Wrapping the tie around his neck felt like vindication for Anthony Angelino. Professionals wore ties. Businessmen. Every ounce of feeling good reflected in the bathroom mirror was critical to attack the flashbacks from the previous weeks and months that hit hard and often.
He had sat in his jail cell one day after another. And then finally the ruling came from the judge. Not enough evidence to stand trial. Damned right. His lawyer made her case to the judge that the D.A. was presenting circumstantial crap. She had certainly earned her money, but the last few months heightened his anxiety as he sought to erase his reputation among the inmates as a man who poisoned children.
When his lawyer visited once every few weeks and explained the step-by-step progress she was making, it was like watching water drip from a faucet one drop at a time. He wished he was thinner so he could have slipped through the bars and on his way to freedom, but that’s how the courts worked. Meeting scheduled with the judge. Case presented. Sounded promising. The cycle continued as he slept fitfully in his bunk, wondering if there would be a middle-of-the-night assailant. The exercise yard, dining hall, and even the restroom had the feeling of a death trap.
Men were bored and wanted entertainment, and they had scores to settle from grudges that were carried in from outside the prison walls. No one would mind if he was used as a pawn in a power struggle.
Strategically, Angelino engaged in enough small talk with the right people to show he wasn’t some kind of molester or a man who preyed on innocent children. Though the minds he encountered were warped and twisted, the moral code that kids were off limits still remained.
Tom Stone: Sweltering Summer Nights is available on Amazon
We’re dealing with narco-subs and three men who carry a tremendous amount of deceit in their hearts and lives. Detective Tom Stone and his partner Jake Sharpe along with Detective Brian Kilbraide find their way through an array of clues and a trail of smuggling to stop an illegal cocaine trade on the seas.
Excerpt from Book 1 Tom Stone: A Nitty Gritty Christmas
The van was no more than sixty feet away. He raised his gun. A dumpster sat to the left and would give cover for an excellent view of the driver’s side. He sprinted. The all-too-familiar pop, pop, pop of shots broke the quiet, whizzing near his ears and pinging off the dumpster. Stone hit the wooden deck, rattling his bones, as another shot hit the dumpster.
He realized that the space around the van was quiet and that the shots had come from behind him. He took cover behind the dumpster with the van to the left and the parking lot spreading back to PCH to the right. Stone listened intently but only heard normal nighttime sounds: a distant foghorn, the faint chatter of night fishermen at the end of the pier, a barking of a seal, and a cord flapping against a flagpole. A feeling of vulnerability descended on him. Stiffness crept through his knees and up through his thighs. He shifted to his left to loosen his cramping leg and a voice made him freeze.
“Put down the gun, Detective.” The tone was confident smartass like a modern day gangster. “Put it down now.”
He heard a racking sound and wanted to turn and fire but set the gun on the deck instead.
Scattered debris looked a grenade had been detonated.
The car was a late model BMW that slammed into a light pole, a tall reinforced steel kind.
Stone’s first thought was that the hand of God had reached down from heaven with a giant butcher knife and split the hood in two. Glass from the windshield had popped out and was lying in a crumpled heap around the sidewalk. Two fire engines had lights flashing and the paramedics were on the scene treating a woman lying prone. A girl sat next to her wiping away tears.
Men and women wearing jackets with CSI emblazoned on the back were carrying out their investigations. The car that had been hit in the right rear bumper was sitting off to the side. A bus stop shelter was toppled and a trash can had been hurled into the side of the Dollar Plus Discount store. Cowboy met his fate at maximum velocity.
“Damn.” Stone muttered and looked up. The whirring propellers of news helicopters were overhead. “God, that’s irritating.”
“What?” Jake yelled.
Annoyed, Stone motioned toward the copters.
Monty Tusco walked up to Stone. Her cross-fit competitions kept her fit in a way that Stone admired. An ambulance was parked nearby and what was presumably Cowboy’s body lay covered on the ground. “Good to see you Tom. So you want a look?”
Stone inhaled. He didn’t say anything but walked toward the sheet. Nothing at all was pleasant about seeing a man who had taken chunks of glass shards to the face and had lost half his flesh to road rash, even a man who acted like a sworn enemy.
Monty glanced around to make sure the coroner wasn’t watching and lifted the cover. “Looks like a scene from a slasher movie, doesn’t it?”
Stone paused. The trail of blood flowing from Cowboy had soaked the fringes of his coat.
