Judge Santiago Burdon

Luck of the I Wish

Our small plane is being tossed around by the wind’s unforgiving fury, hard rains viciously pummeling the old Beechcraft Bonanza. We’re like a wet paper bag in a tornado, completely at the mercy of the chaotic, raging force all around us.

Our pilot, Salinas, also known as Demonio Mosca (demon fly), appears wholly unaffected by  the storm. The deluge pelts the windshield while its single wiper sways lazily from left to right, doing nothing to improve visibility. Guess it really doesn’t matter, as there is nothing to see plush darkness (plus the occasional flash of lightning) anyway. Salinas can only see half of what’s going on to be begin with, being blind in one eye as he is.

Meanwhile, Johnny Rico is screaming from in back, cursing the incessant violent rocking of the plane. Apparently, it’s causing him to spill his can of beer. We’re on course to imminent disaster, a flight plan straight to Hell, and he’s worried about a fucking beer… incredible.

“Drink the damn beer and grab me one too!” I yell back at him. “Break open one of those kilos and give me a blast. I’m not going to Hell sober!”

***

The weather had been gorgeous before we’d left La Hormiga in Putumayo Province earlier that morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the deep blue Colombian sky.

Before that, we’d spent two days trudging through the jungle to purchase 60 kilos of pure, uncut cocaine, straight from the processing plant. We got it at a discounted price, buying  direct from the producers, cutting out various middle men in the process. The cost was $900 a kilo ($55,000 total), which would gross us around $1,350,000 in the States. It was agreed that this would be split between us and our investors, the cut depending on the percentage of cash invested and consideration for risks involved. As for myself, I’d be expecting extra compensation for my role in the operation.

Of course, none of this was taking into account the various expenses we’d had to pay in order to finance this expedition. For example, plane fare, lodging, meals, etc. Then, the lackeys to mule the cocaine out of the jungle and onto the plane. A plane costing us $1,500 plus tip for a one-eyed pilot in a V-Tailed Beechcraft Bonanza with barely an upload of 1,200 lbs. The boat to Mexico and payments to sapos (snitches) to keep their mouths shut, paying others to give out misinformation to the authorities as well. Plus, there’d been bribes and payoffs and other costs on top of everything else, all of this adding up to one costly venture.

With any luck, it would all pay off, and we’d return to the States as rich men.

Of course, this is all depended on whether we weren’t killed in a plane crash or shot down by the FARC guerrillas we’d neglected to pay for safe travel. There was also the Colombian military that hopefully hadn’t been tipped off by some informant. And let us not forget the possibility of the cartels discovering we’d cut them out of the deal, buying directly from the source instead, as this would surely prove deadly for all involved.

Everything will be fine if we’re fortunate enough to make it out of Colombian airspace alive. The possibility of peril begins anew once we hit the ground in Panama.

***

Lightning flashes and thunder booms all around us while the engine on this deathtrap wails in desperation, fighting against the storm’s persistent gales. Meanwhile, Salinas goes on singing along with Los Tigres Del Norte with hardly a care in the world, oblivious to the obvious danger.

It is then that Johnny lurches up behind me and drops a golfball-sized rock of cocaine into my hand, popping open a bottle of beer for me as well.

“Is there anything else I can get for you, El Rey (King)?” he asks. “Maybe a cigarette or parachute?”

“You think this is hilarious, don’t you?” I yell over the distressed engine and crashing thunder. “You never take anything seriously!”

“You are serious enough for both of us,” Johnny says. “Always worrying for problems that have not yet even happened. You make these bad ideas in your own head!”

“Listen hermano,” he continues, “we have been carnales for many years. Together we have been robbed, beaten, shot, stabbed, arrested, put in prison and left without a single peso to our names. We survived two whole days in the ocean when our boat sank. You remember that? You know why the sharks no chew you up? Because you are a sour taste, more bitter than limones. Always looking at the bad side of life.”

I shoot him a warning glare, but he just keeps on preaching on.

“Besides,” he says, “you are too mean to die! And I am not quite ready yet myself. You cannot die, Santi. Porque El Dios (God) think maybe you no can be trusted, and El Diablo (the Devil) tiene miedo (is afraid) you take over. You have nowhere to run hermano! So tranquillo, forget all your worries for now. The sun, it shines somewhere.”

