A parallel universe. South Texas. A third border wall might be erected between the United States and Mexico, narcotics are legal and there’s a new contraband on the market: filtered animals—species of animals brought back from extinction to amuse the very wealthy. Esteban Bellacosa has lived in the border town of MacArthur long enough to know to keep quiet and avoid the dangerous syndicates who make their money through trafficking. But his simple life gets complicated after a swashbuckling journalist invites him to an underground dinner at which filtered animals are served. Bellacosa soon finds himself in the middle of an increasingly perilous and surreal journey, in the course of which he encounters legends of the long-disappeared Aranaña Indian tribe and their object of worship: the mysterious Trufflepig, said to possess strange powers. Sandra Cisneros wrote: “Funny, futuristic, phenomenal, Fernando A. Flores is from another galaxy. Fasten your seat belt. You are in for a stupendous ride.”
Among the lies and exaggerations, these were some of the facts Bellacosa had picked up over the years concerning Galdino “El Gordo” Pacheco, alias Motita, alias El Turco, alias El Mochadedos:
Born in the mountains of Michoacán to a poor farmer and Cuna Indian mother, Pacheco never attends school nor learns to read or write. When he is nine, Pacheco’s eldest sister is raped and sent home naked, bruised, and bleeding, by the rapist. The following year, Pacheco guns down the accused, Pablo Molina, at a party, then flees to the northern border, and nobody in his family hears from him for many years. While living in Tijuana, Pacheco works as a window washer and runs errands for local pimps and dealers. As he gets older he climbs the ladder of command, after many bodies, many shifts in gangland power. Shortly after the year of the world food shortage, which killed off a fifth of the world’s population, and the legalization of drugs in the west, with the old kingpins either dead, in jail, or in cahoots with the feds, Pacheco is informed of the 4th Annual Filtering Sciences Summit being held in Guatemala.
In the wake of the food shortage, “filtering”—the artificial production of an organic substance—had been explored to speed up the growth not only of fruits and vegetables but also of animals for corporate farming. In a moment of imagination, the way some people have mystical visions, or feel the echoes of imminent doom, he sees the entire future of a new trade unfold in a matter of seconds. Pacheco rents a plane, hires a pilot, and cuts in a couple of men he trusts to fly to Guatemala City. On the third day of the conference, Pacheco and his hired muscle kidnap the scientists Dr. Henrik Rosokhovatsky, Dr. Anatoly Parnov, and the renowned American Dr. Ian Barraclough, all of whom speak fluent Spanish. They are taken as hostages to the rural mountains of Nuevo León, where in a matter of months, through extortion, kidnapping, and infiltrating the underground art market, selling indigenous artifacts and relics to collectors at top dollar, Pacheco finances a lab featuring the most advanced filtering equipment in the Western Hemisphere to perfect their science.
He gains the reputation of treating his scientists humanely, even making sure their families are taken care of financially. The first non-farm animal the scientists are able to filter using “the method” is the ivory-billed parakeet, to compensate for the crackdown on elephant poaching. The parakeets reach full maturation in the third week after their gestation period, hit old age by the seventh week, and meet their death by the eighth. The scientists are able to produce two parakeets a day, then five, then seven, and as more and more student scientists are kidnapped and trained, the filtering of ivory-billed parakeets grows up to thirty a day. They are maintained in several indoor aviaries adjoined to the filtering facility, separated according to developmental stage, and in their fourth week of artificial life, when their ivory bills are tested to be at their richest, Pacheco has his goons slice the beaks off and collect them. Accounts of how this was accomplished vary, with some saying the goons shot down the screeching birds first, or that they were gassed, all while wearing earplugs because the shrieks led some men to temporary fits of madness. The ivory then is polished at a separate facility and sold on the Turkish black market, used mostly to create bombshells for terrorists or molded into high-end dentures and fillings.
Pacheco sees a quick profit, and his team of scientist-hostages, under the duress of being held against their will, inevitably discard the humanitarian aspect of their endeavor. Secluded from the world and watched by Pacheco’s private army of unstable renegades, the scientists go on to duplicate and filter a variety of animals classified as extinct, all smuggled out of the country and sold to rich collectors and enthusiasts, bored and eager to show off their wealth. Now into his thirties, Pacheco marries a young beauty queen who gives birth to twin boys. Then his dark partnership with the scientists goes south. Some say Pacheco grows distrustful and paranoid, overly self-conscious of his lack of education in the face of the scientists. He has his renegades cut the thumbs and big toes off every scientist in his fortress facility and mails the severed appendages to each of their families. When twenty-three of the greatest young scientific minds according to Harvard Medical Journal are found in a mass grave in Culiacán, the Mexican military, with the assistance of the United States, locates and busts into Pacheco’s compound in the middle of the night.
The scientists go on to duplicate and filter a variety of animals classified as extinct, all smuggled out of the country and sold to rich collectors and enthusiasts, bored and eager to show off their wealth.
He gives himself up without a fight, asks that his wife and boys be taken safely. He is sentenced to Gallegos Penitentiary in Tabasco, where it is rumored that within a year Pacheco has every prisoner, guard, even the warden paid off and under his control. It is also no secret Pacheco still has a clandestine filtering lab running out of somewhere, making him richer by the day. Men in prison later enjoy telling anecdotes of Pacheco boasting of his ability to handle Kolokkan dragons, that he is the only living Mexican to have felt resting on his arm a mature Guadalupe caracara bird, and stroked the feathers of a rainbow macaw. After his escape from prison, in a truck supposedly delivering food for the inmates, Pacheco becomes a living legend, and the subject of many corridos, groups singing of the filtered animals attributed to him, sometimes satirically, but always with respect. A popular one goes:
Come frijoles de panda
Y huevos de di-no-saurio
Se traga el água del mar
Y le dicen el co-mi-sario.
