Monday, November 23, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 268 - Chad Eagleton

Máscara Contra Máscara - Chad Eagleton

The moon is high and the river is low. Through the chain-link fence and across the shallow waters of the Rio Bravo, I can see the lights of El Paso and think of my father.

I remember sitting in his pickup. The windows were down. The cab smelt of sweet, tobacco, and tepache. He turned Marty Robbins off and took another sip of his pineapple beer. “A name is all a man’s got,” he said.

Now, I shake my head.

I am not here in Juárez to remember anything. I am here in Juárez for my name. In my life, I’ve had two: the first I was born with, the second I claimed for myself. My birth name was a ditch-digger’s name. The name I made for myself, it was a hero’s name.

Someone has taken the hero’s name from me. I will not be left with the other. I will have my name back. It means more to me than all my possessions, than the stacks of bills filling the briefcase beside me, and even my sons. The most important thing I have to give them, the thing that will last longer than any other inheritance, is that name.

Headlights fill my rearview mirror. For a moment, I am blinded by the glare. When I step out of the car and into the night, my vision clears and I see the faces of my enemies.

Though they are four in number, I know no fear.

The first is young, a teenager cultivating a thin sprouting of hairs on a weak chin as desperately as a peasant trying to coach vegetables from rocky soil. He wears Levi’s and an Indios de Ciudad Juárez jersey.

The second is a fat man in dirty khakis and a blue Guayabera faded to a thin white that reveals the heavy swirls of chest hair curling around his large breasts. At his belt, a machete dangles.

Of the third, I can focus on nothing but the pits in his thin face. Not even the gun in his hand.

It is the fourth who matters—the Thief. He wears a red Western shirt with pearl clasps. His jeans are tight and dark. The cowboy boots are polished to a deep black. On his thin fingers are several bands ringed with diamonds. A thick gold bracelet around his wrist clinks against the metal case in his hand.

Rumors say he is from Tijuana, where his mother was a careless whore and his father an experienced burro. Some say he is not Mexican at all, but came up farther south in the urban hell of Sao Paolo where he was raised by rats in the scrap ghetto mazes. Others say he comes from the jungle, a descendant of priests who raised bloody sacrifices to old gods. There, death squads butchered his family. He only survived by hiding in his mother’s rotting corpse and praying to Mictlantecuhtli.

I say bullshit.

A ditch-digger’s son knows a ditch-digger’s son.

“Are you —, old man?” he asks.

It is strange to hear my birth name spoken, it has been so long. It sounds foreign and alien, a jumble of letters as vacant as a dash on the page. Coming from his lips, it clenches my stomach and threatens to bring me to my knees. For a moment, I can say nothing and pray my speechlessness appears as only senility.

The Thief snaps his fingers.

“Yes,” I tell him.

He nods. “You got the money? Thornhill said you’d have the money.”

“I do.” I open the briefcase, show it to him, and throw him a stack of fifties. “You do not see the rest until I see your product and if your product is quality, I will purchase more.”

He licks his lips and runs his fingers across his intricate goatee. “Inside,” he says and unlocks the gate.

We cross into an old warehouse formerly owned by an aircraft manufacturer. The buildings are blackened windows and padlocked doors. I try not to think about what has gone on inside and what dark stains and wet meat might remain.

The Thief opens a door into a squat aluminum building with rounded room. The office space inside is empty now except for a table, several chairs and a safe.

“I must go to the toilet.”

“Go ahead, old man,” the Thief says.

Behind me, I can hear their jackal laughs. The jokes about my age and the possibilities of my incontinence. A muffled remark about Viagra is lost to the close of the door.

I sit the briefcase on the sink. The clasps pop. My breath catches. It felt so loud, but there is only my heart reverberating in the hollows of my chest and not a single knock on the door.

I move the briefcase to the toilet and turn on the sink. The water spurts out brown as runny shit. I wait, but it never runs clear. Nor do my thoughts.

