Excerpt from VANISHED in the Sun
Every day Mia and I say thanks for everything you have done for us. You saved our lives, and we will never forget you. You found a safe place for us, and it’s very peaceful and fun here. Sunny weather like Mexico, tourists too, so nobody pays much attention to us. I think Mia’s happy.
I walked down the cobblestone streets to the ocean late in the evening last night. Someone followed me, but when I turned around it was only a young boy of seven, maybe eight. I think he was hungry. So, I stopped and sat on a bench and invited the boy to share Orelletes. These are lemon cookies with lots of sugar. Mia loves sweets, and they are the first things she learned to make in this paradise.
He had no shoes, and his eyes were so sad. I’m sure he lives on the streets. He wouldn’t speak to me, but he took the cookies. I’m going to find out if the orphanage can help him. I know he will be back looking for me. I remember what it was like to live on the streets of Zihuatenejo when I was six.
It’s good that you are letting me email you.
Yes, Mia knows we chat, and she is not jealous!
Lucia’s iPad mini was encrypted. Without the correct password and process, no one could read the emails Carlos, or anyone for that matter sent to her. Raven had set her encryption up when he and his team became involved in the rescue and subsequent disappearance of Carlos and Mia.
She treasured the connection she’d formed with Carlos over the years. And as part of her journey, she was re-reading many of the emails Carlos had sent her over the last few months and some of the personal ones Mia had posted so many years ago.
Everything shifted in her personal life when she received that first email from Mia. Rescuing Carlos and Mia had been the beginning of the end of her career as an FBI agent. She remembered that very first email like it was yesterday.
Mia; Puerto Vallarta. February 2012
There is a great sadness surrounding my friend Carlos. I have known him for a few years now. I love him in ways I cannot explain, even to myself.
Once we became physically and emotionally involved, I knew he needed to tell his story. I asked him to try to write it down. He thinks he is telling his story to me. But I believe that in writing down his feelings, he might find peace and start to heal from his horrifying journey.
Anyways, what I think is not essential. This is about Carlos.
I am sending you my journals also, including our emails to each other.
This is very emotional for me. You will read many things between the lines. Most of them will be accurate.
He helped me save my life. So, I want to help him keep his.
I live by the philosophy that there are no accidents in life. If there are past lives, as some people believe, then this is the continuation of that life for Carlos and me.
Be patient with him and please try to understand. He is a beautiful person. He has spent a lifetime suppressing his feelings.
Stephen King, a favorite author of mine, once said that a story is like a fossil hidden in the ground waiting to be unearthed. Sometimes you dig with a shovel. Sometimes you search with a tiny brush. It’s taken me years to sift through his story and his life.
I have changed many names to protect Carlos. He does not yet realize the repercussions of his narrative. He is in many ways innocent and in other ways an old soul. I know you will find that hard to believe as you read about his life. Is it possible that I am the naive one here?
In any case, this is a story of love, of violence, of death and the sickness that afflicts our society today.
I hope you can find it in your heart to help us.
Lucia looked down on Sin City. The pilot turned on the seatbelt sign and announced the approach to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport.
Landing was smooth and easy. Yet, her heart was racing. She grabbed her carry on and slipped quickly off the plane. People walked with purpose, the excitement of dreams of big wins buzzed in the air. She walked past several vending machines, listened to the ding of slot machines, and grabbed a package of caramel Werthers to feed her insatiable sweet tooth.
The headlines on the daily news rags touted the war on terror, the war on drugs and speculation on the presidential campaigns, all of which were ultimately tied together if the world were ready for the truth. But these problems were no longer her life. She was formally retired and happy to say goodbye the stress of living in the USA. She’d earned her freedom. And she’d given up a husband to terrorism, and a police officer father caught in drug war crossfire in Texas. It was enough. Time to make a clean break and go home.
The limos stood in line awaiting those that lived to gamble and those that gambled to live. Lucia’s life had also been a gamble, but cards, dice, and horses didn’t do it for her. She walked half a block and slid into the first available cab.
“You must be from NYC.” The taxi driver smiled into the rear-view mirror.
“It’s the no-frills, let’s move it attitude. I’m from there too.” Like the Brooklyn accent and the Yankees cap wasn’t a dead giveaway.
“Really? Wow.” Lucia yawned and popped another Werthers into her mouth.
“Yep. Retired here fifteen years ago. The missus and I married forty-two years, five kids, and eleven grandkids. Took an early buyout from the telephone company. We don’t miss the cold for one minute.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Yep, and a good thing too.”
“What’s a good thing?” Lucia sighed.
“The buyout. After me, the company eliminated jobs, cut back. You know, cell phones took over. Hardly anyone has a home phone anymore. Companies merged. Yeah, if I’d hung in there, I might have lost my pension altogether. You? What do you do?”
“I work for one of those cell phone companies.”
“Oh,” hardly a pause. “Here for a convention?”
“No. Just a quick trip to see a friend.”
“Uh huh. What’s your poison?”
“Yeah. Cards, craps, roulette, slots. What game do you give your money to?”
Lucia laughed. “I like poker.”
“Really, I would have said blackjack.”
Lucia returned to her cell phone and feigned interest, scrolling with intensity. She was small-talked out. She closed her eyes and pretended to nod off.
“Welcome to the Bellagio!” A young stud, working as a doorman, no doubt able to procure anything your heart desired, attempted to help Lucia with her bag.
“No thanks. I’ve got it.” Lucia paid the driver, nodded her thanks and exited the cab. The doorman had already moved on.
She moved along with the crowds, pulled out the straps on her carry on and hoisted the bag onto her back.
For the next fifteen minutes, she blended in with the oohing and aahing tourists, mesmerized by CélineDion show tunes and the thousand dancing water fountains in front of the hotel. As the music culminated in a romantic 460 dance into the air, she slipped away without a backward glance.
She took a quick right down on Las Vegas Boulevard and dropped her old cellphone into a garbage bin wrapped in photos of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère. She continued walking towards the Cosmopolitan Hotel then stood in line for the taxis.
She entered the next available cab. “The convention center please.”
Ten minutes later, she walked into the FED Ex on Hughes Center Drive.
“Parcel for Mary Lou Jones.” She handed over a business card made last week in NYC.
The senior citizen desk clerk returned from the back of the store with a large bulky envelope.
Lucia stuffed the envelope in her bag. She exited the FED Ex store, turned right, and walked seven minutes to the Fashion Show Mall.
Twenty minutes later she had a new cell phone with prepaid minutes, a skin-tight black t-shirt, a pair of black GAP distressed jeans, a jean jacket, a baseball cap and sunglasses. She paid cash.
She undressed in the east end washrooms by the food court and folded her old clothes into the new plastic GAP bag. She casually stuffed the bag through a bin set up for donations for the homeless located near the food court.
She took a quick food break trying to decide between a salad and tacos.
“You only live once.” She smiled at the young Hispanic chica behind the counter. She added a diet Coke, and potato chips to her order of carne asada with chili and guacamole. She found a lone table in the mass of orange plastic chairs filled with hordes of ravenous mostly overweight people.
Back to the garish tile wall, she was afforded as much privacy as she needed to nonchalantly open her brown envelope and study its contents.
A driver’s license with her photo in the name of Margaret DeSantos, and a Visa credit card matched four business cards. She peered into a secondary envelope but did not pull anything out. Inside, she could see a Mexican passport in the name of Luce Garcia Espinoza and a Bancomer Visa. She checked out a driver’s license from Mexico City, Distrito Federal in the same name. Then placed it back in the package. The pictures were recent. She’d emailed them from a private server set up by Raven. The new black Raven iPhone, no doubt carrying hidden features, was a bonus.
She knocked off her tacos, drank her diet Coke, and put the chips in her pack. After a quick online search on the burner phone she’d bought, she made a call.
Lucia smiled to herself. Talk about a seduction. Top-secret servers, ability to issue passports, driver’s licenses and set up credit cards, definitely got her juices flowing. And of course, she now knew that Israel used Raven to secure the transfer of Mia and Carlos out of the country to witness protection. It was the only way they could be totally safe until all the arrests had been made in the Diaz cartel family.
She moved the DeSantos Visa and driver’s license into her jacket pocket, cleaned up her trash, tossed a Werthers into her mouth, and strode to the mall exit.
A lone chubby security guard admired the hot woman with the long black hair and formfitting black jeans as she moved through the revolving doors out into the lights of nighttime Las Vegas Blvd.
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