Thursday, November 17, 2011


SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I. Sunday, 23 October, 2011
II. Sunday, 30 October, 2011
III. Wednesday, 9 November, 2011
IV. Monday, 14 November, 2011
V. Monday, 14 November, 2011

CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
I. Thursday, 17 November 2011
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)




In the smaller of the two conference rooms on the second floor of the hotel that looked out over the turquoise-blue waters of the Gulf of California, where morning squalls whipped at the waves and drove the multicoloured emblazoned sails of windsurfers across their crests. The room itself had little in the way of decoration apart from a woven Mexican rug on one wall. It was dominated by a large oval table with matching high-backed chairs, made from imported madroña burr. A projection system, tethered by its umbilical arm to the ceiling, hovered above the table. As Caroline entered the room she was struck by the orange glow that the table reflected in the morning light. At the same time a loud voice, at the far end of the room, called the meeting to order, “Señores e señora, now that we are all here please take your seats. At the instigation of our Columbian friends the US-Mexican High-Level Contact Group on Drug Control has asked that this working group meet. I will first make the introductions and then we can get down to work.”
Caroline had met Vincente Ayala on a number of previous occasions and admired his affable yet focused way of dealing with people. He was a jovial man in his late fifties from San Cristobal de las Casas in the Jovel Valley and never tired of reminding her of his brief but ‘beautiful’ time in England playing professional soccer for Chelsea and how he loved, and was loved by English women. A shattered ankle had put paid to that career and after returning to Mexico, he had entered Government service and rose up through the ranks to head the money laundering investigation unit in the new Secretariat for Public Security and Justice. There was a shuffle of chairs as people sorted themselves out.
“On my left is Randy Coors of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; John Cortes of the US Treasury’s Secret Service; Jack Jago from the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and last, but not least, the beautiful Caroline Mara of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.” Vincente smiled mischievously at Caroline before he continued, “At the far end of the table, beyond the beautiful Caroline, are Miguel Montana from the Columbian Financial Intelligence Unit, Fabio Calamar of the Direccion Nacional Estupefacientes and Escobar de Alarcon of the Columbian Prosecutor General’s Office.” There was a great deal of nodding acknowledgement and as Caroline was nearest she took the opportunity to lean forward over the table to shake their hands. Vincent watched her movements admiringly and waited for her to sit down again before giving a quick wink and hurrying to finish. “Finally, playing for Mexico as it were, are Commander Diego Rios of the Federal Preventive Police’s Maritime Interdiction Force, Juan Hidalgo de Morales of the Mexican Attorney General’s office and myself, of course.”
Caroline smiled at the two Mexicans. The Attorney General’s man was pale and slightly precious looking. He returned her greeting with a nervous grimace.
“I hope your players do not give us Columbians the elbow again.” It was Miguel Montana, who spoke with a sarcastic laugh.
Rios, the federal policeman, shot out of his chair and storming around the end of table pulled out Montana’s chair and glared at him. “What do you mean by that?” he questioned angrily. Diego Rios was about 40, Caroline thought, and in contrast to nearly everyone else in the room had the wavy, unbleached, blonde hair of a Californian surfer. Although his features were hard they had a rugged handsome appeal. She found herself looking at his hands. He had long fingers and they hovered as if ready to throttle Montana.
“Nothing. It was just a joke. Do not take it so seriously, Commander,” Miguel Montana grinned.
“Diego! Please retake your seat. We are all friends here.” Vincente Ayala looked flustered and watched with mounting horror as Rios swung the palm of his right hand towards Montana’s face. “Stop, Diego,” he cried out.
Rios laughed as just at the point of contact he held the blow and let his fingers lightly brush the skin of Montana’s cheek. “I am only joking, Vincente. Of course we are all friends.
“What the hell’s going on here?” Randy Coors asked out loud as he watched Rios saunter back towards his seat.
“I suspect there is some bad-blood over the recent Copa Americana. Boys will be boys!” Caroline smiled sweetly as she gave Vincente a slight nod.
“I don’t understand, Caroline.” It was Jago’s turn to look puzzled.
“Columbia beat Mexico in the recent final of the Copa Americana.” Caroline explained. “It's the biggest soccer tournament in the world after the World Cup. Near the end of the final one of the Mexican defenders elbowed a Columbian in the face and all hell broke loose. The referee lost control and the match ended in sour circumstances. I do not think Commander Rios appreciated the reference.” Caroline looked at Montana and then Rios in turn.
“I’m most impressed, Señora,” Diego Rios said as he brushed his hand through his hair. “You know your football.”
“I watched a great deal of it on television, Commander. It was a great tournament, full of skill and passion. I can well understand the frustrations it aroused. I gather that Mexico have finished third or second on the last three occasions.” Caroline saw Vincente Ayala nod furiously.
