How 'bout if I buy you?
In the light from the large skylights up in the vault of the huge dry-dock shed, the two gray floats on the inflatable Valiant looked like torpedoes. Teresa Mendoza was sitting on the floor, surrounded by tools, and her greasy hands were tightening down the new propellers on the two 250-horsepower outboards. She was wearing old jeans and a dirty shirt, and her hair, in two braids, hung at each side of her sweat-streaked face. Pepe Horcajuelo, her head mechanic, was beside her, watching the operation. From time to time, without her having to ask, he would pass Teresa some tool.
Pepe was small, almost tiny, and years before had been a rising star in the world of motorcycle racing. An oil slick on a curve had forced his retirement from the track, and after a year and a half of rehabilitation he had traded in his racing leather for mechanic's overalls. Dr. Ramos had discovered him when the head gasket on his Deux Chevaux burned out in Fuengirola and he went looking for a garage that was open on Sunday. The former racer had
a good hand for engines, including marine engines, which he was able to get an extra five hundred rpms out of. He was one of those quiet, efficient types that like their work, and work hard, and never ask questions. And he was also-a basic requirement-discreet. The only visible sign of the money he'd earned in the last fourteen months was a Honda 1200 that was now parked near the big galvanized-iron hangar occupied by Samir Marina, a business backed by Moroccan capital, headquartered in Gibraltar-another of the sister front companies that Transer Naga owned down near the docks in Sotogrande. The rest, Pepe was diligently saving. For his old age. Because you never know, he would often say, what curve the next oil slick will be on. "That's it," said Teresa.
She picked up the cigarette she'd left on the edge of one of the work stands and took a couple of puffs, staining the cigarette with grease. Pepe didn't like people smoking when they worked in the shop, and he didn't like other people fiddling with the engines whose maintenance was entrusted to him. But she was the boss, and the engines and boats and storeroom were hers. So neither Pepe nor anybody else could object. Besides, Teresa liked to do these things, keep her hand in, she called it, do a little mechanicking, move around the dock area, the dry docks. Sometimes she would take the engines or a new boat out for a test run. And once, piloting one of the new thirty-foot semi-rigids-it had been her idea to use the hollow fiberglass keels for fuel reserves-she was out all night, running at full throttle to see how the boat behaved in a choppy sea. But all that was a pretext to remember, and remind herself of, and maintain a link with, a part of herself she couldn't bear to let go. It may have had something to do with a lost innocence, with a state of emotion that now, looking back, she thought had been very close to happiness. Chale, she told herself, maybe I was happy back then. Maybe I really and truly was, though I never noticed.
"Hand me a five-millimeter socket. Hold that there… like that."
She stood back with a satisfied expression to look at the result. The stainless-steel propellers she'd just installed-one counterclockwise and one clockwise, to compensate for the pull created by the rotation-were of smaller diameter and greater screw pitch than the original aluminum ones, and that allowed the paired engines, attached to the rear deck of a semirigid, to develop a few more knots' speed on a calm sea. Teresa laid her cigarette on the stand again and inserted the last washers and bolts that Pepe handed her, and tightened them down. Then she took one last puff on the cigarette, put it out in the cut-down Castro oil can she was using as an ashtray, and stood up, rubbing the small of her back.
"You'll let me know how they behave."
"I'll let you know."
Teresa wiped her hands off with a rag and went outside, squinting against the glare of the Andalucian sun. She stood there for several seconds, enjoying the place and the view: the dry dock's huge blue crane; the masts of the boats; the soft splashing of the water on the concrete launch ramp; the smell of ocean, rust, and fresh paint that the hulls out of water gave off; the clanking of the halyards in the breeze blowing in from the west, over the breakwater. She waved to the dry-dock operators-she knew every one of them by name-and skirting the sheds and sailboats up on braces she walked to the rear of the dry-dock area, where Pote Galvez was waiting for her by the Cherokee. The SUV was parked under a stand of palm trees, with the gray-sand beach behind it, curving off toward Punta Cullera and the east. A good deal of time had passed-almost a year-since that night in the basement of the house under construction in Nueva Andalucia. That, and what had happened a few days later, when the hit man, with welts and bruises covering his body, had come in to see Teresa, escorted by two of Yasikov's men.
"I have something to discuss with la dona," he had told them. "Something urgent. And it has to be now."
Teresa gave him a cold, almost grim reception on the terrace of a suite in the Hotel Puente Romano, on the beach. The bodyguards watched them through two sliding-glass doors off the living room.
"You wanted to see me, Pinto? Maybe you'd like a drink?"
Pote Galvez said no, gracias, and stood for several seconds gazing out at the ocean without really seeing it, scratching his head like a clumsy bear, his dark suit wrinkled, the double-breasted jacket looking like hell on him because it accentuated his girth. His Sinaloa-style iguana-skin boots were a discordant note in the business attire; Teresa felt a strange sympathy, almost a liking, for those boots. His shirt collar was buttoned for the occasion, and he wore a tie that was much too wide and colorful. She studied him with great attentiveness. Pinche rational human beings, leaking not just what they were saying but even, or especially, what they didn't say, or what they took their sweet time saying, like this fucking Mexican here now.
"You wanted to see me, Pinto?" she repeated, and Potemkin Galvez turned slowly toward her, still in silence, then stood facing her. He stopped scratching his head to say softly, after glancing out of the corner of his eye at the men in the living room, "Well, sefwra-I came to thank you. Thank you for letting me live in spite of what I did, or what I was about to do."
"Surely you don't expect me to explain why," she replied flatly, harshly. And the hit man turned his eyes away again-
"No, of course not," and he repeated it twice, with that way of talking that brought back so many memories to Teresa, because it insinuated itself into her very heart. "That's all I wanted, to thank you, and to tell you that Potemkin Galvez owes you one, and he'll pay you back."
"And how does Potemkin Galvez plan to pay me back?" Teresa asked.
"Well, senora, I already did, partway anyway," came the reply. "I talked to the people that sent me over here. On the telephone. I told them the truth: that these guys laid a trap for us and that Gato fell right in, and that there wasn't anything anybody could do, because they roughed us up pretty good."
"What people are we talking about?" asked Teresa, already knowing the answer.
"People," replied Pote, standing a little straighter, his proud eyes hardening a little. "Quihubo, mi dona. You know there are some things I don't talk about. Let's just say people. People from over there." And then, once again meek, pausing often, searching hard for the right words, he explained that those people, whoever they were, had taken it real hard that he was still breathing and that his buddy Gato had had his neck wrung that way, and that they'd explained real, real clear what his three options were: to finish the job, or to take the first plane back to Culiacan and face the consequences, or to hide out someplace where they couldn't ever find him.
"And which one have you decided on, Pinto?"
"Well… really… none of them look good to me, senora. Fortunately, I never had a family. So I don't have to worry about that part." "So?"
"Orale. So here I am."
"And what am I supposed to do with you?"
"That's for you to decide, mi senora. I don't think that's my problem."
Teresa studied the pistolero again. You're right, she conceded after a second. She felt a smile about to emerge, but she suppressed it. Pote Galvez' logic was elementary, yet perfectly accurate-she knew the rules. In a way it had been and still was her own logic, the logic of the hard-boiled world they both came from. Guero Davila, she suddenly thought, would have had a good laugh at this one. Pure Sinaloa. Life's little jokes.
"Are you asking me for a job?"
"One day they might send somebody else," the pistolero said, shrugging in resigned simplicity, "and then I could pay back what I owe you."
So there stood Pote Galvez beside the Cherokee now, waiting for her as he had every day since that morning on the hotel terrace: driver, bodyguard, messenger, whatever she needed. It was easy to get him a residency permit, and even-though it cost her-a weapons license, which she obtained through a friendly security company. That allowed him to carry, legally, in a holster under his arm or at his waist, a Colt Python identical to the one he had put to Teresa's head in another country and another life. The people from Sinaloa gave no more trouble: in the last few weeks, via Yasikov, Transer Naga had acted as intermediary, for free, in an operation that the Sinaloa cartel had about half worked out with the Russian mafias that were now entering Los Angeles and San Francisco. That smoothed out some of the tensions, or put to rest old ghosts, and Teresa received the unequivocal message that all was forgotten-live and let live, the counter set back to zero and enough chingaderas. Batman Guemes in person had cleared that up through reliable go-betweens, and although in this business any guarantee was only relative, the reassurance at least poured some oil on the troubled waters. There were not to be any more hit men-although Pote Galvez, distrustful by nature and profession, never let down his guard. Especially given that as Teresa broadened her operations, relationships became more and more complex and enemies multiplied in direct proportion to her range and power.
"Si, patrona." In Pote Galvez, what might have seemed officiousness, ass-kissing, was simply his old-fashioned Mexican way of showing the respect due an employer and a woman who had spared his life. He was subservient, even meek, and he was grateful, but he was still a professional killer, and Teresa, in turn, respected him for all that.
Home was a luxurious two-story house with an immense lawn and pool; it was finished at last, in Guadalmina Baja, next to the sea. Teresa got into the passenger seat while Pote Galvez took the wheel. The work on the engines had brought her a couple of hours' relief from the concerns in her head. This was the culmination of a good stretch: four shipments for the 'Ndrangheta had been delivered with no problems, and the Italians were asking for more. The people from Solntsevo were also asking for more. The new speedboats could easily manage the transport of hashish from the coast of Murcia to the Portuguese border, with a reasonable percentage-those losses were also foreseeable-of interception by the Guardia Civil and Customs. The Moroccan and Colombian contacts were working perfectly, and the financial infrastructure updated and improved by Teo Aljarafe was able to absorb and funnel off vast amounts of money, of which only forty percent was reinvested in operational expenses and expansion. But as Teresa expanded her activities, friction with other organizations in the same line of business increased. It was impossible to grow without taking up space that other people thought belonged to them. And then there were the Galicians and the French.
No problems with the French. Or rather, few and short-lived. Some of the Marseilles mafia's hashish providers worked on the Costa del Sol; they were grouped around two main capos: a French-Algerian named Michel Salem, and the Marseilles mobster Nene Garou.
Salem was a heavyset, sixtyish man with gray hair and pleasant manners with whom Teresa had had a few not altogether satisfactory experiences. Unlike Salem, who specialized in moving hashish in recreational boats and was a discreet family man who lived in a mansion in Fuengirola with two divorced daughters and four grandchildren, Nene Garou was a classic French ruffian: an arrogant, wise-mouthed, violent gangster given to leather jackets, expensive cars, and spectacular women. Garou ran hashish, but also dealt in prostitution, short arms, and a little heroin. All Teresa's attempts to negotiate reasonable agreements with him had failed, and during an informal meeting with Teresa and Teo Aljarafe in a private room in a Mijas restaurant, Garou lost it-making threats too loud, too gross, and too explicit not to take seriously. This happened more or less when Garou had proposed that Teresa transport a quarter-ton of Colombian black-tar heroin for him, and she said no-the way she saw it, hashish was more or less for everybody and coke a luxury item for assholes who could pay for it, but heroin was poison for the poor, and she wasn't into that shit. Garou took that the wrong way. "No Mexican bitch is gonna bust my balls," was how he put it, as a matter of fact, and the Marseilles accent made it sound all the worse. Teresa, not a muscle in her face moving, very slowly stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray before calling for the check and leaving the restaurant.
"What are we going to do?" was Teo's worried question when they got outside. "That guy is dangerous."
But Teresa said nothing about the meeting for three days-not a word, not a remark. Nothing. Inside, serene and silent, she was planning moves, thinking out the pros and cons, as though she were in a complex game of chess. Over the years, she had discovered that those gray predawn hours led to interesting reflections, sometimes very different from those she arrived at in the light of day. And three predawns later, the decision made, she went to see Oleg Yasikov.
"I've come to ask your advice," she said, although both of them knew that wasn't true. And when she laid it all out, briefly, using the fewest words possible, Yasikov looked at her for a few seconds before shrugging.
"You've grown a lot, Tesa," he said. "Yes. And when you grow a lot, these inconveniences come with the territory. But I can't get involved in this. No.
Can't give you advice, either, because it's your war, not mine. One day-life is full of surprises-we might find ourselves in the same situation, you and I. Yes. Who knows. Just remember that in this business, a problem that goes unsolved is like a cancer. Sooner or later, it kills."
Teresa decided to apply a Sinaloan solution. Me los voy a chingar hasta la madre de esos cabrones-nothing's more impressive than a disproportionate reaction, she told herself, especially when they're not expecting it. Guero Davila, who was a big fan of the Culiacan Tomateros, and who was laughing out loud in that cantina in hell where he now had his own table, would no doubt have described this as hitting every ball that came over the plate, and stealing second base off the assholes to boot.
This time she found her resources in Morocco, where an old friend, Colonel Abdelkader Chaib, supplied the appropriate personnel: ex-cops and ex-military types who spoke Spanish, had their passports and tourist visas in order, and came and went on the Tangiers-Algeciras ferry line. Hard, tough guys: muscle who received only the necessary information and instructions and who, should they be captured by Spanish authorities, could not be tied to anybody. They caught Nene Garou coming out of a disco in Benalmadena at four in the morning. Two young North African-looking men-he told the police later, when he'd recovered his ability to speak-approached him like they were going to mug him, and after taking his wallet and watch they broke his spine with a baseball bat. Clack, clack. "Broken into so many pieces it was like a baby rattle," was the graphic expression used by the hospital spokesman, who was later reprimanded by his superiors.
The same morning this story appeared in the police-blotter notes in the Malaga newspaper Sur, a telephone call came for Michel Salem at his house in Fuengirola. After a pleasant Buenos dias, the caller identified himself as a friend and in perfect Spanish offered his condolences for the regrettable accident that Garou had suffered and that Monsieur Salem, he imagined, had no doubt recently learned of.
Then the voice told Salem that at that moment, his grandchildren-three sweet girls and a boy, five to twelve years old-were playing in the yard of the Swiss school in Las Chapas. They'd spent the previous day at a McDonald's, at a birthday party for the eldest, a cute tomboy named Desiree. Her usual route to and from school, like that of her sibling and her cousins, was given in minute detail to Salem.
That same afternoon Salem received, by messenger, a package of telephoto pictures of his grandchildren-at McDonald's and at the school playground.
I spoke with Cucho Malaspina-black leather pants, English tweed jacket, Moroccan bag over his shoulder-as I was about to go to Mexico for the last time, two weeks before my interview with Teresa Mendoza. We ran into each other at the airport in Malaga, where we were waiting for our respective delayed flights.
"Hola, que tal, love," he said. "How are you?"
I got myself a cup of coffee and he had orange juice, which he sipped through a straw as we caught up on each other's lives: I read your things, I see you on TV, the usual. Then we sat down together on a couch in a quiet corner. "I'm working on something about the Queen of the South," I told him, and he broke out in wicked laughter. It was he who'd given her that sobriquet. The cover of Hola! four years before. Six pages in color with the story of her life, or at least the part he'd been able to find out about, centering mostly on her power, her luxurious life, and her mystery. Almost all the photographs taken with a telephoto. Something along the lines of This dangerous woman controls this and that. Reclusive multimillionaire Mexican, shadowy past, shady present. "Beautiful and enigmatic," read the caption of the single photo taken from closer range: Teresa in dark glasses, dressed austerely and elegantly, getting out of a car surrounded by bodyguards in Malaga, on her way to testify before a judicial commission on drug trafficking that was able to prove absolutely nothing against her.
By then, her legal and financial front was perfect, and the queen of drug trafficking on the Strait, the czarina of drugs-as Madrid's El Pais described her-had bought so much political and police protection that she was virtually invulnerable. So nearly invulnerable, in fact, that the Ministry of the Interior leaked her dossier to the press in an attempt to make public through rumor and journalistic "background" what it couldn't prove in court. But that strategy backfired; the newspaper stories written from that background material turned Teresa Mendoza into a legend: a woman thriving in a world of dangerous men.
From that point on, the rare photos taken of her, her rare appearances in public were always news. Paparazzi hounded her as much as they did the princesses of Monaco or some name-over-the-title movie stars, and there were always dozens of police complaints and even lawsuits against Teresa's bodyguards for assault and battery against photographers. A stable of Transer Naga attorneys handled these distractions.
"So you're writing a book about that creature."
"I'm finishing it. Or almost."
"Quite a character, isn't she?" Cucho Malaspina-intelligent, bitchy- looked at me as he stroked his moustache. "I know her well."
Cucho was an old friend of mine, from the days when I was a journalist and he was just beginning to make a name for himself writing a gossip column, contributing to the society pages, and appearing on evening TV talk shows. We had a conspiratorial respect for one another. Now he was a star, able to ruin a famous marriage with a dropped remark, a headline, a caption. Clever, creative, and nasty. The Guru of Gossip and Glamour-poison in a martini glass. It wasn't true that he knew Teresa Mendoza, but he had moved in those circles-the Costa del Sol and Marbella were a profitable hunting ground for the pink press- and a few times he almost got close to her. But each time he'd been shown the door with a firmness that on one occasion, at least, led to a black eye. He'd filed a complaint with the San Pedro de Alcantara police when a bodyguard-whose description fit Pote Galvez to a T-had smacked him when he tried to have a word with Teresa as she was leaving a restaurant in Puerto Banus. Good evening, senora. If it's not too much trouble I'd like to ask you about… bam!
Apparently, it was too much trouble. So there were no answers, or further questions, or anything except that moustached gorilla blacking Cucho's eye with professional expertise. Twittering birds, colored stars, the reporter on his ass on the sidewalk, car doors slamming, and the noise of expensive tires laying rubber. The Queen of the South glimpsed fleetingly as she made her stunning exit from a fashionable restaurant blah blah blah.
"A sure draw for the public's insatiable thirst for scandal, imagine. 'Inquiring minds want to know,' right? A girl who creates a whole little underground empire in a matter of two or three years. An adventuress with all the ingredients: drugs, money, mystery… Always at a distance, protected by her bodyguards and her legend. The police unable to touch her, and her buying off half of southern Spain and a good bit of North Africa. The Koplowitz of drugs… Remember those millionaire sisters?… Well, the same thing, but gone over to the dark side. When that gorilla of hers, a fat guy with a face like Indio Fernandez', hit me, I've gotta tell you I was delighted. I lived two months on that! Then, when my lawyer asked for this incredible amount of money, which we never even dreamed of collecting, they paid in cash, my dear, in cash! I swear. We never got anywhere near the courthouse doors."
"Is it true that she and the mayor were close?"
The malicious smile widened under the moustache.
"Tomas Pestafia?… Thick as thieves, those two," he said as he sipped his orange juice. "Literally. Teresa was the golden goose for Marbella-charities, donations, investments. They met when she bought the land to build a house in Guadalmina Baja-lawns, gardens, pool, fountains, ocean views, the whole thing. But she filled it with books, too, as a matter of fact, because it so happens that the girl is practically an intellectual, did you know that? So they say. She and the mayor had dinner together often, or saw each other at the houses of mutual friends. Private meetings, bankers, builders, politicians, people like that…"
"Did they do business together?"
"Well, of course, my dear. Pestana handed over a good deal of local control to her, and she always had a way of not making herself too conspicuous. Every time there was an investigation, agents and judges suddenly became uninterested and incompetent. So the mayor could hang out with her without upsetting anybody. It was very discreet, and very astute on the part of both, but especially her. Little by little she infiltrated city halls, the courts… Even Fernando Bouvier, the governor of Malaga, was eating out of her hand. Everybody was making so much money that no one could do without her. That was what protected her, and gave her power."
Power, he repeated. Then he smoothed out the wrinkles in his leather pants, lit a Dutch cigar, and crossed his legs. "The Queen," he added, blowing cigar smoke into the room, "didn't like parties. In all those years she'd gone to two or three, tops. She'd go late and leave early. She lived all shut up in her house, and sometimes she could be photographed from a distance, walking on the beach. She liked the ocean. People said that sometimes she went out with the crews that were running the drugs, like she used to do when she didn't have a pot to piss in, but that was probably just part of the legend. Although she did like the water. She bought a big yacht, the Sinaloa, and would spend a lot of time on it, alone with the bodyguards and the crew. She didn't travel much. She'd be spotted here and there occasionally. Mediterranean ports, Corsica, the Baleares, the Greek islands. That's about it.
"I once thought we had her… A paparazzo managed to sneak in with some concrete-layers who were working in the garden, and he got a couple of rolls-her on the terrace, at a window, things like that. The magazine that bought the pictures called me to write the text. But the story never came out. Somebody paid a fortune to block it, and the photographs disappeared. Abracadabra-poof! It's magic! They say it was handled by Teo Aljarafe in person. The good-looking lawyer. And he paid ten times what they were worth."
"I remember that… The photographer had some trouble."
Cucho leaned over to knock the ashes off his cigar into the ashtray. He stopped in mid-movement. The wicked smile had become muted, knowing laughter.
"Trouble?… Oh my dear, don't make me laugh. With Teresa Mendoza, that word is the world's biggest understatement. The boy was a professional, a veteran, an expert at sniffing underwear and tracking down liaisons dangereuses… Two weeks after the photos vanished, somebody broke into his apartment in Torremolinos, coincidentally with him in it at the time. Imagine!… After breaking, one by one, the fingers of both his hands, they cut him with a razor four times, apparently with no intention of killing him… The news spread. Of course nobody ever again approached the house in Guadalmina, or even tried to get within twenty yards of that bitch."
