Causing Mayhem Down Mexico Way
A Pink Dormouse Production
Sands dreamed red. He thought he had forgotten colours, but this was definitely red. Blood-red. Crimson. Scarlet. He was unsure of the exact shade, just that it was everywhere. Covering the walls, the floor, the ceiling; steadily advancing on him with every heart beat. With every beat of the walls.
That was when he realised that it was not a solid mass of red as he had first thought, but something organic; pulsating red with streams of more red running down it. It was all around him, drawing his air into itself, leaving none for him to breathe. He was nauseous, dizzy, screaming.
Screaming. Fuck that.
Sands was torn between burying his face deeper in El's shoulder, and pulling away to drag a pillow over his head, pretending that that had not just happened.
Easy enough for El to say it. He was not the one whose imagination had finally decided to gang up on him in one final all-out assault. Sands tried to roll away towards the other side of the bed, but El just tightened the grip of his arms around Sands' chest.
"It's just me."
Well, Sands knew that, thank you very much. And El was warm - and solid - and stroking his back in a way that made Sands forget all about trying to retreat with any last shreds of dignity he might have intact.
"That's better, isn't it?"
Sands was not going to acknowledge the question with so much as a nod. He was just going to shift ever so slightly, so he was a little more comfortable, and - damn it, he was getting hard. It was one thing for Sands to encourage as many bizarre kinks in El as he could, but quite another for him to start coming up with weird fetishes of his own. Excluding the wall thing, obviously, because that was perfectly normal. And the thing about giving up responsibility, because most people did that. And, so maybe he was a little... unusual, but he did like getting shot at, so long as there was no actual permanent injury involved. But hey, everyone liked a little danger to spice things up once in a while.
He was not, though, going to encourage his imagination to wake him up with wilder and wilder horror shows just so that El could -
"Are you whimpering or purring?" El asked, running the nails of one hand up and down Sands' spine, while the other wrapped around Sands' cock in a way that made answering pretty well impossible.
Well, maybe he would get into it, just this once. But he was going to have serious words with his imagination when he - he would worry about that later.
Sands had always enjoyed flying. The feel rather than the view, which meant he could still enjoy it. Although right now he could have done without the squirrel-monkey giving him a point-by-point report on everything she could see out of the window. Sands was tired. The previous night he had spent what felt like hours lying on his back, just listening to El's breathing. Wiped out and contented, but too aware of the memory of claustrophobia to actually give in and sleep.
"Haven't you ever flown before?" he asked her at last.
"Not in a passenger plane," Matilda said.
El slung an arm around Sands' shoulders and pulled him in closer.
"Leave her be," he whispered in Sands' ear. "Just let her be a child for once, okay."
"Okay," Sands said grudgingly, then burrowed his way into El's coat. Maybe that would make the kid see that he could care less what she might spy with her little (still present, and fully-functional) eyes. It was not exactly a long flight, but he could still catnap. And then be that little bit more alert when it came to meeting the whole team en masse.
They were back in Mexico. It was more obvious here than it had been at the landing strip, Sands thought as he stepped out of the car and paused a moment to breathe the air. Behind him he heard the driver's door slam closed, and beside him Mathilda was dragging her bag out from the back seat.
El walked around the front of the car to join Sands, but was interrupted and dragged away by the whirling dervish of some other mariachi.
Sands would have glared if he could have. But then a third mariachi was swaying up to him, slinging an arm around his shoulders and pressing a hipflask into Sands' hand.
"Don't worry about them," Fideo - it had to be Fideo, Sands decided - told him, "that's just the way they are."
Sands wanted to draw his gun, any one of his guns, and shoot the bastard who had taken El from him. But he could not be sure of missing El, so he settled for settled for unscrewing the top of the hipflask and taking a swig.
Tequila that burned all the way down and started up a glow in his stomach. Sands coughed, replaced the top, then handed the flask back to Fideo.
Sands refrained from killing him as well, and allowed Fideo to walk them both to wherever it was that El had got to.
