She's undercover at a strip joint, watching her target from a strategic seat along one side of the main stage, when she gets a call on her business cell from an old San Diego contact. She answers out of curiosity and keeps her voice lowered. "This is Kidd."
"Gabriel," says the man on the line. "This is Ron Harvey with Mission Valley Bonds. You remember me?"
"I make elephants look like dementia patients, Ron. You still got that plastic pin-up gracing your rearview mirror?"
He chuckles. "Her tits need a touch-up, but her luck hasn't run out."
"What can I do for you?" Gabriel says, looking up at the dancer on stage in front of her. In case the target turns around and catches Gabriel staring.
"You heard of Glory Sumner?"
"Her body was found here in SD a few days ago, naked in her own bed. She was beaten and choked to death. Pretty sure she was raped, too."
"You want me to find out who did it?"
"I'm ninety-nine percent sure it was the ex-boyfriend who got out of San Q about a week ago. She dumped him while he was inside. He was supposed to meet his PO a few days before the girl died and never showed. Hasn't been seen or heard from since."
"So you want me to track him down," says Gabriel, sipping her ice water.
"No, I just want you to bring him back. He's in TJ. He stole Glory's car after he killed her, not knowing there's a tracking device on it."
"You've got to be shitting me."
"Buddy of mine in the business is a friend of hers," Ron says. "He wanted to take precautions, in case anything ever happened to her."
"Tijuana? Fucking Tijuana?"
"The money's good."
"No wonder you're calling me," Gabriel says, glancing at her target's back through the door to the private room he left partially open. "Anybody else would stick you in the dog house for even asking."
"I'm calling because this is personal. It requires someone with smarts, balls, and finesse, and you're the only one I know who's qualified."
"How much money?"
"And where's that coming from? Because you're sure as shit not taking it out of company funds."
"Girl had a getaway stash my buddy knew about. Twenty-five's all of it. Cash."
$25K is a huge chunk of change for a bounty hunter. The biggest commission she's heard of is fifteen, and that was a rare case. Her own personal best is $10K. When Gabriel isn't bounty hunting, she works as a private investigator, and it'd take her anywhere from three to eight private investigation gigs to rake in twenty-five thousand.
"Why am I talking to you instead of this friend of yours?" she says, drinking more water.
The dancer in front of her twirls around the pole, skin slathered in glitter and oil and perfume. The man Gabriel's watching flashes in and out of sight, the door to his private room limiting her view. He's in there with two dancers, drunk and happy to bury his face in fake tits on the down low because he's a straight dude topping his rich boyfriend for cash.
"You wouldn't consider this kind of thing coming from a stranger," Ron says. "He's in no condition to talk about what happened to the girl anyway."
Gabriel sits in silence, phone pressed to her ear, eyes roaming from the stripper to Mr. Target as she considers the offer. Today's Wednesday. The way things are going on this private investigation, she'll probably have hard evidence that Mr. Target's playing gay for pay by Friday afternoon. She can leave for Mexico on Friday evening, come back with the murdering shitbag by Sunday, collect the money from Ron on her way back up to LA, and report to her PI client on Monday.
"All right," she says. "You get me a copy of the police report on Glory's snuff and everything you can scrounge up on the ex-boyfriend. I'll be in your neighborhood on Friday around dinnertime to pick it up. Text me your address. And just so we're clear … I find this guy, I'm leaving him with border patrol."
"As long as he's in custody somewhere, I don't think anyone in San Diego cares when he makes it back," says Ron.
"I'm agreeing to twenty-five K. Not a penny less. I'm not setting foot in Mexico before I count the bills."
"You got it."
"See you Friday."
"Dead or alive. You get paid either way."
She hangs up.
Late on Friday night, Gabriel crosses the US-Mexico border in her '69 Chevy Caprice, John in shotgun next to her and Langlois in the backseat. Three handguns in lockboxes are in the trunk, along with extra ammo, but they play it cool. The customs agents give them back their passports and don't search the car.
John Hughes is a police psychologist with the LAPD's Behavioral Science department. Greg Langlois is a detective in the LAPD's elite Homicide Special Section. The two men are Gabriel's family, her best friends and partners. She and John, both asexual, live together in Downtown Los Angeles, and Gabriel works as Langlois' consultant on cases whenever he wants extra brain power. She requested their company on this Mexican excursion because as good as she is with the lone wolf routine, she's smart enough to recognize when she needs back-up.
As soon as they arrive in Tijuana, they check into a low-key hotel with a five star American tourist rating on the Internet and bring the guns inside. The men start getting ready for bed, while Gabriel sits at the small table at the front of the room, reviewing the file Ron Harvey gave her on the runaway killer she's hunting.
