"Read the headlines," Guerrero told his bodyguard. It was the morning of July 34th, Guerrero had just finished his self-hygiene routine, and now sat at the narrow end of a long mahogany table, in his dining room. There were three plates in front of him, one with lettuce, tomatoes and spinach, the other with watermelon cubes and one with a beef and an egg ("Gotta watch my weight, eh, Trujilito?"). The room also had a chandelier made of crystal and a (fake) Botero hung on one of the green walls.
Or at least that's what they told him, but he couldn't know. You see, Júlio del Paso Guerrero was blind.
He had been blind since three years or so ago, when he forcefully overthrown the leadership of the Cartel. And business has never been better, all he had to do was pay ten or twenty percent for one or another "para" and not only the government, the cops and the gringos let him alone, but he also had a few more willing pair of hands to get Maria Juana and Coke to Paraguay, then Brazil, and then the world.
Being blind was not easy, but he got used to it, and with the money he made he could pay bodyguards around the clock to help him to do anything he couldn't alone, like, for instance, reading the newspaper. He didn't trust Violeta to do that, he trusted her to do many things, like stealing money from him while he wasn't...for the lack of a better word, "looking."
Trujilito, his son, could barely read, and he was a little worried about the boy. The doctors said something about Dilixia, and whatever it was, he couldn't just take two pills and a goodnight every morning. He considered sending his son to Spain, where there were schools specialized on this kind of kid. But he couldn't bear to live away from his son, and he couldn't leave Colombia.
The clear, monotone voice of Guadajo pulled him away from his reflections, "'President raises wages nation-wide,' 'Indians call for investigation on recent massacre,' 'Medelín is safest big city in Latin-America,' 'Colombian businessman found dead in Rio de Janeiro's slums,' 'American scientis...'"
"Wait, wait," Guerrero interrupted him, "read the one about Rio."
The bodyguard cleared his throat and read it aloud, "Juán Calaja, 45, was found dead in a Rio de Janeiro shanty town, due to proximity, authorities believe the crime may have some link to drugs. Calaja's family members say they are 'offended' and that 'he probably died in a robbery, that city is a horrible place to be'..."
"Don't do that Trujílio!" Violeta chimed in, her son was trying to dip an egg into his orange juice. Her voice was soft like silk, but her skin was rough. She was short, and weak, but it was refreshing to have her nearby. Like a summer's breeze. She was like a summer breeze, and Guerrero hated her. But he loved the boy, and the boy loved her.
"...well...caham," Guadajo started again, with his metallic voice, "'The perpetrator of this barbaric crime will be found and punished," said the local chief of the civil police, Carlos Madeira. The wealthy wine producer, known for his 'Escarlata' brand, made a living..."
Guerrero rose his hand, "leave it at that. Shit."
He took his custom-made cell-phone in Braille, and synthesized voice that read the menus and dialled a number. A voice answered the phone after the third bleep, and Guerrero, holding his walking stick firmly, left the table to speak in private.
Two years after he took the leadership of the Cartel, he realized that it was all too big for him, so he reinstituted "La Jefatura," other bosses that would take care of their respective areas of the Cartel's operations, and the profits were shared among them.
Recently, to supply their growing consumer base in Brazil, Guerrero decided for a high-risk operation, where the drugs would be brought from the frontier to certain "distribution headquarters" with the help of Amazon Indians, and from there to the urban centres. Things were going smoothly, until recently, when a new boss rose to power in one of Rio's factions, and he demanded to pay only after the delivery, to see if the regional distributors trusted him.
The son of a bitch didn't pay. Guerrero sent three envoys to him, two came back. Calaja was the third, one of his high-ranking lieutenants. Killed. Killed and put on display. Killed only to show that the little shit thought he could fuck with him. With him! Júlio del Paso Guerrero! The little shit probably found another source, and thought he could fuck with him and get away with it.
His reputation was on the line. He had suggested the new operation, and he had overseen it. If some little nigger defied him, even if it was only ten thousand dollars...well, he couldn't let he get away with it. He would have to go there and take care of things. The other "Jefes" would think he was going soft. And going soft, with the kind of people Guerrero dealt with, was a suicide note.
After the call was done, Guerrero went back to the table, with a wide smile, "Guess what Trujilito? Daddy will go on a business trip, so why don't we go to the zoo see the monkeys you like so much?"
The room was crowded, the cacophony of voices was deafening, the flashes of the cameras were blinding, the day was hot (very hot), and backstage, Colonel Armando Himmel wiped the sweat off his forehead. He fidgeted, and undid invisible wrinkles on the sleeves of his uniform.
He adjusted the knot on his tie, and cleared his throat. He was a tall man, with a face that seemed carved on wood, or rock. It looked like it could crack if he made any facial expression, this was not true, but he seldom made them anyway. Though he still had some wrinkles (and almost forty), the women he dated with told him he was "handsome", even though his hair was whitening already, and he preferred to not contradict them.
A little light lighted up beside him, prompting him to step onto stage, a crack of a smile opened on his dull face.
He sighed, fidgeted, pulled his pants up, and stepped onto stage, prepared to enunciate his lines.
Fernando Pireles, ex-general commander of the military police, waited for him at the pulpit, and shook his hand, smiling to the cameras. Himmel stepped onto the pulpit and turned the script to the right page.
He fidgeted, cleared his throat, and enunciated his lines with a perfection that, in another line of work, would've given him an Oscar.
"A friend of mine, at school, once told me a joke. It goes like this: There's a competition of the police forces of the world. The British police, the American police, and the Brazilian police. Three rabbits are dropped deep into a forest, and they have to find it.
"The British police uses the most talented inspectors of the Scotland Yard, with amplifying glasses and notebooks, and they follow a trail of clues until they find a rabbit in 30 minutes. The American police uses the latest satellite and radar technology and finds the rabbit in 20 minutes. The Brazilian police, however, gets into the forest and comes back five minutes later, with a pig, all bloodied and mangled. The pig is yelling 'I'm the rabbit! I'm the rabbit!'"
Laughter erupted all around the room, the audience was liking it, some journalists lifted their hands.
"I'll answer the questions when I'm finished, wait a little bit," he told them, then he loosened the knot on his tie, pulled the sleeves of his uniform, rubbed his chin, read the lines again, and continued:
"But of course, this is not completely true. Sherlock was character in a book, the Americans do love using their nightsticks," even more laughs, but no raised hands, "and we...well, as our overflowing penal system can prove, we've been taking our fair share of rabbits lately," this time there was no laughs, and only a few raised hands. They were as if completely mesmerized, and eager to hear what else he had to say. This made Himmel a little uncomfortable.
Because people don't need the Machiavellian princes, the all-powerful leviathans, or the enlightened despots of old. In this new modern age, the modern people needed modern reaganite actor-politicians, that could smile to the modern cameras and assure them that the modern institutions they worked to protect were doing just fine, and everything was being taken care of, by the people that knew best.
And Himmel was a great actor.
"But for every rabbit we get, a thousand more a born, you know how rabbits are," laughs, "Our only chance is to go to the rabbit holes and catch them all at once. And if they try to escape, we exterminate them. That's how you end with a plague. With zero tolerance. And that's what we will do as long as I am in charge of this corporation.
"Every week we will invade and occupy the favelas, every day we will investigate dirty cops, every day we will apprehend enemy weapons, every day we will arrest drug users; it's with their money the traffickers buy their AK 47s, their grenades, their RPGs and their 72mm anti aircraft guns! That's not common criminal weapons. Drugdealers in Europe don't carry anti aircraft guns!
"Those are weapons made for war. And it is a war we fight here. And the people of Rio de Janeiro are tired of this, and it's time for us to get into the offensive. Zero tolerance is the best wa...no, it's the only way that we will stop the age-long rule of the drug traffickers," and the audience clapped. It was a perfect show, it had drama, comedy, suspense, horror, and even social commentary!
Himmel adjusted the knot of his tie, and made sure the buttons of his uniform were still in place, he then scratched his head and his chin. The barrage of questions started. They asked him if he intended to marry, they asked him to explain his policy of zero tolerance again, they asked him what he thought of a recent movie that criticized the military police, they asked him if he was going to marry, again; they asked him...
"Will you use your personal friendship with the mayor to get new funds to the police?" came a question from the back.
"Why, of course. The corporation is badly underfunded. In fact, the reason many policeman see my appointment as an advance in negotiations, is my personal relationship with the mayor," was the answer.
Then they asked him what he liked to do in the Sundays, then they asked him if he intended to arrest all drug addicts, then they asked him if he liked walking on the Ipanema beach, then they asked him what is his favourite food, then they asked him what he would like to have written on his tomb, then they asked him...
"Will you use your personal friendship with the mayor to get new cars for the corporation? To substitute the..." the journalist checked his notes, "8 that remain broken for a month now."
"Yes. The cars are of utmost importance for patrol duties. In fact, I intend to do a reform on the whole way the cars are treated in the stations," Himmel answered, smiling, but uncomfortable at the actual importance of the questions he was being asked.
The journalist didn't wait a second before asking again, "Will you use your personal friendship with the mayor to abort the investigations on Bóris Silvano and Geisel Juazeiro, two other personal friends of you, accused of accepting bribery from drug dealers?"
Himmel hesitated before answering, he didn't have an answer for that question memorized, "Well...I...of course..."
"Don't mind answering now, a simple 'no' would suffice," the journalist said, with a sarcastic tone. The room went silent. The journalist made another question:
"What do you have to say to people that defend that repression isn't going to work, and the only solution to the problem are governmental development programmes to end poverty in that area?" was his question. Himmel tried to pretend he didn't hear, but the deafening silence of the room was a pretty big obstacle.
"Obviously, those people don't live in the favelas, and never tried to do anything about it," said Himmel, with a mix of anger and desperation.
The journalist actually smiled, took a paper from his stack, and told him, "This is an interview I made with the coordinator of the "End of Hunger", a NGO that provides food for poor communities, they have offices in four favelas, and the coordinator actually works in one of them. When I asked what he thought about your nomination, he answered, 'It's sad, really. I don't know the man, and I can't know if he is as ruthless and unmerciful personally, but his zero tolerance policy will only exacerbate the problem, no amount of repression will take the children off a career as a dealer, if the social problems that cause the problem in the first place are not combated', what is your opinion about it."
Himmel was speechless, the old ex-commander came to the rescue, and answered, "The coordinator obviously has support from the traffickers that owns that favela...no further comments. The press conference is over."
Himmel and the ex-commander left through the backstage, Himmel loosened his tie, pulled his pants up, unbuttoned some of the buttons of his uniform, and rubbed his sweat covered forehead, "Cacete!" he exclaimed.
The ex-commander chuckled beside him, and patted his back, "Oh, don't worry pal, in five months or so, you'll think that reporter was going soft on you. Thanks to God, that's your problem now. I'll get myself a retirement and move to Salvador."
They left the building, and ex-commander entered in his black Ford, and drove away, leaving Himmel behind, to walk to his car while flattening the wrinkles in his uniform.