"That is one fucked up family you found for yourself." Lorenzo closed the door, then leaned against it, just in case any of the others should come looking.
El stared at him. Then, just when Lorenzo was about to explain, realisation dawned.
"Mathilda is not family," he said slowly, and very firmly. "She's - Sands says he knows people he can... palm her off on, when we've done what we came here for."
"And Sands?" Lorenzo had thought he was prepared for anything, after all that El had told him in their telephone conversations. But nothing had quite prepared him for the feral anger just rolling off the gringo.
"Sands stays with me." El looked down, avoiding Lorenzo's eyes. "I made a promise to him."
Well, that was something new. Lorenzo decided not to press further just yet; he suspected he was not going to like what he might hear. Still, El looked well on it, whatever it was.
"So, is this you back, or is this you back?" Lorenzo asked. He was hoping to hear the latter, but suspecting the former.
"I'm here for now. What happens after depends on what happens in the next few days."
"Things haven't changed here; the people still need you. You've been gone a long time but they still talk about you in bars, and on the streets."
"And that is why I don't know if I can stay. Not now. Maybe when I've been forgotten some more." El sighed. "If I stay now, I may become a figurehead. And then people will expect too much of me. That will make me too easy a target for the cartels. For men like Marquez and Barillo."
"The great El Mariachi afraid of a few hired guns?"
"No," El said patiently, "worried that if I become a figurehead, and then I am killed, there will be no one willing to take my place. Everything you told me before - it seems that the people will keep on rising up against the cartels. If they think I am going to do it for them..." He shrugged. "I'll make sure you and Fideo always know how to find me from now on."
Lorenzo had been paying close attention. What El said made sense. But it was unfair that he should come back to his friends with every intention of leaving again. Although, if the alternative was that he might not have come back at all, then so be it. Lorenzo gave a shrug of his own, then turned and opened the door.
"You want to meet with the rest of your people now, or in the morning?"
"Let me see what Sands has to say about it." El smiled apologetically. "Some days he thinks he is the one running everything."
El looked around the room at the assembled killers. Earlier in the day, he and Sands had screwed as if this was their last morning on earth, and it seemed that some of the others had too. Sands lay stretched out on his side, cat-lazy, his head against El's thigh. The gun in his right hand was incentive enough for anyone thinking this was no way to hold a meeting to keep such thoughts to themself.
The two art thieves sprawled in the largest armchair, the taller in the shorter one's lap. Odd that the shorter one wore long earrings; they seemed out of place above her construction worker's clothes and black geometric tattoos. The taller one wore high heels and a short skirt, to Lorenzo's obvious discomfort - he had been bawled out for looking at least twice since El had arrived at the hacienda.
Lorenzo and Fideo stood on either side of the door leading to the hall. After this meeting they would leave, and head across country to brief their own team. Ramirez would go with them; not to fight but to ensure that someone was left standing to report back to Sands - or directly to Dariel, should the worst happen - once the team had carried out their instructions.
Briggs was here too, performing a similar function to Ramirez. He seemed uncomfortable with the heat, standing directly under the room's main fan. And he missed his wife, as he told anyone who stopped talking long enough to listen to him. She was back home working - and spending his money, Briggs was quick to point out - but at least he knew she was safe. His was not a profession where attachments were to be encouraged. The same held true for every one in the room; strange then that so many of those assembled worked in pairs.
The explosives expert was leaning forward over his partner's chair, supporting his weight as much on his folded arms as on his feet. They had been the first to arrive after Ramirez, apparently, and had set up a workroom and bedroom in the second largest room of the house. Sleeping surrounded by part-built bombs would not be to everyone's taste, but obviously they were used to it. The bomb maker's boyfriend had looked nervous whenever El had tried to speak to him. But he claimed to be well practiced at driving getaway vehicles, so that would be his role the following morning.
