Fiction: THE COLOMBIAN by Fred Snyder

The sedan crunched over gravel on Marco’s driveway. Marco squinted into the early afternoon sun. The visitor stepped out of the sedan and started down the stone steps toward the shore. Marco grimaced and turned back to his traps.

“How’s it going, Marco?” The visitor stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

“You never visit with good news, Albright.”

The detective smeared the sweat on his forehead. “Your brother’s in trouble again.”

Marco reset the last trap and dropped it into the water. “What else is new?”

“This won’t go away with probation and a fine. You hear about the two city cops who got shot?”

Marco stood. “You think Tony’s involved?”

“Maybe. The investigation went federal. Drug Enforcement’s all over it. They say the shooter’s a professional. Some freelance hit man in town for a contract. They think Tony’s his liaison.”

Marco started up the stairs. “Let’s go inside.”

The kitchen smelled of fresh coffee. Marco poured two cups and handed one to Albright. “Tell me about it,” he said.

“Last night two patrolmen responded to a report of a trespasser in the old train yard on Choctaw. The suspect shot his way out. Dropped one with a pump shotgun, tagged the other with a nine-millimeter. Both still in the hospital. Touch and go.”

“How did DEA get involved?”

“They’ve been picking up rumors about imported talent. Paid trigger from Colombia. Said the train yard looked like his work.”

“They think Tony’s his contact, they must think the Duprees are behind it.”

“That would be my assumption.”

“What do you know about the shooter?”

“DEA was short on details. They say he’s a suspect in the murder of a police officer in Bogotá back in ’98. He’s been off the radar until about a week ago. A CI claims he snuck into the country from the Gulf.”

“Who’s his target?”

“If I had to guess, I’d say someone high up in the Moreno cartel.”

Marco nodded. “If the Duprees are paying him, that would make sense.”

“When’s the last time you talked to your brother?”

“Three, four months ago.”

“If you had to find him, where would you look?”

“His apartment.”

Albright smirked. “I’m sure you can do better than that.”

“You think Tony tells me his day-to-day business? If he doesn’t want to be found, he knows better than to keep me in the loop.”

Albright set his mug on the counter. “Eventually, DEA’s going to ask you the same questions. I got a feeling they won’t be as nice about it.” He walked to the front door and stopped with his hand on the knob. “I hate to see you get dragged through the mud again. You would have made a good detective.”

“Yeah?” Marco frowned. “At least I can try to be a good brother.”

“That’s what got you in trouble last time, isn’t it?”

***

Marco plodded through the rest of the afternoon’s routine. He brought a truckload of crawfish to one of his clients in the Fish Market. He stopped at the post office and checked his box. He made a bank deposit.

At three o’clock he used a payphone.

“Lee’s Tavern.”

“Tell Tony his brother needs to see him,” Marco said. “The Bistro. Midnight.”

***

Marco hadn’t been to the Bistro since Katrina. There was a time when he would have known every customer. Tonight the only person he recognized was the bartender.

Gina poured him a vodka tonic and smiled. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I keep close to the water,” he said. “Good to see a familiar face.”

“Oughta be familiar more often. The lake’s not so far, is it?”

“How about my brother?”

She pushed a lock of brown hair out of her eyes. “What about him?”

“He still come around?”

“Sure, last week.”

“How is he?”

“What can I say? He’s Tony.” She tapped the counter. “First one’s on me.”

At twelve-fifteen a man in a dark blue sports jacket sidled next to Marco. He ordered a draft. Marco watched him from the corner of his eye. The man dropped a five on the counter. “Outside. Black Isuzu.” He walked to a table and sat with his back to the wall.

Marco guzzled the rest of his drink and went outside. An Isuzu Trooper sat in the lot with its engine running. The passenger window whirred down as Marco approached.

“Get in,” said Jack Dupree. The window went back up.

Marco climbed inside. He recognized the driver, but not by name. He didn’t know the other man in the back seat. “Where’s Tony?”

“We’re a little curious about that ourself,” Dupree said. The driver steered the truck out of the lot.

“Albright came to see me this morning. He told an ugly story.”

“City got its titties twisted. Couple dumb cops try to get a rep. Underestimate the competition.”

“What happened?”

