Translation-Chapter 9

Monday, May 10, 2010 8:37 PM By crosswaysnet , In


Chapter 9 (Saturday, 12AM - I35, Canyon West/South of Austin, TX):

Sylvia Colpoys was somewhere buying the finest pair of shoes she had ever seen. They fit marvelously. They flattered her legs. There was only one pair left. Best of all, they were on sale. It was a marvelous moment and it was being ruined by someone - her husband - jabbing her ribs with his elbow. Leave me alone, she thought. I haven't bought these yet.
"Honey, are you awake?" C.R. was whispering. Sylvia mumbled something about 'blue' and 'a sale.'
"Honey, wake up, will you? It's important." He reached for the chain on the old milk glass nightstand lamp and yanked it. The forty watt bulb wasn't much, but it was enough to shake his wife awake and completely shatter the dream... A really nice dream. Ooh, he was gonna pay.
"Are you awake now?" He asked again, this time not whispering. His wife glared at him.
"I'm concerned about Mitch. I think he's in trouble." His wife's eyes narrowed.
"Then go check on him, Daddy. What did you have to wake me for?"
C.R. realized how tired he was, too. His mind wasn't firing on all cylinders, yet.
"Oh, sorry, I forgot he was here. I'll... go do that." He yanked the chain again. The light went out as Sylvia groaned and rolled back over. She began to do inventory on her dream store again. She was just about to head to the checkout with the pedestrian steal of the century when the light came back on.
"He's not there, Sylvia."
"Who's not?... oh, Mitch." Mrs. Colpoys rubbed her face and started to sit up. C.R. sat down hard, bouncing her up. He was agitated.
"Maybe he just took a walk, or something," Sylvia mumbled.
"Did you hear the alarm go off? Mitch doesn't know the code." He got himself in an Indian-style sit and bowed his head. "We gotta pray, Syl. Mitch really needs us to - I can feel it."
As C.R. thought about how Mitch had disappeared, his hackles went up. It was at least as unsettling and mysterious as where might be right now. And unless he was curled up inside one of the closets, he wasn't in the house. C.R. had checked every room. Sylvia's eyes started to clear and she looked hard at the agitated, earnest, determined, and humble man sitting next to her. She was feeling an unexpected, inexplicable sort of wifely pride in him. She scootched over to her husband and put her arm around his shoulder. She forgave him for the shoes.
The beginning of C.R.'s prayer was breathless and sporatic - then it settled into a more steady yet still urgent tempo. He began to see mental images of darkness and bondage. Together, the Colpoys prayed for deliverance.


***


Mitch waited until the muffled sound of Ropers' boots had faded before he made another move. He felt his way blindly around the appliance boxes toward the trailer door. He ran his hand all along the seams, across the floor; up as high as hands would reach on either side. There was no safety handle or other means of prying the doors open. It was as impenetrable as the rest of the walls. I understand how migrants get stuck and die in these things, Mitch thought. Locked down and sealed in, like an old-fashioned refrigerator.
The truck's engine rumbled to life. Mitch could feel a slight vibration through his feet. A smaller, more muffled engine turned over shortly afterward. The screech of the roll-up door began at almost the same moment.
With movement, Mitch began to lose his balance. Without visual cues, it was difficult to counter even small changes in velocity. No wonder earthquakes at night are so terrifying. It was funny where his mind could wander at times like this.
He reached out for a crutch. He found the large cardboard box nearest him and worked his way back to the unconscious man somewhere beyond. Mitch's hand ruffled across something that felt softer and he stopped. He viewed it with his fingers. It felt like bubble wrap or some kind of plastic padding. He grabbed and pulled, ripping off a section about five feet long. Mitch didn't want to step on the man, so he stumbled back to the middle of the trailer with extra caution. He found the guard still motionless and Mitch felt for a pulse, again. He couldn't be sure. He put his ear close to the man's nose. A slight warm exhale told Mitch what he needed to know, but it wasn't as strong as before.
As carefully as he could, he raised the man's head slightly and slid the folded bubble wrap underneath. The hair was matted and dryer than before. That's a good sign, I hope... means the bleeding has stopped. Mitch couldn't think of what else he could do. He sat back and put his head on his knees, hugging them. What would C.R. be doing now? Mitch found himself asking. Well, besides being a much better MacGyver than you, he'd be... praying. Mitch looked the direction of the invisible watchman laying next to him. Well? What have you got to lose, Mitch? Got anything better to do? He found himself wishing there was somebody else with him to handle the harder parts. He felt really alone. He was wrong.
"Dialing and hanging up - that's pretty much all there is to the fancy parts," C.R. had told him once. "In the middle's just the stuff you already want to tell God. That part comes as easy as talking to your best friend."
Best friend...
Mitch had a hard time getting his mind around the concept. The conversations they'd had recently hadn't been really 'friendly.' Something in his heart pricked a little. It's been more of a monologue, now, hasn't it old buddy? Logically, Mitch figured a conversation was more in line with the 'best friends' idea, but what kind of conversation could you have with someone who didn't exist? Is that what you believe, Mitch? Of course... how could I not? Every rational line of thought said it was superstition to believe. Even if a 'God' did exist, it was distant and irrelevant, right?
Still, Mitch had been 'praying,' if he could call it that, but it just seemed to be nothing more than frustrated rantings at the ceiling. So, is that what prayer really is? Just a bunch of hopeless rantings to distract yourself from the fear? Something to assuage the anxiety? What was it that Marx called it? The 'opiate of the masses.' OK, so he was talking about religion as a whole, but isn't this prayer thing the biggest part of it? What else could it be but delusion and a waste of time?... Where have you been the last few days, Mitch? You gonna explain everything away that's happened? Or are you gonna 'pray' again?
What else have you got, Mitch?...
Mitch sucked in a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut. Shutting out the dark with more darkness.
What else have you got?
Something else was stirring in the back of his mind. What is 'conversation' with God? How can prayer really be like that? Why would God care what comes out of my mouth? Could He? Mitch doubted it, but found himself wishing it. Perhaps it was just the example he'd seen in C.R. and that home fellowship group that had stirred up such a tangled mess of emotions in Mitch. Like they really expected an answer. It seemed they weren't in a rush to dump their shopping list at Heaven's gate. More like they were sending out an invitation to a dinner party and waiting for a reply. They could patiently - and at the same time eagerly - wait for the RSVP to arrive. Sonja always prayed that way. Mitch had always thought his wife and these other religious nuts she hung out with were off in some other world. Especially when they prayed. He didn't know how right he was.
Why won't you pray, Mitch? He gave it some thought. Because you don't want to be the fool...
What else have you got, Mitch?


***


Sylvia heard C.R.'s prayer begin a rest stage. She expressed her agreement and encouragement. "Lord, we trust You have everything under control. Lead Mitch where he needs to go. Show him what he needs to see. Open his mind and heart to Your will; Your thoughts; Your plan. Help him to call out to You for the help he needs. Help him to ask the right questions. Help him to hear Your voice..."


