Día de los Muertos: Chapter 11

Eleven

Bus Station / 10:45 A.M.

The bus station was crowded. Every day more people from the interior of Mexico were coming north to the border to escape the collapsing peso. Running in front of a wave that would crash on them here, Calhoun thought. He had some cargo to pick up, a lawyer and his two sisters. Someone in the states had paid full fare for them and they were going to get the royal treatment. From here on they would be under Calhoun’s protection until they were crossed and delivered.We’re better than Federal Express, Calhoun thought, waiting in the cafe for the bus from Chihuahua. Calhoun watched a group of stewardesses walk by. They were in company uniforms, short black dresses and black jackets. He marveled at the womanly asses, then at the crowds of peasants and the noise of the buses as they pulled in from all over the Republic, covered with road dirt and dirty windscreens and the romance of the open Mexican highway. Mazatlán, Calexico, Nayarít, Durango; the buses pulled into their gates, others left for the interior.

Calhoun watched a bus unload. The passengers got off with their possessions in cardboard suitcases and plastic bags. Countless men in cowboy hats with thick arms had that I’m-going-north-don’t-fuck-with-me look. Calhoun respected that look. It had taken the human race to the moon. Like the movie said, failure wasn’t an option. It would take these dirt farmers across the river, through the gauntlet of helicopters and razor wire.

The bus from Chihuahua rolled into the parking lot. Calhoun waited, watching the crowds. Their man got off first and came into the cafe where he was sitting.

“Buenos días.”

“Buenos,” Calhoun said.

“Where do you want them to go?”

“How many are there? There should be three.”

“Yes, three. One of them is a lawyer,” the man said, as if it made a difference. He did nothing but complain, the man said. “Do you want to meet them?” “No, not yet. Take them to the Cuauhtémoc. The desk clerk will handle them. Tell them that we’ll leave in an hour. And to be ready. Tell them not to leave their room until we get there. If they leave the hotel, tell them it’s not our fault what happens to them,” Calhoun said. “Horacio?”

“Yes, señor.”

“How much more have you charged them?”

“Nothing,” the man said. The young man was a medical student, a cousin of Castro’s who rode the bus with clients to make sure nothing happened on the way from Mexico City.

“Don’t lie to me. You charge them for this part of the trip, don’t you, to the hotel.” The young man looked around the bus station cafe. Then at the grimy counter where Calhoun had watched for him. The gringo was loco. He really looked loco now. Calhoun was sweating again, the beads large on his face, his blue eyes intense.

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“Very little, hardly anything.”

“Give it back. We’re not like the others.”

“Give me a hundred dollars. I need the money,” the man said. Calhoun peeled off a hundred dollars and put it on the counter.

“Horacio, don’t ever fuck with the cargo again. I’ll kill you. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, señor.”

“No. I mean I’ll kill you, do you understand that?” Calhoun was sweating and he’d taken off his havelock and put it on the Formica counter. The young man looked at Calhoun, sweating like that, his hair plastered down his handsome face with the cold blue eyes, and was afraid of him. He nodded, “I understand, Señor Vincente.”

“I hope you do,” Calhoun said, then he waved him away.

 

Maybe it was the way the Indían nodded. The way he seemed to look after his young wife and the love the couple had. Calhoun watched them. He often sat here in the bus station drinking coffee. He had been doing his finances, what was left of them, on a napkin. There was no more money. He was finished. If he lost today, that was it. He had gambled most of everything away. Today he had a chance to win it back. He assured himself he would win and it would be all right. He decided he would take his winnings and leave, become Mr. Al Smith, address Mexico City. He wondered what he would do there. Maybe from there he would go to Asia. He’d always wanted to go to China, anywhere but here, he told himself. Anywhere but here.

He noticed the young Indían couple right away, the way they were standing in the lobby, lost lambs, and right away he saw the sharks gathering. One was down by the magazines watching but pretending not to. They were a young couple holding hands, Indíans straight from the jungle – Guatemalans, you could tell them right away. It was something about the way she was looking at him, so much in love.

I’ve never had that…someone like that. Somebody who loved me like that. The wife had a scarf covering her head, a round face. The city will eat them for lunch, Calhoun thought. All they had was that love. He wondered how far it would go for them. Love. No se puede vivir sin amar. He watched the man at the magazine rack nod to someone. The couple picked up their cardboard suitcases and came into the cafe and sat at the counter near Calhoun.

They put their packages behind them, the wrong thing to do. The kid turned to the counter person and tried to get his attention. Calhoun knew the counter person was working with the others. He ignored them for a moment, checked out the scam, then came forward with a big friendly smile and asked the couple what they wanted, making a big show of laying down silverware and water and a basket of crackers. The man from the magazine rack came in and pretended to use the telephone on the wall close to the counter. Another man came into the cafe from the sidewalk. The man on the telephone started to yell. Calhoun got up and walked behind the couple and stood next to their suitcases. The one who was going to steal their suitcases grazed him and kept on going as if nothing had happened. Calhoun pushed the bags closer toward the couple still being chatted up, not understanding what had almost happened to them.

“Hey! You got to watch your bags,” Calhoun said in English. The young husband turned around and smiled. He didn’t have a clue.

