Impoverished Wealth: Serena Cortez

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Montecito, California

Serena’s mare trotted inches away from the fence that ran parallel to the Pacific Ocean. One hundred feet of cliff separated the body of water from the Cortezes’ estate, but the wind elevated its salty fragrance, providing Serena the aroma she craved every morning. 

Being this close to the edge of her family’s property would usually terrify Serena, but something about riding her horse instilled a certain confidence she didn’t often have.

“Easy, Lady. Slow down, sweetheart. Slow down now,” Serena said to the Quarter Horse. Lady slowed down her trot to a solid pace, allowing her owner to absorb their surroundings.

Serena’s stepfather purchased Lady for her thirty-fifth birthday two years ago after Daisy, her beloved Thoroughbred, had been slaughtered in the middle of the night. The morning after, Serena trekked over to the stables to saddle Daisy up for their routine dawn ride only to discover her stomach cut open and neck completely severed off. Serena’s screams woke up everyone on the estate, causing mass panic. She had been in therapy ever since and once confessed she would’ve rather have found a family member in Daisy’s condition than her beloved horse. Serena didn’t hate any of her relatives. In fact, she had what she considered healthy relationships with all of them. She just loved her horse more.

Serena lightly tugged the reins to cue the mare to stop. She gripped the horn of her saddle as she watched two sailboats out enjoying the morning, nature’s best gift. Serena had an odd fantasy of riding Lady off the cliff and diving into the ocean. In her head, they would land gracefully and revel in the pleasure of swimming in the sea.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” Claire Cortez said.

Startled, Serena quickly turned her head, slightly spooking the usually tranquil Lady. Realizing her mistake, Claire’s hand covered her mouth, and her body tensed. Fortunately, Serena was in a pleasant mood, and she rode the horse over to the other side of the arena to greet her.

“Good morning, Momma,” she said.

“Hi, baby. I’m sorry if I spooked you and Lady.”

“No, it’s okay. We were in a bit of a trance looking at the sailors across the way.”

Serena’s personification of Lady concerned her mother. 

“Well, it is such a beautiful morning. Maybe we can take Gabriela out later. It would be a shame not to,” Claire said, referring to the yacht her father named after his third, now deceased, wife.

Even though her mother was referring to the yacht, hearing her step-grandmother’s name always pained Serena. Their genuine bond was short-lived, given she and Seaford were only married for five years.

“Yeah, that would be nice to do today,” Serena said.

“Great, I’ll make sure it’s ready to go once we are. Your grandfather decided to pop in for a cup of coffee this morning. He’d love for his favorite granddaughter to accompany him.”

Serena blushed whenever her mother said this.

“I’m his only granddaughter, Momma,” she said.

“Still, doesn’t mean you can’t be his favorite, right?”

Claire tilted her head and made a close-mouthed smile, satisfied that her little girl was resurfacing.

“Adan, can you please get Lady?” Claire asked the ranch hand, “Our Serena has a guest waiting.”

Adan set down the rake and shovel he was using to clean up after Lady to keep the arena pristine and scurried over to fulfill his boss’ demand in the form of a question.

“Yes, ma’am. Of course,” he said.

Adan lent Serena a hand to ease her down from the mare.

“Thank you, Adan,” Serena said.

“Yes, ma’am. You’re welcome.”

“Thank you, Adan,” Claire said.

“Of course, ma’am,” he said, tipping his cowboy hat.

As mother and daughter strolled towards their estate, Claire linked their arms and leaned into her leggy daughter. A trait her scumbag father passed down to her.

“Is Rodrigo back?” Serena asked.

“Oh, no, sweetheart, which is good because your grandfather isn’t in the mood to feign diplomacy with his son-in-law today.”

“Diplomacy?”

“Diplomacy, the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way.”

“Why couldn’t you just say that?” Serena asked.

Claire sighed deeply and continued walking.

Seaford Gordeaux remained distinguished even in his old age. Approaching ninety, Seaford possessed a full head of natural, white hair he combed back every day. Bags signifying decades of long hours, stress, and relentlessness resided under his eyes, but overall, Seaford appeared younger than he was. It was a rarity to see him in anything but a Tom Ford two-piece navy suit; so it was no surprise to see him wearing one of his finest to coffee with his only daughter and granddaughter.