***


OK, so you're going to be the fool... Let's pretend it will actually accomplish something. You need to ask the right questions, Mitch. If you're gonna pray, and you want it to count, you'd better start with what's important and stick to that. And what would that be?...
The watchman groaned a little and started to gag. Mitch sprang up and rolled the man on his side right before he vomited. The man wretched and shuddered then went limp again. Mitch had nothing to clean the side of the man's mouth with other than his own sleeve. He used it. Though it proved more than a little awkward, Mitch half dragged the man away from his own vomit and tried to make him as comfortable as possible on the other side of the trailer. As Mitch leaned back against the wall, he could feel the vibration increasing and the pitch rising. The steady whir of eighteen wheels was now making the floor hum. They were on the Interstate. There was no sign they'd be getting out of this predicament anytime soon. And the man next to him didn't seem to be getting any better.
"Do you want him to die in here?" Mitch heard himself say out loud.
Why don't you pray for him?
Mitch was suddenly still. He felt a strange calm. The thought wasn't his, but it was. It just didn't sound like his own voice. What's that supposed to mean, Mitch? This time the thought was own 'voice.'
Why don't you ask?
The voice again, seeming to address more than one question. It was suddenly more complicated and simple all at the same time. He leaned forward and held the man's shoulder.
"Do you want this man to die?"
No.
"Will you save him?... Please?"
A pause.
He is saved. He will be delivered, as well.
In Mitch, calm and confusion at the same time.
"How do I know that's true?"
The man stirred and groaned again. He mumbled something. Mitch put his ear to his lips.
"...ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte..."
"What's that?" Mitch asked.
He prays.
The voice, again.
"He will be OK, then?"
He will live...
"What... what do you want from me? What do I do?"
Watch; follow.
It was clear to Mitch that there would be nothing more - for now. The man was stirring again, this time with some consciousness. Mitch could hear him trying to sit up and struggle against the restraints on his wrists. The tape - how could I forget? He reached for the hands and began to tear at the tape. The man lurched in surprise.
"I'm sorry friend," said Mitch. "We're stuck here together. Let me help with this."
"Who are you?" slurred the man. From the voice Mitch could now tell he was very young.
"The name's Mitch. I was... captured by the same thugs. We're stuck in this truck for now." He broke through the fourth strand of duct tape and tried to remove it from the man's skin without causing any damage. The patient would have nothing to do with that kind of patience. He twisted one hand around and ripped off the rest of the tape.
"God bless you, man. My name's Raul. I'm night security at the distribution center. Are we gonna get out of here?" It was a genuine relief to wake up to this nightmare not alone. Small consolation, maybe, but 'we' had a very comforting quality to it.
Mitch heard the dialect of a young, San Antonio hispanic.
"Well, I'm not here by coincidence, so I think we'll see our way through this."
"What do you mean?"
"Long story..."
Raul sniffed the air and smacked his lips. "Did I?..." He reached up and felt the back of his head. The touch alone brought on a wave of nausea. "Oh, man..." He bent forward, afraid he might throw up again.
"Raul, if you're a praying man, better make the most of the time we have." Mitch felt a little relief in delegating the chore, but it shamed him a little. He was afraid the 'voice' would come back. He wasn't afraid of the voice, per se, just about what it might say next. Schizophrenics and serial killers are always hearing voices in their heads, Mitch. He didn't like the answer to the next obvious question, so he didn't ask it.
Raul had taken him up on the advice. The soft click of something wood - maybe on a chain - came from his hands. Mitch heard him softly speaking.

"Dios te salve, María, llena eres de gracia,
el Señor es contigo.
Bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres,
y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús.

Santa María, Madre de Dios,
ruega por nosotros, pecadores,
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.
Amén!"

