But Rawbone’s plan spins against him, and he soon finds himself at the Mexican-American border and in the hands of the Bureau of Investigation. He is offered a chance for immunity, but only if he agrees to proceed with his scheme to deliver the truck and its goods to the Mexican oil fields while under the command of Agent John Lourdes. Rawbone sees no other option and agrees to the dealbut he fails to recognize the true identity of Agent Lourdes, a man from deep within his past.
Set against a backdrop of intrigue and corruption, The Creed of Violence is a saga about the scars of abandonment, the greed of war, and America’s history of foreign intervention for the sake of oil.
|Product dimensions:||6.96(w) x 11.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
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HE WAS BORN in Scabtown the day Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre. Scabtown was a parasitic hive of gaming, crib houses and red-eye across the river from Fort McKavett, Texas.
He was raised in a brothel behind Saloon Number 6. His mother was a whore, his father one of the nameless who knew her bed. The boy was nine when she died from a knife wound over money.
He took to living in a crate of wood slats he'd cobbled together under some trees near the riverbank. He carried slops and beer for pay; there was no job too menial, none too difficult. When the pestilence came he earned wages helping an army doctor with the sick and dying.
Death did not frighten him. Its heady reek meant nothing. He was much like the landscape he'd been born of, a vision hostile and burned. And of those narrow streets that are the souls of men he had seen much and learned.
He huddled alone in that tiny hut with only a ratty blanket about him. His dreams were tortuous and often sad, his childhood waylaid by reality. Most nights he was left to watching the kerosene lamps in the windows of that filthy hamlet and what stories were told there.
The boy hated his name. After his mother died he never spoke it. A prizefighter came to Fort McKavett. His face was battered, the cheeks swollen and craggy. He was not a large man, but he had enormous scarred fists and a thick back. On the parade grounds he fought a much bigger man in the baking sun. The boy watched as the fighters stalked each other round by round over that shadowless dust. It was all blood and exhaustion. But the smaller man would not be defeated and it came to be that the boy saw himself in that knotted frame, and when finally the other fighter succumbed, dropping to his knees on the blood-soaked earth, the boy experienced a place of power within himself that he could never have imagined existed. The fighter's name was Rawbone, and from that day forward it was what the boy called himself.
Not long after that he killed his first man. A drunk who'd wandered lost, after his time with a whore, down to the river darkness. He knifed the man as his own mother had been knifed and then he stole his money. The coins had blood on them and he washed them in the river till they shined.
THE ROAD OUT of Sierra Blanca followed its course through bleached and silent reaches toward the Rio Grande. From a promontory Rawbone watched an approaching island of dust rising up and away with the wind. It was 1910 and there was chaos throughout the border country of Texas.
Through the rivery heat of a white noon Rawbone began to make out details amidst the dust. It was a truck, a three-tonner. One of those new Packards, or maybe an Atlas, all bulked down and lashed with goods. The open cab was shaded by a tarp stretched across a frame supported by metal stanchions welded to the chassis. The gray tarp fluttered madly like some magic carpet. There were two men in the cab, a driver on the right and the other on the left with his boots up on the dash.
It was the one beside the driver who saw first this figure walking into the shadowless void of the road far ahead, waving a hat. He pointed.
"Now what might that be?" said the driver.
The other reached for a carbine and straddled it across his legs. They continued through the heat a long while until they came upon a raggedy, meager-looking fellow whose most prominent features were a huge forehead and tightly boned eyes.
The truck slowed and the men stared with hard vigilance as the fellow in the road called, "Please, stop." As the truck drew close Rawbone saw how its sides had been built partway up with a protective casing made from thin sheets of metal and painted in broad letters down the length of that casing on each side of the truck body were the words AMERICAN PARTHENON.
"Aye, brothers," said Rawbone as the truck finally braked. "It's Christian of you to stop. I lost my mount there in the hills." He pointed with his derby to a saddle and bridle lying by the side of the road. "I could use a ride and as for being a bummer" — he took from the inside lip of his filthy derby paper money — "I'll pay whatever it's worth to touch down in civilization." The men in the cab glanced at each other, weighing out their reservations. The driver, a heavy, tired-looking fellow, waved him up.
RAWBONE WAS PERCHED upon the flatbed right behind the open cab. He was neither a tall man nor powerful. On the contrary, he was lean to the point of gauntness and his eyes were the color of some coming gale.
"So," he said, tapping his knuckles against one of the lashed crates, "what are ya carrying?"
"The makings of an icehouse to be built in El Paso that was wrongly shipped to Sierra Blanca."
From his frayed coat Rawbone took a flask and opened it. "I'll bet," he said, offering the men a drink, "when you first saw me you thought I was a breath of trouble." The man beside the driver took the flask and drank. "We had a passing moment."
"Brothers," said Rawbone. "I've lived an unchristian life from time to time for sure. You might say I've sipped at perdition more than once." The driver drank and passed the flask back to Rawbone. "But God has seen fit to whisper a warning."
