Excerpt of Mariguano, a novel by Juan Ochoa

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, May 20th, 2013

A closer look at torture in Marijuana drug cartels...

mariguano by juan ochao
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Excerpt from Mariguano, a novel by Juan Ochoa

Instead of going back toward Torreón, I follow my Old Man and Beto out of Durango southwest to Mazatlán. I want to go to the beach while we’re there, but my Old Man tells me that the best he can do for me is let me turn a few cartwheels at the gas station while we refuel if I’m “so excited to see a fucking ocean.” We go along the coast down to Villa Union then to Escuinapa—just like the caballo blanco José Alfredo Jiménez sings about in that corrido, only we’re going south and the horse in the ballad was heading north.  Alongside the road, banana trees, palms, and elephant ear ivies grow like madness. We leave Escuinapa and start making our way up the sierra just as it gets dark. The temperature drops fifteen degrees in as many minutes.

Nobody tells me where we’re going next or if we’re going to stop and sleep before we get there.  I don’t ask. I just act like I know what I’m doing like everyone else in the world. This trip is part of those “big things” Beto was talking about. Big things call for big secrets, but I’ve never heard of any secret that’s been kept for long.

We drive through Acaponeta, Tecuala, Rosamorado, and Tuxpan, eating up little towns all the way to Tepic, Nayarit—where el Chaparro lost that load of weed. We refuel in Tepic.  There’s a kitchen open at the station, and Beto and I go in and buy coffee. When we come out with our coffees, my Old Man is talking to these guys driving a white Grand Marquis with no plates. The Marquis has tinted windows, custom rims, and I can hear the distinct squawk of radio chatter so I know they’re Federales. My Old Man shakes hands with the driver. I only catch a glimpse of the driver’s arm and the side of his head before the window goes up and the car pulls out of the gas station.

My Old Man walks over to us and says, “Ya ’stá,” and then tells me to get in the Monte Carlo and follow behind the Feds. He pulls in behind me, and we drive with me sandwiched between the Chevy and the Marquis out of Tepic and down the dark sierra.

From Tepic we hit Ixtlan del Río. The Marquis is passing cars like they’re standing still and I’m right on its taillights. The Marquis runs blocker for me and stays in the oncoming traffic lane while I make my pass so I can be sure the lane is clear and pass double-trailer rigs around curves and over hills with no danger of hitting anything head on. Down every valley and at all the cross roads there are checkpoints manned with AK-47 toting Feds and crews of madrinas eager to pick our cars apart in search of drugs, weapons, or anything else that might mean cash.  The Marquis stops at each checkpoint and doesn’t move till my car and my Old Man behind me are past the guns, then speeds up to regain the lead on the road through the sierra. We skirt Tequila, Jalisco, and just as dawn hits drive straight into Guadalajara and to el Hotel Las Américas on the edge of town.

Four guys get out of the Marquis. I recognize Armando Espinoza, Polo Remejorado, and Rafael Ronco, but I don’t know the fourth guy. I walk over and say hello.

“¿Qué onda? Hijo,” Armando says and gives me a hug. “You stayed right with me sin jotiar.”

“¿Qué pasó, Armando-broncas? I thought you knew you had an international wheel man behind you.” Armando is new to the clicka that makes up el Comandante Jorge Torres del Rey’s “grupo especial.” I’ve known these guys for as long as I can remember except for Armando, whom I met only a few years ago. He dresses out at about two-fifty and wears a big handlebar mustache. Armando is from Oaxaca, but he’s been in Mexico City so long that he talks like a chilango.

I turn and greet Rafael Ronco or Don Gato as we all call him. “¿Qué habido, mí top cat? You guys still fighting crime?”

Don Gato stops chewing on his tongue and strokes his mustache so that I catch a glimpse of his bottom lip then fixes his coke-bottle glasses and says, “We’re making the criminals pay, that’s for sure.”

“Paying mordidas,” Polo says, “For looking the other way when something may or may not be happening.” Polo pulls up his pants and secures the gun in his waistband. “But we never aid in any criminal activity. We are not baggage handlers like the pinche state police.”

“Someone’s got to fund la Policía Judicial Federal,” Armando says.

Hoy este animal. La Policía Federal is funded by the government,” Polo says. “We collect fines for crimes that will or will not be determined later.” Polo is short and light complexioned and wears tiny wire-framed glasses. He looks a lot like a nerdy high school kid except he has a gun and talks to people like he wants a chance to use it. “You know nothing about the law, Armando.”

“Where’s Memo and the comandante? Are they staying here at this hotel?” I ask.

“They’ll be back later,” Polo says. “They’re making sure some guys we detained sleep warm tonight.”

