Episode 5: “Experience”

Created & written by Marrton Dormish

Powers: The Serial is a fictional series based on true stories. With the exception of recognized personalities, locations and institutions from the past and present, all characters and places depicted in this series are fictional.

Two young men in beige uniforms stared over the edge of an abyss.

“Here we are again,” muttered lanky Officer Mekele. “For the twenty-first day in a row, we are here because of that woman.”

“She is just doing her job, looking out for all those orphans, Mekele. Maybe today someone decided not to go begging.” Officer Worku was decidedly more hopeful than his partner.

“I’m not going down there again,” Mekele said.

“The commander will not like you disobeying his order,” said Worku over his shoulder. He covered his mouth and nose with a white handkerchief as he started down into the abandoned quarry.

“I will ask around up here where it doesn’t smell.” Mekele gestured toward the nearby street where a noisy stream of turquoise-and-white taxi-vans bounced over and winded through a series of cavernous potholes.

Worku raised his hand in dismissal. He picked his way carefully past chunks of limestone and scattered piles of refuse until he made it into the vast broken bowl of the quarry. The sounds of the road were muffled now. “Selam! Is anyone here? Hello?” Worku heard only the distant whine of overworked engines and ululating music.

He stepped gingerly between crude cloth-and-stick lean-tos, and was surprised to find some matching cups that must have been used for a coffee ceremony. “I am not here to harm you,” he called. “I only have some questions.”

When a pile of rags near Worku’s boots shook, he instinctively jumped backward. A wrinkled man with once-white, close-thatched hair unfolded himself from the ground and sat up. Worku tried not to cringe, but failed.

“What do you want?” mumbled the old man.

“Please, sir, I’m looking for a little girl. She was lost last month.”

“Lost?” the old man’s bloodshot eyes sparked derisively. “Lost from here?”

“Yes, she…stayed here with her mother and brother. She is 6 years old and her name is Ayala.”


“Yes, Ayala. Her mother was Addis. She died and we came for her body. But the girl, Ayala, was not here with her brother when we came, so we took only him to the agency.”

“Ayala, you say?”

“Yes, sir. Do you know where she is?”

The old man shook his head. “Ay. No…But…I remember that day. I was here though you didn’t see me. The runner took her somewhere. To get food I think.” He pointed up the quarry toward the busy street.

“The runner?” Worku frowned. “Who is the runner?”

“A boy.”

“Yes? A boy…”

“His name is Dahnay. He helped the families here sometimes. He ran to get food. And medicine when he could steal it.”

“How old is he?”

“Perhaps 10 or 12.”

“Is he here now? Where can I find him? Is his family here?”

“He had no family. I have not seen him…Not for many days.”

“Do you know where he went?” Worku knelt beside the man.

“I am the eldest here, but I am no elder,” said the old man, vacantly. “Dahnay did not share his plans with me.”

“Do you have any idea where this Dahnay went?”

“To get food.”

“Yes, yes, you said that. But do you know where he might have taken Ayala?”

“Perhaps,” the old man said, suggestively.

“Listen, old man, do not think of asking me for money. Just tell me what you know.”

The old held up his bony hands. “I know my hands used to be strong…I worked the land.”

“Please, is there anything else you can tell me? For the little girl’s sake if not for mine? So she can be reunited with her brother?”

“If I were you I would look in the Merkato.”

Officer Worku shook his head in frustration, “But the market district is a huge area. She could be anywhere!”

The old man nodded, shrugged. Worku started to stand, but a bony hand clamped on his arm in the very spot where bereft little Amare had bit him after they took away his mother’s body. Worku winced. “Can you take me to a clinic?” asked the old man.

“I’m sorry, sir…I can’t…” Worku shrugged free. He walked quickly to the edge of the quarry and climbed up, eager to leave before the old man started to beg or curse him or both.

Someone nudged Nathan Patrick awake. “Rico’s coming.”

Nate lifted his head, blinked. Miguel, the nearest of his four fellow hostages, nodded in the direction of the sound until Nate sat up on his bare mattress, causing the chain holding his leg iron in place to slither metallically. The approaching clomp-clomp of Rico’s cowboy boots left Nathan little time for goodbyes.

