Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 8

The apartment complex was asleep when Taylor and Whitaker pulled into the lot. They made their way to Salamanca’s darkened apartment, which was just as quiet as everything else.

“Let me take the lead,” Whitaker said.

Like the motel, this was more of the traditional law enforcement job than what Taylor was good at, and it didn’t seem likely they’d need to beat answers out of the newly widowed Mrs. Salamanca.

“Assuming there’s anyone here,” Taylor said, waving an arm toward the door as if to say, after you.

“They have a kid, and it’s almost one. She’ll be home,” Whitaker said, rapping her knuckles against the door frame.

Whitaker was forced to knock several more times before a light came on in the apartment, followed a minute later by the door opening a crack, a disheveled woman in a bathrobe peering out.

“What do you want?” she asked, her voice openly hostile in spite of it being rough with sleep.

“Mrs. Salamanca? I’m Agent Whitaker, with the FBI,” she said, holding up her badge. “I’m very sorry, but your husband was killed tonight.”

Whitaker had once explained to Taylor the best way to deliver bad news was fast and to the point. Hedging and trying to break the news slowly didn’t decrease the pain from the news, and only gave the person anxiety before they heard the news, or even made it harder to understand what they were being told. Taylor wasn’t sure he agreed that just saying ‘your husband was killed tonight’ was the kinder option, but this was her area of expertise.

As expected, the news hit the woman like a ton of bricks. She staggered back slightly, grabbing the door frame for support. When she recovered, her eyes were wet with tears.

“F•©king cops,” she said. “You people won’t be happy until you kill everyone who stands up to you.”

She tried to slam the door closed, but Whitaker had stuck her foot in the doorway as soon as it had opened, making it impossible to shut the door.

“Mrs. Salamanca,” Whitaker asked, ignoring the comment. “Do you know where your husband was headed tonight?”

“Go to hell,” the woman said through clenched teeth.

Whitaker gave a tired sigh and said, “Look, I can see narcotics in plain view behind you. Now, I honestly could give a shit about simple possession. I’m here because your husband tried to kill cops tonight, and I need to find out why. If you want to make this difficult, I can do that, too. You have two choices: you can either answer my questions, after which I’ll go away and leave you alone, or you can continue being a problem and I’ll arrest you and call CPS to come and pick up your kids. I know you’ve had your run-ins with the law before, but it also looks like you’ve been clean since they were born. I know you want to be a good mother, so don’t go screwing it up now.”

“Fuc ... urrrk,” Salamanca started to say, the word being interrupted when Whitaker’s arm shot out, grabbing the woman’s wrist and pulling her outside her apartment.

Her shoulder slammed into the door, knocking it open and forcing Taylor to take a step back. Whitaker stepped to the side, pulling Mrs. Salamanca with her, spinning the woman around and twisting her arm up behind her back, slamming her into the wall hard.

“You’re under arrest for possession of a controlled substance,” Whitaker said in a hard voice, all traces of compassion gone. “You have the right to remain...”

“All right, all right!” Mrs. Salamanca said in a pained voice. “Just ... leave my kids alone.”

Whitaker didn’t let go right away. Instead, she leaned in close, pushing her body weight against Mrs. Salamanca’s, pressing her harder into the wall, putting her mouth close to the woman’s ear.

“I don’t want to cause your family any more pain than you’ve had already tonight,” Whitaker said in an almost whisper. “But I need answers, and I need you to give them to me. I’m going to let you go, and you’re going to answer my questions. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” the woman said.

Whitaker stepped back, releasing the woman, who turned around slowly, cradling the arm that Whitaker had been twisting.

“I’ll ask again; where did your husband go tonight?”

Mrs. Salamanca’s face was still hard, giving Whitaker a death stare, but she said, “I don’t know where he went. Some old friend of his came by earlier and they talked for a bit. I didn’t hear what about. After maybe fifteen minutes, Tuco came and told me he had to step out for a couple of hours. Said he’d be back late.”

“What did this friend want Tuco to do?” Whitaker asked.

“I don’t know!” Mrs. Salamanca said, throwing up her hands. “I think his friend had some kind of work for him, but I don’t know the details.”

“Not good enough,” Whitaker said sharply. “We need more to go on than that. A name, a description, anything.”

Mrs. Salamanca shook her head. “I don’t know his name. Just someone Tuco knew from his time inside.”

“I want to be clear; if you can’t give me something I can work with, I’ll have to assume all this lands on your husband, and I’ll have to assume you were in on it too,” Whitaker said. “You’re doing good, don’t screw up now.”

“But I don’t know who he is,” the woman said, slightly panicked. “He didn’t tell me anything, not even his name. I don’t know how to find this guy.”

“It doesn’t have to be about him specifically,” Taylor said. “Anything that can lead to him will work. A license plate. A phone number. Anything.”

“Umm, I ... he called Tuco,” she said, starting to wring her hands. “Maybe around eight-thirty, just before he came over. I guess to see if Tuco was home. Can’t you look up his phone record or something?”

“Maybe,” Whitaker said, looking back at Taylor. “We’ll look into it, but if we can’t find a record of this call, we’ll be back.”

Whitaker and Taylor turned and walked away, leaving a silently fuming Mrs. Salamanca in their wake.

Hearing the door slam behind them, Taylor asked, “Get a subpoena for the cell company?”

“Easier than that,” Whitaker said, pulling out her phone and dialing a number.

Holding her phone up to her ear, after several beats, she said, “Detective Morris? It’s Agent Whitaker. Do you still have Tuco Salamanca’s cell phone from the effects you pulled off his body? Yeah. Yeah. Good, I need you to pull call records off it.”

She fell silent for several minutes, with the occasional muted voice being audible through the phone.

Finally, she said, “Just the incoming calls around eight PM, yeah. Specifically any at eight-thirty or so ... uh-huh ... uh-huh ... yeah ... okay ... Could you trace ... nice.”

“He’s calling to get a trace on the phone,” Whitaker said, cupping her hand over the cell phone.

“That’s going to take a while,” Taylor, who’d started to get used to how slow law enforcement actually was, said.

“They were already in the process of doing it for all of the phones they collected. A judge signed the warrant thirty minutes ago, and they already faxed it to the company. He’s checking to see if they got anything.”

“That’s convenient,” Taylor said.

“Sullivan got involved after I called him, before we left. They’ve already got some blanket approvals in place for the task force and had a judge available for warrants and subpoenas.”

That made more sense to Taylor. Local agencies tended to be more reactive than proactive, which usually made them slower getting through any bureaucracies. One of the benefits of task forces, that Taylor had seen, was pre-staged assets to get around some of that bureaucracy, or at least speed it up. It was nice to have the system work for them for once.

“Yeah, I’m still here,” Whitaker said after several minutes. “Really? Wow. Okay, we’ll check it out.”

Hanging up, she turned to Taylor and said, “The call was from a Dallas number, but the phone is still on and pinging here in El Paso at a warehouse on the east side of the city.”

“All right! Let’s go check it out,” Taylor said.

Taylor pulled the SUV to a stop across the street from a clearly abandoned and deteriorating warehouse, which looked like it had been neglected for years. It was early in the morning and a commercial area, so it wasn’t a big surprise that it was quiet.

The surrounding area wasn’t much better, with vacant lots strewn with garbage and sagging chain-link fences crowned with spirals of razor wire. Just the kind of place where people who didn’t want to be seen or overheard would meet.

Taylor looked over at Whitaker’s phone one more time to confirm the cell phone was still pinging from this address.

“Doesn’t seem like anyone’s home,” Whitaker said drily, opening her door.

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