The Spanish Tracer
Click on image to enlarge.
by Jade James
Description: Diego Martinez is hired to track down Jennifer and bring her to Raphael Valdez, the man intending to murder her. Diego takes the case, knowing he's the only chance she has to live. Protecting her becomes his mission, but falling in love wasn't part of the plan. Jennifer McKenzie's brother is murdered, and now she's on the run. She has a file Valdez needs and as long as it's safely hidden, she'll live. She didn't expect help to come from Diego, the man hired to bring her in. Nor did she anticipate, that love was in the cards for her future.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2008
eBookwise Release Date: January 2009
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [99 KB]
Reading time: 57-80 min.
Two Weeks Earlier
Leo McKenzie unlocked the door to his boss's office and entered. During normal business hours he would have just walked in, knowing his boss, Raphael Valdez, was almost always behind his desk. But Leo had stayed late tonight, intending to make sure all vendor orders were placed on time. It would be highly embarrassing if the popular club he worked for ran out of their top stock liquor.
He prided himself on detail work and making sure the customers were satisfied. The job was fun, and the atmosphere was great, but it wasn't something he wanted to do forever. The money was good for the time being, and that was enough for now.
Leo sat on his boss' desk and searched through the paperwork lying on top. A manila folder caught his eye. He reached for it, hoping it held the sheets he needed so he could go home.
It was four in the morning, and the club was winding down for the night.
Opening the folder, Leo scanned the documents, reading quickly. His eyes widened, and shock snapped his body rigid. The folder contained detailed accounts of a cocaine-filled shipment due in a month. It was so laid out, so precise, including the amount of each packaged kilo.
Holy Shit. His gaze flew between the two cameras mounted on opposite corners of the office. Raphael wouldn't let him get away with this. He was definitely not a person one fucked with and lived. Leo knew this before taking the job, but he'd made it a point to stay out of boss' business. It didn't matter what explanation he would come up with for being in Raphael's office at this hour. His boss would never trust him to keep his mouth shut.
Nervousness had him stumbling as he picked up the folder and headed out. He needed the information for insurance, and even though it wasn't much, the file was all he had to barter with now. Leo practically ran to his car. He needed to get out of town, now.
* * * *
"Señor Martinez, this is the girl I want you to retrieve for me. She has information pertaining to a business deal I'm conducting. It really isn't a difficult job," he said with a sneer. "Retrieve the girl, and I will pay you one million dollars. She becomes our problem once you hand her over."
Diego Martinez dropped his gaze to the eight-by-ten photo as the opened folder hit his desk. It was a full body shot of a woman with blonde, shoulder-length hair. Her eyes were blue, her nose a little too small for her face, and her large lips tilted into a grin. She wore a black business suit, fitted tightly to her petite frame. The skirt fell to her knees, and the stockings were black, the same color as her shoes. The only hint of color was in her hair. Though pretty enough to catch his eye, Diego surmised the woman looked as though she were dressed for a funeral.
Diego was the type of man that always went with his first gut instinct. And it told him the slimy little greasy-haired Columbian sitting across from him was one hundred percent dirty. He wouldn't be surprised if the slime ball had his hands dipped in every illegal crime Diego could think of.
And that was one of the reasons why he went with is gut. It was either that or trust the man in front of him. And at this point, Diego would rather take his chances with the girl.
Raphael Valdez reeked of lies and deceit. Diego didn't need to do an investigation to tell him that, and he would bet that if he did investigate, Valdez's rap sheet would be five or more pages long. But if Diego did make his phone calls and inquired about Valdez, perhaps going as far as having him detained, two things could happen. One, the girl in the picture would probably be dead in a couple of days. And two, a man with ties to Columbia and crime probably meant money. It wouldn't surprise him if Valdez was out on bail in two or three hours.
Diego and his brother, Antonio, could afford to pick and choose their cases, so the offer of money had no affect on him. The Martinez family, which consisted of his parents, Antonio, himself and their little sister, Selma, had all worked on the force at one point or another.
Diego had joined the police force in San Juan, Puerto Rico immediately after high school. For five years he served his country, bringing the criminals to heel at the courts.
There was always something missing, though. Police officers adhered to a strict code when capturing criminals. Diego had never been one to follow explicit orders, sometimes handing out his own brand of punishment. But with that decision came discipline from the force and sometimes suspension. He was also sick of the ones that always managed to beat the system. The pedophiles and murderers that should have been locked away forever were roaming the streets, given other chances to harm innocents. Diego had wanted to change that, so he left the island and opened his own business as soon as he arrived in the states. His brother, only a year younger, quickly followed.
Some called them bounty hunters, some called them detectives, and others called them tracers. It didn't matter to Diego what the hell they were called. When they decided to take a case, it was always on their terms. Their cases ranged from retrieving kidnap victims to bringing wanted criminals to their trials, or doing underground cases like this one. Although cases like those were tricky, they almost always ended with a life or death choice.
Diego concentrated on the man before him. "Señor Valdez, why is it important to you that this girl is captured?"
"That is classified. Everything you need to know, like her last known location and current photo, is in that file." Valdez's left eye twitched. Diego doubted it was from nervousness. The man might be small, but the two, fully-armed, beefy guards standing behind him assured Diego that Valdez wasn't a foolish man.
"You came to me, and I am going to assume you had me investigated. As you already know, I am the best at what I do. I only take cases that are of interest to me. Believe me, Señor Valdez, when I say I am losing interest quickly."
Valdez gripped the chair's armrests and leaned forward. "Bien. What exactly is it that you want to know?"
Diego wasn't deterred. "The girl is important to you how?"
