Plata o Plomo
(Silver or Lead)
Police Inspector Domingo Dosantos guided his three daughters into their favorite restaurant, Casa de los Xochis. Thirteen years a widower, Dosantos doted on his three daughters, but he bore a special affection for Kiki, his youngest, who chattered animatedly with her older sisters. They teased her that she wanted to celebrate her thirteenth birthday at Casa de los Xochis, because of the owners’ son Javier Xochis, a handsome youth in Kiki’s class at school.
Domingo, usually acutely aware of his surroundings, had allowed his situational awareness to lapse as he watched Kiki. She is so like her mother, he thought with a blend of joy and melancholy. Oh, my beautiful rose, Rosalinda, if only you could have lived to see this lovely child you gave me. Introspection caused him to overlook the four occupants of a dirty black Ford Explorer, parked in the shadows across the street beneath a lightless street lamp.
Long standing family friends, Umberto and Mati Xochis greeted the Dosantos family with abrazos and besos. Domingo escorted his children to Los Xochis at least once a week for dinner. For the occasion a specially prepared meal awaited the Dosantos family. Kiki, almost dancing with excitement, suddenly subsided into shyness. Javier stood in front of her with a tentative smile, in his hand a bouquet of flowers that he extended to her. She hugged the flowers to her budding breasts and allowed Javier a kiss on her cheek, adding a subdued, Gracias.
The moment passed and the lively conversation and laughter resumed as the Xochis guided their friends to the restaurant’s back patio that was reserved for special occasions, where the Xochis would join their friends in the meal while restaurant employees attended to the diners in the front.
Soon the two families were seated around a rectangular table tasting their first course, Azteca soup, Kiki’s favorite. From the front of the restaurant a resounding crash, a startled cry, a muffled thump and then a further crash, this time of overturned furniture and dishes, brought Umberto Xochis to his feet, quickly joined by Domingo.
Ciudad Juárez was a dangerous place. The revolver Inspector Dosantos always carried on his hip was so much a part of him, that his daughters and friends seldom gave thought to its existence. He stepped toward the restaurant as he reached to withdraw the weapon, but before he could complete the action two men with balaklava-covered faces burst into the patio leveling assault rifles.
The girls screamed, Domingo Dosantos left his pistol on his belt and raised both hands. Looking over his shoulder he grated harshly, “Silencio!”
Domingo’s authority quieted those at the table, but Umberto demanded what the interlopers were doing in “my restaurant, my home.” One of the gunmen fired a round into the tile near Umberto’s feet and reiterated Dosantos’ order. In a flat voice the police inspector instructed the others, “They are here for me. Umberto, please sit. All of you remain seated and they will not harm you.” He glanced at the invaders as a third gunman entered the patio, “You have my assurance. They will not interfere.”
The third man appeared to be in charge. He nodded at one closest to Domingo, “His weapon.” The man advanced warily and removed Dosantos pistol and tossed it into a nearby fountain. Their leader motioned to Dosantos and nodded at the exit into the restaurant, “After you, Señor Inspector.”
“Papi!” Kiki wailed.
The leader swung back to Kiki, “Sit down, Kiki. Enjoy your birthday dinner. I will not keep your father long.” He glanced at the boy, “Javier, stand up, go to her. Hold her hand, keep her calm. Kiki is as important to me as she is to her father.”
The ugly implications of the man’s words chilled Domingo Dosantos’ blood. The interlopers had carefully researched and orchestrated the raid with a particular agenda. Domingo turned his eyes away from the invaders and focused on Kiki, “Mi Tesoro, I will be back. These men only wish to speak with me, to get my attention.” He glanced at Javier, who had warily advanced to Kiki’s side. “M’ijo, stay with her, protect her.”
He returned his gaze to the lead gunman, “Nos vamos?”
“Bién,” the man waved toward the door. Dosantos followed.
John Wesley Hardin, congressman of the 33rd Congressional District of Texas, groaned and leaned back in the plush executive chair turning his gaze to his harried senior assistant, Harvey Gaither, “What’s that damned kid want now? Jesus, doesn’t he know this campaign is up for grabs?”
“John, the boy says he needs two hundred dollars.”
“Tell him to get it from his mother. I’m busy. What does he want it for anyway?”
“Wouldn’t say, just that he owes it. You wanna talk to ‘im. He’s out front.”
“Hell no! Give ‘im a hundred outta the slush fund.”
“He says he’s gotta have the full two hundred.”
“Shit, give ‘im the full two hundred and get ‘im outta the office, we got a lot to do.”
“Boss, you should talk to ‘im. You know he’s into drugs. That kid’s in with a bad bunch. They’re trouble, maybe big trouble.”
“Bullshit. Give ‘im the money an’ run ‘is ass outta here.” Hardin glared at Gaither. “Then get back in here, we’ve got that big Christians for a Drug-Free Texas convention to confront tonight. Christ! I make a public statement about Mexican drug dealers and suddenly, at the last minute I’m their keynoter. I gotta figure out what I’m gonna say.”
