I ran and ran and ran, tripping over roots, dodging the trees in the weak moonlight that filtered through the trees, until the river suddenly cut across in front of me. I had no idea where I was, and I could see a few more stars than usual without the city lights. Somewhere in the trees a bird called out.
I thought about my parents, the people I was most worried about. Actually, the only people on this earth who mattered to me. I worried about Salvador finding out that I had run, I worried that he would kill them. But as brash as he was, he wouldn’t do anything until he knew the facts. At least, I hoped that would be the case. The plan was for me to call my friend Camila and get her to take care of them – before he could.
Looking around me, I made my way to the river’s edge and contemplated going across. It wasn’t as wide here and didn’t look to be as deep, with the tops of a few boulders poking their way through the current. I wondered if Juan Diego had alerted Salvador about what happened. I wondered if Rico had been watching when I disappeared from the cameras. I wondered how much time I had before they found me.
A branch snapped behind me. Even though that was the only sound I heard, I knew it belonged to a person who was probably wincing very loudly at his mistake. You couldn’t afford to make mistakes in Mexico.
I quickly jumped from the shore and into the river, the cold water coming up to my mid-thighs and catching me by surprise. I gasped loudly and was momentarily frozen from the shock. Then I heard a fervent rustling behind me and knew I had to keep going or I’d die.
Or worse. With Salvador there was always worse.
The current rushing up against me was strong, and my sneakers slid against the sand and pebbles under my feet, but I made myself move, made myself push through the river, the other side so close. I kept going, my legs turning to ice, my eyes focused on the dry land, my arms stretched out as if I could reach it that way.
I heard a splash behind me. I would not turn around. I would not give up.
I cried out in frustration, lunging forward to reach the sand, as if that would save me in the end. But there was no saving me.
Suddenly thick, rough arms went around my waist, lifting me up out of the water. I heard another splash, nearly drowned out by my cries, and everything went black as a bag was placed over my head. My arms were yanked back behind me so fast that I thought they were being pulled out of the sockets. I screamed in pain, my breath hot inside the bag that felt like it was already starting to drown me.
Another pair of hands went for my legs. I started kicking wildly, hoping that the current would catch the person off-balance, but within seconds my legs were wrapped with rope and I was being led out of the river like a pig on a stick, a man holding up either end of me.
“Two minutes,” someone said, a man’s voice that I didn’t recognize. Despite the bag that made everything sound muffled, he sounded like he was from the east coast.
“Are you sure?” asked the other man, his voice low and baritone, and close to my ear, the one who gripped my hands behind my back.
“I’m never wrong, hey.”
“All right, Este. Let’s not go down this path again. We have the bitch, let’s go.”
I swallowed hard, my stomach sick, a swirling pool of knots. This wasn’t Salvador. These weren’t his men. This was someone else, and even though I was running away from him, it was always better with the devil you know.
I was suddenly jerked downward, my back arching, and I cried out again. I cried out for Salvador as a last resort.
“Salvador!” I screamed through the bag, the heat rising up to my cheeks. “Help me!”