Chapter 54: Nothing Is Free
I had the burner phone in my back pocket, I wandered away from the house to the park down the street to make the call with some privacy. I dialed the only number that was saved; it rang for a few times before a male voice answered. “Al.”
“It’s Ella. I’m ready to meet.”
There was a pause, he must have been looking something up. “The Harbor Bar and Grill in Cole Harbor. Meet us there at six, we’ll have dinner and talk. Alone.”
“Craig really should be there,” I said.
“No need to risk it, you can fill him in later. Don’t worry, Ella, we aren’t expecting you to decide anything tonight. We just want to lay it out for you.” I was nervous about this, but agreed. It was best to get them away from me, and they wouldn’t leave until we talked.
Craig didn’t want me to go alone, and the boys didn’t want me to go at all. They basically threw an all-out temper tantrum when I told them I had to go and would be back after their bedtime. It took a good twenty minutes before I was able to say goodbye to my teary, overstimulated boys and mate.
The drive was nice, most of the way had views of the lake and surrounding hills. After two years of being cooped up in a cell with no view, I enjoyed having the windows down and the radio on. One thing I noticed was the difference between the poverty on the Reservation and the fancy homes on the lake. It was depressing, but it was the same story in every reservation that wasn’t rich off gambling. Rose’s people were too far from population centers to make any real money off of the ‘new buffalo’ that casinos had become.
I pulled out new driver’s license from my purse while at a stoplight; I needed to make sure I used the name “Elanor Black” when I was out in public. I pulled into the parking lot twenty minutes early, and used the time to walk down to the water and watch the boats go by. Soon enough it was time. I entered the family-owned bar and restaurant and immediately saw them in a remote corner, in a party room that was otherwise empty.
I walked up and greeted them, just as Al took a small electronic device out of his pocket and placed it on the window the table sat beside. I looked at him quizzically; he looked out at the people on the docks outside. “Countersurveillance. It scrambles radio transmissions and prevents lasers from reading the sounds inside off the window.” I just shook my head and sat down.
The waitress came over with the menus and took our drink orders, and I told them about how I was surprised by my Pack and my happy reunion with my family. After we ordered, Al got down to business. “I suppose you figured out by now that we didn’t get you transferred out of that facility to my custody for nothing.”
I nodded, not wanting to say anything. “We have a problem, and we need your help,” Ker said.
“What do you need? Money?”
She laughed. “No, we have enough of that. This is much more difficult. You know my reputation, and that the CIA encourages that because it helps mask what I am really doing. We’ve been asked to do a job, it’s lucrative and in line with the CIA’s efforts in Mexico.”
“No, worse.” Al looked at me, his voice just above a whisper. “There is a vicious drug lord down there by the name of Jose Hernandez. He is the head of the Soccorro drug cartel, and he is getting a little too powerful right now and it is starting to cause problems.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there are a half-dozen drug cartels in Mexico, plus another half dozen or so from Central and South America. They each control a geographic area and smuggling routes into the United States, and along with that territory they bribe or intimidate the local police and military into looking the other way. Of course, they are often at each other’s throats for the best land, best smuggling routes, best people and above all, most respect. They are literal kings in their worlds, anything they want they can get. We don’t like when any one Cartel gains too much power, it is much better they remain fractured and fighting each other. If they ever consolidated or cooperated, they would literally take over the hemisphere.”
“So kill him. You have people, drones, all this technology. Take some of it off hunting my people down and use it on these bastards.” I still didn’t understand why me.
Ker looked at me, her hand going down over her rounded belly. “The CIA has tried, multiple times, to take him out. The man is impossible to get to; he never leaves his estate in the high jungles. The land around him is controlled by him and his agents for hundreds of miles, all of the nearby law enforcement and civilian populations are scared to death of him. The military is ineffective; he’s basically above the law. The last man we sent to kill him, came back in pieces.”
Al picked up the story. “Even the other Cartels are growing nervous. Black Ker has been contracted by the Gulf cartel to assassinate him, and the contract is for five million dollars. The problem is, it has to be done in the next two months and Ker is unable to carry the job out while heavily pregnant.”
I looked at her, then shook my head. “So turn the job down then, tell her she isn’t available.”
“We can’t,” Al said, “We need him dead, and we need everyone to think Black Ker did it. That way, nothing is directly traceable back to our government. The Cartels won’t say anything, the Gulf Cartel won’t want people to know they have contracted her, the rest will just be happy he is gone.”
