Queen of the south by arturo perez-reverte

To Elmer Mendoza, Julio Bemal, and Cesar “Batman” Guetnes. For the friendship. For the corrido.
The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die. She knew such certainty that she froze, the razor motionless, her hair stuck to her face by the steam from the hot water that condensed in big drops on the tile walls. R-r-rittg – r-r-ring. She stayed very still, holding her breath as though immobility or silence might change the course of what had already happened, R-r-ring – r-r-ring. She was in the tub, shaving her right leg, soapy water up to her waist, and goosebumps erupted on her naked skin as if the cold-water tap had just gushed. R-r-ring – r-r-ring. Los Tigres del Norte were on the stereo in the bedroom, singing about Camelia la Tejana. Smuggling and double-crossing they were singing, were in-se-par-able. She’d always feared that songs like that were omens, and then suddenly they turned out to be a dark and menacing reality. Guero had scoffed, but the ringing telephone showed how wrong a man could be. How wrong and how dead. R-r-ring – r-r – ring. She put down the razor, slowly climbed out of the bathtub, and made her wet way into the bedroom, leaving a trail of watery footprints. The telephone was on the bed – small, black, and sinister. She looked at it without touching it. R-r-ring – r-r-ring. Terrified. R-r-ring – r-r-ring. The words to the song and the buzzing ring of the telephone mixed together, the ringing becoming part of the song. Because smugglers, Los Tigres sang, are merciless men. Guero had used the same words, laughing as only he laughed, while he stroked the back of her neck and tossed the phone into her lap. If this thing ever rings, it’s because I’m dead. So run. As far and as fast as you can, prietita – my little dark-skinned one. And don’t stop, because I won’t be there anymore to help you. And if you get to wherever you’re going alive, have a tequila in memory of me. For the good times, mi chula. For the good times… That was how brave Guero Davila was, and how irresponsible. The virtuoso of the Cessna. The king of the short runway, his friends called him, as did don Epifanio Vargas, his employer – because he was a man able to get a small plane, with its bricks of cocaine and bales of marijuana,

off the ground in three hundred yards, a man able to skim the water on black nights, up and down the border, eluding the radar of the Federales and those vultures from the DEA. A man able, too, to live on the knife-edge, doing runs of his own behind his bosses’ backs. And a man able, in the end, to lose.
The water dripping off her body made a puddle around her feet. The telephone kept ringing, and she knew there was no need to answer – what for, to confirm that Guero’s luck had run out? But it’s not easy to accept the fact that a simple telephone ring can instantly change the course of a life, so she finally picked up the phone and put it to her ear.
“They wasted Guero, Teresa.”
She didn’t recognize the voice. Guero had friends, and some of them were loyal, bound by the code that used to apply back when they’d transport pot and bundles of cocaine inside the tires of cars they drove across the bridge in El Paso – the bridge that linked the Americas in more ways than one. It might be any one of them: maybe Neto Rosas, or Ramiro Vazquez. She didn’t recognize the voice and didn’t fucking need to; the message was clear. They wasted Guero, the voice repeated. They got him and his cousin both.

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Queen of the south by arturo perez-reverte