Sir, a few questions?  Bettina holds out her microphone to Raul, as he walks toward his car from the club.  He ignores her.  Please?  She says forlornly, as he walks past her and her cameraman.  He stops and turns around, and comes back to her.  I remember you.  Lana’s friend from the restaurant and the courthouse.  Bettina, she tells him, and offers him her hand.  I’m Raul Gutierrez, the manager here.  I need to get to a funeral, if you have a card, perhaps we can get together when I get back.  She makes a cutoff motion to her cameraman, and hands him her card.  He looks at it.  Actually, I don’t want to deal with this when I get back.  Just a few quick questions so I can put this incident to rest.  I’ll make them softballs, and will make you look good, I promise.  Bettina tells him.  He chuckles at this.  Alright then.  Walk to your car, and I’ll ambush you there.  He looks at her.  Just play along.  He shrugs.

He strides over to his Nissan Ultima, and hits the fob, and is about to open the door and get in when he hears, WAIT, and Bettina comes running up to him with her heels off in one hand and her microphone in another.  He stops, his door open.  Thank you.  I need to put these on so I look taller.  Hold this please.  She hands him the microphone.  And then puts a hand on his shoulder to steady herself, as she puts one shoe on, then the other.  Thanks.  She sweeps back her hair with a hand and grins mischievously at the camera, who has been filming all of this.  Channel Five news, she tells him, after taking the microphone back.  I’m here with the insurance adjuster, she tells the camera, after the devastating fire last night that destroyed N’Orleans most hip club.  Sir, I know that you cannot talk in specifics, but do you know if the owners intend to rebuild?  Actually, I’m the manager here.  Oh.  She recovers and smiles brightly.  What can you tell us?  The damage was negligible.  We plan to reopen on Friday night.  What time do the doors open?  she asks him.  9pm.  Magda is mixing.  Her eyes widen.  Can you get me in?  She asks.  He hesitates.  I’m going to be out of town, Ms. Andrews.  Bettina.  But I’ll let security know to waive you through.  And my girlfriend Toni?  Sure.  Thank you, and she grins at the camera.  Just one more question?  He nods.  Okay, maybe two.  He looks at his watch.  How come you didn’t press charges against the band members?  The owners want this incident behind them.  She looks at the camera skeptically.  How much did it cost them?  An apology and a promise to do a concert here in the near future.  Oh.  Um.  Um.  I need to be going, Ms. Andrews.  Thank you so much.  And she steps back out of the way so he can get in and close his door.  WAIT.  I didn’t get your name.

========================================================

Simon and Jax watch this interview on the huge couch at Jax’s mansion that evening.

They see Raul raise a hand in goodbye, and drive off.  The camera catches Bettina frowning, then she turns to it with a bright smile.  This is Bettina Andrews, with Channel Five news.

She made him look really, really good.  Jax tells Simon, who doesn’t say anything as he nurses a bottle of Miller High Life.  And that means that she can make you look really really bad if you stick around.  I wouldn’t test her, bro.  Let’s go to Detroit and get Mike.  That way she can claim victory.  Never.  He’s off training with Conor and Gunnar.  He’s going to call out that bartender.  UFC wants to sponsor it.  That can wait; we cannot have him hurting his hand, Jax responds.  I say we record locally.  She’s going to take you out if you do.  I’m counting on it, Simon says.

Bro, did you see the way she looked at Rolf?  Yeah, I’ve thought about it, and I think that’s why he gave her the three day cooldown, Simon replies.  I just cannot get over what he did.  He went there planning to take a beating, and I didn’t even see the angles afterwards.  No one did, not even Lana, Jax responds.  And that’s why it will work.  The cartel cannot come after me without outing Raul now.  And we’re going to make him a lot of money, which he already has plenty of… I love it.  We are not going to throw the show, Simon.  Whatever, man.

We need to talk about Rolf leaving the band.  What if he just does the one show to pay his dues, then heads out for Australia to drum with the aborigines, and has James fill in for him.  I don’t see that happening.  Rolf loves touring.  The crowds, the energy.

I’ve given this some thought, Jax says.  Let’s preempt him.  Check this out.  He pulls up a Youtube video of a powwow.  A group of Indians chanting, circled around the same drum, all beating on it.  What do you say we find a powwow and get in on this.  How hard can it be?  I’ve always wanted to play the drums.  No, man, I’m going to be dancing, Simon says.  Have you found one?  Upper Michigan.  Let’s get after it.

