Chapter 1

This entry is part 02 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter One — Ty

The Nicaraguan night was warm and sticky. I got up from my bunk in the cabin and went outside where it was much cooler. A little breeze had come up, and it was almost light as day. I settled myself in the string hammock and lay in it looking up at the stars. They were shining so brightly and looked so near — near enough for me to grab a hand full and put them in my pocket.

As I lay there I thought of the Judge of Quilalí. In this country, people believe that your future is written in the stars. They read them, and make predictions. The judge had read the stars, and his predictions had come true. Mama Morales could read them also. She had made a prediction, and I had done my best to keep it from coming true. Yes, I concluded, everything is written in the stars.

My companions, Chuck and Jock, had gone to the city. That was a week ago, and they had not yet returned. I would give them hell when they got back. I would tell them off all right, but I would sure be glad to see them.

I was the only one in camp, except the half dozen natives that were guarding the big gold dredge, and I guess I was feeling like the most lonesome guy in the world.

The moon was just coming up in back of me, and was casting weird shadows all around. Suddenly I could see one that was different — one that did not belong. It was that of a man. In his left hand was a machete, slowly being raised. Half of his right hand and arm were missing.

A cold sweat came over me, and I knew that in a few seconds a big knife would come down and cut me in half.

The Colt .45 I usually wore was in the cabin about fifty feet away. One mistake like this can cost a man his life, and it appeared that I had made it. How could I reach my gun before…

My mind raced backwards into my past. I had made enemies, all right. I thought of Cortez, with his teeth smashed and broken. Pedro, with his ear kicked off. Yes, these two had a reason to kill me. Then I thought of Slade, the newspaper man. I remembered the night I ripped the hair from his chest and belly. And his threat of, “I’ll get you for this!”

Guys like Slade don’t forget, but he was too much of a coward to do his own killing. In this country life is cheap. For as little as fifty cordobas you can have a guy rubbed out.

On this last trip to town, Jock had warned, “Sleep light, my friend. Slade is still in Managua, and he is a very wicked man. He now has a man working for him — a fellow by the name of Ty. He is a killer, and an expert with a machete. He has only one arm. His right one was cutoff when he was caught stealing.

Yes, this shadow must be Ty, I concluded. Slade was about to get his revenge, and here I lay without a weapon. I must do something, and do it now! I couldn’t just lie here and be cut in two!

I remembered again how in this country people believe that your future is written in the stars. And they read them — at least they pretend to. So, I would use the stars! I knew that this was grasping at straws — but I must do something.

The shadow of Ty’s big machete was high in the air.

I spoke quickly. “Ty, I knew you were coming. It is written in the stars that tonight you would come. You have come to kill me, Ty, but it is also written that tonight I shall not die. I knew you were coming, my friend, and I have been waiting for you with a very nice present.”

Jock had told me that Ty could understand and speak English, but if he did not understand what I had just said, I was a goner for sure.

“Yes, Ty,” I went on, “in my cabin in a little tin box I have something very nice for you.”

Very slowly I turned my head and looked up at him. Moonlight glinted from the blade of the machete that was still raised high.

“I have a one hundred dollar United States bill. It is for you, Ty, and is more money than you have ever dreamed of having. How much did Slade pay you to do this job?”

“How do I know you do not lie to me?”

“I do not lie, Ty. I will prove to you that I do not lie.” Very slowly I eased off the hammock keeping my hands well above my shoulders as I carefully turned toward the cabin where I had left a light burning.

The big machete and Ty were only a step behind me. When we entered the cabin I motioned for him to turn down the covers on my bed. He did this immediately and found the little tin box. He opened it fast and took out the hundred dollar bill.

“How much did Señor Slade pay you to do this job?” I asked again, feeling that I was winning. I was playing a game, playing for my life, and I had to play every card I had. Ty stared at the bill with a strange expression on his thin, dark face.

Slowly he reached in his shirt pocket and drew out a fifty cordoba note worth about seven dollars in North American money.

“Señor Slade is a very cheap man; a very wicked man,” I said.

Suddenly a look of hatred came into Ty’s evil face. His eyes grew black and he spit on the fifty cordoba note, and tossed it on my bunk.

“Yes,” he said. “Señor Slade is a cheap man, a wicked man. I cannot keep his money if I do not do the job!” He was almost shouting. “I am no longer working for Slade, I am your man!”

He then knelt before me.

I breathed easier now and walked over to my little cupboard. I took out a bottle of Flor de Caña and two glasses and poured them full. When I gave one to Ty his hand was shaking. He had come to kill me and had been cool and calm about it, but now that he had changed his mind, he was falling apart. Funny, I thought, when a man is all keyed up to kill then suddenly decides not to do it, how he begins to break.

I felt that I was coming apart myself. “No, Ty, I already have my man.” I didn’t want Ty to work for me.

A look of disappointment spread over his countenance.

“Señor Joe. How can I ever repay you? I must work for you to repay you.”

This, I didn’t want. The stars had served me well this night and I would use them again. I opened the door, and looked up at the sky.

“It is written in the stars, Ty, that you shall go back to the Rio Coco. You will take the hundred dollar bill with you and start your own store. With this money you can buy much Pepsi Cola, beer and cigarettes. You will be a business man and be well respected. No longer will you need to make your living with the machete.”

I turned to see what effect my words had, and again the stars had been kind to me. Ty had a faraway look in his eyes as if he were planning to be an important merchant.

“Yes,” he said, “I will go.” He tossed the machete on my bed. “This I will give to you.”

He bowed very low, walked over to the door, turned about and smiled. Then as silently as he had come, he vanished into the night.

Series NavigationPrefaceChapter 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *