Music: 10,000 Days, Tool
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Lola sat up in bed, slid her feet into a pair of soft slippers, and tied a white silk robe on over her nightshirt. Then she rubbed her eyes and stood up.
Her feet padded across the gleaming floor tiles, their smooth surface pristine, like a seashell pounded smooth by the ocean waves. She set her hand on the chair next to the door, her fingers curling around the ornately carved, luminous wood.
She hated the opulence of her prison as much as she’d hated the squalor of her upbringing. She was as desperate as ever to get out. But her entire life had been tinged with the same shade of desperation; it hardly even rated. In her short time with the gang, she had constantly looked for opportunities to forward her ends. Unfortunately, Raul was paranoid, and for good reason. It had kept him alive in his dangerous world.
She still hadn’t been able to get access to his network, even though she’d spent every night with him for the last two weeks. It was frustrating to bide her time when she knew her goal was in the room at the end of the hall. She hadn’t seen Chege since the first party she attended with Raul two weeks earlier.
The door leading out to the little balcony was partially open, the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach close by not quite overpowering the conversation below. Raul and three others sat at a table finishing up an early breakfast on the far side of the pool. She looked at the people assembled around the table and smiled at the new addition to the small group. A few minutes later she stepped into the sunlight on the patio on the lower level, making her way around the still, blue water to where the sounds of dishes clinking broke the morning air.
Chege’s dark skin gleamed in the bright sun, a beacon of hope. Lola sheltered her eyes and gave a little smile as she walked up to the table. He cracked a smile in return before turning his attention back to Raul.
“Pull a few more off, Chege, and we’ll talk about the final part of our agreement. These problem areas are ruining our cash flow, and I don’t want this distracting me when I go out of town this weekend. Settle it any way you can.” Raul turned at the sound of her approaching footsteps. “About time. Come over here, mielero. Give me some sugar.” Raul tilted a cheek to her. Her nostrils flared as she bent to kiss him. Pulling her into his lap, he slid a hand into her robe. Her mood abruptly crashed and she looked away in irritation.
“Oh, come on. They don’t mind. Do you, guys?” The two men across from her chuckled at Raul’s remark.
Raul began rubbing his rough facial hair against the side of her neck. Her eyes rolled back and she tried to pull away.
“Ah, now, I know you like it.” His hand moved between her legs.
She sighed, staring at the small strip of ocean she could see sparking through the underbrush over the rail. These little games of his were exhausting. She had long since lost patience with them. She couldn’t even pretend anymore. And it was beyond infuriating that he’d discovered her neck was so sensitive.
He imitated her sigh. “Not enjoying yourself? Maybe you will if I bring your brother back here to watch.” He nodded when her head jerked around to glare at him. “Yeah, I thought so. Maybe I’ll just pick him up later.”
“You touch him and I’ll-”
“You’ll what?” The laughing tone left his voice. He waved a hand at his men. “Hold her. She needs a reminder. She’s been seeing the nice side of me for too long.”
Two men came up beside her and grabbed her arms before she could struggle. They pulled her off of his lap and twisted her arms back until she could hardly breathe. Her shoulders burned in the sockets, the tendons holding her weight as her feet sought purchase on the grass.
Raul picked up the little knife lying on the table next to the bowl of oranges. He slid the tip of the knife across her collarbone, leaning close to her face to watch her eyes. Juice dripped onto her skin from the blade, running a cool trail under the spotless robe. She shivered a breath through her teeth.
The citrus-coated blade stung her as it carved slowly down her neck, heat rushing to the shallow cut he made. She didn’t allow herself to flinch.
“Do I need to bring little Tom here to really drive the point home?” His men snickered at his joke as he twisted the tip of the blade under the skin. Her throat flexed as she carefully swallowed, trying not to push against the blade.
“No,” she said, meeting his eyes. “Leave him alone.”
“We’ll see. But my generosity is wearing thin.” He stood back, then gave her that smile that told her trouble was coming.
“Boys, take her back into the room and remind her why she’s here.”
Not again. Something inside her snapped, pushing logic and reason to the deep, dark background.
Here she goes, Chege thought with satisfaction as a change came over Lola’s face. He’d known it was only a matter of time.
Raul took a startled step back as her heel came up, connecting with the crotch of the man holding her left arm. He dropped his hands with a groan, gripping himself as he fell backwards against the railing. The other man’s head snapped back with a fleshy thwack as her left fist connected, then stumbled back as she elbowed him in the sternum. Dodging the first man’s swing as he rolled back up, she kicked him again where it counted and he crumpled back onto the ground.
Lola stepped toward Raul, furious. “I’m not going to-” She broke off, ducking as one of the men came at her again. Two more men ran out from the house as the sounds of the commotion reached them.