========================================================

Don Luis, his death, I am responsible.  Raul tells Ramon.  No, brother; I am responsible.  You are the one who gave him five extra years.  Let’s talk no more of this until after we have buried him.  How is Tia, Don Ramon?  She’s handling all the arrangements, Don Raul.  They embrace.

You are famous on the American TV now.  Mysterious club owner who la rubia hueca likes.  Trust me, Don Ramon, she is anything but.  Call me Don Ramon again, and I’ll punch you in the mouth.  Come into the office and watch the clip.  I like her. Show me first.  I need to understand.  Ramon leads his brother down into the cellar. Guards dead here and here.  Two 45 casings.  They walk down a subterranean corridor.  And come to a large door that had been blown open with a shaped charge of explosives.  Guard killed by the flying door, one 45 casing.  They walk through a vestibule to another door, also blown open.  Shots exchanged.  Numerous casings.  His throat was torn open, blood everywhere.  Then they walk into Don Luis’s quarters.  Ramon crosses himself.  And Raul does the same.  Father was found kneeling in prayer, his rosary beads in his hand.  Impaled by an ancient crusader sword.  The men who were first on the scene said it looked like a crucifix.  Raul breaks down weeping.  It’s alright, brother.  You cannot hide from death.  This is the last lesson he wished us to learn.

***

You have to see these retards, Ramon tells Tia.  She watches a clip of a tan and lean and ripped Jax in cargo shorts seated amongst a bunch of fat chanting Indians, all beating on the same drum, while Simon is dancing around a fire in only a loincloth.  They both laugh hilariously at Simon’s antics.  I’ve never been that…and Ramon cannot finish the sentence.  DRUNK, he finally says in a high pitched voice between gasps.  She shrieks in laughter, and others come over.  This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever see… and the camera pans over to a bunch of tourist watching seriously, many nodding slowly.  She breaks down into loud gaffaws, and tears come to her face.  Where is Raul?  She says.  He comes into the room a minute later.  Watch this, Ramon tells him.  And they cackle with fresh laughter.  This…is…who…you are going to let play in your club, she manages to finish, and then bursts out into another round of hysterical laughter.  Raul joins in, and laughs at Simon’s head fakes.  He’s more…native….than they…are.  And everyone laughs some more.  Oh Raul, she finally tells him when the clip is finally finished, and puts a hand on his shoulder.  Look at how many views it has, Tia, he says, and they all sober up.

***

After the committal, Tia and Ramon and Raul and the captains of the Ortega Cartel gather in the large office.  Tia sits in Don Luis’s chair, and looks at the two tall handsome men standing before her and the group of tough looking hard men standing behind them.  There is only one Don in this family.  She goes over and puts a ring on Ramon’s finger, and stands on his left side.  Raul kneels and kisses his brothers ring.  Ramon gestures for him to stand on his right.  If any show disrespect to your Don, you will execute him, Tia tells him.  Raul pulls out a nickel plated Beretta and folds his hands in front of him.  She motions for the Capitans to come forward.  Patron, they all say, and each in turn kiss his ring.  If any show disrespect to your Don, you will execute him.  Raul tells the Capitans, and they pull out their guns.  Tia leaves the room, and the procession of soldiers begins.  I have to piss.  Ramon whispers to Raul.  So do I.  Eleven more, then we’re out the door….

***

Kostamo.  Where do we stand, Raul?  He took out the Russian as he moved into position, using himself as bait.  His men are very, very skilled.  And well lead, Tia observes.  What do you propose, Tia?  He won’t surface until the Syndicate meets to confirm you as head of the Ortega cartel.  So we need to draw him out before then, otherwise they will protect him.  And just how do we go about doing that?

We take the blonde.  Lana Radley puts pressure on him, and he trades himself for her.  Raul frowns at this.  What brother?  Permit me to stop by his office for a visit.  Raul, what would that accomplish?  Tia asks.  I want to know what he’s thinking.  And I think he would agree to meet me in the desert, man to man, rather than having the Syndicate wiped out, which is what I would threaten.  Tia doesn’t say anything.  What makes you think you’d win, brother?  There is no winning in such a scenario, Don Ramon.  Just vengeance.   I fear the curse of God, Tia, on the course you contemplate.  No curses, Ramon agrees; our father spent his last moments in prayer.  Go then, if you must do this, brother, and he hugs him.

That’s a fool’s errand, Don Ramon.  You know that my course is correct.  I know, and I will undertake it.  Tia, I never wanted to be Don.  You knew this.  My father knew this.  She looks at him sternly.  You will speak with my voice until I return, he tells her, and then kisses her hand.

