Little House In The Desert

by

Michael Edwards

 

He came down the Needle under a full moon unable to mark every misstep in the heavily worn Pine Tree trail.  In upstate New York a young boy settled in for the night with his pet tarantula, the hairs of its legs tickled his tiny penis, which he was assured by all wouldn't remain little for long, though somehow he doubted their assurances.  At the foot of the mountain he spat, but the wind blew it back on his belly.  He wiped his spit from his belly then returned it to his tongue to try again.  This time it landed on his foot, where he decided to leave it for now.  A scream in the night awoke him, he covered his head and burst into tears.

In the evening light she was beautiful, in the morning light, ugly.  She asked why but no one could say, least of all Alvereta Selenz, who saw her as ugly both day and night - ugly, hideous and, especially, evil.  Her brother Raphael's feigned explanation failed to move her.  "You were created for artificial light," he told her, "not the real thing."  But she knew better: evening too was real; just not for everyone.

The Moline Firebug watched as the house he loved was saved.  A smile lit up his face as the last standing wall descended in a frenzy of cinders.  "Now they won't take you from your home and put you somewhere you never saw before," the teenager said.

"You oughta charge people to see it."  "What?  Charge people?"  "Hell, lotsa people'd pay to see a twelve inch cock.  You could make a mint!  Even be a porn star!"  "No.  Oh God no."  "Why not?"  "I'd lose it if I did that."  "Lose it?"  "It'd be taken from me."  "By who?"  "I don't know, but it would."  "Why?"  "I don't know, but it would."  "Well, we'll see!"  "What do you mean?"  "I got pictures.  When you were sleeping.  And, when you were dreaming."  "Dreaming?  How do you know that?"  "When you dream, you get hard.  That's how I know I got you dreaming."  "You can't sell those - you can't!  You just can't!"  "Okay.  I was just kidding.  Here: here's the roll of film."  "Thank God."

The sun was setting behind the San Andres Mountains.  San Andres peak obscured it but adjacent points allowed a few final bursts of crimson into Lake Lucero and onto the nearby Dome Dunes.  The lake still held half a foot of rainwater from the summer runoff; desert winds ripped the lake until its hidden store of selenites began to run red, hurling a blaze of shimmering crystals through the surface water to hang a moment above the lake until the sun finished its descent into Kilbourne Hole.  Then all at once the sands grew dark beneath a new moon, awaiting the generation of starlight to beacon themselves toward the sky.

"It went on forever...no matter where you looked it was there.  Huge, endless, silent.  Absolute silence.  Endless silence.  Nothing that lived there ever made a sound.  No other house as far as you could see.  No one to play with.  No one to talk to.  It drove us all mad.  Me, my mother and my father.  Only he left us nine months every year.  He'd be gone three months at a time.  His work, whatever it was he did.  Then he'd return, drunk and cursing, and he'd start beating us, first mother till her mouth swelled so much she couldn't scream any more.  Then he'd come for me.  He'd grab me behind the neck and shake me back and forth.  Then hurl me against the wall.  Then grab my arm and wrench it behind my back.  Then he'd start slamming my face against the wall and beating me all over till I passed out.  I loved it!  I relished every scream, every plea not to hurt us anymore.  The sound of bones breaking and the feel of blood spurting.  I loved it!  For a few precious hours the silence was gone.  The desert was filled with his curses and our screams.  And for those few precious hours our madness was gone.  It was wonderful!"  "How many have you killed?"  "I stopped counting when I ran out of fingers and toes."  "How did you keep from losing count?"  "I cut a groove in each separate finger and toe tip."  "Once it healed -"  "I got them infected to make sure they never healed.  So I'd never lose count.  I didn't know I'd end up killing more than ten.  I didn't think it could ever be so still more than that many times."  "So it was their screaming you were after?"  "No.  My screaming.  I screamed my head off each time I cut someone up.  It was wonderful."  "And your father was first - was he not?"

Immense, forlorn, forbidding, all but forgotten.  The windswept expanse could have been a thousand or a million miles in every direction, or a single mile.  No one wandering amidst ground up pebbles, scrub brush, pushing sands, or over pock-marked over-polished rocks straddling the foothills of jagged red peaks could have given its measurements, only its colors, endless variations of browns, yellows, half-greens, reds, coal blacks, purple blues.  "We'll make this our hideout.  We'll be safe here.  No one'll ever find us unless we want to be found."  Juan Cordoba spat on the ground.  "Are you nuts, Raf?  Never find us?  There's no caves.  There's not even rocks big enough to hide behind.  All they have to do is fly over, and they can't miss us.  I say get as far away from here as we can!"  Raphael took out his knife and surgically worked it around Juan's mouth, holding the boy's long black hair in a vice grip till his tongue fell in a torrent of blood on his new leather boots.  "What I say goes.  Tongues that oppose me go south.  Razorbacks fear nothing.  Let the pigs look under every rock, they still won't find us.  They'll never find us here.  Desert is God's hidden paradise.  His other Eden.  Our hideout."  Juan's tongue shriveled under the desert sun in two days, till it was swept up and carried in a breeze from where it fell.  Juan stopped bleeding minutes before his life would have ended.  He picked himself up and worked his way home.

Little adobe walls raised a corrugated roof barely above head level.  Her taller brother stood hunchback as he moved among the five rooms confined within.  Graciana had to stoop down entering her bedroom, so low was its doorway.  Once in a while a tiny lizard or a big spider would be stuck somewhere along the splintered wooden frame and she'd have to get her brother to loosen it.  "They won't hurt you," he told her.  But he never held it to taunt her.  He'd save it to taunt his classmates.  Besides, she wasn't afraid of it, she just hated knowing something that ugly dared invade her special place where she'd go to sing and practice making her face beautiful.  Senőr Juarez had christened his house standing thirty feet beyond town limits "Pequena casa en el desierto."

The smile that baby Alvereta flashed at everyone kept her face bright and cheerful throughout her childhood and even into her early teens, when a darkness that had lurked behind the radiance all along began to emerge.  As a little girl, whenever asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would unhesitatingly answer "A nurse."  Puberty, plus a better understanding of how Satan worked, morphed her nurse into "A demon hunter."  "Why something like that?" she was constantly asked by her shocked relatives.  "Because Satan gets demons inside even ordinary-looking people - even beautiful people, who aren't beautiful to me though."  "But how can you tell when someone's possessed?"  "They're not possessed.  They are the demon."  "Can't the priest exorcise them?"  "No."  "Then what?"  "They must be killed."  Her relatives would laugh, or at least smile at her fanciful imagination.

Three large buildings with entrances like grammar schools, arranged about a quadrangle, fixed within a perimeter drive, astride the National Guard, surrounded by desert hills, a straggler apart from human interchange, out of reach of everyday doings.  One day they were not there, one day they were, being stripped while interested indifferent eyes watched from a safe distance.  And a guard, overseeing their transformation, with eyes eager to hate, desperate to hate, screaming to heaven to hate, watching hate slipping just beyond the metal holding cell.  A guard with eyes filled with the horror of man and beast being ripped from a boy's eager, desperate reach.  A guard deliberately peeing his pants to try and take him from what he knew was coming.

Raphael swore he'd burn the house down if he hit his head one more time.  "You can't burn it down, it's adobe," his mother pointed out.  "Then I'll knock it down!"  "With what?" his sister Graciana asked.  "We'll steal a bulldozer if we have to!"  "Those friends of yours are no good," his mother said.  "They're a bad influence."  Raphael's threat never came to pass.  He was gone within a month, with his friends, to Las Cruces.

Carl nearly passed out when a classmate showed him his picture sandwiched in with twenty others under the heading "Tuesday's Hottest Twinks."  He broke out in a sweat and, at the same time, a sudden rush of pre-cum soaked through his underpants to become a visible stain on his neatly pressed blue twill trousers.   "I'll kill him," he muttered under his breath before he took off running down the corridor and out the door of St. Stephen's Home for Boys.  Outside, out of ear shot of his classmates, he screamed "I'll kill him!"  "Go ahead," his best friend taunted.  "But if you do they'll find all the pictures I took plus a copy of 'Weekly Twinks.'  When Bishop Jones hears about it he'll send your priest to cut off your cock - or he might even cut it off himself."  "How do you know?  They wouldn't do that.  They're holy men, and it's against church law anyway."  "And you've committed the greatest mortal sin of all - the unforgivable sin of sodomy.  First they'll sprinkle your dick with holy water - and maybe some salt - then make the sign of the cross over it then they'll cut it off and bury it in unconsecrated ground so no one will ever look upon it again."  Carl broke down and cried and pleaded with his friend never to show his pictures to anyone, not ever.  A week later his friend lay in a coma and Carl fled town in a panic, convinced he'd be blamed.  "How do you kill a Bishop?" kept running through his mind.  "He's consecrated - how do you kill him?  How do you kill him?"

Josiah awoke no longer in his crib but on a street in Calcutta, a cup in his left hand.  People passing by remarked on his deep blue eyes and silky blonde hair.  But that wasn't enough to justify relinquishing a rupee.  Only when they saw his two limbs - right hand and left foot - missing did this blonde-haired blue-eyed tiny twelve year old boy receive his beggar's allotment.  All he could remember was his big brother standing over his crib showing him his pet lizard before kissing him good night.  The very next night Jeremiah's lizard turned up a headless corpse out back.  It was winter in Ogdensburg; young Jeremiah concluded his lizard had escaped from him, as every other thing he loved had, and froze out back and his head popped off from the ice surrounding it.  "Who took Josiah?" the boy asked his mother.  "The Gypsies," he was told.  "Maybe they'll teach him to ride a horse," Jeremiah speculated.  "No," his mother corrected him, "gypsies tell fortunes and read palms."  "Wow!  They'll pay him good money for that, I bet!  Maybe one day he can read my palm and tell my fortune."  But the Gypsies, or whoever had stolen Josiah, never returned him.  "Probably sold him for a slave," a neighbor said.  "The A-rabs like Nordic looking kids to wait on them.  Or else they took him to Thailand to suck little Asian bommies."  "Just so they teach him some kind of trade," Jeremiah replied.  "Everyone needs a trade."  "What's your trade?"  "I'm going to be a guard in a great big jail so I can watch over criminals and make sure no one ever kidnaps them."

Josiah never got to have his baby.  He was taken from his wife Laresha before he could impregnate her.  They left the projects on Chicago's south side forever.  "Don't you ever leave," his mama warned him as a boy.  "Niggers are safe here, no where else."  "Didn't you ever leave here?"  "No."  "Not even to go shopping?"  "People who got no money don't do no shopping."  "Or church?"  "Now you know where we go of a Sunday.  Though you don't go no more."  "What happens when you die?  They gotta take you out and bury you, don't they?"  "No.  They got a place here where you be committed to the flames of Purgatory."  "Just like daddy was?"  Josiah's mama nodded.  "Just like he was.  My Clete.  Just like he was."  He didn't like the look in his mama's eyes whenever he asked about his daddy.  "Me and Laresha gonna leave here one day.  Before we have our son.  We're naming him Clete, after daddy."  "You be bringing a whole lotta trouble down on yourself if you do.  And on your wife and son too.  Mark my words."  Not long after, his mama died, one night in her sleep.  No one heard her last words.  "Please don't take my Clete there - please don't!"  Josiah, his wife by his side, watched as the Reverend said holy words over the big cardboard box that held her remains, and as her box coffin was thrown into a big furnace and the door closed behind her forever.  "We won't be staying here much longer, I promise," Josiah told his Laresha.  "Everyone says it's not safe out there," Laresha reminded her husband.  "Do you believe them?"  "Yes - but I don't care.  When you're ready I'll leave too."  A week later they were gone.  Two days after his mother's funeral Josiah had a run-in with a rival gang from the sixth floor.  They were about to rip him open with their knives when his gang brothers came along.  As he walked away their leader called out to him "You'll end up where your papa did - that's a promise!"  Two days of searching solved the mystery of his daddy's death, and told what the look in his mama's eyes meant.  Clete cheated on his wife with another man's woman.  He was taken from his bed one night by five burly men who could barely contain him, carried down four flights to the basement, thrown into the furnace.  They slammed the door shut after they'd heard enough screaming to satisfy a cuckold's honor.  Tears ran down Josiah's cheeks on his way out.  "You were wrong mama," he whispered.  Then whispered it again two months later when five policemen dragged him from his new home.  "They're coming for me.  But you were wrong.  I saw the light and breathed the air.  Dear precious mother, you were wrong."

Laresha finished out the month's lease then left their apartment.  A woman she had come to know offered her temporary lodging till she found work.  "Girl you gonna have to take up whorin'.  No nigger from the projects ever gonna get hired around here."  "I'm not a nigger from the projects," Laresha corrected her friend.  "And I'm not taking up whoring.  I'm a singer - and that's what I'm looking for.  With a band, or a lead, or even a backup.  But not here.  I'm taking what money Josiah had and leaving Chicago."  "Girl, you ain't flashy enough for Mo Town!  Don't even think it!"  "I'm not headed that way.  I'm going south."  "Girl are you crazy?  You show up at Grand Ol Opry's front door, they gonna throw you right in jail!"  "I don't mean Nashville.  I mean way south - southwest."  "Well at least the Spics won't lock you up, but how you gonna get a job singin' with them?  You ain't got no Spanish - and I know you didn't pick none up in the projects.  Besides, what kind of Spanish name is Laresha?  That's just a name your mama made up."  "She wanted papa to think that.  But she told me it belonged to my great-great grandmother; she was part Spanish.  And it was mama who taught me some Spanish.  She just never let papa know."  "Well good luck," her friend said.  "You're the first girl I ever heard of left the projects who didn't turn to whorin'."  Laresha put her few possessions in a paper bag and went to the bus station to see how far her money would take her.  Two days later she stepped onto the platform at 320 1st Street SW to begin again.

"Another historic site desecrated" today's headline read.  "This is the sixth house recently designated an historic site and scheduled to be moved to safer ground that's been torched by the Moline Firebug.  Authorities have been unable to come up with a profile of the arsonist; but have stated categorically that all six fires are the work of one person, and are not random events.  So far the working premise is that the arsonist is a middle-aged man who at some point in his life was evicted from his residence; quite likely he spent some time as a homeless person, possibly a hobo and has returned to extract vengeance for his eviction by burning homes from which current tenants have themselves been evicted as part of the process of becoming historical sites."  Young Justen spat on the newsprint.  "They have to know!  They have to be told it's wrong to uproot a home like that.  Someone has to tell them so they'll stop.  It's wrong.  Why can't they see that?"

Juan knew what he was doing.  He had a wife and young child to support, but no income.  He refused to let his wife get a job; he's explode in a violent rage whenever she spoke of it.  He never hit her; he'd throw whatever was at hand against the wall, making his little apartment over time a pock-marked beer-stained ghetto northwest of Chimayo in Rio Arriba.  His first encounter with Raphael convinced him throwing his lot in with this young firebrand from Las Cruces would take him to wherever there was money; and money would fall like manna from heaven; and a poor husband and father would again hold his head high.  Juan when he left swore he'd send home whatever was needed to keep his family alive.  Right up to the last he kept his promise.

Fourteen year old Judy Martinez from Pecos, Texas let out a great squeal.  All because of the serial killer whose fingers and toes, as it turned out, could not contain all his victims.  The local news out of El Paso had a contest: Name the Slasher.  Everyone within a hundred mile radius, at first, which quickly grew to a tri-state area, hung on every piece of news concerning these killings.  Then one day, after twenty had been hacked to pieces, an enterprising program manager got the bright idea of having a contest, whereby viewers could submit names both grisly and goofy.  That way they could perform their public services and have some fun at the same time.  And when it was over and every name was considered, the winning entry was announced.  And Judy Martinez squealed with joy.  From that moment on, the nameless faceless serial killer became know as Pecos Pest Fastest Knife In The West.  Judy Martinez became in the space of five minutes ten thousand dollars richer.  A fact not lost on Raphael Juarez, distant cousin of the great Benito Juarez.  Raf's Razorbacks cased her home on Martinez Street on the east side of town for seven weeks before making their move.

Carl cried and Judy screamed as he rammed his huge cock into her.  "Sloppy seconds!" one of his fellow Razorbacks yelled.  Raf was first to rape her.  Carl swore he'd never do anything like that, never use his special gift to hurt anyone.  "We all rape her!" Raf ordered.  "I go first, the kid with the donkey dong and the kewpie doll face goes next."  Carl stood there moving his head from side to side.  Raf walked up to him, stuck his face into the boy's and said in a loud voice "Anyone who doesn't fuck her gets his cock cut off.  Got that?"  Carl slowly nodded.  "Good.  See, I don't make requests.  I make only demands.  Far as all of you are concerned, I'm your god - your one and only.  So make that with a capital 'G.'  Don't ever forget it."  As god to his Razorbacks, Raf said who would do what after they broke in.  "Pedro and you, Moline -" everyone laughed - "you take care of the old man.  Juan, you and Jose do the mom.  Then comes the real fun."  Moline pulled Mr. Martinez's head back, as Pedro instructed.  Like a light Pedro drew a switchblade and slit his throat.  Juan and Jose did the same to Mrs. Martinez.  Followed by a gang rape of the lucky Name the Slasher contest winner.  When Raf's gang left they were ten thousand dollars richer, a fact not lost on New Mexico's state police.

When Carl left St. Stephen's, he just kept going, walking and hitchhiking his way from Pittsburgh, PA to Childersburg in north-central Alabama.  He had no plan, but once he knew he was in Alabama he made for Birmingham; he'd heard it called the Pittsburgh of the South.  He hadn't meant to take a wrong turn and bypass Birmingham; but the man he'd hitchhiked with from Tennessee demanded to see his cock.  "How could he know?" the boy thought in a panic.  He got out at a town called Gadsden and decided to walk to Birmingham.  Just as he arrived in Childersburg, thinking it a suburb of Birmingham, a crew of convicts on a work release program under supervision of the State Highway Administration made a break.  Finding himself surrounded by a swarm of police cars, he threw up his hands and turned himself in.  It took a week to discover he had no part in the escape and had never been in prison at all.  When he was released he hit the road again.

"They died in a car wreck before I turned two," he told the two hundred fifty pound woman he met downtown.  "Thank God they never lived to see that pathetic little string you been carrying around - how old'd you say you were?"  "Nineteen."  "That miserable little Q-Tip you been carrying around nineteen years.  Why don't you just cut it off and be done with it?"  "I've thought about it.  Maybe I will one day."  "Why don't you let me do it for you?  God knows it's useless for anything else.  It'd be fun watching you crawling around the floor looking for it. 'Where's my pee-pee?  Where'd I put it?  You seen it Fat Violet?"  She burst into raucous laughter, her whole body shook.  "Like a bowl full of jelly," the poorly endowed teen recited from his all-time favorite poem.  Violet reached down and slapped his dick so hard he let out a scream and looked down, thinking maybe she knocked it off.  But it was still there, starting to swell.  Again Violet let out a mighty laugh.  "It's bigger beat up than it is hard!  Oh, look: pee-pee's starting to squirt its pathetic little load.  So how's it feel not being a virgin anymore?"  Jeremiah looked down at the stream that had just ejaculated, a sad mixture of cum, pre-cum and blood.  Then looked up at Fat Violet.  "But that don't make me not a virgin anymore," he said.  "I wasn't inside no pussy."  "And you never will be - unless she's unconscious - or dead - with a pitiful little thing like yours.  Hey, maybe you should be an undertaker.  That's the only way that pee-pee of yours is ever going to see the inside of a pussy."  Tears were streaming down his face as he shook his head no.  "I'm gonna be a prison guard."  "Then maybe you can see what a real man has between his legs.  You should turn queer."  Again, Jeremiah shook his head.  "I just wanna fuck a woman.  I just wanna be like every other man."  "In your wet dreams!  Now get the fuck out of here.  I got a real man coming over at eight.  He gets his dinner at eight - you figure it out, Jeremiah with the little peenie-poo!"  "When can I see you again?"  "When I'm in the mood for a good laugh.  Next time I'm taking a picture of it to show my other customers.  Now run along Jerry.  And have some more wet dreams of that little rubber band of yours inside a pussy!"  Jeremiah stood in the hall wondering if he acted wisely giving out his real name, wondering why he said his parents died when he was two when he was five, wondering too about his little brother Josiah and if he too had a tiny dick.  But then, he concluded, if those Asian men who took him had little bommies for him to suck, they wouldn't care how tiny Josiah's was.

Justen's family had been evicted from their bungalow in Moline's Floreciente neighborhood before he turned five.  As traumatic as this was, his family, within six months, bounced back from their temporary setback and even moved into a much bigger home in the more upscale Karsten's Park neighborhood.  But he never forgot.  To him, it wasn't his family that was foreclosed and evicted but the house itself.  In removing its residents, they had uprooted the house itself.  Justen would wake up at night dreaming of his family's home weeping and trying to call out to them; but it didn't know where they had gone.  On his tenth birthday he set out to find his old home, and did.  But what he saw made him cry.  It had been repainted and landscaped and a garage built onto it.  What Floreciente saw as a lovely renovation Justen saw as a desecration.  He had brought a box of matches with him; he had seen on TV how people burn down houses.  He moved closer, his matches ready.  Just then a young boy ran out of the house to play with some friends nearby; he said hi to Justen, who asked if he lived here with his family.  He said he did then hurried off.  Justen put away his matches and went on home.  As much as he wanted to burn down his old home, he couldn't, not when someone still lived there.  He swore though that if it ever became vacant he'd return to finish what he started. 

Laresha found her way to a nightclub in downtown Albuquerque where only Spanish was spoken.  It taxed her patience, concentration and memory to their limit dredging up all the Spanish her mother had secretly taught her when she was growing up; but she managed to secure a job as a full-time bar maid and part-time back-up singer for a band named Los Jabalis and featuring a ravishing beauty from Las Cruces.  "You're having trouble with your Spanish?" a fellow bar-maid asked.  "Yes," Laresha acknowledged, "I am."  "It does not flow naturally from a Negro tongue," it was pointed out.  "But there is a secret known only to bar-maids: each time you stumble over a phrase, lower your neckline a little.  Then all the men will hear whatever you wish them to.  Your Spanish will be flawless, mistakes and all."  "Who is the woman always at Graciana's heels.  Is she a chaperone?" Laresha asked.  "She is what the Gringo's call a 'groupie.'"  "She is a lesbian?"  "Oh no.  A mother protector, watching over her idol like a hen over its chicks.  Be careful of her.  Should you ever outshine Madame Juarez, Alvereta de la Selenz will rip your heart out!"  "How could anyone ever outshine Graciana?"  "Ah!  You have not seen her in the morning light!"

Josiah knew he'd escape his imprisonment, it was just a matter of time.  He quickly got to know who was what in the scheme of things, who was all talk and who meant what he said.  Gradually he gravitated toward members of a gang he'd had vague contact with on the outside; he knew enough about them to believe they'd plan a breakout - and receive help from outside sources.  He readied himself; and when it came time - when all the signs were right - he stood alongside them, and left with them.  For a year he worked his way through a series of heists and though he had no qualms about taking a life the occasion never arose.  During this time he searched for Laresha but nothing of her remained.  In one last desperate effort to find her, he went among Chicago's whores.  Even though he knew she wouldn't be there any more than she would have returned to the Projects, it was his last hope.  Finally he met up with Laresha's former roommate and learned she had left Chicago to take up with Hispanics.  "Where'd she go?"  "All I know is she went southwest.  Find it on a map."  "It's a big place.  I'll try Texas first then work my way westward."  "You do that."

Josiah would go home each night when it got too late to beg so his family could empty his cut.  Some days he did good - better even than their own children.  Some days he did bad and his new parents debated whether to hack off another limb.  "Leave his eyes be," his new mama insisted.  "Don't bother with an ear either - no one ever got a rupee with an ear missing."  "Well, we can't take his good hand," his new papa said.  "He doesn't have to hold his cup, he can set it in his lap."  But his new papa wouldn't hear of it.  "Without a hand anyone can walk right off with his cut!  His right hand stays.  If we have to we'll have to pay to get his left arm taken off - at least to the elbow."  "No, no no!" his new mama countered.  "A missing hand stands out.  Take his arm and people won't even notice he's deformed."  "Ah," his new papa concluded, "he's more trouble than he's worth.  Maybe just throw him in the sewer and be done with him."  "I saw a lizard once," Josiah recalled for no particular reason.  "Somebody showed it to me.  And a baby chick.  And a rabbit.  And even a big hairy spider that made me laugh.  I miss my brother."  No one paid any attention to his rambling.  "I could draw a picture of my crib.  I was better with my left hand.  But I bet I could do it even with my right hand."  Then it became time to sit and beg again.

Pecos Pest Fastest Knife in the West, as the serial killer was dubbed by Judy Martinez, cut his father to pieces first.  Not for anything he did but because he stopped.  He found Jesus on a road trip and, along with Jesus, brought peace and love and mercy and harmony and compassion back to his desert house.  None of these qualities could fill the silence or stop madness from encircling his house.  All day, all evening, instead of raging against reality, instead of beating his wife and son to a bloody pulp, he sat rocking and whispering prayers so silent he could barely be heard.  His son was growing desperate; he did everything he could to enrage his father, even showing him his magazines showing men and women, men and men, women and women, even child on child in as lurid a pose as anyone could imagine.  But to no effect; his father only nodded, smiled and whispered "Jesus saves."  "Fuck your Jesus!" he screamed in his father's face.  Growing more desperate each passing moment, he even pulled his pants down and beat off right in front of his father, sending a raging ejaculate into his father's face.  But his father only smiled and kept praying as his son's cum trickled down his face into his lap.  "I'll fuck your wife - my mother!  I'll rape her right in front of your face!  How would you like that?"  His father nodded and kept smiling and repeated in a soft whisper "Jesus saves."  He threw back his head and screamed.  Two nights later he came to his father completely naked, carrying a butcher knife.  He began screaming as he raised his knife to begin his life's work, plunging it deep into his father's forehead then working it down his face until it came out just under his chin.  His father moaned, closed his eyes, and attempted a prayer, but with his tongue cut down the middle no recognizable words came forth.  Then he plunged the knife into his father's belly and began a slow circular career through every organ inside his abdomen, pulling it out at his diaphragm.  Finally he plunged his knife into his father's chest, working it around until all movement, all breath, all prayer, all Jesus had ceased.  Over the next two days, still screaming wildly, he cut his father into little pieces.

"Hey, I know you!" a man sitting in a diner just off Interstate 20 said when he looked up.  Carl had made it as far as Longview, Texas without further incident.  "You're that kid with the big cock!  First time I ever met a real-life celebrity."  Carl panicked and ran out of the diner back onto Texas 281, quickly hitching a ride with a trucker going west.  "How far you going son?"  "Out west."  "Ok, you can ride with me.  I don't talk much.  And I don't much listen.  All I ask is you keep still unless you gotta piss or shit.  I'll stop if I can, otherwise you'll have to hold it till we get to a roadside stop."  Twice Carl had to piss, once he had to shit; all three times he wandered as far from the truck as he dare, just in case someone might be looking.  "I'll be stopping over in Las Cruces.  I sleep in my truck.  You're welcome to join me, just don't snore or I'll throw you out."  Two A.M. they pulled off Interstate10, coming to a stop on a deserted side road.  Within minutes both were sound asleep.  Four A.M. they were awakened by a banging behind the trailer.  "Stay here," the trucker told Carl as he pulled a gun out of the glove box and silently made his way around his truck.  He saw nothing, so he turned to get back in the cab.  A hail of gunfire greeted him so fast he never got off a single shot.  His body was riddled with dozens of bullets before he even fell.  Their leader sent three of his men to get whoever was in the cab.  "You get a choice boy," Raf Juarez informed his prisoner.  "You can open your trailer or you can open your fly and start your soprano lessons."  Carl was too scared to speak.  Raf flashed a switchblade under his chin and said "Choice is yours."  Carl made his way to where he remembered the trucker stashing his keys and pointed.  "Get 'em!" he was told.  "And no funny stuff or Juan gets to shoot that pretty-boy face clean off your head."  Carl retrieved the keys and carefully handed them to Raf.  When the trailer's contents were carted off Raf pointed his gun at Carl's right eye.  "Most folks pride themselves on shootin' you right between your eyes.  But it's more fun shootin' you right smack dab in your eyeball.  And a whole lot messier.  So what'll it be?  Join up, become part of our gang, or feel your eyeball go squish?"  Carl chose to join Raf's Razorbacks.  "Good.  Now see that boy over there?  He's only thirteen and don't pull his weight.  Your first assignment - or your last: walk over to him, lift your gun, once I give you one, and do to him exactly what I was going to do to you.  Got that?"  Carl nodded.  Raf handed him a gun.  He walked over to the boy, lifted his gun, and shot him in his right eye.  Blood squirted everywhere.  Carl became a Razorback.

Judy Martinez carried her child in secret and in silence.  She gave birth on a cold winter's night behind a middle school that reminded her of the one she once attended.  She started to toss the after birth in a dumpster then remembered how animals ate their placenta, so maybe it was nutritious, she concluded; so she bundled it up with her baby and quickly returned to an abandoned shed where she had lived ever since her rape.  She didn't know her parents had been killed, only that they had not come to her rescue.  Even so, she could not bear to face them so she left home and wandered West Texas on foot until finding a place of shelter on a deserted lot in Odessa, some seventy miles east of Pecos.  She knew from sex-ed class how babies fed, so she began at once letting him suck at her teat.  She also remembered how to change his diaper, though she only had rags she found in garbage cans.  But since that was where her food came from, she deemed it a suitable place to get her baby's diapers.  She wondered what to call him; from his features she took him to belong to the one who hurt her so badly.  And since his was the biggest, his seed would have been first to reach her egg.  Finally she remembered hearing him called Carl, so that's what she named him.  She also remembered that all babies needed a birth certificate, so she got a scrap of paper and found a discarded ink pen.  She wrote "Birth Certificate of Carl Martinez, son of Carl and Judy Martinez, born 2:30 A.M. in Odessa, Texas."  She folded her baby's certificate and put it in a safe place.  Every night she would sing her son to sleep, never giving a thought to who might be listening.

"What?" Jeremiah wailed.  "Fat Violet?  Dead?  How could that happen?"  "What's it to you?  She was just another whore - you were just another John!"  "I never lied to her about my name, I swear it.  When did she die? how did she die?"  "Last Saturday, middle of the night, she busted a gut.  You know: an aneurysm, somewhere in her abdomen."  Jeremiah started to cry.  "Was she all alone?  Did she die all alone?"  "I guess.  What's it to you anyway?"  "I wanted to tell her I loved her."  Fat Violet's pimp burst out laughing.  "You must be the one with the baby dick.  She was going to get a picture of it to show us all.  Look, kid, I got lots of fat ass whores in my stable.  How about I set you up with another one?"  Jeremiah hesitated.  "Tell you what: first trick's on the house!  What do you say?"  Jeremiah thought about it before finally accepting his offer.  "Come around tomorrow night.  Ask for Bobbi Jasmine.  She's big, fat, ugly as a hound, and mean as a snake."  Twenty-four hours later Jeremiah's new whore ordered him to strip naked, which he did, then burst out in raucous laughter, taking up a magnifying glass to hold at his dick.  "Ah!  There it is!" she exclaimed.  "Now get on your hands and knees, Baby Dick - you don't mind if I call you Baby Dick - now your mistress's gonna ride you bare back."  With this, she plopped down on his haunches and rode him around her room.  "Get-e-up!" she yelled as she beat his thighs with her whip.  "Whoa!" she then yelled.  "Now do ten laps around the room for your mistress while she watches from the stands."  When that was done she made him lie down.  She stood over him and urinated.  It all ran down his belly onto his dick.  "Now you get up, get dressed, and get out of here.  And don't be washing your mistress's pee off.  You leave it to dry and that's how you go to work for the next week.  And, if you're lucky, you can see me again next Tuesday, same time, same place.  And I better be able to smell my scent on you or I'll slam my door right on your little dickie-doody!  You got that?"  Jeremiah nodded.  She slapped his face.  "You don't nod - you answer when I speak to you!"  "Yes, I got it."  Again she slapped him.  "'Yes, I got it - Mistress'!  That's how you answer your goddess.  Now let's do it right."  "Yes, I got it, mistress."  Before long, Jeremiah fell madly in love with Bobbi Jasmine.

The trap was set, the spring triggered, the Moline Firebug caught red-handed.  On his way to jail he praised God for his deliverance.  Justen, too, had seen him at just about every fire he set, an old hobo wandering the arson circuit for a few minutes' warmth.  But happy to be tried, convicted, sentenced and sent to a warm cell in Illinois Maximum Security Facility at Statesville in Crest Hill - sentenced and buried so deeply in Moline's memory that not even another round of arsons prompted a second look.  This time the real Firebug was caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to a term at Statesville, sharing a cell with a young man with a scowl on his lips, a scar on his cheek and a crew-cut on his scalp.  He name was Andy and he began at once indoctrinating his new cell-mate into what he referred to as "The True History of Amerika."  "Shouldn't that be '-ca?'" Justen observed.  "So you prefer the pussy spelling?" Andy asked.  "No, I ain't no pussy.  Hell, I saved twenty homes single-handed!"  "What, are you a Jew?  Saving houses so you can buy 'em all up and rent 'em out to Niggers and Spics?"  "No, I burned 'em down so they wouldn't be moved."  "Oh, so the Jews could build a shopping mall?"  "It was the Historical Society -"  "A pack of Jews with a few fags thrown in!"  "Maybe...I don't know."  "What made you start torching houses?"  "After my folks were evicted -"  "By the Jews!"  "- I couldn't bear watching my home dying for having lost its residents.  I was going to burn it down - I wanted it to be my first good deed, but I never got to."  "Why not?"  "There were people moved in.  They had a son about my age.  I couldn't set fire to it with people inside."  "What kind of people?"  "They looked like Hispanic I think."  "Then all the more reason to torch it!  Be fewer Spics for us to do battle with!"  Justen gave his cell-mate a puzzled look.  "You think we're gonna just stand by while our country gets taken over by Spics and Niggers and Jews?  We're gonna kill the bastards.  There's a war coming - an all-out war.  It's already started.  We're picking them off one by one right now; but you can count on it: any day now the real, all-out war begins.  And I intend to be part of it.  What about you?  Are you a red-blooded Amerikan? or a panty-waist little nigger-lovin', cock-suckin', ass-lickin' pansy?  Are you with us or not?"  "I-I-I'm with you.  I'm with you."  "Good, 'cause you got a lot a catchin' up to do.  Ready to start?"  "Yeah, sure, I'm ready."  Andy brought out a stack of books.  "Today's the first day of the rest of your life."  Within a week Justen had fallen hopelessly in love with every word of every sentence of every book Andy placed before him.  "When we break out," Andy told his novitiate, "we're gonna take down as many as we can - starting with one Spic family in Floreciente!  You with me?"  "Damn straight I am!"