"Love affairs?" I asked, changing the subject.
He shook his head-absolutely none. Now we were back in his specialty.
"No love affairs, zip. At least so far as I could ever find out. And you know I have my sources. There was talk of a relationship with that lawyer, Teo Aljarafe. Classy, good-looking, and well enough off for most. Also a son of a bitch. They traveled together. But he wasn't really her type. They probably fucked, you understand, but he wasn't her type. Trust my bitch-on-a-hot-scent nose, my dear. I'd say her type was more like Patricia O'Farrell."
"The O'Farrell girl," Cucho went on, after getting himself another orange juice and saying hello to some friends on the way back, "was coke-I mean horse-of a different color. They were friends and partners, although they were as different as night and day. But they'd been together in prison. Quite a story, O'Farrell's, huh? So promiscuous and all that. So perverse. And she was really classy. But under the designer outfits, a lesbian slut. With all the vices, including this one-" Here, Cucho touched the side of his nose meaningfully. "Frivolous as hell, so it's not easy to understand how those two, Sappho and Captain Morgan, could be together. Although the Mexicana ran the show, of course. It's not possible to conceive of the O'Farrell clan's black sheep putting that empire together all by herself.
"She was a dyke, and as out as they come. A cokehead like you wouldn't believe. And that led to lots of gossip… People say O'Farrell knocked the rough edges off the Mexicana, who practically didn't know how to read and write. Whether that's true or not, by the time I knew her she dressed and acted classy. She always wore good clothes: quiet, dark, simple-very elegant, very chic. You're going to laugh, but one year we even included her in the nominations for the best-dressed list in Spain. Half seriously, I swear to God. And she made the list! Eighteenth or so. She was cute-not beautiful, but she knew how to make herself look smart." He sat pensively, his smile distracted, and after a few seconds he shrugged. "There was clearly something between those two. I don't know what they were-friends, lovers, what, but they were something. Very strange. Maybe that explains why the Queen of the South didn't have many men in her life."
The loudspeaker called Cucho's flight. He looked at his watch and stood up, hanging his black bag over his shoulder. I got up, too, and we shook hands. Good to see you, I said. Have a good trip.
"I hope to read that book, if they don't cut your balls off first," said Cuchco. He winked.
As he walked away, he added, "Then there's the mystery, right?… What happened at the end with O'Farrell, and with the lawyer." Cucho laughed. "What happened with all of them."
It was a mild autumn, with cool nights and good business. Teresa Mendoza took a sip of the champagne cocktail she was holding and looked around. She was being observed, too, directly or surreptitiously, and there were whispered comments, murmurs, smiles that were sometimes admiring, sometimes uneasy. Lately, the media had paid a great deal of attention to her. Going over the coordinates of a mental plan, she imagined herself at the center of a complex web of money and power, full of possibility and also of danger.
She took another sip. Soft music, fifty select people, eleven o'clock at night. Over a black sea hung a yellow moon that looked as though it had been sliced in half horizontally, and it was mirrored in the Marbella inlet out there beyond the immense landscape twinkling with millions of lights. The living room was open to the garden on the side of the mountain, next to the Ronda highway. Access was controlled by security guards and municipal police. Tomas Pestana, the host, in a white dinner jacket and red cummerbund, was moving from group to group, chatting, smiling, an enormous Havana cigar between the ringed fingers of his left hand, his eyebrows, as thick as a bear's, arched in constant surprise and pleasure. He resembled nothing so much as the villain in a 1970s spy movie. A likable scoundrel. Thank you so much for coming, my dear. How nice. How very nice of you. Have you met so-and-so?… And what's-his-name?…
That was Tomas Pestana. He loved it. Loved to show off. Even show off Teresa, as though she were another proof of his success. A rare and dangerous trophy. Whenever someone asked him about her, he would affect a mysterious smile and shake his head knowingly: //1 told you some of the things I've seen… "Everything that gives a man glamour or money is useful to me," he had once said. And with Teresa, the one was intimately connected to the other. Because Teresa Mendoza didn't just give a touch of exotic mystery to local society; she was also a horn of plenty. The latest operation calculated to win the mayor's heart-recommended by Teo Aljarafe-included payment of a municipal debt that threatened Marbella with a scandalous embargo of its properties and untold political consequences. Not to mention that Pestana-garrulous, ambitious, astute, voted into office more times than anyone since the days of Jesus Gil-loved to boast of his relationships at "special" moments, even if only for a select group of friends or associates, the way art collectors show off their private galleries, which hold masterpieces, acquired illicitly, that can't be shown in public.
"Imagine a raid on this place tonight," said Patty. She had a joint between her lips and was laughing, her third drink in hand. "Course, no cop would have the balls," she added. "This is one mouthful that'd get stuck in his throat."
"Well, there's one cop here," Teresa replied. "Nino Juarez."
"I saw that cabron."
Teresa took another sip as she finished mentally counting. Three financiers. Four high-level developers. A couple of middle-aged English actors who lived in the Zone to avoid taxes back home. A movie producer with whom Teo Aljarafe had just entered a useful partnership, since the producer went bankrupt once a year and Teo was an expert in moving money through companies with losses-in this case, movies that flopped. The owner of six golf courses. Two governors. A Saudi millionaire down on his luck. A member of the Moroccan royal family whose luck was still running strong. The main stockholder in a large hotel chain. A famous fashion model. A singer who'd flown in from Miami in his own plane. A former minister of the treasury and his wife, who had once been married to a well-known actor. Three super-exclusive call girls, great beauties notorious for their very un-private love affairs with prominent politicians and millionaires… Teresa had talked for a while with the governor of Malaga and his wife-the wife had looked at her, half suspicious and half fascinated, the whole time, not opening her mouth, while Teresa and the governor agreed on the financing for an auditorium for the city's cultural events and three shelters for drug addicts. She had chatted with two of the developers and then stepped aside for a brief, useful word with the member of the Moroccan royal family, a partner of mutual friends on both sides of the Strait; he gave her his card. You must come to Marrakesh. I have heard a great deal about you. Teresa nodded and smiled without making any promises. Hijole-she imagined what the guy had heard, and from whom. Then she and the golf-course owner, whom she knew slightly, exchanged a few pleasantries. "I have an interesting proposal," he said. "I'll call you."
The singer from Miami was laughing in a nearby group, throwing his head back to show the chin he'd just had done by a famous plastic surgeon. "When I was a girl I was crazy about him," Patty told her. "And look at him now. Sic transit…" Her eyes glittered, her pupils very dilated. "Want somebody to introduce us?" she suggested.
Teresa shook her head, her drink at her lips. "Spare me, Lieutenant. And watch it, you've had three already."
"No, you spare me" Patty retorted, not losing her good humor. "What a bore you are, nothing but work, your whole fucking puta life."
Teresa looked around absentmindedly. The truth was, this wasn't exactly a party, although the pretext was to celebrate the mayor's birthday. It was a pure social ritual, a high mass, and held for no reason but to do business. "You have to go," Teo Aljarafe had insisted; he was now talking to a group of financiers and their wives-ever polite, suave, attentive, a glass in his hand, his tall silhouette slightly stooped, his aquiline profile turned courteously toward the ladies. "Even if it's just fifteen minutes, you've got to stop in," he told her. "Pestana looks at some things in a very elementary way-it's black and white-and you can't send regrets for an evening like this. Besides, it's not just the mayor. With half a dozen Buenas noches and 'How are yous' you can take care of a shitload of commitments. Open doors and grease the skids. Get the idea?"
"I'll be back," Patty was saying.
She'd put her empty glass down on a table and was walking away, toward the bar: high heels, back bare to the waist, in contrast to the austere little black dress Teresa was wearing, her only adornment a pair of earrings- simple pearls-and the silver semanario. On the way, Patty deliberately brushed against the back of a young woman who was chatting with some people, and the girl half turned to look at her. That cunt, Patty had said, flicking her head when she'd first seen her.
Teresa, used to her friend's provocative tone-sometimes Patty went too far on purpose when Teresa was around-shrugged. Too young for you, Lieutenant, she'd said. Young or not, replied Patty, in El Puerto she wouldn't have gotten away from me if she'd sprouted wings. Of course, she added after looking at her thoughtfully, I was wrong about Edmond Dantes. She smiled too brightly when she said this.
And now Teresa, concerned, was watching Patty walk away through the guests: she was weaving a bit, although she might be able to hold one or two drinks more before the first visit to the bathroom to powder her nose. But it wasn't a problem of drinking or snorting. Pinche Patty. Things were going from bad to worse with her, and not just tonight. As for Teresa, she'd had enough of this mingling, and she wanted to start thinking about going.
She'd seen Nino Juarez circling close by, studying her. Small, with his blond beard. Expensive clothes, no way to pay for them on his cop's salary. They crossed paths from time to time, at a distance. It was Teo Aljarafe who took care of that one.
"I'm Nino Juarez."
"I know who you are."
From the other side of the room, Teo, who never missed anything, gave Teresa a look of warning. He may be ours, when he's paid off, but that guy is a minefield, his eyes said. And besides, there are people watching.
"I didn't know you came to this sort of affair," said the cop.
"I didn't know you did."
That was not true. Teresa knew everything about the commissioner of the organized-crime unit: He liked the Marbella life, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, appearing on television announcing the successful conclusion of some important operation, the rendering of some important service to the community. He also liked money. Tomas Pestana and he were friends, and they lent each other support in many ways.
"It's part of my work." Juarez paused and smiled. "As it is of yours."
I don't like him, Teresa decided.
"There's a problem," Juarez said suddenly. His tone was almost intimate. He, like her, was looking around, smiling vaguely.
"Problems," said Teresa, "are not my problem. I have people to deal with them."
"Well, this one can't be dealt with quite that easily. And I prefer to tell you what it is, not somebody else."
And then he did, in the same tone and a very few words. A new investigation had begun, set in motion by a judge in the National Tribunal who took his work very, very seriously: one Martinez Pardo. This time, the judge had decided to leave the organized-crime unit out of it and use the Guardia Civil. Juarez was out of the loop, and he couldn't do anything to stop or derail it. He just wanted to make that clear before things started rolling.
"Who in the Guardia Civil?"
"There's a group that's good. Delta Four. It's headed by a captain named Victor Castro."
"I've heard of him."
"Well, he's been working in secret on this operation for some time. The judge has come down a couple of times. Apparently they're tracking the last departure of semi-rigids out there. They want to intercept a few and trace them up the food chain."
"And this is serious?"
"Depends on what they find. You should know."
"So what about Organized Crime?… What do you plan to do?"
"Nothing. All I can do is sit back and watch. I told you, we've been bumped. With what I've told you, I've done my duty."
Patty was back, with another glass in her hand. She was walking straight, and Teresa figured that she'd visited the ladies' room to perk herself up.
"Oh, wow," she said as she approached. "Look who we have here. Law and order. And my, Grandma, what a big Rolex you have tonight. New?"
Juarez turned grim, looking at Teresa. You all right with this? he said wordlessly. Your partner is not going to be much help when the shit hits the fan.
"Excuse me," he said. "Buenas noches." And he wandered off among the guests.
Patricia laughed softly, watching him.
"What was that hijo deputa saying to you?… His check didn't come in the mail yet?"
"It's not a good idea to yank people's chain like that." Teresa, uneasy, had lowered her voice. She didn't want to lose her composure, not here and not now. "Especially when they're cops."
"Don't we pay him?… So fuck 'im."
Patty jerked the glass to her lips, almost violently. Teresa wasn't sure whether the anger in her words was aimed at Nino Juarez or at her.
"Listen, Lieutenant. Don't fuck with me. You're drinking too much. And the other, too."
"So what?… It's a party, and tonight I feel like partying."
"Who's talking about tonight?"
"Oh, I see. Now you're my babysitter."
Teresa said no more. She looked fixedly into her friend's eyes, and Patty looked away.
"After all," Patty growled, "fifty percent of the payoff to that asshole comes from me."
Teresa still didn't reply. She was thinking. From afar, she felt the questioning look of Teo Aljarafe. This was never going to end. You plug one hole, and another one opens. And not everything could be fixed with common sense or money.
"How's the queen of Marbella?"
Tomas Pestana had just appeared by their side-charming, back-slapping, vulgar. He wore a white dinner jacket that gave him the look of a short, chubby waiter. The mayor liked to live dangerously, as long as there was money or influence in it for him, and he and Teresa had a relationship based on mutual interests. He had founded a local political party, and he sailed the murky waters of real estate; the legend that was beginning to grow around the Mexicana reinforced his sense of power, and his vanity. It also reinforced his checking account. Pestana had made his first fortune as a right-hand man for an important Andalucian real estate developer, buying land for the business through his boss' contacts and with his money. Later, when a third of the Costa del Sol belonged to him, he visited his boss to tell him he was quitting. Really? Yes, really. Well, listen, how can I thank you for your services? You already did, was Pestana's reply. I put it all in my name. For months after the boss got out of the hospital, after his heart attack, he was on the lookout for Pestana, and he had a gun in his belt for when he found him.
"An interesting group of people, don't you think?" said Pestana.
The mayor, who never missed a trick, had seen her talking to Nino Juarez, though he never would have said so explicitly. They exchanged compliments: Happy birthday, Mr. Mayor. Wonderful party. Teresa asked what time it was, and the mayor told her.
"We're still on for dinner Tuesday, of course," said Teresa. "Same place as always. Now Patty and I really have to go-have to get up early tomorrow morning."
"You'll have to go by yourself, sweetie," Patty said. "I'm having a wonderful time right here."
With the Galicians, things were a little more complicated than with the French. In fact, it was like threading a needle with a piece of hawser, because the gangs in northwest Spain had their own contacts in Colombia, and sometimes worked with the same people Teresa did. Plus, these were serious tough-guy gangster types, they had years of experience, and they were on home turf, after the amos do fume, who controlled the tobacco-smuggling rings, had retooled themselves for drugs and were now amos da cocaina. The Galician coves and inlets were their territory, but they had been extending it southward, toward the mouth of the Mediterranean and North Africa. So long as Transer Naga transported only hashish along the Andalucian coastline, relations with the north-western Spaniards, though cool, were live-and-let-live. But cocaine was different. And recently, Teresa's organization had become a serious competitor. All this emerged in a meeting held on neutral ground, a large country house in Caceres, near Arroyo de la Luz, between the Sierra de Santo Domingo and the N-521 highway-a place surrounded with pastures for the cattle and thick stands of oak. The huge white house was at the end of a road on which approaching cars raised clouds of dust, so an intruder could easily be seen from far away.
The meeting took place at mid-morning, and Teresa and Teo Aljarafe attended for Transer Naga, escorted by Pote Galvez at the wheel of the Cherokee and, in a dark Passat behind them, two of their most trusted men-young Moroccans who had first proved themselves in the rubbers and later been recruited for security. She was wearing black, a well-cut designer pant-suit, and her hair, parted down the center, was gathered into a bun. The Galicians were already there: three of them, with three bodyguards at the door, next to the two BMW 732s they had arrived in. Everyone got right down to business, the gorillas looking warily at one another outside while the principals did the same inside, around a large rustic wood table in the center of a room with a beamed ceiling, stuffed deer and boar heads on the walls. There were sandwiches, soft drinks and coffee, boxes of cigars, and notepads, as for a typical business meeting-although this one got off on the wrong foot when Siso Pernas, of the Corbeira clan, the son of don Xaquin Pernas, amo do fume of the Ria de Arosa, began by laying out the situation, speaking entirely to Teo Aljarafe as though the lawyer were the interlocutor of choice and Teresa there just as decoration. The issue here, Siso Pernas said, was that the Transer Naga people had their finger in too many pies. No objection to expansion into the Mediterranean, the hashish and all that. Or to them moving coke on a reasonable scale-there was enough business to go around. But everybody in his own territory, and with respect for seniority, which in Spain-he continued to look only at Teo Aljarafe, as though he were the Mexican-was always rule number one. And as for territories, Siso Pernas and his father, don Xaquin, covered the Atlantic operations, the big shipments by boat from Latin American ports. They had always been the operators for the Colombians, ever since don Xaquin and the Corbeira brothers and the people of the old school, pressured by these new generations, had started to move out of tobacco and into hashish and coke. So they had come with a proposal: No objection to Transer Naga working the blow that came in through Casablanca and Agadir, so long as they took it into the eastern Mediterranean and it didn't stay in Spain. Because if we were talking about direct shipments to the Peninsula and the rest of Europe, then the Atlantic route, and all its branches to the north, belonged to the Gallegos.
"That's really what we're doing," said Teo Aljarafe. "Except with regard to the transportation."
"I know." Siso Pernas poured himself some coffee from the carafe in front of him, after offering a cup to Teo, who shook his head; the Gallego's offer didn't include Teresa. "But our people are afraid that you might be tempted to expand your business. Certain things are not clear. Ships coming and going… We can't control that-and besides, we expose ourselves to getting other people's operations blamed on us." He looked at his two colleagues, as though they knew exactly what he was talking about. "To having the Customs people and the Guardia Civil on us like mosquitoes all the time."
"The sea is free territory," said Teresa.
It was the first she'd spoken, after the initial greetings. Siso Pernas looked at Teo, as though the words had come from him. Friendly as a razor blade, this guy. His colleagues did look at Teresa, out of the corners of their eyes. Curious, and apparently amused by the situation.
"Not for this," said the Galician. "We've been in the white-powder business for a long time. We've got experience. We've made large investments." He was still addressing Teo. "And you people are beginning to upset us. We might have to pay for your mistakes."
Teo glanced briefly at Teresa. The lawyer's dark, thin hands twirled his pen. She sat impassively. Do your work, her silence said. All things in due time.
"And what do the Colombians think?" asked Teo.
"They don't want to get involved," Siso Pernas sneered. Those cabron Judases, his smile implied. "They think it's our problem, and that we ought to solve it here."
"What's the alternative?"
The Galician sipped at his coffee calmly and leaned back a bit in his chair, giving all the appearances of a very self-satisfied man. He was dirty blond, with a trimmed moustache. Good-looking, late twenties, early thirties. Blue blazer over a white shirt. No tie. A second- or third-generation junior narco, probably MBA, or maybe just B.A., in economics and finance. In more of a rush than his elders, who kept their money in a sock and always wore the same cheap suit. Less thoughtful. Fewer rules and more push to make money, so he could buy high living and expensive women. More arrogant, too. Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty, his attitude seemed to say. He looked at the colleague to his left, a blocky type with pale eyes. Job done. He turned the details over to his assistant.
"From the Strait inside," the chunky man said, putting his elbows on the table, "you people have absolute leave. We could load the merchandise in Morocco, if you want it there, but we alone bring it in from the Latin American ports… We're willing to offer certain special conditions, percentages, and guarantees. Including that we work together as partners, but with us controlling the operations."
"How much simpler it can all be," Siso Pernas interjected, almost from behind, "fewer risks."
Teo exchanged a look with Teresa. And if we don't go along? she said with her eyes.
"And if we don't go along with that?" the lawyer repeated aloud. "What happens if we don't accept those conditions?"
The heavyset man didn't reply, and Siso Pernas entertained himself by examining his coffee cup thoughtfully, as though that eventuality had never crossed his mind.
"Well, I don't know," he said at last. "We might have problems."
"Who?" Teo wanted to know. He leaned forward, calm, serious, the pen between his fingers as though he were about to take notes. Secure in his role, although Teresa knew that he desperately wanted to get up and get out of that room. The problems the Gallego was hinting at were not Teo's specialty. From time to time he turned toward her, though without looking at her directly. I can only go so far, he implied. What I can offer are peaceful negotiations, financial advice, and financial engineering, not hints and double meanings and threats floating in the air. If this goes beyond a certain point, there's not much more I can do.
"You… us…" Siso Pernas directed pleading looks at Teo's pen. "Nobody wants a disagreement."
His last words sounded like a splinter of glass. Ding. So this is that certain point, Teresa told herself, the place where push has come to shove. And I intend to shove. This is where the Sinaloa girl that knows what's at stake steps in. And she'd better be there, waiting for me to put her in the game. Because I need her now.
"Hijole. You planning to break our legs with baseball bats?… Like that French guy that was in the newspapers the other day?"
She was looking at Siso Pernas with a surprise that appeared authentic, although it didn't fool anyone-nor did it try to. The Galician turned toward her as though she had just materialized out of thin air, while his heavyset companion with the pale eyes looked at his fingernails, and the third man, a skinny guy with the hands of a farmworker, or a fisherman, picked his nose. Teresa waited for Siso Pernas to say something, but he remained silent, facing her with a mixture of irritation and confusion.
As for Teo, his worry had turned to manifest uneasiness. Careful, he mutely warned. Be very careful.
"Maybe," Teresa went on slowly, "it's that I'm not from here and I don't know the customs… Senor Aljarafe is my attorney, and he has my entire trust, but when I do business I like people to address me. I'm the one who makes the decisions about my affairs… Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Siso Pernas was still looking at her in silence, one hand on each side of his coffee cup. The air was thick enough to cut with a knife. You guys wanted to play, Teresa said. So you sing the song, and I'll supply the lyrics. And I do know something about pinche Gallegos.
"So now," she continued, "I'm going to tell you how I see this thing."
I hope I don't fuck this up, she thought. And she told him how she saw this thing. She did so very clearly, delivering each phrase separately and slowly, with pauses to let everyone catch the full meaning of what she had to say.
"I have the greatest respect for what you do in Galicia," she began. "You're tough, but I respect that. But that doesn't keep me from knowing that the police have you people under a microscope-most of you are under surveillance around the clock, and some of you are up for trial. There are rats everywhere, cops have infiltrated your whole operation, and once in a while one of you gets caught skimming. Just the way things ought to be, eh? But if there's one thing I base my business on, it's security, with a way of working that keeps leaks, as far as reasonably possible, from happening. Few workers, and most of them don't know each other. That prevents rats.
"It's taken me a long time to create that infrastructure, and I don't intend, one, to let it get rusty, and two, to endanger it with operations I have no control over. You want me to turn it over to you in exchange for a percentage, or something else, who knows what. That is, I sit back and give you the monopoly. I don't see what I get out of that, or why it makes good business sense for me. Except for the threats. But I don't think-you know?- that you're threatening me."
"What could we threaten you with?" asked Siso Pernas.
That accent. Teresa pushed away the ghost hovering nearby. She needed to stay calm, and to hit the right tone. The Leon Rock was a long way away, and she didn't want to crash into another one.
"Well, I'll tell you, two ways occur to me," she replied. "Either by leaking information that hurts me, or trying something directly. In both cases, you need to know that I'm just as bad-ass as anybody else. With one difference: I don't have a family that would make me vulnerable. I'm just one person, and I'm just passing through, and I could die tomorrow or disappear, or take off without packing my bags. I haven't even ordered a big fancy marble headstone for myself, despite the fact that I'm Mexican. You people, on the other hand, have possessions. Pazos, I think they call those big pretty houses in Galicia. Nice cars, friends… Families. You can send for Colombian hit men to come do your dirty work for you. But I can, too. You can even start a war, if it goes that far. All modesty aside, I can, too, because I've got so fucking much money you wouldn't believe it, and money buys a lot of army. But a war would attract the attention of the authorities… I've noticed that the Ministry of the Interior doesn't like it when narcos start settling scores, especially if there are names attached, and property to confiscate, people to send to jail, trials under way… You guys'll be in the newspaper every day."
"You will, too," Siso Pernas said with an irritated smile.
Teresa stared at him coldly for three seconds, very calm.
"Not every day, and not in the same pages. Nobody's ever proved anything against me."
The Gallego gave a crude, short laugh. "Well, you oughta tell me how you manage that."
"Maybe I'm just a little less stupid than you are."
What's said is said, she thought. Clear and straight out. And now let's see where these cabrones go. Teo was taking off and putting on the cap of his fountain pen. You're not enjoying this much, either, she thought. Which is why you get paid what you get paid. The difference is that you show it, and I don't.
"Everything can change," Siso Pernas said. "I mean for you."
Variant considered. Foreseen. Teresa took a Bisonte out of the pack in front of her, next to a glass of water and a leather portfolio. She did so as though she were thinking, and put the cigarette between her lips without lighting it. Her mouth was dry, but she decided not to touch the glass of water. The question is not how I feel, she told herself. It's how I look.
"Of course," she admitted. "And I have a feeling it will. But I'm still just one person. With my people, but otherwise just one. My business is intentionally limited. Everybody knows that the merchandise I transport is not mine. I just transport it. That reduces my possible losses. And my ambitions. You people, however, have a lot of doors and windows that somebody can get to you through. Lots of choices if somebody wanted to hurt you. People you love, interests you'd like to keep… There are plenty of places to hit you where it would hurt."
She looked into the man's eyes, cigarette in her mouth. Inexpressive. She sat like that, counting the seconds, until Siso Pernas, seeming to see the light, even if grudgingly, put his hand in his pocket, took out a gold lighter, and leaned over the table to offer her a light. Gotcha, she thought. You blinked. She thanked him with a nod.
"And you have no doors and windows?" the Gallego asked at last, putting away the lighter.
"You could try and see." Teresa exhaled as she spoke, her eyes squinting a bit. "It would surprise you to know how strong somebody can be who doesn't have anything to lose except herself. You have a very pretty wife, they say… A son."
Let's get this over with, she told herself. You don't have to frighten people all of a sudden. That can make them think there's no way out, and then they might do something crazy. The art is in scaring the shit out of them little by little-let the fear seep in, and last, and keep them awake at night-because then fear becomes respect. The line is subtle, and you have to keep a steady hand to find it without going over it.
"In Sinaloa we have a saying: I'm going to kill your whole family, and then dig up your grandparents and shoot them, and then bury them again…"
While she was talking, without looking at anyone she opened the portfolio in front of her and took out a press clipping: a photograph of a soccer team. It was the team that Siso Pernas, a huge soccer fan, put generous amounts of money into. He was the president of the club, and in the photograph- Teresa had laid it very carefully and gendy on the table, between them-he was posing before a game with the players, his wife, and his son, a nice-looking boy of ten wearing a team shirt.
"So don't fuck with me." Now she was looking the Galician straight in the eye. "Or as you say here in Spain, hagan el favor de no tocarme los cojones."
The sound of water behind the shower curtain. Steam. He liked to shower in very hot water. "They can kill us," Teo said.
Teresa was leaning on the door frame. Naked. She could feel the warm steam on her skin. "No," she replied. "First they'll try something less drastic, to test us. Then they'll try to reach the agreement."
"They've already tried what you call less drastic-the investigation of the rubbers that Juarez was telling you about, they leaked that to Judge Martinez Pardo. They've sicced the Guardia Civil on us."
"I know. That's why I played hardball. I wanted them to know we know."
"The Corbeira clan…"
"That's enough, Teo." Teresa shook her head. "I control what I do." "That's true. You always control what you do. Or you sure make it look like you do."
Of the three sentences, Teresa reflected, you could have done without the third. But I guess here, you think you've got a right. The steam fogged up the mirror in the bathroom, making her a gray blur in it. Next to the washbasin, miniature bottles of shampoo and body lotion, a comb, soap in its wrapper. Parador Nacional de Caceres. One of the national chain of inns. On the other side of the bed with its rumpled sheets, the window framed a medieval landscape: rocks outlined against the night, columns and porticos gilded by hidden spotlights. Hijole, she thought. Like in some gringo movie, but the real thing. Vieja Espana-old Spain. "Hand me a towel, please," Teo asked.
He was almost obsessively clean. He always showered before and after, as though to add a nice hygienic touch to the act of screwing. Meticulous, neat, one of those men that never seem to sweat or have a single bacteria on their skin. The men that Teresa remembered naked were almost all clean, or at least looked like they were, but none of them as much as Teo. He had almost no odor of his own; his skin was soft, with only the slightest, most indefinable masculine smell, the smell of soap and aftershave, as unassuming as everything else about him. After making love he always smelled like her- her skin, her saliva, the strong, dense odor of her wet sex, as though she were taking possession of the man's body. Colonizing it. She handed him the towel, her eyes taking in his tall, thin frame, dripping in the shower stall. The black hair on his chest, legs, and sex. The calm, always welcome smile. The wedding ring on his left hand. She didn't care in the least about that ring, and apparently he didn't, either. Ours is a professional relationship-Teresa had said the only time, in the beginning, that he had tried to justify himself, or justify her, with a light, unnecessary remark-so cut the crap. Teo was smart enough to get it.
"What you said about Siso Pernas' son, was that for real?"
Teresa didn't answer. She had stepped toward the foggy mirror, wiping away some of the steam with her hand. And there she was, so blurred that it might not have been her at all, with the tousled hair, the big black eyes looking out at her like always.
"Nobody would think so, seeing you that way," he said.
He was beside her, looking at her in the open patch in the steam-frosted glass, drying his chest and back with the towel. Teresa shook her head slowly. What do you think, she said wordlessly. He gave her an absentminded kiss on the hair and went on drying himself as he walked into the bedroom, while she stood where she was, her hands on the washbasin, looking at her blurry reflection. I hope I never have to show you, she thought, speaking inwardly to the man shuffling around in the next room. I hope I don't.
"I'm concerned about Patricia," Teo said abruptly.
Teresa went just to the door, not entering the bedroom, and looked at him. He had taken a perfectly ironed shirt out of his suitcase-the cabron's clothes never got wrinkled when he packed-and was unbuttoning it to put it on. They had a table reserved for a half-hour later at the Torre de Sande. A truly great restaurant, he had said. In the old part of the city. Teo knew all the truly great restaurants, all the "in" bars, all the elegant shops. Places as custom-made for him as the shirt he was about to put on. Like Patty-they seemed to have been born into these places: two society types whom the world always somehow owed, although he wore it better than Patty did. All of this so terrific, and so far from Las Siete Gotas, Teresa thought, where her mother-who had never kissed her-washed dishes in a tub in the yard and slept with drunk neighbors. So far from the school where the runny-nosed boys would lift Teresa's skirt behind the schoolyard wall. Jack it off, bitch. For all of us. Give me and my boys a handjob or we'll break your face. So far from the wood-and-zinc roofs, the dirt under her bare feet, the pinche poverty.
"What's wrong with Patty?"
"You know what's wrong with her. And it's getting worse."
It was. Drinking and sniffing coke till you couldn't see straight was a bad combination, but there was more. The Lieutenant was coming apart, very quietly. The word might be "giving up," although Teresa couldn't quite decide what she was giving up on. Sometimes Patty seemed to be like one of those shipwrecked sailors that stop swimming for no apparent reason. Glug, glug, glug. Maybe because they don't think they'll ever be rescued or get to land, or maybe just because they're tired.
"It's her life-she's of legal age to do what she wants with it," she said.
"That's not the point. The point is whether that's good for you or not."
Just like Teo. He wasn't worried about O'Farrell, he was worried about the consequences of her behavior for Teresa. Is it good for you or not, boss.
The listlessness, the lack of spirit, the distance from which Patty dealt with the few responsibilities she still had at Transer Naga-this was the dark side of the problem. During business meetings-she went to fewer and fewer, delegating her power to Teresa-she always seemed absent, or she made jokes that were out of place, and everything was like a joke to her. She spent a lot of money, she didn't care, she turned serious things, which might mean a lot of money and resources and time invested, and not a few lives, into frivolities. A boat casting off and simply drifting away… Teresa wondered whether it was she herself who had relieved her friend of her obligations, or whether the distancing came from Patty, from the growing murkiness of her mind and her life. You're the boss, she would constantly say. And I applaud, drink, snort, and look on with pride. Maybe it was both, and Patty had simply drifted with the course of things-the natural, inevitable course that everything had followed since the beginning.
Maybe I was wrong about Edmond Dantes, Patty had remarked in Tomas Pestana's house. He wasn't this, and you weren't him. I misjudged you, I got you wrong. Or maybe, as she said on another occasion-her nose covered with white dust and her eyes blank-the only thing that's happening is that sooner or later Abbe Faria always leaves the stage.
Fucked up, and dying a slow death. And not caring. Those were the words for it, and the first of them was the worst in this business, which was so sensitive to any sort of scandal. The latest episode was quite recent: a short, squat, lowlife teenage girl, who had bad friends and tougher sentiments, had been openly hustling Patty. Until one particularly sordid night of excesses-drugs, hemorrhaging, a visit to the hospital at five in the morning-had threatened to wind up in the newspaper. And it would have, had Teresa and Teo not moved all the resources available to prevent it- money, favors, blackmail. They covered it up, deep.
Shit happens, Patty said when Teresa talked to her about it.
"It's all so simple for you, Mexicana. You've got it all, and somebody to give you a cunt massage, to boot. So you live your life and let me live mine, if you don't mind. Because I don't stick my nose in your business, or anybody else's. I don't ask questions, you hear? I'm your friend. I paid for your friendship, and I'm still paying. I know the rules and I keep 'em. And you, who buys everything so easy, just let me buy mine. You always say it's half and half, not just in business or money. Well, I agree. This is my free, deliberate, and puta half."
Even Oleg Yasikov had alerted Teresa about this. "Careful, Tesa. It's not just money on the line, it's your freedom and your life. The decision is yours. Of course. But maybe you should ask yourself. Yes. Questions. For example, what part of all this is your fault. Or your responsibility. What part isn't. To what degree did you start all this, playing her games. There are passive responsibilities that are just as bad as the active ones. There are silences that we can't say we didn't hear absolutely clearly. Yes. From a certain point in a person's life on, they're responsible for what they do-and what they don't do."
What would things have been like if… Teresa sometimes thought about that. If I had… The key might lie there, but she couldn't see any way to look over that increasingly clear and inevitable barrier. She felt uncomfortable, or remorseful-it came over her in vague waves, as though it filled her hands and she didn't know what to do with it. And that irritated her. Why did she have to feel this? she asked herself. What Patty had wanted never could be, and never was. Nobody deceived anybody, and if Patty really had harbored hopes, or intentions, in the past, she ought to have discarded them long ago. Maybe that was the problem. Everything was finished, or almost finished, and Lieutenant O'Farrell was left without even the goad of curiosity to make her live. Teo Aljarafe might have been Patricia O'Farrell's last experiment with Teresa. Or her revenge. From then on, everything was simultaneously foreseeable and dark. And each of the two women would have to face whatever it was alone.
13. I get planes off the Ground in two and three hundred yards
There it is," said Dr. Ramos.
He had the hearing of a dog, Teresa decided. She herself
couldn't hear a thing, except the swooshing of the light waves on the beach. It was a calm night, and the Mediterranean was a black expanse out beyond the inlet at Agua Amarga, on the coast of Almeria. The moon made the sand on the shore look like snow, and flashes from the Punta Polacra lighthouse-three every twelve or fifteen seconds, her old professional instincts told her-shone at the foot of the Sierra de Gata, six miles to the southwest. "All I can hear is the ocean," she replied.
She focused on the darkness, her ears straining. They were standing next to the Cherokee, with a thermos of coffee, plastic cups, and sandwiches, protected from the cold by sweaters and heavy slickers. The dark silhouette
of Pote Galvez paced back and forth a few yards away, guarding the dirt trail and the dry path that led down to the water. "Now I hear it," she said.
It was nothing more than a distant droning barely distinguishable from the sound of waves against the shore, but it was growing louder and louder, and it seemed very low, as though it came from the sea and not the sky. It sounded like a speedboat approaching at high velocity.
"Good boys," Dr. Ramos remarked.
There was a touch of pride in his voice, like a man talking about his son or a talented student, but his tone was calm, as usual. This guy, thought Teresa, never loses his cool. She, however, was having a hard time controlling her uneasiness, making sure her voice came out with the serenity that the others expected. If they only knew, she said to herself. If they only knew. And even more so tonight, with what they had at stake. Three months in preparation for what would be decided in less than two hours, an hour and a half of which had already passed. The sound of engines was growing louder, and closer. The doctor brought his wristwatch up to his eyes before checking it with a quick flick of his lighter.
"Prussian punctuality," he said. "The right place and right on time."
The sound was coming closer and closer, and at very low altitude. Teresa peered into the darkness, and she thought she saw it-a small black dot, growing, just on the line between the shadowy water and the glimmering of the moon, still fairly far out.
"Hijole" she whispered to herself.
It was almost beautiful. She had memories that allowed her to picture the sea viewed from the cabin, the muted lights on the instrument panel, the line of the shore silhouetted ahead, the two men at the controls, Almeria VOR/DME at 114.1 on the dial to calculate ETA and distance above the water, dot-dash-dash-dash-dot-dash-dot, and then the coast sighted by moonlight, the search for landmarks in the flash from the lighthouse to the left, the lights of Carboneras to the right, the dark void of the inlet in the center. I wish I was up there, she thought. Flying by visuals like them, and with the balls to do it. Then the black dot got larger, still just above the water, while the sound of the engines became almost deafening-rooooarrr, as though the sound were coming straight at them-and Teresa made out a pair of wings materializing at the same altitude from which she and the doctor were looking at them. And then she saw the silhouette of the whole plane, flying very low, no more than fifteen feet above the water, the two propellers whirling like silver disks in the moonlight. Jesus shit. An instant later, buzzing them with a roar that left a cloud of sand and dry seaweed in its wake, the plane pulled up, its left wing dropped as it turned, and it disappeared into the darkness inland, between the Sierra de Gata and the Sierra Cabrera.
"There goes a ton and a half," the doctor said. "It's not on the ground yet," Teresa replied. "It will be in fifteen minutes."
There was no reason to remain in darkness anymore, so the doctor rummaged around in his pants pockets, pulled out his lighter once more, lit his pipe, and then lit the cigarette that Teresa had just put between her lips. Pote Galvez walked over with a cup of coffee in each hand. A heavy shadow, anticipating her needs and desires. The white sand muffled his footsteps.
"Que onda, patrona?"
"Everything fine, Pinto. Thank you."
She drank the bitter brew, no sugar but laced with brandy, enjoying her cigarette spiked with hashish. I hope everything continues to be fine, she thought. The cell phone in the pocket of her slicker would ring when the stuff was in the four trucks waiting beside the rudimentary runway: a tiny airport abandoned since the civil war, in the middle of the Almeria desert near Tabernas, with the closest village a little over ten miles away. That would be the last stage in a complex operation that linked a shipment of fifteen hundred kilos of cocaine hydrochloride from the Medellin cartel to the Italian groups. Another pebble in the shoe of the Corbeira clan, which still believed it had a monopoly on the movements of the white lady on Spanish soil. Teresa smiled to herself. Pissed, those Gallegos are going to be if they find out. But the Colombians themselves had asked Teresa to study the possibility of moving, in one huge shipment, a large cargo that would be loaded in containers in the port of Valencia for delivery in Genoa, and all she did was solve the problem. The drug, vacuum-sealed in ten-kilo packages and stuffed into cans of automobile grease, had crossed the Atlantic after being taken from the original ship off the coast of Ecuador, around the Galapagos Islands, and put on an old merchant marine boat, the Susana, sailing under the Panamanian flag. The cargo was unloaded in Casablanca, and from there, under the protection of the Gendarmerie Royale-Colonel Abdel-kader Chaib was still on the best of terms with Teresa-it was trucked to the Rif, to a warehouse used by Transer Naga for preparing hashish shipments.
"The Moroccans have played straight as arrows," remarked Dr. Ramos, his hands in his pockets. They were walking toward the car, with Pote Galvez at the wheel. The SUV's headlights illuminated the stretch of beach and rocks, with startled seagulls fluttering and twitching in the light.
"Yes, but the credit goes to you, Doctor."
"Not the idea."
"You made it possible."
Dr. Ramos sucked at his pipe wordlessly. It was hard for Transer Naga's tactician to complain, or for that matter to show pleasure at a word of praise, but Teresa sensed his satisfaction with the operation. Because while the idea of the big plane-the air bridge, they called it-was Teresa's, the mapping of the route and the operational details were the doctor's. The innovation had consisted of using low-level flights and secret runways for a larger and more profitable operation. Because recently, there had been problems. Two Galician runs, financed by the Corbeira clan, had been intercepted by Customs, one in the Caribbean and the other off the coast of Portugal; a third operation, run entirely by the Italians-a Turkish merchantman with half a ton on board, en route from Buenaventura, in Colombia, to Genoa via Cadiz-had been a complete failure, the cargo seized by the Guardia Civil, eight men in prison. This was a difficult moment, all in all, and only after thinking long and hard did Teresa decide to take the risk-but she used methods that had worked years before, back in Mexico, for Amado Carrillo, the Lord of the Skies. Orale, she concluded. Why be creative, when there are masters to follow.
She had put Farid Lataquia and Dr. Ramos to work on it. Lataquia had protested, of course. Too little time, too little money, too little profit. People think they can order up miracles, and so on. Meanwhile, Dr. Ramos shut himself up with his maps and his diagrams, smoking pipe after pipe, speaking only the absolute minimum necessary, calculating routes, fuel, sites. Holes in the radar that allowed a plane to reach a certain spot between Melilla and Al Hoceima; the distance it would be flying, mere feet over the water toward the north-northeast; areas without surveillance where the Spanish coast could be penetrated; landmarks for sight navigation without instruments; fuel consumption at low and high altitudes; zones where a medium-size plane couldn't be detected as it flew over the ocean. He even felt out a couple of air controllers that would be on duty on the right nights and in the right places, to be sure that nobody sounded the alarm if some suspicious blip showed up on the screen. He had flown over the Almeria desert looking for a good place to land, and gone to the Rif mountains to see the condition of the local airstrips for himself.
Lataquia found the plane in Africa: an old Aviocar C-212 that had been used to carry passengers between Malabo and Bata-part of a Spanish aid package to Equatorial Guinea. Built in 1978, but it still flew. A two-engine craft, with a cargo capacity of two tons. It could land at sixty knots on two hundred fifty yards of runway if the pilot backwashed the props and pushed the flaps to forty degrees. The purchase was made without any problems, through a contact at Equatorial Guinea's embassy in Madrid-the trade attache's commission aside, the over-invoicing served to cover a couple of engines for the semi-rigids-and the Aviocar flew to Bangui, where the two Garret TPE engines were reworked and checked out by French mechanics. Then it was parked on a four-hundred-yard airstrip in the Rif mountains, waiting to take on the cocaine. Finding a crew hadn't been hard: $100,000 for the pilot-Jan Karasek, Polish, former crop sprayer, veteran of night flights running hashish for Transer Naga in his own Skymaster-and S75,000 for the copilot-Fernando de la Cueva, a former Spanish air force officer who had flown Aviocars when he was on active duty, before going over to civil aviation and then being laid off in a "job restructuring" by Iberia.