Monty raised her eyebrows and grinned. “Cool, huh?”
“I wonder about you sometimes.” Stone shook his head. Monty’s humor was as grim as the deaths she often witnessed. The medical team placed the body on a stretcher and slid it inside the vehicle. Another life torn by inner chaos, screaming on its path to extinction. There was enough carnage in Los Angeles to keep the coroners busy throughout the year whether it was Christmas or Easter, Kwanzaa or Passover.
Detective Tom Stone and his partner Jake Sharpe battle wanna-be drug lords and a crime syndicate in Los Angeles–with the help of their friends.
Tom Stone: A Nitty Gritty Christmas is available on Amazon
A door opened and a woman stepped out. It was Sara wearing a sweatshirt that hung below her waist and covered the top of her jeans. She held a blue plastic bag and when she turned, her eyes connected with Stone’s, and she dropped the bag. Sounds of broken glass echoed and she took off.
“Sara, wait,” shouted Stone. “We just want to talk.”
Jake broke into a run as Sara scrambled down the far staircase. Stone peeked into the apartment, did a quick once-over to make sure no one else was there, and then joined Jake in the pursuit.
“LAPD, ma’am. Please stop,” yelled Jake.
Sara jumped the final few steps and ran, bumping into a child pedaling a tricycle.
Jake hurried down the steps and along the courtyard. Stone saw him disappear by the front gate.
He made his way to the street just in time to see Jake trailing Sara down the sidewalk. She dashed off the curb just as a car was turning from an opposite corner. The headlights caught her in motion like a flashbulb on a camera. The tires screeched and the car stopped but not until the bumper hit her. The four door compact lurched, knocked her forward and she stumbled to the pavement. Jake was no more than several steps behind and reached her moments after she fell and sprawled face down.
On January 5th of 2007, I began to drive around where Moon hung out late at night. I had a silver BMW, the stolen plate, and my handgun instead of the rifle. I could never find anyone that looked like Moon and I got a lot of stares by the local people on the street. Dumb as they are, they probably figured I was some type of white gangster, didn’t know what was up, and didn’t really want to find out.
On January 9th I was driving near the high school where he hung out and I spotted a guy walking away from the school. It was not that late. Maybe 11:30 or something like that. I took a chance. There was no one else in sight so I pulled over to the curb, pressed the button to roll down the side window and called out his name. The idiot just walked over to the car and I said something like, “Moon, I need you.” He looked at me and when he asked who I was, I was sure it was him. I leaned over and stuck the gun out the window so the interior would not get full of blood and shot him three times in the head. It was like a movie. He yelped like a dog getting hit by a car and jumped back like he was pushed. He fell down and curled up in a ball, and I took off as fast as I could.
I took the car to a gas station drive- through car wash near my apartment to wash off any mess on the side of the car, tossed the stolen plate away, and put the real one on. I drove home. I parked the car, went upstairs, and that calm feeling took me over again. I had won another battle here and he was in the street dead. Dead was where he belonged.
I felt pretty good again for a few days, the same way I felt inside after I killed the two guys on the expressway. The papers went nuts. The T.V. news went nuts. This was a big story. Here was this guy who made the big time in the newspaper. He was a big deal in the neighborhood for getting away with the drug thing and then the murder, and then he got himself killed.
The cops were not all that smart about it. Their theory was that since this guy was in so much deep shit, his gang friends figured he would make a deal to rat them all out about things to save his own skin. The cops believed they killed him to keep him from talking. Typical behavior for these people. Well, good. They never suspected that it was me or a guy like me. Bad guys were getting what was coming to them and the cops were blaming more bad guys. For the next few weeks, I really felt like I was making a difference in cleaning up my city.
This is from our novel Book 1 Tom Stone: A Nitty Gritty Christmas. A neighbor, Mary Ann Bostovich rings Detective Tom Stone at a home where there’s been a series of disturbances:
One ring was all it took and she answered. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Bostovich? Detective Stone. What’s happening?” He started the car and pulled out of the driveway and into the nearly empty street.
“I went for a quick walk down the block to stretch my legs before driving up north. I heard a woman scream. It was muffled because it had come from inside the house. I’m sure if it had been outside the house, then, oh my God—”
“Sure, Mrs. Bostovich. You heard a woman scream. Anything else?”
