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The Secret Link: Chapters 1-5

Chapter 1: The Drug Lord January 11th, 2016 Eduardo read the newspaper while sipping his coffee. It was his morning routine, along with a plentiful breakfast, which his servants prepared for him. Eduardo was a large man, standing at six feet tall. He sported curly, black hair that tailed off the edge. His beard cleanly fit his face. He smirked as he read the newspapers. The United States election was getting interesting. There was an entertainer and a former first lady fighting for the coveted spot as President of the United States. There also was a former protester who attempted to make a run at it. The more the U.S. Government fought over their petty politics, the less they paid attention to him. Not that it mattered. Eduardo regularly dealt with the Mexican government, his home. He successfully brought back the most powerful cartel in Mexico after the federal government destroyed it in the 80s. Eduardo sipped more coffee and continued to read his newspaper, turning page after page. He had a tablet and all that electronic stuff. But he preferred the old style, as well as the old ways. There was a rumbling sound outside his home. Eduardo turned his head to look at the commotion. His men shouted in Spanish. The sound of machine gunfire reverberated outside his doors. He placed the newspaper down and stood up to inspect the action. There was more gunfire and men shouting. Another explosion rocked the area. Eduardo put his hand in front of his face to improve his visuals. It was not the cops. They would not dare intrude on his turf. The police knew if they did that, then death would follow. No, this was a rival competitor. Someone outside struggled and then his doors opened. Two men barged in, carrying another man. The two men were his kin. The one leading the way was Miguel, his nephew. Miguel was a large man, like him. His muscles seemed to be exposed as he walked. He sported a buzz cut, with the traces of his black hair implanted on top of his head. His clean-shaven face gave the appearance that he could put himself together if he wanted to. His son, Francisco, was smaller than Miguel. He was the shortest member of the family, standing at five feet five inches. That did not prevent him from being incredibly loyal and effective, however. He had curly gelled hair on top of his head, similar to his father. His goatee was slightly trimmer than Eduardo’s. Francisco also had a distinctive mark on the back of his neck, one that had been there since birth. They held the captured man in their clutches. Eduardo recognized Salvador Santos, a rival from another cartel. He approached the man, looking at him. The man had bushy hair and a deep mustache. His eyebrows looked like someone had painted them on. He was a younger man, but his wrinkles made him appear old. Eduardo stood before him, reared his hand back, and slapped Santos across the face. His hand caused his captive’s face to fling back from the impact. He grabbed Santo’s neck and held him, and leaned in. “Quién te mandó?” Eduardo asked. Who sent you? Santos said nothing. He stared Eduardo down to look intimidating. It did not take. Eduardo looked at Miguel and nodded. His nephew grabbed a knife from his pocket and stabbed Santos in the leg, causing him to yelp in pain. The man’s scream was chilling as it resonated throughout the room. It did not matter. There was no one else around. Miguel stepped back and motioned for Eduardo to take charge, which he did. He grabbed Santos by the neck again and squeezed. “Quién te mandó?” Eduardo asked the same question, hoping to get an answer this time. Blood flowed down the man’s pants, and it was not stopping. The man attempted to say something. El me Matará,” the man spewed out. He will kill me. “La Muerte está muerta. De una manera o otra pasará, Dime quién te mandó” Eduardo replied. Death is dead. One way or another, it will happen. Tell me who sent you. Santos hesitated. Finally, he relented. “Morales,” was all the man said. Eduardo nodded. He then looked back at Miguel and Francisco and laughed. His nephew and son laughed in kind. Gracias,” Eduardo told the man. Then, he pulled out a 38 caliber handgun and fired several shots into Santo’s head, killing the man. It happened so fast that even Miguel flinched. The man collapsed to the floor. Eduardo held his smoking gun, then put it back in his holster. He turned to Francisco, who stood there, shocked at what he just witnessed. Eduardo placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “That man was trash.” Eduardo spoke eloquently in clear English. “Utter garbage,” Miguel added. “The worst,” Francisco chimed in. Eduardo smirked at both of them and Miguel and Francisco stood their ground. They knew their place. He motioned with his hand, dismissing them, and so they left, off to different pastures. As they exited the door, another man entered. A tall, white man with balding, gray hair approached. This was his most trusted lieutenant, William Wolf. Eduardo looked up and beamed at the sight of his old friend. “Eduardo,” Wolf stood before him. “We have set our preparations. We are ready to execute Operation Young.” Wolf was unique in that he was the only white man in history to ever be in a Mexican cartel. If Eduardo was specific, Wolf was German-born. Despite the disapproval of other cartels and others within the ranks, Eduardo brought Wolf along. “Excellent,” Eduardo lamented. “I will make the command at your request, sir,” Wolf informed him. Then, as quickly as he arrived, Wolf departed. Eduardo enjoyed Wolf’s straightforwardness. The man knew what he was doing, and Eduardo did not have to explain much to him. It was another reason he allowed Wolf to do what he felt like, even if it did not always benefit the business. Eduardo walked back to the table and sat back down, sipping his coffee once more and reading his newspaper. Antonio Benitez, Eduardo’s eldest son, was larger than his brother, Francisco. He had thick, wavy, black hair that extended just above his shoulders. Antonio sported, with a slight curl, in front of his forehead. He had a polished beard, with a long stubble style. “Tony.” Eduardo did not look up from his newspaper yet, taking in another line as his son stood before him. “Hello, father.” Antonio was always formal with him, even when he did not need to be. “You wanted to see me?” “I have your mission for you.” Eduardo turned the page, still not making eye contact. “What do you need me to do?” Antonio asked, his voice almost shivering as if he were nervous. This time, he took a sip of his coffee and stood up, and approached his oldest son. He reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a photograph. The photograph contained an image of four people. Eduardo pointed to it. “Do you know who this family is?” he asked his son. Antonio inspected the picture. He shook his head. Eduardo continued. “That is the Manning family. Many years ago, when I lived in California, this man wronged me.” Eduardo pointed to the older man in the picture, and Antonio observed. He looked up at his father. “What did he do?” “He broke a trust and harmed our family in grave ways.” He then pointed at the picture to a specific part. “You need to get close to this girl.” Antonio glanced back at the photograph again. This time, his attention lingered as he stared intensely at where Eduardo’s finger was. “Who’s that? She is beautiful.” Eduardo took the picture away and gave his son a look. “Her name is Kaitlin Manning. She is the daughter of Jason Manning, the older man in the photo. I need you to get close to her. Get to know her, enjoy her company, and maybe form a bond with her.” “You need to find out what she likes, what makes her tick, and then you need to become one with her. Once you do this, you will be able to use it to your advantage and we can use it to our advantage.” Antonio seemed intimidated. Eduardo did not care. His son had a job to do and Eduardo would see that he did it. Finally, Antonio broke the silence. “Do I have to harm anyone?” Eduardo smiled. It was adorable. “No, my son,” Eduardo reassured Antonio, putting his hand on his son’s left shoulder. “All you have to do is be charming.” “Okay.” Antonio nodded. “I will do it, father.” “Excellent. It is time for us to make our move. You will do the family proud.”

