I’ve been absent for months working on three novels. Two are apart of a series and one not. The one that’s not is currently titled, “I’m working On It.” Here’s the opening chapter.
The men lived acres apart, but it never stopped grim news from getting to the picnic table. One evening I laid my back on the wooden bench and stared up at the leaves of the old oak tree. Pretended I was somewhere else while the elders talked against the cost of food, gas, the war and terrorists. The Mexican border and how immigrants were coming to take their jobs. My young mind wandered as I looked up at the branches. The men kept talking and I tried counting the leaves, get my mind off the invasion. I counted fifty-two when a gust of wind blew the branches. Dropped golden foliage right on top of us and mind you listening to the elders had me on edge. My shoulders hunched up, and I covered my head. Prepared to die.
I was fourteen and unworldly. I told them.
I wouldn’t have been so frightened and influenced if I knew then what I know now, that I’d have a change of heart. That I‘d be here telling my story while looking into their beautiful brown eyes. I raised my voice for special effects.
“I saw this one coming a long time ago,” came the gruff voice.
My audience jumped, then giggled. I placed my hand across my heart, their faces got real serious, and I told them the rest.
My chin sunk into my chest. I said. Grandpa slammed the canned Bud on the aged table. There wasn’t much space between bird droppings, but Grandpa had developed a keen eye over his years. Both for finding the only spot on the table free of crow’s shit, and “They don’t even call them illegal anymore,” he said. He grabbed a fist full of his trousers and yanked them up exposing swollen red ankles. “They call them undocumented immigrants, and they’re coming for us.” He glanced over at me, sucked on the space between his teeth and gave that sneering nod, as usual. “Be ready for it,” he said.
Me and Dad buried him weeks later. I was there when he took his last breath and I swear he said, they’re nothing but trouble before his face went still. Bitter-to-the-end, said they’d bring their grief cause things were chaotic in the south. He said their government told them to move north, and the U.S. government was dumb-as-rocks, full of political propaganda. Invited trouble in our own back yard.
Grandpa left the farm and eighteen Caroline, Virginia acres to my dad. The old farm sat unattended when Dad and I moved north. Crops ceased, stock sold to the only bidder, and the old house? We never went back. As far as I knew, Grandpa’s clothes were still hanging out back on the clothes line. I thought of him every once in a while, slapping his Bud on the bare spot, talking his crap, staggering into the house. Bird shit painted on his butt and elbows. I missed him.
After we moved Dad took up a job at the local jail. He worked there little over five years. He never paid much attention to Grandpa when he was alive. But over time he sounded the same. We both did. Our federal government didn’t detain immigrants without severe criminal records. A judge granted a gang member asylum because an opposing gang controlled his home country. He’d be killed if he returned. News traveled fast. The next thing you know the border was out of control. Thousands fled Mexico and El Salvador. Cost the feds eight billion and the states, eleven billion dollars a year to incarcerate repeat non-citizen felons. Dad’s face turned red, he said, “That’s nineteen billion,” and took one of his blood pressure pills.
Dad came home one day, said they let another immigrant go, a gang member. “Damn fools,” he said. He chugged the last of his Bud and tossed the bottle in the trash. He bitched on the way to his bedroom, salty chips clung to the back of his dark blue polyester pants. I remember those days with both sad and scared feelings.
What Grandpa and Dad preached sunk in when a detainee, I say detainee because we couldn’t call them inmates, took a toothbrush and sharpened it into a useful point and stuck it in my Dad. At the hospital, just before he took his last breath, he squinted at me and said, “You be careful, boy.” He closed his eyes and went away.
“Damn immigrants,” I said as the two gravediggers lowered my Dad into the ground. It was forty three degrees that October day. The priest gave me a disappointed glare and walked away at the first dirt toss. I deserved that one. I stood there until the last shovel of dirt covered the casket, lowered my head to pray, gave respect to my dad. But not those two grave diggers. They threw their shovels in the back of their truck and hauled ass. Didn’t even shake my hand, or say goodbye. My entire family rested in the back yard and nobody cared. I kept breathing hard to fight the tears, watched that truck leave. I fell to my knees over Dad’s fresh grave and Grandpa’s seasoned one right next to him, swore to make things right.
The sun had set in the west dropping the temperature ten more degrees. I wiped the snot from my face, stood, and faced Grandpa’s clothes line. Six years dead and his jeans were still hanging from the tattered polyester cord. The old house looked the same, good enough to live in, it was everything I had left. That and a drive to stop them immigrants from crossing that border.
