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 (89 page)

It’s the only name he’s allowed to know. The rest are just first names—Keller has no idea if any or all are real—or nicknames. What they have in common is that they’re all professional, efficient, athletic, and educated. Through conversation over meals and beers he’s learned that most have advanced degrees in history, sociology, or the hard sciences and most are at least bilingual, but can curse fluently in English, Spanish (Downey recruited only Spanish speakers), Arabic, Kurdish, Pashto, and Dari.

Keller feels that he knows Dos Erres as well as you can know a place you’ve never been. He’s studied satellite photos, maps, and video. When the team moved from Virginia to a private training camp at Sunshine Summit, in remote hills about seventy miles north of San Diego, they built a mockup of the village with PVC pipe and cords.

They’ve practiced the operation a few hundred times.

Their best intelligence says that Ochoa has turned the empty church into his personal quarters, whereas Forty resides in the abandoned school just next to the church, on the west end of the village.

Each seems to have four personal bodyguards living in quarters with him, while the rest of the Zetas are quartered to the east of the village in the bivouac that had first been detected from the satellite reconnaissance.

A new clearing has been made to the west of the village. Another neat military rectangle, it has tents and what appear to be two C-containers that have been turned into living quarters, with small wooden porches covered with corrugated tin shade roofs.

Keller and the team have surmised that this new camp is for the Sinaloan guests, with the C-containers for Adán and Nacho.

The operational plan is simply but tightly timed.

Two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, each carrying ten men and a pilot, will fly the team across the Mexican border into Guatemala. The first chopper will hover over Dos Erres itself while its team fast-lines into the village and then separates into two “kill teams” of four men each. Kill Team “F” will attack the school and eliminate Forty. Kill Team “G” will hit the church and take out Ochoa. Downey will stay back with a medic who will double on communications.

The second chopper will land at the eastern edge of the village, along the narrow belt of jungle between the village and the Zeta camp. Its men will deploy and screen the kill teams from any counterattack coming from the camp.

There shouldn’t be one—the raid should be quick. Just in, just out, and then the first chopper will land, the kill teams will board, and then a fast “exfil” back across the border into Campeche, where the FES will pick them up and fly them to a military base outside Juárez.

From there they’ll “smurf” into small units, cross back into the States, and disappear.

The element of surprise will be critical.

Keller will be on Kill Team G with Eddie Ruiz. The special-ops guys didn’t really want Keller there; in fact, they wanted him to stay in the chopper. He’s too old, too slow, not a highly trained combat fighter, and there’s no time for him to catch up on the learning curve.

Keller told them to go fuck themselves.

“This is my op,” he told them. “I go, and I go in the front, or nobody goes.”

They grudgingly accepted it, more so as they learned more about “Killer Keller,” his background, and his personal losses. Rumors went around the camp about his relationship with the beautiful Médica Hermosa—who was promptly Googled and ogled—and how the Zetas shot her to pieces. The guys also learned about Erika Valles and Pablo Mora, and they decided that if Keller wanted to get some revenge, they were going to walk him in and take his back.

They’ve given him the radio call name “K-1.”

He surprised them in training.

Slow, yes, but precise.

And motivated.

And his briefings on the Zetas were comprehensive—their habits, their tactics, their training, their armaments—even the psychology of the two targets. He brought a treasure trove of photographs and video clips.

Eddie Ruiz brought something different.

Eddie was chilling out in his pad at Bliss when Keller came in and dismissed the babysitters.

“Pack,” Keller said.

“Where am I going?” Eddie asked.

“You’re coming with me,” Keller said. “To kill Forty and Ochoa.”

Eddie whistled. “Holy shit. That couldn’t have been easy.”

It wasn’t. Everyone and his dog had fought the idea of taking Crazy Eddie on the mission to Guatemala, but Keller argued that Ruiz was the only person who could personally identify both targets, that he was certainly a proven fighter, and that, at the end of the day, Ruiz was a free citizen who could walk out of Bliss anytime he wanted.