Chapter 2: The Attack January 12th, 2016 Taylor did a handstand on the floor in the lobby. No one looked. He had graduated from the DEA Academy a week ago in Virginia, but now was doing an extra training session to give himself some extra practice. They were about to finish a grueling training session at the Los Angeles location of the DEA. It felt like yesterday that he just ventured into becoming an agent, and he was glad it was about to strengthen into the next step. As he finished his stung, he noticed his supervisor looking at him. Taylor smiled, cutting out the smart-ass act. The TRC (or Criminal Training Section) featured several courses. First, there was a twelve-week course where they learned how the pharmaceutical and chemistry industry worked, and how to investigate. Then, they partook in a ten-week program that helped their analytical skills that were needed to help the DEA conduct proper drug investigations. This also included basic combat training. His commander approached, and they all lined up. This course of students was not large, about twelve people, but Taylor knew two of them, his friends Ben and Alicia. Taylor did not stand out compared to the rest of the crew. He was shorter than most of them, standing at five feet, nine inches. It made him work even harder for everything, but it did not bother him. Taylor had curly brown hair, the type that got bushy if it grew longer than four weeks. It was no joke. He had brown eyes and facial hair that did not let up unless he shaved it every other day. He had sturdy legs, enough to run the fastest time in the course. Jason, or DEA Agent Manning, looked them all up and down, studying every one of them. He was older, the gray in his hair showing. He looked only mildly thicker than he must have looked in his youth. A few wrinkles were peeking in his face, but none too visible. “Last week,” he belted out. “You all graduated from our academy. Today, your training is complete and you get to go out into the world. Into our world.” Taylor listened patiently. His eyes turned toward every center of the room, observing everyone around him. “Agent Conrad, please step forward.” Alicia stood up. Taylor knew Alicia for a short while. He always found her to be an attractive woman, but an even smarter person, too. She had long brown hair that looked slightly black and light brown skin. Taylor remembered she told him that her mother was an Indian woman, and her father was a white English businessman. She was one of the best students in the class, having gone toe to toe with Taylor frequently. “Great work, Agent Conrad. Looking forward to seeing your career grow.” “Thank you, commander,” she said to Jason, who nodded in acknowledgment. “Agent Conrad,” Jason called out, attempting to sound unbiased. Ben stood up now. He was a lanky guy with brown hair and pale, white skin. He had no facial hair, and it appeared all his muscles were on his lower body. Taylor remembered Ben telling him he was a long-distance runner. It also helped them establish a bond sooner than later because Taylor liked to run, too. Some people in the class attempted to speculate, but Taylor and Alicia knew Ben received no special treatment simply because he was the commander’s son. “You will be part of Agent Conrad’s team.” “Thank you, da—uh, commander,” Ben stuttered as he looked at both Taylor and Alicia. “Now it begins Agent Manning. Don’t screw it up.” Jason pressed Ben, who meekly nodded and headed back to his seat. Taylor waited for his turn. The other nine recruits got called up, but he tuned them out, because they were not important to him. “Agent Young, please step forward,” Jason called. Taylor did as his superior asked him. “You did good, kid. Now it’s time to put those skills to good use. You’re going to work closely with Agents Conrad and Agent Manning.” Taylor looked at the two of them and then back at Jason. “Works for me.” That did not take long either, as they all had their thing to get to. “Let’s establish that I am the leader,” Alicia informed Taylor and Ben. “Leader of being a pain in the ass,” Taylor joked. Alicia slapped Taylor on the arm. “Ow!” “We should make a bet on this,” Alicia suggested. “Who can run the fastest?” Ben suggested. Taylor turned toward him. “You always want to run.” Ben shrugged his shoulders. Alicia smiled. “I can’t wait for us to team up to catch some bad dudes.” “I’m sure they’ll run when they see you coming,” Taylor said. Alicia rolled her eyes at him. He surfed the next morning. It was a great morning mist, and the surf was strong. Taylor paddled out into the water and waited for the waves to come to him. As the first wave came, he bent off his knee and stood up instantly, and exhaled as he caught the wave to shore. He paddled back out. The bird flew overhead and the boats in the distance. Often, he could see Catalina Island from where he surfed, depending on if it was a clear day. He sat patiently on his board. Sometimes, his legs fell asleep if he sat too long and he needed to paddle a little more to wake them up. It would be another thirty minutes before the next one arrived. Taylor paddled as fast as he could and got up and caught the wave and took it back to shore. He finished surfing for the day. The sun came out, and the mist disappeared. As he approached his car, he noticed two men looking at him from the corner of his eye. At first, he paid no attention. Then, as he stood