Thursday, September 20, 2012

(Old Title: Eastern Front / New Title: Kratocracy) Ch. 5



Five
Reese, Barrett and Alex sat across from the old man in his modest hut.  The single-room abode was crafted from a combination of mud bricks and scavenged materials.  The small room was dimly illuminated by the light from candles and several oil lamps.  The gentle breeze blew through the open windows and kissed the men’s’ faces.  The remaining riders sat around several campfires in the center of the villa while they feasted on warm tortillas and grilled fish from the nearby Rio Grande.
A haggard old lady, worm from years of a hard life spent on the border, smiled as she entered and placed a tray of warm tortillas and fish on the table in between the men.  She repeated, “Gracias, muchas gracias,” as she backed out of the hut and joined the others outside.
“Comer a mis amigos, por favor.”
Alex translated for the other two men, “He says to eat.”  Barrett’s Español was passable, but the old man’s speed and cadence was hard for even him to follow.  The men did as was instructed; a warm meal two nights in a row was a rare please for them, so they indulged themselves.
“Quiero darle las gracias por salvar mi nieto.”
“That was his grandson the narcos were going to kidnap; he thanks us for saving the boy.”
Reese replied, “Tell him it was an honor to be of service to him; we despise the cartels as much as he does.”
“Fue un honor para ayudarte, los carteles de la droga son nuestros enemigos también.”
The old man smiled again and nodded in agreement.
“Ask him about Laredo.”
Hemos oído que hay mucha actividad de drogas en Nuevo Laredo. ¿Qué sabe usted de esto?”
The old man took a bite of a warm tortilla and thought for several moments before replying, “Está lleno de ellos, es su base en la región ya que han destruido todos los puentes al sur de allí.”
“He say that Laredo is their new base in this place since we have destroyed all border crossings between here and the Gulf.”
“Tell him that we will be leaving here tomorrow for Laredo; any information he can provide will be used to fight the men that tried to take his grandson.”
Before Alejandro could translate Reese’s request, the girl that was rescued earlier burst into the room and interrupted them, “Voy a ir con ellos, ¿por qué no les dices que yo los llevaré allí?”
"¡No! Usted no puede ir, dejar a nosotros!"
The two continued back and forth with escalating intensity; the girl waved her arms frantically and pleaded with the old man but he would not relent.  Reese leaned over to Alex and said, “What are they arguing about?”
“She want to come with us.  He not let her.”
“Good,” Reese retorted laughingly, “we don’t have any room for childr-”
From seemingly out of nowhere, the barrel of a large, blued-steel revolver was pointed at Reese’s forehead before he could even finish his sentence.  Barrett tried to reach for his pistol, but her lightning fast reflexes produced a second, matching revolver; she thrust it fiercely at his face.
“I am no child, cowboy; I am old enough to drink in a gringo bar, if I so choose.  I have fought these men for years; I was the reason they were here tonight!  You will not go north without me!”
The old man stood and placed his hand on her shoulder as he demanded firmly, "Isabel, poner las armas fuera ya."
She relented to his command and dropped her arms to her side.  “I am sorry for that; I did not mean to threaten the men that saved my life and my brother’s life.”  She slid the revolvers into their leather holsters and took a seat beside her grandfather.  Her beauty was stunning to Reese, her could not remember a face that was more angelic than hers.  Her hair was long, jet-black and fell just past her shoulders; her skin was a light olive and radiant.  She was short, but not too short; thin, but not frail.  From a distance, she could easily be mistaken for a girl five or six years younger.  Reese leaned forward, captivated by her skills and beauty; he observed her for several moments before speaking.  She blushed at being the focus of the room and avoided Reese’s gaze.  Barrett and Alex glanced at her momentarily, but refused to look her way again.
“What is your name?”
“Isabel; it means ‘my God is a vow.’”
“Where did you learn to move like that Isabel?”
“The pretty girls on the border learn young to either comply with or resist the approaches of the drug men when they come to our villas; I learned young to hide and then later to fight.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
She laughed smugly, “Probably more than you, gringo; I’ve killed dozens of those cerdos.”
“Why do you want to come with us?”
“I have my reasons; all you need to know is this, I hate them as much as you do and want them all dead.”
“Do you have a horse?”
“Ciro is mine; he is out back.”
“We ride hard and at night; we enjoy few comforts on the plains.  If you choose to come with us, I cannot bring you back here if you decide you’ve made the wrong choice.”
“Are you saying I can come?”
“Reese,” Barrett interrupted, “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“She knows this land and Alex is the only one fluent in the language.  If she can handle herself, we could use her.”
Isabel cut Barrett a scowl with her eyes and interjected, “I can handle myself just fine.”
Reese motioned to the old man, “Is he your father?”
“Grandfather.”
“Where are your mother and father?”
She looked away and simply said, “Dead.”
“You can come with us if he’ll let you.”
“Thank you; I promise I won’t be a burden.”
“I’m sure you won’t.  Alex, will you tell the old man that we are leaving them to talk?”
"Su nieta es bienvenido a venir con nosotros si le permita. Este hombre junto a mí y voy a mantenerla lo más seguro posible. Ella nos recuerda a alguien una vez que los dos nos quería mucho."
The old man sighed and nodded in understanding.  Isabel stared into his eyes and pleaded her case as the three men exited the small cabaña.
As the men left the tiny cabaña, Reese turned to Barrett and Alex and asked, “Is everything alright with you two?”
“We’re fine,” Barrett replied.
“If there’s something I need to know, I need you to tell me now rather than out there on the plains.  We can’t have any distractions out there; we have to move and strike as if we have but one mind.  Are you going to be able to handle the girl out there with us?”
