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 (93 page)

“Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea; et a peccato meo munda me.”


“Latin,” Keller says. “A psalm: ‘Wash me throughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.’ ”

He points the gun at Adán.

Adán blinks in disbelief. “You gave your word. You swore on your soul.”

Keller shoots him twice in the face.

Then he drops the gun and walks back into the jungle’s darkness.



And I believe in God.
And God is God.
—Steve Earle
“God Is God”

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico


Keller finishes stirring the eggs in the pan, then slides them onto a plate and sets it down at the kitchen table in front of Chuy.

Chuy eats with abandon, like an animal.

Keller waits until he finishes and then says, “Go get dressed now and we’ll go. And brush your teeth.”

The kid gets up and goes into his room.

He rarely speaks, lives in his own world, impenetrable as a severe autistic. He still wets the bed and cries at night, wakes up screaming and Keller goes to him and does his best to soothe him, and even after almost two years of weekly therapy and daily medication, it doesn’t get much better. Keller is wryly amused that sometimes Chuy’s nightmares wake him from his own.

After the Petén raid, Keller had walked out of the jungle back into Mexico. Made his way to El Paso and told Tim Taylor that he was done for good this time.

Taylor had no problem with that.

“What happened to Barrera?” he asked angrily.

Keller shrugged. “I guess he didn’t make it.”

Then Keller walked out and never looked back. He went down to Juárez the same day and made Ana an offer on her little house. She was living out in Valverde with Marisol anyway, had quit her job at the paper to work at the clinic. She described it as penance, but never said for what, and Keller didn’t ask.

Eddie Ruiz turned up two days later, with Chuy in tow like a stray puppy. “I don’t know what to do with him.”

“Turn him in,” Keller said.

“They’ll kill him,” Eddie said.

Chuy walked past them and curled up on the couch. He’s pretty much been there ever since. The police didn’t care, if they even knew. Chuy had yet to turn eighteen, and as a juvenile could only serve three years in Mexico anyway. No one wanted to go through the trouble to prosecute.

No one wanted to be reminded.

“What are you going to do?” Keller asked Eddie.

“Cross the river and turn myself back in,” Eddie said. “Four years and I’m out.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“How about you?”

“I don’t have a plan,” Keller says. “Just live, I guess.”

He has a little money put away and a pension. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough, and he doesn’t need much. He thought about going back to the States, but somehow he wanted to stay in Mexico, in Juárez, to assist in the recovery of the ruined city, if only by buying his groceries there.

By being there.

Chuy’s story came out little by little, and it was horrific. Marisol said that he would probably never fully recover from the sort of traumas that he’d experienced, that the best they could hope for would be a kind of base functionality, a twilight existence. She found the best therapists, but the best anyone can do is to see that he’s not a danger to himself or anyone else. He’s pushing twenty now, but with the affect of an eleven-year-old, because as Marisol explained, the traumas stopped his growth when they started.

“I’ll look out for him,” Keller said.

Because he needs to. Call it penance, call it atonement or whatever the hell you want, he only knows that he needs to do it, that he can only find redemption by helping this boy find his, by showing love to what he hates, that at the end of the day or the end of the world, there are no separate souls. We will go to heaven or we will go to hell, but we will go together.

“That’s going to be a full-time job,” Marisol said.

Her own health is fragile, her limp more pronounced, and she relies more on her cane. The clinic is busy—many of her patients now are transplanted Sinaloans, but still poor and still without medical care if it weren’t for her.

She and Keller see each other occasionally, at rare social functions, sometimes at a bookstore or a café, and they talk pleasantly, like old friends. Sometimes they’re tempted to go back, to try to find what they lost, but they know that some things once destroyed can’t be rebuilt.

Loss is loss.

Chuy comes out of his room and they go outside, walk down to the corner, and catch a

The city is coming back.

Not fully yet, not even close.

But stores have opened their doors, houses have people living in them again, there are no corpses on the sidewalks. This is Keller’s city now, and will be, two ruins inhabiting each other.

The war on drugs drags on in its desultory fashion. In Mexico, in the States, in Europe, Afghanistan. The drugs still flow out of Mexico into the American Southwest, a more abundant commodity now than water. A few of the machine’s most monstrous cogs are missing, but its wheels still turn. Banking, real estate, energy, politics, armaments, walls, fences, cops, courts, and prisons—the cartel carries on.

Keller rarely thinks about any of it. He had read—in the newspapers like any ordinary citizen—that Martín and Yvette Tapia had been captured, and he wonders how Yvette will fare in Puente Grande. Probably not well. And Eddie Ruiz is scheduled for release soon, to a new identity and an ordinary life that he will find impossibly mundane.

Eva Barrera is living in the States now, in California with her two little boys, and they have plenty of money to live well, and he wonders if Adán ever knew that they weren’t his, that she has officially changed their paternity to spare them the shame of their legacy.

Someone else will take the throne, Keller thinks.

He doesn’t care who it is.

People don’t run the cartel; the cartel runs people.

The bus’s brakes hiss, and Keller and Chuy get off in El Centro and walk together toward the medical building where Chuy has his regular appointment that can do little more than maintain him where he is.

We are all cripples, Keller thinks, limping together through this crippled world.

It’s what we owe to each other.

Chuy goes inside.

Keller sits outside on a bench and waits. The words of the psalm come back to him—

“Be still and know that I am God.”

There is nothing to do but be still.


This is a work of fiction. However, any observer of the “drug war” in Mexico will realize that the incidents in this book are inspired by actual events. That being the case, I consulted a number of journalistic works that I would like to acknowledge here: Ioan Grillo—
El Narco
; George W. Grayson and Samuel Logan—
The Executioner’s Men
; Anabel Hernàndez—
; Charles Bowden—
El Sicario: Confessions of a Cartel Hitman
Murder City
; George W. Grayson—
Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?;
Blog del Narco

Dying for the Truth
; Howard Campbell—
Drug War Zone
; Ed Vulliamy,
Amexica—War Along
the Borderline
; Malcolm Beith—
The Last Narco
; Jerry Langton—
Gangland: The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver
; Robert Andrew Powell—
This Love Is Not for Cowards
; Ricardo C. Ainslie—
The Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War
; John Gibler—
To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War
; Melissa Del Bosque—“The Most Dangerous Place in Mexico,”
Texas Observer
. I also consulted articles from
The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Guardian,
and a number of Mexican newspapers, including, but not limited to,
Milenio Diario, La Prensa, El Norte, La Mañana, Primera Hora,
El Universal.

The recent era of the drug wars is unique in that it was “covered” in real time, often through Internet postings from the participants themselves, and also from blogs. Among the latter, I principally consulted
Borderland Beat, Insight Crime,
and, of course,
Blog del Narco.

A special thanks to my good friend and coconspirator Shane Salerno and The Story Factory for pushing and pulling me into writing this book, making it possible, and for being that guy who handles business differently, thinks globally, and truly cares about writers. Thanks to Sonny Mehta for his sage and patient editing, and to the whole crew at Knopf—Edward Kastenmeier, Diana Miller, Leslie Levine, Paul Bogaards, Gabrielle Brooks, Maria Massey, Oliver Munday, and all the rest.

And, finally, to my wife and son for their love, patience, and support.

A Note About the Author

Best-selling author Don Winslow has written nineteen books and numerous short stories, as well as for television and film. A former investigator and trial consultant, Winslow lives in Southern California.

Table of Contents

Other Titles

Title Page







Part One: To Arise From Sleep

Chapter 1: The Beekeepers
Chapter 2: Christmas in Prison
Chapter 3: The Hunting of Man

Part Two: The Gulf War

Chapter 1: The Devil Is Dead
Chapter 2: Los Negros
Chapter 3: Los Dos Laredos
Chapter 4: Jesus the Kid
Chapter 5: Narco Polo

Part Three: Good Night, Juárez

Chapter 1: Gente Nueva—the New People
Chapter 2: Journalists
Chapter 3: Jolly Coppers on Parade
Chapter 4: The Valley

Part Four: The Jack of Spades and the Z Company

Chapter 1: Women’s Business
Chapter 2: What Is It That You Want From Us?
Chapter 3: Each New Morn

Part Five: The Cleansing

Chapter 1: Jihad
Chapter 2: La Plaza Del Periodista
Chapter 3: The Cleansing

Epilogue: Ciudad Juárez


A Note About the Author

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