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Part XI: The End of the Line
“Well, you found me,” he said in his bass voice, grown more gravelly with each lit cigarette. “Now what?”
Dumbfounded, I searched for a reply and stalled by taking a long draft of my beer. At this moment, I realized life superseded choice; a man’s will is a spell cast by ego. Only fate, of the volitionless sort, could have placed me face-to-face with Diablo, in an utterly random place and time, mingling desire with horror–as moments of synchronicity often do.
“I didn’t mean it to be here . . . like this.” I said.
“We seldom do,” he replied. A pause ensued. He stirred his drink. “I suppose I have been waiting for this moment for as long as you have,” he said suddenly, without raising his head. “You know, it’s my destiny, too.”
“But how did you know I was looking for you?”
“You’ve been looking for a long time.”
I had the uneasy feeling that there were things about my life that I didn’t know. I felt embarrassed, vulnerable, guilty, yet somewhat titillated by the knowledge that Diablo knew who I was, at least tangentially.
“Yes, I’ve been looking a long time,” I admitted, exhaling slowly, suddenly exhausted.
I was a child, grappling with the knowledge that what I knew was dwarfed by what I didn’t and perhaps never could. I had lost my grasp on the moment, as often happens when long-sought dreams collide with real-life circumstances.
“Buy me a drink,” he insisted.
He called the bartender over with a high-pitched whistle, as one might summon a dog. I reached into my pocket instinctively, removing a bill fold and paying for Diablo’s drink.
“What happened to you?” I heard myself asking. A flood gathered behind the dike. I was going to either get my answer or get killed.
“It’s a long story,” he laughed, perhaps sensing the banality of his response.
“I have been reincarnated so many times since you last saw me; the person for whom you search is not really me, and yet it is me. “Lead Singer” was a shirt I wore, discarded. The label has no claim on me. I have been rock and tree, eagle and egret, subterranean orphan and prince of otherworldly realms. I have eaten forbidden fruit in uncharted corners of the solar system; I have wept over children slain in the name of god and country. I have pumped your gas and driven your buses. I have experienced both glory and despair, all the while aware of your quest. Hiding, and yet standing in broad daylight. I was with you in Juárez and Mexico City and La Paz and in your small apartment. And now I am here and demand only one action of you, my loving, selfless minion.”
This was getting weird, I finally realized.
He reached under the table, fished up a rolled newspaper, and put in on the table. Unrolling the paper, he revealed a revolver. He slid it toward me.
“Do it,” he commanded.
“I didn’t come to kill you,” I stated, utterly befuddled by the transpiration of events.
“Yes you did,” he smiled a devilish grin.
“I’m no murderer. I’m a journalist. I only want an interview.”
“Don’t kid yourself, partner,” he mocked. “We are all murderers and mutilators of truth. You are no exception. When you have a chance, take it. That is what a human animal is: an opportunist. So, you found me, now kill me.”
“I won’t,” I stated with conviction. I scrambled for some excuse as I stared at the revolver. “Look, don’t you want to get the band back together?” I stated as boldly as possible given my quivering limbs.
His eyes softened and then perked.
“I’m their official messenger,” I lied.
“Don’t fuck with me!” He growled, suddenly sensing my fabrication.
“I’m not. I’m serious.”
I looked around the room for an amulet to anchor my story. Spying a half-empty ketchup bottle, I spurted, “Yes they have a new band, Fancy Ketchup. Good sound, no lead singer. Dickey Oceans, Slick Dickson on guitars.” I was probably in deep shit no matter how this turned out, I thought. Coxx was in Bolivia, Aguas on tour, Oceans suckling piglets with a bestiality cult in Guerneville.
A deep pause. He stroked his chin, jutting it out. For the first time since I had entered the bar, I glimpsed Diablo, the Diablo I had known.
“I fucking miss those guys!” he sang.
