to save them.
Before she could say anything else, another face appeared in the doorway. Her younger brother seemed to have composed himself. But she trusted Roberto even less than before.
Mercy struggled to hold back the tears. When she had found out that she was a big sister, it had been the best present, like a dream come true. She had always hated being the ‘baby.’ And idealistically, she had seen only the good in this man. She had almost convinced herself that he was different from Diego and his mother. He was intelligent, educated, and handsome. He could aspire to so much more than this.
But those dreams were shattered. Mercy could no longer deny the truth between the things she had learned from Will and how he had treated Bebe. Roberto was no different from the others. Perhaps worse because he hid behind this veneer of civility that Consuela and Diego did not bother with.
“I’m sorry.” He held out his hand. Mercy wanted to push it and him away, but she did not dare. Even if she could not trust this man, she too needed to keep up the show. So, she took it and allowed him to help her to the living room.
Cassie McBride began to stir. She turned over on the sofa and gripped her midsection in pain. Grace was by her mother’s side in an instant. Helping her to sit up, propping pillows behind her. “Is everything alright, Mercy? Have you come back to finish what you started, Bobby?”
Mercy had only heard Bebe call him that. Then she remembered that Will had explained how her brother was best friends with Stephen McBride. It was the link that the government had been missing. They had simply not been looking far enough back for the evidence they needed.
“I’m sorry about that, Cassie. Honestly, I am. I never wanted any of this to happen. If Stephen and his father had just….”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses. You had choices. You were smart, Bobby.” The other woman gave voice to Mercy’s own thoughts and feelings. “You could have gotten away from this. You could have gotten a job at any Fortune 500 company. Had a real career. Not drugs, kidnapping, and murder.”
Cassie looked at her daughter for a long moment before she turned back to Roberto. “But you chose this. You chose to kill your best friend. Why? Why, Bobby?”
The man hung his head for a long moment. Mercy thought perhaps Cassie’s words even got through to him. But when he looked up, the mask was back in place.
“We don’t have time to discuss the whys.” He half-laughed, “Hell, I’m sure it would take even the best shrink years to unravel that minefield.” Roberto turned to face her, “I am truly sorry that I over-reacted, Hermana. We knew this was coming. It is just the timing. This could not come at a worse moment.”
She was one to laugh sardonically this time, “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Roberto Garcia came to stand in front of her. His hand gripped her shoulders, and Mercy wanted to pull away in disgust, but she forced herself to remain calm as she stared into the dark eyes of the man who only moments before had attacked her.
“We have to keep this quiet.”
Mercy shook her head and feared that she would once more need to race for the bathroom as memories of the smell and green-black decomposing body in Anna’s apartments flashed through her mind.
“Just for today.” He gripped her shoulders tighter and almost shook her. “There is another party tonight to celebrate my marriage to Constanza Dominguez. Then tomorrow morning, we take our vows in my uncle’s church in the village. If we can keep this from Diego and my mother, it buys us time. I meant what I told you. I am going to help you and Bebe get out of here.”
“And them? Are you going to help the McBrides escape too? Because I’m not leaving without them.”
He released her and stepped back. Roberto looked from her to the girl to the woman lying on the couch. He began to pace and run his fingers through his dark hair. The silence was as pregnant as she was as they waited for several long moments. As the other woman had been just a couple of days ago. Her eyes met the girl’s green ones, and Mercy did her best to smile reassuringly.
Just when she was about to give up hope, he turned back to face her. “Yes. I’ll help them too.”
Mercy nodded her head. She knew that she should be relieved. And for his benefit, she acted like it. But she had long since awoken from her childish dreams. She knew better than to trust this man’s words any more than Diego’s. She certainly was not going to entrust him with the news they had learned. No, Roberto’s loyalty lay with his familia.
No, worse, this man only thought of himself. Not his family. Not Bebe. Not her. Not even this Constanza that he spoke of. Roberto Garcia only looked out for number one. And Mercy had no doubt if it came down to a choice between his ambitions and their lives, Roberto would betray them without a thought. Perhaps there was enough decency left in him that he would regret it later, but that would not stop him from doing whatever was necessary to protect himself. Each and every time.
Raymond Greywolf kept his head down as he sneaked into Garcia’s kitchen. The girl had not known much about the compound itself, only the village, cantina, and the house on the grounds where the others were kept. The cantina was no longer of any interest, now that Bebe had escaped.
Of course, the little house on the grounds was their primary target. But they needed more information, especially when. When would be the best time to help Mercy, Grace, and Rose escape. He would try to get a message to them, if nothing more than to reassure the women.
But this was about getting the information they needed. He and Rex had argued, but this made perfect sense. Few people noticed servants, especially at events like this when extra help was brought in. While he was not Latino, his Native American blood ran as thick on both sides of the Great River. Once upon a time, it had meant nothing. These boundaries of the white men.
No, this plan made the most sense. Jack was the only other one that might have gone unnoticed. While he was younger and fitter, his nephew would have had to rely upon his sense of hearing and sight. Ray could count on other senses to obtain the information they needed.
But it was not that simple. He had known this would be difficult, but even he had underestimated the power that fear and blood would have on his mind. Almost five decades. He had been fighting this darkness for nearly five decades. Since Jane’s accident.
Those in his community who understood these things believed he was some miracle. But he was just a stubborn old man. In the beginning, he had held on for Raine. Their daughter was little more than a baby when her mother died.
He was determined that she would not lose her father too. He knew what it felt like to be an orphan, though he and Joe had not really been. He would not have his child grow up in foster or group homes as he had. Not that he had done a perfect job with his only child.
