The Bravest Man
Why though? Poole asked him, why there? you could’ve gone anywhere; especially after all that crap.
Why though? Poole asked him, why there? you could’ve gone anywhere; especially after all that crap. It’s cheap, first of all and it was familiar after being in the park; dangerous sure but I think the chaos of it all may have saved my ass a few times; nobody wants to go in there. Hatchet shook his head and smiled, closed his eyes. And I have taken so many photographs, Dexter, good ones; I’ve got some amazing stuff; I’ve been to some amazing places, seen incredible things. But you could have gone anywhere, Poole repeated, I still don’t get it. Maybe I don’t either, man, originally, the plan was to drive to Ecuador, ya know? sell solar modules to Eurotrash, maybe find a brown girl, start a bean farm, breed myself a baseball team. Cute, Marcus. But things got complicated. They always do. Shit hit the fan and I thought I could disappear; I was wrong.
Hatchet gave an account of a standoff between Mexican police and the small village of Podrido after a young boy was killed by a policeman who also happened to be a member of the Asesinos. The negotiations lasted for three days and then the shooting commenced. Hatchet watched ambulances swim through the fluid distance to carry away dead and wounded policemen followed by more negotiations followed by more bullets followed by more bodies and more failed communication. He watched the final shootout last twelve hours, watched grenades thrown at women and children, watched people burn in the dusk, watched people executed at dawn behind a wall while a caravan of news crews sat blocked two miles up the shimmering two lane blacktop curling like a satin ribbon across the yellow and olive swells of Coahuila.
Here, Hatchet removed a folded piece of paper from his wallet, I printed the story that ran in El Toro; fucking incredible.
Two days later, on a road west of the town, a distant pillar of black smoke tilting from the shell of the church in Podrido, Hatchet encountered a raggedy group of children ranging from seven to nineteen. They were walking deeper into the darkening desert as Hatchet approached and they waved him down, jumping and screaming in the dust. The oldest had worked in Texas one spring and knew enough English to tell Hatchet their story. His name was Julio and he had a round face made rounder by a voluminous grin that seemingly never diminished. The police and the Asesinos had made them orphans and they voted to go to Ojinaga where they heard children could make money and support themselves. Although he knew the money they would make and the work they’d perform might be worse than starving in the desert, Hatchet agreed to drive them the entire distance.
Four boys and a dog huddled under a blanket among Marcus’ possessions in the truck bed while Julio and two girls, nine and eleven, rode with Hatchet. The girls, their eyes swollen from tears, faces like the rest, covered in soot and dirt, fell asleep in one another’s arms on the tiny folding seats in the rear of the cab. Hatchet saw blood on Julio’s shirt and assumed it wasn’t his. With difficulty, the teen explained how a hit and run at a rural intersection escalated into a siege. The grieving father drove his dead son into the village to the café where the drunk off-duty policemen who had killed the boy slept his in car. Against the pleading of many, Julio told Hatchet, the father doused the policeman with gasoline and set him aflame. While the car burned, the residents experienced a spontaneous and skimble-scamble debate over certain retribution from both the police and the cartel. The elderly citizens overwhelmingly nominating to hand him over to the Asesinos. Julio clenched his fist recalling their panicked faces. The younger residents, the emotional fathers and mothers of other young children who were friends with the dead child, people who called the boy’s father a friend, campaigned for resistance. In the end, the majority of Podrido sided with the bereaved. As they assembled the guns and ammunition and the talks of procedure began, nearly three quarters of the town fled in fear. Within hours, before many of the women and children had a chance to escape, the authorities arrived to barricaded streets and a small army of defiant iron-jawed ranchers and laborers armed with hunting rifles and shotguns. The few illegally owned assault rifles in town lacked the sufficient ammunition to present much of a threat much less defense. Julio explained that once the shooting started, he knew they never stood a chance. The machine guns liquefied their defenses and the grenades did worse than kill and maim. They terrified and shocked. He had no doubts they would die.
When it became clear on the last day that this was the end, Julio told him his father and his uncle gave him a shotgun and hid the kids and his aunt in a walk-in cooler in the café. His father had urged him, You are a man now you have to act like it. So he loaded the gun and waited to die amidst the crying children and rotting meat. His aunt left in tears when the shooting started and told Julio to protect the children. They sat through the entire ordeal with the explosions and the guns going off for all those hours. And when it was over, it was just over. For whatever absurd reason, no one ever opened the cooler door. They waited till dark and gathered as much food as they could and left the shelter. Julio told him he tried to keep the young ones from seeing the bodies but there were too many. The girls and the youngest boy were so distraught that once they had jumped the fence at the edge of town and made it to cover in a shallow draw, it took Julio hours to calm them well enough to travel. Hatchet confirmed that it seemed an unusual length of time passed before the ambulances came to take the bodies away. Hatchet told him after he had watched the police vehicles leave the town and rendezvous with their colleagues still blocking the news crews, Hatchet snuck through a wall in the twilight and saw everything. I saw it; I know what you went through, he told him.
