First Battle of the Estancia Hotel & Casino

in Fiction by

Loco Caballero sits hunched over a sleek desk, his big back to the tall hotel windows, studying a visitors map. His young wife is babbling playfully with their newborn daughter; Loco’s eyes dart up and he leans back in his chair, watching her. Summer must be only a few weeks away but still she keeps the baby rolled up in a small reddish-brown San Marcos blanket, holding the baby in her arms like a fresh bouquet of roses as she paces the dusty carpet of the former Viceroy Suite. Loco watches her amble over with her precious package and sit down on the loveseat against a wall, gently rocking and bouncing the baby in her arms. She begins singing softly in Spanish:

The little chicks repeat

Cheep, cheep, cheep

When they want to eat

When they want to sleep

Loco smiles thinking of his own mother and grandmother, rounded up nearly twenty-six summers ago and sent to a Removal Center for Un-Americans. Loco and his little sister Alma had hid in the secret space behind the wall in his closet from where they could hear their mother and grandmother crying out and screaming: No! No! Stop! Don’t! Please! No! Loco palmed his little sister’s mouth, her face burning red, tears streaming down across the brown of Loco’s hand. The two of them waited till morning to come crawling out, alone. He and Alma set out to find the women and either bring them back home or settle in a new one. But after searching for three long years, dodging Fugitive Immigrant Removal Enforcement agents, traveling from center to center and seeing nothing beyond the gates except the big menacing smokestacks, brother and sister realized there was nothing left to find–their mother and grandmother were gone.

Frantic knocking at the door. The baby fusses as Loco, wearing greenish coveralls and brown work boots, strides over heavy-footed to see who it is and quiet them.

Jefe! The young man gives a nervous salute across his chest, an AR-15 strapped to his back. He’s nineteen and scrawny, but with big shoulders, head shaved like a prisoner’s.

Loco waves off the salute and, furrowing his brow, puts an index finger to his lips, gesturing his head toward the woman and the baby on the sofa behind him. Jorgy Pelón peers over Loco’s shoulder and his eyes go wide as he nods, smiling awkwardly. Loco jerks his chin up, asking wordlessly.

Pelón points past him, leading the big man over to the wide windows opposite the door. There come trucks, he says in Spanish. Por el espress.

The suite, Loco’s living quarters for the past seven months, is on the eleventh floor of the Estancia, a South America-themed casino hotel in the foothills on the edge of the valley. From here Loco has a good view of the whole area that used to be Las Vegas. The crumbling, shattered casinos on the Strip still stand, some of them leaning way over, at the center of the valley like an abandoned table setting. All around lay the soft pink-tiled roofs and sandy-colored houses, dust-piled plazas and shopping centers, rotting dark-green swimming pools and palm leaves the color of Alphonso mangoes. No lights flicker nervously anywhere, no air conditioning units hum, no cars honk anxiously in the streets, no planes drone by overhead, no dogs howl for their owners’ return–there’s almost no sound at all, except the squawking and twittering of a few desert birds. And now the distant roaring of three rusty pickups–the one in front white, the two in back the color of smoke–wheeling through dusted-out traffic up the expressway.

Loco Caballero stands in the big tinted hotel windows, the sun highlighting the grey in his scruffy beard growing high up on scarred cheeks. He watches the trucks roll up the exit ramp. Riding in each truck bed, four Wypipo holding rifles and wearing fatigues and camouflage bulletproof vests. The trucks whip around into the hotel’s parking lot below and the men jump out and start aiming their rifles in every direction, scanning the windows of the hotel. Loco can see the men yelling out to each other but can’t hear them. A chunky Wypipo man climbs out the passenger door of the white truck and, surrounded by a circle of guards, marches toward the hotel entrance.

Loco turns from the window and bounds to the door.

Wypipos? his wife asks, the color draining from her brown face. She looks ready to get up with her baby and run.

Loco, with one hand on the door, lifts the other toward her. Everything’s fine, he says. Pelón, stay here.

Yes, Jefe! The young man stands at attention, heels together, looking relieved.

