Willem was the shit and he knew it. Gliding past the waiters and busboys flitting across The Bistro’s polished wooden floors he was in the zone – his sixth waiter sense whispering when his orders would be up, whose drinks were running low and separating the good tippers from the bad. It was eight o’clock on Saturday night, H-hour at The Bistro and he already had racked up a grand in sales. If he kept hustling he’d clear five hundred in tips. He’d still end up a few bucks behind Andrea, the hot brunette who flirted shamelessly with the male patrons but hell; if he had her set of tits he’d be numero uno too. But since he always generated the most in sales Willem was the king, the big swinging dick. No one could touch him. And as he walked away from a table with a five hundred dollar order in his pocket he made sure all the other servers punching orders into the POS system knew it. That drove them crazy.

After keying in his order he felt a hand grip his arm. “Come with me,” Manny, the fat toad of a manager, said to him. “You messed up.”

“What are you talking about?” Willem said, as he let Manny drag him into the kitchen.

“What is wrong with you?” yelled Manny. “Why didn’t you get the fucking order right?”


“The lady on seven wanted a chicken Caesar. You gave her Fettuccini Alfredo.”

“That’s what she ordered,” Willem, said. “It’s right here on my dupe pad.”

“Bullshit,” Manny said. “You fucked up. So now you’re paying for that fettuccini and her salad.

“That’s thirty-five bucks,” Willem said.

“Tough shit,” Manny said, exiting the kitchen.

Willem felt a flush of anger heat his face. The stupid bitch, he thought to himself. Her desire to keep her trophy wife ass firm made her think she wanted a chicken Caesar salad, but her id mouthed her secret desire for noodles smothered in heart attack inducing cheese sauce. In his five years as a server Willem had seen this dynamic before. Diners would think one thing, only to have their stomachs betray them.

Adjusting his crisp black apron, Willem exited the sweltering kitchen and walked back on floor. Twenty-seven years old with lean and handsome features, Willem was a smooth talking world-class seducer. He could make the stupid foodies order whatever he wanted them to order, make men feel like big shots and women wet their panties as he hypnotized them into ordering dessert. When he was eighteen years old and turning tricks on San Francisco’s lust filled streets, he knew how to separate people from their money and make them feel grateful to do it. He preferred banging women, but he hadn’t been above sucking a cock or two for a hundred bucks. Selling his body had taught him how to read people, how to make them putty in his hands. It was perfect training to be a waiter.

After dropping the entrees on table four he wryly noted the queue of angry Yuppies haranguing the hostess about how long they’d been waiting for a table.

“My reservation was for seven,” a fat man in a red Ralph Lauren shirt said, tapping the Rolex on his fleshy wrist. “I want my table now!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Marnie, the twenty year old hostess said. “A table should be opening up soon.”

“Then how about some free drinks?” the man said. “That’s the least you can do.”

Marnie looked pleadingly at Willem but he ignored her. Soothing angry customers was the manager’s job. But Manny was nowhere to be found. That didn’t surprise Willem. Manny indulged in two addictions, cocaine and sex. If he wasn’t cutting lines line in his basement office he was trying to extort one of the waitress to blow him in exchange for better shifts. Andrea once caught him spanking it to Internet porn on the office computer. Andrea’s description of Manny’s penis was less than kind. “If the Travelocity gnome had a cock, Manny’s would be it.”

With his best fake smile affixed to his face, Willem glided over to his newest table and asked if they’d like to start with a cocktail. Everybody wanted water with lemon but he conned them into buying four alcoholic chemistry experiments. Then he ran though the specials in a way that looked like he gave a shit about his customers’ gustatory desires. Then he hit them up for two bottles of overpriced bottled water. Putty in his hands.

Turning on his heel he signaled his busboy Reynaldo to bring the water to the table and popped back into the kitchen to grab the appetizers for table six. After depositing them he took a dessert order on four, delivered his drinks from the bar and then unceremoniously dropped the check on the two hags who had been drinking endless cups of tea and prattling about “their lives as women.” Put out that they were being hustled to the exit, the biddies left him fifty cents on a twenty-dollar check. Fuck ‘em, Willem thought. Let them gibber somewhere else.

