What Matters Most~ Chapter Thirty-Five (Part One)

The streets of Springfield were nearly deserted this time of night, especially the further they moved away from town.  The Santos mansion’s location away from the prying eyes of Springfield’s finest had been one of the advantages when Carmen and Maria were at the helm of ‘The Family’.  Now that his wife could possibly be at the mercy of some psycho its isolated location made him even more anxious to get to her side.  If only Danny would speed things up. “Come on man!  Can’t you drive any faster?”

Danny barely spared Tony a glance, instead keeping his focus on the road and getting them there alive. “Sorry Tony but I have a wife and kids that love me.  You have a wife and a child on the way.  We are not going to end this night being some roadside casualty.”

From the backseat Rafael patted his shoulder. “I don’t have any of those things but I still thank you.”

All too soon Danny pulled up to the road leading to the mansion, the road currently blocked by Frank Cooper and various members of Springfield PD.  Frank hurried over to the car and leaned down to speak to Tony through the open window. “Tony I understand why you are here, I do.  But I want you to know that if you hamper my guys in any way I will not hesitate to haul your ass in do you understand me?”

Tony looked Frank in the eye and nodded.  “Understood.  I just want Marah out safely.”

“Well then we are on the same page then.” Without another word Frank walked away and rejoined a group of officers gathered nearby.

***

The slap to her face brought Marah back to consciousness. “Wake up Sleeping Beauty.” Carlos crouched low so that he could look Marah in the eye.  He made a soft tsking sound and shook his head. “You’re not looking too good.  Head hurt?”

Marah held back the groan of pain she so desperately wanted to release.  She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.  Instead she looked at him and snarled, “Like a bitch.  Almost as big a bitch as the one you are working with.”  Marah scanned the room but saw no sign of Eden but she was sure she was lurking around somewhere like the snake was.

Carlos tilted his head back and laughed loudly, the sound echoing eerily through the empty caverns of wherever it was he had brought her.  “Clever.  Catalina never mentioned that about you in her letters home.”

Marah really was in no condition to have a coherent conversation but the longer she kept him talking the more time she bought for someone to hopefully realize something wasn’t right and come for them. “I am not surprised.  Though she never mentioned her family back in Cuba much.”

Carlos pushed up on his knees so that he could rise to his full height, “I don’t doubt it.”  He then began pacing in front of her which just made Marah even more dizzy than she already was.  But still she tried to concentrate on what he was saying. “After our father went to prison my brothers and I saved up to send Catalina to America.  The supposed land of opportunity.  But what did that lead her but to an early grave.”  He stopped before the fireplace and reached for something upon the mantle.  He returned to standing in front of Marah and held up the large object for her inspection. “Do you recognize this?”

Marah recoiled in horror.  As if she would ever forget!  It had been one of the worst days of her life waking up next to a lifeless Catalina with that angel statue in her hand and no memory of what had happened.  “Get that away from me!”

Instead he pushed the angel statue closer to her face, she would not escape the evidence of her mistreatment of his sister. “You can’t hide from the truth Marah.  Hell it still has Catalina’s blood on its marble wings.  She did not just forget about her family in Cuba you know, she wrote to us about you.  About how jealous you were when she first arrived and later when she began dating Tony.”

“Is that why you kidnapped me?  Because I didn’t kill Catalina and neither did Tony!”

“Marah do you think I would go through so much trouble just because you had some female petty jealousy with my sister?  No, Marah this goes much deeper than that.  Much farther than just you.   Tony Santos is going to know what it is like to lose.”  Carlos reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.  He pressed some buttons then held the phone to his ear.  He smiled cruelly when the person on the other end picked up. “Why hello Tony Santos, I think I have something you want.”

***

Tony stood and silently and watched the darkened house.  Behind him he could hear Frank talk strategy with the other officers but all he was focused on was what was going on within those walls.   “Hang on baby.  I am going to get you out of there.”

From his pocket he felt his phone ring.  Without checking the display he answered and instantly felt his stomach clench when he heard Carlos’ voice on the other end of the line. “Why hello Tony Santos, I think I have something you want.”

Tony moved away from officer convention behind him lest he be overheard.  After moving sufficiently away he hissed low and dangerous, “If you hurt her I will kill you.  Don’t think I won’t”

“And I thought the Santos cousins were decent family men these days.”  The sarcasm in Carlos’ voice was clear. “My mistake.”

If the sarcasm was clear in Carlos’ voice the threat in Tony’s was just as obvious.  The way Tony felt he could rip Carlos apart with his bare hands. “You want to blame someone for Catalina’s death you blame me.  But leave Marah out of it.”

“Now you know that isn’t going to happen Tony.  Marah is a part of this Tony, she has always been a part of it. ”  After a brief silence Carlos asked, “Have you ever played chess Tony?”

What the hell?  Angered Tony clutched the phone tighter. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Carlos persisted, “Have you?”

“No.”

“A true game of strategy and skill.  Where anticipating your opponent’s next move is essential.”  Carlos paused before continuing. “I have your queen Tony.  Now what will you do?  The next move is yours.”  The line went dead.

Shit!  Tony hurried over to Frank who looked annoyed at the interruption.  “Carlos just made contact.”

Frank’s annoyance turned to anger in an instant. “And you didn’t think to signal me or one of my men?”

Hearing Tony’s statement, and Frank’s response, Josh felt compelled to step forward and intervene. “Does it really matter Frank?  The point is that Tony is telling you and he has information to share.  Anything that gets my daughter out of that house alive is imperative.”

The other man still grumbled under his breath. “He still should have alerted the police.”

Tony made a brushing motion with his hand. “Really Frank?  Because the important factor is that this is personal.  He wants me to make the next move.  So let’s make it, give him me in exchange for Marah.”

Frank shook his head. “We are not going to do that Tony.  We are not sending another civilian in there with an armed criminal.  A criminal who we already know has killed once before, and who is out for revenge.  We couldn’t guarantee your safety.”

“Listen to me!  This isn’t about Marah, not to Carlos Riviera.  This is about me, this is about revenge.”  Tony got in Frank’s face which made several officers move forward to intervene.  Frank held up a hand to forestall them and Tony continued. “He is not going to let Marah die.  Not until I am there as a witness.”

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