Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Chapter 20. The Massage Table

17:30: Irene Casey drove up Rinconada Street, to Teresa Sokolovsky’s condo. She was desperate to find out whether the agencies on the scene were hiding leads. She knew that Ryan wouldn’t be secretive about this case if there wasn’t good reason to slip his investigation past prying eyes. Looking more and more like an assassination at the fig tree and now Mrs. Baker’s kidnapping, Ryan was following something he wasn’t telling her about. She strongly suspected that Teresa might have been able to give her a clue, like where to look and about the connection to the fig tree murder and Nick Baker’s crash and disappearance. Since her separation from Dan, Ryan had taken her under his wing, but she was left out of this case. Suspicions confirmed, she was astute enough to know that something was going on that suggested her husband’s corruption was involved.

Teresa answered the door and greeted Irene with a pat-pat hug. The two women knew each other from casual contact and had spent some time a year ago at Pasqual's Bar for a retired cop's funeral party. There were only a few women on the police force other than 911 operators, meter maids, and clerks in those days. Teresa bought a round for all the uniforms and they stayed a couple hours after the party broke-up. A handful of other young single, and not so young and not so single, officers hung on and began taking turns hitting on them, buying more rounds and trying too hard to pick-up. After all, Teresa, well, she began looking better to them through the lens of alcohol and, even though Irene was still married, it was well known she’d recently become available.
Irene remembered her mood had been light as the shots began taking effect, “Jeeze, girl, that dress and make-up, whew! you are looking so good, I’d fuck you.”
Teresa didn’t laugh but seemed to be embarrassed at what might’ve been a joke, a drunk come-on, or could have been something more fun. She didn’t exactly deflect the overtly suggestive compliment. Tightening the thin fabric of the skirt across her lap with her hand, she smiled, parted her lips near Irene’s ear,  “Really, do you think so?" and whispered, "I had this dress in my closet and just threw it on.”
The spot just under Irene’s solar plexus stirred. She answered, “Well, these studs seem to think so...”
Teresa was glib, “The Fuckers, they’re all married. I don’t have time for it. You go home with one and then you have to spend weeks, sometimes months trying to get rid of ‘em.”
After several hours of heavy drinking, and among all the seasoned drinkers there, Teresa seemed to be the most capable of standing. She poured Irene into her classic 1959 Triumph TR-3, and drove her home. A thrill-ride, top-down along Camino Cielo wasn’t enough to sober Irene up, and vague recollections of a long goodnight kiss haunted her for months afterwards.

Irene had dismissed that whole afternoon in the past as an alcohol fueled attraction at best and tried to forget about the whole scene until she found herself assessing the girlish Tom-Boy in a hooded sweatshirt with no make-up sitting next to her. Ryan had admitted to Irene, that Teresa’s allure (disheveled, and gawky), enhanced a subtle eroticism exuding a powerfully enticing combination of pheromones and admiration.
She had to get back down to business or… or what? And abruptly curtailed her thoughts, blurting out, “Say, I like that you’re damned good with this tech stuff. I want to get a computer, but I don’t know anything about them. Shit, I don’t have time for classes.”
Teresa put a hand on Irene’s shoulder, “No problem. I can give you a lesson or two... get you started. We’ve gotta stick together, you know, women.”
A tingling flush of blood surged to Irene’s upper chest and pulsed warmth up her neck to her ears, “Thanks, I’ll take you up on it after the divorce comes through. I can’t afford one now.” Irene deflected the offer but knew her excuse was weak and was based more on fear of arousal than financial considerations; her phrase, I’ll take you up on it after the divorce comes through, still echoed in her mind weeks later and caused her to snigger.
Teresa laughed, “What can't you afford, the divorce? Or, did you mean, the computer?
"Oh shit, I don't care how much the divorce will cost... that fucker. Naw, I'll get a, what-cha-call 'em, a table-top... er, you know, a desk-top as soon as..."
"No plobrem. I have an old one I can give you. I'll show you a thing or two," and another relaxed laugh rolled out from her slender throat and through her lips, "Oops, no plobrem, no problem... you have me slurring… repeating myself... no problem no problem... like a drunk.”
Irene was confused because she hadn’t any same-sex urges before she stepped in the door that afternoon, but a magnet in her belly drew her towards Teresa. At first it was respect for her skill and knowledge of computers. Computers were a mysterious device to Irene back then. Desk-tops, lap-tops, Macs and so on. She decided it was time to join the twentieth century. Computers be damned, she’d felt a feint stirring whenever she was around this woman, but it was stronger that day in the dim light glowing from the monitors in the room.
All the table-tops in Teresa’s place had several Santa Barbara Roasting Company empty paper coffee cups between the monitors. The only bare surface was a massage table at the side. “Come over here and have a seat. You’ll have to excuse the mess, the cleaning lady’s day off, eh.”
“I’m kinda here on business.” Irene suddenly had the desire to run but she cleared a pile of papers off a folding chair instead and waved a hand towards the massage table, “You do massage?”
Teresa smiled, showing a set of gleaming white teeth, “Yeah, internship at the PD doesn’t pay the bills,” and asked, “Business? Official? You want some coffee?”
“Not exactly official... going under the radar,” Irene answered hesitantly but was feeling pleasantly at ease.
Teresa said rather than asked, “So, you want to know what Ryan’s up to.”
With seething animosity, she added, “And fucking Dan.” But her mood mellowed while watching Teresa’s elongated porcelain fingers take out a styro-foam cup from a package of fresh ones and filled it from an old thrift-store Mr. Coffee. Damn, she thought, the girl looks like a saint on an icon… interrupting her reverie, she answered, “That’s good, black... no sugar.”
“I know,” Teresa pointed to a map with pins in it over the part of her desk facing the wall. “Something’s going on up there.”
Irene sipped from the cup and looked at the wall-map with red and black pins, “Sheeze, you’ve been busy. Not at the Baker house?”
“No, something’s happening around Coyote Road and West Mountain. I’m trying to get hold of Ryan... he isn’t in contact with anyone since he left here.”
“How about Dan?”
“Blacked out too,” she came up behind Irene and began massaging her shoulders. “You too. You have so much... chakra blockage... tension in your neck... relax.”
“Ummmm, that feels sooo good,” Irene said as she let herself feel that stirring. It was from the heart... not the groin. It didn’t disturb her this time. It was welcome physical contact but, she had business. “Say, you know that cab driver, Max?”
“Yes, Jimbo and Max have delivered a few orders from Jack in the Crack,” a broad smile graced Teresa’s face, “and, back in the day, a pint or two from the liquor store in the middle of the night.”
Irene acknowledged a truth junkies and cops know, “Cabbies are onto everything going on in town. Do you think...?”
“I could call Jimbo, he’s a bit saner than Max.”
“Tell him to keep this shit under his hat, if you do.” Irene submitted, “Maybe he could help us with recon.”
“I wouldn’t go anywhere without Ryan. It has to be dangerous,” Teresa purred.
Irene dismissed the thought, “Shit yes, it’s crazy and can be a career ender for me if anyone gets a whiff of this. I’m off-duty now, so, what the fuck. Give him a call.”
“Okay, let’s hear from Ryan first,” Teresa offered.
“If Dan wasn’t smack in the middle of this I wouldn’t get involved,” Irene sighed.
“Then don’t. Ryan's on it. He knows how to take these kinds of risks. That’s my amateur advice,” she whispered at the nape of Irene’s neck as she lifted from under Irene’s arm pits, “Come, and lay down over here. There's time for this... I do have a massage license, you know.”

