Even children fall into the Gutter. And the hand they're given out may be a harsh one. If they're lucky.
The Good Coyote by Gabino Iglesias
The truck stops in the middle of the desert. The man inside waits a moment before opening the door. The damn dust will get on everything and cover his boots with a thick brown layer that he’ll need water to remove, but there’s no reason to make it worse. After a minute, the dust settles a bit. He climbs down and makes his way to the back of the truck.
The four kids in the back are blinded by the harsh light when the coyote opens the doors. They squint and raise their hands to their faces like vampires about to start bubbling under the Texas sun.
“Abajo,” says the man, looking at the Salvadorans, wondering how in the world the two younger ones survived a ride in La Bestia.
The kids slowly make their way down, their legs weak from the trip, lack of food, and fear. The coyote helps the youngest one, the only girl, jump down to the ground. She thanks him in a cracked voice that reminds him of those dolls that speak after you pull a string on their back.
“You and you, come with me,” the man barks, already hating what’ll come next.
The two oldest kids look at each other and start walking behind the coyote toward the front of the truck. One is about fourteen. Short for his age. He has yellow teeth and acne. The other is seventeen or so. Tall. All bones and a few lines that promise future muscles once he starts eating well. This is the one the coyote worries about. He already explained to them what would happen, but you never know what a man will do after you put your hands on him.
They reach the front of the truck and the man turns around. The teens stand side by side, looking like they’re ready to hold hands and start crying. The coyote digs into the right pocket of his jeans and pulls out his brass knuckles. They’re round at the top. The kids take a step back simultaneously when he slides them on.
“Tranquilos, I’ll only hurt you a bit. You know how it is,” he says.
He’s been doing the same thing for years, and by now has mastered the art of hurting the kids just enough to get the job done. Hit them too hard and you run risks. On his second trip, a child lost an eye. That was too much. Hit them too soft and they’ll heal by the time they go through the interview at the icebox. If they do, the fucking gringos will do everything in their power to send them back to whatever hell they came from.
“Okay, remember: you were victims of gang violence. Los Malditos, la Salvatrucha, Calle 18…I don’t care. You pick one and stick to it. Explain to them they attack you regularly. Show them your wounds, got it?”
The kids nod. The coyote looks down then shoots a straight right at the older kid. He feels his nose crunch under the brass knuckles. The kid takes two steps back and drops. The coyote knows that surprising them is the only way to go. He looks at the younger kid. A piss stain is spreading down the front of his pants. The man grabs him by the hair and brings his right knee up, sinking it into the kid’s stomach. The kid crumbles. The coyote bends down, aims for the right ear, and pops him twice. Hard. The ear splits, starts bleeding. A round bump immediately starts to change the shape of the youngster’s head. That’ll last him a few days. Then he uses his left hand to bust his lower lip open, taking care not to fuck his teeth up too much.
The older kid is still down, holding his face. Blood’s running down his chin and neck, staining his shirt. Good thing the man has clean clothes for them or the whole thing would be too obvious. The coyote knows that, because he’s at the edge of adulthood, this kid will have a harder time. He needs to be hurt in order to really sell the sad story. At least his English is better, so that will help.
The coyote walks up to the writhing teenager, turns him sideways with his boot, and lands three hard kicks on his back. The pointy boots will break skin or at least leave a good bruise. No one will think this is something he did to himself. Then he kneels and punches him in the face three times. A loud snap tells him the second punch broke a finger. That’ll do.
Once both kids are up, the coyote brings them a gallon of water and a dirty towel to clean themselves and some clothes. He uses a corner of the towel to clean the blood off his brass knuckles and hands.
“Now you walk. Hasta que se topen con la migra. Once you see the Border Patrol, go to them. If you don’t wanna go back, remember: los mareros are looking for you. You fear for your life and get beat regularly, entendido?”
A few grunts and nods is all he gets from them. Not much else he can do now except give them some water and point them in the right direction.
At the back of the bus, the little girl looks at him with fire in her eyes. She heard everything. The coyote hopes that fire keeps her safe. He kneels in front of her.
“I’m one of the good guys, mija. Anyone touches you, you put your nails in his eyes and kick him right here,” he says, patting his crotch. “And stay close to these guys.”
The four kids start walking away. The coyote knows they’ll look back at him and be surprised they didn’t get killed like so many others. He won’t stick around to watch them walk away, though. There are more kids waiting for him.