Sweet Collateral - L.P. Lovell

1

Rafael

A chorus of agonized screams ricochets around my skull until a dull ache forms behind my eyes. Tossing my paperwork aside, I get up from my desk and yank the office door open. All the girls in the warehouse look up from their workstations, dressed in worn and dirty-looking underwear, their little paper masks stopping them from getting higher than a damn kite breathing in my shit.

“Get back to work!” I shout, and they all scurry on with what they were doing.

My gaze snaps to where my second, Samuel, stands in the middle of the warehouse. In front of him, a guy is hanging by his bound wrists, the metal chain creaking as his weight swings back and forth on the winch. A crimson pool is slowly gathering beneath him, tainting the dull grey concrete. Sam casually wipes his hands on a dirty rag before doing the same with his blade.

“You shouldn’t drag out his suffering, Samuel. Just kill him.”

“No. No, please,” the man begs, lifting his head weakly.

The man is a rat who rolled over on us to the DEA, and he has the audacity to beg for his life.

“They made me!” he blurts. If there is one thing I hate more than a rat, it’s a pussy. “They said they would protect me.”

A laugh breaks past my lips, cutting into the tense silence. “I am Rafael D’Cruze.” Moving closer, I grip his jaw, forcing him to look at me. “There is no protection from me. There is nowhere you can run. Nowhere you can hide. They played you. They knew I would kill you.” A low keen slips from his throat before he starts rambling, begging.

“You don’t want to die?” I ask with a smirk.

“Please, I have children.”

“I do not take betrayal well.” I take a cloth from my pocket and dab at a streak of blood covering his cheek. “But I do not like to leave children without a father, and I am a believer in redemption, Javier.” I pat his cheek, and he sags in his chains.

“Thank you. Thank you,” he breathes.

“My mercy is not without cost.” He’s already nodding his head, agreeing to terms he has not yet heard. Because when faced with the choice, a man will do anything but die. “You will continue to work with the DEA and tell them whatever I instruct you to. Are we clear?”

“Y-yes.”

“Good.” I grin. So easy. The only way to play the DEA is with their own dirty tricks. They may threaten a man like Javier with jail if he does not comply, but I hazard that he’d rather go to jail than suffer a cartel execution. So very gruesome.

“Betray me again, and it will be your children who pay the price.” His eyes go wide, panic flashing through them. Good. In my line of work, you must become a monster in order to maintain power.

My phone starts ringing, and I shove Javier away from me before turning my back on him. I take the phone out of my pocket, smearing blood over the screen. Nero Verdi. Fuck’s sake. The man goes through cocaine like its water. I slide the answer button.

“Samuel, drop Javier off and while you’re there, acquaint yourself with his wife and children,” I say over my shoulder.

“Yes, boss.”

I turn and walk back to my office, placing the phone to my ear. “Nero.”

“I see you’re up to old tricks.”

“Eh, fucking gringos putting rats on the ship. I’m dry until Thursday, Nero.” I still haven’t worked out why a capo is buying enough cocaine to supply several cities, but then, it’s Nero. I wouldn’t put anything past him. As long as I get paid, I don’t care.

“I don’t need another shipment. I’m calling in my favor.” Well, this can’t be good. It’s been five years. If he’s calling it in now, then it has to be something big, and undoubtedly inconvenient.

“What do you need?”

“I’m buying a girl. Andre is negotiating her sale as we speak…”

I groan. “You know that little fuck will rob you blind.”

“I had to use a middleman, Rafael. I can’t very well walk into the Sinaloa cartel and ask to buy a sex slave, can I? I can’t draw too much attention to this. Once the sale is done, Andre will bring her to you.”

“I don’t deal in girls, Nero. You know this. I owe you, but don’t ask me to—”

“I’m not buying her as a slave.”

“What are you buying her for then?”

“Collateral.”

“Collateral for what?” Silence. “You’re not going to tell me?”

“It’s