Jack Wesley Hardin’s
(a smuggler’s memoir) #4

Pulling out of the parking lot, I looked back through the rear view mirror in time to witness Gordo back his old pick-up truck into the front grill of someone’s new Corvette.  Only his family connections kept me from shooting him for sport some dark night.

The coffee and piccante sauce began to flush those early morning white demons out of my system.  Next stop the mechanic – the underground mobile transport business calls for a damn good mechanic, someone who can keep his mouth shut and wrenches clean at the same time.  Rocco’s repair sign was soon blinking fluorescent red through my windshield as I pulled into the large single story brick building.  Rocco himself met me with all smiles; my appearance always meant a run on the playing chips of life, that old universal scorecard of money, honey.   So I knew he was feeling it as he waved his arm, motioning me through the building and out the rear garage door, outside, around the corner.

There, covered by dusty tarps, sat my two prize horses; Chevrolet one-ton stick-shift 300-horsepower dark-chocolate-brown-pickups, a couple of steel camper topped heavy duty bad ass marijuana catchers and carriers, if there ever were any. A list of the most up-to-date smuggler toys accompanied each truck.  Experience is a harsh teacher in this hostile environment.  Several toggle switches hidden under the dash controlled the pale yellow fog lights mounted out of sight under the front bumper.  And another one cut off the brake lights.  Looking like a lit Christmas tree does not promote longitivity in the darkness of the desert when our DEA brothers are trying to play tag.  The two weeks of full-to-half-empty moon served as our headlights while escaping to the closest paved road. The yellow running lights gave off several seconds of adrenalin filled eyesight of the shady, rocky desert road in front of me, but I knew better than most that many a good truck had crashed on those rocks.  It was sort of like running down a highway for your life in a blinding snowstorm, if you need a Siren of your own to relate to.

Once the tarps were off I reached behind the seat and lifted a medium sized duffel bag up and out on to the hood.  There inside was the ground-to-air (two-thousand-dollar)-radio, a necessity (in pre-technobabble days) if the man on the ground was to talk to an approaching pilot. Eight walkie-talkies with several bags of unopened new batteries, flashlights, a half dozen U.S. Marine corps K Bar knives, canteens, several night vision goggles, binoculars, bolt cutters, tow chain, seven throw-away revolvers, boxes of ammunition, all tools of the trade.

Meanwhile, Rocco cranked the other truck, ground the engine, smiled, put his open palm complete with greasy fingernails in my face.  Five smiling Benjamins were soon warming his pocket.

After stopping back at the ranch for a reload of Mexican bright green, I was soon heading North on I-10 to the Red Rock Exit. Then following dirt roads South, winding through high cactus filled hills, then cruising down dry sandy river beds, surrounded by the majesty of granite purple mountains, until the heat of the afternoon winds kicked in. They came in around lunch with hot air cooking on the 180 degrees Sonoran desert floor, blasting upward like sour milk in a Pina Colada exiting from the entry post on your hung over face.

My drive was to checkout the landing site.  We used a dozen sites, all numbered 1-to-11, not 12, because there was an old number 7 and a new number 7 in there with it too.  Being one digit off could be not-a-good-thing. This was number four, 22 miles from the border.  It had been six months since we had brought one in there.  Now we wanted to be greedy and bring in three in one fun-filled-evening.

I stopped at the edge of the lake bed.  Turning off the engine, I hopped outside the truck and surveyed the area with binoculars. Only white parched cow backbones rose out of the dark sandy lake bed.  I didn’t measure the length since we had done that several years ago.  See, the pilots never liked to have to turn their planes around – once they landed.  So you had to double the distance of the necessary runway. Two thousand feet was good. Pilots never shut their engines off unless absolutely necessary. Most planes were stolen and flown across the border to the airfield at Corborca.

Stealing Cessna aircraft was a snap.  Engraved on the outside door were a set of numbers that would match the ignition key.  So our good amigo locksmith would cut us our own personal ignition keys.  Owners would use chain and wrap it around the prop (propeller), then lock it.  This was used to keep honest and impulsive persons away.  We were neither.  Most small airports are deserted at night, so after cutting the chain off, the rest was like rolling off a log.  Since planes are always put away topped off with fuel, pumping gas wasn’t even necessary.  Flying five hundred feet off the deck below the radar, 180 miles per hour, weaving between mountain canyons and then the twinkling lights of the airport in Corborca.  All in a breathsucking hour.  Who needs Disneyland, sports fans?

