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"Rules of Engagement"


Ralph's Place:
A Magical Experience
By C. Michael Bennis

Dangerous and Desirable

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Book Excerpt

 

Dangerous and Desirable
By C. Michael Bennis

 

Chapter XV Culiacán


Julio stepped off the plane in Culiacán wearing a black T-shirt, Levis 501 jeans, and JP's Custom Handmade Boots. He was stony-faced as he looked into the sun and put on his dark glasses. During the flight, he recalled the early years with Claudia and Nieves in Madrid, and he again suffered the same recurring pain. Next he recalled Nieves as a child and now as a teenager, and he felt immense pride. Then he thought of Ziv, and he experienced an intense longing. She might be the love he had always waited for. Now, standing on the Culiacán tarmac, he let the warmth of his thoughts flow through his body as he turned his face into the fire of the blazing sun, and he smiled briefly with never-to-be-forgotten memories. Then the memories vanished as quickly as hot water in a quick freeze. He cleared his mind and mentally focused on lowering his heart rate. In moments, his body seemed cold and his mind was clear and vigilant as he entered the Culiacán Federal De Bachigualato airport. At this moment, Julio’s eyes took on the feral look that Ziv saw in the photo of a homeless street urchin in Buenos Aires.


Julio now stood by the baggage carrousel awaiting the arrival of his duffel when a small hand tugged at his leg.


“¿Señor, Julio?”


Julio looked down and saw himself. The boy was dressed in rags, his face was dirty, and he had mucus in his eyes and snot running from his nose. The child repeated the same question, “¿Señor, Julio?”


He picked the child up and held him in his arms against his chest, “Sí, soy Julio.”


The small boy explained how Pedro had asked him to wait until Señor Julio arrived, and he was to give him a message, and then he extracted a dirty, crumpled paper with an address. The boy said he had been waiting for days and he was now happy the long wait was over. The boy seemed anxious to leave when Julio set him down, but he refused to release his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’m going for breakfast, would you like to join me.”


The boy looked at him with astonishment and quickly nodded assent, but then his eyes turned murky. “Señor, Julio they would not allow me in the restaurant.”


Julio recovered his duffel from the carrousel and led the boy by the hand, “We’ll see about that.” On the way to the restaurant they stopped in the restroom and Julio cleaned the boy’s face and hands. Then they proceed to the restaurant where a woman told Julio he could not enter with the boy, but Julio ignored her and took the boy to a table were they sat and awaited the coming confrontation.


“I think they will throw you out, Señor, Julio.” The boy became anxious.


Julio laughed confidently, “Is that what you think?”


The manager approached Julio’s table. He was a big man who was used to getting his way. “The boy must leave.”


Julio looked at the man. It was the look people living in Culiacán had come to recognize. It was the face of violence and death, and the manager immediately knew his life was a thread’s breath from extinction. His face paled and his hand shook. “I will bring the menus, Señor.”


When the menus arrived Julio saw fear in the boy’s eyes, and he quickly understood the boy could not read. Julio turned both menus over and motioned for the waiter. “What is your most popular breakfast?”

 

“Huevos rancheros, señor.”


“Bring three Huevos rancheros.”


“The waiter’s eyebrows raised, “Three?”


Julio nodded approval with his head, and the waiter left mumbling. Inside, Julio was laughing because he knew he could eat two breakfasts when he lived alone on the streets. “How long have you been on your own?” he asked.


“Forever,” replied the child.


“Did you know your parents?”


“For a while. The narco-traficantes killed everyone in my family. I was always good at hiding. I suppose I was not worth hunting for.”


“How old are you?” Julio guessed the boy would be about eight years old.


The boy looked concerned, “I don’t know. Maybe twelve-years old.”


The food arrived and Julio watched with amusement as the boy ate two orders of huevos rancheros. He attacked the food with a voracious appetite, and then he looked up ashamedly at Julio, “I’m a barbarian, no?”


Julio smiled, “No, you’re only hungry.” He hesitated, “Would you like to come with me?”


“Are you going to kill people?”


