It was nine o’clock when Chuy Sandoval called home. After a long day, Chuy had a few drinks at Rico’s and thought better of driving. He was far too tired to walk. His wife teased him a little, then rattled down there in her old station wagon and picked him up.
“I’m glad you called me,” Teresa said. “It’s good you didn’t drive.”
“I couldn’t drive if you paid me,” Chuy said.
They drove the rest of the way without talking. It was a warm still night. Only the bugs were busy, chirping and humming in the dark. A low dust cloud trailed out after Teresa’s car as it rumbled along the dirt lanes.
Chuy had rolled a truck once, when he was much younger, after too much tequila. He drank less after that, and drove more carefully. He took very good care of his new truck. It hadn’t been cheap, and the bank still owned too much of it.
Chuy woke up just after dawn. He didn’t remember going to bed. He lay in the dark and thought about it for a few moments, then decided it didn’t matter. While he was tying his boots, he remembered leaving his truck down at Rico’s. He glanced over at Teresa. She was deep asleep, her breathing long and steady.
Chuy put coffee on and looked at the calendar. Thursday, the twenty-first of May. Monday was Memorial Day and it had snuck up on him again. And like last year and the year before, Chuy would work through the long weekend. He shook his head and went out the back door and checked his peppers. It was a good year for peppers. Not so good for beans. But he hadn’t planted beans this year, so that was someone else’s problem.
When Teresa woke up, they went back down to Rico’s to get Chuy’s truck. Chuy had to move some tools and supplies and he wanted to get started. An Anglo lady over in Los Ranchos hired him to patch an adobe wall where it was tumbling down. Teresa wanted breakfast first, but she relented.
Chuy’s truck wasn’t there. Rico’s parking lot was empty.
“Ah shit,” was all Chuy could say.
He said it several times.
“Any chance it was towed?” Teresa said.
They looked at each other and Chuy shrugged, then they climbed back in the old wagon and drove over to the police station. The new station was already ten years old and this would be the first time Chuy set foot inside. It was a square building with tan stucco walls and a red tin roof that extended out over a cement porch along the front. Chuy liked the look of the place. Much better than the prefabricated shed it had replaced.
Inside were high ceilings and everything was painted white and kept neat and clean. There was one officer on duty, a young Spanish woman. Chuy was still surprised every time he saw a woman in uniform. He didn’t know the police officer but Teresa did. After Teresa and the young woman finished their small talk, Teresa said why they were there. The young woman frowned and shook her head.
“We never tow anything parked in a private lot. We see stuff parked overnight at Rico’s all the time. He’s good about not letting people roll outta there drunk.”
Chuy narrowed his eyes and shook his head.
“I wasn’t drunk,” he said. “Just tired.”
The young officer put a hand to her mouth.
“Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it like that.”
She looked to Teresa for help.
“Me and my big mouth,” she said.
Teresa laughed and reached out to pat the young woman’s hand. The police officer turned back to Chuy and looked at him with sympathy. Chuy didn’t like that much either.
“I’m really sorry,” she said. “Do you want to report your truck as stolen?”
Chuy sighed and nodded.
“Guess I better,” he said.
The police officer turned away and went to a filing cabinet and came back with some forms. Teresa did most the talking. Chuy provided a detailed description of his truck and the license plate number.
When they were out in the parking lot, Chuy asked his wife how she knew the young officer. Teresa explained that she was the daughter of someone Chuy couldn’t remember and that she had been a year ahead of their daughter Marbella in the village schools. Chuy listened to his wife and heard what she said but that didn’t stop him from thinking about his truck.
They climbed in Teresa’s old wagon and went past Rico’s on the way home. The bar’s parking lot was still painfully empty. At home they made breakfast and Chuy picked at his food. He wanted to call Rico and ask if his truck was there when Rico closed the bar, but it was only 7:30. Rico wouldn’t be up till 9:00 at the earliest. Chuy decided he best wait till later and talk to Rico at the bar. The barkeep would be in a better way by then. Chuy knew Rico didn’t wake up so good.
Meanwhile, Chuy could use Teresa’s old wagon to shuttle things over to Los Ranchos. The Anglo woman wanted her wall fixed quickly, for a party that was important to her. Luckily Chuy’s tools weren’t in his truck. He had taken them out to clean them.
Having a plan improved Chuy’s appetite. He told Teresa what he wanted to do while he finished his breakfast. Teresa was done eating. She was standing at the sink, washing their coffee pot.
“I need to go shopping,” she said. “When can I get my car back?”
“Can’t you go tomorrow? I can’t get started over there till I get set up. Tomorrow morning you can just drop me off.”
Teresa rinsed the glass pot and settled it into the dish rack.
“Okay,” she said. “You can borrow my car. But be nice to it.”
Chuy scraped up his last bite, put his plate next to the sink, and kissed the top of Teresa’s head. He went outside and began loading the wagon. To avoid overloading the poor old thing, he figured it would take two trips, maybe three.
It took three. It was 10:15 when he pulled out of his driveway for the third time. On the way back to Los Ranchos, he stopped at Rico’s and found the door unlocked and Rico behind the bar, restocking his liquor supply. He glanced toward the door when Chuy came in, but he kept working and said nothing. Chuy didn’t speak till he stepped up to the bar.
“Did you see my truck last night?”
Chuy put his hands on the bar top.
“Teresa came and got me last night. I left my truck here, but this morning it was gone. Did you see it last night, when you closed up?”
Rico stopped working and stood up straight. He looked at Chuy.
“You didn’t come get it?”
Chuy shook his head.
“Ah shit, Chuy, that’s bad. It was here when I closed.”
The bar was very quiet.
“You tell the cops?” Rico said.
Chuy nodded. Rico nodded back.
“I’m sorry. That stinks.”
Rico looked across the room, toward the parking lot out front where Chuy’s truck had disappeared.
“It’s a real nice truck,” Rico said.
Chuy nodded some more. Rico offered him a beer, but Chuy declined. Chuy shuffled out into the dirt and gravel parking lot, climbed into Teresa’s station wagon, and continued on to Los Ranchos and the Anglo lady’s place and her crumbling adobe wall.
The Anglo lady was out in the yard looking at Chuy’s tools. She was one of the really strange Anglos, from New York City. She made her money buying and selling what other people made—paintings and carvings and other ugly and useless things she and her kind called art.
“So these are the tools of your trade—eh, Chuy?”
She had a singsong way of talking that seemed childish to him. Chuy nodded and smiled.
Chuy had learned that Anglos like this one loved to hear him speak Spanish, even though his Spanish was bad, often worse than theirs.
Call her “señora” and she’ll never complain, Chuy thought.
She smiled broadly, her wide mouth full of big white teeth. Smiling made her eyes crinkle. She was pretty, Chuy had to admit. But so were collies and about as smart.
“Well. They certainly are impressive. How long have your people been making adobe?”
Long enough to know better, he wanted to say.
“A long time, señora. A very long time.”
Chuy knew that bullshit answers always satisfied the Anglos who were stupid enough to ask bullshit questions. She made her toothy smile again and wandered off.
Thank God, Chuy thought.
He couldn’t take her today.
Chuy set to work. His hands lifted his familiar tools and he took up the old routines. Work blocked out the wrong done to him. Chuy had been acutely aware of each passing moment since he and Teresa found Rico’s parking lot empty of his truck. Now the moments flowed into each other as his hands moved over the wall.
Chuy peeled back the crumbling adobe, looking for solid bricks he could build on. After he took down a dozen that fell apart in his hands, Chuy admitted to himself that the wall was in worse shape than he anticipated. The adobe bricks in the section he was repairing were brittle, but not ill-formed. He wondered if they were made by the same men who built the wall. He suspected they were purchased from a less scrupulous source. The wall was properly coursed but the bricks were poured from bad mud. To patch the wall, Chuy would have to take down twice as much as he originally planned, maybe more.
Chuy went to the house and knocked on the front door, then led the Anglo lady down to the wall and showed her what he had found. She smiled and nodded, her big mouth full of even white teeth and her pale blue eyes crinkling at the corners.
“Well, you do what you have to do, Chuy,” she said. “I trust you. Can you make it look good for my party?”
