So it was going to be the dog. He had known all along that things would go to hell. He had seen enough movies to know that a better life wasn’t actually in the cards. He just hadn’t been able to work out how it would fall apart. But it would, he had known that. Yet he had gone and done it anyway, mainly because that’s what you did when circumstances aligned and you saw your chance. Then at least you found out what it was that was going to keep you from the good life and the answer would be something other than your own cowardice. Now his answer was coming, as the dog started barking and the men turned, hands undoubtedly reaching for guns. Yeah, it had gone to shit all right.
When the Russians had showed up in a new pickup truck in this mostly nowhere Texas border town he knew it was going to end badly for someone, maybe everyone. They walked into Chila’s Diner talking to each other loudly, almost defiantly, in Russian, probably the first Russian ever spoken in Brewster County. Nobody wanted to be obvious, but the place got quiet all the same and people found excuses to look around. Cody had a good view of them from his booth. There were three of them, two large in their twenties or thereabouts and one smaller and older, all with grey complexions, sleek hair, and shiny grey suits but no ties. People like that didn’t come here. It was barely a town, just a bank, gas station, general store, school, motel, and diner, that was it, and then the cattle ranches but no oil. Maybe the men were headed somewhere else but the main roads didn’t run through here. Even the border didn’t see many crossings in these parts, the Chihuahuan Desert being better and deadlier at stopping people than the Border Patrol.
The waitress gestured at an empty booth and the Russians slid over to it more than walked. No guns on them that he could tell, but people were still unsettled. Not much happened here and what did happen usually wasn’t an improvement. When Cody left, the waitress was at their table and a confused conversation in fractured English was getting louder, with one of the men stabbing the menu with his finger. It looked to be a scene worth watching, but he had to get to the bank for his shift. The older Russian followed him with his eyes as he walked by, probably on account of his uniform, and he was glad that Marie wasn’t working that morning though he didn’t know why that thought had come to him.
He did know that Marie would be mad at him for even thinking it, since she usually only got two or three shifts a week at the diner and was always in need of more. He told her it gave her time for painting but she would look down and say she only painted because there wasn’t regular work. Her paintings were the real thing though, not the cowboys and Indians and flags crap that they had up high on the walls in Señor Everything’s General Store, but more like the ones he’d seen in an art book, with different colors flowing together so when you looked at them you could sometimes see places or other times, maybe faces, like reflections in a river. How she got those ideas he didn’t know, but he knew it wasn’t from their art class in school where they drew shapes and made them into fruits. Once she told him that sometimes after she had seen something, like birds in the sky, she would see it again later in her head, but different, in patterns, and she painted so she could show people the patterns. But that was all she said, and just the once. Otherwise, baking pies with her mom or helping him pull the transmission on his truck, he thought she was just like all the other girls except better.
Driving to the bank, squinting at the rising sun, Cody pictured the Russians getting into their truck and smiled. That would have been something to see, those guys in a truck like that. Really, though, he had wanted to stay at Chila’s and just listen to their Russian, all V’s, Z’s, and K’s that rattled around in your ears. He had read a book by a Russian once, the only real book he’d ever read. Worked his way through it slow, going back again and again to make sense of it, writing notes on the pages to keep track of it all, like how Sonechka was just a different name for Sonia, throwing the book down when it got to be more than he could manage. Eventually he triumphed, finished the thing, and felt like he knew for the first time what it really meant to read a book. He never would have done it except he had been in the hospital, with lots of time to pass and nobody bothering him about what he was reading. The book had been in a pile of old magazines next to his bed and he didn’t know why he had stuck with it past the first few pages when it was obviously a complicated book, a real book. But he had and despite the difficulty of following everything it helped get him through the five weeks it took for his shattered pelvis to heal.
His pelvis had been broken in the car accident that killed his parents, so he supposed he was technically an orphan, but maybe not because he was already twenty when it happened. Even now, two years later, he still walked with a little loop to his stride, his left leg veering out, and it hurt to ride a horse. Ranch work was out for him, and that didn’t leave much, even though his brother Duncan would go on about how he had some enterprises developing and there could be a spot for him. So he had gotten lucky, real lucky, when the old security guard left the bank and he got hired as the replacement. Nothing much happened at work, but he took it seriously all the same.
