LITTLE FLOWER - KIP HANSON
It was the fat girl who started it, the blonde girl two doors down. She was nothing more than a dumb guera, yet the girl’s parents had lovingly named her Holly twenty-two years before. Flor woke to hear the guera stupidly pounding on the walls, kicking at the door, until after fifteen minutes or so vigilant Cal took notice. He came, lurching down the stairs and up the hallway and the guera screamed at him. Cal took her up the stairs, slammed the door, and moments later came the muffled sound of a gunshot. Cal was short like that sometimes.
There’d been seven of them. At night they called out to each other, when the lights went out and they lay in the dark, the only illumination that of a small nightlight. Jimmy had come up with this brainstorm after one of the girls had screamed and thrashed about so much in the dark that she’d hurt herself, and Cal had been forced to take care of her. Jimmy had also come up with the great idea to pump in music - love songs mostly, sappy stuff like Jim Croce and Neil Diamond. It played all day long until the girls went crazy from hearing it, until finally the fluorescents overhead went dim and the nightlights came on and then all was quiet again for another worried night.
Most of them were Mexican, except for the dead guera named Holly and a big horse-faced girl named Martha. Once or twice each week, Cal and his son Jimmy would shoot them up with the horse tranquilizer Cal used in his veterinary practice and would take turns on them. Sometimes they forced two or more of the girls together so they could watch. When this happened, Flor would close her eyes, and then she and the other girl would be alone, far away from this place. She would never have to see Jimmy Meechum or his hateful father again.
Jimmy had captured her cutting across the border into Arizona. She and her friend Beatriz and another girl Flor didn’t know but who called herself Inez had stole across one night from San Vicente, looking for work in the hotels and restaurants of Patagonia and Green Valley. Jimmy had quietly walked up behind them in a wash and told them to stop, but Beatriz tried to run away and Jimmy shot her in the back with a pistol he’d taken from an illegal six months before. He left her there for the coyotes.
He’d forced Flor and the girl called Inez into the back of a white and green Suburban with Border Patrol markings, had tied them up and gagged them and put pillowcases over their heads. Finally, he’d injected each of them in the leg with 150 milligrams of Ketamine. She’d woken in this room some time later. She never saw Inez again.
She knew they'd kept her for just less than two years. One day not long after coming here, she’d risked her life by hiding a plastic knife from Cal while he cleaned up the dinner dishes. With it, she’d begun scraping a little stripe of paint from the bottom railing of her bed every night when the lights went out. She counted ninety-three sets of seven stripes each – six hundred fifty-one days of captivity, down one metal rail and up the next. The plastic had become keen as a razor.
Flor had seen five girls come and go. Her turn was coming. She knew that Cal would one day lose his temper as he had with the guera and take her outside. She had to get away, but it was not possible - there was no way out except through Cal and Jimmy. She wept at her helplessness, and her fear.
When she was a little girl, her grandfather had held her on his knee and told her stories of the Mexican Revolution, about how he’d fought as a boy not much older than she was then. He’d held her close and called her his Flor Peque, his little flower, and told her stories about La Insurreccion, about how the people had risen up and fought against the hated Porfiriatos, how they’d ousted first Diaz and then Huerta, had killed that awful bastard Zapata. Years later, he’d fought again in the Cristero War, fought for the church and the rights of the clergy. In return, the federal army slew his mother and father.
As a teenager, she’d heard stories from her father, her tall handsome Papito, that he’d been a student demonstrator in Mexico City during the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. He’d lost the use of his left arm when a soldier of the Olympic Battalion had struck him in the neck with the butt of a shotgun. His brother, her uncle whom she’d never known, had tried to pull them to safety in the garden of a nearby house, but had been shot from a nearby helicopter. The soldiers came back later and took her uncle’s body away, tossing him into the back of an army truck atop a heap of students and teachers and innocent bystanders. Some of those in the pile of bodies were still moving.
And now, Flor heard again the words of her Papito and her long-dead grandfather, and knew that she must fight as well. But she didn’t know how. Underneath her bed, there was a small gap where the painted plywood walls met the concrete. At night, she crawled under her bed and rested her face on the cool ground, whispered to Esmerelda in the cell next to hers.
She told her friend about her grandfather and the death of her uncle and how her Papito had fought the government oppression. Be ready, Esmerelda, one day our chance will come. We will fight. She asked the girl to pray with her, told her how the Virgin Mary and her blessed son Jesus came to her in her dreams. They told her to be ready. Esmerelda turned away, and said she knew nothing of faith. They were all dead.
Jimmy Meechum had been with the Border Patrol for over fifteen years. His government credentials had helped him to abduct thirty-four girls since the start of his career. On average, the girls were given six months – the longest went nearly three years, one girl but a few hours. When Jimmy came home on the day that Cal killed the fat blonde girl, he was furious - he had really liked that one, with her creamy white skin and long blonde hair. He’d not yet been done with her.
He had screamed at the old man, raged at his stupid sagging face, with his liver spots and baggy blue coveralls and dirty John Deere cap snugged down over the wispy white hair of his ridiculous balding head. But, as usual, Cal's quiet reticence defeated him. He sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee until Jimmy, his rage finally spent, quietly helped his father load the girl’s body into the big blue incinerator at the back of the pole barn where Cal disposed of the dogs and cats and livestock consumed by his small veterinary practice in Nogales. Later, Cal would spread the girl’s ashes over his small garden. It helped to keep the bugs down.
As Jimmy helped to heave the guera’s leaking body into the machine, he considered it likely that the old man would himself end up in the incinerator if he kept on with his damn temper. While Cal swung the door shut, Jimmy stepped around the back of the machine to open the gas valve and press the igniter, and stepped in a small pool of blood left behind from the guera, spattering his work boots.
The next morning in the break-room at the Border Patrol office in Nogales, Jimmy’s supervisor, Dave Henning, scowled down at the brown scatter of dried blood on the Jimmy’s shoes. “Meechum,” he said. “What’s that shit on your boots?” Jimmy looked down and said finally, “Helped Pop slaughter a pig last night. Guess I got some on me.” He stood up, tossed his Styrofoam coffee cup in the trash, and headed out to his patrol truck.
Dave sat drinking his bitter break-room coffee and stared after Jimmy. One night several years before, Dave and his dad Frank had had a few beers after work at The Cactus Bar in downtown Nogales. Frank had been with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department since graduating from the University of Arizona in 1975.
Normally, Frank was not one to gossip, but on that night he’d told his son some terrible things about the Meechum family. He told him how Cal’s wife Victoria had committed suicide back in 1992, after their oldest son Ted had fallen to friendly fire in the Gulf War. Frank, a deputy at that time, said that he wondered sometimes about old Cal, wondered if maybe the sheriff had gone a little bit easy on what was surely a bullshit explanation – that Victoria, distraught over their Ted’s passing, had broken into his veterinary supplies one night after he’d gone to bed and taken her life.
Cal had told the sheriff that suicide was a sin against god, that surely his wife had gone to hell and all he could do now was pray for her spirit, damned though it was. The Sheriff, a deacon at the church where Victoria worshiped, had kneeled with Cal and prayed with him for Victoria and his lost son. No charges were ever sought.
In truth, Victoria had caught her husband out behind the pole barn one afternoon fucking a yearling sheep, and that night when she’d begged him to go see Father Leonel in Nogales to confess his failings, he’d slipped a mongo dose of Nembutal into her Sloe Gin Fizz. Fifteen minutes later, she’d stood from her Lazy Boy rocker, turned to him with a funny look on her face, and dropped like a rock.
Frank had also told Dave that, back in the early 60’s, he’d done temp work for a concrete firm out of Tucson, and that they’d been contracted by old man Tennyson to build the biggest damn bomb shelter you’d ever seen. Tennyson had been scared shitless of those bastard Russkis, and was for damn sure not going to let that boat-nigger Castro launch none of those nukes at him unprepared.
And when Marvin Tennyson’s crackers had finally slipped off his plate back in 1973, the Meechums, new blood from somewhere in the midwest, had bought the place from Tennyson’s wife for a song, fifty acres and all sitting right out the ass end of Harshaw Road. They’d torn down the old house, hauled in a brand new doublewide to put in its place, and erected a big old pole barn right over the top of that bomb shelter and nothing more was ever said about it.
That night, Frank Henning tossed down the last of his beer, looked over at his only son, and told him, “You stay clear of those Meechums, boy.” And now, years later, Dave got up from the break-room table and walked over to check the job schedule posted on the break-room wall. A few hours later, he was driving through the desert sun south of Patagonia out to the end of Harshaw Road.
He pulled up before the doublewide, motor idling, and surveyed the Meechum property. Four brutish dogs circled a rusty wire pen strung loosely between the house and a sun-bleached wooden shed - two Rottweilers, a huge Pit-Bull, and a speckled brown and black Great Dane. Scattered corrals sat the yard - sheep, pigs, chickens, and a lone goat within their metal confinements.
Three hooded mares stood munching hay under the shade of a plastic tarpaulin flapping loosely between two wooden posts and the branches of a rangy looking mesquite. Off to the side, a small garden, filled mostly with string beans, canteloupe, and a few weeds, contended with the Arizona sun. A largish apple orchard bordered one edge of the yard; the eastern edge of the Sonoran desert the other.
And there across from the house stood the big red pole barn sitting atop Tennyson’s forgotten bomb shelter.
Dave circled around and eased his green and white Border Patrol cruiser into the scrub alongside the pole barn. He shut down the motor. He’d checked Jimmy’s schedule on his way out of the office, knew that he was on patrol, skulking somewhere out in the desert. He knew also that Cal was working in town today, as he’d passed the old man’s pickup truck at the veterinary office in Nogales on the way out of the city.
What Dave didn’t know was that the old man’s truck had thrown a rod the week before, had in fact been parked in front of Meechum Veterinary ever since and that Cal had called his receptionist from home earlier that morning, saying he’d be late to work and to cancel his appointments until after lunch.
Twenty miles away, Jimmy was scouting a likely trail along the Mexico border where he would park his truck later that night. He was thinking about the blonde girl when his cell phone rang. Cal was on the line.
Dave walked back to the trunk of his cruiser. He lifted the spare tire enough to slide the crowbar out from underneath. There was a wooden door on this side of the pole-barn and Dave leaned his shoulder against the pine, wedging the tire iron between the jamb and the door handle. With a loud splintering sound, the door gave way.
The room within was uneventful. Cabinets lined the walls, workbenches and supplies sat scattered about – bags of dog food and fertilizer, stacks of boxes marked with KVS Veterinary Supply Co., leather saddles and sheep shears and garden tools. A Willys jeep crowded the middle of the concrete floor.
Dave looked about the room, considered what his father would say and decided all this was just a bad idea. As he turned to leave, he heard the music, very faint.
Flor was sleeping. In her dream, Mary and Jesus came to her. They were clad all in blue, and the light surrounding them was a brilliant azure, so beautiful, Mother and her Holy Son. Their robes concealed a vast and secret power. Mary rose up, rose high above her, arms held wide and called to her, “Flor Peque, my Little Flower, get ready. You must save them. You must save them all.” Flor wept then, for the face of the Blessed Virgin looking down at her was that of her friend Beatriz, shot in the back with a stolen gun by Jimmy Meechum and left to rot in the desert. She cried out to her, to Beatriz her lost friend, and fell to her knees...
She woke to hear someone coming down the stairs. Her body told her this was not the right time of day for Cal or Jimmy to be home. She heard a strange man’s voice exclaim “What the fuck…” and moments later, her door came open with a loud crack. There before her stood a man with a black tire iron in his hand. He was dressed in a uniform like Jimmy’s but it was not Jimmy - there was a name badge on his shirt with HENNING stenciled across the front and the man was tall and handsome. She thought of her Papito, and in her nakedness reached out to him, but at that moment a shadow loomed behind the man who appeared as her father. She screamed.
Cal rose up and shoved a phillips-head screwdriver into the man’s right ear. The man fell, straight down, and there was a metallic clatter as the tire iron fell from his hands and struck the floor. Cal stood there panting, and she dove for the metal, reaching it just before Cal did. She rolled, holding the sharp end away from her as Cal tripped over the man and fell toward her with a thick grunt. The iron plunged into the base of Cal’s round belly, emerging out the back to make a small bloody tent-shape in the seat of his coveralls.
He retched upwards and staggered away down the hallway. She rushed back to her room, dove under the bed, and scrambled for the plastic knife hiding there. She turned to see a pair of dusty boots and her bed was lifted up, launched through the air, and Cal fell between her legs like a familiar lover. His hands were around her throat, choking her; his blood was warm on her belly.
She swung her arm with a captive’s last strength and the plastic knife, razor sharp after six-hundred-fifty-one days, sliced across his cheek and down to the bone. She swung again and his nose parted across the middle. Cal screamed, and as he pulled back to strike her, she reached up and thrust the plastic into his eye. He shuddered once and fell, covering her body with his mad warmth, and finally lay still.
She pushed him away, climbed to her feet and ran to the hallway, yelling to Esmerelda and the others, “Muerto, muerto, the old one is dead.” She pulled at first one door and then the others but they were locked. Cal still had the keys.
She went to him, knelt to the floor and reached slowly into his pocket. As she touched the key ring, his half-open mouth, frozen in pain, emitted a long gaseous belch. She screamed and fell backwards to the concrete. In the shocked silence, she heard Barry Manilow playing Mandy from the speakers overhead.
