Gordo pulled on the shift stick of his aqua-blue Mustang, bouncing it into a rough park on the pebble-and-asphalt. He gave himself a handsome glance in the rear view mirror and left the cold interior of his car.
The black hot radiance of the parking lot was unforgiving. Beads of sweat formed on Gordo’s skin and soon his clothing was visibly wet at small of his back. A single stream of moisture spilled from his forehead and into his eyes. It stung. But after a few more steps, he was relieved by the shade offered by the awnings of the strip mall. Blasts of cold air enveloped him as he walked past the open doors of a dollar store, a cigar shop, a cellular phone store and finally, a restaurant-pool hall.
He held the door for a group of teachers leaving the bar, even though a wedge was keeping the door open. Once inside, his eyes took a moment to readjust to the comparatively dim light. He scanned the interior, which was stained invisibly with nicotine, and keenly picked out the manager. The man was wearing a pressed black button up with a 2000’s era logo stitched into the left breast, and he was fussing with the credit card payment system behind the bar. His hair was a field of short, spiky black needle tips. Gordo flashed his badge.
“Can I help you, sir?” The manager’s voice was small and sharp. “Can” was pronounced like “Ken”.
“I’m detective Guerra. They sent me to check out about that crazy girl last night, Ms… Martinez…” he flipped through a notepad, “Twenty-six, brown hair, brown eyes. Pero they said guera guera.”
The manager relaxed. “Ah yeah, I remember. We get some wild ones in here for sure. She was going around grabbing guys, right in their junk, tambien.”
“Sexual assault? Or just playing around?”
“Yeah man, nothing like she planned it. But muy cochina. I’m helping a customer and all I hear is ‘Mis huevos!’ ja ja and Flaco there is bending over the pool table, crying like a little bitch.” His eyes widened and focused.
Flaco was, at the moment, re-racking some billiards and looked up at the sound of his name. He wasn’t skinny at all.
“Callate carnal! It hurt real bad!” Flaco said.
“Ok. And is there anything else that transpired? Because none of the guys she attacked pressed charges. She had a bump on her head, too. Do you know if someone gave that to her?”
“Well, after I saw Flaco get attacked, I ran over to help. She grabbed a stick and I thought she was going to hit me, but instead she just smashed it in her head, on top, like this.” He put both hands on his head and mimicked the motion repeatedly. The manager was sweating under his armpits, though it was impossible to know whether it was because of the humidity or some secret he might be keeping. “She kept saying, I need to breathe! I need to breathe! My blowhole is clogged!”
“That sounds really messed up. Was she here partying with anyone else?” asked Gordo.
“Just her friends. They come in here… casi every Thursday. Always in the streets but they aren’t trouble. They’re real good girls.”
“Well, she hasn’t told us any usable information at the station. We think probably somebody put a Roche in her drink. Maybe keep an eye out for that from now on. I don’t want to have to get the DEA up in here,” said Gorgo, serious as a judge.
“Thanks, officer. Just make sure she gets home safe. I called her primo, he’s gonna pick her up from y’alls station later. Ay, if it’s not too much to ask, can you just make sure her dad doesn’t find out? She’s not supposed to be out at night. You know she goes to La Guadalupe Wednesdays and Sundays.”
“Alright, unless there’s any more info, I’m going to get going. Cowboys are playing tonight.”
“Oh, casi olvido. Flaco, put on the game. One more thing — Flaco said she sounded like a dolphin.”
“Yeah, man. She was squealing, but not like a pig, you know, like a dolphin. The eeya-eeya noise, click click click. Come to think of animals, Clari was down here about a week ago and she was barking like a dog, but she always gets real crazy, man.” He laughed. “Locitas.”
“Ok, thanks for your time.” Gordo nodded a “knowing” nod towards each of the men. “Next time.”
“Next time, si Dios quiere,” said the manager.
Vinegar from a passing plate of buffalo wings invaded and burned Gordo’s nostrils and made his stomach growl. They were headed straight to the table occupied by another set of teachers who were talking about Juan Carlos’ parents having a fight with the superintendent.
