A Lost Cowboy - app 4,770 words 'The only good Indian is a dred Indian,' said Looselips. 'Couldn't agree with you more,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Any Indian with clipped-short, slicked-down, neatly-parted hair should be sent back to Bombay. Or Jamaica or Belize or Trinidad. Or wherever Indians come from these days.' Looselips, Fallen from Grace, and Johnny Come Lately sat on their bikes at the top of a rise overlooking Mr. Stevens' vacant lot. It was vacant because Mr. Stevens' store had burnt down two years before. Mr. Stevens was unable to rebuild because he was in prison for arson and insurance fraud. The rise the boys were on was built up from two years of neighbourhood garbage piled in one corner of the lot and now compacted by rain and rats and showing definite signs of turning into vitamin-rich topsoil Looselips, Fallen from Grace, and Johnny Come Lately were staring down at the new kid in town who had yet to earn a name for himself. 'Let's call him New Kid in Town,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'Nah,' said Looselips. 'People will get you two confused.' 'And you're confused enough already all by yourself,' said Fallen from Grace. Looselips had pale skin, brown freckles, red hair, and a pug nose. His original name with the group was I Know I Don't Look Jewish. His habit of opening his mouth when he should shut up had caused the name change. Also, I Know I Don't Look Jewish was just too much to say and sounded strange when shouted across a playground by someone like Fallen from Grace. Fallen from Grace had dark skin and a mild Afro that would have been in style 30 years earlier. He got his name when he was put out of Second Avenue AME Church for getting to know the Pastor's daughter better than he should have. He had been put out of the choir before that when his voice started to change. Johnny Come Lately was small for 14, pale skinned, with black straight hair. Johnny was illegal. His family was illegal. Most of the people in his neighbourhood were illegal. They kept a low profile, worked hard, lived quiet lives, and waited in fear for the knock on the door. 'Well,' said Looselips, 'he looks peaceful enough.' 'So we'll call him Gandhi. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.' Said Fallen from Grace. 'Say what?' said Looselips. 'You know. Gandhi. The fellow in India. Preached peace. Non-violence. All that. Way back in olden days. We read about him in ancient history.' 'You read about him. I was sick that day. Or if I wasn't I should've been. How do you remember stuff like that?' 'We don't need the full Indian name, do we?' said Johnny Come Lately. 'What about just Gandhi. Or M.K. Gandhi. Or we could just call him M.K.,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Sounds good to me,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'Has my vote,' said Looselips. 'Then M.K. it is,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Let's go tell him his new name,' said Johnny Come Lately. The three collectively called themselves Los Tres Vaqueros. That had been Johnny Come Lately's idea. Looselips, aka Tony Feldman, and Fallen from Grace, aka William T. Smith (and the T you shouldn't ask about) had been bitter rivals for eight years in school, each trying to outdo the other for the highest grades. Then came ninth grade and a new contender, Johnny Come Lately, aka Juan Carlos Herredia. He was registered in school as John Harris with a fake Mississippi birth certificate. There was a small community of Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans on the edge of town. They did a lot of the work no one else wanted to do so mostly they were let alone. The Hispanic community, with a few exceptions, looked on a few kids like Johnny as their bright hope for the future, kids smart and eager to learn, good kids, not troublemakers. But many in the wider community feared them, feared their bright minds and their willingness to work. Most of all many in the wider community feared the bright Hispanic kids, bright Indian kids, bright Chinese kids, because they were different. People don't like people who are different. People are afraid of people who are different, and the fear turns to meanness. When Johnny first came to school there were a few fistfights with the other two and a lot of name calling that resolved itself first into a respectful hostility and then into a firm friendship. The three rivals became Los Tres Vaqueros. Los Tres Vaqueros mounted up and rode off across the vacant lot toward a boy who had just walked into the sunlight from the shadow of the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse half a block away. 'Yo ho, say hey, who I see but M.K.,' sang out resident poet Johnny Come Lately. The boy stopped and watched as Los Tres Vaqueros rode up on their bikes. 'How did you know my name?' said the boy. 'Huh?' said Looselips. 'We just gave you that name,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Is it really your name?' said Johnny Come Lately. 