They knew the routine well. They had discussed it often, practiced in their minds and even discussed scenarios if something where to go drastically wrong. They suspected it could happen to them, yet they believed the possibility was remote. The possibility was as remote as their ultimate destination. The drive to the beach is a straight shot south via the well lit and fairly busy toll road extending almost to the coast. Usually during this four-hour stretch of drive they discussed the routine. This was not the stretch of road they were worried about.
The last thirty kilometers, past the toll road, to their final destination was what worried them the most. It was a way of life here on the south side of the Mexican coast. You were pretty much on your own.
Ustina went over the routine with the kids. They know at least the cartels had the decency, for publicity sake, not to hurt innocent people. It wasn’t good for their reputation. If they were to steal a car, they wanted the car to be reliable and they wanted the transaction to happen fast.
The routine Ustina and Alyosha repeated back home and on several iterations during the trip, went like this. If somebody threatens us and the car the first thing they were to do was to unfasten the leashes used to tether the dogs to their positions in the far back compartment of the car. There would be no time for the parents to secure the dogs from the front seat. They instructed the kids to do as little as possible, secure the dogs and get as far away from the car as possible. Most cars were recovered quickly, however this was not always true for the dogs.
The kids were used to this routine, while driving to the coast, and never complained. The cartels were a way of life and without conflict and violence a mutual co-existence was possible. The parent’s priorities were the safety of the children as well as the dogs. Despite what is reported by the American press, the cartels were not in the business of hurting innocent bystanders. Stealing dogs is not great for their reputation. If a cartel wanted to hijack a car, they wanted to do it rapidly and did not want to be delayed as dogs were attended to.
Today was an easy ride on the toll way. There were no delays of note. The dogs (Coco and Butter) were sleeping in the back cabin and the boys sat content listening to the music CD player in the car. The boys were born and raised in Mexico and did not have the influence of American pop culture. For this leg of the trip, they were listening to a double Elton John CD, popular back in the late seventies. One defines a classic as that which withstands the test of time. “Candle in the Wind,” bellowed from their open car windows.
Now living in the city, they had little need for a car except for weekly trips for the boy’s chess tournaments. Nice expensive cars were targets in this area of the country. They all were happy to drive down the twisting winding road to the coast. The air smelled of ocean, orchids and smoke from the fires set by the local fruit farmers. The harvest has been complete. Their days were now filled with clearing the fields of fallen limbs and discarded fruit packing bins and other remnants used in last year’s harvest.
They reached this point earlier than anticipated, which made the drive more challenging. The harsh angle of the sun through the leaves created a speckled effect that made the world perform like a multicolored kaleidoscope. It was mesmerizing yet demanding on depth perception and concentration.
Gradually the light started falling differently as shadow enveloped the car. This eliminated the dapple effect of light. The dogs stirred in the back seat. This was unusual for them. Per usual in situations one’s deeper concentration turned down the volume of the music. The children complained briefly. They knew the routine and they suspected something was remiss. A black car, with rusted rear panels, pulled up parallel to their car and eventually reached the same cruising speed.
Alyosha tried speeding up then slowing down hoping their closeness was merely coincidental. It was not, and for the first time on this familiar road they felt afraid. They’d practiced the routine and knew it well. Each one of them hoped they never had to use it. They drove side-to-side, bumper-to-bumper for approximately five kilometers. They only sounds heard were the tires on the road, the suspension of the other car and the bearings on their car. Alyosha lamented not having that fixed before this trip. That is something he should have taken care. For a few miles, there were two cars ambling down a secluded road, squeaking of neglect.
It was a narrow two-lane road and if a car came from the opposite direction, there would be no happy endings.
The black car with the rusted side panels started creeping closer and closer to their car. Once or twice, the cars touched car door to car door. An alternative was to try and outrun the cartel. Their car had more horsepower and could probably withstand the rigors of a high-speed chase better. Then again, when there were a few cartels there was bound to many more.
This did not happen as they practiced. They expected a sudden takeover of the car. What they got was a slow buildup of tension and an ample amount of time to wrestle the dogs and their leashes to the car’s middle seat.
Eventually they were forced to a complete stop and two imposing men surrounded their car. The two men were dressed far too warmly for the heat of the day. Surprisingly, they did not appear to have any firearms rather they approached brandishing machetes.
The barons barely had time to harass or intimidate as the boys were out of the car before words could be exchanged. Their Spanish was perfect, so communication with these men was quite possible.
Two men slowly approached, and without a word, Alyosha lobbed the extra key set to the larger mustached man. They silently kept walking past the two bewildered men. They hurried, with out trying to garner additional attention. They rushed toward a trail that appeared to head toward the sea. They noticed the boys and the dogs doing the same. The footing was treacherous and demanded all of their attention.
At he bottom of the trail, stood the boys. Each boy held a dog with his respective leashes. Alyosha and Ustina had so many emotions invading their psyche, at this time and it was difficult to sort and prioritize each.
Ustina stood and cried as she saw their two kids standing sheepishly on the beach. Her husband fallowed suit. Once together, the entire family kept walking south with out saying a word. They knew the routine. About two hours later they returned to the place where their car was stolen. As they reached the top of the embankment, there sat their age-old family car.
They approached the car with trepidation, did a lap around the car and met as family by the rear fender of the car. That was where they hid the extra key.
“Dad can you get the key? Said one of the boys.
They key was right where it always was. Father walked slowly toward the front of the car. And checked the backseat for hidden surprises. If there were any hidden there. He did not see them.
The front door was not locked. When he went to put the key in the ignition, there hung the keys they surrendered to the cartel. On the steering wheel sat a note that read.
“You need to get that bearing fixed.”