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“Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.”
— Che Guevara
Alone in his tower above Border Run!, Jack Lightning watched illegals gather beside jeeps at the far end of the field while the morning tour group climbed to their own watchtower and waited, gaping and gawking and fat. It was a dry windless day, and ghosts of khaki dust hung motionless in the air, haunting the men and women preparing for the show. To keep the dust levels low they moved slowly into position, and their careful movement resembled nothing so much as the landscape itself, the slow, gradual drift of dry cracked earth and jutting rock, abiding and indifferent, that surrounded them in all directions. All but south. Not far south of the field stood the wall separating them from Mexico, a long tall fixed thing that had nonetheless appeared quickly, like the strike of a rattlesnake. Despite being two stories in the air, Jack still couldn’t see over it. Who knew what lay there?
The illegals donned surgical masks and, at Jack’s signal, followed the coyote forward. They scurried along the dry riverbed like cucarachas, dodging saguaro and struggling to avoid the border patrol jeeps fanning out, on the hunt. This had been one of Jack’s first breakthroughs about his theme park’s operation: that the immigrant team would actually try to cross the field; that the patrol would actually try to catch them. That it wasn’t just an act, but an authentic struggle. But as with any struggle, it kicked up dust, giant plumes of which presently rose around the entire scene, all but eclipsing the action. Jack strained to follow the show’s progress and to hear the tourists shout instructions, help the patrol, but heard nothing. Looking over, he noticed that several tourists were in fact holding kerchiefs over their mouths—making participation all but impossible. Without their involvement, the whole display felt manipulative and sad; it was in everyone’s best interests to play along. He stepped back out into the blasting May daylight and descended the narrow staircase back to the parking lot, empty save for the tour group’s waiting bus.
Jack had done good business at Border Run!—upwards of fifty heads, twice a day, five days a week—and had brought prosperity, or something like it, back to an area that had been slowly withering away for decades. But recently the buses had been coming in half-empty, and though Jack knew the drivers weren’t at fault, he couldn’t help but feel a grudge. From where he stood, he could see this one asleep behind the wheel, and this seemed to Jack a metaphor for the entire operation. Everyone involved, from the drivers, to the tourists, to the immigrants and patrol on the field, had grown too comfortable. In moments like this, he’d try to comfort himself with the thought that things only seemed lacking because of the early success they’d had, but it was impossible to rid himself of the suspicion that his business, like the land it was on, was simply drying up. The tourists climbed down after the show, made their way to the visitor center, and Jack followed at a few paces before breaking off and hurrying around back. There’d been detractors from the beginning, of course, locals whose sole ambition here was to embrace the crushing anonymity of the desert and who considered the constant coming and going of tour buses a scourge. Surely they’d be pleased to see the end of Border Run! But he’d started this thing, and he aimed to see it through to a natural conclusion.
Jack entered the visitor center through the back and stood before a small mirror above the sink in the small office, straightening his hair and brushing dust off his shirt. The tour group murmured in the next room, and he could hear the glugging sound of water coolers. He skimmed the Run Report on his desk to see how many aliens this group had helped capture. He had two intros, one for groups with high numbers (Way To Keep This Country Safe), and another if the numbers were low (Now You See Why We Needed The Wall). Even for a small group, they’d done poorly, having pointed out only two of the fifteen runners on the field.
He went into the main room, waited for the group to notice him, then stood with his hands at head level, palms forward, gently patting the air.
“First of all, let’s hear a round of applause for our resident aliens!”
He continued above the half-hearted claps. “Those men and women represent the more than one million illegal crossings per year that used to pour into the U.S. under circumstances just like those you witnessed.” He paused for effect. “Don’t worry, mine all have their papers.” The tourists, sweating and silent, were unmoved by his weary humor. “Well,” he said, scanning their sagging faces, “now you know why the wall came in handy.”
“How high is it, exactly?” asked a woman in front. Her pink, knobby knees peeked out between the top of her shin-high socks and the cuffs of her khaki shorts. She raised her nose slightly, as though to appear more receptive, and looked down its length through a pair of bifocals held around her neck by a thin pink thread.
“Good question. ImPass tells us it measures forty vertical feet, but you can only see twenty-five of them. Does anyone want to guess what that means?”
“It means tunneling is a bitch,” said a voice from the back.
The crowd looked among itself to see who’d spoken, then parted to reveal a young man with a pointy chin dressed in a dark green, militaristic uniform. Jack pegged him as an anti-ImPass activist, probably from A-Wall, and pressed the panic button.
“It looks like we’ve got an expert in our midst,” Jack said calmly. He knew from experience that the only way to deal with these types was to keep them talking. “What else can you tell us about the wall?”
“Probably more than you’d like to know,” said the kid. He leaned back against a window and folded his arms.
Protestors are show-offs at heart. Not all show-offs get political, of course—you need deep-seated feelings of abandonment too, and a dose of desperate optimism doesn’t hurt—but without the need to be seen, you’re less likely to take a stand. Jack remembered how Jo, his ex girlfriend, would come to the visitor center and hand out fliers with information about the various atrocities surrounding the wall literally, and the many more it represented: the separated families, the divided cultures, the irreparable damage to fragile ecosystems. He’d let her do it, partly because he knew she would anyway, but partly also because he couldn’t tell her it was wrong. In fact, it was when she’d stopped that he’d really begun to worry. It meant she’d given up. She denied this, of course, and indeed when she’d left a couple weeks later, it became clear that the only thing she’d given up on was him.
“Try me,” said Jack.
“The US/Mexico border wall was the third built by ImPass, after Israel/Palestine and North Korea/South Korea, and at 1,971 miles, it’s by far the longest.” The kid looked smugly around the room, then continued, growing more pompous with each word. “You’ll note, if you’re up on your political geography, that this is exactly two miles longer than the border itself. Does anyone know why?”
After a moment of silence, during which Jack received several confused and worried looks, an elderly man slowly raised his hand.
“Yes, you sir, in the unfortunate shoes.”
“Because it goes into the water?”
“That’s correct! The wall not only runs through the two rivers comprising parts of the border; it actually extends nearly a full mile off either shore, making it nearly impossible to swim around.” The kid was obviously reciting a text he’d been given. “Amazing. One of you actually knows something about the wall you all voted for!”
“Well, I’m from San Diego,” the old man said, looking around the group. Several people nodded, as if approving of the man’s hometown.
Then Security burst in.
The four large men looked at Jack, who nodded in the direction of the disruption, and descended upon the thin kid, who offered no resistance other than repeatedly shouting “Tear it down!” as he was carried out of the building.
The woman with bare knees asked what would happen to the boy, and Jack explained that he’d simply be escorted into town, where he’d be allowed to make arrangements to be picked up. Everyone seemed okay with this answer, and the mood of the group lifted. In fact, the visitors were suddenly energized, upbeat, even, as if the unexpected conflict had added something memorable to their trip. Jack thanked them all for coming, and as he watched them file out the door and linger by the gift booth, he wondered if maybe something like that could be staged.