His name is Kevin Crider, WM, 5'10, 160, DOB 8/16/79. One prior conviction: voluntary manslaughter, for which he was sentenced to twelve years in San Quentin. He was released early for good behavior, after serving seven years. In January of '05, he caught his girlfriend Jody Moyer fucking a man named Nick Valasquez in Kevin and Jody's bedroom and beat the other man to death with the baseball bat he kept in the room for protection. Glory Sumner, an ex-girlfriend of Kevin's, heard about his conviction and started to visit him in prison. Their relationship turned romantic again. They wrote letters to each other. Kevin called her every Christmas for the first six years. She promised to wait for him, then broke it off at some point within the last year. He was a free man for all of five days when he killed her over a week ago.
"You staying up much longer?" John says to Gabriel, getting into the bed the two of them will share.
"No," she says, studying Crider's mug shot. "Not much longer."
"What's the plan for tomorrow?"
Gabriel doesn't answer.
John glances at Langlois, who's sitting in the other bed sipping bottled water.
"We'll go wherever the tracking device places his vehicle," says Langlois. "If he's there, we'll watch him, see if he has a weapon or a companion. If he's not there, we canvass the area for information on his activity and track him down. After we assess the situation, we try the friendly arrest route and hope he cooperates."
"And if he doesn't?" John says.
"If he doesn't want to come back to the States peacefully, we're leaving him here," says Gabriel, shutting the file folder and sliding it across the table. "We're not dying in fucking Tijuana or rotting in some Mexican shithole jail for 25K."
She lies awake in the dark with her second thoughts, after the men fall asleep. Maybe she shouldn't have taken this job. Maybe she and John and Langlois should go straight home in the morning and forget the money. Too many things could go wrong here.
Glory Sumner's silver Jeep Wrangler is parked in the small driveway of a two story townhouse in a white tourist part of town. Gabriel parks her car down the street, within stake out distance, and watches for Crider. Langlois's on the bench seat next to her, smoking his second cigarette of the day, and John's in the back behind them.
"If we get him to the border, how do we explain ourselves?" John says.
"I show security my badge and tell them he's my suspect," says Langlois. "Bounty hunters have no right to arrest outside their area of license, but I wouldn't be the first LAPD detective to come down here for collar."
"You're more than a badge, Greg," Gabriel says in a deadpan voice. "You're emotional support."
Langlois snorts and takes a last drag on his cigarette before flicking it out his partially open window.
John says, "Gabriel, you're done with that private eye gig on the fake-gay sugar baby, right?"
"Yes, sir. Nothing left but to deliver the evidence and final report to my client."
"What'd you get?"
"I bugged the client's house with cameras as soon as I took the case. His boyfriend fucked some random woman in one of the guest rooms this morning. Even gave it to her in the ass. Maybe he learned to like it."
Crider emerges from the upper level of his townhouse and starts descending the stairs, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt. No visible weapon on him but Gabriel assumes every fugitive she hunts is armed and dangerous until proven otherwise.
She perks up in her seat, watching the two-time killer get into the Wrangler and start the engine.
"What now?" Langlois says, looking at her.
Crider backs the Wrangler out of the townhouse driveway into the street and drives away from the Caprice.
Gabriel turns the key in the ignition of her car, shifts into gear, and starts to follow him, staying four car lengths behind him. The radio's off and no one talks, the silence broken only by the sound of the draft flowing through Langlois' open window.
The narrow, paved road winds down a hilly slope out of the residential community and hooks up with the main road running northeast to Tijuana and southwest to the coast. Crider's driving away from town. Attempting an arrest in a remote area is always a mixed bag for Gabriel: if violence breaks out, there's little chance of innocent bystander casualties but no easy access to reinforcements or medical attention.
Crider turns onto a skinny dirt road leading down to the beach, and Gabriel hangs back a minute, idling at the mouth of the detour, before following. The dirt road descends the steep side of the ridge running parallel to the coastline and flattens out into soft sediment packed thicker than sand. The air changes suddenly, now salty and more humid, cooler this close to the sea. Gabriel's car creeps along in the Jeep Wrangler's tracks, until she stops several yards away from Crider's destination: a large house with a wrap-around porch, raised off the ground, dark brown wood with thin, sheer curtains floating out the open windows.
He gets out of the Jeep and starts to approach the Caprice.
Before Gabriel can make a move, Langlois says, "Let me talk to him."
"No way in hell," she says, eyes fixed on Crider. "This is my job."
"He's less likely to get violent with a cop."
"Or he's the type who doesn't give a shit. Why should he? We're in Mexico, not California."
"Are you wearing a vest?" John says, his voice matching her and Langlois' low pitch.
"No," says Gabriel.
She gets out of the car and stands in front of the grill.
"You're not my hooker," Crider says, raising his voice and stopping directly across from her. He leaves a long sprint of distance between them.
"Gabriel Kidd," she tells him. "I'm a bounty hunter from L.A. I'm here to bring you back to the States, for the murder of Glory Sumner."
Crider breaks into a grin, white teeth gleaming. "You got the wrong guy."
"That's for San Diego PD to decide."
"How's a bounty hunter on my ass if there ain't no bail?" Crider says.
"I'm doing someone a favor. You going to cooperate with me or not, Crider?"
"I don't care if you're a bounty hunter, a cop, or the God damn president. I don't have to answer to you south of the border."
"You're right," says Gabriel, talking cool. "You don't have to come with me. In fact, if you're going to resist, I'll get back into my car right now and go home. But you should know something. The Tijuana police know you're here. They have your mug shot. They know why you're wanted stateside. The cops in San Diego promised them a reward for your capture and return. I'm going to guess you don't know much about Mexican law enforcement, so I'm warning you. You do not want to be hunted by them on their turf. You sure as hell don't want to spend any time in one of their holding cells. If I were you? I would get back into Glory's Jeep and follow me home."
Crider stares at her, looking for a reason to call her bluff, but Gabriel's perfected her poker face in far more dire situations than this one.
"Who are the guys in your car?" he says. "Couple of your bounty hunter buddies?"
She curls the right side of her mouth into a half-smile. "They're ranking LAPD officers. Their superiors know they're down here with me. So do Border Patrol and the local fuzz."
Crider nods, eyes slinking down to the ground, fingers in the front pockets of his jeans and shoulders raised around his neck.
It would be dead quiet if not for the sound of the tide a mile away. The curtains floating out of the house windows look like ghosts. The knot in Gabriel's gut tightens, the muscles across her shoulders tense. She's been wound up like this so many times, she's strangely comfortable with it.
"See you at the border," Crider says.
He turns around and starts toward the Jeep.
Gabriel stays where she is, watching him, unwilling to leave a clear path to Langlois and John in the car until Crider's in his vehicle with the door shut.
She sees it a second before it happens: the man pivoting to face her as he pulls a gun from his waistband underneath his T-shirt. She drops into a squat as he shoots, the sound of the gunshot dissipating in the open air. The bullet ricochets off the edge of the car roof with a metallic zing and Crider runs into the house, hopping two steps at a time up the porch stairs.
Gabriel looks back at the Caprice to make sure John and Langlois are all right, then springs after Crider, yanking her gun from the shoulder holster underneath her jacket. Adrenaline floods her body, a chill flushing through her, face breaking out with cold sweat.
She can hear his quick footsteps pounding the floorboards as she goes inside. The front door of the house has been taken off its hinges, and she freezes with the doorway at her back, feeling the draft brush her bare neck. The house is silent when she stops. She tracks her eyes from left to right through the open, empty foyer, registering the long corridor splitting the house front to back, either side lined with rooms. The floor's only a little dusty. As vacant as this house looks, someone's been using it recently. Maybe more than one person. If Crider drove out here to meet a hooker, this house might be a known fuck pad for Mexican prostitutes who do business with American men.
Gabriel listens for the sound of the 450-block engine turning over in the Caprice but hears John and Langlois coming after her instead.
Crider swings the upper half of his body out of the farthest room on the right hand side of the corridor and shoots at her.
She ducks and staggers into the right half of the foyer, pressing herself against the wall. Her left index finger is curled around the trigger of her Colt Gold Cup .45. She holds the gun close to her chest with the barrel pointed at the ceiling.
She sees John and Langlois come up the porch steps before splitting to wait on other either side of the entrance to the house, against the front wall.
She knows what Crider's thinking: if he kills her and the other two men and makes it out unharmed, he can run further south in the time it takes anyone to find the bodies here. If he's a suspect in Glory Sumner's murder, there's no way he can go back to the States, but in Mexico, he's a free man as long as he doesn't give the local law a reason to pursue him. Most Mexican cops are dirty or apathetic to everything that isn't a peso or a greenback.
If she bails now, he's either going to take the opportunity to disappear in peace or try his best to catch up with her for blood. Depends on how threatened he feels and how aggressive he is. She could've gotten into her car as soon as he ran for the house and left him, but her line of work's trained her to run toward the bad guy, not away. And he has her name, which means he could find her in Tijuana if he wanted, catch her and the men by surprise in their hotel room.
