chapter 57

Spanish Language School

    It was the week before Christmas when I got the call. Bob had been

caught down south. Way down south.

    Three days later I was in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I went to the

penitentiary, The Federalie Carsel. They would not let me see Bob. The

chief guard of the penitentiary explained to me that I had to have a

lawyer.

    As it turned out, a lawyer was already aware of Bob's predicament. This

lawyer had already been engaged by Bob's friends in San Luis Potosi.

    He was a distinguished older gentleman, a former Federal prosecutor.

He said that I needed money. I was to bring it to him. He needed one

thousand dollars for this. And one thousand dollars for that. And one

thousand dollars for something else. And, of course, he needed one

thousand dollars for himself.

    I went back to Laredo. I started collecting money. I put the muscle on

everybody I knew. Everybody who knew Bob.

    I traveled back to San Luis Potosi and paid the money to the lawyer. I

was assured that Bob would soon be out of jail.

    The next Christmas Bob was still in the Federalie Carsel. I spent that

Christmas at the Federalie Carsel too. As a guest. A guest of Bob and all

his new-found friends. Some of his new friends had spent many

Christmases in the Federalie Carsel. For many different reasons.

    I only heard one side of the story that Christmas. Their side of the

story. Still, I wondered. Some of those men were destined to never leave

the Federalie Carsel. Never.

    Bob's Spanish was getting pretty good.

    I talked to the lawyer some more. For the tenth time. Or maybe it was

the twentieth time. I had lost tract. He talked about money. He always

talked about money. Other people in Mexico, and in Texas, were helping

me. Or maybe I was helping them. We always talked about money.

    I made many trips to San Luis Potosi. At first, I always flew some kind

of airplane down there. Usually a borrowed plane. After a few trips I

started taking the train. It was much cheaper to ride the train.

    There was another reason I took the train. It was the weather in central

Mexico. I loved flying over those mountains and high deserts in pretty

weather, but when the thunder storms started breaking over that high

country I was ready to get on the ground. The truth was, bad weather just

scared the pants off me.

    On two or three of my trips I encounter minor little squall lines and I

would work my way around them, or through them. A time or two I just

ducked under the overcast and slipped along the edge of the Sierra Madré.

    But on one trip I encountered a line of weather about 50 miles south of

Saltillo that I couldn't work my way through. It was only a minor localized

weather front, and any pilot qualified to fly instruments would have simply

cruised through it and shot an approach at San Luis. But not me. I turned

back and landed at Saltillo, wasted the rest of the day, spent the night,

tried again the following day, and finally canceled the trip and flew back

home to Laredo.

    A good friend who was a Border Patrol pilot went down with me a time

or two. He could speak Spanish, and I thought it would be good to have

him alon

    The old lawyer could speak pretty fair English, and when only the two

of us were present, we managed to understand each other pretty well. But

when there was another white man in the room who could speak Spanish,

he never used a word of English. When my Spanish-speaking friend was

with me, I never had any idea what was being talked about.

    I was still having problems with interpreters.

    So after that, I started riding the train. A day and a half from Nuevo

Laredo, according to schedule. Usually two days. Sometimes, more.

    Beautiful country, central Mexico. I would sit on the train. I would sit on

those hard wooden seats. I always rode on the low-class cars of the train.

I rode in the same cars with the peasants. I don't know why. It didn't have

anything to do with money. The cost of a ticket in the peasants' car was

about the price of a hamburger. I really don't remember how much. But it

was cheap. I could have ridden first class for a few bucks more.

    But for some reason, I wanted to ride in the same car with the

peasants. Usually I did, but not always. A time or two, when I had been

working days at a time, I would get a sleeper berth. I enjoyed that too.

Just sleeping along in the long nights, with the banging, and the rolling,

and clickety-clack of the iron wheels along the imperfectly laid rails, and

all those other nighttime train noises. I could sleep like a baby, with a

little tequila to help.

    So I would sit on that swaying train, and I would talk to the peasants.

Or sleep. I was a good sleeper. I could sleep anywhere. Even sitting

upright on a hard wooden seat, my head lolling around like I had a rubber

neck, banging against the window sill of the train. I was always a good

sleeper.

    For miles and miles, and miles and miles, I would sit and watch the

country roll by. I would sit at the open window, my elbow sticking out into

the passing air just as though I was driving along in my pickup truck, and

watch that ancient country roll by.

    I would talk to the people, the peasants. I spoke in a language they did

not understand, and they replied in kind. We got along fine.

    Often a younger person would want to talk to me in English. Their

English usually wasn't very good, but it was better than my Spanish. So I

would talk to these young people, hours at a time. Just talking about

anything. They needed the practice. My Spanish got a little bit better. Not

much. Just a little bit. Which meant I increased my vocabulary to almost

two dozen words. Most of them nouns. Or adjectives. No verbs. No

adverbs. No prepositions. I was extra dumb when it came to foreign

languages. My mouth turned to cardboard, my brain to mush. I was not a

language person. But I got along just fine with the Mexican peasants

riding across the deserts of central Mexico.

    I rode many a long night through that high country. Many a day I sat

on those hard wooden seats and gazed out across that swaying

countryside. Gazing at the barren land, the people, the little towns.

    And in that barren country I came to see the reflection of my own face,

a face of old memories and uncertain dreams. As the peasants' train

swayed on, crawling up the mountain pass between Monterey and Saltillo.

Lurching through those mountains. Between the great stones. Stopping at

every little village. Backing up. Shuffling cars. Waiting on side tracks.

Waiting for hours so that the express train could pass us in the night.

    The express train was the First Class Train. Green lights all the way

from the Texas border to Mexico City. Air-conditioned cars. Linen napkins.

Waiters in white coats. I never rode that train.

    But the peasants' train stopped at every little town. And backed up...

Switching cars. Loading goats. Bales of straw. Pumpkins. Cages of ducks,

chickens. The conductor strode through our train, giving orders, taking

tickets, changing money.

    I always made it a point to tip the conductor soon after I boarded the

train. I don't remember how much I tipped him. Probably five bucks. But I

always tipped him.

    The conductors were always nice to me. They would let me do just

about anything I wanted to do. Of course, I didn't want to do much. But I

would wander up and down the train anytime I wanted to. Through all the

cars, even the first class cars. And sometimes I would go into the dining

car, and eat a nice meal, and drink coffee.

    But usually, I stayed in the peasant cars.

    At every little town kids begged for coins, or food, or something. I

never gave them anything. My new friends, the peasants riding along with

me, told me not to. I knew enough to understand that. I knew what "no

bueno" meant. And I understood expressions, and smiles, and frowns. Me

and my peasant friends, we got along pretty good. So I never gave

anything to the beggars.

    At every little town there was food. It flooded into the peasant cars at

every stop. Old ladies hawking food on the platforms, walking through the

isles of the cars, jumping back off the train as it began to creep away,

swaying, lurching. The conductors were peasant conductors. They were

peasants of a higher class. They always wore heavy black uniforms, even

in the hottest summer.

    The peasant conductors were always busy at every stop. Selling new

tickets. Getting those people off the train whose tickets had run out.

Kicking off anybody who didn't have a ticket. Keeping the old ladies with

their food baskets off the train, and the beggar kids.

    But the old ladies would not stay off the train. They would get on

anyway. No matter how much yelling the conductor did, no matter how

angry he got. They would just yell back, and they would get on the train

and sell food to all the peasant passengers. And to me.

    I ate as I went. Whatever the little old ladies had in their baskets, that's

what I ate. My insides were tough, riding those trains for over a year.

Sometimes I would give money to one of my peasant friends. A dollar,

maybe two. They would buy food for both of us. Sometimes they would

buy food for a whole lot of us. The little old ladies with their food baskets

would smile at me, and all the peasants would laugh, and the conductor

would get mad at everybody, and keep yelling, "Pronto, pronto!"

    I knew what that meant. But nobody else seemed to. But the little old

ladies, carrying their food baskets, would start to move "pronto, pronto!"

when the train began to roll. They would rush to the car doors and jump

out onto the moving platform, and often, if their business transactions

were not yet complete, they would rush along the outside of the window

and pass food and money back and forth as the train began to pick up

speed and sway along the track.

    And all this time the conductor would be hollering at everybody. He had

a hard job. But sometimes he would stop hollering long enough to stop

and have a bite of food with the rest of us. I always got along well with

conductors. Some of them I rode with two or three times and kind of got

to know. I always tipped the conductor as soon as I got on the train.

