THEY RODE all day, up through the low hills and into the mountains and along the mesa to the north well beyond the horse range and into the country they'd first crossed into some four months before. They nooned at a spring and squatted about the cold and blackened sticks of some former fire and ate cold beans and tortillas out of a newspaper. He thought the tortillas could have come from the hacienda kitchen. The newspaper was from Monclova. He ate slowly with his manacled hands and drank water from a tin cup that could only be partly filled for the water running out through the rivet holding the handle. The brass showed through the nickelplating where it was worn from the inside of the cuffs and his wrists had already turned a pale and poisonous green. He ate and he watched Rawlins who squatted a little ways off but Rawlins would not meet his eyes. They slept briefly on the ground under the cottonwoods and then rose and drank more water and filled the canteens and waterbottles and rode on.
The country they traversed was advanced in season and the acacia was in bloom and there had been rain in the mountains and the grass along the selvedge of the draws was green and blowsy in the long twilight where they rode. Except for remarks concerning the countryside the guards said little among themselves and to the Americans they said nothing at all. They rode through the long red sunset and they rode on in the dark. The guards had long since scabbarded their rifles and they rode easily, half slouched in the saddle. About ten oclock they halted and made camp and built a fire. The prisoners sat in the sand among old rusted tins and bits of charcoal with their hands still manacled before them and the guards set out an old blue graniteware coffeepot and a stewpot of the same material and they drank coffee and ate a dish containing some kind of pale and fibrous tuber, some kind of meat, some kind of fowl. All of it stringy, all of it sour.
They spent the night with their hands chained through the stirrups of their saddles, trying to keep warm under their single blankets. They were on the trail again before the sun was up an hour and glad to be so.
This was their life for three days. On the afternoon of the third they rode into the town of Encantada of recent memory.
They sat side by side on a bench of iron slats in the little alameda. A pair of the guards stood a little ways off with their rifles and a dozen children of different ages stood in the dust of the street watching them. Two of the children were girls about twelve years of age and when the prisoners looked at them they turned shyly and twisted at their skirts. John Grady called to them to ask if they could get them cigarettes.
The guards glared at him. He made smoking motions at the girls and they turned and ran off down the street. The other children stood as before.
Ladies' man, said Rawlins.
You dont want a cigarette?
Rawlins spat slowly between his boots and looked up again. They aint goin to bring you no damn cigarette, he said.
I'll bet you.
What the hell you goin to bet with?
I'll bet you a cigarette.
How you goin to do that?
I'll bet you a cigarette she brings em. If she brings em I keep yours.
What are you goin to give me if she dont bring em?
If she dont bring em then you get mine.
Rawlins stared out across the alameda.
I aint above whippin your ass, you know.
Dont you think if we're goin to get out of this jackpot we might better start thinkin about how to get out of it together?
You mean like we got in it?
You dont get to go back and pick some time when the trouble started and then lay everthing off on your friend.
Rawlins didnt answer.
Dont sull up on me. Let's get it aired.
All right. When they arrested you what did you say?
I didnt say nothin. What would of been the use?
That's right. What would of been the use.
What does that mean?
It means you never asked em to go wake the patr'on, did you? No.
What did they say?
Rawlins leaned and spat and wiped his mouth.
They said he was awake. They said he'd been awake for a long time. Then they laughed.
You think he sold us down the river?
I dont know. If he did it was because of some lie.
Or some truth.
John Grady sat looking down at his hands.
Would it satisfy you, he said, if I was to just go on and admit to bein a fourteen carat gold plated son of a bitch?
I never said that.
They sat. After a while John Grady looked up.
I cant back up and start over. But I dont see the point in slobberin over it. And I cant see where it would make me feel better to be able to point a finger at somebody else.
It dont make me feel better. I tried to reason with you, that's all. Tried any number of times.
I know you did. But some things aint reasonable. Be that as it may I'm the same man you crossed that river with. How I was is how I am and all I know to do is stick. I never even promised you you wouldnt die down here. Never asked your word on it either. I dont believe in signing on just till it quits suitin you. You either stick or you quit and I wouldnt quit you I dont care what you done. And that's about all I got to say.
I never quit you, Rawlins said.
After a while the two girls came back. The taller of them held up her hand with two cigarettes in it.
John Grady looked at the guards. They motioned the girls over and looked at the cigarettes and nodded and the girls approached the bench and handed the cigarettes to the prisoners together with several wooden matches.
Muy amable, said John Grady. Muchas gracias.
They lit the cigarettes off one match and John Grady put the other matches in his pocket and looked at the girls. They smiled shyly.
Son americanos ustedes? they said.
S'i. Ladrones muy famosos. Bandoleros.
They sucked in their breath. Qu'e precioso, they said. But the guards called to them and waved them away.
They sat leaning forward on their elbows, smoking the cigarettes. John Grady looked at Rawlins' boots.
Where's them new boots at? he said.
Back at the bunkhouse.
He nodded. They smoked. After a while the others returned and called to the guards. The guards gestured at the prisoners and they rose and nodded to the children and walked out to the street.,
They rode out through the north end of the town and they halted before an adobe building with a corrugated tin roof and an empty mud bellcot above it. Scales of old painted plaster still clung to the mud brick walls. They dismounted and entered a large room that might once have been a schoolroom. There was a rail along the front wall and a frame that could once have held a blackboard. The floors were of narrow pine boards and the grain was etched by years of sand trod into them and the windows along both walls had missing panes of glass replaced with squares of tin all cut from the same large sign to form a broken mozaic among the windowlights. At a gray metal desk in one corner sat a stout man likewise in khaki uniform who wore about his neck a scarf of yellow silk. He regarded the prisoners without expression. He gestured slightly with his head toward the rear of the building and one of the guards took down a ring of keys from the wall and the prisoners were led out through a dusty weed yard to a small stone building with a heavy wooden door shod in iron.
There was a square judas-hole cut into the door at eye level and fastened across it and welded to the iron framing was a mesh of lightgauge rebar. One of the guards unfastened the old brass padlock and opened the door. He took a separate ring of keys from his belt.
Las esposas, he said.
Rawlins held up his handcuffs. The guard undid them and he entered and John Grady followed. The door groaned and creaked and thudded shut behind them.
There was no light in the room save what fell through the grate in the door and they stood holding their blankets waiting for their eyes to grade the darkness. The floor of the cell was concrete and the air smelled of excrement. After a while someone to the rear of the room spoke.
Cuidado con el bote.
Dont step in the bucket, said John Grady.
Where is it?
I dont know. Just dont step in it.
I caint see a damn thing.
Another voice spoke out of the darkness. It said: Is that you all?
John Grady could see part of Rawlins' face broken into squares in the light from the grid. Turning slowly. The pain in his eyes. Ah God, he said.
Blevins? said John Grady.
Yeah. It's me.
He made his way carefully to the rear. An outstretched leg withdrew along the floor like a serpent recoiling underfoot. He squatted and looked at Blevins. Blevins moved and he could see his teeth in the partial light. As if he were smiling.
What a man wont see when he aint got a gun, said Blevins. How long have you been here?
I dont know. A long time.
Rawlins made his way toward the back wall and stood looking down at him. You told em to hunt us, didnt you? he said. Never done no such a thing, said Blevins.
John Grady looked up at Rawlins.
They knew there were three of us, he said. Yeah, said Blevins.
Bullshit, said Rawlins. They wouldnt of hunted us once they got the horse back. He's done somethin.
It was my goddamn horse, said Blevins.
They could see him now. Scrawny and ragged and filthy. It was my horse and my saddle and my gun.
They squatted. No one spoke.
What have you done? said John Grady.
Aint done nothin that nobody else wouldnt of. What have you done.
You know what he's done, said Rawlins. Did you come back here?
Damn right I come back here.
You dumb shit. What did you do? Tell me the rest of it. Aint nothin to tell.
Oh hell no, said Rawlins. Aint a damn thing to tell.
John Grady turned. He looked past Rawlins. An old man sat quietly against the wall watching them.
De qu'e crimen queda acusado el joven? he said. The man blinked. Asesinato, he said.
El ha matado un hombre?
The man blinked again. He held up three fingers.
What did he say? said Rawlins.
John Grady didnt answer.
What did he say? I know what the son of a bitch said.
He said he's killed three men.
That's a damn lie, said Blevins.
Rawlins sat slowly on the concrete.
We're dead, he said. We're dead men. I knew it'd come to this. From the time I first seen him.
That aint goin to help us, said John Grady.
Aint but one of em died, said Blevins.
Rawlins raised his head and looked at him. Then he got up and stepped to the other side of the room and sat down again.
Cuidado con el bote, said the old man.
John Grady turned to Blevins.
I aint done nothin to him, said Blevins.
Tell me what happened, said John Grady.
He'd worked for a German family in the town of Palau eighty miles to the east and at the end of two months he'd taken the money he'd earned and ridden back across the selfsame desert and staked out the horse at the selfsame spring and dressed in the common clothes of the country he'd walked into town and sat in front of the tienda for two days until he saw the same man go by with the Bisley's worn guttapercha grips sticking out of his belt.
What did you do?
You aint got a cigarette have you?
No. What did you do?
Didnt think you did.
What did you do?
Lord what wouldnt I give for a chew of tobacco.
What did you do?
I walked up behind him and snatched it out of his belt. That's what I done.
And shot him.
He come at me.
Come at you.
So you shot him.
What choice did I have?
What choice, said John Grady.
I didnt want to shoot the dumb son of a bitch. That was never no part of my intention.
What did you do then?
Time I got back to the spring where my horse was at they was on me. That boy I shot off his horse thowed down on me with a shotgun.
What happened then?
I didnt have no more shells. I'd shot em all up. My own damn fault. All I had was what was in the gun.
You shot one of the rurales?
They sat quietly in the dark.
I could of bought shells in Mu~noz, said Blevins. Fore I even come here. I had the money too.
John Grady looked at him. You got any idea the kind of mess you're in?
Blevins didnt answer.
What did they say they mean to do with you?
Send me to the penitentiary I reckon.
They aint goin to send you to the penitentiary.
Why aint they?
You aint goin to be that lucky, said Rawlins.
I aint old enough to hang.
They'll lie about your age for you.
They dont have capital punishment in this country, said John Grady. Dont listen to him.
You knew they was huntin us, didnt you? said Rawlins.
Yeah, I knew it. What was I supposed to do, send you a telegram?
John Grady waited for Rawlins to answer but he didnt. The shadow of the iron grid over the judas-hole lay skewed upon the far wall like a waiting chalkgame which the space in that dark and stinking cubicle had somehow rendered out of true. He folded his blanket and sat on it and leaned against the wall.
Do they ever let you out? Do you get to walk around?
I dont know.
What do you mean you dont know? I caint walk.
You cant walk?
That's what I said.
How come you caint walk, said Rawlins.
Cause they busted my feet all to hell is how come.
