July Dogs

Tag: Cocaine

Between Borders (1984)


Dunn was waiting, stretched out naked on a chenille covered motel bed too short for his length, gazing at a television. Between his dangling feet Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane were blasting away with pistols, shooting for the hearts of love, betrayal and each other in Orson Welles’ black&white funhouse mirror maze.

Finally The End glowed on the screen in slanted script across Welles’ back as he walked from the dead, toward the Pacific, past Play Land. Dunn looked away from the television and up to the ceiling–a freshly painted pale blue that deftly bore November morning light from twin windows open to the Atlantic. It was an old fashion room, probably built the year he was born, 1945. A high ceiling supported by thickly plastered masonry walls, now also newly blue.With its bulky blonde oak furniture and weary barkcloth drapes fading with anemic tropical foliage, the room was anomalous relief from the American motel mantra, a monotonous rosary of air-conditioning and air traffic along which Dunn traveled, formica cell to waiting formica cell, a numbing chain that feigned mobility, linked by airport bars and rental cars from empty morning parking lots to Interstates in heat and rain, with coffee shops and truck stops and filling stations and rest stops to some terminus of sodium vapor and neon where the deal was done and then it was back along the beads, the motels and the motels and the motels….

Dunn rolled off the bedspread he hadn’t bothered stripping down and crossed to the windows. He rested his thin hands on his knees and leaned forward until his nose pressed the corroded window screen. He smelled the rust and the sea and remembered his first sight of the ocean as a child of the landlocked plains brought down to the Gulf by a his parents and two other tipsy adults.  It was then, on that day, he felt The Outsider for the first time, thinking himself more a clever foundling curiosity than child or son.

–Just wanted to get away from Them. And flee. Down the beach, forever gone. Running alongside all that big water breaking and beating. Forever gone. And moving.–

A little thrill shivered through Dunn with the recollection as he peered through the salt-encrusted screen and aw the slate weight rising above a pale shore.  The slat blood odor cut through the oily stink of paint and the smell pulled down thirty years: Dunn stands in front of his Mom on that strand.  She’s deliriously perfumed in a blue dress of dotted yellow Swiss and it blows around her hips like a Disney summer night.

The vividness of this memory startled Dunn and he turned away from the window to stare at the imprint his body had left in the chenille.

“Where’s Mom this morning?”, he thought aloud.

Dunn glanced at the Casio on his wrist and adjusted for the one-hour time difference.  She was back in Arlington, Texas sipping her second–no, third beer and V-8, waiting for the phone to ring. Just as her little boy was now doing.

–There’s no summertime breezing dotted Swiss today, Mom–

Dunn rubbed his face with his fingers, pinched his nose and crossed to the television where Phil Donahue looked very, very concerned about something. He pushed a button and snapped Phil off to oblivion. He looked again at his watch. He had been awake since this time yesterday. In another state, in another time zone, in another room. But still, waiting.  Time zones and room weren’t reality any longer. Waiting was reality.  All the rest was just backdrop, sets, like television, like Playland.

 

Dunn picked up a set of keys from the top of the television and brought them to a black rubberized briefcase resting in brutal contrast against the  livid green and yellow cushions of a wornout rattan chair where he had dropped it on arrival. Taking up a key, Dunn unlocked the satchel and took from it a minicassette recorder and a small pigskin case.. He placed the case on the dresser next to the television and sat on the foot of the bed.  Behind the cigarette-scarred  blonde dresser was a mirror that was filled with the blue of the walls.  In was the bamboo-framed print of palm trees, hysteric in a storm. In it were the lampshades on either side of the bed, each covered in plastic like specimens of rare skin. In it was Dunn, the recorder clasped in his hands, his forearms resting on bare pale thighs.  A child’s cry carried from the beach on a nor’easterly gust that billowed the thin drapery at the window, rippling its fabric leaves. Dunn switched on the recorder and held it up before his face that reflected back from the mirror.

“Mirrors,” he began. “Are deceptive surfaces. Contrivances. Of fire and water and sand.  They’re where we attempt the reality we choose. No. We desire.”

The child’s cry was answered by another’s and then  gulls joined in.  Dunn turned to the windows and listened. Then returned to the mirror.

“They’re essential when we wish to hide something. Where. We make certain the reflection. Reveals no more than we wish the world. To perceive. Mirrors. Are where we perfect our. Guile.”

Dunn focused on the eyes in the mirror. Motes of light, tiny balls of fire swam in the blue background.

“But. Alice’s Looking Glass. Gazing through the surface. Seek through the scars and moles. Chipped teeth.”

The face in the mirror grimaced.

“The deepening lines. Lines. Make memory of smooth skin. And conscience. Vivid. Clear. Vivid.”

On the glass before Dunn, ingenuous features struggled to cohere like weak microwave signals from some distant satellite, and then–a young man’s face giving beads of sweat to a hot blue sky in a border town spring morning, 1964.

“There was this kid…”

The Kid leans against a black 1957 Ford Fairlane outside a cementblock farmacia on the outskirts of Ciudad Acuna across the river from Del Rio waiting for his partner to come out of the shop with the stuff. The Kid’s sweating through a blue chambray shirt with its tail hanging out over his Levis, smelling the poverty of Mexico, chewing Wrigley’s Doublemint, kicking rocks with his roughout Noconas and grinning at this hazardous world before him with all the self-absorption of New Frontier American youth and 600 milligrams of dextroamphetamine. The Kid’s rush is further propelled by his flash on the situation: like, actual felonies are taking place here!  His drug-fueled Jesuit-trained brain quickly flips this reality into service of the business at hand: like, this is not real crime like murder or robbery or rape but the acceptable kind like his friends and parents and everybody else got along with, as..well, against the law but only “bad law”like bootlegging or gambling. Little sins of mischief. Venial trespasses everyone fell to every once in a while, but shit–not really wrong.

Even as The Kid nimbly unravels the ethical knots involved on this Mexican trip, he knows full well the world of shit ready to fall upon him and his partner should they somehow get nailed on this caper. This sudden contour of calamity, along with the speed hammering through his system, gives the The Kid such a charge that  he fears his brain will skid should he think of the consequences on second more. He spits out the pellet of gum and watches it ricochet off a dead tire on a crumbling GMC pickup sinking into the pale caliche street. A scrawny white and liver pie-bald animal crawls on its belly from the shadows behind truck’s wheel. Part dog, part rodent the pathetic creature scuttles to the wad of Wrigley’s, snatches it up with narrow jaws and turns a triumphant rheumy eye up to The Kid before it quickly retreats to its rusty haven beneath the truck. The Kid feels the clammy hand of fear at his neck and is relieved to see his partner emerge from the farmacia carrying a much-abused paper sack. They get into the Ford and drive further into the country to a truck stop beneath a green Pemex sign. Having spread out their buys among  three different farmacias, the four bottles of dexedrine in the bag has brought their day’s total to twelve. Splitting the bottles between them, The Kid and his partner begin the tedious work of securing them with black electrical tape beneath the dashboard. They disconnect and reconnect the wires to the radio twice before the pills are all firmly stashed deep against the firewall. They go to this trouble because the thought of driving all night through Texas to Oklahoma without Wolfman Jack blasting out of XERF in Ciudad Acuna was simply beyond question.

