Authors: Keisha Orphey
The taxi driver floored the pedal and sped onto the freeway.
¤ ¤ ¤
Joe glommed at the surveillance monitor and watched in horror as Dawn’s taxi disappeared into the flow of traffic. He could hear footsteps approaching outside the door. Voices were getting closer in the hallway. Quickly pressing a few buttons, he changed the view of the monitor. The word
appeared at the top of the screen in red. He’d managed to erase all footage of William and Dawn in the casino and her escape from the parking garage to the taxi, but what was he going to tell Emilio? He’d ordered Dawn dead and entrusted Joe with the getting rid of the body. There had to be another way.
That’s when he thought about pulling Dawn’s employment file.
Someone was entering a passcode on the keypad outside the entrance of the surveillance room.
Moments later, Nancy burst into the room with a foot-long Subway sandwich and chips in a clear bag.
“Thanks for covering for me. I didn’t know what I was going to do when Chuck
Hillary called out. That stomach virus is a beast or what? You’re a lifesaver, Joe Schmoe!” And when Joe didn’t respond, she asked, “You’re not getting sick on me, too, are you?” She could tell something was bothering him.
Nancy was head of surveillance at the Ritz. She was a heavy set broad with jowls like a bloodhound and her thin black hair seemed to get thinner every time Joe saw her.
Joe couldn’t make eye contact with Nancy. He was too upset. She would sense something was wrong when he started for the door: “Dawn Barron is a no-show in the pit tonight--”
“She’s from Louisiana, Joe! Maybe she rushed home in a panic. New Orleans is getting pummeled by Hurricane Katrina. The damn levees broke. That city is gonna wash away,” she responded sympathetically and patted him on the back. Without even looking eyes, not like he was allowing her to see his face anyway, she could tell he was in infuriated. “Go have a cigarette. I’ll take it from here.”
Joe left immediately without another word.
Standing outside and off by himself, he pulled a cellphone from his pocket and dialed. He puffed on that cigarette dreading an answer on the other end.
Then it came.
“Tell me something good.”
Joe exhaled smoke from his lungs. It floated in the night air like a ghost. “She got away,” he grumbled regretfully, taking another drag.
The eerie silence that followed sent chills to the pit of his gut. He imagined the redness in Emilio’s face now and the way his eyes burned with anger. He’d pissed the man off before but he knew this time would be different. Make it quick, he’d said. Dump her body in the desert. And the best part? All debt would be forgiven. That statement chimed like an angel’s harp to Joe’s ears… but what if he
get rid of her? Would the amount he owed continue accruing interest? Or would he, too, become a target? That sonofabitch’ll have to find me first, Joe thought. He’d grown sick of Emilio’s threats and considered many times leaving the country and changing his identity too.
But, he’d thought better of it. He refused to live in fear. And why should he? Emilio was just a man himself. Although he practically owned people, he was not indestructible.
Besides, he needs me. He’s assured me himself: You’re going to be a real asset, Joey!
He hated that name. His name was Joseph Corman DeConey. Everyone called him ‘Joe’. Where’d Emilio and Nicoli get off calling him anything but? Joey is a child’s name! Did he think the $25,000 loan garnered a right of disrespect?
With newfound courage, he clapped the flip phone closed and slipped it back into his coat pocket.
He took one last final drag of the cigarette before flicking the butt to the rock bed. Fuck you, Emilio! And fuck William and Nicoli, too!
And that’s when his mind filled with thoughts of his dearest Hazel.
Like that cigarette, slowly losing its glow, so had she. Helplessly, he’d stood by while her health deteriorated. One surgery after another due to lung and heart failure, the final blow came when doctors notified him, without a transplant, her situation would be dire. Joe confided in Emilio about the news and asked for financial help. Without blinking an eye, Emilio loaned him the money but never once said there’d be accruing interest. What a bastard!
All of that hate dissipated the second the kill shot came -- A dark red spot in the center of his forehead.
A perfect stream of blood trailed between his eyes and dripped onto his coat.
His body fell dead where he’d stood.
The sun shone down on Emilio, its warmth lulling him into slumber. He lay with his hat covering his face as the waves lapped onto the beach and the winds riffled the leaves of the palm trees. On his private beach, where the only disturbance was the bickering of exotic birds and the sound of their wings thrashing about in the trees, he sensed that something … something … just wasn’t right. He hadn’t heard from Nicoli since he landed in Las Vegas. And that was unlike him. Emilio knew better than to call; it could be a trap. He’d just have to wait, but either way, Nicoli was on his own until he heard something different. Until then, he was going to enjoy the relaxation and calmness of the island. Oceans away from anywhere. Years away from a past that frightened him enough to change his identity. A place where he could pick up the pieces of his life since Marian was killed. A place of comfort. A place of peace.
A place to start living again.
