There was a break in between me relaying that information to Hleuco, and when he finally said something in response.
“People?” he questioned.
I almost didn’t believe it myself, when he asked me. I went to take a better look inside.
Ten, eleven, no, thirteen people. At least. That was what a quick scan gave me.
Most of them looked to be Hispanic. Thin, confused, tired. Men, women, children. Parents, and their offspring. A wide-eyed girl in one corner, a tall man with a buzz-cut in the other. They were all in baggy white clothing, though sullied with marks of brown across sleeves and pants. They stared back at me, silent, possibly scared. Given my appearance, it was understandable.
I confirmed it to Hleuco. “People. Not sure the total, but definitely more than fifteen.”
“That… complicates matters,” he said, after a time.
“No shit. What the fuck do I do? I can’t just walk away from this. Not anymore.”
Several of the people inside tested a few steps to me, trying to get a better look at who I was. What I was doing here.
“We just might have to, Blank Face,” Hleuco said, “We are in no way equipped to deal with them.”
“But, who are they?” I asked, though I could guess the answer.
“Without having actual eyes on the scene, illegal aliens, most likely.”
I looked at them again, everything clicking into place. Human trafficking. I never thought the day would come in which that particular global issue would present itself to me.
Among other things, but now’s not the time for that.
Something had to be done, here.
Couldn’t just walk away from this.
“You’re asking me to leave them alone?” I asked, my eyes still glued on this discovery. A decision had to be made, and soon. A dark figure in a gas mask, standing still, talking to themselves, wasn’t exactly warm and welcoming imagery to these folk.
“I’m telling you as fact. We’re in no position to take them elsewhere, and where would we take them? Our plan doesn’t change, even in the face of this. We can call the police from a far-enough location, and let them sort this out.”
But, I was here, now. There were people, here, locked up in a trailer of a semi, and they did not look okay. Did they need help?
And could I provide it?
“He- hello?” I asked, testing them. “Anyone here speak English?”
“Blank Face, what are you trying to do?”
I disregarded him. If there was any info I could pull from these people, I’d try to get it.
No one said anything. Their stares were as blank as my name.
I had to level with them. Talking from the outside of the trailer wasn’t going to get any of these people to respond to me. Had to get inside.
I placed my hand on the floor of the trailer, ready to prop myself up. I opened my mouth wide, and exhaled harshly.
Right, my shoulder.
Or rather, my left.
My shoulder was out of its socket. Popped out. Dislocated.
It pounded in pain. Slow and steady, but I didn’t feel like a winner. This was going to be a problem, like a thorn in my side. More than I had initially thought. The pain refused to be ignored. Aggravatingly annoying.
Was the excessive force in breaking the chain even worth this discovery? I almost wished I could turn around and pretend I didn’t see anything.
Why did I have to do that? Alexis, you motherfuck.
But, I couldn’t ignore this, not anymore. I couldn’t ignore them.
I took my right hand away from the trailer, and hovered it over my left shoulder. I didn’t want to touch it, but I wanted to make some gesture to relieve the pain, to make it feel better.
To make me feel better.
A small boy. Probably not over thirteen years old. He slowly drew near, taking small steps. His black hair was messy, disheveled, sticking up in various places. Like the others, his sleeves and trousers were tracked with dirt, staining the white he wore. His hands were to his chest.
I looked back at him. I didn’t have an expression to provide, only the gas mask I had on. It wasn’t the most inviting appearance.
How was I to answer him? Would admitting to the pain make me look weak to them? To him? I had control of the situation, here. I’d keep it that way.
Rather than giving an answer, I asked a different question, instead.
“Do you know English?” My words were distorted through the filter of the mask.
The boy lifted one hand away from his chest, making a pinching gesture.
A little bit.
He continued to me. With his other hand, he held it out for me to grab.
I thought about taking it, but I wanted to get up on my own power, to prove that a shoulder like this wouldn’t be an issue. Even though I would be proving that to nobody that mattered.
I propped my hand back on the floor of the trailer, and, with a push of my legs, hopped up into the trailer. Against my best efforts, I made a sound.
The boy jumped back, giving me space. The others stirred too, as my steps were amplified by the space.
My nose hadn’t caught it while I was outside, but it reeked in here. It was a good thing I had on a gas mask.
A stale, musty odor of sweat and other more foul bodily fluids. I didn’t want to think too much on it, considering the amount of people here. How many miles were they travelling to get here? How long were they holed up in here? Was Stephenville even their final destination?
My hand went back to hovering over my shoulder.
I checked to my right, and saw the boy there. I could start with him.
“English, right?” I asked, in a manner that was, in no way, a proper English sentence.
His voice carried a heavy Hispanic accent. “Yes, are you police?”
“Not really, no. Ignore the jacket. Uh, no soy un policía.” Everyone exchanged looks with each other, but that was the extent of the Spanish I had at hand.
I had to move to the real topic. Their very existence, here.
“This might be stupidly obvious,” I said, “But I want you to tell me what all of this is.”
The boy turned to the rest in the trailer, and they were looking back and forth between me and him. Suddenly, he was put on the spot as the spokesperson for this group.
