The body hung from a street lamp in the center of town. The street lamps hadn’t worked in years, but if they had they wouldn’t have lit up much. A dusty stretch of road with a bar, a general store, and a livery. The others were boarded up, abandoned.
Jed studied the body. Missing were its hands, eyes, tongue.
He recognized the boots.
He took his sunglasses off, wiped his brow with the back of his hand and looked over the street. Empty.
The town was small enough to not have a name. Some called it fifty miles southwest of Juarez. Others said it was just south of hell. Back in his office stateside, it was circled on a wall map with a red pen. Last seen scribbled beside it.
How am I going to get that down, he thought.
“What do you want, gringo?”
Jed spun on his heels; he hadn’t heard the old man approach. His hand fell to his Glock on his hip. The old man moved with a cane, harmless as a grandfather.
“What is it you want?” He spoke English fluent enough that Jed was suspicious.
“I’m trying to get the body down.”
“The body that’s hanging over us. Rotting in the sun.” An inky puddle of blood soaked into the brown dirt beneath the hanging body.
“Gringo, I am blind. I see no body.”
Jed narrowed his eyes. The man was indeed blind; his eyes were a cloudy blue like arctic ice.
“Tell me policeman-“
“How did you know that?”
“Your cheap aftershave. But tell me – why are you here? People only come here if they are lost or they are looking for something.”
Now eying the old man, Jed said, “What do you know about this?”
“It’s a sign.”
Jed had no time for riddles.
“Gringo, move on. This is not your home.”
“Who is that hanging up there?”
“I’m just an old-“
“Drop the act hombre. Back in my office, I have a file on you this thick-“ he held up his thumb and index finger about an inch apart. “You’re known as the Hawk. You see everything that goes by in these parts. Look I’m just looking for my partner. Is that him? He has a wife and kid for chrissakes.”
He tried to imagine how Hardy, ramrod straight and by the book, got there. If only he could get the body, he’d know.
Jed heard an engine roaring in the distance, faint, but growing. Judging by the old man’s face, he heard it too and began shuffling off.
“Gringo, I think you are lost.”
A black Toyota pickup with tinted windows hummed up the road and eased to a stop near Jed. The driver side door opened and a man stepped out in fatigues with a holstered pistol. He wore a Chicago Cubs baseball hat to keep the sun off his face.
Jed said, “What d’ya want? I’m looking for a friend.”
The driver didn’t say anything; he poured over Jed with a cold stare. Jed recognized him.
“I just want to be on my way. Do you know who that is?”
After a long pause, the driver said, “He spoke to the Federales.”
Jed nodded. “Are you going to shoot me?”
The driver liked that and smiled. “I’m not.”
The passenger door squeaked open, a pair of ostrich skinned boots emerged from the truck.
“You done fucked up,” said a familiar voice from behind the door. The door slammed shut and standing there, with a sawed off shotgun leveled at Jed, was his partner, Hardy. “You like my new boots?”
Hardy shot a jet of spit before he said, “Why you come down here? You should have just left well enough alone.”
“How could you do it?”
“I have a new life down here. I’m not some bureaucrat who can’t do what needs to be done on 60K a year. I’m the boss. What I say goes. Isn’t that right Leonel?”
The driver grinned, and said, “Si jefe.”
“You gonna string me up from a lamp post?”
“Nah. We only string up thieves and snitches.”
“DEA goes home in a box. But just the head.”