Lorenzo Mengalli, now forty-seven, had lived an exciting life. He made his living in an extremely dangerous way. He was a mercenary. He killed people. He had chosen that particular career because he was good at it, and it paid very well. When business was slow, he did other odd jobs: stealing, covert intelligence, abduction, and physical intimidation. He preferred killing, however, because it was his specialty, spiritually satisfying, clean and fast. He had killed often, both in the United States, his adopted country, and earlier in Columbia, his homeland, where he had honed his skills. He lived alone in a reasonably expensive apartment on Manhattan’s lower east side. He had never married, always preferring the company of prostitutes to satisfy his sexual requirements.
The son of poor farming parents, he was born in 1955 in Pasto, a village in southern Columbia. His birth name was Santiago Mengalista. He had three sisters and one brother, all older than him. A tall man, about six foot three, he was still almost as strong and muscular as in his youth, just a little slower. His thick black wavy hair was combed straight back, its tips touching his shoulders behind his neck. Only a hint of grey showed on his sideburns. His eyes were like black marbles, sheltered by deep sockets and thick black eyebrows. The skin covering his face looked like creased leather, the result of years in the hot Columbian sun. A four inch scar, the legacy of a knife wound, extended from his left cheek bone to the left corner of his large mouth.
From the moment he was old enough to understand, he hated the fact that his family was poor, compelled to struggle to survive, never certain where their next meal was coming from. He learned quickly that in his country, one was either very rich or very poor, almost everyone in the latter category. Only a privileged few enjoyed the former. A middle class was virtually non-existent. With the exception of Sundays, he worked and sweated all of his long hot days on his parent’s ten acre farm, scratching food from the rocky and infertile soil. He spent his evenings dreaming of a better life. He ran away from his family, Pasto, and poverty at the tender age of seventeen.
He had learned from acquired friends and connections that wealth was to be had in Medellin. He had no way of knowing that his destination would one day become the drug capital of the world, and that he would play a part in that history. In his first year of stealing and petty street scams he made more money than he ever dreamed he would make in a lifetime. He quickly acquired a reputation as a ruthless killer, slashing the throat of anyone who cheated, crossed, or ratted on him. His audacious exploits eventually led him to a meeting with Pablo Escobar, the man who was destined to become the boss of the Medellin drug cartel, smuggling over a half a billion dollars worth of cocaine into the United States. Escobar, not yet into cocaine trafficking when he met Mengalista, liked him, the way he operated. He recognized Mengalista as a valuable member of his team. Escobar needed an enforcer and Mengalista was the best, able to kill in spectacular and creative ways, yet never leaving a trace of evidence.
Mengalista’s wealth, experience and reputation grew in proportion to the spectacular growth of the Medellin drug cartel. By the early eighties, he had become legendary, one of the most feared men in Columbia. Opponents of Pablo Escobar knew that if he gave Mengalista a contract on their lives, their days were numbered. In early 1982, with the financial assistance of the Medellin drug cartel, Muerte a Secustatores, (Death to Kidnappers), was formed by Columbian politicians, U.S. corporations, and wealthy landowners. The organization’s objective was to fight guerrillas who opposed them. Assassination was its primary weapon, and Mengalista was the tip of its spear. Statistics were vague at the time, but it was alleged that he was personally responsible for over a hundred of the 240 registered assassinations prior to 1983. His work was so professional, so thorough that no one could prove his involvement.
As the drug wars intensified, the wretched calendar had begun to take its toll on Mengalista’s energy. He had concluded that it was only a matter of time before the bell tolled for him. He had already formulated his exit plan and was prepared to disappear into exile in rural Argentina when he received a call from Ken Layton, a wealthy American businessman who owned a quarter million acres of ranch land near Bogota. Layton had heard of Mengalista’s expertise and needed him. He explained to Mengalista that Jose Luis Esteban, a Bogota politician was intent on breaking up his land holding and re-distributing it to local farmers. Layton wanted Esteban to disappear and told Mengalista that he was prepared to pay him $250,000 for the service.
Mengalista, initially disinclined to accept the contract, reconsidered. A quarter of a million would be useful, but exile in the United States, priceless. “I’ll do what you ask for no money,” he replied to a shocked Layton. “My price is that I come to work for you in America, for one dollar per year, plus bonuses for services rendered.”
Layton accepted without hesitation, confident that he could easily accommodate Mengalista’s request by calling in some political markers. “We have a deal. You give me Esteban’s death certificate, and I’ll fly you to Houston. We’ll give you a new identification, and set you up in business here.”
“No. New York City,” Mengalista countered. New York was the one American city he had read and dreamed about as a youth. He had frequently fantasized about one day experiencing the American dream in that beautiful and exciting city.
“No problem. Anywhere you want. I’ll make all the arrangements.”
“I’ll do as you ask, Mister Layton, but I suggest you do as you have promised. If you don’t, I will see to it that you never again own so much as a square inch of Columbian land.”
Jose Luis Esteban was assassinated and Layton was true to his word. Mengalista was flown, first class to New York at Layton’s expense. He used a passport identifying him as Lorenzo Mengalli. His credentials identified him as the president of Xylox Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Enerco. Layton threw in the apartment as an expression of his gratitude. As Mengalista had requested, his salary was one U.S. dollar per year, plus generous bonuses for the numerous services he provided to Enerco Inc.