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.

 

For One Night Only

She knew him at once. As soon as he stepped through the swinging glass doors.

Into:
A crowded bar serving tapas and half price martinis, noisy with screeching Europop music.

He was as wiry, dark and sorrowful looking as in his picture.

The one she’d been shown in London, at Vauxhall Cross.
Of course, he was wearing an SAS uniform in the picture. And a beret. And was a few years younger.

He was now dressed a light black wool suit and a yellow pullover. Light brown leather shoes, probably made in Spain.
She chewed the olive from her martini as he approached.
Looked, as much as it was possible for her to look, bored.

-Hello, he said. May I sit?
She nodded.
He pulled out a chair and sat. They were in a corner, far from the front windows.
Even the floorboards seemed to vibrate with the bass line of the pop music. But it was possible to talk almost normally. One wouldn’t be heard beyond a few steps off.
-You like places like this? he asked.
-Sometimes, she said.
Smiling.

-You have a winning smile, he said.
-Yes, she said. Better than losing, isn’t it?
This was the code. He seemed to relax all at once, deeply.
His gray eyes looked at her. What did he see?
An ice-blue eyed natural honey-blonde, with starkly pale skin, a thrilling beauty spot low on her left cheek just under the ear, sheathed in a clinging black knit dress. Bare armed. Bare shouldered. No wedding ring. Flush of blood high on the cheeks. Beautiful, full smiling-scowling lips. About twenty-six years old.

-That’s a beautiful suit, she said.
-And the shirt?
-Yes, I like it also.
-You like many things.
-So it seems. Do you mind?
He laughed.
-No.

The waiter came over carrying a dish of almonds. He set it down on the table and turned to the man. He ordered a martini. She said she’d have another. The waiter bowed and went away.

He picked up a salted almond from the dish. His fingers were long and slender. He chewed it, cracking it between his back teeth. He wiped his fingers on his napkin after unfolding it and putting the silverware to one side. She sat back smiling at him.

-Is this your first outing?
His tone was pleasant. The skin around his eyes creased slightly.
-It is.
-Anxious?
-Not yet.
-Good. Don’t be.

Why should she be anxious? She’d already auditioned. She’d got the part.
She was going to be Mrs. David Blair.
He was going to be Mr.

-You brought the rings?
-Yes.
-They’ve put you through all the paces? Back story and all that? Anecdotes and so on securely in place?
-Absolutely.
-Then it seems we’re on for this evening. Ten o’clock. The roof terrace of the Hotel ____.

The waiter brought their two martinis on his cork-lined tray. He sat them down carefully. The glasses were misted from condensation. She took a sip. It was so cold it had no taste. The waiter scooped up and took away her empty glass.

-I’m going to call you Anne from the get go, if you don’t mind.
-I don’t.
-Though Elizabeth suits you much better.
-Does it?
-I think so.
-I go by Alwyn sometimes, too.
-Ah. Yes. Alwyn — I recall a bloke named that. Renowned.
-My dad.

Silence.
-I saw him sometimes at HQ. In passing. He always recognized me. Knew my name. Had a friendly way about him. Always a greeting, always an anecdote to amuse us. He is missed in the Service, you know?
-Yes. I know.

She is suddenly somber in her tone and even more starkly pale. The paleness causing her black beauty spot stand out even more thrillingly.

-Well, here’s to the grand old man, “David Blair” says.

They raise their glasses. Touch the rims. Clink.
-May he forever enjoy the splendor of that Paradise reserved for men who do their duty with ruthless passion.

They drink. Deeply.

-As for yourself, David says.
She looks up. Alert. Eyes calm and ice-gray-blue.
-I’ve seen some of your scores. In the confidential file. It’s impressive. Pistol, rifle, knife tactics, close combat. All ultra-high. You graduated at or near the top of all your classes at the Fort. And on top of that, rumor has it you’ve mastered the semi-mythical hoda kur0su school of martial arts. “Naked Kill.” Signed and certified by a real Japanese sensei. So, as it happens, it seems you’re the only woman right now in line for the fabled double O status. You’ll get it, I’m certain. And, I predict, you’ll definitely find it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

She picks the olive out of her martini, glistening, and puts it in her mouth and chews it, looking directly into the man’s eyes.
Suddenly, she shudders.
He doesn’t see it. Or does he?
Just a twitch of the bare shoulders.
She swallows the olive. Then, smiling as if to herself, at some private joke or amusing memory, she picks up the cold martini by its fragile glass stem and drinks. It’s an even bigger gulp than before.
“David Blair” smiles at her. It seems he enjoys looking at a saucy woman who enjoys her martini. In his quiet and solid way he approves. She’s not just a killer, or a Service colleague. She’s a woman.

-But this isn’t a rough stuff mission. This is just a hand off. The target is getting a briefcase. In it is a homing device. C’est tout. Your role is to play your appointed part — the alluring and vivacious young wife of the up and coming London drug lord — observe, and get into the action only if and when something goes funny. I know you’ve got it, I know. I only repeat the boring details because I’ve been instructed to do so via Control by the suits in Whitehall. All right?
She nods.
-Say it then. For the benefit of the suits in Whitehall.
-Yes. All right. I mean, yes I fully understand.
-Good. Get the rings out now, and by the power vested temporarily in me by Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though without the proper pomp and circumstance, I’ll declare us man and wife. For the night only, of course.

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.”