She's only thinking one thing: what move gives her the best chance of protecting John and Langlois?
"What do you want, Kevin?" she calls out. She can hear the ocean in the silence of her pause, her own breath—the faint sound of one of the men moving away from the entrance on the porch. "You want me to let you go?"
Crider doesn't answer.
"All you had to do was say so. No need to get violent."
She crouches, still holding her gun in both hands, then steps out into the corridor and starts to move toward the back of the house. The rubber soles of her lace-up boots squish against the floorboards, sweat starting to break out across her upper lip.
"Stay out, John," she whispers to herself. "Stay out."
She stops halfway down the corridor, just before the doorjamb to the second room, the right side of her body pressed to the wall. She listens.
Not a breath or a footstep.
Crider darts out of the last room, pointing his gun at where Gabriel's chest should be if she were upright. It takes him two seconds after he realizes she's crouched to readjust his aim.
Langlois pounces on him from behind just as Crider pulls the trigger, slamming him to the floor. Crider's gun goes off, the bullet zinging into one of the open doorways on the left side of the corridor, leaving white smoke and a faint chemical smell in the air. The weapon fires again when it hits the floor after Crider loses it. Gabriel flinches in her crouch, shielding her head with her arms.
Langlois has one knee next to Crider's left side and the other knee buried into the killer's lower back. He braces himself with his free hand against Crider's shoulder and presses the barrel of his LAPD-issued Kimber Custom 2 to Crider's skull. The older man's breathing hard, staring down at Crider like he's warm cow shit on a four hundred dollar pair of wingtips.
Gabriel stares at him, heart beating quickly in her chest. She looks over her shoulder and finds John standing in the middle of the foyer, holding his gun at his side, pupils blown wide with fear.
"You have no idea," Langlois says to Crider, as Gabriel looks at him again, "how close you just came to death. I would've blown you all over this floor like crushed tomatoes, if you hurt her."
"Go ahead," Crider says.
Langlois lifts his head, eyes meeting Gabriel's.
She finally sits on her ass, exhaling as she sags against the wall.
Langlois reaches into his pants pocket with his free hand, taking out his set of handcuffs. John comes down the corridor and stops next to Gabriel, pointing his gun at Crider as Langlois sets his own weapon aside to cuff the fugitive.
John says to Gabriel, his voice lowered, "I heard two shots, I thought …"
She glances up at him, hears the click and snap of Langlois' cuffs. The Colt feels cold and heavy in her left hand, anchoring her to the floor.
Langlois hauls Crider up onto his feet and says, "I'll take him in the Jeep."
"John," Gabriel says. "Go with him."
"That's not necessary," says Langlois.
"You okay to drive?" John says to her.
She nods. "Go … so I don't have to white-knuckle my way to town."
Langlois steers Crider toward the house's entrance, and John turns away from Gabriel to follow them.
Her stomach feels hollow as she watches his back. She chose this life when she was young and alone and had nothing to lose. Langlois became a cop decades before she met him. But John? The most sensitive, gentle man she's ever met? What the hell is a psychologist doing with a gun in his hand?
"Wait," she says.
The men stop in the foyer and look back at her.
She stands up and sticks the Colt into her shoulder holster. She walks up the corridor on weak legs, looks at Langlois eye to eye and says, "Put him on his knees."
Langlois stares at her, silent understanding passing between them, then pushes Crider to his knees and steps back. John follows his lead but glances between him and Gabriel uncertainly.
She moves to stand in front of Crider, her back to the light of the open doorway. He looks up at her with a defiant set to his jaw. She can see the heat of his rage, doesn't know if it's about getting caught or getting dumped by Glory Sumner and doesn't care.
Gabriel curls both her boxer's hands into fists and throws a left punch hard into his face. He bobs backward and forward again. She jabs her right fist into his eye and keeps going, hitting him until he's bruised ugly and bloody and he topples to the floor with his wrists still cuffed behind him.
She lingers in the house for a moment, watching him, red hands throbbing.
If she had the twenty-five thousand dollars with her now, she'd make him eat it.
Copyright © 2014 Marie S. Crosswell.
Marie S. Crosswell is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. She has studied the art of writing fiction with Stella Pope Duarte, Victoria Redel, April Reynolds Mosolino, Jamaica Kincaid, Eric Puchner, and Melvin Jules Bukiet. Her short crime fiction has previously appeared in Thuglit, Plots with Guns, and Out of the Gutter's Flash Fiction Offensive. Other stories are slated for release in future issues of The Big Adios and Dark Corners, as well as the anthology Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Vol. 3. Her long short story "Dreamland" is available on Amazon. She lives in Phoenix.