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NEARLY FROZEN

NEARLY FROZEN
NEARLY FROZEN

As El Tirindaro hides the inner tube, he spots the Border Patrol.

He and the three immigrants hurry along the edge of the Rio Grande to a tributary called Zacate Creek.

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Get in, El Tirindaro says.

Enrique walks into the creek. It is cold. He bends his knees and lowers himself to his chin. His broken teeth chatter so hard they hurt; he cups a hand over his mouth, trying to stop them. For an hour and a half, they stand in Zacate Creek in silence. Effluent spills into the water from a three-foot-wide pipe close by. It is connected to a sewage treatment plant on the edge of Laredo, Texas. Enrique can smell it.

El Tirindaro walks ahead, scouting as he goes.

At his command, Enrique and the others climb out of the water. Enrique is numb. He falls to the ground, nearly frozen.

"Dress quickly," El Tirindaro says.

Enrique steps out of his wet undershorts and tosses them away. They are his last possession from home. He puts on dry jeans, a dry shirt and his two left shoes. It has been three days since his right one was stolen, and all he has been able to find is a second left shoe to replace it. He told his mother about it when he called her, but there was no time for her to send any money for a proper pair.

El Tirindaro offers everyone a piece of bread and a soda. The others eat and drink. Enrique is too nervous. Being on the outskirts of Laredo means they are near homes. If dogs bark, the Border Patrol will suspect intruders.

"This is the hard part," El Tirindaro says.

He runs. Enrique races behind him. The Mexicans follow, up a steep embankment, along a well-worn dirt path, past mesquite bushes and behind some tamarind trees, until they are next to a large, round, flat tank. It is part of the sewage plant.

Beyond is an open space.

El Tirindaro glances nervously to the right and left. Nothing.

"Follow me," he says.

Now he runs faster. Numbness washes out of Enrique's legs. It disappears in a wave of fear. They sprint next to a fence, then along a narrow path on a cliff above the creek. They dash down another embankment, into the dry upstream channel of Zacate Creek, under a pipe, then a pedestrian bridge, across the channel, up the opposite embankment and out onto a two-lane residential street.

Two cars pass. Winded, the four scuttle into bushes. Half a block ahead, another car flashes its headlights.

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