Chapter 1

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One quick jab and the blade slides in all the way to the handle. A spray of warm liquid soaks my hand and the front of my shirt and the faint afternoon breeze cools it to perfection, releasing a flood of emotions, pent up frustration from years of unloved anger at the hands of my father, a dishwasher father, no less, that valued us so little he ran off to Mexico leaving my mother and me to fend for ourselves, treating us like garbage, to be disposed of when no longer useful, filling me with a thirst for vengeance, cool and refreshing, sharp as this knife, and I’m just getting started.

I thrust again, and again, and again, and I am now soaked in wet relief against the dry Arizona desert heat. I move to the other side and this time I shove the knife in halfway, then pull, slicing a ten-inch gash along the side, releasing a torrent of liquid and I watch as the greedy desert drinks up every drop, leaving behind a dark puddle shaped stain. Willie cheers me on. This is my first one. “Consider yourself baptized kid.” Willie says, filling up his canteen with one of the last of the uncut water jugs. When the canteen is full, he screws the top back on and pours what’s left in the jug over his chubby, hairless face and extra-large olive drab shirt. We will be dry again in less than five minutes, but for now, we are like kids playing in the sprinklers on a lazy summer’s day.

This is the kind of thing I signed up for. Finally I’m able to help protect my country from the invading hordes of freeloaders that threaten to ruin it. I’m gonna catch some of those cockroaches before they get in and do their damage.

I hand the knife back to Willie, and he puts it in the brown leather sheath that hangs a little cockeyed from his belt. Shane quietly slices open another water jug, making the ground around this water station look dark and bloated. Note to self; next time bring a knife.

“This really gets me,” Willie shouts. “Some stark-raving liberal not only put all these containers of water underneath this table, but then he covered it all up with this tarp so it wouldn’t get too hot.” He pulls out his knife again and slices up the offending tarp. “What, did they run out of ice or something?”

Someone paid good money for this water. There must be fifty gallons of it here, and that idiot not only bought the water, but he had to drive all the way out here in the middle of nowhere to leave it for people who shouldn’t even be out here in the first place. So what if those rats die of thirst. Serves them right. Maybe they should stay in Mexico where they belong. “Damn Communists.” I say. “Why don’t they buy them bus tickets while they’re at it?”

“Yeah, it makes no sense. It’s like going on vacation and leaving your safe open so a thief won’t have to go through the trouble of picking the lock.”

“And don’t forget to leave a light on in the room so they don’t trip on anything on their way to the safe,” Shane says, staring into his iPhone.

“Yeah, ha ha! And tape a note over the safe that says, the car is in the garage,” Willie grins, “the keys are in the ignition.”

“And there’s a credit card in the glove box,” I add, “in case you run out of gas.”

“You got that right. Haaaaa.” Willie lets loose with one of his trademark laughs that make this long, hot, dusty hike somewhat bearable. “What good is using a desert as a natural fence if you’re going to leave all this water out here?” He picks up his binoculars and scans the desert for signs of our prey.

I move closer to Shane to try and see what he’s looking at on his iPhone. His cold blue eyes, thin face and two-day beard make him look at home in this inhospitable environment. “What is that?” I ask.

“It’s called an iPhone kid, where you been—haaa!” Willie says, walking up to us, his constant grin leading the way.

“You need all the tools you can get out here.” Shane adds, his thumbs working furiously on the small screen in his hands.

“Want to track down illegal aliens in the desert?” Willie grins, “There’s an app for that.”

“Really?” Hmmm. There are hundreds of thousands of apps for those things. I wouldn’t be surprised. . .

“Triple I” Willie says, as if anticipating my question.

“That’s the name of the app?”

“Yep! We call it triple I, but the Mexicans call it, ‘eye, eye, eye’, haaaa.” Willie says, laughing at his own joke.

Even Shane smiles at that one, and he hardly ever smiles. “Lets get moving,” he says, picking up his Winchester lever-action 30-30, his eyes constantly scanning the low rolling hills and miles of flat, sage and cactus filled desert, moving from side to side, rarely staying on one thing for very long. You can almost see his mind working, calculating, asking questions and drawing conclusions, years of military training, now put to good use at home. Even his clothes are military issue: floppy camouflage hat; camouflage long sleeved shirt with all those pockets; camouflaged pants with more pockets; and those light brown desert storm army boots.

I stand back for a second to get a better look at my two new friends, and get the strangest feeling, like I’m in the desert, tracking desperadoes with Clint Eastwood and John Candy. Shane is the highest ranking person out here, so we do what he says—when he says anything at all.

I make sure my canteen is full, while Willie carves up the last water jug and sets it on top the table, like an evil plastic Jack-O-Lantern. It definitely sends a message—Go Home!

“Hey Frank, why are you out here in the middle of this god forsaken desert instead of in your nice air-conditioned bedroom chugging Red Bull and playing video games?” Willie asks.

Shane glances back at me to get my reaction. I’d better make this good. This whole excursion is like one long introduction and my performance will determine whether I’m asked back or not. “Because I want to help my country.”

“You’re just a kid.” Shane growls. “What do you know about helping your country?” He doesn’t wait for an answer, he just shifts his attention back to the seemingly lifeless desert.

What a doofus! Why would I say that to an Iraq war veteran? “I’m doing for our country what our government doesn’t have the balls to do.”

“Hey, if he were a Miss America contestant, I’d vote for him—haaa!”

Shane looks over at Willie, “I bet you would.”

“Shut up.” Willie laughs and kicks a rock toward his friend.

Great, I’m coming off as a contestant in some game show. “I work with lots of these rats every day and what irritates me the most is having to fire them for using fake ID’s, then having to hire and train someone else to take their place, and they’re probably going to have fake ID’s too, so I’ll have to fire them and do the whole process all over again—forever. It never stops.”

“Purgatory,” Shane says, nodding his disapproval and squinting in his binoculars.

“Well, it feels like hell out here,” Willie laughs, “I think you’re moving in the wrong direction kid.”

“Yeah, I’d rather be stranded on a deserted island and have to take a volleyball to the senior prom, than have to keep doing this all the time. I swear I’m about to crack up.”

Willie’s forehead scrunches up, “Volleyball?”

“Contact!” Shane says. We all freeze.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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