As Willem walked past the hostess stand he could hear the fat man’s voice overheating. “I know the owner,” he said. “When I call him and tell him how you’re treating us, he’ll fire you.” Marnie looked like she was about to cry. Located in a tony town on the Hudson River just outside of New York, The Bistro was the most successful restaurant in town. Somehow the owner had managed to poach Armando Fraturro from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café in Manhattan and his culinary magic had the foodies busting down the door. On a Saturday night Willem usually cleared a boatload in tips, but the money came with a price – putting up with customers so entitled they made Paris Hilton seem like a nun. Marnie was the third hostess they had in four weeks. They had all been nice, pretty girls, but their youth and beauty didn’t insulate them from the gamma ray bursts of negative energy the customers blasted into their souls. The Bistro chewed hostesses up and spat them out. That Manny hit on them unmercifully didn’t help. Willem had to help Marnie, not because he had any particular affection for her, she was kind of on the dumb side, but he didn’t want the hassle of training another front stand drone.

“What’s the problem, sir?” Willem asked the fat man.

“We’ve been waiting twenty minutes for a table,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

“Sorry, sir. As you can see we’re very busy. Something will open up soon.”

“I don’t care. I want a table now.”

“It’s problem of physics, sir,” Willem said.

“Huh?’ the man said.

“Matter cannot occupy two places at one time. If your mass interacts with the molecules of diner already in that space the resultant explosion would make the immediate area uninhabitable for years.”

The man looked at him in shock. He was the kind of guy who was used to always getting what he wanted. “Very funny pal,” he said. “The owner’s a friend of mine. He’ll can your ass.”

Willem shook his head. Pietro, the owner, was visiting his family in Milan. And even if this clown dropped a dime on him nothing would happen. Willem knew about Pietro’s penchant for hookers and Pietro knew he knew it. And since Pietro’s wealthy wife had bankrolled The Bistro, Willem’s position was secure.

“I’m sorry we can’t accommodate you, sir.” Willem said to the fat guy. “There’s an excellent steakhouse down the street. Why don’t you try them?”

“Fuck you,” the man said. After a small staring contest the fat man corralled his party and made a beeline for the door. Just before he walked outside Willem overheard him saying, “What an arrogant asshole.” Willem smiled. He was an arrogant asshole.

“Thanks,” Marnie said. “That guy scared me.”

“No problem, kid,” Willem said, eying her breasts. Maybe she’d be his post shift screw. Willem liked the young naïve ones. Customer service problem defeated, he headed back to the kitchen to grab his desserts and delivered them to the tables with a flourish. Then he saw her.

Normally Willem would have been annoyed seeing a single woman being plopped into his section. They tended to be bad customers; women with chips on their shoulders because they couldn’t get a date, were divorced or halfway though a middle age conversion to lesbianism. But his new customer’s hotness quotient squeezed those non-PC thoughts out of his head like water from a sponge.

The woman gracefully strolling to the table was Alicia Betancourt, quite possibly the richest and sexiest woman in town. A lithe woman with firm breasts pressing against a revealing white blouse with a plunging neckline, her short leather skirt showcased a set of world-class legs tapering to a duo of muscular calves and ending in a pair of black five-inch heels. Willem noted that the ass encased in leather was round and muscular and admired the mane of long red hair sinuously cascading down her back. Her face was breathtakingly symmetrical and her make up was understated and elegant. But it was her eyes that electrified Willem’s spine. They were living green emeralds flaming with a barely constrained heat, a carnality that was palpable and insisting. And Willem wasn’t the only one who noticed. All the husbands in the place were stressing their neck vertebras to snatch a covert peek past their wives’ jabbering heads.