Irene laid on the massage table face down and let herself drift into deep relaxation as Teresa massaged her crown... her temples... her jaw... lifted, pulled on her neck muscles, ground the heel of a hand down her spine, worked her way from the neck to her shoulders saying, “I’m going down your chakras. I want you to breathe as I go; inhale, hold, exhale, at each stage. Fill your lungs from the belly... that’s it... breathe.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Chapter 19. Teresa's Place

17:00: Back at his desk, Ryan went to work. It was a simple matter for the service provider to grant the name of the phone’s owner if the DA could wrangle the approval of Judge West. However, this would take a couple of hours. Pinheads in Congress had only approved the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) a few years before but it had some areas within which teams of lawyers could forge loopholes and dodges in the interpretation. Getting warrants often took time, thus frustrating investigators already burdened with legal hurdles. In extreme cases Ryan used a simpler resource, Teresa Sokolovsky, who was a grad student at the UCSB (Computer Science & Creative Studies) lab, and worked as an intern at the PD helping to set up the new computer fraud division. She knew how to, though not necessarily violate the law, but to skirt it under the guise that it was all public airways regardless of the law. Besides, he didn’t want to tap the phone, but to simply get information on where and who the hell was using it.
Ryan had consulted Teresa about GPS on a case once before. She wasn’t at the desk she kept in a corner of the small dispatch room. The Station had been built in 1959 and was sorely in need of an update afforded the communications department. He knew that she would probably be home in her condo by the SBHS on Rinconada Road not far from the SBPD if she wasn’t at the media lab at UCSB. Ryan was struck by Teresa’s appearance, though her appearance was hardly striking at all. At twenty-two, she maintained the look of the Old Maid’s of the card game, complete with red hair tied back tight in a bun, a stern-freckled-face, and six-foot-tall gangling frame. When he looked beyond her unkempt exterior, he could see delicate features attractive enough to grace the covers of Vogue and a body that was skinny enough for the runways of Paris and New York. Teresa was a genius once she sat down at a desk with her long-thin-fingers flying across the keys; eyes fixed on the monitor screen, zipping through passwords as though they were her own. Ryan was not up to date on the technology and barely understood how to set the timer on his VCR that he never used. Even now, he kept the DVD player his daughter, Phoebe had given him his last birthday in its box. He held this new generation of nerds in high esteem because there was no telling how far into secured sites any one of them could plunder if so inclined.

Ryan arrived at Teresa’s door unannounced; she hadn’t answered his calls but that wasn’t out of character for her. The door was slightly ajar and as he tapped on it lightly, it opened enough for him to get a glimpse of her at her desk. The Spanish Colonial condo complex of clean architectural exterior lines contrasted sharply with what was inside for her interior decor was an incongruous semi-circle of three hollow-core doors on saw horses holding an array of monitors and keyboards connected by snaking bundles of tangles of wires to a row of towers on the floor under the tables.
“Knock-knock,” he announced.
“Not a knock-knock joke.” She didn’t look away from the screen, “The coffee is fresh in the kitchen.”
Ryan walked past her to the kitchen and rinsed out a used styro-foam cup and filled it to the brim. It slopped to the floor as he crossed the room and pulled up a chair behind her tossing the cell phone next to the notebook she used for a mouse pad. It slid across the table and would have fallen over the side had she not been so quick to reach over and stop its progress.
“What’s this… let me guess… you need to know who owns it, who is he calling…”
“She…”
“Okay, she… a detail, who is calling him… easy enough, eh?”
“Location…maybe, where was she calling from? Can you do that?”
“Sure, take a seat and don’t hover over me. I’ll let you know.”
“These are disposable,” she opened the back of it and fiddled, “hard to say what can be gleaned from it... maybe hack into Verizon.”
 Ryan’s eyes scanned the room as detectives always do. They stopped at a short poem like string of words posted on the corkboard above Teresa’s desk:
“I believed in God.
I believed in justice.
Like a child, I trusted that the universe was kind but,
in spite of my faith, I found myself in a camp
where justice, mercy, and love were burned
in the incinerators of hatred.
There I stood at the fence, garbed in striped attire,
clothed in discarded childish beliefs. It was then,
standing on the dark side of the barbed wire fence of despair,
that the American army restored my faith in humanity with
the simple gesture of a chocolate bar...”
 – anonymous

Twenty minutes later Teresa shouted out to Ryan, “Got it. Nick Baker! Call from Adrienne Baker. From the cell-tower covering the area around West Mountain Drive.”
“I didn’t know you were Jewish.”
“I’m not. My Great Grandfather was in Auschwitz,” she answered, as though it was a tired subject. “Poles went there too... lots of them. My great-grandmother and grandmother were sent to Buchenwald.”
‘Really. I hadn’t thought of that.” Ryan saw so much depth in this young woman that he admired.
“So, West Mountain Drive,” she returned to the subject at hand.
“Great, I owe you.”


Nick had been swamping through the Sycamore creek-bed for fifteen minutes before he came to a good spot under the Mason Street Bridge at Sycamore; more to think than to rest. These bridges in town along the creek beds were good places for junkies to shoot-up or gang-bangers to hide out. The creeks were dry nine or ten months of the year and were excellent passageways, useful for getting from one end of the town to the other undetected. He slept, curled up under the bridge. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Chapter 17. The Gathering Storm

Mon. 09:15: Nick had gone to Billy’s trailer first. The door was open. It didn’t feel right. Fear had consumed him since he left Jerry’s place. It gripped him, and he couldn’t think at all. Options narrowed and, as he pushed the door, he felt resistance. There wasn’t much of a floor and what there was of a floor, was taken up with a lump of a form once called Billy. Shit. Nick had to think. Billy’s body was fresh… still warm… small entrance hole in the forehead… like a Hindu dot… a black burn-mark halo around it... not much blood at all… no exit wound at all… 22 caliber hollow-point, no doubt. Billy’s pager was beeping. Nick grabbed the bicycle leaning against the trailer and took off for the Rescue Mission.

Mon. 0920: Nick’s next move was to get out of the South side of the freeway’s no-man’s land. He had to call someone and not the police. He dared not go directly to Scolaries and he needed to rest. He rang the buzzer of the office next to the staff dining room at the Rescue Mission on Yananoli Street. His nerves calmed when he recognized one of Max’s friends coming to the door, the office manager, Beverly.
“Bev… I won’t bother you much, Bev. But can I use your phone?” adding, “My battery’s dead.”
She watched him reach in his pocket to pull out the phone that wasn’t there. Bev let out one of her trademark jowly laughs, “You don’t have one, do you?”
“I must have left it some….”
“Nevermind, just don’t use it for any deals, eh?”
He made the call... a payphone on a wall in the staff dining room. Nick was overly cryptic, so Bev went back to her office, shouting, “No drug deals, Nick... Can't call anyone but your sponsor, your boss, or your wife. Right?”
“Sure, Bev. I know the rules.”
Bev's job was to sniff-out uneasiness and tried to tease out the reason why, she hollered, “How is Adrienne anyway?”
“She’s fine,” He was already punching the buttons. The dial tone on the other end could be heard from Bev’s desk. The phone rang the usual four time before the message picked up, “Max, it’s about Adrienne.” He lowered his voice and cupped the phone as he realized Bev was hearing him from the office.
Bev could make out what he was saying. It was her responsibility to make sure none of the house members used the phone for drug deals, etc. and her ears were good at catching important clues.
“She’s been taken, Max... my fault…,” the phone went dead. Nick knew Max screened calls and had hung up on him. He hoped Max would pass it on if Alesandro was still alive.
Bev asked bewildered, “Shouldn’t you be calling 911?”
“No, Bev. I’m only kidding. I need to stay here a while, okay with you?”
“Nick, what have you gotten yourself into? Sure, take a nap. You can use a table. Staff won’t be in for an hour or so.”
Nick left the office and Bev dialed 911.
Nick passed through the dining hall and thought better of it as he heard Bev from the office on the phone. He left through the back and crossed over towards the Zoo.

Max got the call on his answering machine. Since Nick had careened into his cul de sac, Max was reminded of a water spout at sea. He had seen several. It was the way a water spout drops down from the heavens and bursts skyward from the sea simultaneously and dances across the waters that mesmerized him. Max saw the events rolling out as some kind of weird cosmic dance... or to continue the metaphor... a whirlpool sucking him in from below too. Homer’s ear tuned in on him from his perch on top of the consul as Max laughed, “Like Poe or Homer, Homer! Charybdis... or what was it? He’d read one of Poe’s ominous short stories about a maelström... about the Moskoe-ström of Norway, “A descent into the Maelström”. Sucked in by forces arising from the sea of his subconscious and the playgrounds of the gods tugging at him towards the heavens and the demons of a watery hell below, he was given no choice. In Max’s grandiose imagination he was in an epic drama... Odysseus trying to get home after a series of misadventures of his own making and, now of his destiny was getting in his way after he’d tried his best to “do the right thing” as advised by his AA spiritual Sherpa guide and sponsor, Jimbo. Jimbo wasn’t a Sherpa and had never been on this mountain but he was all Max had. He felt strongly that calling the police was a good way to get Adrienne killed. He tried calling Adrienne’s number hoping that Alesandro would be there. The phone rang several times on the other end but there was no answer.

Mon. 10:00: Hank had no reason to believe that he was going to live. He saw the leaves and the branches of the tree above him gently flickering in a light breeze. He thought about the sermons at the Sally and the Mish he’d heard a thousand times before… about sweet Jesus and salvation… salvation from what? He never quite figured.
“If I’m dying, who’s going to find my body?” he asked loud enough for hardly anyone to hear.
“Shit, that you, Hank?”
“Bob-O?”
“Yeh, what the fuck was that about?” Bob-O peered over the root’s knee next to Hank.
“Forget that… can’t you see, I’m dying?”
“What’s this…?” Bob-O picked up the cell phone.
Hank was having a hard time breathing as blood was filling his lungs, “Quit lookin’ at that damned thing like a monkey lookin' at his turds,” he coughed, “Call 911!”

10:15: Hank was loaded onto the Emergency Vehicle on a gurney. There were several Japanese tourists already off the tour bus taking pictures as though they were circled around a fire pit at a Luau only this was more exciting... American gun violence like they’d all read about from their Tokyo homes. They were now in the Wild West and here was a gangster shooting.... crime scene tape and all. Hank wondered what was in their photo albums at home. Bob-O imagined those bored guests watching in near comas the videos of their trip to Hawaii and America. Bob-O was standing nearby but, when the cops showed up, he had begun inching away. It didn’t help his progress, hoping to meld into the tourists with Hank’s shopping cart, that one cop blocked his exit.
Ryan commanded, “Don’t anyone leave, you there.”
Bob-O stopped… “Shit.”
“Haven’t seen you for a while, Bob-O.”
“I was at the gray-bar Bed and Breakfast the last three months.” He’d hoped that Ryan hadn’t noticed him slipping the phone in one of his several pockets. Even though the temperature was in the nineties, Bob-O and Hank wore several layers of shirts and always greasy jackets with plenty pockets in and out.
Ryan had an old cop’s affection for some of these dumpster-divers. As far as he knew, these two didn’t use drugs and, though they did hit the Tokay and smoked some pot to fend off the chill of the night, they weren’t usually a problem. They kept it to themselves and in the bushes out of sight. Bob-O and Hank were the kind of homeless men... mostly men and a few women... that wouldn’t spend a night or sing for their supper at the Mission. He knew they might have once had families that cared. All of them at least had mothers. Some had sisters and brothers that wondered where their brothers went. Fewer still had children looking for them too. Something had gone wrong with the wiring between their ears. It could have been Nam... or some other fulcrum of trauma that levered them off the treadmill of civilized lives... of career and family. Ryan was one of the lucky ones that did come home from Viet Nam to a career he loved... to a home given up to divorce and child-support... to a one bedroom apartment he used just to sleep. Yes, sleep fitfully like in a hotel room... to high cholesterol and blood pressure controlled by meds... meds to shut off the dreams of Marine’s dying around the embassy, shrapnel... a bike bomb that nearly killed him during the Tet... and the VA that had just begun to recognize PTSD as a recognizable diagnosis that was shuffled off to a desk where a clerk moved the flood of compensation claims to the bottom of the stack.
Most Santa Barbara cops let the homeless make their rounds, filling shopping carts in the early morning up State Street and behind the bars for anything that could be recycled. They weren't bothered by most local patrols, except by rookies and out-of-town badges during Fiesta: a time when the streets were cleared of eyesores for the sake of the Chamber of Commerce. Hank and Bob-O knew enough to stay out of sight towards the end of July to the second week of August.
“Did you see anything, Bob-O?”
“Naw… I was asleep between the knees…” he pointed to the spot he’d been laying and looked down at where Hank had landed between the roots next to him, “I woke up when I heard Hank hit the ground there.”
“You didn’t hear gunshots?”
“Naw, nothin’ like that… it was weird,” he puzzled, scratching his dreds as though it was the first time Bob-O thought about what had happened.
Ryan went over to the knees of the roots that had been taped off and Bob-O followed.
Bob-O put the Dodgers baseball cap back on his matted hair… recalling, “There was this big Hawaiian shirt getting in a black Mercedes.”
“And what did you stuff in your pocket?” Ryan didn’t want to take away Bob-O’s prize, but he felt that whatever it was might help with the investigation.
"Shit, busted… Maybe you’ll ‘member me the next time,” he fished the phone out of one of his deeper pockets inside his layers.
Ryan pointed to the black garbage bag bulging with crushed cans in the cart, “You can have Hank’s cart anyway.”