next to his car, they approached. One was a large man with a buzz cut and his partner was shorter with curly gelled black hair. Taylor kept his composure. He noticed they each had matching tattoos, each containing a soaring falcon. “Can I help you?” “You Young?” asked the man with the buzz cut. “That depends, dude,” Taylor replied. “Who wants to know?” They did not speak. Instead, they opted for fists. The smaller guy attacked first. His fist caught Taylor right in the right eye. He hit like a lightweight with paltry force, so it was easy to bounce off of. The problem was the other guy. The larger man pounced on Taylor, his right fist connecting with his stomach almost at the same time. He bent over, aching from the blow. Instinct kicked in, and he knew he had to fight back. Taylor grabbed the smaller man and brushed his head up against his elbow, making contact, and sending the smaller man backward. He blocked a punch from the bigger man and chopped him across the chest. The younger man recovered and then clocked Taylor across the back of the head with his forearm. It took him by surprise, and he groaned in pain. The bigger man took advantage, and his fist connected with Taylor’s cheek, sending him to the ground. The two men advanced like animals, kicking him repeatedly while muttering something in Spanish. Then, one of them muttered something in English. “Tell Jack that Eduardo says hi!” The kicks were relentless, as he had never felt such pain before from someone’s shoe. Privately, he wondered why they did not kill him. Was this a robbery or a targeted attack? Before he blacked out, someone yelled from afar. The two men who beat him stopped and took off. He panted, as the wounds hurt a lot through his wetsuit, and he knew he was likely bleeding. All that eased from his mind as everything went black. Taylor did not remember how long it was, or where he was. He laid in some form of bed as his sight slowly recovered. He groaned. The pain was there in full force. His vision blurred a little but came back into focus. He looked around the room and attempted to focus. His parents and his younger sister were in the room, and their faces lifted when they noticed Taylor waking up. They inched closer as if they were unsure if they could. “He’s up,” his father said. Jack Young was a laid-back man. His hair was silver and his face clean-shaven. He looked like the stereotypical middle-aged surfer who hung out at the beach and told stories about a wave he caught back in 1987. His mother stood beside him. In reality, she was his stepmother. Linh Nguyen was a tiny Vietnamese woman who was the smallest person Taylor had ever known. The way his father told him the story, he married Linh not long after Taylor’s mother died. They had a child together, and that child was Franchesca. Franchesca was his younger sister. Her black hair had blonde highlights. She also had hazel eyes. “What—where—what happened?” Taylor tried to get out of bed. “You were attacked,” Jack told him. “They told us it was two guys,” Linh said. “We were so worried,” Franchesca added. “I was attacked?” Jack nodded. “Two guys attacked you and jumped you right after you did a sesh.” Taylor considered this. He remembered two men, but it was a little blurry. “Any clue why two guys would attack you?” Franchesca chimed in. Taylor looked at his sister and shook his head. “Maybe I cut them off in traffic?” “Or in the water,” Franchesca quipped. “I never cut dudes in the water,” Taylor replied. “Unless they cut me off. These guys didn’t look like they surfed.” Jack moved around the bed and looked out the window for a second, then back at him. “What did they look like?” “Two guys,” Taylor got out, attempting to picture them. “One was large, the other small. They did both have tattoos that matched. But that could be anybody. We live in Orange County.” “Tattoos? What kind of tattoo?” Jack pressed him. “It was like some kind of soaring falcon or something like that.” His father went quiet. It was as if the mention of the tattoo drove something in him and his eyebrows raised as if they were attempting to keep his mouth from revealing something. “Why did you react that way, dad?” Jack did not respond. Linh chimed in instead. “I’m sure he is processing it.” “No offense, mom, but I am sure dad can speak for himself,” Taylor was direct. He turned his attention back to his father. “Why did you react that way? Do you know who attacked me?” Jack sighed. “I am getting a bad feeling about this.” Taylor’s eyes went wide. “They mentioned you.” “Mentioned me?” “Yes! They said, ‘tell Jack Eduardo says hi’ as they kicked the crap out of me. What the hell is going on dad? Who were those guys and who the fuck is Eduardo?” “Calm down, son.” “I just got my ass kicked by two dudes out of nowhere and you are telling me to calm down? I want to know what happened.” He took out a notebook from his jacket coat. He also grabbed a pen and handed both to Taylor. “Could you draw what the falcon looked like?” “What?” “Humor me.” “You want me to draw it?” “Just do it,” Jack ordered. Taylor thought about it for a moment. He scribbled on the notepad. He took his time, attempting to remember the ebbs and flows of what the falcon imagery looked like. After sketching for a while, he finished. He handed the notebook back to his father. Jack looked it over, and Taylor waited as he did this. “You were attacked by the Guadalajara Cartel.”

