“Time for lunch?” Mason waved a hand towards a nearby café. “My treat.”
“Thank you.” Clarissa stared up at the tall American as they entered the shop. “When I joined you to go look at units, I didn’t realise that you were thinking of buying, not renting.”
Mason shrugged. “It’s not certain I’ll be able to buy, but the ‘rents haven’t ruled it out, so I’m considering options. Rent or buy; whichever gets me what I want.” He grinned down at her. “I was more surprised that you wanted to come with me until I found out that you’re looking for Deon and Kevin, too.”
“Those two don’t seem to be getting their arses into gear, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and see if I can find them somewhere to live.” Clarissa snorted. “Not that that’s been very successful so far.”
Mason pulled out a chair for Clarissa and then waited until she was seated before joining her. “That’s one bird. What’s the other?”
Clarissa stared at him for a moment, a faint frown etched on her face. “What do you mean?”
“You said you were killing two birds. One is looking for an apartment for Deon and Kevin. What’s the other?”
She laughed. “Finding something to do. Neil and Liam are at the Q FM radio station where Liam starts his part-time job today. They were supposed to keep me entertained while Deon’s in Melbourne, but they’ve abandoned me. I rang you to see if you were doing anything, and while house-hunting isn’t my preferred option, it’s better than anything else I was able to find.” She grinned. “And so far it’s been more entertaining than I expected. You’re even fussier than I am when it comes to a place to live.”
Mason smile disappeared, and he glanced away. “I’m looking for somewhere to live long-term. I don’t want to have to keep moving while I’m a student.”
When Clarissa reached over and put a hand on top of his, he jerked away. Clarissa made a face. “Sorry. I’m still having trouble getting my head around your parents sending you here and not wanting you back.”
When Mason had met up with Dexter and the group from Melbourne again at Bondi Beach on Sunday afternoon, part of Mason’s story had been revealed. Mason kept most of the details private—Dexter was the only one he’d talked to about Robbie and the failed robbery—but he had been unable to suppress his anger at his parents for exiling him. Clarissa and Liam had picked up on that, and the story soon came out.
“It is what it is. Now I need to live with it.” Mason sighed and then glanced around. “Isn’t someone going to bring us a menu?”
Clarissa chuckled and pointed to the board at the back of the café. “The menu’s over there. I’m tempted by the Tandoori Chicken wrap.”
Mason scanned the board and quickly made a decision. He spotted the cash register with the ‘Order Here’ sign and stood. “Do you want something to drink with that?”
“A skinny latte would be great. Thanks!”
Mason smiled down at her. “A Tandoori Chicken wrap and a skinny latte. Got it.”
A couple of minutes later, he sat back down, placed the stand with their order number on the edge of the table, and smiled across at Clarissa. “You don’t have to stick with me for the rest of the day. To be honest, I’m not sure how many more places I can stomach looking at today. After a while, they all start blurring into one.”
Clarissa nodded. “I understand, and I’m beginning to appreciate how lucky Liam was when we found the place we have. One day is all it took us, but it was a case of being at the right place at the right time. It hadn’t been listed online when we saw it, and he picked it up before anyone else got a chance to see it.”
“That sort of luck has been eluding me. I know I’ve only been looking for a week, but I want it over. There’s other things I want to do.” Mason sighed. He was already tired of trying to find somewhere to live. It was only his stubborn resolve to find a place he could live in for all four years at the university that stopped him from accepting somewhere that wasn’t up to the standard he wanted.
“You’ve been leaving your contact details with the agents we’ve been seeing, so if somewhere similar appears on the market, they know to contact you. It’ll just be a matter of time.”
“Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t make the process any less annoying.” Mason shrugged. “I think I’ll check out a couple more places after lunch and then call it quits for the day. What would you like to do when we’ve finished?” He grinned. “Don’t worry about price. The ‘rents can pay for it; they told me to enjoy myself while I wait for college to start. Which I’ll do, once I’ve finished with this stupid apartment hunting.”
Clarissa narrowed her eyes for a moment and then laughed. “If I didn’t know you were gay…”
Mason grinned. “And you’re taken.” He spotted her momentary grimace. “Didn’t you say Deon’s back on Wednesday?”
“Tuesday night, but I won’t see him until Wednesday.”
“Who’s picking him up at the airport?”
“He’s going to catch a ride with one of the other guys. There’s a couple of players who live in Sydney who are being picked up by their families, and I think someone else has their host family collecting them. He told me there would be space for him in one of the cars.”
Mason didn’t hesitate. “How about you surprise him and meet him as he gets off the plane?”
She shook her head. “Then how will I get home? I’m not keen on catching a train at that time of night.”
Mason grinned. “There are a few options. If you want to go over the top, you can take a stretch limo, but that’s only if you want to. I know a limousine company that would take you and Deon, so you can spend some time together without others intruding.” He winked. “Just you and Deon in the back and the driver in the front keeping his eyes on the road.”
“Yeah, right. And how am I supposed to pay for all of that?”
Mason ignore Clarissa’s scowl. “You wouldn’t. I’ve got an American Express card that the ‘rents pay. As long as I don’t go overboard, they won’t question what I charge to it.” He held up a hand to stop her protest. “And this isn’t going overboard. Trust me, I’d have to spend a lot more than that before they’ll ask me what’s going on.”
She continued to scowl. “Why?”
“Because.” Mason knew that one-word answer would infuriate her, but he couldn’t resist. He smiled, and this time it was he who reached out to touch her hand. “Clarissa, let me do this for you. I really appreciate you spending time with me this morning, and I’d like to do this as a way of saying thank you. You miss Deon, and if I can help you two out, I’ll do it. Please let me.”
The moment was broken by the arrival of their lunches and coffees. After assuring the waitress that they weren’t waiting for anything else, Mason turned his attention back to Clarissa. Her scowl had been replaced with a frown, but Mason sensed it was more a frown of puzzlement than annoyance.
“Well?” he asked.
Clarissa nodded slowly. “Okay.”
* * *
Liam had his arms wrapped around Neil and his mouth on his boyfriend’s lips as soon as the door to his apartment was closed. Sadly, he wasn’t able to enjoy the feeling for as long as he wanted.
“About time you two got here. We need some things for dinner, and the unanimous vote of everyone present at the time was that you can go get them.”
Liam turned to face Clarissa while keeping one arm around Neil. “Clarissa, we…” He broke off when he saw who was smirking next to his housemate. “Mason?”
“Hi, guys. Just for the record, when the vote was taken, I was told how I was supposed to vote—or suffer the consequences.”
Clarissa handed Neil a piece of paper. “Here’s what we need. You’ve got thirty minutes to find everything and get back here, or dinner will be late. Daphne and Kevin will be joining us, and Mason has volunteered to cook, so get a move on.”
“I think volunteered is a little inaccurate. Ordered may be closer to the truth.” Mason grinned. “But if you can find that stuff, I’ll do my best to cook up a genuine Mexican dinner using one of my grandma’s recipes: enchiladas suizas with Spanish rice as a side dish.”
“You didn’t object when I suggested it. That’s close enough to volunteering.” Clarissa narrowed her eyes at Liam and Neil. “You’re lucky. Mason and I have already done the hard work; he wrote out what’s needed, and I translated it into English.”
Liam blinked. “You can translate Mexican?”
“No, but with the help of Google, I can translate American.” She chuckled. “I didn’t know they call coriander something else.” She glanced at Mason and raised an eyebrow.
“Cilantro is what we call it. And it would’ve been Spanish,” Mason added. “Clarissa also pointed out the things she didn’t think you’ll find, and we’ve come up with substitutes. It won’t be as authentic as what my grandma makes, but it should still be edible. If you can’t find something, try for the alternate listed.”
Clarissa stared at the other two. “Are you two still here? Do I need to remind you that you promised to entertain me while Deon’s in Melbourne? So far, you haven’t been doing a great job.”
Liam winced. “Sorry.”
To his surprise, she smiled. “You had to work. I understand. Now, if you want something fancy to celebrate your first day on the job, you need to get moving.”
Mason pulled a yellow fifty-dollar note out of his wallet and handed it to Neil. “My contribution. Some of the stuff may be hard to find, so just do your best. If I have to improvise…” He shrugged and then pulled out another note. “Oh, and a couple of bottles of red wine, too, if you can. Don’t go for the cheapest, and I’m not expecting any change.”
Neil stared at the hundred dollars in his hand and then tried to return it. “This is too much.”
Mason stepped back and held up both hands. “I’m the one with the expensive tastes, so I should pay for them.” He smiled. “We can talk more about it when you get back. But if you want dinner on time, you need to get going.”
“Okay.” Neil’s tone made it clear he was still reluctant to accept the money but wasn’t going to argue.
Clarissa crossed her arms and scowled. “Are you still here? You’ve got somewhere you have to be, and if you don’t get a move on, you’re going to be late.”
Liam chuckled as he pulled Neil back towards the front door of the unit. “We’ll be back soon.”
As they strode towards the local supermarket, Neil glanced across to Liam. “What’s going on back there?”
“I get the impression that Clarissa and Mason spent at least part of the day together. Given that Kevin and Daphne are coming for dinner, I’m guessing she was being honest when she said she’s organised a celebration dinner for my first day at work.” Liam grinned. “And then they can congratulate you, too.”
Neil reddened. “You don’t have to tell them about that.”
Liam laughed. “You don’t need to be embarrassed. I’m sure they’ll all be happy for you.”
“Promise you won’t tell them?”
Liam considered it for a moment. He didn’t want to go against his boyfriend’s wishes, even if they weren’t justified. “They’ll find out sooner or later, so it’ll be better if you’re the one to tell them.” He played his trump card. “You don’t want Clarissa to find out from someone else, do you?”
Neil gave a heavy sigh and shook his head. “Okay, but you’re telling them! I can’t do it.”
Liam smiled. He wanted to stop and give Neil a kiss to both comfort and support him, but they needed to keep walking. “Thanks, Neil. Everyone’s going to be happy for you. Just wait and see.”
* * *
Deon smiled as he handed over a bottle of wine. “Thanks again for inviting me to dinner.”
Ty shrugged as he stepped back to allow Deon to enter the house. “I wasn’t sure if you and your teammates had anything planned, but if you didn’t, this was a good chance to catch up.”
“They did have plans, but they told me to come here, anyway.” Deon grinned. “You seem to have impressed a number of them with that speech you gave this afternoon.”
“I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.” Ty smiled as he recalled the scene. His good friend and mentor, Jim Henderson, had been called up to speak to the assembled, first-year AFL players about what it’s like to be a gay football player. Ty had gotten in first with his own take on the subject.
Deon smirked. “There was some speculation on which players you suspected were actual girls.”
Ty laughed. “I’m not saying, and that’s because—as I said at the time—it’s not important. The only thing that’s important is that we’re AFL football players. The other stuff that seems to upset so many people isn’t a factor.”
Deon lifted a hand in greeting as they entered the lounge room. “Jim, Tony, Karen, it’s good to see you again. A belated Happy New Year to all of you. And thanks, Mr. O’Malley, for allowing the brat to invite me to your home,” he said, indicating Ty with a tilt of the head.
“Please, call me Paddy.” The elderly Irishman smiled. “Calling me Mr. O’Malley makes me feel old.”
Karen stepped over and gave Deon a kiss on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, too.” She grinned. “Clarissa said to tell you that she’s having dinner with a tall, dark and handsome stranger tonight, so don’t worry about her.”
“She is?” Deon looked nervous.
Ty narrowed his eyes. “And what’s going on, Karen? Clarissa wouldn’t do that to Deon.”
“Actually, she is. According to our phone call a couple of hours ago, she met him earlier today and she’s invited him back to her place for dinner.”
“Can you guys excuse me?” A visibly flustered Deon didn’t wait for a response but stepped back the way they’d come.
Karen snickered. “The guy in question is a tall, black American by the name of Mason. He’s also gay. He’s going to be a student at Sydney Uni. Clarissa and the others met him while Daphne was showing them around. Daphne and Kevin went to a gay bar with him, Liam and Neil last week, and Clarissa and Deon met him at Bondi Beach on Saturday. Given the picture she sent me, I think calling him a tall, dark and handsome stranger is appropriate. It’s not my fault if Deon misinterpreted what I said.”
Ty laughed, while the others in the room smiled. “Deon’s not going to be happy with you when he gets back.”
Karen put on an expression of mock surprise. “Why? I just told him the truth. I just did it slightly differently to the way Clarissa gave it to me.”
As if on cue, Deon stormed back into the room, his phone held to his ear. “She’s right here.” He shoved his phone towards Karen. “Clarissa wants a word.”
“Hi!” Karen listened for a few seconds and then scowled. “He’s done what? Have you told Deon?” She shook her head slowly as she continued to listen. “Well, I hope you’re okay in the morning. Don’t hesitate to go to the hospital if you need to.” She frowned and handed the phone back to Deon. “She wants to say goodbye.”
Deon snatched the phone. “What’s he done?” Moments later, he scowled at Karen. “Okay, have a good night. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He hung up, glared for a moment longer, and then laughed. “Did you cook that up between you?”
“Nope. I just went with the flow.” Karen smiled. “Now stop being so paranoid.”
Ty nudged his girlfriend. “What happened? It sounds like it was something good.”
Deon answered for her. “Mason’s cooking Mexican for dinner. He warned Clarissa that it might be spicier than she’s used to. I’ll check with Kev later as how hot it really was. He and Daphne are also having dinner there.” He gave Karen a mock glare. “I’m better off asking him, because I’m not sure I’ll get the truth from anyone else.”
Karen grinned. “We told you the truth. We just didn’t tell you the whole truth until you asked.”
“Speaking of Kevin, how’s the house-hunting going?” Ty asked.
Deon snorted. “It’s not. We’ve just been too busy to go looking recently. Hopefully, we’ll find the time sometime soon.” He chuckled. “Clarissa said she checked out a few places for us today, but she didn’t see anywhere she’d recommend.”
“Remember, you have to have a place by the start of March. Don’t forget that you’re putting me and Dad up for the weekend of’ Mardi Gras.”
Jim looked across at the mention of his nickname. “Hey, leave me out of it. Tony’s already arranged for us to stay with a friend of his.”
“He has?” Ty frowned. “When did that happen?”
“Earlier today,” Tony said. “I started asking around as soon as I knew you’d organised for Jim to march in the parade. I had an old school friend confirm just after lunch that he could put us up.” He grinned at Jim. “He’s also organising tickets for the after-party. Giving him the bragging rights of showing up with Jim Henderson was the price of having a place to stay.”
Jim winced. “As long as he knows it’s just showing up.”
Tony laughed. “Yeah, he knows you’re my boyfriend. He just wants to be able to say he’s met you.”
Ty raised an eyebrow as he turned to Karen. “Apparently, there’s a party after the parade. Are you interested in going?”
Tony interrupted before Karen could answer. “It’s a gay after-party. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”
Karen cocked her head. “Let me check with Clarissa and see what she’s planning on doing.” She smiled at Deon. “She told me that you’re marching in the parade, too. Were you thinking of going to the party afterwards?”
Deon shrugged. “I didn’t know about it, but it doesn’t sound like something that’ll appeal. It’s more likely we’ll go out for a coffee with Kev and Daphne and then head home.”
Patrick had a faint frown on his face. “You’re all going to the Mardi Gras parade in Sydney?”
Ty gave him a quizzical look. “Yeah, we are. Didn’t you know? I’ve already organised it with the club.”
“Well, they didn’t tell me.” Patrick smiled. “But I’m not involved in the operations side of the club, so I don’t know everything that’s going on.” He pointed a bony finger at Ty. “But I expect you to keep me informed of important things, brat. I’m very disappointed.” The accompanying smile indicated he wasn’t upset.
Ty laughed. “Consider yourself informed, Paddy.”
* * *
Clarissa was smirking when she returned to the kitchen table.
“Is Deon okay?” Kevin asked.
“He’s fine. He’s just getting over a panic attack after Karen told him I spent the day with someone tall, dark, and handsome and I had then invited that person back here for dinner.”
Mason glanced down at his body and then shrugged. “Well, I’m tall and dark, and I’ve had some guys tell me I’m handsome, so the description fits.” He gave Clarissa a mock frown. “But I’m not easy—at least for girls—so keep your hands to yourself.”
Kevin chuckled. “Since Deon’s my mate, I should be defending him, but I think I’ll pass. This is too good of a story not to use on him in the future.” He looked at Clarissa again. “Are you sure he’s okay?”
“Yeah, he’s with the brat, Karen, Jim and Tony. He’s as fine as he ever is when he’s around the brat.”
“The brat?” Mason asked.
“Ty Flanders.” Neil grinned. “Better known to his friends as the brat. He tries not to answer to the name Ty anymore, since that’s the name his so-called father gave him. Deon shared a house with him and Jim last year.”
Kevin snorted. “I remember hearing his girlfriend call him the brat at the VFL grand final. Needless to say, I was shocked she would call him that. Clarissa was the one who told me he calls himself that.”
“He sounds like an interesting guy.”
“He is.” Kevin grimaced for a moment. “And he’s going to be one of our opponents this season. If he’s not playing for Carlton’s senior team by the middle of the season, he’ll either be injured or their match-selection panel doesn’t know what they’re doing. I’ve played against him; I know how good he is.”
