Calan McCarthy is a writer of Irish descent who has written three novels, a short story and a collection of poems. His material spans multi genres – Westerns, Spy, Science Fiction and Gothic. His most recent publication Stalemate is a Cold War spy novel penned as John Isaac. His short story Capstone is an excerpt from his violent Western novel in progress.
THEY HAD DESCENDED the narrow switchbacks and come upon Sapello on an endless plain as far as the eye could stretch and larkspur was plentiful here among great swales of grass. They rode past an adobe mill by a creek with the protean ebb of the sack hoist and hatches and waterwheel wading with agency, and a man halted his labour and stared at them as they rode on, slothlike in their address. The boy hobbled behind with his mind turning over the hellsprent ordeal aforewitnessed and the Mexicans heckled vamanos as they slanted their pistols his way. It was dusk before approaching the tradingpost which they reckoned was about half a mile off and they came upon a solitary burro confused in its bearings, flyblown and granular as if it had been hove across the desert floor and a man lay a few feet away facedown with his head kicked in and he groaned in all his malaise.
Agua, he said. Water por favor, and Campa dismounted. He slunk over to the injured man and stood over him canteen in hand.
This what you want chico? The man nodded and croaked the words por favor in a hiss. You pretty dirty amigo. You bleedin. What son of a puta do this t’you eh? Some stinkin white dogs creo que?
Si, the man answered. They take my horse. At this particular moment Tavo dismounted and examined the man’s possibles while Campa turned the man over on his back. He unscrewed the canteen then feinted to move it towards the man’s mouth then drank from it himself laughing.
Look like you luck no change amigo. We no Bueno pilgrim. We some coldhearted pelados who help no stinkin people. Unless somethin in it for us entendido? So what in it for us amigo, eh? The Mexicans exchanged a brief look while the boy berated wordlessly then Tavo shouldered the man’s chattels and mounted his mule. Campa pitched the canteen at Tavo then flung out his implement and started pissing on the man’s head and he was cackling and giving forth a string of Spanish words no man could comprehend. The man was now gagging on the urine and raised his arm aloft to shield the mockery then Tavo took the saddlepistol from the scabbard, seated a pistolball in the chamber levered it home then aimed at the burro’s head and fired. The mules shied and shifted about as the shot echoed in that barrenland and the burro’s legs folded underneath it and dropped stout to the ground.
Well amigo, we must to go now, said Campa as he mounted his mule. Adios. Take it nice n slow getting up tonto. That head a yours look nasty.
The Mexicans rode on but the boy dismounted and gave his canteen to the man then towelled the expelled blood away with some damp crop of cloth, for the boy could relate to their motive no more than he could the savage Comanche and he questioned his purpose and what was forthcoming. The Mexicans halted and turned in their saddles to look back at the boy. Hey mudo, said Tavo. Basta. Vamos! They rode on leaving the injured man lying there.
As they commenced upon the tradingpost a lone horse bolted past them with its saddle mounted and the trailing reins hanging loose heading south towards where the injured man lay. Shortly after, the queerest sight ever beheld by the boy was charging towards them of a man in a woman’s dress painted face and a pitch wig. The man enquired politely of the whereabouts of his horse, his accent fell unfamiliar to the boy and the Mexicans thumbed him casually on southward.
In the darkness stood a large timber hut bedim before them and would be the first tradingpost for miles and the portico was narrowly lit by tallow lamps where an old woman was crouched smoking a pipe. Several horses were tethered at the hitchingrail and a couple of fetid curs harried and scuttered about them gnarling and jerking without claim and out in that wild unrest coyotes howled and slunk mindless in their enterprise while distant campfires burned in that starless black postured sky. The sign on the door read Stayout. They hitched down and tethered their rides then proceeded forth into the bodega where an assemblage of gruff looking pelados sat idle in a game of dominoes. Along the back wall of the hut was a broad limber pine bar where a posse of men stood smoking and liquored up and they each of them turned to qualify the intruders unhurriedly. There was a strong smell of sweat and swath in the place and a stock of merchandise on the left with an open livery where three mature horses stood cropping and set behind them in the farthest corner was a family of five Mexicans sitting on their pallets just staring. Various tables scattered the right side of the hut with escorbuto vagrants gathered about them smoking their cigarillos.
