THE DEATH RELIC
Thursday, February 9
Mexico City, Mexico
The phone rang in the dead of night. One ring, then a second. He sat up in bed and turned on the light. It rang a third time as he rubbed his eyes and focused on the clock.
It was 2:43 AM.
Someone was going to pay.
No one was to bother him at this hour. Not his high-priced attorney, his top lieutenants, or anyone else in his organization. In his mind, they simply didn’t deserve that kind of access. The only people he truly cared about slept under his roof. Everyone else could fend for themselves—especially after midnight.
He was the boss. Those were his rules. No one would dare to break them.
The last person who did was no longer alive.
On the fourth ring, he picked up his Blackberry, only to discover it wasn’t ringing. He stared at the device, trying to make sense of things, wondering if it had been a dream. His question was answered when he heard the fifth ring. That’s when he located the source of the sound. It was coming from his private cell phone on his dresser. How could that be? Only three people had the number: his wife, his daughter, and his son.
He glanced back at his wife, whose naked form was partially concealed in a tangle of sheets. God, she was beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, huge breasts. The perfect trophy wife. Three hours earlier, they had worn each other out. Now she was dead to the world. Except for the rise and fall of her chest, she hadn’t moved in minutes. He knew she was capable of some amazing things in bed, but placing a call without a phone wasn’t one of them.
That left two possibilities: his daughter or his son.
Suddenly anxious, he climbed out of bed and hustled to his phone. Thanks to technology, he knew it couldn’t be a wrong number. He subscribed to a service that required callers to punch in an access code before the call was routed to his phone. The service cost a lot, but it was worth every peso. No solicitors. No crank calls. No one got through except the people he loved.
At least they hadn’t until tonight.
It was now 2:44 AM.
His nightmare was just starting.
He glanced at his phone. The screen said: DANIELA GARCIA. The call had been placed from his daughter’s cell phone.
He answered. “Daniela?”
The caller replied in English. His voice, digitally altered to conceal his identity, sounded like something from a horror movie. “Is this Hector Garcia?”
“Yes. Who is this? Where is my daughter?”
The voice laughed. “I have the bitch. I have your son, too.”
“No, you don’t! You can’t!” he said defiantly.
“Is that so? You want me to call you from your son’s phone next?”
Hector nearly panicked. He ran his hand through his rumpled hair, imagining the worst. In his business, he had made a lot of enemies—the kind who would do anything to get even. Now someone had his children, the most important things in his life.
Or did they?
Hector hit the MUTE button on his phone and screamed at his wife. “Sofia!”
She rolled over and whined in Spanish. “I’m tired. What do you want?”
He snatched a book off his dresser and hurled it at her from across the room. It missed her face by a few inches. “Wake the fuck up!”
Used to his temper, she took the insult in stride. “What is it?”
“The kids! Check their rooms! Tell me if they’re there.”
“What?” she said, confused.
“Someone took my kids! Check their fucking rooms!”
She blinked a few times before it sank in, then she sprang into action. She snatched her bathrobe off the floor and sprinted toward the door while trying to get dressed. The entire time she was cursing the devil in rapid Spanish.
Hector waited for her to reach the hallway before he hit MUTE again. In situations like this, he couldn’t show weakness. Not to one of his enemies. If he did, the problem would only get worse. “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’m capable of?”
“Of course I do. That’s why this is so much fun. After all these years, you’re on the wrong end of a ransom call. I bet you’re dying inside, not knowing if your children will make it through the night. Knowing you’re not in control of who lives or dies.”
Hector growled at him. “I swear to God, if you hurt my kids—if you so much as lay a finger on either of them—I will devote my life to finding you.”
The voice laughed at his bravado. “Your life? Shouldn’t you be more concerned about their lives? Or don’t you care if they survive?”
He started to pace. “Of course I care! That’s all I care about.”
“Really? Then why haven’t you asked the question?”
“Come on, Hector. You know the question. You hear it all the time.”
“What are you talking about?” he demanded.
“Don’t play dumb with me! I know all about your organization. I know how you make your money. Over the years, how many times have you placed this call? How many times have you heard the terror that you’re feeling now? One hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? During those calls, I guarantee you’ve heard the same question over and over. Whether the families were rich or poor, I guarantee they asked you the same fucking question. And yet for some reason, you’re refusing to ask it. Is it ego? Is it denial? Is it hubris?”
Hector burned with fury. He knew precisely what the caller was talking about, but the moment he asked the question, he knew he had lost control of the situation. With that in mind, he refused to ask it until he knew for sure that his children were missing.
A moment later, he heard his wife scream.
It was a sound that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
A sound that told him he had lost possession of his kids.
He took a deep breath to control his rage. “What do you want?”
“Finally, the magic question! I guess that means you believe me now?”
He repeated his words. “What do you want?”
“Does it matter? Whatever it is, you’re going to give it to me. If not, my men are going to take turns on Daniela while your son watches. Then I’m going to upload the video to the Internet so the whole world can see it. Do I make myself clear?”
Hector said it louder. “What do you want?”
The caller laughed. “I want something personal. Something that will hurt you to your very core. Something that can’t be replaced.”
Hector screamed into the phone. “Personal? You want something personal? You already have my fucking kids! What can be more personal than that?”
The caller grinned. “I want the medallion.”