“Think we can go around?”

We were parked on a dusty turnout. An abandoned red and white building, hacienda-style, sat tangled in weeds next to a pair of large, graffiti-scrawled, corrugated metal warehouses. Piled tires lined the sagging barbed wire fence, and a white semi-trailer, also overgrown with weeds, sat between us and the highway. Hermosillo was just over the ridge.

Jim and I were leaning over the hood of my Expedition, with a photomap of the area laid out on the hot metal. I shook my head. “It looks like we can skirt around the edges a little, but we won’t be able to avoid it entirely.”

Jim ran a hand over his beard. “Fuck. I don’t want to get in a street fight in fucking Hermosillo.”

“Getting out of Basra was probably worse,” I pointed out.

“That’s your benchmark?” He snorted. “That’s like saying a tire iron to the nuts is worse than a baseball bat to the head. I seem to remember that just about every one of us got shot, fragged, or both on that run, and we lost a couple of Team Hussein in the process.” He grimaced. “Two years ago, I wouldn’t have worried so much. But Hermosillo’s really gone to shit in the last couple months.”

He wasn’t wrong. We’d both done our research leading into this job. Hermosillo had been solidly a part of the Sinaloa empire for years, with tons upon tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth moving north without much trouble. Sure, there had been squabbles, with plenty of dead cops, narcos, and a couple of dead reporters. The cartels had never been so monolithic that there wasn’t going to be violence even in the heart of their territory.

But ever since the Mexican Marines had captured Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in 2014, the Sinaloa cartel had started to fragment. Little, regional capos had started to try to grab their piece of “El Chapo’s” pie. Hermosillo had become a prize in the struggle for territory. It was a choke point. About three hundred people had been killed in street fighting in the last two months alone.