A single tear dribbled down his cheek, cascading gently into his watered whiskey. “Let’s go get some chips and salsa to celebrate! Hot fucking salsa!” he yelled, tucking the pistol into his waist, rising, and grasping me about the head in an older-brother, I-love-you-but-can’t-say-it-outright kind of way.
Images drowned my memory. A life spent chasing a myth–no sadness now, no pain. My fears gave way to ecstasy. The dreamy fog of desire floated skyward, revealing a new reality.
Part X: Confusion and Discovery
I woke up in bed. My bed. I wasn’t sure if what I had seen or experienced was a troubled dream or a dark reality. I’m not sure how many days had passed since Juarez or what was in that pill that Coxx had given me. I could see him smirking.
I got up from bed feeling somewhat sore but not worse for the wear, considering. God, I was happy to be home. I ambled to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. I poured myself a glass of orange juice and sat down at the kitchen table. I peered out my window, studying the trees, and let my mind wander.
My adventure: it seemed to be nothing more than an aimless existential endeavor. Although, I did know that I didn’t give a shit about Diablo anymore, where he was, or who he had become. I was naïve to believe that my quest had any higher purpose than fulfilling a whim of my younger self.
After a few days of flopping around my apartment, eating frozen pizzas and taking aimless evening walks around the perimeter of my building, I was thoroughly bored. I decided to take a camping trip near Sequoia in the southern Sierras. I packed my gear, filled up the gas tank, and departed. Driving up the 5 and over the Grapevine, I felt as if I couldn’t be farther from what I was seeking, and I liked the feeling. I needed fresh air, nature, and a way to reassess my goals.
A few miles after crossing the hills, I took Highway 99 toward Bakersfield and then route 66 to Portersville. Maybe I’d spend the night there, a place I knew no one and no one knew me—no threats to my immediate health or sanity, I thought. Arriving in town, I pulled into a gas station to refill my tank. As I looked up from my car and scanned the immediate area, my instinct, which hadn’t been exactly reliable during the previous set of adventures, impelled me to leave town. Heading east on the 190, I passed East Portersville, winding slightly toward a body of water that I soon learned was named, auspiciously, I suppose, Lake Success.
I exited as quickly as possible and soon spotted a line of buildings and a few individuals milling aimlessly about, compelled, it seemed, by nothing more than that which compels everyone once the veneer of purpose has been pulled back: the postponement of death. As I slowed my car to park, a strange sensation overtook my nervous system—I might have called it déjà vu; it might best be described as prophetic fulfillment, because, as if looking into a mirror of my subconscious, I came to the realization that I was on the same street, looking at the same drab-colored building I first conjured in my fitless sleep along the desolate and pitch-black Mexican highway. Like a drunken moth, I wobbled toward the neon sign of a cocktail glass that advertised the establishment’s name: Hell.
Feeling dizzy and somewhat disoriented, I pulled open the heavy and weathered wooden door. Several patrons peered blearily in my direction. I hesitated, but by then, it was too late. I walked toward the blackened bar and grabbed the brass bar rail to steady myself.
The bartender smiled, poured me a frothing, icy mug. “He’s over there,” he said.
“Who?” I heard myself utter in a tone that echoed down the corridor of my past life. The word boomeranged to me derisively. “Bastards,” I thought. “My God.”
Hunched in the last booth (the faux leather covering was ripped in random spots, exposing the cheap cotton fiber within)—long graying black hair shabbily hanging about his head; silver, demon-themed rings on each finger; his shirt open at the collar to display a massive patch of matted dark hair overlaid with a thick golden necklace; a half drained whiskey in his hand—sat the figure that I had mythicized over these many years: Jack Diablo.
“Christ,” I uttered.
Part IX: Take the Pill
I thought of Coxx. If this was the last place he and Diablo had seen each other, perhaps Coxx had sent me here not for sadistic fatalistic purposes—he did seem rather altruistic when I think about it—but because he believed I could be guided to Diablo from here. That I was one step closer.
