Authors: Massimo Carlotto,Christopher Woodall
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright Â© 2001 by Edizioni E/O
First publication 2013 by Europa Editions
Translation by Christopher Woodall
Il corriere colombiano
Translation copyright Â© 2013 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
THE COLOMBIAN MULE
Translated from the Italian
by Christopher Woodall
Somehow the Colombian knew he was fucked the moment he met the cop's gaze. He recognized that look. He had seen it a thousand times on the streets of BogotÃ¡. It was that special look cops reserved for suspects just before they stopped them. He glanced around.
The other passengers from the Air France ParisâVenice flight were hanging around the carousel, chattering among themselves, joking and laughing. Just like genuine tourists. In a crowd of 150 people, the cop had singled out his face as the one that didn't fit. The intuition of a true professional. The Colombian cast a sidelong glance at the cop and saw he was still staring at him. A bolt of panic shot into the pit of his stomach, crammed as it was with cocaine: pure, Colombian cocaine, the best on the market.
He swore beneath his breath. He had been told there was no need to worry. That entering Italy, landing at Venice, was a breeze. That at Christmas, it was a cinch. The airport would be crawling with tourists and the cops would be too well stuffed with lasagna and panettone to bother chasing mules with bellies full of coke. That's what he had been told. So on Christmas Day he had caught the flight out of BogotÃ¡, changed planes and passports in Paris and arrived in Venice on Boxing Day. When, supposedly, the cops would still be digesting.
The cop winked at his colleagues in the customs box and motioned with his chin towards the Colombian, just to jack up the tension in the mule's guts. They were all staring at him now. Despite his efforts to smother it, a spasm of fear flashed across his face. He was breaking into a sweat, just a fine film on his forehead and upper lip. Precisely what the cops expected of him.
The Colombian beat off an impulse to make a run for it and forced himself to stay calm. The only way out was through the security gates and onto the runways. He wouldn't make it a hundred meters before they snatched him. He took a deep breath. Then another. Hell, there was no way they could know he was a drug runner; maybe all they wanted was to check his passport. The coke was well stashed. It had taken him the best part of an hour to swallow the pelletsâhe had made them good and tough so they would withstand the cabin pressure. He didn't want them exploding mid-flight, killing him somewhere over the Atlantic, didn't want to go the same way as Christobal, that poor son of a bitch from the same BogotÃ¡ barrio.
The baggage arrived and the passengers formed a neat line. The sniffer dog walked around a few suitcases looking bored. Nobody got stopped. No, it was him the cops were waiting for.
âPassport, please,' asked the one behind the glass.
The mule handed over a passport that had once belonged to a careless Spanish tourist. Until, that is, a couple of velvety-fingered Colombians had brushed up against him on a bus. The cop behind the glass glanced at the document then handed it to the one who had been staring at the mule all along. A smile of satisfaction crept across his face. Anyone could see the photo had been switched. This South-American-looking guy had aroused his suspicions from the start. You could smell he was a drug mule a mile off. In the two years he had been working at Venice airport, he must have seen forty or fifty of them come through. For 2000 dollars, they set off, their guts stuffed with coke, convinced that all they had to do to pass as tourists was put on their only decent suit.
The cop signaled to the Colombian to follow, and led him into a room full of smoke and men in uniforms. They sat him down and surrounded him.
âThat passport's a fake and you're a drug runner,' the cop said in a mix of Italian and Spanish. âWhere are you keeping the coke? In your bags or your belly?' He poked at the mule with his index finger, aiming just above his navel.
The mule looked at the cops' faces and saw there was no way out. âAquÃ,' he answered, pointing at his stomach.
âWho were you delivering it to?'
The Colombian removed one of his shoes and tore off a strip of tape that had been holding a piece of paper folded in four under the heel.
The cop opened it out. âPensione Zodiaco, Via Bafile 117, Jesolo.'
Three of the cops then started yelling at the mule, demanding he tell them who he had been taking the drugs to. They wanted to squeeze the most out of the moment. The Colombian shrugged his shoulders and explained that there was a room booked in his name. He was supposed to go there, expel the pellets, and wait for the Italian he had met in BogotÃ¡, the one who had recruited him. He had said his name was Antonio. He had never given his surname. He was about fifty, medium-height, a bit fat, with light brown hair.
A plainclothes cop who had been in the background now snapped his fingers. âPanierello, call Captain Annetta at the Guardia di Finanza and tell him I'm on my way over. Then see that this gentleman is escorted to the Jesolo Commissariat. I want him kept nice and close to where the meet's supposed to take place.' He moved in closer to the Colombian. âWhat's your real name?'
âGuillermo ArÃas Cuevas,' the mule replied promptly.
âHow old are you?'
âWhere are you from?'
The cop gave him a playful tap on the cheek. âWell done, kid. You didn't waste our time. The court will take that into consideration.'
ArÃas Cuevas stared at the cop and shook his head. The son of a bitch was insulting him. It wasn't to grease up to any court that he had decided to cooperate. And it sure as hell wasn't prison that scared him. It was La TÃa, that pussy-eating aunt of his. She was going to be more than a little pissed when she discovered he had taken off with 800 grams of her coke.