His search for answers, some way of holding back the darkness, had consumed him. He had become so absorbed by his journey that he had lost sight of what truly mattered. Until it was too late. The day Raine left for college, he had thought of ending it all, but by then, those books, legends, and mysteries beckoned to him.
What only Rex understood was how hard it was to hold on. How the darkness still beat at his mind and soul. Every moment of every day for so long that he barely remembered her face. He kept it all at bay by immersing himself in his studies and limiting his time around other people. Their thoughts always beat at him. He wore them like heavy armor that weighed him down.
Never more so than this moment. He had never, not even in the dozens of protests he had participated in over the years, felt such evil. And racism was vile. But here, it was greed, murder, and fear. Even those innocents among these dark souls throbbed with fear.
Ray clenched his hands at his side as an old woman looked at him. Her grandsons. She feared for the boys. The Garcias used them to control her, but even more, she worried about the day they would become men and the Fate that awaited her innocents. “Take this,” she passed him a silver tray laden with food, most of which he did not recognize.
He nodded his head and dropped his eyes but noticed her making the sign of the cross. He followed others to the open gardens that were the center of the villa. There were dozens of people, primarily men, milling about. Many wore guns. It was easy to pick them out. The main party gathered around the patio.
Diego Garcia smiled, his arm wrapped around a dark-haired and petite woman. But her beauty hid only hatred and madness. How had such a man never realized that his greatest enemy slept in his bed every night? The woman was a threat. Not merely to her husband, but their plan as well. Death clung like a robe to the older man that Garcia spoke with. Ray could not tell which was more potent, the violence or cancer.
But there was no doubt when it came to the woman beside him. Consuela Sanchez-Garcia was the evilest creature he had ever encountered. Her memories beat at him. Fratricide, patricide, even infanticide, nothing was beyond this woman. Not if it stood between her and power. She would do anything, had done much. She lifted her head and looked around. Her soulless eyes seemed to linger in his direction.
Ray dropped his head and turned his back, offering the platter to a group of men nearby. He forced deep breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth. He focused on calming his heart. The woman was human, without gifts of her own. Yet tainted with dark magic. That meant somewhere nearby, there was another. Did it sense him through her?
He could not leave, abandon the plan now. He had work to do. He noticed the tall, young man and fragile-looking woman-child that stood by the fountain. She drew him closer. Her light was the only source of goodness in this place. Ray passed the food around as he made his way closer to the couple.
“Please, Connie, I need your help.”
She nodded her head, her big eyes looking at the man. But she did not see him, not the real man that lived beneath the handsome façade. “Of course, Roberto, anything. What do you need?”
“My father is dead.”
The girl frowned and placed her hand on his arm. Ray knew that she should have felt the evil in the man, but she chose not to. “I’m sorry. We’ll put the wedding off, of course.”
Roberto Garcia shook his head, “No, Constanza. The wedding must go ahead as planned.” It was greed that motivated his words, not love. “No one else knows yet.”
“What? I don’t understand. How can your mother not know?”
“My sister has been caring for him. Now that he is dead, there’s no reason to keep her around. My mother and brother will kill her.”
The girl frowned, “Your sister? Why would your mother kill your sister?”
“My half-sister. My father’s daughter by another woman. Connie, I need your help to keep my mother busy, so I can sneak Mercy out of here.”
“Of course.” The girl was trembling and on the verge of tears as the man leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“Everything is going to be fine, I promise. Once your father is dead, we will control the cartel.”
“And we’ll disband it, promise me, Roberto. No more drugs or prostitutes. No more bloodshed. We’ll take the money and invest in legitimate businesses like you promised.”
“Of course, just like I promised.” But Ray felt the truth.
At least, he intended to go through with his promise to help Mercy Reynolds escape. But what about the McBrides? Bebe? Was he only telling this woman what he wanted her to know this time too?
“How will you get the woman out?”
“Tomorrow, during the wedding. There will be only a handful of men left to guard this place. Everyone else will be at the church. I will sneak her into the trunk of one of the cars. Her boyfriend is in the village. I will get word to him somehow.”
It was the information that they needed. Ray knew better than to trust this man to keep his word; he could not be relied upon. Tomorrow morning during the wedding they would make their move. Perhaps send Rex to get the women out. But one horse would not be enough. He would need to join his grandson.
Could he? It had been more than a decade since he had walked in another skin. He knew that he still could. But such things required strength and stamina that a septuagenarian did not have. Especially if it meant carrying a load on his back. But what choice did they have?
A priest approached the couple. The woman bowed her head. “Bless me, Father.”
The older man smiled, “Constanza, my child, I cannot do what the good Lord already has.” He turned towards the young man, “Roberto, I would hear your confession, nephew.”
“Now? This is a party, Tio. I hardly think this is the time.”
“Nonetheless, I doubt that there will be enough time tomorrow morning for your confession. I will see you in the chapel in half an hour.”
The young man wanted to argue. He did not believe in anything except money and power. Those were his gods. But he knew that going against this man would raise suspicions not only with his mother and brother but with the girl and her father. “Fine.”
The girl leaned up and kissed his cheek, “Thank you, Roberto. I am glad that Papa chose you. There is so much good that we can do together.”
Ray had heard enough. His mind and heart worried for the woman. She was pure. Or as pure as someone of this earth could be. She meant well. Her sins were of omission. She saw only good in others. Especially this man. But wasn’t that the way of young love?
He turned back towards the kitchen. Ray hoped that he would be able to sneak out and back to the others. He had almost made his escape when he heard voices down the dark hallway. They called to him. This was important. He knew that somehow. And Raymond Greywolf had long since stopped questioning that how.