'Well, it's my initials,' said the boy. 'My name is Mohan Karam Ramcharan. My friends call me M.K. Who are you?' 'Los Tres Vaqueros,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'It means...' 'The Three Cowboys,' said the boy. 'So if I get my brothers together, we can play cowboys and Indians.' 'Aw, we're too old for that,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Besides, you're the wrong kind of Indian.' 'I'm a real Indian,' said M.K. 'And anyway, all the cowboys in the old movies I see one on tv are white so I cheer for the Indians. The other kind of Indians'. 'I saw you at school today,' said Looselips. 'You just moved here, didn't you?' 'Yeah. Last week. From Belize City. Bet you don't know where Belize is.' 'Somewhere in Africa,' said Looselips. 'Wrong,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'It's in Central America, squeezed in next to Guatemala. I have relatives there.' 'So if you're from Central America, how come you don't speak Spanish?' said Looselips. 'I do,' said M.K. 'It's my third language. Or fourth. We speak Hindi at home, and in Belize I had to speak English in School. On the street me and my friends used Creole. But a lot of Spanish speaking people came to our shop so my parents made me learn Spanish.' 'Are you, ah, I mean, you and your family, uh, how did you get in?' said Johnny Come Lately. 'Get in what?' said M.K. 'The country. You know. How did you get in the country?' 'Johnny's a wetback,' said Looselips. Johnny Come Lately blushed and hit Looselips hard on the arm. 'That's not a good word,' said Fallen from Grace. 'It's offensive. It's like, you know, what old man Spencer calls me when he thinks I can't hear.' 'Sorry,' said Looselips. 'S'okay,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'So, M.K., how did you get in?' 'Green cards,' said M.K. 'My father applied at the U.S. Embassy. There was all kinds of paperwork I never understood, but here we are, nice and legal.' 'Oh. That's great,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'You don't look like you think it's so great,' said Fallen from Grace. 'We were talking about your hair,' said Looselips. 'Shut-up,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'What about my hair?' said M.K. 'I said the only good Indian is a dred Indian,' said Looselips. 'Get it? Dred Indian? Dredlocks? I mean, you know, your hair, it's like, super neat.' 'Why would I wear dreds,' said M.K. 'I'm not Rastafarian.' 'So what are you?' said Fallen from Grace. 'Hindu,' said M.K. 'Weird,' said Looselips. 'Not to another Hindu,' said M.K. 'So what's with the name?' said Fallen from Grace. 'You related to Gandhi or something?' Not related, but my great-grandfather was one of his followers. Since then there's been an M.K. in every generation.' 'You play soccer?' said Johnny. 'You mean football?' said M.K. 'Real football?' 'Yes.' 'Love it. You guys on a team?' 'We are the team,' said Fallen from Grace. 'I'm the sweeper, Johnny's the keeper, and Looselips is our number one mid fielder. There are eight other guys who give us support, and we need them, the coach keeps telling us, but we three do most of the work. Were you on a team?' 'Sort of. It wasn't much of a team. I was keeper.' 'Now wait,' said Johnny. 'That's been my spot since I moved here. Coach says I'm the best U-17 keeper he's ever seen. They'll have to put me in jail before I give it up.' 'Don't worry,' said M.K. 'I can play wherever the coach puts me, if he wants me.' 'I have a motion to put before this honourable house,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Say it. I think I'm already ready to ay, if your motion is what I think it is,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'I move we officially welcome Mohan Karam Ramcharan as an official member with the official title of M.K.' 'Second the motion,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'All in favour say ay,' said Fallen from Grace. 'Ay.' 'I think the ays have it. Welcome M.K.' 'We'll have to change our name,' said Johnny Come Lately. 'Now we are four, so we'll have to call ourselves Los Quatro Vaqueros.' The sun was setting and the shadow of the Confederate monument had reached out toward the boys as they talked. Now it was touching Johnny Come Lately's feet. 'Thanks for the welcome, guys. Now I feel like I've really found a new home. But speaking of home, I need to go there,' said M.K. 'It's getting late.' 'Yeah,' said Fallen from Grace. 'I'll be late for choir practise.' 'You aren't in the choir anymore,' said Looselips. 'I sit outside and listen. They won't let me sing, but I can listen. Our people learned that trick a long time ago.' 'Mine too,' said M.K. 'Now we know the music better than most of them.' 'Respect,' said Fallen from Grace. Fallen from Grace and M.K. bucked fists, and the four boys started for home in four directions. When Johnny Come Lately was with Looselips and Fallen from Grace he forgot to be afraid. He was one of Los Tres Vaqueros. He belonged. Now as he pedaled home, and the group dispersed, and darkness came up along the streets and between the buildings and out of the trees, and the distance between himself and his friends increased in all directions, he felt the fear again. He was too young to remember El Salvador. He was not quite three when his family walked out of the mountains, away from the war. They stayed for a while with an uncle who lived in a new refugee settlement in Belize. Johnny's father was determined to take his family to the U.S. They crossed into Mexico, hooked up with a larger group that had hired a coyote, and made it in through a back door. Johnny didn't remember any of this, but listening to his parents talk he inherited the fear. They talked of the war, of villages held hostage, of women raped and men murdered and children stolen away from their parents and made to fight. They talked of the knock on the door. Whenever Johnny was alone he felt the fear. And as the darkness grew, so did the fear grow. 'You are lucky,' his father would tell him. 'You do not know what it is to be so afraid.' But Johnny did know. He had heard too much not to know. The dark always brought the fear. He rode his bike away from the centre of town. His friends were out of sight, on their way home. He was hungry. He stopped and considered. He felt in his pocket for money and found a handful of change. He counted out nearly a dollar. He counted again. Ninety-eight cents. A junior burger at the Dairy Bar cost a dollar, plus five cents tax. He was seven cents short. Dinner at home would not be for another hour and he planned to use that hour to finish his algebra homework. A junior burger would give him the energy he needed. Maybe he could talk one of the counter guys at the Dairy Bar into letting him owe the seven cents. It was worth a try. What did he have to lose? Walt was behind the counter at the Dairy Bar. Walt the Malt, Johnny called him. 'Hi Walt,' said Johnny. 'I need to ask a favour. I really want a junior burger and I really only have 98 cents. Can I owe you the other seven cents?' 'I guess that'll be okay,' said Walt. He turned and called the order for a junior burger through the window to the kitchen. 'It'll only take a minute. So I hear you been tearing 'em up at school. You and those buddies of yours.' Walt grinned. 'You're making the rest of us look bad.' Johnny grinned back. 'We do what we can,' he said. After a few minutes an old man Johnny had never seen before came out of the kitchen and put a brown paper bag on the counter. 'There's the junior burger,' the old man said. 'This is Mr. Simmons,' said Walt. He just bought the place. Johnny is a few cents short tonight, sir. He wants to owe us till tomorrow. He's done it before, and always paid when he said he would.' 'Tell him no, Walter,' the old man said. 'We don't give credit to bums.' 'I'm not a bum,' said Johnny. 'I always pay what I owe.' 'He's okay, Mr. Simmons, I know him,' said Walt. 'He's one of those spic kids, ain't he?' said the old man. 'Shouldn't even be in this country. They're all bums. You're all bums, ain'tcha, kid? Get out of here or I call the cops.' 'I'm just seven cents short, sir,' said Johnny. 'I can pay you tomorrow.' The old man put his hands on the counter and leaned toward Johnny 'Get out. Now. There's a cop just pulled in. You get out now and maybe I won't have you arrested for trying to cheat me.' 'I'm not trying to cheat you, sir. I'm just seven cents short.' 'I'll bet you don't even have what you say you have. I know liars when I see 'em. Count it out on the counter and prove me wrong.' Johnny threw the 98 cents into the old man's face. 'Count it yourself.' He turned to go but the old man was around the counter and to the door before Johnny got there. The old man grabbed Johnny's arm and pushed open the door just as a policeman was getting out of his patrol car. 'This kid tried to cheat me,' said the old man. 'Then he assaulted me. Threw a handful of change right into my face. I want him locked up. He's one of them Mexican kids.' 'Please sir,' said Johnny. 'I'm sorry I threw the change. I apologise. Can I just get my bike and go home?' 'Probably stole the bike,' said the old man. 'They're all thieves. Steal you blind if you don't watch 'em.' 'Up against the car, kid,' said the policeman. The policeman pulled Johnny through the door, pushed him up against the side of the patrol car and patted him down. He stepped back and pulled his billy club out of his belt. He tapped Johnny lightly in the back. 'What's your name, kid?' Johnny turned his head away and began to rub the glass of the patrol car window. He could see the reflection of the Dairy Bar lights. He shrugged his shoulders and sank into himself, concentrating on his fingers rubbing the glass. He studied the reflection in the glass. He saw his burger in the little brown paper bag on the counter. He wanted to be far away from the policeman. He wanted to be home with his family or back in the daylight with his friends. The policeman tapped Johnny harder with his billy club. 'I said, what's your damned name, kid? You Spanish ain'tcha? Que es su nombre, punk.' Johnny leaned his head against the glass and said nothing. The blow to the side of his head was fast and hard. Johnny went to his knees and put his hand over his ear. 'What's your name, kid?' Johnny shrugged into himself and tried to make himself as small as possible. He forgot the policeman and willed away the pain in his head. He willed himself home. The next blows were to his shoulders and sides, then a kick to the base of his spine. Johnny fell sideways, then rolled onto his back and covered his face with both arms. The policeman reached down and grabbed Johnny's right wrist, pulled it up, clamped on a handcuff, and twisted Johnny's arm to force him onto his stomach. He pulled Johnny's left arm up and cuffed it. A few people were standing around in front of the Dairy Bar, but they all made a point of not seeing Johnny or the policeman. 'Usted es un mejicano estupido,' said the policeman. 'I've learned enough Spanish so I can insult all you stupid Mexicans with words you understand.' He pulled Johnny up by the cuffed wrists, opened the patrol car door, and pushed Johnny inside. When Johnny was locked up that first time he was frightened and embarrassed. Never, ever, in his life had he thought of himself going to jail this way, as a common criminal. Common. That was the word. He felt common. He had turned his bike this way instead of that way, had decided to stop and get a burger instead of going straight on home, and had to spend the night in a jail cell because of it, like a common criminal. He was made to strip and shower. He was given jail clothes too big for him. The McRae County Jail held both county and town prisoners. There was one isolation cell that could be used for juveniles or for violent prisoners. Johnny was put into the isolation cell where he lay on the bunk and shivered from the cold. The cell was not cold. Johnny was cold inside. All the comfort had gone out of Johnny's world. The night was bad. Johnny kept dreaming that he was home in bed, and that he had not finished his algebra homework. He kept waking up trying to find the switch on his bedside lamp. The night was bad. The next day was worse. Shift Captain Ronald Warfeld took over from the night shift at six o'clock that morning. He looked over the booking sheets from the night before to see how many new guests had checked in. He saw only one. 'Has juvenile been told about the kid?' he said to the deputy at the booking desk. 'I suppose. He was brought in by a town cop about six-thirty last night. I've just gotten a missing person report on him, so apparently his parents have not been notified. I'll find out if juvenile has been notified.' 'Well at least call his parents,' said Warfeld. 'You have any sort of official i.d. for him?' 'Yessir. School photo i.d. from County Junior High. His name is John Harris, 14 years old, ninth grade. I found some grade slips in his wallet. He must be an honour student, all A's. He's not our typical juvenile delinquent. He has no previous criminal charges. Arrest report says he assaulted the new owner of the Dairy Bar and assaulted the town cop that tried to arrest him. The town cop says the kid got away from him, then wrecked his bike. He does look a bit banged up.' 'What do you mean, banged up?' 'Well sir, his right ear is swollen and he keeps holding it like it hurts. There's a big bruise on the side of his face. He has a hard time walking. I guess he fell pretty hard.' 'Get a doctor to look at him, and call his parents.' 'Yessir. Ten minutes later the deputy reported back to Warfeld. 'Parents on the way. Juvenile had not been notified but they have now and an investigator is on the way. County General says we should bring the kid over there if we want a doctor to look at him.' 'Wait till the parents are here.' 'Yessir.' Johnny's arrest triggered an investigation of the family that led from juvenile court to an immigration hearing then on to New Orleans Moisant Airport and a TACA flight to San Salvador with a warning not to try to re-enter the United States, a warning Johnny repeatedly ignored. -------------------------------------------- The judge looked over the top of his half-glass spectacles. 'Be careful how you say that,' he always warned his clerks. 'Juan Carlos Herredia, you have been found guilty of one count of armed robbery, two counts of assaulting a police officer, one count of resisting arrest, and one count of possession of an unlicensed firearm and unlicensed ammunition. You are also in violation of your parole. For violation of parole I order you to serve the remaining five years from a previous conviction. The sentence I am about to impose is to run consecutive to that five years. Counselor, have you advised your client of the consequences of a third conviction for a major felony?' 'I have, your honour,' said defense attorney Anthony Feldman, aka Looselips. 