“Это уже 8:30. Она не придет. давайте дуть этот стенд тако!” (It’s already 8:30 am. She’s not coming. Let’s blow this taco stand!)
I am squatting behind a vine-covered fence next to my cargo bike, the Food Fiets or Rolling Taqueria.
Peeping over ivy leaves, I see the tall, carefully dressed, bald Russian — Mr. Suit — standing near the school gate. A few feet to his right, there is a flash of gold teeth: Jin Ya, Mr. Suit’s partner.
Fuck. They’ve found us.
I silently motion for my two children to keep down and quiet.
Mr. Suit and Jin Ya swivel to walk to a black Mercedes. Waiting a beat for them to drive off, I hoist my children over the low fence and hiss for them to hurry into the building, an international school in the middle of the Netherlands. A school so small and new I thought it would be overlooked. I blow the pair a kiss and point to my wrist, indicating that they should be ready for an early school pick-up.
Scanning the schoolyard perimeter, I prop a few lengths of lumber against several sections of fence for later use.
Back on the bike, it begins to rain as I fly through roundabouts, yielding to no one. Arriving at Maliebaan 8, someone has drawn the outline of a taco on the chalkboard in front. Dammit, dammit, dammit! I’ve got to be quick.
I enter and rush to grab a knock-off designer duffel bag that spells China’s financial capital as ‘Shag-hi.” Darting to the kitchen, I pull Diane Kennedy’s Essentials of Mexican Cooking from the shelf and shove it into the bag.
Turning to the cupboards, I knock rows boxed of chocolate hagel slag aside to reveal the real treasure: 48 jars of Hernandez Salsa Verde. Breathing heavily, I pause, open one jar and gulp down its contents. Throwing the remaining 47 jars into the duffel, I add a 10 pound bag of masa harina, tins of cumin and chili powder, a chunk of pork shoulder and a small, but heavy, iron tortilla press.
With the duffel slung over my shoulder, I exit to the street, but stop abruptly when I see my neighbor. The one who always wears a black blazer with jeans. The one with the gorgeous brown boxer that lounges on the balcony on sunny days. The one who always avoids eye contact. He is standing beside my bike and staring at me directly in the face. The boxer is peeing on my front tire.
“Goede morgen mevrouw Brown.” He says flatly as his eyes study the bag slung over my shoulder.
“I hear that you are studying Dutch? Mijn vrienden zouden graag met je praten. Sta mij toe om u te helpen met uw tas.” (My friends would like to talk to you. Allow me to help you with your bag.)
As I lower the bag to the ground, the boxer growls and a black Mercedes screeches into the roundabout. With my neighbor distracted, I jam my hands into the duffel, grab the pork shoulder in one hand and the iron tortilla press in the other. His eyes flash back at me as I throw the pork into the Maliebaan parkway, sending the boxer scurrying away. I then fling the iron tortilla press at his right foot.
Hopping onto the bike, I pedal down the Maliebaan’s jogging trail, with the black Mercedes running parallel to me on the roadway. The car is delayed by a garbage truck, giving me just enough time to reach the rail crossing first. The warning bells and red lights begin to flash as I’m midway across the tracks. The Merc screeches to a halt in front of the already lowering boom gate.
A clock tower strikes ten; the children have just been let out into the schoolyard for playtime. Rounding the last corner, I stand and pedal to force the bike into a sprint. Aiming for the first length of lumber, I shout a coded command to my children: “Taco Time!” The bike speeds up the impromptu ramp, over the one meter high fence and lands in the yard. A ring of children stare, but my two quickly separate from the rest and leap into the bike on top of the duffel. Picking up speed again, I launch the bike over the second ramp and head to the eastern outskirts of Utrecht.
Two kilometers of sprint-cycling later and we are safely inside the concrete bunker, a WWII remnant. After catching my breath, I pull out a pack of cards, a block of chocolate and aim the bike’s headlamp into the middle of our threesome. Years of rigorous training drills — time spent sitting in international airports for interminable periods — have honed our ability to wait.
At the rendezvous time, plus exactly 15 minutes, my husband, Mr. Lingo, taps his pen knife against the exterior of the concrete bunker and we let him in.
He scans the room, “Where’s the salsa verde?”
I nod to the duffel bag propped in a corner.
He lifts the bag to check the weight, “We have got to get this out of Europe. They try to mix it with blue cheese. They simply don’t have the capacity to understand it.”
“And the goddamn Russians and Chinese just want to sell it on to North American expats in the Far East for a premium price.”
“It’s time to move again. We’ll board a ship tonight out of Rotterdam: The Golden Monkey.”
Dozing in and out of sleep in the gently rocking berth, I have become accustomed to the sounds of the crews’ fast movements, but now I hear paced foot falls, footsteps that pause and advance slowly in the corridor. Mr. Lingo has heard them too. He taps my shoulder and passes me and the children fistfuls of chili powder from the duffel. We lie silently in our bunks and listen. The door inches open. Light reflecting from gold teeth flashes onto the walls.
Jin Ya peers around the room and edges toward the duffel. Squinting in the dark, I can just see Mr. Suit’s black leather glove grip the metal door frame. He steps in and we fling the handfuls of chili powder into their faces. The children target Jin Ya and we target Mr. Suit. Within moments they are both defenseless.
“What should we do with them?” I ask while coughing and tying Jin Ya’s hands behind his back.
Mr. Lingo has his forearm pressed up against Mr. Suits neck, “Put them in the brig for now. We’ll have to get rid of them somewhere.”
“Let’s drop them on the North Korean coast. The Korean People’s Army will assume their South Korean spies. They’ll never been seen again.” I pull Jin Ya to his feet. The children have secured his ankles.
The weather, however, is not so easily managed. The next day we are hit with a tremendous storm and the ship rocks violently. The children and I are incapacitated with sea sickness. Mr. Lingo checks the bike in the hold and monitors Jin Ya and Mr. Suit in the brig.
After hours of rocking, I wake in the morning and find that the ship is still. Then I smell it: tomatillos and lime. Forty-six jars of the salsa verde have broken.
The children are fast asleep and I run to the brig.
Mr. Lingo is sleeping with his back against the locked door, but his eyes jump open when he smells the shard of broken glass that I wave under his nose.
“We need Jin Ya.” I whisper. “There is still one intact jar. He has contacts in China that can help us reverse-engineer the Hernandez salsa verde.”
“But why would he help us?”
“For the same reason we need his help: we all need the salsa verde.”
I bang on the brig’s metal door, “金牙！ 起来！ 我们谈谈！” (Jin Ya! Get up! Let’s talk!)
After our discussion, we form a partnership and make a long stop-over in southern China for salsa verde development with food scientists and chemists. We introduce the tomatillo to Chinese farmers and sign contracts for exclusive purchase rights.
Then we set sail for our Shangri-la — Tropical Holland — a place with both enviable politics and a balmy year-round climate.
We build a new taco empire in Tropical Holland. Every one of our two-dozen taco bike drivers works part-time, writes fantastic works of creative non-fiction in his or her spare time, and owns a seaside home.
Our own two children, like all children in Tropical Holland, are cheerful, empathetic, logical and tidy.
Mr. Lingo learns to cook exceptional Sichuan food and I become a world-class surfer who is fluent in six languages: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Dutch and Xhosa.
And we all enjoy delicious tacos.