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Authors: Chris Kuzneski

Tags: #Thriller

The Death Relic

BOOK: The Death Relic
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1

Present day

Thursday, 9 February.

Mexico City, Mexico

The phone rang in the dead of night. One ring, then a second. He sat up in bed and turned on the light. It rang a third time as he rubbed his eyes and focused on the clock.

It was 2.43 a.m.

Someone was going to pay.

No one was to bother him at this hour. Not his high-priced attorney, his top lieutenants, or anyone else in his organization. In his mind, they simply didn’t deserve that kind of access. The only people he truly cared about slept under his roof. Everyone else could fend for themselves –especially after midnight.

He was the boss. Those were his rules. No one would dare to break them.

The last person who did was no longer alive.

On the fourth ring, he picked up his BlackBerry, only to discover it wasn’t ringing. He stared at the device, trying to make sense of things, wondering if it had been a dream. His question was answered when he heard the fifth ring. That’s when he located the source of the sound. It was coming from his private mobile phone on the dresser. How could that be? Only three people had the number: his wife, his daughter and his son.

He glanced back at his wife, whose naked form was partially concealed in a tangle of sheets. God, she was beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, huge breasts. The perfect trophy wife. Three hours earlier, they had worn each other out. Now she was dead to the world. Except for the rise and fall of her chest, she hadn’t moved in minutes. He knew she was capable of some amazing things in bed, but placing a call without a phone wasn’t one of them.

That left two possibilities: his daughter or his son.

Suddenly anxious, he climbed out of bed and hustled to his phone. Thanks to technology, he knew it couldn’t be a wrong number. He subscribed to a service that required callers to punch in an access code before the call was routed to his phone. The service cost a lot, but it was worth every peso. No solicitors. No crank calls. No one got through except the people he loved.

At least they hadn’t until tonight.

It was now 2.44 a.m.

His nightmare was just starting.

He glanced at his phone. The screen said, ‘Daniela Garcia’. The call had been placed from his daughter’s mobile.

He answered the phone. ‘Daniela?’

The caller replied in English. His voice, digitally altered to conceal his identity, sounded like something from a horror movie. ‘Is this Hector Garcia?’

‘Yes. Who is this? Where is my daughter?’

The voice laughed. ‘I have the bitch. I have your son, too.’

‘No, you don’t! You can’t!’ he said defiantly.

‘Is that so? You want me to call you from your son’s phone next?’

Hector nearly panicked. He ran his hand through his rumpled hair, imagining the worst. In his business, he had made a lot of enemies – the kind who would do
anything
to get even. Now someone had his children, the most important things in his life.

Or did they?

Hector hit the mute button on his phone and screamed at his wife, ‘Sofia!’

She rolled over and whined in Spanish, ‘I’m tired. What do you want?’

He snatched a book off his dresser and hurled it at her from across the room. It missed her face by a few inches. ‘Wake the fuck up!’

Used to his temper, she took the insult in her stride. ‘What is it?’

‘The kids! Check their rooms! Tell me if they’re there.’

‘What?’ she said, confused.

‘Someone took my kids! Check their fucking rooms!’

She blinked a few times before it sank in, then sprang into action. She snatched her bathrobe off the floor and sprinted towards the door while trying to get dressed. The entire time she was cursing the devil in rapid Spanish.

Hector waited for her to reach the hallway before he hit mute again. In situations like this, he couldn’t show weakness. Not to one of his enemies. If he did, the problem would only get worse. ‘Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’m capable of?’

‘Of course I do. That’s why this is so much fun. After all these years, you’re on the wrong end of a ransom call. I bet you’re dying inside, not knowing if your children will make it through the night. Knowing you’re
not
in control of who lives or dies.’

Hector growled at him. ‘I swear to God, if you hurt my kids – if you so much as lay a finger on either of them – I will devote my life to finding you.’

The voice laughed at his bravado. ‘
Your
life? Shouldn’t you be more concerned about
their
lives? Or don’t you care if they survive?’

He started to pace. ‘Of course I care! That’s all I care about.’

‘Really? Then why haven’t you asked the question?’

‘What question?’

‘Come on, Hector. You know the
question
. You hear it all the time.’

‘What are you talking about?’ he demanded.

‘Don’t play dumb with me! I know all about your organization. I know how you make your money. Over the years, how many times have you placed this call? How many times have you heard the terror that you’re feeling now? One hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? During those calls, I guarantee you’ve heard the same question over and over. Whether the families were rich or poor, I guarantee they asked you the same fucking question. And yet for some reason, you’re refusing to ask it. Is it ego? Is it denial? Is it hubris?’

Hector burned with fury. He knew precisely what the caller was talking about, but the moment he asked the question, he knew he had lost control of the situation. With that in mind, he refused to ask it until he knew for sure that his children were missing.

A moment later, he heard his wife scream.

It was a sound that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

A sound that told him he had lost possession of his kids.

He took a deep breath to control his rage. ‘What do you want?’

‘Finally, the magic question! I guess that means you believe me now?’

He repeated his words. ‘What do you want?’

‘Does it matter? Whatever it is, you’re going to give it to me. If not, my men are going to take turns on Daniela while your son watches. Then I’m going to upload the video to the Internet so the whole world can see it. Do I make myself clear?’

