Authors: Jeanne C. Stein
Tags: #Vampires, #Strong; Anna (Fictitious Character), #Contemporary, #General, #Urban Life, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
Funny thing, the doors remain closed.
“I think you fucked yourself when you shot all the men in the village. Pretty shortsighted, Luis.”
He stares. “How do you know I shot the men? How do you know my name?”
When I don’t answer, he yanks against the ropes. “I have other men. They will be back.”
“Not for a while, I suspect, if they intend to try to save any of your
His eyes flash. “What do you know of my
I blow on the palm of my hand. “I know it’s gone.”
He struggles against the ropes again, leaning toward me, his mouth twisted in anger. “What did you do?”
Darkness is descending, the first long shadows creeping across the ground. I turn, searching the sky. A whiff of odor tells me where to look. A thick black cloud rises in the east. Luckily, the breeze is blowing it away from the village. Only a vampire’s keen sense of smell tells me what it is. The burning coke.
“There.” I point to the cloud. “I hope your boys stay downwind.”
Luis’ face contorts, color rushing up to stain his skin a sickly scarlet. “Do you know what you’ve done? Do you know what my brother will do to you when he finds out?”
Before I can respond, I catch a second scent. A familiar one.
“Then we’d better make sure he doesn’t find out.”
It’s Max’s voice behind me. He approaches with Adelita by his side and a shotgun in his hand.
UIS STARES AT MAX. IF EVER AN EXPRESSION REGISTERED a “now who the fuck is this?” look, it’s his.
Max and Adelita join me. “How did you get back so quickly?” I ask.
“Hitched a ride with the
. They picked us up in a helicopter near Ramon’s place. Before you ask, the girls are safe. Then they brought me back.” He shoots Adelita a stern look. “Alone, this time.”
Adelita isn’t looking at Max. I’m not sure she heard him. Her eyes are on Luis. She steps toward him, but I grab her arm and pull her back.
“I know what you want to do,” I say quietly. “But we need him alive. At least for now.”
Max looks around. “Where is everybody?”
“Cule—ah—Tomás should be back any minute. With Ramon.”
Luis squares his shoulders. “Ramon will have killed him by now.” He squints at Max. “So you are the American pig after my brother.”
Max raises his eyebrows. “I guess I am. And you are the
brother he tethered like a goat out here in the middle of nowhere to lure the lions.”
“You will never catch Pablo. He’s too smart and his army too strong. You and your bitch and the traitor Tomás are dead.” His eyes flick to Adelita and he moistens his lips with his tongue. “You, chica, I may keep around for a while. You will have to do until I find those four
who ran away. I don’t know how you got away from the burning truck, or escaped from my shack, but here you are again. It is fate.”
This time when Adelita jumps toward Luis, I don’t hold her back. She’s on him like a wild woman, spitting and clawing until his face is running with blood. He’s twisting against the ropes, trying to protect himself, but he’s helpless to do anything but scream at us to stop her.
The blood has me mesmerized. I find myself licking my lips the way Luis did his a few moments before.
Then Max touches my arm.
I look at him. He nods toward Adelita. Vampire retreats and I put my arms around Adelita’s waist and lift her back and away.
She squirms and fights against my grip, but I’m much stronger and when she’s caught her breath and starts to calm down, I turn her to face me and cradle her in my arms.
Luis moans. His face is a mess. Adelita caught his right eye with a fingernail, there’s a long gash radiating from the corner and it’s red-rimmed and weeping. Makes me hug her tighter.
Adelita grows still, resting her head against my chest. Then she straightens and steps free, not looking at Max or me. She stands with her back to Luis. Her shoulders shake and I think she’s crying, but I let her have her moment. She’s one tough kid.
Luis, for once, has no vitriol to spout. His eyes are squeezed shut and he draws shaky breaths through clenched teeth. He’s in pain and it’s a joy to see.
Max leans toward me. “We should get out of here. Where’s Culebra?”
A good question.
His answer comes back.
On my way.
As if on cue, there’s movement from the perimeter of the village and Culebra and Ramon appear. Ramon is stumbling like a drunk. His right ankle is bound by a crude bandage that looks like it’s made from strips of a sheet. His hands are tied behind his back with rope. His eyes are glazed, his gait unsteady.
