The Cartel (40 page)

“Magda…”

“Don’t be so selfish,” Magda says as she unzips him. “I’m only thinking of her.”

“You’re very considerate.”

“Besides,” Magda says, “when she’s all fat, splotchy, and bitchy, you’ll remember that you have
this
to come to. Just don’t get anything on my dress, do you hear, there are appearances to keep up.”

Magda brings him to the point of climax and then stops.

“On second thought,” she says, getting up, “disappoint her.”

“Magda!”

“Oh, come here. Do you think I’d really leave you like this?”

She finishes him, then feels melancholy.

It could have been me, Magda thinks. It might have been nice, maybe, settling into a life of domesticity with him, allowing myself a few extra pounds around the hips and watching my babies scuttle around at my feet.

Be happy with what you have, she tells herself.

It wasn’t that long ago you were thrilled with a blanket.

And now you’re rich, and soon you’ll be richer, independent of any man, including Adán. You can have other men, and fuck him when he comes around, and have your own house and make your own money.

You’re a
narca,
a
chingona.

Your own woman.

Magda knows that they’re already calling Adán’s bride “Queen Eva I.” The more culturally aware have dubbed her “Evita” (Don’t cry for me, Sinaloa). She also knows what they’re calling
her.

La Reina Amante.

The Queen Mistress.

There are worse things.


The meal was fantastic—chicken and pork dishes, potatoes and rice,
tres leches
and almond cakes, champagne, wine, and beer—and now the wedding party gathers to see the bride and groom off on their honeymoon.

Diego comes up to Eddie. “We’ll be leaving soon.”

“You headed back to Monterrey?”

“No,” Diego says, “we’re going to spend the night in the Badiraguato house. Come over if you want.”

“I’m going to stay for
la tona borda,
” Eddie says. “Too much pussy here to bail out now when they’re all drunk.”

He’s had his eye on one of the bridesmaids, and then there’s La Reina Amante. Christ, sitting next to her…

“Be careful what and who you do,” Diego says. “You’re in the country now. These old hillbillies will shoot your ass. And
not
El Patrón’s woman, either.”

“He just got married, for Chrissakes.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Diego warns him.

Adán and Eva come out and walk to the helicopter waiting to take them to their honeymoon at an undisclosed location. They walk through the line of guests, shaking hands and kissing cheeks.

Adán comes up to Diego.

“Thank you,
primo,
” Adán says, kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you for everything.”

“You’re welcome,
primo.

It makes Diego feel better.

That Adán appreciates him.


They honeymoon at a house Adán owns in Cabo.

Adán had thought about Europe, but there are Interpol warrants in almost every country.

Mexico is his prison.

That’s all right; everything he wants is here.

When they arrive at the house overlooking the Pacific, Eva excuses herself and goes into the bathroom. She comes out half an hour later in a blue negligee that sets off her eyes.

It’s far more revealing than he thought it would be. Her hair hangs long and loose over her bare shoulders. Lovely, she presents herself to him but looks down at the polished parquet floor.

Adán walks over and lifts her chin.

“I want to make you happy,” Eva says.

“You will,” Adán says. “You do.”

They’re both shy in bed; she from youth, he from age. He spends a long time touching her, stroking her, kissing her cheeks, her neck, her breasts, her stomach. Her eighteen-year-old body responds easily despite her nerves, and when he feels she’s ready he takes her, silently thanking Magda for her earlier ministrations as Eva bucks upward beneath him. Her energy can’t trump Magda’s experience, but he’s grateful for it.

She’s springtime to his autumn.


This is some weird shit, Eddie thinks as he watches Diego kneel in front of the statue of a skeleton in a purple robe, with human hair braided into her skull. She holds a globe in one hand and a scythe in the other.

Santa Muerte.

The Saint of Death.

The lady has a lot of names: La Flaquita—“the Skinny One”; La Niña Blanca—“the White Girl”; La Dama Poderosa—“the Powerful Lady.” She sure as shit looks powerful now, Eddie thinks as Diego rubs goat blood (Jesus, Eddie
hopes
it’s goat’s blood) onto the statue’s face.

They’re in a back room of Diego’s safe house in Badiraguato, and Eddie has just come back from the after-wedding party. He’s fucked out, sleepy, but hungry as he watches Diego take a deep drag on a blunt and then blow the smoke into the Skinny Lady’s face. He’s already placed gifts at the little altar he had built in the house, like he has in all his houses now—candy, cigarettes, flowers, fresh fruit, incense, a fifth of single-malt scotch, cocaine, and cash.

This skinny bitch, Eddie thinks, makes out better than Diego’s actual
segunderas.

Now Diego lights a gold candle.

“For wealth,” Diego explains.

Yeah, well,
that’s
working, anyway, Eddie thinks. Diego has more money than God. The rumor is that he has more money than Adán Barrera, which can’t make AB happy. And Diego’s picked up a new
aporto
in certain circles—El Jefe de Jefes—the Boss of Bosses, which won’t sit well in La Tuna either.

Diego lights another candle.

Black.

Like you buy at Party City for Halloween, Eddie thinks.

If you’re a dweeb.

But he listens as Diego places the black candle on the altar and prays to Santa Muerte for revenge against his enemies and to protect his drug shipments. Maybe he should get more than one candle, Eddie thinks. He’s hoping they’re done, but Diego picks up a white candle.

“Protection,” he says.

“Yeah, great.”

Diego could use some protection, because he looks like pounded shit. El Jefe’s doing blow, no question about it. Diego mumbles another prayer, then gets up and they walk into the living room.

“Adán called earlier,” Diego says.

“What for?”

“Let me know he got into Cabo all right.”

This gets Eddie’s radar going. Barrera’s usually all business, not your “shoot the shit” kind of guy. He’s one of those geeks, when he calls you, you think he’s reading from a four-by-six file card with an agenda on it.

He don’t like that AB supposedly gets on the horn to chat like some housewife with a half hour to kill before her yoga class. And he don’t like that Diego Tapia, who used to be so freaking sharp, seems indifferent and bored.

Diego used to have all the answers. Now he don’t even know the questions. La Dama Poderosa, my ass.

“Hey, Diego?” Eddie says. “Let’s get out of here.”

“What for?”

“I dunno, man,” Eddie says. “Get some air, some grub. I could use me some breakfast burrito action.”

“It’s two in the morning.”

“So?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“I am,” Eddie says. “Come on.”


Alberto Tapia is coming home from his
segundara
’s condo. Thought he’d use the occasion of the wedding to hook up.

His Navigator is full.

A driver and two other security guys. You want security when you’re driving around at two in the morning carrying two suitcases with $950,000 in U.S. cash, and another case with a hundred grand worth of luxury watches.

Alberto likes his Rolexes and Pateks.

Maybe that’s why he has an AK-47 across his lap. Wouldn’t think you’d need it in Badiraguato, which is Sinaloa cartel country, but paranoia is not such a bad thing in his business. He also has his diamond-encrusted .45 holstered on his hip, the jewels spelling out the legend “Live Free” in Spanish. He’s a little sleepy, though, after a long hard night of fucking. So he has his eyes closed and his head leaned back when the shit happens.

Four SUVs roar in from all directions and block the road. Alberto wakes up and flips his AK to full automatic, then hears,
“Federal police! Come out of the vehicle with your hands on your head!”

Federales
rousting him in
Sinaloa
? This has to be some sort of joke, or this
bola de idiotas pendejos
didn’t get the word, and Alberto starts to get out of the car to tell them so when one of the security guys says, “What if they’re Solorzano’s people?”

Because it’s possible, it’s been done before—shooters dressed in AFI uniforms. Alberto sees a lot of rifle barrels sticking out at him from those cars, and then he hears,
“Come out now!”

Rolling down the window, Alberto resorts to a line usually associated with Hollywood starlets who can’t get a lunch table: “Do you know who I am?!”

“Step out of the vehicle!”

“I’m Alberto Tapia!” Like, you know how much food I put on your tables?

“We’re not going to warn you again!”

Yeah, and I’m not going to warn
you
again. “You’d better talk to your boss and ask him—”

The bullet takes him squarely in the forehead.

A barrage quickly follows, after which all that remain intact in the Navigator are two suitcases full of cash and a case of expensive watches.