I grabbed the clothes off the line and walked past the picnic table. Imagined Grandpa sat there talking his crap. Settled into the house, talked crap myself. That was three years before I took myself a job at the jail.
They sent me to work in the immigrant pod. I made every one of them detainees think twice before coming back to the U.S., did everything I could to make them miserable. Dumb stuff. I didn’t let them watch sports or shower. Locked them in their cells early to make them mad. They’d complain. The sergeant reassigned me to work in another unit for a few months, but I always returned to the immigrant pod.
One day I sat back in my officer’s chair, watched that El Salvadoran, Victor, recruit as many as he could to his gang. I thought back on how we ended up housing them together. It came from the top. We had to separate the immigrants from the local criminal holds. It must have been a gang member’s dream come true. Every illegal or should I say, undocumented immigrant, the criminal ones you know, came through that pod. It troubled me to no end. I don’t remember getting out of my chair. My face felt red-hot, that, I remember. I circled a group of them, and Victor Estrada Hernandez smirked.
“Break it up,” I said, and no one moved until Victor nodded his head and said something in Spanish. The detainees walked to their cells, including Victor, but he took his sweet time. He looked at the television and laughed on his way, deportation orders in his hand.
“See you in two weeks,” he said.
He was right, he’d be back in the U.S., recruiting more gang members, bringing trouble and death up from the south. I puffed my chest out and blurted, “What’d you say.” He smirked and turned his back on me, pranced across the pod as if he owned the place. I can’t remember the name now, but on the television another execution happened the night before that unfortunate day. Gangs, forty-five miles north, were at it again. They had killed each other for months, right in our own back yard. That night they killed a cop.
I didn’t see Victor’s face cause he was walking away from me, but he had smug written in his step. “Get to your cell,” I said. There I was in the day room of a pod that held eighty detainees, half of them gang members and none of them closed their cell doors. Victor walked slow and ignored my orders. I knew I couldn’t outright beat him, so I picked up my pace and shouldered him as I passed by, and gave him my version of a smirk. That’s when cell door number four swung open. Victor’s sidekick, Sánchez or Perez, whatever the hell his name was, came charging at me. I palmed his face and drove him straight to the ground. I’d have gone unpunished for that, maybe. It’s what happened next that got me several years in prison.
I grabbed that slow-moving jerk, Victor, and smashed his face up against his cell door. “Stay in your country, or I swear…”
“What can you do?” he said with his smug accent. I pressed his right cheek up against the door so hard it distorted his mouth. He smirked through puckered lips. The others approached fast, but my eyes tightened as I zeroed in on Victor.
The hair on the back of my neck raised, and I screamed out a crazy roar. My own voice sounded foreign. Before them others got me I jacked Victor up and drew my fist back to bash his face in, and I paused. He sneered at me. I’ll tell you this, it doesn’t take a moment for a man to let his guard down and allow evil to reach in and steal his soul. I fetched my blade from my pocket.
“You have a smart mouth,” I said, and I sliced him across his lips, upper left to his lower right. It must have been painful, because he screamed out, and I sliced him in the opposite direction. Yep, I carved him a big X right across his filthy mouth. That’s when the others grabbed my legs and pulled me away. Victor sat up against the white center block wall, breathing hard through flapping, bloody lips, divided in four parts.
After that, I sat in prison for three years.
When I first went to prison I resembled a sickly, under weight loser. Worry does that to a person. The prisoners, many of them immigrant gang members, poked fun at me and took my commissary. But they didn’t consider me a threat, made it easier to fiddle around, poke my nose into their business. Learned what they were planning.
They came here aiming to take over the U.S. Grandpa and Dad warned me before they died, and as far as I was concerned at the time they were right. Saw it on the television. Heard it from the gang members. Good enough for me.
When it was time to go, I threw my bag over my shoulder, left the prison walls behind me and headed back to Grandpa’s property. My property. I’d never be hired again as a jailer or as law enforcement. I knew that. So, I shed the officer blues and inmate orange. Ready to win a war. Intent on sending our troubles back across that border. Someone stirred the dirt behind me as I walked away from the prison gate. I glimpsed back, and sure enough, it was one of them. He glanced at me with evil eyes and strutted south. At least he headed in the right direction. I went north, had to get my jeans off the line.