Story art by Alexander James Adams.
From the author: First published in "More Alternative Truths" edited by Bob Brown and Phyllis Irene Radford, this story sprang from an as yet unfullfilled campaign promise. What is the true purpose of Mr. Trumps wall.
“Adios, amigo,” Mariposa Santiago del Santa Cruz saluted the dead man she shared her box car with. He’d died day and a half ago of neglect, homelessness, and despair. Eventually those who found the man would blame her for his death, as they blamed her for everything else that wrong in this country.
She jumped clear of the car as the train ground to a halt.
She landed with a knee-crunching jar. Her teeth rattled and her jaw ached. Ignoring the pain, she took off at a run, keeping low, darting from bush to bush, hugging the shadows. The thumb drive she’d hidden inside her panties wiggled and threatened to fall free from the spent elastic around her thigh.
Shouts from behind propelled her faster, deeper into the desert. Another three minutes and the sun would drop below the horizon. A moonless night and the thick pollution had become her friends. Three weeks on the run, a thousand miles between her and home, she couldn’t give up now.
An hour later she crept into the border town that was no longer marked on most maps. Only outlaws, political exiles, and Coyotes hung out here.
Three weeks ago, she would never have come to a place like this. The dark, low-ceilinged room reeked of cheap tobacco, spilled tequila, stale piss, and better-than-backyard pot. She pushed back against the wall, and let her eyes adjust to the gloom.
She found the coyote quickly. A tall Anglo in a slick suit and a too- wide tie, out of style for so long that it was almost hip again. Nordic blond hair and gleaming teeth should have marked him as an outsider in this illegal haven, but the easy smile and casual way he lounged against the cracked plastic upholstery of his booth said he belonged. Nicknamed The Viking, he was her contact, and that information had cost her quite a bit of cash. Everyone else in the bar was too dark–skinned, or too short. And, like her, too Mexican.
Six rapid shots exploded outside. She slid down, making herself small, covering her head and neck with crossed arms, like in the air-raid drills back in elementary school. A few of the patrons looked up from their drinks with alarm. Most ignored the gunfire. They must consider this a normal evening’s entertainment.
With a deep breath that threatened to turn her resolve into a coughing fit, she picked her way between wobbling tables and cat calls. “Hey chica, come have a drink with me.” “Hola, chica, you need a real man tonight.”
She hadn’t appreciated that kind of attention when she had been young enough to deserve it. Here, age didn’t matter so much as willingness. With long practice, she ignored them all. Only the Viking held her interest.
She stopped a scant foot away from him, waiting for him to notice her. He turned his gaze sideways almost at the moment she paused. Constantly wary and vigilant, he must know everyone here and where they belonged. She was clearly out of place. His eyes lingered where she presumed his hands wanted to grope. She grew aware of her accumulated grime from the past three days since her last shower in a flea-ridden cash-only motel. The oozing leer made her feel truly sullied. Six weeks ago, her only dress had been new from Paris. It had been pristine clean and fit too snugly in places. It sagged on her now, and was ripped and dirty. She’d worn designer heels back then. Now her equally filthy and ripped canvas shoes protected her feet from the ick on the floor and the broken glass on the sidewalk.
The Viking must have recognized her desperation and gestured toward the other side of his booth. The two men sitting there caught his eye. Beers in hand, they got up and left. He caught the gaze of man at the bar who brought two cold beers their way.
He remained silent until the bartender slid the bottles onto the table and backed away. She grabbed the cold, wet, glass bottle, and rubbed it across her brow, down her cheek and along her nape.
“You look like a woman who would like to take a trip,” he said in perfect English with no more trace of an accent than she had.
“How much?” Mariposa asked. She squirmed a bit under his gaze and discreetly adjusted the position of the thumb drive.
“Where do you want to go, chica?” He pulled on his beer. “I hear Spain is fine this time of year. Or Switzerland.”
Mariposa's mouth went dry and she sipped from the bottle to cover her reaction. It had been six weeks since she'd known home and safety. Paralyzing fear rode her like a jockey. Her tormentor was hot on her trail and she needed to get over the wall. Nowhere is safe from him!
“I need to get across the border. Only from there can I seek political asylum elsewhere.”
“Now, that gets expensive, chica.” He smiled. “It is not so easy as it once was.”
“I can afford it.” Obtaining the money from secret bank accounts and trusting friends had added extra miles and time to her journey.
His leer softened into calculation. When he looked at her again he wasn’t looking at her dress, but at her. He smirked.
“You might have afforded it before. But now?” the Viking shrugged.
“I have to.”
“Twenty-five G’s, cash. Up front.”
“What makes you think I will pay that much?”
“Someone recommended me to you. Someone got you from… there to here. Anyone who knows my work knows my rates. You want over the wall. That’s expensive. And illegal. You have to make it worth the bribes and the bodyguards. And there is risk. Expensive risk.”
“I’ll give you five in cash now. Another ten when you get me to safety.”
