A BULLET FOR THE SINGER
When Jimmy Eagle was young, he was a member of the Special Forces. Jimmy was a hell raiser and often was found at the breakfast table nursing a hangover.
Jimmy Eagle was a Lakota Sioux and weighed over three hundred pounds. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him. He stood six foot six inches and moved like a panther. He was the finest fighter Special Forces had ever produced. Often they would send him alone to do a job, usually a killing job. Jimmy relished those times, especially when he was sent deep into the jungles of Central or South America. He felt alive then, his senses keen, his reflexes electric. He loved the sounds and the smells, his eyes drank in the greens, the deep purples, reds and oranges. He became so much a part of the forest that butterflies would land and sit on his bare chest.
Everything changed when Jimmy Eagle was sent to the Jungle to hunt down and eliminate the dark angel of Angeles de Luz.
Angeles de Luz was a small town located on the edge of the rain forest. It was run by a great plantation owner named Emmanuel Herren. His father was a German who had married the daughter of a small plantation owner. He had inherited, through his wife, the plantation and parlayed it into the largest plantation in the country.
Herren was an ally of the United States. He was a friend of the President. He was an alcoholic, a wife abuser, a whore monger. He thought the poor in the area had been put there by God, for his own personal use. When one could no longer serve him, he would dispatch him as if he were an old horse, no longer able to pull the plow. Often, however, the older peasants would disappear from the outlying villages before the soldiers could find them.
His soldiers kept the area clear of Communists and rebels. His peasants brought from the earth a rare metal, which he sold cheaply to the United States in exchange for their weapons and protection. He got that, all right. When some of his soldiers raped and killed two nuns working with the poor in the area, the President of the United States had shrugged it off as a tragedy occasioned because two women had gone where they did not belong.
But Emmanuel Herren had a problem. Somewhere near his hacienda lived the Singer. Perhaps 'lived' is not the correct description. 'Haunted' might be better. Where the Singer lived was up for grabs. Indeed, whether or not the Singer was even corporeal was up for grabs. No one had ever seen it. But they had heard it. At irregular times, to be sure. But they had heard it. Over and over again. It did not seem to be human. It would sound early in the morning, in the middle of the day, late at night; sometimes it would sound daily, sometimes weekly. Sometimes it would not sound for a month and the town would rest easy in the hope that it had gone, or, even better, perished. But always it would return. No one could understand the words, but they rang out full and sweet and pierced the heart and brought terror to all who live in Angeles de Luz. At least to all who lived in the great Herren hacienda and to all the soldiers who lived in the town.
The peasants were another matter. They would stop what they were doing when they heard the singer. A kind of peace would touch their faces. Even a kind of joy. And, for a while, fear of the soldiers, even of Herren, himself, did not mar their faces. But what they thought they heard no one would ever say: at least not to those in authority. If pressed, they would simply claim not to know what to make of it. There was one exception. A retarded child was brought in for questioning. When asked about the Singer he simply said that the Singer was good. He was good and if Mr. Emmanuel would listen he would not be so wicked. The child was retarded, but was, nevertheless, beaten until he was unconscious. "He is a fool and knows nothing," Herren scoffed when told of all this. "But it is good that you beat him. He might be a fool, but he is also insubordinate and disobedient." The child died the next day. After that the peasants no longer listened openly to the Singer.
Emmanuel Herren certainly did not believe this Singer to be human. Not in his gut he didn't. His mind told him otherwise. But he did not pay attention to his reason. Deep down he sensed the voice to be that of a demon. Herren's sons called the singer the Dark Angel. They were not certain what it was. But if it were alive they wanted it dead. And so, they convinced their father to ask the Americans for help. There is, Herren told the Americans, a great evil about. It is stirring up the peasants and will lead to rebellion and almost certainly is rooted in Communism. The Americans didn't ask any more questions after the word Communism was uttered. They sent Jimmy Eagle.
Jimmy Eagle was sitting in the Cantina, eating breakfast, when he first heard the Singer. He had not yet visited Emmanuel Herren. He had an appointment that very morning. The night before he had eaten, settled in and had a look around. He had not drunk alcohol. He would not do so until he had met with Herren.
The song of the Singer made him want to drink. Jimmy did not understand the words of the song, but it awoke in him a longing, a longing that made his knees weak, a longing that set before his eyes the face of his mother. She had been killed by a drunken driver when he was five and he had not thought of her for fifteen years. The longing elicited in him a terrible tenderness. At that moment he could not have bruised his worst enemy, let alone killed him.
The Lakota was ashamed. He missed his appointment with Herren. Instead, he ran. He found a path into the forest and ran along it, machete in hand, hoping to see a snake or worse; he ran, cursing and steeling himself. Only when he his legs cried mercy, only when he was steeped with exhaustion did he stop. He went to his room, showered, changed and went to see Emmanuel Herren.
"Call me General. All my friends do. The peasants, now, I like them to call me el Senor. But you can call me General." Jimmy Eagle's face showed nothing. But he looked the man over. He was dressed like a general. He was serious. Jimmy decided he would call Emmanuel Herren "General."
But Jimmy Eagle could give as good as he got. "Okay….General. Call me Chief. All my friends should." Now it was Herren's turn to give Jimmy Eagle the once over. He did.
"Okay…..Chief." Herren smiled.
"Cleveland Indians, huh?" Herren looked at the Indians logo prominently displayed on Jimmy's shirt. "They don't win much."
"Nope. But I do. I don't lose."
The General nodded.
"So, General, who is it you want me to kill?"
"I want you to kill the Singer. I saw you when you heard it. You know the Singer. You know its power. That is why you were late this morning. I want you to kill it."
"I want to," Jimmy Eagle muttered. And then, more loudly "I will."
Herren continued. "I saw you run. You were unmanned. So was I when I first heard it. Even now it tears me from what I am doing. Drinking, I spill my glass. Inflicting pain, I am tempted to mercy. Taking my pleasure with a nameless peasant, I loose my hardness.
"It is so with my soldiers. It is so with my sons. With the peasants, that is another matter. They will not speak of the Singer. A child did once. But he was an idiot and not to be listened to. Nevertheless, he paid for his boldness. The women I take act strangely when they hear the voice. They weep. One wept and pulled herself from me. She grabbed her clothes and fled the room. I found her outside the Church before a statue of Jesus, weeping at his feet. When I tried to drag her back to the room she refused. And when I aimed a gun at her she simply smiled and refused. I shot her and she died with that same damned smile on her face. I do not know if you can kill the Singer. It is the devil's work. How can you kill a demon?"
Jimmy Eagle sat there for a full minute and said nothing. Finally he rose. "I will. I will kill him."
Jimmy Eagle and the General drank and whored for two days. They became friends. Once, when he was so drunk he could not stand, the General said to Jimmy: "You are my Pilate and I am your Caiaphas. All must bend their knee to us. Even the Singer. Even God Himself." He began to cackle. "If He does not—why, we will kill Him, too." But the General did not remember the saying. He did remember the Singer, however, whose song began just as he finished speaking. There was a darkness to the song this time. And the General thought the words, whatever they meant, were crafted precisely for him. Jimmy remembered both the saying and the song.
During the song Jimmy was gripped with fear. He saw his mothers face and it floated before him and then further and further away. He tried to call her back but she was gone, beyond his reach. Fear buckled his knees. "Beyond your reach; beyond your reach forever," his mind whispered.
For the General it was both the same and otherwise. He had been filled with hatred as well as fear. As Jimmy stood he had shouted: "Kill it. Kill it. God Almighty, kill it." And then he had fallen to ground, unable to rise.
The next day Jimmy Eagle stopped drinking. He slept in the jungle. He ran in the jungle. He hardened himself to the Singer and its song. Indeed, he awaited its song.
While he hunted it, Jimmy Eagle never did discover a pattern to the Singer's movements. One day it would sing three times. Another day it would sing one time. Another day it would sing not at all. Jimmy would move to the place of the first singing, and then the song would be heard to the west. Jimmy would move toward the west, but when he got there the Singer would be gone. He then would be heard to the north, or to the south, or not at all. But finally, after three weeks, Jimmy realized that he had made a circuit about the village. When he started the second circuit he realized that each song sounded further from the village, that, indeed, only the peasants who lived outside the village could hear it. They would listen until the song was done. They would smile or weep, or both. But always joy touched their faces. Jimmy hated them. If asked, he would have killed them and been happy in the killing.
Two weeks passed. Jimmy Eagle lived off the land. He ate fruit and snakes and Iguana. One time he almost felled a Giant Anteater. But something spooked it and his shot went wide as the strange creature galloped in its strange, rolling fashion to the river. By the time the Lakota came into view of the river the creature had reached the other side and was disappearing into the jungle. It must, mused Jimmy, be a fine swimmer.
What finally became apparent was the fact of the circuit. The third time around seemed to be closer to the hacienda. Jimmy did not follow the Singer. Instead, he placed himself two miles west of the last song and waited, praying to whatever gods might be that the Singer would come his way.
And come his way it did. He heard the voice late in the afternoon. It came from a tree no more than a hundred yards from his camp. Jimmy Eagle slung the rifle over his shoulder and started towards it. But he stopped before he had gone ten steps. On the edge of his camp he heard a noise, a scrabbling of claws. He stopped and turned. What he saw was extraordinary. The Anteater was back, its tongue flicking deep into a nest of termites.
Jimmy Eagle began to lope. Not a stick broke. Not a leaf rustled. He would be back for the Anteater. But, now, the Singer was near. He ran with an animal-like joy. His gun felt a part of his hand. He would kill the Singer soon. Maybe in the next hour.
And then the singing stopped. Jimmy pressed the final hundred yards to where the sound had been. And he saw him: a red blur at the base of a high tree. His gun was raised, the blur centered in the sights. His finger moved to end the horror of the Singer. But before he could fire a great pain gashed through his leg. Jimmy gasped and looked. The Anteater had raked his leg and three tears, almost to the bone, now poured out blood. Jimmy dropped his gun and then picked it up to shoot the Anteater. But it was gone. One rip and it had run deep into the trees. The Singer was gone, too. Jimmy knew he should go back into the town and let the doctor deal with his leg. He knew it would soon be infected. But first he would kill the Singer. And then the Anteater. And, then, if he were still alive, he would get help for the leg. Jimmy wrapped the wound as best he could. He made off, running like a cripple, in the direction of the Singer.
He did not have far to go. The song sounded within thirty minutes. It was almost on top of him. He stood at the edge of the forest looking out into a clearing with a great, single tree in the center. He looked up and saw, high in the top of a tree, the red of the Singer. Slowly Jimmy Eagle raised the gun to his shoulder and sighted the Singer. Sweat rolled from his forehead, rage roiled in his guts. The Singer must be stopped, this destroyer of peace, this dark evil. This time the job was personal, a threat to all that he was, to all that gave him joy. He would kill the Singer for himself. There would be plenty of joy in that.
He raised his gun and fired. He heard the crack and then, like a palpable fact, he heard the silence as the voice stopped and the red plumage blossomed red.
He intended to inspect the dead body of the Singer. But before he could enter the clearing, he saw a figure running to where the body lay. It was unmistakably a woman, a young woman, black hair flying, feet beating the ground, racing to the body. When she got there Jimmy heard a wail. It did not stop. When Jimmy reached the girl he found her with the head of the Singer in her lap. The Singer was an Indian boy, no more than twelve years old, a young boy marked with Downs Syndrome.
The Lakota dropped his gun. He was undone. Where once there had been a deep ocean of rage, there was nothing. And then the faint puddling of shame began. It was slow in its encroachment, but finally it filled the whole of his being and he found it as powerful as the rage had been. The girl did not look up at him. She wept. Jimmy Eagle walked quietly away to the edge of the forest and sat and watched. He did not hide. He simply did not want to broach her grief with his presence. He did not care if someone else noticed him. He did not care if someone killed him. He was undone. He was nothing, a cipher, better not born. His leg bled. He did not notice.
What he finally saw was two Indians come and carry the boy from the clearing deep into the forest. Like a dead man Jimmy Eagle stumbled after them, barely able to keep up with them. If they saw him they did not show it. He did not carry his gun or knapsack, and when the Indians found him two days later, outside of their village, he was almost dead. He had not eaten or drunk in those two days. He could not walk on his leg. It still oozed blood. He did not know why he had followed them. He did not think he would live much longer. He did not care.
They brought him into the village, the killer of their Singer. They nursed him back to health. It was the hand of the girl who had wept that he found giving him drink when he first awoke.
"Until you learn our language, you may call me Rachel. It is a good name, I think."
