Mercy’s hands were damp and shook slightly. Her heart raced like a Mariachi band playing in her chest. She breathed deeply, reminding herself that she chose this. “Good evening, big brother. You didn’t need to send an escort.”
She assessed the man in front of her. She was not sure what she expected a cartel leader to look like. Maybe she had watched The Godfather one too many times, but with Diego Garcia, there was a distinct lack of heavy gold chains, a flashy white suit, or a machine gun. Though, one of their ‘greeting party’ had carried an automatic weapon.
They had been met at the gate by a black SUV with six heavily armed men. Surprisingly, they had not attempted to disarm them. Well, until they got to the house. If this place could be called that. A compound was more accurate. Or maybe a fortress. Mercy could not even tell how big the place was.
Set outside the city itself, the road leading to the house was at least a mile long through a carefully landscaped driveway with trees on both sides of the road. That road ended in a circular driveway with a colossal marble statue of what looked like a saint of some sort with her hand extended. Water flowed from that hand into a fountain below.
Behind the fountain was a pinkish adobe wall at least twenty feet high. The center section of that wall was three stories high with a massive double door of heavy, rough-hewn wood, reinforced with black iron hinges and bars across them. The handful of windows that faced outward all had black wrought iron bars across them.
The moment that she and Will got off the Duchess, they were surrounded. Her heart started that song then. Two men had approached her, and three were on Will. While the man with that automatic gun stood by the car with it pointed at them. They had been patted down. All their weapons seized.
That was the moment it hit her. Their total vulnerability. The fact that neither of them might walk out of here alive. It all became real at that moment. Her legs had become incredibly shaky.
How did she get here? Less than a week ago, she was a small-town librarian, making only a bit more than five-hundred dollars per month after taxes and writing trashing romances in her spare time to supplement her paltry income. Oh, and a stereotypical virgin one at that.
Now, she faced down one of the world’s biggest crime lords. She studied her half-brother more closely. He was powerfully built, though not tall at all, perhaps only a couple of inches taller than she was. While there was a layer of cushioning, beneath that, Diego Garcia was muscular. He had greying at his temples, and enough lines creased his dark skin to show his age.
Dignitas. What a strange word to apply to a drug dealer, who likely dabbled in human trafficking, prostitution, and pedophilia. But there was some inner strength or reserve about the man which belied his chosen profession. What worried her more was the apparent intelligence of those almost black eyes as they studied her just as keenly. Diego laughed. It was a booming sound that echoed even in the open air.
When those heavy doors had opened, they had been led down a dark corridor with more of those thick wooden doors on either side. The paintings of saints and mirrors on the wall were oddly macabre. But it was the shrine with flowers, candles, and a weird statue of some woman in long robes with her hands templed in prayer that seemed most odd.
At least to the granddaughter of the Methodist preacher, who had only been into the Baptist church a handful of times. Even then, Laura only took them to Vacation Bible School for the free lunches that those church ladies served as part of the thing.
The thing was much more ornate than the altar at what was now Brad’s church. However, she had been in it only twice, once when Elena wanted to see the young preacher that kept coming to their home and then for their wedding.
The very idea of having some altar or shrine in your home seemed weird to her. But then again, this whole thing was strange, including Will’s gifts. Hell, that shit seemed to be rubbing off on her, and that was weirder still. Mercy’s attention turned to the booming voice.
“You wound two of my men, maiming one for life, and tell me that I did not need to send guards? What do you want?”
She had to admire the man’s direct nature. Then again, you did not stay at the top of an organization this size by luck alone. “Three. I shot two of your men, and Will injured the other. Though I suppose Sheriff Kerr was a joint deal. I shot him, and Will knocked him out.”
“Sheriff Kerr?” His English was near perfect with barely a hint of an accent.
So much for being direct, “Yeah, he’s the reason I’m here. He mentioned you when he came to arrest me. So, I figured it was time I got to know the other side of my family.”
An older woman, heavily set with short curly hair and piercing black eyes like the man’s, spoke, “No tienes familia aquí.”
“Ignacio Garcia doesn’t live here?” She answered in Spanish as she stared the woman down. She could see Diego in so many of the woman’s features. This must be the wife that her sperm donor had left behind to be with her mother. The hatred and vitriol of an abandoned woman were etched into every line in her face.
“Babosa,” was the woman’s answer.
Mercy knew she was a smartass, but being called an idiot by this woman rankled.
“What business do you have with my father? I am sure that your sister told you the man is not well.”
Mercy nodded and turned towards her half brother, “Yes, Elena did. Which is part of it. I never met the man. I was not even born when he left. This may be my only chance to get to know my father.” She forced that word out and hoped her acting skills were sufficient to cover the disdain she felt for the man who had sired her.
Diego nodded and shrugged those broad shoulders, “So some morbid curiosity about a man you admit you never knew is the only thing that brings you to my home now?”
Mercy had known this moment would come. Did she try to bluff her way through? Deny any other reason for this trip? Or did she admit the trouble they were running from? Trouble that very well originated with this man.
