Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter 37
“Things are better at the border. They’re opening up again,” he said to them in his usual staccato style.
A small, stocky man with strong Mayan facial features, held open the door to the shed and motioned them all inside. His face exhibited several prison tattoos. He was bare-chested and wearing a leather vest. His coppery skin showed a number of scars. He had a large knife sheathed on his belt and over his shoulder was slung an AK-47, the Third World’s weapon of choice. In his left hand, he held a fresh caramel Frappuccino.
“I’m glad you liked my coffees,” he said. “Just like I used to make at Starbucks. Good, huh? Well, bien viaje, amigos.”
They stepped through the door. The interior was illuminated by dim yellow lights, just bright enough for them to see the wooden stairs leading down into a deep darkness below. Lizard Boy led the way, his coffee in his hand.
“Be careful, it’s kind of dark. Stay close,” he called over his shoulder. They descended slowly.
The steps sagged a bit under the weight of three people at one time. As they went deeper into the dimly-lit tunnel, they could begin to make out more detail. After a fifteen-foot descent, they stepped onto hard-packed earth. It was completely silent, except for the sound of Lizard Boy casually sipping at his coffee. Shining up from the dirt floor were two ribbons of steel. A set of narrow-gauge rails ran the length of the tunnel. When needed, small metal cars could be used to haul the smuggled goods across the border.
To help guide people through the tunnel, the builders had embedded into the floor two fiber optic strips, similar to what are used in theaters to lead moviegoers down the aisle.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Sip, sip, and sip. “I’ll take you through. Stay close and be quiet. The Federales sometimes stick microphones into the ground.
“Most of the tunnel is straight and flat. Near the border we go deeper. Last year the gringos buried a steel wall down to twenty-two feet. We just went down to twenty-eight feet.” His gold teeth twinkled as he smiled.
“It must have cost a lot to build this,” whispered Davis.
“True. We made it back in the first month. We are very busy. Today a shipment is late. You’re it until tomorrow.” Sip, sip, and sip.
“Where does this thing come out?” said Laura.
“You know the McDonald’s over there by the Customs check?” He had stopped and turned to them, grinning.
“You’re kidding?” said Davis.
Lizard Boy stopped and put his finger up to his lips. They were entering the part of the trip that called for quiet.
The tunnel was more than tall enough, so they were able to walk upright. It wasn’t that way for comfort, but to accommodate the large bales of marijuana that were the usual cargo through the tunnel.
The walls were lined with sheets of expanded metal flooring, the kind of stuff that is usually used for catwalks. It is lightweight and very strong. It worked wonderfully to hold the tunnel walls in place and anchored the sheet steel that served as the tunnel roof.
The three people walked at a casual pace. The air in the tunnel was warm and stale, but not noxious.
Lizard Boy beckoned his charges to come close. He whispered to them in a voice that seemed almost amused.
“Most days we have air conditioning. The traffic noise covers it up, but not today. No traffic, no AC, sorry. We get power from San Diego Gas and Electric. The bills are murder.” He pointed to a sheet-metal conduit and breaker box embedded in the wall behind the metal grating.
The tunnel continued on straight for about three hundred feet, then took a sharp sixty-degree turn to the north and the pathway started to angle downward.
“We go around the freeway overpass,” whispered their guide.
Metal handrails were now attached to the walls.
“The air is bad down here,” hissed the Mexican. “The AC can’t always keep it fresh. Try not to breathe too much.”
“Try not to breathe too much?” repeated Laura, shaking her head.
Lizard Boy let out a small laugh and stopped walking.
“We can talk again. The air, it makes some people sick.” His smile flashed in the pale lighting.
He opened the door on a two-foot by four-foot cabinet built into the wall.
“Here, put these on.”
He handed over two lightweight gas masks, the latest model, usually available only to police forces and the military. He took one for himself and slipped it on. After checking Laura and Davis’ masks, he beckoned them onward.
The tunnel continued its downward slope until they were ten feet lower than they had been just minutes before. It leveled out and continued on for another sixty feet, then began a slow climb back toward the surface.
After regaining the lost ten feet of depth, Lizard Boy pulled off his mask. Laura and Davis did the same.
“Almost home, my friends.”
The trio walked on silently. They were climbing steadily toward the surface.
Up ahead they could see the glow of a red light off to their right. As they got closer, Laura saw that there was an alcove carved into the tunnel.
In the alcove were four office chairs and a lectern, similar to what a maitre d’ might have in a restaurant. This was the place where a second accounting was made of the illicit merchandise as it traveled into the United States.
Lizard Boy motioned for them to sit as he stood at the lectern.
“Let’s take a break,” he said.
Laura was uneasy with this stop. It seemed unnecessary and Lizard Boy was smiling too much.
The small man stayed standing and grinning at them.
“We need to talk business,” he finally said to them.
“Business?” said Laura. “We have no business. My dealings were with Molina.”
“No, chica. We have business as well. I don’t know how you got your tickets, but you didn’t get them from Señor Molina.” There was no smile.
“Of course we did, you moron.” Laura’s radar was pinging like mad.
“No. Señor Molina always calls me to confirm reservations. I got no call. Me, I don’t care how you got the tickets. But, you and I do have business.”
Laura stood up. She was a good five inches taller than the small man in front of her. Davis also stood up and took half a step forward. Lizard Boy smiled. He looked like a hungry iguana.
“Sit down, both of you,” he said. He lifted his shirt to show them the large pistol tucked in the waistband of his jeans. Davis and Laura both froze, not moving any closer. Her gaze never left the eyes of the grinning smuggler at the lectern. They backed up and sat down again.
“All right,” asked Laura, “what kind of business do we have?”
“Why, money of course, Señorita. There is no other kind of business.”
“I told you, I already paid Molina. I don’t care if he didn’t call you.”
“To Hell with Molina! You pay me or you don’t get across. Comprende?” He had done this kind of extortion before. His hand rested on the butt of his gun.
“How much do you want?,” asked Laura.
“Now you are smart. I want the same as you gave Molina.”
Laura turned and looked at Davis. He went pale at the memory of what she had done to Molina.
“Laura, oh no,” said Davis. “Dear God.”
“Be quiet. The lady and I are talking,” said the small and greedy man.
“I don’t see what choice I have,” she said to both men.
Turning her gaze back to the little man with the big gun, she sighed.
“I have the money taped to my body. I’ll have to stand up.”
“Levántese, Señorita. Get up.” He was grinning again.
Laura stood and started unbuttoning her blouse. She could see Lizard Boy’s brown eyes widen as her bra and pale white skin appeared. There were six packets of cash taped around her torso. He wasn’t looking at the money. Almost involuntarily, he moved away from the lectern and stepped closer to Laura.
Laura pulled at the tape. It made a soft tearing noise as Dominic’s money came loose. The first packet of bills eased away from her skin and fell. Lizard Boy reached out to catch it before it hit the dirt floor.
As soon as his eyes moved from Laura’s body to the falling money, she reached into the sleeve of her jacket. Her hand found the round plastic handle.
Davis stiffened. He knew what was going to happen. Lizard Boy did not. He never would.
As the greedy little smuggler bent over to snatch the money in mid-air, Laura brought down the ice pick. It entered his slender body two inches below the nape of his neck. The tip, still sticky with Molina’s blood, sliced into the man’s back and traveled down and into the spinal canal. The damage was immediate and fatal.
What Lizard Boy sensed wasn’t exactly pain so much as it felt like his nervous system was being sauteed. He knew that something was very wrong, but he’d never discover exactly what. He barely made a sound as his body continued its way down onto the packed earth floor of the alcove.
Davis watched all of this like it was some horrible movie being screened in front of him. He recoiled, but never turned his head away. His eyes stayed fixed on the silent death of the small man with the golden teeth.
When he did look up he saw Laura standing there, her arms limp at her side. Her eyes were closed and her face was wet. It was dripping from her chin down onto her exposed flesh. She wasn’t crying; it was spinal fluid that had geysered out of the wound in the dead man’s back.
The tunnel was silent.
Laura sat down and Davis reached over to wipe her face with his handkerchief. She pushed his hand away. This was a private horror, like so many others in her life. She had to wade through it alone. Davis couldn’t do anything to help. He couldn’t wipe away the gore and the tears on the inside.
“Laura, he would have killed us. You had no choice.”
She looked over at Davis and at the dead man, then got up and walked out of the alcove. Davis started to follow. She motioned for him to let her be alone. He stopped as she walked about twenty feet into the semi-darkness.
Her brain was racing with memories of thirty seconds ago and of thirty years ago. She saw the surprised faces of people whom she had seen die when she was a child.
She saw Dominic’s face as it changed over the years, from a young and eager bridegroom into a violent and avaricious thug.
She saw her own face, like in a mirror, reversed and bruised from the abuse of the early years of their marriage. She saw the same face, still swollen, from the out-and-out fistfights at the end of their life together.
Laura tried, but couldn’t see Davis’ face. It was obscured by a wet, red curtain.
The ice pick was still in her hand. She moved the hard steel point below and to the left of her sternum, angled it up, and waited for the word to come from her brain, telling her to push it deep into her heart. It dug into her skin. A drop of blood appeared and ran down her pale flesh and was absorbed by $10,000 in cash.
She didn’t recognize the voice.
“Laura, we have to get out of here.”
Davis couldn’t see the ice pick.
“Laura, we can’t stay down here.” Davis put his hand on her shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Laura snapped back into the moment and saw the ice pick in her hand. She threw it into the dirt and smoothed the tape over the bundles of money. She buttoned up her blouse.
“You’re right. Let’s get out of this grave.”