The Cherokee's headlights briefly swept the first few houses in Carbo-neras as Teresa consulted the clock on the dashboard. By now the two pilots, orienting themselves by the lights of the Almeria-Murcia highway and then crossing it near Nijar, would have flown the plane up into the Sierra de Al-hamilla. There, they'd turn slowly to the west, staying low but avoiding the network of high-tension electrical lines carefully drawn by Dr. Ramos on their flight maps. They'd soon be lowering the flaps for their landing on the clandestine runway illuminated only by the moon, one car's headlights at the beginning of the landing strip, and another's three hundred yards farther down: two quick flashes to signal the beginning and end of the strip.
In the plane's cargo hatch was merchandise valued at S45 million, of which Transer Naga would earn ten percent.
Before they got on the N-340, the three of them-Teresa, Dr. Ramos, and Pote Galvez-stopped to eat something at a truck stop: truckers at tables in the back, hams and sausages hanging from the ceiling, wineskins, photographs of bullfighters on the walls, revolving racks with porno videos, and tapes and CDs of Los Chinguitos, El Fary, La Nina de los Peines. They stood at the bar for tapas: ham, fresh tuna with pimientos and tomato, sausage. Dr. Ramos ordered a brandy and Pote Galvez, who was driving, coffee-a double. Teresa was looking for her cigarettes in her jacket pockets when a green and white Guardia Civil Nissan pulled up outside. Its occupants walked in, and Pote Galvez got very tense; he took his hands off the bar and with professional distrust half turned toward the newcomers, stepping out a bit to cover his employer's body with his own.
Easy, Pinto, she told him with her eyes. It's not today that we get fucked. Rural patrol. Routine. Two young agents in olive-drab uniforms, pistols in black holsters at their waists. They courteously said Buenos noches to all, put their caps down on a stool, and sat at the end of the bar. They seemed relaxed, and one of them looked at Teresa and her companions briefly, absent-mindedly, while he poured sugar in his coffee with one hand and stirred it with the other. Dr. Ramos' eyes flashed as he and Teresa exchanged glances. If these rookies only knew, he wordlessly said, carefully stuffing tobacco into the bowl of his pipe. Oh, my. Then, as the officers were getting ready to leave, the doctor told the barman not to charge them, to put their coffee on his tab. One of them protested very politely, while the other gave them a smile. Gracias. No, the doctor said, thank you, for your service. Gracias, they said again.
"Good boys," the doctor said as the door closed behind them.
He'd said the same thing about the pilots, Teresa remembered, when the Aviocar's engines roared overhead on the beach. And that, among other things, was what she liked about the doctor. His perfect, unflappable equanimity. Anybody, seen from the right perspective, could be a good boy. Or girl. The world was a difficult place, with complicated rules, where each person played the role assigned by destiny. Everybody I know, she had heard the doctor remark, has reasons for doing what they do. Accepting that in the people around you, she concluded, made it easier to get along with them. The trick was to always look for the positive side. And smoking a pipe helped a lot. It gave you time-to think, to reflect, to wait. It gave you the chance to move slowly, and look into yourself, and look at others.
The doctor ordered a second brandy, and Teresa-there was no tequila here-a Galician aguardiente that brought tears to her eyes. The presence of the two guardsmen recalled to her a recent conversation, and old worries. Three weeks earlier, at Transer Naga's official headquarters, now in a five-story building on Avenida del Mar, in the center of Marbella, across the street from the park, she'd received a visit. An unannounced visit, which at first she'd refused to grant, until Eva, her secretary, showed her a court order that recommended that Teresa Mendoza Chavez, resident of blah blah blah, grant that interview, or be subject to certain subsequent unpleasantnesses. "Preliminary survey," the order said, though it didn't say preliminary to what. "And there are two of them," Eva added, with Pote Galvez behind her at the door of Teresa's office, like a Doberman. "A man and a woman. Guardia Civil."
After thinking it over for a few seconds, Teresa had Eva call Teo Aljarafe, so that he would be ready should his services be required. She reassured Pote Galvez with a gesture and told Eva to show the visitors into the conference room. They didn't shake hands. After a rudimentary greeting the three took seats at the large round table, from which all papers and files had first been removed. The man was thin, serious, not bad-looking, with prematurely gray hair in a brush cut, and a luxuriant moustache. He had a deep, pleasant voice, Teresa thought, as cultured as his manners. He was in street clothes, a worn corduroy jacket and khaki pants-civilian, but military at the same time.
"My name's Castro," he said, not mentioning his given name, although he seemed to have had second thoughts, and added, "Captain Castro. And this is Sergeant Moncada." While he made their brief introductions, the woman-redheaded, in a skirt and polo shirt, gold earrings, and with small, intelligent eyes-pulled a tape recorder out of the canvas bag on her lap and put it on the table.
"I hope you don't mind," she said. Then she blew her nose on a Kleenex-she looked like she had a cold, or an allergy-and left the tissue wadded up in the ashtray.
"Not at all," answered Teresa. "But in that case you'll have to wait while I call my attorney. And the same goes for taking notes."
After a look at her boss, Sergeant Moncada frowned, put the tape recorder back into her bag, and used another Kleenex. Captain Castro succinctly explained what had brought them there. In the course of a recent investigation, some reports had pointed toward businesses related to Tran-ser Naga.
"There is proof of that, of course," said Teresa.
"Well, no. I'm sorry to say there's not."
"In that case, I don't understand why you're here."
"We'd like you to cooperate with the Ministry of Justice." "Oh."
Captain Castro told Teresa that an action by the Guardia Civil-the confiscation of inflatable boats presumably meant for use in drug trafficking- had been aborted because of an information leak and the unexpected intervention of the National Police. Agents from the Estepona division stepped in early, raiding a warehouse building in the industrial park, where, instead of the material the Guardia Civil was tracking, they found only two old motorboats, no longer being used. They found no proof, arrested nobody.
"I'm so sorry to hear that," Teresa said. "But I still don't understand what any of that has to do with me."
"Nothing, for the time being. The police blew it. Our investigation was ruined because somebody passed false information to the Estepona police. No judge would go forward with what we have now."
"Hijole… And you've come to tell me this?" Her tone of voice made the officers exchange glances.
"In a way," Captain Castro said. "We thought your opinion might be helpful. At the moment we're working on half a dozen things related to that same area."
Sergeant Moncada leaned forward in her chair. No lipstick, no makeup. Her small eyes looked tired. The cold. The allergy. Maybe a long night last night-working, of course, Teresa ventured. Days without washing her hair. The gold earrings were incongruous.
"The captain means your area-in fact, you."
Teresa decided to ignore the hostility. She looked at the woman's wrinkled shirt.
"I don't know what you're talking about." She turned to the man again. "My affairs are all in public view."
"Not these affairs," Captain Castro said. "Have you ever heard of Chemical STM?"
"Or of Konstantin Garofi, Limited?"
"Yes. I have shares in that company. A minority holding."
"How strange. According to our information, the Konstantin Garofi import-export company, with headquarters in Gibraltar, is owned entirely by you."
Maybe I should have waited for Teo, thought Teresa. But now was not the time to turn back. She raised an eyebrow.
"I imagine that if you claim that, you have proof of it."
Captain Castro stroked his moustache. He slowly, doubtfully shook his head, as though calculating exactly how much proof he had, or didn't have.
"Well, no," he said at last. "Unfortunately we don't, although in this case it doesn't matter much. Because we've received a report. A request for cooperation from the U.S. DEA and the Colombian government, regarding a shipment of fifteen tons of potassium permanganate seized in Cartagena."
"I didn't realize that shipping potassium permanganate was illegal."
She had leaned back and was looking at the officer with a surprise that to all appearances was authentic.
"In Europe it's not," was the reply. "But in Colombia it's a controlled substance. It's used in the processing of cocaine. And in the United States buying and selling more than a certain amount of potassium permanganate is restricted. It's one of the twelve precursors and thirty-three chemical substances on the list of controlled substances. As you may or may not know, potassium permanganate is one of those twelve products essential for making cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride. Combined with other chemicals, ten tons would be enough to refine eighty tons of cocaine. Which, if you'll forgive a well-used phrase, is nothing to sneeze at."
When he finished his speech, Captain Castro continued to look at Teresa inexpressively, as though that was all he had to say. She mentally counted to three. Chale. Her head was starting to hurt, but she couldn't allow herself to take out an aspirin in front of these two. She shrugged.
"Well, the shipment went by sea from Algeciras. It had been bought by Konstantin Garofi from the Belgian company Chemical STM."
"I think it's odd that a company in Gibraltar would export directly to Colombia."
"We think it's odd, too." If there was sarcasm in his remark, it didn't show. "Actually, what happened is that the stuff was bought in Belgium, brought to Algeciras, and then signed over to another company registered on the island of Jersey, which put it in a container and shipped it first to Puerto Cabello, in Venezuela, and then to Cartagena… And along the way it was repackaged-into barrels labeled magnesium dioxide."
It wasn't the Gallegos-Teresa knew that. This time it hadn't been them that had blown the whistle. The problem was in Colombia. Local problems, with the DEA behind them, probably. Nothing that would even remotely affect her.
"At sea. Because it left Algeciras labeled as what it was."
So that's the end of the line, sweetheart. Everybody off. Look at my hands on the table, taking a legal cigarette out of a legal package and lighting it with all the calm in the world. Hands as white and innocent as snow. So forget it. What's all this to me?
"Then you should ask that company headquartered in Jersey for an explanation," she said.
The sergeant made a gesture of impatience, but said nothing. Captain Castro bowed his head, as though grateful for a good piece of advice.
"It dissolved after the operation," he said. "It was just a name on Saint Helier Street."
"Hijole. And there's proof of all that?"
"Of that, yes indeed."
"Then the people at Konstantin Garofi got taken, eh?"
The sergeant opened her mouth to say something, but this time, too, she evidently thought better of it. She looked at her boss and then removed a notebook from her bag. You take out a pencil, thought Teresa, and you're on your ass on the street. Or maybe whether you take out a pencil or not.
"So," she went on, "if I understand this right, you're talking about the transportation of a legal chemical within the Schengen area. I don't see what's strange about that. I'm sure all the documents were in order, with bills of lading and destination documents and everything. I can't say I know all the details of Konstantin Garofi's operations, but as far as I know they're very careful to obey all the applicable laws… And I'd never have stock in them if they weren't."
"Not to worry," said Captain Castro amiably.
"Do I seem worried?"
He looked at her without immediately answering.
"As far as you and Konstantin Garofi are concerned," he said at last, "everything seems legal."
"Unfortunately," added the sergeant. She licked her thumb to turn a page in the notebook.
Bullshit, thought Teresa. You want to make me think you've got the number of kilos of my last run written down in there?
"Would there be anything else?" she asked.
"There'll always be something else," replied the captain.
So let's move to second base, cabron, thought Teresa as she stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray. She did it with calculated violence, with a hard thumb. Just enough irritation, plus an ounce or two for good measure, despite the fact that her headache was making her feel increasingly uncomfortable. In Sinaloa, these two would already be bought off or dead. She had contempt for the way they showed up there, taking her for something she wasn't. So primitive. But she also knew that contempt led to arrogance, and that's where the mistakes started. Overconfidence kills more people than bullets.
"Let's make things clear," she said. "If you have something concrete that involves me, we can continue this conversation with my lawyers. If not, I'd appreciate it if you'd stop wasting my time."
Sergeant Moncada forgot about her notebook. She tapped the table, as though testing the quality of the wood. She seemed cranky. "We could continue this conversation down at headquarters…"
There you go, thought Teresa. Straight where I was figuring we'd be going.
"Well, I don't think so, Sergeant," Teresa replied very serenely. "Because unless you had something concrete, which you don't, I'd be in your headquarters there just long enough for my attorneys to shove it up your ass… With compensatory and punitive damages thrown in for good measure."
"There's no reason to be that way," said Captain Castro calmly. "No one's accusing you of anything."
"I'm sure of that. That nobody's accusing me of anything."
"Certainly not Sergeant Velasco."
This is a trap, Teresa thought. And she put on her Aztec mask. "Sorry?… Sergeant who?"
The officer looked at her with cold curiosity. You're damn fine, Teresa thought, bien padre. With those good manners and that gray hair and that nice official, gentlemanly moustache. The bitch, however, ought to wash her hair more often.
"Ivan Velasco," the captain said slowly. "Guardia Civil. Deceased." Sergeant Moncada leaned forward again. Brusquely.
"A pig. You know anything about pigs, senora?" She said this with ill-repressed rage.
Maybe she's just in a shitty mood, thought Teresa. Or maybe it has something to do with being a redhead. Or maybe she's just overworked, or unhappy with her husband-who the hell knows. Maybe she just needs a good screw. And it can't be easy being a woman in her line of work. Or maybe they take turns: good cop, bad cop. With a cabrona like they think I am, they decide the girl's going to be the bad cop. Logical. Like I give a fuck.
"Does this Velasco have something to do with the potassium permanganate?" asked Teresa.
"Be nice, now." The tone of voice did not sound friendly; the sergeant was digging something out from between her teeth with a fingernail. "Don't go pulling our leg."
"Velasco kept bad company," Captain Castro explained, clearly, as he always did. "And he was killed some time ago, just about when you got out of prison. Remember?… Santiago Fisterra, Gibraltar, and all that? When you didn't even dream of being what you've become today."
Teresa's expression gave away nothing of what she might or might not remember. You've got squat, she thought. You just came to pull my chain.
"Well, you know, I don't think I do," she said. "I don't think I can place this Velasco."
"Can't place him," remarked the sergeant. She almost spat it out. She turned to her boss as if to say, What do you think, Captain? But Castro was looking out the window, as though thinking about something else.
"Actually, we can't connect you," Sergeant Moncada went on. "Besides, it's water under the bridge, right?" She licked her thumb again and consulted her notebook, although it was clear she wasn't reading anything there. "And that other guy, Canabota, that got killed-that name's not familiar, either, I suppose?… The name Oleg Yasikov ring any bells?… And you never heard of hashish or cocaine or Colombians or Galicians?" She stopped herself, glumly, to let Teresa say something, but Teresa didn't open her mouth. "… Of course. You deal in real estate, the stock market, Jerez wineries, local politics, financial paradises, charity, and dinners with the governor of Malaga."
"And the movies," added the captain drily. He was still turned toward the window, with an expression as though he were thinking about almost anything else. An expression almost melancholy.
The sergeant raised a hand. "It's true. I'd forgotten that you were also into movies." Her tone was becoming more and more insulting-even vulgar, as though so far she had repressed it, or were now using it on purpose, as a provocation. "Between your multimillion-dollar businesses and your fancy lifestyle, with the paparazzi making you a star, you must feel like you're pretty much untouchable."
I've been provoked by better than you, Teresa said to herself. Either this bitch is incredibly naive, despite the venom, or they really have nothing to hang on to.
"Those paparazzi," she replied very calmly, "are now involved in court
cases that won't soon be over for them And as for you, do you really
think I'm going to play cops and robbers with you?"
It was the captain's turn. He had slowly turned back toward her, and was looking at her again.
"Senora. The sergeant and I have a job to do. That includes several ongoing investigations…" He cast a none-too-trusting glance at the sergeant's notebook. "The only purpose of this visit is to tell you that."
"How nice, how incredibly nice. Telling me like this, I mean."
"You see? We just wanted to talk for a while. Get to know you better."
"And," the sergeant put in, "maybe make you a little nervous."
Her boss shook his head.
"Senora Mendoza is not one to get nervous. She'd never have gotten where she is"-he smiled a little, the smile of an insurance salesman-"if she were. I hope our next conversation will take place under more favorable circumstances. For me, I mean."
Teresa looked at the ashtray, with her single cigarette butt among the wads of Kleenex. Who did these two take her for? Hers had been a long, hard road-too long and hard to put up with these stupid TV-detective antics. They were just a couple of snoops that picked their teeth and wadded up Kleenex and asked to go through your closets. Make her nervous? Don't make her laugh. Now she was pissed. She had things to do-take an aspirin, for example. The minute these jokers were out of there, she'd have Teo sue for harassment. And then she'd make a few telephone calls.
"I'm going to ask you to leave now," she said, standing up. And it turned out the sergeant knew how to laugh, Teresa discovered, although she didn't like the sound of it. The captain stood up at the same time as Teresa, but the sergeant remained seated, a little forward in the chair, her fingers gripping the edge of the table. With that dry, sneery smile.
"Just like that, ask us to leave?… Without threatening us, or trying to buy us off, like those shits in Organized Crime?… That would make us so happy… an attempt to bribe us."
Teresa opened the door. Pote Galvez was there-thickset and vigilant, as though he hadn't moved an inch since they went in. And he probably hadn't. He held his hands slightly away from his body. Waiting. She calmed him with a look.
"You really are insane," Teresa said. "I don't bribe people, and I certainly don't threaten them."
The sergeant got up finally, almost grudgingly. She'd blown her nose again and was gripping the wad of Kleenex in one hand, her notebook in the other. She looked around-the expensive paintings on the walls, the view of the city and the sea. She was no longer reining in her anger and resentment. As she passed through the doorway behind her boss she stopped before Teresa, very close, and put the notebook in her bag.
"Of course. You have people who do it for you, don't you?" She brought her face closer, and her reddened eyes seemed to flame with rage. "Go ahead, try it. Try doing it in person just this once. You know what an agent in the Guardia Civil makes?… I'm sure you do. And also the people that die and rot because of all the shit you bring in… Why don't you try to bribe the captain and me?… I'd love to hear your offer, so I could drag you out of this office in handcuffs." She threw the wad of Kleenex on the floor. "You hija deputa."
There was always logic to help keep things in perspective, after all. That was what Teresa was thinking as she crossed the almost dry bed of the river, with water gathered in small, shallow pools near the sea. A focus that was virtually mathematical, so unemotional it chilled the heart. A calm system of putting events in order, especially the circumstances at the beginning and end of the chain. It was what allowed you, in principle, to put aside guilt or remorse. That photograph torn down the middle-the girl with the trusting eyes, so far back there in Sinaloa-was her ticket of indulgences. And since it was all a question of logic, she could do nothing but move toward the place to which logic led her. Which was up toward the pinnacle of success in her business.
Yet there was always a paradox: What happens when life decides you've had enough success, and it hits you with the payback? The Real Situation. Once that thought occurs to you, you start lying awake, waiting for that moment to come. So you die little by little for hours, and days, and years. A long death, which you die pretty quietly on the outside, no screaming, no blood. But the more you think and the more you live, the more you die. She refused to die that way.
She stopped on some rocks, like stepping-stones on the beach, and looked out to sea. She wore a gray tracksuit and tennis shoes, and the wind blew her hair into her face. On the other side of the mouth of the Guadalmina, the surf broke against a sandbar, and in the background, in the bluish haze of the horizon, stretched the white silhouettes of Puerto Banus and Marbella. The golf courses were to the left, their fairways dipping down toward the shoreline and swirling around the ocher hotel building and the beach cabanas now closed for the winter. Teresa liked Guadalmina Baja at this time of the year, with its beaches deserted and only a few peaceful golfers moving in the distance. The luxury mansions silent, shuttered behind their high, bougainvillea-covered walls. One of these mansions, the one closest to the spit of land that ran out into the water, belonged to her. "Las Siete Gotas" was the name painted on a beautiful Spanish tile beside the entrance, a bit of irony that only she and Pote Galvez understood. From the beach, all that could be seen was the high outer wall, the trees and shrubbery that peeked up over the top and camouflaged the security cameras, and the tiled roof and four chimneys: sixty-five hundred square feet of house on a lot that measured fifty-four thousand. The house was constructed on the model of an old Mexican hacienda, white with ocher details, a terrace off the second floor, a big porch open to the garden, the lawn, the tiled fountain, and the pool.
She could see a boat in the distance-a fishing boat working the waters close in to shore-and she stood there for a while watching it. She still felt a close link to the ocean, and every morning when she got up, the first thing she did was look out at the immense expanse of blue, gray, or violet- depending on the light and the day. She still instinctively calculated high and low tide, water depth, favorable or unfavorable winds, even when she didn't have anybody working out at sea. That coast, engraved in her memory with the precision of a nautical chart, was a familiar world to which she owed sadness and good fortune, and also images that she tried not to call up too often, for fear that her memory might change them. The house on the beach at Palmones. The nights on the Strait, flying along over the waves, the speedboat bumping under her. The adrenaline of the pursuit and the victory. The hard, tender body of Santiago Fisterra. At least I had him, she thought. I lost him, but first I had him. It was a very calculated, very intimate luxury to sit with a joint of hashish and a glass of tequila and remember those days, those moonless nights when the murmur of the surf on the beach came to them across the lawn. Sometimes she would hear the Customs helicopter fly over the beach, without lights, and she would think that it might be the man who'd jumped into the water to save her life when they crashed into the Leon Rock. Once, upset by the Customs pursuits, two of Teresa's men suggested they rough up the chopper pilot, that hijo de puta, break his fingers, beat the living shit out of him.
When she heard their plan, Teresa called in Dr. Ramos and ordered him to tell the two, repeating her words exactly, that that guy was just doing his job, exactly the same as we're just doing ours. Those are the rules, and if one day he crashes and burns during a pursuit or his chopper goes down on a beach somewhere, that's tough. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But if anybody touches a hair on his head when he's not on duty, I'll have his skin peeled off him in strips. Is that clear? And apparently it had been.
Teresa still felt the personal tie to the ocean. And not just from the shore.
The Sinaloa, a Fratelli Benetti 125 feet long and 21 feet wide, registered in Jersey, was tied up at the yacht club in Puerto Banus: a blindingly white, classically styled beauty with three decks, its interiors furnished with teak and iroko wood, marble bathrooms, four cabins for guests, and a thousand-square-foot salon presided over by a wonderful seascape by Montague Dawson-Combat Between the Spartiate and the Antilla at Trafalgar-that Teo Aljarafe had bought for her at an auction at Claymore. Despite the fact that Transer Naga moved naval resources of all kinds, Teresa never used the Sinaloa for illicit activities. It was neutral territory, a world apart, which she wanted to keep separate from the rest of her life. Access restricted. A captain, two sailors, and a mechanic kept the yacht ready to sail at a moment's notice, and she went out on it often, sometimes for short sails of a couple of days, other times on cruises of two or three weeks. Books, music, a TV and video player. She never took guests, except sometimes Patty. The only person who always went with her, stoically suffering through his seasickness, was Pote Galvez.
Teresa liked the long days in solitude, when the telephone didn't ring and there was no need to talk. She'd sit at night in the wheelhouse beside the captain-a taciturn merchant marine skipper hired by Dr. Ramos, whom Teresa had approved of precisely because of his economy of speech-and disconnect the autopilot, taking the wheel in a rough sea, bad weather. Or she'd spend calm, sunny days on a chaise on the aft deck with a book in her hands or watching the ocean. She also took a personal interest in maintaining the two 1,800-horsepower MTU turbodiesel engines that allowed the Sinaloa to cruise at thirty knots, leaving a straight, wide, powerful wake. She would often go down into the engine room, her hair pulled back into two braids, a kerchief across the top of her head, and spend hours there, whether in port or at sea. She knew the engines' every part. And once when they had a breakdown in a heavy sea and easterly wind to the windward side of Alboran, she worked four straight hours down there, covered with grease and grime, banging her head against the pipes and bulkheads while the captain tried to prevent the yacht from turning across the waves or drifting too far to leeward, until between her and the mechanic they solved the problem.
Once in a while, during a longer trip aboard the Sinaloa-through the
Aegean to Turkey, the south coast of France, around the Lipari islands and through the Strait of Bonifacio-she would give orders to fix a course for the Balearic islands. She liked the calm anchorages north of Ibiza and Mallorca, almost deserted in the winter, liked to drop anchor off the sandbar between Formentera and the Es Freus passage. There, off the beach at Trocados, Pote Galvez had recently had a run-in with some paparazzi. Two photographers from Marbella recognized the yacht and pedaled out on a tourist paddle boat to get the drop on Teresa, until Pote chased them off in the rubber dinghy. Result: A couple of broken ribs, another million-dollar payoff. Even so, the photograph was published on the front page of Lecturas: "The Queen of the South Relaxing in Formentera."
She walked back slowly. Every morning, even on the rare days of wind and rain, she walked down the beach to Linda Vista, alone. On the low rise next to the river she could see the solitary figure of Pote Galvez, watching over her from a distance. She had forbidden him to accompany her on these walks, so he kept back, watching her go and come. A motionless sentinel, as loyal as a hunting dog uneasily awaiting the return of his owner. Teresa smiled inside. Between her and Pinto, time had forged a tacit complicity, made of past and present. Despite his years in Spain, Pote Galvez looked like he'd just walked out of a Sinaloa cantina, and the pistolero's strong Sinaloa accent, his clothes, his eternal iguana-skin boots, his Aztec-Mayan features and big black moustache, the way he acted, the way he moved his deceptive two-hundred-plus pounds meant more to Teresa than she was generally willing to admit. Batman Guemes' former hit man was actually her last link to Mexico. Shared nostalgia, which there was no real reason to talk about. Good memories, and bad. Evocative images that would rise up out of a phrase, a gesture, a look. Teresa lent her bodyguard cassettes and CDs of Mexican music: Jose Alfredo, Chavela, Vicente, Los Tucanes, Los Tigres, even a beautiful tape she had of Lupita D'Alessio-I'll be your lover or whatever I have to be, I'll be whatever you ask of me-and often, passing under the window of Pote's room at one end of the house, she would hear the songs, over and over again. Sometimes, when she was in the living room, reading or listening to music, he would pass by and stop a moment- respectful, distant, cocking an ear from the hall or the doorway, his expression unreadable, his eyes almost vacant, which in him was the sign of a smile. They never talked about Culiacan, or the events that had made their paths cross. Or about Gato Fierros, whose remains had been incorporated long before into the foundation of a nice cottage in Nueva Andalucia.
Only once had they spoken about all that, a Christmas Eve on which Teresa had given the staff the night off-a housekeeper, a cook, a gardener, and two Moroccan bodyguards that stood watch over the front entrance and the garden. She herself went into the kitchen and made tortillas, stuffed crab gratinee, and chilorio-pork with chiles-and then called Pote in and said, "Have a narco dinner with me, Pinto. Orale, it's gonna get cold."
They sat in the dining room, one at each end of the table, with candles lit in the silver candlesticks, and tequila and beer and red wine. They were both very quiet, listening to Teresa's music and the other music too, pure Culiacan and heavy shit, which Pote Galvez got from over there once in a while: Pedro and Ines and their pinche gray pickup, El Borrego, El Centenario in the Ram, corridos about Gerardo, the Cessna, Twenty Women in Black. They know I'm from Sinaloa-the two of them singing along at this point- which is why they mess with me.
And when, to cap the evening, Jose Alfredo sang "El Caballo Blanco," the corrido about the White Horse (it was the bodyguard's favorite; he bowed his head and nodded to the music), she said, We're so far away from all that, Pinto, and he replied, That's the truth, patrona, but it's better to be too far away than too close.
He stared thoughtfully at his plate and then raised his head. "You ever thought about going back, mi dona7."
Teresa looked at him so fixedly that the pistolero squirmed in his seat and turned away. He opened his mouth, perhaps to apologize, when she smiled, distantly, and raised her glass of wine.
"You know we can't go back," she said.
Pote Galvez scratched his temple.
"Well, I mean, I thought, I mean I can't, no… but you've got money, pull, connections now-you might could do it… I mean, if you wanted to. You could do it."
"And you-what would you do if I went back?"
The bodyguard looked down at his plate again, wrinkling his brow, as though he had never considered that possibility. "Well, I don't know, patrona," he finally said. "Sinaloa is so far away, and going back-that seems like it's even farther, you know? But you… you could…"
"Forget it." In a cloud of rising cigarette smoke, Teresa shook her head. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life in some fucking bunker in Colonia Chapultepec, looking over my shoulder and jumping every time I see a shadow."
"No… But it's a shame, you know. It's not a bad place." "Orale"
"It's the government, patrona. If there wasn't any government, or politicians, or gringos up there north of the Rio Bravo, a man could live like a king there… There wouldn't be any need for pot or any of that, no?… We'd live on pure tomatoes."
There were also the books. Teresa was still reading, and now even more. As time went on, she grew more convinced that the world and life were easier to understand through a book. Now she had a lot of them, and oak shelves on which she arranged them by size or collection, filling the walls of the library, which opened south, onto the garden. She'd furnished it with comfortable leather armchairs and good lighting, and she would sit there at night or on cold days to read. When it was sunny, she would go outside to one of the lounge chairs by the pool or in the shade of the cabana-there was a barbecue grill nearby, where Pote Galvez would cook meat to death on Sunday-and lie for hours, rapt in the pages of a book. She always read two or three at a time: something about history, she was fascinated by the history of Mexico at the time of the conquest, Cortes and all that; a sentimental or detective novel; and another novel, more complicated, one of those that took her a long time to finish and that she sometimes couldn't entirely understand but that always left her with the sensation that something had happened to her inside. She read almost randomly, mixing everything together. She found herself a little bored by a very famous novel somebody had recommended to her, One Hundred Years of Solitude-she liked Pedro Paramo better-but she found no more delight in the mysteries of Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes than in the tough books like Crime and Punishment, The Red and the Black, and Buddenbrooks, which was the story of a young society girl and her family in Germany at least a hundred years ago, maybe more. She'd also read an old, old book about the Trojan War and the voyages of the warrior Aeneas, where she came upon a phrase that made a great impression on her: The only salvation of the conquered is to expect no salvation.
Books. Every time she browsed the full shelves and touched the leather-bound spine of The Count of Monte Cristo, Teresa thought about Patty. They talked almost every day, although sometimes several days went by without their seeing each other. How are you, Lieutenant? How's tricks, Mexicana? By now Patty was refusing to take part in any activity directiy related to the business. All she did was collect her paycheck and spend it: coke, liquor, girlfriends, trips, clothes. She would go to Paris or Miami or Milan and have a great time, do exactly what she wanted, not a worry in the world. Why should I, she'd say, if you drive this car like God himself. She continued to get into jams, conflicts it was easy enough to resolve with friendships, money, Teo's expertise. But her nose and her health continued to fall apart. More than a gram a day, tachycardia, dental problems. Dark circles around her eyes. She heard strange noises, she slept badly, she'd put on a CD and turn it off within seconds, get in the bathtub or the pool and get out again instantly, seized by an anxiety attack. She was loud, showy, and reckless. She talked too much. And to anybody. And when Teresa, choosing her words very carefully, confronted her with it, Patty would turn on her nastily: "My health and my cunt and my life and my part of the business are my business," she would say. "I don't ask what you do with Teo or how you handle the fucking money."
It had been a lost cause for some time, and Teresa was caught in a conflict that not even the sage advice of Oleg Yasikov-she continued to see her Russian friend occasionally-could find her a way out of. This is going to end badly, Yasikov had said. Yes. The only thing I hope you can do, Tesa, is
stand back so you don't get splattered too much. When it happens. And I also hope that it's not you who has to make the decision.
Senor Aljarafe called, mi sehora. He says the ham you ordered came in.' "Thank you, Pinto."
She walked across the lawn, followed at a distance by the bodyguard. The ham was the last payment made by the Italians-to an account on Grand Cayman via Liechtenstein, with fifteen percent laundered in a bank in Zurich. It was another piece of good news. The air bridge was working regularly, the bombings of bales of drugs with GPS devices-another of Dr. Ramos' technological innovations-were giving excellent results, and a new route opened by the Colombians through Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica was making big profits for all concerned. The demand for cocaine base for clandestine laboratories in Europe continued to grow, and thanks to Teo, Transer Naga had just made a good connection for money laundering through the Puerto Rican lottery. Teresa asked herself how long this streak of good luck was going to last.
With Teo, professional relations were optimal, and the other kind-she'd never gone so far as to call them emotional-were perfectly adequate to her needs. He didn't come to her house in Guadalmina; they always met in hotels, almost always during business trips, or in an old house that he had had remodeled on Calle Ancha in Marbella. Neither put more into it than was necessary, neither risked much at all.
14- There's gonna be more hats than heads before I'm done
She'd been right-luck ran in cycles. After a good stretch, the year started off bad and by spring was worse. Bad luck combined with other problems. A Skymaster 337 with two hundred kilos of cocaine aboard went down near Tabernas during a night run, and Karasek, the Polish pilot, died in the crash. That alerted the Spanish authorities, who intensified aerial surveillance. Not long afterward, a general settling of internal scores between the Moroccan traffickers, the army, and the Gendarmerie Royale complicated relations with the people from the Rif. Several rubbers were intercepted in not altogether clear circumstances on one side and the other of the Strait, and Teresa had to go to Morocco to normalize the situation. Colonel Abdelkader Chaib had lost influence after the death of the old king, Hassan II, and establishing secure networks with the new strongmen in the hashish industry took time and a great deal of money.
In Spain, pressure from the courts, which had been inflamed by the press
and public opinion, grew stronger: some legendary amos da farina-cocaine bosses-were taken down in Galicia, and even the powerful Corbeira clan had problems. And in the early spring, a Transer Naga operation ended in disaster when, halfway between the Azores and Cabo San Vicente, the merchantman Aurelio Carmona was boarded by Spanish Customs. The ship's hold was full of bobbins of industrial linen thread, in metal casings, but each huge bobbin was lined with sheets of lead and aluminum so that neither X rays nor lasers could detect the five tons of cocaine hidden inside.
"It can't be," said Teresa when she heard the news. "First, I can't believe that they got the information. Second, we've been watching the movements of the Petrel for weeks"-the Customs boarding vessel-"and it hasn't moved from its base. That's why we pay a guy inside there."
Dr. Ramos, smoking his pipe as calmly as though he had lost not five tons of cocaine but a tin of pipe tobacco, replied, "That's why the Petrel didn't leave port, boss. They left it tied up all quiet and peaceful to lull us, while they went out in secret with their boarding gear and their Zodiacs in a tow-boat that the merchant marine loaned them. They know we've got a man on the inside, and they're just playing it back on us."
Teresa was uneasy about the Aurelio Carmona interception. Not because of the interdiction of the cargo-profits and losses went into their respective columns as in any other business, and the losses were all figured into the overhead-but rather because of the evidence that somebody had fingered the shipment and that Customs had inside information. This is how they bust us wide open, she said to herself. Three possible sources for the tip-off occurred to her: the Galicians, the Colombians, and somebody in her own crew. The rivalry with the Corbeira clan continued, although without any spectacular face-offs-some elbowing here and there, a foot stuck out to trip one another up, an "I'm keeping an eye on you, motherfucker, nothin' to bring you totally down, but you slip up and it's adios, Mexicana, you know?" Through their suppliers in common, the Corbeiras could make trouble. If it was the Colombians, there wasn't much she could do-not much more than pass on the information and let them clean out their ranks for themselves. Then there was the third possibility, that the information came from within Transer Naga. If that was the case, they had to take some new precautions: box off access to plans-eyes only and need to know, just like the military-and lay a trap with marked information so they could follow the rat's trail, to see where it led. But that took time. Discover the bird by its fucking droppings.
Have you thought about Patricia?" asked Teo. "Fuck that, cabrdn. Don't go there." They were at La Almoraima, a short distance from Algeciras: a former monastery set in a forest of thick oak, now a small hotel with a restaurant specializing in game. Sometimes they went for a couple of days, taking one of the rustic, gloomy rooms opening onto the cloister. They'd dined on venison and pears in red wine and were now having a cigarette with their cognac and tequila. The night was pleasant for the season, and through the open windows came the sound of crickets and the murmur of the old fountain.
"I don't mean she's passing information on to anybody," Teo said. "Just that she talks too much. And that she's careless. And that she's running around with people we can't control."
Teresa looked out-the moonlight sifting down through the leaves of the grapevines, the whitewashed walls, and the ancient stone archways: another place that reminded her of Mexico.
"From that to revealing information about shipments," she replied, "is a stretch. Besides, who's she going to tell?"
Teo studied her awhile without speaking. "She doesn't have to tell anybody in particular," he said finally. "You've seen how she is lately-she rambles, she goes off on fantasies, she's paranoid and weird. And she talks all the fucking time. All it takes is the wrong word dropped here, some compromising information there, and anybody with an ounce of brains can come to their own conclusions. We're having a rash of'coincidences' here, not to mention the judges on our case and pressure from all over. Even Tomas Pestana is keeping his distance lately, just in case. That guy can see trouble coming a mile away, like those people with arthritis that can tell you when it's going to rain. We can still manage him, but if there's trouble, or too much pressure and things go bad, he'll drop us in a heartbeat."
"He'll hold. We know too much about his business."
"Knowing isn't always enough." A shrewd, man-of-the-world expression came to his face. "In the best of cases, it can neutralize him, but it can't make him stay on board… He has his own problems. Too many cops and too many judges can scare him. And nobody can buy every cop and every judge in Spain." He looked at her hard. "Not even you."
"So you're suggesting that we pick Patty up and beat the shit out of her until she tells us what we want to hear."
"God, no. All I'm saying is that maybe you should cut her out of the loop. She's got what she wants, and we don't have enough manpower to follow up on every skirt she chases."
"I think that was unnecessary."
"But true. There's that one girl that comes and goes like it was her own house. Patricia is out of control." Teo touched his nose meaningfully. "It's
been going on for some time. And you've lost control, too Over her, I
That tone, Teresa said to herself. I don't like that tone. My control is my business.
"She's still my partner," she replied, irritated. "Your boss."
An amused smile crossed the lawyer's face: Was she serious? But he said nothing. Your relationship is curious, he'd once told her. A friendship that no longer exists. And if you owe her, you've paid…
"What she still is, is in love with you," Teo said after a pause, swirling the cognac in the snifter expertly. "That's the real problem."
The words came softly, almost in a whisper, and almost one by one. Don't go there, Teresa silently warned him again. That's none of your business. Especially not yours.
"It's strange to hear you say that," she answered. "She introduced you and me. She brought you to me."
Teo frowned. He looked away and then back. He seemed to be thinking, weighing, deciding between two loyalties, or maybe one of them. A loyalty that was now remote, faded. Maybe even expired.
"She and I know each other well," he said at last. "Or we did. Which is why I'm going to say this: From the beginning she knew what was going to happen between me and you… I don't know what there was between you and Patty in El Puerto de Santa Maria, and I don't care. I've never asked. But whatever it was, she hasn't forgotten."
"And yet," Teresa insisted, "Patty brought you and me together."
Teo inhaled as though he were going to sigh, but he didn't. He looked at his wedding ring on his left hand, which was resting on the table.
"Maybe she knows you better than you think," he said. "Maybe she thought you needed somebody, in several ways. And with me, there were no risks.
"Risks like what?"
"Falling in love with you. Complicating your life." The lawyer's smile made his words seem trivial. "Maybe she saw me as a substitute, not as a rival or adversary. And depending on how you look at it, she was right. You've never let me go too far."
"I'm beginning not to like this conversation."
As though he had just overheard Teresa, Pote Galvez appeared at the door. He was carrying a cell phone, and was more somber than usual. Qui-hubo, Pinto. The bodyguard looked hesitant, uncomfortable; he stood on first one foot, then the other, and he wouldn't step inside. Respectful. He was sorry to interrupt, patrona, he said at last. But it sounded important. Apparently senora Patricia was in trouble.
It was more than trouble, Teresa discovered in the emergency room of the A Marbella hospital. It was a typical Saturday-night scene: ambulances outside, gurneys, voices, people in the hallways, doctors and nurses rushing about. She and Teo found Patty in the office of a solicitous chief of hospital services: her jacket was draped over her shoulders, her pants had dirt stains on the knees and the outside of the thighs, along her hip, and there was a bruise on her forehead, bloodstains on her hands and blouse. Somebody else's blood. A half-smoked cigarette lay in the ashtray, and another was between her fingers. There were also two uniformed police officers in the hall, the body of a dead young woman on a gurney, and out on the Ronda highway a car, Patty's new Jaguar convertible, wrapped around a tree on a curve with empty bottles on the floorboard and ten grams of cocaine like talcum powder on the seats.
"A party," Patty explained. "We were coming back from a fucking party."
Her tongue was thick and her expression confused, as though she couldn't quite understand what was going on. Teresa knew the dead girl, a young Gypsy-looking woman who had recently been with Patty constantly: eighteen, but with all the vices of an older woman, and as wiped out most of the time as a creature in her fifties-hot to trot and ready to screw anybody for what she wanted. She'd died instantly, when her face smashed into the windshield-her skirt had been up around her thighs and Patty had been fingering her at a hundred and ten miles an hour. One problem more, one problem less, Teo muttered coldly as he exchanged a look of relief with Teresa when they stood over the body, the sheet covering it stained with blood on one side of the head-half her brains, someone said, were on the hood, among the slivered glass.
"Let's look on the bright side, right?… We're rid of this little slut," Teo said. "Her snorting and her blackmailing. She was dangerous company, given the circumstances. And as for Patty, speaking of getting somebody out of the way, I wonder how things would have gone if…"
"Shut the fuck up," said Teresa, "or I swear you're a dead man."
She was shocked by her own words. She saw herself speaking them, without thinking, spitting them out as they came into her mind: softly, without any reflection or calculation whatsoever.
"I just…" Teo started to say.
His smile seemed frozen, and he was looking at Teresa as if seeing her for the first time. Then he looked around disconcertedly, fearing that someone had overheard. He was pale.
"I was just kidding," he finally said.
He was much less attractive like that-humiliated. Or scared. And Teresa didn't answer. He was the least of her concerns. She was concentrating on herself, digging deep, trying to bring up the face of the woman that had spoken in her place.
Fortunately, the police told Teo, Patty hadn't been at the wheel when the car went out of control on the curve, so that took care of the involuntary-homicide charge. The cocaine and the rest could be fixed with a little money, a great deal of tact, some timely telephone calls and visits, and the right judge, as long as the press didn't get wind of it. That last one was the vital detail. Because these things, the lawyer said-sometimes looking at Teresa out of the corner of his eye, pensively-begin with a story buried on page seventeen and wind up on page one. So be careful of that.
