Authors: James Patterson
GUS AND I HAD FINISHED
our morning session, one that had started earlier than usual today, Gus having told me he had to be in Miami on business in a few hours.
We’d been talking again about what Tyler had said, and what Daniel had said to Mom on the boardwalk.
“You need to let this go,” Gus said.
“I’m not a little girl she has to let win,” I said.
“You said you asked her about it, and she said she
let you win, correct?”
“I don’t believe her,” I said.
Sky was already back inside. Gus had moved his wheelchair out of the ring and into some shade near the front of the barn.
“Is she in the habit of lying to you?” he said.
“Then repeat: Let it go.”
“But Cullen was right,” I said. “There was no reason for her to take that jump the way she did.”
He sighed, then looked at his watch.
“Do you need to get going,” I said, “or are you tired of listening to me?”
“Little of both.”
“I know it sounds like I’m whining.”
“Only because you
“But we’re both reaching for the same goal,” I said. “Mom and me. We’re both trying to make the Olympics. And I’ve made it this far without her mama-bear-ing me. And you know who looks bad when she does something like this?
“If she did.”
“Trust me,” I said. “She did. Even if she won’t admit it and neither will you.”
I shook my head. “I mean, I’ve got enough going on without dealing with this shit.”
“Got a lot on your plate, do you?”
He cursed. Loudly. As if he’d heard enough.
“Would you like to know who’s really dealing with some shit today? Your boyfriend.”
“Not my boyfriend.”
“Hush and listen!”
The words hit me so hard I was surprised they didn’t knock me back. I saw Emilio poke his head out of the barn door.
“Daniel’s appearing in immigration court today, trying to save his friend’s ass,” Gus said. “The guy was locked up in Fort Lauderdale. The hearing’s in Miami.”
“He didn’t tell me.”
“Probably because all
dealing with,” Gus said sarcastically.
“Is he in trouble?” I said.
“No,” Gus said. “But he’s about to be.”
GUS HAD INSISTED
on driving and proceeded to do so like a maniac, taking the turnpike most of the way. On the way down he told me about Hector Suarez, who’d been a groom at Dick Gilbert’s barn and worked with Tyler Cullen’s horses until two ICE agents had arrested him at the Lake Worth home he and his wife shared with two other grooms. It was over an old arrest for assault, from a bar fight that, according to Gus, had started with a guy at the bar calling Hector a “spic.”
At the time Hector had never appeared for his court date, afraid of being deported. Four months ago, he’d been caught in a big ICE sweep in our area, been thrown into a federal detention center in Fort Lauderdale, the closest detention center of its kind to Palm Beach County. The hearing about whether he would be permanently “removed” from the United States and sent back to Mexico was this morning.
“So that’s where Daniel would disappear to,” I said.
Daniel would be there to speak on Hector’s behalf. They had been friends since their parents had come together from Mexico to the United States. As Dreamers, children of undocumented parents, Hector and Daniel had been free from government scrutiny. But now, as Gus said, nobody was safe while the Supreme Court deliberated. Children of undocumented immigrants who
been born here,
were safe. Not Dreamers.
“But Daniel has done nothing wrong,” I said. “Why would he be in trouble?”
“He’s putting a target on his back by putting himself out there,” Gus said. “The government will have all of his information after today. And even if the judge rules in Hector’s favor, I know how this works, I’ve had my guys in the system before. The government will have eyes on Daniel going forward, especially if the judge
give Hector a pass on what sounds to me like a bullshit arrest. Trust me on this: the boys from ICE don’t like being made to look bad.”
This was why Daniel had been so fearful of being deported himself.
“Does Mom know?” I said to Gus.
“No,” he said.
“You told me but not her,” I said.
“Think of it as a reality check,” Gus said.
The Florida Immigration Building was at Riverview Square. Gus parked the van in a lot about a block away.
“You must have a handicapped permit,” I said.
“Those are for handicapped people,” he said.
I’d never seen him out of jeans and T-shirts and the Bennett Farm vest he wore on particularly cool mornings. Today he was wearing a blazer and gray pants and a white shirt.