Armando laughs. “You should see the pinche indios we picked up. I must have shot half a truck load of mineral water up their noses, and they still wouldn’t tell us where they had their mota planted.”

Shooting mineral water up a suspect’s nose is standard procedure for federales. Anyone who gets picked up by the federales will be blindfolded, handcuffed, and laid on their back. Then some guy sits on the prisoner’s chest and stuffs a rag down his throat. The gag is just to prevent the detenido from breathing through his mouth; the Feds could give a fuck if anyone hears a prisoner scream. I think the Feds like to hear the screams. The mineral water is then shaken—some really medieval fuckers put chile pepper into the mineral water—and shot up the detainee’s nose where he can’t help but drown on the agitated soda for the couple of minutes it takes for the fizz to run out. Guys have told me that when the mineral water shoots up the nose and hits the base of the neck it feels like the soul is ripped from the body. While the detainee finishes convulsing and gagging on the club soda, the cattle prod—called the chicharra because it sounds like a cicada humming when activated—is used on the balls to wake the prisoner out of the drowning sensation. This process is repeated over and over until the prisoner confesses to whatever he is being charged with.

The guy sitting on the prisoner’s chest usually isn’t a commissioned fed or a ciento tres like they call each other in their radio code. The federales always have guys working for them called madrinas, godmothers, who administer the beatings.  Madrinas are pseudo-cops who do all the dirty work, frisking cars, shaking down guys at checkpoints, and of course administering “las calentadas.” Torres’ men don’t use madrinas to do their dirty work, and I guess that’s what makes them “el grupo especial.”

In the room, Don Gato stands in front of me and stops chewing on his tongue to smile and stare at me with blood shot eyes made even larger and redder by the thickness of his glasses.  “You missed all the fun last night, Johnny. We made Armando a priest.”

I turn to Armando. “No shit, Armando, I didn’t even know you went to church. Did you have to pay off a cardinal or something?”

“The guys we picked up a few days ago wouldn’t tell us where they had their pot planted or give up any money from what they’d already harvested,” Polo says. “Hardheaded Michoacanos these guys. I was just about to start shooting kneecaps when Memo shows up with a priest’s robe. Armando gets into the robe then takes the blindfold off one of the detainees.”

“You should’ve seen that guy’s face when he saw me standing in front of him dressed like a cura,” Armando says. “Pinche indio thought I was there to give him his last rites. I calm him down and start telling him how papá diosito is mad at him for growing pot. I tell him he might go to hell and the fucking Indian starts crying and starts singing so much about who he’s paying off for his patch that I have to slap the shit out of him to shut him up.”

Don Gato laughs hard then takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “The poor little Indian kept asking me why el señor cura got so mad.”

“We got the patch where they had their pot planted and made them cough up all the cash they had,” Polo says rubbing his palms together.

“What are you guys going to do with all that pot?” I ask.

“We have to burn some of it for the newspapers, but I’m sure you’ll get the rest up there in Reynosa when it’s finished drying,” Armando says.

“So did you let the guys go?”

The smile disappears from Polo’s face and he says, “No. Memo’s taking them to headquarters for booking right now. ¿De cual fumaste, Johnny? What’d you think we’d do with them?”

“I don’t know, I thought you’d let ’em go since you got what you wanted,” I say. “What happens after the booking?”

Beto gets up from the bed and says, “They will be turned over to the DA then to the judge and receive no less than seven years in prison for committing delitos contra la salud.”

I turn to Don Gato and he’s chewing on his tongue nodding to everything Betos says.

“So, you guys beat the shit out of these guys for a few days, take their cash and their pot, scare them into thinking they’re going to hell for all eternity, and you still send them to jail for years?”

“Yeah,” Don Gato says pushing up his glasses.

“But they gave you everything you wanted, why’d you have to send them to jail?”

Don Gato hunches his shoulders and spreads his palms in front of him and says, “That’s our job.”

The phone rings and Polo answers it. Polo hangs up the phone without ever speaking a word and says, “Armando, you’re up first.”

Armando slaps his hands together and lets out a grito then leaves the room. I go over and sit on the bed where my Old Man had been lying and watch each one of the Feds go out and receive their cut of the half a million dollars el comandante Goyo—the guy who holds special dinners for orphans and grows pot practically on the side of the road—sent from Durango.

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author juan ochoaJuan Ochoa is a Mexican born in American. Ochoa currently teaches freshman English at South Texas College. Ochoa lives a mere twenty minute walk from the Rio Bravo where he waits patiently on the banks for the Drug War to end so he can return to his beloved Mexico.

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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).