The Cartel (78 page)

Either way, it’s a matter of personal satisfaction for him.

Or it might not be shooting, it might be torture.

Slower, more satisfying.

Despite himself, Keller feels a jolt of pure terror.

Adán still wears the black business suit and the white shirt, Keller notices as Adán sits down across from him. It’s strange, to say the least, to be so close to this man he’s been hunting for over six years now. But here he is, Adán Barrera in the flesh.

“We need to talk, Arturo,” Adán says. “We’ve put this off too long.”

“Talk.”

“My daughter choked to death,” Adán says. “Did you know that?”

“If you’re going to kill me, kill me. I don’t need to sit here waiting while you justify yourself.”

“If I wanted you dead,” Adán says, “you’d already be dead. I’m not a sadist like Ochoa. I don’t need to see, participate in, or prolong your death. I asked Taylor to come so that you’d be reassured that I mean you no harm today.”

“Just so we’re clear,” Keller says, “I mean
you
harm. Today and every day.”

“The Zetas murdered one of your own,” Adán says. “You, of all people, should know how that alters the terrain. Your superiors will stop at nothing to avenge him, just as you will stop at nothing to avenge your fallen comrade. Believe me, I respect it.”

“You don’t respect anything.”

“I know what you think of me,” Adán says calmly. “I know you think that I’m evil incarnate—I think the same of you—but we both know that there are far worse demons out there.”

“The Zetas?”

“You were at San Fernando,” Adán says. “You saw what they’re capable of. Now they’ve apparently done it again.”

“And you’re telling me you care about that.”

“They killed one of my loved ones,” Adán said, “and they killed one of yours.”

“What do you want?” Keller asks. He’s sick to death of all this talk.

Adán says, “I had you brought here to propose a truce between us.”

Keller can’t believe what he’s hearing. A
truce
between them? They’ve been at war with each other for over thirty years.

“We make peace between us,” Adán continues, “to fight the Zetas.”

“I have enough hate for you
and
the Zetas.”

“I agree that you have an unlimited capacity for hatred,” Adán says. “In fact, I’m counting on it. You have ample hatred, what you don’t have enough of are resources. Neither do I.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Zetas are winning,” Adán says simply. “They’ll soon have all of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Michoacán. They’re moving in Acapulco, Guerrero, Durango, even Sinaloa. Down south they’ve sent forces into Quintana Roo and Chiapas, to protect the border with Guatemala. If they succeed in taking Guatemala, it’s over. Neither I nor you will be able to stop them. They’ll control the cocaine trade, not just in the U.S. but in Europe, too. If it gives you a personal rooting interest, they’re moving into the Juárez Valley, too. It wasn’t me who slaughtered Erika Valles, who tried to kill Dr. Cisneros. They’ll try again. Eventually they’ll succeed.”

Taylor weighs in. “The Mexican government will do anything to stop the Zetas from becoming the dominant force. They would be virtually a shadow government. But the FES combined with American intelligence is by far the strongest force fighting the Zetas. We can annihilate them.”

“What do you need me for?” Keller asks. “You already have the government on your side, apparently on both sides of the border.”

“Orduña and the FES are loyal to you personally,” Adán says. “The operation you’ve created together is tremendously effective. I don’t want to see it disrupted. Also…”

“What?”

Adán smiles ruefully. “You’re the best they have, aren’t you? Taylor can put you on the shelf and send someone else, but whoever that is would be second best, and I can’t afford second best. Neither can you, and I’m by far the best offer you have, the best ally. You hate me, but you need me. And vice versa.”

“And if I say no?” Keller asks. “I get a bullet in the neck?”

“If you reject my offer,” Adán says, “you walk away from this meeting, your organization puts you on the shelf, and it’s business as usual between us.”

“I’m not going to help you become the king of the drug world again.”

“Do you think anyone is serious about the so-called war on drugs?” Adán asks. “A few cops on the street, perhaps—some low- to middle-management crusaders like yourself, maybe—but at the top levels? Government and business?

