VIII: THE CASA
Jake woke up when the car began to slow down. The smooth transition in motion may as well have been a jarring one based on the way he shot up from his relaxed position in the backseat, clutching the shotgun at his side. Creek took notice from the front seat and put his palm up as if to say, “Relax, everything is fine.” Jake let out a sigh as the day’s events washed over him again and he realized where he was.
Up ahead, there were some dim lights faintly outlining the silhouette of a small house. The Cadillac passed through an open gate in a concrete wall and circled around by the front porch before coming to a halt. “Here we are,” said Stumpy. “Mi casa su casa.”
Walking across the battered planks on the front porch and noticing the rough adobe structure, Jake didn’t expect the house to be much on the inside, but to his surprise, it was well furnished, clean, and comfortable.
“I’ll give you the nickel tour,” said Stumpy, pointing in various directions like a flight attendant. “Over there’s the bathroom. Hot shower if you like, and towels are under the sink. Just be sure not to get any water in your mouth. If you ain’t used to it, the water south of the border will mess things up south of your border, if you know what I’m sayin’. Den is to the right. The couch is comfy and has a hideaway bed in it for occasions such as this. Kitchen is in the back of the house, and my bedroom is on the left. Got a little cellar downstairs where I keep my radio stuff. Pot of beans should still be warm on the stove, and homemade tortillas are on the table. Eat your fill. I’m going to head downstairs to see if I can figure out what’s going on. Make yourselves at home.” With that, Stumpy walked through the narrow doorway leading to the cellar and disappeared quickly out of sight on a steep, narrow set of stairs.
Creek and Jake stood quietly in the dimly lit, claustrophobic foyer of the home, taking it all in. Creek made the first move, sitting his pack just inside the den but tucking his handgun in the waistband of his jeans. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about with Stumpy, but just to be safe,” he said to Jake. “I’m going to grab some grub.”
“That hot shower sounds like a little bit of heaven right now,” said Jake, as he made his way into the bathroom with his pack and gun in hand, shutting and locking the door behind him. It didn’t take long for the water to get hot. Jake eased himself into the shower on shaky legs. He was exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that after he acclimated to the warmth of the water, he sat down in the tub. The warm water felt like a refreshing rain. When he dropped his head, he watched as a pink mixture of blood and dirt swirled down the drain, washing away the memories of the day.
After he dressed, Jake came out of the bathroom and sat his pack next to Creek’s in the den, but still held on to his gun. He walked back to the kitchen. Creek wasn’t there. Jake quickly grabbed a tortilla from the table and used it as somewhat of a glove to reach into the still-warm pot and grab a fistful of black beans. He folded them up in the tortilla and wolfed them down quickly. As Jake walked back down the hall, he heard voices drifting up through the door to the cellar that had been left ajar. He ventured into the cellar to find Creek and Stumpy sitting by a desk outfitted with tons of radio equipment, parts, pieces, and various tools.
“You look a million dollars better,” said Creek with a half laugh, but a look on his face that showed his mind was preoccupied with something else.
“Yeah, it’s amazing what a little bit of soap can do,” Jake replied.
Stumpy didn’t look up from the static-filled radio he was studying, slightly turning nobs every so often.
“Everything okay?” Jake asked.
“Pull up a chair, hombre,” Stumpy chimed.
“We learned something while you were in the shower,” Creek said.
“I have a friend in Tijuana,” said Stumpy, “His name is Ernesto. Works at hotel in town—a nice, big one in the city. The kind gringos stay at when they come to town. He lives there, too. Kinda like a caretaker. We radio each other from time to time, and after some trying tonight, I got through to him.” Stumpy paused, as if he didn’t know what else to say.
“Tell me there’s more to that story,” Jake said sarcastically.
Creek cleared his throat, “You know how we were going to skirt around the city because of all the pandemonium and mobs we thought the fires would create?”
“Well,” Creek continued, “according to Ernesto, there’s no one in the streets. He says he can’t find anyone.”
“What do you mean he can’t find anyone?” Jake said, his face flushing with confusion.
“I mean he said there is no one on the streets,” Creek said, half in shock. “He has a hotel at almost max capacity, and he can’t find a single person in it after checking every floor. He said he ran out to the street, and no one was in sight for as far as he could see in every direction. Not a soul.”