I switch the facet off. My knuckles crackle and I hold tight onto the cold metal until I find my nerve and let my thoughts fade to a low din, a soft rumble. I open the briefcase and lift the insert out, revealing my máscara.

It is made of red nylon. Thin gold stitching catches the light and gives the appearance of moving flame. The antifaz, the trim, around the eye, nose, and mouth holes is midnight black.

I pull it over my head and open the door.

For a moment, I am lit from behind with a florescent glow that casts my shadow across the dim interior. Rolling my neck, the flames crackle the way they did during my entrance in The Jungle Of Blood.

Now, I am no longer old. My spine straightens and the muscles in my forearms coil like steel cables threatening to burst the worn fabric of my black suit. I am no longer the ditch-digger’s son.

I am El Chingón.

They are not impressed.

“What the fuck?” The Thief says and the others can not contain their laughter.

“I am El Chingón and I am here for my name.”

“Holy fuck, old man,” the Thief says, “this is the best laugh I’ve had in a long time. Thornhill’s a crazy bastard.”

“You’re looking at El Chingón,” the Fat One says. “The Badass. The Badass of Juárez.”

I run.

My ankles crack with every stride, threatening to buckle, but I won’t let them. I leap onto the table and I fly one last time, hook my legs around the Thief‘s neck and torque my waist, driving his head into the concrete. Despite the fire shooting through my knees, I return to my feet quickly, confident they can not see the stumble as I spin, driving my elbow into the young one‘s nose and crushing it before snaking my arm around his head, pulling him down into a choke that I crank hard before flinging him into the Fat One fumbling with the machete.

Pitted Face rushes me and draws his weapon, a .45. It is the exact same model I used in El Chingón vs. Los Enemigos del Amor. Surging toward him, I duck under the sweep of his gun and ram my shoulder into his gut. I grab his legs in both my hands and snatch him off his feet. The back of his head bounces off the floor.

I roll across his body, snatching the automatic off the ground as the Young One and the Fat One struggle to their feet. I shoot them both quickly and fire one into Pitted Face‘s chest. The Thief raises himself up onto his elbows and watches with bloodstained eyes, the jagged furrow across his forehead continues its gush.

“I will have my name back now.”

He laughs.

For a moment, I am fearful and feel very old. The pin in my shoulder burns. My knees flare and throb. The knuckle on my trigger finger pulses with arthritis. My mask feels like it’s tightening, trying to swallow my skull like a snake or expel my from its warm interior, leaving only the ditch-digger’s son.

“Fuck you,—,” he says.

At the sound of that name, I pull the trigger.

That is not enough. There are rules to Máscara Contra Máscara, mask versus mask, and the rules say the pretender’s mask is mine. I will take it and hang it on my wall beside the others.

I pick up the machete.

BIO: Chad Eagleton lives in Indiana. He has been published in DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash, Pulp Pusher, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before The Dawn (in collaboration with Keith Rawson) and Beat To A Pulp.

9 comments:

Cameron Ashley said...

Chad, Chad, Chad. I want roughly a million more words of this please.

Joyce said...

Oh my God, so much power in these words, so much dignity and just downright class. A+++++ on this one, Chad. Superb.

Keith Rawson said...

Goddamn, brother, this has got to be one of the most original pieces of writing I've read in a long while. Superb pacing, solid atmosphere, and a very engaging protagonist. Luchador Noir, brilliant stuff!

David Cranmer said...

No doubt, one of the finest writers around. Though, he doesn't have to prove that fact he just did again with Máscara Contra Máscara.

Michael Solender said...

very, very cool. I expected lee marvin or charles bronson any minute. great feel and pace, just a remarkable tale..

Alan Griffiths said...

Chad, that knocked me out! And I’m going to read it all over again.

The narrative was so lean that not one single word was wasted. Not one.

I loved the dialogue and the whole piece was as tense as a coiled spring.

The best short, by miles, that I have read in a long while.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Amazing!

Jimmy Callaway said...

Eagleton does it again. Luchador noir indeed, as Rawson said. Great stuff, man.

Anonymous said...

**applause**

~Megan Werle