Juan or Juanito as his mama and papa called him was 15 years old. Most boys his age were in school worried about homework or tests that teachers dreamed up to keep their students busy. Some boys his age would bury their noses in TV or video games for hours on end, but Juanito wasn’t most boys. His family was poor. You might even say they set the standard for how to rate poor.
Juanito had enough education to enable himself to read, write and cipher. He had completed 5th grade, but that’s where his education stopped. Still, his father only went to the 3rd and his mother never even got in through the door of a school.
Juanito’s dad was a fisherman. They lived in a small village on the leeward coast of Baja California. Juanito and his Father would start their day at 3:30 in the morning, each day, 7 days a week. They would walk a mile and a half to the coast where his dad’s boat was kept. It was a shabby thing always upside down to keep rain water out. But, to Juanito and his father, it was the Queen Mary. Before Juanito joined, his father would right the boat by himself, now the task was easier because Juanito was there to help. After the boat was upright, Juanito’s dad set about readying the nets they would need for the days fishing. All-in-all the job took about an hour and a half to complete, much faster now with Juanito to help.
When all was ready, they pushed off and rowed to near the center of the Gulf of California where Juanito’s dad dropped his nets. They were there to fish for giant squid. The squid would come to the surface or near the surface to feed and mate. Then, as morning came on the squid would return to the depths. Juanito’s father would tell him they were going home to take care of their children. Still, while they were near the surface Juanito and his father were busy.
Juanito developed a very serious respect for the squid. When he was 10 years old, he turned his back to a freshly caught squid. It was far from dead and got its tentacles around his leg. Before his father could free his son, the squid was able to seriously injure the boy. To this day he carries the scar and walks with a slight limp. Juanito vowed to never repeat the mistake. Now he pins the squid to the deck and drives a knife into the squid’s body between its eyes.
Juanito and his father worked as long as it took to get a respectful catch. Their small boat didn’t hold a large load, but for them it was a good night’s work. When they reached their limit, they rowed to the resorts where they sold the squid for calamari. Then and only then, it was home to dinner and bed and start it all over. The average day was from 3:30 am to after 8 pm. what a life, right?
Juanito did have some time to himself. Those times were few and far between, but they were there. On one of those rare days Juanito and his dog Peppy were walking through a growth of banana palms to the beach. As he cleared the low fronds, he saw a shape in the surf that startled him. He stopped in his tracks. He was looking at a body rolling in the surf near a beached mini-sub. Slowly, he approached the body. It was laying face down and, even for his age, he knew the guy was dead. He climbed on to the hull of the sub and looked over the top of the conning tower. He saw a hatch and noticed it was open. He also noted a strange smell that made him cough violently. He fell more than climbed back to the beach.
Peppy, a Chihuahua mix who has the heart of a lion and the body of a rat, loved Juanito. But now he was sniffing at the body, and barking at something he saw coming around the coast about a mile away. Juanito gulped air clearing his lungs. He got back to peppy and picked him up trying to calm him and stop his barking. They made it to the banana palms and hid. Peppy seemed to know that this was the time to be quiet, so they both lay there watching the power boat as it ran aground near the bow of the mini-sub. There were three men in the boat. Two got out and tied a line to a cleat on the fore deck while the third checked out the sub. Just like Juanito, when he looked over the top of the conning tower he began to cough violently. He cleared his lungs and holding his breath he sealed the hatch. The three then recovered the body and placed it in the boat.
Once all was ready, they all pushed the sub back into the surf and started the motor on the boat. They wheeled around and motored into the gulf.
Juan lay where he was for what seemed an eternity. He had to make sure he wasn’t seen. He didn’t know anything about these men, but he knew they were bad.
He took one last look and decided it was now safe. He and peppy stood and ran for home. He had to tell his papa what he had seen. What Juanito didn’t see was the man that slipped out of the boat and swam to shore out of sight of Juanito and peppy. Juanito hadn’t seen him, but he had seen Juanito. He walked through the jungle until he picked up the trail to the village. Staying out of sight he followed Juanito home.
“Juanito my son,” Juanito’s father said. “you look as if the devil himself were chasing you. What is wrong my boy,” asked his dad.
“Father, on the beach, I saw a dead man!”
“A dead man?”
“How can you be so sure?”
“He was face down in the water. He only moved in the waves. He was dead!”
“Take me there. We must see if there is anything we can do to help.”
“There is nothing we can do,” and Juanito revealed all the details. He was like a bottle of water with the stopper removed. His story flowed like the water from that bottle.
“My son,” said Juanito’s father, “you must tell no one about this. They are very bad men and will kill you if they find out you were there.”
“Shouldn’t we tell the police?” asked Juanito.
“No, my boy we don’t know who could be trusted,” said his father.
“I can tell mama, no?”
“No especially not mama.”
Just then, stepping out of the shadows, was the third man. He said, “your father is right.”
Juanito and his father were stunned into silence. Both looked at the man without a word in response. The man stepped closer to Juanito’s father as he sat on a wooden box with his net across his legs. Fear stricken he just sat. the man reached down and took the fisherman by the collar and pulled him to his feet. He then looked at Juanito and said, “let me show you what your dad is talking about.” Without a word of warning he made a fist and hit Juanito’s dad in the face. Blood spurted from his nose, and he sagged to his knees. Juanito moved to defend his dad but was met with a back hand to the face knocking him on his butt next to where his dad was sitting. He shook his head trying to clear the stars from his mind. On the ground next to him Juanito saw his father’s fee laying knife. He scooped it up and curled his wrist to hide the blade. The man turned his attention to Juanito’s father again. He clinched his fist once more and began to strike. Moving quickly, Juanito plunged the knife into the man’s upper leg. The man screamed like a little girl and released Juanito’s dad.
The man said, “this isn’t over!”
Juanito, still holding the knife in his hand, said, “yes, it is. Come back and I’ll kill you!”
The man hobbled off looking back over his shoulder at Juanito and his father. “Juanito I am afraid we haven’t seen the last of him.” In Juanito’s heart he was hoping his father was wrong, but he knew better.
The next day was like all the days before. At 3:30 Juanito and his father were up and walking to the coast. They were shocked to find their boat destroyed and their nets in tatters. Juanito’s father said, “we must get home now!” They ran all the way. As they drew near the house Juanito heard soft moaning coming from inside. In the main room lie Juanito’s mother, her leg had been broken. Without a word Juanito took off for the doctor who lived in the village.
The doctor, the only one with a car, drove Juanito back home. He gave Juanito’s mother something for the pain. Then he set her leg as best he could for such primitive conditions. She would need at least a week in bed before she’d be able to walk using crutches. She would be fine but it would take months before she was anywhere near well.
Juanito and his father looked after mama and treated her like a queen. They catered to her every need. She was made as comfortable as poor people are allowed. Mama and papa went to bed early. Juanito, however, waited until they were sleeping and then snuck outside to watch. He hid in the bushes with his dad’s oar for defense. It was well past midnight when he heard foot steps on the gravel path leading to the front of the house. The moon was full and Juanito could see the man clearly. He was carrying a gun.
Juanito was dressed in his dark fishing clothes, not his white church clothes. The Dark clothes didn’t reflect light and he was hard to see. Quietly, he crept up behind the man with the gun. Without warning he swung the oar. Juanito swung as hard as he could. He didn’t want the man unconscious, he wanted him dead. The oar hit the man’s head with a loud crack. His head split open like a ripe melon and he fell to the ground. His head was framed by a pool of expanding blood. Juanito picked up the man’s gun and found two full magazines on his belt. Juanito then went back to his hiding place to wait for the others to come looking for this one.
It wasn’t long before Juanito heard more foot steps on the path. Now he could see two more men, one Walking with a limp. Juanito knew who this one was. Both men carried guns. They stopped only for a moment when they saw their friend on the ground. They moved closer. The one man with good legs began to turn when he heard Juanito in the bushes. There was a loud explosion and a bright flash of light and he fell dead next to the first man on the ground.
The man with a limp raised his hands above his head but still held the gun. Juanito said, “stop right there! Put the gun on the ground. Do it now!”
“Juanito?” asked the man with a limp. “Is that you?”
“NO! Juanito is the boy. I am Juan the man.” There was another loud explosion and a bright flash of light followed by the scream of a little girl. When his eyes cleared and he could see by the moon light the man with a limp was clutching his once good leg trying to stem the flow of blood. The bullet crashed into his knee. He would never walk on it again. “Now you listen to me, and hear me good! If you ever hurt my mama or papa again you will wish that I had killed you tonight!”
To the reader: I know how I want the story to end, but I am leaving that up to you. How do you feel about Juanito?