The call came at 6:30 a.m. from a voice I recognized but couldn’t place. The fact that it sounded familiar was surprising, though. The turnover rate for these guys was exceedingly high. They were shuffled around to different sicarios like a game of musical chairs. Sometimes I wondered if the ones giving me the orders – the narcos just underneath the bosses – ever lasted more than a few weeks. Did they go on to have long careers doing the dirty work of the patrons? Or were they so good at getting the job done that they were employed for a long time, even promoted, just like any assistant manager at McDonald’s?
It didn’t really matter. I took these calls, I carried out the orders, and I got paid. I was at the bottom of their food chain, but as long as I wasn’t tied to just one cartel then I didn’t have to worry about long-term security. You didn’t want long-term security when working for the narcos. You wanted to stay as distant – as freelance – as possible. You wanted a way out, in case you ever had a change of heart.
That was unlikely for me. But I was still a bit of a commitment-phobe. Freedom meant everything, and in this game, freedom meant safety.
The girl next to me in bed moaned at the early intrusion, pulling the pillow over her head. She looked ridiculous considering she was completely naked on top of the sheets. Was it Sarah? Kara? I couldn’t recall. She was so drunk last night that I was amazed she even made it to my hotel room. Then again, that’s why I was in Cancun. I could pretend to be like everyone else, just another dumb tourist on the beach.
I took the phone into the bathroom and closed the door.
“Yes,” I answered, keeping my voice low.
“I have a job for you,” the man on the other line said. His English was pretty much perfect but relaxed, almost jovial. Sometimes they gave me orders in Spanish, sometimes in English. I felt like this man was trying to extend a courtesy.
“I assume I’ve worked for you before,” I said.
“For me?” the man asked. “No. For my boss? Yes. Many times. But this has nothing to do with him. Let’s just say this is coming from a whole new place.”
None of that concerned me. “Tell me about payment.”
He chuckled. “Don’t you want to hear about the job?”
“It doesn’t matter. The price does.”
“One hundred thousand dollars, U.S., all cash. Fifty now, fifty upon completion.”
That made me pause. My heart kicked up. “That’s a lot of money.”
“It’s an important job,” the man said simply.
“And what is the job?”
“It’s a woman,” he said. “In Puerto Vallarta. She should be very easy to find for someone like you.”
“I need a name and I need her photo,” I told him. Though the price was quite higher than normal, the man was ignoring the basics. It made me wonder if he had ever done this before. It made me wonder a lot of things.
“I have the first, not the second. As I said, she should be easy to find. You might even be able to Facebook her.”
I waited for him to go on.
He cleared his throat. “Her name is Alana Bernal. Twenty-six. Flight attendant for Aeroméxico. I want a bullet in her head and I want it front page news.”
It was a common name, which is probably why it sounded familiar. I wondered what she had done, if anything. Usually when I was sent to kill women, it was because they were involved with a narco and had overstayed their welcome. They knew too much. They had loose lips in more ways than one.
I was never really given time to think about it. You weren’t with these types of things. There were a few minor alarm bells going off in my head – the high price for someone minor, the greenness in the man’s voice – but the price won out in the end. That amount of money could get me away from this business for a long time. I saw a lengthy hiatus on my horizon, one that didn’t include fucking drunk chicks on spring break just because I was horny, a hiatus that didn’t include bouncing my way from hotel room to hotel room across Mexico, waiting for the next call.
I told the man I agreed to his terms, and we worked out the payment plan. I wouldn’t get the other half until she made the news. Considering how rare shootings were in Puerto Vallarta, I had no doubt it would happen. And I would be long gone.
I hung up the phone feeling almost elated. The promise of a new life buried that worm of uneasiness. One more job and then I’d be freer than ever.
I came out of the bathroom to see the chick sitting up in bed and looking extremely nauseous. Once she saw me though, her eyes managed to light up.
“Wow,” she said. “You’re fucking hot.”
I tried to smile, hoping she didn’t find me enticing enough to stay. “Thank you.”
“Did we have sex last night?”
I stood beside the bed and folded my arms across my chest. Her mouth opened a bit at my muscles. I still had the same physique I had back in the military, and it still got the same reactions from women. They never knew the real me – knew Derek Conway – but at least, with the way I looked, they thought they did. Just another built, tough American boy, a modern G.I. Joe.
They had no idea what I did.
They had no idea who I was.
“No,” I told her, “we didn’t have sex. You stripped and then you passed out.”
She looked surprised. “We still didn’t …”
I gave her a dry look. “Sex is only fun when you’re awake, babe.” I stretched my arms above my head and she stared openly at my stomach, from the waistband on my boxers to my chest. Okay, now it was time for her to go.
I told her I had stuff to do in the morning and needed her to move along. I could tell she wanted to at least take a shower, but I wasn’t about to budge.
I had a plane to catch.
Alana Bernal was extremely easy to find.
At least for me. She had a Facebook page under Alana B. Her privacy settings were high, but I was still able to see her profile picture, dressed in her Aeroméxico uniform. She had a sweet yet beautiful face. Her eyes were light hazel, almost amber, both stunning and familiar at the same time. They glowed against her golden skin, as did her pearly white teeth. She looked like a lot of fun, and I could imagine all the unwanted attention she got from unruly passengers in the air. She looked like she could handle them with a lot of sass.
Once again I found myself wondering what she had done.