THE BUFFALO HUNTERS
The bell tinkled as the door to the roadside diner opened and two people walked in. Shelly, the waitress, was used to all types stopping for a break but this couple were perhaps the oddest yet. The man was a very tall Negro, probably in his forties, his skin seemed sunken around his brown eyes; he had a seventies pimp hat, an obscure gold symbol danced on the outside of his flamingo pink shirt, he was wearing loose black linen trousers and brown loafers; a chunky gold watch adorned his right wrist. The woman was white and the wrong side of forty, a frazzled perm which was mostly brown with lots of blond highlights; her lipstick and eye shadow hadn’t been applied with any real care, there were lines around her cold eyes; she was wearing a sleeveless black top, a violet skirt, faded peach high heeled shoes and a pink plastic watch on her left wrist.
Shelly pushed some dirty plates through the counter into the kitchen and turned to await their order. The man was studying the limited menu which was next to a sign declaring that breakfast would only be served before nine, it was now ten. His deep voice asked for the Trucker’s Breakfast. The woman had a thin smile on her lips and was watching Shelly through hooded eyes. Shelly was unsure what to say, the sign couldn’t be missed yet he had chosen to ignore it. The woman made Shelly uneasy, not the tall man who didn’t give a damn about when breakfast was served.
“We don’t normally serve breakfast now but you sure look beat, will you be eating too, ma’am?”
The woman smiled and put on some cheap sunglasses that could have come with her watch, “I just want coffee, and lots of it.”
Reggie and Joanna sauntered to a corner in the smoking section of the diner. There was only one other person sat there, two tables away. Ten minutes later, Shelly brought over their order. The Trucker’s Breakfast consisted of eggs sunny side up, ham, pancakes and syrup, all heaped together on a large plate. Reggie tapped some salt onto his food in a refined manner and began to eat his food noisily. Joanna laughed, “Reggie, you are so damn genteel.”
She poured coffee for the both of them and twisted around so she could rest her legs on the seat. This also meant that Joanna could survey the whole interior of the diner as well as the parking lot. She downed her coffee and poured another cup, “Do you think it’s wise sitting with your back to the window?”
Reggie smiled without saying anything and continued to eat.
“Isn’t it conceivable that someone could walk up to the window, pull out a gun and blow your fucking brains out all over your Trucker’s Breakfast?”
Reggie choked with laughter, “Who would be stupid enough to do that with you sitting there, baby?”
Joanna smiled and her gaze took in the uninspiring panorama. The waitress was making herself busy, cleaning the tables. An overweight man, obviously a trucker, was flicking through a porn magazine, his fingers were touching the pages, feeling up the naked glossy women, he didn’t even look at the waitress when she passed by. Joanna decided that he had popped too many green pills. Her attention settled on the other person in the smoking section. He was a drifter, his dirty scuffed bag gave him away as did his behaviour at the table. He had also ordered a Trucker’s Breakfast but whereas Reggie would take no more than five minutes to finish his, the drifter had only worked his way across half of the plate even though he must have ordered it over an hour ago. The drifter was cutting everything into small pieces, chewing each piece very slowly, savouring the taste. Occasionally, he would stop eating to read a statistic in a sports magazine that was spread open next to the plate, it would probably be his only meal of the day. He must have already hitchhiked hundreds of kilometres, no mean feat in a country like America, the land of the free and the deranged. The boy was in his mid-twenties, he looked up and she knew he didn’t see her, Reggie or even the diner, he was lost in a dream that would never happen. Joanna frowned and removed her sunglasses to study the boy more closely, she whispered fiercely, “Reggie, Reggie, look at that boy over there.”
He grunted as he finished the last part of his breakfast but when he looked up the boy was heading to the rest room. Reggie glanced at Joanna quizzically, it was rare for her to get excited when she was in one of her more lucid states.
Joanna spoke, “Can’t you see the similarity?”
She fumbled for something in her wallet before unfolding a piece of newspaper which she handed to Reggie. He studied the creased picture and the boy as he returned to his table.
She whispered, “That is exactly what he would look like.”
Joanna had often talked about the adventures of some blonde-haired European kid. Reggie was never sure if she was making them up, perhaps it was immaterial, these stories seemed to be the only happy memory from a stormy past. He knew it would be a mistake to ask so he was always happy to humour her in situations like these.
