By Lyn Townsend
Written for PetFly by John Vorhaus
Rated PG -13
~~~~ACT I ~~~~Blair Sandburg ushered the distraught young woman into the loft and steered her over to sit at the dining room table. He sat down beside her and took her hand, watching as his partner, Jim Ellison, walked past them to pick up the phone and call his captain. The detective hung up after reporting to Simon and perched on the edge of the table, studying the young woman seated next to him.
Maya Carasco looked up and nodded, acknowledging his presence, then pressed a handkerchief to the split on her lip.
Ellison’s stomach did cartwheels thinking about her. The last time he and Blair had seen the pretty Chilean student was several months ago. At that time, her father, Hector Carasco, had been arrested for gun smuggling and murder. Jim had given Blair his first undercover assignment back then. He had asked him to get close to Maya and find out more about her father. That had almost gotten Blair killed. And then Maya had broken the young man’s heart. Blair had fallen head over heels in love with the young woman. But after the arrest of her father, she had returned to South America, angry with Blair for his subterfuge.
Now she was back. The two men had been returning from a retirement party when two men had attacked a woman in the street. The attackers had run at Jim’s shout identifying him as a police officer, escaping in a white van that careened up the street at breakneck speed.
While Jim tried in vain to focus his sentinel sight on the tags of the wildly swerving vehicle, Blair ran to help the victim. He had recoiled in shock as the woman pulled herself up and looked at him.
Jim watched as Blair solicitously poured tea, telling Maya how some obscure South American tribe used it for its healing properties, then laughed shyly as he remembered Maya’s Chilean heritage.
Jim cleared his throat, reminding the two that he was there. "Maya, are you sure you’ve never seen those guys before?"
Maya shook her head vehemently. "No, never," she said, looking at him steadily.
"And you haven’t a clue as to what they may have wanted? I don’t mean to scare you," he said, looking at Blair now. "But unless you say otherwise, I have no reason to believe those guys won’t come back. So, why don’t we start at the beginning?"
Maya glared at him, her pale features hard and challenging. "In the beginning, you arrested my father and put him in jail."
"You know why that happened," Jim answered.
"Yes, I know," Maya agreed, fiddling with the teacup. "For gun smuggling and murder, hmm? Well, after that I went back to Chile to start my life over and forget I was Hector Carasco’s daughter." She laughed softly and looked over at Blair. "As if they would let me."
Blair reached out and grasped her hand. "Who?"
Maya sighed and squeezed his fingers. "The cartel in Santiago. The one my father worked for. A few days ago, I was told they were going to try to kidnap me. I tried to contact my Uncle Gustavo. He’s the only one I really trust, but I couldn’t find him. I was told he is out of the country. So I came here." She turned now and raised tear-filled eyes to Jim. "I thought if I ran far enough, they wouldn’t find me."
Blair squeezed her hand again, bringing her attention back to him. "Well, you’ll be safe here." He looked over at his partner. "Right, Jim?"
Jim nodded slowly, not liking the heavy feeling that was settling in the pit of his stomach. "Yeah," he agreed, nodding. It was all he could manage right now.
"You can stay in my bed," Blair offered helpfully. "Alone," he added as Jim glared at him.
Maya giggled, then insisted on taking the couch. Jim went through the motions of getting everyone organized for the night, his nerves on edge, his entire body tense.
Blair tiptoed quietly out of his room and headed toward the coffee table. He’d had no luck sleeping and decided to try to work for awhile. Anything to take his mind off the questions crowding his mind. Realizing he’d left a tape he needed in the living room, he made his way across the room, relying on the weak moonlight coming in through the balcony doors to light his way. He found the cassette quickly and turned back toward his bedroom, his gaze drawn unerringly to the young woman sleeping on the couch. He looked at her for a long moment, finding it hard to believe that the only woman he had ever felt a deep and abiding love for was back in his life.
He’d been aware of Jim’s reticence around Maya earlier that evening. Although he was somewhat puzzled by it, he felt warmed by his partner’s protective instincts. He was saddened that Maya had not come to him when she arrived in the U.S. It was obvious she still harbored resentment toward him for his part in her father’s downfall. Blair took one more look at the sleeping woman and began to pad back to his room.
"Am I that interesting?" Maya’s voice came softly out of the darkness. Blair paused at the bedroom door, then turned around.
"You always were," he answered.
"What are you thinking," she asked, pulling herself upright on the couch.
Blair moved over and perched on the arm of the couch. "Well," he began slowly. "I was just wondering if you still hate me?"
"For what?" Maya asked, sounding genuinely puzzled.
"For lying to you, using you to get information on your father."
"I don’t hate you, Blair," Maya answered, placing a warm hand on Blair’s leg. "It’s my father I hate. All my life, I thought he was the greatest man who ever lived and then I found out that he was a gangster, a killer. There were things happening that I couldn’t explain, suspicious things, but he always had a plausible reason for them. I feel dirty, like there’s a stain on me that I can’t get off."
"Maya, that was your father. You didn’t do those things," Blair said.
"No, but it’s my family." Maya stood, pulling the blanket from the couch with her and wrapping it about her body. "You’re not Chilean. You wouldn’t understand." She walked over to the balcony doors and stood, looking out at the night.
Blair moved over to join her. "I want to understand," he answered. "I want to help you."
Maya turned to him, her face closed. "I remember what we had before, Blair, but right now I don’t know how I feel about anything. I need to work things out for myself. I’m sorry."
Blair hesitated a moment then walked back to his bedroom. "There’s nothing to be sorry for," he said. "It’s okay. Good night."
Jim Ellison escorted Maya into the dining room of the safe house, trying to evade Blair’s angry glare. The kid was still pissed that both he and Simon had pulled rank over him staying at the safe house with Maya. Blair had nodded patiently at the standard ‘you’re not a cop’ remark, then exploded with anger at Jim’s observation that his personal involvement precluded him having anything to do with the case.
"Why does that never stop you," he’d shouted, his stance aggressive.
Jim had fobbed his question off with a vague comment. "This is not about me."
Blair had continued to bluster, bemoaning the different set of rules for him and Jim, not wanting to listen to Jim’s plausible explanations that, as a cop, the rules had to be different. Simon, finally, had lost his temper with the two of them and ordered Sandburg from his office.
Jim shivered slightly as he deflected another glacial Sandburg stare and introduced Maya to the police officers assigned to protect her. He stepped over to the front door to allow Blair to say goodbye, his uneasiness at the situation forcing him to hover within Blair’s sight. He watched as Maya took Blair’s hands and thanked him for his help. He noted Blair’s reluctance to let go of the beautiful young woman and felt his nervousness increase another notch.
Jim waited out front for Blair to exit the house and then kept pace with his partner’s agitated, choppy steps toward the truck.
"Don’t say it, all right, Jim?" Blair growled.
