Border Crossed - Cover

Border Crossed

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 10

Taylor was dead asleep, sprawled across the lumpy hotel mattress with one arm dangling off the edge at the elbow. The drawn curtains did little to block the bright afternoon sunlight filtering into the room, not that it did anything to keep Taylor and Whitaker awake. The motel they’d found wouldn’t be considered nice, but it had the benefit of being close to the warehouse where they’d had the shootout with Matthews. The pair had been so tired the night before, neither wanted to spend time looking for accommodations.

It had been almost dawn when they’d finally passed out six hours ago, so it took almost ten rings before the sound of his cell phone broke through to his consciousness.

Whitaker must have been feeling the same because she sleepily mumbled, “Shut up.”

Taylor reached for the end table, his hand slapping faux wood several times before finally finding his cell phone.

Taylor cleared his throat and answered, “Yeah.”

“I talked to a friend in the Mexican federal police,” he heard Solomon say. “He’s agreed to work with you to find Matthews. He’ll meet you at the Stanton-Lerdo crossing in an hour.”

“Excellent,” Taylor said, sitting up.

“They’ll work with you, but you’re there as liaisons only, so you’ll have to take your cues from Captain Ruiz. Catch Matthews, but don’t cause any international incidents.”

Taylor knew Solomon was mostly tweaking his nose, but he knew the director meant it as well.

“I’ll do my best,” Taylor said dryly.

“Uh-huh,” Solomon said, and hung up.

“Get up,” he said, slapping Whitaker on the rump. “We’re going to Mexico.”

Ciudad Jarez, Mexico

Forty minutes later, they were slowly making their way through the busy border crossing. Smaller than the still shut down Paso Del Norte crossing, which was still closed, it was clogged with nearly twice as many people as normal. After showing their badges a few times, they were directed into an emergency lane and were able to bypass the rest of the traffic, finally breezing through. Two patrol cars sat on the other side of the border, three brown uniformed men were leaning on the cars. One had some kind of star on his shoulder lapels, marking him as the highest-ranking of the three, and probably Joe’s guy.

As they pulled their SUV up next to the cars and got out, the man with the shoulder insignia straightened up and stepped forward, hand extended.

“Captain Ruiz,” he introduced himself in accented English. “You must be Agents Taylor and Whitaker.”

“That’s us,” Taylor said.

“I’m grateful for the information you provided about the tunnel. My team was able to seize over two tons of cocaine and make several arrests. It will be a great boon to my career,” Ruiz said, his face breaking into a grin.

“We’re happy to help,” Whitaker said. “Did Director Solomon tell you what is happening?”

“Some,” Ruiz said, becoming more serious as they got down to business. “You are chasing the criminal involved with exploding the Cordova Bridge of the Americas, and he has fled into my country, seeking protection from the Vargas Cartel, yes?”

“Yes,” Whitaker said. “He was also involved with protecting the existence of the tunnel you saw. We discovered his connection last night, but were unable to apprehend him. Considering the number of federal resources in El Paso at the moment and the focus on the multiple bombings he’s been involved with, it seems unlikely he’ll stay in the US. He also has the cartel to think about. Besides failing to protect the tunnel and costing the cartel the cocaine you mentioned, he also killed one of their people in El Paso last night to try and protect the knowledge of his involvement. We believe, in addition to getting outside US Federal jurisdiction, he’s going to come here to explain himself to the Vargas Cartel, since their reach is a lot less limited than ours.”

“It is, at that,” Ruiz said, nodding thoughtfully. “Yes, your thought process does sound reasonable. Unfortunately, we checked our recordings of the major border crossings in the area and saw no one that matched the photograph Director Solomon sent me. Of course, there are many ways to cross the border, all known to the Vargas Cartel, so he would not necessarily need to cross at a place we monitor. In fact, if he knew he was being pursued, he most likely would not. Yes?”

“Probably not,” Taylor agreed. “In that case, if someone was coming here to talk to the cartel, where would they go? Where is the cartel based here in Mexico?”

“They could not go directly to the cartel. Their main operations are actually in Sonora, and they have only extended their reach into Chihuahua within the last several years. If they have close ties to the cartel, they would go directly to Sonora to whoever their contact is, but that would only apply to very high-level people. The Vargas Cartel is currently in a war with two other groups, and is very careful who gets through, so everyone has to go through intermediaries. Right now, they do most of their street-level interactions at the El Escorpión Dorado, a nightclub near the center of town. There, intermediaries determine if the person is safe and worth dealing with. If they are, someone higher up is sent out to talk to the person and either deal with whatever they need or evaluate whether they get to go higher up the chain.”

“Even though he was working on their tunnel, he’d still have to go through some hoops?” Taylor asked.

“Yes. Everyone is kept at arm’s length.”

“So if he was coming here, he’d have to go to this club?”

“Correct,” Ruiz said.

“And you can take us there?” Taylor asked. “I’d like to set up some kind of surveillance, see if he comes through. Assuming he hasn’t beaten us here and already gone there.”

“We can try. Unless you think he would delay, we can keep an eye on it tonight, or we can ... how do you Americans say it? Lean on the manager and find out if he’s been in.”

“Works for us,” Taylor said.

Ciudad Juárez was not a huge city and it only took about fifteen minutes for Taylor and Whitaker, following Captain Ruiz, to make it to a fairly plain-looking building with what was probably an impressive sign when it was lit up all the way.

“Our best bet is to talk to the manager,” Ruiz said, climbing out of his patrol car and walking over to Taylor and Whitaker as they climbed out of their SUV. “He doesn’t work for the cartel, as far as I know, but he harbors them and takes their money. He might know where else we can look.”

“Your call,” Taylor said.

They followed Ruiz to the front of the building, and found that the main door was locked. The club might be a popular spot at night, but right now, it was just a plain building and they clearly didn’t want anyone coming inside. It took several minutes of Ruiz banging hard on the front door before it opened, revealing a man in a fairly tight t-shirt whose appearance practically screamed “bouncer” to Taylor. The man was forced to take a sudden step back as Ruiz pushed past him.

The guy was apparently smarter than he looked, because instead of trying to do anything to stop them, the man skittered back before turning and hurrying into the dark room. Without windows and with all of the lights turned off, it was indeed fairly dark inside the club, with the only light coming from behind the bar and from an open door in one corner of the large room.

They were halfway through the large and garishly decorated room, with a large DJ booth against the back wall, when a weaselly man emerged from the open door, looking concerned as he took in Ruiz and the other two officers’ uniforms.

“Soy Javier Ruiz de la Guardia Nacional,” Ruiz said brusquely before switching to English and holding up a photo of Matthews. “We’re looking for this man. Have you seen him?”

The man, glancing at Taylor and Whitaker, said, “No.”

“We know he was here,” Taylor bluffed.

“That may be,” the man said in a heavy accent. “But I have not seen him.”

Ruiz stepped closer. “Your club is a hub for the Vargas Cartel in this area, and they use it to conduct their business. Under Ley Antilavado, everything here can be confiscated by the Guardia and you can be held until we work out what your part in cartel business might be.”

“That’s not necessary,” the man said, holding up his hands defensively. “I run a clean business here.”

“Then I guess you have nothing to worry about. Of course, it could be months before we confirm that, while you are shut down, held in jail, with all of your money frozen.”

The manager licked his lips nervously, glancing between the officers, “Look, I don’t want any trouble...”

“Then start talking,” Whitaker said.

Licking his lips, the man said, “I ... I think he was here last night.”

The man’s eyes kept sweeping the room, probably concerned that someone might overhear him. Telling anyone the cartel’s business could be fatal, not that Taylor felt any sympathy for him. He’d made his choice by taking money to provide a safe space for murderers and criminals.

