“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?” I asked, confused.
“It seems that you and I have made a small enemy,” he said. “an enemy that we made the mistake of underestimating. That is a mistake I rarely make,” he said pensively.
“Ignacio?” I asked, already knowing that he was the only possible answer.
“Exactly! He seems to be a bit angry. Angry enough that he has put a price on our heads. As well as those of Timothy, Peter and Michael,” he said.
He continued, “As you know, Ana Laura and Timothy are no longer engaged to be married. It was an ugly break-up, but one which has given me some small relief. I have informed Timothy of the contract, but I will not lift a hand to help him. He can take care of himself, or not…it makes no difference to me. You, on the other hand, got involved in this to help us protect our interests, and you have proven that our confidence was justified. I owe you a great gratitude, and until this is put to rest, you will be under my protection.”
Now, I was worried. First, I’m told that a contract had been put on my life, by someone that presumably still had millions of dollars at their disposal. That implied a professional hit-man, which I was ill-suited to deal with. Then, I’m told that as protection, I can count on a seventy year old man. Can it possibly get any better than this?
“We should get to the house,” said Sergio. “You must be tired, and we need to be on our way early tomorrow morning.”
“Where are we going tomorrow morning?” I asked.
“To our place in Cuernavaca. Ignacio should be there later tonight.” Sergio smiled.
For a moment, only a fraction, really, it crossed my mind that perhaps Sergio had bought his own reprieve, by promising to deliver me. After all, I was the one that really did Ignacio in. But I quickly cast that thought aside. In the first place, all he had to do was tell Ignacio where to find me in Dallas. Besides, Sergio had already shown me that he was a man of his word. I felt badly for even thinking of the possibility.
“What do you mean, he should be there tonight?” I asked. “How would he know to go to Cuernavaca?”
Sergio laughed. “Oh, he doesn’t, I assure you. At this moment, he knows nothing. And when he awakens, he will only know that his head hurts, quite a lot. He is being brought to Cuernavaca by some associates of mine, so that we can discuss this issue, like gentlemen.”
Suddenly, the back of my neck began to itch, like it was being consumed by fire ants.
Sergio’s housekeeper rapped on my door at 5:30 in the morning, and informed me that the Señor was waiting for me in the patio, for breakfast. I took a hasty shower, dressed and headed downstairs. I found Sergio and Ana Laura seated at the table, and Sergio’s wife puttering about the garden. As I sat, the cook immediately started delivering copious amounts of food to the table, and brought me a cup of coffee. Everyone returned my greetings, and we chatted pleasantly through breakfast. Ana Laura and her mother then left us, and Sergio offered me a cigar, and said, “Let’s talk about how this is to go, Doc.”
“When we arrive at the house, I want you to remain silent. This is very important. Only speak, if I speak to you, and only answer my direct questions. The rest of the time, I want you to keep your eyes on Ignacio. I want you to stare holes right through him. If he speaks to you, ignore it. Just don’t take your eyes off him for an instant. Is that clear?”
“Sergio, I don’t understand. Your “friends” have brought him here? For what? If you’re planning to do something to him, I can certainly understand it. I might even applaud it. But I certainly don’t need to be there to see it, and then have one of your friends start thinking that I’m a liability, too!”
Sergio laughed so hard he could hardly speak.” You watch too much television, my friend! I’m not going to do anything to him. In the first place, even if I was so inclined, do you think I‘d do it on my own property? Would I bring him here from Caracas to do it? Besides, Alacrán isn’t alone in his organization. Anything that happens to him would immediately point to me. Then I would have to deal with either the police, his associates, or both! No, if he listens to reason, and I think he will, I’m going to do nothing. But I need him to BELIEVE that I will, even if only as a last resort.” Sergio continued chuckling. “Yes, FAR too much television, my friend!”
Two of Sergio’s men accompanied us, both in the front seat. Another car followed, presumably “security”. I’m pretty sure they weren’t from the Auto Club. It took us a bout three hours to get to Cuernavaca, and as we approached the drive, the car following passed us and approached the gate first, while we waited in the street. Only when the gate opened, and the other car proceeded, did our driver turn off the street, and proceed through the gate. The other car went right to the front of the house, but we pulled around to the garages, and got out of the car at the head of a stone walk that went down a gentle slope toward the pool and tennis courts. There were two staffers cleaning up around the patio, but at a word from our driver, they rushed inside.
“Please remember what I told you, Doc. Put your eyes to good use, and do not speak,” admonished Sergio. “This will all be over soon, and we can all go on with our lives. Another time, you must come down with us on a holiday, and you and I can enjoy a good laugh about this.”
We took a seat at the bar, built into the hillside, and one of Sergio’s men went into the house. The other went behind the bar, and made himself busy, wiping glasses with a towel.
I heard the door to the house open and glanced over to see Ignacio being steered toward us, with a man on each arm. He looked groggy, but very much aware that he was in an awkward situation. I kept my eyes on his. When he saw us seated at the bar, his eyes narrowed, and he started to speak. The gent holding his right arm gave it a slight twist and said something under his breath. Ignacio decided to keep silent.
“Ignacio, what an unexpected surprise,” said Sergio cheerfully. “Can I offer you something? A drink, or some juice, maybe? Perhaps you are wondering to what you owe this pleasure?”
Another twist and a mumble, and Ignacio spat, “No, thank you!”
