Copyright © 2016
Carlito Rojas stood staring out at the back yard. From his place on the second floor balcony of their home in south L.A., he could see the nine mounds of earth near the side fence of the yard. It was all that remained of his family and friends after the sickness.
His hands were busy running a long string of black rosary beads through his fingers as he stared down at the tableau below him. The house was a modest two story, brick and stucco construction. It had four bedrooms on the top floor with the living spaces on the ground floor.
Carlito took after his father. He was short and slender, only 5'6" tall. His hair was cut close to his scalp and his features were just the right size to fit his smaller build. Carlito's siblings, a sister and another brother, were older than him and they took after their mother.
She had been a thick set woman. Some almost laughed at the strangeness of some people. Carlito's father was almost half the size of his mother and Carlito's two siblings took after her. His older brother was tall and broad. His father used to laugh as he told Carlito that Ramon's muscles had muscles but Carlito had all the brains. A fact his older brother even agreed to.
As well as the family there were two uncles, both called Sam. It had been only the year before that Carlito found out why. Next were the two staff that worked for his father. The house keeper and a young teen that worked directly with his father.
The teen was often seen as one of the family although he came from Brazil and not Colombia as the family did, but his father said the teens abilities superseded the difference in their heritage.
The teens name was Romero and he spoke no English and his Spanish was rough at best. Carlito's father was the surprise for the boy, he spoke fluent Portuguese which was Romero's native tongue.
Romero worked only with his father in the older man's study or at the office of his large business which was mainly laundries. Carlito's father now owned ten laundries. It was two years ago that Carlito found out how extensive his father's holdings really were.
As well as the ten laundries; he also owned five panel and paint shops; two garages and had an interest in a large piece of farmland two hours out from south L.A. where they grew sorghum and orange trees; there was also a large packing shed on the property.
Now that Carlito was soon to be sixteen; he had been let into the real business of his father. For the last two years he had been taking instructions from his father on how to run the businesses. On the first revelation; Carlito could only look at his father and try to reconcile all he knew of the quiet, caring man he knew as his father.
Had there still been a government in power and his family had come under investigation by the FBI or one of the other agencies; he doubted they would have believed that the family knew nothing about his father's business; even now he still doubted some of the things he had found out.
Carlito's father had moved to the states fifteen years ago; his younger days were spent in the slums of Colombia where he had had to do things that many men or boys would have found difficult. Over the years, Carlito's father had worked hard and spent every spare coin on education.
At eighteen he had married Carlito's mother and then the arrival of his first son was soon followed two years later by his daughter. Carlito was the last to be born. When they arrived in the States; Carlito had only been a year old and knew nothing of what his father had had to do to get them this far.
Their home was modest, a little better than many in the south but nowhere near palatial like so many mansions of the rich and famous of the upper class suburbs or great movie or music stars. How his father had prospered had been due to hard work; or at least that was what Carlito thought until two years ago.
When he was a small boy; Carlito had often seen his father out and about with every type of person on the streets; he always treated everyone with respect and friendship; even the local gang members treated his father with due respect.
The elderly or the young; it made no difference to his father. One day he could be seen sitting at a table playing dominoes or backgammon with an old pensioner; the game was always a bet and the loser would pay for lunch and a few drinks.
Carlito often wondered why his father always lost the bet and had to pay for the lunch; that was until they played the same games at home and he found out his father was a ruthless player and never lost; now Carlito understood.
He had also seen his father sitting on a curb side with a small boy; his suit jacket thrown to the side as he sat with the boy to help him fix his broken bicycle; he had even seen the man tear a sleeve of his nice white shirt so he could use it to clean up an oily chain and then pat the little boy on the head once the bike was working again.
The little boy would give his father a big heartfelt hug before he rode off with the older man smiling widely behind him; that was the sort of man he thought his father was; an open hearted, kind and caring man who would not hurt a fly and be the first to help anyone in need. Two years ago had changed all that and Carlito was still not sure if he agreed but there was little he could do about it now.
