Zoe had kindly offered him her car for the meet, but Espinal had to decline. She had forgotten that he had not taken the time to obtain an International Driving Permit to drive in the US before leaving Spain. Webb had offered to drive him but neither of them wanted to leave Zeb and Zoe unprotected, so, in the end, it was decided he would just take a taxi. This time, however, the Aurelia police department was footing the bill as a professional courtesy.
Espinal instructed the driver to drop him off half a block away from the entrance to the park. He wanted to get a good look at the place before walking in, to check for potential ambushes. Andres had said he’d be in one of the two SUVs Seve had rented using his permit, the SUV in which Andres had transported Zoe to the Mesa Forest cabin. They had planned to meet in the parking lot furthest from the road, which, as it turned out, was also next to a gorgeous little duck pond, complete with a small group of its namesake busily floating across its still surface.
The park was quite nice, he decided, and very quiet, since it was a weekday. At least, he was pretty sure it was; the days had been kind of running together ever since he left Madrid. At any rate, very few people were out enjoying the park’s amenities. He spotted Andres’ SUV easily enough; it was one of only three vehicles in this whole lot.
He waited until he was close enough to see in through the windshield before waving to his boy. It didn’t matter what had gone wrong between him and Andres’ mother, or that he’d never officially adopted Andres, Espinal always thought of him as just that: his boy. And what was happening to him now was a parent’s worst nightmare. He felt helpless to end it, as well.
Something about the way Andres was sitting… Espinal put his hand down and looked a little more closely. “Andres?” he asked in a whisper.
His heart began beating faster and he had started running to the SUV before he had even processed the cause for urgency. The sand and grass lawn between him and the SUV seemed to have multiplied in length exponentially, making it take a lifetime to get to the driver’s side door.
The scent hit him first as he opened the door. The sharp, metallic smell clogged his nose, then the coppery taste coated his tongue. Andres was hunched over, his fists pressed to a bloody wound in his abdomen. His cheek was resting on the steering wheel. Blood had pooled on his legs and the seat, and was dripping onto the floor mat from between his fingers. His skin was pale.
“Hector,” Andres said weakly, looking up through his lashes, too weak to raise his head.
Espinal reached out his hands, but then hesitated. “”Oh, my boy,”” he said, fear and grief nearly choking him. He didn’t know how to touch him without hurting him.
“”I’m sorry, Hector,”” Andres said, rolling his head to look at Espinal.
“”No, you did nothing wrong. Here,”” Espinal gently placed his hand over Andres’ against the wound, “”I’ve got you.”” He dug his phone out and dialed 911.
“”It’s too late for that,”” Andres said.
“”Shut up and concentrate on staying alive,”” Espinal commanded. When the dispatcher picked up, he filled her in on where they were and what Andres’ condition was. He then tossed the phone onto the dashboard and turned his attention back to his boy.
“”What happened? How did he know?”” He wiped a bead of sweat away before it ran into Andres’ eye.
Andres reached his right hand over and picked something up off the passenger seat. He pushed himself into a more upright position with a groan, despite Espinal’s protests that he should stay still, and pressed the object into the hand Espinal now had placed on his shoulder. “”Take this,”” he said, “”it will tell them everything.””
Espinal took it and realized it was a camera. An expensive one,too, from the look of it. “”What is this?””
“”I made a recording.”” He smiled ironically. “”Call it my confession and last will and testament all in one.””
“”Don’t say that. Help is on the way, Andres. You are going to be just fine.””
Andres scoffed. “”I have two bullets in my gut that say otherwise, Papa.”” He laughed, but it turned into a sob of pain. A tear slid down his cheek, then another. “”I never wanted any of this,”” he cried. “”I didn’t even want to be part of it to begin with.””
“”Part of what?”” Andres started to close his eyes, but Espinal sat the camera on the dashboard and touched his face. “”Andres? Part of what? Keep talking.”” He pressed harder against the flow of blood from the wound.
Andres gasped in pain. “”They wanted me to help convince Nico to tank some matches. They didn’t want him to lose, just make sure the results went a certain way, you see? Everybody would benefit, he said.””
“”Who said? Seve?””
He shook his head. “”No, no, not just Seve. The manager, the Madrillenos manager… The old man who owns the old youth center, too; he owns the team. It was something they all came up with. But Nico, he wouldn’t do it. He said he wouldn’t disrespect the game or the fans like that. He loved the game too much…””
“”That’s why Seve killed him?””
Andres looked him in the eye, though his eyelids kept wanting to shut. “”It was an accident. They were arguing and Seve grabbed him and threw him against the wall. He hit his head on the fire extinguisher case. It didn’t look so bad, but he went down and he never got back up…””
Espinal went cold as he watched Andres’ eyes flutter shut. He lightly smacked his face, trying to keep him awake. “”Andres, look at me, look at me!”” He shook his shoulder and Andres opened his eyes to little slivers. “”Tell me what Seve did to you. Where is he now?”” Espinal looked over his shoulder toward the drive leading into the parking lot; the ambulance should be there any second. All he saw, however, was a man and a little boy walking toward one of the other vehicles. The man seemed to pick up on the fact that something serious was happening, and put one arm around the child’s shoulders and rushed him into the car. They sped off a few seconds later.
“”He caught me trying to leave. I thought he was gone.”” He grabbed Espinal by the shoulder. “”He thought I was dead, I went down and stayed down like Nico… I heard him, he said he was going to have to clean it all up… He’s going after them, Papa. He’s going after Zoe.””
“”Shh…don’t worry. She’s safe. They’re both safe.””
He grunted in disagreement. “”No, he knows…a tracker on her car. He’s been following her car… You have to keep her safe…please, promise me.””
Espinal’s body sagged under the weight of this revelation. He grabbed his phone and called Webb. The phone rang, and rang. And rang. He hung up, closing his eyes. Andres noticed and gripped his shoulder harder. “”Go, get to them before it’s too late.””
“”I’m not leaving you here alone,”” Espinal said, tears tracing hot fingers down his face The sirens he had been hoping for could finally be heard approaching. The ambulance pulled up right behind Andres’ SUV just a few moments later and a pair of paramedics jumped out.
“Did you call for an ambulance?” one of them asked. They were both women, but total opposites: the one who had spoken was frumpy and young with long dishwater blonde hair while the other one, who was lugging a long back board was fit but quite a bit older with short black hair.
“Yes. Quickly,” he said. “He’s been shot, twice in the stomach.”
“Okay, we’ve got him,” the dark-haired one said, placing her gloved hands over Espinal and Andres’. “Slide your hands out for me, honey,” she directed.
Espinal did as he was told, taking hold of Andres’ hand and pulling it out from under hers as well. “What’s his name?” the frumpy one asked as she got in the passenger door with her medical kit.
“Andres, his name is Andres. He’s my boy, you’ve got to help him.”
“We’re gonna take good care of you, Andres, okay?” This was the dark one again. She gently but expertly maneuvered Espinal out of her way, though he did not let go of Andres’ hand. They were applying bandages and speaking to each other in that indecipherable medic speak in low voices between speaking to him and Andres. “Sir, what’s your name? Can you tell me what happened to our friend Andres here?”
“My name is Hector Espinal, I’m an Inspector with the Madrid police service. A fugitive named Seve Feria shot him. Andres was helping us catch Seve.” He had to stop speaking. This was his fault, he realized. He had asked Andres to turn Seve in, and Seve had shot him for it. And if Andres didn’t make it…
Andres squeezed his hand. “Go! Please, find Zoe.”
The frumpy one jumped out and came back around to the driver’s side, and Espinal was forced to let go of Andres’ hand while they loaded him onto the back board. They then carried him toward the ambulance.
Andres grabbed Espinal’s sleeve as they passed by him. Tears were streaming down his temples and into his hair. Espinal walked with them to the ambulance doors. “”Tell Mama I’m sorry. And Zoe… she was right.””
He, too, was crying almost too much to speak. He nodded and said, “”I love you, boy. I’m so sorry I failed you.””
“Sir,” the dark one said, “we have to get him to the hospital. You can ride with us, but we need to go now.”
He took another look at Andres, who shook his head slightly. He then took out one of his cards and placed it on the board next to Andres. “Call me, no matter what. I will be there as soon as I can.”
He touched Andres’ hand and then returned to the SUV to get his phone and the camera off of the dashboard as more sirens signaled the arrival of the police. He flagged down one of the unmarked cars and saw that it was Detective Addison behind the wheel.
“Get in,” she ordered.
He did. “Zeb and the others-”
“I know,” she said grimly, pulling out around the ambulance. “Webb called it in before…we lost contact with him.”
As they passed, he could see the paramedics performing CPR on Andres. He thought he heard the frumpy one say something that sounded like, ‘We’re losing him,’ but he couldn’t be sure.
Addison glanced over. “Oh, Hector, I’m sorry.”
He couldn’t speak. There were no words.