The lady at the front desk of the hospital gave Henry very bad directions. He drove his pickup truck in circles around one of Tijuana’s less desirable neighborhoods for almost twenty minutes before he decided he had to ask for directions. He drove for another five minutes before he noticed a pair of cops standing on a corner, eating tacos from a street vender.
“Excuse me,” Henry called out in his rusty, horribly accented Spanish. “I’m looking for Gimnasio del Lobo, can you tell me where that is?”
“I don’t think you want to go there, sir,” the taller of the two officer’s said. Without thinking, Henry noticed that he was in his mid-twenties, with a small scar on his chin, no wedding ring and a nametag reading M. Susa. “It’s not for tourists. If you’re interested in fighting, I can point you to some better clubs.”
“I’m iterested in Gilberto Salazar,” Henry said. “Can you just tell me where the gm is?”
“Salazar was picked up yesterday, maybe the day before,” the second cop said. He was over forty, with a receding hairline and thick mustache. His hands shook, ever so slightly, as he lifted the taco to his mouth, and his name tag read J. Prize. ”You’ll find him in jail.”
“I don’t want to talk to him; I want to talk to his trainer,” Henry said. ”Now, can you tell me where the gym is or not?”
“Down this street, two blocks,” Officer Susa said. ”It’s in the yellow building on the right, second floor.”
Henry thanked the officers and quickly found the gym—which was marked only by a small sign in the ally next to the building, which pointed to a set of rickety wooden stairs that had once been painted red, but most of the paint had faded or chipped off long ago, exposing the gray wood beneath.
At the top of the stairs Henry found a dive fighters gym like a hundred other’s he’d seen. There were old, patched heavy bags hanging along the walls and a standard ring roped out in the center of the huge, open room.
There were twelve men inside, all of them between 18 and 25. Two were fighting in the ring while two more were working the corners. Two pair were working the heavy bag, one guy was training on a speed bag, and the rest were doing calisthenics along the walls. Henry walked in and headed towards the nearest guy, a shadowboxing lightweight with a shaved head, broad shoulders, and a recently broken nose.
“Hey,” Henry said gruffly. ”I’m looking for Osias Hernandez.”
The boxer looked at him and laughed. “You should turn around, man.”
“You should tell me where Hernandez is, man,” Henry parroted. “Then I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Who do you think you are?” the young man asked. “Coming into our gym and making demands?”
“Who I am is none of your business,” Henry said. “Just tell me where to find Hernandez.”
“Why should I?” the young man asked. “You walk in, you give me no respect . . .”
“And why should I give you respect?” Henry asked. “Because you’re thirty years younger then I am? Because you can punch the air? Because you’re standing there with your chest puffed out like some sort of rooster? Let me tell you something, boy, I was walking the beat long before you were born, and I’ve faced off against dozens of guys far more imposing then you. You don’t impress me, and the more you try to the more pathetic you look. So, why don’t you just do us both a favor and tell me where Hernandez is. That way I can talk to him, and you can go back to hitting nothing.”
“Whatever man,” The young man said coolly. “Whatever. I don’t even know where he is.”
“Do you know who does know where he is?”
“How would I know that?” the man asked.
“Just help me out,” Henry said. “It can’t be that hard.”
“Hey, old guy!” another, rougher voice said from an open doorway across the room. “Stop bothering my fighters.”
“Your fighters?” Henry asked, leaving the shadow-boxer and walking towards the man who’d yelled at him. The man was in his late forties or early fifties. His nose had been broken more then once when he was younger and his fingers didn’t seem to line up with each other—he’d been a fighter in his youth. His voice was gravely and his teeth were yellow: he was a smoker. Finally, he was wearing a jean jacket with a wolf logo and the words Gimnasio del Lobo embroidered on the breast. He was certainly a trainer. “Does that make you Osias Hernandez?”
“Who wants to know?” the man asked cagily.
“Shawn Spencer’s father,” Henry said as he reached the man.
“I don’t know a Shawn Spencer.”
“Well, Gilberto Salazar does,” Henry said. “You’re his trainer, right?”
