Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty Three-

When the truck pulls into the abandon slaughter house on the outside of town a feeling of dread plants itself in my stomach. I put the truck in park before cutting the engine. Staring at the structure, I know Brooke is inside. This is it, the end of my life because I will not leave this place alive if Brooke doesn’t. Reaching down toward my ankle, I retrieve the gun feeling the metal against my palm and the weight. It’s strange how such a small thing can end a life with just one bullet. It’s not just the weight of the metal or bullet in chamber, but all the power just a thing has in the world.

Opening the chamber, I check the amount of rounds since neither Jeff or I checked it before. Only two rounds remain. I swallow but close the gun once again hearing the rolling of the chamber. The dark sky is the perfect setting behind the slaughter house, but I can see the prickles of morning rising above the darkness. It gives me a single moment of hope as I watch the clouds and sky. Daylight maybe hours away but I know it will come and a new day will dawn. Either Brooke and I both make it out together or only she does because those are the only options I have at this point.

Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath, sending a silent prayer to whichever god may be listening. When my eyes open, I leave the keys on the center console before pushing open the door. The gravel crumbles under my feet as I step out slamming the door behind me. I hope they heard it, I hope they know I’m coming for them. My legs carry me quickly, almost too quickly, across the gravel toward the door of the side of the slaughter house.

Despite it being abandon, the smell is still very strong of past animals. As the door opens, the faint smell of blood from those same animals smacks me in the face. The door itself creaks and wheezes as it opens with awful smells and dust flying in the air. I cough for a second waving the dust from my face as I step inside. The room right at the door is dark, but a low light from deeper inside the building illuminates enough for me to make my way forward.

The further I go, I make it into a large wide open room. Directly underneath a bright yet somehow dim light, sits a chair. It takes a moment to realize the person bound to the chair is Brooke. I gasp, running toward her as he head lilts up. Her arms are wrapped in duct tape follows the back of the chair, where she’s taped to the chair. Walking around the front of her chair, I notice her legs are also bound to the chair in the same way, each leg tapped to the chair.

“Oh, Brooke,” I whisper, my voice catching at the sight of her. When my eyes take in her face, she looks up to meet my eyes, hers growing wide. Then I realize her mouth has duct tape over it. I push her blonde hair away from her face, taking in the blood dripping down from her forehead through the line of her hair. The sight makes me more than angry, more angry than I’ve ever been in my life. Reaching for the edge of the tape, I pull it from her mouth watching as she sucks in breath after breath.

“Ashford. You shouldn’t have come.” Her voice is hoarse and I notice the tear stains on her face. I reach up pressing a kiss to her head.

“You honestly don’t know me that well if you thought I’d just let them take you.”

She shakes her head, letting it fall forward. I unfortunately I have nothing to tear the tape so she’s stuck to the chair which unsettles me greatly. Suddenly a door creaks behind me, and I’m instantly on alert. My hand reaches for the gun in the front hoodie pocket pointing it directly at the person entering the room.

Alonzo Saldivar enters the room wearing different clothes than any other time I’ve seen him. He’s wearing jeans, sneakers, as a gray hoodie over a white dress shirt. Entering from a back door he completely ignores me after the first glance. Alonzo is a true Mexican straight from Mexico. He’s only ever lived in the United States for a few months at a time. His own family lives over the border in Mexico safe from harm from American authorities. He drops the pack of cigarettes to the table across the room before jumping to sit on the table.

“Hello, Ashford.” When he looks at me, there’s that feeling I got when we first met. Alonzo might be a simple small man, but the look in his eyes and the way he conducts business shows a man to be feared. On anyone else, his thick Mexican accent wouldn’t put fear in someone, but on Alonzo people know to fear him. “Was beginning to wonder if you were going to show. Turning yourself in like that, I admit, I did not see coming. Then again, who would have thought you’d pick the girl with the bounty hunter father.”

Alonzo doesn’t seem affected at all by the gun in my hand pointed at his head. In fact he even smirks wider as I straight my hold on the gun. “Anyway, now that you’re here, we can get along with business.” He claps his hand, causing me to the flinch. “We can cover this whole thing up. You know the kind of people on my payroll. Brooke can go free, you know I don’t care too much for people outside of my organization to get hurt. We’ll take the money and be on our way. You can deal with the possession charges on your own time.”

I glare at him shaking my head, my grip beginning to loosen on the gun. Suddenly before I can even look, a blur passes on my right where the gun is located hitting it out of my hand. Pain radiates in my fingers and wrist as I look up at Jesus who stands over me. He’s much bigger than I am much stockier using his weight to his advantage. Jesus smirks down at me, his eyes showing nothing more than malice in his irises.

“Your life will do as well,” Alonzo continues. The combination of Alonzo’s words and Jesus’s smirk, my fingers ball into a fist and attempt to hit Jesus. Unfortunately he sees it coming and lowers to punch me in the stomach. The impact is felt immediately as I grunt from the force of his punch. He then punches me in the face and I feel the blood in my mouth. Jesus grabs me by the back of the hoodie, holding my arms behind my back.

