The Cartel (37 page)

“A good question,” Aguilar says, “because I would hate to think that you’re violating our working agreement.”

“He could violate my sister if it would get us Barrera,” Vera says.

“That’s very nice,” Aguilar says. “Thank you.”

“So what should I tell Washington?” Keller asks. “That you
don’t
want to take this shot at Barrera?”

“Well, there’s a shot across the bow,” Vera says. “Did someone say, ‘Mérida Initiative’?”

Aguilar asks, “What does Washington know about this?”

“Nothing from me,” Keller says, “but I’m sure EPIC has picked up soundings. And if you want satellite runs, I have to tell them something.”

“Tell them,” Aguilar says, “that it’s an internal Mexican matter.”

“It’s not an internal matter if they’re sending us a billion-plus dollars in weaponry, aircraft, and surveillance technology,” Vera says. “If we’re allies, we’re allies.”


If
we were to move against Barrera in this situation,” Aguilar says—“and again, I remain opposed—we would have to get clearance from the very highest levels.”

Which is as good as killing it, Keller thinks.

But instructive.

“Top secret” consultations take place involving the Mexican attorney general’s office, the interior secretary, and a representative from Los Pinos, as well as the DEA chief and the American Justice Department.

The decision comes back down—SEIDO and DEA should make every effort to locate the time and place of Barrera’s wedding, but it should be considered strictly an “intelligence opportunity” and not an “operational mandate.”

Barrera’s right, Keller thinks.

He’s untouchable.

Keller has long believed that you have to be lucky to be good, but not good to be lucky.

But sometimes luck just rolls your way.

It’s nothing you did, nothing you didn’t do, and it can come from the most unexpected places.

Now luck rolls the other way.

From the unlikeliest of sources.


Sal Barrera is clubbing at Bali.

Not as cool as clubbing
in
Bali, but it is the coolest disco in Zapopan, and he and his buddies were ushered into the VIP section because they’re
buchones
—Sal is Adán Barrera’s nephew, of course, César is the son of Nacho Esparza’s latest mistress, and Edgar’s father is a big shot in Esparza’s organization.

So they sit in the raised center of the club, which is decorated in Indonesian style, and scope out the talent around them.

“A little sparse tonight,” César says. He’s a good-looking dude—slim, with wavy black hair, and well dressed in a black Perry Ellis shirt over custom jeans.

“It only takes one,” Sal answers, scanning the lower level where the plebes are. Sal is dressed to score, too—silk batik shirt, white jeans, Bruno Magli loafers. He’s there to get his knob polished, at the very least. Figures he needs the release, because Nacho’s been working him like a burro.

Adán was as good as his word—Sal finished his degree, and then went to his uncle.

“You’ve done everything that I’ve asked,” Adán said.

“I gave you my word,” Sal said.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed,” Adán said. “So I want you to serve as an apprentice to Nacho Esparza for one year. As such, you’ll be present at important meetings and privy to the family’s business. If that goes well, as I expect it will, I’ll bring you in as my second in command here in Sinaloa. Be a sponge, soak up everything that Nacho has to teach you.”

Sal blushed with the unexpected news.
“Sí, patrón.”

“ ‘Tío,’ ”
Adán corrected. “I’m your uncle.”

“Sí, Tío.”

“To get you started,” Adán said, “I’m giving you five kilos of cocaine. Market it through Nacho. He’ll help you make a good profit and set yourself up in business. “

“Thank you,
Tío.

“Sobrino,”
Adán said, “the days ahead are going to be interesting…and dangerous…I’m going to rely increasingly on family. Do you understand? On
family.

“I’m honored, Tío Adán.”

“Well, don’t be
too
honored,” Adán said, “until you see what it entails.”

It’s been a revelation to Sal how boring the drug business is. Yeah, there’s the women, the money, the parties, the clubs, but at the heart of it are numbers.

Endless columns of numbers.

And not just the money coming in, but the money going out, which Nacho keeps a sharp eye on. The price of precursor chemicals, shipping costs, dock handling charges, equipment, transportation, labor, security…it goes on and on.

