At each of the following writing prompts, time is given the student to write their answers and then the teacher may lead a short discussion of the writing prompt, giving the students time to share their responses. This helps to aid the students in committing to the their predictions and responses.
One Rotten Apple by Maron Rosen
Finn had driven this way many times before. He wasn’t the least bit nervous, but old Eduardo next to him looked like he was going to bust a gut.
“Don’t forget, let me do all the talking,” Finn said. He saw brake lights come on in front of him. He pulled into the right lane and slowed down.
“Sure,” Eduardo said, his hands nervously working the thin fabric of his pant legs across each knee.
Finn stopped next to the booth marked number 2 of the San Ysidro Border Crossing Station.
Piece of cake, he thought. He recognized the INS inspector, a young guy named Joe.
“Hey, Joe,” Finn called, “what’s happening?”
“Nothing much. Same old thing. What’s new with you?”
Finn gave him his best smile and handed Joe his own driver’s license and Eduardo’s green card. Being friendly puts these guys off guard, he thought.
"Still hustling Mexican pots,” he said.
"Helluva way to earn a living, ain’t it."
Joe walked to the rear of the flatbed truck. It was a sagging, dilapidated mess with Mexican ceramic pots of every size and shape imaginable tossed in seemingly random piles. If one pot was dislodged, it looked as if the whole load would come crashing to the highway. Even the tailgate was loose and not much support. It had taken Finn close to an hour to carefully create the ramshackle pyramid of his wares.
“You make any profit with these?” Joe asked.
“Five, six dollars, ten for the big ones.”
Joe let out a whistle. ‘That’s not bad.”
“Yeah, pays my bar tab. Only trouble is I have to make this long haul to pick up the damn things.
“Well, you could get a regular job, nine to five stuff.”
Finn casually ran his hand through his thick sandy hair. “Not me. I’d rather eat Mexican dust once a month than work for somebody else.”
“I know what you mean. Well, have a safe trip home.” Joe returned their identification cards and waved.
Grinning, Finn waved back and pulled out slowly. Always slowly, carefully, and completely within the law. When you’re hauling illegal aliens across the border into California, the last thing you need is to be pulled over for speeding or reckless driving. He didn’t think of it as smuggling. It was merely a way of helping these poor ignorant farmers find a better way of life. They were given temporary shelter at a drop house by bleeding heart compadres like Eduardo and his wife, Maria, then they filtered through a network of willing employers until someone gave them work. Most of them had to break their backs working in the fields, harvesting beans or onion, but hell, it was a job, wasn’t it? Much better than they were able to do in Mexico. The fact that they paid Finn fifteen hundred dollars each for the ride north wasn’t the only reason he had fallen into this line of work. He liked the idea that he was helping his fellow man, even if they were Mexicans.
“I think we made it,” Eduardo whispered after they had gone about a half-mile.
“Of course we made it. Old Finn knows his stuff. You saw how I had the border patrol eating out of my hand didn’t you? Next thing you know, I’ll have the INS whipping up lunch for the boys in the back of the truck.” Finn laughed at his own joke; Eduardo leaned to his right and checked the truck’s side view mirror.
“Will you relax, man? You’re too jumpy,” Finn said.
"This may be old stuff to you, but I could lose my green card and get thrown in jail just for riding with you."
“So why’d you insist on coming along?” Finn asked.
“To look out for the men. There’s been too many stories. Things not working out right.”
“You worry too much.”
Eduardo narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know why you stuffed four guys in there when your compartment is built for three.”
“Man, that’s gratitude. I give one of your countrymen a chance for the good life in the old U S of A, and you don’t even appreciate my efforts.”
Eduardo tried to assassinate Finn with a stare. “So the extra fifteen hundred bucks had nothing to do with it?”
Finn shrugged. Hey, weren’t they begging you to bring along their ‘leetle’ brother? Give me a break.”
"Why’s a gringo like you working as a coyote anyway? All the other coyotes I’ve met are Latino. You’re the first gringo.”
“I don’t know what’s so special about this coyote crap. Anybody with half a brain can figure out how to get these guys across the border. The difference is a gringo like me is smart enough to not get caught. You see the guys your ‘brothers’ bring over every night on the eleven o’clock news.”
