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Poems

The Restoration of Frost

The Restoration of Frost is, so far as I know, the only mystery to ever be written in the form of a terza rima.  A terza rima is a kind of a poem that uses a rhyme in the pattern ABA BCB CDC DED, and so on.  The form was made popular by an Italian, Dante Alighieri, who wrote a terza rima poem which included the seven circles of Hell.  It was called The Divine Comedy.

My poem, The Restoration of Frost, tells the story of a cynical, hardboiled detective whose name is Frost.  One day, the wife of a diamond merchant comes to Frost, and she tells him that her husband was murdered by the butler, that the diamonds have been stolen, and that the butler has disappeared.  The police have proven powerless, and she believes that the hard-drinking Detective Frost is her last hope.

Illustrations by Amanda Güereca.

Restoration of Frost Illustration 1

He sits up nights with whiskey, learning French,
in a lonely apartment amongst sirens,
squalling sounds, swindling, and a human stench.

Alouette, je te plumerai … each pin,”
he mutters, “Fall naked from the sky, bird,
into men’s cold cities and thrice-damned dens.”

Outside the sun rises: pale, weak, obscured;
even as the man sets, sinks in his drink,
as the moon wanes, and the night is interred.

Sewers exhale their smoke; trashmen, their stink;
Madmen envision grey futures of death;
the sun shades the city sky orange and pink.

The rousted city draws its first morning breath.
It lifts itself from quotidian sleep,
aciers son esprit, et se déroule son fouet.

Yet the man, with his head on his hands, sleeps,
the unstoppered glass bottle beside him:
king of his castle, captive of his keep.

Then comes a knocking: hard and fast and grim.
“What?” mutters the man. “Who’s there? At this time?
I warn you, faults are thick where love is thin.”

“Open up! There’s been a terrible crime!
My husband’s lying dead, dead on our floor!
Ash and dust extracted from the sublime!

Are you Detective Frost?”
—“Not anymore.”
“But you once were? Detective Frost, that is?”
The man opens, just a crack, his front door.

“That was another life. What’s your name, Ms.?”
“Emily King. Can you investigate?”
She is a woman of puffy eyelids,

her mane of hair seems to be half her weight;
she wears short heels and a Desigual dress,
and sways like a pendulum oscillates.

“The police,” she says, “Have made no progress.
My love’ll be buried, to rest in peace;
his warm largesse became cool emptiness.

He is beyond the clergy and police;
he’s at the disposal of God’s great will.
And our lost wealth was in a worn valise,

but can be regained by a man with your skill.
I’ve heard you were once great. Almost divine.
So help me. Please. Come on, say that you will.

I’m in my hour of need—”
—“Stop,” he signs.
“I’m not the shadow of the man I was.
I’m a drunk now. I live like listless swine.

I’m not who you want, if I ever was.”
“Well for God’s sake, at least open the door.”
“You’ll just see straight whiskeys and neat vodkas.”

“Open the door! Damn it! Open the door!
All the way! Not just a crack! Look at me!”
He swings the door open halfway, then more.

There is a silence as he blinks and sees.
There she stands in the shabby corridor,
flickering like a candle in the breeze.

“Fine. Let me get my coat from off the floor.
It’s a bitter dawn, made worse by the cold,
and my intent to restart what I forswore.”

He mutters as he walks, “Where’s my billfold?
Where’s my coat and my hat and my resolve?
Time never brought wisdom, just made me old.”

“How long will this mystery take to solve?”
she calls, “How long till the criminal’s nicked?”
“Damn it,” he mutters, “I shouldn’t be involved.”

He calls back, “Impossible to predict.”
Silence. Then, “Can I call you Detective Frost?”
He mutters, “You can call me ‘Derelict.’

Or maybe even ‘Detective Well Sauced.’”
But he calls, “Yeah. Yeah, you can call me that.
Look, let’s go. I think my damn billfold’s lost.”

He walks out the door, putting on his hat,
leaving the front door unlocked behind him.
“You’re not locking up the door of your flat?”

“Lady, inside my place, pickings are slim.
Any robber is welcome to my trash.
Now, let’s go.” And he pulls down his hat brim.

The drive takes them past tall maples and ash,
along a quiet, winding road near cliffs
and views that overlook winter’s panache.

The houses in this part seem formal, stiff.
Quiet monsters that look down and glower,
giving the peons a conceited sniff.

“These places give fine looks to wealth’s power,”
says he. “I don’t like ’em.” There’s no reply.
They enter her drive, pass a stone tower.

Frost asks, “Why didn’t the guards raise a cry?”
“We think,” she says, “It was an inside job.
“William is missing with no alibi.

William is the butler and is macabre.
His sense of humor always disturbed me,
But he seemed cleaner than the pope’s façade.

His bad humor was the sole fault to see.
So we kept him… To my endless regret!”
“Hm. Tell each detail of last night to me,”

says Frost. “Any trifle may be an asset.
I must know the times, the places, all things.
Don’t withhold anything from your vignette.”

“My husband was known as a diamond king:
Michael was the CEO of DeBeers,
a job which brought us wealth and its trappings.

Last night, he got a shipment from Algiers,
a shipment worth fourteen million dollars,
which were to be bought by Dubai’s emirs.

Maintenance, by the company installer,
on the office safe, made that place unfit
for even the care of a prize much smaller.

Needless to say, Michael abandoned it.
He brought the diamonds home in a valise:
a small, innocuous, brown leather kit.

He told no one of the stones in the piece.”
“Then how did you know what was in the bag?”
“Well, he told me, of course, to keep the peace.”

“To keep the peace?”
—“I asked about the bag.
I thought it might be linked with a tryst.”
“Geld a stallion and you’re left with a nag.”

“Oh please! Men are pigs! True men don’t exist.
Some men are true to infidelity,
but that’s all. The honest man is like a mist:

looks white, but he’s gone with day’s clarity.
So Michael showed me diamonds in the purse,
diamonds of unusual rarity.

He said to me in a voice quite terse,
‘Don’t say a word of this to anyone;
Its loss would be too great to reimburse.

I’m revealing this out of affection,
trust in our partnership, and profound love.’
These words must have caught William’s attention.

He was passing on a small walkway above,
one used for that room’s second floor of books.
He’d been, I fear, overhead like a dove.

‘What’d you see with your stealthy, furtive looks?’
Michael asked.
—‘Nothing, just sorting the shelves.’
‘That little lie puts me on tenterhooks,’

Michael whispered to me. ‘Between ourselves
let’s not let that valise out of our sight.’
Then, ‘Will! Em and I want the house to ourselves!

Go on home, my man, and have a nice night!’
Then, in a whisper, ‘Better if he’s gone.’
Then, louder, ‘And see that your mouth’s zipped tight!’

Will came down from the walkway he was on,
gave us a little bow, and left the room.”
“Did he leave the house, not just the salon?”

“I can’t be sure. I can only assume.
I assume that he left; we did not check.
Then I guess he returned, through the sunroom.

The door was ajar, accessing the deck.”
“Tell me where your husband’s body was found.
In the sunroom? In the study? On the deck?”

“I found him in the hall, dead on the ground.
I had heard a scream, rushed out; a door closed.
It clicked softly shut with a fatal sound.

