Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
It was easier this time, coming to the surface. She simply allowed the tides to take her, and she floated, drifted her way towards consciousness. The pain, blessedly, had receded back into a dull awareness of it, that was all, but at the same time she was as weak as a newborn kitten, and knew it.
Her eyes fluttered open.
How much time had passed she hadnt a clue. But she got some sense that it was night; the room was dark, lit only by the dials and view-screens of the equipment that seemed to clutter around the bed she found herself in, that, and the fact that the woman seated next to her, watching her intently, was wearing a light saffron-colored robe over silken night-clothes.
Another patient? No, Lane considered. Nobody in hospitals dressed that way, not that she knew of. The woman looked so familiar. The agent frowned, trying to remember, forcing her mind to do its work.
"Here," the woman said quietly, producing a plastic cup with a straw in it. "Drink this. The doctor said its okay."
Lane obediently did as she was told, weakly lifting her head and awkwardly reaching out a hand to guide the cup to her lips, but she found she hadnt the strength to complete the maneuver. Her hand flopped uselessly back to her side.
And then the straw was in her mouth and she was greedily sucking down the cool water, her parched throat rejoicing.
"Thats enough for now," the woman said, moving the cup away when she began to cough and sputter. "You can have more later."
"Thanks." Lane let her head fall back onto the pillow and she cleared her throat, studying the woman more closely. She was one helluva looker, that was for sure, with a pair of green eyes that seemed to shine even in the dim light, despite the dark circles smudged beneath them. Her tousled blonde hair was short and feathered, and her creamy skin seemed translucent, almost ghostlike .
It came back to her then in a furious, hot rush - the woman standing on the balcony.
Enrico Leóns woman, Teresa.
The operation, taking down the drug lord, and how it all had gone terribly wrong in an instant.
That asshole, Gates Romero, he had set her up! And as for David Starks a surge of anger shot through her at the memory of her boss. The bastard had engineered the whole thing. Hed gone bad, turned, and was one of Felix Benitezs boys now, sucking his cock for, what, an extra ten grand a month?
Leaving her here, for dead.
"Im gonna kill him," Lane mumbled. She struggled to sit up and immediately found she couldnt get far; she was too weak, hooked up to too many damn pieces of equipment. Out of the corner of her eye, she was vaguely aware of the woman next to her shrinking back. "IIm sorry," Lane said, her voice more of a sigh, and she sank back down. "I didnt mean to frighten you."
"You didnt," Teresa told her, but Lane had seen the flash of alarm in her eyes. And then, "How do you feel?"
"Better." She lowered her gaze, examining the white sheet covering her, the tubes coming out of her arms. "Than before," she added, furious at the blush that crept into her cheeks with the remembrance that this was the woman shed earlier decided had been her angel. God she hoped she hadnt said anything then .
"Good." Teresas voice was low, calm. "The doctor has given you something for the pain. Youve been shot, you know," she added matter-of-factly.
Lane thought about that. Oh yeah, she remembered it all, now. That fucking prick, Starks. "I know."
Teresa looked towards the wall, gazing towards a window that wasnt there, and then she turned her attention back to her. "Who are you?"
Lane said nothing. She simply stared at the woman, blinking away the fog. Damn, her brain was still so muddled, she didnt know what the hell to say. She hadnt prepared a plan for this. For any of this.
"What is your name?" Teresa persisted. "Youre an American. Ive guessed that much."
She still didnt answer; her tongue suddenly felt thick and heavy in her mouth.
"Youre alive, for now. Whether you stay that way is up to you."
Teresas voice was still so low, so intimate, that at first Lane was unable to process the words.
"Tell me ." Teresa tensed her lips. "Tell me about Felix Javier Benitez. How much did he pay you to kill my husband?"
She understood her now, all right. Loud and clear. Teresa León was assuming she worked for Benitez. And why not? At first blush, that conclusion made sense. And now here this woman was, looking to play the avenging wife, right?
"Some husband," Lane snorted in spite of herself, and she immediately regretted the words even before theyd finished escaping her chapped lips. She saw the flicker of pain cross the womans ashen face, detected the glaze of hurt in her eyes, before the reality was quickly replaced by the mask.
"How dare you." The voice was cold now, and she could see the woman withdrawing.
"Lady, youve got it all wrong," Lane sighed, wincing when she absent-mindedly tried to move her left leg. "Weve both been screwed. My my name is Lane Sinclair," she told her, deciding with a mental flip of the coin to lay it all out there on the line. "Im a special agent with the DEA." Whether Teresa was involved with Enricos business or not that didnt matter right now. Shed been kept alive for a reason, she knew that much. Sure, she could fake being one of Benitezs people and probably last all of five minutes before being exposed. Well, like her momma had told her, honesty was the best policy, so why not give it a shot? Besides, she was in no condition at the moment to pretend otherwise.
Teresa was staring at her now, the surprise plain on her face. Her mouth hung slightly open as she considered this bit of news.
"I suppose my saying youre under arrest right now is somewhat premature?" She quirked an eyebrow at her captor.
"You can check my ID," Lane began.
"No." Teresa pulled her robe more tightly around her, as though she were cold. "You had none. You work for Felix, admit it."