Ramon rushes out to the caravan of SUVs.  Wait up brother, I’m going with you.

========================================================

Church Service, New Orleans.

Bettina and her father sit together and watch as the worship leaders sing.  She sees a stranger in the front row suddenly stand up and start shaking a tambourine, and swaying back and forth to the music.  Bettina pulls on her father’s jacket arm, and they stand up too, and start to clap.  Suddenly people from all around the congregation rise up, and the worship leaders beam over at the stranger.  He’s really into it, she whispers to her father and laughs as she watches him sing with his head rolling this way and that, and shuffling his feet back and forth.

Bettina finds him after the service.  You’re new.  So glad to see you here.  Hi, I’m Bettina.  Ramon.  He shakes hands with her father.  Do you have any lunch plans?  Her father asks him.  I’m just visiting; I’m here on business from out of town.  And you brought a tambourine?  I asked if they had one I could borrow before the service.  They said sure.  Well, come eat with lunch with us.  We have a reservation over at The Olive Garden.  It’s only about ten minutes away.  I’ll find it.  I want to greet the pastor, then I’ll meet you there.

Do you think he’ll come?  Her father asks her as they walk to the restaurant.  Yes.  If he’s bold enough to just stand up in the middle of church, he’ll show.  They hear praise music coming from a white Camaro, Ramon sticks his hand out the window in greeting and keeps singing to the music.  She narrows her eyes.  Do not get another ticket, Bettina, you’ll have to go to driving school again.  I hate Camaros, she mutters.

Hello, he tells them, as he sits down.  Ramon Ortega.  Tom Andrews.  Bettina is my daughter.  Where’s your mother?  She’s no longer with us.  God hates divorce, he says, frowning.  No, the other not with us.  He winces.  I just lost my father in Mexico.  I’m sorry, she tells him.  Don’t be.  He’s in a better place.

So I asked the pastor about you, and he said that you are single and that your father is rich.  Not in those exact words, but that was the gist.  Bettina stares at him with her mouth open.  Well, I’m not technically engaged, but I am…  Yeah, she’s single.  Her father interrupts.  And yes, I’ve been blessed with a beautiful daughter.  Not single, she tells him, but he just hasn’t met him yet, so that means technically, I’m still single.  I like that, Ramon grins at her father.  The white horse is yours?  She nods and squints at him.  Mine’s a rental.  Oh, she smiles.  The waiter takes their drink orders.  Just water please, Ramon says.

So what do you do, Ramon?  I’m from Mexico, so I’m a drug dealer by default, but I’m also a consultant.  They all burst out laughing.  I work in the hospitality industry.  Restaurants, clubs, hotels.   It suits me.  I like people.  So what kind of car do you drive back home, and where is home?  None; I have a pedal bike that gets me where I need to go.  And home is Nashville, Tennessee.  Where are you staying in town?  Her father asks.  At my half brother’s, he lives over on Vine.  Do I know him?  Maybe- Raul Gutierrez?  She looks at her dad; I think I do know him.  He like owns half the town; including a nightclub.  Yeah, that’s his baby, Ramon shakes his head in disapproval.  Well, he gave my daughter an interview anyway, so he can’t be that bad of a guy.  He is a very devout Catholic, Ramon says.  Would not skip Mass and come with me here.

So what’s his deal, he never called me back.  Guys always call me back after I give them my card.  It’s not you, Bettina.  He’s in love with someone else.  Bettina grins.  I bet I know her.  He frowns.  I don’t believe in gambling.

So what to do you do, sir?  I’m sorry.  It was just an expression, Bettina interrupts.  I’m in the oil and gas business.  Now it’s me who is sorry I asked.  My guy says that market is going to keep going sideways.  Which analyst?  Yardeni.  Her father frowns.  You have to remember, Ramon, that we’re back to energy independence again in this country.  We are now a net exporter of oil, and I don’t see that changing.  But you’re not going to see Peak Oil ever again in your lifetime, Ramon insists.  Her father frowns at him.  Where’s the waiter?  I’ve got to use the bathroom.  You know what I order, he tells Bettina.

So her name?  Bettina says biting her lips.  Lana Radley.  I knew it.  My roommate, she says proudly.  The four of us, he tells her.  You name the place.  She’s with someone.  Has he meet her parents?  Well, no.  She’s single, he says smugly.  Her boyfriend is one of the rockstars that trashed your brother’s club.  And you’re encouraging this relationship?  He gives her a reproving look.  He’s a good guy.  Sure, he is, he says skeptically.

