By T’Naus Nieto
I tried to control my breathing. My heart knocked against my rib cage. My stomach was in knots, and at times I had to fight the urge to vomit. I knew what I was doing was good, but I couldn’t help but feel bad about it. I comforted myself with the knowledge that Jaxon was with us. He knew what he was doing. He knew the industry like the back of his hand. But still.
The Florida wind rustled the leaves of the palm trees, blades of grass swayed, and the clouds moved across the sky in haste. The breeze felt cool against my skin. Under normal circumstances, I would have relished it. But I could not enjoy anything until we finished the job.
“The plane just landed,” said Jaxon, his voice, a grumpy old dog in a headlock.
“It’s only ten miles away. Get ready to rock and roll, boys….and gal,” Jaxon said as he
winked at Elena. She replied by rolling her eyes as she glanced at her watch. Jaxon pushed the antenna in and folded the mobile phone.
As dusk approached, the clouds darkened, which caused me to think our team might get a little wetter than we had planned.
I stood back as the team jumped into the black van with nervous excitement, Mike in the driver’s seat, Jaxon in the passenger, and Elena and her younger brother in the back. Once Mike started the engine, Jaxon rolled down the window. “What are you doing, kid? It’s time to go,” he said.
I stared at him with my lower jaw hanging, then turned my gaze to the wide-open backdoor of the van. Elena’s eyes spoke to me with sympathy. They sparkled, and I found myself lost in them.
Jaxon slapped his hand against the side of the door, “Listen, kid, we will miss our
window. Are you in for the cause, or are you out?”
I shook my head to escape my daze. “I’m in,” I said as I climbed into the van. Mike
wasted no time and drove off at the sound of the door sliding shut. Elena sat, rolling her hair into a bun before putting the black mask over the top of her head like a beanie. Her younger brother, Edwardo, pulled his black gloves over his hands. I followed their lead and pulled out my mask from the front pocket of my hoodie.
Jaxon slammed his palm against the dashboard and startled everyone in the backseats.
“Speed it up, Mike.” Jaxon reached into his backpack and pulled out three Berettas. He cleared each one before he passed them back. Afterward, he handed us three magazines. “Make sure you have the safety on when you put the clip in. It won’t fire until you pull the slide back and chamber a bullet. The first round is a blank. Only use it to intimidate someone or for a warning shot. After that, they’re all real. Please don’t fucking shoot anyone. They’re only for an emergency.”
I had never used a gun before, and I wasn’t planning on ever using one. The small metal death machine was cold against my fingertips as I caressed it. It’s only with me to get the job done, I thought. However, holding something like that made me feel like someone else, as if another person inhabited my body. I shook away the thought. I put the magazine in and pushed the gun underneath my waistband as if I were hiding a body.
“Professor,” I forgot she didn’t want me to call her that outside of class. “I mean Elena. Um, have you ever done anything like this before?”
She looked away, then gave me a sly smile, “A few times, but nothing this big. Getting
“No. Not at all,” I said as my leg trembled.
“It’s okay, it’s normal. But, try to remember that we’re doing this for a cause. Those
greedy industrialists have no sympathy for life, so long as their wallets are plump.”
The van slowed to a stop and parked alongside a curb, just outside the gate of Fantasy Cove. A light sprinkle of rain began to tap against the top of the van. Mike turned on the windshield wipers. As the vehicle idled, we sat quietly for what felt like too long. I decided to end the silence by asking Jaxon a question, “Why are they bringing them this late at night?”
“Because they need to avoid public backlash, kid. People are always happy to see the dolphins and to swim with them, especially kids. But if people saw the terror and panic of the dolphins that survived the transport, or how the staff unloads and discards the carcasses of those that didn’t survive, well, that just might change their minds about the whole damn thing. Don’t you think?”
“What if none of them made it?” I asked.
Elena responded before Jaxon had the chance, “Inia geoffrensis, the pink river dolphin, has a higher probability of surviving the transport. Being a freshwater species, they survive in much shallower waters. Even so, the shock and fear might be enough to kill them. And the Amazon is an exceptionally long flight.”
“But, don’t worry too much about that. It’s pretty rare.” Jaxon said as he waved his hand. “At least two or three will survive, kid. But, to be honest, I’ve only captured and delivered oceanic dolphins. So, If that is the case, then we’ll just have to leave the truck there and have to accept that we tried.”
“Have you ever seen that happen, you know, no survivors?” I asked.
Jaxon’s face showed no expression, but his eyes held a thousand sorrows.
I mourned the loss of those beautiful, intelligent creatures.
Jaxon took a deep breath, “Look, the transport truck’s down the street, get ready
Mike put the van back in drive. The team pulled their masks over their faces. Jaxon got out of the passenger side door and crept along the wall like a dark shadow until he crouched behind a bush near the gate entrance. As the transport truck pulled up to the gate, the driver’s arm reached out, preparing to put in the code to open it, when Jaxon grabbed his arm and pointed the gun through the window. The van pulled up behind the truck, blocking their path out. Elena, Edwardo, and I jumped out of the van, holding our Berettas as if we were burglars in a movie.
