I think his eyes just faintly smiled at me through the mirror. Yes, I’m positive that’s what I saw. He knows as well as I do that I’m better off getting dragged back to the compound than being let out of the car and on my own.
“You will need more than the six bullets you have in that handgun.”
“So then give me more bullets,” I say, getting angrier. “And this isn’t the only gun I have.”
That seems to have piqued his interest, although small.
“I took the rifle off the guard I hit over the head when I got past the fence.”
He nods once, so subtly that if I would’ve blinked in that moment I never would’ve seen it.
“It is a good start,” he says and then puts his eyes back on the dirt road for a moment and turns left at the end. “But what will you do when you run out? Because you will.”
I hate him.
“Then I’ll run.”
“And they will catch you.”
“Then I’ll stab them.”
Suddenly, the American veers slowly off the road and stops the car.
No, no, no! This isn’t how it was supposed to happen. I expected him to keep driving because he knew if he left me out here all alone like this that whatever happened to me would be on his conscience. But I guess he doesn’t have much of one. His dark eyes gaze evenly at me through the mirror, not a trace of compassion or concern in them. I want to shoot him in the back of the head on principle. He just stares at me with that small what-are-you-waiting-for? look and I don’t budge. I glance carefully at the door and then back at him and then down at my gun and back at him again.
“You can use me as leverage,” I say because it’s all I have left.
His eyebrows barely move, but it’s enough that I’ve gotten his attention.
“I’m Javier’s favorite,” I go on. “I’m…different…from the other girls.”
“What makes you think I need leverage?” he asks.
“Well, did Javier pay you the whole three and a half million?”
“That is not how it works,” he says.
“No, but I know how Javier works and if he didn’t give you the full amount before you left then he never will.”
“Are you going to get out?”
I sigh heavily and glance out the window again and then I raise the gun back up and say, “You’re going to drive me to the border.”
The American licks the dryness from his lips and then the car starts moving again. I’m playing everything by ear now. All of the planned parts of my escape ended when I got inside this car.
When the American spoke of the United States border, it came off to me as if I am closer to the borders of other countries than the U.S. and this terrifies me. If I’m closer to Guatemala or Belize than the United States then I very much doubt that I will make it out of this alive. I have looked at maps. I have sat within that room many times and ran the tip of my finger over the little roads between Zamora and San Luis Potosí and between Los Mochis and Ciudad Juárez. But I always blocked the possibility of being farther south completely from my mind because I never wanted to accept that I could be that far away from home.
Home. That really is such a placeholder word. I don’t have a home in the United States at all. I don’t think I ever really did. But just the same, it was where I was born and where I was raised, though little did my mother do to raise me, really. But I want to go home because it will always be better than where I’ve spent the last nine years of my life.
I position my back partially against the door and partially against the seat so that I can keep my eyes straight on the American. How long I can keep this going is still up in the air. And he knows it.
Maybe I should just shoot him and take the car. But then again, little good it will do when I’m driving around aimlessly in this foreign country that I have seen nothing from other than violence and rape and murder and everything else unimaginable. And Javier is a very powerful man. Very rich. The compound is filthy and misleading. He could be like the drug lords I saw when I used to have the luxury of American television; the ones with rich, immaculate homes with swimming pools and ten bathrooms, but Javier seems to prefer the façade. I don’t know what he spends his fortune on, but it’s not on real estate as far as I know.
It’s been over an hour. I’m getting tired. I can feel the burning behind my eyes, spreading thinly around the edges of my eyelids. I don’t know who it is I think I’m kidding. I have to sleep sometime and the second that I doze off is when I’ll wake up either back at the compound tied to the chair in Javier’s room, or when I don’t wake up at all.
I need to keep talking to help me stay awake.
“Can’t you just tell me your name?” I try once more. “Look, I know I’m not getting out of this country alive. Or your car for that matter. I know that my attempt to escape was wasted the second I stepped out of that gate. So, the least you can do is talk to me. Think of it as my last meal.”
“I am not good at being the shoulder to cry on, I am afraid.”
“Then what are you good at?” I ask. “Besides killing people, of course.”
I notice his jaw move slightly, but he hasn’t looked at me in the rearview mirror in a while.
“Driving,” he answers.
Okay, this is going nowhere.
I want to cry out of frustration.
Fifteen more minutes of silence passes and I notice that my surroundings are beginning to feel all too familiar. We’re going in circles and have been all this time. For a split second I start to say something about it, but I decide it’s probably better that I don’t let him know I’m onto him.