The food reminded him that the fridge in his rental duplex had space enough for some more ribs and tortillas and plus he was low on Suavitel and toilet paper. And charcoal. It was 3:34 p.m., far enough from 5 so he might still beat the crowd to H.E.B.
Set in the front of the grocery store, a pop-up raspa and paleta vendor was offering the sweetest way to beat the Rio Grande Valley heat. Gordo walked up to the cart, and hunted for the menu in a forest of crudely painted Mikey, Tweety, and Spidermen characters.
“Tienes tamarindo?” asked Gordo.
“No, Senor,” a man old enough to be his abuelo said. He wore a Cowboys baseball cap and a powder-blue guayabera.
“Ah, ok. Bueno, dame un de Sandia.”
The man reached into his ice box, pulled out a red popsicle and handed it over. “No mas uno.”
Gordo put a dollar in the man’s hand and a dollar tip in a jar marked with a dollar sign. The “S” squiggle was backwards.
He bit into the popsicle, which had in no time melted a run of red, sugary water down his hand. The chunks of frozen watermelon were delicious. There was a rumor about how Mexican produce companies use irrigation practices that involved sewage, but he quickly buried this into his subconscious.
In the corner of his eye, behind the half dozen rows of shopping carts, he thought he saw something small stir.
Then he heard a kitten meow.
He walked closer to check things out, but the kitty had escaped behind the building. Cats love licking up popsicle sticks, maybe he’d get to pet it if he offered his. He bent down low so that the gatito could see and smell the snack. Then he felt sharp scratches on his neck.
“Chingado!” he yelled.
A woman had jumped out and attacked, and was now crouching in front of him, hissing loudly, with her back arched high. She pounced again, trying to climb his body, but gave up and trotted away on all fours. A set of keys dropped out of her purse.
When she reached a safe distance, she looked back into Gordo’s eyes, and then off into the distance, as if bored. Then she sat on her butt and licked her wrist and the back of her hand.
He walked up to her slowly, with the sugary stick still in hand. At five feet to his six feet, he was sure he could wrangle her to safety. With stealth, he picked her keys off of the ground. He approached even closer, and said, “Kitty. Kitty, kitty.”
She crawled over and started to lick the little popsicle stick.
He put his arm around her midsection, lifted her up, and scratched her head softly. Que bonita mestiza.
Her pressed the car alarm on the keychain and a Corolla a few cars down beeped.
After setting her in the back seat and taking the driver’s seat, he touched the home screen on her dashboard screen and selected “home” from a list of destinations, which included: movies6, chilis, our_Lady, football_field, and on. She purred in the way only humans can and fell asleep in the backseat.
He took the expressway west, from McAllen to San Juan, not daring to play any music that might wake her. The roadside carnivals whizzed by at 53 miles per hour, even though the speed limit was 70.
It wasn’t a big deal that he didn’t have time to buy groceries, the taqueria was going to stay open til 10 at least, or he could get delivery for the game. And they were still beating rush hour.
He bumped her car down a caliche road, leaving a white dust cloud behind them, and soon the pair were parked in her driveway, overgrown with weeds.
Her face popped up in the rear view mirror. She looked disoriented.
“Pos que paso?” She sounded half asleep and angry, almost like she was complaining to her mother.
“Hey, calmate… I found you at H.E.B.” he said, pushing his voice deep.
“What? Who are you? Why are you in my car?”
“Officer Guerra. I’m a policeman. You were acting strange so I took you home.”
“What do you mean, acting strange?”
“I found you in the parking lot of H.E.B., actng like a cat. See this?” He bent his neck over and revealed the scratch marks. “Su culpa.”
“Perdon. I’m sorry… I’m sorry.” She looked at her fingernails. They still had chunks of his skin.
“Now, I’m not a hardass. I could’ve arrested you for assaulting a police officer. I’m the police officer.” He watched her eyes meet the floor and stay there. “But I need some help right now. Something tells me I’ve witnessed the beginning of some kind of sickness or epidemic. Tell me, Mrs. — ”
“Ms! But Dr. Dr. Dominguez. Erica,” she said.
