Curse of Cortes'

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Chapter 9: Narco Jesuit Conspiracy

Polanco Park, Mexico City

June 18th 2:13 am | 76 hours to Mayan chaa

Skilled in the use makeup, and wardrobe, Lucia Alvarez-Vasquez looks ready for the camera less than an hour after the middle of the night phone call. A well-known investigative journalist, she projects the perfect image of a modern Latin woman, sophisticated, intelligent, and informed. Her camera operator Jose Juarez, on the other hand, gets to wear his usual oversized t-shirt, sweatpants, and sneakers. She bites down a twinge of jealousy.

Emergency, military, and local police vehicles have cordoned off the exclusive Chapultepec district condominium adjacent to national parks, Aztec ruins, and exclusive shopping. Crime for these communities means an occasional drunk driver or double-parked Mercedes. They watch news of violence elsewhere, but never imagine it on their doorstep. Even at this late hour, dozens of high-rise drapes are open with anxious eyes that peer down at the emergency lights, and the small crowd on the boulevard.

Lucia paces back and forth like a caged jaguar. Neither local law enforcement nor the military will comment, keeping the media away to contain the narrative. The unofficial rumor involves a murder-suicide with the victim’s names withheld. It sounds too convenient and rehearsed. Federales don’t normally cover a murder-suicide.

An ambulance driver exits the building with the seventh body bag, another child judging from the size, the fifth child taken so far. She darts to intercept him.

“Excuse me, Channel 9 news,” she announces. “How was the de Aguilar family murdered? Were they tortured? Where was the bodyguard? Who gave them access?” She lobs the questions at him not waiting for answers, hoping he’ll crack.

The driver waves her off. “Just the family, you’ll need to wait for the police report,” he explains, moving past her to load the body, closing the van door behind him.

A minute later, he drives away with lights on, but siren off. A police officer moves in her direction, so she turns her back to walk away as Jose turns off his light.

“Well, that was a waste,” Jose complains looking elsewhere.

“Actually, it’s what he didn’t say,” she replies, but sees he doesn’t get it. “He didn’t deny the victims were the de Aguilar family.”

Jose gives her a ‘so what?’ look.

“Salazar de Aguilar, the CEO of Banco de Mexico Nacional owns the entire 34th floor, and lives there with his wife and five children. I interviewed Senor de Aguilar last year for an article on bank fraud. Last week, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) placed Senor de Aguilar under investigation for Nacon money laundering linked to the Panama Papers. Senor de Aguilar started his career at Fossack-Monseca, the law firm where the Panama Paper documents leaked.” She grins at her capacity to connect the dots.

“You have a death wish,” sighs Jose.

“What? There could be a real story here,” she argues.

“I cover celebrities, entertainment, business news, and the environment, and if I’m lucky, a little soccer. A murder-suicide is borderline,” he reminds her while he packs his gear. “I don’t cover corrupt politicians or cartel violence, because, well, I love my family, and I enjoy living.”

Lucia dismisses the remark. “Salazar de Aguilar and Arturo Lanza are personal friends. I think Nacon is sending Lanza a message.”

“You’re not hearing me,” he snaps. “You need a new cameraman.”

Lucia eyes him with disappointment, and considers arguing with him, but knows it would be a waste of time. The cartels have intimidated media into silence, most are too afraid to seek the truth, much less speak it.

“Then go home to your woman,” she grumbles. “I’ll find someone with cohunes.”

She regrets the crude insult at once, but before she can apologize, he turns.

“Screw you,” he snaps. “I’m your third camera man this year, and they agreed to give me a raise to take the job.” He inhales to contain his irritation. “Look, Luci, I like you, but how long do you think the network will keep you on if you keep putting people in danger?”

Part of her knows he could be right, except that Senor de Aguilar is the fourth executive assassination in six months with each death somehow linked to the Nacon cartel, a Panama Papers leak, or President Lanza.

“I’m sorry for what I said,” she offers. “I actually envy your family.” She reaches to shake hands. “No hard feelings.”

Jose hands her the data disk from his camera, and continues to pack, his decision firm. “No hard feelings,” he finally responds, “but seriously Luci, watch your back.”

“You sound like my brother,” she snorts.

