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 (87 page)

Victoria is bitterly disappointed.

“Did you call to gloat?”
she asks Pablo.

“No,” Pablo says, “just to firm up our plans.”

“She should have won,”
Victoria says.
“The country would be so much better off than with this…this…”

“I need your flight information.”

“It’s the media,”
Victoria says.
“Media bias.”

“You
are
the media.”

“I mean the rest of the media.”

“Of course.”

“You, for instance,”
Victoria says.
“And Ana. And El Niño Salvaje. How
dare
that…
blogger
…write a story the day before the election, accusing PAN of supporting the Sinaloa cartel?”

Perhaps because it’s true, Pablo thinks. “I don’t know, Victoria. Give me a clue—morning, afternoon, or evening?”

“Morning, afternoon, or evening
what
?”

“When you and Mateo are coming,” Pablo says. “Is Ernesto coming with you?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know yet,”
Victoria says.
“Pablo, I have stories to write, unfortunately. Stories on how this election will damage the economy. Now all we need is for the Democrats to get elected and we’ll all be selling apples.”

“Flight times?”

“I don’t know.”
She sounds confused, impatient.
“I’ll have Emilia call you.”

“Who’s Emilia?”

“My new assistant.”

“But you
are
coming,” Pablo says.

“Yes.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Yes!”

“Okay, have Emilia call me.”

“I will.”
She clicks off.

“Is Victoria beside herself with disappointment?” Ana asks, rolling her chair up to his. “I am sorry we won’t have a woman president, only not
that
woman. Our answer to Maggie Thatcher.”

“Ana?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t care.”

Óscar comes into the room. “Ana, write the story, straight news, facts and figures. Then get a jump on the inevitable fraud angles. Pablo—”

“Man-in-the-street.”

“How did you know?”

“I just knew.”

Pablo grabs his laptop, goes out into the parking lot, and gets into the
fronterizo
. He has no intention of going out and doing man-in-the-street interviews, because he already knows what man in which street is going to say.

And it doesn’t matter.

He’s leaving the paper, leaving journalism, leaving Mexico.

Leaving Juárez.

Pablo drives back to Ana’s apartment and throws what little he has into a backpack.


Manuel Godoy is a self-described geek.

A graduate student at Juárez Autonomous University, he’s the best computer hacker in the city, maybe in all of Chihuahua.

Now he has a gun to his head.

Literally.

Three men picked him up as he left campus, shoved him into a car, hooded him, and drove him to this nondescript building. They sat him down in a chair in front of a computer, removed the hood, and stuck the pistol into the back of his head.

“You want to live?” the man they called “Forty” asked him.

“Yes.”

“Good answer,” Forty said. “You know
Esta Vida
?”

Manuel didn’t know how to answer. This wasn’t some oral exam at the university, defending his thesis. The wrong answer could get that trigger pulled. He dissembles. “I’ve heard of it.”

“All you have to do,” Forty said, “is tell us who’s behind it. We know it comes from Juárez. You tell us who, we’ll pay you very well. You don’t, we kill you. It’s that simple. Go.”

“I can’t do it on this computer.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a piece of shit.”

Forty laughed. “What do you need?”

Manuel gave him a list of hardware and software and Forty sent his guys out to get it. When they got back, Manuel assembled the hardware, downloaded the programs he needed, and went to work.

Now he sits at the computer and hacks for his life.


“What do you mean?” Pablo asks Victoria over the phone.

“What do you mean, what do I mean?”
she answers, sounding aggrieved.
“I have
work,
Pablo—stories to file—and can’t come until tomorrow, at the earliest. You and Mateo can meet us in El Paso.”

Pablo thinks he might throw up. “Mateo can’t come to Juárez.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not safe.”

“You pick him up at the airport and go straight over to the U.S.,”
Victoria says.
“Ernesto and I will meet you there. I don’t see the problem.”

“The problem is that Mateo can’t come to Juárez.”

“He’s dying to see you,”
Victoria says.
“When I told him it would be another day or two he threw a fit, and he can throw a fit these days, believe me.”