I lean up a little from the seat and point the gun at him and say, “Turn left up here.” And I do this for the next twenty minutes, forcing him to go my way even though I have no idea where I’m taking us. And he plays along, never breaking a sweat, never giving me the slightest impression that he’s worried or afraid of having a gun at his back. The longer we do this the more I begin to realize that even though I’m the one with the gun, he has this whole situation under more control than I thought I did.
What did I get myself into?
More long minutes pass and I’ve lost track of time. I’m so tired. My lids are getting heavier. I snap my head away from the seat behind me and press my finger against the window button to lower the glass. The warm night air rushes inside the car, tossing my auburn hair about my face. I force my eyes open wide and position myself in a more uncomfortable way to help keep me awake, but it doesn’t take long to notice that nothing is working.
The American watches every move I make from the mirror. I notice him every once in a while.
“What makes you his favorite?” he asks and it stuns me.
I was sure he’d been waiting all this time for me to doze off; if he would’ve waited a few more minutes that’s probably what would’ve happened. Now he’s talking to me? I’m thoroughly confused, but I’ll take it.
“I wasn’t bought,” I answer.
Finally he asks me a direct question which could lead to conversation and maybe his help, but ironically the topic makes it difficult to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s hard to talk about even though I’m the one who initially brought it up.
I wait for a long moment before I go on.
“I was brought here a long time ago…by my mother. Javier saw something in me he didn’t see in the other girls. I call it a sickening obsession, he calls it love.”
“I see,” he says and although his words are few, I can tell they hold more weight than they appear.
“I’m from Tucson,” I say. “All I want is to get back there. I’ll pay you. If you don’t want…me…I’ll find a way to pay you cash. I’m good for my word. I wouldn’t try to hide from you. I would eventually pay my debt.”
“If a drug lord believes he is in love with you,” he says casually, “it would not be me you had to hide from.”
“Then you know that I’m in a lot of danger,” I say.
“Yes, but that still does not make you my problem.”
“Are you human?” I hate him more every time he speaks. “What kind of man would not want to help a defenseless young woman out of a life of bondage and violence, especially when she has escaped her captors and is directly pleading for your help?”
He doesn’t answer. Why doesn’t that surprise me?
I sigh heavily and press my back against the seat again. My trigger finger is cramped from being in the same curled position for so long against the metal. Lowering the gun farther behind the seat so that he can’t see, I switch hands long enough to wriggle my fingers around for a moment and then I place my thumb over the top of each finger individually and press down to ease the stiffness. You don’t realize how heavy a gun is until you hold it non-stop for long periods of time.
“I’m not lying to you,” I say. “About Javier and your money.”
I catch his eyes looking at me in the mirror again.
“I’ve had plenty of time to see how he does business,” I go on as I grip the gun in my right hand again though to the argument of my aching fingers. “He would rather kill you than pay you.”
His eyes are greenish-blue. I can see them more clearly now that we’re riding through a small town with street lights. And small is an understatement because in under a minute we’re engulfed by the darkness of the desolate highway again with nothing in sight except the starlit desert-like landscape.
And then I just start talking; my last ditch attempt to keep myself awake. I don’t care anymore if he adds to the one-sided conversation, I just need to stay conscious.
“I guess if you had a daughter or a sister you might care a little more. I had somewhat of a life before my mother brought me here. It wasn’t much of one, but it was one, nonetheless. We lived in a tiny trailer with cockroaches and walls so thin it felt like sleeping right on the desert floor in the winter. My mother was a slave to her**n. Crack. Meth. You name it she loved it. But not me. I wanted to finish school and get a scholarship to whatever college would have me and make a life for myself. But then I was brought here and all that changed. Javier was sleeping with my mother for a while, but he always had his eyes on me….”
I think I just dozed off for a second.
I snap my eyes open and take a deep breath, pressing my face near the open window to let the air hit me.
And the next thing I know I feel a white-hot pain to the side of my head and everything goes black.
The sound of trickling water wakes me. My eyes creep open, flinching at the light pouring in through some nearby window. I can tell that I’m in a room somewhere. My vision is blurred and my head feels like it was banged against a brick wall the night before. The left side of my face feels swollen.
I try to lift up but something is tied around my wrists and my ankles. When my eyes gradually blur into focus I see that I’m lying on a bed in a dingy room with tan tapestry wallpaper and dusty mismatched furniture. The television looks just like the one at the compound: ancient and probably only picks up one channel which I’m sure is the one that runs the dramatic Spanish soap operas. In my direct line of vision I see the thick green curtains on the window and pushed against them is a tiny square table with a single wooden chair. A long black trench coat hangs over the back of it.