Author: Guede Mazaka
Whenever Vincent is in Culiacan, he has the same dream.
Correction: it’s the same dream setting with the same people and roughly the same events, but different words. Sometimes he suspects he’s in a movie that’s being dubbed in one language after another, but then he wakes up and all he hears is the ticking of the clock and the clink of his gun against his watch as he gropes beneath his pillow.
Once in a while, he thinks he catches the sound of fluttering, like a moistened thumb being run over the end of a thick stack of bills.
* * *
“He’s heard of us. Isn’t that sweet, El?” Sands spins around on his barstool like a child in a playground. Or a demented demon with his very own carousel of vertigo. Then his foot shoots out, so fast the breeze of its passing threatens to burn Vincent’s ankle, and hooks around the leg of Vincent’s chair.
Vincent does not grab for the table, just in case Sands is trying to tip him, because then his hands are full with something that can’t be used for self-defense. Instead, he snaps his foot around the leg of Sands’ chair.
In the corner, the coiled black spring strokes one tanned hand up the frets of his guitar, slow and caressing so that the wires softly sing to him.
After a while, Vincent and Sands return their feet to their own stools and lean on the counter, as if they’re trying to be companionable. They’re not. It’s harder to shoot someone sideways than frontwise, and somewhere along the line, Sands has finally run up against something that’s beaten caution into him. “They tell the story everywhere I go in this shithole,” Vincent says, idly swirling the dregs of his drink. “About the gringo and the mariachi, and the bodies.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear. Half of it’s plain bullshit, and the other half’s the God’s own truth.” Sloppy, ungraceful, with no care for manners or anything regular like that, Sands tilts his own shotglass back and slurps at the few drops clinging to the inside. He’s smiling, and that smile seems to refract through the bottom of glass to splinter into the many, many bottles that give teeth to the bar shelves. “You know how many prophets and truth-tellers get killed in the Old Testament?”
“No.” For some reason, Vincent has decided to come here and talk with the one fellow colleague that ever managed to fuck him over and get away unscathed. Now he’s trying to figure out why just before his hand stops fondling the heavy metal nestled against his side and turns it to concrete use.
Sands shrugs and slams the glass down, then lifts his hand from the shards to show no blood. “Neither do I. But I bet it was pretty damned high.”
“More unbelievers and sinners died than believers,” murmurs the shadowed corner, voice smoking and shivering as silver notes begin to amble about the bar.
Annoyance cracks through Sands’ slickness with surprising fluidity. “So where does that leave us, jangle-ass? Last I checked, I didn’t believe in shit except this—” flash of gun “—this—” wave of bills “—and—”
Black glides into man, and man is cradling a pistol to the side of a blissful, nuzzling Sands’ face before Vincent can blink. “--this.”
And as Sands pulls the man down for a kiss, his shades dissolve to nothing but the gentle convexity of emptiness, and coldness presses to Vincent’s forehead and—
* * *
It sounds like a normal job. A few more people than usual, but nothing that will strain Vincent’s abilities.
He might be bored, if he had that much interest invested in his work. As it is, he’s spiritually bankrupt and not particularly feeling any lack of faith. When asked whether or not ancestral spirits were real, Confucius once said that it mattered not, that what was important was the reverence shown to the ancestors, and so it was necessary to perform the rites of worship even if there was no ghost behind the shine.
Vincent remembers that little anecdote because it’s evidence that even back then there were skeptics, and that even back then there were fence-sitters.
* * *
The guitarist is sitting in the opposite corner, but he’s still tuning his guitar, not yet creating any kind of ephemeral beauty.
One of Vincent’s many gifts, besides superior reflexes and amorality, is perfect pitch. Music numbers among the few things in the world where he can understand appreciation, because he has an absolute with which he can compare.
“You see, you take this curve…” Finger trailing through the condensation their glasses have left on the counter, Sands furrows his forehead as if concentrating on making his lines perfect. Except his sunglasses aren’t even around this time, and so Vincent can make out the scarring where the optic nerve once came in. “Divide the area under it into an infinite number of rectangles, all of whose right corners just touch the curve. Take the area of those rectangles and add them up, and it will equal the area bounded by the curve and the axes.”
“And if that curve represents the movement of a particle over time, then the original equation plots position, and the integral gives the area under the curve while the derivative of it gives the velocity. So?” It’s hot enough to melt Vincent’s collar against his neck, to make him sprawl and lay his gun across his belly so it first cools and then burns him. He’s feeling expansive at the moment because he’s outguessed Sheldon fucking Jeffrey Sands, the greatest psychotic clairvoyant the CIA had ever managed to get its grimy hands on.
Plus, Vincent’s always had the feeling that Sands didn’t really have a genius of intuition so much as a way to peek at the cards in Fate’s hand. The fact that Sands got himself whacked into Mexico’s shit-heap before Vincent could get to him doesn’t disprove his point, since it indicates that Fate does not suffer cheaters.
Sands’ grin sours. “Velocity is what we ride, compadre. Final position minus initial position over time equals velocity. Everyone else is the particle trudging its way down the line, but we’re the invisible whooshes over their fucking heads and through their shitty little withered hearts.”
“Or we’re the blocky area beneath the curve.” It’s not actually in Vincent’s nature to play devil’s advocate because his line of work depends on the certainties and the almost-guaranteed probabilities in life, and he rarely feels the need to go off into the tangents of omni-doubt the philosophers so loved. Besides, when was there ever a pure philosopher that had an easy life?
