The burner rang once, twice and 3-times for luck and then I picked it up just before it danced off the edge of the desk on its way to the floor.
Monica was hard to hear over glass breaking, tear gas canisters hitting the sidewalk, flashbang grenades, the popping sounds of rubber bullets and the screams when they hit home, but her message was clear: “The big polla batiente meeting is delayed a few minutes by the riot outside. Check WhatsApp on your PC.”
The line went dead. So, I lit a cigarette, slurred a thought I’d half-baked about the meaning of the heavy rain that was beating against my windows, dragged my gaze to my PC and stared at my reflection in its screen, lovingly, like a drunk-looks at a bottle. I was startled by how much my body and soul had creased since I’d last looked in the mirror less than an hour ago.
Behind my tired eyes, grey stubble and eyebags full of worry, Monica was broadcasting the mayhem outside — where anti-capitalist demonstrators were protesting a multitude of sins and sinners, from Vlad’s’ sponsorship of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, gas-job of his own people, and his snatch and grab of Crimea through Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissident Kurds. To the very unsettling idea that 19 world leaders were double-dealing behind closed doors.
The root of the problem is that politics is an expensive racket. And the money must come from somewhere and somebody. And that somebody isn’t waiting on the next life or that some-special day over the rainbow for the payoff, the quid pro fucking quo, the return. And that over time the public interest has been privatized.
Monica’s off-color-commentary was over the snap, crackle and pops of the war outside, through wheezes and coughs, to the sound of a little light music:
“WELCOME TO HELL DEGAS, where los cerdos are pounding the manifestantes anticapalistas with tear gas and water cannon outside, while inside, at the top of the Elbphilharmonie Ivory tower, Kunt, Vlad and 17 other members of Corrupt Bastards G-20 Club listen to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. It’s an eerie beat-down soundtrack, over which, if you listen very carefully, you can hear Kent Nagano’s baton whipping up a storm.”
I thought she might be smiling and then she giggled like on second thought it wasn’t very funny at all: “The anti-caps are like deer rushing blindly into white-helmeted, gas-masked Storm Troopers that look like they’ve been flown in from the set of Star Wars. THE STORM TROOPERS TAKE NO PRISONERS — NO QUEDAR TÍTERE CON CABEZA. They just beat down the manifestantes anticapalistas, who return in waves through clouds of acidic gas that burn eyes and tighten chests until hearts feel like they’re going to burst. And then they charge back like running backs bouncing off a defensive line. It’s hard to watch. It’s like I’m rubbernecking the final victory of evil over good.”
I thought I heard her weeping from the tear gas as the carnage become enveloped by a dirty, yellow-grey, bromoacetone, xylyl bromide, syn-propanetriol-S-oxide (from onions), cloud, but it could have been the crying of cats running from the dogs and the rain outside.
I lit another cigarette, the third in an endless chain and binge watched, because evil is compelling, it doesn’t just let you walk away. It stands up in front of you yelling: ‘vanquish me or I’ll vanquish you,’ and then it nickels and dimes you to death or depression (which are unarguably one and the same thing) until you fight back with all your might and most likely, fail, because evil is too big and far too vested to let you succeed.
A chorus line of protesters marched by sporting oversized Merkel, Macron, Vlad and Kunt masks, waving like monarchs to riotous applause from rioters taking a break from rioting. And then the image flipped, to Monica, dressed to win in a Grace Kelly Black Dress, sitting by the picture window of an ornate room wearing an ornate Spy Camera spy-camera brooch, and an ornate gilded smile.
“Degas, the New York Times is going to break a story that Kunt’s son, James Jr., Kushner and Manafort, met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a connected Russian lawyer and Vlad groupie, at Kunt Tower, during the 2016 presidential campaign to snag dirt on Cunt. I’ve drawn a chart of the relationships between Kunt and the Russians. TAKE A SCREENSHOT!” She teased bringing the phone closer to a crumpled, coffee-stained, white paper napkin decorated in red ink with two columns of names — Kunt operatives to the left and Russian operatives to the right.
And then she hung up after telling me she would start brooch-casting when the meeting started.
I drifted off into a deep nap and got lost in a cold desert where Dali had painted Kunt in the sand. I was wearing leg-irons and a straight-jacket so, to move I had to use my teeth to claw at the ground. The sky was about fall on Kunt’s head --- when the door buzzed.
It woke me up with a start.
I grabbed the intercom handset and barked: “Who is it?”
I got a Billy-goat -gruff “delivery” in return.
I invited the goat up. But he never replied. So, I went downstairs to see what I could see.
There was an oversized Jiffy-bag taped to the front door and a matte-Black X5 lounging outside swiping the heavy rain with double-speed wipers.
It burned rubber on the road as it screeched away into oncoming traffic
I knew that there was nothing in the damp package I wanted to see.
I opened it anyway.
The forefinger inside needed a manicure and it still wore a silver ring etched with the initials JB between the knuckle and the chop, which was caked in dried blood and had ligaments trailing from it like spider’s legs.
Everything was unraveling now, as everything shatters when you lose control. My first wretch was followed by others and then the same feeling of empty helplessness you get when someone near and dear to you bears the brunt of your recklessness, which had killed Mami and taken Jay-B hostage.
And then from the top of the stars I heard the hustle and bustle of the Kunt-Vlad meeting starting and panicked.
In that instant I couldn’t decide what to do with the fucking finger.
Whether to trash it, save it, or suck on it. So, I stuffed it my front pocket and scrambled upstairs, where Kunt and Vlad, distorted by the brooch-cam were in the room with Foreign Minister, Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Putin’s translator, and Monica’s long shadow.
