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The original prologue to Hunting Dixie was cut from the final edit but is reproduced below. The boy is Chico and the scene goes some way to explaining what turned him into the man he became.

PROLOGUE

1968

‘Don’t stop.’ The patrón finished his cigarette and flicked the butt away. He watched dispassionately, bored now, as the man nodded and then buried his heavy boot deep into the boy’s midsection, lifting him an inch or two off the ground. He couldn’t think when he’d last been so disappointed. He’d had such high hopes when they’d set out that morning, so excited to try out something he’d seen in a movie the week before.
How long had it lasted?
Twenty seconds? Thirty, at most. Not long enough to smoke a cigarette, that was for sure. He thought these peasants were supposed to be tough. The one flapping around in the dirt and weeds in front of him, grunting and gasping like a speared fish, looked tough enough in a wiry, under-fed sort of way, his slim muscular arms with ropey veins that would have been blue if it wasn’t for his dirty, sun-darkened skin.
He glanced up and studied the old man swinging gently in the breeze, blood and tar dripping from his bare feet and pooling in the dirt below him. Urine, too. He was really rather fat for a peasant. But then he would be, wouldn’t he, stuffed to the gills with stolen pig like he was. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see the shape of a pig’s trotter poking through the grubby shirt that covered his distended belly.
The man’s furious thrashing had quickly subsided into a spasmic twitching and then stopped altogether. The obscene—and very irritating—gurgling sound in his throat has stopped too, thank God. Which one of the idiots had forgotten to put a rag in his mouth? He’d been tempted to shoot the old man but that would have spoiled the game, as well as disappointing his men. They liked their fun.
He lifted his face to the sky, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, hoping some of his irritation would ease away. It was quiet now, almost peaceful, apart from a rhythmic thumping as four pairs of booted feet did their worst. He opened his eyes again and watched the men, fascinated, as they crowded around the semi-conscious boy, legs swinging relentlessly in and out, in and out. It was as if they were choreographed. A couple of them, the older ones, were grunting with the exertion, sweat flicking from their hair. The boy wasn’t making a sound now and a dark stain was spreading out from his crotch. Like father, like son.
He took a step closer. The men stopped as one and stepped away, glad of the temporary respite. One of them pushed his hat back on his head and scratched his scalp, another spat noisily into the dust and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Disgusting.
He tried to imagine the thoughts of men like these. They’d already drunk a number of cold beers, laughing and joking as the old man’s life had been choked slowly out of him. No doubt, more would follow their successful morning’s work. He turned the boy’s head with his boot, careful to avoid the worst of the blood. The flesh was spongy, like a steak that had been tenderized for too long. It made his skin crawl. Jesus Christ, the boy’s own mother wouldn’t recognize him now.
He glanced briefly at his wristwatch and did a double take. How had it gotten so late? Time to get going. His wife would kill him if he was late for lunch again. He’d have preferred to stay a while longer but he’d been married long enough to know what was good for him. It must be the boy’s lucky day.
‘Enough now.’
He turned and headed back towards his new ’68 Chevy pickup which sat at the top of the rise beside the old heap the hired help were driving. Its previously gleaming paintwork was already covered by a thick coating of dust. He ran his finger through it and shook his head. It was a constant battle. He hated this country some times.
But then a brighter thought bubbled up and made him smile as he climbed in: I wonder what’s showing at the movie theater next week? Hopefully something else with Charles Bronson.
Life wasn’t all hard work after all.

‘Don’t stop.’

The patrón finished his cigarette and flicked the butt away. He watched dispassionately, bored now, as the man nodded and then buried his heavy boot deep into the boy’s midsection, lifting him an inch or two off the ground. He couldn’t think when he’d last been so disappointed. He’d had such high hopes when they’d set out that morning, so excited to try out something he’d seen in a movie the week before.

How long had it lasted?

Twenty seconds? Thirty, at most. Not long enough to smoke a cigarette, that was for sure. He thought these peasants were supposed to be tough. The one flapping around in the dirt and weeds in front of him, grunting and gasping like a speared fish, looked tough enough in a wiry, under-fed sort of way, his slim muscular arms with ropey veins that would have been blue if it wasn’t for his dirty, sun-darkened skin.

He glanced up and studied the old man swinging gently in the breeze, blood and tar dripping from his bare feet and pooling in the dirt below him. Urine, too. He was really rather fat for a peasant. But then he would be, wouldn’t he, stuffed to the gills with stolen pig like he was. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see the shape of a pig’s trotter poking through the grubby shirt that covered his distended belly.

The man’s furious thrashing had quickly subsided into a spasmic twitching and then stopped altogether. The obscene—and very irritating—gurgling sound in his throat has stopped too, thank God. Which one of the idiots had forgotten to put a rag in his mouth? He’d been tempted to shoot the old man but that would have spoiled the game, as well as disappointing his men. They liked their fun.

He lifted his face to the sky, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, hoping some of his irritation would ease away. It was quiet now, almost peaceful, apart from a rhythmic thumping as four pairs of booted feet did their worst. He opened his eyes again and watched the men, fascinated, as they crowded around the semi-conscious boy, legs swinging relentlessly in and out, in and out. It was as if they were choreographed. A couple of them, the older ones, were grunting with the exertion, sweat flicking from their hair. The boy wasn’t making a sound now and a dark stain was spreading out from his crotch. Like father, like son.

He took a step closer. The men stopped as one and stepped away, glad of the temporary respite. One of them pushed his hat back on his head and scratched his scalp, another spat noisily into the dust and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Disgusting.

He tried to imagine the thoughts of men like these. They’d already drunk a number of cold beers, laughing and joking as the old man’s life had been choked slowly out of him. No doubt, more would follow their successful morning’s work. He turned the boy’s head with his boot, careful to avoid the worst of the blood. The flesh was spongy, like a steak that had been tenderized for too long. It made his skin crawl. Jesus Christ, the boy’s own mother wouldn’t recognize him now.

He glanced briefly at his wristwatch and did a double take. How had it gotten so late? Time to get going. His wife would kill him if he was late for lunch again. He’d have preferred to stay a while longer but he’d been married long enough to know what was good for him. It must be the boy’s lucky day.

‘Enough now.’

He turned and headed back towards his new ’68 Chevy pickup which sat at the top of the rise beside the old heap the hired help were driving. Its previously gleaming paintwork was already covered by a thick coating of dust. He ran his finger through it and shook his head. It was a constant battle. He hated this country some times.

But then a brighter thought bubbled up and made him smile as he climbed in: I wonder what’s showing at the movie theater next week? Hopefully something else with Charles Bronson.

Life wasn’t all hard work after all.

© JAMES HARPER