DISCLAIMER: Los Hombres De Paco and its characters are the property of Antena 3. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite the spoilers we've heard for the upcoming season, I'm writing this fic on the assumption that no cast members are leaving/that the status quo isn't really shaken. (In my perfect world, it wouldn't be, of course.) As you can see, this is going to be a somewhat long fic; I'm aiming to put out a chapter a week through January, but come February I may have to scale it back to a chapter every other week. So if you don't like reading WIPs, you should know that this one will probably not be finished for quite a while. As always, comments and constructive criticism welcome. Don't make me beg, guys! Also, thanks go out to random_flores and disturbed_muse for betaing this. I really appreciate it, you two. :)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Songs of Innocence & Experience
I woke up in hell today
Standing in the middle of yesterday
When it all went wrong
And we made mistakes
I'm sorry for the things I forgot to say
But it won't be long
And it will be okay
Week 4, Day 3
Lips moving in a silent prayer, Pepa lit the candle and crossed herself before she stepped away from the alcove, took a seat in the back pew, mouthed a Hail Mary.
She did not usually come to church. Pepa Miranda and religion did not get along, had not since even before she had caused a "lesbian fuss" at Sarita's First Communion. (The memory of that moment, as always, caused her to smile. She did not even bother to try to repress it; she had long since learned the futility of that particular endeavor.)
But yesterday had been Marta's funeral, so delayed for political and security reasons. Pepa had stayed away, of course, had not even come within three kilometers of the church. (She was in a different church even now, a small, run-down building wedged between two dilapidated apartment buildings.) Far too dangerous, too risky to her cover. Instead, she had taken the night off from dealing and gone to what was rapidly becoming her favorite dive bar to drink a few Long Islands. They had been Marta's favorite drink. Pepa could not count the number of times she'd tasted a Long Island on Marta's tongue at the end of the night. She had not been drunkPepa, knowing her limits and knowing that the mission would be testing them soon enough, did not let herself get that out of controlbut she had been tipsy, and when she had arrived at home she had punched the wall, needing physical pain to match her emotional turmoil. It had brought clarity, and peace of mind, and penance.
She flexed her hand. It was sore, but nothing was broken. She was too aware of her mission to disable herself like that. (She snorted bitterly. She was also aware that the few friends who had not turned away from her when she broke up with Marta and moved to Madrid probably hated her for not showing. Rocio could not even defend her.)
Her own tribute did not stop her from hating that she had to miss the funeral. Hating the fact and hating herself. And Marta had been religious, if secularly so. Pepa knew she would have appreciated the gesture.
I'm sorry, Marta. Right now, this is the best I can do.
She sat with her head down for a few moments, took a deep breath. An unexpected call had come two days ago. In three hours, Pepa was to have her first audience with El Diablo.
She took a deep breath. Crossed herself one more time. (Couldn't hurt.)
Not Pepa anymore, she told herself sternly.
Gabriela Vega stood up, shuffled out of the pew, and walked out the church doors.
Pepa stepped into the room, blinking slightly as her vision adjusted. The outer room, where she had been frisked professionally and silently (and hadn't that been a nice change), had been dimly lit. This one, though, had a large window. Bright sunlight streamed in, silhouetting the four men standing silently around the room. Dressed in business casual, they were measuring her, professionally evaluating, and Pepa made sure her expression stayed neutral as she did the same to them. She refused to be intimidated by the fact that they were armed (well-armed) and she was not.
The man on the left was of average height and build, with dark eyes and dark hair. Moderately good-looking. Intelligence flickered in his eyes, and when their eyes locked and he saw that she was not cowed, grudging respect grew, too.
Second from the left was tall and slender. Blonde, light eyes. The others all looked to be in their mid-thirties, but Pepa estimated that this man was closer to her own age, probably in his late twenties. She saw him swallow involuntarily as she surveyed him. He finds me attractive, she realized; sometimes her great good looks were not at all a disadvantage. She could cultivate that, work with that, use that.
The next man was, like the first, dark-haired and dark-eyed, average in just about all respects. His eyes were ice cold, emotionless. Professional assassin, Pepa thought, making a mental note to be aware of him at all times. He must be Emilio, El Diablo's right-hand man.
She had heard about him.
Rightie was short and had the shifty look of a professional weasel. He looked out of place with the other men, but Pepa knew better; being here meant he was most definitely capable.
She finished her assessment and decided that she could move, leaning her back against the wall, taking care to project an air of not having a care in the world. The men all tensed when she moved, but stayed in place, and relaxed. Well-disciplined, Pepa thought, and felt grudging respect rise in her gut, although it also made her bile rise. El Diablo obviously ran an extremely tight ship.
Emilio looked her up and down, sneered. "Scared, bitch?" he asked, and his voice was rich with the promise of degradation and pain and all the things he wanted to do to her. Pepa upgraded him from 'assassin' to 'sadist.'
She also lowered his IQ a bit.
She let an expressively arched eyebrow and a sneer be her response, and noted the way he stiffened subtly. A hint of color splashed his cheeks. He has a temper, Pepa realized. She also took stock of the other men; the man on the left looked bored, but she knew he had watched their little exchange closely. Blondie looked amused at Emilio's show of temper. She wondered if Blondie and Emilio hated each other. She wondered if she could play them against each other.
Weasel just looked completely disinterested, if not oblivious.
They were silent for some minutes, all staying very still. Pepa looked at everything and nothing, keeping all four men in her range of vision. Numbness tingled at her limbs, but she refused to move. She was not about to lose this first round.
Finally, though, there was movement in the outer room, footsteps and mingled voices. The four men tensed, snapped to attention. Pepa pushed off from the wall, spread her feet shoulder-width apart, centered her balance, kept her hands by her sides, and consciously tamped down on her natural urge to fidget. (Sometimes, she had too much energy for her own good.) She kept her face neutral; willed her body to project calm and confidence, but not stray into cockiness or arrogance or attitude.
There was a time and place for such things.
The door scraped open and a man entered. From the way all the energy in the room coalesced around him, from the charisma he exuded, Pepa knew, just knew, he was her quarry. Her prey.
El Diablo was short but leanly muscled, with a gymnast's build. He had a sharp chin and nose; his mouth was full, his eyes liquid black, his cheekbones high. He was clean-shaven and wore his hair like Lucas. He was altogether a very attractive package. Pepa resisted the urge to shiver. She heard he got lots of women.
She also heard what he did to them.
His eyes met hers, and there was an alertness to them, a cold wariness. He was intelligent. His eyes raked her body, and when their eyes met again neither set betrayed anything.
For the first time ever undercover, Pepa experienced a brief flicker of foreboding. This man was extremely dangerous to her. She would have to be on the top of her game. His skills matched hers, were at the same high level.
She resisted the urge to smile.
This dance is going to be fun.
"Gabriela Vega," he said, letting her name linger in the air. She raised her eyebrows at him and did not respond. This, too, was a power game, the opening jab. After a moment, he cracked a thin smile.
"I like you," he informed her. The jaws of all his lackeys clenched, and she smirked internally. Boys didn't like that.
"Before we begin, I would like to introduce you to my inner circle," he said, waving a hand at his men, though his eyes never left her face. "Pedro," the neutral man on the right, "Gimeno," Blondie, "Emilio," she had been right on him, "y Diego," Weasel. She let nothing show in her body language, but her heart dropped when he said Weasel's name and she realized who the man must be.
We had no idea he'd hooked up with Diego de Torribas, she thought, and swore internally. He's expanded more than we knew.
She nodded fractionally at them all, then refocused her attention on El Diablo. He raised his brows at her in return, and identical small smiles arced across both their mouths.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I summoned you here after only four weeks in my employ," he said conversationally, pulling out a chair from the desk in the center of the room. Pepa let herself fall into a slight slouch.
"Presumably because you like me," she said dryly, and he snorted in amusement. Gimeno smiled a little, too, but Emilio frowned. She was beginning to wonder if Pedro or Diego had any facial expressions.
"I do like you," he conceded, tilting his head to study her. Pepa kept her eyes locked with his. It reminded her of being hypnotized by a snake.
