By Bel-wah

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.



Lane Sinclair had it all figured it out. Down to a fairly exact science, in fact. It was a two-mile run from her apartment to the YMCA. Figure maybe fifteen, sixteen minutes, at most, thanks to her long legs. Then she’d hit the Nautilus free-weights, varying her workouts, for another half hour or so, finishing with the run back to her place. All in all, needing an hour at most for her hated fitness regimen. Such as it was.

Her feet pounded along the warming concrete, taking her towards the ‘Y.’ As usual, she found herself despising every minute of the run. The sun was out on this particular Sunday morning. Too damn bright for her tastes, based on the way her head felt. As she fought for breath, pushing her abused body along the sidewalk, she decided to chalk it all up to another morning of having to pay the piper for a night’s over-indulgence. The latest in a string of nights that seemed to be increasing at an alarming rate.

She knew what the booze, the cigarettes, and the shitty diet did to her body, and yet she told herself she didn’t care… that it didn’t matter. In contrarian strategy, that was why she kept so religiously to her workouts. Not only was it a necessity, she’d determined, needing to stay in shape in her line of work, but in a twisted, gross rationalization, she’d decided that the exercise tended to balance out all the crap she shoved into her body.

Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, but for the time being she’d been able to maintain a delicate equilibrium of a sort, one where she worked hard, exercised hard, and figured that what she did on her own time, to her own body, was nobody else’s damn business.

The main entrance of the YMCA loomed up in front of her and, gasping, her heart threatening to burst through her chest, she pushed open the front door.

"Hi, Lane."

She waved at the desk attendant and signed herself in.

Clarence had told her about this place, right after she’d arrived in El Paso. She had mentioned to him that she was looking for a convenient, inexpensive gym. Much to her surprise, her new partner had started to join her there, and it had become a sort of ritual between them. Whether it was in the mornings before work, or on weekends, like clockwork she could count on Clarence Hayes putting in an appearance.

Clarence was a small man, almost a head shorter than Lane, and even when interrogating suspects, he always sported a smile nearly as wide as the Rio Grande. His body was wiry and compact, and he looked to be in fairly good shape for a man of about 35 or so, although Lane knew his physique had nothing to do with YMCA workouts.

Quite the opposite.

Oh, he always showed up as though he were hard core, wearing a pair of exercise pants, a muscle shirt and, occasionally, weight-lifting gloves. With a towel draped about his neck, he would simply follow her around, peppering the air with conversation, spotting her whenever she needed it, but he had never lifted up a piece of equipment himself.

At first, Lane had resented the intrusion. For her, exercise was a solitary thing, usually undertaken when she was in a foul mood and in a great hurry. She’d privately questioned why Clarence would ever want to spend extra time with somebody like her outside of work.

But after a time, she’d gradually realized that his friendliness was just another aspect of his overall good nature. And as far as his ‘intrusion’ on her private time went, well, Clarence Hayes was simply too nice a guy to be annoying. In fact, she’d come to look forward to his company, to the popping of the bubblegum he always seemed to have in his mouth; a carryover, he’d told her, from when he quit smoking.

And then there was his incessant chatter.

Sometimes Clarence talked about work, it was true, but more often the topic of conversation would be about his wife’s latest shopping splurge. Or else helping – or attempting to help – his girls with their homework; or maybe the oil change he’d been putting off doing on his car.

As the weeks had passed, she’d realized - with no small amount of surprise - that she was actually growing more comfortable with him, that they’d somehow established an easy rapport with one another; so important in a relationship where you sometimes needed to rely on your partner for your very life.

That crazy Clarence Hayes was one helluva smart man.

Lane passed by the main training center area, where a number of men and women were already huffing and puffing away. With barely a glance towards them, she instead headed straight for the smaller free weight room.

Perspiration from her run was already soaking through her cut-off gray sweat pants and blue T-shirt, as she hit the station for chin ups and leg raises. She started with a series of chin ups, telling herself she didn’t enjoy the pull of the effort in the muscles of her arms, her back, and stomach.

