New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample chapter from A Death in Mexico by Jonathan Woods

Chapter 1

A winter mist like the haze that draws over the eyes of a corpse shrouded the Jardin Principal of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, high in the rugged Sierra Madres. As if decapitated, the stone façade of the main cathedral La Parroquia disappeared abruptly into thickening fog. In the dim light of a street lamp, the black arms of a cast iron bench glistened with moisture.

A bell rang two a.m.

Two revelers, supporting each other, stumbled up the steps on the north side of the jardin. At the top they swayed back and forth like dancers.

A black shawl fringed with glass beads covered the woman’s bare shoulders. Jet hair, cut in an expensive, modern style, hung like a drawn curtain. The rhinestones on the bodice of her strapless dress shimmered even in the half-light. The man, dapper in a dark suit, stood noticeably shorter than her. When she leaned into him, he cupped his hand over her breast. She pushed him violently away.

“Get your hands off me, you shit.”

“Oh, come on, give us a feel, baby. You know I love you.”

“You’re drunk. And I’m dog-tired. I want to go to bed and sleep for about three days. But not with you.”

She turned and set off across the plaza, her high heels click-clicking on the stonework like a set of nervous false teeth, the drizzle washing her face.

Disoriented, the man stumbled backwards to the edge of the jardin. An unprotected parapet offered a two-meter drop-off to the street. He tottered on the edge for a dicey moment or two. A simple misstep and he would have pitched headfirst, his skull cracking on the pavement below. Sayonara.

Somehow he avoided disaster.

“Wait,” he shouted at the disappearing figure of the woman. “You nearly killed me, you crazy puta.”

He stumbled after her.

In the hush of the fog, his steps were amplified into drumbeats, marking his lurching progress. Ahead of him the woman passed under a streetlamp. A shiver ran through her body. Was it fear? Anger? Loathing? Or just the chill of the night?

The spike heel of one sandal caught in a crack between two stone slabs. When she tried to jerk free, the sandal’s strap broke. With a cry she pitched forward onto her hands and knees. The gritty surface of the stones lacerated her knees and palms. Pain spiked into her brain. She momentarily blacked out.

As the man came up to her, she shook her head from side to side to dispel the pain.

“Jesus, Consuela. Are you okay?”

“Of course I’m not okay.”

The man helped her stand. A dark dribble of blood inched down the front of her leg.

“You’re bleeding.”

“No shit, Leo.”

Consuela leaned down and removed the other sandal, then threw the pair as far as she could into the darkness. Barefoot, limping, she moved on across the plaza. Leo took her arm.

They traversed the jardin from the northwest quadrant to the southeast, detouring around the cupolated shelter where a brass band played on summer evenings. Dark porticos like hunched laborers loomed ahead on the eastern edge of the zocalo. A drizzle began to fall again.

Two feral cats hissed at the approaching couple. Reluctantly the cats withdrew beneath some bushes.

“What’s that?” asked Leo.

“What?” Consuela’s voice was querulous.

“Over there.” He gestured at a dark shape on the ground. “What those damn cats were so interested in.”

“It’s a bag of garbage someone threw away. Come on, Leo. I want to get back to the hotel before daylight.”

But Leo wouldn’t move on. Letting go of Consuela, he took several steps along a side path toward the bag of trash.

“Leo. Please. Can’t we just go?” Her words were a prayer.

“It’s a person.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. It must be an Indian drunk on pulque. Don’t get too close. You’ll catch a dose of fleas. Or worse.”

He bent down.

“Leo. I’m sure he has the plague.”

But she came up behind him, fascinated by this little mystery in the dark and silent night. Leaning over his shoulder, looking down at the curved shape stretched on the pavement and hidden under some dark covering.

“It’s a woman,” said Leo.

He went down on one knee and struck a wooden match. In the flare, the edge of a black peasant dress embroidered with orange and blue flowers protruded from beneath a rough, hand-woven gray blanket. Below the hem appeared two small bare female feet.

“Is she dead?” asked Consuela. “I’ve never seen a dead person, except my grandmother in her coffin.”

Leo reached toward the edge of the blanket. Consuela put a hand on his shoulder. Her fingers gripped the cloth, and the flesh beneath, as Leo threw back the blanket.

The body of a young woman lay exposed on the damp ground. Heaps of blond hair shimmered. A delicate gold chain around her neck led to a gold crucifix lying on the stone pavement like the carapace of an exotic insect. The front of the woman’s dress had been torn asunder, the buttons violently stripped away, to expose her flesh like an obscenity.

The match guttered. Leo struck another.

Her prominent cheekbones were those of a starlet. Twin rows of small, white teeth grimaced between bruised lips. Leo and Consuela absorbed each of these particulars. But one detail overshadowed all the others. Her eyes were empty sockets rimmed with dried blood. A nightmare remembered upon waking.

Leo’s face went as slack as a punctured tire. Behind him Consuela wouldn’t stop screaming.

When Leo grew tired of her high-pitched ululations, he drew back his fist and struck Consuela in the nose. Stunned by the sudden pain, she swallowed her scream, choking on the blood gushing from her nostrils. Tears like glistening drops of glass clung to the corners of her eyes.