Let’s all meet here, after the Wednesday night service.  Just eat and talk.  You and I aren’t happening, I get that- I can see that you’re too worldly for me-but I want my brother to have a chance.  Get over yourself, she tells him, as her dad comes back to the table.  What if you’re right, then what, Ramon?  Consolidation, he replies.  Big firm capitalism.  Her dad strokes his chin.  The hospitality industry is my wheelhouse, I’m just parroting what I’ve read about your business, I don’t have any depth of knowledge, so I’m just giving my impressions, not my convictions.

So what brought you to our church?  Her father asks.  A web search.  I grew up in a liturgical church, and well, now I find that I prefer a more contemporary worship service.  Where did you go to church in Nashville?  The Belonging.  She pulls out her cell phone, looks it up and shares it with her dad.  Are you one of the worship leaders there?  You were really good.  No, I’m more into community outreach.  Yeah, I probably could do more of that, she winces.  It’s just that there is so much going on with work and lately with my friends.  What do you do for work, Bettina?  I work for Channel Five as an investigative reporter and free lance as a celebrity journalist.  A professional gossip, in other words.  Is that pleasing to <Ramon points up>.  Bettina looks down, and her father can see her trying to control her temper.

So what did you think of the sermon today, Ramon?  I like St. Peter.  He’s my kind of guy.  Impulsive, yes, but he is the only man who got to walk on water.  I like him too, her father agrees.

You’re a good looking guy, Ramon.  Bettina says.  Well dressed.  I couldn’t have picked out a better outfit for you myself.  He draws his head back.  Why aren’t you married?  Bettina, her dad warns her sternly.  I get that a lot, he tells her.  A sign of the wicked times we live in.  Look, we got off on the wrong foot, he tells her.  He wants me to set his brother up with Lana, dad.  I do.  And I’m inviting you to go to church with me on Wednesday night.  I’ve got to work, Bettina says flatly.  Too worldly for you anyway, you said so yourself.  He pulls a business card from his cellphone case.  Mention it to her, please.  Fine, but I’m almost positive that she’s going to say no, so don’t get his hopes up.

He grins.  Maybe I’ll see you Wednesday.  I always sit in the front row.  Thank you for lunch, sir.  Thank you for joining us, her father says.

He’s way too pushy, dad.  He’s not a recluse, that’s for sure.  She frowns at him.  Just don’t let Lana go alone if she decides to accept, honey.  She nods.

========================================================

Um, Lana, we need to talk.  But before we start, just say no.  No.  Good.  Now I meet Raul Guitterez’s half brother at church.  What’s his name?  Ramon Ortega.  Lana closes her eyes.  He wants us to double with him and his brother at The Olive Garden, Wednesday night after church.  Tell me the whole story please…

Bettina, do you still have his card?  She nods.  But you said you wouldn’t go.  We have to face into this, Bettina.  Ramon Ortega just became the head of the Ortega drug cartel after his father was murdered.  <Silence>

Hello.  May I speak to Ramon please.  This is he.  Ramon, this is Lana Radley.  I spoke with my roommate, and Wednesday sounds great.  Meet at church or at The Olive Garden after?  Church sounds good.  Service starts at 7pm.  Bettina and I will see you then.  Excellent.  Goodbye.  And she hangs up.  Bettina looks at her with big eyes.

========================================================

Bettina and Lana both wear skirts and blouses.  We’re meeting someone here, they tell the greeter.  Hello, Lana tells Raul.  He nods at her, and she motions for him to go over to Bettina, as she goes up to Ramon.  There you are.  I don’t think he believed me, she tells him, pointing at the usher, when I told him that I was with someone.  She grabs his arm.  We always sit in the front row, she tells the usher.  The old man grins widely.  You lead, I’ll follow, she whispers to Ramon.  You look very nice, Miss Radley.  As do you, sir.

I’m sorry for this.  Raul says.  Please, you have nothing to fear, Ms. Andrews.  Let’s just hear the message together.  Perhaps there will be some application for our lives.  He gestures for her to lead into the sanctuary.  She sits in the second pew, directly behind Lana.

Lana keeps clutching Ramon’s arm the entire service, as if she cannot let go of him.  Ramon eagerly flips through his worn Bible, and he and Lana read along the text together.  Afterward they go up to great the pastor together.  Thank you for the message.  I need to be reminded often.  You lead, I follow.  Lana tells him, and he grins widely at the pastor.  You want to join my wife and I for dinner?  We’d love to, but we’re matchmaking, he jerks his head behind him.  The pastor sees Raul and Bettina sitting stiffly together, not looking at each other.  He chuckles, and they all turn around and grin.  You know, the pastor gestures to Ramon’s Bible, when I see someone whose Bible is falling apart, I know that their life isn’t, he tells Ramon with a sage glance.  Hezekiah 3:16, Ramon responds, and they all share a laugh.