“Things are a bit tense back home right now. It seemed like a good idea to get away for a while.” The half admission left the door open to discover just how much this man already knew. He did not disappoint her.
“That is why you bring a federal agent to my home? Because your big sister did not know how to keep her nose out of things that did not concern her and brought trouble down on your family?”
“Don’t lie to me, cabrona. This is about more than getting to know a dying man that most days does not even recognize the familia he has. You came here hoping that I would help you.”
Mercy shrugged, but she had bested enough of the bullies in school to know that you did not flinch. She stared him directly in the eye, “Maybe. I thought familia would mean something to you.”
“Familia?” The woman spat on the ceramic tile floor at her feet.
“Mamá, escuchemos a la señorita.”
The woman did not want to hear her son suggest they listen to anything that Mercy had to say.
“Mátalos a los dos Mijo y ya.” Like Pontious Pilot, the washing of her hands movement punctuated this woman’s meaning.
Diego laughed again, though this one was not as easy or free. “Let’s not be so hasty, Mama. Murder is so messy.”
He turned to her, “Sorry, you and your sisters are a sore point with my mother. But she does have a good point. Why should I not kill you y tu amigo federal?”
Will knew it was coming. That question always did with people like Diego Garcia. He had faced that damned question more than once when he was undercover with the narcotics squad. But he was supposed to be playing dumb.
They had decided that it was best if the Garcias did not realize that he spoke Spanish. Perhaps they would say something around him. Of course, if Diego knew that he had been a federal agent, what else might the man know? But for now, it was best if they stuck with the plan.
Will was a bit surprised when the guy holding the automatic weapon slid closer to Diego and Consuela Garcia. He knew precisely who the woman was. The backbone of the Garcia cartel for over three decades. The youngest child and only daughter of General Carlos Sanchez, one of the founding members of Los Zetas, and the man, going back at least as far as the 1960s, responsible for trafficking a large percentage of drugs into the US.
When a rival gang had killed her older brother Juan Carlos in the mid-80s, El General had taken to his bed distraught. His other son Manuel refused to give up his calling to the priesthood. It had been Consuela who had grabbed the reins of power, rebuilt the devastated organization, and held on until Diego came of age.
Of course, no woman could be seen to lead such an organization. So, Consuela had carefully set herself up as her father’s nurse, as a good daughter should. She crouched all her orders as the General’s. The old man had died just weeks after Diego’s celebrated his twentieth birthday with the mass murder of those responsible for his uncle’s death.
Even after a quarter of a century in power, the woman remained her son’s primary advisor. Few things were done by the Garcias that had not first been run through this woman. It was rumored that she had a curandero or even dabbled in the dark arts of witchcraft. Will could believe it. Her spirit was darker than her son’s.
He watched the younger man whispering with them. He tried to catch even the stray word here or there but was too far away to hear anything. But whatever it was seemed to inflame the woman as her son nodded his head and turned back to them.
Will risked a quick glance at Mercy. He could not suppress the smile. He could feel that she was frightened. Hell, as many times as he had faced this very thing, he always was too. One day it might not go his way. But his woman stood tall, and she stared them down. Her head high and her shoulders back.
She glared directly at Consuela Garcia. He saw the woman shift nervously and watched as she made the sign of the cross, “Hija de su puta madre.”
Whatever else she might have said, Diego shook his head. “So, hermanita, you get into trouble across the border, and you run to me, claiming familia? What did you think? That I would just embrace you? You have had over fifteen years since you came of age to seek out your Papa. I’m just supposed to believe that now you are interested in Ignacio Garcia.”
Mercy stared at the older woman, “Elena said we were not welcome. So, no, I did not think to come before.” She shrugged, “If it’s a problem, we’ll just keep going. Torreon isn’t the only place we can use our skills.”
“What skills?” the man laughed. “Writing trash? Organizing books on shelves? Oh, you didn’t realize that we kept tabs on your familia? Of course, we have.”
That funny feeling was back. The haze rolled in from the sides, and suddenly Will was transported. He stood huddled with the Garcias. Each word they spoke was clear.
“¿Qué haces Roberto?” Consuela demanded.
The younger man shifted from left to right, his eyes traveling between the woman and Diego. “Solo escuchame, Diego.” But in Will’s mind, the words were clear, “Just hear me out, Diego.”
“Mas vale que sea Bueno.” “It better be good,” answered the man that Will knew held the power of life and death.
Roberto nodded, “Sabes que otra enfermera renuncio hoy, y mientras papá siga empeorando no podemos mantenerlas mas que unos dias.” “You know another nurse quit today? Since Papa has gotten worse, we can’t keep them more than a few days.”
“Y tu papá, que tiene que ver con esto, hijo?” What does your father have to do with it, demanded Consuela.
“Se que tu….. Mamá, no tienes tiempo… pero talvez, o sea Ella es su hija tambien.” “I know that you… Mama, I know that you don’t have time to… But maybe, I mean, she is his daughter, too,” stammered the younger man.
Diego smiled and cuffed him on the side of the head, “Sabes esa no es una mala idea, hermanito.” “You know, that is not a bad idea, hermanito.”
