Primo woke up the next morning with a rattling in his head. Primo didn’t know the song Tequila Sunrise, but he was living it right now. He was lying face down on a dirt floor, his cheek caked with spit and sand and sleep. Slowly the fog in his head lifted. He tried to remember the night before. That punk kid tourist, then running, then that bar, then him. He jumped up and his head screamed in objection. Where was that guy?
A horsefly buzzed up to him and landed on his arm. He slapped it away absently and looked around. He did not recognize the place. There was only part of an old roof covering the room he was in and the sun was already midway up the east wall.
He stumbled out of the only doorway into a long forgotten courtyard. Chago was there, crouching on his haunches, his long hair fell over his face. He had a large knife in one hand and a snake, writhing and rattling, in the other. He did not look up, but busied himself with the snake as he spoke rapidly.
“Thought you were going to sleep forever, Primo. Didn’t think you’d drank that much. Hmm,” he paused to the cut off the snake’s head,” well, turn’s out your just in time for breakfast.”
Primo had seen many animals gutted and cleaned before, but he never really got past it. He turned his head and vomited.
“Guess you’re not hungry, eh?” Chago began to skin the thing without any further thought on the matter.
Primo finished vomiting, his pounding furiously.
“You should eat something,” Chago said after a pause. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today.”
Primo stared quizzically at Chago. His face was pocked with scars from bad acne and his eyes were dark and slow. “I’m not going with you,” Primo said quietly clearing his throat.
“You remember what happened last night don’t you?” Chago asked in a tone that needed no answer. “We killed two cops, Primo.”
Primo was dumbfounded. “I didn’t kill those policemen, you did.”
“That’s not what they think.”
“I don’t care what they think, it’s the truth.”
“Ay,” Chago said, looking up at Primo the first time, their eyes meeting for the first time, “try explaining that to the policia, Primo,” his words trailed out menacingly. “You were there with me, you helped me, that’s what they’ll say and they’ll torture you for information about me. What’ll you do then?”
“I’ll tell them what I know,” said Primo cautiously, scanning the courtyard for an exit.
“Ha! And what do you know? Shit, you don’t even know my name, vato.”
“I’ll tell them what you look like.”
“You will, eh?” Chago began spinning the knife in his hand. Primo’s face went pale and Chago stood up smelling his fear like a wolf. He laughed and tucked the knife away suddenly. “No, you won’t, either. You’re coming with me. I saved you from those hijos de puta. You owe me. Besides, you killed a kid, didn’t you? A gringo kid, too. Fuck, that’s worse than killing a cop.”
“I didn’t mean to…” Primo’s voice faded to a whisper.
“They won’t care. A dirty little Mexican kills some rich gringo kid on his fucking spring break. Shit, Primo, you’ll be front page news. Especially after you killed those two cops.”
“I didn’t kill them,” Primo said in desperation.
“Yes, you did!” Chago said, flaring to anger. “You and me, Primo, we killed them! We did it, because they were going to take you away! You and me, Primo! We’re a team. We’re in this together. Let’s go!”
Primo was running out of options and he knew it. He looked past Chago up the dilapidated walls and out skyward. He saw a bird flying high above him, circling. He felt at once that this bird meant something, that it was an omen. A circling vulture could only mean death, he thought.
He looked back at Chago who had calmed down a bit. There was no good in his face, his cheeks were high and sharp, and his nose was bent and flattened at the bridge. Presently, Chago smiled mollifyingly exposing his gapped yellow teeth. Primo laughed inside and then stuck out his hand. Chago seized it and shook it firmly; the snake’s blood squished between their hands, but Primo didn’t wince or turn.
“What do you need me for, anyway,” studying his hand slowly and without condescension.
“Let’s just say you’re the right color,” Chago snorted and wiping his bloody hands on his pants he turned for the exit. “Let’s go see Santo.”
Chago moved low and quick in skulking by both day and night, seemingly as a reflex. Primo struggled to keep up while running this way. He was used to keeping his head up, moving his arms and pumping his legs on a clear path. This way was much clumsier, he kept stumbling into gopher holes that were half covered by grass or weeds. If Chago had the same trouble he didn’t show it.
They crossed the open field in no time flat and were soon darting down the littered back alleys of the poorest part of town. Here Primo was more at home—he’d grown up in a barrio none too different than this one. He dodged broken bottles and trash heaps deftly, but it was still all he could do to keep up with Chago who moved at the same speed here as in the open fields.
Slowly, street by street, the neighborhoods began to change. Cut out holes in the walls became glassed and framed windows, the streets widened and grew cleaner and steadily even the air began to smell better. After many streets, they rounded a corner into the richest neighborhood Primo had ever seen.
Primo had lived in or around the city his entire life, but he had never been here. This was even nicer than the postcards of his city he’d seen in the markets. Each yard was gated and had a beautiful green lawn, most of the houses were two stories tall, with balconies and everything—a few even had fountains with little angels in them in their front yards.
He slowed down as they neared by a white house. It was like a fortress, the walkways were paved with rose colored stones, the windows were high and pointed at the top—like at a cathedral—and there were several statues around the place that look hand-carved. He was amazed and nearly stopped entirely when Chago rounded the fence and passed through the high gate. Chago didn’t even bother to slow down as he bounded up the walk shouting at Primo to follow.
The porch of the white house was some kind of swirl of pink, white and red marble, it looked like an ice cream flavor Primo had seen once. As Chago rang the doorbell, Primo became suddenly very aware of his own ripped clothes and dirty hands. He wiped his hands on his shirt and padded his bare feet on the marble. Looking back, Chago snorted in apparent disdain,
“Relax, Santo doesn’t give a shit how you look right now. If he likes you, he’ll clean you up.”
Primo wondered at this and was ready to dare a question or two about this Santo when the door opened.
A pretty young girl in an immaculately kept white uniform led them down a long hall. Primo looked back and forth at the several paintings hanging on the walls, each individually and brightly lit. Several paintings of women in fields; with lilies, sunflowers, corn. Primo didn’t know who had done the paintings—maybe Santo was a painter. He kept staring in awe as they passed by many transecting hallways, equally long and equally decorated. Chago only looked straight ahead…and at the maid.
At length they came to a spacious hexagonal great room. Three of the six sides were bay windows, and from them Primo could see all the way to the edges of the city from which they had come.
The room was warmly lit by several sky lights. There were several cream-colored leather sofas and chairs sitting in something of a half circle facing the windows. The walls were lined with shelves of books and more paintings. Of these and from all the others they had passed one captured Primo’s attention completely.
A person—Primo could not tell plainly if it were a man or a woman—was bowing in front of two women and a baby. On his back was a huge sack full of white lilies. For some reason beyond Primo’s own understanding, it struck him very deeply. He was so enveloped in thought that he didn’t notice the man entering the room.
“You like Diego Rivera?” came a soft, mellifluous voice so close and quiet it was nearly in his ear. Primo spun around and stood instantly eye to eye with a kind faced middle-aged man. Primo took a step back instinctively distancing himself. The man smiled a very welcoming smile and bowing at Primo spoke again,
“I am Santo, or so am I called. Welcome to my humble home. Do you like paintings?” Santo cocked his head in an almost childlike fashion but he did not wait for Primo to answer him, instead he spoke to Chago while quietly surveying Primo. “You finally brought me a juero (which means whitey), eh? This is the one you told me about?”
“Yes, Don Santo.”
“Is he fast?”
“Fast enough to keep up with me.”
“You’re slowing down,” he said wryly, Chago bore the offense silently. “Well, he is the right color and his eyes are—let me look at your eyes, please—green, ah! Just like mine. Wonderful. Yes, he should do well enough. Well done, Chago.” Only now did Santo turn and take his eyes off Primo. He sighed in relief and it struck him then that all this time, he hadn’t even known Chago’s name.
“Thank you, Don Santo,” Chago said looking down awkwardly like a whipped dog that is finally patted on the head.
“Chago,” Santo said slowly, turning his back to him again, “go help Lucia with her laundry.”
Chago grinned expectantly and followed the maid out of the room, leaving Santo and Primo alone. It was clear that Primo was being inspected, but for that he could not tell. As he was able, Primo did likewise. His inspector was well dressed, but not richly so and looked to be about fifty-five, perhaps a few years older, since his hair was nearly all white. He was slender and kind-faced with deep green eyes that danced and moved quickly but with purpose. He was tanned but not over dark, much like Primo. In fact, as he looked at him, Primo supposed he had perhaps been chosen to pose as his son.
After a short while, he spoke again in that still, smooth voice, “Do you know, Juero, what the difference is between a burro—a donkey—and a coyote?” He cocked his head quizzically again at Primo and again did not wait for him to reply. Instead, he motioned him to the windows and continued, “A burro is good for carrying heavy things, yes? He can carry many times his weight through very difficult terrain. He is sturdy and much more reliable than a horse. But you know what the problem with burros is? They’re stubborn Juero, very stubborn at times. You have to feed them well and be kind to them, otherwise they won’t work for you at all. Even then, sometimes they won’t do what they’re told. Yes, Juero. Burros are very stubborn and proud. But they are necessary.
“Coyotes, now coyotes are much different. They’re slinkers; fast and sly, they’re good at blending into the landscape in broad daylight. A good coyote can sneak right past a rifle without being noticed. But they have their problems, too. First, they can’t carry anything but they’re own fur. Then there’s the fact that it’s hard to catch one, to find one. And of course, if you ever manage to catch one, it is really very hard to make them trust you. They are true cowards, most of them, natural survivors at best. They feel threatened, they run off—slink into the dust and never come out again.”
He paused for a moment, then waved a hand at the city below. “Look at them, Juero. All the poor, starving people. They scrape together meals daily, they don’t have running water, sewers, even shoes,” he said looking now at Primo’s own feet. “But look over there!” His voice rose with excitement for the first time as he jutted his chin at the horizon. “Do you know what’s just beyond those borders, Juero?” He asked, this time expecting an answer.
“America,” answered Primo cautiously.
“That’s right!” Santo cried, slapping Primo on the back. “America, Juero. Just across those fences is a land of opportunity, of plenty and of promise. Have you ever been there?”
Primo shook his head.
“I have. I have seen the malls and hospitals and skyscrapers—huge buildings. I have seen the Promised Land, Juero.”
“Why didn’t you stay?” Primo asked without thinking.
“My place is here,” Santo’s eyes went cold with purpose, “my people are here. And I am here to help them.” He looked down at the city again and his voice faded to almost a whisper. “Everyday, Juero, everyday people come to me with problems—they are hard-working church going people, Juero, but they are poor. They are desperate. They root through garbage and live in dumps…And I help them. These people come to me looking for a better life, and I give them that chance.”
Primo watched him closely as he spoke. His eyes and face softened and he looked very much like a father or a genteel priest. He began to admire this man’s conviction. He really seemed compassionate about the people. Curiosity stirred in Primo and he suddenly blurted out, “How?”
Santo turned and smiled softly at Primo, “I train burros and coyotes, Juero. I train them to take people to the Promised Land.”
“Why…” Primo’s voice trailed off.
“Why are you here?”
Primo could only nod.
“Because I need a good coyote.”