What Cali and Medellin are to Colombian narco-traffickers, Sinaloa is to the drug lords of Mexico. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico’s northwest, this drug-rich Mexican state is just a two-day drive from the U.S.
Almost since the beginning Sinaloa has been Mexico’s breadbasket. Its fertile fields have produced huge crops of soybeans and sesame seeds but also indecent amounts of marijuana and heroin destined for U.S. markets. Sinaloa’s poor peasants have made it big, growing and selling these narcotics for decades.
Culiacan, Sinaloa’s state capital is the hometown of the most infamous drugs dealers, the Tijuana Cartel, represented here by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel. Both organizations are exercising the sovereignty over this territory in the name of an unwritten truce while sharing the profits of their illegal business.
Their leaders live in luxury mansions in the hills of Culiacan, and the drug business is so deeply rooted there that even its souvenir shops sell items with emblems commemorating the outlaw culture: marijuana leaf belts, machine gun buckles and the like.
Ricardo, Elaine, Hanna and I are flying on board ‘El Padrino’s private plane and we’ll be landing in around an hour at one of those clandestine runaways in the middle of nowhere. This time it won’t be an army welcoming us because that’s the way the old drug lord set things up.
‘El Padrino’ doesn’t want anybody outside Tijuana knowing that his only granddaughter is alive or who she is. That’s the reason why our cover hasn’t been blown, not yet anyway. As far as these fuckers are concerned their prodigal son, Ricardo Montenegro returns back home and he’s doing it like the baby who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He’s bringing really big profitable business for both organizations. At the end big dark guy is the one and only who set up Santos Martelli in his new partnership, with Reynaldo Casamajor.
Ricardo sent the message to Reynaldo and Santos that we have been working on clearing my way out of the U.S., finding Mia and killing the two FBI agents who had kidnapped her, that’s Stuart and Terry, Hanna’s subordinates, and the only special agent in charge of the case, Bilkins.
Concerning Hanna, Ricardo told the Cuban that those fuckers raped her, beat the shit out of her and then left her to die in the alley at the back entrance of his club in LA. Then two of his dancers, Jasmine and Jenn, found her and phoned us. The girls couldn’t contact Reynaldo directly because he had changed his phone numbers.
For now Reynaldo doesn’t know shit about Hanna’s being an FBI agent or the real motivations that are leading us. As far as the Cuban is concerned, he owes Ricardo a big favor because big dark guy sold him the tale that Bilkins was the one sending those fuckers that tried to kill him in Miami. Reynaldo bought it because just as Hanna suspected, the Cuban desperately wants us with him, at his side, and Santos, he really doesn’t give shit about anything else apart from his sick hobby and his fucking business.
However, I have the strong suspicion that even though Mexico is a big country; all these fuckers may know everything about everybody, including us. And if ‘El Padrino’s’ location is an open secret, then I really don’t know how the hell Hanna’s real identity is going to pass damn unnoticed.
Ricardo told me one more time not to worry too much, at least for now because he has a couple of aces up his sleeve. Damn him and his damn aces! He must have a whole pack to play damn poker with it, but the fact he’s not saying shit is not making me feel any better.
The only thing he has been explaining to me is how the Arellano’s brothers act. They never go out in the open just for the hell of it and they never travel by themselves. Ricardo says that when they go have lunch at Puerto Escondido in Rosarito, the place is closed down, either by the feds or just by their own employees. They might come in a helicopter, have lunch, and then they’re gone. It seems Hanna’s uncles are not that accessible at all. And, on the few occasions the DEA has hit their mansions somebody along the chain of command intercepted the message, so when the DEA showed up, they weren’t there or even nearby.
The government has a reward of 2 million dollars on their heads but Ricardo says that’s a damn joke because nobody is going to be that stupid to try and take them out. Why? Because unless they have it really well planned and well devised, the risk is too high. The government my not pay the amount at the end and no one else is going to set them up that’s for sure.
The Arellano’s organization is like an insurance company, the only different is that a real insurance company doesn’t kill you if you don’t pay; they just bring a lawsuit, and sue you. But even though the Arellano’s brothers are very amicable people and very fair, if they find out you’re fucking with them, then they kill you or kill someone in your family, and go back to sleep like little babies, not giving a shit.