    Some nights, I would stand out on the tail end car of the train. On the

rear platform, in the cold night air, swaying in the moonlight. Listening to

the sounds of the train. Listening to the sounds of Mexico. Looking out

over that high country desolation. Drinking Tecaté, and later, tequila.

Sometimes with lemon. I forget, was the lemon with the Tecaté, or the

tequila? It's not important, on that rocking train, in the high country

desert of Central Mexico. Lurching. Clacking. Riding along in the

moonlight.

    "What am I doing here," I would wonder? Why was I riding out my life

on a desert in central Mexico? On a swaying peasants' train. Drinking

tequila in the moonlight.

    I knew why I was there, of course. I had business in San Luis Potosi. I

knew that. But why was I there? Why was my life there? I never came to

understand how my life had led to such an unforeseen assignment.

    But I was glad that I was there. I was happy to be there. I was glad that

it had fallen my lot, my job, to make that trip to the Federalie Carsel in

San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

    And I liked riding that train, talking to the peasants, eating food from

the baskets, swaying along the barren deserts and reflecting on the

passage of my life.

    That train reminded me of Asian trains. Like the one that ran from

Nong Khai on the south bank of the Mekong, to Khon Kaen, and on to

Bangkok. That train burned wood, and liked to jump the track. But it was

never going very fast. On that train, I also ate from the baskets of the

little old ladies who fought their way on at every stop. And those

conductors yelled at everybody too, but their uniforms were light weight

cotton, and they wore shorts.

    On the train out of Nong Khai, I always drank rice wine, swaying along

in the moonlight. And there was another train, years before the train to

San Luis Potosi.

    That train left Calcutta, traveling up the banks of the Ganges River to

Varanasi, and on to Delhi. But that train was a much more violent train,

traveling up the Ganges in the season of the famine. And when we

stopped at the little towns, the doors to the cars were locked from the

inside, and nobody got on those cars to sell food from a basket. And the

soldiers rode between the cars, and from the little towns the people hung

onto the sides of the train, and gathered on the rooftop. And when they

fell, or were pushed over the sides, or down between the cars, the train

rolled on.

    But the train to San Luis Potosi was a much more pleasant train. No

one fell beneath the wheels, and the little old ladies were allowed to sell

food from their baskets.

    In San Luis there were friends. Bob's business partners. The men who

owned the shops that he had supplied with goods for years. I trusted

them. I believed that they did their best to gain Bob's freedom. I thought

they were good people. I still do. I'll never know if they were playing me

for a fool.  I'll never know.

    The night Bob had got caught in San Luis Potosi with a load of

contraband, he was flying a "Twin Beech." A Beechcraft Model 18. It was a

twin engine cabin plane. The Twin Beech was powered by two 450 H.P.

Pratt & Whitney radial engines. It had a long, flat horizontal stabilizer with

a vertical stabilizer on each end. The vertical stabilizers, each fixed with a

rudder on the trailing edge, were rounded and shaped like stretched out

pancakes. The Twin Beech was a great little cargo plane. It was used as a

workhorse all over the world. In some places, it still is.

    From the time Bob was first caught, I had tried to get the lawyer to get

permission for the Twin Beech to be returned to Laredo. I could get that

airplane back home, I explained, I could sell it and use the money to pay

the attorney fees. He assured me that this could not be done, "Not until

after the trial."

    And when was the trial? No date had been set. There was much

paperwork that had to be done first. I asked the lawyer if he could sell the

aircraft on the spot, to a customer in Mexico. No, he insisted, the airplane

could not be moved until after the trial.

    Bob's Twin Beech was a cream-puff. It was maintained like a Swiss

watch. It was polished aluminum. It had good engines, and good radios. A

few weeks after I talked to the lawyer about selling it, it disappeared from

the airport at San Luis Potosi. I never learned where it went. It was later

reported to be parked on the airport at Mexico City. Later, it was reported

to have been seen with new Mexican registration. It never came back

home. It probably never came back across the Rio Grande. Somebody,

somewhere, got himself a mighty good airplane. For free.

    I spent that second Christmas in prison with Bob. It was cold. Colder

that can be told. All the other prisoners were Mexican. Somehow we got

some tequila into the prison. I forget how. I think somebody paid off the

guards. It might have been me. I really don't remember.

