The boys looked up from behind the bush when the cruiser rounded the corner onto Rodeo Drive. Manuel and Chico froze while Chad lazily turned his shoulder towards the brick wall, grabbing the pipe out of Chico’s hand in a single, steady movement. He held it a moment as the officers, a man and a woman, gazed at him. Chad smiled at them and jerked his chin up subversively, with military precision.
Chico said, “What are you doing?”
“They can’t touch me.”
The cruiser slowed down and, just as it was passing them, started to turn sharply to park on their side of the street. In the brief moment that the officers had their backs to the boys, Chad flicked the embers from the pipe into the bushes and tossed the pipe through an abnormally large open window that dropped down into the celler beneath his house.
The male officer, who had been riding shotgun, stepped out of the car and walked slowly across the lawn. The sunny hills of Juarez rose behind him. One of the hills stood as an advertisement for how different life was on the other side of the thin sliver of water that constituted the Rio Grande. Someone had placed rocks together in crudely shaped letters to form the words, “LA BIBLIA ES LA VERDAD. LEELA.” The bible is the truth. Read it.
“Enjoying some hashish this morning, boys?”
“Hashish? What is that?” Manuel said. The other two boys laughed.
Chad became serious. “If you’re talking about marijuana, sir, the answer is no. We’re high on the crisp, clean air of Texas.”
“Come on, son. I saw you holding the pipe.”
“I sincerely don’t know what you’re talking about,” Chad said as he made a point of looking at the officer’s badge. It read: “STEVENS”
Stevens looked at each boy, one by one. Manuel and Chico stared at the ground, but Chad turned slightly away from the house and pretended to look nervously at the open trashcan in the alley-way beside their house.
The woman officer had by now gotten out of the car and walked over to the boys. As she watched them, Stevens leaned over the top of the trashcan.
“I hope you’re not searching through my trash without a warrant, officer Stevens.”
Stevens looked up at the boy and grinned. “You’re wrong there, son. As soon as you set it out on the curb, your trash becomes city property.” He overturned the trashcan. “There’s no law against me looking in your trash.”
“Isn’t there a law against littering?”
Stevens didn’t respond, but he fingered through the pile of garbage, spreading it on the grass while Manuel stepped lightly on a smoking ember under the bush.
There were banana peels and half-washed cans of beans. A mayonnaise jar and a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
“You kids are smoking your lives away,” he said. Stevens was now leaning over, sniffing the garbage.
Chad turned to the woman. “I bet you and your mommy here take a Benadryl and a Tylenol PM every night before you go to bed.”
He was right, Stevens thought, he had tried that particular drug cocktail more than once, and it had given him strange visions in the half-sleep that followed.
“Come on, Stevens,” the woman said, “even if you find it, we can’t prove possession.”
Stevens spun around and stared angrily at the woman. He was about to speak to her, but then he stopped himself and turned to the boys. “I guess that’s right. In any event, I don’t have time to waste on you jokers. I have bigger fish to fry.”
The two officers got back into the cruiser. They talked for a few moments with the windows up.
Stevens opened his door and stepped out onto the grass again.
“This your place?” he said, addressing Chad.
“This is my parents house,” Chad said.
“Right. I was thinking that there was something familiar about it. Do you know when your parents bought it?”
“Maybe ten years ago.”
“Of course it was. I know it now. This is the place where that serial killer lived back in ninety-eight…maybe ninety-nine. You know they never found the bodies so they weren’t able to keep him in the can.”
“You’re crazy, man,” Chad said, becoming genuinely nervous as the policemen looked at the giant window through which he had tossed the pipe.
“No. I remember it clearly. There were all kinds of crazy things about this house, beginning with that window there. See how big it is? It used to be a door. A full-sized door. Hung sideways. Years later I thought about that and realized that he probably cut that door to get the bodies in and out. Bodies are heavy, you know. You can’t just haul them up and down the stairs any time you want. I figured he hid some in the big crawl space between the two floors.”
Chad thought about this. There was an unusually large gap between the basement and the first floor.
Stevens paused for a moment and then locked his eyes on Chad. “You mind if I shine a flashlight down there for just a bit? See if there’s anything left?”
Chad didn’t hesitate: “If you’ve got a warrant, I’ll take you on a tour.”
Stevens nodded slowly. “Suit yourself. I was only trying to help.”
Stevens turned away and walked back toward the cruiser. As they pulled away, he turned to the woman and laughed.
The three boys went down to El Garaje, which had been a real auto repair shop back in the 1970s, but now it was a car wash. Inside, where the service desk used to be, there was a small counter where you could order greasy Mexican food while you were waiting for your car to be detailed by young men who were bussed in every morning from Juarez. Manuel and Chico both ordered the breakfast burritos.
Chad ate nothing. He thought about how strange it was that El Paso had one of the lowest crime rates in the United States, while heads rolled in the streets of Juarez, just across the river. He knew that this was because the Juarez Cartel had more money than the police.
But now he realized that violence could happen anywhere. Even on his quiet, safe street. As he thought about this, it occurred to him that he would never again get a good night’s sleep in his parent’s home. It was time to strike out on the road and find his place in the world.