Watermelon Round-up Run
“Hey man, wake up! Dude, we’ve got a problem. Santiago, Goddamn it hear me? There’s Border Patrol up ahead and they’re searching every car!”
My overexcited companion is Andy, an acquaintance I met in Tucson. He’s a nickelbag, quarter ounce, small-time dealer that for some reason enjoys people being familiar with his activity. It gives him a sense of self-worth for others to know he’s a “dealer”.
Myself, I always made it clear that I was not a dealer. Neither did I sell nor wish to purchase any type of drug, narcotic, or controlled substance in any form. It was a rare instance when I took part in consuming such substances in public. Sure, some had their suspicions but they never voiced them to me. That was just the way I liked it — always keep them guessing.
Now Andy, he had been asking, begging, nagging, and being a downright pain in the ass to accompany me on a run. If it wasn’t for my ex-wife and her mouth of a thousand truths, he would have never even known my vocation. However, when she doesn’t get her way, which according to her is never, every bit of information that can be in anyway harmful to me, she spills. It doesn’t matter where or in front of whom, she reveals privileged and damaging information. In one case, Andy happened to be present during one of her ranting testimonials. Since then, Andy has been a fucking pest. So I allowed him to join me on this mission to Culiacan, Mexico to pick up two hundred pounds of Marijuana, then back across the border loaded down.
I don’t like these border runs myself, but every once in a while, you get chosen, asked, told by “El Jefe” (The Chief) to make one as a favor. It pays very well, and usually Border Patrol has been taken care of ahead of time, guaranteeing safe passage across the border. You’re on your own after that.
We’re crossing at Naco, about eleven miles or so south of Bisbee, Arizona. It is a small border station, manned by only three or four guards, and is less crowded than the Nogales or Douglas crossings. I’m familiar with most of the border patrol officers at this station and have been entering the United States through here for ten years. I am not going to inform Andy of any of this information, however. Figured I’d just let him sweat it out instead.
We’re driving a Ford F-250 pickup with reinforced suspension so the ass end wouldn’t be dragging from the weight of the load. There’s a false bed that has every available inch packed with kilos. Besides the marijuana, we’re carrying close to one hundred and fifty watermelons. It’s back breaking work to unload each individual watermelon to search beneath them. It’s approximately 103 degrees and the sun is brutally scorching the Sonoran Desert countryside. Can’t think of anyone that would want the task of emptying the bed in this heat.
I slide over and switch places with obnoxious Andy, slipping in behind the steering wheel. We’re five or six cars in back of the line to be inspected.
“What the fuck are we gonna do, man?” he asks with a quaver in his voice. “Do we skip out and run?”
“No, fuckstick. First, calm down! You’re so nervous, your shaking is rocking the entire truck. Just have your visa, passport, and Arizona driver’s license ready. Don’t wanna be rummaging around for that shit at the border, in front of the guards.”
I have my own documents ready at hand: the truck’s registration, insurance, and produce certification all safely packed in one envelope and ready for inspection. I am a professional, after all.
“Now, they’re gonna ask your citizenship. Answer United States, don’t say American.”
“Why not?” he asks. “I am an American.”
“And so are Canadians, Mexicans, Hondurans, Colombians, and a few million more people from any country in North, Central, or South America. Do you get it, dumbshit? Just do what I say and don’t give me any bullshit. Okay?”
“Don’t hand them any documents unless they ask for them, then comply with their request, ya got it? And for Christ’s sake, please stop shaking and looking around. You’re acting all squirrelly and drawing attention to yourself, which looks suspicious, so stop it!”
I turn off the AC, roll down the window, and instruct Andy to do the same. He’s sweating like someone who’s just run a marathon. His shirt is soaked with perspiration. The heat outside instantly pervades the inside of the cab, and soon I am sweating too.
“How are you so calm, man? You aren’t nervous or worried at all?”
“Of course I am, but I figure the worst thing that can happen is going to prison, and there’s three meals a day, a bed, television, arts and crafts, and plenty of guys for establishing new friendships. Shit, sounds so good I just might turn us in! I’m due for a vacation.”
“Don’t fuck around, we’re gonna be okay, right?”
“Only if you straighten up, get your act together, and find some fucking balls.”
We pull into the receiving area and a Border Patrol officer walks up to the window. An Arizona Highway Patrolman sits in his cruiser nearby, notices me and gives a wave. I recognize the officer, Carl Jenkins from Bisbee. I don’t wave back so as not to bring any attention to our familiar relationship.
“Well, what do ya know,” the Border Patrol officer says as he walks up to my window. “Look who decided to honor us with his presence. Are you lost, Santiago, or do have some legitimate reason for showing up in these parts?”
I’ve known Officer Rick Larson since he started as a cop back in Tucson, eight years ago. He’s always been on the take since day one, shaking down drivers for cash to let them go from a traffic citation that in most cases they didn’t deserve in the first place.
“Well, Officer Larson, figured you were missing my company, so I thought I’d stop by and see how you were getting along.”
“What you got in back there? Watermelons, huh. Sure do love me some watermelon, so do my kids.”
“Just trying to make a little extra money,” I tell him. “Gonna sell these at the Swap Meet this weekend.”
“Uh huh, I certainly imagine that’s so!” Officer Rick says with a sarcastic grin.