Twenty minutes after crossing  into Del Rio, The Kid is doing seventy miles per hours on Highway 90, closing in on San Antonio. it is long after dark and north of Austin when The Kid and his partner take off their Ray-Bans.  Riding on a high-octane amphetamine vector with the cool wind blowing up through the Fairlane’s open windows and the even cooler sounds of The Wolfman chasing them from Del Rio, The Kid feels completely in control.  Regardless that he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life or where he’s going after Norman, Oklahoma. Things are breaking very fast and the speed rushing through The Kid’s veins increases his sense that other possibilities, other realities are cresting on a wave that will sweep all the old fart politicians, peckerwood racist sheriffs, warmongering generals and the great gray masses off the face of the New Frontier and into the footnotes of bad history. The Kid is holding forth on this inevitability and the best of all possibles coming as his partner puts on his dark glasses and thrusts his face through the open passenger’s window and into the onrushing wind when the lights of Dallas sputter to life on the horizon dead ahead as The Wolfman brays.

“AAAAAAAaaaaaaawwwright bay-bies! Here’s sump’n you ain’t gonna bee-LIEVE! IT’S DA ROLLIN’ STO-OOOOHHHHNES-UH! An dey got TIME! ON THEY side! What’s happenin’! baby!”

A high-pitched sing string blues guitar picks its way out of the dashboard followed by a sneering pissed-off snarl:

“Ti-i-iyime is on mah side…Yesitis!”

The band is impossibly Black for a bunch of white Brits. Not a bit like those Beatles. Angry defiant troublemakers throwing down a tough fuck-you challenge that perfectly echoes The Kid’s rant as he cruises the black Fairlane toward the night lights of Big D.

 

When The Kid sees Dallas, he thinks of death. Seven months ago he was sitting at the runway bar of Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club, up the steep stairs from Commerce Street. Ruby had a round of drinks sent over to The Kid and his other underage pals as they watched a mean-eyed stripper grind her ass through another long late night. The Kid still had the woman’s eyes in his head when he was at his grandmother’s wake two weeks later while playing Pitch with his father and uncles at grandma’s in Shawnee when Aunt Marge came out of the kitchen with stunned eyes  saying the President had been shot in Dallas.And when he made the drive back to Norman that evening there were two pairs of eyes in The Kid’s head and they kept getting mixed up as he cried the final fifteen miles into town.  The Kid cried until his cheeks ran wet and his nose filled with tears.  He had not tears at the funeral but he wept those miles later, sobbing down that asphalt backroad while the radio repeated the same terminal phrases like a malevolently trained parrot.  Pictures of Dallas flickered in his mind.  Dealey Plaza and the ramp onto Interstate 35 from Commerce.  The stairs to the Carousel. The red and blue showlights. The hatred in the mascara-framed eyes of the stripper as she shook her spangle-tipped tits in his drunken face. The strange little fat guy in the shiny suit. A cartoon mafioso shaking his hand with soft damp fingers.

A few days after this terrible drive, The Kid would watch the funny little man pop out of a crowd on television and pull a trigger with that same hand.  And  The Kid could feel the connection in his palm every time they replayed the film on television. His hand held the hand that pulled the trigger on the gun that killed the man whose hand held the rifle that fired the bullet….”That Jack built!, says The Kid..

He looks into the rearview mirror where a widening breach of night is spreading between the Fairlane and Dallas.  The giant ruby neon Pegasus that rode the Magnolia Hotel above the lights of the city is now shrinking in the mirror and soon, there is only the night and not long after, the Red River, across which The Kid pushes the smuggling Ford to something almost like home. In the mirror The Kid’s face can be seen fading in the dashboard light, fueled only by native conviction and speed, tooling the ’57 into another, darker, night.

Dunn turned from the mirror and spoke to the blank television screen. “Boys grow old.” A distorted Dunn swam on its surface, an aqueous fun house impersonation. “And boys get tired.”

Dunn switched off the recorder and returned the device to the rubber-clad briefcase, placing it between a Browning .45 pistol and a copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge. The title startled him and he nearly laughed.  From the dresser he took the pigskin case and touched the tiny gold button on its edge. It opened like a book and inside its cover was fitted a mirror on which rested a small plastic zip-loc bag. From the bag, Dunn onto the mirror a tiny fist of shining lamina.  The cocaine glistened slightly pink in the filmy light from the windows. He took a single-edged razor blade from the case and cut into the white lump which gave up myriad flakes, covering the glass.  Dunn saw his face through the powder as he watched the blade tap tap tap tap the mirror to a finer and still finder dust until his face disappeared.  The razor swiped the cocaine into long thin lines, crystal ques that positively sang with velocity and desire, finally revealing a face that could have once been the face of that kid back in Ciudad Acuna, 1964.

Dunn hovered over the mirror, a silver tube now between his fingers and thumb.  Everything–his face, fingernails, the blue pastry ceiling, the twenty year old memory and its cafard of emotions were now wrapped tightly in a focus compassed on this glass. Beyond its edges, nothing. All the world fell away from this mirror. Beyond its border, not even dreams. He swiftly whiffed four lines. As the cocaine tipped his brain into paroxysms of neural ecstasy, Dunn looked back to the mirror and in its milky wash saw America, the insidiously perfect commodity only the Devil or a laissez-faire chemist could have conjured.  And it was consuming itself. It was the stuff that actually goes looking for itself, endlessly. Dunn laughed.

“It just needs people to carry it around. We’re a service industry.”

Behind the metaphor, Dunn’s eyes gleamed recognition as the drug reflected itself between the glass the corneas. An immaculate decoction of illusions so seductive that it was reality itself. the thing that moved all and everyone it touched.

“You’re more verb than noun,” said the mirror.

As the verb moved Dunn to bend yet again to the mirror where no reflection signified, the telephone rang.

Text copyright, All rights reserved Joseph Michael Reynolds 1984,1989, 2012.

Bringing The Dogs-From DOWN IN TEXAS (1986)

Bringing The Dogs

Cave Drawing outside Austin, Texas

Luther caught the vivid scent on a slight southeasterly gust as beside him his mother still dreamed of rabbits. China’s arthritic legs gamely jerked in her sleeping chase, kicking traces of pursuit from her paws through the dust beneath the cedar deck that extended from the big limestone house. Luther’s broad black head listed on the tantalizing odor on the wind. Deliciously agitated, his wet nose twitched as his simple mind closed over the heady contours of cooking meat. The dog rose on his four feet,wagging is tail with such force that his rump shook and he barked, waking his mother who opened one eye, still dimmed to the world beyond. Luther turned to her and yelped once before running out from the deck’s shadow to the waking morning, firmly fixed on the redolent transit of the burning deer. The dog’s powerful legs took him across the blacktop driveway and over its low bordering wall of piled stone and into a field of grasses–buffalo, bluestem and muhly— where he stopped and wheeled about, calling urgencies to China who was now pushing her reluctant body alongside the house, her step accelerating to the fragrant breeze that had finally come to her senses. By the time she reached the driveway, the dog was huffing. She wisely cleared the wall at a broken juncture and was only some dozen yards behind Luther when he bolted through the dry high stemmed muhly grass toward the wisp of smoke writhing above a distant bristling treeline.

Out of the field, down the rough back of the hill, over limestone and granite outcrops, under twists of scrub oak and thicks of juniper, the Labradors pursued paths familiar to only them, the deer and the two boys who had long since forgotten the way.

