The Aggregate

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man and his wife move from their pleasant life in Florida to the border town of El Paso, Texas. Sometimes, the family learns, the most important things are hidden beneath even the smallest details.

Submitted: December 07, 2011

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Submitted: December 07, 2011

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The Aggregate

 

It began with a crack.

He noticed it when they toured the house on their first trip to El Paso but Richard Chavez, the realtor, explained to him that all concrete cracks. Chavez assured him the home had a strong foundation and, due to the failing housing market, was a killer deal. So when he signed the contract and loaded the moving van Michael forgot about the foundation and began to dream of the life this house would provide for him, his wife, and the family they planned to start.

Though manufactured homes were all basically identical he knew his house was special with its tan and brown stucco exterior, clean lines and pristinely landscaped lawn bordered by large cotton woods.  The trees turned deep orange in the autumn, expelling crisp leaves onto the paling green grass. This was the place they would spend the rest of their lives together. Michael had been sold, literally and metaphorically, when Chavez assured him the neighborhood was a safe place filled with people who looked out for each other.

Families would come and go, some with tears in the daylight, others under the cover of night, but Michael and Theresa Ramirez settled comfortably into their new home. Each home was sold by the same man, Richard Chavez, who seemed to check in on tenants and homeowners daily at the most out of the ordinary times. Rain or shine, Chavez was devoted to say the least. The Vigils, two houses down, where a polite but quiet couple at first, much like the rest of the block. Eventually the neighborhood grew warm and comfortable. Like the time a pipe broke and Mrs. DeLorenzo, a twenty five year old newlywed, panicked and called Michael who happily fixed the problem since her husband Tim was away on business. Or the time Theresa was doing yard work and Ray Montoya came over to help. It became the perfect neighborhood for a family: kind, trusting, inviting. Safe.

Before their arrival, Michael and Theresa had heard stories of the dangers of living in a border town, the disappearances, drug deals, and even the not-so-mysterious murders used to send out messages. Messages of  mayhem used to instill fear in the citizens. Michael hadn’t believed them though, he was sure those rumors had been embellished beyond comparison. So after law school when he was officially offered a job at Avalon and Garcia Law Firm in El Paso, Texas he gladly accepted. If there had been any doubt in his mind it was negated when his new firm arranged a great house in a newly developed area for under $100,000. They were by no means superstitious people but the stars had seemed to align in their favor so Michael and Theresa packed away their life in Florida and never looked back.

The move was an easy one, though they missed the beautiful ocean views  and moist weather Florida offered they loved the similar Spanish heritage. Especially the foods. Tex-Mex wasn’t just about tacos and burritos. No it was so much better then they had hoped: enchiladas, tamales, menudo, salsa, and solpapillas. Every day they found themselves surrounded with a whirlwind of colors from blue and pink sunrises, piñatas and oranges for sale on the roadside, quinceanera’s on pavilions, and the sunsets. Oh the sunsets. Theresa loved them, often times she would sit on the front verandah, without a person in sight, and rock back and forth on the porch swing. Creaking slightly under her weight the metal frame supported her, the cushions conformed to her body, relaxing her with each gentle movement. In the winter the sun set long before Michael returned from work, but in the spring, when the sun endured late into the evening, he would arrive just in time to witness what she called a gift from God. When the sun reached the precipice of land and sky, just before its nights rest, it let out colors an artist envied, forever attempting to duplicate. If clouds marred the skyline these artists would put down their tools and be mesmerized by the pallet they knew they would never duplicate. This was Theresa’s favorite part of the day, all the world was silent, and the only sound to be heard was the gentle breathing of her dearest Michael at her side

As months passed these events occurred less and less often as Michael’s work schedule became more tedious. Most nights she would watch the suns’ farewell, allow the moon to rise with stars glimmering in the darkness, and then wait. Sometimes the wait was short, other times long , until finally she would fall asleep with no one in sight. It seemed her neighborhood was nocturnal, not a light in their homes showed at night. Winter had come, met by hot cups of coffee on the front porch, wrapped in wool blankets, then spring emerged without acclaim. The winter brought no rain, halting the deserts’ growth. But what the basin lacked in fruitfulness Theresa made up for, her stomach growing by the day. Michael swore she would no longer have to wait for him in the evenings; he would be home for every sunset, for every step of the way.

In the dry heat of summer, despites the firms’ objections and harsh words from his employers, Michael made it home for sunsets, in time to make his wife dinner, and to sing to her stomach as she drifted to sleep. Carter Avalon, Michaels supervisor, asked his reasoning for needing to be home more often but Michael, a strict believer in keeping a distinction between work and home, claimed he just needed to take the hours off. He never explained the situation, and besides, he didn’t want to jinx it. When the baby came he would tell everyone with cigars and drinks, the way a real man celebrated.

