With the specific orders of “get the job done,” the particulars of exactly how to destabilize the cartel were up to Gaz and I. Each operation has differing levels of oversight, and it looked like our handlers were keeping a long arm’s-reach away from this jungle mess. She and I explored our options over a flask of what the locals called “beer” but tasted more like motor oil cut with salt brine. Looking at the map, the cartel was highly compartmentalized; the only way to work our way to the top was to systematically hit each of the underbosses until we had enough information to move up.

We decided to hit the trafficking routes first, both as a way to test the cartel’s response and to inflict some pain right out of the gate. By popping their exit strategies, they’d have to consolidate their reserves, because surely production wouldn’t be allowed to stop while they find a new way out. Stopping the remote supplies from getting in means they wouldn’t be able to get as high-quality precursors, making the total product worse at the same time. Bad product means unhappy customers, and centralized storage makes for great fireworks. All around a win-win, unless you’re rooting for the cartel.

The cartel used a handful of mid-level leaders to manage different aspects of the smuggling operations, all with stupid names like “El Cerebro” and “El Gato.” They really, really have a high opinion of themselves, don’t they? In any case, everything was controlled by one person higher on the food chain, but we wouldn’t be able to get to them, or even figure out who they were, without convincing a few of the leaders to turn.

Staring down a barrel, their guards dead all around them, usually made the decision fairly simple. For the ones who actually held out, with or without soiling themselves first, we returned to our handlers who usually managed to get the intel we need. Sometimes it was as simple as telling them they were free to go, and telling the local rebels to start spreading news about just how talkative the leader had been. Sure the folks at Langley might toss you in a cell for a few decades, but at least they won’t do what the cartel does to traitors.

It’s a messy business, what we do, but if it weren’t us, it’d just be someone else Uncle Sam was pulling the strings of.