30ft Mexican Sycamore
Grains of sand in his teeth, a mouth full of dust and the smell of iron, the man lay face down in the dirt. A cold gust of wind ran through his hair. All sound was muffled, he turned his head and went back to sleep.
It wasn't until dark when he heard the hum of tractor trailers from the highway over the rise. He could hear the wind then the swooshing sound of feathers became apparent. He remembered where he was, he needed to get out.
To his left a swarm buzzards were devouring one of the bodies. He sprung and batted away the few that wandered to him, tripped over a corps as he backed away, landing on his ass. The distant headlights from the cargo trucks briefly lit the hills. He could see the buzzards backing off. He'd been there since dawn when the others were still alive. It was time to walk.
The man dusted his pants and headed towards the highway. He looked at the sky, so many stars, he'd never noticed how many. He was thankful to be walking. The road wasn't terribly far, but had a long way to go once he was down there, no guarantees on anyone picking up a hitch-hiker at night on a desert road in Northern Mexico .
Eventually the dust and rocks in his boots started bothering him, he shook them out when he reached the road. Only two sets of headlights were coming his way, both at equal distance, both a long ways from him. Neither one stopped.
The man made it several miles in one direction. No one stopped. The night air, colder by the minute. He stopped at a bridge over a dry arroyo, held out his thumb for one more car. It zoomed by, it's brake lights lit up bright red for a moment before it sped away. The road was quiet again. The desert was well lit now by whatever the day had left behind, shadows, blues and purples.
He stumbled down the arroyo, dug a hole in the soft sand with his hands hoping to crawl in and rest only to find water the more he dug. He gave up, sat down, lay laid back, staring at the sky. He found a pack of cigarettes in his coat pocket, a lighter in the pack. He lit one. The first drag was heaven. He looked down the hole, the puddle at the bottom had grown since he stopped digging. He drank the mud, built a small fire with the tumble weeds stacked by the culvert. It must be late he thought. He closed his eyes.
Sergio loved charming the man's elderly mother. She put out a spread of huevos machados, re-fried beans, tortillas, homemade salsa, queso fresco, and a pot of coffee. Dona Florinda loved feeding anyone who came over, especially if they were dear friends of her only son.
Why don't you come over more often, Mijo?
Ud. sabe Dona Florinda! I'm super busy these days.
They continued with their chatter. He studied both of them. She was genuine, his mother. Sergio was shifty, skinny, and a liar. He was wondering when she'd leave so he and Sergio could talk.
I'm super proud of you mijo, of both of you. Mis hombrecitos are all grown up! Make sure you tell your mamma I said hello.
She left, the men continued eating. Sergio poured himself more coffee, leaned over to freshen his friends cup.
I'm good. He said. What do you want, man? I haven't seen you in months? I don't owe you anything anymore.
I know, but listen. I need your help. I've already asked everyone
He sopped up the watery salsa left on his plate with a tortilla. Drank the last dregs of coffee, never taking his eyes off Sergio.
It'll be easy, bro. I promise.
Sergio sat back, pulled out a cigarette.
Aqui no, pendejo. Lets go outside.
He picked up both of their plates, scraped the remains into a bucket for the chickens, rinsed them off and left them in the sink. Vamos, he motioned to Sergio.
They walked to the back of the property, Sergio collecting and eating pecans from the patchy yellow grass. Two yard dogs followed them, sniffing their pant legs.
Watch out man, I haven't picked up the dog shit yet. He picked up a tennis ball and shot it across the property. The dogs took off in chase. The men sat on a log under the 30 ft Mexican Sycamore by the irrigation ditch. They talked for over an hour. The dogs sat with them. The morning eventually warmed and Sergio left.
Two days later he drove his truck to the border to pick up Danny, Sergios friend. Danny was waiting for him in a parking lot across the street from the old courthouse. He recognized Danny as he pulled into the lot. It was the same Danny he remembered from High School, now just an older version, fat, disheveled, old cowboy boots, buying Mexican ice pops from a street vendor. Danny smiled, waved, paid the old man and walked over to his truck, licking his green pop and fingers.
Toma buey, he told him as he climbed into the cab of his 18 wheeler handing him the other ice-pop. I knew you'd bring this big ass truck. It's cool, we'll take my car. You like Pina Colada, No?
Yeah, that's fine. He took the plastic wrapper off his pop.
You haven't seen my car, huh? It's right over there.
No mames, buey! I thought you didn't want to call attention.
They drove Danny's freshly painted metallic black El Camino with white wall tires and "Vato" personalized Texas license plate over Puente Tornillo Guadalupe and into Mexico. They took Carretera Dos, following the border through paved towns and dirt road colonias, pharmacies, corner markets, wooden pallet shanties and gangs of stray dogs, then desert.
We'll be back by tonight?
Yeah man, no te preocupes, buey. Danny reassured, looking out at the desert, both hands on the wheel, black out sunglasses and Townes Van Zandt singing "Freight Liner Blues".
The man dozed off. His breathing slowed, calm, the car seat molded perfectly around him, his muscles heavy as his eyelids, he dreamed of a cold afternoon under his mother's sycamore by the irrigation ditch, an orange rust colored sky to his left, a build up of clouds over the mountains to the north where the sky darkened, blue and purple. His dog sat next to him, a handsome black German Sheppard he named Geronimo. The dog sipped coffee from an old metal cup and spoke to him in Spanish.
No hay mal que por bien no venga.
Lo se. He said.
The cold wind felt good against his cheeks. The weapon felt cold and heavy in his hands. His dog's ears perked up to watch the roadrunners scatter in the desert brush below.
Geronimo looked into his coffee cup. Este mundo nos rechasa como un perro sacude sus pulgas.