Carl convinced himself he thought it a toy gun when he fired it.  Even as he pretended, even as his conviction came within a hair of certainty, he secretly saw it as a way to kill his Bishop and spare himself the ordeal laid out by his comatose schoolmate from St. Stephen's.  Every night before falling asleep he pictured himself putting a bullet from a gun he thought wasn't real through his Bishop's eye.  Every morning before waking up, he had a wet dream.  This, the morning of their next big raid, his fellow Razorbacks played a trick on him.  They carefully removed his pants and underpants then stood back watching his cock stand twelve rock solid inches, quiver a few minutes, then explode in a jet stream of ejaculate which almost hit the ceiling before falling back on his belly.  They laughed till he awoke then laughed again when he felt his cum all over his belly.  "Hey Kewpie Doll, why not just beat off?" Juan asked him.  "It's a sin," said Carl.  "Oh, I get it: a sin to beat off but ok to blow a kid's face off!"  "That was an accident!" Carl insisted.  "I didn't know the gun was real."  "Of course not - but even so you didn't want Raf to pull the trigger on you!"  "That was just in case."  "Kewpie Doll, admit it: you're a cold-blooded killer like all the rest!"  Carl gave no defense; but in his mind he clung to his ignorance.  Later, Raf again handed him a gun.  "Pretend it's a toy if you want, Kewpie Doll.  If that's what it takes to pull the trigger without hesitation, that's fine with me.  We leave in an hour."  The Razorbacks were holed up on Rattlesnake Ridge; their target for tonight's raid was Fort Bliss, Texas.  They rarely went after institutions, going instead for individual homes in upscale neighborhoods, where valuables were taken and sometimes residents murdered.  Raf, on a lark, fixed Fort Bliss residents in his sights, expecting to barely cover costs; but he felt compelled to leave his mark on what he considered The Big Time.  "Sis sings tonight," he reminded his men; "little extra psychic energy can't hurt!  Then we head north.  Time to do the Albuquerque/Santa Fe Circuit.  Las Cruces is getting too easy.  Too many fucking gringo retirees!  Might as well be in South Florida.  You gringos send your old folks south to die - eh, Kewpie?"  Carl never had folks to get old and be sent somewhere to die; but he nodded anyway.  I'd probably send them south too, he concluded.                    

Graciana bombed.  For the first time ever.  She wasn't concerned because she knew she would.  She couldn't get her face just right, and if her face was wrong, her voice was off key, if ever so slightly.  Her audience would not have noticed her being off key, but they felt something was not quite right and responded unenthusiastically.  She bowed and left the stage to Laresha, who shined like the brightest star in the sky.  "Only beauty can create beauty," Graciana had told Laresha.  "If I were as ugly as Alvereta not a single note would flow from my voice."  Behind Graciana's back certain members of her band, Los Jabalis, worked to persuade Laresha to replace Graciana as lead singer.  "How can you even think such a thing?" Laresha asked, scandalized by such an outrage.  "No one alive could ever replace Graciana, her voice is like nothing else on earth, her beauty unmatched anywhere.  For her band's sake, I won't repeat what you asked of me; just don't dare suggest such a thing ever again."  "She's been asked to replace you," Alvereta, slinking in the shadows behind stage, informed her prey.  "Yes, I know," Graciana's reply convinced Alvereta she was facing a demon.  How could she know? thought the demon-hunter.  Only I was backstage; she had gone home.  How could she know?  "I feign omniscience," Graciana told Laresha for no particular reason.  "It seems to excite the ugly one.  To be beautiful, to have a voice God Himself would envy, and to know everything as well: it's all too much for her ugly little head to comprehend."  "I would be careful of her if I were you.  I think she's dangerous.  I think she secretly hates you."  "I know she does," Graciana agreed.  "I overheard her tell someone I was a demon."  "A demon?"  "She is as ugly inside her head as on the outside."  Laresha endeavored to encounter Alvereta alone, a feat possible only if Graciana was onstage or had gone home early.  "My people back home - in Chicago - believed my mother was possessed by a demon.  I know she wasn't; but trying to preserve her Hispanic heritage in a place of African-Americans made her seem different - and I suppose to some difference is the same as possession."  "It is not the same," Alvereta assured her.  "I even heard one of our patrons insist Graciana must be possessed to be so beautiful and so talented."  "She is not possessed," Alvereta replied, much to Laresha's relief.  Then, as she walked away, she turned back to Laresha and said "Being possessed is not the same as being a demon" - sending a cold chill down Laresha's spine.

"It may be time to get the boy castrated," Josiah's new mother remarked one evening over dinner.  "He will soon be of an age to be a threat to our daughters.  We cannot take the chance of him raping them."  "But he'll miss at least a day's begging," his new father pointed out.  "We can have it done the moment he returns from the day's begging.  That way it has a whole night to heal."  "Then arrange it for tomorrow."  And so it was arranged, and so it was done.  "You are diseased and must be fixed," was all Josiah was told.  No anesthetic was used; still, Josiah did not cry out.  The next day he was at his allotted place of begging, puzzled why it hurt more than usual to seat himself on the sidewalk; puzzled, too, how it was he felt so light-headed.  Was I drunk? he wondered, remembering his brother once acting out for him as he lay in his crib how it looked to be drunk.  I must then be drunk, he concluded.  Will I become a drunkard and no longer able to beg?  I must ask someone.

Josiah lost his woman again even as he found her.  "She did work here," he was told by a bar-maid, "but she left with Graciana's band."  "Where'd she go?" he asked.  "Don't know for sure, but somewhere in El Paso.  Los Jabalis is headed for The Big Time."  "Los Jabalis?"  "Graciana's band."  "Why would Laresha go with them?  Is one of the band members her lover?"  "They'd all like to be, but no."  "Then what?"  "She's become Graciana's backup singer; some say she should be the lead and Graciana her backup!"  "So I need to check out all the nightclubs," Josiah concluded.  "Just the ones that cater to Hispanics."  "Wouldn't they all?"  "No.  This is America.  Hispanics are still seen as intruders."  "Yeah - so are black folks."  Josiah made straightway for El Paso, determined to find his woman this time.  Once in El Paso he had to put finding his woman on hold, as he had in both Chicago and Albuquerque, while he attempted to secure a living.  And, as in both other places, all that was open to a black man on the run was petty theft.  Only now, he found himself in The Big Time.  At least, to hear his new gang leader, he'd hit The Big Time big time. 

Pecos Pest had no idea he'd been so dubbed, even less that this girl he now stalked had conjured up the name.  He saw her going through garbage cans and dumpsters, followed her home, decided then and there she'd be dead come Saturday morning.  That first encounter and every encounter since Judy Martinez carried a bundle under her blanket.  It was only on what was supposed to be her last night on earth Pecos finally caught sight of what she carried.  He refrained from laughing, cheering or in any other way exposing himself.  But in his heart he crowed fiercely; not only did he have two for the price of one, he at long long last would have his first newborn to hack to pieces.  Each night he followed her from her shed, each night he followed her home; but each night he kept his distance.  He could hear something coming from the shed, but what it was eluded him.  Till finally Friday came around and he stood right outside readying his knife - Fastest in the West - and his best screaming voice.  Then the noise he'd heard all week came loud and clear; and he fell on his knees.  It was the most immaculately radiant sound anyone on earth had ever heard.  It was Judy Martinez singing her son to sleep.  Then it stopped, and Pecos Pest cried out as if he had suffered a loss too monumental to endure.  He broke into Judy's home brandishing his knife and wailing.  He grabbed up Judy and put his knife to her throat and uttered one word: "Sing!"  Judy shook her head.  "He's already asleep," was all she said.  "Sing or I'll butcher you right here and now!"  "I sing only for him."  So Pecos leaped from mother to son, dangling his knife above her baby's belly.  "Sing or I kill him!"  Again she nodded.  "Without him I will never sing again," she promised.  Pecos Pest, Fastest Knife in the West, threw down his knife and burst from Judy Martinez's home, wailing like a cow who's just lost her calf.  Every night thereafter he waited outside her home to hear her sing her son to sleep.  He never killed again.

Andy had friends.  "We're getting out," he told his cell-mate.  "How do you know?" a thoroughly puzzled Justen asked.  "I just do - that's all you need to know.  Are you with me?"  Justen nodded that he was.  "You won't chicken out - you'll do what we talked about?"  Again Justen nodded affirmatively.  Twenty-four hours later the two cell-mates were on their way to a secret hideout along the Mississippi.  "Your choice," Andy told Justen; "for our first assignment it's either Jews or Spics.  What'll it be?"  "Spics!" Justen answered without hesitation.  "If I'd known how dangerous Spics are to our national heritage, I'd have burned down my old house with everyone in it!"  One night later Justen, Andy and a third Young Patriot, named Tony, casually strolled the streets of Floreciente until coming to Justen's old homestead.  Lights, sounds and shadows confirmed the family to be home.  Thirty minutes later Justen's home went up in flames, screams and the sickening motility of trapped people attempting an escape exuding as if sweat from all corners.  Soon there was quiet, then one final burst of activity as a young man enveloped in flames ran from the house, flailing like a drunkard staggering along a sidewalk and grabbing at anything he came near.  Andy and Justen's friend Tony stood right in his path; he took hold of Tony and, still clutching like a vise, fell to the ground, on top of this Young Patriot, who now took up the screams that had burned out.  Justen started to go help Tony but Andy stopped him.  "Let him burn; he's too far gone to save."  When his screams stopped, Andy and Justen left.  Two nights later they started another house fire.  An old couple tried but failed to escape.  "That's two less Jews to rob America!" Andy quipped.  "Good," Justen agreed.   "Next we get us some niggers.  One where there's a ton of nigger kids just waiting to grow up and rape our mothers then slash their throats!"  A week later an entire apartment building burned to the ground; dozens of children perished.  Andy watched in deadly silence while Justen hummed his favorite song.  Three days later they were on their way downstream to Quincy to help rout out those who had purloined The American Dream.

All through high school Alvereta had a crush on Raphael Juarez.  And it was because of him she came to believe his sister Graciana a demon.  In their senior year Alvereta and Raphael were voted "Most Likely To Succeed," her because of her outstanding scholastic achievement, him because of his leadership and athletic abilities.  Within a year of graduation, Raf - as everyone called him - had scuttled all upstanding roles - which he dismissed as vainglorious and stifling - to pursue a life of crime.  He soon discovered he was eminently qualified for such a life; not only was he superbly endowed with every trait needed to make a successful criminal, his charismatic personality attracted a host of followers, which he sorted through until he had sifted out those ill-suited to stand alongside him.  Anyone he felt might pose a threat or anyone who persisted in hanging around was taken out and killed.  What began as fifty whittled down to twenty.  Thirty headless, handless, footless corpses gradually turned up on the outskirts of Las Cruces.  Alvereta knew Raf was instrumental in carrying out these ritual killings; knew as well that a host of crimes attributed to Raf and his gang could be laid at Graciana's feet.  Raf could only have strayed so far from the path of righteousness if a demon had cast a spell over him; and as, one by one, Alvereta eliminated each possible suspect, she was left with but one.  From that moment she began her life as a hunter of demons, a pursuit which took her from Las Cruces to Albuquerque to El Paso and eventually to Odessa, where a ruse abruptly ended her career.                    

Juan spoke in a strange dialect no one could any longer understand.  He brought with him from Anahuac in northern Mexico a severely broken English which his neighbors had always understood until his tongue shriveled and died in the desert.  Now no one in Chimayo or in Rio Arriba had any shared experiences to assist them in deciphering an amalgam of Spanish, English and Nahuatl.  Juan knew this and suffered his shame in silence, his shame at straying from experiences others could understand greater than his shame of losing his speech.  It was a miracle he survived his ordeal: he knew it was a miracle because Jesus and his mother Mary appeared to him with Huitzilopochtli and his sister Malinalxochitl as he lay speechless and choking on the desert floor; and bade him arise; and led him from the desert to a place of safety.  But he could tell no one and could not write into words his miraculous encounter; so he began telling his story in pictographs and enveloping swirls of vivid color, which he knew would take his remaining days on earth to recreate so that others might know of his experience.  He was given a small stipend by his fellow citizens of Chimayo that he might finish telling his story.  And as he came closer with each new pictograph to expressing the miracle, he became more and more well known in Rio Arriba until his fame crossed many boundaries to work its way into a state's then a nation's then a world's consciousness.  Still he wasn't satisfied he had depicted the wondrous presence of four of his people's holiest saints all together before him in the desert.  When his great renown was reported to him he wept bitterly, but could tell no one how his tears were not of joy but despair at being elevated above his patron saints.  So he began yet another series of pictographs, showing how unworthy he was of such renown and how foolish it was of people to place a mere mortal above that which inspired him.  With again the same result.

Carl prayed for deliverance.  He explained to God how it was he happened upon a life of crime.  "Maybe you already know all this," he invoked God's omniscience to help bolster his argument.  "If I promise never to get too involved again with these cut-throats, will you please not tell the Bishop?  And if you can - and I'm sure you can -" Carl invoked God's omnipotence "- will you bring Myron out of his coma?  He's also a student at St. Stephen's.  I didn't knock him down the stairs, he just fell while we were fighting.  It's his fault my special gift was used for evil.  I need him to tell that so I won't be hounded for my whole life.  And I'm especially sorry for having been forced to have sex with that Mexican girl - I think she was Mexican.  If you were watching - and I know you're everywhere -" God's trilogy of powers was now complete "- then you saw how I didn't want to do it but Raf would have cut my cock off if I didn't.  I hope it's alright if I call it my cock.  I know there are other names for it - there's dick, and peter, and pecker, and some even call it their thing but I'm pretty sure that would offend you, it's too impersonal; and I even heard one boy back at St. Stephen's call it his bommie, but Brother Theo washed his mouth out with soap for calling it that, so you'll never hear me call my cock a bommie, I promise you that.  And, finally, please don't damn me to hell for shooting that boy's eye out - it was an accident, as I've already told you before.  I don't know if you could tell from where you were watching but I didn't know for sure the gun was real.  Amen."  Carl signed himself and climbed into bed in the northern New Mexico town of Aztec, where the Razorbacks had holed up after fleeing Fort Bliss.

Pecos Pest left his vigil to return home to southwest of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Looking at it after a five year absence, he realized it would have been possible to have moved his home; even a dozen miles northward could have held the desert at bay and kept his family from madness.  He entered and saw his mother seated at her piano, fidgeting with its keys.  She looked up, saw her son, then returned to her piano.  "Why did you never sing to me?" he asked.  Without looking up, she responded that she had.  "When you were a baby I sang you to sleep every night.  I kept on till you were six."  "Why did you stop?"  "That was when your father came home crazy and began beating us."  "He only came home every couple months," he pointed out.  "He had broken my mouth too many times.  I could no longer sing.  I tried once, but you covered your ears and ran outside screaming.  You stayed in the desert five days.  I thought you had died but I couldn't find your body, so I decided an eagle had carried you away.  Then you came back and told me never to sing again.  I haven't."  "So it was me who brought the madness in."  His mother nodded.  "It wasn't father."  "No, it wasn't your father."  "Did you ever tell the police what I did?"  "It wasn't their concern.  It was a private matter, to be kept within the family."  "Then I must tell them myself."  "If you're no longer part of the family, you may if you wish.  Though I don't know what they can do."  "They can execute me."  "If that's all they have to offer, what value are they?"

"Here."  "What do you want me to do?  Sniff them?  Are they yours?"  "Ass hole!" Bobbi Jasmine snorted.  "You think my pussy'd fit in those tiny panties?"  "Then what?" Jeremiah asked as he inspected them.  "Put them on!"  He thought about it a moment.  He knew men didn't wear panties - especially men with big dicks: they'd never fit.  But his little dick might, so he put them on.  Even with a full erection he fit easily inside them.  "Now what?" he asked.  "Here," Bobbi Jasmine handed him another apparel - this one a bra.  Perceiving Jeremiah's puzzled look, she slapped him across his face.  "You dumb little cock sucker!  What do you think I gave it to you for?  Put it on, jerk!"  It took a minute for him to figure out how it went; then he put it on and fiddled about attempting to fasten it.  Finally he got it.  "Now model them for me!"  Again Jeremiah puzzled over Bobbi Jasmine's instructions; finally he began walking around, turning back when he thought maybe he'd modeled enough.  While he seemed to be lost in reverie, Bobbi Jasmine tip-toed behind and, in a flash, unlocked her front door, opened it, pushed him out into the cold night air.  She then called the police to report a pervert outside her house.  Within minutes they arrived, handcuffing Jeremiah, pushing him into their squad car, driving him to jail.  There, he was processed and put into a cell with five other men, each taking a turn calling him "faggot"  "pussy" "queer" "transvestite" "cock sucker" and any other name they could dredge up.  Finally, saying to his fellow lock-ups "Let's see what this sissy looks like without his panties," one of the five men grabbed Jeremiah and ripped him naked.  All five burst out laughing, over and over and over making fun of his diminutive endowments.  Finally one of them ordered Jeremiah to his knees.  He nodded in agreement that he must now pray for forgiveness for wearing women's clothes.  He clasped his hands in front of him and silently prayed to God to forgive his sin, his mouth moving to let soundless words out.  Deep in prayer he didn't notice his cell-mates gathering around him, taking their pants down, drawing their erect penises nearer and nearer.  Then, as they held his head back each took a turn inside his mouth.  When he was released, his property was returned and he was taken home.  A week later he returned his torn and soiled undergarments to Bobbi Jasmine, who took them but wouldn't let him in.  Two days later Bobbi Jasmine was found stabbed to death.  "Look what she did to my favorite undergarments!  They're my stock and trade!  Bitch deserved to die!  No jury'd ever convict me once I tell them what she did!"  When, in the course of things, Jeremiah learned what had happened, he wept bitterly.   "Why is everyone I love taken?  Why?  Am I so evil that no one is ever allowed for me to love them?  Is that it?"

Josiah's new mother informed her husband over supper that soon he'd be too big to beg.  "If you ask me," Josiah's new father noted, "he's already too big.  They've already started seeing him as a teenager I suspect.  We should have had him fixed when he was still little; maybe he wouldn't have grown so fast."  "What'll we do with him?"  "I've already thought of that.  I've made inquiries.  There's a family lives in a nice house outside Calcutta.  It's quiet, peaceful, and plenty of ground for the bones.  They're willing to pay one thousand rupees for him.  But they want him now, before his muscles start hardening.  Hey you!  Get in here!" Josiah's new father ordered.  Josiah hobbled to the dinner table.  "Tomorrow's your last day begging for us.  Day after tomorrow you're going to live with a nice cannibal family.  Now go on to bed."

Josiah awoke in a cold sweat.  Tyrus happened to be still awake, fine-tuning his plan for tomorrow night.  "You got a fever?" Tyrus asked.  "No, man.  Just that same dream I've had for a month now."  "It better not involve us."  "No, just me - not the Burning Cross."  "Good.  I don't want no bad omens.  Not that I don't care what happens to you - you're one of my best men.  Just be sure you put your dream away when we're on a night run."  "It won't get in our way.  I'm a pro."  Tyrus went back to his work; Josiah went back to sleep.  He never had the dream twice in one night.  Once was enough to disorient him.  Tyrus asked one of his gang members, an older man, coal black with a cock that measured eighteen inches, to find out more of Josiah's dream - just to be sure.  "You got you a pincher, I hear," Cole said one morning in the shower.  "A pincher?  What's that?" asked Josiah.  "My grandma used to tell me about a spirit that comes around when you sleep."  "Something like the sandman?"  "No man.  Sandman puts you to sleep.  Pincher robs you of sleep.  It gives you nervous dreams - dreams that play on your nerves.  And while you're all wrapped up in trying to keep your nerves from spooking you, Pincher reaches in right between your big toe and second toe and rides your biggest nerve till it locates your soul.  Then it starts sucking it right on out."  "You mean it goes into your brain?"  "No man.  Not everyone's soul's in his brain.  Just depends what a man likes best about himself.  For some it's his voice, some his head, or his belly, or even his cock - Pincher don't have far to go to get a man's soul who's cock is his pride and joy."  Josiah instinctively looked down Cole's legs.  Cole burst out laughing.  "Think you got me pegged, do you?  Well you're wrong.  So I got just about the biggest cock on the planet - that don't make it worth more than my heart.  If I lost my cock right here and now, sure I'd cry like a baby!  It's a damn good conversation piece, and just about everyone wants a peek.  But that's all.  My special place is my heart 'cause that's where I put my grandma.  Growing up I was so ashamed of this big thing dangling down between my legs.  I made sure grandma never saw it.  Then, on my thirteenth birthday, when it got hard almost all the time, my grandma called me aside.  'All you're doing son is calling everybody's attention to what you got,' she told me.  'Stop trying to undo what God Almighty did.  God wouldn't have given you something to shame your family.  That thing of yours is gonna show no matter what you do.  Just let it be, and know God'll find a use for it when He's ready.'  I never worried about it again.  But tell me: what's this dream the pincher's been using to find your soul?"  "I see myself being carried by six big men.  I don't know where they're taking me.  Then all of a sudden I look up and there's an open furnace just ahead, flames shooting out everywhere.  Then, next thing I know, they're throwing me in and slamming the door behind me."  "And you feel yourself burning?"  "No.  It's just hot air, and I start melting, all reaching out to try and hold my skin in place so it don't all melt away.  That's when I wake up."  "And, boy, you just told ol' Cole what you been showing that pincher all along.  That chocolate skin of yours is your prized possession.  Your soul's right there lining your skin.  Pincher can get to it real fast.  Black is beautiful, son, can't fault you for that.  But don't make it your be all and end all.  You better get yourself a whole bunch of stuff inside you, take your mind off that skin of yours.  I seen it destroy many a man - black and white.  You notice something, son?  You never heard me say - and you never will hear me say - nigger.  It's just a word, like any other.  If it were just me, I'd say it all the time, just like you young bucks.  But I got my grandma in here, and she'd never abide it.  She said nigger was a white word, and if they want to use it that's fine with her.  But don't let her ever catch me use it or I'd break her heart."  Josiah never let the pincher come to him again.

"Shouldn't we go where we can do the most good?" Justen asked his mentor.  "We will," Andy assured his understudy.  "Don't let it being lily white fool you.  There's plenty of un-American activities in Quincy - going back to the Civil War.  Quincy was part of the underground railroad.  Big on anti-slavery.  They should have been wiped off the map for betraying what this country was all about.  For now though we're just targeting a hang-out for fags.  Two nights from now it's going up in flames - along with a whole bunch of flaming faggots."  As before, the honor of getting a blaze going fell to Justen, while Andy made sure every exit was blocked tight.  By two A.M., forty men found themselves trapped inside a blazing inferno, with no way out.  Justen and Andy milled around just long enough to catch a few shrieks and screams starting up before nodding their satisfaction with another job well done then moving on.  "Where to next?" Justen asked to know.  "Kansas City.  Then we head for Texas."  "Do we ever get to go out looking for women?"  "You got pussy on your mind, do you?"  Justen smiled.  "Sure do," he said.  "Then maybe it's time to get yourself fixed."  "Fixed?"  "You don't know what fixed means?"  "Yeah, I know.  It's like when dogs get neutered."  "If you're gonna be thinking about pussy when we have God's own work to do, you might want to consider cutting your balls off."  "No, I mean, no, I mean, I won't be thinking about pussy - not when we got work to do.  You know I wouldn't let anything interfere with our work.  Hell, if I thought me thinking about pussy'd let even one un-American SOB get away, I'd cut my dick off too!"  "Good man," Andy observed.  "Wish we had a million more like you, maybe we'd have a better chance saving this great land.  Right?"  "You bet you!"                    

Huitzilopochtl and Malinalxochitl came to Juan in a vision as he was praying to Jesus and Mary for guidance.  His renown had become a curse set upon him.  He almost - he never did but almost - questioned his salvation just to be given an agony infinitely worse than having his tongue cut from his mouth, a fate more hideous than bleeding to death as desert winds spread a slow pall of sand about him.  His finding no way to complete his task filled him with despair.  Leaving those who saved me back at my tomb while I day by day grow in stature is an abomination before all the holy ones and all my brothers in Nahua.  Soon I will become such an outcast that no holy one will ever visit me again, and all Nahua will turn away when I approach.  He begged them to lift this terrible burden but they refused.  They told him this would be his fate for the rest of his life for telling his tale of rescue.  But it must be told! he pleaded.  They told him yes, it must; but people only wished to honor each other, not such ones as Huitzilopochtl or Malinalxochitl or Jesus or Mary.  Just before departing they offered him a ray of hope: they reminded him he still had many sins to atone.  Then they were gone, and in the stillness of infinite morning he remembered what he had done.  All he had done, all those he had murdered, all those he had robbed, all those he had raped - everything his obsession with his vision had driven from his mind to make him forget himself a cutthroat.  Then, above all his other crimes, he remembered slitting a woman's throat on Martinez Street in Pecos, Texas and raping her daughter.  I must go there and be punished for my sin.  I must tell all the world what I have done and soon this curse it has set upon me will be lifted.                

Graciana took turns admiring and reviling her protégé.  One minute she went into a fit of envy at Laresha's beauty and talent, threatening to banish her from Los Jabalis forever.  Then she came to see her rival as a great asset to her band and even herself as well; and thought it best not to force someone with such poise and charm to compete against her.  Every member of Graciana's band fed Laresha leads to other bands in El Paso, assuring her that any one of them would take her as their lead singer in a heartbeat - a betrayal lost on neither Graciana nor Alvereta.  Repulsive little troll! Graciana said to herself while outwardly thanking Alvereta for her concern.  You think I don't know? Alvereta meanwhile thought; you think I can't read your every sinister impulse?  I will not be done with you till your brother has been avenged.  One week later they were gone - Alvereta, Graciana, Laresha, Los Jabalis - lock, stock and barrel.  On a sudden impulse arising from her growing dread of Laresha striking out on her own, Graciana announced they were pulling up stakes to head farther east.  "Where east?" Graciana's band demanded to know.  "I'll let you know when I know," she told them.  "And when will that be?"  "By the time we reach where 10 and 20 break I'll Know."  Alvereta barely suppressed a laugh as she sidled over to Laresha and whispered "Clear a path - demon on the run!"  When their bus reached Van Horn, stopping for a quick brunch, Graciana announced their route would take them to Fort Worth.  As expected, her band, to a man, vigorously objected to heading north, along Interstate 20, instead of south along Interstate 10 to San Antonio or Houston, both of which had much larger Hispanic populations.  "I see our best chance farther north," Graciana explained.  "We're not well known outside West Texas; competition would be too keen for a start-up band.  I'll know before our first day's out if my muse misled me.  We can then flip a coin: heads we go 45 to Houston, tails 35 to San Antonio."  Something terrible happened along the way, which completely re-worked Graciana's plan.  Just outside the city of Pecos in Reeves County she was taken deathly ill, her mysterious malady baffling everyone who examined her.  In desperation, she was taken by police escort to Odessa.  By then she was in a coma.  "Or a self-induced trance," Alvereta whispered to Laresha.  "How can you say such a thing?" Laresha shot back at her.  "She's going to die!"  Alvereta merely shrugged and walked away, whispering under her breath "Demons don't die, they just lure others into their schemes."  Graciana was weeks recovering; even so, she struggled mightily to perform with her band at least two nights a week until they had established themselves within Odessa's Hispanic community.  Then, once a long term deal with an Hispanic nightclub was arranged, she suffered a miraculous and total recovery, though her doctors still cautioned her to limit her activities to avoid a relapse.  Los Jabalis gave up any notion of hitting the big time until Graciana was back on her feet.  Alvereta winked knowingly to Laresha.  "Looks like you won't be striking out on your own just yet," she whispered in her ear.

Jeremiah's experience in jail made for an affinity to his baby brother as nothing else ever had.  Now he understood Josiah's very first task in life: sucking little Asian bommies.  A new word had entered Jeremiah's world: cock sucker.  "I am become fag, sucker of cocks," he told himself.  Upon his release, he blessed his attackers for what they had given him.  "Sure," they answered back, "we got more where that came from, cock sucker.  Yummy-yum-yum fag cum in your tummy-tum-tum!"  He struggled mightily to emblazon those two magical terms so deep in his mind he'd never forget.  And now every time he was with a whore, he'd ask her all about being a fag and a cock sucker.  When he felt he knew all he could, he began asking where he could go to be a fag and suck cocks.  After many false starts, he was directed to a place called a Gay Bar.  Upon entering, he announced himself to be a fag who sucks cocks.  The entire bar broke out in raucous laughter.  Most thought him a prankster; but a few were more perceptive and decided to have some fun with him.  "So why'd you come here?" they asked.  "There are no cocks here to suck.  Who told you to come here?"  "Jelly Peaches," he told them.  "What is a Jelly Peaches?"  "She's a new whore I'm in love with.  Not as fat and not as mean as Fat Violet or Bobbi Jasmine, but I love her anyway.  She makes fun of my little dick."  "Let's see it."  Jeremiah looked around, puzzled by their request.  "Go ahead, it's ok.  You won't get arrested."  "That's ok if I do 'cause the men in my jail cell taught me about sucking cocks."  Jeremiah pulled down his pants.  Once again the place broke out in laughter.  "Hey guys!" one of his interrogators called.  "Let's give a big - big - hand for a little - little - pee pee!"  A round of applause ensued.  Before last call, Jeremiah made the rounds, sucking every cock in the Gay Bar, wondering how many little Asian bommies Josiah had sucked at any given time.  The more cocks he sucked, the closer he felt to his little lost brother.  It became an obsession second only to being humiliated by fat whores - an obsession that earned him a rap sheet as long as his arm.  So when his time was at hand, he left his home a dyed-in-the-wool pervert and headed south to begin his life as a prison guard, eventually ending up at the Huntsville Unit, some fifty miles north of Houston, where through a misunderstanding on his part he became know as "That Crazy Jew."

It took four strong men to hold Carl spread-eagled while he approached with his knife drawn.  This had been planned for weeks.  Besides having fun at someone's expense, the other Razorbacks had come to regard Carl as more than simply a blonde-haired blue-eyed lily-white boy out for a lark on a dare or a fraternity hazing; they saw him as usurping their rightful place within Raf's gang.  Chief among the instigators was Juan Cordoba, who till Carl came along had always been Raf's right-hand man, consulted before any mission began.  "You are more than on the drawing board with me, mi amigo: you are the drawing board!" Raf had told him.  "No mission goes down till you have given it your blessing!  You have the gift of second sight - you, my friend, are my personal visionary, my sorcerer, my guardian angel.  You carry in your soul the power of all Nahua.  You are my brother in battle, mi amigo!"  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, but inexorably and, therefore, inevitably Carl assumed Juan's special place beside his fellow Hispanic.  Some said it was because of Carl's "special gift" that he moved so swiftly through the ranks; others that it was Carl's unearthly naiveté; still others that Carl was more treacherous than any other Razorback; and a few even maintained Carl to be nothing more than a perfect front man and an ideal foil - a lily-white in a sea of brown, easily spotted, easily pursued, easily sacrificed.  Juan himself chose which whore to procure and who to hire to fill the special role.  On a hot summer's night in Pecos, a village southwest of Santa Fe, where the Razorbacks were holed up, a woman was silently smuggled into Carl's tiny room.  Carefully, his cover was removed to reveal a rock hard cock sticking straight up.  Silently but swiftly this woman undressed, climbed upon Carl's bed, and began sucking his cock till it finally exploded in a torrent which ran down this woman's chin onto her breasts.  At that exact instant Juan flicked the light switch while a second Razorback awoke Carl with a loud bang outside.  Carl looked up, saw this woman, and screamed in terror at his defilement.  He struck out, knocking his defiler from his bed.  She turned and ran.  And when she disappeared another arose to take her place.  He proceeded as if in a procession until arriving at Carl's door.  He raised his arm and pointed.  "Unclean!" he pronounced.  "Thou sinner, thou must pay for thine uncleanness.  Take hold of him!" he commanded those who had gathered around Carl's bed.  He brought forth a bejeweled dagger and came at Carl.  "You know what must be done," he told Carl.  "No, Bishop!" Carl cried and pleaded.  "No!  I am innocent!  I didn't know what I was doing!  No, Bishop!  Please!  Forgive me!"  "You are forgiven - but your sin must be destroyed."  With his dagger inching its way to Carl's cock, the Bishop slowly approached while a man each held Carl's arms and his legs.  Carl screamed and, as he screamed, lunged, throwing all four men aside.  Leaping from his bed, he ran naked into the desert night, running and running blindly, stopping only when he saw daylight approaching.  When he was sure it really was daylight beginning to lift toward heaven and not simply his Bishop come to sever his special gift, he fell to his knees and thanked God for his deliverance.  "Thank you Lord," he bowed his head low to kiss this plot of ground made hallowed.  "Thank you for your sacred first light of day.  Thank you for driving his powers out with your holy sun.  Thank you for saving my special gift from his dark powers, which rise at night and wane at daybreak.  I promise I will never make you regret delivering me from your Bishop this night.  Amen."

Juan made his way to Police Headquarters, tears of joy lighting his face.  Soon this terrible curse will be lifted from me, he kept telling himself in his broken language only he could understand.  He went inside, went from person to person till finally he came to the police chief, who immediately recognized him but could not account for his presence here.  "Has someone robbed you?"  Juan shook his head.  "Threatened you?"  Again, no.  "Harmed your family in any way?"  No.  "What is it that brings you here?"  Juan began pointing to his heart.  "You're having a heart attack?"  No.  Soon his pointing gave way to all manner of gesture as if he were acting out a pantomime; but still no one could decipher his meaning.  He sat down at a desk, took up a pencil, began drawing one after another pictograph showing his life in violent crime.  All the police chief could do was shrug, as did everyone called in to help decipher Juan's pictographs.  "I'm sorry," he was told, "but we don't know what it is you want."  Looking as if he had just taken on a giant millstone, Juan turned to go.  A deputy started after him with a handful of pictographs he had left behind, but was stopped by his chief.  "Are you crazy?" he chided his underling.  "Don't you know who that is?"  "Yeah that's that painter, Juan Corona."  "Not Corona, dipshit, Cordoba - Juan Cordoba!"  "Cordoba, Cordoza, Corona, Corolla!  Who gives a shit!"  "Who gives a shit?  You and me do dipshit!  We just acquired twenty brand new paintings!"  "It's just penciled in scribbles!"  "Yeah - but the ass-holes up north are paying half a million for just one!  And we have twenty!  We're rich men!  Rich as shit!  That stupid Spic don't even know what he's got!"  That night Jesus appeared before Juan, swearing he'd burn down the jail - and everyone in it - for their insult to everything God had given him.  No sooner had Jesus departed than Huitzilopochtli came to him, whispered in his ear "He's impetuous.  I will block his path so he doesn't carry through his threat."  "What of me?" Juan prayed to know.  Huitzilopochtli gave no answer before he turned to go; but to himself he said "Juan must never be avenged.  He has brought shame upon his people. He must find peace in his struggle alone."

