If you're new to the site or haven't read chapters 1-6, I would encourage you to go back a week and start there. Enjoy
As Paul Harvey would say, "And now, for the rest of the story."
Darren wasn't sure what a nervous breakdown looked or felt like, but he had an inkling that he was on the verge of one. Why is it, he thought. Every time I have a bit of success in my quest to free myself of this nightmare, something is lurking around the corner that causes me great angst?
I'm gonna take this bag and walk it right into that office across the street, ask for the guy in charge and hand it to him.
As he started to remember scenes from the movies where horses heads in the bed appeared and broken knee caps were a common theme, he thought better of his idea.
That'd be suicide. . . Come on Miles, pull yourself together.
It was now approaching 7:00AM and the city streets were starting to fill up with drivers. I wonder if Ryan and Karen have spilled the beans about the car yet? he thought. I better off this one and find something else before I go any further.
He remembered seeing some dealerships along the frontage road between the exit he'd taken and the one before it. The problem was, it was still too early for any of them to be open, even on a Saturday.
I'll have to wait at least another hour until anybody shows up, he thought. It's either that or drive south until I hit the next decent sized town. By his recollection, that'd be another sixty miles or better.
This presented a dilemma. Waiting here meant the cops had an additional hour or more to track his whereabouts, but leaving meant taking his chances out on the interstate where the troopers might easily spot the Buick.
I'll wait here. He decided.
Miles cautiously made his way through the surface streets to where he'd seen the neon, 'cars for sale' signs the night before. He certainly didn't plan on going into any of the major dealerships, but he knew there'd be some used car lots close by that he could find something at.
Sure enough, sprinkled in between some of the big name guys were several smaller dealers to choose from. It was a crapshoot as to which one he should go to, but he eventually settled on one that for some reason caught his eye.
The sign that stood above the cars below was a rather non-descript one that simply said, "QUALITY PRE-OWNED CARS WITH PLENTY OF MILES TO GO".
"That's the one." He mumbled to himself.
There was a small strip mall next to the lot where he could park and wait for one of the salesmen to show-up. At about a quarter of eight an older Hispanic gentleman pulled up to the yellow, vinyl coated chain that stretched across the driveway, and unlocked it.
Darren gave him enough time to park and make his way into the office, then he headed over to see him. As he walked up, he could see the blinds on the glass door and windows were still shut and the small sign posted in front of him showed the hours of operation as, "8:30-6:00 Mon-Sat, 11:00-6:00 Sun".
Jiggling the handle, it was as he suspected, locked. He wasn't going to let that dissuade him however; he rapped on the door about six times with his knuckles and waited.
A few seconds later he saw an eyeball starring at him through the parted mini-blinds and heard the man inside say, with a distinctively Spanish accent, "Were not open yet amigo, what do you need?"
"I know and I'm sorry to bug you so early," Darren started in, "but I really need a car and I've got cash."
This was music to the salesman's ears. He said, "Uno momento, I'll get the door."
As Darren walked in, the old man asked, "What is it you're looking for my friend?"
"I need something that's going to get me down to Mexico." He replied.
"Si, we have plenty of cars that will get you there and back."
"I'm not worried about making it back. Getting there is all I'm concerned with."
He could see the light bulb go off above the man's head as he looked into his tired brown eyes. Not sure of what the salesman was thinking, Darren simply said, "What?"
"Sit down por favor." he replied. "I want to tell you a story."
Darren really didn't have time to listen to the ramblings of an old man, but for some reason he felt compelled to indulge him. "Alright." he said. Pointing to the corner he continued, "But would you mind if I had some of that coffee you're brewing?"
"Oh, si si, help yourself."
As Darren settled into the cheap, cloth covered metal chair, the old man began to unfold a story about his coming to this country many years before and how he was hoping for a better life.
A few minutes into the tale, Darren stopped him and said, "I'm sorry to be rude, but what does this have to do with me buying a car from you?"
"It has nothing to do with a car amigo, but it has everything to do with why you're running to Mexico."
"Who said I'm running anywhere?" he nervously replied.
"Relax my young friend, I know who you are and I know who's after you."
With this statement the old man took the morning paper off of his desk, unfolded the crease in it and tossed it in front of Darren.
"I recognized you the minute you said Mexico."
That familiar feeling of panic immediately returned as he sat there looking at a DMV photo of himself on one side of the page and a surveillance photo from the gas station on the other. The words on the page didn't matter; the pictures said it all.
"What do you want from me old man?" Darren said as he started to get up.
"I want to help you. Now sit back down and listen to the rest of my story. . . please"
What's the use, he thought. I'm finished anyway. I might as well humor the old guy.
For the next few minutes the would be salesman turned friend, laid out how the Bennetelli's had nearly stolen his dream for a better life when they entered his world about a six years earlier. He explained how they used the frozen foods business as a front for their more lucrative auto ring and how they controlled many of the small used car lots in the area, using them to offload most of the cars that their accomplices stole.
He also learned that old man, Ramon, was allowed only enough profit to keep his family out of debt. As he continued, he told Darren how much he wanted to leave and return to his homeland, but feared for himself and that his family still living in the US would be in danger.
"They told me if I said a word to the police or tried to run out on them, they'd kill me and my family. So you see my friend, I understand your fear."
Darren was speechless. He just sat there with his mouth agape.
"You don't need a car amigo, you need a friend."
"What do you have in mind?" he replied.
The old man sat back for a minute thinking and then leaned forward and said, "I have a cousin who is in the business of bringing in shall I say, 'special cargo', to the United States. He's been doing it for years and I'm sure he would love to 'bring one back'.
The two men sat there and hatched out a plan to get Darren and most of his money across the boarder. There would of course, be a small fee for providing such services.
Sometime later, after working out the details and putting everything in motion, Darren Miles found himself in the back of a crowded cargo van. There were boxes all around him to conceal his presence just in case they were searched as the vehicle traveled between the two countries. The only thing that was familiar to him now was the green duffel bag that he was sitting on. It was slightly lighter than it was a few short days ago when this all started, but he didn't care as long as this plan worked.
After what seemed like forever in the back of this scorching hot sanctuary on wheels, he felt it slow down and then get into a stop and go rhythm. As they inched their way through the line the driver eventually brought the van to a complete halt. He then heard talking coming from outside, but it was impossible to make out what was being said.
This is it. He thought. This has got to be the boarder.
A moment later he felt the weight shift at the back of the van and the roll-up door suddenly went clattering up. He heard what he figured to be an inspector and the driver talking about what he was transporting. His four years of high school Spanish were being put to the test as he strained to hear what the two men were saying. He could understand some of what was said, but they were talking so fast it was difficult to make out everything. It had been too long since he had needed to rely on this second language for anything other than a passing grade in school.
After a few more exchanges of words he heard the roll-up door close. The van started up again and they were off!
He heard the driver knock three times on the metal wall that separated the cabin from the cargo area. This was the signal he'd been waiting for. As they'd talked about in their plan, it meant they had made it past the boarder station and were now their way to the drop off point.
About one more hour and he could get out of this pressure cooker. Besides being overheated and dripping with sweat, he was starting to cramp-up from being confined in such a small space.
Like clockwork, an hour later almost to the minute, they stopped again. THUMP-THUMP-THUMP he heard coming from the driver's side of the van. They were at Jorge's house. This was the uncle who would take him the rest of the way during the next few days.
He couldn't believe how bright is was once the door had been opened and all the boxes removed in front of him. Shielding his eyes from the sun he made his way out into the fresh air.
He was greeted by a group of men standing around the back of the van. One of the men reached out his hand and said, "Ola amigo, welcome to Mexico."
"Thank. . . muchas gracias" replied Darren.
He was invited in, given a meal and offered a place to sleep for the evening. He simply couldn't believe the hospitality he was shown from these complete strangers.
Although he felt more welcome here than he had anywhere else he could remember, he never let the bag full of money out of his site. He was sure every man woman and child there knew what was in it, but not once did any of them so much as look at it. The only thing he could think of, was they were more interested in helping Ramon exercise some revenge on the Bennetelli's than getting any of his cash.
A hand full of days later he found himself, for the first time in his life, starring at the Pacific Ocean. It was an incredible site to see.
Along the way, even though the language was a barrier at times, the two men found themselves talking about many of the things of life. These were the conversations Darren missed as a child.
He still couldn't believe what had started off as such a horrible ordeal had turned into this, and as much as he wanted to get on with his new life he also was sad to have to say goodbye to this man who he had come to care about. It was nearly the end of his journey and it was also time to part ways with his newly found friend.
With about four hundred and fifty thousand in cash remaining in the bag, he was ready to start over and this new beginning would start in a moderate sized village just north of Puertro Vallarta.
As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Darren had settled in quite nicely. He was surprised how quickly the language came back to him when he was required to use it more too. He was making friends with the locals and had even started to fall for a particular girl by the name of Carmen who was a waitress at his favorite cantina.
Sitting there waiting for his girl to finish up her shift and nursing a margarita, he starred out onto the Pacific and realized, he was truly living the good life now.
About that time Carmen came over to the bar where he was sitting and told him she'd have to work another couple of hours longer than expected.
"Seriously?" he said, "I wanted to take you out for dinner tonight."
"Ah, your so sweet." she replied, "It's no problem, why don't you have something to eat here and when I'm finished later, we can go dancing."
"That sounds good."
He knew her boss was famous for pulling these last minute changes to her schedule.
Back in Denver I'd have blown a gasket over something that trivial. He thought.
He was amazed with himself. This slower paced life is actually starting to rub off on me.
Signalling Miguel, he picked up a menu and started looking at it.
"Si senior, you are having some dinner with us tonight?" the bartender said.
"I am," he said, "What's good today?"
Miguel proceeded to tell him about all of the wonderful seafood dishes they had to offer. Being so close to a major fishing port there was always plenty from the ocean to enjoy.
Putting the menu down he looked up and said, "You know I'm a little tired of fish right now. I think I'll have a nice big juicy steak instead."
"As you wish senior."
While he was waiting for his dinner to be prepared a gentleman sat down on the stool next to him and ordered a Corona.
"How ya doin'." the guy said.
From there they managed to engage in typical tourist driven conversation. Isn't it nice down here, Are you with your family or by yourself, how long are you staying. . . etc.
Eventually the guy stuck out his hand and said, "My name's Vince. . . you?"
"Darren, nice to meet you. Vince you said?"
"Yeah, Vincent Bennetelli!"