Monday, 24 July 2017

101 Degrees

[Media prompt] Truck driver in custody after 9 suspected migrants are found dead in parking lot.
101 Degrees

“Ow,” said Isabella, even though the nurse had counted down three-two-one before jabbing the needle in her arm.  

“There,” the nurse said, smiling at Isabella. “That didn’t hurt too much, did it?”

Then she saw the ceiling move, felt the gurney bump over the cracks between tiles, rap-rap-rap. Double doors opened, the ceiling was brighter, newer, with more lights.

Even though her mother said not to say anything, she told Arcelia: “And then they take you into a special room where they freeze you.”

“Like frozen beef in the supermarket?”

“You are so dense,” said Isabella. “This is why we’re leaving Mexico.”

“How do I know?”

“Well, they put you in ice water, then they suck out your blood. Then they freeze you so hard that it takes weeks.”

The ceiling had stopped moving. A face blocked out the light, then asked her to start counting backwards from ten. She was asleep before she got to five.  

❖❖❖

John Carter stood ten feet away, watching the Volvo reverse into the loading bay, the snick of the king pin riding over the fifth wheel barely audible. It wasn’t like the old days when he had to connect the suzies or wind up the landing legs. Everything was automatic now. He wasn’t even responsible for paper work; the AI looked after that, too. They only kept men on nowadays because the law said so, and even that was about to change.

“Be none of my business after this one, though” he’d said to his wife. “Who’d’ve thought when we married I’d spend my days riding around in a driverless truck?”

She laughed, saying, “And yet here I am still running around a stove to cook dinner.”

He climbed up the steps into the cab, buckling up so the truck could move off, then waved to the last man left on the loading dock, a Mexican called Juan whom he’d known for nearly thirty years. He’d be retiring soon, too. All the old timers all were.

The rig pulled out of the El Paso depot on time, merging into the traffic, adjusting speed until it was four seconds behind another rig hauling a forty-foot reefer. He turned on the music and opened one of the books his wife gave him for his last trip.

❖❖❖

Larry the Laser watched a woman whose micro shorts rode up and disappeared into the folds of what he estimated was at least an eighty-inch butt. For fifteen minutes, she had waddled up and down one of the aisles in apparel and baby goods. He watched her turn again, beginning the long saunter back to the front of the store.

“You see anything your side?” he whispered into his walkie talkie.

“Maybe this bitch be exercising,” said Marvin, manning the CCTV screens in the office.

“Exercise?” said Larry. “If she exercised like this every day, she wouldn’t have that fat ass gobbling up her shorts.”

Larry looked at his watch. “Shit, I need a cigarette,” he said. “Cover me, I’m going out back for five. Buzz me if she boosts something.”

“It’s hot out there,” Marvin squawked. “Almost as hot and sweaty as–”

“I don’t want to even think about it, man,” said Larry, turning the volume of his unit down to zero.

He walked down the long aisle of cards, which morphed into home and office somewhere around bereavement, through books, to the restrooms at the back. Last year, he and Marvin had swivelled the security camera near the photo centre five degrees, allowing them to slip out the rear door unnoticed. A hot, muggy San Antonio night blanketed him like a damp sponge.

❖❖❖

Sergeant Lois Cray received the call at 9:06 p.m.

“We got an I-don’t-know-what over at the Walmart parking lot,” said the dispatcher.

“You got any more clarity on that?” he asked, bringing up the map of the lot on the big screen.

“Negative. The call-in was hard to decipher. But whatever it is, it’s something disturbing and unusual.”

Sergeant Cray let the car drive, trying to solicit information from social media feeds in the area. You never know when you might strike it lucky.

When he got to Walmart he saw a small crowd surrounding a semi-trailer. The squad car beeped, put up a light perimeter, and let Lois out.

“Who called this in?”

“It was me,” said Larry, pushing past the woman with micro shorts. “I did, officer.”

Lois saw the puddle of water under the truck, looked up and watched the steam coming out of the freezer unit on top.

“Lot of fuss for a leak,” he said.

“Leak?” said Larry. “It’s not water, it’s slimy. Look at it. This shit is nasty.”

Lois squatted down, picking up a stick to poke at the gummy slime oozing over a growing area of pavement. It was pinkish, hardening at the edges.

“Where’s the operator?” asked Lois.

When John stepped forward Lois asked him, “What’s on the manifest?”

“It’s frozen beef,” John said. “From Mexico.” He handed the chip over for Lois to cross check.

Lois watched the data scroll across his screen. He looked up and said, “That’s what it says, but that’s not what we’ve got here. I need you to open it up.”

❖❖❖

Larry told Marvin later that when the cop opened the reefer it was as though the aliens had landed.

“There was this inner door, like a bank safe,” said Larry. “And when he opened it, it hissed and lights came on and there were these tanks, more like silver canisters. And a control panel, it looked like something from a science fiction movie.”

Marvin listened to Larry's narration, moaning that he had been inside watching an overweight shoplifter while he, Larry, had been part of the most exciting event of their security careers.

“Did you read that I article I sent you?” said Larry. “These illegals were freezing themselves at this bootlegging cryogenics centre somewhere in Mexico, coming across the border as a frozen beef shipment, and then reanimating in Los Angeles. The whole thing's unbelievable.”

“So, they were all dead, right?”

Larry nodded. “Dead as,” he said. “San Antonio heat. When it's over a hundred, it's going to get you every time.”

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