You can read all previous parts of No Mercy for Dogs here.
I finished the southern wall of cabin one two days after my first visit to Senora Castillo’s deposito. There was still a large hole needing to be filled with a window, but now the block went all of the way up to where the roofline would one day be, and I was pleased. As I took a break to appreciate my handiwork, I noticed that Blackie was standing up facing the city, and had his ears cocked at a curious angle. I couldn’t see or hear anything at first, but within a few seconds I began to detect a faint bass line approaching. Thinking that perhaps El Smiley might be returning to pick me up, I retrieved my knife from where I had secured it under my cot and slid it into my back pocket.
By the time I had returned to the front of the ranch, a discernible dust cloud had developed on the prairie, and within seconds a silver late model BMW 3-Series coupe slid to a stop in front of the gate. The windows were down, and I couldn’t see how the driver still had intact eardrums given the decibel level of the music pouring out of them. The car was parked at such an angle that the sun was reflecting off of the glass windshield, so I couldn’t tell how many passengers were inside. Whoever it was, they seemed content to merely watch me for a time. Having no other options, I returned the gaze.
After perhaps two minutes of this, the music clicked off, and a short man with a neat beard stepped out. He was wearing a suit of all things, an expensive double-vented three-button affair sans a tie. His boots were what drew your attention, some sort of pointy-toed cowboy affair, done up in electric blue ostrich skin. They were stupendous, the sort of thing a Mexican rock star might wear. He approached the gate at a comfortable pace, and vaulted the fence with such ease that I could tell this was a man very much aware of his physical abilities. His smile was broad, his teeth white. Still, there was something just slightly off about him, like seeing a very good counterfeit copy of the Mona Lisa; you couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, but you knew that something was out of place. As he approached, his eyes flicked over to the now completed wall of the cabin.
“The fuck you fixing this shithole up for? The old man tell you to do that? You know he’s gonna turn this into a whorehouse? Fucker thinks he’s still eighteen.”
I was expecting something else, anything else, in Spanish. It took me a moment to switch gears back into English mode. Even then, I wasn’t really sure how to respond. Finally I just sighed and shrugged. “It seemed like it needed to be done.”
“So, that’s you, then? Mr. Tough Guy, who can ‘get things done.” That your deal?”
Again, I didn’t really know how to take this character so I just stared at him.
“Yeah, yeah, easy, Tough Guy. I’m just messin’ with you. The name’s Chespy.” He paused. “And you are?”
I scratched my nose and looked off over his shoulder for a second. “Well, Chespy, to be honest with you, that seems to be something of an unsettled matter at present.”
“See, there you are wrong. Your name is Rogelio “Rudy” Ramos, Jr. Your mother was some American whore that your pops fucked back in Orlando in the early 70s, which is pretty much what he did to every broad in the state. You just discovered your dad was a Mexican, and had to fucking ‘figure yourself out’ or some such whiny Americano sensitive bullshit. Here’s your identity back.”
He slipped a manila folder from his back pocket with a royal flourish and tossed it to me. Inside was a Texas driver’s license and birth certificate, both with my photo attached to someone else’s name. I looked close, but couldn’t see any flaws. If these were forgeries, they were the best I’d ever seen. I would learn later that they were most certainly not fakes, but genuine documents.
“Those are temporaries. We will invent a new you in a few months, get you the whole deal: federal driver’s license, IFE card, military service card, passport, everything. We might get you a second set of Canadian papers just to play it safe.”
“You can do that?”
His faced changed - somehow. I cannot explain it. Maybe his facial muscles relaxed or tightened, or perhaps the muscle under his right eye twitched, or something. I can only say that something shifted, something nearly nameless and unspeakable but very much real, and the temperature level in the air around him dropped out of the basement. It was at this moment that I first realized that Blackie was nowhere to be seen.
“We can do anything.”
I swallowed and was suddenly very happy that I had my sunglasses on and that he couldn’t see my eyes. I flailed about for something to say.
His faced changed again - back to normal. “Ah, she’s fucking beautiful, isn’t she? I have to take her to Monterrey this weekend to sell her.”
“That’s a pity.”
“Yes, it is always rough when I see her drive off.”
Something about the way he said this sounded wrong, and I cycled it through a few times before responding. “You’ve sold it more than once?
He nodded. “Oh yes, this will be the seventeenth time.”
I closed my eyes for a moment. “I don’t suppose you ever remember to tell the potential buyers about the onboard GPS unit, then?”
He feigned ditziness. “You know, I always seem to forget to mention that little selling point. Or that I have a spare set of keys I’m not turning over. How careless of me. But hey, I always let them have at least one weekend with it.”
“You’re a saint, clearly.”
“Fuck yes, that is what I keep trying to tell everyone.”
Chespy stayed for about an hour. Blackie never returned. Later I would realize that he never allowed me to get close to him. It wasn’t obvious, he just always managed to shift around so that he had about twenty feet between us. I guessed that El Smiley had told him about my knife, and he was keeping enough space between us to be able to pull a pistol from his waistband if I got frisky. I eventually figured out why he had come to see me.
“Look, Chespy, let’s cut to the chase. You are here to read my jacket, and I’m fine with that. I’ve played along with you, answered your questions freely. Make your report, your decisions, do whatever you need to do. But this situation has got to change. If Ramos doesn’t want me here give me the papers we agreed to at the border and I’m gone. If not, you have to at least clue me in to the story, because I’m a risk to everyone when you keep me in the dark like this.”
He stared at me for a moment before nodding. “Fair enough. You will get your answer soon enough.”
With that he bid me a good day and departed. It would be more than a year before I came to fully understand just how much danger I had been in, that Chespy was not a car thief or a coyote or even a drug dealer, but rather a serial killer in the prime of his career for the cartels. When the military caught up with him in June of 2005 in Piedras Negras, he mowed down eight soldiers with some sort of automatic cannon he had propped up on his balcony’s railing. When commandos stormed his condo, he detonated enough Semtex to send a portion of his building’s roof into the swimming pool of a building two blocks away. It made all of the news programs in the nation for a few days.
The next day Papa Ramos, my new father apparently, graced me with his presence. I couldn’t read anything in his expression, and I was coming to understand he did not speak often. Instead of trying to engage him, I dove into the silence and lost myself in its stream for a bit, before he pulled me back up.
“I think eez time we take a ride.”
I nodded, suddenly extremely tired. I didn’t know what “take a ride meant,” but I was about done with trying to swallow down all of this fear. Wherever we were headed, it had to be better than here. I was officially throwing in the towel, if it came to that. I half expected him to point the truck further into the desert. Instead, we drove into town, to meet the rest of my new family.
To read more of Thomas’s writing, please visit Minutes Before Six.