Día de los Muertos: Chapter 9


DEA Tijuana / 9:45 A.M.

DEA shared the building with the U.S. consulate staff in Tijuana. Outside, the Avenida Marie de Leon was noisy, buses spewing exhaust, ripping the air with a hellish racket on their way up the hill to the slum neighborhoods of El Cumbre or out to the freeway south to Ensenada and the beaches.

Calhoun watched Breen cross the street through the big plate glass doors. He’d left the cafe where the office staff went at midmorning. Breen was order in chaos, very buttoned-down that morning, slender-looking in the mass of unwashed, thicker Mexicans on the sidewalk.

Calhoun got up from his desk. He hadn’t been to the office in days, and it was a mess, piled with unopened mail. The air conditioning was down and it was starting to get warm. A secretary had brought an old-fashioned electric fan up from the basement. Calhoun found the switch and turned it up. The papers on his desk started to flap softly. He could smell the sweet, heavy ambrosia smell of perfume from the women in the office. Breen came through the double glass doors at the entrance; the cacophony of the street slipped in with him, then went quiet when the door closed. They were alone. The staff was still across the street for coffee. Breen had been watching for him.

“So you made it,” Breen said. He sounded tired.

“I’ve been working the Slaughter case,” Calhoun said right away. “That’s why Wang had the number. I gave it to him.”

“You’re lying,” Breen said. Breen scanned the office. He seemed to be searching for something amongst the metal desks, coat stands and potted plants. Breen turned his head toward Calhoun and pushed the bangs off his high forehead. There was something in his eyes that day that was different. Something new, as if Calhoun were seeing them for the first time. A certain openness in his gaze.

“They know. They know about everything. I have it upstairs. It came this morning from Washington. I don’t think you have much time. I really don’t know how you’ve managed this long…to keep it from them, I mean.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Calhoun said. He’d been lying about so much for months that lying now was easy. Breen smiled back at him.

“I took it from Hull’s desk. He’s gone this week. You don’t have to lie to me.” Then Breen told him what the Internal Affairs report said about him. They had everything that Calhoun had done since he’d been posted to Tijuana. They knew about Slaughter, about the cargo, Castro, everything – his gambling, all the details of his other life. “Slaughter is a class one offender… Did you know that? He’s into everything – pornography, cargo, drugs, murder…everything,” Breen said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Calhoun said. But the sound of his voice made the lie seem ridiculous.

“Class one is as bad as it gets. You know that better than I do… U.S. Customs is going to put a stop to it as soon as you cross the next bunch. They don’t want to arrest you here on the Mexican side because they know it will look bad – ‘U.S Drug Enforcement Agency officer arrested…in the pay of foreigners.’ They’re very anxious for things to look good here,” Breen said. “Especially now, after NAFTA. They’ll be in Palmdale tomorrow waiting for you. For some reason they think you’ll be there tomorrow.”

“This is some kind of joke,” Calhoun said.

“Listen, Vince. I wouldn’t try that tack. Your friend’s name, the guy I saw last night, that’s Miguel Castro, isn’t it? He’s a captain in the judiciales here in Tijuana. You two have been working together… They know about Castro. They know about it all.” Breen sat down across from Calhoun.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m telling you because…we’re partners and I like you. It’s simple. And I’m quitting the Agency. They’re going to make an example of you. I thought that was rather harsh. I mean, why don’t they make Salinas a fucking example. Or, I don’t know, some Mexican general. God knows they deserve it. But I didn’t think you meant to get in this deep. You didn’t, did you? The way I read the report, it looks to me that you have a problem with gambling. That you owe these people a great deal of money. Is that it? Were you forced into it?” Breen looked at him quickly, then looked away, afraid that Calhoun wouldn’t want to face him.

Calhoun nodded his head. He hadn’t expected to, but he was tired and didn’t care anymore. It seemed pointless to lie now. “Why are you telling me this? I mean, warning me like this?”

Breen reached across the desk and tried to touch Calhoun’s hand. Calhoun pulled it back. So I’ve been wrong. He liked me because he was queer. Well, there was nothing I could do about that was there? He liked me that way after all. Nothing I could do about it.