The truck slumped and rose along that pitted road into the haze of the desert slow and cumbersome while Rawbone, passing the flask again so the others might drink, listened and watched as his companions commiserated and complained about the coming revolution to the south. How with all that poverty and upheaval the Mex were now crossing the border in woeful numbers to steal jobs and insinuate themselves into the well-being of a culture that despised them. Them, with their fleshy skin and stinkin' food and brown filth and guttery lifestyle that harbored deficiencies and crime, them who meant to leech on the nation like a storm of poison.
"Well," said the driver, to all this, "God has a long memory."
Rawbone said little, preferring silence, and watching the flask go back and forth. In truth, to him, the nation meant nothing and race even less. He was the specificity of the flesh. All survive and live, and beyond that there was only death.
And yet, somewhere within this immoral selfishness there existed an outlaw place that would not die no matter how he tried to destroy it. It was like some ancient rune imprinted upon his being or a half-forgotten melody coming through the darkness.
The Mexican woman he'd married and left behind without so much as a word, the child he abandoned with one turn of a phrase. They existed yet in the sentimental mist that murdered him with quiet nightmares.
"Stop the truck," said the man beside the driver. "I'm feelin' bad."
He looked it. There was a pallor to him and a sweat ringing his temples. As the rig braked he stepped from the cab with an uncertain motion and started off carrying his carbine by its shoulder strap so it near dragged along the ground. His steps began to be dazed and then he fell and Rawbone jumped from the back and was over him before the driver could disembark.
Rawbone swept up the rifle and turned. "He's a dead man ... and so are you, brother."
While the man lay anguishing upon the ground, something seemed to fix in the driver's mind. He blinked as if hit by revelation and looked down at the flask on the cab seat. He turned his stare to Rawbone, who had not moved, nor was he pointing the carbine. He just stood there with a steely and splayed grin as the driver, now panicking, put the truck in gear and started off.
"Aye!" shouted Rawbone at the truck. "So there you go. But you've already drunk your future down, and I can hear the trumpets playing graveside."
The truck rumbled on wildly while Rawbone slung the carbine over his shoulder then knelt and robbed the dying man of his belongings. As he lay there shuddering in the dust, Rawbone stuffed his hands down into his coat pockets. Then whistling up a tune followed off after the truck at a casual walk.
ABOUT AN HOUR further on amidst riven sandhills he saw the rig. It had veered off the road and sat canted against a stretch of rock scored by the wind.
The engine was still running as Rawbone stepped up into the open cab. The driver was alive, but barely. A trembling saliva had accumulated at the corner of his pale mouth.
"Pardon me," said Rawbone, as he leaned past him and shut off the motor. "Rest a while."
He then stepped down from the cab and, while he checked the truck for damage, noticed one of the lashed crates had come loose and cracked open beside the road.
"Ah," said Rawbone at what he saw.
He knelt over the crate. Hanging out the wood slats like the skin of a snake was a fabric feed belt mechanism for a machine gun.
He yelled back at the driver, "I didn't know they needed these to build an icehouse."CHAPTER 2
HE WAS BORN in the Segundo Barrio of El Paso on the day Ulysses S. Grant died. The barrio was blocks of squalid adobes along the Rio Grande that the city meant to raze and rebuild in good old-fashioned American brick.
He was raised in a rank alley behind a factory where desert immigrants sewed together American flags. His mother was one of those immigrants, from the state of Sinaloa. His father was a criminal and, as the boy would later learn, a murderer. The father had abandoned the family on the Fourth of July, 1893. The last he'd told his son was that he would take him by trolley to the park on Mesa Street to see the fireworks together and eat ice cream.
After this he watched the humble surface of his mother's face erode with sorrow and her grief slowly bury what God had so beautifully put there. The son took the mother by wagon to the Concordia Cemetery and buried her in a pauper's grave he dug himself. The death left him devastated and on his own at thirteen. The desire to see his father destroyed was matched only by a string of memories born of fonder times that left an unfathomable ache across the arc of his existence.
The boy took to living on the roof of the factory where those at work on the sewing machines did double shifts stitching together flags. He was a day laborer in the Santa Fe Railroad yard that shouldered up to the barrio. It was brutal work that drove men into the earth like paltry nails. Yet he had not only the fury to survive but the faith of mind to flourish.
He wore around his neck a tiny gold cross with one broken beam that had been his mother's. It was not some holy trinket or talisman but every wistful and nostalgic wish that had ever been.
He could read and write, and his father had taught him the creed of weapons. He was unafraid of death, understanding it was only the seamless moment that takes you to somewhere else.
He was not a tall young man; rather he was thin and muscled with a huge forehead and shaded eyes. His hair was black and straight, his skin tawny, his features refined.
His name was, for him, rife with shame, and after his mother's death he changed it. She had always dreamed of a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the child Bernadette Soubirous, and ever afterward, when asked, he said his name was John Lourdes.
