Bracken Sends: Boarders Without Borders

Boarders Without Borders?

Not sure if this is too long to post; I wrote Foreign Enemies and Traitors in 2008.

This starts on page 422 in the printed book.

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Then Boone announced—not discussed, announced—that they had somewhere to go tonight.  They, not him.  Not Doug Dolan.  No, good old faithful Doug would remain behind to…what?  Guard the isolated cabin?  “Hold down the fort”?  Boone and Carson left with Dewey after nightfall.  

So who could blame him for his curiosity, after they had ditched him and left him behind?  His natural inquisitiveness about the new safehouse had led him to discover the forgotten cell phone.  

It was inside a small metal box, buried beneath pliers, screwdrivers and scissors.  He was actually shocked when he pushed the power button and it lit up, and he stared at its glowing screen in wonder for a long time.  It was the first working cell phone that he had touched since before the earthquakes, one very long year ago.  It was a prepaid phone, showing 138 minutes remaining.

A few minutes on the phone were all he needed, and nobody would ever know.  Who counted a few airtime minutes on an old cell phone left in a drawer?  Nobody, Doug was sure.  Not even these days.  Boone had left him behind at the cabin safehouse, and that had been a blow to his pride.  Was it because they didn’t trust him, or because they just didn’t need him?  Well, Doug rationalized, at least the unexpected privacy will give me a chance to make the one phone call that I’ve been anxious to make for so many months.  He punched in the long-memorized Baltimore number, and miraculously, after clicks, buzzing and dead air pauses, he heard the phone ringing at the other end.  After six or seven rings, it was picked up.  The call had gone through, and his heart soared in anticipation.

“Mom!  Mom, it’s me!”

But instead of his mother’s voice, Doug heard music, and a man answered, but Doug couldn’t understand what he was saying.  A man?  What was a strange man doing at his mother’s house, answering the phone?

“Hello, who’s this?” asked Doug.  “Where is Mrs. Dolan?”

The phone was dropped with a bang.  Long seconds later, somebody else picked it up, a female voice.  “Holá, hallo!  Who ees?”

“This is Doug—Doug Dolan!  Listen, where’s my mother?  Where is Mrs. Dolan?”

“Meesees Do-lane?  You ees Meesees Do-lane?”

“No, no!  I’m Doug Dolan, Mrs. Dolan’s son!  Please, is Mrs. Dolan there?”

“Meesees Do-lane?  Un minuto, please.  I getting Meesees Do-lane, okay?”

Doug waited, perplexed and more than a bit worried.  Who were the people who had answered the phone at his mother’s house?  He could make out the music now; it was some kind of fast Latin salsa or Mexican ranchera music.

After a minute, he finally heard his mother’s voice.  “Hello, who is this?” she asked.

“Mom, it’s me, Doug!”

“Douglas?  Douglas—you’re alive!  Oh my goodness, oh thank God, you’re alive!  They told me that you were missing and presumed dead in Tennessee, after the earthquakes!  But you’re alive!  Oh, thank God, thank God!  Douglas, can you come home?  When can you come home?  Oh, I need you here, Douglas, I need you!  Where are you?  When can you come home?”

“I don’t know Mom; things are a little crazy right now.  Just as soon as I can, I will.  I promise.  Mom, who answered the phone?  I heard a man, and then a woman came on the line.  Who are they?”

“Oh Doug, I have so much to tell you!  So much has happened since you left!”

“Mom, who are those people who just answered the phone?”

“Doug, that’s the Sanchorios family; they’re originally from El Salvador.”

“El Salvador? What are they doing in our house?”

“They live here now, Douglas, they live here!”


“The government split our house up into apartments after I couldn’t pay the vacant room tax.  Then they had the Sanchorios family move in upstairs.  They were living in Nashville, but their apartment building was wrecked in the earthquakes.  They were earthquake refugees.”

“Mom, what do you mean, ‘vacant room tax’?”

“What?  Oh, it’s new since last year.  A new law.  The property tax appraiser said that I had too many bedrooms for just one person to be living here.  Too many square feet, there’s a formula.  Since I couldn’t pay the vacant room tax, I had to take in boarders, boarders that the state assigned to live here.  That’s what they do now.”

Doug tried to make sense of it.  Vacant room tax?  Boarders?  From El Salvador?  “Do they pay you rent?”

“No, not to me.  That’s why I have boarders.  It’s instead of paying the vacant room tax.  They waived the tax since I’ve taken in refugees.  The state assigned them to live here.  They get to live here for free.  Their son joined that new army, the North American Legion, so they have priority on housing.  Oh Doug, it’s just unbearable!”

“Where are they living?  How many are there?”  Doug was stunned, coming to grips with the unexpected news about their home being sub-divided by the state.

“They live upstairs.  I can’t keep track of how many there are; they come and go at all hours.  There’s usually at least seven or eight of them, not counting babies.  I think they’re subletting the rooms upstairs, but I can’t tell who’s who.  It seems like they change practically every week, except for the Sanchorios family.  We all share the kitchen, but I’m too afraid to go in there when they’re around.  I sleep in the sitting room next to the living room, that’s my ‘apartment’ now.  The sitting room and the living room, and the downstairs bathroom, that’s where I live.  I cook on a hot plate, when the electricity is working.  Oh, Douglas, when are you coming home?”

“I can’t now Mom, but I will as soon as I can, I promise.”

“Douglas, they won’t even let me use the upstairs bathroom, so I have to wash in the sink in the first-floor bathroom.  Oh, and the kitchen is ruined, just ruined!  I don’t even know what the second floor looks like; they won’t let me come upstairs, but water is dripping through the ceiling and the plaster is falling down.  They drink beer and yell and play their music so loud all night that I can’t sleep.  They park their cars on the lawn, and the grass all died, it’s just dirt now.  The men even pee outside!  When I say anything, they just laugh in my face and call me ‘la brooha blanca,’ I think that means the white witch.  They laugh at me and say, ‘su casa es mi casa.’  They curse at me and throw things at me, in my own house!”  Mrs. Dolan began to sob.

“Mom, you should go to the police, this isn’t right!”

“But I did go to the authorities, Douglas, I did!  I had a lawyer file complaints.  But Doug, the world is upside down now!  They got a free court-appointed lawyer, and they sued me for ‘harassment and ethnic discrimination’!  The state was going to charge me with hate crimes, and I almost lost the house completely!  Then I had to apologize to them, in court!  I was never so humiliated in my entire life!  The judge said I was lucky that I had boarders, since I couldn’t pay the vacant room tax.  Lucky, he said I was!  I even had to go to a ‘cultural sensitivity’ class, to get rehabilitated!  Rehabilitated!  Oh Doug, what am I going to do?  What am I going to do?”  His mother began sobbing again.

“I don’t know, Mom, I don’t know.  But I’ll come home as soon as I can.  I’ve got some problems with the Army, so it might not be for a while, but I’ll try at least to visit in a couple of weeks.  Hang in there, Mom!  I’ll help you the best that I can, as soon as I can get there.”  

Doug heard a man’s loud voice in the background, and then his mother said quietly, “I’ve got to hang up.  Mr. Sanchorios needs to use the phone now, so I have to go.  Goodbye, Douglas.  I love you, and I’m so happy to know that you’re alive!  Goodbye, Douglas…”


A few hours after the phone call, the safe house is hit by a drone strike and SWAT raid…