The sound of his footsteps echoed across the empty streets of Tijuana. Fliers of missing people flew by him as they were carried by the harsh wind.
Mateo’s body was tense and the circles under his eyes gave away his stress. The bills were higher than he expected, and with Ella getting pregnant… getting by was becoming hard.
The young man entered the familiar building as the smell of motor oil welcomed him. He greeted his co-workers before starting to fix a car. He worked at a small mechanic’s shop but it was the best he could do for the lack of education he had.
“Mateo, how are you friend?” His boss, Alejandro, asked as he came up to him.
Truth be told, Alejandro had taken a liking to the young man. He knew Mateo had good intentions and he was good with cars, but he couldn’t pay him more than he already did.
“I’ve been better… is there any way I could get more hours?” His boss had sympathy in his eyes as he shook his head. Mateo sighed.
“Look… follow me Mateo.” Mateo put away his tools as he followed his boss outside.
“W—what is it?”
“I can’t help you with your money issue but… I know someone who can.” His boss seemed hesitant, but he continued as he saw Mateo’s eyes sparkle. “I know this guy named Pablo, and he has this... thing. Long story short, he needs a fixer and I think you’ll fit right in. He pays 4 thousand pesos a week (200 dollars).”
“Would another mechanic even consider me? I mean—“
“Ah, no! I didn’t mean fixer as in car repairs, but more like… you know what, forget it!” He said, shaking his head.
“Wait, tell me more! I’ll do it.” Determination filled his eyes as he accepted a request he knew nothing of.
“Well you see… he needs someone to… dispose of some trash?” The unsureness with which he said that made Mateo a bit worried. With the little knowledge that he had, he guessed his boss wasn’t referring to the normal kind of trash…
“…How much is the pay?”
“4000 pesos a week. (~200 dollars)”
It was so much more than he thought possible. With that much money, he could assure a good life for his family… so he took the offer.
Mateo didn’t say a word to Ella about this job, as he knew what her reaction would be. Alejandro introduced him to Pablo the next day, which made Mateo realize what the job was all about.
Disposing bodies for a mafia was something Mateo never thought he would have to do, but the day he was introduced to Pablo he was promised money and protection. The thought of having a stable family that had the protection of a mafia… it was almost like a dream.
He had to swear an oath, but his mind was elsewhere as he agreed to their rules. The young man was soon introduced to more members of the mafia before he was assigned his first job.
When he first saw the bodies, his face turned pale before he threw up. It’s a natural reaction, they would say, you’ll get used to it. But the thought of getting used to it created a shiver down his spine.
One of them was a male with a purple suit and next to him was a young girl with a red dress. Both of their faces were bruised and slashed, making Mateo gag again.
He quickly dealt with them as he was offered acid and other things to dispose of them properly. The image of their lifeless bodies still stuck with him, but he tried to get it out of his head at the thought of Ella.
Ella and the baby were the reason he was doing this, plus he wasn’t doing the actual killings… That’s what he told himself at least, but the guilt haunted him every second as days passed by.
There would be days were he wouldn’t have to do anything, and he still got paid the same amount. His wife only thought it was a raise, and every suspicion she might’ve had was turned down by his beautiful lies.
After 2 weeks or so, he started recognizing the people on the ‘missing persons’ files that flew by. The amount of panic he started feeling was starting to take a tool on him, making him feel paranoid. He always felt eyes watching him and he felt as if he couldn’t escape the smell of rotting bodies.
The young man also started having nightmares, but the sight of his wife sleeping soundly next to him erased most feelings of dread.
He was considered part of the family, another thought which disgusted him. He wanted nothing to do with those kinds of people; however he couldn’t afford to leave. Plus, he couldn’t, even if he wanted to as he swore an oath. An oath which could only be broken by death, so he kept going.
As the amount of bodies grew, his stomach also grew stronger. The empathy he felt for the victims was still very much present, but he tried to set it aside at the thought of money. It felt wrong, but at the sight of Ella’s smile and the baby’s kicks it all felt easier.
Pablo would occasionally text him what a good job he was doing, but it didn’t help Mateo. His guilt was swallowing him and nobody noticed it. Mateo couldn’t let anyone notice it.
His eyes seemed to mimic the one’s he’d see during work: lifeless and empty. Ella noticed them, but Mateo hid it well, saying it was just the stress of becoming a father. She would accept that answer because any other answer would mean things weren’t going well… and she didn’t like feeling pessimistic.
Mateo’s nightmares started getting worse though, as he could no longer calm himself at the sight of Ella. His mind seemed to be torturing him for the things he was doing, worsening the guilt. His paranoia was getting out of hand, as he saw a potential cop everywhere he looked. The young man no longer felt safe leaving the comfort of his house, but he felt obligated to.
At some point, he started blaming Alejandro for introducing him into such business but he knew Alejandro’s intentions were good. The hell that he found himself in was only the result of his stupid decisions.
After 4 weeks of disposing bodies for a mafia, his mind felt as if it was no longer his. He imprisoned himself mentally for the wrong choices he kept making, but the act he put on for Ella was still strong. It was strong mainly because his feelings for Ella and the baby were more powerful than the guilt, shame and self-hatred that conquered his mind.
The strong acid smell was no longer a problem for him as he threw the bodies in. He watched with a cold stare as the flesh slowly disintegrated into the liquid. His heart was thundering as his hands were shaking.
He couldn’t do this anymore, he couldn’t—
“Hey Mateo, did you finish for the day?” Pablo asked as he walked in. “I am here to give you the money—“
“I can’t do this anymore.” The sternness in his voice caught Pablo’s attention.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t and I won’t do this anymore.” Mateo held Pablo’s stare, not letting himself be intimidated.
“Alright.” Pablo said, surprising Mateo.
But before Mateo could take another step, a gunshot was heard, followed by a severe pain that made Mateo drop to the ground. Another one followed, before blackness overtook his vision.
“The only way out is death, coward.” Pablo said, before walking away from the corpse.
Ella now joined the numerous groups of people that had lost someone to the mafia, but she didn’t know it. And just like every other person, Mateo’s face was now flying with the wind as the headline read: ‘Missing Person’.