“He’s coming up here in March for the Mardi Gras,” Neil said to Mason. “You can meet him then if you want.”
Mason had to think for a moment before he realised what Neil was referring to. “Is that Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras?” Mason’s first thoughts had been of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
“He’ll probably be staying here unless Kevin and Deon find a place by then.” Clarissa smiled at Kevin. “But given how much time you and he have been looking, I don’t expect that to happen.”
Kevin laughed as he slipped an arm across Daphne’s shoulders. “Yeah, we keep finding other things that are more important.” He gave his girlfriend a quick kiss.
Mason smiled at the couple. “You’ve been very quiet, Daphne. How have you been?”
She chuckled. “I’ve been good, and I’ve been enjoying listening to everyone. I don’t need to be the centre of conversation. I’m also enjoying this food; it’s delicious!”
“Definitely!” Kevin nodded towards Mason. “Thanks for cooking. The enchiladas and rice were a wonderful surprise and very tasty.” He grinned. “And not too spicy.”
Mason shrugged. “My grandma’s version is better, but this turned out okay.” He had to use alternatives for a couple of ingredients the recipe called for because Neil and Liam had been unable to find them at the local store. Despite that, he was happy with the result.
After more expressions of appreciation from the others gathered, Mason glanced at Liam. “I believe we’re celebrating your first day at work. How was it?”
Liam grinned. “Great! They had me doing odd jobs for most of it, but they’re planning on having me assist the sound technicians in the future. I’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s interesting.”
“Sound technicians?” Kevin asked. “Where are you working?”
“The Q FM radio station. Neil had the people from Pride FM back in Melbourne put in a good word for me, so I got hired.” Liam grinned at Neil. “And as an extra reason to celebrate, today was Neil’s first day on the job, too. I got to help in the control room while he was in the studio.”
Mason blinked. “You mean, on the air?” He saw that Daphne and Kevin were equally surprised.
Neil blushed and dropped his head. “It wasn’t that big a deal.”
“Yes, it is.” Clarissa smiled. “I know you’d been asked, but when did you decide to do it?”
“While we were there,” Liam said for Neil. “They had a caller, a teen, during the afternoon show. He wanted to help a friend of his but didn’t know how. It didn’t take much persuasion for Neil to join in from the control room where I was working. At the next ad break, he went into the studio and stayed for the rest of the show.” He grinned at Neil. “They had planned to move me on to do something else, but they let me stay and help while he was in there.”
“What was the problem that you helped with?” Mason asked Neil.
Neil glanced at Liam and then grimaced. He sighed and looked across the table at Mason. “His friend is having problems with his parents. They’re not accepting him, he’s been hit and…” He shuddered.
Liam was quick to pull Neil into an embrace. Clarissa started to get out of her chair but settled down after Liam had taken hold of Neil.
“Am I missing something?” Mason asked.
Clarissa glanced at Neil before responding in a low voice. “Neil’s father was homophobic. He hit him once. That was enough for Neil to run away.”
“He’s better now, more supportive. He told Liam to look after Neil while they’re here in Sydney. His mother is still struggling with the idea of having a gay son.”
“Neil’s story was on one of the national, current-affairs shows at the time,” Kevin added, also in a low voice. “In his own way, he’s famous. He’s been on the air at Pride FM in Melbourne because of it, and I’m assuming that’s why he was on the air for Q FM today.” He gave Liam a questioning look and received a nod in reply.
The room was silent apart from the sound of quiet eating until Liam released Neil.
Mason sensed that a change of topic was needed. “Kevin, are you looking forward to having your own place?” He winked at Clarissa. “Assuming you get around to searching for one, of course.”
Kevin grinned. “I am, and I’m not.” The look he gave Daphne was one of deep affection. “I’m looking forward to being able to spend time in my own place with Daphne and maybe eventually ask her to move in with me, but…” he glanced down at the meal in front of him. “…I’m going to miss home-cooked meals. I can’t cook, and I’m not sure how good Deon is.”
“He’s okay,” Neil said. “He’s cooked for me a couple of times when I was visiting Ty last year.” He gave Kevin a lopsided smile. “It’s not that hard to learn. Ollie taught me, and I’m sure you’ll find someone to teach you.”
“Either that or starve,” Clarissa said. “Starving is a good incentive to learn to cook.”
Liam chuckled. “My mum told me that being able to cook and clean would help make me a good boyfriend. It didn’t take too long before I could make decent meals.” He grinned at Mason. “Not as good as this one, though.”