“Look, Gil’s in jail, got caught brawlin’,” the man said. “I can’t help you.”
“You went and saw Salazar yesterday, didn’t you?” Henry accused.
“So what if I did,” the man, who was certainly Hernandez, said with a shrug.
“And while you were there someone came up and offered you a deal. A thousand American dollars if your boy would just beat the crap out of mine.”
A light went on behind Hernandez’s eyes but he didn’t loose his cool. “Look, Mr. Spencer, even if that happened, why would I tell you about it?”
“My only son is in the hospital breathing through a tube,” Henry said. “Just give me the name.”
“I’m sorry about your kid,” Hernandez said. He actually sounded empathetic. “But look at it from my perspective. You live in America. As soon as your kid gets better, you’ll be gone. That cop walks by my door every day—he can make my life hell.”
“So you won’t tell me his name?” Henry asked, nodding soberly.
“I hope your kid’s Okay,” Hernandez said. “Gil has great control. I’m sure he was careful.”
“Go to hell,” Henry responded, turning quickly and walking out of the gym. A few of the fighters called after him, insisting that he take the insult back but Hernandez told them to let him go.
For the next two hours, Henry drove around the neighborhood looking for cops. Besides Susa and Prize, he didn’t see any. The list of suspects was narrowing down nicely.
* * *
Juliet was startled to hear her name. For three hours, there had been no sound in Shawn’s hospital room but the soft beeping of his heart monitor—which she’d stopped hearing long ago. To occupy her mind, she’d bought a pile of Spanish romance novels. She was deeply engaged in a hot-and-heavy scene between the governor’s daughter, Conscience, and the rugged outlaw, Marco, when a soft and raspy “Jules?” drew her back into reality.
“Shawn?” she asked excitedly, dropping her book and scooting her chair up to the hospital bed. He looked a lot better then he had only 12 hours ago. Late last night they’d taken out his breathing tube and put him on regular oxygen, so the only visible indications of his physical weakness were the IVs in the top of his hand and the thin, clear plastic tubes running the gas to his nostrils. The doctors had though he’d probably wake up around noon, so Henry had gone out to find Hernandez while Gus went to the hotel to catch some sleep. Juliet had promised to call them if there were any changes but that promised slipped her mind as she saw his eyes open and heard his voice. “Are you awake?”
“It’s hard to tell,” Shawn said. “You usually only smile at me like that in my dreams.”
Juliet laughed, mostly out of relief. “A severe concussion, a morphine drip and you still have the presence of mind to flirt.”
“It’s not flirting, it’s a fact,” Shawn said. “Want another fact? My head is killing me—like the worst hang-over ever, times ten.”
“I’ll go get a nurse,” Juliet said, pushing herself away from his bed.
“No,” Shawn said quickly. He tried to reach out and grab her hand, and seemed surprised to realize that he was handcuffed to the bed. “Jules, what’s going on?”
“Well, what do you remember?”
Shawn closed his eyes, apparently searched his memory. “It’s all hazy,” he said. “I was in jail.”
“Yeah,” Juliet said, slipping her hand into his, since he had not been able to take hers.
A smile found it’s way to his lips as he opened his eyes, “You’re Princess Leia. And, hey, this can be the scene in Cloud City right after Han was tortured. Do they kiss in that scene? I can’t remember.”
“You know,” Juliet said coyly. “Maybe you should be Luke Skywalker. After all, being a psychic is kind of like being a Jedi.”
“That’s true,” Shawn said in his overly-suave tone of voice, before continuing in normal tones, “But, come on Jules, if I was Luke then we’d be brother and sister. Don’t be ridiculous.”
Juliet snickered, and directed the conversation back to where she needed it to go. “Do you remember the hearing?”
“Yeah . . .” Shawn said slowly. “The judge said he’d look into the drug smuggling ring.”
“Before Gus and I could bail you out, a man named Gilberto Salazar attacked you. Do you remember that at all?”
“No,” Shawn said. “But the throbbing pain in the back of my skull collaborates your story.”