“Bags,” Calhoun said. “Your bags. Tús maletas.” He nodded to the suitcases on the floor. The husband nodded, but he hadn’t understood. Calhoun was going to leave them to their fate, then the wife turned and glanced at him. She was so young, sixteen or so, something he didn’t see much in this town – clean, honest. She was still holding her husband’s hand. She was scared, and Calhoun stopped. He looked at the man on the telephone. They stared at each other. Calhoun gave him a murderous look and the man put down the phone and disappeared like vapor into the crowds in the station.

I could leave. Why shouldn’t I…nobody…nobody ever… He turned around and looked at the couple. They knew practically no Spanish at all and were having trouble ordering.

Calhoun sat down next to the girl and ordered a coffee. He listened to them speak to each other in their soft Indían Quiché language. With their language they were able to shut out the outside world. It was the language Cortez heard and later the French, a language from the jungles. Calhoun sat transfixed. He didn’t speak until one of the coyotes he knew who hung in the bus station walked up to them and asked them if they wanted to go to the U.S. This coyote was famous for taking you to the river and disappearing you. He was very sweet looking, not well dressed, and looked like a choir boy. That’s what the people on the street called him, the choir boy. The husband had turned around.

“Yes, how did you know? Please, how much?” said in bad Spanish. The choir boy sat down next to the husband.

“Many come here to the station looking for help,” the choir boy said. He looked at Calhoun. He knew of him but thought nothing of it because Calhoun only did the high-class trade.

“Where are you from?” the choir boy asked.

“Guatemala,” the husband said.

“Go away…” Calhoun said in English. He picked up the coffee and finished it. The choir boy looked at him. “They’re Slaughter’s,” Calhoun said. The choir boy looked at Calhoun in disbelief and immediately left. The husband looked at Calhoun, confused.

“U.S.?” Calhoun said. “¿Ustedes quieren ir a los Estados Unidos?”

“Yes, how much?”

Calhoun could have told him that each person paid ten thousand, that they ran the most expensive coyote service in Tijuana, that it was used only by Latin Americans with connections, with family in the states, or by criminals who could afford the price of a ticket.

“Ten dollars American,” Calhoun said. “You got ten dollars?” he said in Spanish. The husband translated to his wife. She said something to him.

“Nine-fifty,” the husband said. Calhoun laughed. He couldn’t remember laughing like that in a long time. “Okay kid, you drive a hard bargain.”

“Juan Martinez.” The husband put his hand out. Calhoun shook his hand. “My wife, señor.”

“Pleased to meet you, señora.” The girl looked at him and giggled. The choir boy would have killed them both. Calhoun turned around and looked again at the grimy counter and at the cook who had chatted them up. He would have let them leave with the choir boy and said nothing.

“Where are you heading?” Calhoun said.

“San Francisco,” the husband said. “Is it far? My father is there.” He dug something out of his pocket, a letter. “We’re to call…?”

“Put it away,” Calhoun said, suddenly angry. He wiped his face, felt the cold chills and gripped the counter. The room got smaller, the cook’s face seem to recede and his greasy blue T-shirt blurred. The man came towards Calhoun with the coffee pot.

“I said put it away. You’ll lose it. Then what? Then what?” He turned and looked at the kid. “What if you lose it? Then what!?”

“Yes, señor. I put it away.” Calhoun picked up the napkin and touched his mouth. He tried to smile through the chills.

“More coffee, señor?” The counterman’s face splayed out and there were two countermen offering him their phony smiles.

“Get the fuck away from me,” Calhoun said. “You fucking cockroach.” The three faces started to laugh in stereo, loudly. The coffee spilled in a black shower into the huge cup. Calhoun saw the cup grow as he focused. He looked up again and everything was okay, normal, the sounds of the buses, the cacophony of the cafe, the cook laughing normally.

“Are you all right, señor?” The young man had pushed the letter into his pants.

Calhoun turned to him, then to the wife and saw that she was frightened. He tried to smile at her.

“Vámonos!” He pushed himself off the stool. They went outside. Calhoun got a taxi driver he knew out in front and sent the couple to the Cuauhtémoc to wait for him.

A white unmarked Ford came down the ramp reserved for buses. It stopped at the guard shack, then sped into the garage. Castro in his police car came through the crowd. Calhoun walked out to the parking lot.

“Where are they?”

“I sent them on to the Cuauhtémoc with your cousin.”

“Good.” Castro was wearing a black suit coat and black pants and a white cowboy shirt and hat. It was the judiciales uniform.

“Amigo, you don’t look so good.”

“Yeah, I had sex with your sister last night and this happened.”

Miguel grimaced at hearing the joke again and pulled out of the parking lot, back up the ramp to the street.

“There’s one more…a Palestinian. He’s very rich. My people are delivering him in person. He paid twenty-five thousand just to come up from the capital. His people are very rich,” Castro said and did that handshaking thing Latins do when they want to emphasize something.

“And I’m taking two I found in the bus station,” Calhoun said. Castro looked at him.

“Two kids from the sticks. They don’t have a clue. They would never have gotten out of town. But we’re getting paid. I think we’re getting nine-fifty but I’m not sure it’s American money. It might be Guatemalan money. I forgot to ask.”

“You’re a romantic. I didn’t know that about you,” Castro said. “I suspected it though… A romantic. I suspected it.”

 

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