I was running.
I didn’t know where, all I knew was that I had to keep going, one foot in front of the other. The wet grass brushed against my bare legs and I wished I’d planned my escape a little bit more. After a month of dwelling on it, toying with the idea, then finally committing, you think I would have escaped my husband’s house with something more than shorts, a blouse, and a wallet. At least I was wearing running shoes.
There hadn’t been any time. I was already outside when I saw my husband’s boring guests arrive. I didn’t mean to be. I was supposed to be in my room putting on my dress and making myself look oh so lovely. I’d been looking forward to them coming over for the last few days – they’d break up the daily monotony of a woman captive to her narco husband, a slave to the golden palace.
I’d only gone outside, out the kitchen door, to get flowers for the centerpiece. The maid had brought these expensive blossoms from in town, but I wanted the gardenias that grew at the front fence and created a hedge along the line. When the guest’s Mercedes rolled in through the gates, I froze in place and watched as they parked and strolled up to the door. The night sky was minutes away from engulfing us.
After Salvador answered with that big phony smile of his and ushered them inside, I took in the deepest breath I could. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t chance changing my mind. I needed to act, and act now.
I grabbed a few sparse blossoms off the hedge and walked over to Juan Diego at the front gate. I knocked on the glass of his booth, making him jump in surprise as he’d just started to read his tabloid, and told him I was going outside along the hedge to get more flowers. He was reluctant—he had orders to keep me inside, though Salvador always insisted it was to protect me from everyone else. But there was never anyone to protect me against Salvador.
I waved my flowers at him and put my hand on my hip. I had only been the wife of Salvador for two months, but I was going to use that while I could. I needed to act like I owned authority, even if I didn’t. Juan Diego was a kind man, and he was in no power to deny the wife of Mexico’s largest drug cartel access to her favorite flowers.
The flowers my mama used to put in my hair every Sunday.
He waved me through with a warm smile, and I returned in kind, acting a role, pretending I wasn’t trembling on the inside. I slowly walked along the hedge, plucking the flowers, my hands filled with fragrant white petals. I eyed the cameras that were stationed around the outer edge, knowing I didn’t look suspicious to Rico, the surveillance guy inside, but if Salvador caught sight of me on the cameras, outside the compound, he would lose his shit.
There was no time. It was now or never.
I had to run. I had to try.
So I did.
Where the hedge started to blend in to the surrounding jungle and the clipped front lawn became unruly and unkempt, I dropped the flowers at my feet and ran into the darkness. I had studied our land—his land, it was always his land—time and time again, and all I knew was to avoid the roads. If I headed down behind the house, I’d come across the river that was too deep and wide to cross, and if I went across the road I’d be heading into the backyards of our neighbors who were as guarded as we were. I had to keep running north, through the trees, through the twilight.
I just had to keep running.
I ran for a good twenty minutes straight, my body coasting on adrenaline and the endurance I had built while working out in the home gym every day. I fell a few times, my hands always taking the brunt of the fall before the ground could take out the rest of me. I always got back up. There was no time for pain. I felt it, but it was almost a relief to have. After what Salvador had done to me, I could take a lot.
I ran and ran and ran, tripping over roots, dodging the trees in the weak moonlight that filtered through the trees, until the river suddenly cut across in front of me. I had no idea where I was, and I could see a few more stars than usual without the city lights. Somewhere in the trees a bird called out.
I thought about my parents, the people I was most worried about. Actually, the only people on this earth who mattered to me. I worried about Salvador finding out that I had run, I worried that he would kill them. But as brash as he was, he wouldn’t do anything until he knew the facts. At least, I hoped that would be the case. The plan was for me to call my friend Camila and get her to take care of them – before he could.
Looking around me, I made my way to the river’s edge and contemplated going across. It wasn’t as wide here and didn’t look to be as deep, with the tops of a few boulders poking their way through the current. I wondered if Juan Diego had alerted Salvador about what happened. I wondered if Rico had been watching when I disappeared from the cameras. I wondered how much time I had before they found me.
A branch snapped behind me. Even though that was the only sound I heard, I knew it belonged to a person who was probably wincing very loudly at his mistake. You couldn’t afford to make mistakes in Mexico.
I quickly jumped from the shore and into the river, the cold water coming up to my mid-thighs and catching me by surprise. I gasped loudly and was momentarily frozen from the shock. Then I heard a fervent rustling behind me and knew I had to keep going or I’d die.
Or worse. With Salvador there was always worse.
The current rushing up against me was strong, and my sneakers slid against the sand and pebbles under my feet, but I made myself move, made myself push through the river, the other side so close. I kept going, my legs turning to ice, my eyes focused on the dry land, my arms stretched out as if I could reach it that way.
I heard a splash behind me. I would not turn around. I would not give up.
I cried out in frustration, lunging forward to reach the sand, as if that would save me in the end. But there was no saving me.
Suddenly thick, rough arms went around my waist, lifting me up out of the water. I heard another splash, nearly drowned out by my cries, and everything went black as a bag was placed over my head. My arms were yanked back behind me so fast that I thought they were being pulled out of the sockets. I screamed in pain, my breath hot inside the bag that felt like it was already starting to drown me.
Another pair of hands went for my legs. I started kicking wildly, hoping that the current would catch the person off-balance, but within seconds my legs were wrapped with rope and I was being led out of the river like a pig on a stick, a man holding up either end of me.
“Two minutes,” someone said, a man’s voice that I didn’t recognize. Despite the bag that made everything sound muffled, he sounded like he was from the east coast.