Carlito thought about what he knew of his father; he now knew that his own secret was not as bad as he thought; even though he could never have told his father or family about it. With the sickness and the loss of all he had held dear; Carlito now had no one to tell; it would be his own cross to bear.
Carlito looked down at the black rosary beads; his mother had carried them every day of her life and now they were his but what they represented meant little to Carlito; the promise they represented had not been fulfilled.
With a grimace, Carlito grasped the beads in his two hands and tore them apart; the black beads flew out of his hands and scattered far and wide as they fell to the flagstones below; in a voice that echoed in the silent air; Carlito yelled out.
"This is what your faith and promise has brought us too; I no longer believe in you; you are a hollow promise that was never fulfilled. Take your worthless beads; I am done with you and your kind."
Carlito looked at the silver cross he still held in his hand and, with one powerful movement; he threw the cross far out into the yard; he had no further use for trinkets and promises.
Carlito turned from the view of the yard and walked back inside to his room. With the power now out and water only found in bottles; it was time to go and leave it all behind. Carlito had stayed in his home for the last six weeks in the hope that someone that knew his family would come by, but no one came; he was alone and now it had finally sunk in; it was time to do as his father had told him and move on.
Carlito looked inside his wardrobe; there were no fancy labeled clothes in there. His father had insisted they buy clothes for their use and not to be one of the fashion plates that were popular with the younger set. His underwear was either Hanes briefs or Tommy Boxer's; the jeans were well worn and were usually bought from Wal-Mart or one of the other cheaper stores. Carlito and his brother never thought they were hard done by because they did not have fancy label clothing; his father had taught them the value of a dollar and he could never see the use in paying for something because it had a fancy name.
On Carlito's last birthday; his father had bought him a used motor bike; it needed work and he was told to do the repairs himself; of course he had the use of one of his father's workshops and all the help of the mechanics. It was a lesson he finally understood; the hours of work and dirty greasy hands had given him a new feeling of value when he finally saw the bike completed. Even Carlito had to admit the bike looked as though it had just come off the showroom floor; the hours of work had given him a sense of satisfaction he would not have felt had he been given a brand new bike.
It was small lessons like that, that had made the young teen into the boy he was today and he was grateful to his father for that; it also taught him many new skills that were far from the true nature of the families business.
Carlito took out an old pair of jeans; two tee shirts; a change of underwear from his hidden stock of very brief briefs; a little secret he had kept from all his family; socks and a spare pair of sneakers (J.C. Penny) these were all pushed into his worn school back pack. Next he took hold of his three year old laptop; checked to make sure it was charged and the accessory pack was in its place; he would need the car charger for later.
There was now only one last thing to do; Carlito walked down the stairs to the door of his father's study. It was in here that the really important business was conducted.
On top of the old worn desk was a standard and very old PC; everything to do with the family businesses was on this computer; well all the legal business. His father was well aware that certain government agencies had the computer compromised; that was the young Brazilian teen's job to make sure of.
The boy had come to work for his father when he was only thirteen; even at that age the boy was a consummate hacker and had proved himself time and time again.
The real business of the family was held on a very fancy and very new laptop; it had no internet connection and nothing was ever made into a hard copy. Anytime that something had to be done from the laptop; it was transferred by flash drive.
The information was put on the drive and then Carlito's father would hand it to the teen with instructions of what and where it was to be used. First Romero would place the small drive into a clean condom, he would then go into the toilet and insert the drive into his butt; it was the safest place to carry it out in the open world.
Romero would then leave the house and take the bus or train to one of the thousands of internet cafes; he never used the same cafe twice. There he would use the toilet to remove the drive and then use the cafe computers to do the business; whether it was money transfers, ordering product or giving orders for someone to disappear.
Once done, Romero would return to the toilet, crush the drive under his boot and flush the drive down the drain; there was never any evidence for anyone to find. Carlito's father kept the laptop in a concealed safe; a very expensive concealed safe that could only be opened with a biometric key.
Once it had been only his father that could open it; when he turned thirteen; Carlito was added to the list; even his own older brother did not have access; this was a family secret and only the two of them knew about all of the facets of the hidden business.
A few days after he turned thirteen; Carlito's father had asked him to go on a short trip; it had been out to the ranch that another uncle ran. Carlito was told he would be staying out there for the summer to work and learn about one small part of the family business. It was Carlito's first introduction into the real world his father ran.
His uncle was another one that he had never met; Jose looked like a nice smiling man; his staff were never heard to say a bad word about him; Carlito was about to find out why.
Once he had been introduced to Jose, Carlito's father drove away and left his son in the man's hands. Carlito was taken into the small ranch style house; there he was told to strip which; with much embarrassment he did. Jose then took him into the bathroom and proceeded to shave his head and then the rest of his body; although he did not sport a lot of pubic hair; it was carefully shaved off; even the small wisps that were under his arms were shaved clean.
Carlito was given a pair of paper coveralls and then led outside and around the back to the large packing shed. He noticed there were three large shipping containers close to the packing shed; as he passed the one that was open; his mind tried to make sense of what he saw inside.
At thirteen Carlito was no ignorant angel; he had grown up in south LA; the half full container held hundreds of square white plastic covered packets; it was the first sign that his father was a major mover in the drug trade. He was to find that it was only a small part of what his father did.
Carlito had no idea at how much money was packed into those small white squares but it had to be in the millions of dollars. Carlito was led around the corner from the loading dock and along the side of the massive building to a small door that led into the packing shed.
Inside it was not what he expected to see. The whole floor area was lined with stainless steel tables; each table was set at about waist height. Around each table there were eight totally naked young teens and in front of each teen was a high mound of white powder, a small set of scales and a box filled with small plastic bags.
The boys wore only white face masks and clear industrial goggles to protect their lungs and eyes from the almost pure drugs; Carlito saw that every boy was shaved like he was. The reason was not long in coming. Jose told him why it was needed to shave the boys; with so much drugs in the room; it had once been tried to dust their pubic hair with the drugs and then clean it out once they left the shed.
Around the upper part of the shed ran a catwalk; there were heavily armed men dressed in plastic coveralls watching the many tables below; there had to be close to one hundred young boys and teens working at the tables.
Many people knew of the gangs of LA and their penchant for fighting and trouble; here there was a mix of just about every nationality in the country; there were no gang patches or colours on any of the boys but it was not hard to work out that they were there because they were told to be by their gangs.
Even with all the enmity that the gangs had for each other; working for Carlito's father was seen as an honour and, after all; it was business; even the most dangerous gangs in the land never let things get in the way of making money. The supply of young boys for the packing shed was their way of keeping in good with the only man they trusted outside of their gangs.
Carlito was to learn all of this as the next two years went by; six months ago he was also to find out what happened when someone thought he did not have to play by the rules of his father.
The boys that were packing had made a nice little bit of extra cash from it until it had been noticed. The two ring leaders had not returned from the desert and the others were now subjected to being shaved once a week; Carlito decided he would try something like the cream his sister used.
He never admitted it to anyone but he liked the feel of being hairless; he had stayed that way even to this day. There was another reason Carlito liked being hairless; although for his age and size he was well endowed; he thought the hairless look made his boyhood look so much larger; not that he really needed to worry about that side of his body; as was sometimes said; Carlito had been well blessed.
It was six months ago when Carlito saw the grizzly side of the family business and was told to take part; his caring and gentle father became some sort of devil when the events arose.
Four young prospects from one of the most notorious gangs had; on their own decision; decided to rob one of his father's laundries; while no one lost their life; one of the shop assistants was roughed up; the girl had to spend three days in hospital for which his father paid all expenses.
It did not take long for the word to go out. Carlito had been walking down the street with his father when a twenty something man from the gang approached them. Carlito's father smiled and greeted the tough looking man with respect and courtesy; the man almost bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment and then asked if Carlito's father would take coffee with him.
Carlito's father readily agreed and; when the man asked about young Carlito; his father had said his son would one day be the power in the business and needed to meet the important people of LA. It was Carlito's first introduction to the way his father made others feel important.
