The last leg.
Javier sat cramped in the second van’s cargo area smothered in brightly colored piñatas; Sponge Bob Square Pants, Dora The Explorer, Emmo, classic Mexican burros, and a cluster of canteros where Satan lurked inside the clay centers and tempted you with the decorated conical points, one for each of the seven deadly sins. Alma had explained the history and superstition of the canteros to him one better day when they were stuffing one full of candy for Alfredo’s birthday. She had told him that their used to be eight deadly sins, but good Catholics only believed in seven.
“Which sin isn’t supposed to kill us?” he had asked her.
“Sorrow,” his wife answered.
“No wonder we live with so much of it,” he replied.
“Not me,” Alma said, giving him a kiss and then opening two chocolates, one for her and one for him. “I’m happy.”
Javier’s shoulder hit the van’s wall. He pushed away a piñata jammed up against him, another popular TV cartoon he only half-recognized from telling his children to turn that nonsense off and go play outside. The heat was stifling. Oven hot. Thirst hounded him. There was no water left in his backpack. Some beef jerky and two oranges were what remained. He was tempted to eat an orange for the juice, but decided against it, thinking he could hold out longer, especially if he slept. He was exhausted but couldn’t keep his heart from racing or regulate the adrenaline surging through his body. Animal alertness. Fight or flight? He had chosen flight as his form of fight, and hoped he would land soon, somewhere remotely safe.
An American newspaper was taped to this van’s back windows, a business section listing columns of stock symbols and their values. Commodities. A slant of daylight beamed into the interior through a small tear. A tire jack rattled. Gas fumes. Javier’s eyes had adjusted like a nocturnal animal’s to make out his two fellow travelers through the tangle of piñatas. They had switched vans with him at an auto body shop, more money had exchanged hands, then all three of them scrunched into the new vehicle, another white Econo-Line as beat up and innocuous as the last one, and the piñatas were packed around them. They had to be going to the same place. Hopefully not to be busted open like these piñatas.
Neither was willing to talk much, but they had given Javier their names. The one who didn’t smile was Luiz. He looked to be in his forties, stocky, a tattoo of a cross on his neck, hair cropped short, bushy mustache. He wore military boots and had a flat forehead and beady eyes. Using his duffel bag as a pillow, he slept propped up in a position that Javier didn’t think was possible. The thin one was Rafael but answered to Rafa when Luiz grunted the occasional order at him. They weren’t friends, but some kind of partners. Rafa wore black jeans, a plaid wool shirt and crumpled straw hat. Nothing fit. Unless he preferred clothes three sizes too large. His pants and shirt were cuffed and hung off him like sails catching no wind. The expression on his face was a fearful one. A man who had been hit and would be hit again, sooner than later.
The van seemed to have no shock absorbers, jangling the men over every crack and pothole. Javier learned to lean forward to avoid whacking his head on the wall when the driver turned off for gas or entered a town, starting and stopping with a leadfoot on both the accelerator and the brakes. Mexican pop music played loud enough to muffle any conversation up front. Every so often, the vehicle halted and the engine switched off, the music dying with it. Leadfoot and his partner, a young man in baggy jeans with elaborately stitched eagles on the rear pockets, would open the back doors to take out a cantero. The first time this occurred, Javier had tried to get out too, desperately wanting some fresh air, to cool off, stretch his legs, look around and see if he could get more water or food.
The men slammed the double-door in his face.
Only once during these pit stops were they allowed to pee, at night in the parking lot of a strip mall where all the businesses looked closed. None was a piñata store. A nail salon had a sign that bragged “Best mani/pedi in San Diego!”
California, Javier thought. No more Arizona.
Relieving himself near a brick column tagged with crude graffiti, he studied Leadfoot and Eagle Ass as they carried canteros to a watch repair shop that had no lights on. A bulge at Leadfoot’s waistline was unmistakably a gun. Javier sidestepped his urine as it puddled back towards his feet.
They went in. They came out.
Leadfoot gestured for Javier to climb back inside the van, behind the remaining pile of piñatas.
If he ran, would they shoot him?
Once they were moving again, Javier whispered to his colleagues.
“Do you think there are drugs in the piñatas?”
Rafa remained silent.
Although they hadn’t responded much at any point in their journey, Javier couldn’t help but try again. Maybe they would realize that the further they traveled, the more they were in this together.
“They said they’d get me a job. You too?”
Luiz ignored him.
“I thought I might be cleaning hotel rooms, but San Diego is full of avocado farms. Fallbrook too. My uncle always talked about them being the competition for the foreign market. Have you worked with avocados?”
Luiz adjusted his duffle.
“Do you think that’s where we are going?” Javier continued, hoping that they weren’t going to be forced to mule drugs. Being deported for working illegally was one thing, going to prison or getting caught up in criminal activity that he had left his family, risked his life, spent borrowed money and the last of his savings to travel unlawfully into another country to specifically avoid, was another.
“I think we are going where they are taking us. And we will do what job they tell us to do,” Luiz said, clearly annoyed, as if Javier’s questions were keeping him from his dreams. “So shut the fuck up.”
They were not in this together.
He turned to Rafa who closed his eyes and curled up into a tighter ball.
No help there.
Javier felt a new wave of panic. Where were they taking him? What job would they make him do?
For strength, he turned his thoughts to his children and how they were probably sleeping right now, their sweet faces framed by their pillows; Petra with her thumb in her mouth, Isabel twitching with her dreams, Alfredo’s mouth always curled at the corner with a cocky smile.
Javier felt like crying.
He shifted his way through the piñatas to the van’s back windows, looking through the slash in the newspaper, trying to read the road signs as they flashed by. It was difficult to see much, especially since the signs to where they were traveling were backwards to his view, but he caught glimpses of where they’d been on the opposite side of the road. They were leaving San Diego. They dropped off two more canteros. Then Fallbrook. Then further north.
Whenever they took an off-ramp, Javier retreated to his appointed place in the corner of the van flanking Luiz, not wanting to call attention to his attempt to geographically orient himself. The slide and shift became easier with each piñata that was delivered, especially in Los Angeles where the last of the canteros was removed. Now if someone looked inside the van, they wouldn’t be hidden. It was then that the drivers stopped at a taqueria and allowed them to use a real bathroom. The first time Javier had shit in four days. It came out sideways like he’d swallowed cactus needles.
After using the restroom, they ate in the restaurant’s outdoor to-go section. First meal in America, four al pastor tacos, side of rice and beans. He’d half-expected it to be a MacDonald’s burger and fries. But Javier had never tasted anything so good in his life, not even the beer he drank after losing his virginity to Alma. Everyone at the restaurant spoke Spanish, and except for the Shell gas station across the street advertising its prices in dollars and gallons instead of pesos and liters, he could have still been in Mexico. He saw three crates of Haas’s avacados stacked in the kitchen near boxes of onions and cilantro. The woman at the counter had asked if he wanted to add guacamole to his tacos. Nobody in Uruapan put avocados on their tacos. Enough was enough. Clearly, he wasn’t home.
Luiz sucked back two beers while Rafa had one and an horchata. Javier stuck with free water. Leadfoot and Eagle Ass ate at a picnic bench apart from them. The remaining piñatas obviously didn’t hold the same urgency for them. They didn’t seem much interested in their live cargo either, or less so now that all the canteros had been delivered. They drank beer. Chatted in low tones. Still, Javier, Luiz, and Rafa took their money out as secretively as possible before paying. Aside from the Chapstick, Javier had hid his cash reserves in small amounts in different pockets and places in his backpack, as well as inside each of his shoes.
All the customers at the taqueria were Mexican, except for a trio of young men who drove up in a Mercedes-Benz convertible, a grubby looking black guy, a Chinese with a shaved bald head, and a tall gringo in a panama hat. They ordered almost twenty tacos and a half-dozen Cokes, specifying in a terrible accent that they wanted them, “En la botella,” laughing easily and toking from an electronic cigarette that they passed to each other while they waited. They looked high. When the food came they squeezed lime on everything, including inside the bottles of Coke, then loaded up on salsa, radishes, and grilled jalapeños from the condiment tray and took everything back to their car. The gringo, unable to contain his appetite, polished off a taco and a Coke in the time it took his Chinese friend to unlock the doors, turn up the radio, and wait for the black guy to climb into the back seat. An old man who looked to be living inside a cardboard box at the base of a streetlight staggered towards them, extending an oil can sized soda cup into their open convertible in hope of a hand out. The gringo stuck his empty Coke bottle in it. Then the trio sped off, singing to rap music, bass booming.
Maybe it was America afterall?
