Friday, March 28, 2014

Bill "AJ" Hayes Remembered


Tecate Divide gets cold in December. The Mexican side of the border at night is all sage and rocks and the mountain wind cuts like surgical steel. I turn the heel of my left boot on a tie and damn near go butt over breakfast. A red hot railroad spike of pain punches a hole through my guts. I grab air, catch my balance and put one foot in front of the other. The gleam of steel rails and roadbed stretches in front of me like a thousand miles of midnight. Fuckin’ Mexico, I think. It had to be fuckin’ Mexico.


“Hey, Gomez,” Carter yelled through the jukebox noise. “C’mere.”

I eased back my bar stool and shouldered through the crowd. The San Pedro sun blasted through the streaks of grease on the windows and cut yellow bars on the floor, light, dark, light, dark.

“How the fuck many times I got to tell you I’m no Messican,” I say. “My name’s O’Connor.”

His fat face cuts into the wrinkles he calls smiling. I think it just makes him look old—which he is, but when boss-man calls, you move. Or you get dead.

“Can’t prove it by me,” he says. “You look more Mex than Mick to me.” He leans in close and I can smell the garlic grease in his armpits. “Got a job for you. You remember Mojo? Little guy with a burn face scar?”

I nod. “Yeah, sure.”

“He needs to be gone, know what I mean? Gone.”

“Okay,” I say.

“’s why I picked you for the job, Gomez . He’s in Tecate. You know Tecate, south of San Diego? Heard he’s tending bar in a joint down there. The Tecate Club on the square. You know it?”

“Sure,” I say, “When?”

“Tonight. Comes on shift at eight.”

“On my way,” I say.

“That’s my Messican,” he says.

I parked my old Ford in a dark shadow side street a block south of the border fence and walked the two blocks to the old wood door of the Tecate Club. The smells from the square hit me like a ton of shit. Took me back.


I’m not being entirely straight with people when I say I’m Irish. My father was Irish, but my mother was Mexican. He was a sailor. She was a whore. Mom never saw her sailor man after their one-nighter. But, being a proper Catholic whore, she couldn’t get rid of the baby—me—because she figured God would have no problem with whores, Mary Magdalene and all that stuff, but she damn well knew he’d burn her ass in Hell forever if she aborted a baby. So, she raised me as best she could. Took me to street fairs on the square, parades on Cinco de Mayo and all that other stuff they do down south. She even took me to a couple of bullfights. For years after that I dreamed of being a bull fighter. Well, for a couple of years I dreamed of that.
And then one day, when I was thirteen, I came home and found my mother beaten to death. She was cut up so bad I had to wash the blood from her face to make sure it was her. The neighbors told me in whispers that it was her pimp that killed her. So I found him at the Tecate Club and, with a single stroke of a machete, took his head off at the shoulders and lit out for the border. I got lucky and made it to Long Beach and then San Pedro. I hooked up with a couple of crews. Made some dough and honed my natural talent.

I slipped the door open and looked inside. A few men drinking alone and some couples in the high backed, hundred-year-old dark oak booths doing nice things to each other in the shadows. Mojo was on a tall stool at the far corner of the bar staring at the counter top. He never saw me until I slid onto the stool next to him. I leaned in close, staring into his eyes.

“How ya doin’, Moj?” I said.

He tensed and I felt the move coming, his right hand sliding slow off the bar top. I grabbed it hard and shook my head slightly, still looking deep into his dark brown eyes.

“Nah, Moj. Too late for that.”

I smiled a little and brought the steel up and in. He didn’t try to yell. Wouldn’t have done him any good anyhow, since I’d made sure to cut his diaphragm. Watching, I saw the panic fill his eyes and he wobbled a little. Like always I kept my eyes locked with his. Saw a little hope glimmer in them but when the tip of the steel touched the bottom of his heart, that glimmer left and was replaced, like always, by a flood of light that burned brighter when the rest of the blade followed. It never failed, that light. I’d seen it in all twenty-two pairs of eyes I’d looked into over the years. I’d always wondered what they saw, those guys, when the blade did its job, what they were looking at, what they heard.

“I am the matador,” I whispered and let him gently down on the bar top.

