Nestor stopped Old Man Collins before he walked away. The intensity of the immediate events shook him to his core. His whole life changed in one second.
"I think we should call the sheriff, Don Collins."
"We can't call the sheriff, Nestor. You know that as well as I do. We're about to get a big payoff, and it's not legal."
"This isn't going to work. If we don't stop this right now everything will turn into a nightmare. Nothing good will ever come from this, but we can stop it from being a disaster if we do the right thing."
"Do you really mean that? Do you really feel that?"
"I do. I will not be a party to hiding this man's body in a grave. We have to contact the authorities."
"Are you dead set on that?"
"I am, señor."
Collins pulled the shotgun up to his waist. In one heartbeat he pulled the trigger. Nestor was dead even as one more gun blast shook the night sky. The old man had thought about something like this happening. He had weighed it out in his mind beforehand, even though he didn't know it would be like this, or this night.
"It finally happened, Jibbie. I finally made the big decision there's no turning back from, one chance to get the real payoff, all or nothing. It's the only real chance I have ever had. I had to, Jibbie," he told the dog. "I had to.
Jibbie whined. The night grew quiet again. Nestor's body twitched and settled to the ground, never to stir on its own again.
Nestor Torres Olvidades was born in San Cristobal de las Casas in 1967. While the states on the United States border underwent the beginning of sweeping economic changes and a cultural shift that followed the northern dollar, traditional lifestyle in Chiapas continued very much undisturbed. The eight pound baby boy was christened in the cathedral four hundred thirty-three years earlier dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Picture perfect weather filled the streets of the town with glowing sunshine and air as vibrant as life itself that morning.
Ernesto Torres Gutierrez and Sylvia Olvidades Garcia awaited the miraculous moment in San Cristobal due the renowned safety of a delivery room there. The doctor and all of the nurses expressed sincere joy, and God at last smiled down upon the Torres family. The couple found the birth a special blessing. Sylvia miscarried twice in the sierras before they traveled to the city for the success, her whole being illustriously wound into the labor, shining and bright.
The red ceramic tiled roofs and cobblestone streets filled daily with tourists from across Latin America and even the United States. Smiling visitors strolled past the crafts, wares and indigenous people in the central plaza of Santo Domingo church like dreaming colonialists, enjoying a presentation put on only for the sake of earning enough coinage to survive. Tourism allowed inhabitants to survive, but the Indians who depended on outdoor sales never earned enough to advance beyond their social stations. Barely a week after bringing Nestor into the world Sylvia proclaimed she had the strength to travel, anxious to return to the realities and comforts of home.
The small family traveled only with their maid, whose services were invaluable after the birth. They left the Torres hacienda under the supervision of a trusted old friend and employee of Diego Torres, the grand patriarch who left Ernesto alone in the world two years earlier. The plantation boss knew all the workings of the business, but even as Ernesto and Sylvia observed the hospitality of the city duties called. Nestor's mother worried constantly. She was loathe to be the reason her husband was absent from the helm of a growing and dynamic family business. Seeing the women sell woven fabric in the street, knowing the difficulties of those women's lives, spurred her to a quick recovery.
Once back at the plantation in Soconusco, securely situated in her domain, Sylvia contemplated the glories and hardships of her homeland, the tropical highlands, the cloud empire of the mountains and the water filled jungles, the fruit of the prickly pear, as the region was named. She considered Chiapas, not Mexico, her homeland, where neither the Spanish nor the Mestizo populations assimilated the native Americans into the formless, heritage eating folds of cross-cultural procreation that erased tribal distinctions in the rest of the nation. More than a quarter of the people of Chiapas spoke their own languages, Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Chol, all Western Mayan, disdaining Spanish, the tongue of the Conquistador invaders and their lapdogs. Located between Zaragoza and Guadelupe Victoria, the Torres holdings depended on the Chiapas Indians and the Mayan populations concentrated heavily not far to the east in order to harvest their coffee, and, to a lesser extent, cacao. The Indians held the Torres family in high regard; it was part of the family heritage to have a strong bond with the people who lived there before anyone else. That strength depended first on Ernesto, and then later on his son Nestor, two men whose strength of character marked that part of their world and earned respect and a good reputation for the name Torres.