Great. Starks strikes again. "Look Missus Señora whatever," Lane eyed the painted white ceiling in frustration, "I came here to arrest your husband and bring him back to the United States. Thats all. Now, I know you could give a shit about my problems, but I figure my problems might be your problems too," she said harshly, the vague beginnings of a plan beginning to take shape in her mind.
A plan, yeah, thats what she needed to get her sorry ass out of this mess. "Turns out my boss was working for Benitez all along," she continued, catching the sudden look of interest on younger womans face. "It was a set-up. He never had any intention of letting me take Enrico back to the States alive." The sudden sound of venom in her voice was real enough. God, if she ever got her hands on Starks again, he was the one who would end up dead. "With your husband gone, Benitez figures itll be easy for him to move in to roll right over you take over the operation."
Teresa absorbed this information for a moment, biting her lower lip. "And what about you?" she asked, her voice once again low, controlled.
Lane choked out a bitter laugh. "Me? Im supposed to be dead, lady. He was gonna lay some bullshit story on the people back home about some accident." Her voice trailed away. She was tired, so damn tired. And the pain was starting to kick up again, too. "Now, all I want to do is take him down," she whispered, closing her eyes, and that was the truth. "Any way I can."
She could feel the heat of Teresas stare upon her, could hear her shallow breathing, in and out, over the beeps and hums of the medical equipment. "Well have to check out your story." The scrape of a chair as she stood. "Youve bought yourself some time, Lane Sinclair. Thats all."
So tired. She never heard the door close when Teresa left her.
"Señora, please think about what you are saying!"
They were all gathered in Enricos office, her office now, for their first meeting since Ricos death. Carlos was there, the useless twit; Ernesto García, and Manuel Diaz, of course, as well as Lorenzo Avalos, the unofficial head of her husbands minority partners.
Lorenzo Avalos was speaking, he who had walked so confidently into the Casa Mariposa this morning, just as Carlos had, each certain he would be elevated to the position of head of the cartel. She knew Lorenzo as well as she needed to, knew his wife, Anna, and their children also. In another life the squat, dark, middle-aged man might have run a textile factory, or a grain distributorship. As it was, she recognized him as a man whose reach far exceeded his grasp. There was no way he had the stomach for the top job, or the vision, either. Rico had understood that, which was probably why he was content to have Lorenzo remain as merely the spokesperson for the partners.
She was sitting at Ricos massive desk, not at the conference table, having decided that it was important to deal with these men from a position of confidence, of power. And the old Spanish desk certainly had that effect; it was so huge that she feared it might very well swallow her whole. The men had pulled up chairs and had gathered around the desk and were watching her, waiting.
Teresas eyes drifted to the papers resting before her, printouts of news articles shed pulled from the internet. Of course, their contacts in the states were checking independently to confirm the facts, but the stories all read the same; simply, concisely.
So this much of her guests story appeared true.
Two agents from the El Paso Field Office of the DEA had been on a fact-finding mission to the Mexican state of Sinaloa. In a blow to the ongoing war against drugs, one of the agents, a Lane M. Sinclair, was lost and presumed dead along with two of her Mexican counterparts, in a helicopter crash somewhere off the coast of La Cruz.
There were just a few lines to each report, that was all. Apparently, the national wire services had better things to do with their bandwidth, like reporting on the latest insipid speech from President Arnold, or the latest shocking Hollywood divorce.
"Señora!" Lorenzo Avalos demanded her attention.
She shifted her gaze from the papers to the men across the wide ocean of a desk, in time to see Carlos place a cigarette in his mouth and thumb an expensive, solid-gold lighter.
"Please, put that out, brother."
It was all about strength. Authority. Not necessarily measured in muscle or size, but by grit and determination.
Carlos was clearly taken aback. The cigarette bobbed in his mouth. "But Rico"
"Is not here," she finished for him.
She could see his eyes dart about, searching for support and finding none. As usual. Furious, he snatched the cigarette from his lips, with his pudgy fingers. "Puta," he muttered under his breath, but Teresa pretended not to hear him. His day would come. And soon.
Lorenzo Avalos nervously cleared his throat. "Señora," he proceeded more delicately, "Are you sure you wouldnt be more comfortable not having to worry over such trivial matters? Why concern yourself over these things? The strain of running a business, especially a business," he diplomatically searched for the proper words, "of such wide-ranging interests?"
"No," Teresa said firmly, noting the disappointment in Lorenzos dark, pouting features, and finding herself strangely pleased at that. Hed been so confident that she would simply give it up - they had all thought the same.
As if any of them had a chance of running the business as well as Enrico had! As well as they both had.
The likes of Lorenzo Avalos and Carlos León would be easy pickings for Felix Javier Benitez, if the head of the Juárez cartel were given half the chance to have at them. Well, she would not play dead. She would not roll over. She had her own ideas for the business, ideas they could never guess at.
"I wont step down," Teresa told them. "My husband built this business, with me by his side. You all know that. Now that he is gone, it falls to me. I will carry on in his memory," she declared, knowing that was not the only reason she was taking the reins into her hands. Hell, it wasnt even the truth.
"We carry on with our plans," she continued, gazing at them levelly. "Expanding our distribution network through Canada. Tightening up our northern border operations."
"Teresa." Ernesto García leaned forward, a hand moving to adjust the frame of his glasses. "All this has been so sudden." He licked his lips. "I was Enricos abogado and therefore I am yours, so I hope you will listen to me when I tell you you need time to mourn. To grieve. Please. Let us handle things."
"No," Teresa insisted, her anger flaring. "Do you think Felix Benitez is grieving? Is he mourning? Hes laughing at us. He killed my husband and hes laughing." She watched them shift uncomfortably in their seats as their greed did battle with their shame. She turned to Manuel. "What else have you been able to find out from the driver? From the preventivo? Who else was involved?"
Her husbands henchman did not answer at first. Instead, he kept his eyes fixed on the floor, his jaw working.
"They are both dead."
She felt her stomach lurch. It wasnt over yet, the death and the blood. Far from it. "By whose order?" She moved her clasped hands from the desk to her lap, the better to conceal their shaking.
"Mine." Manuel looked directly at her then, his dark eyes bright with anger. "Its what Enrico would have wanted," he said defiantly. "One man let him down, and the other was a traitor!"
Teresa forced herself to continue to breathe, to gather herself. "In the future," she said tersely, "you will do no such thing without clearing it with me first."
"You heard me! Why bring more attention to ourselves than we already have? There could be repercussions."
"An eye for an eye," Manuel said stonily, folding his arms across his muscular chest and turning away.
"Speaking of which," Lorenzos voice sounded querulously, "I understand, Señora, that you have, ah a guest?" He lifted his bushy eyebrows to her in question.
She knew the subject had been bound to come up eventually. Knew she wouldve had to address it sooner or later. "Yes," she said, as though it were the most logical thing in all the world to have taken possibly one of her husbands killers into her home.
"One of Benitezs people," Manuel spat out. "We should get out of her what we can, and ship the rest back to her employer." He paused for effect. "In pieces."
"Shes not with Benitez," Teresa told them, bracing for their reactions. "Shes DEA. Set-up, as part of the operation to take Enrico."
"DEA?" Carlos boomed. "This is ludicrous! She should be disposed of, now! Before she brings the gringos down on us all!"
"Chingar!" Manuel swore, seething. "I knew I should have"
"Were not doing anything, yet." She raised her voice to be heard above them. "Shes not with Benitez, Im sure of that. But the man she was working for, is. Im convinced theres a way we can use this to our advantage. Killing her now is not."
Lorenzo Avalos looked as though he were about to cry. "DEA this is bad," he wheedled, "very bad, Señora."
"Actually," Ernesto broke in, "I agree with Teresa, for now." The attorney turned to face his colleagues. "Handled properly, this woman could be our ace in the hole. When it comes to dealing with El Norte, and with Benitez."
"But Benitez must be dealt with!" Manuel cried out, frustrated. "We must take action. Send him a sign that we know what he did and that we will not stand for such an outrage!"
"Oh, we will," Teresa said, gazing out the windows towards the hills of the Sierra Madres. Her thoughts started to drift far away, and her voice sounded distant, too. "We will."
"You rest here a while fifteen minutes, okay? Then back to bed with you."
"All right." Lane grimaced as the enfermera or nurse whod been tending to her the past few days helped her move to a seat on a padded chair in the corner of her room. She silently cursed herself for how slowly she shuffled, how weak she felt, and how her left leg was nearly useless, causing her to have to rely on the nurse for support.
"Gracias, Rosa," she said, nearly collapsing into the chair. Regardless of their individual circumstances, Rosa had been nothing short of kind and attentive to her.
The young nurse flashed her a smile as she adjusted the position of the I.V. pole that by medical necessity trailed after the agent like an oversized lovesick puppy. Then the nurse moved a stool in front of the chair, helping Lane to ease her foot up onto it.
"Okay," Lane smiled tightly, hoping the nurse didnt notice the sweat breaking out on her forehead. God, she felt like shit.
"I be back. You no move without me, si?" Rosa wagged a finger at her.
Lane lifted her hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I couldnt if I wanted to. Youve got me tied down here," she said, and it was true. The cumbersome naso-oxygen line was gone now, but she still had several other lines running into her, supplying fluids and medication.
After a final backwards glance, Nurse Rosa left her on her own, and that was just fine with Lane.
Despite the discomfort, she was happy to be up, ecstatic to be out of that damned bed! This was the third or fourth such excursion to the chair shed had, and in spite of the fact that the deceptively simple little maneuver pained her to the bone, she welcomed the opportunity, knowing it brought her that much closer to recovery; to a shot at getting the hell out of here.
Shed never been wounded before, or sick, not like this, and she hated what it did to her body, to her mind; hated being dependent on others for everything, down to her most basic needs. The older doctor whod been treating her, a Doctor Ceniceros, had sternly told her how close shed come to not being here at all, and what a long road to recovery shed have making it back.
She had listened, and had promptly decided to ignore him. She had no intention of sitting on her ass in some dead drug lords home-grown clinic, waiting for his wifey-poo to figure out what the hell to do with her. She needed to get her health back, and fast, if she was to put the next part of her impromptu plan into action.