“More or less what the paper says. They went to the train yard looking for a trespasser. They found him, all right. Sweet Jesus.”

“Who is this guy?”

“Nobody you want to know.”

Marco sighed. “If you expect me to help you find Tony, the street needs to go both ways.”

Dupree jerked his thumb at the other passenger. “Marco, meet Alfredo. He’s here to fill in some of the blanks.”

Marco looked at the mustachioed man next to him. “You the guy from the train yard?”

“No,” Alfredo said. “I help him come in the country.”

“Who is he?”

“They call him El Pastón. He use to be a soldier in Colombia.”

“Why is he here?”

“He has a vendetta with Cristo Moreno.”

Marco looked at Dupree. “Cops think your family hired him.”

“Never gave him a dime,” Dupree said.

“Why is Tony involved?”

“El Pastón paid him to acquire some specialty hardware.”

“Did you know he planned to kill Moreno?”

“No idea. Moreno’s people got wind of it first.”

“Major beef.”

“Jesus. We been getting rousted all over the city.”

“You think that’s what happened to Tony? Moreno got him?”

“We don’t think so. If Moreno had him, the cops wouldn’t still be looking. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.” Marco turned back to Alfredo. “Who does he work for?”

“El Pastón? Nobody.”

“He wouldn’t have a beef with Moreno if he wasn’t in the business. He a cartel man?”

“No.” Alfredo seemed amused at the thought.

“I hear he’s a cop killer.”

“Berto Bolivar. Sometimes I forget he was a cop. You know stories about corruption in Colombia. Berto was dirty even for them.”

“You think the cops in Baton Rouge care if he was dirty or not?”

“Let me tell you how it happen. Berto had a few street kids he shake down for money and dope. One was a skinny boy named Pepito. One day, Berto go too far and the boy’s hand becomes like a pigeon claw. Never work right again.

“But Berto don’t know Pepito’s family. He don’t know El Pastón make promises. After Pepito get better, he work the street again. A week later Berto shake him down again. That same night a bomb explode in Berto’s car and send him straight to hell.”

The driver turned right on Evangeline, tracing a lazy circle that would lead back to the Bistro.

“How do you know so much about this guy?” Marco asked.

“After he kill that bastard, he was a hero in my pueblo. El Pastón has many enemies, but not among the farmers.”

“What’s his beef with Moreno?”

“Look up a village in Colombia called Circa de Luis. The entire village was slaughtered, but no newspaper can tell you why. The farmers interfere with Moreno’s business. They all die at his command.” Alfredo looked at Marco sadly. “Not even El Pastón can protect Pepito’s family forever.”

Dupree swiveled his bulky torso to face them. “Time to trade. Tony’s been MIA for two days now. He don’t answer his phone. You know some other way to find him?”

“I got an idea,” Marco said. “When I find him, I want a moment alone with him. Then I’ll put him in touch with you.”

“Not good enough.”

“It’s the best I can offer, Dupree. You know I’ll find Tony one way or another. But I’ll do it myself.”

The Trooper screeched to a halt. There was a car blocking the intersection. A second car stopped inches from the Trooper’s rear bumper.

“Ambush!” the driver said. He pulled a gun out of his jacket. Dupree raised a nine-millimeter.

The driver opened his door and set one foot on the pavement. He fired a round at the sedan behind the Trooper.

Gunfire shattered glass. Marco and Alfredo dove to the floor. The driver bounced off the open door and collapsed. Dupree made a wet sound and hit the dashboard. His gun landed in the space between the front seats.

An angry voice shouted until the guns turned silent. “Hold your fire! We want them tender, not pulverized.”

“Goddamn!”

“You hit?”

“The vest took it.”

Marco lay still, listening. Alfredo breathed heavily. “Don’t let them catch us,” he whispered.

“Quiet.” Marco got Dupree’s gun from the floor. He snaked between the front seats. The truck was in park, but the engine was still running. Marco eased toward the dashboard.

“Jesus,” someone said. Marco looked back. He couldn’t see who had spoken, but he saw a shadow moving through the side window.

“What you got?” someone yelled from farther back.

“Whole lotta roast beef.”

Marco aimed at the window and waited. The shadow crept forward. Two hands came into view, holding a gun at arm’s length. Marco took a breath, held it, and squeezed the trigger.