Kansas City proved a disappointment to Andy and his protégé.  They managed to torch a dozen homes, yielding a few dozen victims; but never secured a really big haul.  "A waste of good time," Andy concluded after so little to show for a solid month's effort.  "A few Jews, a handful of Niggers, not a single Spic, maybe a fag or two: we might as well have been scratching each other's balls out back of junior high for all the good it's done us.  Shit I wanted to get me some Spics!  We leave tonight for Texas - and I mean way down south and way out west!  We don't stop till someplace that's crawling with Spics - maybe El Paso.  Yeah, that's it: El Paso - our next stop."  They never made it that far.  On the road to El Paso they were spotted stopped along a deserted stretch of US 54 - Patriot Freeway - by a gang of cutthroats escaping a foiled raid on Fort Bliss.  Before Andy or Justen could summon any of their weapons they were pulled from their car by four of Raf's biggest henchmen.  Brought before Raf, they were given the same choice as Carl: shoot or be shot.  Like Carl before them, they chose to give rather than receive.  "Pick anyone you want - except Juan there: he's my guardian angel; or Kewpie Doll: he's my trump card.  Both Andy and Justen fixed on the same target: an older, smallish man with pronounced Native American features.  "You know what to do," Raf told them.  They approached their target, got almost to him, raised their guns, aimed, fired point blank.  Each bullet blasted an eyeball to pieces.  Blood and gore spewed everywhere.  Raf sent his second lieutenant to retrieve their weapons.  "You are Razorbacks," Juan told them.  Later - not that night, not that week, or even that month, but later - when they managed some time away from the others, Justen began plotting their escape.  Andy stopped him.  "Don't you see?" he said.  "This is a God-send.  We don't have to go to the Spics - they came to us.  We use them to carry out our mission.  They're outlaws: stick with them they'll help us kill Spics.  Hell, with them on our side, we'll end up killing half the fucking Spics in the southwest!  Then, when we're done using them, we slaughter them too!"  When Juan, Raf's eyes and ears, reported back to his leader what, in a trance, he had overheard, Raf burst out laughing.  "Perfect!  Your people's gods keep sending me presents on a silver platter!  First Kewpie Doll, now the Moline Firebug and his Neo-Nazi master!  The world, my friend, will before long be my oyster!  The day will be mine, the night my sister's.  Viva Juarez!"

"Stop the car!" a well dressed man implored his driver.  He proceeded to get out, walk back a block, stare dumbfounded at the most incredible thing he'd ever seen.  He just stood there, staring down at this little blue-eyed towhead seated on the sidewalk with a beggar's cup in his hand.  So intently he stared he failed to note the absent left foot and right hand.  As if at last awakening from a dream, Josiah looked up, saw the man, lifted and rattled his cup.  "You beg," the man mumbled, neither a question or a statement but only a hint at something only vaguely in focus.  "After today I don't know if I'll beg or where I'll beg."  "What happens after today?"  "I'm going to live with a family of cannibals tomorrow," Josiah answered matter-of-factly.  "Cannibals?  You did say cannibals?  Is that a code word in these parts?"  "I guess.  It's a nice family that lives just outside town and has a ground big enough for bones."  "Why are you going to live with cannibals?"  "I'll soon be too big to beg.  They didn't fix me in time to stay little."  "Fix you?"  "I was diseased.  I would have raped my new family's daughters, so they fixed me.  But it was already too late to let me keep begging for them."  "So they're sending you to live with a family of cannibals."   "Tomorrow."  "Don't you know anything about cannibals?"  "They're a nice family."  "They eat people."  "There are a lot of people in this town.  They won't go hungry."  "Are they going to eat you?"  "I won't know till I get there."  "Don't you care if they're planning to eat you?"  "If I'm supposed to be eaten, I guess it's alright."  The thought of this beautiful child with an unearthly look in his eyes being cut and up and eaten filled the man with a horror almost unbearable.  He put ten rupees in the boy's cup then returned to his car to wait until the boy's final day's begging was over.  Something told him that interrupting the boy's routine would prove as devastating as being handed over to cannibals because he was to big to continue begging.  When Josiah got up and hobbled his way home, the man had his driver follow.  When Josiah entered his new family's hovel, the man followed him in.  "I won't go to the authorities about all you've done and all you're planning to do to this boy.  I will simply buy him from you."  An appropriate fee was negotiated, after which Josiah's new parents sent him on his way with his new owner.  "Are you taking me to the cannibals now?" Josiah asked.  "Will they be upset if I arrive before tomorrow?"  "There's been a change of plan," was all the man could say.

An hour everyday Josiah took out his son Clete's picture and as he looked at it watched the boy grow to manhood.  Then he carefully folded it and returned it to his pocket, a precious relic of the future.  Anytime Tyrus or any of his gang members drew near, Josiah immediately put it away.  One late afternoon Cole happened upon his reverie; before Josiah could react Cole excused his stealth and started to go.  Josiah stopped him.  "Maybe it's time someone besides me saw my son," he said as he handed Cole his picture.  Cole's hand trembled as he took it.  Knowing its great worth, he handled it as if holding a newborn in his huge hand.  Then he glanced at Josiah.  "He's my son," Josiah told him.  "Not a photo, just a drawing -"  Cole cut him off.  "A drawing is from your heart, not out of a machine."  Josiah acknowledged as much.  "He's the son Laresha and I planned for and prayed for.  See: he has his mother's eyes.  And his grandmother's mouth."  Cole carefully studied the drawing a moment more.  "But he has nothing of you."  Josiah smiled.  "He has my soul.  It doesn't show -"  Again Cole cut him off.  "It shows clearer than anything.  As your friend, my fondest hope is to one day see him.  His entrance into the world would be a gift beyond anything any man has ever witnessed.  His life would be as great as his likeness is beautiful.  I would tell you you should be an artist except it would be a sacrilege to offer this up to the world for money."  "No one else but you has ever seen this.  No one else but Laresha will ever see it again."  Cole returned Clete's picture to his father, knowing what he must do and how great an honor it would be for him to do it.  As Cole watched Josiah carefully fold his son's picture and put it away, a chill ran down his back.  This child is stillborn, Cole suddenly realized with a groan too soft to be heard a foot away.            

Several nights in a row after work Laresha felt herself drawn to a small shed off a back alley.  Neither her apartment nor the club she worked were near enough to account for this detour.  One night she strayed from her path and got lost along Odessa's back streets.  In re-tracing her steps she mistakenly engaged an obscure alleyway leading to a lot vacant except for one dilapidated shed.  Thinking she heard something she momentarily froze, then continued on her way, only to be confronted again with the same strange sound.  She paused again, this time trying to fix an identity to this strange but vaguely familiar sound.  Suddenly it came to her: it was a baby's crying - not a loud distressed but a slightly irritated cry.  "Someone's abandoned a baby!" she spoke aloud in some alarm.  She hastened back toward the shed, only to be stopped again, this time by a sound that sent her running as fast as she could to get away from here.  Next night she took the same detour, yielding a result almost identical to the previous night's.  And again, and again, and yet again she took this same detour, each time coming a little closer, each time retreating in horror, each time unaware she had been silently watched by a man lurking in a deep shadow.  She kept returning, night after night, kept hurrying away from whatever was making Judy Martinez's singing to her baby something so threatening she must get away before it was too late.  Pecos swore he'd reveal his presence one of these nights.

"Now here's what you do: you go in to the warden, you demand a raise!" Jeremiah was told by his fellow guards.  "I just started today," he reminded them.  "That's the best time.  It's what all of us have done.  It's become like a ritual.  We break in a new man by sending him to demand a raise.  And if he says no, you threaten to quit.  Got that?"  Jeremiah nodded that he got it.  "Then do it!"  He headed off to the warden's office.  As soon as he was out of earshot his fellow guards burst out laughing.  "I'm here to ask for a raise, sir," he stated his business then turned to go.  "Ok," came the warden's reply.  "Our accountant'll let you know when to expect your raise."  "Thank you sir."  "How'd it go?"  "Just like you said.  I didn't even have to threaten to quit."  "Son of a bitch!" his fellow guards exclaimed.  "You must be a Jew or something!"  "A Jew?" Jeremiah repeated.  "Yeah, you know: get your foreskin hacked off, go to your Bar Mitzvah, get all you can: a Jew!"  Jeremiah thought a moment.  Fat Violet said if I'd had a foreskin I might be worth something - so it must have got hacked off.  And I been to just about every bar back home, so I must have been to that bar too.  And I just got a raise - so I'll be getting all I can.  So okay, I am a Jew.  "Okay," Jeremiah acknowledged, "I am a Jew."  "Now you got one more thing you have to do to be a real guard: you gotta quit here after maybe a year or so and move up to a bigger and better job in another prison."  "Where is it?" Jeremiah asked.  "Oh, let's see now.  Hey Joe," Jeremiah's fellow guard called, "where is it our best guards go to when it's their time to move on?"  "Oh, let's see now," Joe mused a moment then called out to another guard.  "Hey Steve, where is it they go when they move on?"  Steve happened to be standing in front of a big wall map of the Southwest.  He turned, closed his eyes, stuck his finger at random.  "Santa Fe, New Mexico!" he called back to Joe, who called back to the first guard, who relayed it to Jeremiah.  "So a year from now I have to move on to Santa Fe.  That's west of here.  So maybe if I keep going a little farther west I'll end up in Asia."  "What's in Asia?"  "My little brother."  "What's he doing in Asia?"  "He was taken there to suck little bommies."  "Oh yeah, that's right: lots of kids end up there!"  "That is one fuckin' crazy Jew!" Jeremiah's fellow guards all agreed when his shift was over and he returned to his tiny one room apartment in downtown Huntsville.

Juan knew his family had returned to their home in Mexico.  They had gone before his pictographs brought him fame and wealth.  They had gone during his time as Raf Juarez's eyes and ears.  He knew this.  So when he visited his home in Chimayo one last time he was looking only for some piece of his former life as an illegal alien that might have still clung to his apartment's walls or floor or ceiling.  Finding none, he bid everything he had been farewell and set out for the deserts of Rio Arriba, which he knew so well that all at once he was upon the spot seen in his mind's eye.  Ahead he could just see bits of Puye Cliff Dwellings, behind him pieces of Sangre de Christo Mountains.  He settled into an isolated canyon, surrounded by scrub brush and a few cactuses.  There would be enough sand to cover him, though it may take many winds many days to affix his burial in time.  When he lay down he closed his eyes lest a vision come to disturb his repose.  He slept off and on.  He laughed once when thirst crept upon him: I have no tongue to quench, he thought.  Where can thirst be hiding inside my mouth? he wondered.  He lay quietly for many days as desert sands slowly made their way upon his frame.  Then only the tip of his nose intruded upon the living world.  One more wind, he thought.  I shall be at peace.  Suddenly he heard a stirring, at first small then great; and a wind came to remove his shroud.  He knew where it came from.  He had hoped his sufferings were enough; but they were not.  Huitzilopochtli had sought him out, as he feared, and emptied his grave before its final clot of sands sealed it.  Juan got up, turned away from his grave, and started south.

Carl sat right down, butt to floor, back to wall.  "Dear Sir," he wrote, "I'm feeling 'low and mean.'  You may notice quotation marks.  That's because it's from a song I heard one of my classmates play.  It was written by -"  "Oh shit!"  He recalled something that made him crumple his first draft and try again.  His quote was from a song by Bob Dylan; and he dare not let it slip that he ever listened to Jewish music or he would be excommunicated - as Brother Theo said his classmate would be.  So he started fresh.  "Dear Sir," he began his letter to the Pope again.  "I'm writing to tell you about one of your bishops, who did something terrible that he'll need to confess to you so you can forgive him.  He tried to destroy what God in heaven created.  'What God has joined together let no man put asunder.'  But that's just what he tried to do.  He should know better than that - don't you think?  I'll try not to use any dirty words to tell you what it was.  He came in with a big knife and he was going to cut off my cock.  He knows that's wrong, but he tried anyway.  Luckily I got away.  But I keep vigil every night because I know he'll come back and try it again.  Luckily Raf's gang usually works at nighttime, so I can sleep during the daytime when your bishops all say mass.  Please your holiness, write a letter to tell him it's wrong to put asunder what God has joined together.  Sincerely, Carl."  He addressed an envelope to "The Pope, St. Peter's, Vatican City, Italy," affixed ten first class stamps - that way the Post Office would know he was serious - and mailed it first chance he got.

"Who's that woman who comes around here every night?" Judy Martinez asked Pecos Pest after ten visitations.  "You've seen her?" Pecos in turn asked.  "No, but I sense her."  "I'd already decided to confront her next time I see her."  "Please don't hurt her, she means no harm.  Whatever's drawing her isn't of her doing."  "I won't harm her," Pecos promised.  "I'll never hurt anyone ever again."  "You have hurt many, haven't you?" Judy observed.  "I have," he admitted.  "But it was all a misunderstanding.  It was me who brought madness back from the desert - not my father, as I once thought.  When I'm no longer needed I'll turn myself in."  "The world might need you your entire life."  "Then I'll turn myself in to God."  "God may not know what you're talking about."  Pecos thought a moment then nodded in agreement.  "Carl Junior's really growing, isn't he?" Pecos noted.  "What do you want him to be when he grows up?"  "I want him to be alive," Judy Martinez answered.  Again Pecos thought a moment.  "I promise you," he said, "he will."  "How long are you going to stay holed up here?"  "Until someone makes us move."  "But when Carl starts walking: aren't you afraid he'll sneak out while you're asleep?"  "I always sleep with my eyes partly open.  I only pretend to be completely asleep."  "I wish you'd let me get you some real food so you don't have to go through other people's cast-offs.  You don't eat enough."  "I eat enough to provide milk for my baby.  That's all I need."  But they both knew, and even Carl Junior sensed, that she was losing weight and growing weaker, and was developing a cough; and that it was becoming harder for her to rummage for food and clothing.  "I suppose you believe God will always provide for your needs," Pecos concluded.  "God doesn't provide.  He's just there watching.  Not watching what we do, but what gets done.  Who does what is not up to God.  Remember what we're taught: actions speak louder than words?  To God, actions are all that speak."  "Is this what you'll teach Carl Junior?"  "No.  He'll find everything he needs when he's ready to start believing."

Raf targeted a small company in Santa Rosa.  This would be a daylight job, set to go at 11:30 A.M.  He and Juan already cased it; he assigned each of his men a place and demographic.  As always, Justen and Andy were given management as their target.  "He does that deliberately!" Justen complained to Andy.  "He always has us take care of whites while everyone else gets to go after Spics and Niggers!  I hate him, I want out of this gang of cutthroats!  They serve no higher purpose than killing and looting!"  "Take it easy," Andy cautioned.  "Cool down.  I told you when we started we were in this for the long haul.  I warned you we might have to do things we didn't like.  You knew from day one there'd be collateral damage, innocent bystanders!  There is in every war!  We bide our time.  So what if they get all the Spics and Niggers?  At least someone's getting them!  Blood suckers and free-loaders must be exterminated - all of them!  It may take a lifetime but at least we'll be able to hold our heads up high and say we spent our lives for a noble cause.  There have to be sacrifices - just like Tony back in Moline.  Anyway, these are not innocent whites - they're enablers, they give Spics and Niggers jobs that should be going to red-blooded Americans - right?  Huh?  Am I right?"  "Yeah," Justen nodded.  "I know you're right."  "Then let's do this thing.  If Raf wants us to slit white throats, let's do it like we mean it.  You with me?  You got the balls for doing whatever it takes to rid this great country of scum suckers?"  "You know I got the balls."  "Then let's do it."

"Soon my pretty," Alvereta whispered into her gun barrel.  "Very soon it will be upon us.  It only awaits a sign.  I must be more vigilant than ever or I may miss my moment.  A sign can come from anyone anywhere - even perhaps our latest enfant terrďblé, Senor Juan Cordoba and his futile attempts to relate his salvation in the desert to self-adoring patrons of art.  I may be his only living interpreter.  I alone understand his desperate message.  I - merely an insignificant little troll pretending to be but a plaything of a demon - see in his pictures Raf Juarez cutting out his tongue, leaving him to die until Huitzilopochtli and Malinalyochitl retrieve his soul from death's precipice, as Jesus and Mary look on, and summon it out from the desert.  Not even he knows it was Raf's demon sister who bade him cast death over his mouth, for Raf has fallen under her spell and will never cease her bidding as long as she breaths.  And only I can stop her.  These bullets you carry in your belly, my pretty, were blessed by his holiness the Bishop, though not with his knowledge.  He thought he was blessing my beads so carefully laid out on a cloth of silk which hid your bullets, now made holy by God's vicar on earth.  Together, we will wait and watch and at the appointed hour we will end a demon's reign of darkness, and thereby release her brother from her spell.  There is only one who can foil our careful plan.  Laresha would intervene if she could; she too has fallen under Graciana's spell.  So we must watch her as carefully as the demon herself.  It is our curse as well as our blessing to languish our days in Graciana's darkness.  We will not see the sun again till this veil is finally lifted from us.  Only then can we walk side by side with Raf from this darkness into the light.  For now, we must bide our time."                                        

Jeremiah stood guard each morning as the men came to shower, intently watching each separate prisoner, desperately looking for something destined not to be found.  "Psst: don't make it so obvious you're queer," a fellow guard advised.  "Queer," Jeremiah mused.  "That's like fag?"  "Yeah, that's like fag."  Jeremiah nodded and revealed he had to become a fag and suck cocks to understand how his little brother felt.  "What, he's a fag too?"  "Only with Asian men.  They stole him to suck their little bommies."  "What the fuck are bommies?"  "A man back home said it.  Maybe it only means very small cocks.  I have a bommie."  "Is that why you stare so hard at everyone?  To see how big their cocks are?"  "No," Jeremiah replied.  "Then why?"  "I keep looking for an Asian man so I can ask him where Josiah is."  "Listen up - and listen good: you're never going to see an Asian man walk through this door - no matter what size his cock is!  This is Texas, man.  You'd sooner see your little brother walk in and start sucking cocks than an Asian.  For one thing they mostly live up north; and most Asians get good jobs.  They don't have to break any law to get what they need.  They buy it.  So if it's Asian cocks you're after - and they ain't all little bommies either, some Asians got rods on 'em'd make a Nigger envious! - then I suggest you head for Frisco or go back to New York, 'cause you ain't gonna find them in these parts."  Jeremiah's fellow guard got an idea.  "Hey man: how about mooning 'em - these guys here.  Let 'em see what a Jew dick looks like.  Go ahead.  Just drop your drawers and strut your stuff."  Jeremiah thought a moment if he ever didn't do something someone told him to do.  Nothing came to mind, so he unbuckled his pants, let them slide down his legs, then lowered his underpants.  Everyone stopped washing and stared in disbelief, then burst out laughing.  "You ever had your dick - er, make that bommie - laughed at?"  "Only Fat Violet and Bobbi Jasmine."  "I thought you were queer?"  "Not with them.  I loved both of them; but they're both dead now.  I wish I could find a mean ugly fat whore to fall in love with."  "Hold that thought!" Jeremiah was told.  "Me and a couple other guards just might be able to make your day.  We just happen to know a great big fat mean ugly - you name it - whore down Houston way."  "You'll do that for me?"  "You bet we will.  But there's one condition: you gotta let us watch you try and stick that little bommie of yours up her great big humungous pussy.  Deal?"  "You bet!  It's a deal!"

Cole tapped his friend's shoulder and whispered "Odessa."  Josiah turned and looked at Cole as if he had spoken in some long forgotten dialect, then repeated what he was told.  "Odessa?  Odessa what?"  "Odessa, Texas!" Cole spoke with a laugh.  "But what about Odessa?  I know we were just there.  Is there something else about it I should know?"  "That's where your woman is.  The mother of your child.  She's with a band -"  "Los Jabalis.  I know that."  "They're in Odessa, at a Spanish bar."  "How do you know?"  "I have sources.  I'm not Tyrus's cock: I'm his eyes and ears.  That's my job."  "My God, we were just there!"  "To rob a bank," Cole pointed out.  "And no - to answer your question: I didn't know then or I'd have told you.  I only found out yesterday."  "I'm out of here! Josiah resolved.  "By tonight I'll be in her arms!"  Josiah started to go but Cole stopped him.  "In her arms tonight maybe - and in a pine box tomorrow - you and her."  Josiah glared at this man he thought was his friend.  "You'd tell?"  Cole grabbed him by his shirt collar.  "Listen punk: Tyrus could cut my cock off and tongue out plus my eyes and ears before I'd snitch on a friend!"  Tears filled Josiah's eyes as he nodded.  "How's he gonna find out?"  "He won't have to: he was there with me.  He's already set up a watch.  If you go to Odessa, you and Laresha are as good as dead."  Josiah again nodded.  "But after Santa Rosa, I'll find a way out!  So help me God I will!"

"First we'll stop at Tel Aviv," Josiah was told as they boarded a plane.  "Is that where I'll beg?" Josiah asked.  "No," he was told, "your begging days are over.  You're coming to live at my ranch."  A smile lit up Josiah's face.  "My brother told me about cowboys when I was in my crib, and how they all worked on ranches and rode on horses and shot Indians.  Will I be a cowboy?" he asked.  "If that's what you want."  "I do."  Something about Josiah's keen excitement when his benefactor bought their airline tickets earlier made the man ask if he had ever flown before.  "I think so," he said.  "I think I was once carried way up in the sky, in a little box with row after row of seats.  And lots of people.  And something called a seat belt."  Skyward meant lullaby, now as before, as Josiah drifted into a deep sleep that only broke when they touched down in Tel Aviv.  A limousine drove them to a hotel near the beach.  Josiah turned to his benefactor.  "No one is begging!" he noted in some alarm.  "How will they feed their families?"  "Jews do not beg," the man replied.  "Why not?"  "Because we're enlightened.  We work so that we never have to beg."  "Will I work when I live on your ranch?"  "As a cowboy - remember?"  "Then I'll be a Jew just like you," Josiah concluded with great contentment.  "You want to be a Jew?"  "Yes - so I can work instead of beg because I'm too big to beg any more."  When the man's business in Tel Aviv was finished and once again they took flight, Josiah asked if there were any cannibal families living on his ranch.  "Cannibals are not allowed in my country or on my ranch.  We don't eat people in the USA."  "Even if it's someone who can't work anymore, and can't beg either?"  "Even then."  After what seemed like a week, the plane touched down in El Paso and they were chauffeured to Josiah's new home on the range, where he at once began actively pursuing his new life as a cowboy.  "You don't have to start right now you know.  We just got here an hour ago."  "I want to be a Jew as soon as I can.  And the sooner I start working the sooner I can become a Jew."  "We also have a ceremony.  It's called Bar Mitzvah.  It herald's a coming of age for a young Jewish male."  "Can I have a Bar Mitzvah?"  "When you've learned more about our culture and our history and what we stand for.  But first - before your Bar Mitzvah or even your becoming a cowboy - there's something we have to do.  We have to get you an artificial left foot and an artificial right hand."  "Do Jews and cowboys have to have those?  I didn't think I needed them or my new family wouldn't have had them cut off.  But if I must have them then I'll go get them."  Six months after arriving in Alamogordo and being installed on a big ranch southwest of town, Josiah had a new hand, a new foot, and a Bar Mitzvah attended by a host of wealthy Jewish families in the greater El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque area.  He was now officially a Jew.  And, best of all, with his new foot he was able to go places and do things he could only have dreamed of on the streets of Calcutta.

Juan, in desperation, tried once more to make his story known.  He moved into a big cardboard box he found north of Tularosa, his aim to make his way home temporarily set aside but still a force driving him steadily southeast to his home state of Nuevo Leon.  He searched through every dumpster in town until finding scraps of paper and discarded crayons.  Day after day, night after night he struggled refining his pictographs so his story could pierce whatever veil had tainted his previous attempts, until, at midnight on his twelfth day holed up in his box, just as his last pictograph received its last dab of color, he glanced up and saw Paynal, Huitzilopochtli's own messenger, accompanied by Chicomexochtli, patron of artists.  He quickly grabbed up his drawings and began showing them, one by one, to make it clear he had finally completed his life's work.  Then, in a flash, Paynal and Chicomexochtli morphed into Huehuecoyotl - trickster, prankster, shape shifter - who laughingly derided his newest drawings as even more feeble and futile than his others.  Then Huehuecoyotl vanished, leaving Juan with a handful of meaningless scribbles no better able to put his story before the world than his earlier attempts.  In absolute desolation Juan ran from his box as far as he could, leaving all his drawings where they lay.  In time he came to another spot, in another desert, where he lay down again to be shrouded in sand.  Three days later by chance his scraps of paper filled with brilliant crayon hues were found and worked their way to New York, where they were immediately identified as Juan Cordoba's.  They were catalogued as Juan's earliest work, undoubtedly created as a child, given their particular mode of execution.  By then, Juan's shroud had been lifted from him as his earlier shroud had been.  And, as before, he lifted his weary soul and continued his journey homeward.

Every day just after the mail truck rode by Carl ran to see if he'd received a response to his letter.  Every day the box remained empty - nothing for Carl from His Excellency the Pope, nothing for anyone else.  "What is he doing?" one of Raf's men wondered out loud.  "He thinks his letter was posted," Raf observed.  "To Rome with love.  So he thinks he'll get an answer.  To Kewpie Doll, love and kisses."  "What's he doing writing Rome?"  "Juan tells me he wants the Pope to order his bishop to leave off trying to castrate him.  He's got to be the dumbest kid I've ever seen - even dumber than Moline, who let's a prick turn him into his own personal Nazi handmaiden.  Juan tells me he sometimes hears Moline praying to God to send him some pussy."  "Why don't he just go get some?"  "Oh no, his Massa'd never agree to that.  Real patriots don't eat pussy and don't cum as long as there's a single Nigger, Jew or Spic alive.  Red white and blue's his chastity belt's colors."  "Why do you keep those ass holes?  Send them packing - or better yet slit their throats then send them packing."  "Oh no," said Raf.  "They're worth their weight in gold.  You put a nice white face up front, you pass right through almost any barrier.  Besides, they're fascinating to study.  They're like a lost tribe everyone thought had gone extinct.  Till suddenly you come upon them just by chance in a deep jungle.  Anthropology 101.  The Discovery of White America.  Which reminds me: Juan has just about outlived his usefulness.  That stunt he pulled on Carl could have gotten us all killed if Carl had turned right or left instead of gone straight.  Visionary or not, Juan's fast becoming our biggest liability.  Next time we're on retreat, he's not returning with us.  Count on that."

As promised, Jeremiah's fellow guards took him to a back alley near downtown Houston.  Once inside they led him to a stuffy, smelly little room where a woman weighing in at four hundred pounds lay naked on an oversized bed.  Jeremiah at once took his clothes off.  She motioned him forward.  It was all his fellow guards could do to contain their laughter.  "What's your name?" Jeremiah asked.  "Put-n-tain!" she answered in a gruff voice.  "How do you spell that?" he asked.  She pointed between her legs.  "Got all your spelling right up here.  Stick your head down here and your tongue inside and the letters'll all come crawling right inside your mouth!"  Jeremiah complied with Put-n-tain's instructions.  And got a mouth full of piss for his trouble.  "Ah, that feels better," she said.  "Now I won't have to get up - least not till I have to shit.  Today's not my day to shit or I'd have you roll me over and start rimming me.  Can you come back day after tomorrow?"  Jeremiah thought about it.  "Let me put it to you another way.  If you want to climb up and rub your little squeegee on my belly, you better make a date for Wednesday evening."  Jeremiah promised he'd return day after tomorrow, after which he was allowed to slide his tiny dick three times back and forth.  That was all it took.  "Now lick it up!" he was ordered.  Then he got dressed and left, his pals leading the way.  "What'd you think of Put-n-tain?" he was asked.  "I think I'm in love."  "You ain't gonna come back so's she can shit in your mouth, are you?"  "A promise is a promise," he answered; "I've never broke a promise."  This one he did.  A fight broke out in his cellblock while he was servicing Put-n-tain; three of his inmates were killed, one reminded him of his little brother.  He cried all night.  Next morning he turned in his letter of resignation.  Wednesday afternoon he was gone, on his way west.  Two days later he stood naked in the locker of the New Mexico State Penitentiary, trying his new uniform for fit.

"What do you think?" Tyrus asked his men.  "Kidnap him?"  Only two objected - Cole and Josiah.  Both had read an article in which their target's guardian had been asked if he'd ever pay ransom should his foster child be kidnapped.  "He said he'd never pay ransom," Josiah pointed out.  "That's what they all say - even if they're not rich!  But they come around," Tyrus assured his doubters.  "We'll get him, we'll get a million bucks."  "And if not?"  "Then we waste him."  Tyrus carefully drew up plans; he worked for weeks mapping it all out.  Normally he avoided Las Cruces; it was Raf Juarez and his Razorbacks' primary focus.  In this he relied on his eyes and ears' - Cole's - sixth sense about opportunities and dangers.  This time there was no avoiding Las Cruces.  He had his men case the ranch outside Alamogordo where his target lived; and follow every move the boy made.  It took weeks before even a rudimentary pattern began to emerge, so erratic were his movements.  Finally, Tyrus drew an "X" on a wall map inside a vacant house in Organ, northeast of Las Cruces, his "X" landing squarely on top of Las Cruces International Airport, southwest of town, where every Tuesday his target was chauffeured so he could sit for hours watching planes take off and land.  They were there Tuesday waiting but somehow they managed to miss him; his guardian pre-empted his chauffeur, taking him an hour earlier than usual and leaving after barely an hour of plane watching, lending time to a sight-seeing excursion entirely new to the boy.  Their limousine passed Tyrus' van heading southwest on US 70.  "There he goes!" one of Tyrus' men shouted.  Tyrus pulled off then made a U-turn to follow the limousine, which seemed to be heading for White Sands National     Monument.  It stopped instead at Organ Mountain National Recreation Area, where driver and passenger got out for a closer view before moving on.  The boy had never seen mountains close up; after being told that there were trails people frequently used to climb these mountains, he vowed to return soon to find and climb the highest mountain here.  Soon they were on US 70 again, this time fulfilling Tyrus' supposition.  An opportunity never arose to snatch the boy; but as it grew darker Tyrus, on a hunch, tracked them back to their ranch outside Alamogordo.  He stood watch a couple hours outside the perimeter until his vigil paid off.  His target came outside and started walking, aimlessly, as if in a trance, little by little working his way toward US 70.  That's when they got him.  Josiah threw a black bag over his head, Cole grabbed him and set him in the van, Tyrus speeded away, maintaining his target's course, which perfectly coincided with his own.  An hour later they arrived back at Organ, took the boy in, sat him down and tied him to a chair.  Josiah was left to watch him while Tyrus, with Cole and two other men, proceeded to a public phone to call in the ransom, the rest of his gang stationed outside his hideout. Two days went by and still no return call.  Cole insisted they give the boy something to eat.  "What for?" asked Tyrus.  "If his old man don't pay up we're just gonna waste him anyway."  Cole pulled Tyrus aside and shook his head.  "No," he challenged his leader's judgment, "we can't kill him."  Tyrus took out his gun and pointed it squarely at his eyes and ears.  "Are you forgetting whose call it is?" he asked.  "No, indeed I'm not," Cole answered.  "It's God's call."  "What?  God's call?  What's that all about?"  "All I know is God has special plans for him.  And if we interfere we'll be punished - punished really bad.  That's all I know."  "Let me think about it.  Go ahead and feed him - but make sure he don't see you or anyone else or else he can kiss God's plan goodbye 'cause I'll blow him away - and you too if you try and stop me!"  Cole and Josiah fed young Josiah, Cole emptying spoonfuls of food into his mouth while Josiah made sure his eyes kept covered.  "Do you need to shit or pee?" Cole asked.  "Should I?" young Josiah, in turn, asked.  "I believe so," Cole advised.  "You might be here awhile."  The boy was led to the toilet.  "Damn!" Cole exclaimed when he was finished, "for a little guy you got one hell of a big turd!"  "I had to hold it all day back home," he replied.  A week later, in the dead of night, young Josiah was again blindfolded, set in the van, driven away.  He was let out, still blindfolded, at the very spot in Organ Mountain National Recreation Area where, a week earlier, his limousine had been parked.  Before Tyrus left he had one of his men strip the boy naked, to help slow him down once he was free.  Momentarily Tyrus' van sped away, leaving young Josiah to wonder if it was alright to remove his blindfold now.  After almost an hour had passed he decided to peek out from under his blindfold, then decided he could remove it.  He turned, started out, then began wondering where he left his clothes.  It was beginning to turn night time cold; he hoped he'd find his clothes soon.  "Maybe up there," he pointed, and thought about it, and after thinking awhile became convinced that up there, at the very peak of the Organ Mountains, his clothes lay in wait.

Juan Cordoba saw it all.  In his mind's eye he saw this strange Jewish boy who was not a Jew being taken, being held, being released, beginning his quest which would take him farther than he had ever gone in his life.  Juan told Raf of his vision.  "Who was it took him?" Raf asked.  "It was Tyrus's gang."  "Hmmm: they let him go.  Does that mean his father did pay after all despite what he said?"  "No.  No ransom was paid."  "Yet they didn't kill him.  How strange - and how fortunate for us.  We head out within the hour.  You'll lead us to him."  "But his father won't pay," Juan reminded his leader.  "Why risk ourselves with no gain?"  "Oh, there's more than money in this world.  I have special plans for this Jew Boy."  "He is not a Jew.  He carries with him a terrible secret which he'll take to his grave," Juan told his leader.

The sky closed around everyone as day gave way to night and moon and stars chased away the sun.  Ancient Mayas thought only blood could return sunlight to the sky next morning.  On their way to fetch a Jew Boy who was not a Jew, Raf's Razorbacks settled back, each in his own space, his own time, his own world, his own thoughts.  They all knew where they were going and why and who their target was.  But only two knew what would happen.  Raf knew, his plans set it in motion.  Juan knew, his vision revealed in stark detail this Jew Boy's fate.  A few miles away, Tyrus and his gang imagined their ex-kidnapped safely at home on the range.  Josiah took out his son's picture to make an ever so slight shift of his brow.  Cole, watching, asked why.  Josiah said he didn't know but something in their kidnapped victim gave him such a chill that when he got home he took out his son's picture to make this alteration as quickly as possible.  While he was explaining, Cole looked out the window and began to shiver so hard his comrade thought him in a seizure.  Two hundred miles on, a dark little woman began to sense the time drawing near.  And a mother coughed up a massive blood clot.  And Pecos Pest readied to scream any minute.  And a beautiful singer saw Christ hover over a shed before disappearing for good.

And he started up the Needle, all naked and cold but driven to scale this tallest of all Organ Mountains.  He struggled for hours, two real limbs buttressed by two only half real, until finally just before dawn he ascended as far as earth and rock could take him.  He stood, no longer shivering, his blood warming his veins through to his ghostly white skin.  He looked around, wondering how a place he'd never been before could feel so near his soul.  Then he passed this mountain's peak to attend a dark ceremony below.  His skin stayed bloodless even as his blood seemed to boil inside him.  For a moment his eyes went blind but his steps kept pace with his descent.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *               *

He came down the Needle under a full moon unable to mark every misstep in the heavily worn trail.  At the foot of the mountain he spat, but the wind blew it back on his belly.  He wiped his spit from his belly then returned it to his tongue to try again.  This time it landed on his foot, where he decided to leave it for now.  He stood there, at the mountain's base, perfectly still, perfectly quiet.  Something scurried across his feet, but didn't stay.  He wondered if maybe it was his brother's tarantula, which late one night had crawled into bed with him and snuggled up against him till his foster mother came, as she did every night, to check on him and let out a piercing scream which chased Jeremiah's pet from his crib.  Momentarily every room lit up while his foster mother and father hunted Jeremiah's tarantula down and killed it.  "You did this!" Jeremiah accused his little brother.  "You murdered him, now his soul will come and murder you in your sleep!  Everything I love gets murdered!  I hate you!  Not for murdering him but because if I don't you'll get murdered too!  Everything I love gets murdered!  So I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!"  At the bottom of the Needle, after many years and many strange places, Josiah wondered if Jeremiah's prophecy had come true and his pet tarantula's soul now stalked him.  Am I asleep and don't know it?  He said it's soul would murder me in my sleep.  I must be sleepwalking.  I always wondered what that meant.  And those men coming at me: are they sleepwalking too?

