Authors: Andrew Vachss
It was close enough for me to see the heavy semi-auto that materialized in his right hand, too. He held it way high up on the butt, against the curved grip-safety, just short of where the web of skin between the thumb and trigger finger would catch the slide. The barrel was pointed at the empty ground between us, as if he were just showing the pistol to me, not threatening me with it.
I zoomed in on his hand. His thumb was held extended and absolutely parallel to the slide. On the other side of the pistol, his trigger finger was positioned the same way, parallel to the slide, from the knuckle to the first joint. A hardcore pro. And holding all the cards.
But then he moved the pistol just enough so that I could see the tip of his finger curled down, inside the trigger guard. That last part hit me like an aftershock—
the trigger guard. The Indian was standing quiet, his face stony. But he was overamped. Pre-visualizing, ready to shoot.
I moved my hands away from my body. Slowly, sending out gentle waves.
The Indian nodded as if he understood my gesture. “Tell the woman to get your bags and bring them out,” he said. His voice was more twangy than I’d expected, New Orleans in there somewhere. Exaggerated maybe by his nose—looked like he’d broken it one time and they hadn’t done a great job in the ER.
“Do it,” I told Gem, not taking my eyes off the Indian.
He said something to the dog in a language I didn’t understand. It jumped back onto the front seat as easy as a beagle climbing a curb. When Gem came back out with our bags, the dog was right behind her.
“Put them over there,” the Indian told her, gesturing with his free hand toward a clearing to his right.
Gem did it. The pit bull trotted alongside her like they were going to the park to play Frisbee.
“Go back with him,” the Indian told her, moving so he was between us and the bags. Then he moved a few steps closer, held my eyes: “There was only supposed to be one person.”
“It was a one-way communication,” I told him. “There wasn’t any way for me to say I was bringing my—”
“Who are you?” he asked, as if it was a test.
“Why are you here?”
“To see Lune.”
“Can you prove who you are?”
“I don’t know. It depends on what would be proof to you.”
The Indian nodded as if that made perfect sense. “We are in the Sandia Mountains,” he said. “About a mile and a half up. Sound carries in the thin air. But nobody pays attention. Another mile or so straight up that road, it’s snowing. I have to be satisfied with who you are or we all drive up there and I come back alone, understand?”
“Yeah, I understand. What I don’t understand is what you want me to do about it. He wouldn’t recognize my face. I was—”
“Shot, it looks like,” he interrupted.
“Right. You want to take my fingerprints? Would that do it?”
“No. I have to ask you a question.”
But he didn’t ask one. Just stood there, as if waiting for the question to come to him. When I heard the cell phone trill in his breast pocket, I realized that maybe it would.
“We’re here,” he answered.
He listened for a second, then said: “He is not alone.”
More silence, then: “No.”
He listened for another minute, closed the phone, and slipped it back into his pocket.
“What was the name of your problem?” he asked me.
The name of my problem? If I knew that, I wouldn’t need to …
And then I snapped on it. He didn’t mean now, he meant
. Back when Lune and I were … “Hunsaker,” I told him. “Eugene Hunsaker.”
The Indian nodded his head slightly. And put the pistol back inside his coat. “I still have to go through your bags,” he said. “I can’t watch you and do that at the same time. But Indeh will. Just stay in one spot, and he won’t bother you.”
The pit moved a few steps toward us, but he stayed as relaxed as he’d been all along, the hair on the back of his neck nice and flat.
“Help yourself,” I said.
The Indian did a thorough job. Took out every single item and laid it on the ground, then checked the bags for seams and compartments before he went through the contents.
“Okay,” he finally said. “I’ll let you repack your own stuff—I wouldn’t want to mess it up.”
When Gem and I were done, we all piled back in the Land Rover. The Indian turned it around and headed down the mountain.
he Land Rover’s compass told me we were heading north, and the highway signs said we were on I-25. The Sandia Mountains remained a looming presence on our right, but to the left was a vast open space, mostly flat except for some scattered mesas … and another mountain range off in the far distance. The Indian saw me looking in that direction. “The San Mateos,” he said.
