Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
Mordida Sp. Literally, the bite. Bribes paid to corrupt officials by drug traffickers in return for their cooperation.
"By day they're giving us abrazos [hugs] and saying they'll cooperate," says a senior U.S. drug enforcement official of the Mexican authorities, "and by night they're working with the bad guys, unraveling everything that we accomplished that day."
"Welcome back to CNN Headline News. Im Julia Frankel. In our top story tonight, President William Arnold, in a meeting with his senior advisors at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, renewed his administrations campaign pledge to combat Americas escalating drug problem. Here is a portion of his comments."
The war on drugs is a war of attrition, threatening the very fabric of our society. Education and prevention alone have not kept up with the overwhelming flow of illegal narcotics into our country. Additional steps are necessary. Bold, decisive action is called for.
Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico.
Two midnight black GMC Suburbans pulled up outside a small, well kept, single story adobe home. Despite the dusty roads they had traveled to get to this residential neighborhood, east of the main tourist area, the vehicles were nearly spotless. The moonlight shimmered off of their carefully waxed exteriors as the doors swung open.
A total of seven well-dressed men emerged. Young, dark, handsome, looking as though they were just returning from a night on the town. Only the rifles and pistolas in their hands betrayed their true intentions. Feet tramped on coarse gravel, moving towards the house.
Wordlessly, one young man motioned to another, and they each took up positions next to the front door. The rest of the men fell in behind them, weapons drawn.
Other homes pressed in around the small house, and yet even so the owners had managed to cultivate a small garden in a tiny courtyard at the front entrance. Peppers and lettuce peeked up from the well-watered bed, and a childs ball lay cast off to one side, forgotten by its owner.
The lead man nodded.
Somewhere in the night a dog barked, its sharp cry echoing down the lonely, empty calle.
We must secure our borders.
A wrenching, splintering sound, as the front door of the casa was battered down. The men streamed inside, quickly finding the small bedroom where a man and his wife lay in bed, a child sleeping between them. Nearby, an infant slumbered in a bassinette. A small hanging mobile featuring puffy clouds and smiling orbs of sunlight hung down from the ceiling, just out of reach of any babys playful fingers.
"No, no, por favor!" The woman screamed, grabbing for her child with one hand, while reaching for her startled husband with the other. "José!" she cried, her eyes wide with fear. Frantically, the man grabbed for something under his pillow, even as the butt end of a rifle swung down to meet his head.
Blood spilled from the side of his face onto the white sheets. He was roughly dragged from his bed, wearing only a pair of under-shorts.
The startled wails of the infant joined in with the shrieks of its mother, while the toddler merely sat in silence, a thumb stuck in his mouth. He allowed himself to be nearly crushed by his mothers fearful embrace, as they both watched the Bad Men take his father away.
We must reduce demand through programs and education.
The sweet scent of chaparral filled the air, carried along by the light wind that blew down from the Sierra Madres. In the clearing at the end of a deserted road, sat a white Mercedes S-600 sedan. Two figures leaned against it, one taller than the other.
"Manuel is coming," the taller man said, snapping closed a cell phone and slipping it into the pocket of his white silk shirt. Eyes as dark as onyx stared out of a face featuring the chiseled features of a movie star, as he watched the two Suburbans making their way down the dusty road. He was clean-shaven, with wavy black hair that matched the color of his linen pants and tooled leather dress boots. He glanced at his watch and sighed, clearly impatient.
The two Suburbans ground to a halt, kicking up clouds of dust in the night air. The men tumbled out, hauling a dazed, blindfolded José Gutierrez between them.
"Good work, Manuel," the tall man said, his white teeth flashing in the moonlight.
"This pollo was easy pickings, Enrico," Manuel said, jabbing at Josés chin with the barrel of his pistol. "We found him sleeping in his mammas bed, suckling like a baby!"
"Señor León? Is that you?" Trembling, both from fear and the coolness of the mountain breeze on his bare flesh, José was beginning to grasp some sense of his predicament.
