Chapter 48

What’s this cat doing on my chest?  Oh, right. I’m in Mexico. I wonder what time it is—when am I going to stop looking at my naked wrist? God! I’m so tired. My dreams were horrible.

I sit up and my neck and shoulder send stabbing pains to my back. Sleeping on a hard bench with nothing but an apron for a pillow sucks. I try stretching slowly, but the friction of cloth against the soft spots where sand tried to grind through my arms and legs makes me wince. It feels like my joints are on fire.

Some change has fallen out of my pocket and onto the ground under the bench. I should try calling Mom again. If it’s early enough, she just might be home.

The phone rings three times and I hang up. I hear the familiar sound of the change falling into the coin return. It must be after seven-thirty and Mom will be at the insurance agency. Damn! I wish I knew that number by heart. I hardly ever call her there.

For as long as I can remember, she’s had two, and sometimes three jobs. It must’ve been tough to raise a kid alone. Grandpa and Grandma weren’t, what I would call—close. All those Fed-Ex’d Christmas gifts, and cards on birthdays. They rarely came over, and Mom would always have an explanation. She sometimes threw a small party and invited my friends. I should tell her I appreciate everything she did. I should tell her that when I grow up, I want to be just as strong as she is. I should tell her that I’m going to start pitching in more than I have in the past. Buying the groceries really isn’t much help to her when she’s never home enough to eat them. I should tell her . . . I should tell her I love her.

I would, if she’d just pick up the damn phone!

I put the change back into the phone again and call Taco Bell.

“Good morning Taco Bell.”

“Hey Darren, is Robb around?”

“Hey what’s up Frank? No, we had to change the schedule around since your little trip is going into overtime. Dude, this is not cool.“

“I know. Sorry Darren, I’m having a hard time getting back through the border.”

“You are? I thought you were a—“

“I am a citizen, but someone stole my wallet with my money and my ID, and the border is much stricter now, ever since nine-eleven, so I’m having a little trouble getting home.”

“Yeah, trouble with the border huh?”

That’s all he heard out of that whole explanation. “Anyway, tell Robb I’m really sorry about the schedule problems, and I should be home later today. I’ll come over as soon as I get home and get the schedule all back to normal.”

“Sure, Pancho, I got your back.”

Yep, that’s where the stabbing pain is all right. I hang up.  Darren is going to milk this for all he can. If I don’t show up soon, I probably won’t even have a job, much less that promotion.

The phone swallows the change and I return to the restaurant. Oh good, Cheech is here and it looks like he brought his friend. He’s short and stocky guy and looks a little rough, with those spider-web tattoos on his neck, and something on his left cheek too. I’m surprised Cheech knows anyone like this. I don’t think I’m gonna like this guy, or anything he’s gonna want me to do.

“Okay, Paco, this is Pancho Villa, the guy I was telling you about.” He looks at me like I’m supposed to deny it. Instead, I just shake his hand.

“Mucho gusto.” He doesn’t say anything.

“Paco is going to get you across the border, and he’s in a hurry, so you need to go with him right now. He’ll show you what to do when you get there.”

I am so dreading this. Paco starts walking away and I start to follow, but then I remember my addresses and wedding photo are still on the counter. I run inside the restaurant to gather my little slips of paper, fold them nicely and put them back into the plastic baggie and in my pocket. I put the wedding photo in my back pocket. When I get outside, I don’t see Paco. He’s started without me. Cheech smiles, “I told my wife about your apron show. She almost died laughing. You know, If this going home thing doesn’t work out for you, I think I should hire you—being so good with the ladies and all.”

If that was supposed to put me at ease—it didn’t. I fake a smile. He’s trying to help after all, but look at what happened with, just walk around the fence. People do it all the time—It’s easy.

“You better hurry, Paco won’t wait for nobody.”

I smile and run to catch up with Paco. I round the corner and just barely see him get into an old, white, Ford panel van. Yeah, like that doesn’t just scream, criminal smuggling vehicle.

When I get there, the sliding door is open and I see there are a bunch of guys in there already. Nice looking bunch of felons, I must say—some of them anyway. They give me a new kind of look. I wonder if they think I’m some kind of cop or something. Oh well, it beats the heck out of the sympathy looks I’ve been getting.

I get in and someone closes the door and then jumps in the passenger seat next to the driver. Paco drives. This van is pretty beat up. The carpet on the floor is blue, oil stained, and it smells a little like gas and ass. The vinyl seats are ripped a bit, and there is spider web-like crack in the passenger side of the windshield. Looks like Paco doesn’t believe in stopping for pedestrians. Either that, or he had to make a sudden stop, and somebody wasn’t wearing their seatbelt. I look at the faces of my fellow passengers. It could have been any one of them.

I’m not comfortable about this whole situation, or the looks I’m getting. I need to show these guys I’m friendly. I smile. There, that should do it. I take in my surroundings and my whole situation in one big mental picture. I’ve never felt as much like a Mexican as I do right now. I hate my life.

There are no windows that open back here. I wonder how long it’s going to be before we get where were going. Where are we going? What am I going to have to do when I get there?

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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