As the music in the Mercedes trailed off, Javier heard a radio in the parking lot tuned to a Dodger baseball game in Spanish. Two men ate burritos in a work truck, windows down, listening to the play by play; one wore a bright blue Dodger jacket, the other sported a Dodger cap. Were they close to the stadium? Chavez Ravine? Javier thought of Uncle Antonio and how he would die to go to a game here. Javier didn’t care much for baseball. Four balls, three strikes? Sixty feet six inches? In one league the pitchers batted, in another one they didn’t? The American Passtime made no sense to him and took forever to play. Nine innings? Couldn’t anything be even? And no clock? He also disliked the way Uncle Antonio’s fandom was linked to his admiration of the US, hedging a bit by not rooting for the Yankees, needing the Los Angeles part of the Dodgers to include a more hispanic vision of The Melting Pot, but maybe if they had been the Nueva York Yanquis, his uncle would have supported them instead. But Uncle Antonio and Javier had little knowledge of the east coast of America. The Twin Towers had blown up. They still had The Empire State Building. They watched a few cop shows. But nobody they knew had ever been there. It held no sway, no romance. Wall Street? Times Square? Snow? It might as well have been Alaska. Or Norway. The dark side of moon.
“Why not root for San Diego?” Javier would tease his uncle, knowing they were the team geographically closest to home.
“Los Padres?” Uncle Antonio snorted in disgust.
Javier had heard his uncle slur San Diego as an oversized border town, “A fat bastard child with the worst traits of both its parents.” Not glamorous to him like Los Angeles with Hollywood and its blockbuster movies, those gigantic mansions he saw on TV, big breasted women and swimming pools. In truth, he had never been to either city. Had never stepped foot in America. And probably never would.
“A friar swinging a bat for a mascot?” Uncle Antonio continued with his long distance dislike. “Or that giant chicken? Un pollo?”
That’s the kind of chicken Uncle Antonio had meant, not one caged in a coop. Pollos like those Javier had just traveled with across the desert. A Dodger was much better. A trickster that could elude things. Not some scared flightless clucking bird.
Javier looked at Luiz and Rafa eating across from him.
“What?” Rafa asked, wiping at the corner of his mouth as if a stray bit of pico de gallo had caused Javier’s stare.
“Nothing,” Javier answered, indicating the men in their truck listening to the game. “I was just trying to hear the score.”
Luiz gave another grunt.
Javier didn’t care who won the contest on the radio. Because of his uncle he knew way more about baseball than he cared to admit. But someday he would like to tell his uncle he had seen a game at Dodger Stadium, stood in the stands with thousands of his fellow fans for the national anthem and the seventh inning stretch, ate peanuts and Cracker Jacks. A Dodger dog. Maybe he would find a way to take Alfredo and the girls. Maybe they would be playing the Padres and the visiting team would shut them out? Even better, they could get to a Galaxy game and see Gio Dos Santos.
Javier preferred fútbol, an international game three thousand years old. He wasn’t bad at it either. A committed defender who left the glory of scoring to his teammates. Like most of his friends, he had played whenever he wasn’t in school, studying or working, later in a couple of adult leagues before finally passing the ball to Alfredo, teaching him to juggle and slide tackle. Sometimes he helped out as a line judge. He couldn’t have been happier when Mexico won the Olympics. And during World Cup, he could hardly contain himself. There was no other conversation, brackets and game recaps, decisive plays and blunders. In that tournament it was easy to identify who to root for, even if your home country didn’t qualify or after they were eliminated. You simply cheered for, or against, imperialism. England versus Somalia? France versus Cote D’Ivory? He championed the underdog nations, but not the longest of long shots. They needed to be “reclaiming the mantle” in his eyes, not underserving from out of nowhere. For Javier it was Mexico above all others, and then any Central American team, followed by Argentina, but never Brazil, and certainly not Spain! That’s where most of his blood flowed from, he knew that, but he was a Mexican first and foremost, which meant claiming his Aztec heritage. Spain was Europe, “colonizers,” and as distant to Javier as New York was to Uncle Antonio.
History and politics aside, Spain had its own fútbol league and separate set of superstars, the flashy Club Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the biggest payroll in sports. What did that have to do with him or Mexico? He cheered for any country that was fighting for self-determination. In high school, his favorite teacher, Señor Garcia, an unapologetic communist who told tales of Aztlán and Zapatistas, had pointed out that “The Invasion of Mexico” was called “The Mexican– American War” in U.S. history books. Ever since, Javier had thought of the U.S. as an occupier of his country. It had altered his worldview and changed the way he looked at sports.
He was going to ask Rafa, not Luiz, if he was a fútbol fan, hoping yet again for some kind of bond or a few minutes of sports talk to distract him from his present situation, but Leadfoot snapped closed his cell phone and stood up from the bench.
