Chapter 1 – Essy
“Come on! Grab my hand!” Escobar, yells as he reaches down to pull me up.
He has already scrambled up the chain link fence that blocks our escape, and straddles it like a bull rider. My sweaty palm connects with his and he hauls me up, over the fence. I land in a heap on the pavement as sirens sound in the distance.
Essy lands agile as a cat beside me and pulls me up by my shirt.
“Rapido, move!” he orders, “We just have to make it out of the heat, out of sight.”
I grimace as he propels me forward, my muscles are aching. We’ve already sprinted at least seven blocks. I have no idea where we’re running to, but Essy seems to be guiding us to some predetermined place. Wherever it is, I hope its close.
It’s funny how one stupid decision can change your whole life. My decision to help Essy rip off a high-end jewelry store wasn’t the best one in retrospect. We’d been best buds for years, so when he approached me a week ago, needing someone he could trust to back him up when he hit the store, I’d agreed. He offered me a split on what we stole, he knew I needed money. He promised there would be no police, the alarm would be cut. Long story short, we broke in and tripped the alarms. Essy’s inside man had choked up. Now we’re running from the police, and I really don’t want to go to juvi. My Papi would be rolling in his grave if he could see the trouble I’ve got myself in. “Be a good boy, my good boy,” he used to say.
I pump my arms and legs faster to keep up with Essy’s pace, I’m lagging behind. We’re in the industrial district now, and I have no idea where we’re headed. Sweat drips into my eyes as I run, blinding me.
“We’re almost there,” Essy says.
After a few more minutes we round a corner. Up ahead is a rundown factory that, according to its sign, used to produce children’s toys. What a strange place to go, I think. Why are we going there?
Our footfalls echo off the nearby buildings like gunshots as we hurry up to the factory; the sirens are getting closer. We finally stop at a door located on the side of the factory, and Essy pounds on the metal with his fist. As I’m wheezing for breath I notice Essy has barely broken a sweat. Maybe he’s needed to run a lot more than I thought. In a second there is a response to his knocking, and he mutters something to the guy on the other side, who then opened to door and welcomes us – well Essy mostly – in. Once the door is closed and locked, Essy and the burly guy who let us in embrace roughly for a second.
“Hola Essy, not getting into any trouble tonight are you?” the burly man laughs.
He notices me and gives me a slap on the back in greeting. “How’d you keep up to Speedy Gonzalez here? He’s one of the fastest runners we’ve got!”
“Uh, I don’t know, he kinda dragged me half way here,” I cough, still out of breath.
Essay laughs at my response. “Tizzy, this is Bronco. Bronco, Tizzy.”
Aptly named I think shaking Bronco’s meaty hand.
“C’mon Tizzy, I wanna show you where I work,” Essy says as he starts down a dark hallway. Bronco follows.
“You work here?” I ask as I slowly trail after them, “But this place looks abandoned. . .”
Essy and Bronco let out laughs that reverberate down the hallway, making me jump.
“Don’t you have any brains in that head o’ yours?” Bronco asks.
To be honest I don’t have a clue what one might do for work in a rundown factory, maybe use what machinery was left behind to make things to sell? As I’m staring at my shoes, pondering an answer, I smack into Bronco’s back. The two of them have stopped at the entrance to a huge room that smells heavily of . . .
“Marijuana?” I exclaim in astonishment.
Bronco slaps me on the back again, this time in excitement. “Now you’re getting’ it! We turn the green into green, get it?”
I did get it. When my family and I lived in Mexico City you’d hear stories about how people’s sons got mixed up in drug trafficking. It appealed to those who were broke and desperate for cash. My family was broke, but not desperate, and my parents wanted more for us, so they moved us to Los Angeles. How ironic it is to find myself in the very situation that we moved to get away from.
I step out from behind Bronco to take in the room. It is filled with rows upon rows of tables covered in cannabis. Between the rows are people tending to the plants, wearing rubber gloves and painting masks. Large fluorescent lights hang from the ceiling, illuminating the room with harsh yellow light. Abandoned machinery is pushed against the walls to make more room. As I look around I lock eyes with a girl tending to a section of cannabis. She is tan with long dark hair and scared eyes. She looks about nineteen, my age. She quickly glances away when Bronco moves from the doorway to sit in a chair a few feet away.
“Wow,” is all that comes out.
“We’ve got one of the biggest operations in LA” I hear a man’s voice say. Looking to my left I see a tall, stick man with a bald head covered in tattoos that continues down his neck and arms. I catch a glimpse of a gun tucked into his waistband. He extends his arm to shake my hand and his bicep bulges menacingly.
“Name’s Rodrigo, but call me Rigo, that’s what I go by around here,” he says.
I grab his hand and shake it, “Tizzy,” I reply.
Rigo looks over at Essy. “You had some heat at the job, huh?”
Essy crosses his arms over his chest, his muscles straining against his T-shirt. “Yeah, damn Alex didn’t do what we paid him to do. He’s gone with his money by now. Bastard.”
Rigo’s lips pulls into a sinister grin, a gold tooth glinting between his lips. “I’ll send my boys to find him, he won’t get far. No one double crosses Rigo and gets away with it.” He absentmindedly stroked his gun. I shuffle my feet nervously.
No one said anything about killing anyone. What’s Essy gotten himself into? I’ve got to get the hell out of here.
“Uh, Rigo, thanks for helping me out, but I’ve got to get home now. If you could just let me back out the way I came in that’d—“
“Whoa, whoa, whoa there. You can’t leave yet,” Rigo says.
“But I haven’t heard sirens in a while, the policia has left” I protest.
“It’s not safe to go yet. They search for hours before they give up. Just because you don’t hear sirens doesn’t mean they’re not out there. You two are hot right now.”
Essy interjects. “Rigo’s right. We’ve gotta lay low tonight.” He places his hand on my shoulder for reassurance.
After a moment’s hesitation I agree. What choice do I have? These weren’t exactly the kind of people you could just say no to and do your own thing. They have guns, and like people following their orders. I don’t want to end up like Alex soon would.
Rigo makes a chirping type of sound and jerks his head toward Essy and me. “Rosie, baby, show these two boys to a room.”
The girl who I had noticed earlier steps out from behind a bunch of fronds, her hands twisting nervously in front of her. She walks towards us, eyes on the floor, leaving a large berth between Rigo and herself. “Please follow me,” she says quietly.
She turns to take a step when Rigo grabs her elbow and pulls her close. With his free hand he grips her chin and squished her cheeks, then gives her a kiss and releases her.
I have to look away. Rigo kissing Rosie was like a python cuddling a mouse. Wrong and unnatural.
“This way” she says, and leads us down another dark hallway.
I awake to Essy shaking my shoulder. “Tizzy man, we gotta go.”
I sit up and shake my head, yawning and groggy. Rosie had led us to a room that used to be for storage. I had had to shove discarded brooms and boxes into a corner to make room enough for Essy and me to curl up on the floor. He had found bubble wrap in one the boxes and spread it on out the floor, creating a sort of makeshift bed that made popping sounds every time someone tossed or turned. I hadn’t slept well.
“Man, I’m tired, can’t we leave in a few hours?”
Essy’s eyes flick from me to the door before he answers. Sweat glistens on his forehead. “We gotta go. I heard scuffling and shouts. The police must have found us.” He seizes my arm and hauls me up. “I know a way out, in the back.”
I am suddenly wide awake. “What about Bronco and Rigo, shouldn’t we go find them?”
Essy snorts, “They can look after themselves,” as he creeps to the door and shimmies it open, peeking out into the hallway. He motions me over and jerks his head to the left, mouthing the words ‘this way.’
I follow him into the hallway but grab his sleeve to stop him. I just remembered something. “What about Rosie?” I whisper.
Essy shrugs out of my grip. “What about her?”
“She doesn’t belong here. We have to help her.” I turn to start down the hallway, toward the growing room. But it’s Essy’s turn to grab my elbow, his face incredulous.
“What is she to you, Tizzy? She’s just some girl.”
Footsteps echo down the corridor and I can hear muffled voices. Essy glances down the hall and speaks quickly, looking displeased. “This place is crawling with policia, are you crazy?”
“I have to be, I helped you with that stupid break-in, didn’t I? Look, your right about the policia. There’s not much time, just tell me where Rosie should be and get out of here. I’ll find her and we’ll meet you somewhere okay?”
Essy looks strained. “You’re loco man.” He runs his fingers through his hair before he speaks. “Down the end of this hallway, take a left, follow it to the end. There’s a small window beside the exit door. Use the window, the door’s blocked off. Rosie should be in one of the sleeping rooms down there,” he points down the hall where footsteps can be heard, “If she hasn’t been caught already.”
“Thanks Essy. I owe you.”
