Published in Snake Nation Review (Valdosta, Georgia), Issue 19, 2004
A Short Story by Cindy Fazzi
“My name is Domingo.” Those were my exact words when I first approached her at the Greyhound bus station on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh. The lights were dim. It was almost midnight. She answered with a big yawn.
“Or you can call me Sunday,” I added. We were standing at gate 16. The few passengers who disembarked with her were all over the place, like ants after being stepped on, going this way and that way.
I felt ridiculous then, calling myself Sunday. It was a nickname given to me by my American friends, those who thought Domingo was too ethnic, too hard to pronounce, or remember, whatever. I felt ridiculous because I’m about as “ethnic” as anyone could ever get. Even the word “Sunday” slipped out of my mouth as Sahn-dee in my heavy Filipino accent. My skin is the color of burnt rice. My longish hair is black and coarse; only an extra-super-hold styling gel could tame it. My nose, forget about my nose. It’s just two holes in my flat face. Who was I kidding?
She looked me up and down lazily. She was 22. She was tall for a Filipino woman, about 5’7” or 5’8”. White as cream cheese, fine brown hair, big brown eyes, her face the shape of a heart. She didn’t look like a Filipino at all, certainly not an illegal alien. Her name didn’t even sound Filipino. Monica Reed.
“Kumusta ka?” How are you, I asked in Tagalog.
She nodded, perhaps mentally confirming her guess that I’m Filipino. “Mabuti.” Fine, came the reply. “Is Sunday supposed to be the English translation of your name?”
“It’s stupid,” I conceded with a smirk. “That’s what they call me in this country. Leave it to Americans to Americanize everything, even a Filipino name.” She just smiled. We spoke in Tagalog and there’s nothing more comforting than the sound of my native tongue.
“How about you, what’s your name?” I said.
Her lingering smile dropped. A glint of suspicion in her wide eyes. Shit, I thought. But I had to make sure I had the right subject. Any professional worth his salt would not jump the gun by mere description.
“How do you know?” she said.
“I’m a bail enforcement agent.” I flashed an ID and a badge―both fake―for good measure.
“A bounty hunter?”
I hate when somebody says that. I mean, I’m a professional and I don’t want to be called a hunter of anything. “I happen to know that you’re illegal. I have the authority to arrest you and bring you over to INS. Since your current address is in New York City, that’s where I intend to surrender you, to the INS office there.”
That was good; it sounded official. Of course, I was only bluffing. I knew nothing about Monica or her immigration status. My authority was as real as the store-bought badge I carried. “Please follow me. I don’t want to have to force you to come with me.”
Monica looked down at her brown moccasins. Even with the flat shoes, she stood a good two inches taller than me. She wore a pair of old jeans and a striped tank top underneath a gray cardigan. When she finally looked up, I knew right away that she was illegal. She had the same guilty look I’ve seen in other illegal aliens. They all looked at me apologetically, like they were sorry just to be taking up the space in front of me. If it were a Caribbean dope dealer or a gun-toting Chinese who bore that kind of facial expression, I’d be feeling pretty smug. But it was different. Monica Reed was as harmless as a piece of bread, and as beautiful as a movie star not yet discovered by Hollywood.
“Do you have any bags?” I asked.
“No, this is all I’ve got.” What she had was a black leather pocket book and a canvas tote.
Monica followed me like a scared child. Absolutely no resistance or questions. She was too easy a subject for me. It made me a little nervous. This is only a sideline, I reminded myself, so I don’t need a challenge.
I was in Pittsburgh because I was looking for a Caribbean dope dealer who was a no-show at his deportation hearing back in Newark. The son of a bitch got away, flying back to New Jersey an hour before I got to his motel. My associates―I work with other bounty hunters when necessary―were going to take care of the bastard at Newark Airport.
I was on my way back to New York when I got an unexpected call from a buddy, a veteran named Cutter, who told me he had a job for me. A retired Air Force general was apparently being harassed by a young mestiza, a half-breed Filipino woman, who claimed to be the general’s daughter. The young woman showed up at the general’s doorstep in Ohio causing all sorts of trouble. The general’s name was Leonard Reed and the woman in question was Monica Reed. The general was supposed to be highly respected, highly decorated, and in the running for CIA director or something. Frankly, I’ve never heard of the name before, but I’m no reader of the New York Times, so what do I know?
I have no goddamned daughter in any goddamned Third World country. I haven’t set foot in that godforsaken country in God-knows-how-long. She has no right to call herself a Reed, goddamn it! The general almost busted my eardrums with his screaming during our brief phone conversation. To make a long story short, he offered me $5,000 if I could facilitate the deportation of the “blackmailing Filipino bitch.”
He suspected, correctly as it turned out, that Monica was an overstaying tourist. He was aware that I specialized in catching illegal aliens. Did I have any qualms hunting down one of my own, the general had asked. “Qualms?” I said. “I eat qualms!” He chuckled and went on to praise my skills, my reputation as a professional, blah-blah-blah. I was beginning to wonder what Cutter had told Leonard Reed and how much he was getting out of the deal. Nevertheless, the general’s offer was generous, the job a piece of cake. I was already in Pittsburgh and the Filipino woman’s bus was expected to make a stop in the same city. So, what the hell.
I opened the door of my black Camaro for her. “Monica, don’t be scared,” I said. “Nobody’s going to hurt you.”
She ducked inside, saying: “I’m not scared. Just feeling a little sorry for myself. I don’t know how I got to this point, you know.”
I slid into the driver’s seat and started the car. “Well, how did you get to this point? What are you doing in this country?”
“I came as a tourist, but I’m really here to find my father. My visa expired last month.”
I said nothing, just maneuvered my car out of a tight spot between a pick-up truck and a station wagon on Penn Avenue, across the bus station. The temperature must have dropped considerably; the inside of the car felt like a freezer. I cranked up the heater as we rolled onto the quiet streets of Pittsburgh. I was trying to think of the best way to explain to Monica my plan, which was: to drive back to the Big Apple, deliver her to the INS, get some zzzs, and work out in the gym. It was all very simple.
“I did find him,” Monica continued. “I also found out he’s the biggest jerk in the world.”
I still said nothing. I glanced at the rearview mirror; nobody behind us. The silence made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t know what to say. I’m not an idiot. I know that by picking up Monica, I was risking the possibility of a big-time civil rights lawsuit. Although anybody could report an illegal alien to the authorities, grabbing one―especially someone like Monica who was not a convicted criminal―was something else. There’s a reason why I know very little about the ACLU; my work has always been clean and by the book.
Normally I would track down criminal illegal aliens. Usually it has something to do with drugs or guns or theft. I rarely get murderers or rapists. But that doesn’t prevent me from keeping a .38-caliber underneath my car seat. You never know what illegal aliens would do when they are suddenly reminded of what awaits them in their countries.
Anyway, usually the scumbags first get arrested by the cops, then their illegal asses sit in jail for a while, then they get to face a judge. When they’re released to the custody of the INS, they usually find a way to post a bond. After that, the disappearing acts begin. Houdini would pale in comparison to a desperate illegal alien with a mile-long rap sheet. That’s when men like me who work for bail bonds agencies come in. The illegal Houdinis usually never get very far. I’m a recent immigrant myself, so I still think like they do, like someone who doesn’t belong in this country. That’s my edge. I know all their hiding places. I could sniff them and spot them anywhere.
Monica’s case was definitely different. There was no court order, no deportation notice, not even a letter from the stinking INS. Although she was violating immigration law, there was no case against her. The government didn’t even know she existed.
But I was pretty sure that my contacts at the INS would not mind my aggressive “reporting” techniques. They better not because I’ve done those lazy bums a number of favors over the years. I’ve made their lives so much easier by delivering illegal aliens right to their offices. I have saved them thousands of dollars, not to mention countless man-hours. They’re usually more than glad to process my fugitives as long as I don’t interrupt their lunch break or the occasional office party. More often than not, they smile and high-five me when they see me come in with an illegal alien. “Sunday, you’re the man!” they would say. It’s their way of thanking me. “Hey, no sweat, we’ll do it again,” I would reply.
