The Mute Bounty Hunter

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She came down from the hills on a big bay horse with the two corpses rope-tied to the twin skinny pack mules she was leading. Blood had dried over the wounds and the corpses swayed as the mules stiff-walked down the dusty street. Some people watched from porches or windows. She rode up to the US Marshal’s office next to the Dry Goods Supply store and got down from her big horse, at least fifteen hands high, and looped the reins around the railing. The mules stood there in the cold, shifting a little. She didn’t hesitate. She walked up the creaky wooden steps, her boots clunking, and opened the door and went in. A bell on the door rang as she entered. Jack Ryles, the US Marshal, was sitting by the stove with his boots up on the desk, smoking a cigarillo. It stank of cigarillo smoke in the little office. The stove was giving off intense warmth. He looked at her evenly without blinking with his blue eyes as she came in. She touched the brim of her straw hat — it was a Mexican sombrero that would have looked silly on anyone but a beautiful black haired woman, which she was — and stood there returning the Marshal’s bold empty gaze with her own bold empty gaze. Aside from the sombrero and riding boots she was wearing a colorful serape thrown over one shoulder and a leather coat and a man’s white shirt under it and also a man’s riding trousers, and two Colt Navy pistols were stuck into the frayed black leather belt holding up the trousers.

-Well now, said Jack Ryles. What have we got here, young lady?
She took the folded wanted poster out of her coat pocket on the side that didn’t hold clinking rifle and pistol shells and unfolded it and held them out toward the Marshal, who didn’t move to take it but sighed, glanced at the wall where the exact same bill was posted (The Natchez Brothers, Extremely Dangerous, Wanted for Horse Thievery. Fifty Gold Dollars For Each Brother, Dead or Alive) and said, drawling his words a little:
-Where are they?
She raised her chin toward the window giving onto the dusty, near-empty street.
The Marshal swung his legs down until his bootheels touched the floor. He pushed back his chair with a squeak. He stood and crushed out his cigarillo in a clay dish full of ash and other spent cigarillos and went slowly to the window. He bent to peer outside through the warped and discolored glass panes. He saw the mules shifting in the cold and the bodies tied to them with lengths of rope, blood drying on the wounds. He rubbed his jaw. He hadn’t shaved that morning, and there were thick bristles, some frosted white by his advancing age.
-Well. You got them horse thieving fuckers. I’ll be twice god damned, he said.

Wearily, the Marshal walked from the window back to his desk. He pulled open a desk drawer and took from it a gray cloth bag that clinked when he set it down by his pistol. He opened the bag and counted out gold coins, placing them in a careful stack. Then he used the barrel of the Colt pistol to move the stack over the desk toward the silent woman. He tore a sheet of paper off a pad and scribbled a few words on it with a quill he plucked from a small jar of ink that sat open and pushed the slip of paper over next to the stack of gold pieces. He laid the quill on the paper. He said:
-Sign here to claim your bounty. I am content that you have earned every dollar of it.
She stepped up to the desk as he sank back into his chair and tilted it on its back legs against the wall. She bent over the desk, picked up the inky quill and signed in a rapid series of scratches. She slipped the quill back into the ink jar.
-Just leave the corpses of these poor sons of bitches lying there in the street if you like, and I’ll have the coffin maker come by with his wagon and pick them up later today or tomorrow after he’s made the coffins. It’s fiesta day for our local coffin maker. Oh, and by the bye. In future you don’t need to bring in the bodies of miscreants to secure your bounty money. Just the heads will do fine. Easier that way, no?
The woman nodded. Then she picked up the stack of gold pieces and placed them into a yellow chamois pouch and shut it by pulling its strings. She tucked the pouch into an inside pocket of her leather coat as the Marshal looked on with one eyebrow cocked, his boots back up on the desk and his hands folded in his lap. She nodded to him and went out, down the creaking wooden steps to the cold and dusty street where she unroped the corpses and took them down from the shifting wide eyed mules. She dragged the corpses up close to the bare wooden sidewalk and propped their bloodied shaggy heads against its edge. Then she wound the rope tightly into a bundle and tied it together and put it in one of the big stained leather saddlebags hanging over the bay horse’s withers. Inside, the Marshal had tilted his chair back down and now bent forward a little to watch her through the window. She felt his gaze, glanced up and touched the brim of her hat in Adios, then she swung up on the bay and clicked her teeth and the bay backed up four steps, turned and set off at a jog, the mules giving a few dry bleats of anguished resistance then following meekly on behind pulled by the lead-rope. She was gone in a few seconds, turning sharply at the end of the street to head back out into the arid desert with her pack mules under the vast incessant blue sky. In his office, the Marshal tilted his chair back again and rested his head against the wall and shut his eyes.
-I’ll be God damned to hell, he said.