Finished, she changed her position and moved into some dips.

No sign of Clarence, yet.

As she mentally counted off her reps, Lane could see through the large-pane windows out onto the basketball courts. The courts were empty now, but sometimes, on Saturdays especially, she would see the kids out there, the young girls and boys – the ‘Little Dribblers’ program, they called it – attempting to throw basketballs nearly half as big as they were up into the nets.

She had to admit that she got a kick out of watching them. They were basically clueless, and she could count on one hand the number of baskets she’d ever seen them score, but damn, if they didn’t seem to be having the best of times playing anyway.

They were oblivious to the adult tumult swirling around them, and she envied them that. They were latchkey kids, mostly, or maybe some kids from struggling single parent households, where it was all a parent could do to try to hold the family together. These little programs at the local ‘Y’ gave everybody a bit of a break.

Once in a while, when Lane had some extra time, she would go out to the courts herself to shoot a few hoops. Some of the kids would approach her, taking no notice of the tall, dark, menacing features that worked so well in intimidating her snitches, and ask her if she wanted to play with them. For of course, in their minds, what fun was it to play on your own?

Juan. Robbie. Carmen. Ramon. Cheryl.

Good kids, all of them. At first, she’d thought she’d teach them the fast break. Or how to set up a defensive scheme. How to work inside the paint. Or the elements of getting into position to snare the rebounds.

Instead, feeling a bit silly after such initially grandiose designs, she’d ended up simply working with them on how to catch a pass. How to dribble and shoot. And how to just… have fun, to enjoy what they were doing, without the threat of competition or having to measure up to somebody else’s standard.

God, it had made her feel… feel like a kid again, herself.

In the end, it was she who’d ended up learning from them. They’d invited her into their little game, without conditions or rules, and in the process they had wormed their way into her heart.

She, who’d always steered clear of kids, who were so precious, so delicate, for fear that she’d break them.

And so she’d begun to look forward to seeing them on the courts, and found herself feeling a bit let down on days when they were not there.

Once, one of the staff had approached her after their game had broken up, and asked her if she’d be interested in volunteering.

Now that had taken her aback.

Lane Sinclair, a volunteer?

Didn’t they know who she was? What kind of life she led? How unfit she would be, if she were charged with the responsibility for those young tots?

No. No way. Not her. Maybe in another damn life, but not in this one. And as she’d jogged back to her apartment that day, her heart had felt so… heavy. And she hadn’t had the guts to really stop and let her mind figure out exactly why.

"You look like shit."

She could see the reflection of Clarence’s dark, grinning face in the glass pane. Smirking in response, she lightly dropped down from the station. "And you," she moved towards an incline bench and began to select the weights for the barbell, "are an asshole."

In a routine borne of familiarity, Lane settled down on the bench and Clarence worked his way behind it to spot her. As usual, he was dressed in his sweatpants that had never seen sweat, a tight T-shirt, and his omnipresent towel.

"You hear the news?"

Lane merely lifted an eyebrow as she hoisted the barbell, blowing out a sharp burst of air.

"The police chief in Mazatlán got taken down last night."

"Gutierrez?" A grunt.

Clarence nodded. "Gutierrez."

"He worked for Enrico León, right?"

"And Benitez, too," Clarence told her, lightly shadowing her movements. "I think that’s what got him dead."

"So, you think old Felix got pissed off?" Lane settled the barbell down in the rack, taking a breather. "At the fact that Gutierrez worked for them both?"

"Or maybe it was Enrico who blew a fuse. Control of those airstrips in Mazatlán is critical to his operation."

"Thank you Uncle Sam," Lane muttered, grabbing for the barbell again.

She knew that many airstrips in Guatemala and Mexico used by today’s narcotraficantes, had been constructed by the CIA, during the communist paranoia-fueled days of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Now, these ‘unofficial’ airstrips were just one more link in the narcotics distribution chain. Tractor trailer rigs carrying contraband by the ton would travel north through Mexico, ferrying product from the central hills where the poppy plants grew, to the airstrips or to the border cities of Nogales or Matamoros. From there, the drugs would be smuggled into El Norte.

Or perhaps it would be via the fishing boats, their holds filled with cocaine, pulling into ports like Mazatlán. Using the same airstrips, the drugs were then put on board Aerocommanders and flown north to border destinations such as Palomas, Agua Prieta and Juárez, where it would be stored in cartel-protected warehouses.

"Well, whoever took him down, things are rockin’ and rollin’ south of the border, my friend," Clarence observed.

Groaning, Lane finished her sets and stood. "Sounds like there’s trouble in paradise." She moved to another bench, deciding to finish by doing a few preacher curls with the dumbbells. As usual, the sweatless Clarence trailed behind her.

"You got that right, girl." He bobbed his head in agreement. "The shit will be floatin’ downstream, you know what I’m sayin’?"

"Uh-huh." Lane curled a dumbbell towards her. "Shit. Downstream."

"Yeah, well word is Starks is hoppin’ mad," Clarence said, referring to the special agent-in-charge of the El Paso office. Her partner settled onto the bench next to her and propped his feet up, his gaze wandering to the window. "We’re bound to hear about it tomorrow."

"Whatever," Lane said, grunting. Let the brass have their tantrums. All she knew was that she was glad she wasn’t one of them. Oh, they’d tried to promote her, more than once, in fact, as a way to reward her for all her good work. Were they crazy? A promotion to a desk-riding paper-pusher was a supposed to be a reward? She’d wanted no part of it.

With a loud clank! she dropped the barbells back onto the rack, and turned a blue eye towards Clarence. "Done working out?" she inquired with half a smile, but, as usual, the joke eluded him.

"Yeah," he said, toweling the non-existent perspiration from his face. "Wanna grab something to eat at the diner down the block?"

"I – I’ve got something back at the apartment," Lane replied, averting her eyes and reaching for her own towel. Clarence was a good guy, but he had a life of his own. A wife. A family. Surely, he had better things to do than to hang out with her on a Sunday morning.

Clarence curiously regarded her, his brown eyes opened wide. "Lane, the only thing you’ve got back there are ice cubes and dust bunnies. And even them bunnies are thinking of movin’ out."

God, what was he? Her mother?

"Hey, I keep it clean," she archly responded, choosing not to argue with him on the food issue. So food shopping was not her strong suit. So what? She survived mostly on take-out. That was fine with her. She ate when she was hungry, and that was that.

"Don’t bullshit me, girl. I seen it, remember?" He dared her to challenge him.

Damn. Score one for him. "Oh, yeah," she said weakly, feeling a traitorous, telltale rumbling in her stomach.

"Well, what are you waitin’ for?" He started moving towards the door, motioning for her to follow him.

She rose slowly, sniffing at her clothes. "Yeah, but I stink," she grumbled, falling in behind him.

Clarence’s belly laugh sounded throughout the weight room. "What else is new, girl?" He swatted her playfully on the butt. "You ain’t killed me yet!"


A string quartet played in the gentle shade of a grape arbor. The soft strains of Bach and Vivaldi floated out over the garden, swirling through the groups of people conversing on the paved clay walkways, past the gurgling fountains and pool, at last reaching the ears of Teresa León as she supervised the activity in her spacious kitchen.

She watched the formally dressed servants bustling about, bearing hors d’oeuvres platters groaning with the fresh shrimp or camarones for which Mazatlán was famous. And then there were the spiced oysters, the roasted pig, and the frijoles and tortillas for the children who were sparring with the piñata dangling from a flowering apple tree. She could hear their laughter, sounding like distant, musical wind chimes.

