It was an inauspicious beginning to a glorious ending.
His name was Jimmy Diaz; he hailed from America, but he had been kicking around Columbia for almost a decade. He had come to the country to hunt emeralds. He thought it would be a cinch to go out in the boonies, scratch at the earth and come up with a handful of emeralds. However, it did not work out that way. He shortly came to the realization that his dream was not going to materialize.
Now, after ten years of doing odd jobs, working as a laborer, doing anything he could to earn his daily bread, including stealing his daily bread, Jimmy was a bit dejected. He had a crop of prematurely gray hair, the few pesos in his pocket and no future. He didn’t mind the hair. And he certainly didn’t mind the pesos. It was the lack of a future that Jimmy was thinking of on the day it all began.
He was walking on the outskirts of a small town, a town that he could not find work in, when he saw the bank. Like the town it was small, but a bank is a bank. And as Willie Sutton once famously said, “That’s where the money is.”
Jimmy stopped walking and sat down in the shade of a large tree. He had to give this some thought. After a while, he came up with a plan to enhance his prospects of a future. He would rob the bank, but not having a gun was problematic. So he gave it some more thought and in a few minutes, he smiled to himself, stood up and marched right into the building.
There were only three people in the bank. A man behind a desk that Jimmy assumed was the manager and two tellers behind old-fashioned teller cages; the kind with the bars on them and a small opening to slide the money though.
As he approached the manager’s desk, the man saw how Jimmy was dressed and (correctly) thinking him a peasant, was about to ask him to leave the premises. But before he could utter a syllable, Jimmy ensconced himself in a chair in front of the desk and said, “We have your children and if I’m not back to where they are being held in one hour’s time they will be harmed.” Jimmy had no idea if the man had children or not, but Columbia being a Catholic country, he thought it a safe bet that the man had many children.
The man turned rather pale and in a pleading voice said, “No . . . no, anything you want!” What Jimmy wanted was all the money in the vault.
“But senor, we have no vault, only the safe that sits over in the corner,” the man said while pointing to his right.
Jimmy shrugged and told the manager that would do nicely. He envisioned the safe chock full of crisp new pesos. However, when the manager opened the safe, there stood two lonely packets of old worn out bills. Jimmy shook his head and asked if that was all the money in the bank.
“Si, except for a few pesos in the teller cages,” answered the man. He hastily added, “We are but a poor bank.” Jimmy being the optimist that he was thought that at least the pesos would buy him a car to get from town to town and he wouldn’t have to walk anymore.
As he put the cash in his pockets, he reminded the man that if he did not make it back in time, the children would suffer. He added, “So don’t call the police.” And without further ado, Jimmy Diaz walked out of that rural bank a much happier and richer man than he had been an hour earlier. He had no escape plan, but he knew he could avoid capture by losing himself in the forest. After all, he had an hour’s head start. The manager would not call the police for at least an hour.
Jimmy had told the man not to call the police, but he said nothing about calling home. And that is exactly what the manager did the moment Jimmy was out the door. Of course, his wife told him all the children were safe and accounted for. The manager’s next call was to the police.
It was five minutes after having left the bank that Jimmy heard the siren. It was a small town and it had only the one police car. He ducked off the road and into a strand of trees just before the cop passed by.
Damn it! thought Jimmy.
There was nothing else to do but stay off the road, stick to the woods and get as far away from the little town as possible. That was Jimmy’s new and improved plan.
Meanwhile, ten kilometers to the north, and little higher up the mountain, another little drama was playing out.
Paul Dix and Andy Stein were expatriated Americans. They were also bandits, but they were professional bandits. They robbed banks, stores, people, whatever was available. They would take the gold outta your teeth if wasn’t such hard work. Hell, they’d rob the livestock if the damn cows had any pesos. But one thing they did not do was rob anywhere in the vicinity of the town they called home. They needed a safe refuge for when things went south. Things seldom went south for Paul and Andy, but if they did, it was nice to know you had a hidey-hole to dive into.
The reason they felt safe in their adopted hometown was that they paid off the police. It wasn’t too expensive; there were only two of them. The chief, Juan Marciel, and his stooge, Hector Fernandez. And besides, it was the cost of doing business.
