Thursday, November 02, 2006
Coyote and Witch-Part Two
He sat at a table in the front of a brasserie on the Isle St. Louis. For a fall day, the sun shone brightly and he wore a pair of dark sunglasses to protect his green eyes. The waiter delivered a second espresso but he did not touch it; instead, he watched a young couple kissing on the bridge, with Notre Dame Cathedral in the background. A hundred pigeons circled above the small square in front of the brasserie, circled once, twice, and then finally landed near his table.
Besides the sun glasses, he wore a gray linen shirt, black wool pants, a grey tweed jacket with three buttons, a fisher man’s wool cap, which was odd for such mild weather, and black leather boots that shone and glistened in the sun. The boots gave him away because anyone looking at the shoes would know immediately that he had been a soldier and that the shine on the boots came from a spit shine.
He used a cane to walk, which was leaning against his chair. The cane was hand carved and its handle was fashioned into the shape of a wolf’s head, identical to the silver pendant that hung around his neck on a silver chain. A second smaller chain held a Celtic cross that hung above and over the wolf pendant.
He was fifty-nine years old, six feet tall, an American, who had lived in Europe for almost twenty years and thought of his apartment in the Marais as home.
It was Saturday and Dutch Vogel believed he had the day to himself. He had made no plans for the weekend, other than a trip to a bookstore on the Boulevard St. Germain. He had set off from his apartment near the Musée Picasso earlier in the morning, walked through the Place des Vosges, crossed the Seine on the Pointe de Sully, stopped at an atelier of a friend and then paused at the brasserie and ordered an espresso.
He planned to lunch later at the Café Corbeau at the Place Triangle and to visit his friend Felix Beinix. From his table, he could see the buildings on the south side of the Seine that formed one side of the triangular shape of the Place. He even imagined he could see the crows that made the park at the Place Triangle their roost, flying above the ancient roofs of the buildings. He mentally compared the crows, ravens and rooks of Place Triangle to the pigeons here on the Quai D’Orleans and judged the pigeons outclassed.
The waiter asked if he wanted anything else and he shook his head no. He paid the bill and then quickly drank the espresso. He stood and reached for his cane but sat back down when he saw her. He rubbed his eyes to make sure she was real. She walked toward him slowly just as she had walked twelve years ago on a snowy night in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He didn’t know her name; he simply called her Snake. He quickly looked around to see if the old man was here as well because they always traveled together. They were a couple or a pair, always together, never alone, never one without the other.
Suddenly he felt a sense of vertigo and the sun, so bright before, seemed to dim. He removed his sunglasses because it was too dark now with them on. He felt as old and weak as she seemed young and dangerous and seductive. There was always that with her, always an invitation or a leer, always a possibility that something might happen.
Vogel scanned the sidewalk and the bridge. Where was he, he thought, the old scoundrel, and then he saw him walking across the bridge, taking his time.
He wore jeans and a cotton shirt, deerskin moccasins, even in Paris, and a black felt hat. His long braided hair hung to his waist and he carried a leather jacket over his shoulder. He looked ridiculous in Paris but there he was fresh from the desert of New Mexico.
Vogel turned to Snake. Her long black hair was unbraided and she wore a blue jean jacket over a denim shirt, jeans and deer skin moccasins, like the old man. She was short, like most Apaches, and Vogel focused on her black eyes that seemed to laugh at him whenever she looked at him.
“Snake,” he said nodding at her.
“Vogel,” she smiled and Vogel concluded her smiles were really smirks.
She smelled like mesquite smoke and tequila and jicama. It was not unpleasant and there was something sexy about it.
He, the old man, on the other hand, smelled like tobacco and sweat and sandalwood with something else hidden underneath, something feral, wild and rotten. Vogel knew he could pick them out in a darkened room with a thousand people pressed together just by their smell.
When Coyote arrived he said just exactly what Vogel knew he would, “Buy me a drink?”
Vogel moved his left hand to indicate that they should sit.
The waiter appeared and took their drink orders. Coyote ordered a double tequila and Snake asked for a hot chocolate with whip cream. Vogel took a cognac.
“What brings you to Paris?” asked Vogel.