Sal spends most of his time double-checking figures that some worker bee has already checked, but when he objects to the redundancy of this “busy work,” Nacho tells him that he’s learning the business, and the business is numbers.

Then there are the meetings.

Holy fuck, the
meetings.

Everyone has to sit down, everyone has to be given coffee or a beer, everyone has to be fed. Then everyone has to talk about their families, their kids, their kids’ kids, their prostate problems…then they finally get to the tedious details. They want a lower
piso,
they want someone to pay them a higher
piso,
so-and-so is overpaying the truck drivers and fucking up the market for everyone else, some chemist in Apatzingán is fucking with the meth recipe…

It goes on and on until Sal wants to swallow his gun.

At least he has that.

At least Nacho lets him carry and feel like a narco instead of an accountant, and Sal has a Beretta 8000 Cougar tucked into the waistband of his jeans.

All the
buchones
carry—a piece on the hip is as mandatory an accessory as the gold chains around your neck. You just aren’t a
buchón
without the
pistola.
You might as well not have a dick.

He scans the crowd and then sees this babe sitting at a table, sipping on some fruity drink.

She’s with two guys.

No
problem
—the guys look like jerks, cheaply dressed, no style at all. And neither of them is Salvador Barrera.

“I’m going in,” he says to César.

“She’s with somebody.”

“She’s with nobodies,” Sal answers. He pours a glass of champagne from the complimentary bar, descends to the floor, and walks up to the girl’s table.

“I thought you might like a
good
drink,” he says. “Cristal.”

“I’m good,” she says.

“I’m Sal.”

“Brooke.”

“What a nice name,” Sal says, ignoring the two guys sitting there like crash test dummies. They look annoyed, a little bewildered, a little scared. They’re both Mexicans, they know what’s what. “Where are you from, Brooke?”

“L.A.,” she says. “Well, Pasadena.
South
Pasadena.”

She’s pretty. Blue eyes, honey hair, turned-up nose, nice rack under a white blouse.

“What brings you to Mexico?” Sal asks. “Spring break?”

She shakes her head. “I’m a student at UAG.”

Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, right here in Zapopan.

“A student. What do you study?”

“Pre-med.”

Now
she’s
looking a little nervous, like this guy is hitting on her, right in front of her friends, so Sal moves to close the deal. “How would you like to come up to the VIP section? It’s better.”

“I’m with friends,” she says. “We’re celebrating David’s birthday.”


Feliz Navidad,
David,” Sal says to the jerk she points out. “Listen, you all three can come. It’s cool.”

They look at each other, like, what do you think? But Sal sees that David isn’t having it. Jesus, is this plebe tapping that? Unbelievable. But she’s looking at David, and he just slightly shakes his head, so Brooke looks up at Sal and says, “Thanks, but…you know…we’re just having a little birthday party here. But thanks.”

It pisses Sal off. “Well, how about a little later? I mean,
after
you shake these losers.”

David makes a mistake.

He gets up. “The lady said no.”

“Is that what the lady said?” Sal asks. “What are you, a tough guy?”

“No.” His voice shakes a little, but he stands there in Sal’s face. “Why don’t you leave us alone and go back to the VIP section?”

“You going to tell me what to do now?” Sal asks.

“Please,” Brooke says.

Sal smiles at her. “You know, you must be a
dumb
cunt, you can’t get into pre-med in the States. It’s okay, I’ll still fuck you until you scream my name and come on my dick.”

David shoves him.

Sal takes a swing and then bouncers are there, squeezing between them, and César and Edgar pull him back.


Big
mistake, birthday boy,” Sal says to David.

Edgar’s big and he gets his arms under Sal’s and hauls him away, toward the door. “Come on,
’mano.
This
chiflada
isn’t worth it.”

They wrangle him out the door. On the sidewalk, Sal says, “This isn’t over.”

“Yes it is,” Edgar says. “Nacho—”

“Fuck Nacho.” They get into Sal’s red BMW, but Sal won’t leave. “We
wait.

“Come on, man,” César says.

“You want to go, go.”

“You’re my ride.”

So they sit and wait, and instead of Sal cooling off, he gets hotter and hotter. By closing time, 4:00 a.m., he is seething.

“Here they come,” Edgar says.

