chapter 3

“What’s taking so long?” Garcia demanded. His powerful fingers dug into Smead’s arm like a bailing hook, but Smead did not dare wince or request him to let go. The bodyguards standing nearby looked on uncomfortably, but dared not speak.

“He’s holed up somewhere above us, sir,” Smead answered, trying to keep his voice even and not pained. “There’s a shaky, homemade system of catwalks up there. It’s dark and the men have to be careful moving around.” Smead held a small walkie-talkie in his hand, from which disembodied voices sporadically reported checked-off sectors with military precision. “Don’t worry, sir. We’ll get him as soon as…”

From a far corner of the warehouse, a scream, then a long trailing yell was heard. For an instant, the body of a man could be seen falling from the darkness beneath the roof. His flailing arms and legs caught a flash of lamplight as he crashed onto a crate, and then fell to the floor.

“What happened?” Smead demanded into his walkie-talkie. “What happened!?”

A staticky voice answered, “Ramirez pushed Mickey off the catwalk! He flew out of the dark from nowhere, and then he was gone. Is Mickey okay? Is he moving?”

Then from somewhere in the vast forest of columns and angled beams, Pedro Ramirez did the most amazing thing: He crowed. He crowed a long, heckling cry, “Coo-coo-jak-Kahhh! Jak-Kahhh Kah-Roooo.” It was a cry like ravens on a fence, or roosters at dawn, or eagles in flight. It was a cry that sprang from the ceiling, leapt off the walls, crept around boxes and crates, and then skittered across the floor until its point of origin was completely and hopelessly lost. 

“Jak-Kah-chawww Kah-Rooo!” came a heckling caw from out of nowhere. The crew of criminals turned and twisted their heads seeking the source, while some nervously shifted from foot to foot and others coughed uneasily. But Ramón Garcia stood rock solid—unshakable.

“Ah-Reee! Kah-Chaaaaaa!” came the cry again. It seemed to come from somewhere in the south of the warehouse. Or was it the east? Pedro was on the move. His soft footsteps could be heard scuttling over the catwalks like wind rustling leaves in the forest. “Kah-Chaaa Kah-Roooo!” came a cry from the north. Or was it the west? I sounded close, but perhaps it was not.

“He defies me!” Garcia growled to Smead. His words were all the more menacing because of how low and hard he said them. He was not a man to be crossed; not now; not in his ascendancy. Smead stood rigid, and listened saying nothing.

“He brought this all on himself,” Garcia attested to his henchman. “Gwendolina; the boy; our friendship. Everything.”

Ramón hesitated, remembering Gwendolina: So beautiful. So blessed. So fair. She had first been Ramón’s woman. Then one day she met Pedro, his best friend, and then suddenly—for no reason Ramón could ever understand—she left him and chose Pedro. And then they had their beautiful little boy, and suddenly their family was perfect and complete.

Mi amigo!” Ramón shouted up into the rafters. “Always claiming that Gwendolina changed you, made you a good man, an honest man, a better man. A better man than—me!?” Ramón’s words thundered. “But in the end, when you needed me, you were just as greedy as anyone else!”

Ramón paced in a small patch, taking deliberate steps, and becoming angrier and angrier with each footfall. He strode like a puma eager to find his prey. He strode like a barrio child defending his turf.

“Was that it?” he asked the darkness above. “Did you think that because of our friendship, you could take what was mine? That I would let anyone, even you, betray me?” Fury shoved each word out of Garcia’s mouth wrapped in a fine mist that slowly arced downward in the lamplight. “Never!”

The only response to Garcia’s threat was the sound of soft coo-cooing echoing from the rafters.

Garcia leaned close to Smead and whispered, “Tell your men to keep their eyes open. I know how to flush out Ramirez.”

What frightened Smead most when Garcia said that, was how deadly calm his voice became.

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