As Gus continues to drive east, evaluating prospective switch points, we pass pineapple fields before turning left off Highway 32 toward Siquirres. In a minute or so, we are at the town square, a stretch of grass dominated by soccer goalposts. Gus points to a bench where he says a bus picks up Andres for school each day.
Musing aloud, Gus runs through potential scenarios. Where’s the best spot to grab Andres? At the bus stop, on his way to school? A possibility, but Jason or Jason’s father sometimes waits with the boy there. At the school itself? Maybe, depending on how far it is from Highway 32. During one of Helen’s supervised visits with Andres at the home of Jason’s parents?
Across the street from the square is a yellow house with a black iron gate. Todd identifies it as the home of Andres’s paternal grandparents, where Helen has her custodial visits. Gus likes what he sees; Helen could walk through the gate with Andres to the waiting SUV. “They could come and get in,” Gus says. “This is a straight shot. The highway’s right up here,” allowing a quick getaway.
“It’s a very short route,” Todd agrees.
“I like that a lot better. She can walk out the door,” Gus says. “She walks down the street, gets in the van. Boom, gone …”
Don’t drive fast, especially on the wet roads,” Gus counsels Helen, who is standing under the awning of the purple motel, watching the rain pour down. It’s 6a.m. on Tuesday. The parrots are chirping, and the palm trees bend under the weight of the water. “Take your time and get here,” Gus adds. “It’s only a couple of minutes.”
Gus is prepping Helen to snatch Andres at the bus stop. If a stranger like Gus tried to grab the boy, witnesses might intervene, and the police would react immediately. But a mother calling out to her son and inviting him to step into her car might not trigger an alarm. Ordinarily, Gus would ride along in the car with Helen, but he doesn’t trust her. He also has doubts about whether Andres will go with his mother. He has more faith in Todd’s relationship with the boy, so he has decided that Todd should be in the SUV with Helen. Gus and his son will wait in the getaway van at the purple motel, preparing for a run to the Panama border
“Did Chino see me?” Todd asks, referring to Andres’s companion, who is his uncle. Helen says yes. Todd tells Helen to get out of the car and get Andres.
“He doesn’t want me to,” she says.
“Go out and get him, Helen,” Todd says, his voice rising in frustration. “Just go out and get him.” Helen drives on. Todd moves aggressively into the space between the front seats, directing Helen to do a U-turn and return to Andres. She obeys, warning Todd that Andres’s bus is coming.
“I don’t care, because we’re made. Let’s go,” Todd shouts. “I’m going to get him. Just go!” Helen sniffs, and Todd orders her to stop the SUV. He leaps out and goes to Andres, who is wearing an olive-green backpack.
“Let’s go,” he says, touching Andres’s shoulder. “Come on, buddy!”
Helen adds her encouragement from the driver’s seat. “Come, Andres!”
Andres hesitates, glances at Chino, and then walks quickly to the open door of the SUV. Todd throws himself into the SUV behind Andres and slams the door. “Go!” he shouts.
Helen hits the accelerator.
“Hi, buddy,” Todd says to Andres, hugging him. “How are you, sweetie?”
“Hi,” Andres mutters. He’s clearly unnerved.
“Don’t worry, Papi,” Todd assures him. “It’s going to be okay.”
In the rearview mirror, Helen can see Chino running toward the yellow house. Todd tells her to focus on the road. “Nice and easy,” he says. But Helen careens around the corner, narrowly missing an old man on a bicycle as she swerves to avoid an oncoming bus. As she drives, she keeps asking Andres why he refused to come to her. “He’s scared,” Todd says.
Nadya Labi, The Atlantic. The Snatchback.