Delando Rojas glided through the warm waters of Carlson Lake in McAllen Texas, navigating south and west toward the minor tributary that dumped into the Rio Grande just north of Reynosa. Swimming, as he had so many times in the service of his Eastern European homeland through dark, murky waters, he had an innate sense of direction. Nonetheless, he checked his waterproof watch and followed the precise GPS directions through the narrow channel toward the river that bordered the country with its southern counterpart.
He remained submerged for at least 15 minutes, cutting an underwater path like a sleek otter. As he dumped into the larger river, he fought the current from pulling him southeast toward Brownsville and the Caribbean Sea.
The stoking against the current grew more rigorous, but his strong arms, back and legs glided seamlessly toward his destination across the Mexican line.
Remaining deep in the river, along the muddy bed, he slid his hands along the sand and silt on the Reynosa side until reaching what he was looking for; a metal grate covering a cement sewer tube.
Checking his watch, he confirmed that the oxygen tank still had plenty of air for him to survive the long glide through the narrow tube into the edge of the city.
For the next ten minutes, Delando kept his arms straight ahead of him as the four-foot-wide tube would not allow him room to swing his arms to his side. His legs continued kicking like the propellers of a motor boat. He could see nothing in front of him and had to keep his head down to avoid cracking it against the hard cement interior of the drainage tube.
Finally, a glimmer of light ahead signaled the end of the journey into Mexico. Delando reached the familiar point where the cement opened to a wider collect basin with a series of metal steps leading to another metal grate at the surface.
Delando pushed the grate out of the way and surveyed the familiar surroundings. He had taken the same route into Mexico numerous times and could probably have completed the trip without his smart watch. But he checked it anyway to monitor the amount of oxygen left in his tank and confirm the time it took to arrive.
Delando walked a couple hundred yards into the woods and came to a patch of tree branches and leaves covering a small ditch. He removed the debris to reveal a metal safe, which he opened by punching a seven-digit code. The safe contained a black duffel bag with a towel, a change of clothes folded and wrapped nicely in plastic, a tie, a belt and pair of shoes, some money and a Sig Sauer P226 hand gun.
He slid out of his sleek black head-to-toe rubber swimming suit, standing naked in the cover of the trees, dried off and changed into a pair of black trousers, a crisp white shirt, belt, tie and nicely polished black shoes. Using the towel, he carefully dried the rubber suit, folded it and rested it on top of the oxygen tank and breathing apparatus in the duffel before closing and reburying the safe.
Checking the chamber of the gun, he returned to the street and headed for the center of Reynosa.
Riko Grande lay still with a pool of blood collecting on the floor of his store. Mirabella tugged at Pedro’s t-shirt to leave and rattled a rapid series of terse Spanish commands. Pedro stood over his fallen adversary. Then he bent, took the money from his left hand and smacked him on the back of his head as if he could feel it.
“Adiós galipollas,” he said before turning to Chuck. “Get the money from the cash registers.”
“Pedro no,” Mirabella pled.
“He stole the money from my papá,” he said, appealing to Chuck. “He stole the store from Mr. Agundez. Everyone know he killed him for the money. He don’t deserve this. He don’t need it now. We should take it.”
Pedro turned and spoke more Spanish to Mirabella. But Mirabella held her ground and kept repeating “no. no. no.” until Pedro relented.
“It just looks like a robbery went bad,” Pedro said to Chuck. “They’ll think the migrants did it.”
But Mirabella pointed at several black globes affixed to the ceiling.
Her Spanish sounded just like English as she pointed them out.
“Video,” she said. “Vamonos. Ahora.”
“She’s right,” Pedro said to Chuck. “We have to get out of here. We’re in danger. I don’t know who’ll hurt us worse, the police or señor Grande’s men. Either way, we have to leave Reynosa.”
They exited through the broken front glass door into the crowded square. Thousands of witnesses, the migrants that overran the city, may have seen them, and yet, none of them likely noticed or cared.
“Where can we go?” Chuck asked, assessing the impenetrable crowd of migrants that filled the square.