There was no need to be here, not really, her household staff knew well enough their responsibilities. But she could put on only so much of a public face at a time, before she needed a break. On days like these, she fancied herself an actress, playing a part. It was delusional, she knew, but hell, it somehow got her through it all.

"Perdóneme, Señora!" Her head lowered, a young serving girl blushed and passed her by, carrying a tray full of small, porcelain cups of flan.

Teresa smiled, a smile that did not quite reach her eyes, and decided it was time for the hostess to make a return appearance to the party. The event was a fundraiser for the local church in San Raphael, the church to which their affluent suburb owed its name. Thanks to the support of Señor and Señora León, the church would now have enough money to build a much-needed elementary school.

Such a noble endeavor, by so respected a couple.

The interior of Casa Mariposa was all open space, bold washes of colors, rich textures and mosaic tile floors. Traditional warm woods and mission-style furniture were interpreted in sleek, contemporary designs – that had been at her insistence. Thick beams of Douglas fir supported the ceilings, and multi-level balconies, stairways, and terraces created an almost theatrical effect.

A perfect stage, for the actress she was.

The design of the home allowed the party outside to easily flow indoors, and she passively drifted through several rooms of guests, smiling when spoken to, accepting the cold kisses on her cheeks from the women and men whom she knew hated every fiber of her gringa being for marrying Rico.

An open archway led to the rear patio and then she was outside, losing herself in the waving palms and ferns, the pepper trees, and the blooming flowers framed by terra-cotta and adobe. She was wearing a strapless, knee-length, ice-green sheath, colored with the occasional abstract splash of yellow. The perfect thing for a garden party, Enrico had told her, when he’d selected her clothing for her that morning. She, the perfect hostess.

"Such a wonderful affair, Señora León!"

Oh God, it was the insufferable Señora Obregón, wife of the mayor of San Raphael. Did she know how her husband accepted certain ‘fees’ from Enrico? Would it matter if she did?

"Hola, Señora!"

Teresa accepted the kisses from the stout, middle-aged woman, and kissed her in return. "How is your health?"

"Other than my aching back, I cannot complain," Señora Obregón replied, smiling broadly through too-red lipstick. "And yours?"

"I am well," Teresa said, running through the script she knew by heart. "And how is your family? Your son, he is off to university?"

"How good of you to remember, Señora!" She sidled closer to Teresa, ready to share a confidence. "Stanford University! Of course, we never would have been able to afford this on our own, but," her eyes darted nervously about the garden, "little Manuelo received a scholarship."

I’ll bet. "Wonderful." With as much delicacy as she could muster, Teresa began to separate herself from the Señora, anxious to move on. The burbling sterling silver champagne fountain beckoned. "I’m sure he’ll do well," she murmured, melting back into the crowd.

She caught snatches of conversation as she passed among her guests: what a lovely day it was, what a lovely house, what a lovely party, and wasn’t it a shame what had happened to José Ramon Gutierrez?

God, even now she could see Rico near the bar, his face grim, speaking with his older brother, Carlos, and Manuel Diaz. Carlos was a fool, and a greedy one at that. Fortunately, Enrico had blocked him from playing much of an active role in the business. But still… watching them, she felt herself growing angry. What were they planning now? Was there no peace from it all, even on this day?

With a great cheer, the children vanquished the piñata. The papier-mâché beast at last spilled its innards of toys and treats all over the lush carpet of grass, to the delighted squeals of the youngsters. Their parents looked on benignly. How good it was to be rich, to be important, to be an honored guest at the fabulous Casa Mariposa, home of that fine, upstanding businessman, Enrico León!

They had invited the elite of San Raphael and Mazatlán: the mayor, other local officials, successful businessmen - both legitimate and otherwise - and as Teresa surveyed the garden, she recognized at least half of them as being recipients of mordida from the Mazatlán cartel.

Bribes, to do their bidding.

And as for the rest, those who were not yet touched by the hand of the cartel, didn’t they know? Or was she the only one? The one who saw the blood on her own hands, blood that draped the casa. Didn’t they see it? Did they even care? Or did they prefer to turn a blind eye to it all, accepting it simply as a fact of life, here in San Raphael.

Some life.

She arrived at the champagne fountain, and wordlessly, a white-jacketed waiter placed a filled, fluted crystal in her hand. Was this her third glass? Her fourth? Whichever, she didn’t give a damn. All she knew, was that it made her a better actress.

"Ah-ah—" The glass was delicately removed from her hand.


He smiled at her, but she could see the stony chips of ice in his eyes. "Surely, you intend to save one for me, my darling." He took a sip, and then turned to look around, subtly gauging who had noticed. Teresa knew he hated the taste of champagne.

"Otro champaña, por favor," she demanded, feeling her anger flare again. If Rico wanted a scene, she was just the woman to give him one.


"Señor y Señora León! I cannot thank you enough!"

Another glass was placed in her hand, and she turned to see the priest from San Raphael, Father Ramos, fast approaching.

Enrico shot her a warning glare. Let him. It didn’t faze her.

"Padre!" Enrico greeted him with open arms, embracing him.

"And Señora León!" He pumped her hand vigorously, perhaps too shy to offer her the more familiar greeting. "Such a beautiful home! And such a beautiful hostess," he gushed.

She’d been hearing it all day. Such compliments washed off of her; they meant nothing.

The priest and Enrico began to converse, and she let her mind wander, taking a sip of the nicely chilled champagne. The padre was a handsome man, and as good a politician as he was a priest, she suspected, in order to receive a posting to so affluent an area as San Raphael. Or maybe he had good connections. Either way, he might otherwise just as easily have ended up wringing chicken’s necks for his dinner in some poor pueblo in the high country of Chiapas.

"It’s all because of you," the padre was saying as she drifted back into the conversation. "Thanks to your gracious fundraising, and the sponsorship of your construction company, we shall be breaking ground next month for the new school!"

"You are most welcome, Padre Ramos." Enrico smiled broadly. "Whatever we can do to help, just let us know. We will make sure it is taken care of."

"You are too kind, Señor!" The tall, handsome priest reached out to grab a candied coconut ball from a passing tray. He popped it whole into his mouth, clearly enjoying the sweet treat. "Everything will be in fine order," he continued, smiling, his eyes taking in them both, "for that day to come when your son will attend our school. Or daughter," he added, in deference to Teresa.

"From your lips, to the Good Lord’s ears," Enrico said, curling a possessive arm around Teresa’s waist and pulling her to him. She placed her glass on the white linen-covered serving table, and swallowed down the bile rising in her throat. God, all she wanted to do was crawl out of her skin and disappear. This was not in the script.

"We are trying." Enrico León, ever the doting husband, brushed the tip of her chin with his index finger. "Isn’t that right, my love?"

Teresa felt ill. The sudden constriction in her throat prevented her from responding. She, the loving wife, so overwhelmed with emotion.

"Then you are certain to be blessed, one day soon," the padre said hurriedly, sensing her discomfort. "I shall pray on it!"

"Thank you, padre." Enrico’s voice was so respectful. So earnest. "We appreciate that."

The priest waved off the businessman’s thanks. "Surely, the Lord will not forsake two people as blessed as you!"

The party continued to whirl around her. All music, and colors, and light.


Lane Sinclair picked at the white Styrofoam of her empty coffee cup.

"Felix Benitez has been the big man on campus for a long time, ever since he took over the routes from the Columbians." A man of middling height, 40ish, with thinning hair he tried to hide in a buzz cut, droned on sonorously in the humid, barely air-conditioned air.

Hah. Stole, more like it. Once the Mexicans wised up. Why work for someone for ten cents on the dollar, when you can do it yourself for the whole nut? David Starks, her boss, had been going at it for half an hour now, briefing the field division team, ten agents in her particular unit, and he still looked as though he had plenty of wind left in his sails. She plucked another piece of Styrofoam from the lip of the cup, and began to assemble a small pile of debris on the conference table in front of her.

