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He lay there staring tat the crack in the ceiling as long as he could. Antonio Sanchez climbed out of bed, cringing when the bed springs squeaked. He stepped into his jeans, threw on yesterday’s T-shirt and slipped down the hall.
He quietly checked on Tommie and Tina. Thankfully, they were sleeping soundly. As far as his younger siblings knew their mother slapped him because he broke her new vase.
They were too young to understand what the fight was about, but if their mother didn’t stop bringing men home, sooner or later they’d figure it out - as he had. He didn’t want that day to come, but there was only so much he could do.
How many times had he rushed them into another room, or taken them outside to look at the stars. He was running out of tricks and games to keep them from seeing and hearing things that in the end would break their heart.
He’d hoped that when he turned fourteen, he’d be taller or broader. Maybe some of the men would be afraid of him, but so far, that hadn’t happened.
Antonio gave them dirty looks and didn’t try to hide his anger when the men came home with his mother. One guy laughed at him, but one of them last week actually seemed to feel sorry for him, which only made him more frustrated.
When his mom mentioned tonight she was going out again, he lost it. He picked up the vase that wimp George gave her and broke it across the end of the table. He knew the twins would hear the crash and come running so he spoke fast.
“Don’t you care what they think of you? I love you Mom, but you have to stop. The kids at school already laugh behind my back and call you a . . .” That’s when the slap came. It was hard, and he stepped back dropping what was left of the vase.
She’d never hit him before, but then again, he’d never used that word. He knew that in the morning all would be forgiven, and that she’d act like nothing ever happened.
She’d run her fingers through his hair and give him a smile that said she would try to do better. Maybe for a week or two she would be different. Once she even stopped dating. She acted different, and spent more time with him and the twins, but as always, it started to fade, and she went back to her old habits.
Antonio slipped into his shoes and walked down to the water. They’d lived all over Chula Vista, but this was the first time they’d ever rented a house on the beach. He didn’t want to move again.
He loved going down to look at the ocean just as the world was coming to life; it was quiet and peaceful. A few times, he’d even thought he heard God speak.
His grandmother had told him over and over, that if his heart was in the right place, and if he listened long enough that God would speak to him.
What would God say now? He’d probably laugh at his poor attempt to straighten out his mother. He might mention that all of them should go to church with Grandma, and maybe, He’d say that no one was perfect. Antonio laughed and looked up to the sky.
“I’m doing my best. Some help would be nice here.” He shook his head and could hear his grandmother’s voice saying, “Now don’t let me catch you making fun of God.” He laughed again and knew that if it wasn’t for the twins, he’d more than likely move in with his grandmother.
He pushed every thought he could out of his mind and drug his feet, loving the feel of the California sand. He moved to a piece of driftwood and sat down. He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the ocean.
It was the time of the day when the sun wasn’t up, but you could tell the morning was coming. Antonio knew he should be in bed asleep, but there were just too many things going through his mind.
As always, the troubles of his home life came creeping back disturbing his peace and quiet. He looked over his shoulder expecting his mother to be standing there, arms crossed, shaking her head, because he’d called her an ugly name.
He didn’t like fighting with his mother, but she couldn’t keep bringing strangers into their home.
Antonio sighed and dropped his hand, reaching down to dust the sand off his pants legs. He was so tired of being the adult. He wiggled his mouth and felt a twinge of pain in his cheek.
He forced himself to laugh again; it wouldn’t do any good to cry. He was becoming a man, and men didn’t cry . . . did they?
The sound came to him out of the morning mist. He looked up into the sky and after a moment, he rose. It was a plane, but something didn’t sound good. Turning right and then left, he finally found it. He squinted, trying to pick the plane out of the semi-darkness.
When he did see it, he could tell something wasn’t right. The plane looked too low. He watched as it came in closer. He took out his cell phone and began to walk, keeping the plane in sight. It was coming down too fast; were they going to land here?
He sprinted down the beach, holding to his phone; the plane was ahead of him now, and still falling. He wanted to pray, but didn’t know how.
As the plane came down Antonio hit the ground, sand spraying him in the face. He wasn’t far from the plane; would it land on the beach or hit the water?
He buried his head and listened. There was a crashing sound, and the groan of glass breaking, but no explosion. Seconds later he made the 911 call. The operator took his information, saying help was on the way. Antonio pushed his phone into his pocket and rose.
The plane’s landing gear had crumpled into the sand, and the plane creaked to a stop and now sat pointing out toward the ocean. The left wing was broken, and smoke rolled from the motor. Antonio ran toward the plane, but paused as he saw a shadowy figure landing on the ground, feet first.
He could hear someone yelling, but he stopped when he saw a man pull a gun from the plane and stuff it into the back of his pants.
Antonio fell back into the sand, hiding behind some rocks as the man turned, scanning the beach. He willed himself to disappear into the dirt and waited. The man yelled out for his companion. “Caldwell, where are you?”
Suddenly, the man’s tone changed. “Caldwell? Are you okay?” Antonio’s curiosity got the best of him. He raised his head to see what was going on.
Moaning Carlos began to move around. “Man, that was some crash. Caldwell, are you okay?” His head ached and he moved his body, starting with his hands. Nothing seemed broken; everything still worked, but Caldwell hadn’t answered.
Carlos sat up and felt some pain, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He rubbed his hand against his neck and felt blood. Something had gone wrong; the plane wouldn’t . . .“We gotta get out of here, Caldwell,” he whispered.
After unbuckling, Carlos slid out of the seat and sank into the sand. The passenger seat was empty, and the glass was broken. He reached into the plane, took out his gun and stuffed it into his pants.
Carlos walked around the plane and in the semi-darkness found his passenger. He bent down and checked Caldwell for a pulse; his heart was beating, but there was a lot of blood.
Carlos glanced around, seeing no one and took Caldwell’s wallet. He then removed his ID bracelet Dani had given him and placed it on Caldwell. After looking around, he hurried off into the bushes; he needed to get away and start working on a plan.
Antonio couldn’t believe his eyes. The shadow took the man’s wallet, did something to his wrist, and then left, making his way toward the street. Seconds later Antonio rose to his feet and ran to the man lying on the ground. He glanced at the tree line as he went, but the second man was gone.
Antonio glanced at the crumpled plane; he guessed the men were trying to make it to the airport. He looked down at the lifeless man and dropped to his knees, cringing at all the blood.
“Are you okay, sir? Wake up; I called the police.” Antonio began looking at the man’s wrist. There was a gold chain there now, and after squinting, he read the name. His mother was a nurse, and he knew this would be the first thing the EMT would look for.
There were no medical warnings on the chain, just the name ‘Carlos Santora.’ Antonio shook his head as he rested the man’s hand back onto the ground. He wouldn’t forget that name any time soon.
The sound of sirens caused him to jump to his feet. Something was going on with this man, or the plane, and he wanted no part of it. He rose and stepped backwards; in the dim light, he could see the man move his hand. “Help’s on the way.” He knew he couldn’t help the man, though he wished he could.
Antonio turned and ran. He didn’t want to be caught at the scene of a crime. He wasn’t going to tell his mother about this either. She had enough troubles without having to deal with the police and all the questions they’d have. Eventually, he’d hear something on the news, and that would have to do.
Antonio ran all the way home, slipped back into the house and went to his room. He pushed his sandy shoes under the bed, changed clothes and lay down to try to sleep. The fallen man’s face was etched into his mind, and he couldn’t help but wonder why the other man ran off.
In the next few days, he’d more than likely hear that a man had been found on the beach, and that his name was being held to protect his family. Antonio would try to act surprised and do his best to keep his mouth shut about the whole awful mess.