Okay, someone else is definitely inside my body. I can’t be doing this.
The raindrops sprinkled upon us as gentle as a mother’s tears.
Edwardo carried rolls of duct tape, and he and Jaxon used the Berettas to gesture as they lined up the driver and the passenger alongside a wall. Jaxon pointed the barrel at the driver, “Give me the keys to the back of the truck, my man.”
The driver raised his hands to the sky, but his gaze remained to the ground. Sweat beat from his brow, and his arms shook so much I couldn’t stomach the sight of him; I had to turn away.
“They’re in my pocket,” he said.
Jaxon patted him down, reached in, and pulled out the set, “Thanks.”
He tossed them to Elena. “Quickly, they have their staff waiting for the truck at the
exhibit. It won’t be long before they notice it’s running late.” He gestured to Edwardo, who understood, tied them up, and put duct tape over their mouths.
Elena ran to the back of the truck and fumbled with the keys until the loud, sharp sound confirmed she had opened it. Edwardo stood guard, making sure the truck drivers didn’t move or make a sound. We were focused on the job until we were startled by a hoarse voice.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” A man in a janitor’s uniform shouted as he ran toward us.
The man looked to be in his sixties, had grey hair, and didn’t run fast. I figured he was
most likely done with his shift and heading home. I knew that I didn’t help much so far, so I decided to take care of the situation.
I pulled the slide of the Beretta back to chamber the bullet to give the old man a warning shot. But when I went to fire, nothing happened. I realized the safety was still on. I flipped it, aimed the gun, and squeezed the trigger.
Bright crimson blood sprayed out from the back of the janitor’s head and spattered
against a banner. As he collapsed to the ground, his lifeless eyes stood wide open and pierced my soul. I found it odd that his face looked pretty much intact, besides a small hole above his right eye. But the back of his head was obliterated, as if a small explosive went off inside it. Chunks of the brain, pieces of skull, and blood oozed down the promotional banner that said, “Coming soon, Pink River Dolphin exhibit. Bring the family for an experience of a lifetime!” The sign had a picture of a dolphin smiling. It was jumping out of the water with a twinkle in its eye, not a single cloud in the bright blue sunny sky. It looked as if it were having the best day of its life.
Fun in the sun, I thought underneath the rain on a dreary night.
Jaxon ran up to me and shook my shoulders. “What the fuck did you do, kid? Why did
you shoot him?” I dropped the gun.
“Bu, bu…But you told me the first round was a blank. I was just…I….”
“You’re supposed to shoot a goddamn warning shot into the air. Besides, are you trying to get everyone’s attention? You fucking idiot!”
All I could say, under my breath, was, “Accident.”
Elena ran from the back of the truck, held her hands over her mouth, and screamed like a banshee.
“Let’s go, get in the truck. No one will know it was us. We can still get the job done,”
Jaxon told her.
“They’re all dead,” Elena said.
“All of them?” Jaxon asked.
Elena confirmed it with a nod.
Jaxon closed his eyes and ran his palm across his forehead.
I reached down and picked up the Beretta. I put the barrel to the side of my head and pulled the trigger.
My ears rang, and I was startled. Jaxon grabbed my arm, knocking the gun from my
Great. Of course, that was the blank, I thought.
Jaxon grabbed my shoulders and shook me again, “C’mon, kid, let’s get out of here. No one will know you were here,” he turned his head side to side. I didn’t answer; I didn’t see him; he was as good as transparent. I barely noticed him pulling my hoodie until he finally let go.
The tires of the team’s black van screeched as it pulled out, and the sound of the engine grew fainter until it was gone.
The gates opened, and members of the Fantasy Cove staff ran out. Some of them shouted and screamed. Others stood with palms against their pallid faces without making a sound.
Lightning stretched across the gloomy Florida sky, followed by an explosive boom of
I pulled off the wet mask and stood under the rain, never losing sight of the bright banner. Rainwater smeared and diluted the blood as it dripped down the dolphin’s smiling, pink face. It looked so friendly. I wanted to hug it.
I didn’t realize how long I was standing there until the air filled with the sound of sirens.
Police lights shrouded my eyes with red and blue. The only thing I could do was wonder how long it would be until Fantasy Cove received another shipment and fulfilled its promise, of fun in the sun.
Bio: T’Naus is a Mexican American, disabled US Army combat veteran who willingly jumped out of airplanes. Now he has tea parties with his daughter. He received a BA in English at Colorado State University-Pueblo (First generation). He has written poetry since seventh grade and won awards in high school. He discovered reading, not only as an escape from hardship but as a way to inspire the mind. He spoke numerous times to the Colorado Senate to pass House Bill 21- 1209 for prison reform for youthful offenders, which the Senate passed this year. T’Naus is a poet and emerging writer and has been published in Tempered Steel.