Read Black Ops 03 - Deadly Games Online

Authors: Cate Noble

Tags: #Suspense

Black Ops 03 - Deadly Games (8 page)

Helen Newton, the shelter’s director, arrived just
then and squeezed onto the bench beside Gena. “Any change?”

Gena shook her head, avoiding Helen’s gaze, not wanting to see any more pity or sorrow. If one more person told her he or she was “sorry” to hear about Lupe, or reminded Gena how lucky she’d been, Gena would scream.

And if she started to scream, she didn’t know if she’d ever stop. Lupe had screamed and screamed….

“She’s still alive, if that’s what you mean,” Gena said.

“I’ve been elected by the hospital staff to talk sense into you.” Helen gently pried the coffee cup out of Gena’s grip. “They said you’ve been here all night. You need sleep. Decent food. Probably some medical attention yourself. Why don’t you go and—”

Gena cut her off. “I won’t leave Lupe. She doesn’t have anyone else to fight for her.”

The fact that Lupe had no family in the area further complicated medical matters. There was no availability of medical history, known allergies and the like. No next of kin to relieve the doctors of decisions about procedures, surgeries, and life support.

Gena had offered up what little personal information she knew, which only emphasized the unknowns. No date of birth. A nameless grandmother who lived “somewhere” in Mexico. And a despicable ex-husband whom police seemed to believe was responsible for the fire.

And while Gena had eagerly answered the hospital personnel’s questions, she had learned the flow of information was one-way. Patient privacy laws meant they couldn’t disclose anything about Lupe’s condition to nonfamily. It meant Gena had been forced to eavesdrop to learn what little she knew.

“There’s not a graceful way to say this, so I’ll just blurt it out. Lupe may not want you to fight,” Helen said softly. “Think of her quality of life. If she survives, she faces a long and painful recovery. There will be extensive scarring. She’ll need skin grafts. And the amputations …”

“I’ve thought of nothing but that.” Gena swiped away tears. “And I’m not leaving. Not as long as Lupe’s still alive.”

Helen took a deep breath. “Here’s something else to consider then. This incident, as horrible as it is, is generating negative press for the shelter. I received two calls this morning, from press agencies seeking comment on accusations that we not only support illegal immigration, but that we also are a way station on some type of underground railroad.”

“That’s preposterous! Did you tell them where to stick their accusations?”

“I started to. Until someone mentioned you were keeping vigil here. I assured them you weren’t acting on the shelter’s behalf.” Helen glanced past Gena, as if uncomfortable with what she was about to say. “Gena, I—”

“I understand. You have to think of the others at the shelter. If it’s any help, I quit as a volunteer. Feel free to publicly announce as much.”

But Helen wasn’t looking at her, was still staring over Gena’s shoulder.

“Well drat,” Helen said. “I knew they’d show up sooner or later.”

Gena twisted around and spotted two men wearing the familiar black windbreakers denoting Border Patrol. One of the men was jotting notes while talking with the fire marshal.

“They came bythe shelter earlier,” Helen continued. “Looking to interview witnesses. They, um, didn’t realize we had two facilities. Or used to.”

The reminder that the new shelter had been destroyed twisted another knife in Gena’s heart. All Vianca’s hard work was gone.

We’ll rebuild.

If Vi were sitting there, she’d have been on her cell phone calling in favors.
I need a building razed. I need an updated survey. How fast can I get concrete?

To Vianca, life had been black and white. Yes or no. Now or when? Lead or follow.

We can do this.

No. Without Vi, there was no
we.
Vi’s cousin, the contractor, had been by earlier and reported that the building was a total loss. While Gena had yet to revisit the site, she remembered the chaotic images from last night.

Thanks to a propane tank blowing, by the time the fire department arrived, flames had engulfed two structures, the shelter and the apartment building next door.

What was left was now considered a crime scene after someone reported watching two men toss a Molotov-type explosive at the shelter.

Fury seethed anew, clawing at Gena’s lungs. Damn the men who’d done this, who’d hurt many innocent people. Like Lupe. And the homeless man sleeping at the back of the apartment complex who had died. The others who suffered less severe burns and whose families were now displaced.

“Here they come,” Helen whispered as the Border Patrol agents strode toward them.