He reached out his hand to Miguel, a cousin of the new chief of police in Juarez. Miguel wrapped Nathan’s hand in both of his. “Don’t forget us,” Miguel urged. “Tell our families. Tell our story.”

“I will,” Nathan promised.

The door opened to the windowless cellar Nathan had called home for 21 days. The light of dawn flooded in. Rico clattered down the stairs with a ring of small silver keys in his hand. He had black slicked-back hair tied in a ponytail, wore a white tank top that showed off his sun tattoo, and carried a Beretta tucked into the back of his khaki pants. He clucked his tongue as he surveyed Nathan and his grimy roommates.

“Pierna.” Rico knelt down next to Nathan, pointed. “Leg.”

Nate lifted his ankle. While Rico busied himself with the lock, he asked Nathan, “Did I tell you these chains are from the set of The Fugitive with Harrison Ford? I like Harrison Ford, but he was too weak in that movie. I like him better as Indiana Jones.”

How do you make small talk with a mass murderer? Nathan wondered.

“De acuerdo,” Nathan said. “I agree.”

Rico stood up. “Vamonos,” he ordered. “Let’s go.”

Nate groped under his mattress for the medium-sized Moleskine he had filled with notes since he had become the special “guest” of Mexico’s newly notorious cartel. Although he’d been blindfolded outside his hotel in Juarez, and forced to endure a heart-pounding, three-hour drive in the back seat of a car, Nathan had never really feared for his life. But after his few interactions with El Jefe’s main lieutenant, who embodied every thuggish cliché in the book, Nate had no trouble believing Rico would order a “hit” on a nun. The man chilled him to the bone.

“Dónde vamos?” Nate asked in his best Spanish. “Where are we going?”

Suddenly, Rico’s face turned red. He lashed out with his booted foot, landing a solid blow just above Miguel’s knee. “Ahh!” Miguel crumpled in pain. Before Rico could wind up for another, Nathan raised his hands, “¡Tranquilo! ¡Tranquilo!”

“No questions!” Rico screamed into Nate’s face.

Nate shot to his feet, “Calm down, fine, let’s go.” Rico pointed toward the open cellar door. On his way up the stairs, Nate mouthed an apology to Miguel. Then Rico slammed the door behind him.

“Here it is,” said Tigist Abebe’s newest employee, handing over the registration paper. “Second test positive for Amare, four years old.”

When Tigist Abebe saw that two particular boxes were now marked with Xs, she dropped the paper onto her tiny desk in disgust. “Thank you, you may go.” Tigist rubbed her tired eyes. She chided herself for daring to hope Officer Worku would find Amare’s sister, or at least learn something useful about where she might be, but Tigist knew she couldn’t keep Amare at her facility any longer.

New arrivals swelled the number of children under her care every day. She and her small staff barely had enough time to feed and clothe them all, let alone provide the special care needed by kids whose registration papers had been marked with two Xs. Those who could be moved, must be moved.

Tigist found a pencil and pulled a well-worn sheet of paper from the top drawer of her desk. She knew the names, telephone numbers and current number of available beds at the orphanages on this special referral list by heart, but she slid her fingers lightly back and forth below the first name, anyway, mostly to keep her hand from shaking. Then she picked up the phone and dialed.

At the first peel of the chapel’s bell, Sister Rosa Avana Paredes crossed herself and rose from the worn wooden kneeling bench where she had silently spent her free recreation hour.

“I am sure he understands, mi hija,” said Mother Sofia from several rows her.

Rosa turned to acknowledge Mother Sofia, then glanced back at the sculpted image of the crucified Christ suspended above the chapel altar. “How long have you been here, Madre? I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Oh, I had my own praying to do.” Mother Sofia took and held one of Rosa’s smooth hands between her two gnarled ones. She looked up into Rosa’s eyes. “We must talk, child. Come outside and we will walk in the sun again.”

“But I am working in the garden this afternoon with Maria Carmen.”

“I already spoke with her, mi hija. She is happy to do the weeding alone today.”

Rosa bit her lip and nodded. The nuns of the Juarez convent considered it a privilege to be asked by Mother Sofia to walk in the cloisters. That is, it was considered a privilege as long as they only walked during the walk. If Mother Sofia suggested they sit and talk, it usually meant trouble. “¿Se camina o se sienta?” the nuns would inquire of their sister afterward. “Did you walk or did you sit?”

