I stood on the balcony at the Holiday Inn in El Paso, Texas, and snapped another picture. The Hashimotos’ nephews were across the street, eating enchiladas on the patio at El Nopal, a small Mexican dive in the middle of town. Luis Torres, better known as El Raton for his beady eyes and pointed nose, was sitting with them, finishing a plate of tacos. El Raton had begun his illustrious career working as a hit man for one of the biggest cartels in Mexico. Now he was a major player in that same cartel. The Hashimotos—or The Nephews, as the DEA referred to them—had flown in from Japan the day before, and I was supposed to follow them to see what they were up to.
“This can’t be good,” I said to myself. The Nephews were into all kinds of international bullshit, and Luis Torres was a kahuna in the drug trade, not a good combination. I had helped to put away the Hashimoto brothers, their uncles, a year earlier in Amsterdam. The brothers worked with the pirates in Somalia and also trafficked in blood diamonds, and that was just the beginning of a very long list. The Hashimoto brothers had dominated an international black market for years, but now they were both serving forty-year sentences in federal prison, thanks to my little escapade in Amsterdam last year. The Hashimotos had a sister, Rina, and her two sons had taken over the operation. We knew The Nephews were up to something, and anything that involved Luis Torres had to be trouble. El Raton had a reputation for violence that was known throughout Mexico and Central America.
I had just snapped one more picture when Conchita walked out onto the balcony and dug her fingernails into my waist, then slid them down the front of my jeans. She was wearing a black leather miniskirt. I was pretty sure she had nothing on under it.
“Come back in the room, baby. You’ve been out here playing with your binoculars way too long.”
“Conchita, stop it. I’m trying to work here. I’ll be in soon.”
“Rock, I have work for you in the room, and believe me, mine is going to be much more pleasurable than watching El Raton.”
Conchita offered me hit on her pipe. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t enthusiastic. If you’ve ever smoked high-grade pot like Northern Lights or Kush, it’s hard to smoke Mexican pot. The weed is just not as good.
What Conchita liked was a man who just took what he wanted, so I threw her down on the bed and made her fantasy come true. But after about ten minutes, the light of understanding came on: how did she know about Luis Torres? No one was supposed to know why I was here. I rolled off the bed, stood up, and grabbed my gun from the nightstand.
“Okay, Conchita, what the hell is going on? What do you know about Luis Torres?”
“Oh, Rock, baby, I’m so sorry! El Raton offered me $1000 to keep you in the room, and I really needed the money. His men are on their way now. You’ve got to get the hell out of here. And by the way, you look silly standing there naked with a gun in your hand.”
I pulled on my shorts, grabbed my bag and helmet, and ran down the stairs, jumping onto my trusty Kawasaki KLR and gunning the motor at the same time. The tires squealed as I hauled ass out of the parking lot and headed toward the highway. Just as I rounded the corner, a black SUV was skidding up to the curb. Four men carrying very large guns jumped out and ran up the stairs.
I hit the fuckin’ highway at 55 mph and quickly accelerated to 80, ready to leave West Texas behind me, even though it was a long way back to Dallas. The DEA gave me this assignment, and it was supposed to be top secret. The CIA also knew about the meeting, but they technically weren’t supposed to be involved in whatever was going on in the Mexican drug trade. Someone had to have tipped off El Raton. How else would he have known I was in El Paso? The question was, who? Well, I would have plenty of hours to think about it on the long ride back to Dallas.
A couple of hours out of town, when I was pretty sure no one was following me, I pulled into an old gas station in the middle of nowhere, put on a shirt, and pulled out my cell phone. I texted the pictures of the meeting between The Nephews and El Raton to the encrypted number the DEA had given me, filled up the bike, and then headed in for an ice-cold coke.
“I’d cover your bike if I was you,” the clerk said as he threw an old blanket across the counter. “We’ve got a dust storm comin’ in.”
I looked back the way I had come. The horizon was a red, swirling cloud.
“Oh, hell! I’ll just have to wait it out.” Waiting was last thing I wanted to do when the The Nephews and Luis Torres were tracking me down. But the storm hit, just as I was throwing the blanket over the bike. I ducked back into the station as the red dust blew through the closed windows and under the cracks in the door. The dust settled on everything. I looked down the highway, but nothing was visible through the glass except the swirling West Texas cloud. Right when I was reaching for that coke, I heard the sound of a motor and some loud voices, car doors slamming.
“He’s got to be here somewhere,” one voice said. “There’s nowhere else he could stop.”
“Dónde estás, Rock Pounder?” said another.
“He’s in here!” somebody yelled, and without hesitation I was out the back door and on the motorcycle, headed into the desert behind the gas station. I heard shots as I took off through the blowing dirt. I grabbed my gun from my bag and fired into the wind, as the bullets hit the ground around me.
Once I was about twenty yards away, I knew there was no way they could see me through the thick dust. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. My KLR likes this kind of action. I headed off, deeper into the desert, no road, just up a sand wash to hide out until the wind stopped blowing. The wind howled for about two more hours before the dust finally settled. Then I climbed on my bike and found an old deserted shed, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere.