By 1992 Ernesto Torres remained strong and had maneuvered the family into position as the head of an alliance of Mexican coffee growers that owned a significant portion of Mexico's gross domestic production. Nestor, though he loved his father, saw the world in a completely different light. He felt his talents and potential were wasted on the family business, and instead forged alliances as a businessman in his own right. The young man, brilliantly self-educated in socioeconomic ideology and political theory, met with the men who formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, also known as the EVLN. He knew of the stir of uprising and the organization long before even his father heard the whispers.
Zapatista founders needed the funds to supply a guerilla war with guns, ammunition, and what public sympathy they could afford. The Mayan members of the movement boasted tight lipped families throughout the more inaccessible regions of Mexico. Not only did the tropical regions from the tip of the Yucatan to the Pacific wetlands of Chiapas denote their ancestral territory, their relatives worked in the mountains of Sinaloa and Guerrero, where they could live, sometimes even thrive, beyond the control of the Mexican government. The Indians controlled remote supply lines that fed illegal coca product from South America through Central America to ports on the East and West coasts of Mexico, and worked in the most fertile marijuana producing regions, within earshot of some of the nations principle growers. Nestor saw the potential to produce vast liquid capital quickly and anonymously.
Under the pretense of investigating an expansion of coffee sales to South Texas and Louisiana Nestor sought his father's assistance in making arrangements to visit the United States. He received his travel visa very quickly and with basically no questions asked. On September 15, 1992, he flew into New Orleans. There Nestor was to meet with two businessmen recommended by a discreet advisor he communicated with by phone in Acapulco before leaving his own country. He proposed a one time deal for half a million U.S. dollars.
Marijuana supply chains were well established from south of the border into the land of white men. Nestor didn't attempt to break into that business, nod did he seek to become a regular supplier of coca. He planned one delivery of two hundred twenty pounds of cocaine for five thousand dollars per kilo. That was a price that normally only traffickers from the United States could get. He contacted the marijuana cartel only for the purpose of getting the names of the two men he met in New Orleans. They were well known to the man from Geurrero his Mayan friends worked for. One of those men was the elder Collins and the other was a man from New Orleans called Marvin Zeringue.
The younger Torres retained his family honor completely in the matter, having arranged to meet with the owner of an enormous coffee wholesale packager in Louisiana named Emile Vaujainne. He considered that meeting to be of foremost importance, and spent a lot of time on the business presentation to Vaujainne. Nestor proposed to eliminate the middle men in the Chiapas alliance who made a living off of shipping coffee north, a move that would increase family business earnings by twenty-three percent. The family plantation had just recently exceeded the production numbers required to become solo suppliers of a company such as the one owned by the Louisiana man, but Nestor was counting on the quality of the product to make the sale, not lowballing the demand end. To close the deal he synchronized arrival in New Orleans with a ton of coffee hand sorted with such discriminating attention that he believed it would easily rival product from Jamaica and Hawaii so prized by connoisseurs.
Nestor paid for the coffee shipment to be carried on the very same passenger plane he flew north in, out of his own savings and with his name emblazoned boldly on every package. In the coffee there were one thousand quarter pound triple wrapped balloons full of ninety-nine percent pure ether flake, one each in the one thousand one pound bags of coffee. Growers always shipped their product north in bulk. The small packaging meant that the only work Vaujainne would have to do after taking possession of the shipment would be to transfer the already ground coffee from one package to another. The small vacuum sealed packages also passed customs inspection with no problem. Smugglers also did not do such a thing as hide a product that could land them in prison for life underneath a layer of coffee barely one half inch thick.
