The receiver on the other end of the line picked up almost as soon as it started to ring. “Hola mi amor, un momento y Podemos hablar.” Lil’ Loco’s name came through the other end of the receiver. He always pretended that I was his gringa lover when I called. I’m still not sure if it’s to cover his ass or wishful thinking, but hopefully, the first option. Lil’ Loco was not the best example of the mortals, and honestly, if I had another choice to infiltrate the Mexican Cartel that I had been hunting, I would. I caught him in one of the lower-level deals that turned out to be full-blown human trafficking. I persuaded him to be my mole, or I would smite everyone he ever loved and make him watch. I may have also threatened immortality while chained and tortured. He didn’t know that I was bluffing…mostly. It was enough to scare his loyalty. A goddess beat drug lords on the scary scale any day, especially since I seemed to have a reputation.
I started to drum my fingernails on the desk in my home office as I waited. If he didn’t hurry, I would lose my patience and do something reckless. It had been three hours since Dianna had shown up at my home uninvited with the revelation that Alex was murdered along with her father. Of course, those were not the only bombshells dropped on me when she arrived. Apparently, Alex was also in love with me, and Dianna believed that his involvement with me was what had gotten him killed. I had connected with every contact that I had in the FBI, DEA, CIA, and all other acronyms known to mankind. So far, I had nothing to show for it. Dianna was currently sleeping on my large couch in front of a warm fire in the den. I refused to let her wake up and have nothing to tell her. If I had to start calling my family in to help, I would. I had a few that would come if I called and would not have any problems spilling blood to get the answers that I needed…no, we needed.
“Hola mi…” Lil’ Loco started again.
“Cut the shit, Jose. Are you able to talk?” When I used his real name, he knew it was urgent. Usually, I just called him Lil’ Dip Shit. I could hear the sound of footsteps and the opening and closing of a car door on the other end. Then the mariachi music blared before he lowered it so we could talk. Great, a secret telephone rendezvous in the Cholo-mobile. This better pan out, or I may beat the car into a coffee table.
“Well, hello to you too, Athena. What can I do for my favorite goddess?” He tried to sound seductive, but it fell short.
“Not happening, vato. I don’t do gang bangers. I do need info. And since I’m your favorite goddess, you be a good boy and listen. What have you heard about the fed that was killed?”
A low whistle came from the other line. “You mean that pendejo that got popped? Heard he died real slow. He was helping some bitch, and the boss didn’t like it.”
The anger started to bubble up and threatened to boil over as I listened to him talk about my fallen friend.
“Hey vato, I’m the bitch, and that pendejo was my friend. Who ordered the hit?” The line sounded like it went dead for a moment. His breathing quickened, and I heard him audibly gulp.
“I can’t. He will kill me if I talk.”
“Remember what I will do to you if you don’t? He will not do anything compared to what I will do. Do you believe me, or should I show you?”
“No, no, no. I don’t need you to show me. You know they have a name for you? They call you La Llorona. Except instead of collecting children, you collect men. Once you have them…they are never seen again.”
I couldn’t contain my bitter laugh.
“Here I expected to be called El Diablo. Besides, you usually get your men back, at least most of them, anyway. They may be missing some parts, but they are returned.”
“They are scared of you, Senora, but not scared enough. They took your amigo and did terrible things to him. I can tell you more, but not here. We have to meet, and you have to keep me safe, Senora.”
“Come to me. You know where I am. If your information is credible and helps me, I’ll think about not killing you as your boss did to my friend. If your information is really good, I may even protect you from your friends. But if you don’t come…if you even think about betraying me, I will make you and everyone that you ever loved regret it. Do you understand?”
“Si, Senora. I understand. I will come as soon as I can.”
“You will come now, or I will come to you, and I don’t think that you want that.”
“No, I don’t. I am leaving now. I will be there soon, just don’t come here.”
I hung up the phone before he could say anything more. He knew that my threats were not empty, and if he betrayed me, I would make good on them. Dropping my phone to the desk, I rubbed my eyes. My makeup was ruined, and I could feel the beginnings of a migraine coming on. I wanted a stiff drink, to fuck and scream until I could no longer feel the pain inside of me. Thinking Alex bailed on me hurt…but this? The tears gathered in my eyes and threatened to spill once again. I couldn’t sit here and cry. I couldn’t bring him back, but damn it, just sitting here bawling my eyes out wouldn’t help either. I needed to find out who did this and make them pay. I needed to honor Alex’s memory and help bring some peace and closure to his daughter.
The telephone was ringing in the other room, and I hoped it hadn’t woken Dianna. With my luck, it probably had, and with a little over three hours of sleep, she would probably refuse to go back to sleep. Which meant she would need coffee.
I filled two mugs and brought them to the den, setting them both on a tray with an assortment of protein bars and snacks. I was hungry and could only imagine when the last time she took a moment to eat was.
Dianna was sitting upright on the couch with her head in her hands.
“I would ask if you are okay, but I know the absurdity of the question. I brought coffee and food. I didn’t know if you liked cream and sugar, so I brought it out, too.”
Dianna lifted her head and wiped her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Can I ask who was on the phone? Any leads on your father’s case?”
I instantly regretted asking because the defeated look on her face told me it wasn’t some revelation or huge break in the case.
“No. It was my husband. He wanted to check in on me and let me know how AJ was doing.”
“My son. Alex Jr. Named him after the bravest man I knew. He was my hero. AJ idolized him. I still haven’t told him…I don’t know how. How do you look your little boy in the eyes and tell him that his paw-paw is gone forever? How do I explain all of this?” She gestured to all the folders on the coffee table.
“I don’t know, but we will bring them to justice. I can promise you that.”
She just stared at me. I didn’t know if she believed me or was just out of hope and needed anything to hold on to so she did not spiral out of control.
“So have you made any progress?”
I couldn’t help but have a small triumphant smile. “Actually, yes, I have. Was your father working on any cases related to the Mexican Cartel? Other than the few times he helped me?”
She looked like she was in deep thought for a moment.
“Actually, yes. He was involved in a human trafficking case. He said that women and children were being collected under the ruse of having a new life in America and then were sold into all manners of evil. He was close to finding out the next location when…” Her words trailed off for a moment. “Is that why he was killed? I’m sorry, Athena…”
I lightly sat my hand on her shoulder, and this time she didn’t act as if I had struck her with lightning.
“Don’t apologize. Hells, for all we know, it could still be my fault. The night is young. But at least we are getting somewhere.”
The beginnings of a smile twitched the corners of her mouth before faltering. “My father always said you knew how to make him smile. He said you could be elbow deep in assholes, and you would say something to make him laugh. I can see why he cared about you so much. For the last couple of years, you have been the other woman in his life, and I was angry when you didn’t feel the same way he did. I didn’t want his heart to be broken again. But looking at the photos you both have of each other…I can see that he wasn’t sad. He was happy with you. Just promise me that we are going to get these assholes and that you will let me have a piece of them when we do.”
“I promise, and in the meantime, I have a lead. I’ll tell you all about it while you eat something and drink your coffee.”
“Yes, Mom,” she replied sarcastically. I could see so much of Alex in her, it broke my heart. I started to fill her in on what I had found out and about Lil’ Loco. He would be here soon, and then the real fun would begin.