They sat. No one spoke. Soon it was dark. The old man on the other side of the room had begun to snore. They could hear sounds from the distant village. Dogs. A mother calling. Ranchero music with its falsetto cries almost like an agony played out of a cheap radio somewhere in the nameless night.
THAT NIGHT he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wildflowers out of the ground and the flowers ran all blue and yellow far as the eye could see and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colors shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised.
In the morning two guards came and opened the door and handcuffed Rawlins and led him away. John Grady stood and asked where they were taking him but they didnt answer. Rawlins didnt even look back.
The captain was sitting at his desk drinking coffee and reading a three day old newspaper from Monterrey. He looked up. Pasaporte, he said.
I dont have no passport, said Rawlins.
The captain looked at him. He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. Dont have no passport, he said. You have identification?
Rawlins reached around to his left rear pocket with his manacled hands. He could reach the pocket but he couldnt reach into it. The captain nodded and one of the guards stepped forward and took out the billfold and handed it across to the captain. The captain leaned back in the chair. Quita las esposas, he said.
The guard swung his keys forward and took hold of Rawlins' wrists and unlocked the handcuffs and stepped back and put them in his belt. Rawlins stood rubbing his wrists. The captain turned the sweatblackened leather in his hand. He looked at both sides of it and he looked up at Rawlins. Then he opened it and took out the cards and he took out the photograph of Betty Ward and he took out the american money and then the mexican peso bills which alone were unmutilated. He spread these things out on the desk and leaned back in his chair and folded his hands together and tapped his chin with his forefingers and looked at Rawlins again. Outside Rawlins could hear a goat. He could hear children. The captain made a little rotary motion with one finger. Turn around, he said.
He did so.
Put down your pants.
Put down your pants.
What the hell for?
The captain must have made another gesture because the guard stepped forward and took a leather sap from his rear pocket and struck Rawlins across the back of the head with it. The room Rawlins was in lit up all white and his knees buckled and he reached about him in the air.
He was lying with his face against the splintry wooden floor. He didnt remember falling. The floor smelled of dust and grain. He pushed himself up. They waited. They seemed to have nothing else to do.
He got to his feet and faced the captain. He felt sick to his stomach.
You must co-po-rate, said the captain. Then you dont have no troubles. Turn around. Put down your pants.
He turned around and unbuckled his belt and pushed his trousers down around his knees and then the cheap cotton undershorts he'd bought in the commissary at La Vega.
Lift your shirt, said the captain.
He lifted the shirt.
Turn around, said the captain.
He let the shirt fall and reached and hauled up his trousers and buttoned them and buckled back the belt.
The captain was sitting holding the drivers license from his billfold.
What is your date of birth, he said.
September twenty-sixth nineteen and thirty-two.
What is your address.
Route Four Knickerbocker Texas. United States of America. How much is your height.
Five foot eleven.
How much is your weight.
A hundred and sixty pounds.
The captain tapped the license on the desk. He looked at Rawlins.
You have a good memory. Where is this man?
He held up the license. This man. Rawlins.
Rawlins swallowed. He looked at the guard and he looked at the captain again. I'm Rawlins, he said.
The captain smiled sadly. He shook his head.
Rawlins stood with his hands dangling.
Why aint I? he said.
Why you come here? said the captain.
Here. To this country.
We come down here to work. Somos vaqueros.
Speak english please. You come to buy cattle?
No. You have no permit, correct?
We just come down here to work.
At La Pur'isima.
Anywhere. That's just where we found work.
How much they pay you?
We was gettin two hundred pesos a month.
In Texas what do they pay for this work.
I dont know. Hundred a month.
Eight hundred pesos.
Yessir. I reckon.
The captain smiled again.
Why you must leave Texas?
We just left. We didnt have to.
What is your true name.
He pushed the forearm of his sleeve against his forehead and wished at once he hadnt.
Blevins is your brother.
No. We got nothin to do with him.
What is the number of horses you steal.
We never stole no horses.
These horses have no marca.
They come from the United States.
You have a factura for these horses?
No. We rode down here from San Angelo Texas. We dont have no papers on them. They're just our horses.
"'here do you cross the border.
Just out of Langtry Texas.
What is the number of men you kill.
I never killed nobody. I never stole nothin in my life. That's the truth.
Why you have guns for.
To shoot game.
Game. To hunt. Cazador.
Now you are hunters. Where is Rawlins.
Rawlins was close to tears. You're lookin at him, damn it. What is the true name of the assassin Blevins.
I dont know.
How long since you know him.
I dont know him. I dont know nothin about him.
The captain pushed back the chair and stood. He pulled down the hem of his coat to correct the wrinkles and he looked at Rawlins. You are very foolish, he said. Why do you want to have these troubles?
They let Rawlins go just inside the door and he slid to the floor and sat for a moment and then bent slowly forward and to one side and lay holding himself. The guard crooked his finger at John Grady who sat squinting up at them in the sudden light. He rose. He looked down at Rawlins.
You sons of bitches, he said.
Tell em whatever they want to hear, bud, whispered Rawlins. It dont make a damn.
V'amonos, said the guard.
What did you tell them?
Told em we was horsethieves and murderers. You will too.
But by then the guard had come forward and seized his arm and shoved him out the door and the other guard shut the door and pushed the boltshackle home in the padlock.
When they entered the office the captain sat as before. His hair newly slicked. John Grady stood before him. In the room aside from the desk and the chair that the captain sat in there were three folding metal chairs against the far wall that had an uncomfortable emptiness about them. As if people had got up and left. As if people expected were not coming. An old seedcompany calendar from Monterrey was nailed to the wall above them and in the corner stood an empty wire birdcage hung from a floorpedestal like some baroque lampstand.
On the captain's desk was a glass oil-lamp with a blackened chimney. An ashtray. A pencil that had been sharpened with a knife. Las esposas, he said.
The guard stepped forward and unlocked the handcuffs. The captain was looking out the window. He'd taken the pencil from the desk and was tapping his lower teeth with it. He turned and tapped the desk twice with the pencil and laid it down. Like a man calling a meeting to order.
Your friend has told us everything, he said.
He looked up.
You will find it is best to tell everything right away. That way you dont have no troubles.
You didnt have no call to beat up on that boy, said John Grady. We dont know nothin about Blevins. He asked to ride with us, that's all. We dont know nothin about the horse. The horse got away from him in a thunderstorm and showed up here and that's when the trouble started. We didnt have nothin to do with it. We been workin for se~nor Rocha goin on three months down at La Pur'isima. You went down there and told him a bunch of lies. Lacey Rawlins is as good a boy as ever come out of Tom Green County.
He is the criminal Smith.
His name aint Smith its Rawlins. And he aint a criminal. I've known him all my life. We were raised together. We went to the same school.
The captain sat back. He unbuttoned his shirtpocket and pushed his cigarettes up from the bottom in their package and took one out without removing the pack and buttoned the shirt again. The shirt had been tailored in military fashion and fit tightly and the cigarettes fit tightly in the pocket. He leaned in his chair and took a lighter from his coat and lit the cigarette and put the lighter on the desk beside the pencil and pulled the ashtray to him with one finger and leaned back in the chair and sat with his arm upright and the burning cigarette a few inches from his ear in a posture that seemed alien to him. As if perhaps he'd admired it somewhere in others.
What is your age, he said.
Sixteen. I'll be seventeen in six weeks.
What is the age of the assassin Blevins.
I dont know. I dont know nothin about him. He says he's sixteen. I'd guess fourteen is more like it. Thirteen even.
He dont have no feathers.
He dont have no feathers.
I wouldnt know about that. It dont interest me.
The captain's face darkened. He puffed on the cigarette. Then he put his hand on the desk palm upward and snapped his fingers.
Deme su billetera.
John Grady took his billfold from his hip pocket and stepped forward and laid it on the desk and stepped back. The captain looked at him. He leaned forward and took the billfold and sat back and opened it and began to take out the money, the cards. The photos. He spread everything out and looked up.
Where is your license of operator.
I dont have one.
You have destroy it.
I dont have one. I never did have one.
The assassin Blevins has no documents.
Why dont he have no documents.
He lost his clothes.
He lose his clothes?
Why he come here to steal horses?
It was his horse.
The captain leaned back, smoking.
The horse is not his horse.
Well, you have it your own ignorant way.
As far as I know that horse is his horse. He had it with him in Texas and I know he brought it into Mexico because I seen him ride it across the river.
The captain sat drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair. I dont believe you, he said.
John Grady didnt answer.
These are not the facts.
He half swiveled in his chair to look out the window.
Not the facts, he said. He turned and looked across his shoulder at the prisoner.
You have the opportunity to tell the truth here. Here. In three days you will go to Saltillo and then you will no have this opportunity. It will be gone. Then the truth will be in other hands. You see. We can make the truth here. Or we can lose it. But when you leave here it will be too late. Too late for truth. Then you you be in the hands of other parties. Who can say what the truth will be then? At that time? Then you will blame yourself. You will see.
There aint but one truth, said John Grady. The truth is what happened. It aint what come out of somebody's mouth.
You like this little town? said the captain.
It's all right.
It is very quiet here.
The peoples in this town are quiet peoples. Everybody here is quiet all the time.
He leaned forward and stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray.
Then comes the assassin Blevins to steal horses and kill everybody. Why is this? He was a quiet boy and never do no harm and then he come here and do these things something like that?
He leaned back and shook his head in that same sad way. No, he said. He wagged one finger. No.
He watched John Grady.
What is the truth is this: He was no a quiet boy. He was this other kind of boy all the time. All the time.
When the guards brought John Grady back they took Blevins away with them. He could walk but not well. When the padlock had clicked shut and rattled and swung to rest John Grady squatted facing Rawlins.
How you doin? he said.
I'm okay. How are you?
I'm all right.
What'd you tell him?
I told him you were full of shit.
You didnt get to go to the shower room?
You were gone a long time.
He keeps a white coat back there on a hook. He takes it down and puts it on and ties it around his waist with a string.
John Grady nodded. He looked at the old man. The old man was watching them even if he didnt speak english.
Blevins is sick.
Yeah, I know. I think we're goin to Saltillo.
What's in Saltillo?
I dont know.
Rawlins shifted against the wall. He closed his eyes.
Are you all right? said John Grady.
Yeah, I'm all right.
I think he wants to make some kind of a deal with us.
Captain. Whatever he is.
What kind of a deal.
To keep quiet. That kind of a deal.
Like we had some kind of a choice. Keep quiet about what? About Blevins.
Keep quiet about what about Blevins?
John Grady looked at the little square of light in the door and at the skew of it on the wall above the old man's head where he sat. He looked at Rawlins.
I think they aim to kill him. I think they aim to kill Blevins. Rawlins sat for a long time. He sat with his head turned away against the wall. When he looked at John Grady again his eyes were wet.
Maybe they wont, he said.
I think they will.
Ah damn, said Rawlins. Just goddamn it all to hell.