“Ah, there’s my favorite granddaughter,” Seaford said, warily rising to his feet to greet Claire and Serena as they entered the estate’s back patio. A carafe, empty coffee mugs, and saucers remained untouched because a gentleman knows better than to indulge before his entire party arrives.

“Hi, Grandpa,” Serena said.

Despite dusty riding gear, Seaford embraced her firmly. Even accounting for her plethora of problems, Serena was the least of his problems, earning her a special place in the old man’s heart.

“Good morning, my darling. How was your ride?”

“Spectacular as always. We couldn’t get enough of the ocean’s beauty this morning. It was so calm, so majestic.”

Serena knew her grandfather relished in the fact that she never failed to mention how picturesque their view was. After all, he was the one who purchased the $32 million property back in 2008. When the rest of the world was crumbling, Seaford continued prospering.

“I’m happy you enjoy it, my darling. It is yours forever.”

“Thanks, Grandpa,” she said, suddenly bashful.

The three of them took their seats, a cue for the butlers to pour their coffees.

“Dad, since the water is so peaceful today, I think we should take out Gabriela. We haven’t been on her for close to a year now.”

“It is a splendid day for a ride on my yacht; however, I’m afraid I can’t allocate enough time for that today. You two are more than welcome to use her, though. She’ll be happy to be out on the water.”

“Very well. I’ll see to it then.”

“Will just you two be going?” Seaford asked.

What he meant was if Rodrigo would be joining them or not. He allowed him to do so, but that didn’t mean it was preferable.

“I’m not sure. Rodrigo,” Claire said, emphasizing her husband’s name, “and I haven’t spoken this morning. I’m not sure what his timing is.”

“Where is he?” Seaford asked.

“Traveling for work.”

Seaford scoffed.

“Where speci—” he began to ask before Serena interjected.

“Grandpa, why can’t you come with us today? We’ll have so much fun enjoying the ocean breeze, drinking margaritas, and you can smoke a cigar.”

Seaford grinned as he envisioned the day his granddaughter was describing. Originally, he planned to spend the day at his winery in Los Olivos with his newest companion: a forty-three-year-old buxom brunette he met at an art gallery in New York a couple of months back. On multiple occasions, Seaford flew his private plane to the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to escort her and some friends to his mansion in Montecito. But this time, he requested Charlotte Rawlings to come alone, a prerequisite with which she had no qualms.

Being fourteen years younger than Claire might perturb his daughter, but not nearly as much as Rodrigo enraged Seaford.

“You know what, my darling, I am going to join you and your mother,” Seaford said.

“Yay, now I’m even more excited for it,” Serena said, clapping her hands together and bouncing up and down like a little kid getting her way.

“Good, Dad, I’m happy you’re able to come along,” Claire said, genuinely thrilled to dedicate a day to spending time with her elderly father and daughter.

“I am too, baby. In fact, I’m going to bring someone along I want you two to meet,” Seaford said, revealing the catch.

Claire clasped her mug, taking an unwanted sip of her coffee, a sign that she was indeed trepidatious. Her father observed this, giving him great pleasure in her distaste towards meeting another companion of his. All the women he had dated since his first wife, her mother, irked Claire. Especially Gabriela, who nearly received the keys to the kingdom.

“Oh? Who is it, Grandpa?”

“Her name’s Charlotte. I met her at an art gallery in New York, and we’ve been dating ever since.”

“Where does she live?” Claire asked, unable to avoid sounding hasty.

“New York,” he said.

Claire raised her eyebrows and gestured for the butler to fill her mug.

“That’s so great, Grandpa. I’m happy you are dating. Do you think it could lead to something?”

Seaford dropped his chin to his chest and smiled at his clueless granddaughter.

“Oh, sweetheart. It is way too early to tell.”

“Well, either way, I’m excited to meet her,” Serena said.

They clinked their mugs.

Bakersfield, California

Rodrigo was a detail-oriented person. His Armani clothes were always crisp; he never allowed stubble on his face; he had his hair styled in a way that looked like it had recently been cut; his lines of cocaine were identical in length and sharp as an arrow. 

Looking down at those snow-white lines waiting to shoot up his nose almost got Rodrigo as high as when they finally hit his brain. Cocaine would forever have an immeasurable amount of intrigue to him, appealing to all of his senses and able to pleasure him in ways no one or anything else could. This is why he revolved his life around it.

