Club Papillon

He walked slowly in the heat and smog and the smells of seared meat grilling back to his hotel.

It was not a luxury hotel. He saw the fat whore in an aqua blue dress and spike heels standing in a doorway across the street. She tossed her head and gave him a smile that managed to be both wry and inviting. She had a gold tooth. He ducked his head and gave her a small, shy pressed-lips smile that managed to be honorable and warm yet discouraging. He liked whores. He felt no contempt for this one.

He took the old creaking cage elevator to his room. Padding down the hall on a stained wine-red carpet that stank of a century of cigarette smoke.

He stopped at the laundry chute and glanced both ways. No doors were open and there was no chambermaid’s cart. He stepped up to the chute and put his arm into it and felt along the side. His fingers touched plastic. He reached in with both arms and peeled away two layers of duct tape and withdrew the parcel.

He carried the plastic wrapped package against his hip down the hallway to his room. Opened the door with his key and entered, shutting the door behind him by pushing it with a heel of his loafer. It clacked shut. He went to the sagging bed with its garish orange coverlet and set the package on it.

He then went to the window, as was his habit, to look down at the street. Nothing was going on but for traffic and the clanging radio of the small and dirty cafe across the street.

There was a stiff humid breeze and the curtains were blowing in. This breeze brought in the stench of Mexico City. Of dust and meat and earth and blood and horses and sweat and the perfume of a million streetwalkers. He shut the window. At once the little hotel room seemed eerily almost silent.

Lost in another dimension.

He took the switchblade from his trouser pocket.

A good knife, with a heavy steel handle that fit his hand well.

Flicked it open.

He bent over the parcel and cut away some of the plastic.

It was a tie-box. Yesterday he’d bought two exquisite ties at a men’s boutique in La Roma.

He shut the knife and put it back into his trouser pocket.

He tore away the lid of the tie box and tossed it to one side.

In the small, narrow rectangular box, packed in red tissue paper, lay his Remington .44.

Cleaned and oiled, lovingly, and ready for action.

He picked up the Remington, checked the safety (engaged) and removed the clip (full). He thrust the clip back into it and stuck the pistol into his waistband at the back.

He peeled away another layer of tissue paper. There was a Ziploc freezer bag containing his two extra passports and a thick wad of American currency. He’d depleted much of his travelling fund already, though he was living poor. He opened the freezer bag, peeled off three hundred in 50 dollar bills.

He stuck this small wad of cash into his shirt pocket.

He replaced the lid on the tie box. He was now sweating a little. Looking at how little money he had left now made him so tense that he began to sweat.

To a fugitive in Mexico or anywhere else, money is life itself.

He pulled open the top drawer of the small bedside table and got out his roll of duct tape. He tore off six more strips of the black, heavy tape with his teeth and fixed them to the parcel. Then he went to the door. He listened, his head bent. No footsteps. Nobody was out there. He opened the door, walked quickly to the laundry chute and reached in and securely re-taped the parcel to the rough plaster wall just inside, in the darkness where it could not be seen but only felt, and then only by someone feeling for it.

He went back to his room. He kicked off his loafers. He’d been wearing them without socks. He shut and locked the door and put on the chain. The lock and chain wouldn’t hold out anyone determined to get in but might give him ten seconds or so of time to react.

In the bathroom, he stripped down quickly, laying the Remington on the shut toilet seat, and got under the shower in the tiled stall. He ran the water hot, first, then cold — as cold as he could get it.

He soaped himself. His body was still hard. His fingertips passed over some of the old scars. There were two bullet holes and a knife wound.

He rubbed himself dry with a towel. His skin burned pleasantly.

He left the towel hanging over the shower rod and picked up the gun and went out into the room.

Naked, he stood at the small escritoire on which sat his Olivetti and two stacks of paper. One of the stacks was big, the other small. The big stack was all blank. The small stack was his book on the Group of 22. There were about thirty pages in it; he hadn’t counted exactly. He’d placed the pages with the typewritten faces down. He felt a small temptation to read over what he’d written, but he decided consciously against it. He’d heard that writers often felt a strong, almost visceral pull to reread their own pages, but that this impulse should be resisted until the book was done, or mostly done.