As Jose drives off, Lucia turns back to the police line. No more ambulances wait for bodies as police disperse the crowd, and shades close on darkened windows. Nacon violence and intimidation of media dates back decades including the murder of her father to gain control of his Juarez television network. Since then, the number of murdered journalist has risen from dozens into thousands. Even worse, evidence points to a deeper corruption beyond media into banking, energy, the military, and politics, implying a secret infiltration model borrowed from the Jesuits, an enormous insider coup of influence across Latin America, financed by drug profits.

Midnight mayhem may be a recent experience for the elite of Mexico City, but she grew up as a victim of cartel violence, traumatized and paralyzed by it, and she can no longer turn a blind eye. The war against Nacon corruption cost her a family, a childhood, and a marriage. Except for her brother Xavier, and her career, she has little left to lose, and she’s willing to ditch the career. An inside voice agrees with Jose that she should leave this one alone. Another voice cries for justice, regardless. Sadly, she knows which voice will win, the one that always wins.

Teotihuacan Condominium, Mexico City

June 18th 4:02 am | 74 hours to Mayan chaa

Exhausted by the time she gets home, Lucia collapses onto the couch agitated and restless. Something spooked her tonight, but she can’t pinpoint what, which makes it worse.

She impulsively picks up her TV remote. A confessed news junkie, she pre-programmed every news channel from Mexico to Bolivia into a split screen with eight pop-up windows, each programmed to a default country. Encrypted computer hard drives, monitors, and tablets connect to a secure encrypted Wi-Fi, and commercial firewall clutter the room.

Other local channels report the fake story of a murder-suicide while her submission linked the family de Aguilar to the IMF, Panama Papers, Nacon money laundering, and President Lanza. Chances of her editor publishing her version are slim to none.

The second big story of the night comes from an online para-military news site Xavier hacked into months ago. The U.S. Navy found a Malaysian freighter drifting three hundred miles northwest of Panama, two-thirds submerged with a massacred crew. Recovered bridge security videos show an unmarked helicopter take a single container. Contents of the container are unknown, but assumed to be drugs or arms.

On a blank note card, she writes. ‘De Aguilar murder cover up,’ and then on a second card writes, ‘Malaysian ship sunk for crate’.

Dozens of similar note cards, photos, and newspaper clips, each connected by yarn fills the wall. Pinning her new cards to the wall, she connects them to other events. Stepping back to view the latest updates, she can see obvious clusters and patterns, but not a central theme. She may need to give in, admit defeat, and use Xavier’s data analysis program. Even worse, she’ll have to admit he was right. The only thing worse than an overprotective brother, is a smug overprotective brother.

From a channel based in the Yucatan, another story catches her eye, the unexplained disappearance of an influential community leader on Isla Cozumel. An important international summit will happen on the island in a few days. Death of a civic leader tickles her instincts. Creating a new card, she pins the note to the wall.

Lying back on the couch to examine the wall patterns, exhaustion wins over and seduces her asleep in her clothes, again.

Jalisco Forensics Institute, Mexico City

June 18th 7:23 am | 71 hours to Mayan chaa

Loud ringing startles her off the couch as she fumbles to pull the cell phone to her ear.

“Hola?” she whispers, her voice still hoarse. “Hijole,” she jerks up, “I’ll be right there.”

She changes into fresh clothes and races to the downtown morgue, where the police have asked her to identify the body of Jose Juarez. The detective acts detached, as if he never expects to find the killer, claiming street thugs shot Jose to steal his camera gear, but the scenario makes little sense. The equipment was high end, etched with studio identification, and difficult to fence, and even more peculiar, they only took his camera, and left the high priced lights and other gear.

“What were you filming on your assignment?” the detective asks.

Lucia hesitates. “We covered the de Aguilar massacre in Polanco Park.”

“You mean the murder suicide?” he corrects her with the official story.

“Yea, sure,” she replies.

“Who did you talk to while you were at the crime scene?” he prods further, staring at his note pad waiting. She wonders how these questions relate to Jose’s murder.

“Nobody would talk. Do you know why?” she asks, but he ignores her.

“Did you keep any video from the crime scene?” he looks down at his pad.

“Excuse me?” she responds.

He fidgets with his pencil, nervous. “Video,” he repeats. “Did you capture any video?”

Why ask about the video instead of the stolen camera? Her instincts tell her he’s looking for something other than Jose’s killer.

“Jose had the disk in his camera,” she lies.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, checking his watch he turns to the coroner. “Go ahead.”