“The two guys I called you about yesterday came out of the house. They walked out. They were laughing and then that man you met, the one who lives there—”
“Yeah, him. He came out on the porch and started talking to them and they all exchanged words and then one of the other two guys, I swear, punched him in the stomach. I kept walking because I didn’t want them to see me. And if they would have come after me, well, God help them because I carry pepper spray and I’m not afraid to use it, or kick, or bite the sons-of-bitches.”
If you’re an author and want to take part in Sneaky Scary Saturday and Sunday, let us know. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with Sneaky Scary in the subject line. Choose 5 to 7 paragraphs along with a book cover image and buy link. We’ll publish up to four author excerpts per weekend.
The bullet hole in the front window riddled Stone’s mind with questions as he surveyed pictures of the shattered glass. How could the entry point be lower than the railing? The shooter must have run on to the porch. No injuries were reported. Maybe they weren’t aiming at anyone in particular and they were celebrating. But what? This wasn’t Cinco de Mayo or the Fourth of July. It happened December twenty-first. Maybe a birthday. It’s not like someone in Van Nuys had too much to drink celebrating the winter solstice and fired a round or two into the air. This was no stray bullet. Now it was four days later and the morning of Christmas Eve. Whoever heard of anyone shooting at Santa? Or Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus? Nothing in the pictures suggested the house even had any holiday decorations.
Stone would have liked to actually feel pictures in his hands instead of scrolling down a computer screen. Holding a real photo made him feel closer to the scene and that’s why he preferred binders filled with real paper for notes while everyone else in the department used flash drives.
“Tom, you ready?”
“I’m always ready.” Stone slipped the knot in his necktie and brushed a hand through his dark hair and almost stood. But the images pulled him back to the screen. The house looked like a 1930s-era bungalow. Out of place for Van Nuys.
“Come on man, take a break.” Jake Sharpe, Tom’s partner, sounded like he was in a hurry.
Stone hesitated. “I just need another minute.”
“You said that five minutes ago.”
Each year, Jake rounded up gifts for the kids at Ivy Acres and each year Stone donated a few gifts but never made himself available. He finally agreed to accompany Jake to support his efforts.
The questions themselves were just beginning to emerge and Stone wanted to dive into the problem at hand. It was like having a thousand-piece puzzle thrown on to a table and finding the first few items that fit and then being told you can’t work on the puzzle anymore.
Jake wrinkled his nose and cocked his head to one side. “Aw, man. You said you’d iron your shirt.”
Jake, a handsome black man, was nearly as tall as the door-frame and his smile was as wide as his shoulders. “Apparently it’s not.”
Stone could wear his trench coat that hung on the rack, an heirloom in honor of his grandfather’s law enforcement career in Buffalo. Appearance solved. He could also put on a fedora. The kids would get a kick out of that. Nah, too much trouble.
His reflection in the office window showed that Jake was right. The shirt was wrinkled. And there was two days’ growth on his face.
“Come on, Tom. I’m not too ashamed to be with you.” Jake motioned to the computer. “The case can wait ’till next year. Which is next week, by the way. Besides, don’t we have a few other things we’re working on?”
Stone exited the computer file. “We always have something else we’re working on.” He shuffled papers into a pile to clear the desk and followed Jake down the hallway.
Sneaky Saturday and Sunday are excerpts of 5 – 7 paragraphs from crime, thriller novels or short stories and related genres.
Tom Stone One Shot, One Kill Chapter Six
Smuggling drugs and ruining men and women financially was just as cruel and evil as a suicide bomber attacking innocent civilians. The government was failing miserably in its battle against drugs, and it was necessary to be an anonymous warrior. Leaving the patch gave a clue that someone was brave enough to battle it on their own. It took research, lots of it, to identify the responsible parties for the havoc being wrought on Los Angeles and throughout the United States, hell—the whole world: needles in the veins, coke snorted up the nose. It all came down to following the money. Month after month of looking up facts and figures, following trials of arrested drug dealers, and connecting the dots revealed each of the players and the fortresses of wealth and luxury that made them look like upstanding citizens, role models. But their wealth was gained by poisoning the lives of men and women craving euphoria.
That’s why there was no mistaking the rider in the teal tank top, brown leggings, and dark helmet who was riding English saddle with two other women.
Nothing but the best. A one-hundred-thousand-dollar Hanoverian warmblood trained and shown by top-dollar professionals. The rider in the front was her teenage daughter and the one behind was her personal assistant. They moved slowly at this point as they always did, week in and week out, exercising their mounts kept at the equestrian center. A tunnel beneath the freeway connected the stables and the riding path through the park.
The bullet was taken out of its case and loaded into the weapon with precision.
Two boulders and manzanita bushes about five feet high provided the perfect cover. And it was time to breathe steadily, slowly, to inhale and exhale, emptying the mind and feeling the trigger, the pressure ever so slight as the trio made their way toward the zoo at Griffith Park. The riding helmet posed a slight challenge, while the side of the face remained totally exposed. The jawbone, just below the ear, was perfect.
They emerged from the tunnel and made their way along the path in the sunshine and warm weather. Cars and bicyclists passed on the street. Other horsemen were moving toward the trio from the opposite direction. But they weren’t any problem since they were still a good thirty yards away.
I served as a juror on two different criminal courts trials and saw two different sides of the law.
What I remember from the first trial that took place nearly thirty years ago is that it was pathetic.
The defendant was a gang member on trial for stabbing and shooting a homeless man in the pre-dawn hours. The victim had been living in his car behind an independently owned hamburger stand in south central Los Angeles.
We saw photos of the victim’s body with bullet holes and lacerations. The man had started to run for his life when the defendant shot him from behind. What’s sad is that there was no motivation for the killing. It was done more for sport than anything.
Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney were likable and handled themselves with dignity. The other pathetic part I remember was the defendant had two witnesses called on his behalf.
One was a man in shackles who was brought in from jail. He sat low in his chair and mumbled his responses. He couldn’t remember anything and wouldn’t look at the defendant. That was the only time the prosecutor got annoyed and the judge had to tell the man several times to sit up.
Then the defendant’s girlfriend took the stand. She had kept a diary to prove her boyfriend’s innocence and to show that he wasn’t around the morning of the crime.
She read from her diary that, on the morning of the crime, their baby had woken up and her boyfriend had been there to hold the child. The prosecutor asked questions about how much she loved the defendant and the woman answered that she did and that he was a good father to their child.
Then the prosecutor took the diary and asked her why only one week was filled in. Every week before the murder was blank and every week after was blank.
That was the extent of his defense. We deliberated for a few hours and found him guilty.
During the second trial a decade later, I saw another side of law enforcement. This time a teenage-looking young man who was a gang member from East Los Angeles was on trial for shooting at a police officer.
Here’s what I learned about gangs. Not all of them are vicious and terrible, although they’re not exactly the local Rotary or Kiwanis Club, either. This kid came from a small gang that stayed in one area and they mostly scrawled graffiti on local buildings. Which is a nuisance and hurts property values, no doubt about it.
This is what I remember from that trial.
The prosecutor, again a woman, was quite dramatic in her presentation. She was almost too polished and presented in great flourishes. She talked about streaks of flashing light.
Two of the witnesses on the stand included a Los Angeles County policeman who patrolled parks. He was the one who nearly got hit with a bullet. The other was a detective.
The county policeman described a whistling sound that went over his shoulder but couldn’t identify a shooter. A gun was found near some apartments that were close to the park area.
What I remember about the detective became more complex and convoluted. The defense attorney, a quiet man with a mustache who was as laid back and quiet as the prosecutor was dramatic, questioned the detective. Somehow, the examination brought into account an inmate in prison and it sounded as though the detective and the inmate had some kind of deal going on.
I simply can’t go back and recall but it sounded shady and the prosecutor didn’t clear up the confusion. It sounded to me like the kid was going to be the scapegoat. They simply needed to get someone.
I wondered why the defense attorney seemed so quiet and mousey. I’m not sure if it was part of his strategy or if it was just him. What he did though was point out the supposed trajectory of the shot.
After the prosecutor’s theatrics and heightened worry and fear the defense attorney in a barely audible voice pointed out that the bullet would have had to travel an impossible angle as though it was shot forward and curved around a sharp bend to nearly strike the policeman.
That was all I needed to hear. My mind was made up.
I don’t remember how long we deliberated but we did find the defendant not guilty.
In our Tom Stone Detective Stories, we touch on the criminal courts briefly.
“Alisha, nice seeing you.” Rafael had a Latino heritage but his voice was pure American. His handshake was firm and the strength radiated up her arm. “Glad you could meet me here. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.”
“Hopefully the setting is professional enough for you.” He laughed.
“Oh, please.” She set her handbag aside and settled on a leather-covered chair.
