Dark Denim

03/21/24

We’d gotten across the border with no problem. Patrol was lazy, as I’d barely been patted down. My assistant, they left her alone completely. I think age and beauty had something to do with it. Me in my seventies and her an intimidating sight you’d more likely see on canvas than walking down a street. We didn’t fit the role, didn’t look the type. No smugglers here. We were two simple Americans whistling at the clouds. Naive tourists. That was the suit we wore into Mexico.

But smugglers we were. Of a sort. 

I’d had a good pound of antibiotics hidden away in my carryon. The village–our destination and living quarters for the next two weeks–was riddled with infection. Name the worm, they had it. Most were simple fixes, if only they had the means. That’s where I came in. I was there to heal. Offering a course of amoxicillin to stop a staph that’s reared its ugly head. Innocent medical treatment. But across the border, the powers that be see black and white. No gray areas. Sticklers for rules. If the law says to come with empty pockets, they mean it. The border doesn’t care if you’re lugging fresh water for the pipelines. Breaking the rules is a kick to the pride, way they see it.

So we stayed there for two weeks administering, healing. No running water in the village. No electricity. We slept on the disemboweled seats of an old Dodge van that sat on the dirt under the dying roof made from brittle palms, getting a glimpse of the moon through the more decrepit spots. That voyeur. 

It’s hard to say how many lives we saved those fourteen days, keeping an army of hearts beating through infections that would have been stopped early on from a simple tube of over-the-counter ointment back in the US of A. It’s shit like that you realize just how much we take for granted, when a four-year-old kid can do the same kind of magic we’d done, if only the patient lived in the states. Or hell, a hundred miles north. 

Madeline had worked for me going on two years. She was fresh out of college, went to Ferris State. Same college I spent too many hours accruing a debt I wouldn’t pay for three times the hours spent digging that hole. But it was a hole worth digging, even if just for those two weeks nearly fifty years later.

Turns out, the border going out wasn’t quite as lazy as the one going in. This patrol worked on a belly full of Wheaties, a sixth sense, and pure paranoia. They were scared kids, quite sure there was a monster under every bed. 

And so they’d look. 

They lifted every sheet, dusted away every bunny, and shot flashlight beams into every crack. 

What I didn’t realize, was Madeline’s wonder for pharmaceuticals went beyond how they helped. It spread to how they tore down, and just how many narcotics could fit inside her. I knew none of this.

Until the barking Sheperd sniffed her at crotch and her face went sickly pale. 

Sweat popped from her pores–a sponge being squeezed. And her breath hitched in chaotic patterns like a cramped swimmer drowning. It spoke a language I hadn’t heard before. A confession I never expected. Not from Madeline, with all her Ferris State debt and dreams of healing.

Before she even unbuttoned her pants at the insistence of Patrol, the denim was soaked in urine that smelled like guilt.

~ fin ~

chadlutzke

Full-time family man, artist, musician, and ferret owner with twenty books under his belt, Chad Lutzke dips his toe into all things dark: Crime, thrillers, noir, slice-of-life and horror, every one smothered in heartache with the occasional sliver of hope. Some of his books include: OF FOSTER HOMES & FLIES, STIRRING THE SHEETS, THE PALE WHITE, SKULLFACE BOY, THE SAME DEEP WATER AS YOU, THREE-SMILE MILE, and THE NEON OWL series. Lutzke’s work has been praised by authors Jack Ketchum, Richard Chizmar, Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen Graham Jones, Tim Waggoner, and his own mother.  He can be found lurking the internet at www.chadlutzke.com