A LATE AFTERNOON STORM was pelting the mountain when Cruz steered the Hummer up the Yaqui Trail. About five miles up, he pulled off to the right into a wide spot in the road.
It wasn't long before he could hear an engine in the distance. He got out and set the jack on the ground beside the Hummer to make it look like he'd just changed a tire. He kicked some mud up on his shoes and pants and pulled a cowboy hat down low over his face.
As he bent down by a wheel, he heard the vehicle slow down. A black Explorer with Texas license plates drove slowly past as the driver looked around the area and stared at the Hummer.
Still bent over, he glanced up, keeping his face hidden while giving the appearance he was glaring at the Explorer.
The two girls sitting on the right side of the car looked very young. The only thing he could tell about the driver was that he sat low in the seat.
Cruz waited until he could hear the Explorer was at a good distance away before he started to follow. He's slowing down, turning off on the Mexican Kickapoo, he thought. I'll take the Mirabeau and wait for him on the other side of the border.
The Mirabeau proved to be even worse than Rodrigo had described. After the sun went down, he kept on driving without lights even though it was raining and visibility was low. Twice he had to back down, drop the Hummer into a lower gear, and make a second run over a rut or rock. When he finally reached the pullout on Franklin Mountain, he poured himself a cup of coffee from the thermos that Rodrigo had given him and waited out of sight for the Explorer.
It was almost forty minutes later when he heard the Explorer coming down the Mexican Kickapoo. Once the Explorer reached smooth ground, it barrelled down the hill.
Cruz gave the driver a bit of a lead and followed him into El Paso to an older industrial area. The Explorer pulled into a fenced parking lot next to a metal building. A small sign on the side of the building read, "Solutions."
Cruz parked the Hummer in the parking lot of a machine shop across the street.
After watching for ten minutes, Cruz slipped through the gate and walked to the back of Solutions. The windows along the side of the building were covered from the inside. A back door was open, where two people stood smoking. An incinerator roared a few feet from the open back door.
He could hear voices inside but couldn't see anything.
After a third person joined the smokers at the back door, Cruz gave up trying to see inside and returned to the parking lot across the street, waiting to get a picture of the three girls and driver when they returned to the Explorer.
There was something vaguely familiar about the way the driver walked and carried himself, but he couldn't quite connect it with a memory.
Cruz returned by crossing through the El Paso/Juarez check station and waited at highway truck stop for the Explorer. He followed them into Juarez where the driver dropped the three girls at a line of taxis.
The Explorer, still bearing Texas license plates, then drove to the PIM and entered the maintenance garage. A few minutes later a marked PIM cruiser left. Cruz followed it to a modern apartment building in one of the better areas of Juarez.
Rodrigo was still awake when he got home slightly before 4:00 a.m.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Whoever he is, he's taking young girls across the border for abortions. And Comandante's wife is the one making the arrangements. These girls are not being delivered to a medical facility. It's in an old, run-down industrial area. It's fenced and locked and it doesn't even look clean. There's an incinerator in the back that's probably used to dispose of embryos.
"I followed the guy once he got back in Juarez. He drove straight to the PIM maintenance garage and left in a PIM vehicle."
"Jesus Christ, it is a cop," Rodrigo said.
"Then I followed him to an apartment building no cop living on his salary could afford, Los Piños. The same building where Comandante lives when he's in Juarez."
"Are you surprised?"
"No. Unfortunately, I'm not."
"So what's next?"
"I'm going to drink a beer and then I'm going to go to bed. All I know for sure is, I'm getting closer. I can almost smell it. One day pretty soon I'm going to get one more piece and when I put it in the puzzle, it will all make sense."
"I hope it's damn soon," Rodrigo said.
"And I'm going to be looking at people at work a lot closer now. I couldn't get a good look at this bastard tonight but I do have a general idea of his size and the way he walks and carries himself."
"Cruz, do you like what you do?" Rodrigo asked.
"Do I like looking in the faces of little girls who've been murdered? Hell no, I don't."
"You liked police work when you started. You strapped on a gun and went out the door full of energy and enthusiasm."
"Yeah, at first I thought I could make everything right in my little corner of the world. I was dumb and naïve."
