3. El Cazador (The Hunter)

Rolly walked along the road towards the truck. As he drew close, the driver’s side window slid down, revealing a man wearing a camouflage shirt, baseball cap, and reflective sunglasses.

“You can’t read signs or something?” the man said.

“Just picking up some trash,” Rolly said, tapping his pockets. “I hate litterbugs.”

“I guess that makes it okay to break the law?”

“Are you a ranger?” asked Rolly. The truck was fully rigged for off-roading, with jacked-up shocks and big tires, a crossbeam of racked headlights over the cabin, and some sort of winch or tow structure in back. No government seal adorned the exterior.

“No, I ain’t the ranger.” the man said. “I’m a private citizen,
trying to make a difference down here.”

“You’re an avian enthusiast?”

“An A-V what?”

“A birdwatcher.”

The man laughed.

“I don’t know shit about any birds. I’m hunting for Mexicans.”

“You’re with the border patrol?”

“Do I look like BP?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I’m not.”

“I’m not Mexican, either.”

“No. I guess you’re not. There’s a fine, you know, for being out there, in the bird area.”

“You’re not the ranger.”

“No.”

“I guess we’re done then,” said Rolly, turning to leave.

“If that’s your Volvo station wagon in the parking lot, I got the license plate,” the man said. “I can call the parks people, tell ‘em you was out there.”

Rolly sighed and turned back to the driver.

“What do you want?”

“I wanna know what you’re up to. And don’t give me that litterbug shit. Nobody crosses the chains just to pick up trash.”

“A friend of mine called me this morning. He asked me to come down here.”

“What for?”

“I’m an investigator.”

“What kind of investigator?”

“Here, I’ve got a card,” Rolly sighed. He pulled a business card out of his wallet, handed it over.

“Rolly Waters,” the man said, reading the card. “Private Investigator.”

“That’s me.”

“The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dick. What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a joke,” Rolly said. “I play guitar in a band.” He regretted letting Moogus talk him into adding the tagline to his card. There were four hundred more cards in a box at home, so he’d have to live with it for a while.

“Real cute,” said the truck driver. “So what’re you investigay-tun, Mr. Dick?”

“Somebody drove through the least tern nesting area last night. That’s why I was out there. There’s some tire tracks, big ruts all over the place. Looks like some birds got killed.”

“This friend, he’s your client or something?”

“Yes.”

“What’s his name?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“You gotta protect his confidentials, huh?”

“Confidentiality.”

“Yeah. This friend of yours, he’s paying you to investigate?”

“He was very upset.”

“About the birds?”

“He likes birds.”

“Sounds kinda gay.”

“Can I go now?”

“Depends. Can you tell me anything about the tire tracks?”

“Like what?”

“What kind of treads? Cross-country or street?”

“I don’t know much about tires. I took some pictures.”

“Can I see ‘em?”

“Why?”

“Well, Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll Dick, you said you didn’t know anything about tires. I do. Maybe I can help you out.”

Rolly pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, scrolled through his photos until he found one of the tire tracks, flipped the phone around to show it to his interrogator.

“Regular treads,” said the driver, studying the photo. “Pretty skinny, too, two-hundreds I’d guess.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means they weren’t driving some jacked up sand-crawler like mine. Some underpowered putt-putt, or maybe a sedan. That’s what I’d guess.”

He handed the phone back to Rolly.

That help?”

“It might. Thanks.”

A radio squawked from inside the truck cab.

“Breaker three-ninety. Checking in. Smuggler’s Canyon.”

“Roger three-ninety,” came the reply. The truck driver punched a button on the radio. It went silent.

“Who’s that?” Rolly asked.

“Border Patrol.”

“You can listen to them?”

“Sure, if you got short-wave.”

“Don’t the bad guys listen in, too?”

“The frequency’s scrambled. You gotta have the code.”

“So how’d you get it?”

“I got friends.”

“Doesn’t exactly sound legal.”

“He said it was cool.”

“He’s with the Border Patrol?”

“Nobody’s gonna give me a hard time for just listening in. I’m not making calls on the thing. It just lets me know how they’re situated so I can fill in the dead spots, stay out of their way.”

“You weren’t out here last night, by any chance, were you?”

“Those aren’t my tire tracks, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Yeah, that’s what you told me,” said Rolly. “What’d you say your name was?”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t tell you before.”

“No. You didn’t.”

“People call me Nuge.”

“You mean The Nuge, like Ted Nugent?”

“No, it’s just Nuge.”

“Cat Scratch Fever? The Motor City Madman?”

“Hey, you’re the rock ‘n’ roll dick. I’m Nuge. You got a problem with it?”

“What are you doing out here?”

“Just hanging out.”

“You said something about hunting Mexicans.”

“Did I?”

“You meant illegals, right?”

The man nodded.

“That’s right,” he said.

“Isn’t that the border patrol’s job?”

“We’re here to help.”

Who’s we?”

“A – F – A,” the man said. He pointed at the cap on his head, with the letters embroidered in red, white and blue over a black silhouette of the lower forty-eight.