Culebra is walking close behind him—
behind him. He is back in human form and has a rifle in his hand. He is smiling.
Does Ramon know—
Culebra answers before I complete the question.
That I’m the one that bit him? No. Not yet.
Luis doesn’t see Ramon and Culebra until they are right in front of him. When he does, the color drains from his face, making the blood from his wounds stand out in slashes of crimson like paint on a canvas.
Ramon doesn’t notice. He’s busy trying to stay on his feet. He doesn’t look good.
Is he going to be all right?
I ask Culebra. Not that I care. But he may have information we need.
I only bit him once,
Culebra answers. His glance goes to Luis and he says out loud, “Looks like
got into a fight with a panther.” He hooks an eyebrow in my direction.
Or a vampire.
I jab a thumb in Adelita’s direction. “Not a panther. A wildcat.”
Adelita turns at the sound of Culebra’s voice. Her posture straightens when she spies Ramon. Her smile is bitter as she assesses his condition. “Another pig,” she spits.
I hadn’t had a chance to ask Adelita the question I considered earlier. I jab a thumb toward Ramon. “Did he recognize you when he found you outside the village?”
Ramon catches the question and his eyes go to Adelita. “Why would I know you?” he asks.
Adelita’s eyes go hard at his answer and I think for an instant she will go after him the way she did Luis. “Does that answer your question?” she says to me, taking two steps forward to shove him with both hands.
Ramon loses his balance and tips back, unable to break his fall. Adelita takes the heel of her foot and presses it into his injured ankle. He cries out, writhing in pain.
“You kidnapped me from my village.” She punctuates each word with a grinding of her heel. Then she steps back to stand beside Max and me. “He’ll remember me now, I think.”
“No wonder you like her,” Culebra says to me. “She’s just like you.”
Max looks around. “We’d better get out of here. Luis’ men may come back at any time. With reinforcements.”
Luis lifts his head. “You’ll never get away. My men know every inch of the area. And when I tell Pablo what you’ve done, there won’t be a place on this fucking earth where you’ll be safe.”
“And when do you plan to tell Pablo?” Max looks at Ramon. “I think I know of a place Pablo won’t find us. Isn’t that right, Ramon?”
Culebra has pulled Ramon roughly to his feet. Ramon has no more fight in him. His face is drawn with pain and resignation. “I would like to see Maria and Gabriella,” he says simply.
Max strides to Luis and cuts the rope binding him to the post. Before Luis can take a step, he’s replaced one restraint with another, handcuffs.
“What are you doing?”
“Do you think we’re leaving you?” Max says. “You can’t be that stupid.”
“Stop!” he screams. “You have no authority here. This is kidnapping.”
Adelita moves again. Fast as quicksilver, she’s darted to Luis and with strength I wouldn’t have expected from such a small girl, she’s backhanded him across the face so hard, he stumbles backward.
“¿Usted habla del secuestro? ¿Cómo atrévase le?”
Max and Culebra watch, grim smiles touching their mouths. She’s asking how he dares to talk of kidnapping.
I smile, too, before taking Adelita’s hand to pull her back once again. “Easy, girl. He has a long walk ahead of him. Plenty of time for him to ponder the irony. The kidnapper kidnapped.”
Adelita spits in his direction but does back up with me.
Luis coughs and works his jaw, a trickle of blood glistening at the right corner of his mouth. He glares at Adelita but has the good sense to keep quiet.
Max motions Culebra to join us, leaving Ramon and Luis a few feet away at the well. He lowers his voice so they can’t hear. “We’re going to have to make good time. It’s a four-hour hike back to Ramon’s little hideaway. Once we get there, we’ll contact the pilot and make arrangements to get Ramon and Luis into custody. I’ll have our guys waiting at the San Diego/Tijuana border to make the arrest.”
“You’re not taking them at Reynosa?” I ask.
Max shakes his head. “Can’t trust that Luis’ men won’t be waiting for us there. Better to put some distance between us and the cartel.”
I glance toward Ramon, leaning heavily against the well for support. “Will he make it?”
Culebra follows up with an even better question. “Do we need him?”
Max considers the question, then directs another at me. “What about Maria and Gabriella? Do you think they’ll be a problem if we show up without Ramon?”
“Not for long,” I answer shortly. “It’s odd that Maria hasn’t gotten in touch with Ramon. She must have figured a way to get out by now.”