Later, when everything at the hospital and morgue had been seen to, Teo had stayed behind, making phone calls and taking care of the police-luckily, this was the municipal police, under Tomas Pestana, not the Guardia Civil's traffic division-while Pote Galvez brought the Cherokee around to the door, and Teresa took Patty out very quietly, before anyone could make a call and some reporter started sniffing around. And in the car, leaning on Teresa, the window open so the cool night air might wake her up, Patty started talking.
"I'm sorry," she kept repeating, almost in a whisper, the headlights of oncoming cars lighting her face in flashes. "I'm sorry for her," she said in a thick, muted voice, the words running together. "I'm sorry for that little girl. And I'm sorry for you, too, Mexicana," she added after a silence.
"Well, I don't give a fuck who or what you're sorry for," Teresa replied, fed up and ill humored, looking down the highway over Pote Galvez' shoulder. "You should feel sorry for your fucking life."
Patty shifted position, leaning her head on the window behind her, and said nothing. Teresa squirmed uncomfortably. Chale, for the second time in an hour she'd said things she hadn't intended to say. Besides, she wasn't really irritated, not at Patty, anyway. In the end, it was she, Teresa, who was responsible for all this, or almost all of it. After a while, she took her friend's hand, which was as cold as the body they'd left in the hospital, under the blood-soaked sheet.
"How are you?" Teresa asked softly.
"I'm… all right." Patty didn't lift her head from the window. She leaned on Teresa again only when she got out of the SUV.
The minute they got her into bed, still dressed, she fell into an uneasy half-sleep, full of shivering and starts and moans. Teresa sat with her, in an armchair next to the bed, for a long time-the time it took to smoke three cigarettes and drink a big glass of tequila. Thinking. The room was almost dark, the curtains pulled back to reveal a starry sky and tiny, distant lights moving out at sea, beyond the shadows of the garden and the beach. Finally she stood up, to go to her own room, but at the door she thought better of it. She went and lay down on the edge of the bed, beside her friend, very quietly, trying not to wake her, and stayed there for hours. Listening to Patty's tormented breathing. And thinking.
"Are you awake, Mexicana?".
After the whispered answer, Patty had moved closer. Their bodies touched. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right. Go to sleep."
Another silence. It had been an eternity since the two of them had shared a moment like this, Teresa recalled. Almost since prison, in El Puerto de Santa Maria. Scratch the "almost." She lay motionless, her eyes open, listening to her friend's irregular breathing. Now she, too, couldn't sleep.
"Got a cigarette?" Patty asked after a while.
"I'll take one."
Teresa got up, went over to the dresser, and took out two Bisontes laced with hashish from her purse. The flame from her lighter illuminated Patty's face, the purple bruise on her forehead. Her lips were dry and swollen, her eyes, with bags under them from fatigue, were fixed on Teresa.
"I thought we could do it, Mexicana."
Teresa lay faceup on the edge of the bed. She picked the ashtray up off the night table and put it on her stomach. Slowly, giving herself time. "We did," she said at last. "We came a long way." "That's not what I meant." "Then I don't know what you're talking about."
Patty stirred beside her, changing positions. She's turned toward me, thought Teresa. She's looking at me in the darkness. Or remembering me.
"I thought I could take it," Patty said. "You and I this way. I thought it would work."
How strange everything was, Teresa meditated. Lieutenant O'Farrell. Herself. How strange and how far away, and how many bodies behind them, on the road. People we accidentally killed while we lived.
"Nobody deceived anybody. Nobody lied to anybody. Nobody twisted anybody's arm." As Teresa talked, she brought the cigarette to her mouth and saw the ember flare briefly between her fingers. "I'm where I always was." She exhaled the smoke after holding it in awhile. "I never tried-"
Patty interrupted. "Do you really think that? That you haven't changed?"
Teresa, irritated, shook her head. "And as for Teo…" she started to say.
"Good God!" Patty's laugh was scornful. Teresa felt her moving beside her as though she were shaking with laughter. "Fuck Teo."
There was another silence, this time very long. Then Patty began to talk again, very softly.
"He screws other women… Did you know that?"
Teresa shrugged, inside and outside, knowing that her friend couldn't see or feel the gesture. She didn't know, she concluded. Maybe she'd suspected, but that wasn't the issue. It never had been.
"I never expected anything," Patty went on, her tone pensive, self-absorbed. "Just you and me. Like before."
Teresa suddenly had the urge to be cruel. Because of what Patty had said about Teo.
"The good times back in El Puerto de Santa Maria, right?" she sneered. "You and your dream. Abbe Faria's treasure."
She had never been sarcastic about that before. Never in this way. Patty didn't say anything.
"You were in that dream, Mexicana," she said at last.
It sounded like justification and reproach. But I'm not getting into that, Teresa told herself. It's not my game, and never was. So fuck it.
"Yeah, well, I didn't ask to be in it," she said. "It was your decision, not mine."
"That's true. And sometimes life comes around and bites you on the ass just by giving you what you want, you know?"
That doesn't apply to me, either, thought Teresa. I didn't want anything. And that's the biggest paradox of my whole pinche life. She stubbed out the cigarette and put the ashtray back on the night table.
"I never made the decision," she said aloud. "Never. It came and I stepped up. Period."
"So what happened with me?" asked Patty.
That was the question. Really, Teresa reflected, it all came down to that. "I don't know… At some point you dropped out, started drifting away."
"And at some point you turned into an hija de puta."
There was a long pause. They were motionless. If I heard the sound of metal bars, thought Teresa, or the footsteps of a guard in the corridor, I'd think I was in El Puerto. The old nightly ritual of friendship. Edmond Dantes and Abbe Faria making plans for freedom and the future.
"I thought you had everything you needed," Teresa said. "I took care of your business, I made a lot of money for you… I took the risks and did the work. Isn't that enough?"
Patty took a minute to answer. "I was your friend."
"You are my friend," Teresa corrected her.
"Was. You didn't stop to look back. And there are things that you never…"
"Hijole! Here's the wounded wife, complaining because her husband
works all the time and doesn't think about her as much as he should Is
that where this is going?"
"I never wanted…"
Teresa could feel her anger growing. Because it could only be that, she told herself. Patty was wrong, and she, Teresa, was getting pissed. Pinche Lieutenant, or whatever she was now, was going to wind up hanging the dead girl tonight around her neck, too. Even that, she had to sign the checks for. Pay the bills.
"God damn you, Patty. This is like some cheap fucking soap opera." "Sure. I forgot I was talking to the Queen of the South."
She laughed quietly, choppily as she said this. That made it sound all the more cutting, and things were getting no better. Teresa raised up on one elbow. A mute rage was making her temples throb. Headache.
"What exactly the fuck is it that I owe you?… Just tell me, for Christ's sake, once and for all. Tell me and I'll pay you."
Patty was a motionless shadow haloed by moonlight shining in obliquely through the window.
"It's not that."
"No?" Teresa leaned closer. She could feel her breathing. "I know what it is. It's what makes you look at me strangely, because you think you gave up too much in exchange for too little. Abbe Faria confessed his secret to the wrong person… right?"
Patty's eyes gleamed in the darkness. A soft gleam, the reflection of the silver brightness outside.
"I never reproached you for anything, ever," she said very quietly.
The moonlight in her eyes made them look vulnerable. Or maybe it's not the moon, thought Teresa. Maybe we've both been fooling each other since the beginning. Lieutenant O'Farrell and her legend. She felt the urge to laugh, thinking, How young I was, and how stupid. Then came a wave of tenderness that shook her to the tips of her toes and shocked her-enough to make her half open her mouth. The rancor came next, almost as a relief, a solution, a comfort given her by the other Teresa, who was always around, in mirrors and shadows. She leapt at the support. She needed something to erase those three strange seconds, slay them with a cruelty as hard and definitive as an axe blow. She experienced the absurd impulse to turn toward Patty violently, straddle her, take her by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth rattled, pull off her clothes and say, Well, you're going to collect it all right now, once and for all, so we can finally put this to rest. But she knew not to do that. You couldn't pay back anything that way, and they were now too far apart-they'd followed paths that would never cross again. And in that double clarity, she saw that Patty knew this as well as she did.
"I don't know where I'm headed, either."
Teresa said that. And then she moved closer to the woman who had once been her friend, and embraced her in silence. She felt something shattered and irreparable within. An infinite despair, or grief. As though the girl in the torn photograph had returned and was crying deep down inside her.
"Well, be sure not to find out, Mexicana… because you might wind up getting there."
They lay like that, unmoving, in silence, the rest of the night.
Patricia O'Farrell committed suicide three days later, in her house in Marbella. A maid found her in the bathtub naked, up to her chin in the cold water. On the counter and the floor the police found several bottles of sleeping pills and a bottle of whisky. She had burned all her papers, photographs, and personal documents in the fireplace, and she left no note. For Teresa or anyone else. She just departed-like a woman walking quietly out of a room and closing the door behind her softly, so as not to make any noise.
Teresa didn't go to the funeral. She didn't even see the body. The same afternoon Teo Aljarafe called her to tell her what had happened, she went aboard the Sinaloa, alone except for the crew and Pote Galvez, and spent two days at sea, lying on a chaise on the aft deck, staring at the boat's wake, never speaking a word. In all that time she never even read. She stared at the ocean and smoked. From time to time she drank some tequila. And from time to time Pote Galvez' footsteps were heard on the deck; he prowled, as usual, but kept his distance. He approached her only when it was time for lunch or dinner, saying nothing, bringing a tray and waiting for his boss to shake her head before he disappeared again, or to bring her a jacket when clouds covered the sun, or when the sun set and the night turned cold.
The crew stayed even farther away. Pote had no doubt given instructions, and they were trying to avoid her. The skipper spoke to Teresa only twice: first when she came aboard and ordered him to sail, she didn't care where, until she said to stop, and next when, two days later, she came into the wheelhouse and said, "We're going back." For those forty-eight hours, Teresa didn't think for five minutes at a time about Patty O'Farrell or anything else. Whenever the image of her friend came to her, a wave, a seagull gliding in the distance, the reflection of sunlight off the water, the purring of the engines below, the wind that blew her hair into her face rushed to occupy all the useful space in her mind. The great advantage of the sea was that you could spend hours just looking at it, without thinking. Without remembering, either-or you could throw memories into the boat's wake as easily as they came, let them slide off you without consequences, let them pass like ship's lights in the night.
Teresa had learned that with Santiago Fisterra: it happened only at sea, because the sea was as cruel and selfish as human beings, and in its monstrous simplicity had no notion of complexities like pity, wounding, or remorse. Maybe that was why it was almost analgesic. You could see yourself in it, or justify yourself by it, while the wind, the light, the swaying, the sound of the water on the hull worked the miracle of distancing, calming you until you didn't hurt anymore, erasing any pity, any wound, and any remorse.
Finally the weather changed, the barometer fell five millibars in three hours, and a stiff gale began to blow. The skipper looked at Teresa, who was still sitting back on the aft deck, and then at Pote Galvez. So Pote went back and said, The weather's turned bad, mi dona. You might want to give orders. Teresa looked at him without replying, and the bodyguard returned to the skipper, shrugging. That night, with easterly winds blowing between force 6 and 7, the Sinaloa sloshed about with engines at half-throttle, its bow into the wind and seas, spray leaping up over the wheelhouse in the darkness. Teresa stood at the wheel in the reddish light of the binnacle, one hand on the wheel and the other on the throttle lever, with the autopilot disconnected, while the skipper, the sailor on duty, and Pote Galvez, who was buzzed on Dramamine, watched her from the aft cabin, clinging to their seats and the table, the coffee sloshing out of their cups each time the Sinaloa pitched and yawed. Three times Teresa went out and, buffeted by the wind, leaned over the leeward gunwale to throw up, then returned to the wheel without saying a word, her hair wet and tousled, dark circles around her eyes from sleepless nights, and calmly lit a cigarette. She'd never been seasick before. The weather grew calmer around dawn, with less wind and a grayish light that made the ocean look like a sheet of molten lead. It was only then that she gave the order to return to port.
Oleg Yasikov arrived at breakfast time. Blue jeans, dark blazer over a polo shirt, moccasins. Blond and stocky as always, although a little bigger around the waist lately. She greeted him on the rear terrace, beside the pool and the lawn that ran under the weeping willows down to the wall at the beach. It had been almost two months since they'd seen each other, at a dinner during which Teresa had warned him that the European Union was about to close its doors to a Russian bank in Antigua that Yasikov used for transferring funds to Latin America. It had saved him quite a few problems and a great deal of money. "Long time, Tesa. Yes."
Now it was he who had wanted to see her. A telephone call the previous afternoon. "I don't need to be comforted," she had told him. "It's not that," the Russian answered. "Nyet. Just a little bit of business and a little bit of friendship. Yes. The usual."
"Want a drink, Oleg?" she asked him now.
The Russian, who was buttering a piece of toast, stared at the glass of tequila next to Teresa's coffee cup and the ashtray with four butts already in it. She was in a tracksuit, leaning back in a wicker chair, her bare feet on the rustic tile floor.
"Of course not," said Yasikov. "Not at this hour, for God's sake. I'm just a gangster from the extinct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, not a Mexican with an iron stomach. Yes. Or asbestos, maybe. No. I'm not nearly as macho as you."
They laughed. "I see you can laugh," said Yasikov, surprised.
"And why not?" Teresa didn't flinch from the Russian's blue-eyed gaze. "Anyway, remember that we're not going to talk about Patty."
"I didn't come for that." Yasikov poured himself a cup of coffee, pensively chewed his toast. "There are things I have to tell you. Several."
The day was gloriously sunny, and the water in the pool reflected it back in turquoise blue. It was nice out there on the terrace warmed by the early-morning sun, among the bougainvillea and other flowers, the birds singing. Teresa and Oleg unhurriedly ate their breakfast and chatted about this and that, reviving their old friendship as they always did when they met: small meaningful words and gestures, shared codes. They had come to know each other very well. They knew which words to speak and which not to.
"Let's start with the biggest thing first," Yasikov finally said when breakfast was obviously over. "There's a job for you. A big one. Yes. For my people."
"That means absolutely first priority."
"I like that word 'priority.'"
"You need smack?"
He shook his head.
"Hashish. My bosses have partnered up with the Romanians. They want to supply several markets there. Yes. Immediately. Show the Lebanese that there are alternative suppliers. They need twenty tons. Moroccan. Grade double-A. The best."
Teresa frowned. Twenty thousand kilos was a lot, she said. They would have to get it together first, and the time was not the best for that. With the political changes in Morocco, it still wasn't clear who you could trust and who you couldn't. She had even been keeping a shipment of coke in Agadir for a month and a half, afraid to move it until things got clearer. Yasikov listened attentively, and when she finished he nodded. "I understand. Yes. You decide… But you'd be doing me a big favor. My people need that chocolate within a month. And I've gotten good pay for you. Very good pay."
"Pay is the least of it, Oleg. If the job's for you, the pay doesn't matter."
The Russian smiled and thanked her. Then they went into the house. On the other side of the library with its Oriental rugs and leather armchairs was Teresa's office. Pote Galvez appeared in the hall, looked at Yasikov without a word, and disappeared again.
"How's your Rottweiler?" the Russian asked.
"He hasn't killed me yet."
Yasikov's laugh filled the room. "Who would ever have thought it," he said. "When I met him."
They went into her office. Every week, the house was swept by an expert in electronic counterespionage sent by Dr. Ramos. Even so, there was nothing compromising in the room: a desk, a personal computer with the hard drive as clean as a whistle, a map cabinet whose drawers held large nautical charts, maps, and other oversize papers, with the latest edition of Ocean Passages for the World on top.
"Maybe I can do it," Teresa said. "Twenty tons. Five hundred forty-kilo bundles. Trucks to transport it from the Rif to the coast, a big boat, a massive shipment in Moroccan waters, coordinating the places and times exactly- very exactly." She calculated quickly: twenty-five hundred miles between Al-boran and Constanza, on the Black Sea, through the waters of six countries, including the passage through the Aegean, the Dardanelles, and the Bosporus. That would take incredible logistical and tactical precision. A lot of money in upfront expenses. Days and nights of work for Farid Lataquia and Dr. Ramos.
"But only," she concluded, "if you can assure me there'll be no problems unloading it in the Romanian port."
Yasikov nodded. You can count on that, he said. He was studying the Imray M20 chart, the eastern Mediterranean, which was laid out on the desk. He seemed distracted.
"You may want," he said after a minute, "to think hard about who you use to prepare this operation. Yes."
He said this without taking his eyes off the chart, his voice thoughtful-sounding, and then it took him a second or two to raise his eyes. "Yes," he repeated. Teresa got the message. She'd gotten it with his first words. You may want to think hard was the signal that something wasn't right. Think hard… who you use to prepare this operation.
"Orale," she said. "Talk to me."
A suspicious blip on the radar screen. The old hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach, that familiar friend, suddenly got hollower.
"There's a judge," said Yasikov. "Martinez Pardo, you know him all too well, I think. He's been on your tail for some time. And on mine. And other people's, too. But he has his preferences. You're one of them-the apple of his eye, you might say. He works with the police, the Guardia Civil, Customs. Yes. And he's beginning to pressure them."
"Tell me what you came to tell me," Teresa said impatiently.
Yasikov, hesitant, observed her. Then he turned his eyes toward the window. "I have people who tell me things," he went on. "I pay and they talk. And the other day I was in Madrid and someone talked to me about that last problem of yours. Yes. That ship they seized."
Yasikov stopped, took a few steps back and forth, tapped his fingers on the chart. He shook his head, as though indicating that what he was about to say had to be taken with a big grain of salt-he didn't know whether it was true or false.
"I feel like it was the Gallegos," Teresa said, to help him get it out.
"No. Or so people say. People say that the leak didn't come from there." He paused again, a long time. "They say it came from Transer Naga."
Teresa was going to open her mouth to say, "Impossible, I've checked it out." But she didn't. Oleg Yasikov would never have come like a kid in a schoolyard, to tell her something he'd heard third- or fourth-hand. So she started putting two and two together, formulating hypotheses, asking herself questions and answering them. Reconstructing chains of events. But the Russian was going for the shortcut.
"Martinez Pardo is pressuring somebody close to you," he said. "In exchange for immunity, money, who knows what. It could be true, or only part true. I don't know. But my source is grade A. Yes. He's never steered me wrong. And considering that Patricia-"
"It's Teo," she suddenly whispered.
Yasikov didn't finish his sentence.
"You knew," he said, surprised. But Teresa shook her head. She was filled with a strange iciness that had nothing to do with her bare feet. She turned away from Yasikov and looked toward the door, as though Teo himself were about to walk in.
"Tell me how the hell," the Russian, behind her, asked. "If you didn't know, why do you know now?"
Teresa still did not speak. She hadn't known, she thought, but it was true that now she did. That's the way this fucking life is, and its fucking little jokes. Chale. She concentrated, trying to put her thoughts in some reasonable order of priorities. And it wasn't easy.
"I'm pregnant," she said.
They went down to the beach for a walk, with Pote Galvez and one of Yasikov's bodyguards following at a distance. Swells were breaking on the pebbles along the shore and wetting Teresa's bare feet. The water was very cold, but she liked the way it felt on her skin. It made her feel good- awake. They walked southwest, along the dirty sand dotted with stretches of rocks and seaweed, toward Sotogrande, Gibraltar, and the Strait. They would talk for a few steps and then fall silent, thinking about what they had said or failed to say.
"What are you going to do?" Yasikov asked when he finished digesting the news. "Yes. With both of them-the baby and the father." "It's not a baby yet," Teresa replied. "It's not anything yet." Yasikov shook his head as though she had confirmed his thoughts. "But that's not the solution for Teo," he said. "Just for half the problem."
Teresa turned toward him, pulling her hair out of her eyes. "I didn't say the first part was solved. I just said it wasn't anything yet. I haven't made a decision about what it may be, or not."
The Russian studied her face, looking for changes, new signs, more surprises, in her expression.
"I'm afraid, Tesa. That I can't. Offer you any help there. Nyet. It's not my specialty."
"I'm not asking you for help, or advice, or anything, Oleg. Just that you walk with me, like always."
"That I can do." Yasikov smiled, like the big blond Russian bear he was. "Yes. I can do that."
A little fishing skiff was pulled up on the sand, one that Teresa always passed on her walks. Painted blue and white, very old and dilapidated and uncared for. There was rainwater in the bottom, and pieces of plastic and an empty soda bottle floated in it. A name, barely legible, was painted on the bow: Esperanza.
"Don't you ever get tired, Oleg?"
"Sometimes," he replied. "But it's not easy. No. To say, This is it, this is as far as I go, I want to get off. I have a wife," he added. "Beautiful. Miss Saint
Petersburg. A four-year-old son. Enough money to live the rest of my life without a care. Yes. But there are partners. Responsibilities. Commitments. And not everyone would understand that I'm really retiring. No. They're mistrustful by nature. If you go, you scare them. You know too much about too many people. And they know too much about you. You're a threat, and you're out there. Yes."
"What does the word 'vulnerable' make you think of?" Teresa asked.
Yasikov thought a second. "I'm not very good. At this language," he said. "But I know what you mean. A son makes you vulnerable…
"I swear to you, Tesa, that I've never been afraid. Of anything. Not even in Afghanistan. No. Those fanatics, those crazy people and their Allah akbars that would turn your blood to ice. Well, no. I wasn't afraid when I was starting, either. In the business. But since my son was born I know what it feels like. To be afraid. Yes. When something goes wrong, it's not possible anymore. No. To leave everything and just walk away. Run."