Chege smiled, leaning against the railing to watch. This was just like the time that frat boy had grabbed her in the Afrikka Club and she beat the shit out of him and all his friends in front of the bar. That had been, what? Five months ago?
He’d known then that she could do more than just serve drinks, and she’d shown up for every test he’d thrown at her. A more cutthroat go-getter he hadn’t met, which is part of what had made her so pathetic when he saw her beaten and bloodied on the garage floor the other week.
He took pleasure in the dumbfounded look on Raul’s face as the half-naked woman took out four men with nothing but her hands and feet. Granted, she was rough and unpracticed, but she made up for it with sheer gusto. She went for the vulnerable parts, like the eyes and the inside of the joints, scrapping like a junkyard dog. The men were unprepared for her vicious tactics. They went down quickly.
As the last man fell, she turned her attention to Raul again. Her face was painted with fury as she marched up to him, stepping over the groaning men like they weren’t there, and thrust her finger into his chest.
“You do what you want with me, but if one of your huelepedos touches me again…” she hissed through her teeth, “Voy a fregar el cabrón. ¿Me entiendes?”
Whatever she said, it wasn’t a compliment. Lola stared into her livid reflection in Raul’s sunglasses for a moment before he took them off to regard her thoughtfully. “Clearly I’ve underestimated you.”
She looked startled by his composure, but what did she expect? This was Raul Duarte, not some drunk jackoff.
Raul rubbed his chin, looking at her thoughtfully while her breathing slowed. His men began to rise and he waved them off.
“Es necesario un trabajo más difícil," he said.
Lola obviously understood, but she didn’t answer. Raul glanced over at Chege, who still stood against the railing on the far side of the table, then back at Lola.
“Go get dressed. Then we’re gonna have a little chat up in my room, you and me.” He caressed her arm. Expressionless, she turned and left without a backward glance.
“Chege,” he said once she had left. “I want you to take Lola with you on that assignment.”
“You want her to do collections?” Chege had his own agenda, he didn’t want Lola along to distract him.
His confused tone only brought a bigger smile to Raul’s face. “I think she’ll bring just the right touch to that part of the operation.” He looked down at the fruit knife gleaming in his hand, still dripping fresh juice mixed with her blood. He licked the blade, savoring the fluid on his tongue.
Chege cringed. Freak.
“Si.” Raul nodded, looking back the way she had gone. “I think this is just where she belongs.”
He was standing by the double doors that overlooked the ocean behind the house as she blew into the bedroom with every outward appearance of confidence she could muster. His empty eyes watched her approach from beneath heavy, black eyebrows. Seeing him standing there with the beauty of the Pacific as his backdrop, the white sheers blowing in with the ocean breeze, might have made her laugh if she’d seen it on the vids. As it was, it almost made her shiver.
Predator and prey. She lengthened her stride, channeling her nervous energy into her self-assurance, each step planted deliberately on the hard tile until she stood in front of him, feet shoulder-width apart. The wind picked up her loose hair and she met his eyes.
“You wanted me, Raul?” she asked in a suggestive tone.
He slapped her, then grabbed her arm and pulled her face close to his. “I’ll give you some real work since you’ve got so much energy to burn off, but you’ll never speak to me like that in front of my men again."
“We'll see," she maintained her challenging look, not wanting to show weakness. "But I think I’m starting to like you, Raul,” she said.
She drew out the last word, sliding her hands into his unbuttoned shirt. His muscles bunched under her fingers as she felt him gear up up to hit her again. She shoved her hands deeply into the soft flesh under his arms, a trick she’d learned from one of her foster parents. He shouted in pain, his arms momentarily immobilized. She kept her face close to his, fully expecting backlash for her daring move even as she maintained her fiction.
“You didn’t seem to like me downstairs. I think you’re full of shit," he spat, grabbing her again.
“I have to admit, it surprised me too. But I happen to like powerful men.”
“Is that so?” He smiled. It was a smile she hated, the one that said I own you. She mimicked it back to him. She’d have him eating out of her hand soon enough.
“Tú me das buena onda, mujer.” With a force of will she kept the elation at her victory off her face while he put his head to her neck and bit his way across her collarbone.
“I hope this isn’t the ‘real work’ you mentioned,” she said.
He laughed, a slow chuckle she hadn’t heard from him before. “No. But we’ll do this first.”
He moved lower, undressing her, and her face turned to the sunlight streaming in through the open doorway, her mind drifting off into fantasy.
Lola sat astride Raul on the chair near the door, both of them naked, touching his face with gentle fingers as she applied medi-gel to where she'd split his lip during their passionate lovemaking. He had already healed hers. He didn’t like his women “marked up”, he said. An oddity, considering his proclivities.
His hands caressed the small of her back gently and she smiled as she worked. In this moment, he was almost tolerable.