Chapter 3: The Story “Why would a cartel attack me? I’m harmless.” “I—I don’t know,” Jack replied. “The important thing is you’re okay,” Linh reassured him. “Dude you’re going to be fine. Just sit up already,” Franchesca added. Taylor attempted to sit up. His back throbbed. His ribs felt like someone had bludgeoned them. His face swelled up like a catcher’s mitt. Something in his gut told him that his father knew more than he let on. The way Jack looked at the drawing of the falcon tattoo had to be a clue. It could be a coincidence. Or it could be something else. Before he could say another word, his doctor walked in. Taylor noticed the name tag read “Dr. Finley.” “How’s our patient doing today?” asked Dr. Finley. He was an old man, almost a stereotypical old doctor. He had curly white hair and glasses that looked too small for his face. He wore blue scrubs. “I’m alive,” Taylor replied. Dr. Finley stared blankly at him. “That’s good to hear. We’re going to do a few more tests and if you’re good to go, we might be able to release you tomorrow.” Dr. Finley fiddled with his charts a little more, turning the page. He studied it like a man preparing for a test. They held him overnight and released him the next day. He confronted his father in the kitchen the next day. Jack stared at him, his eyes shifting. “You clearly have something you want to get off your chest. So why don’t you do it?” “What do you know about the Guadalajara Cartel?” Jack said nothing. Taylor pressed further. “Do you know something? Do you know why I was attacked or―?” “I know,” his father cut him off. Taylor glared at him. “What? What do you know?” “The man who ordered the hit on you is named Eduardo Benitez. He is the leader of the Guadalajara Cartel.” “Why would this Eduardo Benitez order a hit on me? Does he know I am a DEA agent?” Jack shook his head. “It had nothing to do with the fact that you’re a DEA agent.” “Then why? Why go after me? Some random surfer dude in California? I haven’t even gotten out of my wetsuit yet. I was like ‘what the hell’ man.” Taylor studied his father. Jack hesitated before he answered. “He went after you as revenge,” Jack informed him. “Revenge? For what?” “Revenge against me,” Jack declared. “Why would he want revenge against you?” Taylor inquired. Jack sighed. “Because he used to be my friend.” “Years ago, before you were born, Eduardo Benitez was a simple hardworking man trying to make it as a legitimate businessman in Orange County. He was one of the best people I knew, and I loved calling him my friend. “But something happened along the way. We had a major disagreement over a woman, one that did not go over well.” “That’s incredibly vague.” “It’s better for your sake. That’s all you need to know.” Taylor looked at his father, his eyes wide. “I was attacked! I think I deserve to know more!” “He attacked you to get to me,” Jack maintained. “But why? It makes no sense. I didn’t do anything to him. And you haven’t explained how a legitimate businessman ended up as the leader of the cartel.” Jack paused. “He did it to get to me through you.” “He did it to get to me through you,” Jack insisted. “You said that already! It doesn’t explain why he went after me. There must be more to this. Because if he wanted to hurt you, why not just kill me? Those guys had enough time to put the killing blow on me if they wanted to.” “Are you asking me why the cartel didn’t kill you?” “A little, yeah. If they wanted to hurt me, they could have killed me,” Taylor related. “Then I don’t know the answer to that. Eduardo must have had his reasons for doing what he did. Maybe they just failed? What did they look like?” “One was a large Mexican man with a buzz cut and his partner was shorter with curly gelled black hair. They both had matching tattoos, the Falcon emblem.” Jack sighed. “Miguel and Francisco Benitez. Eduardo’s nephew and youngest son.” “You said his first name again like you still know him. Have you spoken to him recently, dad?” Jack shook his head. “I haven’t seen or spoken to Eduardo Benitez in twenty years.” “Wait, twenty-three years? I’m twenty-five.” His father froze. “I think you need to rest,” Jack suggested. “No,” Taylor protested. “I want to know more.” “Taylor, why do you always do this? I tell you to do something and you don’t listen to me and—” “Dad! I want to know the entire story!” “Maybe you should listen to your father,” Linh suggested. Taylor turned toward his mom. “Mom, I appreciate your concern, but this is kind of important. I need to know something that involves me.” Linh backed off. Jack glared at Taylor, who continued. “Tell me more. You haven’t talked to Eduardo in twenty-three years. You say it was a woman. Who was this woman?” “The woman was your mother.” “My mother? I don’t understand.” “Your mother was involved with both me and Eduardo Benitez.” “Involved? Like she hooked up with both of you? What the hell! What about mom?” “I was with her before I was with your mother,” Jack spoke as if Linh was not in the room. “I don’t understand any of this.” Jack nodded solemnly. “I was in love with her and she was in love with me. But she was also in love with Eduardo and things got sticky.” “What happened to her?” “She got sick and died. Eduardo blamed me for it. The next thing that happened, we became enemies.” “How did he end up in the cartel?” “To be honest, it was a lot of things. At the time, he was trying to legitimately create a new city, competing with two other guys to do it. It got really nasty and by the end, he did not succeed as he wanted to, and in the process lost out on that. “Eduardo Benitez is a ruthless drug lord. But he wasn’t always that way. At one point, he was a nice guy. But circumstances changed his life, and he became who he is. He still blames me for everything that went wrong in his life.” Taylor’s eyes glinted. He attempted to process this all. “Why did you not tell me about any of this before?” “Because I didn’t think I had a reason to.” “You didn’t think you had a reason to tell me that my birth mother was married to the leader of a powerful cartel? That he was some dude that hated you? No reason at all to tell me any of that?” Jack said nothing. “I just want to know if there is anything else I need to know,” Taylor pressed his father. Jack kept quiet. He put his hands on his hair and then rubbed his temple. “Why did you keep this from me?” “Because you didn’t need to know,” Jack snapped. Taylor paused. Jack walked over to the minibar and grabbed a bottle of vodka. He picked up a glass and poured himself a drink and downed it. “You’re going to give me a drink or just stand there and drink by yourself?” “Just because you’re pissed at me, doesn’t mean you get to disrespect me.” Taylor rolled his eyes. “Don’t roll your eyes at me.” “What am I supposed to think, dad?” “Just try to understand my point of view.” “What point of view?” “I was trying to protect you. And while we’re at it, you need to keep an eye out.” “Eye out for what?” “He might come for you again. I don’t think he wants to kill you, though. He might have done it already if he did.” “So, I should celebrate that I am not dead yet? Cool I’ll hit up all my friends and we’ll throw an ‘I survived a beating’ party.” “Taylor!” “What does he want?” You tell me this old cartel guy sent guys to attack me. They beat the absolute shit out of me. They put me in a hospital. “Then you tell me all this shit went down because you both liked the same girl? Tell me what he wants!” A vein popped out of Jack’s forehead. “He doesn’t want to kill you! He wants you to join him.” “Join him? What the fuck are you talking about?” “The only reason you aren’t dead right now is because he wants to recruit you. The beating was your ‘initiation’. He wants you on his side. If you don’t, then he will come after you.” “We have to figure out how to stop him,” he replied. Jack shook his head. “There is no stopping him.” Before Taylor could respond, Jack quickly exited, leaving him with more questions than answers.

Chapter 4: The Doctor January 15th, 2016 Samantha’s stomach growled. She had not eaten since morning when all she could grab was a blueberry muffin. She checked her watch and shook her head. It was only 2:52. She had two hours and three patients left to take. She regretted booking patients after five o’clock. There was no chance of going home by five now. Her colleagues once called her “Doctor Bleeding Heart” because she tended to take on as many patients as she could Her gray pants and jacket had wrinkles. She never had time to iron them in between her sessions and her research. Samantha picked gray because that was kind of how she felt lately, just gray. It felt like every day was just the same as always. Her hair, long brown and auburn, flapped back in a ponytail, part of it dangling off the edge. Samantha somehow had time to apply her lipstick and minimal makeup. She still got compliments, despite knowing the truth. All that mattered was how she handled her patients, and that was what Samantha cared about the most. Samantha’s office was in a fancy-looking building in Irvine, California, just off the 405 freeway on Jamboree Drive. Her office was on the third floor of a three-story building. Her window, the only one she had, looked out onto the street, which extended onto the freeway. She kept the window closed, mainly because she got cold. The office featured a waiting room and her primary office. Her assistant, Cindy, worked in the waiting room and dealt with all the forms and legal stuff. That was part of why she hired her. Samantha’s office was medium-sized, with bookshelves, two couches, and a table. She had done her best to make it look as adequate as possible, while also ensuring that it was comforting to the patient. She checked her watch again. It was 2:58. The next patient was a bit of a wild one. The woman had a history of drug abuse, mainly because of the loss of her mother. She quickly glanced at the woman’s file and her eyes glossed over the contents. She sighed. This was going to be tough. Samantha checked her watch again. It read 2:59. She sighed. The door swung open, and the woman walked in. Most doctors made their patients wait, but Samantha tried hard to be timely and to keep everything punctual. She did not want to get the reputation of someone who neglected her patients. Jessica Hudson was a pretty girl, with long brown hair and pale white skin. She was also tall, really tall. Probably about five foot eleven inches. Jessica walked in and took a seat on the couch next to Samantha. She placed her hands on her lap. Samantha took out her notebook and a pen and wrote the time and the session number on top of the page. “How are you, Jessica?” “Fine, I guess,” she replied. “I wanted to pick up where we left off last time if that’s okay with you.” “Whatever.” Samantha jotted down some notes. Then she continued. “So, in our last session, we were talking about your issues with your father. And much of that stemmed from what happened to your mother.” “I mean, wouldn’t you have an issue with your father if your mother was killed, and he did nothing about it? Or if you went to AA meetings and were surrounded by a bunch of idiots,” Jessica shot back. “Well, I—” “And then pretty much blames you for everything. What would you do, doc?” The entire session went like that, mostly. Samantha attempted her best to help Jessica but got nothing but vitriol back. The session ended around 3:45. Jessica exited as timidly as she entered, not caring about a single soul but herself. Samantha stepped into her kitchen briefly and heated some leftover brown rice and chicken. She wolfed it as the clock ticked before her next appointment. She did not get to finish until about 6:08. She spent about eleven hours at the office and her legs felt like logs. No one was more excited about it being Friday than she was. At least she had the weekend to look forward to. The next morning, Samantha went to breakfast at the Toast Kitchen and Bakery in Costa Mesa. She checked her watch. It read eight fifty-one. She frowned. She was early again. Samantha was always a little too early. It was her little tidbit that she could never quite understand about herself. She checked her watch again. It read 8:52. Why did she do this to herself? Time would not go faster just for her. Samantha eyed the menu. The first thing that popped out was the scrambled eggs. No, she told herself; she had to eat clean. Her weekday breakfasts included protein shakes and a hard-boiled egg. She worked out at the gym every morning before, getting toned and working a different muscle every day. She found time for cardio either quickly before her workday started or after work. She knew what she signed up for when she went to school. It was difficult, but in the end; the work was rewarding. Samantha enjoyed helping people whenever she could, which is why it was difficult when she could not. Samantha checked her watch again. It read eight fifty-seven. At least she let five minutes pass this time before checking. She fiddled with her fingers. Footsteps lingered, and Samantha looked up and smiled. Her friend Kaitlin greeted her with an excited wave, and Samantha stood up to return the greeting. The two embraced for a moment and then sat down. “How was your session yesterday?” Kaitlin brushed her hair back as she spoke. “Which one?” asked Samantha. “The crack addict or the suicidal one? Or maybe the one who was raped and is coping with it?” “Jesus.” “Yeah.” Samantha grabbed the menu. “They all seem to blend after a while.” “I had to throw out someone who was drunk last night. He started getting grabby with people, even tried to grab my ass.” “How’d you react?” “I kneed him in the balls.” She broke out in laughter. “What are you getting?” Kaitlin shrugged. “I don’t know. Think I am going to start on a bottomless Mimosa.” “It’s nine in the morning.” “Yeah, and?” “I mean, what are you going to eat?” “Oh. You’re eating?” She shook her head but smiled. As she was about to say something, Kaitlin’s brother, Ben, walked into the restaurant and waved his hand awkwardly at them. He ambled over to them and sat on the other side of Kaitlin. His sister glanced at him and tapped him on the left shoulder. “What’s up, bro?” “Not much. You?” “Same. Anything new?” “Someone tried to kill my friend Taylor the other day,” Ben told her. “Wait, what?” Samantha popped up. “Who’s Taylor?” Ben looked at her. “It’s my buddy from the D.E.A. Some drug lord down in Mexico has a beef with his dad. He tried to kill his son, Taylor.” “I think I need that drink fast.” Kaitlin put her hand up for the server. “This drug lord guy,” Samantha pressed on. “Do you know him?” Ben shook his head. “This is the first time I have heard of him. We mainly focus on the Tijuana and Juarez cartels. The Guadalajara Cartel does not give us much trouble, but when they do, usually one of our other offices focuses on them.” The server arrived to take their order. She was a young girl, probably about twenty years old, with dark blonde hair tied up in a bun. “What can I get for you?” the server asked. “Can I get the scrambled eggs and a water?” she asked the server, giving up on eating clean for the morning. The server wrote the order and turned to Kaitlin. “And you?” “French toast and a Mimosa, bottomless please.” Alexa wrote that down and turned to Ben. “You?” “BLT Breakfast sandwich and water.” Alexa left the three of them alone. Samantha looked around the restaurant, observing everything around her. It was a pretty day, with lots of sunshine. “So where is this Taylor guy now?” She was still curious. Ben fiddled with the napkin. “He’s out of the hospital. Doctor told him to take it easy, but I think he’s going to have issues.” “Like what?” “Well,” Ben sat himself up. “He’s discovered that his birth mother was with the drug lord.” “This story keeps getting juicier and juicier,” Kaitlin beamed. “No kidding,” Samantha added and then turned back to Ben. “So, his mother is with the drug lord now?” The server returned with their waters and Kaitlin’s Mimosa. Ben took the water and sipped it. He placed it back down. “We don’t know. His dad said he had a thing with the mom, and the drug lord competed with him over her.” “That’s intense,” Kaitlin noted while sipping her Mimosa. “So, what’s the drug lord’s name?” she asked Ben. “Eduardo Benitez.” She paused for a moment, processing this. Her eyes blinked. “So, what’s going to happen next?” “Nothing,” Ben answered. “Benitez will be investigated, but there is not anything we can do about it right now. Taylor is pissed, especially about learning some things about his life he didn’t know.” “Like what?” “Like, he has a birth mother that may be alive out there, and she’s with this Benitez guy. It’s like he learned about a whole unknown world he didn’t know about.” “How did he learn about all this?” “His dad told him. He kind of was forced to tell him because of what happened.” “How did Taylor take it?” “About as well as anyone who has been lied to for his entire life could take it—not well. But I think he’ll get over it, eventually.” She did not realize they had been talking for so long when the server returned with some food. She handed them their orders, and they dug in. “French toast,” Kaitlin’s voice rang with delight. “I’m starving,” said Samantha. Her stomach rumbled. Ben took his BLT and took an enormous bite out of it. “One thing is for sure.” Ben took a break from his sandwich. “This stuff with the drug lord, I think it’s just the beginning.”