The gang man led the two into a nearby cafe; after ordering their coffee, the man got down to business;
"Patron, I have news for you that makes our hearts sad for what happened. We have caught the offenders and would ask what you would like us to do with them. They were to be made into our gang very soon and we had told them what the limits were concerning your business premises. We are now in your debt and will agree to whatever you think is rightful justice. The members have voted that no actions will ever be taken against you for your decision on the prospects future."
"I am honoured that the president of your club would come himself to bring me this news. I am sure you understand that some action must be taken in this case; there was a young girl injured by these four and I cannot in all honesty allow that to pass."
"I agree Patron; we will abide by your decision."
"I would like the four boys taken to the shack; you know where that is, yes?"
"Yes Patron; when should they be there?"
"This afternoon at four O'clock; we will meet you there. Has anything been done to the boys?"
"No Patron; I gave orders they were not to be touched; it was you that they offended and so we voted that it should be by your hand that they be penalised."
"Thank you El Presidente; your honesty will not be forgotten. We will meet you at four O'clock."
The man finished his coffee and left the two alone; Carlito's father now turned to him.
"My son, there are times that we must do things that are not good. If we do not do them then the family business will be for nothing; this is one of those times and I must ask you to take part with me. I know it will be difficult for you but you must try to overcome your revulsion for the sake of the business. Will you try?"
"Yes father, I will try my best for you."
"Good; I knew you would be the one to run the business after I am gone. Do not worry, you are far stronger than you think you are; even your brother says so."
The shack turned out to be a solitary old wooden house that was well out into the desert; it sat alone far from any main road and looked to be derelict but inside it was sturdy and sound. The floor had been relayed with concrete and a wide drain was in the middle of the floor.
Four wooden chairs had been set in a semi circle in the centre of the floor; on those chairs were the four young teens who were totally naked; they had been bound tightly to the chairs and looked as scared as anyone Carlito had ever seen. In the room were also five members of the gang including the president they had talked to earlier in the day.
Carlito was dressed in worn jeans and an old tee shirt; his father was still in his neat suit; again it was not an expensive suit but one that fit him well and came off ‘the hook'.
Carlito stood beside his father as the older man looked at the four scared boys.
"I would ask you, why you would try to rob my business, I have been told you were instructed not to do so?"
The boys stayed silent even though their eyes told of their total fear of the gentle man standing before them.
"I must assume from your silence that you did not think of the consequences; and my young friends, there has to be consequences. You injured a young girl who had done nothing to you. What is about to happen is for that more than stealing from me."
Carlito stood stunned as he saw his father take a vicious looking curved knife from his coat pocket. Before any of the boys could even cry out; his father had grasped the boyhood of the oldest boy and the knife slashed out.
The high pitched scream that rang out in the confined space of the room was blood curdling; the other three boys cried and shouted their horror as they saw the older man throw the boy's manhood on the floor. The man then turned to Carlito and held out a gun.
"My son it is better you place the shot in his head quickly; he has suffered enough."
With shaking hands Carlito took the gun; stepped as close as he dared to the screaming boy and fired point blank into the tortured boy's head. Only the sobbing of the other three boys could be heard in the silence of the room.
Two of the remaining boys were quickly dispatched with a slit throat by his father; the last boy looked up in abject fear as Carlito's father stepped in front of him. The boy could not have been more than thirteen.
"You young man will be given one chance to redeem yourself; I will give you something to remember your bad judgment but you will live. When you have healed you will work for me for two years. If in that time you prove yourself to be honest and diligent; I will recommend to your President that he allow you into his club."
Without further ado; the vicious knife flashed again and a deep cut appeared on the boys cheek from ear lobe to the side of his mouth; his scream filled the room as he realised what had happened.
Carlito's father nodded to one of his own men who quickly went to the boy and gave him a shot from a needle; the boy fainted and the man began to stitch up the gaping wound. The boy would carry the large scar for the rest of his life and be reminded each time he looked into a mirror.
Carlito saw that there was not a spot of blood on his father's suit; the old man had known what he was doing. Wiping the strange knife on a cloth; Carlito's father took a metal brief case from one of his other men; going over the gang president, he offered the case.
