It was time to take care of present business and to move on to whatever the future might bring. She climbed the stairs to the second floor of Molina’s building and stood in front of his door. She was tired. She was spent physically and emotionally. The constant stress of waiting for a bullet in the back was pushing her toward the edge. She opened the door to Molina’s studio and walked up to the speaker hanging on the wall.
“I’m back, Molina. Get out here,” she shouted.
“I’ll be right there, Señorita. One moment, please,” came the tinny-sounding response.
She dropped down into one of the wooden chairs and felt all of the air leave her. She closed her eyes as she leaned her head back against the green-painted wall. Sleep was all she really wanted right now. Sleep, a long soak in a warm tub, a massage and maybe a good long cry.
“Señorita? Miss Lovejoy?”
She jerked forward, disoriented for a second or two. Then her instincts took over and all of her senses were focused on Ernesto Molina who was standing in front of her, his hand on her knee.
“You are alone?” said Molina,
“For the moment, yes.”
“Very well, come with me, Señorita.”
Molina led her back down the hall into the studio where they had done the photo shoot. There was a large plastic shopping bag sitting on the bed, the kind of bag you can buy for a dollar in every shop in Tijuana. The comforter had been pulled down and the bag was resting on the white silk sheets that Molina favored.
“I have everything you’ll need, Señorita—a complete package. Please, let me show you. I’ve done an excellent job, if I may say so myself.”
Standing beside the bed, Molina showed Laura each of the fake documents he had created. He took pleasure in pointing out the details that made them look totally authentic. None of the items looked brand new. All were more or less worn—lived-in, he called it.
“If you will notice, Señorita, I even put in a few customs stamps on both passports. It looks like you and the Señor have been to Ireland and England a few times. It adds a touch of realism.”
He was like a proud parent showing off his children to an appreciative stranger.
“Also, as you requested, Miss Lovejoy, all of the negatives.” He held up a sealed Manila envelope.
Laura was silent throughout Molina’s show. She didn’t know if what she was buying was really as good as he was claiming. It all looked real to her, but would it hold up under scrutiny?
Laura took her eyes from the bed and looked at him. “You want your money now, don’t you?”
“Yes, please, it’s been a very stressful day for me.” Molina took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. He was sweating.
Laura shook her head and said, “You don’t know the meaning of the word, Molina.”
“How are you planning to get back into the U.S., Señorita?
“We walked here, we’ll walk back. Why do you ask?”
Molina looked at her, somewhat astonished. “Let’s be honest here for a moment, if we may. Señorita, if you are in need of my products then, obviously, someone is looking for you. Am I right?”
“Yes, of course.” She wondered where this was leading.
Molina shook his head.
“Then, Miss Lovejoy, walking through one of the most watched border crossings in the western hemisphere is suicidal. Frankly, I’m very surprised you got this far.”
“We’re fine, thank you,” she said, not believing it herself. She just wanted to pay him and get out of there.
“I can get you back across the border, no problem. I have established an underground railroad of sorts,” he said. “I can get you both back right under the border.
“Under—a tunnel? Are you serious?” she said, genuinely surprised.
“Actually, I have several tunnels, yes, and all I have to do is simply open a file drawer and get you a ticket. I’ll even drive you to the ‘station’ if you’d like.”
“For an additional charge, of course,” Laura said.
“Of course, Señorita, I am a businessman,” he said, ignoring the sarcasm in Laura’s voice.
“I’ll pass, Molina. Let’s settle up and I’ll be on my way.” This was making her nervous.
“As you wish, Señorita, but if you come back later, the price of the ticket goes up.” He shrugged, as if he was adding of course.
“You don’t ever take no for an answer, do you, Molina?” She started to gather up the documents off of the bed.
“Rarely, my dear. After all, many times a person says no when they really mean yes.” He moved closer to her.
“Like I said before, Molina, do you want your money now or not?”
“Have it your way Señorita. Please, yes.”
She moved away from him and started to undo the buttons on her blouse to get at the money taped to her body. Molina’s eyes narrowed.
“Señorita, I normally deal strictly in cash, but I’m not against a little barter.”
He moved close to her again, reached out and grabbed her belt, licking his lips.
“Get your hands off me.” She pushed him away.
