Taming Blaze (Inferno Motorcycle Club 1) - Page 13

“No. But it’s going to be fine.”

One of the guys in the front seat spoke. “No talking.”

“Who are you?” Dani asked, her anger obvious by her tone.

“Dani,” I said under my breath.

“Quiet.” The man in the front spoke again, and Dani went silent. Her mind had to be going a mile a minute, trying to put things together, and despite the situation, I had to stifle a smile at her spirit. She’d been scared momentarily, but now she was just pissed off.

That’s my girl, I thought. “What is this place?” Dani asked.

“I don’t know,” I whispered. We had driven for a couple hours and had been brought to this house, a place that looked like something out of a movie. It was a mansion, all modern architecture, with white walls and white furniture, situated cliffside overlooking the ocean. It looked like a movie star’s place.

We're probably in Malibu, I thought.

I turned toward Dani. “Don’t worry,” I said. I was less concerned now that I saw this place, despite having my hands still zip-tied behind my back. This was a multi-million dollar mansion. The owner was not about to shoot us here. That would be messy, and this place was fucking pristine. We were going to be used as something- maybe bait for someone? But we weren’t about to be shot, at least not right now. That was some comfort.

One of the bodyguards led us into a large room, where another man in a suit stood looking out a window, his back toward us. He was tall and lean, with dark hair and dark skin. When he turned toward us, I immediately saw the resemblance between him and Guillermo. That’s interesting.

“Myron,” he said, gesturing to one of the bodyguards. “Would you please do away with the cuffs?” I felt a snap and then the release of the plastic as my hands came loose. Dani stood beside me, rubbing her wrists, staring at this man, her eyes burning with hatred.

“Why are we here?” she asked angrily. Fearlessly.

“I apologize for the cuffs, and for the way you were brought here,” he said. “I hope that I can trust you’re not about to rush me and attempt to pummel me to death.” He looked at both of us, waiting for a response.

“No,” Dani said.

“Excellent. Now that we’ve gotten that formality out of the way, we can continue. As for the unpleasant manner in which you were brought here, that is not the way I would have liked for this to go. It’s uncivilized, and not a way to treat family. It was merely a precaution, you see, a safety measure my men needed to take since we had no choice but to assume you were armed.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Dani beat me to the punch. “Family?” she asked, voice still angry.

“Who the fuck are you?” I asked.

“I regret that we had to meet this way, under these strained circumstances. You must think I am a monster, kidnapping you like this. Nevertheless, this is how it must be.” His eyes lingered on Dani’s face, and I didn’t like the way he looked at her. Then he sighed. “Dani,” he said. “You look so much like your mother. It’s remarkable.”

Dani’s voice came out raspy, hoarse. “Who are you?”

“Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to a pair of chairs across from the desk. “My apologies. I will explain everything in just a minute.” He walked to an ornate bar, and poured amber liquid from a decanter in glasses, setting them on the desk in front of us.

Dani looked at the glasses, disbelief etched on her face. “No thanks.”

“It’s scotch,” he said, returning to the decanter for a third glass. “It is not poisoned, I assure you. But when you hear what I have to say, you may be grateful for it.”

As we sat waiting for him, my thoughts raced. What the hell was going on here?

Then he sat down heavily in his chair across from us, his face weary. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a very long time,” he said. “My name is Benicio Arias.” I heard the words, but it took me a minute to register what he had just said. “Arias. My name.” I shook my head, furrowing my brow. “No. I don’t have any other family.”

“Yes, I suppose that is what you’re father has told you,” he said. "But I can assure you, I’m his brother.”

“He said his brother was dead.”

Benicio sipped from his glass. “Well, that sounds about right. You could say I’ve been dead for the past twenty years. However, I have come back to life.”

“So you kidnapped us at gunpoint and threw us in the car for, what, a little family reunion?” I was angry about the entire situation, and this guy - my uncle - was making it worse with his blasé attitude, drawing things out like he had all the time in the world for a chat.

“Your father and I have some unfinished business,” he said. “And you, Dani, are a part of that. I made a solemn vow to your mother that one day you would know the truth. And that day is today.”

“Don’t speak about my mother,” I said, hearing the volume of my voice rise. “What do you know about her?”

“I loved her once, and she loved me,” Benicio said. He stared into his glass, and I almost believed him. Almost.

“That’s not true.” I turned to Blaze. “It’s lies, all lies. It’s some kind of cruel game he’s playing. I don’t want to be here. I want to leave.”

Benicio reached into the desk drawer, pulling out a wrinkled and worn photo, and handed it to me. It was a photo of a younger man and woman, her arms wrapped around his neck. My mother, and a younger man, clearly Benicio. I felt my eyes well up with tears, and I bit my lip, trying to hold them back.

