When they could not convene at Madrigal’s island fortress on Saint Kitts, the Alliance used a dedicated secure satellite link that had been purchased at great cost. Half a dozen of the top Mexican figures from the organization had gathered in Esteban Zaragosa’s vast, heavily secured Barragán residence, in one of the wide, tree-lined streets of the Colonia Roma area. This teleconference had been called by Caesar Rodriguez, who had emerged from the pack in recent months to become the defacto number two to Zaragosa. The subject at hand was the attack of a few months prior on the heroin refinery in Conchillo.
“Cigarette butts? I don’t understand,” one of the Peruvian contingent said.
“The ends of a particular brand of cigarette, Classic, manufactured by …,” Rodriguez looked at the report in front of him and mangled the pronunciation, “… by Duvanska Industrija Nis. It’s a company based in the former Yugoslavia. The brand is popular in the region but otherwise rare.”
“And your man in the Interior Ministry thinks the fact that one of the gunmen may have smoked foreign cigarettes is important?” the Peruvian continued.
“More importantly, Campas, the head of their Anti-Drug Force, thinks it’s important and that bastard is rarely wrong,” Rodriquez replied.
The tall, powerfully built Rodriguez had been working into a simmering rage even before the meeting had commenced, and the slowness of the other callers to grasp the significance of what he was saying was only adding to this. He shook his head in irritation.
Esteban Zaragosa gestured to Rodriguez that he would elaborate. The Mexican cartel leader had been largely silent since the opening pleasantries.
“Campas’s report indicates a mercenary-style attack, and mercenaries are one thing that is in abundant supply in the Balkans,” Zaragosa explained.
“We can’t let this attack go unanswered,” Rodriguez pressed.
Almost two thousand miles away on the outskirts of Bogota, it was clear to Luis Madrigal that Rodriquez was trying to drum up support and, in doing so, force Madrigal into a course of action.
“Normally I’d agree, but before we can retaliate we need to be sure who to retaliate against.” Madrigal had to be careful; he wanted to be firm without appearing dictatorial.
“The report I received yesterday contains definitive fucking evidence. The Kosovars are behind the attack, and if we don’t retaliate they’ll be encouraged to go further. We have to act now to show them that this time they’re not dealing with a bunch of putas.”
“Cigarette butts are hardly justification to start a war that could potentially set us back years. Let’s wait to see what else this policeman, whom you rate so highly, comes up with.” Madrigal was well aware of Campas’s pedigree, but this wasn’t the time to acknowledge it.
“We’re not in a fucking courtroom: we only need to satisfy ourselves. I said months ago that the Kosovars, whom you were so happy to approach with talk of closer partnership, represented our biggest fucking threat. They pushed out the Italians, Pakistani, and Lebanese in Europe, and now they’re looking at us. They’ve done business with you and have plainly evaluated you to be weak and vulnerable.”
Madrigal was somewhat surprised. He knew some of the Mexicans, most notably Rodriguez, harbored resentment at what they felt was their subordinate role, but none of them had ever gone this far. Clearly, Rodriguez’s rage was directing him now.
“And you, Caesar, do you agree that I’m weak and vulnerable?”
Although he had remained calm and not raised his voice, something had changed in Madrigal’s tone, and the rest of the Colombian contingent began to shift uncomfortably in their chairs.
Whether due to his anger or his remove from Madrigal, Rodriguez ranted on. “You’re vulnerable if you don’t see the threat! When enemies perceive you to be weak, then you are weak!”
Only when the last word had tumbled out did Rodriguez appear to realize the implication of what he was saying. He glanced around at the other people in the room, all of whom were avoiding eye contact with him, even Zaragosa. Madrigal had ruthlessly clawed his way to the top of Colombia’s drugs elite and then, against all the odds, had pulled the many widely divergent Central and South American cartels together to form the Alliance. It was suicide to challenge his strength so directly.
“Luis, forgive me, I’m not expressing myself properly. There’s no question that you’re more than capable of dealing with any threat. It’s just I appreciate the great number of demands being placed on you. A possible danger might be easily averted now with swift action but be more difficult if left to fester.”
Madrigal took a moment, letting the silence underline Rodriguez’s retreat, before replying. “Here’s what I think. The operation, as you pointed out, bore all the trademarks of a mercenary attack. Many mercenaries operate in Central and South America and, in recent years, some have probably gained employment in the Balkans. So, the cigarettes don’t necessarily indicate someone in the employ of the Kosovars, and can hardly justify an attack on an organization that provides such a profitable sales channel.”
“Luis, I agree that we should not rush to conclusions. Equally, we cannot just ignore the matter,” interjected Cabieses, an elderly Peruvian.
“No, Tomas, we’ll stay on top of it. I suggest that as well as monitoring the official investigation, we pursue one of our own. Our network runs throughout the continent. If mercenaries from this part of the world were used, we should be able to find out.”
“Perhaps we could also extend our investigation to Europe?” suggested Cabieses.
“Of course, we can use our sources there to make discreet enquiries, but we must be careful that the Kosovars get no inkling of this. If they are responsible, we do not want to put them on their guard. If they’re not, we don’t want to risk offending them.”
Madrigal could sense that some of them still had misgivings but knew they wouldn’t voice them. He warned himself not to become complacent and made a note to take some time later for some calls to smooth any ruffled feathers. No position was unassailable.
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.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – R
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