Brooke, David, and her other friend come out of the club, walk into the parking lot, and get into an old Ford pickup truck.

“He’s a
farmer,
” Sal sneers.

“You’d better get over there, you’re going to mess him up,” Edgar says.

“Fuck that.” Sal starts the car and follows the truck. It pulls onto the highway and Sal hits the gas, coming right up on the truck’s bumper. The truck speeds up but the truck isn’t going to outrun a BMW.

Sal laughs. “Now this is fun!”

He pulls up alongside the truck.

They’re doing about eighty now.

“Let’s fuck them up,” Sal says.

“Come on,
’mano,
” César answers. “It’s enough. Let it go now.”

“Can’t let it go,” Sal answers. “You think we can let people disrespect us in public like that?! Let it get around that we did nothing, and we’re
pajearses,
jerkoffs.”

He pulls his Beretta out and rolls the windows down. “You with me? Or are you pussies?”

They take out their guns.

“Duck,” Sal says to César.

Then he opens up.

So do César and Edgar.

They put twenty shots into the truck before it rolls over into the ditch.

David and Brooke are both dead.

The other friend, Pascal, is badly hurt, but still alive.

He IDs the three shooters to a Jalisco state cop smart enough to know what he has and honest enough to know what he should do. The detective phones SEIDO and holds until Luis Aguilar himself comes on the line.

“We have Salvador Barrera in custody,” he tells Aguilar.

“On what?” Aguilar asks, assuming it’s a drug charge.

It’s not.

“A double homicide,” the Jalisco cop says.


Sal Barrera has that
me vale madre
attitude, but Keller can see that he’s scared.

For good reason.

The Jalisco police have witnesses to the fight, and the third victim can identify the shooters. Sal dropped the gun out of the car but it has his prints and matches eight of the shots. And the paraffin test came up positive.

Sal’s fucked.

Aguilar and Keller got on a SEIDO plane right away and flew to Guadalajara. Now Keller watches through the glass as Aguilar interviews Sal.

“I want my lawyer,” Sal says.

“A lawyer is the last thing you want,” Aguilar answers. He reviews all the evidence against him. “You killed a rich blond girl from California, Salvador. You’re not going to walk away from that, I don’t care who your uncle is. Let me help you.”

“How can you help me?”

“We can make a deal for lesser charges,” Aguilar says. “Maybe you do ten years instead of twenty. You’re still a young man when you get out.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Give us your uncle,” Aguilar says.

Sal shakes his head.

“He’s getting married, isn’t he?” Aguilar asks. “To Eva Esparza. We can pick him up when he leaves the wedding. No one ever needs to know it was you.”

“He’ll know. He’ll kill me.”

Aguilar leans across the table. “He’ll kill you anyway. You’ve put him in a very difficult position. If he even
suspects
that you might roll over, he might be tempted to…eliminate that possibility. We can’t protect you forever. I can, however, get you extradited to the United States.”

Sal asks, “You think my uncle couldn’t have me killed in the States?”

“Then help me get him,” Aguilar presses. “Save your life.”

Sal shakes his head again and stares at the floor.

“Think about it. But don’t take too long.” Aguilar gets up and comes into the observation room. “So?”

“I think he’s Raúl’s son,” Keller says. “He stonewalls.”

“Do you really believe that Barrera would have him killed?” Aguilar asks. “Just on the chance that he
might
talk?”

“Don’t you?” Keller asks.


Nacho stands in Adán’s study, looking chagrined.

“You were supposed to be looking out for him!” Adán yells. “Teaching him!”

“I was. He was doing well.”

“You call this ‘well’?!” Adán yells. He takes a moment to collect himself, and then asks, “What can he give them?”

“A lot,” Nacho answers. “You said to bring him into the business, educate him. I did.”

“Shit.”

“And he knows
this
place, Adán,” Nacho says. “He could bring them right here. You’ll have to go on the run again.”

“May I remind you that I’m marrying your daughter in a week?” Adán asks. The phone rings and Adán checks the caller ID. “God damn it.”

He hesitates, but picks it up.

Sondra is sobbing.
“Don’t kill him, Adán! He’s my son! I’m begging you, don’t kill him!”

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