Jim grinned and continued toward the parked vehicle. "All I was going to say was I could use some breakfast."
Blair looked over at his partner as they strolled down the street. His anger had dissipated somewhat, but he still felt upset and worried about leaving Maya.
"Only you could have Chinese for breakfast," he groused.
Jim shrugged. "Fried eggs, poached eggs, egg foo yong. What’s the difference?" He broke off more fortune cookie and pulled the tiny slip of paper from within.
"I know what you’re thinking," Blair continued, getting back to the matter at hand. "She’s got me using my heart and not my head, right?"
"Actually, I’m thinking what’s it mean when your fortune is blank?" Jim frowned and showed Blair the paper.
Blair ignored him and went on, not noticing the two men who suddenly flanked them. "Whatever feelings I had for Maya in the past are just that."
"Uh-huh," Jim said non-committally.
Blair took up the challenge. "You don’t believe me?"
Jim reached over and squeezed his friend’s shoulder. "I don’t think you believe you," he answered.
Blair sighed. "Maybe I’ve got some feelings left for her…"
He broke off suddenly and looked at Jim.
"I’ve got the feeling I’ve got a gun in my side." Jim began to slowly raise his hands and motioned for Blair to do the same.
The man at Blair’s side pushed his weapon painfully into Blair’s ribs. "You’re going to come with us," he ordered in heavily accented English. "Get in the car."
Blair struggled in the grip of the gunman, in spite of Jim’s glare that clearly said ‘Behave.’
They were pushed into a darkened warehouse, and both men looked around studying their surroundings. Much of the building was in darkness, but it looked to be a small foundry.
"Que tenemos acqui?"
The partners looked up at the voice and watched an older mustachioed man approach. One of the gunmen held out Jim’s wallet. The man took it and flipped it open.
He studied Jim with disdain. "So, you’re a policeman? Bought and paid for, no doubt."
Jim opened his mouth to protest, but the stranger continued, "Whatever they paid you, I’ll double it. Just tell me where Maya Carasco is." He threw the wallet back at Jim.
"Who?" Jim asked.
The man shook his head. "You damn, stubborn Americans. Everything is a pissing contest."
Blair watched as he picked up a piece of crafted metal from the table behind him and brought it over to them. "Beautiful, isn’t it? Made by my cousin. A true craftsman. Even something as hard as iron will bend like clay, when fire is applied."
He patted Blair roughly on the chest. "Take that one," he ordered.
Blair struggled in the grip of the two men as he was hauled bodily over to a second table. A large strong hand grasped his wrist and forced his arm forward to rest on the table. Blair pushed back, feeling the tension pull at his shoulder muscles. He watched in mute horror as another man picked up a blowtorch and lit it.
"I’ll ask again, señor. Where is Maya Carasco?"
Blair watched Jim’s jaw twitch madly and begged him silently not to tell.
Jim spoke quietly, calmly. "Touch him, and you’re a dead man."
The old man shrugged. "Of course. Talk, señor. You’re friend is getting warm."
Blair fought against his captor, the heat from the blowtorch causing sweat to dribble into his eyes, making them sting.
"Jim! Don’t do it," he warned, despite the warmth on his hand now becoming unbearably hot. "Don’t say a thing."
He tried to stifle a moan of pain as the heat began to bite at his palm. Suddenly Jim launched himself at the man next to him. Blair watched on in fear, his own pain forgotten as his partner struggled for the henchman’s gun. Suddenly, the detective stopped fighting and stood completely still as the man in charge pulled a weapon from his pocket and pushed it into Jim’s back.
"Uh-uh." He jabbed again with the gun until Jim raised his hands.
The other man took a couple of steps back and raised his weapon. "Do you want me to kill him now, Señor Gustavo?"
"Gustavo? Uncle Gustavo?" Blair squeaked from his uncomfortable position. He was sure his hand had begun to blister, and he didn’t think he could take much more. The man looked over at him.
"Only one person calls me Uncle Gustavo," he said slowly.
"You’re Uncle Gustavo. The one Maya says she trusts."
Gustavo waved a hand at his men. "Let them go."
Blair relaxed as he felt the pressure released from his wrist and stood, rubbing at the red marks left there. He moved quickly back to Jim’s side, cradling his stinging hand, and glared at Gustavo.
Jim leaned over and took his hand gently, wincing in sympathy at Blair’s hiss of pain. "You okay, Sandburg?"
Blair nodded, not arguing with Jim’s blessed protector instincts. "It’s fine, Jim. Just like a bad sunburn."
Jim nodded and released his hand then before giving Gustavo his own glare. The older man did not seem to notice the unspoken threat in Jim’s look.
"So, you have seen her?"
"Seen her? Yeah, we’re protecting her," Blair answered.
"Why didn’t you just tell me?"
"I don’t feel very comfortable talking with a gun in my side," Jim said, his features still stern.
Gustavo laughed and held out a hand. "Forgive me. I am Gustavo Alcante."
"I should bust you for attempted murder, Gustavo," Jim said, ignoring the proffered hand.
"By all means, Detective, bust me," Gustavo agreed. "But first, take me to see Maya."
Blair could see that Alcante’s charm was doing nothing but further provoking Jim’s ire so he stepped into the fray. "She did say she wanted to see him," he said softly.
"I’m not going to compromise her safety," Jim replied firmly.
Gustavo looked heavenward and smacked his forehead theatrically. "Ay, dios mio," he groaned.
He pulled a large colored handkerchief from his breast pocket and held it out to Jim. "Then blindfold me, all right?" he suggested. "My men will stay here. Come on."
He turned to his men and spoke to them in rapid Spanish as Jim reluctantly took the cloth. Blair listened carefully to the conversation then nodded to Jim that Gustavo was telling the truth. Gustavo turned and waited for Jim to tie the blindfold. With Blair holding one arm and Jim the other, the three men left the warehouse.
~~~~~~~~Jim steered Gustavo’s Jaguar through the streets of Cascade. The older man sat blindfolded beside him. Blair took up the rear.
"It’s a nice car you have, Señor Alcante."
Gustavo smiled and turned his head in Jim’s direction. "You like my Jaguar? I have a friend who can sell you one cheap."
Jim shook his head. "No, thank you. I don’t think driving a hot car would be good for my image."
In the back seat, Blair snorted. Seeing Jim’s eyes on him in the rear vision mirror, he changed the subject. "Exactly what do you do back in Chile?"
"I’m retired," Gustavo replied.
"From what?" Jim chipped in, hoping to get a handle on the man.
"From what I did before," Gustavo answered doggedly.
"Well, that clarifies things," Jim offered.
Blair leaned over the front seat. "So, Maya. She must be pretty special to you, huh?"
Gustavo shook his head. "Maya is my late wife’s niece. We haven’t seen each other for the last couple of years, but we are close. There. Are you satisfied? You Americans," he blustered. "You think everything is a talk show."