Ryan’s belt buzzed… it was his phone and not the one in evidence. He hated these interruptions while he was thinking. His thoughts were weaving their way through a maze of who, what, when and where. He had a good idea about the black Mercedes. This Miguel character had come to his attention but a punk like this was the business of the Narcotics Enforcement folks until now. An attempted murder, however, was Ryan’s business. The repeated buzzing of his phone was getting annoying. His complete attention was focused on the phone he’d taken from Hank. The setting for the contact list was nearly empty and the few numbers there were listed under initials… no names. However, the call log had a number that was repeated a few times in the last hour… from… what… Adrienne Fournier.
He reluctantly answered his own phone hoping he could get back to thinking, “Yeh, Richards, what do you want?”
“Was it a hit? I just heard… I got a call to the Rescue Mission. A kidnapping at the Bakers.”
Ryan wasn’t quite able to connect the dots, but he could figure out that Richards knew about this mess at the Fig Tree and it wasn’t through regular channels. He hadn’t heard this call go out over the air yet and wished he could play poker with this creep that so easily showed his hand. But he asked anyway, “What about the Bakers?”
“I don’t know... Nick’s gone. No one saw him go. But I’m headed to their house.”
Ryan’s brain was sifting the information like an archeologist looking for a shard... thinking, how would Richards know about this and a kidnapping? A uniform doesn’t get these calls before a call from dispatch. Irene already told him Richards had a hard on for Frenchy. Ryan’s next move, after he’d seen that there was nothing more at this crime scene, would be to get up the hill to the Baker house.
On the way up the hill Ryan’s radio broadcast the emergency code 2 on a PC-207 kidnapping.
Unlike Ryan’s methodically digging and sifting, Richards was plundering clumsily through the evidence like a grave robber. He needed to be able to pass on to Miguel whatever Ryan was finding.

His next thought was to get over to Teresa's place next chance he got to see what she could come up with.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Chapter 16. The Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Planted by an anonymous girl in 1876, and moved to its corner
on Chapala and Montecito Streets by friend Adeline Crabb,
where the Moreton Bay Fig Tree has been an attraction
for tourists and vagrants alike for the past century.

Mon. 08:30: Nick didn’t have much time, but he wanted to try once more to alert Adrienne to the possibilities. He knew that if Miguel’s boys couldn’t find him they’d certainly find her. Adrienne wasn’t aware of the danger his warning was about. He regretted it but hoped she got it. He had no time to explain. He had to disappear before they strung him up by his cajones.
Think, think, think… He had to figure out how to get this deal taken care of. He crossed under the freeway on Chapala Street through the new culverts (before they’d been screened to keep vagrants out) leading to the Fig Tree. He lay there thinking... thinking... maybe a half hour he thought. As soon as he crawled out on the street he got the call from Adrienne’s number.
He was reluctant, but he answered, “Yes.”
The familiar Hispanic voice came from the phone, “Prick, listen to this…. Now say something to your Neecky. Go ahead, say something, anything.”
It was Adrienne, “Neeck, I have been treated badly... they have me in a basement…” Her voice was weak… not at all like her.
Miguel came back on, “Is it clear what you have to do?”
His first thought wasn’t about what he had to do, it was, Shit, I’d better take out the battery from my cell phone… he was sure Miguel has an LBS locator. Better yet, I’ll leave the phone under the tree where maybe a bum, one of the homeless, will pick it up and lead whoever tracks it away…” Then he made his way to a place down to Mason and Chapala to where one of his customers lived. He knocked on the door softly several times…. no one home. He slipped an old plastic library card between the latch and the jamb he kept for these occasions, easily opening it. Thanks to Jerry’s casual attitude, the dead-bolt wasn’t locked.
Jerry was a music industry lawyer who’d fallen onto hard times from using coke and graduating to tar. He once had some high-profile clients but the past two years he’d been representing, barely managing, garage-band local groups, and dealing grams of coke to pay his rent. He had been accustomed to living the high life but was now reduced to scraping by. These apartments by the beach were priced beyond his means but, to Jerry, this was as low as he wished to go. The bedroom door was closed… Nick opened it a crack… Jerry and one of his boys were tangled up in the sheets. Nick picked up Jerry’s phone off a stand next to the couch… held it for a few minutes thinking about who he could call. It was a reflex. He picked up a phone and started calling people… that’s what he does… been doing all his adult life. Under-breath he said, "I'm a salesman, for-crying-out-loud."
He was in survival mode, “Alesandro, Shit, Adrienne’s number...”
Just as Nick started to dial on Jerry’s decorative antique phone, the bedroom door burst open. Jerry was holding an old .357 Ruger Blackhawk single-action revolver, in one hand sideways gangsta-style, directly at Nick’s chest from a foot away. The hammer wasn’t even cocked, and the cylinder was empty. Nick’s first reflex was to flip his arm up and over, slapping it to the side. It spun on the floor like a perverse spin the bottle game.
“Jerry, dammit! You see a punk hold a gun like that in a movie?”
“I don’t care,” Jerry whimpered.
“What’s goin’ on…” the boy from the bed stood naked at the door.
Nick had taken the revolver from the floor by then and tucked it in his belt.
“What are you doing with a toy like this, Jerry?”
“Fucker, get out!”
“Never hold a gun that close to your target and, by the way, it’s a single action, cock it first,” Nick advised, “Lucky it was me.” He tapped out Adrienne’s number.
Voice mail recording started, “Leave a message and number...”
“Shit, this is Nick. Where are you Alesandro? Adrienne has been taken by... shit, I’ll call back after I get to another phone.”
“It wasn’t loaded anyway.” Jerry whined.
“Luckier yet then,” he shrugged, “What good is that? Look, I knocked on your fuckin’ door for…”
“So, I’m busy.”
“Yeah, we’re busy!” bitchily said Snide Boy.
“How old are you boy? Does your mommy know where you are?”
Nick faced Jerry and demanded, “You owe me.”
“I know, I know… I have a client that owes me… I’ll get you back when… I already told you.”
“This will do. You got any ammo for it?”
“Yeh, it’s in that drawer, I promise I will pay,” Jerry pointed to the stand where the phone was kept.
“Good,” he grunted, taking a box labeled Hornady out of the drawer. “I’m not here for money. I just needed your phone and this.”
Nick gestured for them to return to the bedroom… they complied. He loaded the cylinder and dropped the ammo box in one of his front pockets. It was heavy in his parachute style pants with zippers and pockets on each leg. He missed his Walther PPK he’d kept for such emergencies in Adrienne’s garden shed.
Nick stood for a minute staring at the door… “Shit I like ‘em young but that kid can’t be twelve.”

Mon. 09:00: The Moreton Bay Fig Tree was a fixture, a tourist attraction, in Santa Barbara for more than a century. It was mentioned with pride in all the tourist guides: planted by an anonymous little girl at 201 State Street in eighteen-seventy-six. The same brochures would say that two years later her family moved away that her friend, Adeline Crabb, transplanted it to where it stands today at the corner of Montecito and Chapala. A hundred years later; winos, drug dealers and homeless drifters; from the likes of Joe Hill to Jack Kerouac, have rested between its knees in the shade of boughs that now spread wider than any on this continent. Its knees are roots that stand out at least two to three feet from the ground… in the old days before the park was cleaned up, before the freeway went through, one could crawl between its knees, put a piece of cardboard up on the ridges of them, and snuggle down with a blanket to disappear from sight a few hours. By the time Nick’s cell-phone had been dropped and wedged itself in there, those days were over. The area around the tree had been gussied up and patrolled for the tourists. The 101-freeway cut off Chapala Street, making it harder for drug dealers to sell their wares there as traffic was no longer able to pass by as easily as before. Winos, the homeless, and addicts still paused to nap on the lawn but they didn’t stay long… they didn’t hang too close to the tree without getting a vagrancy ticket. The knees of the tree are reserved for tourists to climb on and around during the day.
One of the regulars, Dumpsta-Divin’ Hank, came rolling down the street with his shopping-cart full of bottles and black trash bags jam-packed with crushed cans. The fog had burned off and it had turned into a hot day, he rested on the knees in the shade. A cell phone buzz arose from the crotch of the roots near him. He picked it up, flipped it open, heard a voice come from it, and promptly slammed it shut.
Hank was there for about twenty minutes thinking about where he might be able to get a few bucks for the phone. “Bzzzzzzp… the sound of a bee zipped by his left ear… he didn’t hear the second… his body dropped between the knees of the tree. A hole… mid chest, side-by-side in his jacket … an old tattered sports coat from the Rescue Mission… oozed blood. The cell phone still gripped in his hand. The rear door of the black Mercedes with tinted windows opened. An orange-skinned man in a Hawaiian shirt, a Glock (silencer attached) in his left hand, stepped out towards the tree’s roots where Hank … eyes staring skyward, held his breath.
Hank wasn’t dead but he sure as hell looked dead to the man with the Glock. Otherwise he might have put one in Hank’s head to make sure. He picked up the cell phone… checked the call log… last calls were to Adrienne… received calls were from Adrienne’s phone… nothing went out. He wiped it for prints with a kerchief he always kept handy and dropped the phone next to Hank.
Back at the car, Dmitri slid into the back seat and said with a thick Slavic accent, “It wasn’t Nick.”
“It wasn’t… Who had the phone?”
“A bum.”
“Why didn’t you bring it to me?”
“No reason… there were no calls on it we don’t know about.”
Miguel’s glowering eyes looked past Dmitri seeing a shadow of a man rise-up from the roots next to where Hank had dropped, “You sure there were no other calls?”
“I’m sure.” He turned to see what Miguel was seeing. “I’ll go back and take care of that other bum.”
A tour bus pulled up from through the train station on the Chapala side.
Miguel said, “Which bum is dead?”
“The one with the phone, he’s dead.”
“Then, forget about it.”
The car eased out and turned around away from the scene westward on Montecito Street.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Chapter 18. El Gato's Tower


Above all of Montecito, Miguel sat like a spider waiting for something to hit his web. The master bedroom was in the second story tower on the north end of the villa where Miguel sat perched on a folding chair with Alesandro bound and gagged on the floor. The house was sparsely furnished, as it was used for nothing more than a safe-house for extreme cases that required security. The room’s entrance had double-door security... he’d made a sally port of the stair case. A sally port is a term that comes from old Norman castles and modern prisons. It is a space with two doors... an entrance that had to be shut before the exit could be opened. The tower was anOld Spanish Revival style castle turret where a converted laundry chute, hidden behind a door in the cabinet, made for a good escape, should it be necessary, to the mud room in the back of the garage. Another wall had several security monitor screens that kept the property safely under surveillance.
The house was inauspicious. Little more than the tower could be seen above the ridge, chaparral foliage, and boulders, from the road below. West Mountain Drive was in the hills behind and above Montecito. To his neighbors, the safe-house might have seemed a curiosity because it was empty for long periods and then suddenly buzzing with activity a short time, but no one in these parts pried. It wasn’t so unusual for well-to-do South Americans, Arab Sheiks, or newly wealthy young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to keep houses in Montecito. Near empty homes caused little concern because, for so many, these mini-mansions were exclusive crash pads for the well-heeled staffed with house and grounds keepers; used only a few months, or weeks, of the year.  None of Miguel’s neighbors were ever invited to his hacienda... mi casa was definitely not yo casa. Those who were invited, or the nosey uninvited, weren’t friendly neighbors and rarely left upright.
Miguel learned to read at fourteen between running errands for the local heavies. At first it was El Gato Negro and other Mexican Graphic Novels. His life seemed to parallel most of the intrigue, betrayals, and isolation of El Gato’s story. He related to the hero in that he knew right from wrong... sought to live righteous but had to survive like El Gato Negro... the Black Cat. By the time he was sixteen he was reading the classics... Neruda and Lorca about the Spanish Civil War. He learned English from Hemingway because of the simple sentence structure.  He soon dove into the translated works of Sun Tsu and he learned some Japanese by the pictures and text (English and Japanese) reading the Japanese graphic novel version of the Book of Five Rings. He’d read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and admired the warped trinity of Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, and Juan Perón. He wasn’t anti-Semite, a socialist, or fascist, but he dreamed of having the same absolute power and aspired to be as brutal in obtaining it.
Miguel regretted the way he hadn’t acted rationally and was preoccupied with his lapse of judgment. He’d tried to recoup his losses with these idiot gringos. Now he had something that would attract the attention of the FBI and probably the DEA. He’d played the big shot for the benefit of Yuri and Dimitri, but he knew he was a small-time player and that he might as well... oh what, quit? There was no quitting... that was never the option... turn State’s evidence... protective custody... snitch? He’d be rewarded with a shiv in prison regardless... left to bleed out on a prison floor. Miguel had completely underestimated the forces he’d unleashed by kidnapping Adrienne. He knew that the FBI would become involved, but he knew the capabilities of the Feds. He also knew of how inept they, and the local police, were in prosecuting a so-called War on Drugs; using law enforcement techniques dealing with the cartels. War is war, and the enemy in war is not a criminal to be prosecuted, but an enemy to be defeated. Thus, there was no need for him, like the FBI, the DEA, and the BATF, to spend what Miguel knew to be unnecessary resources in time and money preparing a case for prosecution. His plan was that Nick would surrender and his body would be found without a head somewhere and his case would be closed.
16:00: Miguel sat on his metal folding chair with Alesandro on the floor above the rest of the house. Miguel started speaking as though to the walls as he stared at the monitors, “Santa Barbara is a peculiar place, eh? Maquis,” He looked down at Alesandro and continued, “It can’t quite decide whether it is a small city or a big town. It’s a Jacuzzi where small time politicians, shysters, three-card-monte piranhas’, play around with rubber ducks.” He laughed, “While sharks… real Megalodons, swim patiently beneath their knees.” He gestured with his hands clasped together opening and closing like a shark’s. “Maquis, you know, just a few months ago the Sheriff’s Department’s training facility had been broken into. Ha, check it out... that over 40 tactical weapons had been liberated from a locked store-room, forty of ‘em. Most had no clips.” He waved a hand over towards the monitors, “No security cameras! A weapons storeroom and not one camera working! Some kid in I V, they say. No one suspected we had someone inside. You have to be kidding, eh? We sold them to him. We kept a few for ourselves, you know. He wanted to be a big shot and confessed when he was busted, he was declared the mastermind of the break-in.”
Alesandro feigned a laugh from behind the restriction of his taped mouth and wondered if he'd ever get to 'check it out'.
“Here, so impolite... let me take that tape off your face, Señor,” Miguel said, as he ripped the tape, hair and all from Alesandro.
“Gracias, señor.” Alesandro winced but didn’t let-on otherwise how much pain the ripping of tape caused, then asked, “Can I at least sit more comfortably in my last hours.”
“You are most perceptive, Maquis.” Miguel picked Alesandro up by the shoulders and set him down on the cot while noticing the man was very thin and light as a feather, “What makes you think you only have hours to live.”
“Please forgive me,” Alesandro said politely, “I know your job and also know that you must do what you must do.”
“We have lots in common, I found out about you, Alesandro Gotson Otxoa. You were some kind of bandito too.”
Alesandro had known, since he stood behind the barricades in Asturias, that every breath could be his last, and was not intimidated by those who held the threads of fear as though they were puppet masters, “That is what the Falangists called us.”
“Then you saw yourself as a freedom fighter...’ Miguel sneered, “a Maquisard.”
Alesandro didn’t answer. He’d been interrogated by the best. He wanted to see where this amateur would go with this line of inquiry.
As if to impress Alesandro, Miguel boasted, “Ah, yes... a Maquis. I came from the streets of Tijuana. You know, a Mestizo... an outcast like the Basque. Like you, si?”
“Yes,” Alesandro agreed, playing up to Miguel’s ego, “You have a cause too, I suppose. You look like you are more than a cartel pawn. I can see that from your bookshelf.”
“And you were like Che Guevara, weren’t you? I mean beret and all.”
“There is more to it than wearing a beret, Señor. A cause greater than our selves compelled us to action,” Alesandro saw an opening... like a salesman that puts a foot in the door, “I’ve seen more men committed to the action and power than I ever did see committed to a cause. Che Guevara was addicted to the bloodletting of the revolution and not The Revolution. Men like you are more honest about it.”
“Honest?”
“Yes, you are about making money and money is for accumulating power. You freely admit by the choices you make that you care about nothing beyond service to that goal,” Alesandro saw Miguel’s chest expand into pride.
“Ah, ha! You know I am self-taught. I learned to read these high-minded tomes from paperback books like these,” he growled intimidatingly as he picked up a graphic novel, El Gato Negro, from a bookshelf, “But, Alesandro, enough of this pseudo-academic palaver. We have a problem in the bodega.”
“Once you have Nick you can let her go. I don’t see a problem there.”
“And you, Alesandro, back in your day, once you have taken off the blindfold from one of your captives,” Miguel sneered, “back when you were the infamous Maquis of the Pyrenees, what would you have done?”
“It would make no difference to me.” Alesandro played his best hand. “The Pyrenees were our home where the borders melted between France and Spain... Like San Diego and Tijuana.... appearing and disappearing at will, but our faces were already known. When we took a hostage, it didn’t matter. They knew who we were, so we often let them go.”
Miguel didn’t laugh cynically but he did laugh, “Maybe I find you entertaining... yes, I do. But you know that below... in the wine cellar is the other problem.”
Alesandro's heart lept because he now knew where Adrienne was kept and that she was still alive.