“Did he stay?” Taylor asked.

“He ... for a little while. He then left with several men, which was the last time I saw him.”

“Cartel members, right?” Whitaker asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t grow a spine now,” Taylor said. “You know who the cartel members in your club are. These guys aren’t subtle, and you know who’s buttering your bread.”

“They might have been, yes,” the manager said grudgingly.

“Where would they have taken him?” Ruiz asked. “And we know you aren’t some innocent in this, so don’t try saying you don’t know.”

For a moment, Taylor thought he might balk. Confirming someone was a cartel member was a far step from giving out the location of other cartel facilities. Not that he was being given a choice. Ruiz gave one of the officers a nod, prompting the man to pull out a set of handcuffs. The loud metallic click of the handcuff hinge opening was enough to get the manager talking again.

“There’s an old warehouse they use sometimes. They stopped using it for almost six months, but last night, I heard some things ... about it being in use again. It’s on the south side of town, just off the highway. Big metal building with no signs or markings.”

“So you’re just guessing that’s where they’d take him?” Whitaker asked.

“No. I mean, it would be a good guess, but ... I overheard some of the men talking about it.”

“Was that all they said? ‘Take him to the warehouse’?” Taylor asked. “They didn’t say anything else? And you’re sure which warehouse they’re referring to?”

“Yes, I’m sure which warehouse. It used to be their main place for years, where they did ... whatever they did. Six months ago, they switched to somewhere new, and apparently important, because no one would even describe it, let alone give it a name. They would just say ‘the place’ or some other very generalized description. Then suddenly, yesterday, they were talking about the warehouse again, and not just when talking about this man. They mentioned moving to the warehouse, being back at the warehouse, and so on. So yes, I’m sure which warehouse.”

Since their best guess was that they started using the tunnel six months prior, which was the impetus for Sullivan’s taskforce to start up, it wasn’t a surprise that they’d been so secretive about their new base or that yesterday they’d suddenly started talking about using their old one.

“And is that all they said about this man?” Whitaker asked.

“Pretty much. There was something about a shipment, but the other men shut down any conversation about that very fast. That’s all I know, I swear.”

“Arrest him,” Taylor said, jerking his head toward the nervous manager. “We don’t want him making any calls to his cartel buddies at the warehouse.”

Ruiz nodded and turned to one of his men, barking out an order in rapid Spanish. The officer stepped forward, yanking the manager’s arms behind his back and slapping cuffs on his wrists.

“You can’t do this!” the manager sputtered, eyes wide with fear. “I told you everything I know!”

“And we appreciate your cooperation,” Ruiz said dryly. “But we’d prefer if that cooperation remained between us for the time being.”

He nodded to his man again, who began marching the cuffed manager toward the exit. The manager cursed and struggled the whole way, his shouts echoing through the empty club, drawing out some of his employees who’d made themselves scarce when Ruiz and his men had first shown up.

“Let’s move,” Taylor said once the manager was gone. “I doubt Matthews is still there, but I don’t want the trail growing any colder.”

It didn’t take long for Ruiz to get things moving. Fifteen minutes later, they followed Ruiz into a parking lot, where three unmarked SUVs sat. As soon as Ruiz’s cruiser pulled into the lot, six men in tactical gear with the word ‘Policia’ in bold letters across their chests stepped out.

“The warehouse is on the other side of this one,” Ruiz told them as they all met by the SUVs. “They aren’t great about keeping much of a watch, but they’ll have cameras around the building, so it’s best if we stage here.”

“If they have cameras, we’ll have to move in fast.”

“That’s the plan,” one of the men in tactical gear said, with an accent even thicker than Ruiz’s.

“Fernando here is one of our tactical squad leaders and will take the lead. I’ll accompany them, but you and my guys will wait here until it’s taken care of. Once Fernando has the area cleared, we’ll call you to come join us.”

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