Angel of the Winds
by John W. Steele
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
I was somewhere near Sinola, Mexico in a place called El Mezcal, five hundred miles below the Tropic of Cancer. The road had turned from rutted macadam to rutted sand three hundred miles earlier, and I’d been driving due south since sunup. It was late in the afternoon, just after three. The desert down here is a long slow wasteland, dotted with tiny villages and an occasional roadhouse. The mountains on the far horizon seemed to blend with the sky. They were many miles away, and appeared like a mirage.
A thick rust colored plume of dust trailed behind me, and the fine haze that floated in the air had the consistency of talcum powder. The merciless sun beat down on the ragtop of my jeep, and I felt like a ham baking in an oven. It was hot, real hot; fry an egg on a rock hot.
In the distance I saw a yellow sign with black letters. The sign read, Casa del Soñar. Beneath the words were painted a bleeding bull with a sword in its back, and a bottle of Corona.
My mouth was as dry as a sandbox and I figured I’d better stop now. The last inn I saw was fifty miles behind me. The road was getting rougher, and the little settlements further apart. I knew I’d had enough for today and thought I’d book a room for the night in this modest hostel.
As I drove closer to the tavern, I had to stop to allow a goat herder to cross the road. There were at least three dozen of the mangy critters surrounding him. Every once in a while he’d tap one of them with his staff to get him back in line.
While I waited for them to cross the road, I looked out into the open landscape and watched a dust devil twirling out in the desert. It danced like a dervish whirling red sand and tumbleweed around and around through the air. The heat emanated up from the floor of sand in hypnotic waves, and the dust devil put on quite a show, spinning gracefully in the breeze. The damn thing seemed alive, like it was watching me; for a moment it owned me, and I felt captured by its presence.
The old man herding the goats looked like a picture of an Indian I’d seen long ago in an old tintype photograph. His eyes shone like mirrors. The firm, tight skin on his face was almost as red as the desert. His face was as expressionless as a tombstone.
For a moment he looked at me, and through me. I wondered if he knew I was there, or if he knew he was alive. When the last of his goats crossed the road, he nodded, and the tribe flowed into the sea of sand.
There’s an aura about the people in this forgotten place, and it is ancient and primitive. They seem to be a shadow of something primal, and innocent. Most of them... but not all of them.
I pulled my Jeep Rubicon into the paved parking area in front of the hotel. I had installed two diamond plate tool chests in the back. Twenty thousand dollars of electronic treasure hunting equipment was locked inside them. I threw on my leather vest, checked my weapons, pushed my hat down over my eyes, and strode into the saloon.
Inside it was quite dark, and the place seemed pretty bleak. It was twenty degrees cooler inside, and it felt refreshing. The bar was large. A string of dim light bulbs hung from wall to wall near the ceiling. The back bar held a few half empty clear bottles. It looked like if you ordered bourbon, you got either brown tequila or yellow tequila.
A half a dozen locals sat on sturdy wooden stools at the bar, drinking amber colored beer. Some of them had dyed wool blankets draped over their shoulders. How they wore those things in the blistering heat amazed me, but I really didn’t give a damn. Probably that’s what their fathers had done.
There was a dude sitting in the dark at the end of the bar. He was big, real big, rip your head off and stuff it in your ass big. He was the only one in the dump that caught my attention, but only because he was so impressive. He sat motionless, stared into his drink, and never looked up.
A guy wearing a headband with some feathers stuck in it nodded as I walked by, but I didn’t focus on anyone. I just kept walking. I didn’t know if they were hostile to foreigners, and I was way off the tourist track.
An empty beat-up table sat near the back of the lounge, and I knew that was my spot. I pulled out a heavy oak chair. Its joints were loose, and it creaked when I plunked down on it. I put my back up against the wall and looked out the cracked plate glass window. My back was protected, and my eye was on my Jeep. I had all my bases covered. So far nothing seemed too threatening, except that giant farm boy at the bar. He remained seated like a big ugly statue, and continued to stare into his drink.
I glanced around the room looking for the rear exit. On the other side of the lounge I noticed some stringed beads hanging in a doorway of what must have been the kitchen. Behind the beaded drape I could see the silhouette of a large, well-proportioned woman. She gestured with her hands as she carried on a heated conversation in Spanish with a man I couldn’t see. I heard a door slam, and then all was quiet. Eventually, she pushed the beads aside and came out from the kitchen.
Her hair was long and black as night, and her breasts were large. She revealed a considerable amount of cleavage above the neckline of her white linen blouse, but I pretended not to notice. She was a handsome woman to be sure. Her long red and yellow skirt hung just inches from the floor; and when she walked up to me it seemed as if she floated. Some things down here seem strange, very strange... like land of the spirits strange.
“Mi casa es su casa,” she said.
Uh oh, I thought, My Spanish is terrible.
She looked at me for a moment and laughed. And then in perfect English, she said, “You’re a long way from home stranger. It’s not wise to travel alone down here, especially if you can’t speak the language. But you’re safe for now. What can I get you?” She smiled; her face was pleasant and friendly. Her teeth were perfectly formed, and as white as snow.
“Well, I’m just doing a little sight-seeing, ma’am. I could use a beer.”