“That is true but . . . it is no excuse. I apologise to Miguel for my behaviour.” Rios walked back to Montana and held out his hand.
The Columbian looked relieved and shook it vigorously. “I also, for my bad taste in jokes.” Montana smiled at Caroline.
Everybody at the table relaxed a little and Rios, before retaking his seat, leant across the table and held out his hand for Caroline to shake. “I am Diego Rios, Señora. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.” Caroline obliged but was quite surprised at the cold laxity of his grip.
“Good. Now that’s all settled . . .” Vincente Ayala pressed a button on the console in front of him and watched as the curtains began closing. “Perhaps we can get down to business. Jack Jago will first give us an overview and then discuss specifics. Jack.” Ayala pressed another button to activate the dimmer lighting and then moved his chair to offer an unimpeded view to the others of the projection screen behind him.
Jack Jago walked to a small lectern set out at an angle from the wall in the top corner of the room. The overhead projection unit flickered into action as he removed a USB drive from his pocket and inserted it into the lectern’s slim-line laptop computer. While waiting for it to boot up he checked a small laser pointer he carried by flashing it against the farthest wall. One of the Columbians had started smoking and the laser beam darted between the clouds. Randy Coors let out an irritated cough.
Caroline leant towards him and whispered in Coors’ ear. “Don’t make an issue of the smoking, Randy. You’re in Mexico, remember.” She threw a look in Jago’s direction. “I haven’t seen Jack lecture before. I hope he’s not a squiggler with the laser pointer. I hate squigglers.” Coors gave a small snort and even in the dimness Catherine saw that both Ayala and Rios were looking in her direction. She flushed slightly in a schoolgirl way before leaning back in her seat. The screen suddenly flashed up an image of the great seal of the United States of America and its all-seeing Masonic eye.
“Good morning, everybody,” Jago began. “My presentation will take about twenty minutes after which I will hand over to John Cortes.” A map of the Eastern Pacific Coast stretching from Guayaquil in Ecuador to San Diego in the USA replaced the first image. There was a large red arrow originating from Columbia and ending near the tip of Baja California. A small graph descended from the upper margin to superimpose on the centre of the arrow.
The laser pointer began darting about the graph in a manic dance. “Shit. He’s a squiggler,” Caroline murmured.
“In the past two years it is estimated that the Coca crop in Columbia has increased from about 122,000 hectares to about 136,000. Averaging a yield of, just under, half a kilogram of paste per acre this represents about 54,500kg per crop harvest. With an average of seven harvests a year this amounts to a total production of 370,000kg or 370 tons from Columbia alone of which nearly 60 per cent ends up in the US. With the price of coca paste at source of about $500 per kilo and $4,000 per kilo on hand over to a US dealer it is obviously a significant part of the Columbian economy.” Jago paused to let the figures sink in. “The good news is that we think that the hectarage has peaked. With the full implementation of all the strands of Plan Columbia, starting this summer, we are expecting to start seeing a sustained and significant reduction both in crop production and final product supply. Can everybody hear me?” Jago scanned the room like a junior schoolteacher for any obvious dissent or distraction. “Good,” he continued, satisfied. “I will now turn to Mexico. Although cannabis hectarage has increased both opium and cocaine production has been markedly reduced. If we are half as successful in our Columbian efforts as the Mexican government has been in decimating their illegal crops over the last year then we will be doing great. We can -”
The pale Juan Hidalgo de Morales from the Mexican Attorney General’s office interrupted. “Crop field-surveys have indicated that Mexican cannabis plants have become more robust with a greater flowering area, higher levels of THC . . . eh . . . tetrahydrocannabinol, and a greater resistance to herbicides.”
Caroline was secretly pleased that he had had the gumption to interrupt Jago. She tried giving him a smile and a slight nod of encouragement.
“Thanks for that. . . eh . . . Juan.” Jago said but looked annoyed at the interruption. “To continue. The first bit of bad news, particularly for our group, is, as I have already touched on, that 60 per cent of the cocaine and heroin entering the United States, is of Columbian and to a lesser extent Mexican origin. This trade is primarily routed through Mexican traffickers and, as yet, shows no signs of tailing off despite increased interception of land, air and maritime routes. In addition the Mexican traffickers in particular have begun anticipating the probable change in their main source of income and are switching out into other lucrative areas such as counterfeit. Let me hand over to John at this point.”