Mike was just unconscious, I first supposed.
I ran to him, neglecting the thief’s escape.
I saw piano wire, his neck exposed,

long lacerations across that landscape
of innocent flesh and beloved skin.
His mouth was lying horribly agape;

his lips were purple, his face white and thin.
His eyes stared into a world beyond ours.
All that was left was what might have been.

I screamed for what seemed to be hours
I then rushed to the door and found it locked,
but heard the window of that damned tower

pushed open hard by the one being stalked.
Then I saw diamonds scattered on the floor.
Then clearly as sun shines I could concoct

the whole scene as if I’d seen it before:
Mike was garroted by piano wire;
the killer had hid behind the hall door,

and when Michael had tried to retire,
the craven killer sprang out, strangled him,
and stole the valise that he did desire.

Michael’s screams—telling, bloodcurdling, grim—
brought me running from my chamber too late
with just time to hold him to my bosom,

to see my man forever insensate,
and the door of the study being locked,
and to feel on my heart a doleful weight.

Oh heaven, Detective Frost! I’ve been mocked
by a cruel fate and damned to lonely life:
all paths were open, now they are all blocked.

The servants entered, and, sharp as a knife,
the maid called the police, and the driver,
who kept his mind calm in this bloody strife,

ordered the grounds closed to that conniver.
‘The window!’ I cried, ‘I heard it opened!’
Bless the soul of the quick-thinking driver,

he said, ‘Will cannot get out! He happened
in his dark escape into a high room
in which he is now surely imprisoned:

to leap from that place would spell certain doom.
No, he must still be inside that study;
his quickest refuge shall be his fastest tomb.’

We waited in that place of perfidy,
like a hunter waits for dangerous prey,
near to the body, lifeless and bloody.

When the police came before the break of day,
they forced the door. But the room was empty!
The detectives checked for another way

that the criminal might have gotten free.
There is a drainpipe along the house wall,
but it is connected only weakly,

and any climber would certainly fall;
the frail pipe would tear away from the house,
and gravity would wrap him in his pall.

And the ground is soft. Not even a mouse
could escape without leaving a footprint.
Yet no impressions were without the house.

Further inquiry yielded not a hint.
The detectives left for other business.
And that is why I’ve asked you to represent

my side in this perplexing and anxious
matter, which seems so simple but is not.
The man, William, killed my husband, backless

in his fell execution. Then he sought
refuge in a room without an escape
except for a window whose height cannot

be negotiated by man or ape,
and yet when the door, locked on the inside,
was forced, there was within no living shape.

But there was not a single place to hide!
Where’s William? Murderer of my husband?
Thief, assassin, evil personified!”

“One thing’s sure,” says Frost, “Nothing will be banned
from the net of inquiry. All’s open.
Your account’s been near all I could demand.

Yet some questions remain. When all seemed done,
did the cops lock the door before leaving?
Could William have escaped from his bastion?”

“The detectives locked the door, perceiving
that if Will were inside, he could well flee.”
“And yet, while the cops were conceiving

that such a bold escape could come to be,
still they departed the scene of the crime?
Such actions seem, to be frank, unseemly.”

“Further inquiry was a waste of time,
was what the shrugging detectives told me.”
“Well, they’ve left us the work of muck and grime;

we’ll be on our own,” Frost replies blithely.
“Ah,” says Ms. King, “We have arrived at last.”
The mansion looms behind a copse of trees,

its wings spread, like a dark bat’s, wide and vast.
Great windows look, from behind the old copse,
inward: shared wine and spilled blood, dry at last.

The great home stands on a cliff’s rocky tops;
grey granite underlays its foundation.
Their car crunches gravel up to the door, stops.

Frost gets out. “I’d like an examination.”
“Certainly, my late husband is inside.
He has not been moved from his location.”

“Ms. King, I’ll begin my research outside.”
“Uhhh, as you wish. But the detectives said—”
“Ma’am, seasoned sailors trust but wind and tide;

they pay no mind to what the lubbers said.
This William left us with the silent dead,
So I’ll go where my thoughts will have me led.

I’ll see the clues, and ensure they’re well read.
Now, the wildest fires may start with sparks,
so keep vigilant; there’s danger ahead.

This scene could become the darkest of darks—
Yet still I’ll tell you, ‘Stay hopeful, Ms. King’:
even the softest killers leave their marks.

I’ll find the thief, the killer, the cruel thing.”
“In a time when everything has gone cold,
you’ve made winter’s white death show signs of spring.

Thanks. Some kind words are more precious than gold.
There’s in brave substances a common core:
invisible to the eye, lovely to behold,

in those that cast not their shadows before,
those who walk with their faces to the sun,
like heroes who stand ready at the fore.”

“I ain’t all that. I’m just a mother’s son.
Now go inside, stand your guard with the rest,
and I’ll work. Sooner began, sooner done.”

Detective Frost watches her leave, “What’s guessed
at in the darkness, without facts,” he states,
“Is a surmise which must be reassessed.

I won’t give her story an ounce of weight,
till I’ve confirmed the empirical facts:
the fox won’t tell of the chickens he ate,

and the stuff of greed is what honesty lacks.
I’ll take her story with a grain of salt,
til I see the grounds and scene of attack.”

Walking over wet leaves, puddles, and gault,
his eyes wandering over the edifice,
walking fast at times, now making a halt,

Frost strolls the grounds: solemn, thoughtful, cheerless.
He ambles to the foot of the mansion
where a drainpipe of uncommon thinness

descends from the rooftop then does run
past a window large enough for a man.
Frost shakes the pipe, which almost comes undone,

for the pipe is affixed by no more than
three rusting brackets of uncertain strength
from where Frost stands to where the pipe begins.

“Hm,” says Frost, “And most certainly the length
of the drop from the window to the ground
supports an extent of her narrative’s length.

Nor are there strange indentures to be found.
The ground is too soft not to be impressed;
the mud testifies: Ms. King’s account’s sound.

Now, let’s see what eggs the bird has in her nest.
In a woman’s home is her façade found,
and in her unreadable heart: the rest.

Detective Frost strolls quietly around
to the massive front door, which he enters.
He strides up the staircase that’s marble bound

with red and white tiles like blood in winter.
On the second floor, Frost finds the servants
and Ms. King waiting. “Not to the sprinter

will go this race, but to the observants,”
Frost says, nodding approvingly, “Patience
can be more opportunistic than chance.”

“We have stayed at our proper assignments,”
says one man tiredly. “It’s been a long night.”
“I believe Ms. King said you had good sense,”

says Frost, “You’re the driver, if I am right?”
“That’s right, I am. And my name is Michael.
We’ve been waiting outside this room all night.

We’ve been sleepless and angry and watchful.
The door of this study has not opened;
It’s not admitted nor dismissed a soul.”

“I’ll do my best to bring this to an end,”
Frost replies. “And see your care rewarded.
I must now see Mr. King’s tragic end.

Ms. King? Could you lead me to the blest dead?”
Ms. King wordlessly points to a sheet
that covers the corpse like a sad shroud’s spread.

Detective Frost walks to the corpse’s feet,
then steps forward, and he pulls back the cloth.
Mr. King’s face is placid, his look neat.

“Is there much to see?” Ms. King, her voice wroth.
Frost examines the neck’s lacerations,
“No, but with little meat we must make much broth.”