“He slammed you against the cell bars,” Juliet said. “But he avoided your face, per your request.”
“Gee, that was nice,” Shawn said. “Maybe I should send him a thank you card.”
“There’s some lovely stationary down in the gift shop,” Juliet told him with playful sarcasm. “I could get you some.”
“Hmm, tempting. And of course I’m going to have to send a thank you note to the considerate blind man who sent me that arrangement,” he said, nodding towards the bouquet Dr. Ruiz had left. “It looks like the mess left over when someone disemboweled a rainbow.”
“They are pretty atrocious,” Juliet admitted.
“I think they may be radioactive,” Shawn said. “Were they, by any chance, left by someone who wants me dead?”
“Well,” Juliet said. “Since you mention it . . . they do happen to be from Dr. Ruiz.”
“Dr. Ruiz?” Shawn asked. “Interesting. But I don’t think he wants me dead. He just has no taste.”
“Shawn,” Juliet said, licking her lips nervously. “There are some serious questions we need to ask you about this whole situation.”
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to ask me history trivia instead,” Shawn said quickly. “Is the answer Warren Harding?”
“You’ve been in this city for three days and you’ve managed to get arrested, attacked, and hospitalized. Even if we bail you out, you can’t leave the city until the drug smuggling ring is exposed.”
“And when you bail me out, I can help you expose it.”
“If you live long enough to join the investigation.”
“Live long enough?” Shawn said with a sharp laugh, though it must of hurt him, because he winced in pain. “Jules, what do you think is going on?”
“I would know what was going on if you told me,” Juliet told him coolly.
“I can’t,” he said, shaking his head.
“Funny,” Juliet said as the anger and frustration she’d been feeling for the past two days slipped into her voice. “That’s the same thing you said when we visited you in prison—but the next day you were able to tell the judge all about drug smugglers.”
“Not all about it,” Shawn said defensively. “Really, just that they exist.”
“You don’t want us to solve this case,” Juliet accused.
“That’s not true,” Shawn said. “Categorically, completely untrue.”
“I can’t believe you,” Juliet said, shaking her head. “I want to, I really do. But I can’t ignore the facts.”
“Jules,” Shawn said softly. “You always believe in me. That’s . . . that’s how we do things.”
“Shawn,” She replied, staring at him with a cold accusatory gaze. “Tell me what’s really going on and I’ll believe you.”
He met her eyes and she could see an internal struggle. Eventually he said, “I have one question, one thing I have to know before I can tell you anything. Did my mom come?”
That was not the question Juliet was expecting. “No,” she said in a slightly softer tone. “She’s really busy. She said she couldn’t get here for another two weeks.”
“Good,” Shawn said with a sigh. “We should have this wrapped up long before then.”
“What the hell is going on, Shawn?” Juliet demanded.
“That is a hard question.” Shawn said. “I, ah, am not sure where to start.”
“Let me see if I can get you started,” Juliet said, outlining a series of events that she thought probable. Not for the first time, she wished she had Shawn’s psychic abilities—it would have been nice to know she was right.
“You got a call from your mom. She needed you to do something for her, something here in Tijuana. Whatever it was, Dr. Ruiz is involved. You knew this thing was dangerous, or possibly illegal, so you didn’t tell Gus.”
“He’s framing her,” Shawn admitted. “But she doesn’t know that. She thinks he’s blackmailing her.”
“You lied to us,” Juliet accused.
“No,” Shawn corrected. “I just didn’t tell you everything.”
“You put us all in danger,” Juliet insisted.
“So far, I’m the only one they’ve targeted.”
“How does that make it better, Shawn?” Juliet demanded. “How does the fact that I had to watch you make a fool of yourself at your trial, or sit hear waiting to see if you’d ever wake up, make up for the fact that you brought us hear on false pretenses, and lied to us when we tried to help you? How is that Okay?”
“Jules, I’m sorry,” Shawn said softly. “I didn’t . . .”
“You didn’t . . .?”
“Think,” he admitted. “I panicked. I’m sorry.”
