Día de los Muertos: Chapter 26

Twenty-Six

Sonoran Desert / 11:35 P.M.

Which way are we going?”

“What difference does it make?” Calhoun said. He was looking into the jeep’s mirror. They’d moved Guzman all the way to the back. The girls were holding hands, Celeste comforting Vasco. They’d left Vasco’s father on the plaza. He wouldn’t come. He’d gone mad and wouldn’t leave his wife’s body.

“What’s in the bags?” Calhoun asked.

“None of your business,” Vasco said. “Just drive.”

“It was all bullshit. The whole story about Chile and the bank… all of it was bullshit.” Calhoun said, looking into the mirror.

“Life is strange and then you die,” Paloma said from the back seat.

“Life is strange and then you die. Did you hear what she said?” Calhoun asked Castro. “Did you hear that, amigo?”

“I heard it,” Castro said. “Which way are we going?”

“We’re going a new way,” Calhoun said. “A way we’ve never been before. Los Tecates.”

“Does he know what he’s doing?” Vasco said.

“He knows,” Celeste said. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I couldn’t tell you about…”

“Shut up,” Paloma said. “Shut up… don’t talk to him.”

“What difference does it make?” Celeste said. “We robbed a bank, Vince. That’s why we came to town. We were in jail together, she and I… I couldn’t tell you. I promised.”

They went further east on Mex. 2, then turned off suddenly. They were in one of the score of canyons that ran toward the Tecate Mountains. The lights of Tijuana were to the left, a gentle yellow blur. There was a full moon so that you could see cliffs and barrel cacti, a forest of them straight off into the night, sharp and clear. The evil-looking Tecate range beyond that was in front of them.

“I need water,” Guzman said from the back. “Water.”

“Who is that?” Vasco said. “He smells.”

“That, ladies, is the guest of honor,” Castro said. Calhoun stopped the jeep and got out and went to the back. They were in a very wide canyon. It was muddy from the rain. They were following a track that Calhoun knew ran back toward the border, then came out just east of Palmdale. He opened the rear door and looked at Guzman.

“Water. I can’t stand it anymore,” Guzman said. Calhoun got the water they kept strapped to the radiator and came back around to the back and poured a stream into the fat man’s mouth. The moonlight glinted on Guzman’s face.

“Get out of the jeep. I want to talk to you,” Calhoun said to Celeste. He closed the back and went and reattached the canvas water bag to the grill and came around to her door and pulled her out. Paloma grabbed her hand and Calhoun pulled out the forty-five and put it against Vasco’s forehead. For the second time, he wanted to kill her.

“Vincent, okay… put the gun down.” Celeste made Vasco let go. She stepped down from the jeep.

“You see this big Amazon bitch, Miguel? If she even looks at me funny, I want you to shoot her.” He put his gun down. Miguel pulled his own gun out and pointed it at Vasco.

“I think you are practicing bad manners, señorita. I can correct that. I’m a very immoral man. I’ll shoot you,” Miguel said. “It makes no difference to me that you are very pretty.”

The two of them walked away from the taillights. They could see the yellow play on the spots of water in the canyon from the moonlight, even see that the sand they walked in was red.

“I wish this hadn’t happened,” Celeste said. Calhoun walked on for a moment. He wanted to stop everything and be alone with her. He glanced back at the jeep, then at her. Her hair was pulled back into a pony tail. He reached for it and held it with his hand.

“For a moment, let’s pretend it hasn’t… Do you remember how I used to come get you… We’d walk out there by your old man’s ranch.” She nodded her head. “Just like this,” he said.

He let go of her hair. Celeste bent down and scooped up water from a rill at their feet and cleaned her face. “It was so different then,” she said.

He stood above her. His fever had waned. He felt like himself for the first time since the vet had injected him. “I want you to come back with me tonight. Will you do that? I have tickets for the one o’clock bus to Mexico City. I’ll have money. Give her what you stole. We won’t need it.” He helped her up. Celeste shook him away and started to cry. Calhoun looked back at the taillights, red chinks in the night. He noticed there were big clouds forming in the sky.

“It’s too late now,” she said.

“No. It’s never too late. It’s not too late for us.” Celeste looked up at him, the moonlight in her face, more beautiful than ever.

“…Paloma protected me in the jail, her father and mother. I wouldn’t have survived if she hadn’t looked out for me those first few weeks. She’s very strong.”

“Just tell me if you love me, that’s all I want to know,” Calhoun said. “Just tell me that.” They’d walked far enough away from the jeep that they could hear the sounds of the desert.

“I didn’t think there would be water out here,” she said. Celeste looked back toward the jeep. He knew that she cared about Paloma and it didn’t matter to him.

“You’ll still take her to Palmdale like you promised?” she said.

“Yes.”

“She won’t want to leave me.”

“It’s up to you.”

“When I saw you this morning… I got frightened because I felt it right away, what we had, and I didn’t want to feel it,” she said.

“Me, too, right away.” He grabbed her and kissed her. They sank down into the sand on their knees. He knew now without having to say anymore that his bad luck was over. He felt the water soak his knees and fill his shoes, and the softness of the sand, and he knew that it was over.

“This time it will be different,” he whispered. “Nothing will come between us again. Nothing.” She kissed him and washed his face off with the water and the moon glittered on its surface. He took his jacket off and she washed his shoulder wound, tore the sleeve off his shirt and tied it up fresh. All the time he was telling her where they’d be going, about the boy that he wanted to help, about a place he knew in Cuernavaca that a Frenchman had, cottages near the train station.

“Amigo, we have to go. I saw something.” Castro had gotten out of the jeep and walked toward them. Calhoun looked up. He hadn’t felt like this in so long. His trousers were soaked. He was stripped to his T-shirt and Mylar vest.

“I’m okay now, Miguel,” Calhoun said. They both stood up. “We’re going to Mexico City. Tonight.” Castro looked at the girl, at her long red hair and beautiful face; he saw that Calhoun looked different somehow.

“I’m happy for you, amigo. But it’s time we go. I saw headlights east of us. Just for a moment, but I saw them.”

“All right. We’ll be in Palmdale in an hour or less,” Calhoun said. He took Celeste’s hand and walked her back toward the dark red taillights of the jeep.

 

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