For Big John Bully
So early, so late, Jams Federer was unable to recall whether he had just began his shift or was getting ready to punch out. Either way, the border guard said to himself, pushing the tall and loose shift-stick of his Ford Bronco into high gear the way a high roller in Reno yanks on the slots, as an idea, coffee sounded good.
Cresting the last of the sand hills which ranged the border like redolent sentinels, Federer pushed the Bronco into high gear and gunned it for the security wall which would end this particular night raid across the border. As he drove down the last Mexican hill toward his country, the view out his windshield blossomed like a supernova. The starry glint of distant San Diego shone like hard business amid the smoke and fog of morning. He knew that it was illegal to look for illegals from the Mexican side, but hide and seek with the Federales was easier than playing Venus Flytrap in polyester-cotton forest green.
“A job is just a job,” he said, spitting a piece of sunflower shell from his teeth, “but a mission is an adventure…”
On the Mexican side, Federer thought, they don’t expect a hunting party – unless of course they’re out hunting for immigrants from El Salvador or Guatamala. In which case, they don’t make it across until after they’ve been so thoroughly fucked by their mules that they’ll do anything to get to LA, Phoenix, Albuquerque—hell, even as far as Hoboken.
Federer groped for the ancient Zippo, its chrome rubbed to rust, which he kept beneath the dashboard computer. It lay in a seven inch by three inch slot vacated by the old CB radio, the same one his late partner Dane Gutierrez used when he called in his final report, bleeding-out his arteries after the drug traffickers jumped the fence, jumped him and neatly sliced into his neck and mostly removed his head from his body.
As the dash-cam revealed, even as his assailant had a hold of him from behind and began slicing into his neck with piano wire, Dane unholstered his Heckler & Koch and reaching behind him managed to thrust it into the main assailant’s gut, emptying four rounds. After the body dropped, he swung around to catch the second assailant, mid-stride and moving toward him, frozen and furious as a caveman in a museum. Even as the blood squirted from Dane’s jugular, as the dash-cam recorded in silence, the officer had enough strength to spend the remaining rounds on the second assailant before officer and perpetrator dropped simultaneously into the dust.
After the Department issued cellphones to officers, all the old citizen bands were yanked from the vehicles. Soon after that, the department also retired most of the Broncos, but Federer persuaded his captain to let him hold onto his. Federer knew that the newer computer-rigged SUVs were more vulnerable and less dependable than the battle-ready Broncos.
With a deft sweep into the front pocket of his uniform, Federer fished out a Lucky Strike from a pack limped with the sweat and heave of the day. As he inhaled the smoke, he wondered whether Rosario would be working tonight. About 20 years younger than Federer, Rosario Raimondo was a capacious-eyed California-born Mexican with immaculate olive skin, a sweet smile and full of sass and curve. Murphy’s Diner was the usual stop-off place before Federer – and, in a time before, Dane – would call it a night, cruise back to the station, shower, and punch out.
As a Tejano superstar crooned her undying hatred for her ex-lover on the Bronco’s radio, Federer thought about Rosario serving coffee, a ragged scapular hanging down between her breasts when she leaned to pour.
“Hoffisseer, hue like cream choo?”
“You never call me Jams. Why?”
“Hoh-kay, fine—Hams, hue like cream?”
“Yes—yes, I would.”
She smiled that sweet smile and grabbed a clutch of creamers from the pocket in the front of her tan and stained apron. She gingerly set the closed little white cups on the diner counter before him like freshly laid eggs. Federer noticed that she never looked at him directly, but threw a quick succession of glances his way, determined but not confident, like an amateur pool player setting up a shot.
“It dangeruss toon-hight?”
“Not so much. How ‘bout you?”
She gave a quick shallow laugh and rolled her eyes.
“Hone-lee hue, Hoffisseer, hone-lee hue!”
“But I’m married.”
“Ho, then you are chwice as danggeruss!”
She threw her head back and laughed again, this time from her diaphragm. He smiled, admired her native beauty and wondered how someone who could be his daughter could so captivate his imagination.
He’d tried hard to come up with a comparison; not old girlfriends nor passing interests in college and certainly not his wife. The best he could come up with was the drillable TV reporter who kept showing up to get the story from him, wearing the tight black pants all female TV reporters wore, the kind that said, By the way, fuck me.
“Reggie Thorne, Action 12 News, tell me about the danger,” she’d say in that usual tommy gun style that she probably thought was intimidating but only irritated. She thrust the microphone in his face as he peered at the small cherry of the tally-light. “Officer, what happened today?”
“Officer, what is the state of our borders?”
He shrugged again.
“Officer, what can you say about the Border Patrol?”
“It’s a job.”
Her shoulders slumped and she looked back at the cameraman as if he caught her having sex with a dog. The cameraman was a rotund teenager with a Padre’s baseball cap worn backwards over a greasy mullet. He grinned back at her through the first sprouts of a mustache. Tall and thick-bodied but shapely, she stood in pained silence, straining to find the next moment. Blond hair scalloped around her pleasant face, contorted now, keeping an eye out for the next question that might come to her mind. She focused her plummeting blue eyes and tried again.
“C’mon, Jams, just give me something, huh?”
“Don’t call me Jams.”
“Fine. Officer Federer.”
She flicked her hand quick as a dove from the bush. It was a signal to the cameraman. He wandered off.