From before she could remember, Juliet had been taught to forgive people if they are sorry. It was an essential skill in a house full of rough-and-tumble brothers who didn’t know when they were hitting to hard and didn’t understand why it was a big deal to spill chocolate milk all over a new white dress. So, as Shawn looked up at her, his eyes full of regret and remorse, she didn’t have the willpower to not forgive him. She sighed and, in a softer tone of voice, said, “Just tell me what happened.”
“I got a call from my mother on Tuesday night,” Shawn explained quickly, still trying to win her favor. “She was upset. Ruiz had just called her and said he’d expose their affair if she didn’t give him $500,000 dollars. She wasn’t going to pay, so she called me and told me about it. Then she asked me to go down and tell Ruiz to his face never to contact her again.”
“That’s terrible,” Juliet said as the last of her anger towards Shawn shifted its focus to his mother. Juliet had grown up watching her mother move mountains to protect her and her brothers and here Shawn’s mother had sent him to another country to meet with criminals. Juliet couldn’t understand how any mother could care so little for and act so callously towards her child.
“She left dad. She left him a long time ago,” Shawn explained. “He’s moved on . . . sort of. I knew she moved on, too. Part of me knew, at least.”
“Still . . .” Juliet said.
Her voice must have been empathetic enough to bolster Shawn’s confidence, because he looked up at her and offered a sad smile. “She’d never asked me to do anything for her before. Never. I was, ah, actually kind of excited about it,” he added ruefully. “I got to be the grown-up. I got to run in and prove to my mom that I could protect her. I got to be the hero.”
“Until Ruiz slipped Adderall into your drink,” Juliet supplied.
“I should have seen it,” Shawn muttered angrily.
“What happened in the bar?” Juliet asked.
“Mom told him she would be there, so he was pissed when I showed. I explained that he wasn’t getting any money and I tried to leave. But then he told me that he had all the evidence the police would need to convict my mom of prescription drug trafficking and if I didn’t have a drink with him, he’d give it to the officer outside.”
“That’s the guy,” Shawn nodded. “He’s part of the ring, by the way. He pops OxyContin like Lindsey Lohan.”
“Oh my God,” Juliet said. “She does OxyContin?”
“According to Us Weekly,” Shawn said.
“But how do you know that Prize does it, too?” Juliet asked.
“I could feel it,” Shawn said. “If the judge had let me do my thing in court, I’d have been able to prove it. Now I’ll have to wait for another opportunity.”
“If you get one,” Juliet said. “Why didn’t you tell us all this when we visited you in jail?”
“Because,” Shawn sighed. “My mother had asked me to do something, and I’d bungled it. I didn’t want you to . . . “
“No,” Shawn said. “I definitely wanted you to get involved. I just didn’t want you to get involved without me. What if Ruiz had given you the information on Mom? What if you believed it?”
“Do you think I’m stupid, Shawn?” Juliet asked. “Do you think I would just trust a total stranger?”
“No offense, Jules, but you’ve fallen for frame-ups before,” Shawn told her honestly. “I couldn’t take that chance.”
“So instead you went to jail and got the crap beat out of you.”
“I’m a tough guy,” Shawn said with hollow bravado. “I can take it.”
“Oh yeah,” Juliet scoffed. “You look really tough, lying in that hospital bed.”
“And you look really beautiful,” Shawn replied. “With the light coming in . . . shining off your hair . . . it’s just . . .”
“Not now, Shawn,” Juliet said, trying to sound harsh and authoritative, but she couldn’t quite hide her pleasure at the complement.
“You’re right,” Shawn said with a deep breath. “After I get out of here, I can take you to this little cantina I know, with small intimate, candle lit tables and very strong margaritas.”
“Sounds great,” Juliet replied. “Just you . . . me . . . Gus . . . Henry. . .”
“Juliet, I think you’re missing the point,” Shawn said, before adding. “Wait, is my dad here?”
“Yeah,” Juliet said. “He was out doing some investigating, but he should be back any minuet.”
“Look,” Shawn said, in a slightly lower voice. “Do me a solid. Don’t tell my dad about the affair—or the frame up.”