Pacheco becomes a ghost. He makes the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and is the thirty-ninth- richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine. Defending himself, in his only recorded public statement, given via speakerphone in the editor’s office of the newspaper La Jornada, Galdino Pacheco claims, “I am a man who deals in commodities. Given the right price, I’ll let you have whatever dead animal you’d like, and keep it for as long as it lives. This is a luxury. It doesn’t matter how long the animals are alive, when they are here they are perfect. Like you and me. Now, you say that I don’t have a heart, that I don’t care if the animals die very quickly. But if not for me, you could never have it. There in your hands. Now that is a luxury. And above all, I am a provider for my family and for others. I give well-paying jobs to men, something this country has promised and never delivered. I have the biggest heart. As far as the government, they’re all hypocrites. And anybody thinking that because the government legalized drugs that they have all become saints is dreaming.”
He never admits to resurrecting the silver-coated moonfox and killing the species in large numbers for its fur, to be sold to unscrupulous clothing designers, or the onyx mountain bear for the same purpose. To this day, mass graves of their furless, decomposed carcasses are found.
Meanwhile, dedicating one’s life to ending world hunger through the filtering sciences starts coming with a hazard factor. The Pacheco factor. Students and professors from all over go missing, presumably taken by Pacheco’s men or the steadily growing rival syndicates. Changes in harvesting and trade laws go into effect; the filtering of any animal for profit becomes a big case for lobbyists and inspires worldwide activism. The filtering summits are discontinued after their seventh year. Perceptions on what defines a living being shift, definitions change, and it is agreed by world leaders through international laws that the filtering sciences can only be used to harvest vegetables and fruit, and no human has the right to play God.
Pacheco’s myth gets out of hand throughout his years on the lam. One famous account has him dining in an expensive restaurant called El Pariente Norteño, in the Mexican state of Durango. Thirty of his men, armed with shotguns and automatic weapons, burst in and announce that nobody can leave or enter the restaurant, that phone devices will be confiscated, and that El Comisario Pacheco will have dinner among them. He will also feed everyone with his preferred meal, a glass of the most expensive wine in the house will be provided, and the tabs will be taken care of afterward.
Pacheco walks table to table, introducing himself to everybody like a rich distant relative, then secludes himself in the back corner of El Pariente Norteño. His own cooks take over the kitchen and in no time prepare a dish called Galapagos Gumbo, which includes the extinct king conch tortoise, healer greasefish, and rainbow trout, served in the actual tortoise shell, which everybody is free to take as a souvenir. Later, it is reluctantly described by many as a divine dish, an elixir that opens pores and mental faculties. Around the same time, in the Yucatán Peninsula, patrons at El Cielo Marino are treated to a similar experience, where they are served sautéed Vietnamese panda chops with steamed vegetables and fried heath hen gizzards with peach vinaigrette as an appetizer. Pacheco’s contribution to the dark sciences matches only his contribution to the black-market culinary world.
But the dog-eat-dog rivalries he’s perpetuated his entire life start closing in on him. He knows it, feels trapped, and can’t get out of this self-induced whirlpool.
But the dog-eat-dog rivalries he’s perpetuated his entire life start closing in on him. He knows it, feels trapped, and can’t get out of this self-induced whirlpool. The underground market of exotic furs and animal commodities that has built his empire, and opened new levels of violence in northern Mexico and the United States, turns over drastically. Rival syndicates that once specialized as headhunters for the European art market start leaning toward the filtering sciences, growing more and more ruthless in their treatment of the scientists, their disposed animals, and anybody who gets in their way. The three contending syndicates—Los Mil Condes, Sindicato Unidos, Los Pacificos—cut limbs, sever heads and skin, maim, torture, pimp, rape, burn, pillage, steal, and counterfeit all to gain control over the filtering empire Pacheco and Sindicato Casablanca ruled over.
If there is a savage in all of this, however, Pacheco comes to accept that it is himself. Toward the end of his life, he develops into a collector of real, exotic animals, almost as a way to remind himself that creatures are meant to live long, happy lives. He buys elephants native to Indonesia and tigers from Thailand, and owns the last flock of the same hyacinth ostriches that go on to kill and consume Pacheco himself, his twin boys, and his loyal, remaining men. Pacheco’s island gets discovered accidentally by a private vessel, as if the dead are calling, yearning to be found. Some hyacinth ostriches are found bullet-ridden, and the remaining flock have taken over the secluded compound, along with other wild animals and birds. It is a mystery to the officials how everything occurred. Through DNA testing, Pacheco’s body is identified. His boys were picked to the marrow; the only rotting skin left of their remains hangs from their eyes and mouths. His young beauty-queen wife had locked herself in a closet and her naturally decomposed body was the last to be found and identified, the autopsy inconclusive thus far. The end came tragically, melting like a cheap Milky Way galaxy, for Galdino “El Gordo” Pacheco, alias Motita, alias El Turco, alias El Mochadedos.
Fernando A. Flores was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and grew up in South Texas.