We stop next to one of the bodies and Victor lets go of my wrist so that he can kneel down beside it. Reaching into the man’s back pocket on his jeans, he pulls out a wad of Mexican money. Sifting through the bills and finding nothing of note, he tosses the money on the dead man’s back and rummages the rest of his pockets, finding a gun hidden behind his belt. But there’s nothing out of the ordinary about that. He does the same to the other man, still not finding anything noteworthy except a set of keys that he decides to pocket.
“What are you looking for?”
“You should’ve stayed in the restroom like I told you.”
I’m surprised at the accusation in his voice; it’s so unlike him to show that much emotion, although it’s still not much.
“They weren’t Javier’s men,” I protest. “I was there long enough to remember every single one of them.”
Victor rises into a stand, seeming even taller than before, but I know it’s just my fear of him playing tricks on my eyes.
“You remember the ones you’ve seen,” he says. “But you’re a foolish girl if you think they are his only men.”
I sigh. “But they were only asking about car parts. Maybe they were having car troubles. I heard them talking.”
“You heard code,” he corrects me. “He asked the owner for a part that doesn’t belong on that truck.” He looks toward the front window of the store where another truck is parked out front. “When the store owner said that yes he had the part, he was telling them that you were here.”
Feeling foolish, I continue pretending, trying to come back from my moment of stupidity. “Then why didn’t they do anything?”
He shakes his head lightly at me.
“They were keeping tabs on us,” he says. “Or, they were going to try and stall us, long enough to get more men here. Now come on. We have to leave.”
When I don’t follow fast enough, he takes my hand and leads me out of the store and we head straight for the newer truck parked out front, still nothing but a hunk of old metal, but newer than that old rusty Ford that had to have belonged to the owner.
He opens the door on the passenger’s side.
“Get in,” he demands.
Confused, I just look at him, but the next thing I know, he’s lifting me from the ground and forcing me into the cab. Not daring to fight him on this, or waste anymore of what little time I know we have left, I wait until he gets his guns and bags from his car and shoves it all between us on the seat. He slams the heavy metal door once he gets in on the other side.
“What are we doing exactly?”
He finds the right key to start the engine on the first try and the truck rumbles and spits to life. He reaches up to the gear shift next to the steering wheel and slams the truck into gear, narrowly missing the rickety wooden awning covering the front of the store as he makes a close, wide turn and speeds away.
“The car is too much of a giveaway,” he says. “I needed to get rid of it sooner, but running across a vehicle around here that won’t break down in twenty miles is a hit or miss.”
“I wondered why you drove something as nice as that here to begin with,” I say.
“I wasn’t a target then.”
“But now you are because of me.”
I look into the side mirror, watching the dirt swirl chaotically in the truck’s wake. We ride fast over the barren landscape, the truck lurching and bouncing over holes until we make it back onto a paved highway.
“Victor?” I ask, and he glances over at me as if me calling him by his name has hit some enigmatic nerve.
I decide not to say what I intended because I’ve already said it before and it made no difference then.
I look away and I feel his eyes leave me, too.
“Never mind,” I say.
Stick to the new plan, Sarai, I think to myself and feel ridiculous when for a split second I worry if he can hear my thoughts, too.
I’ll wait until we get over the border and then I’ll do whatever it takes to get away from him, even if it means I have to kill him.
Two hours later, we make it over the border and into Arizona without any trouble from border patrol. Victor spoke to a Border Patrol Inspector, who clearly saw that we had a suspicious-looking suitcase and two duffle bags sitting between us on the seat. They had words in Spanish, though they were few and didn’t make much sense to me, which led me to believe that, like the men back at the convenience store, it was all some kind of code.
Neither the suitcase, nor the bag or even the truck was checked. I don’t care to know why. It doesn’t make any difference to me if Victor has connections of some kind with border patrol which allows him easy access into and out of the United States. That remains obvious to me. But I don’t care. All I care about is my next move.
It takes everything in me to hide my relief and anxiety, knowing that after nine years I’m finally on U.S. soil again. I want to open the door on this truck right now driving fifty-miles per hour down the highway and jump out, rolling bruised and bloody across the desert-like landscape and to my freedom. But I can’t. I have to wait just a little longer, at least until we stop somewhere where there are places I can hide. A city, perhaps. A little lone gas station out in the middle of nowhere won’t do. If I was lucky enough to manage to get away, the only place I could go is out into the wide open, which encompasses every space in every direction as far as I can see.
I don’t want to end up like the store owner, face down in the dirt with a bullet in my back.
Finally, I see a small cluster of lights and buildings on the horizon, dwarfed by a cascade of mountains in the background. We soon come to a stop in a parking lot behind a five-story hotel in Douglas, Arizona.
I get out of the truck and shut the door while Victor grabs his bags from the front seat. Scanning the area, looking for the best way to run which might provide me a place to hide when he comes after me, I see the only way to go is across the street where more buildings are situated.
I glance covertly over at Victor and use that second he’s shouldering his duffle bags to take off running toward the street. Dashing through the light traffic and easily missing the cars, I make it to the other side, running full-throttle past a small building with arched windows. My flip-flops snap underneath my heels as I run. I nearly trip when my feet come down hard on the pavement and the worn-out rubber gets twisted underfoot. But I catch my balance in time and push harder, glancing back only once to see if Victor is coming after me. I see him, running through a small crowd of people and my legs go into overdrive, trying to get as far away from him as I can. Already nearly out of breath, I force my body forward, running past a row of parked cars and in behind another series of buildings. I see a woman carrying a purse on one shoulder, walking out ahead of me.
“Lady! Please help me!”
She looks up as I get closer, her blonde hair falling about her shoulders.
“Please, you have to help me! Call the—.”
Victor emerges from my right, having gone around to the other side of the nearest building instead of staying directly behind me. He remains next to the building letting it hide his whereabouts. Only I can see him. I glimpse the gun in his hand held down at his side, pressed against the side of his leg.
“What happened? Are you OK?” the woman asks, fixing her purse firmly underneath her arm, probably in case I might try to take it from her.
My eyes stray between the two of them, back and forth, and at one point the woman turns to her left to see what I’m looking at, but Victor stays hidden in the shadows.
I know why he’s not moving. I know why his gun is in his hand rather than hidden away in the back of his slacks. Whether this woman lives or dies is entirely up to me.
“Miss?” she asks again, appearing concerned, but wary of me just the same. “Do I need to call the police?”
I try to catch my breath, pressing my hand to my chest, but I realize that it’s no longer the running that’s stealing it away. The thought of Victor shooting this woman because of me—
She reaches inside her purse and pulls out a cell phone.
Victor raises the gun just a little.
“No!” I shout and the woman stops cold with the phone clutched in her ring-decorated hand.
I gesture wildly at her. “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
She doesn’t look convinced. She narrows her eyes at me.
I fake a small laugh. “Really, I am so sorry. My friends and I were…never mind. I’ve got to go.” I turn and start to jog lightly back in the direction I came, leaving her standing there dumbfounded.
Minutes later, I stand against the side of the truck, my arms crossed as I wait. Two more people walk by, one even nods and smiles at me, but I can’t ask them for help, either. I don’t want to risk it.
Victor walks up as casual as if he had just come back from an early morning stroll. He opens the driver’s side door again and shoulders his duffle bags. With my back turned to him, I feel his eyes on me from the other side of the truck.
“You’re a murderous bastard,” I say calmly, nervously pressing my fingertips around my biceps.
“Let’s get inside,” he says, but then adds as an afterthought, “And if you try to run again or pull anything else, I’ll make sure word gets back about how that friend of yours—Lydia was it?—did help you escape.”
The truck door shuts with a bang while I stand here paralyzed.
I willingly follow him into the hotel.
The lobby is a vast space decorated by skylights and beautiful paintings. A stained glass mural stretches many feet across the mezzanine at the top of the marble staircase. The massive ceilings are held up by tall marble columns. On the inside, this building seems unfitting of the small dusty town that surrounds it. Victor leads me up the stairs after checking in and my interest in the surroundings diminishes with his voice.
“You can shower if you’d like.”
He drops one duffle bag on the floor between the beds, the other on the table near the window overlooking the town. His shiny suitcase with what I’m assuming are his guns inside, he sets on the foot of the queen-sized bed closest to the door.
He reaches up with both arms and opens the curtains wide on the window. It’s getting darker out. I see the faint glow from the few streetlights outside.
“Victor,” I say, but he stops me.
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t call me by my name.”
“Why not? It’s your name. What else am I supposed to call you?” I surprise myself every time I defy him in the slightest way. Because on the inside, I’m utterly terrified of what he might do to me.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says, sitting down at the table and unzipping his bag. “Just get your shower.”
“Look,” I say, walking around the beds toward him, “I’m scared. You scare the hell out of me. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I’m terrified of what’s happening to me—”
“You have a strange way of showing it,” he says, not even offering me the luxury of his eyes. He pulls out a digital device of sorts, smaller than a laptop. “I would say you’ve been too numbed by trauma to let it affect you the way that it should.” He sets the device on the tabletop and then the duffle bag on the floor beside his feet. I think the device is one of those digital tablets.