 

 

Loco’s band of Plebeyos had barely survived the crossing over the western sierras late last summer, leaving Lago Cielo before the air turned crisp. Loco misses the old camp. The water there was cleaner than many of his Plebeyos had seen in many summers. On the southern shore of the lake, separated by a hundred yards of drying lakebed, sat a ghost town, completely peopleless, what Loco figured had to have been a Wypipo resort back in the day. There were fancy log cabins, an old-fashioned diner that once served a fish fry special on Fridays, a small movie theater whose marquee promoted the forever upcoming Marvel’s Spiderman vs. Wolverine, a chocolate shop devoid of chocolate, an ice cream parlor licked clean–all dust-collecting monuments of the old world.

The Plebeyos counted the lake’s discovery as a blessing, a God-given oasis tucked away from all the fear and desolation of the burned-out city now truly overrun with angels, as well as a few roving bands of demons. Their new lakeside home felt specially preserved for them, and they walked its streets as though the world was still as it had been before, as though they were merely vacationing. For the first time since Loco and his people could remember, they were truly somewhere close to happy.

As soon as they’d arrived they raided the pantries and refrigerators for anything still remotely edible, bringing all the unspoiled and nonperishable foods–canned vegetables and fruit and beans, chilis and soups, boxes of stale cereal and bags of stale chips–to the abandoned convention center where Loco, his lieutenants and their families slept, the other Plebeyos inhabiting the lodges. In spring a community garden was planted with potatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, corn and yuca; in the warm months the hunters and their dogs brought back squirrels, birds, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and, when they were lucky, a deer, distributing the meat among everyone according to need, as has been the Plebeyo way since the beginning. The children, the elderly and the sick were looked after by a rotating team of caregivers, and a lot of the women, Alma first among them, volunteered for militia training alongside every man between fifteen and thirty summers old.

At the start of their third summer at Lago Cielo, the Plebeyos celebrated Loco Caballero’s marriage to the young Dormilona, fifteen summers his junior, with a wedding like their people used to have in the old times, though much simpler of course. There was no DJ–there being no electricity even–no elaborate wedding cake, no open bar, no clean white gown for the bride to wear; only a flowery summer dress some Wypipo girl had left behind, Loco standing at the makeshift altar in wrinkled slacks and a sport coat that didn’t fit right. Still every one of Loco’s Plebeyos would remember that day exactly as the best days are remembered: with teeth flashing and songs dancing on the breeze and the sun gliding slowly, grudgingly, toward the other side of the world. Loco and his new bride began trying to have a baby soon afterward. Life, everyone hoped, would go on.

They spent the summer splashing in the crystal water and laughing. Then late one morning, while Loco was watching some of the young ones chasing each other around in the late September grass, a pair of pubescent scouts returned from patrol looking sick.

Troops, Jefe, said the girl, using the Wypipo term for warriors. Looks like about a hundred of them, marching up the road–she pointed–that way, from the valley.

That the Wypipos were approaching on foot and not trucking or jeeping it suggested they weren’t merely exploring the area but had somehow been made aware of the Plebeyo settlement at Lago Cielo and had left their trucks and Jeeps behind in hopes of launching a surprise attack on the camp. Either way, Loco’s Plebeyos had to act fast. He rallied his fighters, sending the youngest of them with the children and most of the women, along with the elderly and the infirm, away from Lago Cielo, eastward, higher up into the mountains. The rest of his fighters, the bulk of the militia, would go with him to confront the advancing troops.

They hustled down the road leading to the valley, boots squishing as they pounded the cleaved concrete, rifles and ammunition clanking, till they came to a bend pinched in by steep pine-covered slopes on both sides. Here Loco’s Plebeyos would lay their trap for the invading Wypipos. The militiawomen were to appear as though they were just normal pickers gathering nuts and wildberries, stooping over their rifles hidden in the foliage, while the militiamen concealed themselves in a wide arc around them, forming the jaws of an invisible mouth waiting to devour unknowing prey.