Julio nodded seriously, “Yes. Are you frightened?”


The boy thought about it. “You will stay away from my butt?”


“About that you have no worries. But you could catch a bullet and die.”


“I would be your mascot? Bring you luck?”


“Yes.”


The brown eyes darkened with serious thought. “I would need jeans, boots, socks, underwear, a T-shirt and a cap. I would also need a good knife.”


“I know.”


“Why do you do this?”


“I look at you and I see me. I was once as you are now.”

 

The boy nodded his head with conviction, “I am Carlos. Let’s go for the clothes.”

. . .


They were approaching a luxury foothills home with a black Hummer in the driveway. Julio told the taxi driver to wait with Carlos while he went to the door. He knocked loudly.


“Demonios, ¿Quién es?”


“Jo.”


The door opened and Pedro embraced Julio in a strong abrazo. “¡Hijuela! I knew you would come.” He smiled and slapped Julio on the shoulder. “¡Bienvenido a Culiacán!” He laughed, “You took your pinché time!” Then he turned and pointed to the sofa, “Te presento a Elvira, Ria y Solana.” Julio smiled and the girls leered. They were hungry teenagers with chiseled Aztec faces, dark eyes, curvaceous bodies, and wary looks. Pedro grabbed Julio’s cheek, “You see, in Culiacán we have it all: fucking, fun, dinero and death! As they say north-of-the-border, this is the fast lane, compadre!”


Julio went outside to pay for the taxi and to recover his duffel. When he returned to Pedro’s chalet with Carlos, they were both wearing the local Tomateros de Culiacán baseball team caps.


The boy froze in place when they entered. “¡Usted es el famoso Pedro Valdez!”


“Y tu, el mocoso, the pinché snot-face.” He turned to Julio, “What are you doing with this stray?”


“He will be out mascot.”


“¿Pinché mascota?” Pedro looked at the kid, dressed in new clothes and smiled menacingly, “A mascot must be tough!” He went into the bathroom and immediately returned with a safety pin. Without hesitation, Pedro quickly grabbed the kid’s arm and bunched up a good ridge of flesh and then slowly pierced the ridge in two places with the sharp pin. He then tugged it painfully together and fastened the safety pin. The child never flinched. He stuck his jaw out defiantly at Pedro, “Soy Carlos.”


“Hola mascota, Carlos.” Pedro smiled, “Do you know Bar Tigre?”


“Oof, Worst kind of bar. Most dangerous bar in Culiacán.”


“Mascot Carlos, are you coming or do you stay with the women.”


Carlos turned and walked out the door and waited for the two men.


. . .


In Pedro’s Hummer, Carlos said, “Julio, where’s your .45 pistol?”


“He has to take his weapons off another man. It’s that way,” said Pedro.


“That’s very dangerous,” said Carlos.


“Dangerous for the world’s best bodyguard?” said Pedro.


Carlos undid his seatbelt and whispered in Julio’s ear, “I’ll get a pistol for you!”


Pedro smiled, “You do that Carlos and you are a dead boy!”


. . .


They walked into the historic cantina, Bar Tigre, and murmurs began to grow and reverberate around the room. Pedro was a celebrity in Culiacán and his exploits were made famous by the corrido ballads. Today, Pedro was a walking dead man, but failed attempts on his life made the man an even greater celebrity in a town where courage and bravado were supreme.


Pedro shouted to the bartender, “La botella de Tequila Gran Patrón con varios vasos, limeros cuarteados y Cidral Mundet para el chaval, and rápido.” Pedro was ordering the best and most expensive tequila, and carbonated apple cider for Carlos. Now Pedro was contentedly breathing in the ambience of the bar. He was in his element and in this place he envisioned himself as the King of Culiacán. It was absolutely of no consequence to Pedro that any man in the bar could collect the $50,000 reward for murdering him.


Julio was looking about the bar for a suitable pair of.45 pistols. The reward was unknown to Julio but his sense of danger warned him time was rapidly slipping away and gunplay would be forthcoming. Julio needed a weapon but it wasn’t a need for just any pistol. He had hopes of acquiring a matched pair of precision, combat-ready, 1911 .45 caliber pistols that are built one at a time to exacting specifications by master craftsmen. It would be even better if the handgun were to bear the Wilson Combat® name.