"Say, Alesandro, I have heard of this woman Iniga. She was fucking you, si?"
"Stories, where did you hear of such a thing?"
"We have our sources. I've heard she was a nemesis of gangsters going back as far as the thirties in Spain who just happened to be a Maquisard like you, no?. I think she is the ghost of the legend sometimes we call Diana in Mexico, el Cazadora de Los Violadores, You know, Diana, the huntress of rapists. We know she has been busy when we find some unfortunate asshole strangled by garrote or with throats slit. Furthermore, I know you, Alesandro, was an associate... maybe even a lover of this ghost."
Alesandro answered carefully, "I've never heard of her." He was impressed that Iniga's power had such far reach as a legend that can cross an ocean all the way to Southern California via the superstitions of a primitive people of Mexico.
Miguel had a job to do and it didn’t matter whether or not this woman was real... it was the spirit of an avenger in the myth that frightened him."You mean, Diana, or Iniga... you are smart, you'll never tell. Your Adrienne is safe in my hands, just in case." 
He had more material concerns like, how to pull this off. His heart told him it would be a mortal sin for his soul, though only mortal to the bodyies of Adrienne and Alesandro, but regardless both would have to go... along with Nick.  He paced around the room restless. He decided to go down to take another look at his hostage... maybe the sight of her would fire up his imagination... if there was ever a time he needed to get creative, this was it. The F.B.I. and the D.E.A. didn’t worry him as much as what he feared of his Tijuana associates. The consequences of failing to rein in this Nick Baker was gnawing at his gut. The thought of his head being found at the feet of Benito Juarez in the Parque Guerrero, like one of his old mentors from the barrio, haunted his imagination. That was the implied promise that was made to him before he’d gone north to rendezvous with Nick Baker. To the Feds he might have been a heavy, but to his associates, he was an expendable asset if their operations were adversely affected by his exposure. He couldn’t bring in money for the franchise from prison and he would always be a risk... suspected of being an informant.
He had to check on Adrienne, so he left Alesandro alone in the tower. It's a mistake youth sometimes make about people of Alesandro’s age. They think of octogenarians as feeble, weak, and too dawdled to be creative. Granted, Alesandro was way past his prime, but never shy of laboring in the fields of Biarritz estate, he was still far from feeble. Not knowing when Miguel would return, Alesandro was careful to work on the duct tape on his wrists so as to loosen them enough, but not reveal that he’d done so. He was no Houdini, but he'd escaped so many of these situations in his maquis years that it was in his nature to persist in his efforts.

