Pike and Drake rode separately in the back of different Hummers. The owner of that tortured bullfrog voice was ahead of them in the third vehicle.
A large Mexican man with a Beretta 93R automatic pistol sat sideways in the passenger seat, keeping the barrel pointed at Pike. No one spoke, and that was fine with him. He was trying to come up with a way to rescue Gemma.
The ride was short and the vehicles carrying Pike and Drake stopped side by side on a circular drive at the back of the house. Thanks to the spotlights, the entirety of the structure was visible. The size was even more impressive up close. There were many little flourishes -- gold filagree inlaid around the windows and the back door – that struck Pike as tacky. Knowing now who the owner was, Pike wasn’t surprised.
The brute with the Beretta motioned for Pike to get out. He obeyed, and found himself standing next to Drake.
“I was hoping they would drive you back to the jungle,” Pike said.
A skinny man from Drake’s Hummer rapped on the door and it opened. Pike and Drake were led down a brightly lit hallway, decorated with framed photographs, jerseys and other memorabilia of American football.
“Who is this guy?” Drake said.
Their walk ended in a large room, cooled by silent air conditioning. Expensive leather furniture was arranged in a semi-circle in the room’s center. More football keepsakes were on the walls and bookshelves. In the corner of the room, a football sat atop a gold pedestal on a large wooden desk.
The door closed behind them. Pike didn’t hear a lock click. Not that it mattered. He didn’t plan to escape. Not until he got to a phone.
Drake lifted the football and slowly turned it in his hands, studying the writing on its pebbled surface.
“Super Bowl II,” Drake said. “He’s got Bart Starr’s autograph.”
He almost sounded impressed.
“Great. You two will have lots to talk about.”
The door opened. The big man with the Beretta from the Hummer came in first, followed by a short, fat man with skin the color of milk chocolate.
“It was the first football game I remember watching,” the fat man said. “I paid a lot for that ball.”
He waved the big man away. “It’s okay, Miguel. If they try to leave, shoot them.”
The fat man sat down hard in a big chair. He indicated that Pike and Drake should take seats on the couch across from him.
He gave Pike a menacing look, then collapsed in laughter. When he got his breathing under control he said, “You should see your face.”
“It would be better than what I’m looking at now.”
“Pike, it is good to see you.”
“You too, Nugget.”
Drake raised an eyebrow but didn’t speak.
With a grunt, the fat man leaned forward, extending a hand to Drake. Drake shook with his good hand.
“Pablo Edgardo Jimenez.”
“You a friend of Pike?”
Jimenez laughed again.
“This is something I can understand.”
“Stop it,” Pike said, “before you make me cry.”
“Still a badass. I could have used you on my crew back in East L.A.”
“You’re American?” Drake said.
“Nugget was a gangbanger,” Pike said. “Now he runs one of the world’s biggest drug cartels from Southern Mexico.”
“Far away from the prying eyes of your DEA,” Jimenez said.
“Your DEA, too.”
“Local officials are easier to bribe here, too.”
“Nobody knows how Nugget managed to get from Lincoln Heights to his current position.”
“I know,” Jimenez said with a large smile.
A helicopter approached the property, growing louder as it landed near the house. Jimenez didn’t seem concerned. The conversation halted until the engine shut off.
“How do you know each other?” Drake said.
Jimenez looked at Pike for a moment.
“I saved his life.”
“After I saved yours, Nugget.”
“Some smugglers interfered with my, ah, distribution network.”
“They were smuggling Aztec artifacts,” Pike said. “I was trying to stop them.”
“Loco hombres. They thought they could get rid of us.”
“They almost did,” Pike said.
“But I fed them to my pigs.”
“You didn’t have pigs.”
Jimenez shrugged. Pike noticed his accent came and went. Probably depended on who he talked to.
“Why does he call you Nugget?” Drake said.
The door opened and a man Pike hadn’t seen before came in with a tray. He sat it down on the coffee table in front of the chair. The tray was heaped with golden crusted chunks of food and several small bowls of brightly colored sauces.
“He’s addicted to Chicken McNuggets,” Pike said.
“I fly them in from Cancun.” He gestured at the table. “Help yourself.”
It had been a while since they’d eaten. Pike and Drake dug into the food. It wasn’t great, or even very good. But it would get Pike through another day. That would be a day closer to finding Gemma.
Between bites, he said, “I need to make a call.”
Jimenez stood more gracefully than expected and made his way to the desk. He returned with a bulky black phone.
“Satellite phone,” he said. “After you make your call, I want to hear how you ended up in my backyard.”
Pike punched in the number for the satellite phone on the Triton.
Pug answered after two rings.
“It’s me,” Pike said. “How’s Professor Chapin?”
“Pretty good. Did you know he was a poker champ? I didn’t, until he had my 300 bucks.”
It was good to hear his friend’s squeaky voice again.
“Where are you?”
“About 8 hours out of Miami. You?”
“Need me there?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s weird that you called now.”
“Because someone just called for you.”
“Dunno,” Pug said. “A guy. No name. Left a number.”
Pike gestured for a pen. Jimemez pulled a cheap roller ball pen from his pocket. Pike took a napkin from the tray and copied the number Pug gave him.
“I’ll be in touch. We’ll get together soon. Make sure the professor gets to a hospital.”
“If I make him do anything, it’ll be to play another game. I want to win my money back.”
Pike ended the call. He entered the new number.
“Pike?” the voice said.
“Yeah. Who’s this?”
“The girl will be in front of the Imperial Laguna in Cancun at 3 A.M.”
“Which girl? Gemma?”
“She’ll be there for three minutes. That’s your window. Then she’s gone.”
The call disconnected.
“What time is it?” Pike had lost his watch somewhere along the way.
“Just past ten,” Jimenez said.
“Who was it?” Drake said.
Pike didn’t answer. He had less than five hours.
If the caller wasn’t lying.
If it wasn’t a trap.
It didn’t matter. If there was a chance to find Gemma, he would take it.
“Nugget,” Pike said. “I need to borrow your chopper.”
To be Continued
© Mark Justice 2010