    But we had tequila that Christmas, deep in the Federalie Carsel in San

Luis Potosi, Mexico. And we had a table full of food. All kinds. Everything

you can imagine. The food was provided by all Bob's friends in San Luis

Potosi, and somehow, it passed along those cold stone corridors.

    For I had learned a lot, over that long year. I had become wise to the

ways of that ancient world. Riding the peasant train, walking deep into

those cold corridors, talking for many long hours with the old Mexican

lawyer.

    I had learned the magic of a twenty-dollar bill, slipped wisely into the

proper hands. That winter, there was enough food for all Bob's new

friends, buried deep in the cellblock, buried in the cold. Buried inside walls

as thick as houses. Solid stone.

    The chief guard of the prison liked me. I got to know him after several

trips. He was the boss man when it came to who was allowed inside the

prison. And who was allowed out. Everyone had to be searched. But they

quit searching me, when I passed inside those walls. After a few trips, that

is.

    I never took anything inside. What was there to take? Except money. I

always took Bob money. U.S. money. Small bills. The Chief Guard knew

this. He understood.

    After I had made a few trips into the Federalie Carsel, Bob gave me

special instructions. He told me to bring the Chief Guard a Stetson Hat.

Size 7-1/4, long oval. I did, on the very next trip. A John B Stetson 20X

Silver Beaver.

    The Chief Guard liked his new hat. He liked it better than you would

believe. After that, every time I entered the prison he was wearing it. He

wore it every day. That hat cost me over a hundred dollars.

    Actually, Bob's wife put up the cash for the hat.

    That Christmas, deep in the cellblock of the Federalie Carsel, we had

tequila inside the walls. And all Bob's friends were invited. His new friends,

that is.

    I asked Bob how it was? A funny way to ask that question.

    He said that it was no big deal, being there. But he didn't want to be

there. It was no big deal, though, not after 29 months in a North Korean

Prison camp. Without Christmas. Without tequila. Without food. At 30

degrees below zero. Torture.

    "I could do this standing on my head," he said.

    But he wanted out.

    I talked to the lawyer some more. I had learned a lot. I had early on

made my first big mistake. I had talked to the U.S. Embassy. Their job was

to see that Bob received a Christmas dinner every year. The second

Christmas, Bob told the Chief Guard to send his Christmas dinner back

deep into the prison to someone else. We had lots of food, and tequila.

    So I went back to talking to the lawyer. He explained to me that there

were many problems. All the problems could be solved, he assured me, if

there was enough money. But there wasn't enough money.

    One of the problems had to do with Bob's flight plan. He didn't have

one. The night Bob had gone south, he had just slipped across the border

and kept right on going. Just like he had done a hundred times before. He

didn't file a customs declaration when departing the United States. He

didn't file an international flight plan. He didn't call the FAA after takeoff

and advise them that he was departing American airspace. He didn't report

into the Mexican air traffic control system. He didn't land at a Mexican port

of entry and allow the Mexican authorities to inspect his aircraft and

cargo.

    He just headed south.

    That was a problem. That was a whole bunch of problems. Every one of

those infractions of the law was meticulously listed in the long list of

charges brought against Bob. The old lawyer explained that every one of

those charges would have to be dealt with. It soon became evident to me

that every charge had a particular price tag attached to it.

    But the time came when I could no longer bring money.  When I

explained this to the old lawyer he became very solemn. He leaned back in

his chair and folded his fingers beneath his chin. I did not lean back in my

chair.  I sat there perfectly straight, and I looked at that old lawyer.  I

looked directly at his eyes, so that each time his vision moved toward me

he was looking directly into my eyes.

    There have been few times in my life when I actually stared directly

into another man's eyes for a prolonged period of time.  But that

afternoon, in a dusty little office in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, I looked

directly into the eyes of that old lawyer, and I did not turn my eyes away.

I did not do this deliberately. I had no plan in doing this. No purpose or

intent. I did not know know what I was thinking, or why I was stareing

into that man's eyes. But that old lawyer seemed to understand. He

seemed to know my thoughts, even if I didn't. I think he saw in the eyes

of that scared, stupid, gringo, reason for concern. I think he saw danger in

the frustration and desperation of that man.

    After a little while the old lawyer moved inside his chair, gazed across

the ceiling, and suggested that there were still solutions within the grasp

of a wise old lawyer like himself.

    It seems that there was yet another angle he was willing to play. If, in

fact, it could be proven that Bob actually had filed a flight plan before

departing the U.S., the old lawyer was prepared to argue that all ensuing

violations were based on nothing but faulty paperwork. It was all a

misunderstanding, he would argue, nothing but faulty paperwork and the

lack of accountability in the Mexican air traffic control system!

    This new legal approach left me baffled. Nothing but faulty paperwork?

The whole idea was ludicrous. Bob had been caught, red handed, with an

airplane loaded with contraband television sets. And what about the

charge that he had failed to land for customs inspection?

    Well, the old lawyer explained patiently, if it could be shown that Bob

had actually filed a flight plan, that in itself was clear evidence of his

intent to comply with all other additional requirements, wasn't it? The

burden would clearly be on the prosecution to prove that Mexican Customs

had not made the required inspection.

    "And what about the illegal cargo," I wanted to know?

    "What cargo," the old lawyer shrugged?

    I then learned that the army colonel who had made the arrest was

prepared to swear that the airplane was completely empty when he first

inspected it. And all those Sony color television sets? And all those boxes

of peek-a-boo night gowns? And those cases of Texas Instruments

hand-held calculators? Well, nobody knew anything about all that stuff. It

was now being referred to as, "the alleged contraband."

    If Bob was willing to agree that there had been no cargo, then I was

assured that no one else would appear in court to argue otherwise.

    The lawyer had a case, he insisted. But of course, it was all based on

"the lost flight plan". If we could discover at that late date that Bob's

original flight plan had only been "misplaced", our whole legal position

would shift dramatically.

    Slowly it dawned on me that I was being given an assignment. I needed

to find that crucial document: "the lost flight plan".

    Back in Laredo, I explained the situation to some of the old border

hands. They all agreed that it would be a wonderful thing if we could just

discover "the lost flight plan".

    The next day I was given a name and a telephone number. That night I

called that number. The man who answered the phone was an employee of

the FAA. He was an air traffic controller. This man was assigned to the

control tower in Cotulla, and somewhere along the way he had gotten to

be a friend of Bob's.

    Cotulla was probably the least busy control tower in America. As a

matter of fact, about a year later it was shut down. But at that time it was

still active. Somebody else had already explained the problem to this man.

He told me to meet him at the coffee shop at the Cotulla airport the next

day.

    The next day we sat in the coffee shop and made small talk. He said he

understood that "there was a problem." I said that yes, there was. I

opened a manila envelope and handed him a piece of paper. I had written

certain information on that sheet of paper. Names, dates, times, aircraft

tail numbers, departure points, radio check points, destinations.

Everything needed was on that sheet of paper. He looked at it and handed

it back to me.

    "You ever been in the Cotulla control tower?' he asked.

    "No, I haven't," I said.

    "Come on up. I'll show you around," he said.

    We climbed about half a dozen flights of stairs. Inside, all was quiet.

The other controller was just sitting there smoking a cigarette. We

introduced ourselves. We made small talk. They made jokes about being

"overworked."

    There was nothing going on. All the radios were on and humming, but

nobody was doing any talking. Every now and then we would hear some

airliner making a position report to San Antonio. There were no airplanes

flying at the Cotulla Airport that day. There were several planes parked on

the ramp, but most of them hadn't flown in weeks.

    I kind of liked that place. I wouldn't have wanted to have that job, but

it would have been a nice place to drop by every now and then. You could

see for miles. I could see where the Nueces River ran halfway back to

Carrizo Springs. I could see where it slipped off to the south and east into

some of the wildest country in that part of the world. That control tower

was a very relaxing place. I could have spent the whole day there, just

looking out the window and day-dreaming.

    After a bit the second controller decided that he would go down for a

coffee break. "Think you can handle it by yourself," he asked before

descending down that flight of stairs? I wondered how many times those

two guys had exchanged that little joke.

    When we were alone, my newfound friend took out a blank copy of a

regulation FAA flight plan. He sat down at a long desk and studied my

piece of paper. Then he scrolled the blank flight plan into an old

Underwood and started filling in all the blanks.

    When his typing was complete he held up the flight plan and examined

it for several minutes. Then he went over to some kind of a machine on

another desk. It was like a big time clock. Or maybe it was more like a

credit card machine with a clock built into it. Anyway, he fooled with that

machine for a little while. He took his ball-point pen and made those little

wheels go clickedy-click-click. Then he put the flight plan into that

machine and gave it a great big whack!

