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Breaking the Line

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Who said fishing is relaxing - Editor

Breaking the Line

by Ken Lizzi

The line jerked quiveringly taut, the rod bowed, held in a graceful yet perilous arc.  The reel spun out forty pound test like a hypervelocity spider.

“Fish on!” I called.  And indeed it was: a dorado, a flash of rainbow green in the sun leaping and diving, shattering the glittering liquid diamond plate of the Pacific.

“Very good, Dylan, that is indeed a fish,” agreed Scott, mimicking the tone of an adult indulgently praising a small child.  “I realize that it is an accomplishment for you to recognize a fish, not having managed to bring one aboard the boat before.”  He chased his sarcasm with the remainder of his morning Bloody Maria – a peppery concoction of tequila and tomato juice poured into plastic cups by the mate of the Marlin III.  Mine rested, half-finished in the cup holder of the port fighting chair of the forty foot vessel.  “Try not to let this one get away from you.  No one is going to reel it in for you..”

“C'mon Scott, I get by with a little help from my friends,” I said, and then tuned him out as I always did, ignoring his good natured jibes, having little attention to spare as I battled what felt like three dozen pounds of thrashing muscle, an aquatic pit bull tussling at the end of a leash.  Time slipped away, and I lost all awareness of my surroundings: the boat bobbing a mile off the tip of the Baja  peninsula, the captain keeping the bow steady, the mate standing by with the gaff hook, Scott pouring another Bloody Maria, waiting for his rod to signal a bite, the dazzling morning sun growing ever hotter.

The gunshot snapped me out of my fugue state, and the fish, until that moment the center of my universe, was utterly forgotten.

“You need a vacation,” Scott had said a couple weeks prior to our fishing excursion.  I'd been forced to admit that he was right, yet not without a struggle.

“It's not a good time, Scott.”  I sipped my beer and shook my head.  “I don't think I can leave the office.  Spring is just around the corner; business is going to start coming hot and heavy.”

“All the more reason to go soon, before it gets hectic,” Scott said.

“Maybe.  But we had a break-in just last week.  Lost a computer and the petty cash.”  I wasn't giving up my martyrdom without a fight.

“And what do you think your staying around will accomplish? You won't even buy a gun for protection.”  Scott refilled our glasses from the pitcher.

“I'll leave that to the police.  I'm not going to get paranoid about it.  Besides what good will a gun do?  I don't intend to sleep in the office.”

“Insurance isn't paranoia, it's prudence.”  He shook his head resignedly then brightened.  “But, if you're not going to sleep in the office then there's really no point in you staying nearby, is there?  Come to Mexico with me.”

So I left my landscaping business in the admittedly competent hands of my staff and caught a flight south with Scott.

#

Cabo San Lucas.  Land of sun, cerveza, and souvenirs; cruise ships and tourists.  These, at least, were my blurry first impressions.  Bloody Marys on the plane were followed by a chummy shuttle van ride to our hotel.  The driver stopped not only at a half-dozen resorts and time shares en route to our lodgings, but also at two cervecerias.  So the warm blue sea, towering cruise ships, and tourists in t-shirts and flip-flops between airport and hotel check in proved more sketchy impressions than engraved memories.

We unpacked, then unwound, floating in the hotel's spacious swimming pool and swigging bottles of Mexican beer through wedges of lime thumbed down the necks.

A fellow hotel guest waded over and commenced casual small talk.  I was managing my buzz and glorying in the false sense of freedom that accompanies the first day of vacation.  I wasn't – to be clear here – paying much attention to the idle chitchat.  Thus, the question, “How long have you two been together?” took me a moment to process.

“What?  Together?”  I sounded confused for a reason  Then I focused through the alcoholic glow and sun glare and took in my questioner – fashionable hair cut, abdominal muscles designed by Michelangelo, twinkle of small gold hoops in each ear.  I looked past him and saw another cut from much the same well-sculpted mold give us a little wave.  Oh.  “We're not together.  I mean we're sharing a room, but that's because we're cheap.”

