Cesar Calderon stepped outside to light a cigarette. It was a gorgeous night, unseasonably warm for December, even in Mexico. He took a deep drag and tilted his head back, aiming the smoke toward a waning moon.
"Quieres?" he asked, turning to his bodyguard. Moreno had stationed himself a few feet back, just outside the restaurant door. For this trip Cesar had selected one of his less imposing employees, determined to maintain a low profile despite the circumstances.
"No, gracias," Moreno said.
Calderon nodded, then inhaled. Thalia would be apoplectic if she knew he'd taken up smoking again—even if it was only socially, on business trips like this one. Before returning home he'd have to make sure his clothes were laundered or he'd catch hell for it. Out of habit, he kept a close monitor on the surrounding area. The dinner was being held around the corner from their hotel in the Zona Rosa. It was one of the most exclusive sections of Mexico City, although in his opinion these past few years it had slid into tackiness, upscale antique stores ceding to kitschy tourist traps. Shame that they had booked the St. Regis instead of the Four Seasons.
A couple strolled arm in arm, the woman tilting her head back to release a giggle as her companion guided her into a bar down the street. A few storefronts away, a pair of feet jutted out of a doorway. Cesar's eyes narrowed at the sight of them. He turned back to Moreno and raised an eyebrow. Taking the cue, Moreno went to investigate. Grumbles from the doorway, a tirade delivered with the slurred speech of an addict.
"It's nothing, sir," Moreno said in a low voice before falling back into position.
Heroin, Calderon thought, shaking his head. It used to be that the drug only passed through Mexico, but in recent years addiction levels had spiked. The latest law decriminalizing small amounts of heroin and cocaine hadn't helped matters, in his opinion. An already poor country was now being ravaged by the same disease as its wealthier neighbor to the north. A decade ago, the sight of a stoned man collapsed in a Mexico City doorway would have been an oddity. Today it was rapidly becoming the norm.
Back inside the restaurant, someone laughed loudly—probably Leonard. Bastard always got drunk and inappropriate at these conferences. The other night he'd actually asked Cesar to share a hooker; he shuddered at the memory. The sad truth was that his field attracted people from a wide range of backgrounds, some shadier than others. After recent events, Calderon had decided this was the last time he'd appear as the public face of the company. These business trips were draining, dangerous and put too much of a strain on his already fragile marriage. From here on out he'd leave the heavy lifting to Linus.
Calderon turned at the sound of screeching tires. A white van careened toward him. He frowned and automatically panned right, to the opposite end of the street...where he discovered a garbage truck blocking the intersection. Calderon's eyes widened as he realized what was about to happen. He spun on his heels, braced to dash into the restaurant. Saw Moreno's head tilted back at an odd angle, hands clutching his throat as blood jetted from between his fingers. The addict stood behind him, brandishing a knife.
Clearly no escape that way. Calderon tossed his cigarette, scattering a trail of embers as he swiveled and bolted across the street, hoping the sudden move would throw them off.
Too late. Hands gripped him from behind, dragging him toward the van's open door. His calves smacked the metal frame as they pulled him inside. The last thing he saw was the shocked expression on the maitre d's face, frozen behind the host stand. Then a hood was yanked over his head, the van door slammed shut and a voice barked in Spanish, "Wall one, wall one, we have him! Wall two, move in behind us."
Calderon let out a yelp at the sudden, sharp pain in his thigh. Mierda, he thought, they're drugging me...
Then everything went black.