Mitch didn't understand the theology of Jesus or his mother, but he understood the emotion and sentiment well enough. Raul spoke it in an earnest and familiar way. As he began to repeat his mantra, Mitch picked up his own 'conversation' a few moments later. He was dreading what he would face when those doors finally opened. Could he work out a surprise? How would he help Raul avoid Ropers' plans for him?
"If you've got a plan, I'd really like to know it..."
Silence.
"Do you have a plan?"
Silence... then Watch; follow.
Mitch knew it was time to shut up.
The steady drum of the truck engine suddenly slowed and with it, the roar of the wheels below them. Mitch wasn't expecting it so soon. He needed a plan - right now.
"Raul, we need to find a better place to hide. Do you think you can move?"
His new sidekick grunted and tried to stand, his feet slipping out from under him the first time. Mitch reached for him and caught his elbow. Together, then stumbled closer to the cab, finding a space much more cramped behind another row of boxes. They slid around from the fine dust and deceleration of the truck. They wedged themselves in as the air brakes kicked in and the truck came to a stop.
Five minutes or more passed as the engine idled and Mitch's anxiety grew. He could hear the heavy breathing of Raul behind him. Apparently he was growing more apprehensive as well.
"Breathe steady, friend," Mitch whispered. "We need to be as silent as possible." There was the sound of gently rustling polyester as Raul nodded his head - painfully.
Slam...slam - the truck's cab doors closed. Crunchy gravel sounds alongside the trailer and voices not five feet behind Mitch's head. The muffled sounds of Ropers' voice. Mitch could only make out some words between the rush of more distant traffic from the other side of the trailer.
"I... a break... you do it... miles to weigh station... make... fast."
The sound of Ropers' ropers changed direction, away from the truck. The softer sound of Sneakers' sneakers kept coming.
Good, that leaves one for now. Mitch quickly built his mental checklist. If he finds us from the aisle, you're positioned to strike up with your leg. Need to get him in the chin with a hard strike. Disable him. Flip to a low crouch to be prepared for Ropers if he makes it back by then. It seemed a reasonable plan. Something deep down - visceral - knew what to do. It was instinct. He wanted to know why. Do you really just trust your instincts, Mitch? He wondered what the 'voice' would think. He knew he could take down those two thugs, even kill them if necessary. He had the skills. Why, he had no idea. Kill... is that what I'm supposed to do?
Silence... then Watch; follow.
Mitch realized both legs and his right hand were tense - coiled like a cobra ready to strike. He made a conscious decision to relax them. His instincts screamed otherwise.
A metallic bang and the door lever flipped up. Sneakers wasted no time climbing up to the floor of the trailer. The sounds of highway traffic were more distinct, but probably over a quarter mile away. Mitch couldn't see toward the door. Turning his head the other way he saw a shadow play of sorts on the front wall of the trailer. It was painted a light color, maybe white. There were silhouettes of oaks trees and light poles that scrolled across the screen as distant headlights illuminated the area behind the truck. Then Mitch saw him. Sneakers was standing with his arms to one side, holding something. It was dark again for a few seconds. The next flash of light across the screen showed Mitch the silhouette of something more - the pistol in Sneakers' hands and the long silencer he was installing in the barrel. Mitch forced himself to not tense up again. Now came the waiting.
Sneakers didn't have a flashlight. Mitch could hear him creeping back slowly, using each passing flash of light to advance a step or two.
"Are you still asleep, you nosy little tonto?" Sneakers was half whispering. It was a sing-songy little taunt. Mitch heard a slight 'snick' as Sneakers moved the safety. The gunman was now approximately where Mitch had found Raul.
"Where are you, little fool? You got your nose into the wrong business this time. Too bad."
Mitch glued his eyes on the blank screen in front of him. When the next flash of headlights came by, Mitch saw the grey shadow of Sneakers in profile, the gun pointed down to where Raul should have been. And there was someone else. Mitch's heart jumped a beat. A slightly smaller, darker, shadow stood directly in the middle of the trailer. Mitch's mind did the calculus on it in a flash. Smaller and darker means closer to the screen. If that's Ropers, where did he come from?? He had to be just behind the box next to him. Mitch's cheek twitched. The instincts were ordering him to prepare for battle.
Sneakers had discovered the guard was missing. "So, you've moved, eh? Think you can hide? You are a strong man after all. Come out and show how strong you are." Sneakers wasn't whispering any more. Boxes shuffled. Sneakers kept himself busy at the open end of the trailer for another minute.