They help a lot of other organizations to pass their shit to the U.S., with one unavoidable condition. Whatever the organization is they have to be honest; they have to say that they are bringing a load and how many tons they are bringing. If they don’t say shit and the Arellano’s find out, then you’re a living corpse.
Anyway what I find most fascinating is how everything started and that’s what Ricardo and I have been talking about for almost the entire flight while sitting in front of each other with Hanna and Elaine at our side, listening and occasionally adding a comment.
“The Chinese settlers who arrived in the last half of the 19th century were the ones who started. It was a good agricultural place for it. And generation after generation the people just did it, they perfected it. But the large production of opium didn’t start until the World War II.” Ricardo explains as he pulls out a cigarette, lighting it up. “Japan gained control of the Asian opium supply and the U.S. military needed morphine for its soldiers. So Uncle Sam turned to Mexico for help.” He stops as he takes a deep puff, blowing the smoke up the ceiling of the jet. Then he keeps talking. “Many Sinaloans, like ‘El Padrino’s’ grandfather, made their fortune because it was institutional. Some government officials bought the harvest from the farmers to export themselves. There were even soldiers up in the hills caring for the plants.” He pauses anew, frowning slightly.
“And when the war was over, the US didn’t need its partners any longer but the farmers continued to produce opium and heroin.” I say, looking at him. In response, Ricardo nods ‘yes’.
“The operations became more and more clandestine, and a smuggling network was set up.” Ricardo says as he keeps puffing from his cigarette. “Then in the mid-1980s, Colombia’s drugs dealers, like Pablo Escobar and others were finding it increasingly difficult to bring cocaine into the U.S. through South Florida. So they began looking for alternate routes, and found willing partners in Mexican drugs dealers.”
“Like ‘El Padrino’.” I state.
“That’s my boy!” Ricardo grins, chuckling. “But the Mexicans soon grew tired of just smuggling coke for a fee and began demanding payment in cocaine, and they set up their own distribution networks in the U.S., increasing their profits and power.” He says as he looked through the window at the slightly clouded sky outside the jet. “The organization, the Cartel, became much richer, much more powerful, with much more control. Now it wasn’t one million or two million, it was over 30 million US dollars that they could make off a single payment. And they created complex enterprises that reassembled multi-national corporations in structure.”
“Corporations like fucking Phoenix Ltd?” I ask, narrowing my eyes but somehow it’s not a question.
“Similar corporations. Some of them are legal and well known around the world but all of them have served at some point as covers.” Ricardo replies, putting out his cigarette. “However you have to know that the money side is a completely separate business than the drugs. There are guys inside the Cartels whose exclusive role is to receive the money, process it, sell it, and make a profit. And they never get involved with the drug side of the business, ever.”
“And where does all that money goes anyway?” I ask as I keep stroking Hanna’s hand absently. Ricardo smirks.
“Mostly protection. They waste indecent amounts of money each month. Actually protection costs them a fucking fortune.” He answers, rubbing his chin. “The DEA and the Mexican government to begin with, then there are a lot of fuckers that are expecting their monthly payment, such as the airport and port authorities, the local cops, the Customs, the military, and the list goes on and on.” Ricardo says and now Elaine is the one talking.
“Those bastards are not common criminals; they are not wearing black shirts with matching ties or golden teeth. They are not standing on a corner with a gun ready to blow your brains out if you don’t make what they want.” Elaine says, smiling lightly. “Now the time has changed and so has their type of thinking. Now they work with computers, with the best technicians. They have the best chemists in the world. The best lawyers…”
“Like William?” I ask, frowning lightly.
“Exactly.” Ricardo nods ‘yes’.
“They have the best of the best.” Elaine adds, sighing softly. Ricardo glances at her, narrowing his eyes and after a second he speaks again.
“But trafficking with drugs doesn’t take all their time.”
“What is it then? A part-time job?” I ask half joking, half serious. Ricardo laughs hard.
“A very fucking lucrative part-time job actually.” He replies, chuckling.
