In that space along the South Texas border where cartel money and violence collide, appearances can be deceiving…
“We need to keep an eye on that Acuña boy,” Frank Ramirez said. “He lives in my barrio. And let me tell you, he is running with the Infiernos gang.”
The “Acuña boy” was actually not a boy at all—but a legal adult of eighteen, as was Patrick O’Brien, to whom Frank Ramirez was speaking. O’Brien and Ramirez were the night watchmen at the Longworth’s Ford dealership in El Paso, Texas. The two of them had been working together on the 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. shift for about four months.
O’Brien gave Ramirez a skeptical look. “Ah, Frank, Como se dice en español, ver es creer. Seeing is believing, right? José was in my graduating class at Elliston High School. He’s a good guy at heart, if a little rough around the edges. No podemos juzgar—”
“I’m not judging,” Ramirez shot back. “I’m simply stating what everyone already knows. I see who the boy runs with. I’ve seen his tattoos.”
They were walking the perimeter of the dealership. It was long after dark. Moths fluttered around the halogen parking lot lights, suspended on poles high overhead. Ramirez and O’Brien were surrounded by rows and rows of vehicles: trucks and SUVs and every kind of sedan manufactured by the Ford Motor Company.
“And please, Pat, no more Spanish,” Ramirez said. “I haven’t spoken the language much since my grandfather died—more than thirty years ago. You’re the one who speaks fluent Spanish. I know you spent those summers at the language school in Mexico.”
O’Brien nodded. He had taken four years of Spanish at Elliston High School; and he had indeed spent the past two summers in Mexico. “Okay. I like to practice my Spanish because it’s handy in El Paso; but we can speak only English if you prefer. Anyway, Frank, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions about José.”
“He has a red devil tattoo on his bicep!” Ramirez said. “That’s the symbol for the Infiernos gang.” The Infiernos gang was one of the major drug cartels in northern Mexico.
“Anyone can have a red devil tattoo,” O’Brien retorted. “That’s a pretty generic design. You’re judging him by his ethnicity and his class.”
“Pat, that’s ridiculous. I’m Mexican-American too, don’t forget. So don’t give me that politically correct mumbo jumbo. A wealthy white kid like you has no idea what it’s like to live in the barrio. Political correctness is a luxury that I can’t afford. Come on, let’s head over to the guard shack. We can make another round of the lot at midnight.”
Soon they were sitting in the little guard shack, listening to the radio. Tim McGraw was singing “Don’t Take the Girl” when Ramirez spotted José Acuña emerging from between two rows of SUVs.
José Acuña also worked at the dealership. The owner, Fred Longworth, paid Acuña minimum wage to wash cars, clean the showroom, and organize the spare parts in the service area.
“Is Acuña on the schedule tonight?” Ramirez asked, looking through the thin glass. His tone implied that he thought otherwise.
“He sure is,” O’Brien said, tapping a clipboard with a Longworth Ford promotional pen. “His name is right here: nine to five, just like us.”
“Well, it looks to me like he’s creeping around.”
“What exactly do you want him to do?” O’Brien laughed. “Should he walk around banging a gong?”
“It just seemed to me that he was creeping, that’s all.”
Ramirez returned his attention to the copy of Sports Illustrated that lay open on his lap. After a pause of perhaps a minute he said. “To tell you the truth, Patrick, I am a little on the edgy side. After everything that’s been in the headlines recently: the gang wars, the thefts at West Texas Honda, and then the discovery of those coolers in Juarez—right across the border.” Ramirez shuddered. “My God, that was ghastly.”
“Yes, it was.”
“Why do you think that the Mexican cartels cut their victims’ heads off like that? I mean, is that really necessary? When you’re dead, you’re dead, after all.”
O’Brien shrugged. “Not sure. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that it’s just a scare tactic. Wouldn’t you think twice about crossing someone if you knew that they were going to cut your head off?”
The thought gave Ramirez a shiver. “I’d prefer not to think about such things.”
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