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Start Reading Triple Crossing by Sebastian Rotella

Jul 22, 2011 in Excerpts, Fiction, Mulholland Authors

On August 10th, we’ll be publishing TRIPLE CROSSING by celebrated journalist and investigative reporter Sebastian Rotella. Start reading the novel Michael Connelly calls “one of the most accomplished first novels I have ever read,” and which Booklist called “a strongly choreographed, authentically detailed, and sharply funny tale of cultural complexity and raging global criminality.”

Fog at the border.

Border Patrol Agent Valentine Pescatore urged the green Jeep Wrangler through the shroud of mist on the southbound road. Hungover and sleepy, he slurped on a mug of convenience-store Coke. Carbonation burned behind his eyes. He braked into a curve, trailing a comet of dust.  Jackrabbits scattered in his headlights.

Braking sent a twinge of pain through his ankle. He had blown up the ankle months earlier while chasing a hightop-wearing Tijuana speedster through a canyon. He had intended to snare the hood of the punk’s sweatshirt and jerk him to a neck-wrenching stop, confirming his status as the fastest trainee in his unit.

But instead Pescatore went down, sprawling pathetically, clutching the ankle with both hands.

Border Patrol agents gathered around him in the darkness. Tejano accents twanged. Cigarettes flared. A cowboy-hatted silhouette squatted as if contemplating a prisoner or a corpse.

Hell, muchacho, time to nominate you for a Einstein award.

Was that a female tonk you were chasing, Valentine? Playing hard to get, eh?

Hey, you’re not gonna catch them all. Slow down. Foot speed don’t impress us

anymore.

The voices in his memory gave way to the dispatcher’s voice on the radio, asking his position. Pescatore increased speed, rolling through the blackness of a field toward the foothills of the Tijuana River Valley. With a guilty grimace, he pushed a CD into the dashboard player. Bass and cymbals blared: the song was a rap version of “Low Rider.”

Another night on the boulevard

Cruisin’ hard

And everybody’s low-ridin’

The song had become his anthem, his overture when he headed out into the nightly battle theater of the absurd.  He grinned behind the wheel, swaying, mouthing the words. He entered San Ysidro, the last sliver of San Diego before the Tijuana line. The Wrangler cruised past parking lots for tourists who crossed on foot into Mexico, past discount clothing outlets for shoppers who drove up from Mexico. The area was a meeting point for raiteros (raite was Spanglish for “ride”) waiting to drive north the illegal immigrants who made it through the canyons. He saw figures crouched among rows of parked cars, but he didn’t slow down. There were already Border Patrol agents, uniformed and plainclothes, creeping on foot among the cars, waiting for smuggling vehicles to fill up before they pounced. No raite tonight, homes. Try again tomorrow.

The restricted federal area near the pedestrian border crossing to Tijuana was illuminated by stadium lights atop steel masts that ran along The Line toward the Pacific. Past the southeast corner of the lot where a Border Patrol van idled, a crew of teenagers—boys in Raiders jackets and low-slung baggy pants, girls in shorts and halter tops despite the chill—trooped through the pedestrian turnstile. The revolving gate made a melodic metallic clatter that reminded him of a calliope or steel drums. The youths were Tuesday-night partiers bound for what was left of the Avenue Revolución nightlife district, a casualty of the drug wars lined with shuttered bars and abandoned clubs. Further east, a steel river of freeway traffic flowed into the Mexican customs station. Pescatore turned west and drove alongside the border fence. The rusting barrier had been assembled from metal landing mats once used for temporary air bases: military castoffs from the Vietnam era. A secondary line of fortification, a newer, taller fence made of see-through steel mesh, gleamed on his right.

Migrants perched atop the border fence on his left. They bided their time, suspended between nations. They peered down at him. Their breath steamed in the February night. This stretch was known as Memo Lane because rocks often rained down on Border Patrol vehicles, forcing agents to write incident memos.

Pescatore blinked and yawned. Back in high school, a wiseass English teacher had had fun with his name. It means “fisherman’’ in Italian. And there’s the Biblical connotation: fisher of men. Which will it be, Mr. Pescatore? Fisherman or fisher of men? As it turned out, in a way the Jesuits would not have expected, Pescatore had become a fisher of men. And women and children. All you can catch. You couldn’t make a net big enough to hold them all. Catch catch catch. And throw them back.

The next song began with the baritone recorded voice that greeted callers to the phone lines of the U.S. immigration bureaucracy. Then came helicopter sounds, simulated Border Patrol radio traffic, a fast frenetic beat. A rapper ranted about oppression, Christopher Columbus, migrants on the move. The rapper got all excited accusing the Border Patrol of abuse, rape, murder and just about everything except drowning Mexican puppies.

Pescatore kind of liked the song; he liked to hate it. It reminded him of the ponytailed Viva La Raza militants who were the nemeses of every self-respecting PA. The ones who hid in the brush with video cameras waiting for you to break the rules, who whined about human rights when an agent defended himself against some drug addict or gang member coming at him out of a mob. The song reminded him of the Mexican Migra Asesina movies in which Snidely Whiplash-looking Border Patrol agents with machine guns mowed down migrants. Quite a twist on reality: Pescatore had more than once seen aliens, when caught between U.S. agents and Mexican police, run north to surrender.

The words crescendoed into the blast of a shotgun. Throwing his head back in sarcastic euphoria, Pescatore shouted out the refrain: “Runnin’!’’

He switched off the music. He coaxed the Wrangler up an embankment, dust swirling. He rumbled into position at his work station:  the front line in the neverending war of the American Foreign Legion, aka the U.S. Border Patrol: The Tijuana River levee.

The landscape never failed to give him the sensation that he had landed on a hostile planet. The levee slanted southeast into Mexican territory. Billows of fog had come to rest in the riverbed like grounded clouds. The migrants lining the concrete banks of the levee were wraiths in the fog. The levee was almost dry except for a stream trickling among tufts of vegetation in the center: a black brew of sewage, industrial toxins, runoff from mountain ranges of garbage in Tijuana shacktowns. Border vendors sold the migrants plastic garbage bags to pull over their shoes and legs before wading through the muck.

There were dozens of people on the Mexican side. Smoke from bonfires mingled with the haze of dust. The scene gave off an infernal glow: the flames, the stadium lights, the glimmer of the colonias speckling the hills of Tijuana.

The voice of Agent Arleigh Garrison, his supervisor, rumbled over the radio.

“Here we go, Valentine. You finally made it. “

Pescatore fumbled with his hand mike. “Yessir. Sorry I was late. I had the problem with my radio and everything.”

“Your problem was too many cervezas last night at The Hound Dog, son,” Garrison chuckled.

“Yessir.”

“Ready to catch some tonks? Ready to play? I plan on breaking my world record tonight, buddy.”

“Yessir.” Although he had cracked more than one head, Pescatore could not quite bring himself to call the aliens “tonks.”

“Come on over here. I wanna show you something.”

 

Sebastian Rotella is an author and award-winning reporter. He has covered international terrorism, organized crime, homeland security and immigration for Propublica and the Los Angeles Times where he servied as bureau chief in Paris and Buenos Aires and covered the Mexican border. He was a Pulitzer finalist in international reporting in 2006. He is the author of Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (Norton), which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 1998.

Mulholland Books will publish TRIPLE CROSSING in August 2011.

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