“And what the fuck they do the rest of the time?” I ask, my eyes narrowing in suspicion. Elaine is once more answering my question.
“The rest of the time they tend their families, take their kids to school, go to church and play the damn perfect citizen, even paying each and every single tax.”
She seems to know a lot about those fuckers and how they work. And I wonder if all the Intel Elaine knows is because big dark guy told her or because he took his wife with him while one of his ‘jobs’.
“Those fuckers are socially accepted and well known and respected members of their respective communities.” Elaine adds, rolling her eyes.
What a fucking irony!
“Anyway, don’t let that shit fool you, Dom. They are more dangerous than the Cuban or Santos.” Ricardo says as he plays with the lighter between his fingers. “Those fuckers deal with their shit in a completely different way than our little sick friends.” He pauses for a second, making himself comfortable and then he keeps talking. “You see. They are business men and there are these ‘verbal contracts’. If you rip off a load or do something you weren’t supposed to according to those verbal contracts or if you snitch, then they kill you in a second flat, and then they go to celebrate their kids’ birthday party, not giving shit. But not before they give you umpteen chances to fix your fuckup.” He says, his voice emotionless. “There’s only one damn rule: you snitch, you die.” Ricardo adds coldly.
At his words I swallow hard, frowning in concern. Damn! I was making up my mind to deal with fuckers like Reynaldo and Santos, not to deal with fuckers where I don’t know what to expect. I don’t even want to think where we are going to end up if we fuck this shit up. Shit! They’ll probably blow our brains out, burying our bodies in the fucking desert. I can’t help but wonder how many fuckers are buried all over the Mexican deserts. Fuck!
I glance at Hanna who is sitting at my side and then at Elaine, frowning deeply in concern.
“And we are going to drop by just like that with our women?” I ask him, arching a brow. Ricardo looks at Elaine as he takes her hand in his.
“It’s not like we have too many options, Dom. They are already waiting for us, man. If we don’t show up, then they may think we’re fucking with them. And there’s one thing about them, Dom. They are relentless if somebody becomes an enemy and everybody knows that. But only if you become their enemy.” He replies emotionless, interlacing his fingers with Elaine’s. “And that’s a luxury we can’t afford, Dom, much less now that we’re almost done with all this shit once and for all.” Ricardo adds, kissing Elaine’s hand, lingering on his caress causing a wicked grin to spread on her lips.
“What?!” I retort, stiffening on my seat as my eyes widen completely. “Do you really think they’re going to let us walk away just like that? After we disregarded ‘El Padrino’s’ direct order?” Ricardo rolls his eyes, snorting.
“¡Coño! They are not like the Mob, Dom. You can get out anytime you want. Nobody give a shit. The fewer people, the better; less competition.” He chuckles coldly. Then he elaborates. “Here that shit doesn’t rule, ‘you’re in, now you can’t get out’. As long as you’ve finished your contracts you don’t owe shit to anybody, and you’re okay as long as you keep your mouth shut and out of their business.” Ricardo winks at me, grinning devilishly. What the hell?
“And what the fuck are we going to offer them apart from Santos’ organization? I don’t think for a minute the Italian is going to be faithful to us.” I reply, rubbing my forehead. “As soon as that fucker makes his first serious contact, he won’t need us any longer.” In response, Ricardo’s evil grin widens.
“And that’s the reason why we’re coming up with something else they need and don’t expect.” He states, causing the three of us look at him shocked. “Or should I say with someone they don’t expect?” Ricardo asks like he’s talking with himself, grinning wickedly.
“Who the fuck are you talking about? Hanna?” I retort, not liking it one damn bit where this conversation is heading. Hanna squeezes my hand hard as Elaine narrows her eyes in suspicion. Ricardo shakes his head ‘no’, chuckling.
“You.” He replies pointing a finger in my direction. I blink completely puzzle.
Ricardo nods ‘yes’. “That’s right sir. You, my dear Dominic Toretto are one of my aces, man.” He explains as his eyes sparkle with that devilish gleam. I frown deeply, pinching my nose, trying to make sense of his words, but I don’t get it.
“What the hell are you talking about, Richie?” Hanna asks as she narrows her eyes, staring at him. Ricardo looks at her and then back at me.