Teresa León had been more than the occasional visitor to her over the past few days, and Lane had been somewhat surprised at that. Enricos widow had confirmed to her that there were U.S. news stories bearing the account of her death, so Starks had indeed followed through on his threat. During the visits, Teresa had seemed concerned over her health, her well-being, even as shed continued to firmly probe her, asking her questions about the operation to take down Enrico and the role Benitezs men had played in it.
There had been no more talk of killing her, no more threats, for the moment anyway, and Lane supposed she was grateful for that. In fact, shed come to look forward to the young blondes visits; they were the only bright spots she had in what otherwise were long monotonous days spent counting the minutes until her next dose of pain medication. Shit, shed have to watch out for that, too. She knew the stuff could be addictive, and the otherwise stern médico had seemed willing to give her even more if she needed it, but shed declined. She figured if something were really wrong, she wanted to be able to feel it.
Lane closed her eyes and let her body relax into the padded chair, tensing and releasing her muscles, breathing deeply. Any sudden movement of her head still left her nauseous, and at any given moment it felt as though hot pokers were stabbing her in her back, lancing through her side, setting her insides on fire. But it was her leg that bothered her most. She hated the infirmity, the dependency of it all, the not being mobile.
That Teresa León was a strange one, Lane considered, listening to the sounds outside her door as Rosa called her boyfriend. Shed done the same thing at this time every day that Lane had been aware of, and she figured it was some kind of routine the two had set up between them. One day they were fighting over Rosas meddling mother, another day evidently Nando had let his gaze linger too long on an attractive waitress at a cantina in town. But the conversations always ended in vows of love and devotion, and afterwards Lane would hear footsteps as the nurse left the reception room for five minutes, maybe ten at the most.
But Teresa Lane hadnt been able to get a handle on the woman, to figure her out. She didnt seem to be missing her husband too terribly much, despite her perfunctory comments to the contrary, and the agent suspected there had been no love lost there after all. In some strange way she was glad of that; this Teresa León didnt deserve to be played the fool by someone like Enrico.
Perhaps theyd reached an arrangement in their marriage; perhaps Teresa had been content to be supported in the style to which shed become accustomed, and look the other way when it had come to her husband and his extracurricular activities. There was more to the story, Lane knew that, and she was determined to get to the bottom of it, particularly since her life might very well depend on it.
She held no illusions when it came to that fact.
At any minute, on Teresas whim, one of Enricos goons might come in here and finish what Starks had started. And in her current condition there wasnt a damn thing shed be able to do about it.
So during Teresas visits shed started to play what few cards she had, taking care to highlight her desire for revenge against Benitez, against Starks. That much was true enough, and beyond that shed begun to tentatively flash to Teresa a posture of dismay, an ambivalence as it were, against a system that had failed her. And in her dreams, her nightmares, when she was transported back to that dusty, floodlit clearing with Enrico and Gates and Starks, that was nearly true, too.
Shed not been able to gauge any reaction from Teresa to her comments, but there was nothing new in that. It was part of the disconnect she felt with the woman. The detachment. There was no anger where there should have been. No passion. No grief. It was as though she were on autopilot, marking time, doing what was required of her, nothing more.
Lane could only imagine what an uproar the Mazatlán cartel had to be in now, following Enricos death. The internal power play under way, not to mention the outside pressure from Benitez. In a world of chaos only the strong survived, and frankly, Teresa León didnt seem the type.
Rosa was giggling now. It sounded as though the conversation was winding down; the nurse and her Fernando had a date firmed up for the evening. Lane hadnt been able to catch where. She heard the final whispered nothings, and then a sigh. Footsteps, and then the soft opening and closing of the door.
Who the hell knew where Rosa went to at this time every day. To the can? To grab a bite to eat? Hell, for all she knew, maybe she was cheating on Nando with one of Enricos guards.
All Lane knew was that the clock was ticking, and she had to get moving.
Gritting her teeth, she used the muscles in her arms to push herself to her feet, making use of the damned I.V. rack to help support her weight. Slowly, laboriously, she began to half-hop, half-slide her way across the floor; every step sending a jolt of pain through her gut and into her thigh.
Spots were dancing in front of her eyes and her head was swimming by the time she made it to the door. She leaned against the wall, panting, struggling to gain control of an aching body that was wildly betraying her. Swallowing hard, she inched the door open, and found herself gazing out into a white-walled sun-splashed room and then she was squinting against the first natural light shed seen in days. The room was empty save for a desk, a few chairs, a settee, and several filing cabinets.
For a moment, Lanes heart sank. No phone. And then her bleary eyes caught sight of the cell phone on the desk, half tucked inside a historieta, the popular comic-book versions of romance novels or soap operas.
Gathering herself, she began to inch her way towards the desk, feeling quite absurd at this feeble little breakout attempt. The I.V. pole squeaked slightly but there was nothing she could do about it now, and hell, this may have been a luxurious private home but the fashions still sucked; she was wearing the same sort of backless, ill-fitting gown that could be found in any typical hospital. God, if she passed out now, what a sight shed make she thought, feeling the sweat of her exertion pouring down the sides of her face.
