The conclusion: A Horse, A Boat and Our Own Dr. Manette
Several of us were just hanging out at Manuel’s between shifts, no one was working and we were nibbling corn chips as we sipped our beers. Samuel appeared from through the rear door leading to the kitchen. He was in a pair of overalls and had streaks of grease smeared all over him. Robert yells out to him,
“Uh-oh, sudden truck death!” Robert yells up towards the kitchen. We all laughed, who in the world ever liked working on vehicles? Samuel flips him off.
“I’ve gotta’ get up to my place, need some extra tools. Anyone want to give me a ride?” He looks round the table and no one has the slightest sympathy.
“c’m-on, guys” he pleads. I guess because I was the youngest of the bunch, all eyes rolled over to me and I turn my hands up,
“Why me?” I ask.
“’Cause you are the punk here” someone says in an affected voice that couldn’t have been more sarcastic and demeaning.
“Hell’s bells” I holler, standing up and pulling my keys out of my levis, “Let’s go.” Sam follows me out the front door. I knew where Cathedral Drive was but I wasn’t sure where Quail Hollow was, being up on the mountain somewhere. Sam had recently moved from Cathedral to Quail Hollow. Sam directed me and as we approached a tight switch back, he tells me to pull into the large turn-out just before the sharp turn. The turn-out was a really big one, for like lumber trucks. On the farthest edge from the road was a very odd thing. There was a front door standing in a jamb but there was no wall. There was a variety of diagonal struts holding the door upright. Sam had me pull right up to this strange sight. To the left of the door there was a large, hand-painted sign. But, as I walked up to read the sign, this entire contrivance came into view. The door opened inward onto a very rustic and quickly contrived foot bridge traversing a raw and steep sided ravine of considerable depth. I stepped back a few paces to read the sign once more. In essence what the sign said was something like:
“This is my front door. If I personally
do not let you enter, you are libel to
get your head blown off. You will be
breaking and entering, assaulting my
family and trespassing onto my
property. A man can lawfully
shoot ANYONE not respecting
these breaches of the law.
At the bottom of the sign was a little round door bell button. This whole deal made me smile. I turned to Sam and asked if this was some sort of joke. Sam was quite grim and said it was no joke at all, and then he told me not to make any sudden moves. He walked up to the disembodied front door and knocked on it loudly and purposefully,
“John Jacobs, hey, are you at home? John, hello, it’s your old buddy Samuel.” and he pounds on the door now, and starts jamming his finger into the door bell button. Across the steep, nasty ravine is a small framed house which seems to be about 15% from completion. We heard a distant screen door slam and we see a figure scurrying around the back of the house. Sam tells me to go back and get into the car. Boom, we hear a shot gun go off. I turn on the car’s motor. Sam signals me to kill it. The figure reappears from a small stand of scruffy trees and scampers to the far end of the foot bridge. Sam yells again, “John, calm down, its only me, Sam, take it easy.” The far figure still has the shot gun in his hand and he gingerly makes his way halfway across the funky bridge.
“Sam, I don’t recognize that car, is it really you?” This guy on the foot bridge is yelling at the door.
“Yes, John, it’s me, it is Samuel. Let me in, my truck is busted and a friend brought me up to pick up some tools. John, just let me in.” John makes it the rest of the way to the door and onto solid ground, but before he opens the door, he peeks from around it to check out the big, empty turn-out. The door opens and John and Sam mumble for a little while with this odd door standing open. John takes off back to the small house and he’s without the shot gun. Sam motions for me to come on over. Now he’s holding the gun, by its muzzle.
As I approach Sam I ask “what’s this all about?”
“Later,” Sam dismisses my question, “Stay cool, we are going to share a beer with him. Just stay very calm. This guy has cornered the market on paranoia. He’s supposed to be gone today.” We were at the front door of the house and Sam opened it. We stepped into a rather normal living room and there toys strewn across the floor. John walked into the room with a tray of glasses and three bottles of beer. He welcomed us, and apologized for the commotion but, you know, a man can’t be too careful these days. John had all the earmarks of being a neurotic paranoid but he definitely was not a total nut case. He was focused and intelligent but very, very twitchy. He asked Sam about the trouble with the truck and asked where I was from. Pretty normal small talk and then Sam and I exited out the front door we had just come in.
We didn’t proceed back to the foot bridge (which, bye the way, was made up of two huge Redwood tree trunks, very old and very big, paved with a million ancient “2 x 4s” nailed into the trees. This bridge was to be around for a very long time) but we turned up a dirt road that ran parallel to the creek that had created the ravine. After about a hundred yards we came upon a large, high thicket and Sam turned into it and pushed away some hanging vines. I peered into the leaves and realized that this thicket was actually an old shed covered with berry vines. I stepped back and saw that even the roof was choked with the vines and only one corner of it was visible from the ground. The entire building was encased in these vines.