Eduardo slumped back against the seat and fell silent. That was okay. Finn had promised to deliver two truckloads to Eduardo’s place in Sylmar, but then he was going to find another drop house. Hell, there had to be two thousand families in the L.A. area who would give illegals a home until they could find work. He even knew of a church where they could hide. These people stuck together; he had to give them credit for that.
The truck bumped over the freeways north through Los Angeles, Glendale, and Burbank. Interstate 5 was starting to teem with thousands of cars heading home for the evening, and he had to go even slower than his usual sluggish pace. The smog and the heat were getting to him. By the time they got off the freeway in Sylmar, his shirt was sticking to his back, and every now and then he could feel a trickle of sweat run down his neck.
“Thank God we’re almost there,” Eduardo said. “The men need water.”
They pulled off the street into a little driveway barely wide enough for the truck to clear a scraggly border of oleander trees. Every drop house he had ever seen had some sort of barricade to block the view from the street.
“Drive around behind the house,” Eduardo said. “They’ll stay in that building.” Eduardo pointed to a wooden structure that looked like a stable.
“With the horses, huh?” Finn said.
“No horses. We have clean beds and plenty of food. That’s what they’ll want after such a ride.”
“Man, don’t spoil them. Next thing you know they’ll want room service.” Finn laughed.
Again, Eduardo wasn’t smiling.
A petite, incredibly beautiful woman with long black hair emerged from the back door of the house. Her face lit up the moment she saw Eduardo.
Finn was impressed. He didn’t care for most Latino women, too dumpy. And their eyes. They could look right through a man with those dark, haunted eyes of theirs. “That your wife?” he asked.
Eduardo gave him a sideways glance. “Yes, that’s Maria.”
Finn figured he’d better keep his opinion of Eduardo’s woman to himself. If he got a chance to pat that sweet-looking bottom of hers a little later, fine. If not, maybe he should just steer clear.
Eduardo seemed to be the edgy sort; no sense getting him more riled up than he already was.
“Hurry,” Maria called to Finn and Eduardo. “Get them out of there.” Her black eyes flashed toward the bed of the truck. She grabbed a loose pot near the side and pulled it off.
“Easy, sweet lady,” Finn said. “I have a system here.”
“This is Finn, the one I told you about,” Eduardo said.
“Hello,” she said, not meeting his eyes. That was okay; he would get to know her soon enough.
Finn and Eduardo climbed up the side of the truck just behind the cab. Carefully, one by one, they removed the flower pots and jardinieres that concealed the wooden structure housing the men.
The whole compartment was sunk into the bed of the truck in such a way that most of it was beneath the floor. The wooden structure that was visible looked as innocent as a tool box. Once the ceramic ware was cleared, Finn raised the lid. Two men, lying elbow to elbow, face up, squinted into the daylight. They grinned when they saw Eduardo.
“Let’s go, boys,” Finn said. “Vamanos, muchachos,”
Eduardo repeated in a gentler tone.
The men scrambled to the ground and stretched their stiff limbs. Maria immediately pointed out the bunk house and rattled off a whole litany of stuff in Spanish. Finn worked on the latch that would open the lower half of the chamber until it sprung loose and the board covering the other men could be raised. In the bottom layer, the two were wedged into a spot hardly big enough for one.
One man looked dazed, but he sat up and began to shout in Spanish, frantically pointing to the man lying next to him.
“Oh, my God,” Eduardo leaped down into the compartment. He helped the man, who was now holding his head, over to the side, then knelt next to the second man.
“What the hell’s going on?” Finn asked. That last guy looked green. He hoped he wouldn’t get sick all over his truck.
Eduardo called something to Maria, and she immediately blessed herself. He turned to Finn and shook his head. “This man, he’s dead.”
Jesus, Finn thought. Now they had to deal with a stiff. Thank God the men had all paid up front, in American cash.
“What are we going to do?” Maria asked, her eyes rimmed with tears.
“Well, we’re not going to call Forest Lawn for a funeral director, that’s for sure,” Finn said. “Just relax and let me think.”
Eduardo’s eyebrows pinched together. “How could this happen?” he demanded.
“Guy got sick, that’s all,” Finn reasoned.
“The other man said there’s a hole. Fumes were coming in right under his head.”
“Nah, the others didn’t die. That don’t make sense.”
Eduardo lifted the dead man and climbed out of the truck with him balanced over one shoulder.
“He’s just a boy. Probably no more than seventeen.”
“Yeah, too bad,” Finn said.
“You’ve got to fix that hole in your truck, before you make another trip to Mexico.”
Finn turned, surprised to hear the rather stern words delivered by Maria.
“Sure, honey, I’ll fix it.”
“I mean it, Mr. Finnegan. You can’t treat these people like dirt.”
“Okay, why riot? He probably died of some damned Mexican disease, but I’ll fix the hole if it’ll make you happy. First we have to dump this guy somewhere.”
Maria’s eyes widened. “Eduardo we can’t do that.’
Eduardo gently clutched her shoulders. “We can’t take a chance on the authorities finding out where he came from.”
“Damn straight. Strip him of any ID, and we’ll dump him in the woods somewhere,” Finn added.
Maria glanced at Finn. “At least let’s have a Rosary for him. I’ll get my Bible.”
They carried the dead man into the bunk house, and Maria led the others in a makeshift service. Finn waited outside, annoyed with all this mumbo jumbo. They were wasting precious time.
Finally, Finn and Eduardo moved the dead man into the back of Eduardo’s pick up. They covered him with a tarp, and headed toward a nearby canyon. It didn’t take long to find a secluded place to abandon the body. The cops would go nuts trying to figure out this one.
Back at Eduardo’s house, the three men sat in the yard with Maria. They talked nonstop in that incessant Spanish babble. Finn had to get out of this place. Too much of that gibberish could drive a guy batty.
“You did it?” Maria asked.
Eduardo nodded. “It’ll be all right. God forgive us, it couldn’t be helped.”
“Right,” Finn said. “You know how sometimes you go to the store and buy a bag of apples? When you get home don’t you always find one apple that’s no good? It’s rotten or something and you have to throw it away.”
“Mr. Finnegan, these are men, human beings, we’re dealing with,” Maria said through clenched teeth. “We shouldn’t throw away a person like a piece of rotten fruit.”
“Sure, honey, I know. That was just an example. I just meant things don’t always work out quite right.” Finn searched his pocket for his keys. ‘Well, adios. I’m sorry about the one we lost.”
Maria stepped over to Finn and ripped the keys from his hand.
“Maria,” Eduardo said, sucking in his breath, “what are you doing?”
“The coyote goes nowhere until he mends the hole. Show him where you keep your tools.”
Damn, Finn thought. It wasn’t often he ran into a feisty Mexican broad. Most of them were so shy it was pathetic. Maybe Eduardo’s little Maria deserved further investigation. He liked woman with a little fire in her.
“Okay, okay, I’ll do it. I just forgot.”
Eduardo gave him tools and a sheet of plywood that was about ten times too big.
“VVhere’s your power saw?” Finn asked. Eduardo pointed to a little hand saw. No power. Use that.”
Finn swirled -the back of his hand across his forehead. With tools like these, he’d be here all night.
“Where’s Maria?” he asked. “1 need a cold drink.”
“Inside.” Eduardo pointed toward their small frame house.
Finn let himself into the kitchen without knocking. Maria turned when she heard him; her eyes looked dark and sexy in this light. “How about a cold one?” he asked.
Maria went to the refrigerator and reached for a can of beer. When she leaned over, Finn patted her behind, ever so lightly. This little hot tamale felt as good as she looked. Her fist caught him under his chin, not hard enough to do any real damage, but much more powerful than he would have guessed.
“Whoa, sweetie. I just wanted to get to know you a little bit better. I'm fixing the hole like you asked; we can be friends can’t we?” Finn reached out and tried to put his arm around her.
Maria fairly leaped out of his reach. “You touch me again, I’ll scream for Eduardo,” she hissed.
Finn laughed. “You’re going to have to threaten me with a better man than old Eduardo. We’ll talk later, when I'm done with the truck. I think you’d enjoy getting to know a real man.”
Cutting the plywood was a slow process, but one more cut with the saw would do it. Hell, he thought, I’d better measure before I make the last cut. I don’t want to have to do it twice.
Finn climbed into the lower compartment of the hiding place, and got down on his knees. Shit, he needed a flashlight. No, what he really needed was to get out of here, preferably with Maria. Above his head, he heard the scraping together of two of his pots. He looked up, and a wide grin washed across his face.
“1 knew you’d come to your senses. 0l’ Finn can teach you a few things your ol’ man never even dreamed of”
A Man of Honor