“Ah,” he said, then seemed to lose interest.

I pondered the incident as I paddled lazily over to Scott to share the anecdote.  Is there a certain age after which it is no longer appropriate for straight, single men to share a room on vacation?  Had I reached that age at 35?  What did those two see in Scott and me that suggested we might share their proclivities?  Scott took care of himself, but was certainly not in danger of being mistaken for a model.  I'm still reasonably well built; three years playing middle linebacker in college left me with a pretty solid foundation, though a surreptitious glance at my mid-section confirmed that I was beginning to run to fat.  I'm still a relatively big guy at six foot three and two hundred and thirty pounds, same as my playing weight, but the constituents and distribution of that weight aren't exactly what they used to be.

I relayed the encounter while replacing my empty cerveza at the swim-up bar.  Scott seemed amused.  He rolled a lazy glance over his shoulder at the two men.  “I suppose what really hurts is that they think I'd settle for you.”  He laughed, then added, “You know this means that now we have to do something decidedly manly.  Let's book a fishing trip for tomorrow morning.”

#

I couldn't say what happened to the dorado.  I don't know whether I let the rod slip from my grasp, or if I jerked back in shock, snapping the line, or what.  I do know that beyond us, out to sea, a sleek thirty foot cigarette boat served as the stage to a murderous drama.

The players were too far away from me to see clearly.  There were three: one holding a large handgun (it had to be a pretty hefty chunk of metal for me to make it out at this distance,) and one heaving a third (presumably dead) overboard.

Unlike most stage productions, this one would not prove consequence-free for the spectators.  I could not clearly hear our boat's captain, nor understand his rapid fire Spanish (perhaps 'rapid fire' is an unfortunate choice of words) but I did catch the word 'chingada.'

There followed a moment of stillness, or so it seems in my memory, though I know intellectually that the boat's diesel was churning its usual throaty bass, sea birds were protesting the gunshot, and wavelets continued to slap against our hull.  But in the theater of my memory the world was expectantly silent as the four of us on our vessel waited to see if the remaining two on the other would turn to look our way.  Foolishness, I suppose now.  We were between them and the shore and not more than a couple hundred yards separated us.  How minuscule was the chance that they wouldn't glance our way?  They hadn't noticed us to this point, so there must be some hope.  Maybe....

Of course there was no hope.  The one who'd tossed the corpse over the side turned to hop into the seat behind the wheel of the big speed boat and saw us, as evidenced by his pointing arm and the responsive about face of the man with the pistol.

“A la madre!” swore the mate, and I heartily agreed with the sentiment, even though I didn't understand what exactly he was saying.  The captain also seemed to concur – he rammed forward the throttle and turned us, yawing precariously, towards shore.

I clambered out of the fighting chair and stumbled towards the ladder leading up to the tiny bridge, the motion of the craft threatening to throw me off my feet at each step.

“What?  Who was that?  Que paso?” I hollered, holding fast halfway up the ladder.

He spared a glance down over his shoulder.  “Raymon, un narco.  Very bad man.  He catch us, nos mataron.”

“Then don't let him catch us,” I said, though a quick look behind us showed the more powerful boat closing the distance with ominous rapidity.

“Don't matter.  He see name on boat.  He find me.”  The captain managed the neat trick of sounding simultaneously resigned and panicked.

The Marlin III's mate was apparently only panicked.  He elected to hazard the swim to shore – a half mile at a rough guess, leaping into our wake, perhaps in hope of going unnoticed or dismissed as of less consequence than the rest of us.

Whatever his reasoning, it was soon proved wrong.

The speedboat cut power, angling away from the Marlin III, pulling up broadside to the wildly swimming fisherman.  Rocking in its own wake, the pitching length of the cigarette boat proved an unstable platform for marksmanship.  Three loud reports boomed from the large caliber handgun before the boat resumed its pursuit.

