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 (85 page)

“Go to El Paso, too,” Óscar tells Pablo. “See what they’re thinking
el otro lado.

“Do they even know we’re having an election?” Pablo asks.

“Find out,” Óscar says. “It’s a story either way.”

“Got it.” Pablo sighs. He hates crossing the border. The traffic, the lines, the waiting at the checkpoints…

“Be careful to write your story in a neutral way, please,” Óscar says. “No slant that one party or the other has a bias toward a cartel.”

“All the parties have a bias toward Sinaloa,” Ana says. “I mean, the Zetas practically declared themselves their own government.”

“We don’t need to print that,” Óscar says.


Esta Vida
will,” Ana says.

“Let them,” Óscar snaps. “It’s irresponsible ‘journalism’ as its worst. Unedited rumors and innuendo pandering to the basest instincts.”

Pablo understands his bitterness. El Búho has spent his life in mainstream newspapers producing quality journalism, believing that a free press is the lifeline of a democracy. Now he has to sit and watch as the public turns to websites and blogs to get real information on the narcos.

It has to be galling.

“I would like to give ‘Wild Child’ a good spanking,” Óscar adds before he limps back to his office.

“Well,
there’s
an image,” Ana says.

“If we knew who El Niño Salvaje is,” Pablo answers.

“Did you see this morning’s post?”

“Horrible,” Pablo says.

Horrible.


Pablo hits the streets in his
fronterizo,
which has maybe one more year in it. The air-conditioning is shot, more of a wheezing protest against the heat than any true cooling, so he keeps the windows rolled down and just sweats as he makes his way from El Centro to Anapra, Chaveña, and Anáhuac.

He could already predict the favored candidate by the relative wealth of the neighborhood. The rich sections of Campestre and Campo Eliseos will vote their wallets for PAN. The working-class—or unemployed-class—
colonias
will vote PRD, while some of the older, more genteel neighborhoods like Colonia Nogales and Galeana will likely go PRI.

Some of the neighborhoods don’t exist anymore, he thinks sadly as he drives around. Riviera del Bravo, for instance, once a thriving new section of apartments and strip malls, is a virtual ghost town of abandoned houses and graffiti-sprayed walls, the inhabitants having fled from the incessant violence. The old Mariscal red-light district has been bulldozed, scraped clean, if you will. His route takes him past Benito Juárez Stadium, where his beloved Indios used to play until the city’s financial demise caused the owners to shut them down.

Another casualty, Pablo thinks, of the war on drugs.

He goes back downtown, buys a
torta
from a truck, and eats his lunch in Chamizal Park as he watches kids play
fútbol
in the bone-dry canal or taunt the Border Patrol agents on the other side of the fence.

There’s no putting it off, Pablo thinks. He gets back in his car and drives across the bridge. The line in the express lane isn’t too bad, and he’s in the U.S. before he wants to be.

Just another Juarense on the way to El Paso, he thinks.

The mayor lives in El Paso now, for safety. So do the chief of police and the editors of two of the city’s newspapers.

Not Óscar, Pablo thinks with some pride.

You couldn’t pry El Búho out of his Chaveña house with a crowbar, and the editor views El Paso as a redneck backwater with no cultural life. Óscar is
anclado,
“anchored,” a Juárez fixture, but a lot of people who can afford to move have and now drive across the bridge in the morning and back before dark in modest cars that hopefully won’t draw the attention of potential kidnappers. They’ve started social clubs, restaurants, country clubs, private schools, and fueled an El Paso real estate boom.

Pablo can’t help but think of them as traitors.

He knows it’s a stupid attitude—El Paso and Juárez are and always have been joined at the hip, and most people in both cities have family on the other side. A lot of Juárez women go
el otro lado
to have their babies, so the child will have dual citizenship and better choices. If you sneeze in Juárez, someone in El Paso will say, “Gesundheit,” and for a lot of people the border doesn’t exist as a reality but more a mere annoyance, a technicality.

For Pablo, the border
exists.

As a reality and a state of mind.

For one thing, the reality is that the border is the raison d’être of the cartels. No border, no profit, no “plaza.” No violence.