“Twenty up front.” His jaw firmed, but his eyes wavered. She had him.
She knew that if she gave him too much up front, she’d never make it over the wall. She might not make the end of the block.
“Five up front. Fifteen when I am safely on the other side and out of rifle range from the guards on the wall.”
“You’ll need to give up your ID and your passport. Your real ID, not the fake ones you’ve probably been using.”
Every official she’d encountered for three years had demanded the same thing, but always for different reasons.
“Why, so you can sell them?”
“Won’t do anyone much good to travel on your ID.” He jerked his head toward the TV screen over the bar. The scene shifted from a soccer game to a news alert. A bad black and white photo of Mariposa’s face—younger and plumper, straight off her campaign posters—filled the screen with her name scrolling beneath it. “Wanted” flashed in an urgent cadence above her serene and trustworthy face.
Although no crime was listed, she knew that fear would motivate even complete strangers to report her whereabouts. She had to move quickly, get into hiding, or the federales would swoop in, guns blazing. At her.
“Anyone with your ID is going straight to prison. From the looks of that,” he nodded his head toward the TV, “you might not even make it to prison in one piece.”
“They would hold me pending deportation hearings. I’d spend a year in jail while they figured out a story to fit their alternative facts. If I survived a full year in a for-profit prison straight out of hell, I might not be well enough, strong enough, or sane enough to accept deportation. I need my own passport when I get to the other side to prove who I am and what El Presidente has done to me.”
“Handsome woman like you? They might just put you to work. Oldest profession in the world. The only job suitable for a woman like you. According to him.” The Viking leaned back against the bench, making the plastic creak. His too bright smile showed teeth that had endured expensive orthodontics. He’d had one tooth capped in gold. A semi-official passport in this part of town; a guarantee that he could afford whatever he wanted.
“Will you accept my offer?” she asked, holding his gaze.
He remained silent.
She knew the trick. People hate a vacuum of sound. Stay silent long enough, and the person opposite will likely start to babble, even confess. As a prosecuting attorney she’d done it dozens of times. As a judge she’d seen it even more. Keeping her face neutral, she stared at him and took another sip from her bottle, waiting for him to end the silence that hung between them like a muslin curtain.
“Five now for expenses. Fifteen when you are safe? That is not my usual rate.”
“Anymore up front and I won’t live to see the wall let alone get over it. Or worse, you turn me over to the Federales.”
“Okay," said the Viking in surrender. “I’ll do it. Five now. Fifteen when I dump you within one mile the city of your choice, on a road, after sunset.” He held out his hand, palm up, rubbing two fingers together.
Mariposa fingered the leather belt pack around her waist, running one zipper open and closed, then open again. Her gaze never strayed to her backpack. She reached into the left cup of her padded bra and removed a wad of one hundred dollar bills. “You leave me on the road at dawn or you give me a gun to protect myself from outlaws.”
His fingers stopped rubbing and he clenched a fist. Then he opened his hand again. “Agreed.”
She slapped the bills into his hand.
“Meet me at the gas station on the corner of Mesquite and the old highway in two hours. Bring bottled water, a couple gallons worth, a hat, a blanket, and food. You’re going to do a fair amount of walking to get to the wall. Wear good shoes.”
The tennis shoes would have to do. She had no others. Six weeks ago, she’d had a closet full. That was then.
At midnight, just outside the border town, the south side still hopped with salsa music, light spilling through the open doors and windows of bars. Gunfire erupted periodically: men awash in testosterone. Mariposa crouched in the shadow of an abandoned gas station. It might have once been the focal point on the street, but was now just one of many abandoned buildings, dark and forbidding. A meeting place for coyotes and their clients: the poor, the desperate, and the hunted. Like her.
She touched the thumb drive that now resided in her bra. Safe.
Six weeks ago, Mariposa had lost everything in the raid. In the seconds, after federal forces had burst through the heavy doors of her home, she’d watched them gun down her husband of thirty years, her aged parents, even Mindy, the ancient dog that didn’t have long to live anyway. They had just sat down to dinner. The zupa was still hot, the tortillas unbroken.
The gunfire had alerted the neighbors who had called the local police. The shooters, she knew they were government, had fled before making sure that Mariposa, their true target, was dead beneath her husband’s corpse. They wanted it to look like terrorists, outsiders, someone other than that man’s execution squad had struck her down, in the prime of life and likely to jump from powerful federal judge to the senate.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. Poor Antonio had thrown himself atop her to save her. Loving her more than life to the very end, including his own.
Movement at the front of the building, caused her to crouch lower, letting the two men and three women identify themselves first.
A whispered conversation between one man and woman told her much. They needed to get over the wall to visit their daughter and her new baby. If they went legally at the official border crossing, the guards would simply take their passports and not let them return to the home they’d spent a lifetime building.
The man’s voice rose in volume and pitch. The woman hushed him. All of them looked around guiltily, though they’d committed no crime. Yet.
