Ghosts of Guatemala
Date Published: 11-25-2019
Who can you trust when corruption and danger are a way of life?
The CIA never left Latin America, and is facing catastrophic blackmail at the hands of an erratic Guatemalan drug lord: the infamous patrón of Antigua – Pablo Puentes. Desperate for a swift solution, the agency calls in their black operative fixer: John Carpenter.
John is a cold-blooded professional ready for the job. But the mission doesn’t have a simple fix. Pablo has a disastrous kill switch in place.
John is still haunted by the mysterious death of his best friend who died on a far too similar mission, and now is uncertain about how much he can trust his handler or his sensual partner.
Back at the agency, tensions are running hot as the stench of corruption is growing to a boiling point. If things aren’t put to rights – and soon – the entire mission will go up in flames and take the CIA down with it.
Only John Carpenter can bring this drug lord to justice and get the answers he deserves.
Because this mission is personal…
If you like the relentless tension of Daniel Silva and the gritty reality of Lee Child then you’ll love this first book in the John Carpenter Trilogy!
The gunshot slammed into Brian’s chest with the force of a charging bull. It hadn’t been the first time he’d been shot. But he’d also never taken a direct hit in the torso or lost any vitals before. The slug threw him against the veranda door he had just snuck through, smashing glass and raking his arms as he crumpled painfully onto his back.
He managed not to moan – he was a professional even in the worst situations – but he couldn’t stop himself from hyperventilating. He was in shock. He knew he was in shock. He tried to kick it. Clear his mind, focus on the task at hand. He’d been shot. He needed to eliminate the threat. He had to finish the mission.
The searing pain was beginning to drip into his system now, a slow whine that overtook his adrenaline and as his pain tolerance started to be overwhelmed, he wanted to cry out, desperate for reprieve.
There was no one here to help him. If a mission went wrong, if someone was captured or killed, there would be no rescue. That’s how The Firm’s agent’s operated. That was how they kept the United States government far away from any political fallout. And besides, they never made mistakes.
Brian crawled painfully to cover, feeling blood smear against shards of glass against the floor. He pressed a hand to his chest, not bothering to look at how bad the wound was. He didn’t need to look at it. He knew what that kind of bloodflow through his gloves meant. He managed to pull himself next to a cabinet, leaning his back against the wood and tried to calm his breath. His sigh turned into a cough. He raised his other hand instinctively to cover his mouth and he found he hadn’t dropped his gun when he’d fallen. He held the reliable Beretta in white knuckled fingers that refused to let go, shaking from the effort of his training that refused to abandon him against all odds.
He looked down at the glass. Some of it had been decorated with a metal coating. He placed his gun in his lap and retrieved a large piece, angling it to see where his attacker was hiding. It was dark and his vision was beginning to blur. His thoughts began to wander.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a simple hit. Kill the head of an Antiguan drug cartel. Snatch some information off a computer while he was at it. An upper level operative had confided in him that something was wrong with this cartel. Something about corruption. Something way above petty drug wars and trafficking operations.
He had slipped past security. Gotten into the estate. His target should have been here, caught unawares. A silent chuckle escaped him. Had he gotten that rusty? He coughed up blood.
As if to answer his unspoken questions, a figure emerged from the darkness. Brian watched it through the mirrored glass, but it was getting increasingly difficult to concentrate. The man was a large figure; imposing, he held a handgun and even as his consciousness ebbed and flowed, Brian couldn’t help but admire what a well-tailored suit he was wearing. He always tried to be an optimist. The man continued to walk toward Brian’s hiding place, waving the handgun as he spoke. His low voice pierced the darkness.
“Looks like my deal is better than your deal, mamón. I almost feel bad. But business is business.”
That was his target, no doubt about it. Sandor Puentes. But Brian didn’t understand what the man was saying. He couldn’t piece anything together. His mind was a fog. In his final moments, bleeding out, desperately attempting to complete at least part of his mission, Brian thought of his best friend John Carpenter, and the painstaking Spanish lesson he’d received. He’d wanted to master at least one good swear word.
“Que te folle un pez!” Brian cried, bursting from behind the cabinet and preparing to unload his magazine into Sandor Puentes, brutal cartel boss of Antigua, probably one of the largest sex traffickers in all of Latin America. I hope you get fucked by a fish!
All people deserved justice. Some people’s justice was death.
Gunshots tore through the air like vengeance.
“In here!” Juan Puentes yelled to the guards. Where were the guards?
He had heard his mother and father yelling, and gunshots. The deals they had made with the other cartels were holding strong. Who could be attacking them? His heart pounded in his chest, his soul itched for battle. If there was trouble, he would protect his family. He clutched his shotgun and bounded into the foyer where he was sure the commotion was. Guards flooded the room alongside him, some shining flashlights. Idiotas, Juan thought, pushing a guard out of the way. He flicked on the light switch, turning on the lavish electric chandelier.
Pablo and Isabella, his uncle and mother were in the room, holding each other, shaking and weeping. Juan stared at them in shock. His eyes drifted over to his father’s desk, and he saw a handgun resting idly there. He was hardly aware of anything else until his uncle spoke and pointed near the door.