For a long while not a sound escaped their lips nor a word spoken, not by the men tucked behind the tree trunks, or by the women bent over and swaying mechanically like animatronic braceros. Every Plebeyo was waiting, every one trying to imagine how the Wypipos would look when they appeared on the road and how he or she would aim true and send bullets burning at them. High above in the trees a big black raven jumped into the sky and took off cawing excitedly, flapping its velvety wings over the canopy. For a second Loco Caballero thought he heard the metallic sound of the troops parading up the road, but it was only Jorgy Pelón trembling behind a tree one tree over, the rifle held questionably by Pelón’s bony fingers. He half-crossed himself, unsure of how it used to be done, and kissed his rifle for any luck.

Calmado! Loco whispered. You’ll be fine. Just breathe. And when it starts, just shoot. And keep shooting.

Pelón nodded frantically, his eyes wide, unblinking, his cheeks pale and hollow, as though he were already dead.

Loco exhaled deeply and quickly reviewed the AR in his hands. Funny how something so simple could be so lethal. For all of recorded history people had been coming up with easier and faster ways of spilling more and more blood. Now the world was nearly emptied of human life and all its glories, the only survivors divided amongst the Wypipo; the Plebeyo; the Indig, of course; a couple hundred thousand runaway Alkebulanites, now marooned; and a few other warring clans. And that was only in this country–who knew what the situation might be in other places. Maybe in Europe or China the twenty-first century was still in full swing. Maybe it was only Merica that had imploded into a new and more terrorizing dark age.

Loco thought of the others fleeing the lake. Hopefully by now they had completely evacuated the camp and were halfway to the sun-bleached outcrop chosen as the rendezvous point. Staring up at the clouded blue sky above the pines, Loco wondered if he would ever see Dormilona again, if he’d even get to hold the baby growing inside her.

Aguas! one of the militiamen said softly, and then in English: Here they’re coming!

Loco peered carefully from behind his tree trunk and saw them, the Wypipos, padding their way up the road, rifles in hand. The women ditched their robotic movements and tried to look as though they were actually out foraging for food while the troops, in loose formation, came up the road looking like a gang of bandits, all dirt-splattered and sweat-stained. Loco thought he could almost smell them from where he stood holding his rifle upright against his beard and chest, meditating to the birdsong twirling up in the tree branches and the thudding and scraping of boots down along the road. There were more like sixty of them instead of the hundred the scouts had figured, Loco’s fighters outnumbering them two to one. They stopped just down the road from where the women were still pretending to pick nuts and berries.

Hole it right there! said a big red-bearded man at the front.

The women barely feigned surprise though the Wypipos didn’t seem to notice, all their rifles aimed at the women now standing straight with their hands up.

That’s it. Don’t you move now, the man said, stepping off the road and into the trees, slowly, toward the women. No run-o. Understand me, girlies? Or we shoot.

Some of the women seemed to realize their act might not be all that convincing and began making sounds like they were truly scared, whimpering and pretending to be shaking in their boots.

It’s akay, the redhead said. Any you ladies habla any Merican?

Me. Alma’s voice came like the snap of a twig, one hand raised as she stepped forward. I do, she said.

That’s good. The redhead gave her an obscene smile, his eyes lingering all over her. That’s real good.

Alma furrowed her dark brow, bringing her hand down across her chest and taking a defensive step back into a ray of sunlight, her skin glistening like maple syrup.

No, no, it’s akay, darlin, he said. He turned back to the men behind him, lifting his hand. Boys, lower them weapons.

His men gave him an uneasy look.

I say guns down! That there’s an order! Where’r your manners anyhow? They’s only womenfolk fer Chrissake. The redhead turned toward Alma, his hand reaching out toward her hair, saying Ain’t that right, señorita? Oh, I bet you must smell real pretty.

Leaning toward her, he grabbed a handful of her hair with his thick, grubby fingers and shoved his big, red, whitehead-covered nose into the clump of Alma’s dark hair. She got a hot, sticky whiff of the moonshine and rotting bits of cornbread on his breath, his grizzly red beard scratching against her soft cheek like a worn out scrap of steel wool. She gritted her teeth, pulled a large knife from inside her blouse and jammed it into the redhead’s liver, quickly dragging it across the man’s stomach so that his guts went spilling out onto the forest floor. The man stood there eyes and mouth wide open like a dummy. He pushed her away grumbling, You beaner bitch! and staggered backwards a few steps before dropping to his knees and falling over like a log.