"What did I tell you, José, eh?" Enrico nodded at Manuel. A vicious punch landed in Josés gut. Retching, the man wouldve fallen to his knees but for the two men holding his roped arms at his back. "The mordida I give you is not enough?" A cold, feigned outrage colored Enricos voice. "All that money? And making you jefe of the local federales? Youre a big man now, si? And all because I ask for a few favors."
Clucking, he stepped closer, lifting Josés head up by the roots of his hair. "You have a nice house. Nice car. Nice women. Thanks to who?"
"Thanks to you, Señor León!" José groaned, blood running from his mouth.
"But that was not enough for you, José, eh?" His dark eyes sparked in anger. "You had to take the mordida from Benitez, too!"
"No!" José cried. "On the life of my mother, I swear"
Manuel struck him again, hard, across the face this time.
"Aiyeee!" Blind, whimpering, trembling, José Ramon Gutierrez, chief of the Mazatlán police, began to beg for his life.
"You cannot serve two masters, José," Enrico whispered softly to him, his voice now oddly comforting towards the battered man sobbing before him. "You know what happens now."
We must establish and enforce policies that tell the drug trafficker in no uncertain terms, that he is not welcome in the United States of America.
"Por favor, Señor León!" José was wild now as the terror, the desperation overwhelmed him. His narrow, bony chest heaved in and out. "What do you want? I give you anything! Take my house, my car please! I serve only you! Only you, from now on! I take no more mordida from Señor Benitez! No more I promise you!"
Specifically, my administration will work tirelessly in cooperation with our partner in this battle, Mexico, in a strategy that will strike at the very heart of drug production.
Nodding once more, Enrico stepped back as Manuel cocked his pistol, pointing it at the federales forehead.
"Thats right, José," Enrico said, his eyes narrowing in the dark. "You will take no more."
The muzzle of the pistol flashed. A short pop! released into the Mexican air.
To do anything less, my friends, means that we will continue to pay a terrible price. There are over 52 thousand drug related deaths per year in the United States, with 5 million Americans chronically addicted to drugs. And annually, we sustain 110 billion dollars in overall damages attributable to drug abuse. Left unchecked, illegal drug trafficking will continue to inflict violence and corruption upon our communities, and threaten the family values we hold so dear.
Bending down to Josés crumpled form, Manuel swiped the blood from his gun onto the cloth of the federales soiled shorts. He then slipped the firearm back into his belt holster. "Do we leave him here for the coyotes, el Halcón?"
Enrico smiled at the use of his honored nickname. A bird of the air, a hunter. Too swift and too cunning to ever be caught.
"No. Have the boys take him back. Leave him in front of the police station, eh?" He started to turn towards the waiting Mercedes, and stopped, a cold smile creeping onto his face. "Oh, and cut off the bastards ears."
Manuel lifted his eyebrows in surprise, but he knew better than to question el Halcón in front of his men.
"He wouldnt listen," Enrico explained. "Now, maybe the others will." And with that, he got into the back of the car, with Manuel close behind him.
Regulation and law enforcement are the first lines of defense against such unacceptable activity.
"The fucking idiot." Enrico stared out through the tinted glass as the Mercedes pulled away, watching as his bodyguards began the last of their work on Josés lifeless body. "If only he had come to me first."
"Hah!" Manuel released a sharp laugh, clapping his employer on the arm. "Who are you kidding? You would have killed him anyway."
Enrico turned away, settling himself down into the buttery-soft leather seat. Smirking, he reached for the bottle of tequila he kept handy for just such celebratory occasions. He grinned at Manuel. "Si. The stupid fuck."
The two men began to laugh, as the car moved quickly back towards the flickering lights of Mazatlán.
El Paso, Texas, USA.
I am convinced that if we all work together towards these goals, committing ourselves to achieving immediate, significant results, that this is a war we can win.
"That was President William Arnold, speaking today in Washington, D.C. In other news tonight"
"You are so fucked up."