“I’m sorry, sobrino. Nephew. Truly, I am.”
A man dressed all in black laid in a bloody heap on the floor. Blood and broken glass were everywhere. Juan didn’t understand.
“I suppose it is not sobrino, anymore, mi hijo,” Pablo’s words hung, foreign in Juan’s ears. My son.
It was then that Juan saw.
Sandor Puentes, his strong and determined father - his loving father – lay beside the other man, his forehead blown apart, mouth twisted in a sneer.
Juan let out a wail, overwhelmed by the sight of his father, firing his shotgun into the air. The ornate chandelier exploded in a shower of glass and crystal. Its shattered remains fell all around him as darkness covered the room once more.
One hundred people a week are murdered in Guatemala. It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, yet Antigua is known for its safety. That was because many cartels kept their children in Antigua. Teenage guards held shotguns guarding storefronts. They were never robbed. Who would be stupid enough to commit a crime with cartels keeping the city peaceful?
The government and local authorities were corrupt. This was known. Everything was owned and run by economic elites known as the oligarcas familias. The family of oligarchs. Mostly everyone else was poor.
Yet Antigua was called the ‘jewel of Guatemala’ because of its beauty.
Pablo Puentes believed in Antigua.
Pablo was slightly shorter than average and had a squatter frame, olive-brown skin and beady eyes. Anyone would recognize him as a Mayan. He was proud of this. He was one of the many whose descendants had originally flourished before Spanish conquest and colonialism had wiped the existing civilizations and created an underclass that lasted even today. But unlike the majority of Mayans in Guatemala who were poor and destitute, Pablo was wealthier than the city itself.
He lived on Cortega street, one of the richest neighbourhoods in the city, boasting a line of trees decorating either end, shading passersby from the sun. His estate was at the end of the street, vast and with ten foot walls, keeping itself hidden away from peering eyes. Vines crawled up the towering walls and were lined with barbed wire. It surrounded the largest courtyard in Antigua. Guards wearing camouflage uniforms and colored berets patrolled the walls and the dozens of long hallways and luxury suites. They held wicked Remington Model 870 tac-14 shotguns.
It had been two weeks since his brother Sandor Puentes had been killed. Pablo Puentes was now the new head of one of the largest cartels in Guatemala, and today would solidify his position more than anything he had done so far. But there was no wealth without danger.
“Tío, please,” Juan Puentes pleaded, folding his arms to stop himself from using them as he spoke. He was trying to live up to his station, and be the strong imposing man his father had been. “Blackmail has never been our business. Business is our business, no? What am I missing here?” His beret spun slightly as he shook his head. It was white, the only one among the others holding that color, distinguishing him as el comandante. Many guards in the room wore the new black berets marking them as Pablo’s chosen men while still others sported the red berets of common guards.
Pablo couldn’t have been more opposite, wearing a polo shirt with white and cream pants made of cotton. He sat with his legs spread wide and comfortable, elbows resting on the massive oak table. He radiated power.
“You are right Juan. Business is our business. Every opportunity seized.” Pablo raised a fist and clenched it. “You are thinking of money. This is a small thing to think about. I have money. You have money. We all have money. But now I have something no one else does.”
“Then keep it. Don’t give it away.”
Pablo smiled and shook his head like a man who refused to share a secret. “To become invincible, I must declare war.”
“Yes, but tío, this opens another front in a war we don’t need to-”
“And there is no need to call me tío. Uncle. I much prefer being your father.”
Juan grew quiet. After his father Sandor died Pablo had quickly married Isabella, Juan’s mother. Pablo was now both his uncle and stepfather.
Isabella sat beside Juan cradling a laptop. Her slender frame was cloaked in a loose, blood-red dress. She gave her son a look of sympathy then spoke softly to Pablo.
“Juan is right that these are not simple cartels, or even politicians to threaten or bribe, mi amor.”
Pablo pointed an index finger down at the table and opened his mouth to make a point but Isabella continued.
“I am not saying no. You decided this. Juan is simply being cautious. There is a reason he heads your security.”
“I am not being cautious,” Juan snapped, immediately regretting the rudeness shown to his mother as he caught her glare. He touched her shoulder lightly in unspoken apology, before turning back to Pablo. “I am asking you to be more ambitious. There is more we can do with this information.”
Pablo raised a hand to cut off Juan’s protests. It was clear Isabella would not sway him either. He had decided. Pablo reached for a small gray cell phone lying in the middle of the table. He opened it solemnly and handed it over to Isabella.
Isabella’s eyes flicked from her laptop screen to the phone. She punched in a number then handed the phone back to Pablo.
They waited as it rang.
Pablo did not put the phone on speaker for the benefit of his wife or stepson. He shared so much with them and kept few things even from his guards. He had a reputation of being strangely open and keeping little to no privacy. Yet even Pablo wanted this conversation to be kept from his family. This moment would be his own. He held the phone close to his ear.
The line continued to ring.
