Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole… Continued Chapter 31
The traffic heading south on Interstate 5 was heavy, as usual. Every day of the week thousands of cars and trucks drive from the United States into Mexico through the crossing at San Ysidro, the last little community before the border.
All manner of merchandise goes over into Mexico by truck. A much narrower range of cargo comes back the other way.
The United States Border Patrol has the unpleasant and futile duty of trying to stop the flow of illicit drugs and other contraband that spews across the border by the truckload every day. Their best tools in this struggle are highly trained dogs and years of experience in spotting drug mules—the the people who attempt to cross into the U.S. with bundles of narcotics strapped onto, or ingested into, their bodies. They get caught at the border with stunning regularity. The drug wholesalers who send them don’t seem to care, because they know that even the small number who do squeak past the dogs and the eagle eyes of the Border Patrol make it an incredibly profitable method of transport.
As a result, the crossing at Tijuana is one of the most heavily-monitored international borders between two countries that aren’t actually shooting at each other, although that is starting to happen as well.
“Oh, I can get you close enough to buy a pair of huaraches through the car window,” she said. “But I think it would be best if I drop you a block or so away. Walking across the line is your best bet. It’s crowded and nobody really looks at the people going into Mexico.”
For the ride south Laura sat in the back seat alone. She was feeling very conspicuous after seeing herself splashed all over the evening news. She leaned forward to speak with Vivian, who had her eyes on the traffic as they converged on the Third World.
“Vivian, I figure my business in Tijuana could take pretty much all day, at least. I’ll have a lot of strange ground to cover. At least your contacts look more up-to-date than mine. Most of the names I have are probably dead by now.”
“Or retired to Palm Springs,” said Vivian as she glanced at Laura in the rearview mirror and smiled. “The last thing they smuggle across is themselves.”
Davis was in the front seat with Vivian, fidgeting, trying to find a comfortable position. Not an easy thing for him to do with $200,000 in cash taped to various parts of his body. Laura reached out and rubbed his shoulder.
“I still wish you’d stay back at the motel,” she said to him.
“No, I’ve come this far with you and remember, I do come in handy on occasion.” He reached up and squeezed her hand.
Laura had left her gun and Peeto’s Glock back at the motel. Crossing the border back into the U.S. was going to be difficult enough without having to explain the weaponry.
Vivian pulled Davis’ car off the freeway and down onto the city streets of San Ysidro. She turned the corner and there, three blocks away, was the international border with its concrete customs building and pedestrian walkways. Off to the right side of the plaza were the bright red cars of the Tijuana Trolley – one of San Diego’s urban mass transit trains and the best and cheapest way for tourists and locals to get to the border.
Vivian turned left into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant a few hundred yards up the street from the border. She backed into a handicapped parking space that gave them a clear view all the way to the border crossing. She pulled her homemade parking permit from the visor and slipped it over the mirror.
This was it—time to cross the border into Mexico. To disappear forever as the people they had always been and to reappear as someone nobody was hunting. At least that was the plan.
Vivian looked at her two passengers. “End of the line kids. Here you are.”
“Thanks, Vivian. If this all goes well, we can just walk back across and catch the train over here. But, if it doesn’t go well—well, it won’t matter, will it?”
“Good point, girl. I’ll tell you what though. You guys stay here a minute and I’ll go up and check out the neighborhood. Just to be on the safe side.”
“No, Vivian, don’t. You might be recognized,” said Davis.
“Nah, I got a disguise,” she said, as she opened the car door and dragged her giant-size purse with her. She hefted it up onto the hood and pulled out a large floppy straw hat, a lime green silk scarf, and oversized sunglasses. She was right. People might mistake her for Marlene Dietrich, but never for “Vivian Baderbock: fugitive from justice.” She headed off with her scarf trailing in the light breeze.
Laura and Davis watched her sashay down the block. She stopped at a Cambio, a moneychanger’s shop, across from the red train. She was enjoying herself as she chatted up a storm with whoever was on the other side of the thick glass window.
Vivian continued on, looking into every window, taking her time. She crossed the small plaza by the border and pretended to look at the train schedule posted on the kiosk near the end of the tracks. Behind her sunglasses she was taking in the entire scene, noticing any changes from the ordinary.
“Uh-oh, look,” said Davis. Laura saw what he saw: two police officers were coming up to Vivian, their hands resting on the butts of their pistols.
From the car, Laura and Davis could see that a very animated conversation was taking place. Vivian had one hand on her hip as she gestured grandly with the other. She moved closer to the shorter officer and placed her hand on his shoulder. All of them were laughing. The two men gave Vivian a bit of a salute and turned to walk away. As they moved on to help some confused-looking tourists, Vivian looked back up the block to the car, lifted her sunglasses and grinned.
Her return trip to the parked car took just as long. She walked as if she was in no hurry at all.
“Well, weren’t they just the cutest things?” chirped Vivian as she got back behind the wheel.
“What was that all about?” asked Laura.
“Oh, they thought I looked a bit lost. Doing a little ‘community outreach’, they call it—protecting the tourists. I think the short one was flirting with me. He should be ashamed. I’m old enough to be the best thing he’d ever have. Oh, and by the way—it don’t look good up there at all.”
“There’s extra uniformed cops, like my two, and a bunch of undercover cops, Feds probably. I asked my friend at the Cambio and he said they started showing up two days ago. It’s making the mules and the coyotes real nervous.”
“Mules and coyotes?” asked Davis.
“Smugglers,” answered Vivian. “Mules bring in drugs. Coyotes deal in people, illegals. Pablo, the guy at the Cambio, also says that there’s a trio of wise guys hanging around he makes as maybe New York, East Coast for sure. He also pointed out a pair of local bad boys sitting on a bench. It is crowded down there.”
“Damn,” said Laura as she flopped back in her seat.
“My advice, girl,” Vivian continued, “is to find another way across or get yourself a real good disguise, like mine. Getting across is going to be very tricky, what with all of these boys standing around down there.”
Laura sat looking out of the car window at yet another red train as it pulled up to the border. She was going over her ever-shrinking list of options.
“Not too many people yet,” said Vivian. “These are mainly folks going to visit family on the other side. In an hour or so though, this little plaza will be crowded with tourists, a real mess.”
A silence settled over the car. Laura was deep inside her own thoughts. Davis had nothing to offer, either as encouragement or any good ideas about what to do next.
“I’m hungry,” said Vivian, to nobody in particular.
“What?” asked Laura. It broke her out of her silence.
“I said I was hungry. I didn’t have any breakfast this morning. Never mind.”
“No, I’m hungry too. What about you Davis, couldn’t you go for a little something?”
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” he said.
Laura was smiling. Davis and Vivian were confused and concerned by this sudden change of spirit.
“Vivian, is that a McDonald’s down there, right by the border?”
“Yeah. It’s usually pretty busy with tourists grabbing their last Egg McSomething-Or-Other before crossing over into the Tacoland. As if there ain’t a Mickey D’s every twelve yards in TJ too.”
“Well, love of my life, let’s go get ourselves an Egg McSomething-Or-Other. Vivian, this is where we go it alone.”
“Kids,” she objected, “listen to me on this. It’s too dangerous here. Why don’t you let me take you to another crossing, further inland?”
Laura took Vivian’s hand.
“No, Vivian. This is it, here and now. We love you and we’ll see you soon.”
Laura and Davis got out of the car. After one last adjustment to make sure that they wouldn’t have bundles of money falling out of their pants, they headed off toward the Mexican border, holding hands and walking at a leisurely pace.
Davis stopped and turned back toward Vivian.
“Take care of my car, Vivian. I want it back in good condition.” She gave him a thumbs-up and a smile.
As they got closer to the border, Laura laughed out loud.
“These have got to be the most expensive clothes I’ve ever worn.”
“Y’know, she’s a bit of a looker.”
“Maybe, but it’s such a crappy picture it’s hard to really tell.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how we’re supposed to recognize her from this.”
Each of the undercover agents looked intently at the 3 X 5-inch photo of Laura that they had tucked inside their hats. They looked like a trio of panhandlers who shopped at The Gap. They wore matching Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts, and carried cheap straw hats.