He backed up again, and stared at his feet. “We are trying to make it inside to America.”
Illegal immigrants. These people were trying to get into this country, under the radar, under the nose of the federal government. Hleuco was right.
“Well,” I said, “Let me be the first to welcome you to the good ol’ U.S. of A. Don’t get your hopes up.”
I saw the boy’s lip curl up, slightly. Did he take offense to that?
“Where are you all coming in from?” I asked instead.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I’m from Pátzcuaro, the others were picked up from other towns and villages.”
I raised an eyebrow, not that he would see it. “Where are your parents, then?”
The boy brought his head down, his chin pressing into his neck. I couldn’t see his eyes, anymore.
His voice was barely above a whisper. “It has been a long journey. For a lot of us.”
There was an implication, there, that I didn’t want to explore. I simply tried to block it out of my mind and move onto another topic.
Another voice did that for me.
“Blank Face, I thought I told you to pull out of there, already.”
I put a finger to my ear, and positioned myself away from the group, indicating to them I was speaking on a device.
“You never said anything along the lines of that.”
“Then I’m telling you now. We’ve gone far enough for one night.”
“But these people, we don’t know what’s going to happen to them, after this. I don’t think they know, either, by the looks of things.”
“I can tell you exactly what will happen to them. Either they get found out by the police and deported back to wherever they came from, or they get divided up between the different gangs, becoming a member as a sort of payment for being helped into the country. Either way, they reap what they sow, and it won’t be long until either party comes to get them. I’d suggest not being around when that happens.”
“I get you, but-”
“Besides,” he interrupted, “Something isn’t right, here.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Styx’s Gang mostly deal in drug trading, occasionally weapons, but rarely people. If at all. I’m only surmising from what I can hear on your end, but the people there, are they just normal people?”
I checked. No one here looked exactly distinct, just fatigued. Like they’d been through Hell and back, an experience that was impossible to explain, they could only show it in their face and posture.
I could relate.
“As normal as you’d expect illegal immigrants to look like,” I said.
“Is there anything else there? Large bags? Boxes, crates, cargo?”
I checked again, but it was clear from the space between the people here. How they stood.
“Some have backpacks and stuff, but nothing big like you’re asking.”
A pause from Hleuco.
“Something’s not right, it’s not adding up. Why would Styx’s Gang help out in transporting regular people?”
“Maybe out of the kindness of their heart?” I asked, only kind of kidding.
“No, but funny. We can talk about this in person, and go from there. I have a bad feeling about this, and I’ll only start to feel better once you’re back here.”
Sweet, his sentiments were, but under the current context? His words were tinged a little sour.
“Okay, I see what you’re getting at, I’ll be heading back. I think I need your help with this shoulder.”
“I’m a lawyer, not a doctor. But I will take a look at it.”
We left it at that, the conversation put on hold for now. I moved my arm back to my side. It was useless in relieving my shoulder.
I wanted to check up on it myself, but my jacket was too heavy, and I didn’t want to unzip it and accidentally move my shoulder around, causing even more pain. I dislocated my own shoulder. My own dumb luck and strength got the better of me.
I needed to stop getting ahead of myself.
I found him coming back my way. The boy asked me that word again. If he was willing to ask twice, that could mean he was able to help in that regard.
“Sort of,” I admitted, “My shoulder, I dislocated it.”
He held his hands out, but not too far. Reserved, cautious.
“I can try and set it back. My… my father was a nurse.”
I looked at his face. A forlorn expression. Sad, almost pitiful. Dark shadows were cast over his eyes, his mouth struggling to set itself straight, the corners of his lips drooping down.
How long exactly was this kid’s journey in getting here?
I relented, finally allowing him to provide me some aid. Pride shouldn’t be a factor at play, now.
“Sure,” I said, “You can try.”
He didn’t need to be perfect at it, or even good. I figured my healing would handle most of the work from there. It just needed to be set back in place.
It was a kid helping me out, a child, but I was in no position to be picky.
I tensed somewhat when the boy reached for my hand. “Do you want to lie down?”
“But I can…”
“I can deal. It’s nothing. We can make this fast.”
Because I need to go, and leave you all behind.
“Let’s move to the wall, at least,” he instructed me.
I gave him that. He led the way, moving me, and had me prop my uninjured shoulder against the wall. The others around us moved out of the way, murmuring amongst themselves.
“Blank Face, you have to-”
I paid no heed to Hleuco. Had to focus on my shoulder. No distractions.
“Okay,” the boy started, “Try to relax. I will be moving your arm a bit, pop it back. Let me know if it hurts.”
“Sure,” I said. I had to try and relax. It was harder than it sounded. I never had to do this before.
He held my wrist, and lifted my arm to level with the floor, bending my elbow ninety-degrees. Firmly, he gripped my elbow with his other hand. My breath was cut short.
“Wait,” I said, and he stopped. “What’s your name?”
“I just felt like I needed your name before you do this. Sorry, continue.”
Miguel did. “Get ready,” he said, calm. “It might hurt a tiny bit, but you will immediately feel relief.”
“Hope so,” I said in return.
He rubbed my elbow, before slowly rotating it, moving my shoulder ever so slightly. After a time, just when I was about to raise a complaint, he promptly pushed it up with a sudden force.
A pop. A click. The satisfaction of snapping something back into place.
Not a tiny bit, a lot. The hurt. I squeaked.
Followed by an immediate relief. I moaned.
“Agh, oooof,” I sounded, staggering forward. My right hand finally got a chance to massage my shoulder.
I felt my healing getting a chance to do its job, a warm sensation blanketing my arm, hottest at my shoulder. I dropped to my knees, as the relief took over.
I paid little care into what the people in the trailer thought of me, at the moment. A lot of confusion, and impatience, most likely. They still had no concept of who I was, or what I was doing here. They didn’t even know I had powers. But that wasn’t of their concern.
And my concern was getting out of here and leaving these people here. Which was impossible, by now. I had broken the chain, and the trailer doors could be opened from the inside. Whoever wanted to leave now had to opportunity to do so once I left. Less people for the police or gangs to pick up, at least.
You couldn’t disrupt any more than that, without dismantling.
The comfort I was feeling before was starting to level, become neutral, and I was able to start getting back on my feet.
But, instead, I was violently jerked up by my hood.
The volume inside the trailer spiked up spontaneously, cries from everyone filling out the interior of the chamber. Something was happening, and I couldn’t see it.
I was being pulled by my hood and shoulder, my feet dragging behind. I was still reeling from the overwhelming sensations from earlier to properly get a grip on what was taking place.
I tried lifting my hands above my head, reaching for whatever – or whoever – had me in their hold, but my left shoulder was still too sore to move properly, and I couldn’t get any leverage from the way I was being yanked around.
A blunt force struck my back, near the left shoulder blade, and I was pushed down. But not onto the floor of the trailer. I was kicked back outside. As such, it was a bit of way down.
I hit the ground, my previously dislocated shoulder taking a brunt of the impact. It inflamed in pain again.
Stunned, bewildered, off guard. I did not see this coming.
I still could not see. The portion of my hoodie was over my eyes, the lens of my mask.
“Blank Face, Blank Face!” It was Hleuco. “Give me an update!”
Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t provide one. As soon as I fell out of the trailer, I heard movement all around me. Boots on concrete. A clattering of metal. A chain.
I felt it go around my neck.
There was a delay, between hearing the metal and feeling a constricting of air, until I realized that it was all happening to me. I was being assaulted, attacked, ambushed.
My mind and body were struggling to keep up. Whoever these people were, they knew how to keep me off balance, trip me up. A harsh yank, and the chain tightened around my throat. My eyes burst open, my fingers feebly tugging at the chain.
I was being pulled away, again. Dragged.
I hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks. I knew I had lost weight, I saw it with my own two eyes, others had noticed, too. Which was why I could be so easily moved like this.
Cough, I tried to. Couldn’t. Choked. Gagged. Fuck.
Crisis. Alarm. Stay calm. Couldn’t. Fuck.
I couldn’t get my feet under me to run, I couldn’t get a good grip on the damn chain. Randomly, a hard tug, and I choked and lost my hold. Fruitless. Pointless. Fuck.
Tears started welling in my eyes. I couldn’t breathe, and I was panicking. Wanting to hyperventilate, but without the taste of air. An indistinct static noise hissed in my ears. Hleuco, probably. Though I couldn’t understand him. The only sound I could distinguish was the occasional rattling of the chain as it loosened and tighten around my neck as it was pulled, the scratching of my jacket against the concrete. Like sandpaper.
I was inches away from passing out entirely, but I was put to a stop. My back to the ground, I was down. The chain still held me like a snake wrapping itself around prey, but it slackened somewhat, as if toying with the mercy it could so easily provide. The hood over my eyes was pulled away, and I was face to face with a man. Black, middle aged, bald, but with scruffy beard.
He sounded as rough as he looked. “I heard you been trying to catch a ride with one of my men. Sad to say, I don’t think you’re tall enough to ride.”
He added, “You don’t look like any border patrol I know. You must be that masked freak… what was it? The Blueballs?” Small droplets of spit landed on a lens. I wanted to clean it off so bad.
“Blahffnn… Fayffffsh,” I tried to correct him, to no avail. The chain still had me.
“Heh, didn’t quite catch that,” the man said. He stood, and I saw he had on a black leather jacket, blue jeans.
I also saw the bat in his hand. A metal bat. Dented in two spots at the end of the barrel, where the bat was its most thick.
“But if you wanted to ride with us so bad, you coulda asked. I will be… more than happy to accommodate you personally.”
He whistled, and more footsteps were summoned around me. I saw them, in the corners of my eyes. Shadows of people, moving, working. Hands grabbed mine, and peeled my already weak hold around my throat, spreading my arms out to my sides. I was sprawled out.
“The chain’s tied to my bike, already, so we are ready to roll. Please keep your hands and feet close by at all times. Any tampering with the safety measures will result in an early stop of the ride, and I don’t think you want that.”
The man lifted the bat above his head. “So, this is for your safety. Enjoy.”
He swung the bat down, and proceeded to break the first arm.