Gaither looked over his shoulder as he departed, “Wing it, boss. You’re the master of it. Feed their own bullshit back at ‘em. They’ll believe you’re the second coming.”
* * *
Hardin started out humble. “Y’all heard o’ John Wesley Hardin, a genuine Texas gunslinger. They say he never killed no one didn’t have it comin’. Well I ain’t him an’ we ain’t related. But his pappy was a Methodist preacher, an’ my daddy preached the Gospel, too.” Hardin was able to shift his language in accordance with his audience. This bunch called for folksy.
He caught the crowd in the palm of his hand. They clapped and some whistled.
“Hardin got sent t’ prison fer killin’ a deputy down in Florida. In those days them deputies was as corrupt as any Mexican cop, today. In fact Wes Hardin studied up while he was in the slam and made hisself into a lawyer. Set up right here in El Paso.” Hardin paused for effect, “Well, like I said, I ain’t no gunslinger, but I’m dead set we gotta do somethin’ about them Mexican criminals sendin’ their wetbacks up here to corrupt our children with drugs, an’ takin’ jobs so cheap that they put hard workin’ Texans outta work,” he paused again for effect, “an’ now they’re startin’ a crime wave right here in Texas, robbin’ banks an’ Seven-Elevens, ‘cause there ain’t no more hubcaps left t’ steal.” That brought the house down with laughter. He fed them their own propaganda in folksy terms and finished with a Q & A.
A man in a clerical collar stood up near the front, “Congressman Hardin, we can talk all we want about the evils of drugs and illegal immigration, but talk solves nothing. What can we do to stop the corruption of our innocent children by evil foreign traffickers and thugs?”
Hardin assumed a dark thoughtful visage, not noticing that he had dropped his folksy language, “Well, I believe we need a national ID card, and we should demand proof of citizenship of anyone who wants access to our schools and medical services. Stop the practice that automatically gives citizenship to anyone born on our soil, regardless of the status of the parents.” He held both hands high and raised his voice, “Automatic citizenship should be granted only to children of American citizens.”
The cleric responded, “But that won’t stop the drugs from coming into Texas and the United States.”
Somberly Hardin responded, “As long as we share a border with a country whose culture is corrupt, every policeman on the beat, every politician, even the beggars on the streets are all looking for something for nothing. Lord God, they sell their daughters into prostitution! How low can mankind sink?” Again his voice rose, gesticulating with his hands, “The focus has to be on the Mexicans. They are the pollutants that foul our social atmosphere. In Washington I have voted for strong measures for border control. We’ve got to take strong measures. We are making progress, but we have to cleanse our congress of namby-pamby Liberals and tree-hugging pantywaists. Put America back to work! Clear out the corruption, Yes,” he repeated, “clear out the corruption. God forgive me for having to say it, but we should put up a wall, police it and shoot anyone who tries to crawl over it or burrow under it.” The mob applauded.
Another man stood up, “What do you say to those who argue for legalizing the sale and consumption of narcotics?”
Hardin rose, putting on a face of fury, he howled stridently, “Deprive them of citizenship. Throw them over the wall we’ll build. Throw them over with the rest of the undesirables. Let them wallow in the corruption of the other side. Let them destroy themselves. Cleanse Texas! Cleanse America!”
Two gunmen escorted Dosantos to the Ford Explorer. One remained in the restaurant to make certain none of its occupants would alert the authorities. Another remained in front of the Casa de los Xochis to restrain any who might attempt to depart or enter. The other henchman remained outside near the Ford when their leader gestured Domingo into the back seat and joined him. The leader identified himself, “I am known as El Duque. I control this plaza.” He did not remove his balaklava. El Duque corrected his statement, “No, Inspector Dosantos, I should say, I own this plaza.”
Domingo was unsurprised that the man had declared his total control of the plaza. He had competitors, but they only dared nibble at the fringes for the time being. Domingo also knew that El Duque would be looking for a new informant inside the upper echelons of the police force in Ciudad Juárez. A senior lieutenant of the narcotics interdiction squad had been exposed in a federal police raid a week before. What surprised Dosantos was that he had been chosen to replace the malefactor. He had had worked hard to build a reputation for incorruptibility in the department. He had felt certain that would insulate him from the evils of drug money. How could I have been so naïve? He thought, Of course, I am the perfect cuerda floja. No one will suspect the incorruptible Domingo Dosantos.
El Duque tossed a bundle secured in a pink plastic grocery bag onto Dosantos lap. “You know what I am here for. I know you would rather die than compromise your honor. But you will not die for your honor.”
Dosantos remained silent. El Duque simply sat and watched him as he sorted through his options. Then El Duque surprised him, “Cowards die a thousand deaths, but Domingo, you are not a coward.
“Oh Domingo, I surprise you. We in the traffic are not all ignorant thugs. I studied English in the university. I speak it very well. But then the idealist youth learned too late that there is no place in this world for teachers of literature or languages to make a decent living in Mexico, much less become wealthy. So now I am a businessman. Self indulgent gringos will pay any price to escape their boring, lazy, useless lives. Somebody has to supply the goods. Why not me?”