They walked toward the convent’s cloister, an open courtyard surrounded by covered walkways. The cloister was dotted with red dahlias, white orchids and orange and pink carnations. Once a week since Sister Abigail’s death, Mother Sofia had walked alone to their nearly deserted neighborhood market to pick out the flowers and have them delivered to the convent, where a pair of armed guards paid for by the diocese now guarded the gates.

As a gentle breeze filled the cloisters with the fragrance of the flowers, Mother Sofia began, “Ignacio has become quite a useful young man around here, hasn’t he?”

Rosa brightened, “Oh, yes, Madre, I don’t know what we would do without him. Ever since…” She faltered. “Nacho has been such a help in the kitchen at mealtimes, and he has started teaching, even, during school hours! That is good since we won’t be taking the children on excursions this summer—” She stopped herself mid-sentence. “I’m sorry, Madre, for talking so much.”

Mother Sofia smiled, “It is good to hear you animated by something again.”

Rosa’s head fell. “No, mi hija,” said Rosa’s superior, gently lifting her chin. “We must not allow the terrible evil that took Sister Abigail from us to poison our work with the children or soil our memory of her. Abigail’s gift for teaching can never be replaced. But it is good that Ignacio’s gifts for leadership have flowered.”

“Yes, Madre.”

Mother Sofia’s eyes glistened with tears. “Abigail was such a wonderful nun! So full of Christ.”

“Oh, yes, Madre. She was my favorite sister!…I mean—”

“Don’t take it back, Rosa,” Mother Sofia laughed. She took Rosa’s arm as if they were two schoolgirls on their way to class. “She was my favorite, too. I don’t mind saying she was my friend. Friendship wasn’t allowed when I joined the order, you know.”

Mother Sofia stopped. She thumbed the crucifix at her chest. “Mi hija, I have something to tell you. Perhaps we should sit down.”

Rosa’s heart fell. When she didn’t move, Mother Sofia gently propelled her to one of the stone benches lining the cloisters.

“Mother Superior and I have been talking with the leadership council of our order about a great many things since the tragedy in the market. The archbishop insisted on our new security arrangements. The order is sending us three new nuns who are beginning their juniorado, their trial sisterhood, so Ignacio will soon have help in the classroom and in the kitchen. Sister Lupe is coming here from Mexico City to manage our applications for adoption. Forty new couples want to adopt, can you believe it? That would provide homes for more than half our current niños, thanks be to God!”

“That’s wonderful news, Mother!” Rosa shook her head in disbelief.

“And the mother house hardly knows what to do with the new donations that have flooded in.”

“All because of…”

“Yes, mi hija. Sister Abigail’s death moved people all over the world, but especially here in Mexico. There have been demonstrations against the cartels in the streets of Mexico City.”

Rosa had trouble taking it all in. “I…I hadn’t heard.”

Mother Sofia patted Rosa’s hand. “You have been mourning. I have seen how difficult it has been for you.” She thumbed her crucifix again. “Rosa, we have decided to send you to another convent.”

“I don’t understand.”

“As you know, the Sisters of Charity and Mercy have several houses in Mexico and in different parts of the world.”

“Yes, but—”

“Since the shootings we have been very concerned for your safety, mi hija.”

“But…Rico…he didn’t know we would be there. Sister Abigail got caught in the crossfire, Mother.” Rosa started to cry.

“That appears to be so. But there could be many explanations for what he said to you and for what happened, Rosa, and the investigators who came here from Mexico City believe you could be at risk from the narcos if you stay here.”

“The narcos wouldn’t dare harm me on purpose!”

“That is what we all thought before, mi hija. But things have changed now. I for one cannot sit idly by any longer and let the narcos rule this neighborhood.”

“But…Mother…I want to stay and fight them with you! Tell me what to do and I will do it!”

“Thank you, mi hija,” nodded Mother Sofia with a thin smile. “Right now, I need you to go where you are sent.”

