Yesterday’s Q&A session with Marta, that’s the Mexican woman we brought back from the farm to the north of the Hansons’, was quite enlightening but not because she said all that much.
We were pulling the sled along the trail that had been trampled down between the Hanson place and the farm to the north. As we came over a small rise, we almost literally bumped into the Gunter girls’ boyfriends. At first, they looked frightened – like a little kid caught by an angry parent – then they noticed Marta on the car-hood sled behind us. I could see recognition in their eyes and then … an even deeper fear.
I knew there was a connection. My next job was to figure it out.
“Where you boys headed,” I asked.
Their mouths moved, like the lips of a fish out of water, but no sound came out.
“Cat got your tongue?” I was grinning and evil grin.
I could see they were thinking about running.
“Where you going to run to?” I asked.
More fish-mouthing. The looks on their faces were priceless, like, “How could this guy know we were planning to run.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo, boys,” I assured them. “I’m pretty sure you’re going to be familiar with this next part yourselves.”
Those poor boys didn’t know what to think at that point.
“Get down on your knees and cross your ankles one over the other,” I ordered, “put your hands behind your head and inter-lace your fingers.”
They knew the drill. It was obvious they’d been through this before.
“Sam, Joseph, zip-tie their wrists and ankles,” I said.
Sam was nearly out of zip-ties so I gave him a couple of my own.
Once the boys were secured and lying on their sides in the snow, I turned my attention to Marta.
“Tell me, Marta,” I began, “how do you know these boys.”
She was as mute as a stone statue but her eyes showed something – fear maybe … perhaps concern. I was beginning to get a sneaking suspicion.
I looked at Marta and then at the boys. I squatted down and got close to each of their faces. Despite Marta’s battered appearance, I was pretty sure there was a family resemblance.
“Looks like we have a little family reunion on our hands,” I said to Sam and Joseph. “I think these are Marta’s boys. The ages are about right and there’s a definite family resemblance.”
Sam and Joseph looked from Marta to the boys and back again.
“I think you’re right,” Sam said, a glint in his eyes. He was getting it … playing along.
“Well, let’s see if we can get people to talking at this little reunion,” I smirked. “Who wants to tell us how the three of you ended up here in our neck of the woods? I’m guessing none of you grew up nearby.”
Not a word.
I gave some consideration to my next move. The pawns were in play but perhaps the queen was the way to go. A mother’s love … and desire to protect her young. That might very well be the strongest thing we had going for us. Then again, what boy could stand to see his mother … hurt. I didn’t particularly relish hurting women or kids but the rules of the game had changed – the ‘new normal’ and all – and these three had decided to play.
I decided to start with the older boy.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” I began, “I’m going to ask a question. The three of you will have ten seconds to answer the question – truthfully. If you don’t answer, or if I think you’re lying, Chico, here, is going to lose a finger or a toe.”
Angry glares from the Mexicans.
“David, you can’t do that,” Joseph intervened.
“You want to?” I asked.
Joseph turned as white as a ghost, “Certainly not!”
“I guess it’s me or Sam, then,” I replied.
The younger boy spoke up, “You don’t know who you’re messing with!”
“Shut up!” Marta lashed out at him.
I squatted down and put my face closer to the younger boy’s, “You’re right, son, I don’t know who you are. Do you want to tell me?”
His eyes were watery with fear. I wasn’t sure if he was afraid of me or something … someone else.
“OK, Q&A time,” I said. “Question one: Why are you here?”
None of them jumped up to give me an answer. They were tied up, of course, so none of them could jump up but you know what I mean.
“Ten … nine … eight,” I started counting while I looked at my watch.
“Mom!” The older boy was getting nervous.
“Seven … six … five,” I kept the count going.
“We came with the Gunters!” the older boy screamed.
“I know that,” I said flatly. “That doesn’t tell me why you’re here.”
“Four … three … two,” I pulled my Benchmade from my pocket and flicked open the blade.
“Wait!” the younger boy was starting to cry.
“One,” I finished my countdown.
From behind his back, I grabbed the older boy’s left pinky finger. I ran the blade of my knife around the base of the finger as the boy screamed. I could hear Joseph dry-heaving.
“Is she watching, Sam?” I asked.
“She’s shutting her eyes,” he replied.
With two quick movements, I snapped the older boy’s pinky at the joint between the finger and the hand and sliced through the tendons – just like cutting off a hog knuckle.
The kid screamed for a second or two and then passed out.
The younger boy was vomiting. Good thing he was laying on his side so he didn’t aspirate any of the vomit.
Holding the finger by its base, I walked over to Marta and ran the tip of it over her face.
“Your boy can live without his pinky,” I said. “How far are we going to take this?”
Her tough exterior was cracking. I could see she was holding back sobs.
“Time for finger number two,” I said. “This one will be easier on him. He’s passed out.”
I walked back in the older boy’s direction.
“Please, stop,” it was barely more than a whisper.
I stopped and turned around.
“You ready to talk?” I asked.
“Si … yes, I will tell you what you want to know,” Marta had seen the light. “They will kill me but perhaps they will spare my sons.”
“Well, Marta,” I started, “as you can see, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to protect my family … or a couple girls and a baby that I don’t even know.”
I looked her in the eyes.
“Yes, you are very scary,” Marta said, “but el Patron is ….” Her voice trailed off.
“Let’s start there,” I suggested. “Who is el Patron and why are you here in my neighborhood?”
“We are … were here to set up a base of operations for this area,” Marta was matter-of-fact.
“What kind of operations?” I probed. “Don’t make me drag it out of you.”
Marta opened up after that. She explained that she had been a part of a gang before the crash. They had been drug dealers, for the most part, with a little bit of grand theft and intimidation thrown in here and there. After the crash, el Patron – AKA Fernando Hernandez – had an epiphany. His drugs were pretty much worthless but he could provide security to those who were willing to pay his “taxes”. For those unwilling to pay his taxes, security suddenly became a major issue.
She and the others had recently moved into the abandoned farm house – a couple weeks after the Gunters showed up.
Her sons, Ricky and Daniel, had been friends with the Gunter girls before the crash. Daniel had met Janelle, the younger Gunter girl, at a youth retreat put on by my parents’ church. The two had grown close – maybe not quite boyfriend/girlfriend but close, nonetheless. Ricky, the older of the two boys and the more opportunistic, had befriended Jamie Gunter shortly thereafter.
The Gunters, with their supply of food, had quickly become targets for Hernandez’s gang. Ricky and Daniel had been tasked with infiltrating the Gunter family and finding out what quantity and type of supplies they had.
When the Gunters bugged out, Ricky and Daniel bugged out with them telling Jake that their mother had been killed and that they had nowhere else to go.
Now, the really scary part … Marta and her counterparts had military-grade coms equipment that they utilized to keep in touch with Hernandez. We’d missed it in our search of the house because it was kept in the root cellar. We didn’t even look for a cellar.
Amateur mistake. Not like me at all. Usually, I’m thorough to the point of anal retentive about those kinds of things. The combination of a murdered baby and two young women must have thrown me off my game.
The coms equipment had come from the local National Guard unit – sort of confirming some of my fears about the members of the guard units going rogue.
Bad … very bad.