Chapter 14

            Crossing the border at two in the morning was an experience that Aiden hated. It was dreary. The agent booths at the border were extra menacing. There was a glow about the border that he hated. Fluorescent lights were everywhere. It was like a makeshift interrogation room, but outdoors and with the potential of denying you entry into your own country. It was like driving straight into a trap. And after the recent experience at the border and his sister’s handling of their joint questioning, Aiden’s stomach turned for the entire two-hour drive toward the border.

            Ayanna’s driving didn’t help the situation. He asked her to slow down at least seven times before she finally shut off the radio and gripped the wheel tightly with both hands.

            “Take a nap or something. I’m not going that fast.” Continue reading

Chapter 13

            Ayanna stared through the double glass window of her office out to the ring. The seats were about seventy-five percent full, and she tapped the toe of her black stiletto on the cement floor with arms folded across her chest. Aiden was struggling in the ring, and a small smile crept up over her face as he was repeatedly slammed to the ground by a Mexican wrestler in bright orange costume, who looked to easily outweigh Aiden by 100 pounds.

            “Ayanna…” Kirsten, a petite blonde, who looked to be under the age of twenty, hurried in from the door directly across from the window with clipboard in hand and black messenger bag slung across her shoulders.

            “Shut. Up.” Ayanna’s eyes did not move from her brother in the ring. She silently exhaled as he was slammed to the ring once more and proclaimed the loser in the final match of the night. She rushed past Kirsten to the outside room, ceremoniously running over to her brother and hugging him. She grabbed the microphone from the announcer. Continue reading

Chapter 12

It was fifteen minutes before seven when Teresa arrived at the nondescript warehouse fifteen miles south of the hotel.  The outside of the building was covered with graffiti, and the cement stone exterior was cracked in so many places that had it been taller than one story, she would have worried about the building slipping from its very foundation. Before she entered the building, she decided that she would take a quick walk around the perimeter. There was absolutely nothing surrounding it. The southern end of the building faced the street, and the northern end contained the door. The exterior door was metal, and it did nothing to add anything to the otherwise indistinguishable gray building. Completing her walk around the perimeter, she noted that apart from worn paths in the dirt, presumably made by the spectators of the wrestling matches, there a complete lack of vegetation or anything that would customarily be outside a building—like trash cans.

            Once she entered through the solid gray door, she stepped into what appeared to be a hallway with a single doorway. It was odd, as though there was a completely new building inside the outer building. She wanted to wander down both ends of the hallway to see what was contained in their darkened corners, but she feared being discovered. She was early, but the double glass doors were already open and she walked toward the center of the large warehouse toward the ring. There were seats arranged on all four sides and a red carpet walkway arranged from both of the corners on the southernmost end of the ring. Her eyes trailed the carpets to identical black doors. Between the doors was a mirror that spanned the length of the room. She guessed that it was a one-way mirror and that she might find Ayanna’s office behind that mirror. She couldn’t see any other place an office would exist that she would be able to watch the fight from. She made her way over to one of the black doors wondering if she should knock or just enter. Or if it mattered which door she chose. Continue reading

Chapter 11

Teresa knocked on Aiden’s hotel room door about fifteen minutes before noon. Instead of working on her notes for the case as she needed to do, she had spent most of the morning sleeping. She scolded herself for her lack of attention to the task at hand and reminded herself of the potential dangers of slacking off on this case, especially since she was meeting up with her prime suspect.

            She raised her clenched hand once more to knock on the door when it swung open. She was startled to have it open right in front of her and smiled a little to mask her uneasiness. Aiden had changed into red warm-up pants and a black sweatshirt. She was starting to wonder what was behind the arrogance in this constant presence of red and black. Now that the signature red and black scorpion had made the six o’clock news in both English and Spanish, she thought that Aiden would surely wear a different color.

            She nodded and took a step to the side, trying to make it apparent that she was not going to enter his hotel room. He seemed to understand and asked her to wait for a moment while he grabbed his wallet off the nightstand. She leaned against the wall standing adjacent to the door as it shut behind Aiden.

