The Shallowest of Men

by J.R. Filliter

the-shallowest-of-men-300Emerging from the plane into the throbbing chaos and noisy anarchy of Benito Juárez Airport was a real culture shock. He suddenly was immersed in what could only be described as a crush of humanity. His back ached from the flight, but he managed to jump into a crowded stream of people and paddle upstream to Customs, where, after a monotonous eternity of trudging up one aisle and down another and back again, he finally arrived. Finn explained to the seemingly disinterested English-speaking agent that he was in Mexico to assist Banco Publico with an ongoing investigation. When Finn explained that the investigation related to the murder of a bank employee, the agent suddenly became interested. He asked Finn questions that seemed both unusual and inappropriate.

“Where are you staying? Do you have a room booked in your name? Who is your contact person at Banco Publico? What experience do you have in such matters?”

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Finn reviewed the limited evidence that Eduardo had managed to pry out from his contacts with the police, the medical examiner, and the prosecutor who had been assigned to the kidnap/murder case, Roberto Morletto. It was depressingly thin. Even so, the more Finn saw, the less sense it made to him that Marie had been kidnapped.

As an investigator, Finn had developed his own template for assessing the relative probabilities of motive. It was a kind of forensic Ockham’s razor — the philosophical rule in logic in which when confronted by a problem, you don’t add anything to the solution beyond that demanded by necessity. For Finn, that meant the simplest explanation more often than not was indeed the correct explanation.

“Marie was savagely beaten and murdered. That was improbable factor number one, and it was huge,” Finn said. “A murder of this complexity would be extremely time-consuming and extremely messy. It was too savage and too premeditated to have been a kidnapping. No one who kidnaps someone for money is likely to want to put that kind of sadistic effort into it. Kidnapping is a crime of financial gain. It’s about money. This was personal.”

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Rosario’s jaw dropped, and the hand holding the document began to tremble. He looked up from the first page of the statement in sheer disbelief, then without muttering a word looked back down at the document and flipped through the remaining pages. He then rubbed his forehead ferociously with his left hand as his right hand dropped violently onto the arm of the chair. The lifeless ash tint of his face had turned crimson. The palsy in his body could have been age or rage. He slapped the statement down on the table.

“Explain to me what this is?” he demanded. “This is wrong! My account balance is more than thirty-three million dollars! How can this be? This is not right! I demand to know where my money is.” He was quivering with anger.

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“None of that is our problem. That is all Switzerland’s problem. We’re not going to deal with any of that,” Morletto replied sternly.

“Are you kidding me? For Christ’s sake, man, the fraud occurred here in Mexico; the money laundering trail starts here in Mexico; the airplanes, which are proceeds of crime, are here in Mexico; Azul and Castillo are operating a business with these planes here in Mexico. What part of all of this are you not getting?” Finn was furious.

“You don’t tell me how to do my job. We are not taking action on any of this, and it isn’t our responsibility to do so!”

“What about your responsibility to the Ordonez family? What about your responsibility to keep the citizens of Mexico safe?” Finn said, his voice raised further.

Morletto rose to his feet in a threatening manner. Finn rose as well, ready to take the younger and stronger Morletto on right then and there.

“Gentlemen,” Eduardo interrupted. “Please.”

Reluctantly, Finn and Morletto sank back into their chairs, but the resentment remained palpable. The air could have been cut with a knife.

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“Please come in,” Garcia instructed, walking ahead of his guests.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” Garcia commenced when they were all seated. “I have spoken with the prosecutor’s office, police, and the head of our Major Crimes unit. It seems as though you guys have opened Pandora ’s Box. The bottom line is that no one is going to touch this.”

Finn, Gary, and Jamie sank into their chairs in disbelief.

Garcia went on to explain that the prosecutor’s office was concerned about potential international repercussions emanating from these inquiries. They had said that if they pursued the fraud and money laundering, they would come up against insurmountable jurisdictional roadblocks. They were also concerned that a great deal of time and effort would be expended, with no tangible results.

“Are you serious?” Gary said.

“I’m just telling you what they told me.”

“What about the torture and murder?” Finn asked.

“They are of a mind that there isn’t sufficient evidence to proceed with charges at this time. They are looking at Castillo and Rosario as suspects.”

Finn rolled his eyes in disgust.

“As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get a straight answer from the police. They have lost interest in the kidnapping and murder investigations — too much time has passed, so I wouldn’t expect anything further from them.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jamie said loudly. “What the hell.”

“To make matters worse, I can’t get our Major Crimes unit to take any action without support from the prosecutor’s office. Basically, we are at a standstill and no one is prepared to move forward.”

“What about releasing the planes to the U.S.?” Gary said.

“The prosecutor would have to proceed criminally in order for us to be able to justify any seizure action. I’m so sorry, guys. I wish I had better news.”

“This is bullshit,” Jamie erupted.

Gary gestured for him to calm down.

“Can you guys give me a minute with Director Garcia?”

Reluctantly and angrily, Jamie and Finn left the room and sat impatiently in the lobby. Finn felt as though his blood would boil. How many times would they be turned down by the Mexican authorities on a slam-dunk case?

Gary turned to Garcia and looked him directly in the eye.

“Listen, Director, we’ve known each other a long time, and we have always been straight with one another. There have been times when you could not provide the level of assistance we required, but you have always given us something. What is really going on here? You and I both know there is more than enough evidence to support criminal charges for fraud and money laundering, and with a little work Castillo and Jesus Rodriguez could be charged with Marie Ordonez’s murder. Be straight with me.”

There was a significant pause. Garcia lowered his head and rubbed his mouth with his left hand.

“Just level with me,” Gary suggested.

Another pause.

“The reality is Gary that we can’t get anyone to move against the cartels. The police did the run-and-hide thing the minute you guys figured out that Azul was involved. The prosecutor is terrified and has probably been paid off, and if they aren’t prepared to take action you can be rest assured that our Major Crime guys aren’t going to. I hate to admit it, but all of these guys consider their own safety first, and the job takes a back seat.”

“How goddamned powerful is this guy Azul?”

“Connected all the way to the top, I’m afraid. The Salazar group strikes terror into everyone they deal with. They are ruthless — merciless, and anyone in law enforcement knows it. They have an endless supply of cash from their drug and arms trade, and they have no qualms about spending it. Nobody is exempt, Gary, and no one is beyond reproach. Everyone has a price, especially when you realize how poorly the police and prosecutors are paid. This sickens me beyond belief, but this is reality. I have never been anything but supportive to you guys, and if there was something I could do I would, but I can’t put my own family in jeopardy either. You understand, don’t you?” Garcia pleaded.

Gary thought carefully before responding. “So what you’re telling me is that as long as the cartels are involved, no one in this country is prepared to take action?”

“That’s about right,” Garcia replied. “I’m not proud of it, but it’s just the way it is.”

“Despicable,” Gary exploded, rising from his chair. “There will come a time when you guys will need our support. Let’s see what happens then. I’m not liking your chances.”

“Would you put yourself in harm’s way if faced with the same situation?” Garcia asked.

“In a second, but that’s what makes me different from you.”

Gary marched out of the room and across the lobby, past Finn and Jamie.

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“I’m thinking about proposing that the bank turn the recovered funds from Commerciale to Jamie’s family … a charitable donation kind of thing … no strings attached.”

Finn lowered his head to conceal the fact that he was about to weep. Not that there was ever any doubt, but it was clearer to Finn now than it ever had been: Eduardo cared. They all cared. It was one thing for a foreigner to care, but it was something else again to be a Mexican national facing constant pressure from the cartels and other organized crime groups, to care enough to put his and his family’s lives on the line. What Eduardo was suggesting was that the bank, the lifeline of which was the businesses and residents of Mexico, to stand behind a fallen soldier — and against the cartel that had killed him. This just wasn’t a gesture of kindness. It was a gesture of bravado — a symbol of what was right — and both Eduardo and Finn knew it. Finn had never admired Eduardo more.

“Incredible,” Finn said, finally looking up. “I’d like to attend the meeting when you make that suggestion, if that’s okay. Maybe a little support would help.”

It was Eduardo’s turn to well up. Controlling his emotions, he stated, “No time like the present.”

Their meeting with the bank’s executive was short and to the point. Eduardo made his point concisely and powerfully. Everyone was listening.

“The funds — all of $827,000 — will be placed in a trust account in the Baldwin family name today” the president exclaimed. “Any concerns about that?” he asked the remaining executive members.

Virtually in unison came the positive response.

“Great,” said the president. “I’ll let you know when the transfer has been completed, Eduardo, and thank you for bringing this idea to us. It’s the very least we can do.”

As Finn and Eduardo left the boardroom and entered the elevator, Finn looked across at Eduardo. Eduardo did not return his look.

“I’m proud to be an employee of an institution that knows how to do the right thing.”

He paused for a moment.

“Not everyone in Mexico is corrupt. They can’t compromise us all.”

Finn smiled at his friend, who continued to look straight ahead.

“They’ll never get the good ones, Eduardo.”

Nothing more needed to be said.

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