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Suspense/Thriller

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MEXIZONA


Chapter One


     Arlen Foster went out shooting in the Arizona desert often, but had never before hunted humans. If he could only convince Tim, the two seventeen-year-olds might go tonight.

     Inside his second floor bedroom of the family’s Tucson home, Arlen caressed his Remington 700. He nudged back the curtain and slid the window open a crack, poking the rifle barrel outside. He aimed at a Mexican pruning the neighbor’s blood red roses and said, “Bang.”

     For years now, Mexicans had trampled Arlen’s grandpa’s Cross T Ranch. Broken water lines. Dropped greasy plastic tortilla bags that stuck in cows’ stomachs and killed them. Mexicans cost the ranch hundreds of thousands of dollars.

     Arlen hated everything about them; their music, their cars, their language. Mostly, he hated that they were everywhere, speaking Spanish. Always speaking Spanish. Sometimes he thought they talked trash about him. If he ever learned for sure, he’d make them pay.

     Stepping back, he closed the green curtain, darkening the room. He slid back the smooth steel bolt and placed the rifle on a newspaper for cleaning.

Wetness formed under his nose. Something about touching a gun affected his body, turning him into a snot factory. He wiped his nose with a Kleenex and let it drop to the floor. Their housekeeper, Rosa, could pick it up tomorrow.

     Three knocks rapped on his bedroom door. “Arlen? Arlen? You ready?”

     “Go away, Britt.”

     The door handle rattled. “Come on, Arlen. You promised Hannah you’d play soccer with us this afternoon.”

     Promising to help his older sister and cousin get on a pick-up team had seemed like it might be fun. Big for his age, he liked to throw his weight around at soccer games. And Hannah was a hottie. Didn’t matter that she was his cousin. If he ever got the chance, he’d tap that.

     Four harsh thumps. “Hurry up, Arlen.”

     “Go away. I’m not playing.”

     “You promised.”

     “I need a nap so I can go hunting tonight.”

     “Hunting? Chaaa. That’s lame.”

     “You’re lame.” A heavy dose of Britt’s fruity perfume seeped in from the hall. He wrinkled his nose. “Geez. You douche in perfume?”

     “You’re the douche-bag.”

     “Go away.” He slipped iPod buds into his ears and blocked out his whiny sister. Korn’s ‘Dead Bodies Everywhere’ blasted. One of these days he planned to do something special. Something the whole country would take notice of. Something that would make him a legend. He would become even more famous than his uncle, the Pima County Sheriff. He yearned for it. Turning up the volume, he sang along with Korn at the top of his lungs.

 

#

 

     Stepping off the sweltering bus, Diego gazed at the Mexican side of the Nogales border wall and for the first time believed he could die on this journey. Sullen gray, five meters high, solid steel and concrete. White wooden crosses blanketed the wall. Remembrance crosses. Burial crosses. Hundreds. A thousand. More. More than he could count.

     Behind him someone gasped. Hitching his backpack up, he turned.

     Maria’s thin face contorted. “Dead all. In desert.”

     The wall of crosses made him glad that he had paid for the forged documents. Even now, in late October, he’d been told that temperatures in the Arizona desert could boil. More than 40 degrees Celsius. Hot enough to scorch your hand if you touched a metal fence post. Dehydration would be an agonizing way to die. But the promise of a high paying job on the other side of this wall made it worth the risk. He’d do anything for the chance to work in the United States. He could make three, maybe even four dollars an hour there.

     His mother back in Nicaragua had contracted tuberculosis two months ago. She needed to start taking four drugs daily or she would die. Two hundred and forty-two U.S. dollars to start. Much more over the next six months. There were no jobs back home. No hope of jobs. No hope at all. Her only chance was for Diego to earn American wages.

     Diego Cruz and Maria Mendez Morales stared silently at the wall for several minutes.He knew someone who had died in this desert. Josseline. Only fourteen. The cousin of a boy on his fútbol team. Diego had only met Maria two days ago in Altar, but he guessed that she knew someone who had died in the Arizona desert too.

     The bus roared away. Thick black diesel fumes washed over them, fogging the wall that separated them from America. So close. So far.

     The oldest of five boys, Diego had been helping in the family kitchen from the age of four. At first just the washing and cleaning, but before long, cooking, too. Cooking came naturally to him. He could tell every ingredient in a dish with one taste. Soon he had discovered that if he crushed dried spices like oregano or basil in his hands before adding them to foods, the flavors intensified. He hoped to find work in a restaurant in New YorkCity. He’d scrub floors or wash dishes. Whatever it took to get a job. Then he’d get on the prep-line and they’d see his talent. Someday, he’d have his own restaurant – Casa Nicu. Everyone loved his cooking, especially his  Empanadas de Plátanos, little fried plantain dumplings filled with cheese. He added secret spices.

     Maria tugged on his arm. “Come. Go.” She pulled him toward a line of a couple hundred people waiting for a chance to walk into Arizona at the official Nogales pedestrian border crossing. Joining the back of the line, Diego and Maria stood in the blazing Sunday afternoon sun. Most of the people in line wore work clothes. Likely documented workers walking over to work in American factories. A few white people here and there. One black couple in shorts and sneakers. Tourists, he guessed.

     Gas fumes hung thick in the air. Maria trembled.

     He noticed fear in her eyes and touched her arm. “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” He took their forged passports out of his pocket and examined their portraits. Both thin with light skin, dark hair and brown eyes. They looked like brother and sister instead of man and wife. Donald Rizzo, 19. Mary Rizzo, 18. From someplace called Lincoln, Nebraska. The forger had added a year to both of their ages so the U.S. Border Patrol would more readily believe they were married. Matching bright red T-shirts with bold white letters that shouted – GO BIG RED – completed their disguises. Sweat formed under Diego’s arms. Clasping his shaky hands together he realized he should’ve asked the forger more questions. He didn’t know what a Big Red was.

     He peeked at passports held by the people nearby. Dark blue with gold lettering. He rose up on his tiptoes, straining to see the details. Light blue pages, a color photo on the left side, dark black lettering. His forgery looked like the real U.S. passport held by Paul Ander-something, the lanky white man in front of him. They’d be fine. He hoped. Paul glanced back, scowling.

     Diego dropped down from his tiptoes and lowered his head. A fat fly looped about his face. He swatted at it. Up ahead, beyond the snaking line of pedestrians, two lanes of cars zoomed south from America into Mexico. Beyond that, five other lanes full of cars idled, waiting to be inspected before they could drive north across the border into America.

     A pair of men wearing pale blue uniforms, Mexican border guards, carried machine guns as they walked past, staring at the people in line.

     Diego forced himself to remain calm.

     Maria rubbed her tummy. “Quiero que mi bebé nazca en América. Pero no en la cárcel.”

     Baby? Diego cringed. He didn’t know anything about a baby.




Chapter Two


     On Sunday afternoons, the best pickup soccer games were at Rillito Regional Park less than a mile from Hannah Foster’s home in the Catalina Foothills on the north side of Tucson. But no girls ever got to play there. Hannah intended to change that today...