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 (91 page)

She tilts her head back and just flicks at the head of his dick with her tongue, like a snake, and that does the trick. He feels himself getting hard, the pornographic scene of the orgy around him helps, and then she swallows him deep and he’s relieved when he feels the blood pump down into him, he gets hard and thick in her mouth, and he closes his eyes in pleasure.

The pain is horrific, unimaginable.

Nacho looks down to see his blood seeping around the knife blade embedded in his stomach, and then the girl with the lustrous hair and full lips smiles and pulls out the blade, and his blood squirts out into the dirt.

Staggering backward, Nacho looks around at a nightmare. In the red of the firelight, beautifully dressed, elegantly masked women slaughter their lovers with knives and guns, with garrotes or just their bare hands. Zetas pull pistols from their belts and gun down Sinaloans at close range. Other demons come out of the shadows and drag dead and wounded men into the bonfire. Nacho hears their screaming as he feels a deep dull ache in his belly and then he realizes through his disbelief that he’s going to die and then the beautiful woman with the lustrous hair behind the white skull takes him by the hand and walks him toward the fire.


Chuy watches the Sinaloan camp from the brush at its edge.

The Sinaloans have sentries out, two each in front of the quarters where their bosses are. There are probably more, peeking out from tents or, like him, lying in the brush outside the camp, but he can’t see them.

He doesn’t drink, do drugs, or fornicate with women, so other than the music—
norteño
mariachi that he doesn’t like anyway—the pagan Day of the Dead fiesta held nothing for him. And Forty had told him and the rest of his cell to refrain—there would be work for them later and he wanted their heads on straight.

Chuy was just as glad—the scene at the party was satanic, disgusting. Now he hears screams coming from the camp, sights in on the sentry outside Barrera’s cabin, and waits for the signal, one blink from a laser.

It comes just seconds later and he squeezes the trigger.

The sentry’s head snaps back, his rifle clatters on the cabin’s porch.

Chuy swings his
erre
onto the second sentry, who is looking to see where the shot came from. A dumb mistake—he should have hit the ground and then looked. Chuy’s shot takes him in the chest.

Five yards away from Chuy, the muzzle flash of a grenade launcher goes off and the armor-piercing missile spins its way toward Barrera’s quarters.

Now gunfire is coming back toward him and the fight is on.

Then, in the distance, Chuy hears helicopter rotors. Shit, do the Sinaloans have a chopper? Where did they hide it? He shifts position and looks up into the night sky. A helicopter gunship like the army and the
federales
had in Michoacán could wipe them out in seconds.

He sees the chopper.

The man with the grenade launcher panics, drops the weapon, and runs. Chuy picks up the launcher, hefts it onto his shoulder, and points it toward the sky until the chopper comes into the range finder.


A red streak comes up out of the predawn darkness.

A loud bang, a flash of yellow light, and the helicopter jolts sideways like a toy that’s been hit by a bat.

The blast tosses Keller to the deck.

Shrapnel sprays, exposed wires spark, the ship is on fire. Red flame and thick black smoke fill the cabin.

The stench of scorched metal and burned flesh.

Keller struggles back up and sees that Ruiz’s face is a bloody smear. Then Ruiz wipes the blood off and Keller sees that it came from one of the other men, whose carotid artery spurts in rhythm with his racing heartbeat. Another keels over, shrapnel obscenely jutting from his crotch, just below his protective vest, and the team medic is already crawling across the deck to help.

Now the voices come from grown men—howls of pain, fear, and rage as tracers fly up and rounds smack the chopper’s fuselage like a sudden rainstorm. But it’s too late to abort the mission, Keller thinks, even if we wanted to, because we’re going down.

The chopper spins crazily as it falls toward the earth.


Adán topples out of his quarters.

His hair is singed, his face scorched, and he’s deaf—all he can hear is a horrible ringing. He realizes that he’s on his stomach in the dirt, and thinks that he should be doing something, but he can’t figure out what it is.

Looking up, he sees one of his men run toward him, yelling something, but Adán can’t hear his words, only sees his mouth open and close in what seems to be slow motion, and then Adán slowly comes to the realization that he’s concussed.