His brother Duncan had stuck with the ranch work, making use of his Spanish and knack for getting along with the Mexicans. The work came and went, but Duncan seemed to get by even between jobs. Cody suspected his brother was tied in to some border business, as most ranch guys were in some way – local thinking figured it no real crime to take advantage of the only positive feature of a location otherwise lacking in economic possibilities. Even so, there wasn’t that much that happened in this part of the border, just small-scale smuggling. Big loads of drugs needed real trucks and real roads, so the serious action happened further east closer to Laredo and I-35, or further west near the 385 that would take you to the I-10, but those were cartel routes and the locals stayed well clear of them. Duncan had maybe ventured deeper into that business than most, but of late seemed to have backed off, or so Cody hoped.
That evening after the bank closed he found Duncan waiting for him in the parking lot, leaning against his truck, smoking.
“We gotta talk,” he said.
Cody held up his cell phone in the palm of his hand.
“Not on the phone,” said Duncan. “The butte.”
Cody smiled. He knew that Duncan loved these moments, had angled his truck just so, leaned a certain way, made sure to be smoking, all to make it feel like a scene from one of the movies they had watched growing up. The movies had mesmerized them both. How else did you know how to live besides what you saw, and growing up here most of what you saw was ash and it was nothing compared to the fire and life of the movies.
His own truck couldn’t be trusted off-road so he got in Duncan’s and they headed out. They rode in silence on the asphalt and soon turned off on a dirt track that weaved through the scrub, bushes raking the sides of the truck, the low sun painting everything in golden light. They bounced along slowly, Duncan working the steering wheel smoothly, shifting now and then, his motions relaxed and precise at the same time. They stopped at the end of the track where the scrub had thickened and been joined by some slender trees. Duncan grabbed two beers from a cooler he had in back and they made their way along a narrow game trail through the scrub to the base of the butte. From there Duncan scrambled up the angled face, sometimes dislodging chunks of stone, his boots turning white from the dust of the rocks, while Cody took the trail that circled gradually up the butte. When he got to the top Duncan handed him a beer and they sat there together in the fading light, surveying the crags and twists of the canyons.
After few long swallows of his beer, Duncan broke the silence.
“I got something for you.”
Cody looked at him.
“So I know this Mexican, and he fucking knows everyone. Well, every Mexican anyway. And he calls me up the other day, asks me if I know anyone who works at the bank. So first I call him a racist for thinking that all us gringos know each other, like we’re all in one big gringo club or some shit, and then I tell him, yeah, my little brother, he’s the security guard there.”
Cody closed his eyes, shaking his head and taking a deep breath.
“No wait, just listen. It’s not about the bank. Shit, I don’t know what it’s about exactly, he wouldn’t tell me. He just wants us to talk to this other guy about helping him out with a deal.”
“Yeah, a deal. Don’t play that with me. I know you.”
“So knowing me and all, you told him to forget it, right?”
Duncan took a long drink from his beer, finishing it.
“He said you wouldn’t have to do anything illegal. Just watch something. You know, same thing you already do at the bank. He said it was important.”
“Oh, well, if some Mexican narco I don’t even know says it’s important, sign me up.”
“Look, this guy’s for real. He was dead shit serious about nothing illegal.”
“Since when is helping with a drug deal not illegal? ‘But judge, the Mexican guy told me it was okay.’ Shit.”
Duncan sat quietly for a minute as they watched a hawk circle upward with one shrill cry as it caught the last of the day’s heat rising from the canyons.
“He said seven grand,” Duncan said softly. “Take you like an hour. Just watching.”
“It all goes smooth, I get a grand.”
Cody finished his beer. It was simple until the amount. But seven thousand registered with Cody not so much as a number but as the answer to a question that had been occupying more and more of his mind, a solution to a problem that had been relentlessly invading the special places he and Marie had built and guarded so carefully.
“Okay. I’ll talk to him. No promises, but I’ll talk to him.”
“Has to be tomorrow night. That cool?”