Chapter 5: This Charming Man

January 18th, 2016

Antonio made his way off the airplane. It was an uncomfortable ride, a little bumpy, and not something he had wanted to start the year with.

He wore an Armani business suit. He felt like a million bucks, and he would execute this mission as directed. All he had to do was charm a beautiful American woman.

He stepped off the airplane at Santa Ana Airport and into the terminal. The airport was plain, with gray floorings and gray chairs next to each terminal. There were small cafes and a newsstand, all of which were expensive.

He made his way down to the airport arrivals entrance. Many taxicabs littered the area, and Antonio ambled toward one of them. The taxicab driver looked up from the newspaper he was reading and maneuvered the car toward him.

Antonio entered the vehicle and sat down. The taxicab driver turned toward him. The driver was a Filipino man with a mustache, balding slightly, and a little chunky. His nametag read Paul Garcia.

“Where to?”

“Surf and Sand Resort, please,” he informed the driver.

“Oh fancy,” remarked Paul, and drove toward the destination.

Paul, the cab driver, drove in silence, listening to some talk radio, with some hosts who were rambling about illegal immigration, and how certain illegal immigrants killed innocent Americans. They were specifically about a woman who died a few months prior in San Francisco.

Antonio smiled. He knew all about this country and the illegal immigration issues. Many people from Mexico immigrated to America, but often people from South America did as well. Since he was born in America, he did not have to immigrate illegally. However, he lived in Mexico since he was a child, and essentially remembered little about living in the United States. His father rarely spoke about his past in Orange County, revealing that some wicked men destroyed his life, forcing him to choose the path he chose.

The drive was long, as traffic was busy in Orange County. After approximately 45 minutes, they arrived at the Surf and Sand Resort. Antonio dug into his pocket and took out a wad of cash. He handed it to the driver, who looked wide-eyed at it, and then smiled.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Keep the change.”

He stepped out of the cab and smelled the fresh beach air. Back home, it was a four-hour drive if he wanted to sniff any ocean. He could not imagine living right next to one, and now that he was here, it was nice.

The hotel’s name had large black letters on the entrance, along with a silhouette of two seagulls. He walked through the entrance and into the hotel.

The lobby was beautiful. There were multiple couches in the middle of the lobby, and kiosks to check out of hotel rooms. Next to the kiosks were the check-in areas, which he walked toward.

The front desk clerk looked up and greeted him with a smile. She was a short woman with long golden hair. Her name tag read ‘Chelsey’.

“Hi, how can I help you?”

“I’d like to check in.”

“Oh, okay. Let me check your reservation. Name?”

“Benitez. Antonio Benitez.”

Chelsey went to work, looking up the information. She smiled.

“Here we are, Mr. Benitez. You have reserved this room for two weeks.”

“Yes,” he replied.

“And only two weeks?”

“The card on file states that it’s two weeks for now, but it might get extended.

“Okay. Thank you so much.”

He finished his check-in and headed to his room. The room was exquisite. There was a white couch in the middle of the room, with another chair opposite it. Paintings hung on the wall, leading to the bedroom where a large king-sized bed lay. There was a nice, polished black table on the side of the room, and another table on the other side of the room.

The patio was beautiful, as well. There were two chairs and an oval table, with a wonderful view of the ocean.

He checked his watch; it was 5:17. He had a couple of hours before he headed to the Webb Well, which was the Scottish pub where Kaitlin worked. He got this information through Wolf, his father’s advocate.

He ordered room service and watched some television. He turned on the news, which was mostly mundane stuff about the upcoming election, which would take place in November. There were three contenders in the race. One was a former first lady, who most speculated as the favorite to win the presidency. The other was her challenger from the same political party, an old man that advocated socialism. The Republican candidate was a former reality star and real estate magnate. He was also a buffoon who constantly made outlandish remarks. The man claimed he would build a wall to block off Mexico.

Good luck preventing my father from doing his business, he thought.

His food came, a steak with potatoes, along with some wine, and he ate. This was probably not a smart move, since he would be at a bar later, but it was his tradition. He ate up and rested for a while.

He opened his eyes. It was 8:17. He leaped up and hit the shower. After that, he put on a nice shirt and slacks. He combed his hair, which always took a while. Some people told him he looked like Diego Luna with long hair. He took that as a compliment. He brushed his hair back, stroke for stroke.

It was now 8:35, and he was ready to go. The Webb Well was in Costa Mesa, a good 30-minute drive to get there. He took another taxicab to get there. The taxi driver took Pacific Coast Highway up.

By the time they arrived, it was nine o’clock. He paid this taxi driver handsomely and exited the cab. The Well Webb looked like a stereotypical Irish pub, red and black on the outside with neon lighting. They built it with bricks. It was a smaller scale business, compared to the Tilted Kilt, its larger competition.

