By Christian Laforet
Jeff counted them as he pulled into line. Ten cars waited in front of him to pass through American customs into Detroit.
Like a lot of people from Windsor, Jeff crossed the border often. With the American dollar being close to par with the Canadian, he would make the trip once or twice a month to take advantage of the lower prices. He was never nervous speaking to the American customs officers. He usually had nothing to hide. This time though, Jeff was crossing the border with fifty kilos of cocaine hidden in the trunk.
Mark nudged him from the passenger seat. “You think we’ll get across?”
Jeff glared at the man. Mark, at one time, had been Jeff’s best friend, but different life choices had left them more like close acquaintances. Where Jeff had been content to stick to smoking weed and playing video games, Mark had become a small time drug dealer with a big time drug habit.
“I wouldn’t have agreed to do this if I thought we’d get caught,” Jeff said. “Besides, it’s a bit late to back out now.”
That fact sank in for Mark, causing him to shift uncomfortably in his seat. As if to emphasize the fact there was no backing out, the line of cars moved one space closer to the customs booth.
Jeff turned towards Mark. “Are you sure you can do this?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m cool, okay? I’m just really fuckin’ scared, man.”
Jeff squeezed the steering wheel tight before relaxing his hands. He hated waiting. His mind alternated as fast as his grasp, flipping between pure alarming regret and nervous excitement over what success would mean. If he could just get his car through customs, both he and Mark would be getting paid a lot of money.
He had been working at Fresh Choppers since he graduated high school. Eight years of stocking shelves and taking shit, and he had nothing to show for it. When Mark approached him with a chance to make fifty grand, Jeff couldn’t turn it down. Mark’s dealer had scored a huge amount of cocaine, and needed it moved across the border. Windsor didn’t have the kind clientele who could pony up the million bucks for the stuff that Detroit did.
The next three cars passed through quick. Jeff was getting a good feeling about the lane he had chosen, the agent was letting people go without too close an inspection. He let himself think past the next ten minutes and what the future held.
“So, what are you gonna to do with the money?” Jeff asked.
Mark scratched his head. “Shit man, I don’t know. Move? I fuckin’ hate it here. When I was a kid, my grandparents took me to BC. It was so nice—trees and mountains an’ shit. I might move there.”
“I hear ya.” Jeff smiled.
He knew that Mark wasn’t going anywhere. The fact was, Mark would likely shove all that money right up his nose, or into his veins.
“What about you?” Mark asked.
Jeff thought about it for a second. “Well…I’m probably going to pay my rent ahead for the next year, and then I’m going to go into work and tell my boss to suck my dick.”
Mark let out a wild laugh.
“Then, I think I’m going to go back to school. There’s a few programs at the college that I could probably get into.”
Mark nodded thoughtfully. Jeff felt for a second the man was going to say something, but after a moment, Mark turned away to face the cars in front of them. There was really nothing else to say anyway. Once they got past customs they could talk all they wanted.
Two more cars passed through without a problem. Jeff figured there was about forty meters between them and freedom.
He hadn’t really thought about what he would do if he got caught. It sounded stupid, but he figured there wouldn’t be much use thinking about it. Now that they were so close though, images kept flashing across his brain. He imagined getting hauled into the customs building as a group of agents tore through the car. The police would come and take Mark and him to the police station. He wondered if he would be sent to an American jail or if they would ship him back across the border. He felt like if he had to go to jail, it would be better to do so in Canada. His parents would get a phone call. They would freak-out — especially his mom, who felt that her boy could do no wrong. Jeff shook his head. He couldn’t get distracted by what might happen. He needed to take things as they came.
In front of them, the black and yellow striped gate at the edge of the lane lowered. At first, Jeff didn’t give it much thought. He’d crossed the border enough times to know that the gates came down quite frequently for various reasons. It wasn’t until the rest of the gates across all the lanes followed suit that he started to have a bad feeling.
“Is that normal?” Mark asked.
“I-I don’t know. I mean, they do shift-change, right?” Jeff didn’t add that he had never seen them do every booth all at once.
“Oh, fuck me! Look!” Mark twisted in his seat.
Jeff spun around, looking over his shoulder, and immediately felt his heart attempt to leap out of his mouth.
Walking between the rows of cars was a pair of customs officers. They seemed bored. If it were just the agents, Jeff wouldn’t be so worried, but the leashed German Shepherd which walked between them, had him terrified.
The canine led the customs agents on a zigzagging pattern through the lanes. Jeff had such an overwhelming sensation of dread that he had to fight the urge to flee from the vehicle. The dog started toward their car.
“Fuck,” Mark said. “Should we…floor it?”
Jeff spun to look at his friend. “Floor it? Are you fucking high? Floor it where? Are we supposed to drive over the cars in front of us? We’re not in a fucking monster truck! Besides, these assholes would probably shoot the car up, or something. Listen, if they come over here, if that dog starts sniffing around, just-just let me do the talking.”
“What are you going to say?” Mark’s voice rose in pitch.
Jeff’s mind raced. “We play dumb. We say we—we say we parked the car somewhere for a bit and somebody must have put the drugs in the back.”
“You think that’ll work?” Mark asked.
Jeff knew that it wouldn’t work, but nodded his head anyway.
“Wait! Wait! The dog’s going away,” Mark said excitedly.
Jeff watched as the dog abruptly set off in a different direction, pulling the officers with it. After a couple of breathless minutes, it became clear that they weren’t coming back. Mark let out a giddy laugh and smacked Jeff on the shoulder. Shortly after, the gates rose.
The remaining cars pulled through rather quickly. Jeff noticed that the people in one of the vehicles in front of theirs hadn’t even had to show their passports to get into the country.
