In advance of the publication of Border Crossing on May 18, here is a short excerpt:
The moneychangers surround the bus as it comes to a halt next to the concrete platform that leads to the border post, their arms uplifted as though to welcome a returning hero. There are shouts of dolares and pesos as passengers begin to descend to arrange their exit papers. Some huddle with the moneychangers to negotiate, but most force their way through the crowd and go to the long line that leads into the border post.
George descends with the rest, squinting and looking about, somewhat confused. There are two lines, one snaking into the post, and the other, more formless, leading to some counters lined by glass outside the building. Like ticket booths at a stadium. As he looks at the various signs, trying to ascertain which line he needs, a wiry man sidles up to him.
“You need to go there first, señor,” the man says, speaking in accented English. “Get the paper. Then you go inside.”
“Gracias,” George says, glancing at the man.
“You need a bus?” Here the man points at a bus parked in front of the one George arrived on. “Our bus goes on to Liberia. Still space for you. Twenty neuvo pesos.”
“That’s all right,” George says. “Thank you.”
“Your bus ends here,” the man says.
“I know,” George says, with a nod, already moving to the first line the man gestured to.
On the surface, chaos reigns. The line is disjointed and shifting, with people forcing their way forward and others drifting away before they reach the windows, for no apparent reason. The moneychangers, bus touts, and other sellers ebb and flow around the line, along with others whose purpose George cannot identify. One of these approaches him, a tiny man, who looks as though he can’t be older than sixteen, wearing a faded blue uniform and cap.
“Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” the man says.
George frowns. It seems unlikely this boy is here in any official capacity. “Necesito mis papeles,” he says, in his halting Spanish, gesturing to the windows. The man repeats his demand and George shakes his head, turning away, making clear his intention to remain where he is.
The man is waiting for him after he receives his exit papers and moves toward the second line within the building. “Tendría usted que venir conmigo,” he says, sternly.
George frowns in irritation, preparing to dismiss him once and for all. “You better go with him,” the bus tout says, materializing from somewhere within the crowd. He nods in the direction of the youth and George looks at him closely for the first time. Though there is no insignia on his cap, or badge on his uniform, he does have a handgun clipped into a holster on his hip. Somehow George did not notice it before. He swears to himself.
“Tendría usted que venir conmigo.”
George nods and follows along behind as the youth leads him through another entrance to the border post and into a small, airless room that he surmises is near the center of the building. The youth gestures for him to sit down and leaves him there, closing the door. There is a worn, wooden table at the center of the room, with two chairs on either side. George chooses the side facing the door and sits down. The room is stifling and immediately a sheen of sweat forms on him.
Why has the youth selected him for interrogation? For that is clearly what this is. Is it because he is a gringo?
George has heard there is little corruption along the border, especially with regards to tourists, but that does not mean anything in this particular case. If the youth scents an opportunity, he will act accordingly. Or maybe he just sees something suspicious in George, traveling here alone.
He tells himself to remain calm and closes his eyes, listening to the sounds that reach him. Everything is dim and muffled, so different from the tumult outside. As a test for himself, he summons the route from the room out of the building, as well as any hallways or side routes that might be available. As he works through his conceptualization, he hears the door open.
Two men enter—one, the youth who sequestered him here, and the other an older man with thinning, close-cropped hair and a severe moustache. Both are grim-faced and sit across from him, staring as though he has already been found wanting in some fundamental way. George swallows, wishing he was not sweating quite so profusely, and tries to keep his expression neutral, not giving any indication of the anxiety he feels.
“Passport,” the older man says, his accent light.
George reaches into his front shirt pocket and pulls the document out, passing it over. The office studies it carefully, giving each page a great deal of scrutiny, even pulling out a magnifying glass to look at certain parts of it more closely. When he is finished he slides it and the magnifying glass over to his younger counterpart who conducts a similarly thorough survey.
“George O’Bannon. English is fine for you?” George nods, not replying. “Excellent. You are traveling alone?”
“That’s correct,” George says. “Why am I here?”
“Routine,” the officer says, smiling slightly. “We just have a few questions for you. You are quite well-traveled I see?”
“I enjoy traveling.”
“Don’t we all. I note that you have been to many of your neighbors in the last two years. And to our fine country. In fact, you’ve been at the La Miel crossing twice in the last three months. And now you are here in Sapurzo.”
“That’s true,” George says, unwilling to volunteer anymore, though he knows more questions will follow.
“Why?” the officer says in an innocent tone, as though he cannot fathom a reason for George’s travels.
“I’ve been backpacking through Latin America the last two years, as you can tell from my passport.”
“I understand. Why so many times, back and forth, across this border? We do not see many tourists here, or at La Miel. Much simpler to cross at Peñas Blancas, if you want to get to the beaches and see the sights. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I like to stay off the beaten path,” George says, crossing his arms. He is starting to feel uneasy about this. It is true not many tourists come this way, but that, in itself, is not a reason to suspect him of anything. When, he wonders, will they get to the point?
“I notice you have no luggage with you,” the officer says. He glances at his younger counterpart and says something in Spanish that George cannot quite make out. The younger officer answers in the affirmative. “And the bus you are on terminates at Sapurzo.”
George stifles a sigh, knowing he has no choice but to endure this. “Plenty of buses on the other side to get me where I’m going.”
“And where is that exactly?”
“Is that really your concern? Isn’t that their concern?” George nods in the direction of the border.
The officer smiles thinly. “For now it is my concern. We have to determine whether or not to we will let you cross, or detain for further questioning.”
“Shouldn’t you be more worried about the people coming in, not the one’s leaving?”
“That is for us to determine, wouldn’t you say?” The officer replies, allowing a trace of a smile to cross his lips.
“Look, I’m just a backpacker going to meet up with some friends.”
“Yet you have no backpack. No luggage at all, in point of fact.”
“I left it in San Jose,” George says. He pauses, about to explain further, before stopping himself. “Look, I’ve been across here a couple of times already. You know I’m no threat.”
The officer leans back in his chair. “Do we now? That is what we are here to determine.”
Border Crossing is now available for pre-order: