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CHICO’S STORY

As related by Dixie.

Chico was an evil son of a bitch, although you couldn’t really blame him for turning out that way. He’d been unlucky enough to be born in 1951 which meant that he was seventeen years old in 1968. That was the year the movie Once Upon a Time in the West was released and the patrón of the local Hacienda—José Salgado—went to see it in Mexico City. It would have been much better for the young Chico and his family if the patrón had visited when Planet of the Apes or Bullitt was showing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Shit happens.
The patrón was an impressionable man despite his standing and he came away from the movie with his head full of ideas. Unpleasant ideas, as if there weren’t enough of those in there in the first place. Chico’s father wasn’t to know any of that, of course, when he stole a pig that year.
So it was that when the patrón and his men turned up at the shack where Chico lived with his family and took Chico—the eldest son—and his father out into the desert, the patrón had something very specific in mind. Under the branches of a Desert Ironwood tree, Chico’s hands were bound behind his back and his father stood on his shoulders, also bound, with a noose around his neck, the rope looped over one of the branches.
If Chico had been born in, say 1959, he would only have been nine years old in 1968. Unless he’d been an unusually big and strong boy for his age—which would have been unlikely given that he spent his whole life hungry—he wouldn’t have been suitable for the role that the patrón had in mind for him. At age seventeen he was just perfect.
Dixie had heard the story many times but he could never remember whether the young Chico had cussed the patrón or whether the patrón simply saw himself as an innovative sort of man, but, whichever it was, he added an extra touch. A certain je ne sais quoi. Before standing Chico’s father on his shoulders, they tarred his feet. Then they broke a couple of beer bottles into small pieces—the men had been enjoying some cold beers while they had their sport—and pushed the pieces into the tar. It made Dixie shudder to think about it. Who knows whether it was the pain of the glass shredding his shoulders or his legs giving way, but he didn’t suppose Chico could have taken it for long. Twenty seconds? Thirty, at most.
Dixie seemed to remember that the patrón had gone for lunch—he’d never bothered asking how Chico was supposed to know that detail; people always got irritated if you questioned their stories too closely—his men staying behind and severely beating Chico. When they’d finished, they’d gone on their way, leaving him to die in the desert. Somehow he’d managed to drag himself to the nearest road where he’d been found by a pack of roving Jesuits. Unable to get any sense out of him, they’d taken him with them back to the seminary where they put him to work to earn his keep.
Chico had stayed with them for three years, the last two as a noviate, hoping to find the elusive state of grace in the ranks of God’s Soldiers. But the state of grace did just that—eluded him—perhaps because there was a part of him that nobody could reach and nothing could rid his mind of thoughts of revenge. So, after two years he left the seminary, roman collar tucked away in his bag.
It took him six months to get close enough to the patrón. Salgado was a careful man with a lot of enemies and it would have taken a lot longer except for the fact that nobody suspects a man wearing a roman collar in a Catholic country like Mexico. Chico caught up with him in a hotel in Mexico City and, after putting the fear of God into his whore, set about the process that left the patrón in need of the last rites.
Chico had studied diligently in the seminary and although he wouldn’t have said he went hunting for the means of his revenge in the scriptures, he knew it when he saw it. So it was that the patrón went to meet his maker in the manner of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle and Chico liked to say that at least his chosen method had better provenance than a spaghetti western starring Charles Bronson and Peter Fonda, however good a movie it might have been. He also said he wore his dog collar the whole time.
Dixie believed most of the story, subject to a certain amount of artistic license (such as the patrón’s lunch appointment and maybe the dog collar) but there were other aspects that he wasn’t so sure about. Foremost amongst these was Chico’s claim that he’d kept a large piece of the patrón’s skin and found a man in the city who had made it into a wallet for him. Ignoring any questions about the suitability—mainly the durability—of human skin for an item that is going to go in and out of your pocket all day long, Dixie doubted this was true. Not only that, but Chico was always careful to ensure that nobody ever got too close a look at it.
Nonetheless, Chico was still an evil son of a bitch.