“We’re citizens, damn it. Our families have been here longer than his!”
More people arrived, each with furtive glances. Ten refugees, and two heavily-armed scouts to lead them. They milled about, jumping at every sound, checking their backpacks of water and food.
At last, the Viking appeared. He’d exchanged his slick suit for jeans, hiking boots, and a cotton shirt. He covered his bright hair with a sombrero. A faded serape draped over his shoulder. If he slumped to disguise his height, he’d look just like another anonymous worker.
Mariposa stood up slowly, easing her muscles into a new posture.
“Ah, our numbers are complete, now,” the Viking said, jingling a wad of keys in his pocket. “Follow me. No talking. You, Mariposa, will sit up front with me.” He gestured toward a sagging van, once black, now speckled with rust, parked three blocks east of them. No windows, the cab separate from the cargo hold. A refrigeration unit protruded from the top. A typical box van.
“Does the air conditioning work?” she asked
“The journey is no longer torturous. Merely illegal,” the Viking said.
Mariposa didn’t believe him. She’d holed up in filthy, cash-only motels, walked endless miles, hopped freight trains, and cried herself to sleep beneath trees on her trek from home to here. A thousand miles.
If she could endure just a few more days she would, at last, be free of Him, so intent on persecuting her to the point of death. She had stood in his way and he could not tolerate that. She’d declared his Executive Orders illegal and he decided that she should die.
When Henry II of England had done that to Thomas á Becket, the troublesome priest had become a martyr and a saint, more powerful in death than life.
She dared not hope someone would remember her and honor her attempts to bring law and justice back to her country.
“So, what really happened?” The Viking asked Mariposa as the lights of town grew smaller in the side mirror.
“Your face and name are on the news, but not your crime. You’ve been on the run for six weeks. That’s a long time.”
“He doesn’t usually have enough focus to follow a single enemy for more than three days,” Mariposa completed the thought for him.
“So it must be dire. A federal judge seeking election to the senate. Last poll I saw, two days ago, still placed you ahead of your opponent with an estimated seventy-five percent of the vote.”
That surprised her. She’d been invisible for six weeks, a lifetime in a political campaign.
“My crime is not what I did, but who I am. He has declared that all persons of Latin descent are no longer citizens—have never been citizens. We can accept deportation or acknowledge our illegal status and he will grant us guest worker permits. I would never be allowed to work as anything more than a farm laborer.”
“I heard about the executive order and guessed the nuances. He does know how to cloud the issues in too many words.”
“His supporters thought he meant recent immigrants and refugees. My family moved north to California in the early 1800s, right behind the first missionaries. I have the original royal land grant from the king of Spain tucked away in a safety deposit box under a different name. Same with much of my money and stock certificates. I am educated, a professional, and a woman. I graduated first in my class at Stanford, top ten at Georgetown Law. Fifteen years as a prosecuting attorney, then ten as a judge in criminal court. Lastly I was elevated to the federal bench. I know how to read between the lines and beneath garbled verbiage. Everything in my life screams denial of the stereotype he proclaims to be the truth. And I have his truth hidden on me.”
He raised an eyebrow. “He needs you dead and the truth destroyed.”
“He tried to kill me and failed. My life is a major threat to his agenda. My thumb drive will bring the IRS down on him for tax fraud.” Had she said too much? Dared she take the next step?
“The IRS is beholden to no one in the government. They look only for ways to bring in the most money, respecting no one. Even he is not immune to an audit.” The Viking frowned in contemplation, then his grimace cleared into a smile of inspiration. “The IRS bows to no one!”
“It takes a thief to catch a thief. I bet you know who to sell this information to for the highest price and maximum exposure. It needs a forensic accountant to ferret out the depth of his crimes.” She fingered the thumb drive where it now resided in her bra.
“I will charge you no more money for your safe passage in exchange for that information.”
“Bringing him down will cut into your business of escorting illegal citizens to safety south of the wall.”
“The reward for turning in a tax evader is worth more than I make doing six trips across the border, with no expensive bribes or hired mercenary bodyguards. I can retire to the Cayman Islands on that kind of money.”
“You’ll give me back my deposit? I’ll need all my money where I’m going to buy protection. At least there I can buy protection.”
“Granted.” He held out his hand for the thumb drive.
“When you get me to safety. What about my deposit?”
“When I get you to safety.”
She didn’t answer any more questions from him though he pestered her for hours. Resting her head against the window, she kept her eyes closed, feigning sleep.
Sleep did eventually come. Brief and filled with silent gunfire and blossoms of blood from the bodies of those she loved the most. At least the children had made their escape right after the election. But since the wall went up, communication was spotty and usually monitored. Miguel and Evangelina waited for her down in Mexico.
How ironic, she thought. Running for safety south of the wall. She no longer could claim rights earned over ten generations of American citizenship. An illegal citizen, now, running from home.
This story originally appeared in More Alternative Truths.