"Her brother, Leo McKenzie, worked for me as a bartender at one of my clubs, El Rey. He passed away two weeks ago. It was, without a doubt, hard for us to lose one of our best employees. He died of an overdose. Police found cocaine in his blood stream, and according to the authorities, the case has been closed."
Diego's gave no outward reaction to his words. He tilted his head for Valdez to continue.
"A couple of hours before Leo died, our security cameras recorded him breaking into my office. They showed him stealing files pertaining to an upcoming business deal. I searched for him that same night, but it seemed Leo disappeared. We have searched his apartment with no luck. His only living relative is the sister, so we are assuming that she now has what we need. Our sources tell us Leo met with her a couple of hours before his untimely death. We have searched for her, but she seems to have disappeared completely."
Diego felt a slight annoyance at his words. Valdez thought to take him for a fool. His words were spoken in nervousness, his face in sweat, and that had all the indications of lies. Diego chose not to ask the obvious question, such as why would Leo, a mere bartender, be interested in a business deal.
Diego couldn't stand to be in the same room any longer with the lying bastard. "Señor Valdez, before you see yourself out, leave everything you have on Leo and Jennifer."
"But I just said all of this..."
"Señor Valdez," Diego's said, letting his anger show, "if you want me to take this case, then it will be on my terms. Leave everything you have. We will be in contact if I need you."
Valdez rose from the office chair as he reached into his briefcase and threw two more files on the desk. "Bien, but just remember, once she is in your custody, she is mine."
Diego barely held his annoyance in check. It was obvious that once Jennifer was in his so called custody, she would die. Men like Valdez had no use for letting people live once they got what they wanted.
Diego watched as Valdez and his bodyguards exited his office. Valdez just made two mistakes that would come back to bite him in the ass. The first one was choosing to take him for a stupid fool. The second was hiring him.
He'd already decide that he would the case. He couldn't live with himself if he didn't do his best to protect her, especially knowing he was just hired to bring her to a person intent on killing her.
His brother was at home today, taking a day off after their latest capture. They invested a lot of time in investigating their clients.
Diego studied the folder once more. As luck would have it, her last known address was Long Branch, a small community right in New Jersey. Her last known job was at a local school as a teacher. There was no other information on her most recent location. It would seem she disappeared without a trace, but if anyone could find her, he could.
His stomach clenched at the picture before him. Madre de Dios, this case was going to turn into a fucking nightmare, but he couldn't deny her.
Diego reached for his cell and dialed home.
His brother was never one for friendly conversations, so Diego got straight to the point when Antonio answered the phone. "I know you're off today, but I need a favor."
"I need everything you can find on a Jennifer McKenzie and her brother, Leo McKenzie. Also, get me all you can on Valdez. Pull out all the stops on this one, and get me any information you can. This isn't going to be a simple case. I'll fill you in when I get home."
"I'll have the information by the time you get here."
"Adios." Diego flipped his cell phone closed and proceeded to read everything in the rest of the files.
* * * *
Diego arrived to his gated home by evening. Antonio awaited him in their office. There were several open files displayed on the desk, and Antonio listened intently as Diego recounted everything that happened earlier in the day.
"The pieces are falling together now, brother. You were right in not trusting this Raphael Valdez. Look over these files. I'll go get some dinner, and we can discuss the next course to take."
"Fine. Give me an hour to read these."
Almost an hour and a half later, Diego went in search of Antonio. His gut instinct was right on target when it came to Valdez. Apparently, the FBI was investigating him in connection with a known Columbian drug cartel. Association with the Naranjo cartel meant he was in head deep with crime.
Leo's autopsy report showed cocaine in his bloodstream. Diego also had the police report. Leo was found in his apartment, dead in his living room. Police found no signs of drugs in the apartment. It all added up wrong.
The amount of cocaine found in Leo's bloodstream almost tripled what an addict would have taken for a regular hit, but the thorough investigation Antonio did showed no signs of Leo being an addict. If that was the case, then it could only mean one thing. Leo was murdered, and it was set up to look as though he'd overdosed. It all equaled Valdez.
There was something that confused him, though. Why would Valdez hire him? He sometimes worked closely with police to retrieve criminals. Valdez had him investigated, so that alone should have deterred him. Either Valdez thought he really was a fool, which only made Valdez look more stupid, or he was being set up.
Entering the dining room, Diego dropped files in front of Antonio. "I'm interested in taking the job for several reasons. It's not going to be a simple retrieval, though. The fact that Valdez is connected with Naranjo tells me there will be bodies involved."
"Hermano, are you sure you're ready to take this on? I have your back one hundred and one percent, without a doubt, but as you said, this may bring us trouble we don't need."
"The file on Jennifer McKenzie leaves me with no doubt as to what will happen to her if we don't step in. She will just be another dead body on the news. Dios, she's a fucking schoolteacher. She surrounds herself everyday with five-year-olds. You know this stinks from top to bottom. Jennifer may have something Valdez needs, but she's running for her fucking life here."
Antonio grunted. "You're right, hermano. Can you track her?"
"I believe I can. I'll take this one alone for now. You stay here, and if I need anything, I'll buzz. She's running from him, so she won't see me coming for her. We are to provide her protection on this all the way. Valdez believes we're handing her to him. Let's play that for now."
"You got it."
"I'm leaving at first light. I have a hunch she didn't move far from here, so I'm running a check on her credit card. It's possible she used one of her cards to pay for something. A person not used to running will try to camouflage but still remain close. She's blending in somewhere, and I'll find her. I'm heading to bed. I have a feeling tomorrow will be long one."
"I'll be here with anything you need."
"Buena noches, Antonio."
"Good night, hermano."