It wasn’t until she felt the snap, crackle, and pop in her knee that Melany Reyes knew this part of her life was over. Under normal circumstances she would never tap out but this was different.
Even though the outside world regarded her as an overnight success who had come out of nowhere, Melany knew it was a matter of fact. She knew all along she’d be an awesome MMA fighter and had proven her point.
Nonetheless, she was perplexed by what had happened a few seconds ago. Melany was naturally a great boxer and was light’s out with her defense skills. The jab was working all night long and she even hurt her opponent with a stiff uppercut in the fourth. Unfortunately, that didn’t matter much to Alaina Nuñez because she was really strong and had a good chin.
Later on, Melany misread a feint by Nuñez and was tackled to the mat. In an instant Nuñez was on top of her and quickly executed a Sambo Leg Lock by interlocking her feet with Melany’s and thrusting their bodies in opposite directions. This move killed Melany’s knee and ended the fight.
Ella puede tener el título, ella ganó justo. Me metí en algunos buenos disparos aunque. Ella lo va a sentir, Melany thought to herself as the referee helped her to her feet. She often thought in Spanish although she’d been in the United States since she was five years old.
The Afro-Dominican beauty came to America to live with her aunt after her mother was killed in a senseless drive-by shooting in a batey near the Haitian border. Her aunt Yahaira, known to everyone as Ya-Ya, raised Melany as the daughter she never had. They lived in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Ya-Ya was a proud Dominican and demanded that Melany grow up understanding her heritage. Needless to say, Melany grew up speaking Spanish—especially at home.
As the referee raised Nuñez’s hands, Melany started to limp back to her corner. Before she could take two steps, a sportscaster put a microphone in her face and started asking dumb questions.
“Mel, you were the undefeated champion for two years; what a devastating defeat. How long will it take you to come back?” he asked.
Mel was the nickname given to Melany by family and friends, but the last thing she was thinking about was a comeback.
“Ah…Steve, you win some, you lose some. Right now, I just want to go home to my Ya-Ya.”
Mel looked into the camera.
“Te amo, tia,” she said before blowing a kiss.
“So, are you saying that you won’t fight again?” the reporter asked.
Mel winked at him and smiled into the camera. “No lo sé ahora misma.”
The reporter looked confused and glanced at the cameraman, seemingly trying to see if he knew what Mel had said. The cameraman shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know right now, Steve,” said Mel as she turned to her corner.
Her trainer and corner man each took one of her arms and supported Mel on their shoulders.
“It’s okay mamí; you did well enough. We’re going to have to improve your ground game when you get well. Don’t worry about the fight; she’s going to have to wear sunglasses for the next few weeks,” said her trainer as he helped her out of the ring.
Mel smiled at him.
“Thanks Curt, I appreciate the love but right now I need to rest up and think about things.”
“Take all the time you need, mamí. You know we love you.”
“Ya-Ya, you don’t have to make me anything for lunch. We just finished breakfast and I ate too much,” said Mel, as she relaxed on the living room sofa with her damaged leg extended and elevated. She was dressed in oversized sweats and her hair was in corn rolls. She had a taste for coffee but wanted to wait for later because it was too early to spike it with rum.
“No es una problema por mí,” her aunt replied. “Tengo que cuidar de ti hasta estás bien.”
“I’m fine Ya-Ya; how many times do I have to tell you. The surgery went well and the physical therapy is going better. I’ll be back to normal in no time.”
“¿Por qué estás tomando todas las pastillas todos los días?”
“What…these?” Mel asked as she leaned towards the coffee table and picked up a bottle of her pain pills. She held them up in the air as if to display them to her aunt. “They’re for my pain. The doctor told me to take all of them.” Mel shook the bottle to reveal that a few pills remained. “See, I’m almost out.”
“No importa. Todavía me preocupo acerca de ti.”
“Auntie, you know I love you but we’re just going to have to disagree on this one.”
“Que tu camino, Mel, pero no vengas corriendo a mí cuando engancharte en ese tipo de cosas.”
“Hooked on this? Auntie? I thought you knew me better. I know that you raised me better. You’d be surprised by all of the stuff I haven’t gotten hooked on considering the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been.”
“No quiero discutir, mi amor. Sólo quiero lo que mejor para ti.”
“Yo también. Gracias, auntie,” said Mel.
Mel and Ya-Ya had a great relationship. They argued from time to time about things most mothers and daughters argue about. The common theme of their arguments always came down to how each of them viewed the world. Mel also thought that Ya-Ya was overprotective. She couldn’t wait for the day her aunt realized that she was a grown woman.
After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in finance, Mel was recruited by the D.E.A. Her fluency in Spanish made her a perfect agent for narcotics interdiction operations in Central and South America. Before she knew it, Mel had risen up the ranks at a rapid pace and was promoted to the position of Senior Field Agent.
A few more years and several more commendations made Mel’s decision to go to law school an easy one for her superiors. The government even covered the costs. Mel wasn’t too pleased about the commitment of six additional years but the thought of graduating from Harvard Law School was too much for her to turn down.
During Mel’s time with the D.E.A., she had become somewhat of a folk hero. She caught the eye of several officials in the other groups. Dakota Sterling, a senior operative for the C.I.A., took a special interest in Mel and recruited her across agency lines as soon as she graduated from law school. The D.E.A. wasn’t too pleased but everything got worked out.
All of her intelligence work centered on the Caribbean and Central America so she had to move to the regional headquarters in Miami. She moved Ya-Ya down from New York to be closer to her and also bought a modest condo a few blocks from Ocean Drive.