You are amazing, Lana tells him, as they walk out of the sanctuary.  He shrugs.  You told me to lead.   A photographer comes up to them, and they stop, and Lana puts her head on his shoulder.  May take a picture of you, for our website?  Sure, Lana says, and she and Ramon share a laugh.  Shall we eat?  He asks her as they walk through the parking lot holding hands.  Yes, but would you be offended if I just ordered a salad?  My stomach is a little upset.  He gives her a disappointed look.  It’s not a metaphor, Ramon; it actually is.  Try a soda.  I don’t drink soda.  It’s the carbonation that helps.  I’ll see if they have a sparkling water then.  He nods.  I’d like to sit next to Bettina, Ramon.  Whatever you wish, Lana.  We’ll meet you there.

========================================================

Do you have sparking water?  I’m sorry, we don’t.  That’s fine.  After they’ve ordered, Ramon leans in.  Lana, I have a problem.  I’m listening.  Kostamo killed my father.  She looks at him seriously.  And he waits for her to reply.  Would he approve of this, Ramon?  She finally says softly.  He looks down at the table.  She covers his hand with hers.  You heard the message from the man of God.  Be strong and courageous.  You know what you need to do.  What’s that?  He says, looking up at her, studying her face.    Wipe out the entire Syndicate, she replies coldly.  He jerks his hand away and gets up from the table and walks away.  Raul says nothing, and watches Lana as she puts her arm around Bettina.  You know what I love about you, Bettina Andrews?  She shakes her head no.  You’re able to live above life’s circumstances.  This too shall pass.

Raul, what are three temptations of the simpleton in Proverbs?  He stares at her.  I haven’t warned him.  And if he fails, I’ll take care of him myself.  He looks down at the table.  Kostamo told me that he respects you: that you are not an evil man, and that you are still trying to live out your faith.  Just remember that spring comes after winter, if you can make it through.  Kostamo is my friend.  Do you think that I’d lead him into your trap?  How many teams do you have covering this restaurant?  This is where he’s supposed to make his entrance, correct, and save us?

Ramon comes back to his seat to find his meal waiting for him.  Raul with his head bowed, his plate of food untouched.  Bettina leaning against Lana with her eyes closed.  We were waiting for you to say grace, Don Ramon.  Lana tells him.  Lana offers him her hand, takes Bettina’s, who sits up and offers her hand to Raul.

Be merciful to me, the sinner.  Ramon prays.  Amen.

Lana, I cannot undue the work my father did.  He helped build The Syndicate.  There is a time to build, and a time to tear down, Ramon.  I like you, Lana Radley.  Is there anything I can do for you?  I want my badge back, Ramon.  I’ll make inquiries, he says. Thank you.  If you’re not going to eat that, Lana says to Raul, let’s switch.  I love spaghetti.  He doesn’t say anything.  And Ramon takes Raul’s plate and gives it to her.  Can we get some more garlic bread.  And I want a Coke.  Ramon grins at this.

So, Ramon, may I tell you a great story about your aunt and Bettina.  Sure. Well… …and then your aunt goes, you’re cute, but I can do that for real.  Ramon chuckles at this.  And his dad came up to the table afterwards, and insisted on buying our meal.  She didn’t protest, and just nodded, and I could see he didn’t know what to do next, so he just walked away.  What are you telling me, Lana?  She knows, brother.  And she didn’t call him, Raul finally speaks.

So back to my story, Lana says.  So it’s kind of awkward, right?  Well, Simon, the frontman, you’d like him, he’s so funny, orders the same beer that Raul got for me.  And he tells the waiter, table thirteen’s got the bill, and the waiter gives him this what are you talking about look.  And he turns around and points at the man, who raises his hand.

Ramon chuckles into his wineglasses.  It was a good play, wasn’t it, Lana?

He’s my friend, Ramon.  I’d eat my gun before I betrayed him.  I’ll get him, Ramon promises.  Bettina, you are safe as churches.  You have nothing to fear.  Don’t ever come back to my church, she says, glaring at him.  As you wish.  He throws a hundred on top of the bill, and gets up.  Goodbye, Lana.  Goodbye, Ramon.