For another, the border is the reason for the maquiladoras. The largest consumer market in the world is a mile north, over that border, so what better place to make those consumer goods?

Well, China now, but the mushrooming of the maquiladoras changed the landscape of Juárez forever, creating the vast
colonias
where the people who can find jobs now struggle to survive on a third of what they used to make. Their poverty makes them targets for narco recruitment, their despair makes them customers for the narcos’ product.

And their lives are cheap.

That’s the reality.

And the reality is that there’s a different state of mind on the other side of the border. You live in El Paso, you’re a
pocho,
an Americanized Mexican, and no one can tell Pablo that it doesn’t change you. You shop in malls instead of
mercados,
you watch football instead of
fútbol,
you become another consumer in a giant machine that consumes consumers.

Dios mío,
Pablo thinks, Óscar would throw that sentence in the garbage, but it’s true nevertheless. There’s a different state of mind in the States—no, it’s more than that—there’s a different state of soul.

As he expected, outside El Paso’s barrios no one gives a shit who’s going to be the new president, and when he asks the question in the affluent West El Paso neighborhoods with names like “The Willows” and “Coronado Hills,” the answer is usually, “Romney.”

I don’t think so, Pablo said to himself, primarily because the “Latino” vote will be almost as crucial in the United States as it will be in Mexico. Being in the U.S. always makes Pablo feel vaguely uncomfortable, like an unwanted guest at a party whom everyone wishes would leave. He knows how North Americans feel about Mexicans, and it’s the same way that many Mexicans feel about Juarenses.

We’re the “Mexicans” of Mexico.

Well, fuck ’em all.

He drives into Barrio El Segundo, the original breeding grounds of the Aztecas, and finds a congenially dark bar where he can sit and have a beer without feeling that he doesn’t belong. The anxiety that he’s felt since reading
Esta Vida
this morning won’t leave him, and the three cold beers don’t chase it away.

It only gets worse as he leaves and crosses the bridge back into Juárez.

Call it paranoia, or the insecurity from being
el otro lado,
but Pablo can’t escape the feeling that someone is following him. It’s ridiculous, he thinks as he looks into the rearview mirror, but he can’t help but think of the other reporters ambushed in their cars, in their driveways, outside their offices. Murdered on the spot or driven off somewhere to be tortured and killed, and now the sweat is not just from the heat, it comes from fear as well and smells different—a detail he thinks that he should put in a story somewhere.

Pablo drives out to Las Misiones, the new shopping mall across from the U.S. consulate, and walks the polished marble floors and new “fitness center” and then stands outside the new twelve-screen IMAX theater to ask people their opinion of the upcoming election. Not surprisingly, the mall-goers are overwhelmingly PAN or PRI.

This is the “new Juárez,” Pablo thinks—suburban, affluent, and soulless just like its counterpart across the river. But this is what we aspire to be, Pablo thinks. We took all that “new money” and built a faux U.S. He’s leaving the mall when Ramón walks up to him.

“Hola, ’mano.”

“Ramón. Hi. What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you. You sick,
’mano
? You’re sweating like a pig.”

“No, I’m good.”

“We have a job for you.”

“You know I can’t write—”

“No one’s asking you to write shit,” Ramón says. “Some people at the end of the alphabet are very angry at this morning’s blog post. You’re going to tell us who El Niño Salvaje is.”

“I don’t know.”

“Find out.” Ramón pulls out his cell phone and shows Pablo a picture of Mateo standing outside his school in Mexico City. “Cute
hijo
you got.”

“You fucking son of a bitch.”

“Careful,
’mano.
Watch your mouth.” Ramón puts the phone back in his pocket. “Their computer what-do-you-call-them, geeks, say the blog comes out of Juárez. That puts a lot of pressure on me,
’mano.
So I have to put a lot of pressure on you. It’s not you, is it? Tell me it’s not you, Pablo.”

“It’s not,” Pablo says.

“That’s good,” Ramón says. “I’m relieved. But it has to be someone you know. Some fucking reporter.”

“I told you I don’t know.”

