Houston. Friday. May 3.
As usual, Sandra Schafer was at her desk. She had been there since seven A.M. She had spent her first hour scrupulously reviewing the data required to complete Enerco’s financial report for the first quarter of 2002. She reached for the receiver of her desk phone when she heard its familiar warble. “Schafer,” she said.
“Sandra, it’s Jeffrey Wheeler. Could you come to my office? There’s something I need you to do for me.”
Schafer’s heart pounded. She immediately assumed Wheeler had somehow discovered her transgression, her betrayal of the company’s secrecy. It was abnormal for Wheeler to communicate directly with her on any subject. “Sure. I’ll be right there,” she said, then replaced the receiver and hurried to Wheeler’s office. His secretary gave her a smile and a wave. “Go right in. He’s expecting you,” she said.
Schafer entered Wheeler’s office with her fingers crossed and her heart in her mouth, now convinced the only reason he would invite her to his office was to terminate her employment. Her guilt had convinced her that Wheeler knew she had turned over Enerco’s most sensitive financial information to Kerri King.
Wheeler greeted her with a warm smile and a handshake. “Thanks for coming, Sandra. I want you to take a trip over to Benjamin, Alexander & Gabriel, right now. Mark Jacobs is expecting you. He wanted to see me, but I told him I don’t have the time. I’m too damn busy. He’s having trouble accepting our treatment of the 530333 series of SPE’s. He thinks were being far too aggressive and doesn’t think the Feds will give us their blessings. I told him I don’t agree with him, and I’m sure you don’t as well. In any event, I want you to listen to what he has to say, and then set him straight. On the other hand, if he can identify any improprieties, I want you to get them in writing and bring them back to me. The last thing Enerco needs is a financial scandal.”
Relieved, Schafer exhaled. She was also excited to know that Wheeler trusted her enough to deal with Enerco’s controversial accounting practices. Her natural curiosity refused to allow her to go without first asking a question. “Why would Mark be worried about this now? He’s been aware of what we’ve been doing for years.”
“I’m not sure, but I think his conscience is getting to him. In the past he’s always been willing to countenance small transgressions, but not this year. He thinks we’ve gone over the top, way beyond the chicken level. He says we’re using off balance sheet transactions to hide big losses from our shareholders.” Wheeler shrugged his shoulders and turned his palms skyward. “If he’s right, so be it. We’ll make the necessary changes.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to go. I’m due in a meeting in one minute. You should go too. I’ve arranged for my driver to take you. He’ll be at the front door when you get there.”
Schafer returned to her office, picked up her briefcase and laptop, then hurried to the Enerco lobby. As she approached the massive plate-glass front doors, she saw a tall man standing alone just inside the doors. His black hair was shoulder length, his eyebrows thick and dark. A four inch scar decorated his left cheek. He wore black trousers, a white shirt, and a black windbreaker. He smiled and waved to Schafer. “Hello. I’m Mister Wheeler’s driver. My name is Lorenzo,” he said, then pointed to a black Lincoln Navigator, parked outside in the building’s roundabout. “He’s asked me to take you to Benjamin, Alexander & Gabriel.”
“Then let’s go. I’m ready,” Schafer replied, unaware that she would never make it to her expected destination.
Mengalli opened the rear right door of the Navigator and allowed Schafer to enter. He closed the door and hurried to the driver’s seat. Schafer powered up her laptop while Mengalli drove in silence. Before two minutes had elapsed, he turned into the expansive parking area of a Texaco gas bar and convenience store. Schafer thought it was odd that he would do that, and that he chose to park in a secluded and empty area of the lot, as far as possible from the store. “I need cigarettes. I’ll only be a minute,” he said, then reached under the green blanket on the seat beside him and clutched his Glock G28 with suppressor. He turned quickly and fired three shots into Schafer’s chest, killing her instantly. He scanned the lot to ensure that no one was watching, then gathered the blanket and used it to cover the body. He removed his cell phone from his jacket pocket and speed dialed Jeffrey Wheeler’s number. His message was short. “Done,” he said.
He stuffed the Glock under his seat, then drove west on Highway 10 to San Antonio, then south on Highway 35 to Laredo. It was nearly three P.M. when he parked behind an abandoned concrete block building, less than a mile from the border station at the Laredo-Columbia Solidarity International Bridge. He took the time to stuff Schafer’s body, briefcase, and laptop into a black body bag. He hoisted the bag onto his shoulder, carried it into the building, then lowered it to the dust and debris littered floor, several feet away from a rusted steel door. An unlocked Master padlock hung from its latch. He opened the door, causing its hinges to squeal in protest, then dragged the bag through the opening and into a dark and windowless room. He lit a cigarette and smiled, satisfied that his contract had gone well.
After closing and locking the steel door, he returned to the Navigator and drove it to a reasonably well maintained adobe hacienda at the end of a mile long dirt road, and more than six miles north east of Laredo. The hacienda’s walls were covered with white stucco, its roof with rust colored tiles. It was surrounded by mature live oak trees. The building was isolated and owned by Alejandro Salazar, a fellow Columbian and a lifelong friend of Mengalli. Both were retired veterans of the Medellin drug cartel.
Mengalli stepped from his car and was greeted by Salazar’s guard dog, a giant black American Mastiff, growling with its teeth bared. Mengalli reached under his car seat and removed his Glock. He fired a shot, deliberately missing the Mastiff’s head by inches, and causing the dog to hide his teeth and sit.
“Buenos dias, amigo!” Salazar shouted. Mengalli looked up to see his friend, sitting on a rocking chair under the hacienda’s overhang. Salazar, a large muscular man, was dressed in jeans, snake skin cowboy boots, and a blood red shirt. His straw stetson was tipped forward, the front edge of its brim grazing his nose. His handle-bar mustache had turned snow white. He sipped a Corona. He stood to accept a lasting hug from Mengalli.
“Good to see you again, my friend,” Mengalli said, then removed a white envelope from his jacket and handed it to Salazar. “Five large, as you requested.” His dark eyes locked on Salazar’s. “The body must disappear, without a trace, like old times. No mistakes.” He shook Salazar’s hand, gave him the Glock, then returned to the Navigator and drove away, confident that his friend would do his job well. Sandra Schafer’s body would be taken across the Rio Grand into Mexico, then transported to a remote desert area west of Salinas Hidalgo. There it would be buried, never to be found.
Mengalli drove south to the Laredo International Airport. He left the Navigator in the care and control of Domingo Mendoza, another fellow Columbian and a fugitive from the Cali drug cartel. He had fled to Texas in 1998 and was now an itinerant and unsuccessful professional gambler. Down and out on his luck, he had signed on to be one of Salazar’s associates. “I want it to disappear. Not a single atom of residue,” Mengalli ordered, then gave Mendoza a threatening stare. “I don’t have to remind you that your life depends on it.” He turned and walked to the waiting Enerco G-5. His destination: Toronto.