They were not law students, this was true.
La gente nueva, people called them. Gabriel, Meme explained, was a stellar worker, a firme vato who supplied him with vehicles and guns from Texas. Gabriel thought back to his Sunday-night cruises as a kid on San Bernardo Avenue, when he used to ask the older boys which ride belonged to which smuggler. La gente nueva were not the kind to take no for an answer. Gabriel continued: it was a shame to go like this, but there were worse ways. With a growing drug habit of his own—some girls at school had introduced him to Rohypnol, party pills they called roches —Gabriel had fallen easily into stealing cars and trucks around town, then driving them across the border to sell to Meme.
They wore all black. As they headed back to Vicente Guerrero Avenue, which would return them to the international bridge, a Mexican police truck pulled them over. They swam and negotiated obstacles: mud, tunnels, ropes, and walls.
On the basis of these drills, more than half the recruits were chosen for noncombat training, to be lookouts and patrols. Now, in the restaurant, Miguel asked who Gabriel knew in Laredo, and by his tone it was clear that he meant high-profile people in the underworld. The resulting debt, considered a theft, led to the initiation of hostilities. It was earlyand Gabriel had heard the rumors swirling about a new group taking over in Nuevo Laredo. Wences had not been invited to the camp in the end, so it was Gabriel who got into the caravan of Suburbans heading south through Mexico.
There was no shame in not knowing how to fight.
Twice a week, in the middle of the night, camp leaders roused them to pull weeds for new soccer fields. He nodded and threw out some names. Gabriel fell, was helped up. La Barbie passed up college and ed a group of smugglers, shipping marijuana and then cocaine to Georgia and beyond.
Chuy Resendez. A month had passed since the meeting with Miguel. This is the Company, the true shit in Mexico. Erased from the map. It was Wences who had proposed taking the Jeep Cherokee that day. Hundreds of contras —Sinaloan enemies rounded up in raids—had also been brought to the camp as prisoners. Ten minutes later, they arrived at another location, got out, and were escorted into some kind of structure. You were there to learn. Gabriel was interested; Wences remained largely silent.
Known as the adiestramiento, or the diestra, the training camp, located near Monterrey, was staffed with Mexicans, Israelis, and Colombians.
Growing up in El Azteca—or Lazteca, as it was known—a neighborhood overlooking the Rio Grande, he had seen the kind of money there was to be made from drugs going north. A caravan of black Suburbans arrived on the side of the road, police lights flashing. Valdez Villareal was then advanced kilos by the Gulf Cartel and only paid for Valdez Villareal then convinced the Gulf Cartel to advance kilos. They were left alone. Who were you selling that car to? More men were getting out of the Suburbans.
Terrified, and without roches to steel his confidence, Wences stared back; his sober eyes looked to Gabriel as if they had a conscience of their own and wanted to jump out of their sockets. But Gabriel sensed an opportunity.
Nuevo Laredo is still mixed. On the morning run, whoever came in last owed one hundred push-ups. Valdez Villareal failed to make any payment for this shipment. He stepped closer to Gabriel. Meme had never met Wences, but he told Miguel that he could vouch for anyone whom Gabriel called a pareja, a partner.
Gabriel nodded. Miguel explained that the cop the boys had tried to sell the troca to was a contra, an enemy, and had been borrado del mapa the day. Gabriel wore jeans and a white T-shirt, as instructed, and left everything else behind, including his cellphone and wallet.
Perhaps his connection to Meme could be converted into something bigger. He dialed his older brother. It looked like a cabal leriza, a horse stall made of brick. More questions, more bullshit answers. Te crees bien verga. Meme introduced Miguel to the boys as a comandante for Los Zetas.
The yes man
Gabriel told Wences that he loved him and that it was good to have been friends. Gabriel now made the connection: all those stolen trucks and smuggled guns were going, ultimately, to la gente nueva.
The Colombian mercenaries taught combat skills: how to trap a car in an intersection; how to jump between moving cars; how to shoot through armored vehicles by unloading a clip beneath the door handle; how to walk and shoot accurately at the same time, minimizing your profile. They were cleaning town, wiping out dealers and putting a halt to all local drug selling.
Miguel, surprised, knocked Gabriel down with a powerful hook.
No hard feelings, eh? The cops made a call.
More Suburbans arrived. Too calm. In the illumination of headlights, a cloud of dust rose and hung in the air, moved forward, then dissolved. The twenty or so who remained were to be trained as sicarios, assassins.
Gabriel and Wences were handcuffed, led into the brush, and told to stand still. Moises Garcia.
The seventy or so young men, ranging in age from fifteen to thirty but dressed identically in jeans and T-shirts, sat on wooden benches and listened. In the afternoon, they played soccer, and then everyone took turns boxing. A caravan of black Suburbans arrived on the side of the road, police lights flickering. Sure, Gabriel had said, always game to expand his network. Beyond the open door was a circular driveway and what appeared to be a large ranch, an ejido with a bunch of small houses on it.
Gabriel and Wences had been searched for guns, but Gabriel still had his cellphone. Richard Jasso. It was dark. Meme had shown him the other side: the demand for cars and weapons in Mexico. Demasiado tranquilo.
Valdez Villareal was then advanced kilos of cocaine by the Gulf Cartel and later paid for those in full. The Zetas. He slapped Gabriel on the back. Gabriel and Wences were blindfolded and put in the back of an SUV. He took a grenade off his chest belt, tossed it from hand to hand like a tennis ball.
As dinner wound down and the teenagers prepared to return to Laredo, Miguel told them that Meme would be in touch about the camp. For the recruits, getting accepted into the Company, making good on promises to family, traveling with respected men, returning home to parents and wives as a somebody—whatever they fantasized about, it all seemed possible on this day.
The reclutas, recruits, slept on hard cots, 25 to a compound, and were given a loaf of bread and a banana every morning. The blindfolds removed, their eyes adjusted to a narrow, windowless room. They watched Miguel confer with the others outside, holding the grenade against his hip like a pitcher cups a baseball. Impressed, Miguel mentioned a training camp for recruits in southern Mexico.