Once satisfied with his five lines laid on the glass table, Rodrigo rolled up a Benjamin Franklin and sent them to his brain. He tilted his head back and inhaled the remains from the table to ensure he got all he could. Rodrigo then leaned forward and wrinkled his nose, wiping the bottom of it with his right index figure. He almost hoped there was some residue so he could gum the remnants of it. Luckily he had an endless supply.

“What about me, baby?” Lauren asked.

“Rack ‘em yourself.”

Despite Rodrigo’s demeaning tone, a giddy smile graced Lauren’s face. Using the teaspoon Rodrigo kept handy, she scooped a pile out of his bag and evened out her lines.

“Good. Good girl,” he said.

Now that she had his approval, she lowered her head to the table and lifted her ass in the air so he could give it a solid smack.

Lauren was a Bakersfield local he hit up when he was in town. She had to be close to thirty at this point, but Rodrigo didn’t know for sure. His women ranged anywhere from their early twenties to late forties even. 

After Lauren snorted her two lines, she brought her hand up to her nose and squeezed her eyes tight, embracing the impact.

“This is good shit, huh?” Rodrigo asked.

Still gathering herself, Lauren nodded, “Fuck yeah it is. Better than anything you’ve had before.”

“Do some more,” he said.

Lauren scooped another teaspoon on the table and lined two more up. The pulse in her neck was thumping, making her fear she had already done too much, but Rodrigo kept assuring her his supply was clean. She ingested the next two lines and scrunched her face, clenching her fists as her whole body stiffened. Rodrigo would never admit it, but he admired her ability to hang with him.

“Good shit, girl,” he said.

Lauren let her head fall back and sniffed some more to evince she wanted to get as high as possible.

“You feel that shit?” he asked. At this point, his leg was bouncing up and down uncontrollably, and his eyeballs were rapidly rolling in their sockets.

“Fuck yeah I do,” she said.

“Lay on me, girl.”

Lauren laid her stomach across his lap, and Rodrigo began spilling the blow on her exposed ass cheeks. Human flesh wasn’t as easy to line up coke so gracefully on, but that was a challenge Rodrigo enjoyed. Plus, he loved the combination of ass and blow.

While he was straightening the third line, David and Manny barged into the room so abruptly Rodrigo almost lost his focus and spilled the stash.

“How many times do I have to tell you stupid motherfuckers not to walk up in here like that?”

“Hey, sorry, boss. Our bad, it won’t happen again,” David said.

“Yeah, sorry, boss. Won’t happen again,” Manny said.

“You idiots said that last time. What do you want?” Rodrigo asked.

“Vegas just got its shipment, and they said it’s almost all gone already. They want some more as soon as possible,” David said.

Unable to bear the silence Rodrigo let sit there, Lauren said, “Rodrigo, David’s talking to you.”

Rodrigo snorted what was on her and tossed her off his lap, sending her back first into the wall perpendicular to the couch he sat on.

“Bitch, do you think I’m deaf or something? I fuckin’ heard him.”

Lauren breathed heavily and laid there in shock. Her breasts being exposed to David and Manny didn’t matter, as she was too aghast at being tossed like a rag doll by her man. Besides, Rodrigo’s two minions were too intimidated by him to even consider taking a peek in his presence.

“Man, every time I come up here, you fools get stupider and stupider. If Vegas wants another fuckin’ shipment, make sure we have enough, get the payment, and fuckin’ ship them some. Is that so fuckin’ hard?”

“No, boss. We’ll get it done,” David said.

“We’ll do it, boss,” Manny said.

“Then why the fuck are you two still standing here?”

They scurried out without another word.

Montecito, California

Serena, infamous for being a walking tornado, scoured her room for her bag. Different riding outfits she contemplated wearing before riding Lady earlier that morning remained scattered all over the floor. She amassed the mess while trying different combinations of bikinis, shawls, and sun hats she was considering wearing on Gabriela. There were so many articles of clothing they hid the carpet.

Her heart raced as she tore through her hamper, bathroom drawers, and nightstand before she remembered she snorted a couple of lines on her windowsill before heading to the stables. To her relief, she found the bag where she last left it. Observing she still had at least an eight ball left, she decided to bump a couple before heading down to the car.

