A GRINGO IN MATALO - MARK MELLON
The golden eagle soared above the rugged mountains, widespread wings borne aloft by a powerful updraft, sharp eyes on the lookout for a stray kid or other prey to provide food for her chicks, high over striped peaks and narrow, winding valleys that rose and fell like the folds of a carelessly tossed blanket.
There was the crack of a rifle shot. The eagle lazily spun in a widening arc that took her far away, past the horizon and out of sight.
“You figured you could hit that bird at that distance? Without even a scope? You’re too high to think straight, Chapo,” Lupe giggled.
Chapo lowered his Ruger MK III hunting rifle and favored Lupe with a scowl.
“I got him. I know I did, by all the saints’ images in Sinaloa. I hit him in the wing and the bird flew off to die,” he insisted. “You’d better not argue with me on this.”
Chapo’s bloodshot eyes bored into Lupe with fearful intensity.
“Yeah, sure,” Lupe conceded. “You shot him right through the heart. Now open another whale for me and one for yourself. We need some more parakeet, you son of a whore!”
Chapo bent down over an open cooler, thumbed back the brim of his black, broad-brimmed Stetson, and pulled out two quart bottles of Pacifico beer from the ice. He sat down on a lawn chair next to Lupe under an awning hung from the cabin and handed him a Pacifico. Lupe punched the CD deck’s play button. Loud, honking polka music filled the air. Accordions trilled and a man plaintively wailed.
I have no fear, I walk behind death. With a beautiful woman on each arm.
Lupe took a large baggie filled with cocaine and scooped out a handful. He handed the baggie to Chapo, who took a fistful for himself. Both men gulped down the white powder, licked their palms and fingers clean, and chased the cocaine with heavy drafts of beer. Already wired, the massive quantities of cocaine further numbed their mouths, set their hearts to pounding even faster.
Used by Mescalero Apaches as a staging ground for raids in the 19th Century, the mesa where they sat had more than one exit and a commanding view of the high Sierra Madre. Towering mountains and cliffs of striated gray and white stone, covered with green scrub, spread as far as the eye could see. Down far below, a bright, blue line snaked through a canyon, the Rio Fuerte wending its torturous way to the Pacific Ocean.
A gravel road zigzagged down one side of the mesa, north to their hometown of Mátalo, just barely visible in the distance, a small clump of whitewashed squares and rectangles.
The cocaine surged through Lupe's bloodstream, gained strength, and triggered a colossal dopamine increase.
“You think with your balls, not your brains, Chapo,” Lupe said, suddenly aggressive. “If you actually thought a little more, we wouldn’t be stuck here.”
Lupe glanced at the miserable, dirty twelve-year old tied to a nearby tree by his neck with a long rope. Chapo had sold a hundred kilos of mota to the boy’s father, prime smoke Chapo had grown himself, and been paid only half of the price. The boy was a hostage for the balance. Clad in what where once nice clothes, but now filthy rags, he was half-starved and curled into a silent, fetal ball in the dirt. He knew better than to complain anymore at this point after repeated kicks from Lupe and Chapo's ostrich skin cowboy boots.
“Hey, I had to do something!” Chapo protested. “If people found out I let Enrique off, nobody pays anymore. I don’t make money.”
Lupe grimaced and said, “So here we are stuck on this mountaintop when we could be in town getting laid! This has dragged on three days, ése. You got to think of something.”
Chapo was silent for a moment, broad brow furrowed, plainly trying hard to reason while high. He said, “Why don't we saw off one of his ears and send it to Enrique? That should get results.”
“Yeah, but, ése, what if he don't care about the kid?” Lupe demanded. “Maybe we should just sell him to some joto. There’s guys in Tijuana that’ll pay good money if we clean him and fatten him up some.”
Chapo finished his quart bottle. He threw it with all his might. The bottle arced past the mesa’s edge and fell thousands of feet to crash somewhere by the river without even a distant tinkle of broken glass.
“Hey, you hear something?” Lupe said.
There was a whine in the air, thin, distant, but steadily growing in strength, the unmistakable sound of a small engine in torment. Both men got up to investigate. They walked a short distance past the pines to get a better view of the road. The whine was loud now. Midway down the mesa’s slope, a once-white pickup truck laboriously negotiated one switchback after another. Obviously unaccustomed to driving a stick shift in such rough terrain from his timorous, hesitant pace, there was a hard grind of gears each time the driver clumsily shifted the clutch.
“Who is it?” Chapo asked.
“Nobody I know,” Lupe said. “We better get the goat horns.”
Chapo and Lupe ran back to the cabin. They came out with AK-47 assault rifles, both locked and loaded with a fifty-round clip. The two dealers waited by the cabin, hearts pounding as adrenaline, alcohol, and cocaine jacked their fight or flight instinct to the breaking point. Each man smacked and yawned, trying to muster some spit in a bone-dry, drug-parched mouth.
“Whoever this guy is, I hope he likes this place,” Chapo said.
“Why?” Lupe asked.
“Because it’ll be the last one he ever sees.”
“Quit bragging and get ready.”
They pushed the AKs’ safety levers down. The truck only had one more switchback to cross. The Toyota dipped into a shallow gully with a bone-rattling crash, rounded the last bend, and headed toward the men. They peered through the dust-covered windshield at the driver. Lupe frowned in distaste, arching his thick, black mustache sharply downward.
“Look, ése, it’s a gringo,” he said.
Chapo cursed foully and said, “How in the name of seven hells and seven suffering saints does a norteño son of a whore stranger come here to Sinaloa?”
The truck stopped next to the two men.
“Why don’t we ask him?” Lupe said. “Put down your goat horn. He doesn’t look like any threat.”
The men put their AKs down, fingers still on the triggers. A thin, young gringo got out of the truck and walked around to them. He wore a ballcap, plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and boots. His blue-eyed gaze was earnest and rabbity behind thick-lensed glasses.
“Good morning," he said, his gringo accent painful to Lupe’s ear.
“I don’t see what’s so good about it, with an ugly dog like you around ruining things,” Chapo replied. “Are you lost or something, gringo?”
The gringo visibly flinched, plainly puzzled and startled by Chapo’s rude response. Lupe grinned widely. El Diablo must have heard him complain about his boredom. He’d sent a toy gringo for Lupe to play with, just as roughly as he liked.
“Don’t be so rude to a stranger, Chapo,” he said, hoping to string the gringo along for a while. “Give the man a chance to explain himself. What brings you here, gringo?”
“I thought this was supposed to be the public campground. That’s what the fellow in Mátalo told me,” the gringo said.
“He was wrong,” Chapo said. “This is a private campground where strangers aren’t welcome.”
“Gringo,” Lupe said, “what brings you to Mátalo without even a pistol in your belt?”
The gringo said, “I’m an ornithologist.”
“A what?” Chapo roared. “Now this gringo son of a whore uses long words I don’t know. You’ll sleep under these trees tonight, my friend.”
“Chapo, you really are overreacting,” Lupe said, enjoying himself immensely. “I keep telling you. Give this young gringo a chance to explain himself.”
“You know, I’m a bird watcher,” the gringo said. “I’m with the University of Chicago. They sent me down here on a grant to try to observe the nesting habits of the eared quetzal. This actually looks like a pretty good spot for them to nest. Have you seen any?”
“Gringo, we don't know what you’re talking about,” Lupe said. “Any birds around here, we shot for laughs and to keep them from waking us up at night.”
“What is this ‘eared quetzal’ supposed to look like, you dirty cabron?” Chapo demanded.
“I can show you. That’s no problem,” the gringo said. “I’ve got a notebook with a full set of pictures in the bed. Just a moment.”
He turned and walked over to the truck, back trustingly presented to them. Chapo raised his AK-47, but Lupe motioned for him to keep it down. Chapo grinned. He pulled out his eighteen-inch Bowie knife and showed it to Lupe. Lupe drew a thumb across his throat and then shook his head ‘no’ to signal that Chapo should only wound the gringo, not kill him, so they could stretch out their fun with him. The big Mexican nodded his assent. The gringo undid a rope that tied down a corner of the tarp. He reached into the bed of the truck. Chapo crept toward him, Bowie in his right hand, rifle in his left.
Quick as wind, the gringo whirled. In his hands, the mouths of two sawed-off, blue steel, ten gauge tubes ominously gaped.
Ten lead balls slapped into Chapo’s torso at point blank range.
“Aye, chingau, what has the gringo done to me?” Chapo hissed.
Vital organs riddled, holes agush with blood, Chapo dropped his weapons and fell to the ground.
Lupe ran and dove behind the truck. He hit the ground hard and painfully.
A shotgun pellet smashed the Toyota’s right headlamp. Gasping for air, desperate to figure out his next move, Lupe still managed a derisive laugh.
“Ha, gringo,” he yelled. “You screwed up your own truck.”
Lupe had to move before the gringo reloaded the shotgun.
He got into a crouch, put the AK over the truck’s hood, and blindly fired off a short burst. Just as he was trained by a mercenary ex-Green Beret, he circled the truck and hosed down the area with automatic fire.
“I’ll kill you, you gringo son and grandson of a whore, for what you did to my brother Chapo!” Lupe cried.
The mountains echoed with the AK’s steady, deadly chug. Large branches and small trees were ripped to pieces by 7.62 mm slugs.
BDAM! BDAM! BDAM! BDAM! BDAM!
The first bullet hit Lupe just below his Adam's apple. The second shattered his sternum and punched through his back. A third slug tore into his gut, while the fourth ripped into his navel, and the fifth destroyed his crotch. Neatly zippered by an expert aim, kept erect only by the cocaine surging though his bleeding veins, Lupe gazed downward in shock and dismay at the shattered, bleeding wreck of what was once his strutting, cocksure self. He fell to the ground where he moaned with pain and self-pity.
The gringo got up from the dirt where he’d lain in wait for Lupe, a Colt's .45 automatic braced in both hands. He slipped the pistol into a pants pocket, slapped the dust off, and walked over to the dying Mexican.
“That might have worked if you weren’t too high to think straight, ése,” the gringo said.
“You cheating, lying gringo bastard. If you had the courage to fight me like a real man...” Lupe moaned.
“Guess I don’t. Just call me a coward,” the gringo said.
Veils of the palest red slowly descended over Lupe’s eyes to mercifully obscure his death. He tried to say a quick prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe to intercede on his behalf, but couldn’t conjure the breath from ruptured lungs. The red veils turned to black. There was nothing.
Quique crouched behind the tree’s pitiful shelter. Stunned and disoriented by the kidnapping, abused and underfed afterwards to the point where he completely withdrew from the world into himself, the shoot-out and his captors’ murder had dragged him violently back into reality. Would the gringo kill him too now? He yanked frantically at the nylon rope around his neck, but the knots wouldn’t yield. “Chico,” the gringo called. “Chico, don’t worry. I’m Alex Pargrew. Your padre Enrique asked me to come get you.”
The boy cautiously tilted his head and peered from behind the tree with one eye. The gringo had traded his ball cap for a straw cowboy hat like the ones most Mexican men wore. He’d taken his glasses off, too. While his blue-eyed gaze was still open, he didn’t seem either innocent or defenseless now. Nonetheless, his smile was genuinely warm. Quique liked the man, the first person in days to show him any kindness. The gringo walked over slowly and calmly, arms out with his palms upwards.
“Just relax there, muchacho,” he said. He took a Buck knife from a pants pocket, opened the blade with one hand, and cut Quique free. Immediately, the boy flew into the gringo’s arms and loudly sobbed his gratitude.
“Easy there, son,” the gringo said. “You’ve been through an awful lot, more than a boy should ever have to, but you’ll have to be brave just a little bit longer. Those two scumbags’ pals in Mátalo are sure to have heard the gunfire. They’ll come on out to see what’s going on. We got a long drive ahead of us to what passes for an airport in Los Mochis. Better go while we can. Are you up to it?”
“Yes, Señor Pargrew,” Quique said.
He took the boy by the hand and gently led him toward the truck. Nearby, Chapo and Lupe lay supine in the dirt in their own dark-red blood, eyes wide open to the sky, mouths agape in astonishment at the fact of their own deaths.
“No need to get formal,” the gringo said. “Alex’ll do fine. Got some sandwiches and coffee in the cab. Hope you like ham and cheese. Can you believe I winged my own truck? Come on, son, get in, get in.”
The man and the boy got into the truck and left. His earlier pose of ineptness now abandoned, Pargrew drove steadily and surely down the mountain’s opposite side, westward to Los Mochis and escape.
Drunk and high on drugs themselves when the echo of distant shots rang out from the mountains that hot summer day, much time was wasted by Chapo and Lupe’s companions before they organized themselves sufficiently to go to the mesa and investigate. Over an hour had passed until a convoy of three gleaming, jet black Ford F-450 four wheel drive trucks slowly ascended the mesa. When they reached the top, the trucks pulled into the campground where their friends’ bodies lay. The men got out of the trucks, pistols and rifles ready to fire.
“What sort of filthy demon’s joke is this?” a man cried.
A gold eagle perched on Chapo, cruel claws dug into his broad forehead. The sharp point of her hooked, upper bill stabbed downward. The eagle brought her head up. In her beak, the sad, ruptured balloon of an eyeball drooped. Contrary to every instinct, rather than kill and eat her own prey, the raptor feasted on his dead remains. Two gory cavities gaped at the men where Chapo’s eyes once were. The eagle tilted her head back to swallow, shrieked, and took flight before the men could even draw a bead on her. On and on she flew with steady beats of her powerful wings until the puny affairs of landbound humans so far beneath her were no more important than the doings of the ants that they so closely resembled at this height.
BIO: Mark is a novelist and supports his family by working as an attorney for the FDIC. His work has appeared in publications such as Anthrolations; Albedo One; Aoife's Kiss; Hadrosaur Tales; Rope And Wire; and Premonitions. His most recent short story, The Brave Little Cockroach, was podcast on Anthrodreams. His Western novel, The Pirooters, has been published by Treble Heart Books. The Pirooters won the Books and Authors.Net Award for Best Western of 2008. More information may be found at: SDMellon. His novella, Escape From Byzantium was published last month by Withersin Press. Please also see Escape From Byzantium. A website featuring his writing is at Mellon Writes Again!
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