He had stopped and was gazing out at the ocean, the clouds gliding slowly toward the west. He sighed.
"It's good to run," he said. "When you have to. You know that better than anybody. Yes. That's all you've done your whole life. Run. Whether you wanted to or not."
He went on looking at the clouds. He raised his arms shoulder-high, as though to embrace the Mediterranean, and dropped them, impotently. Then he turned back to Teresa.
"Are you going to have it?"
She looked at him without responding. The sound of the water, the feel of the cold sea-froth on her feet. Yasikov looked at her fixedly, from his height. Teresa felt much smaller next to the huge Slav.
"What was your childhood like, Oleg?"
The Russian rubbed the back of his neck, surprised. Uncomfortable.
"I don't know," he said. "Like all childhoods in the Soviet Union. Neither bad nor good. The Pioneers, school. Yes. Karl Marx. The Soyuz. Fucking American imperialism. All that. Too much boiled cabbage, I think. And potatoes. Too many potatoes."
"I knew what it was to be hungry. All the time," said Teresa. "I had one pair of shoes, and my mother wouldn't let me put them on except to go to school, while I still went."
A wry smile came to her lips. "My mother," she repeated absentmindedly. An old, mellow anger rose in her.
"She beat on me a lot when I was little. She was an alcoholic, and she turned into a kind of part-time whore when my father left her. She'd make me go out and get beers for her friends. She'd drag me around by my hair, and she'd kick me and hit me. She'd come in late at night with that nasty flock of crows of hers, laughing obscenely, or somebody would come to the door drunk looking for her… I stopped being a virgin long before I lost my virginity to a bunch of boys, some of whom were younger than I was."
She fell silent, and remained quiet a good while, her hair blowing into her face. Slowly she felt the anger in her blood drain away. She took three or four deep breaths, to flush it out completely.
"I suppose Teo is the father," Yasikov said.
She held his gaze impassively. Wordlessly.
"That's the second part," the Russian whispered. "Of the problem."
He walked on without looking to see whether Teresa was following him. She stood, watching him move away, and then followed.
"I learned one thing in the army, Tesa," Yasikov said thoughtfully. "Enemy territory. Dangerous leaving pockets of the enemy behind you. Resistance. Hostile groups. Consolidating your gains requires that you eliminate points of potential attack. Yes. Points of potential attack. The phrase is used in all the books on warfare. My friend Sergeant Skobeltsin repeated it often. Yes. Every day. Before he got his throat cut in the Panshir Valley."
He had stopped walking and was regarding her again. This is as far as I can go, his eyes said. The rest is up to you.
"I'm beginning to be all alone, Oleg."
She stood quietly before him, and the fingers of surf pulled the sand out from under her feet each time they rolled up and pulled back. The Russian smiled a friendly, somewhat distant smile. Sad.
"How strange to hear you say that. I thought you'd always been alone."
15. Friends I have where I come from, people who say they love me
Judge Martinez Pardo was not a friendly sort of guy. I talked to him during the last days of my information gathering: twenty minutes of not particularly pleasant conversation in his office in the national court building. He only grudgingly agreed to see me, and only after I sent him a thick report on the state of my research thus far. His name was in it, naturally. Along with many other things. The usual choice was to take part comfortably, or stay out. He decided to take part, with his own version of the events. "Come and we'll talk," he said at last, when he came on the phone. So I went to the court building, he coolly shook my hand, and we sat down to talk, facing each other across his desk, with the flag and a portrait of the king on the wall.
Martinez Pardo was short, chunky, with a gray beard that didn't quite cover the scar on his left cheek. He was far from being one of those stars of the judiciary who appear on television and in the newspapers. Gray and efficient, people said. And bitter-an angry man. The scar dated back to a
time when Colombian hit men hired by Gallego narcos had come after him. Maybe that was what had soured his temper.
We began by talking about the situation of Teresa Mendoza. What had taken her to where she was now, and the turn her life was going to take in the next few weeks, if she could manage to stay alive.
"I don't know anything about that," Martinez Pardo said. "I don't have a crystal ball for people's future, except when I'm given the opportunity to sentence them to thirty years. My job is to look into their past. Events. Crimes. And crimes, Teresa Mendoza has committed more than her share."
"You must feel frustrated, then," I ventured. "So much work for nothing."
It was my way of repaying the warmth of his manner with me, I suppose. He looked at me over the top of his glasses, as though deciding whether to hold me in contempt of court. Gray, efficient judges have sore spots, too, I told myself. Their personal vanity. Their frustrations. You've got her but you haven't got her. She slipped through your fingers, back to Sinaloa.
"How long were you after her?"
"Four years. A long time. It wasn't easy to gather the evidence we needed to prove that she was implicated in the drug traffic. Her infrastructure was very good. Very intelligent. It was full of security mechanisms, blind alleys. You'd take something apart and come to a dead end. Impossible to prove the connections up the ladder."
"But you did it."
"Only in part. We needed more time, more freedom to work. But we didn't have it. These people move in certain circles-including politics. Including my circle-judges. That allowed Teresa Mendoza to see things coming, and stop them cold. Or minimize the consequences. In this case in particular," he added, "it was all right. My assistants were all right. We were about to crown a long, patient effort with an important takedown. Four years getting the spiderweb all in place. And suddenly, it all went poof."
"Is it true that it was the Ministry of Justice itself that stopped the investigation?"
"No comment." He had leaned back in his chair and was staring at me with what seemed like annoyance.
"They say that it was under pressure from the Mexican embassy that the minister himself pressured you."
He raised a hand. An unpleasant gesture. An authoritarian hand, that of a judge who hasn't stopped being a judge just because his robes are off. "If you continue down that road," he said, "this conversation is over. Nobody has pressured me, ever."
"Explain to me, then, why in the end you didn't do anything to Teresa Mendoza."
He thought about my question a moment, perhaps to determine whether the form of the question-Explain to me, then-was enough to hold me in contempt. Finally he decided to let it go. In dubio pro reo. Or whatever.
"As I said, I didn't have enough time to put all the evidence together."
"Despite Teo Aljarafe?"
He looked at me again, like before. He didn't like me or my questions, and that one hadn't helped the situation. "Everything having to do with that name is confidential," he said.
I allowed myself a small smile. Come on, Judge. At this late date?
"Can't make much difference anymore," I said. "I'd imagine."
"It does to me."
I meditated on that a few seconds.
"I'll make you a deal," I said at last. "I'll leave the Ministry of Justice out of this, and you tell me about Aljarafe." I replaced the small smile with a gesture of friendly solicitude while he considered it.
"All right," he said. "But there are some details I can't reveal."
"Is it true that you offered him immunity in exchange for information?"
Bad start, I told myself. I nodded thoughtfully a couple of times before rejoining the fray:
"People assure me that you pursued Aljarafe relentlessly for a long time. That you had a hefty dossier on him and that you brought him in and showed it to him. And that there was no drug trafficking in it. That you got him from the money side. Taxes, money laundering, that sort of thing."
He was regarding me impassively. You ask, I confirm. And don't ask for much more than that. "Transer Naga." "No."
"Be nice, Judge. I'm a good boy-answer a few of my questions, huh?"
Again he considered it for a few seconds. After all, he must have been thinking, I'm in this. This point is more or less common knowledge, and it's over.
"I admit," he said, "that the business dealings of Teresa Mendoza were al-
ways impervious to our efforts to penetrate them, despite the fact that we
knew that more than seventy percent of the drug traffic in the Mediterranean came in through her Senor Aljarafe's weak spot was his private
wealth. Irregular investments, movements of money. Personal accounts abroad. His name appeared on a couple of murky foreign transactions. There was material to work with there."
"They say he had properties in Miami."
"Yes. We learned there was a nine-thousand-square-foot house in Coral Gables, with coconut palms and its own dock, and a luxury apartment in Coco Plum, a neighborhood of lawyers, bankers, and stockbrokers. All, apparently, without the knowledge of Teresa Mendoza."
"A piggy bank. For a rainy day."
"You might say that."
"And you got him by the balls. And you scared him."
He leaned back in his chair again. Dura lex, sed lex. "I don't like that language," he told me.
I'm beginning not to like this whole interview, I thought. This holier-than-thou bullshit.
"Translate it as you see fit, then."
"He decided to collaborate with Justice. It was that simple." "In exchange for…?"
"In exchange for nothing."
I could only stare. Yeah, right. I believe that. Teo Aljarafe putting his neck in the noose for nothing. Yeah, right.
"And how did Teresa Mendoza react when she learned that her financial wizard was working for the enemy?"
"You know that as well as I do."
"Yes, I suppose I do. I know what everybody else knows, anyway. And also that she used him as a decoy in the Russian hashish operation… But I wasn't referring to that."
My comment about the Russian hashish operation made things worse. Don't get smart with me, son, his expression said.
"Then," he suggested, "ask her, if you can."
"Maybe I can."
"I doubt that Teresa Mendoza gives interviews. Much less in her current situation."
I decided to make one last try. "How do you see that situation?"
"I'm out of it," he replied, poker-faced. "I neither see nor don't see. Teresa Mendoza is no longer my concern."
Then he fell silent, distractedly leafing through some documents on his desk, and I thought that he'd ended our conversation. I know better ways to waste my time, I decided. I was getting to my feet, irritated, ready to take my leave of the judge. But not even a disciplined officer of the state like Judge Martinez Pardo could avoid the sting of certain wounds. Or avoid justifying himself. He remained seated, not raising his eyes from the documents. And then, suddenly, he repaid my time.
"It stopped being my concern after the visit of that American," he added bitterly. "The one from the DEA."
Dr. Ramos, who had a peculiar sense of humor, had given the operation to move twenty tons of hashish through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea the code name Tender Childhood. The few people who knew about it had spent two weeks planning with almost military precision, and that morning, they had learned from Farid Lataquia, who had closed up his cell phone with a satisfied smile after talking a few minutes in code, that he had found the perfect boat to serve as the shuttle for the merchandise. It was in the port of Al Hoceima, and it was an old, rundown ninety-foot fishing boat, renamed Tarfaya, that belonged to a Hispano-Moroccan fishing corporation.
Dr. Ramos, for his part, was coordinating the movements of the Xoloitzcuintle, a container ship sailing under the German flag with a crew of Poles and Filipinos; it made a regular run between the Atlantic coast of South America and the eastern Mediterranean, and at the moment was somewhere between Recife and Veracruz. Tender Childhood had a second front, or parallel track, in which a third boat, this time a cargo ship with a standard route-nonstop-between Cartagena and the Greek port of Piraeus, played a major role. This ship was the Luz Angelita, and although it was registered in the Colombian port of Tumaco, it sailed under the Cambodian flag for a Cypriot corporation. While the Tarfaya and the Xoloitzcuintle would handle the most delicate part of the operation, the role assigned the Luz Angelita was simple, profitable, and risk-free: It was going to be a decoy.
"Everything set to go, then"-Dr. Ramos nodded-"in ten days."
He took the pipe out of his mouth to stifle a yawn. It was almost eleven a.m., after a long night of work in the office in Sotogrande: a house, protected by the most modern security and electronic countersurveillance equipment, that two years ago had replaced the apartment in the port area. Pote Galvez stood guard in the vestibule while two other security men patrolled the lawn. In the living room were a television, a portable computer and printer, two cell phones with scramblers, a white board on an easel with erasable markers, and a large conference table, now littered with dirty coffee cups and full ashtrays. Teresa had just opened a window to air the place out. Her telecommunications expert was there, along with Farid Lataquia and Dr. Ramos. The young man was named Alberto Rizocarpaso, and he was from Gibraltar. This was what Dr. Ramos called the "crisis cabinet": the small group that constituted Transer Naga's general staff for operations.
"The Tarfaya" Lataquia was saying, "will wait in Al Hoceima, cleaning out its holds. Tune-up and gas. Harmless. Nice and quiet. We won't take her out until two days before the appointment."
"Good," said Teresa. "I don't want it out there for a week sailing in circles, calling attention to itself."
"Not to worry. I'll see to that myself." "Crew?"
"All Moroccan. Skipper, Cherki. Ahmed Chakor's people, like always." "Ahmed Chakor's not always to be trusted."
"Depends on what you pay him." Lataquia smiled. Depends on what you pay me, too, his smile said. "This time we're taking no chances."
Which means you're pocketing a little extra commission for yourself this time, too, Teresa said to herself. Fishing boat plus cargo ship plus Chakor's people equals a shitload of cash. She saw that Lataquia was smiling even more broadly, guessing what she was thinking. At least this hijo de la chin-gada doesn't hide it, she thought. It's all out in the open with him. And he always knows where the line is.
She turned to Dr. Ramos. "What about the rubbers? How many units for the transfer?"
The doctor had spread British Admiralty Chart 773 out on the table, the Moroccan coast from Ceuta to Melilla in precise detail. With the mouthpiece of his pipe he indicated a point three miles to the north, between the Velez de la Goma rock and the Xauen bank.
"There are six available," he said. "For two runs of seventeen hundred
kilos each, more or less. With the fishing boat moving along this line,
here, everything can be done in less than three hours. Five, if the seas are high. The cargo is ready in Bab Berret and Ketama. The loading points will be Rocas Negras, Cala Traidores, and the mouth of the Mestaxa."
"Why spread it out so much?… Isn't it better to do it all at once?"
Dr. Ramos looked at her, his expression grave. From another person the question would have offended him, but from Teresa it was normal. She was a micromanager, no doubt about that. Down to the last detail. It was good for her and good for everybody else, because the responsibility for the successes and failures was always shared, and no one had to give too many explanations later if something went wrong.
"Ball-bustingly meticulous," was how Lataquia put it, in his graphic
Mediterranean style. Never to her face, of course. But Teresa knew. She knew everything about everybody on her team. Suddenly she found herself thinking about Teo Aljarafe. Pending, but to be solved in the next few days, too. She corrected herself: She knew almost everything about almost all of them.
"Twenty thousand kilos on one beach is a lot of kilos," the doctor explained, "even with the Moroccan cops in our pocket… I prefer not to have that high a profile. So we've presented it to the Moroccans as three different operations. The idea is to load half the cargo at point one with the six rubbers at the same time, a quarter of it at point two with just three rubbers, and the other quarter at point three with the other three… That way we cut the exposure, cut the risk, and nobody will have to go back to the same place for a refill."
"And what's the weather looking like?"
"At this time of year it can't be very bad. We have a three-day window, and the last night there's almost no moon. We might have some fog, and that could complicate the link-ups. But each rubber will carry a GPS, and the fishing boat will have one, too."
"The usual: cloned cell phones or scramblers for the rubbers and the fishing boat, the Internet on the big boat… STU walkie-talkies for the transfer itself."
"I want Alberto out there, with all his equipment."
Rizocarpaso, the communications engineer, nodded. He was blond, with a baby face, almost no beard. Introverted. Very good at what he did. His shirts and pants were always wrinkled from the hours he spent with a radio receiver or at a computer keyboard. Teresa had hired him because he knew how to camouflage contacts and operations through the Internet, routing everything through the cover of countries that European and American police didn't have access to: Cuba, India, Libya, Iraq. In minutes he could open, use, and leave dormant several electronic addresses hidden behind local servers in those and other countries, using credit card numbers stolen or purchased through straw men. He was also an expert in steganography- the technique of hiding messages within apparently innocuous electronic documents-and the PGP encryption system.
"What boat?" the doctor asked.
"Any one-a sport boat. Discreet. The Fairline Squadron we have in Baniis might work." Teresa pointed out a broad region on the nautical chart, east of Alboran, to the engineer. "You'll coordinate communications from here."
He gave a stoic smile. Lataquia and the doctor grinned at him mockingly; everyone knew he got deathly seasick on a boat, but Teresa no doubt had her reasons for ordering him to go.
"Where does the link-up with the Xoloitzcuintle take place?" Rizocarpaso wanted to know. "There are spots where there's almost no signal."
"You'll know in good time. And if there's no signal, we'll use the radio and cover ourselves with fishing channels. Change frequencies on code phrases, between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and forty megahertz. Make a list."
One of the telephones rang. The secretary in the office in Marbella had received a message from the Mexican embassy in Madrid. They were requesting that Senora Mendoza meet with a high-ranking official to discuss an urgent matter. "How urgent?" Teresa asked.
"They didn't say," the secretary replied. "But the official is already here. Middle-aged, well dressed. Very elegant. His card says Hector Tapia, charge d'affaires. He's been sitting in the waiting room for fifteen minutes. And another gentleman is with him."
Thank you for meeting with us, senora."
She knew Hector Tapia. She'd met him, superficially, several years earlier, during her dealings with the Mexican embassy when he helped cut through the paperwork for her dual nationality. A brief interview in an office in the Carrera Building, in San Jeronimo. A few more or less cordial words exchanged, some documents signed, a cigarette, a cup of coffee, a trivial conversation. She remembered him as extremely polite, quiet, businesslike. Despite knowing everything about her life-or perhaps because of it- he had been very helpful, keeping the red tape to a minimum. In some twelve years, he had been the only direct contact Teresa had had with official spheres in Mexico.
"Allow me to introduce Guillermo Rangel. He is from America."
Tapia seemed uncomfortable in the little conference room paneled in dark walnut, like a man not certain he's in the right place. The gringo, however, seemed right at home. He looked out the window at the magnolias on the lawn, inspected the antique English wall clock, the leather on the chairs, the valuable Diego Rivera drawing-Notes for a Portrait of Emiliano Zapata- on the wall.
"I'm actually of Mexican descent, like you," he said, still studying the portrait of the moustached Zapata. "Born in Austin, Texas. My mother was a Chicana."
His Spanish was perfect, with a slight norteno accent, Teresa noted. Many years of practice. Dark hair, brush-cut, the shoulders of a wrestler. White polo shirt under the light jacket. Dark, quick, intelligent eyes.
"Senor Rangel," said Hector Tapia, "has certain information he would like to share with you."
Teresa motioned for them to take a seat in the armchairs arranged around a large hammered-copper Arabian tray table, and then sat down herself, placing a pack of Bisontes and her lighter on the table. She'd had time to fix herself up: hair pulled back into a ponytail with a silver clasp, dark silk blouse, black jeans, moccasins, suede jacket over the back of the chair.
"I'm not sure I'm interested in this information," she said.
The diplomat's silver hair, tie, and well-cut suit contrasted with the appearance of the gringo. Tapia had taken off his steel-framed glasses and was studying them, his brow furrowed in concentration, as though unhappy with the state of the lenses.
"I think in this particular information you will be," he said, putting on his glasses and looking at her persuasively. "Don Guillermo…"
The other man raised a large, meaty hand. "Willy. You can call me Willy. Everybody does."
"All right. Well, Willy here works for the government of the United States."
"For the DEA," the gringo said.
Teresa was taking a cigarette out of the pack. She continued to do so, showing no emotion.
"Sorry?… For who?"
She put the cigarette between her lips and reached for the lighter, but Tapia leaned over the table attentively-a click, and the flame was there.
"D-E-A," Willy Rangel repeated, pronouncing the letters slowly. "The Drug Enforcement Administration. My country's antidrug agency."
"Hijole. You don't say." Teresa exhaled the smoke, examined the gringo. "… This is kind of off the beaten track for you, isn't it? I didn't know your agency had interests in Marbella."
"You live here."
"And what do I have to do with anything?"
The two men contemplated her wordlessly, then looked at each other. Tapia raised one eyebrow. It's your case, friend, he seemed to be saying. I'm just here to watch.
"Let's understand one another, senora," said Willy Rangel. "I'm not here looking into anything that has to do with your current method of earning a living. Nor is don Hector, who was kind enough to accompany me. My visit has to do with things that happened a long time ago…"
"Twelve years ago," Hector Tapia put in, as though from a distance. Or outside.
"… And with other things that are about to happen. In Mexico."
"Mexico, you say."
Teresa looked at the cigarette. I'm not going to finish it, the gesture said. Tapia understood perfectly; he gave the other man an uneasy look. Orale, we've lost her, he announced silently. Rangel seemed to be of the same opinion. So he went straight to the point.
"Does the name Cesar Guemes mean anything to you-'Batman' Guemes?"
Three seconds of silence, two pairs of eyes waiting for her. She blew the cigarette smoke out as slowly as she could. "Well, you know, I don't think it does." The two pairs of eyes met. Then turned back to her. "Nevertheless," said Rangel, "you knew him, several years ago." "How strange. Then I should remember him, shouldn't I?" She looked at the wall clock, searching for a polite way to stand up and end this. "And now if you'll excuse me…"
The two men looked at each other again. Then Rangel smiled. He did it brazenly, almost a grin-he was a charmer, no doubt about it. In his business, Teresa thought, somebody who smiles that way has to reserve the effect for big occasions.
"Give me just five minutes more," he said. "To tell you a story."
"I only like stories with great endings."
"The end of this one depends on you."
