Hidden Truths: Chapter 20

Angelina

The big iron gate slowly swings to the side, its hinges squeaking in the process. Every time I came home, I told my dad the damn thing needed to be replaced. He always said he was going to do it, assuring me that when I returned the next time, a new gate would be waiting for me. Now, it just reminds me of my father and how Diego slaughtered him.
I squeeze my hands into fists and regard the surroundings as the car heads toward the massive one-story mansion at the end of the road. Every second that passes, dread keeps building in my stomach. I thought I would never again see this place, or at least I hoped I wouldn’t. It’s strange. I never thought I could both love and hate a place as I do my childhood home.
The driver parks the car beside the wide, stone steps leading to the ornate front door. Two men, rifles strapped over their backs, stand guard on either side of it. Nothing has changed. Taking my backpack, I exit the car and climb up the steps, trying my best to keep my face expressionless.
I don’t plan on advertising how utterly terrified I am. People say that fear of the unknown is the strongest. Well, they don’t know shit, because I know exactly what’s waiting for me here, and I would trade anything for ignorance. Just before I reach the threshold, the door opens. Nana Guadalupe rushes out and sweeps me into her arms.
Mi niña.” She sniffs. “Why the hell did you come back here? When Diego told me, I didn’t believe him.”
“Long story, Nana,” I whisper into her hair and squeeze her frail body to mine. Seeing her safe and well makes this all a little bit easier. “I was so afraid that Diego hurt you.”
She leans back and takes my face into her palms. “What were you thinking Angelina?” She shakes her head. “You should have stayed in the US.”
I open my mouth to reply but a burst of male laughter that comes from the other side of the hall makes me falter.
“Well, if it isn’t our little runaway?” Diego shouts, and my heartbeat quickens. I look up to see him wobbling toward us. He is even more disgusting than I remembered—oily hair, and a stained T-shirt stretched over his enormous belly.
“Diego.” I nod and walk around Nana to stand in front of her, hiding her with my body. I’m still afraid he might hurt her.
“I hope you enjoyed your little trip, because you won’t be leaving the compound ever again.” He comes to stand before me, his lips stretching into an evil smile. “Welcome home, palomita.” He backhands me so hard that I crumple to the floor.
* * *
There is something wet at the side of my face. For a moment, I think it must be Mimi licking my cheek. I open my eyes and turn my head only to wince when pain shoots through the left side.
“Drink this.” Nana Guadalupe thrusts a pill in my mouth and presses a glass to my lips. I swallow the painkiller and gulp down some water, trying to move my jaw as little as possible.
“What happened?” I choke out.
“The bastard hit you. You blacked out. I had one of the boys bring you here.”
I sit up in bed and look around my old room. In a way, it feels like I never left.
“Do you know what Diego is planning for me?”
“He’s throwing a party tomorrow evening,” she says. “He’s going to announce that the two of you are getting married.”
“When?”
“Wednesday.” She takes my hand and squeezes my fingers. “Why Angelinita? Why come back when you knew what was going to happen?”
I look up at her, feeling the tears gather at the corners of my eyes. Then, I tell her everything. By the time I finish, I’m crying so hard I can barely see her face through all the tears.
“Are you in love with your Russian?”
“Yes,” I whisper and cover my mouth with my hand. It’s hard to speak about Sergei.
“Give me his number, I’ll try calling him. He must come to get you out of here.”
“No. Diego will just kill him.”
“Angelina . . .”
“No, Nana. What’s done is done. I won’t risk him dying because of me.”
The door to my room opens and Maria enters, a small smile stretching her lips. “Diego is waiting for you in his bedroom,” she says and her smile widens. “Don’t let him get restless.”
She turns and closes the door behind her while panic and terror grip my insides.
“Where is my backpack?” I whisper.
Nana takes it from the table and passes it to me with a look of horror written all over her face. She knows very well what’s next. I take the backpack and thrust my hand inside, rummaging through its contents until my fingers wrap around the sleek blade of Sergei’s throwing knife. I pull it out.