The man runs right past him. It’s almost funny because he has no pants on, only a shirt, and his ass is skinny and flabby at the same time, and then Adán realizes that
he’s
naked as well and he yells out—or thinks he does, because he can’t hear his own voice. Yells out to stop and wait for him, come back and help him get up, but the man just keeps running, his ass bouncing, then bullets cut him down from behind and he claws at the air before toppling forward into the dirt.

Adán thinks he should be doing something but can’t think of what it is and then remembers that he’s the leader, El Patrón, he should be taking command, giving orders, organizing his men who are running around shooting in all directions, but then he realizes that would mean standing up and he’s too afraid to do that. A bullet smacks into a man near him and he wants to get up and take command but his legs won’t let him do it, they’re like water under him.

Adán belly-crawls toward the bush.


The landing is “hard.”

The pilot manages to bring the spinning helicopter down at the western edge of the village, but it hits hard, rattling Keller’s spine and snapping his head back against the bulkhead, and he almost blacks out.

The interior of the chopper is on fire. A couple of men work to suppress the flames as others get the wounded men out. Keller realizes that half his kill team is already out of action and then he hears Downey yell, “Out! Out! Deploy!” so he jumps out of the chopper bay.

Muzzle flashes crackle and bullets zip around his ears, so he flattens himself to the ground, flips his night-vision goggles over his eyes, and then risks looking up to get his bearings.

The school and the church are ahead to his right; in front of him and to the left, Zetas are taking position in huts, houses, and in the bush. Heavy firing is coming from about a quarter of a mile ahead, and Keller realizes that Zetas were attacking Barrera in his camp when the chopper came in. The Zeta camp is directly behind him, on the other side of the narrow belt of jungle, so they have enemy on all sides.

The second chopper has landed safely and its men are deploying, creating a firing line between them and the Zeta camp behind them. But there’s no screen between them and the Sinaloan camp in front, and Zetas are starting to come back from there.

Our only advantage is chaos, Keller thinks. The Zetas seem to be confused as to who the crashed helicopter belongs to, and they’re running in all directions, pouring fire at the chopper but also fighting in the Sinaloan camp and back in their own.

He notices that some of the fighters are women, dressed up as if to go to a party, some in masks, but carrying AR-15s and pistols, even lobbing grenades. They must be Panteras—he thought it was an urban legend, the “Zeta Amazons,” but now he sees that it’s true as figures move in and out of the darkness toward cover and good firing positions.

The old dictum is that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” and the special-ops team is already regrouping and improvising a new plan. He hears the sharp, disciplined fire as they use their night-vision advantage to pick out targets and create space to form a defensive perimeter. Short bits of talk come across the earpieces as Downey distributes his people and firepower.

They had expected to go into a sleeping village in an environment of surprise, not a hot combat zone. The plan was to perform the sanction and get out, not take on the entire Zeta force, and now the helicopter is destroyed and they’re going to have to fight their way out across the border.

“K-1,”
Keller hears on the bone-phone.
“This is D-1.”

“Acknowledge.”

“Aborting mission
.”

“That’s a no.”

“Not a lot of time here, K-1,”
Downey says.
“Kill Team G is fifty percent down, Kill Team F is engaged and I can’t spare them. And we’re going to have to get our wounded back to Chopper 2 and medevac.”

Keller gets what Downey is saying—

He and Ruiz are the only members of Kill Team G left, and Team F has all it can do just to keep from getting overrun themselves.

The mission is fucked.

And where is Barrera? Dead already, or did he survive the Zetas’ attack?

First things first, Keller thinks as he hears Downey say,
“We’re going to hold this perimeter until we can evac two eagles down.”

“Acknowledge.”

It’s the right move, Keller thinks. They have to get two wounded men back to the second chopper and then hold until it can deliver the wounded and then come back for them, because twenty men are too heavy a load for a single Black Hawk, already weighed down with special noise-suppressing gear.

Looking over his shoulder, he sees F start to move back into the jungle toward the Zeta camp. Bullets zing over his head and he trains his M-4 on a house to his left and returns fire. It feels good to be doing something, it lets loose his adrenaline, and he realizes that he didn’t come here to
not
kill Forty and Ochoa.

“Moving,” Keller says into the bone-phone.

“Negative that,”
Downey answers.

Keller gets up into a crouch and sees Eddie Ruiz to his left.

Eddie nods.

It’s on.

Keller dashes toward the school.


Forty’s bodyguards lay down a sheet of fire.

Eddie hits the ground and looks up to see a woman with a pink Uzi trying to spot him, but he shoots and blows Commander Candy away first. She clutches at her stomach as if she can’t believe that this has happened, drops the pretty pink gun, and sits down and howls for her mother.

Then Eddie sees Forty make a dash for the jungle. Eddie leads and pulls the trigger. Forty stumbles and then goes down, gets up again, and Eddie’s about to finish him when another spray of gunfire from the Zetas forces him to squeeze the earth.

Then there’s a whoosh and an explosion and Eddie sees the bodyguards blown off the school’s porch like toy soldiers in a kid’s game. He looks to find Forty but can’t see him.

He does see Keller get up and head for the church.

Ochoa.

Z-1.

El Verdugo.

Works for me, Eddie thinks.

He gets up and follows.


Chuy’s done.

He drops the rocket launcher and walks back into the brush. Carefully picking his way along the narrow trail he’s walked so many times, he crosses the stone terrace of the Mayan temple, picks up his
fútbol,
and crawls into his cave.

There is nothing to fight for here.

Not Flor.

Not Nazario.

Not Hugo, or God.

One side will win, one will lose, and it doesn’t matter which. He has his own mission now and he can’t carry it out during this fight.

He curls up into a fetal position and hugs the ball tightly to his chest.


Adán trips over a root and falls face first.

He hurts.

His right leg is burned and blistered, he’s scratched and cut from the thorns and razorlike leaves, the soles of his feet are cut and bleeding. He’s exhausted, and part of him just wants to stay down and sleep, but if he sleeps they might catch up with him, and he wants to live to see his sons again, to hold them. That’s all he wants in the world, all he wants from life.

Nacho was right.

What are they doing this for?

If Ochoa survives and wants to be
patrón,
let him.

All I want is to live.

Adán fights to his feet and keeps going. The jungle is dark in the predawn and he can’t see where he’s going, he can only move away from the sound of shooting and hope that the North Americans find him before the Zetas do.

His only hope now is that Keller is winning and will come find him and get him out. That was their deal, and for all his faults, and they are many, Keller is a man of honor, a man of his word. But Adán saw the helicopter crash and wonders if Keller was in it, if he’s dead, if even now the Kaibiles are cutting up his body.

As they’ll do to you, Adán thinks, if they catch you. He’s lost and has nowhere to go, but he keeps stumbling through the jungle, away from the sounds of shooting, trying to find a refuge.


Chuy wakes up.

Something is coming, burrowing into his cave. He turns on his flashlight and sees—

Forty.

He’s bleeding, holding a wound in his stomach. An exit wound, Chuy sees. Forty was shot in the back and the bullet came out his stomach and now there’s a big gaping hole that Forty can’t cover even with his big hand.

Forty recognizes him. Croaks, “It’s you. Thank God. Help me.”

Chuy looks at his face.

Doesn’t see the face grimacing in agony, but sees the face laughing at him, laughing at him while he hurts him, laughing while people scream.

“Help me,” Forty begs.

Chuy takes his knife, plunges it into Forty’s wound, and then rips the blade up through his stomach, up into his chest, just the way they taught him.

Forty bellows.

“Bitch,” Chuy says.

Forty huffs in agony.

Chuy takes out the knife, makes a horizontal incision across the top of Forty’s head, near the scalp line. Then he grabs the flap of skin and peels down as Forty screams.

The face won’t haunt Chuy anymore.

Then Chuy grabs his
fútbol
again.

His mission is done.

Almost.

He takes a little sewing kit out of his pocket.

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