Judge Santiago Burdon

The Sinaloa Squeeze

“Are they shooting at us?” asks Johnny, behind the wheel.

“Of course they are!” I shout back at him. “How do you think the back window just shattered? Did you think it was them projecting bad vibrations our way? Damnit Rico, now what did you do?”

It had all been going so well. I knew it was too good to be true. We’d been contracted by El Jefe (The Boss) to collect the money owed to him by various traficantes. Drive around Sinaloa picking up debts and deliver the money back to him. That simple, nothing complicated or dangerous about it.

The easiest job ever, and Johnny throws dynamite into a fire.

Another bullet ricochets off our truck as we fly down the road, our pursuers close behind.

“Johnny, tell me what happened back there at the bar. You’re supposed to be watching my back, pinche guey! You hit on some cabrón’s girl again? Lose at pool and not pay the guy?”

“Desculpe me carnal (forgive me friend), they were trying to cheat me…”

“Ya, just like the time in Medellín, when you lost at poker and I wound up paying those fucking chulos for you. They were going to cut off your huevos and let you bleed to death, and all for a measly $75, you cheap bastard!”

Johnny’s voice quavers as he tries to speak, his eyes staying focused on the road.

“Digame que hiciste?” (Tell me what you did) I ask.

“Santi, please…”

Bullets whiz past us, one of them taking out my side mirror in the process.

“Shut the fuck up, Johnny! After all the years we’ve been together, you’re gonna lie to me? Mentrioso pedazo de mierda envuelo en piel!” (Liar, piece of shit wrapped in skin) How much do you owe those chulos? And tell me the truth, don’t make this any worse! Digame cuanto naco? (Tell me how much hillbilly)”

“I only lose two times! Then he say, give my money, cause all Colombianos are cheaters.”

“How much? I don’t need to hear your cuenta de hada.” (fairytale)

 “I think $100…”

“Okay, we turn around and go back. You’re going to pay those Mexicans what you owe them.”

“But Santi, I don’t have $100 to pay them.”

“Then how much do you have?”

“I only have like $60 on me…”

“What the hell, Rico! You’re betting with money you don’t have, and you’re betting on pool? This is long overdue, but let me tell you the ugly truth: you suck at pool. My dead grandmother could beat you with one arm and she went blind at fifty. That’s how terrible you are at playing pool!”

“Santi, it wasn’t my…”

“I’ll lend you $50 to pay those chulos. I just hope the owner didn’t call El Jefe and tell him what happened. The Cartel kills people for less than this.”

“And another thing you should might want to know, I didn’t pay for the beer or chicharrones either…”

“What the fuck were you thinking? You obviously weren’t thinking at all. Johnny, one of these days, you are going get me killed. I swear to something, I don’t know what, but I will come back and KILL YOU TWICE to make sure you never enter that Heaven you imagine exists! Now, turn around and head back before these Mexicans kill us.”

I look back to assess the damage to our truck, and that’s when I see them right behind us.

“Shit!”

Their truck rams ours, hard, from behind. Johnny swerves as we’re both tossed around the cab.

“Rico, we have to shake them!”

He slams on the brakes, cutting the wheel as he floors the gas and slams it into first. Somehow he manages to execute a perfect one-eighty turn, leaving those Mexicans in the dust.

“Maybe we should stop here and pay them,” Johnny suggests, “Then we no have to drive all the way back.”

“Ya sure, stop in the middle of nowhere and negotiate with some Sinaloa gangsters. Perfect, no witnesses, no protection. You with your antique .38 and me with my Glock that doesn’t even have a full clip. Might as well just ask them to kill us and steal El Jefe’s cash! Doesn’t matter we’d be dead, Jefe would find our bodies just to kill us both all over again. Now get back to the bar and step on it!”

We’ve still got a few kilometers left to go, and already the Mexicans are back on our tail. At least they’ve stopped shooting for now.

“I feel like there’s something you’re not telling me, Rico. Otherwise you’d never suggest such a dangerous meeting with these guys out in the middle of the desert. What aren’t you telling me, you crazy Columbian pendejo! I can’t get us out of this if I don’t know what we’re up against. Spit it out already!”