“We’d charge him five seconds later and arrest him,” Taylor answered.

“I promised him,” Keller said.

“You had no authority to do that.”

Keller shrugged.

“What if he runs?” Taylor asked.

“He won’t.”

Keller knew that he’d prevail on the issue. Eddie was damaged goods now that PAN had lost the election.

“You take him,” Taylor said, “you bring him back.”


Eddie’s briefings—if you can call them that—have been invaluable. Ruiz had sat down with Zetas, ate with them, talked with them, partied with them. He knows how they talk, how they think, how they react. Along with Keller, he’s the only one who’s fought them, who’s killed them.

The ex–special ops on the team were resistant to him, too—at first—looking on him as an undisciplined, drug-dealing, homicidal dirtbag. But once Eddie freely admitted that’s exactly what he was, they relented a little. And there was no question about one thing—Crazy Eddie could shoot the balls off a mosquito if mosquitoes had balls.

He told them so, and backed it up on the range.

So did Keller.

But the physical training, Keller has to admit as he studies the latest intel images, about killed him. The guys are right—he is too old and too slow. His legs and reflexes just won’t do what his mind tells them to do, and it’s infuriating. He’s in the best shape of his life, and exhausted. If there were two missions instead of one, he wouldn’t make it. This is his last operation.

The other thing that’s killing him is the waiting.

He waited for weeks, sweating out whether Barrera could even get the meeting with Ochoa. Then weeks more to learn where the location was going to be. Once they knew that, the tactical planning and training went into overdrive, but then it was more waiting to find out the exact date. When the date was established, there were five more days of excruciating tension to see whether it would actually come off.

Now it has, Keller thinks as he studies the photos.

Barrera is in Dos Erres.

The meetings are scheduled to begin in the late afternoon tomorrow.

They’ll go all day and into the night—at which point there will be a fiesta and partying, if everything goes well. There will be no more meetings the next day because by the time the sun comes up, the Zeta leaders will be dead.

Adán Barrera will be the undisputed patron.

And the
pax narcotica
can begin.

Because that’s the deal.

There will be one cartel trafficking drugs into the United States and we can all go back to playing the perpetual game of coyote and sheepdog along the border. Business as usual, and the gigantic trafficking and antitrafficking machines can grind on. Without me, Keller thinks.

In two days, I’m out of it.

Maybe less than that, he admits, if you die in Dos Erres, which is a very real possibility. Face it, they’re all right—you have no business coming on this mission, you’re the weakest link, probably the least skilled combatant on the ground. There’s a very good chance you won’t come back.

But what if I do? he asks himself.

What then? What next? What do you do with what’s left of your life? You can’t go back to Marisol, she doesn’t want you, so the happy retirement you pictured with her is out of the picture. You can’t go back to tending the bees—the monastery won’t have you, and besides, you’re not that guy anymore. That guy believed in the possibility of serenity and faith. The past seven years have beaten that out of you.

There is no such thing.

Not in this world, anyway.

So what are you going to do?

Take your pension, find a condo in Tucson, become that pathetic middle-aged guy you find at sports bars at two in the afternoon? Take up golf? Brew your own beer? Read the great books? Hang around until you get the bad biopsy and in the meantime try to convince yourself that you haven’t done what you’ve done, seen what you’ve seen, that your nightmares are the stuff of fantasy and not just a slightly more surreal depiction of your surreal life?

Maybe there are worse things than dying in Dos Erres.

They break up the camp in Sunshine Summit and go to the staging area in San Diego. Then it will be separate flights to Mexico City, on to Campeche, then into the chopper and across the border for “Operation XTZ.”

“Cross Out the Zetas.”

In his hotel room out by the airport, Keller sits on his bed with his phone in hand and thinks about calling Marisol. But what would he say? I miss you? Goodbye? Nothing he’s going to say will change anything, but he isn’t going to say that he’s changed his mind about going.

He doesn’t call.

Restless, he goes for a walk through the old neighborhood known as Little Italy. He used to come down here from his office in the old days, to get a sausage at Pete’s—now gone—or a good espresso at a place that he sees is now a Starbucks.