Just then the barroom grew silent as a stocky, 45-year old man walked into the cantina and purposely bumped against Pedro’s able. The collision splashed copas of Tequila across their table and the man sneered contemptuously at Pedro, while Julio observed the man’s hand tooled leather holsters proudly displayed a pair of Wilson Combat pistols with pearl handles. Without knowing the man, Julio sensed incredible arrogance. This was a big duck in the Culiacán pond.


In a tenth of a second, Julio had the man’s pistols. When the man turned, Julio was standing at his side and playing with the pistols by twirling them and tossing them back and forth, hand-to-hand. Julio’s face was cold and sinister as he nodded toward the man and said, Gracias!


The man was stocky and powerful and his face was distorted with rage when he looked into his own unlocked and cocked pistols pointed at his head. “You’ve lost your toys!” said Julio.


Then Julio placed the now locked handguns on the table with Pedro and Carlos as he stood before his adversary with his thumbs in his jean pockets and for one brief moment, the astonished man hesitated.

Then he lunged at Julio.


In less than two seconds, everyone within six feet of the fight was splattered with blood and the once arrogant man was now unconsciously on the floor. All eyes were on Julio who now held the unlocked and fire-ready pistols. Carefully he swept the pistol barrels past the bar’s patrons with deadly intent; anyone who moved would draw gunfire. Then Julio laid one of the pistols on the table, removed the hand-tooled holsters from their previous owner, and then slipped on the holsters. He continued to look around the bar until he holstered both pistols. Then Julio called to the bartender to toss him a wet towel.


The response started as the towel looped awkwardly from the bartender to Julio, when three men went for their handguns. In the blink of an eye, Julio quickly drew and killed all three men and then re-holstered his pistols before he caught the wet towel and dropped it on the unconscious man’s face. Subsequently, a deathly silence befell the tavern as the now partially deaf crowd became accustomed to the smell of cordite.


The bar’s patrons stared with shock and disbelief, which was unusual in a place where fast gunplay was common. Across the room, a brunette woman in her thirties was writing rapidly on a corner table. For a moment, she stopped to stare at Julio, and then she resumed writing.


Julio was now helping his dazed victim into the chair beside Pedro. There was silence as Julio’s adversary adjusted to his regained consciousness and stared at Pedro who was pouring him a shot of tequila. The man slugged back a shot of tequila with shaky hands, and glared at Pedro, “Usted es el gran tacaño, Pedro.”


“I agree,” said Julio, “He’s a tightwad!” Julio extended his hand, “Julio Navarro.”


The man laughed, and shook Julio’s hand, “Enrique Irigoyen. I won’t say it’s a pleasure.”


“There are Basque Irigoyen families in Buenos Aires from Guipuizcoa.”


“And I’m probably the first Irigoyen to ever loose a fistfight!”


Pedro laughed and slapped Enrique on the shoulder. “Coño, you just fought with the once best middleweight boxer in the world!”


“Pendejo, why didn’t you warn me, eh?”


“Would you have believed me?”


“Of course not! Are you going to pay me for the pistols? That’s 100 Ben Franklins!”


Pedro reached inside his shirt and extracted a huge wad of bills, and counted out one hundred ten $100 bills. “The extra ten is for the holsters.”


Enrique looked at Julio. “How do you expect to be paid by a man who is too cheap to buy you weapons? Julio said, “I’ve already been paid.”


Enrique now smelled the cordite and looked behind him. They are good handguns! They’ve put many men down. And you have added three more!”


Enrique turned to Pedro, “Coño, how do you figure to get back into business?”


“I was thinking about discussing that with you. Good thing you purposely bumped into our pinché table. Now I won’t have to look for you!”


“Not having my pistols is the only thing that keeps me from shooting you.”


“Let’s go over to another table and talk business.” Pedro pointed to an empty table, picked up the tequila bottle, two glasses and the fruit as he and Enrique left Julio and Carlos behind. Once they had left, Carlos said, “I am proud to be your mascota. I will follow you anywhere!”


In a matter of seconds, the brunette was sitting beside Julio. “I’m a reporter for the New York Times. I’m doing a story about Culiacán and the narco violence. Who are you?”


“Un hombre.”


She looked at him for a long time. She extended her hand, “Blanca Ibarrola.”


“Julio Navarro.” He shook her hand and was surprised by her strong grip. “Another Basque. The man who was just sitting in your seat shares the same heritage.”


“I know who he is, and I know about Pedro, but I don’t know about you?”


“What’s there to know?”


“For one, you’re an incredible gunfighter. For two, you’re very handsome. I’d have to say you’re the most dangerous and desirable man I’ve ever known.”


“Okay. We have the agasajos out of the way. Why are you talking to me?”


“I intend to write about you!”


Julio laughed. “That’s not good. Don’t expect me to contribute.”


She looked at him in a sly, sexy way. “Okay. Julio. In an hour, I will know everything about you.” She smiled pleasantly, “Until we meet again.” She blew him a kiss, and walked off. Unexpectedly, she turned at the doorway and looked back at him once more before leaving the Bar Tigre. Her eyes locked onto his eyes for a long moment and then she disappeared.


Pedro had now returned to sit beside Julio, and he ruffled Carlos’s hair. Then he reached over and unfastened the safety pin. “Chaval, I was watching you.” Pedro smiled, and turned to Julio, “The kid didn’t twitch. He has ice in his veins! Most boys would have ducked for safety under the table. Not Carlos, he watched everything.”


Julio felt Carlos’s small hand on his forearm, “I need a good knife with a sharp edge,” the boy said. “I must be able to defend you.”


. . .


Claudia was seated at Ziv’s desk in the trading company’s glass enclosed office, when she was told a man wished to see her. She nodded. In moments a tall, extraordinarily handsome Russian walked into her office. “My name is Pavel Bukolov and I have been paid $25,000 to kill you.” He hesitated politely, “Do you have a moment?”


. . .


They were back at Pedro’s chalet and Julio and Carlos were sitting in the living room while Pedro entertained Elvira, Ria y Solana in the bedroom. Carlos looked at Julio, “You’re nothing like the man you protect.”


Julio was silent.


“Do you have a woman?”


Julio was surprisingly taken aback by the question. Something made him hesitate. He had left with little expectation of returning. Essentially, he had prepared Ziv, Claudia and Nieves for the inevitability of his demise. ‘He transgressed all standards of loyalty the moment he arrived in Culiacán. Moral principles vanished in the vagaries of Culiacán.’ He looked honestly at little Carlos and said, “No, I don’t have a woman.”


. . .


Blanca Ibarrola checked many databases. Each one revealed the man’s activities in the boxing ring and his role as bodyguard for the criollo and the caudillo. Then he disappeared from all databases. ‘He changed his name,’ she thought. This was a man who fretted over killing an opponent in the ring, and who became distraught when he shot a little girl while guarding a client. Then he dropped off the face of the planet. She rose and walked around her hotel room. ‘The same man had just killed three men in the blink of an eye, with zero remorse.’ It was the fastest thing she had ever witnessed. Julio Navarro had an incredible talent for killing. It’s seemed inconceivable that a huge hiatus could have occurred in this warrior’s natural aptitude for violence. She surmised he had always been out there.


Then she recalled the small boy sitting beside Julio. ‘He was obviously with Julio.’ And it hit her with a rush of Goose Bumps. ‘This violent man used his powers to protect the weak. He was touched by the plight of those who were totally vulnerable. He had an unusual awareness and a resultant weakness. This was one very interesting man.’


. . .


Julio and Carlos sat in silence. The activity in the bedroom had silenced. Everything was still. There was no noise from the street. There was always noise from cars, radios, from neighbors shouting to one another… Now it was frighteningly quiet.