Blair shrugged his shoulders at Jim and sat back until the detective pulled the car up outside the safe house. Getting out quickly, he hurried to help Gustavo out and guide him to the front door. Jim took one look at the front door, seeing the scratches visible near the lock, the door slightly ajar, and motioned the others back. "We got trouble."
Jim held his weapon up at the ready as he slowly entered the house. He pulled the blindfold from Gustavo’s eyes and told both men to wait outside, knowing that Blair would be right behind him. They walked into a scene from hell.
The two police officers lay dead on the floor. Jim extended his hearing, already knowing what his senses confirmed. Apart from the bodies lying on the floor, the house was empty.
"Oh my God. Maya!"
Blair took off in a fruitless search through the rooms then returned to find Gustavo gazing sadly at the bodies.
"I know who did it," he said softly. "The bullet holes through the hands are his signature. His name is Francisco Rivero. He’s a warlord who used to work for Hector Carasco. If he has Maya, it’s only a matter of time before he kills her."~~~~ACT II~~~~Jim and Simon watched as Blair paced agitatedly up and down along the sidewalk outside the safe house, chewing frantically on one fingernail. He stopped as Simon’s cell phone rang and the captain answered it, his dark eyes widening in surprise before he held the phone out to Blair. "It’s a woman and she’s asking for you."
Blair’s face grew pale as he answered the call. It was Maya, sounding frightened, saying she couldn’t tell him where she was. Jim got onto his own phone, requesting a trace, but it had been too fast. Her voice was abruptly cut off and a male took over, demanding Hector Carasco’s access codes in return for Maya’s life. Blair protested, not understanding what the caller meant. He desperately tried to keep him talking, hearing Maya’s soft sobbing in the background before the man told her sharply to shut up.
Simon looked at Blair as he closed the phone and handed it back. "What did they say?"
Blair’s eyes were focused somewhere in the distance, his concentration elsewhere.
Blair shook himself and looked at the three men. "They’re holding her for ransom."
"All right," Simon said, looking more in control now that they knew what they were dealing with.
Blair shook his head. "They don’t want money. They want numbers."
"Numbers?" Jim asked, looking puzzled.
"Hector Carasco’s bank account numbers." Blair answered. "Access codes."
Gustavo nodded his head, finally understanding. "So that’s what they were after. Hector keeps his money in Swiss bank accounts."
Blair looked worried. "We’re supposed to meet him at Granite Beach by noon with the codes."
"Oh no, no, no," Gustavo protested. "That’s impossible. Only Hector knows what the passwords are."
Blair glared at him. "Well, if we don’t get them, she dies!"
Blair sat at the desk in Simon’s office, his head supported in his hands. The whole situation was rapidly going from bad to worse. Hector Carasco was serving his time at Chinook Federal Prison, and Simon had just learned that a million-dollar contract had been put on Carasco’s life. The Feds had closed ranks on the mobster and were allowing no one near him.
"I know the account numbers," Gustavo said. "Those will not have changed. But without Hector’s access codes, they will be useless."
"Maybe we could fake them," Jim suggested, perching himself on the corner of Simon’s desk.
Blair shook his head. "Nah, they’ll check them out the first chance they get."
Gustavo looked up, a smile beginning to form on his face. "They can’t do that until the Swiss banks open in the morning."
"That’s not until after 1a.m. in Cascade," Simon said.
Jim nodded his agreement. "That at least buys us a little time."
"These guys are smart," Blair reminded them. "These codes will have to look believable."
Gustavo waved a dismissing hand. "Usually one chooses words that have special meaning. Things that are easy to remember. I grew up with Hector. I should be able to come up with something."
"Good," Simon said, sitting down behind his desk. "You give the list to Detective Ellison, and he’ll give the list to the kidnappers."
"No, no," Gustavo disagreed vehemently. "I must go with him."
"Out of the question," Simon said firmly. "This is police business."
"The same police business that put Maya in a safe house?" Gustavo asked sarcastically. "I will go with him."
Simon looked questioningly at Jim who shrugged
Jim strolled slowly along the beach, keeping a comfortable pace for Gustavo. Ahead he could see Blair still seated on a bench, unmoving. Sighing, Jim looked over at the old man.
"I’m curious, Gustavo," Jim began. "How is it that you know Rivero?"
Gustavo continued to stare straight ahead. "Our paths have crossed over the years," he answered.
"In the cartel?"
Jim continued to push. There was more to Gustavo than met the eye; and the detective felt decidedly uncomfortable having to trust a mobster, retired or not.
"What was your job in the cartel?"
"I moved money around."
"Oh, a little money laundering, huh?"
Gustavo stopped walking and snorted. "What do you want from me? My resume? I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of."
He started walking back toward Blair, and after a moment’s hesitation, Jim followed. "Five years ago, I made a promise to my wife," Gustavo continued. "She was dying. I swore to her that I would leave my old life behind. I did, but it hasn’t been easy." He sighed, suddenly looking tired. "Old habits die hard."
"So you’re a new man now?" Jim said, sarcasm edging his voice.
Gustavo shrugged. "Just a tired, old one. You don’t believe me?"
"I’ve met a lot of criminals who’ve said they’ve been reformed, but very few have actually stuck to the program."
Gustavo opened his mouth to answer. Before he could speak, Blair stood up from the bench, his eyes on a black sedan that had just turned into the parking bay. "This must be them," he called.
The three men watched as car doors opened and several men exited. Jim winced a little at the loud Latin music blaring from the car’s stereo system. He waited as the three men approached. A young dark-haired man looked them over carefully. "Which one is Sandburg?" he asked.
"That’s Rivero," Gustavo whispered.
Blair raised his hand. Jim tensed as Rivero strolled over to the observer and raked his eyes over him.
"You don’t look like much," he snorted.
Blair frowned but before he could utter a retort, Rivero moved again to stand in front of Gustavo. "Where did you dig up this old crook?"
"I’m warning you, Francisco," Gustavo bristled.
"Don’t worry," Rivero continued. "Nothing will happen to Maya as long as I get the codes."
Jim pulled the paper from his pocket in reply and held it out to Rivero.
"All right." Blair finally spoke up. "Now, let her go."
Rivero shook his head. "Not until I know these are good. I’ll…keep in touch, as they say."
The three men watched as Rivero and his henchmen walked back to their car. As soon as the doors slammed shut, the sedan accelerated back onto the road.
Jim began to trot toward his car. "All right. Come on. Let’s go."
Jim took off at high speed out of the parking lot. Reaching the crest of the hill, he slowed the Expedition to a halt.
Gustavo looked at him. "What are you doing?"
