Dangerous Ends by Alex Segura is the 3rd Pete Fernandez mystery—a fast-paced, hardboiled and surprising novel that pushes Pete Fernandez into a battle with a deadlier, more complex threat, as he tries to shake off the demons haunting Miami's own, sordid past (available April 11, 2017).
Pete Fernandez has settled into an easy, if somewhat boring life as a P.I. He takes pictures of cheating husbands. He tracks criminals who've skipped bail and he attends weekly AA meetings The days of chasing murderous killers are behind him. Or are they?
When his partner Kathy Bentley approaches him with a potential new client, Pete balks. Not because he doesn't need the money, but because the case involves Gaspar Varela, a former Miami police officer serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife—one of the most infamous crimes in Miami history. The client? None other than Varela's daughter, Maya, who's doggedly supported her father's claims of innocence.
As Pete and Kathy wade into a case that no one wants, they also find themselves in the crosshairs of Los Enfermos, a bloodthirsty gang of pro-Castro killers and drug dealers looking to wipe Pete off the Miami map. As if trying to exonerate Varela wasn't enough, they find themselves entangled in something even older and more surprising—a bloody, political hit ordered by Fidel Castro himself, that left a still-healing scar on Pete—and his dead father's—past.
February 23, 1959
Diego Fernandez set his drink down and wondered what kind of song they’d play at his funeral. He watched as a few drops of rum rolled down the side of the glass onto his large mahogany desk. He hoped it would be something festive and fast. Not a somber ballad. No, something that would get the blood pumping and people moving. Un canto festivo.
The house was quiet. He’d ushered Amparo and Pedro off to his parents’ home in Santiago that morning. They’d be safe there, at least for a while.
It was a few minutes past midnight and his visitors were late. Diego’s hands were shaking. He wove his fingers together and propped them under his chin. He was usually asleep by now. He was an early riser. His job—as one of six assistants to the Attorney General of Cuba—was a task he took with the utmost seriousness. He was first in the office each morning and often the last one to leave. It was his work ethic, not his smarts or personality, that was responsible for his professional success. He was a quiet and humble man. He put kindness toward others above all else. He had spent years creating a life for himself and his family. A life built on honor and hard work.
But Cuba was changing. Castro and his band of guerillas had toppled Batista’s corrupt regime and left the country in disarray. People were scrambling to escape, like roaches fleeing an overturned garbage can. Families were sending their children away—alone—to start new lives in the United States and sometimes beyond.
Diego’s world was unraveling fast. Yet he continued his routine as best he could. Instead of well-kept lawns and bustling storefronts, he now drove past burning cars and looters on his way to work at El Capitolio. The casinos were empty. Just a few weeks before, they’d been the heart of Havana. At night, Diego kept his gun on the bedside table, along with his usual novel, always within reach.
The bastard Fidel and his Marxist friend were working their way through every corner of Diego’s homeland and making it their own. The romance and heroism of the mountain-dwelling rebels’ fight against the fat upper class was fading, and a darker, more predatory vision was taking its place. At least it was for Diego. He already had a good life and he was a man of service. Even as his world collapsed in a cloud of smoke and gunfire, Diego did the one thing he knew best: he went to work. He provided for his family.
The door to Diego’s study swung open and the three men entered, all dressed in military fatigues, their leader sporting a slight, knowing smile on his tan face. His two men remained on either side of the doorway as Joaquin Dreke took a seat across from Diego, his old desk the only thing separating them.
“Diego, you knew I was coming,” he said. “Che asked me to handle this personally.”
“Yes,” Diego said. He refused to waste any more breath than necessary on this man.
“As you know, I am here on special dispensation,” Dreke said. “I now oversee La Cabaña. I took time away from my duties there to come visit you this evening, Diego. It was not an easy journey, as you can imagine.”
La Cabaña—a fortress-like prison that now housed the majority of government officials the new Castro regime had deemed traitors— was Che Guevara’s pet project, and Dreke was Che’s favorite lapdog. Castro had tasked his second-in-command with the job of eliminating those who had broken la ley de la sierra, the law of the mountains, either by throwing them in jail or by obeying the frantic chants of the masses—¡Paredon! —to put them against the wall, where they would be shot by firing squad.
“I know,” Diego said. He started to slide his hands under the desk but stopped when one of Dreke’s men—the chubbier one to Diego’s left—shifted the rifle in his hands. Diego swallowed.
“Good, good,” Dreke said. “Then you must also know that the attorney general is dead, and his other assistants are—well, how do I put it?—in transitional roles in the new government.”
Diego met Dreke’s eyes. They were wild, hungry—like tiny black holes pulling anything close into their orbit. The smile remained on his face.
“Yes,” Diego said, trying not to show how much his hands were shaking as he laid them on the desk, palms down. “I grieve for their families.”
Dreke stood and raised his arm in one, smooth, reptilian motion. The sound as his fist slammed into the desk, scattering Diego’s papers and knickknacks, made Diego jump back. He took a quick breath as Dreke stood over the desk, his eyes wild and smoldering with anger. “Do not grieve for those chivatos,” Dreke said. “Do not grieve for traitors.”
Diego tried to respond but couldn’t form the words.
Dreke pulled a rumpled piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and slapped it down in front of Diego. It was a list of about thirty names, hastily written, the ink smeared from Dreke’s fingers.
“You are in charge of the Department of Justice now,” Dreke said, his voice low and hoarse. “Those are names of men who have grown fat and sleepy thanks to Batista. Who have stolen from the blood of our madre patria, Cuba. Who have taken advantage of those who are now in charge.”
Diego scanned the list. He knew some of the men. He had heard of others. It was an odd collection—businessmen, politicians, retired military. The only thing they had in common was a strong and vocal hatred for Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and their “revolution.”
Diego let the paper drop back onto his desk. He looked up at Dreke.
“What are you asking of me?”
“Sign the paper,” Dreke said. “This request comes from above me—above Che.”
Diego looked at the sheet again. He saw nothing but a list of names. “What would my signature add to this?”
“These men will be executed at dawn tomorrow,” Dreke said. “The Department of Justice will decree this. You’re all that remains of the past. This is your chance. The war has been won and now we must purge this island of the parasites that made it weak. Do not underestimate the generosity we are showing you.”
Dreke let out a quick, humorless laugh, like combat boots walking over shattered glass. “No?” he said. “Take a moment to think over what you are saying. I will not ask you to sign again, compadre.”
Diego closed his eyes and said a quiet prayer. When he opened them, nothing had changed. The piece of paper remained on his desk.
Dreke still stood over him. Two armed men still waited by his door.
Diego thought he saw Dreke nod, but couldn’t be sure. The man turned, his long dark hair flailing as he moved toward the door. He made a quick motion with his left hand and the two men followed him out of Diego’s study, like a school of fish reforming around an unexpected chunk of coral reef. Before walking through the door, Dreke glanced at Diego. Like a man who knew exactly what would happen next, Dreke’s voice was serene and languid.
“You chose poorly.”
As the door closed, Diego covered his face with his hands and wept.
Pete Fernandez hated days like this.
He groaned as the middle-aged man’s flabby, naked torso grew larger in the digital camera’s lens. “Cabron,” he cursedunder his breath as he zoomed in on the man’s bobbing, sweat-glazed chest. Whatever he charged for this, Pete thought, it was nowhere near enough. There were often times when being a private detective could be exciting—sexy, even. This was not one of them.
He moved the camera away from his face and shifted in the front seat of his beat-up Saturn SL2. He’d bought the teal four-door used— they didn’t make Saturns anymore—for less than a thousand bucks. The car was as nondescript as possible, which was ideal for this line of work.
Pete slid his empty coffee cup into the car’s holder and brought the expensive digital camera back up to his eyes. It’d been a gift from his friend Dave Mendoza, who owned the used bookstore where Pete rented a tiny back office. Dave was a trust-fund guy with a lot of money to burn. Pete was a broke private detective with a lot of time on his hands.
He tried not to think about the last time Dave had to help him out of a jam. Most of those memories were thankfully lost in a haze of cheap wine and little sleep. But the ones that did crop up, usually right before bed or during a mundane task like fixing a sandwich or pumping gas, sent a wave of shame and guilt over Pete that threatened to envelop him like a palpable fog. These days, Pete spent most of his time chasing deadbeat dads for child support money and snagging people on insurance fraud. He found the monotony soothing—most of the time.
The El Dorado Hotel was a few blocks off Alton Road in Miami Beach. In the mid-eighties, it had been a monthly rental spot for retirees and people not yet ready to commit to an actual mailing address. These days it was a rundown crashpad that was more shithole motel than tourist destination. Not the worst place Pete had ever seen, but that wasn’t saying much.
Today’s target was Elvis Arenas—a hair-gel soaked minor league sports agent with the moustache of a used car salesman and a hairpiece that resembled a bloated rat. Arenas was well liked in the community and the kind of guy who loved rubbing shoulders with the Miami sports media and talking up his minor league clients. He was a loud talker with a subpar success rate, but he’d parlayed it into his version of the American dream: a Botox-loaded wife, two kids, a one-eyed Shih Tzu dog, and a big house in West Kendall.
The camera’s zoom lens allowed Pete to peek through a sizable crack in the hotel room’s cheap pastel curtains. Currently, Arenas was unbuttoning his shirt while a lady in a black negligée—who was not his wife—was crouched on all fours on the hotel bed, swiping at him like a cat. A wide shit-eating grin dominated Arenas’s oily, pockmarked face.
The camera made a series of beeping sounds. These photos, though enough to have Mrs. Arenas consolidate her still-active facial muscles into a frown and file for divorce, weren’t enough to fully seal the deal. Pete had done this kind of thing often enough to know he had to get shots of Arenas in flagrante delicto, or simply put, red- handed. Otherwise, there would be just enough wiggle room for a savvy lawyer to work their magic. “She was my client’s cousin. He was just changing before they went to lunch.” It was Pete’s job to make these things airtight.
Things started to get airtight pretty soon. Once Arenas and his lady friend were gearing up for round two—about five minutes into the whole episode—Pete had enough. He hated this part of the job— sharing the info he’d collected. But it made him money, and it meant he could be his own boss for at least another month. Mrs. Arenas would pay well. She’d be angry, of course. First at Pete—yelling and cursing. The “kill the messenger” cliché was pretty accurate, Pete had discovered. Then she’d realize Pete was actually on her side and her anger would subside, replaced by depression. By then, Pete would be on his way home with a check to cash.
He stared at the hotel window. Now, without the camera, he couldn’t see anything. It was just another room with a barely noticeable crack in the curtains.
It had taken Pete a while to realize that the life of a private investigator wasn’t always about chasing mob assassins and serial killers—things he’d dealt with early on. And that was fine. His father, Pedro Fernandez, had been a Miami homicide detective. A real hero. He didn’t really remember his mother, who’d died during childbirth. Years ago, Pete had been a journalist whose quality of work had gone south as his alcohol intake spiked. This job—whatever it was—had saved his life and given him direction. He was grateful for it, even on days like this.
He felt his phone vibrate and checked the display. Kathy Bentley. She was Pete’s sometimes-partner when it came to his PI work. She was also, aside from Dave, one of Pete’s only friends.
“Good morning,” Pete said.
“Well, you’re very cheerful,” Kathy said. Pete could hear the wind in the background. She was in the car, on her way to or from a press conference or meeting.
“It can only get better after what I had to deal with this morning.” “What was on today’s menu? Dude faking an injury for a settlement? Cheating spouse? Missing dog?”
“Option B,” Pete said. “The headline will write itself: ‘Attention-starved sports agent found canoodling with college sophomore.’”
“To what do I owe the honor of your call?” Pete said as he backed his car out of the hotel parking lot.
“I need your help.”
“That’s a good start,” Pete said, turning onto Alton Street and heading toward the highway. “Tell me more.”
“Not over the phone.” “Ah, mysterious too.”
“Meet me at my apartment in an hour,” Kathy said. “I promise it’ll be worth it. And don’t be late.”
Copyright © 2017 Alex Segura.
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Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Miami crime novels Silent City and Down The Darkest Street, featuring newsman-turned-P.I. Pete Fernandez. He has also written a number of comic books, including the bestselling and critically acclaimed Archie Meets Kiss storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story, and the upcoming Archie Meets Ramones. He lives in New York with his wife. He is a Miami native. Follow him at @alex_segura.