In a cafe in Hotel de la Ronde in New Orleans Vaujainne expressed astonishment at the bold rich flavor of the medium roast he sipped with Nestor Torres Olvidades. He agreed to the proposed contract with Villa Torres and signed off on the seven hundred fifty pounds of coffee that had already cleared the airport. It sat in a van on St. Phillip Street. Nestor hurriedly resealed the van's valuable contents into the contents of a small mountain of empty Ziploc baggy boxes. He threw those boxes out the back of the van into a dumpster in Metairie, where he pulled up and extracted the two hundred twenty pounds of local anesthetic into a duffel bag.
After the legitimate rendezvous Nestor proceeded to Commander's Palace, one of the city's most exclusive restaurants, completely alone, where he had rented a VIP room for the meeting. Collins and Zeringue arrived on schedule, each of them with two other men. Old Collins was with Mark Tucker and another cowboy Nestor never saw again and never asked about. The Zeringue party were dressed to the nines. When the elevator to the restaurant on the twenty-second floor opened and the eyes of the Louisiana hostesses were accosted by the sight of three men dressed in country western attire it struck them as something very unusual. That experience caused them to pay almost no attention to Marvin Zeringue and his two companions three minutes later.
The men who actually were from New Orleans blended in seamlessly. Zeringue was not a tall man. He was olive skinned, five feet eight inches tall and mustachioed. The other two men were distinguishable only in that they both had a hard edged gleam ion their eyes, a look that was absent in the eyes of the men from Texas. Nestor was dressed in Chiapas linen khaki pants and a white dress shirt, and wore his nicest shoes. The thing that set him apart from everyone else in the restaurant was his smooth demeanor, soft spoken well articulated English and obvious Hispanic ancestry. Aside from that he was completely nondescript.
After one round of drinks the men got down to business. Of the three of them only Collins appeared somewhat nervous, although inside Torres shook irrepressibly and worried the tremors might reach the surface before completing the exchange. Each of the two white men carried briefcases containing one quarter of a million dollars, a fact that surprised the young Mexican national. They wanted to see the product before making the exchange, and everyone but Torres had doubtful looks on their faces.
“If you hadn't been recommended so highly I would think very bad things about this meeting.” Zeringue expressed his distaste for the arrangements with a tone that said very clearly he would never make the mistake of agreeing to such a thing again. He glanced at the men from Texas and said, “I would introduce myself, but considering the circumstances I don't believe that's a good idea.”
“Well, I can promise you that we all have great big brass balls.” Collins broke the silence at his end of th table with that statement accompanied by a short burst of forced laughter. “Both of our groups showed up to a meeting with two unknown parties. That's really not the way this is normally done.”
“I must express my sincere apologies, señors. I was very pressed for time on this trip or I can assure you we would have met separately.”
Nestor lied. Meeting both of the men at the same time was a tactic he had been advised of before leaving Chiapas. Telling both of the parties in advance that a second party would be there meant they would both check each other out, absolutely minimizing any possibility one could not be trusted. Conducting business in Commander's Palace had also been planned in advance. The dangers of the situation Nestor walked in and out of were lessened dramatically due to the posh setting.
“Gentlemen, if you will present the funds I would be more than happy to hold up my end of the bargain.” Nestor's perfect English was marked by an accent both distinctly Hispanic and at the same time nothing like other Mexican accents. Nobody payed much attention.
Collins put his briefcase on the table and prepared to open it. An abrupt statement from the man to his left stopped him short. Zeringue stated in a confrontational tone, “I'm not even showing you my briefcase until I see something from you.”
Nestor didn't miss a beat. He stood and hefted two one hundred ten pound duffel bags onto the table easily, one in front of each party. He did not sit back down, although he was positive if the two men worked together they could instantly walk out with the duffel bags without paying. They both checked the contents of their duffel bags. The process consumed very little time. Once the six men had the substance in their possession everything about their attitudes changed. They could take one look at it, take one whiff of it through the plastic, and discern the purity of the product. After noting that the quantity they possessed, if anything, may have struck them as too much. More than one of the six men seemed frightened. Neither Zeringue nor Collins were one of those men.
Nestor considered it his lucky day. They both put briefcases on the table containing the correct amount of money. He figured neither one of the white men felt secure enough in the environment to propose robbing him. He underestimated the power of the substance he delivered minutes earlier, because of his youth and lack of experience with it. He did not know the seriousness of what took place. The other men did. Before leaving Nestor said, “Gracias.” Nobody else responded; they only hurriedly stood to leave.
Young Torres deposited the cash into the family bank account via international transfer at four different locations of Bank of America. At each of the bank branches he gave the same story about a new coffee contract between Chiapas growers and Vaujainne's coffee company. Before leaving the United States Nestor knew depth of the popularity of that man's coffee brand. The story genuinely impressed the bank tellers. They all drank that kind of coffee. Six hours later he was on a plane headed home.
The Zapatistas received four hundred thousand dollars from Nestor shortly after his return to Chiapas, far more than they could have through normal channels. For his part Nestor earned one hundred thousand dollars and a deep sense of satisfaction that he pulled off the plan. He had no intention of ever doing something of the sort again.
Young Torres had no idea that events in January, 1994, would wind up with his name on them. Incarcerated individuals deemed political prisoners by the EVLN were freed from the San Cristobal de las Casas jail. After casualties on the government side and before the ceasefire negotiated by Bishop Samuel Ruiz a number of Zapatista rebels were captured, one of them a confidant of Nestor's. Under enhanced interrogation, that is to say, after prolonged beatings and torture, the man gave up the name Nestor Torres Olvidades, along with everyone else he ever knew. Nestor had scant notice of the incident, but managed to flee the country before his name got out. He was certain he would be arrested. He was the sort of person the government of Vicente Fox could make an example of.
The visa from the United States had yet to expire. He traveled to New Orleans that evening, but not before talking to his parents. Nestor's mother had been devastated by the brief explanation she had received. His father was less surprised. Ernesto locked eyes with his son before allowing him to leave the study of their hacienda in the beautiful Soconusco region. Even more importantly, Ernesto Torres Gutierrez told his only son how much he loved him, how much he meant to him. Something from beyond comprehension whispered in Ernesto's mind. Something told him they would never see each other again.
“Mi hijo, my son, your every footstep on this planet is witnessed by God. I am so proud of you, no matter what has happened, no matter what may happen. I will always be on your side. I will always love you.”
“I love you too, father. I will be back. This will blow over.”
Ernesto held Nestor's neck with an iron grip. There was no weakness in his voice. There was a single tear in his eyes. Their eyes met. The father knew his son could never come back. Nestor had no clue, his heart still young in a world full of hardened men.
Their rushed conversation never meant that much to Nestor. He arrived in the United States with no contacts that could not be traced to his name in Mexico aside from Collins and Zeringue. He could not reach Zeringue, but had been able to get in touch with the old man in Texas. He forged an awkward alliance with that man's family, and left to begin a life in exile in the second largest state.
The young scholar and brilliant intellect found himself far from home in the company of people that never even remotely had his best interests in mind. Not only that, the company Nestor began to keep considered him to be extremely shady when he was from one of the great law abiding and landholding families of Chiapas. Later he received word that the families of some of the men who died at the hands of Zapatistas held him personally responsible for what had happened. He felt very alone that day, more alone than he ever thought he would.
His father weathered the political storm left in his son's wake. Thanks to the agreement with Vaujainne Nestor secured in New Orleans, Ernesto kept the family business intact and as profitable as ever. The alliance of other coffee growers might have expelled Villa Torres if it had not been for that continued success in the United States.
The political storm Nestor created was nothing compared to the one that started the afternoon Ernesto found out his son was dead. The details came in an official mailing from the United States government. Ernesto did not even read the details. His eyes scanned down to the words he had expected to find. He let the letter slip from his fingers. It fluttered to the floor with a slight flapping sound, unheeded.
“I will avenge you, Nestor. I will avenge you if it's the last thing I do.”
[uneditted, but caught a mistake mentally]