“!Agáchense!” Julio shouted as he shoved Carlos to the floor and ran to the front door. At that same moment, ráfagas of Kalashnikov automatic AK-47 gunfire ripped through the house. Julio’s responding gunfire punctuated the steady stream of rapid fire that trickled and suddenly became nonexistent. Then again there was silence when Julio returned to enter inside the house. He saw Carlos looking up at him, smiling from the floor.


Julio knocked on Pedro’s bedroom door and waited. He entered when he heard Pedro shout “Adelante.” Before him were Pedro, Elvira, Ria and Solana mostly hidden under the bed covers with only their chins showing. They were laughing hysterically in a room that was honeycombed with bullet holes. Julio was astonished they had not even sought safety on the floor. In that moment, his olfactory organs became overwhelmed with the odor of marijuana and an unpleasant odor. He looked around. On the nightstand were still to be used lines of cocaine. Then Julio saw the growing red spot in the bed beneath Solana and he immediately identified the reeking odor as the smell of feces. Solana had been shot in the lower abdomen, and for one fraction of a second he closed his eyes in rage. Then he gently pulled away the covers and looked at her nude body and saw blood flowing from the stomach wound. Immediately, Julio ripped off a section of sheet and stuffed it in her wound. Solana’s eyes were now expressionless.


Quickly, Julio lifted her from the bed and carried her to Pedro’s Hummer, while he spoke to her in Spanish: Solana, beautiful Solana, don’t go away. Stay with me. Don’t leave. Solana, Solana look at me now.”

 

He turned to Carlos, “Do you know how to drive?”


“No, Julio, I’ve never driven a car, but don’t worry! I will drive us to the hospital. I know where it is.”

 

Carlos drove off with too much speed, but Julio ignored what was happening and he entrusted their journey to Carlos while he spoke to Solana. “Look Solana, Carlos is driving the car. Solana you must see this, Carlos has never before driven a car. ¡Por Díos, Solana! Open your eyes. This is hysterical. You must see this!”


Solana opened her eyes, and then her eyes were wide open. She started giggling. “Carlos, you are a crazy boy! You will get us killed!” Then she smiled, “Carlos, you are adorable!”


Carlos ignored her. The Hummer was bigger than most cars, and Carlos was getting the knack of driving aggressively. ‘Driving,’ reasoned Carlos ‘ was simple. He did what he wanted and went where he wanted and people rapidly moved away.’ Slowly a smile came to his face when he heard Julio tell Solana, “Carlos will race cars professionally! Solana, I promise you, he is great. Watch Carlos. He is incredible!”


Solana was carefully laughing. She began to cough, but no blood came up. She now snuggled up against Julio, and she found safety in his arms. She was getting dizzy, the world was beginning to turn, and she turned to Julio, “Mareo…”


“Solana, hemos llegado. We’ve arrived pretty Solana!” Julio left the Hummer and ran carrying Solana as fast as possible into the emergency entrance of Hospital General de Culiacán. In moments Solana was lying on a gurney with Julio walking at her side and holding her hand. Then Solana disappeared inside the operating theatre.


Julio turned and Carlos was standing beside him. “Carlos, as long as I live, I will remember you driving the Hummer. “Tu eres magnífico!”


He beamed, “I parked the car too.”


“Lets go sit and wait.”


An hour later, Blanca Ibarrola sat beside Julio and Carlos in the waiting room. She noticed the dried tear marks on Julio’s cheeks. Then she felt Carlos’s hand over her hand, and she looked into his sad brown eyes. He shook his head negatively, “el pronostico no es nada bueno.”


Blanca Ibarrola put her hand to Julio’s face and she was pleased he didn’t push it away. At that moment a surgeon walked toward them. He looked tired.


“Will she live?” asked Julio.


The surgeon nodded. “By the grace of God. It was close. Who is Julio?”


Julio and Carlos stood. “I am Julio.”


“She is not fully conscious, but she keeps repeating your name. Your name and Carlos.” Then he looked down, “That’s the best part. Now for the worst: the fetus died.”


Julio nodded sadly. “Will she be able to have other children?”


“I believe so. I hope so! I will send someone out when you may see Solana.”