“No,” I said. “It can’t be. This can’t be right. Photos can be doctored. They can be photoshopped.” But I knew it was her, the minute I looked at the photo.

“They can,” Benicio said. “But this isn’t photoshopped. You know it hasn’t been altered. This is your mother and I. She loved me, and I loved her.”

My hands shook as I turned the photo over, reading the handwriting. My mother’s handwriting. I would recognize it anywhere.

With love, Eileen.

Her name. I looked up at Benicio. “What do you want from us?” I asked, no longer accusatory and angry. Now I wanted to know why he was here.

“She and I were everything to each other,” Benicio said. “That was a long time ago. Seeing you here, it was like seeing a ghost.” His voice cracked.

“Why am I just meeting you now?” I couldn’t imagine why my father would tell me that all his family members were dead.

“It’s a long story,” Benicio said. “And the reason I brought you here. That, and also I needed to ensure you were protected.”

“Protected from who?” Blaze asked. I could tell he was still pissed off at the way Benicio had taken us from the cabin.

“My father said someone was trying to kill me - the person who killed my mother,” I said, suddenly tense. What if Benicio was the one who killed her?

Benicio’s expression turned dark. “Yes,” he said. “That is exactly what I fear.”

“Then who is it? Who killed my mother?”

“I have my suspicions,” Benicio said. “If I tell you the story, I think you may agree with me.”

“Why not just give me the name and be done with it?” It was beyond irritating, the way this man approached the conversation, casually, like we were lingering over a four-course meal. I wanted to know what information he had about my mother’s murder.

Benicio sighed. “I think it would be much better if I told you the whole story before I told you who I suspect.”

Blaze touched my arm. “Dani,” he said. “Let’s listen to what he has to say.”

I reached for the scotch, swallowing, feeling the burn of the alcohol on my throat. “Okay, go ahead.” Whatever his tone, Benicio didn’t strike me as a liar.

Benicio leaned forward, arms on the desk. “How much do you know about your father, about where he came from, what he does?”

“He came from Panama, years ago,” I said. “I’ve asked him about it, and he told me not to ask questions. Just like everything else. You're always asking too many questions, he said.” I paused. “Shipping. I don’t know exactly what he does, not anymore. I’ve been in college. Things could have changed in the past few years.”

Benicio nodded. “And what do you know about the history of Panama?”

“A little bit. Daddy rarely talks about it. Mom used to tell me stories of living there before they moved here.”

Benicio looked at Blaze, who shrugged, palms in the air. “I know other areas of history," Blaze said. "But Panamanian history is not one of them. I know how to find the country on a map, and that's about it.”

“Well then,” he said. “You’ve heard of Manuel Noriega, of course.”

“Sure,” I said.

He looked at Blaze, clearly unsure whether Blaze knew who Noriega was, then returned his gaze to me. “Manuel Noriega was a military dictator of Panama during the latter half of the eighties. Your father and I were promoted to powerful positions in the administration, positions in economics and finance.”

“The U.S. invaded Panama in the eighties, didn’t we?” Blaze asked.

Benicio nodded. “Yes, but I’ll get there in a moment. General Noriega was extremely pragmatic, motivated by money and power. Corruption was rampant through the administration in those days. And your father and I? We were not innocents, but what can you do?” He shrugged. “If Noriega and others were going to get rich, we were going to get richer.”

“How?” I asked.

“Your father, my brother, was one of General Noriega’s most trusted advisors. He handled the money. He was the one who suggested buying property in Paris to launder money.” Benicio shook his head. “The French, they didn’t end up taking kindly to that. It was a mistake on Guillermo’s part.”

“What does this have to do with my mother?”

“Patience, my dear,” he said, and a sad smile crossed his face. “You are remarkably like her in that regard. You have the same impatience she had. She was reckless sometimes, your mother. It was something I loved about her. She was like a wild horse.”

I opened my mouth, dying to ask more about my mother, but shut it again.

“We benefited from Noriega’s corruption, and from our positions in the administration. We funneled money, billions of dollars in drug money. We laundered it, stashed it in offshore accounts, including our own. But your father wasn’t stupid. He never stole directly from Noriega. The money laundering, that was for Noriega. What we did was use all the contacts for ourselves - military, senior officials, shipping contacts, contacts in the PCA.”

“What’s the PCA?” I asked.

“The Panama Canal Authority. The part of the government that oversees the canal.”

“So, that’s how my father wound up doing what he’s doing now,” I said, the connections beginning to fall into place.