'Mr. Herredia, I see that your arrest record goes back ten years to when you were only 14. Your long record of convictions is compounded by the fact that you have been deported repeatedly and on each such occasion you have re-entered this country illegally. I would not be inclined to leniency even if leniency were allowed. Has your attorney explained, and do you understand, what sentence I am required to impose under the law?' 'I do understand, your honour,' said Johnny. 'Do you have anything to say before I pass sentence?' 'Yessir. I sincerely regret that I did not have the other seven cents.' --------------------------------------- Client and attorney had one last conference in the McRae County Courthouse holding cell. 'You blew the judge away with your seven cents,' said Tony. 'I hope you're happy. I was reprimanded from the bench and nearly fined for contempt of court.' 'You didn't have to laugh so loud and so long,' said Johnny. 'I didn't mean for it to be funny. Look where not having that seven cents has gotten me.' 'I know, I know,' said Tony. 'But you must have known the old man was expecting the usual I-am-so-sorry-for-all-I've-done speech and instead you handed him the seven cents line and I just lost it. I couldn't help myself.' 'You always did open your mouth at the wrong time,' said Johnny. 'That's why we called you Looselips. Whatever happened to the other guys? William and M.K.? I only talked with M.K. that one time. Hanging around McRae County has not been an option.' 'They'll both be in to see you before you are taken up to Parchman. After all, we are still Los Quatro Vaqueros.' 'Quatro? But there are only three of you.' 'No no. Los Quatro Vaqueros, formerly known as Los Tres Vaqueros, is like the Mafia. You are not allowed to quit. You are and always will be a full member. We voted on that when you were deported the first time along with your family. And we voted to close the membership of the group so there was no chance anyone else could claim your place. You were, however, replaced as keeper by M.K.' 'Tony, I'll tell you what I didn't want to tell the judge. I really am sorry I've messed everything up all these years. I guess I went a little crazy on that flight to El Salvador. All I could think of was getting back at that old man and that cop. We were guarded, you know, like we were gangsters or something. It was worst for me. My father blamed me for getting the family deported. When we landed in San Salvador he handed me some U.S. dollars and told me he didn't want to see me again. He said, "You were supposed to be the best, and you have turned out the worst." That's the last time I saw any of my family.' 'You always had brothers here, whether you appreciated that fact or not. We missed you. M.K. and Bill and I drink your health every time we get together. You are Nuestro Vaquero de Bandido, our bandit cowboy. That's your new name.' Tony stopped and looked hard at Johnny. 'You are also un vaquero perdido. A lost cowboy. Lost to us, lost to your family, lost to yourself.' 'Why didn't I just walk away?' said Johnny. 'That's all I had to do. Just walk away from the old man and his damned junior burger.' 'You know, you are a hero to some of the hispanic kids,' said Tony. 'I know, and I hate that. It's not what I want. In all that I've done, I've never hurt anyone, and I'm afraid that some of those kids will try to do what I did and get hurt, or dead, or hurt someone else. I've thrown my life away trying to get back at one stupid old man and one mean cop, and all I've done is give them proof that they were right. I'm 24 years old. I could live to be 80. So what will they do with me then, deport me again and hope I'm too old to crawl back out of the mountains of El Salvador?' 'Why didn't you stay down there?' Johnny thought about that for a while. 'I don't know. Anger. Stupidity. Trying to get even. Trying to follow my father's dream even after he pushed me aside. I don't know. But you are right. Un vaquero perdido. That's me. If I could I would go back to that day we met M.K. I would turn my bike for home. But I can't. And I'll tell you this, if I can get out of that place I will.' 'Be careful,' said Tony. 'Why?' said Johnny. ------------------------------------ The guard patrolling the east outer perimeter fence was a religious man. He regarded his work at the prison farm as a sort of holy vocation, helping to enforce the commandments of the Lord. On this cloudy moonless night his thoughts turned to Genesis. 'And the Earth was without form and void,' he quoted to himself. 'And darkness covered the face of the deep.' 'Just like tonight,' he thought. 'Darkest night I've ever seen.' There was a rattle. There was a distinct rattle further along the fence. There were footsteps. The guard raised his shotgun and shouted. 'Stop. Stop or I'll shoot.' The footsteps continued. Not fast. Just the sound of someone walking away. 'If you don't stop I'll shoot.' The footsteps stopped, then started up again. Quick fast steps. Toward the guard. The muzzle flash lighted the scene for an instant. Then darkness covered the face of the Earth.