    He examined his work carefully, and then he signed it. He peeled off

the carbon copy and went over and filed it in a big filing cabinet. Then he

handed the completed form to me. I didn't even look at it. I just slipped it

into my envelope.

    "Thanks," I said.

    "Well, what do you think about the Cotulla control tower," he asked?

    "Great place," I said. "Nice and quiet. I really like it."

    "Yeah, it's quiet all right. It'll drive a guy nuts," he replied with a laugh.

    "Well, thanks," I said.

    "No problem. Always glad to show you around. Come back anytime. We

don't get many visitors," he said.

    "Thanks," I said.

    "Say hello to Bob," he said.

    "Thanks," I said.

    Three days later I handed that flight plan to the lawyer in San Luis

Potosi.

    "I don't know how somebody lost this flight plan," I said. "It's been on

file with the Cotulla Flight Service Station all this time. If anybody wants

to know about it, just tell them it can be verified through the San Antonio

District Office of the FAA. It's been on file there all this time."

    That old lawyer just gave me a nice, big grin. It was the first time I had

ever seen him so much as smile. I think he was proud of me for finally

starting to learn a little bit about how to get things done in that part of the

world.

    The old lawyer leaned back in his chair.  He folded his fingers beneath

his chin.  This time he looked me straight in the eyes, and his vision never

wavered.  He told me he needed $10,000, U.S. money.

    This information didn't surprise me at all. It didn't even make me mad.

It just made me tired. I tried not to think of all the other money that had

flowed across that desk in the past year and a half.

    In the past, the lawyer had always required that cash was to be brought

to him in U.S. dollars. This time he wanted it in Pesos. He wanted it in

cash, small bills. I went to the prison and talked it over with Bob. I talked

it over with his friends in San Luis Potosi, and in Laredo. We did not all

agree.

    Over and over I heard the same reply. "As long as you keep taking

them money, they'll just keep on asking for money. It won't end. You

won't win. They'll just milk you till your dry. And then they'll still want

more ...".

    Those people thought I was being a fool. I thought they were right. But

then, again ...

    It was hard to raise money that winter. "They'll just milk you dry," I

was told. But some people did give me money. Many people who I wouldn't

have expected to chip in money to get a gringo pilot out of a Mexican jail.

    All over the Old Laredo Airport, the workers gave what they could. Five

dollars, $10.00, a little bit of money from the people who had the least.

From field hands, from tractor drivers, from the men who washed the

airplanes, the women who washed the dishes. From all over Laredo. From

all up and down the river. From out on the farms and ranches. Bob's

friends of 20 years. Those who had the least, gave what they could.

    But we needed $10,000. I wasn't even close.

    I went back south and talked it over with Bob. I had already talked to

his wife. Bob told me to sell his Cessna 195.

    I went back home and ran an ad in Trade-A-Plane. Trade-A-Plane is a

sales magazine. It's where everybody in America buys and sells used

airplanes. Bob had told me to price his Cessna 195 at $10,000. In the ad,

I listed it for $13,500. Within a week, a man came and looked at it and

bought it on the spot. I wished I had listed it at $16,000.

    I have often wondered what became of that old Cessna 195. I wonder if

it is still flying today, 25 years later. I hope some smart-aleck young pilot

didn't tear it all to pieces trying to figure out how to land it.

    That's what happened to most of those wonderful old airplanes. Some

know-it-all who was already too smart to learn how to fly a tail-dragger,

just took them out and tore them up.

    Bob's wife wrote me a check for $10,000. I took it to the bank and had

it converted into pesos. I had enough pesos to fill a shoe-box. Early one

morning I taped the pesos around my leg using old newspapers and almost

half a roll of air conditioning duct tape.

    The guards did not search me when I entered the Federalie Carsel.

    Alone, in Bob's cell, I told him that I had the cash, right there. I didn't

want to give it to the lawyer, I explained. I wanted him to make a deal

right there. Right there in the Federalie Carsel.

    I wanted him to make a deal with the Chief Guard. I told him I had a

Piper 260 Comanche parked at the airport, full of gas. He could make a

deal with the Chief Guard, I said, and we could walk out of there "right

now"!

