Sergio comenzó a sentirse un tanto entumido, tanto por el frío que producía el sistema de refrigeración del camión, como por el no poder estirar bien las piernas desde hace más de dos horas.
Pero no le quedaba de otra que aguantarse. Se dio un par de palmadas en los brazos para tratar de desentumirlos un poco.
El resto de sus compañeros de viaje no estaban en mejor forma. El grupo de tres mujeres estaban acurrucadas entre sí, tratando de compartir su calor. La más vieja había extendido un chal sobre ellas, para tratar de insularlas un poco del frío, pero la tela era tan delgada que no hacía ninguna diferencia.
Sergio trató de distraerse haciendo un cálculo mental de cuanto tiempo faltaba para que acabara aquél viaje. Hace solo hora y media, el camión se había detenido por un largo tiempo, luego avanzado un poco para detenerse por veinte minutos, y luego había reanudado su camino.
Ahí debió ser cuando cruzamos la frontera, pensó Sergio. Las pausas debieron ser cuando los agentes de ambos lados hicieron sus revisiones de rutina. Uno pensaría que habrían abierto las puertas traseras del camión, y visto con mayor atención el interior, pero al final solo era uno de los cientos que atravesaban la línea fronteriza cada día.
Acaso estuvieran también familiarizados con el conductor y su camión, así que no lo harían pasar por una revisión a fondo. Eso debía explicar el precio tan alto que Felipe les había hecho pagar a todos ellos, destinando una buena parte del dinero a pagar al conductor.
Desde entonces debía haber pasado poco menos de una hora desde que estuvieran en el lado de los Estados Unidos. Él sabía bien la hora, porque la había revisado en el reloj Casio de su padre, presionando el botón que iluminaba la pantalla.
Sergio trató de recordar la distancia de Tucson desde la frontera, pero no lo logró. La primera vez que cruzó con su padre, Miguel, y sus amigos, les había llevado cuatro días llegar a Tucson. Pero habían tenido que hacer la mayor parte del trayecto a pie, ocultándose de la policía, hasta que llegaron a las afueras de la ciudad americana de Nogales.
Bien mirado, el precio del viaje sí que había valido la pena. Una vez que estuviera en Tucson, Sergio tenía planeado ir a la estación de autobuses, y comprar el boleto más barato que lo acercara a California.
Todavía tenía la identificación falsa que su padre les había conseguido poco antes de que tuvieran que volver a México, una licencia de manejo a la que le quedaban cinco meses antes de la fecha de renovación que tenía impresa al frente.
Sergio volvió a revisar la hora. Eran poco más de las diez de la noche, y un bostezo surgió de su boca. Él estaba acostumbrado a estar durmiendo a esa hora, para poder levantarse antes de que el Sol saliera, pero se esforzaba para mantenerse despierto.
Algo le decía que no sería buena idea dormir en medio de aquél frío, ni siquiera por un par de horas.
Se acomodó un poco mejor contra la pared del camión. El metal estaba helado, y podía sentir el frío a través del suéter y la chaqueta de mezclilla.
-Aldo, Aldo, no te duermas -susurró una voz de hombre.
A Sergio le costó un poco distinguir quién estaba rompiendo el silencio. La luz roja del panel de control era apenas suficiente para ver las formas sentadas del resto de los inmigrantes. De acuerdo a la dirección de la voz, y haciendo memoria de cuando se subieron al camión, el que hablaba era el hombre que viajaba con su hijo.
El padre estaba sacudiendo a su hijo, que parecía estar muy desganado. Su padre estaba elevando la voz poco a poco, tratando de que su hijo no quedara inconsciente.
-¿Qué pasa? -preguntó Sergio, tratando de no elevar la voz. No tenía idea de si alguien podría oírlos en el exterior del camión, aunque a juzgar por lo bien aislado que estaba la parte trasera, tal vez podrían hasta gritar sin que nadie los oyera.
-Es mi hijo, lo siento demasiado helado -susurró el padre, con la voz llena de preocupación.
El muchacho se veía demasiado aletargado, no respondía a pesar de que su padre lo estaba sacudiendo con firmeza por los hombros.
-Vengan, acerquénse -susurró la mujer mayor, mientras indicaba a sus compañeras que se acercaran al muchacho.
Fue todo un esfuerzo el mover al muchacho para que quedara entre su padre, que lo tenía bien abrazado, y una de las mujeres, quedando cubierto con el chal. Se podía oír como sus dientes chocaban contra ellos mismos por el frío.
Sergio echó un vistazo al panel que indicaba la temperatura de la carga. No tenía ningún tipo de botón, solo las luces que mostraban si estaba en la temperatura elegida, y cuando lanzaba más aire frío al interior. Los controles debían estar en la cabina del camión, para que el conductor pudiera manipularlos sin parar el vehículo.
Uno de los hombres mayores estaba dando un par de golpes en la pared que estaba más cerca de la cabina, tratando de llamar la atención del conductor. Pero era en vano, ya que si acaso llegaba a notar los golpes, Felipe les había advertido que él solo los ignoraría, sin importar que pasara.
Sergio pensó que tal vez podrían tapar los conductos de aire frío, para tratar de evitar que la temperatura estuviera tan baja. Se puso a buscar las salidas del aire con la mirada, y encontró un par de tubos de metal que estaban pegados a las paredes del camión, pero no tenían ninguna salida de aire.
El sistema de refrigeración debía enfriar la bodega de carga de manera directa, sin salidas de aire al interior de la misma.
El hombre mayor había dejado de golpear en la pared. Los dos hombres hoscos no hacían nada más que mirar en silencio, como si no les importara lo que le pasara al muchacho.
¿Cuánto tiempo faltaba para que llegaran a la ciudad?, pensó Sergio. El chico no parecía que pudiera resistir al frío por mucho rato más.
El camión comenzó a bajar la velocidad. ¿Acaso el conductor los había oído después de todo, y quería revisar como estaban? ¿O tal vez el viaje había transcurrido más rápido de lo que calculaba? No tenía manera de saber a que velocidad habían avanzado, sin poder ver al exterior.
Los siguientes minutos se le hicieron eternos a Sergio. Lo peor era el no saber que pasaba en el exterior. Trató de escuchar con más atención, por encima del tiritar que todos sentían por el frío. Creyó oír varias voces que provenían del frente del camión, pero no les encontraba sentido a lo que decían, a pesar de que podía hablar inglés de manera pasable.
De repente, se oyó como la cadena de la parte de atrás era retirada, y las puertas comenzaron a abrirse. La luz de un par de linternas danzó por el techo y entre las cajas de cartón cubiertas de escarcha.
Puta madre, fue todo lo que pudo pensar Sergio.
Paul was sure that what they were going to do was a terrible idea, and he let the others know what he thought.
-Just think of it as some sort of voluntary work -Sam explained, while their truck was following Nick's down the road, heading south.
-We just stop the people to give them some advice, make sure that they won't give a ride to any illegals that they find on the road -Mark added. -Nothing wrong with telling people that.
-Besides, we'll properly identify ourselves, like the good, law-abiding citizens we are -Pete said, from the passenger seat at the front.
-And won't they think you're a law enforcement agent, Mark? -Paul asked, raising an eyebrow as he looked at his companion.
-Not my fault if people judge me by my appearance. Shame on them! -Mark laughed it off, and the others followed suit.
Paul started to practice in his mind what he would say to the real law enforcement when they came down on them.
-You worry too much, Paul. You think this is the first time we done this? -Sam talked to him, putting one of his large hands on his shoulder. -The sheriff is grateful for all the help they can get, and if anything happens, he's got our back.
They arrived at the place they were going to put up their checking point at shortly after eight. The plan was to stay there a couple of hours, then go back to camp, where they would drink some more, share stories and then get ready to repeat the same tomorrow Saturday.
Mark had also brought four orange plastic cones, like the ones that were used on road construction, and put them on a line parallel to the road. They parked their trucks on the side, with the lights on.
About an hour passed by, where all cars that drove North towards Tucson got stopped by their group. Mark was the one who did most of the talking, since he already looked the part of a police officer and was familiar with the proper terms. Two of the guys stood next to him, while other two walked around the vehicle, checking if anything was out of place.
They did this with five cars and four trucks, with nothing out of the ordinary. That part of the road didn't have heavy traffic at that time of the night, and soon no other cars came down their way.
Paul yawned a bit. This trip had been nothing like Rich and the rest of the guys had lead him to think. All in all, it seemed more like an excuse to go out on the desert, shoot their guns, drink beer and pretend they were on some kind of patriotic duty.
He walked a bit in front of Nick's truck. The leg was bothering him again, but it wasn't the dull pain of having to put half of his weight on top of a pile of metal and plastic. Sometimes, he could've swear that he felt an itch, coming from the foot he no longer had, and since he wasn't able to scratch it anymore, the feeling stayed in the back of his mind for a longer time.
-Ok, guys, let's wrap it up! -Sam yelled, walking towards Mark's truck. -We did good today, let's get back to camp!
Good, Paul thought. Still, it wasn't so bad being there. The night sky was full of stars, like the times that he and his father had spent on their hunting and fishing trips. It took him a couple of seconds, but he found the Polar Star, at the end of the constellation that looked like a big ladle.
He was going to turn around to get into Nick's truck, when he saw a pair of lights coming their way. Judging by the size, it should be a cargo truck, going at the top of the speed limit.
-Alright, everyone, just one more time. Remember to be on guard -Mark ordered, then stood in the middle of the road making signs to the driver with the big lantern that he carried around in his belt.
He also carried some other stuff: a nightstick, pepper spray, stun gun, plastic zip-ties, and a swiss knife with green plastic covers.
The truck started to slow down, and the group got back into their positions. Paul grabbed the rifle that he'd left in the back of Nick's truck, and walked to reunite with the others.
The truck driver had lowered his window, and put the engine on neutral gear.
-Hello. Is there any problem, officer? -the big man said, trying to sound as non-chalant as possible, while Mark got right next to him.
-Good evening, sir. We're a group of concerned citizens, just taking this chance to remind you that you shouldn't pick-up any people you find on the road, since there's a high chance of them being illegal immigrants -Mark recited from memory the little speech, one he had spent his idle time practicing while doing his rounds at the mall.
-Well, uh, no, sir, I haven't seen any. None at all, that's for sure -the driver answered, feeling a bit nervous, and praying that they just let him continue.
-We'll just do a safety revision of your truck, just to make sure everything's in working order -Mark continued. He signaled towards the group to indicate them to start with it.
Dan, Nick, George and Paul walked toward the truck, lanterns in hand. Paul stated to check the closest side with Nick, while George and Dan did the same on the other side. Nick crouched to check the truck's underside, while Paul looked at the cargo section.
The box had a refrigeration unit on the top, still running and keeping things inside frozen. The logo on the side of the truck said it was from Sunland Farms, and it was almost sure it carried some kind of fruits or vegetables inside.
When he got to the back of the truck, George was already checking it out.
-Everything seems fine -the bald man said, passing the light of his lantern over the seals and the locked chain. -What do you think, man?
-Yeah, seems that there's no problem -Paul agreed. It seemed like the truck had those seals put into place back at the warehouse, and these looked unbroken.
Paul put his hand on one of the doors. It was cold as ice, so the interior should've been even colder.
-Hey, look at this -George called him over.
The light of his lantern was falling right on top of one of the yellow and orange sticker seals. They looked quite big, and no doubt were very easy to break, so it could be easy to see if the doors got opened.
-What is it? -Paul asked, not sure what was so strange about it.
-It's not reflecting the light. It's just normal plastic tape! -George exclaimed, feeling excited. -They're supposed to be made of reflective material so they can be checked out during the night. I know because I've seen them on other trucks when driving my hog at night.
Paul looked again at the tape with more care. He could see that under the cheap plastic tape, there was a bit of th reflective one underneath, shining back the light.
He tried to think about in a logical manner. Maybe the warehouse had run out of the reflective tape, he thought. But if it was faulty, why did the border agents let the truck pass without a second look?
The darkness was the answer. The checks at the border were done under very bright lights, so the border agents wouldn't notice if the seals were reflective or not.
-We gotta call Mike, tell her to call the police to come check this out -Paul said, turning away to go to where Rich was with the radio.
George walked ran a couple of yards, to where Mark was talking with the driver, now out of his vehicle.
-Yeah, that LeBron guy is overrated... -Mark commented. He had found out he shared a common interest about NCAA basketball with the driver, whose name was Bill. -Hey, what's the matter, George?
-We might have found something -George said, pointing towards the back of the truck.
Mark took a quick glance at Bill. His demeanor went from relaxed to tense, as soon as George had finished that sentence.
This was it, he thought. The moment that he proved that he was cut out for law enforcement. Nothing he would love more than having his name on a news site, congratulating him for finding out and stopping criminal activity.
-Sir, please let us check the inside of the truck -Mark asked in a polite, yet firm tone of voice. He put the right hand on top of his taser, just in case he needed to use it, like he always had trained to.
-Oh, no, I can't do that, buddy. The regulations... -Bill started to explain, but his voice trailed off when he saw Mark had his hand on top of what looked like a side-arm. And to make it worse, the rest of the armed men were coming closer to him.
-Why are you so nervous, dude? Got something you don't want us to see? -Nick asked, getting behind Mark with his rifle at the ready.
-Of course I'm nervous, you have all these guns, and I... -the driver babbled, while he could feel the sweat rolling down his forehead, despite being a cool summer night at the desert.
And I'm alone, he thought, realizing how compromising was his current situation.
-Sir, I'm going to ask one more time. Please, let us see what's inside your truck -Mark repeated, in a firmer tone of voice. He undid the little strap that kept his stun gun in place, in case the driver tried to make a run for it.
Paul and Rich were the last ones to join the tense stand-off. Mike had been pretty happy at hearing the news, and was notifying the sheriff's department to come sort things out.
The last thing he expected was to see his companions acting in such a threatening manner towards the driver.
He didn't know what to do. Many tense seconds passed by, while the world seemed to stop to a stand-still.
-Ok, alright, I'll do it! Just don't shoot me, Jesus! -the driver relented, lifting his hands over his head.
Paul took a deep breath, full of relief. Now, he hoped that the driver was really guilty of something, because if he wasn't, all them would be in deep trouble, even if that sheriff tried to help them out.
George and Dan flanked the driver, and walked with him towards the back of the truck. Mark followed them, having taking his stun gun out and keeping it ready. Nick, Sam and Paul stayed by the front of the vehicle, with their rifles down. The others went back to see what had made the driver so nervous.
Bill fumbled with the keys a bit, his hands jittery from fear. He dropped them and was about to grab them, but Pete took them first.
-Which key is it? -he asked, his voice as relaxed as if he was asking what kind of beer he wanted to try.
-It's the silver one, then the one with the three edges -Bill answered. He was then grabbed by Gerge by the left arm, and made him take some steps back.
Pete found the keys with ease, and opened up the lock. He let the chain fall down to the floor, the steel links making a heavy sound against the hard asphalt of the road.
Then he introduced the three-sided key in a small lock near the partition of the doors. Before he turned it, he took a look back, to see if the others were ready. Everyone got their guns at the ready, except for George, who kept the drivers arm in his firm grip.
Dave got a hold of the other door, and as soon as he did, Pete turned the key, releasing the last lock. The two men opened the doors, and the others lighted up the interior of the truck with their flashlights.
-Is anyone in there? -Mark said, in a very loud voice.