“Ms. Erica, do you take any drugs? Tell me the truth. It’s off the record.” It wasn’t really off the record.
Her eyes met his in the rear view mirror and sighed. “It’s a long story. You better come inside.”
“I really should get going. I just need you to answer a few questions.”
“No, no. Pasale, pasale,” she said as she opened the back door of the car.
Her apartment was on the second story of a complex that hadn’t seen an exterior remodel since the late 1980s. The inside had new carpet and fixtures, though. Her furniture looked like it was rented.
“How do you do these stairs every day? Damn, girl.”
“Yeah, they tire me out,” she said.
“So, is there something you want to tell me about your drug use? We can get you in a program or something like that. I’m not here to throw you in jail.”
“It’s not like I’m a drug addict or anything.”
“Ok, ok. I believe you. But, hold on, miss, do you have a toilet?” Gordo’s stomach growled and he burped watermelon.
“Yeah, sure. Second door on the right back there.”
The bathroom was tiny and had matching bright green rugs and toilet cover seats. The can was much too small for his posterior, and he felt the whole apparatus shift and scrape against the tile under his weight.
He flushed. The sewage of San Juan would not make it back into a Mexican watermelon, he thought. He cracked the window open. It overlooked a small yard with a broken swingset and an expensive-looking, well-kept or unused barbecue smoker.
Gordo walked back into the kitchen, which now contained lit Virgin prayer and regular scented candles. “My problem is this new case of mine. We’ve tried everything to make this girl give us some leads about her situation. She was behaving like a dolphin, squeaking like a dolphin, and being real aggressive. But at the station she didn’t say anything, couldn’t remember nothing. We think it’s those date rape drugs. They always come and go depending on the situation at the border.”
“It probably was drugs.”
“Porque dices eso? How do you know?”
“Look, I work for Marquez,” she said.
“Marquez, el brujo? The one that lives way over there in Brownsville?” Gordo remembered when Marquez cured his tio’s susto a few years back. “Does he sells drugs now or what?”
“That’s the one, but no, not regular drugs, not like you’re probably used to seeing. Your girl probably didn’t say anything about him because he’s el brujo, remember. She probably was scared. I also think they, the druggies, might not rat on him. They are loyal to him, like he’s their boss. I’m the only one that knows what he’s really like as a boss, though.”
“So his druggies, they get drugs that make them act like animals? And then they don’t want to come to us because they’re… como son little pets, eee heh heh? I’m listening to your story now. But it doesn’t sound like the whole story, Ms. Erica.”
“I’m not a drug dealer. And he’s not a curandero. Well, not in the way you think. See, he works, we work, for the FDA. We study how pesticides and other household chemicals affect the brains of different animals. For their protection.”
“Tree-lovers, eh? So you’re saying that he sells rat poison and Lysol to people? To get them high?”
“No. Rat poison wouldn’t make anyone act like a dolphin, or make me behave like a cat, either. I think he drugged me because I was on to one of his side projects. I stayed away from the human drug stuff. I didn’t really know about it until two days ago. I was putting together all this data for the head of the department to see, and came across some data he had collected without me. See, I’m up for a promotion, and he didn’t like that. He is pretty sexist against me. Maybe he wanted to make me into a junkie. Maybe so I would start taking the drugs recreationally so I would stay in my position and work for him forever.”
“You have a MD or what?”
“No, a PhD. In neuroscience.”
“Ay, brain genius? You like Dexter, o que? You gonna kill me? Ja ja ja!”
“Ay! You’re not listening.” She slapped his shoulder. “I found some files of his, MRIs — brain scans — of humans on his drugs and animals side-by-side. Animals we worked on — horse, cow, pig, dolphin, and yes, cat.
What I think he was doing was finding chemicals that could mimic the mental state of animals and reproduce it in humans.”
“How would that even work? I’m not no animal. I go to church,” said Gorgo. He remembered why he didn’t like science teachers.
