A Visit South (Horny Toad Chronicles – chapter 2)

A Visit South (Horny Toad Chronicles – chapter 2)

[Mark Glover is Contributing Editor Alpine. Click here to visit Trans-Pecos Science Moment for more of his thoughts on the Big Bend.]
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The Mexican Custom Agent eyed Lefty as he drove into the country without stopping in the “Nothing to Declare” lane, courtesy of a flashing green “Pase” light . Fifty feet into Ojinaga and 3 road humps later, Lefty hit the gas. Jorge Manuel Sanchez Mendez would be meeting him for lunch to tell about the horny toad project along the frontera.

Shiny green tiles and mirrored walls greeted Lefty at the restaurant.

Jorge rose from his table and bowed, “Sientase.”

“Los sapos cornudos emocianado,” Jorge continued, getting quickly to the subject of reptiles.

At this point Lefty had to admit his Spanish wasn’t worth a damn and Jorge in turn told Lefty his English was no bueno, but amazingly they both spoke German.

“Danke schon.”

“Bitte zehr.”

Lefty had hardly exhaled “zehr” when three gunmen slinked into the salon, with assault rifles raised. Their red noses dripped. A crucifix hung from the neck of the fat one.

“Sinoloa,” the couple next to us said quickly.

“Sinoloa,” Jorge said.

The gunmen looked at Lefty.

“Sinoloa,” Lefty could hear Jorge say under his breath.

“Sinoloa,” Lefty said.

Around the salon – “Sinoloa,” was unanimous.

The gunmen looked at each other, lowered their weapons and walked out.

Jorge raised his eyebrow.

“The cartels are at it. If you say the right thing you live,” Jorge said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “The violence will stop when the strongest cartel wins. The Sinoloans are out in front. They’re trying to get rid of the riff-raff. Once they dominate again and join up with the leading political party then things will be back to normal in ole Mexico.”

“Scary,” Lefty said.

“It’s nothing like Juarez or Chihuahua City. We are thankful to have only one or two murders a month,” Jorge said. He raised his hand to the waiter. “Tequila por favor, una botella.”

“It is smart not to be too successful here. Remember the girl at the dentist’s office? They cut her man’s head off,” Jorge said. “He had to choose between Sinoloa and Las Otras. Never get in this situation. “

Of course I am a rancher and my land borders the Rio Bravo, una plaza. They ordered me to bull doze a road to the river. Of course I did it. Do you know how many children I have? Six amigo, six.”

Jorge Manuel Sanchez Mendez is father, husband, business man and now horny toad biologist.

“The gringos delivered 37 transmitters last month. No. 17 covered 1000 meters last week. I think she went to lay eggs. But yesterday, she disappeared from the screen. Roadrunners.” Jorge said.

Lupe, the waiter, placed the bottle of Tequila on the table.

“Hungry?” Jorge asked.

“Thirsty,” Lefty said.

Jorge poured.

Several hours later and halfway to Jorge’s ranch a roadblock stopped their big white Ford.

“Federales, I know them. Never fear,” Jorge said.

A Mexican flag fluttered in the breeze and a campfire lifted mesquite smoke into the calm hot air. Five rifle barrels pointed through openings in the sand bagged bunker.

“Buenos Tardes,” Jorge said.

“They want to know if you are associated with Rudolf Hess?” Jorge asked Lefty.

“Rudolf Hess – the Nazi?”

“Rudolf Hess the IV –he’s supposed to be down here organizing – smuggling guns from the USA.”

“Nine – uberhaupt nicht.”

“They heard we were speaking German, and you don’t look like a Mennonite farmer.”

“Tell em to check the trunk, they’ll only find transmitters for the sapo cornudos.”

“They say, negativo, El Sargento will need to see you.”

***
In the cool of the evening, the candle flickered as a lonesome wind blew through the mesquite trees and across the ramada of the military outpost. Somewhere in the Chihuahua Desert, El Sargento lifted his glass.

“It’s not often that I dine with a prisoner, but I believe you are neither Mennonite nor Nazi. Perhaps a fool,” El Sargento said in perfect English. His green uniform clung tightly to his large frame and his minutely trimmed mustache seemed to defy the wildness in his black eyes.

Lefty tapped his finger on the silver fork lying on the dark wood table and looked up at El Sargento sitting at the opposite end. A small Mexican flag leaned in the center of the table.

“The Crested Cara-Cara –snake eater and bird of prey but also one of opportunity,” El Sargento said, nodding toward the flag. “She eats carrion with the Zopilote when necessary, like Mexico herself.”

