You can read all previous parts of No Mercy for Dogs here.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I didn’t sense the trap. I did. Neither is it the case that I thought that I was smarter than Papa Ramos, or immune to his persuasions. I wasn’t. My radar antennas might have been cranked up to full blast, but my engines were running at full steam. One of my deepest personal failings has always been that most of the normal content of life - the day-to-day occurrences that make up our comfortable existences - bore me terribly; that when I stumble through the gray marshes of life and finally get a glimpse of the sea, it seems disingenuous not to go ahead and toss myself over the cliff’s edge and dive into the deep. I never thought that I would live forever, nor can I imagine why anyone would want to. There is no sense in avoiding the truth: I followed the Hammer into that building because the curiosity was simply too powerful for me to resist. Still, it did not evade me that this scenario was deeply reminiscent of the beginning of a bad joke: a white guy walks into a drug den in Mexico and …
The first thing that struck me was the size of Papa Ramos’s repair shop. The northern apex of the property was perhaps 450 to 500 meters in length, and the aluminum shed covered at least half of this space. The remainder was made up of a junkyard sporting roughly forty derelict vehicles and space for several 18-wheelers to park. The entire facility was covered in solar panels, an array large enough to power the entire compound on most days. Inside, the entire space was made up of concrete and was kept in immaculate condition. Halogen lamps made up for a complete lack of windows and huge industrial fans kept the place relatively cool.
There were three separate repair bays for tractor-trailers and five more for vehicles of regular dimensions. One of these was occupied by a red Ford F-350 Dually truck, and it was to this that Ramos led me. The only auto-mechanical skill I possessed basically amounted to dialing AAA, so the carefully orchestrated activity of the six men working underneath this behemoth mostly mystified me. As we watched, the rear axle was removed and laid carefully on a workbench. Several of the men began to hover over it like surgeons working on an etherized patient, and the assiduity of their movements impressed me. Only one of the men seemed to feel it necessary to speak, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying because he really didn’t appear to be talking to anyone in particular. Occasionally, one of the other men would grunt or chuckle at something he muttered, but the joke was beyond me.
The speaker was the odd man out for several reasons, I noted. His clothes were neater than the others’, consisting of pressed khakis and a short sleeve Polo shirt; whereas everyone else was covered in grease stains, he kept himself extremely clean. He had a pencil-thin mustache instead of a goatee, which made him look like a sort of low-rent, Mexican Mephistopheles. Everyone else was more of a type: thickset men in their 40s or 50s, who had the look of laborers or farmers. Several of them wore clothes that looked like they existed mostly to feed the moths. The truth is they looked like the brutish missing links between animals and real human beings, like not even alcohol could find their brains. In Mexico, they have a saying for this sort of person, that he is “not quite 11 pesos to the dollar.” Still, very few of my experiences in la Republica had thus far behaved according to my expectations, so rather than attempting to classify anyone, I merely sat back and observed.
The apparent purpose of all of this activity was to dissect completely the rear axle. Two men labored over the differential, while the rest wheeled over easy chairs and a metal card table. A large white cooler was pulled over, and Carta Blancas were handed out. Mr. Ramos himself pulled one out for me, but I nodded at the clear bottle in his hand, which appeared to be some sort of carbonated water.
“Can I have one of those instead?”
“Por supuesto. You no dreenk the beer?”
“Oh…sometimes, yes. It’s too hot for alcohol right now.”
He looked at me curiously as he handed me a bottle and I noted that several of the others did so as well. In all of my time south of the border, I never saw alcohol touch Don Gelo’s lips, and I think that everyone had gotten accustomed to him being the only teetotaler in the group. That, or maybe after working for the Hammer for a generation everyone knew how to identify a control freak when they saw one.
This crowd all spoke English, so introductions were made in that language. Though he had told his own family that I was his long-lost son, to his soldiers I was “Rudy, for the time being.”
“Bueno, For-the-time-being-Rudy, I am el Lobo,” said an older man with thinning hair, who nodded to me in a curiously formal manner. El Lobo, I was to learn, was the Hammer’s second-in-command, a man of elephantine memory and a kindly disposition.
“These two gentlemen working at the table are Chuy and Abelardo, brothers. Abelardo is also brother-in-law to Don Gelo, having married his third sister. Chuy too is married into the family, having taken Magda as his wife, who is a cousin to Esperanza’s sister. Edlemiru here,” he said, pointing to a man reclining in a chair, whose hat had been pulled low over his eyes, “is cousin to me, and also married to the sister of Don Gelo’s cousin Jorge, who owns the deposito. We also call him el Cachetes, or “puffed cheeks” for obvious reasons. I am myself married to one of Jorge’s kin, his daughter Berta.” Turning to this right, he nodded at the skinny man with the mustache. “This dapper fellow is called El Topo, but you can also call him David.” At this, I looked down at the bottle in my hand, which carried the label of “Topo Chico.”
“What is a ‘topo’, by the way? I don’t know that word,” I asked, turning to the Hammer.
“Ah, ees a…a mole, yes. A mole. Ees a long storee.”
I took the hint, and turned back to el Lobo, which I knew to mean “the Wolf.”
“And this,” he nodded to a fat man reclining in a chair, who sported an immense scar from his cheek up past his left ear, “This is el Mochaorejas. He is…um…eh…un ex-Kaibiles.” At this he seemed to stumble, not sure of the translation.
My mind flipped through my mental dictionary. “Doesn’t that mean ‘oyster,’ or something?”
Papa Ramos cut in. “No. And that ees a mooch longer storee.”
El Lobo recovered. “Ah, yes, He first married the daughter of Gelo’s uncle Manuel, who was cousin to Gelo, but she died many years ago.” At this, several of the men crossed themselves, a gesture that seemed a rather absurd violation of context. “He remarried Gelo’s sister Miriam when her own husband passed.”
I was already having a difficult time following all of this, but this last convoluted twisting of the family tree made me laugh.
“So, this Mochaorejas is his sister-in-law’s sister-in-law’s husband? Wouldn’t that make any children they had would be their own first cousins?”
The group pondered this for a moment, before the Wolf smiled broadly. “I honestly do not know. Something like that. I think. We are very close, you see, this family.”
“I see,” I said, turning to the Hammer. Because I really did see what he had done. His family by blood he mostly put into legitimate business, but his family by choice - these men – he married into the line. If caught by the law, no one could say anything about anyone without sinking their own kin, their entire family structure of support. By the tiny hint of a smile on his lips. I knew that Papa Ramos had witnessed the dawning of my understanding. I raised my bottle to him in a toast.
David, the as-yet-unexplained-Mole, chipped in. “What part of America are you from?” His English was totally lacking in accent, the type of speech you only get from living in the mother country.
My mind flashed to the ID given to me by Chespy: “I’m from Florida.”
“Ah, Florida, yes. I know it well. Did you know that there are more plastic flamingos in Florida than real ones? And that the Bible is the most shoplifted book in the state? And also…”
Several of the group groaned, and I looked at the Wolf for an explanation.
“David here, he read too much. All day long, he speak of the trivia. Almost enough to go to el Mochaorejas.” At this, everyone but David laughed.
Don Gelo explained.“‘El Mochaorejas’ means the ear-chopper.”
“Ah…” I paused. “That must be one hell of a story, then.”
He was about to respond but his cell phone chirped in his pocket. Everyone watched him as he listened; he never said a single word. Merely stood there, head bent slightly. Upon flicking his phone closed, he simply nodded. El Lobo walked briskly to the door, and emitted an ear-splitting whistle. Within sixty seconds, a small crowd of eight to ten children had arrived at the door, panting. The Wolf spoke to them quietly for a moment, before they began running off in opposing directions. The brothers Chuy and Abelardo walked to a large workbench set in the corner, and opened up the shelves. After moving some things around inside, I heard what sounded like another shelf opening. From this they produced two all-black AK-47s, known in Mexico as “cuernos de chivo.” or “goat horns” for the look of the curved bandoliers that hung down ominously below them. If the tension in the air hadn’t been enough, the sight of all of the hardware clearly told me that playtime was over.
The brothers took up positions by the main doors on the east end of the shed, while Edelmiru began to assemble a police band radio by the card table. The rest of us just sat there, watching the Hammer stare off into the middle distance. No one said anything, though every few minutes Gelo would receive a text, the bluish light of his phone’s screen casting an oracular blue light on his eyes. Immediately after one of these came in, he called out to the brothers, who began to slide the huge bay doors open. Forty seconds later, a mid-70s gray two-door Chevy Nova cruised through them. The deep, throaty rumble of the car’s engine was a clear indication that this vehicle was not factory issue.
The driver himself was pretty good, throwing the car into a spin and backing up quickly into a space mere inches from the workbench where the rear portions of the truck were set out. Everyone promptly flew into action. The passenger side chair of the Nova was detached and set to one side. A metal lid was lifted out of this space, which was followed by four roughly brick-sized packages. These were wrapped in a gray matte packaging, and free from design or marking save for what looked like the face of a laughing circus clown, laid out in crimson ink. The Hammer immediately handed an envelope to the driver, who slipped it into the small space under the seat, which was quickly replaced. After this happened, everyone paused and turned to watch Don Gelo again, who held his cell phone at his side, almost like a talisman against evil. After perhaps thirty seconds this beeped, and he read the screen. Afterwards he nodded again, and the driver climbed into his car and gunned the engine. All told, he had only been inside for perhaps four minutes. As the doors were once again opened for him, a huge man on a motorbike dashed inside. I knew by his sheer girth that this was the missing Smiley, who had driven me through the badlands into town.
At this point, I decided it would probably be better for everyone (read: me) if I stepped back a bit. I watched from a distance as the four packages were fitted into slots in the differential, and the entire axle expertly reconstructed. As this was happening, the Hammer and Smiley were deep in conversation, interrupting themselves only once to wave to the Mole, who left out of the side door. El Smiley looked in my direction several times, as if he was continually surprised to see me there. I had previously suspected that he had possessed the emotional range of a shovel, but I could see tension behind his stare, and began to wonder when the other shoe was going to drop: I was allowed to witness all of this for a reason, and I began to suspect that I knew what this reason was.
The Mole returned a few minutes later, driving a late 80’s model Dodge truck, which had a long trailer attached to it. I couldn’t tell what was under the tarp, which was stretched from end to end, but it looked to be loaded with something irregular and massive, like construction material. This trailer was detached from the Dodge, and Edelmiru climbed into the cab, moving it to the front of the shed. The Mole stood to one side, where he began thumbing through some paperwork held inside a black satchel. It dawned on me at that point that his more expensive attire was not a sartorial affectation, but rather camouflage.
Less than fifteen minutes later, the Ford had been re-assembled. Before lowering it to the ground, a huge barrel of some sort of grease was wheeled out and a thick layer of this material was slathered over the axle. The hydraulic lifts made a sighing sound as they lowered and it seemed almost as if I could hear this sentiment echoed by everyone in the room. The Mole carried his Satchel to the truck, and before climbing into the driver’s seat was handed a glass of water and two small pills. These he swallowed quickly. Five minutes later, he was pulling out of the garage, led by Edelmiru and followed by Smiley on his motorbike. Mr. Ramos did not speak for several minutes, until he received another series of texts. This final message must have pleased him, because he smiled broadly. Everyone instantly relaxed.
“Come, come. dreenk. We are alone.” This seemed a curious comment to make in a shed with six people present, but I quickly realized he meant that no other parties were present.
Talk quickly turned to the news that Smiley had brought, that a group of Central American immigrants had been apprehended at the military checkpoint just outside of town, on the highway to Ciudad Mier. The leader of the group had tried to escape, and had been gunned down.
“One less coyote to lead the pollos,” remarked the Wolf.
“A coyote is a guide, right?”
“Si, a human trafficker. The pollos, or chickens, are the immigrants. They are so called because they follow the coyotes like baby chickens after a hen.”
“And the coyote got shot? Right there in the street?
“Si, Ningun misericordia para los perros.” This phrase was repeated by each man, sort of like a mantra.
“What is that? ‘No mercy for dogs?’”
Mr Ramos turned to me. “Ees a saying; eet means sometheeng like ‘you geet no do-overs in thees life.’ Like, there ees no pity or mercy im nature, and none een the real world either.”
“So we are all dogs then?”
“Si. Somos todos los perros.”
