I didn’t look back. I ran with all the force my legs could muster. My lungs burned as my bare feet thudded heavily against the dust of the ground. It was still early, the ground not warm yet. I wanted to scream for help, but wasn’t sure if I was far enough away to keep Caleb from hearing me, so I just ran. Up ahead I saw a man in an apron, pushing a dolly of crates into a building.
“Help me!” The man looked in my direction, his expression one of confusion and distress. As I reached him, I all but flew into his arms trying to push the both of us inside.
“Que pasa? Que te paso?” he asked in Spanish.
I shoved him harder until we both nearly fell over the dolly on our way inside the building. My breath came in gasps while I tried to slow down and explain in Spanish that I was an American citizen who had been kidnapped and held against my will. I told him I escaped but that my captor was not far and I needed the police right away.
“Who is this man?” he asked “Who is the man who took you?” he seemed just as frantic as I was and he opened the door to look in the direction I had come from.
“Get away from the door!” I yelled. “Caleb! His name is Caleb, please, just call the police. Where the f**k am I?” Finally, the man quickly shut the door and bolted the lock.
“Sí, Mexico,” the man was exasperated. Fucking Mexico. I knew it!
“Shit yeah you are,” came a man’s gravelly voice from the corner. The man, who I assumed was the bartender, and I looked in his direction. He appeared dirty; not the kind of dirty that came from poverty or sloth, but the kind of dirty that came from an obnoxious lifestyle. It was early in the morning and here he was already in a bar, an American biker. He stared at me intently, took a drink of his beer and licked the foam from his mustache. Suddenly, I became aware of my clothing. I was nearly naked under Caleb’s coat. I crossed my arms and took a step behind the edge of the bar.
“Can you help me please? I need to get to the police.” He took another drink as he shook his head.
“You don’t want to go to the police darlin’, trust me on that. Those dirty Mexicans are crooked as hell. They’d just sell you back to whoever you’re running from. Best thing you can do is try to get back over the border and let our guys help you out.” I looked at the bartender.
“Es la verdad,” he said. It’s the truth.
Exasperated, I yelled, “Well can you help me get to the f**king border then!” The bartender jumped and anxiously hustled to the back room. The biker stood, grabbed his beer and drank it down before slamming the glass on the table and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Well damn honey, you ain’t got to be nasty about it.” He walked over to me, tracing his hand along the bar, purposely eyeing me inappropriately. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
“Fuck you,” I said and looked at him with disgust.
He chuckled. “I was thinking of some other arrangement baby doll, a ransom maybe. A finder’s fee?” He looked me up and down again. “Of course, I’m always willin’ to compromise.”
Just then a loud bang came from the door and whoever stood on the other side wasn’t happy. The biker looked at me, saw my instant panic, and pushed me down behind the bar. “Get the f**k down there and don’t breathe a single breath if you want to live through this!” Acting on instinct alone, I curled up in the fetal position under the cash register. The biker ran into the back room and returned quickly with a few crates of alcohol. Before I knew what he was up to, he stacked them on the ground and pushed them under the bar next to me. Meanwhile, the thunderous banging continued at the door of the bar.
“Don’t move,” he said one last time. He grabbed a glass from the counter and began filling it with beer when a loud bang splintered the wood of the door. I nearly urinated.
“Whoa!” said the biker laughing loudly. My heart pounded hard in my chest, my eyes shut tightly as I worked to imagine myself somewhere else.
“Where the f**k is she?” Caleb demanded, calm and inhuman.
“Where’s who man?”
“Don’t play dumb right now f**kface or I’ll blow your goddamn head off!”
“Well that don’t sound too good. Look man, I’m just here watching Javier’s bar.”
“And where’s Javier?”
“He had some problem at home with his old lady, f**k if I know or care. I’m just enjoying the free beer while he’s gone.”
“What’s with the dropped crates outside?”
“You ain’t ever left someplace in a hurry?” A deafening silence filled the room. “Besides, if you’re in here looking for him with a damn shotgun, he probably had a real good reason to leave in a hurry.” He said with an obnoxious chuckle. More silence. Caleb’s footsteps made a slow steady sound as they came near the bar. I did urinate a little at that point. Not my finest moment, I assure you.
“What did you say your name is?” asked Caleb.
“I didn’t; but you can call me Tiny.”
Caleb let out a short, stern laugh.
“Tiny huh? Well, Tiny,” I heard the distinct sound of Caleb cocking the shotgun. “I’m going to ask you this, one, f**king, time, and then I’m going to blow a hole in your chest. Where’s the girl?”
Tiny cleared his throat loudly, “Alright man look… seems to me you lost somebody important to you, and I swear that if I had any f**king idea where that person might be I would tell you, but I don’t. I was just here having a beer and Javier had to leave in a hurry. I figured what the f**k, I’ll stick around. I don’t know nothing about your bitch. So kindly,” I heard him pull out a gun and c**k it. “Get that f**king gun outta my face before I redecorate Javier’s bar with yours!”
The silence that followed crushed the air around me. Sweat dripped down my face, burning my tightly shut eyes. My fingernails sunk into the skin of my arms. I was positive that someone would die while I hid behind crates of piss-warm beer. Suddenly, Caleb erupted into laughter. I bit down hard on my lip to keep from screaming. Tiny soon joined in on the joke and I worried that he had given me away.
“Alright, Mr. Tiny, tell you what. I’ll take you at your word that you don’t know what I’m talking about, and trust that if you happen to run into a half naked girl telling wild stories, that I’ll be the first person you get in touch with. It’s the big house up the road. Ask for Caleb. No one else.”
“You got it man. Can we put these down now?” It was quiet. For a few moments I heard nothing. Then I heard Caleb’s feet moving farther and farther away from the bar. Before I could feel relieved, Caleb’s voice called out from a distance a few feet away, “But if I find out you lied to me, I will find you. And if I find out you’ve done something to my property – I’ll kill you.” And then he was gone.
“Where is she Caleb?” Rafiq’s tone was anger, tempered with restraint. Caleb knew it well. It was the tone Rafiq had adopted whenever he spoke to Caleb in the beginning, when he had been a difficult boy. He didn’t like it, not one bit.
It was early evening and the girl was still missing. She could be hundreds of miles away by now. Why the f**k had he let her go? It wasn’t like him to be so impulsive, or stupid. Though lately, he wasn’t so sure. First he had failed to secure his weapon. Then he’d let her loose in the middle of the night. And now, he’d set unknown factors into play.
“I don’t know where she is Rafiq. If I knew, I would be collecting her now.”
“Would you?” The question held very strong implications. When had Rafiq started to doubt him? When had Caleb ever given him cause? The answer to both questions was of course now. So Caleb replied with the same tempered anger and restraint, “I understand how important she is, Rafiq. I know why I’m here.”
To destroy Vladek. He felt mildly detached. Where and when had he lost that objective? When had his focus wavered? Strangely, he didn’t feel guilty. Already, he was thinking, they could find another way to Vladek. Necessity was the master of invention. Still, he didn’t know why he’d let her go. He’d known she was nearby, perhaps hiding with the bartender, the biker’s body language had told him as much. So, why? Why was he suddenly risking so much when he stood to gain nothing and lose everything?
“I would usually agree Caleb,” Rafiq said softly. “But you’re also not in the habit of making mistakes, let alone of this magnitude. Have you forgotten so easily what I’ve done for you? I found you. I took you in. I helped you become the man your enemies fear. Do you need to be reminded of where you would be without my interference?” Caleb’s jaw clenched hard.
“No, of course not.” It was also impossible for Caleb to forget that Rafiq was so fond of reminding him. “May I also remind you that it is me who kills for you?” He had meant it to sound like a threat, but it came off as a strange plea. As if from a child to a parent. There was a long silence on the other end of the line and the longer it stretched on, the more uneasy Caleb became. “I’ve failed you Rafiq. I’ll make it right.” Somehow he’d find a way.