“Oh, Señorita, don’t be coy with me. Let me show you what a real man is like. Not that pale rabbit you had with you earlier today.” He moved in again. This time he was not going for her belt. He smiled and his right hand flew out and slapped Laura hard across the face. She stumbled and backed away several steps. Her hands closed into fists. As Molina stepped toward her again, Laura lashed out and hit him square in the nose with a hard left jab followed by a right cross to his jaw. He reeled back and fell to the floor. Her uncle, Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano had taught her that combination when she was nine years old.
“Don’t you touch me. Do you understand me, you little pig? I’ll kill you right here,” she said. They were both breathing hard.
She moved toward the bed to finish getting her merchandise. Molina gathered himself and sprang to his feet, putting himself between Laura and the bed.
“You want to get to my bed, Señorita? Let me oblige you.”
He charged at her. His momentum knocked Laura off her feet and they both fell to the floor. Molina punched her hard in the stomach. The bundles of cash dulled the impact, but it still made her gasp. She tried to get to her feet, but Molina was faster. He jumped up and grabbed her from behind, around her waist, and lifted her off the ground. He spun and threw Laura onto the bed, on top of her new identity. She bounced on the soft mattress and before she could react, Molina leaped onto the bed, covering her with his body.
“Stop. Stop it, you cheap little ape,” she hissed at him.
He slapped her again. She felt the heat rising in her face.
“I’m not a cheap anything, darling, and neither are you. We are both very expensive.” He laughed, thinking that he had her right where he wanted her.
As his left hand held her down on the bed, his right snaked inside her blouse. The fear she was feeling left her and rage poured in to take its place. She punched him hard in the face again. He stopped his groping to hit her with his fist. She could taste blood in her mouth.
He smiled at the look on her face and said, “You might want to put some ice on that later.” He was enjoying this, she realized, and that had to stop.
She hit him again, aiming for his eyes with her knuckles. As he recoiled from the pain she pushed with all her strength and managed to roll them both over. She was now on top.
She looked down at him. He was grinning again.
“Ah, now you’re getting into it, eh, Laura Lovejoy?” He wrapped his legs tightly around her waist.
“You could say that.”
He laughed. “Kiss me, Laura. Besame.”
She also laughed and started to bend low over his face. Molina closed his eyes and relaxed. His smile closed into a kiss. He never saw her reach down, lift the cuff of her jeans, and pull at the tape on her calf.
“Ernesto,” she whispered
“Yes, cara mia?”
He opened his eyes just in time to see Laura driving the ice pick downward. He didn’t have time to scream as the tempered steel shaft skewered through his left eyeball, punched through the thin orbital bone, and plunged deep into his brain. He was dead before Laura pulled the ice pick out and jammed it into his right eye.
Then she vomited on him.
The taxi with Davis and Tomás screeched to a halt outside of Molina’s building. Davis jumped out and headed toward the door. He saw Laura slumped against the wall inside the lobby.
“My God, Laura, what’s happened? Are you alright?”
“Let’s get out of here. You’re going to have to help me.” She looked pleadingly into his eyes. “Help me, Davis.”
Tomás rushed over to them, took Laura’s left arm and scooped up the plastic shopping bag. Together he and Davis half-carried Laura back to the taxi.
“Tomás,” said Laura. “Let’s get out of here. I’ve got to think.”
“Good God, Laura, what happened? Your face…?”
“Molina tried to–he got out of hand.” She was not going to allow herself to cry. “I won’t take that from anybody.”
“I’ll kill him,” Davis said. “Tomás, wait here.”
“No!” she cried out. “Don’t do it. There’s no need…there’s no need. Tomás, I paid you to give us a tour, so drive.”
Davis’ anger faded as his concern for Laura grew. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to wipe Laura’s swollen lip and jaw. She pulled away.
“No, I’m fine, please. I love you, but I’ll be fine. Give me a few minutes and then let’s head back to the border.”
“We can’t,” Davis answered. “The border is closed. There was a gun battle with the police and some drug smugglers. The whole place is shot to pieces.”
Laura closed her eyes. She went inside herself to look for more strength, more resolve and more personal anesthesia. Her all-too-human engine was running on fumes. She slumped back in the seat. Her mind was struggling to think rationally, to go over the lessons of her past that might help them. She was looking at everything that had happened to her, everything she had seen and heard. She knew that the answer was filed away somewhere inside her memory. After about thirty seconds, she opened her eyes and leaned forward.
