The Colombian Mule

The Colombian Mule

by Massimo Carlotto

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Overview

“Think The Sopranos meets Goodfellas—without the Americanized gloss . . . [A] not-for-the-faint-hearted novel by an Italian master” (Reading Matters).

In The Colombian Mule, the author called “the reigning king of Mediterranean noir” (The Boston Phoenix) and “the best living Italian crime writer” (Il Manifesto) brings to riveting life the story of Arías Cuevas, who sets in motion a chain of bloody events when police catch him trying to carry a shipment of La Tía’s cocaine into Italy. The intended recipient of the coke appears to have been art smuggler Nazzareno Corradi. But Corradi has been set up. He hires a PI known as “the Alligator” to get him out of the mess he’s in. Meanwhile, La Tía, a notoriously ruthless figure in the Colombian drug trade, is determined to move her operation to Italy, where cocaine has become all the rage among the professional classes. There’s only one thing standing in her way: the Alligator. The Alligator, an ex-con-turned-investigator, and his two companions, former underworld heavy Beniamino Rossini and Max the Memory, are among Massimo Carlotto’s most vivid noir creations. Together, the three men will wade deep into a criminal world of few scruples, testing their own strict and specific moral code along the way.

“The morally ambiguous tone makes this an intriguing read, and the suspense is well maintained.”—Manchester Evening News

“A fascinating glimpse into Italian culture and justice system. It’s sparely written and though quite short, there’s a lot of action . . . dark and gritty.”—Euro Crime “[A] brilliant book.”—The Friendly Shelf

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609451356
Publisher: Europa Editions, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/03/2013
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.33(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Massimo Carlotto was born in Padua, Italy. In addition to the many titles in his extremely popular Alligator series, he is also the author of The Fugitive , Death's Dark Abyss , Poisonville , Bandit Love , and At the End of a Dull Day. One of Italy's most popular authors and a major exponent of the Mediterranean Noir novel, Carlotto has been compared with many of the most important American hardboiled crime writers. His novels have been translated into many languages, enjoying enormous success outside of Italy, and several have been made into highly acclaimed films.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

VENICE 26 DECEMBER 2000

Somehow the Colombian knew he was fucked the moment he met the cop's gaze. He recognized that look. He had seen it a thousand times on the streets of Bogotá. It was that special look cops reserved for suspects just before they stopped them. He glanced around.

The other passengers from the Air France Paris–Venice flight were hanging around the carousel, chattering among themselves, joking and laughing. Just like genuine tourists. In a crowd of 150 people, the cop had singled out his face as the one that didn't fit. The intuition of a true professional. The Colombian cast a sidelong glance at the cop and saw he was still staring at him. A bolt of panic shot into the pit of his stomach, crammed as it was with cocaine: pure, Colombian cocaine, the best on the market.

He swore beneath his breath. He had been told there was no need to worry. That entering Italy, landing at Venice, was a breeze. That at Christmas, it was a cinch. The airport would be crawling with tourists and the cops would be too well stuffed with lasagna and panettone to bother chasing mules with bellies full of coke. That's what he had been told. So on Christmas Day he had caught the flight out of Bogotá, changed planes and passports in Paris and arrived in Venice on Boxing Day. When, supposedly, the cops would still be digesting.

The cop winked at his colleagues in the customs box and motioned with his chin towards the Colombian, just to jack up the tension in the mule's guts. They were all staring at him now. Despite his efforts to smother it, a spasm of fear flashed across his face. He was breaking into a sweat, just a fine film on his forehead and upper lip. Precisely what the cops expected of him.

The Colombian beat off an impulse to make a run for it and forced himself to stay calm. The only way out was through the security gates and onto the runways. He wouldn't make it a hundred meters before they snatched him. He took a deep breath. Then another. Hell, there was no way they could know he was a drug runner; maybe all they wanted was to check his passport. The coke was well stashed. It had taken him the best part of an hour to swallow the pellets–he had made them good and tough so they would withstand the cabin pressure. He didn't want them exploding midflight, killing him somewhere over the Atlantic, didn't want to go the same way as Christobal, that poor son of a bitch from the same Bogotá barrio.

The baggage arrived and the passengers formed a neat line. The sniffer dog walked around a few suitcases looking bored. Nobody got stopped. No, it was him the cops were waiting for.

