From the author of The Power of the Dog comes The Cartel, a gripping, true-to-life story of power, corruption, revenge, and justice spanning the past decade of the Mexican-American drug wars. Read an extract ahead of the book’s release on the 25th June.
In District, Guatemala
November 1, 2012
Keller thinks he hears a baby cry.
The sound is just audible over the muted rotors as the helicopter comes in low toward the jungle village.
The cry, if that is what he’s hearing, is shrill and sharp, a call of hunger, fear, or pain.
Perhaps loneliness— it is that loneliest time of the night, the predawn darkness when the worst dreams come, the sunrise seems far off, and the creatures that inhabit both the real world and the darker edges of the unconscious prowl with the impunity of predators who know that their prey is helpless and alone.
The cry lasts only moments. Maybe the mother came in, picked up the child, and cradled it in her arms. Maybe it was Keller’s imagination. But it’s a reminder that there are civilians down there— women and children mostly, a few old men and women— who will soon be in harm’s way.
The men in the chopper check the loads on their M- 4 rifles to make sure the clips are solidly fixed and another one firmly duct- taped to the handle. Underneath the combat helmets and night- vision goggles and “bone- phones,” their faces are blackened. Below the ceramic- plate protective vests they wear camouflaged cargo pants with big pockets that hold tubes of energy gel, laminated satellite photos of the village, compression pads if things go bad and they have to stanch the bleeding.
An assassination mission on foreign soil— things could go bad.
The men are in another world, that pre- mission tunnel vision that natural fighters go into like a trance. The twenty- man team— split up in two MH- 60 Black Hawks— are mostly former SEALs, Delta Force, Green Berets— the elite. They’ve done this before— in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia.
Technically, they’re all private contractors. But the shell company, a security firm out of Virginia, is a thin screen that the media will rip right through if this goes sick and wrong.
In a few moments the men will lower themselves down fast ropes into the village near their target. Even with the element of surprise, there’ll be a fire-fight. The narco gunmen are protecting their boss and for him they’ll give up their lives. And the sicarios are well armed with AK- 47s, rocket launchers, and grenades, and know how to use them. These sicarios aren’t just thugs, but special forces veterans themselves— trained at Fort Benning and elsewhere. It’s possible that some of the men in the chopper trained some of the men on the ground.
People will be killed.
Appropriate, Keller thinks.
It’s the Day of the Dead.
Now the men hear another sound— the pop of small- arms fire. Looking down, they see muzzle flashes cut through the darkness. A firefight has broken out in the village prematurely— they hear shouted orders and small explosions.
It’s bad— this wasn’t supposed to happen. The mission is compromised, the element of surprise gone, the chance of completing the job without taking casualties probably gone with it. Then a red streak comes up out of the night.
A loud bang, a flash of yellow light, and the helicopter jolts sideways like a toy that’s been hit by a bat.
Shrapnel sprays, exposed wires spark, the ship is on fire.
Red flame and thick black smoke fill the cabin.
The stench of scorched metal and burned flesh.
One man’s carotid artery spurts in rhythm with his racing heartbeat. Another keels over, shrapnel obscenely jutting from his crotch, just below his protective vest, and the team medic crawls across the deck to help. Now the voices come from grown men— howls of pain, fear, and rage as tracers fly up and rounds smack the fuselage like a sudden rainstorm.
The chopper spins crazily as it falls toward the earth.
Extract taken from The Cartel, Don Winslow (William Heinemann) out 25th June. The Cartel is dedicated to the many journalists murdered or who ‘disappeared’ in Mexico during the period covered in this novel.