Chico was an evil son of a bitch, although you couldn’t really blame him for turning out that way. He’d been unlucky enough to be born in 1951 which meant that he was seventeen years old in 1968. That was the year the movie Once Upon a Time in the West was released and the patrón of the local Hacienda—José Salgado—went to see it in Mexico City. It would have been much better for the young Chico and his family if the patrón had visited when Planet of the Apes or Bullitt was showing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Shit happens.

The patrón was an impressionable man despite his standing and he came away from the movie with his head full of ideas. Unpleasant ideas, as if there weren’t enough of those in there in the first place. Chico’s father wasn’t to know any of that, of course, when he stole a pig that year.

So it was that when the patrón and his men turned up at the shack where Chico lived with his family and took Chico—the eldest son—and his father out into the desert, the patrón had something very specific in mind. Under the branches of a Desert Ironwood tree, Chico’s hands were bound behind his back and his father stood on his shoulders, also bound, with a noose around his neck, the rope looped over one of the branches.

If Chico had been born in, say 1959, he would only have been nine years old in 1968. Unless he’d been an unusually big and strong boy for his age—which would have been unlikely given that he spent his whole life hungry—he wouldn’t have been suitable for the role that the patrón had in mind for him. At age seventeen he was just perfect.

Dixie had heard the story many times but he could never remember whether the young Chico had cussed the patrón or whether the patrón simply saw himself as an innovative sort of man, but, whichever it was, he added an extra touch. A certain je ne sais quoi. Before standing Chico’s father on his shoulders, they tarred his feet. Then they broke a couple of beer bottles into small pieces—the men had been enjoying some cold beers while they had their sport—and pushed the pieces into the tar. It made Dixie shudder to think about it. Who knows whether it was the pain of the glass shredding his shoulders or his legs giving way, but he didn’t suppose Chico could have taken it for long. Twenty seconds? Thirty, at most.

Dixie seemed to remember that the patrón had gone for lunch—he’d never bothered asking how Chico was supposed to know that detail; people always got irritated if you questioned their stories too closely—his men staying behind and severely beating Chico. When they’d finished, they’d gone on their way, leaving him to die in the desert. Somehow he’d managed to drag himself to the nearest road where he’d been found by a pack of roving Jesuits. Unable to get any sense out of him, they’d taken him with them back to the seminary where they put him to work to earn his keep.

Chico had stayed with them for three years, the last two as a noviate, hoping to find the elusive state of grace in the ranks of God’s Soldiers. But the state of grace did just that—eluded him—perhaps because there was a part of him that nobody could reach and nothing could rid his mind of thoughts of revenge. So, after two years he left the seminary, roman collar tucked away in his bag.

It took him six months to get close enough to the patrón. Salgado was a careful man with a lot of enemies and it would have taken a lot longer except for the fact that nobody suspects a man wearing a roman collar in a Catholic country like Mexico. Chico caught up with him in a hotel in Mexico City and, after putting the fear of God into his whore, set about the process that left the patrón in need of the last rites.

Chico had studied diligently in the seminary and although he wouldn’t have said he went hunting for the means of his revenge in the scriptures, he knew it when he saw it. So it was that the patrón went to meet his maker in the manner of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle and Chico liked to say that at least his chosen method had better provenance than a spaghetti western starring Charles Bronson and Peter Fonda, however good a movie it might have been. He also said he wore his dog collar the whole time.

Dixie believed most of the story, subject to a certain amount of artistic license (such as the patrón’s lunch appointment and maybe the dog collar) but there were other aspects that he wasn’t so sure about. Foremost amongst these was Chico’s claim that he’d kept a large piece of the patrón’s skin and found a man in the city who had made it into a wallet for him. Ignoring any questions about the suitability—mainly the durability—of human skin for an item that is going to go in and out of your pocket all day long, Dixie doubted this was true. Not only that, but Chico was always careful to ensure that nobody ever got too close a look at it.

Nonetheless, Chico was still an evil son of a bitch.

© JAMES HARPER