Army in the Alley

Dianne comes into the bedroom. “There are soldiers in the callejón, the alley,” she says. “At least people wearing helmets.” I go up on the azotéa, the roof, so I can look down on the alley, which runs right by our front door and along the upper edge of the house. I see police with helmets—and dogs. Mexicans are afraid of dogs. This is a new weapon for the police. The police have new uniforms, look well-equipped. I look down the alley, toward the Old City center. All of it is old city. I see more police. They are acting like soldiers, taking cover in doorways. I look farther down. There are other figures. They are harder to discern. For some reason, Army olive green at night makes them blend in with the things around them. These men have Army helmets on and the rest of the battle dress. They hold assault rifles in ready-to-fire stances. I mean, they point them at a few passers-by, one of them holding his hands in the air. The soldiers have the most powerful flashlights I have every seen. They spot me on the roof top and illuminate me. I wave, to show I’m friendly. The lights stay on me, then move away. From my position, I can see the “enemy” climbing over a wall—the gang banger, paint thinner-sniffing seventeen-year old’s climbing over a wall bordering a dead end alley where the Army has trapped them. Three of them jump down and run uphill through the overgrown empty lot I’m looking down on. The Army has no idea the lads have slipped the noose. The flashlights land on me again. I point in the direction the “enemy” is escaping. I think better of it. I can be seen as collaborating. The police run back up past our house in pursuit. Then the Army. They search the vacant lot. They come up empty handed. We go to bed. At three a.m. I hear the gang bangers in front of the front door again. They are whistling signals to gather in their compañeros. They are winding up for another go at scaring the neighborhood. I call 066, get an almost immediate response. The woman at the other end is professional and clear. She wants to know how many gang bangers. I exaggerate a little: six or eight, I say. “A patrol will be right there.” I lie in bed listening. The glue-sniffing whistlers seem to have left. Later, I think I hear the quick tread of soft-soled boots on the steps of the callejón.

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