He turns up Columbia Street to Our Lady of the Rosary, built back in the ’20s to serve the Italian tuna fishermen who dominated the neighborhood. Keller used to come here often, for early morning Mass, to make confession, take communion, or just look at the frescoes in the back of the sanctuary.

The tuna fleet is long gone, the Italian fishermen with it.

The neighborhood is “hip” now—coffeehouses and nightclubs, new condo buildings. The Italian restaurants are expensive and cater mostly to tourists.

Keller stands outside the church and thinks about going in. It’s too late for Mass, but there might be a priest inside to hear confession.

But how much time could he have? Keller asks himself ruefully.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned and sinned and sinned and sinned…

And I’m about to go commit (another) murder.

At least one.

Keller keeps walking.

He has no need of God, he decides, and God has no need of him.

The Petén District, Guatemala

October 31, 2012

Chuy kicks a soccer ball against the remnant of a stone wall he doesn’t know is Mayan in origin.

The jungle is full of such ruins and he doesn’t care. Chuy wanders across the old stone terraces that were once altars without knowing what he’s walking on, or his own connection to them, that they were places where victims were decapitated in sacrifices to the Mayan death gods. He does like the caves that permeate the forest, cracks in the limestone floor of the jungle into which he can crawl and hide, take a nap, or just lie and think.

Forty brought Chuy and his
down to Guatemala and it was his first time on an airplane. He hated the crowded heat of Guatemala City but felt better when they drove north across the broad grasslands and then into the jungle. It still feels too close and too green, but he’s starting to get used to it, even though he’s a little scared at night because the men who’d been there longer told him that there are jaguars and pumas, and crocodiles in the swamps outside the village.

The village itself is pretty empty, except for some women and girls the men keep to do the cooking and the cleaning, and some men to do the grunt work. Otherwise, they had killed the villagers or chased them out, so it’s pretty much just Zetas living there in an armed camp.

The men had offered Chuy a girl for his bed, but he didn’t want her because he remembered Flor talking about her childhood in the Petén and how the Kaibiles forced her family off their land. So he doesn’t want a girl because it would remind him too much of her and also because he wakes up in the night crying and sometimes he pisses the cot, so he likes to sleep alone.

Some nights he doesn’t even sleep in the tent, but crawls into one of the caves and pulls a sweatshirt around him and sleeps there, even though he’s afraid of the jaguars and the pumas, but he has a rifle and a pistol and a knife so he’s not too afraid, and anyway, he only sleeps in fits and starts because in his sleep he sees faces—the faces of the boys who took him in the reformatory, the face of the first man he killed, the face of Forty, the face of Ochoa when he made him take the man’s head. He sees the faces of the people he’s killed, they’re like masks that float around the inside of his head when he closes his eyes.

Chuy sees the face of the woman police when he started to saw on her throat, and now he sees the face of the man they took away a few weeks ago, the drunk man who was so afraid and who cried and wept and begged and screamed until they shoved his shirt in his mouth to shut him up and he sees Forty’s face laughing, always laughing, telling him to do it, keep doing it, keep hurting him, you little bitch, you’re a little bitch, aren’t you.

And Chuy remembers his mission.

He kicks the ball into the wall hard and it bounces back to him and he juggles it on his foot twice before kicking it again. Maybe he should have been a
player, maybe he should have done that instead of what he did, and it seems like a long time ago that he picked up that pistol and fired it into the air and they put him in jail.

Forty brought him down here to fight the Sinaloans, but now it turns out that they may not fight because Chuy has heard that Barrera himself is coming to sit down with Ochoa and make a deal and he wonders if that means he’ll stay in Guatemala or they’ll send him back to Mexico or even let him go home.

Maybe I’ll just stay here, Chuy thinks, and live in a cave. Hunt my food and live like they do on
Or go to Alaska like on one of those shows. Or maybe just walk into a shopping mall or a movie theater, open up with the
and kill everybody.

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