“What? No how are you?”
“Sorry. How are you?”
“Not good, not good.”
“This place is wrong. It is not our home. I can’t sniff my way around. I don’t know the smells. I don’t know the people. I can’t sleep in this city.”
The waiter put their drinks down and Coyote swallowed his in one mighty gulp, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and ordered another.
He pulled a corncob pipe from the pocket of his jacket, which he had hung over his chair, and then asked, “You have any tobacco.”
“No. Wait.” Vogel signaled the waiter and asked if they had any pipe tobacco.
The man hurried inside.
While they waited, Coyote said, “she‘s a beauty, isn’t she?”
“Yes. You are a lucky man.”
“She’s not mine. She just travels with me.”
Vogel sipped his cognac and leaned back in his chair. He knew Coyote was simply trying to establish his dominance. He would wait and hope that Vogel would ask him to go on. Vogel, however, was a patient man and he knew Coyote’s tricks.
The waiter returned with the tobacco and the drinks and Coyote swallowed the tequila and ordered another one. As he filled his pipe, he watched Vogel, lit the match and touched it to the tobacco and took a couple of puffs. He whispered a short prayer to the gods and then he said, “I have lost a pup.”
Vogel straightened up in his chair and leaned forward and said, “Pretty hard to lose a pup. What happened?”
Coyote leaned back in his chair and looked over at Snake, who shook her head, as if to give Coyote permission to tell the story.
“He’s here in Paris but we lost them in Madrid. We know he’s here because we received word from some acquaintances.”
Vogel looked at him and thought that it would be very odd for Coyote to have any acquaintances in Europe so he asked, “Which acquaintance would that be?”
Coyote smiled and reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a piece of newspaper print, carefully folded into a square, and handed it to Vogel.
Vogel unfolded the paper and placed it on the table in front of him. It was an article in Spanish from a newspaper in Madrid. He read it out loud in Spanish, translating it into English as he went.
On Saturday night residents of the sixteenth arrondissement awoke to the sounds of coyotes emanating from the woods of the Bois de Boulogne. Jean-Pierre Testia, a taxi driver, told police that he saw a pair of coyotes cross the Avenue du Général Serrail on Saturday night around two a.m. and enter the Bois.
Vogel looked up from the article and said, “I see what you mean? But this says that there were two of them.”
“One pup and one mad bruja,” said Snake.
“When we read the article, we took the train here but we could not pick up their trail.”
“Why not? You found me easily enough.”
“She is blocking us.”
“The bruja, the one that stole the pup.”
“Maybe you should start at the beginning.”
Coyote took a puff on his pipe and blew blue smoke straight up into the air, leaned back in his chair, and closed his eyes for a few moments. Vogel looked over at Snake, who rolled her eyes and then smiled.
“It started about six months ago. I was on my way south to Mexico. I was alone because Snake had shacked up with this cowboy Apache up in the four corners.”
Snake shrugged her shoulders as if to say, what are you going to do when you find someone attractive?
“I was walking, taking my time, talking to the creatures I found along the way. A day’s march south of Las Cruces, I stumbled onto a fox who warned me that a bruja had an adobe house a few miles further south. He told me she was beautiful but very tricky and several of our brothers had gone that way but never returned.
“I continued on my way but I was intrigued by fox’s description of this bruja and I became more and more curious as I traveled south. Eventually, I turned toward her house. As I moved, I continually sniffed the air because I did not want to be taken unawares.
“The strange thing was that I could not pick up a scent. It was as if someone had purified the air, drained it of every possible odor, except the wild flowers, the mesquite and the cacti.
“That night I stopped on a small rise above a dry creek bed. The moon was full and I let out a few yelps just to let the neighbors know I was around.
“I heard nothing, which is strange because usually in that part of the world there are a lot of my brothers and sisters about, especially on a summer night with a full moon. But that night there was nothing, no response to my call. I built a small fire and smoked my pipe. A carpenter in Santa Fe had given me a pouch of sweet tobacco and I was near the bottom so I was enjoying it, savoring the smoke and praying to the gods.
“I must have fallen asleep because at dawn a horned toad was standing in the red sand at my feet, watching me.
