—from book 1 of THE WEREWOLF WHISPERER series
Xochitl Magaña paced nervously behind the bar of her cantina, anxiously waiting for the cops to arrive.
¡Santa Maria, reza por mí!
Turning in her gangbanger boyfriend Memo was dangerous at best.
I’m gonna be in deep shit if this doesn’t go down right…And Miguel, Memo’ll…
“No,” Xochitl hissed, squashing the sprouting thought before it could ripen. “This’ll work.”
She snatched a towel from its hook and began wiping down the individual liquor bottles that lined the shelves behind the bar.
El Gallo’s done.
Memo Morales preferred the moniker “El Gallo” and fancied himself Tony Montana.
¡Híjole! What’s with vatos and Scarface?
And like an over-glorified, self-obsessed crime lord, El Gallo had exploited his relationship with Xochi, using her bar as his headquarters — his command center for the gang’s illegal operation.
And I let him.
But El Gallo gave her protection — something Xochitl desperately needed after her papa had died. And she had to admit, just as Memo liked having the only fair- skinned, light-eyed, natural blond ruca in the neighborhood, she’d initially liked the attention he’d given her.
It had been hard growing up a “güera” in the barrio — a place, despite being Mexicana, Xochitl had never felt she truly belonged.
School had been her refuge, and she’d even won an academic scholarship to UCLA.
I was so close to getting out.
Then everything changed. Her father had a stroke. His health rapidly deteriorated. She dropped all her classes. Moved back home. Took over the bar. Took over care of Miguel.
Back in the hood, back in the life — with Memo.
But Memo went too far. Gun running. There was no way Xochitl could live with herself knowing she had let this thug take over the business her papa had worked so hard to build.
God, what would Papa think of me now? I just wanted to keep the bar going and Miguel safe.
Xochitl hated all of it: the dogfights, the guns, the East Los Locos — Memo.
She shook off the flutter of nerves vibrating up and down her spine and noticed she’d been wiping off the same fifth of tequila. As she carefully placed the Cuervo Gold in its proper slot between the Don Julio and Patrón bottles, she caught the reflection of her cantina in the mirrored glass that backed the liquor racks lining the wall.
Wood and leather tables filled the space. A ’50s style jukebox, her papa’s pride and joy, played only vinyl from the ’60s and ’70s. “Mija, there’s no other music.” He would tell her whenever she’d begged him to update the playlist. Various paintings of matadors and bullfights attempted to lend a Spanish flavor to the rugged bar.
Xochitl’s Cantina had been Xochi’s home since she was six when her father, Carlos, had left the Marine Corps, following her mother’s death. And in its heyday, her papa’s bar had been the favorite local hangout.
The barrio Cheers.
By the time she was eleven, Xochitl had a stepmother she couldn’t stand and a new baby brother she adored.
¡Híjole! In one shot, Anita went from barfly to mother. What was Papa thinking?
But Xochitl remembered how sad and lonely her papa had been after her mom had died. He was honorable and would never have considered not marrying the mother of his child. Carlos Magaña was the finest man Xochi had ever known.
Biting back tears, Xochitl clenched her eyes. Her papa’s warm and inviting spirit echoed within every element of the cantina.
I miss you Papa.
For what seemed like the millionth time, Xochi looked up to the neon DOS EQUIS clock hanging over the bar.
2:37 A.M.? They’re late. The fights’ll be over and Memo’ll leave soon. He’s gonna wonder why I’m still here and not waiting for him upstairs.
“Where the hell are they?” she mumbled. ”Where the hell’s who?” Memo Morales asked. Startled, Xochitl whipped around, knocking over several liquor bottles. She barely registered the clamoring rattle of glass hitting glass as Memo, who had come in from the back without her noticing, stood behind her.
Despite the frozen crush of heart-stomping anxiety, Xochi couldn’t help admire Memo’s movie star looks and how his white T-shirt and jeans emphasized his strong, lean build. His big, hazel eyes always took her breath away. Tonight was no different.
Still the best-looking guy in the neighborhood.
“Who’s late?” Memo asked again, grabbing a beer from the cooler under the bar. “Huh, what?…Uh…no one. I mean, Miguel. He’s late.” Memo wrapped his arms around Xochi and tugged at her rose embroidered peasant blouse. “¡Ay, mamí! Let the boy be. He’s almost eighteen. A man.” He began kissing her neck. “Why don’t you go upstairs, put on that sexy slip thing I got you? I’m all wound up. You can help me relax.”
Wrinkling her nose at the smell of stale beer and dog, Xochi shrugged Memo off her. “What do you know about it? He’s not one of your boys.”
Xochitl knew she shouldn’t be flippant with Memo. He had a short temper and could be aggressive with her when he didn’t get his way. But she couldn’t help herself when it came to her little brother Miguel. She hated it when Memo thought he had any say in how Miguel was raised.
