A fist came down on my cheekbone, my face exploding in stars of pain.
“Easy now, Franco” said Este, and the fist didn’t come again. My lips throbbed, my mouth filled with blood, and I knew better than to try and cry out once more.
The men, Este and Franco, carried me away, their pace quickening. I only heard their breathing, fast and shallow, and the sound of the earth beneath their quiet feet. I could smell Franco’s greasy breath, so close to my head. Every time I thought I might be able to move out of their hands and make an escape, their grip tightened around me even more.
I was going to die. There was no doubt about that now. Not at the hands of Salvador. In the hands of some unknown fate. These men, they were taking me somewhere. There was a reason I wasn’t dead yet—death was the dessert.
I took in a deep breath, my mind beginning to swim laps in a dark pool. I wished these men had just killed me. My parents had money now because of my marriage. That was the whole point of it all. That was the point of everything—to give them a better life in their ailing years than I ever had growing up. If I died, I would die with peace in my heart knowing they were okay. It was the only thing that made my life worthwhile.
I must have lost consciousness due to lack of air because suddenly my head slammed back against something hard, and I fell over onto a cold slab. An engine whirred, the smell of exhaust seeping through. I was in a car—no, the back of a van—being taken somewhere. That dessert again.
I was in and out for the next while until the van jerked to a stop. I heard the back doors open, and before I could move, there were hands on me again, three pairs this time. They pulled me out of the van so fast that I cracked my head on the door frame. I heard Este apologize under his breath but that was it. Strong fingers seared into my arms and waist, and I was yanked forward across what felt like well-kept grass. For a split second I thought I wrong, and I was actually back at home. For that second I had hope, hope to just keep living, while before I only had the hope to live under my own terms. Now it was all about survival, instinct trumping reality.
The moment I heard a door open and I was shuffled down a staircase, the damp and musty smell permeating my nostrils, I knew I wasn’t back at home. We didn’t have a basement. Salvador had rooms for torture in other houses, but not ours. At least, no rooms that I could ever see.
My mind began to race, flipping through thoughts and images I had been subjected to ever since I married Salvador. Who had taken me? Salvador had the Sinaloa state military and the police at his command, so it wasn’t them. It was another cartel or one of his old associates trying to usurp the boss. He had told me from the beginning that there were men out there who wanted me, who would do anything to have me—to take me, torture me, hold me for ransom, then torture me some more.
The wife of the jackal is the greatest card you can play in this game.
I was thrown down onto a chair, my hands and feet immediately unbound, and then tied back to the arms and legs before I could struggle. I thought about screaming again but the side of my face still throbbed with the violence. Este had warned Franco off, but I knew cartel men; I knew them too well, and I knew that courtesy never extended very far.
I started to shake uncontrollably and my whole body rocking with the spasm while hot tears pooled in my eyes. But I refused to let them fall. I knew what was coming next. The bag would come off my head. The bags would go on theirs. The camera would turn on.
I didn’t want the world to see me afraid. I had been afraid for too long.
“Is everything ready?” Este asked.
“It’s all set up,” I heard someone say, another male voice, heavy footsteps coming toward me. I tensed up, sensing Franco and Este and some other figure on all sides of me, and the other person, the one who had just spoken, who stopped a few feet away. I wondered if there were more than four people in the room and decided there must be. I could almost feel someone else’s eyes, hear their breath, read their silence.