"Hey!  There's that fucking Jew Boy!  Let's get him!"  Justen picked up a rock and started to hurl it.  Like a light, Raf knocked it from his hand.  "Throw that, Moline, and you take his place!  He must be untouched and unharmed or the ceremony will become a blasphemy."  With this, Raf proceeded to where Josiah stood, still at the base of the Needle.

"We have need of you," Raf told him, then motioned for him to follow.  As always before, Josiah did exactly as he was ordered.  "I'm sorry I must do this," he suddenly remembered Jeremiah telling him when he was five years old.  "I tried so hard to hate you so you wouldn't have to be murdered but I failed.  I have to send you away.  I read about people who steal blue-eyed boys like you and make them slaves and force them to do whatever they want.  I found someone.  He told me you'd be taken to Asia and forced to suck little Asian bommies.  I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound like something a little boy like you couldn't do.  I'll miss you, but at least this way you won't be murdered."  "Except by your pet tarantula's soul," Josiah reminded his older brother, but Jeremiah shook his head.  "If you're in Asia he won't know how to find you."  And that's how I got to be in Calcutta, he realized.  When I ran out of Asian men with little bommies, and I was too small to suck Asian men with big cocks, they sent me to live with a family of beggars.  I even remember hiding in a tiny box somewhere in a big ship and almost not being able to breathe for a long time till we got to Asia and they snuck me out of that ship.

When they reached the appointed place, Raf put up his hand to halt the procession.  Just ahead was a boulder whose top had been worn smooth over many generations.  Raf turned to face his men.  "Each of you will be assigned a part.  When I have done with my part, you will each do the same with your part."  One by one he summoned his men, beginning with Juan, ending with Justen's friend Andy.

    "Juan: his tongue is yours, as you may need a new one someday."

    "Kewpie: his penis is yours, to mock with your own."

    To Justen went his good hand, to Andy his good foot.

    And so on around, till each man had been assigned a part and each part had been accounted for.

Raf motioned his men away then motioned Josiah forward.  Without a word, Josiah climbed upon the smooth boulder and lay down, letting his arms dangle.  Raf took out a great jewel encrusted dagger.  He raised it high, muttered an incantation, then plunged it deep into Josiah's chest.  As his victim's blood spurted, Raf carefully worked his dagger through flesh and bone until freeing the heart from its resting place.  He lifted it high above his head, muttered another incantation, then lowered it to begin feasting on it.  When no more heart remained, he summoned his men to come take part in the feast, each cutting then devouring his assigned portion.  By the time the sun had fully risen, the Razorbacks were gone, and in their wake, lying on a smooth slab, Josiah's carcass awaited the vultures and insects of the desert, only his eyes and brain left intact.

After feasting on their sacrifice, Raf and his Razorbacks made their way to their new hideout.  Always Raf relied on Juan's visions to set his course; this last time it was Raf's vision - not a vision he saw in his mind's eye, for he had no mind's eye, but one he created as he went - that brought him to a lonely spot in the southwest corner of White Sands National Monument, in the shadow of San Andres Peak, among the Dome Dunes east of Lake Lucero.  Raf proclaimed this their new hideout, and exactly fulfilling his assigned role in this pageant, Juan berated his leader for choosing such a sight as a hideout.  Five minutes later blood spurted from Juan's mouth over his shirt front, down his pants, and onto his boots, slowly seeping into ghostly white sands beneath his feet.  When he fell, he landed no more than five feet from where his tongue landed when it flew from his mouth.  He tried to reach it but couldn't.  His fellow Razorbacks were stunned into a deathly silence broken only by a soft, nearly soundless humming, followed by a few broken verses half sung in a toneless voice.

"And the grass is gone...The boy disappears...The rain keeps falling like helpless tears...What have they done to the rain...."

Carl turned to his fellow Razorback to warn him to stop singing or he, too, could lose his tongue.  "Leave Moline be, Kewpie," Raf told him.  "His lily-white WASP of a tongue is safe.  Singing is allowed."  Then he turned to Andy.  "Pussy is also allowed," he said menacingly.

A day or two later Raf had a change of heart.  He ordered his men to pack their gear.  "We'll look elsewhere," he told them.  "Juan may have had the right idea after all.  He just expressed it at the wrong time.  Too bad."  Half an hour later they piled into Raf's van and headed back to Pecos, where they settled in for one more day.  "Tomorrow we hit Santa Rosa," Raf reminded his men.  "Should be a one-two-three, slam-bam, thank-you-ma'am - but something tells me it won't.  Speaking of: Moline, you're coming with me to a little place I know.  I'm gonna get you laid if it kills you!"  Justen glanced at Andy, as if seeking permission; Raf took hold of him and turned him away from his mentor.  "This has nothing to do with your master," Raf told him.  "But I don't really -" Justen started but Raf cut him off.  "Yes you do really.  Or maybe I'm not making myself clear: this is not a request, it's an order.  I don't want one of my men all hot and bothered with his mind on getting a piece of ass.  I want everyone's full concentration on one thing and one thing only: the heist.  So come on, you're coming with me."

Seated next to Raf in his van, headed to Santa Fe, Justen asked why just him and not the other Razorbacks.  "They get pussy whenever they need it, that's why."  "What about Carl?"  Raf laughed.  "Kewpie's too into his dong to even notice there's a great little place to put it for a time.  Kewpie wet dreams almost every night.  How do I know?  My men never get tired of watching."  "So do I!" Justen declared.  "I have wet dreams almost every night too!"  "No you don't.  How do I know?  Your master told me.  And he'd know."  When they reached the place and Raf parked his van, on their way in Justen pleaded he had no money.  "Moline: this ain't a cat house.  These are respectable girls out for a good time.  They want cock, and you been craving pussy half your life.  Now let's do this thing!"

Half an hour later a pretty young woman led Justen back to her small apartment.  "Do you want a drink?" she asked.  "No, I better not," Justen replied.  "I have something important to do tomorrow."  "Do you find me attractive?" she asked.  "Oh God yes!" Justen cried out as he took her in his arms.  He began running his hand through her reddish brown hair while his other hand fumbled with her blouse to get it unbuttoned.  His hand shook so badly he could barely effect its removal.  Finally he succeeded.  Then he began working her bra to get its clasp undone.  Momentarily it came loose and was slipped from her shoulders and discarded.  At last he was caressing her breasts and sucking her nipples, and would have kept at it for hours, when it suddenly hit him that this was just a temporary way station, not his destination.  He hadn't even noticed that the whole time he was at her breasts she was stealthfully removing his shirt and unzipping his jeans, so that when he bent down to take her remaining clothes off, his cock popped out and seemed to be helping his hands with pulling down her mini-skirt and panties.  She stepped out of her attire and helped him out of his jeans.  He slammed as hard as he could against her, his cock instantly finding what it was seeking.  Then he pulled back as he knew he was supposed to - as he had practiced over and over using his foam mattress - then slamming against her again and again until feeling something his mattress had never made him feel.  "Oh yeah!  Oh yeah!" he started crying out till suddenly his exclamation of ecstasy became a scream of agony as a hideous pulse seized the head of his cock and forced him to try and pull away, but his pulling away only intensified both this pulse and his screams.  A few minutes later it ended, but he was still too scared to pull away, so, instead and unexpectedly, the girl abruptly pulled away, creating a sensation so agonizing he began crying.

A few minutes later he sat on her bed trying to regain his composure.  She came to sit beside him.  "That's why people do this in bed," she said.  "I'm sorry," Justen replied as he brushed away his tears.  "I didn't know it would be like that."  "Maybe the girls you were with never had an orgasm, or else you'd know."  Justen looked at her with a perfectly blank face.  "You have done this before, haven't you?" she asked.  But instead of answering he began humming his special song.  "I love that song too," the girl said.  "It's the only honest - really, really honest - song I've ever heard in my life," Justen admitted.  "Whenever I wonder if I'm doing the right thing, I sing the words in my mind, and I know no matter who gets hurt what I'm doing is right and true and best for this country."  He smiled at her.

"You have such a gentle expression, and such a warm loving smile.  But such cold eyes.  Why?  What made them so cold?"  "You have to be tough to do what's right."  "And what is this 'right' that's made your eyes so cold?"

"It's them," Justen told her.  "Them?" she asked.  "You know: all those who are slowly destroying this great nation.  They have to be stopped - destroyed before it's too late."

"Who are these people?"

"You know: the Jews, the Niggers, the Spics.  They've all got to be stopped before it's too late!"

She took his hand and softly held it in hers.  "Don't you know?" she asked.

"Know?  Know what?"

"This song you love so much - this most honest of all songs: it was written by a Jew."

A moment passed.  The girl turned away, unable to look into Justen's eyes any longer.  In a flash they ceased being cold - ceased, because they ceased being.  They had died, and the girl who gave the news brought an end to his eyes, and no thing she could do could begin them again.

Justen got up, stumbled around getting his clothes on, then left, not once looking back.  He met up with Raf and in silence returned to their hideout.  "How'd it go?" Raf asked.  He shrugged.  "Did she tingle your cock?"  He nodded.  "So it was worth your while?"  This time Justen neither nodded nor shrugged.  He turned to face Raf, whose eyes had been on him almost constantly since leaving Santa Fe.  Raf nodded and returned his gaze to the highway to finish their little excursion.  Moline's Neo-Nazi Master might be in a little trouble before long, Raf told himself.

When they returned Justen made straightway for the room he shared with Andy.  On his way down the hall he heard mumbling coming from Carl's room.  He listened but couldn't make out what Carl was saying.  As gently as possible he opened Car's door and peaked in, to find Carl kneeling beside his bed with his head bowed.  He closed the door and spat.  Yeah, right, he has a wet dream every night! he said to himself.  If that ain't jerking off I don't know what it is!

Carl was praying.  He prayed all night long.  He recited every prayer he had ever learned as a child.  His goal was twofold: to demonstrate his deeply religious bent to God; and perhaps more to keep searching each prayer, even if it meant reciting it over and over, in hopes of finding in its words something he could use as a rational explanation for having eaten the Jew Boy's shriveled penis.  "'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name' - it was all but gone anyway, it was so tiny - it's not like he could ever have used it - 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done' - his balls were gone anyway, it was just a tiny flap of skin hanging down - 'on earth as it is in heaven.'"  He paused as he tried to reconstruct the rest of the Lord's Prayer.  "'Give us this day our daily bread' - and I was so hungry, I swear I was, I felt like I was starving, and when a man's starving he'll eat anything, he won't even realize what he's eating - 'and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us' - and I swear I have forgiven all those who trespassed on anything I ever owned - 'and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil' - and please dear God forgive me for saying this, but you didn't deliver us from evil - just the opposite! - 'For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, now and forever more.  Amen.'"

Next up was The Hail Mary.  "'Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women' - I'll come back to you, Holy Mother, when I can think of the rest of your prayer - I promise on my heart and soul I will!  Oh wait: 'and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.'  Hey: that speaks for itself, I don't need to add anything to make that right, do I?  It's all about Jesus - who, by the way, just happens to be the son of God!  It's not about some little kid's pecker that some misguided teenager ate by mistake!"

Along about one a shriek interrupted Carl's novena, then another, and a third, finally a fourth.  Carl lost his place, he forgot which prayer he was in the middle of, and he began to cry because he was sure he'd finally come to the perfect prayer for his dilemma.  So he began again from the top, with one slight addition.  "It was still dark," he reminded himself, and kept reminding himself, "maybe He didn't see it too clear anyway."  He fell asleep at four in the morning, prayer after prayer rolling feverishly off his tongue even in his dreams; but the Act of Contrition continued to elude him.

Justen stood in the hall outside his room for almost an hour, praying Andy would already be asleep so he'd have to put off confronting him till morning.  But Andy was wide awake and already preparing to give his errant student the cold shoulder.  "Was it worth compromising your beliefs?" he asked.  "I guess," Justen replied.  "First one's the hardest," Andy reminded him.  "Then they get easier and easier - and increasingly more frequent - till one day you have second thoughts about doing what's right."  "And what's right?"  "Saving America from its enemies!  You know that as well as I do."  "I thought I did, now I'm not so sure."  "Well you better get sure 'cause there's a lot left to be done!"

Justen kept standing, staring at his mentor, as if maybe - just maybe - it was still possible he'd only dreamed all the things he did.  He didn't even realize he had started humming his special song.  When he finally heard himself singing its lyrics his cold dead eyes turned blazon for a moment.

"You hear that song?" he demanded to know.  "Huh?  You hear it?"

"I heard it.  You're always humming it, like it's the only song you ever heard in your life."

"It was written by a Jew!" Justen came over to Andy's bed and screamed in his ear.

"You didn't know.  Now you do.  So you put it aside with your other toys and move on.  No big deal."

"It is a big deal!  The biggest deal in my life!  What I love most came from a Jew!"

"Look, if it'll make you happy we'll find this Jew and kill it!"

"Kill it?  Kill it?" Justen exploded in deadly rage.  He grabbed Andy's throat and jerked so hard his head smashed against the wall.  Blood gushed.  At first Justen thought he'd killed him, but when Andy started to rouse, he secured him with belts.  For a long time Justen stood there, staring as Andy fell in and out of consciousness.  Then a thought pierced his own skull and one last time his eyes glowed.  He took out his pocket knife, unfurled its blade, lunged at Andy and, in a flash, in time and in tune with Andy's shrieks, gouged out his eyes, one by one, next pulling Andy's underpants and, slicing open his scrotum, cut his balls off, one by one, as before in perfect synchrony with Andy's shrieks, gently setting each in his eye sockets.  He stood staring at Andy till dawn, his momentarily undead eyes slowly returning to their grave.  When he appeared for breakfast and was asked where his sidekick was, he reported that Andy wouldn't be joining the mission this time.  Raf nodded his perfect understanding.

An hour later the Razorbacks piled into Raf's van and set out for Santa Rosa.  Without Juan to warn them they drove right into a trap.  "Hey Raf: your van's leaking gas - like really bad man!" one of Raf's men called to him from behind.  A couple others agreed.  "You're gonna be out of gas long before we hit Santa Rosa."

"Fuck it man!" Raf called back.  "After today we'll get a new van - hell, maybe one for each of us!"

"It's just a rinky-dink little hole in the wall - not Fort Knox!"

"Looks can be deceiving," Raf replied.  "If we have to we can stop on the way.  But I'm showing a full tank."

Santa Rosa lay some seventy miles southeast of Raf's hideout at Pecos.  Before the half way mark, the strong smell of gasoline had waned, so nothing more was mentioned.  No one suspected it having originated not from a broken fuel line but from right next to them.

Before leaving for Santa Rosa, Justen doused himself with gasoline.  He fumbled with a pack of matches but couldn't bring himself to set himself ablaze.  Having retreated from self-immolation, he was about to run get a change of clothes when a thought occurred to him: flying bullets.  Not that he wanted to get shot - he desperately didn't.  But in a flurry of gunshots - if there even were any - it was entirely possible something could somehow ignite his clothes and finish the job he had started but lacked the courage to complete.  He knew he must burn to death, fully awake and conscious, if he had any hope of atoning for his sins.

An hour and a half after leaving Pecos, the Razorbacks, in their non-descript van, pulled off Route 84 onto 54, heading south to Camino De Vida and came to a stop in the Guadalupe County Hospital's parking lot.  One last time Raf went over his plan with his men to make sure everything went without a hitch.  Everyone was satisfied it'd be a breeze.

"Hope you guys remembered to wear your sunscreen," Raf joshed with his men.  "This mid-day sun's strong enough to start a fire!"  Everyone laughed except for Justen, who knew Raf's remark was directed at him.  Looking back from his rear view mirror, Raf caught Justen's eyes and winked at him.  Then they sped out of the parking lot and back onto Camino De Vida, heading for River Road.  The plan was to come at their target from the south.  When, a few minutes later, they passed Guadalupe County's Sheriff Department, a swat team stationed within readied themselves for the assault.

While Andy languished in a house in Pecos, New Mexico between life and death, gods came to his room to stand beside his bed and marvel at his new eyes and his surgically altered ball sack.  They unbound him, in doing so getting a closer look at his make-over.  His hands and feet free roused him from his near death slumber.  "Who's there?" he fixed his mouth to ask but his words came out different.  "Are you a Jew?" his mouth, unbeknownst to him, asked.  "Who's there?" he asked again; but his question transposed to "Are you a Nigger?"  Both questions were answered with a nod which his new eyes blocked.  "Who's there?" he fashioned the same words a third time and had no knowledge they came out "Are you a Spic?"  This time, rather than nod, these gods standing before him consulted among themselves then, in unison, replied "No."  Andy's face looked puzzled, but his eye sockets understood.  "So no one is there," he concluded, then proceeded to babble in a strange dialect, thinking his words perfectly normal - good, clean, all-American speech.  "Why would Justen turn his back on the truth?  Tell me: why?  He knows right from wrong, truth from lie.  I taught him, just as my father taught me, as his father taught him, and his father's father before him.  Why would he turn away from the truth?"  Then Andy let out a horrible shriek, his last shriek ever.  "It was only the truth that kept him from murdering me sooner.  When he abandoned truth he turned from Avenging Angel to Demon Killer, and so killed me, his mentor, who loved his student."  For an hour a stream of babble poured from his mouth till, on an impulse, he slowly arose from his death bed and stumbled his way around his room for some clothes to put on, finally coming upon what he took to be his dresser but was actually his student's.  Reaching blindly, he managed to clothe himself in Justen's shirt, Justen's pants, and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap Justen sometimes wore with the brim facing back.  He looked but didn't find shoes or socks, so he left the hideout barefooted, to begin his life's journey, an odyssey that would cover both space and time, an odyssey parallel to another Razorback rendered incommunicado.

Three minutes before they were to leave the Swat Team was halted.  A second van had passed Guadalupe County's Sheriff Department.  The sheriff recognized the driver as Tyrus, leader of a rival gang.  "Let's give it a minute and see where Tyrus is headed.  Who knows?  His gang and Raf's might end up killing each other - and save us the trouble!"  He notified each of his look-outs along River Road to track a second van as well.  Then he waited.  Though the Wells Fargo Bank downtown seemed the most likely target, he had a hunch at least one gang was headed elsewhere, his hunch borne out when both vans were spotted parked in front of a small trucking company.  "They're frying little fish today," he quipped.  "Few more minutes and we'll move in to clear away the bones."

Raf knew something had gone wrong.  Not because he sensed greater activity as he drove past the Sheriff's Department but because an unidentified van was following him.  "There's trouble behind us," he alerted his men.

"You think it's the cops?" he was asked.

"No."

"Then maybe it's not trouble," an optimistic Carl observed.

"Let's ask Moline if there's trouble afoot," Raf suggested; but his cryptic comment went misunderstood.  Two men drew knives and thrust them under Justen's chin.  Justen showed no fear, only regret that he'd be robbed of his death.

"Cool it!" Raf shouted at his men.  "Moline's not a snitch.  And I know he don't want his throat slit any more than Kewpie wants his dong ding-donged.  Let's just keep going and be ready for anything."

No sooner did the Razorbacks leave Raf's van than a second van drove in and stopped, its cargo carefully piling out as well.  Everything that transpired in Raf's van from Black Street on mirrored its way half a way back to Tyrus's van, so that by the time they reached their destination both gangs had all but forgotten their mission as well as the trap set to spring.

Justen fired the first shot, hitting one of Tyrus's men right between the eyes.  He watched intently to see if his dead aim sparked any hint of smoke on his victim's brow.  His hand's victory thrust said that it did.  He stood perfectly still, awaiting the return fire that would set him ablaze.  But it never came.  Raf himself tackled him and drug him to safety, whispering in his ear "I need all my men.  When this is over, I'll light your torch myself for being a snitch."

Three of Raf's men - three of his best, who'd been with him from the start - were picked off, all three by Cole.  Before all three had time to fall Carl aimed for Josiah's chest and pulled the trigger.  Cole saw him shoot and leaped in front of his friend, taking the bullet in his cock meant for Josiah's heart.  He didn't even notice he'd been hit when he whirled around and shot.  But he missed.  Carl identified the threat the instant he saw Cole turn toward him and leaped out of range.

Two more Razorbacks were hit, one killed one wounded.  Six more of Tyrus' men went down, three for the count, three for good.  Then it all stopped, as quickly as it began, when someone among them cried out "Cops!"  Both gangs left off killing each other to join a collective defense against a greater force.  But it was over almost before it began.  Three shots from Raf and Tyrus's gangs were met with such a barrage both gangs surrendered on the spot.

As they were being led to an armored truck Raf quipped that a good lawyer'd have them all out before nightfall.  "They got nothing on us - not one single reason to hold us."

Overhearing him, the sheriff came and whispered in his ear "Got ten thousand reasons," then walked on ahead of his catch.

The armored truck, instead of proceeding to the Sheriff's Department, headed directly for The Penitentiary of New Mexico, south of Santa Fe.  Two hours later the prisoners were processed and admitted to holding cells pending arraignment.

"They're way too dangerous to house anywhere but here," the sheriff told the warden.  "Here's the appropriate paperwork.  If you have any questions here's my number.  They'll be arraigned in twos, for safety, beginning tomorrow morning."

Jeremiah watched these latest prisoners being processed, his resolve to hate them as strong as it had ever been in his life - so strong that only forcing himself to pee his pants right in front of his fellow guards could momentarily pull him away from his sudden vision of every last one of them being torn limb from limb right in front of him while he could do nothing to prevent it.  Or worse still - which is what made him pee so hard - he himself being the instrument of their slaughter.

"Dude: they can't get to us!" one of his fellow guards quipped, pointing to the wet streak steadily soaking his pants.

"Jesus: who knew a teeny little pecker could unleash such a torrent!" quipped another.

A big stupid grin lit up Jeremiah's face.  Not from embarrassment - from relief at being teased into leaving aside his premonition, if even for only awhile.

Absent from those being processed were the wounded, Cole among them.  These prisoners were taken at once to the prison infirmary, where their wounds were assessed and treatment administered.  When they got to Cole, except for some blood staining his pants, those in attendance could detect no injury.  "Just like a nigger to fake illness!" they whispered among themselves.

"We don't see anything wrong with you," it was reported to Cole, at which he let his trousers fall.  The attendants - one doctor, two interns, three nurses - jumped back in a kind of shock, not at Cole's wound but at what was wounded.  They'd never seen a penis shattered by a bullet; but even more so they never saw one so big before.  First they tried dressing his would; but that seemed insufficient.  They went to consult among themselves.

"Should we try and save it?" they wondered.  "Or just hack it off?"  They debated half an hour back and forth till finally the doctor issued the authoritative prognosis.  "This facility is not designed for reconstructive surgery.  Nor should the public have to pay for a procedure destined to unleash still more lawless beings on them.  From a medical standpoint there is only one choice.  Are we all in agreement?"  One intern raised his hand but was told a show of hands was superfluous: a nod of heads would suffice.

When they returned to their patient they prepped him, anesthetized him, amputated his penis to within three inches of his scrotum, then dressed the wound and set him aside till he awoke.

Though he was fully asleep during the surgery and felt nothing, Cole knew everything that was happening.  He knew long before he awoke what he'd awake without.  He did all his crying and wailing inside, where no one could see or hear, so when he awoke and was told how it went, he merely shrugged and went back to sleep.  A week later he and the others wounded were brought forth to be processed.  As before, Jeremiah helped process them.  As before, Jeremiah peed himself.  As before, his fellow guards teased him.  As before, he grinned a big stupid grin and went about the business of guarding prisoners, which had become not just his life's work but his life itself.

On the day her brother was processed, Graciana detected a shift in her world's axis.  For Graciana, there was but one world - hers - and, through it, one axis - hers also.  Though she and Raphael were never close, only he registered as part of her world, only he had sufficient presence to affect its axis.  Las Cruces, on that day, ceased being the capital of her world, replaced now by Santa Fe, putting her for the first time ever in sync with the world others had mapped out.  She didn't like that feeling; of all things in existence she hated interlopers most.  And now all of humanity, thanks to her brother, had become interlopers in her world.

"If I could cast a spell over him to re-orient my world, I would this very minute.  But I'll bide my time."

And as she resolved, so too did her nemesis.  "Very soon," Alvereta whispered too softly for anyone to hear.  But, unknown to her, her whispers were felt as desert insects crawling up Graciana's back to bring word of the treachery being worked out in her little troll's mind.

As Graciana sat facing the blank wall in her dressing room fixing her face in beauty, she began piecing together a plan to rid herself of two interlopers in one move.  She had already set its first piece in place: Laresha not only backed her up, she now opened for her as well, singing solo with Los Jabalis.  Graciana was growing more certain by the day that Laresha would soon leave her band altogether to accept one of many offers to join other bands as their lead singer.  She didn't mind losing Laresha nearly so much as having her in competition.

Wow!" everyone in the night club gasped when Graciana made her entrance.  No one had ever seen her more beautiful, more alluring.  And when she sang, she enchanted everyone there.  When the applause finally died down and she and her band took their final bow, one of her band members quipped "She's really piled on the makeup tonight!"

Alvereta overheard his comment and whispered in his ear "Fool!  She wears no makeup!  Inspect her dressing room - try and find any makeup!"  Long after the bar closed and everyone went home, a couple band members searched Graciana's dressing room; and, exactly as Alvereta predicted, found absolutely nothing - not even a mirror.  "She might carry her cosmetics with her, but not a mirror!" they concluded.  "So maybe Troll Lady is right for once.  Who knows?"

Late that night transpired what was bound to happen sooner or later.  As she had done every night after work for over a month, Laresha visited the shed where Judy Martinez lived.  Where before she always maintained a safe distance, this time she strayed too close and came entirely under the girl's spell.  It made no difference whether she resisted or not; Pecos Pest stood ready to bring her before the girl anyway.

"Why have you come here?" Pecos demanded, insanely jealous of losing his place beside Judy's shed.

"I couldn't deny her any longer," Laresha confessed.  "I knew once I came too close, it would be too late to turn away."

"Away from what?"

"From what must happen."

Pecos motioned Laresha to follow him inside.  When the door closed behind her, Laresha gasped and tried to turn away but Pecos blocked her way.  Before her, seated on a dirty blanket, was a mother holding her child.  But so pale and with such sunken cheeks that Laresha momentarily wondered if the angelic singing that drew her night after night had only been a radio.  But when she looked into the child's eyes she knew that this sickly little mother holding him was host to a sound more sublime than anything she had ever heard or even imagined a human voice could produce.

"Do you wish to learn why she's here?" Pecos asked Judy Martinez, who shook her head no.

"Forgive me," she begged Laresha.  "I didn't mean to take your own voice from you.  Please don't stop singing because you heard me."

"I have no choice," Laresha tried to explain.  "It isn't that I resent not being the best anymore.  It's just you've made me see how foolish I was even to want to be the best, much less imagine I really was.  I must stop or else every time I sing I'll be trying to sing more beautifully than you.  And that would be such an affront to everything that's made your voice more beautiful than anything else on earth that I think I'd die of shame.  May I ask what your son's name is?"

"His name is Carl."

Laresha looked down at the child and smiled.  "He has my son's mouth," she said, mostly to herself.  Then she turned once again to the mother.  "This world won't know what to make of him," she predicted.  "To have been sung to every night since his birth has given his soul what few souls are ever given.  I beg you: let me help you in any way I can.  From the look of you, you won't live to see him grown to manhood."

"This man behind you has promised to finish raising him once I'm no longer able to.  I trust him as I never trusted anyone in my life.  I have no fear for my son.  No one alive is more capable of showing him the way to what's best for him.  But please go now.  My son will be asleep soon."

"May I return?" Laresha pleaded.

"If you can," Judy Martinez told her.

On her way out, Laresha, on an impulse, turned - and fell to the ground on her knees.

"Look!" she cried.  "Jesus and Mary!  Above her house!  On her roof!  Jesus and Mary!"

"Behold two others beside them!" Pecos pointed to two strangely attired figures, one to Mary's right, one to Jesus' left.

"They must be angels!" Laresha cried out.

Pecos shook his head.  "Not dressed like that they're not," he told her.

"What are you people doing up there?" Pecos demanded to know.

The four consulted among themselves then turned to look down again at Pecos.  "We don't have to tell you!" Jesus replied.

"So who are you two?" Pecos asked the two strangely attired apparitions.

"I am Huitzilopochtli.  And this is my sister Malinalxochitl."

"Why are you here with Mary and Jesus?" Pecos asked.

"To teach them the ways of our people," Huitzilopochtli answered.

"Can the four of you save the girl inside?"

"No, no one can."

"Not even God the Father?"

"He doesn't do much anymore," said Jesus.

"Mostly sits around and contemplates," Mary added lest her son give the impression his Father had lost interest in His creations.

Laresha, still kneeling, looked up again and asked if she could offer her life in exchange for the young mother's.  All four nodded that she could not.  They, in turn, asked Laresha why she would make such a request.

"That child reminds me so much of the son my husband and I hope to have one day.  He needs his mother."

"But then your child would never be born," Mary softly reminded Laresha.

"A child in form comes before a child on paper," Laresha replied in kind.  Mary smiled down and nodded that she understood.  Then all four apparitions vanished.  Laresha got up, walked over to kiss Pecos goodbye, and left Judy Martinez's little house in Odessa.

"I'll be leaving your band after this week," Laresha informed Graciana, who simply took it in stride.

"This is not entirely unexpected," Graciana replied.  "I think you should inform the band yourself - so they won't think I'm somehow responsible."

"I will," Laresha promised.

"Let's get this show on the road," the deputy warden informed his guards.  "Snitches don't seem to be blessed with longevity around here.  Bring the new prisoners in one by one."

Jeremiah and his fellow guards rounded up Raf's Razorbacks and Tyrus' Kingsmen, lined them up under heavy guard outside the deputy warden's office, then marched them in one by one.

"Here's the deal," each prisoner was told.  "You're being asked to be a snitch for this penitentiary.  You don't have to answer now, just think about it.  It's not a requirement.  But the result will be the same regardless.  If you agree, we'll expect weekly reports at a minimum.  If you don't agree, that's perfectly ok.  We'll make it a 'Let's not and say we did' sort of thing.  Either way you'll be known as a snitch to the prison population.  So think about it and let us know.  Next!"

The last two to be presented the deputy warden's offer were Tyrus and Raf.  Each declined right then and there, Tyrus leaving immediately upon declaring his contempt for such a no-win deal, Raf hanging around awhile longer to iron a few things out with the prison staff. 

The deputy warden's offer became a daily topic of conversation for a solid month throughout the cell blocks housing the new prisoners, till it all finally fell into the daily routine.  Some had taken the offer, some had not.  All were equally branded as snitches.

Most of the new prisoners had never experienced a communal shower.  Some had heard tales of gang rape and of fights breaking out, even of deaths.  They passed any number of anecdotes among themselves, sometimes even including the guards in the gossip.  Jeremiah was always eager to join in these bull sessions but always waited to be invited.

"Hey, you!" one of the prisoners called to him.  "You're always staring at our dicks in the shower - how come we never get to see yours?"

Jeremiah had to think about that a moment; then it hit him.  "We were never told we could take our clothes off when we're on duty," he gave what he thought was the most likely reason.

"You're always eyeing Kewpie Doll's Donkey Dong, aren't you?" Raf Juarez noted.  Jeremiah didn't know what to say.  Then one of Tyrus' men joined in.

"If this Kewpie Doll hadn't blown Cole's away, you'd be staring so hard your eyes'd pop clean out!"  Everyone laughed, including Jeremiah.  "Cole: tell him how long yours used to be."

He held up both middle fingers.  "These many," he said.

"It might not have been me," Carl pointed out, as if it had just occurred to him.  "There were lots of people shooting back and forth.  Maybe someone else's bullet hit him."

Cole stood up, took a few steps, towered over Carl, who trembled despite a row of steel bars separating them.  "It was you," Cole said ominously.

"Uh-oh Kewpie!" one of Raf's men said.  "You thought the Bishop was a bad ass trying to cut your dong off!  Wait till this nigger gets his knife out and comes after you!"

Carl looked up at Cole and pleaded for him not to cut it off.

"I don't need to," Cole told him.  "One of these days, while you're standing there washing your pretty little head, I'll walk over, calm as can be, reach out, and pull that thing of yours clean off your balls.  And maybe stuff it in your mouth while you're screaming."

Carl looked over at Jeremiah and let the horror in his eyes beg this sympathetic guard, who'd been watching him like a hawk every day when he showered, to protect him.  But Jeremiah turned away, desperately wanting to assure this kid nothing bad would ever happen to him, but knowing that he, of all people, had the least chance of following through with such an assurance.  Carl began crying when it hit him he really was all alone in this world and no one could help him save his special gift.  He moved to the far corner of his cell and began mumbling what he took for a prayer.

"If I only had something else," he prayed.  "My cock is all I have.  I don't have a special song, or a picture, or anything.  When he pulls my cock off everything unique about me is gone forever.  But I know he has the right.  I took his; he has the right to take mine.  I just hope he really does sneak up when I'm not looking.  But if I am looking, please dear God let my eyes show him it's ok if he takes it.  At least give me that much."

No one but Cole heard Carl's prayer.  And of all the things Carl might have said - all his prayers, all his pleas, all his reasons - this alone moved Cole to tears as it kindled a small flame in his heart, making it now impossible for him to exact revenge.

The very next day Carl was gang raped in the shower.  He figured it was an ordeal just waiting to happen, so he resolved not to resist.  It hurt when first one then another rammed into his butt, and hurt even more when they began thrusting their way into his mouth; but since he saw no threat to his cock in all this, he neither cried nor begged for help.  It was only when help finally arrived that panic overtook him.  When his rescuer freed him from his rapists and hurled them, one by one, against the shower wall, then came for him, he began crying and, for the first time since his ordeal began, turned to Jeremiah, who he knew was watching, with desperation in his eyes even though, as he expected, Jeremiah turned away.  Cole came up to take hold of Carl's cock.  Carl turned his face away, muttering "You have the right...even God couldn't show me a way you don't...maybe God will forgive you."

Cole pulled on his cock.  Carl prepared himself to scream.  But it never came.  Then Cole knelt before him.  "Oh God, he's going to bite it off!" Carl muttered.  Instead, Cole kissed it, arose, whispered in Carl's ear "We're even," and proceeded to finish his shower.  Carl fell to his knees to begin a prayer of thanks.  Jeremiah, his terror even greater than Carl's, finally turned back and, seeing Carl kneeling on the shower floor with his genitals intact, burst into tears, muttering something about his luck maybe changing after so many loved ones left dying on his doorstep.