“There.” She set the tube down on the table and wiped at his face maternally before standing up. He caught at her arms and yanked her back down.
He stroked her hair, gleaming in the sunlight. “Stay put.” Leaning back into the chair, he put a hand on each thigh and looked her over.
“Not done yet?” she asked, looking down at him.
“With you? Not yet,” he said.. It felt like there was something else behind his words. A warning.
“Where did you learn to speak my language so well?”
“This is California. It’s hardly unique.”
“No, but you speak it like your first language.”
She shrugged. “One of my first foster parents was Mexican. He had a foul mouth, but he taught me how to fight.” The last thing she wanted to do was share personal stories with this asshole. “Tell me about your ink,” she said, tracing over the intricate patterns and words that decorated his body.
A wide collar of elaborate script wrapped around his neck, reading sangre por sangre. “Blood for blood,” she translated. “That’s for the gang, right? Did you name it?”
He shook his head. “My grandfather did. We branched off from the Mexican Mafia more than a hundred years ago. Las pandillas don’t make it into the history books, but we should.”
“I didn’t think these things were hereditary.”
“It’s not. Hostile takeover, every time. With us, anyway.”
“So sangre por sangre…?”
“My father gave me life. I took his. Blood for blood,” he said.
He was looking for a reaction. Keeping her eyes on the tattoo, she tilted her head curiously and traced the letters with her fingers. Squelching her immediate reaction of horror, her mind clicked over the possibilities, deciding on the best way to respond.
A version of the truth was probably best. “I don’t remember my father at all. I haven’t missed him. Do you miss yours?”
From the expression on his face, it wasn’t one of the responses he was expecting. “No. He wanted to turn me into something I’m not, so I had to put him down.”
She nodded like this was a reasonable answer. “What about this one?” Her fingers trailed up the line of red dashes, stringing between his heart, up his neck and into his ear. She leaned close, tracing the design. The line feathered off in several places, reducing to dots.
“Uno para cada mujer.”
“One for the ladies, are you Raul?”
“Not like that. One for each mujer I’ve put down.”
Her hand froze on his neck, the smile fading from her face. Their eyes met, his steel and her fire.
“You look worried,” he observed with obvious enjoyment after a moment.
Her fingers traced back down the line, ending at the knotwork over his heart, perhaps twenty in all. Each dash was a life. “No, Raul. I’m not worried. Any mark I make on you won’t only be skin deep.” Her finger dug into the knotwork.
“Sounds like I’d be better off without you then.”
“Why Raul,” she said, lifting an eyebrow at him. “Are you worried?”
He looked at her without expression for a moment, then began to laugh. It was genuine mirth, head thrown back and belly heaving. Lola watched in astonishment, a smile toying at her mouth.
“You might be interesting enough to keep around. Maybe even for more than this.” He squeezed her ass.
“About that work,” he said, sitting up. “You’ll go on a collection job this afternoon.” He nuzzled against her neck.
“Someone trying to hold out on you, Raul?” Her mouth twisted in amusement, she leaned into him so that her hair fell down his heavily inked back.
“Everyone tries. They don’t succeed.” Pulling back, the look he gave her said that he wasn’t completely fooled by her act. Not yet, anyway.
“We can’t have that,” she said sardonically. A slow smile spread across his rugged face, almost making him attractive.
“No chingar,” he warned her, finger raised.
“I’ll save that for you, then.” She stood up and walked over to where her clothes were strewn. She dressed, not needing to look over her shoulder to know he was watching. He would always be watching.
She had to be careful.
A short while later, Raul watched thoughtfully as Chege and Lola walked from the house. He turned to his head of security.
“We don’t know much about her at all, Will. Her records only go back about three years. Same for her brother. She could be practically anybody, a rival pandilla infiltrator maybe.”
“Possibly. We know there’s a data leak somewhere.”
She and Chege were talking. Lola’s attention was on the man who had entered the car ahead of them. Raul didn’t like it. He was almost tempted to go along.
He could still smell her on his shirt. The fascination that was growing in him aroused as much suspicion as it did other, less familiar feelings. He shook his head, wondering that he’d let himself get so distracted by a bitch.
“For now, we watch, and we wait. Has Sesay contacted you about the incident last week on the west side?”
“Yes, the full report is on your terminal.”
Raul walked over to his desk and sat down to read. After a minute, he nodded. “Set it up for tomorrow.”
“You got it, boss.”
He sat back in his chair, thinking. “I wonder if she’s related to the business at hand.”
“It does, but she’s devious, Will.”
“True. My instincts say it’s someone who was already here, though.” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “If she does well today, she might be good on a permanent team.”
“You think so? Una Majer?”
