Excerpts From Book One
FROM CHAPTER 23
Exhausting long-distance runs in the searing heat, punishing hand-to-hand combat, and hours on the Border Patrol Academy firing range under the crusty supervision of weather-beaten General Lee pushed Layne Sheppard to his physical limit. And a variety of classroom courses, including one in the legal principles that applied to border enforcement, had taxed him mentally. In this excerpt from Chapter 23 of “Fleeing The Past,”, one last gauntlet awaits—the dreaded bout with Oleoresin Capsicum—OC as it was known at the Academy.
“The active ingredient in this stuff is a chemical called Capsaicin,” an instructor holding a sinister-looking black canister with a nozzle and trigger mechanism had told Class 590. “It’s extracted from cayenne peppers so that it can be weaponized. The Capsaicin is suspended in propylene glycol and pressurized with water, so it becomes aerosol. The abbreviation OC stands for Oleoresin Capsicum. The police-strength pepper spray that we use is a high-performance version of the kind of pepper spray women carry in their purses. But this stuff is much more potent.”
THE PROVERBIAL HORIZON HAD COME within view. Three years of planning and scheming, and the last few months of physical and mental torture, all seemed to come down to this impending climax: OC. The big day fell on an unseasonably cool and overcast afternoon. The PT instructors led the quiet column out of the PT building toward the OC structure—only the sound of their shoes grinding on sand making a sound. A storm loomed in the distance to the west as the trainees waited for instructions. Lightning lit up black clouds like flashing pompons, too far away to feel the ripple of sound. PT had been rescheduled as the last class of the day because the trainees would be unable to see for a subsequent class period.
Throughout the day, Layne had been fixated on after-school fights in elementary school. The worst part of an after-school fight was waiting for three o’clock, watching the clock and the apprehension of what it would be like. The same sensation had oppressed him for the past three and a half months. It was like he had been sitting through one excruciating, drawn-out school day, knowing that there would be a fistfight before he could go home. Stacking and OC were the bullies waiting for him at the exit.
Instructor Pyatt spoke up when they reached the structure. “I need you to organize yourselves into four groups. Alvarez, you’re first; everyone behind you to Fleming, follow me. The rest stay here. Instructor Ramirez will let you know when to bring your group to the other side. Group Two will be Guillermo to Lindquist; Group Three, Michaelson to Saint Claire; Group Four, Samuels to Yanez.”
Alvarez and his group followed single-file behind Pyatt, around the corner to the other side of the OC structure, out of view of the remaining three-quarters of the class. Instructor Ramirez peered upon those remaining with an inadvertent expression of pity.
“I need two volunteers from Group Four to help get your classmates from Group One to the water,” Ramirez said. “By the time the next group is ready to go, people from Group One should be recovered enough to help. We will need other volunteers as we go along.”
The trainees looked at one another without speaking.
“So, after you recover, if you feel like you’re able to function, help your classmates to water.”
Most everyone responded with a timid, “Yes, sir.”
Four Red Men were helping each other put on equipment near the entrance to the green structure next to a makeshift drinking trough. A garden hose was connected to the trough, which was made of PVC and constructed in the shape of a sawhorse, drilled with holes to spray water upward at low pressure like a watering can. Layne had noticed the troughs before and assumed they were for rehydrating during long distance running. They had seemed innocuous until this instant.
His fear returned to the structure; he had never been close to it. It looked like a twenty-foot by twenty-foot bathroom stall painted green. The fabricated room was only fifty yards away from the obstacle course, which ironically reminded him of a playground with its monkey bars, tubes to crawl through, and pebble sand.
Several noiseless minutes passed. Even the coal gray sky seemed to be holding its breath by the way it remained still, without a hint of a breeze. Then came shouts and sounds from inside the structure. The trainees remained stationary, all staring at nothing in particular, as if they were listening to a radio news bulletin. Then came the voice of Instructor Ramirez shouting, then the unmistakable red smell. At that moment the front arrived, and a light breeze swirled then the class inhaled a gasp of concentrated mist. They began coughing in unison.
Alvarez could be heard yelling repeatedly, “Get back!” Then a ruckus, and the trainees could feel the dirt shake beneath their feet. Then the voice of Ramirez again, and two volunteers took notice of direction from Instructor Ramirez and scurried into the structure. They emerged carrying Alvarez underneath each arm, his feet dragging. His PT uniform was soiled with dirt and blades of grass stuck to his knees and elbows. His face appeared freshly sunburned, both his eyes swollen shut, his mouth in a frown with a three-foot-long saliva string hanging from his lip, and a snot bubble in his left nostril. He looked like he had been grieving, on the verge of crying in remembrance of what had just happened to him. Instructor Ramirez trailed the three of them with suppressed compassion. “Get him to the water,” he said in his everyday voice.