That delay was lifesaving for us – temporarily at least.  The captain ran straight on, full power, heading directly for the short, steep beach fronting this section of the southern tip of the cape, behind which rose the white and pastel hued timeshares overlooking the Pacific.

“Slow down!” yelled Scott, but the captain paid him no heed.

We hit hard, the bow crumpling as it impacted the hard packed sand of the abruptly ascending beach.  The shallow draft keel climbed the berm, reared up, then slammed back down.  We three were hurled about like the agitator in a can of spray paint.

The captain – essentially, and appropriately enough – went down with the ship.  His chest collided with the steering wheel, his head snapped forward, struck the railing that ran three-quarters of the way around the flying bridge, and his body – dead or unconscious – fell limply aft, rebounding off the engine cover to splash into the surf.

I indulged in a wholly deserved moment of brain locked immobility, staring behind us: at the breakers rolling over the body of the Marlin III's captain, at the oncoming speedboat, at Scott dabbing at a gash on his forehead incurred I don't know when.  What I was looking for I couldn't say: the Mexican coast guard?  The captain to emerge from the surf with a machine gun like Chuck Norris?  The speedboat to pull a u-turn and head back out to sea?  I don't know.

Scott's harsh, “C'mon, damn it, let's go, Dylan,” snapped me out of my impotent vapor lock.  The coast guard wasn't coming, the captain wasn't moving (except as rolled about by the surf), and the cigarette boat wasn't turning around.  Any help I got now I'd have to supply.  And there wasn't much time.  The speedboat was already nearing within pistol shot.

I put my feet on either side of the ladder's hand rails and slid down to the deck.  Scott leapt over the port side and I leapt over the starboard.  We met at the bow and began sprinting up the beach towards the nearest hotel.

“Of course it couldn't be our hotel,” I said between huffs.

“Focus on - “ began Scott before a geyser of sand erupted between us, followed immediately by the rolling report of a gunshot.

I perversely felt a brief surge of pride that my legs actually had a reserve of additional speed.

We reached a fringe of low vegetation, then the concrete decking that framed a curving, internal organ shaped pool.  I hazarded a brief glance over my shoulder, then slowed to a trot.  The pursuit appeared, at least temporarily, abated.  The gunman had turned back and was now clambering aboard the wreck of the Marlin III.

“He's stopped,” I said.

“Good,” Scott called back.  “Let's not.”

We jogged through the resort, up the slope stacked with staggered hotel blocks, over the crest surmounted with the lobby, front desk, and restaurant complex, and down the other side of the ridge, not pausing at the guard shack with its bemused, uniformed sentry.

Across the street, about a couple of dozen yards eastwards near the marina entrance, waited a line of cabs.

“C'mon,: Scott said, “let's get back to the hotel.”

I followed, climbing into the taxi beside him, though with a nagging reluctance; something bothered me.

I tugged free my wallet as we rode, automatically counting out my share of the cab fare.  'What now?” I asked.

“We get our bags, check out, and get the first plane out of Dodge,” he replied.

“Should we go to the police,” I asked.

He just looked at me and shook his head, too exhausted to even work up a decent disgusted expression.

Something still ate at the back of my mind.  What was the gunman looking for in the Marlin III?

“Maybe we should just go straight to the airport,” I said.

“This'll just take a couple of minutes,” Scott said.  “These guys don't know where we're staying, anyways.”

“I don't know.  Maybe they do.  Our reservation for the fishing charter had our hotel listed on it  And the shooter got aboard the boat.”

Scott thought for a moment, then shook his head.  “That's a long shot.  Besides, we're almost there.  No way could they get here before we're packed and gone.”

“Scott,” I said after a moment, “I'm not risking my life over a couple pair of khakis and a toothbrush.”  I held a small sheaf of bills over the front seat and said to the driver, “Por favor, halta aqui.”

The taxi slowed to a stop, about a hundred yards short of the drive leading up to our hotel complex.  I could see Scott wrestling with himself internally, but pride won out over caution.  “Meet you at the airport.  Loser buys.”

I got out, slammed shut the door and watched the taxi pull away.  I also saw a beat up sedan, a rusting Detroit box from the eighties with no tail lights or plates, emerge from a side street.  There was something odd about the driver and passenger – their heads were completely black and featureless, as if they were wearing ski masks or balaclavas.  In this heat.  And then the beater pulled alongside the taxi in the oncoming lane.  The passenger leaned out the window, pointed a stubby sub-machine gun at the cab and opened up.  The chattering of subsonic pistol rounds was joined by the sounds of shattering glass, squealing tires, and screams, and then only crunching metal as the taxi – perforated  like a giant, mobile colander, slammed to a final stop against a pillar flanking the hotel driveway.

I stood, once again in stunned immobility as the Chrysler assault platform sped away with squeal of bald tires.

Scott.  -  Shit!  -  Did they see me?  -  No, I don't think they saw me.  -  They have a rear view mirror, dumb-ass.

I dove behind a decorative hedge, somewhat belatedly in retrospect, and continued my jumbled torrent of near panicked thought.  Damn it Scott, listen to me for once.  I told you not to come back here.  -  How did they get here so fast?  -  Cell phones, of course, don't be so stupid.  -  The shooter on the boat found our lodging info o the reservation slip the captain had on board.  The shooter called in a hit.  -  Who knows how many thugs this guy has working for him.  -  Could I risk the hotel now?  -  No.  They know there were two of you.  Could be someone staking out the room now.  -  I need to get the airport.

My thoughts tumbled one over the other like a load of socks in the dryer; it was a chaotic process, but it worked.  I realized I couldn't take a taxi.  They'd be watched, and word of this killing would soon spread over dispatch radios.  I couldn't go to the cops.  Scott had known that without a second of reflection.  Forget corruption: I couldn't be stuck down here as a witness for the indefinite future.  And what were my odds of survival in protective custody against an outfit this efficient and brutal?

I started walking north through the city.  Of course I couldn't hoof it to the airport: it was a half hour cab ride, it would be hours – a day maybe – on foot, the sun was really cranking up its oppressive furnace and I had no water.  I needed to catch a ride, that much was apparent.  But in the meantime I might as well narrow the distance and I didn't know what else to do.

I actually did pretty well, I think.  I stuck to back streets as much as possible and got a few miles behind me before emerging on the highway north of Cabo San Lucas proper and crossing over to the seaward side.  And here I felt rather exposed.  I was on a pretty empty stretch of road where the businesses petered out to be replaced by golf courses and resorts between Cabo San Lucas and Cabo San Jose.  Nearby was a bus stop next to a dry culvert running beneath the highway.  A taco truck and an auto mechanic's garage stood a hundred yards or so farther north.  That was about it, other than the traffic – cars whizzing by north or south, any one of which could reveal a masked assassin.

Should I hide in the culvert, wait for the bus?

Then the unmistakable syncopated swim-fin-on-a-kettledrum sound announced the arrival of a car with a flat tire.  I turned to watch a recent model Honda roll to a stop close to me.  A dark haired senorita in a maroon blazer and ruffled blouse was pounding on the steering wheel, frustration etched in her even featured, cafė-latte hued face.  The front two tires looked unscathed.  A closer inspection showed the right rear of the two-door sagging slightly.

Now I am not a full time Good Samaritan.  I don't feel the call to volunteer for a half a dozen charitable organizations.  I seldom even recycle.  But I do help out from time-to-time when the occasion presents itself.  Here was such an occasion and I'd normally lend a hand simply out of what little kindness lies in my heart.  Still, what led me to offer my assistance now wasn't altruism.  People were trying to kill me and if I didn't need a ride to the airport I'd be hiding in the culvert right now, allowing some other kindly soul to assist the damsel in distress.  Hell, an auto shop wasn't more than a couple football fields away.