How much time had gone by? One minute, two, more?
Lightheaded, her muscles trembling with effort, she made it to the desk and half sat down on it, grabbing for the phone. She silently chuckled at the title of Rosas book: El Amor Prohibido Forbidden Love - featuring an appropriately distressed, amorous looking couple on the front. No wonder shes got problems. Lane shook her head. That shit will fuck you up.
Phone in hand, she had to stop and think for a moment of the phone number, another side-effect of her injuries, she knew. It finally came to her and she rapidly punched it in, hoping, praying that the damn call would go through.
That the only person she could trust, would be there.
Lane closed her eyes in sudden overwhelming relief, uncaring of the sudden tears that spilled from them.
She could hear his bubble-gum snapping and the annoyed-sounding voice, and she forced herself to respond, fearing hed hang up the phone. "Clarence," she whispered hoarsely, "its me! Dont hang up!"
Silence. And then, "What kind of sick, mother-fuckin joke is this? Who the hell"
"Clarence, you asshole, its me, Lane!"
Another pause, during which she could hear the wheels churning in his head. "Lane," he said roughly, his voice full of emotion, "Is it really you? Starks said"
"Listen, Clarence, I cant talk long." She kept her eyes locked on the door. Rosa might be back at any minute, and the nurse probably wouldnt like it very much to find her cold ass propped on her desk. "I was set up, Clarence, you understand? Starks set me up. Hes working for Benitez. It was all about getting rid of me and León!"
"Jesus, Lane," Clarence breathed, clearly struggling with the information he was hearing. "Are you okay?"
Lane glanced down at her bare feet and the tubes running from her body. "Ive been better," she muttered.
"Aaah, Rosa!" There were giggles and laughter just outside the door. The nurse, sharing a joke with the guards no doubt. Shit.
"I gotta go, Clarence," Lane frantically whispered. "Dont say anything to anybody, yet. Ill call ya back when I can."
"Please, Clarence," she hissed, fairly begging him now. "Dont tell anyone!" She quickly ended the connection.
Feeling like a wounded crab scuttling towards the ocean for safety, she made her way back to her room, to her chair. She fell into it, robbed of her breath, of her last reserves of energy. But damn, if she hadnt gotten through to Clarence! Again, she felt the tears come. His voice had been like a tonic to her, an anchor of reality in all this mixed-up bullshit.
Scant seconds later, Rosa appeared before her, hands on her hips, glancing curiously around the small room as though she half-expected to see someone else there. The nurses eyes tracked back to her. "You dont look so good, chica," she decided, taking in Lanes pale, sweating features. "Back to bed with you."
Bracing herself to do it all over again, with Rosas help she began to stand, smiling thinly. "Lead on."
The palms waved gently in the light breeze, swaying to the slow, sensuous rhythm of the tropics. Teresa imagined that if she stayed here, very still, she might just float away, a part of the breeze, a part of the undulating leaves.
It wasnt often that she indulged herself this way, but today shed decided she needed it. She was stretched out poolside on a padded chaise lounge, wearing nothing but a white, two-piece swimsuit, sunglasses, and a floppy straw hat.
Her mind skipped back to the days when she and her girlfriends would lie on the beaches or by the pools of the more expensive hotels in Cancun, dozing, eyes at half-mast after a full night of vigorous partying. There, hungover and doused with baby oil, they would relive the previous evenings exploits: who had hooked up with whom; who had done what, worn what; who had never even made it back to their room.
Idle days. Carefree days. Lonely. But she had wanted more, hadnt she? Had wanted the emptiness to go away.
And with Enrico, shed naively thought it would. How wrong shed been.
Sighing, Teresa forced herself to unwind, to let the tension leave her body. She particularly relished the feel of the sunlight on her skin, healing her; it was so hard for her to get warm, to shake the coldness that seemed to dog her every step.
Thick, green foliage surrounded the pool area and cabana, acting to curtain the section off from the rest of the gardens. She found it peaceful here, relaxing, with water trickling into nearby fountains, with the hummingbirds, sparrows, and butterflies. The creatures came and went in her garden, but like the re-circulating water that filled her pools, fountains, and hot tub, she stayed, numbly preferring her life inside the wall to anything the outside had to offer.
On a decorated cast-iron table next to her with a marbleized top, lay a book she hadnt the concentration to read; a second gin and tonic she hadnt sipped from, and a cell phone that hadnt rung. Manuel was taking care of much of the business, but after several discussions with him shed finally made herself clear; he was following her orders now, just as he had her husbands before her.
Shed been able to hold off Enricos partners for now, but she knew the subject of her stepping aside would inevitably come up again. Unless she was able to show them immediate, profitable results.
Well she would, all right. In ways they could never have possibly imagined.
She closed her eyes, listening to the soft hum of nature around her, to the babbling water, letting it nearly lull her into the sleep that seemed to elude her at night.
During those hours when she thought she might crawl out of her skin, when the hunger nipped at her heels, she tried to put it out of her mind by visiting her guest. Many times Lane was asleep, and so shed just sit there watching her, wondering. Other times the agent was awake and they would talk, a sort of verbal sparring match, parrying, jockeying for position.