As the Land Rover rolled past a landscape of sand and low scrub growth, we were buffeted by gusts of wind that vanished as suddenly as they appeared … then came again.
“That’s the biggest pit I’ve ever seen,” I said to the Indian, trying to engage him. “What is he, a bandog?”
“Indeh is not a pit bull,” he said, pride deep in his voice. “He is a purebred Perro de Presa Canario.”
“I never heard of—”
“They were originally bred in the Canary Islands, so some call them Canary dogs,” the Indian said, his tone reverent, as if reciting a tribal legend. “They were a cross between an indigenous breed, which is now extinct, and the English mastiff.”
“What were they bred
“For fighting,” he replied, contempt now ruling his voice. “And once dog-fighting was banned on the islands, it took some very dedicated people to save and preserve the breed.”
“He’s a real beauty,” I said. “How much does he weigh?”
“Right about one ten, depending on the season.”
“Why did you name him Indeh?” Gem asked, speaking for the first time, pronouncing the word exactly as the Indian had, accent on the second syllable. “Was it to honor your ancestors?”
The Indian half-turned in his seat to look at Gem. He nodded slowly. “You have a gift,” he told her. “His name is for my people. The Chiricahua Apache. Do you know of them?”
“I am ashamed to say I do not,” Gem answered, her head slightly bowed.
“They were the greatest guerrilla fighters America ever produced,” I said, quietly. “Battled the entire U.S. military to a draw for a dozen years. Cochise and Geronimo were Chiricahua Apaches.”
“You know our history?” the Indian asked me.
“Just tiny bits and pieces. Enough for my deepest respect.”
“You know this from reading?”
“I did time with a guy, Hiram. He was the one who told me.”
“He was Chiricahua?”
“Uh!” is all the Indian said. He held my eyes for a split second before he reached across the seat and scratched his Canary dog behind the ears.
The way I used to with Pansy. I …
em gently elbowed me in the ribs. I opened my eyes and looked into hers. She shook her head slightly … to tell me the Indian hadn’t noticed where I’d gone—but she had. I bit down hard on my lower lip and looked out the window, concentrating on what was
me, like I was supposed to.
We were just pulling off the Interstate, toward a little town called Bernalillo. The Indian threw a quick left and crossed back over the Interstate, and then we were rolling along Highway 44, heading northwest according to the dash compass. For a while, there was nothing but open desert. A hideous tumor of a subdivision—from the look of it, already metastasizing—appeared on the left. Farther along, the desert on the other side of the highway turned spectacular, stretching to high mesas ranging in color from light brown to almost yellow. As we moved along, we got so close I could see their individual layers of rock.
Less than a half-hour later, we passed a pueblo. It wasn’t anything they’d photograph for
—just a collection of poor-ugly little houses and guys in pickups eye-fucking anyone passing by.
Next we turned onto Highway 4, which turned out to be a little road that was mostly curves, dotted with a few scattered trees and even fewer houses.
Then another pueblo. This one had bigger houses, most of them actual adobe. But it was still a rez-type setup with a lot of junker cars scattered around like refuse on dirt roads. There was a wall of rock on the right, sheer and unbroken, going up maybe a hundred feet in some places. It was such a bright red I thought it must be a trick of the afternoon sun.
Down the road a piece, I saw the signs for Jemez Springs. After we passed through the town, the road started to get steep. The Indian nodded his head in the direction of a church. There was a row of rooms behind it, like some motel out of the fifties, but very neat and well maintained. “Servants of the Paraclete,” he said.
I’d never been near the place, but I’d heard about it for years. A safehouse for pedophile priests, where they could hole up for a while … and then go back into a new parish, all “cured.” The church doesn’t call them child molesters, or baby-rapers, or anything so terribly stigmatizing. No, predatory priests were “ephebophiles,” part of the church’s PR campaign to “dimensionalize” its own degenerates.