“I figured it was nicer than my office. Got to get out once in a while.”
And the setting was perfect for off-the-record conversations and deal making, thought Alisha. “This is fine, Raffi.” Her nerves calmed. Suddenly, she was back in law school with the man who had been her classmate. “Is the food here any good?” She smiled.
“It’s not In-N-Out, but it’ll do.”
It didn’t surprise her that Raffi was a burger guy.
“We could’ve eaten there.” Alisha laughed.
“I’d have to run extra miles if we did.”
“So you really get in regular workouts?” A lifestyle piece in the LA Herald described Raffi’s passion for staying in shape.
“Absolutely. I don’t think as well without one.”
Alisha laid the napkin over her lap, hoping he had run and lifted weights today so his mood was even keel.
Raffi pointed to a single gold-leafed sheet on the table. Even the menus were extra high quality. “I recommend the grilled salmon and kale salad. The taste is fabulous.”
“I’ll take it.” A few more omega-3s in her system would do her just fine. “And a decaf ice tea. No sugar.”
After a server in a white shirt and black tie came to take the order, Raffi got down to business. “So tell me more about your pressing matter.”
Alisha took a breath. Now for the opening argument.
Raffi continued. “Save the big buildup and let’s get to the point.”
“Did you watch the surveillance video I sent you?”
“I did. Impressive.”
“Anthony Angelino should never have been arrested.” Alisha kept her eye trained on her host. “He didn’t sell cocaine in his dispensary.”
Raffi paused as the food came and he invited her to eat. “You’re not the only one who’d like her client out of jail, Alisha.” He cut into the salmon.
“He’s not your man.” Alisha followed his lead and ate.
Raffi raised an eyebrow with mock surprise. “That so? I’ve never heard a defense attorney say that.” He leaned forward and smiled. “Ever.”
“I’m serious, Raffi. The footage clearly shows he knew nothing about the cocaine. It was planted. A set up.”
“You of all people should know how hard it is to stop drug smuggling and solve murder cases in this town. I’m not asking, I’m saying.”
“I do, but convicting the wrong people of crimes they didn’t commit leaves the case unsolved. Doesn’t it? And it also leaves a real criminal walking the streets.”
“I’m working to change things.” Raffi set his fork aside and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “You always had a soft spot for the downtrodden. So do I. Criminals create victims. Come on, Alisha. You know Angelino is no angel. Whether he’s guilty of this or not, he’s guilty of something. So you know what? Sit on the tape. Just sit on it and forget about it. As for Angelino, keep him locked up, throw away the key, and forget about him, too. We’d all be better off.”
“Not for a crime he didn’t commit. And what are you talking about sitting on the tape? I can’t do that. It’s immoral.” Alisha slid her fork under a piece of the fish. “What happened to you, Raffi? You say you’re out for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But all you seem to want are convictions, justice-be-damned.”
Raffi took a long look at her. “Be careful.”
Alisha continued. “I don’t want to offend you, but I’m sticking my neck out for my client because I believe he’s innocent. That’s how I’ve built my reputation.”
“I respect that, Alisha. I really do.” Raffi stroked his chin. “Where’d you get the tape?”
“Someone sent it to me.”
“Alisha. Have you thought about who sent it to you, and why now?”
Alisha ate and didn’t speak.
“Somebody wants him out,” Raffi concluded. “I’ll bet Anthony Angelino might have a really good idea on why, and who sent the tape. You can be as big-hearted as you want, but the reality is that people who habitually harm others need to be locked up. I don’t believe Angelino is clean by a long shot. But maybe he’s not the thief who robbed the cookie jar, either.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“You want my support? Okay, Alisha, I’ll give it to you. Not because I believe the guy is innocent, but because I’m curious about who sent you the tape. And that could prove interesting. Just like going fishing, Angelino could be the bait and lead us to a bigger catch.”
Raffi grabbed his fork and took another bite of the salmon.
It’s like reading an action or crime thriller–but the drugs and tunnels are real
A warehouse in the Otay Mesa neighborhood of San Diego held an opening into a tunnel filled with thousands of pounds of drugs. Tunnel rats from the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement did the dirty work in uncovering the smuggling.
They’re members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force who acted on a tip and discovered a 2,000 foot-long tunnel running beneath warehouses in San Diego’s Otay Mesa neighborhood and leading to a warehouse in Tijuana.