The bullet shattered the gunman’s wrist. He leapt backward screaming.

Marco reached for the gearshift and put it in drive. The truck lurched forward. He swung the steering wheel to the left, blindly guessing how far to turn to avoid the car in front of them. He brought one foot forward and slammed it down on the accelerator.

Bullets pounded the truck. Metal screeched. The truck stood on its hind legs. Marco suddenly realized they were airborne, ramping over the hood of a parked car and onto the crossroad. The truck landed with three flat tires and settled diagonally over the street’s dividing lines.

“Move!” Marco dove through the door. He ran for the sidewalk, away from their assailants. Alfredo followed him.

“Two on foot!” someone yelled.

More gunfire. Alfredo yelped. Marco looked back and watched him roll across the pavement, his thigh spouting blood. The nearest pursuer was thirty feet behind them. Marco kept running.

An alley led to a strip mall, its businesses closed and dark except for a nightclub where several people waited in line. Marco tucked the gun in his pants. He bypassed the line and slipped inside. The doorman yelled. Marco ignored him.

The club was packed. Music throbbed. Marco scanned the crowd. He noticed a man wearing a coat that looked uncomfortably heavy, most likely because there was a Kevlar vest beneath it. Marco watched him from the corner of his eye.

A hand fell on his shoulder. Marco whirled. The man’s T-shirt, emblazoned with the club’s name, looked ready to burst at the seams. “Nice try, jackass. Gatecrashers gotta bounce.”

“I don’t want any trouble.” Marco reached for his wallet. “I’ll pay the cover, okay?”

“Too late for that. Let’s go.”

“All right. Just don’t make a scene.”

“How’s this for not making a scene?” The bouncer put a vise grip around the back of Marco’s neck. Marco twisted, caught the bouncer’s elbow beneath his armpit, and struck with the heel of his left hand. The bouncer’s nose sprayed blood. He dropped to his knees.

The altercation didn’t go unnoticed. Another man had joined the one Marco spotted. They pushed their way toward the bar. Marco ran for the back of the club.

A fire exit led to a back lot. Marco descended on a kid who was unlocking a PT Cruiser. He drew his gun. “Give me the keys! Now!”

The kid ran. Marco took the keys out of the door and got inside. The fire exit slammed open as he started the engine. The Cruiser squealed leaving the lot and hit the highway doing seventy.

***

Marco parked the Cruiser two blocks from the Bistro and retrieved his truck. He drove aimlessly, trying to clear his head. There was a news report on the radio about the shooting on Evangeline Street. Jack Dupree and his chauffeur, Jimmy Ferrin, both dead at the scene.

No mention of any other dead or wounded.

It was nearly dawn. Marco drove to a shabby building on Lincoln. A rickety wooden staircase led to a basement apartment. Tony rented it under an alias. Few people knew about it besides Marco. The key Tony had given him a year ago still worked.

The apartment looked like it hadn’t been used in weeks. Marco moved a magazine on the coffee table. It left a rectangle of clean wood in the dust. He went to the kitchenette and opened the cupboard above the refrigerator. A plastic case lay on the shelf. He took it down and opened it. Inside, Tony’s Beretta .32 and an extra clip sat on eggshell foam.

A muzzle poked the back of Marco’s skull. “Put it back.”

Marco closed the case and returned it to the shelf.

“Are you the brother?” the voice behind him said with a heavy accent.

“Yeah. Who are you?”

“Call me Jose.”

“Can I call you El Pastón?”

“Con cuidad.” The muzzle retracted. “You can turn around.”

Marco turned. El Pastón was short, brown, and wiry. A Desert Eagle .44 dangled from his right hand.

“Tony say to meet him here,” El Pastón said. “I don’t think he’s coming.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“Two days ago. He take me to buy some things I need. We get ambush on the way out.”

Marco grimaced. “Lot of that going around.”

“You talk to the police?”

“They came to see me. I didn’t know anything.”

“Watch out. They kill you if they have to.”

“What makes you say that?”

“They already try to kill me.”

“You mean that gunfight at the train yard? You want to keep a low profile, shooting at cops is a bad start.”

“No choice. It was me or them.”

“It was two patrolmen responding to a burglary call.”

