Ramón Vega frowned as he saw the three women moving toward them.
He was sitting with his two compañeros in Taberna Sonora, all
drinking Tecate from the can. Ramón wanted to finish his beer, get
his money, and leave. But Chato and Raffi were smiling and
rearranging themselves at the table, looking for extra chairs. They
had other ideas.
The women settled in, smiling at the men and giggling. The one on
Ramón’s right put her hand on his thigh and leaned into him, her
breasts almost spilling out of her low-cut blouse. He thought about
their warmth on his cold hands. The woman was younger than the
others, almost as young as the girl Ramón had put off the truck an
hour earlier. As inviting as she was, he couldn’t think of a night
with her. Not with the other one out in the wet, cold desert, moving
toward a location he knew didn’t exist.
Ramón pushed the woman’s hand away and stood quickly. "I gotta
go," he said, starting for the door.
"Hey, man, what’s your hurry?" Chato followed him, grabbing Ramón
by the shoulder. "What’s going on, man? Where you going so fast?"
Ramón turned. "Give me my money so I can get the hell out of
Chato steered him farther from the table and spoke in a low
voice. "I can’t give you no money till I get paid."
"You got money," Ramón said. "You took money from those sheep
tonight. You got lotsa money."
"Yeah, man, but it don’t work that way. You know that. I turn all
the money in — minus a little for entertainment — then I get paid
and you get paid." Chato made a sweeping arm movement back toward
the table. "You see what I got to go with the cold beer? Some hot
ones, man. Look at the tits on that one I got for you." He smiled
broadly, his teeth normal under a ratty moustache, but something in
the way they looked suggested they would be rotten some day.
"I gotta go," Ramón insisted.
"You got tits like that waiting for you someplace else?" Chato
asked to Ramón’s back.
Ramón walked quickly through the rain across the small plaza. He
climbed the back stairs over the farmacia, opened the door at the
top, walked in, and turned the light on. "Hey, Sílvio. You
Sílvio sat up slowly on his small cot, rubbing his eyes. "What’s
going on?" he asked.
The two amigos had known each other since boyhood. Had come to
the border together two years earlier from Pachuca with a plan to
cross over to a better life on the other side. That’s why Ramón had
started working as a coyote. He wanted to learn where and how to
cross, but his love for money had gotten in the way of their plan.
What he learned, instead, was how to take desperate people’s money
while only dropping them close to the border and pointing out a
path, one that might be neither easy to follow nor guaranteed to get
them safely across. Tonight he and his compañeros had done worse
than that. They had taken money from three of the sheep and drove
away, leaving them out in the desert in the rain. Not close to
"Sílvio, I need your truck."
"OK, if you bring it back tonight. I’m hauling block early in the
Ramón picked up the keys from the table. "I owe you, man," he
It was raining harder now. Ramón drove quickly. He had to get
back to the area where
he had done a terrible wrong. He knew that his work as a coyote
was less than honest. He and Chato and Raffi did little for those
they were supposed to be helping. That’s why they referred to them
as sheep. They were trusting, easy to lead, doing whatever they were
told. Someone else took care of arranging pickups (only Chato knew
who). Then the coyotes drove them to crossing points. Some times
they had a dozen people in their truck, sitting or lying under a
tarp. When la migra patrols were light, they often let the group off
at a single crossing location. If la migra was active, they split
the group into family units and had multiple drop-off points, giving
them a better chance to slip across the border undetected.
They thought they had finished their drop offs early this
evening, but when they returned to the pickup point, they found
three more people waiting for them: a mother, father, and girl of
about seventeen. They had gotten lost trying to find this place, the
father explained. It’s too late to cross tonight, Chato told them.
Maybe tomorrow. The father pleaded with him. Said there were people
waiting for them on the other side. While Chato and the father
haggled, Ramón watched the girl. She looked like his younger sister
back in Pachuca. Not the way she would look now, but the way she
looked when Ramón had left home two years earlier.
"OK," Chato finally said angrily. "Get in the back." The three
men got back into the cab. Chato slammed the truck into gear, and
drove out of the yard.
"Where you going?" Raffi asked. Chato was driving in the wrong
"Shit, I don’t know. I ain’t going back to the border for sure. I
got something set up in town that won’t wait. Maybe I’ll just take
them to town, tell them to find some place to stay until tomorrow."
They drove on for a few miles, then Chato suddenly stopped the
truck in the middle of the dirt road and turned to Ramón who was
seated by the passenger door. "Get ‘em out of the back," he ordered.
Ramón looked at Chato questioningly. "What are you going to do,
"Just do it," Chato said.
Ramón stared hard at him for a moment. It was just starting to
rain when he opened the door, walked to the back of the truck, and
lifted the tarp.
"We here already?" the father asked.
Chato and Raffi were with Ramón now, Raffi letting his coat gap
enough to show his pistol. "You got the other half of your money"
"We were supposed to go to Tucson," the man said.
Chato pointed to a small hill to the left of where the truck sat.
"Just on the other side. A short climb to the top, and you’ll see
lights. Easy walk from there. You’re lucky. The rain’s your friend
tonight, cause la migra don’t like to get wet."
He and Raffi laughed as the man reached for his money. All this
time Ramón was watching the girl, thinking how scared she looked,
and how like his sister.
Now, Ramón took a road that he knew would place him north of the
hill where they’d left the family. They couldn’t have gotten very
far. He drove slowly, scanning both sides of the road. He almost
missed them, had, in fact, driven past them hiding among the
mesquite, when he saw the flash of white in the side mirror. He
thought it could be the girl’s headscarf. He backed up slowly,
stopped, and hollered to them. Recognizing him, they came slowly
from their hiding place.
"You come back to take more money from us?" the man asked,
keeping his wife and daughter behind him.
"No. It’s a bad place to cross tonight." Ramón could not admit
the wrong he’d been part of. "Get in, and I’ll take you to another
The family crowded into the cab, the father next to Ramón and the
girl on the end. He could feel the dampness they brought with them.
The girl was shivering, the mother holding her, trying to warm her.
He remembered his own mother and how she folded her arms around one
or another of her children on those cold nights in Pachuca when
their meager fire could not warm them. Ramón cranked the heat up.
The rain fell harder now, making it difficult to see and to keep the
truck with its old, slick tires on the road.
Ramón looked sideways at his passengers and saw how vulnerable
they were, truly sheep, and he the coyote in among them. He knew
what he had to do. "You can’t cross tonight. Too dangerous," he
blurted. La migra is out. I heard it in town. That’s why I came for
you," he lied.
"But people are waiting for us," the father protested.
"Not with la migra all over the place. Tomorrow will be better."
"We have no place to go."
"I know a place for tonight that is dry. You can rest and have
some food. Then tomorrow you can cross."
Ramón wondered how angry Sílvio would be to have his sleep
bothered again tonight, this time by strangers. He glanced at the
soft smile on the lips of the girl who looked like his sister and
immediately knew it was worth the risk. Any risk.
"Poco a poco," he said.
Wayne Rapp traces his Mexican roots to the Figueroa and
Valenzuela families of Sonora. His fiction has appeared in various
publications including The Americas Review, Grit, Chiricú, Thema,
Vincent Brothers Review, Bottom Dog Press, and High Plains Literary
Review and is forthcoming in Latinos in Lotus Land from Bilingual
Press. His short story, "In the Time of Marvel and Confusion," was
nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and he has twice been honored with
Individual Artist Fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council. His
collection of border stories, Burnt Sienna, was a finalist for the
2005 Miguel Mármol Prize for Fiction.