The Sugar Man
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Carlos Alberto Morales saw the bullet ricochet off the flat boulder under his feet before he heard the distinct crack of the Kalashnikov. He threw himself head first into the tall grass and continued on hands and knees towards the river. Shrapnel wounds on his back and left leg were burning into him but he knew that even a moment's hesitation would prove fatal.

He heard the dry sound of metal striking stone and quickly pressed his prostrate body hard against the ground, horrifically conscious of the lethal object bouncing a few feet above his head, then heard the hand grenade’s innocuous splash into the river followed by a thunderous cloud of muddy spray.

He redoubled his efforts and crawled through the grass until he reached the water, rolling into it unhesitatingly and urging the turbulent Porce to carry him away.

Morales held his breath for almost two minutes. His lungs felt like they would burst as he protected his head with both hands and bounced from rock to rock. He never saw or heard the cascade of grenades that exploded in the pasture that had hidden him seconds earlier.

When he finally came up gasping for air, temporarily rolling on his back, he was eighty metres downstream. He managed a brief glimpse of Noriega and his henchmen silhouetted against the tropical sunset, still lobbing explosives down the hill. He took another deep breath and let his body sink again as the tributary flowed down the Cauca Valley to join a larger fluvial artery to the west of Medellin.

Half an hour later an exhausted Morales clambered onto the river-bank and took stock of his situation. Only a week earlier, he reflected still unable to accept his turn of fortune, he had been the fifth most powerful cocaine exporter in Colombia. Propped up by a personal fortune of two hundred million dollars, he’d commanded a vast army and had become almost unassailable in his native Medellin.

 He became suddenly aware of the rucksack on his back and struggled free of it, urgently releasing the two leather straps and digging inside it, feeling the contents in the dusk. The eight passports were still there - two each for his wife, their two children and himself. Morales started shaking as he thought of his family, mixed tears of pain and anger rolling down his cheeks. He could not afford to go back to Villa del Carmen, his grand estate on the cordillera’s foothills. If they had survived thus far they might yet escape alive, especially if his adversaries assumed that he was dead.

His best course of action was to keep moving, somehow get out of Colombia and live to fight another day. And fight he would. Two people in particular would have to pay with their lives: Ricardo Noriega for sure but, if he had lived through the fighting, that bastard Julio Robles, the DEA scumbag who had turned Morales’s world upside down.

Morales continued rummaging through the rucksack, feeling the reassuring cash bundles. He found the snub-nosed revolver with five rounds in its chamber. Emergency credit cards were there and, incongruously perhaps, his favourite gold Rolex now appearing remote, as if from another life. First things first, he reminded himself and he rose painfully to his feet.

Yarumal was nearby but too dangerous. He would walk all night and go west to Santa Rosa. He would find a doctor there - some of his dollars and if necessary the gun would secure medical attention. He slung his possessions over his back once more and set off following the river.

He counted each step and with every yard covered his loathing grew. Like a foot soldier in a Greek phalanx marching into combat to the rhythm of poetic stanzas, he recited the names: Noriega, Romualdes, Robles, Speer, Salazar.

“Morales is coming to see you, my friends,” he shouted, the flowing the river his only audience, “Count on that!”

By dawn, he had covered the twenty excruciating miles without food or drink, propelled entirely by hatred. He waited on the edge of Santa Rosa until he saw a likely target, then stepped onto the road and blocked the cyclist’s path.

“I need to see a doctor," Morales told the terrified farm labourer, openly displaying the gun, “Where do I go?”

The man stammered the instructions. Dr Lucas, he explained, just a few minutes walk. He had seen sicarios before. The stranger had that manic look about him.

“One word,” Morales said in a low fierce voice, “One word to anyone, ever, and I’ll be back. Do you understand?”

The peasant nodded vehemently, then gratefully clambered back on the saddle and pedalled furiously towards the town.

Dr Lucas, an elderly and surprisingly competent gentleman was equally accommodating. He had seen enough mutilated corpses over the past thirty years to know better than to challenge an assassin from the cartels. He removed the mortar shrapnel and dressed the wounds, then gave his patient a tetanus injection and a bottle of Ampicillin capsules.

Whilst he ministered to his unexpected patient the doctor sent his grandson into the village. The boy returned with a change of clothes for Morales, a shirt, trousers, a simple straw hat and a pair of espadrilles.

Morales took a hundred dollar note and forced the reluctant doctor to take it - as if in making payment an inviolable contract of silence had been sealed.

As the bus crept along the Antioquía mountains’ western slopes, Morales considered his options once again. He could try and seek out Tupac and Amaya, the most loyal of his servants, but for all he knew they too might have been killed. If Noriega had dared attack him, he would have ensured no one who might seek revenge was left alive.

Going straight to Cali would be suicidal.  Morales would have done so anyway - if it meant getting Noriega - no matter what the price. But he knew it would not be feasible. He would get himself killed for nothing.

So he stuck to his original intention, travelling quietly and modestly, until on the fifth day he reached the Pacific Ocean at El Valle where he insinuated the well rehearsed tale: a killer from Cali on the run from the authorities. He would pay five thousand dollars for safe passage to Panama - one hundred and fifty miles up the coast.

Whilst he waited for the small vessel to make ready, Morales bought copies of El Espectador and El Tiempo where he read about his own death. In flowing prose, correspondents described the brutal Medellin cocaine battle that tallied eighty-seven fatalities thus far.

Amongst those listed as killed were Carmen Morales, aged 36, and her children Carlitos, 12 and Gonzalo, 8.  Morales saw library pictures of himself and a recent portrait of Miguel Romualdes, taken at a clinic in the Capital where the Mayor of Medellin was said to be 'recovering from an accident'.

He tied the newspapers together and put them in a bag. They would serve as a daily reminder of scores to be settled at the appropriate time. Meanwhile, he would bury the anger and the pain deep in his subconscious and focus on the hatred.

As the fishing boat sailed north in a mild swell and gentle breeze, Morales destroyed seven passports. He pulled out each page in turn, tearing them into small pieces and dropping them over the side, then watched the scraps float away on a tranquil blue ocean as though witnessing the last remnants of his life. 

The eighth passport bore the drug baron’s photograph and the first page read, 'Ernesto José Martínez, Sugar Merchant, born on 15th February 1964 in Asunción, Paraguay.'

He replaced the document in his rucksack and retired to the lower cabin for some badly needed sleep.................................