As the other Wypipos raised their rifles, the Plebeyo men appeared from behind the trees all around, an entire column of woodland spirits, and began firing down at the Wypipos standing in the road, the women dropping into the greenness only to crouch back up with their guns firing, keeping low and moving backward for safety. Ten Wypipos collapsed in the road in the first five seconds, the forest echoing with wild yells and the sound of rifles rat-tat-tat-tat-tatting like a thousand hellish woodpeckers. Alma scrambled back to her original spot, desperately searching for her rifle hidden somewhere in the undergrowth. Everyone saw her take five shots to the lower back and legs, her body jerking and then disappearing down in the leaves only a few feet away from where her rifle lay in the dirt.

Loco howled beastlike, his eyes possessed as he stepped away from the tree, firing wildly at the troops huddling together in the road desperate for cover. He dropped down to one knee to reload a clip, and less than a minute later it was all over.

 

 

The so-called Brown Ebola struck in the third year of the West administration and circled the planet four times, killing more and then less during each pass, till it had taken six out of every ten people on Earth. The Violence broke out during the third wave.

 

 

Bodies lay bunched up in the middle of the road. Other Wypipos lay sprawled in dark red puddles, some moaning, some gurgling blood, most not making any sounds or movements at all. A few had dragged themselves to a shallow ditch next to the road and lay there dead or almost.

Loco ran to where his sister lay in the greenery. He lifted her head to keep her from choking on her blood. He reached around and felt a soaking wet hole in the small of her back, blood gushing from another hole in her thigh. Alma was in a final panic, and when she recognized her brother’s face, she started to cry the way she had that one night so many summers ago.

It’s okay. Loco’s voice wavered like a tattered flag. They’ll take care of you now.

Tears welled out of Alma’s eyes. By the time they streamed down her cheeks and reached her chin she was gone.

Loco cried softly, head low, hiding his face. Then he sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, the other hand holding the rifle upright on the ground. Still crouching, he gazed around the wooded battlefield. Wounded militiawomen and men were being carried out of the trees and onto the road by their comrades. All told, seven Plebeyo fighters had been wounded, two seriously; four were dead.

Pelón and two of the younger fighters stood over the disemboweled redhead, one of them poking the dead man’s small intestine with the barrel of her rifle. The redhead had a bullet hole in his cheek just below the eye socket, and a few others in places revealed by soaking dark stains.

Leave it, Loco said as he stood up, slinging his rifle over his shoulder. He strode over to inspect the other fallen. Check their clothes for ammo or anything valuable, he said, stepping over a dead tree. Guns, boots, belts, knives. Whatever we need.

A scrawny dark-haired troop was groaning loudly and cursed his victors as he tossed in a spreading pool of Wypipo blood in the road. A militiaman called Gordo lightly kicked him and the Wypipo wailed.

You goddamn spiks! You’ll all burn in hell! Just you wait! Fucken tortilla-eating niggers!

He started coughing up blood and hugged himself tightly. A militiawoman who’d been poking the dead redhead stepped toward the dark-haired man curled up and groaning on the ground, till she was standing over him, glaring at him as if he were a big squirming rat. Through one eye he looked up at her and barely said, Best run and hide. Cuz when the rest of my people–he coughed up more blood–when they get here they gon use you Spanish whores like the nut rags you are!

The militiawoman flung her shoulders up and snorted, shaking her head slowly from side to side. She unsheathed the knife clipped to her belt, grinning in the sunlight flashing off the blade and then down at the man grimacing on his back and holding his sides, blood oozing from his lips.

His eyes went wide.

Gripping the knife’s black handle with both hands, blade down, she fell to her knees roaring and plunging the knife down into the Wypipo man once, twice… in the stomach, in the face, in the scrotum… again and again and… screaming ferociously the whole time, blood erupting across her face and forearms and chest.

Ya, Valeria, Loco said finally. Enough. He’s dead.

Valeria rose to her feet, wiping her face with the forearm holding the bloody knife and leaving a red smear across one tan cheek. She wiped both sides of the blade on her pants, sheathed the knife, and wandered away into the trees, making little sounds.

Gordo held another Wypipo moaning under his bloody dusty boot. What do we do with the rest?

Up above, a raven–Loco was sure it was the same one from before–landed in a tree at the edge of the road and stared down at the human scene, cawing, laughing almost. Loco glanced around at the other fighters standing over injured Wypipos, fingers on triggers or clasping blade handles, their eyes on their jefe, who just turned away and slouched back up toward the lake.

 

 

The fat balding man, the one who had been riding shotgun in the white truck and is seemingly in charge of the Wypipos that stormed the lobby of the Estancia, calls himself Major Chaldee. He says he’s a leader of a group of Wypipos calling themselves the Moronite Templars. But he’s not the leader, he says, which would be some other guy called Colonel Zion. Loco and this Major Chaldee are sitting in armchairs down in the lobby, a very chic but very dusty coffee table between them. Three Wypipos stand guard behind Chaldee; the rest pace just outside the main entrance, where the Plebeyos are making them wait during the powwow.

And where’s this Colonel Zion? Loco Caballero asks. Why doesn’t he come here and tell us to our faces to leave?

Major Chaldee appears unfazed, examining his hands and clothes with heavy-lidded eyes as he speaks, only now and then looking up at Loco.

Fortunately Colonel Zion has better things to take care of than to sit here conversing with savages, he says.

So he sends one of his dogs, Loco says.

The major grins at Loco, his teeth white, a rarity these days.

This dog volunteered, he says.

So what do you Wypipos want?

You already know what we want. We want you to get the H out of here. Go back to old Meh-hee-co or wherever you invaders come from. This here’s our land.

Loco snorts. We’re in Las Vegas, he says, which used to be in Nevada. Those are Spanish names because this all used to belong to Spain, then México.

Yeah but, since you wanna talk history, my people were the ones that won it from your people, a long, long time ago. And now it’s ours, and it’s been ours. 

Loco looks nauseated. We all came here from California, and we can’t go back there.

Well you shouldn’t’ve been in California to begin with anyhow. What the heck’s wrong with you people? You never did get the message: We don’t want you here and, more importantly, we can’t have you here. Not then, and especially not now.

There’s more than enough land here, Loco says, lifting his hand toward the landscape beyond the main doors.

Sure, now that your Latin diseases dang near killed every living thing in sight. But not no more. We Templars won’t sit idly by while your kind wages war on our people like you did before, multiplying faster than jackrabbits, hogging up all our resources, destroying our way of life. You people are a plague, hear me? A friggin plague, plain and simple.

Guaro, the redheaded militia instructor, steps forward and aims his finger at Chaldee. The only thing ‘plain and simple’ is you, pinche güero mamón!

You’re goshdarn right I’m a wear-o, and proud to be one! Chaldee sits on the edge of his seat. Better than a greasy spik son-of-a-witch!

The Plebeyo guards lunge forward, raising their rifles, the three Wypipo guards doing the same. But Loco keeps the peace by lifting his hand.

Chaldee sits back, snickering in his chair. Oh, you brown bastards really are something else. It’s a shame you have know idea what’s coming for you.

Loco Caballero bends forward in the armchair, elbows on his knees. Then why don’t you enlighten us?

Should I? Chaldee mimics the jefe’s movements, he and Loco becoming mirror images of each other across the coffee table. Shall I ‘enlighten’ you Playdoughs? Seems somebody should.

Loco nods his head intensely, his eyes smoldering like volcanic vents down at the darkest part of the ocean.

Please do, he says.

With pleasure. Chaldee stands up out of his chair, lifts his arm out toward the main entrance. Follow me, boys.

I’m not leaving, Loco says, looking away.

Oh, we’re not going nowhere. Chaldee pokes his head toward the door. I just wanna show you boys something you might find… captivating.

 

 

None of the other Plebeyos know the story of how Loco Caballero got his name. All they know is what they’ve heard.

