“Mercy.” The word dripped out between tortured inhalations. Two splattered men stood over a prostrate Spencer Wallace, pale and bloody amid musty heaps of contracts and financial records that lay strewn across the floor.
“Let’s bury the bastard alive,” said Lefty. He reached down and with a brusque motion, took the wounded man’s belt buckle to replace his own. The size of a clenched fist, it boasted a cracked turquoise pebble at its center, surrounded by ornate silverwork that glittered red in the windowless office. Lefty had delicate hands and smelled of damp soil. He looked of it as well.
“Best leave burying for the campesinos,” replied Ezra with a cool voice. “He’s staying put.” A quiet steel buckle shone at Ezra’s waist, the image of a soaring vulture etched into its weathered surface by expert hands. His mother had always told him that “Ezra” means “help” in Hebrew; in 1937, the July 14 edition of Diario los Andes, the national paper, christened him “Pancho the Unrepentant.” Ezra straightened his hat and pocketed a handful of gold coins, taken from a pile near his feet. He and Lefty wandered outside to rejoin Solon and their filibuster company, leaving the door ajar behind them and the wheezing Spencer Wallace alive to chew on their impunity.
“Law’s at our backs,” said Ezra. “I say head where it don’t reach. Lord help us if they find us.”
Nineteen in all, the freebooters left on horseback for Cayambe, a downhill pueblo where events of consequence and autonomy were rumored to occur. Ezra rode first, followed by Lefty and Solon and the rest.
“Ezra, it’s a mistake to go down this way,” said Solon. “If we head any deeper inland, there’s no chance we’ll ever find a boat back home.”
“It’s only deeper for us, my friend,” said Ezra. “We’ve got a whole continent for the taking, and I won’t have you aching for Roosevelt’s teat. We’ve come this far. The gun’s our New Deal.”
“Besides, no boat would take us, not after what we’ve done,” said Lefty. “It’s best to go Ezra’s way. Might be good things waiting for us.” Lefty could not bare the thought of crossing Ezra.
The long and easygoing road offered a wide view of the open countryside below. They saw Mt Cayambe’s frozen peak in the crystal distance and the desertous plains below it. It is said that from its heights, a man of able eyes could see Ecuadorian Quito to the west, and Bolivian Cochabamba to the far south. Emperor Norton once swore that, after two years of constant staring, he could distinctly see the Brazilian coast to the east. Uncountable oil wells decorated the frigid hillsides, and from a long way off looked like flies absorbing an earthy carcass. A sea of hungry rose plantations lay along the bottom of the valley, threatening to conquer the slopes above as they grew.
Tall agave stalks leaned over the road in sparse clusters, marking the borders between plots of fallow land. From one cluster emerged a small child, naked and chapped and sanguine in complexion. The riders slowed their pace and made big faces for the child. Ezra called hello in English, then Spanish, but it only stared back like a cornered barn owl, wide eyed and unblinking.
“Kid looks of speaking age. Must be dumb.”
“Maybe she don’t speak English. Or Spanish. Anyone know a word of Quichua?”
The child pointed to Ezra, and the riders fell silent. “Dead.” The child waded backwards into the agave, eyes fixed on Ezra as she disappeared. They kept going and said nothing of the encounter.
In their silence, they came across a weathered old man a short distance down the road, bobbing on a skeletal rocking chair and cradled in the shadow of a sickly banyan tree. The rails of the chair were planted in parallel troughs of leathery roots and bristles of gray hair formed patches across the man’s gaunt face. Pale, perhaps a Mennonite. A worried smile, and a look of mischief shone in his cloudy eyes as he scanned the riders. “You don’t know what you’re riding into, friends.”
“No. Abulín is waiting.”
“Who is Abulín?”
The old man stopped his chair and fell silent. His teeth clenched shut. The riders could hear their beating hearts in the stillness. Lefty felt his insides contort. Ezra spat and resumed the road. The old man began to bob again, cursing and muttering as they passed.
Neither Ezra nor his retinue uttered a word, not a sound rising above their horses’ labored breathing in the thin mountainous ether. Their hooves touched quietly upon the dirt path and their sullen wet eyes blinked with lazy abandon. A number of autochthonous campesinos shuffled along the road in twos and threes, carrying water and roses and tubers in buckets and pails. None spoke, but only continued with their business as if the riders were not there. Their lowered faces suspended like bowls of cochineal jasper, hairless relics of the soil.
A long silence down the road, a stocky rose vendor stopped them. He held a dozen tattered flowers and frantically warned them of Abulín Machado, the burning spirit of Cayambe. He quivered when he said the name.
“Abulín Machado is a firestorm in boots.”
Benjamin studied words and brains at Stanford University, and now works for a public radio program in San Francisco. His fiction has something to do with his experiences traveling in Latin America, and he enjoys Melville, McCarthy, and Neruda, each more than the last. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.