"Shh," Jim silenced him with an upraised hand. He cocked his head and extended his hearing, sorting and discarding sounds until he found the one he sought. There it was; the music that had come from Rivero’s car speakers. Nodding to himself, Jim turned the car in the direction of the sound.
"This is stupid," Gustavo groused. "When Francisco sees you, he’ll snuff Maya like a candle."
Jim shook his head, concentrating on following Rivero’s car. "He won’t see us," he said.
"If he does, I’m holding you responsible."
Jim’s jaw clenched. "Will you just please be quiet?"
He chanced a look into the rear-vision mirror at Blair. The observer sat draped over the back of Gustavo’s seat. His gaze was fixed through the car’s windshield, his features pale and troubled.
Jim’s attention was pulled back to the road ahead as several police cars screamed by, their sirens blaring. Jim shook his head to dispel the noise and dialed his hearing down before extending it once more, running through the same practiced motions as he sought the music again. Distantly, he was aware of Blair’s hand, warm on his shoulder, grounding him. He relaxed a little as he found what he was searching for.
"This way," he said, turning the car to the left.
He brought the car to a halt in the alleyway. Rivero’s car was just ahead, its doors open, the interior abandoned.
"They must have had another car waiting," Blair said, despair coloring his voice.
"Of course they did," Gustavo answered in disgust. "Did you think that you would catch him that easily?"
Francisco Rivera walked into the large stateroom of the yacht and handed the list of codes to his second-in-command. "Pascal, load these into the launch program," he ordered. "I want them ready to send the instant the banks open"
"Si, señor," Pascal nodded to his boss and left the room.
Rivera’s cold eyes alighted on Maya lying on a couch, reading. He approached her and held a hand out. Maya smiled at him and stood, pressing her lips to his.
Pulling back, Francisco spoke. "We got the codes."
"That’s wonderful," Maya said, but her smile did not reach her eyes.
"You don’t look very happy," Francisco replied, stroking her shoulders.
Maya sighed and turned away from him. "I don’t like lying to my friends. I don’t like to use them."
"That was the only way," Francisco said. "You know that." He turned her back to face him. "Unless you still have feelings for him?"
Maya shook her head vehemently. "No, that’s not it."
"Are you sure?" Rivero pressed, watching her closely.
"Yes," Maya moved out of his grasp and flopped back down on the couch.
"Te quiero mucho, Maya."
"Yo tambien."~~~~ACT III~~~~Jim sighed and watched Gustavo stalk off down the alley, muttering darkly to himself in Spanish. He had already argued hotly with Jim that wasting time looking for fingerprints on the car was not going to help them find Maya. Jim understood the old man’s concerns. He, too, worried that Francisco would realize the codes were fakes and kill the girl before they could discover where he was holding her. He shook his head and looked over at Blair.
"He should try and find himself a longer fuse before he blows a gasket."
Blair nodded, then looked up as Simon drove up and got out of his car, striding over quickly to join them.
"Jim. Where’s Gustavo?" Simon asked.
Jim indicated the far end of the alleyway. "He’s cooling off down there somewhere," he answered. "What’s up?"
Simon held a sheet of paper out to the detective. "This just came in over the wire," he answered. "Check it out. We had Interpol do a search on Francisco Rivera. He’s connected to Carasco’s cartel. Very well connected as it turns out."
Blair leaned in to squint at the paper, then gave up and looked at Simon. "What are you talking about?"
Simon continued to look at Jim. "Check out his full name."
Jim read the paper again. "Francisco Rivero Alcante." He stopped suddenly and looked at Blair. "Alcante?"
Simon nodded. "He’s Gustavo’s son."
"No way," Blair breathed.
Jim shook his head. "Son of a …"
Simon cut in before he could complete the epithet. "Let’s bring him in."
"I don’t see him," Blair said.
Jim focused his sight on the far end of the alley. "He’s gone," he said.
"I’m telling you, Simon. They’re in it together," Jim said as he and the captain walked into the bullpen.
Simon shook his head, looking puzzled. "The whole thing makes no sense," he replied. "Why would Gustavo kidnap his own niece and then give fake access codes to his son?"
"To force us to come up with the real codes," Jim answered. "We’re talking millions of dollars here, sir."
Simon sighed. "The whole thing sounds pretty convoluted to me. Until we know what’s going on, let’s keep digging."
"Dig where?" Jim asked. He was tired and pissed off with the whole situation. He looked up as Blair approached them. "Gustavo’s vanished. Francisco could be anywhere. I mean, we’re at a total dead end here."
"Uh-uh," said Blair, shaking his head. "When you agreed to take him to the safe house, I heard him say something to his men in Spanish about meeting at the Andes Café."
"I’ve never heard of it," Jim replied.
"It’s a Chilean club on Alvarez Street," Simon answered.
Blair nodded. "Right. That’s the one. I’ll bet anything he’s down there right now. Having a cold one and waiting for his pals."
Jim clapped his partner on the shoulder. "All right. It’s worth a shot. Let’s go."
"Hey! Try not to lose him this time," Simon called, only a hint of a smile playing on his face.
Jim turned back to him, his own features grim. "You don’t have to worry about that."
Jim and Blair entered the café and watched as Gustavo accepted a drink from the waitress before turning toward them.
"Well, if it isn’t my two American friends," the old man smirked.
"We need to talk," Jim said.
Gustavo indicated the pretty waitress. "As you can see," he answered. "I’m already involved in a conversation."
Jim smiled without humor. "It’s too bad you have to cut it short ’cause you’re under arrest."
"Aiding and abetting a felon."
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Gustavo answered.
"Oh really? When were you going to tell us about Francisco being your son?"
"Oh…that," Gustavo said softly.
Gustavo sighed and passed a hand over his face. "All right. Francisco is my son but in name only. He’s an animal. May he rot in Hell. And if he hurts Maya, I’ll send him there myself."
After the deceit and lies already perpetrated by Gustavo, Jim wasn’t about to buy the man’s testimony just yet. "Okay, tough guy," Jim answered. "Let’s talk about it downtown, okay?"
The detective took the old man by the arm and led him out of the café. Blair followed behind. Just outside the exit door of the café, Gustavo stopped and turned to face Jim and Blair. "Look, before you take me to jail, there’s something I should tell you."
Jim glanced at Blair, who shrugged. "I’m listening."
Gustavo indicated the interior of the café. "That young woman in there? She was a friend of Maya’s from school back in Chile. She says this last semester at the university, Maya had a boyfriend."
"His name was Francisco Rivero Alcante."
Blair shook his head and interrupted before Jim could speak. "No way. That’d be her first cousin."
Gustavo looked at him. "No, not by blood," he answered. "Francisco is the son of my first wife."
"Well, why didn’t you warn her about your son?" Blair demanded angrily. He knew suddenly where Gustavo was leading the conversation, and it filled him with dread.