The dogs arrived at a dry creek bed where they turned west and kept to its westerly upward slope for some hundred yards until they reached a signpost invisible to the human eye that turned them clambering up another hill and down into a narrow draw choked with hackberry and wild persimmon. The siren’s call to roasty flesh was dimmed in the windless draw bringing the dogs to pause. Luther whined as he reconnoitered the air, his head lifting in measured jerks, rapidly scanning the odorous prolixity cacophony of olfactory messages, designs, deaths and bafflements from which Luther plucked, like an Eureka!-struck scholar who suddenly discovers in the gibberish of some lost language scroll, the words of Abraham: greasy fat-fired hot slaty blood and marrow man-handed meat!

Luther left his mother asthmatically struggling through a devilment of thwarting scrub and hurled himself between two cedars. The great dog ripped his way through an undefiled needling latticework of branches, a vicious tangle of bois d’arc that tore a four-inch strip of skin from his right shoulder. The dog, like the best of his breed, was utterly heedless of obstacles and their possible pain when in pursuit. The purpose of existence was simple: pursuit and retrieval, an economic cycle of perfection where the presence of God was manifested between the two.

Luther was very near the summit of the hill when his way was blocked by an awkward jut of limestone. The dog confronted the massive boulder with a censuring string of barks, growls and whines until he spotted its weakness, a smaller companion stone. Luther leaped to it and scrambled up onto the great stone itself where he sighted the fire and the familiar car. The dog rejoiced in a series of triumphal barks before racing across the flat expanse of high grass and mesquite.

Below, China had stopped to sniff the drops of Luther’s blood and, though confused, she reflexively lapped them up with a dutiful mother’s tongue.

She followed their trail until she reached the big slab of limestone. Seeing no relief from the obstacle, China turned and waddled against the hillside until she came to a dead oak that had toppled over from the hilltop’s edge. She climbed up on the log where she sat her haunches and rested, panting. From here, she saw with her rheumy dark eyes what might be Luther, a black figure darting through the blonde grasses further into the distance toward a fuzzy horizon. She smelled the wood fire, the smoky meat and her Gavin. China stood and, in an alternate amble and trot, made her way across the plateau toward the beckoning billows of smoke.

Luther was delirious with happiness. The dog thumped his tail against Gavin’s leg with the enthusiasm of a drunken football rowdy, raucously jigging away from the man’s late swinging boot to the edge of the fire where he sneezed and sputtered from its smoke before waggling back to his master feet where he gazed up with the grinning stupefaction of the inveterate party-crasher, drooling thanks and greed.

China slowly made her way through the stone circumference and stopped, staring into the wasting flame. Addled from the mile long trial and the hazy confusion now before her, the dog lowered her gray muzzle and waited for clarity to assemble around the baited aroma which had reeled her in like a helpless fish.

Gavin looked down at his pitiful animal and clucked: “Oooh, China girl. What’s a matter darlin’? Look. Look. Your legs are shaking.” The old bitch, sparked to her senses by the man’s crooning, made a halting turn in his direction. Her tail, bleached parchment peeping through thinning black bristles, swayed in weary measure as she finally fixed Gavin in her murky eyes. Insufferably doubtless love swam over their forming cataracts, steely scales of blindness flaking the polished orbs that once shined like licked drops of coffee candy. The pangs of lost time and blinded dogs wrenched Gavin and he fell to the old dog’s side and threw his arms around her thick ruffed neck, the silvertipped fur clotted with burrs and small twigs. The man rubbed tenderness through it with aching fingers and with them, plucked the tormenting debris, murmuring words of a commiserating child.

You’re such a good dog! Yes, yes. You are. Good ol’ dog. Aww. You thought there was barbeque for you. Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Aww. Poor ol’ China dog. Aww.”

Gavin’s show of affection fanned Luther’s dimwitted excitations. An eager beery teenage reveler, he yawped and pranced around Gavin and China until he finally bounced against the man’s leg with such exuberant force Gavin had to thrust out both hands into the dirt to keep from plunging headlong into the fire’s rim.

God-damn it! Shit!”

Gavin got to his feet, towering over Luther who wriggled abjectly, his tail sucked tight to belly between quivering hind legs.

Get down! Jesus christ. I bet you stirred up your mama on this, didn’t you? God-damn. GET DOWN.”

Luther launched into fully orchestrated canine capitulation by flipping onto his back, submissively canting his forelegs, their paws dangling helplessly on his heaving chest, his tongue flapping from its flews like a bright rubber bandana, his wet brown idiot eyes showing maniacal whites as they fearfully darted from side to side—the very embodiment, manifestation of reeking subservience. This display invariably repelled Gavin in its obscenely detailed thoroughness, perfect in preternatural gesture right down to the screaming red revelation of the dog’s unsleeved doghood, an abased punctuation now throbbing on Luther’s black belly.

Get up! Get up, Luther. Stop that shit and SIT!”

With a quick, powerful twist of his body, Luther flipped to his feet and sat, his eyes fidgeting. China took this to be a general command and responded accordingly. She eased her haunches to the ground and turned her eyes up to Gavin.

Now. You two made a long trip for nothing. This ain’t a barbecue, you understand?”

The dogs gazed up at the man from vast reservoirs of incomprehension.

The man met their gaze and moved his further into theirs.

Of course you don’t understand. It must be paradise down in those smooth simple brains of yours. No. No paradise. Sorry. Just surprises from time to time. Right? Some good. Some bad. Well, kids, this is one of the bad surprises. You don’t eat this. Hear that?”

Gavin bent down and caught their muzzles, one in each hand He squatted to meet their eyes at level to gain their full attention.

You hear this?”

He turned their muzzles to face the animal wreckage now burning in patches, a smoldering blackened diorama of some distant past battlefield’s aftermath.

See that? No. You don’t get any. You two ain’t gonna grub around on that deer.”

Gavin jerked their confused eyes back to his.

Hear? No. No. No. No.”

He shook their heads with each negative command.

Gavin released them and went to the rock where the skull perched. The sun was well clear of the green horizon, its onslaught having removed the skull’s ghostly luster. It was now the dulled yellow of weathered piano keys or an ancient billiard ball, gone pocked and chipped useless. No longer playable. The man picked up the skull and turned it to his face as the dogs watched him with curiosity.

Roy, you know I start talking to these dogs like they were cedar choppers. I could just as well speak to them in cadences of Henry James for all it would mean to them.”

Gavin cradled the cool skull in one arm and walked to where they dogs sat, still in his check but now stretching their necks as they sniffed drifts of the deer’s smoke.

Dogs don’t give a shit what you say to them. They know, what? Ten, twelve words? Tops. It’s how you say them. Right, you two? Come on.”

He slapped his thigh with the palm of his empty hand and started toward the Cadillac.

Come on, Luther. China. Come. ‘Come’ they understand.”

China waddled up in step with Gavin with Luther reluctantly following, pausing to whine longingly over his bloody shoulder before reaching Gavin’s side.

Get in the car. Go on.”

Luther lunged past Gavin and his mother, landing in the backseat where he discovered gory reward. With a furious tongue, the dog lapped the still sticky blood from the upholstery. China followed, pulling up her bulk on decrepit legs.