“You can’t kill Diego with that.”
“I know,” I say, get up off the bed, and head into the bathroom.
Placing the knife on the counter next to the sink, I remove my jeans and panties, then start rolling up my left sleeve.
“What are you doing?” Nana Guadalupe asks from the doorway.
“I heard Diego say he doesn’t want to fuck whores when they have their period,” I say and reach for the knife. “He said he finds it disgusting.”
I place the tip of the blade on my left upper arm. Gritting my teeth, I press it lightly until it pierces the skin. I hear Nana gasp when blood starts seeping from the small cut. Reaching for the panties on the counter, I press the beige fabric onto the wound, making sure to smear the blood so it looks as genuine as possible. When there is enough blood on my panties, I put them on again, and grab a towel from the rack, pressing it hard against the incision.
“Find me something to wrap around my arm,” I say and start opening the cupboards, hoping to find a first aid kit. The cut is not that big, it should stop bleeding soon enough, but it would be safer if I put something over it to hold the skin together. There’s no medical kit, but I still have a little luck left, because I find a box with Band-Aids.
Nana Guadalupe rushes back into the bathroom. She’s holding a pillowcase and tears a wide ribbon from it. When she’s done, she places two Band-Aids over the cut and wraps the cotton strip around my arm.
“Put another one over it,” I say. My shirt sleeves are wide, so the makeshift bandage shouldn’t be visible underneath. I can’t risk the blood leaking through. Diego might notice it.
After she wraps another swath of fabric around my arm, I roll the sleeve down, put on my jeans, and head toward the door.
“You think this will stop him?” Nana asks from the bathroom doorway.
“It won’t stop him from raping me eventually,” I say, “but I hope it will buy me a few days at least.”
* * *
The asshole took my father’s bedroom.
I stare at the big white door at the end of the hallway for a long time before taking a deep breath and twisting the knob to go inside.
Diego is sprawled on the bed, fully naked, holding his small dick in his meaty hand, stroking it. When he sees me, he motions for me to approach. I head toward the bed, swallowing the bile. Just looking at him makes me sick.
“I was so looking forward to this, palomita.” He smiles. “Take off your clothes and come here. I’ve been preparing myself for you.”
I stop at the edge of the bed and start unbuttoning my jeans, praying to all that is holy that I was right, and he won’t want to have anything to do with me when he sees the blood. Funny how such a repulsive, dirty man can find a woman unclean if she has her period. I undo my jeans and slide them down, watching his face while holding my breath.
“You filthy bitch!” he yells, his eyes glued to my panties then springs up, gripping me by the forearm. “Did you do it on purpose? Did you mess with your period?”
I look down, pretending surprise. “I didn’t notice it. It probably just started.”
He stares into my eyes, releases my arm, and slaps me across the face. “Pull your pants up.”
I yank my jeans up and turn to leave, but his hand shoots out, grabbing my wrist. “Where do you think you’re going? Your mouth isn’t soiled.” He grins and sits down on the edge of the bed, widens his legs, and tugs at my arm. “Kneel.”
I look down at his pitiful cock and then up until our gazes meet. He will probably kill me if I decline. My death will break my nana’s heart, but I will not kneel and suck the dick of the man who killed my father. Even if it means death.
Lowering my head until our eyes are barely inches apart, I smile, and then spit into his face. “Suck your own dick, Diego.”
He roars, throws me onto the bed, and climbs over me, wrapping his hands around my neck and squeezing. I gasp and claw at him, trying to remove his fingers as my lungs scream for air. I’m failing. My vision starts dimming and dark spots form in front of my eyes, but I keep thrashing, trying to get him off me. I should have brought Sergei’s knife with me. I’m halfway unconscious when the hands lift from around my neck, and I gulp in air, coughing. Another slap lands on my face, then one more.
“I can’t wait for Wednesday,” Diego sneers above me. “Filthy or not, I’m going to fuck you in front of everyone, palomita. Nobody says no to Rivera!”
He hits me again, then pushes me off the bed. I barely manage to get my hands up in front of me to break the fall.
“I want you dolled up for the party tomorrow. Make sure you cover the bruises well. I don’t want people to think I’m not treating you like you deserve.” He laughs.
I suck in a breath, slowly get up from the floor, and turn to face the bastard while he leans back in the bed with a big smile on his face.
“Fuck you,” I rasp, swipe the back of my hand over my mouth to wipe away the blood, and head for the door.
Diego’s insane laughter follows me.

Sergei

Distant voices reach me, but I don’t register the words at first. Everything sounds like muffled mumbling. Gradually, they become stronger and coherent. When my vision clears, Felix is standing on the other side of the living room, with Roman and the doctor on either side of him.
“Sergei?” Felix takes a step toward me.
“What?”
“He’s back.” He sighs and turns to the other two men. “You should go. I’ll call you.”
I wait for Roman and the doc to leave, then get up from the floor, wincing at the pinpricks sensation along my legs. “What happened?”
The last thing I remember is coming home after spending two days riding around the city, only stopping to get gas, or when I needed to eat and could no longer ignore my body’s demands. And then nothing. “I found you here when I came by at noon. You’ve been staring at the wall for hours.”
“What time is it?”
“Seven in the evening.”
Well, that explains why my legs feel like they’re made of lead. “What was Roman doing here?”
“He came to talk with you. Brought Doc with him in case you didn’t come out of it.”
“What did he want to talk about?”
“His Mexico contact called,” he says and follows me into the kitchen as I walk to the fridge to take out a bottle of water. “He found Guadalupe Perez. She’s still at the compound.”
“Good. See if you can get her an ID that would work for the routine border crossing. It shouldn’t take long. I’ll go get her as soon as you have it.”
“Okay.” He nods but keeps looking at me in a strange way.
I’ve known Felix for fifteen years, and recognize most of his tells. “What is it?”
“Did Angelina act out of character before she left?”
I grip the edge of the counter and stare at the white tiles in front of me, gritting my teeth. It’s hard thinking about her. “Maybe a little. When I thought about it, I figured it was probably because she was already planning on leaving.”
“Did someone approach her?”
I swivel around to face him. “No. Why?”
“Because she’s not in Europe. She’s in Mexico, Sergei. With Diego Rivera.”
“What?!” I slam the glass I’m holding onto the counter, and it shatters into smithereens, pieces of glass flying everywhere.
“Roman’s contact said he saw her today, at the lunch party Diego organized. Rivera announced that the two of them will be getting married on Wednesday.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying to go over the past week in my mind. Angelina was acting strange the morning when she disappeared, so something must have happened prior. The mall. She spent too much time in that restroom.
“I need you to access the inside cameras of the mall where we went the day before she left,” I say.
“Sure. I’ll get my laptop.”
* * *
I stare at the black-and-white photo of a woman Felix pulled out of the police records. Then, I move my eyes to the right, where the still shot from the camera feed shows the same woman exiting the mall restroom just a few minutes before Angelina came out.
“Juana Ortiz,” Felix says. “There is no proof, but the note in the report says she’s suspected of working for Diego Rivera.”
“They probably threatened Angelina with killing her nana. Why didn’t she say anything, damn it?”
“I don’t think they threatened her nana, Sergei. Look.” He brings up another angle of the recording. Another end of the same hallway. Juana walks toward two men standing by a vending machine, nods, and they leave.
“I checked the other cameras, as well,” Felix says as he brings up the video of Juana leaving the restroom again. “They were standing fifty or so feet directly behind you. The taller one was concealing a gun under his jacket. It can be seen from another camera. Pay attention to where Angelina looks right after she exits.”
He plays the video and zooms in on the door to the restroom. The camera was probably mounted close by, because when Angelina walks out, I can clearly see the terrified expression on her face as she looks up and over my shoulder, straight in the direction where the men were standing. Her eyes wander to me, then back to the goons for a moment before she heads my way.