Jimmy Eagle said nothing.
Finally she said "He was my brother."
Jimmy Eagle did not speak.
"Three times a day he would find a high place to sing praise. He was born without much cleverness. He could not read. He could not reason well. But when he learned of the Papa God he found he could sing. Praises. To Papa God. Then the Anteater came.
"The Anteater was his friend. My brother would follow the anteater and sing when he would stop. We followed my brother to be sure he would be alright. For some reason the anteater circled the village, the place where the great, wicked man lives. Perhaps Papa God led him. Anyway, you are here."
Jimmy Eagle knew that there were indigenous tribes of Indians in this country. He knew that, like his own people, they had been badly treated. He did not know their religion, he did not know their gods. What he did know was that he had killed one of them.
Praise. Anteaters. Gods. Papa God. They were all the same to Jimmy Eagle. Nothing. What mattered was that he no longer mattered. For all his skill and bravado he now saw himself as a coward. He had been that all along. His life was empty. And he had tried to fill the void with alcohol and woman, violence and killing. It had made him proud. He had thought himself invulnerable.
That had all changed before the body of a twelve year old boy. Now there was an emptiness and darkness that met him in broad daylight. He did not answer the woman. He was not worthy to be in her presence. He did not eat.
For two days she noticed, but said nothing. It was then that she sent in the children.
"You must eat," the smallest boy said.
"You must drink," the smallest girl said.
"You must not die," another said.
There were fifteen children, if there was one. They did not all speak at once, but many of them spoke. Not one was over twelve years old.
"You are not ready to die."
"We will not leave until you eat and drink. And when you do and have spoken to the Dark One we will sing with you."
When Rachel entered the hut, she found Jimmy Eagle eating fruit from the hands of the children, drinking water from a gourd held by the children. He looked at Rachel and shrugged: "You are ruthless."
She smiled back. "You are foolish and bound for a very bad forever if you die now."
"I killed your brother."
The children continued pestering him with food. They knew. She knew.
"Yes. You did."
"Why do you not kill me?"
"You are not ready to die."
"I am not fit to live."
"None of us were. Once."
"I do not understand."
"No, you don't. You are a fool and walk in darkness. You killed my brother and now you would kill yourself."
"I am not fit to live."
"So you said."
"This is going nowhere," Jimmy shouted. "Kill me. Bring in the men of the tribe, and kill me."
Rachel spoke to the children in their native tongue. They left.
"You wish to die. Yes, you will. You will not like it. There is breaking and there is breaking. But in the end, when the pieces are put together, you will be ready."
"Ready? For what?"
"For whatever comes." She smiled at him. "Gird up your loins, Lakota Sioux. Face the truth for the first time in your life."
Jimmy Eagle looked up. Now he was on his guard. He was about to ask her how she had known he was a Lakota, but she was leaving the hut.
Three minutes passed when one of the men of the tribe entered. He was dressed in a loin cloth, his body wildly painted. He carried a spear.
A half hour passed. Three more men entered. They each carried a spear. Their bodies were also painted. Another thirty minutes passed. Four more men entered. Two carried a chair and sat it before the Lakota. The other men carried bows and arrows. They gathered on each side of the chair, forming a half circle with the chair in the middle.
Jimmy Eagle got ready to die.
Finally an American stood in the door. He was a small African American, bent with arthritis, his hair white as lamb's wool. He wore green Bermuda shorts and a brown shirt with a Cleveland Browns logo.
"My name is John James. I am a Mennonite Missionary. I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I am pastor to these people. They tell me it is time for you to die."
When John James finished speaking, Jimmy Eagle was dead. Not physically. That would have been easy. But now Jimmy Eagle sat on the floor of the hut, sobbing like a baby, rocking back and forth like a crazy man. And then he began to laugh. Laughing and crying. He stopped rocking. He stood and cracked his head on the roof of the hut. He laughed some more.
The men left the dwelling. Only Pastor James remained, sitting, praying, praising. And Jimmy Eagle, who once was dead, but now was alive, sat, knees bent, arms extended, head thrown back, howling in laughter. And then the door opened and the children came. The smallest one climbed into the pastor's lap and contented herself with watching the others as they pulled Jimmy Eagle outdoors.
The next day Jimmy Eagle learned to sing.
Mike Frank © 5/04Back to the index