A Red Man came out of the structure and took his helmet off and dropped it on the dirt with fatigue. One of his comrades handed him a towel and he wiped his face and neck and then his arms. They lacked the enthusiasm for cruelty that drove them during Stacking.
The class watched speechlessly as their classmates were dragged, one by one, from the structure. Volunteers guided the blind to the trough and led their hands to water.
As the number of those who had been “sprayed” increased, they surrounded the water trough, attempting to separate their clamped eyelids and splash water in their eyes. The gathering of wounded eventually abandoned the trough when they realized the futility of water. They began pacing blindly, searching aimlessly with their hands for objects in their way. Stray bodies lay scattered, legs kicking, covering their faces with their hands. They moaned in helpless agony, unable to find relief in any form.
The Red Men yelled and cursed when they exited the room, throwing their helmets, hurrying to wash the second-hand poison off their faces. The hair on their forearms was matted with sweat, dirt, and the red pollenlike Capsicum. They walked like Robocops, as they paced and cursed, the restrictive armor they wore making their movements stiff and bowlegged.
Layne felt his slight confidence wane; he wasn’t sure if he could go through with it. I’ve never been this afraid before, he thought. But it was all happening so quickly that it would be more difficult to approach the instructors and tell them that he couldn’t do it than it would be to get it over with. The knight he had once thought himself to be remained bound and gagged somewhere. That person would be much more courageous, he thought, as his quarter of the group was beckoned behind the northern wall . . . .
FROM CHAPTER 13
Layne Sheppard hasn’t yet met the beautiful young Hispanic woman who will overwhelm his affections. And he won’t learn her immigration status—one of those illegals known as a “Dreamer”—until it’s too late. In this excerpt from Chapter 13 of “Fleeing The Past,” that girl, Felina Camarena Rivera, is visiting her friend Marianne shortly after a dispiriting conference with an unhelpful immigration attorney. It is here that a seed is planted that culminates in an audacious plan not even Felina could imagine.
“I’m so sorry about the immigration attorney,” Marianne whispered into her ear. She looked at Felina and exaggerated a frown to show that she was sorry.
“It’s okay; I’m over it. I wasn’t pinning a lot of hopes to it anyway.” Felina tried to sound strong, although the heartbreak still remained.
“I don’t like you sitting around your little apartment, sulking all the time. You need to get out and do something,” Marianne said in a motherly fashion.
“I know. I just have to figure something out,” Felina said. “I’m gonna find a way to do it; I can’t stand working for much longer.”
“You need a boyfriend to split the rent with,” Marianne said.
“No, I don’t want to get distracted.” The guys around the pool were looking at her. She glanced at them and they returned to sipping their beers, pretending to have been looking behind her.
“How is Ryan doing at the Academy? Do you miss him?” Felina asked, trying to change the subject.
“He’s hanging in there; I can’t wait until he’s done. I’m so lonely with him gone. That’s why I need to have friends over, to cheer myself up,” Marianne admitted.
“Well, it’s not that long, and you’re gonna be set once he graduates. And aren’t you going to New Mexico in July to visit for Family Day?” Felina’s envy was apparent in her tone.
“Yeah, I can’t wait,” Marianne said. She lit up, reminded of something she had been planning to mention to Felina. Marianne looked around to make sure no one was listening, then lowered her voice: “You know what? I meant to tell you. Ryan has some friends that are BP agents now, and they say there’s a lot of agents who are married to girls they met when they caught them crossing the border.”
Felina looked skeptical. “No way.”
Marianne nodded convincingly. “I swear. I guess it’s really common, especially in places like Naco and Ajo. There are no girls in those towns that the agents want anything to do with, just trailer trash. And those poor guys are so lonely; there’s nothing down there.”
Felina was listening, but she didn’t understand what it had to do with her. The women she was speaking of were living in Mexico. She remembered what the attorney told her about having lived here illegally for so long.
“I guess the guys are so happy. Those women are so grateful; they take such good care of those guys,” Marianne explained.
“I can’t believe the agents would do that. How is that allowed?” Felina asked with skepticism.
“They meet the girls when they are detaining them, then they start going into Mexico to visit them on their days off,” Marianne said, letting out a little laugh.
Felina stared at the people in the pool trying to float on a big beach volleyball while she pondered. “But how’s that legal?”
Marianne nodded assuredly. “The agents put in for a fiancée visa for them and the girls come to live with them once it’s approved. The girls go to the American Consulate and get a Green Card and apply for residency. Once they tie the knot, the women are citizens.”
“But the women would have an immigration record if the agents met them when they were in jail,” Felina said with confusion.
Marianne shrugged. “I don’t know, but they do it. I guess it’s kinda common at those little stations. Lots of guys are happily married to them. Not so much here, because the Tucson Station Agents live up here and work in Sasabe.”
“But theirs is the opposite situation as mine,” Felina said, trying to understand her point.
“I don’t know; the agents make good money. I was just thinking you could hook up with one of them and maybe he could pull strings for you or something . . . .”