“So now you want me to lie for you?” Juliet asked, accusatorily.
“Look, I did the math . . . my mom and Ruiz were together before the divorce. Dad’s still in love with her and I’m not sure . . .”
“All right,” Juliet said. “But I don’t like it.”
“I knew I could trust you,” Shawn said, smiling at her eagerly. “Now, I have a plan.”
* * *
“So, we’re just going to go in and ask him for the secret documents he’s using to blackmail Mrs. Spencer,” Gus asked as the walked through the halls of the police annex building towards Dr. Ruiz’s office.
“Not in so many words,” Juliet said.
“Even if we see his fake evidence, what will that tell us?”
“If we know what he has, we’ll know how to disprove it,” Juliet said.
“I thought Shawn told you he saw the evidence,” Gus said. “Why couldn’t he tell you all about it?”
“That’s a lot of information to just remember,” Juliet said dismissively.
“Sure, right,” Gus said, though his voice sounded skeptical.
They reached Dr. Ruiz office and found the door open, and the psychologist sitting at his desk, reading case files. “Dr. Ruiz?” Juliet asked, knocking on the door. “May we come in?”
“Ah, Señor Guster, Señorita O’Hara, I didn’t expect to see you again.”
“We didn’t really expect to see you either,” Gus said. “But . . .”
“But we’ve been looking into what happened to Shawn,” Juliet said. “And there are some questions we can’t answer. We were hoping you can help.”
“I’ll do what I can, naturally,” Dr. Ruiz said, leaning back in his chair. “Please, sit down.”
“Thank you,” Juliet said politely as she took the far seat, setting her purse down on the floor next to her. She leaned forward and stared Dr. Ruiz in the eyes. “This may seem impertinent but how well did you know Madeline Spencer?”
“Not well,” Dr. Ruiz said. “We spoke a few times.”
“That’s so strange,” Juliet said. “Because she reports that you knew each other intimately.”
Dr. Ruiz stiffened. “Did she offer any evidence of such a relationship?”
“No,” Juliet admitted. “Which is why I wanted to get your side of the story.”
Dr. Ruiz stared at her for a moment before clearing his throat and turning to look out the window. “The truth is the last time I saw her, I . . . well, to be perfectly frank, I found a large bag full of prescription drugs, mostly Vicodin, in her briefcase. I confronted her with it, and she told me it was none of my business.
“As a psychologist, I’m used to treating people with substance abuse problems. I could see that she herself was not addicted to the painkiller, so I became suspicious. When the FBI came around last month and asked about this drug smuggling ring . . . well, I started looking a little closer.”
“You think she is involved?” Juliet asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Dr. Ruiz said. “When I chanced upon her son and saw that he was carrying a large amount of unprescribed drugs—it just confirmed it.”
“But you testified that Shawn was self-medicating,” Gus said. “Shawn was the one who brought up the smuggling ring.”
“I told you before, I liked Shawn. I didn’t want to see him in trouble—and all the evidence at the scene did point to self-medication. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Why he would want to expose his mother is beyond me.”
“You’re sure it’s Mrs. Spencer?” Gus asked.
“To say I am sure is a very strong statement. I would say it seems plausible.”
“What evidence do you have?” Juliet asked.
“Well,” Dr. Ruiz said, hesitantly. “I suppose there is no harm in showing you.” He opened the right bottom draw in his large desk and pulled out a manila folder. “This documents Dr. Spencer’s suspicious behavior.”
Juliet took the folder and started looking through the contents while Gus asked, “But, if you can prove that Mrs. Spencer is the drug trafficker, why would she lie and say you two had a relationship?”
“Perhaps to discredit me,” Dr. Ruiz said. “What do you call that in English, a red herring—where a lie is told to shift suspicion from the guilty party?”
“This evidence is very interesting,” Juliet said, closing the folder and turning her gaze on Dr. Ruiz. “But it’s not enough to extradite anyone.”
“I’m glad you think it’s interesting,” Dr. Ruiz said. “I sent it to the FBI – but they clearly have not followed up on it.”