“Yeah.” Cody crushed his beer can flat on the rock where he was sitting, then stood up and slid it into the back pocket of his jeans. They headed down the butte, both taking the trail this time in the near dark. They didn’t speak again until they were back at the parking lot of the bank.
“Say hi to Marie for me,” said Duncan. Cody nodded and stepped out of the truck. It was dark now, starting to get cold, and the parking lot was empty save for their trucks. Through the windows the bank was lit with a low yellow light showing nothing but vacant desks and chairs, the emptiness suggesting that whatever had gone on there today or any day had made no difference and it would look the same tomorrow night or any night.
They met the next evening, out in a shack on a ranch where Duncan had worked. Cody and Duncan arrived first and waited, idly kicking stray pebbles around the concrete floor. The Mexican who knew everyone showed up next and, after making his greetings with much joking in Spanish with Duncan, he took out his cell phone and stepped outside again. He was back in a minute telling them pronto, pronto. The three waited in silence, the pebbles staying still, until they heard the sound of a truck pulling in. As Cody and Duncan watched from the window, the Mexican went out and talked briefly with the driver, then got into his own truck and drove off. Cody looked at Duncan, who shrugged, turning up a palm. The driver got out of the truck and walked purposefully toward the shack carrying a red duffel bag. He was tall for a Mexican, almost six foot, hefty without being fat, wearing a blue button-down shirt and brown pants. He looked to be in his thirties and introduced himself as Antonio.
“Nice conference room,” he said eyeing the cabinets collapsed against one wall.
“Location, location, location,” said Duncan with a grin.
Antonio just looked him, then turned to Cody.
“You’re the bank guard, right.”
“I want to hire you on a freelance basis for one job.”
Antonio looked at Duncan again. They stood there for a minute. Then Duncan shrugged and sighed.
“All right,” said Duncan. “But I’ll be close,” he added as he walked out.
Antonio resumed speaking in a brisk happy cadence.
“The day after tomorrow, when your bank opens, a man will come in wearing a red shirt and a black hat. He will ask to see his safe deposit box. He will take valuables out of the box. Cash. Into the bag. The man is my agent. He is supposed to bring the bag to the old mercado.”
Antonio paused, his tone shifted and slowed.
“But based on recent events, as well as the … history of these kinds of transactions, my faith in my agent is … limited. It would be good if he were supervised. Supervised and protected.”
“And you, my friend, are in the ideal position to provide such insurance for me. Already in the bank. Already watching people. Uniform, gun, everything. Perfecto.”
“I can’t do anything that would get me fired. And I’m not gonna shoot anybody.”
Antonio smiled, and Cody was surprised by his straight teeth and how white they were.
“Of course. What’s the phrase? Observe and report? I’ll give you a phone number. Nothing illegal for you. All you have to do is watch the man in the bank, and then drop him off at the entrance to the mercado.”
“I can’t leave to drive him.”
“Sure you can. Say that you have a doctor’s appointment.”
“There aren’t any doctors around here. I’d have to take the whole day.”
Antonio grunted. “Say he needs an escort. It’s a small bank, he’s a customer.”
Cody was quiet for a minute. He kicked a pebble.
“Yeah. They’d probably let me do that.”
“Good. Take this bag. When the man comes in for the safe deposit box, give it to him.”
“How much I get paid?”
“Five thousand. If my agent is at the mercado with the bag and no problems.”
“I heard seven.”
“For one hour’s work? Please.”
They were interrupted by a bang, followed by a loud sound like gravel being poured on the metal roof. Both men tensed and looked about, then relaxed as the rain poured down and the lightning flashed.
Antonio squinted out through the dirt-smeared window. “This is some shit, eh?” he said, almost yelling to be heard over the rain.
They stood for maybe five minutes, just listening to the rain battering down on the roof, some rivulets already retracing well-stained paths down the walls. Antonio hopped up on a cabinet, using it as an oversized stool, idly kicking his feet in the air.
“You don’t have an accent,” said Cody as the rain began to ease.
“I went to one of your fancy schools. Got a degree and everything.”
“Why didn’t you get a, you know, regular job?”
