Nico Santiago had a dream. He envisioned a thriving, dazzling Puerto Rico, envy of the States, jewel of the Caribbean, a transformation people would be talking about a hundred years from now, a metamorphosis that all started with his beloved city—San Juan, pride of the commonwealth.
Why not? Look what they’d done with New York City in the nineties. Clean up the street crime, purge the corruption. Lance the boil! Drain the infection!
Which meant taking down the Devil.
Yes, Nico was only one guy, a lowly homicide cop. But hey, every revolution started with some nobody who cared enough to act, right?
Which was why, at that moment, he was jumping over two toppled trash bins in the middle of the night, slipping on the grease-covered garbage that spilled over the cobblestones, and falling on his ass in an alley in La Perla, the sketchiest neighborhood in the city.
Nico swore under his breath as he scrabbled to his feet and kept running. Down a set of crumbling cement steps, across a narrow cobblestone street, hopping a chain-link fence, he ran on, straining to catch any scraps of sound beyond the slow pounding of the surf below and his own ragged breath.
There! A scuffle of footsteps, dead ahead.
Ha. The puta was heading for the shoreline—as if the rocks and seawater could save him! Just like he’d thought he could shake Nico in the first place by trying to disappear down here into the city’s coastal underbelly.
La Perla: America’s oldest shantytown. A shunned strip, third of a mile long, jammed outside the city walls down on the rocky Atlantic shore. Built over the ruins of a slaughterhouse, abutting the city’s graveyard, original home of the homeless, the slaves, the non-white servants. La Perla was everything Nico loved and hated about his homeland. The uncrushable spirit of its people. The legacy of oppression, poverty, and crime.
The place where they shot “Despacito,” the greatest music video ever made.
The one place in the city where, if you got into trouble at night, the police wouldn’t come for you. But I’m coming for you now, puta. And you are in one shit-pile of trouble, aren’t you?
He heard the man’s feet hit the cement boardwalk and go bolting off to the east. Nico followed, sprinting full-out . . . three hundred feet . . . five hundred feet . . .
He should have called his partner, shouldn’t be out here on his own, shouldn’t have been stalking this pendejo by himself. His superior officers had nixed the stakeout, nixed the whole investigation, in fact. Too hot, they said. Not worth the risk.
But it was
worth the risk. Nico knew this in his gut. Nail this one guy and he could crack open the whole pineapple. Unmask the Devil himself and end this horrific reign of terror. He wouldn’t risk his partner’s badge, but he was fine with risking his own. So he’d laid the trap all by himself—and he’d caught a rat.
A thousand feet . . .
Only he’d gotten just a shave too close and spooked the mamabicha.
At the end of the strip, where it landed at the foot of the old stone castle that marked La Perla’s eastern terminus, his quarry took a hard right, darting back into the tangle of shacks, a rabbit making a desperate dash for safety in the heart of his warren.
Nico didn’t bother shouting Stop!
or You’re under arrest!
Didn’t waste his breath. Just took off after him.
And then everything went silent.
He skidded to a halt at the mouth of another narrow alleyway. Heard no fleeing footsteps, no scrambling over cobblestones. Only a dog barking and the distant curses of locals rousted from a hungover sleep.
The fine hairs on Nico’s arms stood at attention.
He had to assume the man had a gun.
These days it seemed like everyone in Puerto Rico had a gun.
He couldn’t see far enough into the alley to locate the man, was pretty sure the man couldn’t see him, either. But they were both there, still and silent, each trying to get the drop on the other.
There was no nearby exit up through the city wall. The man was cornered.
But so, for all practical purposes, was Nico.
Suddenly Nico felt an irrational chill shiver through him.
Behind him, far above in the dark, stood an old castle guard sentry-box. According to superstition, every guard who entered there would mysteriously vanish, never to be seen again. La Garita del Diablo, they called it. The Devil’s Tower. Focus, Nico.
He drew out his sidearm, took a few steadying breaths, and crouched down low to crawl his way into the alley, listening as hard as he could, straining to catch any telltale sounds of breath or movement from the other man, hearing nothing.
He began to crawl.
An endless minute ticked by. Then another.
A quarter of the way through.
Inch by agonizing inch.
And then a deep voice boomed out from the far end of the alley, shattering the silence.
“¡Quieto, cabrón!” Freeze, asshole!
Nico let out a harsh, ragged breath and felt his shoulders relax.
Caleb. His partner.
He almost laughed. No jodas . . .
Caleb! That rum-smooth, James Earl Jones voice, the reason they called him “Calypso.” Nico could pick that voice out of a crowd in the middle of a hurricane.
Gracias a Dios.
He took another hard breath and straightened from his crouch, letting the tension drain from his back muscles as the adrenaline flood receded, leaving behind its wreckage of ravaged nerve endings.
He had no idea how Cal had known he was here, why he was out here in the middle of the night when he ought to be home in bed or out drinking like any sane off-duty cop.
Didn’t know, didn’t care. He was just grateful his partner had showed. The chase was over. They were actually arresting this piece of shit, this stain of corruption—and with what this one guy knew, they could bring down the whole house of cards. His investigation was about to be vindicated. Puerto Rico, his homeland, would be cleansed of this plague, given a fresh start.
This night would change their lives, forever. We did it, Lucy. We really did it.
He walked toward the end of the alley, where a shaft of moonlight revealed the enormous figure of Cal, feet spread apart, gun held out in a two-handed stance. The man Nico had been pursuing now knelt on the filthy alleyway floor, hands clasped behind his head.
“That’s no ordinary asshole,” he called out as he approached. “That particular asshole is deputy director of AP.” Autoridad de los Puertos: Ports Authority. In charge of all seaports in Puerto Rico. “That particular asshole runs the docks. And also happens to work for the Devil. A direct report, Cal! Ave María purísma, a direct report!”
Cal threw him a quick glance, eyebrows raised.
“This puta can ID the son of a bitch!” Nico added, just to make the point abundantly clear. He’d been right all along. His stakeout had paid off. They were about to bring down the Devil.
Cal looked down at the kneeling man. “That true?”
The man said nothing.
Cal nodded, impressed. “Damn.” He looked back at Nico. “Nice work. Stellar.”
Nico grinned and put up his palm for a high five.
Cal raised his weapon and shot Nico point-blank in the face.
“¡Jesús!” The kneeling man nearly fell over. He stared up at Cal, his eyes wide as silver dollars. Then his face relaxed. He let out a rush of breath and broke into a grin.
He got to his feet, shakily, brushing the filth off his knees. Grinned up at the big man.
“De nada,” said Cal, and he plugged the man between the eyes.
The second pistol shot reverberated through the dark streets and died away in the surf.
He holstered his 9mm. Reached into a back trouser pocket, withdrew a handkerchief, and wiped his face with it. Held it out and looked at it without expression. In the faint moonlight the smear of Nico’s blood looked black.
He pocketed the cloth, then reached into an inside jacket pocket and slipped out a small leather case, the grain worn smooth. Zipped it open. A glint of moonlight flashed off the stainless steel.
One by one, he began removing his precision tools.