Chapter Two (continued)



Julia came up to Jacob, stumbling awkwardly as the boxcar gave a sudden lurch.  “I have a problem,” she said timidly.  “I have to pee and I can’t hold it.”


“That’s okay, Julia,” Jacob reassured her.  “I knew that was going to happen.  Wait one.  Hey, you two,” he called over to the men, “grab a blanket and see what you can do to tie it up over on the far corner for a bathroom.”  When the two finished the task, Julia hurried over and relieved herself.  She was embarrassed at first, but that went away when she saw the line that had formed for the same facility.  “We’re gonna need pilings to stand on,” the last one grumbled when he left the area.


It was obvious that the “facility” was used for more than number one.  A distinct odor began to pervade the boxcar, causing Jacob to open the door.  Almost within touching distance was a major freeway.  The highway wasn’t overly crowded, but it was far from empty.  Cars in the closer westbound lanes rushed past.  Most of the ones in the farther eastbound lanes also were going faster than the train, but not by much.  In fact, they were nearly matching the speed of an older vehicle, which stayed even with them for several minutes.  “Stay back from the doorway,” Jacob cautioned.  You don’t know if and when a highway patrolman is going to show up and look in our direction.”


“Yeah, and we’ve gotta get out of these guard uniforms ASAP,” Sidney said.  “By now they probably have an APB out for guys wearing these uniforms.”


“You’re right,” Jacob replied.  As a matter of fact, you people who bought civvies back in Duncan, better put them on now.”  There was a scramble to comply.


They passed a highway rest stop.  The apparent elegance displayed in their fleeting view impressed Earl.  His last impression of it was of a high-end motor home parked next to a casita-styled shelter.  The couple were having a picnic lunch on the bench inside.  The sight depressed him for a short time.  Joyce noticed it and nudged his arm with a fist.  “Don’t let it get you down, jarhead.  Remember that kind of freedom that couple is enjoying now comes from not being a Christian or a Jew.  You’re going to have all eternity to make up for the rough times now.  Besides, you have me, don’t you?”


The last comment instantly brought him out of his brief funk.  “You bet I do, and I wouldn’t trade you for the world.”  He kissed her.  In the middle of their kiss, he started to laugh.


“What’s up with you?” Joyce asked.


“Sorry.  Something just popped into my head.  That rest stop looked so clean and well-maintained.  Not all rest stops are like that.  I remember one time in California, I was heading south toward the Bay Area and stopped at a place near Sacramento.  When I got to the urinal I discovered that I wasn’t alone.  There was a whole colony of cockroaches living there.  Giant ones, like they were radiation mutants.  They obviously were healthy.  Disgusted, I peed on one, who acted like it was rain from heaven.  But now I have another idea,” Earl broke in on himself, changing the subject.  “Hey, anybody know whether this track parallels the highway all the way into Las Cruces?


“It doesn’t,” Paul said.  I used to drive a semi for Schneider.  That’s I-10 out there.  It goes into Las Cruces, then makes a sharp turn south into Texas and El Paso.  About halfway between Deming and Las Cruces the train leaves I-10 and heads southeast, bypassing Las Cruces and heading directly for El Paso.  Going through El Paso, I can tell you that the mother of all switching yards is down there.  As a matter of fact, there’s at least two of them.”


“Are there any more rest stops between here and where the train parts company with the highway?”


“No.  The rest stop we just passed was the last one before we get into Texas.”


“Too bad.  I was hoping that. . .”


“I think I know what you’re getting at.  I’m with you.  We have to leave the train before we get into the switching yards.  We may not get to a rest stop before then, but right where I-10 makes a sharp turn as it follows the bend of the Rio Grande, it’s real close to the train track.  And right at the bend there’s a big truck stop.”


“That’s better yet.  And the train probably slows way down at that point.”


“I’d think so.”


“Which way does I-10 curve?”


“To the left.”


“Then if we go out the right side like we came in, the engineer wouldn’t see us.”


“That’s right.  The only problem is that it’ll be daylight when we jump out.  We could be seen.”


“By whom?  The Mexicans?  If the Rio is that close, the border would be right next to us.  That’s Juarez over there.  I’d think they’d be so busy trying to avoid bullets from their own gangs that they wouldn’t give us a second thought.  Especially if we had uniforms on.”


“Good point.  Let’s talk to Jacob about it.”


“It’s a workable plan,” Jacob agreed, “but only because Paul has experience driving big rigs.”  He scratched his head in wonder.  “How could we be that lucky?”


“I think it’s anything but luck,” Earl said.  “It’s all about God, and it’s about time that we acknowledged his help.”


“Well said,” Jacob replied, and firmed up the plan.  “We’ll wait until dark to head over to the truck stop.  There the first to go in would be those dressed in civvies, who would each buy three sets of clothing and return to the diesel pump station, where some of those with nothing but guard clothing would be waiting in the shadows.  These, in turn, would go into the store and buy more clothing for the remaining people who needed civvy clothes.  They’d get rid of the guard clothing in a nearby field, where they’d also leave their weapons until they’d finished eating.  Then they’d all go back in twos and threes and have dinner.  After that they’d pick a truck with the engine running, pop the cargo doors and they’d cram into the back while Paul drove.  They wouldn’t get very far, but they could probably make it to the nearest rest stop off I-10.


As the plan unfolded with their purchase of civvy clothing and ridding themselves of their guard uniforms, Paul went in and looked around for an empty booth.  Finding none, he went over to a table by the wall and sat down.  When the waitress came over with a menu, he gave it back to her asking her for a cheeseburger and chocolate shake.  As she left he looked beyond her retreating back to lock eyes with a man three tables down.  He looked away quickly, for below the eyes was the uniform of a city cop.  Paul attempted to collect himself.  After some time, he cast a brief glance at the cop and was startled to see him still looking his way, his face registering interest.  After another eternity he saw the waitress approaching with his order, and he looked up at her, using the occasion to give a quick look at the cop.  He was immensely relieved to see the cop looking in a different direction, and actually enjoyed eating his burger.  But when he opened the door to exit the restaurant and saw the others approach, he waved them off.  “Cop’s in there,” he told Jacob.  “If I were you, I’d wait till he leaves.”


They went away into the shadows, Paul following them.  When he saw the cop exit the restaurant, he gave Jacob the all-clear.  They went in to eat as he remained behind, looking around the parking lot.


Paul allowed several minutes for the others to dig into their meals, and then he started scanning the lot for likely new arrivals.  After several minutes where nothing useful showed up, he saw an elderly rig come in with a familiar cab.  The driver took a few minutes to park and set up, and then he climbed down out of the truck and headed for the restaurant.  Not more than a few moments later his group came out of the restaurant, passing the trucker on the way.  Signaling them to follow him, he went to the rear of the truck and opened the doors.  There was more than enough room to accommodate them all.  When they all climbed inside, he shut the doors and walked back to the cab.  He climbed up, looked at the various controls, and, satisfied, got rolling.






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