I approached the passenger window and waited for her to take in the hulking, sweat-damp gringo.  I let her make up her mind that I wasn't a dangerous lunatic.  “Necesitas ayuda?” I asked when she lowered the window.

“Tire is flat,” she answered in barely accented English.  “I have a spare, but I don't think I have a, what you call, a lift?”

“A jack.  No matter, I think I can help if you don't mind getting a touch dirty.  Can you pop your trunk for me?”

I uncased the spare and worked it out of the awkward compartment that all new cars seem to come equipped with, as if the manufacturers want to make changing a tire as difficult and unpleasant as possible.  There was a bracket along the inner wheel well intended for a jack, but as she'd indicated, it was empty.  I was relieved to see that she did have a tire iron.  I hunkered by the punctured tire and removed the lug nuts.

“OK, miss, here's where I'm going to need your help.”  She got out of the car and came to stand at my side.  “When I get this off of the ground, you pull off the tire.  Don't worry, the tire is pretty light, and all you need to do is pull it free and let it drop.  Watch your toes.”

She looked at me dubiously, but I just nodded reassuringly.  Then I placed myself at the rear of the car, facing back down the highway, squatted, felt behind me with both hands for a good grip on the bumper, and stood up.  Slowly.  I'm still about as big and nearly as strong as in my playing days, but even in my prime this wouldn't have been easy for me.  I wonder if the creaking and straining I felt in every knotted and corded muscle and tendon was audible.  I also wondered if she'd got the tire off and could she hurry about it.

“OK,” she said at length, and I lowered the Honda back onto three good tires and the narrow spare: she'd taken the initiative to hoist the narrow donut of a spare into position.  I wasn't sure if I was grateful or not.  I hunkered down again with the tire iron, gave it a few spins and she was set to go.

“Thank you so much.  I don't know how to -”, she paused, obviously searching for the correct English expression, “- pay back you.”

I flashed what I hoped was a winning smile.  “How about a lift to the airport?”

“I'm going to La Paz.  I need to get – sure, por que no?  It isn't much out of the way.  Get in.”

I did.  She did too.  We headed north.

“Teresa,” she said, offering her hand without taking her eyes off of the road.

“Dylan.  I hope the detour isn't a big inconvenience.”

“I'm already going to be late because of the tire.  If not for you....  I can be a few minutes more.”

“Dinner engagement?”

The idiom took a moment to translate.  “No.  I'm meeting with the owner and architect of a new resort near La Paz to discuss the interior design.  I'm a decorator.”  She pointed to a cup holder in the center console that held a stack of business cards.  I took one and read, “Teresa Alvarez, Disenador de Interiores.”  I tucked the card in my shirt pocket.

“Well, thank you, Teresa.  I certainly appreciate the lift.”

“I appreciated your lift,” she said and laughed at her own joke.  “You are very strong.”

“Juge fŭtbol americano en la universidad,” I said.  Slowly, but I got it out without a stumble.  I found Spanish useful in running the landscaping business; for many of my employees it was the primary (almost only) language.  Still, I was far from fluent and needed time to compose my sentences.

“You did not – what do you say – 'turn pro' when you graduated?”

“No.  I mean I didn't graduate.  Didn't turn pro either.”  I felt a little flustered.  Now I couldn't speak English fluently either.  I was running for my life.  Why was I bothering to relate my history to this stranger?  But I now felt compelled to explain my failure to graduate, to allay any negative impression she might conceive of me.  “My father fell ill in my Junior year – my third year at the university – so I dropped out to help with the business.  When he died I took over, never went back to finish my degree.”