Lane Sinclairs slightly slurred voice belligerently sounded in the hollow emptiness of her apartment. In the darkness, illuminated only by the glow from the television screen, she was uncertain as to whether shed spoken more to the squawking, salt and pepper haired image of the vacuous new president, or to herself. Deciding that the who of it didnt really matter after all, she violently jabbed at the remote control sitting on the arm of her overstuffed chair. In a blur of static, CNN was replaced with the latest mindless offering from the World Wrestling Federation.
The war on drugs.
Some war, Lane considered, stubbing out her cigarette in an already overflowing ashtray. A war where they were out-manned, outgunned, and outsmarted by the opposition. After all, she ought to know, right? As a soldier on the front lines, working the Mexican border for the DEA, a part of its SWBI the Southwest Border Initiative.
What a joke. On her best days, she felt like a modern day Don Quixote, jousting at windmills.
We should have surrendered a long time ago, el Presidente!
She lifted a smudged glass to the screen in a mockery of a toast, and then kicked it back, anticipating the bite of the golden liquid on her lips, her tongue.
Frowning, she swirled the glass around, examining it through bloodshot blue eyes, and found it empty. With a heavy sigh, she reached for the bottle of V.O. on the tin tray stand that doubled as her living room coffee table.
She pulled the bottle towards her, briefly regarding the remains of a grilled cheese and tomato sans tomato sandwich, resting on a paper plate. Her government issued weapon, a Glock 21 pistol, .45 caliber, sat next to the discarded meal, along with her ID and shield.
Special Agent Lane M. Sinclair.
The face that stared back at her from the photo ID looked so young, so naïve. It had been so long ago, or so it seemed, back when her unstoppable drive and the power of her conviction left her no room for doubt that what she was doing was right. Then, shed been out to change the world.
Lane poured the whiskey into her glass. A cascading stream of memories, most of them bad.
Her ice was long gone, she really should go get more. But shed been reluctant to move her feet from the upside down crate that served as her footrest, and so she was forced to drink the whiskey straight up.
Nothing new in that.
Shed been transferred to the El Paso Field Division just a couple of months or so ago from San Diego, at the conclusion of the SWBIs latest assault in the drug war, known as operation El Cid. Its objective? To bring down the spoiled son-of-a-bitch brat of one of Tijuanas biggest drug traffickers, Luis Castaneda.
The son, Vicente, was certainly not the father, theyd soon found out that much. Luis Castaneda was estimated to be moving at least 200 million dollars worth of product across the border each week. Gross. Vicente did barely a fraction of that. Still, he was the easier target, and was bound to get the DEA and the administration some good P.R.
So shed followed her orders.
Theyd spent nearly a year undercover, tracking the loutish playboy from the dance clubs, to his mistresses, to the picaderos he ran - the shooting galleries where well-heeled day trippers from El Norte came to get their hits of heroin and cocaine.
In the end theyd arrested him in San Diego with great fanfare. All thanks to a friend of Vicentes from USC, a friend whod become a business partner, whod decided to turn. It had taken some doing, but eventually, Lane had been able to persuade him. Yes, the arrest of Vicente Castaneda had been big news.
The deaths a week later of two Tijuana officers shed worked closely with on the operation, however, was not. Poppa Luis, taking his revenge. So theyd snagged one of Luis Castanedas sons, so what? The bastard still had four others, and after all it was Luis himself who was the big fish theyd been unable to hook after all this time.
So her personnel file called Operation El Cid a resounding success.
Big fuckin deal.
She took a swallow of V.O., feeling the alcohol burn its trail over her tongue, down her throat, into her belly. She wished it could burn it all away, the knowledge of the futility of what she was doing. In the light of day it wasnt so bad. Then, she could halfway believe that she hadnt lost her ideals, that her efforts still had some value. Some worth. But at night, when the demons came, the camouflage shed arranged so carefully in place was stripped away, and she could see the truth for what it really was.
A truth she didnt have any answers for. And if she didnt, hell, how could the president? It was all so so pathetic.