She had been on sabbatical when she started fighting professionally. Mel always found it hard to believe that she started fighting based on a dare from one of her best friends. She would tell anyone who wanted to listen that she wasn’t thinking with a full deck when she started. Then she’d tell them that she liked it. She liked hitting people and she liked getting hit. It made her feel more alive.
Ya-Ya’s question about the pain killers reminded Mel that it was time for her next dose. Although she knew her aunt would have a fit, Mel was cavalier in the way she chugged down her medicine.
“Aye yai yai,” said Ya-Ya as she crossed her eyes, shook her head, and walked into another room.
Mel could hear her complaining aloud as she began to clean her bedroom. “La niña nunca aprenderá,” Ya-Ya said.
Mel smiled and turned on the T.V. She was a big football fan and rooted for the Hurricanes. It looked like they were already up by a considerable margin over some poor directional school. Being the second week of the season, Mel didn’t expect anything different. Mel found it weird that while she struggled to sleep at night, she always felt like she was about to pass out right after taking her pain meds. She was relaxed and couldn’t control it and before she knew it, she could hear herself snoring.
Mel woke to Ya-Ya’s voice. It sounded like she was consoling someone. Mel lifted her head and rubbed her eyes. She saw her aunt and a woman she didn’t know sitting at the kitchen table. The woman looked like she had been crying. It smelled like Ya-Ya had made that coffee too.
“Buenos días,” said Mel as she stood up, stretched her arms, and yawned off the rust. She hopped to the other side of the sofa with her good leg and grabbed a crutch. She used two crutches for one day after the surgery and then had Ya-Ya put one of them away. She hated using both of them. She thought they made her look weak. She didn’t even want to use the little scooter that everyone else with a surgically repaired leg uses these days.
“O al menos yo creo que es la tarde. Todo este duerme, quien sabe.”
Mel knew that Ya-Ya liked to hear her speak Spanish so Mel wanted to show off her skills in front of one of Ya-Ya’s friends.
“Hola, me llamo Melany. No creo que nos hayamos conocido alguna vez. Encantado de conocerte.”
Ya-Ya and her friend stood up as soon as they heard Mel’s voice. Mel figured that the woman and Ya-Ya were obviously close friends. The woman turned her head away from Mel and started to wipe her face.
“Excuse me, my dear. My name is Gloria. I get emotional sometimes. It’s so nice to meet you as well. Yahaira has told me so much about you. I feel like I’ve known you for years,” said the woman as she turned and faced Mel.
Mel displayed a sarcastic grin. She was happy that Ya-Ya’s friend was speaking in English. It gave her clearance to drop the act. “Wait, let me pinch myself. Did you say that mi tía said something nice about me? No.”
“Melany!” Ya-Ya snapped.
“All right auntie…I was just joking.”
“What happened to your leg?” Gloria asked.
“You mean my auntie didn’t tell you?”
“Melany, cuida tus modelas,” Ya-Ya snapped again.
Mel could sense that she was embarrassing her aunt with her smart-assed quips.
“My apologies auntie. Miss Gloria, I hurt my leg in a fight.”
Gloria held one hand over her mouth in shock. “Why would such a pretty girl like you get into a fight?” she asked.
Mel shrugged her shoulders. “I guess it’s because they paid me a lot of money to do it.”
Gloria put her other hand over her mouth. “I can’t believe it. You have so much potential, Melany.”
“Sé cómo te sientes Gloria, odio la idea de que luche por dinero,” added Ya-Ya.
“It’s all right. I quit. I’m not going to fight anymore. Once my leg heals, I’m going to go back to my old job.”
Ya-Ya put her hand over her mouth and inhaled as if in shock. “Tú antigua trabajo era peor.”
“It pays the bills auntie, it pays the bills,” said Mel.
“Children these days, Yahaira. Just like my daughter. She is still with that no-good boyfriend of hers. I’ve told her to leave him time and time again but she keeps running back. Do you know that he hit her last night?”
“Realmente?” asked Ya-Ya.
“Yes,” said Gloria. “That’s what I came over here to tell you about.”
“¿Por qué no dijiste nada sobre eso antes?”
“I didn’t want to worry you,” said Gloria.
“Pero me dijiste que te estaba volviendo loco y no sabías qué hacer,” Ya-Ya remarked.
“That’s true and I was going to tell you about him putting his hands on my baby in due time. She’s at home all bruised and swollen now. That’s why she didn’t come over here with me.”
Violence against women in any form was a crime that Mel deemed unforgiveable. She wanted to do something for Gloria.
“What’s your daughter’s name, if I may ask, Miss Gloria?”
“Her name is Catherine.”
“Does she live with you? Maybe I can drop by and console her a little.”
“Mija, I appreciate your kindness but I did not come here to ask for help,” said Gloria.
“It’s all right, ma’am. I have a lot of time on my hand.”
Ya-Ya gave Mel a pensive stare. “¿En qué estás pensando, Melany?”
“Nothing, Ya-Ya, I just want to talk to her. We’re probably close in age so I think I can relate.”
Mel and Ya-Ya both looked at Gloria.
Gloria began to nod her head. “Yes, I think it is a good idea. Maybe Melany can talk some sense into her.”
“Okay, Gloria, if it’s okay with you it’s okay with me,” said Ya-Ya.
Mel thought that her aunt sounded reluctant. “It’ll be fine auntie. I’ll simply go over to Gloria’s house and console Catherine.”
Before Ya-Ya and Gloria could say anything else to Mel she slipped away and started to walk to her room. She moved slowly in order to avoid limping. She could still hear them talking even when she was out of their view.
“I thought her leg was hurt?” said Gloria.
“It is but she gets along pretty good when she has purpose. That’s my Mel,” said Ya-Ya as she fought off a smile.
A few minutes later, Mel returned; still in sweat pants but now wearing an oversized University of Miami hoodie.
“Where do you live, Gloria?”
“1057 Kansas Street, Palm Island,” said Gloria.
Mel’s eyes popped out of her head. “Palm Island? Wow, that’s a swanky neighborhood. Only the wealthy and powerful live there.”
Ya-Ya cleared her throat. Mel immediately understood that her last comment was not appreciated.
“My apologies, Miss Gloria. In no way am I insinuating that you don’t belong there. It was just a shock when you gave me the address. I’ve never been to that neighborhood.” Mel hated to lie but she didn’t feel like disclosing too much information about her past.
“No apologies needed mija. I work for the Gotsis family. I’m their lead housekeeper. I’ve been with them for years. Catherine and I live in their guest house.”
Mel began to think to herself. Gloria’s a housekeeper for the Gotsis family. She and her daughter live in the guest house. Her daughter has an abusive boyfriend. She had a hunch and decided to play it. “If I may ask, is Catherine’s boyfriend a Gotsis?”
Gloria immediately buried her face into her hands as if embarrassed. “Yes mija. Yes, Tony Gotsis is the monster who keeps hurting my Catherine.”
“Hmm, his name sounds familiar. Maybe I can talk to him too.”
Gloria froze up as if she had seen a ghost.
“No mija, no. You can’t do that,” said Gloria. “If you do that and they find out that you’re connected to me, they’ll fire me and throw Catherine and me out on the street.”
“That’s not a big obstacle. Problem solved. You can come and live with us,” said Mel, as she glanced at Ya-Ya.
“It won’t work. I’m sorry. I should’ve never said anything,” said Gloria.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Gloria. Catherine doesn’t have to put up with this and neither do you.”
“But you don’t understand; we’re unregistered immigrants. We could be deported. The Gotsis’s are very powerful.”
“I have powerful friends too and I can…”
“Melany! Hush!” Ya-Ya interrupted. “Listen to Gloria and stay out of her business. Maybe having you go to talk with Catherine is not such a good idea after all.”
Mel didn’t want to argue with Ya-Ya in front of Gloria so she didn’t say a word. She had made up her mind anyway so it was nothing they could say to her that would make a difference.
“Gloria, you have my word that I won’t do anything to put you or Catherine in danger but I still would like to speak with her.”
“Melany,” said Ya-Ya, sounding as if she didn’t believe her niece.
“Lo prometo, tía. Realmente. I promise.”
Ya-Ya remained silent for a few seconds and looked to Gloria. Next, she looked back at Mel. “Okay, but please don’t do anything silly.”
“You have my word,” said Mel.
“How do you plan to get there, mija? Your leg is hurt,” said Gloria.
“I’ll be fine Miss Gloria. Remember, this is 2019. I’ll catch an Uber.”
“What’s an Uber?” asked Gloria.
Mel smiled as she opened the front door. “It’s the thing that’s going to take me to Palm Island.”
As the car neared the Gotsis estate, Mel felt as if she was going back in time. Rows of multimillion-dollar homes littered both sides of the streets. They were all bejeweled with carefully crafted landscapes. Each and every palm tree looked as if it had grown from the same seed because other than their locations, they all looked the same. Intermittent views of the pristine ocean water completed the postcard.
It all reminded her of past undercover operations. Mel had played the role of a housekeeper, a security guard, and a gardener in order to spy on specific individuals in neighborhoods like this.
“Here’s the house. Stop right here,” she said to the driver.
“All right, see you later,” the driver said.
“Hey, hold up a minute.” Mel immediately reached forward and handed the woman a crisp c-note.
“What’s this for?” she asked.
“I need you to wait for me. I shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes.”
“I can’t wait for you in front of this estate. You know how snooty these people can be but I can circle around the island and be back here when you need me.”
“That’ll work for me,” said Mel, as she stepped out of the car.
The tall elegant iron rod gate was closed. Mel peered to the top and figured that the gate was about eight to ten feet high. No climbing today, she thought to herself. She walked a few steps to the right and saw an intercom. One of buttons read Main House and the other Guest House.
She pressed the button for the guest house and waited for an answer. To Mel’s surprise, the gate opened. This was a surprise because while she was walking towards the intercom Mel had scanned the area intently for places where she would have expected to see a security camera. She surmised that one must be hidden somewhere because she couldn’t believe security at this palace was so lax.
Mel walked up the driveway as fast as she could towards the rear of the main house. She had left her crutch at home so she worked hard to limit the gimp in her step. While approaching the guest house, she noticed that a retaining wall separated the grounds of the estate from the walkway leading to where she was going. It was just like she remembered from past encounters on Palm Island.
The door to Gloria and Catherine’s house was opened when Mel arrived. Thinking it rude to waltz into someone’s house unannounced, Mel waited. After a few minutes she reached inside to tap on the door.
Mel had assumed that Gloria and her daughter were Dominican as well but she had her doubts. She couldn’t detect a Dominican accent when Gloria spoke and Gloria had a much lighter complexion than she and Ya-Ya. Even though Dominicans stuck together they also struggled with that skin color thing.
As she peered further into the house Mel saw whom she presumed was Catherine sitting down with a full-sized flag of the Dominican Republic behind her. She was wearing sunglasses and had a bandage on one of her arms. Normally Mel would think that Catherine’s wearing dark shades in a dimly lit house odd, but she quickly figured that Catherine was hiding her bruises.