Gavin slid behind the wheel, setting the skull next him and started the car. He set the stick into reverse, backing the Caddy parallel to the dying fire. He turned to the charred spidery ruin where shards of orange fled skyward in worried flurries. A modest scene of carnage.

You know, Coppola could’ve ave some serious money and grief on Apocalypse Now if he had burned large animals like that and shot them as miniature landscapes instead of half the Philippines. The effect is just as strong as burning trees. Stronger, don’t you think?”

The question evoked a sudden breeze, a guttural whisper.

Like oil drums of burning shit. Jungle garbage. The meaty stink. Words going up in burning acetate. That plastic smell. The Black O in your throat burning blue. And lots more. Burning, I think. Always burning.”

Gavin felt the sun’s scorch on his neck and he felt his sweat breaking beneath the filth on his face, scabby with dried blood and dirt and the stink of smoke and whiskey. He put the car into Drive and hit the gas, scattering limestone and ashes in the Cadillac’s wake. The dazzling coruscation of the eastern sky ricocheted from the hood, multiplied through the windshield, assaulting Gavin’s eye with a volley of long bright needles. Blinded, he braked and fumbled over the dashboard for his Ray-Bans and fixed them to his face. He glanced in the rearview mirror where Luther’s tail flagged merrily as the dog nosed out the last remnant of the deer’s bleeding. Gavin hit the accelerator.

Watch yo’self, boy! Don’t go chewin’ on that fuckin’ seat!”

Gavin squeezed his nostrils between finger and thumb and noisily snuffed, the cocaine dregs leaving a faint numbness at the back of his throat.

You got country dogs, you talk country. You got the leftover brain jar of a ghost you talk…what? Crazy horrors. Bierce, maybe.”

No literature, boy,” came the whisper. “It’s just you and me.”

Gavin felt a weight on his left shoulder where China rested her head, smiling into the onrushing wind with serene lidded eyes—a delighted spinster aunt out for a rare drive in the country who turns and gives an appreciative kiss on her nephew’s ear, tickling him to laughter.

Copyright 1986, 2012 Joseph Michael Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

Bonus Feature

Burning The Deer-From DOWN IN TEXAS (1986)

Commemorating March 2nd: Texas Independence Day, the birthday of Sam Houston,  David Goodis and Lou Reed. 

BURNING THE DEER

Photograph: George Shiras III, July 1906.

In the monochrome luminosity anticipating dawn, Gavin Barnes took his Cadillac from the four-lane highway and slipped the silver convertible up the narrow asphalt road to home. The road was pocked and ragged from neglect as it rose between the gateway to the ranch, limestone plinths each mounted by wrought iron double-Bs. The Caddy rattled over the pipes of the cattle guard and began a gradual descent alongside the first hill. Gavin eased up on the accelerator, letting the car coast as it dipped into a black draw, damp and cool with cottonwoods that stood along the creek just below the road. He could smell them, a peculiar animal odor he always associated more with flesh than plant. A mockingbird ran through some lonely changes as Gavin switched off his headlights while the Caddy silently rolled down a gentle curve and across the narrow bridge crossing the creek at the bottom of the draw. When the car had nearly reached inertia, Gavin tapped his foot to the pedal and took off up another curve that cut back against the hill and away from the creek. The road dogged left, then swung to the right, ascending the second hill and, as Gavin pushed the convertible upwards, gazing into an expanse of fading stars, the deer plunged directly from the sky across Gavin’s shoulder and into the backseat. He could smell the animal before he felt its hind legs kick past his ear.

Gavin swerved the big car to the right, chewing up the edge of the asphalt along a drop that would have sent the Cadillac back down on the bridge he had just crossed. He whipped the wheel back left, slamming the Caddy to a stop against an outcrop of limestone.

Gavin could smell the blood, felt liquid running down his neck as he lifted himself to stand in the seat, bracing one hand on the the windshield. He turned and looked back and saw the deer, its head twisted up, neck snapped in a right angle, jammed into the corner between the armrest and seat cushion. Its slight body slumped as if resting, two thin forelegs upright, each protruding broken white bones that framed its narrow head like a splintered crown. The deer’s back legs splayed up behind the driver’s seat, delicate hooves point to the waning night sky. Gavin reached his hand to one of these, ready for the animal to jerk from his touch. It remained still as he held it, warm in his grasp. Gavin bent forward, peering through the night’s whiskey and cocaine into the perfect dark eye of the animal. It glistened with knowing.In it, accusations flooded, tongues curled through voices without language and they spoke in Gavin as the eye grew in is mouth and before it choked him, Gavin threw back his head, squeezing steel in one hand, muscle, fur and bone in the other and howled the terrible message to the fading stars.

There was silence.

Then the mockingbird replied, adding new to that song Gavin heard down by the creek. He let go the deer’s leg and pulled himself up and sat atop the windshield facing the rear seats.

Goddamn it all,” said Gavin.

He could feel the night falling away from the coke and whiskey but the heat of August was such that the hills could not quite cool the night enough to shake the day’s blaze and the temperature would begin climbing with the first hint of light. Gavin got up and turned around, slid down to the seat and put his hands to the wheel.

Gavin turned the ignition and backed the Caddy off the limestone with a screech of tearing steel and a tinkle of broken glass. Gavin braked and dropped his hands to his lap and stared at their shaking. He fanned through a scattering of cassettes on the seat beside him till he found it–Albinoni’s Adagio.

He shoved the cassette into the slot on the dashboard, punched play and turned up the volume. The baroque strings got busy building stately archways above the Cadillac.

With one hand on the wheel, Gavin leaned over and flipped off the top to a styrofoam cooler and pulled out a can of Tecate. He snapped open the tab on the beer while guiding the Caddy with his elbows. Gavin took a deep swig from the and made a sharp right off the road onto a stony track that rose steeply through juniper and knotted oak and long black strikes of buffalo grass, sharply etched in shadow against the moonlight-soaked white caliche road that seemed suspended in the air before his eyes. Gavin could feel the tires arrhythmicaly battering over the ruts, his ass attuned to this broken earth as his head drifted out on the illuminating finger of the remaining headlamp, bobbing on the beat. What alcohol fires the last snort of coke hadn’t dampened were now blown cold by the suicidal assault of the deer, leaving Gavin alone, unadorned, with his own personal crazy .

“We didn’t see all this coming, did we? We. We’re like the Indians were. Now. They never caught onto the time. In time, either. Never were all aware when their changes went. Fucking deer from falling from the sky. Comets, bombs, satellite debris, deer. Who guesses for deer? Death reigns. Death rains down. Voices come from nowhere. Admit nothing. Dumbfuck buck out to commit suicide in a Cadilaac. True-assed Texas deer. Picks a fucking Cadillac. True-assed Texas suicide. No fingers. Couldn’t get a shotgun.? Why not pick me?”

The Cadillac reached the top of the hill as the Adagio scaled ever upwards, in ever mournful layers, where Gavin stopped above a small plateau, a grass-tufted level defined at its center by a rough circle of limestone rocks. Gavin turned off his remaining headlamp. No shadows fell here and his eye could chase the edges of the sky where he saw some dim color scaling low in the east. Gavin got out of the car, leaving the door swung open. He drained the beer, threw the empty can into the Caddy’s floorboards and pushed back the seat. He grabbed the deer’s hind legs and pulled. The carcass stretched but would not budge, its’ antlers snagged between the backseat cushions.