“Why don’t you grab a couple for your family and the other officers, as well as the State Cop as my gift from Mexico. Hey, by the way, did you get your birthday present from my cousin in Sinaloa?”
“Yes, I received the gift, quite generous. The watermelon is a nice offering, I’ll surely take you up on your offer and grab a few. And your nervous passenger there, looking like a deer in headlights — is he your partner here in this little watermelon roundup?”
“Yeah, that’s Andy. He’s been worried about the sun baking the melons, over-ripening them and ruining their flavor.”
“I’m sure that’s the reason,” Officer Rick says. “Be careful up ahead, there’s a speed trap on Highway 80 just before Tombstone. Have a safe trip.”
And with that, he waves us through.
“Thank you Officer!” I call out the window, after they have grabbed about six watermelons.
“You son of a bitch,” Andy says. “You knew it had been arranged ahead of time all along, that the cops had been paid off in advance, and you just let me freak out back there!”
“First of all,” I tell him, “my mother is not a bitch. She is a very nice lady. Secondly, I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about. Who paid what to whom, where, when, what? Man, you must think like this is like some TV show…”
He doesn’t have any response to that.
“Andy, best you forget all about our little watermelon run,” I continue. “These people do not fuck around. They’ll kill your dog, cat, children, wife, brothers, sisters — your whole entire fucking family, gone. They leave you alive until last, so you can live with the guilt of having caused their deaths. Then, when you least expect it, BOOM just like lightning you’re dead.”
There’s over 95 kilos (200 pounds) of some high-grade Mexican weed in the false bed of the pickup. It’s got dual gas tanks, so I’m sure one of them is packed with pot as well as the spare tire. No vacant area or empty cavity has been left unpacked with contraband. Now, a rookie working the run would expect payment for only the original 95 kilos. However, the seasoned veteran knows the “trucos” (tricks) that these traficantes employ. There’s probably an extra 35 to 50 kilos hidden away that they assume you’re not aware of and will not have to pay you for. That is somewhere around another 100 pounds of salable product, give or take.
When I am hired on for an undertaking such as this, I always prefer to get compensated per package instead of the entire load. It always works in the wheelman’s favor to request that type of compensation. Otherwise, they may throw some cocaine in with the load, maybe some speed, ice, crack, or any variety of prescription drugs as well. Some knock-off watches, clothing, shoes, purses, and all types of extra shit that you are basically transporting for free. I name my terms of the contract, and because of my sterling reputation, seldom is there any protest.
They’d originally offered me the run at $30.00 per pound. Over the border runs are much more risky than a standard one, however. There are so many other factors that could come into play and contribute to a tragic outcome. “Nunca” (never) accept the first offer if you’ve been employed by the organization for a reasonable length of time or have a strong, righteous relationship. My price was $50.00 per pound or a discount at $100 per kilo, which El Jefe readily accepted, and we drank a shot of Mescal to the agreement. Roughly calculated, it came out to around $15,000 in profit, including the hidden stuff. Most of the produce would be donated to the Tucson Community Food Bank and Salvation Army.
“Hey Santi,” Andy says, “I don’t need to get paid for coming along with you. And as I told ya before the trip, I won’t say anything to anybody, I promise.”
“I don’t remember offering any kind of payment,” I reply. “Tell ya what, I’ll throw a couple pounds your way as a gift for your company and towards hoping I never have to spend this much time with you ever again! You drive me out of my fucking mind. You’re like a child with all your dumb questions and stupid comments!”
“Sorry,” Andy says, “didn’t mean anything by it. Maybe we could stop in Tombstone for something to eat and a couple of beers. What do ya say?”
“Maybe I should just drop your ass of in Tombstone and be done with you. We’re an hour and a half from Tucson, seventy miles or so, and you wanna stop for food and beer? Best keep to selling nickelbags, Andy. No, I am not going to stop for lunch and especially not for fucking beer! I’m working, understand? We’ll need to stop for gas soon, and when we do, you can grab something from the station.”
“Jesus Christ, ya don’t have to holler…”
“Don’t use the name of other people’s deities in vain. And how many times have I told you, no drinking or drugs while on the clock?”
“Your clock is always runnin’, man. It sucks!”
I pretend to slap at him in anger but end up laughing instead. He starts yucking it up as well.
We reach Tucson and I drop him off at 1st and Prince, near his house. No way I was taking him to the drop house with me. The Mexicans there would cut my balls off and use them in albondigas soup. I was going to have to backtrack to Pueblo Gardens at 36th and Campbell. Thought it would be best not to drive immediately to my destination, just in case I had been tailed. Also, this kept Andy from putting together any clues himself.
“Hey Andy,” I say as he gets out of the truck. “Grab a couple of watermelons for your girlfriend and her kids. I’ll give ya a call tomorrow, concerning your compensation that we talked about. Okay?”
“Yeah, but what about the pot you said you’d lay on me?”
“Really? I will call ya tomorrow.”
He walks off with a watermelon under each arm.
As I drive away, I notice his ID and other items still sitting on the dash. I shake my head in disbelief and throw it all into the glove box.
He got busted three days later with the kilo I gave him, selling half a pound to an undercover cop.
Who didn’t see that one coming?