Gustavo spoke quietly. "As I told you, Maya and I have not seen one another for a while. After her father went to prison, she was obsessed with guilt. She used to say she wanted to give all his money to the people of Chile to make up for the crimes that he had committed." He paused a moment, then continued. "I think it’s possible that Francisco and Maya hatched this kidnapping plan together."
Blair backed away from Gustavo and Jim, both hands raised defensively, as though warding off the words. "No way! That’s crazy. No, no."
Gustavo pushed on. "Francisco wanted Hector Carasco’s money to strengthen his position in the cartel, and Maya is very vulnerable. He probably told her he would give the money to a good cause."
Blair shook his head. "She wouldn’t fall for that." He turned pleading eyes on Jim, the color draining from his face. "No."
When neither of the men answered him, he motioned over his shoulder. "I’m going to…" He broke off and walked away, taking slow, deep breaths to ward off the chill that engulfed him.
Jim watched Blair leave, the young man’s shoulders slumped in defeat. His partner’s body language told the detective that, despite his protestations to the contrary, Blair could see that Gustavo was telling the truth. He felt sad for Blair. One moment, the young man was buoyed by Maya’s reappearance in his life. The next, his hopes for any future with her were dashed by her apparent betrayal.
Jim wondered if he and Blair were innocent pawns in Maya’s revenge against her father, or if her festering hate encompassed those who had sent him to prison. Gustavo’s voice brought him back to the matter at hand.
"I know Francisco," the old man said. "Once he gets what he wants, he’ll have no more use for Maya; and he’ll kill her."
"That’s quite a charming son you have there," Jim responded dryly.
"When I walked away from the criminal life, he felt I had betrayed him."
"He picked up where you left off with a vengeance," Jim answered.
Gustavo squared his jaw. "In my day, we had a code," he said defensively. "Violence was for a reason." His voice softened. "With Francisco, I think, violence is to release his rage. He knows that I love Maya like a daughter. He will destroy her to get at me."
Something familiar was tickling at the edge of Jim’s hearing, and he extended his senses to capture it fully.
"Quiet," he ordered Gustavo, holding up a hand. Tilting his head slightly, he pushed his hearing out, cataloguing and discarding the sounds as he went. He could hear Blair’s heartbeat hammering deafeningly, then music, vaguely familiar.
<Where’s the other cop? Where is Gustavo Alcante?>
Jim turned back to Gustavo. "You wait here."
He took off running toward the voice and his partner. He slowed as he reached the corner of the road and withdrew his weapon from its holster. Moving quietly, he rounded the corner and raised the gun, steadying it with his left hand. His mouth went dry at the scene in front of him.
Blair stood, backed against a post with both hands raised in the air. Two large men flanked him, each holding a wrist tightly. Francisco Rivero stood in front, a gun shoved into Blair’s pale face.
Jim spoke quietly, but the threat was evident in his tone. "Let him go."
Francisco spared him a glance then looked back at Blair, a feral grin curling his lips. "How good a shot are you?" he asked. "Good enough to drop me before I blow your friend away?"
Jim forced himself to concentrate solely on Rivero, resolutely ignoring Blair’s obvious look of implicit trust in the sentinel. It was harder to ignore the fear he knew the younger man was feeling.
"Give it up, Rivero," Jim continued. "We know about you and Maya."
Francisco snorted derisively. "Really? Then it’s lucky we have another hostage."
He barked an order in Spanish to his henchmen, and Jim felt his stomach lurch as he realized the implications of the gangster’s words.
Jim could only watch as Rivero’s men roughly pulled Blair’s arms behind his back and dragged him to the waiting car. Alcante stepped into Jim’s path and brought his gun up to aim at the detective’s chest as the detective took an involuntary step toward his partner. Realizing that he was of no help to Blair if Francisco shot him now, Jim lowered his gun. Rivero backed toward the car, grinning triumphantly.
"Call me when you have the real codes. And make it within four hours or don’t bother calling at all," Rivero ordered as he climbed into the car.
Jim watched as Blair struggled to turn in the back seat, his white face watching him through the rear window as the vehicle accelerated away.
"Hang in there, Chief," Jim whispered. "Hang in there."
Blair allowed himself to be roughly pulled around to face the front of the car. He glared angrily at Francisco. "You’ve just bought yourself a heap of trouble, man."
His head snapped to the side as Rivero backhanded him. He shook off the grip holding him and struggled to sit upright, grimacing as he licked his lips and tasted the copper tang of blood.
Rivero looked at him, distaste obvious on his face. "What did Maya ever see in you?" The gangster turned in his seat and stared out the front window. "Let’s see if you’re so cocky in four hours, if your friend doesn’t come up with the codes."~~~~ACT IV~~~~Simon Banks watched as Jim paced the confines of his office, his features tense and worried. Gustavo stood on the opposite side of his desk, his hands resting on its surface as he leaned forward to press home his point.
"Now two people may die," Alcante said angrily. "Maya and your Mr. Sandburg. Our only hope is to get the real codes."
Simon sighed and sank into his chair. "Which we can’t do."
"Maybe we can’t, but Juan-Carlos Duarte can."
Simon was puzzled. "Who?"
Jim stopped his pacing and looked at Gustavo, his brow furrowing. "Juan-Carlos Duarte, sir. He’s the chief administrator for the Department of Prisons in Chile."
"In other words, me," Gustavo broke in, thumping his chest with one fist. "And my police liaison, of course," he continued, indicating Jim.
Simon stood again and patted his pocket in vain, looking for a cigar. "Have you lost your mind?" he asked Alcante slowly.
"If we can get to Hector, he will give us the codes for Maya’s sake," Gustavo replied equally as patiently.
"I know this all sounds crazy, sir," Jim said, beginning to look hopeful. "But we’re running out of time."
Simon shook his head. "Forget it. Carasco is being held in a private security wing of the prison. Even if you scam your way inside, how will you get the codes?"
"We’ll improvise," Gustavo said confidently.
Jim nodded in agreement. "Improvise."
Simon rubbed at the bridge of his nose, trying to will away the headache beginning to grow there. He smiled mirthlessly at Gustavo. "Could you step outside, please? Not you!" he growled at Jim, stopping the detective in his tracks.
Gustavo shrugged and walked out of the office, giving both men a final smile. Simon forced himself to return the gesture then closed the door. Quietly.
Turning back to Jim, he spoke softly. "The guy is craftier than a fox. How can we trust him?"
"I don’t know that we can fully trust him, sir. But this may be our only chance of getting those two out of this alive." Jim impatiently waited while Simon frowned at thought. When Simon finally nodded, Jim quickly opened the door. "Thank you, sir."
Blair attempted once more to loosen the ropes binding his wrists to the post behind him, trying to ignore the burning sensation as it rubbed his skin raw. Francisco had not bothered to blindfold him before bringing him to a large yacht at the marina. It didn’t reassure him that the gangster planned on letting him go whether he had the codes or not. If he could get the ropes off, he hoped to find some way to contact Jim or escape, preferably with Maya in hand.