Their arraignments, trials, convictions, sentences had come and gone and the new prisoners settled in for the rest of their lives.  They always talked of appeals, pardons, even break-outs; but they knew it was just talk.  They knew they were here for good; talking, even thinking, of escape was more a formality of prison life than something under serious consideration.  Only one new prisoner actively perused the various routes to freedom.  Raf had sufficient contacts and wielded enough influence both inside and on the outside that freedom, for him, was neither an abstract state of being nor an unobtainable goal meant to keep him aloof from the New Mexico Penal System but a very real possibility.  And only one new prisoner despaired of his fate to the very core of his being.

Every day Justen awoke with a sense of absolute desperation; every night he carried that sense with him to bed.  Every dream he dreamed filled his sleep with despair; every waking moment brought him deeper and deeper into a depression that surrounded him as effectively as a force field to keep everything outside of him out and everything within him in.  Only one thing had ever escaped his prison within a prison; his song had gone.  He knew it was gone because he never again sought its lyrics to sing or its melody to hum.  Of all his fellow prisoners - and he alone was never raped or threatened, so absolute was his despair - only Raf knew what he despaired of.  But even Raf avoided him whenever he could; and when he couldn't, not once poked fun at him just so Justen knew how clever he was.  "Why doesn't he just hang himself, or provoke a fight?" some of Raf's Razorbacks wondered.  "Nobody can live that sad."  Raf merely joined in the group wonderment, feigning ignorance of Justen's one and only goal in life: to be thrown into flames so hot, so deep he'd be not simply burned beyond recognition but beyond existence itself.  Raf secretly prayed to his Aztec gods to grant Justen his heart's desire.

The tension was growing unbearable.  And Jeremiah had no release for it.  He daydreamed all day long and, when he slept, dreamed for real of his ideal lover.  She was a composite of Fat Violet, Bobbi Jasmine and Pu-n-tain, who never left her bed in Houston.  This amalgam of pure sex was blessed with layer upon layer of fat - so much fat his little bommie couldn't begin to find her pussy so he'd ram it into her belly button, almost as cavernous as where he was supposed to put it.  Or rub it against her belly so fast he'd spew out right there.  Or, if he really got lucky, climb upon her to contort himself so he sucked one nipple while rubbing it against her breast till it found her other nipple and let that nipple fuck his bommie's pee hole.  He even told his fellow guards of his ideal mate.

"Ah, dude, it's like this: we got us some pretty big hogs right her in the Land of Enchantment!  We'll go find you one - okay?"

Jeremiah shook his head no.  "I can't."

"Why not?  Can't get it up any more?"

"I can't ever leave here - this prison.  I can't ever leave it."

The other guards burst out laughing.  "You got it all backwards dude!  It's the prisoners are in here for life - not the guards!  We get a day off - or two - now and then!"

Again Jeremiah shook his head.  "If I leave, even for one night - like I did in Huntsville - something bad'll happen to the prisoners."

"So what if it does?  Who gives a fuck?"

"I love these guys.  I didn't want to - I tried - I swear to God I tried - to hate them. But I couldn't.  Everything I love dies the moment I turn my back.  It's the way it's always been."

"Dude: this is way too heavy for us.  Just keep it to yourself.  Leave us out of it."

Jeremiah agreed he'd never bring it up again.  He never mentioned the prisoners at all until they began to go missing, one by one.  "Are they being paroled?" he asked.

"No," they told him.  "They're being sent to the snitch wing."

Jeremiah stared, dumbfounded.  "The snitches.  Come on, man, didn't you ever hear about that?  They get prisoners to act as spies and snitch to us guards about what's going on behind our backs.  After awhile, the prisoners find out who's been snitching on them and they gotta be moved to a separate wing blocked off from the rest of the prison, otherwise they'd be butchered - and we do mean butchered.  It ain't a pretty sight what happens to snitches if they're ever caught.  Takes a mighty strong stomach to go scrape what's left of them off the floor and put it in garbage bags.  But that's what they get for being snitches."

"Where is this wing?" Jeremiah asked.

"Come on, we'll show you."

Jeremiah's fellow guards led him down a long corridor to a block of cells partitioned off from the rest of the cell block by an iron gate.  Jeremiah stood studying this wing for over an hour, his fellow guards studying him just as intently, to see what might happen to him this time.  They placed bets.  One bet he'd pee himself; another that his little thing would get hard enough to poke its presence against his pants; a third that he'd burst out crying.  "Nah, none of those," said a fourth guard.  "I'm betting he craps himself this time!"

When his hour was up, Jeremiah turned and walked past the other guards down the long corridor, his whole body trapped inside a resolve that brought a strange look to his eyes, like nothing anyone had ever seen before.

"Son of a bitch!" his fellow guards exclaimed, almost in unison.  "What the fuck was that all about?"  "He didn't pee, didn't cum, didn't cry, didn't crap!"  "Nobody wins."  "Yeah but nobody loses either."

Jeremiah recognized several prisoners sandwiched in among the snitches.  These were among those he helped process - his first real task since becoming a guard here.  The Razorbacks and the Kingsmen.  And since they were his first they held a special place in his heart.  He wondered why they would snitch; and prayed they never strayed beyond their wing.  What happens when they get filled up? he wondered.  Do they open another wing?  No sooner did he address this conundrum than a look of horror came over him and he simultaneously peed, shited, vomited and began crying.

Cole awoke from a dream of peace.  He'd gone back to the Bayou country, seen his family's house, even talked a moment with his grandmother.  But a horrible stench awoke him: a stench of death.  No sooner did he get the sleep out of his eyes than a look of absolute horror took its place.  A child he had grown to love as if it were his own was being devoured.

While Cole slept Josiah sat on his bed slowly tearing the drawing of his son Clete into dozens of pieces which he arranged around him like pieces of a puzzle, each separate piece carefully set within the context of those pieces fulfilling its potential.  He then took up each piece, one by one and kissed it before placing it on his tongue, letting his mouth close around it while slowly devouring it.

Cole leaped from his bed and, two steps later, went down on his knees before Josiah.  He tried reaching out to save what was left of Clete, but Josiah raised his hand to stop him.

"We'll get out!" Cole exclaimed.  "I swear it: I'll get you out if I have to rip apart every stone in this jail!"

Again Josiah held up his hand.  "We might get out, but it doesn't matter.  It'd be too late."

Cole remained kneeling before Josiah, tears streaming down his cheeks as he watched his friend, a man he'd come to love like a son, devour more and more of the child they both loved until, finally, came the last piece, Clete's mouth.  When Josiah's mouth closed around it, Cole let out a scream, and blood began flowing from his own mouth.  Then it was over, and Cole slumped onto Josiah's bed, where Clete's face had been, and cried with utter abandon.

Josiah had seen her, just once.  Her image flashed briefly across the TV screen in the prison recreation room.  That was when Clete died stillborn.  Cole, too, had seen her, as had every prisoner watching TV that Friday night.  But only Josiah understood.  

Laresha never again visited the back alley where Judy Martinez grew steadily weaker and felt the cold Texas nights creeping ever closer to her bones.  It was always Laresh'a intent to get help for this young mother whose child seemed a stolen image of her unborn son; and though Judy's faith in the man posted outside her little house was absolute, there was something about him frightening to Laresha.  She feared that if Judy passed from this world, he would come undone and perhaps run amok.  She couldn't know that his running days were behind him, not before him.

Laresha, as instructed, told Los Jabalis that she was leaving.  To a man they were devastated, though not entirely shocked.  "We always knew you'd move on some day," they assured her.  "You should have your own band - not be under her spell, or her thumb."

Laresha nodded.  "No, it isn't that.  I'm giving up singing.  It's time I stopped living for me and started living for my man.  I suppose he's still in jail.  So I'll leave, as I came, by train.  I've bought a one-way ticket back to Chicago.  I'll find him - maybe I'll even commit a crime so I can be jailed beside him!"

"Since tonight's your last performance," Graciana graciously offered, "I'd like it to be your special night.  I'd like you to be me, and me you.  You'll go on in my place, I'll back you up.  But more: I want you to wear my most alluring outfit - even fix your hair like mine, if you'll let me.  Then, after your last number, we'll bid you farewell.  Will you let me do this in your honor?"

Though it felt somehow wrong, Laresha agreed.  "One more thing: say nothing to anyone.  Keep this a secret just between you and I.  Will you?"

Again Laresha agreed.  Graciana hugged her, telling her to knock on her dressing room door one hour before show time - and to bring with her one of her own outfits.

All this was said in secret, exactly two hours before show time.  One half hour later Graciana let herself be overheard by Alvereta, who always spied on her but whose spying was never mis-perceived.

"Tonight is the night my Troll Lady gets the surprise of her life," Graciana feigned a plot she knew Alvereta would go to the ends of space and time to foil.  Then she spoke aloud.  "Tonight at midnight my brother shall be no more.  I will send him to Mictlan, where Nahual will turn him to a form Ahuitzotl can better devour the very moment he crosses Itzcuintlan.  I shall wear my most potent attire and sing every song in honor of Acolnahuacatl, god of Mictlan.  It will be done at last, and I shall then become a goddess and rule this whole earth."

Alvereta wasted no time preparing to save her precious Raphael Juarez from his treacherous sister's machinations.  She had no doubt Graciana - demon that she was - could pull it off.  Her only hope of saving Raf before his murder made Graciana invincible was to destroy the demon while it was still vulnerable.

"Shh!" she whispered to her pistol, which she had taken out of its hiding place and now held to her lips.  "Do not, in your eagerness to do my bidding, give us away.  The time draws near.  Be ready for when you're called upon."

One hour, exactly, before show time Laresha knocked softly on Graciana's dressing room door, carrying one of her favorite outfits.  She was graciously admitted.  She looked around, realizing she had never been here before yet wasn't at all surprised she hadn't.  What was Graciana's, even a room not really hers but only loaned to her, was recognized by everyone in her band as off-limits.

"They gave you no mirror?" Laresha observed.

"I need no mirror.  I prepare myself each night inside outward till I'm ready to go on.  I always allow myself one hour, whether I'm truly ready or not.  Tonight I will be because it's you who'll be me - and your beauty needs no coaxing from chambers hidden within.  And I will be you, in your outfit, so I need not do a thing because I can never replicate your beauty.  So let's begin."

Both women stripped down to their underwear, Laresha surprised that hers were so much more delicate, feminine, even sexy than Graciana's.  Graciana winked and noted her being much more a frumpy housewife beneath her aura of allure than a glamour queen.  Both women laughed.  Then the work of transposing identities began, first their hair, then their makeup - which for the first time ever Graciana wore - and finally their attire.  One hour later Graciana's dressing room door opened and Laresha, become Graciana, stepped into the long dark corridor leading to the stage, while Graciana herself waited a discreet moment longer, as Laresha always had, to make her entrance.

Before Graciana, become Laresha, passed her threshold, the anticipated shot rang out.  Alvereta coaxed her "pretty" to do her bidding and remove from this earth a demon bent on beguiling a pantheon of Aztec god into destroying a boy "most likely to succeed" that it might rule forever.  When Laresha, become Graciana, fell mortally wounded in her path, Alvereta thanked God and Jesus and Mary for helping her save the world.  A moment later whoever the shot that saved the world drew was upon Alvereta, wresting her gun, subduing her physical being.  Once she was safely in custody, and her victim was whisked away by paramedics to die in their ambulance on her way to be saved, Graciana made her entrance, feigning both surprise and horror, but as Laresha, who she had become, might express.  Alvereta at first believed the approaching woman to be who she was designed from the back to be.  Then, in a split second, all the world came undone right before her eyes.

"Of course," she muttered as she slowly nodded her head sidewise and back again.  When Los Jabalis learned what happened while they warmed up on stage, they noted what an irony that the very day Laresha was to stop singing she stopped altogether.  

Andy traced so closely Juan Cordoba's path into the desert he felt his presence.  Every step of his way he kept asking who was there; every time he asked his question came out garbled.  "Are you a Jew?"  "Are you a Nigger?"  "Are you a Spic?"  No other dialect but that of his beliefs came from his tongue.  With each step he drew nearer Juan, who every couple days lay down to die only to be revived by the same wind that always came to clear away his shroud of sand.  Juan began running under the brightest moon in history toward what looked to be a mound of rock but he knew better.  Sand cannot save me now, he thought drawing ever nearer this nest of scorpions.  Just as he reached it, a beautiful evening breeze fluttered around the nest, soothing its occupants into a deep sleep which made them oblivious to Juan Cordoba's body rolling back and forth over their nest.  Eventually Juan got up and wearily resumed his journey homeward.

Three days later Andy came upon the same nest.  Instead of rolling over it, he began asking his endless question.  "Who is there?/Are you a Jew?"  They began crawling over his naked foot and up his student's pant leg.  "Who is there?/Are you a Nigger?"  A hissing of stingers began.  "Who is there?/Are you a Spic?"  Before they could strike a death blow, the sorceress Malinalxochitl appeared as a butterfly which spread its wings, instantly lulling them to sleep, falling one by one from Andy's pants as he continued Juan Cordoba's path homeward.

Pecos told Judy Martinez and her son of the strange visitation.  But to her it didn't seem strange at all.  "These other gods are two of my people's gods," she said.

"They wouldn't say why they were here," Pecos told her.

"They're here to make sure my son goes where he should: with you."

"Then why did they leave?" Pecos asked.

"Coming and going isn't to them as it is to us.  They can be on the other side of the world yet be here in an instant.  Or they might still be here and just hiding."  Judy Martinez's train of thought was cut short by a bout of coughing followed by a flow of blood the deepest red from her mouth.

"You must go soon," she told Pecos.  "And take my son to his new home, as you promised.  And sing to him each night.  Only don't close your eyes for real till he's grown - just as I've done.  I pretend a deep sleep but my eyes are never completely closed.  It isn't because of danger though -"

"But this world is filled with danger, everywhere!" Pecos reminded the young mother.

"I don't watch for it entering my house.  I watch for my son wandering off in the night and being set upon by it.  And you must do the same.  He's taken his first steps.  So many nights, had I not slept with my eyes open, he would have walked out the door.  He sees something out there, far away; and he's so anxious to get to it he doesn't see what lies between.  You must be vigilant.  And, like me, you can only stop him from leaving with your voice.  I don't sing just to lull him to sleep.  I sing to keep him asleep, and safe."

Again her train of thought was cut short by a fit of coughing, followed this time by dark and dry blood that, instead of flowing from her mouth sat still on her tongue till she reached inside her mouth to pull it out.

"I'll sleep now," Judy Martinez said.

"Before you do," Pecos asked, "where will I bury you when it's time?"

"You won't," she answered.  "You'll take my son and go."

"You must be buried!" Pecos insisted. 

"If Jesus and Mary and my people's god wish me buried, someone will be sent to find me.  If not, my home will be my grave."

Judy Martinez kissed her son's brow, then cleared her throat with a gentle cough.  She gazed up at Pecos then down at her son again.  She lay down and shut her eyes, for real this time.  Her son, barely two years old, stood up and began singing his mother's refrain.  When he stopped, he reached his hand up to let Pecos take it.

From Odessa, where his murderous exploits had taken him, Pecos Pest Fastest Knife in the West worked his way, his new charge in tow, first southwest to the place Carl was conceived - the place Pecos was named for - then northwest and finally due west to where his own birthplace sat amidst an endless desert surrounding a place - not a town, just a place - called Salt Flat, Texas, some eighty miles due west of Odessa.  When they arrived, three weeks and a day later, baby Carl let out a squeal of absolute rapture and began clapping his tiny hands in delight, which prompted Pecos to take a second look at the desert surrounding his family's house.  He too squealed and clapped for joy.  The past two years of his life had transformed an endless, stifling prison of sand, scrub brush and distant mountains into a panorama of pure enchantment and incomparable beauty, a wonderment of endless possibilities. Taking Carl by the hand, Pecos led him inside.

Pecos shook his head no to his mother's unstated question.  "Not yours?" his mother asked.

"No," Pecos replied.  "A child of such rare innocence could only have issued from a being of absolute purity.  But she died - not by my hand!" he hastened to assure his mother.  "She gave me the task of raising her son.  His name is Carl, and each night I must sing to him - all night if I must.  He's like a sleepwalker and only singing will keep him tethered till daylight."

"Will you sing the rest of your life?" his mother asked.

"There will be a sign when it's time to stop.  I don't know what it is, but I'll know it when it comes."

Everyday Pecos took Carl into the desert, each day a little farther until eventually they began setting up camp at night and were even gone weeks at a time.  His mother smiled, thinking how history repeats itself.

"You know," she told her son once, "you're doing exactly as your father did when you were a boy.  Till he went into his crazy cycle and brought a different way of life to his house.  And when redemption displaced craziness you became crazy, and forged all the madness into a weapon.  Don't let that happen to this boy."

Pecos nodded.  "As long as my songs are needed, he won't let me fix a cycle of madness around our house."

"And when he leaves?"

"It'll be time for my redemption."

It took a jury no time at all to find Alvereta guilty of first-degree murder and to sentence her to life imprisonment in the Texas correctional facility for women at Gatesville.  During her trial, Alvereta refrained from offering what to her was the core of an airtight alibi: that she meant to kill a demon but was malevolently tricked into killing an innocent bystander.  Nor was it lost on her that such a defense could possibly have rendered her innocent by reason of insanity.  All this legal reasoning she let one overriding factor brush aside: she had taken an innocent life, however unwittingly.  For that she willingly, even eagerly, accepted her sentence, her only concern a demon's triumph over not just her but the whole world.  She'll destroy Raf, Alvereta despaired; then she'll gain access to the invisible levers controlling human events.  Every day she made a point of reviewing every possible news bulletin to learn when the process of demonizing the world would begin; every day put off to another day.  Her one and only encounter with Raphael Juarez's name was when he was sentenced to life imprisonment along with all the other members of his gang.  She breathed a sigh of relief knowing he was in as safe a haven from his demon sister as existed anywhere on earth.

Though Andy had become adept at avoiding boulders, cacti, scrub brush and even insect mounds, he hadn't learned how to negotiate his way around human bodies prone against the ground.  He tripped over Juan Cordoba almost completely covered in sand.  He picked himself up and started off again, thinking he had stumbled across an animal cadaver.  He hadn't gone fifty feet when he abruptly turned and asked "What?", thinking his name had been called out.  Retracing his steps, only more slowly, he again came upon Juan Cordoba still trying to quiet desert sands into a shroud.  "Did you call my name?" Andy asked but got no answer.  Again he listened; again he distinctly heard his name, clearly coming from the desert floor.

"I'm sorry for tripping over you," he tried to apologize.  Then something happened inside his head that put everything in perspective.  "My God!" he exclaimed.   "These are the first words I've spoken that came out right!"  And the instant he realized this, he understood why this body was lying before him.

"You're here to die," he said to the body.  "But they've sent me to save you.  I've started your shroud unraveling.  I beg your forgiveness.  Everyone says how bad it is to cause a man's death - but it's even worse to cause him to live when he's ready to go."

Andy knelt down and began piling sand over Juan Cordoba's body, almost completely covering him when a great wind sprang from nowhere and sent Juan's man made shroud swirling into the twilight, almost blocking out the setting sun.  Slowly, Juan raised himself from this, his tenth grave since beginning his trek through the desert.  He took Andy by his hand and led him away with him, ever deeper into the desert.

Jeremiah's fellow guards scraped enough together to bring their contraband inside, marveling at how easy it was to pay off a deliveryman with some left over for the guard at the front gate.  The delivery van backed up to unload both its cargo and its contraband, one going where it was supposed to, the other being hustled down a long corridor to the guards' locker room.  Once inside, a big black bag was pulled away, revealing an obese woman with a hard facial expression featuring tiny black eyes and a big red mouth.  Several minutes passed when Jeremiah came on duty, going so quickly to his locker he failed to notice his fellow guards' contraband.

He began undressing, reaching into his locker for his uniform.  A puffy hand took hold of his before he could take hold of his uniform.  "Hey sailor!" a gruff voice spoke in his ear.  Turning and seeing who addressed him spiked his puzzlement with a heavy dose of deja vu.  This woman standing almost against him could have been Fat Violet, his first love.  His whole body began shaking; he turned to the other guards for an explanation, his face turned a pasty white.  They burst out laughing.

"Surprise!" they cried out in unison.  "And many happy returns!" a couple guards added.  They motioned him over.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"If Mohammed can't go to the mountain, the mountain will come to him!" Jeremiah was told.  He just stood there staring blankly.  "Remember how you told us you loved fat women?"  He nodded yes.  "And remember how you said you'd never abandon your post for any reason - even to get laid?"  Again he nodded.  "So we brought the fat woman to you - and thar she blows!"

"But if anyone sees her you guys'll get in trouble!"

"So you better get crackin' man!  We got a special boudoir set up for you back in the shower.  That way if she shits on you you just turn on the spigot and the evidence down the drain goes!  Now move it!"

"What's her name?"

"It's Gloriosa.  But she prefers you call her Glory-holesa"!

"Glory-holesa.  That must be the Spanish pronunciation.  Thanks guys!"

Jeremiah led Gloriosa to the shower room, where an air mattress lay underneath a shower.  She proceeded to get undressed, Jeremiah growing more excited with each garment she peeled away.  By the time she pulled her panties down, and motioned for him to take his boxers and T-shirt off, he could barely manage his assigned task.  Each inch of fabric brushing his dick on its way down nearly brought him to orgasm; but he managed to reveal his naked body with a full load still waiting within.  He moved to within an inch of her body, her woman's aroma enticing his balls to emit his strongest man's aroma.

"Oh Glory-holesa!" he cried out to her as he began rubbing himself against her belly.

All at once she took hold of his dick and balls together and pulled as hard as she could.  He screamed and ejaculated in tandem.

"Never call me that again or I'll yank that little wee-wee of yours right out of its socket and stuff it in your ear and your tight little raisin balls up your nose!" Gloriosa swore.  Then she made him lie down on the air mattress so she could take a shit on his belly, squatting down when she was done to wipe herself on his hair.  Finally, she urinated all over his face, picked her clothes up, got dressed, and left the same way she came in.

Jeremiah lay on his air mattress for nearly an hour before arising, showering his love making away, returning to the locker room to get dressed for his shift, a big smile on his face the entire time.  He thanked God for an uneventful shift, which allowed him to concentrate on his newfound love right through till the morning light signaled an end to his shift.  Soon he would be relieved and would go straight to his tiny room to dream sweet dreams of his darling Glory-holesa - and plan ways to sneak her in again and again.

When he awoke he made for his small desk calendar, marking down every holiday through Christmas.  First up was Valentine Day, almost a month away.  At breakfast he told his fellow guards his plan.

"I'll sneak her in every last holiday this year!" he announced.

"Uh-oh!  Chuck E's in love again!"

"You know it!" he admitted.  "I just wish I didn't have to wait till Valentine's Day to see her again."

"You don't," one of the guards pointed out.

"I want it to be the most special days of the year when I see her," Jeremiah, in turn, noted.

"But you don't have to wait till Valentine's Day.  You got a special day coming up right around the corner: Ground Hog Day."

"Ground Hog Day," Jeremiah mused.  "I know that was a big thing back home - everyone wanted to know when winter'd be over.  But I didn't think you guys celebrated it down here."

"Are you kidding?  It's just about our most important day of the year!  See, we don't have ground hogs here in the desert - so we gotta depend on old Punxsutawney Phil to let us know what's on its way!  Hell, that little pecker's practically a demi-god to us!  We hang on his every grunt!"

"Hmmm," Jeremiah kept musing.  "So I could try and sneak her in then and not have to wait.  Hell, who needs St. Valentine when I got Punxsutawney Phil!  By God I'll have my little Glory-holesa -oops! can't call her that or she'll pull my little dick and balls off!  I gotta start planning!"

"We'll help you!  Come hell or high water we'll see that you have yourself a great big fat 'Groundhog Day Date' or die trying!"

"What's wrong?" Cole noticed his cellmate acting more distracted than usual.

"I'm being sent to the Snitch Wing next week sometime," Josiah told him.

"You're no snitch!"

"Doesn't matter.  Remember?  They warned us we'd be set up to be snitches whether we were or not."

"So they set you up."

"Yeah, just like they said.  Now I have to watch my back every minute till I get inside the Snitch Wing."

"Wonder when they'll set me up?" Cole asked.

"I doubt if they do," Josiah offered.  "No one here's a match for you."

"I want us to stay together," Cole told his friend.  "Maybe I'll have to start snitching so they'll send me too - like that kid with the big cock they call Kewpie Doll."

"He snitched?"

"From what I hear.  He tried to say it wasn't really snitching, they just took what he said and made it sound like it - so who knows?"

"Cole, let me ask you something: why did you queer off on that kid?"

"I didn't.  My gesture was to let him know I didn't hold it against him causing me to lose mine.  It felt odd.  When I kissed the tip of his head.  Like what they call Poetic Justice."

"I don't understand."

"When I was a kid coming up and started getting hard ons, I knew I couldn't ever fuck a girl - not with something like mine.  I knew it'd hurt any girl.  So I pretended to be queer - so the girls'd leave me alone - cause they all wanted to see my cock and play with it.  I'd show it to them - and fight like hell not to get hard.  'Cause I knew I'd fuck 'em if I ever got hard around them.  So I'd say I was queer and pull my pants back up and say I was sorry but I only liked boys.  Then I'd go out in the woods and jerk off about ten times till I couldn't do it no more."

"Did you ever do it with another boy?"

"No.  Once it got known I was queer, all the queer boys in school came around.  Sometimes I let 'em suck me but it barely got hard.  I only came once in a boy's mouth.  So then word got out that I was only a cock tease and even the queer boys stopped coming around.  I was one horny, frustrated kid who got stuck with the kind of cock every other man on earth wishes for!  I've gone through life thinking over and over 'Be careful what you wish for.'  All those men telling me how they wished they could trade their little six inch dicks for my big eighteen inch cock.  Ass-holes: be careful what you wish for.  I guess that's why I can't hate Kewpie Doll for shooting the damn thing off.  In fact - you're not going to believe this - but he's one white guy I'd like to get to know better.  I can't quite figure what makes him tick, you know?"

Everyone in Cole's cell block turned to see what was happening.  Josiah had been led to the Snitch Wing earlier in the day; now they were leading another prisoner.  He was fine until he looked up and saw the big iron gate separating this cell block from his new home a few hundred feet way.  Then he began screaming, pleading, reaching out to grab hold of any cell bars he could.  By chance his hand came to rest on the bars of Cole's cell.  Instantly Cole's bars became encased in a vise-like grip the guards leading him could not wrest loose.

"Help us, you!" the two guards ordered Cole, who came over.

"Boy," he said, "they ain't taking you to the Chamber - you're just goin' to the Snitch Wing!"

"Please!" Justen begged.  "Help me!  Please!  Don't let 'em take me!  Don't let 'em take me!"

"I'm sorry kid," Cole said, "but you gotta go - for your own protection.  You'll be safe there.  They ain't taking you to the Chamber."

Slowly, with a force far greater than Justen's hold on his bars, Cole maneuvered the boy's hands free.  Justen let out a screech as if his hands had been sawed off.  He saw his every chance of being burned up slipping away as he was dragged kicking and screaming the rest of the way to the safest place in the entire penitentiary - maybe the entire world as well.

When he was finally led through the big iron gate, and heard it slam shut behind him, his whole body went limp and he ceased screaming.  He was dragged to his assigned cell, dragged to his cot, made to sit down.  His head slumped forward.  All movement stopped.  He had slipped into a catatonic state and for all anyone knew would remain that way for the rest of his life.

Three days had come and gone and he hadn't moved a muscle.  Carl, one cell down, who barely noticed Justen their entire time with the Razorbacks, cried for him almost constantly.  "Please God," he prayed, "forgive me my sins just long enough to let me bring him back.  Then you can go back to condemning me to hell all over again."

The evening of Justen's third catatonic day it began raining, so hard that even deep in the bowels of this place it could be heard beating against the walls and ceiling.  Carl's tears stopped falling.  He closed his eyes and began singing.

  "Just a little boy, standing in the rain,

    The gentle rain that falls for years,

    And the grass is gone, the boy disappears,

    And rain keeps falling like helpless tears,

    What have they done to the rain -

    What have they done to the rain?"

Slowly Justen looked up to see where his song was coming from.  All he could see was Carl standing holding the bars separating them.  He lifted himself from his cot and walked to where Carl stood.

"I'm not allowed to hear that anymore," he whispered through the bars.  Then he turned away and stood perfectly still for nearly an hour before returning to his cot.  This time he lay down and fell asleep, awakening early the next morning to find Carl still standing, still holding the bars between them.  He tried to smile, but it was an ugly gesture, as if his mouth had been twisted during the night to a bug-like shape.  He came over and whispered to Carl "I would have been a better neighbor if you'd left me for dead."

On the other side of Carl's cell was Josiah's.  Unknown to either Carl or Justen, Josiah had spent the last three days watching this bizarre scene being played out.  When it finally concluded early the fourth day, and both Carl and Justen returned to their respective cots to sit then eventually lie down, Josiah made his presence known.

"Hey -" he started to call out to Carl then remembered the only name he'd ever known this kid by was Kewpie Doll.  By chance, as Josiah started to turn away, Carl glanced his way.

"Can I ask you something?" Josiah sought Carl's attention.

Carl got up and walked over to that side of his cell.  "Yeah, sure," he said.

"What was all that about?"

"You mean with Moline - ah, I mean Justen?"

"Yeah.  What's this Moline-Justen all about?" Josiah asked.

"Raf never called him anything but Moline - he was the Moline Firebug.  Just like he never called me Carl - only Kewpie Doll."

"Ok.  I actually heard about this Moline Firebug.  But where did Kewpie Doll come from?"

"I don't really know.  I guess I look maybe a little too cute for a guy.  Anyway, Justen killed his mentor - his name was Andy - Raf always called him Neo-Nazi cause he hated...well, anyway -

"You mean Niggers?"

"And Jews, and Spics.  Anyway, Justen murdered him so I guess he feels guilty.  It's like he wants to die or something, maybe."

"Did you know him back in Moline?"

"No, I'm from Pittsburgh.  Where you from?"

"Chicago.  The Projects."

"Oh.  I guess they were pretty bad, huh?"

"If I ever get out of here I'll probably go back there.  What about you?  You ever going back to Pittsburgh?"

"Maybe.  Just to see St. Stephen's one last time.  That's the orphanage I grew up in.  But I'll be too old to ever live there again."

"If we ever get out, maybe we can both head north - you think?" asked Josiah.

"Sure.  Sounds good," Carl agreed.

"By the way, you've got a beautiful singing voice," Josiah told him.  Then turned away, suddenly self-conscious about giving such a compliment - as if it somehow slighted Laresha.

"I used to be in our boy's choir back home till my buddy told me they castrated the best singers so their voice wouldn't get too deep.  That freaked me out, so I quit the choir.  The other day's the first I ever sang since then."

By week's end, most of Raf's Razorbacks had been transferred to the Snitch Wing, but not Raf himself.  And all but Cole and Tyrus had been taken there from what remained of Tyrus' gang.  Both Josiah and Carl now had cellmates; only Justen remained alone.  Carl continued attempting to pull Justen out of his depression, but by the end of January ceased expecting to succeed; he just went through the motions, that was it.  He and Josiah found each other's company more engaging than either of their cellmates, so they spent most of their time at their cells' bars.

"It's more than guilt for killing the Neo-Nazi," Josiah concluded.  "Something else happened, something that changed how he looks at the world.  I wish Cole was here - he'd get to the bottom of it.  Him and his grandma's Pincher, who robs a man of his soul by finding where it is in his body.  Wherever Moline's is, that's were the Pincher is, sucking it all out, every last drop."

"Christ, hasn't he gotten it all by now?  Why can't he leave poor Justen alone - or just kill him and put him out of his misery."

Josiah shook his head.  "It's something not like anyone else I've ever known.  What did he whisper to you when you were singing?"

"He said he's not allowed to hear that song ever again."

"Why not?"

"He didn't say - and I didn't ask.  I just know it was his favorite song."

"If Laresha was here she'd know why.  She loved to sing.  Oh God I wish I could be dead with her!" Josiah suddenly cried out.  "Now I see why Cole cried when I ate Clete's picture.  What was I thinking?  Our son had her eyes, and my mother's mouth, but I ate it.  Now I can't remember what either looks like anymore.  What was I thinking?"

Josiah looked like he was about to break down and cry, but he didn't.  Carl at first stepped back from the bars, as if his new friend's tears were somehow toxic; then he returned.  But the moment was gone.  His stepping back made anything deeper than a casual friendship based on mutual self-interest almost impossible.  He knew it, Josiah knew it.

"Why'd you step away?" Josiah asked Carl on Ground Hog Day.

"I've never been close to a black guy, I don't know how.  We didn't have any black kids in the orphanage.  I don't know how."

"Why would it be different than being close to another white guy?"

"I don't know," Carl admitted.

"So you're racist just like Moline?" Josiah asked.

"I guess I must be."

"You're lying, Carl.  You're not racist.  So what is it?"

"I did sort of lie when I said there were no black kids there.  There were.  And I hated them because...well, just because."  Carl said no more, so Josiah finished for him.

"Because their dicks were as big as yours, so your 'special gift' wasn't so special around them.  Now you're afraid I might take your special gift from you too just because I'm black.  We've been in the shower together, I've seen yours, you've seen mine -"  Carl shaking his head no stopped Josiah in mid-sentence.  "So you've been afraid to look.  And you're afraid if we're close you won't be able not to look - is that it?"

"You know how guys do in here," was all Carl said as he turned and walked away.  

Cole felt something coming, something from far away, something from long ago, something that can't be here, shouldn't be here, could never be here.  But it was coming.  And it would be here soon.  He grew more agitated by the minute.  Jeremiah, making his rounds, noticed it right away.  He'd never spoken to Cole, never watched him showering - of all the prisoners in his wing, the only one he never watched.  Even now, desperate to say something reassuring, he couldn't look Cole in the eye.

"Cheer up," he began, immediately feeling foolish offering such a platitude.  But he'd breached a door, now he had little choice but to continue through.  "It's Ground Hog Day!" he pointed out.  "One of the best holidays there is!"

"You must be from up north," Cole observed, trying to be civil to this the only guard he felt any kinship with.

"Upstate New York," Jeremiah proudly replied.  "I used to think it was only special up north - but the guys have been telling me it's the most important day of the year down here."

Cole tried not to laugh; he felt sorry for this strange man who watched everyone in the shower as if he were queer but yet didn't seem to be.  He wanted to come right out and ask but couldn't find words to frame such a question.  Then he remembered something. 

"You never watch me in the shower - how come?" he asked.

"I just feel wrong, like perverted, if I watch you," Jeremiah admitted.

"'Cause I don't have a cock?"

"I don't have much of one either, so it's like looking in a dark mirror."

"You ever suck a cock?"

"Oh yeah, lots of 'em.  I stopped when I figured I'd sucked about as many as he did."

"Who?"

"Josiah - my little brother.  He got stolen and they took him to Asia to suck little Asian bommies."

A look Jeremiah missed because he never raised his eyes contorted Cole's face into a monster's.  That's who that boy was! he knew as surely as if he'd seen it in newsprint.  Should I tell him so he can look for him? Cole wondered.

"Are you a Jew?" Cole asked.

"I think I am," Jeremiah answered.

"Then Josiah would also be," Cole half-asked, half-stated.

Jeremiah thought long and hard about that one before finally acknowledging the possibility.

"I saw a boy once - a Jewish boy - who came to me again while you were telling about Josiah.  I don't say it's him, just that he was exactly how I picture your little brother.  Did he have not much of one either?"

"He was so little last time I saw him you'd barely see his little wee-wee.  Or his little ball - he only had one.  Did this little Jew have a little wee-wee and one little ball?"

"He did.  Except he had no ball, just an empty ball sack with some scars on it."

"That wouldn't have been him then," Jeremiah concluded.  He started to walk on when he turned back and asked where Cole had seen this boy.

"Outside Las Cruces.  Organ Mountain Recreation Area - you know: near White Sands."

"Ah!  I been there once.  I swore I'd go back.  Now I have to - to see if I can find that little Jewish boy.  Maybe if he makes people think of Josiah, he might know of him.  And since Jews come from Asia, my little brother might have even sucked his little bommie.  I'd like that, if he did.  And maybe I'll suck it too, and I'll still have something in common with Josiah after all these years."

Cole's whole body shuddered as he watched Jeremiah walking down the long corridor making his rounds.  An image had come to him that made him wish he hadn't remembered where he'd seen that little Jewish boy.  An image of a beautiful Aztec god eating the boy's heart as his entourage of demi-gods consumed the rest of him.

No sooner did Jeremiah finish his morning rounds than he rushed to the guards' lockers, where his precious Glori-holesa waited, stashed away in a broom closet with an old gunny sack thrown over her petite skirt and halter in case someone not in on the gag happened by, in which case she'd be identified as a repairman.

"Where you been you pathetic little worm!" Gloriosa barked when Jeremiah freed her from the broom closet and helped her off with her gunny sack.  "I been cooped up here almost an hour!  It stinks in here - just like your filthy little string of a thing!"

Jeremiah's face lit up at the sight and the sound of her and, especially, the smell of her pussy, which caused his fellow guards to almost gag.  He began at once pawing her.

"I want to cum right inside your belly button!" he told her in his sexiest voice, which made her laugh.

"It's the only hole I got small enough for that pitiful little string of a thing tied to your pubic hairs!"

"She said it twice!" Jeremiah crowed, unaware he vocalized his thoughts.  "Before she even sees it she's calling it a string of a thing - not once but twice!  God I wish little Josiah was here to hear her make fun of it - just like I made fun of his tiny yo-yo: tiny ball on a tiny string!"

"What are you babbling about you disgusting pervert?  You a child molester too?"

Jeremiah thought about that while he undressed and led his new lover into the shower.  Did I ever molest Josiah? he began examining his childhood experiences before his little brother was taken to suck little Asian bommies.  I did hit him once.  When they killed my pet wasp.  So I guess that does make me a child molester.

"Yeah," he finally answered Gloriosa's question as he took his penis in his hand to try and get it as hard as possible for his precious Glori-holesa.

"Yeah what, ass hole?"

"Yeah I'm a child molester."

"Figures."

Gloriosa had just gotten naked and lain down on the shower floor when she suddenly jumped and cried out "What was that?"

Jeremiah, too, had heard something.  He listened.  "I don't know," he said.  He leaned down to try and suck Gloriosa's nipples when another sound broke the stillness.  There was no mistaking it this time.  It was a gunshot, followed in rapid succession by several more.  Gloriosa screamed and ran wildly from the shower room, stopping only to pick up her gunny sack, throw it over her head to drape her torso.  Then she bolted from the locker room, as three more gun shots sounded, sending her scampering back down the long corridor she had been slipped into prison through.  She began pounding at the door till at last she flung it open and bolted through just as three more gunshots, even closer, echoed along the corridor.  A moment after she escaped, Jeremiah, bleeding but from a beating not a bullet, was pushed, still naked, still rock hard, into the corridor and half-pushed, half-dragged by three prisoners down the corridor opposite the way Gloriosa had gone.  Along the way one of the prisoners smacked Jeremiah's exposed penis every once in a while with his gun.  He kept trying to smack Jeremiah's balls too but they had climbed so tightly up his ball sack they couldn't be reached.  Finally they came to the end of the corridor and pushed Jeremiah through an open door into a cellblock, where a dozen other guards were already bound and gagged and being beaten and raped.  Jeremiah was made to join his fellow guards in a gang rape by at least thirty prisoners, two on him at all times, one at his mouth, one at his ass, one set of prisoners no sooner cumming than the next began their penetration.  All Jeremiah could do was try and remember how he'd managed to suck every cock in the gay bars without gagging; nothing else passed his mind that morning and into mid-afternoon.  He never gave Gloriosa another thought.  It never occurred to him the machine gun rapid fire he heard had anything to do with her.

"There's one trying to escape!" a guard posted along the perimeter cried out.  He got on the bullhorn.

"Stop where you are!" he shouted to this escapee in a gunny sack.  Twice more he shouted out, the third and last time adding "This is your last warning!"

Gloriosa, blind deaf and dumb to everything save getting out of this prison, ignored the warning, kept going, and was mowed down in a flurry of machine gun fire, her blood completely soaking her gunny sack in barely half a minute as the bullets rippled through layer after layer of fat seeking out her vitals.  She didn't die instantly, but only because her bulk prolonged her agony several minutes more as her body began falling apart.  Those who retrieved her corpse later in the day couldn't believe their eyes.

"It's a fucking woman!" they all, almost in unison, said.

The prisoners grew wearing of fucking the guards.  "Should we kill 'em?" they kept asking one another, but no one had an answer, no one could develop a concept on which to base an answer.  "Hey, I got an idea!" one finally suggested.  "Let's let our guns fuck 'em and see if any of 'em shoot!  Then if they do shoot their wad, that'll clue us what to do next!"  So it was agreed to fuck the guards with their own guns, confiscated from them in the first stages of anarchy and riot.  Eventually they focused all their attention on Jeremiah.

First one, then two, then a third, fourth and a fifth barrel was forced up his ass, all pushed in, then out, then back in again, as blood and shit oozed from his butt.  And while five guns fucked him, five being all his ass could take, those left over were shoved into his mouth to be manipulated in and out.

"Like these fairy?" they asked him.  "Huh?  Hardest dicks you ever spread your lips around - huh?  Like 'em?  Suck on 'em hard, real hard, and maybe they'll shoot their wad for you - huh?  Would you like that fairy?"

Soon their arms grew tired stroking their tools in and out, in and out, at his butt, at his mouth, in and out, in and out.  And their arms turned tiredness into boredom.  And boredom became anger and anger begat impatience, which in turn prompted the tiniest spark of order amidst the anarchy.

"So what do we do?  Shoot 'em?  Or leave 'em here?"

"Leave 'em here for now.  Lock 'em in a cell.  We can come back and finish 'em off!"

They were locked up, and the riot moved on, rapidly picking up steam as it added more and more prisoners, who before long, unaware of the guards locked away at the far end of the cellblock, started fighting among themselves, every quarrel suddenly magnified a thousand-fold as anarchy kept washing over them like they were fish spawn caught in a deep current to be carried along to some unknown whereabouts.  Before long the rage driving the riot inevitably took the first life, then another and another as fists turned to knives then to guns as one after another compartment was smashed open, raided of its contents, freeing up ever more ways of killing each other.

Both Raf Juarez and Tyrus King watched the riot, like a sandstorm, approach their separate cells.  Neither instigated or had advance warning; the riot spontaneously generated and set itself on the only path the prison's geography opened to it.  Down the long corridor it came.  And as it neared, the leader of the Razorbacks and of the Kingsmen both began seeing ways to capitalize on it.

Most of Raf's Razorbacks had ended up in the Snitch Wing, and though Tyrus' Kingsmen had been nearly decimated in the swat team's raid, only a few ended up there.  Tyrus quickly saw this as a means to take out the Razorbacks, eliminating a rival gang once and for all, never knowing what he saw was what his rival saw too.  To Raf, this was a chance to remove not a rival but a grave threat: his own gang members, who could still be persuaded to link the Jewish boy's death to him.  So for once these two rival gang leaders saw eye to eye, though neither knew it.  As the riot progressed, Raf, through a third eye, a gift not given to Tyrus, saw his chance to take out his rival as his rival took out his Razorbacks.

No one knew at what point exactly the raging chaos that kept turning back and forth among the rioters got focused into a screaming, burning, maddening, all encompassing obsession to be let loose upon the Snitches.  But once the point was reached, there was no going back.  Everything the rioters did, everything they found brought them ever closer to fulfilling their blood lust.  Tools, weapons, blow torches, fluids, matches, bottles, rags: everything they stumbled upon morphed into a deadly weapon, each more monstrous than the last, until, their arsenal complete, they turned their full attention toward getting inside the Snitch Wing.

Again and again they battered, butted, rammed and finally exploded their way past the iron gate holding them at bay, until at last they were where their madness could now play itself out, at their leisure, with nothing to stop it.  Anyone and everyone was fair game, theirs for the taking.  They had only to work their way into a cell to empty its contents into their mad ritual where anything entering their brains was to be instantly acted out.

Cell number one was breached only after a hard fought struggle that drove their rage to a frenzy so fierce they tore two big strong men to pieces so bereft of humanity they could be, and were, stuck inside their pockets.  The next cell was easier, its inmates torn apart with greater forethought, their screams lingering aloft three times as long.  The third was easier still, the third set of inmates kept screaming even longer as now weapons began replacing raw hands as tools of dismemberment.  By the fourth they had caught the knack of jimmying locks, allotting still more time to the gruesome business that brought them here.  But by the fifth boredom, prisoners' eternal daemon, had begun its steady creep into their auras to fix itself just above their skin.  The men in cell five barely got to scream at all they were so swiftly, so matter-of-factly, so efficiently butchered.  Those watching from a distance - two men left behind, as if forbidden to participate in the madness - began to grow fearful that this thing begun in the adjacent cellblock might peter itself out before the job was finished.

A third man watched as well, still as a statue.  Cole came with the crowd, not because he was pulled into its vortex but because he knew his friend was no longer safe behind the great iron gate of this fortress.  He knew to try and slow the crowd or stop the butchery would destroy him; and his destruction would be Josiah's.  So he watched, and waited in the wings, rejoicing over the slow return, not of sanity, for that had gone, but of the mind and body numbing drudgery that was the real, true horror of prison - and the very thing Raf and Tyrus despaired watching ascend like a huge net over the rioters.

They'll stop too soon! both gang leaders cried out to themselves.  So they devised plan after plan to keep the riot going, but none felt workable to them.  Then all of a sudden a swollen naked guard came running past the iron gate into the Snitch Wing crying out to "Stop!"  Over and over Jeremiah cried out "Stop!  Stop!"  No other word, just "Stop!"  "Stop!"

His single plea was like a slap on their faces - a slap made so hard by the fierceness of his desperation that their daemons were driven from their auras.  They awoke and, without a word, cried out "My God!  Look what we almost did!" and stormed the sixth cell, again, as at the start, almost instantly ripping its inmates to shreds.  Then on to the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, then slowing again as the single occupant of the eleventh cell, seeing them approach, crowded himself into the far corner of his cell and began screaming, pleading wildly not to do this to him.

"Please!" Justen screamed, cried, wailed, pleaded.  "Please!  Don't!  Don't do this to me!  Please!  Not this way!  Please!  Listen to God!  This is not the way!"

Then, in the midst of everything, so deeply entrenched in despair he could no longer move a muscle, he felt a pair of eyes on him.  He struggled to look up and, without a word, conveyed his horrific plight to his leader.  Raf stepped forward.

"Hold up!" Raf called out.  "This here's The Moline Firebug.  He's torched Jews, Niggers and Spics alike, whoever his New-Nazi master set him upon.  How about we give him a taste of his own medicine?  Who's got rags?  Who's got fluid?  If not, keep him under wraps for now till we get some!  What do you say?  Feeling a chill in your bones this Ground Hog Day?  Need a nice bonfire?  Who's up for it?"

They were all up for it.  A cheer arose as maddening as any sound yet produced by these rioters.  They at once set upon their task.  Justen's face had gone from unbearable horror to that of a child beholding his very own Santa Claus come to personally hand him his presents.  Raf winked at the boy and moved on.

Justen, his body gone quiet and peaceful, was lifted from his final stand and brought to the front bars of his cell.  His hands were tightly bound with heavy rope to the bars.  "Wouldn't want you to suffer a scraped knee trying to get away!" someone quipped; an explosion of laughter followed.  Old rags were soaked and wrapped around the parts of his body left exposed by his prison stripes.  Only his face and hair were left open.  A match was lit, followed by a blood curdling scream.  The match burned its holder's hand as everyone stopped and turned toward the twelfth cell.

Carl had come to the bars separating his cell from Justen's and grabbed hold of the bars.  Once he had their attention, he begged and pleaded with them to do it to him, not Justen.

"Burn me instead!  Please!  He's already suffered so much!  Please!  Do it to me, not him!"

The whole time he pleaded, from across the cell Josiah stood holding the bars of cell thirteen shaking his head back and forth and whispering "No.  No.  No" over and over.

Suddenly Carl felt something take hold of his head and turn it toward the bars where Justen was tied.  He tried to fight off whoever it was but found nothing there.  Then his eyes caught Justen's, and he nodded then walked away to await what he knew his fate would be.

Again the match was lit.  This time it took.  Justen's rags burst into flames with such force that it rammed his head against the bars.  He felt faint but fought with all his might to stay alert.  In barely a moment the ropes binding him to the bars burned away.  He grabbed hold of the bars with all his might, and as he did he began screaming, but refusing to let go.  He screamed louder and louder as the flames fanned ever deeper into his flesh.  His screams finally began dying down and took words before drifting away altogether.

"Andy my sin is greater than yours you loved a man I loved a song more."

No one, not his executioners beside him in his cell, not those watching, cheering outside his cell, not those in the next cell, or any of the next cells retched, or gagged, or covered their noses and mouths or in any other way tried escaping the putrid stench of burning flesh.  Everyone in the Snitch Wing took time to marvel at the absence of stench before moving on.

Carl readied himself before kneeling down to pray his final prayers.  First he nodded Josiah's way, whispering that he did love him, then pulled his prison pants down halfway to his knees.  Finally he knelt down, taking time first to apologize to God for praying with his cock uncovered.  He began to pray, first the Lord's Prayer, then the Hail Mary, even the Apostles' Creed, but his mind had gone blank, none but the opening words would come to him.  Growing desperate as the rioters ceased cheering his friend's immolation and began jimmying the lock to his door, he decided he'd have to try an impromptu prayer; but again nothing but random words came to him.  He began to cry.  Then he gave up trying to pray and, just as he accepted the loss of his special gift, he now accepted his eternal damnation.  He didn't blame God for it, he just knew he was being denied God's last minute saving grace.  He let his mind go completely blank when suddenly his door broke open, and at that exact instant an image filled his mind and brought a smile to his lips, an image of boys seated at a big dinner table with Brother Theo leading them in saying Grace.

"Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts which we're about to receive through the bounty of Christ our Lord Amen," he spoke directly to God.

Several men approached from behind.  Some rustling about behind him was followed by a familiar voice. 

"Well, Kewpie, you're out of time babe.  We always do it, don't we?  Kill the thing we love."

Raf raised his sledgehammer high above him and, in one swift motion as hard as he could slammed it against the back of Carl's head.  Carl fell in a dead heap, blood spurting from his head, soaking his prison stripes a bright red.  

All but one other rioter left cell number twelve, first to catch Carl's cell-mate, who had escaped while Carl was being attacked, and hack him to pieces; then to visit its neighbor, crying out in unison "Lucky 13 here we come!  You're next!  Lucky 13 here we come!"  The one remaining rioter rolled Carl's body over, Carl's face covered in blood.  Taking out his knife, he took hold of Carl's cock.  Raf asked what he was doing; all he did was grin and mutter "Trophy Time!"

Raf again raised his sledgehammer high above him and, again in one swift motion as hard as he could smashed it against the back of the rioter's head.  Like Carl before him, he fell in a dead heap; like Carl before him, blood spurted from his head, soaking his prison stripes a bright red.  But unlike Carl before him, his skull split open like a cracked egg shell; his brains oozed in a stream of blood from inside out.  Then Raf moved on, to rejoin the frenzy of slaughter.

While Carl awaited death, and as a swollen naked guard kept running down the corridor and back crying "Stop!" all the while reaching continually around to finger his butt crying to himself "Where is it?  Where is it?  I know I had a gun in here!  I know I did!  In the name of God where is it?  I can stop this if only I can find it!" - Cole was busy jimmying the lock to cell number thirteen - Lucky 13.  He ran up to Josiah, as Josiah's cell-mate bolted, but Josiah pushed him away.

"Why didn't you save him?" he cried out in accusation.

"I liked that boy," Cole reminded him, "but I love you like a son!"

"I'm not your son!" Josiah hurled what he knew was the greatest insult possible back at him.  But Cole only smiled and nodded his acknowledgment. 

"Sons don't have the option of disowning their fathers," Cole said gently as he stood firm beside him.

"Carl is all that kept me sane," Josiah told him.  "I'm glad I'll be killed next.  Watching him, talking to him: his ego was all-consuming, but he had no idea.  He never knew.  Which made the force of his ego all the more consuming.  I fell in love with his ego - something I never knew I never had till I met him.  He kept me sane Cole, and I loved him for it - just as I loved you for keeping me whole and keeping me black when all I wanted was to leap out of my skin."

"That was all your dream was, nigger.  And I say that word I swore I'd never say proudly, because you've set it free from the chains the white man bound it up with.  It was only a dirty word 'cause the white man said it was."

"Don't die for me," Josiah pleaded.  Cole burst into raucous laughter at the absurdity of asking a man who lived for his sake alone not to die for him, a laughter so joyous it still poured out as the rioters entered cell 13, still poured out as Cole held up his hand and said "That's far enough!", still poured out as the life and death battle for Josiah's existence began, still poured out as Cole's and Josiah's first blood began flowing, poured out as blow after blow was absorbed by the body trying even harder to shield Josiah than his body tried to join the battle.  Poured out even after a stream of gunfire started to quell the riot and the rioters were forced from cell number 13 - Lucky 13.  And poured out as a tiny last laugh along with Cole's last drop of blood shed to keep his son alive.  Josiah, bleeding his own blood and covered in Cole's blood, cradling his father's departure from this world in his arms, caught sight of something in cell 12.

Still roaming the corridors, fingering his butt saying to himself "I distinctly remember putting a gun in here!" even as he outwardly kept shouting "Stop!", Josiah reached up with his free hand to take the gun he took to be offered him by one of his fellow guards sent in to subdue the rioters, and immediately began shooting.  The rioters fleeing the guards were out of harm's way but the guards, fearful of Jeremiah's random firing, retreated to the iron gate till he stopped shooting or depleted his store of bullets, their retreat allowing the rioters a second wind.

No one knew where it came from, but out of nowhere a cry arose, instantly filling every mouth filling the Snitch Wing.  "Tyrus told 'em!" one after another after another then every single rioter began shouting over and over.  "Tyrus told 'em!"  No one questioned it, its absurdity lost in the re-kindled chaos grabbing at every throat doing the corridor.  "Tyrus told 'em!"  Tyrus, the other ringleader who'd stood beside them their entire descent into the abyss, egging them on every step of the way.  "Tyrus told 'em!"  "Tyrus told 'em!"

Knowing there was nowhere to flee, Tyrus King stepped from beside them to their epicenter.  "Here I am," he sneered.  He was taken hold of by everyone at once, to be ripped apart.

"I'll see you in hell!" he cried out, turning his head to where he knew Raf was.

"I may very well be Lord of the Underworld by the time you get there!"

"Tear me apart!" Tyrus all but demanded.  "My blood will burn every face, every eye, every skull among you!" he swore.

When Tyrus was twelve he was attacked by a gang of Hispanic youths who, after beating him nearly to death, pissed on his wreathing body and began laughing at his moaning and groaning.  He swore, on his blood and on his black skin, that no one would ever again hear him cry out, no matter how great the agony or how soft the whimper.

When he saw, readying to be torn limb from limb, someone approach holding a hissing blowtorch, he summoned all his strength to his teeth and, calmly as tasting a morsel of food, bit his tongue off - not the tip of his tongue but half the entire tongue.  The half tongue flew from his mouth, what seemed like buckets of blood poured down his chin and quickly filled his shoes.

His face felt and his face showed the first burst of the blowtorch flame.  And a second, on the other side of his face.  And a third, directly into his gaping mouth, the blowtorch flame sizzling his blood soaked lips.

"His eyes!  His eyes!" the cry went up.  "His eyes!"

The blowtorch took aim, first at his left eye, then his right, blasting his eye ball to pulp, first his left then his right.  When he no longer had eyes, only eye sockets, the flame kept blasting deeper and deeper into his skull, into his brain, which grew great as it grew hotter until his head itself exploded.  Skull, skin, brain, blood, hair shot everywhere, leaving only a burned out shell with two blackened scabs that were once ears clinging a moment more to pieces of loose hair before falling onto his limp shoulders.

Remarkably, no cheer went up this time.  No one could say why; but Raf knew.  He knew that when Tyrus took his screams away he ended the chaos. A man so put upon by madness that his whole head exploded, without so much as a whimper or a whisper, brought chaos and madness and with them those who had created them to their knees.  When madness fails to elicit any response but the silence, it goes back into hiding.  Tyrus single-handedly ended the Ground Hog Day prison riot.  Now only the clean-up remained, confining the rioters, gathering the wounded, scraping the remains of the dead from the walls, floor, ceiling, bars and furnishings of the Snitch Wing.  To began all over again, after first seeing what went wrong.        

Jeremiah was overlooked in the aftermath.  Normal prison routine had not yet returned; constant comings and goings made normal security not so much lax as non-existent.  All prisoners, dead or alive, were present and being accounted for within prison walls, rounding them up and increasing internal security with national guardsmen and state police the one and only priority.  Jeremiah, readily identifiable as one of the prison guards held hostage at the beginning, walking around unattended at its end, was assumed to be on his way to the locker room to get another uniform, clearly in no need of immediate medical attention.  He simply walked out of prison, along the delivery driveway, and out of the compound, stopping on his way to advise his Ground Hog date Gloriosa that everything was alright now she could get up, gather her things and go.  Though still brandishing the gun mistakenly handed him, he now carried it by his side, and had ceased shouting "Stop!" every step he took.  No one noticed him leave.  No one noticed him staggering along Penitentiary Road headed east to Highway 14; no one noticed him turn onto Highway 14 heading due south a few miles, the route having been closed to all but official traffic during the riot; nor was he noticed veering off 14 a couple miles south of Madrid.  He was seen, for the first time since his escape, walking past the Ortiz Mountain Gallery then again crossing Wagon Trail Road, a naked man bruised and swollen carrying a gun by his side.

"There's a naked man wandering around with a gun," the local authorities were called and told.  But by the time anyone showed up he was gone.  A few more times on his way south he was spotted, his location and condition called in; but he always disappeared before being apprehended.  Everyone was cautioned not to approach him, he could be dangerous.  After getting a composite description, an APB was sent out to as many local law enforcement agencies between Santa Fe and Las Cruces as possible, advising to be on the lookout for a bruised and swollen naked man with diminutive genitalia carrying a gun.  Few took it seriously, even when he was spotted outside Alamogordo, milling about a ranch owned by an Israeli citizen, who promptly called the state police and sent a couple of his own men to investigate, both of whom were shot at by this trespasser crying out for them to stop before moving on.

"This has to be the maniac who kidnapped my son," the police were told.  They initiated a half-hearted search but his trail had grown cold so they were forced to abandon the search.

After leaving Alamogordo Jeremiah headed southwest through a long stretch of desert, intersecting US 70 at several points, his whereabouts each time confirmed by truckers along that route; but the land being essentially barren, no one came to search for him any longer.  One final time, at sunset, he crossed US 70, unseen this time as he headed due south for Organ Mountain National Recreation Area, where Cole had told him he might find a little Jewish boy with a little bommie but with no ball in his tiny ball sack.

He walked till he came upon a peak that beckoned him to ascend.  With the sun almost disappearing over his right shoulder, he began his twilight ascension.  Three and a half hours later he stood, naked, bruised, swollen, small endowed, gun-toting, teetering on the very brink.  He looked up into the moon and wondered what it was.  He thought about it a long time before dismissing it as an illusion.  Then he continued his odyssey.

He came down the Needle under a full moon unable to mark every misstep in the heavily wooded Pine Tree Trail.  At the foot of the mountain he spat, but the wind blew it back on his belly.  He wiped his spit from his belly then returned it to his tongue to try again.  This time it landed on his foot, where he decided to leave it for now.

Spit is such a contrary fluid, Jeremiah thought to himself, looking down at his foot as he moved ahead through the desert at the Needle's base.  Despite his best attempts to ignore it, he couldn't take his mind off it.  He lifted his gun and tried to shoot it off his foot, only he was out of bullets.  He reminded himself to get more first ammo shop he came to.  Finally, in desperation, he stooped down and wiped his foot clean with his free hand, only to face the much bigger problem of what to do with it now.  He knew already he didn't want to wipe it on his belly, so he'd have to find a cactus or something to help rid him of it.  Wandering the desert floor wondering what to do with a big gob of spit he came upon a pile of smallish bleached bones lying atop a slab of rock.

Ah! he thought.  The little Jewish boy Cole told me about.  He's sleeping so peacefully I don't want to bother him.  He won't mind if I wipe some spit on his forehead, do you think?

"Pssst, little Jew Boy," he whispered.  "Can I wipe my hand on your head?  I wouldn't want to wipe it on your teeny little bommie or someone might think you were jerking off and didn't wipe your bommie clean.  But I really have to keep going.  I'm looking for my little brother.  So I'll just wipe it here, on your forehead.

As he did, a tarantula which had been watching to see who invaded its lair came up from inside the boy's skull and bit the intruder on the hand then retreated back inside.

Hmm, Jeremiah thought watching the hairy legs disappear into the cavity, I had a distant cousin of yours as a kid.  You didn't have to bite me, it's not like we don't have a history.  Oh well, you're not poisonous - he wasn't, and he bit me several times - so there's no harm.

Jeremiah, already closer to death than life after his ordeal, suddenly felt faint.  He evaluated the slab and decided if he moved the little Jewish boy closer to the edge he'd just barely have enough space to lie down beside him.  So he gently slid the boy's bones about a foot to his right then climbed upon the slab for a few minutes rest, never to rise from it again.

It was dark when he situated himself against his brother.  Immediately he fell asleep.  When he awoke, toward daybreak, he couldn't move a muscle, not even to close his eyelids.  He thought it strange, especially since all his muscles hurt, as did his bones, his head and face, his neck, even inside him hurt.  It must have been the hard stone slab beneath him and the cold night air above him, he concluded.  I'll wait till the sun warms it up a bit before I get up.  He dozed back off a few minutes.  When he awoke the morning sun was now directly overhead, but he couldn't see it.  His eyelids had finally managed to shut, he told himself.  But he still couldn't move, couldn't get up, could barely remember how to get up.  He tried to picture himself getting out of bed.  Ah! he realized, I always get up from the left side.  I'll have to wait till this Jew Boy gets up.  He must be sleepy.  I won't wake him up.

For seventy-two hours he lay in agony, still unable to move or to shut his eyelids.  Every night, all night long, for sleep had left him, he stared up at the starry sky.  Every morning at daybreak his eyes went blank.  Then, at midnight of the third day he died.

Raphael Juarez had escaped prison with Jeremiah, barely a few steps behind him, and had kept him within sight his entire way to Organ Mountain.  Each morning, as Jeremiah lay dying from the tarantula's bite, Raf came forward to cover his eyes.  Each evening at sundown Raf removed the cover so Jeremiah could find his special star, then sat on a rock all night to be ready the next morning, shushing the tarantula back inside Josiah's skull whenever it came too close to Jeremiah.  Midnight of the third day Raf knew his vigil was over so he left, first kissing the remains of Tyrus' tongue, which he removed from the crime scene and kept fresh and moist next to his heart.  Finally the tarantula was free to expand its kingdom and ready itself to take up residence inside Jeremiah's skull when the flies came to feast on his putrefying flesh.     

On his way to his sister's, Raf wandered the back streets and allies of Odessa.  He was not trying to avoid police detection, it was way too soon for that, he had planted just enough belongings among the various dismembered body parts strewn throughout the Snitch Wing and just enough suggestions among the rioters to keep everyone assuming him dead for a good long time.  Rather, it was his sense that something of unearthly significance had happened somewhere within Odessa's anonymity, something that even the gods of his people had attended to.  Finally his aimless rambling positioned him squarely in a large shed's path.  He approached, listened and, hearing nothing, went in.  Peacefully arrayed before him  on an old army blanket was a girl of seventeen or eighteen, recently deceased.  A couple bugs had already settled around her.  He chased them away then took out Tyrus King's tongue and gently set it inside her mouth.  He muttered a prayer then departed, headed now for the night club where his sister and her band performed.

Graciana began her transformation to Laresha on Ground Hog Day.  Day after day she sat before her dressing room wall, watching herself slowly becoming her ex-rival.  Three weeks later it was complete and she told Los Jabalis they'd be leaving by week's end for Houston: it was time for her to be a star.  They were stunned, not at her decision or even its sudden revelation but at her timing in absorbing Laresha's persona into hers just before such a monumental undertaking, particularly after being, herself, all that stood between them and the big time.

"So you had to become someone else first?" asked her lead guitarist.

"There is no one else," she seductively replied.  "Friday we leave.  Los Jabalis and Graciana, to set the world on fire.

Thursday evening Raf was at the club, watching the final performance amidst an audience composed mostly of his people.  When the last song was sung and the audience arose to deliver a standing ovation, Raf slipped backstage to await the final curtain.

"So there you are," said Graciana.

"And who are you," replied Raf.  "But tell me: why?  Why her, who you set Alvereta up to murder?"

"I had to work harder than I cared to to win the audience over," Graciana explained.  "Performing - even with less talent - came naturally to her.  So I choose the easier path.  Her appeal showcasing my talent."

"There's no more to it than that?" Raf pointedly asked.  "A career move alone led you to become she who took the bullet meant for you?"

"She was going to leave the band to start her own career.  I'm starting that career in her place.  A magnanimous gesture toward someone who intended to thwart my plans."

"Or someone who intended to quit her career altogether," Raf suggested.

"Either way, she has been put to good use.  And what of you?  I had heard you were in The Big House up in the desert.  Was that a rumor?"

"So it would appear."

"Where are you off to now?"

"I've grown weary of crime," Raf told her.  "After I visit my high school sweetheart in jail perhaps I'll take up politics.  Who knows: I may end up running the country!"

"Then maybe we can retire Jesus and his threadbare band of interlopers to elevate Huitzilopochtli and Malinalxochitl to their rightful place," Graciana observed.

"Oh no," Raf assured her.  "They've all become thick as thieves.  I'm told Huitzilopochtli and Malinalxochitl go nowhere without Jesus, Mary and sometimes even old Joseph in tow.  Have you not marveled at Juan Cordoba's pictographs along with the rest of the country?"

"I have no need of enlightenment," Graciana become Laresha told her brother.  By noon the next day she and Los Jabalis were on their way to Houston.

By noon the next day Raf Juarez had arrived in Gatesville, some two hundred fifty miles east of Odessa.  He entered the Mountain View Unit for Women, asking to speak with his old high school sweetheart, Alvereta Selenz.  They sat face to face on either side of a grated barrier.

"Now why would you try and kill my sister?  Smart girl like you - 'Most Likely to Succeed' - didn't you know she'd find a way to trick you into killing another in her place?"

"I had to," Alvereta told Raf.  "She was planning to summon our people's gods to do her bidding.  And using you as the bait."

Raf laughed at this.  "Graciana use me?  Oh ye of little faith!  She has no power over me."

"She is a demon," Alvereta pointed out.

"Perhaps," Raf half agreed.  "Did it ever occur to you I might also be?"

"No," Alvereta answered categorically.

"What if I told you I am a demon?"

Alvereta looked as deeply into Raf's coal black eyes as was humanly possible.  "You've been to see her.  She's bewitched you into thinking yourself a demon.  She will use you to establish her kingdom on this earth."

"Let her, mine will be beneath it - where my enemy Tyrus King awaits.  I look forward to reporting to him the final disposition of his magic tongue.  I put it in a girl's mouth so her body won't decay in death.  A son was born to her who has the power to destroy this world.  Or save it."

"And you prefer him to destroy it?"

"It seems more fitting."

"And Juan Cordoba?  What of him?"

"Ah yes, our very own cause celébré!  Darling of the art world.  Who would have known such a simple act as removing a man's tongue would make him world renowned!  I believe - to answer your question - he roams the desert accompanied by a doppelganger, a Neo-Nazi, who's eyes were surgically altered.  Such a dazzling display of conscience!  Almost makes you think there's yet hope for the human race!"

"You of course knew I loved you," Alvereta casually observed.

"In high school, everyone either loved or hated everyone else.  It's not a question of what I knew but of what you didn't.  I was in love with you too - don't read too much into that though: I've been in love with everyone I've ever come in contact with: I'm an omnivore."

Before leaving, Raf let his old high school sweetheart know he could get her out anytime she wished.

"No," she told him.  "This is where I belong.  I took an innocent life.  On the day you bring that woman back from the dead I'll re-consider your offer."

A big smile brightened Raf's face.  "It's as good as done!  Houston: we're coming home!" 

Carl Jr. slowly, carefully, patiently taught Pecos Pest to sing him to sleep.  His first sight of Pecos' mother told him she would never be able to sing; and though he loved her as a grandmother, he kept a distance.  He did not want at his bedside someone unable to sing him to sleep.  He loved the house Pecos brought him to live his childhood in; it had many rooms where his mother's had only one, and without her to share it with, one room was not enough.  And he loved the great silent desert surrounding, with its constantly shifting grounds which seemed to mimic the great stars constantly shifting their way through the night.

"You don't love my son do you?" Pecos' mother observed as Carl watched her make supper one evening.

"I think of him," the boy answered.  "The day he met my mother the world changed for him.  Until he accepts that change I can't love him.  He will never be a father to me as you've become my grandmother."

"He says he's waiting for a sign.  He says he'll know it when it happens.  Then everything now will disappear forever.  I don't think he wants your love.  I think he wants for you to make this world disappear.  How can that be?"

"Grandmother says you're waiting for a sign," Carl said as he lay in bed waiting for Pecos to begin being coached to sing.  Pecos nodded.  "And that you'll know it."  Again Pecos nodded.  "And that I'll give you this sign."  A third time Pecos nodded.

On Carl's tenth birthday, as he lay in bed waiting for Pecos, he began, out of nowhere, singing, softly and almost silently.  Pecos stood in the doorway listening.  A moment later the singing stopped so Pecos entered, to find Carl sound asleep.  Pecos nodded, left the boy's room, softly shut the door behind him, went into the living room, kissed his mother, and left, never to return.            