She said nothing, looking fixedly ahead at the road. I waited for the obligatory expressions of regret.  I'd dealt with my grief long since, but she couldn't know.  But no commiseration was forthcoming.  Perhaps she considered my pain a private burden and that any statement of consolation would ring hollow, adding the sting of insincerity to the wound of grief.  Maybe not.  In any case that's what I came up with while waiting in vain for reflexive polite murmurings.

Thinking of my father's death brought back in a vivid rush of memory the more recent deaths I'd seen, especially Scott's. My sweaty hike through the back alleys of Cabo San Lucas had been numb, a near dreamlike somnambulance.  Now with the car serving as a pocket of peace I could relive the violence that had destroyed at least five lives and threatened mine.  I didn't know the other four – the unknown victim executed on the speedboat, the captain and mate of the fishing boat, the taxi-driver – so I can't say their deaths affected me greatly.  The feeling was abstract, impersonal, like accidentally leafing through the obituary section of the Sunday paper.  Scott's death, however, hit me hard, like a sneaker wave. No more of his sarcastic, playful abuse.  No more complaints that Mother Dylan needed to take care of himself on occasion, let everyone else manage unassisted for awhile.

God!  What had happened?  What had I got myself into?  I could feel a little bubble of panic begin to rise through my little sea of grief.  Then I heard Scott's sardonic voice in my head, “Try not to let this one get away from you,” and I fought down the anxiety, forcing myself to focus.

“Teresa,” I asked, “has the trouble with the drug gangs expanded to Los Cabos?'

“The government has been trying to keep it quiet, not scare away the tourists.  So it isn't reported much.  But yes, Dylan, the Narcos are here now.  Los Allegres.”

“The Allegres?  That's the name of the gang?”

“Yes, the Narcos who run the drug smuggling in Tijuana, expanded to here.  Felix Allegre is the boss; they call him “Happy.”  He put his son Raymon in charge here.”

“Raymon the Narco.  He wouldn't by chance, tool around in a flashy speedboat?”

“Everyone knows the boat.  Raymon is, what is the word, chauffeured around the harbor, stopping at yachts to make his business.  Why do you ask?”

“Look Teresa, maybe you should drop me off here.  It was wrong of me to ask you to help.  I don't want to put you in any danger.”

“Danger?  What danger?  Are you involved with los Narcos?”

I sighed.  “No, I'm not.  I don't have anything to do with the drug gangs.  I suppose I should just tell you and you can decide if you want to leave me at the side of the road or not.”

So I told her.  And she said nothing for a few minutes – minutes bringing me closer to the airport, I was aware enough to note.

“Los Allegres probably have someone watching for you at the terminal.  Here's what we do: we follow a shuttle van or a charter bus.  You get out at the same time it unloads and you mingle with the tourists.  They can't kill you in a crowd – you are the witness they are trying to eliminate; they don't want to create twenty more.  I hope.”

I cringed at 'I hope' but my reply was sincere: “Gracias, Teresa, gracias.  I am deeply, deeply in your debt.”

“I suppose it does more than repay fixing a flat tire,” she said, slowing and pulling to a stop along the shoulder.  “Now, if you don't mind taking off the license plates, I'm going to – how you say – disguise myself while we wait for a bus to come by.”

#

She did, in fact, look like a completely different person by the time a big air conditioned cruiser rumbled by full of sunburned tourists returning to the airport for flights home, their neatly packaged, time-managed vacations at an end.  I don't know how she did it; sunglasses, some alterations to her hair and makeup, and she was nearly unrecognizable.  Still looked good though.

We hugged the bus' tail the remaining miles to the International Terminal.

“If there is anything I can ever do for you...” I said.

“You have my card,” she said, flashing a smile that ill concealed the nerves behind it.

As the bus eased to a stop she edged around the left side.  Then I faced the chilly swimming pool moment; hesitation was my enemy, resolution my ally.  So when we were even with the nose I  resolutely slipped out of the car and took five long steps around the front to mingled with the exiting passengers.  I fought the urge to glance at Teresa driving off.  I was out of the illusory safety of her car, my little life boat, and back into potentially shark infested water.