In addition to her physical charms Ms. Betancourt also had a reputation. According to the waiter grapevine she had slept with most of the handsome bartenders and waiters in town. So far Willem had not been the beneficiary of her outsized libido but something told him tonight would be his night.

“Good evening Ms. Betancourt,” Willem said, giving her his most charming smile.

“Hello,” she said in a husky voice with a trace of a British accent. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around her before.”

“It’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure to serve you.”

“Well, I’m in the mood for some pleasure,” she said coyly. “What do you recommend?”

Willem told her the specials, rolling his tongue around the Italian words as if he were licking a clitoris. When he was finished Ms. Betancourt asked, “Are you one of the specials too?’

“I might be,” he said.

“Good,” she said. “I’m in the mood for something special.”

After perusing the menu Ms. Betancourt ordered a three hundred dollar bottle of wine and the veal osso buco. For the rest of the night Willem acted like she was his only customer. Whenever he walked past her table her eyes twinkled with a lust as she ran her pink tongue across her lips. Tonight’s the night, Willem thought. I’m in like Flynn.

Suddenly Willem’s reverie was busted by the sound of glass shattering. Turning around, he saw the Reynaldo had dropped an entire rack of wine glasses on the hardwood floor.

“You idiot,” Willem said. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I’m sorry, boss,” Reynaldo said smiling, displaying his gold tooth. “I trip.”

“You know Manny’s gonna make you pay for those.”

“What?” Reynaldo said, incomprehensively. “No comprendo.”

“Jesus,” Willem said. “Haven’t you learned any English since you’ve been here?” Reynaldo just grinned at him.

Willem looked the busboy with barely contained fury. A short Mexican with a wiry frame and thick black hair, Reynaldo had been working at The Bistro for two months. He was an okay enough worker, but his poor language skills drove Willem crazy.

“You’re in the USA, motherfucker,” Willem said. “We speak English here. You had better learn some before I call La Migra.”

Reynaldo’s eyes widened. Like the most of the busboys and cooks, Reynaldo was in the country illegally. Both Manny and Willem routinely exploited that fear to keep them in line.

“Chop, chop,” Willem said, “Clean this shit up pronto.”

“Yes, boss,” Reynaldo said. “I sorry.”

“You had better be,” Willem said. “Fuck up like that again and there’ll be no money for you to send home.” Then Willem watched with satisfaction as Reynaldo went down on his hands and knees to pick the shards of glass off the floor. That’s where those stupid Mexicans should be, Willem thought. On their knees. Unlike his co-workers, Willem didn’t buy into the loving the illegal Latino thing.


As the night wound down and the staff started breaking down the tables, Ms. Betancourt was the last customer in the place. She had tipped Willem two hundred dollars on a four hundred dollar check and was finishing her cappuccino when Willem went up to thank her.

“Thank you very much, Ms. Betancourt,” Willem said. “I appreciate your generosity.”

“Let me show you some more,” she said mischievously. “Want to meet for a drink?”

“That would be great.”

“How long till you get off?”

“I’d say about half an hour.”

“Meet you at the American Bar then?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.’

After Willem watched Betancourt’s twitching hips walk out the door he hustled to finish his side work and then sat with the other waiters as Manny did the count. They couldn’t leave until every dime was accounted for and Manny had a nasty habit of turning it into an hour ordeal.

“Let’s go, Manny,” Willem said after thirty minutes. “Quit jerking us around.”

“You have a hot date or something?” Manny said. “You gonna fuck that Betancourt chick?’

“I just want to get home, Manny. It’s been a long night.”

“Yeah right,” Manny said, handing Willem his tips. “I took out the salad and pasta you screwed up. You also had a customer walk out with the merchant copy of the credit card slip. So you I’m taking that out of your tips until the credit card people send the money. Too bad. That was a hundred bucks.”