Reggie remembered the first time he had met Joanna. He had been discussing a deal in a bar, afterwards Reggie was relaxing with a whiskey. He hadn’t noticed Joanna before but he did now, he remembered thinking to himself that it took a foolish woman to drink alone in this part of town. Joanna was smoking and knocking back tequila. A burly grease monkey wandered up to her, he touched her hair and whispered into her ear for thirty seconds. Joanna didn’t acknowledge or dismiss him so he took that as a sign of encouragement. He put his mouth on hers while his other hand slide up her thigh. She smashed the tequila bottle into his head with so much force that a large shard embedded itself into his skull. That must have hurt. The grease monkey was crying with pain and raged at her, “You fucking bitch, I bet your mother was a whore too!”
Reggie would never forget the look on Joanna’s face upon hearing these words. She appeared to grab the man’s groin because he lurched backwards screaming like an animal. Reggie realised that she was holding a bloodied knife. Joanna walked out of the bar. The guy was bleeding out, she must have severed an artery. Reggie followed her for three blocks until she walked into a hotel. Reggie let ten minutes pass then spoke to the concierge. He gave a description, pretending that Joanna was a married woman having an affair. Reggie flattened out twenty bucks and acquired Joanna’s room number. It was that kind of town, a lazy bum worked the check-in desk and he was suddenly a concierge because the shiny metal letters spelled it out on the wall behind him.
“She’s my girl now, if anyone else comes in asking, she never came back.”
The bum nodded, if someone was prepared to pay for some discretion, he wasn’t going to argue.
Reggie took the elevator to the third floor and rapped on room thirty-eight’s door, it opened a crack, he held his arms away from his body, “I saw what happened in the bar. You can’t stay here, I can get you to a hideaway.”
Joanna opened the door and motioned him in with a gun, “Sit on the edge of the bed with your hands under your legs.”
Reggie did as he was told, she was still in a rage, one wrong word and his brains would adorn the bedding.
Joanna sneered, “So who the fuck are you, the Good Samaritan?”
Reggie smiled, “I am …a man of business. My line of work needs a person with certain…qualities. Your will be more useful outside of jail. Do you know they have the death penalty in this state?”
Normally, Joanna would never have listened to such bullshit yet this guy was calmly sitting there with a gun in his face despite having seen her de-cock a man.
“You know I’m desperate, don’t fuck with me! What’s your name?”
“Okay, Reggie. What line of work are you in?”
“I’m a Buffalo Hunter.”
Joanna burst out laughing, “Jesus, you must be crazier than me.”
Reggie laughed deeply, “Do I still have to sit on my hands?”
That had been the start of it all, colleagues, friends, lovers, perhaps something more than that. Reggie had never read any of the stories but if Joanna said that this faded youth looked like a fictional character then he was inclined to believe her.
Joanna called over to the drifter, who had returned to his table, “Hey! What’s your name?”
The boy, worn out by life, looked at Reggie and Joanna for the first time, he rubbed his tired eyes and brushed his hand through his dirty blond hair, he sensed that this odd pairing were dangerous but he had nothing to lose so he replied, “Tim.”
Joanna asked him, “Do you have a last name, Tim?”
“ Not really.”
Both Reggie and Joanna smiled at this reply.
“Do you have a dog, Tim?”
“Have you ever had a dog?”
“What happened to it?”
“I shot it.”
Joanna laughed and turned to Reggie who was in convulsions, his deep laughter echoed around the diner.
“How about we buy you something else to eat?”
Tim nodded his head and Joanna waved her hand at Shelly who had been startled by Reggie when he had slapped the table while he was laughing. For a wild moment, Shelly thought someone had been shot. Shelly approached the table and Joanna ordered another breakfast, she felt relieved as she walked back to the counter, she had been expecting trouble.
Tim picked up his bag and sat at the adjacent table. Joanna looked meaningfully at Reggie, he understood her gaze and turned to Tim, “Where are you heading?”
Reggie laughed, “That’s where we’re heading too!”
Tim ate his second breakfast like a condemned man and once he had finished, he jumped into the car with Reggie. Joanna paid the bill, leaving a tip for Shelly.
