Speak of the Devil
Anna fiddled with the napkin on her lap and willed her stomach to calm. Get it together, Curtis. In court, she was tough. She was fearless. As a sex-crimes prosecutor in D.C., she looked in the eyes of the city’s most dangerous men, pointed at them, and described the worst things they’d ever done. But this was different.
This was her life. And tonight she had to execute the most important personal decision she’d ever made.
The Tabard Inn consistently ranked as one of the most romantic restaurants in D.C., which was why she’d chosen it. The evening was warm and clear, and she’d scored a table in the outdoor courtyard. Waves of ivy covered the brick walls; patches of dark sky peeked through a canopy of potted trees. Attractive diners sat around candlelit tables, swirling expensive glasses of wine. The setting was perfect.
Now if the guy would only show up.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text. She glanced down hopefully, but the message was work-related.
Det. Hector Ramos: Parking near brothel. Heading in soon.
She texted back.
Good. Be safe.
She set the phone down and watched the door, wondering when Jack would walk through—and how it would feel to meet his eyes now that she’d made her decision. He was ten minutes late, which wasn’t
like him. Maybe he wasn’t coming. That wouldn’t be surprising, given their recent history. She would either have the most romantic moment of her life or crushing humiliation. She felt like the Bachelorette, only with slightly less cleavage showing.
• • •
Two miles away, Tierra Guerrero counted the lines radiating from the circle of rotten ceiling. Seven. Not a perfect spider, then, but nobody’s perfect. She was just glad to have something to look at. The ceilings she worked under became intimately familiar, and the spidery crack provided a welcome distraction.
It was distracting her, even now, from Ricardo’s wet grunts in her ear. His red face bobbed a few inches above hers; his humid breath filled her lungs. The bed rocked with his relentless pumping. Most johns were limited to fifteen minutes, but the brothel owner could go as long as he wanted.
Her hips ached from being pummeled against the mattress all day. She wanted a hot shower, dinner, and a long night’s sleep. “Ooh.” She ran her fingers down Ricardo’s back and tried to sound like a woman overcome with lust. “Sí, sí, sí.” To her ears, the moans sounded lame, but most dates responded to even the feeblest signs of passion. Ricardo was no different. He squeezed her arms and pumped faster.
The room was small and shabby, lit by a cheap bedside lamp. A sheet hung from the ceiling, separating two sagging mattresses. The privacy curtain was unnecessary at the moment, though—the other mattress was empty. Tierra was the only girl working today, which meant lots of money, but also lots of wear and tear. She glanced longingly at the stack of poker chips on the nightstand. She hoped Ricardo would be fair when she exchanged the chips for cash. She was supposed to get half the money from her tricks, but Ricardo seemed like the slippery type. She sighed and went back to watching the spidery crack. How much longer could he keep this up?
The sound of male voices drifted in from the living room. They were louder and angrier than the usual murmur of men waiting their turn. She glanced at Ricardo, but his eyes were squeezed shut, his face
scrunched in ecstasy. His body might be on top of hers, but his mind was far away.
The bedroom door burst open and crashed into the wall. Three young men strode in, all wearing trench coats, all carrying machetes. Tierra tried to sit up, but she was pinned by the brothel owner’s body.
“Ricardo!” she screamed.
One of the men hitched an arm around Ricardo’s neck and yanked him off her. He slammed the owner against the wall, held the machete to his throat, and spoke in a low growl.
“This is for the Mara Salvatrucha.”
• • •
The unmarked Jeep Cherokee pulled to the curb two blocks from the brothel. Three of the four officers wore bulletproof vests with the word POLICE stamped in white letters. Only Hector Ramos wore jeans and a black T-shirt. The only Hispanic detective on D.C.’s Human Trafficking Task Force, Hector played the undercover “customer” in many of the brothel busts in the city.
“She’s not a lesbian,” Hector said, tucking the transmitter into his front pocket.
“Of course she is,” said Ralph. “I have proof.”
“She said no when you asked her out?”
“That’d make half the women in D.C. lesbians.”
The guys in the back laughed.
“Your mother didn’t say no.”
“That’s the best you got?” Hector said. “Mama jokes? No wonder she turned you down.”
“Your mother loved my jokes.” Ralph took a swig of coffee. “Seriously, though. Why won’t she date police?”
“Lady like that wants a hero.” Hector put his real wallet into the glove compartment and stuffed the decoy wallet into his back pocket. “Not a bunch of children.”
He knew the guys would talk about Anna Curtis the whole time he
was gone. The prosecutor was beautiful, friendly, and single. She was both a diversion and an enigma to the police who worked with her. Hector was considering asking her out himself—he might stand a better chance than most. If this bust went well, maybe he’d ask her to go to the firing range or grab drinks after work one night.
He reached around and patted his lower back. His fingers rested momentarily on the Glock, solid and reassuring, tucked into his jeans. He opened the door.
“You boys gonna be okay in this big car all by yourselves?”
“Get the fuck outta here,” Ralph laughed.
“Good luck,” called a voice from the backseat. The UC work was the riskiest part of the operation.
“I don’t need luck.” Hector stepped out of the Jeep. “I got you guys watching my back.” He shut the door and walked toward the brothel.