I grabbed a lipstick on my bathroom counter and opened the cap. I tried to roll it up, but then quickly realized that this wasn’t my real lipstick. Shit. I immediately put it back down on the counter next to several other makeup items.
Which one was my real lipstick?
I grabbed another lipstick tube and opened it up. I let out a slight sigh of relief when I saw real lipstick inside instead of a fake container. I brushed the bright red lipstick across my lips, and then I looked at myself in the mirror. My brown eyes usually had a golden brightness to them, but now they just looked dark brown and dull. I poked slightly at the puffy bags under my eyes and let out a long sigh. I was tired, and it was started to show everywhere on my face.
How did I get myself into this mess again?
My eyes fell to down to my bracelet on my wrist. It was a simple string braided bracelet. The colors of the strings had faded over the years, and it wasn’t nearly as bright and colorful as it once was. But I refused to take it off. My brother and I made them for one another. It was a way for us to always be connected. Flashes of my brother’s face came into my mind, and I closed my eyes to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. It was because they took my brother. That’s how I got into this mess. I was trying to save my brother’s life. I would do anything to save him.
I kept that in the forefront of my mind as I packed up all my things.
My entire carry-on suitcase was filled with different kinds of makeup. I had a powder foundation, powder blush, and several different eyeshadow compacts. Hell, with all the makeup in there I looked like traveling beauty counter.
Which I guess was the point.
I was supposed to look like makeup artist heading home from a photo shoot in Mexico. There was even stitched logo of a makeup beauty brand on my bag to sell my story. But all of those makeup cases were filled with a completely different power than what was found in regular makeup.
Cocaine, to be exact.
Two months ago, my life was turned upside down. After the death of my father, a man in the street approached me and told me my father owed a debt that now sat on my shoulders. Which scared me enough, since my family didn’t have a lot of money. My father was from Mexico, and my mother was from the United States. My father had immigrated to the U.S. as a child, and he met my mother when they both attended college. They fell in love their freshman year and were together ever since. My mother died in childbirth trying to have my younger brother, and my father was never the same. We were struggling to keep our heads afloat when depression sucked my father under. My father tried the best he could. He tried to work through the grief of losing the love of his life. However, his grief eventually became too much for him to bear. Which meant I had to step up as the older sibling and take care of our family.
When I was fifteen, I took on two after-school jobs to help pay our bills. It was tough working all of those hours, but as my father’s depression worsened his will to work dissipated as well. The only time my father seemed to be somewhat happy was when we would visit our extended family in Mexico. But those trips slowly became fewer and far between because of our dwindling finances.
By the time I turned eighteen, I barely recognized my father. He wasn’t the man that he used to be. Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, my father decided to leave us, and he took his own life.
It left my brother and me parent-less. With no family left in the United States, we were all on our own. Luckily, since I was eighteen, I was able to become my brother’s legal guardian. I was at least thankful that my father waited until after my birthday because otherwise, we would have been forced to move back to Mexico to the only family we had left.
After my father’s death, I tried to do well by my brother. I wanted to get him to keep at it with school by promising him that when he got into high school, I’d finally work on going to a community college. We’d graduate at the same time and have a big celebration with ice cream and all the food he could ever dream of.
Those were our dreams. Graduating high school and college alive and food as far as the eye could see on a table that wasn’t splintered and decaying.
Things changed that day in the middle of that road. It had been five years since my father passed away. I was coming home from my second job, and I was about to make us dinner. But as I was about to reach our small apartment, I was stopped in the middle of the road. I was informed of my father’s supposed debt to the Rojas Diablos cartel in Mexico, and when I tried to walk away, a gun was stuck into my back. The man whispered in my ear that maybe my brother’s life meant more to me, and that was when I started to panic. I slowly turned to face him, and he told me how my father somehow owed the cartel money, and they took my brother as a form of insurance. And now, I was being forced to haul their idiotic drugs across the border into the U.S. in order to save my brother’s life.
I had no idea when my personal hell was going to end. But I knew I’d endure it if it meant getting my brother back.
He was due to start college. He decided to take a year off so I could catch up and finish my classes at the community college. He got a part-time job working as a cashier at one of the local stores in our community. Which was a great accomplishment, seeing as jobs were hard to come by in that small town. A year off to plan and apply to schools, then he’d pick one and go. Live his life. Get a degree and really make something of himself. He was due to choose a college. I just knew letters of acceptance for him were littering our mailbox.
Our unattended mailbox at home I hadn’t seen in almost two months.
I was promised that this was the last run. After this run, I was told my brother would be released to me. Well, at least released. My release hadn’t been negotiated. For all I knew, I’d continue running drugs until the day I died. But my brother? He needed to get out of all this. He needed to go make something of himself. He had plans for his life. Plans I’d never see with my own. So long as they released him, I’d keep peddling drugs until either they killed me or I was caught.
I just needed them to release my brother, Nicholas.