Juan pursed his lips, eyes fixated on the phone. Isabella’s face was a mask, unreadable.
There was a click. Static, then a breath.
“Go ahead.” The voice on the other end was hard and flat, and full of contempt.
Pablo smiled. His voice would not be the one they expected, and he reveled in this revealed surprise; the tension before a magician turns his hand.
“Your man is dead,”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“But perhaps you already knew that.”
Some static and a shuffling sound.
“Who is this?” It was a different voice now. Another man’s voice, hard, short, strong. A voice that gave commands instead of taking them.
“They call me the patrón of Antigua,” Pablo continued. “I have always liked the title.”
He was surprised how quickly the man had identified him. He had hoped for a little more playfulness in this exchange. “It seems you have heard of me.”
There was a brief pause, and Pablo thought he could hear the chattering of a computer keyboard. The voice spoke again.
“We know you front one of the largest illicit cartels in Latin America, dealing primarily in cocaine and sex trafficking. You extort protection money from half of Antigua. Money laundering. We know you have members of the oligarcha familia on your payroll - the respected López family voted to suppress the anti-corruption commission. We know you are currently located at 117 Cortega street. We know your wife Isabella Muñoz 43, and stepson, Juan Puentes, 27, and son Pablito Puentes, 8.”
“It seems you know quite a lot about me.”
“We even know you killed your brother Sandor Puentes. Does Isabella know that, Pablo? What about Juan? Mr. Puentes, this is an office of the United States of America’s Central Intelligence Agency. We don’t know a lot about you. We know everything about you.”
Pablo had to admit, some of this was concerning. But a fire was lit in his mind and though Pablo’s fists clenched, his smile did not waver. Instead, if anything, his determination was steeled. His voice cut the air like a knife.
“Do you know about this, Mr. Central Intelligence Agency?”
Pablo turned to Isabella, smiling, and nodded to her. She smiled back and took his hand and gave it a firm squeeze. Then she took a breath, shook herself, and sent a simple email to the man they were speaking with.
Pablo waited patiently. There was the sound of keyboards now – he was sure there was more than one – and hushed whispers saying something incoherent. Finally, the voice replied.
“You think you’re clever Puentes. You’re not. We know about this.”
Pablo put one of his hands up, as if making a sign of surrender, even though the man on the other end of the line couldn’t see. He was enjoying himself. “Alright, alright. It seems there are no secrets. This is good. I hate secrets.” Pablo leaned forward in his chair and bared his teeth. “I’m sure the American people know about this if it is no secret.”
“If you send any of this information to the-”
“It is too bad you cannot do anything.”
“Pablo, it appears you misunderstand the sheer power of the United States of America. Within hours, a Reaper drone loaded with Hellfire air-to-ground missiles can be called to strike wherever we choose around the globe. Its blast is a focused fifty-foot kill radius. You and your family can run. We don’t miss. It doesn’t leave dirt in its crater because the thousand-degree Fahrenheit chemical reactions are too hot. It makes glass. I have 117 Cortega street prepared for a priority cue. All I have to do is give the word.”
“I don’t think the Guatemalan government would like that very much, or the United Nations for that matter.”
“For Christ’s sake we bankroll the United Nations. All I have to do,” the man broke up the sentence for emphasis, “is give. The. Word. Do you know what the word is Pablo? The word is go. I know my drone pilots personally. Maybe they should get to know you too.”
“My brother used to say it’s not what you do, it’s who you know.”
“I disagreed with him. It is what you do. That is why he is dead and I am alive. Señor, I have a very long list of emails for respected American journalists who are very good writers, and they write for very curious citizens. If I am killed, these journalists will receive the same information I sent to you.”
More silence. Pablo considered for a moment that the line was dead. He continued anyway.
“My brother did not know what I could do. But you, you know what I can do. Perhaps you will be safe.”
The silence continued for a moment, then there came a sound of exasperation.
“What do you want? What bizarre stroke of madness made you think you could get something out of this?”
Pablo shrugged. “Maybe send some money. Maybe send some favors.” He leaned forward again. “But whatever you do or do not do does not matter. You cannot kill me. That is what you did not know. Now. You. Do.”
He ended the call. Pablo snapped the small cell phone in two pieces and tossed the remains on the table in front of him. Juan let out a breath of air through his teeth. Pablo gave him a sideways glance and winked. He probably hadn’t liked the way he had spoken about his late father. But Juan was his son now. He would be stronger. Juan would be part of something much bigger now.
Isabella stroked his leg, bringing him out of his reflections. “You have become the most powerful man in Guatemala, mi amor.”
“No,” said Pablo, stroking her cheek, although she wasn’t wrong. “I have become the most powerful man in America.”
About the Author
Collin Glavac is a Canadian born actor and writer who lives in the province of Ontario Canada. He has written, directed and acted in two original stage plays, In Real Life, and LoveSpell. He completed his Dramatic and Liberal Arts B.A. and M.A at Brock University.
Ghosts of Guatemala is his first novel.
Collin loves hearing from readers, so please don't hesitate to contact him by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org