He entered the Webb Well, and first glimpsed his target. To say Kaitlin Manning was gorgeous would have been an understatement. She had long, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a perfectly symmetrical face. She wore a plaid red skirt and a plaid red tank top.

As he looked at her, a rambunctious noise came from the bar and Kaitlin raised her voice. Then, he watched as they counted to three, and took shots. He chuckled silently to himself in amusement. She drank on the job. He guessed that was part of being in the family business.

He ambled over. Two men were sitting down and conversing with Kaitlin. He sat next to them. One was a Korean man with spiky black hair. The other was Filipino hair with curly black hair and a goatee. He tipped his head to them.


“What’s up?” asked the Korean man.

“How’s it going?” the Filipino man added.

“Just out enjoying a drink. My name is Antonio.”

“Nick,” the Korean man said.

“Romello, friends call me Melo,” the Filipino man added.

“Nice to meet you, gentlemen.”

As he conversed with these gentlemen, the object of his attention turned around. When Kaitlin looked at him, she smiled. Her smile was radiant, and she could have been a model for perfect teeth in a dental office.

“What can I get for you friend?”

He stared and then shook it off. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to make a Bandera Mexicana, would you?”

She smiled. “Amigo, I know how to make everything.”

Then he watched her go to work. She picked up some Sangrita, lime juice, and, of course, tequila. Kaitlin mixed it up and placed it in the shot glasses. She handed one to all three men in front of her.

“Cheers bitches,” she proclaimed, and she presented her shot glass.

He went with it and toasted with her, Nick, and Melo, and drank up. She took the shot and slammed the glass down and cheered. Nick and Melo did the same. He had not expected this, as he thought they were drinking separately. He gingerly took the shot, and then once he realized they were downing it, he did the same.

She smiled. “I never seen you in here.”

Finally, an opening. He extended his right hand. “Name is Antonio, some people call me Tony.”

She observed his hand and then used part of her right hand to shake his. “Kaitlin. Some people call me Katy. But I hate that name.”

“Duly noted,” he replied.

Kaitlin snickered. Then she turned around and went to work on another drink, though he was not sure what she was making. She was using white rice and almonds, blending them. She also took out some rum, and sprinkled it in, and then grabbed four more shot glasses, and poured the concoction into it. When she finished doing that, she presented it to them.

“You ever have a Horchata?”

He had. It was a good drink, though not one he drank. It was very sweet.


She grinned and presented the shot glasses. “On the house, boys, just for our new friend Tony. A toast to him.”

They all took their shot glasses. He glanced at her and noticed she looked at him peculiarly. Then she downed the shot, as did Nick and Melo. He followed accordingly. The alcohol rushed to his head. This woman was magnificent, or an alcoholic. He had not determined which yet. Still, that he had to get close to her seemed either too easy or like it would be the bumpiest ride of his life.

“So, what’s your story, Tony?” she asked him.

“I’m new in town, just seeing how things are.”

“Oh? Where from, if you don’t mind me asking?”


“Oh, interesting. This is your first time in America?”

He shook his head. “I was born in California. Spent a small part of my childhood here but moved to Mexico when I was like seven.”

“Cool. What brings you back?”

“Business. And potentially, a beautiful woman, perhaps.”

She seemed more amused at his comment rather than flattered. It was the first time he had overtly hit on her, and in the presence of the two guys next to him, but they had retreated into their own conversation. It was almost as if they knew a secret that he did not. What was it?

“That line ever work on anyone?”

He cringed in his chair. “Mostly. Depends on the woman.”

Nick and Melo nodded goodbye to Kaitlin and went off on their way. He expected her to either reject him or respond with a snarky comment. Instead, she did neither.

“Let’s do another shot.”

“Haven’t we had enough?”

She cocked her head as if to say to him ‘there is never enough’, and then laughed as she poured some tequila and mixed it with some lime. She poured into a glass for herself, and one for him, and presented it to Antonio.

“Here you go Tony, drink up.”

He looked hesitantly at the shot glass, then at her as she grinned from ear to ear. She placed her glass to his, and he clinked it. She downed the shot. He did the same. She was like an animal. A gorgeous, funny, wonderful animal.

The alcohol again rushed to his brain. It was safe to say he was no longer sober. She laughed and then slammed another shot glass. There was no mistake. She was drunk as well. This was his chance.

“Would you like to―would you like to―” he attempted to find the words, mainly because the alcohol had nearly taken effect. “Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?”

She looked at him and laughed. He frowned. She shook her head. “Sorry Tony, I don’t date customers.”

How could she answer so clearly? But before he could react, he laughed instead. He could not understand it. Why was he laughing? There was nothing funny. She laughed too. His vision blurred. He stumbled.

Kaitlin stood before him, and she giggled. Antonio blinked several times, attempting to get ahold of himself. He clenched himself on his barstool, trying to focus long enough to hold still.

He chuckled. Kaitlin said something, but it was inaudible.

Antonio blinked again, trying to regain any sense. He stepped down from the stool, stumbled forward, and grabbed the table for support. Antonio held onto it, hunched over for a long time, and grinned.

“I suddenly feel light.” Kaitlin laughed with him, but he barely noticed.

“Maybe you need to go home and sleep it off,” she suggested, still smiling.

He grinned but kept laughing. He stumbled backward and now wobbled all over the place.

“Are you okay dude?”

Before he could respond, he felt his knees buckle, and he hit the ground. He could not understand how his legs just gave out. There was no determining how long he went before he blacked out.

His eyes flickered, and he awoke. He was not sure what happened, or how long he was out for. As he came to, he stared straight at pretty blue eyes. His pupils focused, and he realized it was Kaitlin. She beamed at him.

“Hey Tony, thought we lost you there for a moment.”

He looked up at her, transfixed for a moment. Another man, a larger fellow, likely the security guard, accompanied her.

“You good here, Kait?” the guard asked her.

“I think we’re okay, Kap,” she reassured him.

The guard nodded, then headed off in another direction. It fazed Antonio. He slowly got to his feet.