“Other organizations have been using them for centuries. Sometimes they’re more vicious and clever than men, and they can get more places. Your father-”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Raul said, waving a hand testily. “I just hadn’t thought about it like that. This thing today was just a test of loyalty, but to make her one of us... I don’t know.”
“She’s an asset. We need assets. This alliance is costing us a lot, and we’re spread thin.”
“What will this do to my reputation?” he mused aloud.
“Probably improve it, Raul. Welcome to the twenty-second century.”
Raul chuckled and dismissed him. His office was empty a moment later but for him and his thoughts.
Lola was an anomaly in more ways than one. The way she’d taken down his men had really opened his eyes to her other qualities. His insults bounced off her in an infuriating way, and her responses intrigued him far more than they should.
Her impassioned kiss today had shaken him in his gut, much as he hated to admit it, though he couldn’t pin down why. He frowned. It only proved that she was determined to pull something over on him. He’d already picked out her tell, the lifted eyebrow, which indicated she was up to no good, but perversely he liked it. By keeping her close, by studying her, he would learn how to bring out her fire and let her burn herself.
She was sly, she was sexy and she was smart. It was a good thing he had his head on straight. It would be easier to just get rid of her now, but the game was too early for that. She was proving to be too interesting and potentially valuable to put down.
Anticipation tingled right down into his alligator boots. Lola was going to be a fun woman to break.
Chege escorted her outside, his face more reserved than usual. She gave him a querying glance as an average-looking man in a tight button-down shirt and light jacket got into the passenger side of the long red car they were taking.
“What’s his deal?” she asked quietly as they walked to the other side of the car together.
“That’s Tony. He’s got a big mouth, so watch what you say. He’s good with knives. That jacket is lined with ‘em. Did you find anything out?” Chege asked.
“Not yet. Haven’t been able to access the network. Maybe now I’ll get a chance, though.”
“I hope so. I don’t know what they’re doing in my club right now.”
Lola climbed in the back seat and Chege lifted off.
They pulled up to a squat residential complex at high noon. The three of them walked down the hallway to one of the innermost apartments on the ground level, the air stagnant and musty, like an old gym. Faint sounds of human interactions could be heard through the doors they passed.
“This job is pretty straightforward, Lola,” Chege said. “They owe Raul a couple thou for some sand they were supposed to deal. They say they got rolled.”
Tony shrugged, stopping in front of a door marked ‘10056K’. “Could be true. Doesn’t matter. They still have to pay.” His voice was thin and wheezy.
“So why are there three of us, if it’s straightforward?”
“A lot of money has disappeared in this place in the last few months. We keep taking out the new contact and placing new ones. Someone is skimming off the top.” Tony gestured expressively.
“How many inside?”
“Usually two men, plus the odd family members that live here,” Chege said.
“Let her knock,” Tony said with a smile, revealing several metal teeth, a cosmetic choice in this day and age. He ogled her. “They’ll open faster for her.”
She was wearing a pair of jeans, although they were too small, and the oversized t-shirt she had worn to bed was tied at the waist, making her feel relatively covered, but she would definitely be doing some shopping soon. Hanging with this crowd, your clothes said a lot about the type of work you did.
It was this thought, which came to her as she knocked on the door, that made her realize she had almost accepted her part in this world. But she did want to start over somewhere else.
For Tom’s sake. Right?
The boys moved to either side of the door, out of sight. When the door opened she greeted the denizens inside the stinking hovel with a smile. Her appearance clearly caught them off guard well enough to allow Tony and Chege to shove their way into the room ahead of her. She followed without haste, taking stock of the situation.
The air stank like depression, the only way she’d found to accurately describe the stale air found in the center of residential blocks. Chege and Tony had two of the boys pinned down, weapons out, demanding the money or the drugs. They ignored the younger boy who was cowering on the other end of the couch. An obese old woman took up most of the little kitchenette, sitting on a stool, wearing an enormous caftan which skirted all the way to the floor.
“¡Usted trae mala suerte a mi casa!” She shouted at the big guy on the far end, the one that Chege was interrogating, pointing her arm imperiously. She held a dishtowel to her face, preparing for waterworks she was desperately trying to work up.
Cocking her head curiously, Lola walked over to her while Chege and Tony talked rough to the two contacts.
The woman watched her nervously. A trickle of sweat came from her brow, even though the room was cold.
“¿Está ocultando algo, abuela?” She asked sweetly, leaning forward.
“No…” the old lady said. Her eyes shied away from Lola’s, flickering toward the adolescent kid on the near end of the sofa. He was sinking into the cushions, trying to avoid the action that the other two were seeing.
“Chege,” Lola said.
“The kid on the end. What’s his deal?”
“That’s Holmes. He’s not the one who-”
“Grab the kid.”
Chege and Tony looked at each other, then shrugged and lifted Holmes to his feet. He was chubby, though not as porcine as the old lady, and perhaps seventeen years old. Lola turned back to the old lady, who now had fear written across her face.
