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The Cartel

Don Winslow

  Also by Don Winslow

  The Kings of Cool

  The Gentlemen’s Hour



  The Dawn Patrol

  The Winter of Frankie Machine

  The Power of the Dog

  California Fire and Life

  The Death and Life of Bobby Z

  While Drowning in the Desert

  A Long Walk up the Water Slide

  Way Down on the High Lonely

  The Trail to Buddha’s Mirror

  A Cool Breeze on the Underground


  Copyright © 2015 by Samburu, Inc.

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Ltd., Toronto.

  Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Winslow, Don, [date]

  The cartel / Don Winslow. — First edition.

  pages ; cm

  ISBN 978-1-101-87499-8 (hardcover)—ISBN 978-1-101-87500-1 (eBook)

  I. Title.

  PS3573.I5326C37 2015 813'.54—dc23 2015006233

  eBook ISBN 9781101875001

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Cover design: Oliver Munday

  Cover image © fotokostic/iStock/Getty Images

  Map by Mapping Specialists





  Also by Don Winslow

  Title Page






  Part One: To Arise From Sleep

  Chapter 1: The Beekeepers

  Chapter 2: Christmas in Prison

  Chapter 3: The Hunting of Man

  Part Two: The Gulf War

  Chapter 1: The Devil Is Dead

  Chapter 2: Los Negros

  Chapter 3: Los Dos Laredos

  Chapter 4: Jesus the Kid

  Chapter 5: Narco Polo

  Part Three: Good Night, Juárez

  Chapter 1: Gente Nueva—the New People

  Chapter 2: Journalists

  Chapter 3: Jolly Coppers on Parade

  Chapter 4: The Valley

  Part Four: The Jack of Spades and the Z Company

  Chapter 1: Women’s Business

  Chapter 2: What Is It That You Want From Us?