He went to the bed. He put the gun under his pillow and lay down naked. He gazed at the ceiling. Light reflected from the street was making flickering patterns on it.

He shut his eyes.

*

Twilight.

He opened his eyes to see that the sunlight was almost gone.

The ceiling was pink. Then, slowly, the pink vanished.

He got up and dressed again. Shirt, briefs, trousers.

He put the gun into his waistband at the back and put on a loose brown silk jacket to cover it.

He stuck his bare feet into the loafers.

He went out.

Into Mexico City.

Into the city of jackals.

*

He didn’t want to sit in the hotel room clicking typewriter keys tonight.

He felt like celebrating.

Maybe it was because of the brusque hurt he’d inflicted on the two Mexican petty thieves. Or the comical looks on their faces as he did it.

It had reminded him how much fun his life of action once was, hurting people with elegance, devastating speed and absolute impunity.

But no — that wasn’t it.

He was just feeling lonely. Morose, even.

Actually, more than loneliness or moroseness — tonight, he was suffused with saudade, a deep and terrible longing that threatened to devour him whole.

And the pistol? The pistol was for merely for any one of potentially hundreds of unforeseeable contingencies.

*

As it happened, there was such a contingency, and it arose, as they often do, out of nowhere.

*

In the glare-ridden noise of a Mexican boulevard, the blue eyed man was sauntering slowly past the Club Papillon, noting the blue lights of the entrance and the pounding beats echoing in what must have been a vast industrial space inside the building, when he noted a sleek red Lotus cruising up smoothly to the curb. It was an eye catching car, and he slowed his pace to appreciate it. Other pedestrians did, also, and the two thick, tall, colorfully tattooed bouncers working the front entrance raised their heads higher with interest. The doors of the Lotus hissed upward like wings, and out of it as if from a fairy tale climbed two desperately beautiful dark haired, teak-tanned girls in glittering low-cut cocktail-style sheaths — one flashing gold, one glittering silver with sequins. Laughing, the driver tossed her key to a parking attendant, who looked as if he could not believe his luck and had trouble deciding what he would rather look at, the car or the girls. But the girls, click-clacking on high heels, mostly naked and smooth and hypnotically voluptuous all over, were gone very quickly into the smoky, blue-pulsating interior of Club Papillon, so in the end he had to settle for stroking the roof of the car before he slipped into it, lowered the doors, and drove off with a throaty vroom.

The blue eyed man didn’t watch the Lotus speed away from the curb, however. He was looking across the street, at a parked black Humvee. A sparking cigarette butt flew out of a one inch gap in the Humvee’s rear side window, then the door opened and a young man in a leather jacket worn over a floral patterned silk shirt and jeans and black cowboy boots stepped onto the street. He had a relaxed, flat, ironically candid nowhere-and-everywhere at once gaze that the blue eyed man had come to associate with a certain type of deadly individual. The opposite door opened and a bald man in a blue silk jacket and khaki pants and black motorcycle boots came around the rear of the Humvee and joined Cowboy Boots and they walked slowly together yet apart across the street to the Club Papillion and joined the small line of people waiting for approval to enter.

The blue eyed man watched as Cowboy Boots lit a cigarette. Bald Man was glancing around. There was a small curved bulge at the base of his spine under the blue silk jacket. A pistol grip. One or two or three men — it was impossible to tell, because of the blacked out windows — were still sitting inside the Humvee. It was a hit, or a kidnapping, or some kind of take-off. No question.

Did it have something to do with the two beautiful rich girls? Two beautiful and misbehaving young rich girls driving up to a club alone and going in without bodyguards? His intuition said: Si.

He thought about it for only an instant, then walked over to the line and joined it. He was standing about five people behind Cowboy Boots and Bald man. Close enough to inhale the smoke of Cowboy’s Boots cigarette. It was a clove cigarette.

Cowboy Boots would be quick, ruthless, flamboyant — and insane. He probably favored a knife for a weapon. Bald Man would be the brains, also very quick, cold under pressure.

The blue eyed man had a sense that this was not about money. There was something extremely iconic and crazed in the air. A killing? Maybe. Maybe worse.

*

He got into Club Papillon easily. The bouncers were there only to run off people apparently without money, obvious riff-raff.

He walked around the place in the pulsating blue and red lights until he glimpsed the two posh girls at a corner table, drinking and laughing excitedly, flanked by two young men they’d apparently cut from the dance floor.

Cowboy Boots and Bald Man were at the bar, rarely taking their eyes from the girls.

It was as he’d feared.

Maybe much much worse.

The Wrath of a Medusa

Morning glare. White dust in the sleeves of her leather jacket.

The sun had risen as Akiko rode her bike north, the wild hair stinging her cheeks.

She throttled down at the dusty outskirts of Ciudad Juarez.

Veering into the parking lot of a shuttered cafe.

Wind-beaten, sun darkened. Blue eyes, the intense blue of a sea in the evening, as dusk falls.

Akiko wrested off the sun-visored helmet, scalding her fingers and the palms of her hands, and set it behind her. She plucked the map of northern Mexico from her pocket and unfolded it sitting on the hot bike seat. The cooling engine ticked. Water dripped inside it.

Flies. There was a ditch nearby heaped with black plastic garbage bags fluttering in the hot breeze. It smelled raw and fetid.

Trucks screeched past, battering her with wind.

Akiko flipped over the map. She studied the red pencil marks she’d made. An intersection circled, with a red marginal arrow pointed to it.

She refolded the map and stuck it carefully back into her breast pocket.

She was thirsty, and had a headache from the tequila of the night last.

Anejo, washed down with cold Tecate, the rims of the bottles salted and a lime wedge stuck down the necks.

It’s an interesting day today. Akiko, the deadly assassin, is now thirty-one. But only she knows it. There’s nobody in the whole world to call, no voice anywhere to wish her a happy birthday, or to take her out for lunch or bake her a chocolate cake.

She’d considered confessing as much to the blue eyed man in the mountain village. A man in his late forties. A former killer, like her.

Tomorrow’s my birthday, and you know what? Nobody on this whole deranged earth gives a fuck.

An assassin’s life is a lonely one. But she chose it. Loneliness is in her nature.

She’d had trouble sleeping from all the tequila she drank after leaving the blue eyed man with cash and passports for his escape South.

At about two AM she was sitting naked but for a thin wool blanket by the open window. The night air was cold and stank sweetly of pinon fires. It was unforgettably still. The sky was a dark dark blue and there were stars in it, drifting constellations.

That’s when it came to her.

That she had one more job yet to do before dropping out of her insane line of work, heading to the little island on the Sea of Japan, and purifying her dark karma in the perfect isolation of a well-earned and meticulously planned retirement.

She puts on the helmet, tucking her hair up into it, and kicks the engine to life again.

Vroom.

*

At ten o’clock she walked into a dusty cemetary overloaded with bright flowers, many of them plastic.

She herself was carrying a bouquet. Roses. Yellow. Real ones.

She found the gravestone in the heat and the dust.

Knelt.

Shut her eyes.

Felt the heart beating in her.

She opened her eyes to a rainbow light-blur; stinging tears.

She set down the roses, their stems wrapped in clear plastic misted by water vapor, at the base of the stone.

It was carved with a simple name, clear dates divided by a dash.

A slim hyphen standing for the man’s whole life.

This was the grave of the journalist in Ciudad Juarez — the one she’d told the blue eyed man about.

She was supposed to kill him. She hadn’t. She’d appeared as if conjured by magic in his house late one night, woke him, and listened to his story.

She told him exactly what she was. She confided she’d read his articles and decided against taking his life — even though the Organization wanted it, and Omitsu had sent her to do the “hit” personally.

Then she’d left him — intact, alive, grateful and impressed.

She remembered only later that the journalist’s lush garden smelled intensely and fantastically of roses. That scent haunted her on the roads south deep into the mountains of Sonora.

Ten days later, the journalist was assassinated in Ciudad Juarez, on his way to an interview.

A grenade tossed into his car at a stop-light. He was blown to bits. Then the bits were methodically machine-gunned.

But not by Akiko.

Not by the blue eyed, black haired killer Molly Vance.

*

It was this same martyred journalist who had claimed to possess evidence that a certain unbelievably rich and powerful retired General Ortega and his eldest son “Chucho” were the men behind the disappearance and murders of over two hundred women and girls, mostly factory workers, in the city of Juarez.

He had, in fact, shown some of his documentary evidence to Akiko. Records of late night conversations with men who claimed to possess inside knowledge but refused to be named.

The gray haired journalist had presented these documents personally, even somewhat ceremonially, in a private meeting, to the Chief of Police in Juarez. But had heard nothing since. Only that the “investigation” was ongoing.

Your life is deeply in danger, Akiko told him in her stilted Spanish. This is a greater problem than just the General you speak of. There is an Organization of such men, and their power is extreme. Go. Go now. You must go.

The man had shrugged and lifted his hands from his knees.

Where could I go? To evade men as powerful as you say — this is impossible. I will stay and fight.

He didn’t go anywhere. He waited in Juarez, to see the investigation, if there was one, through to the end. And was killed. Remorselessly, by the same men who mutilated and raped young women and left their carved up bodies in garbage dumps, ditches, and shallow desert graves.

After laying the bouqet of cut roses, Akiko searched in a side pocket of her leather jacket. With two fingers she withdrew a newspaper clipping: a heavyset, greasy-haired, thick-moustached General Ortega and the blade-like dark haired and slim”Chucho” shown together in civilian clothes, posing quasi-clownishly beside a thoroughbred racing horse owned by the General.

At the Kentucky Derby, just last year.

She places the newspaper clipping under the roses. Then, bowing her head, Akiko thinks:

General Ortega;

“Chucho.”

You have awakened the bitter wrath

of a Medusa —

the deadliest assassin of all.

After today,

you will race no more horses.

*

She didn’t go back into town.

She rode the bike out into the wastes. The bleak yellow-gray desert.

Wind whipping her hair.

There were some rock formations, then the camel humps of low mountains.

In Ciudad Juarez she’d visited some stores and asked questions.

Throttling down now, the wind soothing and almost cold. Sweat dripping cold down the base of her spine and at her armpits.

She took a narrow dirt road, bumping along in a cloud of dust, sand and gravel showering her motorcycle boots.

Up into the hills.

There.

She’d stopped the bike, kicked the kickstand down, wrenched off the sweaty helmet and sat back on the seat and peeled off her thin riding gloves.

Tilting her head back, she could see the cave entrances.

They were black in the shuddering heat waves, and the cliff was honeycombed by them.

Overhead: vultures. Sky. Nothing.

She drank water from a red plastic screwtop bottle she took from her navy duffel bag.

She’d brought three more such bottles and filled them with cold water, which was now almost hot, before leaving the city.

Next: she took a flat-folded black canvas shoulderbag from the duffel.

Dismounted the bike. Slung the empty bag over her left shoulder.

And now she drew from inside the duffel a long, polished-looking forked oak stick.

She left the bike ticking in the murderous heat and eerie silence of the desert and walked uphill on a bare rocky path, her gaze fixed on the dusty toes of her motorcycle boots.

She used the stick like a walking staff, gripping it just below the forked part. Thumping it lightly with each upward step.

Here. The caves.

She crouched outside one.

Peered in. Her nostrils flaring.

It smelled stale, dry and cool.

She crouch-walked closer to the entrace and stuck her head almost inside.

Shut her eyes.

When she opened them, she could see a little better.

It wasn’t complete darkness. A litter of rounded stones just within.

She shrugged the empty bag from her shoulder onto the dusty path. She leaned her stick against the eroded cliff-side. She picked up the bag and shook it open. Then she set it by the cave entryway and picked up the stick again.

She eased the stick fork-first into the dim. Pressing her lips together, her gaze fixed. Sweat coming out cold on her body. Flipped a stone backwards.

The ferocious hissing clacking of the rattlers was startlingly loud.

There one was, writhing, its tail raised. Another writhing in the same hole.

Akiko pinned the snake close to the head with the fork and twisted it so the stone-colored body whipped and curled around the polished shaft, the angry tail clacking, and in a single deft movement tossed the snake into the open mouth of the canvas bag.

Then she did exactly the same with the other snake, which was bigger and longer and seemed even more fierce. She zipped the bag shut and sat back on her heels. Sweat dripped into her ears. She shook her head, and the sweat drops flew away in a halo.

She picked up the bag by its straps and walked along the path to the next cave.

By the time two hours had gone, Akiko had ten rattlesnakes in the bag which she carried not over her shoulder but carefully by its straps in her right hand.

She descended the steep trail, using the stick to help her balance.

At the motorbike, she drank half of a bottle of water. Gasping.

The sun dazzling red through her shut eyelids.

*

She left the hills for blazing open desert.

Parking in a windswept expanse of reddish-gray sand, she drew a pair of chef’s tongs from the duffel and hiked away from the bike amid the stumps of cacti, carrying the other, still-empty bag.

It was late afternoon, and even the shortest cacti cast same-sized black shadows.

The wind was hot and smelled of sagebrush and broken stone.

She kicked over a bread-loaf sized rock. As the scorpion beneath it tried to scuttle for a nearby shadow, she seized it with the tongs. The legs waving crazily, deadly stinging tail erect. She placed it into the bag and zipped it shut.

It took about an hour of this work to gather fifteen scorpions of various sizes.

She strapped the bag of scorpions onto the right side of her bike. The bag of rattlesnakes was strapped to the left.

Mounted again, she put on her helmet and gloves, kicked the engine to life and turned in a wide U back toward the city of killers.

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.

Hola, Mexico

He was driving. South.
Deep in Mexico.
In eternity.
In sheer, violent blue endlessness.

Heading for those mountains, rising like shoulders of rain out of the parched, broken, cactus dotted, windswept desert.

Battering wind, dusty, cool, shattering insects on the windshield.
He’s got the windows rolled down. So he can taste the dry air.
Taste the smashing wind.

His elbow roasting in the sun glare, where it rests on the window.

Sometimes he puts his hand out, opens the fingers. To feel the wind.
To feel the violent, surrealistic, shattered, unborn reality of Mexico.
He tries to snatch it. But the wind always escapes.

He shuts his eyes.
Sees the road, the white line unfurling.
Mountains distorted by heat.
Sweat stinging his face.

Empty road, mirage wavering asphalt.
Lakes appearing. Castles.

He licks his lips.
Turns on the radio.
It’s a Bible thumping preacher, out of Texas.
Shrieking Gospel into the blurred airwaves.

He can see the man vividly in his mind’s eye, dark-suited with a face like a hatchet, shouting in his roadside pinewood chapel.
Shouting into a big steel-gilled microphone.
He, the blue eyed man — gaunt-faced, handsome, with thinning hair, in a blue denim shirt, jeans and steeltoed cowboy boots — makes a face.
He switches the station.

A long crackle of radiowaves.
Then the blare of horns.
A mariachi song. Okay.
He turns it up, until the harsh clangs of the guitar make the air tremble.
He listens. Falls into a trance.

When the song ends, his head jolts.
But he hasn’t fallen asleep.
He’s still driving the Jeep. Straight and fast.

But now dusk is climbing the mountains.
They’re turning a fantastic rose-hue.
And in the distance, a little town, already lost deep in a well of shadow.

He’ll stop. He’ll eat at a Mexican cantina.
He’ll fill the jeep with gas.
Maybe get a cerveza or two, some shots of tequila. Why not.

As he slows down to forty, the blue eyed man bends.
Reaches under the seat.
Pulls out the gun.

Holding the steering wheel one handed, he flicks open the cylinder.
At a glance, he sees it’s fully loaded.
Gleaming copper cased bullets.
He lays the pistol on the hot leather passenger seat, where it bounces slightly.

The wind-roar subsides. The rattle of windshield glass slows to a soft ticking.
He realizes the windshield is so filthy it’s tinging everything brown and dull.
He’ll get it washed in the town. And now he sees the first color splashed billboards.

Ads for Las Cervezas Mas Fina.
Houses, more like shacks.
Chickens walking around a fenced yard.
Dogs, their tongues lolling out, lying in the shade of an adobe wall.

He pulls into the first service station that appears in the brown dust of his bouncing vision.
He brakes the Jeep, sweeps up the pistol, and in a smooth movement, as he steps out onto the overheated asphalt, sticks the barrel into his belted sweat-cold jeans waistband at the front  and pulls the tails of his shirt out to cover the grip

Hola, Mexico.

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.”