Monday, May 30, 2016

Boystown: The Return (a novel)

Chapter 3. El Rojo

By Ed Rogers

[Chapter 2 of Ed Rogers’s new novel appeared here last month. It is available in its entirety as a Kindle book.]

With the hood over my head it was hard to control my senses. I could hear movement everywhere. Vehicles passed the van and some blew their horns. There was hollering and banging of metal on metal. It sounded like I was in a train yard. Suddenly, we came to a stop....the side door slammed open and rough hands jerked me out and I flew into space. With my hands tied behind my back, if I had not turned my shoulder toward the fall, my face would have looked like a thrown tomato against a wall. As it was, I felt enormous pain, which traveled down my arm and across my back. Then I was on my feet, and a man on each arm guided me up five or six steps. We crossed a short space and entered a building. I could hear people working. However, the noise did not stop as we walked past, but it did become quieter and I could hear the whispers of a number of people. More than likely the voices were those of the workers. I’ll bet I wasn’t the first person they had seen trussed up like a pig going to market. I wondered how many they had seen leave.
    Life is like a long hall – there are doors running along each side. As we walk down the corridor we pick our own paths. Some may go through the yellow door, while others pick the green. But at the end of that hall there is but one door, and we do not choose it – it chooses us. I thought about my choice of doors as I stumbled up a long flight of stairs. I knew this El Rojo held the answers I wanted and needed, but if he killed me what damn good would that do anybody?
    The Mexican police were not going to bring that poor girl or Manuel back home. The police were swamped by the amount of crime. It wasn’t that they would not like to help, but there were only so many hours in a day. Also, there were some people even a cop was afraid to cross. So each day they showed up at work and went through the motions. The real power in Mexico lay with the cartels, and I knew a thing or two about cartels. The one thing that was true in the drug business was that you always covered your own ass – fuck the other guy. I had bet the farm on that belief. If I was wrong I had put a gun to my own head. In order for my plan to work, El Rojo must indeed just be a drug dealer, and not into kidnapping.
    The hood was ripped from my head. My nose almost came off with it as it slid over my face. At last I could breathe once more, but the light blinded me for a few moments. In an attempt to do away with the black dots I closed and opened my eyes. My vision cleared and I was standing in front of a desk. We were in the upper area of a warehouse with only a desk and one chair. The goon who had tried to pull my face off stood behind me and a very big ugly one stood to the right of the desk, where sat the drug kingpin.
    El Rojo was medium built: 5' 8", 155 or 160 pounds, no more than 165. He wore jeans and a white cowboy shirt with blue snaps made from mother of pearl. The buttons caught the sunlight and sparkled like small diamonds. The boots, which he propped on the corner of his desk, were made of snake skin. Other than his name, there wasn’t anything Mexican about him. The red hair and fair skin placed him more in line to be a Viking. At first glance it was hard to believe he was old enough to be of much help to me, but one look into those gun-barrel blue eyes and I knew I was dealing with a stone-cold killer.
    “Well, viejo, you wanted me to call you!”
    I knew the next few minutes might be my last if I chose the wrong words. I couldn’t understand what the hell and how the hell a white guy had ended up with so much power here. One answer was, maybe no one knew he wasn’t Mexican.
    I said, “In your business, the last thing you want is to have a bit part on ‘Cheers’ – where everybody knows your name.” He nodded, but said nothing. “While the name El Rojo has real street credit, I doubt your real name would strike much fear in the hearts of your enemies.”
    “What makes you think El Rojo is not my real name?”
    “Not me, but other people with whom you do business could take advantage of the fact you’re North American. Hell, I don’t give a damn what name you go by. As a matter of fact, I feel better knowing you’re not some crazy Colombian.”
    “What do you have against the Colombians?”
    I cannot say enough about the importance of street credit in the drug business. It was like a two-edged sword – a little credit opened doors for you, while a lot got you killed. “Back in the day, when the Colombians were the top dogs on the block, I was in your line of business. We had a very personal falling out.”
    “Viejo, you don’t look like a fucking drug runner to me.”
    I laughed, “That’s because I doubt you have ever met an old drug runner. The retirement plan in your line of work really sucks.”
    He took a long time before he spoke again, and his words were measured. “I have other things that need my attention. Why don’t you tell me what you want – so I can kill you and get on with my day?”
    I tried to size him up. He was a good poker player. I couldn’t tell if he was putting on a show for his men or if he really was going to kill me. “Three days ago, a young North American girl and her boyfriend were kidnapped as they left the grounds of the University of Mexico. I want them back!”
    The poker face cracked. First there was bewilderment, then disbelief, which erupted into a roar of laughter that started at the soles of his feet and exploded out of his mouth. He coughed, wiped his eyes, and tried to regain control of himself. At last, he took a deep breath and sat back in his chair.
    He looked me right in the eye as he told his men: “Get rid of this old fool.”
    The tall ugly goon to El Rojo’s right asked, “Do we kill him?”
