Authors: Kem Nunn
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary
“Really,” Fahey told her. “It’s okay.”
But she was not so sure.
it had been a mistake, leaving the cowboy in the trailer. They should have taken him when they took his truck and this sold to a meth chef in Chula Vista for three hundred dollars. They could have disposed of the cowboy along the way. Failing that, they should have buried him in the valley. But then Chico’s cousin had warned them to be careful of the valley, as it came under constant surveillance by the border patrol. Still, Armando thought, in the wake of his encounter with the Indian, his mind still moving at something like the speed of light, the valley would have been better, under the trees, where the ground was damp and good for digging, and before the morning was much older it was where they put him.
With Nacho to wield a shovel he was underground in no time at all and the Indian with him. They had carried them there in sleeping bags taken from the trailer and no one paying much attention
to anything in the aftermath of the rodeo’s opening, everyone sleeping it off, everyone not tweaked to their eyeballs on Chico’s cousin’s little brown crystals. God have mercy. In truth there seemed only one person in all of Garage Door Tijuana still able to think on his feet and that was none but Armando, and while he reckoned them lucky in their disposal of the cowboy and the Indian, he saw now that there was also the trailer to contend with, tin charnel house of bodily fluids and bloody fingerprints and God knew what else . . . a smell that would never be entirely gone. In the end, he soaked a rag in gasoline and stuffed it into a bottle filled with the same. With Chico and Nacho standing lookout, he broke one of the trailer’s windows with an elbow, put a match to the rag, and tossed the bottle inside. Within minutes the thing was engulfed in a roiling pillar of flame. The ensuing fire took out half the neighboring corral and killed a horse. The flames brought fire engines and a car from the San Diego sheriff’s department. Armando deemed it a good time to go into town, where Chico’s cousin had already agreed to take them to meet his man. He was, he concluded, still thinking clearly. He was riding a streak.
Town was Imperial Beach. It reminded Armando of Tijuana, the new part, in the Zona del Río. It was filled with the same Mexicans. The predominant language was Spanish. Homeboys loitered on corners. There was no old town, however, no El Centro with its clubs and whorehouses. There were only gas stations and strip malls and fast-food joints, islands amid a seemingly endless sea of tract homes where greenery was as scarce as it was across the border.
To Nacho’s eye, the tract homes appeared as mansions and this is what he called them.
Chico’s cousin, whose name Armando could never quite remember, thought this was very funny. “You think these are mansions,
He looked at Nacho in his rearview mirror. “These are some cheap shit, man. The cheapest shit you can find.”
Nacho didn’t much like being laughed at. He stared back into the mirror with an evil look that Chico’s cousin would have done well to have paid more attention to.
“These are the cheapest pieces of shit in all of California,” Chico’s cousin said, expanding upon his earlier pronouncement. “Only an idiot would think they were mansions.”
“You shouldn’t laugh at Nacho so much,” Armando said. “He doesn’t like it.” He figured the cousin was high on his own shit, as high as Armando. He was trying to give him some good advice. He was feeling magnanimous.
Chico’s cousin looked once more at the hulking youth in his rearview mirror. He shrugged. “He shouldn’t say stupid shit,” he said.
“Neither should you,” Armando told him.
The cousin shot him a look but kept his mouth shut. Nacho looked like something out of a horror movie but Armando was the one he was afraid of. He pulled into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven store, then around back by the Dumpsters. In a short period of time the guy they were waiting for showed up. The guy wore a black leather motorcycle jacket. His head was indeed shaped more or less like a peanut and there was a silver hoop the size of a silver dollar dangling from his nose, just like the cousin had said.
They bought some goods. Armando bought his own share. He was living large on money he’d found in the cowboy’s trailer. The sale of the truck was chicken feed in comparison. Nacho went into the store by himself. He came out with a bag of pork rinds, a bottle of white port with lemon juice, and a short dog of Silver Satin.
The stuff was all tucked away in various parts of the oversized army jacket he wore.
The guy in the motorcycle jacket was gone now. It was just the four of them, in back of the 7-Eleven, among the big blue Dumpsters.
“What the fuck,” the cousin said as Nacho began to pull things from the sleeves of his coat. “You stole all of this shit?”
Nacho’s face twisted into a kind of grin.
The cousin just looked at him, his own face flushed with disbelief. “How stupid can you be?” he asked. “Did you forget you’ve got no papers? You get caught doing something stupid like this we’ll all be back on the other side before nightfall. In jail. You don’t got papers, they take you straight to the border police.”
“Fuck the border police,” Nacho said.
The cousin stared at him once more. “Fuck the border police? How about
chinga tu madre
?” Meaning how about fuck your mother?
Nacho reached for one his chains, quick as a snake. There was a flash of silver. Chico’s cousin stumbled backward, clawing at his throat where he had been stabbed with a sharpened screwdriver, then went down at their feet, his hands wrapped around his own neck as if engaging himself in some manner of struggle and this act accompanied by weird gurgling sounds. When he puked it came out the new hole in his throat. He rolled facedown, blowing bubbles in blood and puke, until the bubbles stopped.
Nacho and Armando put him in one of the Dumpsters, shuffling things around until he rested on the bottom. Chico looked on. He wore the expression of a man who’d just been kicked in the stomach by a horse.
“He was not long for this world anyway,” Armando said. He was hoping to put things in perspective. “Not with the shit he was doing.” He looked at Chico’s cousin’s car, which was some kind of old American sedan, a rusted hulk on sparkling chrome rims. “What is it?” Armando asked.
“What do you mean, what is it?” Chico was still a little shaky. Nacho passed him the short dog.
“I mean what kind of car is it?”
“It’s a Pontiac.”
“I always wanted one of these,” Armando said.
Chico took a long drink of the Silver Satin, staring at the car as if he were seeing it for the first time.
“And now we have a use for it,” Armando said. In yet one more moment of lucidity it had occurred to him that things were maybe getting just a little out of hand over here in the land of the free. It was time to do what they had come to do and go home. It was time to get serious about finding the worm man.
said that he was not hungry and Magdalena ate alone, on the deck of the trailer. Near noon, she noted that he had not yet run the sprinklers above the worm beds and when she went to the shed to ask him about it, she found him as she had left him that morning, seated before his laptop, tracking his swell. If he had done other than move the mouse on his computer she could not tell it. The new surfboard still sat nearby, gleaming upon its drip-laden sawhorses, above the scattered mounds of dust and shavings that had fallen away before its sleek, needlelike shape.
When she told him about the worm beds, he looked up as though emerging from a trance, then shuffled outside in sandaled feet to attend to the herd.
Magdalena walked with him.
“Carlotta was due back last night from Mexico City,” she said. “I’d like to go into town, give her a call. I know it’s a bother . . .”
Fahey looked at her a bit sheepishly. “You have an e-mail,” he said. “It came in early this morning. I was online. I looked to see if it was an order. When I saw it was for you I printed it out then went back to the storm and I forgot about it. The outside buoys are beginning to show, by the way. You asked if these waves would be as big as the ones I told you about. I believe they will be.”
“The e-mail,” Magdalena said.
Fahey nodded and led her back to the shed. “I should’ve told you,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
It took him a few minutes to find the pages, which were already buried in clutter. He dug them out and handed them over, watching as she walked with them back to the trailer, reading as she went.
He was back on the buoy readings, a full five minutes later, when he heard something break in the trailer. The sound was followed by a sharp cry. He toppled the can he had been sitting on then covered the distance between the shed and the trailer at a dead run. He arrived at the trailer door to find her inside, in tears, seated on the floor, in the midst of the clutter she had created with her papers and files. Fahey’s Hawaiian hula girl lamp lay in ruins at her side.
“I’m really sorry,” she said. She had seen Fahey at the door. She paused long enough to wipe her nose with the sleeve of one of Fahey’s shirts. “I broke your fucking lamp.”
It took some small amount of coaxing to get her started. Fahey did so as he collected the pieces of the plaster hula girl and dumped them in the trash.
“The Guardians of Christ the King,” Magdalena told him.
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Fahey said.
“That’s who started the fire in the office.”
Fahey just looked at her.
“This fringe group of Catholic extremists.” She shook her head,
took a breath, started from the beginning. “There was this girl, all of fifteen. She was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, some middle-aged crackhead. It was very brutal, very ugly. The doctors had reason to believe the girl would not be able to carry the child. But it is very difficult to obtain an abortion in Mexico. Carlotta took this case; it was tried in Mexicali, and in the end we were successful. The girl was granted the right to abort the child. But the case got a lot of press. A number of demonstrations were staged outside Casa de la Mujer, where the girl had stayed for a while. This was months ago. Then just last week, while Carlotta was in Mexico City, while I was here, someone tried to firebomb the house you visited in Tijuana. They caught the men in the act and no harm was done. But there were two of them, and they’ve admitted to the fire in Carlotta’s offices. Also, in Mexicali, one of the attorneys we worked with had the brake lines in her car cut . . .”