A part of Rosa’s mind knew she was straying beyond the bounds of proper humility, but words tumbled out, anyway. “But…my home is here at the convent with you and the sisters…and the children.” She thought of Ignacio. “What about Ignacio? You said yourself how well he is doing. Nacho needs me!”

The head of Juarez convent shook her head. “Please don’t misunderstand, mi hija. You will be greatly missed.” She cleared her throat. “I…Arrangements have been made for you. You will leave within the week.”

Mother Sofia’s elderly shoulders slumped. She looked away.

Rosa wiped away her tears. She felt like screaming in frustration, and even though she remembered her vow of humility in time to save her from having to make an embarrassing apology and penance, she still struggled to utter her next words. “Where am I going?”

“Somewhere even the cartel cannot reach you.”

Rosa bowed her head. “As you wish, Madre.”

Samuel Cronus, III, slid his meaty fingers back and forth along the polished edge of his red oak desk. He’d had it custom-made the year he had taken over Cronus Corp., not intending for it to become an icon of his leadership, but pleased nonetheless when it did. It was the perfect height for him to comfortably sign papers, and, later, type on his laptop, while standing. Thanks to a Time magazine article and an early TV feature by a CBS newsmagazine, Sam Cronus became known as a hard-charging man of action who never put his feet up, transforming his family’s respected regional technology enterprise into a global multi-national corporation at the forefront of the defense industry.

With a smile, he caressed the single piece of white paper on his desk in front of him. He was sure the latest quarterly profits for Cronus Corp. would pleasantly surprise Wall Street, and provide him with a perfect opportunity for a public relations coup. Ever since the recession hit the U.S. economy in 2008 good news had been hard to come by, but his 5,000 employees were about to change that. They had beaten even the most optimistic projections by almost a percentage point, and now he was going to reward them.

Sam turned from his desk and gazed out his 52nd floor window. He could nearly see the newest house he had bought for Virginia, his wife of 38 years, far to the north and west. “Ahhhh,” he breathed in satisfaction and thumped his desk with glee.

The news should hit any minute now, just in time to make it into the evening news cycle. Sam announced their headlines aloud: “Cronus Corp. gives 10% of quarterly profit to employees!” “$30m mid-year bonus for Cronus employees!” “Sam Cronus launches mid-year bonus!” Next he imagined the inevitable interviews he would give, “I’ve said over and over that I couldn’t, I wouldn’t let this company slip, even in the face of a global recession. We didn’t ask for or take a bailout. We just needed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, like every family does when times get hard. Because that’s what we are at Cronus Corp. All 5,000 of us are a family.”

He was having so much fun that he felt perturbed when his personal cellphone buzzed.

“Yes?” he answered gruffly.

“You wanted me to check in with you this afternoon,” said a familiar voice.

“And? Make it quick. I’m in the middle of something.”

“So we let Ms. Adams know that we’re onto her about three weeks ago now, and it’s definitely affected her. I have to say I’m impressed with her performance. She tries to act normally, but I can tell she’s becoming more erratic, nervous in lots of little ways. I’m reasonably sure she’s let Airdrie in on her little secret, but she still hasn’t figured out what to do. Ethically, she’s in a tight spot—”

“I know all that already, Booth. Tell me something I don’t know.”

“It was your idea for me to check in, not mine.”

“Do you have anything substantial to tell me?”

“I guess not. I know she hasn’t said anything to the partners. Otherwise…”

“Fine. Check in with me again next week.”

“Am I going to see a piece of this big bonus I’m hearing about?”

Sam flinched. How did he find out about that? Only the board and a few others knew about it. “Technically, you’re not an employee of Cronus Corp.”

“Right. Technically, I’m a ‘consultant.’ But we both know the truth, don’t we, Sam?”

“Just remember you do not, I repeat, do not have free reign with this girl or with Airdrie. And don’t you for one minute forget the hellhole I plucked you out of.”

Booth, for once, was silent. Sam terminated the call.

After an especially stimulating discussion in her development practice class, which just happened to be their last before final exams, Avery Cohen-Tate decided she needed to take a walk. Since the disappearance of their one-time guest speaker, her students had come alive. They had cared about development before, many of them fueled by a passion to make a positive difference in the world, but now that someone they knew personally had been caught up in a web of violence and corruption, the subject of development had for the first time become real to many of them.

