not speak but simply note this fact
with our silence. We are both trying
to return to some person we imagine
we once were, the person before the
killings, before the torture, before the
fear. He wants to live without the
power of life and death, and wonders
if he can endure being without the
money. I want to obliterate memory,
to be in a world where I do not know
of sicarios and think of dinner and not
of fresh corpses decorating the calles.
We have followed different paths and
wound up in the same plaza, and now
we sit and talk and wonder how we
will ever get home.
I crossed the river about twenty
years ago—I can’t be exact about the
date because I am still not sure what
crossing really means except that
you never come back. I just know I
crossed and now I stumble on some
distant shore. It is like killing. I ask
him, “Tell me about your first
killing,” and he says he can’t remem-
ber, and I know that he is not telling
the truth and I know that he is not
lying. Sometimes you cannot reach
it. You open that drawer, and your
hand is paralyzed and you cannot
reach it. It is right in front of you but
still you cannot reach it, and so you
say you don’t remember.
He has a green pen, a notebook. He
has printouts from the Internet, main-
ly things about me. He has spent ten
hours researching me, he says. Like so
many pilgrims, he is in the market for
a witness who can understand his life.
He has decided I will suffice. He is at
ease now. Before, his body was hunched
over, shoulders looming, those trained
and talented hands. He wore a skullcap
that hid his hair and he seldom smiled.
Now he is a different person, a man
who laughs, his body almost fluid, his
eyes no longer dead black coals but
beaming and dancing as he speaks.
“We are not monsters,” he explains.
“We have education, we have feelings.
I would leave torturing someone, go
home and have dinner with my fami-
ly, and then return. You shut off parts
of your mind. It is a kind of work, you
For some time, his past life has been
dead to him, something he shut off.
But now it is back. He thinks God has
sent me to convey his lessons to others.
Like all of us, he wants his life to have
meaning, and I am to write it down
and send it out into the world. Of
course, he must be careful. When he
left the life two years ago, the organi-
zation put a $250,000 contract on his
life. He does not know what the con-
tract currently is, but it is unlikely to be
lower. At the moment, God is pro-
tecting him and his family, he knows
this, but still he must be careful.
“I don’t do bad things anymore,” he
says, “but I can’t stop being careful. It
is a habit I have. That’s how I ensure
security for myself. They killed me
twice, you know.”
And he lifts his shirt to show me
two groupings of bullet holes in his
belly from separate times when he took
rounds from an AK-47.
“I was in a coma for a while,” he
continues. “I weighed 290 pounds when
I went into the hospital, a narco hos-
pital, and I shrank to 120 pounds.”
It was all a mistake. The organiza-
tion believed he had leaked informa-
tion on the killing of a newspaper
columnist, but it turned out the actu-
al informant had been the guy paid to
tap phones. So he was killed and “they
apologized to me and paid for a
month’s vacation in Mazatlán with
women, drugs, and liquor. I was about
He sips his coffee. He is
ready to begin.