Hector said it louder. ‘What do you want?’

The caller laughed. ‘I want something
personal
. Something that will hurt you to your very core. Something that
can’t
be replaced.’

Hector screamed into the phone. ‘
Personal
? You want something
personal
? You already have my fucking kids! What can be more personal than that?’

The caller grinned. ‘I want the medallion.’

2

Friday, 10 February.

Cancún, Mexico

The arrangements had been made the day before by a man she had never met. A first-class ticket out of Rome, a luxury suite in a five-star resort and a stipend in the low five figures. To earn the fee, all she had to do was fly to Mexico and answer a few questions. The rest of the time, she could do whatever she wanted, whether that was swimming, hiking or shopping.

Although the invitation was unexpected, she jumped at the chance to escape the snow-covered streets of Italy for the tropical beaches of Mexico, a country she had always wanted to visit. At this time of year, the average temperature was close to 70 degrees with daily lows near 60. That was the only excuse she needed to pack a bag and get away.

Located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Cancún is a coastal city on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, just north of a major corridor known as the Mayan Riviera. The popular tourist district stretches along the Caribbean coastline from the seaport of Puerto Morelos to the ancient ruins of Tulum, nearly 70 miles to the south.

As her plane descended towards Cancún International Airport, she pressed her forehead against the glass and stared at the beachfront hotels that lined the light-blue waters of the Yucátan Channel, a 135-mile strait that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea and Mexico from the island of Cuba. A self-proclaimed nerd, she was surprised to learn the channel marked the beginning of the Gulf Stream, the warm ocean current that follows the eastern coast of America before crossing the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe. From the air, the water looked calm and serene, but she knew the strong current influenced the climate on both sides of the Atlantic and was the source of many powerful storms. Thankfully, though, hurricane season didn’t start until June.

Minutes after landing, she strolled through the air-conditioned terminal, searching for a store where she could buy postcards and a local guidebook. She was a sucker for stuff like that, always wanting to know the best places to go and the best sites to see. When it came to travel, adventure was in her blood. Dressed in a cotton blouse and comfortable jeans, she blended in with most of the tourists she passed along the way. Unlike many of the major airports in Europe, which were often filled with businessmen in expensive suits and women in designer clothes, the vibe in Cancún was completely relaxed. Everything was laid back and casual, like something out of a Jimmy Buffet song. People wore T-shirts, shorts and sandals, as they sipped on tropical drinks in the cantinas and restaurants that lined the long corridor.

Margaritas. Daiquiris. Coronas with lime.

She licked her lips at the possibilities.

Tempted to join the fun, she knew she had better stay sober until she reached her hotel and met her employer. But after that, all bets were off. This was a working vacation – with emphasis on the latter. She had been working non-stop since grad school and knew it was time for a break. Still in her twenties, she felt much older, thanks to a family tragedy that had made headline news in Italy. Hoping to avoid the spotlight, she poured herself into her work, refusing to take time off to grieve, even though her friends and colleagues urged her to do so. In the short term, she powered through her sorrow and earned a doctorate in archaeology from a prestigious English university, but eventually the effects of the tragedy caught up with her. In many ways, she’d been trying to regain her balance ever since.

‘Excuse me,’ said a voice from behind. ‘Are you Dr Pelati?’

Maria stopped in the hallway and turned round. Behind her was a squat, middle-aged man, wearing an orange, short-sleeved
guayabera
– a decorative linen shirt that’s popular in Cuba and Latin America – and white slacks. In one hand, he held a white driver’s cap. In the other, a small cardboard sign with the name ‘Dr Pelati’ printed in neat, black letters.

‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘I’m Dr Pelati.’

He smiled warmly. ‘
Buenos dias
, Dr Pelati.
Bienvenidos a México
. My name is Ernesto. I am your driver. I will be taking you to your hotel.’ He punctuated his statement with a slight bow of his head. ‘May I take your luggage?’

She glanced at her carry-on bag, then back at Ernesto. Standing 5 feet 5 in polished leather shoes, he was 2 inches shorter than Maria, but thanks to his stocky build and protruding waistline, he outweighed her by more than 50 pounds.

‘You’re who?’ she asked, confused.

He pointed to the nametag pinned to his breast pocket. It had one word on it: ‘Ernesto’. ‘My name is Ernesto. I am your driver.’

‘My driver? I have a driver?’

He clicked his heels together and nodded. ‘
Si!
And my name is Ernesto.’

She smiled at the development. Over the years, she had heard dozens of stories about tourists being ripped off by unscrupulous cab drivers in foreign countries. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about it. ‘
Hola
, Ernesto. It’s great to meet you. Please call me Maria.’

He nodded again. ‘As you wish, Dr Pelati. May I take your bag?’

Instead of waiting for her response, he politely grabbed the handle of her carry-on bag, pivoted it on its two wheels and started pulling it towards the luggage carousel at the front of the terminal. ‘You have baggage, yes?’

Maria grimaced at his word choice. She had more ‘baggage’ than he could possibly imagine, most of it family-related. Of course, that wasn’t the type of baggage he was referring to. ‘I have two suitcases. One for my clothes and one for all the souvenirs I’m going to buy.’

BOOK: The Death Relic
2.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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