“Tonight. We’ll meet at the Crescent Moon diner, seven o’clock. Good luck Tizzy.” He embraces me quickly and pulls away heading down the exit he told me about without a look back.
I turn and head the opposite direction, into the danger. The lights overhead are dim and turn off and on repeatedly. My sneakers squeak disconcertingly loud on the linoleum and my blood pounds in my ears.
I creep to where the hallway ends and the growing room begins. I hear voices, and when I peek my head around the corner I see several men in uniform. Many of the workers I saw earlier are handcuffed and sitting against the far wall. Bronco is among them. Rigo is nowhere to be seen.
“. . . Take your men and sweep the building” says one of the men, “We have reason to believe that the suspects from the break-in earlier this evening are hiding here.”
I hurry back down the hallway trying every door until one opens. “Rosie? Are you in here?”
I hear a soft cry, so I push my way into the room and close the door behind me. “Rosie? It’s me, Tizzy. You took my friend Essy and me to a room a few hours ago.” The room is dark so I step with my arms stretched out in front of me. I knock my knee into a crate and curse. “Rosie please, there are policia searching the place, I came to get you out of here.” After a moment of silence and groping in the darkness a small hand touches my shoulder.
“You came to get me?” Rosie asks.
I turn to face her. “Yes, we have to go now,” I whisper urgently. “We’re going to meet Essy at a diner.” I lean my ear against the door, making sure no one is searching this hallway yet. When I am sure the coast is clear, I open the door and lean out. Rosie grabs my arm.
I think about her question for a second before I answer. “Because you don’t belong here. Just like me.” I don’t give her time to answer, simple grab her hand and lead her out into the hallway.
We half walk half jog to the end of the hallway, Rosie’s small breaths are rapid behind me. Just as we turn left we hear “Stop” shouted behind us. I look back and catch a glimpse of two officers running down the hall towards us. I tighten my grip on Rosie and yell “Run.” Our footsteps ricochet off the walls.
“Stop now! There’s nowhere to go!” one of the officers calls.
We reach the exit door and I immediately go the window, trying desperately to prop it open, but it’s stuck. “Dammit,” I grunt. Rosie rushes over and pushes me out of the way, a brick in her hand. She throws it through the window and the glass shatters, raining everywhere.
“C’mon!” Rosie cries as the footsteps behind us get closer, someone fires a shot and it hits the wall few feet from me. I hoist Rosie up and through the window, she lands with a thump on the other side and I pull myself through after her. Another shot breaks glass above my head. It startles me and I cut my forearm on some jagged glass as I fall out the window and hit the ground with a thud.
Rosie pulls me roughly to my feet and then we’re running. It’s dark still, but pink and orange smudge the sky close to the horizon. The faint light casts shadows from the buildings across the pavement. We run and run until the factory has disappeared behind us and we’ve left the industrial district. A couple blocks into downtown I pull Rosie into an alley.
“I think we should be okay for a bit here,” I gasp, slumping against a building and slide to the ground, panting. Rosie sits down beside me. Her eyes widen when she sees blood on my shirt.
“You got shot,” she exclaims.
I look down at my shirt. “What? Oh, no. I cut my arm on some glass crawling out the window, see?” I hold out my arm to her, the long gash crimson against my skin.
“Let me look.” She grabs hold of my wrist and pulls a handkerchief from her pocket. “Does it hurt?”
I am about to say no, but when she dabs at the cut I grimace in pain. A couple glance down the alley as they walk by. When they see Rosie tending to my bloody arm they quicken their pace, whispering to each other.
“Hmm,” she says, “I don’t think there’s any shards left, but we need to disinfect it. You need stiches.”
“We can’t go to a hospital Rosie, I’m wanted.”
“Oh,” she says.
“We’ll have to figure something else out. Essy’s meeting us at the Crescent Moon diner at seven pm. We have the day to kill.”
Rosie’s eyes tighten the smallest bit when I mention the word ‘kill’. I don’t bring it up.
“I could fix your arm. I am very good at needlepoint. I could stitch it up.” She looks like she might throw up just thinking about it.
“Are you nuts?”
“Probably” she says, and shrugs, “But if you get an infection, you’ll need a hospital. And that’s the last place you want to be seen right now, right?”
I ponder this for a moment. “Alright,” I agree hesitantly.
She smiles as she hauls me to my feet, leading me out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. “Let’s go get some needle and thread. Oh, and some vodka too.”