Narcodress is the message

Narcodress is the message

By Elmer Mendoza, Special Correspondent, BBC Mundo

The style of clothing one adopts affords ownership and hierarchy both inside and outside the tribe. When it comes to criminal groups, the suit is the message.

A gold encrusted gun

A gold encrusted gun seized from a drug trafficker in Mexico

Narco Mexico

Humphrey Bogart idealises the image of the Mafioso which he made so much his own and it was not long before everyone was wearing those elegant suits and splendid white shirts. What we wear is an important element when it comes to belonging.

The first drug traffickers were country folk. They came to the city wearing Levi jeans and checked woollen or flannel shirts.

They wore plaited leather sandals or shoes of untreated leather, straw hats and maybe for protection, a small chain with the Virgin of Guadalupe. The women dressed in floral skirts.

As time passed and with integration into city life, their image changed markedly. After all, the way you are perceived, you are treated accordingly.

Experienced designers took it upon themselves to compare the sobriety of "The Godfather" of the film and the colourful Cuban shirts prominent in "Scarface". The result was trousers made with fine materials, khaki or other dark colours, shirts of all types, from the smoothest to the most extravagant Miami style prints, exotic ostrich or crocodile skin boots, wide belts with ostentatious hand-tooled leather buckles and huge pieces of jewellery, studded with emeralds and diamonds.

The women are dressed by the most prestigious fashion houses. Both sexes insist on designer jeans, either studded or embroidered and their hats cost around US$10,000.

The narcos are leading figures. Although it would be better for them to pass unnoticed, the opposite is the case. They love to be the centre of attention and for this their clothes play a significant role.

Their way of dress demonstrates their allegiance to a very powerful group which others are more than happy to imitate.

From that reality of Mexican society today, springs this little tale of fiction.

LENNON AT THE PIANO

Zurdo* Mendieta is a police officer who lives in Col Pop, a rough neighbourhood in Culiacan which has been home to boxers, artists, guerrillas and narcos. At one time youngsters used to say they only had two options in life: to be a guerrilla or a drug dealer. Since the guerrilla had been annihilated some time ago, they had to settle for ferrying drugs to the US border in suitcases, trucks and launches.

A knock at the door. Zurdo, who lives alone, opens it. He's watching 'Atonement' and not pleased at the interruption. What's going on? He is surprised by the visitor, especially at midnight. The only cop ever to nick me, says Roñas, a local drug dealer. Can I come in? You already are.

Roñas moved aside some newspapers and sat down on the sofa. He was wearing yellow ostrich leather boots, black jeans and a printed silk shirt. He wore a diamond slave bracelet on each arm and a Cartier watch on the left one. He placed a package by his side.

OK dammit Zurdo, stop looking at me as if you didn´t know me. Well, I don´t understand why you are here, at this time, dressed for one of your parties.

What! Don't insult me you bastard, if I dared to go dressed like this to a party they wouldn´t let me in. You have to go with the right gear on or not at all. You don´t say! The boots for instance would cost double the price of the ones he's wearing, and I've got my emerald bangles. So you're saying you're dressed poorly at the moment? Well yes actually, I don't want people talking about me, saying I'm pretentious or anything. Anyway I´m only paying you a visit, mate, everything´s OK. Fancy a line? No. You don´t know what you´re missing and I´m going to repeat what I told you years ago, I´ll never forget you were the only bastard to catch me. Don´t remind me, your enemies almost killed me when I let you go. Ah, that´s another matter: but I´m glad you haven´t forgotten that we are from the same neighbourhood and grew up together.

They were both over 40 and they looked it. Got anything to drink? Water. I´ll go rusty, he joked. Beer. OK coming up. Mendieta sat down opposite his visitor. What a change from 14 years ago when he apprehended him. He was dressed in jeans and tee shirt with John Lennon on the front. He was a great admirer of the Beatle and wanted people to know it. He didn't release him, not because he was from the neighbourhood or because they were old school friends, but because months earlier, he had warned his brother that the police were after him. In Col pop everybody watched everybody else's back and he wasn't going to be any different. Now with those silk clothes and air of triumph about him, so different from that time. He concentrated on the shirt and saw an image of the Liverpudlian stamped on it. I see you are still a fan. There are everlasting loves, dear Zurdo, and this is one of them. I know you are still living with Concha. You should see my woman, no longer the skinny little girl you knew. She wears designer clothes now and quality jewellery. Her backside has really filled out nicely and when she wears jeans, I almost want to the kill her or kill those stupid guys who look at her; she's a stunner, Zurdo.

Mendieta opened him another beer, he'd barely touched his own. I know you're dying to know why I've come, don't deny it. I haven't the faintest idea and if you must know, I'm quite relaxed now, he lied. Roñas was the most wanted narco around with the DEA´s highest ever price on his head. In spite of everything you are right, we´ve known each other since we were kids. Yes, but you turned out crazy, it´s the only explanation for your being a cop and living in poverty; hey and your brother, the one in the States? Did he marry that girl with the great backside? He sat motionless. Now he was a great guy. Mendieta lit a cigarette and drank his beer.

Do you want to know where I live? No. You´re right not to. Ever since the president declared war on us, this town is the pits, you can´t live here any more, Zurdo. This is no place for my grandchildren to grow up in. The place is full of soldiers and federal agents, some of them have gone completely mad and you see dead bodies on a daily basis, but what am I telling you for? You´re a cop, you bastard, the only one ever to nick me.

He drank the rest of his beer in one gulp. This is what I came for, Zurdo, to warn you, bastard. They are going after the police. In this package you´ll find clothes to disguise yourself so you look the part. They are murdering your colleagues as we speak, it´ll be a massacre, but we are not to blame. You´ll like what I´ve brought you, you´ll look like you´re going to a party, except for the shirt which is the same as mine. How do you know this is going to happen? Nothing escapes me, my friend. They looked at each other. The clothes will be your safe conduct. I was never a fan of Lennon. I know. He opened up the parcel and pulled out a shirt with Lennon on it, sitting at the piano. It´ll bring you luck. You can give me back the bracelets and the watch, I´ll tell you how. Roñas, I won´t run away. I know you´ve got plenty of balls, Zurdo and I´m not telling you to flee, just dress like us so you can get out of here. He took his boots off. Maybe they are your size. A week from now we´ll meet up in the Botanical Gardens at six o´clock in the evening. You can give me back my clothes and jewellery. Since you are going to love the clothes and they will suit you, you may keep them. But why John Lennon? I would have preferred Mick Jagger. Stop complaining or I´ll put a bullet in you here and now, you bastard. He smiled as he got to his feet.

Two days later, the press reported 52 police officers killed that night.

End of Section

Elmer Mendoza is a Mexican author and playwright. He received the Tusquets prize in 2007 for "Balas de plata" (Silver bullets). He is also a lecturer at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa and Member of the Sinaloa College. Mendoza is deemed to be one of those writers who has raised the detective story genre to the highest level in Latin American literature.
*Zurdo = left-handed