Hatchet told him they wouldn’t be safe in Ojinaga. Julio knew it would be difficult but he had no other choice. The bulk of his terrible new burden finally found a weakness in the machinery of his smile and it fell from his face, wrecked and shivering. He confessed his lust for revenge and that Ojinaga is where he would find the work to make the money to buy the guns he needed to exact that revenge. Hatchet riffed for a while on Julio’s options. He told him the safety of the children should be his main concern to which Julio agreed. Hatchet endeavored metaphors and examples against the whole concept of revenge, the poor bastard who had set that cop on fire for one. Julio wanted to know how these men would see punishment if he didn’t accept the responsibility. Marcus found the language gap infuriating as he tried to explain to Julio that punishment is a distortion, justice a ghost. The concept of a world without punishment only irritated the young man. Hatchet made his case for a broader examination. He asked Juilio if he had ever considered the many reasons the Asesinos and the police exist. He asked Julio to consider the idea that crime doesn’t exist without laws, laws born from the very system that demands we bow down to illegitimate authority. Julio wanted to know what Hatchet would’ve done to this father if someone else like one of their neighbors had killed the boy. Hatchet told him none of that mattered; both of these deaths were wrong, all of it a waste. He told him blood for blood just leads to more blood and all of his dead family and neighbors were a perfect example. Julio argued that people would always kill one another. Hatchet agreed, however, each situation in which people have suffered at the hands of others is a unique situation and should be subject to examination by consensus—a word Hatchet could never concisely define for Julio—by a detached and objective community. That night, Hatchet drove under the arch of the galaxy, watching dirty cotton clouds sleeping in the hills, wrestling Julio’s predicament as Julio and the girls snored quietly.
He felt ashamed.
When Julio finally woke, he was in Ojinaga, in a bus station parking lot. The girls wore new dresses and the boys new shirts and they were all smiling and sticky-faced from ice cream. When Julio returned from the restrooms in his new clothes, Marcus pulled him aside behind the bus station where he handed him two envelopes. The first contained $20,000 in cash and he made Julio promise to keep it out of site. Julio swayed in silent shock at the sight of so much US money. The second envelope came with explicit instructions and an address. Keep it safe, Hatchet told him, do what I told you and the kids will be taken care of but please think over what we talked about; there is a better way, a smarter way. Hatchet also had an extra gift specifically for him. He gave Julio a new leather wallet filled with $100 in twenties and a card inside on which he had written, No somos en lo más mínimo miedo de ruinas. Vamos a la tierra por heredad. No hay la más mínima duda en eso. La burguesía puede destruir y arruinar su propio mundo antes de que salga al escenario de la historia. Llevamos un nuevo mundo aquí, en nuestros corazones.- Buenaventura Durruti. He’s a hero of mine, Hatchet said and handed him the tickets to Juarez. Before Julio’s emotions took him, Hatchet embraced him then he called Julio the bravest man he’d ever met and shook his hand and embraced him again and again made Julio promise to take care of the others and to shove the cash down his pants. I couldn’t watch them get on the bus, Hatchet told Poole, I would’ve been a sobbing mess.
Poole was reading the article and looking at the photos again, one with charred bodies in the foreground and scorched corrugated metal barriers perforated with bullet holes behind them, the next taken at long distance with a zoom lens, three men on their knees, towered over by police in riot gear and helmets, rifles aimed at their victims’ heads, the last, a moment after the previous, the bodies of the citizens on the ground variously awry. Hatchet. What? The photo credits puzzled Dexter. Julio Espinoza? that’s your Julio? Yeah. You took these photos, Hatchet. You figured it out. That’s what was in the other envelope. Yup, I can’t believe you figured it out this fast. You crazy mutherfucker. Poole returned to the paper again. Why the fuck would you put his name on them, Marcus? Well, I couldn’t put my name on them, Dexter. I’m aware but doesn’t this make him a target? I’m sure it does but that’s not my doing; my instructions were to simply pay the kid for the pics and his story; I like to think Julio asked them to do it; I like to think he considered what I told him and he compromised. They’ll find him. Maybe; his choice.
1/6/2014 12:34:47 pm
New Hatchet novel in the works?
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Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.