When they brought Blevins back he sat in the corner and didnt speak. John Grady talked with the old man. His name was Orlando. He didnt know what crime he was accused of. He'd been told he could go when he signed the papers but he couldnt read the papers and no one would read them to him. He didnt know how long he'd been here. Since sometime in the winter. While they were talking the guards came again and the old man shut up.
Thev unlocked the door and entered and set two buckets in the floor together with a stack of enameled tin plates. One of them looked into the waterpail and the other took the slop pail from the corner and they went out again. They had about them a perfunctory air, like men accustomed to caring for livestock. When they were gone the prisoners squatted about the buckets and John Grady handed out the plates. Of which there were five. As if some unknown other were expected. There were no utensils and they used the tortillas to spoon the beans from the bucket.
Blevins, said John Grady. You aim to eat?
I aint hungry.
Better get you some of this.
You all go on.
John Grady scooped beans into one of the spare dishes and folded the tortilla along the edge of the dish and got up and carried it to Blevins and came back. Blevins sat holding the dish in his lap.
After a while he said: What'd you tell em about me?
Rawlins stopped chewing and looked at John Grady. John Grady looked at Blevins.
Told em the truth.
Yeah, said Blevins.
You think it would make any difference what we told them? said Rawlins.
You could of tried to help me out.
Rawlins looked at John Grady.
Could of put in a good word for me, said Blevins.
Good word, said Rawlins.
Wouldnt of cost you nothin.
Shut the hell up, said Rawlins. Just shut up. You say anything more I'll come over there and stomp your skinny ass. You hear me? If you say one more goddamn word.
Leave him alone, said John Grady.
Dumb little son of a bitch. You think that man in there dont know what you are? He knew what you were fore he ever set eyes on you. Before you were born. Damn you to hell. Just damn you to hell.
He was almost in tears. John Grady put a hand on his shoulder. Let it go, Lacey, he said. Just let it go.
In the afternoon the guards came and left the slop bucket and took away the plates and pails.
How do you reckon the horses are makin it? said Rawlins.
John Grady shook his head.
Horses, the old man said. Caballos.
They sat in the hot silence and listened to the sounds in the village. The passing of some horses along the road. John Grady asked the old man if they had mistreated him but the old man waved one hand and passed it off. He said they didnt bother him much. He said there was no sustenance in it for them. An old man's dry moans. He said that pain for the old was no longer a surprise.
Three days later they were led blinking from their cell into the early sunlight and through the yard and the schoolhouse and out into the street. Parked there was a ton-and-a-half flatbed Ford truck. They stood in the street dirty and unshaven holding their blankets in their arms. After a while one of the guards motioned to them to climb up on the truck. Another guard came out of the building and they were handcuffed with the same plateworn cuffs and then chained together with a towchain that lay coiled in the spare tire in the forward bed of the truck. The captain came out and stood in the sunlight rocking on his heels and drinking a cup of coffee. He wore a pipeclayed leather belt and holster, the 45 automatic slung at full cock butt-forward at his left side. He spoke to the guards and they waved their arms and a man standing on the front bumper of the truck raised up out of the engine compartment and gestured and spoke and then bent under the hood again.
What did he say? said Blevins.
No one answered. There were bundles and crates piled forward on the truckbed together with some fivegallon army gascans. People of the town kept arriving with parcels and handing slips of paper to the driver who stuffed them into his shirtpocket without comment.
Yonder stands your gals, said Rawlins.
I see em, said John Grady.
They were standing close together, the one clinging to the arm of the other, both of them crying.
What the hell sense does that make, said Rawlins.
John Grady shook his head.
The girls stood watching while the truck was loaded and while the guards sat smoking with their rifles propped against their shoulders and they were still standing there an hour later when the truck finally started and the hood dropped shut and the truck with the prisoners in their chains jostling slightly pulled away down the narrow dirt street and faded from sight in a rolling wake of dust and motorsmoke.
There were three guards on the truckbed with the prisoners, young boys from the country in illfitting and impressed uniforms. They must have been ordered not to speak to the prisoners because they took care to avoid their eyes. They nodded or raised one hand gravely to people they knew standing in the doorways as they rolled out down the dusty street. The captain sat in the cab with the driver. Some dogs came out to chase the truck and the driver cut the wheel sharply to try to run them down and the guards on the truckbed grabbed wildly for handholds and the driver looked back at them through the rear window of the cab laughing and they all laughed and punched one another and then sat gravely with their rifles.
They turned down a narrow street and stopped in front of a house that was painted bright blue. The captain leaned across the cab and blew the horn. After a while the door opened and a man came out. He was rather elegantly dressed after the manner of a charro and he walked around the truck and the captain got out and the man got into the cab and the captain climbed in after him and shut the door and they pulled away.
They drove down the street past the last house and the last of the corrals and mud pens and crossed a shallow ford where the slow water shone like oil in its colors and mended itself behind them before the run-off from the trucktires had even finished draining back. The truck labored up out of the ford over the scarred rock of the roadbed and then leveled out and set off across the desert in the flat midmorning light.
The prisoners watched the dust boil from under the truck and hang over the road and drift slowly off across the desert. They slammed about on the rough oak planks of the truckbed and tried to keep their blankets folded under them. Where the road forked they turned out onto the track that would take them to Cuatro Ci'enagas and on to Saltillo four hundred kilometers to the south.
Blevins had unfolded his blanket and was stretched out on it with his arms under his head. He lay staring up at the pure blue desert sky where there was no cloud, no bird. When he spoke, his voice shuddered from the hammering of the truckbed against his back.
Boys, he said, this is goin to be a long old trip.
Thev looked at him, they looked at each other. They didnt say if they thought it would be or not.
The old man said it'd take all day to get there, said Blevins. I asked him. Said all day.
Before noon they struck the main road coming down out of Boquillas on the border and they took the road downcountry. Through the pueblos of San Guillermo, San Miguel, Tanque el Rev'es. The few vehicles they encountered on that hot and guttered track passed in a storm of dust and flying rock and the riders on the truckbed turned away with their faces in their elbow sleeves. They stopped in Ocampo and offloaded some crates of produce and some mail and drove on toward El Oso. In the early afternoon they pulled in at a small cafe by the roadside and the guards climbed down and went in with their guns. The prisoners sat chained on the truckbed. In the dead mud yard some children who'd been playing stopped to watch them and a thin white dog who seemed to have been awaiting just such an arrival came over and urinated for a long time against the rear tire of the truck and went back.
When the guards came out they were laughing and rolling cigarettes. One of them carried three bottles of orange sodawater and he passed them up to the prisoners and stood waiting for the bottles while they drank. When the captain appeared in the doorway they climbed back onto the truck. The guard who'd taken the bottles back came out and then the man in the charro outfit and then the driver. When they were all in their places the captain stepped from the shade of the doorway and crossed the gravel apron and climbed into the cab and they went on.
At Cuatro Ci'enagas they struck the paved road and turned south toward Torre'on. One of the guards stood up and holding on to the shoulder of his companion looked back at the roadsign. He sat again and they glanced at the prisoners and then just sat looking out over the countryside as the truck gathered speed. An hour later they left the road altogether, the truck laboring over a dirt track across rolling fields, a great and fallow bald'ios such as was common to that country where feral cattle the color of candlewax come up out of the arroyos to feed at night like alien principals. Summer thunderheads were building to the north and Blevins was studying the horizon and watching the thin wires of lightning and watching the dust to see how the wind blew. They crossed a broad gravel riverbed dry and white in the sun and they climbed into a meadow where the grass was tall as the tires and passed under the truck with a seething sound and they entered a grove of ebony trees and drove out a nesting pair of hawks and pulled up in the yard of an abandoned estancia, a quadrangle of mud buildings and the remains of some sheep-pens.
No one in the truckbed moved. The captain opened the door and stepped out. V'amonos, he said.
They climbed down with their guns. Blevins looked about at the ruined buildings.
What's here? he said.
One of the guards leaned his rifle against the truck and sorted through the ring of keys and reached and unlocked the chain and threw the loose ends up onto the truckbed and picked up the rifle again and gestured for the prisoners to get down. The captain had sent one of the guards to scout the perimeter and they stood waiting for him to come back. The charro stood leaning against the front fender of the truck with one thumb in his carved leather belt smoking a cigarette.
What do we do here? said Blevins.
I dont know, said John Grady.
The driver hadnt gotten out of the truck. He was slumped back in the seat with his hat over his eyes and looked to be sleeping.
I got to take a leak, said Rawlins.
They walked out through the grass, Blevins hobbling after them. No one looked at them. The guard came back and reported to the captain and the captain took the guard's rifle from him and handed it to the charro and the charro hefted it in his hands as if it were a game gun. The prisoners straggled back to the truck. Blevins sat down a little apart and the charro looked at him and then took his cigarette from his mouth and dropped it in the grass and stepped on it. Blevins got up and moved to the rear of the truck where John Grady and Rawlins were standing.
What are they goin to do? he said.
The guard with no rifle came to the rear of the truck.
V'amonos, he said.
Rawlins raised up from where he was leaning on the bed of the truck.
S61o el chico, said the guard. V'amonos.
Rawlins looked at John Grady.
What are they goin to do? said Blevins.
They aint goin to do nothin, said Rawlins.
He looked at John Grady. John Grady said nothing at all. The guard reached and took Blevins by the arm. V'amonos, he said.
Wait a minute, said Blevins.
Est'an esperando, said the guard.
Blevins twisted out of his grip and sat on the ground. The guard's face clouded. He looked toward the front of the truck where the captain stood. Blevins had wrenched off one boot and was reaching down inside it. He pulled up the black and sweaty innersole and threw it away and reached in again. The guard bent and got hold of his thin arm. He pulled Blevins up. Blevins was flailing about trying to hand something to John Grady.
Here, he hissed.
John Grady looked at him. "'hat do I want with that? he said.
Take it, said Blevins.
He thrust into his hand a wad of dirty and crumpled peso notes and the guard jerked him around by his arm and pushed him forward. The boot had fallen to the ground.
Wait, said Blevins. I need to get my boot.
But the guard shoved him on past the truck and he limped away, looking back once mute and terrified and then going on with the captain and the charro across the clearing toward the trees. The captain had put one arm around the boy, or he put his hand in the small of his back. Like some kindly advisor. The other man walked behind them carrying the rifle and Blevins disappeared into the ebony trees hobbling on one boot much as they had seen him that morning coming up the arroyo after the rain in that unknown country long ago.
Rawlins looked at John Grady. His mouth was tight. John Grady watched the small ragged figure vanish limping among the trees with his keepers. There seemed insufficient substance to him to be the object of men's wrath. There seemed nothing about him sufficient to fuel any enterprise at all.
Dont you say nothin, said Rawlins.
Dont you say a damn word.
John Grady turned and looked at him. He looked at the guards and he looked at the place where they were, the strange land, the strange sky.
All right, he said. I wont.