The drama alluded to above came about because the police chief demanded a bigger cut of the proceeds. To discuss the matter, the four came together in the woods where Chief Marciel maintained a small cabin to entertain certain ladies that his wife knew nothing about. The four business partners were not in the cabin proper; they stood outside its front door. Soon the discussion became heated, so heated in fact that all four drew their guns. It was a Mexican standoff. No, it was a Columbian standoff.
Juan and Hector’s hands shook. Andy and Jim’s did not. There they stood; four men and not one of them had any compunction about killing another human being. It was only a matter of who would blink first, or maybe it was a matter of who would shoot first.
“We’re not giving you crooked cops one more damn peso!” shouted Paul. Then said in a more sedate voice, “Throw your guns down and live to see another day.”
The cops blinked first. They tossed their guns on the ground and then looked at the Americans, as if asking, What now?
Andy answered their unasked question. “We’re leaving this hell-hole of a town and you won’t see us again. You boys got off lucky today, so don’t press your luck, vamoose while you can still vamoose.”
The two cops turned and started walking towards the town, but after a few steps, the chief turned and drew a two shot derringer out of the pocket of his pants. He yelled, “Fuck you gringos.” And then he died. Andy shot him four times before ‘ol Juan could get off a shot. Hector was nowhere to be seen. He played it smart that day.
“Well, what the hell do we do now that you killed the damn cop?” asked Paul.
“It was either us or him. But to answer your question, we get the hell outta here. By now Hector is on the phone to the National Police,” responded Andy.
They had to leave their stash, all the money they had in the world, in town. It wasn’t really their money, but they considered it as such. They headed up the mountain because they would be expected to go down the mountain to the road below.
Three hours later, their path crossed with Jimmy Diaz’s path.
Jimmy was pretty worn out. He had been hiking up the mountain for hours. His only thought: to put distance between himself and whomever was looking for him. So he did not hear the men as they approached. The first inkling he had that he was not alone on that mountain was when he stumbled and fell. As he started to get up he looked into the barrel of the biggest gun he had ever seen. He had never seen a gun up close before, but when you are staring into the business end of one, it is the biggest goddamn gun in the world.
There were two of them. The one not holding the gun asked, “Are you following us?”
What? thought Jimmy.
Then the one with the gun said, “Paul, how can he be following us? He came in from the opposite direction. At those words, Jimmy took hope into his heart. He might not be shot in the next two minutes.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Paul, “we’re on the run. The Policía Nacional are most likely closing in on us right at this moment.”
“Hey guys, I’m an American just like you. I just robbed a bank and I’ve got cops chasing me too! So let’s join forces and get away from the cops together.”
These words did not have the desired effect that Jimmy had hoped for.
Paul said, “See, I told you. This motherfucker is leading the cops to us.”
Andy, being the calmer of the two said, “It’s not his fault. Let’s just keep on moving.”
As the two bandits started back up the mountain, Jimmy got up off the ground and said, “I have money. Take me with you and you can have half of it.” Then he took the two packets of pesos out of his pockets to show them to Paul and Andy.
Paul whirled, and raised his gun. Andy stepped between Paul and Jimmy and said, “My friend, do you really want to kill a fellow American that is in the same boat as us?”
Paul lowered his gun and said, “Fuck you.” But he said it with a smile. The three banditos then went up the mountain together, and to temporary safety.
Jimmy didn’t know it, but no one was looking for him, not the local cops, not the National Police, not even a lonely dog just looking for love. Nobody. But on the other hand, Paul and Andy had half the National Police from the Santander Province out looking for them. Hector had told them that they were the infamous Banditos Americanos. And to top it off, they had killed a police officer. Their bacon was fried, their goose was cooked, and they were toast as far as the Policía Nacional were concerned. But first the police had to find them. Then they would fry their bacon and cook their goose. No trial, just a fusillade of bullets. However, there would be no cooking or frying on that day. The three men made it over the mountain and started down the other side.
Soon they came to rail line, the tracks looked inviting. There would be no pesky traffic, some of which might be the police. And besides, they could hear a train coming from a long way off. Then they could scamper for cover well in advance of being seen.
By the time it was getting dark, they came to a town serviced by the railroad, which meant at some point in time a train would stop. It was decided that they would hole up there for the night and hope a train stopped before the police came. The plan was to make their get-a-way by train. Jimmy was detailed to go into the town and buy food while Andy and Paul hid out.