Before I can offer my rebuttal to his little pep talk, we are swallowed up in an abyss of darkness even blacker than the one we’d just been flying through. The Beechcraft Bonanza groans with the sounds of our imminent death. In its seemingly final act of resistance, the plane exerts its last ounce of strength against the storm.

***

It is then that we burst through a thick wall of clouds and into the brightest, bluest sky we have ever seen.

At the sight of this, Johnny just shrugs his shoulders, smiles and begins to laugh, applauding the miraculous event.

“Que Rico!” I scream.

“Time is our friend and we have more money than God, carnale,” Johnny says. “Call it luck of the I wish.”

“Irish,” I attempt to correct him. “It’s luck of the Irish.”

“I thought you were Italian-Mexican. You are Irish too?”

“Ya Johnny, I’m a little bit of everything.”

“That’s true,” he agrees. “Some pinche grunon pendejo (fucking grumpy asshole) I think you have in you as well.”

Acting as if we hadn’t almost just been killed, Salinas casually announces that we still have close to an hour or so until we land at Isla del Rey (King’s Island), off the Pacific coast of Panama.

“That’s your island, si?” Johnny says, pointing at me.

“Okay, just stop with it already.”

***

There should be a truck waiting for us to unload the cache and transport us to the boat we are taking to Mexico. It’s close to two days there but better than flying because we aren’t on anyone’s radar. Just a fishing boat drifting on the waves, in search of its next big catch.

I hand over the rock of cocaine to Salinas and he immediately crushes it in his hand. Then, with one quick motion, he lifts his palm to his nose and inhales with the force of a Hoover vacuum. I give him the beer as well, seeing as how he deserved a small reward for getting us safely through the storm. Even Dorothy herself would’ve pissed her drawers making it through that one.

With the coast all but clear, I resort back to my usual rule of no drugs, alcohol, or shenanigans while on the job. Johnny is familiar with my modus operandi, chugging his beer behind me in an act of defiance.

He gives me a relaxed salute and a thumbs up. I can only offer a weak smile in return, lacking the enthusiasm to debate his earlier remarks at this moment. Best to just let him  believe his comments were a valid description of my character. I’ve gotta let him win every once in a while.

There are times when I want to terminate our friendship, end things and go it all alone. Although, I’d most likely wind up missing his dumb ass, along with his hysterical laughter. I’d probably worry about his welfare constantly, wondering who was looking out for him. There always seems to be some type of imminent catastrophe hanging over our heads whenever we undertake an operation like this as partners. Events of cataclysmic proportion materialize from somewhere beyond my ability to offer a rationial explanation.

In most cases it happens by no fault of our own actions, but either way, somehow we always manage to make it through in the end.

There is one thing that I’m absolutely convinced of concerning Johnny Rico: he would defend me to his death if the situation called for it. He would take a bullet for me, and I would do the same for him. Trust is a rare commodity in this business. There’d been times in my past I was the only friend I had, and I wasn’t so sure he was one I could trust. But, somehow I’d come to trust Johnny of all people with my very own life.

Perhaps he really was my good-luck charm after all.

Talk about smooth sailing from here on out. Long, thin wisps of cirrus scratch the sky like angels keying the paint job on God’s celestial Buick.

Meanwhile, Salinas has begun to sweat profusely, his eyes owl-sized, his mouth bone dry from all the coke he’d just inhaled.

“Dame un otra cerveca patron!” (Give me another beer boss) he demands.

Johnny responds immediately, grabbing two from the cooler and popping off the caps with his teeth. I’m uncomfortable with them both slamming beers in cockpit, but it was my fuck up giving Salinas the coke and a beer in the first place.

Johnny just stares at me, contemplating my reaction to their antics. He’s expecting me to voice my objections, but I remain quiet without expressing these concerns.

At long last, I am finally able to relax. A couple of hours to go before we reach Panama.

Incidentally, there’s a new President who has seized power in Panama recently, Manuel Noriega. It’s rumored that he’s partial to those of us who dabble in the import/export game. We’ll soon find out for ourselves.

3 thoughts on “Judge Santiago Burdon

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