Aristotle doesn’t count. Aristotle was one of the greatest king-makers in history, and as such earns Vincent’s brief respect for the dead.
“You forget direction.” Soft jingling in the key of minor A as the mariachi comes up behind Vincent, and when Vincent’s ears tell him he still has two seconds to react, an arm is already locking his gun to his stomach. “Without direction, velocity is only speed.”
“El, you’re such a nitpicker. But good point,” Sands purrs, eeling off his stool and pressing to Vincent’s front. His hand slides a violation against Vincent’s chest before it finds his gun and turns it up under his chin.
This time, Vincent sees the red-purple bruises flush onto Sands’ neck beneath El’s lips before everything blacks into the real world.
* * *
Despite the first-class seating, the plane is still nothing more than an aluminum tube. If Vincent were prone to hedonism, he might have been uncomfortable. As it is, he’s gone over the information enough to have his itinerary flash across the backs of his eyes as he decides to take a short nap. He’ll be up all night, and he’s not vain enough or stupid enough to ignore the demands age is starting to make on him. Judicious application of intelligence has always been as much a part of his life as brute force, and he sees no contradiction between the two.
They take a long time getting out of Culiacan’s airspace. He knows because he dreams.
* * *
“What’s your opinion on Einstein?” Sands opens, lounging insolently against the bar. He sucks on a cigarillo, then blows the smoke directly up so some of it curls into his eye-sockets before bending outwards again.
Vincent doesn’t drink, or relax, or even lower his gun from its position squarely against Sands’ temple. “You were killed. Shot to death. Completely torn apart, there were so many bullets. Same with your fucktoy. The cartels finally caught up to you.”
The mariachi’s nowhere in sight, but the random twanging of his tuning rattles through Vincent’s bones. It squirms into Vincent’s mind and makes his pulse race, not with the thoughtless instinctive flush of adrenaline, but with something that’s hot and erratic and subjectively destructive.
Sighing, Sands drags one last time on his cigarette before stubbing it out on the bar. “Vince, I told you not to believe everything you hear.”
“What, so you’re denying you’re dead?” Vincent demands, clutching at the bar rail with his free hand. It’s bad practice, but his world is swimming and he is determined not to lose his balance now.
“I’m denying habeas corpus, if you remember your Latin.” And when Sands turns his head, glowing embers are set into his sockets like jewels, and lightning is stabbing from his grin. “If you go fast enough, faster than the speed of light, time stops. Everything stops.”
Cold sluices down Vincent’s back and trails over his hips, freezing his clothes to him, but he doesn’t move. Can’t move. Can’t do anything except not feel his lips round around words that aren’t entirely his. “Are you saying that this is such a place?”
Sands raises his eyebrows and looks mildly surprised in his contempt. “Vincent, this is Mexico.”
“You can be eaten by it, or eat it,” El suddenly says. Light as a feather, his fingertip drifts across the back of Vincent’s neck, and Vincent goes stiff as a coffin board.
“Now you’re mocking Communion,” Sands murmurs, pleased as the rictus smile on a corpse’s face. “I ever mention how much I love it when you fuck around with religion?”
And this time, there is no bullet. There is only the feeling of having his mouth forced open and his throat crammed to suffocation, and then there is the voice announcing twenty minutes to landing.
* * *
“I’ll tell the boys in Culiacan,” Vincent told Max, so casual his palms didn’t even change temperature, and the significance passed him by until the end.
The story about the man on the MTA isn’t one he read in a newspaper, either. He thinks about that as the hard plastic of the metro train bench digs into his hip, as his side burns cool and numb and as his head grows heavy as lead, too heavy to hold up.
Sands told him that one. Trains. Highly directed speed.
Vincent believes he’s on a train to hell.
* * *
He’s on the bar this time, mouth gasping around the pulse of Sands’ cock as his hands twist pain around the ropes that bind his wrists and his legs dangle over either side of the bar. El’s fingers are rubbing grooves into his hipbones while El’s prick splits Vincent from inside-out, makes him moan and forget how to breath with a full mouth.
Sands lazily, carelessly, cuffs him in the head before running a hand over Vincent’s straining shoulderblades. “Watch the teeth.”
And so Vincent does, scraping skin just short of breaking it and licking and sucking his way through the thrusts and the boiling heat and the sheer momentum that carries him over the edge and never seems to put him down. Even when he’s flipped over, ruined rags of his suit clinging to his limp wet body, he feels like he’s still moving, still flowing faster and faster till he feels something break.
“You could call that permanent loss of inertia—the property that restrains things to a constant speed unless you introduce an outside force.” Here Sands smiles, shares his cigarillo with Vincent’s slack mouth just before tweaking Vincent’s nipple hard enough to wring a whine from Vincent. “You could call it transcendence. You could even call it your fucking Elixir of Life, if you’re into that brand of esoterism. We’ll just call it your border crossing.”
When Sands moves toward El this time, Vincent tenses and opens his mouth to protest because he doesn’t now, under any circumstances, want to wake up--
--and El finishes the kiss with a nip to Sands’ lower lip, then looks down on Vincent, who is completely boneless now with relief. “Integration?” is the only word rattling around in Vincent’s head right now.
“Welcome to the south of the river,” El says, and the taste of his mouth is a full-blown melody in Vincent’s blood, chiming and singing in time with the surge of the current.