Shadowline

Chapter 18 - In Flagrante Delicto

“The players in this game, Mr. Tanner, are both numerous and fierce. It is best to focus on the major powers.”

Ezra’s voice was clear in Vin’s mind as he moved south. He had paper files, too, but he remembered words much more clearly. Hearing Ezra’s voice, even in his head, firmed his resolve for success.

“The Zamora and Carnicero Cartels are top dogs at the moment. Smaller families nip at their heels, but as it stands, are inconsequential. Although most of their business is based around inland northern Mexico, the Zamora family began in Jalisco. The Carniceros started in Mexico City, south and east of Jalisco. The Butchers, that charming moniker for the Carnicero sons, moved north along the coast and the Zamora clan simply stepped east and out of their way. They are the two most powerful groups, but they are still men. They have egos. They do not trust each other. Because of that, conflict between the two families is inevitable. Use that, if you can, to bring down your target and bring you back to the fold, as Mr. Sanchez is fond of saying."

Vin snorted. Ezra’s information, though not quiet on the mark, was still something to consider. Ego; the only drive stronger in both families was survival. Maybe hitting both of those points was a good way to start.

The diagram of the Zamora compound sprang up in Vin’s mind. Ezra’s notes said that Alberto, Vin’s old boss, made it a habit to stop in often. Would he do so on his way to Mexico City? The man was in no hurry and Vin doubted he would spend any time with the Carniceros because any next moves would be after Gustavo Carnicero was out of the way. Zamora’s preference would be to wait at home. Vin allowed a small grin and turned at the next fork in the road that would take him to Jalisco.

This part of Mexico was new to Vin; he’d never been beyond the tip of the Baja peninsula or outside the influence of the Great Sonoran Desert. Outside Jalisco, there were green, rolling hills and neat rows of agave plants for tequila production. The beauty, however, met with a blind eye because Vin’s mind focused on tactics. Using the map in his head, Vin’s bump of direction took him along the ridgeline of hills flanking Zamora’s property.

He drove as far as he dared and then stashed the vehicle and took off on foot, easily falling into the familiar singular line of thought and mission. Vin’s steady, ground eating pace ate the miles and preserved his energy. The healing wound in his arm, now a red, puckered line with black stitching on his bicep, did not require a bandage anymore and only throbbed occasionally. Vin easily ignored the sensation as he covered the miles.

Finally, he topped a ridge and saw the compound he sought sprawled along the floor of the wide valley before him. Tucked safely back in the valley, easy access only came from one direction. It was defendable and easy to detect anyone approaching by the single road.

A feeling of déjà-vu fell over Vin as he studied the ranch through his sniper scope; he’d done this before in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Vietnam. The ease at which he fell into the mission frame of mind caused a spark of alarm that quickly died when his mind kicked into gear. Vin moved quickly and silently, masking his face and skin with mud and moss as he moved to reduce glare and soften his outline against the native shrubs. By the time he thought he was in a good position to take a shot, Vin settled down to watch and wait. He had enough food for three days, if he rationed harshly, and water for two. After checking and assembling his rifle, Vin set the scope, put down a mat so he wouldn’t lose body heat, and stretched out.

Using the spotting scope, Vin mapped the entire valley in his mind. He figured that he was almost a mile away. The weather was mild and the forecast held no surprises. Being near the ocean, he hoped there would be some cloud cover so the nights wouldn’t be cold, but Vin didn't count on that. Cold he could handle. Hunger he could endure. He’d quench thirst using his surroundings. He wasn’t used to counting on anything.

He was, though, counting on the suspicious and volatile nature of a Cartel leader. If Vin could take a shot and convince Zamora that Felix was responsible, it would set one at the other’s throat. Vin could follow him right to Felix and Arturo, and from there, MacMillan. Tirelessly, he watched the comings and goings of the property, noted access points, and through the circular world of the scope, had a good idea of the main house layout.