I walked the lake bed, moving bones, filling in holes. . .then noticed several sets of (three-wheeled) tricycle tracks in the sandy soil.  Somebody else was dropping in.  Boot tracks. . .truck tracks. . .both made during the last month, I reckoned.  There had been more than a few times we found other landing crews waiting at our sites.  Usually everybody was cool; First come, first served was the rule.  It was a smaller world then, and people like Gordo had mingled their blood for centuries, so they were all related to each other.  This meant incest was not only a national treasure, but the reason you could pack more Mexican clowns in one of those little circus car than big hungry gringos. It also meant that at any given time there could be a crowd of paranoid sociopaths ready to fight it out for landing rights.  Then, of course, banditos knew all about landing sites and full moons. Murder and robbery weren’t crimes here in no-hombre’s-land.

I stayed until sundown – mostly just watching and listening until I was sure all was quiet on the Southern front.  Since I was familiar with the site, getting out after dark posed no problem. Dirt roads, dry river beds and rocks all look alike in the dark if you don’t know where you’re going.  Naturally, more than one marijuana laden truck was spotted in the early morning dawn by DEA aircraft.

They always went out at sunrise to search for lost souls and wrecked aircraft. All the DEA planes were solid white in color and “push-pull” Cessna aircraft.  That is, they had an extra engine that helped them in slow flights. The advantage to us was you could always see and hear them coming from quite a distance away. But being hit by the morning sun in a truck on the ground was like being Dracula caught out-side his coffin taking a piss on a Crucifix. Not good. . .And true to form, the coyotes were in rare howling voice as I found the paved road and headed back to the ranch.

Later that morning, as I was having coffee on the porch, an old battered pickup chugged up to the front of my adobe digs.  Out popped “Dirty Duck”, one of my best pilots. Bow-legged and wired together from too many crop dusting crashes, the Duck had a cigarette in one hand, a thermos of Johnny Walker Red Scotch in the other as he shaded his gleaming without-sleep-eyes from the sun and greeted me in an excited voice that sounded like (that more famous Hollywood duck) Disney’s star quack, Donald.  The transformation happened every time he went on a bender, and since he basically lived on a bender, he sounded more like a duck than a human most of the time.  Reaching for the thick gold chain around his neck, he pulled it out from under his shirt and connected to it was a slender glass container full of fine-fine Peruvian snow.  And once again morning accelerated.

Besides his quack, D.D. had been dubbed Dirty Duck for a host of other reasons. Primary of which was the jungle-rotted web-feet he had gotten walking through Agent Orange jungles in Vietnam as a young infantry grunt. He had cleaned out more bars than you could count merely by removing his shoes and wiggling his deformed tootsies in the slow tantalizing breeze of an old fashioned ceiling fan. Fortunately for me he was wearing cowboy boots this morning.

He had flown in from Corborca the previous evening, hiding the plane in a clump of mesquite trees.  One of his dumb young girlfriends had picked him up in his old truck so he could come see me. This unusual trip, he quacked, had been prompted by Gordo strange disappearance from the Nogales train! Without Gordo there was no money for the bribes and aviation fuel, and we were literally up shit’s creek without a paddle.  Promises were seen as iron contracts to the Federales, enforceable at the end of a 45 caliber automatic.

I left the duck out on the porch, went into the house, then out to my personal bank in the backyard.  Scraping off a couple of inches of dirt from a large salt cedar tree, I removed a small wooden salad bowl invented to cover the top of my buried PVC plastic pipe with a sealed bottom and a screw top (good luck to police medal detectors).  I pulled out ten thousand in hundreds. An immediate deposit to the Corborca bank was a must do.

After a couple of swigs of Mr. Walker, I decided to go with Dirty Duck and make amends to our border buddies.  Stuffing the cash down into my cowboy boot and putting on my Ray-Bans, we set out into the desert to find the stashed plane.  This particular Cessna had a Stohl Kit on it.  A Stohl Kit was installed in Kansas City, Kansas, at the Cessna factory for 20,000 bucks. This gave us bigger wings, flaps, and more fuel, which meant incredibly slow flights, and incredible short take offs and landings at a very low speed. We had carefully picked this baby out before stealing it.