“Humans and animals have remarkably similar brain anatomy, in some places. You’ve heard of the ‘reptilian brain’, right? The human brain evolved additional parts of the brain that alter the old, reptilian core we evolved from. What if you were able to turn those new areas off? Or turn other areas on in our brain that aren’t normally on in people, but always on in say, dolphins?”
“That’s messed up, man.”
“It’s a wild recreational drug. An adventure compared to the shitty weed you get down here,” she said.
Gordos walkie talkie came online with a short burst of static. He clicked a wheel to increase the volume and placed it on the kitchen table. “We got a couple reports of a wild animal out here in Brownsville,” it buzzed.
Gordo reached over to push the Talk button. “I’m a detective, not in animal control. Ya sabes.”
“Well, we’re calling you ’cause it might be a man,” the box hissed, “… chupacabra.”
“What was that? This Manny?”
“Si, Gordo. Just get down here. PanChem off 77 and Farm-to-Market. Chief said you were in charge of people acting like animals. We either got a druggie or a chupacabra down here ja ja.”
“I am in charge, pinche carnal, don’t you forget it, ja ja. Be down there in a second. And I’m bringing a specialist with me. So you better behave.” He locked eyed with Erica.
With Erica’s intimate knowledge of the 30-some acre science facility, they were able to speed through a labyrinth of animal holding buildings to arrive at the trouble.
The creature was lit by the rotating reds and blues of the emergency lights on Manny’s SUV. Erica drifted her Corolla into a sliding stop behind the truck.
Manny held a wide stance and an overextended lean over the hood of his truck, with his Winchester aimed and ready to fire. The car burned in the Texas heat under his body.
Not twenty yards in front of the truck, crouched over an unseen meal, was a naked, grey, mottled being. It snarled and growled. Manny clicked the safety on his rifle into the off position.
The three investigators heard a large crunching sound come from its mouth, like a breaking bone. Manny fired a warning shot.
The animal turned its wretched face to the trio. A snapped elote was dangling from its mouth.
“Marquez? Marquez!” Erica yelled.
For a fleeting second, he looked as though he recognized her. And then, in his crazed state, he charged her.
Manny let a bullet fly right through the beast’s temple. The manimal was forced to stumble up onto his legs. He tracked backwards, arms making wide circles in the air, and then he finally tumbled down past the edge of a recessed, dry river bed.
Gordo and Erica ran over to view the damage.
“Closest thing I’ve seen to a chupacabra. But definitely not a chupacabra. It’s Marquez, for sure,” she said. Erica watched Marquez’s perpetually angry brow relax for the first and last time.
“Well at least maybe that means you finally get the promotion?” said Gordo.
“No. I’m done with science. I don’t want to end up como el.”
“A dead chupacabra at the bottom of a resaca? He didn’t really turn into one. He just thought he was one, right?”
“Remember when people used to say he had monsters in his house? Maybe el brujo’s chupacabra that everyone used to talk about is actually just him when he’s on drugs. It just seems so unlikely that he might’ve worked out how to chemically project an animal’s mind into some person’s head. But to do the same for a chupacabra, you’d have to have one to study in the first place. And then, even if you had brain scans of it from captivity, you’d need to find the right kind of chemicals to modify the human brain into one. Would humans and chupacabras even be related, evolutionarily? It’s cryptozoology. A crazy idea.”
Gordo watched Erica study the corpse. Her dark, straight hair had a motherly quality to it. And she talked like a smart doctor. There was little convincing left for his mind to do. He would like to take her to movies6.
He cleared his throat. “Ay, so I was thinking. You wanna go to eat? And maybe watch a movie?”
She turned to him with misty eyes. “Yes, that would be nice. The Chili’s in McAllen or Weslaco?”
“Let’s go to McAllen. It’s nicer.”
“Gordo I think…”
A pack of grey chupacabras emerged from further down the resaca. While most tore Gordo and Manny limb from limb, two others broke off from the group, forcing Erica to the top of the truck.
Once feeding was over, she noted their the sclera of their eyes turn from red to grey.
Eventually the sun set and she sat and watched as their eyes shifted again back to red.