“Ma’am.” The agent nodded to each of them, then
offered a leather ID holder to Gena. “I’m Sam Ramirez. This is my partner, Dick Huggins. We’d like to talk to you about last night. I understand that you were at the shelter at the time of the incident. And that you and the burn victim were working together.”

“Lupe,” Gena said. “Her name is Lupe.”

“Guadalupe Del Fuego,” Agent Ramirez said. “That was the name you knew her by? How long have you known Lupe?”

“She showed up at the New Beginnings shelter in late July. Or early August.” Gena noticed Helen nodding in agreement. “I volunteer at the shelter, so I’m not there daily.”

“What do you know about Lupe? About her personal life?” Ramirez asked.

Gena hesitated. The shelter’s privacy policy, while treated seriously in-house, was not legally binding, especially in the face of a criminal investigation.

“Very little,” Gena said. “Look, the police already asked me these same questions.”

“I understand that this is difficult, ma’am, but our questions may be different,” Ramirez said. “What do you know about her friends? Where she worked?”

“She never spoke of any particular friends outside of others staying at the shelter, but then again, we didn’t spend a great deal of time together. Two nights a week, Lupe helped me—volunteered, not paid— with cleaning and painting at the new shelter.”

Gena wasn’t going to mention the jobs Lupe worked with other potentially illegal aliens. She was certain Agent Ramirez would ferret that out from other sources.

“Did she ever mention family?”

“A grandmother who lives in Mexico. She raised
her. If she had other family, she never mentioned them,” Gena said. “I, um, understand the police are searching for her ex-husband.”

“Juan Carlos Del Fuego.” Ramirez flipped through his notes. “Did you ever meet him?”

“No.”

“Lupe came to the shelter seeking refuge from an abusive husband,” Helen interjected. “One of our goals is to keep the abuser away.”

“Do you know if Lupe told her grandmother where she was staying?” Ramirez shifted his gaze back toward Gena. The implication that Lupe’s grandmother then told Carlos went unsaid.

“I don’t know,” Gena said.
I hope not.
“All shelter residents are warned about the dangers of disclosing their locations, to protect others as well as themselves.”

The two agents exchanged doubtful glances. Then Ramirez handed Gena a photograph.

She had expected the subject to be Juan Carlos Del Fuego. But the person in the grainy black-and-white mug shot was Lupe. Tears stung Gena’s eyes as she realized Lupe would never look like that again.

“Can you confirm that this is the burn victim currently in ICU?” Ramirez asked. “The woman you know as Guadalupe Del Fuego?”

“That’s her.” The mug shot most likely meant Lupe had been picked up and deported before.

“Were you aware she was in the country illegally?”

“I never asked,” Gena answered honestly.

“Of course not.” Agent Ramirez’s voice had an edge, which he quickly covered. “Tell me what happened last night. When did you and Lupe arrive at the shelter?”

Gena recounted—for at least the fourth time— how she’d found the shelter vandalized early yesterday morning. “Lupe came by around eight last evening and began cleaning. She also painted several doors I had replaced.”

“Did she leave at any time? Or receive any phone calls that you know of?”

“She didn’t have a cell phone. She left about midnight, but she wasn’t gone long. Maybe a few minutes.”

“Did she say where she was headed?”

Don’t ask. Don’t tell.
“No.”

“So she returned a few minutes later. Then what happened?”

“I was still in the kitchen when I heard the front door open. Lupe came in and said she saw two men near my car. She was concerned they were vandals.”

“Did she indicate that she recognized them? Or give a description?”

“No. I went to get my cell phone to call the police, while she went to make sure the front door was locked.”

Lupe, wait.

“So she was in the front part of the house when it caught fire?” Ramirez asked.

The memory had Gena shutting her eyes. The force of the blast had knocked Gena backward, onto the rear porch. She’d dashed back inside and found the kitchen engulfed in flames.

Lupe had crawled across the floor, screaming.

Gena had used her bare hands to extinguish Lupe’s clothes. Then she half dragged, half carried Lupe out the back door. To the yard.

Another explosion sounded. The propane tank
next door. Gena huddled over Lupe to shield her from the debris. A fireman came up and yanked her away. “You’re hurt! See the paramedics.”

