Roque Montalvo knows that any scheme his cousin, Happy,
cooks up is criminal and going to get him in a world of
trouble. But when Roque's uncle (Happy's father) is
deported to El Salvador after an INS sweep, Roque is
willing to help get his Uncle Faustino back in the U.S. So
while Happy brokers deals with the FBI and human smugglers,
Roque travels to El Salvador to bring Faustino home.
But when he arrives there, he finds the traffickers want
him to deliver a young girl, Lupe, along the way.
Horrified, Roque and Lupe travel toward the U.S., hunted by
the FBI, the traffickers and the police.
David Corbett's grainy realities bring these
characters to life in all their beauty and ugliness. While
DO THEY KNOW I'M RUNNING got off to a slow start, the book
took off when Roque arrived in El Salvador, dragging the
reader on a journey he or she won't soon forget.
From acclaimed author David Corbett, a stunning and
suspenseful novel of a life without loyalties and the
borders inside ourselves.
Roque Montalvo is wise beyond his eighteen years. Orphaned
at birth, a gifted musician, he’s stuck in a California
backwater, helping his Salvadoran aunt care for his damaged
brother, an ex-marine badly wounded in Iraq. When
immigration agents arrest his uncle, the family has nowhere
else to turn. Roque, badgered by his street-hardened
cousin, agrees to bring the old man back, relying on the
criminal gangs that control the dangerous smuggling routes
from El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico, to the U.S.
But his cousin has told Roque only so much. In reality, he
will have to transport not just his uncle but two others:
an Arab whose intentions are disturbingly vague and a young
beauty promised to a Mexican crime lord. Roque discovers
that his journey involves crossing more than one kind of
border, and he will be asked time and again to choose
between survival and betrayal—of his country, his family,
It was daybreak and the rancher, standing at his kitchen
window, watched two silhouettes stagger forward through the
desert scrub. One clutched the other but they both seemed
hurt. The porch light, the rancher thought, that’s the
thing they been walking toward all night. See it for miles.
All the way from the footpaths snaking through the
mountains out of Mexico.
Rooster lurched at the end of his chain, hackles up,
that snarl in his bark, trying to warn the strangers off.
They just kept coming. All right then, he thought. Not like
you wanted this. He set his coffee in the sink and went to
the door leading out to the porch and collected the shotgun
kept there, racked a shell into the chamber, stepped
Streamers of winter cloud laced the sky, pale to the
east, purplish dark to the west. A cold parched wind keened
in the telephone wires. The landscape bristled with nopal,
saguaro, cholla. Black ancient ironwood cropped up here and
there among the mesquite and Joshua trees.
Before he could close the door behind him, his wife
called his name. She eased forward unsteadily out of the
hallway shadow, robe cinched tight. The gaunt face, once
framed with steel- gray hair pulled back and braided into a
rope, now seemed all the more stark with her pallor and the
stubbled baldness. The treatments were savaging her bone
marrow too. He wondered sometimes whether the cure wasn’t
worse than the disease—wondered as well whether he’d be
anywhere near as brave when his time came.
Where does the promise go when it leaves you, he
wondered. He wished the years had made them calm and strong
and wise, but here they were, her sick, him afraid, trying
to protect each other—their stake owned free and clear but
now little more than a borderland throughway, shadows
scurrying past the house at night, sometimes trying the
door, shattering a window, hoping for shelter or water or
food. Same problem everywhere: the Stanhope girl—raped last
spring. Old woman Hobbes—robbed at knifepoint, truck
stolen, the fridge ransacked and the house turned upside
down for cash before the culprits scurried off, leaving her
tied up in her garage. Enough, everybody said. Things’re
only getting worse across the border. We’ll form patrols.
We’ll make an example out of every goddamn tonk we catch.
But there’s more to “enough” than the saying of it,
too much terrain to patrol and too many who still slip
through to make an example mean anything. Ask the two
lurching forward. The promise hadn’t left them just yet. It
was as simple as a steady light glowing at the foot of a
mountain pass with the black desert floor beyond. He felt
the pump gun’s weight in his hands, a commensurate weight
on his soul. It was that second burden that haunted him.
“They don’t look too good,” she told him, feeling her
way forward, hand to the wall.
He met her eyes. “They do that sometimes.”
“Is that how we think now?”
“Not because we want to. Remember that part.”
He turned away and marched across the porch onto the
hardpan, telling the dog to be still. The two figures—the
one being dragged, on closer inspection, appeared to be
past a line of cholla with their huge bulbs of barbed
spikes. God only knows what they suffered in the night, he
thought: sidewinders, rattlers, scorpions. Thieves. But
pity won’t help. Pity’s the problem.
As they came within twenty yards he saw it, stuffed
into the man’s pants. A pistol. It happened of its own
accord then—shotgun raised, tight to the shoulder, barrel
aimed straight at the armed man’s midriff.
“¡Alto! Tengo una escopeta. Esta es propiedad
It was half the Spanish he knew—Stop, I have a
shotgun. This is private property—but he might as well have
shouted it to the wind. The man just kept coming, one of
the woman’s arms hooked across his shoulder. The other hung
limp at her side. Her steps were ragged, she looked barely
conscious. The rancher felt his finger coil tight around
“I said stop! Alto, damn it. Won’t say it again. Next
thing I do is shoot.”
As though rousted from a terrible dream, the stranger
glanced up, still shuffling his feet, dragging the woman.
From behind: “He’s barely more than a boy.”
“Stay in the house!” The guilt and fear, knowing she
was right—knowing too that he was all that stood between
them and her—it quickened into rage and the impulse
quivered down his
arm into his hand.
Then the young half- dead stranger with the pistol
called out in a dust- dry voice, his wrds a challenge and a
plea and a cry of recognition all in one. “Don’t shoot!
Help us . . . please . . . I'm an American . . .”
The rancher tucked the gun butt tighter into the
clenched muscle and aching bone of his shoulder. Don’t
believe him, he told himself. Don’t believe one damn word.