Authors: Jeffery Deaver
An Acceptable Sacrifice
Open Road Integrated Media Ebook
I have always imagined that Paradise
will be a kind of library
— Jorge Luis Borges
D MET LAST NIGHT
for the first time and now, mid-morning, they were finally starting to let go a bit, to relax, to trust each other.
to trust each other.
Such is the way it works when you’re partnered with a stranger on a mission to kill.
“Is it always this hot?” P.Z. Evans asked, squinting painfully against the fierce glare. The dense lenses of his Ray-Bans were useless.
,” Alejo Díaz replied, his English enriched by a luscious accent.
“You’re shitting me.”
The month was May and the temperature was around 97. They were in Zaragoza Plaza, the picturesque square dominated by a statue of two stern men Evans had learned were generals. A cathedral, too.
And then there was the sun … like burning gasoline.
Evans had flown to Hermosillo from outside D.C., where he lived when he wasn’t on the road. In the nation’s capital—the nation to the north, that is—the temperature had been a pleasant 75.
“Summer can be warm,” Díaz admitted.
“Warm?” Evans echoed wryly.
“But then … You go to Arizona?”
“I played golf in Scottsdale once.”
“Well, Scottsdale is hundreds of miles
of here. Think about that. We are in the middle of a desert. It has to be hot. What you expect?”
“I only played six rounds,” Evans said.
“In Arizona. For me to only play six rounds … I thought I’d die. And we started at seven in the morning. You golf?”
“Me? You crazy? Too hot here.” Díaz smiled.
Evans was sipping a Coke from a bottle whose neck he’d religiously cleaned with a Handi-wipe before drinking. Supposedly Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, was the only city in Mexico that treated its water, which meant that the ice the bottles nestled in was probably safe.
He wiped the neck and mouth again. Wished he’d brought a miniature of Jack Daniels to use as purifier. Handi-wipe tasted like crap.
Díaz was drinking coffee, to which he’d added three or four sugars. Hot coffee, not iced. Evans couldn’t get his head around that. A Starbucks addict at home and a coffee drinker in any number of the third-world places he traveled to (you didn’t get dysentery from boiled water), he hadn’t touched the stuff in Hermosillo. He didn’t care if he never had a hot beverage again. Sweat tickled under his arms and down his temple and in his crotch. He believed his ears were sweating.
The men looked around them, at the students on the way to school, the businessmen meandering to offices or meetings. No shoppers; it was too early for that, but there were some mothers about, pushing carriages. The men not in suits were wearing blue jeans and boots and embroidered shirts. The cowboy culture, Evans had learned, was popular in Sonora. Pickup trucks were everywhere, as numerous as old American cars.
These two men vaguely resembled each other. Thirties, compact, athletic, with round faces—Díaz’s pocked but not detracting from his craggy good looks, reflecting some Pima Indian in his ancestry. Dark hair both. Evans’s face was smoother and paler, of course, and a little off kilter, eyes not quite plumb. Handsome too, though, in a way that might appeal to risk-taking women.
They were in jeans, running shoes and short-sleeved shirts, untucked, which would have concealed their weapons but they weren’t carrying today.
So far there was no reason for anyone to wish them harm.
That would change.
Some tourists walked by. Hermosillo was a way station for people traveling from the U.S. to the west coast of Sonora. Lots of people driving, lots of buses.
Evans lowered his voice, though there was no one near. “You talked to your contact this morning, Al?”
Evans had tried out shortening the Mexican agent’s name when they first met—to see how he’d react, if he’d be pissed, defensive, hostile. But the man had laughed. “You can call me Al,” he’d said, the line from a Paul Simon song. So the test became a joke and Evans had decided then that he could like this guy. The humor also added to the infrastructure of trust. A lot of people working undercover think that saying “fuck” and making jokes about women creates trust. No. It’s humor.
. And from what he say … I think our job, it will not be easy.” He took the lid off his coffee and blew to cool it, which Evans thought was hilarious. “His security, very tight. Always his security man, a good one, Jos, is with him. And word is they know something’s planned.”
“What?” Evans’s face curled up tight. “A leak?”
And this, Díaz seemed to find funny, “Oh, is always a leak. Every egg in Mexico has a crack. They won’t know about us exactly but he has heard somebody is in town to kill him. Oh,
, he has heard.”
