Chico was an evil son of a bitch,
although you couldn't really blame him for turning out that way. He'd been
unlucky enough to be born in 1951 which meant that he was seventeen years old
in 1968. That was the year the movie Once Upon a Time in the West was
released and the patrón of the local Hacienda—José Salgado—went to see it in Mexico City. It would have been much better for the young Chico and his family if the
patrón had visited when Planet of the Apes or Bullitt was
showing, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Shit happens, as they
The patrón was an
impressionable man despite his standing and he came away from the movie with
his head full of ideas. Unpleasant ideas, as if there weren't enough of those
in there in the first place. Chico's father wasn't to know any of that, of
course, when he stole a pig that year.
So it was that when the
patrón and his men turned up at the shack where Chico lived with his family and
took Chico—the eldest son—and his father out into the desert, the patrón had
something very specific in mind. Under the branches of a Desert Ironwood tree, Chico's hands were bound behind his back and his father stood on his shoulders, also bound,
with a noose around his neck, the rope looped over one of the branches.
If Chico had been born
in, say 1959, he would only have been nine years old in 1968. Unless he'd been
an unusually big and strong boy for his age—which would have been unlikely
given that he spent his whole life hungry—he wouldn't have been suitable for
the role that the patrón had in mind for him. At age seventeen he was just
perfect (although the patrón ended up being very disappointed nonetheless).
Dixie had heard the
story many times but he could never remember whether the young Chico had cussed the patrón or whether the patrón simply saw himself as an innovative sort
of man, but, whichever it was, he added an extra touch. A certain je ne sais
quoi. Before standing Chico's father on his shoulders, they tarred his
feet. Then they broke a couple of beer bottles into small pieces—the men had
been enjoying some cold beers while they had their sport—and pushed the pieces
into the tar. It made Dixie shudder to think about it. Who knows whether it was
the pain of the glass shredding his shoulders or his legs giving way, but he
didn't suppose Chico could have taken it for long. Twenty seconds? Thirty, at
Dixie seemed to remember
that the patrón had gone for lunch—he'd never bothered asking how Chico was supposed to know that detail; people always got irritated if you questioned
their stories too closely—his men staying behind and severely beating Chico. When they'd finished, they'd gone on their way, leaving him to die in the desert.
Somehow he'd managed to drag himself to the nearest road where he'd been found
by a pack of roving Jesuits. Unable to get any sense out of him, they'd taken
him with them back to the seminary where they put him to work to earn his keep.
Chico had stayed with them for three
years, the last two as a noviate, hoping to find the elusive state of grace in
the ranks of God's Soldiers. But the state of grace did just that—eluded him—perhaps
because there was a part of him that nobody could reach and nothing could rid
his mind of thoughts of revenge. So, after two years he left the seminary,
roman collar tucked away in his bag.
It took him six months
to get close enough to the patrón. The patrón was a careful man with a lot of
enemies and it would have taken a lot longer except for the fact that nobody
suspects a man wearing a roman collar in a Catholic country like Mexico. A bit like a man with a clipboard; he can't possibly be up to any mischief. Chico caught up with him in a hotel in Mexico City and, after putting the fear of God into
his whore, set about the process that left the patrón in need of the last
Chico had studied diligently in the
seminary and although he wouldn't have said he went hunting for the means of
his revenge in the scriptures, he knew it when he saw it. So it was that the
patrón went to meet his maker in the manner of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle
and Chico liked to say that at least his chosen method had better provenance
than a spaghetti western starring Charles Bronson and Peter Fonda, however good
a movie it might have been. He also said he wore his dog collar the whole time.
Dixie believed most of the story, subject
to a certain amount of artistic license (such as the patrón's lunch appointment
and maybe the dog collar) but there were other aspects that he wasn't so sure
about. Foremost amongst these was Chico's claim that he'd kept a large piece of
the patrón's skin and found a man in the city who had made it into a wallet for
him. Ignoring any questions about the suitability—mainly the durability—of
human skin for an item that is going to go in and out of your pocket all day
long, Dixie doubted this was true. Not only that, but Chico was always careful
to ensure that nobody ever got too close a look at it.
Dixie was pulled from
his reverie by the realization that Chico had stopped pacing up and down, his
ranting and raving finally running out of steam. He looked at the trim,
sixty-something man opposite him, his hair still without a hint of gray, and
'You shouldn't get so
uptight, Chico. You'll give yourself a heart attack,' he said, settling back in
his chair and crossing one leg over the other.
'Three million dollars
go missing and he tells me not to get so uptight.' Chico shook his head in
amazement. He took a sip from the glass of Tequila in his hand. Dixie had a glass of coke in front of him. With ice and a slice of lemon, as if that made
it any more palatable. The last bartender who'd asked, with a mocking smile on
his lips, what color bendy straw he wanted with it had got a sharp poke in the
eye with a cocktail umbrella.
'Easy for you to say,' Chico continued. 'I knew I should never have sent the stupid bitch with them.'
'You don't know it's her
Chico wasn't listening to him. 'This is
what I get for giving a woman a man's job. For all I know she left it sitting
in the car while she went to fix her makeup in the bathroom.' He looked down at
the floor and Dixie was sure he was about to spit. 'I should have sent you.'
Dixie shrugged. Chico walked over to the
window and looked out, resting a hand on Dixie's shoulder as he passed.
'Tell me again what
happened,' Dixie said.
Chico took a deep breath and let it out
slowly. 'I sent the three of them. That retard Ricardo'—Dixie just about
managed to stop himself from laughing out loud—'with that bitch and one of the
other guys, Domingo.'
Ricardo was Chico's son. Dixie picked up his drink and took a sip to hide his face. Luckily Chico was still looking out the window and couldn't see the smile on his lips.
'That should have been
Chico gave an irritated head shake. 'Tell
me about. On the way back they had to stop for gas. Ricardo went to the
bathroom. Probably to play with his pecker or comb his hair, who knows? Every
time I look at that boy I know God holds a grudge against me, you know that?
Anyway, Domingo's filling up; the bitch stays in the car. When Ricardo gets
back from the bathroom Domingo's taking an unauthorized nap and bleeding all
over the place on the ground and the car and the girl are gone.'
'And the money,' Dixie
said helpfully, as if Chico needed reminding.
'And the money,' Chico said with some feeling to the window.
'So, either the girl got
out of the car and snuck up on the guy while he was filling up—'
'Or somebody else snuck
up on him and brained him with a baseball bat.'
'And you think it must
have been her.'
Chico turned to look at Dixie and shook
his head vehemently. 'I didn't say that. But whatever happened, she
drove off with the money and we haven't seen her since.'
Dixie rubbed his jaw with his palm, the
sound of bristles against rough flesh loud in his ear.
'If it was somebody
else, they must have known about the deal.'