“And what of the young children who are enticed into drug use before they are old enough to understand the consequences, to make rational choices.”
“Domingo, why quibble over inconsequential details. You will work for me. Do I need to lay it out for you?”
Dosantos remained silent. He hunched his shoulders as he sought escape, guidance. Oh, Rosalinda, what shall I do? No answers came to him.
“Domingo,” El Duque thrust himself into Dosantos’ inner struggle. “I will give you three reasons why you will cooperate, “Kiki, Ros…”
“Stop,” Domingo snarled. “I will cooperate.”
“I was sure you would. There is a cell phone in the bag with the money. I want to hear from you every Sunday morning, before you take your daughters to mass. It is a good time to remind you of what is at stake.”
Domingo Dosantos waved his hand limply in acquiescence.
“Hear me out, Domingo. You will report to me all department actions that might affect my operations. If something arises that makes it necessary that I be informed immediately, you will find a way to contact me immediately. I will throw you a bone occasionally, an arrest to make you a modest success in the department; nothing spectacular to draw attention, just competitors and perhaps a few troublemakers in my own ranks. Do you understand?”
“Domingo, there is reward in this. I am not ungrateful. A bundle similar to the amount you find in the grocery bag will come to you every week. It will be placed in your car every Saturday before daylight and a man will watch to make certain it is not stolen until you retrieve it. I will take care of you. You will become one of my most valued assets. Think of it this way Domingo, you can give your daughters an excellent education, send them away to school. But don’t doubt that I can find them. I will if it is necessary.”
Dosantos felt the terrible weight of depression, bleak hopelessness. Then El Duque said, “Think how your beloved Rosalinda will look down from heaven and feel the pride in your children’s achievements.”
Blind fury swelled in Domingo’s breast. Fists clenches, he swung toward . . .
He swallowed it. “De acuerdo.” He expressed agreement and stepped out of the car. No one blocked his return to the Casa de los Xochis.
John Wesley Hardin Jr. hated the Junior tag on his name. His father was commonly called John, so he preferred to be called Wes. Wes and his buddy Tony Gomez sat in the Student Union watching two newbies playing ping pong. “Shit, Tony, let’s blow this place. It bores me. I’m tired of school. Let’s cross over. Man, there’s plenty of action in Juárez. I wanna score something stronger than that grass you been getting’ me. I got some ice last Saturday that was great! Man, it was a ride!”
Wes watched his friend mull over his suggestion. Tony asked him, “You got any cash, man? I’m just about clean and my ol’ man ain’t gonna spring for any more ‘til the end of the month when he gives me my allowance.”
“Yeah, I beat my ol’ man outta two hundred bucks yesterday. He’s back from Washington, campaigning. He gave me the two hundred just to get me out of his hair. C’mon, let’s go get us some poon and score some good stuff. I’ll spring for it and get more from the ol’ man before he goes back.”
* * *
Wes and Tony parked two blocks away and walked to the large garish neon entry to El Club Ecstasy. In a glass cage by the door a string bikini clad girl, probably no more than sixteen years old, gyrated to crashing loud music from the disco inside.
“Man, I want some of that!” Wes turned in the door and waved to the blowsy older woman with a bursting bodice who attended the entrance flanked by a nasty looking bouncer who towered menacingly over him and Tony. It was not quite sundown. When they got inside the emptiness belied the noise blasting out into the street. There were a few scantily clad girls dancing with each other in the center and some guys sitting around watching a girl gyrating and awkwardly discarding her few swatches of clothing onto the floor of a small stage. Girls hung around the walls in the shadows waiting for the evening’s action to begin in earnest.
They found a booth in back and slid in. Wes ordered two Dos Equis from a dumpy waitress of fading attributes and leaned back. “Ah, this is living, Tony.”
A droopy, vacant eyed girl aged well beyond her years that probably were no more that those of the youngster gyrating in the cage by the door, approached and in slurred English, asked “Yoo wan’ comp’ny, honee?”
Wes waved her off. “Jeezuz she’s wasted, man.” He looked at Tony, “She wouldn’t be no better than a bag o’sand. I want somethin’ that’ll wiggle around a little when I jump ‘er bones.”
Tony was watching a figure standing over by the bar on the opposite side of the large room. He nodded to Wes and slid out of the booth, “I’ll be right back. There’s a guy over there I think I know. If it’s who I think he is, he’ll put us onto some good stuff and line us up with some real poon.”
Tony started to cross the disco floor and suddenly turned back and slid into the booth. “Look Wes, this guy’s connected here. You know, with the big nuts of the drug business. If you’re game, maybe we could start up a little side business on campus. He could supply us the stuff on the other side and we could peddle it to the kids. With these guys we could offer a smorgasboard. An’ you won’t have to go beggin’ your ol’ man for money. Hell, you get a skimpy allowance just like me when your ol’ man’s in Washington. Man, we’ll be in clover. Whatta yah say?”