Gavin dropped the legs and felt sweat breaking from his thinning hairline. He crawled into the backseat, one knee down and caught up the deer with one arm and waggled the antlers free with his other hand. The head sprang loose, flopping beneath his hand now covered with blood.

He stepped back from the car, holding his gory hand before him like a mirror and measured the heat and viscosity of the liquid with his thumb. Gavin drew his hand closer to his face, saw the purpled sheen and sniffed its salinity. Pungent springs of memory opened: The hunt. The kick of the 30.30. on a boy’s shoulder, its crack echoing from a distant hollow. Sam Francis by his side. The sweet odor of cowshit and dewy grass from his boots. Bacon frying in the deep night that tasted of first whiskey. Just before dawn. Like, now. There in his hand he saw a clear picture of the gutting knife, blood flowing down from the trussed animal, spattering into a rust-pocked blue enamel bowl. Red pearls leaping to spot the boy’s jeans with soft splats.

Somewhere below, a dog barked. Gavin found himself looking at the carcass. He returned to the backseat and hoisted the deer with both arms, dragging it out of the Cadillac. Staggering back on his boot heels, Gavin stumbled and landed hard on one knee and cursed before scrambling back to his feet. He gripped the deer’s hind legs, one in each hand and pulled the dead animal across the dirt. In the center of this limestone ringed circle lay a grey fire pit, littered with smoke-blackened broken glass and crumpled beer cans, where he dropped the deer and breathing hard through his mouth, walked back to the car. Its engine was still running. The Adagio was taking its final funereal steps into the clouds when Gavin switched off the key, leaving silence. He slid across the front seat and opened the glove box.

A lamp illuminated the contents of its compartment, setting off bright reflections from a chromed Colt .45 with pearly pink grips. Gavin pushed it aside along with a couple of prescription vials, a small leather box and a harmonica and pushed the button unlocking the trunk. He walked around to the rear of the Caddy, lifted the panel and stood, weaving slightly, and peered into the illuminated trunk’s eclectic chaos:

Two cases of Wild Turkey whiskey, one opened. A mold covered water skiing vest. A ruined pair of Charley Dunne boots. A pile of books and a human skull.

Gavin reached down and pulled up two fifths of bourbon from the opened box, jostling the skull which looked up at him with what Gavin had always perceived as the eternal manic grin of a converted fanatic. Gavin scooped up the bottles and skull and carried his load over to the deer. He placed the skull on the carcass and the two bottles on a flat piece of limestone and then went to scare up some firewood.

After five trips through the oak scrub and juniper, Gavin had managed to build a small pyre some five by three feet that stood about three feet at its center. His face and chest running swear, Gavin caught up this deer, surprisingly light in his arms, like a child, and laid it gently atop the wood. He then sat down on a rock with the bottles of whiskey at his knees and thoughtlessly wiped his hands over his face. He picked up a bottle and tried twisting off its top but his strength was gone. His hand shook as he dropped the bottle to his side. Gavin leaned back and reached into his jeans. Retrieved a Barlow knife and snapped it open . He took the blade and cut it across the bottle’s seal, pulled its top and took a long startling swallow. The bourbon leaked from the corners of his mouth, mixing with the blood, dirt and sweat. Gavin closed his eyes, put his his tongue between failing teeth and blew the fire racing up from his belly and through his throat. He sat with this, and stared at his labors and his long Levi legs, the tips of his boots just touching the bier and began, in halting breaths, whistling an old tune from long ago.

The second fifth of bourbon was all for this deer. Gavin opened the bottle and made the ablutions. Starting at the head, Gavin poured the liquor over its eyes and trailed the whiskey down its lithe neck with a deliberation that reminded him of his time as an altar boy. The hands of the priest–Father Carlin—pinching his papery white fingers together. So clean. Worrying their manicured tips each against as that young Gavin tipped the crystal cruet over them, the holy water tippling down.

Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas.

I will wash my hands among the innocents.

Gavin muttered the words, surprising himself, and drew a sign of the cross with the dribbling whiskey over the chest of the animal and continued on with a serpentine flourish, soaking its loins and haunches. He tossed aside the empty bottle and picked up the skull and licked up the whiskey that had had splashed upon its crown and held up the skull upright in his left and like a puppet.

And Gavin spoke to it:

Now, Roy. We’ll make the blessing for the dead, be it all right with you. We’re gathered here to commit the spirit.. Send this soul packing, this noble buck deer who has sacrificed his life on the altar of old Detroit. Whether he was out to kill himself or me…well, Roy, he fucked up. Bad, lord. Maybe just a miscalculation on his part and he only wanted to to get to the other side of the road. Urgent business in the deer world.”

Gavin peered into the eye socket of the skull. He rotated Roy on his fist for a scan of the perimeter…as if the skull were scanning the perimeter with its vacant holes..”think there’s something out there Roy? We got hos-tilesin the brush? Wel they ain’t comin beofre dawn because John ford said so. We got to get this deer sent back to where it came from.”

Gavin faced up to the diminishing night, Roy followed suit

Lord we ask you to take back this broken deer. Catch it in your big mouth and swallow its soul. Keep it from further harm. Wise it up. Make something of it. You wanna make something of it?”

Gavin smiled and turned to Roy grinning back at him from his fist.

OK. Into your hands we commit this spirit. Benedicat vos omnipotens..”

Gavin deepened his voice into his chest

Deus, Pater et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus

He thrust his right hand forward, stiffened as a blade and sliced the air over the deer with two strokes:

Dominus vobiscum.

Gavin nodded the skull on his fist to the reponse:

Et cum Spiritu tuo

The dog barked in the distance.

Gavin rested the skull on the rock next to the bottle of bourbon. He looked up to the sky overhead as he fished in in jean’s pocket for matches. Above the stars still held their places but had vanished in the east where tender pinks and lavenders were emerging beneath great slate clouds sailing in from the Gulf.

Gavin slipped the box of matches from his jeans an turned to the pyre. He went down to one knee, ready to strike a flame when he realized there was no way a fire could catch without some kindling or paper.. he didn’t want the alcohol to burn off from the deer before the caught. Gavin rose and went back to the Caddy’s open trunk and grabbed up a handful of books. Casting an eye to the skull, Gavin drawled: “Well, Roy. Looks like we go from the sacred to the profane. We’re gonna burn us some books.”

Gavin sat down in the caliche , crossed his legs and read the title of the first book in the stack. “In A Narrow Grave. How goddamn appropriate. Portentuous little title here. Sorry, Larry. I ain’t never burned no goddamn books in my life but given these circumstance, this ritual can well use some sacrifice from the Texas muse. Right there, Roy?”

The light was now gaining , seeming to come from every direction, objects giving up their own luminosity. The skull shimmered in Gavin’s eye.

He ripped away the first twenty pages from the book, wadded them into a ball and stuffed them beneath the brushwood. After finishing off the McMurtry, Gavin went on to A Field Guide to the Birds of the Western States, Zen and The Art of Archery and was halfway through The Confidence Man when a squad of quail trooped past to his right. Gavin stood up and the birds exploded from the ground. He could feel the fury of their wings as they shot past. He tossed the remaining denizens of Melville’s riverboat purgatory onto the carcass. “Truly fitting. And so, here we go.”

