The Cartel (92 page)


Keller rushes the church.

Runs for the count of three, dives to the ground. Looks, fires ahead of him, gets up and runs for the count of two. Mixes up the rhythm so the four Kaibile guards firing from the church doorway and windows don’t anticipate his move.

He hears the chopper come over him and realizes that the wounded are up and off. Thirty minutes, at least, before it comes back to get them. Downey would have sent the medic with it, and seven others. Ten of us left. Downey’s reconfigured his men—four screening the line from the Zeta camp, four covering the village and the Zetas coming back from the attack on the Sinaloan camp. Ruiz and I moving on Ochoa.

Ruiz dives to the ground five yards to his right.

Ochoa is in the church. Keller knows it, feels it, because otherwise the Kaibiles wouldn’t put up a fight there. But they have him and Ruiz pinned down and will kill them the second they get up.

“K-1, this is D-1.”

“Acknowledge.”

“Wait for my ‘go.
’ ”

“Acknowledge.”

Keller listens to the traffic between the team members.
“Target acquired. Target acquired. Target acquired. Target acquired.”

“Joy.”

Four shots, four hits.

“Go!”

Keller gets up and runs for the church. Shots come at him from the left, but he keeps running, and then bursts of fire from the team cover him and he makes it to the church doorway and steps over the two Kaibile bodies, neatly shot in the head. He flattens himself against the wall and sees Ruiz come up right behind him.

Keller pivots, swings his M-4 in front of him, and goes in.

The church is small, more of a chapel. Two more dead Kaibile lie by the windows. Some of the rough wooden pews have been torn out, a small bedroom built in their place, a bed, a nightstand—very basic. Oil lanterns hang from the walls and cast the church in a pale golden light.

A woman crouches by the side of the bed, clutching a baby.

She looks up at Keller in fear.

“No one is going to hurt you,” Keller says.

But she doesn’t believe him, clutches the baby tighter against her, and waits for him to do whatever he’s going to do.

Keller moves past her, down the center aisle.

He doesn’t see Ochoa.

Then he does—a slim shadow behind a cheap plaster statue of Mary, the baby Jesus in her arms.

Eddie sees it, too.

No respecter of saints—or for that matter, virgins—he blasts away at the statue, and chips of the Madonna and child spray the wall.

Ochoa rolls away and fires.

Keller feels a round hit the protective plates in his vest, like the blow of a baseball bat. He drops to his knees behind the wooden pew and swings his M-4 to find Ochoa, now slithering across the base of the altar, and fires.

The bullets rip into Ochoa’s feet, then up his legs, across his knees.

Eddie’s burst takes him in the stomach.

Ochoa lies by the front of the altar, his .45 in one hand, his other clutching his stomach, trying to keep his guts in. His eyes are half open, his legs twitch, his once handsome face is distorted in agony.

Keller knows that a bullet has snapped his spine.

Then Keller sees Eddie look around, and then spots what he’s looking
at
—a tin of paraffin, used to light the lanterns. He should stop Eddie, but then he thinks about Erika’s and Marisol’s mutilated bodies and decides to let Eddie Ruiz do what he’s going to do.

Keller turns his back and holds his hand out to the woman. She takes it, and he helps her up, then puts his arm around her and leads her and the baby out of the sanctuary and into the doorway. The shooting outside has slackened—when the Zetas saw that Ochoa was captured, they started to withdraw back to their camp.

Eddie takes the tin and pours the paraffin over Ochoa.

Eyes wide, Ochoa stares up at him.

Helpless.

“You think you hurt?” Eddie asks. “You don’t hurt yet.”

He tosses the match on him.

Keller steps out of the church.

But he hears Ochoa’s shrill screams, like a strong, fast wind scouring stone.


The sun comes up, red as blood, fire, and raw truth.

Adán sees it as good and bad.

Good in that he can see, bad in that he can be seen. Sheltering in the jungle like a small animal, he wonders if prey is grateful for the end of night. He’s tired and sore, the burns on his skin raw and painful, his head throbbing, his arms cut and scratched from the thorny branches, his bare feet a raw mess.

He’s walked in circles and figure eights, avoiding the Zetas, trying to discern what’s happened in the village, if his men have won or lost, if Keller has succeeded or failed. The shooting has faded into sporadic desultory bursts, but trucks have roared by on the narrow dirt road, men have trotted through on trails, and Adán has been afraid to lift his head and call out.

The bitter irony is that he’s waiting to see Keller.

His persecutor has become his savior.

He staggers ahead.

Lost.


Eddie comes out of the church. “I was lighting a candle.”

“We’re pulling out,” Keller says.

“I’m going to find Forty.”

“We don’t have the time,” Keller says.

“Maybe
you
don’t.”

He pushes past Keller and starts to walk away.

“I told you if you ran I’d put two in your back!” Keller shouts.

“Do it!” Eddie keeps walking.

Keller doesn’t.

Because Crazy Eddie’s right.

You finish what you start.

Keller follows him into the jungle.


Eddie sees a pair of legs sticking out of a crack in the earth. He walks up to them, looks down and sees Forty’s body.

Or what’s left of it—the trunk.

The head is missing.

Which is kind of random.

Anyway, Eddie thinks, my list is complete.

Segura, Forty, Ochoa.

RIP, Chacho.

Then he hears something and jerks the rifle to his shoulder. It’s in front of him, through some jungle, maybe forty or fifty feet, a dull rhythmic sound. Keeping the rifle pointed, Eddie walks through the brush until he comes to some kind of stone court, and then he sees what’s making the sound.

A skinny kid is kicking a soccer ball against an old stone wall.

“Hey!”

The kid turns around.

Eddie recognizes him and grins.

Chuy stares at him for a second, then turns his back and kicks the ball again, and then Eddie gets a closer look, hunches over, and throws up.

Forty’s face has been carefully stitched to the soccer ball. His mouth stretched open, grinning. Eddie thinks he’s seen some weird shit before, but this takes the freakin’ cake.

Chuy gets the bounce, dribbles it off the top of his foot, turns and kicks the ball to Eddie, who lets it roll off the stone into the bush.

“You remember me?” Eddie asks.

The kid just looks at him and stares.

Like we didn’t kill a few dozen people together, Eddie thinks. Like that didn’t happen, or it was nothing. Eddie asks, “What do you say we go home,
pocho
? Back to the 867?”

Chuy thinks about this for a second and nods.

He walks past Eddie and picks up his ball.

“No, why don’t we leave that here?” Eddie says.

Chuy shrugs and drops it, just as Keller comes into the clearing.

Keller looks down at the football with Forty’s skinned face stitched across it. Then he looks up at Ruiz and the teenage boy beside him.

“Who’s this?” Keller asked.

“Chuy,” Eddie answers. “Jesus the Kid.”

It’s the one who killed and butchered Erika. He’s a kid, a child—scrawny under his “uniform.” Thin face, stooped shoulders, a wisp of a mustache forming on his lip, about as lethal-looking as a mongrel pound puppy. Yet he killed Erika and cut her up like a chicken. Stuck the ironic calling card into her, and walked away.

Keller aims the M-4 at the kid’s head. Chuy doesn’t flinch, but just stands there staring at him, uncaring.

Catatonic.

Insane.

“You don’t want to do that,” Keller hears Ruiz say. “I mean, it’s not what we do, is it? Women and kids.”

This is no kid, Keller thinks. This is no child.

This is a monster.

The boy looks at him with flat, dull eyes, and Keller knows what those eyes have seen.

He lowers his gun.

“Get him out of here,” Keller says.

“What about you?”

“I have to find Barrera,” Keller says. “I have to take
him
home.”

“The hell you do.”

“Without him,” Keller says, “all this has been pointless, hasn’t it? Without him, it will just be more chaos, more killing. If he’s alive and out there, I have to find him.”

“Suit yourself.”

Eddie shrugs and leads the boy away.


Keller walks into the Sinaloan camp.

Deserted save for the dead.

The survivors must have run, Keller thinks. Gotten in their vehicles and tried to make it out.

Is Adán with them? Keller wonders.

Barrera triumphant?

The Once and Future King?

Or is Barrera dead, the victim of his own treachery? He underestimated Ochoa, didn’t think he was as cunning as himself. But that’s Adán; he always thought he was smarter than everybody else.

And maybe he’s right.

Keller sees the C-container that was one of the guest quarters, kicks the door open, and goes in. The place is a blackened tomb, and he looks around for Adán’s charred body but doesn’t find it.

Over the bone-phones he hears Downey.
“K-I, this is D-1. We’re bugging out. What is your location?”

Keller doesn’t answer. Stepping out of the C-container, he can hear the chopper’s rotors coming in.

Good.

“K-1, repeat—what is your location?”

The sun is coming up, and it feels warm on his face.

“K-1, we will not wait for you. Repeat, we will not wait for you.”

“Acknowledge. Go.”

A silence.

“K-1, what the—”

“I’m not coming.”

Keller walks into the jungle.


Adán comes to a clearing.

A flat stone terrace with ruins around it. The remnants of carved pillars, a slab that must have been a sacrificial altar. It’s overgrown now with vines, and has been looted of its statues and stone heads, but it provides a place to rest and he lies down.

More like falls down. Beyond exhaustion now, beyond hope, he collapses onto the stone, still cool on his skin in the early morning, and lays his head on his outstretched arms and closes his eyes.

He hears a scuffling sound and opens his eyes to see a small lizard racing across the stone and then the lizard stops and they stare at each other for a few seconds before the lizard skitters away.

Adán’s thirsty, more thirsty than he ever thought possible, and thinks that he might die of thirst in this rain forest. He doesn’t know where to go, how to get there, or what he’ll find when he does. He doesn’t have the strength to go anyway, and for the first time, perhaps in his life, he doesn’t know what to do, and he starts to cry.


The heat rises with the sun.

There is a cool of the morning in the rain forest, but it’s as brief as a summer love, and Keller feels enervated as he pushes through the heavy brush, feels an exhaustion like he’s never felt before, pushing through to the end of…

What?

This holy quest, this unholy vendetta?

You made your peace with the devil, Keller thinks. Now you live with it. If it’s
worth
living with it, worth living with the knowledge of the
cost.

What it’s cost you.

What it’s cost others.

Luis Aguilar, Erika Valles, Pablo Mora, Jimena Barca.

Marisol.

Thousands upon thousands of others—Mora’s faceless and nameless, the guilty and the innocent and the somewhere-in-between, where most of us live and die in our variegated grays.

Eighty thousand lives and all we’ve done is crown a new king.

And the new king is the old king.

World without end, amen.

Keller doesn’t really know where he’s going. Only knows that if Adán ran he would have run away, away from the fighting, he would have looked for a place to hide, and this is certainly a place to hide. You could disappear in here, under this canopy of green, hidden from the air, in this very old place that was once the home of ancient people and ancient gods that themselves disappeared, and then the jungle came back.

The jungle always does. As much as you chop away at it, the jungle always comes back. He can
feel
Adán in here—his severed limb, the phantom part of himself, always there, always lurking, the jungle waiting to reclaim itself.

Keller is aware of the sun because of the heat, but he can’t see the sky.

The jungle is too close and too dark.


Adán hears the footfalls in the bush.

Feels the prey’s pang of fear.

A puma? A jaguar? A human enemy come to kill him?

He opens his eyes and sees Keller.


Keller looks at Adán stretched out on the stone.

His face is black with soot, his naked body scratched and bloody and burned, his hair singed, his skin filthy with dirt, caked sweat, and raw, open blisters.

Small and pathetic, he blinks at Keller. Then he says weakly, “You came for me.”

Keller nods.

Adán starts to cry. Bubbles of snot come out of his nose. Struggling to sit up, he asks, “Do you have water?”

Keller unclips the small canteen from his belt and hands it to Adán, who screws off the cap and takes long, greedy gulps. The water seems to revive him, and he asks, “Ochoa?”

“Dead,” Keller says. “So is Forty.”

Adán’s cracked lips form a slight smile. “Killer Keller.”

“I have to get you home.” Keller offers his arm. Adán grabs on to it, and Keller pulls him to his feet.

“Thank you,” Adán says, finding his legs under him. “I want you to know I’m getting out of the trade. I’m giving it up. I just want to live my life with my family.”

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