One legend, the one most Plebeyos believe, says Loco was a Marine in his past life, having served a tour in Iran and two tours in Cuba. According to the most popular version, his squadmates in Iran were the ones who nicknamed him Loco, for the way he always ran headfirst into the thickest of the fighting. Some say he even got the Medal of Honor for creating a diversion that lured the enemy away after his squad got pinned down in Shiraz. Some think he got two Medals of Honor, one in Iran and the other in Cuba; a few believe he got them both in Cuba, or both in Iran. Still others say it wasn’t a Medal of Honor but a Purple Heart, for whatever happened to his face.

There are other stories, too–that Loco was a Hollywood stuntman, or a fireman, or even a cop. The craziest rumor is that Loco used to be a F.I.R.E. agent himself, till he went rogue and tried to burn down the regional office in San Diego, almost killing himself in the process.

But the truth is no one knows how Loco got his name or his scars. The only people who ever knew the real story are now dead.

 

 

Before Loco makes it through the main doors, he hears Dormilona screaming, the baby crying in her arms without its blanket. Loco runs out into the carport, the Wypipos already waiting and aiming their rifles at him.

Woah, woah! Easy there, cowboy. Chaldee holds Loco’s shoulder from behind with one hand. Let’s not do anything too crazy, agreed?

Loco jerks his shoulder so that Chaldee’s hand falls away. He watches Chaldee step toward Dormilona holding the baby, tears trembling in her eyes and streaming down both cheeks. Escorting them from a side exit door is Pelón, looking more afraid than ever.

Forgive me, Jefe, Pelón says. I didn’t want to die. Perdóname.

Loco’s face is all twisted up, his eyes on Pelón like a guard dog’s following a stranger. Fucken coward, he mutters. You’re already a dead man. He spits on the ground, sealing the vow.

Pelón leads Dormilona by the upper arm toward Chaldee, who reaches for her.

Come here, sweetie. Or should I call you Sleepy? Sleepy, ain’t it? Ain’t that what they call you?

Don’t touch me! Dormilona turns away, holding the baby tightly against her chest with both arms.

Loco looks confused. How do you know her name?

Oh, well, thanks to my boy Baldy here, I know a lot, Seen-your Caballero, yo say ken eres. I also know how many you got in your little militia. And, most importantly, I know that most of them are out on recon right now, collecting supplies and whatnot. I’m telling you, you have no idea who you’re invading here.

If that’s true, Loco says, if you came here knowing our fighters would be gone, then you’re more sackless than this dog.

Chaldee seems to be really enjoying himself. Everything’s fair in war and peace. Ain’t it, Jefe?

We’re not at war with each other.

But that’s where you’re sorely mistaken.

How can us Plebeyos be at war with anyone when we’re just trying to survive?

Your surviving means our dying, Chaldee says. That’s why we’re at war, and that’s why we’ll always be at war, till one of us wipes the other out.

It doesn’t have to be like this, Loco pleads, palms out.

Maybe not. But that’s the way it is. Chaldee rubs the back of his neck. And we can stand here fussing over what the world should or shouldn’t be like, or we can deal with the world exactly how it comes.

I thought all you Wypipos were supposed to be Christians. War and genocide aren’t very Christlike.

Chaldee grins. Well, you know what they say–Chaldee points a fat finger up at the big blue sky above–He helps them that help themselves. And so, don’t mind if we do.

Chaldee begins to run his fingers through Dormilona’s hair and she reels her head and spits on his nose and cheek.

Jezebel! Chaldee backhands her hard across the face, the baby nearly slipping from her arms.

Loco swings his rifle around and aims it at Chaldee. You fucken piece-of-shit!

The Plebeyo fighters, their arms and fingers tense, aim their rifles at the Wypipos who have theirs trained back at them.

Chaldee uses his sleeve to wipe the spit away from his face. Oh, boy, are you going to pay for that.

If you even lay a finger–

I’ll do a lot more than lay a finger on her, if I want. I might even use two fingers.

You’re dead! You’re fucken dead! Loco yells, the rifle now rattling in his hands.

Pelón gently grabs Chaldee by the wrist. You say you’re not gonna hurt her or the baby.

Chaldee stares at Pelon’s hand on his wrist. You’re right, he says, gazing up at the sky as though answering the sun. I did say that, didn’t I?

