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Wayne Rapp

Un Coyote


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 here."

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 sleeping?"

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 anyplace.

"Sílvio, I need your truck."

"OK, if you bring it back tonight. I’m hauling block early in the morning."

Ramón picked up the keys from the table. "I owe you, man," he said.

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 direction.

"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, man?"

"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" Chato asked.

"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 crossing place."

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.

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