Chuy ran his hand over the wall and nodded. Then she invited him in for something to eat.
“Oh no, señora. Gracias. I brought lunch.”
She smiled and tilted her head and walked slowly back to the house. Chuy glanced at her departing form and fumbled with his canvas gloves. He had lied to the Anglo lady. He meant to bring food but had forgotten. He would have to go home to eat.
He didn’t break for lunch till 1:30. He was tired by then, so he took a short rest, sitting with his back against the wall, enjoying the shade from the tall cottonwoods. He squinted up into the trees. The lowest branches were twenty feet above his head and twice that long. He loved these old cottonwoods. It irked him that the Anglo lady never seemed to notice them.
“Why do they come here?” he asked.
He climbed back in Teresa’s old station wagon and headed for home.
Chuy pulled to a stop next to the Anglo lady’s mailbox, out where her long dirt drive met Los Ranchos Boulevard. Traffic ran slow and steady. Chuy watched the road and waited, one finger tapping softly on the steering wheel. His thoughts went back to the crumbling wall and what was needed to keep it standing.
“She should just tear that crap down,” Chuy said.
He didn’t mean it. The words left his tongue sour. He watched the cars and trucks slide past and regretted insulting the old adobe and the dead men who made it a century ago.
A knot of traffic approached and Chuy decided too late that he could have slipped out before it. He was hesitant to push Teresa’s old station wagon. The knot was led by a blue Chevy pickup. Chuy didn’t notice till the truck was right in front of him that it was the same make and model and color as his own. But his was a pretty popular truck. He saw them all over. The driver was some punk with a black bandana over his head. The truck cruised past and Chuy looked to the license plate but it was blocked by a green Acura riding the truck’s bumper. The punk with the bandana was driving slow. No ticket for him from the stern policemen of Los Ranchos who strictly enforced the speed limit along the boulevard.
Chuy pulled out four cars behind the blue pickup. He watched the truck, looked at the back of the cab over the intervening cars, studied the back of the punk’s bandana-ed head. He didn’t like that kid, didn’t trust him driving so slow. He kept trying to see the pickup’s license plate when the curves in the road might have brought it into view, but the Acura hung on the truck’s bumper like it was being towed.
Can’t be my truck, Chuy thought. No one’s that stupid.
The Infiniti in front of him turned right at the next intersection and took its time doing it. A horn blared behind him and Chuy frowned into his rear view mirrors. He looked forward again and saw a cloud of black diesel exhaust fan out from the old white Mercedes that was ahead of him now that the Infiniti was gone. Chuy kept his distance. He had the windows down and didn’t care to breath any more poisons than he had to. The Mercedes’ left flasher came on and it eased into a driveway across the road. Chuy picked up his speed and closed the gap between Teresa’s wagon and the Acura that was tailgating the truck. Then the Acura peeled off quickly at the next right and now Chuy was following the blue Chevy pickup. He stared at the back of the punk’s head for a moment, hating the black bandana folded over the boy’s skull and the life that piece of cloth represented, then lowered his eyes to the truck’s license plate.
His stomach filled with acid and his hands turned sweaty.
“God damn it,” he said.
His face became stone. He put both hands on the steering wheel and turned it with motions that were slow and deliberate and precise. They crossed the village limits and went another mile, then the knot of traffic led by the blue pickup pulled to a stop at the end of Los Ranchos Boulevard, as the traffic light at Route 418 turned red. Chuy lowered his eyes again and reread the truck’s license plate. His knuckles whitened over the steering wheel.
“God damn it,” he said again.
Chuy became so still that he almost stopped breathing. Then he shifted the old station wagon into park, slipped out the door, and stalked up alongside the idling pickup. The punk with the black bandana saw Chuy as he approached and started to open his door. That only made it easier for Chuy to jerk the door open, grab the boy’s arm, yank him out of the cab, and throw him down on the pavement, where the boy sprawled onto his back. Chuy put his boot across the boy’s throat and shouted—
“Why don’t you try an’ guess whose truck this is!”
The kid made a croaking sound, then grabbed Chuy’s boot and pushed. He was strong for a skinny boy, but he couldn’t budge the man that stood over him. Chuy pressed his boot down and the boy’s faced turned gray.