“So you kill him, another takes his place. Why bother?”
“Well, being a druglord isn’t an easy thing. They tend to keep things to themselves or a few trusted others, and loyalty doesn’t always pass to the designated heir. Jose has a son, Juan. He is twenty, and is a bit crazy even for their line of work. We think with his father gone, he won’t be able to hold the Cartel together and it will be absorbed by others or reform as a smaller, less influential one. His father is the only one with the intellect and connections to make a play to be King of Kings.”
I sat back, the waitress came up with our food and we all stopped to dig in. Ker’s big steak was what I was used to a big Were eating, while Al and I had more human portions. When all was clear again, I started up the conversation again. “All right, so I get you need him killed and Ker can’t do it while pregnant. What makes you think I can help? I’m not a werewolf any more, and none of my people are trained for this kind of work. Wolves don’t even live down that far.”
“I know,” she said. “When I was sixteen, I was a werecat living on the streets, making money by stealing things from rich people. I got caught, and was recruited into the CIA by an older werecat, Trevor Madison. He needed someone to replace him after an injury rendered him unable to continue field work. What I do requires some specific physical and character traits that are difficult to find and develop properly.”
“Wait, why don’t you find a military guy, or an assassin, and just turn them? You could have all the werecats you want then.”
Al shook his head. “Believe me, we’ve tried and it’s been a complete disaster. The kind of personality and mindset we find in our business, let’s just say it doesn’t meld well with the mind of a panther. The result has always been volatile, soon uncontrollable, and we have to destroy them. If we choose someone without that background, we get a panther with no aptitude for assassination. It’s quite the conundrum, really; how do you find someone with aptitude, yet you can trust to become a werecat? Someone who won’t be overwhelmed by the presence of an animal part in her head?”
I looked at the two of them like they were nuts. “So why are you looking at me? My wolf was killed. I’ve begged Luna for her back, but there is nothing that can be done. Doc says I’m basically immune to the change now.”
Ker reached across and took my hand. “When flu season comes around, you have to get another shot, right?” I nodded. “The antibodies your body developed last year don’t work against the different strain that spreads this year. It is the same, we think, with the change. You know you can’t have a wolf, but I think I can give you a panther.”
I sat back, shocked. My thoughts were reeling; could it happen? If it could, would I want it? Would I still be mates with Craig? Alpha?
I took a drink of wine, thankful my new ID said I was 21, and then gulped down the rest of the glass.
“The panther nature is key to the plan, Ella. If you take the change, the cat is a natural at camouflage, at ambush, and silent movement. Trevor and I will train you to the point you can penetrate the hundred miles of jungle, take him out with a sniper shot, and escape again. If anyone sees you, they will think it is Black Ker.”
“And you can do this in two months?”
“Yes,” Al said, “Given what you have already demonstrated we think we can. Anyone can be taught to shoot, but very few have the mental capacity to kill. Your cat’s instincts will meld with yours. Our thought is that since you grew up with a Were side, you will meld easily with the Panther portion and the training for this one mission can be completed in time.”
I looked down at my plate, suddenly I wasn’t so hungry any more. I cut a piece of my steak, and chewed it slowly. I missed the taste of meat, the smells, the presence of my wolf. If I could become a Were again, I wanted the chance.
And once I was changed, I could give that same option to Olivia, Tina and Tony, all of whom had lost their wolves to wolfsbane injections at the beginning of the war. I might even be able to help the triplets, once they are mature enough to handle it.
“So if I do this, what is in it for me? And more to the point, what if I refuse?”
Al sat back and smiled. “Our standard fee plus expenses for your rescue comes to $772,484,” he said, presenting me with a bill. “That doesn’t include the three million he put up to buy Alpha Marvin and associated expenses.” He handed me another bill. “However, these go away if you do this for us. In addition, the money the Cartel is paying us to complete this contract will be used to buy this.” He slid a folder across the table to me; I opened it up and looked at the photograph, my eyes getting wide. “It’s a good offer, so I’m asking you to talk it over with your mate and your Pack and let me know. You have until tomorrow night at midnight to decide one way or the other.” He tossed some bills on the table and he slickly removed and pocketed his device as he stood.
Ker stood and put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m hoping you agree, Ella. You’re special, I could see that the first time I met you.” They got up and left.
I spent a few minutes looking at the folder, then I got up and walked to my car. Craig and I needed to have a LONG talk.