The Orphan by Billy Kring

Felix Olivares, called The Orphan, guided the flat-bottomed boat loaded with men and backpacks of meth across the Rio Grande.

Ramón asked him, “Why they call you the Orphan?”

“My mother abandoned me when I was four.”

“It happens. You did all right, looks like.”

“You call eating garbage from trash cans, stealing food from dogs all right?”

“You ever see your mother again?”

“Once. She had a little girl with her. They got in a car and drove across the bridge to Texas.”

“She see you?”

“I didn’t let her. I don’t think about her now,” he pointed at the kilos, “just making money.”

Ramón said, “Which ranch we crossin’?”

“One I used before. Last time there was some trouble.”

“From the rancher?”

“Nah, he’s old, half crippled. He used to come to Nuevo Laredo and would always pat my head, give me a dollar. I guess he liked me. After I started smuggling drugs, I didn’t see him again.”

“He didn’t cause the trouble?”

“What it was,” Felix said, “We crossed our load and there was a girl. She’d come to the river to swim, and was on the bank, dozing. We didn’t notice her until we walked right up on her lying naked on a beach towel. She was fine, maybe sixteen, and built like she was twenty but with that young girl face.”

“Did she run?”

“Didn’t get the chance.”

Ramón grinned.

“Anyhow, the boys got excited, and it wasn’t long before we all had some of her. It was a good thing there were six of us so we could hold her down. She kept fighting and screaming until I got tired of it.”

“What did you do?”

Felix drew his finger across his throat. “Then we took the load through. Been about a year since it happened.” He scratched the beard stubble on his chin with a fingernail and said, “Funny thing, when we crossed through the brush, I saw the ranch house on the ridge and someone watching us through binoculars. I figured it was the old man.”

“He saw you?”

“Hell, I posed for him, yelled for him to get a good look. Anyway, we made the delivery, got a lot of money, too. We’ll make more with this one.”

They reached the riverbank and put on their backpacks, scrambling up the mud to follow Felix through the sage and mesquite. One of the men hissed when he stumbled into prickly pear, and Felix told him to be quiet, be a man.

When they reached the county road, Felix saw the van parked on the shoulder, the engine idling and the back doors open. They crossed the fence and hurried to the van where the men tossed their backpacks in the rear. Felix said, “Go back, I’ll bring your money tomorrow.” They vanished and Felix slid into the back of the van. He looked through the heavy wire mesh separating the rear from the cab section, but there was no driver.

A shadow approached from the roadside and closed the doors. Felix heard a click. He tried the inside handles, but they were locked.

A walking cane tapped on the front window, “Felix.”

Felix recognized the cane, “Let me out, you old bastard!”

“You’ll die in the van tonight. I’ll bury you beside your sister. That was your mother’s last wish.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Let me out!” The smell of exhaust fumes filled the van.

“Remember your sister?”

It was hard to breathe. Felix thought that if he sounded reasonable, the old man would open the doors, “From when she was little. I haven’t seen her in years.”

“You’ve seen her since then.”

The fumes were so thick, making it hard to breath, to see, and Felix felt drowsy. He slurred, “You’re crazy.”

“At the river.”

“That one?”

“Your half-sister. My wife told me about you in the suicide note.”

“Liar,” Felix mumbled, barely conscious.

“Your mother killed herself over what you did.”

Felix didn’t talk, and hazy dreams came, something about what the old man said, something about being with his family. Felix’s last thought made him smile; he wouldn’t be an orphan any more.

Jolie Blon by Billy Kring

Henri Arceneaux said, “Member what I teach you, you.” He straddled the body in the bottom of the pirogue, making the small, green boat bob like a cork, “We want dem to stay down, so we gots to tickle dem diaphragm.” He was seventy years old and shirtless, his chest and stomach marked with old scars from knife and bullet. He looked hard, like he was made of gristle and bone. He motioned at me with a finger, “Take off dat shirt, it’s too hot dis morning.”

“The mosquitoes like me too much. I’ll leave it on.”

 Henri shrugged and drew the big knife from his belt sheath, the blade every man in St. Landry Parish respectfully called Jolie Blon, and cut open the man’s shirt. The Kabar’s blade sliced through the cloth like a scalpel.

Achille Dupre’s tattooed chest and stomach looked deflated in death.  Henri said, “Want to get de feel of it?” He held the knife out to me, hilt first. The thin, honed edge glowed like a sliver of white ice.

 “Go ahead. I’ll watch.” I saw something flicker in his eyes. Maybe disappointment, maybe not. He touched Dupre’s chest an inch below the juncture of the breastbone, right on the forehead of the Jesus tattoo.  “Put her in here, angled like you want her to come out between dem shoulder blades.” He showed me by holding the knife at the proper angle. “Work de handle to cut back, then left and right.  Make like a cross in dat diaphragm, and no gas can trap. Dat’s bein’ professional at what you do, you.”

He punched the blade into the tattoo and it made a wet sound, then he flexed his wrist in different directions and pulled out the knife, widening the hole in the skin with the blade. “If dey’s floaters, you leave an opening to put in rocks, hold him down for de first few days.  After dat, you don’ worry, you.”

“They’ll float even with the diaphragm cut?”

“You ever see somebody swimmin’, floatin’ like dey’s an air mattress, an’ somebody beside dem sinks every time dey try?” I nodded.  “Dis one‘s a floater.” He grinned, “I’m not a floater, me.”

“How can you tell?”

“Dis I been doin’ for forty years.” Henri slipped five, fist-sized rocks into the body and hooked his hands under Dupre’s armpits as I grabbed his ankles. We tossed him into the Atchafalaya, making the flat-bottomed boat rock.  It was as if Achille Dupre never existed.  Henri washed the knife and his hands in the dark water, saying, “Still got time for dem fresh beignets. Start the motor, you.”

***

Two days later, we were at the same location. Henri studied the water, “He stayin’ down, dat’s good.  You always check, you.” He stood in the boat with his back to me and slipped off his shirt, “Hoo-wee, it’s so damn hot dis year.”

I stood and drew the pistol from under the back of my western snap-button shirt. When he turned, his eyes narrowed.

“What’s my name,” I said. Henri looked as wary as a wolf. He didn’t answer. “What’s my name?”

He was angry, but cautious, looking for an opening. “Teddy Beaupre.”

“Who was my daddy?”

He couldn’t figure out where I was going, but playing along gave him time. “Bobby Beaupre. He die in de big twenty year ago storm.”

“Yeah, he did. And we moved away, came back three years ago.”

“So?”

“Did you know my momma remarried two years after daddy died?”

“How de hell I know dat?” He eased his hand an inch closer to the knife.

“My step-daddy was a good man. I loved him.” I ripped open my shirt. “We even got matching tattoos.”

“You got de Jesus, you.”  He glanced at the water where we tossed Achille Dupre. Henri’s shoulders sagged, and he looked old.

He said, “Member what I taught you, you?” I nodded. Henri grabbed for the knife and I shot him.

 I motored home in the pirogue, and on my hip was Jolie Blon.