The border crossing office is small. A pale yellow light illuminates the bare walls, casting a muddy yellow sheen as if viewed through a cataract lens. There are several rows of empty chairs. An officer - ‘Erickson’ it reads on his badge - leans behind a long counter as we enter. “I need to see your ID’s?” he says, motioning us forward, his face a gravestone.
We shuffle up slowly like the dead, cold stiff hands gingerly reaching for our wallets. Erickson flips three licenses to another officer in front of a computer screen. “Take a seat.” I sit next to Cal who pulls his hood over his head, rocks back and forth in time and hums Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. I draw a smoke of my own. “Not in here,” Erickson says, his voice boss, law.
We wait. JT stands by the front door, looking out into the night. “We’d like to get going,” he says into the black glass. “Looks like there might be a turn for the worst coming soon.” It has started to snow again. The north wind howls; a low snow-fog swirls along the plowed drifts that bank the roadside and it dances back across the highway like some spirited dervish.
Erickson leans over the officer on the computer and points to the screen.
“Which one of you is Cal Embrie?”
Cal stops humming.
“Is there a problem?”
Erickson blinks his index finger twice.
“We’d like to speak with you sir?”
Cal looks to JT standing at the window.
“Go on,” JT says without turning, watching the officer’s distorted reflection in the glass.
“Just tell the truth.”
Wharton, the officer on the computer leads Cal into an adjoining office. Erickson leans against the doorway, arms folded against his chest, his eyes shifting to JT. I can hear murmuring inside the room but the conversation isn’t clear.
A few minutes later, Cal emerges; his face reveals nothing.
“It was bullshit,” he mumbles. “Some dropped misdemeanor bullshit.” Wharton and Erickson return to the computer.
“John Baryado Truino?” Erickson says.
“Have a word with you, sir?”
JT turns from the window.
“Of course,” he says.
This time, Erickson leads JT into the adjoining room and closes the door.
The building shakes as the wind picks up.
“Young fella’ there may have been right,” Wharton says absently, staring at the computer. “Looks like maybe bad weather approaching.”
Ten minutes later, the door opens.
“You can go,” Erickson says, his voice flat. ”You all best get going.”
“Your ID’s fellas,” Wharton says, glancing at Erickson.
JT eases to the front door and disappears without looking back. The wind shakes the building again; Erickson rubs his neck, unable to shake an image: his wife and daughter waiting at home.
“What’d the guy want JT?” Cal says, squirming into the back seat.
The car cuts sharply out of the parking lot.
“He’s a family man.”
“Mmmm… pretty wife and a little one. We had a nice talk about them.”
The highway tunnels before me, my headlights tracing the obscured center white line, the wind now whipping and rocking the car like a heavy cradle.
“So what did he want,” I ask.
“He suggested I had something hidden in the trunk.”
“There’s nothing hidden in the trunk?” I say, glancing at him.
“Mmmm…” JT says, “he was trying to be a pretend cop… brought up some old possession charges of mine… he wanted to play, I think.”
He turns in the dark, his teeth flashing.
“I told him to check the trunk if he wanted but suggested he first check his computer.”
“I gave him a name… a link… and a code and he did…reluctantly. The computer brought up another flag… a DEA flag… a deal… all that secretive government stuff.”
JT pauses, his eyes shone blood moons.
“You should have seen his face.”
“I told him we’d keep it between us - Baryado, my family name down in Juarez and who my father is. He backed off then but I didn’t. I reminded him about a recent killing down there, the beheading of a cop making accusations.”
“I don’t understand?” Cal says, rocking back and forth like a dark gnome.
“Truino’s not your real name?”
JT turns in his seat and looked at us, his face a black hole.
“I told him exactly how it would play,”
“I told him about what was in the trunk. I hoped he’d play some but he didn’t want to. Pity.”
Cal stopped rocking; the air felt colder.
“Don’t you fellas want to know… what’s in the trunk?”