“Just one? We have pitchers,” she said.
“Sounds good to me. Do you know if any rooms are available?”
“We always have a vacancy here,” she said. “After you eat, I’ll take you to Hector, he’ll fix you up. I’ll let you relax a bit before you order. My name is Esmeralda.”
“Yeah... good idea, thanks.” I said.
Shortly after she placed a large pitcher of amber ale on the table. It was ice-cold and delicious. I drank half of it in three big glasses. I was parched and tired, and the beer hit me just right. I sat back for a moment and thought about the old map. My mind wandered back to the conversation I had with Hess just before I left Santa Fe.
* * *
“I’m too beat up to go with you or I would,” the old man said. “I’d known Hess for twenty years. We made a lot of money together. He was an ex-Nazi paratrooper, who bought asylum here in the States after the war. He was as rotten and mean as they come if you crossed him, but I never did. I don’t think I dared. I heard he cut a guy in half with a chain saw one time. I believe it.”
Hess provided me with leads, and I raided old Indian burial sites, and ceremonial caves, that sort of thing. Through the years I found tons of stuff like pottery, jewelry, skulls, pipes, weapons, you name it. He’d fence the items for me, and we’d split the profits. I don’t believe he ever cheated me. I trusted him.
Hess carried enough shrapnel in his spine to set off the metal detectors at the airport. He got shot up bad in the war and walked with a heavy limp. He wasn’t much good for anything but research, but he excelled at that. Archaeologists hated him because he knew more than they did. They claimed he was a threat to the ancient record of the Native American tribes. But Hess and I knew the professors were pissed because I stole the good stuff before they could get to it and add it to their private collections.
“This map was smuggled from the historical archives in a place called Zavalla,” Hess told me. “The Indian I bought it from had no idea what it was worth. I gave him a hundred dollars and a case of Canadian Club for it. I can tell by the ink and the parchment the damn thing is at least five hundred years old. This document holds the key to the Angel of the Winds.”
* * *
I felt a cold shadow surround me, and my reverie came to an abrupt halt. I looked up from the table. The huge thing that had been sitting at the bar now stood directly in front of me. He towered over me like a tree... a big solid oak tree. I stand six foot tall and I could see he was a head taller than me, and about a yard wide at the shoulders. He must have weighed over three hundred pounds.
He glared at me and then smiled like he was amused as he studied me. Then he spoke in a voice that was high-pitched and feminine. Though I felt intimidated by him, his voice struck me funny, and I wanted to laugh.
“So what chu doing in dis neck of da woods gringo? Ju come down here to look at de desert, or ju come down here to do a little pot huntings?”
I could see now he was an Indian. His fine black hair hung below his shoulders and shone like the wings of a raven. He wore a brown leather vest that was covered with plush wool and looked like buffalo hide. His massive, naked arms rippled with power and must have measured twenty inches at the biceps. Each arm was decorated with tattoos of nude women, skulls, and scorpions.
The giant wore no shirt under the vest, and I could see he had no hair on his body. His skin was orange in color and as smooth as a snake. His chest and arms were dotted with deep red and black freckles the size of a dime, like the belly of a Gila monster. The man’s head was enormous, and sat on a neck as thick as a tree stump. A ridge of bone protruded from his forehead like a Neanderthal. He was terrifying... piss your pants and run terrifying. I felt a lump like an iron ball form in my throat. But I’d been in this situation before, and my Ranger training took over.
“I’m just taking a little holiday, dude.” I said. “You know a break from the kid’s and the Mrs.”
“Is zat right, Gringo?” It said. “I bet you don’t even marry. You looks to me like one of them girlie boys.”
All the morons at the bar laughed. I didn’t speak, my mind focused on survival, and I knew the inevitable was about to occur.
The monster started to pace back and forth in front of my table like a locomotive building up steam. His breathing grew deeper and deeper as he stoked the fire of his anger. I watched in awe as his head began to tremble with rage, and like a boiler about to explode the monster ejaculated, “You knows what I thinks, gringo. I thinks you drive down here from somewhere in America thinkin’ you can rape our country looking for gold, diggin’ in our graves, stealing our treasure, and buying our women! You knows what we calls treasure men down here? We calls ‘em corpses!”
I reached down and rubbed my left ankle.
“You think we nothing’ but stupid Indians don’ you, Gringo? Like on Ponderosa.”
The huge Indian started to dance in front of me. He thumped his mouth and bellowed “Woo woo woo. Tha’s how we dance, no?”
He let out a blood-curdling war cry, and dove off towards the ceiling. I swear the giant flew through the air and landed on my table. The disgruntled redskin grabbed me by the throat, picked me up out of my chair, and we crashed to the floor. He planted a rock hard knee in the center of my chest, and pinned me to the ground.
I’d fought my share of worthy opponents, but I never experienced this kind of strength; his power was superhuman. I was no match for the force of this thing. I tried to disarm him with a back fist to the nerve plexus in his temple. I’d learned the technique in the Orient, and I killed a man that way one time. But the tactic was useless against him. My “death-fist” bounced off his cast-iron skull like it was striking a fire hydrant.
Copyright © 2007 by John W. Steele