A light breeze floated along the banks of the San Antonio River, carrying the smell of cottonwoods and magnolia blossoms cross the scenic landscape. The lush vegetation along the Riverwalk provided a soothing coolness to the late summer air. Colorful shops and restaurants fronted the gently flowing water, creating a relaxed but festive atmosphere. Natural limestone stairways were the only visible connection to the heat and bustle of the urban city streets above. Amid the natural beauty, the riverside walkways teemed with diverse people looking to have a good time. It was easy to see why this was the number one destination for tourists in the entire state of Texas.
Tomás “El Gato” Reyna smiled to himself as he took it all in. He watched from above as a river barge pulled up to one of the many leisure stops along the river.
Another load of overweight turista gringos. What a country. Only in America do you find everyday people whose lives revolve around entertaining themselves. They spend excessively on food, alcohol, and drugs, then just as lavishly to try and cut back on the same things. All in a search for meaning in their pathetic lives.
But who am I to deny these people their vices? After all, I’m like any other businessman.
El Gato took another sip of his coffee and looked at his wife and daughters across the table, laughing over their dessert. La Bamba had become their favorite restaurant over the previous three weeks. After the local TV news reporters had so rudely interrupted them during their initial visit, he had spoken to the owner. Now, private tables and a balcony were permanently reserved for them throughout their stay.
He was "news" to the Americans, who seemed to crave entertainment and salacious stories to fill the emptiness of their lives. But in his reality, he was just a family man, doing what was necessary to make a living.
The American journalists had denounced his entry into the Texas illegal drug market as a new threat to American youth, and pointed out the danger of Mexican drug cartel violence spilling over inside U.S. borders. But El Gato knew that this was not his problem. He was simply filling a need, a void, which would surely be filled by someone else, if not him.
It had been difficult this last week, but now it was over. He was enjoying touring the city with his wife and daughters again and just relaxing for a change. He glanced at his bodyguards, Roberto and Hector. They also happened to be his nephews. The two of them were openly flirting with a waitress at the table across from his. The big-breasted blonde seemed to welcome their advances. They look a little too relaxed. Then again, it had been a stressful experience for everyone, including them.
The year before, El Gato had made a major move into the South Texas market. He had spent time putting together a detailed business plan, and then implemented it to perfection. He first moved into San Antonio with a chain of nightclubs catering to the younger, affluent population. Once established, he began to make similar inroads into Austin and Houston. The clubs served as controlled locations in which to make the necessary business arrangements and agreements. On the advice of his lawyers, he used only juvenile Mexican national youths as the runners to deliver the product. They were virtually untouchable by the American authorities. The few who'd been caught had been deported back to Mexico. The drugs themselves were shipped in an ingenious manner that El Gato himself had first conceived.
Using hybrid vehicles, his men stripped out the guts of their massive battery packs and replaced them with cocaine and heroin bundles. The packs were hermetically sealed and power washed before placing them back into the cars. Each vehicle was then sniff-tested by one of the Mexican federal police canine teams before being declared road-ready. El Gato considered the mordida paid to the federales for their cooperation a minor business expense. A little extra insurance for the shipment of product across the border. Just another of the small details that make the difference between success and failure.
And El Gato was good at details. He enjoyed the challenge of circumventing law enforcement on both sides of the border. The mental exercise of seeing potential obstacles and removing them. Imposing his will on others, often without their knowledge. He could be ruthless, even cruel at times, but outsmarting his enemies gave him intense pleasure. Almost an aphrodisiac.
Then last week, while vacationing with his family no less, the American police in San Antonio had unexpectedly taken him into custody.
El Gato still fumed at the arrogance, the hubris, of the American authorities.
His lawyers had told him to say nothing. The U.S. had no jurisdiction to search his facilities, tap his communications, or hold him for questioning without his cooperation. That assertion was put to the test, and ultimately proven correct. After listening to their threats and intimidation, his lawyers got him released.
El Gato laughed aloud at how easy it had really been. His laughter fit right in with his wife and daughter’s conversation. Life is good. With just a little cultural understanding and ingenuity, he'd been able to use the weaknesses of his home country to expose and exploit the weaknesses of America.
Maybe I'll write a book about it. I could be the Mexican version of Warren Buffet. Maybe Good Morning America would interview me at home. El Gato laughed aloud once more.
That night, Hector examined the entire Presidential Suite one more time. Their quarters occupied half of the twentieth floor of the Río Azul hotel. He pushed past the full-length window drapes, and took his drink out onto the balcony. Roberto was there, looking silently at the horizon of city lights above the tree line and the dwindling Riverwalk crowd below.
“Everything buttoned up?” asked Roberto.
“El Jefe and the family are asleep. Everything’s quiet,” he answered. He walked over to Roberto at the balcony railing, and looked wistfully in the direction of the restaurant, where they had eaten dinner. “It’s past midnight. Do you think she’ll come?”
“She’ll come. That puta will probably do us both for free if we want. Why don’t you wait in the hallway so she doesn’t knock on the door and wake everyone up?”
Hector peeked through the drapes at their separate bedrooms opposite those of El Gato and his family. “Roberto, I don’t think she looks like the quiet type. Maybe we should just get another room and take turns with her in there.”
“El Jefe will have your balls if he catches you away from here. We can take turns with her out here on the balcony. It’s the only one on this floor.”
Hector thought a moment, then said “Okay--I’ll be in the hallway until she shows.”
He felt himself getting hard at the thought of the big-breasted blonde from the restaurant. He smiled as he realized that son-of-a-bitch Roberto had already thought it through. He was camping out on the balcony so he could have her first. Well, that’s okay. Plenty enough to go around.
As he walked toward the door he heard a soft knock. “Damn, there she is,” he whispered to himself. He ran his fingers through his hair as he reached the doorway and looked out the peephole.
When he saw the tall blonde, he gave a slight involuntary moan. She looked even better than he remembered. Her breasts stood out proudly against her red sweater. He opened the door quietly. “Come in, come in,” he said softly, but enthusiastically. “We have people sleeping so we need to be a little quiet. But it’s a nice night, so I thought we could go outside. We have a large, furnished, private balcony.”
“Sounds exciting” she said.
“What can I get you to drink?” Hector asked. He was surprised at how exceptionally tall and fit she looked. He realized that he never had stood next to her at the restaurant while she waited on them. And those boobs had a life of their own. They stood out like missiles under her sweater. Probably fake, but the swelling in his trousers grew along with his anticipation.
“I’ll take whatever you’re having” she answered, huskily.
Hector poured the margarita and handed it to her. “You’re not a big talker, are you?” he asked. “I never even got your name today.”
“I guess I’m a little intimidated. I don’t usually do this type of thing. I’d rather not use my name if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure, I understand,” Hector said. “You just relax. We’re going to have a great time. Roberto is out on the balcony already. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable out there, and I’ll come join you in a few minutes.”
Hector led her to the far wall, pulled aside the drapes, and opened the balcony door for her. “Make yourself at home.” He offered what he hoped was a convincing smile.
Hector stared at the clock in the living room. It had already been half an hour and still not a peep from the balcony. He was getting anxious. Roberto was right. Hector had not heard any noise from the two of them outside. Shit. I hope he hasn’t hurt that gringa slut before I get my time with her.
He walked across the room, pulled back the drapes, and peeked out. Roberto appeared to be passed out on the wicker couch. But where was the girl?
Hector stepped out onto the balcony and took a step toward the couch. He heard shuffling behind him and began to turn when he felt an explosion of pain and light on the right side of his head. He fell backward and almost blacked out before he hit the cold concrete of the balcony floor.
On the edge of consciousness, he felt his arms being tied together. He had his eyes closed and could barely move. He felt like he was in some kind of bad dream. After he was roughly pushed into a sitting position, his ankles were tied. He cracked opened his eyes and saw the blond girl, head down, working on the ties at his ankles. What the hell happened? The girl’s arms were exposed from under her red sweater as she worked. In a strange, dream-like clarity he studied the girl’s hands and arms and noticed how strong she was, and how rough her hands were. He could see black hairs on her arms, and bulging veins coursing through her forearms. Something is off here. Then she looked at him.
Staring at her eyes, it came to Hector in an instant. Shit, this is no girl. It’s a fucking disguise-- a drag queen-- a….in the next instant, he saw a black sap swinging straight at his temple. As he tried to move out of the way, his whole world exploded.
El Gato opened his eyes and looked at the bright light leaking around the sides of the drapes. He turned on his side and looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand. The red numerals staring back at him said 7:15. Damn, I told Hector to get me up by six this morning. He'd planned to take his wife and daughters to Austin for the day to check up on his business interests there before heading home.
That’s it. I’ve been too easy on both him and Roberto. Time to kick some ass around here. Just because I’m their uncle doesn’t mean I can’t have their balls for breakfast.
He sat up and looked at his sleeping wife, then he pulled his robe off the bedside chair. He tied the sash and walked into the living room. He turned left and quietly opened the other bedroom door on his side of the suite. His daughters were still in bed, resting peacefully. He closed the door, crossed the living room to the bedrooms on the far side, and walked into first one and then the other, without knocking. The beds in each room were still made-up, complete with chocolate mints on the pillows and a breakfast menu. Both rooms looked like they hadn’t been used.
El Gato was taken aback. What the hell’s going on here? Where are they?
He stepped toward the balcony, pulled back the drapes, and gaped wide-eyed at what he saw through the glass.
There, rolling around back-to-back, were Hector and Roberto. They had been hog-tied at their wrists and ankles with plastic zip-ties.
El Gato stepped back, then noticed an envelope taped to the glass. He pulled it down and opened it.
“THIS IS JUST A WARNING” the message started. “Keep your products out of San Antonio and Austin if you want your family to stay alive. Go back to Mexico--today. To make things easier for you, I left some hotel breakfast certificates for your daughters. You'll find them under their pillows. Don’t make me come back. I know where you live and can get to you and your family anytime, anywhere. Don’t test me. The next time will be the last time.”
El Gato looked up and shook . He could feel the anger pulse through his chest, and then he realized he felt fear as well. He was shaken to the core at the sudden realization of his vulnerability, at how complacent he had grown. How could someone get so close?
He felt violated, humiliated, and wanted to lash out immediately at those responsible.
He sat down in a chair and forced himself to breathe deeply, to gain some control over his emotions. What the hell is this? I don’t even know who’s threatening me. The other cartels would never dare go after my family. Who could this be? Not conventional law enforcement or DEA. We've had no reports of other federal interest.
A feeling of trepidation coursed through his gut.
This is the worst type of enemy--stealthy, skillful, anonymous and ruthless. He swallowed and took another deep breath to calm both his anger and fear. No matter what steps I take now, the cost of doing business here just went up. Dramatically.
The warning was clear about Austin and San Antonio, but what about his other operations? This must be an entrenched local entity, but one we missed somehow. He knew of no one who would dare pull something like this.
El Gato forced himself to think logically. It might be best to focus on our other outlets, just for a little while. Just until we know who and what we’re dealing with and how to get rid of it. Then these bastards will pay with more than their lives. I'll hang their balls from the Alamo. Make an example out of them.
With a rueful smile, he picked up the phone and dialed 911. Might as well let the Americans help pay to find out who did this, while I focus my business elsewhere, for now. Despite everything, El Gato couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony.