Mr. Wilson could be watching me right now through the video surveillance he’d mentioned.
Be very careful, Izzy. You could go to jail if you get caught.
My boss’s words about being unethical suddenly flashed through my mind. What I was contemplating now wasn’t ethical at all. It was dishonest. Wrong.
But I needed to find out if Alex was alive. I needed to find the mocking man. And I needed to do it today. So while Mr. Wilson slept, I was going to quietly snoop while I cleaned, and see if I could find something that might give me answers.
Video surveillance be dammed. If I moved around just right, carrying my supplies and acting like I was cleaning, then he wouldn’t know I was snooping, right?
Armed with a duster and the container of disinfectant wipes to make it look like I was actually cleaning if I got caught, I first headed into the family room off of the dining area, glancing for a photograph, a note, something, swiping with the wipe and dusting off the wooden furniture as I went.
A half hour later, I’d searched through this entire side of the villa and found no evidence suggesting Alex Davies might live here. Was I wasting my time here? Was Alex truly dead?
I tiptoed back into the kitchen. Then I went around past the sunroom area and down a separate hallway.
After searching through an office with a nice collection of hard-bound books, glancing into a workout room that contained various different exercise equipment and a sparring mat, and not seeing anything in the remaining two bedrooms and bathroom along this hall, I came to a halt at the end. The last door to my right was closed.
The sun wasn’t all the way up yet, so it was still a bit dark in the hallway. Then I realized the “closed” door actually stood slightly ajar. Just a crack. As if someone had forgotten to close it all of the way.
For some reason, that small opening called to me, saying, “Come check me out. There are secrets in here.”
And I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.
I gravitated toward the opening, eager to see beyond, taking no heed to my inner warnings that shrieked, curiosity killed the cat, Izzy. Be careful.
Gently pressing on the door, I pushed it open.
The room was shrouded in darkness, the curtains drawn.
A sense of eeriness crept over me as I tried to make out what I was seeing.
I stumbled back, a scream erupting from my throat.
What the…crap was that?
The front door of the business opened. People began spilling from the building. All men. All toting the “thug” look. Shifty eyes. Mean expressions. Most under thirty and dressed in low-slung jeans and Tees. They strode to their cars, and soon the parking lot emptied out.
There was no sign of Rafael Ortiz.
Keith cleared his throat. “Are you sure he’s here?”
“Well, this is his car…” I trailed off as the door opened again, and Rafael emerged from the building.
“Shit,” Keith whispered, his mouth gaping open.
Yeah, shit was right.
Rafael moved slowly, limping as he headed toward us. His face sported numerous cuts and rapidly forming bruises, his left eye was puffy and swollen shut, and bloody tissues plugged his nostrils. He looked hideous. Like he’d taken one hell of a serious beating. I flinched in sympathy. Oh, what a shame to see that beautiful face marred like that.
His open right eye focused on me as he halted before us.
“What the hell happened to you?” I blurted.
His cut lip twitched in a smirk. “Thank you for asking, Detective. Here I thought you didn’t care about me, except to find reasons to arrest me.”
“That’s not true.” My face heated. Was I really that rude to him?
He glanced at Keith. “How did you get dragged into her persecution of me? I thought you were my friend.”
Keith reddened. “I simply offered to be her backup since her partner is out sick today. That’s all.”
“I’m not persecuting you,” I denied. “I was just following a lead. I know you’re up to something. All those men who just left here are associated with a cartel.”
Rafael grunted, his right eye centering on me again. “So, once again, I’m guilty by association? This is a gym, Detective. People come here to work out all the time. To fight. To smooth out their issues.”
I huffed. “Well, you obviously just got your ass kicked. Did you get your issues worked out? You look like shit.”
He chuckled softly, wincing in pain. “Oh, you got it all wrong, Detective. I didn’t get my ass kicked. I won.”