"You're smart and ambitious. You're talented. You have vision. I need more people like you in my organization." He paused. "I also remember you from, oh, about three years ago now. You were rising quickly before you got caught in the sting that also netted Javier," and Pepa let the mixture of emotions churning within her flash on her face for a brief second. A hook. El Diablo watched her like a hawk and took the bait.
"What do you have to say about getting caught?" he asked. Pepa made a show of considering the matter for a moment before responding.
"I was at the wrong place at the wrong time," she said with a shrug. "Javier had shit security there, it wasn't nearly enough for the amount we were moving. And he relied too much on his police mole," Pepa made sure to spit out the two words, "to warn him about any police strikes."
El Diablo was still watching her closely. "So what you're saying is ?" he prompted. Pepa let another sneer cross her face.
"I'm saying that Javier got fat and lazy and stupid. He wouldn't listen to my advice, or anyone else's, and it cost us all."
Emilio started forward half a step, fists clenching, and Pepa immediately tensed, too. She had forgotten that Javier had been Emilio's brother, before he got shanked in jail.
El Diablo noted her reaction, and she could see in his eyes that he probably knew the reason. An assessing look. He's looking to groom another #2, and Emilio knows it.
Oh, she would definitely not be getting along with Emilio.
Then he proceeded to quiz her for close to an hour on her life, various statistics, drug information, solicitation methods, underworld gossip, neighborhood information, which policemen she knew to be dirty, personal drug preferences, experiences, questions on which guns she preferred and how she acquired them, how she would improve the level of the street dealers, and much more besides. She wondered if he was going to ask about her sexual history, and was half-convinced he would know all the answers to that, too.
This bastard was fucking smart. She was going to have to keep track of all her lies. (Maybe she should get a fucking journal. Silvia always told her to.)
Pepa felt slow drops of sweat drip slowly down her back, between her shoulderblades. This was the acid test, this was the audition you either passed or died, and she was suddenly, absurdly grateful to Juan, even if he was the most boring and long-winded and charisma-devoid speaker in the history of man. She decided that he and Caterina would get matching, very nice Christmas gifts.
Finally, the grilling was over. Pepa stood, still calm and ready, but the sweat kept dripping down her back like the seconds ticked away on a clock. The four men behind El Diablo tensed, put their hands on their guns. Pepa kept her eyes locked with his, not backing down. The tension rose.
Ratched up to an unbearable level. Her breathing started to quicken. She consciously slowed it down.
She could not do anything about her racing heart, though.
Standing still while the adrenaline was coursing through her was pure torture.
Her lips felt dry. She stubbornly refused to lick them.
Drip, drip, drip.
Finally, El Diablo cocked his head, gave her one final glance up and down before swiveling his chair, looking out the window. Pepa stopped breathing.
"We're looking into expanding into Madrid," he told her. Pepa almost went weak-kneed with relief. Her breathing started again.
He rattled off a list of neighborhoods, and Pepa slowly, sickeningly, realized that over half of them fell under the jurisdiction of her family's precinct. Probably because their arrest record on narcotics was, she had to admit, abysmal. Her grudging respect for El Diablo rose another notch.
Like hell you're going in there, bastard, she snarled. Like hell you're getting within five hundred kilometers of Silvia.
"The cops here have been sniffing around too much," he said, swiveling in his chair. For the first time, he frowned. "The price of success, I suppose. One gets noticed." Then his frown turned into a malicious smile. His next comment was offhand, almost to himself. His eyes were distant. "At least I offed the police bitch that was sniffing around. After having fun with her, of course."
Pepa froze. She literally could not move if she had tried. A white-hot, almost blinding rage exploded in her head.
The malicious, nostalgic smile on his face told her he had enjoyed doing it.
She saw red.
The other men smiled at that, too, and Diego, for the first time showing emotion, elbowed Emilio and smiled. They both smirked.
She wondered, suddenly, what Marta's last moments had been like. (She had avoided thinking about it before.) She wondered if they had been filled with the sheer terror Pepa had been inching towards ten minutes ago.
She wondered if Marta had, in some corner of her soul, expected Pepa to ride in and rescue her, as Pepa always had before.
She promised to make his last minutes one hundred times worse than Marta's.
