June 21, 1876 — Mexico City
As he lay in bed and took in the putrid smells of this overcrowded metropolis, the old man wanted nothing more than to walk along the beach and smell the salty sea air of his native Veracruz one last time. However, that was just wishful thinking on his part. In reality, he would never leave this modest room in his yerno's hacienda.
Over the course of his eighty-two year lifetime, he had ruled this country and commanded its military forces on eight different occasions. He had fought in more battles than Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington combined. He had flirted with death, and won, many times.
But today would be different. He accepted that this beautiful mid-summer day would be his last on Earth. In fact, he welcomed the thought. He was tired of the constant bitterness which permeated his soul. In his mind, he had been very good to Mexico. Unfortunately, Mexico had not always been so good to him.
I could have made this country into one of history's greatest empires, he thought to himself. However, these people lacked the vision and drive to follow my lead. Instead, they now cast the blame my way. They are too blind to see that the Church is leading them around by the nose. Instead of aligning themselves behind a true visionary such as me, they choose to follow imbeciles like Juarez, Diaz and Urrea.
Once the most powerful man in Mexico, he was forced to spend his twilight years in exile. He was allowed to return a few years ago, but as death approached he found himself penniless. Had he not been taken in by his daughter and son-in-law, he would have been forced to live in the streets like a common pauper.
In spite of the fact that he was no longer a popular figure, he was proud of his accomplishments. He had only one burning regret —one particular defeat that had made him the subject of ridicule across the land. He could boast of a dozen military victories, and yet his career would always be defined by this one debacle.
I should have let that Tennessee hillbilly kill me. It was obvious the bastard wanted to. He was crushed when he found out we were Masonic brothers and he had to let me live. A swift death at his hand would have been preferable to being the laughingstock of Mexico. It might take generations, but someday I will be vindicated. One of my descendants will rectify this situation and restore my name to honor.
The question was which one to bestow with this task. He had fathered four children by his deceased first wife. He trusted none of them. They were soft and spoiled. He had also impregnated several of his numerous mistresses. While he did not acknowledge most of them, there was one who stood out.
As the scorching mid-day sun continued to climb in the skies over Northern Mexico, it was business as usual in the city of Monclova.
As the largest industrial center in the state of Coahuila, most of its 200,000 residents are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on the massive Altos Hornos de Mexico steel mill or the enormous state-owned power generating plant which supplies energy to the entire region.
With a shift change scheduled to occur at both factories within the next thirty minutes, the bustling streets are filled with men and women scurrying off to work. As such, no one pays much attention to a non-descript, middle aged man sitting on a bench in the city's central plaza.
As he watches his two grandsons kicking a soccer ball across the plaza's lush green grass, the man appears to be nothing more than a typical Mexican grandfather. Conservatively and unpretentiously dressed, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish him from any of his fellow Monclovans.
However, appearances can be deceiving. Most people would be shocked to learn that this quiet, average looking grandfather is actually the richest and most powerful man in Mexico. They would be downright stunned to learn that he is also one of the most wanted criminals in the world.
In fact, in the United States, only the infamous Osama Bin Laden is more zealously pursued. According to the Office of Homeland Security, this man is the number one threat to the U.S.'s national security. There is currently a $25 million reward for information that will lead to his arrest and capture. As of yet, no one has been brave enough to try and earn it.
Such are the occupational hazards when you are the head of the most ruthless and merciless drug cartel in the world.
Of course, this man does not think of himself as a mere drug dealer. In his mind, narcotics are only a means to an end. He pictures himself as a revolutionary, much like his ideological heroes, Che Guevara and Pancho Villa.
And on the day in which he will take the first step towards changing the course of his nation's history, the man finds himself in a reflective mood. He begins going back through his life, recalling the chain of events which have brought him to this point.
Christened at birth as Jorge Antonio Gutierrez Granado, the man is now solely referred to by his nickname - El Tigre. How fitting he thinks, for like the tiger, I am highly protective of my territory and kill my prey by going for the juggler.
When he first learned that President Justin Van Cleave had appointed him as the Director of National Drug Control Policy, Thaddeus Marlow had a vague premonition that he was out his element.
Even though he had served as both the Governor of Pennsylvania and the Mayor of Philadelphia, there was little in his background to suggest he was qualified to serve as the nation's Drug Czar. He had little, if any, knowledge of the subject. Quite frankly, whenever an issue came up in this area, he quickly delegated it to someone with the requisite expertise.
However, when Van Cleave offered him the $250,000 a year, high profile position, he jumped at the chance. He reasoned that he could employ his usual management techniques. He would surround himself with knowledgeable, competent people to take care of the "heavy lifting" behind the scenes, and he would serve as the public face of the agency. In other words, his underlings would be the ones getting their hands dirty, and he would be the one getting the recognition.
This worked fine for the first two years. Marlow would show up the right places and say all the right things for the press. At no time did he view this job as anything other than a stepping stone to a "real" cabinet post.
That all changed two weeks ago.
It was a beautiful summer evening in Washington. The Phillies were in town playing the Nationals, and President Van Cleave had arranged for Marlow and his wife Jo Anne to watch the game from his private box. Around the sixth inning, Jo Anne's cell phone rang.
"I thought you turned that off," Marlow said with a wink. "It is bad baseball etiquette to leave your cell phone on during the game."
Jo Anne returned the wink and then said, "Since you are going to give me such a hard time about it, I'll just put it on speaker phone."
She then pushed to loudspeaker button and said, "This is Jo Anne Marlow. Can I help you?"
An official sounding voice then drifted from the speaker. "Ms. Marlow, this is Dr. Lance Durbin at University Hospital. We found your number in the wallet of a young lady who is here in our ER. Are you related to Whitney Marlow?"
Before his wife could reply, Marlow blurted out, "Doctor, this is Thaddeus Marlow. Jo Anne and I are Whitney's parents? Is she okay? Has she been in an accident?"
"She is going to be okay, Mr. Marlow," the doctor replied. "Luckily, we got to her in time. But it was touch and go for awhile. The paramedics at the scene probably saved her life."
"Thank God," Jo Anne said with a whimper. "Are the rest of the kids she was with okay? What about the people in the other car?"
"Mam, I don't think you understand," Dr. Durbin said apologetically. "Your daughter was not in vehicle accident. She was brought in here for an entirely different reason. This might be difficult to hear, you probably need to come down..."
Marlow interrupted the doctor in mid-sentence, "For heaven's sake, I demand you tell us right now why our daughter is in your hospital."
There was several seconds of silence before the doctor replied, "Whitney overdosed on heroin."
The next sound Dr. Durbin heard was the Marlow's cell phone crashing against the ground when Thaddeus and Jo Anne fainted at the exact same time.