“For God’s sake, Victoria, just tell him no.”

“Too late,”
Victoria says.
“Emilia is putting him on a flight now.”

“Stop her.”

“Aeroméxico 765. He gets in at 8:10. Be there.”

She clicks off.

It will be all right, it will be all right, Pablo tells himself. Ana goes with you to pick up Mateo and you drive straight across the border. But the airport is on the southern edge of the city, a long drive down the 45 and back.

He looks over.

Ana’s not at her desk.

Pablo leaves the office and crosses the street to the coffee shop. Ana is at the counter, smoking a cigarette and banging away on her laptop. She closes it when she sees him come in.

“Okay,” Pablo says, “are you coming with us?”

“If you really think it’s a good idea.”

“Yes,” Pablo says. “Go home right now and pack your things. Then we’re going out to González to pick up Mateo. There’s been a change of plans.”

He tells her about Victoria.

Ana says, “Listen, I’m just okay with Mateo. I don’t know about seeing Victoria and her new man. I mean, the whole ‘exes meet’ scene—”

“You’ve known Victoria for years.”

“Exactly,” Ana says. “Look, you go do your thing with the Ice Maiden and I’ll meet you and Mateo when you’re done.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Ana, come with me now,” Pablo says. “We’ll get Mateo and go to El Paso tonight?”


Tonight?
What’s the hurry?”

“Ana.”

“Pablo.”

They stare at each other.

“We’re leaving tonight,” Pablo says. “Please. Just do this for me.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Ana says. “I’m a woman, in case you don’t recall. I need a little more time to pack. You go get Mateo, then swing by my place, I’ll be ready and we’ll go.”

“Okay, but be ready.”


Okay,
Pablo.”

“I have to go talk to Óscar,” Pablo says. “I’ll meet you at your place and we’ll go, okay?”

“As previously stated, okay.”

Pablo walks out of the coffee shop.

Chuy watches him cross the street.


Pablo knocks on Óscar’s door.

“Come in!” Óscar is sitting in his office, his bad leg propped up on a stool, his cane leaning against the desk.

“Óscar, I need a few personal days.”

“All right, Pablo. When?”

“Now. Tonight.”

“Tonight?” Óscar asks.

“It’s a family matter.”

“I’m sorry,” Óscar says. “Is Mateo all right?”

“He’s fine. He’s coming to Juárez. I’m going to take him away on a small holiday.”

“Usually, a little more notice would be appreciated,” Óscar says.

“I’m sorry. I am.”

“Well, don’t be too sorry,” Óscar says. “An excess of contrition is bad for the digestion. A small joke, Pablo—you look like your best friend just died.”

Pablo stands there.

“Is there something else?” Óscar asks.

“I just wanted,” Pablo stammers, “to thank you.”

“It’s a small thing.”

“No, I mean for everything,” Pablo says. “For everything you taught me, and…for being who you are.”

El Búho blinks at him. “Well, thank you, Pablo. That’s very gracious.”

Pablo nods, turns, and leaves.


Manuel sits back from the keyboard.

“I’ve got it,” he says.

The address from which 80 percent of the
Esta Vida
articles have been posted. The rest were posted from the offices of
El Periódico
or a coffee shop just across the street.

Forty calls Ramón and gives him the address.


Pablo drives down the 45 to Abraham González International Airport.

The trip takes only twenty minutes but feels like forever, and he also has the sense that he’s being followed. Paranoia again, he tells himself. Shake it. They gave you a couple of weeks. Please God, he thinks as he parks in the short-term lot and walks into the terminal, for once let Aeroméxico be on time.

“Papi!”

Mateo has grown.

He looks skinny now. Not underfed, by any means, but his body is in the process of becoming lanky like his mother’s. Pablo picks him up and swings him around.
“M’ijo! Sonrisa de mi alma!”

The smile of my soul.

“Are we going on a holiday?” Mateo asks.

“Yes, we are.”

“Can I go down the waterslide?!”

“As many times as you want,” Pablo says.

“I’m not too small?”

“If I’m not too fat.”

“You’re not fat,
Papi.

