Luis stood at the bus stop as the bus drove away. The diesel fumes eddied around him. He coughed, but the soft salty breeze from the ocean soon blew the fumes away. He sat down on the bench to wait.
A palm tree’s fronds rustled overhead in the wind. A Palm Beach County sheriff’s car drove by. Luis ignored it. The deputy sheriff driving ignored Luis. Luis felt his heart beat faster.
Even with the sun setting, it was hot. Sweat trickled down his back and his armpits. He wished he could take off the light jacket he wore, but the jacket concealed his pistol and the kilo of cocaine he carried.
To the west, the red, yellow and pink of the sky faded to black as night fell. Luis looked up. Against the orange glare of the street lights he could only see a handful of stars.
An elderly black lady sat down at the other end of the bench. She did not look at Luis. He looked at her from the corner of one eye, and then ignored her.
A bus came, and the lady got on it. The driver glanced at Luis, shrugged, and closed the door. Once again diesel fumes swirled around him.
Traffic passed. Luis did not look at the cars. Across the street there was a two-story building made of cinder blocks. There was an old car in a parking lot next to it. It was not much of a car, but Luis did not have a car of his own. It seemed like a fine automobile to him.
Two hundred dollars, he thought to himself. Swenson promised me two hundred dollars to act as courier. I will save most of it, and in a few months I will have a car of my own.
Of course there was the matter of the papers and the insurance and the driver’s license, but Swenson, who was from Luis’ country despite his Anglo-sounding name, would know how to get around these details. Swenson was very smart. Swenson had survived for seven years in South Florida, even though much product passed through his hands and into the streets and up the noses of the rich gringos.
Luis passed a hand over his mouth. The hand was wet with sweat. He felt the tremor of his hand with his lips. He wished for a cigarette. He wished for a little, just a little of the product he carried with him.
Such thoughts were not good for a courier. Swenson had made that clear. “Your neck and your other bones will bend a little,” Swenson told him. “But how far will they bend, my friend, until they snap?”
The waiting was bad, because then there was time for thoughts. There were many thoughts, and many of them were bad.
A gleaming convertible passed by. The driver was a woman, whose hair was long and blonde and stirred in the wind as she passed. Luis dreamed of having such a woman, of driving a car such as that with such a woman beside him. The kilo of cocaine he carried would buy such a car and such a woman, for a time.
“The temptations are many in this trade,” Swenson told him. “Women, women are terrible temptations. There are many beautiful women here in south Florida, rich bored beautiful women with old fat husbands, young poor beautiful women looking for excitement. Many of them enjoy Latin men, and you are handsome, my friend. Add to that a few lines of cocaine and you have no idea how many legs will open and reveal their secrets to you. Buy all of this you want with your own product, but do not buy it with the cocaine you carry for me.”
Luis watched the blonde woman in the convertible drive past and thought of what he would do someday, of what Swenson was doing, sending money back to their country in the secret ways, there to have a fine house and horses and cattle.
Two teenagers sat on the bench next to him. Young Spanish men, not much younger than himself. They eyed Luis and edged closer on the bench. Luis allowed his right hand to drop into his lap and shrugged his left shoulder. There, just visible under the lapel of his jacket, was the butt of his pistol. Luis did not look at the young men, for that would be a challenge. The young men looked away from him and stopped moving closer. They talked for a bit, in English.
Then another bus came. They got on the bus and left.
Luis waited, as the traffic went by, as the moon rose on his right. He wished to see the moon rise from the sea some day. He had not yet had time to see that. In his country, the moon rose from behind mountains. That was beautiful, but he wished to see the light of the moon upon the waves of the sea, and perhaps the light of the stars. His grandmother always said the light of stars were the faraway dreams of God. With the lights of the city one could see few stars, even in the latest hour of the night, when the sun was far away.
Perhaps God did not dream in this well-lighted city.
Another police car drove by. Luis’ heart pounded. He crossed his legs, and wiped his sweating palms upon his pants.
Down the street to his left he saw a car pull up to the curb. A man got out. The car drove back into the street. It passed Luis, but the driver looked straight ahead. The man who had gotten out of the car sat on the bench.
“Hola, Luis,” he said softly. “How are you today?”
“Fine, thanks,” Luis replied.
“You are ready for the trade?”
“Yes. You have the money?”
A bus came down the street. Luis and the other man got on it, and rode to the next stop, a park. They got out and went into the park. In the shadows of the large palm trees the man handed Luis a thick bundle of bills, and Luis handed the man the kilo of cocaine.
They reached the north end of the park.
Further to the north, an orange light grew and lit half the horizon. From the orange light came a streak of flame. The flame was so bright there was a halo of brilliant light around it, brighter than the orange light surrounding it. The light climbed into the sky.
“Mother of God!” said Luis. “What is that?”
“Oh, that’s the space shuttle,” said the man. “They launch about once a month.”
Luis watched the light ascending into the sky upon its trail of fire.
“Adios,” said the man, and walked away.
Luis watched the space shuttle. The light of its rocket engines were visible until it curved away and vanished over the horizon.
How could that be? Luis thought. It was climbing, and then it seemed to fall, fall below the horizon. How could that be?
Luis looked around. He was alone in the park, but he was carrying much money, and he felt suddenly naked. Besides, he must catch the bus.
He walked to the bus stop and sat down. He looked up again. The light was gone but there, glowing in the moonlight, blown into jagged zigzags by the wind, was the trail of smoke left by the rocket. Luis watched the smoke trail slowly disperse, thinking of the rocket, beyond and high above the far horizon, lit by the light of the faraway dreams of God.