The mess in Juarez leaves Kate a few bullets short of a murder, metaphorically speaking.
She tries the standard things people turn to, namely drink and drugs and sex with oily strangers you find in seedy bars. But after a week and a half of cheap Tequila, the kind that comes in plastic bottles, Kate’s stomach gives out and she can’t look at the stuff without retching. The drugs are better, but every time she’s high, she sees the faces of the people gutted by the cartels and left in the streets as warnings. As for the sex, her first one night stand goes from a mediocre hand job to a full-blown panic attack in the bathtub because she thinks she sees a wristband in his pocket. So that’s out.
The only thing left to lose herself in is her work. Reggie calls it self-destructive. Kate calls it coping.
She volunteers for the worst jobs: the ones people don’t walk away from. She follows leads into the places officers aren’t supposed to go, responds to calls alone that should require at least two cars of backup. As the missions get more and more dangerous the other officers start to distance themselves, until she’s by herself more often than not, doing one-off jobs that are a hair’s width from outright vigilantism.
To make a long story short, that’s how she ends up alone in the middle of the Sonoran Desert on the bad end of a sting op gone wrong.
Well, not alone, exactly.
The inside man had fled by the time she got to the meetup point: bribed or blackmailed or both. There are three men waiting instead, wearing those black masks she’s gotten to know so well. They almost hesitate when they see her, because what officer would be dumb enough to head out into the middle of cartel land with no backup and a single glock?
Kate Macer, that’s who.
They have their laser sights on her before she can shoot. All she can think of as they drag her from her car is variants of “Reggie was right, goddammit.” They take her gun away but she kicks at them anyway, manages to slug one across the jaw with a right hook. They’ll hurt her for it, but she can’t go down without fighting. It’s who she is.
The first man holds his gun to her head while the other two grab her arms and force her to the ground. She hears the click of zipties around her wrists and feels the cut as they’re snapped tight. And then she’s being made to kneel in the hot sand, arms tied behind her. Bits of gravel and stone dig into her knees and she yelps at the pain. Frightened by the noise, a bark scorpion skitters out of an ocotillo shrub and disappears down the hill; she’s perversely grateful that there’s one thing here that doesn’t want to kill her.
The first man holds her by the shoulders while the other two work to set up a camcorder on a makeshift tripod in front of her. They’re arguing, she notes vaguely. One wants to tape the sides of the tripod together while the other thinks he can bend them into shape. The man holding her yells for them to hurry up, tells them he’s hungry and wants to get home before nightfall.
It’s at about this moment that her internal monologue goes from a steady rhythm of “shitfuckshitfuck” to a colder dread. This is how she’s going to die. She’s seen the videos before; she knows how this is going to go. They’re going to turn the camcorder on and one of the three men is going to hold her own pistol to her head, execution style. And then he’ll pull the trigger and she’ll crumple, and the desert will drink up her blood until it’s just a dark stain on the sand.
The video will get sent to the CIA and the DEA and the FBI as a Don’t-Fuck-With-Us reminder, and Reggie will watch half of it before leaving to throw up in the bathroom, cursing her the whole time. At least he’ll know he was right, in the end. That’s got to count for something.
She should be crying, or hysterical, probably. But despite the sun baking down on her back, she just feels cold.
Could it have ended any other way? Or was it always going to be like this, ever since she met him? Alejandro. She wonders how many times he’s done this, how many of the masked men in the videos are his. She wonders if these are his men, if he’s here now-
“Wait,” she rasps.
They ignore her.
“I want to talk to your boss,” she tries again. “Alejandro Gillick. He knows me.” And yeah, it’s a gamble because maybe this is one of the small pockets of resistance left. She’s watched Alejandro’s forces turn the map in her office a single color, but maybe her intel is wrong and this is one of the old cells, answering to one of his enemies. But what are they going to do, kill her?
There’s a quick intake of breath behind her. The men fiddling with the camcorder look up. “We go way back, Alejandro and me,” Kate says, louder this time. “He’ll be pissed if you kill me.”
She sees the man with the tape waver, and presses the advantage. “Would you rather annoy your boss with a false alarm or get killed for killing an old friend of his?”
The shape of his smile is ugly beneath the mask. “You’re grasping at straws, querida.”
She meets his gaze and does everything in her power to hold it. “Are you willing to bet your life on it?”
Kate considers it a minor miracle that one of them actually pulls a cellphone out, and with a long look at her, starts punching numbers. She holds her breath as the dial tone rings, and lets it out in a ragged gasp when the line clicks and a low voice murmurs something on the other end. With a last glance at her, the man holding the phone turns around and starts talking back. Kate can’t pick out more than a few stumbled words- pues, claro, dice que, no. She knows Spanish, of course- anyone that works the border in Arizona does. But the words are twisted by a different accent on his tongue, the letters softer and more lilting. The way they speak it in Medellin.
The conversation finishes and the man slips the phone back into the pocket of his vest. He exchanges a glance with the man holding her down, and suddenly there are hands under her armpits and she’s being hauled to her feet.
