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 (86 page)

“I do.”

“On the grounds of ethnicity, religion, or political opinion—”

“I’m a journalist”—Pablo sighs, repeating himself—“and I feel that I’m under threat. Certainly you’re aware that other journalists have been—”

“Are you under a specific threat?” the official asks. “Or just a general sort of threat?”

“A ‘general threat’?”

“Have you been specifically threatened,” the official says impatiently. “Has a specific person made an explicit threat on your life? Or do you just feel generally threatened as a journalist?”

“Is there a difference?”

“There’s a very big difference,” the official says. “Just a general feeling that you might be killed is not enough for us to issue asylum. On the other hand, if you’re under an explicit threat—”

“I am.”

“What is it?”

“Do you need to know?” Pablo asks.

“If we’re going to consider giving you asylum, yes.” The official pushes some papers across the desk. “Here’s the form they’d give you in the U.S. Write down the nature of the threat, the date of the threat, the individual issuing the threat, why you consider the threat to be serious…”

“Is there any way that you can expedite this?”

“Yes, by your filling out the paperwork.”

“I need it for another person as well,” Pablo says.

“Immediate family?”

“No.”

“Then that person will have to go in on his or her own.”

“His or her own,” Pablo repeats.

“Yes.”

“We really don’t have a lot of time here.”

“Then…”

“You understand that they’re going to
kill
us.”

“I’m doing the best I can for you, Mr. Mora.”

“Thank you.”

Pablo walks out of the consulate and sits in the
fronterizo.
The “nature of the threat.” What am I supposed to write? They are going to kill me because…

His phone rings.

“You thinking about running, you fat fuck?” Ramón says.

“What do you mean?”

“You went to the consulate?” Ramón asks. “You don’t think we watch who goes in and out of there? We have
halcones
everywhere. Hey, you want to see a live video feed of your kid? I got one.”

“No. Shit. I’m doing a story.”

“What kind of a story?”

“You know,” Pablo says, forcing himself to sound calm. “Every few months we track the immigration numbers. See how many people are leaving Juárez. So I check in with the U.S. consulate. That’s all.”

There’s a long silence, then Ramón says, “You made any progress? On that other thing?”

“A little. Not much. I mean—”

“That’s the story you should be working on.”


Pablo sits at his desk and pounds out his story about voting trends.

He feels like he’s walking underwater—every keystroke is like swinging a hammer, and he makes typo after typo.

“What’s with you today?” Ana asks.

“Nothing. What do you mean?”

“You seem out of it.”

“Hungover,” Pablo says.

Ana doesn’t buy it. Pablo didn’t have that much to drink last night, and he’s probably better at writing with a hangover than without one. And he’s doing very un-Pablo-like things, like asking for more out of their relationship. Pablo is not a “more” person—he’s usually looking for “less.”

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“I’m fine,” Pablo says. “Have you thought about the camping trip?”

“I’m still thinking.”

“Could you think a little faster?” Pablo asks. “I have arrangements to make.”

“Like how many s’mores?”

“Camping permits,” Pablo says. “How many people.”

“Oh. I’ll let you know this afternoon.”

She goes back to her desk and goes online and quickly finds out that Big Bend National Park doesn’t require individual camping permits.

Why would Pablo lie about something like that? Unless he’s just wrong about it. Unlikely—Pablo is personally sloppy but professionally immaculate. He checks his facts. One thing you can never say about Pablo is that he gets his stories wrong.

Ana logs on to
Esta Vida.

The featured article is “Who Picked the Winner in Juárez?” and asks the question whether the PAN government, through the army and federal police, cooperated with the Sinaloa cartel to help Barrera control Juárez and the valley. “Is the government biased,” Wild Child asks, “or just singularly inept at arresting people from Sinaloa?”

It’s exactly what they’re all thinking and exactly the kind of story that Óscar won’t let them write anymore.

The next story is even more provocative, addressing the threats that Wild Child received about running photos of dead Zetas. “Don’t Dish It Out If You Can’t Take It” reprints the photos, along with photos and vid-clips that the Zetas have put out on websites.