“Serious people can’t afford to be serious about it. Especially not after 2008. After the crash, the only source of liquidity
was
drug money. If they shut us down, it would have taken the economy on the final plunge. They had to bail out General Motors, not us. And now? Think of the billions of dollars into real estate, stocks, start-up companies. Not to mention the millions of dollars generated fighting the ‘war’—weapons manufacture, aircraft, surveillance. Prison construction. You think business is going to let that stop?

“I’ll take it a step further—let me tell you why the U.S. won’t let the Zetas win—because the Zetas want the oil, because they’re interfering with new drilling—and the oil companies are never going to let that happen. ExxonMobil, BP—they’re on my side, because I won’t interfere with their business. In turn, they will not interfere with mine. Bottom line? Someone is going to sell the drugs. Now, it’s either going to be Ochoa or me, and I’m the better choice. I’ll bring peace and stability. Ochoa will bring more suffering. You know that. And you know that you need to do everything you can to bring him down, or you can’t live with yourself.”

“I’ll give it a try, though.”

Adán looks at him for several long seconds. “I’m going to have a child. Twins, and I want to raise them without being hunted. I don’t want their lives to be like mine. If you’ll end your vendetta, so will I.”

End the vendetta, Keller thinks.

After all these years.

After Tío, and Ernie.

The children on the bridge, the dead of El Sauzal.

It’s impossible.

But then there’s Córdova’s murdered family, Don Pedro Alejo de Castillo, the bodies in the mass grave at San Fernando.

Keller sees Erika’s butchered body.

Marisol’s stricken face.

Barrera is right—the Zetas failed to kill Marisol so they’ll have to try again. They won’t stop until they succeed. And there’s something else, something ugly, and he has to face it. Barrera is right about that, too—my capacity for hatred is infinite.

I want revenge.

And I’ll sell my soul to get it.

“I want them all dead,” Keller says. “Every one of them.”

“Good.”

“You have to give me your word,” Taylor says. “Your vendetta against Adán is over. Finished.”

“You have my word,” Keller says.

“On our immortal souls, on the lives of our children.” Adán offers his hand.

Keller takes it.

Why not? he thinks.

We’re all the cartel now.

“It’s a new day,” Taylor says.

They say that love conquers all.

They’re wrong, Keller thinks.

Hate
conquers all.

It even conquers hate.

The Cleansing

People don’t usually go off decapitating each other or committing mass murder just because they hate people in another group. These things happen because soul-dead political leaders are in a struggle for power and use ethnic violence as a tool in that struggle.
—David Brooks
“In the Land of Mass Graves”
The New York Times
June 19, 2014

1

Jihad

The U.S. government has in recent years fought what it termed wars against AIDS, drug abuse, poverty, illiteracy and terrorism. Each of these wars has budgets, legislation, offices, officials, letterhead—everything necessary in a bureaucracy to tell you something is real.
—Bruce Jackson Keynote address “Media and War” symposium, University of Buffalo November 17–18, 2003

Nuevo Laredo

April 2012

The bodies of fourteen Zetas, skinned, lie in the backs of garbage trucks.

The symbolism, Keller thinks, is deft.

Keller looks at the flayed corpses—Adán Barrera’s announcement that he’s back in Nuevo Laredo—and thinks that he should be feeling more than he is. Years ago he’d looked at nineteen bodies and his heart had broken, but now he feels nothing. Years ago the machine-gunning of nineteen men, women, and children was the worst atrocity he ever thought he’d see. Now he knows better.

A
narcomensaje
has been left with the bodies:
WE HAVE BEGUN TO CLEAR NUEVO LAREDO OF ZETAS BECAUSE WE WANT A FREE CITY AND SO YOU CAN LIVE IN PEACE.
WE ARE NARCOTICS TRAFFICKERS AND WE DON’T MESS WITH HONEST WORKING OR BUSINESS PEOPLE.
I’M GOING TO TEACH THESE SCUM HOW TO
WORK SINALOA STYLE

WITHOUT KIDNAPPING, WITHOUT EXTORTION. AS FOR YOU, OCHOA AND FORTY

YOU DON’T SCARE ME. DON’T FORGET THAT I’M YOUR TRUE FATHER

SINCERELY, ADÁN BARRERA
.