    El Rojo ran his hand through his red hair and half smiled. “No. Hurt him a little and let him out downtown.” He looked back at me and his eyes were as cold as a frozen river. “I ever see you again, you will die.”
    “In that case, let me finish what I came to say. If you don’t like it, hell, kill me now, because I will be back.”
    His eyes never left my face and I could see the wheels turning in his head. “All right, viejo, you have one minute. Remember, I gave you a chance to walk away – you should have taken it.”
    “The people in the U.S. don’t give a damn if Mexicans kill off half the people in Mexico. Hell, they’re selling them guns to speed things along. However, nothing fires them up more than pictures of pretty young American girls who have been kidnapped or murdered.”
    I took a long breath before I made a run for the finish line. “I know you had nothing to do with the kidnappings, but you know who is taking these girls. And that S.O.B is going to bring hell down on you and the whole drug business. The kidnappings have gotten so out of control I read about them in Canada. It’s just a matter of time before the news outlets pick up on one of kidnappings and a brush fire starts spreading across the whole of North America. It will be like throwing a piece of raw meat into a pit of hungry dogs. With the girls never returned, that will feed the imagination of housewives from coast to coast. The pictures of the girls will be on every channel and it will break their hearts and give meaning to their boring lives. With nothing to do all day, they will fill their time writing Congressmen, Senators, and even the President. These outraged women will demand we invade Mexico and get rid of the cartels. They will demand action, and believe me when I say, they will get it. After all, those little old ladies will not rest until the animals are stopped.”
    I knew my minute was up, but I could tell El Rojo was thinking. After all, he grew up in the States, and he knew I was telling the truth, and from the look on his face it was not the first time he had thought about it.
    “Leave us alone.”
    The ugly one was surprised. “Que?”
    “Now! Leave us alone.” His face matched his red hair as the room emptied.
    “Okay, viejo, you have my attention. What do you plan to do about our problem? You seem to have thought this out and know there is nothing I can do. The wars along the border aren’t being fought here. We have an agreement – we do not infringe onto the other cartels’ turf. However, we are standing in gasoline and it will take only a small spark and we will have open warfare. Most of the kidnapped girls are from South America. The girls are sold to the cartels to use in the sex trade along the border, and that’s big money. There are others in my line of business who would not like to lose the kickback they receive for the sale of these women. The white girls – nobody knows or they won’t talk about what happened to them. The fact that they never show back up, dead or alive, means they are not working in the whorehouses. I agree it’s only a matter of time before the wrong white girl goes missing.”
    “I’m not asking you to get involved. I need a name and an address. I’ll take care of everything else.”
    “These are bad people, viejo. They would have chewed you up back when you still had balls to back up your big talk. Now they may just die laughing, but that’s the only way you’ll take them out.”
    “There was a Colombian drug family back when I was in the business that thought the same thing. They’re all dead!”
    “So, you think you have one more dance left in you and you want me to punch your ticket. I’d be doing you a favor if I shot you now. They take you alive, you’ll drop my name just to stop the pain. Then there will be a war.”
    “If these assholes aren’t stopped, the war will come anyway, and you’ll be fighting the other cartels, and the American government. That’s a no-win for everybody. I will kill them. If I don’t, they won’t take me alive, I promise you that much.”
    “Why should I believe you? You come in off the street talking all bad-ass – hell, I don’t know you from Adam. I had you checked out, but there is nothing that says you can take on Carlos Morales.”
    Well, I had a name; that was something. “You didn’t look far enough back. There’s a little fishing village on the coast called La Pesca. In the ’80s a man by the name of Torrijos died there. He underestimated me also and it cost him everything.”
    “I’ve heard the story about a gringo who took down a Colombian cartel back then. Now, viejo, you want me to believe you killed fifty men? I heard the gringo killed everybody, blew up the town, and disappeared. I cannot see you doing that. Shit, I doubt you can hold a gun without shaking.”
    “Give me one. I’ll show you what I can do with it! One more thing – it was only about ten men total and I wasn’t alone. And we only killed maybe four. The town is still there but the bar was damaged. By the way, my name is James, not old man. Also, what do they call you besides El Rojo? Because, believe me or not, I’m your best hope of ending this without a war.”
    He took a second look at me and thought about what I had said, he shook his head and picked up a pen and wrote a name and address on a piece of paper. “Well, James, my name is not important, but as crazy as it seems, you may be able to do the impossible. If not, I might follow the lead of that old gringo and disappear. How did that work out, James?”
    “Not as well as you might think. Your past will always catch up with you. But, before I cash in, I will take care of this business.”
    He folded the paper and handed it across the table. “Good luck, old man. I’m sorry, but I need to have you roughed up a little bit. I can’t have my men believing we have anything to do with each other.”
    Another beating wasn’t something to look forward to, but it was much better than a bullet in the head. “I understand. Tell them not to break anything. My bones don’t bend like they once did.”