But Gena had refused to let anyone treat the minor cuts and burns she’d suffered. “Save her! Save Lupe!”

Gena became aware that Helen offered a tissue. She took it and blew her nose, ignoring the closed look on Agent Ramirez’s face.

“I believe that covers it for now.” Agent Ramirez tugged out his vibrating cell phone. “Excuse us.”

No sooner had the two agents moved away than there was a flurry of activity at the nurses’ station. Beepers and buzzers sounded in ICU.

“Code Blue.”

Gena overheard the medical emergency code. Lupe!

She rushed to the double-door entrance to the ICU. Already the corridor beyond was filled with nurses and techs, rushing to Lupe’s bedside. What was going on? How bad was it?

Suddenly Gena was being jerked back.

“Move it!” a doctor ordered as he slammed his access card through the sensor, then pushed past her as the slow-moving doors swung wide.

Gena stepped forward, stood momentarily frozen in the opening, witnessing the controlled chaos. As the door closed it swept her inside, where she went unnoticed.

A male nurse shoved what must have been a crash cart toward Lupe’s bed, half a dozen nurses in his wake.

The doctor who was responsible for Gena’s ringside seat plunged into the midst, already barking orders. “Give me point-five milligrams atropine … lidocaine!”

Gena lost count of the injections given. Blood pressure and pulse were called out repeatedly, the numbers garbled.

Then there were no more orders.

The room went silent. And Gena knew, knew, knew. Lupe was dead.

No!
She hung her head and felt the knot of anguish that had been building in her chest rise.

The doors swung open behind her, stirring the air. A dark-haired woman in a lab coat hustled past without speaking, without questioning Gena’s presence in the restricted area.

Then the doctor who had inadvertently let her slip inside the ICU approached, his gaze sliding across her face. But he, too, passed mutely by.

Invisible.

Gena’s loss had left her as invisible as Lupe had been for most of her life.

“You shouldn’t be in here!” A nurse came up just then, shaking her head as she gently but firmly guided Gena out to the hall before turning away.

Unable to move or speak, Gena stared at the closed doors. Then she felt hands at her shoulders, knew someone was tugging her back toward the waiting area.

She resisted, not ready to leave Lupe, not wanting comfort for a truth she didn’t want to face.

“Gena?”

That voice …

The breath left her body as she turned and looked into the face of the most gorgeous and cruelest man she’d ever known.

No, not the worst.

Utter confusion threatened to wreck Gena’s fragile equilibrium. She blinked, frantic to block the memories that wanted to rush forward. She couldn’t deal with the mess that was their past. Not now.

“What—? What are you doing here, Rocco?”

“I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.” He fumbled for words.

“Lupe. Her name was Lupe!” Gena shook off his hand and stepped away. “And you have no idea what I’ve lost.”

“Agreed.” He looked solemnly left, then right. “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”

The one-two changeup of his tone rankled her. “To be honest, I don’t feel much like talking at the moment.”

“It’s important. And urgent.”

Gena looked past him, at the Border Patrol agents who were questioning a nurse. And then to where Helen sat, watching her with an odd expression.

The last thing Gena wanted was to have to explain Rocco to Helen. Or even to Agent Ramirez. Because explaining Rocco meant walking down the hellish path called Her Past.

Maybe the easiest and quickest way to get rid of him was to listen to whatever the hell he’d come there to say and then tell him to scram.

“Follow me,” she snapped.

Chapter Eight
 

Harry Gambrel was pissed that he hadn’t received advance warning that Rocco Taylor was en route to Sugar Springs.

Seeing Rocco stroll through the front door of the hospital ten minutes ago had infuriated Harry. If Rocco got to Gena first …

After confirming that Gena was unharmed, and learning that she refused to leave her injured friend, Harry and Edguardo had staked out the hospital entrances. The place was too small, too full of cops to risk going inside.

Instead, Harry had slouched in his rental car, in the hospital’s crowded parking lot, watching through the small slits cut in a newspaper.

As soon as he spotted Rocco, Harry called Ian Brown, the CIA mole he’d inherited from Abe Cald-well. “What the hell is Taylor doing in Texas?”

“Rocco Taylor?” Ian sputtered. “My latest intel shows him on ice, here in D.C. Well crap! I suppose this means he’s operating off the grid now, too.”

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