'Passport, please,' asked the one behind the glass.

The mule handed over a passport that had once belonged to a careless Spanish tourist. Until, that is, a couple of velvety-fingered Colombians had brushed up against him on a bus. The cop behind the glass glanced at the document then handed it to the one who had been staring at the mule all along. A smile of satisfaction crept across his face. Anyone could see the photo had been switched. This South-American-looking guy had aroused his suspicions from the start. You could smell he was a drug mule a mile off. In the two years he had been working at Venice airport, he must have seen forty or fifty of them come through. For 2000 dollars, they set off, their guts stuffed with coke, convinced that all they had to do to pass as tourists was put on their only decent suit.

The cop signaled to the Colombian to follow, and led him into a room full of smoke and men in uniforms. They sat him down and surrounded him.

'That passport's a fake and you're a drug runner,' the cop said in a mix of Italian and Spanish. 'Where are you keeping the coke? In your bags or your belly?' He poked at the mule with his index finger, aiming just above his navel.

The mule looked at the cops' faces and saw there was no way out. 'Aquí,' he answered, pointing at his stomach.

'Colombian?'

'Sí.'

'Who were you delivering it to?'

The Colombian removed one of his shoes and tore off a strip of tape that had been holding a piece of paper folded in four under the heel.

The cop opened it out. 'Pensione Zodiaco, Via Bafile 117, Jesolo.'

Three of the cops then started yelling at the mule, demanding he tell them who he had been taking the drugs to. They wanted to squeeze the most out of the moment. The Colombian shrugged his shoulders and explained that there was a room booked in his name. He was supposed to go there, expel the pellets, and wait for the Italian he had met in Bogotá, the one who had recruited him. He had said his name was Antonio. He had never given his surname. He was about fifty, medium-height, a bit fat, with light brown hair.

A plainclothes cop who had been in the background now snapped his fingers. 'Panierello, call Captain Annetta at the Guardia di Finanza and tell him I'm on my way over. Then see that this gentleman is escorted to the Jesolo Commissariat. I want him kept nice and close to where the meet's supposed to take place.' He moved in closer to the Colombian. 'What's your real name?'

'Guillermo Arías Cuevas,' the mule replied promptly.

'How old are you?'

'Twenty-eight.'

'Where are you from?'

'Bogotá.'

The cop gave him a playful tap on the cheek. 'Well done, kid. You didn't waste our time. The court will take that into consideration.'

Arías Cuevas stared at the cop and shook his head. The son of a bitch was insulting him. It wasn't to grease up to any court that he had decided to cooperate. And it sure as hell wasn't prison that scared him. It was La Tía, that pussy-eating aunt of his. She was going to be more than a little pissed when she discovered he had taken off with 800 grams of her coke.

CHAPTER 2

BOGOTÁ 28 DECEMBER 2000

Opening his door, Ruben Páez found himself standing face to face with Aurelio Uribe Barragán, also known as 'Alacrán', the scorpion, for the lightning speed with which he worked a knife. He was the head of La Tía's gang of killers. As soon as Ruben saw La Tía and her latest lover standing alongside Alacrán, he knew something had gone wrong. The plan that he and Guillermo had put together to make some extra cash must have gone wrong.

'Aren't you going to ask us in, Ruben?' asked La Tía politely–a touch too politely for someone who ran a drug trafficking operation.

La Tía and her girlfriend settled themselves on the bed, the only soft place in the rat's nest of a apartment that Ruben would have done anything to escape–even if it meant ripping off the boss.

La Tía lit a cigarette. There was a time when she had been known as Señora Rosa, Rosa Gonzales Cuevas. Then Guillermo, her sister's eldest, had come along and started calling her Tía, auntie. And everyone had joined in.

She opened her French designer handbag and extracted a flat plastic bottle of Blanco, a low-grade rum that tasted of aniseed. She could have afforded more sophisticated liquor but had drunk Blanco all her life and would touch nothing else. It was a family thing. For generations in the Cauca valley her people had grown the sugar cane used in Blanco. She unscrewed the cap, took a long pull and handed the bottle to the girl, then surveyed the dark red varnish on her long fingernails.

'My contacts in the police have informed me that that punk nephew of mine has got himself arrested in Italy, at Venice airport to be precise, carrying a fair bit of coke. It wouldn't happen to be my coke, would it? Which right now you and Guillermo were supposed to be distributing?' As though in a conjuring trick, a long special-forces dagger appeared in Alacrán's left hand.

'I don't know, I swear it. I swear on my mother,' Ruben said, staring at the blade. But he gave himself away by pissing in his pants.

Aisa, La Tía's lover, burst into giggles, then smothered her mouth with a chubby hand. She wasn't much to look at and La Tía had had a lot better, but this one was a real rubia, blonde between her legs too, just the way La Tía liked them.

La Tía's tone of voice was unchanged. 'You're too scared to lie, Ruben. It's in your interest to talk. If you like, you can pin all the blame on Guillermo. I don't like my employees trying to rip me off.'

Ruben had no desire whatever to test the sharpness of Alacrán's blade, so he told La Tía how in September Guillermo had met an Italian at Señora Sayago's establishment. He had gone there to drop off the usual consignment of coke and as always had hung around as long as possible. Señora Sayago's was the most exclusive whorehouse in town: the girls were beautiful, the champagne was French and the sheets were changed after every john.

The Italian had come looking for a girl to take with him to Pleasure City, Tokyo's red-light district. They got to talking and when the Italian had found out that Guillermo was La Tía's nephew, he made him a business proposition. It sounded straightforward and lucrative. All he had to do was take a little coke off his aunt, smuggle it into Italy and sell it to the Italian. The difference in the price of coke in Colombia and Europe would go straight into Guillermo's pocket while the rest of the money would return to La Tía, who would never know the difference. Guillermo had it in mind to do the trip two or three times a year, making thirty or forty thousand dollars on each run. Enough to set him up on his own, make him a name among the narcos. This was Guillermo's first run and he had decided to take advantage of the fact that it was Christmas.

Ruben licked his dry lips. He reckoned he had told it pretty well. He had skated over his own involvement and failed to mention how Guillermo had presented himself to the Italian as a big-time trafficker. He hoped La Tía had swallowed it.

But Rosa Gonzales Cuevas hadn't got to the top of a world dominated by ruthless machos by falling for the kind of stories that little boys like Ruben made up. She was a survivor from the Medellin cartel, which had been defeated at the end of a bloody war by the Cali cartel, which had then gained the backing of the new government and the Yanks. Following the death of Pablo Escobar, La Tía had fled to Bogotá with 400,000 dollars belonging to the organization. It had been just enough to put her back in business, hire some killers and find a blonde chick pretty enough to be seen on her arm. 'Do you know who the Italian is?' asked La Tía.

'No. I've never seen him,' said Ruben.

'You got nothing else to say to me? Maybe that you were in it too?'

Ruben shook his head. La Tía took Aisa's hand, stood up and made for the door. Alacrán stayed behind and slit the boy's throat, using one of those left-to-right slashes that had made him famous throughout Guayabetal when, as an army NCO, he had dealt with peasants who supported the guerrillas.

CHAPTER 3

NEAR PADOVA JANUARY 2001

The lawyer was slim and smartly dressed. He removed his gloves and overcoat, keeping his scarf around his neck. His name was Renato Bonotto. I had worked for him before. He paid well and liked to win. His latest case had to be something pretty big to make him come looking for me during the last weekend of the Christmas vacation.

'What are you drinking?' he asked, pointing at my glass.

I looked at his manicured index finger. 'Seven parts Calvados to three of Drambuie,' I replied. 'A lot of ice and a slice of green apple to chew on once I've emptied the glass. It's called an Alligator and was invented by a barman in Cagliari, to add a little joy to my life.'

'A bit too strong for me. I'm not much of a drinker,' the lawyer said, ordering a port.

I noticed his cell phone. 'Doesn't happen to be GSM, does it?' I asked.

'Uh-huh.'

'Better hand it to the girl,' I said, nodding at Virna to come over.

Bonotto stared at me in surprise.

'It seems the police can listen in on people via their cell phones. Provided they know your number, obviously. You might as well be wired.'

'I can switch it off.'

'Well, that's just the point, you can't. It goes on transmitting, even when turned off. You have to remove the battery and card if you want to disable it. We'll keep it for you at the bar. It's simpler.'

'What is this, the latest urban myth?'