Miguel shouted as his feet hit the concrete floor of the basement, “¿Dónde está este mirado tuyo maricón?”
“No tengo ne idea. Va y viene.” She answered automatically.
“Good, you speak … Bien, que habla español. Eso lo hace fácil.”
“Eh… Only a little… Sólo un poco. ¿Francés o inglés, por favor?” she tried to cover her fluent Spanish. Mexican Spanish was different from the  Castilian Spanish she’d known since she was a child. In California; therefore, she picked up on its oddities, easily talking to her gardeners and the garbage collectors.
Miguel stood menacingly over her, but she was unmoved. Sweat beads on her forehead were from withdrawals and those held more fear for her than anything Miguel could inflict on her. She decided to make a bid to relieve the hunger, “What do you want of me?”
“Nothing... you have nothing besides your Nicky I want. You can’t tell me where to find that fucking husband of yours?”
She was aware that her life was in the balance and couldn’t offer him anything, "That asshole could be anywhere... if he’s in Santa Barbara at all.” She had to come up with something, “I do know where he stashes his cash.”
Miguel didn’t answer her offer. This was a problem. This whole hostage operation would fail if Nick had made his escape and left this puta to be killed. Her head wouldn’t solve anything with the bosses in Tee Jay. He guessed that his life wasn’t worth a peso regardless of how much cash Nick had stowed away. He wanted to ship this junky whore’s head along with her Nicky’s to Tee Jay and he might get a reprieve. But, he knew from bloody experience of a lifetime on the streets there, that it wasn’t likely unless he got back some creds by getting back a quarter million in cash.
Miguel’s phone buzzed on his belt. The ID showed an unfamiliar number. He didn’t answer it. If he’d known it was Nick, he still wouldn’t have. Make him sweat. He also held back out of superstition endemic to his mestizo DNA.
He gestured to the Ukrainian, “Follow me, Yuri.”
He led Yuri to a small closet shrine of Señora de las Sombras ("Lady of the Shadows"), or Santa Muerte, the patron saint of the cartels. Yuri shrank back at the gruesome sight of an actual human skeleton dressed in a hooded robe with candles and flowers like a Madonna, or saint something or other, he’d seen before as tourist in the churches of Sicily… not holy, as were the Icons of shrines in Kiev.
“What is this? Let me out of here,” Yuri backed from the door.
Miguel didn’t stop him. “Okay, get back down and watch the puta.”
He thought of Yuri as a godless commie, having no soul, a product of the old Soviet Union Army Spetsnaz (special purpose detachments) from the poppy fields fertilized by the blood of the mujahidin in Afghanistan. He knelt at the altar and lit a candle. The Lady of the Shadows had been his protector since he was a child. He was but eight years of age when his father had been detained by the INS in Los Angeles and his Western Union checks stopped coming. Yuri wasn’t afraid of death because he had no soul. Miguel feared death because he had a soul and respected it knowing it was always there waiting behind the next deal, the next betrayal, the next coupe; his soul destined to be greeted by the fires of hell.
Miguel worried that Nick Baker would not show up and that Miguel would have to do something about Adrienne... evoking the spirit of the Huntress. That is, if he hadn’t made that mistake already.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Chapter 15. Not Boy Scouts (Mon. 08:00 - pt 3)