On a Thursday afternoon, eight months after moving to El Paso the drought had ceased, rainwater flooded the streets and the morning commute became difficult. Barren desert soils hindered the waters absorption causing it to puddle and pool over the impenetrable ground, life in El Paso would be altered for those few days of moisture, everyday activities would have to be altered.

Avalon called Michael into his office just before closing that Thursday. Though Michael had been there dozens of times he had never noticed the ornate nature of the room. Mahogany book cases, deep brown leather chairs, and gold framed picture of what he assumed was Avalon’s family hung on the walls. The woman in the photos was young, no more then twenty five, her hazel eyes were touched with gold specks. She was flawless with her long brown hair and naturally tanned skin. She was a trophy wife to be sure. Maybe Michael was being sentimental due to his prospective fatherhood but he thought then of Theresa, the way her hair fell into her eyes, the way her kiss tasted. He had grown to love this Texas town and the life they, together, had created. The drug cartel violence along the border seemed so far away.

“I know you normally leave around now Ramirez, but I have a case I need you to go over. It goes to court next month,” said Avalon. He leaned forward and added “this is a big one, lots of publicity so you need to be very prepared to handle it.”

Looking at the case Michael was shocked. “The Sanchez case sir? I thought this was your case?”

“Conflict of interest and I realized this could be an excellent opportunity for you to really make a name for yourself around here, Ramirez.”

Michael considered it for a few moments, flipping through the pages reading memos and police statements. He was familiar with the events already, the story had been flashed across the news when the case’s four suspects were taken into custody. Having a chance to send men like them to jail would be a great opportunity, but that is not what he would be doing he realized. His excitement faded. “I though we were the opposition sir. Not the defense.”

“No, the defense. Now go on home to your wife.” Avalon noticed how uneasy Michael had become reading the case file. “We will talk about the case tomorrow. Goodbye Ramirez.”

 

That night Michael read and re-read the file. Michael memorized the case. Don Sanchez, 25, was brought in on charges for kidnapping, raping, and murdering Gloria Jackson, 16, a teen from the West side who happened to be city commissioner Steven Jackson’s daughter. Sanchez was also being charged with possession and distribution of drugs. His accomplices were Roberto West, Kyle Mendosa, and Stevvan Franco. The men were respectively 22, 20, and 18. The four were offered a plea bargain if they cooperated in an ongoing investigation to uncover the head of the Mexican drug cartel who was known to live in either El Paso, Texas or Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the man they were known to work for. They refused and now were to see trial in a little under a week. A videotape was found, showing Sanchez, West, Mendosa, and Franco in the act or raping and murdering Gloria Jackson. They were undoubtedly guilty and in Michael’s opinion deserved the death penalty that Texas was so fond of issuing. Michael would never forget the tape, he would never forget Gloria’s eyes as she lost her spirit. She had been murdered to send a message to the commissioner, to ensure that El Paso understood who was really in charge.

The next morning Michael knocked on Avalon’s door, entered, and handed over the case file.

“With all due respect sir, I can’t represent these men with a clear conscience. I appreciate the opportunity though.”

Avalon looked at Michael then, as if he wasn’t surprised. “No one asked about your conscience son.”

He motioned for Michael to sit, which he did. “I am saying no.”

Avalon held up a hand, silencing Michael. “As you have heard this is a very violent town. Maybe you don’t see it in your cozy neighborhood, but these crimes are everywhere. Over 300 people were killed, or at least found, in Juarez last month alone, all related to this drug cartel. These men are casualties of a war that no one cares to look at. They deserve the right to make a living just like you and I do. The ones who get killed are involved already. These men take their orders and may or may not kill people who are already involved in the drug war. They could be on your front door, its everywhere Michael. These four men were pawns, someone bigger, higher up, is calling the shots here ok. So I am telling you, as the man calling your shots, you are going to defend those men next month.”

To say the least Michael was shocked. “They have a tape of them doing it sir. Even if they are pawns they still killed the queen metaphorically speaking.”

“No body was ever found and our judicial system gives these men the right to a fair trial. I will give you the weekend to clear your conscience.” His voice was becoming firm.

“I won’t try this case,” said Michael interrupting.

“I am giving you the weekend to decide if you want to try this case or find a new job.” Avalon’s eyes were focused on Michael, issuing the threat. Avalon was a man who got what he wanted and he wanted Michael to get a not guilty on the Sanchez case.

Michael swallowed hard, loosened his tie, and held firm to his morals. “I’ll have my resignation for you Monday morning, sir.”

“Michael, think about this decision. Your pregnant wife at home, think about her on that porch swing. Remember the bad guys are on your doorstep, choose the side you want to stay friends with.”

Michael walked out of Avalon’s office in a fury. He considered the conflict of interest Avalon had spoken of. How could he, in his right mind, try a case like that? The danger is on his front porch and he would fight it, for his wife and child. To defend the little guys who defended the big guys would not solve any problems, it only enabled the situation. He refused to have that girl’s death on his shoulders. What kind of a father would he be to allow murders and rapists to go unpunished? In his mind Gloria could have been his child, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to someone’s little girl. This murder was one of the not-so-mysterious deaths he had heard rumors of; it was a deliberate scare tactic for anyone fighting against the cartel. He wouldn’t cower with his tail between his legs. He would not succumb.

On the drive home he dreamt of Florida, the simplicity of law school, the rainy days and warm nights with Theresa. Maybe it was the weather that caused him to dream. Though their town was in a drought, it had rained for three straight days, leaving that Friday moist and humid. They would move back to Florida or he could change firms he resolved upon pulling up to his house. Something wasn’t right though. The porch was dark, glass lay shattered across the wooden panels. The bronzed swing hung on only one chain link and holes marred the windows and  door. He ran his finger along one groove, it was warm and circular. A bullet hole.

He rushed inside to find his Theresa crying on the couch. Unharmed she held Michael, wept, and assured him she was ok.

“They just drove by and shot. None of the neighbors even came out. They just drove by,” she said shaking. “No one even noticed someone shot into our home!”

“Its going to be ok. We can move back to Florida. I will quit my job, we can move back to Tampa Bay.”

Theresa held Michael firmly and trembled before he walked her to bed, exhausted and frightened. He locked the doors and went to the garage to retrieve his .357 pistol. That is when he noticed it again. The crack. It was seeping, having soaked up water from the soil. Concrete does that, expands and contracts, allowing water to travel in huge amounts through the smallest hairline fracture through capillary rise.

He tried to step over a laundry basket to his gun cabinet but in his haste he stumbled, spilling clothes onto the wet floor. It was just water, he thought. More important things were at hand. He noticed redness seeping onto the fabric. Was it rust? The steel work in the slab must have been corroding. This was no rust though, as it wasn’t orange. It was crimson. Michael bent over and he scooped the fabric into his hands. It was blood. Blood was seeping through his floor having been carried by the rainwater.

“What is that Michael? Is that blood?” Theresa, who stood holding her stomach asked trembling in the doorway.

“Its coming through the crack. You should lay down honey, it’s been a terrible day for you.”

“This isn’t a nice place. This isn’t the place we thought it was, is it?”

“We will leave as soon as everything is packed.”

“You need to see where that is coming from.”

Michael agreed as he handed her the pistol, warning her to stay away from the windows. He grabbed the pick axe from the corner, rolled up his sleeves and began the labor. Each strike reverberated through his body, shocking him. He rolled his sleeves high, loosening his blue tie even more. Slowly, chip by chip, the concrete broke away, blood splattering onto him. He threw the axe harder. The sound was deafening, echoing through his mind. He was in a daze, each stroke of the axe releasing pent up frustration. Materializing his fears. Faster and faster he swung it high above his head until the tip of the axe dulled. Michael looked down at himself. Sweat, blood and plastic covered him; splattered across his white shirt, and his throbbing forearms.

“Theresa,” he whispered. Then louder “Theresa!” She entered slowly, holding the pistol tightly.

“It’s a person isn’t it. There is a person-” He interrupted her.

“Bring me the phone.” Michael’s fingers shook as he dialed.

“911 please state your emergency,” answered a woman who was too cheery to understand his situation.

“My name is Michael Ramirez. I live at 2291 Camino Alto Road,” he coughed, whipping his forearm across his lips as he stared into the hole. Blood smeared across his lips, his eyes wild and fearful.

“What is the emergency sir?”

“Please send the police.” Chills shot through him as he paused. Conflict of interest, Michael thought, finally understanding the situation. He would never forget her eyes. Those eyes. The plastic which wrapped around her body sealed in her dried blood and cocooned her corpse in the cement tomb of his garage floor. In the background Theresa sobbed while Michael fought the urge to vomit. His voice quivered, breaking as he spoke. “Gloria.”


© Copyright 2017 TR Jacks. All rights reserved.

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