“Cool beans,” Paul said. Paul usually swore like the demon in The Exorcist.
We’d been looking for Carlos for two long days and the boss was getting impatient with us. We decided that morning over coffee and donuts we’d get the fuck out of Dodge if we didn’t get him by sundown. That psycho motherfucker we worked for told us he didn’t like excuses. He sounded prissy when he said and Paul loved to mock him behind his back. “Excuses are for assholes,” Paul liked to say every time something went wrong.
My brother liked to act swishy in these dew-drop inns, hoping to provoke some redneck into a fight. When he got him outside, though, he would whirl around and throw a sucker punch and then deliver a first-class beatdown. If the guy was big, Paul would really lay on the gayblade walk, as he called it—just to relax the guy into thinking how easy this was going to be. The guy would have his fist cocked and he’d be muttering all kinds of shit he was going to do to the “little faggot” in front of him, but before he could throw a single punch, Paul would pivot like one of those male ballerinas, whip out a roundhouse kick to the nut sac. The guy’d drop to the dirt faster than a manhole cover falling from the sky. The guy would have blood running out of every orifice when he woke. We’ve had to leave more towns because of this prank of his than I can count.
Paul slammed the car to a juddering halt into the curb a hundred yards from the corner and we got out. He just looked at me and barked a laugh. “That stupid asshole,” I said.
Carlos hadn’t moved from his spot.
“Is he fuckin’ dealing right there, that moron?” Paul asked me.
In this shitburg full of dust, flies, and illegals, it wouldn’t matter if he was standing in front of city hall. Big dealers like our boss snitched off the small-timers and the cops left him alone. You’d have to toss a grenade through a bank window to get attention.
Paul likes to gab. He takes after our father, a salesman of farm implements from Modesto, who stayed around long enough to poke our mother to make twin boys and then take off to parts unknown. Paul, a hound dog at tracking, caught up with him in a shitty trailer park in 29 Palms. The plan was to blow his head off as soon as he opened the door. He lowered the shotgun and said, “Hi, Dad.” That was it. We turned around and walked away leaving the old man standing there in his boxer shorts.
Paul never talked about it.
“Christ, I can’t do this,” I groaned.
I handed him the stiletto; it had a titanium blade. He bought it in a pawn shop near McAllen, Texas. The boss told us to take him to a self-storage he owned a share in. It was three miles outside town on the old highway and surrounded by razor wire. I already had all the cleaning stuff we would need for later.
Carlos’ head lolled back. One eye was closed, the other at half-mast. He scraped his face on the sidewalk
“Pendejo,” he spat. He drooled out of one corner of his mouth. One long scalp flap peeled back to reveal white bone.
Paul worked the blade a little harder into the hairline and twisted it gently back and forth like he’s carving his initials into a school desk.
“Watch this,” he said. He dug his fingernails into the loosened flesh on both sides and began jerking it back and forth. It reminded me of skinning muck rabbits when we were kids.
“Got-damn motherfuckin’ Jesus Christ on the fuckin’ cross,” Paul said after the effort. “Look at this tough motherless sonofabitch, will you?” That was more like Paul.
Carlos never said about where the dope or the money was the whole time.
He bared his teeth at Paul but he never cried out. He had the Mexican street kid’s toughness. He never screamed even when Paul peeled his face over his head.
“Jesus fuck, look at this, bro,” Paul said. You’d think he’d just undressed some hot bitch.
Carlos’ head looked like something out of a low-budget horror film. It wasn’t a human face anymore; it glistened like somebody had poured a mix of motor oil and strawberry syrup over a human head. The eyes looked really weird without the flesh—gaping, too round, like tiny cue balls. Carlos looked straight at me.
I knew what was coming next. Paul and his stupid games.
It took a while to saw through the strap muscles but he finally had the whole soggy head free. Paul tucked it under his arm like a ventriloquist with his dummy. He worked his hand the mandible to move Carlos’ jaw up and down.
“Your accent is shitty, bro,” I said. “He sounds like Speedy Gonzalez in the cartoon.”
“Fuck you, this is how Carlos talked.”
The jaw movements were all out of sync like in those chop-socky movies Paul loves whenever we’re laid up in motels. When he was done fucking around, we started the cleanup.
It takes hours to clean a place up even with all the plastic drop cloth we had set down. “They ever put any of that luminal shit in here,” Paul said gravely. “It’ll light the whole place up like a fuckin’ Christmas tree.”
“We’re just animals,” I whispered to him. “Keep working.”
Terry White is an unreconstructed existentialist and has published in several
online crime and noir magazines and websites.