Avery knew she should be glad. After all, making things personal was one of her primary teaching goals. It was why she found her students summer internships, encouraged them to volunteer with local non-profits and generally sent them out to experience the world. There was simply no substitute for experience when it came to development. Avery just wished her students’ awakening hadn’t come at the expense of her boyfriend.

It had been three weeks since Nathan Patrick disappeared in Ciudad Juarez. As if it weren’t bad enough to see his face on the news and hear his name spoken soberly on her favorite radio station, she had to talk about Nate every day in class, too. Thanks to the shameless but effective promotional efforts of his editor, the three brief dispatches Nate had somehow managed to post to his mobile blog had caused a sensation, not least in her classroom.

As for Avery, she had nearly forgotten how it felt to care about a particular person caught up in events outside his control. When she was honest with herself, she knew that was why she had accepted an academic post at Denver College. Things had gotten too personal the last time she was in the field.

Before Avery knew it she had walked five blocks from campus to within sight of Daily Grind, her favorite coffee shop, conveniently nestled into the northwest corner of a just-busy-enough four-way intersection. DG’s clientele was about half from the college and half from the surrounding neighborhood, which gave DG’s a homier feel than the chains located on the nearby main roads. Right now, Avery wanted nothing more than to retreat into one of DG’s secluded, book-lined cubbies with a cup of calming chamomile tea. But as she neared the steps to DG’s front entrance, Avery nearly tripped over a grizzled man wearing a tattered Denver Broncos hoodie.

‘“Sorry,” she said, taking in his cardboard sign, ‘Too ugly for prostitution.’ “Ha! That’s a good one. Why aren’t you back there where all the traffic is? Bet you’d get a lot of business.” She jerked her finger behind her.

“People are nicer over here,” said the man. “And it’s closer to the bridge where I stay these days.”

“Huh,” Avery climbed the first two steps. Then, on an impulse, she turned, “You want something?”

The man grinned. His straight teeth actually looked fairly clean. “They have green tea?”

Avery raised her eyebrows, “Yep.” She offered her hand. “I’m Avery.”

He shook her hand. “Coffee.”

“You want coffee instead?” He was barely taller than her, but she felt the strength in his grip.

“No, people call me ‘Coffee.’”

“Oh! I see,” said Avery, intrigued. “Well, come on in and I’ll buy you a green tea, Mr. Coffee.”

Coffee slung his green army surplus pack over his shoulder and followed her inside. “It’s just Coffee. No ‘mister.’” He eyed the inside of the shop warily.

Avery nodded, walked to the counter. “Hey, Jan,” she said to DG’s plump owner, who was running the register. “How are ya?”

“Hey, Avery. Not too bad. Any news?” asked Janice. She cast an annoyed glance at Coffee. Homeless people canvassing the corner were bad for business, but she hadn’t had the heart to ask him to leave.

“Nope,” answered Avery far more cheerily than she felt. “No news yet.”

“Sorry…So, what’ll it be today?”

Avery rummaged through her purse for a $5 bill. “One small chamomile and a small green tea.”

Jan took the money and punched some keys on her register. The drawer dinged open, Jan slid out some change and plopped it in Avery’s waiting hand. “Here you go.”

Avery and Coffee scooted to the far end of the counter to make room for two new customers who ordered with headphones still in their ears. Now that Avery had a closer look at him, she figured Coffee was in his mid-thirties. He obviously hadn’t shaved in a while, but his eyes were lucid. He seemed tense, poised for something to happen. He leaned with his back straight against the wall and placed his internal frame pack protectively between his knees.

“So, how did you end up in Denver, Coffee?” Avery asked.

“Long story.”

“I have time.”

He looked at her. “Listen, I know the drill. I appreciate the tea and I know you’re trying to be nice. But let’s not pretend you really care.”

“Excuse me? How would you know?”

His eyes flashed. “I know this is the ninth or tenth time you’ve passed me and the first you noticed me. You wouldn’t have talked to me this time if you hadn’t been thinking about something else and nearly stepped on me.”

Shocked, Avery stuttered, “Wha—, what do you mean, ten times? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“Exactly.” He caught Jan’s eye. “Could you make the green tea to go?