As she brought up her coke-filled acrylic nail to her nose, there were two knocks at her door; she dumped it alongside her gums and pressed it in from the outside of her mouth.

“Miss Cortez,” a housemaid said.

“Uh, what?”

“Your mother is waiting, Miss.”

“Okay. I’m coming.”

“Yes, Miss.”

Irritated with the interruption, she retaliated by taking her sweet time lining up two more lines. Even though Serena was holding up her mother, the lines had to be identical in length and perfectly straight. She liked to think if she could pick up the lines, the tips of them would be sharp enough to pierce through her skin upon contact, leading to an intense rush that only nose candy could cause.

Once satisfied with how they laid out in front of her, Serena neared her nose to the surface and inhaled them rapidly. Now she was ready for what the day had in store.

Serena zipped down the stairs, hoping to make up for the time it took her to get her fix. She knew she was about to encounter an irritated version of her mother.

“Your mother is in the car, Miss,” a housemaid said once Serena reached the bottom.

“Okay.”

Claire was in the backseat of a black Mercedes Benz GL500 under their driveway’s overhang, waiting for her tardy daughter to join her.

“Hi, Momma,” Serena said. She got lazy and let out a sniffle that roused her mother’s suspicion.

Claire looked at her funny and asked, “What took so long?”

“I couldn’t decide what to wear.”

“Well, you didn’t decide on much.”

“I have a shawl on, Momma.”

As it was, Serena’s hourglass figure turned heads. Wearing a transparent shawl and a skimpy, stringy bikini exposed the most prominent features on her chest.

“Hey, you’ll have to hear it from your grandfather, not me. Do as you please, young lady,” Claire said, “I have to make a call.”

Feeling self-conscious, Serena pressed her arms together and shifted away from her mother. Something was bothering Claire, and Serena’s wardrobe didn’t help matters.

“He’s not answering,” Claire said with her phone to her ear.

“Who’s not answering?” Serena asked.

“Rodrigo.”

She let it ring a few more times before giving up and muttering, “Motherfucker.”

Even when she wasn’t the cause of it, anger scared Serena.

“He’s probably just busy with work, Momma. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah, right.”

Santa Barbara, California

The Mercedes Serena and Claire rode to the Santa Barbara Harbor pulled into the parking lot at half-past eleven. Claire immediately noticed they beat her father and his new sex toy, probably because the latter was taking her sweet time pampering herself, or even worse, basking in the gifts her father was already showering her with. 

Because when you are old as fuck but still wealthy enough for busty middle-aged women to feign attraction to you, that is what you do, Claire thought to herself.

Serena’s fidgetiness irritated Claire more than she already was.

“What are you doing?” Claire said.

“Fixing my shawl, Momma.”

“No matter what you do, everyone can see everything.”

Serena sniffled. “I know. That’s the point.”

Claire rolled her eyes. As if she needed another thing to piss her off, her father’s black Bentley Flying Spur pulled in.

Seaford’s driver promptly exited the car and hustled to the backdoor on the passenger side. As he opened it Claire and Serena heard a woman giggle. Claire rolled her eyes, and Serena lifted her head to get a look at her grandfather’s newest companion. Charlotte Rawlings exited the vehicle in a showy fashion, extending her long legs and easing herself up to stand. Seaford probably watched the entire exhibit from her backside, as he didn’t pull himself out of the car on the opposite side until her entire body was out.

Charlotte was also wearing a shawl, but it wasn’t transparent like Serena’s. It revealed her bronze legs but covered up everything else from the waist up except for some cleavage.

Serena bounced on the balls of her feet and clapped her hands in excitement like she hadn’t seen her grandfather a couple hours ago.

“Hi, Grandpa,” she said before they embraced.

“Hi, sweetheart.”

Seaford kissed her on the cheek and gave his daughter a tight smile and nod.

“Claire and Serena, my loves, this is Charlotte Rawlings, my new woman I was telling you about earlier today. She is an art dealer from New York, and I believe you will find her quite fascinating.”

Serena told her how excited she was to meet her while Claire responded with a passable hello.

“Oh, I have already heard so much about the both of you, and I can’t wait to get to know more,” Charlotte said.

