Greed will kill you.
I thought I had it figured out. Confamiliar’s the best internet café in the city, with broadband and all that, so of course the gringo went there with his USB memory thing.
I’m not stupid. I had him analyzed. I saw he wasn’t worried about getting robbed. With the Wayúu sombrero, he looked like an undercover DEA agent posing as a tourist. I figured the information he had was more valuable than the memory thing itself.
On Friday of Carnival, opportunity called. That thing was in the CPU next to the terminal at which the gringo was sitting, and he was alone. Once the guy left the place where the thing was, my younger brothers sat down, the youngest, who’s ten, with his back to the gringo.
After they’d been there for five minutes, I emerged from the stations concealed behind a high yellow wall, put my hand between my two brothers, and, like a forgetful stranger, told the youngest it was mine. He then grabbed it, and I walked out into the white heat of midday with it in my palm.
They tell me the gringo made a real stink, harassing the clerk and all but accusing my youngest brother of robbing him. Poor Líbis was scared and confused, which helped, because it made it seem like he didn’t know anything. He said he gave it to someone who worked there. Clever, right?
Then, this city being full of gossips, a bunch of guys gave advice about reward money. Going to the six places where they buy and sell USB memory things. Announcing the reward on both radio stations.
Smart thing to do would have been to erase the files and sell it for 80,000 pesos before siesta, which would have bought four bottles of Something Special Scotch. But that’s not much for Carnival weekend.
Better to wait until afternoon, I thought.
When I heard a reward had been offered on RCN and Paracol, I decided to let him suffer so as to extort as much as possible.
Maybe 170,000 pesos.
I’d set the price, time, and place, and I’d send my cousin while watching from behind a tree with my older brother. Gringos are smart about getting what they pay for, and they know how corrupt cops are here.
I should have realized things had gone wrong when the name they gave with the number was Lina López.
That bitch was our undoing. But it’s a common surname in the province, so how was I supposed to know that her uncle, Abel, is Rector of the University, and friends with the head of DAS, don Arturo Aguilar, who lives next door to Lina López and the gringo in Mar Azul?
I should have known better. Not enough surveillance.
Sons of whores mounted a serious operation. It made evening news on Carnival, and the news the following morning as well, since nothing happens here on the first night of Carnival, except a couple guys die from stab wounds, and that’s not news.
They got my cousin when he made the hand-over, nabbing me and my brother in the plaza at the same time. Líbis and Léiber were at home watching telenovelas with my parents and two cousins. All six were brought in.
Five people and four bystanders can be made to look like organized crime if you have the right equipment, so DAS and the Fiscalía, along with the National Police, dragged us in front of the media with computer shit—laptops, CD burners, monitors, USB memory devices—plus cell phones, and cameras, video and digital. We were selling it on the border, at least in theory. A “network of robbers, assailants, and contrabandistas.”
They gave us a name: “the Barracudas.”
Señor Presidente himself called don Arturo to congratulate him for the excellent security situation during Carnival.
FORREST HYLTON is an Associate Professor of History at the Universidad de los Andes, and the author of a bi-lingual novel, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, along with several books on Latin American history and politics. Beginning in September 2012, he will be a post-doctoral fellow at NYU's Tamiment Library, where he will be completing research for a book entitled 'Doing the Right Thing': Labor, Democracy, and Organized Crime on the Brooklyn Waterfront During the Cold War.