“What does she look like…the girl?” Breen asked. He pulled his hand back. “The one who answered the phone this morning.”

“Who?” Calhoun said. Breen watched Calhoun back away from him. It was as if Breen knew he would; that he had expected it – all the while he’d been warning him, he expected it. “Who?” Calhoun didn’t know what to do with his hand now. He wanted to punch Breen in the mouth. He knew it wouldn’t be right…yet he wanted to do it.

“The girl…is she pretty?” Breen asked matter-of-factly. “Please tell me that.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Calhoun said. Breen’s face changed. He looked physically pained. He put both hands on his knees and leaned forward. Calhoun looked away toward the street. A pickup truck piled with oranges went by. What the fuck was he talking about? The fucker is crazy!

“You’re quitting… Why?” Calhoun asked. He would have talked about anything except that. He would even confess rather than talk about that. He didn’t know what else to say. The room seemed to have filled up with a different kind of air now, hostile and thick. Calhoun wanted to get away from him. But he needed to know more. His skin was crawling.

“Because I can’t stand it here anymore… What are you going to do?” Breen asked. “The Internal Affairs people took Wang to San Diego for more questioning. There’s nothing I could do about it. I said you were working the case, that it wouldn’t be strange for Wang to think you were somehow involved.” Calhoun looked away, onto the street outside, feeling sick.

“What do you mean?”

“I gave them quite a lot of disinformation…lies about you… I’m good at that,” Breen said.

“…Thanks.” Calhoun had told him about growing up on the border, about Palmdale. He’d even told him what had happened, why he’d had to go into the Marine Corps.

There was a long pause and Calhoun and Breen just sat there. Breen was looking at his knees, hands out, screwing something up inside himself, Calhoun thought. He’s doing something to himself. You could see it. It was like watching a hill give way. You could feel it. He was tearing himself apart internally. “I shouldn’t have lied for you…but I did. I lied.” Breen looked up at him. “Did you hear what I said?” Breen said. “I don’t give a shit about much now. Can you understand? When I heard about you, I decided I didn’t care what you’d done; you were my friend. That was all I cared about. Can you understand that?”

“I…I…” God, man, what does he want me to say? “Yes. I can understand that,” Calhoun said.

Breen went suddenly back to what he had been, a quiet policeman. The other side of him closed up, as if nothing had happened. “Well. I suppose we won’t see each other again.”

“I guess not,” Calhoun said. Breen stood up. “If I can help, I will,” he said. “I want to help you. I suppose you’re used to people wanting to help you. You are going to run away, I hope.”

“I don’t know. I guess so…I should.”

“We’re trapped, aren’t we, you and me… Do you love the girl? That might matter. If you love her. Maybe something good could come out of it… If you love her,” Breen said.

“No. I don’t love her,” Calhoun said. “Not at all.” Calhoun forced himself to look up, to look Breen in the face. He was scared after what Breen told him. He knew that they would catch him, sooner or later now. If they knew so much, it would only be a matter of time, no matter what he did.

“I suppose it wouldn’t matter if I told you I’d do anything for you…” Breen said. “I disgust you, don’t I.”

“No. Not at all,” Calhoun said. There was another silence.

“I wouldn’t stay here much longer.”

“You said they’ll be in Palmdale tomorrow? Not today?” Calhoun asked.

“Yes, tomorrow…at the bridge. Well… Do you need any money… I could give you a few hundred dollars…” Breen’s voice sounded more ordinary now.

“I’m okay,” Calhoun said.

“Yeah…you’re okay.” Breen moved toward his own desk.

Calhoun pulled his coat from the back of the chair and walked out of the office. He could feel Breen looking at him through the double doors of the consulate. He walked by the Chinese restaurant, nodded to some of the secretaries and started down the hill toward the plaza. The secretaries waved at him. I’ll have to tell Miguel. Then Calhoun stopped and looked back toward the office. Breen had come to the door. He stood watching him.


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