Pudica Darling. #SOScuba

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Chapter 22

Oliver took a deep breath to stop himself from grabbing his gun from under his shirt and aiming it at Ninel’s face. The sound of her voice was like nails scratching on a board.
“So sad to see you go,” she said. “But at least you’re leaving with an entirely new wardrobe.”
Robert rolled the last of the suitcases toward the mansion’s entrance and remained beside his wife.
“Uh, goodbye,” said Ninel. Her butler settled by the stairs. Two tattooed men in guayabera shirts ambled on the opposite side of the hall.
“Mhm.” Oliver cleared his throat.
“Yup,” added Betsy.
Robert inhaled and stretched his arms. Snorts came from the guests as they stood in silence. Ninel sniggered and tapped her fingers on her hip.
“Your vehicles are outside,” she said.
“Mhm.” Oliver nodded.
“Yup,” said Betsy.
“Sorry, Mom’s not here for your departure. She has a menopausal headache.” Ninel smiled.
The guests simpered. Robert nudged Oliver, and Betsy raised her eyebrows.
“Is everything okay?” The Fanjul woman stuttered. They could tell their overstay made her uncomfortable.
“Since my niece turned out to be so stingy, we were wondering if you could spare a small sum,” said Betsy.
Ninel glowered at them, then smirked. “Money, money, money. It’s all they want.”
“I told you she would say ‘no,’” Oliver addressed his god-mother, rolling his eyes. “This was a horrible idea, just like when you made me marry Pudica.”
“Shut up,” Robert said with clenched teeth.
Oliver relaxed more, seeing Ninel’s jaw drop at the gossip.
“I knew it,” she said. “You were my sister’s gigolo, and she’s not even twenty.”
“Hey, I earned that money.” Oliver shook his finger at her. “It took a lot of courage to sleep with that fat-ass. I’m so relieved she signed the divorce papers.”
Betsy and Robert sent him a menacing look. But they would forgive him later. He was more worried about sounding convincing in front of Ninel. He didn’t even believe his own statement.
Ninel burst out in hysterical laughter. She wiped under her eye with her index finger and whisked her hand. “That girl’s so naïve.”
“Too bad we got nothing from her,” said Robert. “We’ll have to resort to other means.”
“Come again?” said Ninel.
“Ugh, I imagine it would look so bad on the Fanjul family if Oliver sued Pudica for breaking the prenup.” Robert shrugged.
“A prenup? Pudica said nothing of the kind.”
“Honey, we don’t sleep in cribs. The prenup states Pudica has to pay Oliver a percentage of her inheritance if she asks for a divorce.”
Ninel’s chest grew as she jerked her chin at the butler. Gut approached her, and she whispered something into his ear. He nodded and scampered away.
“Would you like to see the document?” Oliver bluffed and pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“No, no, I’m sure we can work something out. Why don’t we all talk in my father’s office?” Ninel aimed her hand toward the stairs.
Betsy sent Robert a smile with her eyes, and she walked with both men behind Ninel.

Oliver traced Robert’s gaze toward the specks of blood on the carpet. That gave him courage to continue their plan which, so far, worked to separate Ninel from everyone in the house. Risk factors came to mind, such as encountering Pudica’s kidnappers. In a fight, the thugs had the numbers. Ninel’s power was an unknown variable, so they agreed to start as quietly as they could, hence the blackmail.
Ninel wrenched a drawer on her father’s desk and grabbed a checkbook.
“How much?” She readied a pen. “Hundred-thousand? Two? Half a million to get you off my ass.”
But Oliver prepared his firearm and pointed the barrel at her. “Where is she?”
The god-parents were fuming at the woman.
Ninel held her breath and began perspiring. The checkbook fell off her hands as she brought them up to her shoulders.
“Who are you talking about?” she stuttered.
“Stop with the lies.” A grunt left Oliver’s throat, and he moved the weapon closer.
The door busted open. A group of men raided the office. In the time Yoandre ran to Ninel, Robert tackled him down to the ground. The bodyguards raised their shirts for their weapons, but Oliver pressed the gun to Ninel’s temple.
“Stay back!” he yelled.
Robert and Yoandre wrestled until the doctor locked the criminal’s neck in the inner side of his elbow.
“I will snap his spine,” said Robert, closing the gap between his shoulder and wrist.
“Robert.” Betsy gasped at the ire in her husband’s eyes.
“Tell. Them. Please,” Yoandre addressed Ninel as he was being choked.
“But I’ll lose it all,” said Ninel.
Oliver frowned and deepened the tip of the barrel into her skin. A gun might end her life, and she still worried about her fortune. More deranged was her unaffected expression as her husband pleaded with her.
“You better talk soon because someone will die if my wife is not here in the next two minutes,” said Oliver.
The Fanjul’s butler pushed one bodyguard out of the way and stood at the center of the room. “I can tell you where Mrs. Darling is, but you mustn’t hurt my grandson,” he told Robert.
“You rat. And here I thought you were loyal. You’re so fired.” Ninel clenched her fists at Gut.
“I only cover your tracks to protect Yoandre,” said Gut, raising his chin. “My loyalty to the Fanjuls ended with Francisco.”
Robert and Oliver glanced at each other and freed their hostages. Yoandre stared at Ninel as if she were a stranger.
“Get ’em,” Ninel commanded the bodyguards, but the manservant showed them his palms. The guayabera shirts froze.
“This won’t change anything. The inheritance is still mine.” Ninel shrugged. “Pudica doesn’t have Fanjul blood.”
Gut sauntered toward the young woman to where he could hear her nervous breathing. “You seem to forget, Francisco Fanjul gave me this job over forty years ago, little girl. If Mrs. Darling wasn’t a threat to you, you wouldn’t have sent her in a boat to Cuba.”
Pudica’s parents stretched their eye sockets in horror.
“What?” Oliver shouted. They sent his wife to a foreign country at night with no means to fend for herself. On one hand, it relieved him to know her whereabouts, and on the other, his angst was never finding her. He couldn’t picture a life without her, however.
Gut continued speaking to Ninel. “Francisco knew you weren’t his blood either, and regardless of Mrs. Darling’s identity, the law will be on her side. That’s why you wanted my grandson to kill her.”
Betsy ran into Robert’s arms and cried on his chest. “Our poor baby.” It had been days since he enveloped her as intensely.
Defeated, Ninel lowered herself on her Victorian throne. She looked at Yoandre. “Are you gon’a let him speak to me like that?”
“You don’t give a crap if someone breaks my neck. Ahora te vas pa’l carajo,” her husband sent her to hell.
“If my daughter’s in another country, we need to call the embassy there,” said Robert.
“Na, the Cuban government will get to her before the Americans find her,” said Yoandre. “There’s a reason Ninel and Yolanda sent her to a western province. The communists are strict down there. The farmers are loyal to the president and the party’s founders. They see an undocumented American and they’ll think she’s a spy.”
“They’ll take her as a political prisoner,” said Betsy.
Oliver drew his firearm again and pointed it at Yoandre. His finger resting on the trigger. “You will take me there.”
Yoandre sighed. “You ain’t making a dissident return to that hellhole. But the gun won’t be necessary. I can take you to the lanchero.”
“What’s a lanchero?” asked Oliver.
“A human trafficker of the Caribbean,” Betsy’s jaw quivered.
“Be assured, the Fanjuls won’t be an obstacle anymore,” Gut addressed Oliver. “My grandson will do right by you.”
“I trust no one,” said Oliver. “Aunt Betsy, Uncle Robert, if I’m not back by next week, get the authorities involved.”
“No, we’re coming,” said Robert. “It’s not up for discussion. You’re our son, too, remember?”
“Family stays together,” said Betsy.
Oliver raised one corner of his mouth and placed his hands on his god-parents’ shoulders. During all the bumps on the road of life, never did he doubt their love. The nights Betsy and Robert snuggled him between them as he cried for his biological parents, he guarded with care. In his heart, they would always be Mom and Dad.

The group unmounted backpacks of food and other supplies from the bed of a truck. Oliver, Betsy, and Robert followed Yoandre through a dock where a lone boat floated near a mangrove in the Florida Keys. The dirty cabin cruiser had scratches, revealing it had been originally blue. The rooftop was of different textures and materials, added during multiple repairs.
“Oye, Yainier,” Yoandre called at the deck.
“Seriously, what is up with Cuban names?” said Oliver.
“Hey, I’m Cuban.” Betsy giggled.
“Go ahead, tell him your middle name,” Robert spoke to Betsy.
Betsy snapped her tongue against the back of her teeth, then mumbled, “Yaki.”
Oliver and Robert tittered, swallowing their laughter as a skinny, tall man with a hairy chest came out of the cabin.
“Me cago en la mierda,” he said. Finally, the only Spanish Oliver understood—illogical curse phrases. This one he used to impress Caucasian girls in high school. It literally meant, “I defecate on shit.”
“You skerd me, man,” the skinny guy’s accent was thicker than Yoandre’s.
“We’re here about the gringa you took back to the motherland,” said Ninel’s husband. “This is her fam.”
The lanchero jumped back, hiding half of his body in the cabin. His hands worsened his shapeless haircut. “What the fook, man? I do you a favor and you fook me over li’e dis.”
“No trouble here if you bring her back.”
“You want I grab her to return here? Pst, you’re crazy. You t’ink she’s tanning on the beach where I take her, man? I come back one hour and I need sleep. Find another lanchero.”
“Is he speaking English?” Oliver whispered to Aunt Betsy without understanding the skinny guy’s enigmatic speech.
The god-mother shrugged. “It’s not Spanish either.”
“He says he’s too tired, and that it will be hard to find her,” said Yoandre.
“Tell him I don’t care if he’s tired,” Oliver told Yoandre with his gaze fixed on the lanchero.
“I speak English.” The thin man crossed his arms over his sagging nipples.
Oliver hopped on the deck and stared up at the stick figure. “Oh, yeah? Get this: my dad, over here, owns multiple boats and is an avid navigator.” He pointed at Robert. “The conditions of the cabin tell me your team is not that scary, so you’re smuggling us into Cuba, or we throw you into the ocean and steal your precious shak.”
“He’s right about the cabin,” added Yoandre.
The skinny man’s nose turned into an accordion. He glared at Yoandre, then at Oliver. After a long staring contest, he said, “Okay, but the Keys just got more expensive. That’s fifteen-thousand a head.”
Oliver wondered what made the skinny man think his threat was part of a game. Either way, he wasn’t up for a bargain. He retreated an elbow and crashed his fist into the dude’s stomach.
The lanchero bent over and twisted on the floor. Seeing Oliver’s knuckles eclipse the sun, he raised one arm. “Okay, okay, okay.” He heaved until he breathed normally. “Nine-thousand, eh? Below market, just for you.”
Oliver tilted his head. His long canines and protruding brow ridge made him look like a psychopath.
The skinny man coughed and rolled into a ball. “I joke, my friend. Gringos ride for free.”
“And ladies.” Betsy threw her backpack inside the cabin and jumped aboard. A humorless Robert did the same.
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