The Swamp (Part 16)

Blandon hurried to the patio, away from the other guests to answer his phone. He could see from the I.D. that it was Rodriguez calling from Coiba.

“Tell me you found him.” He barked into the phone, holding a finger in one ear to block out the noise and waking farther away from the country club.

“Not yet, but we have some information that may be useful. One of the fishermen at a little village called Rauna, near Santa Catalina, reported his boat was stolen yesterday. Some witnesses say they saw a dirty, long-haired gringo take it.” Rodriguez did not add that the boat was also apparently taken by the man’s own daughter.

“Alright, that has to be him. Get a boat, any boat. Rent one from one of the locals there and start searching for him. You can’t let him get to the mainland. Do you understand? Get your lazy asses moving now!” he ordered Rodriguez.

“Okay, boss. I will call you as soon as we catch him. And don’t worry, we will catch him for certain.”

“You had better catch him, gordo, or else I am coming down hard on you and your piece of shit operation over there. I think I may send Rosella over there, straighten you boys out. No? Then fucking find him, cabron!” He spat as he hung up. A large hand landed on his shoulder and he spun around, ready to fight.

“Mixing business with pleasure again, I see.” chided Carlos Quinones, CEO of Q Steel Corporation, the largest in Central America. “You should really be out there dancing. Speaking of dancing, where is that lovely wife of yours? My Danelia has been looking all over for her.”

“Carlos, how are you? Celia? Hell, I don’t know. You know women, they always like to get together and gossip, ha ha. Thanks for reminding me, anyhow, I think I’ll go find her,” Blandon laughed nervously. He tried to squeeze by Quinones but the man’s big paw tightened around his forearm.

“Indulge me for a few minutes, old friend.” It was a softly spoken command, but one that sent chills down Blandon’s spine. “Let’s take a little walk.”

Quinones led the way down the stairs and into the wooded gardens. Carlos was smoking a huge Cohiba Churchill, easily a forty-five minute cigar. Blandon noticed and hoped that it would not take that long. He did not think he could stand even ten fucking minutes alone with that asshole Quinones.

Federico had always hated Carlos Quinones, one of his classmates since they were both boys in middle school. But while Federico had to struggle to make good grades, Carlos flew through his lessons with ease, always making the Dean’s List. Carlos proved to be an outstanding athlete as well, taking the Academia Santo Domingo’s Polo team to consistent victories in tough international matches. Blandon’s blind envy of Carlos did not end in the classroom or on the field, but extended to social life and dating.

Carlos was tall and handsome in a devilish way that boys and girls alike could not resist. He got his way all the fucking time without having to try all that hard and that really ripped the shit out of Blandon, who had to scrape and fight for everything he had. So what if some of what he had was taken from other people. If you weren’t man enough to guard your own valuables then fuck you.

Yes, it was true that Freddy's own father, patriarch Orlando Blandon had bankrolled himon his initial development ventures, but that was over ten years ago and after that the son had proven time and again that he was a ruthless and daring businessman, and it was his decisions over the past ten years that had helped to increase the family fortune. That is, until this motherfucking real estate crash.

As Federico’s star rose in the Central America financial system, Carlos Quinones had been getting involved with all the wrong people. The Russians had come into Panama City in May of 2006 and the country never knew what hit them. The Russians came in and purchased a big downtown hotel, casino, and strip club. In a few short months the body count started rising as rival clubs and casinos were forced to shut down. Carlos, with his family's political influence stepped in and cut a deal with the Russkis.

Federico, like everyone else, had heard that Carlos was involved with the mob and still that had not stopped Blandon from going to Carlos when he needed a loan against his empty skyscrapers. The type of loan is generally known as a “Hard Money” loan and is based solely on equity. The terms are steep. Interest rates can reach fifteen to twenty percent and higher. The lender makes the high-interest loan, usually for a term of one year, interest only payments, with the balance, a balloon payment, due at the end of the year. The lender is basically betting that the borrower will not be able to make the payments and they will step in and take over the project. But cash is king and being able to take cold, hard cash out of your property in the middle of a recession without having to prove your income or your ability to pay back the debt was much too attractive an option to a risk-taker like Blandon, who had to maintain a certain, very expensive level of lifestyle.

“You're all set for the meeting this Tuesday, right?" The taller Carlos had his arm around Blandon’s shoulder, leaning in conspiratorially.

“Sure, sure, no problem hermano,” Federico looked over Carlos’s shoulder, noticing a disturbance in the ballroom. He saw some people shoving each other, a distant shriek amongst the rest of the party noises.

“Hold on, Carlos, I’ll be right back.” Blandon tried to push past Quinones, but the bigger man held on tight, his big hand a vise around Blandon’s elbow.

“Ow, cabron! What the fuck?” snapped Federico, but Quinones came in close, his breath acrid, stinking from the Churchill.

“I’m not finished with you, Freddy. My friends, they want their money back. And you know my friends, you know what they do to hijos de puta that don’t pay their debts.” He said it cold, not bothering to hide the smile.

“What the…? What the fuck? I’ll make the payment, like I do every month. Now get your fucking hands off me. What, are you drunk or something, fuck you.” He tried to push Carlos off, but Quinones was wild-eyed, and Federico wondered right then if the man wasn’t high on something.

“No. No payment, cabron, the money. They want all of the money and they want it now.”

“They want…what? That’s fucking crazy. Estas loco, Carlos.” Federico noticed that whatever was going on in the ballroom was spilling out into the patio behind them. The swarm of people came rushing their way and Quinones released his grip. Blandon slipped underneath and, not looking back, stepped up onto the patio. A circle of people were staring at something in the middle.

He broke his way through the crowd and saw his wife, standing on one shoe, her lipstick smeared. One of her dress straps had come down and her breast was very visible.

“Hey Freddy, come here baby, I love you, papasito." she laughed hysterically.

"Come on Celia, you're making a fool of yourself." he stepped in and lifted her dress strap back on her shoulder. He could hear the people whispering and laughing at them.

She pushed him away hard and he lost his balance and fell back on his ass. Some giggles came from the half-baked guests. Federico sat there, furious.

"Ha ha! Look at the big man now. Not so big, huh? Not so fucking big you sapo, you fucking toad!” Celia stepped up and threw her drink at Blandon.

He wiped off his face, jumped up and grabbed her wrist, pulling her hard towards the exit. She screamed and stomped but he did not stop until they were outside where he pushed her into their Jaguar and drove them home. He was quiet the entire way, oblivious to Celia’s scandalous behavior.

All he could think about was figuring out ways to get the money for the Russians.

to be continued

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