Now, here she was in El Paso, within spitting distance of the simmering stew of humanity just over the border that was Ciudad Juárez, where both drug abuse and narcotics smuggling were ballooning out of control. Mostly thanks to the powerful Juárez drug cartel, and its up and coming competition, the Mazatlán federation, headed by its chief patron, the infamous Enrico León.
Lane was used to moving from place to place, and so this new assignment in El Paso was merely the latest in a long line of having to learn the lay of the land, of getting her feet wet; figuring out who she could trust, and who she couldnt. Shed been able to sense the undercurrent of resentment in the office from the day shed arrived.
She, the hotshot superstar agent from the Tijuana operation. And the Matamoros one, before that. Or perhaps Miami.
Frankly, she didnt really give a fuck about what her co-workers might think of her. Shed always been one to let her actions speak for her, and this latest gig was no different. The special agent in charge of the office, David Starks, seemed inoffensive enough. And, grudgingly, shed come to like and respect her new partner, Clarence Hayes.
Clarence had been with the El Paso division for a few years now, and took it all with a grain of salt. "We do today what we can do today, Lane," hed told her, a smile playing about the corner of his mouth. "Aint nobody yet thats been able to predict tomorrow, girl."
Normally she wouldnt have let anyone get away with that. But Clarence, ah, what the hell. He had two little girls of his own at home, so shed supposed he was entitled.
In any event, here she was.
A new posting.
A new assignment.
A fresh chance to try and get it right.
To do her job as best she could, while at the same time performing a high-wire act to keep the goddamned interference from the FBI and the INS at a minimum. Would this be the time shed finally be able to trap lightning in a bottle? To hook the big fish? A small part of her, the proud, resilient part that still lurked somewhere deep within her whiskey-drenched soul, still hoped that she could.
Damn WWF! Lane released an impatient breath of air, and changed the channel again. One of those nature shows, now. They were somewhere in Africa, probably. Tall, sun-burnished savannah grasses waved lazily in the wind. The sun was setting overhead, and a flock of birds was flying somewhere. She idly wondered where they were going, and why, envying them their untroubled existence.
She took another swallow of her drink and studied herself; she was still wearing the same white T-shirt and worn jeans that shed donned nearly 24 hours ago, when she and Clarence were up and out early on a surveillance job. She really should go to sleep, she knew that, but tomorrow today, actually - was Sunday, her day off. Sleep didnt come easily for her anyway. Typically, she had to either work herself to exhaustion or drink herself to it, and at the moment, she was well on her way to both.
The image on the screen changed. There was a herd of of something on the savannah. Antelope? Ibex? Who the fuck knew. But the creature that stalked them she knew well enough. A leopard, sleek, dangerous, staying close to the ground as it stalked its prey, a baby animal whod wandered away from its mother.
Lane knew what would come next. Her stomach churned at the thought of it, but she could not tear her eyes away. She was transfixed. The baby wandered farther away from the herd, bleating out a plaintive call. The leopard lifted its head, its mouth hanging open, tasting, smelling on the wind the position of its target.
It was all so familiar to her. The confident look of the hunter. The helpless, disbelieving face of the victim.
The muscles of the leopard tensed and coiled, and then it sprang, a powerful, efficient blur of movement, taking the baby animal in its strong jaws, bringing it to the ground.
It was the eyes she recognized most. Eyes glazed in death, and another pair of eyes, hooded, awash in an almost sensual satisfaction at its victory.
It was natures way, right? Survival of the fittest.
Stretching out her long form, Lane closed her eyes, and turned the television off.
Shed seen enough.
She stood as still as a statue, frozen at the double doors leading to the terrace off of her bedroom, her short blonde hair and pale features throwing off an almost ghostly, luminous glow in the moonlight. Despite the warmth of the night, she hugged herself, running her hands up and down her arms, as though the light blue satin nightgown she wore did little to keep away an imagined chill.
She stared out at the night, past the courtyard and the fountain, past the formal landscaping and the high adobe walls, unable to sleep. She breathed in deeply, taking in the sweet scent of orchids and hibiscus, their fragrance providing a soothing balm to her tortured mind.
He wasnt home yet.
She knew what he was doing, damn him, but there had been nothing shed been able to do to stop him even if shed tried, which she had not. It was too late for that now. Shed long ago made her bed, both literally and figuratively, and now she had no other choice but to lie in it.
Oh, it had its benefits, that was for certain. And wasnt it the benefits that had attracted her to him in the first place? The expensive cars, the cash that flowed like a never-ending stream, and other things. Not to mention the attention hed paid her, treating her like his princess. Or, at least at first, he had.
She and her girlfriends had been on one of their frequent fun trips from LA to Cancun. After all, what was a bored little rich girl with too much time on her hands to do? Her parents had barely noticed whenever she was gone, and LA was always full of the usual crowd. Theyd no longer interested her.
There was something different about Cancun.
Sure, it was touristy enough, but the nightlife, the party life there had an element of excitement, of danger, even, that was absent in her stateside soirees. And with Enrico he seemed to know everyone, and everyone knew him. He became the distraction she looked forward to. Her own, personal Don Juan.
There were the gifts and the romantic dinners, and he took her to the private clubs where members only were allowed, members and the gringas they brought as guests, hoping for a quick blowjob or a hurried screw before the girls returned home north of the border with one helluva story to tell.
But it was different with Enrico.
Every time she left, he begged her not to leave. Told her how he died a little inside when she was not with him. And he was so so damn good looking, so tall and muscular, with his dark eyes and full, seductive lips that whispered to her everything shed ever wanted to hear from a man. And he certainly knew how to show her a good time, too. Good times that she found quite addictive, as the weeks and months wore on.
He was a businessman, hed explained to her, and his business life kept him in Mexico, although his well-to-do parents had traveled north to San Diego when it had been time for his mother to give birth, giving him prized dual citizenship. Hed attended all the best stateside private schools, just as she and her friends had. And so when he finally asked her to marry him, so that he could keep her all to himself in his hometown of San Raphael, an affluent suburb of Mazatlán, she figured it would be just like marrying someone from home. While at the same time, allowing herself to get the hell away in the bargain.
Her parents had barely blinked an eye when shed told them. And what a shame, that theyd already booked that trip to Europe for the date when the wedding was set. Plans simply couldnt be changed, you see.
No matter. She hadnt missed them at all.
Didnt miss home, either, in fact. After all, how could you mourn for something youd never had any real affection for, in the first place?
But as time passed and she and Enrico settled down in the home hed built for them in San Raphael, a home that looked like a castle more than anything else, shed found that nothing had really changed. Not with her. Shed felt as dead and empty inside here as she ever had anywhere else in the world. Enricos attentions had rapidly waned as hed developed new extracurricular interests, and shed sadly discovered very quickly how the house hed built, his castle, was really more like a prison.
Casa Mariposa, he called it, the house of the butterfly. And thats exactly what she felt like.
Trapped. Its wings pinned down, unable to take flight.
The joke was on her, really. For even if she could fly away, where would she go? He had what she needed, damn it all, and the bigger part of herself doubted whether shed ever have the strength to leave that. It was complicated, this prison of her own making. And so shed done what she could to help keep herself sane, to survive the mindless sameness of each perfect, sun-splashed day.
Shed gotten herself involved in his business.
Hed been reluctant at first to let her in, refused her, until shed proved to him that she had an aptitude for it. Where he relied on charm and, failing in that, brute force, she possessed the boardroom sensibilities that proved far more effective in dealing with the business aspects of what was, after all, Mexicos number one export. After a time, she and Enrico had reached a wary agreement about her helping him. The one proviso, attributable to his Latin machismo, was that his fellow businessmen must never know.
To the outside world, Enrico León, the falcon, was the Mazatlán cartel. And she was nothing but his pretty plaything, his arm piece, the gringa butterfly hed managed to snare in his net.
She would never get away.
She accepted that.
And so shed simply made the best of a bad situation.