“Yes,” Benicio said. “You’re starting to see now, right? Your father and I were in a position to be privy to knowledge and contacts that we exploited. We got involved in the smuggling trade. And we were successful beyond belief, rich beyond our wildest dreams. But we were smart- we funneled the money offshore, prepared for any eventuality. We both maintained dual United States citizenship. Your father is an intelligent man. He knew that Noriega was a problem for the United States, and that one day we would need to flee. It was a dangerous game we played back then.”

“But what does any of it have to do with my mother?”

“Your mother-” he began. “Your father was with her for a year before we fell in love. They had married, and your mother had begun to see the side of him I knew existed since we were children. Your father is a shrewd businessman, but he is also a cruel man.

“Before the invasion in eighty-nine, I knew Guillermo had found out about us. I was afraid he would kill your mother, that he had somehow discovered we’d planned to run away together. But she was pregnant, and even your father would not harm her at that time.” He paused, sipping from his glass, and I waited for him to finish, barely able to contain myself.

“Your father found out about the planned invasion two days before it happened. That was a benefit of having all of those military contacts. He arranged transport for himself and your mother.” Benicio paused. “And you, in your mother’s belly at the time.”

“But not you,” I said. “You stayed behind. If you loved my mother so much, why did you let my father leave with her?”

“Yes, I did not benefit from receiving that piece of intelligence in time,” Benicio said. “And three days later, a day after the invasion, I was arrested.”

“Guillermo,” Blaze said.

“Yes. My brother had set me up, left a paper trail implicating me in the corruption. It wasn’t anything false, of course. We were both heavily involved in it, you see. But he left evidence linking me, and then fled- with his half of the cash.”

“And that’s why he was able to just continue what he’d been doing, but here,” I said. Things were starting to become clear.

Benicio nodded. “And with a massive reservoir of cash. We had been funneling millions and millions of dollars into offshore accounts. We’d divided it up, and he couldn’t touch mine. That was probably the only reason he didn’t kill me when he found out about your mother and I. Even your father couldn’t resist the chance to come after half a billion dollars eventually.”

“Half a billion dollars,” Blaze said. “Holy shit.”

“As I said, we did very well under General Noriega. It was a very lucrative period for us,” Benicio said. He sipped from his scotch glass.

“So you’ve been in prison this whole time?” I asked.

“Yes,” Benicio said. “I’ve been waiting for this chance for twenty years. The chance to meet you.”

“The chance to get revenge,” I said. I thought I was finally beginning to understand. “You’re the one who wants to kill my father. But why does he think someone wants to kill me?”

“Well, I do want to kill your father, that part is true,” Benicio said. “And I’m not the only one who feels that way, I’m sure. But I’m not a threat to you, and neither is anyone else.”

“What, then?”

“Your father is not a good man.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that much,” I said. In fact, he was sounding worse and worse by the second.

“We’ve both been waiting for my release, even though he walked away with more money than I had. Your father could buy a small country with his profits from his smuggling operation alone. But, you see, it’s not enough. He wants mine. It’s all about your mother, and about you. It always has been.”

“I don’t understand. It was an affair. Even my father isn’t that possessive,” I said, although this was making me start to wonder. “He wants your money because you had an affair with my mother twenty years ago?”

“He deprived me of my freedom,” Benicio said. “He wants to deprive me of the money as well. It’s not only about your mother. It’s also about you.”

“Me? What do you mean?”

Benicio reached into his desk, pulling out an envelope. “You’re not Guillermo’s daughter.”

I heard him say the words, but it was like he was far away, like I was listening from underwater or something.

Not Guillermo’s daughter.

“What- what do you mean?”

“This is a copy of a DNA test,” he said, handing me the envelope.

“But- I don’t understand.” I opened the envelope, staring at the paper, unable to comprehend. I felt like I drowning.

Not Guillermo’s daughter.

“I had one of my men obtain your DNA from a hairbrush in your apartment at Stanford,” Benicio said. “I apologize for the intrusion of privacy. It was the only way I could find out. I truly loved your mother. You have no idea how much.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t believe this. This is some kind of trick.”

“I realize it’s a lot to process,” Benicio said. “But I do need you to understand. Your father may have run his own DNA tests. Knowing him, I assume he would have, a long time ago. I think he always knew you weren’t his.”

Not Guillermo’s daughter.

“But he treated me like -” I stopped. Treated me like his daughter. Whatever that meant. No, Guillermo was my father. As warped as he may have been, he loved me. I knew it.

“My concern is for your safety,” Benicio said. “Your father wants the money. He knows I’m in the country, and he would assume I

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