“You are a very kind boy,
m’ijo.
” He takes Mateo’s bag, slings it over his shoulder, then takes his son’s hand and starts to walk out of the terminal. “How was your flight?”

“I had a Coke. Don’t tell.”

“Don’t worry.”

They walk outside.

The night is warm and close. Pablo throws Mateo’s bag into the backseat, then opens the passenger door and straps him into his seat.


Papi,
your car is a mess!” Mateo laughs.

“You can help me clean it when we get to El Paso.”

“When are we going?”

“When?! Now!”

“Now!?” He’s delighted. Little boys so rarely hear the word “now.” Usually, it’s “later” or “we’ll see.”


Right
now,” Pablo says, sliding behind the wheel. “We’re going to go pick up Tía Ana first. She’s coming with us. I hope that’s okay.”

Mateo looks very serious. “Is Tía Ana your girlfriend?”

“Well, she’s a girl,” Pablo says, “and she’s my friend. Are you hungry? Did they give you anything to eat on the flight?”


Is
she?” Mateo asks.

He’s a reporter’s son, Pablo thinks as he starts the car and pulls out of the lot.


The car, a silver Navigator, pulls up in front of Pablo and stops.

Pablo hits the brakes.

He starts to back up but another SUV pulls up behind him. Then he sees Ramón get out of the car in front and walk back toward him. A short, skinny kid who can’t be more than a teenager is behind him. Ramón taps on the window and motions for Pablo to roll it down. When he does, Ramón says, “This is a fine automobile you have,
’mano.

“It’s just a
fronterizo,
” Pablo says, his voice shaking.

“When you headed out to the airport I thought maybe you were going on a trip,” Ramón says, “but you were just picking up little Mateo.
Hola,
I’m your Tío Ramón.”

“Hello.”

“He’s a cute one,” Ramón says to Pablo.

Pablo can’t breathe. His throat tightens as if he’s being choked from the inside. “Please, Ramón—”

“You’re out of time. We want an answer. Tonight. Otherwise we’re going to come visit you.” Ramón leans in and smiles at Mateo. “Maybe I’ll see you later, okay,
mi
sobrino
?”

“Okay.”

Ramón smiles, makes a
phone me
signal to Pablo, and then walks away. His car takes off and Pablo, his hands shaking, pulls back onto the road.

“Who was that man,
Papi
?” Mateo asks.

“An old friend.”

“What did he want?”

“Just to say hello, I guess.”

Pablo’s in agony as he drives to Ana’s. He doesn’t have a choice now.

He has to tell them what he knows.


Ana stuffs a flannel shirt into her backpack.

Even in July, it can get cold in the desert at night.

She’s still not so sure about this, not at all sure she should be making this trip. The thought of an awkward dinner with Victoria and her fiancé is appalling, and Mateo is too smart and sensitive a kid not to pick up on that, and react to it, so the whole thing could turn into a hot mess.

But it seems important to Pablo that she goes, so—

She hears a car door shut, and then another.

That must be them, she thinks.


Pablo lets himself into the house.

Ana is just finishing packing. She takes Mateo into her arms and gives him a long hug. Then she leans back, looks at him, and says, “You’ve grown so much!”

“I know.”

“I’m almost ready,” Ana says to Pablo.

“That’s okay,” Pablo says. “I need to make a phone call.”

He walks out into the backyard, where he’s spent so many great evenings. The parties, the music, the conversations and arguments…Ana shouldn’t have done it, he tells himself. She put us all in danger, writing that goddamned blog. She knew what she was doing, knew the chance she was taking, knew that it would come to this eventually…


He takes his phone from his jeans pocket and hits the number.

It’s his last chance.

Keller doesn’t answer—the call goes straight to voice mail.

Where the hell are you? Pablo thinks. You’re the last chance I have, the last chance Ana has, you…North American…could get us out of this. Whisk us across the border and hide us the way you hide narcos who change sides.

Narcos can get asylum visas. The journalists who write about them can’t.

And now it’s too late anyway.

All you can think about is Mateo, he tells himself.

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