The barman sized up the customers at the door while swabbing down the surface of the bar halfassedwise and a guitar was being played from somewhere unseen. Tavo handed the boy a couple of monedas and pushed him toward the bar with his boot then the Mexicans laboured over to the tables and sat down. A tall man wearing an oilcloth slicker was abreast as the boy approached the bar and he picked up his glass and moved to one side shuffling the posse further down the bar. The barman looked at the boy without expression. Digame, he said. The boy held up three fingers and the barman stared at him then held up two. Te refieres a dos? The boy frowned and the man in the slicker rested his forearms wearily on the bar and took a sup.
Leave him be, Benito. Give him cider. Caint see no harm in it.
No. Le leche es major, said one of the posse and the men laughed.
The boy put the coins down on the bar and nodded to the man in the slicker. This man the boy heard the posse address as Creed and the other man that had spoken Simp and he was looking on at the boy mighty strange with his dark menacing eyes as he chewed and spat his tobacco. Quires chupar muchacho? he said to the boy.
Enough, said Creed. Git on with yer whiskey.
El es Lindo. He pretty as a chica. And ye know I no resist no hermoso chica.
I said that’s enough! Creed struck his glass on the bar and seized Simp’s left arm then drew a military knife from his person swiftlike and castigated like some predatory arachnid then slapped that same hand flat on the bar with the point of the blade ingress to the dorsal. Gouts of blood gave forth as Creed bore down with a wrath more hideous than a Tanakh God. Simp let out a scream of discord and every man woman and child fell silent in that place save the horses. Creed stared primitive into the Mexican’s eyes commencing autonomous.
Next time I hear that kinda talk comin from yer mouth God help me I’ll flay that there pizzle a yers clean off. Ye hear? The Mexican nodded with abjection as the posse and every pilgrim therein observed that black contention then all returned to their deed as if nothing singular had occurred. The boy stood rooted and mute as he watched on and Creed withdrew the knife from the trammelled hand with the ease of drawing from a scabbard and Simp keeled over cupping his hand hissing through his teeth and cursing in Spanish then bolstered it with his right. Creed tore a crop from the bar towel and handed it to the partisan.
Best stanch that there wound up fore it turn rancid. He poured the remainder of his whiskey on the wound then bound the cloth fast to his hand. The boy took his purchase from the bar and Creed touched his hatbrim then watched him walk toward the company yonder and as the boy looked back Creed was leaning back on his elbows against the bar with a blithe grin recondite across his furrowed face.
After seeing to his pony and pocketing his knife the boy headed over to the jakes at the rear of the bodega and a prairie dog scuttled passed onto the cooling desert floor as he drew near. He took a lit match and entered the jakes where an almost spent tallow was there for the lighting and the boy commenced to do his business with bats scudding about aloft the wattle roof. After a short time he heard the tread of movement from outside the shed which he took for the prairie dog back for forage then a rowelling whistle followed which claimed the baring of his Bowie. With his trousers about his ankles he sat silent and quaking and he was delirious with portents like an auger before a scourge and the tread from the perimeter drew nearer and the voice called out primordial from the darkness. The door of the jakes swung open and the Mexican Simp stood before him with his appendage held forth and a priapic grin brandished and without pause took a slow lope toward the boy. A scuffle took place in that confinement and a strife entirely unknown to the boy would haunt him for many a year before him and he reached for the Bowieknife with wretchedness during that endless black reckoning and he struck out with that blade like a feral cat and he berated and struggled as it commenced. The essay was almost at defilement when the sound of gunfire broke and it lofted forward a pistolball which made its final ruin in the rear truss and the boy turned his head and watched the eyes of the man Simp roll back into his head and the blood spew from the clean puncture of the ball leaving some great judas hole in his skull. As his dead weight fell forward onto the boy he saw the man Creed standing fast pistol in hand with that same recondite grin upon his face.