“Where? When?” asked Avery defensively.

“Let’s see. Five or six times at the main intersection near your campus. You were in your car. A black Saab, I believe. Then—”

“Have you been following me?”

Wordlessly, Jan pushed a full tea mug and a to-go cup across the counter. Avery flushed when she realized Jan had heard every word.

“Listen, lady…Avery…I’m not a stalker. I just notice things. I was trained to notice things.” He looked down at the mahogany floor. “I know I stink. I haven’t showered in a week. To most people, I’m less than a person. I’m just a statistic holding a sign…And really it’s better that way. Thanks for the tea.”

He held up his to-go cup as if he were making a toast. Then he picked up his pack and strode out of the shop. He did not stop at the corner to pick up his sign.

“I can’t believe it! I won! I finally beat you, Zeke!” LJ raised her fists over hear head in triumph.

Ezekiel Thomas stared wide-eyed at the checkerboard for a moment, then he leaned back in his chair. “Well, chil’. I gotta let you win now and then. So you keep playin’ with me.”

“Oh no you didn’t, Zeke! You did not let me win! You were trying to win, I know you were! But I beat you this time!”

“Shhhhhhhh!” hushed the two dozen, couch-bound residents glued to the final episode of Oprah. “Quiet ‘til the commercials!”

LJ hunched down in her chair and covered her mouth. Zeke whispered at her. “You hush, now. They gonna lynch you if you spoil their last episode, girl. Us old folks don’t like to change our routine.” He frowned at the checkerboard, which made LJ giggle, which made Zeke laugh, and soon they were both shaking, as silently as possible.

Mercifully, Oprah broke for commercial. LJ leaped out of her chair, “Hey, everybody,” she called. “I beat Zeke!”

She took a victory lap around the couches, accompanied by Zeke’s deep, full-throated laughter. Most of the white-haired residents smiled their acknowledgement.

“So what’s her record now, Zeke, 1 win, 100 losses?” grunted the cantankerous blue-haired Mrs. Andrews.

LJ bowed to her. “Mrs. Andrews, I will not let the truth of your statement affect the thrill of my victory.”

Mrs. Andrews huffed, “You’re blocking the TV.”

“Pay no attention to her, LJ!” said Kathleen Patrick, who was probably the most faithful of the Oprah devotees. “Let’s give LJ a hand, everybody.” LJ bowed to the smattering of applause, then she gave Kathleen a high five.

Zeke arrived next to them, smiling. He bent over to give Kathleen a hug. LJ heard him whisper, “I been prayin’ for your son, ever’ day, Kathleen.”

“Thank you, Ezekiel.” Kathleen returned his hug, then changed the subject. “This is her very last segment, can you believe it?”

Zeke shook his head and stood up. “Walk me back to my room, LJ, so these folks can finish their program in peace. Got somethin’ on my desk I want you to see.”

He pulled her away from the TV and behind the couches. “Sorry folks. Won’t let that happen again.” “Ha ha,” LJ said with narrowed eyes. “We’ll see about that.”

They walked arm-in-arm toward Zeke’s room. “So what do you want to show me, Zeke?”

He smiled, “Somethin’ I been thinkin’ on for a while.”

“What is it?” asked LJ eagerly, bouncing on her toes as she walked.

Zeke stumbled. “Wull, caslimba…” Before he took another step, Zeke’s arm went limp and he collapsed.

Nathan settled carefully into the cavernous leather sofa, his body grateful for a respite from the thin, lumpy mattress in the cellar, but his mind keenly aware that the comfortable furniture and everything else around him had been bought with drug money.

Across from him on a matching love seat sat a balding, middle-aged man in a well-cut, navy suit. Rico’s boss, El Jefe, looked harmless, like a business executive or perhaps a local politician. He pulled a Cuban cigar from his breast pocket, rolled it back and forth between his fingers, and inhaled deeply as he passed it beneath his nose. In perfect but heavily accented English, he said, “So, you were no doubt glad to hear that your sojourn at my estate is almost at an end.”

“After our final interview, right?” Nathan asked.

El Jefe dug in his pants pocket for a double-guillotine-style cigar cutter. He snipped the end of his cigar and patted the pockets of his suit coat until he produced a lighter.