“Catherine?” asked Mel, as she shut the door.
Catherine didn’t answer.
“¿Hablas Inglés?” said Mel.
“Yes, I speak English. I guess you’re Melany. My mother called me and told me that you would be coming.”
“Okay. Now I know why the gate opened without fanfare. Hi, we already know each other’s names so no need in repeating that. It’s nice to meet you, Catherine,” said Mel as she walked towards her and extended a hand.
“Same to you, Melany,” said Catherine as she stood up and embraced Mel’s hand.
“You can call me Mel. Everybody calls me Mel.”
“Good, it’s really nice to meet you, Mel,” said Catherine, still holding onto Mel’s hand.
Mel was starting to feel awkward but sensed that Catherine was extremely vulnerable so she maintained the handshake. Above all else, Mel wanted to make sure that she wasn’t the first to let go. The swelling in Catherine’s cheeks stuck out like a sore thumb, and Mel could see the dark bruises under her eyes.
Catherine finally let go of Mel’s hand. “Have a seat,” she said.
Before taking a seat, Mel walked from the living room into the kitchen just to check the surroundings. It was evident that Gloria was a housekeeper because the house was immaculate for what Mel could see. The kitchen was completely put together and dressed up with nothing out of place. Small mementos from their home country were neatly scattered throughout the house.
“Is anything wrong, Mel?” asked Catherine.
Still feeling awkward, Mel walked into the living room and plopped onto the couch.
“No, Catherine, everything is fine. I was just checking out your place. This is really nice.”
“It’s okay. The best thing is that my mom and I don’t have to pay rent. The house is part of her salary.”
“Can I get you something to drink? Water, tea, Mama Juana?”
“You have some Mama Juana?” Mel was excited.
Catherine stood up and started to walk to the kitchen. “Yes, I just made a fresh batch last night. It’s been soaking for about eight hours.”
Mel bit her lip and thought about it for a second. “Nah. I’m fine right now. Plus, I just took a few meds. I won’t be long anyway but I will pay you another visit for some of that.”
“Are you sure? It’s not a problem,” said Catherine.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Thanks.”
Catherine returned to her love seat. After sitting down, she crossed her legs and gently rested her clasped hands on one knee.
“So, Mel, what do you want to talk about?”
Mel purposely took a few seconds to gather her thoughts. She wanted to make sure that everything she said sounded right. “Ahem…after talking to your mother, I just had to come and see if you were okay.”
Catherine put both of her feet on the ground and sunk into the cushy material of her chair.
“She told you, didn’t she?”
Mel wrinkled her face. “Yes…everything. But you knew that already. You knew who I was and what I was here for as soon as I rang the bell. Didn’t you?”
Catherine ducked her head momentarily and then looked up. She took off her glasses in dramatic fashion. “Yes.”
Her eye wasn’t only bruised it was swollen shut. With a mix of horror and anger Mel gritted her teeth and clinched her fist.
“Why do you let him get away with it?”
“I don’t know,” said Catherine.
Mel felt that she was losing control, but she didn’t want to attack Catherine. She knew that Catherine was the victim.
“Excuse me for my outburst, Catherine, but I hate to see these types of assaults suffered by anyone but especially women.”
“I know, Mel, I know but you don’t understand.”
“Actually, I do, Catherine. Remember, your mother told me everything. I know why you are reluctant to do anything rash let alone leave his punk ass.”
Catherine stood up and put on her glasses.
“No, it’s more than that. I love him.”
Mel stood up but it was too quick. A sharp pain attacked her knee and caused her to wobble before regaining her balance.
“Mel, are you all right?” asked Catherine. She sounded genuinely concerned.
“I’m fine and thanks for asking but give me a break, Catherine. I think you love the thought of being in love. Also, Tony’s a Gotsis, right? I’m sure that has its perks.”
Catherine began to shake her head from side to side as if refuting Mel’s claims.
“You’re wrong about him, Mel. You don’t know him,” she said.
No, Catherine, I do know and I’ve been there before. Let me guess, that bandage on your arm, is it covering more bruises or some sort of burn?”
Catherine reached for the area on her forearm to which Mel had referred. She removed her glasses again and tears began to roll out of her eyes. She sniffled a few times and then wiped the tears away.
“He burned me with a cigar,” she said, sounding completely defeated.
Mel reached out to embrace Catherine because she felt that the girl needed it. Catherine hugged her back and they held onto each other for a good while.
“Let me ask you this, Catherine,” said Mel.
“No, Mel. I’m going to stop you before you say it. I know you want to do something to Tony but whatever it is, it’s not a good idea. I can handle this myself.”
Mel grunted out a laugh and then smiled. “No disrespect, Catherine, but it doesn’t look like you’ve been handling it too well thus far. What are you planning to do, pour hot water on him while he’s sleeping?”
“I’ve thought about that.”
Mel was shocked by her answer. “Hold on Catherine; I was just kidding. You can’t do that. You wouldn’t get deported or sent to prison. They might kill you. Let me handle the rough stuff.”
When Catherine snapped her shades back onto her face, Mel knew that she had made her point. Finally, some juice in this girl, she thought.
“That’s a fair statement, Mel, for obvious reasons but I’m serious.”
“Hey, I know all about your diplomatic status. I also have powerful friends who can take care of that issue for you. Just let me help.”
As Catherine put a finger in her mouth and started to nibble on it, Mel was relieved that at least she was thinking about the offer.
“What do you have in mind?” asked Catherine.
“Yes…what do you really have in mind?”
