“Are you going to take his call?”
Daria Carver swirled her whiskey glass. Slim and strong, with an aquiline nose and chin, she projected strength, control. Her sky-blue eyes scanned the horizon for barbarians that were already at the gate.
“Fuck off, Charlie,” she snapped, flicking her short-cropped blonde hair. “I’m not taking his goddamn call. You can keep on standing there with that phone in your hand or you can stick it up your ass.”
She took another swig of alcohol, savoring the burn. At 33, Daria could drink a man twice her age under a table, though she maintained the svelte figure of a 20-year-old.
“Daria,” sighed Charlie, his voice tinged with anxiety, worry, weariness, “you gotta take it. This is beyond old. You’re edging toward self-destruction.”
She smirked, her crimson lips spreading like a stain across bleached-white teeth. “Edging? When did you get so optimistic?”
Charlie folded his arms across his chest. He wore a blue Armani suit, hand-tailored Italian leather shoes, and a yellow silk tie. Though he’d been Daria’s attorney for years and was considered part of the family, he knew better than to approach her. That red-and-white pantsuit of hers wasn’t just a fashion statement. It was a warning.
“You’re not about to destroy yourself,” he said. “You’ve got something else in mind.”
Daria stared across the ranch with its white stucco buildings, Spanish tile and gurgling marble fountains. The place was worth $50 million and now they stood to lose it all. She splayed her fingers to remind herself of her diamonds, anxiously shoved her gold bracelets higher up on her arms. “If you’re wearing it, they can’t take it,” Ignacio once told her. She downed the rest of her whiskey in a gulp. As soon as it hit her system, it evaporated like water on a hot stone.
“I won’t tuck tail and run,” she replied. “I can’t.”
Charlie squirmed. He’d built his career representing drug dealers and/or their spouses; he was used to strong personalities and bad decisions. But Daria was something else.
“I never suggested you do that,” he protested. “Calm down and use your head.”
She snorted, one hand clutching her empty glass, the other poised with a cigarette.
“Daria, speak to Ignacio. He’s holding for you.”
Blue smoke roiled from her lips. “Where are my cats? Where are Roberto and Sydney?”
“Downstairs.” Charlie proffered the phone, one arm extending into the sunlight. “Speak to your husband.”
She pitched her cigarette over the side and snatched the phone from his hand. “Can I have some privacy? Can you do that for me, Charles?”
He felt his balls shrivel as she raked him with her eyes. “Check on my cats,” she instructed. “Make sure they’ve been fed. I’m sure they’d appreciate a scratch on the head.”
He receded, not daring to turn his back on her. Daria turned back to her view.
“Hola, mi amor. You wanted to talk?”
Without preamble, Ignacio rumbled, “Charlie says you’re being difficult.”
Daria pictured her husband, pacing restlessly in some undisclosed location. She knew he was waiting for one of two opposing forces to batter down the door and drag him into the sun, if they gave him that much of a chance.
“Charlie wants me to kiss ass,” she replied, propping one hip against the rail. “You know I don’t do that.”
Ignacio sighed heavily. The sound made Daria sick. “I’m not talking about kissing ass,” he replied, his voice brittle. “I’m talking about staying alive, baby.”
“You used to be a man,” she snarled, chopping her words short. “That’s how you got to the top of this business. Remember? You’d get up in the morning thinking about whose balls you were gonna cut off. You seem to have forgotten that.”
“You want me to roll over.”
“Listen to me,” he snapped, “they are coming for you. They. Are. Coming.”
She said nothing, listening instead to her sons splashing in the pool directly below.
“Where are my children?” he demanded.
“They’re here, where else?”
He paused. “Daria, get them out of there. I beg you. Have Charlie get them out through the south tunnel.”
“And send them where?”
“To my father.”
“To fucking Mexico?”
“He will take them in,” said Ignacio, “it’s our only option.”
She wiped grit from her eye. “Why? Why is your fucking daddy now our only option?”
“Daria, they’ve taken everything.”
“I’ve spent the past two hours watching them freeze all our accounts. The only thing left is the ranch.”
Daria lit another cigarette. Her nerves cried out for alcohol.
“How could you let them do it?” she whispered, resenting her own weakness. “How could you let this happen?”