“Did you hear me? No motherfucker with a soul will be found here, amigo,” said the Mexican. The word “motherfucker” reverberated around the deserted dwelling. I felt my head pounding, quick flashes of sound, like bullets being sprayed about the room. And as my guide pulled me under the table, in a surreal and slow-motion episode, I realized the room was being sprayed with bullets, barrages of casings ricocheting off the walls, embedding in the thick adobe.
Out of some grainy instinct I reached into my pocket and felt the pill. I immediately popped it into my mouth, swallowing hard, hoping that if death were imminent it would be from the pill and not from a bullet piercing my head, neck, side. I looked around and saw a deep crimson flood emitting from the Mexican’s chest.
Colors collided, the room set in a thick paste and time slowed to increments bound to an eternal unseen clock. I heard great yelps of pain and joy commingling, feedback echoed as I rode the crest of Salty Onion songs above the desert plains in thick pillowy clouds.
In my ear, Coxx whispered in unborn symbols and syllables. I strained to understand, meaning slipping from my grasp like sand in an hourglass. Aguas smiled knowingly as he floated past my sight, ascending higher and then deeper into the ionosphere. An earthquake. I heard Diablo’s barrel-chested laugh flood my spine, emptying my bowels, shooting me upward to a white curtain of light. Suddenly, I felt myself falling, swimming in a free and etherless space. I grasped for air. I grasped for meaning. My vision darkened.
Part VIII: Tequila in Juárez
I thought about the pill Sisyphus had given me, which I had clutched, protected, pondered over. He said I’d know when to take it. I had to laugh. Was it an aspirin? Ha. Now would be a good time to take it, I thought. But I held onto it. If there was anything to be learned from Sisyphus’s inscrutability, it was that I had dug into some pretty serious shit. This wasn’t just about a mysterious and iconic lead singer that I had once worshipped as a golden Morrisonian god. This was about what he had become, what I had become, what we all had become as time flexed forward.
I looked around. I was alone in an empty room, but for a small wooden side table—on which sat a dusty and half-drunk bottle of tequila—and two empty chairs. A window was cut in the wall of the adobe room, and flies buzzed around it in a chaotic stupor. I lay on a hot dirt floor–caked in sweat and dust, but otherwise unscathed.
After orienting myself, I got up, dusted my pants and headed straight for the bottle of tequila, taking down a hot drag, feeling it burn my esophageal passage and immediately enliven my senses. I remembered the picture Coxx had given me. Was this the place?
As if sensing my consciousness, a tall Mexican—in jeans, cowboy boots, and a white tank top—ambled in and looked my way.
“Hola,” he said in a cheerful tone that belied the stifling heat and the utterly bizarre circumstances of our encounter—bizarre at least from my perspective.
“Hi.” I said. “Where am I?” I didn’t have time or inclination to exchange pleasantries. I was starting to miss my American bed and my cable television.
“Ciudad Juárez,” he said with a laughing grin.
“Do you know where Jack Diablo is?”
“Diablo,” he repeated, in a dispassionate tone. “Do you know about Ciudad Juárez?”
I stood blankly. “I know it’s a city on the Rio Grande and…”
He poured me a shot of tequila and I consumed it hastily. “Pour me another,” I stated, emboldened by the previous shot.
He laughed and obliged, filling my shot glass.
He looked into my eyes: “Do you understand what I’m saying? ‘El diablo no está ni aquí ni allá, ni en el cielo ni el en infierno.’ But to be fair, Jack Diablo was here. Once.”
“Was here? Then why the hell am I here?”
He smiled. “‘Why the hell?’ you say. Yes, why the hell.”
Suddenly, I recalled a previous conversation with Coxx. Didn’t he say I’d find Diablo in hell? Wasn’t this as close as one could get and still be on terra firma?
“Yes Diablo was here. We called him Don Diablo. An intimidating man he was, with his eyes as cool as a molcajete, his mustache trimmed just so.” He pulled on the edges of his upper lip. “We first saw him in the late 90s; he entered mysteriously, but found his way, if you know what I mean. He was skilled. He was thorough. He never missed a target. And he left just as mysteriously; when, I cannot say. Under the cover of night. He was not welcome to stay, but, by that time, he was a legend. Perhaps that is why you were brought here: to understand that he is not the man you think you once knew.” He paused. “No, you will not find him here now. No motherfucker with a soul will be found here, amigo.”
Part VII: Visions of Mexico
As the plane descended into Mexico City, our view choked with Aztec smog, I got the feeling that I was closing in on the elusive Jack Diablo, but I also knew that Mexico was not a place to be making assumptions and that I best stay on guard in a country wracked by political corruption. At the same time, I knew the capital housed a thriving expat community and foolishly thought that I might be able to hunker down at a hotel for a few days, lounging by the pool before embarking on the next phase of my search.
But what the fuck did I know?
His easy grin gave way to an expression of seriousness as soon as we disembarked. As I headed for the baggage claim, he wrapped his rather strong grip around my upper arm and escorted me—in a business-like manner, though he was essentially holding me against my will and in the process of kidnapping me—out a side entrance of the terminal. I saw him slip a billfold into the shirt pocket of an armed guard, who opened the passageway for us as we exited into the haze and heat of a Mexico City afternoon.
I didn’t dare say anything to Tony. At this point I was simply a hostage of fate. I had set down this corridor many years ago, and though I feared for my life, I also rationalized that I was getting closer to uncovering a mystery.
We were headed for an unmarked, white van parked in the long-term lot. Tony opened the door and I stepped into the back of the van.
“Sorry man,” he said, while simultaneously cuffing me from behind and then pulling a burlap hood over my head. “Precautionary measures,” he assured me.
What seemed like an Ulyssean quest ensued. We rumbled out of the city into rough terrain. I wasn’t sure where we were headed, and Tony gave no indication. I sat in silence for hours, listening to the hum of the van blitzing down the highway until I finally fell asleep. Surprisingly, it was the most peaceful sleep I had experienced since my journey began; my destiny lay somewhere in the Mexican desert, and I sat in the passenger seat.
While I slept, I dreamed of massive trees hovering above a string on low-built edifices, squat and squalid pedestrians trudged in front of the buildings, congregating and huddling beneath a flashing pink sign that outstretched from the façade of a plain, drab-colored building.
I awoke to the pitch-black night. While I slept, Tony had uncuffed me and removed the sack from my head. The radio was turned on, but not too high as to disturb my sleep, the accordion-driven polka of norteña.
Tony was smoking a cigarette, staring straight ahead into the hum of the headlights. Without looking in my direction, he handed me a lit cigarette.
“We still got a ways to go,” he said, as I inhaled a sweet tobacco.
“Where are we?”
“In Mexico,” he smirked.
“Yeah.” I replied. To ascertain our whereabouts I started looking for signposts. We were on highway 49, though I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Mexico City seemed like a logical place for Diablo to be eluding me, but, obviously, he wasn’t there. We started passing some cities—Zacatecas, Fresnillo—but we weren’t slowing down. Finally, outside of Torreon, Tony stopped the vehicle.
“You can take a piss here.”
I stepped out, unzipped my pants, took a piss, zipped back up, and then, before I went dark, heard a thud and felt a blunt rubberized pain on the top of my head. I was out. I never had a chance to ask Tony why knocking me out was necessary. I was compliant, passive. I had acquiesced to the journey. I figured I might die anyway, searching for the elusive Diablo. Maybe Tony didn’t want me getting too friendly with the route. Maybe he was following orders. The more I think about Tony’s motivation—the more I think about the entire adventure—the foggier it is; its meaning slippery, my purpose vague, inconsequential.