Welcome to the first in a new series here on my blog, it's called 'Tuesday Tease' and each week will feature a preview of a fellow author's book. If you like what you read then I invite you to purchase their work via the links at the bottom of the post. We start this feature with Michael Condon's 'Border Zone', the sequel to his book 'The Applicant'.
by Michael Condon
I contracted tuberculosis when I was thirteen years of age. That’s what I told the border control officers during the first attempt at smuggling the youth across the Rio Grande river into Texas. “Run, run go get back,” the officer called to his partner. My group of four was intercepted after crossing over in a raft. “My God Sanchez this guy tells me he’s got TB.” I was coughing and spitting up phlegm as the agent backed off and called his partner. Human trafficking is a federal crime in the United States, and not willing to spend the rest of my life in prison, I was prepared to do anything to avoid it. I hacked up another Louie and spat it out ten feet away. The officer backed away as I scrambled onto my feet and leapt toward the raft alongside the river. I crawled down the embankment, hopped into the raft and began to paddle toward the other side. The officer at the same time began shouting for me to stop, but I continued paddling across. He could have stopped me, as these officers had twenty or more years of training, but from the look on his face he was relieved I got away. When I reached the other side I watched as the group of four that trusted me, were led away by the agents. I felt guilty for the position they were now in. And there was nothing I could do about it now.
They would eventually be taken back to their hometowns in Mexico and further south where the life was not promising, as they were hoping to enter the land of opportunity where it was better than the meager twelve dollars a day on this side. They would be flown back after a detainment and they would likely not try to get across again, at least until some time had passed. A few would go back to searching the garbage dumps for anything salvageable and grow whatever seeds they could find in their plot of land.
Born near the mining town of Real De Catorce, where my father mined silver all his life, had its challenges. One challenge was learning English at an early age. The other challenge was seeing my father come home tired and worn on the meager wages the companies paid. Early, as a prospector he did well until the laws changed and the silver mines were taken over by the larger companies. I learned to lie, cheat and grab anything I could to get ahead in life as the silver could lead men into a psychosis of greed. I did not care for nor had any interest in following in the footsteps of my father.
I had arrived in Peru with Polly only four months earlier. I met Polly in Roanoke Virginia at the diner where she worked. She asked me at the time if I’d like to volunteer in Peru, helping the aboriginals as a volunteer. I accepted and stayed with her a short time helping the aboriginals in the Andes Mountains.
I became a US citizen years ago when I left Real De Catorce, and entered the army as an enlisted member. When Polly asked me if I’d like to go to Peru I had no hesitation. I knew the countries in the south well enough to know I could find my way around, and volunteering to help others was something I needed in life at the time. She was sad if not shocked to see me go.
The agents were now gone but the continuous schedule of the border control vehicles would pass every hour or so along the dirt road across the Rio Grande, or the Rio Bravo del Norte, as it is known in Mexico. It was the same every day. Over the next year I spent getting youth across the river and into their new life to safe houses on the other side.
My first attempt at moving ganje across the Rio Grande came two months later. I learned there were many safe houses, or stash houses that were often raided by border control. There would often be thirty or more illegals inside. The conditions were uninhabitable. Then there were the mules. The mules would often go across the desert as far as they could with their bales of ganje. The bales were picked up, if not found by agents, and transferred into Phoenix, where there were more stash houses. After that the bales were spread across the lower states and upper northeast. It was not uncommon for agents to raid a house and find 200,000 pounds of ganje worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Through a chance meeting I ran into Felix Escobar in a small town along the Mexican border. He would often explain that the huge amount of money coming into Mexico went to schools, and bribing the local officials. Money could buy their trade through safe towns as it had for years. But if you got in their way, you would not be seen again. Felix explained the acid tanks. The bodies were thrown into a tank of acid. The acid would eat the skin and bones. Or they were simply shot and killed and found the next morning along the dirt roads.
I sat in a local mescelaneas as Felix Escobar came in wearing the Uzi Submachine across his shoulder. Talking to him he explained the problems he was having with confiscations across the border. He was a big man with a wide smile and anyone who knew him would have no choice but to support him, not because he commanded respect, and the good things he did for the town, but because some feared him. I might have been afraid of him, but he was actually quite likeable. I wasn’t sure I was trusted, but from the support of taking bales of ganje across the river for so long, I felt he had no problem with me. After some time I became a confidante, taken under his wing and got to know more about the upper echelon of the cartel. It was a huge operation. Run like any corporation in the states.
Felix wore a figure of a saint around his neck for protection. Like so many others they believed a saint would protect them. It was rumored that Felix had fathered over one hundred children from fifty different women. He could not keep his pecker in his pants for long. As I sat listening to his rambling on, I got up. I told him I’d be right back as I walked outside to the side of the building. I pulled it out and started peeing everywhere. I peed on the red flowers, the bricks, along the sidewalk until there was nothing left to give. Finally I put it away and went back inside to sit with Felix and listen to him talk. He seemed to enjoy the fact that I listened and didn’t talk much. He told me he was going to have his evening mud bath from the local Quinceanera. He invited me over for the first time to have a mud bath at his farmhouse.
On the drive over in his brown pickup, he explained that the special mud was flown in from a special area of Peru that had special cleansing properties. Often the women in France used the mud, as well as women in the states to use as a mask. When dried it seemed to hold the skin firm. The mud was shipped in barrels that Felix had stored around the farmhouse.
