Illegal immigrants from Mexico call me a Coyote. Or at least they used to. I worked the Yuma tunnel for over five years without a single hitch. It’s pretty good money when you find the right kinds of clients. Usually separated family members will spend everything they have for a chance to be brought back together in the States. I’ve even moved some heroin from the cartels occasionally just to pepper on some more cash doing something I was already in the process of doing. But after what happened last month, I don’t think I can ever make a border run again.
No one works the Yuma tunnel without hearing the myth of El Medico Loco. I think even the people around town have heard whispers of the myth, breathed by the disappointed, yet almost-relieved immigrants getting hauled out of backs of trucks by Border Patrol agents.
“Thank God,” they would say, in Spanish. “If we must be caught at all, thank God it’s Border Patrol that caught us, and not El Medico Loco.”
We figured it was just nerves. Anyone being smuggled illegally between countries would rightfully be afraid. There were too many things that could go wrong. It was understandable that they would need an outlet of some sort to catalyze their fears. But I commanded a kind of respect with them and with other Coyotes. So when I told them this was just a silly myth, they believed me — or they pretended to.
Until recently, the Yuma tunnel had only been known to me and a few other Coyotes. While other runners were trying out different routes overland, we were crawling right underneath all of them. We figured we had hit a gold mine. But then I stopped hearing from underground runners. I had a couple friends, Timothy and Gregor, who disappeared one day. And with them, the immigrants.
Honestly, that freaked me out enough to make me reconsider making any runs for a while. But I pushed through the anxieties and kept going in hopes that I might hear something about a girl named Gloria. I had helped her brothers get through a year back. Before we had made for the tunnel, I got to meet her and her family. She was gorgeous. Their house was literally a mud shack, but she shone like a jewel despite surrounded by a dilapidated environment.
Gloria and I saw each other several times afterward. Every time I had a rendezvous south enough to be near Caborca, I’d go and see her. Eventually, we had a plan. She was going to help her parents using some of the money her brothers were sending to make sure they were settled. Then, she was going to come with me. I didn’t even have to sneak her out. I was going to propose to her and legalize everything legitimately, but that day never came.
I went down to find Gloria’s parents smiling at me from the porch. But as I got closer, they seemed a little worried. In their native language, her mother asked me:
I told them that I had come to see her.
“She said she was going to surprise you last week,” her mother said, looking a little uncertain. “She went with your friend, Timothy.”
I assured her it must have been a misunderstanding, but inside, I was terrified. By that time, it had been several weeks since Timothy’s group had gone missing. I knew then that I couldn’t get out. I had to keep running groups and keep asking people if they knew anything about Timothy or Gloria. And every time, at least one person would whisper to the person next to them:
“El Medico Loco.”
Then, several weeks into my searching, it happened. We got caught.
The tunnel was so long that we would make the trip in two segments, sleeping six hours between each segment. I had a couple pounds of heroin on me, only because I figured it was a good idea to ask my cartel connection if Gloria might have been caught up in something bad. But Varez didn’t know a thing. Besides that, I had two women with me and a man they didn’t know, named Carlos. It was a small group, but by then, I was doing it more for the information than the money.
In the tunnel there’s no telling time. My cellphone was dead and I don’t carry a watch, so it could have been the middle of the night. But it shouldn’t have been. I never let it get that late, but I was getting sloppier with every run that yielded no answers to Gloria. Suddenly, I was jerked awake by a sharp kick to my ribs. The boot felt like it had a steel toe. I thought my ribs were shattered.
Looking up in the feeble light of our lanterns, I saw a single man with a machine gun. The end had a long, serrated bayonet. The man used it to prod the others awake. In several short minutes we were all bound, looking up at the slender, tall figured of a man whose face was covered by a surgical mask. His eyes were shielded behind aviators and he wore an army hat. Even his hands were gloved in white latex.
“Treason,” he said, low and menacing as he crouched down in front of me, “is the lowest form of betrayal.”
He drove the butt of his gun into my mouth. I could taste the metal through my cheeks. Blood started pooling until I had to spit it out.
“Betray your wife,” he kicked me hard in my ribs. “Betray your mother,” again, with his steel toes crushing against my ribs. “But not your country.”
I couldn’t breathe. I felt like my splintered rib cage was driving stake-wise into my lungs. My whole body felt collapsed like a tin can. As the light in my mind was flickering out, I could hear the murmuring amongst the two women and Carlos. The man was lifting them towards an ATV with a trailer attachment he had hauled down the tunnel. Still at gunpoint, they were whimpering:
“El Medico Loco.”
I didn’t regain consciousness until we were bumping our way through the open desert. I could hear the far-off humming of the interstate, but my head was still too cloudy for me to see clearly. All I found were the pale, terrified faces of the immigrants, bouncing in the trailer beside me.
The man in the surgical mask was whistling a tune as he drove on, throwing quick glances back. He had one hand on the wheel and another on his gun as he balanced it on the back of his seat. The bayonet was so close, I thought that if we hit a big enough bump it would impale my forehead.
“Who are you?” I called out over the sound of the engine. I grit my teeth in pain.
“Doctor Tooley” he said, turning back. His eyes were smiling as he watched me. “But you can call me, Papa.”
We stopped in front of a large house that looked like it was built into the side of a cliff. Even before we were in the front gate, I could smell the pungent aroma of death, wafting out and away from his house. Still at gunpoint, he ushered us out of the trailer and in through the front door. Through the entrance hall was what must have been a kitchen before. Now, the main table was covered in plastic with surgical tools lying on the side. The ground looked like someone had tipped over a can full of red paint.
We were led down another hallway. The windows were boarded over and it was lit up by a single hanging lightbulb. There were iron bars running floor to ceiling where a bedroom door must have been before. Now, it was the entrance to a prison cell.
“In,” he grunted, poking the small of my back with the bayonet.
As we all filed in, he grabbed the wrist of one of the Mexican women.
“Not you,” he said.
She dropped to her knees and started pleading in Spanish so fast that even I could not make out what she was saying. The doctor pried her from the floor and dragged her down the hallway, ignoring her pleas.
The cell was darker than the hallway had been, and it smelled like feces and piss. Looking around, I found no toilet. There was only a corner of the room with a pile of human excrement rising up in a small mound. Just a ways to the left, I saw a young woman, hunkered against the wall as if sleeping.
I approached her and got down on my haunches. As I spoke to her, she lifted her head almost immediately, her face covered in long, brown bangs.
“Luke?” she asked, rising a little.
I, too, recognized her voice. It was Gloria. She reached her arms out to me, but missed my embrace. It seemed strange, but I ignored this, guiding her hands around me. Just as I released her, I saw her face clearly. I felt acid rising in my throat. There were deep red and black gouged holes where her eyes should have been.
Her lips quivered as she said how happy she was to hear my voice again. All I could do was fight the desire to throw up. By the way her lips were jerking, I could tell that she was crying. But as I looked into her hollowed out eye sockets, I saw nothing. Suddenly, I felt hollowed out too. Empty. It was like a chasm opening up inside of me as the quicksilver flash of rage rushed in to take its place. Something white and hot coursing through me.
Then, the sound of a chainsaw roared to life. And the wails of the woman grew louder, filling the hallway. Louder still was the doctor’s voice as he sang through the trill of the chainsaw’s engine:
“Little lady, Little lady
Please speak to me!
Pretty brown flesh
What will you see?”
The sound of saw teeth tearing into flesh rent the air. Her screams seemed only to intensify the doctor’s voice as he sang louder and louder.
She must have lost consciousness, because the screaming stopped. So too did the doctor falter in his morbid song. He seemed suddenly unhappy, his voice dropping to an angry whisper.
“No!” he shouted. “No, this isn’t what I want!”
The saw engine died and metal clamored on the floor. His heavy footsteaps were coming nearer now. Suddenly he was standing at the locked, iron door, pointing at me.
“You are what I need! You piece of shit!”
I kissed Gloria on her head and told her she was going to be okay. I knew it was not a promise I could keep, but I had to say something. As the doctor took me by the collar I looked one last time upon her hollowed out face. Without her eyes, she seemed less human, but she was still very much the woman I loved.
