Win a $20 Amazon gift card just for reading a story in six days…three winners!
Hello, readers! This is the fifth installment! I am serializing my 9,000 word short story, “Nightfire!”, for a fun way to read a story over six days. On the seventh day, I am going to ask a question about the story, and the first three persons who e-mail me the correct answer will receive a $20 Amazon gift card. If you missed the first four episodes, don’t worry: There are links to them just below this paragraph. “Nightfire!” is a prequel to the novel, Corvette Nightfire, and like the novel, it is full of love, heartbreak, crime, danger and heroism. Have fun with this, and I hope it whets your appetite to read the novel!
Rogelio, the baby, had been walking for about nine months when the complicities of Día’s work intruded. He and Luna suddenly had to accept the inevitability of sudden life-or-death choices to be made with no time to consider them. The finality of things began with the theft of a fast silver car.
Día was about to go home late one January evening when a pock-skinned cartel leader appeared with a couple of his men. Día had dealt with him before, a rooster of a man who strutted back and forth wherever he was, usually belittling those with him. But this night he came with singleness of purpose.
“You are coming with us, cabrón. We have work tonight,” the man told Día. “El jefe, the big man, is coming from Sinaloa to Ojinaga in a few days. He has business, but it is his birthday, and he wants to have a special fiesta because he will have fifty years of age. There is this singular gift that he wants to show off at his party. It is a car is made in the United States, a new model, very hard to get. It has caused me mucho fuego (a lot of fire) in my stomach trying to find him one. Finally, I found one not too far from here. You are the lucky hombre who is going to get it ready for him. Serás muy jodido si metes la pata, cabrón! (You will be very fucked if you screw this up, you idiot.) Vámonos, let’s go! Bring your tool kit.”
They drove on nearly deserted highways about ninety miles to a ranch on the outskirts of a small community named Alpine. On the way, the man described the “gift” that Día was to steal: a 1963 Corvette that had double rear windows caused by a flow of the roofline passing down the center of the window. The car would be in the detached equipment shed of a ranch house owned by the prominent area farmer. “El jefe tiene huevos grandes por este auto,” he told Día: “The boss has big balls for this car. It is fast. He wants the best.”
Just before arriving at the ranch, a mid-size moving truck pulled ahead of them onto the highway. It led a few miles before pulling to the shoulder in the dark of the moonless night. As they passed it, the man told Día, “You will get the car started and drive it to this truck. Muy rápido. It is a straight drive to here. Just be sure no one is on the road when you make the short trip. Drive the car into the truck when you arrive, and then get in the truck with the driver. We won’t be far. But if anything goes wrong, you are doing this all by yourself, chiquito. The truck will take the car to a place and leave it to be painted. When that is finished, it comes to your shop for the customizing that you will do. We will instruct you at that time. But tonight, this is your job alone, comprendes? (Do you understand?) Any word from you about us to anyone, we go to find your wife. She will not be too happy that you talked, I promise you that.”
At the mention of Luna, Día felt his breath catch. He forced a calm composure. “I understand,” Día answered, but inside he seethed with rage. In a flash, he determined that the time for a new life had arrived.
The theft was easy in this trusting community of rural Texas. Día had worried about dogs barking or the time required to break into the shed, but the night was quiet and still. There was no sign of dogs. The double door to the shed was not even locked. Inside were the car, a couple of tractors, a big generator and farm tools. The men had let Día out from the car just down the road from the ranch and had driven away. With his tools, Día skillfully unlocked the car. He observed that the Corvette had a manual transmission. He broke the steering column lock. With his body, he eased the car closer to the open shed door by pushing the frame from beside the driver seat. When he hot-wired the ignition, he got startled by a loud crack and a flame that shot from the exhaust pipe.
Maldito! he thought. This carburetor needs adjusting! He worried that the sound might have awakened the owners in the house, but in the seconds that followed, he saw no sign that anyone in the house was stirring. He hummed the engine as quietly as the Corvette would allow. The engine was a small block and relatively calm at low rpms, but Día worried that there would be more misfires creating explosive cracks of thunder in the cold, silent night.
When he got to the road, he gunned the engine and popped into gear, and the car’s front end lifted slightly for a moment. He had rolled the window down. The gushing, roaring wind in his face and the growling acceleration of the engine caused his heart to pound. He had never experienced speed like this! It was that moment which validated for him that the time had come for freedom for his family. He would pay close attention to opportunities that would present themselves over the next days.
He covered the two miles to the truck in no time. When he decelerated, the brakes seemed woefully inadequate for the Corvette’s speed. He noted that the car had drum brakes. He had studied the new disc brakes on a couple of the cars that had passed under his modifications in his shop. He made a mental note that these should be installed on the Corvette. The truck had turned around and had its rear doors opened with ramps down for entry. Día barely managed to stop the car in time because of the brakes, but he did, and then he eased the Corvette up the ramp and into the truck.
In the three days that passed before he saw the car again, Día remembered something important: The car was silver. The Chevrolet Corvette vehicle identification numbering system would include a number to indicate the car’s color. If it were to be repainted, a new vehicle number would have to reflect the new color.
When the man who had taken him on his mission reappeared with the car three nights later at his shop, the surprise wasn’t that the car was bright red. The shocker was the special project that the man had for him to do: He had a box of cash, U.S. currency, that he wanted hidden inside the liner of the car’s interior ceiling. Día was to tape the large denomination dollars to the metal frame of the roof and then re-install the liner so that no one would be able to tell that it had ever been removed. The car, Día realized, was not only a birthday gift for the leader of the Cartel of Sinaloa, but it would also serve the purpose of transporting cash to him for drug sales that had taken place in the United States. El Jefe would have double bragging rights: for the car and the cash inside it.
After he stole the Corvette, Día had prepared Luna that there might come a hasty escape opportunity for them. In the bed, they whispered intimately, as if the baby could understand what they were discussing if he heard them. Luna surprised Día with unyielding anxiety about Rogelio:
“Por Dios, Día, if we run, we can’t take the baby! Anything can happen. We could be killed! We’ll be on the run forever! We can’t take our baby all over Mexico! That is no life for our son!”
“We can’t stay here forever, either, Luna,” Día answered. “I’m going to be caught one day by the gringo police, or the cartel will kill us, or we’ll be deported and then sought in Mexico by the cartel. We have to make a new life, with new identities.
“I won’t risk Rogelio’s life in the transport of this car,” Luna said pointedly, talking about the Corvette. “If I have to go with you, we have to come back!”
The discussion wore on through the night. Finally, Día got Luna to agree on a plan that he didn’t believe would ever come to pass: that they would find a hiding place in Mexico, and when the time was right, they would return for Rogelio. Luna seemed uneasily to agree to this, but Día believed that she also didn’t think that they would be able to return.
The next night, Luna shocked Día with news that she had confided to the woman of the ranch that she would be making the trip with him.
Luna said, “I began to tell her that we would be back, but she interrupted me. It was as if she knew we were doing bad things. She told me never to worry about Rogelio, that she loved him as if he were her own grandson, and me as if I were her daughter! If anything ever happened to us, she said that she and her husband would raise Rogelio as if he were their own son!”