“I don’t know,” Pedro replied. “We can get on the bus and go as far as it can take us.”
“No el bus,” Mirabella said. “Nos veran.”
“They will see us on the bus,” Pedro agreed. “That’s the first place the men will look. We have to escape.”
“Can we take a taxi to the next town?” Chuck asked.
“Riko’s men know all the taxi drivers,” Pedro said. “They’ll know where to go to find us.”
“Can we go on foot?”
“Walk?” Pedro asked.
“No podemos caminar en el desierto,” Mirabella weighed in.
“She’s right again,” Pedro said as they scrambled through the throng of migrants away from the hardware store. “We can’t walk the desert. Look at these migrants.”
Pedro stopped and rotated in a complete 360-degree circle.
“That’s it,” he said. “Look at these migrants. We can hide right here in the middle of all of them.”
Chuck and Mirabella looked at each other with a wash of concern. Neither could think of a counter argument or a better idea.
“That will only buy us so much time,” Chuck said.
“Yes, but look at these migrants,” Pedro continued. “They will eventually get to America. We could go with them.”
“We no go to America,” Mirabella spoke in broken English to both Pedro and Chuck. “América es un mal lugar. A very bad place.”
“Mami,” Pedro pleaded. “Papá is there. We could find him.”
“No Pedro,” Mirabella said. “No vamos a America.”
“Vamos ver a papá,” Pedro snapped, turning to translate for Chuck. “We can finally find papá and be a family again. And you can see your family also.”
Chuck looked over his shoulder at a group of migrants who, noticing the broken glass at the hardware store, started to enter the building and loot the shelves. In the distance, he could hear the sirens of the police approaching.
“We have to do something,” he said to Mirabella and Pedro. “We can’t stay here in the middle of the square.”
“The tunnel is almost finished,” Pedro said. “Maybe we can finish ourselves.”
“You said there was a whole weekend of work left to be done by Riko’s entire team of men,” Chuck said, rubbing the ache from his swollen eye. “How can the three of us finish the dig?”
“Señor Grande said the tunnel was done. The pipes are all in the ground. We just have to dig up through the sand to get to the top and escape to America. He said it would take ten men the whole weekend. But we can do it if we work very hard.”
“No me gusta América,” Mirabella snapped at her son.
“Tu padre esta muerto!”
At that, Pedro and Mirabella argued loudly in the street. From what Chuck could tell, Pedro had believed his father survived the attempt to immigrate to the United States. But, in truth, Mirabella witnessed his murder by the American militia that patrolled the empty lands along the border. She just never told him the truth.
“Los perros de la frontera lo mataron.”
Chuck tried to keep up with the words. He recognized “perros” as “dogs” and thought she was saying that the dogs had killed Pedro’s father. He suddenly noticed a group of angry, burly men, including the two he had previously seen smoking at the tunnel, arriving at the hardware store. He could see guns in their belt loops. One of them had a rifle slung over his back. They shooed the migrants away and moved in and out of the store looking across the square for those responsible for the break-in.
“They’ll see the video soon,” Pedro said. “We can hide in the hotel.”
Sweaty and out of breath, Pedro, Mirabella and Chuck all clamored into the lobby of the Casa del Sol. Mr. Casteneda happened to be at the desk and greeted them with concern.
“You have to hide us,” Pedro said. “We killed Riko Grande. They will come for us.”
Mr. Casteneda took all three fugitives into his office and locked the door behind him.
“You have to leave here,” he said. “Señor Chuck, you have to take them away. The men will rip the hotel apart looking for you. If the Policía don’t arrest you, Riko’s men will kill you. Many of the Policía take their orders from la bestia, señor Grande. You must leave now.”
The office phone rang. They ignored it.
“Where can we go?” Chuck asked. “Can you arrange a car?”
“Not with all these migrants here,” Mr. Casteneda said. “The roads are all blocked. You have to run. You have to take care of my beautiful Mirabella. You can’t let nothing happen to her. You understand?”
Miguel entered the room holding the phone, oblivious to the events occurring.
“Señor Chuck,” he said cheerfully. “Es tu esposa en el teléfono.”