“I saw that video on TV last night. Why can’t we get a vidcap from that tape?”
“The locals haven’t released it yet. I think they want to make the collar,” said the tallest of the three.
“What collar? We’re here to grab her before she gets whacked by the boys over there.” He indicated another trio of men standing about seventy-five feet away. All of them dressed, very un-California, in dark clothes and sunglasses.
“So, let me see here,” said the shortest agent. “The Blues Brothers over there are here to kill her. We’re here to snatch and protect her and the local cops are after her for the shootings at Horton Plaza yesterday, right?”
“Right,” said the man in the middle. “The Border Patrol guys think that we’re going to start a war or something here. What a waste of time this is. I should have stayed in the Coast Guard.”
“Will you look at this? Undercover Feds dressed like something out of a Rodney Dangerfield movie over there. Back here are a couple of San Diego boys, and then, over here, we got three more mopes standing by the gate looking like they’re waiting for the hearse to arrive. And, here’s you and me, helping crazy old ladies and pretending not to notice all the concealed weapons.”
“Yeah,” agreed the senior officer who had been on the job for only five years. “We get any more iron here and it’s going to start to affect compasses.” He cast a wary eye at the border crossing point. “All of this is making the Mexicans really hinky. Look at that van over there, by the Cambio. Ten to one they’re here to pick up some of the mules that might get through.”
“I’ll give you fifty to one they’ve got some heavy-duty artillery in there,” said his young partner. They were both feeling seriously outgunned.
“Not to change the subject,” said the older officer with a sly grin, “but you know, I think that loony old lady in the straw hat was coming on to you.”
“In her dreams,” said the young cop, six months out of the academy. “She ought to be ashamed. She’s old enough to be my…”
“Screw you, Brian.” He surveyed the scene again. It hadn’t improved in the last thirty seconds. “Y’know, this whole thing sucks. We’re going to be lucky if this don’t blow up in our faces here.”
“C’mon, let’s go roust ‘em all a bit. Might loosen things up,” suggested the senior officer. “It’s going to be a long day.” They started moving toward the three government agents.
Not ten feet from the turnstile that, every day, admitted thousands of tourists into Mexico, stood three men; Manny, Moe and Chad. Chad was a San Diego boy, working for the bosses out of San Jose.
The Family up north in San Jose ran the game in San Diego. Nobody questioned it. It had been that way since before World War Two. San Diego’s post-war explosive growth had made it into one of the nation’s largest cities, but San Jose still called the shots.
Manny and Moe stood unsmiling as they watched the whole area, alert in case their prey actually showed up. They had arrived in San Diego less than ten hours ago as reinforcements. They worked for Don Giani. Their task was to grab the Don’s daughter and get her back home. They weren’t happy loitering at the border with Chad.
Chad, on the other hand, was smiling like a schoolboy on vacation. He was delighted to be there.
“Man, I really dig these New York threads of yours, guys. They are so Harvey Keitel.” Chad was a fan of three things: guns, movies, and movies with lots of guns in them.
“What are you talking about, kid? This is clothes,” said Moe. “It ain’t some la-di-dah fashion statement.”
“Whoa, easy big man. I’m just saying that I really feel part of something…something bigger than myself when I’m dressed like you guys from New York. This is the first time that I’ve been sent out on a job like this. I just been a messenger before now, and maybe a collection or two. This is way cool.”
Manny looked away from the people walking past him into Mexico and gave Chad his full attention.
“Well, listen here, Chad. The only reason you’re here is because you knew what exit to take to get us here. I don’t want you here, and Moe don’t want you here. We got sent out here to do a job and all I want you to do is to not get in the way and to shut the hell up. Your surfer dude accent is making my skin crawl. You dig me, Chad?”
Chad nodded enthusiastically.
“No problemo, my man. Of course, ain’t nothin’ going to happen here. Look around, man. We got the Federales hanging over there and we got County Mounties over here. We’re all just playing make-believe, like we don’t see each other. Comprende? So just relax and enjoy our warm California sun. You dudes been to the zoo yet? We got a, like, totally awesome zoo here.”
Moe slid his sunglasses down on his nose and peered at Chad. “So I hear.”