 

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Vayos Con Dios

Two days later, he was in Mexico City.
Fumes. Traffic. Men sweeping the streets with brooms.
Ice cream pushcarts. Taco pushcarts.
Billboards. Women.
Donkey carts. Plush cars. Buses.
Hooting and roaring.

Sweat at the back of his shirt.
His scalp tingling.
His nostrils full of charcoal smoke, exhaust.
The stench of seared meat.

As soon as he hit Mexico city, he went to a dealership and sold the Jeep for a pittance.
Then he bought a small, battered blue tin can of a car.
He paid the cash down on it, paid extra to have it held on the lot for him.
The Jeep screamed “American.”
The blue tin can– driving it he might pass for French, or even German.
He’d go deeper south in that. Deeper into his cover.

He’d kept a safe deposit box under one of his false names in a Georgetown bank.
A .44 pistol. An envelope full of US currency.
One hundred gold krugerands in a money belt.
Two passports.

The name on his current working passport: Cole James.
He’d bought it in French Guyana.
The Agency didn’t know.
The name on the other: Frank Younger.

*

He slept the first night in a fleabag hotel.
Had to avoid the luxury places.
At night he walked and walked around the great Plaza.
He went into a blazingly bright bar and ordered tequila, almonds, grilled shrimp.

He devoured it. Ravenous.

*

He took apart the pistol and cleaned and greased it on a newspaper spread over the coverlet of the hotel bed.
In the next room, a woman was panting and screaming.
He thought about it. Probably the fat whore he’d seen earlier, posed at the entranceway in the flashing neon.

He’d bought a bottle of Centenario. He took swigs from the neck.
Wiped his mouth with his hand.

Looked at himself in the faded and streaked mirror.
Ageing. Haggard from lack of sleep. Unshaven.

What now?
He didn’t know.

*

In the morning he walked around again.
He went into a cybercafe.
He sat at a computer.
It felt dangerous.

He didn’t open the browser. He finally just got up and walked out.

At a street stall, he bought a small Olivetti typewriter.
He carried it back with him to the hotel — a small black suitcase.
He didn’t have any real paper. He rolled a sheet of cigarette paper into the carriage.
He typed — click click click — Government by Shadows: The Group of 22.

*

At night he went out again.
Thirsty.
In a bar, he drank tequila.
He ate pork tacos from a banana leaf at a street stall.

As he made his way back to the hotel, having memorized every step, two rooster-sauntering men followed him.
They were wearing: shiny shoes, pleated trousers, colorful shirts, gold necklaces.
Both Mexicans.One had a greased ponytail.

He pondered it. They were take-off artists.
Ordinary criminals, looking for tourists.
He was only surprised they’d tagged him as American.

His blue jeans and white shirt — he could have been any nationality.

Or maybe they were going after Europeans, now, too?

He waited for them at a traffic blaring corner.
They parted slightly as they approached.
The one that wasn’t poneytailed had a goatee. And a gold tooth.

At a glance: no pistolas.
But the ponytailed one brought something out of his pocket.

Flick.

*

Greased Ponytail waves his switchblade lazily in the blue eyed man’s face.
Goatee takes hold of his shirt. Purses his lips to speak Mexican —

The blue eyed man grasps and twists Goatee’s shirt-holding hand palm upward and turns it so he lets go of the fabric and staggers, a wild Texas two-step.
Hits him twice in the throat, edge-of-hand blows.