“I did. Management consulting. Five years. Worked at some top companies. A few smart guys, but mostly a bunch of fucking morons. By the end, I wanted to kill people. Or kill myself, I was that bored.”
“It’s a living. It’s a safe job.”
“Safe until some assholes decide to crash a plane into your building. Or until you get bone cancer in your forties, like mi padre. No such thing as safe. Just risks we pay attention to and risks we don’t.”
Antonio slid down off the cabinet. From the way he spoke, the tones he used to emphasize different words, Cody could tell he liked talking.
“At least in this business competence actually matters. Make a bad deal, you’re dead or in prison. It’s Darwinian. The guys that are left standing, put them in your business school case studies, because I guarantee you they know how to run things way better than some Fortune 500 asshole, where the only thing that happens to him if he fucks up is he changes companies or retires rich on the money he already made. But the cartels? That’s some real incentive-based management.”
Antonio looked out the window again at the rain.
“So what’s with the Russians?” asked Cody.
Antonio turned and took a big step toward him, but Cody stood his ground and met Antonio’s stare. Antonio tilted his head to one side, then shrugged.
“Realities of modern business.”
Cody looked at him, and after a minute, Antonio continued.
“I’m starting a new enterprise. That takes money. So I need investors. And investors, they want to see a demonstration. Proof of principle. So the Russians are here to watch.”
“If it works, they’ll be my devil investors,” he added with a grin.
Antonio’s phone buzzed, and he scooped it smoothly out of his pocket and looked at it with a grunt before replacing it. The rain had stopped.
“Okay, look, don’t worry about any of that shit. In fact, be sure to forget it,” said Antonio.
“Because here’s all you need to know. Drug deals go bad in two ways. The guy with the drugs takes the money but keeps the drugs. Or the guy with the money takes the drugs but keeps the money. So you watch the guy with the money, okay?”
Cody raised his eyebrows and stared at Antonio.
“Watch my agent. Take him to the mercado. If anything looks strange, if anything happens, call the number. That’s it. Simple.”
“Okay. And the five grand?”
“Free piece of advice. Get paid upfront. First rule of consulting.”
Antonio took an envelope out of his jacket and handed it to Cody.
“Don’t make me want to get it back from you,” said Antonio as he left.
Cody stood there for a while, cradling the envelope gently in his palms, judging its heft.
When he sat down with Marie that night to tell her, he felt as if the envelope was only halfway in his jacket pocket, like the money was spilling out on the mottled grey floor of the kitchen, and it took real effort on his part to not stare at the ground. Marie had on an old blue t-shirt she often wore, but it was only now that Cody read its faded white lettering spelling out American All-Star Special Founded 1926. Her silver hoop earrings twisted and bounced off strands of her red-brown hair. She stroked the edge of the table with her hand as she looked at him, her eyes not moving from his face.
This should be a good thing to tell your girlfriend, Cody told himself. He was giving her what she wanted, to move together to a real place, like San Antonio or Houston or Austin, somewhere the future was opening up not closing down. He wanted that too, but his insides clenched hard when he imagined quitting the bank and leaving for somewhere he didn’t know, only a little money saved to see them through, taking off with Marie, taking off for Marie, who he trusted like no other but still. He could tell she was willing to take the chance, needed to take the chance, even though she had only argued it a few times. “We can do it,” she would whisper sometimes at night, unleashing doubt that ricocheted through him, reshuffling his organs as it went, doubt that he again felt now.
He didn’t have to tell her, not the whole story anyway, but he had the sense that going that way would break a trail into bad country. No, what he knew she knew, that’s how it had been and that’s how it was going to be as hard as it might be.
“We can do it,” said Cody.
“Do what?” asked Marie, her voice rising, her hands still.
“Move. Like we talked about.”
“I got some money. Enough to live on until we find jobs there, keep us safe,” said Cody.
And then he told her about Antonio and the bank and the mercado. With his elbows braced on the table he was like a drunk retching, the words coming out fast in uneven bursts, but he kept at it until he had told her all of it.
Marie was quiet at first, as if she was waiting for him to recover.
Then she asked softly, “Are you sure about this?”
“It’s a way out.”
“But we don’t need money, that money, to get out.”
Cody felt a current along his spine and his ribs seemed to contract in on him. “I think we do,” he said.
“Okay, but do you even have to do it? Go through with it? You already have the money.”
“They’d come after me.”
“Who is ‘they’?”
“Does it matter? There’s always a ‘they’ isn’t there?”
She was silent.
“So let’s do this, let’s just go, go tomorrow after it’s done,” said Cody.
Marie didn’t say anything but instead put her arm on the table, palm up, and Cody took her hand and they sat there for some time as the buzzing of the cicadas took over the kitchen.
In the morning he was surprised by the ordinary nature of his routine. Showering, getting dressed, breakfast at Chila’s — none of those things knew that today was different and he could almost pretend it wasn’t. The red duffel bag from Antonio on the seat next to him, his larger packed bag on the floor below it, they could be ignored. He could focus on the morning glow rising above the hills, the cars and trucks making their way through town as on any other morning. But as he pulled into the bank’s parking lot he knew that he would look back at today as either a terrible mistake or the key to a better life, though right now it was neither, or both. Wasn’t that the point of some science experiment, something to do with a cat in a box? He sat in the truck for a minute as he struggled to remember that bit of high school, and smiled at the unpredictable odd things that got stuck in your head in big moments.
Standing at his spot in the bank his sense of time was altered, and he would not have been too surprised if his watch showed it to be earlier than the last time he had checked it. Then a truck pulled up abruptly in the lot. A man got out wearing a red shirt and a black hat, Antonio’s agent. He was old, in his 60s maybe, and anglo, which surprised Cody, who had pictured him as Mexican. But he could imagine Antonio saying something about how it was better to send white people to the bank. Antonio would have something clever to say about that.
Even though the agent was walking at a normal pace it seemed to take forever for him to make it to the bank’s front counter. But then in another instant Cody was going with him down the hall towards the safe deposit viewing room, the agent now holding the red duffel bag and shooting quick glances at him as they walked. Cody stayed outside the viewing room while the agent entered – privacy in that room was ironclad, and Antonio would just have to live with it.
The agent emerged from the room, full duffel bag in hand, its weight causing the man’s shoulder to slump down some as he looked straight at Cody, implicitly asking for instruction. Cody nodded his head to one side, where the windowless hallway ran the length of the building to the back exit. Together they walked down it and out into the bright sun of the parking lot.
Cody helped the man up into his truck, then stood for a second breathing, reminding himself that he wasn’t running from anything. Not yet anyway. It was only a ten minute drive to the mercado, where he would leave the man and then it would be done and he would get Marie and they would be off to start the rest of their life. He walked around his truck and got in. As he started the truck he saw that the man wasn’t sure what to do with his feet since Cody’s packed bag took up most of the space. The man finally placed his feet gingerly on top of Cody’s bag, leaving his knees at chest level and his arms folded over the red duffel in his lap like a child clutching a stuffed animal.
Cody steered his truck through the streets, his eyes in constant motion. Strange sights at the edges of his vision startled him, like a large snake coiled on the sidewalk or a dead body under a tree, but when he turned his head to get a better look it would be a trashcan lid on the ground or a dog sleeping in the shade. The man looked hard at the dashboard, and Cody darted a glance there as well and was surprised to see that they were going less than twenty miles an hour. Cody swore quietly, then accelerated. The few people he saw all seemed to be staring at his truck, but he put that with the trashcan lid snakes and dead body dogs as crap his mind was doing to him and tried to ignore it. Their destination was just minutes outside town, and they were almost there.
The mercado was a large warren of open-air concrete stalls with dirt walkways in between, the product of some long-ago government-funded “cross-border cooperative commerce initiative” as the small plaque near the entrance put it. Neither vendors nor shoppers had materialized, so it was several square blocks of concrete with graffiti, debris, and puddles of dirty water in the shaded spots.
As they approached the mercado Cody saw the new truck the Russians had been driving parked to one side near the entrance. He slowed as he passed it, and for a second had the sensation that his truck had stopped and that the Russian’s truck was moving backwards. Leaned against the driver’s window of the truck was a head with a ragged red hole in place of a forehead, the face obscured by a veil of thick blood.
Cody swore loudly, yanking the steering wheel and sliding his truck to a stop across the road. The man leaned down tight over the bag, moving his lips quickly but with no sound.
“Get out,” said Cody.
“Fuck you,” said the man, the first words he’d said to Cody.
Cody grabbed the man’s shoulder, then realized he couldn’t shove him through the closed door. But he sure wasn’t just going to sit there in the road. Cody jumped out, an electric current of pain running through his hip when he landed. He stumbled, then steadied himself against the truck, looking around. Nobody. Just the two big Russians in their truck, both shot dead, bullet holes in the windshield.
He rounded his truck and tried to open the passenger door. Locked, the asshole had locked it. He fumbled around in his pocket for the key, thinking that maybe this is how it was going to go to shit, taking too much time out here in the street. Then he got the key, got the door open. The man was laying on his side, holding on to the parking brake with one hand, the other still clutching the bag. Cody sighed and leaned into the truck.
“Look, I’m not leaving with you,” he said. “And even if I did, they’d come after you for the money. You want to leave, you do it on your own two feet. But that just means more people on your ass. Stick with it, try to do whatever you’re supposed to do, maybe it works out for you.”
The calmness of his voice was at odds with the clenching in his stomach.
The man looked up at him, still holding on to the parking brake.
“Maybe it was your guys that shot those two. You might not have anything to worry about here,” said Cody.
“Fuck you,” said the man.
Cody heard a siren in the distance and leaned out of the truck, looking back up the dirt road they had come down. Maybe a mile out were three vehicles barrelling toward them, SUVs of some kind, flashing lights on top, long antennas whipping in the wind like medieval standards.
“Cops. We got cops now,” said Cody.
Cody bent some at the knees and set his feet. He was about to grab the man when he heard the booming of gunfire as puffs of dust danced up in the dirt by his truck. It was loud, it was close, and he turned and sprinted as best he could into the mercado, catching a glimpse of a man with a gun behind a collapsed section of the exterior wall. Once inside the mercado he dodged to the right and leaned against the concrete wall, looking around to get his bearings. It had been years since he had been in here.
Then he remembered his gun, and grunted in amusement. That would’ve been something, getting shot up and not doing anything about it because you straight forgot you had a gun. He drew it, but the weapon felt strange in his hand, heavier and rougher than usual. He adjusted his grip on it, but the gun felt odd, as if the possibility that it was about to change lives had altered the metal itself. A gun is not always the same thing, he thought.
A sound snapped his head to the left. Antonio’s agent came through the entrance, no longer wearing his black hat but holding the duffel bag to his chest with both arms. He stared at Cody, who looked back at him.
“Fuck you,” said the man. Then the man half-ran, half-shuffled down the walkway, cut into another corridor and disappeared from view.
Cody’s heart started to slow some, and he was again conscious of his breathing. Next move was to get back to the truck and get out of here, just get past the cops somehow and he’d be fine. As he turned to leave another burst of gunfire sent him scrambling into a stall for cover. He couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from, but this time it was several guns from different directions and they kept going, punctuated by a scream. So they weren’t shooting at him, exactly, but he was still too exposed where he was. He ran deeper into the mercado, a few more bursts of gunfire accompanying him, and he was surprised that he didn’t have more of a reaction to being in the middle of gunfire. One stall had a collapsed canvas awning that formed something like a tent and he dove awkwardly under that, then lay flat on the cool dirt and stared ahead, his eyes adjusting to the dim light, his chest still heaving.
As he lay there he heard the splash of feet running through puddles. Then another round of explosions and yelling, the even louder thunk-thunk-thunk of bigger guns. That’d be the cops, he guessed.
It was quiet again, then a barely audible splash nearby. Silence and then another little splash, silence and splash, again and then again. After each little splash the silence would stretch out and he would start to think that maybe that had been the last one, but just as the thought formed he would hear another. Then finally he saw a pair of legs at the edge of his view from under the canvas, a pair of legs moving deliberately down the walkway, soft splashes with each step, turning now and then, rotating, scanning the area. Grey pants and dress shoes, so probably the third Russian, the small one.
