Christie Shary

Short Stories - The Incident

The Incident

"No, I don't think you should go." Jason tightened his grip on the telephone receiver. He was sitting at the desk in his office and staring out the window at the thick Mexico City haze. "It's not safe. Times here are really bad."

"Get real, honey. I'll be fine. Gotta go so I'll be back by the time our guests arrive." And before it gets dark. Claire hung up the phone, not hearing her husband's last words. She was far more interested in the French chicken-filled crepes that she had just finished preparing. That, and the fact that she had run out of candles for the dinner table.

Twisting a lock of her blond hair with one hand, she dialed for a Sitio taxi, the only ones deemed really safe in this city of twenty-four million. "Necessito el taxi, por favor. Mi casa esta en Sierrra Paracaima, Tres Cien Cinquenta."

She was pretty sure she'd said it correctly, but having lived in Mexico City only six weeks, her Spanish was still pretty raw.

Friday night traffic had already begun to clog the tree-lined fountain-filled Paseo de Reforma by the time Claire's taxi reached Zona Rosa—the Pink Zone. This trendy part of Mexico City was crowded with restaurants and boutiques, along with street vendors, half-drunken businessmen after typical three-hour Friday lunches. There were also begging indigenous mothers, children tight at their breasts, who begged at every street corner.

But Claire wasn't thinking about the traffic as she dropped several centavos into their outstretched hands, and trekked toward the candle store—the only one in the entire city that had high-quality American-made candles that didn't melt all over the tablecloth in about ten minutes flat. It's going to be a perfect night. Burning candles, romantic classical music, gourmet food—just like the life we left behind in California. Only the beach is no longer outside our door. I'm so homesick. It seems like so long since we've had any real fun.

As Claire finished purchasing a box of off-white taper candles, dusk began to settle in upon the city, the world's largest. She glanced at her Gucci watched and wondered if she would be able to make it home before dark. She recalled the security expert's talk at the previous Newcomer's Club meeting and felt her heart jump. Never be out alone at night—Never.

"Taxi, I've got to find a taxi," Claire mumbled, stepping onto the sidewalk in front of the store. She searched for a Sitio taxi stand, but found none. A policeman, I'll ask a policeman. No . . . I can't . . . they aren't to be trusted here in Mexico. Many are corrupt, involved in much of the crime.

After tucking her tiny clutch purse into the pocket of her black wool coat, she pushed her feet harder, the heels of her designer high-heeled boots clicking on the cobbled street. Why didn't I bring the Sitio taxi number with me? Why didn't I ask the driver to wait outside the store with his meter running? Why did I forget my cell phone so I could have called Jason and have him pick me up when Javier drives him home? She pictured her silver cell phone sitting on the kitchen bar. How can I be so stupid? She looked up and down the street. Oh, don't worry, everything will be just fine—can't let these things get to me. Just the same, the thought of the three styrofoam ice chests that had been discovered the previous week in Polanco, not far from their home. Ice chests that contained the three severed heads of kidnap victims. I can't think those thoughts. They just upset me.

Then suddenly the solution to her problem hit her like a shot of good tequila. She could walk to the nearby Sheraton Hotel and take one of their tourist cabs home. It might cost a lot more, but what did she care? It hadn't been her decision to move down to this place full of the worst pollution she had ever seen and a rampant crime rate. And Jason could afford it in his new position.

When Claire reached the Sheraton, the color of the hazy blue sky had deepened to dusk, accenting the golden Angel of Independence—the heartbeat of Mexico—as she pirouetted in the center of the glorietta across from the hotel and the American Embassy. She was surprised not to find the endless line of special hotel taxis that usually blocked the flower-lined drive.

"Shit, I forgot—it's Friday night. Rush hour."She knew there was no way she'd ever find a cab in front of the hotel, especially since happy hour was ending. She checked her watched again, wishing she had a phone card so that she could call Jason from a pay phone. I've got to get home. Jason will be arriving—and so will our guests. I should have forgotten about the candles. But at the same time she pictured their beautiful flames in the center of her flower-laden dinner table.

A few minutes later a green and white VW Bug taxi swung around the corner. Never take the bugs—never. They're known as ‘crime mobiles.' She remembered how the security man said how dangerous they were. She knew the U.S. Embassy had issued warnings. But I have to get home—it's too far to walk—I have no other option—just this once. Besides, I'll be home before dark.

She paused only a few seconds before raising her hand to signal to the old man behind the wheel of the taxi. She thought the driver looked harmless, about the age of her grandfather. She decided that she could tackle him if she had to; that is if he turned out to be a robber. But he looked pretty harmless to her.

After seeing her waving hand, the taxi driver ground his gears and screeched to a stop. The driver flung open the door. After Claire stepped inside, he reached across the vacant spot where the other front seat belonged, and slammed the door shut.

"Buenas tardes, Senora," he said, smiling at her. Then from what she understood, she thought he asked her where she'd like to go. She quickly told him her address and he smiled, "Si Senora," and began to drive.

The portion of Paseo de Reforma which ran through the green forest of Chapultepec Park was frozen with traffic. She sighed heavily, all the time staring at the endless rows of Jacaranda trees, heavy with purple blossoms, and the hedges of hot pink and magenta bougainvilleas, the last rays of sunlight glinting on their leaves. Why does it get dark so early here? she thought, barely noticing groups of Mexican day workers huddled together at bus stops.

She glossed over the two months that she and Jason had been living in Mexico City. The colors—hot pink, bright orange, and turquoise blue everywhere. The sounds of honking horns and Mariachi bands; the smell of diesel fuel and cooking fires; of Tacos al carbon, and roasting corn sold on every street corner. At times she thought it fascinating; at other times horrible, especially the poverty. Each time she saw a young child barefoot in the street, his hand outstretched, she wanted to cry. What was the matter with this country? Why didn't they care for their poor? And the pollution, she hated the hazy, soot-filled skies that made her asthma act up. And then there was the crime . . . . it was really escalating and becoming more violent.