A squeal of brakes as the white Mercedes pulled into the cobbled courtyard.
Laughter, as Enrico emerged from the rear of the vehicle, along with Manuel Diaz, his right-hand man.
The driver pulled the car away, taking it back to the garages where they had more luxury vehicles than she could count, including quite a few customized, bulletproofed SUVs.
Briefly squeezing her eyes shut, she glided back into the bedroom, closing the louvered teakwood doors. As though in a trance, she moved back across the cool, tiled floor, slipping into her canopied bed that was all crisp whites, pale roses, and goose-down.
She steeled herself for what was to come. Knowing she couldnt fool him; not even sure whether she wanted to.
And then she heard his heavy footsteps on the stairs as he mounted his way towards her room. Hoping hed pass her by in favor of his private suite. Yet praying that he would not, thanks to the shameful, gut-twisting craving that she was powerless to control.
The blanched oaken door to her room swung open. She hadnt bothered to lock it; she never did anymore. Hed broken it down more times than she cared to recall.
His darkened silhouette approached, so menacing in the half-light from the windows. She could hear his heavy breathing; the smell of him told her the story of where hed been.
And what hed done.
"Its over, Teresa."
How calm, how matter-of-fact his voice was! As though he were commenting on the weather.
"It wasnt necessary, you know that," she told him. And her pulse quickened as he drew closer still.
"Yes, it was." The jingle of a belt buckle. "We had to send a message."
She felt the slight dip as he lowered himself onto the bed, detected the displacement of air as he removed his shirt and carefully folded it onto a chair. How particular he was with his clothes, like a dandy, sometimes!
"You didnt have to kill him." She rolled on her side away from him.
"It meant nothing."
Funny, how cold it could be, here in paradise. So cold.
"We will have no more trouble," he said, pressing his body against hers, his breath hot in her ear.
"Get away from me." She gave him a hard shove. "You stink of booze and blood, you bastardo!
"No!" he hissed, grabbing at her face, squeezing it, turning her towards him. "Tonight, you will be my wife!"
"Why should tonight be different from any other night?" She wrenched away from him, tears of pain and anger stinging her eyes. Yet, she was proud of herself, how cold her voice was, how steady. He had taught her well. She pushed herself up in the bed, edging away from him. "Why dont you go! Go to your little casa chica!"
There. It was out. Shed known about it for months, suspected it for far longer than that, but this was the first time shed ever confronted him with it.
He shoved himself off of the bed, his pants slung low on his hips, and ran a hand through his hair. God, he still looked good. His smoothly muscled form had yet to show any sign of the rich foods and potent drinks he so enjoyed on a daily basis. "My casa chica?" His voice was hoarse. Clearly, he was taken by surprise.
"Yes," she shouted, her anger at last getting the better of her. "Go. Go to your mistress! You think I dont know about it?"
He spun around to face her. "Do you think I care that you do?" he sneered, recovering. His eyes glittered. So heartless. So empty. So like her own.
He was down on the bed again, knee first, pulling her towards him as if to kiss her.
"No!" She struggled half-heartedly, knowing shed fought this fight before, knowing she could not hope to win it. But still, she had to try.
And then, "Im not the only one with a mistress, Teresa!" He was on top of her now, the weight of him pinning her down, but he levered himself up on his arms. "Isnt that right?" He reached into his pants pocket, and plucked out a small, one-inch square glassine bag, its contents as white and powdery as the sandy beaches of Cozumel. He dangled it in front of her in the moonlight, taunting her. "Isnt that right?" he demanded again.
Oh, God. She felt as though she were swimming underwater. Down so far, so deep, that it seemed as though she would never surface. Trapped in a place where no one would ever find her.
"Yes, Rico." she whispered, feeling a tear escape from the corner of her eye. She stopped fighting him. "Youre always right."
He smiled, a hard, bitter smile, and he bent down once more to kiss her full on the lips. A husband, making love to his wife.
Teresa León closed her eyes, and let herself go numb. It would be over soon. And then he would give her what she needed.
To be continued.
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