They know exactly how to play it. First you make up some “syndrome” or “disorder” that covers the crime. Then you give it some fancy-sounding name, and count on the whores and fools to spread the word. You don’t have to prove anything, just repeat it often enough, preferably through a good media machine. Doesn’t matter if the entire scientific community sneers at it. What counts is that it gives defense attorneys an argument for a “nonincarcerative alternative.” And black-robed collaborators all the excuse they need.
I could see why they wouldn’t have a sign out front. But I didn’t know if the Indian was offering to educate me, or trying another test to see if I was who I claimed to be. So I just said: “Oh yeah. The recycling center.”
He grunted an acknowledgment. Or maybe it was an agreement.
We kept climbing. The altimeter read six thousand, and jumped up another fifteen hundred in the next few miles along a paved two-laner. A faint smell of something like
rotten eggs wafted up as we came alongside a fast-moving river. The side of the road was pocked with little hot springs. When we slowed way down, you could hear the earth gurgling not far below the surface.
The Land Rover negotiated the curves slowly until we passed a huge rock formation that looked like the bow of an old battleship, cut into a V, the prow vertical. We kept on climbing until we reached a fork in the road. The Indian went left, and we started climbing again.
The higher we climbed, the higher the pines grew—some of them were redwood-size giants. The road made one big looping turn, and then we were moving due west. I spotted a few occupied-looking houses, way back among the trees. And the shell of one that looked like it had been abandoned during the Civil War.
As we kept climbing, we left the pavement behind again. After we passed eight thousand, we came to a good-sized lake, maybe a half-mile across, the water very blue. Here the shoulder of the road was about the same height as the Land Rover. The Indian kept it moving, but very slowly.
We passed the lake, and then the road got worse. The skyscraper pines spiked up between enormous rock formations—sheer walls of stone that went up higher than I could crane my neck to see.
The air felt almost supernaturally clean, but it felt thin in my chest, too. I knew only the sun was keeping the temperature from getting dangerous … and we were going in and out of shade as we drove.
For the next few miles, we saw houses again, spaced real far apart. The terrain was nothing but dirt with occasional low grass. We rolled past a place called Seven Springs. And a sign that read this road is not maintained in the winter months, followed immediately by a drop from a bumpy, potholed dirt road to just plain dirt, with ruts wherever the water cared to run. We were at eighty-five hundred feet. And still climbing.
“We’re in the national forest now,” the Indian said. If that meant we were trespassing, it didn’t seem to concern him much.
There were no more houses. Sometimes on the right, but mostly on the left, there was either dirt or rock going very nearly straight up where the road had been cut into the side of a hill. Whenever the rise was on the left, we were plunged into deep shadow. Huge trees met overhead, almost like the jungle canopies I remembered from Biafra. Except now the only chill in the air was from the altitude.
The road was so deeply rutted that, sometimes, the Indian had to work up speed and just bounce over them. Other times, when the ruts were running in the same direction we were traveling, he slowed to a crawl and drove the narrow little spaces between them, carefully placing all four tires. I wouldn’t have tried with anything less than the Land Rover’s ground clearance. Huge pines stood sentinel on either side of the road, which had clearly been cut right out of mountain rock, twisty and steep. It was all as familiar to me as Mars.
Finally, we came to what looked liked a little spur, just a place where the road swung out and widened a bit. But the Indian slowed even more, and soon there was no road at all … just a clearing. And that’s where he brought the Land Rover to a halt.
re we—?” Gem started to ask. I made a hand gesture for her to be quiet. It was the Indian’s call; no point pretending otherwise.
He climbed out, walked around the front of the Land Rover as he had before, and released his dog. At his signal, we got out, too.
“It’s about three klicks,” he said to me, the vaguest trace of a question in his voice.
“Let’s go, then,” I said, shouldering my duffel and picking up Gem’s little suitcase in my right hand.
The Indian went back to the Land Rover and took out a scoped rifle from somewhere. He slipped the sling on and started off without another word.
The walk felt like a fucking treadmill—a greasy one. All slippery low grass and dirt. Gem kept up with me easily, but gave up trying to take her bag from me after a few attempts.