He still found it difficult to believe that Maya could be involved in this scam. If she were doing this in order to take revenge on her father, surely she wouldn’t have condoned the murders of the police officers at the safe house. She might be an angry young woman, but Blair knew she was not a murderer.
He considered where he fit into her plans. Francisco’s idea was obvious. Blair wondered if Maya had lured him into this from the beginning, in order to exact revenge on him for her father’s imprisonment.
No. He refused to believe that. Maya had loved him once. Even as she told him how she hated him for her father’s downfall, he had seen the truth in her eyes. He stopped his struggle against the bindings as he heard approaching footsteps. Then his eyes widened in disbelief as he was given the proof his heart would not believe.
She came into the engine room carrying a tumbler of liquid and set it down on the bench. Not looking up, she spoke, "I brought you some water."
"I don’t want any water," Blair answered. He spoke quickly, mentally willing her to listen to him. "Look, I don’t know what’s going on between you and Francisco…"
Finally she looked up. "Look, everything’s going to be all right," she broke in "As soon as Francisco gets the codes, he’ll let you go."
Blair shook his head sadly. "No, he won’t. He’s going to kill me, Maya. Your uncle thinks he’ll kill you too."
"He’s wrong," Maya answered angrily. "You both are. Francisco wouldn’t hurt anybody."
Blair was incredulous. "He wouldn’t hurt anybody. What about the cops at the safe house?"
"He killed them."
"Yes, Maya. I saw the bodies."
"Blair, why are you telling me lies?" Maya backed away from him, anger flashing in her dark eyes.
"I’m not lying to you this time." He lowered his voice, trying desperately to stay calm. "I’m trying to save your life. Now, untie me; and let’s get out of here."
"Do you forget, Blair, that I was at the safe house? The policemen were held at gunpoint and tied up while Francisco got me out of the house," Maya said, her dark eyes flashing with anger.
"Did Francisco come back to the yacht with you? Or did he tell you he’d see you later. Make up some story about having some business to take care of?" Blair stared at her, unblinking, silently begging her to see the truth.
His cheek exploded again with pain as she slapped him hard. Maya glared back at him, and tears brimmed in her eyes. She wheeled on her toes and stormed from the room.
Blair flinched, as the door slammed shut behind her. "Maya! Maya, where are you going?" Knowing she wasn’t going to return, he sagged against the post, allowing tears to fill his own eyes as the hopelessness of his situation overwhelmed him. "Damn it! Jim, where the hell are you?"
Maya walked slowly into the main room, mulling over what Blair had told her. She had been rushed out of the safe house by Francisco’s men and only knew what Francisco had told her he’d done after she left. He had, indeed, as Blair said, told her he had business to attend to and that he’d meet her back at the yacht. She stood in the doorway now and studied Francisco as he talked on the phone to his contacts.
He finished his conversation on the phone then hung up before he looked at her. Maya took a deep breath before continuing.
"Those men at the safe house? Did you kill them?"
Francisco looked down at the floor, his handsome features shadowed.
Maya raised a hand to her mouth. "My God, what have you done?" She felt faint and began to shake. "Oh my God."
Francisco glared at her. "It was necessary," he answered.
"To make them understand that we were serious."
Maya shook her head and began to walk away. "I can’t believe you lied to me."
Francisco stepped forward quickly and grabbed her arm, forcing her to turn back to him. "Maya. Please, don’t be naive. Two lives are a small price to pay for all the good we can do with a million dollars. Surely you understand that?"
His fingers tightened cruelly on her shoulders, and she nodded shakily.
"Yes. Yes, I understand."
"Mm. Good. Good." He let her go and watched her leave the room, his dark eyes thoughtful and wary. "Pascal." Francisco waited until the other man joined him. "Alcante will be here soon. I’m sure he won’t come alone. Get rid of his goons."
Pascal nodded and smiled. "Si, señor. It will be my pleasure."
Francisco halted him with a hand on his arm. "Just remember, the old man and Sandburg are mine."
Jim glanced over at Gustavo as they drove away from the prison. It had been close. They had easily convinced the warden that Gustavo was indeed Señor Duarte, the director of prisons in Chile. Jim had to admit he nearly given it up when they asked for their fingerprints. He’d known then that they had to get in, see Carasco and convince him to give them the codes without revealing their true identities and get out before the fingerprint check turned up who Gustavo really was.
Easy. And it was, for the most part. Except for a final heart-stopping moment before they left, when the prints had come back verifying Gustavo’s identity. They’d shammed their way through it, thanks to the old man having already having hidden his tracks three years ago when he’d given up the criminal life for the sake of his wife. As far as anyone knew Gustavo Alcante had been dead for three years.
Now came the hard part. Getting Maya and Blair back alive. His cell phone rang; and he answered it, keeping one hand on the steering wheel.
"Yeah," he said in answer to the question, "I got the codes." He looked over at Gustavo. "He wants one for verification." The detective glanced down at the paper in his hand and read out the top line. "It’s 74653, Zasulo." He looked again at the old man next to him. "What’s Zasulo?"
"The codes are all soccer players from our childhood," Gustavo answered, shaking his head. "I never would have guessed."
Gustavo moved around in his seat as though uncomfortable, then winced and pulled his tie loose from his neck. Jim looked at him worriedly.
Gustavo nodded. "It’s just the excitement, amigo."
Jim watched him a moment longer then nodded. A tinny voice echoing from the cell phone caught his attention, and he listened before speaking. "Of course it’s good. You get the rest when I get the hostages. Now, what’s the address? Where in the marina? Slip 24?" He nodded. "We’ll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Ay Dios," Gustavo groaned and clapped a hand to his chest. "I can’t breathe."
Jim glanced sharply at the old man as he hunched over in his seat. "All right. Hang on. We’ll pull over."
He steered the Explorer to the side of the road and got out, running quickly around to the passenger door. He pulled the door open and helped Gustavo out, supporting him against his side.
"Jim, please," Gustavo wheezed.
"Gustavo? Hang in there." He pushed the ailing man up to lean against the side of the car and reached into his pocket for his cell phone. "Lean against the car. I’ll call an ambulance."
Gustavo slumped forward against him, one arm snaking around his back. Then he moved quickly away, Jim’s gun in his hand. He reached forward and snatched the phone from Jim’s hand and trained the weapon on the detective.
Jim was stunned. "What the hell are you doing?"
"What I must do," Gustavo replied. "Including shooting you, if I have to."
Jim looked over his shoulder as a crunch of gravel indicated the approach of another car. Both front doors opened, and two burly men got out and approached them.
"How long have they been following us?" Jim asked.
