Markus Naerheim
Markus Naerheim

Spoiler alert! - Read Chapter 6

Bay of Hope - Chapter 7

7

 

After he had emptied the guns hunting game and his food ran out, Abel decided to go to the city, in this case Culiacán, where it would be possible for him to stay in a cheap hotel for under a hundred pesos a night while he restocked ammunition and supplies. But the real reason for going was to visit the shrine of Jesus Malverde to pray and offer him gifts. Jesus Malverde was a bandit from the early twentieth century who helped those in need, particularly people living on the fringes of society. Perhaps Malverde could give him a sign of what he should do next?

Located on the outskirts of town near the railroad tracks, the shrine of Malverde was a humble concrete building painted green and in slightly better condition than the home Abel had grown up in. When he pulled into the dirt lot on the side of the road, he was not alone. Among the other visitors to the shrine were women and men whose worn features and mirthless faces indicated a lifetime of suffering. Seeing them, Abel thought of the refrain about God never giving out more than people could handle, and realized that some people, in spite of receiving a double helping of shit, still managed to survive. His own helping was growing, but he was not without resources. Though he was not a valiente, he was young, ambitious and clever enough to survive.

Abel approached the shrine and went inside. Surrounding the handsome bust of Malverde were shelves and glass cases full of offerings, including photographs, bottles of tequila, locks of hair, letters, gold and silver rings and chains, prosthetic limbs, flowers, low denomination peso bills, ammunition, and even an automatic rifle. Malverde surveyed the scene with his film star poise, the hint of a smirk underneath his well-trimmed moustache. The visitors stopped in front of the bust, crossed themselves, and left an offering of their own: a pack of cigarettes, some pesos, a photograph. For a moment Abel stood there alone staring into Malverde’s eyes. Then he reached under his collar and removed the cross from his neck and put it in front of the bust. He was being reborn and hopefully Malverde would give him a new direction in life.

Outside, a black SUV with tinted windows pulled up in the dirt and three men got out. The oldest of them, perhaps in his forties, walked briskly toward the shrine. He wore aviator sunglasses, a cowboy shirt tucked into his jeans, ostrich skin boots, and in his hand was a paper bag. Neither of his companions wore sunglasses and both were armed with pistols in their belts. One was short and stocky with a shaved head and his right arm tattooed with La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death. He wore an unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt, tank top, jeans and sneakers. The other man was tall and thin with a mustache and gelled hair, wearing neatly pressed khaki’s, a long-sleeved collared shirt, and polished dress shoes. The three men came in and stood next to him, casting appraising glances at the two handguns stuck in front and back of his jeans.

            “Have you asked?” the man with the sunglasses said.

            Abel looked over at him.

            “Yes, and I gave him my cross.”

            “You don’t want to carry it anymore?” the man said, smiling.

            “No, I don’t.”

            The man removed a bottle of tequila and a carton of cigarettes from the bag and placed them on the floor in front of the bust. Then, surprisingly, he took a gun from his belt and put it on top of Abel’s cross.

            “A compadre died,” he said. “You must know what it’s like.”

            “Yes, I lost a brother.”

            “Are you from Culiacán?”

            “No. I’m from the monte.”

            “What are you doing here?”

            “Asking for help.”

            “I notice you’re armed.”

            “Yes.”

            “Have you killed?”

            “Yes. I killed the man who killed my brother. Now I can’t return.”

            “I could use a man with experience like you. You see that gun? It belonged to one of my men. Now he is dead.”

            “What do you need?”

            “Help me with my business. You must have come to see Malverde for a reason. He is our protector. I give him gifts so he will help me. Perhaps this is his way of helping us both. I put my faith in him and he has never failed me.”

            Abel studied the narco, his two agents who were now smoking and watching the entrance, and the bust of Malverde. It almost seemed to him that he saw Malverde nod. In one week Abel had gone from being a simple farmhand to a killer, and now he was being offered a job in the drug trade. He knew about the drug trade. It had been a staple industry of the state since he was born, though the town where he had killed Fausto and the surrounding ranchos had never been involved in it, unlike other ranchos and towns of the monte where they grew crops for the traffic, mostly marijuana, but also poppies for heroin, and where the police and politicians looked the other way for a bribe. It was a deal with the devil, or more accurately death, but he no longer had any choice.

            “I am a powerful man and Culiacán is a dangerous city. You’ve been lucky. Because we are visiting Malverde, I am in a good mood. If you accept my offer you will not regret it. If you join us you will not have any problem in the city. You will have a place to live, and money to spend on tequila and women. Ahora, que dices?

             “Okay. It’s a deal,” Abel said, thereby becoming an agent for one of the most powerful drug cartels in the country.

            “I will call you Cruz. I am Sergio Sacramonte. You can call me Tigre. You may know me already from the newspapers. I am the patrón of the Sacramonte Cartel. And these are my lieutenants, Mirada and Hielo. We say that Mirada sees everything and Hielo has no feelings. They are the best of my men.”

Mirada smiled in a predatory way, revealing several gold teeth. Upon closer inspection, he was wall-eyed, which made his presence even more disconcerting. Hielo, with his indigenous features and a physique one only acquired in prison, did not smile.  

Cruz looked at Malverde for reassurance. He had of course heard of the Sacramonte Cartel, one of a handful of criminal organizations in Mexico that controlled the drug trade. These men were a completely different class of people. In order to arrive at the psychic borderland they inhabited, Cruz would have to undergo an alchemical transformation by amputating his emotions and suspending all belief in morality and ethical behavior.

Though fate had forced Abel to fend for himself, a vast abyss separated him from these men who had given up their souls to a life of violence. Cruz knew he was not like them and they knew that as well; nevertheless, youthful bravado kept him standing upright, staring them in the eye, without visible shaking, while in the pit of his stomach Cruz felt panic for what had been lost from one moment to the next. There was no turning back. He had made a commitment, and the baptism and name sharing meant he was inside now with the door closed behind him. Not some small-time pusher or member of a street gang, but the Sacramonte Cartel. Perhaps it was better this way. If he had joined a small-time gang, the Sacramonte would have likely killed him.

Though they were only in their thirties, Mirada and Hielo’s faces were already shaped by their actions into those of monsters: the former with the teeth of a shark, the emaciation of obsession, and eyes that glowed insanity; the latter stone-faced with eternal contempt, eyes of unfathomable darkness, and a body of steely flesh forged on privation’s anvil. In spite of his affable demeanor and pampered appearance, Tigre was no doubt a ruthless predator true to his name. There was something even more frightening about this man who could smile and laugh and yet kill indiscriminately and keep extremely dangerous and unpredictable men under his control.

These men and others in the cartel would give Cruz an education that would transform him into their amoral brother. He had been aware of this destiny since his time on the mountain. It was what had driven him to Malverde’s shrine. Though he was sickened by the evil emanating from these men, his gut told him that he had made the right decision. This was the man he was meant to be; if he wanted to keep his pride and earn some measure of respect and success, there was no other choice.

In spite of their sinister appearance, Cruz realized that the veteran sicarios had once been in his position. They had made choices in their lives that had led them here, or decisions had been made for them, and they had chosen to embrace the darkness they carried in their hearts. And now it was happening to him. The darkness was coming. With the guns in his belt, and the knowledge that he was protected by Tigre and peer to the other sicarios, albeit a novice, a surge of adrenaline pulsed through Cruz’s body: a feeling he had only experienced once before when he murdered Fausto Ramirez. Still, that killing had been too much for his nerves, and he had broken down and wept on the mountain as the tension, fear and guilt over what he had done overwhelmed him. But within that emotional weakness was a kernel of immense satisfaction at having the courage to take revenge and end another man’s life. And now he would be a sicario like the others: a killer of men.

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