Willem groaned. He knew he’d never get his money back. Manny would take the tip and put it in his pocket. It was an old scam. Willem had suffered through corrupt managers in the past and had been able to destroy them all. Willem know he’d have to extort the owner a little to take Manny out. Maybe invite one of his Pietro’s hookers to the restaurant for a free meal as he sat there with his wife and kids. Then Manny would be out on the streets. Just wait, you fat fuck, Willem thought. You’re going down. But as Willem’s anger inflated his head with savage pressure, he knew he had to vent his rage sooner than later.

Once he was cut loose, Willem went to the parking lot, whipped out his ivory handled pocketknife and slashed the tires on Manny’s car. “Take that, motherfucker,” Willem whispered ferociously. Lost in his anger, Willem didn’t see the Claude, the homeless guy who usually hung out behind The Bistro, staring at him wide-eyed.

“What are you looking at?” Willem said.

“Nothing,” Claude said.

Willem grabbed Claude by the lapel of his dirty jacket and slammed him up against the wall. “You didn’t see shit, did you?”

Claude didn’t struggle. He had been on the receiving end of Willem’s anger before. When the other waiters tried giving him something to eat, Willem would snatch it out of his hands and throw it in the trash. He knew Willem thought homeless guys hanging around was bad for business.

Willem’s nose wrinkled as the sour unwashed smell of Claude’s clothes invaded his nostrils. “Jesus, Claude. You smell like shit.”


“If you tell anyone what you saw, I’ll find you and give you a beat down. Got it?”
“Just let me go.”

Willem enjoyed feeling Claude squirm under his grasp. When he was in San Francisco he’d rough up bums for drugs when he was low on cash. Homeless people were always good for meth and weed. Sometimes he even shook them down for money. Willem didn’t care. Like the Mexicans, he thought people like Claude were parasites.

When he was finished with Claude, Willem walked the four blocks to the American Bar. Betancourt was sitting on a bar stool with her elegant legs crossed as she rebuffed a Master of the Universe type trying to impress her with his Armani suit and gold jewelry. What this clown didn’t know was Betancourt could buy and sell him ten times over. The president of a major pharmaceutical giant with a net worth in the millions, Betancourt drove a Bentley coupe and lived in a large postmodern mansion alongside the river. This guy didn’t stand a chance.

“I think we should be on a first name basis now,” Willem said, plopping into the stool she had been saving.

“Who the fuck are you?” the Master of the Universe said.

“He’s the young man I’ll be leaving with tonight,” Betancourt said. “Now piss off.”

A sullen, jealous look flooded the man’s eyes. For a minute Willem thought he’d make something of it. But Willem was young and strong and his rival was old and weak. Sensing this wasn’t an encounter he’d win, the man walked away, feeling his universe get a little smaller.

Betancourt smiled. “He was scared of you,” she said.

“He has better be.”

“I like tough guys,” she said, slipping a hand inside Willem’s thigh.

As Betancourt’s fingers worked their way towards crotch his erection was instant and urgent.

“Mmm…” Betancourt purred. “Is that for me?” For the first time in a long time, Willem was speechless. This time he was putty in someone else’s hands.

An hour later Willem was standing in Betancourt’s richly appointed kitchen while she mixed a pitcher of martinis. Looking out the patio doors Willem could see that the house was shielded from prying eyes by a thick line of trees that flowed down from the road down to the edge of a perfectly manicured lawn. The moonlight gently touching the waters of the large swimming pool in the backyard made cerulean shimmers dance across Willem’s face. Suddenly he felt a pang of jealousy. He wanted to live like this too.

Betancourt handed Willem a martini in a frosted glass. “You know what happens if you don’t look into woman’s eyes when you make a toast?” she said.

“No, what?”

“You’ll have seven years of bad sex.”

As they clinked glasses, Willem grinned. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

“Good,” said Betancourt, as she slipped her arms around Willem. “Very good.”

When they got to the bedroom there was no foreplay, no gentleness. Thrashing on the bed with abandon, Betancourt used her strong legs to pull Willem in deeper as he thrusted into her body with animal ferocity. When her pleasure hit its peak Betancourt raked her nails down Willem’s back and came with a back arching slam that made Willem join her in release. There were two repeat performances. When they were finally finished, Willem drowsily gazed at Betancourt’s sweat slicked body.