“¿Es el niño especial para ti?”
“What are you saying, Lola?” Chege asked.
“She knows something.”
Lola looked at him, serious. Chege nodded. She turned back to the woman. “Open your jacket, Tony,” she said.
The kid began to whimper and the old woman shrieked as the greenish overhead light reflected on the knives. The woman stood unsteadily, her hand on the counter. Her other hand drifted to her abdomen as she responded. “Es los otros dos. Ellos lo tienen.”
“She says it’s the other two,” Lola said over her shoulder, but as her head turned she noticed that the woman’s hand pressed into her breast in an odd way, making her gown shift. With a surge of intuition, she snagged one of the slim knives from Tony’s vest and stepped toward the old woman.
Her scream filled the room. A ripping sound cut through the noise as Lola split the caftan and pulled aside the lumpy bra beneath, which was filled with little packages of red sand.
“Got it,” she said, pulling the bags from the saggy garment. She grabbed a blanket from the couch and wrapped the bags up. “Adiós,” she smiled at the woman, who was trying to hold her dress together, blubbering hysterically. She led the way out, noting the grunts of the boys as the men shoved them back.
The men were quiet as they followed her back to the car.
“So that’s it? Just go and figure out who’s holding out?” she asked once they were on their way back to the house.
“Yeah. Usually gets a little messier than that though,” Tony grumbled from the front seat. “Not as much fun with you.”
“It wasn’t that hard to figure out.”
“We never thought about the old lady,” Chege muttered.
“I’ll be checking every bra in the house from now on,” Tony leered.
Lola leaned forward. “I’ll do it if it needs to be done. You’re not gonna touch any women while I’m around.”
“Try and stop me.” Tony twisted around with a sparkly grin, spinning a knife between his fingers.
“I’ll shove that thing up your nose,” she snarled, pushing his hand away.
“Knock it off! We’re almost at the house,” Chege ordered. “Like having a couple of kids in the damn car,” he muttered. Tony and Lola glared at each other in the mirror, eyes narrowed.
Raul was in the living room when they came in. “That was fast. How did it go?” he asked. One of the harlots from upstairs was on his lap.
“She figured out what was going on in about two minutes,” Chege said, gesturing to Lola. “Recovered the sand. We won’t have any more trouble from that outlet, but we need to find a new front.”
She set the blanket on the large glass coffee table. It fell open, the little red bags spilling over the edge of the table.
Raul grinned, that same grin that had filled her with terror this morning. Only this time, she felt a spark of something else. It bothered her, but it gave her just a pinch of pleasure to know that she was winning him over.
“I had a feeling about you,” Raul said to Lola. “I might just keep you around for a bit.”
She walked over to Raul and unceremoniously shoved the bimbo off his lap. The girl squealed and scrambled to get away from her, but Lola didn’t spare her a glance. Raul watched with interest as she slung her arm over his shoulder and sat down.
“Yes, I definitely got the better end of the bargain,” Raul said, looking her over. “I may have to take you to the UCC after all.”
“Then I’ll need some decent goddamn clothes, Raul. The cheap crap your tramps prefer is giving me crotch rot,” she said, looking down at him.
He laughed. “You’ve earned it, chica. Chege, take her up to the office and put her into the system so she can pull some creds.”
Access to the network. It was difficult, but she kept the elation off her face.
He pulled her down by the chin for a kiss. She didn’t object when he forced her mouth open. Focus on the pleasant parts of the experience. It took her several seconds to find it... the softness of his tongue, the slight taste of coffee, the way his thumb caressed the back of her neck...
She squashed her objections until she felt a flicker of pleasure deep in the experience and let it blossom. She found her hand at his neck and her eyes sprung open. Her eyebrow lifted as she met his gaze.
“Más de tarde,” she whispered. “Gracias. Hoy fue muy divertido." Her lips closed on his one more time, her fingers slipping under the collar of his shirt.
It felt like he didn’t want her to go when she stood, his hands resisting her movement, but she just smiled at him. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked off, Chege close behind.
She waited until she was around the corner before wiping her mouth. Her hand shook.
As they approached the office door, she put her hand on his arm. “Is there surveillance out here?” she asked quietly.
“Not in the hall, but in each room. Definitely in the office,” Chege said.
She walked up to the door and looked back down the hallway before pulling the omni-tool out of her pants and slapping it on her wrist. She brought up the omni-tool display, her fingers flying over the controls. "I'm hacking into the feed. We go in first to collect the chit, then come back out."
“We gotta be fast. There are people in these rooms," Chege said.
Her fingers flew across the virtual display, almost messing up the command sequence once or twice when her hand shook. It all came back to her as she worked and she completed the hack in far less time than it probably seemed.