It’s so quick that Greased Ponytail has time only to blink, once, before the blue eyed man snatches the toothpick from his lips and hits him viciously in the solar plexus.
Doubling over, Greased Ponytail retches and spills beer-shrimp-chilis-corn onto the sidewalk.

He, the blue eyed man, now takes control of the knife arm at the elbow joint, knocks the knife loose. It clangs, skitters, even as Goatee sinks to the sidewalk and lies gasping in the fetal posture, holding his neck.

The blue eyed man crouches. Picks up the knife. Shuts it. Sticks it in his pocket.
Puts the non-chewed end of the toothpick in his mouth.

Stands, slowly.

Looks at Greased Ponytail, who is still doubled over, wobbling and gasping for air.
At Goatee, who is jerking with agony and, like his amigo, wholly engrossed in the non-threatening task of trying to breathe.

Walks away.

Vayos con dios.

The One-Armed Man in the Military Greatcoat

I talked with a young man in a military greatcoat. His right sleeve was pinned to the shoulder. He was rolling a cigarette one handed as I approached him. He offered me one. I don’t smoke, but I took it and put it in my dry lips. He lit it for me. I couldn’t follow how he managed that. He was holding a matchbox in his one hand, and then out came a match and his fingers struck it into flame. I bent to let him light the hand rolled cigarette for me. The yellow chamois tobacco pouch lay in his lap. He blew out the match and tossed it away smoking. Nearby us a Japanese girl was playing with a red ball. The man in the greatcoat said he’d picked her up in the Empty Lands. I asked what that was, and where. He said: It’s a barren place, mostly just grasses and low hills, but sometimes you see a broken tower, or even a dome that turns out to be a ruined astral observatory. I asked him what other creatures he had met there. He said: A blue eyed coyote. A big raven holding a red thread in its beak. A few white owls. And this little girl here. She was walking around dazed. I took her along with me although I didn’t know where I was heading. Eventually we reached a kind of ampitheater. We walked around it. There were old broken statues in niches. It was twilight, but it’s always twilight in the Empty Lands. I saw bats shooting overhead. Then I saw a shooting star. It was night. The starry sky was vast and it took my breath away. But it didn’t look real. It was different than the starry sky here on earth. I tried to find the constellations. Couldn’t. Where was the Big Dipper? Orion? Gone. In their place were other stars in other relationships.

I asked him where he’d lost the arm. He said: At the Somme. It was probably still there. In the mud. Maybe the rats ate it. He laughed. The little girl dashed to us and crawled onto his lap. I asked her name. The man in the greatcoat said he didn’t know; didn’t even know his own. I asked the little girl where her parents where. She said, In a car. In a car where? The girl’s eyes looked at me. Upside down, she said. Then she jumped from the lap and dashed off, her bare legs red from the cold. I sat down next to the man in the greatcoat. I asked: Do you feel anything strange is happening here? He laughed. Who knows? It was strange to see my arm lying in the mud. After that, nothing seemed strange.

I asked how he’d thought to come back. He drew in a hiss of air through his nostrils. Then laughed. Thought? Yes, I said, picking a shred of tobacco from my lips. He shook his head slowly. He bit his lower lip, released it. Then he said. I really don’t know. We walked around for what seemed like years. Then I saw a town. In the distance. There was a beach, a boardwalk, like Atlantic City. A big lit up ferris wheel. There were people, eating ice cream. They were strangely dressed. A man playing an accordion, with a monkey jumping around holding out a hat for coins. It felt like home. We walked into the ocean, the little girl and I. We stood there in the waves. It felt good. Clean. Cool. We were both laughing. When we came back we got on a small train. When we got out of the train, here we were.

Mexican Killing Ballads

MEXICAN KILLING BALLADS by Okamoto is available as a shocking and beautifully crafted little e-book from Amazon/Kindle.

How can you decide if you want to read this dark, gory, poetic and rather crazy little book of stories and micro-stories?

Do you like violence and mayhem told in a morose, sensitive, melancholy and lyrical way?

This despairing little book contains a “planed-down-to-bareness” story that is one of my own personal favorites of all I’ve written over the years: “The Coffin Maker’s Son.”