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Chapter 1



THE WHITE UNMARKED VAN crawled through the parking lot of the Mexicali Walmart, keeping a good distance from the silver Oldsmobile they followed. The Olds drove down to the first uncrowded lane, fourth from the entrance to the store, and parked. Before the driver of the car could exit, the van slipped in next to it.

A sudden crash of the van’s sliding doors startled Emilio Garza and his wife. Five men, dressed in black and wearing ski masks, jumped out. Mrs. Garza stumbled out of the passenger side and screamed as loud as she could—and kept screaming. The driver, carrying an assault weapon, fired into the chrome radiator grill, a second shot into the front tire and a third into the sky as shoppers scrambled to their cars.

Garza wrapped one arm around the steering wheel and frantically tried to restart the engine. Two men on each side of the Olds pushed and pulled the rotund reporter until they removed his excessive bulk from the car. He fell against the van’s door panel and onto the ground. Garza, relieved his wife ran to the mall, heard her yell for the police.

Three of the masked men hoisted Garza to his feet and shoved him into the vehicle. They all followed him inside and slammed the door shut. The van tore from the parking space, made a tight turn on two wheels, and screeched toward the exit.

Emilio Garza lay in a rumpled heap. When the van straightened, he rose to a sitting position and lashed out, “You fools have made a terrible mistake. I am protected.”

They quietly exchanged looks before bursts of laughter broke the silence. One of the five pulled the mask from his face and spit on Garza. “Your protection has been revoked.” More hilarity filled the cramped space.

The reporter blanched and his eyes widened when they removed their masks. He knew if he screamed or tried to fight, they would be on him like a pack of hungry wolves on a newborn foal. One other thing gave him pause. He recognized one of the kidnappers and made eye contact. The man furrowed his brow and discreetly shook his head. Garza lowered his gaze thinking this co-conspirator might be his last hope to survive the day.


EMILIO GARZA, CRIME REPORTER for Mexicali Noticias, shifted his huge bulk trying to gain some small relief from kneeling on a circle of sharp-edged stones. His thin cotton shirt had been ripped from his body and his hands tied behind him. One man used Garza’s straw Panama hat as a fan. His baldhead and back burned from the scorching sun in Mexicali, the capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California.

His captors, men of different sizes, shapes, and skin color, observed Emilio Garza with varying levels of sympathy; not for his current situation, but for what was to come.

Garza glanced up and found the five in the same position as earlier, moving in tight circles as if impatient to get this over.

One of them inched closer, leaned over him, and yelled, “Hey, Garza! Don’t look at me. I don’t want my compadres to think I was in on this, you piece of shit.”

The pain in Garza’s knees, his sun-wrinkled scalp and back, and finally, this idiot screaming at him was too much. He bowed his head, thought of his wife and daughter, and wept.

“Oh shit. Look what I did. I use harsh language and this maricón is crying.” He used Garza’s straw hat to swat the moaning man’s head.

“Manuel. Stop mistreating our guest.” Well-built and wearing a white silk shirt, Lorenzo Corsica sauntered in to the yard behind his home. His black goatee was neatly trimmed, not a hair out of place. His expression blank, Corsica grabbed a folding chair, walked through the men surrounding Garza, and sat two feet from the broken man.

“So, I see from your face and the angry looks on my men, you’ve become acquainted. I believe you understand how disappointed I am in your behavior. Tell me, Emilio. Why? We pay you well. You’ve had free rein of my home and ate at my table. I allowed you to interview my men, and it enhanced your reputation.

“I like you. My wife likes you.” He leaned toward Garza. “I’m not too happy about that either.” When his hired hands snickered, Corsica put up his palm for silence.

“And then, Emilio, you betray me. All I ever wanted you to do was write stories that portray my organization as something to be feared, and respected. There are too many cartels in Mexico, and that means competition for territory. Every politician is on someone’s payroll. They make me pay more for their services; I have to keep these pendejos out of jail.” He waved his hand at his men while keeping his eyes on Garza.

“Then you attack me in that article tying me to the governor. Do you know what I thought? His knowledge is too damn good. How did he find out? I didn’t even tell my men. But someone found out.

“I checked my phone; it’s not tapped. I brought in specialists to check my house; it’s clean. I concluded, somehow, one of these five men heard me speaking and sold the information to you.

“So, Emilio. There it is.” He rose to peer down at Garza. “All that remains is for you to point him out, go home to your family, and we will resume our normal relationship understanding that this can never happen again.”

Garza dared to look up. His body shook in waves and he drew in long breaths to gain control so he could speak.  “It wasn’t like that at all, Mr. Corsica. My boss has another source. He demanded that I stop printing those stories and write an explosive expose using the information he provided.” Garza watched Corsica’s face to see his reaction. It’s the best I can come up with under the circumstances.

“Mr. Corsica, I told him my sources tell me this isn’t true. I asked him to do it himself. He said it had to be me because I have the reputation and credibility as a crime reporter to make people believe. I wrote the article five times, and he edited it until it said what he wanted. He is the one you want.”

Lorenzo Corsica held Garza’s eyes and rubbed his chin between his fingers. He stood, paced in a circle looking each man in the eye, and then turned back to Garza.

“Hmm. You know, that’s a great story. It keeps you from choosing who your informant is. It gains my gratitude for pointing me in the right direction, and you earn a handshake from me. There is only one problem—and you couldn’t have known this so don’t blame yourself.” Mr. Corsica bent over and held his face inches from Garza’s ear.

“Your boss is on my payroll too.”

Garza sobbed. Once again, visions of his family crowded his mind.

Mr. Corsica smiled at his men. “You’ve all worked hard. Yes, you deserve some playtime. How about a game of baseball?” The frowns disappeared, and the men cheered. Lorenzo Corsica turned to Garza.


“Did you think I forgot you? I didn’t. Your head is the ball.”

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