I drove through a tunnel and on to I-376, which led to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Then I followed the sign for I-76 East. The whole time, I felt Monica eyeing me from the corner of her eyes: studying my face, my black leather jacket, and my Dockers khakis. I felt my heart start to pound, just a little. My face grew hot. If I were fair-skinned like Monica, I would have been blushing furiously. I hate to admit this, but it was the kind of feeling I get when I sense the prospect of a romance, or the possibility of a sexual encounter. No shit, I thought. I’m 30 years old and I’ve been single for so long that I don’t even know how much a condom costs nowadays. I was pathetic. No fucking shit.
She broke the silence, saying: “How come the police didn’t arrest me? How come you’re arresting me? How did you even know where I was?”
Bingo! She got me there. Her eyes were alert, no longer apologetic. Whatever romantic feelings or sexual thoughts I was entertaining evaporated.
“Your old man,” I said.
“What?” She looked puzzled.
“The general. He asked me to find you. He wants you out of his country.”
Monica grimaced like I just hit her in the gut. She turned her head away from me. I was not prepared for what followed. The guttural sounds, the fists pounding her lap, the tears flowing like a faucet, the snot bubbling in her nose, the sobs that made her shoulders rock uncontrollably. I have never seen anybody weep like that. It was raw pain.
I didn’t know the whole story about Monica and the general, but I think I have a pretty good idea. I imagined an American general, someone as handsome and as powerful as, let’s say, MacArthur. Before he got the top rank, Leonard Reed was probably assigned to a U.S. military base in the Philippines. He was probably lonely, so far away from home. Then he met a young Filipino woman with honey-brown skin, silky black hair that bounced off her smooth shoulders, and a sultry smile that teased him. But the woman was poor, young, uneducated, and spoke broken English. She was not exactly a wife material. Well, those reasons were not good enough to stop the handsome officer from having his fun with the little brown woman. Obviously, Leonard Reed was no MacArhur. The son of a bitch left the country and never returned.
Twenty-two years later, a mestiza came knocking on his door. He looked her in the eye and saw himself. The same light brown eyes, the same white skin, the same good looks. So he decided to let a bounty hunter get rid of this painful, living reminder of a mistake he’d committed so long ago, so far away.
My first impulse was to stop the car and comfort Monica. But I didn’t. I’m glad of that because it would have been too mushy, totally not my style. My next impulse was even worse. I wanted to ask her to marry me. Me—a naturalized American citizen—so she would be illegal no more. Again, my senses saved me. I’m grateful for that because it would have been downright bizarre. Still, the weeping figure and the unbroken silence made me uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I bit my lower lip till it hurt. Wrong! A bail enforcement agent must never apologize or sympathize with an illegal alien, must never show any weakness. She was illegal and in trouble, I wasn’t. That was how the game was played. Without any
real authority, it was the only way I was able to maintain my confidence. I know that. But my feelings at that moment were not in sync with my knowledge and my experience as a bounty hunter. I really hate that term. But, OK, that’s what I am, a bounty hunter.
She remained quiet. For all of my mental wrangling about the inappropriateness of my sympathy, it seemed to be no big deal at all. She didn’t care one way or another. That was just cool by me.
“Do you know how I became a bounty hunter?” I said.
Her hands covered her teary face, but she was listening. She shook her head.
“I saw this movie, the one with Robert De Niro playing a bounty hunter. Midnight Run. Heard of it?”
“I saw that movie back in Manila about ten times. Then when I came to this country, I watched it in videotape ten more times. I wanted to be like De Niro. I liked the way he dodged bullets and eluded everyone trailing him. The way he risked his life to protect his fugitive. Even the way he wore his black leather jacket.”
I saw her hands fall on her lap. The last sentence made her smile. She sniffled, wiped her nose with the sleeve of her sweater. What I didn’t tell her was that back in the Philippines, I was a college student who didn’t always dream of becoming a bounty hunter. I was a business major, a videotape bootlegger, and a stevedore. I juggled school and two jobs that didn’t pay enough to support myself and my mother. Eventually I got tired of loading and unloading fish in Manila’s filthy pier. I was sick of running away from dirty cops who wanted to confiscate my Betamax videotapes because they couldn’t stand competition. I finally agreed to my mother’s plan. She married an ailing American man, who needed not so much a wife but a maid and a nurse, so we both could immigrate to the great U-S-of-A. That’s the little story behind this bounty hunter’s life.
“You made a career choice because of a movie?” Her question startled me. I expected her to continue sobbing.
“That movie sucked!” And then I heard her laugh for the first time, crisp and uninhibited. “No offense, but…,” her voice trailed off.
“That’s okay. Hey, you’re not crying anymore.”
“Nope,” she said, still sniffling. I turned on the car radio and adjusted the volume. It was the late Freddie Mercury, wailing and hitting a high note. Love of my life…You’ve hurt me…You’ve broken my heart and now you leave me…Love of my life can’t you seeee? Great, I thought. Just the perfect song to remind me that I have no love in my life.
“What should I do?” she said out of the blue.
“About everything. INS, my life, everything.”
“You’re asking me?” I said lamely.
Did it mean she trusted me? Me, the mercenary hired by her high-and-mighty white father? I said: “You could appeal.”
“Sure, to drag the deportation process. I see it all the time. But, and this is a big but, they will probably kick you out eventually.”
She looked away again, at the darkness outside, at the vast nothingness of the future that lay ahead. My Camaro glided smoothly at 70 miles per hour on a deserted highway. I cleared my throat for lack of anything to say. Freddie Mercury was still lamenting the loss of his love. I was suddenly reminded that poor Freddie had died of AIDS, perhaps from too much love, or no love at all. I don’t know why, but it made my skin crawl. The sudden thought of death spooked the hell out of me. I stepped on the gas. Signs on the poorly lit highway became a blur as my Camaro zipped by. But I do remember a particular sign: Irwin, Pennsylvania. And just like that, I got off the highway and drove about a mile before I spotted a Shell gas station, its neon sign announcing “Open 24 Hours.”
Monica glanced at me, wondering what was going on. I pulled over at the gas station, where a white minivan was gassing up. Monica said: “Can I go to the rest room?” Her hair was tousled, her eyes red and puffy, but her face was soft as the rising dawn.
“Monica, malaya ka na.” You are free, I said. I kept the engine humming.
“Go before I change my mind.” I stared at the steering wheel, then the gas pump, the pay phone booth, anything but her heart-shaped face. I rolled down my window and got a whiff of gas from the minivan, a smell so powerful and satisfying. I was afraid I’d get high just sitting there.
The minivan drove around us to get to the exit lane. Now the place was empty, except for the gas attendant watching TV inside the convenience store.
“Domingo,” she said again. I wished she would just get out. When I didn’t answer, didn’t even look at her, she finally got it. We were strangers who happened to speak the same language. There was no need to say thank you, or explain, or exchange phone numbers. I heard her grab the canvas tote from the back seat, then unlock the car door. She got out and walked toward the pay phone tentatively. She looked stunned, like a puppy suddenly abandoned. She looked back once; I immediately withdrew my glance. I gunned the engine and left. Actually, I fled like a madman.
After I had driven about an hour from Irwin, Pennsylvania, I started to process what I’d just done. I let an illegal alien slip. I broke my word to the general and possibly ruined my friendship with Cutter. I’d be the butt of jokes within my circle of bounty hunters and assorted characters of cops, private investigators, and INS agents. Not to mention that I’d just blown a chance to earn five grand.
There were more cars and trucks on the highway by then. But there was only static from the car radio. My mouth was dry and my empty stomach growled. I wished I had a bottle of water in the car. The horizon was beginning to glow, pinkish at first, then becoming bright orange as the morning sun broke out. I could do nothing, but sigh.
I’m not one to look back. I don’t believe in collecting regrets like little souvenirs. I did what I did back in Irwin, Pennsylvania, because it made sense. That’s pretty much the philosophy of my life. I want no complications, no guilty conscience, no pining, or whining, or second-guessing.
I tried to remember what my man, Robert De Niro, did at the end of Midnight Run. Aha! It made me smile. He did exactly what I did: set someone free. That made me feel better. Now, I can concentrate on my next subject, an illegal alien from the Dominican Republic who has been convicted of smuggling guns and explosives. This should be interesting. I don’t see myself letting this one go.
Copyright © 2004 by Cindy Fazzi. All Rights Reserved.