Sam was holding open a very old screen door for me, the screen itself almost rusted to pieces and the wood frame gray with age and rotted through in places. I stepped past Sam and bam!! I thought I had turned into Alice in Worderland. The room I entered was modern, elegant, solidly built. I literally jumped back outside. Sam was doubled up giggling.
“I just love it” he sniggers, pointing at me. I step back in the doorway and it is a very well made, modern room on the inside. Sam pushes me all the way back in and I quickly tour this attractive little cottage. I knocked on the walls with my knuckles and I glared at the Bandito, as we came to call him, and simply said,
Sam had poured a slab foundation in the old shed and built this nice little cottage
snugly, right inside it. His one occupation, which needed lots of skill, was used to service his other occupation, which needed lots of “discretion” such as this camouflaged cottage.
Sam fiddled around in the kitchen for a few minutes and came back into the living room with a tray of European cheeses, specialty crackers and my favorite German beer. This new life I was leading, out off the Almaden farms was so full of extremes and unexpected surprises. It kept things interesting.
And, it was an eduction like nothing you’d ever get in a college or a university.
Over this light lunch Sam told me that John was the fall guy. I stopped midway through a sip of beer, “yeah?”
Sam explained to me that some Mexican prisons are so corrupt that if you had enough cash, you could live a half way comfortable life in them, buying TVs, stereos, even hookers, but you also had to buy protection. Mexican drug dealers really had no great liking for foreign drug dealers, and especially Gringo drug dealers (Americans). And, even if you bought protection, the protection really wasn’t all that reliable. Sam’s little entourage of business men doing illegal business never forgot about their savior’s huge sacrifice but they could only do so much. They provided for his family (a wife and two kids) and they provided as best they could for John in the prison but the real goal was to payoff enough Mexican officials to get John released. They ended up finally getting John an early release, at some great financial cost, but it was too late.
At some point he had been brutalized with such savagery that he got very twisted up. He had attempted suicide numerous times and came out of the place a raving maniac. Sam told me that John had come a long way since they first got him out of the hell hole, but he might never get his mind really right. John was a ghost of the man he was before and the shrinks that Sam and the others hired were not confident that there was enough of the former John to recover the whole man again. Only time would tell. And worse, periodically John’s wife would suffer great depressions during which times Sam and the others would have to pitch in to maintain the family’s affairs when the wife couldn’t handle it.
Sam and I sat in that hidden cottage quiet now, wondering if crime did pay, maybe it took too much of a toll to be worth the payment?
As I was writing this, a friend came up and reminded me of the one time that I really did involve myself in a smuggling operation.
Just after turning 21 I did get married to my girl friend Angela, who was 20. A bunch of our friends who were Bay Area natives organized an extended vacation to tour British Columbia, especially Vancouver and Victoria on Vancouver Island during our summer break. On our return, only about half of the original group came back to San Jose. Several couples remained in Vancouver, a few stayed in Seattle and a few more in Portland. Most everyone seemed pretty happy in their new hometowns but the folks in Vancouver had two common and specific complaints; there were no Mexican Restaurants up there and because the government of British Columbia was trying to promote its new wine producing district in the Okanagan Valley, the government liquor stores priced California wines so high as to make them unattainable. Mexican food and California wines, essentials to any red blooded Bay Areaian.
The next summer Angela and I planned another extended summer vacation but this time it would be to visit our wayward friends in the northern latitudes. It struck us that, while we couldn’t bring them a Mexican Restaurant, we could bring them a good supply of Masa Harina, the special Mexican corn meal flour used to make tortillas and other Mexican breads. But, as far as the wine goes, the British Columbia border guards wouldn’t allow California wine into their province.
However, having that insidiously criminal background that I have, we figured we could scoop out some of the Mexican corn meal and put the wine bottles in the center of the gunny sacks that held the 40 or 50 pounds of flour. For an experiment, we bought one bag of flour and two bottles of wine. We put it all together and Angela stitched the bag back up. It looked fine.
We bought two more sacks of flour and six more bottles of California wine. We installed the wine bottles into the Masa and sewed the bags shut. We put the three sacks in the back of our Volvo 544 sedan and took off for Canada. When the border guards poked around the Volvo we were both hyperventilating so hard (a result of our goodie-two-shoes stressing) we almost passed out and Angela almost peed uncontrollably, but she didn’t. As we pulled away from the border station, we both agreed that smuggling just wasn’t worth all the stress and we never tried it again.