'It seems it's true. Anyway, there's no point risking it. In fact, you ought to consider banning cell phones from your office.'

The lawyer tasted his port.

'I'm acting on behalf of Nazzareno Corradi,' he began. 'He was arrested about ten days ago, the twenty-sixth of December to be exact. I'm going to need some help to get him out of jail.'

'What's the indictment?'

'International trafficking in narcotics.'

'What variety?'

'Cocaine. Eight hundred grams.'

I lit a cigarette. 'Tricky,' I remarked. 'These days the judges are cracking down.'

'At sixty, the chances are he'll die inside.'

I looked Bonotto in the eye. 'You've never defended a drug trafficker so I take it you're convinced your client's innocent. Besides, if you weren't convinced, you wouldn't be here. Everybody knows I don't work for drug dealers.'

'Corradi's clean,' Bonotto reassured me. 'I've known him for years. He used to be a thief, banks, but, on account of his age, he has now turned exclusively to smuggling works of art.'

I checked my glass and settled back, ready for a long and convoluted story. 'So how did he get mixed up with coke?'

The lawyer scratched at his immaculately shaven cheek. I could smell his expensive aftershave.

'At two in the morning, Corradi received a phone call. He was with friends in Treviso, at their place, playing a friendly game of poker. A voice he didn't recognize informed him that his woman, Victoria Rodriguez Gomez, a Colombian, was in room thirty-seven of the Pensione Zodiaco in Jesolo, where a friend of hers was staying, and that she had been taken ill. Corradi tried to reach her on her cell phone but kept getting a user unavailable message. He jumped in his car and raced to the hotel. There was no one at the desk so he went straight up to the first floor. But when he knocked on the door, a guy with a moustache and slicked-back hair opened up and yelled at him in Spanish to run for it. My client decided he had better find the night porter, but just as he turned round police leapt out from every corner and arrested him.

'The guy in the room turned out to be a Colombian by the name of Guillermo Arías Cuevas. He had been stopped at five o'clock that evening as he came through Venice airport with eight hundred grams of coke in his belly. He had cooperated with the police at once, giving them the address of the hotel, but the description he gave of the Italian who had contacted him in Colombia didn't match Corradi. The statement described a man of about fifty, medium-height, thick-set and with light brown hair, whereas my client is ten years older, almost totally bald, taller and thinner.'

I shrugged my shoulders. 'It doesn't mean a thing. Maybe the Colombian lied. I've never yet met a snitch who told the truth.'

The lawyer threw his arms out wide. 'Either way, my client fell into a trap. He thought he was going to pick up his woman but instead ran into a bunch of cops who are now accusing him of being the mule's Italian contact.'

'So where was his woman?'

'In a lap-dance joint in Eraclea, visiting her girlfriends. It's where she and Corradi first got acquainted.'

'Why did she have her cell phone switched off ?'

'She didn't. The joint's in a basement. There's no signal.'

I motioned to Virna to bring me another drink. 'What have they got on him?'

'Just the fact that he knocked on the mule's door.'

'Well, if you think about it, that's quite a lot. What does the judge make of Corradi's protestation of innocence?'

'He doesn't buy it. He spelled it out for me. Even setting aside my client's previous offences, the fact that he has a relationship with a Colombian dancer and that they have made numerous trips to Bogotá to visit her parents makes it really unlikely that he was at the hotel by coincidence or mistake.'

'What about the phone call that lured him to the trap?'

'It was made from a callbox in Mestre. The judge and investigators take the view that as a lead it isn't even worth looking into.'

'What of the friends he was playing poker with? They must have overheard the conversation.'

'They're all ex-cons with records as long as your arm.'

'What's the judge like?'

'Pisano. A good man. He's open to argument and respects the defense's right to a fair trial. He might seem like the ideal judge. The thing is he has no particular interest in investigation. He just goes along with whatever the police hand him. He'll probably wait for a while and then pass the case on up the line.'

'Then it looks like your client's fucked,' I remarked.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Colombian Mule"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Edizioni E/O.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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From the Publisher

"Massimo Carlotto has a history as riveting as any novel."
—Chicago Tribune

“Carlotto is the reigning king of Mediterranean noir.”
—The Boston Phoenix

“The best living Italian crime writer.”
— Il Manifesto

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