Deadly Game

Crazed Coyotes, Car Crashes, Cocaine Deals: One Mexican’s Illegal Journey Into the United States

They walk like this for several more hours, slipping through barbed wire fences, hiking through riverbeds, and scaling the foothills of what the locals call Saddlegap Mountain. Again they hear the helicopter's approach. The tequila bottle is almost empty now, and Carlos yells, "Follow me," and staggers off to the east, followed by half a dozen people. The other coyote shouts back, "No, this way!" and runs west with others trailing behind. Again they escape detection, regroup, and soon crest a hill to find themselves looking down on the lights of Douglas, a town of about 15,000. Antonio has never looked at a map of North America; neither has anyone bothered to explain the journey's itinerary. He assumes that the group will walk through the night and arrive in the Bronx in the morning, on foot, and he looks down on the town beneath him and he asks the others if this is New York City. Those who have crossed before laugh at his innocence.

At 5 a.m., they have skirted Douglas and reached Highway 80, the road that leads to Tucson. Carlos runs off to get a second Chevy Suburban, hidden nearby, and the tall coyote places a water jug by the side of the road to mark their spot. They lie in the tall grass and watch the Border Patrol vehicles that pass every few minutes, and then the Suburban pulls up, screeching to a halt, and they sprint out of the grass, piling in through the open door, falling on top of one another. Within seconds the van is gone, and Carlos quickly pulls off onto a dirt road, away from the checkpoints the Border Patrol has set up on the highway. The group is hardly out of danger: The tequila bottle is empty now and Carlos is behind the wheel.

He guns the motor, and the van picks up speed, careening from side to side on the icy dirt road. In the back, the group members begin to whisper to one another that they might be killed. One of the women speaks up, "Could you drive a bit slower please?" Carlos laughs and responds by jerking the steering wheel, causing the van to lurch hard to one side. After that no one says a word. Antonio begins to pray: "Lord, even if I can't get to New York, please let me get back home without being killed."

He feels a strange floating sensation in his stomach. Time seems suspended. He realizes the van is out of control. It is as if they are in a dream, and they know that the dream's end might mean their death. They skid down an embankment, the people in the back hanging onto one another in their fright. The van leans as if it is going to tip over, there is a sudden crash, and Antonio is thrown violently forward. But no one is seriously injured. The two coyotes climb out, laughing drunkenly, and perform a quick inspection. They slowly back the van away from the tree where it has come to rest, the crushed fender screeching in protest as it is pulled free, then return to the road, where Carlos, not at all chastened, resumes his high-speed run. Two hours later, having skirted the Border Patrol checkpoints near Bisbee and Tombstone, they arrive at Interstate 10, the highway that leads to Phoenix.

It is early morning now, the sun is up, and Antonio smells the sweat from the other bodies and listens to the whistles of the Union Pacific diesels on the rails that shadow the highway. From his vantage point on the floor, he gets his first real view of America: highway overpasses, the tops of palm trees, giant signs with words he cannot decipher. There are billboards with pictures of RV campers and billboards with pictures of food.

After four hours, Antonio hears the traffic noise increase. They have reached Phoenix. The truck pulls into the driveway of a split-level ranch house in a nondescript development. Carlos and the other coyote turn the group over to a Chicano, then climb back into the van, loudly discussing a whorehouse they will now visit. The Chicano gives each member of the group a Western Union address, and immediately they begin to call family members in New York. Within hours, money begins to arrive, and as each person is paid for, he or she quickly hugs those remaining and is taken to the airport.

Antonio's brother, Juan Carlos, is at work until late that night, and when Antonio does reach him, the loan he is counting on has fallen through. By midnight all the other group members are gone. The Chicano does not actually live in the house, and he leaves Antonio alone for the night, warning him that the Border Patrol is all over the neighborhood and that he'll be arrested if he goes outside. Antonio assumes this is untrue, but it makes no difference. There is no point in escaping into a foreign land when he can't speak or read the language and has no means of transportation to New York.

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