“That was great,” he said, taking her into his arms. “Absolutely fucking great.”

Betancourt stiffened. “You have to go now,” she said.

“What? I thought we’d stay in and have breakfast tomorrow. Maybe do it again.” Betancourt’s answer was to slip out of Willem’s embrace and stand by the bed.

“You have to leave now,” she said. “I can’t have you here.”

Willem sat up and noticed a strange off-kilter look Betancourt’s eyes.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said. “We had a nice time didn’t we? Did I do something wrong?”

“I’ve slept with so many guys,” Betancourt said, her voice strained. “So many…”

“I’m not a virgin either,” Willem said. “So what?”

Betancourt sighed. “Every time I fuck a guy a little bit of me dies.”

Willem had met some freaky tricks in his time, but no one had ever kicked him out of bed. He was the one who always left them. “Listen,” he said. “I know we’re not going to get married or anything. I know the deal.”

“Do you?” Betancourt said. “What do you think that tip was for? You were bought and paid for. Now get out.” Disgusted, Willem got dressed.

“How am I supposed to get home?”

“Call a taxi,” she said. “Do whatever. Just leave.” So Willem left, called a cab on his cell phone and waited at the front door until it arrived.

“Where to?” the cabbie asked. Willem gave the address.

“Got kicked out, huh?” the cabbie said. .

“How’d you know that?”

“Pal,” the cabbie said. “I’ve picked up a lot of guys at this lady’s house. She’s a strange piece of tail.”


The next day Willem walked into The Bistro at three o’clock to work Sunday dinner. Willem hated working Sundays and a hangover headache was pulsing behind his left eye. But he didn’t really care about how his night had turned out. It was worth it to fuck that chick, he thought.

As Willem walked to the back of the restaurant he noticed the waiters and busboys eyeing him quietly. From the tension in their faces he could tell something was up. Maybe Manny had been screaming at them about his slashed tires; who knew with him. But when Willem saw the two men in off the rack suits sitting at one of tables, a jolt of fear rippled across his stomach. He knew cops when he saw them.

“That’s him,” Manny said to the men. “That’s him.”

“Are you Willem Kander?” one of the men said, standing up.

“Yeah,” Willem said. “Who are you?’

The man was tall with a ruddy face and salt and pepper hair. He was fat but his shoulders were broad and he didn’t look soft. “I’m Detective Harriman from the Orangeburg police,” he said. “This here is Detective Quinones.”

“What’s this about?’ Willem said.

“Were you with Alicia Betancourt last night?” Quinones asked, rising from his chair. Unlike his partner, Quinones was slim and dark. As he walked towards Willem a quiet menace coiled inside him like a spring being compressed.

“Maybe,” Willem said. “So what?”

“Don’t bullshit us, kid,” Harriman said. “All your co-workers said you were flirting with her. You were seen together by ten people with her at the American Bar and a cabbie picked you up at her house at four in the morning.”

“So I went home with her,” Willem said. “What of it?’

Quinones looked at him hard. “Alicia Betancourt was found dead this morning. She was beaten to death.”

Willem throat dried out. “What?” he managed to croak.

“You need to come with us,” Harriman said, holding out a pair of handcuffs. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

The cops frisked him, relived him off his pocketknife and cuffed him. As the steel bracelets bit into Willem’s wrists he saw Manny’s fat face grinning in triumph, Reynaldo sucking on his gold tooth and his fellow waiters looking at him with a combination of shock and disgust. When Harriman bundled him into the police issue Crown Victoria, Willem saw Claude on the street corner shaking his head sadly.

When they got to the station they dumped him in an interrogation room and left him to sweat there for an hour. Then Harriman walked in carrying a manila folder with Quinones trialing behind him. Harriman slapped the folder on the steel desk and sat down. Quinones pulled up a chair, turned it around and leaned his elbows on its back. The weight of Quinones’ stare made Willem shift in his chair.