He drove out into a remote forested area until reaching a clearing of rolling land that was free of any trees or plants. He slowed the truck down as he approached an old wooden bridge over a creek that had little water running along it and continued up a large grassy hill toward a wooden farm house. He concentrated on driving along the grassy hill toward the house as I noticed the size of the house and barn. It was a large farmhouse with plants alongside. Several men were in the field beside the house working on plants as we approached. Felix pulled the truck to a stop and as we got out three Quinceanera ran up to the truck. Felix told them to get lost and he would see them later, as we walked toward the structure. He looked off to see the men working the field and called out to them.
Felix had been farting all the way home from the mescelaneas so I rolled down the window. He had obviously been eating rank food as he sounded several times as though he may have lost some of it in his pants. By his driving habits he seemed in a hurry to get back to his farmhouse.
Once inside he said, “Go ahead and do what you like. I have a few things to do outside.” He was gone for several hours. During that time I got a sense he wouldn’t be back for a while. I took the opportunity to go through the wooden desk drawer on the other side of the room. . There was a pad of paper with dates and names with dollar amounts. It was a ledger of where and when and to whom his gange was destined. It had enough information with names that I took a photo of several pages. I got up and walked outside. No one was in the area as the men who were in the field were now gone. It was eerily quiet as I approached a metal vat or tub with white corrosion on the ground alongside. Seeing no one I walked back inside to wait and see if there was more information I could gather. I approached the desk again and began going through the drawers. In the bottom drawer were two handguns with several boxes of bullets. I continued to look through the drawers but found nothing of interest other than a medal with a patron saint for protection. I saw these often during my time there. Often the illegals wore them to get safely into the US, but were sorely disappointed when they get caught.
Ganje would soon become legal in most of the states as there were contingencies being made, even by some congressmen at present in the house and senate. It had been tossed around and some cartels began to realize their time was short, in the way they operated and would change the way they did business when that time came. Felix would never subscribe to the idea of selling off his fortunes to any legal entity. He knew all along he would not be given amnesty in fact he would be sentenced to prison with no second thoughts. He told me on one occasion that his profits were so enormous and was so addicted to them that he would continue to operate illegally and enjoy the benefits no matter what he was told by any official who might approach him with offers.
There was also what he called the fringe benefits of the power he would like to hold onto. Like some greedy company whose profits confused even the IRS, that money was destined for his pockets, not anyone else.
As I began to get up from the desk he came in through a back room. I wondered if he saw me going through the desk drawer from an open window. But he just walked over casually and said, “Let’s go take a walk outside. I have something to show you Martin.”
We walked outside to an area where a white with red graffiti semi- tractor trailer sat with a few workers inside. They were welding a panel back against the front wall as another used an inadequate form of sealant that looked out of place. I thought of speaking up about the workmanship that was shabby but reconsidered. It was pretty obvious what they were doing. Felix said, “I can get a cab to hook up but I need a driver. I can get the forms you will need to drive this thing across the border. I have a route and destination inside. Avoid any alternate routes. If you get caught I’ll lose another shipment.” They finished the work inside as, a forklift with crates of watermelon were being moved into position for shipment. I’ve seen this act before and there was no way it would get through, especially considering the ridiculous graffiti. A red herring is what it was. Metal detectors would pick up this after a good sniffing from the hounds at checkpoints along the way. It was beyond belief that he’d consider this rig for the job. It’s when he continued talking that I reconsidered. “I have it this time in aroma free castings. No hounds will sniff what’s inside other than melon. No reason to suggest anything other than an old melon shipping company destined for the southern states. It’ll get through. Mark my work Martin. You think I’d leave this to anyone else? I need you because I can trust you. You can trust me right? Let’s take a walk inside and get some tacos from the Quinceanera. I hear they are preparing a mud bath,” Felix said with a wide grin. He had blackened teeth.
Waking up refreshed after a mud bath the previous evening was an unwanted experience. I knew that Felix was another animal now and being pampered to, was like a child wearing diapers. He seemed to enjoy it as he laughed out loud the entire time and giggled like a teenager being chased by a girl for the first time. I’d never seen a grown man cry out loud and was a nightmare.
As I got up from the makeshift bed that seemed to shift the backbone out of place, I walked out to the kitchen area wearing the clothes I slept in. Felix was not around and the house was quiet. No sign of the Quinceanera or workers anywhere. Not knowing where to relieve myself in the house I walked outside. Around to the side of the house I pulled it out again. I began the same habit that I became accustomed to. And that was to let out and give some relief to a body that felt in need of a chiropractor. I pissed for what seemed a lifetime along the wall leaving a wet mark, where I got creative to the left and right against the backdrop of a yellow daisy growing through a crack in the concrete, finally feeling relieved I put it away.
I never really liked being man handled the way we were by the Quinceanera but Felix didn’t seem to mind. They took us under their wing like two Storks delivering two infants to their mother. But I did not enjoy it. It was not so much like a stork but rather four cool operators of equipment in a mining operation with their direction of when to sit still and quiet. Like a Nazi war camp where we were told how to act and what parts to move, they went to work on our bodies with scrapers along the back that left welt marks. I know there were red welt marks along the scraped lines on the backside. So much for feeling a little sense of pain but feeling of indignation was prevalent and it was humbling if not tormenting. They were almost violent at times. It was a violation but their language used was at times horrific.
As I was zipping up, Felix came around the corner. “You’ll make it Martin. I guarantee you’ll make it. Just keep driving and don’t stop if you see a few bikers along a nest in the road. They might like to grab what’s on board but if you do, tell them Felix will come hunt you down and give you a nice acid bath if you try anything as stupid as robbing me. Got it?” I shook my head in affirmation as he paid little mind as he watched a large rig drive up the small dirt road onto his property toward the white with red graffiti trailer.*
Books by Michael Condon on Amazon: