The room was dirty concrete. The floor was crooked. The only light came from a fluorescent bulb in the ceiling. There were also dark stains around that caught the eye; and a stench that reeked of urine.
“What’s going on?” Basealicious whispered from the back left corner, rocking back and forth.
“We’ve been arrested.” Mr. Mysterious said.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, let’s call our lawyer.” He said firmly.
“This is Mexico.” I said. “They don’t have the Miranda rights.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” He said to me, as the other four eyes came to rest with mine.
“Damned if I know.” I said, meeting their stares. “What – you think just because I was arrested once, I know how to handle these things?”
Hot Chops spoke first.
“Well – you have been arrested before. Don’t you…”
He was cut off by the door flying off the hinges and into the wall, raising a cloud of broken concrete. The first cop sauntered in and sat in the only chair backwards, further creasing his already dirty uniform. His presumed partner lurked over his shoulder.
“Why are you dressed like that?”
After a hefty pause, I realized the others were too frightened to speak.
“We’re in a band.” I volunteered.
“And what are you doing here?”
“We had a performance.”
“What’s in the cases?”
“Instruments. We’re in a band.” I said slowly. “Did we break any laws?”
“Do you recognize this?” He said, holding up the envelope full of cash, ignoring my question.
“Yes. That’s our fee. Are we being charged with a crime?”
“Fee?” He said coolly, looking at his partner.
“For playing.” I said lamely. “We received the money for performing at a wedding. Can you tell me…”
“Ustedes gusta coca?” He asked next, switching to Spanish, “Ustedes gusta marijuana?” and then loudly, “Ustedes te quieren chupar hombres en sus ropas identical?” He said the last gutturally, spitting on the floor for added effect at the end.
Behind me, I heard Basealicious breathing quickly and beginning to rock faster, as well as a sudden intake of fetid air from Hot Chops and Mr. Mysterious. All of us spoke Spanish, so there was no need for me to translate. And even if Basealicious hadn’t understood the last part, it wasn’t going to be a good idea for me to mention it at that moment.
“What – you think we’re drug dealers? Or users? Because we don’t do those things – any – of those things.” I spat back fiercely.
“Your mouth – do you like your teeth?” He said leeringly. “Because in prison, they don’t like teeth.”
“We don’t have any drugs.” I said firmly, trying not to let him rattle me. Internally, I was screaming.
“No, we don’t see any drugs. We didn’t find any drugs in your car. But you have this money. Drug money. And who knows – maybe you have the drugs somewhere else. Somewhere – internal. Maybe we have to let our friends look you over. And who knows – after that, they’ll be your friends too.” Again, with the leer. “But who knows. Maybe they won’t find drugs either. A pity. Then some might…” and with a swift motion he waived his hand. “Poof – appear!” I looked him in the eye, watching the cold black iris. My jaw clenched and twitched as the terror of what was occurring surged through my veins. “Or maybe, this isn’t your money either. Maybe we found it while we were looking for drugs. Sometimes it can be so confusing. I tell you what. We’ll leave, and when we come back, if it’s not your money, you can go home and piss yourselves there, you miserable whoreson America sons of bitches. If not…” He shrugged and leered again. The door rasped shut and locked again.
“We’re screwed.” Hot Chops said bleakly as the echoing of the door died. “But this is what I’m talking about. I’m glad someone with experience is talking to him.”
“I’m doing a real good job.” I said quietly. Inwardly, I was seething with rage and blind terror. I looked back at Hot Chops. He was staring at his shoes. Basealicious was rocking feverishly in the corner, with that zombie look in his eyes. Mr. Mysterious was staring at the wall. As Basealicious was already in a state of blind desperation, and the others were panicking, I saw that if we were going to get out of the room, it was going to be on my shoulders, or not at all. With this in mind, emotions seemed like a needless luxury. I took a deep breath. “I think we should let them have the money.”
“What?!?” Hot Chops exclaimed fearfully. “You’re talking about bribing a police officer. They’re going to totally take us to jail then.”
“This isn’t America.” stated Mr. Mysterious, “These are the Federales. I’ve heard stories about them. Bad stories. Like this. I think we should let them have the money.”
“But – but – this is crazy! They’re going to charge us with bribery – or something else and still throw us in jail! Then we’ll be in jail for something we did do rather than something we didn’t! And all the money will be gone!”
“Well, they were pretty much asking for a bribe.” Mysterious said in a detached voice, “And I don’t think there’s really a situation in which we walk out of here with the money. I don’t think it matters if we did anything or not. They already want to throw us in jail, and we didn’t do anything.”
“But – but – well – what does he think.” The ‘he’ was Basealicious, still rocking.
“Did he already pee himself?”
“No.” I said, moving over and waiving my hand in front of his face. “But he isn’t good. I think our best chance is to give them the money.”
“But why?” Hot Chops demanded. “They can just take it.”
“I don’t know. But it’s our only chance. Just be ready to help him out of here if the opportunity comes.”
Before I could decide what to say next, the door opened.
“Well, is this yours?” The first cop sauntered up to me, close enough that I could smell his sweat, and dangled a small bag of powder in front of my face.
“And this?” He said, waiving the envelope so that the cash peeked out.
“Really? Are you sure?”
“So, you are saying that it belongs to no one.”
“Yes. You should take it.”
“I will. I will look for ah – its ‘rightful owner’. But don’t worry – it will be safe with me. Well, gringos, if neither of these things are yours – then go. Get out of our sight. But hurry!”
I kept my eyes downcast, so that the rage burning in them would not char his soul to a pile of ash on the floor. In two steps, I was out the door, turning toward the exit. I hoped that the shuffling I heard behind me was Basealicious being helped along. Back in the room, I could hear chuckles and laughter. Outside, the car mercifully started, and we were soon across the border. Once in America, muted congratulations were stated. Basealicious started to cry a little, and we attempted to console him as we fled back to our respective houses. The only casualty of the incident was the Dead Souls. Ms. Skins and Mr. Trombone could never bring themselves to believe our version of events completely, that we had spent all of the money on the bribe. They chose to believe that we had at least haggled somewhat, no matter all of our assurances that it was not a haggling situation. As it turned out, the only person that made any money that day was yours truly, for drinking the salsa. Mysterious didn’t want to pay at first, but I emphasized that while I had not only won the bet, I had saved his butt as well. Faced with such eloquent arguments, he eventually paid me, meaning that the whole experience was not a complete disaster.