The Cartel (82 page)

Now it will either work or not.

The tail follows Rolando to the tenement building, where he knocks on the door, waits a few seconds, and then is let in. CNI, the Central Nacional de Inteligencia, Spain’s CIA, has had the place under surveillance as a known location for the Tehrik-i-Taliban, a loose affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Keller sits and listens to the audio feed. So do the FBI guys, whose ears have really pricked up now. They know what this could mean—that they’re about to lose the Rolando Morales case and all their work—to other agencies, and they either give Keller dirty looks or avoid eye contact altogether as they all listen.

What’s your name?
Call me Ali Mansur. It’s my jihad name.
: Okay. You speak good English.
I went to college in Ohio. Do you want to swap biographies or do business?
reached out to
You can sell us cocaine?

As much cocaine as they can buy, Rolando assures him. High quality, brought in through the port of Barcelona. Cash on the barrelhead.

That’s good, Keller thinks. That’s great. But he needs the other boot to drop. Come on, Ali, do it.

Can you get me guns?

Keller holds his breath. Then he hears—

AR-15s, rocket launchers, grenades, you name it.

One of the FBI guys curses.

Where do you get them?
What do you care?
I care that they’re good.
They’re good.

Rolando is in the house for an hour. The tail gets photos of him when he comes out and hails a cab back to his hotel, the five-star Murmuri.

“You owe me,” Imaz tells Keller over a private line.

Keller hangs up and starts setting the hook. He gets on the horn to the station chief of the secret antiterrorist unit embedded in the Barcelona consulate.

“What do you know about a group called Tehrik-i-Taliban?” Keller asks.

“A lot.”
CIA has had Tehrik-i-Taliban in Barcelona “up” for the past eighteen months.
“Why? Is there a drug connection?”

“There might be.” Keller tells him about Rolando’s visit to the house in El Raval.

“These Zetas, what are they, some kind of cartel?”

“Jesus, where have you been?” Keller asks.


“Well, they’re about to be there,” Keller says.

“Great. Anything you can share with us, I’d appreciate.”

I’ve already shared with you what I want to share with you, Keller thinks—the lie that “Ali” is in good standing with TTP and not an agent provocateur, one of Imaz’s assets, buried deep inside the Spanish CNI.

You don’t need to know that, State doesn’t need to know that, CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security don’t need to know that. All any of you need to know is that the Zetas are willing to sell weapons to Islamic terrorists.

You say “narco” anymore in D.C. outside the hallways of DEA, you get a yawn. You say “narcoterrorism,” you get a budget. A free hand and a blind eye. The Sinaloa cartel has been immaculate about not dealing with anything that looks like terrorists. If the Zetas are going to go into business with an AQ affiliate, they’ll bring the whole antiterrorist structure down on their heads.

So Keller knows that his call to Barcelona is a poison pill, a shot of mercury into the Zeta blood system. Memos flying around CIA will make their way to DEA, then there’ll be a coordinating committee.

And then there’ll be action.

In one month, the Zetas are going to deliver twenty kilos of cocaine and a smorgasbord of weapons to what they think is an Islamic terrorist cell. The shipment will be busted, the Zetas’ contacts in Europe rolled up like a cheap rug, and ’Ndrangheta will run away from the Zetas as fast as they can.

Barrera will get the European cocaine trade.


May 2012

Adán lays flowers and a bottle of very good red wine on Magda’s grave. It’s sentimental, he knows, the same wine he gave her on their first “date” back in Puente Grande prison, a lifetime ago. He says a prayer for her soul, just in case there is a God and in case her soul needs prayer.

There have been two great loves in his life.


His daughter, Gloria.

Also in the grave.

Adán gets up and brushes off his trousers. It’s time to put the past away, and with it the bitterness, and think only of the future. You have children now, two healthy sons, and you have to make a world for them.

He walks back to the car where Nacho waits.