Jimmy’s green and white Suburban stopped at the entrance to the Meechum property. Jimmy saw the Border Patrol cruiser parked alongside the pole barn; saw the splintered frame and the door swinging free. He pulled up behind the cruiser, blocking its exit. Throwing the Suburban into park, he jumped out and ran across the yard to loose the dogs.
Inside the forgotten bomb shelter, Flor shoved to her feet and ran to Esmerelda’s door. The girl was yelling at her, hurry, hurry, and Flor jammed the key into the lock, twisted the knob and freed her friend from captivity. She turned and ran down the hallway to release the others. Esmerelda followed, but stopped before Flor’s room, saw the carnage there - the bloody specter of Cal’s ruined face, the rigid bar protruding from his side. She saw the plastic screwdriver jutting from Dave Henning’s ear, and fell to her knees, sobbing.
At the final door, Flor fumbled with the key. It fell to the ground. In the distance, she heard a door slam. She turned to Esmerelda, kneeling by Dave’s crumpled body, and their eyes met. There was fear in the girl’s eyes, for over the music they could hear the dim sound of dogs barking, and the echo of running boots on the concrete above.
Flor released the last girl. Esmerelda attempted to gain her feet, to join the others in their fate, but stumbled and fell against Dave. She put out her hands to stop herself, and stupidly, reflexively, tried to apologize to the dead man. But as she rose, she noticed the black handle of Dave’s service pistol pinned beneath his right hip. The door at the top of the stairs slammed open just as she rolled Dave over and pulled his 9MM from the nylon holster.
There was a scrabbling sound and the dogs rushed down the stairs, their nails clattering against the concrete steps. They hit the landing and hurled themselves at the six girls huddled together in the middle of the room. The horse-face girl fell first, and the Dane was at her throat when Esmerelda flipped the safety catch off the Smith and Wesson and fired twice. A red blossom appeared in the brown and black chest and the dog fell away, his legs kicking wildly at the air.
Terror was loose in the room - the women screamed, the dogs snarled and whined in their lust, Dave’s gun roared and echoed and the bullets ricocheted off the block walls. The Rottweilers were pulling at the legs of a screaming girl, and Esmerelda fired but missed, and fired again, and then a third time and a fourth. The girl cried out in pain – she’d been shot in the hip, but the Rotties were finally, mercifully dead, and now only the Pit Bull ran loose, mad with rage and the smell of blood.
One of the girls – Flor thought her name was Claudia - turned and fled back to her room, the only safety she had known for nearly a year, but the dog chased her down. Her cries of terror were cut short as the big Pit Bull tore out the back of her neck. Flor rushed to the door and slammed it shut, locking Claudia and the dog within.
The room was quiet now but for the whining of the Great Dane and the moans of the girl shot in the hip. The air was thick with the smells of gunpowder, urine, and puke. Together, Flor and Esmerelda gathered the remaining girls around them and started up the stairs.
Flor half-carried the injured girl, dragging her up the stairs. They reached the doorway at the top and started across the floor of the pole barn. Esmerelda followed, the pistol held before her, the two others close behind. As she reached the threshold, there was movement to her right and Jimmy barreled into her, knocking her to the ground. They struggled for the pistol, back and forth, and Jimmy elbowed her in the face. The gun discharged, striking Flor below the left shoulder. She spun to the concrete.
Jimmy and Esmerelda rolled on the floor, fighting for the weapon, but he was too strong. She yelled at the shocked girls standing in the doorway, commanding them to fight, damn it, fight, and one of them pulled a shovel down from the wall and struck Jimmy, clubbed him across the back, and the handle broke in two. Jimmy bellowed in pain. She threw the handle aside and waded in, clawed at his eyes, pulled his hair, but he punched her in the jaw, staggering her to the ground. He turned back to Esmerelda, lifting his hands for a double-fisted blow, and she held her hands out before her, screamed no, and suddenly the four rusty metal tines of a pitchfork burst forth from Jimmy’s chest. He looked down, opened his mouth to speak, and fell to the side dead.
Flor lay on the concrete, hearing the struggle around her. All went suddenly quiet, and she distantly heard Esmerelda’s primal roar of victory. She knew they had won. A delicate bubble of blood formed at her lips. She thought about her father, of his revolution, and wondered if he would be proud of her for what she had done this day, proud that she’d fought, that she and her friends had stood against the oppressors and won their freedom. She thought yes, he would be proud, and smiled. She saw her grandfather there before her. He was holding out his hands, his old, brown hands wrinkled like leather. He beckoned, telling her to come little flower, come with me. Flor closed her eyes and followed.
BIO: Kip lives in Tucson. He writes to keep the flying monkeys from carrying him away.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago