Leif Beiley, Voyage to Crusoe (Chapter 10)

In the outskirts of Antofagasta, a dusty industrial city on the northern coast of Chile, Yori Santos Lobos sat at a desk in a dingy second-floor office of a slaughterhouse. A large plate-glass window offered an expansive view of the floor below. If he wanted to, he could watch the workers in bloody aprons manhandle freshly butchered sides of beef hanging from meat hooks on a conveyor line. The high-pitched wail of industrial bone saws and the stench of death nearly made him gag, but he was determined to appear nonchalant while he counted the money. Two hundred thousand US dollars, twenty packets of hundred-dollar bills. They made a tidy stack that fit nicely in his small canvas valise. He zipped it shut and hefted it in his left hand. It would be easy enough to handle.

“It’s all here,” he said in Spanish to the man seated behind the desk. He rose from his chair, anxious to get outside.

“Sit down,” the man said. “I want to tell you about our enterprise here.” He waved a hand toward the window.

“Thanks, Mr. Machado, but I have a long drive ahead of me. I should be…”

“Sit down,” Machado interrupted. It was an order.

“Okay. I guess I have a couple of minutes.” Yori sat again. He glanced out the doorway to a waiting room, where a couple of thugs lounged on a broken-down sofa, watching a soccer match between Chile and Bolivia on a black-and-white TV.

“We handle cattle here, but sometimes we find it necessary to spice the beef with, shall we say, more interesting meat.” Machado’s expressionless eyes looked as dead as the eyes of the reeking cattle downstairs. “It’s an efficient operation. An animal is brought in through a chute so tight it can barely move. He gets shot in the skull, not to kill, only to stun.” A slow grin spread across Machado’s face, revealing yellowed teeth. “He is hung by his hind hooves on the conveyor line, with his head hanging down. Then his throat is slit and his heart pumps the blood out of his body as he dies.” The smile disappeared and Machado leaned forward, his eyes boring into Yori’s. “We can handle any kind of animal this way, even a man. You get the picture?”

Yori’s hand instinctively went for the pistol tucked in his waistband, but he checked himself. “I’ve been in a slaughterhouse before,” he lied.

Machado leaned back. “You will deliver the goods to our warehouse in Coquimbo on February 15th. You will be paid when all the goods are accounted for.”

Yori rose again from the chair. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.” He held out his hand to shake on the deal.

Machado ignored the hand. “I am not worried,” he said. “The woman and the boy will be our guests until you return with the goods.” His gaze remained fixed on Yori like a python eyeing its next meal.

Yori’s eyes focused on the spot where Machado’s brows came together on his sweaty forehead. That’s where I’d like to put a bullet, he thought. Instead, he adopted his most reasonable tone. “That wasn’t part of the deal.”

“Oh but that is the deal, my friend. Surely you did not expect us to give you this much money without collateral. Look down there,” he pointed through the window toward a line of bloody cattle parts hanging from meat hooks.

Yori didn’t look, the smell told him all he needed to know.

“You see, this little office is the loan department,” the man’s reptilian eyes remained fixed on Yori. “Down there is where we handle delinquent loans. Understand?”

If you want her, take her…and the kid too. Instead of saying what he thought, Yori lied. “Please. I’ll do anything to be sure they are safe.”

“You bring back the goods, you’ll see them again. You fail,” Machado’s eyes went toward the window. “We add something extra to the hamburguesa we sell to the Supermercados.

Yori stole another glance at the two sicarios in the other room. He could take out Machado, but not all three of them. He picked up the valise and left. Out on the street, he paused to light a cigarette as he walked toward his car. He thought of the two hundred thousand American dollars in his valise and smiled.

Yori climbed into his beat-up old Volkswagen and slowly made his way through the clogged streets of dusty Antofagasta. He was in no hurry. If Machado really wanted Maria and the kid, his men would be there soon. It wouldn’t do for Yori to arrive home while they were in the process of kidnapping them.

He made it to the rundown neighborhood where he lived in thirty minutes, driving slowly past the flat-roofed cinderblock house he shared with Maria and her seven-year-old boy, Enrique. There was no sign of Machado’s men, but the front door was ajar.  Inside the house, everything looked normal, with the obvious exception of Maria and Enrique, who were probably bound and gagged in the trunk of a car, en route to a Parga safe house. Machado worked for Vicente Parga, whose enterprises included cocaine, human trafficking, murder, extortion, politics, and other loathsome pursuits. His empire, based in northern Chile, included various front companies, even a certain slaughterhouse in Antofagasta.

The phone in the kitchen was ringing when he entered the house. There was silence on the other end when he picked it up. He waited, saying nothing into the mouthpiece, and was about to hang up when a harsh voice spoke. “Yori!”

“What?”

“We have the girl and her snot-nosed kid.”

“Good. Make sure Enrique gets to school on time. Education is important to a growing boy. By the way, he likes hamburgers for dinner.”

“Listen, wiseass, bring us the fucking guns or both of them are going to be hamburger. Got it?”

Yori hung up. They’re your problem now, asshole, he thought.

In the bedroom, he filled a duffle bag with clothes, then pushed the bed to one side and lifted a floor panel, revealing a compartment about two feet wide and four feet long that he had dug into the ground beneath. In it was a canvas rifle case and an ammo box. He unzipped the case and inspected his AK47. He had stolen it from a Chilean Army garrison a few years back, when government troops were swarming the country searching for communists and anti-government guerillas after General Pinochet took over. They had confiscated thousands of them from captured insurgents.

Yori opened the ammo box. In it were ten loaded thirty-round magazines for the rifle and five boxes of bullets and a spare magazine for the Walther PPK he kept tucked in his waistband. This ought to be enough firepower for this operation, he thought as he set the floor panel back in place and pushed the bed back where it belonged.

In the kitchen, he dialed a number in Coquimbo. While the phone rang, his eyes wandered around the kitchen and he noticed a pot of cazuela simmering on the stove. They must have snatched her in a hurry. He turned off the flame and was shoveling spoonfuls of steaming stew into his mouth when a man finally answered.

“Juan, you bastard,” Yori said in Spanish. “I’ll be in Coquimbo in the morning. If the boat isn’t ready to go, I’m going to shoot you.”

“Hey, take it easy, man. Everything’s ready. We can leave when you get here.”

“What about food? We need enough for three weeks. And whiskey, and cigarettes.”

Si, si, we got everything, man. Plenty of Marlboro’s too.” Juan’s voice carried the rasp of a chain smoker.

“Okay, I’m leaving now. I’ll pick you up at six.” He took another mouthful of stew and hurried out the door and put his duffle bag, rifle, and ammo in the Volkswagen’s trunk. He carefully slid the valise under the driver’s seat and slipped his trusty Walther in a door pocket, ready for instant use if necessary. The car sputtered to life and he jammed it into gear.

Yori drove down the rutted street to a gas station on Avenida Argentina where he filled the tank and bought a bottle of Pisco Capel. Coquimbo was twelve hours south of Antofagasta on Highway 5, so he would have to drive all night. He settled his lanky body into the driver’s seat and twisted the cork out of the bottle of Pisco. He took a long pull for luck and drove onto the road, lighting a Marlboro at the same time. Since Pinochet took over, there were shortages of all kinds in Chile, but American cigarettes were always plentiful, and for that, the General could have Yori’s vote in the next election, if there ever was one.

Leif Beiley, Voyage to Crusoe, A Novel
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