At some time the driver had got out and gone off somewhere to inspect the buildings. The others stood, the two prisoners, the three guards in their rumpled suits. The one guard with no rifle squatting by the tire. They waited a long time. Rawlins leaned and put his fists on the truckbed and laid his forehead down and closed his eyes tightly. After a while he raised up again. He looked at John Grady.
They caint just walk him out there and shoot him, he said. Hell fire. Just walk him out there and shoot him.
John Grady looked at him. As he did so the pistol shot came from beyond the ebony trees. Not loud. Just a flat sort of pop. Then another.
When they came back out of the trees the captain was carrying the handcuffs. V'amonos, he called.
The guards moved. One of them stood on the rear axlehub and reached across the boards of the truckbed for the chain. The driver came from the ruins of the quinta.
We're okay, whispered Rawlins. We're okay.
John Grady didnt answer. He almost reached to pull down the front of his hatbrim but then he remembered that they had no hats anymore and he turned and climbed up on the bed of the truck and sat waiting to be chained. Blevins' boot was still lying in the grass. One of the guards bent and picked it up and pitched it into the weeds.
When they wound back up out of the glade it was already evening and the sun lay long in the grass and across the shallow swales where the land dipped in pockets of darkness. Small birds come to feed in the evening cool of the open country flushed and flared away over the grasstops and the hawks in silhouette against the sunset waited in the upper limbs of a dead tree for them to pass.
They rode into Saltillo at ten oclock at night, the populace out for their paseos, the cafes full. They parked on the square opposite the cathedral and the captain got out and crossed the street. There were old men sitting on benches under the yellow lamplight having their shoes polished and there were little signs warning people off the tended gardens. Vendors were selling paletas of frozen fruitjuices and young girls with powdered faces went hand in hand by pairs and peered across their shoulders with dark uncertain eyes. John Grady and Rawlins sat with their blankets pulled about them. No one paid them any mind. After a while the captain came back and climbed into the truck and they went on again.
They drove through the streets and made stops at little dimlit doorways and small houses and tiendas until nearly all the parcels in the bed of the truck had been dispersed and a few new ones taken aboard. When they pulled up before the massive doors of the old prison on Castelar it was past midnight.
They were led into a stonefloored room that smelled of disinfectant. The guard uncuffed their wrists and left them and they squatted and leaned against the wall with their blankets about their shoulders like mendicants. They squatted there for a long time. When the door opened again the captain came in and stood looking at them in the dead flat glare of the single bulb in the ceiling overhead. He was not wearing his pistol. He gestured with his chin and the guard who'd opened the door withdrew and closed the door behind him.
The captain stood regarding them with his arms crossed and his thumb beneath his chin. The prisoners looked up at him, they looked at his feet, they looked away. He stood watching them for a long time. They all seemed to be waiting for something. Like passengers in a halted train. Yet the captain inhabited another space and it was a space of his own election and outside the common world of men. A space privileged to men of the irreclaimable act which while it contained all lesser worlds within it contained no access to them. For the terms of election were of a piece with its office and once chosen that world could not be quit.
He paced. He stood. He said that the man they called the charro had suffered from a failure of nerve out there among the ebony trees beyond the ruins of the estancia and this a man whose brother was dead at the hand of the assassin Blevins and this a man who had paid money that certain arrangements be made which the captain had been at some pains himself to make.
This man came to me. I dont go to him. He came to me. Speaking of justice. Speaking of the honor of his family. Do you think men truly want these things? I dont think many men want these things.
Even so I was surprise. I was surprise. We have no death here for the criminals. Other arrangements must be made. I tell you this because you will be making arrangements you self.
John Grady looked up.
You are not the first Americans to be here, said the captain. In this place. I have friends in this place and you will be making these arrangements with these peoples. I dont want you to make no mistakes.
We dont have any money, said John Grady. We aint fixin to make any arrangements.
Excuse me but you will be making some arrangements. You dont know nothing.
What did you do with our horses.
We are not talking about horses now. Those horses must wait. The rightful owners must be found of those horses.
Rawlins stared bleakly at John Grady. Just shut the hell up, he said.
He can talk, said the captain. It is better when everybody is understand. You cannot stay here. In this place. You stay here you going to die. Then come other problems. Papers is lost. Peoples cannot be found. Some peoples come here to look for some man but he is no here. No one can find these papers. Something like that. You see. No one wants these troubles. Who can say that some body was here? We dont have this body. Some crazy person, he can say that God is here. But everybody knows that God is no here.
The captain reached out with one hand and rapped with his knuckles against the door.
You didnt have to kill him, said John Grady.
You could of just brought him back. You could of just brought him on back to the truck. You didnt have to kill him.
A keyring rattled outside. The door opened. The captain held up one hand to an unseen figure in the partial dark of the corridor.
Momento, he said.
He turned and stood studying them.
I will tell you a story, he said. Because I like you. I was young man like you. You see. And this time I tell you I was always with these older boys because I want to learn every thing. So on this night at the fiesta of San Pedro in the town of Linares in Nuevo Le'on I was with these boys and they have some mescal and everything-you know what is mescal?-and there was this woman and all these boys is go out to this woman and they is have this woman. And I am the last one. And I go out to the place where is this woman and she is refuse me because she say I am too young or something like that.
What does a man do? You see. I can no go back because they will all see that I dont go with this woman. Because the truth is always plain. You see. A man cannot go out to do some thing and then he go back. Why he go back? Because he change his mind? A man does not change his mind.
The captain made a fist and held it up.
Maybe they tell her to refuse to me. So they can laugh. They give her some money or something like that. But I dont let whores make trouble for me. When I come back there is no laughing. No one is laughing. You see. That has always been my way in this world. I am the one when I go someplace then there is no laughing. When I go there then they stop laughing.
They were led up four flights of stone stairs and through a steel door out onto an iron catwalk. The guard smiled back at them in the light from the bulb over the door. Beyond lay the night sky of the desert mountains. Below them the prison yard.
Se llama la periquera, he said.
They followed him down the catwalk. A sense of some brooding and malignant life slumbering in the darkened cages they passed. Here and there along the tiers of catwalks on the far side of the quadrangle a dull light shaped out the grating of the cells where votive candles burned the night long before some santo. The bell in the cathedral tower three blocks away sounded once with a deep, an oriental solemnity.
They were locked into a cell in the topmost corner of the prison. The ironbarred door clanged shut and the latch rattled home and they listened as the guard went back down the catwalk and they listened as the iron door shut and then all was silence.
They slept in iron bunks chained to the walls on thin trocheros or mattress pads that were greasy, vile, infested. In the morning they climbed down the four flights of steel ladders into the yard and stood among the prisoners for the morning lista. The lista was called by tiers yet it still took over an hour and their names were not called.
I guess we aint here, said Rawlins.
Their breakfast was a thin pozole and nothing more and afterward they were simply turned out into the yard to fend for themselves. They spent the whole of the first day fighting and when they were finally shut up in their cell at night they were bloody and exhausted and Rawlins' nose was broken and badly swollen. The prison was no more than a small walled village and within it occurred a constant seethe of barter and exchange in everything from radios and blankets down to matches and buttons and shoenails and within this bartering ran a constant struggle for status and position. Underpinning all of it like the fiscal standard in commercial societies lay a bedrock of depravity and violence where in an egalitarian absolute every man was judged by a single standard and that was his readiness to kill.
They slept and in the morning it all began again. They fought back to back and picked each other up and fought again. At noon Rawlins could not chew. They're goin to kill us, he said.
John Grady mashed beans in a tin can with water till he'd made a gruel out of it and pushed it at Rawlins.
You listen to me, he said. Dont you let em think they aint goin to have to. You hear me? I intend to make em kill me. I wont take nothin less. They either got to kill us or let us be. There aint no middle ground.
There aint a place on me that dont hurt.
I know it. I know it and I dont care.
Rawlins sucked at the gruel. He looked at John Grady from over the rim of the can. You look like a goddamn racoon, he said.
John Grady grinned crookedly. What the hell you think you look like?
Shit if I know.
You ought to wish you looked as good as a coon.
I caint laugh. I think my jaw's broke.
There aint nothin wrong with you.
Shit, said Rawlins.
John Grady grinned. You see that big old boy standin yonder that's been watchin us?
I see the son of a bitch.
See him lookin over here?
I see him.
What do you think I'm fixin to do?
I got no idea in this world.
I'm goin to get up from here and walk over there and bust him in the mouth.
The hell you are.
You watch me.
Just to save him the trip.
By the end of the third day it seemed to be pretty much over. There were both half naked and John Grady had been blindsided with a sock full of gravel that took out two teeth in his lower jaw and his left eye was closed completely. The fourth day was Sunday and they bought clothes with Blevins' money and they bought a bar of soap and took showers and they bought a can of tomato soup and heated it in the can over a candlestub and wrapped the sleeve of Rawlins' old shirt around it for a handle and passed it back and forth between them while the sun set over the high western wall of the prison.
You know, we might just make it, said Rawlins.
Dont start gettin comfortable. Let's just take it a day at a time.
How much money you think it would take to get out of here?
I dont know. I'd say a lot.
I would too.
We aint heard from the captain's buddies in here. I guess they're waitin to see if there's goin to be anything left to bail out.
He held out the can toward Rawlins.
Finish it, said Rawlins.
Take it. There aint but a sup.
He took the can and drained it and poured a little water in and swirled it about and drank that and sat looking into the empty can.
If thev think we're rich how come they aint looked after us no better? he said.
I dont know. I know they dont run this place. All they run is what comes in and what goes out.
If that, said Rawlins.
The floodlights came on from the upper walls. Figures that had been moving in the yard froze, then they moved again.
The horn's fixin to blow.
We got a couple of minutes.
I never knowed there was such a place as this.
I guess there's probably every kind of place you can think of.
Rawlins nodded. I wouldnt of thought of this one, he said.
It was raining somewhere out in the desert. They could smell the wet creosote on the wind. Lights came on in a makeshift cinderblock house built into one corner of the prison wall where a prisoner of means lived like an exiled satrap complete with cook and bodyguard. There was a screen door to the house and a figure crossed behind it and crossed back. On the roof a clothesline where the prisoner's clothes luffed gently in the night breeze like flags of state. Rawlins nodded toward the lights.
You ever see him?
Yeah. One time. He was standin in the door one evenin smokin him a cigar.
You picked up on any of the lingo in here?
What's a pucha?
A cigarette butt.
Then what's a tecolata?
How many damn names have they got for a cigarette butt?
I dont know. You know what a papazote is?
A big shot.
That's what they call the dude that lives yonder.
And we're a couple of gabachos.
Anybody can be a pendejo, said John Grady. That just means asshole.
Yeah? Well, we're the biggest ones in here.
I wont dispute it.
What are you thinkin about, said Rawlins.
Thinkin about how much it's goin to hurt to get up from here.
Rawlins nodded. They watched the prisoners moving under the glare of the lights.
