Mexican Hat Trick
by T.S. O’Neil
GENRE: Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Torreon was a dangerous place—there were over a thousand murders the previous year. Most were drug related as the Zeta cartel called it their territory and home—while other gangs disagreed. It was also the industrial heart of Mexico with much of the manufacturing scattered around the city in a series of walled and guarded industrial parks.
Chewy was the product of a May-September romance between a Jewish immigrant and a Mexican seamstress. His father, Isaac, a talented and well-connected tailor, had fled the Soviet Union in the early fifties. He had served many senior officials within the Communist Party ¬¬—a connection that would save his life. In the aftermath of Stalin’s death, a plot had been discovered to seize power by assassinating select high party officials. A group of Jewish doctors was implicated and vilified. Some were executed, others imprisoned—Isaac had been a non-practicing Jew, but nonetheless was swept up in the purge that followed. He escaped via a connection he had with a Mexican diplomat.
Over the remainder of his life, Isaac Mendelevich had grown a one tailor shop into a lucrative cut & sewn operation that employed over sixty seamstresses. Chewy had neither his father’s patience nor his virtue, but he did have higher aspirations.
For the past eleven years, Chewy’s company, Estrella de David S.A., had served as a foreign contractor of an American apparel manufacturer. The cloth was cut in El Paso and shipped to his Estrella Fabrica Una in Torreon—he only had one factory, but he could still dream big. His seamstresses rapidly turned the fabric into shirts and pants, he paid them poorly and reaped the reward. He had developed a pretty lucrative gig—the work was good, and Chewy prospered. He lived in a three level walled home outside of town, drove a late model Range Rover, and vacationed in a rented villa in Tuscany.
The Range Rover handled Torreon’s rough streets better than the Ferraris or Lamborghinis he saw in Italy—still, the Rover was not as stylish. He was originally pissed when he found out the Chinese had copied the storied vehicle and sold the counterfeit version, called the Landwind X7 for half the price of the original. But that anger gave way to grudging admiration after he involved himself in a similar pursuit.
Chewy dated the better-looking members of his staff—oblivious to the warning about fishing from the company pier—apparently, there is no similar expression in Spanish. The work was lucrative but limited. He often finished the entire consignment that the North American manufacturer shipped him in record time, which left him with an idle factory. He had plans for an early retirement to his own villa in Italy or along the Spanish Coast, and that took serious money.
Before his current girlfriend, Angelina, came to work for him—she had been employed for a short time in a factory stitching counterfeit shirts. The shirts were such good quality that they were often sold in the same retail shops that sold originals. She liked the work—the factory was in an old warehouse close to her home, the pay was in dollars, and they fed her lunch. Sure the work was hard—twelve hour days using old sewing machines, learning the strange stitching design and getting yelled at when she screwed something up, but they let her bring home the leftover tamales, and they paid her each day in currency.
On her one month anniversary a team from the Prosecutor’s Office arrived—all dressed in black military-style uniforms and carrying automatic weapons. The two Mexican Americans running the factory were summarily arrested—cuffed and stuffed as the gringos say, and carted off in a detention vehicle, not doubt to the infamous Gómez Palacio prison.
The gringos’ arrests left a vacuum in the market and after some subtle inquiries, Chewy filled it with a vigor. He now produced a regular run of clothing, in this case, a trademark known as Mountain Man (MM) and then produced a second line of high-quality fakes. The clothing line had a distinctive trademark—an inch high double M with crossed legs. The patterns were the same, and much of the output was repurposed seconds or new jeans made with locally bought denim. The quality of his counterfeits was high enough to fool the trademark inspectors and even some of the manufacturer’s investigators.
They filled a container of legitimate product for which Mountain Man’s in-country manager paid in cash a sum that was both gratifying and underwhelming. His shop floor otherwise idle, he would put his seamstresses to work with remnants and leftover sundries, to turn out another line of high-quality counterfeits. He knew others were doing the same. The fake jeans went straight into a shipping container that arrived on a regular basis—he assumed they were exported as he never saw them in the ‘Tianguis’ or local flea markets.
Chewy was initially happy. That together with what he was earning in regular work meant he was garnering over one-half million dollars a year. Still, it was not enough. The villa in Italy that he wanted costs over two and one-half million dollars and his prolific use of cocaine, 100% agave aged Tequila and high-class prostitutes, limited his ability to save. He needed, as the computer geeks say, a killer app—something lucrative enough to put him over the top. Two million dollars would get him there, and he figured that the information he had to share was well worth that price.
All are available on Amazon.com
Ask my wife, if you have a few hours to listen to the complete list. I do have a unique form of Tourette syndrome that makes me shout out obscure movie lines from time to time. Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration, in that it’s not so much a syndrome as something I do to amuse the wife and keep her guessing. I accuse her of trying to poison me and all she says in return is “if you don’t like my cooking, just say so.”
What is the most interesting thing that's ever happened to you?
I shook Tony Soprano’s hand, and he died. Of course, he died about a year later, but still…..Just kidding and may he rest in peace. I think some of the investigations I did into trademark anti-counterfeiting were pretty interesting. We used to work with the federal authorities in many countries like Colombia, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic seizing counterfeit garments. We did a seizure of several factories in Colombia, and I wrote a fictionalized version of one of the most notable incidents in my latest novel, Mexican Hat Trick.
A private investigator under my supervison and I journeyed to Colombia and met with the owners of the counterfeit apparel factory under the pretext of being buyers involved in the purchase of said apparel. We had to meet the owners at their apartment in Cali. I was initially very worried that we were being set up, and I feigned a stomach ailment so I would not have to go alone, but my investigator still wanted to attend the meeting. I reneged and went anyway as I was worried about his safety. We followed them to this heavily guarded apartment building, and one of the counterfeiters told me not to worry about our safety because the apartment building was owned by one of the most powerful drug lords in Cali.
We met the people in their luxorious apartment and chit-chated over cocktails. They asked where I was from, and I said Boston, as that was were I went to undergraduate school. One of the owners of the factory had gone to college in Boston to study business, and it turns out he went to the same university that I did. He had studied business, while I had majored in Criminal Justice—a tidbit I decided not to share with the man.
Later that evening, we met with the Colombian federal agents who were going to conduct the raid. They had just received the news that a truck bomb had been detonated in one of their headquarters buildings in a nearby city resulting in many casualties. My investigator wanted me to express condolences to the agents, and I did as best I could, given my limited Spanish vocabulary. The lead agent thanked me but basically told me that we needed to focus on the case at hand. I thought he was a true professional and felt honored to work with him.
The following day, the federal police conducted the raids. The factory owners had figured out my investigator, and I was not who we said we were. The counterfeit goods, machinery, and building, had been seized, but the counterfeiters had only been cited and were free. They were very angry and wanted to confront us, so we fled to the airport and grabbed the first flight out. Perhaps I’ll see him at our next class reunion.
What are your top 10 favorite books?
In no particular order:
Into Thin Air
Into the Wild
Tough Guys Don’t Dance
Nothing to Envy
The Last Resort
In the Heart of the Sea
What inspired you to write this book?
I always wanted to write a book about trademark anti-counterfeiting which was something I did for about five years after leaving the Army in 1993. It’s viewed as mostly an economic crime in many countries, but in others, responsibility for conducting raids falls to the country’s equivalence of the F.B.I. and it can sometimes be a pretty dicey business. I wanted to write a novel about the investigators who investigate such activates, but I needed to up the ante a little bit by adding some murder and mayhem.