Lane Sinclair certainly wasnt at all what shed expected. Hell, she hadnt known what to expect, exactly. The woman had one hell of an attitude, that was for certain. She was flip and crude, and yet at the same time there was something more to her, Teresa could tell. She could sense the anger, the hurt, the disillusionment; she could relate to that. Indeed, they had much in common. And in the past few days and nights shed had more personal conversation with her than shed had with Rico over the past entire year. Strange.
The tall womans recovery had been nothing short of amazing; even the normally unflappable Doctor Ceniceros had been astounded. With proper care and rehabilitation hah, now there was a word she would be good as new.
And then what?
She felt a chill pass over her body, a shadow. What could be obscuring the sun on this beautiful, cloudless day?
She opened her eyes, lifted a hand and stared at her intruder over the tops of her sunglasses. Manuel. This had better be important. The staff knew not to disturb her here.
"What is it?" Already she was tired of this interruption. She could see the look in his eye as he pretended to not look at her, to not notice her body. Well, let him look. God knew, shed rather die before letting him touch.
"Guillermo Ruiz says he will consider our request to increase our supply."
"And?" Ruiz was one of the major suppliers of Mexican heroin and cocaine to the cartel. His base was in the hill country, living as a wealthy farmer of old, growing a crop on his own lands and with a network of leased campesinos that was highly illegal, and highly profitable.
Manuel stood over her, his arms folded, blotting out the sun. "They say he supplies Benitez too, you know."
"I know." Teresa blinked at him. "Thats the point."
"He hes been making noise," Manuel said, shifting uncomfortably, gazing towards the far wall of the gardens. "He wants to meet with you."
"I dont want him coming here," she responded, more sharply than shed intended. She began to eye her gin and tonic longingly.
"You would go there?" There was a hint of surprise in Manuels voice.
She knew that Rico had traveled to see Ruiz several times in the past; the machismo way of doing business. The last time hed stayed nearly a week, relaxing.
"Maybe," she said, her index finger reaching out to idly trace a path through the condensation that had formed on her glass. "If it helps close the deal."
She hadnt invited him to sit down and she wasnt about to. Why didnt he just leave?
"What about the DEA agent?"
God, Manuel was itching to get rid of her. Hell, his finger hadnt left the trigger since that first night in the hills when theyd found her.
"She is none of your concern," she said, feeling suddenly protective of her guest. She turned her head away and closed her eyes. The conversation was over. After a time she felt the sun once more on her body, warming her, chasing the cold and the shadows away.
"You gorrón!" Nurse Rosa railed into the phone, "cheapskate!"
Seated in her chair, her I.V. rack by her side, it was easy for Lane to imagine that Rosas date with Fernando the previous evening hadnt gone too well after all. The nurse was talking longer than usual on this phone call, and as far as Lane was concerned that was just as well; it gave her more time to marshal her energies for her next move - to the reception room.
She was feeling better today than she had yesterday, and she was glad of that. Her headache had abated, the pain in her gut had lessened, and even the throbbing in her thigh did not trouble her as much; she swore that today shed been able to put more weight on the leg than before.
Each day, stronger and stronger. It was her mantra. Her ticket out of here.
Lane kept an ear on the conversation outside her door, waiting for the telltale footsteps that signaled her chance, hoping like hell that the opening came. Today might be her last opportunity for a while; during her visit last night Teresa had indicated that they might be moving her out of the medical suite soon due to her improved condition. To where? And who the hell knew if shed be able to find an unguarded phone then.
God, just hearing Clarences voice had helped her so much; between the two of them theyd figure a way out of this, she had no doubt of that.
"Hasta luego, Nando!"
There was peace in the valley once more as Lane heard Rosa wind the conversation down with a wave of endearments. The scrape of a chair, footsteps, and then the outer door opened and closed.
Lane made better time this day, limping her way across the room. She got to the door and slowly twisted the handle. Once more, the reception room was empty. Her eyes tracked to the desk yes! The cell phone was there.
Breathing heavily, with a fresh burst of adrenaline coursing through her system, she keyed in the numbers. Shed tell Clarence where she was. He would find a way to get to her. They would put a plan into motion .
"DEA El Paso."
That was strange. Instead of the phone ringing into Clarences direct line, or into his voice mail if he wasnt there, the call flipped to the operator.
"Yes," she said, temporarily flummoxed, "Im trying to reach Clarence Hayes."
A pause. "Whos calling, please?"
The hairs on the back of her neck began to stand on end, prickling.
"I need to talk to Clarence," she demanded. "This is important."
"IIm sorry. Youll need to talk to--"
"What I need," Lane cut her off, "is to find out where Clarence Hayes is! Now you tell me, honey, before I do something were both gonna regret!" God, Lane thought, fighting down her growing panic, I hope she doesnt recognize my voice!
"IIm sorry, maam!" The operator was flustered now. "Theyre not sure if it was an accident or if if you need to talk to his supervisor. Just one moment, please."
The phone clicked in her ear.
Lane sagged in disbelief. Surely, shed heard wrong. This couldnt be happening. It couldnt!
"David Starks, here. You were trying to reach Special Agent Hayes?"
