—from book 1 of THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER series
Lucy Lowell tucked into the shadows behind the white cinder block wall of Xochitl’s Cantina and listened. Coarse Spanglish curses pierced the night, accompanied by loud cheers and snatches of Tijuana narco-pop. Vicious barking and short, pained shrieks lacerated the seedy revelry.
Through holes in the camouflage canvas stretched over the parking lot’s chain- link fence, Lucy counted thirty East Los Locos gangbangers crowding around a shallow dogfight pit. Strewn around, discarded like trash, lay lumps of fur and flesh Lucy didn’t have the stomach to focus on. Through the wall of men, Lucy caught a glimpse of a blue nose pit bull turning away from its opponent, a muscular pit mastiff mix.
“Handle your dog, güey!” a paunchy man yelled from just outside the ring.
Accompanied by loud taunts, men from each side of the pit dragged their dogs back to the scratch lines. The mastiff’s handler fussed at the dog’s mouth, unfanging the dog’s lip from its teeth. Clearly dead tired and hurt, the blue nose pit bull started toward the line of cages against the opposite fence.
“Whoa, Puta.” A young man with a baseball cap turned backwards yanked the dog’s collar hard, causing the pit to drop to the ground as if taking cover.
From her hiding place, Lucy could see deep scratches on the pit bull’s face, bite wounds bleeding on the shoulder and old burn marks seared into the fur.
Lucy’s stomach cramped.
The dollar tacos she and her partner Gabe had devoured on their way to Echo Park threatened a hasty exit. Cabra Blanca, their favorite late night food truck, had been parked close to the raid at Montana and Alvarado. Eddie, the owner, always included extra mango guacamole with Lucy’s order.
Guacamole! Shouldna eaten. The dogfighting makes me sick enough. Why’d I chance it with the cabeza quesadilla on top of those goat tacos?
Lucy breathed in slowly and directed her gaze from the hurt dog to the few stars blinking in the murky L.A. sky. The lights of an airplane outshone the sliver of the waning crescent moon. She could make out the distant roar of jet engines.
“Bitch won’t fight no more, jefe.” The young man with the cap delivered a kick to the blue nose pit’s side. An ugly curse cut through the tumult as a man in a formfitting white T-shirt and dark designer jeans parted the crowd.
Memo Morales, cock of the walk. Nice of you to join us.
Teeth clenched, Lucy drew her sidearm and looked back down the alley. Officer Gabe Torres of the LAPD Animal Cruelty Task Force quietly crouched down next to Lucy, indicating with a nod that he too had spotted “El Gallo.”
Her partner for five years, Gabe was as fierce an animal rights protector as Lucy had ever met. Both she and Gabe had risked both badge and incarceration many times, as they rescued dogs from backyard dogfighting with or without departmental approval.
Tonight’s raid was another point of contention with their ACTF lieutenant. When the confidential informant had approached Lucy and Gabe about dogfighting behind her cantina, it had been just the break they’d been looking for. These East Los Locos had been brokering dogfights for years, but their slippery leader Memo Morales, a.k.a. “El Gallo,” always managed to ensconce the events with aggravating efficiency.
Distressingly the CI, Xochitl Magaña, had given Lucy and Gabe much more than they’d hoped for. El Gallo and his Los Locos were running guns. The dogfights, while generating tens of thousands of dollars on their own, were a mere front. Lucy and Gabe’s supervisor Lieutenant Heckman had turned their information over to her superior, Captain Burch. Burch had taken the lead on the raid, called in SWAT and only allowed the ACTF along as a courtesy after Lucy had begged to be involved. Lucy and Gabe had been virtually cut out of the planning despite their relentless pursuit of the East Los Locos dogfighting ring.
“Get rid of it, Tuti!” El Gallo spat, prompting Lucy to inch forward. She could see El Gallo throw a fistful of cash at another man and stalk into the cantina through the backdoor.
The gangbangers laughed and joked as more money changed hands. Pushing the baseball-capped banger away, the man named Tuti threw a chain around the bloodied pit bull’s neck and dragged her clear of the wall of men. The exhausted dog cowered from Tuti as he tightened the chain around her neck. Small whimpers reached Lucy’s ears.
“Just shoot it.” A thin teenage boy in baggy jeans and an oversized white T-shirt approached Tuti with what looked like a Hi-Power Browning 9mm.
Nice gun. A detached part of Lucy’s brain noted the semi-automatic. ”¡Cállate, Flaco! Let’s have some fun.” Tuti yanked the chain, smashing the pit’s chin into the asphalt. The sharp yowl caught the attention of the other attending Locos who turned to watch Tuti’s show.
Gabe’s hand settled on Lucy’s arm and held tight. She would have bruises in the morning.
“Wait,” he hissed.
Lucy tilted her head to look directly into her partner’s dark brown eyes. In a split second a struggle resolved between them. Burch’s words, “You two hotheads are on thin ice,” echoed in her memory. She knew Gabe remembered it too.
“X the bitch, Tuti!” Drunken hysteria pitched the Locos’ voices higher. “¡Fuego! ¡Fuego! ¡Fuego!”
Her eyes still locked on Gabe, Lucy knew what was happening in the parking lot. Having investigated the sad aftermath of the East Los Locos games, she knew what inevitably came next. Slowly she nodded her head, and Gabe released his grip. It wasn’t the plan. It wasn’t even smart.
Lucy rose to her full height. Her Beretta clutched firmly, Lucy shot a quick smile to Gabe. Easily on the taller side of six feet, muscled like a professional bodybuilder, Gabe Torres looked scary as hell.
Glad you’re on my side, good buddy.
Lucy felt calm wash down from her head to her toes. This was what she was made for…
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