He breathed a sigh at the aroma of honey and sweet cucumber and slowly, he was stirred by the crashing of the ocean waves and by hunger for a cold plate of sushi. He hadn’t eaten since that morning and lunch time had come and gone. Where was everyone? His maids, butlers…security guards? Was he dreaming? Then another thought wrenched him fully awake. It was the feeling that he wasn’t alone. For the first time since his surgery, the first time since Marian’s murder, it was so definite that when he removed his hat and opened his eyes he was not surprised at all to see automatic weapons staring back at him.
He was wearing cut off khakis and a sleeveless tee. His jet black hair danced in the wind, sparkling like iced coal in the late-afternoon sunlight. He didn’t utter a word; he simply laid there, his gaze slowly taking them in. Sizing them up like opponents.
Sudden warmth flooded his skin, a flush deeper and hotter than any the sun could ever produce.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were a ghost,” Special Agent Vic Adams said.
“You’d be a ghost, too, if you knew the world was looking for you. Even the FBI,” he glanced around, his gaze quickly surveying numerous federal agents swarming the property.
“Not such a good idea lying out in the open, wouldn’t you say?”
“True, but it’s my island. My country. What the fuck are you doing in it?” he grabbed a towel, sat up and wrapped it around his shoulders. The guns following his every move. “You can put those things away. I’m not going to fight you.”
Adams gave a silent nod and the men slowly lowered their weapons, but their eyes remained focused on him like wolves in the night.
“Guess your circle isn’t as tight as you’d hoped,” Adams said.
Emilio didn’t give him the satisfaction. He knew the man anticipated shock, belligerence and even a level of fear, but that’s the last thing he was going to get, yet Adams pushed every button and provoked him.
“Bachmaier. He led us right to you and now he’s on a plane to the Ukraine as we speak. Headed home to his family and his kids. ‘Told me all about your plastic surgery and your new and improved heroin or should I say Krokodil? “
Emilio laughed and said, “You fool! I have nothing to do with heroin!” he laughed raucously. “Krokodil is William’s baby! I told him he was crazy when he added the gasoline! And that’s why he’s in your country. You just let the monster out of its cage!” his laugh was shrill with anxiety. “He sent you on a wild goose chase while he’s running rampant … in Las Vegas.”
The look at Adams’ face was priceless. Pure shock.
Checkmate! Now who’s the bitch?
“William is one conniving sonofabitch, but to fool the FBI? You’ve gotta be one bad sonofabitch to con American authorities. Or the American authorities gotta be the pussies – “
Adams knocked him clean to the ground.
Blood spat from Emilio’s mouth and stained the powdery white sand as he attempted to regain his footing.
“You will call him now! If he lands in Las Vegas –“
Emilio looked up into his face, squinting. Adam’s head was backlit with blinding sunlight.
“Precious cargo there? You won’t make it, young man. Not in enough time to save the girl –“
A swift kick to his ribs sent Emilio rolling onto his side in agony.
Steaming with anger, Adams pointed his gun at Emilio’s head and said, “I ought’a blow your fucking brains all over this place and post pictures of your demise for the world to see. You sick sonofabitch!”
“You don’t have the guts to pull that trigger. You’re just a little bitch like your old man. Fuck you—“
But the bullet wasn’t for Emilio. Adams and the rest of the agents were under attack.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Adams enlisted in the army right after high school. He had a combat spirit and a distinctly warlike attitude, but no one in his detail expected a war that afternoon.
Three of the agents surrounding Emilio were ambushed. Adams informed with a rash of expletives about the unit being ambuscaded and with their automatic weapons, the men retaliated in a storm of gunfire.
Avengement across the veranda ceased and with his fist, Adams ordered an armistice.
The only sounds now were of the oceans waves lapping the beach and exotic birds flapping their wings in the trees.
All of a sudden, an army of men charged across the veranda, screaming expletives in Spanish and spraying gunfire from their own automatic weapons.
Adams caught a bullet to the head and fell hard. Brain matter splattered and inextricably mixed with Emilio’s blood in the sand.
FBI, DEA and ATF agents scrambled like horses, ducking and dodging the spray of bullets aimed at them now.
Emilio pushed himself to his feet and dashed quickly left, zigzagging on the powdery white beach toward Marian’s garden.
He winced as another bullet zinged past his head and ricocheted off the stone wall he was crouching behind.
A jingle of bells and several foreign expletives revealed the shooter’s location and the fact that he wasn’t American or Hispanic offering Emilio ample opportunity to dodge the shooter’s fury.
The gunmen were aiming at everyone, including the agents. Including Emilio. How long had he been there? Had he watched him as he slept? Had he … He? Was the pursuer even a man? He wondered now, questioning everything and everyone he’d had contact with in the last year. There weren’t many who knew his location. Had the officers been followed to this secret location? Had their operation been compromised? Or had William not only set him up to be imprisoned, but set him up to die?