Charlotte looked like Kimberly Guifoyle wanted to look like post-plastic surgery. She wore her hair parted down the middle, her mascara was dark, and freckles under her eyes and on her nose were visible above her sun-kissed skin. Even with a black shawl on, her impressive figure was evident. From what Claire could gather, her boobs seemed to be Charlotte’s only fake physical assets. 

All Serena could focus on was the white residue Charlotte forgot to wipe off beneath her septum.

They exchanged more pleasantries before heading onto Gabriela, Seaford’s Westport 130 Tri-Deck yacht. Both sides of her had her deceased namesake in cursive, and a black and white portrait of her was on the back. Gabriela had two decks above the hull and one deck below. Of course, the yacht was climate-controlled and possessed multiple open areas for the family and guests to lounge in.

Serena and her mother set up shop on the front deck while Seaford gave Charlotte a tour. Claire undressed down to her one-piece, inserted her AirPods, tilted her sun hat to her forehead, and laid down without saying a word. 

Message received, Serena thought. 

The crew was still doing its preliminary work to ensure Gabriela would run smoothly, and the chefs and other members of the kitchen crew were loading in the oysters, Chilean Sea Bass, fresh vegetables, and alcohol they would spend the early afternoon indulging in. With her mother tuned out, grandfather occupied with Charlotte, and workers preoccupied, no one would notice if Serena disappeared for a few minutes.

Serena covered her tracks, “I’m running to the bathroom, Momma. I’ll be back soon.”

No answer.

Bustling to the bathroom on the main deck, Serena hugged her purse against her chest to protect the goods. Overwhelmed with excitement, Serena forgoed locking the bathroom door. The workers knew the only bathroom available to them was on the top deck, her mother was lost in her own world, and her grandfather had a private bathroom on the lower deck. The odds of someone disturbing her were slim.

Serena took the bag out of her purse and began lining up two rows on the white marble countertop. If there was one thing that irked her about Gabriela, it was that it lacked a preferable place for her to do her blow. Serena enjoyed admiring the sharp lines before sending them up her nose, but this was difficult to do against a white backdrop. Either way, her stepfather’s creation still worked the same.

Satisfied with how tight and sharp her lines were, Serena rolled up a one-hundred-dollar bill and sent the first one up her right nostril. It must have been bigger than she thought because she was scrunching her face tight, squeezing her eyes shut, and twitching her nose incessantly. A sensation enraptured her entire body. Shortly after the initial shock of snorting that much cocaine at once, Serena thought that may have to be the new normal amount.

She rolled her shoulders back and forth, rotated her neck side to side and front to back, and sniffled as she added more to her second line. As she was finishing making it look picture-perfect, Charlotte barged into the bathroom without any warning.

“Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here,” Charlotte said.

Serena stood there in silence and examined Charlotte, noticing her grandfather’s guest still hadn’t cleaned off the residue under her nose.

Serena’s stoic, ultra-focused disposition made Charlotte uneasy until she observed the rolled-up Benjamin Franklin in her hand.

Charlotte asked, “Do you mind?” and revealed a vial.

“Not at all. Come in and close that door.”

Charlotte set her dirty martini down and pressed the door closed. Sure to lock it.

“Where’s Grandpa?”

“Oh, he is taking a business call in his quarters down below.”

How accustomed Charlotte appeared with the ins and outs of Gabriela slightly irked Serena. “I see.”

“And your mother?” Charlotte asked after gulping some of her drink and carefully placing two lines on the bathroom countertop, ensuring they were the same length and sharp at the ends.

“Momma’s in her own world on the front deck getting some sun. She didn’t even notice I left.”

Charlotte had to hide her puzzlement at this. Here Serena was just a few years younger than herself, and she was talking like a child bragging about getting away with sneaking out of her house in the middle of the night.

“Oh, okay, good. Gives us plenty of time to do what we need to do then, yeah?” Charlotte gave her a tight smile, pinned her hair behind her ears, and bent over to inhale the two lines she had laid out.

Serena found it impressive she could rack both lines back-to-back with no hesitation.

With her eyes shut tight and face scrunched up, Charlotte said, “Holy motherfuck. That is some of the best I’ve ever had. Oh my God. Wow. That’s amazing. Do you want to try some? I have enough for four more.”

Serena stared at her in admiration. “Yes.”

Charlotte released a nervous chuckle. “Okay, great.”

