House of Death

There is one chair in the room, and they sit him in it. He pulls out his wallet. He's looking for a number. A phone number, an address. That is why he is here. Fernando the lawyer. Fernando the drug trafficker. He's got a load of marijuana, and they want it.

Fernando thinks he's in the company of friends. He thinks this man standing in front of him, this Lalo, is going to deliver the marijuana for him to New York. That's what the numbers are for. They are contacts. They are the people Lalo will call, the people who are waiting for the load. But this little room with the blinds drawn and the light streaming in from the kitchen window, this is a trap.

Fernando doesn't know that two members of the Chihuahua State Police are here in this house, hiding. He doesn't know that they are here to kill him.

It is August and these white walls are baking. Outside, a thick layer of dust and smoke hangs over Juarez. It is from the burning garbage in the slums and the steaming factories down here in the valley and the smelters belching their chemicals down along the highway.

Someone asks Fernando for some candy, which is narco slang for personal-use cocaine, and he says, "Of course." And then suddenly, while Fernando's got his head down, one of the cops emerges from the back. Fernando doesn't see him coming, doesn't notice the gun until it is pressed hard up against his face. "No!" he screams. "Why? Please don't kill me."

There had been some talk of using a gun, but they decided it would be too loud. They are in a quiet middle-class neighborhood, not far from a Radisson hotel, and someone would hear the pop of the gun. But he's screaming now, and they've got to shut him up. The other cop comes across the room in a flash and begins frantically wrapping the tape around Fernando's mouth, trying to stifle the screams. Around and around the tape goes. Now Fernando is fighting with all he's got. He's kicking and his arms are flailing wildly. So they bring him hard to the floor and he's thrashing about and they are having a hard time holding him down, and Lalo, with his little mustache and his double chin, he's just standing there, leaning against the television stand. One of them looks up at Lalo with a glare that suggests he better get down there and help. So Lalo does what he can to keep Fernando's legs still while one of the cops wraps an extension cord around Fernando's neck. He's pulling it tight, and the veins in Fernando's neck are bulging and Fernando's kicking for his life and the cord snaps.

"What now?" the cop asks. Lalo looks around the room and notices a plastic bag. The cop grabs it and pulls it over Fernando's head. And then they stand and they watch Fernando kick and twitch and gasp, until finally, he's lying there motionless and someone says, "Are you sure he's dead?"

So one of the cops takes a shovel and whacks Fernando in the back of the neck, and Lalo hears something snap. Maybe they broke his neck. It doesn't matter; he is dead.

They pick him up and hide him under a staircase. They will bury him in the backyard later that night.

Lalo crosses the street and finds Santillan at the little convenience store on the corner. Santillan, known to U.S. intelligence as El Ingeniero, is one of the top bosses in the Juarez cartel. He has thinning dark hair and a mustache. When Lalo first met him down in Guadalajara, he dressed like a cowboy, but now he is a big shot, and he wears a Rolex with diamonds.

Lalo tells him it is done. Fernando, Santillan's childhood friend, is dead. They've got his load of marijuana.

Santillan is pleased. He tells Lalo he is now No. 4 in the Juarez cartel. He takes him to the Big Brother House, which is only for high-ranking members of the cartel. Here, you can have anything you want, Lalo is told. Groceries, beer, women, whatever. Soon, you will meet Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the boss of the cartel.

That evening, Lalo crosses the border into El Paso and tells his handlers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement what he has seen. They listen to a recording he made of the murder, and they transcribe it. They write memos detailing everything Lalo saw, and eventually, these memos will find their way to Washington.

But they do not arrest him for his part in the murder, or deactivate him as an informant, or prepare to arrest Santillan, their target. Instead, they continue with their investigation, and when all is said and done, there will be 11 more bodies buried in the backyard.

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Jesse Hyde
Contact: Jesse Hyde