Kunt stretched a paw out at Vlad and then patted his elbow as both men unfurled made-for-TV smiles. He then casually patted Vlad on the back as they sat side by side and groveled: “It’s an honor to be with you AGAIN Vladimir. I look forward to a lot of very big bilateral things coming out of this meeting for Russia, for the United States and for mankind!”
Kunt was holding a deck of maybe a dozen ART OF THE DEAL branded prompt cards that he read out loud, turned over, reading the back with as much care as the front, even though there was nothing except TOP SECRET on the back to read.
Topic 1 was Russian Interference in the 2016 elections. Kunt’s point was that the poll numbers were bad, and that he needed help. “We don’t need an apology,” Kunt assured Vlad, “but would you agree to look into whether or not rogue elements in your administration interfered with the election, in exchange for sanctions you won’t feel?
To which Vlad answered: “Da, da, da.”
Topic 3 was Ukraine, which was wrongly spelled Ukrania, where Russian aggression had “Caused public opinion in the U.S. to fall off a cliff. Which hurts us all!” Kunt whined, offering that Vlad could keep Crimea in exchange for a Russia/Ukraine non-aggression pact.
To which Vlad answered: “Da, da, da,” and smiled as he would many times more in the next two hours as Kunt played card after card without ever winning a hand.
At the end of the meeting Kunt leaned over to the translator as if to kiss her and instead snatched her notes and demanded that she not brief anyone on what was discussed.
To which she answered: “Da, da, da.”
“About the finger, speak to Shango. I don’t know anything about that. I called to prevent publication of the snaps.”
Then the line went dead and I listened to static nothingness while my insides churned out. After a couple of minutes of that I slammed the hand-set back in its cradle and sat with my hand glued to it, reflecting on all the stellar decisions I’d made recently, and how neatly one mistake leads to another when you’re in the zone.
Shango wasn’t the first drug lord to deliver a finger as a ransom note or to use a bastardized hybrid of Santería to maintain an iron grip on his followers. That honor belongs to Adolfo de Jesús “El Padrino” Constanzo, a self-taught Santero from Miami, whose mix of Santería and Palo Mayombe was inspired by the 1986 movie, The Believers, who built a successful organization exporting marijuana, cocaine and illegals from Matamoros, Mexico to the United States.
Then, one fine day in late 1988, Elio Hernández Rivera, believing, because Constanzo told him so, that he was invisible to coppers, ran a road block on Highway 2, in a silver Chevy pick-up. The federales followed Elio to the Santa Elena ranch, and a tiny 14 by 21-foot clapboard church, with red tarpaper walls. Its makeshift altar was blood splattered, and the remains of candles, that had once been replicas of Mexico’s patron saint --- Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the sill of a tiny window in the east corner of the shed, the federales found a bird’s nest made from human hair. The glazed, frightened eyes of a goat stared at them from its raggedly severed head, and in enormous iron caldrons they found ugly gray chunks of a glutinous substance, that turned out to be human brain.
Constanzo’s first human sacrifice was an American pre-med student — Mark Kilroy. He was abducted 20 miles from Matamoros, during spring break by four of El Padrino’s men, who bundled him up with electrical tape and took him back to the ranch.
By the time Constanzo arrived in Matamoros, from the Brownsville Holiday Inn where he was staying, Mark had shat his pants, and the tape over his mouth was holding a mouthful of vomit inside. He was blindfolded, kicked towards the hot-house, and ordered to eat his last supper — scrambled eggs, bread, and tepid water — outside it. Then, at gun-point, he was pulled into the slaughterhouse, kicking, and screaming and clawing the ground with such force that his fingertips snapped.
Constanzo ordained Elio executioner priest, by branding him with the red-hot tip of his knife, in front of a rogue altar made from candles, cowry shells, cigars, and a newly opened bottle of cheap local rum. Red clay bowls, with a variety of celestial seasonings inside, were arranged around tall ceramic statues of St. Peter, the saint Oggún hides behind. Seven strips of colored cloth, to represent seven African powers, blew in the hot breeze and red-hot chili peppers were sprinkled on the ground.
Constanzo, dressed in a flowing white robe like Shango, and wearing a necklace of Cowry shells like Shango, raised his arms at the altar like Shango and lit one of the cigars. Stooping forward he blew the smoke in Mark’s face. Then he took a greedy swig of the rum, and spat it in his face, chanting Yoruba invocations in an unintelligible croak. Then Elio powered the machete down on the back of Mark’s head which split like a ripe coconut. As the ceremony continued, Constanzo’s men brutalized Mark’s body, severing genitals, and ripping out his heart. When the ceremony ended Constanzo instructed Elio to chop off Mark’s arms at the elbows and legs mid-calf, to make burial easier, as the shallow grave had been prepared for a smaller man. Elio attached a thin steel wire to Mark’s spinal column, then carried the body to a nearby corral, where the shallow grave was waiting. Mark was buried, and the wire was left protruding from the soil, enabling Constanzo’s merry men to find the body after the flesh rotted away. A tug on the wire would pluck out the vertebrae, which they wore as a ceremonial necklace at parties.
The federales found 14 more decomposing bodies, with wire pulls, and suspect there’s 16 more like them, buried at the ranch --- every cruelty imaginable has been done by one poor fuck to another poor fuck in the name of faith, in the name of the Lord, in the name of Christ, in the name of the guru down the lane, every cruelty imaginable, perhaps because it’s nice to be able to let your madness hang out and then hand over the responsibility to God