As she was lining them up, she said, “So Serena, what do you do?”

“Uh, what do you mean?”

Charlotte’s eyes darted up to her. “Like what do you do for work, you know?”

“Oh. Uh, my grandfather works, so we don’t have to.”

Concealing her judgment was difficult, but Charlotte managed. “Ah, got it.”

“Why do you ask?”

“I—I’m—I was just curious. That’s all.”

“I ride my horse Lady every morning.”

“That must be fun,” Charlotte said. Her interest in Serena waned.

“It is. Maybe you can join me one time. What do you do?”

“I am an art dealer, and when I’m not doing that, I find myself rich men to use.”

Charlotte lifted her head and winked.

This flabbergasted Serena. “Wha—what do you mean?”

Charlotte paused but didn’t look up. “Exactly what I said. I deal art and hang out with rich men.”

“Well, don’t use my grandpa. He probably really likes you.”

Charlotte grinned as she finished sharpening the fourth line. She stood up and said, “Oh honey. He and I have an arrangement that works for both of us. Believe me.”

Charlotte grabbed her breasts and gave them a healthy squeeze. If what Serena was thinking was true, she was going to be incredibly disappointed in her grandfather for associating himself with a woman like Charlotte.

“Alright, you pretty young thing, the floor is yours.”

Serena tightened her rolled-up bill and pressed it to the countertop. Within seconds her entire face and head were numb.

Bakersfield, California

Lauren was dressing in the corner of Rodrigo’s bedroom while he sat against the headboard with a mirror on his lap, chopping up more lines. Despite just having Lauren, who was young, voluptuous, and full of life in the bedroom, he couldn’t stop thinking about getting back to the East Coast to see his most recent addition.

Most of his mistresses were like Lauren: dumb, misguided, dependent, and lacked confidence. But Charlotte was different. She didn’t need him. She simply enjoyed doing his blow and then fuckin’ him all day and night. Sure, she appreciated being taken out to nice dinners and clubs in Manhattan when he was in town, but she never asked him for extra money and recognized their arrangement for what it was.

“So when do I get to see you next?” Lauren asked while she smoothed out her wrinkled blouse.

In another life, Rodrigo would have finished up the last of his blow and smacked the mirror against Lauren’s face until she no longer had one. But times had changed. Rodrigo was a “family man” who had to tread more carefully. He could no longer lash out when he felt his rage fuming. Most of his outbursts were verbal now.

“Why the fuck are you always asking me so many questions? I always say I will see you when I fuckin’ see you. I keep you fed and keep you high. Most other girls in your fuckin’ situation would be more than happy with that.”

Lauren felt so stupid for pissing him off. She knew what he said was true, and she would be a fool to mess up their relationship. Rodrigo was the most dependable person in her life.

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“I know I am. Manny and David are in the main room waiting to take you home.”

Lauren stood there awkwardly without saying a word. Rodrigo knew what she wanted.

“Take this bag and get out of here.” He grabbed a bag on his nightstand and tossed it her way. She accepted it graciously and blew him a kiss. Rodrigo barely acknowledged it.

Once Lauren exited his bedroom, he sent a FaceTime to Charlotte. He wanted to tell her he was planning on going to New York soon. Of course, he would tell her he had business there because he couldn’t have her thinking she was that important. 

To his disappointment, she ignored the FaceTime request immediately. She texted him shortly after saying, “Can’t talk now. What’s up?”

“May have to come to New York in the next couple of days or maybe tonight. Gonna be around?”

“Probably not until next week. I’m traveling but let me know when u go because I would love to get more of what you brought me last time. And of course, the nose candy”

Rodrigo smirked at her sexual innuendo.

“I’ll bring plenty of both. Where are you traveling?”

If it was anyone else, he wouldn’t have cared, but Charlotte was different.

He racked three lines before he received a response.

“Anywhere and everywhere. Keep me posted on NY”

Her vagueness made him curious and jealous.

To his disappointment, her livelihood didn’t depend on him and his blow. She had a life of her own, and so did Rodrigo, one he was planning to get back to that night.

