Chapter 68

Behind me the front door opens and the joyful rucus turns silent. I turn to see a large middle-aged man in a tan sheriff’s uniform walking into the restaurant. I’m 5’9” and he’s way taller. He’s also over two hundred pounds, but being big and tall isn’t what gets me; it’s nighttime and he’s wearing those sunglasses. They must all shop somewhere together, or maybe they come with the uniform.  That would explain why they all wear them. It would also explain why he has them on at night. They probably switch to night-vision glasses automatically when it gets dark.

He looks around the room like Arnold Schwartzenegger in “The Terminator,” sizing up the occupants of the café: threat, no threat, no threat. . .

I look over at Roberto. His eyes search mine for clues as to what this could mean for me. I look down at my coffee, no longer laughing.

I’m suddenly very self-conscious of my clothes. I couldn’t blend in with everyone else here if my life depended on it, and right now, it just might. I feel like I’m wearing a flashing neon, illegal alien sign, just above the bullseye on my back, and the kick me sign on the seat of my pants. I need to focus on something before I drive myself crazy. I can feel the officer’s cold stare boring though my back. Julia is holding a pot of coffee in one hand and staring at me, waiting to see what happens next. She’s got that deer in the headlights look you get when a cop pulls you over and you know you’ve been busted.

I hear footsteps walking toward the counter, and feel the grip of a giant frozen blanket squeeze my body.

“Hey John, you paying this time or is it my turn?” Roberto asks, making this sound like a regular event.

“I think it’s—“

“ Excuse me son . . . “ I jump. Wait, what am I worried about? He can’t do anything, right? I’m home, right?  “ . . . where are you from?” I can’t believe this is happening still-again-whatever. I turn to look at him and as I do I can see my ssitting on the floor next to me, and when I look up at him, his eyes are on it too.

 

“You’re not from around here are you son?”

It’s going to be okay. I can handle this. I’m way past the border now right? What can he do? “Yes . . . No . . .  I mean, not here-here, but Tobar-here, so I am from here, just not from right here,” my God! What am I saying?

“That your sombrero?”

“Yeah, well no-yeah, actually. It is now.”

“You seem a little nervous.”

I didn’t hear a question. I don’t know what to say.

“Do you have any ID?”

Oh no! I’m facing twenty years if I get caught again. This is not happening. This can’t be happening. I’m a fricking American citizen for Christ’s sake. “No sir, I don’t have a drivers license yet. I’m only seventeen.”

“Is there something wrong officer?” Roberto tries to help.

“I’m talking to the young man here,” the Sheriff says, giving Roberto a little of the ol’ lie-detector sunglasses treatment.

“Oh, John, yeah, we know him, don’t we fellas?” All three of them suddenly look like there’s something interesting at the bottom of their coffee cups.

Roberto looks up at Julia, who gives him a—Don’t look at me—look, turns and walks away.

“I’m sorry, and your name is?”

“Roberto Vega”

“Alright, Mr. Vega, How do you know young . . . ?”

I can see Robert is at a loss. He really didn’t buy the John Wayne thing, and he knows the cop won’t for sure.”

“Okay then, can you tell me your name son, since your good friend, Mr. Vega, can’t?” Oh shit. He’s back to me. Why did he have to ask me my name? What am I going to tell him? John Wayne? He for sure won’t buy that. The truth? He won’t buy that either, and if he does check it out, there will be a warrant for my arrest. “Son, that was an easy question.” Oh shit. I’m taking too long. People usually just spit out their name. Me, I don’t know what to say. Shit-shit-shit-shit!

All eyes are on me. Everyone in here wants to know my real name.

 

“Sorry, I’m just very tired, My name is . . . Frank.” The boys at the end of the counter all mumble to themselves, and Roberto tries hard not to look confused.

“You got a last name, Frank?”

“Yeah, sure it’s Veelah, Frank Veelah, from Tobar, Arizona. I go to Washington High School. I’m a junior—gonna be a Junior, next year, um—this year, I mean.”

“That right?” he looks over at Robert and the boys. Julia is nowhere in sight, probably telling the dishwasher not to come out front right now. That Terminator cop might start asking about him too.

“We don’t get very many kids from Tobar, Arizona, in these parts Frank. Pardon me for not being familiar with the latest fashion trends.”

Does he buy it? Is he serious? The boys laugh nervously at his joke. So does Roberto. I join in too. Am I free? Is he messing with me? “You mind stepping over here for a moment?” I look at Roberto for some kind of help.  He sees me, stands up and looks at the cop,

“Hey man, leave the kid alone. He’s had a long day.”

“Yeah, looks like you been playing in the desert for quite a while. Can we have a poquito chat over here?”

“Look officer, he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“I’ll handle this if you don’t mind. Now I’d like to do this with as little drama as possible, so if you’ll please leave us alone for a few minutes I won’t have to arrest you for obstructing an officer while in pursuit of his duties.”

Roberto sits back and looks at me. He tried, I have to give him that. How am I going to explain this to Mom? Maybe Roberto can tell her what happened. I should just give myself up, throw myself at the mercy of . . . I stand up and walk with the officer over to the door and in comes Mom.

Her eyes and her brain try to focus on the facts in front of her. Her son is dressed in a costume, and he’s being interrogated by a sheriff. She runs and hugs me tightly.

“Oh, thank God you’re okay. You look so different.”

“Oh, yeah, these clothes.”

“Oh those too, but I mean your face, you’re so—“

“You know this boy ma’am?” the cop asks?

“I should, he’s my son.”

“Oh, so you’re his mother are you?”

 

“”Yes I am officer, has he done anything wrong?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out Ms . . .”

“Diane Villa.”

“Which is it? Villa or Veela?”

“I don’t know, is it tomato or tomato?” I quickly jump in.

He looks at me sideways and I feel my blood instantly turn cold. “If he’s your son, then surely you must know his name?”

The look of confusion on her face turns to anger. The boys are glued to the proverbial TV set, as this game-show plays out in front of them, like a twisted episode of Family Feud—Deluxe trailor park edition. “His name is Francisco. There is a pause. The cop obviously expects more. “But he prefers to be called Frank.” In your FACE sheriff Dipshit.

“So, do you have any ID, ma’am?”

“Can you tell me what this is about, officer?”

“Ma’am, if you will just cooperate this will be over quickly, unless you’d rather we do this at the station.”

She digs around angrily in her purse and comes up with her wallet. She opens it up and before he asks her to take the license out, she hands it to him.

“See, now that was pretty easy now wasn’t it Ms. Villa?”

Mom’s face is getting red from this guy’s patronizing attitude. I have no idea what she’s capable of doing when she gets really mad. I’ve never seen her get this mad—ever.

Okay, I have just a couple of more questions . . . “

“Has my son done anything wrong officer? Because if he hasn’t, and I haven’t, then I can assure you if we do go to the station, you’re going to need a Dream Team of lawyers to dislodge the lawsuit I’m going to shove—“

“We can do this however you like ma’am.” He smiles, but behind those sunglasses the meaning is cold and threatening. He stares her down, waiting for her to make a move, exercising his power over us.

Without taking his eyes off of my mom, he bends over and whispers in my ear, “What is your birthdate?” Before I can respond he quickly puts his ear to my face. I really feel like yelling it in his ear right now, but I can’t chance it. I whisper, “September 2, 1995.” I can literally see him mentally adding and subtracting on both hands and feet.

 

“Okay Ma’am, if you can answer this one thing for me, then you can go. When was your son born?” He still doesn’t believe her. The way he said your son.

Without blinking or even taking a second to think about it she says, “September 2, 1995. We live in Tobar, Arizona. He goes to Washington High School where he’ll be a junior this year. That’s right hun? A junior? Yes that’s right. ”

“You mean you don’t know for sure ma’am?”

”Do you have any kids officer?” She stands defiant, like she’s ready to kick his ass or something. “I was sending him to kindergarten, what seems like just last week.” He thinks about that for a moment.

All eyes are on the policeman.

The cop looks at me and then my mom. I still think he doesn’t get it.

“Anything else officer?” Mom glares at him. I’m just about to tell him she knew my name, birthday, city and school, what more does he want, but he hands my mom her ID before I get a word out. I’m happy to leave it at that, just to get this over with. This interview is draining me of what little energy I have left.

“No, you can go. I was just a little concerned when everyone said they knew him, but nobody knew his name, and he is dressed rather strangely.”

“Well dressing weird is a teenage rite, not a crime,” She replies.

He removes my sombrero from under the counter and hands it to me. “You two drive safe now.” He gives us the forced “polite” cop smile, then walks over and grabs a seat at a corner booth, far away from the counter and everybody else.

My mom grabs my hand and we walk quickly out of the diner. Before I get into the car, I turn back and see Roberto watching us through the front door. I wave and thank him. I look at the boys now standing around the counter, necks straining to see us leave. Their minds have been blown. If that little scene would have been recorded, they’d be hitting the rewind right now to play back all the parts they don’t quite understand. Roberto sticks his head out the front door of the restaurant.

“Roberto picked me up and gave me a ride here.”

“Thank you so much, Roberto,” she says.

 

“It was really my pleasure. You have a great son Ms. Villa.” He turns and walks back into the restaurant. Before the door closes I can hear the boys in an animated conversation, “So he is a Mexican.”

“But he lives in Arizona.”

“So he is an American.”

“But Roberto found him in the desert.”

“So he is a Mexican.”

“But his mom is white.”

“So he is—“

 

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Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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