“You’ve got a bit of a record here, Kander,” Harriman said, his voice devoid of emotion as he flipped though the folder’s contents. “Solicitation, prostitution, two counts of assault and a drug charge in San Francisco. A DUI and suspended license in this county – you’re quite the fuckup.”

“You slashed your manager’s tires last night,” Quinones said.

“No. I didn’t,” Willem said.

“C’mon,” Harriman said. “The homeless guy saw you. He said you popped them with a pocketknife with an ivory handle. And guess what? You had that kind of knife on you.”

“Claude’s drunk half the time,” Willem said. “You can’t trust what he says.”

“He also says you assaulted him last night.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“When did you leave Betancourt’s house last night?” Quinones asked.

“I don’t remember,” Willem said.

Harriman took some photographs and laid them on the desk. Willem looked. They were pictures of Betancourt naked on a slab. Her once lovely face was purple and cracked in half. Her throat was swollen, bruises covered most of her body and the jagged edges of three ribs jutted out of her side.

“Jesus Christ,” Willem said. “You think I did that?’

“The medical examiner puts her time of death between three and five in the morning,” Quinones said. “The cab driver says he picked you up at four. The time’s in his log sheet. So what happened?”

“I didn’t kill her.”

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Harriman said. “Betancourt was a nympho. We know that. So she took you home and you fucked her. But then she wanted to toss you out. The cabbie told us she had done it to other guys before. But you got angry. Narcissistic guys like you don’t take rejection well so you hit her. You probably just wanted to scare her, right, Willem? But it didn’t stop there, did it? You got caught up in the frenzy. Maybe you don’t even remember beating her. We found a empty pitcher of martinis in the room.”

“She was a bit freaky, yeah, “Willem said. “But she was fine when I left.”

“So what’s this?’’ Quinones said, producing a clear plastic evidence bag. Inside it was a bloody shirt. “We found this in the dumpster in the back of the restaurant. It’s yours.”

“That’s not mine,” Willem said.

“It’s yours,” Quinones said. “Your restaurant’s name is sewn into the shirt pocket and you’re the only waiter there who wears this size.”

“I leave some extra shirts there,” Willem said. “Anybody could have taken one.”

“Yeah,” Quinones said. “But you were in Betancourt’s house. Nobody else. The only prints we found were yours and hers. There was no break in. Her security alarm wasn’t tripped. She let her killer into the house. And that, my friend, was you.”

“This is all a mistake,” Willem said, tears suddenly stinging his eyes. “This is all a horrible mistake.

“No mistake,” Quinones said. “You’re a violent one, aren’t you? Slashing those tires and beating up on a homeless guy. And then there’s that stuff from Frisco. You’re done, Kander. The jury will serve you up on a plate.”

“You’re under arrest for the murder of Alicia Betancourt,” Harriman said. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything that you say can and will be used against you…”

But Willem didn’t hear the detective as he collapsed in on himself. He had no one to turn to. His father had disowned him long ago. He had no money. He was on his own. And when Quinones tossed him into a cell Willem ceased to be Willem. He had become a number lost in the implacable machinations of the state.


As Aeromexico flight 1756 began its descent into Mexico City International Airport the man sitting in seat 1A looked out his window and smiled as the pinpoints of light glowing upwards from the city of fourteen million souls slid past his reflection in the glass like fireflies. The man was happy. He was coming home.

The man was wearing a custom fitted ten thousand dollar Kiton suit, his feet were shod in Ferregamos and the gold Patek Philippe watch glinting on his wrist matched his cufflinks and hand painted Hermes tie. To the casual observer he looked like just another wealthy first class passenger flying back to La Ciudad de los Palacios after a successful business trip.