With desperation and a sudden burst of agility, he darted through the garden and dove into an open door and into his ransacked home. What he found chilled him. Frightened him to the core. His maid’s throat was cut from ear to ear and her body sprawled across the back of the sofa and his butler’d taken a bullet between the eyes. Emilio’s colorful dinner of lobster and fruit splattered across the floor.
He heard footsteps approaching from behind and before he could pivot to look into his attacker’s eyes, he was being rushed out of the expansive home and out the front door to an awaiting black Cadillac Escalade to safety.
George Nielson. Connie Nguyen. Joe DeConey. Emilio Salchavez.
And now, Nicoli.
All murdered at the hands of William Bachmaier.
Dawn’s decision to take a drug dealer across state lines stirred the devil’s den and caused a domino effect of demise over a decade.
Was she next?
Of course she was.
Even though she’d killed him, she knew someone else would be out there to vindicate his death.
To preserve the cartel.
Curled in the backseat of the taxi, she glanced out into the darkness with teary eyes at the blank desert landscape of South Las Vegas. It looked much like the way she felt inside. Dismal and empty. She disregarded her swollen face and the sexual assault. She was in shock and shaken. She’d killed her attacker, avenged Nicoli’s death, fled the scene and knew it would only be a matter of time before investigators reviewed the surveillance tapes and discovered she’d been there. That she’d killed William Bachmaier.
But she would plead self-defense.
And the prosecution would use the past against her.
Lydia had no connections in Nevada. Dawn hadn’t spoken with her in at least seven years.
Nor would there be any one like Connie Nguyen and George Nielson advising her cooperation with the government.
She was doomed to repeat the past and she would deliver Nicoli’s baby in prison. She could just see Ruthie now, all smiles and begging to be the godmother.
Dolores was right after all.
Once you go to jail, you always go back
When the taxi pulled into the driveway, Dawn couldn’t unlock the door fast enough and as soon as she did, she slammed it shut behind her and slid to the linoleum.
Nicoli was gone.
Her spirit was crushed. She couldn’t walk up the stairs to her bedroom. To the shower. Not at that moment. She was riddled with heartache and pain. She cradled herself against the wall in the corner, weeping. Shaking. Crying not because she'd committed murder and would spend the rest of her life in prison, but because the man she loved with all her heart was dead.
She wondered now why she had pledged her love to Philip. She thought she knew love then, but realized it didn't compare to the love she had for Nicoli. And it mattered more than she realized. He'd gotten her pregnant intentionally. He knew her life was in danger and considered it as a definite way to take her away.
To own her. Control her like a mule.
She’d fallen in love with Nicoli. The million dollars he’d given to her to start a new life meant nothing and it wasn’t until she glanced at the twenty-pound bag hidden in the back of her closet that she even riffled through the stacks of hundred dollar bills. All crisp and new.
As she glanced at her wristwatch, she saw that it was ten minutes after 4 A.M. Housekeeping wouldn't find William’s body until nine, giving her a good five hours to pack, collect the kids from Philip and board the next plane to Louisiana … No, she wasn’t going back to Louisiana.
She’d always dreamed of visiting to Canada -- Montreal’s annual jazz festival, Niagara Falls, the beauty of Mount Columbia! No one would ever think of searching for her there. The kids would love the snowcapped mountains …
Nor would anyone consider searching Japan. Even Australia sounded great.
Her mind reeled over the possibilities. The world was full of hiding spots in all sorts of exotic places. And a million dollars could go quite a long way. She spent the next forty-five minutes packing what she could fit in a suitcase and perused pictures of her family and the kids' baby pictures. She also ran across old pictures of her and Philip dating back fifteen years and stared at the photos with newfound intensity. Such a nice looking couple. They complimented one another like Romeo and Juliet however, she wished Nicoli stood there instead although she would never regret the children she had with Philip.
She tossed the pictures in a Wal-Mart bag along with decade-old love letters from him -- all things she planned to keep.
Grief stricken, she sauntered about the upstairs, room to room, tossing the kids' clothes on top of hers, grabbing all of the clean clothes she could get her hands on and shoved them into the suitcase as well. And that’s when she saw the note from Nicoli poking out from an interior side pocket of the money bag. ‘For my unborn child growing in your womb,’ the letter began.
She immediately tore it to shreds. Couldn’t bear to hear his whisper in her thoughts, smell his scent emanating from the paper from which he had written, feel him all around her. He was there. She could feel it. And the very thought of it frightened her.
Something metallic glistened in the meager lighting. Enough to capture her attention. Paper money doesn’t shine.
She opened the bag wide and saw, tucked between the deep stack of hundreds, the emerald and diamond platinum bracelet Nicoli’d thrown onto the lounge cushions at the restaurant. She pictured him throwing it now, then wrapped it around her wrist, it was the only piece of jewelry she wore or planned to wear for a long time.
Minutes after five A.M., Dawn picked up the receiver on the night stand and dialed.
Sylvia answered on the second ring, her voice only a whisper, “Hello.”
“Momma … I wanna come home.”