Then he says gently, “My consolations.”
He tenderly covers the departed.
Frost stands. “Another examination

of this puzzling study must be started.
Who has the key? Please, let’s open the door;
we’ll see if the law has been outsmarted.”

Ms. King produces the key, “Yes, let’s explore
the interior of this baffling room;
time’s come: we won’t find what we don’t search for.”

Ms. King inserts the key of the room,
turns the lock, then she enters the chamber.
Detective Frost follows into the gloom,

flicks the lights, says, “Let’s see what did occur.”
The illuminated room contains books,
a desk, a globe, a humidor of fir,

liquor bottles, paintings, knick-knacks, and nooks.
“All these things,” Frost says, “That I now see, were
in their same place before? Anything look

out of the ordinary? Or disturbed?”
“No,” she says, “Everything is in its place.”
“Well, all right,” says Frost, not a bit perturbed.

He examines the walls, books, and shelf space.
He walks to the window, gauges the drop,
pulls the pane on its hinges, steps back a pace.

Then he pauses to consider the chase.
He looks from the door to the room’s window,
passes his eyes over a standing vase,

mutters, “Where, indeed, could this killer go?”
reviews the room again, opens desk drawers,
and does, on Ms. King, a doubtful glance throw.

“Ms. King, if you’ll permit, I’ll step outdoors.”
“Do you have any clues, Detective Frost?”
“I have hopes. Michael and maids, guard the doors.

Don’t open or close them at any cost.”
With those words, Frost sweeps out of the study.
He heard the doors being shut as he crossed

the hall, past the shroud and body bloody,
then down the marble stair, and out the door.
“Not sure how to clear a case so muddy,”

he mutters, “Or which line to next explore.”
Frost pulls from his coat a Haitian cigar,
sits on a bench, brings his thoughts to the fore.

“What dark things were illumed ’neath night’s dark star?”
he wonders aloud, as he considers
the night’s events, and lights up his cigar.

“And those diamonds—sweet smelling, but bitter!
How’d the lady play her game? Fair or foul?
was it the sparkling stones that undid her?

Or… is her tale true as the hoot of an owl?
I shall just take time to review the facts…”
He sits; the smoke wreathes his head like a cowl.

He puffs and puffs: the cigar glows, reacts.
The smoke swirls in thick clouds around his head,
then wafts, by a breeze laden with bees-wax,

through brisk air, where it then dissipated.
Frost frowns. He stares thoughtfully at the smoke.
He looks at his cigar, wrinkles his forehead.

He looks again at the slow, drifting smoke.
He purses his lips, uncrosses his legs;
overhead rustle the leaves of an oak,

“I’m deep in the bottle, but not the dregs,”
says Frost, “I have one creative idea.
Shipwrecked sailors can still feel their sea legs,

just as I, a ruined hound, can still smell a
scent. I will smoke my coffin nail indoors,
and I will test the strength of my idea.”

Frost strides inside along the marble floors.
He ascends posthaste up the spacious stairs,
enters the hall, makes for the study doors,

past Michael, Ms. King, and the maids’ stares,
all while puffing madly on the cigar.
He shuts the room’s windows against the air.

“Leave the door open and stay where you are!”
he commands, sitting at Mr. King’s desk,
raising his chin, sending smoke near and far.

“Mr. Frost!” says Ms. King, “This is grotesque!
Get it together—don’t smoke in my place!
This is a somber scene, not a burlesque!”

“This smoke is needed for solving the case!”
Indeed, as Ms. King, Detective Frost, Mike,
and the others watch, the smoke slowly traces

to the wall, then drifts through a crack, ghost-like.
“My God,” Ms. King whispers.
—“Shh!” orders Frost.
“Don’t let the mouse see what the cat looks like!”

Frost motions to Mike and the maids, “No cost
is too high to pay for the man within;
he’ll readily ensure your lives are lost.

Between careless and care, let caution win!
The butler’s hidden in a secret space;
he’s behind the wall where the smoke got in.

The smoke was drafted to that hidden place.
His secret was betrayed by air currents;
so little reveals such a huge disgrace.

But I suspect he has no deterrent
to forced entry; his weapon was wire,
swiftly snatched in a mood black and fervent.

But come danger, we shall fight fire with fire.
Had he shown restraint, so would we now.
Both crooked and straight wood burn alike in fire,

so beware: righteousness earns no golden crown.
We shall take him by surprise, Mike and I,
but we may need you all to take him down.

Are you set? If so, stay. If no: Goodbye.”
“We’re set,” whisper the maids.
—“And I,” says Mike.
“All’s well if he’s in hell, so says I,”

says Ms. King. “While the iron’s hot—we strike!”
“All for one, one for all,” says Detective Frost.
“We’ll break through the wall as a hammer’s like,

fight him till he’s taken or we’re all lost;
we’ll never quit, never capitulate,
until that sinister arachnid’s lost!

On the count of three, no one hesitate,
we’ll put our shoulders to the dummy wall,
then wed the devil to his absent mate.

Ready? One, two, three! Shoulders to the wall!”
Ms. King, Mike, Detective Frost, and the maids
throw themselves against the study’s false wall.

The wall collapses beneath their combined weights,
as they crash into a dim compartment,
where dust thickens like fog in humid glades.

Cringing at the force of their bombardment,
is William the butler, valise in hand,
whose blood-stained hands tell of his dark event.

The five raiders untangle, try to stand,
as William beats at them with the valise,
and deals them blows with his bloody free hand.

Detective Frost, shouting, “Death makes good peace!”
launches himself at his deadly opponent
and begins beating him into pieces.

“Stop! Stop!” cries William, quailing, curled, and bent.
“Never!” roars Detective Frost, “I’m feeling good!
My life is becoming your punishment!”

“Stop! Stop! I’d take it back, if I could!
I’d have left the wire, forgot the rocks,
I’d have gone on home, as I knew I should!”

“The past is only a number on clocks!”
cries Ms. King, “You can’t bring my husband back!
What’s done is done, now our judgment talks!”

“Enough!” shouts Michael, “We’ve won the attack.”
He pulls Frost off of William, as Frost shouts,
“I haven’t had enough man! Hold me back!”

So Mike stands between Frost and the mad rout,
and Frost, a moment later, breathes deeply.
Mike says, “Stand up, Will; we’re taking you out.”

“That poisonous cobra got off cheaply!”
exclaims Ms. King.
—“There’s more to come,” Mike states.
“The judicial fangs will sink more deeply.

But come on, Will, you’re going to Hell’s gates.”
Detective Frost and Mike tug Will to his feet,
as Ms. King phones the police’s heavyweights.

They wait calmly for the police fleet,
resting in the study, hardly speaking,
till Ms. King asks, “How’d you solve it so neat?”

“While outside, I saw the cigar smoke drifting,
and I thought that result would happen as well,
if something was here to do the drafting,

such as a small crack from a secret cell.
I didn’t think the killer had left the house,
but he’d hidden himself so very well

that it was like catching the squeak of a mouse.
I feel like William probably observed
Michael use this hidden room in the house,

and, though the butler, himself he served
more truly than members of this sad place.”
“Take these three clear diamonds, richly deserved,

as my thanks for solving this opaque case.
I believe that you redeemed your name as well:
stumbling out the blocks, but winning the race.
Although I’m shocked to hear the tale you tell.”