Mon. 08:00: Alesandro finished meditating, wrote some in his journal and took the rear stairs. He patted Sushi on her head and left through the kitchen door to the garden in back of the house. Sushi decided she wasn’t ready to go out so she lay back down on her mat. It was in the garden in back that he felt most at peace. He sat a moment or two at the Koi pond. Tofu greeted him with a panting positioning to get his side scratched and massaged then went back into the kitchen through the doggy door to curl up next to Sushi. That done, Alesandro walked up the slope of the garden to the back gate where two characters met him the instant he opened it. He only had one arm to fight with and they made short work of him before he could shout an alarm. Twenty years before he might have put up more of a struggle. He was bound, gagged, shot up with enough fentanyl to kill a horse, and thrown into the back of the SUV.
Miguel, standing at the driver’s side of his Mercedes sedan, awaited there parked in front of the SUV. “Good work, Yuri. Now what... where’s the puta?”
“We had no choice. We damned near walked right over the old man,” Yuri explained while preparing another syringe, “You want us to dump him?”
“No. Go get the girl. We might be able to use both of them.” Miguel didn’t like the idea of two hostages, but he had a distaste for killing old men. It wasn’t as though he wouldn’t do it because he had in the past, but that didn’t mean that he liked it.
The house was empty. She’d fallen back to sleep... or nodded out after shooting up the contents of the foil. Her curtains were drawn… was it twilight? Disoriented… had the sun just gone down or was it coming up. Oh, foggy morning maybe. When she heard Sushi let out a yelp she rolled out of bed. Standing by the bed when the door swung open, she stood frozen… in shock, she couldn’t react to what she was seeing, it happened so fast… Slammed on the bed… duct tape wrapped her wrists, ankles and eyes. She started to ask, “Alesan...?” before she was muffled, the tape stretched across her face flattening her lips.
Where is Sushi and Tofu? The dogs aren’t barking…She was being carried… There were two of them… down the stairs… a third at the landing.
“Anyone else up there?” his voice, a thick Hispanic accent, was muted in her ears by the duct tape.
“Look for a woman, Alice or something.” the voice then laughed, “and there is one fuckin dead dog.”
She thought of Sushi’s yelp… what about Tofu. “Mother fuckers!” She tried to yell but her voice came out her nose something like, “Muuuthnghhrfmmmkr!!!”
Just a few steps away from the landing, the one with her ankles slipped, lost his grip, and her feet hit the tiles. Her feet slipped from under her as the other held her armpits keeping her from falling all the way. She felt the wet soak through the night shirt on her butt…
“Fuckin’ bloody dog,” this one’s accent sounded Ukrainian or something Slavic. Hard to tell with so few words. But she felt her body shift as he kicked something with a thud.
“Tffffoouh! Muuuuthnghhhrfmmmkr! Muuuthnghhrfmmkr! Moinghhrfmmmkr!” She tried to curse… that had to be Tofu!
Adrienne was being hauled out… She felt a syringe pierce through her pajamas and break off into her butt. She guessed they must’ve been going out the back way and it felt like they were going uphill to the garage and driveway. She was dumped onto a hard-carpeted surface. A door slammed shut above her… new car smell… she was in a trunk of a car. It was stuffy and maybe air tight. The car immediately began rolling… hitting speed bumps… two of ‘em and turning sharply.
“Fuck! I’m being kidnapped!” Her most loyal loving dearest friends, her dogs, were dead. Strange, she was more upset about Sushi’s and Tofu’s demise than her own peril.
Because the needle broke off the fentanyl wasn’t able to do the job on her as it did Alesandro. The same amount might have killed her as she'd shot up already that day. She never nodded out. The car didn’t go far… maybe a mile or two… it turned off over a graveled road or driveway before the car came to a stop. She could hear feet on the gravel… voices... one commanded, “Lo de la torre.”
She knew that torre meant tower and wondered whether it was Nick or Alesandro they were taking there. The trunk door with a click popped opened and fresh cool air hit her face. She could faintly hear an automatic garage door closing after she was picked up and carried up a few steps through a door…. Probably into a house. Set down on a tiled cold floor, she could hear what sounded like dominos clacking on a table… like a kitchen table. Yes, a refrigerator door opened. A bottle-sound clanked. Click/pop… fizz, it must have been Mexican beer to need a bottle opener. She noticed her ears, though taped down, were beginning to pick up sounds better.
“Lieve a la bodega, sótano,” a huskier Hispanic voice commanded.
Bodega... wine cellar... sótano... basement. Shit, she knew she would be isolated down there. She was set down… plopped down like a bag of potatoes on hard concrete… feet clomped up the stairs and a door shut at the top. She struggled with her hands and feet to work out of the binding tape, but it was wrapped tight and far too strong against her efforts.
Laying on the floor and shivering for about ten minutes, she resigned to being helpless. She rolled her body face-up after getting a whiff of a musty ammonia smell of stale urine from the concrete. Adrienne thought, I must not be the first person down here under similar conditions. She even thought of praying but she didn’t know what or who to pray to. If she was honest about it, even if God would show his face, she’d most likely spit on it.
“Sushi… Tofu… they were innocent!” was but silent scream from inside her head, if she could have cursed out loud she would have.
Adrienne didn’t hear anything of the feet coming down the steps. A hand tore the tape from her mouth and eyes, ripping out hair and flesh.
“AAAAUUUUCHHH!”
“Prick, listen to this,” she heard Miguel say in a mock Mexican accent as he held her own cell phone to her face. “Sorry. Say something to your Neeckie into the phone,”
“Nick, I have been treated badly... they have me in a basement...!”
Miguel cut in on her without an accent, “Is it clear what you have to do?” He flipped the phone shut and put it back in his pocket. He started back up the stairs. “Come w/me Dmitri.”
“Motherfucker! What did you do to my dogs?”
“Shut up or I’ll have your mouth taped again…” ordered another voice. Dmitri and Miguel headed up the stairs leaving her with the goon that had ripped the tape off her mouth.
There was nothing she could do. She drew a breath and spoke as calmly as she could to her keeper, “I’ll shut up, but I know you bastards killed my dogs.”
Without saying a word, the goon picked her up by the shoulders and set her in a wooden chair.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch! That needle broke off in my butt!” she squirmed.
He bent her forward, lifted her butt and pulled the needle out.
“You could at least apologize,” she demanded, surprised at how much she just didn’t give a shit regardless of how powerless she was over her situation.
“About the needle?”
“No. no! You shit head.”
“I’m sorry about the dogs…” Then he tore the tape from her wrists, painfully releasing them from each other. Holding her by the forearms, he put them in clamps one at a time on an arm of the sturdy wooden chair made specifically for that purpose.
He then unceremoniously jerked more hair from their roots removing remnants of the tape from her eyes, “Now shut up.”
Her vision adjusted... She assessed her situation... this was a wine cellar with two rows of wine racks that ran almost the length of the cellar opposite of her... full racks except for a few bottles here and there. “What now, what about me?”
“Try to relax.” He went across the room and sat at a table in the corner at the end of the row of shelves opposite of her where he had been almost lovingly cleaning a gun… an odd-looking pistol of some sort.
Adrienne tried to keep her mouth shut but, after about a half hour, she decided she ought to find out as much as she could from this guy at the table. She thought it might tweak his interest if she asked about something he was interested in, “I’ve never seen a pistol like that… a pistola?”
“You’ve not seen a Tec-9?” he answered.
There was hope… he will talk… maybe she could charm him a bit. “No. I don’t like guns. Who are you and why am I...?”
“I’ve learned to never ask questions like that, Senora,” he answered flatly while continuing to clean the pistol. “We might be here a while so try to take it easy.”
“Then give me something so I don’t have to call you, Hey-you. You guys have Slavic accents. Where from, Russia? Poland?”
“The Ukraine... not Russia.”
“Ah... So, tell me your name then.”
Her demand was met with silence.
“Did you drink any of the wine? There are a few bottles missing on the shelves.” she joked, finding herself wanting one of them badly.
He went behind her to what must have been a toilet. She couldn’t turn enough to see but she could hear the familiar sound of piss hitting water.
At that she became increasingly aware that her bladder was also achingly becoming agonizingly full. After he returned to his seat ignoring her, she called out, “You there, Hey-you...”
Leaning back on his chair, he lit a smoke. “You can call me Yuri, eh.”
“Yuri,” she pled, “I gotta pee too?”
“Well lady, that seems to be your problem, doesn’t it?”
“What am I supposed to do, piss myself sitting here?”
“Every problem has a solution, doesn’t it?” He said, grinning sadistically.
“If we are going to be amigos down here for a while this basement is going to be a stink more than it does already, especially when I have to shit myself, if you know what I mean.”
“Okay, but don’t try anything... there is no way out even if you get past me,” he recanted and unbuckled the clamps on her hands and feet. He held her by the arm and led her to the toilet. The toilet afforded no privacy as it had no stall or enclosure of any kind.
“Are you going to turn your back to me or do you get your kicks watching a woman do this?”
He turned his back. She thought, at least he was somewhat a gentleman. “Thanks,” she said to his back.
She wondered what Nick had gotten into now that put her in a wine cellar and had her beloved dogs killed. The bile of anger, the need for a fix, and the hopelessness of her predicament went to Nick. Almost as quickly it ricocheted back to herself for not heeding his warning and wished she hadn’t gone back to bed when he left.
“It was my own damned fault!” she whimpered.
Yuri had seen the sweat beads forming on her forehead and had felt the clammy touch of her arm’s flesh. Her grey flannel pajamas soaked through too as she shivered, and he knew she was dope-sick but had not begged for a fix. He was thinking they might be down in that pit for hours, or perhaps days and it would be easier to watch her if she were sedated. “I have my orders, but I can give you some relief while we wait, if you...” he began to offer.
Adrienne hesitated. Her body woke up to the anticipation that was almost as good as a fix... almost, “So, is this the time for you to make a trade for a blow job?”
“Sure, but you know you are in no position to bargain. I can do with you as I like.”
She was resigned... anything he asked or demanded would be done, “Okay, let’s get on with it then.”
Yuri opened the pack he kept his weapons in and took out a prescription jar, and taking a bottle of Evian, he approached asking surprisingly politely, “How many do you need?”
“What are they, valium, oxy, what?”
“Percocet.”
“From my place?”
Yuri checked the bottle, “Yes.”
“I’ll take four.”
“Shit, four?” he flipped the cap. “I don’t want to knock you out. Just stem the...”
“You want a blowjob you’d better give me four.”
“Okay, two. I’ll give you two. I didn’t say I wanted a blowjob, did I?”
He put two in her mouth and held the bottle of water to her lips. “You can have more if these don’t do the trick. But make ‘em last. We might be here longer than planned.”

The intimacy of his fingers slipping the pills in her mouth on her tongue and holding the water to her lips evoked memory of her first communion and more. Tears...a flood of tears... tears of gratitude... washed her cheeks. She would have blown him, fucked him, anything he demanded but he didn’t ask, and she was grateful for that too. Is it strange, she thought, to be grateful towards your kidnapper?

Alesandro came-to on the hardwood floor of the tower. The room was empty except for four security monitors, scanner police band radio’s, coded radios, a computer, a book shelf, and a magazine rack holding a few magazines with Spanish titles next to a cot. He scanned the room for an exit. There was a row of cabinet doors along one wall and he wondered if one might be an exit. Then he thought better of it. He worked on loosening up the duct tape that held his hands behind his back. He managed to reach his ankles in back with his bound hands and began working there first.

Chapter 20. The Massage Table

17:30: Irene Casey drove up Rinconada Street, to Teresa Sokolovsky’s condo. She was desperate to find out whether the agencies on the scen...