A loud popping sound and the man fell, his head turning towards Cody. A gaping hole in his forehead vomited out blood and his eyes fixed on Cody with a sightless stare. Cody stared back as the heaves of Russian blood gradually slowed to a spittle, and he tried to process all of what had happened, going back in his mind to the diner, but all that came to him was that he was here and he had somehow chosen that. He was here and he was looking at the dead Russian and he was stuck on that. More gunfire, running and yelling, and then an angry buzz next to him – his phone, it was Duncan.
“Where are you? You okay?” asked Duncan.
The sound of his brother’s voice got Cody’s thoughts moving forward again.
“It’s crazy. I’m at the mercado, the deal got fucked up. Cops. Bunch of shooting,” hissed Cody, trying to keep his voice low.
“I know, I’m sorry. The cops … I had no choice.”
“I had no choice, man. I got busted, DEA, and this is how I work it off instead of fucking prison. But you walk, brother, that was part of the deal.”
There were more sirens now, and louder, joined by the chop-chop of an approaching helicopter. Cody half stood and pressed himself against the wall, as if to steady himself as the world pivoted under him, then he edged deeper into the space underneath the fallen awning.
“Cody? You still there?” asked Duncan.
“Yeah. Well, I suppose that explains it. But you know you need to get out, right? We’re both done here.”
“Maybe, but where would I go? Maybe I just play my cards out here. I know people.”
“Go north. Way north, like Montana north. Go to Montana.”
“Montana? What the fuck am I gonna do there? I bet there ain’t even Mexicans in Montana. What the hell kind of place you trying to send me to that even a Mexican wants no part of?”
“They got ranches up there. Just head that way, we’ll all meet up somewhere. But go. Now.”
Then he hung up, not wanting to chance what more he might say to Duncan. He slid down to the ground, suddenly exhausted and again feeling the comforting coolness of the dirt. The sirens had stopped, as had the noise of the helicopter, replaced by shouts, now more shooting, yelling. From where he lay the cacophony sounded like the noises from a neighbor’s television, maybe the final minutes of an action movie. But the dead Russian was still staring at him, accusing him almost, reminding him that this was real real real.
It had to be over now. He hadn’t heard any shouting or shooting for at least ten minutes. Plenty of sounds of people moving, squawking of radios, but there was a certain calm to it all. He was tired and he curled up deeper in the semi-darkness under the folds of canvas, wishing he could give in to sleep and wake to the world as it had been before. But he knew he couldn’t just sit there, knew that he had to do something, even though he couldn’t shake the feeling that everything had already been decided and not in his favor.
Then he saw more legs and feet, blue jeans and running shoes.
“Hey, got another body over here,” said one.
“What are we up to now?” asked another.
“I think this asshole is number five.”
“Hey there number five, how does it feel to be fucking dead? Sucks, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you fuck with the DEA.”
The men laughed. Their legs and feet blocked Cody’s view of the Russian, and he was relieved by that.
“Hey, keep the dog away from the body.”
“Why do we even have a dog? There’s nothing to search.”
“Protocol. It’s in the manual. Gotta have one along on any type three operation.”
“Okay, well, don’t let him eat any of the dead guys, alright?”
The men laughed again, and Cody saw the legs and belly of a dog, looked to be a German shepard. They had a German shepard named Dolly when he was a kid, all of them kids really, he thought, his parents then not much older than he was now. Dolly knew a few tricks, and the best one was to tell her to pray, and she would bow down in front of him, lower her head, and stay stock still until he said amen, and then she would spring up happily and run around him in circles, and he would laugh with delight every time.
Legs reshuffled themselves in Cody’s field of view, the dog moving closer to the edge of the canvas as a lone siren began to wail in the distance. The dog’s head dropped down and turned, and their eyes locked. The dog froze and Cody stopped breathing. They stared at each other and Cody felt like he should tell it he was sorry, ask for forgiveness. Then the dog started barking. It was the loudest barking Cody had ever heard, the loudest noise he had ever heard, consuming the siren and all other sounds until it was echoing inside him, drowning out his vision until there were no men, no mercado, no Russians, just the booming sound louder and louder fracturing everything.
David DeGusta asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.