Ningún Santuario Pt. 3
Rolling up I-25 in the passenger seat of Grace’s red Charger, I alternated between conversing idly with my chauffeur and leaning my head out the window like an ecstatic dog out for a ride, letting the hot desert wind whip my hair into a knotted mess.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take sheep shears to your coif when we get home,” Grace chuckled.
“How far to Santa Fe?”
“About 20 more miles or so.”
I marveled at the vast cactus-pocked vistas all around us, thinking it quite odd that the relatively short distance between the two major cities of New Mexico was so utterly barren aside from one or two roadside casinos that seemed to rise from the sand like alien mechanoids flashing messages touting their award-winning slots and “world-famous” buffets. Majestic mountains rose to the north, just beyond our destination.
Our plan for Santa Fe was to explore the art galleries, museums and historic churches that punctuated the cobblestone streets of the historic district. However, Grace’s first stop was a Blakes Lotaburger restaurant on Cerillos Road just off the interstate.
“None of these in Jersey,” Grace said as we exited the car. “You’re in for a treat. Just don’t look baffled when you’re asked the inevitable New Mexican question, ‘Red or green?’ They mean chili. And if you truly want to establish yourself as a local, I’d suggest you request green.”
The day was pleasant enough to have shaken the disquiet I had been feeling since the moment I started my trip one week ago. Grace and I were the same old childhood friends we had been back east and our style of good-natured insults and sarcasm had clearly withstood the test of time and distance. After entering our third gallery devoted to southwestern artists, we wondered aloud how many more takes on a fucking Kokopelli could possibly be imagined.
“Warhol might have made it interesting,” Grace joked. “Maybe a quartet of identical but different colored Kokopellis sucking a cock.”
We stopped at Loretto Chapel next, located at an intersection whose 4 corners were each occupied by a Catholic church.
“Is this the entire Diocese of Santa Fe or did we somehow arrive at Vatican City?” I asked.
“Shut up, Heathen,” Grace joked. “This one’s pretty cool.”
The chapel was small and of Gothic construction; the centerpiece being a wooden spiral staircase rising three stories to the top of the building. Placards placed throughout the lobby, informational pamphlets, and a nun who greeted us at the entrance all informed us that what made the staircase worthy of the epithet “miraculous” was the fact that its construction utilized no nails, glue, screws or any other fastening implements. They all went on to attest to the fact that it had been built by an anonymous carpenter that the devoted have no doubt was sent by God. While my mind naturally went on the defensive and devised any number of structurally-sound explanations for the construction of the staircase, I was still sufficiently amused at being among the largest throng of unquestioning Catholics since my Sunday school days.
Our last stop in Santa Fe was a trendy jazz bar on Don Gaspar Avenue. A few cold beers downed to the blaring tunes of a live honky-tonk band and we were ready to call it a day.
I caught a quick nap on the drive back to Albuquerque. In the morning, I’d need to find a place to live.
The old man sat behind the wheel of his pick-up truck taking occasional pulls at the 16 oz. bottle of Tecate resting between his legs. It was well past midnight, but the full moon afforded him occasional glimpses of his quarry circumnavigating the shack across the road. He watched as the man entered the structure and reemerged with a large machete. Instinctively, the old man’s hand grasped the .22 pistol on the passenger seat. From his position parked in the swale, he could just make out the silhouette of the man he called “La Abominación” sharpening the machete blade on a strop of wizened leather hanging from a metal pole protruding from a concrete base behind the structure.
La Abominación went back inside and after waiting a few minutes more, the old man grabbed his pistol and exited the vehicle. He crossed the road and stepped carefully around the assortment of trash, rusted tools and defunct appliances until he finally reached the sheet of corrugated scrap iron that served as the front door. He lifted his leg and kicked in the door, brandishing his gun at the startled vagabond.
“Vaya con Dios, que esqueroso bastardo!”
Stumbling backwards, the man grabbed his machete from a hook on the wall, regained his balance and charged at the intruder. The old man easily sidestepped the attack and fired three shots into his victim’s back. La Abominación fell to the floor with a sickening thud. Grabbing the motionless body by the fist, the old man turned him over onto his back and smiled sardonically at the look of abject fear now frozen onto the face of his prey. From his breast pocket, he pulled out a Te-Amo cigar, bit off the end and spit it at the body on the floor. He lit the cigar, drew in a mouthful of smoke and exhaled with an air of satisfaction.
“Arder en el Infierno, Retrasado.”