And then Guiliermo Rangel, whom everybody called Willy, started telling the story. The DEA, he explained, was not a special-operations unit. What they did, rather, was compile information, maintain a network of informers, pay them, produce detailed reports on activities related to the production, trafficking, and distribution of drugs, put names on all the players, and structure a case that could be taken to a judge. Which was why they used agents. Like him. People who infiltrated drug organizations and worked inside. Rangel himself had worked like that, first undercover in Chicano groups in California and then in Mexico, as a handler of undercover agents, for eight years, minus a period of fourteen months when he'd been sent to Medellin as the liaison between his agency and the local police search unit in charge of capturing and killing Pablo Escobar. And by the way, that famous photograph of the dead narco, surrounded by the men who'd killed him in Los Olivos, had been taken by Rangel. Now it was framed and hanging on the wall of his office, in Washington, D.C.
"I don't see how any of this can be of interest to me," said Teresa.
She put out her cigarette in the ashtray, unhurriedly, but determined to end this conversation. It wasn't the first time that cops, agents, or drug traffickers had come to her with stories. She didn't feel like wasting her time.
"I'm telling you all this," the gringo said simply, "as background, so you'll understand my work."
"I understand just fine. And now if you'll excuse me…"
She stood up. Hector Tapia also stood up, reflexively, buttoning his jacket. He looked at Rangel, disconcerted and uneasy. But Rangel remained seated.
"Guero Davila was a DEA agent" he said simply."He worked for me, and that's why he was killed."
Teresa studied the gringo's intelligent eyes, which were waiting to see the effect his words made. So-you finally got to the punch line, she thought. Well, fuck you, unless you've got another bullet in that pistol. She felt like bursting out laughing. A peal of laughter stifled for almost twelve years, since Culiacan, Sinaloa. Pinche Guero's posthumous little joke. But all she did was shrug.
"Now," she said coolly, "tell me something I didn't know."
Don't even look at it," Guero Davila had told her. "Don't even open it, prietita. Take it to don Epifanio Vargas and trade it for your life." But that afternoon in Culiacan, Teresa couldn't resist the temptation. Despite what Guero believed, she could think for herself-and feel. And she was curious-maybe the word was "dying"-to know what kind of hell she'd just been dropped into.
That was why, moments before Gato Fierros and Pote Galvez appeared at the apartment near the Garmendia market, she broke the rules-turning the pages of the black leather notebook that held the keys to what had happened and what was about to happen. Names, addresses. Contacts on both sides of the border. She had time to grasp the reality before the shit hit the fan and she found herself running down the street holding the Double Eagle, alone and terrified, knowing exactiy what she was trying to run away from. It was summed up very well that same night by don Epifanio Vargas himself. "Your man," he had said, "liked his little jokes too much. Liked to play around." The wagers he placed on his own cleverness had even included her.
Teresa knew all this when she went to the Malverde Chapel with the notebook she should never have read, cursing Guero for the way he'd put her in danger just to save her. A typical twisted fucking Guero way to deal with the situation. If they burn me, the pinche fucking hijo de la pinche madre had thought, there's no way out for Teresa. Innocent or not, those are the rules. But there was a remote possibility: show that she was really acting in good faith. Because Teresa would never have turned the notebook over to anybody if she'd known what was inside. Never, had she been aware of the dangerous game being played by the man who had filled those pages with deadly notes. By taking it to don Epifanio, godfather to her and to Guero himself, she showed her ignorance. Her innocence. She'd never have dared, otherwise.
And that afternoon, sitting on the bed in the apartment, turning the pages that were simultaneously her death sentence and her only possible salvation, Teresa cursed Guero because she finally understood it all. Taking off, just running, was condemning herself to death within a few miles. She had to take the notebook to don Epifanio, to show that she didn't know what was in it. She had to swallow the fear that was wringing her belly into knots, keep her head, give her voice just the right amount of anguish, just the right degree of pleading with the man Guero and she had trusted. The narco's morra, the scared little rabbit. I don't know anything. You tell me, don Epifanio, why would I read that. That was why she was still alive today. And why now, in the conference room of her office in Marbella, DEA agent Willy Rangel and charge d'affaires Hector Tapia were staring at her with their mouths open, one sitting, the other standing and with his fingers still at his jacket buttons.
"You've known all this time?" the gringo asked, incredulous. "Twelve years."
Tapia dropped back into the chair. "Cristo bendito," he murmured.
Twelve years, Teresa told herself. Surviving with and because of a secret about the people who killed Guero. Because that last night in Culiacan, in the Malverde Chapel, in the stifling atmosphere of heat and humidity and smoke from the altar candles, she had played the game laid out for her by her dead lover-she'd had almost no hope, and yet she'd won. Neither her voice nor her nerves nor her fear had betrayed her. Because he was a good man, don Epifanio. And he loved her. He loved both of them, despite realizing from the notebook-maybe he knew before, or maybe not-that Raimundo Davila Parra, aka Guero, had been working for the American antidrug agency, and that that was almost certainly why Batman Giiemes had dropped him. And so Teresa had been able to fool them all, gambling on this crazy game, walking the knife-edge, just as Guero had foreseen. She doesn't know anything. No way. How could she bring me the pinche notebook if she did? So let her go. Ovale. It was one chance in a hundred, but it was enough to save her.
Willy Rangel was now observing Teresa very attentively, and with a respect that hadn't been there before.
"In that case," he said, "I'd ask you to take a seat again and listen to what I have to say, senora. Now you need to more than before."
Teresa hesitated, but the gringo's words had convinced her. She looked to one side and then the other, and then at the time, feigning impatience. "Ten minutes," she said. "And not one minute more."
She sat down again and lit another Bisonte. Tapia, now back in his chair, was still so stunned that it took him a moment before he even registered that a lady was lighting her own cigarette, so by the time he held out the lighter to her, murmuring apologies, it was too late.
Then the DEA man told the real story of Guero Davila.
Raimundo Davila Parra was from San Antonio, Texas. Chicano. After having worked from a very young age on the illegal side of the drug trade, bringing small amounts of marijuana over the border from Mexico, he was recruited by the DEA when he was arrested in San Diego with five keys of weed. He had talent, and he was an adrenaline junkie-he liked taking risks, feeling the rush. But he was cool, despite his outgoing appearance, and he was brave. After a period of training when he was supposedly in prison in northern California-part of the time he was, in order to make his cover look good-Guero was sent to Sinaloa, and his mission was to infiltrate the transportation networks of the Juarez cartel, where he had some old friends.
He liked the work. He also liked to fly, and he'd taken flying lessons as part of his training with the DEA, although as cover he took more lessons in Culiacan. For several years he infiltrated more and more deeply into the drug-trafficking world, using his job with Nortena de Aviacion first as a right-hand man for Epifanio Vargas, with whom he worked in the big airbus operations led by the Lord of the Skies, and then as a pilot for Batman
Guemes. Willy Rangel had been his handler. They never communicated by telephone except in cases of emergency. They would meet once a month in discreet hotels in Mazatlan and Los Mochis. And all the valuable information that the DEA got on the Juarez cartel during that period, including descriptions of the fierce power struggles the Mexican narcos waged to gain independence from the Colombian cartels, came from the same source. Guero was worth his weight in coke.
Then his narco friends killed him. The formal pretext was true enough: Seeking that little extra thrill, Guero took advantage of his drug runs for the Sinaloans to transport his own stuff. He liked to live dangerously, and he brought his cousin Chino Parra into it. The DEA knew, more or less, what Guero was up to, but he was a valuable agent, so they looked the other way. The narcos, however, decided not to. For some time, Rangel had wondered whether it was because of Guero's back-door transports or because somebody broke his cover.
It took him three years to find out. A Cuban arrested in Miami who'd been working for people in Sinaloa turned state's evidence in exchange for a slot in the Witness Protection Program, and he filled eighteen hours of audiotape with his revelations. He told his interrogators that Guero Davila had been murdered because somebody found out he was working for the feds. A stupid error: a U.S. Customs agent in El Paso somehow got access to a confidential report-no names, but the circumstances were pretty clear-and sold it to the narcos for $80,000. The narcos put two and two together, followed the trail, and at the end of it found Guero.
"The story about the drugs in the Cessna," Rangel concluded, "was a pretext. They were after him. What's strange is that the people that took him out didn't know he was working for us."
He fell silent.
"How can you be sure?"
The gringo nodded. Professional. "Ever since the murder of Agent Cama-rena, the narcos have known that we never forgive the murder of one of our men. That we don't give up until the people responsible die or are in prison. An eye for an eye. It's a rule, and if there's one thing they understand, it's rules."
There was a new coldness in his voice. We're bad to have as enemies, it said. We're nasty. And we've got all the money and all the persistence in the world.
"But they killed Guero as dead as you can get."
"Right." Rangel nodded again. "Which is why I say that whoever gave the direct order to lay the trap in the Espinazo del Diablo didn't know he was an agent… You may have heard the name, although a few minutes ago you denied it: Cesar 'Batman' Guemes."
"I don't recall it."
"No, of course not. Even so, I can assure you that he was just following orders. 'That dude is running his own stuff,' somebody told him. 'We need to take him out, make an example of him.' We know that Batman Guemes resisted-they had to beg him. Apparently, he liked Guero Davila… But in Sinaloa, commitments are commitments."
"And who, according to you, put the bug in Batman's ear and insisted that Guero get taken out?"
Rangel, smiling crookedly, rubbed his nose, turned to Tapia, and then back to Teresa. He was sitting on the edge of his chair, his hands on his knees. He didn't look like such a charmer anymore. Now he looked like a pissed-off hunting dog with a good memory.
"Another man I'm sure you've never heard of… Sinaloa's representative to the House of Deputies, and future senator, Epifanio Vargas."
Teresa leaned against the wall and looked at the few customers that were in the Olde Rock at this hour. She could often think things through better when she was among strangers, watching, instead of being alone with the other woman who was always hanging around, no matter where Teresa was. On the way back to Guadalmina she'd told Pote Galvez to drive to Gibraltar, and after crossing the line she directed the bodyguard through the narrow streets until they came to the white facade of the English bar she used to go to-in another life-with Santiago Fisterra.
Pote Galvez parked the Cherokee, and she went in. Everything was the same: the beams on the ceiling, the walls covered with historical engravings, naval souvenirs, and photographs of ships. At the bar, she ordered a Foster's, the beer she'd always drunk with Santiago when they came here, and without tasting it she went to sit at the same table as always, next to the door, under the engraving of the death of the English admiral-now she knew who this Nelson was and how he'd gotten his at Trafalgar. The other Teresa Mendoza was hanging back, studying her from a distance. Waiting for conclusions, for a reaction to everything she'd just been told, which had finally filled out the general picture the other woman had been explaining to her, and also cleared up the events back in Sinaloa that had led her to this place in her life. She now knew much more than she thought she knew, and she needed to sit and think.
It's been a pleasure, she'd said-exactly what she'd said when the man from the DEA and the man from the embassy finished telling her what they'd come to tell her and sat there watching her, waiting for a reaction. You two are crazy, it's been a pleasure, adios. They left disappointed. Maybe they had expected comments, promises. Commitments. But her inexpressive face, her indifferent manner, left them little hope. No way. "She just told us to fuck ourselves," she heard Hector Tapia say under his breath, so that she wouldn't hear, as they were leaving. Despite his perfect manners, the diplomat had that defeated look about him.
"Think about it carefully," the DEA man had said. His words of farewell.
"The problem," she said as she was closing the door behind them, "is that I don't see what there is to think about. Sinaloa is a long, long way away. Adios"
But she was sitting there now, in the bar in Gibraltar, thinking. Remembering point by point, putting everything Willy Rangel had told her in order in her head. The story of don Epifanio Vargas. The story of Guero Davila. The story of Teresa Mendoza.
It was Guero's former boss, the gringo had said, don Epifanio himself, who'd found out about Guero and the DEA. During those early years as owner of Nortena de Aviacion, Vargas had leased his planes to Southern Air Transport, a U.S. government cover company that flew the arms and cocaine that the CIA was using to finance the Contras in Nicaragua, and Guero Davila, who back then was already a DEA agent, was one of the pilots who unloaded war materiel at the airport in Los Llanos, Costa Rica, and returned to Fort Lauderdale with drugs from the Medellin cartel. When that operation, and that period of history, was over, Epifanio Vargas had maintained his good connections on the other side, which was how he could later be informed of the leak from the Customs agent who'd ratted out Guero. Vargas had paid the rat, and for a good while had kept the information to himself, not making any final decision about what to do with it. The drug boss of the sierra, the former patient campesino, was one of those men that never rush into things. He was almost out of the business, he was taking another road now, the pharmaceuticals that he managed from a distance were doing well, and the state's privatizations in recent years had allowed him to launder huge amounts of money. He maintained his family comfortably, in an immense rancho near El Limon that replaced the Colonia Chapultepec house in Culiacan-and kept a lover, too, a former model and TV host, whom he set up in a luxurious place in Mazatlan. He saw no reason to complicate things with decisions that could come back to bite him and whose only benefit was revenge. Guero was working for Batman Guemes now, so he was no business of Epifanio Vargas'.
However-Willy Rangel had said-at some point things changed. Vargas made a lot of money in the ephedrine business: $50,000 a kilo in the United States, compared with $30,000 for cocaine and $8,000 for marijuana. He had good connections, which opened the doors of a political career; he was about to collect on the half a million a month he'd been investing in payoffs to public officials all these years. He saw a quiet, respectable future for himself, for from the potential problems of his old trade. After establishing ties with the principal families of the city and the state-money, corruption, complicity made very good relationships with these people-he had enough money to say basta, or to go on earning it by conventional means. So suddenly, suspiciously, people related to his past began to die: police officers, judges, lawyers. Eighteen in three months.
It was an epidemic. And in that scenario, the figure of Guero Davila was also an obstacle: he knew too many things about the heroic times of Nortena de Aviacion. The DEA agent was lurking in his past like a stick of dynamite that could go off at any time, and destroy Vargas' future.
But Vargas was smart, Rangel had said. Very smart, with that campesino shrewdness that had gotten him where he was today. He passed the job off to somebody else, without revealing why. Batman Guemes would never have taken out an agent of the DEA, but a pilot of two-engine Cessnas who was dealing behind his bosses' backs, fucking them over a little here and a little there-that was another thing. Vargas insisted to Batman: An object lesson, to teach the others that we can't let this happen, et cetera. Guero and his cousin. I've got a bone or two to pick with him, too, so consider this a personal favor you're doing me. Plus, you're his boss now-it's your responsibility to enforce discipline.
"How long have you known all this?" Teresa had asked Rangel.
"Part of it, for a long time. Almost when it happened." The DEA agent moved his hands to underscore the obvious. "The rest, about two years, when the witness I mentioned gave us the details… And he said something else." He paused, looking at her intently, as though expecting her to fill in the blanks."… He said that later, when you started to grow over here on this side of the Atlantic, Vargas decided he'd made a mistake in letting you get out of Sinaloa alive. And he reminded Batman Guemes that he had unpaid bills over here… and Batman Guemes sent two hit men over here to finish the job."
That's your story, said Teresa's inscrutable expression. You think you know everything. "You don't say. And what happened?"
"You'd be the one to tell me that. Nothing more was ever heard of them."
Hector Tapia gently interrupted. "Of one of them, Willy means. Apparently, the other one is still here. Retired. Or semi-retired."
"And why have you come to me with all this now?"
Rangel looked at the diplomat. Now it's your turn, his expression said. Tapia again took off his glasses and put them back on again. Then he studied his fingernails, as though he had notes written on them.
"Recently," he began, "Epifanio Vargas' political star has been rising. It has been, in fact, unstoppable. Too many people owe him too much. Many people love him or fear him, and almost everyone respects him. He was able to get out of the activities directly related to the Juarez cartel before it got into its serious trouble with Justice, when the struggle was carried on almost exclusively against its competitors in the Gulf… In his career he has involved judges, businessmen, and politicians, and the highest authorities in the Mexican Church, police, and military-General Gutierrez Rebollo, who was about to be appointed the republic's antidrug prosecutor before his links with the Juarez cartel were discovered and he wound up in the Al-moloya prison, was a close friend of Vargas'… And then there are the people themselves, the men and women in the street: since he was named state representative to the House of Deputies, Epifanio Vargas has done a lot for Sinaloa, invested money, created jobs, helped people-"
"That's not bad," Teresa interrupted. "Usually in Mexico, people steal from the state and keep it all for themselves… The PRI did that for seventy years."
"Those are two different things," replied Tapia. "For the moment, the PRI is not in power. There's a new wind sweeping through the government, we all hope. Maybe in the end not much will have changed, but there is a will now to try. And all of a sudden, Epifanio Vargas appears on the scene, ready to become a senator."
"And somebody wants to screw him." Teresa saw it all now.
"That's one way of putting it. On the one hand, a very large sector of the
political world, many linked to the current government, don't want to see a
Sinaloan narco become a senator, even though he's officially retired and
serving as a member of the House of Deputies There are also old ac-
counts, which it would take too long to go into."
Teresa could imagine what those accounts might consist of. All of those hijos de la pinche madre, at war over power and money, the drug cartels and the friends of the respective cartels and the various political families, related to drugs or not. No matter who's in power in the "government." Mexico Undo, as they say-beautiful Mexico.
"And for our part," Rangel added, "we haven't forgotten that he had a DEA agent killed."
"Exactly." That shared responsibility seemed to relieve Tapia. "Because the government of the United States, which as you know, senora, continues to follow our own country's politics very closely, would also not approve of Epifanio Vargas' becoming senator… So there has been an attempt to create a high-level commission to act in two phases-first, to open an investigation into Vargas' past, and second, if the necessary evidence can be gathered, to strip him of his government position and end his political career, perhaps even bring him to trial."
"At the end of which," Rangel added, "we do not exclude the possibility of requesting his extradition to the United States."
"And where do I fit into this happy plan?" Teresa asked. "What's the purpose of you flying all the way over here to tell me all this, like we were in the gang together back in the old days?"
Rangel and Tapia looked at each other. The diplomat cleared his throat, and while he was taking a cigarette from a silver case-offering one to Teresa, who shook her head-he said that the Mexican government had followed the, ahem, career of Senora Mendoza in recent years. They had nothing against her, since as far as they could tell, her activities took place outside the territorial limits of Mexico-she was an exemplary citizen, Rangel put in, so straight-faced that the sarcasm was almost lost. And in view of all that, the authorities were willing to come to an agreement. An agreement satisfactory to all concerned. Cooperation in exchange for immunity.
Teresa looked at them. Wary.
"What kind of cooperation?"
Tapia very carefully lit his cigarette. As carefully as he appeared to be meditating what he was about to say. Or the way to say it.
"You have personal scores there. You also know a great deal about the period when Guero Davila was alive, and about Epifanio Vargas' activities," he finally said. "You were an eyewitness, and it almost cost you your life
One might think that an arrangement would be of benefit to you. You have more than enough resources of all kinds to go into other activities, enjoying what you have with no worries for the future."
"You don't say."
"I do say."
"Hijole. To what do I owe this generosity?"
"You never take payment in drugs. Just money. You're a transporter, not
an owner or distributor. The largest transporter in Europe at the moment,
unquestionably. But that's it. That leaves us a margin for reasonable maneuvering, in the face of public opinion…"
"Public opinion?… What the fuck are you talking about?"
It took the diplomat some time to answer. Teresa could hear Rangel breathing; he was squirming in his seat uneasily, rubbing his hands together and interlacing his fingers.
"You are being given the opportunity to go back to Mexico, if you wish," Tapia went on, "or to move quiedy to another country, wherever you like… The Spanish authorities have even been sounded out in this regard: we have a commitment from the minister of justice to halt all proceedings and investigations currently under way… which, according to my information, are at a very advanced stage and could, in the short term, make things quite difficult for the, ahem, Queen of the South… This would be a chance to start over-all debts forgiven."
"I didn't know the gringos' arm was so long."
"Depends on what we're talking about."
Teresa broke out laughing. "You're asking me," she said, still incredulous, "to tell you everything that you think I know about Epifanio Vargas. That I start ratting people out, at my age. And me from Sinaloa."
"Not just that you tell us," Rangel interrupted. "But that you tell it there, and to a judge."
"In Mexico. Before the Justice Commission in the national prosecutor's office."
"You want me to go to Mexico?"
"As a protected witness. Absolute immunity. It would all happen in the Distrito Federal, under every kind of personal and judicial guarantee. With the thanks of the nation, and of the government of the United States."
Teresa suddenly stood up. Pure reflex, without thinking. This time, the two men also rose: Rangel disconcerted, Tapia uncomfortable. I told you so, said the last look Tapia gave the DEA agent. Teresa went to the door and yanked it open. Pote Galvez was in the hallway, his arms held slightly away from his body, his stockiness falsely peaceful. If you have to, she told him with a glance, kick them out.
"You," she almost spat, "have gone crazy." and there she was now, at her old table in the bar, reflecting about all that. With a tiny life in her belly, not knowing what she was going to do with it. The echo of that conversation in her head. Trying to think. Trying to feel. Turning over in her mind the last words of the conversation and many old memories. Pain and gratitude. The image of Guero Davila-as motionless and silent as she was now, back in that cantina in Culiacan-and the memory of the other man sitting next to her late at night, in the Malverde Chapel. "That Guero of yours liked his little jokes, Teresita. You really didn't read any of it? Then get out of here, and try to bury yourself so deep that they can never find you."
Don Epifanio Vargas. Her godfather. The man who could have killed her, but who took pity on her. And who then thought better of it, but too late.