“’What is it, little brother?’ I asked. ‘You are close to her, Coyote, turn back now or you will end up in one of her cages.’”
“I laughed and told him not to worry.”
“I had no food or drink and I was hungry and as soon as the toad ran off into the mesquite I headed southwest toward the bruja’s place. As I walked, I thought that I smelled chili and beans and frying tortillas. My mouth began to water and so I hurried on toward the bruja.
“Toward noon, a hawk landed on the arm of a cactus near the trail and waited for me to reach her. ‘Turn back now, Coyote, or it will be too late.’
“I ask, ‘Did she send you to frighten me?’
“’No one sent me. I came to warn you. She is no one’s friend.’”
“And yet I continued southwest to her house because now I smelled roasted lamb and green chilies.
“At dusk I climbed a small hill and from the top I could see her place. There was an adobe house, a shed made of mesquite, a corral that held two donkeys and a mule, and hundred or so cages of various sizes scattered around the property. Each had one or two animals in them and yet I could not smell a thing except for roasting lamb, green chilies, and a hint of pollen. My senses should have been exploding with smells with all those little brothers in those cages but I could smell nothing except food cooking. I should have taken this as a sign of her power and run in the opposite direction but I am curious and vain. I could not imagine anyone out witting me.
“Never,” said Snake.
Coyote cleared his throat and continued.
“As soon as the sun set, I walked toward the house. She was outside of the adobe, disguised as a Navajo woman, sitting on her haunches, in front a large fire made of mesquite and dried cactus spines. It was aromatic and I wondered if that fire was part of her magic.
“I knew she saw me but rather than acknowledge my presence, she turned her back to me and squatted on a Navajo blanket, where she had spread some stone bowls. She was grinding corn for tortillas and singing a song under her breath. It was song about the wind and how one day the wind fell in love with a red deer. It was a new song for me and I found myself listening rather than paying attention to the old woman because that was what she was, an old woman. She wore a long dark red pleated skirt and a white peasant’s blouse. She had long hair that was sprinkled with gray and white and she was fat and burned dark brown by the sun. Her eyes were black and her pupils were large like black plates of coal. Around her fat neck hung several milagros- a rabbit’s foot, an owl feather, a rattlesnake’s rattlers, a wooden cross and a silver one, a leather pouch filled with bear teeth. She had it all. I sensed she was powerful and old.
“When I was just a few feet front from, she said in a deep voice, ‘I smelled you ten miles away Coyote.’
“’That’s funny because I cannot smell you at all, old woman.’
“’It’s the magic, old man,’ she said. ‘I’m hiding from the spirits.’
“’Which spirit is chasing you?’ I ask, knowing she will not give me a straight answer.
“’What do want with me, old man?’
“’Nothing. I am just curious.’
“’You know what happened to the cat?’
“She laughed and said, ‘no, you don’t.’ She pointed at one of the wooden cages that contained about ten cats, lying and sitting on its wooden floor.
“She invited me to sit on the rug with her but I shook my head and walked to the other side of the fire and sat on my haunches. When she returned to her work, grinding the corn, I noted that the other stone bowls contained ingredients for chili and beans and tortillas and as I thought of the food, my mouth began to water.
“’No, I am fine. I have some jerky and tobacco.’
“I pulled my pipe out and filled it with the last of my tobacco, lit it with a twig from the fire, and watched the old woman. Soon she gets up and drags a black cast iron pot over and hangs it over the fire with two pieces of metal. She then pours the ingredients from those bowls into the pot and begins to cook the beans and chilies. The smell is driving me crazy and my stomach is rumbling.
“As she cooks, I notice that she is growing younger and slimmer. I rub my eyes to make sure I am not dreaming or imagining what is happening. Soon, however, I know something is happening because the peasant blouse falls off her left shoulder exposing a small round breast, with a large brown aureole and a firm nipple. She casually pulls the blouse back up on her shoulder but I know that she performing for me; she is stirring all my hunger with her magic just like she is stirring those beans and chilies in that big black pot.
“She cooks the beans and then she takes a large frying pan and places it over the fire, holding the cast iron handle with a rag, and begins to cook the tortillas.