He hid in the shadow of a doorway. Consuela Garcia knelt before an altar with candles and photographs. Her oldest son stood to the side. “What did you want, Mama?”
The woman reached out her talons and grabbed the black cotton shirt the man wore. “Please, I beg you to reconsider. The girl is young. She could give us the babies we need. Perhaps even a daughter as her mother gave Dominguez.”
“How many times do I need to tell you, Mama? I have a wife.”
“Anna? How many miscarriages have that woman had? Not a living baby, not one in almost three decades. You need children. Sons to carry on.”
The man held up his hand, “Enough, Mama. This conversation is over. I love Anna. From the moment I saw her, I knew she was the only woman for me. Let Roberto and Constanza have the babies. Isn’t that the point of this marriage? To combine our families? We’ll control nearly a quarter of Mexico.”
“Roberto is weak like his father. He will breed weak sons on the girl. Think, Diego, those children could be yours.”
“No, Mama. I have told you too many times. I will not divorce, Anna. Even if Tio could get me an annulment from the church. I love my wife.” He turned and walked back to the garden.
Ray slunk deeper into the shadows, became one with them. He would give it a couple of moments before following the man. His heart pounded even faster as the woman turned and whispered, “You can come out now.”
He feared that the woman had somehow detected his presence. Would it be better to reveal himself? Play dumb, an old man who had gotten lost. He understood far more Spanish than he spoke. But perhaps if he played ‘touched?’ Women like this were superstitious. Maybe he could use that?
Then he noticed the figure in white robes appear from a closed doorway. “You heard?”
“You have it? There is no other way now.”
The man passed something to her, though Ray could not see what. “It won’t work immediately. Not like the other. This will take time.”
“How much time? The wedding is tomorrow morning.”
The figure shook his head, “Not that much time. Minutes. At most an hour. It will look like she had a sudden heart attack. She is young, and that might raise suspicions with your son, but only the most advanced technology will be able to detect the poison.”
The woman laughed, “Anna never had a heart. Not where it comes to my son. Diego never saw through her, but I did. Thank you, Jesus.”
“De nada, Senora.” The man held out his hand and helped her to her feet. “When will you use it? Tomorrow before the wedding?”
Consuela shook her head, “No, if it can take that long to act, I don’t dare wait. What if the girl married Roberto? No, tonight. It is best if I use it now. I am sure that the men will not mind if we women slip away from the party.”
Ray did not dare tarry. Whatever else was said, it was best if he was not there when these two walked down the hall. He was not sure that he could mask his presence from the man. Curandero. And a powerful one too.
He quietly left his hiding place as they chatted. He sighed with relief and looked over his shoulder as he stepped into the light on the patio. He turned and ran directly into the woman. Pain stabbed his head and his heart. Hatred this deep had an evil all its own. The blood of her babies cried out to him. So much blood.
But beneath that, he felt her pain too. The woman-child was not unlike the other one. But this one had not had the luxury of seeing the good in her husband. No amount of love or passion could ever wipe the stains of her family’s blood from his hands. Ray’s heart broke for that young woman. A prisoner in her marriage for most of her life.
But no more. She had a plan. And it beat at his mind. This woman’s hatred could destroy everyone. And everything.
***Abandoned house near the Garcia compound***
Ryan looked around the gathered group. Less than a dozen men, a woman, a girl, and almost no reliable intel on the Garcia compound. What was he thinking? This was a suicide mission. Despite the text from Laura assuring him that the agency would come. But when and with what kind of force was the question? He knew J. T. Tyler. That man was not going to become involved in anything that might become an international incident.
They were still waiting for Grandfather to come back. The old man should have returned by now. Had he been discovered? Or had something happened that had detained him? Perhaps he had even made contact with Mercy and the McBride women?
There were just too many unknowns. Of course, there always were in black ops. He knew this. He had lived with it for almost a decade in the SEALs. Then undercover with the agency. But this one was worst than most.
The only redeeming feature was how highly trained these men were. More than one hundred years of training and experience. But most of that was ancient history.
What was he to do?
“You know what he would say?”
Ryan laughed at his cousin’s question. They both knew the answer, “Trust my gut.”
Rex nodded his head, “I can get to the house. I did it before, and I can do it again.”
“And walk butt naked in there? What then? How do we get them all out safely? We need a diversion.”
“It’s still early, not even midnight. Let’s wait for Grandfather. Maybe he’ll have more information,” Rex laid his hand on Ryan’s shoulder and squeezed.
“The girl and that woman in town both confirmed that there’s some big wedding there tomorrow. My guess is that there will only be few men left behind to guard the place. That’s when we make our move,” Jack came up to stand beside them. “Besides, don’t sweat it. You know when the three of us are together, there’s bound to be trouble.”
The men laughed, but it was rife with tension. This was nothing new to Ryan or Jack. They had been on enough missions to know the hours before were always the worst. Every doubt, every scenario rifled through your mind.
Ryan smiled at the younger man, “What worries me is that you’re not cussing.”
Jack laughed and nodded his head to the shadows where two female figures sat, “I try not to around kids.”
They were all silent for a long moment. The magnitude of the situation rested heavily upon them. The girl had been through things these past three years that made even Jack’s cussing seem inconsequential. All because of the Garcias.
Ryan’s eyes fell on the lone figure that leaned against Jack’s van. Will seemed to be looking up to the heavens. Was he staring at the stars? There was no moon in sight. That was a good thing. The darkness was their ally.
Was he praying? His grandparents had been preachers as well as active in the civil rights movement. Though Ryan did not remember his friend being particularly religious. But it was for certain that he and Chad had the most at stake here.