The door popped open at Chege’s command and they walked in. They collected the chit and walked back out, keeping the door slightly ajar while Lola tapped the sequence on her wrist. Then she jetted back into the room, walking over to the private terminal and setting up a datalink. She double-checked that the line was secure, then left. It had only taken about twenty seconds.
The door clicked shut behind her and she tucked the black bracelet back into her pocket. “Did you find out anything?” Chege asked, leaning close.
“That was just the datalink. I’ll have to go through it later when I have time alone.”
“Does it have to be from the house?”
“No, I can do it from anywhere. But I have to be careful. He’s watching me especially closely right now. Be patient.”
“I know. Thanks, by the way.”
“I do what I can,” she quoted him, making him smile.
“You sure you know what you're doing? You’re playing with fire by getting close to Raul.” They started back the way they came.
“It’s better than ending up like the other women around here when he gets tired of them.”
“He could get tired of you.”
She looked at him in disbelief as they reached the top of the stairs. He laughed. “Sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Believe me, I can hold his interest. Whether I can do it and not give away how much I hate him...” She shrugged. “We’ll see.”
She grabbed her jacket and ran down the stairs to the foyer.
“Where are you going?”
Lola’s hand froze on the front door. “Just going to check on my brother. Haven’t seen him in more than a week.”
“Not tonight. I have something planned.” Raul gestured toward the back of the house.
Her hand fell. “What is it?”
“You’ll see. It’s a big night for you.”
Swallowing her apprehension, she followed him under the stairs, where she could hear many voices coming from the sunken living room. A man sat on the couch, spreading out several tools on the table in front of him. At least a dozen of the men that frequented the house watched her enter.
“What’s all this?”
“You did your first job for the Sangre Carnal, and you did it well. The men all agree that you deserve to be in our ranks.”
Murmurs of approval greeted her as she stepped toward the table and looked at the device that was being prepared. “I’m getting a tattoo?”
“One of many, if you do well. We don’t often accept women into our active ranks. But I can tell,” he put his arm around her waist, “that you’re special.”
“Thought you didn’t like your women marked up.”
“I don’t, but the Sangre likes its traditions.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “And what about us?”
“Don’t worry.” He smiled indulgently at her. “You’re still my coño.”
Her wrist flicked but she managed to stem the urge to punch the smug look off his face. “Not like those harlots upstairs. Never again.” Her gaze raked across the room before returning to him.
“Nah. Just me. And only me.” Several seconds ticked by before she could break away from the intensity of his gaze.
He gave her a little shove toward the couch. “Lie down and take your shirt off.”
She gave him a look that made the other men laugh, but she did as she was told. “What’s it going to be?” she asked as the artist began to put the temporary design on her skin.
“You’ll see. I came up with a new name for you. It’s a surprise.”
There was no telling what he’d decided she could be called, probably something really offensive, and it was being permanently inked into her skin. But this, too, was for Tom. She had to take it.
“Don’t you trust me, Lola?” Raul looked amused at her obvious discomfort.
“Hell no,” she blurted out.
“See what I mean, amigos?” The others laughed along with him. “Let’s get this started.”
No, Tom knew the score. But he was her responsibility and she wasn’t there. It was frustrating not knowing what he was doing, if he was okay, or even be able to let him know that she was okay. Which, by her sweat and blood and nothing short of a miracle, she was. For the moment.
She’d heard Raul mention several times that he was leaving town soon for a few days. She whiled away a few hours deciding on how to spend those blessedly free days... maybe take Tom somewhere fun for a change. They could invite his friend James along, he seemed like a nice kid.
Cool fingers on her back woke her up sometime later. Turning her head, she saw the artist rubbing something over the ink. Red lettering was just visible, curling over the back of her shoulder.
“Jesus, how big is it?” she asked blearily, squinting at the rising sun through the window behind her.
“Big enough,” the guy grumbled hoarsely. He looked more tired than she felt, which didn’t increase her confidence. He tapped a message into the communicator on his wrist and began packing up. Footsteps came down the stairs a few minutes later and Lola grabbed her shirt and held it to her chest as she stood up, not so much self-conscious as merely cold.
“Have you seen it yet?” Raul asked as he walked into the room, still in his pajama pants and a wifebeater.
“Come on upstairs. You can see better in my bathroom.” He grinned, looping an arm around her waist as they walked up the stairs. “I can’t wait to see how you like it.”
Her stomach was in knots when they entered his room. She was immediately aware of a woman in his bed, beginning to rise. She glanced at the line of red dots on Raul’s neck. With a surge of fear for the woman, she charged the bed and grabbed her by her hair. She shrieked as Lola towed her out, using one foot to shove her headlong into the hallway.
“Jealous?” Raul asked, crossing his arms across his chest. “You don’t own me. No woman will.”
