This story has been set to a rating of PG-13. Age verification is required to proceed.
Mazatlán, Mexico, 35 years ago
He was only 12 years old, but Vasco Sánchez had the survival skills of Rambo. Orphaned two years earlier, he became a street urchin out of necessity, living off the fat wallets of unsuspecting tourists and table scraps tossed in the garbage bins nestled behind the resort restaurants that peppered the coastline just north of the city in an area known as La Zona Dorada, “The Golden Zone.” On any given day, he could tell you precisely what leftover delicacy would be in which trash bin behind each of the resorts.
Today, Vasco had a craving for American pizza.
Since it was Sunday afternoon, he hurried to Las Flores Hotel, shaving a little time off his route by dashing through several service alleys. Pepperoni with mushrooms was the weekend special at the hotel’s main bar, and experience told him the drunk patrons at the all-inclusive resort would leave behind copious amounts of half-eaten pies in their wake.
After he ripped open one of the plastic garbage sacks sitting atop the second trash bin and found what he was looking for to satiate his hunger, Vasco held up his wrist to check the face of the diver’s watch he palmed off a drunk tourist last month during a scuffle at the open market. He figured if he hurried, he’d have just enough time to scarf down two slices, then make his way to the hotel entrance where dozens of guests, or “bobos” as he liked to call them, would be waiting for the three o’clock bus to take them on a guided tour of old town.
Once street side, little Vasco took his unassuming traditional position behind the unmanned table filled with complimentary fruit and “safe” water suitable for the delicate tourist digestive systems. He appeared to be part of the hospitality staff.
“So gullible,” Vasco mumbled to himself as they readily accepted the tiny cups of water he handed them. By the time the bus arrived, Vasco had the tourists eating out of his hand. They eagerly accepted his assistance as they boarded, completely unaware Vasco was helping himself to the contents of their pockets as he did.
Some thirty feet away, a mustached man sat watching all of this unfold while he dined on the hotel’s restaurant patio with an old friend. He was amused by the young boy’s cunning and boldness and laughed when the boy started counting his take just as the bus pulled away. The man then snapped his fingers to get the attention of a larger man standing guard just a few feet away. After he whispered something into the guard’s ear, two other men approached the boy.