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 (84 page)

“Yes,” Marisol says as she pulls the blouse over her head and sees him looking, “Ochoa did this to me. Ochoa had Erika killed. But who killed Jimena? Who slaughtered people in the valley? That was your new best friend Adán Barrera. You all work together now, don’t you? Your government, my government, they’ve always worked with him.”

“What are you saying?” Keller asks. “I’m part of the cartel?”

“Forgive me, but aren’t you?”

“I made the devil’s deal to take down the Zetas,” he says, the bitterness clear in his voice.

“For me?” Marisol asks. Sarcastically. “You sold your soul to avenge me? I didn’t ask you to do that. I don’t want you to do that now. If you do this for revenge, own it yourself. Don’t put it on me.”

you want?”

“I want it to end!” she yells. “I want all of this to be over!”

“So do I.”

“Then end it,” she says. “Stop it. Say you do kill Ochoa. Someone even worse will just take his place. You know that. I don’t even know how many people you’ve killed since we met, Arturo. Maybe they all deserved it, I won’t even argue that they didn’t, but I do know that you don’t deserve it…
don’t deserve it.”

“It’s this one last time.”

“Just go,” she says. “Please, just go and do whatever it is that you think you have to do. Only…”


She looks into his eyes for what feels like a long time.

“If you do this,” Marisol says, “I don’t know if I want you back.”



“No,” he says, “you’ve made yourself clear. Goodbye, Marisol. I only wish you every happiness.”

Keller leaves, the engagement ring purchased in El Paso still in his pocket as he goes off on his jihad.


La Plaza del Periodista

There is no water to put out the fire.
Mi canto la esperanza.
—Carlos Santana
“Maria Maria”

Ciudad Juárez

June–July 2012

Guiltily, Pablo logs on to
Esta Vida.

Today’s post features a vid-clip of five men, shirtless, kneeling on a warehouse floor. The letter “Z” has been painted on their bare chests, and hooded men with CDG logos on their military-style shirts stand behind them.

The soundtrack has one of the CDG captors, offscreen, asking the prisoners questions. One by one, the captives confess that they are Zetas and have committed crimes.

Then comes the sound of a chainsaw starting up.

The camera stays on the scene, but Pablo turns his head. He looks back a few moments later to see the severed heads on the floor as the offscreen voice announces that this will happen to “all Zeta scum” in Tamaulipas.

It’s terrifying for more than the obvious reasons.

The blog is virtually taunting the Zetas by showing the execution of their people. To make matters worse, this day’s post also has a story about the kidnapping of a
reporter in Veracruz, taken from his office parking lot by three men in a van. His body was found in a downtown park with the message

He was the fourth journalist killed in Veracruz over the past two months. Three crime-beat photographers were dumped in plastic bags in a canal. A woman reporter was beaten and strangled.

Reading the story, Pablo feels his bowels turn to water. He’d like to ascribe it to the too-many beers along with the fiery
he consumed last night, but he knows that it’s really fear.

No, not fear.


He logs off quickly when he hears Ana walk up behind him.

“You know the paper monitors your downloads,” she says. “You could get fired for ‘Backdoor Mamacitas.’ ”

“Research,” Pablo says.

“That’s what they all say.”

Pablo has spent more time in the office lately because there’s been less crime on the streets. The violence in Juárez is by no means over, but the crest seems to have receded.

Some attribute it to the new police chief, a retired army officer named Leyzaola who came in a year ago now after “cleaning up” Tijuana. His first day on the job he was greeted by a bound, duct-taped body left on his doorstep with a note of greeting from the narcos, followed by the usual threat that one of his men would be killed every day until he resigned.

But Leyzaola didn’t flinch when the first five officers were gunned down. He ordered his men to leave their homes and he got them hotel rooms. Then he held a press conference and said, “In the end, the criminal needs to be overpowered. There’s all this legend, this mystique, around the narcos, that they are invincible, omnipotent. We need to dispel that and treat them like what they are—criminals.”

