Tom and Elias waited by the tracks in the forest for the train to pass, while Elias methodically checked his weapons, and his other gear in his little backpack. He was packing two pistols, a large hunting knife, and peculiar looking short dagger. "That's quite the little knife," remarked Tom.
"It's a dirk," replied Elias, "My grandfather gave it to me." Elias turned it over in his hands, allowing the moonlight to glint off its razor edge. "It's a traditional Highland dagger. He brought it over from Scotland."
"Is that where you're from?" realizing for the first time, that a bit of a brogue came through in Elias' speech, especially when he was under pressure.
"I was born and bred in Boston," he said, "but I was raised to always feel I was a proud Scot."
"Where did you learn to fight?"
"Some things are borne of necessity. I grew up in a bit of rough neighbourhood, but I didn't start carrying a gun with me until I did a year with Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. There I learned that there is always evil lurking in the hearts of men, and in a disaster or otherwise extreme situations, you have to be prepared for violent confrontation if you're to protect the ones you've already sacrificed so much to save. But I'll tell you, I was a bit of a hothead back then, and I developed a deep-seated hatred for thugs, bullies, and gang members who make their way through life pushing other people around. Now that we're undertaking this dangerous journey, I can't promise that I won't react brutally when we're threatened."
"Just as long as we don't lose our heads, literally or figuratively," said Tom. "We'll no doubt have to choose our battles, while keeping our focus on getting across to New York in one piece. If we try to save all of the orphans of Mexico we'll never make it. Better to live to fight another day, and come back in force if that's what we want to do."
Their attention was averted by the sound of a train engine and the clickety clack of wheels on tracks. As the fearsome freight train zoomed past, Tom broke into a run and quickly jumped onto a ladder on one of the freight cars. Climbing up a few rungs, he reached down and grabbed Elias' outstretched hand to haul him up as well. Then they proceeded to make their way up the ladder in the gathering dark, feeling their way while wondering how the madding crowd, huddled together on the top of the car, would receive them.
Near the top, Tom could make out in the gloom, the shadowy outline of a leg hanging off of the side. He gingerly felt around, to try and not overtly disturb the owner of said leg, who evidently was trying to rest as best he could, while not rolling off of the moving train. Tom and Elias searched for whatever bit of space they could find on the crowded roof, as people grumbled to make space and only grunted or looked frightened as Tom said, "Con permiso," and, "Perdón."
They passed a long night as the train continued to wind it's way through the wilderness at a rapid pace, and as the sun rose, Tom could see that hundreds of migrants were doing their best to cling to survival and their dignity as they sat in their precarious positions on the freight cars.
In Tom and Elias' immediate vicinity, there were many interesting looking characters. There were probably at least twenty people on their car alone, and each car carried about the same amount. Surrounding them, there were a few young girls, a boy who looked like he was in his early teens, and some decidedly unpleasant looking men who were unshaven, and all around greasy looking. Sitting nearby Tom was also some young men who looked to be in their twenties and seemed more simpatico, but were doing their best to appear tough. Tom thought he might as well make friends. "Hola. ¿Qué tal? Me llamo Tomás. ¿Cuál es su nombre?"
The young man looked hesitant to respond, and shot a furtive glance at one of the rough looking men, who appeared to be watching, but finally responded, "Me llamo Juicho."
"And where are you from?"
The ugly man responded, "What is your interest, gringo, and why do you cover your face?"
Tom realized he had garnered unwanted attention, and perhaps the Nacho Libre mask did little to hide the fact that he was white. "That is my business," Tom replied, "and I do not have to explain myself."
"But you do have to explain yourself. Here you are dressed like a clown and asking lots of questions. How do you hope that I will not kill you?"
Tom held up his hands. "Whoa. Tranquilo, amigo. It's fine, don't worry. I am going to mind my own business from now on."
The train ride went on, and the merciless sun punished the poor migrants riding without any shelter on the hot steel freight cars. Elias had observed Tom's little confrontation with their hostile fellow passengers, and kept a wily eye on them, especially the greasy one with the long black hair and moustache that Tom had talked with. He seemed to be drinking guarro, or some kind of purified strong liquor, and the more he drank, the more he gave unwelcome attention to one of young girls sitting near him. Finally she yelled something and tried to move away from him, and this just made him angry. "You dare resist me, puta? I am going to teach you some respect and how to act like a woman." The greasy customer went after her and pinned her to the iron carriage with his superior weight, as he prepared to have his way with her. Everyone looked discomforted by her screams and wriggling, but most were too frightened to do anything and just looked away, hoping that they would not be next.
Elias rose to his feet, but two of the slimy man's companions moved to block his way. "And where do you think you're going, gringo?" one of them asked.
Tom also got to his feet and made his way behind them, so now it was fair, two goons versus him and Elias. The two thugs glanced over their shoulders to evaluate the new threat, giving Elias the opportunity to draw his gun. One of the girls nearby let out a little scream and hid her head in her hands. "You going to shoot me, viejo?" I can see that you don't have the balls." The thug rushed towards Elias, while reaching for his own pistol. Tom leaped forward and slid along the steel panel of the train car with one leg outstretched, tripping the goon, who fell flat on his face. Tom was immediately on his back, slamming his head into the iron freight car again and again.
Taking advantage of this confusion, Elias also advanced, and plunged his big knife into the leg of the other thug. As he screamed in pain, Tom pushed off the back of the other guy's head and cartwheeled a kick into the stabbed man's face, sending him hurtling off of the side of the train.
Elias then laid into the other guy, who was trying to get his feet under him to launch a counter attack. Elias got some punches in, but the goon landed a left hook, knocking Elias back and in a daze. Tom came back, and wrapping his arm around the goon's throat, pushed his legs out from under him and then threw him, judo style into a huge cactus that they happened to be passing by.
As Elias sat on his haunches, he made eye contact with the first greasy man, still lying prostrate over the wretched young girl. The man opened his mouth as if to say something, but Elias fired his pistol, stone faced, shooting the man in the forehead. Tom picked up the lifeless rapist off of the girl and rolled him off the train car. Elias stayed frozen where he was, and Tom motioned him to check on the girl and give her medical attention.
Unfortunately, their meagre supplies did not include much of a first aid kit. But mostly they just tried to comfort the pitiful and scared little woman, to reassure her that she would be okay for now. They soon learned that her name was Maira, that she was from Guatemala, and that she was fleeing violence and poverty back home in a desperate bid for a better life in the U.S. Her face was spattered with blood and gore, and lacking much water or rags, they ended up smearing it rather than cleaning it off of her properly. As the sun blackened the dried blood on her face, Tom remarked inwardly that it was really a blessing that they had no mirrors, for she would have been truly horrified if she could have seen herself.
They also befriended another young woman named Claudeth, who was from Quintana Roo, in the South Eastern edge of Mexico. She evidently had disturbingly chilling reasons for fleeing her home to seek a better life, and was not interesting in talking about it.
Tom sat next to Elias, who had his elbows up on his knees and was staring into the distance in a very pensive mood. "That was a hell of a fight," laughed Tom, trying to lighten their spirits. "I thought you were going to positively spit fire onto those hooligans."
Elias looked down, and felt the weight of his .44 Magnum in his sling holster. "Well he wasn't the first villain that I've had to put on ice, and I daresay he will nae be the last. God I hate these bastards who are capable of such abominable cruelty. Some call them animals, but my good friend Pea-ulī genetically speaking, was more animal than man, and he would never treat another creature with such hateful savagery. We defame the poor speechless beasts when we compare them to such wicked fiends as these savages. And what's more, it seems that it's a universal human trait. These sociopaths are to be found in every nation and culture, wherever the circumstances allow them to indulge their vicious appetites on the weak with impunity from the law. And while we pride ourselves on the great civilized nature of our society, these evil monsters lurk all the more often in the growing shadow of corruption that has taken a firm foothold in all corners of the world." He looked at Tom, "So much needless suffering and death. What can men do in the face of such reckless hate?"
"We fight," said Tom, "And that fight begins here." He pointed to his heart. "If we maintain space in here for forgiveness, than we escape all the bitterness piled upon bitterness held in the face of the things that we may never understand about the human condition. We intellectualize over and over, but this helplessness suits us, and then these answers come as lies; making us our own destroyer. We really are just waiting for some simple signal to creep across our conscience and uncover some sense of redemption for all our sins. But in the end, if we are to find any shreds of happiness in this life, we cannot let ourselves to be conquered by the evil in it, but we do our best to keep conquering the evil with the good."