A heavy knock came at my door, and I finished zipping up my things. I hoisted my suitcase off my bed and went towards the door, but the second I opened it four men came barreling inside. One of them hooked my arm around my back while holding a knife to my throat while two kept watch outside. And the other? The big man? The head honcho?
He unzipped every part of my suitcase and looked through every nook and cranny to make sure all of his drugs were there.
“Don’t want the help stealin’ the goods,” he said as he sucked at his teeth.
I tried my best to keep a straight face. Because I knew anything that could’ve been interpreted as a scowl or as disgust meant death for both my brother and me.
The man came over to me and held out his finger, tracing the line of my jaw. They did it every fucking time. Like I was somehow a good to them. I learned the hard way to keep still. To let them touch me just in case, I caught their fancy. Because if I didn’t, it meant two black eyes and a broken tooth. My jaw quivered as I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at the man with the vantablack stare.
That was a good name for the head of this cartel.
I knew that word from Nicholas. He’s really into science. It’s his favorite subject. And he said he read an article where scientists discovered the darkest shade of black known to mankind. It absorbs something insane, like ninety-seven percent of light. Almost nothing is reflected back. Just a massive black hole that absorbs everything and sucks the energy of light right from its source.
That was a very apt description of the eyes of the man staring at me.
“Let me see your eyes,” he hissed.
I fluttered them open and tried my best not to let tears rise up in them.
“I’ve never seen brown eyes like yours. With specks of gold and a green circle around it all. I’d get a lot of money for those on the market.”
Fear coursed through my veins as the man smiled with his grimy, yellow, silver-capped teeth.
“You be a good girl this time around, and your brother gets released. Got it?” he asked.
I nodded my head against the knife, hoping it didn’t pierce my skin.
“Good. Because of women like you–with their dark hair and their tan skin–they think they got something special. You know, that tight little hole men would bend over backward for. But not here, Miss Leti.”
I felt my nostrils flare as his eyes widened at me.
“You ain’t worth shit here,” he whispered.
The men shoved me to the ground, and I caught myself on my hands. And before I knew it, Vantablack had my hair in his grasp. He twisted it around in his fist and picked me up from the ground, then shoved me over the edge of the couch in the dusty, dank motel room they put me up in. I felt his hands on my hips. His nasty dick against my ass. I braced myself for the inevitable. For that one thing I knew had been coming for months.
But instead of taking what he figured was his, he backed off and headed for the door.
“Plane ticket is on the counter, bitch.”
“P-plane ticket,” I stammered. In the last several runs, I would drive across the border. “How am I supposed to get through customs at the airport?”
“We called off the dogs today on both ends. But you better come prepared with a straight face.”
I stayed lying over the couch until my door closed, then I allowed one single tear to drip down my cheek. I knew that the Rojas Diablos cartel had connections with both U.S and Mexico’s border patrol. But I didn’t realize they had that much influence to be able to call off the use of their drug-sniffing dogs at both locations. I bit back the panic in my throat.
I had no choice. I had to do as I was told.
I pieced myself together and got to the airport. I took a few deep breaths in the taxi when it pulled up to the entrance, then I stepped out and readied myself for the journey. The only thing I could do was steady my nerves. If I looked scared, then the agents would know something was off, and I would get myself into trouble. I walked through the specific lines I was told to walk through and showed my ticket and identification to whoever asked for it.
All the while, I kept a straight face. However, I panicked inside. Nerves rolled my stomach, threatening to make me vomit all over the border agent’s shoes. I reminded myself what Sebastian told me on the phone in the taxi.
And I sure as hell hoped he was right.
Sebastian was the one that approached me on the street that day. He worked directly with Vantablack, and his job was to find up-and-coming smugglers that could easily skate by law enforcement simply because of how they looked. Then, he was tasked with doing anything necessary to get them to comply. From torture to blackmail to beating them within an inch of their life. Whatever got them to work for the Rojas Diablos cartel was what Sebastian had been okay’d to do. He was the one who had taken Nicholas from his bed. He was the one who put me into the hands of Vantablack. He was the one who flipped my life upside down with some bullshit lie about a debt my father owed.
I hated that man with all my soul.
“Leti,” Sebastian said. “I can hear you breathing over the phone. You need to calm down.”
“I am calm,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Just go to the line on the right when you go to security, and they will be expecting you.”
“Yes, expecting you. They will get you through security. But remember, if anything happens go with Route B.”
I played the conversation in my mind as I went through airport security. He assured me no dogs would be there. That they had a deal with someone on the inside at both locations. He plotted out four specific routes for me to walk. Two paths were if everything went according to plan. While two others were if something went to shit. Route A was straight through, no stops. Right through basic security and straight on into customs. Route B was only to be used if the sound of any dog came near me. Personal or professional. Route B included two stops to the bathrooms. The slow disposal of my suitcase. Exit doors that led me through some back hallways. And drugs stuffed in areas I didn’t even want to think about.
I really needed all dogs to keep their damn noses to themselves today.
I walked through the airport and got to the security checkpoint. I went to the right, like Sebastian told me, and prayed that for some reason their contacts hadn’t got placed on a different shift. Gone was the fear of Route B, and it had been replaced by a fear of getting caught. I smiled kindly at the woman who checked my passport, but all she did was look me up and down. I tried to dress as professionally as possible. A pair of black slacks. An orange blouse tucked into my waistband. Reasonably-sized heels in case I needed to take off. Sunglasses on top of my head as my hair flowed down my back.
The woman handed me my passport and nodded. I smiled quickly and grabbed my suitcase and place it on the x-ray machine. As it slowly went down the conveyor belt, I held my breath slightly. Would they know the powder in everything wasn’t actually makeup powder? I walked through the metal detector and tried to calm my beating heart as I waited for my bag. The belt seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace, and I could feel the sweat start to form at the nape of my neck.
Finally, my suitcase came into view, and I quickly grabbed it and walked through to my gate. I guessed that the entire line I went through at security was on the cartel’s payroll.
When I got to my gate, I sat down in a chair and called Sebastian to let him know I made it through the first hurdle.
“Did you get through, girl?” Sebastian asked.
“I did. I’m sitting at the gate with my suitcase, ready to go,” I said.
“Great work. We’ll be in touch.”
“You promised me that if I got through this, I could–.”
I looked around to make sure no one was listening before I lowered my voice.
“You promised I could talk with Nicholas,” I said.
“No. I said I’d give you an update on him, you greedy bitch. But you have more to accomplish before that happens.”
“Just tell me if he’s okay. That’s all I’m–.”
“Stay by the burner. Once you’re done, we’ll set him free.”
Sebastian hung up the phone, and I finally allowed the tears to crest my eyes. I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my gut, and it made me nauseous. They were supposed to let him go once I got through security. Had the rules changed again? It shouldn’t shock me. They always changed with the cartel. But I had to keep going. I had to make sure my brother was okay. I had to save him, but how?
How the hell was I going to save Nicholas?
I boarded the plane, and I gazed out the window the entire flight. I knew that getting through customs in the U.S. would be a little easier since I was a U.S. citizen. But I still couldn’t help the nerves forming in my chest. When we finally landed in Sacramento, CA, I gripped my passport and declaration papers and headed to the long line that waiting for me off the plane.
The line moved quicker than I thought it would, given its size, and I moved my way to the right just like Sebastian told me to do. I let my eyes wander around the space, and I let out a slight sigh of relief when I didn’t see any officers with dogs. I took in the customs officers sitting behind their desks, and I wondered how many of them were on the cartel’s payroll. When it was my turn, I walked up to the counter and handed over my passport. The officer took one look at my face, and quickly scanned the passport, stamped it, and handed it back.
That was it?
I looked up at him in confusion as he called the next person in line. Before he changed his mind, I quickly walked away from the desk and headed toward the nearest exit. As I stepped out of the airport, I took a long breath of fresh air. I made it. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Sebastian’s number. He answered on the first ring.
“Make it?” Sebastian snapped into the phone.
“Yes, I just walked outside.”
“Good. Get a cab, and head to Redding.” My breath nearly caught in my throat. Redding? Redding was two hours away from Sacramento! Why the hell was I being told to go there?
“Sebastian, what about my brother?” I said quickly.
“Get to fucking Redding, and then I will tell you where to go from there. Once we have you where you need to be then we can talk about your bitch of a little brother,” and with that, he hung up the phone.
Anger and frustrated coursed through my body. I should have known that just making it to Sacramento wasn’t going to free my brother from this mess. But I had no other options. I had just smuggled a suitcase of drugs into the United States, and I was standing outside the airport. I was entirely out of other options.
I flagged down a taxi and made his day by telling him that I needed to get all the way to Redding. I had two hours to sit in the back of the hot cab and worry about what to do next.
Nicholas is fine. Nicholas is fine. Nicholas is fine.
It was the mantra I chanted that kept me going. So long as I stuck to the plans and the timelines, my brother would be okay. I sat there with my back sticking to the hot seat and my drug-addled suitcase sitting next to me in the back. I let the sun beat down onto my face through the window. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. I let my eyes slowly start to close, as the taxi sped along the highway.
And then, out of nowhere, I heard the roar of engines coming down the road. A bunch of young men rode past me on massive motorcycles, clad in nothing but black with sunglasses on their face. And the emblem on the back of their leather cuts caught my attention. The Black Hornets. I was familiar with them. There were rumors about them in Escondido, where I grew up. About how they help people like us in situations like this. How they protect and defend, and kill when necessary. That they play in the gray, but always lean to the side of the good.
I watched them roll by and continue riding up the road. And as I watched them, a thought ran through my mind.
Could they help someone like me?
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