All over a goddamned horse, said Rawlins.
John Grady leaned and spat between his boots and leaned back. Horse had nothin to do with it, he said.
That night they lay in their cell on the iron racks like acolytes and listened to the silence and a rattling snore somewhere in the block and a dog barking faintly in the distance and the silence and each other breathing in the silence both still awake.
We think we're a couple of pretty tough cowboys, said Rawlins.
They could kill us any time.
Yeah. I know.
Two days later the papazote sent for them. A tall thin man crossed the quadrangle in the evening to where they sat and bent and asked them to come with him and then rose and strode off again. He didnt even look back to see if they'd rise to follow.
What do you want to do? said Rawlins.
John Grady rose stiffly and dusted the seat of his trousers with one hand.
Get your ass up from there, he said.
The man's name was P'erez. His house was a single room in the center of which stood a tin foldingtable and four chairs. Against one wall was a small iron bed and in one corner a cupboard and a shelf with some dishes and a threeburner gasring. P'erez was standing looking out his small window at the yard. When he turned he made an airy gesture with two fingers and the man who'd come to fetch them stepped back out and closed the door.
My name is Emilio P'erez, he said. Please. Sit down.
They pulled out chairs at the table and sat. The floor of the room was made of boards but they were not nailed to anything. The blocks of the walls were not mortared and the unpeeled roofpoles were only dropped loosely into the topmost course and the sheets of roofingtin overhead were held down by blocks stacked along their edges. A few men could have disassembled and stacked the structure in half an hour. Yet there was an electric light and a gasburning heater. A carpet. Pictures from calendars pinned to the walls.
You young boys, he said. You enjoy very much to fight, yes?
Rawlins started to speak but John Grady cut him off. Yes, he said. We like it a lot.
P'erez smiled. He was a man about forty with graying hair and moustache, lithe and trim. He pulled out the third chair and stepped over the back of it with a studied casualness and sat and leaned forward with his elbows on the table. The table had been painted green with a brush and the logo of a brewery was partly visible through the paint. He folded his hands.
All this fighting, he said. How long have you been here?
About a week.
How long do you plan to stay?
We never planned to come here in the first place, Rawlins said. I dont believe our plans has got much to do with it.
P'erez smiled. The Americans dont stay so long with us, he said. Sometimes they come here for some months. Two or three. Then they leave. Life here is not so good for the Americans. They dont like it so much.
Can you get us out of here?
P'erez spaced his hands apart and made a shrugging gesture. Yes, he said. I can do this, of course.
Why dont you get yourself out, said Rawlins.
He leaned back. He smiled again. The gesture he made of throwing his hands suddenly away from him like birds dismissed sorted oddly with his general air of containment. As if he thought it perhaps an american gesture which they would understand.
I have political enemies. What else? Let me be clear with you. I do not live here so very good. I must have money to make my own arrangements and this is a very expensive business. A very expensive business.
You're diggin a dry hole, said John Grady. We dont have no money.
P'erez regarded them gravely.
If you dont have no money how can you be release from your confinement?
You tell us.
But there is nothing to tell. Without money you can do nothing.
Then I dont guess we'll be goin anywheres.
P'erez studied them. He leaned forward and folded his hands again. He seemed to be giving thought how to put things.
This is a serious business, he said. You dont understand the life here. You think this struggle is for these things. Some shoelaces or some cigarettes or something like that. The lucha. This is a naive view. You know what is naive? A naive view. The real facts are always otherwise. You cannot stay in this place and be independent peoples. You dont know what is the situation here. You dont speak the language.
He speaks it, said Rawlins.
P'erez shook his head. No, he said. You dont speak it. Maybe in a year here you might understand. But you dont have no year. You dont have no time. If you dont show faith to me I cannot help you. You understand me? I cannot offer to you my help.
John Grady looked at Rawlins. You ready, bud?
Yeah. I'm readv.
They pushed back their chairs and rose.
P'erez looked up at them. Sit down please, he said.
There's nothin to sit about.
He drummed his fingers on the table. You are very foolish, he said. Very foolish.
John Grady stood with his hand on the door. He turned and looked at P'erez. His face misshapen and his jaw bowed out and his eye still swollen closed and blue as a plum.
Why dont you tell us what's out there? he said. You talk about showin faith. If we dont know then why dont you tell us?
P'erez had not risen from the table. He leaned back, and looked at them.
I cannot tell you, he said. That is the truth. I can say certain things about those who come under my protection. But the others?
He made a little gesture of dismissal with the back of his hand.
The others are simply outside. They live in a world of possibility that has no end. Perhaps God can say what is to become of them. But I cannot.
The next morning crossing the yard Rawlins was set upon by a man with a knife. The man he'd never seen before and the knife was no homemade trucha ground out of a trenchspoon but an italian switchblade with black horn handles and nickle bolsters and he held it at waist level and passed it three times across Rawlins' shirt while Rawlins leaped three times backward with his shoulders hunched and his arms outflung like a man refereeing his own bloodletting. At the third pass he turned and ran. He ran with one hand across his stomach and his shirt was wet and sticky.
When John Grady got to him he was sitting with his back to the wall holding his arms crossed over his stomach and rocking back and forth as if he were cold. John Grady knelt and tried to pull his arms away.
Let me see, damn it.
That son of a bitch. That son of a bitch.
Let me see.
Rawlins leaned back. Aw shit, he said.
John Grady lifted the bloodsoaked shirt.
It aint that bad, he said. It aint that bad.
He cupped his hand and ran it across Rawlins' stomach to chase the blood. The lowest cut was the deepest and it had severed the outer fascia but it had not gone through into the stomach wall. Rawlins looked down at the cuts. It aint good, he said. Son of a bitch.
Can you walk?
Yeah, I can walk.
Aw shit, said Rawlins. Son of a bitch.
Come on, bud. You cant set here.
He helped Rawlins to his feet.
Come on, he said. I got you.
They crossed the quadrangle to the gateshack. The guard looked out through the sallyport. He looked at John Grady and he looked at Rawlins. Then he opened the gate and John Grady passed Rawlins into the hands of his captors.
They sat him in a chair and sent for the alcaide. Blood dripped slowly onto the stone floor beneath him. He sat holding his stomach with both hands. After a while someone handed him a towel.
In the days that followed John Grady moved about the compound as little as possible. He watched everywhere for the cuchillero who would manifest himself from among the anonymous eyes that watched back. Nothing occurred. He had a few friends among the inmates. An older man from the state of Yucat'an who was outside of the factions but was treated with respect. A dark indian from Sierra Le'on. Two brothers named Bautista who had killed a policeman in Monterrey and set fire to the body and were arrested with the older brother wearing the policeman's shoes. All agreed that P'erez was a man whose power could only be guessed at. Some said he was not confined to the prison at all but went abroad at night. That he kept a wife and family in the town. A mistress.
He tried to get some word from the guards concerning Rawlins but they claimed to know nothing. On the morning of the third day after the stabbing he crossed the yard and tapped at P'erez's door. The drone of noise in the yard behind him almost ceased altogether. He could feel the eyes on him and when P'erez's tall chamberlain opened the door he only glanced at him and then looked beyond and raked the compound with his eyes.
Quisiera hablar con el se~nor P'erez, said John Grady.
Con respecto de que?
Con respecto de mi cuate.
He shut the door. John Grady waited. After a while the door opened again. P'asale, said the chamberlain.
John Grady stepped into the room. P'erez's man shut the door and then stood against it. P'erez sat at his table.
How is the condition of your friend? he said.
That's what I come to ask you.
Sit down. Please.
Is he alive?
Sit down. I insist.
He stepped to the table and pulled back a chair and sat.
Perhaps you like some coffee.
No thank you.
P'erez leaned back.
Tell me what I can do for you, he said.
You can tell me how my friend is.
But if I answer this question then you will go away.
What would you want me to stav for?
P'erez smiled. My goodness, hew said. To tell me stories of your life of crime. Of course.
John Grady studied him.
Like all men of means, said P'erez, my only desire is to be entertained.
Me toma el pelo.
Yes. In english you say the leg, I believe.
Yes. Are you a man of means?
No. It is a joke. I enjoy to practice my english. It passes the time. Where did you learn castellano?
You learn it from the servants.
We didnt have no servants. We had people worked on the place.
You have been in some prison before.
You are the oveja negra, no? The black sheep?
You dont know nothin about me.
Perhaps not. Tell me, why do you believe that you can be release from your confinement in some abnormal way?
I told you you're diggin a dry hole. You dont know what I believe.
I know the United States. I have been there many times. You are like the jews. There is always a rich relative. What prison were you in?
You know I aint been in no prison. Where is Rawlins?
You think I am responsible for the incident to your friend. But that is not the case.
You think I came here to do business. All I want is to know what's happened to him.
P'erez nodded thoughtfully. Even in a place like this where we are concerned with fundamental things the mind of the anglo is closed in this rare way. At one time I thought it was only his life of privilege. But it is not that. It is his mind.
He sat back easily. He tapped his temple. It is not that he is stupid. It is that his picture of the world is incomplete. In this rare way. He looks only where he wishes to see. You understand me?
I understand you.
Good, said Perez. I can normally tell how intelligent a man is by how stupid he thinks I am.
I dont think you're stupid. I just dont like you.
Ah, said P'erez. Very good. Very good.
John Grady looked at P'erez's man standing against the door. He stood with his eyes caged, looking at nothing.
He doesnt understand what we are saying, said P'erez. Feel free to express yourself.
I've done expressed myself.
I got to go.
Do you think you can go if I dont want you to go?
P'erez smiled. Are you a cuchillero?
John Grady sat back.
A prison is like a-how do you call it? A sal'on de belleza.
A beauty parlor.
A beauty parlor. It is a big place for gossip. Everybody knows the story of everybody. Because crime is very interesting. Everybody knows that.
We never committed any crimes.
Perhaps not yet.
What does that mean?
P'erez shrugged. They are still looking. Your case is not decided. Did you think your case was decided?
They wont find anything.
My goodness, said P'erez. My goodness. You think there are no crimes without owners? It is not a matter of finding. It is only a matter of choosing. Like picking the proper suit in a store.
They dont seem to be in any hurry.
Even in Mexico they cannot keep you indefinitely. That is why you must act. Once you are charged it will be too late. They will issue what is called the previas. Then there are many difficulties.
He took his cigarettes from his shirtpocket and offered them across the table. John Grady didnt move.
Please, said P'erez. It is all right. It is not the same as breaking bread. It places one under no obligation.
He leaned forward and took a cigarette and put it in his mouth. P'erez took a lighter from his pocket and snapped it open and lit it and held it across the table.
Where did you learn to fight? he said.
John Grady took a deep pull on the cigarette and leaned back.
What do you want to know? he said.
Only what the world wants to know.
What does the world want to know.
The world wants to know if you have cojones. If you are brave.
He lit his own cigarette and laid the lighter on top of the pack of cigarettes on the table and blew a thin stream of smoke.
