From "TO THE LAST DROP"
The new press secretary, Ralph Muñosco, knocked once on the Governor’s door and opened it. Mr. White, Mr. Garvin and the Governor all stiffened abruptly. New Mexico Welcome tote bags were piled on the Governor’s desk, their contents (pistachios, chile pepper pens, dirt from Chimayo) strewn about the floor.
“Yes?” barked the Governor.
“Uh, Mr. Governor sir, the press is getting really rowdy downstairs. There’s some from Rebel Yell TV, which took over Channel 9 in Albuquerque, and they are saying that Santa Fe is surrounded, all the highways blocked off. What do I tell them? I’ve been stalling them for an hour. I don’t know what to say to them.”
The Governor said testily, “It’s way too early in the day for all of this madness. Ok, listen Puñusco – ”
“Sorry. Here’s a statement for them. You take it down and read it to them.” The Governor took a piece of paper from under a tote bag and folded it neatly into quarters. He opened Muñusco’s suit jacket and slid the paper into the chest pocket. Then he left, closing the door behind him
“Jesus,” exhaled Mr. Garvin.
“Hurry up, hurry up. Forget the fax machine,” puffed Armeño. “Mr. White, you get the rack of paintings. We’ll get all this and meet you down at the car. Hurry up, and be careful, some of this stuff is old and fragile.”
They made no effort to be quiet in the abandoned Capitol. Their footsteps echoed heavy, laden. Down hidden stairs, into the underground parking garage. A dark green SUV was waiting for them.
Mr. White arrived, pushing a wheeled rack of stacked paintings shrouded by a Navajo blanket. He opened the back doors and lugged the paintings onto the leather.
“Mr. White, you drive,” ordered Armeño. “Where’s the police escort?”
“He’s there,” said Mr. Garvin, pointing to a State Police officer walking his motorcycle around a concrete support.
“That’s it? One motorcycle?” Armeño climbed into the passenger seat, dragging heavy tote bags. Mr. Garvin got in the rear seat, pulling tote bags in after him.
The doors slammed shut. Mr. White turned on the ignition. The motorcycle started up the exit ramp and the SUV followed. The gate rose for them: they saw the blue morning sky of freedom. They crept out of the garage and up the steep ramp, ready to leap out onto Paseo de Peralta.
A crowd of people and television cameras blocked the ramp.
“Shit! Go, go!” cried Governor Armeño.
The motorcycle crept forward slowly. The crowd parted for the motorcycle, then closed around the SUV, banging their microphones against the tinted glass.
“Just go, just drive,” pleaded Armeño.
“I can’t,” said Mr. White, panic edging his voice.
Mr. Garvin was murmuring, barely audible, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god...”
“Get me out of here!” screamed Armeño. The motorcycle cop was barely able to keep his balance on the ramp, jostled by reporters crushing in to bang on the Governor’s window, the chaos of their voices.
“The tote bags,” said Armeño. “The tote bags! Roll down the windows and start tossing out the bags.”
“But that’s all we’ve got,” wailed Mr. Garvin.
“Do it, do it now,” ordered Armeño. He lowered his window. Hands, microphones, questions flooded in. Armeño shoved a tote bag containing two cell phones, a digital scanner and an antique silver samovar out the window. The bag fell clatteringly, spilling its contents. The crowd was baffled into silence.
“What’s that?” someone shouted as Armeño shoved another tote bag (a laptop and a kachina doll) out his window. Mr. Garvin got his window down and tipped a tote bag through. Its contents (a Santo Domingo glazed bowl, a PDA and a scorpion paperweight) smashed on the concrete.
People shouted, “Look!” and began fighting for the bags.
“Quick, the rest, and the paintings too!” shouted Armeño. They tossed out their ballast and the crowd fell to scramble over framed paintings and DVD players.
“Now go!” screamed Armeño.
Mr. White gunned the engine, bumping the motorcycle cop who dropped into gear and slipped between the stragglers. The press jumped back from the SUVs tires, clutching brand new digital projectors and sixteenth-century woven baskets. They could only watch the Governor’s truck jump the curb and drive away.