“I didn’t
say
you know,” Ramón snaps. “I said it’s
someone
you know. There’s a difference—pay attention. You find out, Pablo, and you tell me. If you don’t, we’re not going to hurt
you
first, you understand? You’ll get the pictures on your phone. Hey, maybe El Niño will put them up on the blog.”

Pablo is literally speechless with fear.

“Tell me you understand,” Ramón says.

Pablo croaks, “I understand.”

“Good,” Ramón says. He lays his hand on Pablo’s shoulder. “ 
’Mano,
I don’t want to hurt your kid. It’s the last thing I want to do. So don’t make me, okay? A week, ten days, I want to hear something from you. A name.”

He walks away.

The terror runs through Pablo like an icy stream.

He has to stop shaking.

Pablo has two whiskeys at San Martín, and then steps outside to call Victoria. “Listen, I’ve been thinking. About that vacation. Could you fly with Mateo to El Paso and I’ll meet you there?”

“I suppose, but why?”

“I was thinking you and Ernesto should come,” Pablo says. “We could have dinner. I should get to know him, don’t you think? If he’s going to be Mateo’s stepfather.”

If the narcos can’t lay their hands on Mateo, Pablo thinks, they’ll go after Victoria. He has to get her out of the country and then find a way of explaining to her that she can’t go back.

Not for a while.

Not like you.

You can’t
ever
come back.

“Pablo, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Pablo says. “You’re always after me to be more mature, I’m trying to be more mature.”

“All right.”

“I’m thinking next week.”

“Next week?”
Victoria says.
“Are you joking? The election?”

“We’re talking one day, Victoria.”

“The soonest I could do this,”
Victoria says,
“is two days after. And you just can’t uproot Mateo all of a sudden. He has play dates, tutoring…”

“Let’s don’t argue, okay?” Pablo asks. “Please, Victoria, I need you to make this happen.”

“All right.”
She sighs.

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

Pablo clicks off and goes home. Ana is already there, sitting on the back step drinking wine and smoking a cigarette. He sits down next to her. “Listen, I’m taking Mateo on a little trip.”

“That’s wonderful,” Ana says. “Where are you going?”

“Across the river,” Pablo says, trying to sound as casual as possible. “Do some theme parks in El Paso, but then we’re going camping in Big Bend.”

“Sounds nice.”

“You want to come with us?”

“When is it?”

“Next week.”

Ana laughs. “There’s this little thing, the election…”


After
the election.”

“I’ll be writing follow-ups, analysis…”

“There’s also this thing called the Internet,” Pablo says. “You could write your stories from the road. Might be kind of fun.”

Ana looks at him curiously, her antennae up and quivering. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing. I’d just like to have you with us.”

“I don’t know…”

“What?”

“Is Mateo ready for that?”

“He’s known you all his life,” Pablo says.

“As his ‘Tía Ana,’ ” she answers. “Not as his father’s girlfriend. That’s a lot to get used to.”

“Mateo’s getting used to a lot of new things,” Pablo says. “Ernesto, for starters.”

Ana asks, “Are you just trying to get even with Victoria?”

“That would be pretty childish.”

“Yeah, that eliminates
that
possibility.” She sips her wine and sets the glass down. “Pablo, if this is your way of trying to ‘take things to the next level’…”

“I’m talking about a few nights camping,” Pablo says. “Flies, mosquitoes, lousy food cooked badly over an ineptly built fire, smoke in your eyes, sand in your crotch—”

“You make it sound so attractive, how can I refuse?”

“Then you’ll come?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ana says.

Come with me, Pablo thinks.

Please, Ana. Cross the river with me.


Pablo puts on the best clothes he owns—a collared blue shirt, relatively clean jeans, and a “travel” sports coat that was not supposed to wrinkle but has, and goes to the U.S. consulate the next morning. He feels like a traitor, plotting his escape to the United States, as so many others have done, as so many others have had to do.

The consular official he finally sees is not particularly helpful. “You have to be physically present in the United States to apply for an asylum visa. You have a seventy-two-hour guest visa anyway. Once there, you can apply for asylum. If it’s not granted, you can apply for defensive asylum, show cause why you shouldn’t be sent back. If you have a well-founded fear that you’re going to be persecuted—”

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