There was a pause. Then Este said, “Not badly. She’s somewhat coherent.”
“You didn’t gag her?”
“No, but she shut up when she needed to.”
“It’s lucky she was out there.”
“Yes. It was.”
Who were these men? Which cartel? Salvador had so many enemies and so many alliances that harbored grudges, you could never be sure who was looking for some way to ground traction. But even though I knew my fate was most likely death, it all depended on who I was with. Who had me. Some men were more deplorable than others. Now that the famous gringo Travis Raines was dead, Salvador himself was probably the worst of them all.
Though there was one cartel, one man, who I’d been told could give my husband a run for his money. He was famous for slicing the heads, hands, and feet off of people and littering them in streets all over the country.
There was a strange moment of silence and I concentrated hard, trying to hear more than the obvious. They were all waiting. Waiting for the order. Waiting for the man in charge to speak.
It came from the left of me. His voice was cool, calm, and collected. I didn’t have to see to know who had taken me. The man I’d heard so much about. The man I’d been taught to fear.
“Gentleman,” he said, and I could almost feel his infamous eyes on my body, “remove the bag.”
There was a rustle and my face was immediately met with cool air that seized my lungs and bright lights that blinded me. I scrunched up my face, afraid to look, to see. Now it was all so real and I wanted to stay in the dark.
“Who did this?”
Suddenly, cool hands were at my swollen cheek and I flinched.
“Who did this?” my captor repeated, an edge to his level voice, his cigar-laced breath on my face.
“Sorry,” Franco mumbled. “It was the only way to quiet her.”
A heavy pause filled the room like dead weight. Finally the fingers came away from my skin, and my body relaxed momentarily. The man was in my face, the spicy scent of tea emanating off of him.
“Look at me, Luisa Reyes.”
Chavez, I thought to myself. I will always be Luisa Chavez.
“Darling, aren’t you curious to know where you are?”
“My name is Luisa Chavez,” I said. I opened my eyes to see golden ones staring right back at me. It was like looking at an eagle. “And I know where I am. I know who you are. You are Javier Bernal.”
He raised his brow in amusement and nodded. I’d seen his picture before, on the news. There was only one, and that was his mugshot, but even in that photo his eyes made an impression on you. They saw right into your depths and made you question yourself. He was one of the men that Salvador feared, even though Salvador had more power. He was the one I had been told to watch out for, the supposed reason why I’d always been locked in the compound or escorted by the local police to go shopping.
And yet here I was, tied to a chair in a cold, leaking basement with nothing in it except five cartel members, a video camera, and a knife that lay on top of a stool in front of me.
All of that for nothing. I could escape Salvador but I could never escape the cartels.
I had asked for this fate.
“You know why you’re here,” Javier said with deliberation, straightening up in his sharp black suit. He walked over to the stool, picked up the knife, and glanced at me over his shoulder. “Don’t you?”
I could only breathe. I wanted to look at the others, at Este, at Franco, at the two other mystery men, but I was frozen in his gaze like a deer in headlights.