Chapter 49

After a lot of wondering about my future, and pretending I don’t feel uncomfortable with everyone staring at me, the van stops and the big sliding door opens. We are inside some kind of warehouse. Are they going to make me assemble TV’s or something? Great. I’m not going home, I’m being kidnapped and forced to work in a . . . Maquilladora, or whatever those places are called that make you work for, like, a dollar a day. At that rate I’m going to be here for fifteen hundred days. That’s like five years.

Paco leads us all down a hallway between steel shelves filled with boxes of appliances. Maybe this is a distribution center or something. Where are we going? Are we going to load trucks?

We walk between some rows of shelves, kinda like they have at Home Depot or Costco, and we all end up in a small empty area in the back of the warehouse, where some of the shelves have been moved around to create an open space. It’s not very big—maybe ten by twelve feet or so. My bedroom is a little bigger than this. Good thing there are only about ten of us.

There is a door in the floor, and it’s open, revealing a dark hole in the ground. Is this some kind of grave? From the looks of some of the other guys, I’m not the only one thinking this. But why would anyone want to kill us? Oh, that’s right, this is Mexico—they don’t need a reason. Thousands of people die here every year. People go missing. Bodies are found in trunks of cars, or pickup trucks, or . . .  storage sheds.

Off to the right is a set of shelves, haphazardly moved against the wall. They probably used to cover the hole. On the shelves are some large, dark-green, square, backpack-looking things, with large red numbers on them. This is getting scary.

There’s an angry-looking guy over there. Is that a machine-gun? Yep, the guy with the machine-gun is scanning us for trouble. He’s looking right at me. I feel like a naked skeleton. I try to act normal, but I feel like I’m shouting, Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Any minute now he’s going to shoot me. I try to smile and nod and give him a, hey, what’s up?

Nothing. He just keeps looking very serious.

Paco catches up with us. At least I kinda know him. I give him a nod, like, Hey Paco, remember me? I’m a friend of Cheech’s. He gruffly turns his attention towards someone else from our group.

Paco tells one of the guys I came here with to go down the ladder into the tunnel. This is the first time I heard Paco talk and he sounded kinda like a drunken Swede, but I understood what he said. Fear is an efficient translator.

I watch this first guy sink out of sight, and then Paco grabs a backpack, goes over to the hole and tosses it in. He signals another guy to go down the ladder.

Mr. machine-gun is giving me the creeps. Why do all drug smugglers have scars on their faces?

Well, It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that those are not backpacks filled with Christmas presents for the poor we’re about to smuggle across the border. I wonder what’s in those things—marijuana or cocaine? Maybe heroine? I guess it doesn’t really matter. If we get caught, I’m going to prison for a long time. I’m also going to look like I’m part of a drug cartel. They’re probably going to interrogate me and try to find out who my boss is. Where do you get the stuff? Tell me punk!  And because I don’t know anything, I’ll look like I’m just a tough guy who won’t talk. Then they’ll probably waterboard me. My heart is pounding through my chest. I’m sweating all over. Some of the other guys are sweating too. They probably got hoodwinked into this like me. Good, that means we’re not all cartel employees. Well, temps maybe.

I make eye contact with one of the other guys from the van. Yeah buddy, me too; I didn’t know anything about this either—Oh shit! Machine-gun guy just caught me eye-talking to that other guy. Shit! Shit! Shit! He probably thinks we’re plotting against him. He’s frowning at me, and it’s not an; I’m gonna send you to your room with no desert frown. it’s more like an; I’m going to ram this machine gun into your teeth and make you swallow hot lead, kind of frown. He’s gonna shoot us for treason, or mutiny, or whatever it’s called. 

Calm down, Pancho—Francis—k. Frank. Take it easy. Breathe slower. Look innocent. But not too innocent. Maybe innocent with a touch of crook, but not like; I’m gonna steal these drugs kind of crook, but more of a; hey dude, I’m cool with smuggling dope, kind of crook, so he won’t want to kill me after . . .  after . . . what if they do kill me after? All of us. No witnesses. Less people to split the profits with too—not  that I want any money for this! They can keep it all, just let me go. What am I thinking? They’re gonna point machine guns at me and make me walk down this tunnel with a backpack full of drugs, and I’m gonna collect a paycheck at the end?

My chest is about to launch my heart. It’s my turn now. Mr. Machine-gun is looking at me with his X-ray vision—drilling inside my head, reading my thoughts. He doesn’t need highway patrol sunglasses. He’s just naturally intimidating.

I’m cool. I’m cool. I can do this. Paco is smiling. He thinks this is funny? I wonder if Cheech knows what he does. No, I didn’t just think that. I’m cool, I’m cool! I’m going, I’m going!

This wooden ladder is really just leaning against the side of the tunnel. It’s not attached to anything. I have to be careful not to tip it over. I get to the bottom. Ahh! Shit! He just threw that backpack down here without saying anything. Oh wait; he didn’t say anything to the other guys either. I should have payed more attention in drug smuggling class just now.

The tunnel is a square-ish horizontal hole in the dirt, and it’s not very tall. Even the shorter Mexicans are leaning over a bit. God! This pack is heavy.

There are Christmas tree lights all along the top right corner of the tunnel. The person who hung them was thinking more about utility than decor. They droop in some areas, and are strung tightly in others, giving off a kind of, “Drunken Santa, Hidden Gopher,” motif.

I don’t know why we’re all just standing here. I guess we’re going to go across together. Why? It’s not like any of us are going to get lost, or take off with the drugs. Where would we go?

