The Reynosa tunnel didn’t look like much. Chuck and Pedro took a bus into the city and a cab to the small suburb where the Rio Grande pinched and looped within a half mile of itself. Following the bend in the river, they skirted a small sandy hill, covered in dark green deciduous trees that extended high above their heads. They followed a narrow dirt road until they came to a wider opening that looked like it could fit a half-dozen cars parked along the two widened sides of the clearing.
At the end of the mini parking lot, a small, six-foot gap, bordered by thick wooden beams barely stood out among the underbrush along the base of the sandy hill. Several old, rusty cars occupied the parking area and a pair of dirty, sweaty men stood outside the opening smoking and drinking from their water bottles.
Pedro pulled Chuck aside and stepped off the road into the woods.
“I only come here when Riko Grande takes me,” Pedro said. “I don’t know these men and they don’t like strangers if they don’t know who they are. We go to the hardware store and ask for the job helping with the tunnel.”
“I’m not sure this Riko Grande is going to want to hire me after I stepped in front of him at the hotel,” Chuck said, not realizing that Pedro was unaware of the incident.
“What do you mean?” he said. “Señor Grande came to the hotel? When?”
“He was there yesterday,” Chuck said. “I bumped into him and he got mad at me, started yelling at me in Spanish.”
“What was he doing there at the hotel?”
“I don’t know,” Chuck said, searching his mind for a plausible way to explain away his comment.
“Was he looking for my mom?” Pedro asked. “Was he looking for money from her?”
“I don’t know why he was there,” Chuck said, quickly inventing a cover story. “I think he was talking to Mr. Casteneda about money he owed the hardware store from the supplies he bought.”
As they spoke of the big Mexican, his white minivan rolled down the dirt road and stopped in front of the two sweaty workers. Just out of range to hear their conversation, they watched Riko exit the car and shake hands with the two men. They conversed briefly. The two men leaned into the passenger window. Chuck and Pedro could not see into the van with the passenger side further from their vantage point than the driver side.
Chuck could make out a pair of attractive female legs and a bright red dress. Pedro’s face seemed to light up at the same realization.
“Riko Grande bring the girls to the site,” he smirked and bobbed his head. “Those lucky hombres get laid as reward for their working in the tunnel.”
Chuck slung his arm around Pedro and turned him back the way they came.
“I’ve seen enough,” he said with one last look back at the flash of crimson and the thin mocha legs. “Let’s go get something to eat, on me this time.”
In the cab back to the house, Chuck checked his Facebook messages on Pedro’s phone and told each of his girls how much he missed them. Emily posted photos of herself in the library at her computer with the caption; “studying hard to make you proud”. The image overwhelmed Chuck and brought him to tears. Pedro placed his hand on Chuck’s shoulder to console him.
“You gotta get home to the states,” he said.
The house remained empty, devoid of Mirabella’s female presence late into the evening. Pedro and Chuck watched a soccer game on television waiting for her. They ate at a dive along the road home from the tunnel, paid out of Chuck’s roll of pesos. As the soccer game ended, tired from their long day of working and walking, they both went to bed before she returned.
The next morning, Mirabella slept excessively late and Chuck made fried eggs for him and Pedro.
“We’ll go to the hardware store later this week,” Pedro whispered to Chuck. “We’ll get señor Grande to let you help dig the tunnel this weekend. It is almost done.”
“I don’t think he likes me too much,” said Chuck. “He’s the one who broke my arm in the first place.”
“It don’t matter,” said Pedro. “The migrants will come soon, so he wants to finish this week. He’ll take as many workers as he can get.”
Mirabella emerged from her bedroom, dragging herself to the table. Chuck served her a plate and sat with her while Pedro ventured into the swamp to retrieve more of his submerged woodworking creations.
Mirabella remained uncharacteristically quiet and Chuck decided to pretend not to notice. Instead, he pointed out more items in the house and gave her the English translations. He pointed at the chair and said “chair”, the table and said “table”, the plates and said “plates”. He continued pointing out any item he could across the house such as the counters, the windows, the refrigerator, the oven and the clock. Standing at the stovetop, he held the frying pan over the burner and conjugated the verb “to cook”.
“I cook,” he said. “You cook, he cooks, she cooks, we cook, they cook.”
“I cook, yo cocino,” Mirabella replied, softly at first, but with her radiant smile peeking through like a Mexican sunrise, as she continued conjugating the same verbs in both English and Spanish.
“Sí, sí,” Chuck said.
“No,” she replied, with and even wider smile. “Yes, yes.”
They conjugated the verbs “to sit”, “to eat”, “to read”, “to write”, “to walk”, “to talk”, “to run”, “to build”, “to make”, “to smile”, “to play” and “to dance”, often acting out the action verbs to further highlight their meaning. At “to dance”, never a good dancer, Chuck awkwardly moved his hips like an uncoordinated Elvis, which elicited a spirited laugh.
“No es bueno,” Mirabella said. “That’s no good.”
Then Mirabella rose from her seat and moved her hips in a fluid, sultry manner with her arms extended above her head. She closed her eyes, looked down and side-to-side as her chest and hips swayed in opposite directions. The motion of her lithe frame surprised Chuck in how sexy he found it.
“Eso es bailar,” she said to him with an almost seductive look into his eyes before seeming almost embarrassed and sitting back down.
Pedro returned to the room with another box of hand carved animals. They glistened rich brown and orange in the sunlight through the kitchen window.
“We go to the festival and make some money today,” he said. “Oh, and Chuck, your wife left you a message on Facebook. She will call you at the hotel later today. Said she wants to know about a guy named Chico.”
Stephanie sat across from Rupert in an upscale steakhouse in Live Oak, just south of her mother’s house where they dropped off Emily to join her two sisters for the weekend. They chatted breezily over their Caesar salads, red wine and dim candlelight. Rupert recommended the Texas Ribeye for its tenderness and bold flavor and Stephanie complimented him for his taste on her first bite.
They spent much of the night avoiding legal conversation and shared their domestic struggles. Rupert listened to Stephanie vent about Britney’s refusal to engage in the college process and how she had written all her essays for her. Rupert suggested backing off, but casually asking her about what colleges her friends were applying to, or even better yet, getting the other daughters to do it. The more she concentrates on what her friends are doing, Rupert reasoned, as opposed to what her mother wants her to do, the more she might come around.
As the discussion turned to Ashley, Stephanie revealed that she sent the girls to her mother’s house for the weekend and asked her to treat them to a spa day as a ploy to try and pry Ashley out of this obsession with her college-aged boyfriend.
“I didn’t tell my mother what’s going on with her,” she said to Rupert between sips of her wine. “I just told her they needed a break with all the chaos going on at home.”
Rupert sympathized with his client about her struggles with Ashley, revealing that his daughter went through a similar stage and had her heart smashed by her first serious boyfriend.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” he said, with a distant look of sadness. “But I think I have a pretty good idea.”
Stephanie declined desert and made a comment to Rupert about how many dinners he’d bought her. He held up two fingers and ordered coffee for them both.
“This has been a challenging, but enjoyable case,” he said, leaning in and turning more serious. “I did want to discuss some business with you, if you don’t mind my changing the mood a bit.”
“Sure,” Stephanie said, “I hope it’s not more bad news.”
“No, but I wanted to talk about this group, ALIAS. I didn’t know that much about them. So, I did some research. They have two sects, one called ALIAS Legal and another called ALIAS Ops. They’re affiliated with each other, but run separately. We need to steer clear of ALIAS Ops. They’re the shadier of the groups. They’re the ones that illegally smuggle people out of the country and help them stay here to live as illegal aliens. From there, ALIAS Legal tries to work through the appropriate channels to help the undocumented comply with our legal system.”
“So, if we used ALIAS Ops, they’d try to bring Chuck back illegally?” Stephanie asked. “And then ALIAS Legal would try to get him the right papers to help him stay.”
“That’s generally how it works,” Rupert said. “But as your lawyer, I have to tell you that it’s a risky strategy.”
“If he gets caught,” Stephanie said. “He could be banished for life.”
“That’s right,” Rupert replied. “The upside is that he could be back here in a week as opposed to five or ten or even 20, God forbid, years. The downside is the risk-reward equation where your girls could lose him for life.”
“Five years sucks,” Stephanie said. “Ten sucks worse. Twenty may as well be for life. They wouldn’t even know him by then.”
“I spoke with a contact who was able to put me in touch with an attorney from ALIAS Legal,” Rupert continued. “It’s unconventional and I’m not sure you’ll want to do this.”
“Do what?” Stephanie leaned in.
“It’s an extreme option, but legal,” he said.
“Your girls might not totally understand it,” Rupert continued to hedge his explanation.
“I feel conflicted even suggesting it.”
“Just say it,” Stephanie said. “At this point, we seem to be out of options. I think we need to try anything we can.”
“Ok,” Rupert said, sipping his cup of coffee and leaning back slightly. “There’s a legal strategy they suggested that involves getting your marriage annulled.”