"He’s got one hell of a network. His product – cocaine, marijuana, heroin - flows through Juárez to El Paso, and from here, it shotguns all over the states. LA. New York. Chicago. Philly." Starks took a drink of ice water and shuffled his papers. "His Juárez cartel has got a distribution system worthy of a Fortune 500 company."

We’ve heard all this before. Another two pieces of Styrofoam were added to her pile. She spared a glace to her partner beside her; she could tell Clarence was equally enthralled. Judging by the look on his face, his mind was elsewhere. Idly chewing his bubblegum, he most likely was trying to think of a place where he could get that busted lawnmower of his fixed. His wife had gone ballistic yesterday afternoon when he’d finally returned home to do the outdoor chores, only to find that the mower was on the fritz.

"And he’s got the corporate banking support to match." Starks looked up from the papers he’d been referring to, regarded her small white pile on the table, and frowned. "Half of this country’s top financial services institutions, whether they know it or not, are laundering money for the cartels. Lane."

Maybe if he talks long enough, and I sit here long enough, I could make a big-ass paper cup mountain. Like… what was that UFO movie? ‘Close Encounters’? But instead of aliens coming to take me away, it’s the other way around. Sighing, she began to peel away another strip.


Damn, she could use a cigarette.


Her eyes snapped open to full attention as she felt Clarence’s shoe gouge into her foot.

"Uh, yes sir?" She sat up a little straighter, running a hand through her long, dark hair.

"The cartels and their legitimate banking fronts. I believe you’ve had some first-hand experience with that?"

"Yeah." She cleared her throat. "Don’t ask, don’t tell. We saw it in Miami. The banks weren’t following their own ‘Know Your Customer’ standards. For example, in many instances, they weren’t requesting proof verifying the origin of deposited funds. And the individuals who opened the accounts were using out-dated passport information for identification – ID’s that went unchecked. In other cases, the bankers were allowing generic descriptions of occupations, like ‘entrepreneur,’ rather than receiving specific documentation." She paused. "For starters."

"Nice," laughed Nick Teti, a young agent originally from New York City. "And banks give me the third degree.

"Yeah," Lane responded with a wry smile. This was her area of expertise. Like a bloodhound, she could sniff out a single drug trafficker from among a thousand legitimate accounts, without fail. "And it gets even better in the private banking divisions, where the ‘white glove’ treatment can also mean ‘hands off’ when it comes to looking at things too closely."

"In terms of the deposits, right?" A man who looked more like an insurance salesman than a DEA agent spoke. Jim Salinas. Who never failed to announce to the rest of the team on a daily basis how he was counting the minutes to his retirement. Or to a divorce, whichever came first.

"The deposits," she nodded. "If someone on the board of directors has referred the account, or another good customer has, who’s going to question it? The nice fat deposits every few days, always six figures or more, always in currency. Once they’ve let ‘em in the door, it’s already too late."

"We’re talking moving huge amounts of cash here," Starks continued. "The stakes are high, with the cartels fighting for control. For power. For resources."

"Like them airstrips in Mazatlán," Clarence said, keeping one eye on the clock over Starks’ head. Lane knew he’d been thinking about checking with that hardware store down the street over lunch about the mower.

"Yes." Starks folded his papers and gazed around the room. Good. This was usually a sign he was drawing to a close. "Enrico León controls those strips, and we figure Benitez was trying to muscle in. José Gutierrez simply got caught in the middle."

"Big-time ouch on that one," Nick Teti said, grabbing at his ear.

"That’s usually the story," Starks replied. "León’s been gobbling up more market share. Benitez doesn’t like it and is fighting back. We could be on the brink of some real heavy shit if we don’t get a break on this, and soon."

"We’ve been working hard, sir," Jim Salinas pointed out. "Those lower level courier guys… we can arrest them all the time, and we do."

"But the highest they can take us is one level up." Nick continued his partner’s train of thought. "That’s where we hit the wall. It’s so goddamned insulated!"

Lane fingered the package of Salems inside her shirt pocket. If she didn’t catch a smoke soon, she was going to start peeling the paint off the walls. "So, what’s the plan?" she demanded, hoping to get Starks to stick a fork in this meeting.

"We adhere to our operation," he said, eyeing them all closely. He pursed his thin lips. "We do what we’re doing, only we do it better."

"Sheyeah, right." Clarence muttered under his breath.

"Keep working your contacts, and find out who León’s point people are in Juárez and El Paso. Benitez’s people, too." Starks pushed his chair away from the table. "We keep surveilling those warehouses, and redouble our efforts on tracking down their pager and cell phone frequencies. And maybe," he offered them what was supposed to be a supportive smile, "we can track it all the way back to the golden goose.

"Quack, quack."

Lane shot a quick look from Clarence to her boss. Starks hadn’t heard. Or if he had, he gave no sign of it.

"Okay. Let’s get to work." He stood, signaling the end of the meeting.

Thank God. Lane fumbled for her cigarettes, and bolted for the door, scattering her pile of Styrofoam in her wake.


Shit. "Yes sir?" She turned to the special agent-in-charge, smiling tightly.

"In my office. Now."

Great. Whatever it is… I’m sure it’s all my fault. So at least we can get this over with fast.

She acknowledged Clarence’s sympathetic look with a wave, and she followed Starks into his small, utilitarian office. White-washed walls. White folders. Starched white shirt. This guy was so by the book, he made her sneakers squeak.

Starks motioned for her to take a seat, a dull brown leatherette chair in front of his desk.

This was only her second time in his office; the first was when she’d reported in on her first day. So, all in all, she supposed that was a fairly good record. For her, anyway. Her eyes fell on a picture sitting on the edge of his desk. A studio shot, of two boys and a girl. The boys were miniature twins of the man sitting across from her now. With slightly more hair, of course.

"They live with their mother, in St. Louis," he said, following her gaze.

"Oh… uh, nice kids." Lane felt slightly embarrassed at such a personal disclosure. Hey, shit happened in relationships, and it was only worse when you had kids. One reason why she planned to never get married. Unconsciously, she began tapping her foot on the floor. Let’s get this over with!

"Listen," I’ll get right to the point," Starks said, resting his elbows on his desk, "since you obviously look like you’ve got somewhere to go."

"Sorry, sir." She rubbed at her face and took a deep, steadying breath, giving him her full attention.

"Okay." Gray eyes regarded her carefully. "I’m pulling you for a special operation. Washington wants to see some action? We’re going to give it to them. It’ll be a quick in and out, down in Mazatlán. You’re going in for a target, and bringing him back here."

"A target."

"You’ll be working with a small team comprised of our partner Mexican agents, and the informant who brought us the information so vital to this operation. I want you on your way tonight. I’ll be coming along, and I’ll brief you more on the way."

"What?" Lane was astounded. DEA operations normally took weeks, months, or even longer. The agency moved slowly, deliberately, making sure all their legal ducks were in a row so that the charges would stick.

"I don’t have to tell you, Lane, that the need for secrecy on this is vital. Our ultimate success could depend on it."

"B—but what about the Mexican authorities? Deportation procedures… securing the indictment?" Shit – she’d never heard of such a hair-brained scheme. What was the point of risking exposing informants, of making an arrest, if only the criminal ended up taking a walk in the end? Lawyers were a pain in her ass these days, and the drug traffickers could afford the best of them.

"Don’t worry about that," Starks assured her, his eyes narrowing. "This will be big, Lane. Very big."

"Who are we going for?" Hell, she almost didn’t want to know.

"Who else?" He smiled thinly at her. "El Halcón. Enrico León."


To be continued.

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