Twice in the first two weeks after the riot Josiah went to the Infirmary, once each week.  He pleaded to be allowed in more frequently but was told no.  Every day he didn't go he planned his death.  It became an obsession.  He considered every possible variant of every conceivable method until, in desperation, he narrowed it down to one: getting himself murdered.  He didn't want to add his murder to any other prisoner's record, but it was all there was after every manner of suicide was ruled out as impractical or downright impossible.

Both visits he sat motionless holding his friend's hand.  For the first two weeks of his two month long hospitalization Carl hung between life and death.

"These two are dead!" a paramedic pronounced after looking down at Carl and the other prisoner Raf attacked with a sledgehammer.  A couple hours later Josiah finally laid Cole's lifeless body down and went to say good-bye to his only other friend, who lay face down in a pool of blood beside the rioter whose attempt to dismember him was thwarted by Raf Juarez, who then rolled him back onto his belly.

"I love you Carl," Josiah whispered.  "I'll join you soon."

Just then Carl's whole body shivered.  Josiah jumped back.  "Don't leave me," an almost soundless breath escaped Carl's lips.  Josiah started shouting for the paramedics to return.

"He's alive!" he kept crying over and over.  When no one responded he began beating his hands against the bars of his cell and crying, instead, "He's got a gun!  Help!  He's got a gun!"

Within a couple minutes a couple guards came running, weapons drawn.  "Where is he?  Where is he?"

Josiah shook his head.  "I was wrong.  I saw the guy over there move," he pointed to Carl.  "I thought he had a gun.  But he's not dead!"

The guards looked at him.  "He will be soon enough," they said and started to go.

In a panic Josiah tried to come up with something to save Carl.  When they were almost out of range he screamed out inexplicably "He knows where Raf is!"  He had no idea where these words came from; the guards stopped in their tracks and returned.

"Where is he?"

"I don't know - but Carl does: he told me he knows Raf's secret hideout.  He said he followed him one night.  But like you say - he'll soon be dead anyway.  So you'll never find him."

The guards immediately radioed for a medical team.  Carl was taken to the prison hospital, where the prison physician concurred he'd either recover or die; and if he recovered, he'd either retain his mental capacity or become a vegetable.  And only if he remained intact would he ever be able to reveal Raf's secret hideout.

On his first visit, Josiah took Carl's hand.  He was afraid to kiss it, as he wanted, so instead he let his tears fall on it.

"This place is crazy!" he said an hour later.  "It was so crazy after they tried to kill you - even crazier than before they came for you.  It was Raf who clubbed you with that sledgehammer.  But you know what?  It was Raf who saved you!  The guards wouldn't help you - I saw you move and try to speak; but they kept going.  Then out of nowhere I got the insane idea they were looking for Raf so I hollered out to them that you knew his secret hideout - and that's all that saved you."

Josiah almost broke down thinking how close Carl had come to being left to die.  It took him awhile before he could continue.

"You already know about your friend, you saw him die.  I was told they had to use a blowtorch to get his charred hands off the bars - the same blowtorch they used to kill Tyrus.  Everyone started shouting 'Tyrus told 'em!' - over and over.  They got him and held him against the bars.  When he saw them coming at him with a blowtorch he bit his tongue off, only no one's ever found it.  See, what happened was the guards came in and the riot died down till that goofy guard grabbed a gun and started shooting everywhere - so the guards went back.  That's when everyone started shouting 'Tyrus told 'em!'  And that goofy guard just walked out of prison completely naked and hasn't been seen since.  Oh, and they found a whore in the driveway someone must have tried to sneak in all shot to pieces.  They said she just fell apart when they started to move her away.  But the thing I don't get is Raf escaped.  I mean he just vanished.  That's why when I said you knew where he was, they must have already known he escaped."

Josiah paused again.  "Carl: I think Raf killed the other guy with you because he was going to cut your cock off.  I don't get it: Raf tried to kill you but didn't want you maimed.  Why?  Unless, maybe, he knew you weren't dead.  It's crazy.  And he turned you back over again, like he wanted you just how he left you.  It's just crazy."

Josiah considered what he'd just said.  "I'd kill anyone who ever tried to take it from you too," he confessed.  "I wouldn't suck it though.  I don't do that, even as much as I love you."

A tap on his shoulder told him visiting hours were over.  He gently set Carl's hand back on his bed and left.  Every day he pleaded to visit the infirmary; every day he was denied.  He began to wonder to Carl had died and no one bothered to tell him.  Finally, on the eighth day since his visit, he was allowed to visit again.

This time after seating himself at Carl's bedside he took hold of Carl's hand and kissed it, holding it several minutes to his lips.

"Don't die on me," he whispered.  When he took Carl's hand from his lips he saw Cole in his last moments.  "You can't die on me, not now.  Cole died trying to save me from dying trying to save you.  I would have gone to you and tried to stop them from attacking you; but Cole wouldn't let go.  If you die now, I'll have to die too.  I can't live in this place without someone to help me through it.  So Cole's sacrifice would be for nothing.  Don't let his death be for nothing.  You owe him: you took away his cock trying to kill me; don't take away his memory too.  Because I'm all he's got to remember him.  If I die he'll disappear forever, like the pincher gobbled him up."

For a long while Josiah was silent as he sat holding Carl's hand.  "If you die I'll go crazy - and start thinking I belong here.  Please don't make me think this is where I belong - please don't.  But if I don't die too that's what'll happen.  It'll all close in around me - this 'Big House' that goes on for miles for all I know: it'll all start closing around me like it's no more than a tiny cage you can't even stand up in.  'Don't do anything bad and you won't end up here!' they say.  Why don't they just say 'Don't be born!' and be done with it.  Damn it don't die!  Don't die!  Don't die punk I need you!  Don't fuckin' die!" he cried out in rage, throwing Carl's hand against the side of the bed.

He looked around with eyes filled with panic.  Shit!  Fuck!  Fuck shit shit fuck shit! he thought, expecting any second to be removed by the guards for his outburst.  But as the minutes wore on and no one showed he calmed down.  He took Carl's hand again.

"I'm sorry," he said.  "I know you can't help dying.  But please don't."

Josiah, unlike last time, didn't wait to be tapped on the shoulder.  He kissed Carl's hand and left, but returned before the door closed behind him.  He leaned down and kissed, first Carl's eyes then his lips.  "Mouth and eyes: that's all we are," he told his friend.  "What we see, what we say.  And that's it."

For the next two months Carl was kept in the infirmary under careful watch, even after it became clear he would survive his attack.  Josiah begged and pleaded every single day to see him.  Most days he was denied, on those days he lay on his cot filled with despair.  But the days he was allowed were filled with ecstasy and enabled him to make it through Carl's long recovery.

"He'll live," Josiah was told.  "But it's too soon to know if he'll live as a man or a mindless vegetable."

"I'll take care of him!" Josiah promised.

"That's not how it works.  Without a mind, he can't stay here.  He'll be transferred to a state hospital for the criminally insane, where he'll get the care he needs."

Back in his cell Josiah began screaming and banging his head against the wall to see how much it would take to reduce himself to a mindless vegetable if it came to that.  All of a sudden he stopped.  Something from behind struck the back of his head.  He turned and saw nothing, but swore he'd been hit by a sledgehammer.  Then he noticed something on his cot.  A note.  He picked it up and read it.

"Had I wanted him dead he'd be dead.  Had I wanted his brain dead it'd be dead.  He will live, he will be as he always was.  God help us."

Josiah kissed the note, let his tears wash away its words, then slowly, piece by piece, ate it.

Raf's note got to Josiah the same way Gloriosa got to Jeremiah.  Contraband was as much a part of prison life as shackles, prison suits, solitary confinements.  Pay the right person and even a crumpled piece of paper would find its way in.  Raf had connections and he had money.  He knew what Josiah would do after reading his note as surely as he knew what Josiah was going through as Carl lay seemingly suspended between life and death.  He had watched Josiah's eyes go blank watching Carl being killed by a massive blow to the back of his head - even as his friend was dying to keep him alive his eyes were fixed on Carl.  Raf knew where to strike, how hard to strike.  Josiah had no idea Raf was watching him as intently as he calibrated Carl's death blow.  Now the task of watching over Carl could fall to someone else as Raf turned his attention to Carl's son.

Neither Raf nor any of his contacts knew what became of the boy born to the girl raped on Martinez Street in Pecos and laid to rest in a pauper's grave outside Odessa, her mouth filed with another's tongue, her body as fresh as the night she died.  No one had seen Pecos Pest abduct the boy, nor could they have pursued him even if they had seen him.  His old ways lay just beneath the surface, awaiting a signal to re-appear.  The Fastest Knife in the West came and went without a trace, leaving the best police in the southwest baffled.

So Raf did as he had always done when faced with a insurmountable obstacle: he closed his eyes and began walking, letting his feet - not his eyes, not his brain, not his spirit but his feet - guide him to his goal.  It took his feet only a few steps to point his way from Santa Fe due south to Salt Flat, where he found the boy holed up in a small adobe house deep in the desert.  He waited and watched till he saw a man he identified at once as the infamous serial killer dubbed Pecos Pest Fastest Knife in the West leave the house late one evening.  He knew the man would never return yet still he continued waiting.  His aim was not to snatch the boy but to wait till the boy was ready.  To this aim he took up residence deep in the desert, occasionally straying onto US Route 62/180, occasionally wandering onto Ranch Road 1576 into Dell City, where his tattered clothes and unkempt appearance always drew every resident onto Broadway Road, which was as far as he went before turning back.  He never spoke, never acknowledged anyone, nor was he ever spoken to or acknowledged by anyone.

For six years Raf Juarez lived as a recluse, never spying on the boy who lived with the old lady in the desert, but only waiting.  Then one day - the sixth anniversary of his arrival - the front door opened, as it always did, the boy came out, as he always did, but he didn't play, as he usually did, or head for the desert, as he sometimes did.  Instead, the boy began walking toward the big highway leading east or west away from Salt Flat.  All Raf's attention was directed toward one objective: which way the boy would turn.  West would lead him toward El Paso, and everything new to him; east would lead him to Pecos and Odessa, where everything known to him lay in ruin.

The boy looked both east and west, taking long turns each way, then looked north and south before finally fixing on a direction due south of Salt Flat.  He stepped from the big highway back onto the desert floor, and kept going, not once looking back.

"May I join you?" Raf came up behind him to ask.

The boy sat down, and thought long and hard before answering.

"You may accompany me as far as you wish," the boy told him.

"I take it the woman you lived with died," was all Raf said the rest of the day, followed by the boy's "Yes."

That evening, after building a fire, Raf asked where her son had gone, calling him instead "Your mother's guardian."

"He has gone," was all the boy would say.  A few minutes later, he yawned and began singing himself to sleep.  Raf smiled watching the boy drift off to sleep even as his song went one last refrain.

"One evening I'll hum along," he said aloud.  "See if he stops or keeps going.  That will tell me all I need to know."

Several days passed before Raf decided it was time to put his plan in motion.  Nightfall brought a precipitous drop in temperature.  Carl snuggled near the fire he helped Raf build and, after watching embers take flight in every direction, began singing himself to sleep.  Almost imperceptibly Raf started humming Carl's tune.  Without missing a beat, Carl arose from his comfortable bed in the still warm sand and walked away from the fire until he could no longer hear his accompaniment, then he lay down, finished his song and fell asleep.  Raf came to him, took his tattered shirt off and covered the boy.

On their way again next morning, Raf asked Carl if he wasn't afraid a tarantula might bite him if he strayed from the fire.

"Your gods will protect me," the boy answered.

"Aren't they yours too?"

"Not yet."

"I saw a man bitten by a tarantula," Raf pointed out as they walked.  "He died three days later.  And never moved a muscle again."

"He was already dead," Carl told him, then stopped to look up into Raf's face.  "Are you going to cut my heart out too?" he asked.

"I didn't cut his heart out," Raf replied.

"You cut out his brother's.  That's when he died too."

"Ah!  So the little Jew Boy was his brother."

"They were Jews in name only," said Carl.

"So too are any of us who we are in name only," Raf observed.

The next night the temperature fell as precipitously, but Raf remained silent as Carl sang himself to sleep.  He had his answer though his answer was no answer.  The boy didn't keep singing or stop singing but moved his song away.

"Why do you watch me so carefully when I pee?" Carl asked Raf one morning while peeing.

"I'm trying to see your father's name," Raf told him.

"His name is legion," the boy told Raf.

Several more days passed.  Raf and the boy worked their way around Interstate 10, taking Moon Road south till eventually losing it in a jumble with Taylor Road somewhere where Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio Counties overlapped.

A day later Raf announced to his traveling companion that he must hide for awhile.  "Someone is coming.  I don't wish to end up yet another pictograph."

Though no one had yet appeared on the horizon, young Carl proceeded to the hiding place Raf had picked out.  "Why did you cut out his tongue?" he asked once they were secure.

"So he could open his eyes," Raf answered.

"And he made you a part of everything you've opened his eyes to see," Carl pointed out.

"How do you know so much about my activities?" Raf asked.  "Are you reading my mind or seeing these events playing out in your mind?"

"They're the same.  I see what you're looking back at."

Before long two stragglers came into view, heading southeast.  Juan Cordoba led his Neo-Nazi friend Andy along the winding path he had chosen to pursue without knowing why or where it would take him.  Andy gave voice to what Juan was seeing whenever the view held him in a rapture powerful enough for his ecstasy to translate into bodily sensations Andy could read.

"Let them hide!" Andy exclaimed.  "Anyone who would maim you deserves to be excluded from your vision.  Only those who love you deserve to be included."  But when Juan pulled away tears fell from behind Andy's new eyes.

"I know," Andy apologized. "Everything that touches your vision must be included, those who hurt you equally with those who would die for you.  You may or may not be a wise man; but whatever drives your vision is pure wisdom.  I know.  Just as I know when I fall away and rot, you have no choice but to keep moving."

Juan paused a long time before shaking his head and moving along, letting the hidden remain so.  "You will not fall away and rot," he conveyed to Andy.  "If you do, I will fall and rot beside you."

"But your gods will force you up," Andy reminded him.

"Not if I have a tether to the ground," Juan assured him.

Raf and Carl came out of hiding the moment Juan and Andy had passed.  Carl watched for a long time till they could no longer be seen.  "They go slow," he told Raf.  "I have time to get there and be ready for their arrival."

For the next twenty-five minutes they continued due south, unimpeded, to the Mexican border, encountering no one until the moment they stepped across the border.  Then, from nowhere, came an armed armada to greet them.

"Hands in the air!" a gruff voice magnified by a bull horn demanded.  Raf and Carl complied.  The sheriff who had pursued Raf Juarez from the moment he escaped prison stepped forth holding a gun.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked Raf.

"Wherever I'm sent," Raf answered.

"And where you'll be sent is back to prison where you belong.  Only this time you'll be facing a kidnapping charge as well!"

"This is where he belongs," Carl pointed out.  "This will be his kingdom."

The sheriff burst out laughing.  "He sure does have you brain washed!"

Carl turned to Raf.  "I'll go on alone," he said.

"No you won't," the sheriff informed him.  "You're coming with us.  We'll find you a good home."

"Jesus will do that."

"Jesus isn't in a place," the sheriff told the boy, "he's in your heart."

Carl smiled.  "You don't know Jesus very well, do you?"

Raf was returned to the New Mexico State Penitentiary outside Santa Fe, where he remained in solitary confinement till his trial for kidnapping.  Carl was handed over to the El Paso Department of Social Services, which, after several foster homes, was able to get him adopted by a nice middle class family living in the Mission Hills neighborhood of West Central El Paso.  The husband and wife, in their mid-forties and still childless, took to Carl at once and did everything in their power to make him an integral part of their family.  They were disappointed when, at Raf's trial, he refused to concur with the prosecution's insistence that he had been forcibly kidnapped; but they took great pains to hide their disappointment from him.  Even without Carl's testimony Raf was convicted of kidnapping based solely on the boy's youth and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, the only issue being which prison system had the greater claim on him, Texas or New Mexico.

Carl Jr. moved in with his new family without incident, his move a seamless addendum to his previous life.  His new parents were cautioned about his past, that he was abandoned at birth, grew up on streets and back alleys still unknown to the general public, and kidnapped by a notorious criminal who undoubtedly abused him sexually and threatened him if he ever bore witness against him.  This last, harrowing as it was, satisfied his adoptive parents as to why he was so reluctant to testify in court.

"In short," Carl's social worker summed up the profile she had worked up for him, "this is a very troubled child, who hides enormous pain behind a gentle and very charming facade.  He needs a great deal of love, of course, but also a very firm hand if he's to avoid becoming a troubled adolescent and, possibly a threat to himself and others as he matures."

Husband and wife both assured Carl's social worker they were up to the task.

"One final word," she told them.  "The moment you find him slipping back into his old ways, however innocent it may seem, you should take immediate steps to counteract it."

"Like what?" they asked.

"You'll just have to play it by ear," they were told.  "Anything out of the ordinary, anything that seems a bit odd or different from what you're used to seeing in those around you could be symptomatic of a regression.  Now, like every child, he has his own quirks and routines, and that may be all it is.  If you're not sure, contact me and we'll look into it, as discreetly as possible."  Carl's new parents thanked his social worker.

Almost immediately something of a controversy grew between his parents.  From his very first night, Carl would sing himself to sleep.  At first both would listen at his bedroom door, his new father impressed with his voice, his new mother uncomfortable with a child singing himself to sleep.

"George, I'm going to speak to him about this," Carl's father was told.

"Just be careful, Jane, that you don't make him ashamed of his God given talent.  He has a beautiful voice.  We should encourage him.  It may all he has in this world.  He might even grow up to be a famous singer!"

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Jane admitted.  "Given his background, and considering the kind of lifestyle even respectable singers get caught up in, I can't in good conscience agree to encourage him.  If he wishes to join the church choir when he's a little older, that's certainly alright.  But I simply can't condone anything beyond that."

The next night Carl's new mother came and sat beside his bed while he was singing.  He had nearly drifted off to sleep.

"Carl," she spoke lovingly but firmly as she looked down at her new son, "your father and I think you should not continue singing to yourself in bed at night.  It's not appropriate, especially for a boy.  Now if you're used to hearing something before falling asleep, we can play some music for you - at least until you get used to sleeping alone.  Will you do that for us?"

Carl smiled up at his new mother and said he would.  She smiled back, kissed him on his forehead and left.  A few minutes later, singing soundlessly to himself, he fell asleep.

The next night Carl's new father entered and sat beside his bed.  "I hope you weren't too disappointed that we asked you to stop singing," his new father told him.  "I would hate for our disapproval to give you the impression that we don't like singing or love you any less for it.  Because you have a beautiful voice which the world deserves to hear.  So, even though, as your mother says, it's not appropriate for you to sing just for the sake of singing; if, as you get older, you decide you'd like to make a career of singing, I'll do my best to send you to one of the best schools to develop your voice.  Now of course your mother has her heart set on you becoming a doctor, just like her father and grandfather.  But since I'm a professor of art history, I understand the world's need for artists and poets and troubadours as well as healers and builders and leaders of men.  But, for now, you just concern yourself about your tutoring to catch up with the students your age so you can go to school.  Good night."

Carl smiled up at his new father and said good night then quietly sang himself to sleep.

Every night at Carl's new home was family night in that after supper all members of the family remained at home to carry out their required duties; but Friday night was officially "Family Night."  Father, mother and son would gather in the family room to watch television.  Friday night their favorite show came on.

When Carl first watched the opening credits, he thought nothing of it.  But when he heard the name pronounced his interest and excitement were both piqued.

"Is that a show about us?" he eagerly asked his new parents.

"No," his mother answered with a laugh.  "But our friends always tease us about it!  Sometimes, if it's a particularly good show, they call us when it's over and say 'Caught you and George on TV!'  And we all laugh."

"Of course our name is spelled differently - D-J-E-T-S-U-N-Z.  But we are, nonetheless, George and Jane Djetsunz!  So in a way - a nice way - you might say this show's about our family."

Carl watched intently to see if he could detect any of his new parents' traits in these characters.  He found similarities in their behavior, but none whatsoever in either their appearance or their surroundings."

"Where is this place where people fly around like that?" he asked.

"Oh, nowhere," his mother replied.  "It's set in the future."

Carl watched the remainder of the show even more intently than when he thought it was about his new family.  When it was over, he looked up at his parents with great puzzlement.

"Is this how they think people will look in the future?" he asked in deadly earnest.

"No - no!  You've got it all wrong!" his father told him.  "This is just another cartoon - you know, no different than the ones you probably watched as a child!"

"Cartoon?" Carl wondered over this new concept.

"You know: drawings.  Not real people or real places."

"Oh, drawings!" Carl finally understood.  "I see.  Like Juan Cordoba's pictographs!"

George Djetsunz paled at the boy's analogy, Jane Djetsunz blushed.

"When - or where - did you ever see such satanic drawings?" Jane asked.

"I don't know.  I saw him drawing, somewhere, sometime.  That's all I know," Carl told her.  "Shouldn't I see things like that?" he, in turn, asked.

"Most definitely not!" Jane answered firmly.

"Then even if he comes around with his Neo-Nazi traveling companion, I won't look at anything he draws," Carl promised.

This entire episode unnerved the Djetsunz so much they took their new son to a Child Psychologist, who proved unable to make head or tail of the incident.  He gave them a prescription for a new drug on the market reported to help children focus, instructing then to hold off giving it to their son just yet.

"It'll be there if you need it," he helped allay their concerns.

Friday night being Family Night, it was the only night the TV was left on till bedtime; every other night the TV was turned off after the evening news.  On a Wednesday evening a local story made the national news, much to the Djetsunz's horror.

"The serial killer known only as 'Pecos Pest Fastest Knife in the West' was executed this morning at 10 A.M. at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville," Wednesday's lead story on the local El Paso station was repeated at 7 on network TV.

"Oh that evil evil man!" Jane Djetsunz exclaimed.  "After what he did to those poor innocent people - even his own father! - executing him was too good for him!  He should have been cut to pieces and the pieces thrown to the vultures!"

"They wouldn't have eaten him," Carl observed.

"You're probably right," Jane agreed.  "He was too bad even for vultures!  I know I shouldn't say things like this - maybe it's un-Christian.  But I just don't understand how anyone can become so evil."

George Djetsunz, as much to defuse the issue as anything else, asked Carl why he thought the vultures wouldn't have eaten Pecos Pest.

"Huitzilopochtli wouldn't have let them.  He was a holy man to the Aztec gods."

George for a moment was stunned by his son's response.  But the more he thought about it, and remembering the bizarre world Carl had been rescued from, he came to see it as a perfectly reasonable observation - at least the part about the Aztec gods.

"I can believe that," George nodded his agreement.  "They were  pretty bloodthirsty people, despite their great artistry."

Carl's tutoring went as planned, compressing seven grades of schooling into three years of intensive study and preparation for the day he would finally, after thirteen years of delay, enter school - a real school with a real curriculum, where he would sit alongside his peers learning everything he would need to know to be a happy, successful member of society.

"Next year," George Djetsunz proudly informed his son, "you'll be in the eighth grade.  I can hardly believe it.  We did it, kiddo!  Or, I should say, you did it.  There are no words for how proud I am of you.  I keep thinking to myself: if Jane and I had had kids, we'd never have found you - because we wouldn't have been looking.  I almost have to thank God we didn't have any kids of our own, otherwise we'd have walked right on past the greatest treasure of our lives: our son Carl.  You.  Our boy.  God love and keep you."

After father and son hugged, and both shed a few tears of joy, George displayed a big, wide, almost silly grin on his face.

"Tell you what," he said as a kind of secret only they could share, "I happened upon a flyer at school a few days back.  The moment I saw it I thought of you.  Now if you don't want to, that's ok."  He reached over and took a paper from his desk.

"Ta-da!" he said.  "Have a look.  See if it interests you.  And if it does, we'll get you registered.  Call it a pre-school graduation present."

Carl read the flyer.  "A talent contest?  Anyone can enter?"

"Anyone," his father assured him.

Carl's face lit up.  "Yeah, I'd love to enter!"

"Then it's settled."

As the day drew near, Carl's father began to wonder if he'd made an error in judgment telling him about the talent contest.  Not once had there been any sign of his son practicing his singing.  I hope I didn't let my enthusiasm for what I thought he'd like color his decision, Mr Djetsunz thought to himself.

"Aren't you going to practice?" he asked his son, who gave him a puzzled look.  "For the talent context," he elaborated, still eliciting the same puzzled reaction.

"I don't understand," Carl admitted.  "What should I practice?"

"Your singing."

"Practice singing?" Carl tried to get the gist of his father's advice.  "I already know how to sing," he said.

Mr Djetsunz smiled at him.  "Of course you do," he agreed.  "I just thought there was some special song you might wish to learn."

Carl shook his head.  "I'll sing what my mother sang me to sleep," he said.

"You mean that song he was singing when we first adopted him?" Jane Djetsunz asked her husband when he related the incident.  "No, he shouldn't be singing that.  The lyrics are all Spanish.  Tell him to find a more appropriate song."

"He's made up his mind," George Djetsunz replied.  "Anyway, there are lots of Hispanics in El Paso.  Undoubtedly there'll be others singing Spanish songs."

The contestants gathered backstage as final preparations were made.  A girl roughly the same age as Carl came over and introduced herself as Sereta.

"Hi, I'm Carl."

"Is that your stage name?" she asked.

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"The name you're going to use when you become a star.  My stage name will be Sereta.  My real name's Maria.  But Sereta sounds better for a star.  What school do you go to?"

"I don't go to school," said Carl.  "I'll start next year."

"The first grade?  Are you retarded?"

Carl shrugged.  "Well you don't look retarded.  Do you have a big dick?"

Again Carl shrugged.  "Well, the man I marry has to have a big dick.  I want as many kids as possible.  Then when I get to be even a bigger star than Laresha Graciana everyone will say 'Even with ten kids she's more beautiful than anyone else!'"

Carl shuddered at the mention of Graciana, especially combined with Laresha, the woman who visited his mother's shed when he was a baby.

When the contest was over, Maria, the girl destined to have ten kids while becoming a superstar, won - as expected.  Carl came in second and went over to congratulate Maria.

"I don't accept congratulations from runners-up," she haughtily informed him.  "But you're cute, so if I meet you someday and you're not retarded any more and you grow a big dick, maybe I'll marry you and we'll have ten kids together."  She kissed him on the cheek and went away.

When Carl related his conversation with Maria, his father said it was time for them to have a "man to man" talk.

"But we talk all the time," Carl said.

"This is a little different," his father told him.

A few nights later George Djetsunz and his adopted son Carl had their "man to man" talk.  Carl listened attentively and, each time it was clear a response on his part was called for, he either nodded that he understood or else made an appropriate vocal response.  Along the way he asked questions he believed to be apropos of the subject matter, occasionally to his father's embarrassment, most notably when, as the girl implied, a boy must have a big dick to produce ten children.

"No," Mr Djetsunz answered, "a 'big dick,' as she put it, isn't essential.  Nor is having ten children essential.  In fact, nowadays the trend is toward having fewer kids."

"Is that why you didn't have any kids?"

"Actually, no.  We wanted kids. But Jane and I both were infertile."

"What does that mean?"

"Her body produces no eggs, my sperm count is too low for fertilization to have ever taken place even if she were fertile."

"Oh, I see," said Carl.

Two nights later, his homework finished early, Carl asked if he could go outside and take a walk.  He was given permission but told not to be too late.

He walked to the end of the street where his family lived.  From there he looked eastward, toward the Franklin Mountains, where he had taken a couple hiking trips with his parents on holidays.  Their first trip, he was asked how he liked the mountains; he said he liked the desert better.  When asked why, he explained that he was meant for the desert, not the mountains.  This seemed to disappoint his parents; he assumed the mountains were special to them.  So he never mentioned the desert again.

He started to turn and go back when he noticed a flurry of activity somewhere ahead of him, but he couldn't tell where.  Thinking maybe he'd encountered a local gang on the prowl, he debated hiding, hurrying home, or standing his ground.  Before he could fix a strategy, a voice opened up to him.

"Who goes there?" this voice, vaguely familiar from his childhood in Odessa, demanded to know.

"Oh, you know as well as I who it is," a second voice opened.

"If he's who you say, what's he doing here when he's supposed to be somewhere far from here?"

"This is where he was brought," Huitzilopochtli reminded Jesus.  "He must first see everything he's to give up."

Carl interrupted their banter.  "I know my home will be deep in the desert," he told them.  "I know also that I have important business here."

"You're needed elsewhere!" Jesus objected.

"I'm happy here too," Carl explained.  "My new parents are good people -"

"Good people are a dime a dozen!  And this is not about your happiness!"

"Forgive him," said Huitzilopochtli.  "As always, he's impatient to put his plans into motion.  Stay here as long as you can.  Because it is a good life, but too limiting for you."

"He has to go now!" Jesus interjected.  "Otherwise I can't be responsible for what happens!"

"Excuse us a moment," Huitzilopochtli told Carl as he drew Jesus aside and whispered to him in a voice not even Carl could understand.  "He's still a boy.  This is a time in his life that will never come again.  Let him enjoy it a little longer, even if he doesn't belong here."

"I don't want him spending his days before a TV watching cartoons!"

"You have no sense of humor, my friend," Huitzilopochtli said to Jesus.

"You wouldn't either if you'd been nailed to a cross and left to die!"

"Enough with the cross already!" Mary, who had been waiting in the shadows, chided her son.  "Two thousand years is enough - let it go."

"How much longer will you remain here?" Huitzilopochtli turned back to ask Carl.

"It's important to my parents to be proud of me.  So it's important to me to make them proud of me," Carl told these gods.  "To insure that happening, I need to graduate high school and be accepted into college."

"How long will that take?" Mary stepped from the shadows to ask.

"Four years," answered Carl.

"Impossible!" Jesus cried out.

Mary turned once again to her son.  "It is possible," she told him.  "This boy's route can be shortened by speeding his journey once it resumes.  And slowing the journey of those he must serve.  Let him give his new parents at least this much - even if they are a dime a dozen.  Don't fault them for not having his eyes."

Jesus finally relented.  "Four years!" he agreed.  "And not one minute more!"

Then they vanished.  A moment later his father approached.  "We were getting worried about you," he said.

"I was daydreaming, I guess," Carl told him.  "I was thinking about Franklin Mountains.  I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy our hiking trip.  But I'd love to go hiking again this summer if we can.  I've decided maybe mountains have more to offer than I realized.  Anyway, how can I call myself an El Pasan and not love the mountains!"

Four years came and went as four years always come and go.  Neither parents nor son suspected time could speed by quite that fast, leaving barely a contrail, each memory along the way a whirl of ash floating away forever.  Studies, exams, grades, sports, dates, ceremonies - all leading up to the senior prom and graduation day.

Every girl wanted to be Carl's date for the prom; that privilege fell to Maria, the girl who would be Sereta the superstar with ten kids.  She confessed to him she no longer thought ten pregnancies the key to her success.  He, in turn, confessed he wasn't retarded: it was only circumstance that made it seem he was.

One week, to the day, before graduation, Carl's parents received word that their son had been accepted as a pre-med student at one of the nation's premier medical colleges.  Carl came in from graduation rehearsal to find them both in tears.  He ran to them, thinking something bad had happened, only to discover these were tears of absolute joy.  They proudly handed him the acceptance letter as if it were the Medal of Honor.  He read it, looked at them, then buried his face against them, first his mother then his father, letting his own ears join where theirs had fallen.

"This is the happiest day of our lives," they both told him.

He looked up, smiled through his tears, and told them it was the happiest day of his life as well.

Graduation night it came.  Carl and his parents got home late from a graduation dinner at a fine restaurant.  After one final round of hugs, mom and dad retired to their room, their son to his.  As they slept, a deep powerful wind with sands from a hundred miles away crept through their neighborhood, sending a small silent breeze to slowly encircle their house.  When it was in place the greater, fiercer wind came roaring down their street, pulling trees by their roots from yards, carving limbs and trunks into blades of wood, tearing roofs from houses, sending flower pots and garbage cans flying, all the while heading straight for one particular house to do nature's reducto absurdum upon it, upon its contents, upon its dwellers.  Two great oaken tree blades came flying through a hole in the roof steps ahead of the wind careening them, followed by the wind itself.  The roof was ripped from its mooring, the walls exploded out even as they imploded inward, rugs and floorboards came unstuck and began flying everywhere, nearly decapitating the naked boy standing at his parents' threshold gazing upon their peaceful sleeping faces and their pierced hearts just before being taken up into the wind and carried far from his home, far from his city, far from his country, far from everything he had ever known or seen, and gently set, stark naked, onto blazing desert sands before the wind vanished.                    

"Ah!  There you are!  I been standing here holding these duds going on four years now."

"How'd you know I'd be here?"

"I have friends in high places, let's just say."

Carl got dressed, they resumed their journey.  Raf put his arm around Carl's shoulder.  "I know it hurts," he said.  "But I also know you would have stayed; so do they.  And Jesus, in case you didn't already know, is an impatient god.  When he told you 'Four years and not one minute more' you should have taken him literally.  He has no intention of having to address you as 'Herr Mister Doktor Karl von Djetsunz, Sir.'"

They walked on in silence a few more hours before either spoke again.  "How'd you get out this time?" Carl asked once the enormity of what had happened finally found its permanent home in his memory.

"Dug my way out," Raf told him.

"What: with a spoon?"

"Nah: an army of rats.  They weren't none too happy, but - hey! - when Malinalxochitl commands, you obey!"

After several more days of traveling Carl mentioned his new family for the last time.  "Did they have to die?" was all he said.

"They didn't feel a thing - Mary saw to that," Raf assured his companion.  "They would have left no stone on earth unturned till they found you - and they would have found you.  That's how much they came to love you."

"Then it was me who killed them," Carl concluded.

When Andy spoke his native tongue, Juan Cordoba had no idea what he was saying.  His diatribes against everything and everyone of the desert were garbled.  As many miles as they traveled, Juan never learned how intensely his companion hated this constant tug between hot and cold, day and night, wind and calm; or how much he despised all who had come north from below the border; or that his own racial purity set him apart from and above all others.  Juan heard none of this chatter but only Andy's expressions of friendship by day, which morphed to declarations of love at night.

Cold desert nights brought Andy's love for his traveling companion into focus.  Some nights were so cold and tiny strands of kindling so hard to come by that they had to snuggle together for warmth.  When Andy felt himself getting hard despite all his efforts to sublimate his lust, he pulled away.  But Juan, whose body recognized from their very first steps what Andy's named only at night, pulled him back, whispering to him it was alright.

"I would sooner cling to a fag all night than freeze," he told Andy.

"But you want to die," Andy reminded him.

"Only buried alive by sand" said Juan.

Awhile passed before either could fall asleep.  "I'm not a fag," Andy whispered softly, thinking his companion asleep.  "I only get hard because I'm not used to holding someone close.  Being a fag is wrong."

Juan whispered back in the special way he had evolved to communicate with Andy, "I'm not a fag either.  I yearn for my wife again.  The only other woman I've ever been with was the girl Raf made us rape.  But to stay warm, as well as pay for raping that girl, I will make love to you, I will perform any act you need me to."

"No," Andy said as a plaintive cry.  "Please - please: don't make me make you do things.  Because then I'll hate you for doing fag things.  Please - please - don't!"