He started as an oil boy in the roundhouses. He rose in the ranks to run a yard gang. He spoke two languages fluently, and having been weaned by a criminal, had an intuitive feel for the devilry within men. He was moved to security, and soon after promoted to railroad detective.
In 1908 Attorney General Charles Bonaparte organized the Bureau of Investigation with its own staff of federal law enforcement officers. John Lourdes was invited to join. And so, at the age of twenty-three, he became a special agent working for the federal government in El Paso, Texas.
HE LEANED AGAINST the rail fence that flanked the Rio Grande by the Santa Fe Bridge. He had a week's worth of beard and clothes that cried out with wear; even his slouch hat had shear lines along the creases. John Lourdes was an unemployed rough killing time and cigarettes alongside a row of other roughs trying to scratch up day work at an employment shed. At least that's how he wanted to come across so as not to draw attention to himself, while day after day he watched the foot traffic pass through customs between El Paso and Juárez.
The Mexican Revolution had begun in 1910 when President Porfirio Díaz promised free elections, then proceeded to deny them. This act was the pebble that presaged the avalanche. Mexico was decaying under the forces of exploitation, poverty and foreign interests. One thousand people controlled the vast majority of the nation's wealth. Illiteracy, child mortality and peonage became the sires of violence.
El Paso and its sister city, Juárez, were the epicenter for revolutionaries, expatriated nationals, would-be saboteurs, two-dollar-a-day undercover agents working for both sides, con men, corrupt Rangers and an assortment of human flotsam who carried illegal fires in their hearts.
John Lourdes had grown a mustache that was sleek and modern, to fit the times. He ran a finger across his upper lip as he studied the foot traffic. He possessed the intangibles of discipline and patience as well as an eye for the particulars of people. A look or gesture often exposed a hole right into them. He followed anyone who aroused suspicion and he scratched out every detail in pencil in a pocket notepad.
His father had asked him once as a boy, "Do you want to know what people are really like?"
They had been in Juárez at an open-air market overrun with shoppers. His father pointed from face to face, then knelt down, pulling his son close. There was always a bit of fever in his father's voice when he was excited. "Do you want to know how? So you can never be tricked nor fooled?" The boy's eyes widened. "So no one can ever make a game of you. Nor spin you, nor straight edge you. Like that," he said snapping his fingers, "you can know. Do you want to know? Do you want to know how?"
The boy nodded because he saw his father so needed him to want to know.
"Well," he whispered to his son, "be indifferent to every man ... and you will know."
That moment, in all its profound self-interest, wrapped around him like a strangle cord as a young girl walked past, just a shadow reach away, and crossed back to Juárez. It was the third time in as many days he'd noted her.
And it wasn't because she was young and lovely in a rather simple and unassuming way. She couldn't have been more than sixteen or so at the outside, yet there was this calming silence she emanated as she pressed on about her business, that was in direct contrast to the nervous and wary pen stroke of her eyes as she watched and weighed every action before her.
The first time he'd seen her, she was in the waiting line for the quarantine shed just below the bridge. The building was wind-beaten brick with a long, fluted chimney, and there Mexicans crossing to the United States went to be stripped down and deloused.
It was a horrible and humiliating experience. His own mother had suffered it upon crossing. He'd overheard her once with other women, their voices cloaked, how they'd been stripped and left to stand in waiting lines on a cement floor to undergo medical inspection, while the workmen spared no one with their eyes.
Since becoming a federal agent he'd been in that building often when hunting criminals. He'd seen how they used pesticides and gasoline, and sometimes a form of sulfuric acid for the delousing. The clothes too were fumigated, then put in huge steam dryers, which sometimes melted shoes. The place was nicknamed ... the gas chamber.
The girl walked past afterward and on into a dusty procession of humanity up Santa Fe, and he saw how everything her eyes touched produced this ripple of uncertainty across her features. The next day he saw her again coming out of the quarantine shed. She passed by, only to return an hour later.
The third day the process was repeated. But by the time she returned he'd been enlisted in conversation by two German designers. They'd gotten permission to go into the quarantine shed. They'd done draftmen's sketches of its interior and they were asking John Lourdes if it was true the government weeded out the deformed and the deviant, as they too had, in their own country, problems with what they described as "the unclean," that needed to be dealt with.
If they'd understood Spanish, what John Lourdes said in reply as he started toward the bridge could not have been confused as an answer.
HE FOLLOWED HER down the Avenida Paseo de Triunfo. There was a black mood about the streets. Wall graffiti insulted the regime; groups of men stood in heated conversation. Young boys carrying rifles in a primitive street militia marched past the Monument to the Fighting Bulls and, holding their weapon muzzles high and cursing El Presidente, fired into the air.
Heads turned. Birds slanted skyward down the length of the Paseo. Only from the girl was there no reaction as she walked on. It was then John Lourdes understood her calm silence and those wary stares — she was deaf.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Creed of Violence"
Copyright © 2009 Brutus Productions Inc..
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