Then it can decide your price, he said.
Some people dont have a price.
That is true.
What about those people?
Those people die.
I aint afraid to die.
That is good. It will help you to die. It will not help you to live.
Is Rawlins dead?
No. He is not dead.
John Grady pushed back the chair.
P'erez smiled easily. You see? he said. You do just as I say. I dont think so.
You have to make up your mind. You dont have so much time. We never have so much time as we think.
Time's the one thing I've had enough of since I come here. I hope you will give some thought to your situation. Americans have ideas sometimes that are not so practical. They think that there are good things and bad things. They are very superstitious, you know.
You dont think there's good and bad things?
Things no. I think it is a superstition. It is the superstition of a godless people.
You think Americans are godless?
Oh yes. Dont you?
I see them attack their own property. I saw a man one time destroy his car. With a big martillo. What do you call it?
Because it would not start. Would a Mexican do that?
I dont know.
A Mexican would not do that. The Mexican does not believe that a car can be good or evil. If there is evil in the car he knows that to destroy the car is to accomplish nothing. Because he knows where good and evil have their home. The anglo thinks in his rare way that the Mexican is superstitious. But who is the one? We know there are qualities to a thing. This car is green. Or it has a certain motor inside. But it cannot be tainted, you see. Or a man. Even a man. There can be in a man some evil. But we dont think it is his own evil. Where did he get it? How did he come to claim it? No. Evil is a true thing in Mexico. It goes about on its own legs. Maybe some day it will come to visit you. Maybe it already has.
P'erez smiled. You are free to go, he said. I can see you dont believe what I tell you. It is the same with money. Americans have this problem always I believe. They talk about tainted money. But money doesnt have this special quality. And the M'exican would never think to make things special or to put them in a special place where money is no use. Why do this? If money is good money is good. He doesnt have bad money. He doesnt have this problem. This abnormal thought.
John Grady leaned and stubbed out the cigarette in the tin ashtray on the table. Cigarettes in that world were money themselves and the one he left broken and smoldering in front of his host had hardly been smoked at all. I'll tell you what, he said.
I'll see you around.
He rose and looked at P'erez's man standing against the door. P'erez's man looked at P'erez.
I thought you wanted to know what would happen out there? said Perez.
John Grady turned. Would that change it? he said.
P'erez smiled. You do me too much credit. There are three hundred men in this institution. No one can know what is possible.
Somebodv runs the show.
P'erez shrugged. Perhaps, he said. But this type of world, you see, this confinement. It gives a false impression. As if things are in control. If these men could be controlled they would not be here. You see the problem.
You can go. I will be interested myself to see what becomes to you.
He made a small gesture with his hand. His man stepped from before the door and held it open.
Joven, said P'erez.
John Grady turned. Yes, he said.
Take care with whom you break bread.
All right. I will.
Then he turned and walked out into the yard.
He still had forty-five pesos left from the money Blevins had given him and he tried to buy a knife with it but no one would sell him one. He couldnt be sure if there were none for sale or only none for sale to him. He moved across the courtyard at a studied saunter. He found the Bautistas under the shade of the south wall and he stood until they looked up and gestured to him to come forward.
He squatted in front of them.
Quiero comprar una trucha, he said.
They nodded. The one named Faustino spoke.
C'uanto dinero tienes?
Cuarenta y cinco pesos.
They sat for a long time. The dark indian face ruminating. Reflective. As if the complexities of this piece of business dragged after it every sort of consequence. Faustino shaped his mouth to speak. Bueno, he said. D'amelo.
John Grady looked at them. The lights in their black eyes. If there was guile there it was of no sort he could reckon with and he sat in the dirt and pulled off his left boot and reached down into it and took out the small damp sheaf of bills. They watched him. He pulled the boot back on and sat for a moment with the money palmed between his index and middle finger and then with a deft cardflip shot the folded bills under Faustino's knee. Faustino didnt move.
Bueno, he said. La tendr'e esta tarde.
He nodded and rose and walked back across the yard.
The smell of diesel smoke drifted across the compound and he could hear the buses in the street outside the gate and he realized that it was Sunday. He sat alone with his back to the wall. He heard a child crying. He saw the indian from Sierra Le'on coming across the yard and he spoke to him.
The indian came over.
Si'entate, he said.
The indian sat. He took from inside his shirt a small paper bag limp with sweat and passed it to him. Inside was a handful of punche and a sheaf of cornhusk papers.
Gracias, he said.
He took a paper and folded it and dabbed the rough stringy tobacco in and rolled it shut and licked it. He handed the tobacco back and the indian rolled a cigarette and put the bag back inside his shirt and produced an esclarajo made from a half-inch waterpipe coupling and struck a light and cupped it in his hands and blew up the fire and held it for John Grady and then lit his own cigarette.
John Grady thanked him. No tienes visitantes? he said.
The indian shook his head. He didnt ask John Grady if he had visitors. John Grady thought he might have something to tell him. Some news that had moved through the prison but bypassed him in his exile. But the indian seemed to have no news at all and they sat leaning against the wall smoking until the cigarettes had burned away to nothing and the indian let the ashes fall between his feet and then rose and moved on across the yard.
He didnt go to eat at noon. He sat and watched the yard and tried to read the air. He thought men crossing were looking at him. Then he thought they were at pains not to. He said half aloud to himself that all this thinking could get a man killed. Then he said that talking to yourself could also get you killed. A little later he jerked awake and put one hand up. He was horrified to have fallen asleep there.
He looked at the width of the shadow of the wall before him. "'hen the yard was half in the shade it would be four oclock. After a while he got up and walked down to where the Bautistas were sitting.
Faustino looked up at him. He gestured for him to come forward. lie told him to step slightly to the left. Then he told him he was standing on it.
He almost looked down but he didnt. Faustino nodded. Si'entate, he said.
Hay un cord'on. He looked down. A small piece of string lay under his boot. When he pulled it up under his hand a knife emerged out of the gravel and he palmed it and slid it inside the waistband of his trousers. Then he got up and walked away.
It was better than what he'd expected. A switchblade with the handles missing, made in Mexico, the brass showing through the plating on the bolsters. He untied the piece of twine from around it and wiped it on his shirt and blew down into the blade channel and tapped it against the heel of his boot and blew again. He pushed the button and it clicked open. He wet a patch of hair on the back of his wrist and tried the edge. He was standing on one foot with his leg crossed over his knee honing the blade against the sole of his boot when he heard someone coming and he folded the knife and slid it into his pocket and turned and went out, passing two men who smirked at him on their way to the vile latrine.
A half hour later the horn sounded across the yard for the evening meal. He waited until the last man had entered the hall and then walked in and got his tray and moved down the line. Because it was Sunday and many of the prisoners had eaten food brought by their wives or family the hall was half empty and he turned and stood with his tray, the beans and tortillas and the anonymous stew, and picked a table in the corner where a boy not much older than he sat alone smoking and drinking water from a cup.
He stood at the end of the table and set his tray down. Con permiso, he said.
The boy looked at him and blew two thin streams of smoke from his nose and nodded and reached for his cup. On the inside of his right forearm was a blue jaguar struggling in the coils of an anaconda. In the web of his left thumb the pachuco cross and the five marks. Nothing out of the ordinary. But as he sat he suddenly knew why this man was eating alone. It was too late to rise again. He picked up the spoon with his left hand and began to eat. He heard the latch click shut on the door across the hall even above the muted scrape and click of spoons on the metal trays. He looked toward the front of the hall. There was no one behind the serving line. The two guards were gone. He continued to eat. His heart was pounding and his mouth was dry and the food was ashes. He took the knife from his pocket and put it in the waist of his trousers.
The boy stubbed out the cigarette and set his cup in the tray. Outside somewhere in the streets beyond the prison walls a dog barked. A tamalera cried out her wares. John Grady realized he could not have heard these things unless every sound in the hall had ceased. He opened the knife quietly against his leg and slid it open longwise under the buckle of his belt. The boy stood and stepped over the bench and took up his tray and turned and started down along the far side of the table. John Grady held the spoon in his left hand and gripped the tray. The boy came opposite him. He passed. John Grady watched him with a lowered gaze. When the boy reached the end of the table he suddenly turned and sliced the tray at his head. John Grady saw it all unfold slowly before him. The tray coming edgewise toward his eyes. The tin cup slightly tilted with the spoon in it slightly upended standing almost motionless in the air and the boy's greasy black hair flung across his wedgeshaped face. He flung his tray up and the corner of the boy's tray printed a deep dent in the bottom of it. He rolled away backward over the bench and scrabbled to his feet. He thought the tray would clatter to the table but the boy had not let go of it and he chopped at him with it again, coming along the edge of the bench. He fell back fending him away and the trays clanged and he saw the knife for the first time pass under the trays like a cold steel newt seeking out the warmth within him. He leaped away sliding in the spilled food on the concrete floor. He pulled the knife from his belt and swung the tray backhanded and caught the cuchillero in the forehead with it. The cuchillero seemed surprised. He was trying to block John Grady's view with his tray. John Grady stepped back. He was against the wall. He stepped to the side and gripped his tray and hacked at the cuchillero's tray, trying to hit his fingers. The cuchillero moved between him and the table. He kicked back the bench behind him. The trays rattled and clanged in the otherwise silence of the hall and the cuchillero's forehead had begun to bleed and the blood was running down alongside his left eye. He feinted with the tray again. John Grady could smell him. He feinted and his knife passed across the front of John Grady's shirt. John Grady dropped the tray to his midsection and moved along the wall looking into those black eyes. The cuchillero spoke no word. His movements were precise and without rancor. John Grady knew that he was hired. He swung the tray at his head and the cuchillero ducked and feinted and came forward. John Grady gripped the tray and moved along the wall. He ran his tongue into the corner of his mouth and tasted blood. He knew his face had been cut but he didnt know how bad. He knew the cuchillero had been hired because he was a man of reputation and it occurred to him that he was going to die in this place. He looked deep into those dark eyes and there were deeps there to look into. A whole malign history burning cold and remote and black. He moved along the wall, slicing back at the cuchillero with the tray. He was cut again across the outside of his upper arm. He was cut across his lower chest. He turned and slashed twice at the cuchillero with his knife. The man sucked himself up away from the blade with the boneless grace of a dervish. The men sitting at the table they were approaching had begun to rise one by one silently from the benches like birds leaving a wire. John Grady turned again and hacked at the cuchillero with his tray and the cuchillero squatted and he saw him there thin and bowlegged under his outflung arm for one frozen moment like some dark and reedy homunculous bent upon inhabiting him. The knife passed across his chest and passed back and the figure moved with incredible speed and again stood before him crouching silently, faintly weaving, watching his eves. They were watching so that they could see if death were coming. Eyes that had seen it before and knew the colors it traveled under and what it looked like when it got there.
The tray clattered on the tiles. He realized he'd dropped it. He put his hand to his shirt. It came away sticky with blood and he wiped it on the side of his trousers. The cuchillero held the tray to his eyes to blind from him his movements. He looked to be adjuring him to read something writ there but there was nothing to see save the dents and dings occasioned by the ten thousand meals eaten off it. John Grady backed away. He sat slowly on the floor. His legs were bent crookedly under him and he slumped against the wall with his arms at either side of him. The cuchillero lowered the tray. He set it quietly on the table. He leaned and took hold of John Grady by the hair and forced his head back to cut his throat. As he did so John Grady brought his knife up from the floor and sank it into the cuchillero's heart. He sank it into his heart and snapped the handle sideways and broke the blade off in him.
The cuchillero's knife clattered on the floor. From the red boutonniere blossoming on the left pocket of his blue workshirt there spurted a thin fan of bright arterial blood. He dropped to his knees and pitched forward dead into the arms of his enemy. Some of the men in the hall had already stood to leave. Like theatre patrons anxious to avoid the crush. John Grady dropped the knifehandle and pushed at the oiled head lolling against his chest. He rolled to one side and scrabbled about until he found the cuchillero's knife. He pushed the dead man away and got hold of the table and struggled up. His clothes sagged with the weight of the blood. He backed away down the tables and turned and staggered to the door and unlatched it and walked wobbling out into the deep blue twilight.
The light from the hall lay in a paling corridor across the yard. Where the men came to the door to watch him it shifted and darkened in the dusk. No one followed him out. He walked with great care, holding his hand to his abdomen. The flood lights along the upper walls would come on at any moment. He walked very carefully. Blood sloshed in his boots. He looked at the knife in his hand and flung it away. The first horn would sound and the lights would come up along the walls. He felt lightheaded and curiously without pain. His hands were sticky with blood and blood was oozing through his fingers where he held himself. The lights would be coming on and the horn would be sounding.
He was halfway to the first steel ladder when a tall man overtook him and spoke to him. He turned, crouching. In the dying light perhaps they would not see he had no knife. Not see how he stood so bloodv in his clothes.
Ven conmigo, said the man. Est'a bien.
No me moleste.
The dark tiers of the prison walls ran forever down the deep cyanic sky. A dog had begun to bark.
El padrote quiere ayudarle.
The man stood before him. Ven conmigo, he said.
It was P'erez's man. He held out his hand. John Grady stepped back. His boots left wet tracks of blood in the dry floor of the yard. The lights would come on. Horn would sound. He turned to go, his knees stammering under him. He fell and got up again. The mayordomo reached to help him and he twisted out of his grip and fell again. The world swam. Kneeling he pushed against the ground to rise. Blood dripped between his outstretched hands. The dark bank of the wall rode up. The deep cyanic sky. He was lying on his side. P'erez's man bent over him. He stooped and gathered him up in his arms and lifted him and carried him across the yard into P'erez's house and kicked the door shut behind him as the lights came on and the horn sounded.
HE WOKE in a stone room in total darkness and a smell of disinfectant. He put his hand out to see what it would touch and felt pain all over him like something that had been crouching there in the silence waiting for him to stir. He put his hand down. He turned his head. A thin rod lay luminescing in the blackness. He listened but there was no sound. Every breath he took was like a razor. After a while he put his hand out and touched the cold block wall.
Hola, he said. His voice was weak and reedy, his face stiff and twisted. He tried again. Hola. There was someone there. He could feel them.
Qui'en est'a? he said, but no one spoke back.
There was someone there and they had been there. There was no one there. There was someone there and they had been there and they had not left but there was no one there.
He looked at the floating rod of light. It was light from under a door. He listened. He held his breath and listened because the room was small it seemed to be small and if the room was small he could hear them breathing in the dark if they were breathing but he heard nothing. He half wondered if he were not dead and in his despair he felt well up in him a surge of sorrow like a child beginning to cry but it brought with it such pain that he stopped it cold and began at once his new life and the living of it breath to breath.
He knew he was going to get up and try the door and he took a long time getting ready. First he moved onto his stomach. He pushed himself over all at once to get it done with and he was just amazed at the pain. He lay breathing. He reached down to put his hand on the floor. It swung in empty space. He eased his leg over the edge and pushed himself up and his foot touched the floor and he lay resting on his elbows.
When he reached the door it was locked. He stood, the floor cool under his feet. He was trussed in some sort of wrapping and he'd begun to bleed again. He could feel it. He stood resting with his face against the cool of the metal door. He felt the bandage on his face against the door and he touched it and he was thirsty out of all reason and he rested for a long time before starting back across the floor.
When the door did open it was to blinding light and there stood in it no ministress in white but a demandadero in stained and wrinkled khakis bearing a metal messtray with a double spoonful of pozole spilled over it and a glass of orange soda-water. He was not much older than John Grady and he backed into the room with the tray and turned, his eyes looking everywhere but at the bed. Other than a steel bucket in the floor there was nothing in the room but the bed and nowhere to put the tray but on it.
He approached and stood. He looked at once uncomfortable and menacing. He gestured with the tray. John Grady eased himself onto his side and pushed himself up. Sweat stood on his forehead. He was wearing some sort of rough cotton gown and he'd bled through it and the blood had dried.
Dame el refresco, he said. Nada m'as.
The demandadero handed him the glass of orangewater and he took it and sat holding it. He looked at the little stone block room. Overhead was a single lightbulb in a wire cage.
La luz, por favor, he said.
The demandadero nodded and went to the door and turned and pulled it shut after him. A click of the latch in the darkness. Then the light came on.
He listened to the steps down the corridor. Then the silence. He raised the glass and slowly drank the soda. It was tepid, only faintly effervescent, delicious.
He lay there three days. He slept and woke and slept again. Someone turned off the light and he woke in the dark. He called out but no one answered. He thought of his father in Goshee. He knew that terrible things had been done to him there and he had always believed that he did not want to know about it but he did want to know. He lay in the dark thinking of all the things he did not know about his father and he realized that the father he knew was all the father he would ever know. He would not think about Alejandra because he didnt know what was coming or how bad it would be and he thought she was something he'd better save. So he thought about horses and they were always the right thing to think about. Later someone turned the light back on again and it did not go off again after that. He slept and when he woke he'd dreamt of the dead standing about in their bones and the dark sockets of their eyes that were indeed without speculation bottomed in the void wherein lay a terrible intelligence common to all but of which none would speak. When he woke he knew that men had died in that room.
When the door opened next it was to admit a man in a blue suit carrying a leather bag. The man smiled at him and asked after his health.
Mejor que nunca, he said.
The man smiled again. He set the bag on the bed and opened it and took out a pair of surgical scissors and pushed the bag to the foot of the bed and pulled back the bloodstained sheet.
Qui'en 'es usted? said John Grady.
The man looked surprised. I am the doctor, he said.
The scissors had a spade end that was cold against his skin and the doctor slid them under the bloodstained gauze cummerbund and began to cut it away. He pulled the dressing from under him and they looked down at the stitches.
Bien, bien, said the doctor. He pushed at the sutures with two fingers. Bueno, he said.
He cleaned the sutured wounds with an antiseptic and taped gauze pads over them and helped him to sit up. He took a large roll of gauze out of the bag and reached around John Grady's waist and began to wrap it.
Put you hands on my shoulders, he said.
Put you hands on my shoulders. It is all right.
He put his hands on the doctor's shoulders and the doctor wrapped the dressing. Bueno, he said. Bueno.
He rose and closed the bag and stood looking down at his patient.
I will send for you soap and towels, he said. So you can wash yourself.
You are a fasthealer.
A fasthealer. He nodded and smiled and turned and went out. John Grady didnt hear him latch the door but there was no place to go anyway.
His next visitor was a man he'd never seen before. He wore a uniform that looked to be military. He did not introduce himself. The guard who brought him shut the door and stood outside it. The man stood at his bed and took off his hat as though in deference to some wounded hero. Then he took a comb from the breastpocket of his tunic and passed it once along each side of his oiled head and put the hat back on again.
How soon you can walk around, he said.
Where do you want me to walk to?
To vour house.
I can walk right now.
The man pursed his lips, studying him.
Show me you walk.
He pushed back the sheets and rolled onto his side and stepped down to the floor. He walked up and back. His feet left cold wet tracks on the polished stones that sucked up and vanished like the tale of the world itself. The sweat stood quivering on his forehead.
You are fortunate boys, he said.
I dont feel so fortunate.
Fortunate boys, he said again, and nodded and left.
He slept and woke. He knew night from day only by the meals. He ate little. Finally they brought him half a roast chicken with rice and two halves of a tinned pear and this he ate slowly, savoring each bite and proposing and rejecting various scenarios that might have occurred in the outer world or be occurring. Or were yet to come. He still thought that he might be taken out into the campo and shot.
He practiced walking up and down. He polished the underside of the messtray with the sleeve of his shift and standing in the center of the room under the lightbulb he studied the face that peered dimly out of the warped steel like some maimed and raging djinn enconjured there. He peeled away the bandage from his face and inspected the stitches there and felt them with his fingers.
When next he woke the demandadero had opened the door and stood with a pile of clothes and with his boots. He let them fall in the floor. Sus prendas, he said, and shut the door.
He stripped out of the shift and washed himself with soap and rag and dried himself with the towel and dressed and pulled on the boots. Someone had washed the blood out of the boots and they were still wet and he tried to take them off again but he could not and he lay on the bunk in his clothes and boots waiting for God knew what.
Two guards came. They stood at the open door and waited for him. He got up and walked out.
They went down a corridor and across a small patio and entered another part of the building. They walked down another corridor and the guards tapped at a door and then opened it and one of them motioned for him to enter.
At a desk sat the commandante who'd been to his cell to see if he could walk.
You be seated, said the commandante.
The commandante opened his desk drawer and took out an envelope and handed it across the desk.
This is you, he said.
John Grady took the envelope.
Where's Rawlins? he said.
D'onde est'a mi compadre.
He wait outside.
Where are we going?
You going away. You going away to you house.
You going now. I dont want to see you no more.
The commandante waved his hand. John Grady put one hand on the back of the chair and rose and turned and walked out the door and he and the guards went down the hallway and out through the office to the sallygate where Rawlins stood waiting in a costume much like his own. Five minutes later they were standing in the street outside the tall ironshod wooden doors of the portal.
There was a bus standing in the street and they climbed laboriously aboard. Women in the seats with their empty hampers and baskets spoke to them softly as they made their way down the aisle.
I thought you'd died, said Rawlins.
I thought you had.
I'll tell you. Let's just sit here. Let's not talk. Let's just sit here real quiet.
Are you all right?
Yeah. I'm all right.
Rawlins turned and looked out the window. All was gray and still. A few drops of rain had begun to fall in the street. They dropped on the roof of the bus solitary as a bell. Down the street he could see the arched buttresses of the cathedral dome and the minaret of the belltower beyond.
All my life I had the feelin that trouble was close at hand. Not that I was about to get into it. Just that it was always there.
