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Border Crossing

Napoleon and Darwin had stopped in Langtry early in the morning. They picked up some beer and dried sausages while they talked with the locals about heading towards Del Rio. They discussed what fish would be biting, and what insects would be the best bait in April. How much water was there along the Pecos? They even spent a bit of time at the Judge Roy Bean Memorial which commemorated the boxing match between Robert Fitzsimmons and the Irishman, Peter Maher. The wonder of it all, Napoleon had thought, was that Texas, a violent place at the edge of civilization, had laws against boxing. The match had to be held on a sandbank across the river in Mexico.

By the time they had left, the two men were sure that everybody in town thought they would be out of the area long before nightfall, an assumption that suited Napoleon and Darwin, who were planning to stake out a particular border crossing point not far away.

They had driven their vehicle off Route 90 using a shelf of hard rock so that their tracks wouldn’t show at their exit point. They’d shouldered their equipment and weapons and walked in, arriving in the early afternoon. They’d settled in, motionless, letting the landscape forget that they existed.

Their current location was behind a screen of brush on high ground overlooking a deep gulley where it intersected the river. The gulley, or small canyon, wound from the highway down to the river, a distance of approximately two miles. The sandy bottom would be dry this time of year and provide excellent cover for anyone wanting to rendezvous with someone on the lonely stretch of road between Langtry and Del Rio. The two men slept, talked in low voices about their experiences during the War, shared tales of hunting adventures, and waited for dark.

Five men started across the River after complete darkness had fallen. They had appeared like wraiths from the barren landscape on the Mexican side of the border. They entered the water a few miles east of Langtry,  Texas, downriver from Eagle Nest Canyon, and about half way to the point where the Pecos River joined the Rio Grande. There was no moon, and a high layer of cirrus clouds obscured all but the brightest stars. Napoleon and Darwin were able to watch them through their infrared night glasses and binoculars, though their signatures were devilishly difficult to pick up even with the superb optics and filters.

Special clothing, expensive and unusual, Napoleon thought and passed on this information to Darwin who nodded.

And maybe they weren’t all men. Some might be women. Two of the  figures were smaller and lighter and had more trouble crossing to the sand bar. Napoleon added this to the mix and watched while the group of greenish ghosts formed up on the near bank. They appeared to be carrying rifles slung over their shoulders rather than automatic weapons.

The operation felt like a military patrol rather than a gang of smugglers. There was a definitive order in the lineup when they moved out, but he couldn’t discern the organizing principle. He couldn’t see their camouflaged packs, but the way they moved slowly and struggled in the loose sand made him wonder what they could be transporting that would be so heavy. Not dope, because dope wouldn’t weigh so much, and besides why bother with such small amounts?

The chorus of frogs which had fallen silent at the appearance of the strangers began picking up again along the bank as the five disappeared into the cleft below them.

Darwin reached out and touched Napoleon on the arm. When Napoleon turned his glasses on him, he made little circles and pointed behind them, meaning he was going to move a bit to the northeast along the rim where he would be in a better position to monitor the passage of the little army. Napoleon nodded his agreement and lay back, listening intently for any sounds coming from below. The glasses were a distraction, so he turned them off and slid them up on his forehead. The cool night air felt good on his face. Rock layers under him snapped and clicked as they contracted after the heat of the day. He was surprised to hear whispers in English escaping the cut below him.

“Careful with that stuff,” a man with a high pitched voice admonished one of his buddies. “Break that and we’re dead.”

Napoleon tensed, not knowing what the “stuff” was. High explosives? Not likely. He thought about germ or chemical warfare and resisted the urge to slide further back from the lip of rock.

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