“I can ask, but he’ll want to know what the meeting’s about.”
“Tell him the confidential informant that burned the Nine-Thirty-Seven to the ground is back in town.”
“Jax Abana,” the detective said. “Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a good long time.”
“Seven years,” I said.
“Closer to eight.”
I met Ted Ihns for an early lunch at Boca Chica Restaurante on Cesar Chavez Street in an area we call District del Sol on St. Paul’s west side—which was not to be confused with the City of West St. Paul a mile down the road, where Ihns worked as a police detective. West St. Paul, in fact, was actually located due south of downtown St. Paul. It got its name because it happened to be on the west side of the Mississippi River. Don’t ask me why they didn’t call it something else, I only live here.
Boca Chica might have been the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities. It was also one of the finest. Ihns ordered Mole Poblano con Pollo—chicken served on a bed of Spanish rice with a chile ancho and Mexican chocolate sauce poured over the top—and I had Pescado ala Boca Chica, a broiled walleye fillet smothered with the owner’s renowned poblano sauce. The meals were so good that neither of us spoke until we were nearly finished eating.
“Where did you hear the name?” Ihns asked.
“He does have reason to remember it. How’s he look, Cesar?”
“Like he wishes he were somewhere else.”
“Ain’t gonna get out of the jug for quite a while yet.”
“Because of Jax Abana?”
“Exactly because of Abana.”
“He was a traitor, then.”
“Oh, yes. Indeed he was. He served up the Nine-Thirty-Seven on a platter, gave us everything. We thought, at first, that he was putting us on. He had no reason to turn, no reason to make a deal. We had nothing on Abana. All I knew, all I heard was that he was an up-and-comer in the gang. I could have ID’d most of the Nine-Thirty-Seven by sight back then. Not him.”
“Just came forward like a good little citizen, did he?”
“Yeah, right. Turned out that Abana was the gang’s CFO. Eighteen and right out of high school and he was handling all of the Nine-Thirty-Seven’s finances.”
“So why did he turn?”
“For the money. Why else?”
“Did you pay him?”
“Of course not. What happened, Abana gave us the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes, the gamblers, an annotated list of all the Nine-Thirty-Seven’s customers, and, of course, all the leaders. What he didn’t give us was two hundred and sixty-seven thousand dollars in cash, pretty much the Nine-Thirty-Seven’s entire treasury. He neglected to share that with us. We wouldn’t have even known it existed except Nunez and some others accused us of stealing it. We didn’t steal it, by the way.”
“Never thought you did.”
“Others aren’t so sure. I blame TV. Have you ever seen a cop show where half the force wasn’t dirty?”
“I mean in the last forty years.”
Nothing came to mind.
“What happened to Abana?” I asked.
Ihns brought his closed fingers to his mouth, blew on them, and let his fingers fly open.
“Poof,” he said.
“Gone, baby, gone. Disappeared with all that cash. Which explained a lot.”
“Explain it to me.”
“Abana was happy to give us information on the Nine-Thirty-Seven, yet he refused to go on the record. He refused to testify. We told him we could put him in Witsec, give him a new identity, give him protection if he took the stand. He wouldn’t even consider it. The feds pushed hard, too. I didn’t know why he was so adamant until I heard about the money. If he had entered the Witness Security Program, he would have had to give it up.”
“Did you look for him?”
“No, why would I?”
“To get the money back,” I said.
“Yeah, well, it was a small price to pay to take so many assholes off the street at one time, you know?”
“It was a good bust.”
“Best of my career. Now you say he’s back.” I showed Ihns the photograph Riley had sent to my smartphone.
“He cleans up real good, doesn’t he?”
“Abana didn’t have short hair and a polo shirt when he was Mexican Mafia?” I asked.
“Hardly. He was also trying to grow a mustache. Pitiful thing. You say he calls himself Juan Carlos Navarre now?”
“That’s what the passport says.”
“Spanish. Apparently he’s a lot wealthier than two hundred and sixty-seven Gs, too.”
“Well, good for him. What you need to understand, McKenzie, I have no interest in Abana. There’s no paper on him. He’s not wanted. As far as I know, he’s just another law-abiding citizen.”
“Where did he get his millions? His passport?”
“Maybe he invested in hog futures. Maybe he moved to Spain. All I know, McKenzie, what I knew about him from the moment he opened his mouth—Abana is ungodly smart. We’re talking genius smart.”