Taxi & Bun and the Feast of Cortes

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Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Negrito leaning forward, dangerously close to the edge of the bluff, trying to earn his attention. See in that creek bed? Those are cougar tracks.

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The cougar has to kill fifty fawns to feed just one kitten. You say the word, jefe. He rocked on his heels, the points of his cowboy boots inches from the edge of the bluff.

We all need a woman. Maybe we ought to go back to Durango for a while.

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Krill stood up and looked at the other men, all of whom were cooking pieces of jackrabbits they had killed and dressed and speared on sticks above a fire they had built inside a circle of stones. He picked up his rifle and put it across his shoulders and draped his arms over either end of it, creating a silhouette like that of a crucified man. You hear more than one shot, that means I found some real pissed-off gringos out there.

He stared emptily at the desert, his eyelids fluttering when a cloud of bats lifted from a cave opening down below. Then he looked into the darkness, perhaps considering options, entertaining thoughts he hid by rubbing his forehead, shielding his eyes. Negrito stood up and took off his hat. He wobbled slightly, his arms straight out for balance, rocks spilling from under his boots over the edge of the bluff.

I love you, hermano. Hackberry Holland had come to believe that age was a separate country you did not try to explain to younger people, primarily because they had already made up their minds about it and any lessons you had learned from your life were not the kind many people were interested in hearing about.

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It had brought him neither wisdom nor peace of mind. His level of desire was the same, the lust of his youth glowing hot among the ashes each morning he woke. If age had marked a change in him, it lay in his acceptance that loneliness and an abiding sense of loss were the only companions some people would ever have.

Then bit by bit the horse farm he bought became a hologram, a place that fused past and present and re-created his childhood and adolescence and his life with Rie and their twin sons in one shimmering, timeless vision. It was a place where a man could see his beginning and his end, an island that was governed by reason and stewardship and the natural ebb and flow of the seasons, a place where a man no longer had to fear death. He had two good wells on his land, and a four-stall barn and two railed pastures where he grazed his quarter horses and registered Missouri foxtrotters.

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He was also the unofficial owner of three dogs, a one-eyed cat, and two raccoons, none of whom had names but whom he fed outside the barn every morning and night. His house was painted battleship gray and had a wide gallery and a breezy screened porch in back and a rock garden and a deep-green lawn he watered with soak hoses and flower beds planted with roses he entered each summer in the competition at the county fair. A china-berry tree grew in his backyard, and a slender palm tree grew at the base of the hill behind the house. He built a brooder house on the side of the barn, and his chickens laid eggs all over the property, under his tractor and in his tack room.

On each of his horse tanks he had constructed small ladders out of chicken wire that he wrapped over the lip of the tank, so small creatures that fell into the water could find their way out again. In one way or another, every day that he spent on his ranch became part of an ongoing benediction. The two gun cases in his office held a Henry repeater, an Winchester, a. He loved the smell of his roses inside the coolness of the dawn and the smell of well water bursting into the horse tank when he released the chain on the windmill. He loved the warm odor of grass on the breath of his horses and the vinegary smell of their coats, and the powdery green cloud of hay particles that rose around him when he pulled a bale apart and scattered it on the concrete pad in the barn.

All of these things were part of the Texas in which he had grown up, and they were unsoiled by political charlatans and avaricious corporations and neocolonial wars being waged under the banner of God. He did not tell others about the bugles blowing in the hills, less out of fear that they would suspect him of experiencing auditory delusions than out of his own conviction that the bugles were real and that from the time of Cortes to the present, a martial and savage spirit had ruled these hills and it was no coincidence that a sunset in this fine place looked like the electrified blood of Christ.


Early on the morning after he and Pam Tibbs had interviewed the Asian woman known by the Mexicans as La Magdalena, Hackberry looked out his bathroom window and saw Ethan Riser park his government motor-pool car by the front gate and walk up the flagstones to the front entrance, holding two Styrofoam containers on top of each other, pausing briefly to admire the flowers in the bed.

Hackberry rinsed the shaving cream off his face and stepped out on the veranda. His nose and cheeks were threaded with tiny blue and red capillaries, and his stomach and hips protruded over the narrow hand-tooled western belt he wore with a conventional business suit and tie. He had been with the FBI almost forty years. Twenty minutes later, he returned to the house through the back door and washed his hands in the kitchen sink.

I always had the feeling I was a hangnail. He was a dirty cop from Mexico City who worked both sides of the fence. Lopez and a physician once tortured a DEA agent to death. The microwave made a dinging sound. Ethan Riser took out the two Styrofoam containers and opened them on the breakfast table. They contained scrambled eggs and hash browns and sausage patties smothered with milk gravy. He took the coffeepot off the stove and set cups and silverware on the table. Hackberry watched him. My house tidy enough, that sort of thing? Have any idea who he is? Hackberry hung his hat on the back of his chair and sat down to eat.

Riser went silent. Hackberry put down his fork and knife. People can be rude whenever and wherever they want. But not in my kitchen and not at my table. Hackberry got up from the table and poured his breakfast into the trash can and wiped his hands on a piece of paper towel. Can you let yourself out? Through her windshield Pam Tibbs saw the oversize pickup on a winding stretch of isolated two-lane road that was spiderwebbed with heat cracks and broken so badly in places that it was hardly passable.

The road went nowhere and had little utilitarian value. The sedimentary formations protruding in layers from the hillsides had been spray-painted by high school kids, and the areas under the mesas where the kids parked their cars at night were often littered with beer cans and used condoms. The road dipped over a rise and ended at the entrance to a cattle ranch that had gone out of business with the importation of Argentine beef in the s.

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Then the driver overcorrected and continued haphazardly down the centerline, ignoring the possibility of another vehicle coming around a bend, as though he were studying a map or texting on a cell phone or steering with his knees. Pam switched on her light bar and closed the distance between her cruiser and the truck. When the driver pulled to the shoulder, Pam parked behind him and got out on the asphalt, slipping her baton into the ring on her belt. The truck was brand-new, its hand-buffed waxed yellow finish as smooth and glowing as warm butter, a single star-spangled patriotic sticker glued on the bumper.

The driver opened his door and started to get out.

The driver drew his leg back inside the truck and closed the door, snugging it tight. Pam could see his face in the outside mirror, his eyes studying her. She heard his glove compartment drop open. Pam unsnapped the strap on her. Do not touch anything in your glove box. You put your hands where I can see them. His hair was gold and cut short, his sideburns long, his eyes a liquid green.

She moved closer to the cab. She pulled her revolver from its holster and aimed it with both hands at his face. My name is Reverend Cody Daniels. Ask anybody.