Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 11

Taylor paced back and forth in the Ruiz’s cramped office, his agitation growing with each pass around the small room. His fingers twitched and flexed as he expelled the restless energy that coursed through him. Watching him, Whitaker sat patiently in one of the chairs facing Ruiz’s desk as Taylor lapped around her again and again.

“You need to settle down,” she finally said. “Wearing a hole in the floor won’t make Ruiz get here any faster.”

Taylor paused, rolling his shoulders in an effort to release the tension that had his muscles tightly coiled.

“I know,” he said, biting back the harsh tone he didn’t want to direct at her. “We were so damn close and he got away again. I can’t f•©king believe it.”

The echo of boots on concrete had Taylor spinning toward the door, but it was just a couple of uniformed officers passing by. He barely suppressed a snarl of frustration.

“For God’s sake, John! Sit down before you stroke out,” Whitaker said wryly.

Taylor dragged out the chair opposite her and dropped into it as he forced himself to take deep, measured breaths, willing his pounding heart to slow.

“They’re on the run,” Whitaker said. “They’re not going to be careful and Ruiz seems to know what he’s doing. We’re going to find him.”

“That’s just the first step, you know,” Taylor said. “He’s getting a lot of stuff out of defense contractors he shouldn’t be able to get, which means we’ve got bigger problems. And Matthews is our only lead. If he gets away, or if the cartel decides he’s more of a liability alive than he is a help, we’re going to have a hell of a time finding out who his contact is.”

“If that happens, we’ll deal with it like we always do.”

Before Taylor could reply, the door swung open and Ruiz strode in.

“Tell me you got something,” Taylor said, jumping out of his seat.

“A possible lead. A man named Diego. He’s not officially part of the cartel but he moves in their circles. What I think you Americans would call a money guy. There’s no guarantee he knows what we need, but he’s probably our best shot.”

“Where is he?”

“Interrogation room. I’ll take you there now.”

They followed Ruiz through a warren of halls and rooms, passing uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives going about their business. Taylor ignored all of that, focused on Ruiz and getting the information he needed. Ruiz led them into a small, windowless room, lit by a single buzzing fluorescent bulb. A metal table and three chairs were the only furnishings. A thin man with sallow skin and darting eyes sat in one of the chairs. His knee jiggled with nervous energy as he twisted his hands together on the table.

The man looked up at Ruiz and the two Americans. Taylor returned the favor, looking the man over. Diego was in his mid-thirties and had no obvious gang ink. Everything about him said accountant, not muscle. Good. Diego was sweating and nervous.

Ruiz remained standing, looming over the seated man. Taylor pulled out the chair opposite Diego and sat, leaning forward with his forearms on the table, while Whitaker sat more calmly next to him.

“I’m looking for an American named Ryan Matthews. Word is he’s fallen in with your people,” Taylor said.

Diego’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “I don’t know anyone named that.”

“But you might know where they’d take someone like him? Someone bringing supplies in from across the border, who was helping them with their tunnel.”

“I cannot help you,” he said.

Ruiz stepped forward and leaned over, his mouth close to Diego’s ear, whispering in rapid-fire Spanish. Taylor didn’t speak the language, having focused on Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages, but he could make out the clear threat in the words. Diego got the message, his nervous energy doubling.

Diego grimaced, biting his lip before finally speaking.

“I don’t know anything about this Matthews guy specifically. But I’ve heard that the Vargas Cartel has some private properties just outside of town, up in the hills. Places where the big wigs go when they’re in town.”

“And you think maybe they would have taken someone like Matthews there?” Whitaker asked.

“I don’t know, but there aren’t many other places they could go. I heard about their big operation near the border shutting down, and their people have been talking about the warehouse shootout all morning. You have to understand how fragile they are here. They only took Juarez from the Cárdenas Brothers a year ago, and they’re still trying to get a foothold, so losing their big project and then their main warehouse has them panicking. I heard they’re shutting down everything here in Juarez and trying to lay low, at least for a little while.”

“If you don’t know where the properties are, and they’re shutting everything down, who would know where they might take the American? Surely they haven’t had time to get everyone out of town yet?” Whitaker asked.

“I don’t know. I just handle money,” Diego said.

“Then you do know, or you know who would know,” Taylor said. “The money guys know everyone involved.”

Diego hesitated. Taylor could practically see the calculations running in his head, weighing his options.

“There ... there might be a place. There’s an auto mechanic shop on the east side. But it’s not really a shop, more of a chop shop.”

“A chop shop working for the cartel?” Taylor asked.

“No, well, kind of. They’re in the cartel’s pocket, although they were around before the Vargas people showed up. They take cars stolen and brought across the border; strip them down for parts. It’s small time compared to the drugs, more of a side business for the cartel, but definitely connected to Vargas.”

“And it’s still operating, even with everything else shutting down?” Whitaker asked.

Diego shrugged. “I think so. Like I said, the cartel doesn’t run it directly, they just work with the guy who does. And there are still plenty of cars being taken from over the border.”

“What’s the name of this place?” Taylor asked.

“It doesn’t really have a name. Officially, it’s Auto Repair Solutions, I think, but no one calls it that.”

“Where is it located?” Whitaker asked.

Diego recited an address on the east side of the city, which Whitaker dutifully scribbled down.

Taylor rose from the table, leaving Diego behind. Whitaker followed him out of the room, while Ruiz leaned down to whisper something to Diego before joining them in the hallway.

“So we’re heading there now, right?” Taylor said. “Wherever they’ve taken him, they’ve got a hell of a head start. We need to hurry.”

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