“To be honest, Catherine, I want to kick the living shit out of Tony, castrate him, and shove his balls down his throat.”
Catherine reared her neck back in surprise. “That sounds kind of extreme. Would you agree?”
Mel shook her head in amusement. “Yeah, I get carried away sometimes. All right, I’ll just talk to him.”
“Are you sure about this, Mel?”
“Of course, it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Mel, in cavalier fashion as she began to mash her hands together.
“What are you going to talk to him about?”
Mel felt caught off guard. She wanted to kick Tony’s ass, but knew that wouldn’t fly with Catherine. “I don’t know right now, Catherine. I’ll come up with something. Where can I find him?”
“He normally hangs out on the South Beach strip but I don’t know, Mel. Maybe this isn’t such a great idea. I mean Tony is a big guy with a bigger temper. He’s over six feet tall and weighs about two-hundred and thirty pounds. You’re about five-feet three and one-hundred pounds soakin’ wet.”
“Ahem, try five-feet eight and a hundred and thirty pounds but don’t worry. Trust me, I’ve dealt with a lot bigger and tougher guys than Tony.”
Catherine stood silent for a brief period. She appeared as if she was deep in thought. “No!” she said firmly.
“No what?” said Mel.
“No. I don’t want you to do anything.”
Mel considered trying to change Catherine’s mind but decided otherwise. She remembered Ya-Ya’s advice and chose to adhere.
“All right Catherine, I won’t get involved in your love life but I want you to know that I’m here for you if you ever need anything. Also, I’ll be back for some of that Mama Juana!”
Catherine smiled and gave Mel a hug. “Sure thing. We’ll have to keep in touch.”
Mel turned to leave but stopped short of the door. “Oh, I almost forgot. There has to be some kind of surveillance system in this palace. Hell, you knew I was coming. Can you access all of the video from the last hour?”
“Yes, I think I can.”
“You gotta know, Catherine. This is very important.”
“We have a camera feed to our house but the source is from the main house. I think I know where it is but it might be tricky to get in there.”
“I thought you might say that but for whatever it’s worth you’re going to have to get creative. The Gotsis cannot know that I came to see you.”
“Okay, Mel. I’ll get it done. The security guys owe me a few favors.”
Mel gave Catherine an ominous stare.
“What? It’s not like that, Mel. What type of girl do you think I am?”
“I wasn’t inferring anything, Catherine. It’s just the way you said it.”
“Whatever. Go ahead and get out of here.”
“Like I said, you have my word.” Mel winked at Catherine then left the house.
Mel felt lucky as she reached the curb outside of the estate. Even though Catherine didn’t want her to intervene, Mel was able to spot a picture of Tony and Catherine together when she looked around the kitchen.
The Uber driver was waiting for her just as planned. She motioned to get into the car.
“Hey, you said twenty minutes,” yelled the driver, as Mel opened the door.
Mel coiled her neck and gave the driver a confused look. “I also gave you an extra one hundred dollars. Take me home, please.”
The driver didn’t say anything else and pulled away. As they moved down the street, Mel noticed that the woman kept looking back at her.
Mel looked at the woman for a spell and then looked towards the back window. Maybe something was behind them that she missed? Maybe somebody was following them. Mel felt that she had made her point so she looked at the driver again.
“Can I help you with something, ma’am?” she asked.
The driver looked surprised, as if Mel’s question had come out of nowhere.
“Who, me? No, everything is fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, really,” said the driver. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m asking because you seem to be eyeballing me kind of hard. I was thinking you were still upset about the amount of time I spent at the house.”
“Oh, it’s not that. It’s just that I usually don’t bring people to this neighborhood. Are you a celebrity or something?”
Mel looked at the woman and started to laugh. “Not in your dreams.”
The driver began to laugh as well but, without warning, had to slam on her breaks to avoid hitting the black Chevy Suburban that had flashed in front of them.
Mel’s small frame slammed into the seatback and before they knew it the small car was surrounded by four black SUVs.
“Don’t panic, I know these guys,” said Mel as she sat back in her seat.
“You do? I knew it was something. What are you, a drug dealer, serial killer?”
“Wrong again. Calm down and just let me handle this.”
The driver of the vehicle directly in front of them got out and opened the rear passenger door. A really tall man stepped out and straightened his coat. He was wearing a grey suit and sunglasses. He walked directly towards the car and then went to the back and tapped on Mel’s window.
“I think our ride is over. Thanks for the lift,” Mel said to the driver as she rolled down the window.
“What’s up, Mel?” said the tall man.
“Nothing much, Mac. What about you? Still trying to be the shit?”
“Get out of the car.”
“You know, technically speaking, I don’t work for you right now.”
“Get out of the car, Mel. We don’t need to make a scene.”
Mel looked at the driver and then looked around the car for a few seconds. “You’re right about that, Mac, but you guys are going to have to take me home.”
Mel got out of the Uber and walked away with Special Agent Gilbert MacLawyer. He had been her handler in the early days and even her direct supervisor right before she left the agency.
She noticed that some of the other agents were briefing the Uber driver before she drove off. It was standard operating procedures. They were assuring the Uber driver that what she just experienced never happened.
As Mac’s SUV pulled away, he and Mel began to talk.
“What’s on your mind, Mac? It’s been a while and like I said, I’m still on sabbatical.”
Gil removed his sunglasses and glared at Mel.
“Cut the bullshit, Mel, and sabbatical my ass. You and I both know you’re on indefinite suspension. That’s the only reason you’ve been masquerading as a rebel in that two-bit circuit. By the way, Nuñez really kicked your ass.” Gil shot Mel a sarcastic grin.
“Watch it, Mac. This ain’t official business so don’t mess around and get bitch-slapped. I’m sure you remember what happened last time.”
Gil turned away from Mel and started to laugh. He laid his head back and put his arm around Mel’s shoulder. “That’s the Mel I know and love. You’re still full of piss and vinegar.”
Mel quickly moved his arm from around her. “What do you want, Mac? You know, for your information I’m still appealing that suspension.”
“My dear, your appeal has gone on for two years now. Trust me, it’ll never be overturned.”
He started to shake his head from side to side as if taunting Mel. “All that missed pay. How much was two years at your level and years of service?”
“It’s classified, asshole,” said Mel. “You still didn’t answer my question. What do you want?”
Gil turned and looked Mel straight in the eyes. He removed his sunglasses. “I want you to stop fucking around on my turf.”
Mel was incredulous and didn’t understand what Gil was getting at. “What are you talking about your turf? If memory serves me correct, you’re the one fucking with me or do you not remember scaring the shit out of my Uber driver?”
“I’m talking about the Gotsis’s,” Mel.
Mel tried her best to hide the fact that Gil knew where she was.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gil.”
Gil turned away from her again and stroked his chin. He put on his glasses. “Okay, let me acquaint you with some facts. Gloria De la Cruz is the main housekeeper for the Gotsis’s. Her daughter Catherine dates Tony Gotsis, the heir to the family fortune. Word has it that he beats her up pretty good at times. Now do you know what I’m talking about?”
Mel bit her bottom lip. She was undecided on where to go with her answer.
“Gil, I was talking to that girl as a favor to her mother and my aunt. Seriously!”
“Mel…Mel, do you expect me to believe that? We all know how sensitive you are to domestic violence cases. Remember how you blew our cover in Lima just because our main target got drunk and slapped his girlfriend around?”
Mel jumped into Gil’s face and pointed her finger at him.
“That girl was five months pregnant. He had it coming!”
“He did but not at the cost of nine months’ worth of intelligence.”
“We finally got ‘em, didn’t we?” said Mel as she sat back.
“Yeah, we got ‘em all right. A whole two million dollars later.”
“Okay, you make a valid point but I’m on the level. I had no idea you were investigating the Gotsis’s. I thought they were legit.”
“Stop the car,” Gil said to the driver.
They pulled over to the curb.
“I can’t tell you any more since you’re on that sabbatical,” said Gil as he smiled and flimsily raised both hands to make air quotes.
“Well, I can’t promise not to fuck around on your turf.”
“Look, Mel, I’m being serious. If you want back in and you want Gloria and her daughter to be protected just stay out of the way until we wrap this up.”
“What makes you think Gloria and Catherine need to be protected? Gloria works for the family and her daughter unfortunately dates that asshole.”
“I know about their citizenship status. I can take care of that and your issues with the agency provided you stay clear. We can’t have the Gotsis’s get nervous when we’re so close.”
Mel was quiet but nodded her head indicating that she understood Gil.
“Is this where we say goodbye?” she said as she motioned to open her door.
“That it is.”
Mel stepped out of the vehicle and began to close the door.
“How can I get in touch with you?” asked Gil.
“My number still works. I kept the company phone.”
“You were supposed to turn that in you know?”
“I know,” she said as she smiled and closed the door.
Gil’s car pulled away. The rest of the convoy followed.
Mel watched them drive away and when she couldn’t see them anymore, she pulled out her phone and called another Uber. As she waited, she thought long and hard about what Gil had said. She also thought long and hard about Catherine’s condition and the look on her face when they talked about Tony.
Fuckin’ hey I’m going to stay clear, she thought to herself.
“Are you Mel?” asked the driver as he pulled up in front of her.
“Yes. Take me home.”
Mel waited until Ya-Ya was fast asleep before she left the apartment for her evening escapades. As if back in action, she dressed in form-fitting leather pants and a short black tee shirt that prominently showed her abs. She even styled her hair in afro puffs just for fun.
Last, she stuffed a special tool into a small cargo pocket just in case.
Her first stop was South Beach. As she walked up and down the chorus of activity, she pitied what she considered oblivious fools who partied in the nightclubs and caroused in the restaurants. If they only knew what really went on in the world, she thought.
Mel went to more than a few bars and hadn’t spotted Tony anywhere. Not wanting the night to be a total waste, she decided to call a few of her friends and asked them to meet her in Coconut Grove. She ended up at The Grove Spot and went to bar.
While waiting for her drink, Mel scanned the room. Nothing looked out of place except for a table full of what she immediately considered wannabe tough guys. She counted eight and they sounded like they were already lubed up.
“One whisky sour for the pretty lady,” said the bartender as he delivered Mel’s drink.
“Would you like to start a tab?” he asked.
“Yeah, why not,” said Mel. “As a matter of fact, keep them coming. I have a few girlfriends that’ll be here soon.
The bartender took Mel’s credit card and walked back to his register.
She had barely finished her first drink when she heard the guys at the table start to howl and whistle. It was her girls. They paid no attention to the men at the large table.
The taller than normal white woman who was blonde with a pony-tail was Julie. She was one of Mel’s sparring partners and a decent fighter herself. Dressed in tight jeans and wearing cowgirl boots, Julie also showed off her midriff by wearing a small red-collared shirt that was tied in knots.
Regina, one of Mel’s many black friends, was a Miami detective she had known for more than ten years. Regina was dressed in a comfortable looking blue jumpsuit and large platform shoes. Her head was shaved on one side and what hair remained was combed to the other.
