Mesi waited in the meeting room for the others to arrive. She checked the five briefings she’d prepared again. No matter how she tried to occupy herself, she couldn’t help but think of the presentation she’d delivered two months earlier. Was this going to be more of the same? Would it be worse? Could it be worse? Despite her expectations before that presentation, nothing had changed for her or TAIT.
The four of them came in as a group. Marshall, joined by Will Samuels, the DEA’s chief of operations, along with Dan Schutterop of the FBI and Robert Allenby from the Plan Coca subcommittee. Marshall had told her he’d contacted Schutterop after the latest incident to schedule a meeting and within hours, Allenby, having gotten wind of it, had called him requesting to attend.
“Okay, we all know why we’re here. I’m going to let Diane quickly recap what happened in Chicago the night before last.”
Diane handed a folder to each of them, “If you’ll open these, there’s a photo on the second page.”
The photograph was of an open-plan office in disarray. Desks were overturned, tables and walls strewn with bullet holes. Amidst the chaos were the bodies of at least four men and one woman. The scene was disturbingly reminiscent of the speedboat where Salazaar and his brother had been killed. The corpses were covered in blood and lay at unnatural angles; the woman’s throat had clearly been slit.
“Tuesday night, the Guttierez family and associates. Originally they hailed from the Dominican Republic. This office is over a nightclub they owned in Chicago. The Guttierezes were renowned distributors and retailers for the Madrigal-Zaragosa Alliance. They dealt in everything: heroin, cocaine, synthetics. Our sources tell us there should have been a large store of each when this attack took place. There’s a full report in your folders.”
“Arthur mentioned that you believed it’s connected to the attacks you presented last time?” asked Schutterop.
She had decided she’d do her best to keep her answers to a minimum given the last experience. Marshall elaborated, “I should explain. There’s something we didn’t discuss last time, regarding the attack on the container ship in Miami. Dominguez, the Alliance’s distributor, mentioned that the captain of the ship thought the pirates may have been Eastern European. The Chicago police’s preliminary reports from the other night say a number of people heard what they said were Russian accents from a number of men loading a transit parked in an alley a couple of blocks from the nightclub. They may have mistaken some other language for Russian.”
Will Samuels cleared his throat, “Not sure I’d draw any conclusions. One witness thinks someone may have had an Eastern European accent, while others think they might have heard some Russians a few blocks away.” Samuels’ shaven, bullet-shaped head matched his direct, no-nonsense approach perfectly. He was one of the possible roadblocks Mesi had identified for TAIT securing its promised funding. He had been on record that the work identified for the taskforce should have come under his own remit.
“There’s more. Diane, can you explain,” Marshall said.
“During the last presentation, I said none of the investigations into the attacks had made significant progress. There was one line of enquiry that was being pursued, though. It pertains to the Mexican investigation into the attack on the heroin refinery and is based on physical evidence found at the scene.”
“Go on,” Schutterop prompted her impatiently.
“They pursued the possibility of Balkan, specifically Kosovar, involvement in the attack. Add that to the captain’s account and the nightclub, I don’t know, we might have something—”
“If there’s something to this, something concrete, then we should be concerned, but before we get carried away, what’s the basis for looking at the Kosovars? What’s this physical evidence which led the Mexicans to suspect them?” Samuels asked.
“Cigarette butts found at the scene. A brand sold primarily in the Balkan region. At the time Campas’s team, who’d suspected mercenary involvement from the outset, wondered if they were sourced from that part of the world.”
“Subsequent checking of flights found that a number of Albanians had entered the country shortly before the attack. Enquiries with Europol revealed three of them had links to the Fifteen Families.”
There was a pause before Samuels realized Mesi was finished.
“That’s it, that’s the entire basis for speculating ‘Kosovar involvement’?” he asked incredulously.
“Campas did have reservations. He pointed out that it wasn’t guaranteed that these men were involved and even if they were, they could have been contracted by any number of third parties.”
“Diane, I understand that it’s your job to look for these tenuous connections, but wouldn’t you agree this is very flimsy?” Samuels said.
“Can we afford to ignore it?” Schutterop piped up.
“But we’re not ignoring it; this meeting and the last are proof of that. We can’t chase down everything. Sometimes we have to use judgment in regard to what we let go. In my opinion, this is one of those cases,” Mesi said.
