Marco is on his third espresso when Paolo buzzes into the palazzo on his Vespa, smiling all over his face.
“Good morning,” says Marco.
“You would not believe how good,” says Paolo. He reaches into the saddlebag and removes a messenger bag, the strap sliced clean through. He holds it up and shakes it. “Mac Book pro. Nikon Camera. Wallet full of money. Even a Rolex!”
“I told you it was a good technique.”
“Why did you stop?”
“I misjudged the strap and stuck the knife into a woman’s back. I was certain I used up all my luck escaping.”
He said his name was Juan, but one of the men called him Alberto.
I paid three thousand pesos for his guarantee.
Sixteen of us gathered to met him in the parking lot of the Super Coyote.
He had us each buy two gallons of water, even the children.
At two in the morning he put us the back of his truck like cattle and drove us ninety kilometers west where he said there was a blind spot on the fence.
He carried ladders on the truck.
“Bienvenidos a Los Estados Unidos,” he said.
It only got worse from there.
The DRG chief looked up as Yuri came in. “I’ve been reading the report,” he said without introduction. “A brilliant operation. Pity about the collaterals, but sometimes that can’t be helped.”
“The museum was especially crowded,” said Yuri. “Which, of course, we knew was a risk. We did not expect so many children.”
“Yes,” said the chief. “A pity. But as I said, it couldn’t be helped. Do we have a final count of the casualties?”
“In addition to the target, thirty-five were affected by the gas. Nineteen died, three were paralyzed. The rest recovered.”
“Remember, Yuri. It’s a war.”
He was never the same after he come back from France.
When he joined up with Pershing and them, he was thirty, but full of fire to beat that old Kaiser.
Armistice was signed most a year before he got home to Jessup.
I was the only one recognized him, he looked so different.
He wheezed and rattled like an old window, thin as a stick with white hair.
He wouldn’t say nothing. Just picked up his shovel and dug. He dug all the time, dug for years, holes and holes.
Kids teased that he was like to dig to China.
I thought it was a party. Get to know the neighbors.
All of us were newlyweds, all college graduates. New jobs, no children yet. Our subdivision mirrored how we saw ourselves. Fresh paint, aluminum siding, all the conveniences. Like the trees on the new lawns, we had few branches, threw scant shade.
I think it was Frank Reilly’s idea. He’d read about it somewhere. Everyone drops a house key into the bowl and gets a drink. Then they keep drinking. Night’s end, choose a key and that was your house for the night. Your wife for the night.
I’m invisible, but I see you all right. See your white pasty faces glancing through the windows of the fancy restaurant or the luxury car, glancing away, your eyes sliding past me like a dead squirrel or raccoon on the roadside.
Maybe sometimes you wonder what it would be like to lose everything. What would you miss most? Scented soap? Your pillow?
How about sleeping in safety, or shoes that don’t leak?
An escape from the gnawing hunger that waits at the end of every hour?
You look away, not wanting the reminder of just how good you have it.
He crouched over her as she lay contorted on the pavement, one hand thumbing the send button on his mic, the other still holding his weapon.
“10-85 10-85! My partner’s shot! My partner’s shot! Hurry up central!”
The pool of blood beneath her spread like spilled coffee.
He couldn’t tell where the bullet had gone in, or if there had been more than one.
He holstered the gun and tried to unfasten her vest, but she began to cough a pink foam.
“You’re going to be all right, Jenny. We’ll get you fixed up.”
She stopped coughing.
He thumbed his mic. “Hurry!”