“So, the only way you could prosecute her on these charges is if she was arrested in Mexico,” Gus said.
“That’s the sad truth of it,” Dr. Ruiz said. “The complexities of international justice can be very frustrating. But we all must work within the system we are given, mustn’t we?”
“That is true,” Juliet responded, closing the file folder, placing it on his desk and standing. Gus followed Juliet’s lead. “Thank you so much for sharing this information. It’s not what I wanted to see but it has been very helpful. Can I contact you in the future if we need anything more?”
“Of course, Señorita,” Dr. Ruiz said. “You know where I am.”
Both Juliet and Gus shook Dr. Ruiz’s hands and left his office. The walked to the end of the hall, discussing their interview in hushed tones.
“He’s lying out of his ass,” Gus said. “Was his evidence any good?”
“Totally circumstantial,” Juliet said. “It connected Dr. Spencer to Tijuana and then to some of the communities where the drugs were found. The FBI has had that evidence, looked into it and found nothing.”
“Because there’s nothing to find,” Gus said.
“But what I can’t understand is why Dr. Ruiz keeps showing it to people,” Juliet said. “Even if Dr. Spencer came to Mexico and they arrested her, I don’t think that the charges could stick . . . unless more evidence surfaces.”
“But you just said there was no more evidence,” Gus pointed out. “What could anyone possibly find?”
“I don’t know,” Juliet said excitedly. “Maybe a briefcase full of Vicodin or pockets full of Adderall.”
“So, you’re saying Shawn was arrested and beaten in an attempt to bring Dr. Spencer here, to Tijuana . . .” Gus started.
“Where Dr. Ruiz or Officer Prize could plant some drugs . . .” Juliet supplied.
“ . . . and the evidence is no longer circumstantial,” Gus finished. “It’s downright nefarious.”
“Yes it is,” Juliet agreed. “But we have to prove it. You think it’s been long enough?”
“Probably,” Gus said. ”Do you want me to come with?”
“It’ll be less suspicious if you don’t,” Juliet said. ”I’ll be right back.”
She jogged back towards the office. Not surprisingly, she found the door closed. Her heart was racing as she placed her head against the door and strained to hear Dr. Ruiz’s half of the phone conversation. ”No, he’s a psychic and can prove it. . . . . His friends came and spoke with me. They are investigating. . . . She spoke at the trial, the detective. . . . No, it won’t work. We have to finish it. . . . Get his signature. That will be all it takes. . . . You have the vial? . . . . Fine . . . I didn’t want it to come to this either, but it is them or us. . . . Call me when it’s done.”
The conversation seemed to be over, and Juliet dared to knock on the door.
“Who is it?” Dr. Ruiz barked.
“Detective O’Hara,” Juliet called through the closed door. ”I’m so sorry but I think I must have left my purse in your office.”
“Oh, come in, please,” Dr. Ruiz said. She opened the door and found him sorting nonchalantly through paperwork, as if he had not just gotten off a phone call. He pushed his chair away from the desk, as if he were going to stand politely at the entrance of a lady but Juliet didn’t let him.
“Don’t bother,” she said, walking quickly across the room. “It’s right here. I’m sorry to have bothered you again.”
“It is always a pleasure to see you Detective,” Dr. Ruiz said smoothly. “Feel free to return any time.”
“Thank you,” Juliet said as she pulled Dr. Ruiz’s door closed. “Have a nice day.”
“Did you get it?” Gus asked as Juliet hurried towards him.
She nodded eagerly, garbed his arm, and started pulling him down the stairs. ”What is it, girl?” Gus demanded.
“Unless I’m wrong, and I could be, but I’m pretty sure that just heard Dr. Ruiz order a hit.”
“He knows we’re on to him,” Juliet said. ”I think he’s going to try and kill Shawn.”
“But I don’t understand. Wouldn’t killing Shawn make it obvious that he’s the bad guy?”
“Apparently, he doesn’t think so,” Juliet said, pulling out her cell phone and quickly calling the FBI.To be continued . . .