Opening his door, Ruben PÃ¡ez found himself standing face to face with Aurelio Uribe BarragÃ¡n, also known as âAlacrÃ¡n', the scorpion, for the lightning speed with which he worked a knife. He was the head of La TÃa's gang of killers. As soon as Ruben saw La TÃa and her latest lover standing alongside AlacrÃ¡n, he knew something had gone wrong. The plan that he and Guillermo had put together to make some extra cash must have gone wrong.
âAren't you going to ask us in, Ruben?' asked La TÃa politelyâa touch too politely for someone who ran a drug trafficking operation.
La TÃa and her girlfriend settled themselves on the bed, the only soft place in the rat's nest of a apartment that Ruben would have done anything to escapeâeven if it meant ripping off the boss.
La TÃa lit a cigarette. There was a time when she had been known as SeÃ±ora Rosa, Rosa Gonzales Cuevas. Then Guil- lermo, her sister's eldest, had come along and started calling her TÃa, auntie. And everyone had joined in.
She opened her French designer handbag and extracted a flat plastic bottle of Blanco, a low-grade rum that tasted of aniseed. She could have afforded more sophisticated liquor but had drunk Blanco all her life and would touch nothing else. It was a family thing. For generations in the Cauca valley her people had grown the sugar cane used in Blanco. She unscrewed the cap, took a long pull and handed the bottle to the girl, then surveyed the dark red varnish on her long fingernails.
âMy contacts in the police have informed me that that punk nephew of mine has got himself arrested in Italy, at Venice airport to be precise, carrying a fair bit of coke. It wouldn't happen to be my coke, would it? Which right now you and Guillermo were supposed to be distributing?'
As though in a conjuring trick, a long special-forces dagger appeared in AlacrÃ¡n's left hand.
âI don't know, I swear it. I swear on my mother,' Ruben said, staring at the blade. But he gave himself away by pissing in his pants.
Aisa, La TÃa's lover, burst into giggles, then smothered her mouth with a chubby hand. She wasn't much to look at and La TÃa had had a lot better, but this one was a real rubia, blonde between her legs too, just the way La TÃa liked them.
La TÃa's tone of voice was unchanged. âYou're too scared to lie, Ruben. It's in your interest to talk. If you like, you can pin all the blame on Guillermo. I don't like my employees trying to rip me off.'
Ruben had no desire whatever to test the sharpness of AlacrÃ¡n's blade, so he told La TÃa how in September Guil- lermo had met an Italian at SeÃ±ora Sayago's establishment. He had gone there to drop off the usual consignment of coke and as always had hung around as long as possible. SeÃ±ora Sayago's was the most exclusive whorehouse in town: the girls were beauÂtiful, the champagne was French and the sheets were changed after every john.
The Italian had come looking for a girl to take with him to Pleasure City, Tokyo's red-light district. They got to talking and when the Italian had found out that Guillermo was La TÃa's nephew, he made him a business proposition. It sounded straightforward and lucrative. All he had to do was take a little coke off his aunt, smuggle it into Italy and sell it to the Italian. The difference in the price of coke in Colombia and Europe would go straight into Guillermo's pocket while the rest of the money would return to La TÃa, who would never know the difference. Guillermo had it in mind to do the trip two or three times a year, making thirty or forty thousand dollars on each run. Enough to set him up on his own, make him a name among the narcos. This was Guillermo's first run and he had decided to take advantage of the fact that it was Christmas.
Ruben licked his dry lips. He reckoned he had told it pretty well. He had skated over his own involvement and failed to mention how Guillermo had presented himself to the Italian as a big-time trafficker. He hoped La TÃa had swallowed it.
But Rosa Gonzales Cuevas hadn't got to the top of a world dominated by ruthless machos by falling for the kind of stories that little boys like Ruben made up. She was a survivor from the Medellin cartel, which had been defeated at the end of a bloody war by the Cali cartel, which had then gained the backing of the new government and the Yanks. Following the death of Pablo Escobar, La TÃa had fled to BogotÃ¡ with 400,000 dollars belonging to the organization. It had been just enough to put her back in business, hire some killers and find a blonde chick pretty enough to be seen on her arm. âDo you know who the Italian is?' asked La TÃa.
âNo. I've never seen him,' said Ruben.
âYou got nothing else to say to me? Maybe that you were in it too?'
Ruben shook his head. La TÃa took Aisa's hand, stood up and made for the door. AlacrÃ¡n stayed behind and slit the boy's throat, using one of those left-to-right slashes that had made him famous throughout Guayabetal when, as an army NCO, he had dealt with peasants who supported the guerrillas.
The lawyer was slim and smartly dressed. He removed his gloves and overcoat, keeping his scarf around his neck. His name was Renato Bonotto. I had worked for him before. He paid well and liked to win. His latest case had to be something pretty big to make him come looking for me during the last weekend of the Christmas vacation.
âWhat are you drinking?' he asked, pointing at my glass.
I looked at his manicured index finger. âSeven parts CalvaÂdos to three of Drambuie,' I replied. âA lot of ice and a slice of green apple to chew on once I've emptied the glass. It's called an Alligator and was invented by a barman in Cagliari, to add a little joy to my life.'