Silent for a moment, Wes eyed Tony. Then he nodded, “Whatta we got to lose? Yeah, bring ‘im over and let’s talk.”
Tony started to slide out again and Wes reached over and grabbed his arm, “But don’t forget why we came here. I wanna get laid tonight . . . maybe more than once.”
“Don’t sweat it, man. Chuy will set you up tonight like you’ve never been before.”
El Duque watched Chuy squirm nervously as he explained his conversation with the two students from the university in El Paso. “So you say this Wes boy is the son of Congressman John Wesley Hardin? That is very interesting. Let me think about this. Wait for me outside. I will think about this and tell you what to do.”
El Duque returned to his meal and considered the options. This politician Hardin is an asset to me. The more he pontificates about their so-called war-on-drugs, the more he assures me that there will be high profits in selling narcotics across the border. They won’t stop us. They will make it more difficult for a while and we will reap greater margins.
The man is contemptible, but he enables me. Someday the gringos will wake up, legalize the drugs and I will be out of business. But, I can retire now! I have millions. Why not get out while I’m ahead. I have rental condos in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful hotel in Huatulco. I have a villa on the Costa del Sol in Spain . . . but this boy intrigues me. His father shouts and curses about Mexican corruption. Hah! He doesn’t see that the corruption comes from those like his son and families that have no loyalty to one another. It is curious; Dosantos will do anything to protect his children including the compromise of his own honor.
This American congressman will do anything to avoid having to deal with his son. The son hates him, but wants his financial support. Even Hardin himself is corrupted. He thinks he is an important man: powerful and influential. Hah! He plays to a fickle audience. I corrupt his son and threaten to expose the fact and he will do anything for his son then . . . but not for his son, it will be for himself.
“Chuy! Come back in.”
He watched as Chuy warily reentered the room, not certain if he would be chastised for his initiative or complimented. El Duque smiled, “Well done, Chuy. We will make use of this boy, Wesley Hardin. He will be leverage against his father and we will exploit that when the moment is right. Arrange for him and his friend, Tony Gomez, to obtain all the drugs they can sell. Do you have others selling at the university?”
“I have a few, but my best seller got hurt in a car crash last spring and didn’t come back to school. He was high at the time and his parents placed him in a rehab center.”
“Make Hardin and Gomez a special project. Give them higher quality than the others and have them meet you at Club Ecstasy every weekend to pay you. Hook them on two of your specially trained girls.” El Duque smiled, “Let them enjoy a wild ride before the fall.”
El Duque nodded to himself, then added, “Make certain they become dependent, especially the Hardin boy.”
Chuy nodded assent and responded, “Hardin is already hooked, but he is also consumed with sex. He likes to push the girls around, to inflict pain. I have just the girl for him. He also fears Tomás, the bouncer at Club Ecstasy. He is a pendejo, he is a coward,” sneered Chuy.
“Yes, I see,” said El Duque, “he probably hates his mother and fears his father. It is a weakness we can use.”
“And Chuy,” El Duque called as his man turned toward the exit, “help them spend more than they should, so they fall behind on their payments to us. I want them deep in debt to us and afraid of the consequences.”
Domingo Dosantos obediently made his weekly reports every Sunday morning before he accompanied his daughters to mass. He masked his terrible shame as best he could, but a heavy depression settled on him. The girls noticed the change in his manner since the incident at the Casa de los Xochis. He would not discuss the incident with them, simply telling them that it was a confidential police matter. Kiki pressured him to talk about his depression. It had become obvious. He simply told her, “Mi Tesoro, I miss your mother very much.”
“Papi, it has been a long time. Find someone to love. We will be leaving you soon and you will be all alone. It’s not right that you should be lonely. I would understand if it were me. I know Momi in heaven understands. She wouldn’t want you to be all alone.”
“I’m not alone, mi Tesoro. Not as long as I have my three beautiful daughters.” Dosantos smiled warmly at his youngest, “And some day you three will bring me beautiful grandchildren,” he ran his hand affectionately across her shining black hair, “and I will tell them stories about all the silly things their mothers did when you were young.”
“Oh Papi,” Kiki groaned. “You always change the subject when I tell you things you don’t want to hear.”
“Oh yes, I hear you little one. What I hear is love in your voice and that fills me with happiness. Now, leave me for a while. I have some important matters to think about.”
Dosantos had been informed that a delegation of United States senators and congressmen would meet with senior commanders of Mexico’s Federal Police and the General Carlos Gutierrez, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mexican Army, to discuss proposals to employ US intelligence assets to assist the Mexican government to track down cartel operatives along the border. Texas Congressman John Wesley Hardin had forced the issue in Washington and the United States Government was employing this informal group as a first step to feel out the Mexican reaction to the proposal. General Gutierrez had expressed interest in gaining access to some of the American intelligence-gathering apparatus and the opportunity to insert the military into the process of narcotics interdiction that the Federal Police seemed unable to accomplish.
Dosantos was pleased with the possibility, especially if it might enable him to disentangle himself from the trap in which El Duque had ensnared him.
Then El Duque left a message in the weekly cash package that he sent to Dosantos. Domingo was to meet him the next Monday morning at the Club Ecstasy. The meeting produced the quandary in which he now found himself. He was ordered to find the itinerary of General Gutierrez and his staff, the time and route they would follow into the city from the airport and where they would stay. El Duque said that once he had that information, a warm welcome would await the general and the meeting would end before it began.
Domingo knew that the assassination of General Gutierrez would draw in outside police and possibly, military forces. Domingo couldn’t allow that to happen. Ciudad Juárez would become a battleground. But how could he prevent it without endangering his family?
Domingo’s younger brother, Arturo, lived in Mexico City. He was a professor of archaeology at the University there. Do I dare bring Arturo into this? Arturo hates the corruption of Chihuahua and especially Ciudad Juárez. He refuses to even visit us here. I haven’t even seen him since the days right after Rosalinda died giving birth to Kiki. He begged me to leave then. I will call him and beg him to go to army headquarters and warn the general to cancel his visit.
Domingo went that evening to the public telephone center near his home to make the call, fearing that his home telephone might be compromised. He spent over an hour and a handful of pesos convincing Arturo to do as he asked, but ultimately he succeeded. He was certain that the minions of El Duque had not followed him to the public telephone center or discovered his betrayal of their plans. Then Domingo waited four days with no hint that any changes to General Gutierrez’ itinerary would take place. He expected that changes would be made without notice so that the assassins would not be able to adjust their plans. Seventy-two hours before the meeting was to take place, it was announced in Mexico City that the meeting was cancelled.
Domingo Dosantos returned to his home that evening with a great sense of relief and that he had somehow atoned for his betrayal of the police department in Ciudad Juárez and his own moral principles. He was met at the door by Rosanna and Liria, his two oldest daughters. Kiki had not returned home from school that afternoon.
The next morning, El Duque met with Chuy, “The girl is being held at the Hacienda Sepulveda. I want you to transport the Hardin boy there. Get him high and then tell him he may do what he wishes with her, but afterward she is to die. Make a video recording of it. Then her remains are to be left in the desert southwest of Juárez. Make the grave shallow, so the dogs will find it, but be certain to leave identifying items: her clothing, a ring, a necklace, something definite. This needs to be completed this afternoon.”
“Si jefe,” Chuy turned to depart and execute his orders.
“Stop,” El Duque ordered. “That is not all. Where is the boy?”
“Jefe, he has been staying at the club. He hasn’t returned across the border in a month. Esmeralda stays with him in the back apartment.”
“What of the other one, Antonio . . .?”
“Jefe, he calls himself Tony Gomez. He is more enterprising. He uses very little drugs and has done a very good business for us among the university students.”
“Good. See to it that Gomez doesn’t get too deeply into use. I want him alert for a task that I have for him.”
“Bueno, I go, Jefe.”
“Not yet, Chuy. Is Tomás at the club?”
“No Jefe, he is at home, sleeping. He comes to work about six o’clock. He rests so he can deal with the rowdies who come across the border and believe they can roust any Mexican they see. Sometimes it is funny to watch their surprise when he shows them true Mexican courage.”
“On your way to the club, get Tomás and bring him to the club. After you leave with the Hardin boy, Tomás is to beat Esmeralda to death. Be kind to her; give her drugs to dull the pain. She deserves none of this, but I need you to make the signs clear that the Hardin boy killed her and ran away to the hacienda. Remove the Dosantos girl immediately. Tonight we will send the police to arrest the Hardin boy at the hacienda.
“You must quickly dispose of the girl’s body in the desert and return to the club. You and Tomás will tell the police that you have been together with . . . What is her name?”
“The one with the senos gigantes?” Chuy held up both hands, palms wide open. “Her name is Porfina,” he laughed, “We call her la porcina.”
El Duque did not smile. “She will be the witness that you and Tomás were in the front of the club all afternoon. Be kind to her. And, find the Gomez boy. I want to see him no later than tonight. You know the bar on Francisco Villa, called the Tortugas?”
* * *
That night El Duque met with Tony Gomez for the first time. The Tortugas was neutral ground and El Duque wore a false beard and blue contact lenses. “You know who I am?’
“Chuy said you are el jefe,” Gomez replied.
“Yes, I am the jefe. I am called El Duque. Antonio, you like to be called Tony?
“You keep me in the clover like you been doin’, you can call me fulano, and I’ll come running.” The boy hesitated after his smart-ass remark. The man didn’t smile. “Señor, my friends call me Tony.”
“Then I shall call you Antonio. Antonio, you have done well for us in El Paso. Chuy tells me you are prudent and pay on time. He says that you don’t use much of our product.”
“Señor Duque, I don’t use it at all. I’m right there. I see what it does to those dummies. I make Chuy think I use, but I don’t. I quit. I’m a businessman now. I have to think and operate like a businessman, not a boy.”
“Young man, I believe that we will have much to do together. You use your head and pay your debts. Yes, a real businessman. It can be the making of you. But, I have a special task for you. The Hardin boy is your friend?”
“We ran around together, but then he went deep into meth and started beatin’ up on that girl Esmeralda. He dropped out of school. His old man is back in El Paso from Washington on business and looking for him. I’ve avoided him so far, but he keeps leaving messages at my apartment.”
“Antonio, I want you to go back to El Paso tomorrow and tell Congressman John Wesley Hardin that his son is in terrible trouble. Esmeralda is dead. In fact, tell Hardin she was beaten to death in the apartment his son shares with her behind the Club Ecstasy. The boy went into hiding, but the police are taking him into custody now. The police have little doubt that Wesley was responsible for her death, but timely action may save young Wesley and protect Congressman Hardin from the exposure of his son as a drug addict and murderer.”
El Duque observed Gomez’ reaction to the news carefully. Gomez kept a straight face, responding, “Wes always was a pig around women. I’m not surprised.” He met El Duques’ eye levelly. “So what else do you want of me?”
“As I said, I want you to contact Congressman Hardin and tell him what I have told you. Arrange to meet him on campus, on your turf, and tell him the whole ugly tale. Tell him that you heard only in the morning what has occurred. Tell Hardin that there are ways that this matter can be covered up, but that I am the only person who can help. Make certain that he is aware that he’ll be dealing with the head of the Juárez cartel.”
El Duque reached into his pocket and drew out a small package, pushing it across the table to Gomez. “This is a pocket recorder. Meet with Hardin where there is very little background noise. I want a good quality recording of your conversation. Avoid use of your name, but make certain that his name is clearly recorded and that you are arranging a meeting with El Duque of the Juárez cartel in order to free his son.”
Antonio Gomez nodded his understanding, “Where do you want to meet him? Here?”
“No, there is a very small cantina called Fernando’s Hideaway two blocks west of here on a callejon called Abuelo Juan. It will be empty, no customers while we are there. Tell him we will be able to converse privately, freely. Be there at eight pm. I will be there soon after or, if I decide the meeting has been compromised, tell him that I will abort the meeting and his son will feel the full weight of Mexican justice. And,” El Duque smiled, “he can read about it in the El Paso papers the next day or the Washington Post on Sunday.”
Congressman John Hardin followed Tony Gomez into Fernando’s Hideaway and insisted on waiting for his rendezvous with El Duque at a table in the shadows at the back of the room. They had arrived fifteen minutes early. Hardin respected the cartel boss’ threat to expose his son’s activities in the American press. He did not know what the price of the cover-up would be, but he expected it to be high. Fortunately, his socialite wife came from a well-heeled family and she would be as anxious to suppress their son’s problems as he. They were alone except for the man behind the bar, who approached and asked if the señor would like a drink. Nervously, Hardin ordered a Dos Equis and then as an afterthought nodded at Tony Gomez, who declined.
Hardin was into his second beer when two hard-cases swaggered into the bar. Both stood about five-foot-eight. The leader sported a large, bushy mustache; black stubble marred his cheeks. Dressed in a typical vaquero working outfit, he motioned with the revolver in his hand at the younger one to inspect the backroom spaces. Then he stalked over to Hardin and Tony, examining them with a hard stare. He motioned Hardin to stand and frisked him for weapons. Satisfied, he repeated his actions with Gomez. The younger gun-man returned from inspecting the back and nodded to his leader and they departed. Moments later El Duque entered and ordered Tony to wait outside with his bodyguards.
The cartel boss sat across the table from Hardin. He didn’t waste words. “Señor Congressman Hardin, as you gringos say, I have you by the shorthairs. It will not be necessary for you to spar around about that fact. I have no time to waste on you.”
Hardin stared at the hard lines of El Duque’s face. His silence was sufficient acknowledgement.
“Bién, here is what you will do.” There was no compromise in the visage of the cartel boss, “You will arrange to end efforts to place your military and police intelligence assets at the disposal of the Mexican government. Your war-on-drugs is a political farce in any case. I do not want your sophisticated gringo spy systems disrupting my business activities. Is that understood?”
Hardin continued to stare silently at the cartel boss, struggling obviously with the implications of the demand and how he would have to implement it.
“Do you understand me?”El Duque demanded. “Speak.”
Hardin whispered, “Yes.”
“Say it so I can hear you, pendejo.”
“Yes,” this time loudly.
El Duque continued, “You will continue with your tirades against Mexican corruption and narcotrafico. It makes me money! When you put the pressure on, I raise my prices. You capture a shipment, a few of my men. I allow for ten percent loses. I give you ten percent of my shipments as an overhead cost, and then raise my prices. By yourselves, you don’t find ten percent of what I ship across so I have to betray some shipments of poor quality to give me the pretext to raise my prices. You understand, pendejo? Your war-on-drugs supports my price structure. Hah! You Americans call us corrupt.”