There’s got to be a better way to make a buck. When I was younger, adventure like this was good. Well, there was no choice but to spend the night here, so I decided to roll a fat one. No one was going to find me in this godforsaken shed. All I had was some of Conchita’s low grade Mexican weed, not real good but it would have to do. I broke out the satellite phone to talk to my CIA people and the DEA people and anybody else who cared where my ass was.
I sat down on my bike and looked in the side mirror as I dialed the number. My hair was red with dust. My face was red and every inch of my body, inside and outside of my clothes, was red, too. The bike was a mess.
“They found me,” I said, when they answered. “I’m spending the night in a shed in the middle of nowhere and then heading to Dallas on the back roads. You owe me for this. Luis Torres and the Hashimoto nephews are the last people I want on my tail.”
The temperature was going to drop to thirty degrees, so there was no choice. I had to be in my sleeping bag, but since I was covered from head to toe in dust, it was going to be miserable. I fell asleep anyway, dreaming I was on a beach making love to a woman, but the sand kept grating in between our legs. I woke up with dust in my eyes and dust rubbing my legs inside my jeans. So much for my dream. At least when I finished this assignment, I’d be in Baja at the motorcycle races. A real beach is sounding pretty good right now. I need to ask for a raise. They’re not paying me enough money to do this job, I thought, as I drifted back into a restless sleep.
Well, the night was uneventful, but colder than a motherfucker. I knew that thirty miles southeast was the town of Valentine. I found the only available restaurant, cleaned up in the restroom as best I could and had my usual bacon and eggs, sunny side up with hash browns, toast and, of course, coffee the way I like my women—hot and sweet. Then I was ready to head back to Dallas. It would be a long day, going the back roads and staying out of sight. Once I got home, though, there was little chance Torres and his men would look for me there. It would be too much risk for them.
I thought about this assignment as I rode along. The bike was always a good place to think. Manfred, the Fat Man, had contacted me more than a month ago. The Fat Man was an international player in the arms trade and almost anything else that would produce a profit. I had worked for him on and off for more than 25 years. Now, apparently, the DEA had something going on in Mexico, and they were working with the CIA. Even the fuckin’ IRS was going to be involved. They needed some undercover work that couldn’t be connected to any government agency. The Fat Man was always good for assignments like that. He had connections with underworld types all over the world.
Manfred’s daughter Gertruda was my on again off again lover, but right now we were off, and it seemed like it might stay that way, since she was involved with RG, the former Russian KGB agent who had joined our group after the assignment in Amsterdam. Gertruda and I never had a commitment. We just enjoyed each other’s company, and I didn’t expect to see her this time around.
The Fat Man was coming to Dallas to settle the details of the job, since I would more than likely be their undercover guy, with help from RG and the rest of the team. The rest of the team was actually just Lance, a former CIA agent himself, who also worked for the Fat Man now. He was an adventure rider like me.
All I knew about the assignment so far was that The Nephews were representing someone in Asia, who was going to work with El Raton in Mexico, something obviously to do with the drug trade. My job was to get the pictures confirming the meeting. No one said I would be chased and shot at, but I’m kind of used to that in this world.
I had plenty of money without the assignments from Manfred. My parents had made a fortune in the fertilizer and tractor business, and I had my own business deals, too, but I liked the adventure, and I used the extra cash to keep my second ex-wife Tiffany off my back. She always wanted something—a new car, a better condo, help with her credit cards. She was definitely beautiful, in that bleached blond Dallas kind of way, but we had been divorced more than four years, and she still always wanted something. She didn’t get anything for free, but I had begun to think it wasn’t worth the trouble.
My first ex-wife Jenny was the mother of my only child, Crissy. Crissy was a sophomore at SMU. Her mother and I remained on good terms. Jenny was always reasonable and nice, and she was remarried to a reasonable, nice accountant. She and I were just a mismatch from the beginning.
The other complication in my life was my publisher, Penelope Dickens Frost. Talk about beautiful! She was gorgeous, with blond hair and beautiful blue eyes. She had a great rack, too, but she was about as straight as they come. Penelope was single, but for some reason, she wouldn’t respond to my best attempt at flirtation. I asked her to dinner once, and she said, in her proper way, that it was better if we kept our relationship “strictly business.” Penelope had published a coffee table book about my round-the-world trip the year before. She presented it as a “meeting of cultures,” and apparently the book sold pretty well. She never knew that the real story involved government agents, spies, and underworld figures. The Hashimoto brothers lived right behind Penelope, in a gated, upscale neighborhood, and I had put cameras in her trees to monitor their activities. She never knew about the cameras, either, but the videos helped to convict the infamous brothers and send them to prison.
Now, according to the Fat Man, the CIA thought Penelope might have some information about The Nephews, since they had been frequent visitors to their uncles in the past. She had been friendly with the Hashimoto brothers and was “absolutely shocked” when she realized they were criminals. I was supposed to meet with her on a new book when I got back to Dallas. For some reason, the CIA thought Penelope might be in possession of something Luis Torres wanted, but their information was vague, so they wanted me to check it out before they brought a government agency into the picture.
Life was never boring in my world, that’s for sure.
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