She couldnt get any words out, her throat had cinched shut and her head was spinning. Shed told Clarence not to say anything. God, he wouldnt have talked, would he? Tried to do something on his own? Or even worse, confronted Starks? What kind of a yahoo asshole thing was that to do?
"Whos on the line, please?"
"You fucking bastard," Lane breathed at last, her voice hard and low. "Hows the arm?"
"Ah, Lane! What a nice surprise. I was hoping to hear from you. Clarence said youd be calling."
"Where the hell is he?" she roared, heedless of how loud her voice sounded. Her stomach churned; she just knew what Starks answer would be, she knew it. She could picture him now, the starched little prick, sitting in his office thinking he had everything under control.
"A car accident last night, Lane." The special agent-in-charge sighed. "I hate to lose two agents in such a short period of time. And unlike you, he knows enough to stay dead."
No. No! "Youre not going to get away with this, Starks," Lane groaned, closing her eyes against the vision of Clarences smiling face and the pictures of his two little girls that hed flashed to her on a weekly basis.
"Where are you, Lane?" Starks voice was so cool, so calm. "Clarence was unwilling to share that information, much as we tried to convince him otherwise."
"He didnt know, you son-of-a-bitch," she said, her voice breaking. "He didnt know."
"You cant be feeling your best, Lane, taking into consideration how we last left one another. Why dont you let me know where you are, and well come and get you. Maybe we can work things out."
"Im coming to get you, you bastard," Lane cried out, her composure shattering. "You hear me? You are mine."
"I dont think so, Lane ."
The outer door burst open.
In a kaleidoscope of images, she saw the shock, the fear on Nurse Rosas face when she saw her at her desk, phone in hand. She heard the nurses shout of warning, saw her pushed to the side as the guards exploded into the room, guns drawn.
The phone was torn from her hand, shattering into pieces onto the floor. One of the guards grabbed at her and her instincts foolishly over-rode her good sense as she shoved him back, and watched him slam against the wall. And then more bodies were on her. The I.V. lines were ripped from her arms; blood spattered onto the white tile floor.
The guards were pulling at her, hitting her, and she fought back with animalistic fury and intensity; fighting for her life, although she knew that was worthless, fighting for Clarence, although she knew in her heart he was already gone.
She tried to balance on her one good leg but that was impossible, and she was soon driven down onto the floor. She heard screams and shouts, knowing by the hoarseness in her throat that some were her own. She felt a wet moistness in her side where her wounds had reopened, but still she struggled, unwilling to give up, unwilling to give in. This was her last chance, her last and she felt it slipping away, as surely as the strength quickly drained from her battered body, as desperately as her arms went up to shield her from the buffeting, as suddenly as the blow to her head turned her topsy-turvy world to a blinding white and then black.
"Who lit the fire under your ass, girl, huh?"
"Starks. Were flying out of here tonight to " she caught herself, realizing shed probably already said too much. "I cant really talk about it," she finished lamely, pretending not to notice the flash of hurt in his brown eyes. Christ, Clarence Hayes was her partner! It was ridiculous that she wasnt allowed to tell him about this operation El Halcón.
In more ways than one, she thought. "Tell me about it, bro. Ill go along with it I mean what else can I do?" She shrugged and took another pull of her Salem.
It was just after 5PM, and Clarence had snagged her just as she was rushing out the door to grab a few things from her apartment before the flight. Shed been hoping to avoid him, not knowing what to say, really, but instead shed found it easy to talk to him, as usual, and so shed stopped long enough to light up a cigarette and fill him in with what she could.
A car horn blared in the intersection in front of them; someone hadnt hit the gas fast enough to suit another driver when the light turned green. It was hot; the late afternoon heat rose up from the pavement in waves, broiling the air, but Lane was used to it to the heat and the smog. It was the price you paid if you wanted to catch a smoke.
Clarence reached into his pocket and took out a pack of gum, offering her a piece.
She grinned and shook her head. "Nah. Dont want to sully the pristine taste of this little baby." She took an exaggerated draw on the cigarette.
Clarences shoulders shook in barely restrained laughter. "Those things are gonna kill you, girl," he joked, popping his gum. "Take it from me. Quit while you can. Hell, Ive never felt better." He winked at her. "Wife says she notices a difference too. In the stamina department."
Lane arched an eyebrow at him. "My stamina is fine, thanks. Besides, why trade one habit for another? Why should I be a Bazooka Joe junkie, huh?"
"Hey its less expensive!"
They continued to stand there in companionable silence, smoking, chewing gum, watching the rush-hour traffic pass by.
""Well, I got a line on the guys standing behind that company that signed the contracts for them warehouses on the north side," Clarence said at last, peering towards the traffic light. "I was thinkin we could check it out. Maybe jam em up a little."
Blowing out a last puff of smoke, she put her cigarette out in an overflowing ash-stand. "Get started. I shouldnt be more than a couple days." She hesitated. "Thats what Starks says, anyway."
"Damn." Clarence wagged his head. "Starks must be feeling the heat to pull somethin like " he cast a sidelong glance at her, "like whatever hes pullin."
She checked her watch. "Yeah, well, youll hear all about it when we get back, Ill bet," she told him. "Hes not press-shy, thats for sure."
"Got that right."
"Anyway," she ran a hand through her long dark hair, "Catch ya later." With schooled casualness, she began to walk away from him, like she had a hundred times before; as she would hundreds of times again, right?
But he called after her. "Lane!"
She spun around, mildly surprised at the serious expression overtaking his dark features. "You take care of yourself girl, you hear?"
She turned from him and simply waved an acknowledgement; she kept on going, and didnt back.
Shed never looked back.
She blinked her eyes open, a hand rubbing at the crustiness of sleep. It was dark, or at least her room was, save for the light coming in from her open door. The better for them to keep an eye on her now, she knew.
Painfully, she turned her head to the side to see Teresa León sitting there.
Well, well. No big surprise at that, after all. Maybe she was here to render her final verdict. Like she actually gave a shit about what they did to her now, anyway.
Lane didnt answer her question. Instead, she sullenly turned to face the wall and edged away from her. She wasnt restrained and she was startled at that, although there were probably enough guards and firepower outside her room now to supply the next freakin Mexican revolution.
"If you try to escape again, youll be killed," Teresa said softly, as though reading her thoughts. "Its as simple as that."
Like Starks and Benitez ought to be.
"I I dont know what Im going to do with you," Teresa said, her voice barely audible. And to Lanes ears they were the most honest words shed heard from the woman thus far. "I dont know how long I can protect you if you dont co-operate."
"I can take care of myself," Lane gruffly responded, pulling her covering sheet up closer to her chin.
"Really," Teresa noted, considering those words. And then, "Whos Clarence?"
Lane felt her rage begin to boil over, and she let it. She swung her head towards her visitor. "What kind of a game are you playing at, little girl, huh? Why are you doing this?"
Teresas eyes batted furiously. "II dont know," she admitted, lowering her head.
"Well you better figure it out soon, lady," Lane snorted, "and take both of us out of our misery. If youre gonna kill me, kill me. Go ahead and do it. But not before I get a chance at Benitez, first. And Starks, too."
"Yeah. My boss," she hoarsely laughed. "That bastard put me here, and " dammit, there it was again, the grief, welling up in her chest, choking off her words. "and ."
"What?" Teresas soft voice urged her on, and somehow she felt compelled to heed it.
"Clarence," she took a ragged breath. "He he was my partner. Hes who I was calling. Hes dead." God, she wasnt going to cry now, was she? In front of this woman? But she felt the tears leaking from her eyes. "Starks killed him."
"Im sorry," Teresa whispered, and Christ, for a minute there, Lane almost believed her.
"You had to know wed eventually discover you were making those calls," Teresa continued, a curious gaze fastened on her.
"Yeah. But I decided that I wouldnt be around here long enough one way or the other - for you to figure it out." That much was true, Lane knew. But now, things had changed. Shed broken the rules again, and here she was, still alive to tell the tale. Teresa León was protecting her, that was obvious now, but why? What was in it for her, having a DEA agent as an unwilling houseguest? The enemy, living under her roof?
Unless unless being a drug lords wife wasnt all it was cracked up to be. Whether she consciously realized that or not.
"Do you want to die?"
Damn, Teresa León sure was hitting the bulls-eyes tonight, wasnt she? "Ino, I dont think so," Lane admitted. "Not until I make things right with Clarence. Benitez is the key. If I can bring him down, Starks goes with him."
"But," Teresa avoided her gaze, "that would give the other cartels an opportunity to move in on his territory, wouldnt it?"
"I dont care about that. And even if I did, arent we doing that already? Its all about the balance of power. You knock somebody down in one place, and a dozen more start up somewhere else. Were just deluding ourselves into thinking we have any real control over it."
"But there are laws ."
Lane laughed bitterly. "What do you care about laws, Señora? The law didnt prevent you from becoming a billionaire, did it? And the law didnt finally stop your husband - Benitez did. But the law did leave me in Mexico to die, didnt it? And it got my partner killed. Hell, Clarences death was probably my fault more than anyone elses. I shouldve known better than to contact him in the first place."
"But youre an officer." Teresas green eyes bored into her, gauging her. "You swore to uphold the law. You took an oath."
"So did Starks." Lane returned the stare. "He broke the law first. No matter how long it takes, hes mine.
"The law is fuckin broken, Teresa," Lane sighed, feeling the sting of that truth in her heart. "You should be able to see that as clearly as anyone. Maybe working outside the law is the answer." She weakly turned her head away. "Maybe. I dont know." Damn, the pain was kicking in hard and strong. That last tussle with the guards certainly hadnt helped things any.
"Maybe," Teresa began, slowly ordering her thoughts, "maybe we both want the same things. Maybe," she echoed Lanes own earlier words, "your problems are my problems."
Lane shut her eyes tightly and she shifted away, refusing to face her. Couldnt.
"Lane." She heard a rustling sound as Teresa moved.
"I could use a good consultant." A cool hand reached out and touched her chin. "Someone I can trust." Gently, her face was turned. She opened her eyes, drinking in the image of the beautiful woman before her.
Angel or devil?
Who the hell knew.
To be continued.
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