Enchanted by a summer love with the prospect of an extraordinary vacation, Ryan Griffith is thrown back to harsh reality when he gets accused of murdering the newly elected mayor of Lima and imprisoned with no chance of getting free. All his efforts to stay out of trouble fail, and he’s forced to serve the jail’s gang leader. Ethan and Jazmin find out that more parties are interested in keeping their best friend as a scapegoat in prison, and it’s their task to find evidence to prove his innocence.
“Don’t say you’re taking me to court like this!” Ryan protested when three guards arrived to shackle him. “I must be allowed to change clothes, damn it! I can’t appear before the judge like this! Hey, you bitches, tell me what you’re doing!”
“My lawyer told me—”
The muzzle was around his chin and closed behind his head before he could finish the sentence. Ryan cursed his helplessness as he was taken through the locks. The guards had allowed him to put on his shirt and provided white canvas shoes, which was—according to Nesto’s malicious joy—an honor, but didn’t deliver any explanation of the procedure, nor did they follow the rules Sastre had listed the day before. When he didn’t walk fast enough, he was pushed and ended up stumbling on the steps toward a small jail bus. Five inmates were already seated. Ryan recognized three members of the bad tattoo faction, one from the green shawl faction, and another foreigner, who met his gaze, showing he shouldn’t be messed with. Ryan remembered him being the stubborn loner who only moved when the leader of the brown ribbon faction ordered him around. Ryan played deaf to the bitter jokes of the three gang members sitting to his left. He sat down and remained calm when he was chained to the lower part of the seat. The bus was locked from the outside, with one guard sitting close to the inmates to keep them in view. The bus roared shakily as the driver put it in gear.
Through the window he saw a large black SUV accompanying the bus. Then, for the first time in ten days, his eyes took in the landscape outside jail walls. Though the rows of houses and streets were nothing out of the ordinary, he couldn’t stop thinking how it would be to walk down to the beach and relax in the sun, free of fear, his own master once again. While the gang members chatted throughout the ride, Ryan couldn’t think of anything except the hearing ahead. In spite of Sastre’s careful and cautious words, he still hoped to find a judge who would see the evidence and realize he could never in his life have murdered Juan Alfaro.
* * * *
Sara had the hiccups and forced them down when the connection to Ethan’s cell phone was made. “I just got the information there’s word out Ryan shall be prepared for a good show.”
“Who told you?”
“I’ve got a contact to the police, you know. He said he couldn’t tell the source, but word’s out that there might be something done to him to…I don’t know, let him freak out.” Sara was so nervous she couldn’t swallow. “See that you get to him fast.”
“Will do.” Ethan hung up.
“Eladio?” Nico asked quietly while he steered her Fiat toward the courthouse.
“Yes.” The hiccups were back, and worse than before. “He sounded so urgent I feel really sick.”
“Shall I stop?”
“No. Guess this won’t end until we are through with the hearing. So the police have got something to do with the mayor’s murder. And they’re not trying hard to conceal it. Which means some high-ranking officers have to be involved.” She looked at her brother for help. “Tell me, is there anything we haven’t tried so far? Can we do more? I mean, Eladio’s trying to help us, but—”
“Vancho said he talked with his lovely lady. She’s working for the anti-drug branch of the army. She heads a more reliable section of forces fighting drug production and dealing.”
“I’ve heard of them. But this won’t help right now.”
* * * *
Though the bus came to a stop at the side entrance of the courthouse, a lot of press and TV teams had taken up position from the curb along the roped-in sidewalk, and the cameras were rolling when Ryan had to exit the bus first, led by two guards. They had a hard grip on his arms and stern expressions. Ryan couldn’t shake the fear of being led to his execution, with the crowd cheering his upcoming death. Hope of being treated fairly and respectfully had fled him days before. He knew he was nothing but a pawn in a large game of which he didn’t know the rules and—in his current state of mind—didn’t expect to learn them before he was killed by either a gang member or Marquez.
Reporters threw questions at him asking whether he would plead guilty and take responsibility for his crime. They ignored that he was wearing a muzzle and couldn’t answer any of the dumb questions. Nesto’s words ran in a loop in Ryan’s mind. He was good for show, the scapegoat that looked great on TV and would—eventually—be convicted if no one else could be found guilty in time to replace him. Channels all over the country would feature every minute from the bus to the entrance with sappy words, calling him the murderer finally brought before the judge. Ryan lowered his chin, forcing his breathing to slow down—he couldn’t get enough air. The chain between his feet was short, and he stumbled on almost every step. He felt like he was running hurdles, passing through entrances, crossing corridors and walking upstairs until the guards pushed him into a small room inside the courthouse. He was sweating badly and hyperventilating, relieved when the muzzle came off.
“God, this is awful!” He looked around the sparsely furnished room and stretched out his hands to be freed.
“Hold still!” the guard to his right demanded. He fumbled in the small bag bound to his belt while his partner kept Ryan in a tight grip.
“Won’t you take off the shackles?” Ryan looked left and right, alarmed. “I mean, I have to change clothes, right? Where’s my lawyer? And my friend? They were supposed to be here!”