“You’re going to let me go?” she says dumbly, because that couldn’t have worked. Her life has been one slow revolution around the toilet bowl since Juarez, and she’s not stupid enough to believe it’s going to be different now.
But her captor is laughing and patting her on the shoulder. “No, querida. We are not going to let you go.”
And then there’s a hood over her head and the pungent smell of ether in her mouth and after that, darkness.
She wakes to the sound of two men shouting in Spanish. They’re loud enough that even she can understand them, though with the pounding in her head she almost wishes they weren’t.
“-brought a motherfucking FBI agent home like a fucking puppy, what the fuck, Carlos-“
“José, calm down-“ Carlos says. She recognizes his voice as one of the men from the desert, the one that had held the gun to her head.
“-probably lit up with GPS and shit like a fucking Christmas tree; did you even check for bugs-“
“She said she knew the boss,” Carlos says sullenly. And if she wasn’t hogtied and half high on chloroform thanks to him, she might feel a little bad for Carlos, because she knows that tone of voice from every meeting with a higher-up where said higher-up was about to unleash a shitstorm.
“The boss? She said she knew the motherfucking boss? Well in that case-“ he says mockingly. “Dios mio, are you fucking kidding me?”
“-but she knew his name. His real name.”
That at least gives José pause, and Kate jumps at the opening. “Alejandro, she rasps. “Alejandro motherfucking Gillick. You tell him that Kate Macer is here to see him. And you tell him that if he wants me dead, the least he can do is shoot me himself.”
She gets another hood soaked in chloroform for her troubles, and as the drug kicks in it’s a desperate game not to vomit inside the hood as they drive over every pothole in the city. If they’re in a city. She honestly has no idea where they are, or how long she was out for. They could be in Medellin itself, for all she knows. She passes out wondering whether she’s going to have to talk to him before she dies.
When Kate wakes up for the second time, she’s sitting in a metal folding chair, and every inch of her body hurts. Nausea rears its ugly head the moment she opens her eyes, and the rest of her surroundings are glanced over as she stumbles to a trash can in the corner of the room and retches her stomach empty.
She kneels there, hugging the sides of the basket, as the dry heaving stops and the shivering of an electrolyte imbalance begins. Well, fuck.
“There’s Gatorade by the chair.”
She looks up weakly, and sees there’s a second chair opposite the one she was sitting in, and in it…
“Hey,” she croaks.
Alejandro inclines his head in greeting, but is otherwise silent. He’s wearing a nice suit; blood money agrees with him, it seems.
Kate waits until the worst of the dizziness passes and she’s sure she won’t faint if she stands up. Then, feeling a million years old, she pushes herself to her feet and trudges over to her chair, all but falling down into it. She glances at his hip, and yes, he’s armed.
“When I said you were going to have to shoot me yourself,” she says, “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t actually.” She fishes the Gatorade from the floor and manages to fumble it open, takes a long drink. It’s grape. What a last meal.
“I’m not going to kill you, Kate,” he murmurs in that same quiet voice she's grown to hate. “Not even if you want me to.”
She doesn’t bother to argue with the assumption there, isn’t even sure he’s wrong. “You were singing a different song in the tunnel.”
“You were wearing a bulletproof vest.”
She remembers the way the bullet had hit her just below the heart, how it felt like it was shattering her bones from the inside out. How everything else has shattered since, how she can’t even begin to pick up the pieces. “Did you check before you pulled the trigger?”
His eyes drop away, and it’s answer enough. It shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.
“So what are you going to do with me, then?”
He sighs. “I’ll have my men take you back across the border, leave you somewhere easily found. Maybe you’ll be smart enough to leave this time.”
But she’s already shaking her head, even though it makes her dizzy all over again. “I’ll keep coming for you. I’m not going to stop until-”
“-you kill me?” He seems amused by this and she wants punch him in that smug face of his, just on the half chance it might shatter the mask.
“Yes.” She says it with a hell of a lot more certainty than she feels.
“You had a gun on me, last time we met. You couldn’t pull the trigger.”
“I’m a different person now,” and god fucking dammit, she wanted that to sound like a threat, not an admission of how broken she is.
The way he looks at her says he notices. He once said she reminded him of his daughter. She wonders if she still does. Maybe he sees himself in her, now. Maybe that’s why he can’t kill her. Maybe that’s why she almost wishes he would.
“Well then,” he says. “It seems we’re at an impasse.”
“Still going to let me go?”
“Yes.” He stands and walks to a door on the far side of the room. She wishes she could walk away as easily he does, from all of it. But then she remembers his face when he’d woken from his nightmares on the plane, and realizes neither of them can. He’s as trapped as she is.
“I’ll be coming for you,” is all she says. She’ll come back again, and again, and again, until one of them finally pulls that trigger, lets that bullet fly home.
He looks back at her as he opens the door to go, offers her the ghost of a smile. “I look forward to it.”