MATAMOROS SHUFFLE • by Michael Ehart

Bullets spanged off the tarmac around our feet as we ran. Luis turned his head to shout something at me, but instead of words, a spout of blood burst from his lips, and he dove face first into the blacktop. I stumbled to a halt, and knelt beside him, but he was already dead. I paused long enough to snap the chain from around his neck, and shoved it and the medal which hung from it into my pocket.

Then I was up again, running to the plane which waited for me sputtering at the end of the Estrellitas’ private runway, bullets snapping past me through the sultry Mexican air.

I fell into the open door, and Tomas thrust the throttle forward. The plane lunged ahead, and the roar of our takeoff was punctuated by the patter of bullets as they passed through the light body of the Cessna.

We landed on a small dirt strip just a few miles north of the border. I helped Tomas push the plane into the rickety hanger and peeled off a few bills from the roll in my pocket. “Patch the holes and change the numbers. I’ll be back a little after dark.” He nodded, the heat inside the tin-roofed hanger making his pock-marked face glisten.

The bar in San Antonio was dark and cool. Vicente waited in the corner booth. I paused at the bar, and traded Luis’s one year sober medal for a drink to his memory.

“I have already heard,” Vicente smiled through capped teeth when I sat down. He spun an antique gold ten pesos coin on the table between us, his good luck piece.

I tossed back the shot of Wild Turkey and tapped the USB flash drive against the table. “All here: account numbers, passwords, all of your late uncle’s business.”

“Then all that remains is the matter of payment,” the young man said.

***

By daylight I was back across the border and landing on a small dirt strip we had prepared a few weeks before. I made sure the car we had hidden started before paying off Tomas.

The crossing back across the border was uneventful, and by mid afternoon I sat at Dyer’s desk in the Federal Building in Austin, sipping his fine single malt scotch.

“I’m sorry about Luis. He was a good man,” Dyer said.

“Not that good.” We both grinned.

“Hell of a way to end a career.” Dyer poked his finger at my gun and badge, which lay on the desk between us.

“Retirement comes to all of us. Yours will be soon enough. Do like I did, get some time in the field before they put you out to pasture.”

“Too exciting for me. You just barely got out before the shooting started. Reports are that someone gunned down Eduardo Estrellita and his whole family and burnt down the villa. The Federales think it might have been a rival trafficante family. They must have gotten Luis at the same time.”

“Yeah, I missed all that. Was in Monterrey saying goodbye to Mexico, busy changing my trail just in case. Estrellita was a nasty piece of work, didn’t want my cover blown and him coming after me.”

“Well, whoever it was, they got Vicente, too. Left him propped in his booth at the Faro Bar in San Antonio, shot in the groin and left to bleed out.”

“Well, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.” I tipped back my drink and stood.

“Too bad your last case was such a bust. It would have been nice to have gotten some convictions. As it is, another family will just take over at the top.” Dyer shook his head and smiled. “Gonna move up to your cabin in Montana? I hear it’s cheap to live there, a great spot for a guy on a government pension.”

“I might. Been thinking about the islands, though. I’ve put a little away, made some investments.” I rubbed the USB flash drive in my pocket.

As we shook hands my thoughts went to the antique gold ten-peso coin in my other pocket. It already was luckier for me than it had been for Vicente.


Michael Ehart‘s new fantasy novel The Tears of Ishtar has just been released. His personal modesty precludes boasting of his protean genius, dashing good looks and pleasant singing voice, which is, come to think of it, just another example of what a great fellow he is. He lives in the upper left hand corner of the US, where he dabbles in competitive brain surgery and is learning to dance like Tony Danza.


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Every Day Fiction

  • JB

    Forgive me, for I may be a troglodyte. I probably am because for the life of me I can’t pinpoint exactly why this piece falls short. It just does. Maybe there’s very little reward for reading it. The ultimate discovery of protag being a dirty cop isn’t exactly all that twisty if it was supposed to be a twist ending.

    Maybe there’s not enough internal conflict…I mean to protag everything went according to plan. He was like a robot following his blueprint without error. Maybe his heart skipped a few beats running from bullet spray in the beginning but the way it reads it seems like the standard day at the job for him, like stepping out to grab a no whip soy latte.