Chuy heard the sirens but didn’t understand their meaning till the sirens stopped. Then he looked up and saw the flashing lights of a cop car that was parked under the traffic signals, out in the middle of the intersection. It seemed to Chuy that only a moment had passed since he threw the kid to the ground. The boy tried to push him off again. Chuy pressed his boot down and the struggling stopped. He looked at the cop car again and saw it belonged to the city police. They were in an odd corner of Corchojo up here, a little tab extending off to the west from the North Valley section of the city, a small strip along Route 418 north of Los Ranchos that the rich people didn’t want in their fancy village.
An Anglo cop appeared before Chuy with his pistol drawn. Chuy raised his hands and nodded down at the kid under his boot.
“He stole my truck,” Chuy yelled. “Check with the Los Huertos police. I reported it stolen.”
A second cop appeared, across the truck bed from Chuy, another Anglo with his pistol out. Chuy knew the cops didn’t like what they saw, a rough-looking middle-aged spic grinding his boot into a boy’s throat. But he guessed they wouldn’t much like the boy either, when they got a good look at him. At least Chuy and the kid were both Spanish. That simplified things. Chuy thought it was a good thing for him the punk wasn’t Anglo.
Walkie-talkies crackled and the guns were put away. Then the first cop waved Chuy off the kid. When he stepped back, the cops charged in, pulled the boy to his feet, and snapped him into handcuffs. While they put the boy in the back of the police cruiser, an unmarked car appeared and a tall young Anglo detective told Chuy they needed him to come with them. They took Chuy back to the North Valley police station in the unmarked car, asked him a few questions, then left him sitting next to the young detective’s desk. The detective went off with the uniformed cop, the first one on the scene, the one who had read the punk his rights.
Chuy used the telephone on the detective’s desk to call Teresa. She didn’t answer. When he hung up the phone, Chuy felt like a fog was lifting. He looked at the palms of his callused hands, then turned them over and put them on his knees. He noticed how loud and busy the city police station was. People were talking, to each other and on telephones. A computer printer ground out paperwork. Someone smacked a telephone handset down into its cradle. A telephone rang and someone yelled out “Hey Bill”.
Chuy called Teresa again. He let it ring fifteen times. He was hanging up when the young detective returned.
“Mister Sandoval, do you have a ride home?”
Chuy looked up at the tall Anglo. The detective did not sit down.
“I can go?”
The detective nodded.
“Don’t you want me to give a statement or something?” Chuy said.
The detective shook his head.
“We’ve got everything we need. Do you want a ride?”
Chuy’s answer was very slow and deliberate.
“I don’t need a ride. I’m going to drive my truck.”
The Anglo frowned and bit his lip.
“I’m afraid we need to hold your truck.”
Chuy took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. He raised his head and frowned at the detective.
The detective looked at Chuy while he picked out his words.
“He was transporting contraband and our team isn’t done going over your truck yet. I’m awful sorry for the inconvenience.”
“He stole my truck and used it to drive drugs?”
The detective looked like someone had stepped on his toe. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“Well, I didn’t mention drugs, sir.”
Chuy stared at him. The detective waited.
“When can I get my truck back?” Chuy said. “I need my truck. I make my living with that truck.”
“First thing tomorrow, Mister Sandoval. Nine o’clock sharp. You have my word on that. Our crew will work on it tonight, everything, all the paperwork. We’ll clear it up before we leave.”
They watched each other.
“You can’t wait here for it, Mister Sandoval.”
“I know that. I’m not stupid.”
“Do you have a ride home?”
“Where’s my wife’s car? I was driving my wife’s station wagon.”
“It’s back where you left it. You moved it for us. Do you remember that?”
Chuy frowned again. He vaguely remembered leaving Teresa’s station wagon in a parking lot along Route 418.
“Yeah. Sure. How do I get there?”
“I’ll drive you over.”
A few minutes later, Chuy was back in the unmarked car with the Anglo detective again. “That was a very brave thing you did, Mister Sandoval.”
Chuy glanced at the cop. He was looking straight ahead, one hand on the steering wheel. He had dark glasses on.
“Also very stupid,” the cop said.