The coroner looks to Lucia. “Ready?”

She nods before he slips back the sheet to expose the pale, ashy face. Nodding her affirmation, she quickly spins away, and allows the detective to lead her out of the morgue.

On the way home, the whole experience disturbs her for more than the normal reasons. One of them was why they called her instead of Jose’s wife. His vow to stay alive for his family resonates with a sadness she knows all too well. Jose’s death will devastate them, especially the girls. Her other concern was the police fixation on the Polanco Park massacre.

Teotihuacan Condominium, Mexico City

June 18th 9:51 am | 69 hours to Mayan chaa

Arriving home, Lucia discovers the door of her apartment left open, the knob damaged. An icy chill shoots through her veins as her hands slips into her purse for the Beretta 9mm Xavier insisted she carry. Her back to the hallway wall, she slowly pushes the door open with an extended left arm. Wishing her heart would stop pounding so damn loud, she listens for any sound of movement, hearing only silence. She swings her head into the doorway to get a glimpse, and pulls back, vandalized. Her gun hand thrusts into the doorway, waiting. There’s no response so she risks another glance, empty. From room to room, she silently clears the apartment before letting out her breath, and dead bolting the door. As her pulse slows, her rage flares.

Bastardos,” she kicks the couch in frustration.

The computers and data drives are gone, but they smashed the expensive monitors and screens, and emptied every drawer and cabinet. With a bolt to the bedroom, she finds jewelry tossed on the closet floor, the carved wood box thrown on top of the moderate priced baubles. Why take computers, break the screens and leave the jewelry? With a powerful flash of insight, she realizes the call from the morgue was a diversion. She must have hit a nerve last night. Someone tipped off the cartel, maybe even her editor. Her head spins so fast, she sits on the rumpled, torn up bed before she falls.

Over a decade investigating the Nacon, hunting down the men who killed her parents, and unraveling the dangerous question of why, and now they have her hardware. If they get past the military encryption, they will know everything she knows. Instead of the hunter, she has become the hunted. Tension twists a knot in her chest, wringing her hands on her jeans.

Why didn’t they kill her? The answer hits her like a slap to the face. They’re looking for something Jose didn’t have, and something they didn’t find in her apartment, the video shot at the Polanco Park massacre.

She runs to the bathroom to grab a vase of seashells from the back of the tub, and dumps the entire jar onto the rumpled up bed. Fishing around, she grabs two flash drives hidden at the bottom, and then with a dash back to the living room, she takes out her phone for a final photo of her card-yarn wall. Whoever trashed her place must have also taken a photo. They know too much, and she has a long way to catch up.

She once made the poor choice of flirting with the building maintenance man. It took forever to get him to leave her alone. He once showed her a tunnel from the building basement to the apartment building next door, built by the same developer. A little creepy at the time, but her poor judgement will now pay off. Slipping down the back stairwell, through the garage, she slips behind the furnace room to an unmarked steel exit door.

From the main garage level next door, she sneaks a trembling peek onto the street. Two men sit in a car watching the front of her building, likely the same men who trashed her apartment. Not finding the Polanco Park video, they’re hoping to follow her, or worse. Her heart pounding wildly, she runs to the other side of the garage and exits onto the next block to hail a passing cab.

Storage Coyocan, Mexico City

June 18th 10:18 am | 68 hours to Mayan chaa

After giving the taxi driver no less than five addresses to make sure no one followed her, Lucia enters the commercial storage building south of the city. At the end of a darkened hall, she unlocks the heavy padlock, and rolls up the door. With a quick step inside, she closes the roll door, and bolts a lock from the inside to prevent unexpected visitors. A black-and-white security screen provides a video feed of the hallway. Terrified out of her skin, she stands in the darkness watching the monitor, her heart pounding between her ears, a trembling hand gripped tightly on her Beretta.

Several moments pass before she exhales, and flips a power switch to illuminate a storage space furnished with inexpensive rugs, a battered office desk, and several computers. A networked copy-printer sits next to a wire rack with several dozen boxes containing files, tapes, or CDs. Her safe house and war room on the murder of her parents, and narco corruption. Set up by her brother, pirated internet from the insurance company next door provides online access. She had gotten sloppy by working out of her apartment, a nearly fatal mistake.