“Don’t mention this to Eva,” Adán says as he gets in.

“Of all things,” Nacho says, “I understand mistresses.”

“I don’t have one now, if you’re wondering.”

“I wasn’t,” Nacho answers. “But it’s none of my business, as long as you treat my daughter well. And my grandsons.”

Nacho has become the doting grandfather. He comes to visit Raúl and Miguel Ángel all the time, bringing presents that infants cannot possibly appreciate or understand. Their birthday is coming up soon and Adán is dreading it, with Eva and her family planning a celebration that is almost royal in its scope and complexity.

And you’re going along with it, Adán thinks.

Admit it, you’re the doting father.

He didn’t think that having children at his age would really change his life—they were more for the sake of a business succession—but in his secret soul he has to admit that he loves those boys with a passion that he almost can’t believe.

All the clichés are true.

He lives for his children.

He would die for them.

Sometimes at night he sneaks out of bed, goes into the nursery, and watches them sleep. Part of this, he knows, is the anxiety of a parent who once lost a sick child. But most of it is pure pleasure, an actual physical joy of just looking at his children.

“The elections,” Nacho is saying. “PAN is going to lose.”

“The war on drugs is very unpopular,” Adán says drily. “Have you made inroads?”

“Into the new people?” Nacho asks. “Some. I can’t guarantee it will be enough.”

“It’s us or Ochoa,” Adán says. “The new government will choose us.”

“It’s us or Ochoa as long as there
an Ochoa,” Nacho says. “Once the Zetas are no longer a threat…the government might decide to go after us.”

“What are you saying?”

“That our best course of action might not be to destroy the Zetas but to damage them,” Nacho says. “Keep a remnant of them active as a counterweight to assure that we remain the lesser of evils.”

Adán looks out the window as the car slowly rolls through the cemetery. So many friends buried here. So many enemies, too. Some of them you put here.

“They killed Magda,” Adán says. “You can’t be seriously suggesting that we make peace with them.”

The Zetas are animals. Ochoa, Forty, and their minions are savage, sadistic murderers. Look what they did to the people on those buses, what they do to women and children. The extortion, the kidnapping, the firebombing of the casino…no wonder the country is turning against the narcos. The Zetas have made us into monsters, and they have to be destroyed.

“I’m not getting any younger,” Nacho is saying. “I would like to sit back and play with my grandchildren.”

“You want a rocking chair, too?”

“No, but maybe a fishing pole,” Nacho says. “We have billions. More money than our children’s children’s children could spend in a lifetime. I’m thinking of getting out, handing the business over to Junior. I don’t know, maybe taking the whole family out of the trade.”

“And how would that work?” Adán asks. “We make an announcement, have a party with toasts and gold watches, and the Ochoas of the world just let us live in peace?”

“No, I suppose not,” Nacho answers. “But if we made peace with them first, divide up the plazas—”

“We’re winning.”

“We’re not winning in Guatemala,” Nacho says, “and we’re running out of time. The new president will throw our friends out and the North Americans with them.”

Adán says, “We had good relations with the PRI once, we’ll have them again.”

“Different times, Adanito.”

The diminutive form of his name annoys Adán. Nacho is playing the foxy grandpa and Adán doesn’t like it. All the less because Nacho is right—those were different times. We ran our businesses, and if things got out of hand, we kept civilians out of it. Now the country is fed up with the violence associated with the drug trade. The chaos that—face it—
unloosed in Juárez alone has been catastrophic and you can’t reel it in anymore if you wanted to.

And the war with the Zetas—just yesterday sixteen of his men were found dumped along the highway outside Badiraguato with their heads cut off. We’re winning the war, but at a horrific cost.

And Nacho is right about Guatemala, too.

We are losing there, and if we lose Guatemala…

We can’t lose Guatemala.

The irony is bitter.

It all depends on Art Keller now.