As Dirty Duck kissed his sweetie adios, I finished off Mr. Walker. Then we were off in a cloud of dust and sand, clipping cactus and rabbits in the noon day sun.  The desert moves fast at low altitude.  But not fast enough to be invisible unfortunately. Suddenly a DEA Beachcraft Twin Bonanza pulled up beside us waving its wings side-to-side as we were sharing more of the gold chain goodies. Several men inside were frantically waving their arms, signaling us to land.  Dirty Duck quacked out “FAT CHANCE!”, and it was tag time for real. Simultaneously we both looked eye-to-eye over at the enemy – took several more long pulls out off the golden bottle to really flip our friends out, then the Duck jerked the yoke straight up, stopping and stalling our bird in midair as the DEA blasted forward past us.  Next, Duck shoved the stick down.  It was like being on a roller coaster on the big drop.  Full extended flaps and a last second pull up of the yoke to raise our nose as it bounced us off the ground!  Then Duck jammed the left rudder and brakes to skid the plane along the ground, completely spinning us 180 degrees until we were facing in the opposite direction.  The force of the move caused me to black out. And by the time I regained consciousness (a few seconds, a few minutes, a few lifetimes later) we were screaming flat out down a narrow canyon.  Looking out my window I saw a clump of Cholla cactus several feet from me embedded in the wing, with fuel trickling out into the wind.  Suddenly there was a loud sharp grinding sound as the green starboard wing tip light shattered into the canyon wall.  We were fucked for sure, I thought, as the plane shivered and started vibrating, but Dirty Duck had a full throttle and somehow had even managed to light up a cigarette during my absence from consciousness.  I looked up just in time to see power lines flash by above the roof.  Figuring death was imminent, I did the only thing I could, grabbing the gold chain and snapping it off Duck’s neck, then took what I thought was the last snort in the history of my nostrils.  But Duck didn’t care; by then he was screaming and quacking at the same time, “You bastards ain’t got the balls to fly with me!  Bring it on, you unrighteous assholes! Bring it on!”

Surprisingly finding myself still alive, the idea of being captured was beginning to appeal to me, but Duck would have none of that Mickey Mouse shit in his foxhole; he’d rather die than surrender!  He was quacking something hysterical in Vietnamese as we broke out of the canyon.  Then immediately did a barrel role, a 360 degree roll, his eyes searching the sky for a window to disappear into.  But amazingly there was no need, because there were no DNA to be seen anywhere around us.  “You assholes work by the hour, we work because we love it!” Duck quacked out to the Gods, then let out a loud garbled victory quack.

The DEA boys had had enough.  Maybe because they didn’t want to die, or more probably because we were in Mexican air space now and our Big Brother had to get permission from Mexico to not only enter the airspace, but to land.  And for some reason, as we all knew, this permission was very seldom given.

Within an hour we were swooping down on the airstrip in Corborca.  Which was perfect timing, since I fiercely had to piss after going through this dog fight. Relief seemed only a few minutes away when the windshield shattered in our faces, and the distinctive ping of bullets going through the aluminum rang out all around us.  Duck shoved on the throttle, raised the flaps and pulled up and right on yoke all at the same time. All hell had broken loose then but we had no time to determine why so many different people were trying to kill us.  A large pop echoed outside my now broken window.  The small leak in our wing had been sparked by an incoming bullet and half the wing was a flaming ball of fire.  The trees and greenery were coming up fast as we looked deep into each other’s eyes one last time, and Duck quacked, “See you in Hell, Jack.”

“Not if the Devil gets a wiff of your feet first”, I roared, and then we hit!”

To Be Continued…

#3 @ http://smokesignalsmag.com/7/?p=2090

#2 @ http://smokesignalsmag.com/7/?p=1340

#1 @ http://smokesignalsmag.com/7/?p=10


Jack Wesley Hardin is the nom de plume for a legendary Private Investigator involved in some of the biggest and most controversial high profile criminal and civil cases in the United States. A television series is presently being developed based on his exploits and involvement in those cases. A one time college football star, gonzo NFL linebacker, Green Beret, soldier of fortune, and hippie John Wayne on the Mexican side of the law (in the good ole days of his spent youth), Mexican Sweat (the anatomy of a dope deal) is a memoir from those early years that will be serialized in Smoke Signals. Stay tuned.



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