Read The Cartel Online

Authors: Don Winslow

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Animals, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Thrillers

The Cartel (38 page)

“No one’s talking about anything like that, Sondra.”

“Is it true? Did he do it?”

“It looks like it.”

She starts sobbing again.
“How could he? He’s a good boy. I don’t understand!”

I do, Adán thinks. He’s arrogant and young and thinks the world belongs to him, including any woman he wants. His father was the same way. And some of this is my fault. I should have known better. I should never have brought him into the business. “Sondra? That’s his lawyer on the other line. I’d better go.”

“Please, Adán. Please. Don’t hurt him. Help him. Anything, I’ll do anything. You can have all the money back, the house…”

“I’ll call you,” Adán says, “when I know something.”

He clicks off and looks at Nacho. “I’m open to ideas.”

Nacho has one.

Aguilar’s phone rings. He listens for a moment, clicks off, and asks Keller, “Do you know an American lawyer named Tompkins?”

“ ‘Minimum Ben’?”

Keller hasn’t been to San Diego in years.

He grew up here, in Barrio Logan, until he worked up the nerve one day to march into his estranged father’s office downtown and demand money to go to college. He went off to UCLA, where he met Althea, and then it was Vietnam and CIA, and then DEA—Sinaloa and then Guadalajara—before he came back to San Diego as the “Border Lord,” running the Southwest Task Force from his office downtown.

It’s strange to be back.

He, Aguilar, and Vera flew to Tijuana, crossed on the pedestrian bridge at San Ysidro, where Minimum Ben is waiting for them.

Keller knows Ben Tompkins well, from the old Border Lord days, when they played sheepdog and the coyote together on dozens of drug cases. Now he sits in Tompkins’s Mercedes—the two Mexicans in the back, Keller in the front passenger seat—because they don’t want to be seen and no one is going to admit that this meeting ever happened.

Tompkins starts in full Minimum Ben mode. “First thing is, Salvador Barrera gets a pass.”

“Call us when you sober up,” Keller says, opening the car door.

Tompkins leans across him and closes it. “Dome light?”

“If Salvador can give us Adán Barrera,” Aguilar says, “I would agree to a plea agreement under which Salvador would serve no more than ten years.”

“You’re asking Adán to exchange his life for Salvador’s?” Tompkins asks.

“I’m not
for anything,” Aguilar answers. “I’m perfectly happy to prosecute Salvador for a double homicide and put him away for life.
If you don’t have anything serious to offer, I’d like to get dinner.”

“What I’m about to say never leaves this car,” Tompkins says. “And if you start a CI file,
the informant.”

“Go on,” Keller says.

“I can’t give you Adán—”

“See you, Ben.”

“But I can give you the Tapia brothers.”

Shit, Keller thinks. It’s a genius move, a classic Adán manipulation. He gave up Garza to get himself out of an American prison, now he’ll give up the Tapias to get his nephew out of a Mexican one.

Tompkins starts selling. “If you look at the actual numbers, the Tapias—not Adán Barrera—are the biggest drug dealers in Mexico. That being the case, you’d be negligent in not accepting this arrangement. You’re not trading down, you’re trading

“We are talking about the senseless, brutal murders,” Aguilar insists, “of two innocent young people.”

“I understand that,” Tompkins says calmly. “On the other hand, how many have the Tapias murdered? More than two.”

Keller notices that Vera has uncharacteristically said nothing.

“We need to confer,” Aguilar says.

“Absolutely,” Tompkins answers. “Take your time, I’ll just be getting some coffee.”

He gets out of the car and crosses the street to the Don Félix Café and takes a booth by the window.

Keller feels a thrill shoot through his body.

Because he sees it now, sees it as clearly as he’s ever seen anything—the breach in Barrera’s stone wall.

Adán’s move to throw the Tapias under the bus is brilliant and ruthless. There
a rift between him and the Tapias, as Yvette feared, and he wants to take them down. Then his nephew kills two innocent people, gets caught, and Adán sees the opportunity to solve two problems in one stroke.

Classic Adán.

Usually he sees the whole chessboard, several moves in advance, but this time he doesn’t realize that he’s put himself in checkmate.

Neither does Aguilar or Vera—that if they are working for either Barrera or the Tapias, or both, they’re about to put themselves into exposed, vulnerable positions, knights moved forward too quickly.

And Adán’s carefully built protective structure—his castle—will come tumbling down.

After the castle comes the king.

But Keller pretends to put up a fight, plays the role they expect of him. “You’re going to allow Adán Barrera to manipulate your entire legal system and let his nephew walk for killing two people?”

“But you
let him walk in exchange for Adán,” Aguilar says. “We have to face facts. Salvador is not going to give up his uncle, but Tompkins didn’t come with empty hands. It’s a very serious offer—capturing the Tapias would be a major blow that would disrupt trafficking to the States for months at least and take tons of drugs off your streets.”

“Why would Adán turn on his oldest friend?” Keller asks, although he knows the answer.

“Because Salvador is family,” Vera says. “His dead brother’s son. He has three choices—swap places with him, kill him, or free him. What would you do?”

“But why the Tapias?”

“What else does he have to offer?” Vera asks. “Nacho Esparza is going to be his father-in-law. He can’t go there. The Tapias are his only choice.”

“We have two young people here,” Keller says, “slaughtered for nothing. We have two grieving families. What are we supposed to tell them? That we have a better deal, and they just need to understand?”

Aguilar says, “Diego and Alberto Tapia are murderers many times over.”

“You sound like Tompkins now.”

“Even a North American defense lawyer is right sometimes,” Aguilar says. “Like a broken clock, twice a day. I say that we should accept his offer.”

So if you are
—dirty—Keller thinks, it’s on Barrera’s side.

“If I get a vote,” Keller says, “it’s no. Check that, it’s

They look at Vera.

“Gentlemen,” he says, “we deal in the art of the possible. Removing the Tapias takes out a full third of the Sinaloa cartel, and, most importantly, Barrera’s armed wing. I would think that DEA would be delighted. I’m sorry, Arturo, but I agree that we should seize this opportunity with both hands.”

If you were on the Tapia payroll, Keller thinks, now you’ve flipped.

And now you’re fucked.

“This is wrong,” he says.

“But you’ll support it?” Aguilar asks.

Keller knows what he’s concerned about. One of the victims is an American citizen. If Keller leaked this deal, there’d be an uproar in the States, one that could potentially kill the fragile Mérida Initiative.

They need him to sign off.

Keller is silent for a few seconds and then says, “I won’t sabotage it.”

Feeding them a line and feeding them line—the hook is set so let them run with it. I’ll jerk the hook when it’s good and set.

Three hours later Salvador Barrera and his buddies walk out of jail.


The parents of David Ortega and Brooke Lauren are told that law enforcement is doing everything in its power to find their children’s killers.


July 2, 2007

Eva wears white.

A spring bride, virginal.

Lovely and traditional, she wears a mantilla veil with the white dress and a bolero jacket entwined with white baby rosebuds. Chele Tapia, as the
sewed the three ribbons onto the bride’s lingerie—yellow for food, blue for money, and red for passion.

Adán hopes that there will be passion despite the difference in their ages.

Chele had tried to talk him into the bolero garb, but he’d picked up a few pounds lately and his vanity made him reject the tight pants. Instead, he wears a guayabera shirt of the
style, with embroidered designs on the front and back, over loose drawstring trousers and sandals—traditional garb for a rural groom.

Now he stands and waits for his bride.

Eddie thinks Eva looks hotter than shit and wouldn’t mind getting himself a little of that. He half thinks about asking Esparza if he has any other daughters, but the wedding day of Adán Barrera is no time to fuck around, and Esparza takes the virginity of his daughters very seriously.

Adán is going to pop a cherry tonight.

Anyway, the wedding is a target-rich environment, more Sinaloa Tens than you can shake a dick at, at least half of them beauty queens, former or current Miss Whatevers—Miss Guava, Miss Papaya, Miss Methamphetamine…

If you can’t get laid at this wedding, Eddie thinks, you are a dickless gnome. That or you got no money—these babes are wearing more gold around their wrists and necks than old Cortés ever found in Mexico, that’s for sure.

There’s a lot of cash at this bash.

Anybody who’s anybody in the narco-world is here, and Eddie knows that his presence signals a big leap in status.

Nacho is here, of course, with the wife who produced the lovely Eva. Diego is here with his wife, Chele (showing a lot of tit, a definite MILF), his brother Alberto and his hot wife, and his brother Martín and
hot wife, an iceberg that Eddie wouldn’t mind crashing into.

Adán’s family is here, or what’s left of them.

Eddie thinks he recognizes Adán’s sister, Elena—Elena la Reina—the former
of Tijuana. Then there’s the nephew, Sal, a real hard-on, and his mom, who looks like she’s been sucking on lemons. Then you got some second-tier narcos, Eddie thinks, like me, and then there are the politicians.

The head of PAN in the state.

A PAN senator.

The mayor of the local town.

At the wedding of the most wanted man in Mexico, a man the U.S. and Mexican governments swear that they just can’t find. It’s funny, Eddie thinks—these guys are afraid to be seen at Adán Barrera’s wedding, but more afraid
to be seen.

And of course, the whole village is ringed with Diego’s guys, and Eddie’s. State cops patrol the roads in and out, and helicopters hover overhead, only moving away so the rotors don’t wash out the actual exchange of vows.

There would be even more security, Eddie knows, except that we’re relatively at peace, only at war now against the Tijuana boys, who aren’t about to come down here to take a shot at Adán under these circumstances.

Peace is good, Eddie thinks, even if it meant playing kissy-face with those Zeta cocksuckers. But for the time being, it’s nice not to have your head on a swivel, although it takes a little getting used to. Nice not to have to worry about a bullet or a grenade, or ending up

And nice to be making money again.

Nice to be sitting next to a hot woman, a genuine Sinaloa Ten, even if he’s here as Adán’s beard.

Magda Beltrán thinks that Eva Esparza looks pretty, too.

The tight-twatted little bitch.

That’s not fair, Magda thinks. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice, sweet little girl, and, in all honesty, exactly what Adán needs at this moment. But still, a woman can’t help but feel a

Clever move, she has to admit, Adán bringing Nacho into the family. Peace breaks out and the king settles down to the business of getting a queen and cranking out some princes.

Your basic fairy-tale ending.

Real Walt Disney.

All we need are cartoon birds singing.

Then again, Adán always gets what he wants. He wanted Nuevo Laredo and he got Nuevo Laredo. Now he has a secure port through which to ship the cocaine she arranged for him—independent of Diego or his new father-in-law—and free of the burdensome
which he can now charge others.

And slowly, quietly, with Magda’s help, Adán has been recruiting his own force, independent of both Nacho’s and Diego’s. The Gente Nueva—the “New People”—mostly former and current federal police—owe their allegiance only to Adán.

So he has his own cocaine supply and his own armed force.

He has Laredo, and Nacho is gaining ground in Tijuana, now connected to Adán again by family.

“How’s your little virgin?” Magda asked Adán the last time she saw him, to go over some cost and pricing issues.

“She’s my fiancée now.”

“But still a virgin?” Magda asked. “Yes? No? Never mind—a gentleman doesn’t tell. But you know Nacho will be watching for bloodstained sheets to be draped out the window.”

Adán ignored the jibe. “My marriage doesn’t need to change anything between you and me.”

“Does your little virgin know this?” Magda asked.

“Her name is Eva.”

“I know her name.” After a while, she asked, “Do you love her?”

“She’ll be the mother of my children.”

“Mexican women.” Magda sighed. “We’re either virgins, madonnas, or whores. There are no other choices.”

“Mistress?” Adán suggested. “Business partner? Friend? Adviser? Choose any. My preference is you choose all.”

“Maybe,” Magda said. His business partner she certainly is. As for the rest, she’s not sure. She is sure that she wants to extract more of a price. “I want to be invited to the wedding.”

It was fun to see Adán taken aback, if only for a moment.

“You don’t think that would be awkward?” he asked.

“Not if you find me an acceptable escort.”

So now Magda sits with this handsome young North American, who is very sweet and attentive but has a wandering eye for every attractive woman at the wedding, of whom there are many. She’s not offended—he assumes that, as Adán’s woman, she’s out of bounds. It would serve Adán right if she slept with him. Maybe she will, but probably not. Magda can’t help teasing him a little. “I’ve heard you have a nickname.”

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