So far, it hadn’t gone too badly. Allenby hadn’t even said a word. No one had criticized her directly. But while she certainly didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Samuels, she found herself making an observation almost before she realized, “I hope you’re right, and this is a groundless fear, but whether or not we believe the Fifteen Families are targeting the Madrigal-Zaragosa Alliance isn’t the only consideration. If the Alliance themselves believe it, they’ll retaliate, and what happens then?”
Samuels pushed himself back from the table and stood up, “I don’t like this! What reason could the Kosovars possibly have for engaging the Alliance? They don’t have anything to gain.”
Mesi noticed that he hadn’t addressed her question and was sure that the others did too.
“That’s not strictly true,” Schutterop said.
“Excuse me?” snapped Samuels.
Schutterop shrugged, “It’s just that they do have something to gain. They’re in direct competition with the Alliance, same way as Chrysler and Toyota compete internationally.”
“Can we get back to the matter at hand and leave the business news for some other time?” Samuels turned back to Mesi, “Do you believe the Kosovars are gunning for the Latin Americans?”
“I’m not sure.”
“And what about the theory you put forward last time, saying the drugs in each of these attacks had disappeared. That doesn’t make sense if the Kosovars were involved: wouldn’t they have distributed them?”
“Maybe they did, and maybe they redirected them to Europe,” she replied, aware her answer sounded very weak.
“Right,” Samuels said.
“Or maybe they destroyed them.”
“What? Why would they do that? We’re talking about a combined total of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“Which is still small potatoes in relation to the long-term value of the U.S. market,” Schutterop pointed out.
Samuels and Schutterop both started trying to drown the other out before Marshall again called for order, “I agree there’s very little to go on, but one of the reasons for this meeting was to get different perspectives. Can we all calm down and see where the discussion goes? Diane, can you give us a quick background on the Fifteen Families.”
“Okay. When the struggle in the Balkans exploded and Milosevic turned Sarajevo into a killing field, the plight of the Kosovars became widely known. The West, principally the U.S. and NATO, rallied to support them, and as a result the KLA came to prominence. What wasn’t made widely known at the time was what the KLA had evolved from. Their roots are in an armed brigade that has been maintained down through the years by the Kosovar Albanian traffickers. Many of the leaders of the KLA were the same people who’d made a fortune smuggling heroin, weapons, and illegal immigrants.”
She paused to see if any of them wanted to ask any questions. Nothing.
“When the struggle escalated, the traffickers, sometimes collectively referred to as the Fifteen Families, boosted their activities. Some of you may remember a number of dramatic seizures by the European authorities during the mid-nineties. This was a direct consequence of the Kosovars scaling up their operations. Just as many ordinary expatriate Kosovars donated money to the rebels, the traffickers too chaneled their profits to help combat the Serbs. The difference here was in the amount; hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donations came from these crime lords.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but where’s all this going? It seems like we’re talking almost ancient history,” said Allenby, finally breaking his silence.
“I’m sorry, if you’ll just bear with me a little longer. During this escalation period, the willingness of the Kosovars to resort to violence to gain a foothold in many countries’ drug markets meant that no one challenged them for too long. Ultimately, they became number one throughout Europe. It’s estimated now that they handle at least eighty per cent of the heroin consumed there.”
“Which is unfortunate, but still a matter for Europol,” Allenby began.
“Robert, you called Arthur asking if you could attend what was originally supposed to be a DEA-FBI liaison meeting, can we just let Diane finish?” Schutterop said.
WINNER THE JOHN MURRAY SHOW / RTE GUIDE / KAZOO COMPETITION
A brutal conflict unleashed.
Who stands to win?
A bloody massacre at a Mexican heroin refinery; a Miami-bound freight ship hijacked for its cargo of illegal narcotics; the ruthless assassination of a Kosovar drug lord - a war has erupted between two drugs superpowers.
As DEA Agent Diane Mesi investigates she becomes convinced that the conflict is being orchestrated by an unknown third party. But she is marginalised by her colleagues and her judgement is challenged at every turn. Only if she can expose the truth will she be able to stop the violence and save her career.
Michael Larsen is an ex-soldier and hired mercenary who has been contracted to fuel the conflict at every opportunity until it destroys both sides. As he battles his own demons, he hopes that by directing the violence he will attain some measure of redemption.
But neither Mesi nor Larsen know the full extent of the forces at play or of what is truly at stake. As they each pursue their own resolution, the violence escalates and they become increasingly vulnerable to the dangers that stalk them.
Incitement won the John Murray Show / RTE Guide / Kazoo Competition from over 500 entries.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – R
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