Quineño felt the weight of his sweat-soaked shirt as he moved from table to table with the heavy bus tub.
The two cowboy gabachos were smoking cigarettes despite the sign posted above their table: No Fumar, with a red X across the cigarette.
Señora Brena already had told them to stop, but they made a great show pretending not to understand her heavily accented English.
Quineño spoke perfect English, having spent most of his life right across the border in Eagle Pass.
He even used to consider himself half Texan, though seeing men like these made him seriously reconsider this.
He walked onto the green and pretended to look. I watched him take a ball out of his pocket and drop it. “Here it is!” he cried.
“Two-stroke penalty,” I said. “Lost ball.”
His neck grew red. “But this is my ball right here. Titleist three. ”
“Come on. I saw you drop it.”
“Your word against mine.”
I shook my head. “You’re just a goddamn cheat. It’s pathetic.”
He came apart. Screamed, threw down his clubs, balled his fists, stormed over to the refreshment tent and tore it apart.
“I saw it too,” said my caddy. “But he’s the president.”
Gerd looked up from the rotten mattress, his eyes ratlike and wild. “Well?”
I shook my head. “Not until tomorrow.”
“Goddamnit. I told you we should’ve–”
“Should’ve what? Not smoked everything? As I recall, you were the one with the pipe in your mouth.”
He looked ready to fight, but then the rage drained out him. He slumped against the wall, beaten.
“Jesus, Gerd. You’re not crying, are you? We’ll get more. Just not today.”
“That’s not it,” he sobbed. “I just can’t do this anymore.” He raised his head, eyes shining. “This is not living. This is not life.”
“I’ve got to put her down.”
“You know what will happen? You see that RCMP boat down there?”
“I see it. But we’re going down one way or another. The tanks are bone-dry.”
“Because you’re the fucking idiot who forgot to top up in Moro.”
“I’m just telling you what we need to do. If you want, I can circle out so you can get rid of the cargo.”
“You know that we still have to give them their money, right? You may as well just crash this thing. We’ll be dead either way.”
“Not if we’re in prison, bud.”
Most of the swivel seats were empty.
They looked like red barber’s chairs.
Stuart sat down one and put his feet up on the steel footrest.
He looked out the curved window.
It was like a wall of glass.
He watched for a long time.
The sky turned from pearly blue to purple to vivid pink, the long empty fields rolling smoothly past his feet.
A Negro came through rolling a sandwich cart.
Stuart bought a hot ham and egg sandwich wrapped in waxed paper.
The Negro was very polite. “Yes sir,” he said, “A fine morning. Yes, indeed.”
“Jebiga! This place stinks. You can smell it in the lobby.”
“The Americans have a saying. You want to eat eggs, you break the shells.”
“It smells like eggs. And shit.”
“That’s the sulfur. Don’t worry. That’s all done. The range hood will clear it out.”
“What are the nails for?”
“You don’t pay attention to anything, do you? When the pressure-cooker detonates, the screws become shrapnel. Same with the springs, though they do more damage to because they spiral.”
“I got Disney backpacks like you asked.”
“Excellent. We’ll leave them by the skating rink, where the kids all sit.”
Inspector Lambert squatted next to the body, the worn heels of his shoes tucked beneath his buttocks as he leaned to move a lock of hair with his pen. The side of the man’s head bore the faded marks of previous beatings.
“A boxer, perhaps?” said Detective Girard. “His nose certainly looks it.”
Lambert shook his head. “The muscles are wrong. This is something else. See how this scar has stretched? I have a hunch this was a childhood injury.”
Girard almost rolled his eyes, but then it occurred to him how seldom the flamboyant Lambert’s hunches had proven wrong.
It was when he came home from his third tour that he knew it wasn’t going to get better.
The second tour was involuntary, what they called a stop-loss.
He’d been home from Afghanistan three weeks when he was ordered to Iraq.
It was the early days, before they knew to avoid boxes in the road.
Three times he saw the Hummer in front of him blown apart by an IED, the men inside transformed to bloody rags.
He still saw them in dreams.
He pulled his truck into the VA parking lot, cranked the Zeppelin.
He opened the glove-box.
At least 22 military veterans committed suicide at VA centers in the U.S. in the last 18 months, including a Texas man who shot himself this month in the waiting room of a VA clinic.
Veteran suicide is an acute crisis wrapped in a national crisis. Between 2005 and 2016, suicide rates in the general population climbed 21%. For veterans, already taking their lives at twice the U.S. rate, it climbed 26%. More than 6,000 veterans are dying by their own hands each year – nearly 20 a day.
The best way to thank them for their service is to question America’s obsession with war. There is no glory in it, no valor. It is only death and nightmares.
Creepy looked at massacres with the jaundiced eye of an experienced gamer.
Mass shootings were inhuman, but what was so great about humanity?
It was no different than an ant-hill where millions of identical beings incessantly toiled to bring rocks and food, unaware of their god-like observer or the jar of gasoline he held in his hand.
Creepy considered the Aurora and Las Vegas massacres to be the botched work of amateurs. They lacked fire, literally and figuratively.
He smiled at his rows of mason jars containing home-made napalm, his extra AR-15 magazines.
Creepy knew he’d do so much better.
I doze through the mild turbulence until the plane jolts me awake with a huge bang. We lurch sideways, the passengers unwise enough to leave their seatbelts loose or unbuckled hurtling headlong into the aisle. The engines scream like tornado sirens.
I struggle against the mounting g-force to lift my head. I stare into the ghastly face of the flight attendant as she crab-walks down the aisle gripping the seatbacks like a kid on the monkey bars. “Stay calm,” she yells, her voice cracking with the strain.
The intercom crackles and the captain comes on, his voice a laconic drawl.