Chaldee nods his head toward Pelón, and two Wypipos grab Pelón’s arms, shoving him down onto his knees.

What the fuck, man! Pelón protests. You said if I do what you say, I’ll be safe in your camp. You said!

Chaldee’s round stomach throbs as he laughs silently to himself again.

You thought we were gonna let a spik in with us? Boy, you’re stupider than you sound.

He pulls a silvery revolver from behind his back and swings the cylinder out, checking for bullets, before closing it and thumbing the hammer back.

Let me show you what we do to lousy spik traitors.

Pelón, looking scared and confused, glances over at Loco, then passes out, his body collapsing, head knocking back.

I think the boy’s fainted, Major! says one of the Wypipos holding Pelón up by the arm, and smiling.

Chaldee laughs, hooting and slapping his thigh. The other Wypipos start grinning around. Chaldee looks at Loco Caballero, pointing his revolver at Pelón held up by the arms like a marionette.

Get a load of this! he says, and shakes his head. Is this who you got protecting your precious Playdoughs? You really are doomed! This is fate. The hand of God. I’m only doing you a favor by speeding it up.

What should we do with him, Major?

Let’s see if we can’t wake him up.

Chaldee crouches in front of Pelón, tapping his chin with the revolver, and saying in a singsong voice, Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey.

Pelón’s eyelids flutter as he comes to. He sees Chaldee’s face right in front of his, and groans.

There he is! Chaldee says cheerfully. I thought we’d lost you, Baldy!

Pelón looks around all sleepy-faced. What? What happen?

Nothing really, Chaldee says casually. Only this.

Chaldee tucks the barrel under Pelón’s chin and pulls the trigger, the top of Pelón’s shaved head exploding up and outward, the roar echoing across the desert, blood and chunks of brain spraying onto the two Wypipos holding Pelón. They drop him and step away, wiping their faces in disgust. Chaldee stands up, smiling like a sadistic boy. Grinning at Loco, and pointing at Pelón’s lifeless body with his revolver, he says, Looks like our Baldy’s lost his brain.

You’re insane, you know that?

There’s a wild look on Chaldee’s face as he nods in agreement.

But so am I, Loco says, squeezing the trigger. The AR blasts out four quick shots–three across Chaldee’s vest, one ripping into his left shoulder, the last one tearing across his left cheek before blowing off his pink ear. The Plebeyos and Wypipos are firing at each other, six Plebeyos dropping to the ground in sync with three Wypipos; the others keep firing at each other while dropping back for cover, taking shots to the arms and legs and vest. Chaldee bolts for the trucks, holding the side of his bloody head. Dormilona is flat on the ground, protecting the baby in her arms. The air in the carport vibrates with heavy, cascading claps, as the Wypipos scramble back to their trucks, shooting behind them toward the Estancia without looking. Loco steps sideways, firing constantly, getting one Wypipo in the back of the leg and doming another one just as the man’s hand touches the door handle on the closest truck. The other truck screeches around and out of the parking lot, Major Chaldee ducking behind the wheel and more Wypipo laying low in the truck bed, firing their weapons over the sides, the Plebeyos sending bullets after them.

Loco runs over to where Dormilona is still laying, screaming, the baby in her arms. Are you O.K.! Is the baby O.K.!

Dormilona goes from screaming to crying. Loco looks her and the baby over–the side of his wife’s face is all scratched up from forehead to chin, the baby is crying bloody murder, but otherwise they’re O.K.

The other Plebeyos are busy finishing off the wounded Wypipos and tending to their own.

You’re hit, Guaro says, pointing at Loco’s shoulder.

Loco presses his hand to the wet red spot and checks his red-soaked fingers. I’ll live. He calls attention to Guaro’s limping. What about you?

It hurts worse than it is.

They both stand there surveying the scene, bodies spread out everywhere.

Well, we won that battle, Guaro says.

That wasn’t the battle.

In the distance, from along the expressway, they hear the routed Wypipos firing in the air and hollering.

Loco turns and starts padding toward the casino. Go find the rest, he says. And make sure they’re ready.

 

Featured image: Rennett Stowe/Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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