We were at the corner of Cesar Chavez Blvd and Main Street. I heard another thunk hit the trash container that sheltered Pearl Gonzalez and me. I could see the sharp edge of the metal dart protrude inches away from my face. We were under attack by the Oñate zombies who were hell bent on subjugating humans and breeding them for food. I looked all around. No sign of where the darts were coming from.
“Lazaro,’ Pearl whispered to me, “what’re we gonna do?”
Then suddenly, a screech of tires and Mr. Nez’s car was pulling up beside us. “Quick! Get in the car!” Mr Nez called out.
I opened the car’s back door, pushed Pearl in ahead of me, jumped in on top of her. As soon as I slammed the car door shut Mr. Nez floored it and we careened around the corner onto Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Then another right turn and we were heading down Alameda Street, past the Union Train depot. It was a Saturday morning so traffic was relatively light.
And then I heard it. A helicopter.
That must be where the darts were coming from! As we sped along Alameda, I could hear the copter racing in the sky above us. Thunk, thunk! Two darts pierced through the roof of the car.
“Get down! Mr. Nez cried out.
Hey, we were already down and in no mood to get up, let me tell you!
“Listen up!” he said. “We’ll go by the First Street Bridge. When we get there, we’ll abandon the car. We’ll make a run for it but you must keep up with me. Your lives depend on it!”
Mr. Nez turned left onto First Street and headed toward the First Street Bridge. Meanwhile, the helicopter was not letting us go. Thunk, thunk, thunk. More darts through the roof. One had narrowly missed Mr. Nez’s head. We had to get to cover, and do it soon!
Suddenly we were at the entry to the First Street Bridge. Ahead the bridge rose up to go over the Los Angeles river. Mr. Nez changed lanes and brought the car to a screeching halt on at the corner of Vignes street.
“Let’s go!” he yelled.
Thunk! A dart penetrated the car hood. We scrambled out of the car and Mr. Nez motioned us to follow him. We ran down a narrow walkway in the shadow of a large red brick building. The helicopter was locked onto our route. But telephone wires forced it to circle the bridge to give whoever was shooting darts at a better shot. As it circled around, we made a run for it.
Mr. Nez led us running down a ramp, across Sante Fe Street and under the bridge.
“Keep under the bridge!” He yelled.
As long as we kept under the bridge, it was difficult for the zombies in the helicopter to have a clear shot at us. Where was Mr. Nez taking us? We came to a chained link fence, beyond I could see railroad tracks and then the cement slope that marked the concrete bed of the Los Angeles river.
And then I saw something extraordinary. Mr. Nez went up to the fence, examined it for a moment, and then deftly touched one of the links. In a second, an entire section of the fence collapsed as if it were made of pick-up sticks. Mr. Nex stepped over the collapsed fencing and turned to us.
Pearl and I shared a moment. What the hell? She mouthed at me. Then we were running to catch up. We stumbled across six sets of railroad tracks before we came to the lip of the cement river bank. We followed Mr. Nez down the slope, half running and half falling. When we reached the bottom, the helicopter appeared again–barreling down on us.
Mr. Nez pointed to a place on the sloping cement riverbed where there was a was an opening visible. It was a circular drainage channel perhaps four feet in circumference.
“In there!” He yelled.
By now the zombies in the hovering helicopter had spotted us. The pilot began to lower it down into the riverbed.
“Hurry!” Mr. Nez called out.
He was now at the entrance to the circular tunnel. A steady trickle of water poured from the tunnel entrance, ran down the slope and emptied into the Los Angeles River. Mr. Nez dropped down in his hands and knees. Pearl and I looked at each other and then at the scuzzy, water drenched interior of the tunnel. A terrible stench came from within.
“We’re going in there?” Pearl asked.
“Don’t be frightened,” he replied. “These are storm tunnels that siphon rain water into the river. It’s a complex system but I knew how to get us through it. Follow me and don’t look back!” With that he crawled into the tunnel.
Ping! Ping! Metallic darts bounced off the cement slope near the tunnel entrance.
“Go! Go!” Pearl yelled at me.
In a moment she was on her hands and knees and into the tunnel. I wasted no time in following her. Behind me I could hear more darts bouncing off the tunnel entrance.
We crawled along for a few minutes in the darkness. The water streaming from the tunnel made the going slippery and the stench was really powerful.
We crawled along the watery floor in pitch darkness. Now and then I touched the back of Pearl shoe as she crawled ahead of me. Suddenly a flashlight came on. It was in Mr. Nez’s hand! And he was standing up in the tunnel!
“You can stand up now.”
We had arrived at a room-like structure where several of the circular drainage tunnels converged. The ceiling was perhaps ten feet tall here. The concrete walls glistened with water.
Mr. Nez indicated the flashlight. “I planted this as an escape route many years ago. Never thought I’d be using it as a back door.
“Back door?” I asked. “To where?”
“To the safe house under Olvera Street.”
Mr. Nez walked up to a metallic door similar to the entrance I had seen at the Olvera Street safe house. He placed his hand on the top of the key box and it opened and he fed the code into the touch pad screen. The door opened, revealing a long narrow hallway lit with modern LED lighting.
Pearl and I shared looks of amazement.
“Mr Nez,” Pearl said, “you sure seem to know your way around here.”
“I ought to. I was part of the Army Corp of Engineers that created the city’s storm drain system back in 1938. Come on we got a bit of a walk ahead of us.”
Copyright 2013 by Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.