“Empty train yard. Both cops in Kevlar. Both have shotguns. They wear badges, but they were there to be assassins.”

“Why?”

“To keep me from my targets.”

“The Morenos?”

El Pastón narrowed his eyes. “Who tell you that?”

“Alfredo.”

“Where is he?”

“Shot. Captured. Maybe dead by now.”

El Pastón ground his teeth.

“Is it true what he said about Circa de Luis?” Marco asked.

“The blood of every villager is on Moreno’s hands,” the Colombian said. “I’ll see him answer for it.”

“How do you expect to do that?”

El Pastón went to the kitchen counter and wrote on a memo pad. He tore off the sheet and handed it to Marco. “I finish my business with Moreno tonight. Call that number at ten o’clock. Don’t call early. I won’t answer. You call at ten, I’ll let you be part of the action.”

“What makes you think I want to help you kill Moreno?”

“We both know why Tony don’t make it here. I think you’ll call.” El Pastón closed the door behind him.

Marco chewed his lip. His last idea to find Tony sat heavy in his gut. He didn’t want to make the call from the apartment. He walked two blocks and used a payphone.

“I’ve been trying to call you all morning,” Albright said. “We found Tony.”

***

A half dozen police cars blocked traffic on the bridge.

“We think they planned to throw him in the water,” Albright said. “A couple fishermen caught them by surprise.”

“Let’s see him,” Marco said.

“He didn’t go easy.”

“I want to be sure. Let’s see him.”

Albright nodded. The Sheriff’s examiner lifted the sheet off the body. Marco’s eyes slammed shut. “Jesus Christ.”

“I’m sorry,” Albright said.

Marco staggered away from the body, away from Tony’s ravaged face. Albright waited. Marco turned to him. “I need to know you’ll follow this wherever it takes you.”

“You really need me to tell you that?”

“What if it leads to cops?”

Albright’s eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“Something El Pastón told me.”

“Who?”

“Your Colombian hit man. Does the DEA know any more than you do?”

“You talked to him?”

“This morning. He caught me by surprise.”

Albright blew air through his nose. “What did he say?”

“The two cops who found him at the train yard work for Moreno.”

“Bullshit.”

“Don’t you have any questions about that night? Who the hell called 911 to report a trespasser in an abandoned train yard? Why were those patrolmen wearing Kevlar and carrying shotguns? If they expected that much resistance, why didn’t they request backup? Aren’t you even curious?”

Albright glared at him. “I don’t like what you’re suggesting.”

“You’ll like it even less when I say it blunt. That call to 911 was just an excuse for them to be there. Moreno sent them to kill the Colombian.”

“You want me to follow a lead like that based on the word of an assassin?”

“There’s also the shootout on Evangeline. According to every report I’ve heard, there were two DOAs. What about the two men who got wounded?”

“Only victims were Jack Dupree and his driver.”

“No gunman with a bad wrist? No Colombian named Alfredo?”

“No.”

Marco cocked an eyebrow at him. “Strange.”

“Seems like you learned a lot since yesterday.”

“One thing I haven’t had time to check,” Marco said. “Look up a village in Colombia called Circa de Luis. El Pastón said Moreno had them killed.”

“Had who killed?”

“All of them.”

A third man approached them. “Who’s this? The brother?”

“Yeah,” Albright said. “Marco Montego, this is–”

“Why isn’t he wearing handcuffs?”

“Who the hell are you?” Marco said.

“Gardener. DEA. Would somebody cuff this guy already? Johnson! Take this man into custody.”

Another agent locked Marco’s hands behind his back.

“What’s the charge?” Marco asked.

“We’ll start with obstruction and give you the long version later. Throw him in the car.”

Johnson led Marco to a sedan at the edge of the crime scene. He locked Marco in the back and climbed into the driver’s seat.

The radio squawked. Johnson picked up the handset. “Go ahead.”

“Most recent twenty on our target looks solid,” the voice on the radio said. “We clear to secure?”

“You’re clear. Just remember what Gardener said.”

“Yeah, yeah. Tender, not pulverized.”

Marco’s blood turned cold. The handcuffs suddenly felt a hell of a lot tighter. “Hey. I want to take another look at the body.”

“What the hell for?”