What’s that stand for?”

“Americans for America,” the man said. He grinned. “Mom, Guns,
and Apple Pie.”

“Do you carry a gun?”

Nuge stared Rolly in the eye.

“You tell me first.”

“What?”

“Are you carrying?”

“I might be.”

“What kind of gun?”

“It’s a Glock.”

“What caliber?”

“Um, forty-four.”

“Glock only sells forty-fives.”

“That’s what I meant.”

“You’re one lame-ass liar,” said Nuge.

“Yeah, I used to be a lot better,” Rolly said. He smiled, trying to defuse the situation. Nuge chuckled.

“You ain’t much of a detective, if you ask me.”

Rolly shrugged.

“Yeah, well, I don’t have my gun either,” said Nuge. “Not with me. Some fag-ass judge said we couldn’t have ‘em if we wanted to be down here.”

“I think I heard something about that,” said Rolly, recalling Max’s lawsuit.

“Said it created a toxic situation. Typical liberal bullshit. We only had ‘em with us for defense. Anyway, that’s how I got the paintball idea.”

“What’s that?”

“Got my gear in the back,” Nuge said, nodding his head towards the back of the truck. Rolly looked in the truck bed. Two paintball guns lay in the back of the truck, along with a visored helmet and two cardboard boxes marked ‘Paintballs – 1000ct.’

“What do you do with those?” Rolly asked.

“Shoot Mexicans. To mark ‘em.”

“You sure that’s legal?”

“The judge said we couldn’t carry real guns. So we use paint guns. Until he says otherwise. It’s not lethal force. I checked with our lawyer.”

“Doesn’t it hurt, when you shoot somebody?”

“Kinda stings, if you hit ‘em right, but there’s no permanent damage. Mostly, it makes them easy to pick up. We only shoot the ones that try to get away.”

“Oh.”

“I mean it’s kinda hard not to be noticed when you’re walking around with big splats of red, white and blue paint all over you. It most definitely leaves a stain.”

“Yeah, I guess it would,” said Rolly. “What about drug smugglers?”

“What about ‘em?”

“I figure there must be some down here.”

“You looking to score some dope, Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll?”

“No,” Rolly said, rolling his eyes. “I was just wondering how you’d deal with someone like that. Last I heard, those guys carry real guns.”

“We could take ‘em,” the man said. “There’s ways to do it. The drug guys don’t mess around here much, anyway, not anymore. They just bribe people, put stuff on a plane or a boat, hide it inside a big rig. They like to bring the stuff in at peak hours, hide out in a crowd and hope it gets missed.”

“Low signal to noise.”

“Hmm?”

“Nothing. It’s not important.”

Rolly looked over the items in the truck bed again, noticed a child’s lunchbox with the words “Family Act” written in cursive pink letters, with sparkling gold stars around them.

“You got kids?” he asked Nuge.

“Huh?”

“I thought that might be your kid’s lunchbox back there, with the guns.”

Nuge gave Rolly a funny look.

“What’s it to you?”

“Nothing. Just making conversation.”

“Fuck you. What else did you find out there?”

“In the bird preserve?”

“Yeah, in the bird preserve, butthead.”

“I just took some pictures. Like I showed you. The tire tracks. And some dead birds.”

“I saw you pick something up.”

“Just some trash. Like I said earlier.”

“Don’t fuck with me. It was some kind of evidence.”

“Maybe.”

“So what was it?”

“I just had a thought.”

“Pretty exciting for you, huh?”

“Maybe one of your AFA buddies was out here last night.”

“Oh yeah?”

“That’s why you’re giving me a hard time. Maybe it wasn’t you, but maybe you want to protect your buddies, make sure that judge doesn’t find out about this.”

“Why would I help you out with those tread marks if I thought that?”

“Were any of your buddies out here last night?”

“No.”

“How do you know? Is there a schedule or something?”

“No.”

“People just show up when they feel like it?”

“No. I mean, sure, there’s a schedule. But I only know about my own hours, man.”

“Who keeps track of the schedule?”

“It’s on a website.”

“How do I get to this website?”

“You gotta have a password to get in.”

“How about a phone number? Is there somebody I can call?”

“None of our guys is gonna be out here with treads like that.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t have to talk to you. You aren’t a cop.”

“No. Neither are you.”

“Fuck off.”

“That’s helpful.”

“I’m out of here. Good luck with your freaking birds.”

Nuge put his truck into gear, hit the gas and took off. Rolly caught the spray of damp sand kicked up by the slipping rear tires.

“Good luck hunting Mexicans, shithead,” he muttered, wiping himself off as the truck pulled away. He turned and walked back to his car, half-expecting Nuge to spin a u-turn and try to run him down. He made it to theparking lot, and his old Volvo wagon, without incident. He opened the door of the Volvo and climbed in, pulled the CD out of his pocket, looked at the woman on the cover again. She had long red hair, like a billowing fire. A trace of desert wind, the Santa Ana, drifted over his face like hot dog’s breath. He licked his lips. They felt dry and ready to crack.

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