  Chapter 3: Each New Morn

  Part Five: The Cleansing

  Chapter 1: Jihad

  Chapter 2: La Plaza Del Periodista

  Chapter 3: The Cleansing

  Epilogue: Ciudad Juárez


  A Note About the Author

  This book is dedicated to—

  Alberto Torres Villegas, Roberto Javier Mora García, Evaristo Ortega Zárate, Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, Francisco Arratia Saldierna, Leodegario Aguilera Lucas, Gregorio Rodríguez Hernández, Alfredo Jiménez Mota, Raúl Gibb Guerrero, Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla, José Reyes Brambila, Hugo Barragán Ortiz, Julio César Pérez Martínez, José Valdés, Jaime Arturo Olvera Bravo, Ramiro Téllez Contreras, Rosendo Pardo Ozuna, Rafael Ortiz Martínez, Enrique Perea Quintanilla, Bradley Will, Misael Tamayo Hernández, José Manuel Nava Sánchez, José Antonio García Apac, Roberto Marcos García, Alfonso Sánchez Guzmán, Raúl Marcial Pérez, Gerardo Guevara Domínguez, Rodolfo Rincón Taracena, Amado Ramírez Dillanes, Saúl Noé Martínez Ortega, Gabriel González Rivera, Óscar Rivera Inzunza, Mateo Cortés Martínez, Agustín López Nolasco, Flor Vásquez López, Gastón Alonso Acosta Toscano, Gerardo Israel García Pimentel, Juan Pablo Solís, Claudia Rodríguez Llera, Francisco Ortiz Monroy, Bonifacio Cruz Santiago, Alfonso Cruz Cruz, Mauricio Estrada Zamora, José Luis Villanueva Berrones, Teresa Bautista Merino, Felicitas Martínez Sánchez, Candelario Pérez Pérez, Alejandro Zenón Fonseca Estrada, Francisco Javier Salas, David García Monroy, Miguel Angel Villagómez Valle, Armando Rodríguez Carreón, Raúl Martínez López, Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez, Luis Daniel Méndez Hernández, Juan Carlos Hernández Mundo, Carlos Ortega Samper, Eliseo Barrón Hernández, Martín Javier Miranda Avilés, Ernesto Montañez Valdivia, Juan Daniel Martínez Gil, Jaime Omar Gándara San Martín, Norberto Miranda Madrid, Gerardo Esparza Mata, Fabián Ramírez López, José Bladimir Antuna García, María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, José Emilio Galindo Robles, José Alberto Velázquez López, José Luis Romero, Valentín Valdés Espinosa, Jorge Ochoa Martínez, Miguel Ángel Domínguez Zamora, Pedro Argüello, David Silva, Jorge Rábago Valdez, Evaristo Pacheco Solís, Ramón Ángeles Zalpa, Enrique Villicaña Palomares, María Isabella Cordero, Gamaliel López Cananosa, Gerardo Paredes Pérez, Miguel Ángel Bueno Méndez, Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos, María Elvira Hernández Galeana, Hugo Alfredo Olivera Cartas, Marco Aurelio Martínez Tijerina, Guillermo Alcaraz Trejo, Marcelo de Jesús Tenorio Ocampo, Luis Carlos Santiago Orozco, Selene Hernández León, Carlos Alberto Guajardo Romero, Rodolfo Ochoa Moreno, Luis Emmanuel Ruiz Carrillo, José Luis Cerda Meléndez, Juan Roberto Gómez Meléndez, Noel López Olguín, Marco Antonio López Ortíz, Pablo Ruelas Barraza, Miguel Ángel López Velasco, Misael López Solana, Ángel Castillo Corona, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros, Rocío González Trápaga, Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, María Elizabeth Macías Castro, Humberto Millán Salazar, Hugo César Muruato Flores, Raúl Régulo Quirino Garza, Héctor Javier Salinas Aguirre, Javier Moya Muñoz, Regina Martínez Pérez, Gabriel Huge Córdova, Guillermo Luna Varela, Esteban Rodríguez, Ana Irasema Becerra Jiménez, René Orta Salgado, Marco Antonio Ávila García, Zane Plemmons, Victor Manuel Báez Chino, Federico Manuel García Contreras, Miguel Morales Estrada, Mario Alberto Segura, Ernesto Araujo Cano, José Antonio Aguilar Mota, Arturo Barajas Lopez, Ramón Abel López Aguilar, Adela Jazmín Alcaraz López, Adrián Silva Moreno, David Araujo Arévalo—

  Journalists murdered or “disappeared” in Mexico during the period covered in this novel. There were others.

  And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

  —Revelation 13:4

  Detail left

  Detail right


  The Petén District, Guatemala

  November 1, 2012

  Keller thinks he hears a baby cry.

  The sound is just audible over the muted rotors as the helicopter comes in low toward the jungle village.

  The cry, if that is what he’s hearing, is shrill and sharp, a call of hunger, fear, or pain.

  Perhaps loneliness—it is that loneliest time of the night, the predawn darkness when the worst dreams come, the sunrise seems far off, and the creatures that inhabit both the real world and the darker edges of the unconscious prowl with the impunity of predators who know that their prey is helpless and alone.

  The cry lasts only moments. Maybe the mother came in, picked up the child, and cradled it in her arms. Maybe it was Keller’s imagination. But it’s a reminder that there are civilians down there—women and children mostly, a few old men and women—who will soon be in harm’s way.

  The men in the chopper check the loads on their M-4 rifles to make sure the clips are solidly fixed and another one firmly duct-taped to the handle. Underneath the combat helmets and night-vision goggles and “bone-ph
ones,” their faces are blackened. Below the ceramic-plate protective vests they wear camouflaged cargo pants with big pockets that hold tubes of energy gel, laminated satellite photos of the village, compression pads if things go bad and they have to stanch the bleeding.

  An assassination mission on foreign soil—things could go bad.

  The men are in another world, that pre-mission tunnel vision that natural fighters go into like a trance. The twenty-man team—split up in two MH-60 Black Hawks—are mostly former SEALs, Delta Force, Green Berets—the elite. They’ve done this before—in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia.