“’Sure you don’t want one?’”
“I look at her and she is now no more than twenty. Her long black hair glistens in the light of the fire and the fire warms her brown skin. I see little beads of sweat on her upper lip and I note its fullness. I now guess how she captured all these animals.
“’If you aren’t going to tell me about yourself, then tell me a story while I eat.’
“’I will tell you a story for a tortilla.’
“She looks up from her cooking and I know she is thinking. She is thinking that I am smarter than the others and that I might not be so easy to catch.
“’I’ll trade you one tortilla, one bowl of chili and beans, and a glass of mescal, if you will prepare me a bath.’
“’Where will I find enough water for a bath?’ I asked.
“She pointed off to the south. ‘There’s a spring there, about three hundred yards from the house. I have a couple of buckets in the shed. I think eight buckets should be enough. I’ll boil the water while you eat.
“I stood up and moved toward the shed, when she said, ‘one other thing. I want you to satisfy me tonight.’
“’I will want three tortillas, two bowls of beans, some lamb, and two mescal. And one other thing we don’t stop until I can’t perform anymore.’”
“I trudged back and forth nearly all night but she finally got enough for a bath. She had this ancient tin bath tub that I dragged from the shed. When the water was hot she stripped down to her bare skin and stepped into the tub. I watched her bathe while I ate the beans, lamb, chili, and tortillas and drank the mescal.
“There is something I must confess. I was so hot for her by the time she finished splashing around in the water that I could have mounted her like an old mangy dog in heat as soon as she rose from that hot bath. Her skin glowed from the heat of the water and her hair was wet as she walked across the red dust of the desert to the door of the adobe house. She stood in the frame of the door, her legs spread apart with water dripping from the hair between her legs. I felt a howl emerging from my chest and I was ready to go.
“She said, ‘you coming or not?’
“I finished my food by wiping all of the chili from the bottom of my bowl with my last tortilla and then ran to the house.
“We rolled around her bed for hours, tearing at each other like savage animals until, finally, near dawn we fell asleep. Sometime in the afternoon, I awoke with my arms and legs around her and I realized that she was awake, waiting for me to stir.
“’Maybe we made a baby,’ she whispered.
“’It’s possible. I have dropped pups off all over this country.’
“”Like where?’ she asked sweetly.
“’The youngest one is up in Taos working at a dude ranch.’
“’What’s his name?’
“’Thomas.’ Then I know I have done it. She tricked me and I have given up my youngest pup but I don’t say anything. I don’t want her to know that I know that I have made a mistake. Instead, I roll her onto her back and have at her for another hour or so. By dusk I am back on the trail, heading south to Mexico. Now, I have to move fast, conduct my business and get back to Taos and warn Thomas.”
Vogel shifts in his chair and says, “She somehow got her hands on Thomas and brought him to France?”
“She went to the dude ranch in Taos and masqueraded as a rich woman from Madrid. While there she seduced Thomas and persuaded him to come with her to Spain.”
“We think she came to the New World with the Spaniards,” added Snake.
“She’s not a home grown witch?”
“Exactly. That explains her power. She is very old and very tricky.”
“Why would she waste her time on Thomas?”
“To get back at me. I didn’t fall under her spell and I rode her hard for almost a day and then walked off into the desert. I wounded her pride and escaped.”
“I don’t get it.”
Snake said, “You don’t have to get it. She is a witch. She likes power and domination. Coyote got under her skin. In her mind this is a mating dance. She wants him to steal Thomas back so she can do something else. She tasted him and she is now attached to him.”
“What do you want from me?”
Vogel looked over at Notre Dame and saw hundreds of pigeons enter the air and fly in a great circle around the spires.
He rubbed his chin with his left hand and squeezed the cane’s handle with his right.
“Deux cigars, s’il vous plaît.”
“Three,” said Snake.
As they were puffing away on the cigars, Vogel asked, “If I find the boy and take care of the witch, what do I get?”
“What do you want?”
“Good luck for the rest of my life.”
“That will cost me in the spirit world.”
“That’s not my problem.”
Coyote looked at Snake and she nodded yes.
“Meet me here tomorrow at dusk.”