Contempt spilled from the lips of El Duque. Hardin had said nothing except to acknowledge his predicament.” Your addicts will pay whatever I demand. Parents like you don’t give a damn for your kids, only that they don’t embarrass you. What do you say to that, pendejo?”
Hardin maintained his silence.
“You have nothing to say, pendejo?”
“Wesley has been a great disappointment to me and his mother. We’re not the first parents who have been forced to face the corruption of our children by Mexican drugs.” Hardin meant to voice defiance, but his words sounded pathetic, without conviction.
El Duque borrowed an American expression, “Bullshit, you gringos grow your own marijuana; you manufacture meths in laboratories from one end of your country to the other. Your major suppliers of heroina and cocaína came from Asia and South America until we proved we were better businessmen than they are. We are businessmen, you are self-indulgent pigs. Mexico is not corrupting you. You are corrupting yourselves!”
Hardin dredged up a particle of defiance, “Alright, so we are also part of the problem. A seller needs a market. But a seller also builds his market. This gets us nowhere. I agree. I accept your demands. I can set back the US intelligence initiative. It was my idea to begin with. I can build a case that Mexican authorities do not trust the American government. I can quietly make the case that Mexico doesn’t want the drug traffic to decline or end, the cash flowing back underwrites Mexican capital markets. I can run my political campaigns against the narcotics traffic and help support your markets. But that doesn’t get my son back. I want him back and I want your assurance that he will be refused drugs if he ever returns to make a buy.”
El Duque said, “I can give instructions to my people. They will never sell any estupificantes to your son in the future, but you have resellers in the US. They are your problem.”
“I’ll dry the little bastard out. You do your part about keeping him out of Mexico. How do I get him back?”
“That will be the easy part. Your son is being held for the murder of a whore in the Club Ecstasy in the city. I know who murdered her and I will expose him and your son will be free to leave within two days. You have my assurance. I will inform you when you can come to get him. In the meantime, I expect you to get busy with your part of the understanding.”
Hardin examined El Duque carefully, “Then Wesley is not guilty of murder?”
“Don’t get too smart, pendejo.” El Duque reverted to his contemptuous tone. “Your son did not murder the whore, Esmeralda. He murdered the thirteen year old daughter of a Juárez police inspector. And I have the proof. It will not be my task to keep your little bastard out of Mexico. He will know better than to return. If he does return, the truth will come out and Mexico will finish what began with the whore. Also, if you do not comply with our little bargain, I will see to it that the murder of inspector Dosantos’ daughter appears in the American press and that the story will be placed in the hands of your political opponents. You play along and I will also see to it that money finds its way into your reelection campaigns. We now have a common interest. After all, pendejo, in a sense you have joined my payroll.”
Domingo Dosantos scoured the city and its outskirts for Kiki. He enlisted friends and colleagues from the police force to help him find her, without avail. Officially, an effort was made to find Kiki, but aside from a vague description of a man who had grabbed her off the street near her school, nothing turned up.
Dosantos knew there was only the slightest of chances she would be found alive. The only person accused of the murder of a woman in the past few days was a young American drug addict who had murdered a prostitute at a local disco bar. He had been apprehended and was being held at police headquarters pending an investigation. In his urgency to find Kiki, Domingo gave the matter little attention.
For the past few years it had become evident to police officers and the public at large that serial murder in the Juárez area was becoming epidemic. Remains of women were turning up in the desert outside Juárez; many showed evidence of sexual molestation. All had been young and attractive; some were young school girls like Kiki, but most were employees from the maquiladores, assembly plants clustered along the American border exploiting low cost Mexican labor to produce goods shipped to the United States. Police files accumulated reports of disappearances of young women, but little was done about it officially. Serial murder didn’t fall to the task of Domingo’s departmental, but rumors were rife. His superiors and many colleagues on the force suggested that his daughter had fallen victim to these same serial killers. Even his friends, the Xochis, while sharing his anguish couldn’t help but imply that Kiki had fallen victim to them.
But Domingo knew he alone was responsible for his daughter’s abduction. On Saturday following her disappearance he found the customary package of money in his car. On Sunday Domingo exchanged words on the cell phone with El Duque, who informed Domingo that he knew of Kiki’s abduction, even though the incident had received no publicity. The drug kingpin expressed his concern and offered the use of his resources to help find her, to which Domingo readily assented, hope for his daughter resurging that Kiki’s disappearance was unrelated to his betrayal of El Duque’s plans to General Gutierrez.
Then those hopes were dashed. The cartel chief shifted a demand that Domingo keep an ear out for the person responsible for the cancellation of the meeting between the American delegation and General Gutierrez. El Duque stressed that once identified the culprit would be subjected to exquisite pain; a pain he would endure for the rest of his life. There was no verbal hint that any fault had been placed on the shoulders of Domingo, but the sense of cold rage and menace in the voice of El Duque bore the subliminal message that Kiki had paid the price for her father’s betrayal. It also implied that Domingo Dosantos had two more hostages that would face a terrible fate if he did not adjust his attitude and comply with El Duque’s demands .