They were close enough now that Jeff could see the form of the customs agent through the tinted glass of the booth. He couldn’t make out anything more than a vague size and shape of the person’s silhouette but he could clearly see somebody moving around in there. Next to him, Mark wrung his hands together. He rocked back and forth in his seat. Jeff was starting to think that if they got caught it would be because of Mark.
“Mark, man, you have to be cool, okay? You look fucking guilty.”
As the last car in front of them pulled away, Jeff lifted his foot off the break. The car rolled a couple of feet before he had to slam his foot back down again. The gate to their lane lowered. Jeff swung his head to the left and right and quickly realized that this time it was only their lane which was closed.
Seconds became minutes. Jeff could see the agent standing in the booth, but could not make out what he was doing. The lines on both sides of them continued to slide along. Jeff cursed for picking such a bad lane.
Mark broke the silence. “D-do you think maybe they know?”
“How could they know? We’re just sitting here.”
“You think they can hear us?” Mark said quietly.
Jeff looked through the windshield at the customs booth. It was surrounded by various bits of technology. He knew from experience that there would be a flash from a camera as they moved closer. Mounted above the booth was an obvious video camera, but there were no signs of a microphone. Jeff supposed it was completely possible that they were there—surely, the technology existed—but nothing jumped out at him as obvious.
He was so focused on looking for hidden listening devices that when the customs agent suddenly stepped out of the booth, Jeff jerked in his seat. The man was large and intimidating. He took a long look at Jeff and Mark before moving on. Jeff was painfully aware of the gun strapped to the man’s thigh. Moments later, a slender, older woman made her way towards them. She entered the booth and closed the door behind her. The gate blocking them rose back up.
Jeff cleared his throat as they rolled forward until the driver’s side window was even with the window of the customs booth. He desperately pushed saliva around the inside of his mouth in an attempt to thwart the severe case of cottonmouth which was threatening him.
The window slid open to reveal the woman. She had donned a baseball cap which read American Customs. She did not meet Jeff’s gaze. Instead, she kept her eyes glued to a computer which was mostly obscured from Jeff’s angle.
“Canadian.” Jeff could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
“What’s the nature of your visit?”
“We’re meeting some friends for drinks at the Greek Town casino.”
The customs officer finally pulled her eyes away from the computer and looked at Jeff. The expression on the woman’s face was completely unreadable. “And who’s we?” she said.
Jeff quickly passed the woman both his and Mark’s passports.
The customs officer closely inspected each before sliding them through some device, after which she turned back to Jeff and said, “So, you guys know each other?”
“Yeah—of course.” Jeff didn’t like the way the woman had asked the question.
“Uh-huh…” Once again the customs agent turned toward her computer, and slid her window closed.
A wave of dread flooded Jeff. He felt like an insignificant speck caught in a storm, just waiting to be blown away. Next to him, he could see that Mark was struggling with much the same feelings. Even from the corner of his eye, Jeff could see the sheen of sweat coating the other man’s forehead.
The window abruptly opened. “Alright, you can go,” the officer said, as she handed the passports back to Jeff.
A sense of relief so profound hit Jeff that he didn’t know if he wanted to laugh or cry. He managed to thank the officer before quickly putting the car into drive and pulling away from the booth. The realization that he had been so close to spending the next ten years of his life in jail, and was suddenly now walking away from that possibility, was exhilarating.
“Fuck, yeah!” Mark shouted, as they left the border behind.
“Alright, now we just got to drop this shit off.”
Traffic was light. They managed to get to their destination pretty quick. Jeff had some serious reservations about the neighbourhood they had entered. Most of the houses lining the street were either boarded up or burnt out. Pulling into the driveway of one of the dilapidated homes, Jeff could see a group of thugs hanging out on the porch. One of the shiftier looking characters came over to the driver’s side window and said, “You the delivery guys?”
Jeff nodded. The guy motioned for them to pull into the open garage tucked behind the house at the end of the driveway.
As soon as Jeff slid the car into park, the drug dealers began unloading the back. Jeff leaned over and watched in the driver’s side mirror as they pulled the cocaine from the trunk. He hadn’t seen the bags of powder go in, and was surprised at just how much of the stuff they had just smuggled across the border.
The guy who approached Jeff when they had arrived came back over to the driver’s side window. “You boys getting paid good for this?”
“Yes sir,” Jeff said, with a smile.
The man returned his grin with one of his own. “I bet.”
The knife came out of nowhere, like a magic trick, it just appeared. Jeff felt it slide into his neck. His throat suddenly filled with hot, bubbling liquid as he jerked forward. Next to him, he heard the passenger side door pull open. Mark screamed as he was pulled from the car.
7 thoughts on “The Border”
Christian — I enjoyed this story a lot, from start to finish you the tension and stakes creep through your words, slowly taking us to that final action. Every step of the way I could feel the anticipation to see just what was going to happen. You are mastering so many different styles of writing, from your horror to this kind of suspense, you create such amazing atmosphere with your words. Always a pleasure and inspiration. JC
Thanks Justin. As you know, this story has been the bane of my existence on and off for the last year. I’m just happy it was even legible by the time all was said and done 🙂
Yeah, this one more then a lot of your stories has been working its way out. I love seeing your stories continue to evolve as you as a writer evolves. You are definitely kicking into high gear. I cannot wait to see some of the other ideas we’ve discussed in the past come out to play 🙂
Terrific story – totally enjoyed it. Bravo!
Thank you Christine. It actually changed a lot from its initial conception, but overall. I’m happy with how it turned out.
This one really worked out in the end Christian. I know you played with it a lot, but it works. the characters are totally believable and a bit sad. Another great read.
Thanks! It is definitely one of the longer gestating stories I’ve put up to date. Hopefully from now on, they don’t take a year to see completion.