There was still tension between the men. He could understand that. If anyone hurt Laura or Chloe, he knew how he would feel. But as he had told Chad, he was honest enough with himself to know that had he been in Will’s shoes, he would have done precisely the same thing.
“Hey, I’ll be back,” Ryan smiled at his cousin and friend that had been his companions since he was thirteen years old. They nodded as he walked across the dry dirt and rock to the lone figure.
“How are you doing?”
Will shook his head, “Hell, I don’t even know, man. I’ve spent almost three-and-a-half years looking for her. And I never once imagined what it would be like when I found her.”
“Give it time….”
“Time? Time! Do any of us have any fucking time?” The man turned and looked through the darkness toward the girl and the woman who, if they survived this shit, could well become both their mother-in-law. Ryan felt what his friend did not say.
“We’ll get her back. I promise. The McBride’s too.” Ryan wished that he could believe those words. But wasn’t those doubts what had sent him running from the abandoned house into the darkness?
He also looked up into the black sky. While there was no moon visible, there were millions of tiny dots of light. Each was a sun, just like the one that would rise in the morning. The magnitude of that had never hit him quite the same.
As Ryan looked up at those stars, he felt the calm rise up from deep inside him. It defied explanation. His mind could come up with a hundred reasons this was a shit plan. It had done just that all night long. But at that moment, he knew – they were all where they were supposed to be. And this would all work out. Somehow.
Ryan allowed that realization, that feeling, to seep deep inside him. He knew he would need it before all this was over. The stars, the quiet, the calm all seemed to confirm that.
He wrapped his arm around his friend, “We’re going to get her back. Besides, we don’t have anything to worry about it. If we don’t, Laura and her Mama are going to kill us both.”
They both laughed so hard that they missed the first shot. They heard something, of course, but could not seem to process the sound. But the burst of fire that sounded a couple of minutes later left no doubt.
Ryan turned back towards the house. Men were racing out of the dark. Some half-dressed with sleep still clinging to them. “Head out. All of you. Now!”
A single shot might have been disaster enough, a sign that Grandfather’s deception had been discovered. But a firefight? Either Tyler and the Federales had made their move without consulting them, which would be bad enough. Or… the alternative did not bear thinking about. Two highly armed cartels going head-to-head? It was easy for innocents to get caught in the crossfire.
Will seemed to be thinking the same thing as he raced across the desert, not waiting for any of the others. “Dammit,” but Ryan knew he could not afford to go after the man. He needed to make some sort of plan and lead the others.
Even in the chaos, Ryan caught himself laughing. “Now, you cuss, Jack?”
Reb was already heading towards his truck, the only vehicle capable of making it across the rough terrain. “Damn, that’s sweet music. Jack’s cussing was always a good luck charm for us.”
Jack eyed the other man, “Fuck you.”
Reb laughed, “And fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck to you too, Jack. Get in the damned truck, and let’s roll.”
It was not how Ryan wanted this all to begin, but Fate had not left them much choice. He turned back to the women. Stacey was reaching for a sawed-off shotgun. Her eyes caught his, “Don’t you dare say it, boy. Or I swear I’ll make your life hell. Every mother-in-law joke you ever heard.”
“Yes, Ma’am, but the girl stays here.” He saw the pain in Bebe’s eyes, “You don’t know how to use a gun, and you would be more of a liability out there. Please, if you want to do something, get the first aid supplies set up.”
He was afraid the girl would argue. The look in her dark eyes said she wanted to. But instead, she simply nodded. Most of the guns and ammunition were already loaded into Reb’s truck. He smiled at Stacey Reynolds, recognizing where Laura got her savvy, “After you, Ma.”
She chortled and patted his cheek, “Say that again, and I’ll fill your ass full of saltpeter when this is over.”
Raymond Greywolf knew that he should have sneaked out already. At the very least, for long enough to send a message to the others. But he could not afford to let either woman out of his sight. He kept to the shadows mostly, a half-empty tray of food that had lost its freshness. Men just shook their heads when he held it out.
This situation was more volatile than they had imagined. Kidnapping, human trafficking, and drug cartels were terrible enough. Those had hubris and avarice at their heart, and you could count on that to control men’s actions. But two women who hated one another as deeply as Consuela and Anna Garcia were a thing of legend that brought down whole kingdoms.
He watched Diego Garcia smile and kiss his wife’s hand. How could the man not see the look of utter disgust beneath the beautiful mask the woman wore? But he knew that was the problem. Men often only saw that which they wanted to in their true loves.
His throat tightened. Had he been any different with his Jane? Almost half a century and her rejection of his other still seeped like an open wound. He had thought they had time. That she would mellow over time. But Fate had not been so kind.
It was not Fate that planned murder this night. But two women. The older woman stood as well, leaning down to kiss her son’s cheek. What would the man say if he knew that his mother planned to kill the woman he loved? If he knew of the number of babies that woman had aborted? Most before he even knew she was pregnant.
The quiet young woman stood. She was the reason Ray stayed. It would be all too easy for this innocent to get caught up in these women’s plans. He could not let that happen. Though he was not a fan of the religion she professed, he recognized her gifts. There was an innocence about the girl that went deeper than her sheltered upbringing, a purity of spirit that he feared would be tested before dawn.
The women moved off down that darkened hallway. The candlelight cast shadows on their faces as they passed. Then the old woman stopped and opened a door. She ushered the others in and started to pull the door closed. He was right behind them. He had not moved that quickly in many years. He had not until that moment thought he still could.