    There’s no real dilemma here, even the part about him being a bad cop isn’t all that bad because he took out drug dealers and shady characters…it’s hard to see the moral gray in that even if it isn’t legal to kill and not apprehend.

    All things considered, it wasn’t a bad story. It just wasn’t something outside of what’s been done and had very little to offer because it fits the mold so well. This seems like the beginning and the end of an action movie that I’ve seen a few times…like the flash synopsis of “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”

  • Bob

    This sentence struck me as over-written: “He nodded, the heat inside the tin-roofed hanger making his pock-marked face glisten.”

    Other than that, this was well-written from a technical sense. Story-wise, everything that JB said.

  • I enjoyed it and didn’t see a problem with the story. The twist at the end is that the cop’s moral barometer is off the charts for the “dark side” and he realizes that a life of crime may not be so bad if you get what you want in the end. So what happens next? Maybe he dies a violent death without meaning? Or live happily every after?

    Well done.

    Luana

  • I guess I’ll have to read it again, but I don’t have time now.

  • I like this story a lot. It’s like watching a movie, I’m there the whole time seeing what the author wants me to see. It unfolds to reveal an ending that is both satisfying and sinister in its moral compass. I like the subtly of the structure, that we don’t know if the character is good or bad until the end. It’s a nice double twist. I actuallyl ove this sentence : “He nodded, the heat inside the tin-roofed hanger making his pock-marked face glisten.” It’s clear, visual, and straight forward.

  • Oh, and for my money, there’s one hell of a story arc for flash.

  • I have to agree with JB and Bob. I think the problem with the story is that it has been told a thousand times by Hollywood a thousand different ways with thousands of bit actors. It’s the B-side of a B-movie. The root of the story was someone wanting what someone else had and was willing to kill to get it. Nothing new here.

  • Taut writing–and I liked it. But while there’s action, I don’t see any conflict. It’s a caper that comes off according to plan. So?

  • Gustavo

    Devious. Liked it!

  • Jen

    I loved the action in the first part of this story, it caught my attention immediatly. However, I didn’t understand that the main character was a dirty cop until it was pointed out in the comments. Something is definitly missing in this story, that I couldn’t understand that.

  • Spanged. God, I love that word. 😉

    The beauty of this story is in the telling. There is an artistry of language here that few writers match.

    And I must say that I like the notion of a “crime pays” ending. Say what you will, but so few of the movies that were alluded to in the comments have the courage not to give us a phony “crime doesn’t pay” moral.

    Nice job, Michael.

  • Nice one, Michael. I spent a couple of years hopping the border into Matamoros. Love that place.

    I like your bandit cop.

  • Anne Marie

    Great writing. Lots of suspense. But something is missing. Why is he a dirty cop? I understand that being a dirty cop is revealed at the end, but why is he one? Has he always been one? One final sentence as he tosses the Lucky Gold Coin could resolve that question. “You killed my partner of 20 years and thought I didn’t know it was you.” Something!

  • I think it’s just a lot for a few words. I generally liked it.

  • Renee

    I agree wholeheartedly with the first comment.
    It was a good story, but fell short.
    The twist was really not too twisty at all.
    I wasn’t crazy about it.

  • Jorta

    The story was ruined for me by its impossible geography. If the plane landed a few miles north of the border (to me, ‘a few’ is somewhere between 3 & 10 miles or so), and the narrator said he’d be back a little after dark, he could never have walked or even been taxied to a San Antonio bar. San Antonio is about a five-hour drive from Matamoros! Somehow he manages to rendezvous back at the hangar by next daylight (more realistic timing, but how is he traveling?)… and they go to the hidden car which for some reason is back in Mexico. What was the point of the Stateside overnight hangar stop if they had to go right back to Mexico for the car? Then another amazingly fast trip to Austin, which is another 1.5 hours past S.A., for the final meeting. The mixed-up travel and time frames detracted so much from the story that the plot hardly mattered. With all due respect from a Texan who lives in the above-mentioned vicinity, I recommend more research, even for flash writing. It gives credulity to the tale.