Mr. White followed the motorcycle, sirens blazing, blasting through red lights, sprinting for the tiny Santa Fe airport. Once there, they boarded a turboprop on temporary loan from one of Governor Armeño’s business associates – except for Mr. White, who was informed that it was necessary for him to remain in Santa Fe. The plane took off immediately on its nonstop flight to Mexico City.
In the press room, Ralph Muñsco blinked up into the television lights and flashbulbs. The press room was so crowded that reporters spilled out into the hall. Ralph tried to clear his throat but it was like rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. Though he was wearing contacts, he tried to adjust his glasses.
“I will now read a statement from Governor Armeño, in response to the demands of surrender from the Texas State Guard. Mm-kmm,” he tried again. Ralph reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the statement. He unfolded it once, twice. He looked up, weaving in the headache blare of lights. The paper was entirely blank.
The wind was up, blowing the first fallen leaves around Santa Fe’s plaza. So much the better – it gave a dramatic effect. General U.S. Armstrong, eleven feet tall in his formal State Guard dress topped with his broad white hat, standing on the plaza grandstand.
They were waiting for the ancient PA system to start working. A better backdrop would have been the Saint Francis Cathedral – better than the tourist flytraps and t-shirt stores lining the Plaza – but here they could accommodate the crowd. And the cameras.
The crowd – mostly press, some locals, a few confused and wayward tourists ushered in by State Guardsmen – was also waiting. Something of historical importance was in the air. The tall General, eyes hidden by his enormous white hat, was about to remake the world. A squealing assault of feedback brutalized the crowd.
“Sorry,” said the peon working on the PA. “I got it now I think. Try.”
U.S. tapped the microphone and heard the sound echo back to him. He nodded, and had the world’s attention. He straightened himself even taller, his hat nearly touching the roof of the grandstand.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.” His drawl was patient and deep, all-penetrating. “As Commanding General of the Texas State Guard and authorized representative of Governor Burton of Texas, I am pleased to announce the end of hostilities. I hereby proclaim that being in possession of the capital, Santa Fe, I am therefore in possession of the entire territory of New Texas. We came as friends, to better your condition through development and progress, and make you part of the great Republic of the State of Texas. And believe you me, we’re gonna Get’r Right.”
He paused for light applause from his staff and soldiers. General Armstrong continued, “All city, county and state police are hereby restored to duty, under the flag of Texas, and they shall all be the beneficiaries of a 50% increase in salary, right across the board. All civil authorities are ordered to return to work, to help the advisors from Texas take over day-to-day administration of New Texas. Schools are ordered to re-open, and truancy will not be tolerated. You are asked to return to the regular course of your lives. Local election proceedings will begin as soon as the territory is able to handle the responsibility. We have claimed New Texas to ameliorate the suffering of its people, and restore order to a failed territory. One more thing. All those who take arms, or encourage resistance to the government of New Texas through word or deed will be looked upon as a terrorist and treated accordingly. For the sake of humanity, I urge you all to submit to this improvement in your station. The blood that may be shed, and the sufferings and miseries that may ensue, will be on your hands. Got that? To the Government of the United States of America, to whom we all remain loyal and patriotic subjects, I assure you that the devices currently protected by the Texas State Guard, and the research facilities and bases which support them, will be restored to the control of the Federal Government as soon as the new borders of Texas, now including the territory of New Texas, are fully recognized and ratified. And when one star is officially removed from the flag of the United States. Thank you all. God bless New Texas.”
Shit, bro. What time is it? It’s bright outside the curtains. Air inside the trailer’s getting real warm. Must be nine or ten. Stretch good.
I could fall back asleep. Nothing to do today, besides wrench on the el Camino maybe. I’m thirsty, hungover just a bit. What woke me up? Normally after a horseshoe tournament, I sleep past noon ...
I hear something. Something’s outside.
I throw off the sheet and get out of bed. My knee hurts, stiff. There, just below my window, is a white Ford Explorer parked behind my ’82. It’s got lights mounted on the roof and a sticker with a red T on a white star on a blue shield, underneath it says Texas State Guard. Holy shit, yesterday, all that shit happened?