“Which means, maybe she didn’t want to get in touch with him.” Culebra glances at Ramon. “Maybe she and Gabriella are ready to be free.”
Max shrugs. “Seems the majority opinion is that we leave Ramon. Now we have to decide if we leave him alive or dead.”
Adelita has been listening. She steps forward.
she whispers with a grim smile.
“Yo lo haré.”
She wants Ramon dead and she’s volunteering to do it.
I echo her sentiment. “Dead. Or he’s likely to let Luis’ troops know who to look for when they get back.”
Max nods his agreement. Culebra’s lips curl. “It is decided.” He looks at Adelita. “But I will be the one to carry out the execution. He murdered my family.” He turns to Max. “You take Luis and Adelita.” Then he narrows his eyes at me. “Anna, will you stay?”
Adelita’s eyes burn into me. Scenes of the hell she’s endured seem to shine through. It takes me a nanosecond to reply. “Hell, yes.”
T TAKES LONGER TO CONVINCE ADELITA TO LEAVE Culebra and me with Ramon and to go on with Max and Luis. She argues that she has a reason to want Ramon dead, too, and should be allowed to witness his execution. Her voice is low and urgent.
She appeals to me rather than Max or Culebra and I know why. She saw me with the driver in the truck. She knows my taste for vengeance is strong.
But as much as I understand her feelings, as much as I sympathize with her, she has seen enough death in her short life. Her nightmares will be riddled with blood and terror as it is. She has had no control over what happened to her up to this moment. Time alters perspective. If she participates in killing Ramon, consciously or unconsciously, she may come to feel responsible for his death. She has been abused, but she’s not a killer—yet.
That’s a burden she doesn’t need.
That’s a burden best shouldered by me.
That’s a burden I’ve already accepted.
Max lets me talk with her and after a time, when Adelita reluctantly accepts that she should go, I nod to him.
He approaches, dipping a hand into his backpack. “I almost forgot. I brought something for you.”
He pulls a clean, white T-shirt out of the bag and hands it to me. “Figured you were ready for a change of clothes.”
I glance down at my blouse, frayed around the arms where I tore off the sleeves, covered with blood, so dirty it’s hard to imagine it’s original pristine whiteness. Wonder if Gabriella wants it back?
I take the T-shirt, smile a thank-you and slip the tee over my head, working the blouse off and letting it slip to the ground. Then I work my arms into the sleeves and tug it into place.
I feel better already.
Max motions to Adelita, then crooks a finger at me. “You’ll follow?”
“We’ll be right behind you.”
Max leads Adelita into the brush, staying close in case she takes a notion to change her mind. Luis, tethered by a short length of rope, walks ahead. He has been quiet during the exchange. Perhaps afraid if he says anything, he will meet the same fate as Ramon.
Ramon, for his part, is quiet as well. It’s as if he’s no longer in the present, but gazes unfocused at a scene only he can see. Culebra and I wait until we can no longer hear Max and Adelita. Then we approach.
Culebra prods Ramon with the barrel of his rifle. “I heard you,” he says.
Ramon raises his head, his eyes clear. “You heard what?”
“I know the part you played in the death of my family. I know you tried to kill me.”
Ramon looks away. “It was a long time ago.”
“You did it to take my place with Santiago.”
A shrug. “You would have done the same.”
“And now?” Culebra asks. “What do you gain from my death now?”
Ramon is leaning heavily against the well, trying to take the weight off his injured ankle. I don’t let him, leveraging my own body against his so he stumbles onto both feet again. He winces and whistles with the pain.
“Answer Culebra’s question.”
“I needed someone to serve up as Rójan’s killer. Someone Santiago would believe still held a grudge.”
“Why would Santiago believe Culebra killed Rójan?” I ask. “He’s been gone fifteen years.”
“We killed his family. Blood vengeance runs deep.” Ramon sniffs. “Killing Rójan wounded Santiago where it hurt the most. He lost money. And Santiago would believe me because I said it. Especially when I confirm his suspicion that Tomás
worked with Julio to set up that gun deal. Twice he has cost Pablo Santiago money. Your friend
would be dead so he could not dispute it. I would have killed him as a show of loyalty and been back in Pablo’s good graces.” His voice drops. “I would have avenged my son.”