"Since the prison." Gustavo shrugged. "I’m sorry. But this is between my son and me.
Jim watched as one of the men circled slowly around behind him, then the detective looked back at Gustavo. "You’ve got to let the police handle this the right way."
"No," Gustavo answered, shaking his head. "I can’t take that chance. Not with Maya’s life in the balance."
Jim watched as the man behind him handed the Explorer’s keys to Gustavo. "What about Sandburg’s life?" he demanded. "Are you going to be responsible for his life too? And what about the promise you made to your wife."
"It’s time Francisco’s violence was stopped!" Gustavo shouted. He heaved Jim’s keys as far as he could into the bushes on the other side of the road.
Jim followed their trajectory then turned back and tried to reason with the old man once more. He knew that Blair was waiting for him, trusting him to get him out.
"You don’t have to do this, Gustavo."
Gustavo looked sadly at him. "Yes, I do," he whispered.
Pain and light exploded concurrently in Jim’s head and then everything faded to black. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.~~~~ACT V~~~~Blair looked up from his attempt to free himself as the door to the engine room opened. Maya looked at him, her features pale.
"You were right about Francisco," she said. She hurried over to him and pulled at the ropes around his wrists. "Come this way."
Blair pulled his arms free of the remaining strands of rope and followed her through the door. They hurried along a corridor then up a short flight of steps. Maya pushed open the door to the deck of the yacht. They both stepped out, only to come face to face with Francisco. The gangster raised his gun to cover them both and shook his head.
"I’m disappointed in you, Maya. I should shoot you both now."
He turned his attention to a swarthy man who approached them at a run. "Señor, he’s here."
Francisco looked back at Maya. "Your uncle is here," he said, smiling.
He indicated Blair with his gun. "Watch him," he ordered his henchman.
Blair watched in despair as Francisco reached for Maya and dragged her from his side. He looked on angrily, his fists clenched as the two of them disappeared around the other side of the yacht.
"Where are the codes?"
Gustavo looked up at his son then surrendered his gun to Francisco’s guard. "Where’s Maya?" he asked.
The old man watched as Francisco pulled Maya in closer to his side then pulled her around so that her body shielded his. "You let her go. Then I’ll give you the codes."
Francisco shook his head and grinned evilly. "Don’t bother stalling. Your two men won’t be coming. Face it, old man. You’re outmatched."
Jim groaned as he rolled over onto his back then slowly sat up. He gingerly touched the lump on the back of his head and noted there was little bleeding. Using the car for support, he staggered to his feet and looked down the road in the direction he assumed Gustavo and his men had gone. He dialed up his sight and focused on the bushes on the far side of the road. Finally he spotted the glint of something metallic in the dirt. Hurrying over on shaky legs, he bent and retrieved his keys. Climbing into the car, he quickly drove towards the marina.
Pulling up at the marina, he hurried toward the yacht moored at Slip 24. The detective slowed as he spotted two bodies lying on the ground next to a car. He recognized the men as Gustavo’s guards. Checking their pulses, he discovered both were dead. Jim patted the pockets of one of the men and came up triumphantly with a cell phone. Quickly he dialed Simon and informed him of Gustavo’s escape. He gave the address of the yacht mooring and was about to hang up when he caught sight of a reflection in the windshield of the car. Jim threw himself to the ground and rolled sideways, desperately seeking shelter behind the vehicle as the man brought up his weapon and fired several shots at him.
Jim regained his balance quickly. Surging to his knees, he snapped off two quick shots. He watched in satisfaction as the man cried out and collapsed to the ground. Dizziness overtook the detective for a moment and he dropped his head to his chest, breathing deeply. Hearing shouting and gunshots, Jim swallowed down his nausea and took off toward the yacht, praying he was going to be on time.
Blair wasted no time taking the opportunity offered him as the man standing guard was momentarily distracted by the sound of gunfire. Putting as much force as possible behind the blow, Blair knocked the man’s gun hand aside and slammed a fist into the other man’s stomach. The man folded up but recovered quickly. The two closed in on each other, both struggling for the upper hand. The gunman used his strength to push Blair’s arms wide, laying him open and defenseless to a blow that stole his breath. His body collapsed in on itself as he gasped and tried desperately to suck in enough air to keep the darkness at bay. A second brutal blow with the butt of the gun crashed down, opening up a deep gash on his temple. His head exploded in a dizzying kaleidoscope of lights and pain that pitched him headlong into a dark void.
Jim made his way quickly along the dock toward the yacht deck. He paused a moment as he heard more gunshots and saw Gustavo stagger and clutch at his arm then duck quickly around a corner. Just ahead, he could see Blair lying unmoving on the ground, blood streaming from a gash on his temple. The detective jumped onto the yacht and brought his gun up to aim at the thug who was about to chase after Gustavo.
"Hold it right there," Jim ordered.
The man spun around, his weapon at the ready. Jim took him out quickly with one bullet to the chest. Not waiting to see the other man collapse, Jim hurried forward, stopping to feel at Blair’s throat for a pulse. He released a held breath as he felt it thrumming steadily beneath his fingers.
Blair’s skin was pale and cool beneath the blood that ran down his cheek. The gash on his forehead was ragged and deep, and the young man was deeply unconscious. Concern for his friend warred with Jim’s desire to stop Francisco. He looked up and saw Gustavo appear from around the corner, blood seeping between the fingers he clutched to his shoulder. The detective decided the best option was to leave Blair in Gustavo’s care while he went after Francisco. Jim headed up the small set of steps to where Gustavo stood. He pulled back the old man’s jacket, relieved to see that he only had a minor shoulder wound.
"Francisco has Maya," Gustavo said urgently. "He’ll kill her."
Jim nodded and headed toward the gangplank, sparing a final glance back at Blair.
"Look after Blair for me."
Gustavo nodded and moved slowly toward the unconscious young man. Jim could see Alcante ahead of him, dragging the struggling young woman along. Jim tracked the fleeing couple as he sidled along the yacht deck above them awaiting his chance to spring his attack.
Tucking his weapon into the waistband of his pants, he launched himself onto the other man, pushing him hard into the ground. Maya staggered to her feet and moved away, sobbing quietly. Jim regained his feet quickly as did Francisco, and both men circled each other warily.
Francisco kicked out with a foot, but Jim turned it to his advantage by grasping the other man’s leg and causing him to overbalance. Alcante toppled to the ground, and Jim wasted no time in grabbing the gangster’s hands and shoving them behind his back. He fished out his handcuffs and manacled Francisco before dragging him to his feet. Sighting an uniformed officer and Simon Banks hurrying toward him, Jim thrust the cuffed man unceremoniously at them before turning his attention briefly to Maya.
"Are you all right?"
Maya nodded at him before turning her attention to Francisco, who she fixed with a baleful glare. Jim strode back toward the yacht, nodding at Simon as he passed. "She’s okay," he said. "I’ve got to go check on Sandburg."