“Baby, I explained all that. I was betrayed. I was sold out!”
She made for the wet bar, her eyes on the Johnny Walker Black. “So now I have to suffer? You know your father won’t take me in.”
“We have no choice. You must accept the situation!”
Daria splashed whiskey in her glass. “Let me explain something to you,” she hissed. “I’ve done nothing but support you. I’ve been a good wife. I stood by you while the other cartels came gunning for you. Shall I remind you of the car bombing? I goddamn near lost an eye.”
“Daria, the fucking feds are on their way,” Ignacio replied. “They have search warrants. I’ve instructed the guards to let them in, otherwise, there will be bloodshed.”
“You fucking coward.”
“I am protecting you and our children.”
“By sending them to Sinaloa country?”
“There’s a way out for you, as well.”
Daria paused, her eyes flashing. “There is?”
“Yes, but you must listen carefully.”
She flicked her tongue, sensing a caveat. “Let’s hear it.”
He drew a deep, shuddery breath. “You must give up Roberto and Sydney.”
She gripped the phone tightly. “I will never—”
“Now you are being obstinate,” he interrupted. “This is not the Daria I know. My wife uses her head. I think your big allowance has softened your brain.”
She scoffed, watching the guard shack on the main road, some 200 yards distant.
“You don’t know me at all,” she told him.
“Yet I’m saving your life. First, tell Charlie to put the children in the van and drive them straight to the border. My father’s people will meet them. Now, listen to me, this concerns you.”
Daria was no stranger to pressure, or to horror. She’d grown up in a cartel family and married a cartel man. At 12, she’d participated in the torture and murder of a rival gang member; by 17, she’d purchased her first Bugatti sports car. Her father, Alejandro, was a powerful man, but the Carvajals were more so. They had the federales in their pocket. On her 19th birthday, Alejandro, in capitulation to Ramon Carvajal, married his daughter off to Ignacio to keep the peace. He then vanished, never to be seen again. Daria always suspected what happened, but neither Ramon nor Ignacio ever spoke of it. Her father’s fate was inmencionable.
She had nonetheless thrived as a Carvajal, even adopting an alias, Carver, on the north side of the river. Ignacio secured her loyalty with precious gems and millions in cash, purchasing an estate for her in the West Texas scrub. In return, she produced three male heirs. Though more than capable of defending herself, Daria had twice been targeted for assassination by the Sinaloa Cartel, a fact she never let her husband forget. He repaid her with drugs, cars, and clothes.
Daria felt a certain motherly “love” for her boys, but her affections were reserved for Roberto and Sydney. She’d plucked the cats from starvation after their original owners were decimated by Ignacio. Now they were predators again, able to hunt jackrabbits and game birds on private grounds. They wore diamond chokers and were ferried about in Range Rovers. Daria often ignored her sons but spent as much time as possible with her jags. They were her soulmates.
“My father never forgave you for taking Roberto and Sydney,” Ignacio told her.
“No shit,” she scoffed. “He’s made that very clear, Ignacio, and so have you.”
“I’ve always disapproved.”
“You would have let them starve!”
“No, I would have shot them on sight. But when it comes to you, I have no common sense. I am what the gringos call a pushover. But now I am telling you: my father will allow you into his house, give you protection, if you surrender the animals.”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
“Baby, be reasonable!”
She disconnected and put the phone down. Then she picked it back up and dialed Charlie. The lawyer answered immediately.
“Charlie, load the boys in the van,” she said, watching the guard post. “Take them out the south tunnel.”
“I knew you’d make the right decision,” he replied, relief in his voice. “And you?”
“Where are my cats?”
“Here in the piano bar. Roberto is eating something small and furry ... I think a poodle.”
Daria smiled, picturing her beasts in all their glory. Something in that image stirred her like nothing else.
“Leave them be, Charlie. You better go.”
“What? I’m coming up. We need to talk.”
“No. I don’t want this shitstorm sticking to you. Go with the boys, make sure they reach their destination.”
“Daria, you need a way out!”
She strode purposefully into the bedroom and opened a drawer. Her fingers closed around the grip of the gold-plated .45 automatic. She grinned into the phone.
“What makes you think I don’t have one?” In the distance, voices rose at the guard shack.