Time to go.
Javier thought about running again.
Past the parking lot four lanes of traffic streamed in four different directions into the vast sprawl of Los Angeles.
Would they chase him through that mess? How far? Could he find a place to hide? From what?
He reminded himself that he had paid a good sum to someone affiliated with Leadfoot and Eagle Ass to have a job waiting for him. He was here by choice. Maybe another middleman would take a cut and Javier’s eventual boss would also skim money from his wages because he was undocumented, but how else would he find work and save enough to send for Alma and the kids?
He tried to stay calm, telling himself that just because these malos delivered drugs and carried guns, didn’t mean he would be wrapped up in their business when he reached his final destination. He had explained to his connection about his agriculture background and his willingness to clean, if necessary. His friend Miguel’s cousin had vouched for the connection getting good jobs for people he knew that had gone north. And Miguel had vouched for his cousin. It was a business that depended on good word of mouth.
He looked at Leadfoot and Eagle Ass. Something had drastically deteriorated down the chain of command. Just look at those baggy pants falling off Eagle Ass. Homemade tattoos around his neck, arms, and chest. But what did Javiar expect, suits and ties? Office managers? Uncle Arturo in charge? Or someone like himself when he filled a shift for a sick driver at the farm? These two were definitely the types that transported men across borders, delivered souls as impartially as they would crates of black market avocados.
Still, Javier wished he knew where he was going.
“Where are we going?” he asked Leadfoot.
“You are going back in the van,” Leadfoot answered, as matter-of-factly as one explained the laws of gravity to a child, not expecting or caring whether they fully understood the concept because it didn’t change things when something fell to the ground. “And I’m going to drive.”
Luiz followed Rafa into the vehicle, scowling at Javier, as if to say he had already explained that concept. Do not get them in trouble!
“Can I use your cell?” Javier asked Leadfoot, as Eagle Ass waited by the van’s open doors. “To tell my wife I am safe.”
Leadfoot smiled at him, but without warmth.
Eagle Ass took a step to the side, to assess if anything was going to jump off and to be in the best position for any potential violence if it did.
“What’s your problem?” he asked Javier.
“I’ll pay you,” Javier told Leadfoot, trying to ignore Eagle Ass, who was impatiently beginning to flex.
“You don’t have enough money,” Leadfoot replied.
“If you did,” Eagle Ass added, again inserting himself into the conversation. “We would have already taken it from you.”
Leadfoot confirmed this assertion by lacking any response.
Javier looked over the driver’s shoulder at the intersection and traffic. Green light, red light. A haze of exhaust. He saw the homeless man back in his box. The gringo’s Coke bottle stood outside near a trash bag full of cans. Somewhere, not too far away, the Dodgers were playing. He heard the crowd roar on the parked truck’s radio. He would never root for the Dodgers. And he couldn’t imagine a situation where that crowd would ever cheer for him.
Back in the van, hours passed.
Worry plagued him, corrupting every happy ending Javier attempted to conceive for himself and his family. The stress began to make him blink in intervals that corresponded to the stretching of his fingers and toes. Always right hand or right foot first. He hadn’t done that since his father was dying. His mother’s breast cancer before that. Tests. Important fútbol matches. His wedding day. Or when his children got sick.
He smelled the farts of his travelling companions. Luiz may have been intentionally squeezing them out. He seemed to be saying if Javier didn’t respond to his warnings, feel his irritation, then he’d be forced to inhale his stink. Animals had more than one way to communicate.
The newspaper on the left window had torn off in the wind and Javier could now easily see city signs fly by; Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterrey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Jose. They were traveling up the Camino Real. Señor Garcia would be happy he remembered that from class. But who could forget? That’s how California was created. The names were all Spanish. That was a hint and a half that gringos hadn’t settled it first. The missions were still here too. Javier had seen special signs for them along the highway, brown with a picture of a bear. Another reminder. And Mexicans were clearly returning, repopulating in large numbers. Señor Garcia prophesied that one day Mexico would rightly reclaim the Aztec empire known as “Aztlán,” which included New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Utah, as well as California.
“If Israelis and Palestenians can fight over borders dating back to the bible,” he used to say, “If the Baltic and Western states can claim autonomy from the soviets, if Turkmenistan can define itself, we can reclaim land stolen from us less than two hundred years ago.”