Quiet on bare feet, I grab the shotgun from the corner. Doors slam, boots on gravel. I can hear them coming up the front steps.
I leave the bedroom and go down the hall to Daniel’s room. The unused door’s there, got no steps down. I kick a path through Daniel’s toys to the door. I had it locked up good so he wouldn’t fall out, and now I can’t get it open. Crash of the front door kicked open.
Get the door open. Four foot drop onto gravel, my bare feet. I hear them coming.
Ow fuck! Jesus Christ bro, that hurts. Did they hear me? I shut the door above me as quietly as I can. Slide between the cinder blocks to crawl under the trailer, dragging the shotgun. Spider webs down here, which means spiders. And maybe scorpions bro, or snakes even.
Dark and cool and tight: only a couple feet between the bottom of the trailer and the dirt. There’s a bunch of junk I stored under here, washing machine timers and motorcycle coils and salvage lumber. I can hear their footsteps above me. Almost exactly right above me. I could roll on my back, shoot up through the trailer’s floor.
But the barrel of the shotgun is too long. They’re walking around up there, and it drops little clumps of dirt onto my face. After I roll back over on my stomach, I can almost hear what they’re saying.
“Mumble fucker ain’t hare. Mumble mumble dang mumble.” That twang – they’re Texas all right. This shit is really happening.
“His truck’s parked mumble. Mahht be mumble, or mumble. Gots orders to mumble, so mumble ain’t mumble.
Ow! What the fuck? Did I roll over onto a cholla? Ow, another! What the fuck?
It’s ants! There’s ants down here and they’re biting me. Slap em dead, shit they are everywhere. Fuck bro, there’s millions of them. Biting my hands, my arms, they’re on my neck going down the back of my shirt, they’re on my legs and crawling up my stomach, biting me, it hurts! Fuck, I got to get out of here, I got to get out of here.
There’s a sound, the sound of boots coming down the front steps. My entire body is burning, fuck this is fucking hell! Ants on my face, ants crawling down between my ass cheeks, I squeeze to crush them they bite inside my ass, and there’s two pairs of brown leather cowboy boots with desert camo pants tucked into them just a few feet away in the sunlight.
I’m in the dark, covered with killer ants. They bite my hands when I find the shotgun, they’re in my ears, crawling through my beating eyelashes. They’re biting my balls, Fuck! And crawling down my pee hole!
One of them shouts “Did you hear that?” and I bring the shotgun up to my shoulder. Two pairs of boots in the bright sunlight, ants crawl up my nose into the back of my throat and I pull the trigger.
There’s an explosion of blood and smoke and screaming and myy shoulder howls in pain. Pump the shotgun, my shoulder doesn’t want it but I pull the trigger again. There’s more screaming. I think I broke my arm.
The two men are screaming and I pump the shotgun, fire at their fallen bodies, pump and fire until I’m out of shells. Deaf silence, I can only hear my heartbeat in my ears. All of a sudden every single ant bites me, all at once.
I crawl out from underneath the trailer, skinning the small of my back, past the two bodies – I hope they’re dead – running for the rain barrel, I am on fire. I get to the big plastic rain barrel, half-empty, filth on top. I throw my leg up into it, pulling myself up to get in when the whole thing comes down on top of me.
I’m drenched, cut my leg, muddy and still burning, all that water wasted – I need water, I’m burning, run for the cistern. Grab its short hose, turn the valve and squat down. Fucking cold water but I’m burning, burning.
I stick the hose down my pants, in my ears, I suck from it to drown the ants inside me. I’m freezing cold but my skin is burning, like meat cooking. I’m tight, shivering. Shaking, shivering. I walk carefully back, my bare feet feel like they’re bleeding. I can’t get the air into my lungs and my hands are shaking. Don’t panic. Don’t panic, Billy.
The two bodies are there, pretty smashed up. One of the guy’s boots is sitting upright on its own, with the body a couple feet away.
Oh. I see now. His foot is still inside the boot. Keeping it standing.
Up the steps into the trailer, bathroom, medicine cabinet. Melody has to have something in here. Rooting through the tubes and bottles, I notice my hands: swollen red bumps everywhere, a little dot in each one. Every single bump is a burning needle, and they are everywhere stuck in me.
Here, witch hazel, Melody uses that on Daniel’s mosquito bites. I swab a soaked wad of toilet paper up my arm. Need more, more. The wad is already ruined from the dirt on my arms. Need more. I swab myself with it until the bottle’s empty. Toilet paper everywhere. I’m naked, I feel the tattoo all over me.
Ok. It hurts but I can handle it, I just need to catch my breath now. Jesus Christ, bro. That ain’t no way to wake up. What the fuck am I gonna do?
First things first, Billy, first things first.
I go into the bedroom, pull on a pair of jeans, a shirt, boots. I look outside the window to make sure they’re still dead. Was that one on his back before?
Run outside, my bootlaces whipping around. No, they’re definitely dead. I get the wallet out of one of them’s pants. Doesn’t look like the ID picture no more. There’s some cash and some other stuff, cards and stuff. I put the wallet in my front pocket. Their pistols are both still holstered. Pop the release ... that’s a nice gun, Colt automatic, looks brand new. I stuff it in my jeans, check the rest of the gun belt. Cartridges, some plastic twist-tie handcuffs, a can of pepper spray ...
Billy just take the whole belt, and hurry up!
I unbuckle the belt, slide it off him. Take the other guy’s too. How am I getting out of here? Their Explorer is blocking me in. I’ll have to move their truck and hide it. Time, too much time. There might be more trucks coming any minute.
Or I could just take theirs. It’s new, or not new but new enough. I have to go back to the bodies and search for the keys but fuck it bro, I’m taking it. It’s mine.
Find the keys, but the bodies ... I can’t leave them here. I have to take them and get rid of them somewhere. I grab the tarp off the woodpile and put it in the back of the Explorer. The ants have found the bodies. I grab a sleeve and drag the body to the truck, grab it by the pants to get it up onto the blue tarp. The ants are on me again but I got no time, I brush them off and drag the other body out of the blood mud. I get it on top of the other one. Go back and toss the one boot in. Wrap the tarp around the mess.
Fuck, I look like I been shot. Blood all over me. I pull off my shirt and tuck it into the tarp. I gotta take off my boots for my jeans, fuck, time time time!
I go back into the trailer and towel off some of the gore. It’s bad, all under my fingernails and shit. I pull on jeans, my last t-shirt. Grab my backpack out of the closet. Ok. Now what? Socks and shells and the emergency baggie and my knife.
Into the kitchen, the cookie jar on the refrigerator. Open it, find ... five dollars? What happened to our emergency money? Did Melody ... no time, no time. I go around the kitchen throwing things in my backpack: flashlight, batteries, bag of potato chips, the fridge photo of me and Daniel and Melody at the zoo in Burque.
Hall closet: Sleeping bag, coat, baseball bat. What now?
The necklace! Jesus bro, I almost forgot the necklace. Hanging from a nail in my bedroom; I put the silver chain over my head and tuck the nugget of turquoise in my shirt.
The weed! I’m running now, down the steps, past the blood bog, past the mud bog at the cistern. The old dog house: pull out the garbage bag – it’s dry and trimmed at least, but not manicured yet. It smells strong. Bag’s tearing a little bit. Drag it into the front seat of the truck, drop my backpack on top of it. I hope the smell covers up the smell of ... like that chicken blood summer smell but heavier, sweeter. Dust is sticking to my blood-soaked bootlaces.
Is that everything? I can’t think of what else. I think that’s everything.
No – water. I need water. Back into the kitchen: half-empty gallon on the counter. I grab it, get in the truck.
The Explorer starts right up. On the way out there’s a mound of fur in the driveway and I know it’s Pico. Good old Pico, he was trying to stop them and they drove right over him on purpose, left him there. Motherfuckers. But now they’re dead.
I accelerate, bouncing over the ruts. My skin is tight and it hurts, itching again, I itch all over. The skin on my face feels tight.