Keeping within the center of the pack I entered the terminal.  My plan was simple: buy a ticket and get through security.  Once past the metal detectors I should be home free, so to speak.  Or so I hoped.

I tried not to peer about me anxiously, but I'm sure I appeared at least a trifle fretful.  And I had reason to be so once I reached the counter.  Purchasing a ticket under the suspicious eye of the deliberately slow and methodical ticketing agent gradually deprived me of my covering herd.  It seems that departing the country without luggage is an unusual activity and these days an unusual passenger is subject to scrutiny.  Fair enough, but couldn't the scrutiny wait until I'd reached the metal detector with its attendant armed guards nearby to deter my presumed assassin?

I kept my cool, hoping to slip in with the last group headed for the gates, or for an influx of new passengers.  But this section of the lower floor was thinly occupied by the time I'd finally been allowed to purchase a boarding pass on a flight scheduled to depart in just under an hour.  So I doubt my watcher had much more trouble spotting me than I did him.

I couldn't swear it was Allegre (which is in itself perhaps a touch ironic) as I'd never gotten a really clear look.  But he sure fit the general impression of my memory: fairly big, perhaps an inch under six feet, broad shouldered, dark complected.  And focused.  Anyone seeing that unwavering glare would have no trouble believing that was the face of a man who'd just personally shot three men and had arranged for the deaths of two others.

He leaned against a pillar a couple of dozen yards to my right.  The stairway leading upstairs and around a blind corner to the safety of security and the departure gates was about an equal distance to my left.  A wall nearly bisected the terminal.  On this side was an open floor plan, I could take it all in at a glance: the ticketing counters, me, and the Narco.  On the other side was a warren of airport offices, restrooms, utility closets, and the stairway to freedom, which last could be seen through about a three yard gap between the bisecting wall and the glass and steel exterior of the terminal.

He wasn't going to take me here, too many eyes.  No, the open area near the stair would be it.  A gunshot would be heard, but perhaps not observed.  If he closed quickly maybe a knife would silence me without a noise.  Right here I was safe.  But if I missed the plane I was done for.  I couldn't stay here forever.

Cold swimming pool time again.  I made my move.  I walked briskly towards the opening leading to the stairway.  He followed, closing rapidly with deceptive speed.  I wasn't going to make it; he'd catch me near the stair.  Passing through the gap, instead of veering left to the stairway I stepped to my right into the hall that branched off into the administrative half of the terminal building.  The hall was empty, no one walking to or from the restrooms or offices appeared.

I flattened myself against the wall.  I caught only a flicker of something bright and sharp preceding the Narco around the corner.  By that time my fist was already clubbing down in a sledge hammer arc.  The knife, held low, was still making the turn when the base of my balled fist impacted on his skull with all of my strength, weight, anger, and fear behind it.  The blade slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers.  Allegre – if it was Allegre – dropped to his knees and then the floor in two herky-jerky motions, sprawling awkwardly on the tile.

Elation and relief briefly sought to overwhelm my survival instincts, threatening to pin me to the spot.  The deserted nature of the corridor couldn't last.  Someone was bound to step out a door or around a corner soon.  If I was seen I'd be detained: if detained, I'd be in danger again.  I wrenched free of the giddiness, left the unconscious Narco where he lay and was climbing the stair to security within seconds.    I passed through the x-ray and metal detector gauntlet and into the boxy, cavernous upper terminal, ignoring “dufry” - duty free – shops and kiosks stocked with overpriced souvenirs and liquor.  My destination was the restroom where I hid in a stall, dreading a knock on the door from airport security officers asking questions about the man found knocked out downstairs, or the sudden bursting in of the flimsy stall door followed by the plunging stiletto of a Narco assassin.

Neither occurred.  A tinny voice announced my flight in Spanish and English.  I left my tiled refuge, boarded the plane, and flew back home, sleeping fitfully.