As to my reputation’s return, only time will tell.
Frost replies. “But I’m not surprised, my green clientele:
I’ve seen worse in the past, more malevolent and fell.
Greed’s a terrible driver, if released from its cell;
it’s a cold-blooded killer, if it’s not thwarted well.
Better a closet in heaven than a kingdom in Hell.”

Restoration of Frost Illustration 2

Categories
Stories

Pale Blue Dot

The Pale Blue Dot is a story that starts off with a perspective of how small Earth is.  Perhaps the main part of the story begins a little further in.  It’s the story of Katy Miller, a pop star, and her desire for fame, fortune, peace, and tranquility, and of the plan that she and her handlers hatch to get Katy what she wants.

More skeletons, much to my delight.
Life and Death

Imagine yourself as having lived since the dawn of time. Take a moment. Describe to yourself how long that might be. You would have been alive since before the planet Earth. You would have been here when Earth was being formed. You would have been here when carbon dioxide was first created. You would have been here when our planet, for lack of a better word, first started to breathe. You would have been here during the time of the dinosaurs, who survived for tens of millions of years. You would have seen the meteor hit, and the dinosaurs destroyed. You would have seen the earliest hominids, who survived for hundreds of thousands of years. You would have seen the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and finally the last couple thousand years of modern civilization, the Anthropocene, which are less than a blink in time.

Additionally, you would have had time to consider how small the planet Earth is with regard to the universe. The planet Earth is one planet in our solar system. A single one. One single planet. In our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are a hundred thousand planets. There are many, many galaxies in the universe. The universe is a decent sized place, and we don’t know whether or not there are other universes.

Now, for one moment, imagine yourself at the edge of our galaxy.

For this exercise, don’t even imagine yourself at the edge of our universe, because that perspective is so big that the mind boggles.

Just imagine yourself at the edge of our galaxy. The planet Earth would be so small that it would seem like a pale blue dot. The people on planet Earth would seem like tiny, squibbling things like bacteria or molecules. The people on Earth live for a hundred years or so, which is not even a blink in time. A hundred years is far, far less than a blink in time.

The lifespan of a star is a blink in time, and stars live for ten or fifteen billion years. The Earth is only four or five billion years old. Our universe has been in existence for ninety or a hundred billion years. We, human beings, live for a hundred years. A hundred years is nothing. Nothing.

Now, imagine, during this time, getting all wrapped up in determining which human has more pieces of paper than another human. That’s greed for money. It’s not noticed beyond our solar system, I guarantee it. In fact, no one outside our solar system cares whether Honduras owes money to China or whether China owes money to Honduras. It doesn’t matter. Not one iota.

Now imagine the humanitarian efforts of our people. Those are not noticed either.

Imagine the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of humans. Outside of Earth, it doesn’t matter. No one outside of Earth notices or cares.

The fact is, we’re not noticed by anyone. We’re operating on our own, in a distant galaxy surrounded by eight lifeless planets, circling around a burning, lifeless star. We’re four light years from the next nearest star, and no one’s in that solar system either.

We are a long ways from anybody.

When you die, nothing will happen. You will just be dead. Death will be like a dreamless sleep, and I guarantee that too.

However, that being said, none of this information, not one bit of it, was mentioned by Katy Miller’s handlers when they proposed to her the idea of the living room camera.

Katy Miller was beautiful. She had a mesmerizing profile. Even her silhouette was breathtaking. Additionally, she had a voice as clear as a bell jar. She could move a hundred million album-equivalent units, which was the music industry’s measurement for reckoning how many albums were sold, now that albums had gone digital and everyone consumed their media electronically. She was as rich as a sultan, as pretty as a plum, as famous a musician as money could buy, and she had the trappings to go with her attributes.

She had an Aston-Martin that ran solely on electricity, and it did none to a hundred in 2.3.

She had a pet lemur. She had four pet dogs, two of which could fit into her handbags.

She received Gucci sunglasses in the mail, promotionals, and she never wore them nor even knew what became of them.

Katy Miller had a staff of maids, lawn-grooms, and butlers to keep her mansion looking perfectly, outrageously neat.

Katy Miller had a team of handlers who sought to leverage her fame and fortune, and to make her celebrity status bigger, more consumable. Audiences, they knew, wanted access.

It was Raúl Wang, her agent, who first suggested the living room camera. Raúl was just under forty, olive-skinned and handsome, with a perpetual five o’clock shadow. He wore Versace and Armani suits. He was born in Queens, and he came of Latin and East Asian blood. He had moved to Los Angeles to make his career, but retained his east coast connections. Raúl was very much in vogue.

“Katy darling,” he said. “I’ve just had the most fabulous idea. Why not put cameras throughout your house and stream your daily life live?”

Katy was smart, but she was also interested in money and growing her brand. She paused. “There’re tons of other people already doing it.”

“But you’re famous, Katy darling! People want to see how famous people live: the mansions, the cars, your darling Toto.” Raúl held up Toto, her lemur.

“No,” said Katy. “It’s unoriginal. I only do new.”

“Wear a camera,” suggested Millie Lundquist. Millie Lundquist was one of Katy’s entourage, and she was reclining on Katy’s divan. “I mean, have cameras all over the house, and wear a camera too. People can choose to toggle between your point of view or the POV from the house cameras. If they want to look at Toto, they look at Toto. If they want to follow you, they follow you.”

“Hmmm,” said Katy. “Warmer. But not quite hot.”

“What if you asked all your friends to wear cameras?” asked Lucas DiLorenzo. He was Katy’s boyfriend, and, she thought, he might not be for much longer.

“Too much of a bother,” Katy replied. “I’m meeting new people all the time, traveling the world. I meet friends, CEOs, executives, media personnel, et cetera. They’d all have to be mic’ed up, and that would be a hassle. And I wouldn’t want the cameras on during business negotiations, nor would any of the execs.”

Lucas shrugged.

“I like Millie’s idea,” said Raúl.

“I do too,” said Katy.

Millie blew a puff of smoke into the air, and she shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, Of course it’s just casual genius.

“And all that Millie’s idea needs is a little twist,” Raúl continued. “Something to make it more flamboyant and original. Something that takes it beyond the pale into true originality. I’ve almost got it—you’ll have cameras all over the house, you’ll wear a camera, and…” He paused, at a loss for what the twist would be.

“You could record everything,” suggested Lucas.

“Ok,” said Katy. “But so what?”

“People could go back and review what you said. It would give your life the illusion of the eternal.”

Katy shrugged her shoulders. “I guess.”

“Biographers could go back and review everything.”

“No,” said Raúl, “Too long-term. Recordings are interesting and utilitarian from a historical perspective, but they’re not click bait. A recording’s not sexy enough. It doesn’t generate enough pop.”

“Fine,” said Lucas.

“Oh, Lucas darling, don’t be petulant. It was a good idea,” said Katy.

“Thank you,” said Lucas, looking mollified.

Katy realized she’d need a new boyfriend soon. There were hundreds of likely candidates to choose from. Lucas was handsome, but she wanted a man she could, at times, follow, not one she whom she always had to lead. She found that exasperating.

“What we need,” said Raúl, “Is something sensational.”

“I’ll fake my own death,” said Katy brightly. “That would be sensational. I’m bored of the glamor anyway. Well, not bored of it, but I need a respite.”