The hearing had been scheduled for noon. But we found out once we were through security that it had been moved up to eleven o’clock. It was ten fifty when we walked into the hearing room. Daniel sat behind Hector and a man I assumed was Mr. Connors, the immigration lawyer Daniel had mentioned. At a small table about twenty feet to Mr. Connors’s right, sat the man I assumed was the government prosecutor. Behind him were two men in dark suits who Gus whispered had to be ICE.
Judge Alexandra Ross reminded me of the actress who played Mrs. Maisel on TV. The prosecutor addressed her directly, acting as if Hector were some kind of terrorist for defending himself in a bar fight. He turned and nodded at the two men in the suits, identified them as Agent Dolan and Agent Josephs, and said they had no choice but to arrest Hector.
“No American, no matter where they’re born, gets to decide which laws they want to follow,” the prosecutor said. “Our legal system isn’t a buffet table. Mr. Suarez originally broke the law with assault, and then broke it again by ignoring his court date.”
Mr. Connors first presented some letters of support for Hector, then slowly laid out the case that if Hector hadn’t been a scared kid without legal representation who would have gotten him to his court date the charges against him would likely have been dropped.
“Maybe the government sees Hector Suarez as a criminal,” Mr. Connors said, shooting a glance at the ICE agents. “No other reasonable person should.”
It was Daniel’s turn to speak. There was no formal witness stand. He could have spoken to the judge from his seat. He chose to walk to the front of the room and stand in front of her, stating his name, age, address, occupation, employer.
When the judge asked for his immigration status, Daniel said, “DACA.”
“For the record, Mr. Ortega is referring to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” the judge said to the stenographer seated to her right.
I had never seen Daniel this nervous. About anything. He was wearing a gray suit, white shirt, tie. I didn’t even know he owned a suit. One more thing, then, that I didn’t know about Daniel Ortega. He answered a few questions from Mr. Connors about his friendship with Hector, before Mr. Connors asked him to explain to the judge, in his own words, why she should accept what the lawyer called Hector Suarez’s “petition for cancellation of removal.”
“Hector is as American as anybody I know, in all the right ways,” is the way Daniel began.
He stood tall, hands clasped behind his back.
“They call people like us Dreamers,” he said to the judge. “Do you want to know what my friend’s dream is? To move out of the house where his wife watched him be arrested and own one of his own someday and start a family here and live the life he imagined for himself when he came to this country with his parents.”
Gus reached over and squeezed my shoulder.
Daniel cleared his throat.
“Hector Suarez doesn’t just conduct himself like he is a citizen of this country already,” he said. “He is a
citizen. One who works hard. And pays his taxes. Who loves his wife and his friends and his job and horses. You don’t ask someone like this to leave America. You beg him to stay.”
Suddenly Daniel didn’t sound nervous at all. His voice was sure and confident and had the complete attention of everyone in the room.
“Hector and I started out as grooms together at the same barn,” Daniel said. “I told him he should be a trainer—he had a gift with horses. But he told me, no, I was the one who should be a trainer someday. He said that he knew how to care for horses and communicate with them. But I knew how to make great jumpers and great riders. It was Hector who found out about the assistant trainer’s job at Atwood Farm. They wanted to interview him, but he told them to hire me before somebody else did. When I interviewed with Mrs. Atwood, my boss, I asked her how she knew about me. She said, ‘Hector told me.’ When I got back to the barn where we were still working, I asked him how I could possibly repay a kindness like that. He told me, ‘Someday you will find a way.’”
He turned to look at Hector, and smiled, then looked back at the judge.
“With your help, Your Honor, maybe I have finally done that,” Daniel said.
The judge thanked him. Daniel walked back to his seat. Even from a few rows back, I could hear him exhale, loudly, when he sat down.
The judge then stated that in chambers she would consider Mr. Connors’s recommendations and the prosecutor’s, read the letters and the original arrest report, and would then announce her decision.
When she was out of the room, Daniel came and sat with Gus and me. As cold as the air-conditioning was in the hearing room, he was still sweating slightly, as if he were still standing in front of Judge Ross.
She came back fifteen minutes later.
“First off, Mr. Suarez,” she said, addressing Hector directly, “the next time somebody calls you a shitty name in a bar, go home to your wife.”
I leaned over and said into Gus’s ear, “Can she say that?”
“She just did,” he said.
Judge Ross leaned forward slightly.
“But as for this proceeding, we have wasted too much of your time in that detention center, Mr. Suarez, and too much government money,” she said. “Your friend is right. You’re not a criminal, unless being a victim of circumstances is now a federal offense in this country.”
She shifted her gaze to the two ICE agents.
“Perhaps in the future, we should think about doing a little better job making that distinction,” she said.
She banged her gavel.
“Your petition for cancellation is granted by this court, Mr. Suarez. As quickly as we can process you out, you will be released from custody.” She smiled at Hector now. “Where’s your wife?”
“Working,” Hector said.
“Call her,” the judge said, then announced that court was adjourned.
When we were all on the sidewalk, I took Daniel’s hand and gave it a good squeeze.
“You’re an even better friend than you are a trainer,” I said to him.
better,” Gus said.
It got a laugh out of Daniel. Never, I knew from experience, an easy thing to do.
“You think this is funny?” we heard from behind us.
It was the shorter of the two ICE agents, showing us his badge, as if that were necessary.
“No, sir,” Daniel said. “Please believe me, I don’t think any of this is funny.”
The taller one said, “We’d like a word with you, Mr. Ortega.”
THE COLOR DRAINED
from Daniel’s face, in a blink, as if he feared the judge had changed her mind while we were exiting the building. Daniel looked at both of the agents, then at me, then at Gus. I could see him trying hard to swallow. I remembered all the times he had spoken of the government. Now here the government was, in the form of these two guys, standing right in front of him, in front of a federal building.
But Daniel didn’t get the chance to speak because Gus beat him to it.
“No,” Gus said, “you may not have a word with him. But thanks for asking.”
“Who the hell are you?” the taller agent said.
“Think of me as a concerned citizen,” Gus said, then whipped around his wheelchair to face them both squarely, a quick move that bumped one of the wheels against the taller man’s foot. I knew it hadn’t been accidental. But what were they going to do, arrest a guy in a wheelchair for assault?
“Sorry,” Gus said.
“I’ll bet,” the taller agent said.
“Got a question,” Gus said to him. “Is it your intent to arrest Mr. Ortega?”
“Like we said,” the shorter one said. “We just want a word.”
said,” Gus said, “if you’re not going to arrest him, get the hell out of here.”
The two agents looked at each other and shook their heads.
“Tough guy,” the shorter one said.
“You have no idea,” I said to them, smiling.
The shorter agent ignored Gus and me, turned his attention to Daniel.
“You need to know something, Mr. Ortega,” he said. “Your buddy got lucky today, absolutely. Caught himself a dream judge. So he won, we lost, the judge gave us some shit. Happens. But not very often, does it, Eddie?”
“Hardly ever, Larry,” Eddie said.
“And you know all that information about yourself that you gave the judge a few minutes ago?” Larry said to Daniel. “Now we’ve got it, too. We’ve actually had it since you went on the witness list. We know where you work, and who you work for. We know a lot.”
“And now we’re giving you a heads-up,” Eddie said, “that one of these days you might get yourself on the wrong side of all this.”
“You know what guys like us find out in our line of work?” he said. “That everybody has secrets.” He smirked at Daniel. “You got any secrets, Mr. Ortega?”
This started off badly and has gone downhill.
“We should leave,” I said to Gus.
Gus looked at the tall one, then the short one. Even dealing with a couple of federal agents, I knew how much he hated bullies.
“Them first,” he said, his eyes still not leaving them.
No one said anything then.
“Screw it, the guy’s been put on notice,” the shorter one, Larry, said, before he and his partner walked back up the steps of the Immigration Building.
But when they got to the top, Larry turned around, shouted down at Daniel.
“Hey, Ortega?” he said.
Daniel looked up at him.
“Good luck with that horse of yours,” the agent said, before he was following Eddie through the door.
I wasn’t sure why that sounded like a threat.
But it did.