The “he” they were speaking of was Alonso María Carillo, better known as Cuchillo—in Spanish: “Knife.” There was some debate about where the nickname came from. It probably wasn’t because he used that weapon to kill rivals—he’d never been arrested for a violent crime … or
crime, for that matter. More likely the name was bestowed because he was brilliant.
, as in sharp as a. He was supposedly the man behind one of the cartels in Sonora, the Mexican state that, in addition to neighboring Sinaloa, was home to the major drug gangs. But, though it was small, the Hermosillo Cartel was one of the most deadly, responsible for a thousand or more deaths … and the production of many tons of drugs—not only cocaine but insidious meth, which was the hot new profit center in the narcotics trade.
And yet Cuchillo was wily enough to avoid prosecution. The cartel was run by other men—who were, the
were sure, figureheads. To the world, Cuchillo was an innovative businessman and philanthropist. Educated at UCLA, a degree in business and one in English literature. He’d made his fortune, it appeared, through legitimate companies that were known for being good to workers and were environmentally and financially responsible.
So due process wasn’t an option to bring him to justice. Hence the joint operation of Alejo Díaz and P.Z. Evans—an operation that didn’t exist, by the way, if you happened to bring up the topic to anyone in Washington, D.C., or Mexico City.
“So,” Evans said, “he suspects someone is after him. That means we’ll need a diversion, you know. Misdirection. Keep him focused on that, so he doesn’t figure out what we’re really up to.”
“Yes, yes, that is right. At least one diversion. Maybe two. But we have another problem: We can’t get him into the open.”
“My contact say he’s staying in the compound for the next week. Maybe more. Until he think it’s safe.”
“Shit,” Evans muttered.
Their mission was enwrapped with a tight deadline. Intelligence had been received that Cuchillo was planning an attack on a tourist bus. The vehicle would be stopped, the doors wired shut and then the bus set on fire. The attack would occur on Friday, two days from now, the anniversary of the day the Mexican president had announced his most recent war on the cartels. But there the report ended—as had, presumably, the life of the informant. It was therefore impossible to tell which bus would be targeted; there were hundreds of them daily driving many different routes and run by dozens of companies, most of whom didn’t want to scare off passengers by suspending service or cooperating with law enforcement. (In his groundwork for the mission, Evans had researched the bus operators and noted one thing their ads all had in common: they began with variations on
Mexico Is Safe!!
Even without knowing the specific bus, however, Díaz and Evans had found a way to stop the attack. The biggest cartels in Sinaloa and Sonora were pulling back from violence. It was very bad publicity—not to mention dangerous to one’s health—to kill tourists, even accidentally. An
attack on innocents, especially Americans, could make the drug barons’ lives pure hell. No rivals or anyone within his organization would challenge Cuchillo directly but the agents had learned that if he, say, met with an accident his lieutenants would not follow through with the attack.
However, if Cuchillo would be hiding in his compound until after the bus burned down to a scorched shell, then Díaz’s contact was right; their job would not be easy. Drone surveillance had revealed that the house was on five acres, surrounded by a tall wall crowned with electric wire, the yard filled with sensors and scanned by cameras. Sniping wouldn’t work because all the buildings—the large house, the separate library and detached garage—had thick bulletproof windows. And the walkways between those structures were out of sight of any vantage points where a shooter could set up.
As they sat bathed in the searing sun, Evans wondered if your mind slowed down the hotter it got. Oatmeal came to mind, steaming sludge.
He wiped his forehead, sipped Coke and asked for more details about Cuchillo’s professional and personal life. Díaz had quite a bit of information; the man had been under investigation for the past year. Nodding, Evans took it all in. He’d been a good tactician in the Special Forces; he was a good tactician in his present job. He drained the Coke. His third of the day.
Nine fucking forty-five in the morning.
“Tell me about his weaknesses.”
“Cuchillo? He has no weaknesses.”
“Whatta you mean? Everybody has weaknesses. Drugs, women, men? Liquor? Gambling?”
Weakness was a very effective tool of the trade in Evans’s business, as useful as bullets and C4. Usually, in fact, more so.
Díaz added yet one more sugar to his cup, though there was only a small amount of coffee remaining. He stirred elaborately. Figure eight. He sipped and then looked up. “There is maybe one thing.”
“Books,” the Mexican agent said. “Books might be his weakness.”