Triple Crossing

Title: Triple Crossing
Published by: Mulholland Books
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Pages: 416
ISBN13: 978-0316105224
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Valentine Pescatore is a rookie Border Patrol agent on the edge. He gets in trouble and finds himself recruited by U.S. agent Isabel Puente and Leo Méndez, chief of an elite Tijuana police unit. They are targeting a ruthless Mexican crime family and the operation needs a man on the inside.
Soon Pescatore finds himself in a drug lord's crew, drawn into a world of smuggling, corruption, and murder. The outlaw code of the gangsters is seductive-but so is Pescatore's own code, and his growing love for Isabel Puente. As violence escalates, all three plunge into the deadly no-man's-land of South America's Triple Border, where a bloody showdown will test their loyalties and beliefs. Written with rapid-fire intensity, TRIPLE CROSSING is an explosive and riveting thriller.


"This is one of the most accomplished first novels I have ever read. Triple Crossing is full of dangers, deep characters and a story writ on a grand scale."
―Michael Connelly

"An honest and engrossing journey into a world of violence and corruption....Rotella knows how the police work, how the criminals operate and how bribes and violence subvert the law. He employs a journalist's sharp eye and a novelist's deft touch to give us a rich portrait of the sights, smells, sounds, beauties, and dangers of life south of the border."
―Patrick Anderson, Washington Post

"A remarkable first novel....The pounding action scenes are driven by Rotella's ferocious prose style."
New York Times Book Review

"The reader will be racing along through the pages of Rotella's novel at near break-neck speed."
―Alan Cheuse, Dallas Morning News

"Superb fiction debut....Unflinching views of a double agent's harrowing life, a violence-drenched Mexican jail, and the wild border areas complement the provocative plot."
―Publishers Weekly

"A strongly choreographed, authentically detailed, and sharply funny tale of cultural complexity and raging global criminality."
―Donna Seaman, Booklist

"A fast-paced thriller that rings true to the real story behind the political posturing over the drug war, illegal immigration, and border security."

"Rotella's crime drama captures the feel of the rampant corruption that is the stuff of headlines in the United States and Mexico. This should satisfy readers far beyond the border."
―Eric Norton, Library Journal

"Rotella's profound understanding of the many hidden worlds of the border takes this thriller into the realms of nightmare and exquisite terror."
―Luis Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North

In 2011, Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Sunday Book Review singled out Triple Crossing in a roundup of her favorite crime novels of the year.



Sebastian Rotella scores twice for TRIPLE CROSSING (Mulholland/Little, Brown, $24.99), which begins on the San Diego-Tijuana border and sends good guys from both sides of the fence to combat drug smugglers and terrorists in the badlands of South America.



   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 it up 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 partyers bound for what was left of the Avenida Revolución nightlife district, a casualty of the drug wars lined with shuttered bars and abandoned clubs. Farther 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 workstation: the front line in the never-ending 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 radio. "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.


   "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."

   Pescatore pulled up alongside two Wranglers sitting side by side on the north riverbank. He got out to talk to Garrison and an agent named Dillard, a boyish and reedy cowpoke who was telling the supervisor: "Them old boys wouldn't pull over, so I cut on my lights and sy-reen."

   And they all rag on me, Pescatore groused to himself, because supposedly I'm the one who talks funny. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window of a vehicle: Pescatore was twenty-five, bantam, built low to the ground with sturdy corded arms and legs, thick black curls. He had big wary eyes and flared nostrils. He liked to play with his appearance as if he were on undercover assignments. He cultivated mustaches that made him look like a Turk, a Hells Angel, a bandit. Back in Chicago before he joined The Patrol, he had on occasion grown out his hair like the Mexican soccer players in the parks near Taylor Street. But now he was close-cropped and clean-shaven. Trying to tone it down, play the role and, as Garrison would say, get with the program.

   "There's my buddy," Garrison said. He engaged Pescatore in a palm-smacking, knuckle-crushing handshake and let it linger with Pescatore off-balance, as if he were going to yank him forward and shove him down the concrete embankment. "You need anything, Valentine? Coffee? Water? Oxygen? We wanna keep you awake. Don't want you running that government vehicle into a tree."

   Pescatore rescued his hand from Garrison's, which was encased in a black glove, and affected a sheepish look. "Oh man, you know I'm king of the road anytime. I haven't been sleeping so good, that's all."

   Pescatore hadn't slept well for months, even after the drinking sessions at Garrison's house or the gloomy mini-mall bars of San Ysidro, Imperial Beach and National City. After reading an article somewhere, he had decided that his affliction was caused by all the chases. The article had said the experience of a hot pursuit produced a cocktail of fear, rage and adrenaline that caused chemical changes in the physiology of a police officer. All Pescatore knew was that when he finally managed to doze off, he drifted into a zone between wakefulness and oblivion. The border seethed on the edge of his sleep. Haunting him. Disembodied faces surging up out of the riverbed at him. He would wake up, freaked out and exhausted, afternoon light streaming through the window, to see the green uniform draped across a chair. Ready for work.

   "So you oversleep," Garrison said. "You roll in around six for the five-to-one shift. You got your radio problem. You're back at IB getting it replaced. Maybe hitting on that little Lupita works at the front desk. It's eight-thirty and the shift is going by quick. Good thing you got me looking out for you, Valentine."

   "Damn right."

   "At least you work hard once you're here. Not like some of these slugs."

   Garrison had put in ten years in the trenches of Imperial Beach. During the previous ten years, he had served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and worked as a security contractor in Latin America and as a self-described "white hunter" in Africa. He was six feet three. His back and shoulders were slabs stretching the green uniform. He wore his baseball-style uniform cap high over the rampart of a balding forehead.

   Pescatore had once seen Garrison deliver a headbutt that dropped a prisoner to his knees. Talk about permanent chemical changes, Pescatore thought, assessing the gray-eyed sniper stare. What had a decade of chases done to Garrison?

Garrison turned in his muscle-bound way and pulled binoculars off his dashboard.

   "Guess what," he said. "Your boy Pulpo is back."

   "No way, Jack." Pescatore took the binoculars. "I referred him to Prosecutions, they were gonna do him for illegal entry. He got lucky because he jumped in the back of the load van. The aliens wouldn't give him up as the driver."

   "Well, he must've slipped through the system. Isn't that a surprise."

   "Pinche Pulpo."

   "What're you gonna do if you catch that turd?" Garrison asked. The bulging gray eyes fastened on Pescatore.

   Pescatore hesitated, then said: "I'm gonna fuck him up."

   He took refuge behind the binoculars. He pointed them at the crowd on the south riverbank near the spot where man-sized letters painted on the concrete declared in Spanish: NOT ILLEGAL ALIENS: INTERNATIONAL WORKERS. The migrants sat with hunched shoulders, a huddle of hoods, caps and backpacks. They were like spectators in an open-air amphitheater between the two cities, waiting for the action to start. The smuggler known as Pulpo paced in front of a group of migrants, holding court, gesticulating like an old-time Mexican politician, the flames of a bonfire dancing behind him. Pulpo: buff and bowlegged in overalls, a wire cutter or pliers protruding from a low pocket, a red bandanna wrapped around his head, Los Angeles County Jail–style.

   "He'd cut your throat and laugh about it, then go home and tell his mother, so she could laugh about it too," Garrison said.

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