Vicente had lost another ten kilos of cocaine. It was the second time in as many weeks. And just before that, the safe house in Paradise Hills had been hit. How much was that? he wondered. Thirty, forty kilos? Gone. And some fentanyl. Don’t forget the fentanyl. It’d been a rough month.
At this point, he was lucky to even be alive. El Avispón, the boss of the plaza, was not a lenient man. He ordered men to their death for lesser mistakes, their naked bodies washing up on shore with pieces missing, some picked off by fish, others removed with kitchen knives and garden tools.
Vicente was clueless as to what he’d done to be in El Avispón’s good graces, but he intended to stay there. He was now belly crawling through the dark, some fifteen feet underneath the desert, looking for the lost cocaine.
The shoulder-width tunnel hadn’t been constructed for the passage of people, and he was struggling. Every couple of yards, the walls pinched in, and he’d get stuck. Only after a great deal of straining and squirming did he manage to pass through. This is what hell feels like.
The tunnel was one of many used by the cartel. It was an inconspicuous method of transport. The product (blocks of cocaine, boxes of counterfeit Oxy, bags of fentanyl, and bales of marijuana) was whisked under the border by a simple rope-and-pulley system. Vicente was following one such rig right then. Something had gone wrong, or that’s what Bill and Marty of Bill and Marty’s Convenience Store were saying. The last shipment, ten kilos of cocaine, had never arrived. Bill even sent Vicente a photo of the empty transport cart that’d pulled up beneath his store.
Vicente was skeptical. He’d been lied to before. Cocaine sold for twenty to thirty thousand dollars a kilo. It was only natural for there to be thieves along the supply chain, even if it meant stealing from the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (the CJNG), one of the most powerful cartels in the world. Vicente was sure Bill and Marty never imagined he’d go into the tunnel to prove them liars—these things were prone to collapse—but there he was, crawling inch by inch through hell, looking forward to seeing their faces when he emerged on the other side empty handed.
But then his hand bumped into something cool and slick in the dark. He drew his fingers across the side of a cellophane-wrapped bundle. He reached around and touched another bundle, then another. “They weren’t fucking lying,” he muttered. The cocaine was all there, pushed neatly against the side of the tunnel. Good for Bill and Marty. They weren’t the thieving sons of bitches he thought they were.
Vicente unrolled a garbage bag he’d almost not brought along and shoved the bricks inside. He then paused, thinking. He was about halfway through the tunnel. He could return the way he’d come, but without room to turn around, it’d be a slow belly crawl backward. Alternatively, if he continued ahead, an easier progression, he’d have to deal with the border crossing to get home. Amid the sound of silence, he considered his options. Finally, he grasped the bag tightly, said “Fuck it,” and reversed course, shifting hips and knees, elbows and palms—left, right, left, right.
The ceiling, a tenacious, oppressive beast, pressed and clawed at his back. He concentrated on drawing long, calm breaths, but with his feet leading the way, claustrophobia quickly crept in. He realized now what the migrants he’d recruited to dig the tunnel had been talking about. It’d taken them weeks to dig through, and at the end of every shift, they’d been forced to backtrack, enduring this tortuous process. Granted, they got a free pass north for their work, so their fear had an offset, but for Vicente, well, Vicente had his cocaine, but he was shitting himself. He kept kicking the walls, knocking dirt loose. The whole thing, he imagined, was going to collapse. I’m going to die. Not that he feared death. He didn’t really care if he died. He’d lived a rough twenty-one years. Death would be a welcome release, if he was being honest, but the process of dying? That was bad.
He imagined a low, deep groaning in the earth around him, a grating of shifting stone, a rustling of sand. Except, he realized, he wasn’t imagining it. There was a trickling of sand. He couldn’t see the wispy flow of grains—he couldn’t see shit—but he heard it and felt it, just beyond the bridge of his nose. He quickened his pace. Then the earth opened with a rip and a roar.
The dirt and rocks poured over his hands and up his tattooed arms, razor-like bits cutting and slicing his skin. But as suddenly as it started, the rush came to a stop; the dirt settled at his biceps, just below the hem of his sleeve. Dead silence. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he huffed, his breath deflecting off the dirt no farther than the length of a brick of cocaine.
His arms stung. His left wrist ached, sharp and vivid. Probably broken. But the earth was quiet now, and he could breathe, so no need to panic.
The bag of cocaine was fully buried, though. He hooked his fingers into the plastic and pulled. Sand and stones and whatever other organic matter there was in the desert scratched and dug at the lacerations across his arms. He ignored the burning and pulled; he had to get the bag.
A low groan arose from the earth, and the pressure on his arms intensified. The tunnel had only paused in its collapse. He released the cocaine. Straining his back and wiggling side to side, he tried to pull free from the dirt, but there was no give. The tunnel held him tight.
In the darkness, the moan and murmur of the awfully weary space grew.