  Technically, they’re all private contractors. But the shell company, a security firm out of Virginia, is a thin screen that the media will rip right through if this goes sick and wrong.

  In a few moments the men will lower themselves down fast ropes into the village near their target. Even with the element of surprise, there’ll be a firefight. The narco gunmen are protecting their boss and for him they’ll give up their lives. And the sicarios are well armed with AK-47s, rocket launchers, and grenades, and know how to use them. These sicarios aren’t just thugs, but special forces veterans themselves—trained at Fort Benning and elsewhere. It’s possible that some of the men in the chopper trained some of the men on the ground.

  People will be killed.

  Appropriate, Keller thinks.

  It’s the Day of the Dead.

  Now the men hear another sound—the pop of small-arms fire. Looking down, they see muzzle flashes cut through the darkness. A firefight has broken out in the village prematurely—they hear shouted orders and small explosions.

  It’s bad—this wasn’t supposed to happen. The mission is compromised, the element of surprise gone, the chance of completing the job without taking casualties probably gone with it.

  Then a red streak comes up out of the night.

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

  Shrapnel sprays, exposed wires spark, the ship is on fire.

  Red flame and thick black smoke fill the cabin.

  The stench of scorched metal and burned flesh.

  One man’s carotid artery spurts in rhythm with his racing heartbeat. Another keels over, shrapnel obscenely jutting from his crotch, just below his protective vest, and the team medic crawls across the deck to help.

  Now the voices come from grown men—howls of pain, fear, and rage as tracers fly up and rounds smack the fuselage like a sudden rainstorm.

  The chopper spins crazily as it falls toward the earth.

  To Arise from Sleep

  It is high time for us to arise from sleep.

  —Romans 13:11


  The Beekeepers

  We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees.

  —Muriel Barbery

  The Elegance of the Hedgehog

  Abiquiú, New Mexico


  The bell rings an hour before dawn.

  The beekeeper, released from a nightmare, gets up.

  His small cell has a bed, a chair, and a desk. A single small window in the thick adobe wall looks out onto the gravel path, silver in the moonlight, which leads up toward the chapel.

  The desert morning is cold. The beekeeper pulls on a brown woolen shirt, khaki trousers, wool socks, and work shoes. Walking down the hall to the communal bathroom, he brushes his teeth, shaves with cold water, and then falls in with the line of monks walking to the chapel.

  No one speaks.

  Except for chanting, prayers, meetings, and necessary conversation at work, silence is the norm at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

  They live by Psalm 46:10—“Be still and know that I am God.”

  The beekeeper likes it that way. He’s heard enough words.

  Most of them were lies.

  Everyone in his former world, himself included, lied as a matter of course. If nothing else, you had to lie to yourself just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You lied to other people to survive.

  Now he seeks truth in silence.

  He seeks God in the same, although he has come to believe that truth and God are the same.

  Truth, stillness, and God.

  When he first arrived, the monks didn’t ask him who he was or where he came from. They saw a man with saddened eyes, his hair still black but streaked with silver, his boxer’s shoulders a little stooped but still strong. He said that he was looking for quiet, and Brother Gregory, the abbot, responded that quietude was the one thing they had in abundance.

  The man paid for his small room in cash, and at first spent his days wandering the desert grounds, through the ocotillo and the sage, walking down to the Chama River or up onto the mountain slope. Eventually he found his way into the chapel and knelt in the back as the monks chanted their prayers.

  One day his route took him down to the apiary—close to the river because bees need water—and he watched Brother David work the hives. When Brother David needed help moving some frames, as a man approaching eighty did, the man pitched in. After that he went to work at the apiary every day, helping out and learning the craft, and when, months later, Brother David said it was finally time to retire, he suggested that Gregory give the job to the newcomer.

  “A layman?” Gregory asked.

  “He has a way with the bees,” David answered.