The journey in the car was punctuated by Joanna’s one-sided conversations, Reggie’s laughter and Tim’s laconic replies. Occasionally, all three of them were silent, lost in their thoughts. They drove all day and when it was dark, they pulled into the desolate parking lot of a motel. Reggie paid for a double and a single. Tim was surprised, he had anticipated this stop to be the end of the line, neither of them asked him to pay for the room, not that he could pay for anything, he only had five dollars. Tim smiled inwardly. They sure were two odd birds but he might do well out of them. Experience had taught him to keep his thoughts to himself so he didn’t thank them when the key was handed over, he simply nodded silently. Tim had a shower and flicked on the television, luxury. The problem with luxuries is that once you have been deprived of them, you realise you don’t rely on them any more. Bored with the multitude of dumb channels, Tim went outside and lit a cigarette. It was a cool night, no one was about, he noticed a chink of light coming from a window and walked up to it. Peering through the gap in the curtains, Tim saw Reggie handcuffed naked to a bed, an equally naked Joanna was astride him, holding a gun in his mouth as she fucked him. Tim took a long drag on his cigarette, the act taking place before his eyes was turning him on, he masturbated outside the window, imagining Joanna was fucking him.
The next day in the car, Joanna noticed that Tim’s eyes were straying to her more than usual, she picked up a map and half-leant into the back of the car on the pretext of showing Tim where they were going but she knew Tim would get a damn good view down her top. Tim felt his blood heat up, he could see Joanna was not wearing a bra and her breasts were rocking slightly with the motion of the car, the map was on his left leg and Joanna’s hand was on the map, the swaying of her breasts reminded him of the night before, his breathing quickened, Joanna twisted back into her seat, smirking.
Reggie spoke, startling Tim, “Listen boy, you may come in handy for a job, how does three hundred dollars sound to you?”
“What’s the job?”
“Don’t know all the details yet, once I do, I’ll let you know.”
They left the freeway, headed up a dusty road and parked in front of a dilapidated house. Reggie stepped out of the car, “I’ll be back in about thirty minutes.”
Reggie went into the house. Joanna lit a cigarette. Tim sat there quietly. After ten minutes, she turned to Tim, “You should stretch your legs. Take a peek through that small window at the side of the house.”
Tim got out and cautiously approached the window. Peeping inside, Tim saw Reggie and a Latina fucking. Tim licked his lips. He wanted to carry on watching but Joanna would know why. Instead, he walked back. Joanna was on the back seat, she had one leg inside the car, one outside, her skirt had ridden up her thighs, she wasn’t wearing any panties. Joanna beckoned to him. He stood in front of her.
“Do you like my tits?”
Tim whispered a yes. Joanna slowly undid Tim’s zipper, she put her hand inside his trousers and squeezed his cock. She flipped it out, Tim closed his eyes, he could feel Joanna’s hand sliding up and down, faster and faster…he came. His cheeks were flushed. Joanna lit a cigarette, “Best zip up again and get in the car.”
They sat in silence. She smoked. He tried to make sense about what had just happened. Reggie left the house and settled into the driving seat, Joanna leant over to him from the back seat and they kissed hard.
Driving off, Reggie spoke to Tim, “Well boy, it seems that there are two bad men in the city who haven’t been paying their bills. We have to show them the error of their ways, what do you say?”
Two hours later, they were cruising through the back alleys of the city. They came to a stop in front of a warehouse, they all stepped out. Both Reggie and Joanna were checking their guns, Tim felt apprehensive but Joanna smiled at him, “Stay behind us and keep quiet.”
The warehouse seemed deserted, hardly any lights were on. Reggie advanced like a coiled panther, Tim was edgy but he didn’t want to lose face in front of Joanna. Someone was in the warehouse because light was beaming from a room. Reggie rushed in and Tim’s blood chilled, expecting to hear a gunshot. All he heard was a short struggle followed by silence. Joanna pushed Tim forwards. One man lay on the floor, his face was bloodied, and another man was sitting in a chair with his hands held high.
Joanna laughed, “Are these our pigeons?”
Reggie smiled, “They sure are, baby. Hey boy, tie up this piece of shit here!”
The man in the chair had a deep gash in his forehead and he flinched as Tim approached him. The other man was lifted onto a chair. Joanna slapped him a few times, laughing in glee. Reggie slipped a wire noose over the man’s head and tightened it around the throat, he raised his hands to pull at it but Joanna grabbed them, slid them up into her blouse and pressed them tightly onto her breasts. Joanna began to lower herself to the floor, Reggie tightened the wire and held the man over her, she was moaning as she moved the man’s hands, the wire bit deep and blood dripped onto her lips. The man was dead so Reggie let the body fall onto Joanna, she was still in rapture.
“Do you think I’m going to give you three hundred dollars just to tie someone up?”
Tim did not say anything, Reggie held out a gun and pointed to the man tied to the chair, “Finish him!”
Tim hesitated and Reggie laughed, “Damn boy, you surely don’t think I’m trying to frame you?” Reggie didn’t wait for an answer, he walked over to the dead man, angling the body away from Joanna and shot the corpse twice in the head. Blood splattered onto Joanna’s face and she laughed wildly.
“The gun has my prints on it, finish him!”
Reggie’s tone of voice was menacing, Tim advanced towards the man in the chair and shot him point blank in the head. The chair fell over. Tim heard Reggie’s voice, “Shoot him in the head again, it’s in the contract.”
Another shot rang out.
Back in the car again, Joanna turned to Tim, “You did good. We are going to collect our money from an old friend, Bull Neck Johnson. What do you think, Reggie, does Tim deserve another slice of the pie?”
Reggie smiled, “You did good, boy. There is a lot of money to be made in the city, you may not think we are much to look at but we are good at what we do, we are the last of the Buffalo Hunters.”
They were driving along a road which was parallel to railway tracks. They came to a stop near a loading platform. All three of them walked up the steps. A man emerged from the shadows, he was about five foot ten, his muscled body was like a barrel and his large listless python arms dangled as he dropped a bag onto the ground.
Reggie laughed heartily, “Howdy pardner!”
“Reggie, are you still the baddest motherfucker?”
“Fuck yeah, Bull Neck. If you don’t believe it, why don’t you try me?”
Bull Neck Johnson laughed. He had an inherent distrust of people, Reggie was the only person he had ever trusted, and when a guy saves your life, you owe him everything. Bull Neck looked at Tim, “Don’t you want to know how I got my name?”
“Ten years ago, I was a punk, stealing whatever I could, I wasn’t hooked up with anyone. I ripped off this bar but it belonged to a couple of established hoods. They kicked the crap out of me and brought me here. They were talking all kinds of shit and when a freight train was speeding past, they threw me against it. My neck was broken and they left me lying in the dirt. Reggie found me. I had only done a couple of jobs for him but he paid for a doctor to fix a piece of metal in my neck. I worked out and made myself stronger. Reggie told me I had to settle up with the two hoods. Everyday I thought about what I would do to them. Reggie delivered them to me here. I was too strong for them. I held the back of their necks and when that freight train came rocketing through, it tore their faces off.”
Reggie laughed, “Oh baby, you should have been here for that one, I have never heard a scream cut off so quickly.”
A freight train was approaching at high speed, its noisy progress prevented any chance of conversation. Bull Neck Johnson was directly behind Tim who was watching the carriages flash past, one meaty hand reached out and flung him forwards. Tim’s lifeless body flopped onto the platform. After the freight train had gone, the gun used to kill the men in the warehouse was wiped for prints. It was wrapped in Tim’s inert hand before it was placed in his jacket pocket. Reggie kicked Tim’s body onto the tracks, shook Bull Neck’s hand and picked up the bag containing the money for the warehouse job.
Joanna and Reggie walked back to the car.
“That white boy sure did like you.”
“That Spic bitch sure does like you, Reggie.”
“That’s just business, baby.”
“So was this.”
Fields with the hue of pale dead leather, the hue of a condemned prisoner’s shaven pate. It was as if the guilty had been flayed alive and their lacerated skin had covered the land. The earth drank the pain until the desiccated skin stretched so tightly that it became a monstrous death mask. Once the plains had been resplendent with countless buffalo, they had been hunted to extinction, and what became of the Buffalo Hunters?