“I said we’re fine.”
“Barrett, you’re not fine brother.  You’re my right hand and I can’t lose you; I’ll just go tell them that she has to stay.”
Alex interrupted Reese and said, “No!  She comes with us.  It’s just, what he mean to say.”
“Just tell me Alex.”
“She remind us of someone, someone very special.”
“Barrett, so you’re okay, right?”
Barrett stopped and turned to look at Reese.  The campfire reflected a faint gleam in the corner of one of his eyes; his voice wavered as he replied, “I’ll be fine; she should come.  I just need tonight; I’ll be okay tomorrow.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The riders waited until the next evening to continue their excursion north to Nuevo Laredo; depending on their progress, the city was still a day’s ride or more ahead of them.  A small crowd congregated in the center of the dusty villa near an old stone well and watched them as they left.  Reese looked over his shoulder one final time at the impoverished people and their bleak surroundings.  Several goats could be heard bleating noisily on the far side of the villa.  Two mongrel dogs snarled at each other beside a nearby mud-brick cabaña in an attempt to establish sovereignty over the parched, austere landscape.
Isabel waved goodbye to her grandfather as she trotted away on Ciro.  The Azteca stallion was slightly taller than 15 hands and was broad in his croup and chest and his shoulders were long and sloping; he moved as if the slender weight of Isabel was not even noticeable to him.  His body was solid mahogany bay in color with a faint white star in the center of his eyes.
The two rode together as old friends rather than master and beast.  Isabel preferred to guide Ciro by gentle whispers in his perked ears rather than by the reins; the horse would obediently alter his course upon instruction, as if he understood every tone that resonated from her lips.  The powerful Ciro easily outpaced the other men with his light load; it took several corrections from Isabel before he finally relented to the comparatively sleepy pace.
Isabel rode with her revolvers resting in custom holsters in front of her on the well-worn leather saddle and a M4 carbine, courtesy of Reese, was slung across her back.  The contents of her saddlebags were spartan and utilitarian; she was used to the harshness of the plains and preferred to travel light rather than in comfort.  Her night vision goggles were held securely in place by the lightweight FAST carbon helmet that had also been given to her by Reese; he had packed several additional sets of equipment in the event that they happened upon a worthy irregular during their expedition or if some of the riders’ gear became damaged.  The prowess she had displayed the night before and earlier that day clearly vaulted her into the category.
Though she had never held a M4 before, the proficiency she displayed with her grandfather’s ancient lever-action rifle easily translated to the more advanced platform.  Her marksmanship was as good as or even better than her fellow riders; she had already won an unlucky guardsman’s spare sunglasses in a marksmanship contest earlier that day.  The others quickly learned not to underestimate the apparent hustler.
The mere presence of Isabel seemed to lift the morale of the riders that rode alongside her.  The men already looked to her as a little sister, a gutsy and fearless little sister that could cut down a man at full gallop from over two hundred yards away.  Despite the intensity that smoldered within, her demeanor was friendly and uplifting and the men found themselves shedding their weariness in exchange for her contagious enthusiasm; the narcos in Laredo had better beware, she was coming and she had plenty of friends this time.
She greeted Reese with a smile as he trotted up beside here.
“Getting used to our slower pace yet?”
“Ciro and I are used to moving much quicker, but he is beginning to relax.”
“We try to take it slow when we can so that our horses are ready for battle if it comes to us.”
“I understand.”
“You speak English so well; where did you learn it?”
“My mother was American; I was raised just across the river from my grandfather’s villa in San Ygnacio.  She was a school teacher and my father was a maintenance worker there; that’s how they met.”
“So you’re not from the villa?”
“I moved there when I was twelve,” she shifted uncomfortably in the saddle and paused for a moment before continuing, “when my mother and father were killed.”
“Isabel, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to-.”
“It’s okay.”
They rode on in silence for what seemed like an eternity as the evening redness in the west spread across the sky like a gaping wound on the horizon. 
“You came to ask me about Laredo, am I right?”
“You are.”
“Nuevo Laredo is crawling with vermin like the ones your scouts killed.  We will never make it into the city on this side of the border; we will have to cross the river.  We can cross the river just north of Rio Bravo and swing east around the gringo side of the city.  Most of your men will stay on the outskirts and only a few of us will be able to slip in.”
“What makes you think you’re going with me?”
“I’m the only one that knows their way around the city, so don’t even try that with me; we both know I’m going.  When’s the last time you’ve been to Laredo?”
“Years ago.”
“Don’t expect to recognize the place; it’s as close as you can get to hell in the borderlands while you’re still breathing.”
“When’s the last time you’ve been to Laredo?”
“Two months ago.”
“Two months ago?”
“While those culeros were beating you all the way back to Corpus Christi, some gabachos with guts decided to stay behind and fight back; they’ve been slaughtering narcos ever since.”
“How do you know them?”
“My older brother is one of their leaders, and I scout for them sometimes.”
“Can you take us to him?”
“That’s my plan.”

2 comments:

  1. As usual, it's good. Adding a new member to the group makes it interesting. She seems to be a perfect fit with the rest.
    Keep on with the good work.
    Papa Mike
    III

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks pop; there's been a little lull in the action so hopefully that hasn't been a disappointment. We pick back up over the next few chapters. Should release Ch.6 around the end of this coming week.

    ReplyDelete