The man listened as the French passengers behind him complained about the wine choices the airline offered. French was only one of the languages the man spoke. Fluent in English, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Russian and a host of aboriginal South American dialects, he could talk his way from Canada to Tierra del Fuego with ease. He was also fearsomely expert with firearms, edged weapons, hand-to-hand combat, explosives, chemicals and poisons. He was a master of intelligence tradecraft, defeating electronic defenses, escape and evasion, an expert seaman and qualified to fly several kinds of aircraft. He had killed, bishops, politicians, cartel bosses, policemen, soldiers, men, women and children. He did not care why. He only cared about getting paid.

It had gone very well in America; the man thought. The waiter, knowing he was facing life in prison, copped a plea for second-degree murder. If he were lucky, he’d get of jail in twenty years. The man smiled again. He had stolen what was left of the boy’s youth. That was just as well, he thought. His youth hadn’t been very promising.

When the waiter left the Betancourt’s house, the man slipped inside without leaving a trace. After bypassing the alarm system in a way that no one would ever suspect it had been tampered with, he opened the door with the key and crept up to the woman’s bedroom. He knew the layout of the house because he had been in there many times to clean the pool. The gringa had let him in to use the bathroom. It was child’s play to steal a key.

When he walked into the bedroom the woman was startled. “What are you doing here?” she asked before he smashed her windpipe. He didn’t want her to die instantly. The people who hired him wanted her to suffer. As the woman’s screams got lost in her crushed throat, he methodically beat her with leather-gloved hands until her lovely body had been reduced to pulp. Then, as she looked at him with eyes filled with the fear of death, he drove his fist into her perfect face. He kept hitting her until her features distorted and then, when he was sure his client would be satisfied, delivered a killing blow to her temple. After waiting a few minutes he checked her pulse. It was gone. Job finished he took the waiter’s uniform shirt off his body and carefully placed it into a plastic bag. Then he let himself out as stealthily as he came in.

Moving to the thick trees where he had hidden for three hours, he took off his clothes and shoes and placed them in a burlap sack. Then he put on fresh clothes, got into his stolen car and drove to a place where he incinerated the bloody evidence. After taking a long shower, he wiped the car down and drove it back to the lot he stole it from. The owner would never know. Then he dropped the waiter’s gore-stained shirt in the dumpster in the back of the restaurant and went back to the apartment he shared with five other people. To avoid suspicion, he stayed in town for a month until the waiter was sent to prison. Then he told his boss he had to go home to care for his sick mother. They wouldn’t miss him. He was replaced by one of his countrymen the next day.

When the plane’s wheels touched down, the man let out a deep sigh. He had been in America for three months and was glad to get home. He had earned two million dollars for his work. Not bad for a mestizo who had fought his way out of the slums, he thought. The man never got paid until the job was done, but he always got paid. The only person who ever reneged on a contract ended up headless with the rest of his family in a garbage dump. His clients hired him though a set of highly secretive and compartmentalized contacts. No one had ever seen his face. To law enforcement he was only known “El Fantasma.” The Ghost. His assignments were sent to him via highly encrypted email with information about his client, target and how the client wished them to die. Sometimes it was blowing a man’s head off with a 1500-yard rifle shot, an arranged car accident, inducing a heart attack or something more brutal. He never asked the reasons for killing anyone. He just did it. Of course he entertained theories. Perhaps the Betancourt woman was a corporate assassination, a jealous lover or a combination of both. The email only told him to make it look like a vicious and painful murder. The customer didn’t want anything traced back to him and the waiter was a convenient patsy. The man could have picked any number of the men the woman consorted with, but framing the waiter was good karma. He was an arrogant one, the man thought to himself.

The plane landed and the man walked to the main entrance where Gustavo, his driver, was waiting to pick him up in an armored Mercedes Benz. When he got home to his large house in Bosques de las Lomas, he would kiss his children, drink a real margarita, smoke a Cuban cigar and then make love to his beautiful wife. As he walked to his car he took the fake gold cap off his perfectly good tooth and threw it in the trash. He was Javier Ramirez Sanchez, the most lethal man in the Western Hemisphere. To his people he was El Fantasma. But to the Norte Americanos, he was just another Mexican.

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