Each of the children were carried up the levee and laid down in the bus. Even Hector was too weak and cold to fight off Santino who brought him up the levee. They were dried and covered with blankets which had been stored in the bus. The heaters were turned up and the doors closed. Soon all of the survivors were fast asleep.
Once settled, Tomas leaned over to Fr. Pedro and asked, “What do we do now boss?”
“We’ll have to find a way to get them out of here,” he answered.
“But where will we take them?”
“We can’t leave them here. Maybe the parents, maybe they survived?” Santino said.
“It’s not likely. You saw what I saw. The water is crazy mad,” Tomas replied.
“Then we may have to take them back to the Mission until we can sort this out. Look at them, they’re in shock,” Fr Pedro said.
Tomas suddenly called out to Fr. Pedro, pointing down the levee road. Moving toward them was a Border Patrol unit with a single officer driving.
“La Migra!” Santino shouted.
Fr. Pedro watched closely as the officer stopped. After putting on his rain slicker and hat, he stepped out and walked slowly toward them.
“What will he want?” Tomas asked.
“I don’t know. Make sure everyone stays where they are. No one runs.”
Fr. Pedro then began to walk toward the officer by himself.
“Stay where you are!” the officer yelled as he placed his hand onto his sidearm.
He then continued toward Fr. Pedro but did not speak. Instead he slowly walked past him and around the bus. Father Pedro could see that he was a young agent who looked Hispanic.
Looking inside he saw all of the children. He continued his walk looking around at the ropes and floats scattered around the scene. He then sized up Tomas and Santino who sat by the bus still and quiet. Finally, he walked back to Fr. Pedro.
“You are all wet from the river more than from the rain?” he asked.
“Yes. The children,” he pointed to the bus. “They were alone in a sinking boat. We did what we could.”
“The four children are okay?”
“Yes, they seem to be, but they should be checked over by medical.”
“Do you have some sort of ID you can show me?”
None of the priests were wearing their religious clothing. They rarely did when working for SOMOS. He pulled out his wallet and handed him a wet California driver’s license.
“Yes. Los Angeles, I am Father Pedro Moreno.”
“You are SOMOS? You are the leader of those crazies from California?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“I have heard of you. What are you doing in Texas?”
“We travel along the border. Most of the time we are in California, but today we had business in Brownsville. We were heading back along the highway, and we stopped to check this stretch of the Rio when this happened.”
“You should know that we just fished out five.” He held up five fingers. “A mile or so up river.”
“All adult Hispanic, three men, two women. No IDs.”
Fr. Pedro hesitated to ask, “Dead?”
“All of them. Drowned.”
The officer then looked over to the bus which held the four children.
“The minors, they’re now orphans?” the officer asked.
Shrugging his shoulders, Fr. Pedro replied, “I don’t know. I have seen no one around to claim them.”
The officer reached up to adjust his hat, which was now saturated and dripping with rain water.
“Can I speak to you in private over here, padre?”
When they were far enough away from the others, the officer looked directly into Fr. Pedro’s eyes and said,
“I’m going to have to take the children to a processing center in McAllen.”
“I know of that place. It’s no good, no good for the kids,” Fr. Pedro said as he took off his glasses. “What will happen then?” he asked.
“They will be assigned a US caseworker. Most likely they will end up back in Mexico within forty-eight hours. The Mexican authorities will drop them off at an orphanage.” The officer pointed across the river to Mexico.
“That is worse than being on the streets in Mexico. They will probably escape and be out on the streets in a week or so.”
Both men took a worried pause. The officer then added, “Unless. . .”
The officer paused again.
“Unless you tell me that they are with you. Then, of course I will take your word. If you say they are. After all, you are a padre, right?”
“Then they are with me,” Fr. Pedro replied.
The officer studied Fr. Pedro again and then with a grin said, “I will need to go to confession after this one.”
“I think you are confessing this very moment and I absolve you of your sins. As I am certain that the Lord absolves you. I know He is happy that you show such compassion for these little ones.”
“You know huh? Did He already tell you that?” he said with a smile.
“They have suffered such a loss and at such a young age,” Fr. Pedro said.
“Watch my patrol unit when I leave. Follow my route along this same road. I will leave the gate open for you. You will not be seen. Be sure to lock the gate once you pass.”
The officer then turned and walked toward his patrol unit.
“Officer!” Fr. Pedro called out.
The officer turned back.
The officer offered nothing back but a wink.
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