Joanna was dead. That was the only certainty in Reggie’s confused mind. Joanna’s last moment replayed endlessly: she had been badly hit, she had managed to lift her head up and was about to say something when a bullet had ripped out her throat. Blood instead of words. Reggie’s blood was seeping out of a shoulder wound, he felt empty inside, how long had he and Joanna been together? She had been one of his kind, cruel and vicious, but they had loved one another. They had often talked about going to live in Mexico and pull a few scams. It was their hollow dream. Reggie was heading to Mexico, he knew he wouldn’t make it because he was dying but Joanna would have understood…
It was a routine job, an exchange of drugs for money. The meeting was in a warehouse, hardly original. For a brief moment, Joanna thought back to a job she had done with Reggie a few years ago, it could have even been the same warehouse. Joanna cussed herself, her mind was wandering when she should be concentrating. Even though they knew the other people involved, Reggie had kept his hand in his jacket pocket, which did not go unnoticed by the De Sanchez brothers. The brothers joked with Reggie, “Hey, two years and no trust, you’ve got no heart, man.”
Reggie’s deep laughter echoed around the warehouse, masking his concerns. Joanna was becoming a liability, she didn’t have the same intensity on jobs. It was true that the De Sanchez brothers had dealt with him for over two years, which was why Reggie didn’t look back at Joanna, they would sniff out weakness. He and Joanna weren’t the only ruthless killers in the warehouse. Joanna was studying the surroundings. Reggie and the De Sanchez brothers were in the middle of an open space, which had been cleared for the meeting. A few vehicles littered the perimeter along with randomly stacked crates. The warehouse was a mess and situated in an isolated part of town. Past meetings had been rotated amongst three locations. Reggie tightened his grip on the gun, maybe he was getting too old for this sort of life, paranoia was for the weak. He and Joanna should stop talking about going to Mexico and just drive there.
The De Sanchez brothers counted out the money for Reggie’s benefit then they tested the heroine. They nodded their heads and the bag of money was thrown onto the ground, a few metres from Reggie’s feet. Something was not right. The menace in Reggie’s voice alerted Joanna, “Pick up the bag and bring it to me!”
The De Sanchez brothers were jokingly protesting but their words were forced, they were using their chatter to edge away. They couldn’t be alone, where were the other men placed? Joanna was thinking the same thing as Reggie, she had to anticipate the ambush, once the first bullet was fired, everything would be over very quickly. Joanna was watching the De Sanchez brothers gesticulating, they were keeping their hands away from their jackets. The brothers had moved either side of the table, they were making it easier for a clear shot at Reggie. Joanna could not see anyone lurking so she instinctively looked up. Large bright lights were hanging from the roof, she realised that the lights were actually attached to a thin walkway. Her eyes ran along its length and she could make out the outline of a kneeling figure, her automatic blasted, the shooter fell down but not before he had clipped Reggie’s leg. As Reggie fell, he rolled to his right, firing two shots, anticipating the gunman who had appeared from behind the crates. The De Sanchez brothers had been retreating but the youngest brother noticed Reggie was hit and vulnerable. Joanna was about to shoot the youngest sibling but she was grabbed from behind, De Sanchez shot at Reggie. Joanna did a backwards head butt as Reggie’s body crumpled, she fired and the youngest De Sanchez was hit twice in the chest. The remaining De Sanchez brother was forced into cover and was calling men in from outside as Joanna tried to make her way across to her lover. Reggie struggled to his feet, he shouted as he picked up the wounded brother and slowly slit his throat. Joanna was reloading, unwittingly she had exposed herself in trying to see if Reggie had made it to cover, she was hit. She staggered forwards and fell, she lifted her head up, looking Reggie in the eye but before she could say anything, her throat exploded. Joanna fell to the ground, her body felt numb…she was looking up at the lights, her eyes filled with tears as she suddenly had a vision of her little daughter…one night Joanna’s happiness had ended in flames. Darkness swept over her.
Franco was in good health and in his early fifties, he had more than enough money to last him several lifetimes but he was a worried man. The FBI had been building up a file on him for years however there had never been any evidence to nail him with. Franco had always covered his tracks, leaving nothing to chance, he was very meticulous. Unfortunately, a corpse had been dragged up from the bottom of the harbour, one that should not have been found. This nameless individual had taken liberties not only with Franco’s money but a very personal possession. Franco had been so enraged, he had wanted to resolve this situation himself. Three people had witnessed Franco’s use of a drill, blowtorch and a hacksaw. One of the witnesses had been Franco’s business partner until Franco had decided he did not require a partner. Some Columbian drug dealers had filleted the second witness in a misunderstanding. One witness was still alive and Franco did not like uncertainty. The man was a contractual associate who had provided exceptional service throughout the years but if it was a choice between a dead associate or a life sentence, well, in Franco’s mind there was no choice. He selected the De Sanchez brothers. Franco used the De Sanchez brothers sparingly as they were arrogant and indiscrete but they had enough muscle to deal with this problem. With a bit of luck, maybe one of them would be killed as well.
Bullets were flying everywhere, a vehicle exploded and crates containing chemicals caught fire. One of the containers sprayed the men shooting at Reggie, they fell to the ground, clawing at their skin. Smoke is a hollow mask. Reggie fled the warehouse and drove away as it went up in flames. The surviving De Sanchez brother had escaped, no matter, Reggie had plans for him. He headed to the deserted area of a rail yard and stumbled into a dusty disused storage room. Opening up a locker, Reggie placed a safety deposit box key inside and wrote a message for Bull Neck Johnson; the surviving De Sanchez brother was to die slowly enough to obtain a name, that name would die painfully too. Reggie’s blood sprinkled over the note. Reggie drove away, knowing that Bull Neck would do the job. De Sanchez was a dead man walking as was whoever had ordered the hit on him and Joanna.
When Reggie was a teenager, he dabbled in petty crime. His father was a stern but fair man who once found out that Reggie had stolen something and had taken to him with his belt. Reggie learnt a valuable lesson that day, he became sly and kept things to himself, trusting no one. Reggie grew attached to a girl in the neighbourhood, it was fairly innocent, Shola was a couple of years older than him, they had kissed a few times. One morning her battered body was found in an alley. Reggie was restless, a void had opened up inside of him. Usually, if a murder was committed in the neighbourhood, faint whispers would meander and fade but no one was saying anything. An old blind man called Clarence seemed to have the knack of knowing everything that was going on, sometimes before it even happened so Reggie went to him. As usual, Clarence was sitting on the steps in front of his building, wearing sunglasses because his white eggy eyes disconcerted most people. Reggie greeted Clarence and pressed a fifty dollar bill into the old man’s hand. He whispered his question. A shiver went down Reggie’s spine because Clarence had removed his sunglasses and his sightless eyes were searching Reggie’s face. Clarence sighed, uttered a name and returned the money, saying simply, “You will be needing this.”
Reggie had never even slapped someone but now he had the name of the animal that had killed Shola, murderous feelings boiled up inside of him. Everyone knew a local hood called Roach was dangerous hence the silence following Shola’s death. Reggie packed some clothing, wrapped his roll of money in a towel and left the house, knowing that he would not be returning whatever the outcome. He bought a hunter’s knife with a jagged edge from an associate.
Reggie took a tram, which carried him deep into the heart of town, Roach could usually be found in The Buffalo Bar late into afternoon. The bar’s interior was dimly lit, a few people were inside, Roach was seated at the back, talking loudly to a friend. Reggie controlled his rage, both the men would be carrying guns, he would have to be patient, he ordered a drink and perched on a bar stool. After fifteen minutes, Roach’s friend left and as Reggie walked over, Roach’s hand strayed into his jacket. Reggie put his bag down and opened out his arms. Roach’s eyes were gleaming dangerously, “I saw you casing me, what you want, boy?”
Reggie replied calmly, “I have some information.”
Roach laughed arrogantly, “What you think I pay cops for? I don’t need no information from a punk like you.”
Reggie’s arms were still opened out, “There is a name who knows about a dead girl in an alley.” Roach’s eyes narrowed, the punk’s expression was calm, his hands weren’t shaking so he beckoned him over. Reggie leaned in and whispered his own name, Roach angrily began to say “Reggie who motherfuc…” but he did not finish. The knife had slipped down Reggie’s jacket sleeve and forced itself into Roach’s stomach. Roach was doubled up over the table, coughing up blood, he tried to reach for his gun, Reggie slashed his hand.
“Who paid for the hit? I’ve got money, we can deal…”
“This is for Shola.”
Reggie lifted Roach’s head and thrust the knife into his throat. There was a brief gurgling sound as blood spurted out.
Reggie’s Cadillac drifted languidly off the road, gently gliding into a ditch…