The woman’s face contorted into a mask of hatred and bitterness. “Y yo te dije que los mates, Hijo.” Kill them, the woman demanded again.
“O lo haré, pero roberto tiene la razón Mamá. Acaso eso no es justiciar? Que la hija de esa mujer limpie su mierda? Que le escupa comida o que la muerda como a las demas?” “Oh, I will. But, Roberto is right, Mama. Isn’t it justice? To see that woman’s daughter clean Papa’s shit? Have him spit food on her or bite her as he does the others?”
The woman shrugged, but her features softened just a bit. “De todos modos, digo que los mates. Podemos traer a una de las chicas del prostíbulo. Tal vez a esa provocadora o instigadora.”
Diego shook his head, “No esto es mejor. Tu venganza contra Ella. Que su hija trabaje como mula, cuidando a su padre, que nunca conocio. Papá no vivira para siempre. Y cuando se myers, mataremos al agents, y mandaremos a “hermanita” al prostibulo. Para una mujer como Ella eso es peor que matarla.” “No, this is better. Your revenge on that woman. For her daughter to slave away, caring for the father, she never knew. Papá won’t live forever. And when he dies, we kill the agent and send ‘little sister’ al prostibulo. For a woman like that, it is worse than death.”
Will staggered. His head felt like it would explode. His stomach threatened to revolt and empty itself of their mid-day meal, all over their expensive tiles.
“What’s wrong with him? You had better not have brought that sickness to my house, hermanita.”
He felt Mercy’s arms about his waist. He looked up into those warm brown eyes. How had he not noticed the green flecks before? He shook his head, trying to clear it. Now was not the time for this. On the other hand, whatever was happening seemed to give them insight and warning.
“He’s fine. Will gets these headaches, spells. That’s all it is. Give him a moment, and he’ll be fine.”
“Maldita! Te dije que no era una buena idea. Traerás una maldición a esta casa, hijo,” the old woman crossed herself again.
But whether it was a bad idea, and they were cursed or not, Diego held out his hand, “Enough, Mama.” He turned back to them.
Will’s head had cleared enough that he could stand on his own, at least, but he did not let go of her hand. Whatever was to come, they faced together. But if this man thought he would send his woman to a whorehouse, it would be over his dead body. And the dead bodies of most of the men around him. He hoped it would be enough to give her time to run. Though Will was not sure, that was possible from a man like Diego Garcia.
“You want my help, little sister? My protection?”
Mercy shrugged, and half nodded, her back tall and her head high. At least she realized that showing any kind of weakness to these people was a mistake. Perhaps a lethal one.
“Then it will cost you. I own you now. Do you understand, hermanita?” Will could hear his mother’s vitriol spilling from Diego’s lips as he called her that.
Mercy looked to him, and he nodded just slightly. They would talk later. Or at least he hoped they would get that chance.
“I’m sure the other one told you, Papa is not well.”
“Yeah, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or something like that.”
“Ese bastardo está maldito, recibiendo lo que merece por….” Not that Will blamed the woman for her hatred and found comfort in believing her husband was getting what was coming to him.
“Mamá,” Diego shook his head as he glared at the older woman.
Consuela nodded, Will knew that she would not dare countermand her son in front of the others. But he was confident the man would get an earful once it was just the two of them. Honestly, this woman was more dangerous than her son or her brother and father had been. The grudge and hatred she held for Mercy’s family made that even more dangerous.
“Papa needs round the clock care now. And the nurses? They are not so reliable. If I let you live, it is to care for your Papa. Do you understand me?”
Mercy nodded. He was glad that she seemed to know better than to say anything more. At least now.
“He’ll still need a night nurse, but you care for him during the day. You feed him. Give him the pills that the doctors say. And you clean up after him. Do you understand?”
“I’m not a nurse. But yeah, I can do that.” Mercy stared at the woman, “Growing up poor, we all learned to cook, clean, and take care of one another.”
The two women seemed locked in their own pissing contest, glaring at one another without speaking another word. Will was more than a bit shocked when it was the infamous Consuela Sanchez de Garcia that looked away first. The woman once more made the sign of the cross and mumbled something that sounded a bit like ‘the eye.’
Diego turned to the younger man, “I don’t want them here. Set them up in one of the houses in the village.”
The younger man nodded as Diego turned back towards them. “And little sister, be here early. Don’t think of running. There is nowhere that you can go that I won’t find you.”
“Oh, and agent, that applies to you, too. I own you now. Roberto, find something for the man to do.”
Will knew that whatever of Diego’s shit he was cleaning, it would be far worse than caring for an old man. Blood in, blood out was the creed of men like Diego Garcia. He just hoped like fuck whoever they sent him to kill was not an innocent. If they weren’t? Well, he would have to figure that out damned quickly.
But right now, they had survived this initial showdown. The next step…see what they could discover about Bebe. And figure out a way to get the three of them out of here before that old man died. Though like the man said, where the hell they could run that Diego Garcia would not find them was another question.
That was all for another day. For now, they should savor this small victory. He squeezed Mercy’s fingers and smiled at her, “You did good, country girl.”