I put the knife away, pushed slow away from the bar, walked across the room and out the door. The commotion and crowd spilling out onto the street yelling and pointing didn’t happen until I was in the Ford and headed for the border. Smooth, I thought, real smooth. I thought that—until I saw what I’d forgotten: A barred gate and a sign that read BORDER CLOSED FROM 8:00 PM UNTIL 8:00 AM.

Winter hours, I thought. Born in this lousy shit hole and I’d forgot fucking winter hours!

I spun the wheel hard and jumped the center divide, figuring I could bust the entry gate going the wrong way. I didn’t see the car parked there until I was almost on it. Just a flash of green and white. I had time to stab the brake and crank the wheel hard left, so I only hit the fucker a glancing blow that spun him around and stalled the engine in the Ford. “Shit,” I yelled, “horse-fucking-shit!” I twisted the key, yanked the shifter fast into reverse and smoked the tires backing up.

That’s when the Federale, who up ’til then had been peacefully dozing his shift away, jumped out of the car and blew a gaping hole in my windshield with his single-action .44.

“¡Alto!” he yelled and pumped another round through what was left of the shattered glass.

“Fuck you!” I screamed at him, scrabbled my .45 out of the shoulder holster and punched two fat rounds into his face. He stood, swaying a moment then fell.

“Take that, cocksucker!” I yelled and pounded the butt of my pistol on the roof of the Ford. “Take that!”

That’s when the Federale’s partner, who had, evidently, been sleeping in the back seat, jumped out and started blasting away at me with some kind of heavy caliber motherfucker. I swung the Colt around and nailed him, but not before the bastard put one straight through my belly button.

The round slammed me back into the front seat of the car. Which fit right in with my plan. I slapped the shifter, spun the wheel and got the fuck out of there: the hole in my guts soaking my pants with blood, screaming the Ford, speedo pegged at one-hundred-thirty-five fucking MPH, up the wide-open, pitch-black, asshole of Mexican Highway Number 2.

I ditched the car at the 80 kilometer sign and cut cross country until I hit the old railroad tracks. I figured I could follow the rails until I was close enough to the two-wire border fence and the small mountain town of Potrero. Not much of a town but there was a pay phone that I could use to call for a ride. Home free, I thought. Piece of cake. Went down smooth.


Somewhere along the way, it started snowing. I don’t remember when. I’m too concerned with the right foot, left foot, right foot slogging that’s moving me along. The blood soaking through my pants and down my legs felt warm at first, but now it’s ice. I got both hands holding my belly now, but it doesn't seem to help stop the steady drip, drip, drip of blood. Right foot, left, right, left. Oddly, I’m not cold anymore. It’s quiet up here. Just the wind. And me. And something up ahead. Light. Bright light and a kind of murmuring noise. For a moment I think maybe it’s a train. I mean, I’m on the tracks, right? But the trains on the Mexican side haven’t run for years. I keep walking. Right, left, right... I’m closer to that light now. And the noise. I figure out the noise first. Voices, a lot of voices. A big swelling sound, ¡Ole! ¡Ole! ¡Ole! they’re saying. And the light is the sun. Bright golden sun streaming down on the yellow sand of the bull ring and the crowds. It’s brighter now and louder. ¡Ole! ¡Ole! ¡Ole! Mexico.

I am the Matador.

BIO: AJ Hayes is from San Diego and -- god help him -- good friends with Jimmy (Mad Dog) Callaway, who provides great advice and the occasional smack in the mouth with the butt of a .45.

Bill "AJ" Hayes Tribute

As many of you know, we all lost a great friend and outstanding writer recently when Bill "AJ" Hayes passed away unexpectedly. Bill was a true friend in every sense of the word, being supportive of fellow writers (especially this one), willing to talk shop and give advice whenever it was needed. Bill extended himself beyond just the writing, being a voice of reason and a stabilizing force in various people's lives. Though I never met him in the flesh, I felt like we were pretty good friends, closer than most, not as close as I would have liked.

ATON will be recognizing Bill Hayes' talent by re-running over the course of the next couple weeks just a small portion of what this great man put out into the world.

I miss you, AJ.