Still ticking.


Eddie watches the cars race up to the safe house.

AFI troopers jump out and move toward the house in military formation, rifles to their shoulders. He’s seen this on TV, when they took Contreras down in Matamoros.

Diego is staring, wide-eyed for a nice change.

“Madre mía,”
he says.

No shit, your mama, Eddie thinks. He tosses his burrito wrapper in the trash can and says, “We’d better get out of here.”

He walks Diego away from the sidewalk café. Luckily, the
federales
are focused on this house. Eddie hears them shout,
“Diego Tapia! You’re surrounded! Come out with your hands on your head!”

Eddie’s a block away when Diego says, “You see? La Niña Blanca protected me.”

Yeah, Eddie thinks.

It was that white candle.

No question.


Adán waits by the phone.

When it finally rings, he wishes it hadn’t.

Alberto and three of his men are dead. Adán’s furious—he had specifically ordered there was to be no killing, and now Alberto’s dead? Diego’s
brother
is dead?

He waits for the next call.

It comes quickly.

If the first call was a disaster, the second is catastrophic.

The
federales
missed Diego. They raided four safe houses and didn’t find him. How could those
fugeda
idiots miss him? And now Diego Tapia is out there—grieving, outraged, and most likely insane for revenge.

Which he
will
get.

Adán goes into damage control.

“We have to find him,” he tells Nacho over the phone.

Even Nacho sounds shaken up. “He’s in the wind, Adán.”

“Find him.”

As it turns out, they don’t have to find Diego. He phones Adán.
“Alberto’s dead. Those bastards turned on us. They killed Alberto.”

He’s weeping.

“Diego, where are you?”

“They killed Alberto.”

“We have to get you somewhere safe,” Adán says. “Tell me where you are. I’ll send people.”

It’s a terrible risk, Adán thinks. Diego has people, more than enough people to move him, hide him, protect him, and if he were thinking clearly, he’d know that I know that and be suspicious of the offer.

“I want them dead,”
Diego says.
“All of them. Dead.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m safe, primo. But I want to die.”

“Don’t do anything crazy, Diego.”

“I want them dead.”

Diego clicks off.


Keller gets a phone call at his desk from Aguilar.
“It’s a mess. Totally botched. Gerardo is beside himself.”

It’s a debacle, Aguilar goes on. Alberto Tapia is dead, Diego and Martín in the wind…The botched arrests are a shame…justice for two families tossed away…it’s sickening…

It’s working, Keller thinks as he clicks off.

This “debacle” is a keg of dynamite with a short fuse, sitting under Adán, the Tapias, the Mexican law enforcement establishment, even Los Pinos. All it requires is a match to set it off, and it will blow up the whole system that Adán has carefully built.

Keller walks outside the building and uses his own phone to contact Yvette Tapia. “I’m calling as a friend. There’s something you need to know.”

He lights the match.

“Adán Barrera flipped on your family,” he says.


“Adán doesn’t have a brother,” Diego whines.

Dude is in bad shape, Eddie thinks—coked up, hasn’t slept since he put his baby brother in the dirt. They’re back in Monterrey, which is relatively safe, and the topic is revenge. Diego wants payback for Alberto’s death, but the problem is…well, as stated.

Alberto’s funeral was
ridiculous,
a display of hypocrisy that would have made a Louisiana televangelist blush. Adán and Queen Eva I showed up, hugged Diego, and gave the widow a fat envelope, and Diego hugged him back, pretending that he didn’t know.

That sleazy cocksucker Nacho was there, too, looking all sad and grim and sympathetic, as if he hadn’t put Barrera up to it.

All the top narcos came to pay respect, even though, truth be told, no one really liked Alberto all that much. He was a pint-sized pain in the ass—a mouthy, showy, yapping little shit like one of those mini-dogs that women like to bring to restaurants these days to aggravate everybody.

The only good thing about Alberto is his wife—his widow now—she of the hydraulically engineered rack.

She doesn’t know, Eddie thought as he watched her accept Adán’s condolences and cash. No stripper is that good an actress. The family hadn’t told her that the man handing her the envelope sold her husband out.

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