The afternoon turned into early evening and Vin’s bicep began to ache. He rolled aside to shake it out and when he rolled back, saw a line of three SUVs charge up the valley to the main gate of the property. Vin watched the gate open automatically and in perfect timing so the vehicles never slowed as they raced under the stone arch. The ant-like line followed the gentle curve of the long dirt drive, the hard packed ground throwing minimal dust.

The SUVs swung around a final curve, crossed through a secondary gate, and pulled up in front of the main house where they stopped, nose to tail-lights. All the doors flew open, except for the rear door of the lead vehicle, and well dressed men stepped out. Vin could see that they were laughing and relaxed, their mouths moving with silent words. One man opened the remaining door and Vin was pleased to see the form of his former employer emerge from the SUV.

He could take a shot now, and Vin did think about that, but he decided to make the shot more personal - that was Tiger’s Eye style. A majority of his victims were taken out in the most private parts of their own homes. Such a vile intrusion added to Tiger’s Eye’s mystique.

Vin put the scope down and began a final check of his rifle.


Alberto Zamora paused beside the black SUV and took a deep breath through his nose. The smell of home always eased his mind and soul. Smiling, he strolled away from the cars and surveyed his land. His eyes followed the sweep of the valley and the rise of the distant, green hills and satisfaction rose in his heart. Soon, he would have another plot of land along the coast of Baja, an area previously out of his reach. Yes, working with Felix promised substantial reward; once in place, however, Zamora planned to take Felix’s share, too. Power was an aphrodisiac and Zamora planned to be completely sated in the next two years.

He also knew young Felix probably had the same plans. First, he had to get out from under his father’s influence. Arturo, near death and safety tucked away at the Carnicero compound, was physically out of the picture now but he had loyal legions and Felix needed to get them under his control first.

For now, Alberto had time relax, reflect and see to his holdings. He also planned time with his new wife, Claudia. Being a former Miss Jalisco and international model, she was a spirited handful but money kept her satisfied and when she adorned his arm, Alberto knew he was the picture of a man’s man and the envy of all. The paparazzi loved them.

He turned to the house and ambled to the massive oak doors of his house and crossed the threshold when they opened from within. A butler and a maid obligingly held the doors and Alberto swept by them without a glance.

“Alberto!” Claudia called from the top of the curved, marble staircase. Smiling down at him with perfect make-up and ample cleavage, Claudia tilted her head, allowing shining, auburn hair to cascade over one bare shoulder. A clingy, crimson dress with a long slit from hip to calf flowed from the other shoulder. She struck a pose with her hand on the rail before descending, a long section of thigh showing with each stiletto step. “You are home! What have you brought me, my darling?” Red lips held a promising smile.

Alberto chuckled, following her with hungry eyes as she approached, and took her hand when she reached the last step. She smelled of jasmine and sex and Alberto, 30 years her senior, pitied those without his power. “A mere trinket, I am afraid.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a palm-sized box, which Claudia plucked from his hand before pecking his cheek. “A charming set of diamond ear-rings.” She stood close enough for her breasts to brush his chest as she opened the box. Close to ten carats of sparkling diamonds glittered on platinum and royal blue velvet.

“Oh,” Claudia uttered, tipping her head aside as she studied the gems, obviously disappointed. “These are nice.”

Alberto laughed. “I planned on taking you out tonight to find the matching necklace and bracelet, my dear, and perhaps a gown to go with it?”

“Alberto!” she breathed, eyes aflame with seduction as she leaned closer. “You are such a good man!”

“Let me show you how good, my treasure. Come.” Claudia slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and they ascended the stairs, Claudia’s hips swaying in a ripe rhythm as the house staff scurried to prepare a light meal before the pair left for the evening.

Alberto smiled, enjoying his hardness as Claudia relayed her boring and trivial chatter and they headed to the master bedroom suite. He closed the white double doors after stepping into the suite and turned to the bar. “Champagne?” he asked.