#

The office had idled smoothly while I was away.  They hadn't missed me and didn't need me much now.  That was all to the good.  I was anxious and pensive and couldn't really concentrate on business.

I took off after lunch and accomplished a couple of things that I hoped would ease my tension.

First, I called my lawyer.  I was uncertain whether or not to contact the police and report Scott's death.  There was a poker deck's worth of hands to consider: on one I worried that alerting the police would involve me in an international investigation requiring my return to Mexico and the very danger I'd just fled.  On another hand someone was bound to notice Scott's absence eventually and I was known to have traveled south with him; I didn't want to be considered a murder suspect due to my failure to report Scott's death.  On yet another, I was concerned that my failure to contact the Mexican authorities before I left was potentially a crime.  And what if I'd hit that guy in the airport too hard, killed him?  What liability might I face for that?  And on, and on.

I gave my lawyer a detailed account of the misadventure and made an appointment to see him the next day.  I'd follow his advice.

Second, I bought a gun.  In an odd way I suppose I thus honored Scott's memory, though that wasn't my intent.  I was scared.

The gun shop ran my fingerprints and paperwork through the required background checks.  I had time to think while I assembled the unfamiliar paraphernalia of the gun owner – shooting glasses, hearing protection, cleaning kit, targets, boxes of ammunition, and a holster.  Maybe I didn't need a piece.  Then again, the Allegres had found Scott and me pretty damn quick.  How hard could it be to track me down?  My suitcase carried my address on a hang tag, for Chrissake.  No, I had to take precautions.  Whether I needed a piece or not, I needed peace of mind, and this would help.

I still had some daylight remaining when I left the store, loaded down with a couple of weighty plastic bags.  so I headed to the range, read through the owner's manual of my new 9mm pistol, and ran a hundred rounds through the barrel.  I left satisfied that, even if I wasn't going to join the Olympic pistol team any time soon, I could still punch holes through a man-size target at ten paces pretty consistently.

I did not sleep well.

I realize that sufficient rest is essential to good health, but that night insomnia saved my ass.

I lay fretful and stressed, watching a moonbeam that peeked through a gap in the blinds inch along the wall, wondering if I should call Teresa and ask if she'd heard anything about the

fight in the airport, about Raymon, and wondering also if I was just looking for an excuse to call her.  And then I heard downstairs the click of the lock and light scrape of hinges as the front door eased open.  By the time the faint sound of the slow, measured tread of footsteps on the stairs ceased I was on my knees on the opposite side of the bed from the stairway, the cold, checkered handle of my new pistol warming in a tight, two-fisted grip – tight from tension, it is true, but not shaking.

A form passed into the moon's reflection, transiting into enough illumination to be recognizable.  It was him – the man from the airport, the man I was nearly certain was Raymon.  He wasn't carrying a knife this time.  That was a pistol he was clutching at a low, ready position.

“Alto!” I said.  I wasn't sure “freeze” would mean anything to him.  Apparently 'alto' to him meant 'shoot at Dylan.'  His pistol jabbed out a tongue of flame and a bullet whipped by above my head to drill through the wall behind me.

I fired back, aiming at a spot just below his muzzle flash, as he'd ruined my night vision.  The gunshots were loud, but my bedroom is good sized, so I heard his grunt and a growled, “ya me chingue.”  I fired twice more at the voice and he stopped speaking.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I waited quite awhile before creeping over to make sure he was dead.

#

I replaced the spent rounds and slid the magazine back into place.  I put the pistol and the box of bullets back in the drawer and thought, as I kneed it shut, that Scott had been right after all: a bit of insurance isn't paranoia, its prudence.  And thinking of Scott led to thoughts of Teresa.  After two obligatory calls – to the police and to my grumpy, sleepy lawyer – I fished her business card out of my wallet, fumbled the telephone off its cradle, and thumbed in the international digit string.

“Hola, Teresa?”

©2010

 

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