“Make sure it’s my brother.”

“You saw his face. Might as well be Judge Crater.”

“He has a tattoo on his arm. If I see that tattoo, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

“Yeah?” Johnson stepped out of the car and opened the back door. “Let’s take a look.” He kept a hand on Marco’s shoulder and walked a step behind him.

A few yards from the car, Marco kicked back and planted his heel between Johnson’s legs. The hand fell from his shoulder. He took another step forward and caught the agent in the face with a roundhouse kick. Johnson collapsed.

“Hey!” A uniform cop ran toward him.

In one vault Marco landed on the hood of a cruiser, in another his foot hit the guardrail, and then he was off the bridge, forty feet over the water.

***

“Jesus Christ. Clean over the edge.”

“Somebody radio a boat patrol!”

“He was cuffed, wasn’t he?”

“Hands behind his back. He won’t last two minutes.”

“Get a boat down here, now!”

***

When Marco waded ashore, his shoes were gone and his hands were in front of him. He held his shirt to conceal the handcuffs. He discarded his socks and hoped no one would wonder why he had gone swimming in his jeans.

A cabbie on the boardwalk complained because Marco was still wet. “My seats are cloth, ferchrissake.” Marco gave him an extra twenty. The cab dropped him in front of Tony’s place on Lincoln.

It took an hour wrestling with a wire coat hanger to remove the handcuffs. He found a fresh shirt and khakis and a ratty pair of boots in the closet. He took the gun from the cupboard above the refrigerator. He used Tony’s phone to call Gina. She said she’d be there in an hour.

***

Seventy minutes later Marco was in Gina’s rickety Dodge Colt. “You think Moreno had him killed?” she said.

“All I know, this whole mess started because Tony was helping the Colombian settle a beef.”

“You’ll just pull up to his front door?”

“It’s no secret where he lives.”

“Knowing where he lives is one thing. Getting inside is another.”

“Wait until I see it up close. Then I’ll tell you how hard it is.”

Gina frowned. “What are the chances I’ll get my car back?”

“It’s a twenty-year-old Dodge. If I lose it, I’ll buy you two more.”

“To hell with the car. Just don’t wind up in the trunk.”

“One more thing. I need to borrow your cell phone.”

Gina gave it to him. “Nothing international, okay?”

***

Officer Jean Marcelle looked unhappy. Albright sat in a chair at the foot of the hospital bed with an open folder in his lap.

“You understand why I’m curious,” Albright said. “Four days a week, you and Officer Franklin have never been more than a hundred feet from The Copper Kettle without a reason. I remember The Kettle when I was on patrol. The owner’s a nice guy, a real cop buff. He still give the beat guys a free breakfast? How about the cots in the back room? Still let you grab a nap on slow shifts?”

Marcelle swallowed.

“I’m not trying to railroad you for taking advantage of The Kettle’s hospitality, but it makes me wonder. Two nights ago, three in the morning, you and Franklin broke your routine. Instead of drinking coffee on the arm at The Kettle, you were ten miles away on Choctaw Drive. The same night dispatch gets a call about a prowler in the train yard, you’re a block away from the address.”

Marcelle tried to pour a cup of water, but his hands were shaking. He swigged from the pitcher.

“Who called 911?” Albright said.

“I don’t know.”

“But you knew the call was coming. You see how it looks, right? Like you were paid to kill him.”

“No! It wasn’t like that, I swear. It was just a tip. They told us the guy would be there. We knew he was armed to the teeth. That’s why we went in ready. We knew we’d have to put him down. But we didn’t do it for money.”

“What, then?”

“Consideration.”

“What kind of consideration?”

“Federal.”

“Give me a name.”

Marcelle grimaced. “Gardener,” he said.

***

Marco parked the car off a gravel road thirty miles south of Grosse Tete. He trekked through two hundred yards of wet forest, half walking and half skidding downhill toward Moreno’s estate. He stopped at a small bluff that gave him a view of the estate’s entrance, still half a mile deeper into the valley. A man with a rifle stood next to the gate and watched the only drivable path from the main road.

A hand clamped over Marco’s mouth. He reached back, fingers probing for an eye socket. Another hand caught his wrist.