“Tomás, Turn around. Take us back to Molina’s.”
Tomás did a U-turn and had them outside of Molina’s building in minutes. On the way, she told them about the underground railroad and the “ticket” that Molina had tried to sell her.
Before they got out of the cab, she needed to prepare Davis for what he was about to see.
“I need you to come up with me to help find the tickets. They are somewhere in his office.”
“You think Molina will still sell them to us?” Davis was not anxious to see Molina again. He was still angry enough to want to hurt him for what he had tried to do to the woman he loved.
“Davis…Molina is in no condition to bargain. I need your help, but I want you to understand and forgive me for what you’re going to see up there.”
Tomás said a silent prayer, thankful that she had not asked him to go upstairs with them.
“To hell with Molina,” said Davis. “Let’s get those tickets.”
Tomás waited in the cab wondering again what he had gotten himself into with these two strangers.
As soon as they walked into Molina’s studio Davis understood Laura’s words of warning.
Molina’s body was sprawled face-up on the bed. His eyes were two black, oozing holes. The bedspread and sheets were soaked with his blood. It was an ugly death.
“Jesus, Laura.” Davis was stunned. It looked like something out of a cheap slasher movie, only this was for real.
“Davis, we don’t have time. You can get sick later. He said the tickets were in a file cabinet.”
They looked everywhere in the studio. There were no file cabinets anywhere. Davis saw a frosted-glass door by the far wall. He tried the knob and it opened into a back corridor. Across the hallway was another glass door and it was open. He could see a workbench, a draftsman’s table and two rows of five-drawer file cabinets.
“Laura, back here. File cabinets.”
She hurried toward his voice.
“Bingo,” whispered Laura. “We’re looking for tickets or something that mentions a railroad of some sort. Let’s get started.”
Starting at opposite ends of the first bank of file cabinets, they rifled through folder after folder.
Ernesto Molina’s files contained blank documents of all sorts, from at least a dozen countries. He was able to create new identities in such detail that it would make real people look suspicious to the authorities.
Laura pulled out files, flipped through, and discarded them on the floor. She noticed alphabetized folders holding copies of documents and negatives. Half of the infamous missing persons in North America were in that file cabinet. Laura stopped when she saw her name typed on a protruding tab—not Laura Lovejoy, but Beverly Deltino. It contained another set of her photos and negatives. She took the folder and slipped it inside the bag holding her documents.
Halfway through the third file cabinet Laura grabbed a folder with a label marked “Ferrocarril.” Inside she saw sheets of paper, signed by Molina. At the top of each sheet was a line drawing of an old-fashioned steam locomotive.
“Davis, I think I’ve got it. Did you ever take Spanish in school?”
“I had two years in high school. Let me see it.” She handed him the folder.
Davis scanned the papers as he searched his memories of Mrs. De La Vega’s class in eleventh grade.
“It’s a permission slip. ‘Let the person with this ticket travel through the—something. I don’t know this word—ferrocarril means railroad. I’m sure of that. Here’s an address for the estacion. It looks like a ticket to me.”
There were a dozen copies, all signed, in the folder. Laura took two and stepped over to the worktable. She plucked a pen out of the coffee mug pen holder and carefully printed her new name in the blank space provided. She then printed “Davis Lovejoy” on the second sheet.
“Now, let’s get out here,” she said, as they headed for the closest exit.
They opened the door and found themselves on the landing outside of Molina’s studio. Davis looked at the door they had just used. Stenciled on the glass was “Geronimo Morey—Abogado.”
Laura never stopped to look. She was already halfway down the stairs to the street. Davis took the steps two at a time to catch up with her as she crossed the sidewalk and reached out for the door handle on Tomás’s cab.
“Tomás, do you know where 162 Avenida de Negocios is located?
“Sure, Señorita. It’s right up by the border. Lots of warehouses and small maquiladoras, little factories, not much there.”
“That’s where we’re going, quickly,” she said. “When the people at the railroad hear about Molina, they’ll shut it down.”
Driving as fast as he could without killing anyone or getting pulled over by one of Tijuana’s many motorcycle officers, Tomás took his cab through the city’s side streets near the border. They were less than a half-mile from the carnage at the San Ysidro crossing.