I adjust the bandana so it covers my nose and mouth as my horse strides across the border. The plaintive wail of a trumpet plays in my head as I watch the rising sun cast long, human like shadows of the cacti across the arid landscape.
I know my quarry is out there somewhere. The money is good enough on this one to merit the risk of crossing into Mexico but I need to find him quickly and get back with my bounty.
He’s not been careful, the trail leads me towards the low mountain range, about half a day’s ride away. He must have moved quickly, which probably explains his lack of care in making his route.
The blistering heat of the day is drawing to a close and I decide to hunker down for the night at the base of the range. Brackish water and no fire for hot food tonight.
There, there it is again. That’s no animal. It’s got to be him. He must have spotted the horse, despite my attempts to conceal it. I make a sleepy roll to one side, letting my hat fall so that I can see. I pause for a short while, listening, letting my eyes become accustomed to the low light.
There, above me. A bullet whistles past my head before I can move. Avoiding the next one I manage to make a boulder, dragging my rifle with me, before nestling my back into the sun baked stone and cocking my pistol.
The posters said dead or alive so I position my body so I can shoot without exposing myself. We exchange a few bullets but, despite the lull, I am sure I haven’t hit him. Rather than reload my pistol I pick the rifle up. To get the best shot I pull myself towards the top of the boulder and rest the barrel of the gun in an elemental furrow.
‘Hey gringo, this doesn’t have to be hard. You can get out of this alive. It’s up to you, it makes no difference to me.’
I heave my body upwards, crook my right arm, nestle the gun as my other hand brings the butt into my shoulder.
‘So gringo, what will it be?”
Silence, I adjust myself and wait for him to move.
‘No hablo ingles,’ he shouts while exposing himself to fire at me. I let off a bullet and watch him fall.
As the body rolls down towards my position I finally notice the pain in my right arm. Damn, he hit me. The pain spreads out towards my wrist and elbow as blood drips from between my fingers.
Her fingers are strong and nimble. I can feel the knots in my shoulders disappear as she works on them. It feels as if her slender digits have transcended my skin and are untying every tense spot in my body. I sigh.
“You okay sir?’
‘Yes fine, please don’t stop.’
Her hands move down my back, then work along and around my spine. She adjusts the towel covering my backside slightly and says,’ I’m going to start work on your legs now.’
I let her continue without acknowledgement.
‘Okay that’s everything I can do while you’re that way around. Please turn over.’
I do as requested, protecting my modesty as best I can. She starts on my calves and moves to my thighs after a while. I’m drifting away, not hearing a word she has just said. The sensation of her warm hands massaging the flesh on my thighs, lightly stroking them, insinuates itself. I can feel myself stirring. This feels so good.
This doesn’t feel good. It is black, as the deepest of starless nights. I try to move but find my hands and legs are bound. Bending my fingers as far as possible I try and feel the bind at my wrists. I cannot move them back far enough. I struggle, pulling hard but don’t succeed in budging any of the ropes.
I close my eyes, despite the hood, and try to tune my ears to my surroundings, fathom out where I am, how I can escape.
A door slams and a number of people enter the room. Nothing is said as they come nearer to me. Hands grab my arms roughly and others push my sternum against the surface on which I am lying. No one says a word as someone joins them.
I try and adjust myself as the hands holding me are released and some heavy material is placed over my hood, covering my mouth and nose. The cloth is pulled tight, I gasp for a breath, struggle, as it is straightened out to ensure the space between my chin and the bridge of my nose is fully covered. I gulp for air again as the hands leave me and I can hear their bearers take a few steps. Then silence
Eventually, I feel a slow cascade of water moving up my nose. I try to resist it, hold my breath for a while and then exhale loudly. As I breathe in again, the action brings the damp cloth tight against my nose as if an almighty paw has been clamped across my face. More water. I cannot feel whether I am breathing in or out. Panic comes in floods as my nostrils and mouth fill up. I try to expunge the liquid but fail, more is poured over the ever tightening cloth. My pulse is racing as I feel myself drowning, liquid filling my lungs, the water in my nose and mouth inescapable. All the time there is silence from my torturers. The sense of claustrophobia is all pervading as I slip away,
‘Mrs Jackson? Yes. This is Doctor Rani.’
The doctor pushes her mask further below her chin as it tries to ride up whilst she talks.
‘Yes, I thought I’d let you know how things are progressing with your husband.’
The doctor pauses, takes a breath.
‘As you know he’s a strong man and a real fighter. We’ve been using a number of techniques and a drug we’ve not tried before but he didn’t seem to be responding. I must tell you the deliriums have got worse and he isn’t sleeping well. However, after a wash and change of gown he seemed to settle a bit.’
The doctor swallows and switches the phone to her other ear.
‘Yes, that’s right we gave him a wash, however, what I have to tell you, is that his condition is serious and we have had to put him on a ventilator in the ICU.’
The doctor wipes away some sweat matted hair.
‘Mrs Jackson, did you hear me? Yes? Okay. I’m so sorry it’s such hard news but you know we will do everything we can for your husband and I’m sure he will keep fighting for himself and you. Yes. I will ring you again soon, keep you in touch with how he’s doing. Thank you Mrs Jackson. Bye for now.’