“Fake your own death!” Raúl marveled. His mind wondered as he considered the possibilities.

“Is that possible?” asked Millie.

“I’m the Queen of Pop.” Katy shrugged. “Anything’s possible.”

“What about us?” asked Lucas. “You and me? We wouldn’t be able to be seen in public anymore.”

“We’d have to figure that out,” said Katy.

“Oh,” said Lucas.

“We’d have to figure out a million other details,” said Katy, soothingly. “But the idea’s got some panache, you’ve got to admit.”

“Panache?” said Millie.

“Vim and vigor,” said Raúl absently. “You know, pop.”

And just like that, he had an idea. “You’re the Queen of Pop,” he said. “Why don’t we make you just go ‘pop’?”

“What do you mean?” asked Katy.

“You’ll vanish in a puff of smoke. You’ll disappear.”

“Okay…” said Katy.

“Death is too morbid. It’s too macabre. People would feel betrayed when you reappeared. There would be a police inquiry. No, death’s too much of a pain. But vanishing, disappearance… Now there’s an idea! Put the disappearance together with the idea of you wearing cameras all the time, so that none of the audience can see you planning your own disappearance. Now we’re cooking!”

“I love it!” said Katy. “So the idea is that we plan the entire disappearance beforehand, correct?”

“Right,” said Raúl, nodding and thinking.

Millie sat up on the couch.

Lucas leaned forward.

“A month before my final concert date, I begin to wear the camera, and I have cameras installed in the tour bus, on set, wherever I go. I live stream everything. The audience has total access. Everyone follows me everywhere.”

“Right,” said Raúl. “And at the last concert, after all your contractual obligations are complete, you come out for the encore, and we arrange for a puff of smoke at center stage. We suddenly shut all the cameras off. The stage has a trap door that we’ve never used before, so that even the band has no idea where you’ve gone. You go through the trap door, and I am waiting beneath with a disguise. We hustle you out. There will be thousands and thousands of people screaming. No one will look twice at a person who doesn’t look like you. They do quick changes at the Super Bowl, we’ll do a quick change beneath the stage. Then you’re in a car that Millie drives, and you’re gone. We send you away for a year.”

“There would be a police investigation for a disappearance too,” Lucas put in.

“No,” said Katy, “We just put it out to the masses that I’m going on an extended holiday, à la Dave Chappelle. He vanished to Africa for a year. The police didn’t look for him. I’ll vanish somewhere for the same.”

“The police won’t investigate a holiday,” agreed Millie. “I love it.”

“People will go crazy about it—” Lucas said admiringly. “And you can record it. The Disappearance of the Century it will be called. People will talk about your vanishing for decades after you come back.”

“Yes, we’ll record it. People will review the recording like it’s the Zapruder film. And the disappearance will give me a year of peace and quiet that I can’t get any other way,” said Katy happily. “And, at the same time, it will make me the most fashionable celebrity in the world for another year. Everyone will be guessing at my disappearance and anticipating my return.”

“We’ll have you ‘pop’ back into existence at New Year’s,” Raúl said with sagacity and cunning. “We’ll have you pop back in Manhattan, New York right at the moment that the ball drops at the turn of the new year. Times Square. New York. Everyone will be watching. The ball will drop, and, in a puff of smoke, you will reappear. We’ll have the band ready. You can launch right back into a song. Don’t do a new one of your own. No one would know the words. Do a cover. Do Elton John’s, ‘I’m Still Standing’.”

“It’s perfect,” said Katy breathlessly. “I love everything about it!”

Millie applauded. Lucas held up a flute of champagne. His eyes were shining bright for Katy.

“I’m happy for you, Katy,” he said.

In that moment, when she saw his handsome face, and she felt her heart fluttering, her mind changed, and she thought, “I could see myself marrying this man.”

“But wait,” said Raúl suddenly, dampening the affairs for a moment. “What if plans change during the last month? How will we communicate even a slight change to you? You’ll have cameras on you literally all the time.”

They all paused, puzzled for a moment.

Then Katy had the solution. “I’ll tell you what,” said Katy, “We’ll do it the old fashioned way. How did people get a message across when they didn’t want others to see it? They did it in code. On the day of my last concert, you tell me what changes must take place, and tell me in writing. The audience will see what I’m reading, but you write the real message so that I only need to read every third word of the document. If I understand it, then I’ll sign it. That way, the audience will think that they’re seeing something like a legal document, but they won’t understand that they’re really seeing a code.”

“Excellent idea!” said Raúl. “And I’ll only put the code in the last paragraph. So you can just disregard the rest of the document and go straight to the code. That way, people will understand why it seems to be taking you a while to read it.”

“Wonderful!” said Katy.

“Marvelous!” said Raúl.

“Great!” said Millie.

“Let’s do this!” said Lucas. They toasted with four flutes full of champagne. They spent the night getting happily drunk together, and, for the next month, they made the logistical preparations.

The logistics went well. They got a disguise for Katy, and they put a trap door in the stage. They bought a burner car without a title.

When everything was ready, Katy gave Lucas, Millie, and Raúl a hug. They wished each other well. They made their final checks.

Then, perhaps most importantly, they turned on the cameras.

Everything that Katy did for the next three months of her tour was filmed: her shows, her dressing, her interviews, her flights, her bus rides, etc.

The concerts were a smashing success. Katy Miller’s personality was vibrant, audacious, at times a little too aggressive for the pundits. The audiences ate it up.

Katy Miller’s popularity soared.

For the next three months, Katy was as busy as a bee. She flitted from one venue to the next.

Six weeks into her three month-long touring schedule, Katy broke up with Lucas. The cameras recorded it all. His tears, and hers, were the covers of tabloids for two weeks.

Katy felt herself growing weary at times, and she began to feel eager for her break from fame and fortune. It was tiresome, she felt, to be hounded all the time. The vanishing act, she realized, was going to be a boon that she’d needed. She really would take some time off for herself. She contemplated a long break that filled her days with fresh fruit and yoga, something like Julia Roberts did in Eat, Pray, Love, except that Katy would skip the Love part… And, she thought with an amused grin, maybe she would skip the Pray part too. Maybe she would go somewhere quiet and just Eat.

When the big day came, Katy reflected that her final concert date had arrived, and she thought, Good, I’m exhausted.

Her tour manager came into her dressing room with a long, contractual looking document that he said was from Raúl.

The tour manager said, “Katy, Raúl wants you to read this document and sign it, if you agree with what it says. Is now a good time for you to do that?”

“Never a better,” Katy replied.

The tour manager laid the document onto the table. It was a page long, in fairly small print. Katy went right to the last paragraph. This was the coded letter that she’d been anticipating.

The paragraph read.

You are everything, and what is, shall always still be looked on. I know no other lady changes the music from the old—my dated generation’s side. Sign of times if you want; you’re the best; All Timer, you’re ready!

Every third word read, “Everything is still on. No changes from my side. Sign if you’re all ready.”

Katy signed.

A short time later, she went on stage. She made a playful mention of an upcoming disappearance. It was vague, but not too vague. Then Katy sang her songs. At the end of the concert, she stood in the center of the stage. Her arms were raised on either side. She wore a glittery red costume that looked like a swimsuit. It was very revealing. It could not be mistaken.

There was an enormous puff of smoke. For a moment, Katy could see nothing.

Then the trap door opened, and Katy fell through. Raúl caught her, and he set her gently on the ground. He had waiting for her a frumpy black hooded sweatshirt and some grey sweat pants. He had some tennis shoes. He had sunglasses.

The first thing that Katy took off was the camera. When she pulled it off, it was like the weight of a millstone coming off her neck. It weighed but a few ounces imperial, but several hundred pounds, and gaining, psychological.

Katy pulled the clothes on, and she and Raúl slipped out from underneath the stage. She kept her head bowed. They were like salmon going upstream against a current. Security, police, and media were hustling toward the stage.

No one prevented their escape.

Millie was waiting outside with the car idling. Raúl and Katy stepped into the car. They shut the doors behind them. Millie drove slowly away. The car’s windows were tinted black. Raúl pulled the back of the backseat down, and Katy crawled out of the backseat, into the trunk of the car. Raúl put the seatback back up again.

Millie and Raúl were very quiet as they drove out of Los Angeles, out toward the desert. It was a horrible thing that they had in mind to do.

When they reached the desert, it was two-thirty in the morning. Raúl opened the trunk, and he helped Katy out.

She was a smart girl, Katy, and as soon as she saw the desert, she knew that something, at some time, had gone wrong in the plans. Her moment of realization came a moment too late. Raúl struck her ferociously with the tire iron, and she went down like bricks into the sea.

Millie and Raúl had left shovels in the desert. These they used to bury Katy.

The document which Katy had signed, the great part of which she had not read, was recorded by all the cameras that she’d used. She’d signed that she planned to go away, that she’d been planning her vanishing since before the cameras had been turned on. The document stated that she was tired of the materialism and wealth, and she was leaving half her hundred million dollar fortune to Millie and the other half to Raúl.

Millie and Raúl, having cooked up this scheme between them, felt a hundred million dollars to be a prize well worth one human life. They reasoned that the police would search only half-heartedly for Katy, since she signed that she was going away.

Millie and Raúl didn’t need much, they realized, for all that money. They needed the will to commit murder. They both recognized that they had that will. And, Millie and Raúl fathomed, they’d have to bury Katy deep. So deep that she’d never be found.

They buried her deep.

It was a sensational little human drama: the sudden disappearance of the Queen of Pop, the conspiracies, the love, the recorded evidence, the police investigation, the strange and unlooked-for will, the mystery, the intrigue, the glamor, and the fame.

Lucas was right. People called it The Disappearance of a Century. Some people believed that Katy Miller would return or be seen again, like Lydie Marland, the governor’s wife who lived in a mansion with a secret room. Conspiracy theorists said that Katy Miller had been murdered by Raúl and Millie, and these theorists were mostly disregarded. The police, reviewing the final concert, realized that Katy had playfully mentioned her upcoming disappearance. The lead detective thought she went south to Mexico then, perhaps, to Peru. Raúl and Millie, on separate occasions, had informed this detective that Katy was interested in temazcal.

So the detective moved on from the Miller disappearance without much sorrow. There were murders where the victim had certainly been killed, and disappearances where the victim had definitely been kidnapped. These cases had substance, and, although they weren’t so glamorous, still the victims and families in such cases needed police help. There was only so much time that a detective could devote to one case, even a high-profile one, without shirking his duties with regard to the rest of his caseload.

And outside of this pale blue dot of a planet that we call Earth, no one batted an eyelid that one meager life was lost or that pieces of paper changed hands. No one heard the collective buzz of millions of people conversing about Katie Miller. The pleas, whims, words, and actions of humans were utterly and completely muffled by the vastness of space.

But on planet Earth, for decades after the fantastic circumstances of Katie Miller’s disappearance, many people continued to care.

 

Categories
Stories

The Sicario

The Sicario is the genesis story of a criminal prodigy.  The story traces the early and unlawful career of Santiago Ramírez, a budding, villainous genius, who lives life among the border cartels.  The story describes murder, mayhem, and family.  It portends that Santiago will one day be a powerful and Machiavellian cartel boss.

fullsizeoutput_a48Santiago Ramírez was born an American in San Diego. Immediately after his birth certificate was issued, his mother, Maria Louisa “Lulu” Ramírez, returned with him to her home country of Mexico, and Santiago became a dual citizen shortly thereafter.

Señora Ramírez was a mother in a cartel family. Her brother, David, was arrested for trafficking arms in Culiacán. Her uncle, Jesse, was arrested for trafficking narcotics, also in Culiacán. The family’s lives were remarkable for their sensational violence, police encounters, and criminal associations. When the authorities released Jesse two months after his arrest, he was soon shot to death outside a grocery store. Three hundred and fifty 7.62 mm bullet casings were found at the scene of the crime. The authorities described Jesse Ramírez’ murder as an open case, and his assailants were never found. Lulu’s sister, Yolanda, was sanctioned under the Kingpin Act for her alleged involvement in the cartel’s financial activities. Señora Ramírez’ mother, María Luisa Ochoa, had run a brothel before she married her husband, Señor Carlos Ramírez. Now she was rumored to control no fewer than twenty and to live in the shadows with Carlos, a man wanted in Mexico, Colombia, and the United States.

When Santiago was four, his family was murdered by a rival gang, the Jalisco Alphas, in an attack so successful and decisive that it secured control of the western seaboard and primacy in cocaine traffic for the JAs. The Ramírez Cartel was a paramilitary operation, and over the course of the following year, the lieutenants and captains in the cartel were either hunted down or integrated into the Jalisco Alpha organization.

The only Ramírez survivor of the strikes was Santiago himself, who was with his nanny when the hit happened. The nanny, Julia Ortega, had used her wits and saved their lives. She took Santiago’s passport, her own, and a sackful of pesos, then slipped away. She fled to Mazatlán with the four year old, then she took the ferry from Mazatlán to La Paz in Baja Sur. As Julia traveled, she fretted about what to do with Santiago, feeling that, while the rival cartel had no interest in her, they would certainly be interested in Santiago, and that his very presence put her life at hazard. She had neither love nor sympathy for the Ramírez family, who had unduly punished her for mild offenses and treated her tyrannically, and, though she had no care for the baby either, she was human enough that she was repelled by the idea of leaving Santiago alone and exposed. Still Julia she knew of no one who could take Santiago, and now she felt stuck in La Paz.

Julia found herself in the unenviable position of being an unemployed woman with the care of a child who was not hers in a city in which she knew no one, and that child was the only thing attracting a group of animalistic gang members who hunted and killed.

After a year of much anxiety, during which Julia read about the slow and steady decimation of the Ramírez gang, Julia decided what she would do.

Julia went north, to Mexicali and Calexico, border towns between California and Mexico. There she crossed the border with Santiago.

“Remember this crossing, Santiago,” she said to him. “If you wish to return, you’ll have to make it by yourself tomorrow. At least I am giving you this chance.”

The boy was five years old, and he remembered the vermillion and navy blue of a swallow, whose tail parted scissorlike behind it as it dipped and soared over a wet ditch. It was his first memory.

They returned to Mexico that night. The next day, they crossed into America again, and Julia left him there. She crossed back into Mexico alone, and she vanished from his life forever. The action she took that day haunted her conscience for the rest of her life, and she spoke of it to no one. She returned to Culiacán and went to work for her father who owned a small restaurant that served menudos and mariscos, and there she stayed until she died.

Santiago was found by a woman who turned him over to the authorities. The authorities held him for awhile, but no one claimed the boy, and ultimately he was remanded to the care of a foster home in San Diego.

His life there was miserable and unhappy, in part because of his own actions, for Santiago found himself drawn to crime. He stole and he lied, and he was caught at both of them, and punished, so that he became an angry child, tyrannical like his dead parents, and subject to overwhelming and passionate outbursts of violence and anger.

When Santiago was eight, his ferocity was noticed by a man with an eye for criminal genius. The man’s name was Julio Rodríguez, and he was an ex-convict and a man of foresight. He saw his own days of criminal activity to be dead and gone, so he set himself up as a recruiter and talent scout for a cartel in Tijuana. He saw in Santiago’s eyes and actions a boy who could be groomed for crime.

Julio Rodríguez invited the eight year old back to a restaurant, Don Pedro’s, where he spent his time. There were two other youth there, brothers, and a number of adults as well. The men would sit outside Don Pedro’s drinking beer, smoking, and laughing. They talked of old times, past crimes, and breathed regular life into aging vendettas. They had ties to the Camino Verde Cartel which operated out of Tijuana.

Julio introduced Santiago to Aarón and Alex Molinary, two brothers aged fourteen and fifteen. The Molinary brothers wore jeans and skate shoes. Alex wore a gold necklace with a golden bullet as its pendant. Aarón had a golden tooth.

“I’ve got a new friend for you,” said Julio. “Take care of him.”

“This kid?” asked Alex, looking skeptically at the eight year old.

“Yeah,” said Santiago.

The men at Don Pedro’s were sipping from their beers and smoking.

“I’m not a baby-sitter,” said Alex.

Santiago cursed at the older boy, and he told him where to go.

Alex’s face darkened.

The men laughed.

Then Alex, looking at them, laughed too.

“Avispón,” Alex said, which means hornet in English.

Aarón chuckled.

For the next two years, Santiago, or Avispón as they called him, distinguished himself through his brutality and aggressive flair.

Between the ages of eight and ten, he fought no less than once a week. He began skateboarding, drinking, and smoking cigarettes and marijuana. His eyes grew lean and sharp. He stole money and food from his foster home. He stole clothes from local shops. He grew into a boy more wicked and mature than his years suggested. He did anything and everything asked of him by Julio Rodríguez, Aarón, and Alex, and the men at the restaurant soon began to treat him like a ferocious pet, one whose startling temper was to be chuckled at, but with amused respect.

During this time, Julio felt realized that he had discovered a child prodigy so far as crime was concerned. Accordingly, he informed a captain in Calle Verde Cartel. Nothing happened for months. Then one day an order came down that the leadership of the Calle Verde Cartel wished for a test of Santiago’s mettle.

A foolish fresa—which translates directly to strawberry, but which refers to a rich, soft kid—wanted to be perceived as hard, and he’d gotten himself involved in the Camino Verde Cartel. He had money but no brains, no street smarts, and he simply wasn’t good at doing things right. His name was Sergio Rosa. The cartel, realizing that he was both expendable and willing, selected Sergio for the murder of a beautiful woman, Alexis Hernández. Alexis was the wife of a cartel member, Israel Hernández, who had been arrested and who was agreeing to a plea bargain with the feds. Israel’s talking threatened the leaders of the Camino Verde Cartel and their narcotics logistics, so the cartel needed to send a warning. That warning would be the murder of Alexis Hernández, the imprisoned man’s wife. Any more talking, the cartel would say, and Israel’s children would be next.

Thus Sergio Rosa was dispatched one night with orders to murder Alexis Hernández in her penthouse home in San Diego. Sergio was given a gun and instructions to throw it into the Pacific Ocean once the murder was completed.

The cartel had recognized in this upcoming murder an opportunity. They would send Santiago Ramírez into the penthouse apartment after the murder was committed. If that fresa Sergio bungled the murder, then Santiago could report back, and the Camino Verde Cartel would send in a professional to finish the job. If Sergio had done the job right, Santiago would have a first hand opportunity to see murder up close, and he could be desensitized to it from a young age. Julio, thinking through the cartel’s plan, reasoned that the risks were small. If Santiago was found on the scene, he was only ten years old. Nothing would go onto his permanent record, and any time in juvenile detention would be short.

On the night of the murder, it was a warm, clear night in August. Sergio Rosa arrived at Alexis Hernández’ apartment building with trembling hands and a look of frightened determination on his face. The gun was concealed in a shoulder holster. He carried a hot pizza in a cardboard box, as if he were a pizza delivery boy, and the guard let him up. Sergio punched the elevator for the top floor. The elevator was located against a vertical glass window that let Sergio look out over the city of San Diego as the elevator rose. The city spread out before him, like a carpet of lights and shadowy buildings until those lights reached the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and the sea gave way to darkness. The elevator came to a smooth stop on the fourteenth floor.

Sergio Rosa exited the elevator, and he walked to the only room on the floor. He knocked, and when Alexis Hernández opened the door, he pushed his way in. He dropped the pizza on the ground. She screamed. He pulled the pistol from his shoulder holster, but it caught on his jacket. The woman attacked him, screaming. Sergio got the pistol unstuck, falling back against the closed door. He shot her once, in the top of the shoulder. Alexis screamed again, and she fell back. He shot her twice more, once in the chest, once in the belly. She lay on the floor, moaning. Sergio fled from the room, not bothering to shut the door. When he was in the elevator, he looked up, and he realized that he was looking at a camera. He put his head into his jacket, and he began to cry. He was still crying when he reached the lobby floor, but Sergio looked the other way as he walked out, and he did not respond to the guard’s goodbye. Sergio had parked four blocks away, and he ran the entire distance, increasingly cognizant and frightened by how many cameras there were along the sidewalk. He reached his car, and he realized that he had parked it beneath yet another video surveillance camera. He dented the car behind him as he backed out of the parallel parking, then he sped away.

Fifteen minutes later, Julio Rodríguez dropped Santiago Ramírez off at the penthouse apartment. The ten year old was dressed nicely, and his hair had just been cut. Santiago smiled at the guard, and he told him that he was there to see his Aunt Alexis.

The guard gave the boy a warm smile, and, with kind eyes, he pointed the boy to the elevator and told him to punch fourteen.

“I think she’s got some pizza waiting up there for you,” the guard said.

“Pepperoni and sausage’s my favorite,” replied Santiago, and he walked to the elevator.

The elevator doors opened, and Santiago got in them. They closed behind him.

“Cute kid,” said the guard.

When Santiago reached the fourteenth floor, he found the door ajar. He went in to the apartment. There was Alexis Hernández, still alive on the floor. She was crawling toward the couch, and a trail of blood lay behind her.

When the boy came in, she turned her head. Her eyes were wide in terror. She thought the man had come back to finish the job. But her expression changed to relief when she saw Santiago. He was a boy, nicely dressed. In her pain, she did not wonder what he was doing there.

“Help me!” she said. “Help me get my phone.”

“Where is it?” asked Santiago.

“Near the couch.”

Santiago walked past her to the couch where her phone lay. He did not touch it. He merely looked at it.

“Bring it to me,” she said.

Santiago looked up.