She glances over at Pablo, who is ham-handedly beating out his article.

What does he know about this?


Chuy looks at the Bridge of Dreams.

All he would have to do is walk across. He’d be in El Paso, true, not Laredo, but it would be only a bus ride home.

Home.

The word has almost no meaning.

Chuy hasn’t been home in six years. Hasn’t talked to his family, doesn’t even know if they still live in the same house. Or even if they’re alive. If they know
he’s
alive, if they even care.

After killing the woman police, his
estaca
got orders to fade into the city. They live in a safe house in the center of town so they can keep an eye on the newspaper office. Chuy doesn’t know why, he doesn’t care. Forty has a mission for them, but Chuy has a mission of his own.

Which is all that keeps him from walking across the Bridge of Dreams.


Eddie Ruiz is already back in Texas.

But he’s thinking about Mexico.

Sitting in his apartment on Fort Bliss, his babysitters playing cards at the kitchen table, he sips on a cold Dos Equis as he watches Univisión coverage of the elections.

Eddie figures he has a dog in that fight.

Face it, man, he tells himself, your chips are stacked with PAN. All the valuable information you have is on PAN politicians and their police. If PAN loses, like the analysts on TV are predicting, your value goes way down. The people you’re going to rat out are going to be gone anyway.

Prosecutors get hard-ons for corrupt politicians who are in office. Once they’re out their appeal fades like an old girlfriend you’re tired of tapping. No one writes headlines about politicians who are finished, and prosecutors love headlines like goats love garbage.

Eddie figures he’s looking at a wilting dick.

The negotiations with the prosecutors have dragged on for months. Eddie’s is a good poker player who knew he was holding face cards and played them well. He was in no hurry because he knew he was looking at fifteen-to-thirty and would get credit for time served.

Eddie just sat tight.

Because, what the fuck, right? Let the suits argue as long as they want.

Sit here or sit somewhere else.

The AG came back with an offer of fifteen years, seizure of Eddie’s personal assets (Eddie don’t give a shit because everything is in his wives’ names anyway), and a $10 million fine (serious money but not
serious
money). Eddie’s lawyer countered with twelve years, seizure, and $7 million.

Eddie’s going to take it. He’ll be at least four years testifying, with time credited. That left six, but it was really four, federal time. By the time he got to prison, he’d be old news in the narco-world. Then into the program, a whole new life ahead of him, selling aluminum siding in Scottsdale or something.

But that deal still has to be approved by a judge at the time of sentencing, and the judge might get buyer’s remorse if he sees that what he’s purchasing is a collection of out-of-office politicians and retired (or dead) cops.

I’m a used car, Eddie thinks.

As election day drags it’s like that old song, “Fast Women and Slow Horses.” The Ken doll candidate from PRI is in the lead, closely followed by the old whiner from PRD, and PAN…that filly is bringing up the rear.

You might as well just rip up your ticket, Eddie thinks, you ain’t goin’ to the window to collect.

Then Art freakin’ Keller walks through the door.

And makes Eddie an offer he can’t refuse.


Adán walks away from the television.

It’s over.

At least as far as PAN is concerned.

Neither Peña Nieto nor López Obrador is going to win. There will be the routine accusations of voter fraud, the usual protest marches, and then the electoral officials will do the intelligent thing and install Peña Nieto as the winner.

The election is not a disappointment, as he had expected that PAN would lose. Peña Nieto won’t throw the North Americans out, but he will neutralize them. Which would have been a dream just a few months ago, but now is a problem in that they’re allies in his war against the Zetas.

All the new government wants is peace, an end to the violence, Adán thinks. It will accept whatever arrangement we make in order to achieve peace and order. It will accept a Sinaloa-Zeta division of the plazas, it will accept a Sinaloa victory, it will accept a Zeta victory.

It only wants a
pax narcotica.

Five months, Adán thinks.

