issue 27: November -December   2001 

 spanish translation | author bio

Spanish cover to BorderlandsLa Vida Loca
James Carlos Blake

The Loss

Check it out. I knew this dude worked as a ticket seller for a while at the dog track in T.J. He had a cousin down there got him the job. Dude was living in Chula Vista, crossing to Mexico every day to work this job. A million beaners trying to cross over to here, every day, you know, for the American Dream and all that shit – and this pocho's crossing over to there every day to make his nut. Crazy, eh? La vida loca, man.
      Anyway, this dude - Cisco his name was - had a routine for boosting his take-home. Strictly legit, too, man. And tax-free. (You tell the IRS everything? Not in this life.) What he did was, every time a guy at the window asked him what number to play, he'd tell him. Every race, there's guys asking him the winning number. He's selling tickets, they figure he's got to be in the know, he's hip to the winner. Assholes, sure, but there's plenty of them in the world-I'm right, que no? So check it out: these guys are asking Cisco what number dog's gonna win and Cisco's telling them. Only he gives a different number to every guy that asks him. He'd go right down the list of entries, man -tell the first guy who asks it's the number one dog, tell the next guy it's number two, and so on. Every time he went through all the entries, he had to be giving the winner to one guy for sure. Some races he got asked by so many guys he'd go through all the entries nine, ten times before he closed the window. A lot of those guys never bothered to thank him, but plenty of them were real sports about it. They'd come back to the window with a big grin and kick him a ten, a twenty, depending on the payoff. End of the night it added up. Told me he was taking it home in a wheelbarrow some nights. Pretty good, eh? Fucken bulletproof, man.
      The only problem was, some of the guys he gave a bum number didn't take it too good, you know? They came back to the window, he'd get an earful, a lot of hard-ass looks. Sometimes he'd shrug, try to look like he'd been fucked too, you know, like he got a bum tip. Mostly he just acted like he didn't hear them. Tried not to make eye contact.
      One night a couple of pendejos who lost heavy on one of his numbers laid for him. Big mothers, man. And real bad losers. Followed him out to the parking lot. Took him off to the last nickel and then stomped him for laughs. Nearly killed him, man. Both arms busted, one leg, his cheekbones, lost some top teeth, some vision in one eye. You name it, man, they did it to him. He was all fucked up for months. Went broke on the hospital bills.
      I hear he's in L.A. now. Sells insurance in the barrios.