“Hey, I haven’t been cooking for very long, either.” Mason shrugged. “My grandma didn’t give me a choice. She didn’t want me ordering takeout for dinner every night while I’m here.”
Kevin cocked his head. “Do you give lessons?”
“I could, but I understand you don’t have a lot of spare time.”
“It’s not that bad, but with the club I’ve usually got things on six days a week. They’re not always full days, but at this time of the year some of the days go late, and I’m exhausted by the end of them.”
Mason stared at Clarissa and then at Kevin. He frowned as a thought crossed his mind. “I know you and Deon were looking for a place together. Did you ever consider sharing with a third guy? A college student who can cook, maybe?” He winked.
Kevin’s eyebrows shot up. “You?” His forehead wrinkled as he thought. “I don’t see a problem with that, but I don’t know what Deon would say.”
Everyone turned to Clarissa, but Daphne was the one who chuckled. “What would Deon say, Clarissa?”
Clarissa frowned at Mason. “I’ll let you know, but it’s not such a stupid idea.”
Mason grinned. It looked like he might have found some flatmates he could accept. All he needed now was to buy or rent a three-bedroom place. He already had an idea of where to find one.
* * *
Later that night, Kevin, Daphne and Mason were leaving Liam’s and Clarissa’s apartment and heading towards Kevin’s car.
“You really don’t have to give me a ride back to the hotel,” Mason said.
“Hey, I could end up living with you, so this is advance payment for all the great meals you’ll be cooking for me.” Kevin grinned. “Either that or payment for the meal we just had.”
“He doesn’t mean that, Mason.” Daphne nudged Kevin. “He’s just being friendly.”
“She’s right. I was only joking about the cooking.”
Mason shrugged. “It’s okay. I sort of promised I’d cook if we shared a place.”
“And he asked you to teach him to cook so he can make his own meals.” Daphne stopped, making Kevin and Mason also pause. She leant over and gave Kevin a quick kiss. “He needs to learn how to cook me a romantic dinner for two.”
“Is that a requirement before I can propose?” Kevin was grinning.
Mason chuckled as the two exchanged a longer kiss. When it had gone on for long enough, he coughed…and then coughed again, but louder.
“Oops, sorry, mate.” Kevin grinned sheepishly. “We got carried away.”
“That’s fine, but if you’re going to continue, I need to call a cab.” Mason smiled at the young couple. “I’d like to be back in my bed sometime before sunrise.”
“Yeah, that mightn’t be a bad idea. I’ve got training in the morning, too.” Kevin and Daphne still had an arm around each other as they continued towards his car.
As they left the block of apartments where Clarissa and Liam lived, Mason was careful not to look at the sign out front. He had noticed it when he had arrived that afternoon, but the significance had only struck him during dinner. As soon as he got back to his hotel room, he needed to check it out and then hopefully email his father with the details. He didn’t want to raise anyone’s hopes until it was a done deal.
* * *
It was early morning in Mexico when José Rodriguez stared in shock at the bowl in front of him.
“¡Buen apetito!” Alejandro Romero’s cruel laugh sent a shiver down José’s spine. Pedro’s cousin sneered as he continued. “Remember, no teeth, unless you want to get very, very sick.”
José knew the pile of lozenge-shaped capsules contained narcotics, and he was expected to swallow them all before heading back across the border to America. “Isn’t there another way I can do this?” The thought of all those drugs in his stomach made him feel nauseated, and he hadn’t even started.
“For you, this is the safest way. If you carry them, you’ll get caught. Inside you, they can’t see them.” Alejandro suddenly leant over and pushed his face close to José’s. “Remember, you owe us. This first shipment will go part of the way paying for that passport you now carry. Doublecross us…”
He didn’t need to continue. José was already in too deep to back out, though the phrase, “first shipment”, filled him with horror. Picking up one of the lozenges, he placed it in his mouth, grabbed the dirty mug of what he hoped was clean water that was next to the plate, and forced himself to swallow. After gagging for a moment, he prayed that it would become easier.
“One down. Lots more to go.” Alejandro Romero laughed again. “You are lucky we don’t make these out of condoms anymore. They were much harder to swallow.”
José reached for the next lozenges. After consuming all the drugs, he would need to get safely across the border. If he made it that far, he would then be forced to wait under Pedro’s supervision until they all came out the other end, while praying that none broke as they passed through his system.
It wasn’t going to be fun.