Keller finds the paternal language interesting.

Adán is a father again—a year ago, Eva Barrera flew up to Los Angeles and gave birth to twin sons. There was nothing that DEA or the Justice Department could do about Eva’s presence in the United States. An American citizen not wanted for any crimes, she was free to come and go as she pleased. So Eva had her children in the best facility that money could buy, rested for a few days, and then flew back to Mexico, where she “disappeared” into the hills of Sinaloa or Durango, or even into Guatemala or Argentina, depending on which rumor you preferred.

The talk is that the birth of the twins reinvigorated Adán, is perhaps even the cause of his all-out invasion of Tamaulipas. Because he needs a plaza for each son—Nuevo Laredo for one, Juárez for the other, and Tijuana to keep Nacho Esparza happy. In any case, the man who could not produce an heir now has two, named for his late uncle and brother.

Speaking of garbage, Keller thinks.

This isn’t Barrera’s first venture into “bodies as public relations.”

A few months earlier, masked gunmen blocked traffic on a major intersection in the Boca del Río section of Veracruz and dumped thirty-five naked and dismembered corpses, twelve of them women, with the
narcomensaje
NO MORE EXTORTION, NO MORE KILLINGS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE! ZETAS IN VERACRUZ AND THE POLITICIANS HELPING THEM—THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU. PEOPLE OF VERACRUZ, DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELVES TO BE EXTORTED; DO NOT PAY FOR PROTECTION. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ALL THE ZETA-FUCKS THAT CONTINUE TO OPERATE IN VERACUZ. THIS PLAZA HAS A NEW PROPRIETOR. SINCERELY, ADÁN BARRERA
.

While most of the major papers and television stations shied away from coverage,
Esta Vida
did not, posting graphic photos of the naked bodies dumped into the street like so much, well, garbage. The Zetas were almost as infuriated by the coverage as they were by the event, and threatened horrific retaliation when they found “Wild Child.”

The next day, it was discovered that the thirty-five dead probably had no connection whatsoever with the Zetas. A masked vigilante group held a press conference, apologized for the mistake, but declared that it was still at war against the Zetas.

Over the next three weeks, the vigilante group killed seventy-five more Zetas in Veracruz and Acapulco, both cities vacated by the demise of the Tapia organization and then the “disappearance” of Crazy Eddie Ruiz. The
susurro
has it that the Sinaloans are moving into Veracruz as a port of entry for the precursor chemicals they need for their expansion into methamphetamine; rumor further has it that Adán Barrera himself has been spotted in the city.

Bodies from both sides piled up, almost literally, in Durango. Eleven here, eight there, then sixty-eight in a mass grave—eventually the number rose to over three hundred.

Zetas invading Nayarit stumbled into an ambush in which Barrera
sicarios
gunned down twenty-seven of them on the highway. Almost, Keller thinks, as if the Sinaloans had been forewarned, as if they’d been handed American satellite images of the Zeta trucks moving in.

The U.S. intelligence apparatus in Mexico has expanded dramatically since the Jiménez murder. There are now over sixty DEA agents, forty ICE, twenty U.S. marshals, and dozens of FBI, Immigration and Customs, Secret Service, and TSA personnel, as well as seventy people from the State Department Narcotics Affairs Section in-country as a response to the murder of Richard Jiménez.

A lot of their “ISR”—intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—resources are routed via Keller to the FES.

Orduña’s unit has been killing Zetas, too—eighteen during a three-day battle in Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, with convoys of up to fifty vehicles full of armed Zetas bringing in reinforcements.

An FES patrol hit a Zeta training base on Falcon Lake, bordering Texas, and killed twelve. Another pitched battle was fought in Zacatecas, where more than 250 Zetas fought the FES in a five-hour running gunfight. The FES killed fifteen Zetas and arrested seventeen more. In another action, FES troopers dropped down fast-lines from helicopters and raided another Zeta camp, capturing nineteen more.

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