            Teresa took a deep breath as she waited for his return. She looked across the hallway to the room occupied by Ayanna, wondering if she would be walking with them to the restaurant. She straightened up a little when Aiden opened the door again. Continue reading

Chapter 10

            Teresa awoke as the sun sprayed dim light across her face.  She blinked twice, reorienting herself to the hotel room. She had fallen asleep on the couch. She stretched out for a moment before reaching over to her phone to check the time. 5:49. Had it not been for the sun, she would have guessed it was evening. There was no way she had slept all night.

            She made her way to the bedroom where she pulled on a pair of loose-fitting shorts and a tank top. She swept her hair up into a bun, threw a green hooded sweatshirt over the entire ensemble and completed the look with a baseball cap. She stood at the foot of the bed for a few moments, thinking about whether or not it was wise to go for an early morning run. Well, she thought, there’s no need to be unhealthy just because she was working.

            She continued with her stretches before grabbing her phone and room key. She entered the dark hallway and made her way down the stairs at the far end of the hallway, passing both Ayanna and Aiden’s rooms on the way out. The light in Ayanna’s room was out, but light—sunlight she supposed—crept from under Aiden’s door. She wished for a moment that she could think of a reason to knock on the door. She could pretend to be confused after coming in from a long night, but the workout clothes would betray that lie. She hesitated for a moment at the top of the stairs thinking that if Aiden were awake, she should stay in her room.

            As Teresa exited the double doors at the front of the hotel, she stopped to see another runner standing in front of the neon-lit vacation spot. She moved closer to the stretching athlete to realize that it was Aiden. Continue reading

Chapter 9

            Teresa spread the pictures of three murder victims across the coffee table of the dark hotel room once more. She stared at them in the flickering blue light cast about the room by the television. There was a pulsing pain in her head. And she thought illuminating the crime scene pictures would only make it worse. She closed the manila folder to hide the pictures and stared vacantly at the Spanish-language game show that had just started. She thought, perhaps, that yoga would be a good way to relax away her headache, but she just couldn’t force herself to get off the couch. Instead, she sunk into the pillows once more, closing her eyes briefly.

            The vibrating cell phone on her coffee table brought her back into the room.

            “Donny?”

            “They just finished with the interview.”

            “Anything?”

            “She’s a real firecracker that one. The agent said she commandeered the entire interview, even tried to walk out before they were dismissed.”

            “That is Ayanna Sanchez in a nutshell. What about Aiden?” Continue reading

Chapter 8

            Ayanna tapped the toe of her stiletto pump on the white tile over and over in rhythm with the song that repeated in her head. Every few moments, Aiden would reach over and put his hand on her knee. It didn’t really matter. The hallway was so crowded that he couldn’t hear the tapping anyway. It was more about the constant motion of her knee. Plus, she was making him nervous.

            Aiden looked down the hallway. There were three doors to the right of them and seven doors to the left of them. They were solid wood doors, but next to each was a fairly large glass window. Some of the windows had the shades drawn, and he could see that the lights were off. Others had the shades wide open and a bustle of activity behind the window. The doors were spaced pretty evenly apart, and between each pair of doors were four metal chairs identical to the ones he and Ayanna spread themselves and their belongings across. Directly across from them sat what Aiden guessed to be a family. There was a young woman with three children resting on or near her. She had a rather young face, and Aiden guessed that she was in her early twenties. The man next to her appeared to be at least twenty years older than her. As he stared at them, he took a second guess and wondered if perhaps he was a brother or a father. They definitely looked too intimate for either of those relationship types, but he still wondered. For a brief moment, she made eye contact with him and he smiled at her.

            Ayanna noticed this and dug her fingernails into his thigh.

            “Not the time, Aiden. Not the time.” Continue reading

Chapter 7

Teresa returned to her hotel room after a quick lunch down the street. She was trying to be mindful of the warning to be careful, even though she knew that trouble would find her regardless of what she did to prevent it.

            She sat down in a living room that was identical to the one that existed in Aiden’s room, although she didn’t know that. She put her bare feet up on the coffee table and turned on the television. After a few minutes of flipping through the channels, she settled on the local news even though she understood only half of what was going on. She hugged her chest to her knees, drawing in several slow breaths. Her side hurt a little. She was tired.

            She thought about the inviting bed in the next room and had just about decided to retire for a nap—if not for the night—when three familiar faces appeared on the television screen.  She squinted her eyes as though that would somehow help her to translate what was being said on screen.

            She quickly dialed Donald and waited as she heard the phone ring over and over again. She shut it and opened up the preferences pane on the phone, setting it so her number and name would show up when she called back. When she dialed the second time, he picked up in the middle of the second ring. She kept her eyes glued to the television set with the fingers on her free hand running up and down the scar on her neck.

            “I thought you said you were keeping this out of the press,” she said. Continue reading

Chapter 6

            Aiden stirred a little in his sleep in the hotel bed that he had tried to make comfortable with a request for six extra pillows. The room was certainly large enough. There was a separate bedroom decorated all in blue. The comforter on the bed was navy and everything else, down to the wallpaper and carpet, was a lighter variation of that blue. The living room out front had a huge plasma TV, a sofa and a loveseat. On the coffee table directly in front of the television set lie the wrappers that betrayed the wrestler’s very unhealthy eating habits. Two empty cans of coca-cola were on the floor next to the couch, and the television was flickering. The local news was muted, but the images of the three young female tourists flashed across the screen over and over again. Had the sound been on and Aiden been in the room, he would have heard the newscasters identify the young women as part of his wrestling team.

            For now, Aiden Sanchez was fast asleep. He breathed shallowly in the bed, upper torso exposed.

            He stirred a little at the sound of the vibrating phone on the nightstand, but did not wake from his sleep. He had grown accustomed to sleeping several hours during the early evening after long days of working out, and he was even more accustomed to Ayanna’s constant phone messages reminding him of what costume he had to wear or what move he should make to defeat his opponent. She was controlling, but he loved her and he wanted to support her business.

            It was the least he could do.

            The phone rang again and again. After fifteen minutes of vibrations on the nightstand, he finally was pulled out of his dream state. Even then, he wasn’t entirely sure what had woken him up, and he blinked several times staring at the ceiling. Stretching out a bit, he leaned over to the nightstand and picked up the phone. He flipped open the screen and saw Ayanna’s eighteen missed phone calls. He sighed a little. He knew she was under a lot of stress. The next two nights would be huge. He was supposed to take the title belt on Saturday night, and it was supposed to be an upset. He wasn’t sure how she managed, but she always held her ground among the biggest, toughest promoters in Tijuana. He admired her a little for that, but he knew that she was driven largely by her want of money. She liked her shiny car and fancy clothes, and this game was how she got those things. Still, he wasn’t sure how she had negotiated that he would win the title. It had nothing to do with ego for him. Everyone knew that the fights were fixed. He was more excited about the fact that the title win meant that he would be able to take a few weeks off and return to Los Angeles.

            When the phone rang for the nineteenth time, Aiden opened his large brown eyes, and pressed the “on” button.

            “Yani,” he started. “Sorry. I was sleeping. Just finished…”

            “Turn on the news.”

            “I’m in bed.”

            “Aiden. Get out of bed and turn on the news.” Her voice was controlled, but he knew that she meant it.

            He pulled himself out of bed, pulling his new black sweatshirt over his head, and stumbled into the living room. He stretched out on the couch, grabbing the remote with his left hand, while still holding the phone to his right ear.

            “What’s so…” his voice trailed off even before he turned up the sound on the television.

            “Shit. That’s Trina.” He sat up on the couch, turning the sound up quickly. “It’s in Spanish, Yani. What the fuck happened?” Continue reading

Chapter 5

The room was dark and damp. There was a crudely carved wooden table in the center of the room. A small reading light sat on a smaller, even more crudely created table in the corner of the room. It was not intended to intimidate in any fashion. It sat there merely to give a little illumination to the dark room without shedding any light under the doorway. The air was heavy when the room was sealed off, and with three people inside, it was especially hard to gain a full breath of air.

            Ayanna crossed her legs above the knee revealing most of her legs under her black dress as she sat at the edge of the table. One of the two huge men reached across the table and grabbed her thigh, pulling her off the table.

            “I told you…” Ayanna crossed her arms across her chest and glared at the man who had about fifteen inches and 150 pounds on her. “Not to fucking touch me. And that I’m not standing on this shitty dirt.” Continue reading