The American bandidos appeared to Santos to have military training. As they retreated towards the rows of coffee plants. Santos was relieved he wasn’t blindfolded. He watched the bandidos work their way toward an area of the plantation that had been abandoned. They covered each other in a triangle format with the tip of the triangle training his rifle behind them. Santos hadn’t seen Ejército Mexicano soldiers perusing, but the bandidos continued their movements.Santos looked at the beauty around him. The waxy green leaves towered above him. Normally, the coffee plant was pruned and didn’t grow much over two meters. The field was in full bloom, the white flowers released a sweet scent that was almost intoxicating. Crushed coffee cherries stuck to the bottom of his shoes as the bandido shoved him forward. For as long as Santos ran the Arizona plantation of Mexicano del Café, he never actually visited the rows of coffee plant. He didn’t know if it was a good thing or not, but his shoes and pant legs were now stained beyond repair.
John had stopped and waited for Santos and his handler to catch up to him.
“Would’ja look at this beaner, guys?” John called out, “He’s never worked in these fields. Doesn’t know about the harsh and dangerous conditions we face.”
John’s bandidos nodded and grunted in agreement.
“What’s yer name, beaner?”
Santos stopped and stood a little taller before responding. “Santos. Santos de la Vargas, Secretario de Salud.”
John smiled widely, exposing perfect rows of stark white teeth. “We know you’re the Minister of Health, we saw that before your car melted.” John chuckled, as if consoling a child.
One of his bandidos quipped. “Minister? More like secretary!”
Santos ignored the laughs of his captors and continued standing proud.
John guffawed again and slapped Santos on the back hard enough to stagger him. “Ya know what? I like this beaner.” He motioned to the rest with some sort of hand signal, and the group started moving north again.
It had been two hours of skirting the rows of towering coffee plants. Unlike on the plantation proper and more so than the abandoned field they cut through, the plants here were a medieval jungle. Easily towering ten or eleven meters high, the leaves were purple and yellow. Each leaf pair easily spanned a man’s chest. The coffee cherries were the size of baseballs and the bandidos occasionally threw them at each other. Santos couldn’t keep the wonderment from his face.
John strolled up beside Santos and put his arm around his shoulders. “This plant kills every other form of flora. It’s so aggressive, it’s been known to crush limestone buildings into rubble in a matter of months.” John kicked a branch and continued. “When your scientists bred the coffee plant with kudzu, they created this monstrosity.” He waved his free hand. “Then, the blight happened.”
“Blight? What blight?”
“You think you guys burn acres and acres of fields for what, fun?”
“I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of crop rotation.”
Their argument was interrupted by a cry for help.
The bandidos moved towards the sound. After a few minutes they came upon a makeshift clearing with a stone hut partially collapsed under the weight of a fallen coffee plant. The shouts emanated from within.
“Boys, let’s see what we can do here.”
They piled their rifles and cautiously entered the rubble. Only two of them made it inside before they called out, “There’s a young boy in here! He’s pinned under a cast iron cooking kettle.”
There was enough manpower to make short work of the kettle. Once freed, the boy shouted out, “Viva la revolution!” The bandidos cheered wildly. Santos saw the opportunity and quietly slinked into the underbrush. He waited for shouts indicating the discovery of his escape, but none came. He had run as soon as he could, but the landscape made quick retreat nearly impossible. It had been more than half an hour and he was starting to relax when he saw it.
The towering coffee plants were a sickly black as if covered in tar. The leaves drooped low and pools black covered the ground. It reminded him of the bottom of a coffee percolator after a marathon of producing coffee. The stench was overpowering. He stepped forward to touch the sludge, but a voice stopped him.
“That’s not a good idea.”
Santos spun to see John leaning against a rock. His rifle was slung over his shoulder and he was pointing at something in the sludge. Santos followed his gaze and saw an animal stuck within. The black mass covered it and there was a red twinge to the sludge around it.
“You’ve been following me the whole time?” Santos inquired.
“With you crashing through the brush, it wasn’t hard.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?”
“Didn’t need to. You’d’ve died out here.”
Santos scowled. It looked as if today he would suffer more indignities than quips from Carlos.
“‘Sides, you needed to see this for yourself. American workers are being slowly poisoned by this crap. If you take your job as a doctor seriously, you’ll come with me.”
John turned and walked the perimeter, heading north once again.
Santos looked towards the decaying corpse and ambled after John, careful to keep a safe distance from the sludge.