I get on the highway for a couple miles, then turn up Milagrito Way. Dirt roads will take me north and west and away from the Texans. Just get me away. My skin is like tight plastic.
Then a voice crackles on the CB: “Patrol 6-2, Patrol 6-2. Do you copy, over?”
I keep driving, looking out for other trucks, helicopters, anything. But ain’t never nothing on this road, just dry hills with juniper and that pimple of mountains in the distance. That’s where I’m headed, I’ll go to the rez, I’ll go see William.
“Patrol 6-2, Patrol 6-2. Do you copy, over?”
Is that me? This truck? What the fuck should I do?
“Patrol 6-2, Patrol 6-2. Come in, over.”
I pick up the handset, squeeze the trigger and try to sound Texan, steering around ruts with one hand. “Patrol 6-2 here.”
“Patrol 6-2, what is your status?”
“I’m still there.” Got to slow down for this big ditch.
“Repeat that, Patrol 6-2.”
“I’m still here. Still mopping up.”
“Did you acquire the target?”
Bad rocks on this turn, got to ride up into the juniper. “Uh, yeah bro.”
A pause. Shit.
“Who is this?”
Then a bunch of codes and numbers I don’t understand but it sounds bad, and I hear them describe William Ortiz: “thirty to forty year old male mestizo with long hair, two silver teeth, five eight and 175 pounds, possibly commandeering Patrol 6-2.”
I turn the it off. That was fucking stupid of me, now they know I have the truck. If only I wasn’t itching all over. I claw at my neck and chest, my legs through my jeans. I can’t scratch my feet through my boots and that’s where it’s driving me insane, the sweat is making the bites come alive, like the ants laid eggs in those bites and now they’re hatching in my skin, Fuck!
I stop at a little scenic pullout north of Fort Sumner, past the dam. The Pecos is winding down below, steep banks. I back up until the bumper is touching the guardrail. Get out and open the back. No cars coming? I tug out the tarp, bodies and all, and drag it over the edge. Bodies tumble out and the blue tarp catches a gust and flaps across the canyon. I can’t see if the bodies made it all the way to the river but that’s good enough.
There’s blood all over the back of the truck, brown and sticky. Nothing to do about it but keep driving. I’m gonna need gas soon, definitely. I can go through Santa Rosa, there’s gas there, but what about being seen in this truck?
Shit! I forgot Hank’s rifle. Oh that beautiful Model 70 Classic. Fuck man, I left it in my ’82. I left that beautiful gun behind. I can’t be so stupid or I won’t make it. I’m exhausted, really sleepy, all of a sudden. I’m exhausted and itching all over and so thirsty. I take the water jug and suck it all down, let it run down my chest.
I’m at the outskirts of Santa Rosa. There’s a little Texaco station and I pull up to the tanks. No one’s around. It must be noon by now, and it’s all closed up? I only got ten dollars. Maybe I can use one of their credit cards? There’s a Visa, a supermarket card, and a card that says Texas State Guard Card. It’s got a magnetic strip like the rest.
I open the door slowly. Still ain’t no sign of nobody nowhere. No sound but the ticking of the truck’s fan. A little wind, and it cools me.
The insignia for the State Guard, it’s on the card and the side of the truck, it looks just like the Texaco sign. I pick up the pump and the display says pay inside or swipe card. I try the Guard Card first.
It thinks about it. Now it says pick a grade. So far so good. I push the button for super-premium, what the hell. It says begin fueling. I stick the pump in, pull the trigger and feel the gasoline rumble through the handle.
Free gas. Not bad.
I drive through Santa Rosa and the traffic lights are blinking. No cars driving around. What the fuck is going on? Leaving Santa Rosa behind, I really start speeding. Ain’t stopping for nothing. Is that ants on the rear window? Or blood? Dirt?
I catch sight of my own face in the rearview mirror – holy shit bro, I look bad. There’s welts all over my face, and my eyes are swollen shut. That’s why I feel so tired, my eyes are drooping like wet tortillas. I look really bad.
But it doesn’t matter, I’ll make the rez. William will help me. I’ll make the rez.