“Thanks, Jack.” John Cortes said breezily as he squeezed Caroline’s arm. As he stood up he whispered so as only she would hear, “What is it worth to you if I don’t use the pointer?” Cortes pulled out his own USB drive and on reaching the lectern he inserted it into the laptop. He looked at his audience and spoke in a slow Texan drawl. “Counterfeit production has been a relative sideline in Columbia until recently but with the availability of increasingly sophisticated copiers the Treasury have had their work cut out keeping ahead of the forgers. Caroline will address those issues in a little while but I want to deal with the current status of the Mexican situation in particular.” A picture of two young men flashed on the screen with the word WANTED theatrically stamped in red across the lower section. “These are the Arellano Felix brothers who are well known to our Mexican colleagues. Through a system of intimidation enforced by the so-called ‘juniors’, they have controlled the major portion of the sea and land transport of cocaine from Mexico and Columbia into the US for about ten years. As Jack Jago has already mentioned briefly, the Mexican Government has been very successful in attempting to break up the power of the Arellano Felix Organisation. The AFO group’s activities and direct Felix family control of those activities has declined significantly. It is our information, however, that one of the ‘juniors’ of the family, an associate of the captured financial controller of the AFO, Jesus “Chuy” Labra Aviles, has stepped into the vacuum and is slowly establishing himself. It appears that his expertise was counterfeit currency and money laundering and he has expanded the operation here in Mexico to fund his push for total control.” Cortes paused to allow this information to be digested. He then continued in a less optimistic tone. “The bad news, from our point of view, is that up to now we have had no idea who this new player was. We had no obvious target. But, with help from our Columbian friends, and that is the reason for this meeting, we have been able to add a few clues to the puzzle.”
Cortes nodded across the room to the smoke-enveloped Columbians. Their faces all remained impassive as if trying to deny who was responsible for passing on the information. “The man in question was also a close associate of the recently arrested Carlos Guzman, who served as the go-between for the Columbia-Mexico shipments to the AFO. He is rumoured to be originally from the town of Siquiros, in Sinaloa State, and is codenamed, Diablo. The counterfeit operation is thought to be centred in Mazatlan and is producing good quality forgeries of the Series 1997 $50 notes. The money laundering is conducted through the unregulated ‘casas de cambio’ here in Mexico and off-shore banking facilities in Belize.” The screen flashed and a picture of a $50 bill appeared which then split to give a close up view of Ulysses Grant and the metallic strip to the right of the portrait. “At this point I will hand over to Caroline Mara.”
Caroline stood up and smiled at Ayala before she walked slowly to the lectern. She was wearing tight fitting blue denim jeans and a white tee shirt and in the smoke-laden gloom of the room the eyes of every man followed her long legged movements. She knew it. “Thank you, John. Gentlemen . . .” Caroline pressed a button on the console and the screen split to also show a picture of a boat surrounded by smiling policemen. “This bill was recovered in a maritime seizure of a ‘go-fast’ catamaran speed boat, last November, in an exercise co-ordinated by the Maritime Interdiction Working Group and directed by Commander Rios.” Caroline thought she caught an appreciative display of pearly white teeth on the other side of the table. “There were 3.2 metric tons of cocaine and two million dollars of these forged bills on board. The quality is excellent . . . Of the currency, I mean.” She could hear John Cortes burst out laughing and the others around the table followed suit and she waited for them to settle before she continued. Her face was flushed. “The watermark, green-black colour shift and fine line concentric background printing are all top-notch. Even the UV yellow glow of the metallic strip and micro printing in the collar of Grant’s shirt has been achieved.” The slides changed as Caroline highlighted the details. “A few major errors such as the omission of the micro printing on the flag in the metallic strip and the numeral height being 13.8 instead of 14 mm makes them easy for experts to spot however the overall improvement in the quality is quite extraordinary. There is truly a craft combination of engraving and printing.” Caroline pressed a key on the laptop and the projection image shut down. “I’m finished with the projector, Vincente. You might pull back the curtains and we can open up for questions.” As the curtains whirred back the mid-morning sunlight flooded into the room. Caroline was blinded momentarily and struggled to suppress a sneeze. She walked to the far end of the room and opened the fridge to pull out a bottle of chilled water. She was still pouring it when the first question came.
“I am not sure why our Columbian friends are here. This counterfeiting seems to be a Mexican issue.” Diego Rios spoke through a cloud of smoke.
Vincente Ayala at the head of the table frowned and when Caroline caught his eye he threw a quick glance upwards towards the ceiling. John Cortes leant forward. “I’ll take this if I may Vincente. The cocaine that you recovered, Commander Rios, as you know, was Columbian and destined for a dealer whose contact with the Medelin cartels was through Guzman. It was also the first maritime seizure where counterfeit money was also found in great quantities and this stroke of luck has provided us with the first possible lead to the mysterious Diablo and his direct links with the Columbians.” Rios said nothing but examined his nails in a distracted fashion.