Julio slowly sat. “I told them to duck, but they were too stoned to understand. They would have been safe on the floor. ¡Ay, pobre Solana!”


“Who is Solana?” said Blanca.


“She is a young girl seeking fun and excitement who found it in Pedro’s charisma.”


“You are a very complex man, Julio Navarro.”


“Sounds as if your computers didn’t perform to expectations.”


“No, Julio, they didn’t,” she smiled. “I suspect you’re hardly disappointed.”


“There’s nothing to know.”


She looked into his eyes and smiled. “Oh, how wrong you are! You are the most fascinating man! I suspect you’ve been doing surreptitious stuff!” She grinned, and gently pushed his shoulder, “By the way, where’s the body you’re paid to guard?”


Julio feigned shock, “Oh, I forgot. Must have left him behind.”


“You’re surprisingly unconcerned about leaving a psychopathic murderer alone and defenseless. You have no fear Pedro will kill you for neglecting to protect him.” She laced her hand gently over his right hand. “It wouldn’t be that Pedro was responsible for Solana’s injuries? Don’t answer that. I already know the answer is yes. And that must really be upsetting. Your psyche has that little glitch. Innocent victims are the last straw. Anything goes, except harm to like ingenuous persons… like Solana and Carlos.”


Julio looked into Blanca’s eyes. He now realized this woman was dangerously introspective. She would in short time be able to open Pandora’s box and expose his most closely guarded secrets. And then unexpectedly, he laughed with a newly found affinity for the journalist. “Hey, at this moment, I figure Pedro can take care of himself.”


. . .


Claudia looked unflinching into his eyes. “Pavel Bukolov, you have captured my undivided attention. Please be so kind as to elaborate why you have been paid such an insignificant amount to kill me? Honestly, I’m worth considerably more.”


He smiled. “Perhaps I have fallen upon hard times? Or maybe, it is such an unchallenging assignment that my client figured I could slip it in between business meetings? I will have to concede an important point. It is an insignificant amount to be paid to extinguish the flame of such a beautiful woman.”


“I’m happy we agree. Pavel, you should return to your client and demand four times that amount. Don’t look startled. I know such an amount is customary for dangerous assignments. Your client has taken advantage of you.”


Pavel looked confused. “How could such a lovely woman be dangerous?”


“I have a feline characteristic. Much like the sleek pussycat I have sharp claws. I believe you’re inexperienced at this and most certainly underpaid. Perhaps you should learn to negotiate more forcefully?”


“My lovely friend, you are mistaken. I am not entirely inexperienced. You see the KGB has employed me for many years to perform what my client is now paying me to do. Actually, I’m rather good at it.”


Claudia studied the Russian and found considerable charm in his simplistic, rugged masculinity. She was actually becoming very stimulated by his presence. It was however not the stimulation Pavel sought to engender. “Pavel, please call me by my name. I’m Ziv,” and she extended her hand.


Pavel took her hand and gallantly kissed it. “Ziv Yadin, I find this conversation quite enticing,” and he smiled with cunning mischief. “I had no idea of the pleasure I was about to find when I entered your office. I expected an awful, repulsive field agent.”


“Perhaps we should do lunch?”


Pavel shrugged. “Lunch would be nice.” He looked at her with intensity and unflinchingly took her hand and firmly rubbed it. “There is a saying in New York, I’m sure you have heard it? Let’s cut to the chase.”


Claudia stared unflinchingly into his eyes, “and what might that be, Pavel?”


He still had her hand inside his and he rubbed her palm with his third finger. “Come with me. We’ll go directly to my room at the St. Regis Hotel. Let’s discover the origin of what we are both feeling.” He grinned lasciviously. “You must expect me to earn my $25,000. Believe me, women who take this route go out of this world in ecstasy. It’s more elegant than a shot in the back of the head with a .22 caliber bullet!” He rose and pulled her from her desk. And then they both walked out of the Trading Company.


No one saw Claudia leave with Pavel since the Greek ship docked at the moment they rose to leave and everyone began screaming and shouting with delight over the incredible fortune they just earned.

 

 

 

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