She wanted to yell in Memo’s face, “Stay away cabrón! He’s mine!” Instead she whispered, “I’m tired.”
Xochitl walked around to the front of the counter, trying to put distance between herself and Memo. She could see in his eyes he was losing his patience.
Where’s la chota already?
Undeterred, Memo closed the gap between them and grabbed her arm, yanking her to him. “I said go upstairs and get in that pinche slip, bitch.”
Xochitl pulled her arm back and without thinking threw a right hook to his jaw. Instantly, she felt pain shoot from her fist straight up her arm. “¡Ay carajo!”
Shaking out the sting from her hand, Xochi looked up and saw Memo stunned, holding the left side of his face.
Oh, fuck! What did I do?
Instinctively, she began backing up toward the bar’s front door to make her escape.
As she turned from Memo, Xochi heard a menacing laugh and the distinctive clicking sound of a gun being cocked.
“Not bad for a little güera bitch. Daddy teach you that?”
Xochitl grabbed for the door. ”Don’t you fucking move, puta.” Naked fear blasted through Xochitl’s body, leaving her feet bolted to the floor.
She had nowhere to go. If she moved, Memo would shoot her.
He’s gonna shoot you anyway.
Taking a chance, she slowly turned back to face Memo. He stood at close range, his gun pointed at her chest.
Xochi raised her hands in the air. ”Please, Memo,” she tried to placate him. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean—” “¡Cállate!” Memo growled, pacing back and forth in front of her like a wild beast about to pounce on his prey. An odd bubble of calm enveloped Xochi, and — as if locked in stasis, she stood immobile, waiting, contemplating her next move. ”You think you can do this to me and not pay, bitch? I’m El Gallo!” Xochitl stole a glance at the bar. Behind the counter. Papa’s shotgun. If I’m quick enough… “I run this—” Memo raged on only to suddenly cut himself off. Xochitl brought her attention back to El Gallo. He stared past her at the frosted glass window. She slowly craned her neck to follow his line of sight. A shadow moved swiftly by the front of the bar.
¡Híjole! About damn time!
She turned back to Memo. His eyes again fixed on her. Xochitl could see by the amazed and — hurt? — look on his face that he’d puzzled out she had betrayed him. Why Memo hadn’t made a move on her yet she didn’t understand. She wasn’t about to ask. Keeping him in her sights, she began inching her way to the bar. Xochitl had almost reached the end of the counter when Manny, a fourteen-year-old boy, one of Memo’s lookouts, sprinted into the cantina from the kitchen. “¡Jefe! ¡La chota! ¡Afuera!”
Memo regained his senses. “¿Dónde?” ”Everywhere. I came from the dumpsters out back,” the boy answered. ¡Carajo! The cops didn’t find the kitchen entrance! The side alley door was hidden by the dumpster enclosure. Xochitl’s produce vendors constantly complained about the difficult access.
If I get out of this alive, I’m gonna move those pinche dumpsters.
“Did anyone see you?” El Gallo asked the boy as he moved toward the kitchen and peeked through the swinging door.
“No, Jefe,” the boy replied, pulling out a 9mm handgun stuffed in his pants like a gangster out of a movie he’d probably watched a million times.
“The cops will find the kitchen door soon.” Memo stepped back into the bar.
Xochitl eyed El Gallo, as he searched the room for another way out, revulsion churning her guts.
How did I ever get mixed up with this monster? What am I gonna do if he gets away?
Memo glanced down the hall toward the restrooms. His mouth turned up into a sly grin, and Xochi knew he had figured out his escape.
¡Hijo de puta! Where’s pinche Xena warrior cop?
Unsure, Manny took a tentative step closer to El Gallo.
Memo put up his hand, halting the boy. “Stay here, homes. Pinche cops can’t touch you.” The gang leader beat his chest with his fist and shouted in salute, “¡Órale! East Los!”
“East Los!” The dutiful boy soldier mimicked.
Some day this kid’s gonna get himself killed by these pendejos. That will not be my Miguel.
El Gallo turned back to Xochitl, “I’ll deal with you later.” Then he ran down the hall toward the women’s restroom.
Xochi stood next to the bar, staring after Memo. There was nothing she could do now except hope the cops would nab him crawling out the bathroom window. She looked over to Manny, who appeared lost now that his leader had ditched him.
Poor kid. Doesn’t even know Memo could give a shit what happens to him.
Shouting and gunfire blasted from the back lot.
Xochi darted behind the bar, grabbed the Smith & Wesson 12 gauge, checked it was loaded and readied herself. Looking up, she watched Manny cock his gun.
“Wait,” she hissed. Manny smiled at her and ran for the back exit. ”Shit!” Xochitl, shotgun in hand, took off after the boy.