Gavin struck a match against the box and touched its flame to the literary kindling.

It crackled orange and black in the blued atmosphere of alcohol. Gavin stepped back to the rock where the skull and whiskey waited. He picked up the bottle and took a long pull. The fire reached up through the tangle of wood, first igniting the juicy cedar before finding the alcohol-soaked skin of the deer. The corpus was suddenly enshrouded in veils of sapphire. Gavin saw the hair on its hide evaporate beneath the heat. He saw the remains of The Confidence Man curl up in a singular figure of fire that twisted into a black flower, its charry petals dissolving in scattering ascent from the pyre, now a blaze flowing with smoke redolent of flaming juniper and cooking flesh. Sweet popping fats from the belly, hard gamy underodor from thin burning muscle. Gavin breathed it all in as he moved unsteadily through these primal vapors, the Wild Turkey swinging in his fist at his side, toward the Cadillac.

Gavin laid the bottle on the floorboards and crawled across the front seat of the car to the glove box from which he grabbed the black leather box and a harmonica. Resting on one elbow, Gavin opened the box. Inside were two vials—one empty, the other, half filled with cocaine.–and thin silver penknife from which he brought its blade with a flick of his thumbnail. He twisted the top from the vial and shoveled two hefty bladesful of the powder up his nostrils. The coke chilled the ache in his head, gave it some distraction. Gavin capped the vial, closed the blade, returned them to the box and thrust them back into the glove compartment.

With the bottle in one hand and the harmonica in the other, Gavin returned to the pyre. He made several circuits around the now burning deer, alternately sucking from the bottle and blowing through the harmonica before finally coming to rest on a large rock where he sat watching the fire. Through its topping flames, with eyes now dripping numb tears, beyond the hills to the city, Gavin saw the pink cocktip of the sun as it rose on this final Friday in August.

Gavin put the harmonica to his lips and blew gently, wandering out on the shaky plaint of the lonesome cowboy that he had learned as a child, the song of the lost immigrant in The West, strung out in America, hanging his heart on a mournful song.

Gavin broke off the first line in a graveled whisper. “I ride an old paint….”

I lead old Dan…goin’ back to Montana…for to throw the houlihan…Ol’ Bill Jones…had two daughters….one went to Denver…the other went wrong…His wife she died…in a poolroom fight… Now Bill’s still singin’…from mornin’ til night…Ride around little dogies…ride around slow..both my Fiery and my Snuffy…are rarin’ to go…”

Gavin’s voice grew stronger as he sang on, into the flames where the bones of the deer burned yellow in the morning sun.

Ride around little dogies…Ride around slow….Both my Fiery and my Snuffy….are rarin’ to go.”

Copyright 1986, 2012 Joseph Michael Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

Bonus Feature

NarcoGuerra Times-Obama’s Rebranded War

USMPiLAaC

On May 28, President Obama’s “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske had an exchange with the National Journal..in which the former Seattle police chief said,

“We should stop comparing this to a war and be much smarter about how we are dealing with it–and in a much more comprehensive way. I’ve ended the war on drugs.

…Reducing the demand in the country is absolutely critical if we are not only to improve our own safety and security but also that in other countries”

Sounds promising. But it’s just rebranding. Happy horseshit for the hopeful.  The proof is in the pudding–and the pudding in Washington is always colored green.

According to the White House National Drug Control Strategy FY 2010 Budget Summary billions more  will be spent on “supply reduction” than “demand reduction.”

In 2010 nearly twice as much federal funding will go the “war” that Kelikowske says is “over” than to drug treatment and prevention programs–$9.9 billion for the cops and military, $5.167  for the demand side.

That’s a 2.7% bump for military and law enforcement, a 0.8% reduction for Obama’s  much touted prevention/treatment course.

And that’s just part of the Big Picture.

There are many many billions more heading into various counternarc0tics, counternarcoterrorist programs squirreled away within  DOD, State, Homeland Security, DOJ.  I am still wading through budgets and reports and can’t begin to pull a full expenditure together. One thread that runs steady through them all is the Pentagon.

From what I’ve seen thus far–despite the unease the Obama administration may have with the word—it’s definitely a war.

And its expanding.

More to follow.

* Map circa 1999.

NarcoGuerra Times: More on The Faith-Based Cartel

jesus with gun

“La Familia doesn’t kill for money, doesn’t kill women, doesn’t kill innocent people. It only kills those who deserve to die. Everyone should know this: Divine justice.”–message left with five severed heads on the dance floor of the Sol y Sombra nightclub in Uruapan, Michoacan, September 6, 2006.

A week ago today–May 27–a Mexican army squad was patrolling along the Michoacan side of the Rio Jeronimo across from the state of Guerrero. They rumbled into Riva Paldo, a little town about 300 klicks west of Mexico City, and rolled up on a black Nissan Xterra parked on a side street.

Inside the SUV, the soldiers found thirteen rifles, eleven pistols, four fragmentation grenades, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, scales and nine copies of bestselling Christian author John Eldredge’s Savaje de Corazon, (Wild at Heart). According the army report, the books were signed “El Mas Loco”–The Craziest One– AKA, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno, La Familia’s evangelizing jefe whose self-published La Familia handbook is packed with Eldredge quotes. A particular favorite is this dashing call to arms:

Todo hombre desea tener una batalla que pelar, un aventura que vivir una bella rescatar.

Every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beautiful rescue.

La Familia’s bulk-buying and give-aways of Eldredge’s book doesn’t seem to jibe with George W. Grayson’s take on the the cartel’s religious bent. In his detailed overview published in February–La Familia: Another Deadly Mexican Syndicate–Grayson links La Familia to an decades-old apocalyptic traditionalist Catholic town in the Michoucan sierras:

La Familia’s current leaders, Bible-toting fanatics Moreno Gonzalez and Mendez Vargas, may have direct or indirect ties with devotees of the New Jerusalem movement.

Mexico Religious Cult

Grayson didn’t mention La Familia’s connection to the Muscular Christian prosyletizer Eldredge, likely because nobody had wind of that outside of Michoacan and the Mexican federal intelligence agencies until last week. Even though Moreno flogs a Protestant evangelical’s book, that doesn’t preclude La Familia from recruiting in New Jerusalem…

…a theocracy where soccer balls are illegal, John F. Kennedy is a saint, freedom of religion doesn’t exist and the end of the world is just around the corner. It is the largest and longest surviving of a string of traditionalist Catholic colonies that have sprung up around the world.

More on New Jerusalem from The Arizona Republic’s Chris Hawley.

NarcoGuerra Times: The Faith-Based Cartel

La Familia corpse

The drug cartel La Familia Michoacana is, as one Mexican intelligence analyst put it, “unique.”

From all available information so far, it appears that La Familia has developed into a faith-based right-wing populist social movement emanating from and orchestrated by an organization that happens to be a well-armed, well-financed violent criminal enterprise.

La Familia has branched out from the production and transport of drugs, diversifying into counterfeiting, extortion, kidnapping, armed robbery, prostitution and car dealerships. They’ve gone so far beyond bribery that people in Michoacan are paying mony to La Familia in lieu of taxes to the government. According to the recent Mexican federal police report on La Familia, there are 9,000 members of the La Familia “sect.”

The federales are now viewing La Familia as more of a guerrilla group than a straight-foward drug cartel. Unlike other cartels, La Familia goes beyond the production and distribution of marijuana, meth, cocaine and heroin and into the political realm. The report goes on to say that La Familia has “created  a cult-like mystique and developed pseudo-evangelical recruitment techniques that are unique in Mexico.” 

Federal intelligence officers in Mexico described La Familia leader, Nazario Gonzalez Moreno–El Mas Loco (The Crazy One)–as a “religious zealot” who totes around his self-published book of “aphorisms” based on the Bible and writings of US evangelical author and former Focus on The Family writer, John Eldredge. In the searches and arrests targeting La Familia across Michoacan, the one common denominator federal forces found, along with assault rifles, grenades and drugs, were copies of Eldredge’s Wild At Heart. (Salvaje de Corazon).

La Familia is strongly pro-family (and all that that implies) and requires its members to abstain from alcohol and drugs. There is an indoctrination program all La Familia recruits must go through that inculcates ” personal values, ethical and morlal principles consistent with the purposes of the organization.”  Last year La Familia brought in  two motivational speakers to lecture its members. The group is hierarchic and maintains a strict top-down emotional control of its members.

Think of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, only with more money and firepower and you get the idea.

 La Familia presents serious implications for the July 5 state and elections and not just in Michoacan. The federal intelligence report warns that   La Familia “represents a serious risk to penetrate political, social and religious structures in Michoacán and increasingly in other states of the country as Guanajuato, Mexico and the State of Jalisco.”

More to follow from La Familia writings, messages and banderas.

Narcocorridos: Prime Time TV, plus… a Cartoon!

I share the view that AMC’s meth-framed series,  Breaking Bad is the most innovative, relevant, subversive, best directed, acted and filmed drama to hit  televison since the departure of  The Wire. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not taking the time to file a synopsis of the past two seasons–go here.

Last month Breaking Bad opened an episode with a music video featuring a narcocorrido specifically written for the show by Los Cuartes de Sinaloa that references one of the main characters, a strung-out dealer in Albuquerque who goes by the slyly apt street moniker–Heisenberg.

The title Negro y Azul refers to the blue-colored supermeth crafted by Breaking Bad’s protagonist,the beleagured Walter–a high school chemistry teacher heading for the grave via terminal cancer who decides to provide for his wife and cerebral palsy-stricken son by cooking high-quality crank and by default, a major norteno narco.

In an interview at the show’s blog, Los Cuates de Sinaloa’s Gabriel Berrelza explained the corridistas’ role: 

“We don’t encourage crime. There are a lot of corridos that have a message, warning the public about the harm that drugs can do. What we do is report the news. Drug traffickers are everywhere and we’re just giving people information about who’s on top, what they’re doing, the trouble they get into. It’s the nightly news set to music.”

It’s also sometimes a surreal goof.

Check this Ralph Bakshi-influenced cartoon set to  Jesus Palma’s “Corrido de Los Ovnis (UFOs)”  featuring a cerveza-soaked contrabandista, his pneumatically-breasted blonde moza and a pair of  little green space aliens who make a trip in their saucer to Sinaloa and go crazy for the coke.

Hilarity and  a new market ensue.

 To understand where all this is coming from, I emphatically recommend obtaining Elijah Wald’s 2001 Narcocorrido

Narcocorrido cover

An Old School roots music historian, Wald took off from Boston in the late 90s with his guitar strapped across his back and hitchiked his way across northern Meico– through Sinaloa, Michoacan, Culiacan, the Baja–interviewing the major bandas and corridistas along his hejira. It’s an outstanding piece of journalism.

Much has happened in the eight years since Wald’s book was published–especially since Calderon launched his military campaign. The narcoguerra wasn’t nearly as bloody and chaotic back then as it today.  But Wald’s book still holds up as the best English-language account of the music, the musicians and the culture that spawned them.  To learn more on the narcocorridos (and his other books) hit  his web site.

 

NarcoGuerra Times– Beyond Mexico

“The U.S. Mexico relationship is increasingly being designed as a security issue. The bilateral relationship is becoming militarized. The people who define this crucial relationship to both countries are increasingly in the Pentagon and the military.”  Laura Carlsen, the American Policy Programme at the Centre for International Policy.

 

In covering  Mexico’s drug war, it appears that most of the  US media has split its time between counting found heads around Ciudad Juarez and honking alarms about the cartel invasion of American suburbs.

But the Mexican cartels, especially the Los Zetas/Golfo consortium, have been busy beyond Mexico’s border to the south– dropping bodies and heads, building transhipment networks, buying cops and bureaucrats, recruiting from the military, from off the streets and in the countryside. 

 Mexican cartels now have their mitts in coca field production in Peru. 

Peruvian claims of Mexican cartels expanding echo those by officials in other Latin American countries, from Honduras to Argentina, where Mexican gangs have supplanted once-powerful Colombian cartels as kings of the illicit-drug underworld.

Peru’s top anti-narcotics official, General Miguel Hidalgo, said 32 suspected Mexican cartel members were arrested in Peru during the past two years, compared with “almost no one” during the previous comparable period. Four arrests occurred in September when police seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden in rubber ship bumpers that were about to be sent to Mexico from Lima’s port district.

Mexican cartels have established a criminal presence in other Peruvian ports to facilitate the transport of cocaine, said the top anti-drugs prosecutor, Sonia Medina. The northern port city of Paita near Piura is considered especially corrupt.

Several Mexicans were arrested and tried with 20 others in connection with the 2006 assassination of judge Hernan Saturno, who was bringing a drugs case against members of the Juarez drug cartel. Judge Saturno’s killing is one of 16 cases since 2006 in which Mexican sicarios, or assassins, are thought to have been involved. Ms Medina said paid Mexican killers are operating in Peru as enforcers for their bosses back home.

That Mexican drug lords are sending emissaries is no surprise to General Hidalgo. Peru and the US estimate that 80 per cent of all Peruvian cocaine – about one-third of world production – is shipped north via Mexico.

They essentially control traffic from  the ‘boutique’ cocaine outlets in Colombia. They control the shipping routes across the Gulf and along the Pacific coast from Peru, Colombia and the Venezuelan coast. Their coke and weapons truck  through Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala .DROGA-2-600

While operating in the US, they are careful to keep the violence indoors and off the streets–unlike their Colombian counterparts  in Miami  in the late Seventies. Unlikely we will see the running gun battles that took place  back in that day when Miami was referred to as Dodge City.

I’ve covered organized crime, drug smuggling, terrorists and murder for many years and haven’t seen anything quite like these Mexican cartels–especially Los Zetas. While some obvious comparisons can be made with the  Mafia/Cosa Nostra in the USA, we’re in another realm with these folks. For those who care to take some time reading, here are two interesting, and important, analyses that portend a broader war and the increased militarization of the war on drugs.  

In January 2008, Max G. Manwaring, professor of military strategy at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, weighed in on the security threat that these new narcos and other criminal organizations pose to an increasingly unstable Latin America, comparing  the cartels to a Fortune 500 company 

These more horizontally organized criminal entities are among those evolving from the generalized pyramid structure into a flat, transnational organization that communicates and makes decisions instantaneously via cell phone and the Internet.  In this context, gangs and their TCO (Transnational CriminalOrganization) allies in Mexico, as in other countries, share many of the characteristics of a multinational Fortune 500 company. Thus, the phenomenon is an organization striving to make money, expand its markets, and move as freely as possible in the politicaljurisdictions within and between which they work. By performing its business tasks with super efficiency and for maximum profit, the general organization employs its chief executive officers and boards of directors, councils, system of internal justice, public affairs officers, negotiators, and franchised project managers. And, of course, this company has a security division, though somewhat more ruthless than one of a bona fide Fortune 500 corporation.