Ray risked everything to place one of the napkins over the lock. The door slid mostly shut, but the locking mechanism did not catch. Though he feared the consequences, Ray knew that he did not dare crack the door too soon. He could not risk being discovered, especially not by Consuela Garcia. The woman had far more blood on her hands than either of her sons, including fratricide and patricide. Killing her daughter-in-law was inconsequential to this woman.
Anna Garcia was another matter. Murder did not come easily to this woman. Even now, she was acting out of desperation. All hope extinguished with the death of the one last link to her past. Even then, she could not bring herself to strike out directly at the person she hated most. Instead, she sought to hurt her husband by destroying the woman who had born and nurtured him.
Constanza Dominguez sat quietly with her head down as the old woman poured glasses of wine. Ray smiled as he noted the glasses were different colors. So, the woman wished to make sure she did not kill the wrong daughter-in-law. That should have been a relief, but it wasn’t.
Consuela walked back to the others, passing them the drinks. “To new alliances. Long life and many babies.” The older woman lifted her glass to Anna, but her dark eyes sneered at her daughter-in-law as she spoke.
“May you never know the pain of loss,” Anna’s smile and toast were genuine.
The youngest woman did not speak. She barely looked up as she nodded her head. “Come now, child. I know that you did not plan to marry, but surely my son cannot be that bad?”
Anna moved closer to the girl, squeezing her hand. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”
Constanza looked up at her with a weak smile. “Thank you. I am certain that I worry over nothing.”
Anna stared into the younger woman’s eyes until massive tears trekked down her face leaving a black trail in their wake. “At least, they did not force you to marry the man you watched kill your whole family.…”
The older women’s eyes met, and this time there was no pretense, only pure hatred. “My ten-year-old brother. Your son killed my ten-year-old brother. Then he forced our priest to marry us so that his rape was sanctioned by the church. That his child would be legitimate.”
The younger woman drew back, her eyes filled with horror as she shook her head. “No, tell me that isn’t true?”
Consuela Garcia smiled at her, “Those were different times, my child. You have nothing to worry about. Your father, Diego, and I worked hard on these negotiations. Everything will be fine.”
“And what happens if she doesn’t produce the grandchild you want, Consuela? Will you try to poison her too? Once her father is dead, of course. Does that man plan to kill him after the wedding?”
“Anna, enough. You are talking old history and rubbish. This is about the future. Connie’s future,” she lifted her glass. “Salud.”
Anna’s gaze met the older woman’s. Ray knew that he should reveal himself before she drank from her glass. But he seemed frozen in some bad nightmare. His cries stuck in his throat; he could not even warn her. But the smile on her beautiful face told him that he did not need to. Anna knew as she lifted the glass and drained it in a single gulp.
“I would tell you to plead with your Papa not to go through with this marriage. But we both know that our father’s love goes only so far. The irony is that my father would have handed me over to his worst enemy to save my brothers’ lives. But that wasn’t good enough revenge for these murderers.”
“Consuela, did you know my brother Ernesto wanted to be a priest? Like your brother, Manuel? He wanted no part of our family’s crimes against god. Only to pray and do good deeds. He thought that he could erase some of their evil from this earth. Is that why you wanted to take holy orders, Connie?”
The young woman shook her head, “I never knew my father. Not until he came to the convent for me. I just want to serve god.”
Consuela smiled and reached over to place her hand over the girl’s. “There are other ways of doing that, child. Even the church recognizes that being a good wife and mother is a calling, too.”
“Yes, bringing more murderers into this world is a high calling, indeed.” Color had drained from Anna Garcia’s face. Was it her words? Or was the poison in that glass acting already?
Constanza shook her head, “No, it won’t be like that. Roberto says we can invest my father’s money in legitimate businesses. That our children won’t grow up like….”
“My youngest son’s promises are of no consequence. This alliance is not about Roberto.”
“No, it’s about you and Diego, isn’t it? Grabbing for even more money and power.” The woman coughed and fell back onto the velvet love seat.
Constanza reached for her, “Are you okay? I can get the doctor. Papa always travels with a doctor.”
Anna smiled and brushed her hand across the woman’s cheek. “No, I don’t want a doctor. I want you to know the truth. To see these people for what they are. That’s all that matters, now.”
She turned back to the older woman, “Will you kill your own son, too? I can’t imagine that Roberto will want to just step aside so that Diego can marry his fiancée. How else would you ensure that her father went along with your plan to switch grooms? I would ask if my husband knew of this, but I know better. He would never agree to this.”
Anna laughed, and blood trickled from the corner of her red lips, “You see, my best revenge of all is that my husband loves me. Or as much as a monster can love.” She lifted her eyes to Consuela’s, “Your plan will fail. He won’t agree.”
“Diego will do what his Mama says. Just like he always has. My oldest son is not weak like his father or brothers. He knows the importance of this marriage to our family. Diego won’t have any other choice.”
“But I will,” Constanza stood and faced the old woman.
Consuela Sanchez-Garcia laughed, “No, you aren’t strong enough. The church ruined you. But I won’t allow my father’s empire to be passed on to weak, spoiled little brats. At least one of their parents will be strong. Diego is strong. He always has been.”
Anna laughed, “You know nothing about your sons. You never did. Losing me will drive Diego insane, just like your father. And you know why? Because I have sewn those seeds of insanity myself. For three decades, I have been his ‘perfect’ wife.”
“Yes, after those first rapes, I wanted nothing but revenge and death. I planned it a thousand times. How I would hide a knife and slit his throat while he slept, then I would kill myself with that same knife. But I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m weak too, but I could not do it. I could not bring myself to murder him in cold blood. Because then I would be no different than he was. Than you are.”