"When you were leaving last night I could see a little bit of that man," Rodrigo said.
"I don't see that man much anymore. Your eyes are dead a lot of the time, Cruz. It worries me."
"It's a fact, police work, anywhere in the world, can destroy a man. Day after day, year after year, we see nothing but the worst in people. After about three years many leave it to save what's left of themselves. It's hard on families, too. But tonight it felt like I was closing in on him."
"I remember when you first started in the D.F. you said the wages were pretty lousy. Why did you stay all these years?"
"Shit, in the D.F. entry-level cops make dirt, around $4,000 pesos a month. That's why so many of them shake down traffic stops, they're raising enough to feed their kids their next meal. When we got married, Beatriz made more than I did. As you make rank it gets better though. There was enough money from what papa left us that I put myself through some extra training. So that helped me make detective by the time the babies came, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to stay in police work. By the time you get to captain, it pays pretty well. I've always wanted to provide for them as best as I could. Police work is all I know," Cruz answered.
"Understandable. And I'm sure you're good at it, you would have to be to have made captain. But your heart isn't in it like it used to be."
"No. That's a fact. About the twenty-third dead girl's face I looked into did it for me. You can't keep doing that and not be different. Especially when you know it's going to keep happening."
"Let me get us another beer," Rodrigo said quietly. "You need some rest, how about a shot of tequila with your beer, it'll help you sleep?"
"Yeah," Cruz said as he took of his shoes and settled into the sofa.
"I lifted her hair off of her face, her eyes were open. She had long eyelashes and fine straight hair. Her teeth had been knocked down her throat. She was fifteen. I sat there looking at her and I knew that there was pure unchangeable evil in the world and at her age she'd seen it."
"Who?" Rodrigo asked from the kitchen.
"The twenty-third one. Her name was Marisol. It was early in the morning when her body was found. Her mother was waiting up when we got there. She was already crying when she opened the door, she knew something was wrong."
"You remember them all?"
"Cruz, don't policemen have to learn to detach themselves from the victims?"
"But these are girls and young women, Rodrigo, close to the ages of my own girls. Think you could do it year after year and not get mad? It was with Marisol that I realized there would be many more girls and many more mothers waiting up for them. And I wasn't going to be able to stop it. For some reason it made me remember the nights I drove home to Sabinas for the weekend. No matter how late it was, Beatriz would still be waiting up for me. She'd look so relieved when I got there."
"I'm sure she was," Rodrigo said.
"We always made love as soon as I got home for the weekend."
Rodrigo sensed that although his brother's conversation was wandering, Cruz would eventually get to what he needed to talk about.
"When it dawned on me that there were people in the Juarez PIM, people that I knew and worked with every day, that were actually helping protect the murderers, I came home that weekend and Beatriz could tell something was different. She asked me what was wrong. I couldn't tell her. What could I say? There's no use? Evil has won?"
"It sure wouldn't have helped her feel at peace while you were gone," Rodrigo said.
"I don't even know which of my own men I can trust, Rodrigo. Son of a bitch, if they're good cops and uncover something and the wrong person is involved, they'll probably end up dead. And they know it. They might even end up dead anyway. And they know that too. Did you know that over two hundred policemen have been murdered in Mexico in the last year alone and not one damn arrest has been made?"
"I've read about some of them. Cartels?"
"Of course. Those damned FBI agents and politicians in the U.S. keep asking why we don't do something about the drug traffickers. The talk is all for the sake of publicity, everyone's doing their part in doing nothing. Shit, they realize as much as we do that the cartels are more powerful than every police department in Mexico and the Army combined. Any cop who really tries is a dead man."
"I remember a few years ago when the Chihuahua state chief of police and his two sons were found murdered right on the border crossing bridge," Rodrigo said.
"The Ruvacalas," Cruz said.
"I don't remember their name. But I remember reading at the time someone was driving their bodies in the trunk of a car from Juarez to El Paso and a US customs officer ordered the car into the inspection lane. So the driver whipped the car around, got out and ran back into Mexico."
"It was rumoured the father cooperated with the FBI or the American Drug Enforcement Agency," Cruz said.
"What happened with that case?" Rodrigo asked.
"Nothing. The Mexican government said the murders had obviously taken place in El Paso since the car had Texas plates on it and was facing toward Mexico. The United States said it had taken place in Mexico since it was Mexican citizens being driven from Mexico toward the border when it was abandoned. Since the car with the bodies in it was actually sitting on the border, neither country ever did anything."
"Unbelievable," Rodrigo said.
"And you never know if somebody you're working with on a case is going to be a cartel leader's protection man the next week, or already is. The cartels are recruiting policemen, offering them a whole lot more money than they'll ever get working for the department. One of our best men went to work for the Orosco cartel last year. God only knows how long he'd really been working for them."
"Dominguez's body guard was a Federale and he has a couple of former soldiers working for him," Rodrigo said.
"I've seen pictures on television and in the papers when a bust is made, all the cops and Army officers are wearing balaclavas. It's pretty damn bad when a country's policemen and soldiers have to hide from drug cartels," Rodrigo said.
"Balaclavas don't help. It doesn't take much for a cartel leader to track down a cop or soldier," Cruz said, pulling his own balaclava out of his pocket.
"Do you wear that?" Rodrigo asked.
"Not often. How many men my size work for PIM? They'd just have to put somebody watching the door for a day."
"Mexican reporters are pretty much in the same situation as policemen," Rodrigo said.
"I know. More than a dozen reporters have been killed after a story they wrote about a cartel was published. And to answer your question about who stands up, nobody stands up and says something about it. Everyone knows what would happen to them and what little good it would do. You do what you can do as quietly and as long as possible. It's like an ant that keeps running up behind a rogue lion and biting him in the nuts. The lion barely notices. But that ant knows he has to do something," Cruz said.
"And maybe someday there will be more ants," Rodrigo said distractedly.
"The Gonzalez men are low-life, low-witted crooks, they're not the planners. But they do have the answers to the questions I have about why and who. Once I have the answer to even one of those questions, the other answers will follow."
"It was with Marisol that I understood that there were going to be more bodies and that I wasn't going to be able to stop it. But it was with Fabiola that I made up my mind that I was going to get revenge for them."
"Cruz, we're talking about the cartels and the government. For the love of God man, what the hell can a couple of smart-ass chilango boys do about it," Rodrigo said.
"There's no honour in any group that kills women or protects men who do. Underneath, they're nothing but mongrel pack dogs. And pack dogs will turn on each other."
"So you think we can do something to make them turn on each other?" Rodrigo asked.
"Yes I do, I don't know what yet, but it will come to us."
"Well for God's sake think fast, we're coming up on a fork in the road."
"With street dogs, throw a bone out in the middle of
them and they'll fight over it. We're going to find the right people, we'll figure out their weakness, then we'll know what kind of bone to throw."
"That money I'm working on is a pretty big bone."
"I hope so," Cruz said.
"I'll sleep on that. Now, get off the couch, I need some sleep and so do you, you've got to work tomorrow," Rodrigo said.
"Cruz, I need to go back to the bar for a couple of days," Rodrigo said the next morning.
"And I need to go to El Paso," Cruz answered.
"What's up in El Paso?"
"I'm going to see the Chihuahua lady again."
"I was wondering why you didn't have much to say after your first date," Rodrigo said, a grin on his face.
"Because it wasn't any of your business."
"Well, well, well," Rodrigo chuckled.
"Shut up with the well, well, well."
"You know, it is alright. It's not any kind of betrayal of Beatriz's memory, in case that's what's making you so frigging defensive. She'd be the first one to tell you to go on with your life. When Cruz made no response, he continued, "But is this a complication you don't really need right now, Cruz?"
"Isn't this funny, you're the one lecturing me."
"Don't try to change the subject on me. You do that so damn often, it's irritating. This is important. From here on out, we're in this together. So let me remind you of what you told me, there can't be any secrets between us, a secret is a risk."
"Yes, it could be a complication. I fully realize that. But I'm being careful to make sure there isn't any traceable connection from me to her. Frankly, Rodrigo, I just don't want to give it up right now. It's been a long time since Beatriz left. I've been miserable and lonely and…" Cruz seemed unable to finish explaining it.
"Ok," Rodrigo said softly.