Oscar slumped in an armchair in a corner of the room. He watched the men looking awkward but eager in their stiff jeans, the women affecting bandannas around their necks and pert western hats on their way out to pose against the rails of the corral, he supposed—a few kids running around outside in leather chaps, just bought at the outfitters in town. It was swell. People came here from back east because they were sick. To pretend they were Gary Cooper, Dale Evans, maybe even Cochise or Geronimo—he didn’t know or care. He was here to do a job.
It had taken him precisely 203 hours to travel to this outpost in the American desert. Women boarding the bus, crying “Arroz y gallina!,” men with cases of patent medicines, even clowns doing their hackneyed routine for spare change. Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Sonora. Leaving the ocean behind, the air grew so dry he choked on it.
And maybe he was sick. He felt dull in the heat that descended from heaven and rose again with a great bounce. He’d let himself think he’d grow old on the coast of Jalisco. Might as well admit he’d imagined himself in Maria’s soft arms, fleshier now that they had the boy and the girl—it was a pathetic dream. He shoved it roughly aside.
His partner, Jones, had cabled him at the hotel where he’d holed up in Puerto Vallarta—BOY DEAD AT RANCH STOP CAN YOU TAKE CASE STOP And what else was there. Perhaps one death would erase another.