Most of the data in the boxes are originals to the flash drives in her purse, with copies uploaded to several online cloud sites under multiple fake names, another trick taught by Xavier. After booting the main computer, she steps over to a box labeled ‘Cartel Violence’. Lucia threw the disk on top last night on her way home. To her knowledge, they captured nothing of importance, but someone else isn’t so sure.

The raw video pans the growing crowd of concerned and frightened citizens. Jose covers the seven bodies carried out by the coroner, then cuts to the military guards who hold back the crowd, then her interview with the police, and then with the coroner. Nothing. The whole tape runs again, and again for over an hour. She listens to every word thinking she missed something. Then she spots him. While she’s talking to the coroner, he stands at the back of the crowd, not frightened or concerned, but casually talking with one of the military police smoking a cigarette. After a momentary glance in her direction, he turns his face away from the camera.

The blood in her veins turns cold. She’s seen his face before, a long, long time ago. He’s older and heavier now, but she remembers the heavy eyebrows, the bony jaw, the scar above his left eye, and his scowl. Lucia had changed too. She’s no longer the terrified little girl with her older brother’s hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. Yet, seeing his face again, even on video triggers an intense flashback. An involuntary flurry of images saturated with a tsunami of rage, terror and powerlessness that punches her in the gut, tightens her chest, and spins her vision with a violent vertigo. Her hands and jaw clench as memories flash back uncontrolled, watching from outside her body.

Two men storm her home in Juarez shouting at her father and mother to get on their knees. In her room playing, Xavier forces her into a hidden crawl space beneath the floor, and full of spider webs. Muffled screams and gunshots proceed shattered glass, and the thunderous fall of bodies onto the floorboards. The overpowering smell of gasoline dripping through the wood pushes her to a vent beneath the front porch. Killers drag her parents into the middle of their suburban street, leaving a bloody trail. Doused in gasoline, the tall one sets her parents on fire as the house above her burns. Xavier pulls at her clothes to escape, but she can’t move, her eyes fixate on the morbid scene. Unchallenged in broad day light, the taller man turns back to admire his handiwork. She will never forget his face, the face of death, the face the man on her video.

Her body shudders, flashing hot and clammy. The memory swells up in waves of weeping and groaning as she hunches over trying to squeeze away the pain. It takes several moments to slow her breathing, and pull away from the emotional avalanche.

The same man who assassinated her parents also massacred the de Aguilar family, and now he has his cross hairs on her. Using a hacked government facial recognition application, she uploads his image. While that search grinds, she opens a pirated copy of a government application that her brother Xavier developed for CISEN, Mexican Military Intelligence. Very sophisticated, it has taken her two years to organize the data on her flash drives for the program to read. Opening the powerful application, she uploads the image of her wall, and then the contents of the flash drives.

She doesn’t know or care how the application works, but it translates each note card into an event or POI (person of interest). Then the program connects data to each event or POI, and then searches online data sources to fill in the blanks. Her flash drive has thousands of video clips, AP wires, articles, and other data sources spanning decades. An hour later, the application has produced ten times as many events or POI as she expected. The pattern discovered in Mexico repeats across Latin America, reflecting a business and government take over from within. Of the dozen new events and POI, a few new names catch her interest.

· Pakistani General Basri Qamar Hayat (deceased 49) (see profile)

· Felipe Roué Gutierrez (deceased 16) (see profile)

· Juan Perez de Menendez (age 56) (see profile)

The first two names are a total mystery, but the well-known eccentric, womanizing, media mogul Juan Perez de Menendez both surprises and intrigues her. A friend of Arturo Lanza and just about every other leader in Latin America, his company Evolucion has been a major promoter for the summit on Cozumel, and he even owns her network.

Excited by the lead, she sends a text to her brother on an encrypted phone registered under a fake name. Xavier insists on using his dark web alias of Delores, the name of their mother. At his insistence, she set up a false dark web moniker Phoenix, because she will live again, someday.

‘Delores– Good news. Found K1 (killer 1). Bad news, K1 found me. At safe house running Beast App. Dead bank CEO ties to JPdM (Juan Perez de Menendez)? Love, Phoenix’ - SEND

Xavier once told her there were two types of people in the world, those who run out of a fire to save themselves, and those who run into a fire to save others. No one truly knows what type of person he or she will be until the fire erupts. Her instincts urge her to pursue this thread no matter where it leads, even if it means running into the fire. She already knows what type of person she is, and while telling Xavier would only make him worry, she suspects he already knows.

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