“I think they threatened to kill you,” Felix says.
I stare at the paused recording, my eyes glued to Angelina’s frightened face, and smile. “I’m going to slaughter them all.”
* * *
I put the last of the guns into the hidden compartment in the floor of my car, close the trunk, and whistle for Mimi, who dashes down the steps and jumps onto the back seat. I get behind the wheel and close the door. I’m just reaching for the ignition when the passenger door opens and Felix gets in.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I ask.
“To Mexico.” He throws his backpack onto the back seat next to Mimi and reaches for the seatbelt.
“You’re not going.” I lean over him and open his door. “Out.”
“No.”
“This is not a fucking geriatric excursion. I’m infiltrating a cartel compound that’s guarded by at least thirty armed men.”
“Exactly,” he snaps. “You need backup. And a driver in case you get shot and can’t drive back.”
“You’re too old for this shit. I am not letting you risk your life for me, Albert. Out.”
“Would you fucking stop with your ‘I’m invincible crap’? Do you have a death wish? Is that it? Because we both know that if you go in without surveillance backup, the chances of you getting out alive are zero!”
“I’ve completed missions with more hostiles several times.”
“Yes, but then you only had yourself to worry about. How do you plan on leaving that place with two women in tow? They’ll slow you down. Not to mention the small army that’ll be chasing you.”
“I’ll manage.”
“You’ll die!” he yells into my face, then switches his gaze to the windshield. “I’m coming.”
Mimi barks from the back seat.
“See? That’s two against one.”
I watch him as he arranges the collar of his shirt, moves his glasses up his nose with his finger, and leans back in his seat.
“Fucking perfect,” I mumble and start the car.
Felix is silent for the first five minutes or so, then starts complaining about Marlene. I tune him out. I’m not in the mood to offer relationship advice at the moment.
“What happened in Columbia, Sergei?” he asks suddenly.
I light a cigarette and give him a sideways look. “That again?”
“Yes.” He turns toward the window and stares out. “Please.”
I sigh. “That politician Kruger sent me to terminate. He was into human trafficking.”
“I know. That much was in the mission file.”
“I offed him while he was having breakfast in his garden. Everybody knew he had girls for sale and kept them somewhere in the compound. I planned on infiltrating it, to look for them. Kruger said no. He assured me the police would find them and get them free when they came to investigate.” I lean back in my seat and take a drag of the cigarette. “Police came. Then left. They didn’t bring anyone out, just sealed the place up and were gone.”
“So, they didn’t find the girls?”
“Oh, they found them,” I say.
“I don’t understand.”
“I went in after the police had left. Took me a while to find the door to the basement.” I shut my eyes for a second, trying to suppress the images of bodies scattered around. “They were already dead. Every one of them shot in the head. Columbian police were obviously involved in the trafficking. They disposed of the girls when they found them, so the girls wouldn’t be able to talk.”
“Jesus.”
“I’m not certain, because they were all dirty and just skin and bones, but I don’t think any of them were older than sixteen.” I turn to look at Felix. “Ten kids died because of me. If I had gone in before the police, they would be alive today.”
“It’s not your fault,” he barks. “You were following strict orders.”
“I did.” I nod and light another cigarette. “Like Kruger’s perfect little soldier is supposed to.”
Felix looks away. The rest of the drive passes in complete silence.
* * *
We manage to cross the border without any trouble. When we get off the highway onto a side road that leads to the Sandoval compound, I check the map. I’ve marked all the spots where Sandoval’s men usually kept guard. I doubt that Diego bothered to change the locations. I take another side road that should get us almost to the compound with only one checkpoint along the way. When we near the guards’ location, I park the car behind some foliage and get out to change and arm up.
“What the fuck is that?” Felix mumbles behind me as I’m taking out the weapons.
“Crossbow.” I open the box with bolts and start counting them. “It’s a new model Luca gave me last month to try out.”
“You’re deranged.” He tsks. “Can’t you do anything the normal way? Why not dispatch them with a knife?”
“Because there are usually at least three men at this checkpoint. And it’s not dark enough for sneaking up on that many targets.”
“So, you picked a fucking crossbow? Who do you think you are—damn Van Helsing?”
“Oh, shut up already.”
“What about a sniper rifle?”
“Not on this terrain. I’d need to get too close for that.” I strap a knife to my thigh and take the crossbow. “I’ll be back in an hour. Prepare the cameras, and I’ll set them up around the compound as soon as it gets dark.”
“How many?”
“Twelve. Have Mimi do her business, but don’t wander around. No one should find us here, but have a gun at ready, just in case.”
“You really think you can pull this off? It’s at least thirty security guards, Sergei. Plus, the guests, who will probably all be armed.”
“It’s nothing a bit of C-4 can’t handle,” I say and head in the direction of the guards.
“We drove all the way here with C-4 in a trunk?” he whisper-yells after me. “How much did you pack?”
I look over my shoulder and wink at him. “All of it, Albert.”
* * *
There are four of Diego’s men around the cabin they use as a checkpoint. One is standing by the vehicles parked off to the side, while the rest are sitting on the porch, eating. I don’t like killing people when they are in the middle of a meal—seems disrespectful—but I’m on a really tight schedule here.
I aim the crossbow at the lone man, and when I’m sure no one is looking in his direction, I let the bolt fly. It impales the side of his head, but I miscalculated the angle. Instead of a straight drop, the impact propels the guy onto the hood of the car before his body rolls to the ground. The heads of the other men snap in the direction of the vehicles, but they can’t see what happened from where they are.
I load another bolt into the crossbow and wait.
Two guys take their guns and head around the cabin toward the cars, calling for their friend. The moment they round the corner, I shoot the guy who remained on the porch. I leave the crossbow on the ground and, taking out the knife, run to the vehicles from the other side.
If they see the body, they may call the base to report it, and I can’t have that. The main advantage of my plan for tomorrow is the surprise factor. If I don’t have that, everything may go to hell. Using my gun is not an option because we’re too close to the compound and someone may hear it. Going against two armed men only with a knife is not the wisest course of action, but it’ll have to do. I plaster my back to the side of an all-terrain truck, right next to the dead guy, and wait.
One of the men turns to look back toward the cabin, and I use that moment to jump in front of the other guy and slice his neck. The moment his body hits the ground, I bury the knife in the other man’s side and grab his gun with my free hand. Two more stabs and he’s done.
I hide the body of the first guy I offed in one of the trunks. It takes me fifteen minutes to drag the other three to the cars and hide them, too, before I’m ready to head back. It’s time to set the stage for tomorrow.

Angelina

“Let me see.” Nana Guadalupe takes my chin between her fingers and tilts my face to the side, inspecting the bruises that are now a disgusting shade of purple.
“Nana, I want you to get me a gun,” I say and turn to face her. “It has to be today. I don’t know when the makeup artist and hair stylist are scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning.”
“And what do you plan to do with the gun, Angelinita?”
“I’m killing Diego tomorrow.”
“No!” She grabs my hand. “Even if you manage to shoot him, his men will kill you on the spot.”
“He told me he plans on fucking me in front of everyone after the wedding,” I say and squeeze her hand. “If he tries, I’ll need that gun, Nana. Because I’m not letting that son of a bitch rape me on the dining table in front of his guests.”
I’ve been thinking about my options and came up with nothing else. If I try to run, there are three possible outcomes. One, I fail, and Diego kills me right away. Two, I fail, Diego catches me, and drags me back. And three, I manage to run away, and he kills Sergei. The first two are basically the same, because if he drags me back, I’m as good as dead. He’ll just torture me for defying him before he kills me. The third is out of the question because I am absolutely sure he will kill Sergei to punish me for making him a laughingstock of the compound by running away from him twice.
I take my nana’s face between my palms and look into her warm eyes. “Will you get that gun for me?”
She presses her lips together and nods.

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