A smart, scrappy teacher is called upon by her traditional Mexican-American grandmother to help a relative in Mexico escape the clutches of a dangerous cartel. Reluctantly, she agrees, but in coming to her grandmother’s aid, she needs the help of The Hated One, an ex-fiancé who broke her heart years before. Together, they must devise a plan to rescue her desperate, long-lost cousin and her cousin’s child. To do so, Dina Salazar must enter the dreaded turf of the Zetas, a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. Such a mission is not for the faint of heart!
Grandma Gómez—"Life is like an artichoke. It takes a lot of peeling to get to the heart of things.”
How did I, in three short months, get to the heart of my Mexican-American family? It wasn’t easy, believe me. Especially since I was the family’s desgraciada. The disgraced one. Ever since I turned eighteen and had my legal name changed from Dolores—which means aches and pains in Spanish—to Dina. My namesake, Grandma Dolores Gómez, refused to speak to me or acknowledge my existence for about a year after the name change. Before that, I was simply the family brat and rebel. The know-it-all.
But you see, Grandma was the heart of the matter. And the big, dark secrets she kept closed up in her heart all got exposed in those tumultuous months. And before I could blink and realize what was happening, I was roped into a scheme to rescue cousins I never knew I had out of the deadly clutches of a Mexican drug cartel. Why was I chosen, you ask? Me, Dina Salazar, the desgraciada? A single schoolteacher with a long line of loser-boyfriends? How did I end up looking up the barrel of a cartel commando’s automatic weapon? Come along with me and I’ll tell you.
It took five years—six, counting my teaching credential—to work my way through college and, oh yeah, I lost my fiancé along the way—according to Mama and Abuelita, my only chance at happiness. Their idea of happiness meant you married young, spent the next twenty years changing diapers, cooking and cleaning for a man you seldom saw because he was working two or three jobs to pay for all the mouths you’d brought into the world…
¡Gracias a Dios!
Horrors, in my opinion.
That was the world they knew, anyway, and they didn’t have the imagination to picture me in another, I suppose. I had another vision of the world. And myself. After all, I was Dina Salazar, not Dolores—the rambunctious little girl I used to be, saddled with what I thought to be a horrible name and all it implied. I was certain my family considered me the smirky smartass, the brazen wise-ass. No matter what, I was going to scratch and crawl my way into the American middle class, and if I lost whatever family status I had or whatever love came along, so be it.
After all, according to them, I had una cabeza dura. Hardheaded. And they were right.
My self-imposed exile from the family home in Salinas was easier to bear because I’d never really felt accepted by my mother and grandmother. Or my sisters. But there it was. I was forging my own path in uncharted waters. If I was sometimes a little frightened, I tried not to show it.
It was during one of these periods of self-imposed exile that a phone call from home changed everything.
I was sitting, drinking my favorite macchiato, chilling out and slogging my way through that day’s student papers. After reading a condensed, sixth-grade version of The Iliad and watching a History Channel documentary on the Trojan War, I had assigned my thirty students at Lincoln Elementary an opinion essay entitled Why the Trojan War Was Fought.
I couldn’t help but chuckle over one kid’s thesis statement. “The Trojan War was fought because Helen was more beautiful than Britney Spears and had a better body, too, and because Paris stole her away from her mean Greek husband, Menelaus.”
All the power struggles between the various Greek kings, Agamemnon’s excuse to unite these warring factions under his leadership, and Troy seen as the gateway to the riches of Turkey—that entire lecture of mine had been lost on some of my students.
Oh well, sex always sells, especially when the twelve-year-olds you’re teaching are thrumming with newly released, pulsing hormones. My students were at the stage when everything in the world at large was beginning to translate itself into a sexually charged experience. Talk about a slanted view of the world! Although I had to admit that slanted view also applied to most of the college men I’d met. But these poor pre-teens were no more interested in the politics of Ancient Greece than I was in the current rap music scene.
Ah, but how I loved my job! What more could I say? I was doing what I had set out to do more than ten years ago and loving every interesting, challenging day of it. Teaching kids was something I was meant to do. It was my destiny.
A destiny that Mama and my abuelita, of course, never took seriously. Not that I had much contact with them anymore. I was too busy making my way in the world.
“Aren’t there any men teaching at your school?” Mamá asked me the last time I made the mistake of going home. I think she regarded a profession occupied by mostly women as somehow the equivalent of a well-paid babysitting service.
“I don’t like that Huge,” Grandma’d said, mispronouncing my current boyfriend, Hugh Goss’s name—intentionally, I thought. “He acts too uppity.” Mama had concurred, probably meaning that I was acting uppity as well.
Grandma just didn’t like the ones who acted superior to her little clan, and I’m afraid the one time I brought Hugh home—over six months ago when I first started dating him—he acted like a gabacho—asshole. This was my brother Roberto’s assessment of him, anyway. I thought his adding chingado was over the top and totally unwarranted. Nevertheless, Hugh had made the mistake of calling Roberto’s old, low-riding Lincoln a mob mobile. My sharp jabbing Hugh in the side was just met with a confused look, accomplishing nothing.