All eyes turned to the third person in the photo. Posing on Don Manuel’s left, and standing a full head taller than his companions, was a handsome, slim, well-built man in his early twenties. He had thick, wavy black hair that was gelled firmly in place, a straight, broad nose and full lips. He wore dark, aviator sunglasses and army fatigues. Like Ana, he was holding an assault rifle and smiling for the camera.
“That’s correct,” Comarella agreed. “The man standing next to Don Manuel in this photo is Enrique Ramirez, one of the men we believe abducted Tatiana. He began his career at the age of fourteen as a drug runner for La Dinastía, moving product into the United States through the porous Texas border. He made his way rapidly up the ranks and eventually became a trusted lieutenant to Don Manuel. To Abe, he was like a younger brother. Abel Aldana took him under his wing, showed him the ropes, and even encouraged a budding romance between Ramirez and the then eighteen-year-old Tatiana. Expectations were that the couple would one day marry and Enrique would finally be a true member of the family, in every sense.”
Roberts advanced the slideshow again and a new photo appeared, this one of a young, fair-skinned, Latino man with stormy blue eyes and thick, black hair. “His relationship, both with the cartel and with the Aldana family, ended abruptly, however, shortly after Ana’s twentieth birthday. According to our sources, the couple had been arguing earlier in the evening and Ana went off with a group of girlfriends to a party. There, she met up with this man, Diego Díaz. From what we’ve been able to determine, Díaz had no loyalty to any particular cartel and, although he knew Ana casually, we have no reason to believe that they were anything more than friends. Nevertheless, Ramirez was known to be extremely controlling of her and when he showed up several hours later, he was, by all accounts, acting irrationally. According to eyewitness statements, he’d either been drinking or doing drugs, perhaps both. He saw Tatiana and Díaz talking together and flew into a jealous rage. He beat Tatiana nearly to death and when Díaz tried to intervene, Ramirez killed him with a single gunshot to the chest. Tatiana emerged from the incident with a broken nose and jaw, a dislocated shoulder, three cracked ribs, and a concussion.” A new image of Ana appeared on the screen. The shot had obviously been taken with a telephoto lens, but the sling around her arm and the injuries to her face were unmistakable, even from a distance.
Comarella paused to allow Steve a moment to absorb the shock before continuing. “When Ramirez finally sobered up, he realized that there could be no going back to La Dinastía and he made a run for it. We believe he was then recruited by La Costa, La Dinastía’s fiercest rival. We believe they gave him this assignment both to test his loyalty and because of his personal knowledge of Tatiana and her family.”
“Assignment?” Steve repeated. “You believe Ana was abducted as some kind of assignment for a drug cartel?”
“We believe they abducted her as leverage,” Becker said.
“Leverage? What do you mean ‘leverage’?”
“You must understand,” Comarella said, “the Aldana family is wealthy, very wealthy. They’re thought to have a vast network of well-paid spies, working throughout Central America and the United States. Through Abe, they’ve been sharing their insights with the Mexican authorities for more than a year-feeding the Mexican Federal Police, the so-called Federales, information about their rivals, particularly La Costa.”
“In exchange for what?”
“That’s not relevant here,” Agent Comarella said.
“To hell it’s not,” Steve said, shooting a questioning look at Becker, who would not meet his eyes.
Comarella continued, as though he had not been interrupted, “Recently, members of La Costa discovered his role as an informant. We still don’t know how they found out, but we’re certain they know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Steve interrupted again. “Ramirez must have told them.”
Comarella shook his head. “Impossible, he left La Dinastía before Abe started cooperating. He never knew about it, at least, not as far as anyone knows. One attempt has already been made on Abe’s life and he and his entire family have now gone underground. They’re heavily guarded and heavily armed. The only one who chose not to follow them into hiding was…”
“…Ana.” Steve’s voice broke as he finished the thought.
Comarella nodded. “Yes, Ana must have thought that she was far enough removed from it all to be safe, that’d she’d run far enough to escape them. She should have known better, really,” he added, more to himself than to Steve. “We believe they’ve kidnapped Tatiana in an attempt to force her brother out of hiding.”
Steve stared blankly ahead, his eyes glassy with unshed tears. “You believe they’re using her as bait?” he asked.
“So now what?’ Steve asked, his voice a hoarse whisper.
Comarella exchanged a grim look with the detectives. “We’re working with the Mexican authorities and with our own federal agencies to decide what our next move should be. I assure you, we’re doing everything we can.”
Steve made a noise that was somewhere between a laugh and a groan.
Melissa put a hand on his shoulder, to offer whatever comfort a human touch could provide. “Is there anything more we can do?” she asked, looking first at Comarella and then at Becker. “Maybe Steve could reach out to someone in our embassy in Mexico?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Detective Roberts broke in. “Agent Comarella’s office has already done that. You should let them handle it. In fact, Mrs. Bancroft, I think we’ve got everything we need from you. You’re free to go back to Michigan whenever you’d like. We’d just ask that you leave us a number where you can be reached.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she objected, almost as a reflex. Then, as if remembering her place in the scheme of things, she looked at Steve. “I mean, not unless you want me to, of course. If your own family is going to join you here and you’d rather…”
“I don’t have any family,” Steve said. “My parents died in a plane crash ten years ago and I have no brothers or sisters. Ana is all the family I have. But what about your own family? Don’t you need to get back to your husband?”
“Marc’s a grown man. He can look after things for a while. I just…” she hesitated. “I feel like I need to see this through.”
“Well,” continued Detective Roberts, “while I appreciate that you want to lend your support, you have to understand that the department cannot possibly continue to pay for a hotel room when…”
From his tone, Melissa found it difficult to believe that he appreciated her support. In fact, she began to feel like a house guest who had overstayed her welcome. She was undeterred. “That’s fine, I’ll pay for it myself.”
“I don’t want you to have to…” Steve began.
“I’ll pay for it myself,” she repeated firmly.
He smiled at her gratefully and, together, they looked back at Detective Roberts, who nodded curtly, looking annoyed. “Well then, I’ll have one of our officers drive you back to the hotel. We’ll need to speak to Steve here privately.”
“We came in my car,” she said. “I can drive myself back.” She smiled at Steve, gave his arm a gentle squeeze and left the room.”