Okay, she said to herself, take your time, it’s a good presentation, just let it speak for itself.
She signaled for the lights to be dimmed, then walked over to the projector screen and brought up the first slide.
A split screen with two photographs appeared. The left half showed a luxury speedboat, black and sleek in the water and at least thirty feet long. It was just possible to make out the two bodies in the cockpit. The other half of the screen showed a closer view. The first body had been raked with multiple gunshots to the torso, leaving it a blood-soaked mess, and the second, which lay half over the side of the boat, had its throat ripped open. The picture’s impact could be felt throughout the room.
“April nineteenth, last year. Rene Salazaar and one of his brothers. The boat was found by the Coast Guard. The coroner’s report estimated it’d been drifting for more than twenty-four hours before it was discovered. Salazaar’s other brother and two more associates are missing. We think they were on the boat and either conducted the attack themselves or were killed and dumped overboard. Given the length of time since their last sighting, we favor the latter theory. Next.”
The image of the carnage-strewn speedboat disappeared and was replaced by another. This picture, taken from the quayside, showed a dark cloud of smoke billowing from a half-submerged cargo ship about 50 meters from shore.
“September twelfth, the Mariner’s Friend sunk dockside in an explosion in Port of Spain. Maurice Jackson, one of the main drug traffickers in Trinidad and Tobago and some of his senior lieutenants were on board at the time. A substantial amount of cocaine and meta-amphetamines that we believe were on board and bound for the U.S. has yet to be located. Next.”
An aerial shot of the remains of a bombsite.
“February twenty-ninth this year, a major heroin refinery just outside the border town of Conchillo in Mexico. We believe the attack was perpetrated by a small team of well-trained, well-equipped hostiles. They killed the building’s security personnel and virtually obliterated its structure. Next.”
The image of the bloody room disappeared and was replaced by a picture of a large container ship in port. Nothing was obviously wrong and there were puzzled looks around the room.
“July fifteenth, the day before yesterday. The Spirit of Marseilles safely docked in Miami; there was no damage. Slight problem, though, for Rodolfo Dominguez, the largest wholesaler and distributor in the state since Salazaar’s demise. A wiretap yesterday recorded him ranting on his main telephone line. Very out-of-character for the normally reserved Dominguez, but the cause for his outburst soon became clear.” Mesi turned off the overhead projector and signaled for the lights. “As well as the coffee that was on the ship’s manifest, there should have been 3,000-plus kilos of heroin on board. Someone boarded the ship and, in the middle of the night during a heavy storm, eliminated the cartel personnel on board and made off with the drugs.”
“That’s it. Four incidents in fewer than eighteen months. Each was a setback for the Madrigal-Zaragosa Alliance, and we have no idea who’s behind them. We don’t know if these are it, or if they’re only part of a larger picture. What we’ve seen is enough to be of major concern, but if there were more ….”
The attendees considered what they had seen and Mesi’s closing remark. There was a lot to take in, and she sensed that people were still trying to get their bearings.
Allenby was the first to assemble his thoughts. “You’re obviously making a connection between these events but … couldn’t they be a string of unrelated incidents?”
Mesi waited to see if Marshall wanted to take the question, but he gestured for her to address it. “My team monitors cartel activity, trying to identify new trends or strategies as early as possible. We try to discern what way the power structures are changing and then use that to predict future developments. By definition, we’re particularly interested in anything out of the ordinary. What you’ve just seen qualifies.”
“I’d have thought in this environment, where violent criminals and enormous sums of money are not unusual, these episodes would be quite commonplace?” he remarked.
“There’s more order here than you might think. Most of it appears to be down to Luis Madrigal, whom I’m sure you’re all familiar with. He’s worked tirelessly to foster an atmosphere of stability among the various South and Central American cartels. Up to a few years ago, the Colombians and Mexicans particularly had gone their separate ways. Most of that division was as a result of the Mexicans bypassing the main Colombian cartels as a source of cocaine and of their success in fostering their own indigenous heroin industry. Madrigal completely reversed this pattern by proving how everyone could benefit from cooperation.”
“Just in case anyone here doesn’t quite appreciate the breadth of Madrigal’s organization,” Marshall added, “the Alliance he formed with Esteban Zaragosa now comprises groups from more than ten countries. A consequence of his work has been the reduction in occurrence of events like those you’ve just seen.”