Let's just sit here real quiet, said John Grady.
They sat watching the rain in the street. The women sat quietly. Outside it was darkening and there was no sun nor any paler place to the sky where sun might be. Two more women climbed aboard and took their seats and then the driver swung up and closed the door and looked to the rear in the mirror and put the bus in gear and they pulled away. Some of the women wiped at the glass with their hands and peered back at the prison standing in the gray rain of Mexico. So like some site of siege in an older time, in an older country, where the enemies were all from without.
It was only a few blocks to the centro and when they eased themselves down from the bus the gaslamps were already on in the plaza. They crossed slowly to the portales on the north side of the square and stood looking out at the rain. Four men in maroon band uniforms stood along the wall with their instruments. John Grady looked at Rawlins. Rawlins looked lost standing there hatless and afoot in his shrunken clothes.
Let's get somethin to eat.
We dont have no money.
I got money.
Where'd you get any money at? Rawlins said.
I got a whole envelope full.
They walked into a cafe and sat in a booth. A waiter came over and put menus in front of them and went away. Rawlins looked out the window.
Get a steak, said John Grady.
We'll eat and get a hotel room and get cleaned up and get some sleep.
He ordered steaks and fried potatoes and coffee for both of them and the waiter nodded and took the menus. John Grady rose and made his way slowly to the counter and bought two packs of cigarettes and a penny box of matches each. People at their tables watched him cross the room.
Rawlins lit a cigarette and looked at him.
Why aint we dead? he said.
She paid us out.
The aunt. Yes.
I dont know.
Is that where you got the money?
It's got to do with the girl, dont it?
I expect it does.
Rawlins smoked. He looked out the window. Outside it was already dark. The streets were wet from the rain and the lights from the cafe and from the lamps in the plaza lay bleeding in the black pools of water.
There aint no other explanation, is there?
Rawlins nodded. I could of run off from where they had me. It was just a hospital ward.
Why didnt you?
I dont know. You think I was dumb not to of?
I dont know. Yeah. Maybe.
What would you of done?
I wouldnt of left you.
Yeah. I know you wouldnt.
That dont mean it aint dumb.
Rawlins almost smiled. Then he looked away.
The waiter brought the coffee.
There was another old boy in there, said Rawlins. All cut up. Probably wasnt a bad boy. Set out on Saturday night with a few dollars in his pocket. Pesos. Goddamned pathetic.
What happened to him?
He died. When they carried him out of there I thought how peculiar it would of seemed to him if he could of seen it. It did to me and it wasnt even me. Dying aint in people's plans, is it?
He nodded. They put Mexican blood in me, he said.
He looked up. John Grady was lighting a cigarette. He shook out the match and put it in the ashtray and looked at Rawlins.
So what does that mean? said Rawlins.
Mean about what?
Well does it mean I'm part Mexican?
John Grady drew on the cigarette and leaned back and blew the smoke into the air. Part Mexican? he said.
How much did they put?
They said it was over a litre.
How much over a litre?
I dont know.
Well a litre would make you almost a halfbreed.
Rawlins looked at him. It dont, does it? he said.
No. Hell, it dont mean nothin. Blood's blood. It dont know where it come from.
The waiter brought the steaks. They ate. He watched Rawlins. Rawlins looked up.
What? he said.
You ought to be happier about bein out of that place.
I was thinkin the same thing about you.
Rawlins nodded. Yeah, he said.
What do you want to do?
You're goin back down there, aint you? said Rawlins.
Yeah. I guess I am.
On account of the girl?
What about the horses?
The girl and the horses.
Rawlins nodded. You think she's lookin for you to come back?
I dont know.
I'd say the old lady might be surprised to see you.
No she wont. She's a smart woman.
What about Rocha?
He'll have to do whatever he has to do.
Rawlins crossed his silver in the platter beside the bones and took out his cigarettes.
Dont go down there, he said.
I done made up my mind.
Rawlins lit the cigarette and shook out the match. He looked up.
There's only one kind of deal I can see that she could of made with the old woman.
I know. But she's goin to have to tell me herself.
If she does will you come back?
I'll come back.
I still want the horses.
Rawlins shook his head and looked away.
I aint askin you to go with me, said John Grady.
I know you aint.
You'll be all right.
Yeah. I know.
He tapped the ash from his cigarette and pushed at his eyes with the heel of his hand and looked out the window. Outside it was raining again. There was no traffic in the streets.
Kid over yonder tryin to sell newspapers, he said. Aint a soul in sight and him standin there with his papers up under his shirt just a hollerin.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
Ah shit, he said.
Nothin. Just shit.
What is it?
I keep thinkin about old Blevins.
John Grady didnt answer. Rawlins turned and looked at him. His eyes were wet and he looked old and sad.
I caint believe they just walked him out there and done him that way.
I keep thinkin about how scared he was.
You'll feel better when you get home.
Rawlins shook his head and looked out the window again. I dont think so, he said.
John Grady smoked. He watched him. After a while he said: I aint Blevins.
Yeah, said Rawlins. I know you aint. But I wonder how much better off you are than him.
John Grady stubbed out his cigarette. Let's go, he said.
They bought toothbrushes and a bar of soap and a safetyrazor at a farmacia and they found a room in a hotel two blocks down Aldama. The key was just a common doorkey tied to a wooden fob with the number of the room burned into the wood with a hot wire. They walked out across the tiled courtyard where the rain was falling lightly and found the room and opened the door and turned on the light. A man sat up in the bed and looked at them. They backed out and turned off the light and shut the door and went back to the desk where the man gave them another key.
The room was bright green and there was a shower in one corner with an oilcloth curtain on a ring. John Grady turned on the shower and after a while there was hot water in the pipes. He turned it off again.
Go ahead, he said.
You go ahead.
I got to come out of this tape.
He sat on the bed and peeled away the dressings while Rawlins showered. Rawlins turned off the water and pushed back the curtain and stood drying himself with one of the threadbare towels.
We're a couple of good'ns, aint we? he said.
How you goin to get them stitches out?
I guess I'll have to find a doctor.
It hurts worse takin em out than puttin em in.
Did you know that?
Yeah. I knew that.
Rawlins wrapped the towel around himself and sat on the bed opposite. The envelope with the money was lying on the table.
How much is in there?
John Grady looked up. I dont know, he said. Considerable less than what there was supposed to be, I'll bet. Go ahead and count it.
He took the envelope and counted the bills out on the bed.
Nine hundred and seventy pesos, he said.
John Grady nodded.
How much is that?
About a hundred and twenty dollars.
Rawlins tapped the sheaf of bills together on the glass of the tabletop and put them back in the envelope.
Split it in two piles, said John Grady.
I dont need no money.
Yes you do.
I'm goin home.
Dont make no difference. Half of it's yours.
Rawlins stood and hung the towel over the iron bedstead and pulled back the covers. I think you're goin to need ever dime of it, he said.
When he came out of the shower he thought Rawlins was asleep but he wasnt. He crossed the room and turned off the light and came back and eased himself into the bed. He lay in the dark listening to the sounds in the street, the dripping of rain in the courtyard.
You ever pray? said Rawlins.
Yeah. Sometimes. I guess I got kindly out of the habit.
Rawlins was quiet for a long time. Then he said: What's the worst thing you ever done?
I dont know. I guess if I done anything real bad I'd rather not tell it. Why?
I dont know. I was in the hospital cut I got to thinkin: I wouldnt be here if I wasnt supposed to be here. You ever think like that?
They lay in the dark listening. Someone crossed the patio. A door opened and closed again.
You aint never done nothin bad, said John Grady.
Me and Lamont one time drove a pickup truckload of feed to Sterling City and sold it to some Mexicans and kept the money.
That aint the worst thing I ever heard of.
I done some other stuff too.
If you're goin to talk I'm goin to smoke a cigarette.
I'll shut up.
They lay quietly in the dark.
You know about what happened, dont you? said John Grady. You mean in the messhall?
John Grady reached and got his cigarettes off the table and lit one and blew out the match.
I never thought I'd do that.
You didnt have no choice.
I still never thought it.
He'd of done it to you.
He drew on the cigarette and blew the smoke unseen into the darkness. You dont need to try and make it right. It is what it is.
Rawlins didnt answer. After a while he said: Where'd you get the knife?
Off the Bautistas. I bought it with the last forty-five pesos we had.
Yeah. Blevins' money.
Rawlins was lying on his side in the springshot iron bedstead watching him in the dark. The cigarette glowed a deep red where John Grady drew on it and his face with the sutures in his cheek emerged from the darkness like some dull red theatric mask indifferently repaired and faded back again.
I knew when I bought the knife what I'd bought it for.
I dont see where you were wrong.
The cigarette glowed, it faded. I know, he said. But you didnt do it.
In the morning it was raining again and they stood outside the same cafe with toothpicks in their teeth and looked at the rain in the plaza. Rawlins studied his nose in the glass.
You know what I hate?
Showin up at the house lookin like this.
John Grady looked at him and looked away. I dont blame you, he said.
You dont look so hot yourself.
John Grady grinned. Come on, he said.
They bought new clothes and hats in a Victoria Street haberdashery and wore them out into the street and in the slow falling rain walked down to the bus station and bought Rawlins a ticket for Nuevo Laredo. They sat in the bus station cafe in the stiff new clothes with the new hats turned upside down on the chairs at either side and they drank coffee until the bus was announced over the speaker.
That's you, said John Grady.
They rose and put on their hats and walked out to the gates.
Well, said Rawlins. I reckon I'll see you one of these days.
You take care.
Yeah. You take care.
He turned and handed his ticket to the driver and the driver punched it and handed it back and he climbed stiffly aboard. John Grady stood watching while he passed along the aisle. He thought he'd take a seat at the window but he didnt. He sat on the other side of the bus and John Grady stood for a while and then turned and walked back out through the station to the street and walked slowly back through the rain to the hotel.
He exhausted in the days following the roster of surgeons in that small upland desert metropolis without finding one to do what he asked. He spent his days walking up and down in the narrow streets until he knew every corner and callej'on. At the end of a week he had the stitches removed from his face, sitting in a common metal chair, the surgeon humming to himself as he snipped with his scissors and pulled with his clamp. The surgeon said that the scar would improve in its appearance. He said for him not to look at it because it would get better with time. Then he put a bandage over it and charged him fifty pesos and told him to come back in five days and he would remove the stitches from his belly.
A week later he left Saltillo on the back of a flatbed truck heading north. The day was cool and overcast. There was a large diesel engine chained to the bed of the truck. He sat in the truckbed as they jostled out through the streets, trying to brace himself, his hands at either side on the rough boards. After a while he pulled his hat down hard over his eyes and stood and placed his hands outstretched on the roof of the cab and rode in that manner. As if he were some personage bearing news for the countryside. As if he were some newfound evangelical being conveyed down out of the mountains and north across the flat bleak landscape toward Monclova.