I walk slowly toward the strange car, trailing my breath. Even under the lights his face is hidden in shadow from an upturned collar. As I get close enough to see his face I recognize Vasquez!
As we embrace and study each other’s face I say, It’s good to hear English spoken again. With a Harvard accent, no less. WTFRU doing here, Cuate?
Whaddya think, he says with a very latin shrug. Lights on in San Agustin. Lights on all over the cylinder.
But where were you, Vasquez?
Superstition Mountains. When things got too dangerous here I got this jeep and went up in the mountains. I was prepared to stay there a long time. Especially after they set off the nuke.
I’ve been up in the Canciones. Superstitions were just too close. Catching trout and trading with the Yaquis.
Yes. They’re not dumb. They know. Hey, what happened to Joaquim?
IDK, Chad. When I left he was furious at me. Called me pussy and chickenshit and traitor and everything else. IDK what ever happened to him.
What about Blumenthal?
Vasquez shakes his head. Before I left Irwin shot himself in his office.
Blumenthal was an Autarch, like Joaquim.
Do tell. Hey, what happened to the weather?
I turned the heat ‘way down and the air pressure to 16,000 feet to kill the fucks. It may be safe to go out in daylight now.
As long as it stays cold, he says.
Irwin’s prob’ly better off, I say. I’d rather die that way than…hey, if we want to rebuild this place we’re going to have to burn the dead fucks and get the human remains buried somehow.
Do the bulldozers work?
The ones that have gas. I used one to push dead butterflies aside so I could get in the office. They’re very toxic, so be careful.
I see someone is in Vasquez’ jeep I had not noticed before. I poke my head in and see, of all people, Delia Finch, the former Treasurer of the City of San Agustin..
Hey, Delia, I say. Glad you’re alive.
Hello, Chad, she says primly as a spinster.
I look over at Vasquez and nod discreetly to show I understand.
I see you have somebody with you he says. Who…
That’s Juan. He’s a superstitious old peasant that doesn’t speak English. I found him in Macho Grande, scared shitless. He believes in ha’nts and devils and brujos and such. But everybody we find alive…
I motion Juan to get out of the jeep and reluctantly he waddles over, his breath large in the stark cold.
I heard about Holly, Vasquez says. I’m really sorry. Who killed her? Alguiacils?
Ganaderos. But they’re all dead now.
Juan comes over and I introduce him and when Vasquez pats him on the arm Juan yelps.
Vasquez and I look at each other. He says, Got a flashlight?
I nod and take out the flashlight and put the beam on Juan. I give the light to Vasquez and get out a pocket knife. I tell Juan not to flinch or be afraid as I cut away his ragged shirt and coat and look at his arm.
The cheap cotton shirt sticks to the skin and yellow-white pus runs from an open wound. Bloody fluid oozes out and his arm is swollen to the size of his thigh. It is garishly discolored and small worms work their way through the laceration. Well at least they don’t look like caterpillars.
Vasquez turns and vomits. I say, I thought you used to be Blumenthal’s physician’s assistant.
Used to be is right, he says, gagging and coughing and expectorating. Been a while. Let’s have a look at that arm…hey!
Juan withdraws and cowers and I tell him to stand up.
WTF is this? Vasquez says as he studies the wound. Looks like maggots and maybe sepsis. Chad, this man needs medical, bad. Let’s get him to the infirmary.