Lights, a ventilation system and tracks showed the engineering sophistication of drug cartels who transport drugs from Mexico into the United States. The tunnel that’s excavated 31-feet below the surface wasn’t empty. On March 19, 2020 Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) found 4,400 pounds of illicit drugs:
1,300 pounds of cocaine
86 pounds of methamphetamine
17 pounds of heroin
3,000 pounds of marijuana
2 pounds of fentanyl
The estimated street value was $ 29.6 million dollars.
It was the first time that five different drugs were found in a tunnel in San Diego, according to a news release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The find came two months after another discovery in January 2020, when authorities came upon the longest known drug-running tunnel ever found, also in the Otay Mesa-Tijuana area.
U.S. officials received a tip, asked Mexican authorities for help and found a tunnel that was only 5 ½ feet high, 2 feet wide and dug 70 feet below the surface.
The tunnel was well-developed with an extensive rail and cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables and panels plus an elevator at one entrance and well-planned drainage system. Bundles of sandbags blocked the exit on the U.S. side, but the tunnel had an offshoot at nearly a mile on the San Diego side of the border but it didn’t have an exit to the surface.
The tunnels had likely existed for several months. By mid-April, there were no arrests in either case although investigations are continuing.
Drug smuggling tunnels between San Diego and Tijuana aren’t new. Since 2001, the San Diego Tunnel Task Force has uncovered more than 60 tunnels used for smuggling.
Drug smugglers chose a busy area for their activities. Otay Mesa is a neighborhood of 14,861 people and serves as San Diego’s second border crossing, six miles east of San Ysidro. A tactical advantage is that the transportation center makes it efficient to load large volumes of drugs into trucks and vans for shipment to cities throughout the United States.
The area also houses a pedestrian bridge leading from Otay Mesa and over the border to the Tijuana International Airport, the world’s first truly binational airport.
Drug lords south of the border have a “near-infinite supply of money and resources,” notes an article in The Wall: Reporting on the Border, a USA Today associated news site.
Drug cartels lay out deliberate plans to circumvent obstacles in search of profits ringing up tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars. Build a wall and they tunnel beneath.
Block the tunnels and they head to the vast Pacific Ocean. That’s where narcotics submarines sail just below the ocean’s surface in order to escape detection. Crews of up to four and five men transport loads of cocaine and other drugs that can potentially bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
The subs are part of a long-range plan. They can take months to build and cost up to one million dollars, but once the mission is complete, they’re then destroyed.
When officials do capture one submarine, an unknown number of others have made it through.
Cartels have even used teenagers from the United States. During the first week of February 2020, two teenagers were arrested during separate incidents at an Arizona checkpoint. In a write-up for the British newspaper Independent, the second teen arrested had 40 packets of meth, worth about $45,000.
The article noted that American high school students are recruited in Phoenix and Tucson to smuggle weapons from the U.S. into Mexico.
Stopping the flow of illegal drugs requires continual coordination among various federal agencies and international coordination with law enforcement from Mexico to Colombia in South America.
The San Diego Tunnel Task Force worked in cooperation with ICE, DEA, Homeland Security, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the United States Attorney’s Office.
Mexico’s Fiscalia General de la Republica (FGR) and Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA) assisted American authorities.
Fences have cut down on land crossings and personnel are hoping to thwart the use of tunnels. The U.S. drug-fighting strategy includes pushing smugglers into the ports of entry.
During the trial of infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, cartel members testified that most drugs are carried aboard fishing boats, tractor-trailers and cars at legal crossings.
There are hopeful results for U.S. officials trying to stem the flow. In 2019, more than 90 percent of drug seizures happened in a port of entry.
“If cartels keep spending millions of dollars building tunnels, we will keep finding and filling them,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer, quoted by ICE.
The smugglers work to escape notice while the tunnel rats continue their efforts in search and seizure. It’s a high-stakes cat and mouse game.
Arturo lifted his head as a sack was roughly pulled off of it. He sat on a chair in the middle of a vacant warehouse, wrists bound behind him. His bruised, battered, and bloodied lips stung every time he inhaled, and his eyes, beaten black and blue, were nearly swollen shut. His ribs ached and made taking deep breaths excruciating. He tried to look at his surroundings, but every movement was painful.
A heavily accented voice welcomed him back to consciousness. “Finally awake, pendejo.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Where am I? Where’s Marta?”
