Back at the Savory Yolk restaurant, Juan kept working, but he purposefully did everything slow and wrong. He knew his manager would get upset with this behavior as soon as customers arrived. He pretended to slur words and moved with a dizzy walk.
“Juan, what’s gotten into you today?” Finch asked.
“I am not feeling well,” Juan said. “I might be catching something.”
“You were sleeping on the job, back there.”
“I know. I dozed off, but I hadn’t clocked in. I am just not myself today. I feel fatigued.”
“Just help me through the start of the lunch hour. At least till one.”
“OK, I’ll try.”
Juan knew Finch was really lazy and relied on the staff to do all the manual labor. Once the tables were set and people got their drinks and entrées, most of the hard work was done. But today, he needed all the time he could get. By now the birds were probably at his mom’s, and he needed to get back as soon as possible. He kept going until he saw the perfect opportunity. A customer came in, and he recognized her. She was a regular who was fastidious about cleanliness; almost every time she ate here, she returned glasses and cutlery, asking for cleaner ones.
“Hi, Juanito,” she said.
“Hello, Mrs. Fregata. Nice to see you today. Where would you like to sit?” Juan asked.
“I’ll sit over there by the window.”
Juan pulled out her chair, and as she sat, he sneezed all over her and the table.
“Hey! Cover your mouth, Juan!” she screamed.
“Sorry!” Juan said.
She stood up and made a beeline for the ladies’ room.
“Now I need to wash off the germs. Please change all the plates and silverware on my table, the glasses, too. Disgusting!”
“I am so sorry,” Finch said. “Juan, clean it up.”
“Not him! He has a cold. Can’t you see? God. People need to learn not to work when they are sick,” she said.
“You are right, Mrs. Fregata. Juan, go home. You are too sick to work today. Clock out and leave.”
Juan left, clocking out at the register and grabbing his stuff from the locker. He was out the back door in less than sixty seconds. He drove to the house to clean up all the bird-related items in his room. There were bird feathers to remove, and the cage he had made of chicken wire over the closet door. He vacuumed, then emptied the dirt inside the vacuum into a plastic bag. Then he packed his few belongings in a suitcase and left with the rolled-up chicken wire in his car. He drove down a side street in Chula Vista, shaking the garbage bag out the window of the car while driving with one hand. Feathers and dust flew down the street, the wind carrying them in every direction. Then a few blocks to the south near J Street, he threw the chicken wire into an empty lot. Nobody saw him. It would be untraceable and would probably disintegrate into rust within a few years.
Juan drove down Interstate 5, south to the border as fast as possible. Absolutely no trace of what had transpired at Quayles remained in his car. The border crossing is usually easy going south, because there is no US inspection on the American side going to Mexico. In Mexico there is an inspection, but it works on a lottery where a green light is a pass or a red light is inspection, and it is completely random. Returning at three in the afternoon meant little or no line of cars waiting to enter Mexico.
At the border Juan noticed that there were cars waiting. And he also saw that everyone was getting a red light. As he crossed the speed bumps with his red light he hooked a right to pass further inspection. American officers were working with the Mexican officers on the Mexican side; it was the first time he’d seen this. They stopped each car and looked inside every trunk, and inspected underneath the cars with golf-like poles adapted with small mirrors. Juan suspected they were trying to stop the thief of Quayles Jewels, but he could not be sure.
“¿Qué pasa?” (What’s up?) he asked a Mexican guard.
“Nada. ¿Tu tranquilo no traes nada ilegal?” (Nothing; stay calm; are you bringing anything illegal?) the guard said.
“Sal del auto.” (Get out of the car.)
Juan got out of the car. Evidently the guard was not sharing information. The American officers went into his car and looked all over. They opened his suitcase and found only clothes and toiletries. They cleared it.
“Ya te puedes ir.” (You can leave now.)
“Gracias,” Juan said, thinking, Thanks for nothing.
Juan left, a bit rattled but safe. He drove straight to his mother’s home, said hello to his mom, and climbed up to the aviary. There he found the birds had reentered the aviary using the Sputnik trap on the side as they always did. The birds cooed and ate the food left for them the night before. His first instinct was to remove the stones. He grabbed a bucket and began one by one grabbing a bird and removing the pouch with the stones. He counted each sack as he went. Thirty-four. Thirty-four. He counted the sacks and looked for the last bird in the pack. It was hard. There were nooks and crannies and shelves and divisions in the aviary that made it hard to find the final bird.
He was reluctant to take the next step. He was attached to these birds and they had performed their job remarkably well. They had moved the stones across the border, complicating the law enforcement efforts of the Americans. But now he had no choice. His bucket had thirty-four sacks with a fortune in diamonds. At retail, they represented a good ten million dollars, which would be the number Elliot Quayle would try to recover from TIPCO. If they were sold at high discount, Juan would have returned to his family the money owed to them by TIPCO. Justice delayed, but not denied, he thought, having heard this adage in a documentary on the Holocaust that he had seen on TV.
He went downstairs and found some heavy-duty black plastic garbage bags. He came back upstairs and sat at the door of the aviary, wringing the necks of the birds, one by one. In about five minutes, there was complete silence. He cried. Tears fell down his cheeks in an unexpected flow of relief, revenge, sorrow, success, and fear that was uncontrollable. The birds all fell into the black bags. Thirty-four birds. Then he looked everywhere. He confirmed his fear; one bird was missing! What did that mean?