(Read the rest of this series here. It’s the greatest tale about an aquatic mammal since Moby Dick.)
It’s tempting to think, when you find yourself imprisoned in a giant crate inside the warehouse of human traffickers, that you’ve hit rock bottom. But that’s pretty shortsighted. Chances are, much worse things are still to come.
Maria and I were squished together inside the box, a tangle of uncomfortable limb positions. Some dick trafficker pushed us along on a dolly, taking us God knows where.
If I got out of there, I planned on opening every single box in that building to see if any one of them would melt these asshole’s faces off.
As Maria and I jostled against one another, I broke the silence. “Look, I gotta admit, if the circumstances were a little different this would be one of my top fantasies.”
Maria recoiled as far as she could manage in such tight quarters. “What?!”
“Yeah, being locked in a cramped box with a pretty lady. I call it sexual claustrophobia. Really gets me going.”
“God damn it, why is every single person around me completely insane?”
“Hey, I ain’t poking you with my boner right now, am I? I told you, the mood ain’t right.”
Maria pounded against the side of the crate. She yelled, “Do you seriously ship people overseas in crates? This is, like, cartoonishly awful.”
“Oh, there are more efficient ways to move the merchandise!” came the muffled, yet entirely-too-plucky voice of our handler. “Crates are just for internal shipping. Or for the organ donors, after the operations.”
I doubted that any of these particular organs were donated voluntarily.
That seemed more like it.
He continued, “I think a lot of it has to do with creating drama. It inspires fear, you know, being enclosed against your will. But there’s not even food slots in there, so it’s not like it’s a long term thing. Few days, max. We’ll throw you in a cell or ship you off after that.”
Maria said, “Jesus. A few days. They’ll be long gone with the manatee by then. This is horrifying. Was that fat asshole serious about having sex with it?”
I said, “Yeah, probably. Husk’s always been a bit on the weird side, sexually speaking. Goddamn, I can’t believe it. Two of my bros stab me in the back on the same day. What are the odds?”
“Well maybe you should look at the common denominator here.”
“Uh, yeah, they’re both assholes.”
“Well sure. But maybe this says more about you than it does about them. I get the sense that people don’t really like you.”
“Yo, where the hell did you come up with that idea?”
What’s that supposed to mean? I’m splendid!
I had just enough room to fold my arms in a huff. “Look, if we’re gonna be stuck in this box together for the foreseeable future, you might want to work on improving your attitude.”
“Oh I’m sorry. Do I seem tense? Maybe it’s because some disgusting pervert is making plans to violate the manatee that I’m supposed to be in charge of protecting! Meanwhile, I’m trapped in a goddamn crate with a delusional egomaniac, about to be sold into slavery! So forgive me if I seem a little pent up, because I literally am!”
From outside the box our handler said, “Ha ha, women, right? Let me see if I can shove some Pamprin through the cracks here.”
I said, “Ain’t that true as shit! High five, bro!” I stuck my palm flat against our plywood ceiling. There was a dull thump as he slapped somewhere on the opposite side.
Maria let out a yelp of rage and punched me straight in the mouth. I don’t know how she got the leverage, or how she could see anything in the pitch black of our box, but her aim was right on. My head snapped back into the wall and I recoiled away from where I thought any more attacks might be coming.
Like this, but in a crate.
But as it turned out, Maria didn’t have time to strike more than once.
It must have been a combination of things that tipped us over the edge. Maybe just our flailing was enough. Maybe the smuggler pushing us hadn’t quite gotten both hands back on the dolly after high-fiving me. Whatever it took, it worked. The box wobbled, back on one corner, up on another.
The smuggler said, “Hey, stop it! You’re gonna tip-”
And we were moving. I fell forward as the box destabilized, tipped up on one edge. I crashed into Maria and that only furthered our momentum. The box tipped fully onto its side.
Then a sudden lurch – that great sense of vertigo as all your internal organs fly up into your throat. The whole box and its human contents fell, perhaps two seconds in total, then we crashed to the ground in an explosion of wood fragments and pain and light.
I lay on the ground groaning and full of slivers, trying to blink away the sudden brightness of the room. I rolled onto my back and looked around to see what had happened. We lay on the floor between two aisles of the warehouse, various sized crates stacked on the shelves around us. Judging by the smuggler wearing the “oh shit’ look on the landing above us, we had fallen off the catwalk and onto the ground floor. There was no railing along the catwalk, which would probably be a serious OSHA violation if a safety officer were ever allowed to leave this place un-murderd.
“We appreciate your inspection of our villainous lair. We’ll be sure to implement your suggestions at the earliest opportunity.”
“Oh balls, not again,” said the smuggler, dropping the dolly. He hopped down the stairs, cursing to himself.
I noticed he wore sweatpants.
Maria writhed next to me, gasping and clutching at her chest. Jesus, the fall had been painful enough for me. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like with her broken ribs.
The guy came up to us, running his fingers through his hair. “Ah geez, what a mess. All right, just get into this other box here, OK guys? This is my third strike, and I really need this job.”
He bent down, trying to pull Maria up into his arms. She struggled and spat blood into his face.
He recoiled. “Oh come on, you don’t have to be like that!”
She kicked, tried to fight, but then he gripped her around the chest and she howled in pain.
As he dragged her off, she shouted, “Chris, you shit, do… ahhh, something!”
I was still pretty winded myself and all, but I decided to do my best to help her out. If there’s a damsel in distress, I’m your guy.
To my left, leaning against the shelf, was a crowbar. I grabbed it, my fingers gripping the long end. I swung it and hooked the smuggler by the ankle. I yanked and he lost his balance. He let go of Maria and stumbled forward. I’d hopped to my feet at this point and I ran toward him. When I was in range I unleashed one of my proprietary Chris Derricks dick-kicks and he collapsed.
I pinned him to the ground with my knee to his chest.
“Bro, I thought we were cool!” he squealed. “We high-fived and everything!”
Maria had picked up the crowbar and raised it high above her head. “Tell us how to get out of here, or I swear I’ll bash your skull into the floor.”
His fingers slapped at something on his belt. I thought maybe it was a gun, but it wasn’t. It was a walkie talkie. He pushed the button.
Before I could pull his hand away, he shouted, “Hey help! We’ve got Zulus out of their crate! I repeat, Zulus out of their-”
Maria made good on her promise. She swung the crowbar down low, like a golf club, and with a crack of skull he went still.
She said, “Zulus? God, fuck these people.”
His yelling had done the trick. Voices burst across his walkie like firecrackers. Footsteps and shouting echoed throughout the warehouse, no doubt converging on our location.
Maria turned to me. “How do we get out of here?”
“Fuck if I know! I only been here once before.”
She pointed through a gap in the shelves. “What’s that door? Can we get through it?”
“Guess we’ll see, huh?”
We made our way down the aisle of the warehouse, hyper-conscious of the increasing proximity of violent criminals.
“Stop!” hissed Maria.
A group of the traffickers ran past on the opposite side of the aisle. We crouched down between some crates and waited for them to pass.
Which proved to be a slightly better method of hiding than my usual technique.
“Yo,” I whispered. “You’re welcome for saving your ass back there, by the way. Again.”
“You saved me? Oh, barely! I’m the one who got us out of that box, aren’t I?”
“What, by punching me?”
“Yeah, by punching you!”
I coughed. “I mean, technically it was my sexism that got you all fired up in the first place, so I think I deserve some credit.”
She hissed something in Spanish that was probably pretty inflammatory. I chose to be the better man and not comprehend her language.
By now the traffickers had moved on. We jogged until we found a break in the aisle and doubled back around the other side. There was the door, to our right, about twenty yards away. We started toward it.
The door would have been super easy to reach, had that lovely group of traffickers not decided to come back. They rounded the corner at the far end of the aisle. We all froze, surprised at this sudden development. The door sat about halfway between us and the traffickers. Though, even this little speedbump would have been manageable had they not started shooting at us.
As far as villainous henchmen goes, hopefully they had the aim of these guys.
At this point we were pretty screwed. We could turn around, sure, but it was further back to where we’d come than it was to the door. Plus, we’d already been that direction and hadn’t found a way out. Alternatively, though the door might have offered a solution, it was also the same direction as a mob of armed psychopaths. We had found ourselves pretty damn stuck.
Maria solved the dilemma by putting her head down and charging forward. Not one to willingly leave the presence of a beautiful lady, I followed.
We sprinted toward the first group of people firing lethal weapons at us, ducking and dodging as best we could. I zigged and zagged and rolled and kicked myself off one of the lower shelves and did a little pirouette in the air. I was more than a moving target. I was like the wind. I was a ghost. Bullets couldn’t fucking touch me, man.
Well, except for the one that hit me straight in the neck.
I cried out and fell to the ground, clutching at the ragged fountain of blood spurting out of my throat pipes.
Maria shouted my name, stopped in her tracks, then doubled back. Didn’t even hesitate. She came back for me, despite how often she’d gone on about hating me and finding me sexually repulsive. What can I say? I guess I’ve got a way with the ladies.
I’d fallen just a few feet short of the door. She scooped me up by the armpits, pivoted, and we were through the doorway in under ten bullet near-misses flat. She threw the door closed and scrambled with the bolt lock. Somebody slammed against the door. Someone else fired a couple bullets into it. They didn’t penetrate the metal.
We had stopped them, for the moment, though I was sure they would break through soon enough. At least one of them would have the key, after all.
Still, I wasn’t sure I would even live to see them unlock the door. I could feel the slippery redness bubbling up around my neck. Maria gaped at me. I’d seen that look on people’s faces before, just not ever directed at me.
My head hit the floor and everything else started to disappear.