We eat the dead to hide the evidence. We all do it, all Mexicans – it’s a way to pretend everything is OK, he said. “The bodies of dead women scattered throughout this desert and we have no clues. Innocent fifteen year olds mowed down at a Quinceanera and nobody saw nothing. Nothing is normal in Mexico.”

A private in green dungarees brought asadero with warm tortillas and filled the empty shot glasses.

“My card.” He slid it down the table. Abbreviated credentials followed his name.

“What university?” Lefty finally spoke.

“Universidad Nacional Automana de Mexico,” he said. “I wanted to be a medical doctor, but my father had other plans, connections. Mexico is all about connections, you know. So I transferred to the military academy, joined the army and…” He looked out into the night.

“I should’ve been a doctor,” El Sargento said.

A sweet ketone scent drifted through the ramada as distant night storms watered the endless fields of creosote bush.

“I am disgusted with myself and my country,” El Sargento said. “Do you ever feel disgust? Your country is not so perfect either.”

Lefty looked at the melted cheese.

“Mexico is the No 10 economic power in the world. Add the underground economy – cocaine, heroin, marijuana, kidnapping and we nudge Italy for No.8 position. Your poor neighbors to the south are not so poor,” El Sargento said.

Two steaks sizzling in onions were brought to the table.

“Systematic Sin is how I describe the Mexican gears,” El Sargento said as he chewed a piece of meat.
“Here, corruption is arranged in the back room. It is systematic, it is the way of business, government and even for the poor man in the street – he must bribe someone to lift him up. In your country the powers work very hard to make the system appear just so that your corruption is done in plain sight – democratic capitalism I think you call it. But in truth it is a system betrayed by money, greed and laws favoring the rich, favoring the corporation. We Mexicans know our system is corrupt, but you Americanos still sleep in a thick borrowed dream.”

Lefty allowed his hand to run down the side of the table, feeling the smooth varnish across his finger tips.

Our violence is different than yours, but only because we prefer soccer and handsome priests over football and loud preachers. Our bad guys chop off heads with machetes and sew them into balls, or dip live contestants into vats of bubbling acid. You like to do your killing with bombs and electric chairs.”

Lefty felt a gouge in the table.

“They should put the women in charge. Every country, every corporation, every syndicato – the woman evolves. Males, we are stuck and stupid. Take my daughter for instance; smart, attractive, capable and most importantly – a rich heart. Rico, man – do u understand? Rico. And my wife, my former wife, she was smart to leave me.“ He watched a moth flutter around the candle. “Every woman should be without a man.”

A gust of wind shook the branches in the mesquite trees.

“I am here by choice. The brass think I wanted to be in the action – so maybe I led them to think that, but no, here, here is nothing. Nothing at all, most of the time. Occasional interruptions. You are an interruption.”

El Sargento looked at his guest with a long quizzical look that mogrified into a distant vague sneer.

“They tell me – ‘take the roadblock down Wednesday at 6 AM. Put it back at 7.’ On that day I know death will visit the town. Twenty-two in Criola. Seventeen in Topolabompo. The weight in my heart – like a chorus in a dirge. Scissors cut paper, Jesus trumps death, cocaine makes soldiers – monsteros.”

He cupped his head in his hands.

“Pepe,” El Sargento called out.

The soldier in green fatigues came to his side and spooned out a small mountain of white powder on the table.
El Sargento beckoned.

“You want a taste?” He asked.

Lefty rubbed his lips with his fingers and shook his head.

El Sargento pounded the white mountain with his fist. The table groaned and powder spewed across the room.

“Take it goddamit. Snort it up your nose. Intercourse with it. Let it fuck and kill and scatter who you are. Let it twist your soul.”

El Sargento stuck his long fingernail into the remains of the pile. He swung it to his nostril and then with a great slow howl El Sargento blew the powder into the air.

“Pepe,” El Sargento yelled.

Quickly Pepe arrived with two other men in fatigues. They cuffed him, threw him on the table and cinched him down.

With coils of manila rope wrapped around his body, El Sargento peered at Lefty, still sitting at the end of the table.

“When the ground is red hot, the horny toads move into the trees. But me amigo, I’m staying on the ground to fry,” El Sargento said.

In the cool morning of the next day Lefty starred through the window of his cell. Pale orange clouds lightened in the sky. In the courtyard a horny toad climbed down the trunk of a tree.

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