Montecito, California

Adan spent the early portion of the afternoon hauling hay from the delivery truck to the storage room in the stables. Lady was the only horse the Cortezes had, yet they bought enough hay to feed every horse in Santa Barbara County. For someone like Adan, who grew up with nothing in Porterville, California, a little town seventy miles south of Fresno, the Cortezes’ consumption was baffling. Being raised by two immigrants who made every penny count, Adan valued the dollar and refused to be wasteful. His parents also ingrained in him to never turn down work because he couldn’t be certain when the next opportunity would present itself.

That is why he did not hesitate to say yes when Seaford Gordeaux offered him an extra $5K a month to keep an eye on Rodrigo Cortez, a few years ago.

In the beginning, he was unclear as to what Seaford wanted him to accomplish, “But Mr. Gordeaux, what do you want me to do?”

“Just pay closer attention to him, see how he treats my daughter and granddaughter and who he brings around the property. You don’t have to do anything too crazy. I just need you to be my eyes and ears over here, little Adan,” the old man had told him.

Adan took his side hustle seriously. He made it a point to develop a relationship with Rodrigo. Adan would ask him about his work as a real estate investor, pretending to be in awe of his success, but found it curious Rodrigo was never inclined to elaborate on the details, despite welcoming the attention. The ranch hand pried as much as he could without raising Rodrigo’s suspicions, but he never extracted anything notable. Seaford required bi-weekly updates, and as much as Adan wanted to provide the old man with something worthy, he never had anything.

“That’s okay, little Adan. Just keep an eye on him. Something will eventually come up. Just always remember to keep our little arrangement a secret, understand?” Seaford would always tell him.

After loading the hay into the stables’ storage room, Adan headed over to the kennel to check on the four German shepherds, formerly police dogs, the Cortezes’ employed as part of their security team. All of them had black faces with patches of brown scattered throughout their coats. Their lanky bodies evinced their athleticism, highlighted by the perfect angle their back and legs descended from the rest of their body.

As he neared the kennel, all four of them sat at the fence looking regal as ever, waiting for their caretaker to check on their water and clean their living space. Adan unlocked the gate and greeted the dogs, accepting licks and scratching their ears before getting to work. When he went to check on their water supply in the inside portion of the enclosure, he heard an angry voice berating someone on the opposite side of where he entered the kennel. 

Rodrigo.

“I told you motherfuckers, ain’t nobody getting my cut of this shit. You fuckin’ hear me? Vegas is mine, and that’s that. End of fuckin’ discussion.”

Adan had never heard him this infuriated before.

“No, no. That isn’t how this shit works. You fuckin’ hear me? I pay you, and I make the decisions. And if I say Vegas is my turf, Vegas is my turf. Suggest giving it up again, and I’ll fuckin’ find your daughter and snap her neck in half. Alright?”

Adan finally had something noteworthy to report to Seaford. 

After refilling the dogs’ water bowls and cleaning the dog run, Adan sat down and allowed them to encircle him to give and get some more love.

That’s when Rodrigo barged inside through the door across from the one Adan entered from.

“You motherfuckers ready for a—”

Usually mettlesome, the German shepherds immediately cowered and pinned their ears back. A couple of them even clasped their tails between their legs. Adan observed this but stood up to address his superior. As he did, the dogs shielded themselves behind him.

“Hi, Mr. Cortez. I didn’t know you were back, sir. How was your trip?”

Adan could not recall Rodrigo ever looking so disheveled. He had deep bags under his bloodshot eyes, his hair was unkempt, and his shirt was coming untucked. Even his Allen Edmonds had scuff marks on the toes.

“Oh, Adan. What are you doing here?”

“I finished my work in the stables, so I wanted to make sure the dogs were doing okay. How was your trip?”

“Yeah, yeah, it was good. Got a lot of shit done, you know?”

As Rodrigo was stumbling over his words, Adan noticed he was doing his best to conceal a baton-like object behind his back. Now he understood why the dogs were so frightened.

“That’s good to hear. Okay, well, I’m going to finish up here and then clean Lady. You should get some rest, Mr. Cortez. Mrs. Cortez and Serena will be home soon.”

“Where are they?”

“They took out Gabriela with Mr. Gordeaux.”

Rodrigo rolled his eyes. “Alright. I’ll be seeing you, Adan.”

He backed out of the kennel hiding whatever he was going to beat the dogs with.

“Okay, Mr. Cortez.”

Adan needed to contact Seaford.

Read the rest of Impoverished Wealth: Serena Cortez.