Chapter 23 (Crossing the Atlantic)

October 20th

Peoria gave me a pile of stuff about del Herrero, coloring books, comics, posters, novels etc. They all tell the same story. He grew up in Barcelona, the son of a blacksmith. At seventeen he joined the Spanish Navy. By age twenty six he was made captain.

His ship was destroyed in the Battle of Preveza and he was taken prisoner by the Ottomans. (just like it said in his letter) None of the books mentioned Barbarrossa or a bone knife and only once did I read about a fish medallion that he wore around his neck.

The last book I read was entitled Francisco del Herrero y La Barranca del Fuego and it told the story of del Herrero and the gray pillar in the sky. Like it said in the children’s book in Barcelona, Herrero and his men marched into the desert in search of the origin of the pillar. They walked for three days until they reached the edge of the desert. At the foot of the mountains before them was an enormous bonfire, spilling dark smoke into the sky. From far away this smoke looked like a gray pillar. On both sides of the fire stood hundreds of Chichimeca warriors dressed for battle. They descended upon Francisco del Herrero and his men like a pack of wolves.

October 23rd

Captain Gram is in a good mood, playing his favorite Four Tops and Temptations records on the F. Scott’s sound system. He and Peoria have been drinking bourbon and showing me dance moves. Peoria was teaching me how to do the pretzel until Gram cut in and took her away. Damn. I ended up watching Iseri and Tom play cards in the mess hall.

October 25th

The Captain is passed out at his desk. A letter fell from his hand to the floor.

Arthur,

I don’t know where to begin, because I’ve been spent the last week talking to you in my head. I’ve been thinking about us, the history of our relationship, and our conversation last night. The thought of losing you is so horrible it’s almost unbearable. I think I’ve told you before that I can’t imagine living without you, but I also can’t imagine living a life like this. You’ve been so patient with me, and regardless of what I may say from time to time; I would never change anything about you. I am sorry that I left without saying goodbye. I’ll miss waking up to you and the way you look at me. I’ll miss our dancing and going fishing in the afternoon. You are the love of my life, I am sure of this now.

I am sorry,

Naomi

Gram keeps a stack of these letters in the front pocket of his Grandfather’s old coat. When he thinks no one is around, he pulls them out and reads them over and over.

I picked up the letter and put it away so Peoria wouldn’t see it.

November 1st

We reached Mexico two days ago, entering through the Rio Panuco, outside Madero. We journeyed up the river to the town of San Luis Potosi. From here the water was too shallow so we had to leave Tom with the F. Scott. Peoria, Iseri, Gram and I walked into to town and caught a chicken bus to Zacatecas.

November 2nd

The ride was long and hot. We arrived this morning. Zacatecas is an old silver mining town on the edge of the dessert. The people are friendly, but quiet. They seem frightened of us. They won’t look us in the eyes. You get the feeling something awful happened here.

In the center of town was the Zacatecas Cathedral, with a collapsed roof. Across the street was a bar called Los Olvidados. We were hungry so we decided to see if they were serving lunch.

Chapter 24 (Mexico)

I’ve been shot in the leg. There’s blood everywhere. Peoria and I are hiding in the back of a wagon under a tarp. She ripped off part of her shirt and used it as a tourniquet.
 
Early in the day Peoria and I left Gram and Iseri in the cantina and went off to find a guide. Someone came up behind me and grabbed my arms. From out of nowhere appeared Scotty and the rest of the Yuls. Before I could say anything, he knocked me out with the butt of his rifle.
 
I woke up on a dirty wood floor and looked around. Peoria was standing in the center of the room with the Yuls around her. One of them pushed her over a table while another held her arms. A third Yul came up behind her and started pulling down her pants. The rest of them stood around and watched.
 
“I’ll cut your dick off and choke you with it, you son of a bitch!” said Peoria.

The Yul smiled. 

“Not this time love,” he said.
 
No one was looking at me. I wiped the blood from my eyes and slowly stood up. I pulled a gun from the holster of the Yul standing in front of me and pushed him out of the way. I ran up to the Yul behind Peoria, put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet went through his skull and into the wall. His lifeless body collapsed to the floor. I grabbed Peoria and pointed the gun at Scotty. My arm was shaking so much I could barely keep it on him.
 
“We’re leaving,” I said.
 
As we ran out into the desert, the Yuls were firing at us from the windows. One of them hit me in the leg. Peoria dragged me into a nearby barn. We rested for a minute. I could hear Scotty yelling. We crawled out a window in the back of the barn and hid in a wagon under a tarp.

Chapter 25 (shooting horses)

I woke up to the sound of screaming in the distance. I looked over to see Peoria sleeping next to me. I lifted up a corner of the tarp just in time to see the last glimpse of the sun before it sank below the horizon. I gently shook Peoria by the shoulder to wake her up. She sat up slowly, sleepily, trying to remember where she was. When she heard the screaming, she looked at me with terrified eyes.

“You look awful,” she said.

“I don’t feel very good,” I told her. “We need to find the others,”

One by on we climbed down out of the wagon. My leg throbbed. I could feel every heart beat like a thunder bolt through my body. The pain made me nauseous and I feared I would be sick. My leg was so stiff I couldn’t bend it. I was able to stand, but immediately fell over when I attempted to walk. Peoria helped me get back on my feet. I put my arm around her shoulder and we slowly made our way back to Los Olvidados. I caught a glimpse of myself in the side mirror of a pick-up truck. I’d lost all color in my face. I looked like death it self.