Johanne O’Donald watched his men lead the old gringo back down the stairs. A plan had started to take shape in his head as they had talked, but all the pieces were not in place. However, the old fart might very well be the answer he had been looking for.
    He got up and walked toward the back door without a word.
    But his men moved as though he had issued a command. Two of them moved down the stairs with guns at the ready, while one in front and one in back covered El Rojo as he descended the steps. The warehouse was thought to be safe, but Johanne knew that somewhere there was a bullet with his name on it, and no place in Mexico was safe.
    The car door closed and Johanne took a deep breath. In the back seat of the Lincoln Town Car, barring a very large bomb, he was safe for the time being. The driver and guard sat up front, leaving him the back seat. A car drove out in front and one followed. He hated moving from one place to the next – it opened up too many opportunities for his enemies to take him out.
    Johanne opened the small bar that was built into the back of the front seat and poured a shot of 7 Leguas Tequila Anejo into a crystal tumbler. It was the best Tequila he had ever put in his month. He swirled the golden liquid and thought about how he had come a long way from the days along the border when rotgut shit was all he could afford.
    He smiled and relaxed a little and wondered what his mother would think of him if she were still alive. Although Johanne didn’t look it, his mother had been Mexican. He got his looks from his father, who, being a true drunken Scotsman, had drunk himself to death by the time Johanne was fifteen. Without money or a way to make a living, his mother had moved them from Tucson back to Heroica Nogales. Her family hated the sight of her son, and at school his red hair seemed to scream, “Please kick my ass.” After three months he dyed his hair coal black and headed for Juarez.
    By his eighteenth birthday he had killed ten men. At the age of twenty-four he was given a job to take out a low-level gang leader in Mexico City. Instead, while in Mexico City, he killed the leader of the competition and took over his business, all this while uniting three smaller gangs under his control, including the gang leader he had been paid to kill. The Juarez cartel put out a hit on him, but it only took them a few months to decide that making a deal was better than dying. Although Johanne never admitted to the bombing of three of the cartel’s homes, everybody knew.

Copyright © 2016 by Ed Rogers

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