“Con cuidado,” the Colombian said. “No noise, okay?” He released Marco and stepped forward, peering into the valley. “I see you a mile away. You try to get any closer, a sniper make your head explode.”

“I suppose you could get down there, right?”

El Pastón looked back at him. “Sure. It’s what I do.”

“Then what?”

“There’s a ledge northwest of us. You can see the whole house from there.” He took a compact pair of field glasses from his coat and handed them to Marco. “Good spot for surveillance.”

“I didn’t come here to watch you kill Moreno.”

“Por supuesto. Remember what I say this morning. You want to join the fun, call that number. Ten o’clock.”

***

The wooded slope that led to the rock ledge was especially steep. When Marco reached it, he saw that El Pastón was right. The whole mansion was clearly visible. Men with rifles paced around the perimeter. A woman lounged poolside while a maid kept her drink filled.

Marco watched and waited. The woman went inside an hour before sunset. If El Pastón was anywhere near the house, Marco couldn’t see him.

A sedan drove up the gravel path to the mansion. Three men got out and approached the front door, walking through the floodlights along the edge of the lawn. Marco squinted through the field glasses. The man in front was Agent Gardener.

A few minutes later the front door opened again. The woman who had been poolside left with a chauffeur. In another minute the maid left.

Something’s going down, Marco thought. They’re getting rid of the civilians.

He checked his watch. 9:40. Twenty minutes left to think about it. He wondered if the time would steel his resolve or crumble it.

***

Four men stood at opposite ends of the estate’s cellar and watched the Colombian warily. Their orders were simple: if he got out of the chair, kill him. Moreno and Gardener stood near the staircase. El Pastón strained his ears to listen.

“You got lucky,” Gardener said. “If this bastard had gotten into the house unnoticed, you’d be dead already.”

Moreno sneered at him. “Lucky or not, we got him. What did all your work accomplish? Four dead bodies on the front page.”

“Three. Alfredo bled to death on the way to the safe house, but at least we kept it quiet. And the third body wasn’t mine, remember? It’s only a matter of time before Tony gets connected to your bonehead enforcers. Crowbars, for Christ’s sake. Don’t they know how to make a fist?”

“They were overzealous. Point is, we got him.”

“No. The point is, why is he still alive? You don’t need me to hold your hand while you finish him.”

“He started talking when we cornered him. Gave me a taste of what he knows. Locations. Shipment schedules. He knows the names of our pilots. The guide from Bogotá who led our cleaners to that godforsaken village. He said he’d tell us everything he knows, but only if he could talk to both of us.”

Gardener swallowed. “You sure he came alone?”

“Of course.”

“How long was he inside the house?”

“We caught him the moment he broke in.”

“Is that what happened, or is that what he wants you to think?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Why would he cooperate if he knows we plan to kill him anyway?”

El Pastón stole a glance at his watch. “Montego,” he whispered to himself. “Make the goddamn call.”

***

Ten o’clock came. Marco took an extra minute to make his decision. He opened the cell phone.

Later, whenever Marco would think back to that night, he’d realize he should have predicted it. He should have known from the story Alfredo told him about the cop in Bogotá. El Pastón had killed him with a bomb that was remotely triggered, easy to conceal, and likely to be confiscated from the boy. He remembered Alfredo’s words: Pepito stopped saving messages in his pager…

The house erupted a split second after he hit Send. His eyes slammed shut against the flash. The shockwave popped his ears. The phone landed on the ground. He stood watching the flames until the heat threatened to scorch him.

A voice snapped him back into the moment. “Someone’s been through here!” He backed away from the edge to where the foliage would conceal him.

A second voice answered the first. Guards gathering along the gravel road. Marco snatched the phone and crawled along the bluff, parallel to the road twenty yards above him.

It took him six minutes to get back to the car. No one in sight. He started the engine and pulled onto the road with the lights off.

A machinegun chattered. Marco heard lead punch metal. So much for stealth. He slammed the accelerator.

As Marco turned a bend, a pickup truck stopped sideways across the road. Men jumped from the truck’s bed. Gunfire cracked. Marco swerved to the left and tried to aim between trees. A gunman bounced off the windshield.

The brakes were useless at this angle. Leaves and branches slapped against the car. Marco clenched his jaw and turned his knuckles white around the steering wheel, fighting to keep the car from flipping. When he reached another bluff, there was nothing he could do to stop.