Of course they tried to kill him, ambushing his motorcade, opening fire and killing one officer, but not even winging Leyzaola. He responded with another press conference, announcing that he was going to clean up Juárez one neighborhood at a time, starting with El Centro.

He did. He put “boots on the pavement” and those cops survived. Some say it was because the narcos were afraid of Leyzaola—stories about his torture of narcos and corrupt police in Tijuana hit the street faster than his cops—others say that the violence was receding because Adán Barrera had already won the war. Some went a little further, claiming that Leyzaola had made a separate peace with Barrera to tame Tijuana and was simply doing the same now in Juárez, although he once publicly claimed that he had turned down an $80,000-a-week bribe from El Señor.

Pablo was more cynical. If there was less killing, he opined, it was probably because there was no one left to kill.

Other theories had it that the narco-war had merely changed fronts, and was now being fought more in Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Veracruz.

To most, it didn’t matter.

The killing, if not stopped, was slowing down. Slowly, very slowly, businesses that were shuttered up were starting to return to El Centro and other neighborhoods. Juárez, “the most murderous city in the world,” was showing signs of life.

There were other signs of hope.

An army general in Ojinaga was actually arrested and charged with the murder and torture of civilians, a major victory for the “Woman’s Rebellion” in the Juárez Valley, although Pablo wishes that Jimena Abarca, Erika Valles, and the others had lived to see it.

But still, a sign of hope, and people were starting to quietly talk about a “Juárez spring.”

Even Pablo—cynical, chronically depressed Pablo—secretly harbored a delicate seed of hope that the worst was over and his city was going to come back. Not the same, of course, it could never be the same, but come back as something different and at least survive.

you working on?” Ana asks.

“Pirated DVD sellers,” Pablo answers. “In El Centro. Human-interest, color kind of piece. You?”

“The elections,” she says, as if the answer is obvious.

It is.

The elections are on everyone’s mind.

Victoria is thrilled about the PAN candidate.

“A conservative
a woman,” she chirped during Pablo’s last visit to Mexico City, a sop from Óscar to write a story about a literary festival. “As I’ve always tried to tell you, PAN is the progressive party, not PRI or PRD.”

“You like her mostly because of the title of her book,” Pablo answered. The PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, had written a self-help bestseller entitled
God, Make Me a Widow.

“At least she writes.” Veronica chuckled. “Your guy can’t even
. My God, Pablo, he’s Rick Perry!”

The PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, had stumbled when a reporter asked him which three books had influenced him most. He couldn’t come up with three, and finally muttered something about the Bible. And he has Perry’s carefully coiffed hair, not a strand out of place, and he couldn’t tell another reporter the price of a pack of tortillas.

“He’s a serial adulterer,” Victoria went on cheerfully, “has fathered not one but two children out of wedlock, and then he has an affair with that actress.”

“He married her,” Pablo responded weakly. And a little jealously—Peña Nieto scored a gorgeous soap opera star, the aptly named Angélica Rivera. “Anyway, he’s not my guy.”

“No, of course not,” Victoria said. “You’re going for the lefty. López Obrador is only running because he thinks he was robbed the last time.”

robbed the last time.”

“So he’s Al Gore?”

“And your choice is, who, Sarah Palin?” If we’re going to play the American comparison game.

“She’s much smarter than Palin.”

“Well, don’t set the bar

He kind of enjoyed bickering with Victoria over politics, and it was indicative of a thaw in their relationship. Pablo had come to accept her getting remarried, even accept that Mateo had a “stepfather,” who seems, actually, to have had a good influence on Victoria. She’s become much more liberal about Mateo’s visits and is even open to Mateo coming to see him, maybe on a holiday to Cabo or Puerto Vallarta or even El Paso.

The last option is more in Pablo’s budget, and he’s already started planning the trip. He’d pick Mateo up in El Paso and take him to Western Playland Park for the waterslide and the roller coaster, and then drive out to Big Bend and go camping.

He can’t decide whether to ask Ana to come with them.

Victoria, with her unerring radar, had brought that up, too. “So you and Ana are a thing now?”