Amelia left no doubt that she was the most uptight person in the group. She wore a trendy business suit and looked nervous while clutching her purse tight as if she was trying to strengthen her wrists.
“Qué pasa mi amiga?” said Julie as she got closer to Mel. Mel stood up and immediately wound up and gave Julie an elbow lock. It was an MMA thing.
“Julie, I’ll bet that’s the only Spanish you know,” said Regina as she gave Mel a fist pound. “Us sista’s gotta stick together,” she said.
Amelia strutted up and embraced Mel. “Hey, what’s up?” she said.
“What’s up? I said we were going to get together for drinks not go to work,” said Mel.
“I’m sorry Mel but I’m not going to be able to stay for long. I got a date.”
The other women begin to snicker.
“Whatever,” said Amelia as she turned to the bartender and summoned him.
“No offense, Amelia, but it’s been awhile,” said Regina who by now couldn’t control herself. She busted into a full laugh.
“At least I got a man,” said Amelia.
“For how long?” asked Julie.
Sensing that their ribbing was starting to bother Amelia, Mel intervened. “Hey, Gina, Julie, lighten up a bit. We’re all friends here. Let’s have that drink and catch up.”
The bartender came and took their orders and after a few martinis and a couple more whiskey sours, they were laughing and joking with each other like normal.
Mel told her friends what she had been up to for the last few hours and they were intrigued.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I could bust his ass for fun,” said Regina.
“Better than that, you and I could have double teamed the punk,” said Julie.
While Mel, Julie, and Regina were discussing different ways to punish Tony, Amelia stood up abruptly and started to walk away.
“Where are you going Amelia?” asked Mel.
“I told you that I couldn’t stay long. I have to use the ladies’ room.”
As Amelia continued to walk away, they all looked at each other and started laughing.
“It looks like somebody is getting a little shit-faced,” said Regina.
They looked at each other and started to laugh more.
Mel, observant even in the midst of being inebriated, looked up and scanned the room. A chorus line of young men had entered the bar. Most of them were dressed in skinny jeans and tight shirts. It looked like they had just come from working out and were impressed with their muscles.
A few of the men even wore loose shirts as if to purposely show off their chest hair and gaudy gold chains. They headed to the bar and one of the men grabbed the stool that Amelia was using.
Mel tilted her head in disbelief. It was Tony Gotsis. She felt like a kid at Christmas but kept on a poker face. As she looked at him, his image seemed to zoom in and zoom out, as if someone were playing with a google map. Regardless, she had to keep her cool so she stood up and grabbed the stool.
“Excuse me, sir, but that stool is taken,” said Mel.
“It is now,” said Tony. He was built like an NFL linebacker and of course was wearing a lot of gold chains.
“I don’t think you heard me clearly, sir. This stool is taken. My friend went to the restroom and should be back any second.”
Tony shrugged his shoulders and violently pulled the stool closer to him. They both pulled on each end of the stool as if in a tug of war. Mel noticed that his buddies had gathered around to see what was going on. Regina and Julie did as well.
“Are you willing to die over this stool, miss?”
Mel sobered up instantly. She figured it was adrenaline. Okay, now he’s giving me a reason, she thought to herself. “It’s Miss Reyes and I don’t think I have anything to worry about.”
Mel let go of the stool and Tony fell into his friends.
He gathered himself and put on a scowl. “Why you black bitch.”
Mel wasn’t surprised by his outburst. In her opinion, it was on brand for him. “Is that all you’ve got you jerk? By the way, I’m Dominican.”
“It doesn’t matter to me. The President’s right. We should stop letting people from shithole countries come over here.”
“Whatever,” said Mel, as she turned her back to him and rejoined her friends.
Before Mel could take another sip, she saw Regina pull out her badge and Julie run past her. Julie took one of the guys to the ground.
“Don’t even think about it,” Regina said to the man with the stool. Her fist was raised and ready to go.
At the same time, Amelia returned from the restroom. “Everything okay?” she asked as she looked at the two groups.
“Yeah, no problem, here,” said Mel.
“Julie, Gina, it’s okay. They’re not worth it.”
Julie got up and Regina put her badge away.
“You really think you’re all that, don’t you?” asked Tony.
Julie, Regina, and Amelia all looked at Mel and motioned to her to ignore him but Mel was piping hot. She turned around and faced him again.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“I mean you act all tough when Cookie here pulls out her badge and she-man over there tackles my guy.”
Regina briskly reached for her purse and pulled out her gun. She displayed it fashionably. “I got your Cookie right here, buddy.”
“Yeah, and I’m all the woman you’re never gonna get,” said Julie, as she flexed her arms.
Mel flashed her hands towards her friends. She wanted them to cool it.
“Sir, you can have the stool. We’re about to leave anyway.” Mel turned to her friends.
“Too bad,” said Tony. He grabbed an open beer bottle from the bar and slammed it against Mel’s head.
It was a good shot because Mel felt it and hit the deck dramatically. She heard the shock from everyone in the bar. It seemed as if they were all looking at her. She could also see that Tony’s friends wanted to jump in. Amelia pulled out a pair of nun-chucks from her purse and polished off four of them while Julie and Regina held the others at bay.
While brandishing her pistol, Regina shouted orders at the men. “Nobody move. If your friend wants a fight, he’s going to get one but it will be fair.”
Mel figured Regina’s proclamation was her cue to get up. She put a hand where she had been hit with the beer mug. Nothing like the sight of blood, she thought as she looked at her hand. She was feeling a little woozy but smiled because she knew her girls were giving her the chance to give Tony the business.