“I don’t have your fucking money!” I reveal, spitting blood at Alonzo’s feet. His eyes darken as I straightens his jacket. “Just take my life, that will do. Just let Brooke go, she and her father will keep quiet about this whole thing, just let them live.”

“No!” Brooke suddenly screams despite her sore throat. “You can’t do this, Ashford. You don’t have to do this!”

I grit my teeth as Jesus steps backward and slaps Brooke across the face. I’m itching to hit him in his face and break that perfect smirk that has gotten him plenty of tail over the years.

Alonzo laughs at the situation, grinning at me when I look at him. “You don’t know, let me fill you in.” Alonzo stands to his feet, walking toward me, standing right in my face. “This goes way further than two hundred grand. Julio is dead to prove my point, couldn’t handle what needs to be done.”

My eyes are wide at the information. Julio is dead. I knew the last we spoke, the last time I saw him it would be the very last. Something just told me that Julio wasn’t going to last anymore. He had lasted a long time already, but deep down he had grown tired of the business. He knew something I didn’t when I first started. The only way to leave a cartel business is in a body bag. Alonzo snaps his fingers and suddenly the back side door he came in from opens. I look over at the door shock to see Alisha enter the room. There’s a satisfied smirk on her face as she walks across the room toward Alonzo.

Damn. Those two really are a match made in heaven.

“Alisha here has been quite the help since you’re little incident in the mall. It was the first moment she realized you’d changed. Your little buddy wasn’t enough for anymore and she hates that little blonde of yours.” Alonzo runs the tips of his fingers along Alisha’s arm which only makes her shiver and smirk at him. “You see, Ashford, our problems began the moment your relationship with Julio was cemented. The moment you took that damn bullet for him and he trusted you with everything.”

My eyes are wide as I look at him. It takes a moment to connect the dots but when I do, I stare at him in surprise. “You were the one that put Marvin up to it.”

“Congratulations, Ashford, you’re not as dumb as you look.” He claps his hand a smirk stretching over his lips. “You see, Julio had made things a bit laxed in the area. I wanted to put someone else in charge, someone people would actually listen to for a change. Marvin was a weak spot for Julio because he saw how easily people could run over him given the chance. I told him the only way to get Julio out would be to kill him.” Alonzo steps around Alisha who crosses her ankles and Jesus tightens his grip around my wrists. “When he failed, Marvin was killed. I couldn’t exactly kill Julio myself, bad business. If people heard I was killing my own people, it wouldn’t look good. Loyalty is a big thing to come by yet Julio had managed yours the moment you met. I didn’t think as a new guard you would risk your life, but it happened. From that moment, I had to know everything about Ashford Rocks. I started to become more involved in Julio’s business area which he didn’t exactly like. He liked my far away approach. That’s when I learned that Julio didn’t know much about you aside from your name. Yet, I’m Mexican Cartel, I can find anyone.”

Alonzo stood in front of Alisha cupping her cheeks. I advert my gaze not just because it makes my stomach want to hurl, but Alonzo is married with kids in Mexico. It shouldn’t surprise me that a man such as him has countless women on the side. If Alisha really thinks she’s something special to him, he’s really gotten her fooled.

“When I discovered what you left behind, it was pretty easy to find out everything I needed to know. Alisha told me all about your blonde, the prank you all pulled in high school. Where you lived, your parents, everything about you, she seemed to know.” Alonzo smirks, fingers trailing down Alisha’s cheek when I look back up. “When we finally met, she was more than happy to indulge me. She’s pretty much the reason we found your motel even,” he pauses for dramatic effect twisting to look at me with a smirk, “your mother.”

The pain in my eyes must be evident as he laughs, back arching. Alisha looks at me but I just glare at her confusion. Alonzo shakes his head, wiping his mouth as he looks at Jesus. “Step away from him. Don’t think we’ll have too much trouble out of him.” Jesus hesitates and Alonzo narrows his gaze. “I said step away.”

Instantly Jesus drops my arms and rub against my sore wrist, holding my tender stomach. “Anyway,” Alonzo runs his hands down his black hair. “If you can’t get the money, both of you die.” He says it so easily as if it doesn’t even bother him.

I knew he’d say this which is why I have the perfect way to get Brooke out of this. Something I left with Jeff that even he doesn’t yet know he has. “Either you let Brooke go or the entire world will know about your Cartel!”

Alonzo pauses and looks at me. I’ve obviously gotten his attention now. “I’ve left instructions that if Brooke doesn’t make it out of this alive, my proof and everything I know about the cartel, even Julio’s information, will find its way to the DA. The same DA that will be prosecuting my possession case.”

“He’s bluffing!” Jesus shouts which only makes my smirk wider. Despite Jesus’s words, Al hesitates looking at me. He knows there’s something about the look on my face that suggests I’m being truthful. He doesn’t know and that bothers him more than anything else. He hates the unknown because if Brooke dies or I die and the information gets out, he’s over. I could be bluffing, he knows there’s a chance, but something in his eyes doesn’t believe that. He doesn’t know Julio as well as he thinks he does at this point. Despite Alonzo’s orders to step away, Jesus suddenly moves toward me, hitting my shoulder, pushing me to the ground.