"But how do you begin to do that?" asked Elias in wonder. "You could try to do good things Oprah style by building schools, or we can try to save peoples lives from illness and disease; but some may say that either occupation just serves to pass the time until our own day comes to deliver our soul to the yawning grave. But as to what's right and what's good - you must leave that to Him Who knows all things; it is not for us to decide."
"Supposing that you are right and there is no one doing good in the world, I am still fascinated by the reaction that our actions summon in others. While it is true that one will scarcely choose to die for a saint, but peradventure for the good man some would even dare to die. I think you live each day, and you take one case at a time, and with each person that you meet, you try to see the good in them."
"And what of those who are strong who would crush those who are weak? What do we do when we consider all the oppressions that are being done under the sun; and behold the tears of such as were oppressed; because we know that on the side of their oppressors there is power; and yet these poor have no comforter."
"When you put it that way, it's overwhelming when you realize that you can't help or save everybody. I suppose we have to content ourselves to try and make whatever small of a difference in the world, and defend the weak with whatever we have."
""After I applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun; there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.' So said the wise man, and it remains truer than ever; we continue to be injured by the powerful and victimized by tyranny. If God wills that evil be vanquished, will any of us be alive to see it?"
"If we forgive our executioners with our dying breath and refuse to be squeezed into the evil mould of this black-hearted world, then we can truly conquer it."
Their conversation drew the curious attention of a gangly youth that was seated near them. Tom made conversation with him, and soon learned that at fourteen years of age, he was in fact older than he appeared, that his name was Omar and he was from El Salvador.
"What are you looking for in the United States? Work?" Tom asked.
"Como no," Omar replied. Meaning, of course, "but mostly I'm looking for my mom. My mother left for the States five years ago, and I don't want to be separated from her anymore. I am going to find her so that we can be a family again."
"I sincerely hope that you can do that."
As the voyage through the wilds of Mexico dragged on, Tom began to feel very weak and tired. He expressed his feelings to Elias, who retorted that that was to be expected on an adventure such as this. But Tom insisted that something else was happening to him.
"Perhaps you've contracted a parasite," suggested Elias. "That would not be surprising considering where we've been."
"That's true, but I fear it's something all the more inconvenient for us. I suppose you've surmised that I am a hybrid."
"I figured that you're were juiced up with something, yes, after seeing the way you move. What are you getting at?"
"Well I think that the animal DNA is being replaced and I'm losing my enhanced abilities."
"Let's take a look at you here. What makes you think that?"
"This sickly feeling I have, it reminds me of how I felt when I first introduced the foreign DNA into my system." They were interrupted as the train started to slow down and apply the screeching brakes.
"That's weird," spouted Elias. They were further unsettled by the sound of screaming from the front of the train.
"Oh no," said Tom.
"¡Son los Zetas!" someone screamed from ahead of them.
"What in blazes are the Zetas?" shouted Elias.
"They're one of the most brutal cartels in Mexico," moaned Tom. "They're more like a terrorist organization than just a gang because they specialize in kidnapping, sexual exploitation and murder. They're the mafia on steroids. To keep the government and citizens in line, they decapitate everyone that gets in the way and then use that to send a message of fear and intimidation. You have to take the guns and escape into the jungle."
"Why me?" spluttered Elias. "Isn't that more your kind of stunt?"
"Normally it would be, but I'm in no condition to make a getaway now. You're reasonably healthy. You have to stay out of sight, and wait for an opportunity to bust us out. Go! Now! Before they see you! I'll stay here with the kids." Tom smiled.
Elias shrugged in defeat. "Fine. But I may need you to give me nudge out the door."
Tom didn't wait to be asked twice. He rapidly used his last ounce of prodigious strength to toss Elias off the train with their gear, where a tree disguised his exit and he landed unceremoniously in a muddy pile of vegetation. His cursing conveyed to Tom that he was bruised but otherwise unhurt, and fortunately was drowned out by the screeching of the train for any gang member to hear. After looking to see that Elias was for the most part uninjured, Tom turned to vomit off of the side of the train car.