Juan released his hold on Andy.  "As you wish," he let him know.

Next morning Andy was up at daybreak, building a fire from debris that had blown in overnight.  Then as the sun rose higher he put it out, expecting Juan to arise any minute, but Juan did not arise, not at sunrise, not by mid-morning, not even at noon.  Andy went to stand over him.  "So your time has come again," he said as he looked down on Juan lying prostrate in a little sand gully that had formed overnight.  Then he walked a ways to sit on a rock and await Juan's resurrection.  Sands blew in, covered him all but his nose, then blew just as quickly off him.  He arose mid-afternoon and motioned to Andy they should continue.

Over the years they wandered the Chihuahuan Desert Andy came to know when it was time for Juan to again try and die.  He always sought out a spot close enough to stand his sightless watch but far enough to keep from disturbing Juan's ceremony.  Sands would come to lull Juan into a death trance then, as always, blow away, to awaken him.  Then they would move on.

"For many years now we've been in my land," Juan told Andy one day for no particular reason.  He'd been watching a cloud trying to form above the horizon, watching it struggle against insurmountable odds, watching it dissipate then begin growing again then again dissipating slowly until it dissolved against azure blue skies stained with infinitely tiny streams of condensation only Juan could see.

"Your state of New Mexico calls itself The Land of Enchantment," he said.  "But Mexico is The Land of Enchantment, wonder, majesty, Land of the Sublime and its crowning glory, Land of the Ridiculous.  They always say 'From the Sublime to the Ridiculous' as though it was a step back, not a step forward."

Andy decided his companion was suffering from exhaustion or dehydration, if not heat stroke.  So he watched over him more carefully than ever, making sure Juan drank more heavily of what water they could find each day from cacti and tiny gurgles seeping from below.  This cannot be his land, Andy told himself.  To be so, he would be a Spic.  And my genes would not deceive me into thinking him one of my own.  So he must be ill to think himself of this land.

All the while Andy thought his companion mad, and devised strategies for healing him before he succumbed entirely to his delusion of being a Spic, the gods remarked to each other how much easier it was to track Juan with this other boy beside him, slowing him down.

Separated by half a cell block from Carl, Josiah spent his days imagining time a huge ball of light that grew darker each day until it disappeared in a quick compression of energy.  Except for periods when it reverted to an earlier stage of luminescence, brief periods when he and Carl could be together.  Lunch and exercise, when they could freely interact; supper and recreation, when they could sit quietly and watch TV or read or study; morning shit-shave-and-shower, when they could step from their prison uniforms.  Even after all these years Carl still got rock hard in the shower, Josiah seldom did but relished watching Carl trying to shield his huge cock.

"Why do you try and hide it?" Josiah asked him.

"It's a sin to get a boner unless you're trying to impregnate your wife," Carl explained.  "The church is very clear on that."

"I read something about a priest having sex with altar boys," Josiah told his friend.  "Were you an altar boy?"

"No," Carl answered.  "I always wanted to be, but they never picked orphans."

"So no priest ever tried to have sex with you?"

"No."

"What if he had?"

"I don't know," Carl admitted.

"Would you have let him?"

Again Carl said he didn't know.

Even watching Carl shit was something almost surreal to Josiah.  Not that he meant to watch, and certainly not to embarrass him; but it seemed such a virginal act he couldn't keep from watching once in a while.

"You really work that toilet paper, don't you?" Josiah asked him once.

"In the orphanage they wouldn't let us use more than six pieces," Carl explained.

"They watched?"

"No, but they gave us each six pieces and that was all we could use.  Most of the boys just wiped themselves with all six pieces at once.  But they'd have stains on their underpants.  I didn't want that."

Josiah came into the library one evening after supper and found Carl crying uncontrollably.  On his lap was a newspaper.  His whole body was shaking.  He fumbled with the newspaper to keep it steady.  Josiah ran to him.

"What's wrong?" he said.

Carl at first tried to hide the newspaper by turning it over.  Then he relented and handed it to Josiah.

"It's her!" he cried out.

Josiah took the paper and stood several minutes spellbound, then shook his head and handed it back.

"I won't blame you - I swear I won't!" Carl muttered.  "She's come back from the dead somehow.  Maybe she never really died.  When we get out you'll go to her.  And I'll lose you - but I swear before God I won't love you any less!  I swear I won't!"

"You mean 'If we get out,'" Josiah corrected him.

"We will," Carl assured his friend.  "We'll both be paroled - together - I just know it.  We will.  And you'll go to her.  And you should - I want you to - I swear it!"

Josiah sat down beside Carl and put his arm around his shoulder.  "They don't come back," he said.  "It's not her."

"But look - look!  It is her!  I remember when they showed her on the news - it's her!"

"It's not her mouth," said Josiah.  "It's her face.  Even her eyes.  But not her mouth.  I don't know how it can be, but it's not her."

Josiah leaned over and kissed Carl on his forehead.  "I love you," he said.  "You saved my life - every day of my life.  This life anyway.  I can't imagine never seeing you again."

Three months later Josiah and Carl were paroled, after serving eighteen of their thirty year sentence - which itself had been reduced from life when no capital offense could be linked to them.  They were each given a suit of clothes, twenty dollars, a pass for The Santa Fe Southern Railway as far as Lamay, fifteen miles southeast, and a boarding ticket good for a one-way trip home.  On their way to Lamay, Carl revealed his plan to find his son.

"You never said you had a son," Josiah noted.

"I didn't want to talk about him in that place," Carl explained.

"You never even talked about being with a woman."

"It was a youthful indiscretion," Carl told his friend.  "The girl was fourteen, I wasn't much older.  I have to find him.  And take him home."

When they reached the ticket station at Lamay, Carl asked Josiah to accompany him.  "Sure, I'd be glad to," Josiah readily agreed.  "And if it doesn't work out for me to stay around, I'll go on home myself."  When his turn came, Josiah told the ticket agent to give him "Two tickets to Pittsburgh."  Carl almost fainted, but said nothing.  Still dazed, he boarded the train with Josiah that afternoon.  A couple hours later Josiah returned from the lavatory to find Carl looking out the window, tears streaming down his face.

"What's wrong?" Josiah asked.

Carl shook his head.  "It's ok," he said.  "It's my fault.  I made it sound like my son was somewhere in Pittsburgh but he's not.  He's here somewhere - in New Mexico, or Texas maybe.  But that's ok, I probably wouldn't find him anyway."

"I know what he meant," Josiah observed after a few minutes' silence.

"Who?"

"Raf.  He said 'God help us.'  Carl: we're getting off the next stop, we'll go back."

"No, we can't."

"Why not?"

"They only gave us a one way ticket - don't you remember?  We'll violate our parole if we don't do what they said."

"Carl, they never said we had to go north," Josiah reminded his friend.  "If they question us, we'll tell them we meant to go south, not north.  We just forgot after all these years how to buy a train ticket, that's all.  It's no big deal."

"But that's lying outright - it's a mortal sin," Carl said.

"So we'll make it only kind of a lie - can we do that?" Josiah asked.

Carl nodded.  "We can," he said.  "Then it'll only be a venial sin.  Venial sins can be forgiven a lot easier."

At Pueblo Colorado Carl and Josiah committed their agreed upon venial sin.  "Miscommunication," Josiah told the ticket agent at Pueblo.  "I thought one thing, my buddy thought another."  Since their one-way tickets could neither be refunded nor exchanged for tickets back to New Mexico, they were left without transportation.  Carl considered this their punishment.

"What now?" asked Josiah.

"We hitch a ride," said Carl.

It took a while but eventually they found a trucker willing to give them a lift.  When asked where they were going, Josiah said Santa Fe, Carl said Pecos, Texas.

"You fellas need to get your story straight," the trucker told them.

"We're ex-cons," Carl, in turn, told the trucker.  "We're trying to get home."

"Who'd you kill?" the trucker asked.

"No one," both Carl and Josiah assured him.

"Yeah, sure, whatever you say.  But you fellas and I both know you wouldn't have been up at Cańon City if all you did was spit on the sidewalk!  So go easy: I keep a gun strapped to the side of my seat at all times and my hand on it whenever I ain't shifting gears - plus one or two other little traps I've set."

They rode with the trucker down I-25 as far as Las Cruces, where they caught another ride, with another trucker, this one going to Odessa.  Carl shuddered when he heard where the truck was headed, without knowing why.

I-10 out of Las Cruces forked halfway to Odessa, continuing eastward to San Antonio and Houston while I-20 took the truck on a northeasterly path to its destination.  Carl and Josiah were let out on a shoulder of I-20 just after its juncture with US 285, South Cedar Street.  From their they made their way northeastward through Pecos to the house on Martinez Street where Carl's youthful indiscretion took place.

The heat of the day made the cold Carl felt entering the Martinez house on Martinez Street feel like he'd entered an igloo.  His whole body shivered.  At first Josiah remained outside; then, when he did finally enter, kept a respectful distance.  When he saw Carl shaking wildly he went and put his arm around him to help steady him, but his arm involuntarily pulled away the instant his skin touched Carl's.

"You're freezing!" Josiah cried out.  "Come on!  You've got to get back out into the sun!"

Carl nodded no; Josiah backed off.

Eventually Carl's body began warming.  He wandered throughout the house on Martinez Street then motioned for Josiah to leave.  Outside, Josiah asked him how he knew it was deserted.  Carl told him it wasn't, there were ghosts.

"A haunted house - in Pecos, Texas?" Josiah expressed his amazement.

"Not haunted.  Just ghosts who come here looking for someone who's gone for good.  Josiah: I have to go to Odessa now."

"Where the trucker was headed?"

"Yeah.  But I had to come here first to know I had to go there next."

They made their way back to I-20 to catch a ride to Odessa. Standing on the shoulder with his thumb out, Josiah mused "Odessa.  On the Black Sea.  How did someplace in Texas come to share a name with a place in Russia, I wonder."

"Jesus Christ may have been in Russia before the communists took over and drove him out," Carl speculated.

"You love Jesus, don't you," Josiah observed.

"We have to or we'll burn in hell.  Don't you love him?" asked Carl.

"Sure.  But what if you didn't have to?  Would you still love him?"

"Well, if we didn't have to, that'd mean he wasn't the son of God, so there'd be no reason to."

"Love your theology, Bro!" Josiah quipped.

Carl led his friend unerringly to the shed where Judy Martinez lived with her son.  He stood outside, refusing to enter.  "You can if you want," he told Josiah.

"No," Josiah concluded after some thought.  "It's your odyssey," he reminded Carl.  "Where to now?"

"I don't know," Carl admitted after a long while.  "All I have is a number.  That's all."

"What number?"

"79847.  I don't know what it means.  I guess this is as far as we go."

"Like hell it is!" Josiah exclaimed three hours later as they stood once again on I-20 hitching a ride.

Carl turned to him puzzled.  "79847!  It's a fuckin' zip code!  79847.  Come on.  Let's find a post office - they'll know where it is!"

"Salt Flat Texas," the postman identified its location.

"How do we get there?" Carl asked.

A rough map was drawn up, which Carl and Josiah did their best to follow by alternating walking and hitch-hiking.  A week later they turned up in Dell City, walking the remaining fifteen miles to Salt Flat, except there was no such place, just a zip code.

"I'm sorry," Carl told his fellow traveler, "I've brought you here to the middle of nowhere.  And there's nothing here - but -" Carl's voice trailed off and he took off running, Josiah fast on his heels.  Half an hour later they stood outside Pecos Pest's house deep in the desert.  Carl sat down on the front step and began crying.

"Don't tell me we've lost the trail again," said Josiah.

"No.  But I can't keep asking you to follow me all over southwest Texas like this."

As many times before, Josiah sat down beside his friend and put his arm around his shoulders.  "That's ok," he assured Carl.  "I'll follow you to the ends of the earth to find your son.  In a way it's almost like looking for the son I never had, and never will now.  So: where to now?"

"El Paso."

The shortest distance proved the longest leg of their journey to find Carl's son.  Not from anything along their route though.  They hitched a ride on US 180 almost as soon as they stepped onto its shoulder to stick out their thumbs.  Their ride, as it turned out, was headed directly for El Paso.  Barely ten miles into the trip Carl took ill and asked to be let out.  Almost the moment his feet hit pavement he recovered completely, but motioned the driver to go on without he and Josiah anyway.  Several more trucks, and several hours, passed before he felt up to hitching another ride.  As before, a truck picked them up almost the moment they began thumbing a ride.  US 180 was an alternate to I-20 from Dallas/Fort Worth to El Paso, trucks abounded.

A second time Carl took ill less than ten miles into the trip and asked to be let out.  A second time several hours passed before he felt up to continuing.  Josiah repeatedly asked what was wrong, thinking maybe he really had become seriously ill at the Martinez house.  But he kept insisting he was fine.

"Maybe we should try another route," Carl suggested as dusk approached.

"There is no other route," Josiah assured him.  "Look: we can't be all that far from El Paso.  Let's just walk the rest of the way.  If we get tired we can always go back to hitch-hiking.  OK?"

Carl nodded his agreement so they proceeded to walk.  All night long they walked till, just as the sun was rising behind them, they hitched another ride the rest of the way to El Paso.  Occasionally, half asleep in the truck, Carl would rouse and mutter "He's not!" then go back to sleep.  Their journey to El Paso came to an end at the interchange with Executive Center Boulevard.  Carl grew increasingly agitated as they continued east on foot.

"What the fuck happened here?" he repeatedly asked as he glanced from side to side.  By the time he and Josiah were deep in the heart of El Paso's Mission Hills District he practically shrieked his question.

"What the fuck happened here!"

"Carl!" cried Josiah, "what the fuck happened to you?"

Carl turned toward his friend and growled "He's not!"  Then grew deathly still as they continued through Mission Hills until coming to a vacant lot on a side street.  This time he turned and said in a voice so forlorn it brought tears to Josiah's eyes "He's not."

By noon they found out what had happened, how a freak desert wind had torn the house of George and Grace Djetsunz to pieces, how the wind had pierced their hearts with two sharp slats of wood, how it had carried their son Carl off, never to be seen again.  "Some say the boy did it," Carl and Josiah were told.  "But nothing was ever proved.  And no one ever found any trace of him.  The wind took him.  Maybe ripped him to shreds.  And that was that."

Carl returned one last time to the lot where his son had grown to manhood.  He sat for hours, staring toward Franklin Mountain as the sun slowly set behind him.  When he arose and turned toward Josiah a third time that day, a soft smile spread over his words.  "He's not dead.  My son's not dead.  I know how to reach him now."

"This is as far as we go," Raf told Carl Jr.

"Why here?" Carl asked.

"Because right here is - officially and geographically - the middle of nowhere!" Raf answered.

Carl smiled at his benefactor.  "You and I both know there's no such place.  But if this is where our gods want me, this is where I'll be."

"Strange how you trust a cold-blooded killer so completely," Raf noted.

"Did you kill really so cold-blooded?" Carl asked.

"Oh yes.  I sacrificed a little boy at the base of the mountain.  Well, he was about your age, but as little as a child.  I cut his heart out and ate it - remember? didn't you accuse me?  Otherwise I would never have found this place for your mission."

"My mission?"

"I'll help you build it," Raf promised.  "Who knows?  Some of our gods may help as well."

Jesus oversaw the project.  "No!  No!  I want my cross right there - right above the door, so everyone can see it!"

"They will not be looking for symbols," Huitzilopochtli assured the Christ.  "Nor will they be aware of structures, or furnishings, or cups or plates or flatware.  Some will be completely blind."

"Then how will they find their way here?" Jesus asked.

"There will be signs posted along their way," said Huitzilopochtli.

Of all the participants in the creation of Carl's mission, he alone still wasn't sure what it was for, or what would be expected of him, or even how those he was meant to minister to would come to know of his mission.  The one thing he was certain of was who his mission was here to serve.  He called them "Those Without," but he didn't know if they would remain without after arriving, or if they would gain sufficiently to no longer be without.

On the day his mission stood complete, Carl gave thanks the only way he knew how: he sang the lullaby his mother sang to him when he was a child, the lullaby he sang to himself after she died, the lullaby he sang silently in his new parents' home, the lullaby he stopped singing the night they died.  He sang every night before the tiny makeshift altar.  And in time his singing was carried on the soft desert winds to all parts of Mexico and even into the southwestern United States.  One cold rainy night Laresha Graciana heard it as she recorded an album in her new recording studio in Nashville.  It caused her to skip a beat, but no one else noticed, so the album was released and sold worldwide, missing that one sole beat.  She refused ever to let that album be played in her presence.  She vowed to seek out whoever had robbed her of her note and demand its return.

Many weeks brought many visitors, many torn, ragged and homeless, to Carl's mission.  They came to listen, not to stay.  Some walked dozens of miles for one chorus then turned to go.  Carl would stop whenever someone turned and ask why they were turning.  Some said only it was not what they came to hear; he let these leave.  Others told him they wanted to hear up close to better frame their hearing at home; these he also let go.  Again others simply shrugged, or said they didn't know why they'd come all this way, or explained how they had nowhere else to be - these were the ones he endeavored to keep here with him.

Over the months and early years of his ministry as many as a hundred visitors stayed.  Jesus reminded him his mission could not hold so many, nor was there food surrounding his mission enough to support so many mouths - at which his mother Mary, in turn, reminded her son of the loaves and fishes and the wedding wine.

"I don't do miracles anymore," Jesus pointed out.  "If Carl wishes to feed his flock he'll have to turn to his Aztec gods."

"You were in such a hurry to build Carl's mission, what did you think would happen when it was done?"

"I expected they would bring their own food - the way they do in the States when they have a pot luck dinner," Jesus explained.

Here Carl interposed.  "It's my fault," he said.  "They're drawn by my singing. They're not thinking what they'll need once they get here.  Many have nothing they might have brought with them anyway.  Perhaps I should stop singing, at least for awhile."

"No!" said Jesus emphatically.  "Your singing must be heard everywhere!  It must be a beacon drawing all humanity to you!"

Huitzilopochtli and his sister Malinalxochitl both burst out laughing.  "You cannot feed a hundred - yet you want billions on Carl's doorstep!  You are a dreamer, my friend," Huitzilopochtli told Jesus.

"The truth is," Malinalxochitl whispered to her brother, "he brings them here to die.  His 'Rapture' perhaps.  We demand a few blood sacrifices and the world is aghast - yet he demands all humanity sacrifice themselves and all is fine."

Carl went right up to Jesus, looked him in the eye, and promised he would find a way to feed and clothe and house as many as were brought to him.  "I won't stop singing just to make my promise real.  I'll find a way."  Then he turned to greet his latest visitors.

"Are you a Jew?"

"Yes," Carl answered.

"Are you a Nigger?"

"Yes."

"Are you a Spic?"

"Yes.  I am whoever you ask me to be."

"Are you me?" something very ancient deep inside Andy welled up to ask.

"Oh yes!  Most of all, my precious father, I am you!" Carl answered.

Upon hearing this, Andy cried so hard his new eyes came out, and his lost eyes started growing back.  He shrieked.

"No!  No!  They must never come back - please! please!  He gave them to me!  My first beloved!  He gave me these eyes in place of the truth I gave him.  Why?  Why would he turn his back on the truth?" Andy muttered as complete gibberish.

Carl understood every word.  "Because it was man's truth, not God's truth.  A higher truth.  And now you must follow his lead."

"I loved him.  He was my truth.  His believing it made it real.  I loved him with my whole being."

"That's why God spared you.  That was your one and only saving grace.  As evil as your truth made you, you still kept the power to love absolutely."

All the while Andy kept shaking his head from side to side.  "No.  No," he mumbled.  "Life without beliefs and values and morals is not worth living."

"These things exist only to exclude," Carl told him in a tongue only he could understand.  "Even if you change the core of your philosophy - the one single word that would change it into its opposite; if you took out the word 'Go' and put in its place 'Stay': instead of 'Jews, Niggers, Spics must go,' 'Jews, Niggers, Spics must stay' - even taking this thing of ugliness and making it a thing of beauty - still excludes: it excludes all who don't believe it.  It's man's truth no matter how you phrase it.  There is no human truth that doesn't exclude someone or something.  I'm sorry, father, but if you cannot change your truth then you and your companion must leave."

"No!  No!" cried Andy in a crystal clear voice everyone in range could understand.  "He must stay!  Please!  Please!  Please let him stay!  He's my beloved!  I love him.  Do what you will with me, but let him stay!  Please!  Please!  He came here to be cured.  Please.  We traveled all our lives, we watched over each other, we kept each other warm at night, we found food, we found water, the winds uncovered him each time he found a new grave.  And now he's here - here - he heard your song, though I couldn't hear it, but he did - and now he's come to you, to be cured.  Don't make him leave, please, don't make him leave."

Carl turned to Andy's beloved.  "The choice is his," he said.  "Someone tricked you if they said I could cure you.  I can't cure you - but I can do something better: I can understand you.  I wasn't just Carl's son.  I'm the son of all of you.  Of you too, Juan Cordoba.  You too were there when I was conceived.  And Andy too, and his beloved, Justen.  And the rest who, like Justen, are no more.  I'm all their sons."

"Not mine," Andy interrupted to say.  "I made sure I left no trace.  I would never mate below my station.  It's only because I watched Justen that I was able to go through the motions - otherwise Raf would have killed me.  He's a monster."

Carl smiled, as at a child's intriguing notions.  "Raf is of his people's gods," he said before turning back to Juan Cordoba.

"Your pictographs are elsewhere," Carl told him.  "Some would say in the hands of Philistines, when they're simply waiting to be understood some day.  But you have no need of them here.  You've been punished for all your crimes, even the greatest of them.  In eating the little boy's tongue you gave up yours.  You came to know that.  You're free of your burden.  Your coming here makes your staying unnecessary.  But if you choose to stay, there's much you could do.  Though the winds carried my song to those who've come to be here, not all those who heard it have hearing.  You can give the deaf through your pictographs what others can freely hear; and they can tell you what they see.  But only if you wish too."

At first nothing happened, neither Juan nor Andy grew into the community of Carl's mission.  They kept to themselves, and slept together in a narrow room facing the eastern horizon.  Months passed before finally, though Andy remained aloof, Juan Cordoba began going among the others, rarely at first, then more frequently until, a year since arriving, he went daily to be with and to enlighten the others with his pictographs, spending most of his daylight hours mingling and communicating and sharing, until, one day, all his remorse went away, leaving him as handsome as he was the day he took his family north to find a better life.

Andy beholding his beloved as he once was resolved to leave the mission.  Not that he loved Juan less, only that his purpose in journeying here was over.  And with its end came the absolute realization that nothing held him here a moment more.  He sat up all night long watching Juan Cordoba sleep.  At the first ray of light he lifted Juan's hand and gently kissed it then turned to go.  But a great commotion outside roused Juan, and in rousing him postponed Andy's departure.

"The wind's taken him to Mexico," Carl told Josiah as he started out from El Paso heading southeast.

"Wouldn't it just as likely have carried him southwestward as southeastward?" Josiah asked.

Carl nodded yes then said "But it didn't.  We can hitch a ride on ten then take ninety."

Together they hitched along I-10 as far as Van Horn, where they caught one after another ride along US 90 to Del Rio, on the Mexican border.  They made their way to the Lake Amistad Dam International Crossing.  Standing at its American terminus, Carl said his good-bye to his friend and traveling companion.

"The moment we set foot on the other side we're in violation of our parole," Carl explained.  "I can't ask you to do that.  I never intend to return once I find my son - not unless he does.  So this is where we part.  You know how much I've come to love you - with the love of a natural man, like a preacher I heard once said.  It would be alright if we hugged, since we're not...you know.  If you want to hug."

Josiah smiled, gave Carl a push onto the bridge's sidewalk.  "I'll be happy to hug you when it's time to part," he said.

"Think what you're giving up," Carl reminded him.

Josiah shook his head no.  "It's too soon to think," he told Carl.  "The memory of your life hanging by a thread and me being all alone in that place is still too powerful."

After walking along the six mile dam awhile Josiah casually noted how likely they were to be stopped before reaching the other side.  "We may both head back to the slammer for violating our parole," he warned.

Carl thought a moment then abruptly turned and stuck out his thumb.  The first approaching vehicle just as abruptly stopped and picked them up.  Once safely across, the driver let them out.  Crossing the dam all the driver said was that they should continue this route as far as a fork just south of Morelos, where they should go left onto Mexico Route 2, named Acuna-Piedras Negras.  Before pulling away to the southwest, he said once they reached Piedras Negras they would find their way on their own.

"My God!" cried Josiah all of a sudden.  "That was him!  He must have been following us the whole way!"

Carl considered his friend's words.  "Or guiding us", Carl concluded.  "He's like his gods' chauffeur."  

Hitching three rides they reached Piedras Negras in under three hours.  They stood at its outskirts on the side of Mexico Route 2 almost beside its international airport.  Josiah found himself hoping their benefactor at Ciudad Acusa would happen by to point their way as mysteriously as he appeared along Amistad Dam to carry them across.  This thought never crossed Carl's mind though; he knew, instead, that his absolute sense of his son's existence would lead them unerringly to their destination.

After nearly an hour, Carl once again stuck out his thumb.  It took awhile but in time they caught a ride.  Once they were settled and determined how far this driver could take them, Carl told Josiah they would get out where Mexico 2 intersected Nuevo Leon and hitch a ride as far as Anahuac.  At this junction they caught their last ride, in an old beat up farm truck whose speedometer barely registered its movement, fifteen miles to Anahuac threatening to take almost as many hours.  Josiah took Carl's growing agitation to be impatience and was about to say something when, exactly halfway along this route, Carl suddenly cried out "Oh God!  He's here!  He's here!" and threw open the door to leap headlong from the truck.  He landed in the sand and quickly got up and took off running wildly across the steaming desert.

The driver brought his truck to a stop, shook his head and muttered "Muy loco!"

"Sí senőr," Josiah readily agreed, "muy muy loco!  Gracias."  Then he too leaped from the truck and took off running after his friend, chasing him across the desert all night, the searing sand he traversed growing almost cold by daybreak, when Carl stopped dead in his tracks and just stood, dazed, five hundred feet from a small wood, stone and mud structure.

"What is it?" Josiah cried in alarm when he finally caught up to him.  Coming around to face him, seeing the look of an unbearable anguish on Carl's face, he softly asked "He's not here?  Or...or...is he...not here?"  He couldn't bring himself to say the word on his mind.  Cole's image when he ate the last of his son's picture flashed before him, and he couldn't say it.  For what seemed like hours they stood there, neither moving.  Then, just before the sky began growing light, Carl spoke.

"I raped his mother," Carl said.  "I raped his mother.  It wasn't a 'youthful indiscretion.'  I raped his mother.  I can't go to him.  I can't...not now...maybe not ever."

Josiah was about to remind his friend that if he had not raped his son's mother, the boy would not exist when something caught Carl's eye.  The opening of a door.  A young man stepping forth.

"It's him!" Carl cried out.  "Oh God it's my son!"  He pushed his way past Josiah and took off running the rest of the way, grabbing his son in a vise-like embrace and holding him so tightly neither could breath.

When he finally loosened his grip on his son the first thing he said was "I raped your mother."  He didn't ask his son to forgive him, he just stood there looking at him several minutes more till he caught sight of something.  A door opened.  First his eyes grew big at what he saw emerging from within then he pushed his son aside.

"Look out!" he warned as Juan Cordoba and Andy the Neo-Nazi started toward them.  "They're killers and rapists!  Keep out of their way!"

Moving menacingly toward the two approaching figures, Carl cautioned them to come no closer.  "I just spent eighteen years in prison," he warned, "I can break you both in two to protect my son if I have to!"

Carl Jr. stepped between his father and the two men.  "They're guests here," he said.  "They've come to find peace, not to do harm."

"They're murderers!" Carl told his son.

"And you?" his son asked.

"I never actually killed anyone - not in that sense!"

"In what sense then?"

Carl had no answer.  All this time he was so sure his actions proceeded from something other than simply wishing to do harm; that his motives, while not noble, were certainly not vile.  Now he found himself alone, standing before his son, without any way to rationalize anything he'd ever done.  This new development didn't frighten him, or shame him, it just puzzled him.  All he could think of was his final prayer, in his final moment, when he believed his life was coming to an end.  He didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he did nothing.  He simply turned his attention to his two fellow outlaws.  He softened his look and apologized for his outburst.

"When I last saw you you were still outlaws," he reminded them.

"None of us were outlaws by choice," Andy reminded him.

"That's true!" Carl exclaimed with a passion that belied the statement's merit.

Josiah, in the meantime, had come over to where the other four stood.  His gaze shot past both Carl and his son to land directly on Andy.

"So you're the Neo-Nazi, who hates Jews, Niggers and Spics," Josiah observed.  "So why are you here?" he demanded.

Andy pointed to Juan.  "I'm with him," he replied.

"A Spic?"

"I didn't know at first.  I couldn't see him."

"Now you do know, now you can see.  So why are you still with him?"

"God made me a faggot," Andy answered.  "God gave me something to betray my values with.  And I have betrayed them by falling in love with Juan."

"So renounce your values," Josiah offered.

Andy shook his head.  "I can't," he said.  "I may go to hell for betraying them, but I can't renounce them.  They've been passed down from father to son as long as I can remember.  I have no son to pass them to, so when I die they die with me.  But I have to preserve them as long as I remain alive."

"Why?" Josiah asked almost in desperation.

Andy hung his head.  "I just do," was all he said before walking back inside, leaving his beloved in the company of three others.

Again Andy spent his last night watching Juan sleep.  Except this time he too was being watched.  At the very first ray of sun he again lifted Juan's hand and kissed it and whispered to him again "You will always be my beloved, but I can not accept you as an equal."  Then he left the mission, never once looking back.

Josiah watched him go.  No one else here would ever understand Andy's leaving, but Josiah did.

Through an open window Andy heard someone singing his first beloved's song.  "What have they done to the rain."  When he had passed beyond its final refrain he reached into his pockets and withdrew his new eyes, which his tears upon arrival here had washed away to let his old eyes grow back.  He reached up and put his new eyes back into his eye sockets, pushing them as far in as he could.

"Why have you been avoiding my son?" Carl asked Josiah one evening.

"I'm not sure if I'll stay here," Josiah answered.  "I know the rest of you see this as paradise.  I'm not sure I'm ready for paradise."

"My son loves everyone," Carl reminded his friend.

"Does he?  I think he could have tried harder to get Andy to stay."

"It was Andy's decision to leave."

"Perhaps," Josiah agreed.  "But it was clear he didn't feel like he belonged here."

"His hatred didn't belong," said Carl.  "Besides, why would you care about Andy?  He hated your kind."

"My kind?  I have a kind?  I didn't know that."

"You know what I mean.  Do you resent my son for taking me from you?"

"No.  Freedom did that.  We'll always love each other as friends but we don't need each other's friendship like we did in there.  Prison didn't make us who we are, it just made us who we were for awhile.  I've returned to being me.  Only now you've become someone different from who you were.  In a sense I've watched you grow up.  All you've done is watch me grow older.  I desperately needed you, to remain who I was.  I'm not a new man just because I've come to a new place.  You are though."

A moment of silence ended with Carl pulling Josiah closer and kissing him on the mouth before releasing him.  Josiah smiled at him.

"Are you trying to be Andy?" he asked playfully.  "Do you think that's why I wanted him to stay?"

"No.  I just realized it would have been alright if we'd done that in there.  We wouldn't have been swallowed up or condemned to hell for committing a mortal sin."

"I'm glad you thought it would have been," Josiah confessed.  "If you had kissed me back there something would have been lost - not our friendship but the tension of wishing we could love that way but knowing we couldn't.  Somehow that tension made being locked up more bearable.  That looking forward to something that could only have happened there.  Who knows though?"

"Why did you want Andy to stay?" Carl asked.

"I saw more of me in him than in anyone else here.  It isn't so much I wanted him - and his hatreds - to stay.  But his leaving - his knowing he could never belong here - convinced me I may not belong here either.  Just like him, my old ways are too much a part of me to give them up.  I may have no choice either but to leave."

"That's why you avoid my son?  You think he'll be able to convince you to give up your old ways?"

Josiah nodded.  "Just the reverse," he said.  "I'm afraid he won't be able to convince me."

"So you've decided to leave?" Carl asked.

"I haven't decided anything.  I'm waiting for a sign," Josiah answered.  Carl stared at him suspiciously.

"You're not the only one who knows how to read signs.  I'll know," Josiah assured him, adding with a wink "My kind is good at that."

Early next morning, as Carl and Josiah grew tired standing all night talking, and started back in, Carl Jr. stepped from his mission to greet the new day.  He took a stand squarely in front of both.

Carl, desperate to delay what he feared was coming, took his son by his arm and asked the most irrelevant question he could think of.

"Didn't you ever consider a career in singing?"

Carl Jr. was taken back by his father's question, even as Josiah saw it for the diversion it was.

"At one time," Carl answered.  "But 'Those With' can hear whomever they wish.  'Those Without' can only hear what's left over.  Let me be a left over.  But if someday the gods wish me a career, so be it."

"There's only one true God," Carl reminded his son, who genuflected before his father.  Rising, he said to Josiah "I see why you cherish him so.  He is one of God's greatest gifts to us."

Carl nodded approvingly.  "Now you say 'God,'" he noted.

"There is only one true God, as you say.  Yet there's an infinity of gods.  And at the same time there are no gods.  It's just how it is.  The holiest of trinities."

Then the boy, who had also seen through his father's ruse, turned to Josiah.  "What is it you believe that you don't wish to give up?" he asked.

Josiah thought a moment before admitting he had no beliefs.  "I want the freedom to believe," he said.  "I don't see giving up our beliefs without giving up that freedom too.  I don't believe I can."

"Then that's your belief," Carl's son said.  He turned again to his father.  "You say I'm your son, and yet you admit you raped my mother.  But so did Juan Cordoba, and so did Andy and his beloved Justen, and so did many others.  Even Raf.  Yet only you consider me your son, but they're as much my fathers as you are."

A moment passed, nothing further was said, Carl and Josiah resumed their way back.  A special ray of light rose from the sun sitting on the horizon; only the boy saw it.  He watched as it briefly haloed the man moving away from him.  He put himself once more in their path.

"You're the most precious of my fathers," he told Josiah, "because you're the father I never had."

Josiah addressed, not what was said but the boy's sincerity.  He gently placed his hands on the boy's shoulders, and smiled in a way he had not smiled since Laresha went away.

"I know in time I may come to love and honor you as a son, but don't you think you're making too much of this?"

Carl in turn put his hands on Josiah's shoulders and smiled the most radiant smile ever seen on earth.

"Your woman came to see us one night.  She said she could no longer sing after hearing my mother singing me to sleep.  She looked down at me and smiled and said I had Clete's mouth.  If I was for that moment the son you never had, aren't you then the father I never had?"

Josiah stood absolutely still, watching the tiny universe suspend absolutely in time, feeling all at once a host of gods, one God, no gods go by, all at once.  He didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  His smile had faded to perfect equilibrium.  He decided to let his mouth decide for him.  He waited for it to choose.  If it drooped he would cry, if it lifted he would laugh.  He waited.

The universe waited...to see what a single soul in a single second on a single stand of space...would do...

 

The End

June 8, 2012   6:19 P.M.