A couple of men stepped into view. Almost every square inch of their skin was covered in tattoos. Foot soldiers from some Mexican drug cartel.
“Who the fuck are you?” moaned Arturo.
One of the men leaned in close, eye to eye. The whites of his eyes were tattooed black. Ojos Negros. Black Eyes. The newest and one of the most violent cartels fighting for control of the drug trade in South America, Mexico, and now the U.S.
Arturo knew he was dead. “Am I such a big shot that Ojos Negros sends a couple of errand boys for me? What the fuck?”
The foot solider smiled with amusement and stepped back as the other black-eyed man dialed a smartphone.
“Someone wants to talk to you.”
“Kind of hard for me to hold a phone right now,” quipped Arturo.
The black-eyed man listened while the phone rang, then spoke into it. “He’s awake.”
He waited a moment, then switched the call to video, and held the screen in front of Arturo’s face. Arturo was shocked. Lil’ Jo, wearing an orange jumpsuit and sporting her usual close-cropped hair, was staring back at him.
What the hell? “Lil’ Jo?”
“Arturo, buenos dias. How was your trip?” She smiled and spoke casually as if they were just two friends sitting down for a meal. Behind her were the starkly colored walls of a cell. California state prison. Tattoos ran from beneath her sleeves, along her toned biceps, and down to her wrists.
“What going on? Where’s Marta? My kids?”
“Yeah, I heard you got married. Thanks for the invite that you never sent me. And you’re going to be a Papa. Congratulations.” She laced with her voice with compassionate-sounding sarcasm.
“I swear to God, if you’ve hurt Marta—”
Her toned changed. “What? What are you going to do? I don’t think you can do anything right now. So you should just shut the fuck up and listen.” She spoke to the black-eyed man. “Javier, we’re old friends here. Cut him loose and let him hold the phone.”
Her orders were followed without question as the man brandished a box cutter and slit the zip ties that bit into Arturo’s wrists. He rubbed the soreness from them as he took the phone. He started to stand and stretch his muscles, but Javier pushed him back onto the chair. Arturo looked closely at the screen and saw Lil’ Jo reclining on her bunk.
“Did you do all of this? And where the fuck am I?”
“Look around. Don’t recognize the place?” asked Lil’ Jo in mock surprise. “Maybe that’s because you never showed up there like you were supposed to.”
Arturo thought about it. “Santa Monica?” So this was her revenge.
“You got it. Welcome to America, vato. Yeah, that’s the warehouse that you were supposed to deliver the coke to. But instead, for some reason you double-crossed us. Did you know that the pendejo Angel was dealing with turned out to be a DEA agent?”
Arturo fought a sick feeling in his stomach.
“Now Angel’s dead and I’m in prison, although, as you can see, I’m making the best of it.” She scanned with her phone and showed bags of chips, butts of cigarettes, and books with torn covers. “I got food and books, what else do I need? Oh, hold on.” She smiled, reached under a corner of her bunk’s mattress and pulled out a familiar looking bag. “I even got a little King Moses OG Kush. This stuff’s getting harder and harder to find.”
“You can’t leave home without it, can you?”
She opened the plastic baggie and inhaled. “Why would I want to?”
“If I would have come here that night,” protested Arturo, “I’d probably be in prison or dead, too.”
“Oh, no. You would have surrendered right away to save your sorry ass. You still might get dead. That depends on you. And the only reason that you’re still breathing is because we’re friends. You’re my homeboy, bro. And even though I’m in here and you’re living your life, helping kids, and building schools—”
Arturo’s eyes widened.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Lil’ Jo continued “I know all about you. I do have to say that what you pulled off was brilliant. Really? Never thought you could do something like that – didn’t know you were that smart, or maybe you’re just really stupid. That’s yet to be determined. But I’m pissed off at you about it, too. Why didn’t you tell me? We could have done it together and got even more coke. I didn’t give a shit about that little pendejo, Angel. Arturo, we been homies since we were kids, dawg. Why you do me like that? It hurt worse than getting shot and ending up in here.”
“Looks like you’re living the life. Cell phone and all. Got a good deal?” asked Arturo.
“Dude, I fucking run this place. I get whatever I want and use whoever I want. Like all the fish around here, I get their families to smuggle in shit, and in return their little minnows stay safe and under my protection. Plus, I get them to give me good head whenever I want.”
“You’re sitting pretty, just like a queen. Always in charge, huh, Lil’ Jo?”