  The newcomer did his work quietly and well. He obeyed the rules, came to prayer, and was the best man with the bees they’d ever had. Under his care the hives produced excellent Grade A honey, which the monastery uses in its own brand of ale, or sells to tourists in eight-ounce jars, or peddles on the Internet.

  The beekeeper wanted nothing to do with the business aspects. Nor did he want to serve at table for the paying guests who came on retreats, or work in the kitchen or the gift shop. He just wanted to tend his hives.

  They left him alone to do that, and he’s been here for over four years. They don’t even know his name. He’s just “the beekeeper.” The Latino monks call him “El Colmenero.” They were surprised that on the first occasion when he spoke to them, it was in fluent Spanish.

  The monks talked about him, of course, in the brief times when they were allowed casual conversation. The beekeeper was a wanted man, a gangster, a bank robber. No, he’d fled an unhappy marriage, a scandal, a tragic affair. No, he was a spy.

  The last theory gained particular credence after the incident with the rabbit.

  The monastery had a large vegetable garden that the monks depended upon for their produce. Like most gardens, it was a lure for pests, but there was one particular rabbit that was wreaking absolute havoc. After a contentious meeting, Brother Gregory gave permission for—in fact, insisted upon—the rabbit’s execution.

  Brother Carlos was assigned the task and was standing outside the garden trying to handle both the CO2 pistol and his conscience—neither very successfully—as the other monks looked on. Carlos’s hand shook and his eyes filled with tears as he lifted the pistol and tried to pull the trigger.

  Just then El Colmenero walked by on his way up from the apiary. Without breaking stride, he took the pistol from Brother Carlos’s hand and, without seeming to aim or even look, fired. The pellet hit the rabbit in the brain, killing it instantly, and the beekeeper handed the pistol back and kept walking.

  After that, the speculation was that he had been a special agent, an 007. Brother Gregory put a stop to the gossip, which is, after all, a sin.

  “He’s a man seeking God,” the abbot said. “That’s all.”

  Now the beekeeper walks to the chapel for Vigils, which begin at 4:00 a.m. sharp.

  The chapel is simple adobe, its stone foundations hewn from the red rock cliffs that flank the southern edge of the monastery. The cross is wooden and sun-worn; inside, a single crucifix hangs over the altar.

  The beekeeper goes in and kneels.

  Catholicism was the religion of his you
th. He was a daily communicant until he fell away. There seemed little point, he felt so far from God. Now he chants the Fifty-first Psalm along with the monks, in Latin: “O Lord, open up my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”

  The chanting lulls him into a near trance, and he’s surprised, as always, when the hour is over and it’s time to go to the dining hall for break-fast, invariably oatmeal with dry wheat toast and tea. Then it’s back to prayer, Lauds, just as the sun is coming up over the mountains.

  He’s come to love this place, especially in the early morning, when the delicate light hits the adobe buildings and the sun sets the Chama River shimmering gold. He revels in those first rays of warmth, on the cactus taking shape out of the darkness, on the crunch of his feet on the gravel.

  There is simplicity here, and peace, and that’s all he really wants.

  Or needs.

  The days are the same in their routine: Vigils from 4:00 to 5:15, followed by breakfast. Then Lauds from 6:00 to 9:00, work from 9:00 to 12:40, then a quick, simple lunch. The monks work until Vespers at 5:50, have a light supper at 6:20, then Compline at 7:30. Then they go to bed.

  The beekeeper likes the discipline and the regimentation, the long hours of quiet work and the longer hours of prayer. Especially Vigils, because he loves the recitation of the Psalms.

  After Lauds, he walks down into the valley to the apiary.

  His bees—western honeybees, Apis mellifera—are coming out now in the early morning warmth. They’re immigrants—the species originated in North Africa and was transported to America via Spanish colonists back in the 1600s. Their lives are short—a worker bee might survive from a few weeks to a few months; a queen might reign for three to four years, although some have been known to live for as long as eight. The beekeeper has grown used to the attrition—a full 1 percent of his bees die every day, meaning that an entirely new population inhabits a colony every four months.