The  Roust
Every man's got his own good reasons to be bitter, but you can't give in to them any old time you feel like it. There's a time and place for everything. The world's anyhow not about to give a shit. A lot a these guys have a hard time understanding that, especially the Mexes. Chico, he never understood it for a minute.
      There me and him were, killing a pint out by the bridge that runs out to Mustang, and Chico's already a little pissed because there's not but a couple of slugs left and we haven't got enough money between us to buy another bottle. Then here comes this cop car with its siren going and its blue lights flicking and it bounces up over the curb and screeches to a stop right in front of us, damn near runs us both over. Shook me so bad I dropped and broke the bottle and that was it for the last two swallows.
      It's just one cop, some Mex kid with wetback parents if he ain't one himself, and here he is in the Corpus P.D. Looks about to piss his pants, too, when he jumps out of the car yelling, "On the groun', on the groun'! Hands behin' joor head!" But as he yanks his gun out of the holster he loses his grip on it and the thing comes skidding over to me. Never saw anything like that in my life.
      Chico yells, "Get it!" and I snatch it up and point it at the cop with both hands. I hadn't held a gun since the army.
      The cop's eyes are this big. Up go his hands. "Don't choot!" he says. "Don't choot!" He starts talking a mile a goddamn minute and you can hardly understand him, saying they're looking for two guys just hit the McDonald's six blocks away - one Anglo, one Mex - but he can see we're not the same two, so please don't shoot. I can feel myself shaking and I'm wondering what the hell I think I'm doing.
      Chico tells him shut up and cusses him good. I'm saying, "Let's go, man, let's get gone!" but Chico is pissed. He picks up a big chunk of cinder block and goes over to the cop's car and POW! - he cobwebs the windshield of the driver's side. I couldn't goddamn believe it.
      "Sick a gettin rousted!" he hollers. Picks up the chunk of block again and POW! - busts the other side of the windshield. The cop's still got his hands up but now his mouth's hanging open. Mine too, probly.
      POW! Chico takes out a headlight, saying, "Fuck it all!" Then the other light. Then the party lights on the roof. And all the while he's smashing up the car he's going, "Goddamn cops! Goddamn People! Goddamn Marisol, you whore!"
      Marisol's his ex. Got remarried down in the valley last year.
      Now we got sirens closing in on us from all sides like walls, but Chico doesn't even seem to hear them, he just goes on busting that cop car all to hell with the piece of cinder block, yelling, "Sick of it! Fucken sick of it!"
      Forget running. I hand the cop the piece and put my hands behind my back for him to cuff and we stand there and watch as the backups come tearing in. They see what's going down and they all go at Chico with their billies swinging. He made a fight of it for about five seconds before they coldcocked him good and gave him a bunch more for good measure.
      I drew six months on the county farm. Chico had a bunch of priors so he got eighteen months in Huntsville.
      Probably spending every day of it brooding on all the things he's sick of.
The Holdup
We hit this convenience store in El Paso just off I-1O last Thursday night nearly did us in.
      The routine went fine at first. Ramos braced the redheaded chick at the register while I watched the doors and kept the others covered. He worked smooth and fast like always, Ramos, a real pro. Red went big-eyed and said something, probably trying to bullshit Ramos about no key, a timelock, something, but we'd scoped this place good and knew better. Ramos talked to her nice and soft and she nodded and punched open the register and quick started sticking the bills in a plastic bag.
      The fat guy by the ice cream freezer was freaked but smart enough to stand fast and keep his mouth shut. So was the big Mexican momma holding a little girl against her legs. They couldn't keep their eyes off the gun. That's why I use the .44. It's a bitch to lug around and try to hide even under a loose shirt, but a cannon like that gets their complete attention and they remember it a lot better than my face.
      But there's this guy in a UTEP shirt who's had his head way in the deli cooler from the time we came in and he still doesn't know what's going down. He's already chomping on a sandwich when he turns around and catches the action. Next thing I know he's bent over and gagging and he drops down on all fours and he's making these godawful choking noises and he's turning fucken blue. All I can think is, if the sonofabitch dies we've had it. In Texas, somebody dies of anything during a felony - trips on his damn shoelace and busts his head open - it's a murder rap for the perps. We'd worked maybe fourteen-fifteen jobs together and nobody dead yet. Never had to shoot, no heart attacks on us, nothing. Now this guy.
      Ramos sees what's happening and I see his lips say shit and he quick comes over and gets busy working on the guy - who's now purple, starting to twitch, eyes rolled way up in his head, tongue bulging like you wouldn't believe. Ramos hugs him from behind and locks his hands together in the middle of the guy's chest and gives one fast hard squeeze after another. Even as I'm thinking we are royally fucked, I'm wondering where the hell he learned to do that. Everybody's watching him like it's TV.
      Suddenly a big glob of sandwich shoots out of the guy's mouth and splats against a People magazine in the rack a good ten feet away and the guy starts sucking breath like an air brake.
      Ramos runs over to the counter and grabs the money bag and we run out of there like cats with our tails on fire. I wheel the Mustang down the frontage road and onto the freeway and we're gone.
      We're halfway to Tucson when Ramos counts the take. Hundred and thirty-two bucks. Jesus, this business. I usually have me two beers every night. That night I quit counting after the first six-pack.

© James Carlos Blake

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author bio

James Carlos BlakeJames Carlos Blake was born in Mexico and raised in Texas. The most recent of his four novels is Red Grass River. His previous novel, In the Rogue Blood, received the L.A. Times Book Prize for Fiction. His short fiction has won awards and has appeared in a variety of literary journals. "La Vida Loca" appears in his recent collection Borderlands. He lives in El Paso, Texas, and DeLand, Florida.


tbr 27               november/december  2001


Suhayl Saadi - Bandanna
James Carlos Blake - La Vida Loca
Patricia Duncker - Death Before Dishonour
Chris Reid - Scorin' for Ireland
Karen Seashore - Harvest
       picks from back issues:
Dorothy Speak - The View from Here
Javier Marķas - Fewer Scruples

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