You can read all previous parts of No Mercy for Dogs here.
There was a family dynamic at work here that was completely foreign to me. These people truly enjoyed each other. You could tell that they actually wanted to be here, together. There were no masks of polished but nonetheless feigned interest, no attempts to buy affection instead of attempting the real thing, no need to start elaborate stories whose sole purpose was to waste just enough time to reach the pre-planned and much awaited point on the clock where it would be seen as acceptable to leave. Most importantly, there was no contest here, no expectations, no snide judgments carefully gift wrapped in the guise of polite inquiry, designed to surgically flay your skin back and expose your heart to ruthless probing and ridicule. There was genuine love here. It made me feel small and external, an interloper who had stumbled in from the cold and would soon be asked to leave.
I must have lost myself in the fog of my musings, because when I came around I found myself sitting alone at the table. My place had been cleared, save for my cup. The sky was very clear, a remarkable cerulean free from the slightest taint of smog. Some children were playing soccer, trying to kick the ball past a very large, hulking man who protected a small space between two of the oak trees. After several failed attempts, the younger generation mutinied and began to attach themselves to the legs of the goalie. After six or seven of them had piled on, the adult feigned a loss of balance and gracefully and carefully fell into the grass. While the screaming pack held him down and shouted encouragements, a small girl with pigtails lined the ball up with excruciating care and scored the winning goal.
I looked away, somehow unable to view this scene any longer, I knew how it would all turn out, how the adult would pretend to be enraged at his defeat, and would make much of the strength and prowess of the young ones. In another life, I had been that guy. I don’t know how he got away from me. It all happened so slowly, the evolution too gradual to notice unless one took a step back. I did not think it possible to hate myself any more than I already did, but I kept seeming to find new ways to get there.
I noticed after a few moments that the Hammer was talking on a cell phone near the back entrance to his house. He eventually saw me watching him, and began walking towards me. By the time he had reached the pavilion, he had returned the cell phone to his pocket. I felt embarrassed by my mental departure, but didn’t know what to say. Seeing me watching him closely, he sat down opposite of me at the table. We both just existed there for a small eternity, neither looking at the other. I didn’t know why he had brought me here. It seemed reckless, but he wasn’t a rash man, so I knew he had a reason for all of this. I couldn’t see it and it infuriated me. He wanted something from me, and I knew this couldn’t be a good thing. His silence - a weapon that I had always presumed to be my own - now carved into me. It became so unbearable I felt like screaming just to shut it out.
Instead, I sighed deeply. “I don’t know what I am doing here. I’m feeling lost. Totally adrift.”
He merely looked at me for a time.
“You theenk ees deeferent for anyone else? Thees ees what it ees to leeve, to feel lost. All of life ees a game, a deestraction from thees feeling.” He paused, as if trying to find the right words in English. “Look, I do no know why you are here. Ees obvio que you have done sometheeng en el otro lado. I no care what thees ees. The laws of you country no me interesa. I leev there durante los setentas, when the soda was first become popular. I take eet from sellers in the Miami to Orlando and sometimes up to Cheecago.”
I thought it funny the way he said Cheeeecago, but didn’t feel this was the moment for laughter. “So, you were what, Scarface?”
“No, no… en realidad thees movie never get nothing right. It no was so messy. We were make so much money that at first there was enough para todas. I sometime make teen thousand dollar a day, and I was no beeg compare to others. Steel, eventually people I know do sometheen stupid and I have to do the ugly theengs. After enough of thees. I no can stay, or go back. Whatever you do, I have the worse cases waiting for me if I ever go back.”
He stopped for a moment, looking off at the children. I wondered if this was the end of the story, but eventually he roused himself and continued.
“Do I regret the keeling? Si. Few people enjoy thees. And I no am eegnorant of the people who abuse what I sell. The quality we send, ees too high for the crack, so eet mostly go to rich people. But I know sometime it do damage. If the people there een Miami play fair, I would no have done so much wrong. I come back here and start the familee, buy all thees,” he waved expansively with his hand. “Sometime in the night, I used to have, como se dice? The bad dream. Thees place, I buy it theenking I buy the clear conscience; teep the scale the other way. It no work like this. Steel, look around. You see the business there? Onlee one of theem make a profit. Si, they make a leetle money, enough to buy the clothes or maybe some food. But to leev? I pay for them to leev. I no have the time for bad dream, you see? My pain no feed they stomach. The electrician, hees name is Marcelo. He ees nephew to me. He make a small profit. Ees good man. Eef the uneeverse fair, he would have everyting. You see leetle Lucia?” He pointed to the girl with the pigtails who had scored the goal. She had left the other kids and was playing with a cat in the tall weeds by the barn. “Marcelo y Irma, they try for yeers to have keeds. Yeers y yeers. When notheeng come, I pay for the process for her. I no know how to say een English. Eet cost more than one hoondred thousand dollar. But theer is Lucia. She ees so smart, Rudy. She weel be doctor or lawyer, will change thees place. She is better than I weel ever be, but she no be at all wecthout me. You see? What I tell you ees things are difficult now for you. You need the time to have deestance from eet all. All thees hurt, you do it to yourself. Moraleety ees for the peeple weeth sometheeng to lose. Yes?”
“You are saying it is ‘always darkest before the dawn’? That’s your great advice and wisdom for me? I suddenly feel like I can conquer the world. Thanks.”
He actually smiled at my self-pity, which is a good thing because I had been way out of line with my comment.
“Yes. Rudy, he tell me you have the tongue. But no, what I say to you ees thees: demons, they no are defeeted, only confronted. And not knowing what you feel no ees the same as feeling notheeng.”
I shook my head, trying to shrug off the direct hit. How the hell had he gotten that close to the mark?
“What do you want from me, Gelo?”
“We talk about thees later. When you head back. For now, you come see how I confront my demons, yes?”
He stood, and I followed him northward. The trailer on this side of the property was immense, a huge metal building designed to swallow up tractor trailers for repair. There were none of these in view inside, but instead I saw a large red Ford F-350, dually pick-up truck which had been lifted up on an oversized industrial rack. The six men that I had seen at lunch were at work underneath this, scurrying about in an orgy of dissection. They reminded me of ants tearing apart a cricket; such was their focus. The Hammer slid the shed’s door closed behind us, and proceeded to give me my first lesson about how to smuggle kilos of illegal narcotics across the borderlands.
To Be Continued…
To read more of Thomas’s writing, please visit Minutes Before Six.