    We would catch a taxi and drive to the airport. We didn't need to go

through customs, or check with immigration, I explained. We didn't need

to have a flight plan, or permission from the control tower to take off. We

didn't need permission from anybody, I insisted. We would just walk out to

the airplane, fire her up, and take off.

    I had enough gas on board to get back over the Rio Grande, I

explained. I wanted to walk back to the front of the prison and tell the

Chief Guard that Bob needed to talk to him in private.

    Bob was staring at me big-eyed. He was starting to get that sour look

on his face. "You mean you got $10,000 in cash on you right now", he

asked?

    "Yeah. It's taped to my leg," I said.

    "Are you crazy," he asked?

    "Look, Bob," I said. "I don't want to give this money to that lawyer. He'll

just want more."

    "What if you get searched," Bob asked?

    "I'm not gonna get searched," I assured him.

    "What if somebody knows you got the money," he asked? "What if the

word is already out right here inside this prison? What if somebody's

whispering to that Chief Guard, right now?

    "Nobody knows, Bob," I insisted. "Just me and your wife. Nobody else

even knows I left Laredo. Nobody knows but me and her. Let's just talk to

the Chief Guard. We don't need to tell him I've actually got the cash on

me. We'll just feel him out. See what he says."

    "Are you crazy?" Bob asked. "If we start talking money, the first thing

he'll want to do is search you."

    "Look, Bob," I said. "He ain't gonna want to search me. I've been

walking in and out of this prison for over a year. Nobody ever searches me

anymore. He's not gonna want to search me now."

    "Like hell, he's not," said Bob.

    "Bob, I don't want to give this money to that lawyer," I insisted. "I'm

sick and tired of giving him money. He'll just want more. He'll bleed us

dry. We already are dry. Your wife is talking about selling the house. All

you and me got left is our crop-dusters. If we sell them, we're up the

creek."

    "You must be crazy to walk into a Mexican prison with $10,000 cash

taped around your leg," Bob said.

    "Dammit, Bob", I said! "Just shut up and listen to what I'm saying. The

way this thing is going down, you're not ever going to get out of this

prison. Not trying to work through this crooked system of laws, you're not.

As long as I keep bringing money down here they're gonna want to keep

you locked up. Well, I'm sick of this bull-shit. I want to make a deal with

that Chief Guard, and I want to do it right now!"

    "You gotta be nuts," Bob said. "You gotta be nuts! You're not about to

make a deal with that Chief Guard. You start talking deals to that guy, and

you'll end up in here with me. And won't nobody on earth be able to find

out what happened to that $10,000 in cash."

    "I don't want to give this money to that lawyer," I said.

    "Well, I don't like it either," Bob said. "But that's what's you're gonna

have to do. That's the way it works. That's the only way it works. That's

the system. I know it stinks, but that's the way it is. If I'm ever gonna get

out of this hole, it's gonna have to happen through that damn lawyer."

    "This is the last money we got Bob," I pleaded. "The last we're gonna

get. If this don't work, we're in trouble. I just don't want to turn it over to

that lawyer son-of-a-bitch."

    "Well, that's what your gonna have to do," Bob said. "Now get the hell

out of here. Get out now! Before somebody gets suspicious. Before

somebody smells a rat. You must be crazy. Waltzing into a Mexican prison

with $10,000 taped to your leg! You gotta be nuts! Now get the hell out of

here, while you still can!"

    Nobody searched me on the way out.

    I went downtown. The lawyer was surprised to see me. Nobody knew

that I was coming. Although he hadn't been expecting me, he was willing

to accept the money anyway. I gave him the $10,000. He gave me a

receipt. The receipt was written in Spanish. But the amount of "$10,000

U.S.", was clearly written in English. I saw the lawyer write it. I saw him

sign his name. He had a very fancy signature. The date was correct. I saw

it all happen, right there before my eyes.

    That event actually took place in my life. I actually did that. I actually

traded ten thousand dollars in cold cash to a Mexican lawyer I didn’t trust,

for a scrap of paper with words written on it in a language I didn’t

understand.

    I went back to Texas, and waited.

    There never was a date set for the trial. In fact, there never was a trial.

But 30 days after I forked over the ten thousand dollars, Bob came

walking across the Rio Grande River, over the International Bridge

between Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas.

    We had a big party that night. We had tequila at that party, too.

 

**********

 

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