Harper, Texas

Harper's Diner

11:01pm

Silas had showered and changed for his meeting. His suit conveyed the demeanor he wanted to keep: professional. The suit would serve as his own personal reminder.

His men had the entire diner closed early. Five were driving around the nearby streets searching for anything out of the ordinary and three were outside the diner on foot. Gael and Armando stood on either of his sides. Harper's Diner was one of the properties he owned. He approached a checkered table where two men waited for his arrival.

"Detective Littman," Silas gripped his hand solidly while the man stood to greet him. He was around his mid-thirties and blonde. His hands were slick with moisture. "Detective James," Silas greeted the short, stocky old man. He stood as well but it clearly took more out of him to do.

Silas pulled out his chair and sat down. A cup of black coffee was to his left. The owner of the diner always had one ready for him when he took over the space. He was glad to have it; he was exhausted.

"You know why you're here?" Silas picked up the mug and brought it to his lips. Before the men could speak, Silas interrupted. "I'm sorry—did you want a cup of coffee?" His nonchalant attitude was probably the most frightening thing about the exchange. He couldn't let these men know he was stressed. He was set on showing composure.

The men both shook their heads to suggest they didn't.

"Continue." Silas said. He took a swig with his eyes fixated on them.

"We didn't know about the hit." Littman got straight to the point. Silas could appreciate it; the formalities were a nuisance in this situation. "The director is keeping seizures hush because he knows there are moles." Silas gave him a raised eyebrow. "Not necessarily for you but other organizations. He knows so he lets one person in at a time."

"By the time we found out about the tip, they were already taking it. No one knew anything." James said quickly. The fat under his chin fought to keep up with his words. Silas looked between the two curiously.

"You're telling me I pay you for nothing?" The men shook their heads vehemently.

"No, sir, we're saying—"

"You have no purpose for me anymore." Silas finished. The men continued trying to explain over one another and Silas watched, somewhat entertained by the circus show. "Who is it that the director tells his movements to?"

"Colton Keller." Silas nodded, pleased by the quick release of information.

"The loss I took today," Silas shook his head slowly. He sighed and rested his forearms on the table. "It'll set me back a few weeks." The men waited. "I have a lot of mouths to feed—including yours. You'll be missing your next few payments as a way to make up for this misstep. Maybe it'll motivate you to make yourselves of use again—who knows?" The men's resentment rose.

"How's your Jill and the baby?" Silas reminded them of the leverage he had. Silas took another sip of his coffee. He had never been the man to hurt women and children, but no one would dare put him in a position to test the theory. Littman's face softened and his bitterness had turned to fear.

"And congratulations on Patricia's acceptance to Yale, James." Silas used a napkin to swipe at the corners of his mouth.

"In either case, I want a name of the tip. I don't want to be the one to find it first." Silas looked between the two men and could see the understanding settle in their eyes. "Understood?" The men nodded. "They will see you out." He waved behind him to his men at the door. James and Littman stood and hustled away. When the door closed, Gael and Armando sat before him.

"We think it's Flores." Gael announced.

"Why?" Silas looked him head on.

"Who else would not want to steal your product but just get it taken from you?"

"Plenty!" Silas barked. "My father still has men out there waiting for me."

Silas had the means to own every step of his selling. While others used traffickers to bring their product to the States, he was there at the border with his arms wide open waiting for his men to come through with his product. He owned the cocoa plantation, the trucks, planes and boats to bring it in and the distributors who sold it. Men paid him to use the complex infrastructure he built. Some paid for his marijuana, cocoa and opium plants. They could buy the seed strains his chemist and botanist created. Some paid him to distribute their own product directly. Everything was his and it was something to envy.

However, it made ruining his operations much riskier. Although he was shortened a shipment, he was glad the shipment was his. Manuel, Flores and Enrique all used that warehouse in Otay for their own operations. If this tip acted again, there was no guarantee that they'd come after him again. He would have to explain to the men of the Sinaloa cartel and their allies where their product had gone and how it left Silas' possession in the first place.

The possibility made him feel weak and vulnerable.

"Call Manuel and Flores and tell them to look for answers in Mexico." He wondered if maybe his enemies were only the enemies of men who were close to him.

"We should start thinking about scaling back on production until we piece this together." Gael said.

"We can't. It's the only income we have the next few weeks for the area." Silas looked into his face for the first time. The cut he'd made with his glass a few days ago was bandaged up. From his cousins' story, he needed stitches. Spots of blood bled through the white tape.

Addison responded as he knew she would. She was a woman and Armando was her husband. On top of that, Silas was her cousin and she was vital to his industry. She had some immunity that no one else had. And she used it strategically. Armando probably never told her how he got it. She just knew Silas was responsible if not because he did it himself, then because he had failed to protect him from whatever did do it.

"Where is Gerardo?" Silas needed someone to come up with solutions that matched the numbers. His accountant would have the answers.

As if summed by the sound of his voice, the bell over the front door jingled. Gerardo's towering, bulky frame sat down alongside the men. He pushed his small glasses up the bridge of his nose and laid out a few sheets of paper for him to read.

"First, I need you at Willadeene's tomorrow for dinner. Daniel has to apologize to a guest and he will have payments for you." Everyone looked at him curiously but no one questioned him. "What are my options?"

"We can take money from some of the casinos. Otherwise, we can markup the other products for a few weeks." Silas was pleased with the solution. He used his dirty money to pay his dirty expenses. None of it brought him any attention because no money left the cartel's system. It was still a loss to incur but it was a clean loss.

"Good." Silas sat back in his seat and tented his hands thoughtfully. "If we see this lead to something bigger, you will need to prove to me you can handle everything. I can't be the face of it." The men nodded their understanding. He needed to be covered on all fronts.

Willadeene's

Harper, Texas

1:44pm

Ebony's legs were on the metal rail lining the balcony in her bedroom. The afternoon sun was blinding but the winds made it pleasant. She looked at the sketchpad on her lap. For the hundredth time that day, she let disappointment course through her. When she wasn't in the right headspace to use a canvas, she'd resort to her pad. The work she did wasn't anything worth putting in an exhibit.

She was thinking of Silas and it showed.

Ebony couldn't stand herself for getting distracted after swearing she wouldn't. She knew the repercussions and she ignored her gut anyway. The kind of idle wondering that stifled her art in that moment was what she wanted to cleanly avoid. As time went on, she trusted herself less and less to let it go. The questions continued to consume her.

Willadeene had tried to warn her but she brushed it off.

Her phone rang beside her and she knew who it was.

"Hello?"

"Hey Eb," Cassandra's voice was grim. Ebony's heart beat picked up pace in her ear.

"What's wrong?" Ebony could hear faint screaming in the background. It was a toe curling sound that she knew well. No matter how many times in her life she'd heard it, the emotions it evoked were raw.

"Today isn't a good day for her." Cassandra said. Ebony pulled the phone from her ear for a second and closed her eyes. She fought off the tears and tried to center her thoughts.

"O—okay, that's fine." She could hear Niana talking to someone in the background. It sounded like a nurse.

"How are you doing? You don't sound good. Is everything okay?" Cassandra asked.

Ebony wanted to tell her about Silas. She wanted to rant and vent to someone about how she might have sabotaged her own trip not even a week into her stay.

She wanted to tell her why she really came to Texas.

But she couldn't. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thank you for going to see her." Cassandra wasn't convinced but the yelling in the background persisted. She could tell her attention was divided.

"Of course. We'll be back soon."

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