"Ola, jefe! Mighty suspicious finding you here. I thought you worked capitol city."
Curtis Roberts' heartbeat jump started into fast forward at the quasi-friendly greeting, knowing it was his death knell. Damn it to hell. How had Manolito Contreras, known on the street as the Bloodhound, found him? Better yet, how had he recognized him under a full beard and mustache and a low brimmed hat?
Hiding his misgivings, Curtis bared his teeth in a false grin. He held up his fisted right hand, offering the other man a fist bump. "What brings you here, Manny?"
The short Hispanic reciprocated bumps, his sly smile revealing glints of gold. "Same thing prolly brought you... I'm looking to score."
Curtis cleared his throat. "I... uh... had to expand my field of operations."
For some reason, Manny thought that was hilarious. "Funny thing, mi hermano. My field suddenly... expanded, too."
Curtis hid a grimace at Manny's braying cackles. He needed to lose this joker before being seen with him screwed the scam he was setting up. "Well, it was nice running into you, man, but I gotta run..."
"Not so fast, jefe. You still with that hot mamacita you used to hang with? What her name... Curly, Shirley?"
Why the fuck would his info broker mention his old girlfriend? "Carly. Short for Carlisle. I haven't seen her since I broke up with her. Word's out she nutted up after hearing her brother bought it in Iraq."
Manny clicked his teeth. "Too bad you split with her. Word's out on you, too. Some seriously impatient mo-fuckers are offering a juicy reward for your current whereabouts. Plenty bloodhounds sniffing around" -- he jabbed his chest -- "but I'm talking to you 'cause I'm the best."
Fear was an ice flow sliding down Curtis's back, chilling him. "Fuck!" He ran shaking fingers through his dreads, ravaging his Do in his agitation. "Is it the Salonos?"
Manolito's nod made his pulse race.
"Listen Manny, we go way back. Cut me some slack. I got a sweet scam in the making I can deal you in on..."
The shorter man waved off his offer, shaking his head. "I like you, hombre mio, but you know it don't work like that. Besides, your name's on too many lips for you to score a deal around here. Your mark's been spooked."
Curtis cursed under his breath, his shoulders slumping. He didn't question the truth of the Bloodhound's statements. The man's honesty was legend and his ability to ferret out information was uncanny. "I'm dead, Man."
Manolito pursed his lips. "Hell, we been through so much shit we almost brothers, but I make my money in the information business and your whereabouts is lucrative business." He shrugged. "Why don't you hit up your ex? She got more'n enough to bail your ass out of hock."
Curtis stared at him, unable to process what he was hearing. "Why do you keep going on about Carly? She's a fucking librarian. She don't make near the amount of money I need."
"Dude, the families of them three soldiers killed during a leaked combat raid got handed over two million dollars tax free, courtesy of Tio Sam's guilty conscience. Curly's the only family her brother had."
Curtis shook his head. "How the fuck do you get your hands on all this information?"
"It's what I do -- my primo talent, mi amigo." Manny sobered. "And since I really do like you, I'll tell you where you can put your hands on Carly Brothers for a small finder's fee."