“Of course,” El Jefe puffed as he lit his cigar. The heady smoke from the Cuban made Nate feel light-headed. Physically, he had been treated well during his “stay.” He’d eaten three decent meals a day in the cellar. Once, on the night he first arrived, he’d been allowed to eat dinner in the estate’s massive formal dining room with El Jefe and Rico, but since then he’d been forced to spend most of his time in the cellar.

Each of his first two interviews with El Jefe had lasted for an entire afternoon. However, Nate’s notebook was filled with far more than El Jefe’s pompous, self-serving monologues. Observations about every person he had met, every room he had entered and every sentence he could remember hearing since leaving his hotel room filled the margins of his notebook. In fact, Nate had written so intensively that he’d developed a painful cyst on the middle finger of his left hand. To his surprise, the drug lord had never demanded to read his notes. As El Jefe said, “I know how journalism works. Your story is yours alone. As long as it is also mine.”

El Jefe had smashed a few plates after learning about Nathan’s mobile blog entries, but when Nathan quickly explained they would increase the interest in his as-yet-unwritten article, El Jefe immediately calmed down and even smiled. “Why didn’t I think of that?” he asked. “You had permission only to text your editor once a week, but you weren’t texting your editor, were you? I am glad Rico made you leave your iPhone behind. No doubt you would have led the army straight to us.”

Now, on the cusp of their final interview, El Jefe puffed contentedly on his cigar. “So, where should we start today? There can hardly be anything left to talk about.”

“I have some ideas. Although I have to say, this would have been far easier if I’d been able to stay in my hotel. I could have been in and out of here in two or three days, tops.”

“And miss this experience?” El Jefe chuckled loudly.

Nathan smiled in deference. El Jefe blew a line of smoke into the air. “Are you always in such a hurry to fly off to the next hot spot? Ah, but you are a junky for the adrenaline, no? Like some of my men?”

“Do you have a pen and a new notebook for me? I filled the first one.”

El Jefe pointed to the lamp stand next to Nathan’s couch. “Look in the drawer.” Inside Nathan found a new, lined Moleskine and a fountain pen. He opened the notebook, unscrewed the lid on the pen and asked his first question.

An hour later, Nathan ran out of questions to ask. He was tired of appeasing the man across from him, tired of the whole charade. As hard as it was for him to admit it, he wanted to go home. He wanted to see Avery again, and even found himself wishing he could visit his mom at her retirement home. I’m finally losing it, he thought.

“What will happen to the men in the cellar?”

El Jefe waved his hand. “That cannot be important to your story.”

“It’s important to them. And to me. Please let them go.”

“I cannot do that.”

“Because you’re blackmailing their loved ones?”

El Jefe’s eyes darkened. “As I have told you many times, I am a businessman. A capitalist who lives by the golden rule of supply and demand. These men are simply collateral to ensure I am able to complete an important business deal without opposition from the local government.”

“Do you know what people in Juarez and the surrounding area think of you?”

“If they knew me, they would know I am a family man. You yourself have seen my children and grandchildren playing here at my estate. I know what you and your self-righteous American media think of me and others like me. But how far has your ideal of democracy gotten the Mexican people? Government officials had been lining their pockets here for decades before my cartel gained power.”

“And how are the people better off now that your cartel exercises quasi-control over this area? Isn’t it true that Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in the world?”

El Jefe sat up in agitation. “You know that is because the other cartels are trying to infiltrate my territory!”

“And the death of the nun? That’s what brought me here, yet you have never spoken of it. Do you approve of her death?”

“It was an unfortunate accident, but again, I ask you, what has the church done for the people of Mexico except taken their money to support their priests and nuns and build cathedrals?”

“Are you saying you are glad the nun died?”

El Jefe stood. He pointed his finger at Nate and spat, “I am saying I am the one who holds the power here, and you would do well to remember that! This interview is over. Rico!” he thundered. His lieutenant stepped into the room with his arms folded. “Get this gringo out of my sight before I send him back to the cellar to rot with the other fools.”

“What do you want me to do with him?” Rico asked.

“Take him back to Juarez. We will see if our time together has been worth it.” To Nate he said icily, “Do not forget that I have a long reach, gringo. A very long reach.”

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