“Did you know that approximately sixty per cent of the coke that ends in the U.S. is transported in cars across the border?” He asks me, his gaze going back and forth between Hanna and I. I shake my head ‘no’. “That’s what I thought.” He teases, grinning. Then he goes serious in a heart beat as he keeps talking. “Why do you think our little Billy introduced your dad to ‘El Padrino’, Dom? Because the nice lawyer wanted the old man extending his social life, huh?” Ricardo asks and his voice sounds tinted with sarcasm.
At his words my eyes almost jump out of their place. What the hell?!
“Back then, ‘El Padrino’ needed drivers, or better yet, car racers who were able to drive as fast as possible without ending up crashing ‘El Padrino’s’ cars.” Ricardo says, frowning slightly. “Racers with enough balls and skills to evade the cops when it was needed, giving them the slip in seconds.” He adds, his voice is cold but the sarcasm is gone.
I feel my blood boiling inside my veins as my jaw clenches painfully. My dad wouldn’t do that, not in a million years. He was a respectable and an honorable man. Antonio Toretto wouldn’t have done that shit for ‘El Padrino’ or any other fucker like the drug lord for the matter. He was a decent man; he was a good man who loved his family over everything.
I take a deep breath, forcing the air to pass through my lungs and when I speak my voice sounds strangled.
“My dad wouldn’t have done that shit.” I hiss through clenched teeth, fighting to keep my sudden rage under control.
“Dominic…” Hanna whispers as she strokes my arm up and down, soothing me. Ricardo sighs hard as he looks me directly in the eyes.
“Of course not, Dom. Mr. Antonio Toretto was a man with strong principles. Your dad was too decent for that shit, too honorable.” He replies as serious as a heart attack. “Besides, at that time your mom was already pregnant with Mia and your dad wouldn’t have risked his family’s lives no matter how great the money would have sounded. It wasn’t worth it for him at all.” Ricardo’s voice is still cold but somehow touched.
I shut my eyes tightly, swallowing hard, thinking about Ricardo’s words and the tone of his voice. He’s not shitting with me. Big dark guy really meant what he said about my dad.
A heavy sigh left my lips as I squeeze Hanna’s hand, tracing slow patterns over her wrist. I’m doing my best to keep focused on business but it’s really damn hard. I can’t fucking believe that fucker went in search of my dad, asking for his help to move his fucking shit. And what is worse, William helped him on that task.
That old fox had grown up with my dad and he should have known my dad was going to say no fucking way. Damn! How deep in the drug lord’s shit is William stuck? Fuck! His double loyalties may end up meaning a problem for us and I wonder when the time will come when William is going to have to choose a side?
“What did you have in mind, Ricardo?” I ask him, opening my eyes, fixing my gaze on his. In response, a small grin tugs the corner of his lips as that devilish gaze flashes in his dark eyes.
“There’s this guy, Fabio, he’s the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel at this time because his dad is very ill, and he loves car races; in fact Fabio is a racer and he’s the fucking best around at racing his car.” Ricardo says, grinning. I can’t help it and before my brain registers my words, I’m speaking.
“Yeah, sure.” I snort, rolling my eyes, causing big dark guy to laugh hard, shaking his head. Damn! Big dark guy got me with his comment.
It’s true I’m not that interested in racing cars anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m accepting easily that I’m not the fucking best around at least concerning the only thing I know for sure I’m great at.
“You don’t become part of the organization if you don’t have something valuable to offer them, Dom.” Ricardo says, pulling me out of my thought. “And that’s the reason why I’ve been already talking with Fabio about your unique skills as a racer.” He winks at me, grinning and I chuckle at his words. “The fact that Fabio respects any real racer on principle gives you the chance to show him what you got, challenging him. And if you win, then Fabio will trust you because you’ll become someone who he will consider worthy of his time.” Ricardo adds, that devilish gaze sparkling more.
“You gotta be kidding me, man.” I chuckle, shaking my head.
“No way, Dom,” Ricardo replies, grinning. “A guy like Fabio uses the drug business to keep his only hobby, racing cars. It’s the only thing he really loves and the people around him share that passion with him.” He says, staring at my eyes. “You, Toretto, have half way done that because racing cars is also your only passion.”