Despair and then hatred overwhelmed Domingo Dosantos. He did not break down as had Rosanna and Liria. He didn’t unburden himself to his friend Umberto Xochis. He was overtaken by cold determination, a lonely commitment. El Señor Duque, you will pay for what you have done to Kiki and to me. And you will not know it until that moment. Kiki will have justice. It may take me some time. I will be patient. I will prepare well. You will experience the Hell you have brought upon me and my family. Por Diós, you will pay!
Domingo Dosantos sat silently in the back patio of the Casa de los Xochis, bitterly nursing a beer. Kiki’s remains had been discovered by a police patrol in the desert south of Ciudad Juárez. She had been dumped in a shallow grave that had quickly been desecrated by the stray dogs and wild animals that scavenged near the fringes of human habitation. Initial identification came from shreds of the clothing she had worn the day she was abducted and one of the earrings Domingo had given her for her birthday. DNA tests would confirm the identity. He had yet to inform his surviving daughters. He had told Umberto Xochis of the discovery and asked if he might be allowed to sit alone in their patio for a while before he had to go home and pass the facts on to Rosanna and Liria.
Young Javier came into the patio and sat down next to Domingo. The boy finally placed a hand on Domingo’s arm, still saying nothing. Domingo lifted his beer bottle and emptied it. He extended the empty to the boy, “Javier, puedes hacerme el favor?”
The boy returned with a second beer and Domingo thanked him, “Grácias m’ijo.”
Javier asked suddenly, “They have found her?”
Domingo settled his gaze on Javier, his voice low, “Si, m’ijo.”
A tear drifted slowly down the boy’s cheek, and then more. They sat silently. There were no tears in Domingo’s eyes, just despair. He handed the thirteen year old a paper napkin.
The boy wiped his face then looked up at Domingo, “Why do you always call me m’ijo? You are not my father.”
“No, your true father is my best friend,” Domingo broke from his somber reverie. “But m’ijo, we are all the children of God and God is in all of us. I feel that all of the young people of the world are in a sense also my children, to help, to advise them and to show them love, to make them believe there is caring and good in this sad world of ours,” Domingo felt his voice crack slightly and his eyes cloud. He shook it off.
Domingo watched Javier as he absorbed this thought. “Javier, does it bother you that I say m’ijo to you?”
“No, Señor Domingo, not now,” Javier placed his had back on Domingo’s arm, “not anymore. I like it. Will you permit me to address you as tio?”
“I would like that very much, m’ijo.”
“Tio, will you find who did this to Kiki?”
Domingo reflected on his discovery that morning. He had dreaded the moment since Kiki had disappeared. But he knew it would come and that it would fall to him to make the identification. Animals had been badly ravaged Kiki’s remains, but an earring still clung to the vestige of an ear: his gift to her on her birthday.
Afterward he left the morgue and returned to the squad room. The American youth accused of the murder of the prostitute at the Club Ecstasy was being freed. The real killer had been identified as one Tomás Hernandez, bouncer at the Club Ecstasy. The man had been shot dead when police had attempted to arrest him. Ley de Fuga, thought Domingo, dead men tell no tales. The accused youth’s father, an important American politician had been present. The boy’s appearance was degenerate; emaciated, drug raddled.
The jailor spilled a box of the boy’s possessions onto a desk top, but the boy showed little interest in them. The father picked through them. They were meager: a billfold, pocket knife, keys . . . “What’s this?” He scowled and picked up an object and examined it. “Do you pierce your ears, too?”
The boy shook his head dully. The father drew him close and examined the boy’s ears in distrust. Seeing no sign of ear piercing, he tossed an earring back onto the table. It caught Domingo’s eye . . . the mate to the earring he had just used to identify Kiki’s remains! Domingo said nothing, but moved over to examine the documents for the boy’s release. The name was John Wesley Hardin, Jr.
The name would be forever graven in Domingo’s memory: John Wesley Hardin, Jr. And the politician was the boy’s father. Domingo now had the first link in the chain that would lead back to El Duque. The boy was nothing, a dupe, an instrument employed by El Duque, and possibly his politician father, to further some hidden agenda. And somehow Kiki’s death had been part of it.
Domingo focused his eyes on the beseeching face of Javier, “M’ijo, I will find them and they will pay.” Domingo’s face was frozen in determination, resolution. Yes, they will pay. He thought of Rosalinda as he had so often these last days. Our daughter will be avenged. He felt the weight of his own sense of guilt. El Duque, you will feel the weight of my hand. You will suffer.
Domingo Dosantos kept his gaze on Javier and repeated, “They will pay dearly.”
Author's Note: Domingo Dosantos takes his revenge in my novel Shadow of Nemesis. Find my book, Shadow of Nemesis here.
Copyright © 2018 by Robert Bruce Drynan
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