“In addition,” Caroline added as she returned to the lectern. “The paper for the forgeries was Columbian although the metallic printing ink has a Mexican spectroscopic fingerprint of origin.” All eyes turned to looked at her as she commented in a matter-of-fact tone while removing her disc from the laptop.
“How do you know that, Señora Caroline? We do not have that information.” It was Fabio Calamar.
“Analysis of the paper shows a linen-cotton mix which deviates marginally but significantly from the Crane and Company Standard of US notes. I only received the paper analysis and database comparisons yesterday and it gives a 98 per cent probability match with a type that is only produced by a single mill in Bogotá. I am sure that this will be a fruitful area for joint surveillance and I will include the information in your briefing pack at the end of our meeting. I needed to clear that first with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing,” Caroline explained.
“See. They do not trust us, the Americans.” It was Diego Rios who spat out the words, his pearly teeth enveloped in a sarcastic sneer.
Caroline instantly felt that both Randy and John were about to pounce on him so she decided to strike first. She toppled the glass she had been drinking from and a small amount of water spilt across the table towards the blonde Mexican policeman. “Oh dear. How clumsy of me.”
“No problem. No damage done,” Vincente Ayala placated as he leant forward and mopped the water up with a flamboyantly produced pocket-handkerchief.
Caroline returned the glass to an upright position. She smiled apologetically to Rios firstly and then to the Columbian officials on her left. “With regard to the results of the paper analysis and the information on the paper mill in Bogotá it is my fault that it is not available for you at this session. I was delayed on my way to the airport and in my hurry I left the briefing documents behind in the office. I’ve contacted the Bureau and they are being flown down this evening on the commercial flight from LA. You will have them tomorrow. My apologies again.” Nobody said anything but Caroline saw that Randy and John had relaxed back in their seats.
“I think that is enough for this morning. We will break for lunch and meet again at two.” Ayala was already standing and as there were no objection the participants began filing out. “Caroline, could I have a word.” Ayala looked up at her as he watched the others leave the room.
“Sure, Vincente.”
“Thank you for earlier. You saved a very difficult situation with your knowledge of soccer. Most impressive.”
“My husband Michael coaches a high-school soccer team in Los Angeles. We watched the match together. We wanted Mexico to win but don’t say that out loud.”
“I won’t. Thank you again.”
“I’ll see you later, Vincente.” Caroline was just at the door when Diego Rios, who had obviously waited for her, approached. She saw that John Cortes and Jack Jago were also waiting and waving at them indicated for her colleagues to go on ahead without her.
“Doctor Mara.”
“Yes, Commander Rios. Please call me Caroline, by the way. We are all friends here, right? Trying to tip the scales of good and evil to the side of the just.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I apologize for my rudeness inside. It has been a difficult week.”
“I understand Commander –”
“I understand, Diego. I took no offence. As you might have gathered I am English and as a nation we also have a well established, and even occasionally well founded, mistrust of our neighbours, the French. Sometimes minor domestic upheavals or misunderstandings, such as a soccer match, can become international incidents. My work in comparison to yours is almost cocooned in its safety. Direct operational confrontation with the cartels must be very stressful, for both you and you family.” Caroline watched for a reaction, but there was little. “Anyway. A little warning shot across the bows of Uncle Sam’s good old boys, every now and then, does them no harm at all. No harm at all.”
Diego laughed aloud. “I am glad that you understand.”
“I will see you after lunch, Diego. I have a few calls to make,” Caroline giggled conspiratorially as she shook his hand and headed for the elevator, where Randy Coors waited for her.
“You handled that well, Caroline. Luckily Vincente had warned us that Rios was a bit of a hothead,” he whispered as he pressed the floor button.
“What do we know about him? The blonde hair and flashing teeth are confusing me. Not typical Mexican,” she asked.
Randy pursed his lips and tilted his chin to one side. “Very little as it happens. Used to work in the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes; or the FEADS as it’s known, but was promoted and switched to the PFP when Commander Cesar Jimenez of FEADS fled after been suspected of involvement in Arellano-Felix-linked murders. He has top level security clearance though, but I’m not sure about his herpes status!”
Caroline punched him hard in the midriff. “Rude bastard. That’s not what I meant.”
Randy had to take a large intake of breath before answering. “Ouch. That’s some forehand you’ve got. How is Michael by the way?”
Caroline could see her reflection in the mirrored panel of the elevator. She looked downwards and pretended to shuffle her notes. “Fine, Randy, a little confused but fine. He’s in Spain at the moment but will be home at the weekend.” The elevator stopped on Caroline’s floor and she stepped off it. “See you later.”
“Ok.” Randy watched her walk down the corridor. The doors closed. “Boy. That is one gorgeous woman,” he spoke to his own reflection as he brushed back his thinning hair with his hand and inspected his teeth.

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