“It’s my truck.”
“I understand how you feel, sir. But that kid’s in a gang. He had a pistol tucked in his belt. Did you notice that?”
Chuy hadn’t seen any pistol, but he knew the cop wasn’t lying. Better not tell Teresa about the pistol.
“I’m surprised he didn’t shoot you,” the detective said.
Chuy looked out his window for a moment, then he turned to the detective.
“Maybe he was afraid to. Maybe he thought that would make me mad.”
The detective laughed, from his belly. It was a good laugh and Chuy liked him better for it. They stopped talking. Chuy liked him for that too.
Teresa’s station wagon was in place and intact. Chuy looked at it suspiciously.
“Do you want me to follow you home?” the detective said.
“What? Hell no. I’m all right.”
“Well, if it’s all the same to you, sir, I’m going to follow you home anyway. So don’t run any red lights.”
Chuy shrugged. It probably wasn’t a bad idea.
Teresa was out in their front yard, talking to a woman who lived a few doors over. Teresa frowned when she saw Chuy followed by someone who was so obviously a cop. The neighbor took one look, said goodbye, and hurried off.
The detective was out of his car and next to the station wagon before Chuy even had the keys out of the ignition. Chuy stepped out and looked at his wife. She wasn’t mad. That was good.
“I found my truck,” he said.
Teresa raised an eyebrow.
“Ah,” she said.
She put her hands on her hips and turned this way and that, making a show of looking around their dusty yard. She even stooped a little to look inside the station wagon.
“So where is it?”
The detective laughed loudly and made Teresa smile. Chuy had to admit the young Anglo had a good laugh. Chuy briefly explained to his wife what had happened. He left out the boy’s gun and didn’t mention that he was in a gang and downplayed how close Chuy came to strangling him. When Chuy was done, Teresa turned to the detective.
“Is that all true?”
“Yes, ma’am. Every word.”
Teresa nodded, first at the cop, then at Chuy. She still had her hands on her hips. She turned back to the detective.
“Would you like some dinner? I’m making chicken and rice. It won’t be ready for a while. If you can wait.”
“Oh no, ma’am. I’m on duty. But thank you, just the same. It’s awful nice of you to ask.”
Chuy liked the cop even better for not staying. Teresa smiled at them both, then turned and went inside. She always knew when to leave the men alone. They didn’t talk till the screen door creaked shut.
“Thanks,” Chuy said.
Chuy nodded toward the two cars.
“Thanks for following me home too. I was a little shaky.”
“That’s all right. It was quite a day you had.”
Chuy grinned and scratched the back of his head.
“Yeah, it was a day, all right. That kid can’t feel too tough about now. Gettin’ his ass stomped by grandpa.”
The cop laughed again. Chuy put his hand out and the detective shook it. The young man’s hand was soft and smooth.
“I’ll be at your desk tomorrow morning, nine sharp,” Chuy said. “You better have my truck ready.”
“It will be, Mister Sandoval.”
The detective got in his unmarked car and backed out into the lane. Chuy was watching the car fade into the dust cloud kicked up behind it when Teresa slipped up beside him.
“He seems nice,” she said.
Chuy nodded. They stood side-by-side and watched the dust from the car rise and swirl. Then Teresa gave her husband’s hand a squeeze, kissed him on the side of the chin, and went inside to finish dinner.
Chuy went around back to check his peppers. He put some plants in early and they had fruit already. The peppers looked real good, firm and plump and shiny. Their stems were thick and strong and their leaves were stiff and dark. They smelled like green apples and warm wood. He enjoyed the smell for a few moments, taking deep breaths and walking slowly down the rows. Then he ambled over to the house and went inside.
Chuy found Teresa at the kitchen sink and kissed the top of her head. He stood behind her for a moment, then stepped close and wrapped his arms around his wife. She put down her work and leaned back against him. Chuy looked out the back window at their garden.
They listened to the day fade into evening.
“It’s a good year for the peppers,” Chuy said.
Al Sim’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Glimmer Train, The Literary Review, and The Greensboro Review. His collection Stories in the Old Style was published by Press 53. He is married, has two children, works in the software industry, and lives in Arizona.