More headlights. More silhouettes of the other figure danced across the screen. It stood rock-still, hands on hips.
The sound stopped. Sneakers was moving again. "Alright, you've had your fun." The two silhouettes overlapped as the gunman advanced. The footsteps stopped. Mitch could hear Sneakers breathing. He turned around.
"Where have you gone to?" Sneakers sounded a little more nervous and angry. He moved quickly back to where the night guard should have been, and slipped.
Mitch heard the slick sound of Sneakers' shoe losing its grip. A startled grunt and a hard, dull thump followed by a clattering of metal. Then nothing. Mitch stared intently at the screen. On next pass there were no silhouettes. Mitch grabbed Raul's wrist and sprinted forward.
"Come on Raul. We have to go now!" Raul stumbled behind him. His foot hit the hip of the fallen gunman. He could see the skid of Sneakers' shoe through the vomit slick. Mitch saw the gun and reached for it, but withdrew his hand before touching it.
At the door to the trailer, Mitch scanned their surroundings. An unlit picnic area was to their left. The road behind them swept out to the Interstate. Between the two and further off was a thicket of oak trees. Mitch saw a man standing there, looking back at them. This man turned and stepped into the thick tangle of branches.
"Come on, Raul, let me help you down." Mitch jumped out, one hand on the tailgate. He put his hand up under Raul's armpit and helped lower his patient without too much impact. He clamped his new friend's wrist again and headed for the stand of oaks. A few feet ahead, Mitch could see the man making a path for them. He followed, step for step. This went on for what seemed minutes, till there was no light left from the traffic on the interstate. The unknown man led them around an especially large tree, dead and overturned. He disappeared for a moment.
Mitch continued to follow around the fallen trunk without slowing his pace. Enough pale moonlight shown to cast shadows down the tangle of roots. The man they were following was nowhere to be seen. One more step and Mitch stumbled down into the depression left by the uprooted tree. Raul collapsed on top of him. They rolled down five feet or more. Mitch's head came to rest on something hard and plastic.
Both men were breathing hard. Adrenaline had pushed back the pain in Raul's head, but not for long.
Between pants, Mitch asked "Are you OK?"
"Yes... How did you know where to go? I couldn't see a thing. I never could have moved that fast in the dark." The adrenaline was beginning to wear off. Raul's head began to throb viciously. He put his thumbs to his temples and groaned a little.
"I was following..." Mitch's voice trailed off. Raul didn't hear him. Just as well. "Let me see your head." Mitch reached around and felt the growing welt on the young man's scalp. In the middle ran a gash about three inches long, scabbed over. Good.
"Easy!" Raul pulled away with a wince.
"Sorry. I wanted to make sure you're going to make it." He looked around, finally. They were laying in the deep depression of the missing root ball. The ground under them was... soft as cotton. Mitch looked down at where his hand was patting around. He was sitting on a large patchwork quilt, spread fairly neatly. He noticed now that the ground had been smoothed to make a flat surface. Underneath were two layers of blankets and a cardboard base. It was downright comfortable. Better than most of your camping trips as a kid. Beyond Raul was a tied-up bedroll, a tucked-in cardboard box and a cooler. Mitch quickly opened the latter and found four bottles of cold water, some sandwiches and snack foods. He reached for the first bottle and opened it.
"Raul, can you see what's in the box? Some paper towels, maybe?"
Raul moved slowly but got the box open and handed Mitch a roll, of which he took two sheets and damped them.
"Here, use this to wipe your face up better... There. Do you think you could drink some?"
"Yes," he said, sounding the raspier for it. Mitch handed him the bottle. It was shaky in the young man's hand.
That taken care of, it dawned on Mitch they were using someone's stuff. Perhaps the man they'd followed? He grew cautious again. He looked up - and saw the stranger standing two feet away. Mitch tumbled back in surprise.
"Need help, Mister?" The stranger looked leathery and in his late fifties - best that Mitch could tell from the little light the moon provided.
"Uh, yeah... My friend here's been hurt. We stumbled on your camp. Didn't mean to make a mess of it."
The stranger cocked his head a little. "Hurt, you say? What happened?" He moved in closer to look over Raul's head. "Nasty blow. You get the bleeding stopped?"
Raul was groaning more, rocking the upper part of his body.
"Yes, I think the scab will hold. I don't know how bad the hit was. It might have fractured his skull."
The stranger replied matter-of-factly, as if this was common and treatable. "Might have. But he don't look that bad. If it bleeds again you should get to a doctor, I figure. Just needs some good rest for now. I got sumthin' for the pain in here somewhere." He rummaged through his box and pull out a greasy bottle of Tylenol. "Here, give him summa these."