It was then that her face changed to horror again. She suddenly wondered what the boy was doing in her apartment. And the boy’s face seemed evil.

But Alexis couldn’t give up hope, and she couldn’t completely trust her ominous premonition.

“Bring me the phone,” she said.

But the boy did not move. He’d been told to check on the apartment, and to see that Sergio had not left any evidence behind. He’d been told that, if the girl was still alive for any reason, to call Julio, and Julio would call someone in the Calle Verde Cartel.

Santiago looked around the apartment. The lights were on. The place was strewn with the woman’s dirty clothes. It was a fancy, wealthy apartment. The tables were made of glass and gold. The couch was white leather. The kitchen had marble countertops.

Santiago wondered if anyone could see into the apartment with its lights on. He went around the room, and he turned off all the lights. Alexis watched in horror, then she started slowly dragging herself towards her phone again.

Santiago came back from the kitchen where he’d been turning off the lights. He had a strong, sharp kitchen knife in his hand, and he used it to stab Alexis in the back. And from that wound she died.

Santiago looked around the room, and he looked at his hands. They had blood on them. He washed his hands calmly in the sink with soap and water, and he looked at himself in the mirror. He liked what he saw. Then the boy left the apartment, and he shut the door softly behind him until he heard it click. On the way down the elevator, he put his hands in his pockets, and he never looked up once toward the camera. He smiled and waved at the door guard as he left. On the street, Julio was waiting for him in the car, its engine idling.

Julio gave the boy a searching look as he got into the car, but he only reminded the boy to buckle his seat belt. Then Julio eased the car away from the curb, and he drove out, going no faster than the speed limit, back to Don Pedro’s restaurant.

“What’d you find?”

“She was still alive,” Santiago said evenly.

Julio’s face whipped around. His face was a mask of wrath and anger. “I told you to call me—”

“I finished her off,” said the boy coolly.

Julio’s jaw dropped. His features looked amazed. “You did what?”

“I knifed her.”

“Tell me everything,” Julio said.

The boy told him everything.

The next day, Sergio Rosa was arrested for murder, and, though the police searched for the ten year old boy who was caught on camera and seen by the door guard, they never found him. Sergio Rosa said that the boy must have knifed the girl, but the police did not believe him. Sergio’d been caught on camera putting a pistol back into his shoulder holster, and there were bullets in the dead girl’s body. He was going to be up for life. Men who were rumored to be associated with the Calle Verde Cartel paid Sergio Rosa’s bail. Two weeks later, four campers found a corpse in a shallow grave in the Mojave Desert. It took forensics specialists a month to determine that the body was that of Sergio Rosa, and his parents were unable to provide a definitive identification.

Santiago Ramírez, when he next appeared at Don Pedro’s, was no longer treated as a ferocious pet. He was treated with a mixture of fear and respect. Aarón and Alex deferred to him. On his eleventh birthday, the men at the restaurant poured drinks for the boy and lit his cigarettes.

Three weeks after his eleventh birthday, Julio Rodríguez asked Santiago to step into Don Pedro’s restaurant because there was someone who wished to see him.

Santiago went inside. The bricks were cool, and the fans were turning slowly.

Sitting in a booth was a woman in a plain black gown which covered her entire body except for her neck and head. She had a curious expression on her face and penetrating brown eyes.

Julio gestured for Santiago to sit at the table with her. Santiago sat across from her, but he said nothing.

The woman waved Julio away. Julio left. Santiago was all alone with the lady.

“Don’t you even say Good afternoon?” said the woman.

“I do to those I wish it to,” replied the boy.

The woman said nothing for a few moments. The boy felt that he was being tested or appraised. The woman’s face remained stony.

“You’re an orphan,” she said.

“Is it a question?”

“No,” she replied coldly. “But I can offer you a family.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Alma Madero Díaz,” said the woman curling up her lip in a way that was at once haughty, proud, and beautiful. Her face seemed to sharpen in its angularity. She brushed black hair off her forehead, and Santiago saw rings of gold upon her fingers.

“I don’t know the name. And I have a home.”

“You have a foster home. You hate it.”

The boy said nothing.

“Many folk would kill to live with me, if only for the power that I possess,” the woman said softly. “You don’t seem to be so much as intrigued.”

“I’ve killed for nothing,” the boy replied, his voice just as soft.

The woman smiled then, a soft, enigmatical smile, as if his response had amused her, and as if he had just passed his appraisal. “You will come with me,” she said. “My family controls the Camino Verde Cartel. Or, rather, I control the Camino Verde Cartel. I have no children. I cannot. And I have never before wished to adopt. But I like the look of you, my dear boy. You can call me Mother.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then I’ll cut your throat myself.”

Santiago Ramírez smiled. Alma Madero Díaz smiled back at him.

Moments later, Santiago left Don Pedro’s restaurant with Alma Madero Díaz, and he never returned. The nearest that he ever got to Don Pedro’s again was to pass it in the streets. He never even said goodbye to Julio Rodríguez. A black Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows was waiting behind Don Pedro’s, and Alma Madero Díaz got into the backseat with Santiago. A man shut the door for them, then got into the passenger seat. He was armed with an assault rifle, and he wore Kevlar beneath his clothes. The Escalade was cool and quiet, and there was a driver behind a tinted partition. They drove out of San Diego, to a hacienda in the desert. The hacienda had a white fence surrounding the property, taller than head height, topped with glass and razor wire. They entered the hacienda grounds, and they drove down a dirt drive that was longer than a quarter mile. The hacienda itself was a dwelling that was low and white, Spanish colonial style, with a broad porch on which five men with assault rifles, CB radios, and sunglasses patrolled. None of them smiled at Santiago, and he smiled at none of them. The hacienda opened up into a brick courtyard with a fountain, hanging plants, and desert plants. There were full sized statues. Maids wore uniforms and moved softly about.

The woman, Santiago’s new mother, walked with him in these first few moments, then she left him in the courtyard. A while later, a maid came out with a lunch of enchiladas verdes on a white porcelain plate, carried on a silver salver. Santiago ate the lunch alone on a tile table in the hacienda courtyard, sitting on a black steel chair. The sound of the water pouring from the fountain into its pool was the only sound that could be heard. The air felt cool and pleasant in the courtyard, despite the dry heat without.

He spent the day exploring the grounds.

That night, a maid showed him to his room, and he saw his new mother for the second time.

She came to tuck him in. She sat on the edge of his bed, and she pulled the white cotton sheets beneath his chin.

“I have high hopes for you, mi avispón,” she said softly to him. The room had an arching brick ceiling and twelve inch wooden beams spanning it. The windows had no glass, only wicker shutters. There was nothing in the room except for the king sized wooden bed, which sat on a frame of oak stained black, the mattress and its white sheets, and a small end table on which sat a white porcelain pitcher filled with water, along with a nearby glass.

His new mother kissed his forehead. She brushed his hair with her hand. She smiled at him. “One day you’ll control the cartel I’ve fought so hard to establish and maintain. But before then, you’ll need to learn the business of drugs and death.”

“I’ve killed one person already,” he said.

“I know, my darling,” she smiled at him. “That’s why you’re here. I’ve had my eye on you awhile. But one murder is just a beginning. We’ll make a real killer of you yet.”

She kissed him, and she left the room, turning the light off behind her and closing the door.