“I think maybe I hit a guy with poolstick in the head. He no get up, then I run when I see you outside. Everyone start yelling and coming after me.”

“Johnny, I didn’t see anyone chasing you!”

“Because I put broke stick in doors to stop them.”

“You think you may have hit someone, you don’t know? No, no, no, of course not! Rico, which muchacho did you hit? It wasn’t the guy in the black shirt and white cowboy hat, was it? Tell me it wasn’t him. Was his name Rafael?”

“I think maybe someone call him Rafa. Yes, he have white hat. You know who is him?”

“Johnny, that’s Miguel’s, the owner’s son. Dios mio, we’re in deep shit now, pinche guey! Floor it already and quit looking behind us. Rico, you’re paying to fix the glass and any bullet holes as well!”

“You don’t have insurance for truck when you rent it?”

“What insurance, cabrón? This isn’t a rental! This is Sebastian’s truck and he’s going to be pissed when he sees this.”

Meanwhile, the Mexicans have closed the distance between us, pulling up along the driver’s side. The guy in the passenger seat points an AK-47 out the window, screaming at us to pull over.

Johnny looks over at me, showing no fear in his eyes. We’d both prepared for this day since the very first run we’d ever done together. Even with a machine gun pointed at us, I can tell he’s about to do something drastic.

“Rico, don’t do it!”

Just as he’s about to swerve and try running them off the road, the truck falls back and resumes following us once again. 

“Johnny, we have to clear this up. If El Jefe gets wind of what went on here, it’ll be a bad, bad thing for both of us. I’ll do the talking and I won’t let anything happen to you. Tu eres mi carnal. (You’re my best friend) You trust me, don’t you?”

“Si, I trust you always, but I don’t trust these pendajos…”

Finally we make it back to the bar. Two police cars are parked out front. Now, you might imagine they’ve come to settle our little disturbance, but keep in mind that this is Mexico. The police enforce their own laws, protecting their interests and the interests of anyone willing to pay for their services. Most all of them are on someone’s payroll, usually whoever controls that area of the Cartel’s operations.

“Relax, Johnny, everything is going to be fine. There’s no reason to be nervous. Just whatever you do, don’t look as though you’re afraid.” 

I do my best to reassure him, even though I have no idea how I’m going to handle the situation myself.

Miguel is out front, talking with the cops. I direct Johnny to park nearby. The truck that had been following us pulls around the back of the place, most likely to hide their weapons from the authorities.

I instruct Johnny to stay in the truck and wait until I call for him. As I turn to pat him on the shoulder, I see his gun on the seat between his legs.

“Johnny, either put that away or shoot yourself with it right now. Do not under any circumstances start shooting! Do you understand me?”

He nods reluctantly, but as usual I’m not banking on his compliance.

I exit the truck and start walking toward the officers. The guys who had been following us appear at the bar’s entrance, glaring in our direction.

“Buenas officers,” I say, “me gustaría una oportunidad para explicar.” (I’d like a chance to explain)

“You have a lot of explaining to do, Santiago,” the first cop says, turning to me with a grin. “You forgot to pay your tab and you left before you could buy me lunch. I’m glad you come back. Now you can buy lunch for both me and Enrique.”

It just so happens to be Officer Ceasar Fonseca from La Tuna, El Jefe’s hometown, and a cousin of his as well. The other cop I also recognize, Enrique Gallardo from Guadalajara, whom I’d met on several occasions out on El Jefe’s ranch.

“What a pleasure to see you both again,” I say. “I’d be honored if you would join me for lunch. I’ll buy, of course.”

“Claro, Santiago,” Enrique says. “Gracias.”

“Miguel,” I say, turning to the bar’s owner. “I am so sorry about your son. I guess my friend and Rafael didn’t quite get along. I would appreciate a chance to make it up to him.”

“Who?” he asks, “that lazy bastard who hangs around all day drinking my beer and fucking the waitresses? He’s my girlfriend’s son, not mine. I don’t care what happens to him, but you will have to pay your friend’s tab.”

I peel him off a C-note and shake his hand. Everything settled.

“Hey Johnny,” I yell back to the truck. “Let’s have lunch!”

He flashes me a smile so wide, I’m not sure it will fit through the door.

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