Mitch popped the top and spilled out three extra-strength caplets. "Raul, can you get these down?" He stopped his rocking for a second and tilted his head a little, looking down at Mitch's hand.
"Yeah, I can do that. Bless you, man. Where'd you get those?" He stuck them into his mouth one at a time, sipped from the bottle without raising his head too much, and swallowed hard. "Need to lay down."
Mitch spotted him in case he fell over. The stranger moved over a folded jacket for a pillow. Raul laid down on his side.
"Do you think you could watch over him for a while? I need to go check something," Mitch said.
"Bad guys?" The stranger said, knowingly.
"Need to know if they're gone, yet. Raul, you still with us?" The man groaned a little. "OK. I'm going to check if the coast is clear. If I'm not back soon, wait for first light and get yourself to the highway. Hitchhike home if you have to. No, wait." It occurred to Mitch that whoever was behind this abduction probably knew where to find him - and his family. They wouldn't be happy when they found him gone. "We need to get you away from home for a while. Do you have someplace you can go to hide?"
Raul stirred and raised his head a little. "No, no... gotta get Eva and the baby. Not gonna leave them..."
Mitch was sure he wouldn't. He had to think of a solution Raul would agree to.
"Raul, do you have anybody you can trust to get them away? I'll call them for you. But you've got to be invisible for a while. These guys are bad news."
"My cousin... would do it."
"What's his name and number?"
"Freddie... He's got a cell in San Antonio." He gave Mitch the number which he practiced back a dozen times to memorize it.
"OK, Raul. This is the new Plan A: I'm going to see if the coast is clear and try to get ahold of Freddie. If I don't come back, wait for first light and get to the Interstate. Try to contact Freddie and see if he has the girls. Don't go somewhere familiar. Don't call home. Got it?"
"Got it."
"Do you have any cash on you? You're gonna need some."
"Nothin', man. Wouldn't have this job if I did."
Mitch looked up at the stranger, their new host. He felt ashamed even asking. He said nothing.
"Hey man, you can have all I's got," the grizzled man said. "But money's not part of it. Not even squirreled away. What I got is dinner... and breakfast." He pointed at the cooler. "Bet you've got something you could give him."
Mitch looked down at his trousers. He knew nothing was on him. He reached in his pocket anyway... and found a wad of folded-over bills. "Where did?..." He held up the bunch of notes to the light. The first one showed a portrait of President Grant. He started stuffing it in Raul's shirt pocket, reconsidered and handed three notes to the stranger.
"Oh, no, man," he said, waving his hands. I get what I needs from day to day. Don't put that kinds of danger in my pocket." He looked at Raul. "If he's runnin', he gonna need what you got, not me."
Mitch nodded, finished putting the money in Raul's pocket and buttoned it closed. With the Tylenol kicking in, he was already asleep. He looked back at this generous, unassuming stranger. "Thank you for all this. If I don't make it back, can you help him hitch a ride? He needs to save his family."
The man nodded with a soft mmm-hmmm. Mitch got up to leave. The man grasped Mitch by the elbow and handed him a bottle of water and a sandwich. "In case you don't come back."
Mitch didn't know what to say. After another moment, he scrambled out of the hole and headed for the rest stop. This time is was far more difficult, with branches catching his clothing, his hair, and one time the corner of his eye. Once he had a clear view of the tarmac, he could see the big rig was no longer there. He studied the remaining vehicles and the road in both directions. When he was satisfied the truck and the men were truly gone, he stepped out into the grass along the margins and worked his way back to the restroom building. He worked his way around to the front with double caution and found the pay phone. Picking up the receiver, it dawned on Mitch that he had no change. It wouldn't have mattered. The phone was dead.
"Great, just stinking great..." Mitch put the earpiece back on the hook. He looked around again. Only one car left, and it was a goner. From fifty feet away Mitch could tell it was one of those tired-unto-death hatchbacks usually seen heading to Mexico in a train, towed by an old suburban. He doubted he'd find a cellphone there but he marched right to it. No one was inside. He stepped around to the back and saw the Highway Patrol notice on the window. Usually hot pink in the daytime, but more silvery in the light of one working mercury lamp. Mitch leaned on the abandoned vehicle and sighed. He looked at the sandwich and bottle in his left hand. He was famished, but too discouraged and tired to bother eating. He set them on the hood.
Mitch stood up, breathed deep and looked both directions. Which way to go?
"Where to next?" He asked out loud.
Take a step said the voice.
Mitch did, and everything went black.

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