I went with him obediently.
“What a good boy you are,” he jeered. “You might just be Papa’s favorite.”
Only now did I see the jars displayed on the countertops. They were pickled organs and appendages, floating in full view, as if they were trophies. On the main table, I saw the woman he had taken before me. Her body was torn open from shoulder to waist, in one jagged tear. The table was visible beneath the severed portion of her body. She wasn’t bleeding as much as I thought she would have. I had imagined a whole kiddy pool of blood washing across the floor.
Doctor Tooley threw me down onto a wooden chair. I felt stabbing pains tearing up through each of my thighs. Only then had I realized there were upturned nails in the seat. I tried to rise, but he pushed me down harder until I felt like I had been spiked to the chair.
“Didn’t want to spoil the surprise,” he said, with a savage smile.
He whistled another tune as he purveyed his assemblage of tools, spread over the white cloth beside the mangled body on the table. His back was turned to me. I could tell that he had received so little resistance from people, or that he was like me in a way. He was getting sloppy. Maybe he wanted to get out of the game a long time ago, but something held him here.
Still, I was alive. And I wanted to stay that way. I seized the moment and reached to the ground where something silver shown. Agony tore at my thighs as I drew myself off of the nails. I felt immediately like I would collapse to the floor, but still I pushed towards him. Only then did I realize I was clutching a fork. But so be it. It was perfect. Just as he turned to me, I jabbed the prongs into his eyeball and pushed as hard as I could.
He screamed out and fell down backwards, his key chain rattling audibly on the floor. I saw the door, and I knew I should have taken it. But my stomach lurched at the thought of Gloria. Mangled as she was, I knew there was still a chance of a future. So I snagged at his key-ring and sprinted down the hall. Opening the lock, I called out for everyone to come.
I had to take Gloria by the arm. She was so weak. Apart from missing her eyes, her body was frail and limp, as though she had been starved the entire time. I put my hand on her back to assist, feeling the bones protruding like pieces of wood. With her limping at my side, we hobbled out through the kitchen and into the desert heat.
We could see the opening to the tunnel from where we were, a long ways south, but still visible. To the north, there was the highway, still buzzing with traffic. I helped Gloria into the ATV trailer as I fired up the engine. Looking around, I saw the other two prisoners bounding back in the direction of Mexico.
I drove us back to my house on the other side of town. I had no idea how I was going to explain this if I took Gloria to the hospital, but I knew she had to go. Still, I couldn’t stomach the thought of that man being alive. So I called the police and told them his location. After giving Gloria a bath, something to eat, and finally a warm bed to sleep in, I decided that I had better figure out what was happening at the doctor’s house.
I got in my truck and drove out. It was easy finding the right trail, so I was relieved to think that the police must have found it too. When I pulled up, I found three squad cars ringed around the front door. The officers were interrogating the man with a bandage over his eye.
I got out and walked up.
“Why isn’t he in cuffs?” I asked.
The sheriff gave me a hard look and approached me, flanked by two deputies.
“Luke,” he said. “We’ve had a long talk with this man. It seems you’ve been doing a bit of trafficking out of Mexico.”
“He’s a lunatic murderer!” I yelled back at him.
“You have the right to remain silent…” and he went through the book with me.
His two deputies locked cuffs on my wrist as he rattled through my Miranda Rights. All the while, the doctor was staring at me. I was being put into the back of the cruiser when he finally walked up. The paramedics were urging him into the ambulance, but he pushed them off for a moment.
“Who do you think asked me to come live out here?” he whispered. “If they shut down the tunnel, they’d just build another one. But I can keep taking care of them, under the radar. You may have saved yourself, but the cops know where you live, son. And I’ll have my slave-girl back.”
I felt helpless. Incapable. Weak. All I could do was spit in his face, which was answered tenfold by the officer who held me restrained. He drove a taser into my side and lit me up, before letting me fall limp into the backseat.
As the deputy started the engine and pulled away, I watched that man get smaller in the distance. I watched him then as I see him now, biding my time in this prison cell…because I cannot get a life sentence for smuggling illegal immigrants.
One day, I will find him again. And this time, I’ll finish the job.