"El Presidente; I am truly sorry we had to take this so far. I would not expect you or your club to go short for something that others did. In this case is four hundred thousand dollars; it is to repay you for what the boys may have earned for your club had they not been so unwise."
The president of the club took the case.
"We all thank you for your generosity Patron. This will not happen again; this I swear on behalf of all members of our club."
The boy was still unconscious and Carlito's father had him transferred to one of their cars; he would be cared for then taken to the packing shed to work as a filler once he was healed.
That had been the type of man his father had been; caring, many times loving but also totally ruthless in business; it had been a hard lesson for Carlito but he had learned that not everything could be right or wrong; from that day on he worked hard to understand his father's wishes; now he was alone.
The money and properties now meant little; he had to find a new way to live in a world where the business no longer was the staple food of the family. Now he had to look after himself in a new world that had no laws or rules; he would have to prepare for as many eventualities as he could.
In his father's study, Carlito looked at the large blown up photo of his mother and father on their wedding day. Going to the small band of fretwork that ran around the wall; he pressed one of the wooden leaves. Carlito heard the soft click and the large photo swung out; behind it was a plain metal panel.
When the power had failed, the electronics for the panel had changed over to the backup battery which was charged by a single solar cell mounted on the roof.
Carlito laid his hand on the panel; there was another small click and a part of the wall opened to reveal another panel on a small steel door, Carlito pressed both thumbs onto the panel and the small steel door opened to reveal the inside of the safe; apart from a few stacks of money neatly lined up on the top shelf, the only other thing was the late model laptop along with a single plastic case with a small flash drive in it.
Carlito took the laptop and left the money; in this new world there would be little it could buy; the laptop was far more important and valuable; it would give him access to places no one but he and his father knew about.
Carlito took one last look at the study then turned and left for the garage. Once he was in the garage; he pushed open the garage door and mounted his old motor bike; he was still proud of his efforts to restore the bike but knew this was the last time he would ever ride it again.
Carlito headed out through the city towards the eastern suburbs; when he was almost out of sight of the city itself; he turned off onto a narrow dirt road and followed it for five miles. In all the time he had so far traveled; he had not seen a single person; was he the only person in such a large city that had survived the sickness?
He had taken ill before any of the others but, for some reason he had recovered only to watch all his friends and family die one by one; it was the lowest point in his life and he was still working on trying to get over all the loss and loneliness.
Carlito arrived at the chain link fence; after traveling all the way to Apple Valley. He stopped the bike and walked to the double gates and took a small key from his pocket; once open he went back and rode his bike through without worrying about closing the gate; he would not be back this way and didn't think anyone would ever find it again.
Carlito rode for another mile before he saw the huge door of the underground bunker. It had been constructed by the military way back in the 1950's and was then left derelict. Carlito's father had bought it cheaply some years ago for special storage; it was here that Carlito hoped to make preparations for his future.
Carlito got off his bike and walked to the smaller door at the side. Taking out his father's laptop; he inserted the flash drive after powering it up. The bunker had its own power supply which was started once the right code was input into the panel outside the door.
Carlito found the code and tapped it into the panel; only a minute later and he heard the far off rumble of a generator and the click of the lock on the door. Carlito walked into the bunker; it was the first time he had been inside so did not know what to expect.
What he saw took his breath away; his father had been very prolific in what he thought may be needed if the need ever arose; Carlito was now pleased his father had been so concerned about the family safety.
In the main bay were five heavy duty Humvee, there was also a number of different types of trailers. Carlito moved through the large bay and into what would have been offices. Once there he went to the far office and opened the door. It smelled musty but the air was breathable and he could feel the air conditioner working to clear it further; the deep rumble of the generator could be felt through his feet.
Once in the office; Carlito went to the single desk and hooked up his father's laptop to the system. Again he used the flash drive to select what he wanted to look at. There were only five files as well as the code file on the flash drive; the other four covered the amount and location of clothing, food stuffs, weapons, money and vehicles that were available. It was an impressive amount of gear.