“Shhh, don’t talk. Let me go for Papa’s doctor.” Connie was crying as she dropped to her knees next to the woman.
Anna brushed the young woman’s hair back from her face and wiped the tears from her cheek. “No, this is what I want. It’s the only way I’ll ever be free of these people.” Tears appeared in her dark eyes as she winced in pain, “If I had ever dared to allow my babies to live, I wanted a daughter just like you. But I couldn’t take that risk. That they would be like her….”
Connie gripped the woman’s hand tighter as she cried harder. “Go for your doctor now. It’s too late anyway.”
Ray felt his chest tighten. He could not afford to be found out. But neither could he allow this young woman to be caught up in whatever was to come. He stepped back as she pushed the door open. Consuela Sanchez-Garcia sat in a high-back ornate chair just watching as the other woman writhed, perhaps in pain or maybe a seizure. His mind told him to go to the woman, but his spirit said this one was the reason he was here.
He reached for her arm and pulled Constanza Dominguez into the shadows. His hand covered her mouth, “Shhh, I won’t hurt you. But you need to get out of here. Now.”
He turned her face so she could look at him, perhaps see the truth, that he meant her no harm. His mind caressed hers and knew the moment that she decided not to cry out. “Come. I will get you out of this place of death.”
“No, I have to go. Get Papa’s doctor for her.”
He knew it was pointless to argue, and honestly, he did not want to anyway. If there was any hope that Anna Garcia could be saved, he owed her that. “I will go for the doctor. You need to get out of here.”
“Where? Where can I go? They’ll find me. Bring me back here.” He felt the panic rising in the young woman. She had remained calm as she watched the other women battle, but now she was losing it.
Ray brushed her mind with peace. “Go. The little house across the garden. Do you know it?”
She nodded, wide-eyed but holding on to some sanity in the chaos of death and destruction. “Go. Now.” He shoved her aside as he screamed out a warning. “Help….”
Perhaps he should have turned and followed the girl, but he did not. Instead, he sank behind the door, watching through the cracks.
Three men with guns drawn raced down the dark hallway. Diego Garcia was right behind them. Ray prayed they did not notice that the door would not go back any further as they burst into the room.
Consuela sat calmly drinking her wine as her son rushed to his wife’s side. Ray had thought the woman was dead when she stopped contorted, but Anna opened her eyes when her husband lifted her, “What happened? I’ll get a doctor.”
The woman shook her dark head and, with her words, plunged a knife deeper than she had ever dreamt possible. “No, Diego. It’s too late.”
“No,” the man screamed with great tears streaming down his face. He looked about the room, “Where’s the girl? She did this? I’ll kill them all.”
Anna smiled as she looked over at her nemesis. “No, Connie didn’t do this. She has gone for her father’s doctor. You know who did this, Diego.”
He shook his head as he watched his wife struggle for each of her dying breaths. “Yes, your mother. She did this. You know I’m telling the truth.” More blood ran down the corner of her mouth, staining her lips even darker red than her lipstick. But neither could cover the blue.
He drew her tighter into his arms and held her possessively as he wailed. There was a look of pure triumph on her face as she stared across at her mother-in-law and drew her final breath.
“What is going on here?” The old man shoved against the door so hard that Ray felt the knob buried in his groin. Four other men followed behind Rafael Dominguez. His eyes searched the room, “Where is my daughter? Where is Connie?”
“She’s fine, Rafael,” Consuela smiled at the man. “Connie has gone looking for your doctor. My daughter-in-law had a heart attack. Anna was always weak. That’s why she lost so many babies.”
“Lies, it’s all lies,” Diego Garcia laid his dead wife back on the cushion. His eyes filled with hate as he looked at his mother as if seeing the woman for the first time. “You killed her. You killed her because you want me to marry the girl. Isn’t that right, mother?”
Rafael looked between the man and his mother. “I will find my daughter. We are leaving. Obviously, there can be no wedding now. Not when you are mourning your wife.”
Consuela rose from her chair as if realizing, at last, the flaws in her plan, “Rafael, this is just a misunderstanding. My son is distraught. This alliance is to both our goods.”
“Perhaps I have been hasty. I liked the boy. He is bright. His plans are solid. But this…” His hands trembled as he waved them around the room. “I want no part in this. And I certainly do not want my daughter ending up like….”
No one noticed as the old woman lifted her arms from her side where they had been hidden in the folds of her dress. She fired the gun so quickly that all the man could do was stand there in shock as the red stain spread across his white shirt.
The woman turned to the three men that had entered with her son. “Find the girl.”
The four men with Dominguez knelt next to the man. One applied pressure as a dark, almost black liquid soaked the floor beneath them. The man was likely dying. He was even too weak to speak at that point. But the look that passed between him and the men required no words. While the one continued to apply pressure to the wound, the other three drew their weapons.
Ray knew better than to stick around. These were not blanks on a Hollywood set. These were men accustomed to killing. He slammed the door shut and slipped down the hallway past that alter. The front door flew open and more killers ran inside. Ray pressed himself into the shadows and waited for the men to pass, then he backed towards the still-open front door.
It was the opposite direction from that little house where the women were being held, but there was no way he could make it down the hall, across the patio and gardens to them. He had to trust the Great Ones that the others would reach the McBrides, Mercy, and the girl.
***The little house***
Mercy was feeding Cassie McBride more soup when the first shot rang out. She had spent the whole day feeding the woman and forcing her to drink more of that nasty tea stuff. Rose needed to be as strong as possible if they were to get out of here. Whether that was Ryan and the others coming for them or Roberto actually keeping his promise. He had managed to keep that woman from here all day. That was something, at least.
Her eyes drifted to the closed door. Just the idea of a dead man on the other side freaked her out a bit. Which was why she was so glad for the distraction of Callie and Cassie. They also kept her too busy to wonder about Will. Especially with the sound of a gunshot. Was that him? Had Diego executed him? Had Roberto pulled the trigger?
She practically dropped the bowl of soup when more shots rang out in the dark. Mercy raced to the window. But with no moonlight, she could not see much other than the soft glow of lights from the main house. It looked like her mother’s last birthday cake. “What the fuck?” She turned to Rose, “Sorry.”
The woman shook her head and stood. Grace was by her mother’s side in an instant. Mercy frowned at how slowly they moved. She had to remind herself that this was better than the woman had been yesterday. But still, how far would they get if they had to escape on foot?
“I can’t see anything.”
“Me, either. How about I sneak closer and see what’s up?”
Rose shook her head, “No, Grace. We stay here.” She turned to Mercy, “Or you get her out of here?”
“No, we all go together.”
“You know I’m in no shape to travel. I’d just slow you down. Take my daughter and send back help.”
The front door opened, and Roberto rushed inside, closing it behind him. “What’s happening?” They all seemed to ask at once.
The man shook his head. His eyes were wide, and he looked more like a little boy than the killer Mercy knew he was. “I don’t know. Mama, Anna, and Connie left the party. Mama said the women needed time to talk alone. They went into the library. While Diego and Rafael talked. I was drinking with some of the men when someone cried for help.”
“Diego and some of our men went to see what was wrong. Then Rafael and some of his followed. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of minutes. So I thought it must not be anything big. Then there was a single shot. The men around me all went to see what was happening.”
“Why didn’t you go too?” You had to love smart-mouthed teens for having the courage to ask the obvious question when the adults were too frightened.
“I’ll go back once I get you all out of here. I didn’t plan this, but it might be our best chance.”
“How? How are we to get out of here, Roberto? Did you think about that? Cassie can’t walk very far.”
He ran his fingers through his hair and looked around wild-eyed, “Is Bebe here?”
“No, I haven’t seen her since your mother sent her back to the village yesterday.”
“Damn, I wanted to get you all out together. But if she didn’t make it back today….”
The shake of his head said more than words could. “Okay, there’s no way a vehicle can get in or out now. The guards at the gate will be on full alert. But Diego keeps horses near here.”
He looked to Rose, “I’m sorry. I know you don’t believe that, but I never meant for any of this to happen. It was supposed to be such a simple thing that two teenage boys could plan it. I certainly never meant for you or the girl to be hurt.”
Rose just nodded her head as he continued, “Do you think you can ride a horse? Just for a bit? There’s this old house on the edge of the property. If I can get you all there, I’ll see what is happening and come for you later. Try to bring Bebe and Will,” he offered Mercy a smile, but it was so weak she saw through it.
Still, if they could get out of this place, away from the gunshots and a dead man in the other room, at least they would have a chance of finding the others. Mercy turned to Rose, “Can you make it? The barn is about fifty yards or so.”
The woman smiled and gripped her daughter’s hand tighter, “I’ll make it.” Mercy knew that look. It seemed to come with motherhood. A determination to do whatever is necessary for your child.
“It’ll be easier and faster if I carry you. Will you let me, Cassie?”
Mercy saw the war that raged in the woman’s mind. The man who had betrayed her and her daughter, caused her to lose her baby, now wanted to help them. Wanted to touch her?
She remembered how no one touched Mama. She and her sisters could count on their fingers the number of hugs they ever received from Stacey Reynolds. She said she was not the hugging type, but Mercy had always known the truth.
But right now, she did not have time for guilt and regrets. She had responsibilities to these women and her own child. Even if that meant leaving this place without its father. She could only hope, “Have you seen, Will?”
“Not since I dropped him back off in the village with you. I’m sure he’s still there. We’ll go get him and Bebe once I see what is happening. But right now, I need to get the three of you out of here. Cassie?”
The woman was ghostly white and did not meet his stare, but she nodded her head slowly. Roberto did not wait for anything else, scooping her into his arms. “You two stay behind us.”
It was probably less than a minute, but it seemed to take hours to cover the short distance. Roberto sat Cassie McBride on a stack of hay and turned to Mercy, “You take care of her. The girl and I will saddle three horses.”
Grace shook her head, “Two. It’ll be faster and easier if Mama rides with me.” He nodded, and they turned to go into the stalls when another shot rang out. This one was closer than before. A shadow stood in the doorway as her half-brother crumbled to the ground.
“Traitor. Your Mama always said you were weak. That’s why she sent me.” The man raised his gun slowly this time and pointed it directly at Roberto’s head.
Mercy did not even realize what she was doing as she gripped something heavy next to them. The man was just a couple of steps in front of them when she lunged, impaling him on the pitchfork. Another shot rang out, and the horses seemed to go wild. The man fell forward; at least she would not have to see his face or the death mask she had painted on it.
She raced to Roberto’s side. His usually tan skin was pale, and his breathing shallow, “We’ll get help. I’ll send Grace.”
He shook his head, “No, Hermana. You need to get them out of here. Now.”
“I can’t just leave you….”
“Yes, yes, you can. It’s the only way, and you know that. Help the girl.”
Tears were running down her cheeks. Mercy’s heart was torn, her mind shattered. She knew he was right. She knew that this man had killed in cold blood. His best friend. She had no doubt he would have killed Will or Cassie if he had to. But he was her brother. Her baby brother. Something she had only dreamed of until coming here. “Go.”
A gentle hand on her shoulder turned her, and Mercy looked into Rose’s soft eyes, “Go help, Grace. I’ll stay with Bobby.” The woman gripped his hand and lifted it. “Remember when you and Stephen got chickenpox, and the school sent you away.”
He nodded, but the movement caused him to wince in pain, “I remember. Since I was sick, I could not travel across the border….”
“So, you stayed with us.”
“And you nursed us both.”
“I made you chicken soup.”
Mercy saw the pain and tears on the woman’s face. “I meant what I said. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. If Stephen and your husband had….”
“Shhh, it doesn’t matter now.” Rose looked up at Mercy, “Go, help Grace. Please.”
She nodded her head and squeezed the man’s shoulder, “We’ll saddle another horse. Take you with us.”
“No, Hermana. I would slow you down. It is too late. I would only bleed out quicker. Go, help the girl.”
She wanted to argue, but when she looked up and saw Grace struggling to soothe and calm the animals, she knew they were right. This was their opportunity. They had to take it. And quickly. They had already been discovered once. They could not afford to wait any longer.
Horses were not her thing. While a few of her friends had them, it would have been another mouth for Mama to feed. She wasn’t sure what she could do, but she went to the girl anyway. “What can I do?”
Grace looked over her shoulder at the man who was tightly gripping her mother’s hand. “Is he going to die?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to deny it. Whether that was to protect this girl from reality or herself, Mercy was not sure. But instead, she shrugged, “I don’t know. But his best chance and your mother’s is if we get out of here and find the others. They can send help back for him.”
Grace nodded and smiled tightly at her. “Okay, if you’ll hold Mercury, I’ll saddle up Venus.”
The horse seemed to sense her unease and pranced backward, stomping its hooves in the hay. Grace leaned her head against it and ran her hand down its side. The animal quieted. “He should be okay now. I’ll take Mama on him. Venus will be easier to manage. She’ll follow him anywhere.”
“How do you know all this stuff? When did you….”
The girl smiled, and her green eyes danced in the dim light of the barn. “It’s my thing. Don’t ask.”
Mercy nodded as she held the reins of the stallion. The girl was quick, saddling the mare. “Have you ever ridden?”
“Once. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.” She shivered at the memory of being thrown from the horse into the bushes. She had bruises for days. One of the popular girls had taken her under her wings. Mercy should have known better than to trust her. But the photos of her on her butt in those bushes had been all over the school before the next morning.
She had sworn she would never ride a horse again. But this time, she might have to make an exception. Her life depended on it and her babies. This girl’s and her mother’s too. She looked back to where the woman was talking low, holding her brother’s hand, and crying. Perhaps, as she told Grace, maybe even his.
“I’ll talk to Venus. It’ll be okay this time. I promise,” Grace took the reins of the large black stallion and passed her the smaller fawn-colored mare. Mercy nodded her head. “I’ll need your help to get Mama on.”
They took the horses closer to the door. Then turned back to the injured duo. Grace placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder, “We have to go now, Mama.”
The woman was crying, but she nodded her head. “I’m sorry it came to this, Bobby. I forgive you.”
“Thank you.” Roberto looked up at Callie, “It’ll be too easy for you to stay on top of the leader’s board now.”
The girl nodded her head, “Better luck next game, Diablo91. Hope you respawn in a good world.”
He laughed, though it came out more like a choke. “If I had to get my ass kicked by a girl, I’m glad it was you, ElizaThornberry.”
Grace nodded her head and drew Rose up to a standing position. Together the three women managed to get her into the saddle though the stallion was dancing nervously again. “Do you need help, too?” Grace asked.
“I don’t think so. You go ahead, take your mother. I’m right behind you.”
“No, we’ll wait. But you need to make it quick.”
Mercy nodded as she turned back to the man who had managed to crawl and prop himself against the hay bales where Rose had sat. It was covered in blood. Hers and his. Ignacio Garcia’s death had barely touched her. But despite everything she knew about this man, Mercy felt that she was losing some part of herself.
She knelt by his side, “You need to go, Mercy.”
She nodded, “I know, but I just hate….”
“…leaving me here to die all alone.”
She wanted to deny his words, promise that they would send help. But the truth was staring her in the face. Even if they found the others, it would almost certainly be too late for this man.
“Hey, it’s a big sister thing.”
She saw the pain that his forced smile caused, “I never met the others, but you’re pretty cool. I wish….”
Tears blinded her, and Mercy choked down bile as well as the sobs. She understood. The girl was right. Where a child spawned had so much to do with its chances in this life. Some kids got lucky; they had two loving parents. Had this man ever had a chance? Any real choice in what his life became?
She wanted to blame him for what had happened. But she would never know what it felt like to spend your whole life trying to win the approval of the one person that should have loved you unconditionally. Her mother had sacrificed everything, even her body and soul, for her girls. Would this man have turned out differently if Consuela Garcia had been that kind of mother?
“Please, Mercy, go. Go now. While you can. That’s what you can do for me. And if you can, remember that for all the bad things I did, when the chips were down, I came through for you. Who knows, maybe god or karma or whatever will take that into account when I respawn like the kid says….”
She nodded and laughed through the tears. But she stood up. Mercy forced herself to turn her back and put one foot in front of the other. She used every ounce of fortitude in her to pull herself into that saddle.
And then she dug deeper for a resolve that could come only from the tiny peanut of hope in her belly. For her daughter’s sake, she did not look back as Grace led them from the shadows of that barn. Because she knew if she did, she might turn around and go back. Hold her baby brother’s hand until whatever came next. Game over, as he and Grace would say.