“I don’t know what a ‘thing’ is,” Pablo answered disingenuously.

“Sleeping together,” Victoria prompted. “Having sex. It’s all right, Pablo, we’re divorced. You have every right. I get it. I like Ana, actually.”

“So do I.”

“Well, I should hope so. If you’re doing her.”

“For God’s sake, Victoria.”

“And you’ve lost a little weight, too,” Victoria said. “Men only become conscious of their waistlines when they’re doing someone, although you didn’t bother with me.”

“I was thin when we met.”

“Yes, you were.”

Victoria was always nagging him to eat better, drink less, and go to the gym, but then again, Pablo has long felt that she (barely) sublimates her innate fascism with exercise and diet regimens and has recently taken to attending weekly “boot camp” sessions where she probably achieves orgasms as some steroid-enraged instructor screams at her.

Ana doesn’t nag him about anything, another of their many unspoken understandings. Pablo recognizes that they have a common survivor’s mentality, something that can only be shared by people who have lived together in a war zone. The resultant attitude is one of “whatever gets you through the day.”

For Pablo that’s usually beer and junk food. For Ana, it’s wine and cigarettes and the occasional blunt. And work. She’s always been diligent, but for the past year Ana has brought an almost demonic energy to her reporting. When she’s not at the desk in the office, she’s on her laptop, and it’s harder and harder for Pablo to get her out to a bar for a drink.

They see each other in the city room and late at night at her place (okay,
place), when he rolls in from the bars and Ana is just back from covering whatever it is she’s covering. She has a glass of wine and a cig, maybe a puff or two on a joint, and then they go to bed and have what can only be described as “desperate sex.”

Victoria was a machine in bed. Not at all the ice maiden that one might expect, but an orgasm-producing mechanism of staggering efficiency, both for him and herself. Ana is nothing like that—Ana in bed is chaos. She approaches climax like a galloping, out-of-control horse that suddenly sees the cliff ahead but can’t stop running.

Victoria’s orgasm was usually announced with a triumphant shout (another item on her checklist successfully ticked off), Ana’s with an “oh-no” whimper followed by tears and a desperate clutching at him as if he were all that kept her from falling into the abyss.

That’s all that Ana seems to want from the relationship. She doesn’t want to “improve” him, doesn’t ask “where this is all going.” She seems satisfied with the companionship at night, the friendship, the love, if that’s what you can call it.

For Pablo, sex is more of a delay of sleep.

He used to love to sleep, relish sleep, bury himself in the blankets and roll in sleep.

Now he hates and fears it.

Because with sleep comes dreams.

Not a good thing for a man who has covered thousands of murders. That’s not a figure of speech or hyperbole, he realized one night while doing the math. He has literally attended thousands of killings. Well, not the actual killings—although a few he missed only by moments—but the aftermaths. The dead, the dying, the grieving. The dismembered, the decapitated, the flayed.

He doesn’t need a website to see these images.

Doesn’t need
Esta Vida
because this
his life and he has his own vid-clips running on the insides of his eyelids, which is why he hates to close his eyes and yield to sleep.

So Pablo looks perpetually tired, but then again, Pablo has always looked perpetually tired. And he is trying to get into better shape, eat a little better, drink a little less, and while he will never get his ass into a gym, he is going out to the park one or two times a week to kick the
around a little bit.

Now Óscar comes out of his office, his cane clicking on the floor. “What are you working on?”

“I thought I’d go to Mexico City to do a piece on Peña’s hairdresser,” Pablo answers. “The hours, the stress…”

“That is a joke.”


“Mildly amusing.”

“No, I thought I’d do a classic on-the-street survey,” Pablo says. “Slice-of-life interviews from various barrios. What people are thinking, who they support and why. Give the Juarense point of view.”

The election promises to be close, at least vis-à-vis Lopez Obrador and Peña Nieto. The polls have Peña Nieto with a five-point lead as of two weeks ago, although the other parties have complained bitterly and loudly about perceived media bias toward the PRI. PAN is far behind, in the 20 percent range.

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