We begin to move. I wonder how long this tunnel is. It smells like dirt and sweat down here. We are kicking up dust as we walk, and there is nowhere for the dust to go but up my nose. At least it’s cool down here. Yay! A silver lining.

Just follow the Christmas lights. Maybe I should start singing Christmas carols—NOT. I get a chill from even having a fun thought down here; it feels forbidden. I’m still sweating like crazy and my stomach Is tied up in knots.

After about ten minutes, we slow down, then stop. The guys ahead of me block my view. It’s true what they say, If you’re not the lead dog, the view doesn’t change much.

We begin to move in slow, small steps. We must be near the end. When I get a little closer to the front, I see some guys are taking off their backpacks. Good idea. This thing is breaking my back.

Normally, I’d feel boxed in in a little space like this, but right now, I’m way too scared to be claustrophobic. This is taking forever. We’re moving much slower now. I’m two people away from the front now, and I can see the front guy is handing up his backpack. It floats up out of sight and he climbs up a ladder after it. Now the guy in front of me hands his backpack up. Zip! There it goes. Now he goes up the ladder. Okay, I got it. After this trip I’ll be a seasoned pro. Maybe if I lose my job at Taco Bell, I could put this down on my resume.

What’s going to happen to us when this is all over? What if I get busted? Will I spend time in prison? What am I saying—of course I will. The real question is, will it be a Mexican, or an American prison?  Since this is happening on both sides of the border, do we get to choose?

The guy behind me pushes me. I stand under the hole that leads out of this tunnel, lift my pack up and someone takes a long pole with a hook at the end of it, and grabs the strap of the backpack with it. Up it goes. I test the ladder. It’s a little shaky, like the other one. These guys really should secure these things. Someone’s going to get hurt.

Climbing up is easy. When I get to the top, the bright light hurts my eyes. I guess even with the Christmas lights down there, it was still pretty dark. I squint to shut out some of the extra brightness. Some hands grab me and help me up. Wow, they almost lift me up.

“Thanks.”

Someone grabs me by the arm and I’m being led someplace away from the tunnel. Good, I can’t see too well. The guys on the American side of the border are actually quite helpful. They must have a better union.

Hey, What the? Someone just tied my wrists together behind my back. Oh shit! I am so-not-liking-this. I knew it! I knew it! They’re going to kill us. Oh another van. Great. Where are we going? Shit, this isn’t over yet. What if they take us to the desert and shoot us?  We all know where the tunnel is—kinda. It’s under ground, we know that. Maybe they’ll blindfold us.

There sure are a lot of guns around here. I don’t have a gun. I feel so helpless. Not that I would try shooting my way out of here or anything. I just feel defenseless.

The light is even brighter outside. We must have gone from one warehouse to another. Great. Already I know too much. I know! I’ll just act dumb—retarded. They wouldn’t shoot a developmentally disabled guy would they? What kind of a threat would they be? I won’t say anything. I don’t even speak Spanish.

I step up to get into the van, and someone grabs my arm and helps me in. Should I make a run for it? My vision is starting to return. I can barely make out the uniforms. There are bright white DEA letters on the back of the windbreakers. Yay! This is a police van. Wahoo! I’m not gonna be shot in the head—Oh shit! I just got caught smuggling drugs into the United States. I’m going to prison for a long, long time. I am so not getting that promotion. If I had a gun right now, I’d shoot myself in the head.

I get held into position by one person, and someone else pats me down all over. Someone pulls out the baggie of contact information out of my front left pocket, then I’m pushed deeper into the truck. “Ow!”  I land on my knees with a thud. I need to make way for the people behind me. Where’s the guy with the machine-gun? Not in here, thank God! All these guys are the ones I came with in the van. They don’t look too happy . . . with me. What did I do? Blame the white guy? Hello! I’m in handcuffs too! I look over my shoulder at my hands, and then at them. That doesn’t seem to help. This eye conversation is going nowhere.

When we are all inside, the doors close and the truck begins to move. All around me are scowls and silent accusations. Good thing their hands are tied behind their backs. I wonder if I’m going to be put in the same cell as these guys. Great. Then the handcuffs come off. The desert with the bullet in the head is beginning to look better all the time.

We bounce around for a while. No windows, hard metal benches, and just enough head room to bang my head with every bump; but that’s not the worst of it.  Every now and again we go for a sharp left turn that sends everyone on the other side of the truck, flying into the guys on this side of the truck, and with my hands tied behind me, my head gets rammed into the side of the van. A sharp right turn, and all the guys on this side of the truck, fly into the guys on the other side of the truck. The guy I should have landed on moved quickly and got out of the way. My forehead bangs sharply against the metal side of the truck. I nearly black out. We hit a few nasty bumps as well, and I don’t even know which way is up any more. Several of us just lay in the bottom of the van and bounce around like popcorn. If Walt Disney had hooked up with Wes Craven, this would be their ugly step-child of a ride.

Finally, the road is smoothing out; we must be on a paved road now. I wonder where the drugs went? Maybe I should get a good lawyer. Your honor, the drugs weren’t his—honest.

After a while, the van starts and stops violently a few times, and I can hear everyone’s heads banging against the metal sides of the van. We stop and I hear doors slam. We all look at each other. A couple of guys have blood coming out their noses. I’m sure I have a few bumps on my head. So now I know what it’s like to be inside the truck when immigration makes margaritas. Thanks!

 

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Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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