The impact nearly put him through the dashboard. Marco filled his lungs with rancid air. The car had landed in a marsh. The front end slowly sank into the moist earth.

Marco wondered where he’d find two ’87 Dodge Colts.

***

Albright had arrived at the station ten minutes before dawn, but it still wasn’t early enough to make Drug Enforcement happy. Agent Palmer shouted at everyone in the squad room. Albright leaned against a desk with his arms crossed.

Nobody noticed when Marco walked into the room. His khakis were caked in mud up to the knees.

“I don’t care what the pencil-pushers say,” Palmer said. “As long as I have a badge, this goddamn case is still open.”

Albright finally saw Marco. Palmer stopped talking and followed Albright’s eyes. “Is that him? Is that the son of a bitch?”

“That’s him, all right,” Agent Johnson said. His left eye was bruised purple from Marco’s roundhouse kick.

“Stand down,” Albright said. “He’s not yours anymore. Marco, follow me. We need to talk.”

Albright led Marco to a conference room. Marco got one more glare from Palmer and Johnson before Albright closed the door.

“What did you mean, I’m not theirs anymore?” Marco asked.

“Orders from the top,” Albright said. “DEA is not to pursue the case any further.”

“Of course not. They might have to explain why a bunch of their agents were in Moreno’s house when it exploded.”

“They’ll have an explanation.” Albright pointed his thumb at the door. “But it won’t be based on anything those jerks might uncover.”

Marco picked mud off his sleeve. “Who cares if it’s the truth, right?”

“I looked up your village. Circa de Luis. It wasn’t easy. An entire village burned to the ground, and not one of its population of fifty survived. Barely got three paragraphs in a Colombian newspaper.”

“I can think of one guy who made a fuss about it.”

“What happened last night?”

Marco sat at the table. “El Pastón broke into Moreno’s estate.”

“How?”

“It’s what he does.”

“He rigged a few bombs, got back out, and hit the button.”

“Not exactly. I think he was still inside when the bombs went off.”

“Fire marshal thinks they were triggered remotely.”

“Let’s say El Pastón gave someone a cell phone number. Told him to call at ten o’clock sharp. The guy makes the call, and the next thing he knows…”

Albright planted his back to the wall. “Oh, yeah?”

“He told me he was going to settle with Moreno. I was supposed to call if I wanted a piece of the action.”

“Why would he want to be inside when the bombs went off?”

“He was bait. Let himself get captured. He needed to lure all the targets to the house. Gotta hand it to him. It worked.”

“I guess you didn’t know what the phone call would do.”

Marco’s eyes dropped a moment. “I didn’t know I was about to set off a bomb. But I know why I made the call. I know what I wanted to do.”

“I didn’t hear you say that,” Albright said.

“Is that the end of it?”

“Don’t count on it. This mess’ll haunt you for a long time. Only thing I can promise, I won’t be the spook.”

Marco nodded grimly. He stood and went to the door.

“You got a plan?” Albright said.

Marco stopped and thought. “Think I’ll go home and check my traps.”

He opened the door. The squad room turned silent. Marco walked to the exit.

“One thing, Montego,” Palmer shouted. “If I find the Colombian alive, and he says one word to implicate you, I’ll see you rot.”

“I hope you find him,” Marco said. “I’ll pin a medal on him.

***

The impound lot ran Marco’s bank card and returned his truck without a dispute. He drove back to his cabin, uncomfortable with its isolation for the first time he could remember.

He spotted a figure lurking in his back yard before he reached the driveway. He drove another quarter mile and parked where the woods obstructed the line of sight. He crept through the trees with his brother’s .32 in his hand.

A motorbike sat next to the back door. Marco stopped at the tree line. The knot between his eyes untangled when he got a better look at his visitor. He pocketed the .32 and stepped into the open.

She spun around to face him.

“The Dodge didn’t make it,” he said.

Gina stopped holding her breath. “To hell with the Dodge.”

*******

Fred Snyder lives in central Ohio and works as a software developer. Some of his other stories have appeared in Plots with Guns, Crime and Suspense, and Hardboiled Magazine. More information is available at his web site.

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Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

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About Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

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