“Let me ask you something,” Tim Taylor says. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Keller looks across the desk at him in the meeting room in EPIC. “No, I don’t think I’m out of my fucking mind, Tim.”

“I ask,” Taylor says, “because I think you just requested that we allow a shipment of armaments to leave the United States en route to Spain.”

“Strictly speaking,” Keller answers, “I’m requesting that we allow a shipment of armaments to go to Mexico,
go to Spain—with a load of cocaine.”

“You never heard of Fast and Furious?” Taylor asks.

“I have.”

Everyone’s heard of DEA’s notorious “gun-walking” operation that went south, literally and figuratively. In an effort to trace arms sales, the agency allowed weapons to go into Mexico, and then lost track of them. The weapons were used by the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas in the commission of a number of killings, including the murder of Agent Jiménez. In fact, there’s been speculation that Jiménez and his partner were on that highway heading to collect a shipment of Fast and Furious weapons and bring them back.

“Because I can turn on the TV if you want,” Taylor says. “I think the congressional hearings are on C-Span.”

“That’s all right.”

Taylor says, “But you want to repeat the fiasco, only in Europe. So if you lose track of these weapons, we’ll have an international incident.”

“Rolando won’t be delivering the weapons to narcos,” Keller says. “He’ll be delivering them to our own agents.”

“Because you, on your own boot, set up a phony terrorist cell—”

“With the cooperation of Spanish intelligence—”

“—to entrap an American citizen—”

“Which is what a sting operation is,” Keller says. “What, Tim? You have ethical problems with setting up the Zetas? We’re just lucky we did set them up and they’re selling the weapons to us instead of some
AQ affiliate.”

“Still and all, you should have asked permission.”

“Would I have received it?” Keller asks.


“I’m asking now.”

“Now that you’re eight months pregnant.”

“The clock is ticking,” Keller says. “If the PRD wins the election, they’re going to throw our asses clean out. If PRI comes through, they’re going to tolerate us, but they’re not going to let us or FES go after Ochoa. If we’re going to get the Zetas, we have to do it soon. You know and I know that if they get caught selling weapons to jihadists, we go to Pennsylvania Avenue and come back with a sanction on Ochoa and there won’t be a thing that State or Justice can say about it.”

“You’re piece of work, Art.”

“You want Ochoa or you don’t?”

“You know I do.”


Taylor gets up from his chair. “I don’t want to know a fucking thing about it until it succeeds.”

“You got it.”

“If it blows up,” Taylor says from the doorway, “do me a favor. Stay in Mexico. Better yet, go to Belize. Somewhere you can’t be subpoenaed. I’m going to retire soon, and I want to retire to a cabin near a lake, not a federal prison.”

There are seven thousand arms dealers within a few hours’ drive of the Mexican border.

That’s three a mile.

Most of those guns aren’t going to shoot deer in Minnesota.

Now Keller sits across the street from one of them, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and watches the straw purchaser go in.

The Mexican government claims that 90 percent of the weapons used by the cartels come from the United States, but Keller knows that isn’t true. Most of the weapons the cartels use are looted from the armories of Central American military, but the gun stores that line the border are there for a reason, just like the narcos on the other side are
for a reason.

As soon as Keller got the go from Taylor, he put a tap on Rolando Morales’s cell phones and e-mail, which led him to five gun stores in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Laredo, El Paso, and Columbus, New Mexico.

Now he watches the straw purchaser go in and buy three Romanian-made AR-15 assault rifles—any more would get the attention of ATF. The purchaser fills out a Form 4473 with himself listed as the real buyer. The store owner knows exactly what’s going on and who the guns are ultimately for.

It’s so pat that this particular guy is only in the store for about thirty minutes before he comes out and puts the newly acquired weapons in the trunk of his Dodge Charger. A tail follows him to his house in the suburbs. He goes inside, has dinner, watches some television, then later that night drives to a house out in the desert where he delivers the guns to a Zeta cut-out.

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