It was a long night and none of the three got very much sleep. But in the early morning, just before sunrise, the horn of a train sounded. It was hoped that the train would stop. It must have been known by now that the desperados went up the mountain and not down. The police would soon be swarming about.
Their prayers were answered, if indeed God answers the prayers of bandits, and the train stopped. Not a whole train, just an engine and a flat car attached. But it was all that was needed. The bandits watch as the engineer climbed down and walked to a shed adjoining the tracks. It was a woman!
“Do either of you guys know how to drive a train,” asked Jimmy.
“No,” answered Paul.
“Do you,” inquired Andy.
“Nope,” was Jimmy’s response.
It was decided that they would have to wait for the woman to come back, and then they would jump on the flat car as the train was pulling out. They did not have long to wait. As the car pulled out, the three left their place of hiding and one by one they jumped aboard.
They made their way to the engine. Paul was the first to enter the cab, followed by Andy and bringing up the rear, Jimmy. Paul had his gun out and pointed it at the engineer. “Don’t panic,” he said, “we will not hurt you.” To his surprise, the woman smiled.
“I know who you are,” she said. “you are the Banditos Americanos,” She continued: “Half the country is looking for you. And the other half is rooting for you to get away. But I thought there were only two of you.”
“Never mind how many we are,” said Paul “just tell us what half of the country you fall into.”
The woman spat on the floor and said, “I hate the police! “
Paul lowered his gun and smiled. Then turning to Andy he said, “Looks like we got us a ride.”
The short of it was that the woman told them to sit on the floor so they couldn’t be seen. They passed three towns and there were police at every crossing. The engineer waved at the police and they waved back. Because it was obvious she was the only one on the train, they had no interest in her or her train.
The train started to slow and Andy asked what was up. “At the next town I must stop and there might be police there. You should get off now. I have taken you outside their perimeter, you should be safe enough. Go with God mi amigos.”
When she and the train were gone Jimmy asked, “What do we do now?”
“What we do,” said Andy “is head north. Bogota is to the north, it’s a big city. We can get lost there.”
The Banditos were never seen again. They became the stuff of legend. It is said that they live in the mountains and only come out at night to rob the unsuspecting. Every robbery in the province is attributed to El Banditos Americanos. Parents scare their children into being good by telling them that the Banditos will take them away in the night if they do not behave. However, the bandits do not live in the mountains, they no longer rob and they don’t steal children. This is what happened to El Banditos Americanos.
About an hour after leaving the train, they were going through some dense underbrush and Jimmy was having a tough time keeping up. Paul was leading the way and kept up the pace hoping to lose Jimmy. He and Andy were partners, they needed no one else. Andy, for his part only wanted to get to the big city and was ambivalent about Jimmy now that they had gotten over the mountain and through the police blockade. So Jimmy fell farther and farther behind. But not so far behind that he could not hear the two up ahead.
Then he heard screams and shouting. Then there was gunfire. Jimmy hunkered down and did not move. Hours later he ventured to continue on. He soon came to a small clearing and there on the ground were the mortal remains of Andy and Paul. They had been shot and then hacked to bits with machetes. They had the misfortune to have run into a band of men working for the local drug lord, and thinking Paul and Andy were the police, the drug guys killed them.
Jimmy made the sign of the cross and continued on. He eventually made it to Bogota after a few more adventures along the way that do not merit telling here. Suffice it to say that by the time he hit Bogota, he was a changed man. At the American embassy he secured a passport after proving he was an American citizen by turning in his old passport, which he always carried with him. And with his ill-gotten gains from the bank heist, he bought an airline ticket back to the States.
Jimmy Diaz now lives in Florida, the city is not important. He is married and has two daughters. Oh, and a cat and two Cocker Spaniels. He does not have to work nowadays because on his way to Bogota he stumbled onto a field with part of a large emerald sticking up out of the dirt. He spent two weeks digging up more emeralds and when he had all that he could carry, he stopped digging and resumed his trek to Bogota. When he hit the big city he sold his emeralds and deposited the money in a local bank, telling the bank manager that he would be receiving instructions for a wire transfer soon. When Jimmy hit the States he opened a local bank account with the last of the money from his bank robbery. He then had his $387,589.00 wired up from Columbia.