“Let me see if I have all of this straight,” I sighed. “We have a wolf, a mole, and an oyster that is not an oyster. Coyotes are smugglers and pollos are immigrants. Dogs are pretty much everybody. Is that the whole menagerie, or am I missing something?”
The Wolf smiled, and it was obvious that the process of de-stressing had left him somewhat manic. “Si, si: first, you have the aguilas, the eagles. They watch the desert for us of the old ways, and keep track of who is doing what. In the cities, you have los halcones, the hawks. They work for the cartels, and are usually children who watch all the streets in important neighborhoods.”
The ear-chopper grunted, speaking for the first time: “Los Cobras.” He settled back into his chair, as if this singular effort at vocalization had drained him.
“Ah, yes. ‘Cobras’ are weapons traffickers. You also have the `Leopardos,” which are prostitutes that extract information from government officials.”
“You people have nicknames for everything.”
“Si, I suppose we like animals very much.”
I waited for a moment, letting the silence draw out a bit.
“So, what is Chespy?”
I had expected my comment to be the verbal equivalent of tossing caltrops into the conversation, and was pleased by the way most everyone looked off to the side or cleared their throats. No one said anything for a few minutes.
“Un tiburon,” remarked Chuy finally, who immediately seemed surprised that he had spoken.
I thought about that for a few seconds. “That doesn’t seem so bad. Sharks have no memory.”
“Si,” answered Papa Ramos, “but the downside ees you can’t stop sweeming or you die. Mira, Rudy, you have to understand, he no es weeth us.”
“Who is he with then?”
“That is another long storee. He had to see me thees day, and was…concerned about you being here. He wanted to see you heemself.”
“You people like long never-discussed stories almost as much as you like animals.”
“Yes, long storee for people with long memory. And I theenk eet ees now time to take you back to you ranch.”
I took a moment to shake hands with everyone, before following Mr. Ramos outside.
“What was in the trailer?”
“Hand-carved furniture from Michoacan. Very nice, made of mango wood. Sell for veery good price. Res very popular weeth you gringos.”
“And the customs people spend all of their time on the trailer as an additional happy coincidence.”
“And this works?”
“Eet has worked for more than twenty year.”
“Jesus. And the grease?”
“Ees for the dogs. They no can smell through the grease. You no see it, but there ees material we put eenside the axle that deflect the laser scanner tambien.”
“What about the pills you gave the Mole?”
“Son beta-blockers. Keep you from having the sweaty hands or fast breething.”
“Edelmiru was running point? And you have the kids out watching the neighborhood, too? Who do you sell the furniture to?”
By this point, we had passed by the main house and were approaching Don Gelo’s truck. He turned to look at me.
“Yes, yes, all thees is true. And we sell the furniture to companies we set up een America. Ees completely legitimate.”
“Who sets up the companies?”
“People. We call them Los Manosos, the Cunning Ones. And you start to tire me weeth you questions.”
“Bullshit. You bring me down here, show me all of this, how you do all of this…how often do you do this stuff, by the way?”
“Oh…once a week, more or less.”
“So you send four kilos of something dangerous enough to need AK-47s to protect each week, and you show me how you do it, and you expect me to think you don’t have designs on me? I’ve seen how you set your family up. Which cousin or niece or whatever am I supposed to marry? And I’m betting these ‘Cunning Ones’ are all American, right? They look like boy scouts, clean cut and everything.” My eyes narrowed, “Exactly like me. Don’t fucking play games with me, Hammer. I have behaved like an idiot, but I am not stupid.”
He stared at me for a long minute, before saying: “For you, marriage no ees the goal. For now, you are to watch. Thees ees all. You watch, and you theenk. I weel tell you when you need to do sometheeng.”
“And if I don’t follow orders?”
“I do not know. Thees has no ever happeened before.” He raised his eyelids at me, and flashed his teeth, before sliding into the driver’s seat.
I climbed in after him, being profoundly deficient in other options. I tried to take comfort in the fact that at least in one battle, I was still beating the Hammer: in the war of information, I knew far more about him than he knew about me. After all, I was only Rudy-for-the-time-being. Tomorrow, I could be anyone, including someone that had never heard of Rogelio Rodoflo Ramos, Sr. Or so I hoped.
To Be Continued…
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