"I'm going to need someone to run the operation in Sevilla once it gets set up." His attention had refocused on her, and somehow Pepa managed to stuff everything inside, go cold all over. If he noticed anything on her face, it did not show on his own.
"You're smart and talented, as I said. I think you have the drive to get that operation up and prospering so that the transition is as smooth as possible." If possible, his eyes went sharper. "Would you be interested?"
And, of course, there was only one answer to that question.
"Of course," she answered smoothly. A satisfied grin from him.
"Excellent," he said, and proceeded to outline her next few months. There was no rush, he said, and she groaned inwardly; they were only beginning preliminary preparations for the transition to Madrid. Effective tomorrow, she was to start as the "manager" for three neighborhoods. She would be moved up the ladder every few weeks, until he felt confident in her ability to manage Madrid until he himself was ready to take the reins. She let the appropriate ambition and interest flash in her eyes, and by the look in his she could tell he was pleased. He valued ambition. (This was all contingent on her performing well at every stage, of course.
He did not have to mention the price for fucking up.)
Pepa was beginning to think that she was going to escape alive, after all, when he casually (too casually) said "One last thing, Gabriela."
Her ears perked up. The men straightened, became attentive. A cruel smirk twisted Emilio's face.
"Bring him in," El Diablo raised his voice. Pepa's fingers curled slightly.
One of the men who had frisked Pepa earlier dragged in a bound, gagged man. Boy, really, Pepa thought, and felt sick.
This could not end well.
He could not have been more than twenty-four. He was trying to grow a beard but all he had were a few scattered hairs. His hair was messy. Tears were leaking from his eyes, and Pepa was sure she could smell piss.
"This is Raúl," El Diablo said casually as the man deposited him in between Pepa and El Diablo. The man withdrew, and El Diablo produced a handgun from his side holster. He slapped it meaningfully against his palm.
Pepa locked eyes with the boy.
He was terrified.
"Your job is to execute him," El Diablo said. Pepa's eyes widened, but she schooled her expression.
The boy started to shake his head, mewl around his gag. He was sobbing, now, and snot was running down his face. Pepa looked up.
El Diablo was holding the gun's handle out to her. His eyes were flinty.
Pepa, arms leaden, took the gun. On autopilot, she checked the bullets, the lock, everything, as her mind frantically scanned for all, every, any way out of this.
She kept coming up empty.
El Diablo was watching her.
Finally, she cocked the gun. It was loud in the silence. Pepa shut her eyes so briefly it could almost have been a blink, drew a deep breath. She could not not try, but .
If this gets me killed, I am going to be so pissed.
She met El Diablo's eyes.
"Why?" she asked calmly.
From the noise they made, you would have thought El Diablo's men had been punched in the stomach. He cocked an eyebrow.
"Excuse me?" His voice was no longer friendly. She could hear the suppressed anger, danger in it. Her heartbeat sped up slightly.
"I asked why."
El Diablo tilted his head, looked her up and down. "What does it matter? It's an order from me. You obey or ."
Pepa raised an eyebrow at him. She hope she had his character pegged right.
"As I recall saying earlier, the last time I blindly accepted orders I landed in jail," she said quietly, hoping that his ego would not be pricked beyond all recall by the implied comparison of himself to Javier. She waved carelessly. "And I don't believe in wasting assets. What if this boy could be of use in the future? Pointless murder serves no one. It is a waste of potential, of opportunity. He could be a resource."
Hoping against hope, she waited. The boy was breathing incredibly fast, and she morbidly wondered if he was going to have a heart attack and render the issue a moot point.
A smile grew on El Diablo's face. He clapped, and Pepa almost jumped out of her skin.
"That is what I like to see." His comment was addressed to her but aimed at the men, and they straightened. "Someone who thinks. Who plans. Who knows when to improvise." His look to her was approving. "I like you even more now."
Christ. Pepa was going to have to check for white hairs when she got home.
"And to answer your question, he is a rapist and a murderer," his flippant tone was gone, and her heart tripped. "He's been using and dealing on the side to fund his little bitches," and El Diablo's rough hand jerked at the boy's scraggly hair. The boy yelped in pain.
"He likes to do whatever he likes to his girls, don't you?" and the boy was crying again. "You strangled the latest on your kitchen table, didn't you, Raúl the police are starting to sniff around. You've become a liability, chico. The cops are onto you. And we can't have any liabilities."
The boy shook his head frantically, straining against his restraints.
"Scccht. I know," El Diablo said softly, almost tenderly, and released him. He straightened, looked at Pepa.
"I know you stopped three men from assaulting and probably raping several hookers three nights ago. Rather impressively, I might add; the one will be in the hospital for another month."
Pepa went ice-cold all over. How did he know ?
Ortega's voice, in her head. Remember that El Diablo regularly has all his people watched. Literally every move that you make will probably be recorded .
Christ. She had not fully realized what that meant until right now.
"I would think you would jump at the opportunity to champion the honor of all hookers everywhere." A manprobably Emilio, Pepa thought with disgustsnickered.
The mirth faded from El Diablo's face. "Now, Gabriela," he said, and nodded to the gun she was still holding. "Or I'm going to start to think you don't want to work for me, after all."
Everything about him screamed menace.
Mechanically, slowly, Pepa raised the gun.
The boyRaúlstarted screaming against his gag. Screaming, thrashing, shaking his head.
Pepa stepped over him, centered the gun on his forehead. Her hands were steady.
He cried louder.
Their eyes locked through his tears.
She felt a warm splatter on her t-shirt.
The gunshot echo faded slowly.
As the bullet case bounced across the floor, Pepa looked up. In slow motion, she locked eyes with El Diablo. Her expression was raw. He knew he had gotten to her, and his eyes lit with satisfaction.
In that moment, Pepa knew that she and El Diablo would kill each other. He had the reason completely wrong, of course, but he knew she was gunning for him. He just thought she wanted to supplant him. He knew she was too smart, too ambitious, too good. He would have to kill her before she took over his whole operation. She would have to kill him before he could kill her.
They both knew it.
Somehow, the knowledge made her feel better.
She dipped her head slowly to him. "I will make my neighborhoods the best in Sevilla," she promised.
Her voice was raspy.
"See to it that you do." His dismissal nod was brusque. He put on his jacked and walked toward the door.
Pepa stayed above the body of the boy. She wondered if his brains were going to leave a stain on the carpet.
Pausing on his way out, intentionally brushing her shoulders with his, El Diablo leaned in close to Pepa. She did not flinch, did not look at him. His tone was conversational.
"If you betray me, they will never find your body."
Naked, still dripping from her shower, Pepa frantically scrubbed at the white t-shirt. Poured more bleach on it. Scrubbed some more.
The blood had long since been washed out.
Finally, her desperate motions slowed. She leaned over the sink, took several deep breaths, forced down the nausea. She was not going to vomit over some worthless piece of street trash who got his rocks off on raping women and muling dope. She absolutely refused.
Tell yourself he deserved it, Pepa. Tell yourself you did the world a favor. Tell yourself it's what you would have done if you were still on the beat.
Maybe if she repeated it enough, she would believe it.
Shaking, Pepa turned on the faucet, ran some cold water. She splashed her face and quickly brushed her teeth. Moving into her bedroom, she flopped on the bed, turned out the bedside lamp.
She was careful not to look in any of the mirrors.
She shut her eyes.
Sleep did not come.
Finally, Pepa could not take it anymore. She screamed into her pillow. Screamed until her throat was sore. Flailed away and pummeled her mattress.
It did not make her feel better.
She considered getting up and getting her picture of Silvia, the two of them frolicking on the beach, without a care in the world. She found she could not. She could not make herself get up, take twenty steps, and come back with the picture.
She was not worthy.
She spent the night clinging to her pillow and listening to the TV.
When morning came, Pepa knew she had to leave the bed. Leave the place where she was still Pepa. She got up, prepared for her first day as a neighborhood boss. Strapped her guns on. Took a deep breath. Let the coldness, the utter lack of emotion take her over. Tapped into the vein of cruelty she usually kept well-hidden, allowed it to take her over, too. Walked out the door.
She had no time to waste in making her neighborhoods the best-selling in El Diablo's organization, after all.
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