Claire jerked from her memories at the squeal of brakes. A green and white bus, a cambi, loomed before the taxi. Two young children with balloons in their baggy pants and faces painted, danced before it in the street, hoping for pesos. This time Claire did not reach into her purse. Instead she looked at her watch and saw that it was past seven. It's now totally dark and we still have to cut through The Gully. For the first time, real fear intruded into her thoughts. She tried to settle herself and attempted to make small-talk with the driver. But it was useless. Her Spanish was far too limited. After all, how many times can I say ‘hello' or ‘how are you?' to him?

Home, almost home, she thought, when a half-hour later, the taxi chugged through the dark canyon filled with pines, underbrush, and the now-bare skeletons of deciduous trees. The distant beacon of a homeless family's cooking fire glowed in the distance. She held her breath and stayed vigilant as total darkness descended upon the Valley of Mexico.

Finally, the taxi exited the ravine and Clair took a deep breath. Home . . . only three more blocks. The driver slowed and went over a speed bump, a tope. Then he stopped for a second one around the corner where the road forked. Claire retrieved a fifty peso note from her purse so that she could pay him, clenching it in her hand until they reached home.

But before she realized what was happening, the taxi door on the passenger side flew open. Two large heavyset men jumped into the vehicle before she could react, then into the rear seat on either side of her and squished her between them. She wanted to scream, to kick, but she couldn't do anything. For she was frozen stiff as a steel rod. But her mind screamed out at her. Oh, my God! You're being kidnapped!

When the two men ordered the driver to move forward and keep driving, Claire's adrenalin kicked in. Scream, Claire! Scream! Opening her mouth, she let out a blood-curdling scream, worse than she had when a black widow spider crawled up her leg as a child.

A large hand clapped over her mouth, and a heavy arm clenched her shoulder from the other side. She tried to scream again, but nothing came out, so she bit the hand, fowl with dirt and sweat. Its bitter taste almost gagged her. Unclasping her fingers, she clawed at the nameless faces on either side of her. They raised their hands to their faces in defense and she screamed once more. But no one would hear her in the darkness of the quiet street. She was sure of that. But she knew she had to do something. I can't let them make me a statistic without fighting back! Oh, God, what can I do?

"Malo hombres! Malo hombres! Dios will punish you, you bad men!" she yelled, hoping to frighten them with her loud voice, rather than the meaning of her words, which they most likely did not completely understand.

The driver continued to drive around the city, as ordered. She had no idea as to where they were, but it was dark and hilly. The perfect place for dumping a body. No, don't think thoughts like that. You have to fight for your life!

The crying of the driver brought her back from her thoughts. They had robbed him of his day's earnings, and he was sobbing loudly. Then one of the men began to frisk Claire, and tore the money from her hand.

"Help me, you fool!" she yelled at the driver. "Stop your damn crying and help me!" The driver continued to sob, so she decided she was on her own. She lunged for the empty space beside the front door, hoping to escape, but the two assailants jerked her back beside them. One of them tried to unfasten her watch while the other one wrestled with her.

"Fako! Fako!ęshe screamed, pulling her arm away from him. Then she let loose with her arms as hard as she could and pounded on both mens' chests with her fists. Again, she lunged for the car door, but the thugs held her tight. But she continued to scream, so loud she was sure it almost pierced their eardrums. Then she clawed at both their faces, like an angry mountain lion. She also bit them, and pleaded in English for them to let her go.

I'm going to die right here. I know I am. Right here in the backseat of a green and white Mexican taxi that I should never have taken! She lunged toward the front of the taxi again and they pulled her back, this time more roughly. Jason—I'll never see Jason again! What if they rape me, throw my body into the gully? No one would ever find me.

Claire began to pray outloud, fearing that her life was about to end. But then she decided that she'd never give up—not to these fat smelly creeps. She began to kick them with her thick-heeled boots in the crowded back seat, over and over and over again. I'll never give up—never!

"Help, somebody, please help me!" she screamed, continuing to kick and claw at her attackers.

She heard some unfamiliar Spanish words and then the taxi screeched to a halt. The man on her right shoved the door open, and the other man lunged over her like a frightened cat, and they both got out. She immediately raised her legs, kicked them both in the rear as hard as she could, and they tumbled onto the street face first.

"I hope you have hungry children to feed, you bastards!" she yelled at them as the still-sobbing taxi driver sped away.

Claire bent and cupped her face with her hands. Alive---I'm truly alive. For the first time she began to cry.

The following week, after Claire had time to digest what had happened to her—and more importantly what could have happened—J ason's work arranged for them to meet with a security expert. He would tell them about survival skills necessary for living safely in Mexico City.

Soon after they sat down, he asked Claire about what had happened and she told him her story.

Afterwards, the man shook his head. "They were probably off-duty policeman," he said. "They commit a lot of the crime around this city." But then he continued. "You were very lucky, do you know that? I can't believe you fought back!"

Claire nodded and Jason turned a gray color and squeezed Claire's hand.

"But in your case, I think it's good that you did; especially since you were quite sure they had no weapon. Otherwise, who knows what could have happened to you."

By this time, Jason had turned white and Claire felt as if she might faint.

"But one thing I will tell you," the security expert continued. "I can guarantee those two hombres will not be jumping into a taxi that has a little blond Gringo inside."

She looked at Jason and the security man and smiled for the first time since her attack. "You don't have to worry about that. My days of Mexico City taxis are over."

"That they are," Jason added. "We're about to head back North."

"We are?" Claire smiled all the more at hearing those words. California beach life sounded darn good at the moment.