Just as I look back at him, expecting even more, suddenly a pop echoes through the room. I look at Jesus to see blood trailing from his forehead and a hole in the center. He’s been shot in the head. Everyone is frozen in the seconds it takes Jesus’s body to fall to the floor. I look over in the direction the shot came just as Alonzo and Alisha begin to panic. Jeffery stands, holding his gun, the smoke trailing from the tip. Brooke is screaming at the sound, but it’s mostly relief she spots her father. Jeffery manages to tackle Alonzo to the ground before he can get too far away while I move toward Brooke.

“Stop moving!” Jeff shouts at Al. “Stop resisting!” I look up to find Alisha getting out the door but Jeff shakes his head. “Leave her! Don’t worry about her, we’ve got them.”

Brooke smiles up at me as I attempt to untie her to the chair. “Ashford!” Jeff pulls out a knife from Alonzo’s back pocket, a familiar red pocket knife, tossing it across the room. With the pocket knife, I gently cut and rip the rest of the tape from Brooke’s arms and legs.

Once she’s free, she immediately jumps into my arms, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Oh, Ash. I thought they were going to kill you.” I reach down, picking up Brooke up bridal style. Her arms wrap around my neck, immediately kissing me with all her might. As her tongue touches mine, we hear sirens just outside the building. Brooke pulls away surprise on her face as I carry her out the door ahead of Jeff and Alonzo.

Outside, police cruisers cover the area sirens and lights blaring loudly. Brooke giggles when she spots Alisha being cuffed against the back of a police car.

“How did all this happen?” Brooke wonders aloud.

“I teamed up with your dad. Before we left his office, he told me of a plan. If I could find a way to keep you safe until help arrived, we might be able to save us both. I didn’t think it would work, but he did. Hell, he gave me a bullet proof vest.” I shift the hoodie for a moment so Brooke can see the dark vest underneath.

“I’m just glad you’re safe. Plus, must be a miracle, my dad approves despite everything.” She gives me a tiny smile her eyes still looking at me with so much love.

“You know if you said all that before because you were scared of losing me,” I begin, but she cuts me off, pressing her hand against my mouth.

“I love you, Ashford Rocks. I didn’t say it impulsively. I love you. Stop thinking you’re not worth it.” Her seriousness and narrow gaze make me grin down at her. I pressing a kiss against her forehead I approach an ambulance. The technicians place Brooke on a stretcher before checking her out.

I twist around to see Jeff hand over Alonzo to an officer who puts him into the back of a cruiser. Leaning against the door of the ambulance, I watch as the techs move around Brooke to start an IV. There are bruises on her arms and a few on her face. I worry about the cut in her hair line.

“Is that cut bad?” I ask the man inspecting her head.

“Looks minor, might need a few stitches, but don’t quote me on that. Probably could use a CT scan, maybe sure she doesn’t have a concussion.” He immediately begins wrapping her head in gauze as Jeffery approaches.

“How is she?” Jeff asks, looking at her, his eyes growing wide at the gauze.

I press a head against his chest. “Don’t worry, she’s fine. He thinks it’s minor, probably stitches, but he’s being through.”

He breathes out a sigh of relief. “You’re a good man, Ashford.” He looks to the side, at the police around us. “I’ll probably hate myself for this, but I’m willing to let you walk, let you go.”

I shake my head, folding my arms over my chest as I look down at Brooke. Her eyes are open again, staring at me. She obviously heard her father’s offer but is waiting on my response.

“No. It’s time for me to take responsibility for my own actions. You can take me in after I know Brooke is safe. Hope that’s alright.”

Jeff nods, but then looks at me for a moment. “What was that about proof for the DA in there?”

I smirk, shrugging. “I left a flash drive on your desk before I left your office. Julio handed it to me the last day we met. Think he knew I’d always run in the end, but he also didn’t trust them to begin with. It has evidence, everything they’ll ever need to convict that son of a bitch.”

Jesus wanted to think I was joking, but Alonzo knew I wasn’t. He got scared because of something Julio must have told him before they killed him. Julio was a paranoid bastard sometimes but loved technology a bit more than Al. Should have known he’d always have a backup plan, cover his own ass.

Jeff chuckles as I look over at the ambulance.

“We’re ready to go,” the tech says, hopping out of the truck.

Jeff allows me to climb in before thumbing toward the police. “I’ve got some explaining to do with some people. They’ll get your statement at the hospital. I’ll meet you guys there.”

I sit on the side seat, taking Brooke’s hand as they close the door. Gently taking her soft hand in my rough ones, I press a kiss against her knuckles avoiding the IV.

“Hope you know just because you might be going to jail or prison, doesn’t mean you’re getting rid of me that easily. I’m waiting for you, buddy.”

I smirk down at her, kissing her lips as the ambulance shifts and heads toward the hospital. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, my queen.”

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