Jim hurried back up the gangplank to where he had left Gustavo and his partner. Gustavo was sitting on the top step, just above Blair who was beginning to stir. Jim stopped and laid a hand on the old man’s shoulder, but kept his eyes fixed on Blair.
"Gustavo? How are you doing?"
Gustavo looked up at him and squeezed his hand briefly. "I’m all right, amigo. Go see to your friend."
He headed down the stairs to Blair who had managed to sit up shakily only to close his eyes and swallow hard as his face paled impossibly whiter and he began to slump sideways.
"Whoa. Easy there, Chief." Jim managed to get to Blair’s side before the young man slammed into the deck once more and proceeded to settle him against his chest. "Why don’t we just wait here for the medics to take a look at you."
Blair nodded slightly, his eyes still closed. One hand strayed up toward his head, but Jim caught it before he could touch the still bleeding cut.
"Jim," Blair whispered. "Is Maya all right?"
"She’s fine, Chief. Just relax for a minute. Where do you hurt?"
Blair cracked open one eye, his forehead creasing in a frown. "Everywhere," he said. "My head, my ribs."
Jim pulled Blair’s shirt up partway and grimaced at the dark bruises mottling his partner’s torso. "Looks like the guy laid a good one on you," he said.
"After Francisco had his turn," Blair answered.
Jim clenched his jaw at the words. *The asshole was truly going to pay.*
Blair struggled again to sit as the paramedics knelt down beside them and began to examine him. He insisted that he didn’t need to go to the hospital. The senior paramedic reluctantly agreed to leave him in Jim’s care, after the gash on his head had been cleaned and taped up.
Jim helped Blair to his feet, waiting until he was steady before placing a supporting arm about his waist and leading him toward the dock. Maya sat in the back of the ambulance with her uncle, her tear-streaked face stark in the harsh lighting. Blair stood, leaning slightly against Jim, watching as the paramedics tended Gustavo’s injury, refusing to sit down and shaking his head once more at the medics’ advice that he get checked out at the ER. The paramedic shook his head at the stubborn anthropologist and left Jim with a brief set of instructions before turning to pack up his gear.
"Jim!" The detective looked up as Simon walked over to join them. "I just had a call from the FBI. Did you know there was a warrant out for Gustavo?"
Jim looked at Blair and both men shrugged.
"Evidently a flag went up when they ran his prints at the prison. A couple of agents are picking him up."
"Come on, Captain," Blair pleaded, stepping closer. "Isn’t there something you can do? I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve grown to like the old guy."
Simon shook his head. "Look, Sandburg, I know he’s as charming as hell. But he’s still a wanted criminal. It’s my duty as a police officer to turn him in."
Blair sighed. All three men watched as Gustavo climbed down from the ambulance and embraced Maya. A silent Francisco was led away by the uniformed officers. Maya watched her boyfriend for a long moment then turned back to Gustavo. "Uncle," she began. "For everything that happened…"
Gustavo grasped her shoulders and shook his head. "No, no," he reassured her. "It’s all right. The glory of youth is to make mistakes and survive them. Come here."
The old man wrapped his uninjured arm around the young woman and hugged her again, hushing her gently in Spanish as she began to cry. Jim tapped Gustavo’s shoulder and waited until he looked up. "Can I talk to you a moment?"
Gustavo nodded. "Excuse us, Maya."
Gustavo waited until they were out of earshot of his niece before speaking. "I’m going to be arrested, yes?"
Jim nodded. "It’s the Feds."
Gustavo shrugged and smiled tiredly. "As long as Maya is safe, I don’t mind a few years in prison." He chuckled softly. "Besides, I could use the rest."
Both men turned as Simon called to them, indicating two agents exiting a dark sedan and brandishing ID’s. Gustavo turned to Jim once more and offered his hand before nodding and walking slowly toward the federal agents.
"I’m sorry it had to end this way," Jim offered.
"Well, when a man’s story ends, he always gets what he deserves. Adios." Gustavo saluted and got into the back seat of the car.
Jim turned to the agent. "Look after him, huh?"
"You look after your young friend," Gustavo added.
Blair watched as Gustavo was driven away, the old man’s sad gaze focused on his niece through the rear window. As he turned away, the anthropologist wavered a little on his feet and Maya reached out a hand to steady him, pushing him back to sit on the ambulance’s step. Leaning forward, the young woman brushed her fingers over the gash above Blair’s eye, and he tried not to flinch.
"Are you sure you’re all right?" she asked.
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. His head seemed to be pounding in time with his aching heart. He wanted nothing more than to collapse in a heap and sleep for a month. But for now, he wanted to spend a last few moments with the woman he had once loved so much. Deep in his soul, he felt sorry for her, though it was tempered now by anger at her betrayal. Under the guise of self-sacrifice, she had shown a callous disregard toward those she claimed to love.
"So, I guess I go to jail now," Maya said, her voice wobbling a little.
"No, no, no." Blair finally looked up at her. "The captain thinks they’re going to deport you, and uh, bar you from ever coming back."
"So, we’ll never see each other again," she whispered, wiping a tear from her cheek.
Blair felt a pang of pity for the naïve young woman who had wanted so much to exact revenge on her father. In doing so she had unwittingly allowed herself to be used as a pawn in her lover’s own sordid act of terror and greed. He gently wiped another tear from her face. "I don’t think so, no." He reached out and squeezed her hand. "You take care now."
Maya nodded, allowing the policewoman hovering nearby to lead her away. Blair watched until she was driven away, then looked up as he felt a large, warm hand on his shoulder.
Jim smiled down at him. "You okay, Chief."
Blair nodded slowly as he stood with his partner’s help. "Yeah. I’ll be fine. It’s just…it hurts, you know?"
"I know," Jim answered.
"I don’t know, Jim. I’m just so confused here. I don’t know what I feel for Maya any more. I hate what she did, but I feel sorry for her too."
"It’ll get easier."
"Trust me," Jim said.
"I do," Blair answered. "Thanks."
Both men looked up as another car cruised to a halt beside theirs. A man dressed in a dark suit got out, pulling an ID wallet from his pocket.
"FBI," he barked, looking at Jim. "We’re here to take Gustavo Alcante into custody."
Blair’s eyes widened then crinkled in amusement. "What?"
"Gustavo Alcante," the agent repeated. He frowned at Jim’s chuckle. "I say something funny?"
Jim shook his head. "I think you want to speak to my captain, sir."
Blair pointed to where Simon stood. "He’s over there," the anthropologist said helpfully.
Jim called out to the captain. "Simon!"
He waved a hand and indicated the FBI agent with one finger as the captain looked over at them. Then both men looked at each other and dissolved into laughter.The EndPlease remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]Next week’s episode: Black or White by Chrys