She grabbed him and helped him up. He looked at her and smiled.

“Thank you, my dear.”

“Of course, dude.”

They stared at one another for a moment, and he could not take his eyes off her. She turned away gracefully.

“Do you need a taxi?”

“That would be great, thank you.”

“I’ll call you one.”

Kaitlin pulled out her cell phone and dialed a taxi. She kept her eyes on him as she dialed. She tucked it away.

“Taxi is on the way.”

“Thanks. Maybe I could pay you back with some dinner?”

She smiled. “You really are persistent, aren’t you? I don’t date customers, dude.”

“Well, why don’t we call it a friendly meeting, then?”

“A friendly meeting? That’s pretty sly dude.”

“I could tell you about authentic tequila from Mexico.”

“Oh, you mean there is stuff out there that hasn’t killed you yet?”

“Very cute.”

“Just saying, you got knocked out pretty easily.”

“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?”

She laughed, and it was a great laugh. Antonio laughed with her and shook his head. He then looked toward the door and scanned the horizon. He turned back to her and asked.

“What if I never come back here again? Then you might never see me again.”

“That would absolutely devastate me,” she joked.

“No, it would devastate me. You’re fun Kaity.”

“No one calls me Kaity.”

“I just did.”

He observed what she did next. The alcohol only affected him because of how fast he ingested it. He was fine now and could tell she was contemplating his suggestion.

“You are definitely something interesting Tony.”

“It takes an interesting man to keep up with you Kaity.”

She grinned. “Okay, I’ll meet you for coffee. Just coffee. Then, we’ll see how it goes from there.”

“Sounds great.”

She took out her phone and then grabbed his phone. She input numbers into it and then handed it back to him.

“You have my number now. Just text me when you want to hang, and we’ll grab a coffee.”

“I can’t wait.”

The next day, he awoke in his hotel room. Antonio shuffled himself into his bed and groaned. The drinks took their effect. He had a headache and arose and walked to the table on the edge of the room. He poured himself a glass of water and popped some Advil. The sun shone on through the window as he closed his eyes, taking in the medicine and the sunshine. His watch read 7:32 a.m.

He sat down for a moment and considered his mission a success for now. Kaitlin agreed to go out on a date with him, at least for coffee. There was the lingering possibility that it was a fake number. That was a possibility. As his phone buzzed. He looked at it. It was a text from Kaitlin.

Hope you got home all right. Tony. You are pretty cool. Don’t try too hard, though. See you soon. (:

He put the phone down, thinking about what to text back. This was a good sign. She was receptive to him, and that was good. He was about to head to the shower when he heard a knock on the door.

He tilted his head toward the door. No one knew he was here, except his father. His father never left the fortress, though. It was too dangerous. With caution, he approached the door and opened it.

Wolf stood before him. His father’s best friend glared at him.

“Wolf, what are you doing here?”

Wolf entered the hotel room without an invitation. “I am here for an update on your progress.”

“I literally just started.”

Wolf ignored him at first and instead looked around the room. He turned.

“I clearly missed you. I mean, look at you. Your father paid for this nice hotel room, and you are looking like shit instead of out and about. Don’t you miss your dear old uncle?”

“Like I miss a bad rash.”

Wolf smirked. “Glad to know you still have your charm. There’s a reason the family calls you the charming man.”

“What do you want, Wolf?”

“Your father wants an update on how things are going.”

“I met the girl last night,” he explained. “I made chit-chat and secured a date with her.”

“Excellent.” Wolf was pleased. “Did you see the mother?”

Antonio shook his head. “No, she was the only one managing the bar last night. I drank with her too.”

“And you survived? Impressive.”

“Why do you insist that I cannot hold my liquor uncle?”

“Because you break tables when you drink.”

“That was one time, and I know you spiked the liquor with a lot heavier stuff.”

Wolf grinned.

“That just means you couldn’t handle your liquor.”

“You’re a psychopath.”

“Where are you taking her?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Do you even have a plan to bed her?”

“Bed her? Did you really ask me how I am going to bed her?

“Well, you haven’t in a long time.”

“Because women don’t respond well to the fact that my father is a drug lord.”

“Now you’re just making excuses for your lack of sexual conquests.”

“Lack of sexual—you are one to speak, old man. You haven’t been with a woman since the cell phone was invented.”

“I could easily tame any woman that walks my way.”

“Are we really having this conversation?”

“You should be on that, nephew. You disappoint me.”

“I would if you were not on my ass, uncle.”

“And I won’t be once you are on that ass.”

Before Antonio could respond, Wolf fiddled with something on the dresser. It was hard to tell what he was doing. From his viewpoint, the older man wrote something down.

Wolf handed him a note. “Here. Take this and text or call me when you decide. Your father is keeping a close eye on things.”

“Does he not trust me?”

Wolf smiled. “Your father trusts you completely, nephew. I, however, think you’re an idiot and should not be trusted with anything.”

“Nice to have your confidence, Uncle Wolf.”

“I do whatever is in the best interest of my brother.”

“Only by marriage,” Antonio corrected him.

Wolf snickered. “I am more of a Benitez than you will ever be nephew. We’re men and you are out here wanting to open dance studios.”

“I know what I’m doing, uncle.”

Wolf turned and walked to the door. “That remains to be seen. I will be around, and I will be watching. Don’t screw up, boy. If you do, we might punish you by sending you to Tijuana. Or worse, Rancho Cucamonga.”

“Oh the horror,” Antonio replied, sarcastically.

Wolf waved at him and stepped out toward the door. Antonio watched him close it. This was an attempt at intimidation, and despite Wolf’s reputation, the man did not scare him. Eduardo may be a monster in a lot of areas, but he could always reign his Wolf in. Wolf could not touch him.

He uncurled his phone and texted Kaitlin back.

Let’s grab coffee sometime soon. No pressure. Was nice meeting you. You saved my ass.

He pressed send, and it surprised him to get a response a few seconds later.

Well, I can’t have you dying in my bar now, can I? (;

There was something about this woman, and he could not put his finger on it. But he wanted to know more.

Want to read more? Head over to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and purchase the Secret Link.


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