He thought the best hope on the horizon was China using Mexico as muscle to collect runaway US debt, giving them ownership of their houses and land in return for their military service. He compared it to Abraham Lincoln granting freedom to the slaves in the southern states to fight for the north in the US Civil War.
Señor Garcia was a radical guy.
Was he still teaching? He used to write for the newspapers sometimes and Javier wondered what he thought about the gang wars in Mexico. The Templarios taking over agribusiness. What would his slant be? Was he writing at all, given the violent attacks on newspapers and reporters? Many newspapers had stopped their presses or became mouthpieces for the gangs. Would Señor Garcia leave Uruapan or stay on principle? Could someone like him, voicing his opinions and demanding students learn their history, stay alive?
“We’re in Alta California,” Javier told Luiz and Rafa.
If they wouldn’t talk, maybe his own voice would bring him comfort. Maybe he wouldn’t feel as displaced and so far away if he remembered that this land once belonged to his people. He relayed some of the history Señor Garcia had taught him, imagining he was speaking to Alfredo, Isabel, and Petra, trying to educate Luiz and Rafa like he did his children; attempting to add context and resonance to those things around them in their daily lives. Alma was better at it, on their trips to The Plaza, Parque Eduardo Ruiz, Bocanegra Library with its fantastic historical mural. Or Javier and Isabel’s favorite, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
As Javier spoke disjointedly of Spanish land grants, the Gold Rush and unfair taxes levied against the native Californios, he could tell Luiz and Rafa had never heard any of this before. They were no doubt more familiar with the figures and saga of Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings, Maria la del Barrio and La Reina del Sur.
He saw a sign for the city of Stockton and relayed what he could remember of The Siege of Los Angeles, with military strategist Commodore Stockton commanding the US Navy to take on Mexican troops led by General Castro and the heroic Captain Flores – one of Señor Garcia’s favorites – temporarily exiling the cruel and heinous US Major Gillespie.
Even Luiz showed interest. Rafa’s mouth fell open.
“This Captain Flores kicked the Americans out of Los Angeles?” he said, smiling for the first time.
“It’s true,” Javier told him, wondering what sort of grade Señor Garcia would give him for his oral report. “But then we lost Alta California and were left with Baja. And after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo everything collapsed. Mexicans were routinely lynched, intimidated, thrown off our land and out of our country, only allowed back in, off and on, as an exploited workforce. We became wetbacks.”
Rafa’s joy dimmed at Javier’s historical addendum.
“Speak for yourself,” Luiz said, surprising Javier with a prideful objection to being included in the slur. He then reached for his crumpled jacket, which he had been sitting on. The temperature had dropped in the back of the van and despite the body heat and enclosed space, it had gotten cold.
“You better just be saying this shit,” Luiz said, as he pulled on his coat. “Like some assholes talk about sports or whores or their stupid fucking cars. Not like it means something. Or that you expect us to do something. Or like we have to do something because this shit is biblical. Or historically inevitable….”
Luiz leaned towards Javier and stuck out a thick accusing finger.
“You better not be so smart that you get us killed,” he said, and Javier realized that he hadn’t been around that many people who had gone to prison, but there was no way that Luiz hadn’t done time.
“If you say any of that shit to them,” Luiz pointed to the front of the van and Javiar understood he meant more than just the men driving, this statement included anybody they encountered in a position of power, well beyond the windshield. “And I’ll kill you myself.”
That brought them to the present moment.
He saw an exit sign for Pinole, which meant “gruel” or if you believed Señor Garcia “the ancient Aztec power food” depending on how you interpreted the word. And El Sobrante, which meant ‘leftovers.” An awful name for a town. They turned off into San Francisco where there was a wintry draft and, for the first time, Javier felt fog. He saw day-laborers in the damp mist wearing jackets and hoodies, lining Chavez Boulevard, whose street signs also had the name “Army” beneath in smaller print and parenthesis. The laborers were all men, all Hispanic, and stood in small clusters, eyeing the passing vehicles with varying degrees of interest and hope. Many wore baseball caps, no longer Dodger blue, but black ones with the enemy’s orange “SF” logo. The van turned on Mission Street. The neighborhood changed, less residential, dominated by hip-looking white people and a slew of chicanos milling about, a bustling mix of bars and businesses, cell phones, athletic shoe shops, electronics, checks cashed, restaurants with lines out the door, taquerias, bodegas, a bunch of old movie theaters with decaying marques boarded up or transformed into a furniture outlet, discount clothing, chinese imports. Sun faded banners and new coats of paint. Layers of bird shit. Transition.
They stopped at a party supply store where Javier helped off load the rest of the piñatas. Although he didn’t say a word, he heard English being spoken in equal parts to Spanish for the first time since arriving in America. He wasn’t very fluent. But he understood that he was now even farther away from home.
Leaving San Francisco he saw street names pass like answers from one of Señor Garcia’s pop quizzes; Kearney, Taylor, Pierce, Scott. A row of American soldiers, military men marking the spoils of war. Then Vallejo. He was the one that Señor Garcia had truly hated, calling him “an indian killer” and “a traitor to his country” because Vallejo had burned his Mexican military uniform and helped the US navigate their invasion and expansion.
The van crossed a big red bridge and Javier craned his neck trying to spot the Golden Gate Bridge somewhere too, but couldn’t see another span, just the one they were on. And fog. What else was San Francisco famous for? Cable cars, hills, gays. Alcatraz. He hadn’t seen any of them. But he wasn’t a tourist on vacation.
He saw another sign that read Vallejo, this time for a city, and wondered if the Templarios would eventually name things after themselves? Conquered cities? Streets? Parks? El Chayo National Falls?
The landscape changed again. The weather too. It wasn’t as frigid as San Francisco but it had to be twenty degrees cooler than Uruapan. No humidity. No avocado groves here, that was for sure. Hours earlier he had seen strawberries, artichokes, garlic, cotton. Other crops he couldn’t identify. Where did they get all the water? Workers bent in vast acreage of geometric fields. Row after row. Giant tractors. Unfamiliar farm machinery. Digging, spraying, aerating. But it was grapes now. Everywhere.
Maybe he would work at a vineyard?
He didn’t know anything about grapes. Or wine.
After another hour, the road began to wind and he had to cling to the walls not to fall into Luiz, who was trying to maintain his tough exterior, but looked like he may puke. Javier’s own stomach was twisting with the road. They were climbing into some mountains. Rafa lost his balance on a sharp curve, jamming his wrist as he rolled into the back doors. Javier thought he might fall out, having hit the doors that hard. With a wince, Rafa righted himself against a side wall.
How much further? What was the state above California?
They turned hard left onto a road that couldn’t have been paved. Bouncing around, Javier felt like a lotto ball not part of the winning combination. Butt bruised. Spine kinked. Lower back throbbing. Javier could see they were in a kind of forest. He felt sick to his stomach but was determined not to vomit, until Luiz or Rafa threw up before him.
The van suddenly stopped. Javier bumped his head one last whack against the back wall. The engine switched off. The muffled music cut out. The front doors opened. Closed. Footsteps. More than just Leadfoot and Eagle Ass.
Javiar turned to Luiz, who stared grimly toward the van’s back door. They flung open. Javier squinted from the burst of sunlight. A piece of red paper leftover from one of the piñatas fluttered out, falling to the feet of a group of men.
The first face that pushed forward had tattoos all over it, making the malo look like a crying clown. There was a cross on the man’s forehead that ran down between his walnut eyes. Three dots below his left eyebrow. Even Javiar knew what that meant, “Mi vida loca.” Gang life. Coming into clearer focus, Javier noticed there were two different types of teardrops flowing beneath the man’s starred eyes; four fully closed, a longer line below the other eye that had been left open. Unfinished. Two of the tears looked newly inked.
A bulky man next to Clown Face just looked mean. And the thin one next to him, wicked. Nether had tattoos on their faces. All were Mexican. Leadfoot and Eagle Ass stood behind them.
Javier could only imagine how pathetic he must have looked sitting with Luiz and Rafa amidst the paper mache fragments of the piñatas.
“You the new gardeners?” a voice said from their midst.
A handsome man stepped forward, a little older than Javier, taller, long wavy black hair, a quiet confidence in his body. No tats. Nothing showy about his clothes. Nothing menacing or ganglike. He had the feel of one of the reps that came from Mexico City to try to sell Uncle Arturo office supplies, packing crates, pesticides. All business.
“Well,” the businessman said, turning, reaching for something behind him. “Here’s your shovel.”
He held out a semi-automatic rifle.
Rafa, still holding his wrist, looked nervously over at Luiz, who pushed himself away from the van’s wall and ducked out of the back of the vehicle as the standing men made room for him.
The businessman handed Luiz the weapon.
Confidently holding the gun, Luiz motioned for Javier and Rafa to step out of the van.
(This is Chapter 8 of a novel “in progress” by Robert Mailer Anderson, author of the bestselling novel, Boonville.)