We have five months until the new president takes office.

One hundred and fifty days to destroy Ochoa. Can it be done? Or is Nacho right, should we try to make peace?

It’s a hard calculation. So tempting to push for victory. Even now the Zetas are in the process of losing their deal with ’Ndrangheta, in fact, losing all of Europe. The prince of darkness himself, Arturo Keller, personally saw to it, and the Zetas waltzed into his trap that will also set the North American antiterrorist apparatus against them.

Then again, a hundred things could go wrong.

Ochoa still has the upper hand in Guatemala.

He has thousands of fighters. He is without morals, restraint, or scruples—the truly ruthless man.

And that is the hell of all this, Adán thinks.

The unvarnished truth is that Mexico would be better off with you, rather than under the Zetas. You would run a business that didn’t touch the ordinary person’s ordinary life; Ochoa would preside over a reign of terror.

The current government understands this, the future one thinks like a goat bleating “just make it stop.”

“Where are you going?” Eva asks him.

For some reason, she is glued to the elections, her attempt, Adán thinks, to display that she’s a serious person with a real interest in current affairs. It’s part of her new maturity campaign. Eva has adopted the “concerned young parent” role. Now she reads—articles about early education, organic nutrition and climate change, global warming and rising sea levels.

“What kind of a world,” she has asked Adán several times, “will our children grow up in?”

The same world we did, Adán thinks, only hotter.

And with more beachfront property.

And yet it is time for a change.

For the country.

For yourself.

For your family.

Nacho is right—we have billions of dollars but live like refugees. We have to hide, look behind our backs, always have to wonder if this day is our last.

It’s not the life you want for these boys in their cribs.

You could be El Patrón again, if you win. But you could also do what no
patrón
has ever done.

Walk away.

With a life and family intact.

No one has ever done that.

Every “drug lord” before you has ended up either dead or in prison.

You could reinvest your billions in legitimate concerns and your sons could grow up and live as titans of business.

You could live to see your grandchildren.

It could be done.

He goes upstairs to the nursery, where an
abuela
sits asleep in a chair beside the boys’ cribs. Eva has decorated the nursery in soothing “womb tones” with letters from the alphabet painted on the walls and ceilings in the belief that it’s never too early for them to start learning.

The boys have nannies, but Eva is what they now call a “helicopter parent,” hovering over them constantly, supervising every detail of clothing, diet, and environment.

Ah well, he thinks, be patient. She tried for so long and so hard to have a baby, it’s natural that’s she’s going to be overprotective for a while. She’ll get over it and start a new phase. With any luck it will be “I’m sexy even though I’m a mother.”

The
abuela
wakes with a start when Adán comes into the room and he shakes his head quickly to let her know that he doesn’t mind her dozing. He looks down at the two babies, who are breathing softly and evenly, their foreheads dewy with a sheen of sweat.

They’re beautiful.

He remembers Gloria when she was a baby. She was
not
beautiful, with her heavy misshapen head, except to him.

To him, she was lovely.

Adán looks down at his boys and then suddenly he doesn’t see them but two other children and he gets hot and dizzy as he sees those two children on a bridge in Colombia, a boy and a girl, not babies but little, and he’d already had their mother killed and the little girl screamed
Mi mamá, mi mamá
and he gave the order and his man threw them over the side and he made himself watch as they plunged onto the rocks below and now he sees their faces in the faces of his sons and he recoils, staggers away from the crib, his children are dead children, all his children are dead.

He leans against the wall trying to catch his breath.

Then he forces himself to look into the crib again.

His boys are sleeping.

Adán kisses them on their cheeks and goes back downstairs and makes the call that will set up the peace meeting with Ochoa.


The election is called by 8 p.m.

The following morning, the numbers are in:

Peña Nieto receives 38.15 percent of the vote.

López Obrador gets 31.64.

Vázquez Mota comes in with 25.40.

PAN is finished, Los Pinos will go back to the PRI, which also gets a heavy plurality in the Chamber of Deputies.

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