“It was, Ricardo.” I cut him off causing he blinks, puzzle for a second until I elaborate. “It was my only passion. Now I’ve got another more important passion in my life.” I say as I turn my head, looking at Hanna.
She stares at my eyes, blushing lightly and a beautiful smile lights her face in seconds, causing her green eyes to sparkle like stars.
At my words, Ricardo rolls his eyes as a snort leaves his lips and Elaine punches his arm playfully.
“Ouch!” He replies, teasing his wife. “Why was that for?” Ricardo asks as he rubs the spot Elaine punched, pretending that she hurt him. Elaine rolls her eyes.
“You know too damn well, Richard.” She replies seriously, staring at him. In a flash, Ricardo leans his head, burying his face in Elaine’s neck.
“You look damn sexy when you’re mad, mami.” He growls softly, making Elaine blush just like Hanna did.
I glance at Hanna and she’s looking at them smiling but in seconds a deep pain is flashing in those beautiful green eyes. I narrow my eyes, frowning slightly and all of sudden her eyes are sparkling with unshed tears. My frown deepens.
“Are you okay, baby?” I ask her, concern evident in my voice.
“Yeah…” Hanna swallows hard and disentangling her hand from mine, she stands. “I’ll be back in a sec.” She whispers hoarsely and with that she turns on her heels, heading toward the bathroom.
I follow her with my gaze until she enters the bathroom, closing the door at her back. And then I look back at Ricardo with a questioning look on my face.
“Damn.” Elaine mutters under her breath and standing, she goes in search of Hanna, entering the bathroom, closing and locking the door at her back.
Ricardo frowns deeply, looking at me and for a second his eyes are showing that murderous gaze. Then he shakes his head in disapproval as he pulls out a new cigarette, lighting it up.
“What are you gonna do, Dom?” he asks me, taking a deep puff, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Huh?” I ask him completely puzzled. “About what?” In response, Ricardo sighs hard, holding my gaze.
“About Hanna.” He answers, flicking the ashes in the ashtray. I arch my brows at once.
“What do you mean?” I must look like a moron but I swear I don’t know what he’s talking about. Ricardo growls exasperated as he narrows his eyes.
“I mean what does Hanna mean for you, Dom?” he asks, his gaze as serious as a heart attack.
“She means everything to me, man. What’s with you?” I reply. “I thought my feelings concerning Hanna were pretty clear for you. So what are you playing?” I’m getting mad with him and I’m not even sure why.
“Are you gonna marry her?” Ricardo asks me coldly as he leans forward, resting his elbows on the table in front of us. I look at him like he grew a second head. What the hell…?
“Of course, I’m gonna marry Hanna, man.” I say, annoyed at the question. “She’s my woman!” I add, putting as much reassurance as I can in my words, making sure he has no doubts.
“Yeah!” I reply. In response, Ricardo chuckles.
“Coño, then why the fuck haven’t you ask her already?” he asks me, tilting his head to one side as he knit a brow. “You keep saying you’re going to protect her for the rest of her life, but Hanna doesn’t need you for that shit, you know? She already has me and Elaine for that task.” Ricardo says as a matter of fact, looking directly at my eyes. “You keep saying you love her and that you’re going to love her forever, but you’re not backing those nice words with actions, man.”
Damn! I open my mouth to reply but all of sudden I have no words at all. Ricardo struck me numb. I shut my eyes tightly cursing myself silently. He’s damn right, Damnit!
“I…I don’t know why I didn’t ask her to marry me already, man.” I reply, frowning deeply. “I mean it’s not like I’m having second thoughts or some shit like that.” I pause, looking down, my eyes moving back and forth and then I look back up at him. “I want to marry Hanna, Ricardo, but I don’t know if this is the right moment to ask her. I mean we don’t even know if we’re going to live much longer.”
I don’t even know if my words make any sense or not. In response, Ricardo chuckles coldly as he takes a deep puff and blowing the smoke, he replies.
“So much the better, Dom because maybe if you wait much longer you won’t be able to ask her at all.”