X. . [ONE]

Kensington, Philadelphia

Monday, November 17, 5:13 P.M.

Ricky Ramirez, draining his bottle of Yuengling lager, watched as Hector Ramirez reached into the rusty refrigerator and pulled out two more beers. Ricky threw his empty bottle across the bare kitchen. It smacked the far wall, leaving a wet mark on the peeling tan paint, then landed in a cardboard box in the corner that served as a trashcan.

“That ain’t bad stuff,” Ricky said, “but we need something better. Something stronger, like some good dark rum. Or. .”

He looked past Hector at the warped kitchen counter. The dark green Formica had separated from the wooden backing. On the counter, next to the rust-stained porcelain sink, were two zip-top plastic bags packed with dried marijuana buds. A squat ceramic pipe, its bowl crusted with dark resin residue, sat between them.

Ricky stepped over and opened a bag. He dug into it with his fingers, pinching off a thumbnail-sized piece of the gold-veined green leaf. He tamped that in the bowl of the pipe, then lit it, inhaling deeply.

Hector popped the cap off one of the Yuenglings, then handed the bottle to him. Ricky heard his go-phone make a ping.

Still holding his breath, he put the beer on the counter, handed the pipe to Hector, then pulled the phone from his pocket.

He read the text message-and suddenly exhaled, the smoke billowing out.

Staring at the phone screen, he slowly rubbed his fingertips across his chunky pockmarked face.

Hector was right!

Wide-eyed, he held out the phone to show Hector the message.

“It fucking worked, man! It’s her.”

He picked up his beer and took a big swallow.

“And you had a doubt, mi amigo?” Hector said, smiling, and tapped the neck of his beer bottle against Ricky’s.

Ricky grinned back and shrugged. Then he suddenly felt even more light-headed, the buzz from the marijuana now rising far above that from the beer.

And that hydro is really good shit.

This is all coming together!

Especially with getting Dmitri off my back.

Ricky read the next text, then fired back a reply.

There was the sound of a motorcycle pulling into the backyard. They briefly turned to it.

“And here come your sicarios. They made it happen,” Hector said.

“Should we reward them?” Ricky said.

“I will think of something. Not too much too soon. Or they begin believing they really are assassins.”

Ricky’s phone then began ringing. He didn’t recognize the number and pushed the key to send it directly in voice mail.

A moment later-ping-his phone suddenly lit up with another text message box, this one from the number that had just called:

215-555-4525

I HAVE YOUR NOTE.

AND I HAVE WHAT YOU WANT.

NO MORE KILLINGS.

What the hell? Who is this?

How can this person have the books?

Or. . was she shitting me?

“What?” Hector said, putting the pipe to his lips.

Ricky held the phone back up to show him.

After a moment Hector nodded thoughtfully. He exhaled.

“You believe that first one is the woman?” he then said.

Ricky nodded. “And I gave her two hours.”

“So ignore this one. For now. First work the woman.” He thought for a moment, then said, “We will give her more incentive. Where’s your car?”

“Not far. Blocks. Why?”

The back door began opening.

Hector reached back into the refrigerator. He came out with two more beers.

Tito and Juan sauntered inside. They acted more cocky than usual.

“You did good,” Hector said, handing them the bottles.

Hector grabbed his Kalashnikov and looked at Ricky.

“You and I go,” he said, then added to Tito and Juan, “When you finish those, go out and keep watch till Jaime gets back with more halcones.”

Ricky started to follow Hector, then turned back and grabbed one of the bags and the pipe from the counter. He tossed the other bag to Tito.

“A little bonus for you two,” Ricky said, smiling.

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