The 66-page report in pdf can be downloaded at the  Strategic Studies Institute.  While there I recommend downloading Manwaring’s latest mongraph published last week : State Supported and State Associated Gangs: Credible “Midwifes of New Social Orders”  .

 Like insurgencies and other unconventional asymmetric irregular wars, there is no simple or universal model upon which to base a response to the gang phenomenon (gangs and their various possible allies or supporters). Gangs come in different types, with different motives, and with different modes of action. Examples discussed include Venezuela’s institutionalized “popular militias,” Colombia’s devolving paramilitary criminal or warrior bands (bandas criminales), and al-Qaeda’s loosely organized networks of propaganda-agitator gangs operating in Spain and elsewhere in Western Europe. The motives and actions of these diverse groups are further complicated by their evershifting alliances with insurgents, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), drug cartels, warlords, governments that want to maintain a plausible denial of aggressive action, and any other state or nonstate actor that might require the services of a mercenary gang organization or surrogate.

Lessons derived from these cases demonstrate how gangs might fit into a holistic effort to compel radical political-social change, and illustrate how traditional political-military objectives may be achieved indirectly, rather than directly. These lessons are significant beyond their own domestic political context in that they are harbingers of many of the “wars among the people” that have emerged out of the Cold War, and are taking us kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

They may be too wonky for popular ingestion, but  are very important as guides to where this narcoguerra is likely heading.  

 

NarcoGuerra Times- Los Zetas Raise their Game

May hasn’t been festive for Mexican President Felipe Calderon. With a miserable economic forecast, a nationwide influenza outbreak and an increasingly abusive  military war on drug cartels, its been a bad month since he met with President Obama in Mexico City in April.

Despite weekly televised perp walks of captured cartel “kingpins” featuring pallets of confiscated cash, coke, weed and weapons–Los Zetas, the Special Forces of the narco trade, keeps bringing it.

On May 15 Los Zetas operators hit the prison in Zacatecas and, with the compliance of scores of prison guards, sprang 53 inmates–including seventeen midlevel Zetas. The smoothly executed operation was captured on surveillance cameras. I like this one from The Guardian because there’s no news reader twaddle to distract.

Note the orderly insertion by the black-clad Zeta team and the speed with which they moved the inmates down the corridors and out of the prison.

Imagine this happening at a prison in the United States.

You can’t–because the correction officers here are paid well enough. That’s not the case in Mexico–not for the prisons, not for the federal and state police, not for the army–not even for Calderon’s own cabinet.

The Zetas aren’t limiting their business to illegaladdictive substances like meth and coke–they also have oil for sale.

Last week the Mexican attorney general’s office–the Procuraduria General de la Republica–said that for the past two years Los Zetas was tapping some 80,000 gallons of diesel a week from Pemex lines in Veracruz and then selling the fuel to 70 distributors in central Mexico through a company called AutoExpress Especializados Teoloyucan (AETSA).

Interesting footnote to this:

After taking office in 2006, Calderon, an ardent privatizer in the Bush mold, had Pemex contract SY Coleman in Arlington, Virginia to provide security for the pipelines and fields in Veracruz. Since then the Zetas have been draining the lines with impunity. According to Pemex, illegal extraction of fuel tripled between 2006 and 2008, going from 136 incidents in 2006 to 396 three years later.

Coleman, a subsidiary of big dog defense contractor L3 Communications, was headed by Rumsfeld crony Jay Garner until he took a leave-of-absence in 2003 to run the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq. The Texas-based tech provider L3 also happens to have the contract for the high-tech fence going up along the US/Mexican border.

Given L3’s track record with the pipelines in Veracruz–I don’t expect their super-surveillance barrier is causing the Zetas and other cartels to lose sleep.

[I am putting together a detailed page on Los Zetas, including their core training at Ft Bragg, Ft Benning and Ft Huachuca, their recruitment of the kaibiles, Guatemalan special forces, and their expansion south into Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica. This is drawn from work I've been doing over the past six months for an old friend at an intel/analysis shop in NYC. I hope to have some of it up later this week--]

NarcoGuerra Times–Los Zetas News

Two news stories today on the near-mythical Los Zetas. (I’ll be posting much more on them later.)

 Reuters’ Robin Emmott reports from Durango:

A fight for control of the mountainous state of Durango has killed some 235 people this year, a jump in violence that poses a new challenge to troops already struggling to contain bloodshed along the U.S. border.

With only a few hundred soldiers in Durango, drug hitmen from eastern Mexico are taking over towns, kidnapping police, shooting up local government offices and slaughtering rivals.

This means nothing but more grief and aggravation for fugitive Forbes 400  kingpin, Chapo ‘Shorty’ Guzman, who may be seriously considering pulling the cord on his Golden Parachute.

 Meanwhile, the FBI office in Houston sent out a wild nationwide memo sure to scare the shit of an unwitting American citizenry from Anaheim to Alabama–especially those who get their drug war info from CNN’s Lou Dobbs and the Fox News phalange.

The FBI is advising law enforcement officers across the country that a Texas cell of Los Zetas — an increasingly powerful arm of the Mexican Gulf Cartel drug trafficking syndicate — has acquired a secluded ranch where it trains its members to “neutralize” competitors in the United States.

In order to ensure its share of the lucrative illegal drug trade, the cartel’s members reportedly are operating north of the border to collect debts and spy on competitors. They have also protected cocaine and heroin shipments that were bound for Houston, where they were repackaged and shipped on to Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and Michigan, according to the FBI.

The information, which was disseminated Monday to state, local and federal agencies, does not provide specifics, such as the location of the ranch, but includes a notation that the information came from reliable FBI contacts.

Trainees are reportedly taught about home invasions, firearms and ways to run vehicles off the road in order to kidnap occupants who owe drug debts.

Fortunately, Houston Chronicle reporterDane Schiller bothered to pick up the phone and make a call to Texas law enforcement.

Lt. Dan Webb, of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s narcotics division for the Houston regional office, said Zetas do operate in Houston and other parts of Texas, but they try to limit their time on U.S. soil in order to avoid being arrested by authorities who are far less corrupt than in Mexico.

As for whether the organization has a training ranch in Texas, Webb said there have long been rumors, but he is not aware of hard evidence.

“It very well could be true, but as far as us having a location for the ranch, it is all conjecture,” said Webb, who believes it is more likely they train in Mexico than Texas. “If we had any hard evidence, we’d be all over it.”

He said a lot of drug activity by U.S. gangs, such as the Texas Syndicate or the Mexican Mafia, is mistakenly attributed to Zetas.

“We are trying to keep them over in Mexico and discourage them from coming to America in any form or fashion,” he said.

Lt. Webb has this right. The Zetas have no intention–nor need– to engage US law enforcement in shootouts north of the border. These aren’t some wildassed Mexican bandidos led by Alfonso Bedoya.

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