Laredo, Texas, January 28, 2005
MELISSA ANDARZA had been a state employee exactly three years by the time she decided to switch jobs and become a US Federal Probation officer. Not long before joining the ranks of the gainfully employed, twenty-eight-year-old Andarza had attended the University of Texas at Laredo, where she’d graduated with a B.A. in criminal justice, magna cum laude. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she was a first-generation American and the first member in her family to graduate from college. She was her close-knit family’s pride and joy.
Melissa began her professional life as a juvenile probation officer with the Webb County Juvenile Probation Department, where she earned her wings and received accolades from her superiors for her dedication, resourcefulness, unwavering work ethic and ability to get along with others. But now, after having worked as an adult federal probation officer close to a year, the “lucky one” (as her colleagues at work called her) was engaged to be married to heart throb DEA agent, Samuel “Sammy” Guerra, Jr.
The two had met while working on the Victor Montalvo prosecution, a case involving money laundering and drug trafficking. Sammy had been the special agent spearheading the criminal investigation. After a year of contested hearings, bickering, posturing, haggling, debriefings and negotiations between the US Attorney and his defense counsel, Montalvo had finally pled guilty. After the guilty plea, Melissa’s task had been to interview the defendant for the purpose of writing up his pre-sentence investigation report. The district judge had ended up adopting all of the recommendations contained in her report. Montalvo subsequently received a well-deserved life sentence. Unless he escaped from custody, the kingpin was expected to kick the bucket in prison.
This chilly and foggy Saturday morning, Melissa was wrapping up her long-distance run before joining her thirty-year-old fiancé and mamá y papá for breakfast at Maria’s, her favorite eatery. With their wedding less than nine months away, Melissa had increased her weekend runs from three to five miles. Since she didn’t smoke, rarely drank and hated to binge on food, jogging in and around Rio Viejo Estates – Laredo’s wealthiest and safest neighborhood – was her way to combat the mounting stress of her “dream wedding.” There were guest lists to be updated, invitations to be mailed out, meetings with caterers, setting up wedding registries at several department stores, finding the right photographer, dress fittings, organizing the rehearsal dinner, booking room blocks for the guests coming up from Mexico and elsewhere, even lining up the mariachis for the church ceremony.
Melissa looked at her watch and picked up the pace. It was close to eight-thirty. She had four miles to go. Breakfast with her parents had been scheduled for ten that morning. After her early run, she would head to her modest apartment to shower and change before catching up with the family. She smiled as the music from her Ipod triggered images of her and Special Agent Guerra making love on the gorgeous beaches of Oaxaca on their long-awaited honeymoon.
She wondered if making love on a sandy beach under the cover of darkness would be considered a crime in Mexico. Could we get arrested? Could we lose our government jobs over such a minute indiscretion? The whole idea sounded exciting and irresistible. In her mind, she could picture the tender episode, as the Pacific Ocean lazily pounded the shore and a silver moon straddled the jagged cliffs surrounding the magical bay of Huatulco.
Just then, as the idyllic images became more and more intense, she was startled by a large silhouette standing in a driveway down the street. The man appeared to be barefoot, in his robe. Through the morning mist, she barely recognized Tommy Ray, a prosperous defense attorney known for representing members of the Gulf and Juárez drug cartels. She’d seen the flashy attorney in federal court on many occasions, handling a variety of criminal cases. In fact, it had been Ray who had assembled, coordinated and first-chaired Montalvo’s defense team. The millionaire attorney, it seemed, always had a hand in Laredo’s high-profile criminal prosecutions. At six feet tall, he was hard to miss.
The Rays were one of Laredo’s founding families. They were civic leaders, successful entrepreneurs and pillars in the community. As Melissa came closer, it became apparent that Tommy Ray was holding something in his hand. He looked up menacingly at her. He seemed disheveled, confused and disoriented. He was restless, pacing back and forth like a caged animal. She’d never seen him like this.
Nearby, to her right, Melissa noticed a US Mail truck sitting in front of Ray’s driveway, the engine idling, blue smoke coming out of its muffler. As Melissa jogged by, she saw the mail carrier slumped over the steering wheel, blood splattered on the windshield. She panicked and began to scream. Melissa spun around and tried to sprint to safety. Tommy Ray cocked his silencer-ready 357 Magnum, locked her in his sight and pulled the trigger. The lethal Black Talon bullet hit Melissa between the shoulder blades and sent her flying like a rag doll, slamming her down on the asphalt. Her Ipod came to rest on the grassy sidewalk, Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” still blaring from the earphones.
She was faced down, her delicate frame twitching. Her heart was pounding louder and louder, her head felt like it was about to explode. Choking on her own blood, she started to lose consciousness. “Me muero!” she moaned. Her punctured lungs made it impossible to breathe. “Sammy, Sammy,” she whispered, “mi amor.”
Seconds later as the darkness closed in, she heard the faint wailing of police sirens in the distance. “God, please……I don’t…want to die. Save…me. Jesus, let…me live,” she gurgled, struggling for precious air. More blood spewed out from her nose, mouth and ears, a large pool curdling on the blacktop.
|Adult Books - Fiction - Crime Fiction - Thriller/Suspense|
The Name Partner.
Cisneros, Carlos (author).
Mar. 2010. 368p. Arte Publico, hardcover, $24.95 (9781558855946).
REVIEW. First published February 8, 2010 (Booklist Online).
This follow-up to The Case Runner (2008), the author’s debut, continues his exploration of the ethical ambiguity of the legal profession. It’s not a sequel; Cisneros introduces a new protagonist, Guillermo “Billy” Bravo, an ambitious attorney whose goal of becoming a name partner seems easily within reach. All he has to do is defend a pharmaceutical company against a charge that their new psychotropic drug is responsible for a murder-suicide; for Billy, who’s never lost a case, this sort of thing is a walk in the park. But soon (experienced readers will see this coming) Billy learns that his superiors have their own reasons for wanting the case to go away and that the pharmaceutical company is keeping some nasty secrets. This thriller lands firmly in John Grisham territory: the up-and-coming lawyer, the big corporation, the conspiracy involving his own firm. But Cisneros, a practicing attorney in Texas, makes the material his own, mostly by playing up the themes of personal and corporate ethics. The novel isn’t merely a fast-paced legal thriller; it’s also a thoughtful rumination on the conflict between ambition and morality. — David Pitt