Chapter 1 Monday. Lucas Forge- The Call- Arizona
Dr. Lucas Forge was startled awake, the images of his dream ripped away by the insistent ring tone from his cell phone. The room was still dark, vaguely lit by the green LEDs of his alarm clock. Turning his head and blinking his pale blue eyes into focus, he read the dial; 4:07 AM. His phone rang again, triggering a flood of thoughts as his brilliant mind scanned through the possibilities of who would be calling, and why.
Raising his head, he quickly scanned the room. Seeing no movement and nothing out of place, he reached over and tugged at the thin sheet covering his naked body. He slid his muscular legs onto the soft carpet on the floor. He stood up, gaining his balance, and grabbed his phone on top of the rich walnut dresser. Scanning the screen, he saw the foreign area code and the image of a tanned and weathered man wearing a black cowboy hat, and jagged snowcapped mountains in the background. The man in the image was smiling with a full set of brilliant white teeth, but his dark eyes told a different story.
Forge took a deep breath and felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention. Using his index finger, he activated his phone and raised it to his ear, simultaneously scanning the room once more for good measure. With an odd mixture of happiness and dread, he spoke into the phone.
“Buenos fucking dias, Carlos. Christ, it is 4 AM!”
Forge listened to a few moments of whooshing and static before his old friend Carlos replied.
Speaking with impeccable English, and without a trace of Spanish accent, Carlos retorted, “Well, it’s 8 o’clock here in Mendoza, and it’s sunny and warm already.”
Forge responded with feigned irritation, “Yeah, how nice for you. It’s still dark here in Arizona, cabrón.”
Forge had heard a rooster crowing in the background behind Carlos’ deep baritone voice. His memory brought up an image of the beautiful city of Mendoza. He remembered the miles of wide sidewalks filled with tables and chairs and people walking or sitting, drinking rich Argentine coffee. He flashed on a memory of sitting at one of those tables, staring into the deep green eyes of a black haired woman, Alícia. A pang of regret tugged at his heart. His memory was interrupted by Carlos’ voice.
“Okay, Lucas. I know what you’re thinking, Vato. You’re thinking of her, Alícia. I’m sorry, my friend. You never listen to me. You’ve got to let her go. She’s gone and I cannot find her.”
“I know. I know,” Lucas growled slowly, shaking his head. “Listen, amigo, I’m standing here naked, and it’s still 4 AM.”
“Ayi, Vato. I love you, hombre, but I don’t need that image in my head.”
Carlos pushed forward from his leaning position against his old olive drab Land Cruiser. He absently brushed the reddish dust from the back of his jeans. His dark brown eyes focused on the mountains in the distance, to clear his mind of the image of a naked Lucas. He watched a hawk slowly circling in an early morning thermal. The hawk’s wingtips were splayed open for maximum lift.
Carlos inhaled deeply through his tanned and crooked nose. The fragrant and warm moist air of the Argentine Pampas filled his lungs.
“Lucas,” Carlos started slowly, trying to formulate the best way to begin. “There is something down here that you will want to see.”
Lucas stared at the wall in front of him. The white paint was glowing a faint green from the alarm clock to his left. His eyes narrowed. He could not help himself, as his trained mind automatically analyzed the tone in Carlos’ voice. There was something he heard in his friend’s voice: darkness; and beneath the surface, a little fear. Lucas was suddenly fully awake. In the thirty years of their friendship, he had never heard fear in Carlos’ voice. Darkness, yes; but not fear. It was neither in his nature, nor in his breeding.
“You still there, Lucas?” Carlos asked, a little softer now.
“I’m here,” Lucas replied evenly. “When should I come?”
Carlos looked up at the circling hawk. The thermal was carrying it gently downwind. Carlos felt a fleeting twinge of envy, not only of the hawk’s ability to fly, but of its freedom. He answered Lucas’s question.
“Yesterday would be fine.”
There it was again; Lucas sensed the fear in Carlos’ tone. He looked again at the image of Carlos on his phone. The stomach tightened. He thought for a moment about all of the appointments he would have to cancel, but only for a moment. He raised the phone back to his ear.
“I will get started immediately. Buenos Aires or Mendoza?”
The two cities were 1200 kilometers apart. Lucas remembered it was 12 hours by car along the two-lane Nacional Ruta 7, or less than two hours by air. Lucas did not relish a 12 hour, white-knuckle drive with Carlos behind the wheel. If they drove, they would probably make the trip in less than 10 hours, assuming they survived Carlos’ maniacal driving.
Carlos thought for a few moments, “Mendoza would be better. I am just outside the city, and I will need to get supplies and find some, uh, cosas especiales. It may take a few days.”
Lucas nodded understandingly for both of them, and thought, cosas especiales, special items, indeed.
“All right, my friend. I’ll text you my itinerary and call you before the final flight to Mendoza from Santiago. I’ll see you in a few days.”
Carlos whispered, “Vaya con Dios, amigo. Vaya con Dios.”
Carlos ended the call and looked up once more for the hawk. It was a tiny speck headed east. Out of habit, a habit that always served him well during his years of military service, he slowly turned around, his eyes scanning the horizon a full 360°. The long mountain chain of the Andes was to the west. The Pampas spread out to the south and to the east. To the north, far behind his Land Cruiser, was a small ranchero in the distance. A wisp of smoke rose from the chimney of the adobe walled hacienda. He stared at the small structure and its cluster of outbuildings for a good minute. Seeing no movement, he walked back to his truck.
Standing next to his truck, he removed a piece of old dried paper from his shirt pocket. Once again, the drawings on the paper puzzled him. Surely it was a map, but what did the symbols mean? Carlos had heard rumors that the local crime syndicate, the one he called the Mendoza Mafia, had been taken over by some mysterious man with mysterious ways. He was supposedly some kind of sorcerer, a Brujo Negro, and he was wealthy and ruthless. He had assassinated many of the mafia Dons and was now also in control of the manufacture and distribution of new, powerful drugs.
Carlos tried to research the Brujos Negros, but could find very little information. He stumbled upon the map in the city library in Barioloche, in a collection of old books. He found it in a book about the Brujos. Trying to make a connection between the ancient Brujos and the modern drug trade proved frustrating. When he questioned some of the street drug dealers, he sometimes heard the name Don Benigno. The men he questioned seemed terrified to even mention that name. The map must be the key. Lucas might be able to figure it out.
Carlos’ black cotton shirt was becoming even blacker down his back and under his armpits, wet from his sweat. His black cowboy boots were sprinkled with the red dust. Carlos looked thin and wiry, his incredible strength and stamina hidden by the loose cotton shirt and denim jeans. His lanky shape and black cowboy hat made him look taller than he really was.
His rugged and scarred face, and that thousand yard stare, stopped many barroom fights without his having to raise a fist. Patrons often bought him a drink, as offerings of appeasement. His bright toothy smile and quick wit attracted many a señorita, and left behind many broken hearts.
He was partial to the petite natural blonde and blue-eyed Argentine ladies so common in Mendoza, in Barioloche and in parts of Buenos Aires. They could trace their ancestries back to northern Europe when their ancestors fled the war-torn countries during and between the two world wars. Carlos was still amused to hear the musical Argentine Spanish emerge from their pouty Aryan lips. They seemed to swoon at the contrast of his dark muscular skin against their pale flesh.
As Carlos climbed easily into his Land Cruiser, he heard a rooster crow in the distance. It crowed three times.
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