“Still, there’s quite a long time frame involved here, doesn’t that reduce the likelihood of them being connected?” Allenby asked.
“I’d have to disagree with you there, sir,” Mesi inwardly cursed herself for phrasing it so bluntly. “A little more than a year in this context really isn’t that long. Besides, there are too many common hallmarks to ignore the possibility that some of these are connected. If you consider the excellent intelligence regarding where and when to strike, the precision in their execution and ….”
“Go on,” Marshall said.
“Perhaps most worryingly of all, as far as we can determine through all of our informants and wiretaps, none of the increasingly larger quantities of drugs involved appear to have surfaced again. Ever.”
The last statement caused Dan Schutterop from the FBI’s Law Enforcement Coordination Office to look up quickly from his folder. “If there were more incidents, say even ten more on a similar scale, and the drugs and the drugs involved were taken out of circulation, what would be the cumulative effect within the U.S.?”
This was the question she’d been dreading.
“Well, fifteen more such episodes in total could be enough to affect availability.” She knew immediately her attempted vagueness would do no good.
“And how’d that impact prices?” Schutterop pressed.
“They’d probably be pushed up.”
“So, enough incidents could result in a drop in the availability of drugs and a general rise in prices, like what’s been reported recently?” Schutterop persisted.
She could feel the mood of the room changing. Some of the attendees would be delighted with what they were hearing, while others would be worried. Quite a few people had gone on the record as saying that little or no bottom-line impact should be expected from Plan Coca. As the Plan’s successes had appeared to mount, the opinions of these critics had grown in influence to the point where some people’s reputations and possibly their positions might be in jeopardy. But if there were a variable of this magnitude at play, then the apparently erroneous predictions could be mitigated, maybe even vindicated.
“Why are we only hearing about this now, if it’s something Agent Mesi contends has been brewing for more than a year?” asked Allenby angrily.
She tried to think of something to say that might defuse the atmosphere, but before she could reply, Arthur Marshall responded, “Diane voiced her concerns to me shortly after the Mexican incident, once she thought she’d spotted a pattern, but I thought it was too early to jump to conclusions.”
“So, do you agree there’s a connection, Arthur?” Allenby asked.
Everyone waited for Marshall’s answer. Mesi had no idea what he would say as the seconds stretched.
“No. No, I don’t think they’re connected. While there are similarities in the attacks, as Diane says, there are also aspects which differ. The drugs dropping out of circulation? Well, that’s also debatable.”
Mesi could have offered further basis for her assertion on this point, but given the mood of the room, she kept silent and quietly made her way back to her seat.
“So what, you called us all in here because you don’t believe there’s a connection?” Schutterop asked.
“I think it’s important to keep an open mind. Regardless of whether these events are related, attacks of this magnitude have implications for everyone in this room in one way or another. We’ve been criticized in the past for not sharing information, so that’s what we’re doing.”
“I appreciate that, Arthur. Apologies, but I’m under some time pressure,” said a smiling Allenby as he stood up.
“Okay, that’s fine. We’ll keep you all updated,” Marshall said, signaling an end to the meeting.
Mesi could see that one or two others might have liked to pursue the conversation further, but after a moment they, too, stood to leave.
WINNER THE JOHN MURRAY SHOW / RTE GUIDE / KAZOO COMPETITION
A brutal conflict unleashed.
Who stands to win?
A bloody massacre at a Mexican heroin refinery; a Miami-bound freight ship hijacked for its cargo of illegal narcotics; the ruthless assassination of a Kosovar drug lord – a war has erupted between two drugs superpowers.
As DEA Agent Diane Mesi investigates she becomes convinced that the conflict is being orchestrated by an unknown third party. But she is marginalised by her colleagues and her judgement is challenged at every turn. Only if she can expose the truth will she be able to stop the violence and save her career.
Michael Larsen is an ex-soldier and hired mercenary who has been contracted to fuel the conflict at every opportunity until it destroys both sides. As he battles his own demons, he hopes that by directing the violence he will attain some measure of redemption.
But neither Mesi nor Larsen know the full extent of the forces at play or of what is truly at stake. As they each pursue their own resolution, the violence escalates and they become increasingly vulnerable to the dangers that stalk them.
Incitement won the John Murray Show / RTE Guide / Kazoo Competition from over 500 entries.
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Thriller
Rating – R
More details about the author