As we neared the center of town the screaming became louder, angrier, like a cloud of drunken aggression. One voice was the loudest, yelling over and over again “Johnston Lewis! Bring me Johnston Lewis!” I immediately recognized the voice to belong to Scotty.

When we reached Zacatecas Cathedral, Peoria leaned me up against the wall and the two of us peered around the corner to see what was happening. Scotty and the rest of the Yuls were in front of Los Olvidados turning over wagons and setting them on fire. They were firing their guns into the air and describing at the top of their lungs the gruesome atrocities they planned to do to us once they found us.

A young boy rode up with a wagon full of lumber. One of the Yuls shot the horse in the head, while the other pulled the boy down and slung him to the ground. They kicked the wagon over and dosed it with tequila and whiskey, before setting it on fire like the rest.

Peoria put her hands to her mouth as tears rolled down her cheeks. I handed her the gun and slumped down against the wall. She sat down next to me and grabbed my hand. My head became heavy. I could barely keep my eyes open.

I woke up to a sharp searing pain in my leg. I tried to sit up but a hand calmly pushed me back down. An old man was standing over me with a knife and a bloody rag.

“Tranquilo,” he said. “Estoy intentando salir la bala de su pierna,”

He handed me a bottle of mescal and continued to work on my leg. I was lying on a small bed in a dark windowless room. Peoria was sitting at a desk in front of me.

“This is Rafael. He found us sleeping against the wall. He helped me carry you inside.”

“Where are we?” I asked.

“In the cathedral, down in the basement.”

“Oh.”

Chapter 26 (John Flowers)

“…y en diecinueve catorce Pancho Villa derrotó los federales en El Toma de Zacatecas.”

Peoria and Rafael were standing at the other side of the room, reading from one of a dozen spiral bound notebooks piled up on a chair. I looked up at them through hazy, half awake eyes.

“What are you reading?” I asked.

“Police reports. Rafael has friends in the Federale,” said Peoria.

She walked over to the bed and handed me a water stained spiral notebook that was folded open. She pointed to a section on the page that had been circled furiously in red.

“There are records here that go back a hundred years.”

I stared blankly at the page. My Spanish had gotten weak since my mother passed away. I tried to make sense of the words in front of me.

(translated from Spanish into English)

February 6th, 1951: John Flowers, 38, from Detroit Michigan, arrives in Zacatecas. He rents a room at Meson de Jobito and is seen drinking at Los Olvidados.

February 12th, 1951: John Flowers meets Rafael Ortiz, 27, grandson of Ricardo Ortiz, 88, one time leader of the Chichimera.

February 16th, 1951:Rafael Ortiz and John Flowers are seen regularly together at Los Olvidados.

March 2nd, 1951: John Flowers and Rafael Ortiz are thrown in jail for breaking into Zacatecas Cathedral after regular church hours. Ortiz gives this statement:

“I only wanted to visit my grandfather. I did not realize how late it was.”

(Rafael Ortiz’s grandfather, Ricardo, who retired from the Chichimera in 1929, works as the groundskeeper of Zacatecas Cathedral. He also curates the cathedral’s collection of antiques.)

March 3rd, 1951: John Flowers and Rafael Ortiz are released from Zacatecas county jail.

March 5th, 1951: Ricardo Ortiz is found dead in his room in the basement of Zacatecas Cathedral. Rafael Ortiz is found badly beaten.

March 6th, 1951: Rafael Ortiz gives authorities this statement from his hospital bed:

“John Flowers had been to Zacatecas Cathedral several times and was fascinated with my grandfather’s collection of antiques. He was particularly fond of a small metal fish, an item that had been passed down through my family. Flowers offered to buy it for 5,000 pesos, but my grandfather refused to sell it. Flowers said he would give me the money if I helped him steal the fish. His plan was to take it back to Detroit with him and donate it to a museum.

Last night we broke into the back of the cathedral using a crowbar. Our plan was to steal the fish. When my grandfather woke up, he tried to stop us. Flowers hit him over the head with the crowbar until he stopped moving. Then he attacked me.”

March 8th, 1951: John Flowers is seen crossing the desert on a stole horse. It is believed he is headed to the town of Saltillo.

When I finished reading, Rafael walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.

“It is my greatest regret,” he said in broken English. “I was young…stupid. I will never forgive myself.”

John Flowers, where had I seen that name before? I paced back and forth across the room with my eyes. Then it hit me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out me wallet. I took out my mother’s parchment and opened it carefully. At the bottom of the page on the right hand side was a list of names. The second to last name was John Flowers.

“Peoria! Come and look at this,” I said.

I pointed to the list of names on the parchment.

“What is this?” she said. “Where did you get it?”

“It’s this thing I have..My mother gave it to me.”

I hesitated telling her the full story behind how I got it.

“I have seen this before,” said Rafael, “It was once with my grandfather’s fish.”

Peoria turned to me.

“Lewis why have you not told us you have this?” she asked angrily.

“I, I don’t…” I stopped myself, trying to decide what to say. “ I don’t know why I never told you. I don’t know what this means.”

THE KOI OF HUNGWA