“I know, but don’t expect a different reaction,” she snapped. If she had to beat those bitches black and blue to save their lives, she’d do it.
She walked into the bathroom and flipped the bright light on, Raul close behind. Gathering her long hair, she lifted it up and looked into the mirror over her shoulder. Enormous stylized letters completely covered her upper back, shaded throughout to look three-dimensional. Predictably, the entire graphic was blood red.
The text was slightly distorted where her shoulder blades tucked in under her uplifted arms. Her forehead furrowed in concentration as she read the words backwards. “Candente.”
“Well?” he asked.
“‘Red-hot’. I actually like it,” she said in surprise.
“After that foul temper of yours. And the rest?” he smirked.
The smaller script that ran across where her neck met her back was more difficult to pick out. “Bajo de Malecón,” she read. The smile fell from her face and she glared at him. “You motherfucker.”
Clapping his hands, he laughed delightedly at her reaction. “Now you won’t ever forget where you got started. Get some rest, Candente. We’re going out tonight. I want to see how you do by my side.”
He left. She put her shirt on, wincing as the cloth touched her tender flesh. Marked for life. And, evidently, there was more to come. She closed her eyes for a moment, covering them with her palms.
Right now, I’m still me. Right now, I’m alive. Right now... her thoughts trailed off, feeling hopeless.
Would she be able to keep up this facade without giving herself away, or, inch by inch, become what she hated the most?
“Is that better?” he asked softly.
She stared into the mattress under her, off-put by his attitude. “Yes, thank you.”
She looked over her shoulder at him. He looked back. She’d never noticed before that his eyes had lighter flecks of brown in them.
“You’re becoming one of us, truly Sangre Carnal.” Still in that same disconcerting tone.
“How do you like it?”
“I didn’t think I’d still want you after. Te quiero más,” he whispered, stroking her arm. Misreading the emotion in her eyes completely, he bent to kiss her sore shoulder.
In her mind, her elbow was breaking his nose, the blood pouring from his face and soothing her aching skin. This new tenderness scared the hell out of her far more than his violence had.
She abruptly rolled onto her side away from him. “Where are we going tonight?” she asked absently, smoothing out her hair.
He didn’t answer at first. Giving him a querying look as she stood up, she walked to the closet to look for a shirt that didn’t touch her back. She found only one, a shimmery piece of clubwear from a previous tenant. She held it up, glancing over to where Raul was watching her, his eyes brooding.
“I need to know, because this won’t really work if I’m going to be bajo de malecón.” She jiggled the shirt, sarcasm dripping from her words.
He marched forward and grabbed her arm. “What’s your game?”
“Game?” She laughed bitterly in his face. “This is Sangre Carnal, Raul. Nothing’s a game here.”
“Especially not with me.”
“You play games.”
“I do what I want. This is my house. You’re coño to me, nothing more.”
“Then what the hell was that?” she shouted, pointing at the bed. “If you’re just fucking me, Raul, tell me when you want me to spread my legs. But don’t make a play for my heart unless you have one to give.”
He wrenched her closer, sneering into her face. “If I wanted your heart, I’d take it.”
“How? Cut it out and eat it, chiflado? Cual es tu pinche pedo?”
He laughed at her. “You’re a bitch like any bitch, don’t get full of yourself. Making you sangre was a mistake.”
“It was the first smart thing I’ve seen you do.”
His fingers dug deeper into her flesh before releasing her so hard she fell back against the door to the closet. “You think you’re playing me? I see through you. You fear me, like all the others. You should.”
“Yes. And you, Raul, you fear me.”
He laughed. “I could get rid of you tonight.”
“And that was different from yesterday how?”
She found herself slammed against the door again, his hand at her throat. He tended to do that when he was upset. She was beginning to understand how those other women had died. Her back burned.
“No different. Only today, you have a job to do. So put some fucking clothes on and meet me out front.” Releasing her, he walked out.
It was several minutes before her heart slowed enough to finish dressing. On went the ghastly shirt and a pair of jeans and boots, suitable for ass-kicking. She was in the mood for it.
After touching up her new bruises with medi-gel, a daily routine since she’d come here, she tied back her hair and washed her face. She didn’t bother with makeup. Matónes didn’t have to mess with that shit, so neither would she.
Raul was standing next to one of the larger trucks when she came out to the courtyard. The doors were open, revealing several men inside. One she recognized from last night, a heavyset man with a ring of black cutting through the red tattoos on his neck, leaned out to shout “Candente!” but Raul cut him off.
“Let’s just get this over with.”
He got into the passenger side of the car and she climbed in to sit behind him, taking off her shades to wink at the man who had started to cheer her on. Sitting forward, she held onto Raul’s seat as the truck lifted off, trying to ignore the way he was staring at her in the mirror.
There was something new in him now. Something she hadn’t meant to awaken.
Chege stood with an silver-haired black man at the entrance. He looked at her only once, his wide face filling momentarily with surprise and regret. He wouldn’t meet her eyes again. Quiet dread began to gnaw at her stomach.
Raul shook the older man’s hand and they went downstairs, talking just ahead of her.
“Thank you again for finding the advenedizos, my friend.”
“Of course. I hope that sharing this act will strengthen our alliance. Together, we can bring a new era to our cities. We'll be bigger than the Blue Suns.”
Raul smiled. “Where is the man being held?”
They stopped at the end of a long hallway lined with closed doors. The older gentleman put his hand on the door to open it.
“Just in here. My son brought him in this morning,” he said, gesturing to Chege.
Chege's father- the police commissioner? The one Raul was blackmailing? They didn't look unfriendly at all. Lola’s head whipped up, finding Chege’s face. He stared at the two men, purposefully ignoring her. His hand shook as it moved to the comm unit on his wrist.
“Traidor!” she shouted, pointing at Chege. The men around her drew their weapons, but it was too late.
Chege’s father jumped through the doorway, Chege close behind. Men began pouring out of the door behind them, seeking to trap them in this narrow space. Raul jammed a booted foot in the door Chege went through before it could close. He shoved himself at it, trying to get in.
The small space filled with the music of violence as the four men they had with them opened fire on their assailants. Lola flung herself at Raul to get the door open, the extra force pushing the door open as the person beyond finally fell clear. They fell through and stumbled forward several paces. Raul's head whipped from left to right, his arm keeping Lola behind him protectively.
Chege’s father was rising shakily from the ground, but Chege was nowhere in sight. Lola grabbed Raul’s sleeve frantically. “Where is he?”
Turning around, she finally found Chege, staring at her in disbelief and anger, his weapon raised and leveled at her chest. As she shouted, "No!", hand outstretched, he pulled the trigger. The flash nearly blinded her. A shuddering echo drummed through her chest, oddly painless. Colors and pain and noise intermingled in her mind as she fell back into Raul’s arms. Three of their men ran into the room and grabbed Chege, wrestling him down. One more ran over to secure the older man.
“No! Lola!” Raul shouted, lowering her gently. He pulled her top aside to see the smoking wound and bent over her, moaning.Her vision faded in and out as she looked up at his anguished face. He leaned over her for a moment, then turned back to Chege with a furious expression.
“Hijo de puta!” he roared. Teeth clenched, he rose to his feet and fired several shots into Chege, then turned and paid the same to his father. It was the last thing she heard before she passed out.
The next thing Lola knew, she was in the truck. Raul’s face was just above her, his hands stroking her hair, holding her head. The smell of burning flesh was thick in her nose.
“Mi ángel,” he murmured.
“Chege was the infiltrator all along,” someone said from the back seat.
“Candente figured it out,” another voice said. “I’m glad we brought her.”
“Sí. And she took a bullet for me. She will not leave my side again if I can help it,” Raul said. His lips gently touched hers. “Survive, Candente. You are strong. Survive, and we will always be together. Te lo juro.”
Her chest felt as if it were weighed down by a ton of bricks, the burning in her back a pale reflection of the pain consuming her chest. But even in this ruined state, her physical distress wasn’t foremost on her mind.
The man she hated wiped her tears away, misinterpreting them. She felt his hand, warm and strong, holding hers to his mouth, kissing it again and again.
Just one month ago she had been free. Just one month ago she had had it all planned out. Now, if she lived, she would never be rid of him.
The One That Got Away: Extras LibraryThis is as much for readers as it is for me: a central place where I can add the links to extras I made for the story. I'll keep it updated the best I can. Reading Tools: Table of ContentsSpanish GlossaryCalendars: I've been careful to include dates so that it's easy to keep track of where we are in relation to the main Mass Effect storyline on the Normandy. You can see a calendar for the year 2172 (and others) here: [link] and the Mass Effect Timeline here for comparison: [link]
Related Stories:Blood Brothers by *pestomonkey, the origins story of her OC Mason Black, w
The One That Got Away: Table of ContentsAlso check out the Extras Library. -Abs Chapter 1: The Sanders' The older sister of his best friend takes James on an adventure. Chapter 2: Initiation A resident of the Citadel visits Emilio Vega, and Lola confronts her brother's new "friends". Chapter 3: Memorial Lola makes a big move; James finds his first life-long love. Chapter 4: Sangre por Sangre Lola discovers there is a price to pay for a job done too well. Chapter 5: Recon Adult James remembers the time leading up to the race while on his first mission. Chapter 6: Game Day The Urban Combat Championships come to San Diego and Raul makes a surprising revelation. Chapter 7: The Calm