“Do you want to get a coffee?” she asked, her face suddenly relaxed and desperate to find a way into his casebook.
“Coffee keeps me awake.”
He watched as she formulated her next move and the next after that. Then, when he had enough vertigo, he turned his back to her and walked into the station, slightly dizzy and wondered whether her pants were serious.
Grabbing a pile of files from the front desk, he walked into his office, kicked the door behind him, settled into a chair behind his desk and began looking through his casebook for something he’d missed from that night Dane was murdered.
“Flip you for the coffee run to town?” Dane said. They were parked on the San Diego side that night.
“I’ll get it.”
“Where’s your sense of game?”
“I always lose anyway.”
“You always win.”
He looked at Dane. Dane shrugged.
“Less time you have to stay out in this shit.”
He watched Dane from the ATV’s rearview mirror. His partner was standing big before the shadow of the wall, his foot jacked up on the Bronco’s bumper. Dane hitched up the pant leg and itched his calf as the cherry on his cigarette blossomed. The ATV tore off across the hills.
It was the last time they spoke.
Perhaps it was Rosario after all. Or perhaps it was Dane’s memory. Either way, he kept going back to Murphy’s. The investigation closed only three days after Dane was buried in St. Aloysius Cemetery, wife and two ex-wives among the mourners, but Federer knew there was a third assailant. The investigators missed him in the dash-cam. Federer played it over and over and over again. He would have missed it too except for Reggie, her tight black panted legs hugging the stool at Murphy’s diner counter.
“What can I do to see your cases?” Reggie asked.
“You can find who sent those fuckers to kill my partner.”
“What makes you think it was a hit?”
“What makes you think it wasn’t?”
“Actually it was.”
“Yes, but I know more.”
He watched her blue eyes sharpen into slate as she wiped a blonde strand from her off her brow. She sipped at her coffee. With a grim sigh Federer stared at his empty coffee cup. He looked around to catch Rosario’s eye. She came, poured the coffee and, glancing once at Reggie, she straightened her back the way pregnant women do when they’ve carried for too long. The scapular nestled back into the precious question of her cleavage, and she shot a .22 caliber smile at Federer.
“Upper right hand corner of the video,” Reggie said. “A moving shadow. You really can’t miss it if you’re looking. Too big to be a critter, too deliberate to be a chance of light.”
“Come by tomorrow,” Federer said as stood and payed out a few dollars from his wallet for a tip. “My case files are yours if you can convince me.”
He stared straight ahead at the Bunn, nestled between the milkshake maker and toaster, the orange light of its power indicator staring right back at Federer.
“You take me with you on one of your Mexico raids.”
He continued to stare at the Bunn.
She giggled. He turned to look at her. She looked back and then tilted her chin at him.
“No,” she said again, a sly smile trembling at the corners of her mouth, as if he’d just asked for the key to her hotel room. “That’s your job!”
San Diego loomed large in Federer’s windscreen. The doors of his Bronco began to rattle from the uneven terrain. Another twenty yards and he’d be back in the land of the free and home of the—
The first bullet hole ripped through the windscreen and threw shards of glass that cut into his chest and and lacerated his face. The second bullet blew up in his shoulder. The third punctured the passenger side door and shattered the computer screen. The fourth and fifth made plinky sounds in the side panels. He was being strafed with an automatic weapon.
He whipped the Bronco around only to realize, too late, that he had turned on the ridge of the hill which hosted the border wall. Unable to overcome gravity, the Bronco lurched on its side and rolled through the wall’s entry point and for forty feet down the opposite slope. It came to rest in a ravine—on the American side of the wall. Checking for broken bones, Federer began to struggle with his seatbelt, a raging burn piercing his shoulder even as he grabbed for his sidearm. He saw shadows descending from the wall and wolf-whistles calling out from the pitch of night.
As he climbed out the passenger side window, Federer dialed up the station.
“Officer Federer requesting backup.”
As he lay on his side staring at the bullet hole that nearly separated his upper arm from his shoulder, Federer thought about Rosario’s eyes. What she would have looked like had she opened the hotel door room instead?. She would have been wearing the waitress outfit. She would have been holding a pot of coffee. She would be clutching those creamers. She would have been…
“Behootifull choonite, jess, Hoffisseer Hams?” Rosario asked.
“Quite,” Federer replied, sipping his coffee. “As ‘behootiful’ as a certain waitress I know.”
“Ho, Hoffisseer Hams, hue are so forward!” she said, blushing as she twirled around in her pink waitress dress.
Later that night, after his wife had come to fetch him at the hospital, taken him home, tucked him into bed and given him a morphine tablet, Federer asked her what she would have done had he slept with another woman. She laughed. He told her about Rosario.
That little thing down at Murphy’s? She’s practically in high school.
It’s a middle-aged crush, his wife said, laughing between short swigs from her Corona. How’s the dressing on your arm? Want a beer?
“I want to see beauty.”
Not tonight, cowboy. I ain’t going to have you bleed all over the bed!
By this point, the morphine had begun to take effect.
“I want to see Rosario’s beauty,” he repeated, his voice thick as the stars.
Federer’s wife tilted back her Corona and emptied the last drop, sucking the bottle’s mouth to get the lime. She put the bottle down on the nightstand and got up to go to the bathroom.
You are pitiful, Jams—just pitiful.