“You know how I like Champagne,” Claudia said lightly as she shimmied to the large, glass balcony doors. “And I know how much you like the fresh air.” She flung the doors open and stood in the threshold for a moment before turning slowly to face him. “I also know how much you like black lace.”

Shifting her weight to one leg and flexing one knee over the other, Claudia slipped a manicured finger under the sole strap of her dress and pushed it aside, allowing it to slide down her arm. Red silk billowed to the floor, covering her matching red Ferragamo heels and leaving her in a lacy black thong and push-up demi bra. A red bow settled fetchingly between the mounds of her breasts.

Alberto’s eyes burned as he took her in, and then they walked toward each other. He held out a bubbly flute and she took it with a soft “Thank you.” She took a sip and locked his gaze to her, then took the crystal from his hand and stepped aside to put both flutes down. Moving to him, she began a slow, teasing removal of his clothes as she hummed a haunting melody.

Jacket first, then her red, manicured nails lightly scratched as she undid his shirt buttons. She smiled up at him and worked the belt. Alberto released a groan-like sigh and allowed his eyes to slide shut as he enjoyed the feel of her hands on him. His hands brushed over her shoulders, down her warm, soft sides, and then kneaded her round buttocks. A slight breeze smelling of mesquite, jasmine and Claudia cooled his face, and then his torso as she worked downward. His hot, hard prick twitched when she pushed his pants and boxers to the floor. The breeze tickled his skin.

Unable to stand still and being a man of action, Alberto took over and pulled her close, rubbing his erection on the black lace of the thong. He commanded her lips and forced his tongue in her mouth, grabbing her hair from behind and forcing her head back for deeper conquest. Claudia's moan ignited a zing down his belly that set his groin on fire.

“Oh, woman, what you do to me,” he growled. Abruptly, he turned her around and found his heated gaze locked on another deep red bow attached to the thong, just at the top of the glorious groove of her ass.

“Open me, Alberto!” Claudia moaned.

He grabbed the bow and gave it a vicious tug, releasing the skimpy thong. He threw the piece of lace aside and pushed her to the intricately carved wood foot board of the massive four-post bed. He bent her over it, the sight of her red nails clawing the pristine white of the bedspread hardening his resolve. His hands found her firm breasts under the bra and he pinched hard nipples.

“Oh!”

Claudia’s gasp drove him into her and the hot silk of her was glorious. He ducked his head and he felt hot flicks of pain on his cheek.

“Oh!” Claudia shrieked in a higher octave. “ALBERTO!”

He felt her shift sideways and his grip tightened. His cheek and shoulder burned oddly.

Then Claudia screamed but the tone of it penetrated Alberto’s brain just before she dropped to the floor, hysterical and scrambling away.

He turned, fighting his passionate blood, and a sharp burn scored his back, across his shoulder blades. A second later, hot pain dropped him to his knees and he looked frantically around.

One post of the bed’s foot board was shattered, the once graceful carving now split into ragged shards. The board itself sported a jagged hole and feathers from the spread floated lazily downward.


After the second shot that scored Alberto’s back, Vin immediately began breaking down his rifle. His movements were clean and quick as his hands worked without thought. He pictured the two shots again - the first was less than an inch from Alberto’s head when it hit the bed post and the second skipped along Alberto’s shoulder blades and into the bed frame.

It was odd, intending to miss, and Vin mulled that over a moment. When Alberto’s head centered in his sights Vin’s finger tightened on the trigger but pure control held the squeeze a few moments longer. The same supreme control avoided the center point of Alberto’s back and heart and, instead, left a long, jagged slash before punching through the intricately carved wood.

And the situation could not have been more intimate, he thought with a dry laugh. It was textbook Tiger’s Eye style. If Alberto Zamora was anywhere near as vengeful as his reputation, Felix Carnicero was in for a surprise and Vin intended to be there to see it. The distraction should allow him to locate both Arturo Carnicero and Robby MacMillan.

Then Vin could go home - a place he hadn’t given himself the luxury of thinking about because if he failed, it would remain only a dream.


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