He woke when they pulled up to a roadside cafe.
We're here, Danny said. You ok?
How long was I out?
About ten minutes.
The cafe was small, packed dirt floor, high ceilings, and heavy timber beams supporting a wood and tin roof. There were two children watching a small television behind the cash register. An old Tarhumara woman brought them waters. They ordered food and beers, she pointed to kitchen style refrigerator by the door. A half hour later, a squat muscular light skinned Mexican walked in, introduced himself, Emilio Gomez-Freedman. He was polite, and soft spoken, wore khaki cargo shorts, tennis shoes, white socks, and a bright polo, predictable suburban gringo outfit. He spoke perfect Spanish in a different accent, not Mexican.
They paid their bill, backtracked on Carretera Dos towards Cd. Juarez, turned left onto a dirt road a few miles ahead, and drove into a rock quarry. It was lunch time. Most of the large rock haulers and heavy equipment rested except for a few pickup trucks coming up the rim. They pulled up to an office trailer. Emilio went inside for a few minutes, returned with a set of keys and some papers, motioned them to roll down the window.
Alright, the truck's on the other side of the office. Here's the keys, the bill of lading, weight papers, and log book. You're hauling 3 tons of coarse white granite. You'll go back to Puente Tornillo, you know the rest. You ready? It was strange listening to Emilio speak English, like a talking dog, wasn't expecting it or how well he spoke.
Yeah, lets just go. I gotta get back tonight. He got out of the car.
Danny leaned over to the passenger door. Don't worry man, it's just rocks, I promise... I'll see you back at your truck tonight.
He walked behind the office building, he could feel someone watching him through the window blinds. He brought the tractor and trailer around the building and headed up the dirt road, a left at Carretera Dos and in two hours he should be at the bridge. Once on the highway he scanned his side mirrors every few mintues, noticed Danny's car wasn't behind him anymore.
His pulse picked up. He kept looking for a car. Was there anyone watching over him, protecting, or suspiciously waiting for him to fuck up. Maybe his cargo was 'just rocks'. Maybe this was a legitimate haul, Mexican gravel to a ranch in the Fort Davis. Either way, he didn't want to know. He was an errand boy. Ignorance is bliss, he thought. Besides, if he didn't know, at least it wouldn't be a lie. He caught the blue and red lights of a patrol car behind him. Shit.
The same patrullero who stopped his 18 wheeler and the three men who forced him at gunpoint off Carretera Dos were kneeling with him, facing north, looking over a large flat desert floor extending towards the black silhouettes of foothills and distant mountains. All of this was underwater millions of years ago, he thought. The ocean was drained over time, millions of different life forms have lived and since disappeared.
They'd been on the dirt for hours, their body's were exhausted, but if they collapsed or got up they'd be shot. They'd been warned. Those that made it to daybreak without breaking would live, so they said.
The policeman eventually collapsed from exhaustion. He started sobbing. A man walked up to him, a weapon's suppressed thud. Then shot him again to quiet the convulsions. The sky to the east had hint of light blue and green along the horizon. The air smelled of wet mesquite.
The men where behind them, whispering in Spanish, one with an American accent. They only spoke to them when necessary. They wore black ski-masks, black scarves, black uniforms, and American weapons.
Unable to move, they'd all pissed or shit their pants at some point, none of that mattered, it would be over soon. The sky to the east lightened with each passing moment.
The one with the American accent came up behind him and whispered in English. Fall on your face, puto!
He tensed up, grit his teeth. He was struck in the back of the head by a rifle butt. He fell face first into the dirt. Then a volley of muffled pistol shots forced the other three to the ground. A taste of blood in his mouth, ringing in his head and ears, he was sure he'd been shot. He faded away into sleep only to be woken by buzzards later that evening.
The man smoked his last cigarette at dawn after a cold night in the arroyo, he hadn't eaten in two days. He continued walking the same direction he'd been walking all night. He was sure it was the right way.
Danny passed him driving the opposite direction, turned his car around and pulled ahead of him. Danny got out and ran to him.
Holy shit, holy shit, you look like shit, man. Ven buey, lets get you in the car.
Agua, puto, agua.... algo para comer.
No te preocupes buey, we'll stop up here and get you something.
A few hours later they arrived at the bridge. The Border Patrol agent stuck his head into the cab of Danny's El Camino. They both recited their lines: American Citizen.
What's your business in Mexico?
We were visiting family... a birthday party.
Whats up with him. The agent pointed his chin at the dirty passenger.
Oh, his old lady made him sleep outside. Danny giggled nervously. He was sleeping with her sister... she found out last night. Too much information, Danny thought. Now it really sounded like a lie. The agent kept sizing up the passenger.
You guys bring any fruit, vegetables, medicine....birds? Another agent and his dog walked around the car.
No sir, nothing of the sort. My friend and I just had a wild night at our family's. He decided to speak up, Danny was running out of lies. The agent pulled his head out and waved them through.
The El Camino rounded the Border Patrol check station, weaved through barricade serpentine course. That's when he noticed the 18 Wheeler with the same rock quarry markings as the one he was driving being stripped apart by agents while their German Shepherds supervised.
What the fuck is that? I was carrying too, wasn't I?
No buey, you weren't carrying anything, just rocks. I promise.
How the fuck do you know???
Because we wouldn't do that... That cop was the problem. They needed another driver. A good driver... He promised they wouldn't hurt you.
I'm sorry bro... We'll get your truck in the morning. Let's eat something.
He watched the agents and dogs strip away the trailer and truck. Coming over the bridge behind them, three more gravel trucks, same quarry. They passed four more on their way to his mom's place.