Carlito went back to the bay and closed the door; making sure the lock was in place; he did not want any unwanted visitors while he was elsewhere.
Carlito returned to his father's office and sat down to make a list of what he thought he may need. It took him sometime to make a final decision and what his priorities should be. Carlito thought of the three large rooms below the ground level in what was once the old armoury; it now contained ten large pallets packed tightly with neatly stacked money; it was now all useless; his priorities now were his very survival.
With the final list complete; Carlito decided to stay the night and use the next day to assemble everything in the hope of leaving for places unknown the day after.
Carlito slept well considering his circumstances; he was up early and by seven am. was already compiling his goods. He had selected one of the large armoured Humvee's. Next he selected a trailer combination that had storage plus a fuel tank mounted on it.
He would have one thousand gallons of fuel with space enough for food and camping equipment that could last for months. While the Humvee did not have its roof mounted machine gun; it had plenty of space to store a plethora of other weapons. Carlito was not going to leave any space unfilled.
Any spare space in the trailer was filled with extra ammunition as well as the back of the Humvee. Close to hand he would have several weapons as well as a pair of 9mm. automatics on his hips. On the seat beside him he would carry a fully spec'd military M16; an automatic riot gun and two MP5's. Carlito also looked, and finally found some body armour; he would wear that only when he was outside the protection of the Humvee's armoured body. Carlito was not about to take any chances.
On the morning of the third day; Carlito was ready to move. He drove the heavy Humvee through the large door and then parked. Going back he used the code to close down the bunker just in case he ever had to come back this way; at least he would have supplies if he did return.
Carlito waited until the doors were fully closed before locking down the place; when he felt it was finally secure; Carlito returned to his vehicle to start his new life.
Late the previous evening, Carlito had decided to head east; there were far too many cities to the north and that would be where any trouble was so it was east and into the wilds. Carlito felt he had a better chance at survival if he went to places with the least number of people to cause trouble for him.
Carlito turned the Humvee towards the gate at the chain link fence; from there he would just find a road going east and hope for the best. His plan was to make it to Barstow and then take I 15 through to Las Vegas; from there the rest was so far a mystery.
Carlito settled in for a long drive; what would happen once he crossed into Las Vegas was now in the hands of fate. He decided to drive for as long as he was capable; when he felt the stress and tiredness of the drive come over him; he would search for a place to bed down.
He had plenty of camping equipment even though he was not very good at outdoor camping, but he reasoned that it could not be that hard; after all, thousands of people from the city had done it before.
It was over three hundred miles to Barstow; Carlito would have to take his time. Carlito did not want to run into any trouble because he was in a hurry; it was better to settle on a comfortable speed so he could also keep watch as he drove.
Although the highway was almost empty; apart from a few wrecks here and there; Carlito did not want to make a mistake he could not overcome. The heavy Humvee would protect him from just about everything but it was not a good idea to tempt fate by being careless.
Carlito had calculated the distance from Barstow to Las Vegas at about one hundred and twenty miles; he estimated it would take him a little more than 2 ½ hours. At this stage he felt there would be little need to stop before arriving in Vegas. Altogether he would have a drive of about five or six hours.
In preparation for such a long distance in the heavy vehicle; Carlito had placed a bag of easy to eat food on the seat next to him as well as a small cooler with cans of cold soda,
Carlito had almost laughed at himself when he had had to place a thick cushion on the driver's seat to raise him up enough to see clearly through the windscreen; the heavy vehicle had not been made for teens of 5'6" in height.
After two hours Carlito was a little bored; the road seemed endless and only the occasional need to dodge a wreck kept him alert; there was also the lack of any music on the silent radio; he had not thought to bring any form of musical equipment to ease the silence.
Far away to the south east of the steadily moving Humvee; two boys were putting the last parts to their larger trailer; the two large horses did not seem to mind being attached to the tack that was fixed to the front drawbar.
Runs-Slow watched as Peter tightened a last bolt and they both began to check over all of their gear; there was still a long way for the two teens to go and neither of them knew when or where it would all come to an end.
If you find yourself drawn to this story, why not let the author know? firstname.lastname@example.org