The two solo mercenaries leaned against opposite walls, not quite glaring at each other. The tall American cradled an oversized gun, his arms crossed over his chain mail vest. The short Irishman carried a variety of weapons about his person. He seemed even more attached to his sunglasses than Sands was, but he had let them slide down his nose a little to reveal those disturbingly green eyes. Contact lenses, Sands had said when El had commented on the man's eyes. It was a smart move, Sands had continued, what else did anyone notice about the guy beyond his strong accent and the distinctive eyes not quite hidden by his sunglasses? Take the lenses out and tone down the speech, and he would just slip away unnoticed. El suspected that Sands was right.
Mathilda sat on the floor by Sands' feet, with her new rifle at her side. Every so often El had caught her gazing admiringly at Lorenzo, but he had already had words with the younger mariachi, and knew that she was not getting any encouragement from the other direction. He was not sure that passing the child on to any of Sands' friends - acquaintances - was the best solution, but he was yet to come up with a better one. And Sands was quick to point out, whenever the conversation headed that way, that the girl was not El's daughter; she was someone who had survived far more than any child should have seen. Cosseting her was not going to work, but El still wondered if there was a way that she, alone out of all those here, might be able to walk away and find a more normal way of life.
El ran a hand over Sands' hair. Sands shook it off and sat up. He gave the appearance of glaring around the room, and those who had been talking stopped.
"Now I have your attention," he began.
Sands thought that the meeting had gone very well. He had managed to skip over precisely what he wanted retrieved from the safe - there were bound to be some important papers in there, along with the art and jewels, for him to give to Dariel via Briggs. Paperwork on his enemies always seemed to make Dariel happy. Not so happy as the mass disposal of his enemies, but it could be a nice piece of icing on the cake for him. Plus, going over any papers they might come across would keep Dariel and his lackeys occupied enough for them not to notice when Sands and El simply slipped away.
Sands still respected the Big Guy, obviously, but he had better things to do with the rest of his life than being permanently on call for anyone who thought his or El's talents might come in useful. From now on, if they worked at all, it would be strictly on a cash-per-job basis. With no retainer, financial or otherwise; this job would pay Dariel back everything Sands had ever owed him, and he did not need any favours from anyone from now on.
With that thought, Sands curled up against El, determined to catch a little more sleep before four am came around, when the team would be on the move for real.
Sands was alight with manic energy. After calling everyone together for one last summing-up of the plan he had been unable to settle while the others ran through their individual last minute equipment checks. El found it slightly distracting, since Sands was also determinedly sticking close to him.
"Are you quite sure you haven't taken anything?" El asked. "I saw you talking to Jones earlier."
"This is one hundred percent natural, I assure you." Sands pressed up close to El and slid an arm around his waist. "This is it. This is the big one, where all my plans come together. Don't tell me you aren't excited too."
"I just want to make sure we all get out of this in one piece."
"Bit late for me, El. I'm broken already, remember?"
"So we get out of this no worse than we go in. Now, how about you give me five minutes to myself?"
Sands stepped away.
"This wouldn't be you trying to go off and be heroic without me?"
"No," El replied calmly, "I just need to prepare myself." Sands might scoff at the rituals El went through before a battle, but they worked for him. And that was what mattered, even though he was no longer sure he believed in the words of the prayers themselves.
"Fine," Sands said, sounding a little rejected. "I'll go chase everyone outside, shall I?"
The truck pulled up a short distance from the compound dead on five am. Jones was the first to jump out. While he was gathering his explosives together, Mathilda slipped away, to find her own route into the compound, and from there to the rooftop where she would have a vantage point for shooting the cartel boss, should he try to escape out the back way.
Jones set the charges at the entrance, taking his time over it with Malone covering him, Then he strolled nonchalantly back to the rest of the group, the Irishman still following him.
"All ready?" Jones asked.
"All ready here." Sands pulled out his cell, and entered a number. "You two ready?" There was a pause, then he snapped the case shut. "The girls are ready to go in as soon as the noise starts."
"This is it then." Jones pulled a control box out of his pocket. "You guys get in position and wait for me to blow the doors off."
The two mercenaries set off at a run; El took hold of Sands' elbow to guide him, and then they followed.
The four paused a little way from the compound's gates. There was a brief moment of silence then a thunderous roar and a rapid blossom of heat and light as all hell broke loose.
Sands was first into the compound, almost before the first wave of surprised shouting began inside the compound's main building. But then he had had no reason to react to the sudden brilliance of the explosion. El caught up to him. Then the others entered, diverging across the courtyard to his far side.
"So far, so good," Sands shouted to him above the rumbles and yells coming from all directions. He pulled the pin from a grenade and threw it towards the door of the main building. El shielded his eyes from the resulting explosion. Sands had obviously got his bearings quickly enough from the memorised plans.
"The men will be outside any minute. You go cover the women as we planned."
Sands hesitated. Surely he could not see this as abandonment?
"Go," El repeated. "Three of us can cover the door here." He wanted Sands to get somewhere that would be safer, or at least less chaotic, than the courtyard was about to become.
Still Sands hesitated.
El placed a hand on each of Sands' shoulders.
"Whatever happens, remember that I love you." He quickly kissed Sands lips, then stepped away. "Now go."
Sands seemed about to say something, but then he turned and set off at a jog, trailing one hand along the side of the building to keep himself oriented.
El turned to face the doors just as they opened and the first men poured out. He started to pick them off, as did the two mercenaries.
Sands' first thought was that El was not expecting to get out alive. His second was that El did not expect Sands to get out alive. His third thought was that he was going to prove the bastard wrong on both counts. Behind him the fight was just getting going. But El was right; someone had to cover the other half of the operation. If not to protect the women and their goal, then to help ensure that none of the cartel escaped down the tunnel leading out of the office.
Sands' fingers came to a doorframe. He paused. That would be the side door of the main building. The secondary buildings that housed the offices, the safe, and the emergency exit should be just a little further now. He heard footsteps on the other side of the door, getting steadily closer.
Sands stepped back, drawing a pair of guns, and waited for the door to open.
There was a faint squeak from the hinges, then the door banged against the wall. Sands stepped forward and fired towards the doorway. Two thuds, a noise from ahead and above him, then a third body hit the dirt. Mathilda was still around then. Good.
Sands waited, but no more cartel thugs emerged. He found the door and slammed it back into its frame - hard. Then he carefully stepped over the bodies and set off again. He was now between all exits from the main building and the entrance to the secondary complex. Anyone wanting to get from one to the other would have to go by him.
The toe of his boot contacted with something soft. Sands dropped into a crouch and began to pat the body down, mindful that more men could come out of the main building at any moment. Expensive suit, single entry hole in the back - that would be the boss man then. Sands pocketed the man's wallet as a souvenir and for later identification purposes, then checked the ground around the man. Two bodyguards, each felled again with a single shot - very nice work. He removed guns and spare clips from both bodies. Even if he did not need them right now, there was no point in leaving them for cartel men to pick up.
Sands heard more footsteps from inside the main building, coming towards that same door, and knew that he had to make a run for the offices. This was the tricky part; with no wall to guide him, he had to trust that he was heading in a straight line. And hope that there were no more bodies waiting to trip him up. How far had he come? How much further? Nothing for it but to guess and hope.
He ran smack into the wall. Which, he guessed, was better than missing it altogether. His only problem was that he had no instant clue as to which side of the door he was on. He turned and flattened his back against the wall, and began to edge to his right, all the while listening, as the men inside the other building came closer to the outside. Then the door he had slammed closed crashed open again.
Footsteps came pounding outside, accompanied by raised voices. Sands froze, trying to calculate how many there were, and where they were headed. If his luck was in, they would head around to the front of the building without looking his way.
His luck was out. With a scuffle, the men halted, and one of them barked a command to the others. Then the pounding of running feet started back up, but the sounds were more confused. The group seemed to have split in two, moving in both possible directions. Add to that the echo from the outer wall of the complex and Sands was going to have a hard time pinpointing any one of the men. He fired left, then right, then dead centre. A body fell and another man stumbled. Sands fired towards both sounds, and heard one answering groan.
A whistle from above was followed by a third thud. Then those still standing started to return fire.
Sands threw himself to the ground, fired at where the shots had come from and rolled left. If he could just get to the corner of the building he would have a little cover. Another body fell, but he could not be sure if he or Mathilda had got lucky that time. He fired again, rolled again, raised his right hand to fire again and - pain seared through his hand and the gun clattered away. Fuck. Just what he had not needed. He held his breath, listening for where the last man stood. Then he threw his weight left again, firing with the gun in his left hand while he was still moving. There was a noise from the roof, at the same time as he heard the man fall. Another shot from above and then there was silence in front of Sands.
He lay still, hoping that had been the last of them. Then he heard someone drop from the roof and land beside him.
"Just me." Mathilda said quietly. "That's them all - for now."
Sands got slowly to his feet, brushing himself down with his good hand, holding the injured one up and away from his body. He started to feel down his wrist towards the damage, but Mathilda pulled his hand away.
"You want it to get infected?" Her tone was firm now, as if she were the one in charge, the adult in this situation. When she let go of his good hand Sands let it drop to his side.
He could feel blood trickling down his wrist, and twisted it one way then the other. Nothing actually spurting blood as far as he could tell, but it was bleeding a heck of a lot more than he would like.
"Tell me how it looks then." Sands tried to wriggle his fingers, and winced as pain flashed up his arm.
"I've seen worse," Mathilda said confidently, but not at all reassuringly. She took hold of his wrist and began wrapping something around his hand. As she pulled each pass of the bandage - bandage? where had she found a bandage? - tight, Sands tried to judge what was damaged. And what - hopefully nothing - was missing. He could still hear gunfire and shouting from over on the far side of the building, but no one seemed to be coming in their direction now. Which was good because they were a standing target until the kid stopped playing doctor on his hand.
"I'd best get you out the back way," Mathilda said as she knotted the ends of the bandage across his palm.
"I'll get myself out." No way was he letting her see what was in the safe. Although he might let her have one painting towards her college fund. Never let it be said he did not appreciate being fixed up in the middle of a fight.
"You go help the others," he told her quickly. "You've saved my life enough times; do the same for El." He pulled out first one, then the other of the guns he had lifted from the bodyguards. "Take these. Stick with what you know if you can, but if you can't, then you've got a reserve. Now can you see a way up the main building?"
There was a pause, then the girl was gone, scrambling up the side of the building from the sound of it. Sands felt his way back along the outbuilding and this time located the door. He pushed it open cautiously. Then another series of explosions shook the compound, as he felt something metallic contact the side of his head.
El staggered back as the garage went up with a roar of searing heat. He ducked behind the corner of the main building, shielding his head with his arms as pieces of metal showered down across the courtyard.
As soon as he could, he edged back into the courtyard, trying to make out the others through the clouds of acrid smoke rolling towards him. The last of the cartel men had been in front of the garage. It seemed that none stood there now. But he could hear flames crackling, and knew that the breeze would fan them towards the ammo store.
He ran towards the main entrance. He had been furthest in, so he should pass the two mercenaries on his way out. Sands and the others would have heard the explosion and should be heading away from it.
There was someone in front of him, too tall to be cartel.
"Get out," El yelled as he ran towards the man.
The man stood impassively.
"Out. Out. Out!"
The man turned and started to run, joined quickly by another.
The three of them stumbled out of the compound and staggered towards the waiting truck.
"Did we do good?" Malone shouted.
El kept going, focussed on where he was headed. But behind him he heard an answering 'we did good' and a battle cry from the third man. He threw himself into the back of the vehicle as the compound exploded with a deafening roar. The other two landed beside him. There was a crunch and squeal of gears, then they were headed back towards their base.
Sands should have got out no trouble, but he was sure to be wondering about his partner. El pulled out his cell - battered, but with the display still functioning - and punched in Sands' number. It never even rang, going straight through to the message service.
He tried the number Sands had given him for the women. Again just the recorded voice asking him to leave a message.
Mathilda's cell was likewise dead. El threw his own against the side of the truck, as he wondered what was he going to do now.
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