“Very well, Ignacio. If you are sure. Let’s get down to business, then,” said Sergio, in a slightly more serious tone, with a quick side glance at me.
“As you may imagine, I was disturbed when I heard the rumors that a price had been put on my head, as well as those of some friends of mine. Particularly disturbed, when the rumors pointed to a previous business associate. To you, Ignacio. The rumors all pointed to you!”
“I normally make it a point to not believe every rumor I hear, of course, since many, if not most, are false. I’ve learned the value of seeking more information, before taking hasty action. I tell you this, so that you’ll know that my ordering that you be taken from your bed in Caracas, to be brought here before me, was well thought out. It was not done in haste, and it was not done in jest. It was done, so that you and I can decide together, whether you wish to live.
“So, what do you think, Ignacio? Do you wish to live? Or is it possible that you think you cannot possibly lose any more than you already have? Tell me what you think, Ignacio.”
Throughout this little speech, Sergio’s voice had maintained a very low volume level, and an even tone. Keeping focused on Alacrán’s eyes, I saw very little reaction, although I saw the sweat begin to form on his brow, even though it was a cool day, with a pleasant breeze. Ignacio was scared as hell. He was a breath from death, and he knew it. I could almost see the gears grinding in his mind, searching for something to say, something to do, that might get him out of this untenable situation. I half expected him to wet his pants any moment.
But he surprised me. A weasel he was, to be sure, but not a coward. He brought himself upright, stared back at me for a moment, then turned his eyes on Sergio, and let loose with a stream of invective that no doubt would have been impressive, if his escorts had allowed him to proceed. In one quick instant, both his arms disappeared behind him, and his feet suddenly floated six inches off the grass. He fell silent, with a quick gasp, and he was slowly lowered to the ground, and his arms allowed to return to his sides.
Sergio rose from his barstool, and slowly walked toward him. I was wondering if Ignacio had pushed him over the edge, insulting him that way, in his own home. Was I about to witness a murder? Because after listening to Sergio’s last speech, I realized that he was perfectly capable of killing this man.
As Sergio approached, Ignacio’s bravado crumbled, and he tried, in vain, to escape the clutches of his guards. Sergio walked up to within six inches of him, and leaned in and spoke so softly that I only caught a syllable here and there. I watched Ignacio shrink slowly, as Sergio’s words sunk in, until finally, Sergio spun on his heel, waved one hand, and by the time he was back to the bar, Ignacio’s guards had already swept him out of the yard, and into a waiting car. Tires spun in the gravel, and it was suddenly very quiet.
“Would you like a drink, my friend? I know it’s still early, but I would like one, and my wife won’t allow me to drink alone,” he smiled.
“I think I’d like a double, Sergio,” I answered. “Whisky, doble”, I said to the “cantinero”, who had stopped polishing glasses, at some point.
While he made our drinks, Sergio stepped away, using his cell phone for a moment. He came back to the bar, offered me a cigar, and frowned when I lit it with a cigarette lighter. He always used a wooden match. I knew that, and would ordinarily have waited, but at that moment, I needed a smoke and a drink very badly. Sergio raised his glass, and said, “Salúd! To the single most important trait that we humans share with the rest of the beasts of the world: a sense of self-preservation!”
We sat there and smoked and drank for a while, as I tried to think of a graceful way to ask Sergio what he had said to Ignacio. It was excellent bourbon, and a fine Havana Partaga, so I took my time. Finally, he asked, “Aren’t you curious about what I said to our friend?”
“I figured you’d tell me, if it was any of my business,” I said slowly.
“Any of your business?” he exclaimed. “Whose business would it be other than yours and mine?”
“True, Sergio. It’s just that I figured if you wanted me to know, you’d tell me. Of course I’m curious! I watched the man wither as you spoke to him. For all I know, you told him that you’d be sending him home on three separate planes!”
Sergio spilled a good portion of his drink, most of it on his ashtray and the cigar it held. “You have GOT to stop watching so much television,” he laughed. “Although I like the way you think!
“No, I simply told him that I had also taken out contracts. On him, his family, his friends, and anyone that he had ever cared about. His wife, daughter, parents, siblings, all of them! And that if you or I, or anyone close to either of us, ever had so much as a hangnail, or a case of the flu, that those contracts would be fulfilled, if I didn’t stop them within 24 hours.
“Since that had a predictably small effect on him, I told him that my associates would now take him back to the airport, where his daughter and his grandson were waiting for him, to accompany him back to Caracas.
“That seemed to have the desired effect. Now he knows that I can carry out my threat. And more importantly, he believes that I will!
“By the way, thank you for respecting my request to remain a passive participant. It was important that he know that he is dealing with me, not you. He knows a bit of you, and apparently has not felt he found anything there to fear. Now he knows a bit of me, and perhaps, has found something to fear. I wanted no doubt in his mind as to who is calling the shots. That is certainly not to imply that you are not a force to be reckoned with, my friend. Simply that in the absence of common sense, fear can also keep one from doing something stupid.
“Now, you have caused me to ruin a very good cigar, so I must light another. Will you join me? And perhaps we can now drink to our enemies, all of whom deserve to be treated the same. Because there are no small enemies. Salúd!”
As I flew back to Dallas, I reflected on what had happened. With what sort of man had I found myself aligned? What must his background be, that he could so calmly explain to someone how he would wipe his line from the face of the earth? What WAS his background? Did I really want to know?
Probably not. And I definitely didn’t ever want to get on his bad side.