No one had left the bar yet; they were all quiet seemingly waiting to see what would transpire.
Tony stood over Mel and reached down to grab her so she moved to sweep his legs. It worked and he fell down but she had done this with her bum leg and it began to hurt like hell. She stumbled to her feet but couldn’t put weight on her bad leg. As he began to stand up, Mel hammered him with an elbow of death, which sent him back to the floor.
She heard some of the female patrons scream.
Mel wanted to finish him off but she was hopping on one foot and couldn’t get any leverage.
Tony got to his feet. “You little bitch, you’re going to pay for this,” he said. He rushed towards Mel but she was able to land a stiff punch to his nose and hop out of his way.
Mel stopped hopping but her bad leg was still throbbing with pain. She was visibly limping. Tony ran toward her and started swinging wild punches. Mel dodged all of his blows but couldn’t get out of the way of the last haymaker. Tony’s gigantic fist connected perfectly against Mel’s jaw and she fell down. Her butt hit the floor first and then her head.
Tony seemingly smelled blood in the water and went for the jugular. He straddled Mel by sitting on her chest and then he started to taunt her.
“You little bitch. First, I’m going to kick your black ass and then I’m going to fuck you. I’m sure you’ll like that.”
He started to choke her which ironically was a break for Mel. Agents had been specifically trained to be able to function under duress and a lack of oxygen.
Unbeknownst to Tony, Mel played opossum while she reached for a pair of brass knuckles that were stuffed into one of her side pockets. Once she grasped her equalizer, Mel quickly inserted her fingers.
She continued to play along with Tony as he shouted every obscenity known to man. As she anticipated, he leaned closer to her and she lowered the boom.
Tony tumbled off of her onto the floor. She wobbled to her feet and started to kick him with her good leg. First, she kicked him in the face which made him fall backwards. Next, she kicked him in the ribs a few times.
He rolled around and moaned for a few seconds and Mel allowed him to stand to his feet. Tony put both fists up in a fighting stance.
“Lights out for this bitch. Think about that the next time you pick a fight with a real man, you fucking spic,” he said.
Tony ran towards Mel a second time.
“Mel, here’s mister do right,” said Regina as she tossed Mel a retractable Billy club.
Mel caught the club and extended it in time to move out of Tony’s path and strike him in the knee.
He fell to the ground and Mel began to pummel him with the club. “You sick son of a bitch,” she said as she whacked away.
When it was evident that Tony was out of commission, Mel stomped him in the back of the head. “I should kill you,” she said. She really wanted to let him know that this beating was for Catherine.
He fell to the floor and was out cold. Mel looked around and saw her friends. She started to limp towards them as Tony’s friends ran to his aid. As she scanned the bar, she noticed that one other patron remained. It looked like a woman was still recording the event with her cellphone.
“Ahem,” Mel grunted aloud as she looked at the woman.
The woman put her phone down and acted like she hadn’t seen anything.
“Come on, Mel, let’s blow this joint,” said Julie.
Amelia, still brandishing her nun-chucks, led the way as Julie and Regina helped Mel walk out of the bar.
“I think somebody called the cops because I can hear the sirens,” said Regina. “Don’t worry about it. If they come, I’ll take care of it.”
“You will, huh?” said a tall man in a grey suit wearing dark shades.
Mel recognized the man’s voice and raised her head.
“Who are you?” asked Amelia.
“It’s all right, Amelia. This is special agent Gil MacLawyer of the…”
Gil cut off Mel’s proclamation. “That’s enough, Mel. You don’t have to tell everybody.”
“What do you want, sir?” said Regina.
Gil removed his glasses. “I want to take your friend off of your hands. Heck, I can give you girls a ride too.”
Amelia, Regina, and Julie looked at Mel.
“It’s okay. Mac will take care of everything. I trust him,” said Mel.
“Thanks for the offer, mister special agent, but we’ll be okay. Plus, this one’s got a date,” said Regina as she pointed to Amelia.
The women said their goodbyes to Mel, and Agent MacLawyer signaled to two of his assistants to help Mel into the Suburban.
As soon as she was in the vehicle, Mel was given an ice pack by one of Gil’s guys. She promptly pressed it against her jaw and lay back.
“You couldn’t leave Gotsis alone, could you Mel?” said Gil as they pulled away.
“It wasn’t my fault. He started it,” said Mel. She sat up and removed the ice pack.
“Cut the crap, Mel. You knew exactly what you were doing. It also happens to be exactly what I asked you not to do.”
“Mac, you have to believe me. I had no idea that he would come into that bar and start some shit. Seriously, I was just hanging out with my girls.”
“Do you really expect me to believe that bullshit story?”
“Well, yes and no. Okay, yes, I blew you off and went looking for that punk but I didn’t find him anywhere. So I decided to meet some friends for a drink and that asshole came into the bar with his cronies and started everything.”
“Agent Reyes, is that really the truth?”
“Yes! That’s what happened. You can believe me or stop the car and let me get home myself.” Mel stopped talking and snapped her head. “Hey, did you just call me Agent Reyes?”
“Yes, I did because you’re not getting off that easy.”
Mel knew that Gil was serious.
“What does that mean, Gil?”
“It means that you’re reinstated.”
“Really? How? Why?”
“It’s simple. If I know Tony Gotsis, he’s going to want to get even with you so we’re going to use you as official bait.”
“What about Gloria and Catherine?”
“Don’t worry about them. I’ve already taken care of everything.”
Mel put the ice pack on her face. “That’s good for Gloria and Catherine but I’m not too comfortable being the bait.”
“Mel, you don’t have a choice this time.”