James Mason Gunn looked at me across the table, bottle in hand, the cool breeze off the lake blowing his thin white hair. "This should be right up your alley, Walker, old pal. Tequila?"
"No thanks," I said. We were sitting on the porch of Jim’s villa in the beautiful village of Lake Chalapa, Mexico, an hour or so from Guadalajara. A former newspaper reporter from New York, Jim Gunn was an old-school newsman: hard working, hard drinking, and, frankly, hard to take. He and I had known each other for almost thirty years, but I wouldn’t really call us friends. Upon his retirement, Jim had moved to this quiet Mexican town, where there was already a small American community, to relax, drink Tequila, and write a novel. That was five years ago, and he seemed to have two of the three down. "So your letter said. What’s your interest?"
"Miguel is a friend of mine." He poured himself another shot of amber fire. "He does some handyman work around town, but his real livelihood comes from his family farm in the hills north of here. Lately, something’s been killing off his livestock."
"A mountain lion?"
"No," Jim said. "Mountain lions don’t drink goat blood and leave the carcasses to rot in the sun. Miguel – and the local villagers – believe it’s a chupacabra."
"Chupacabra? I thought that was a Puerto Rican folk tale."
"No. The chupacabras are real, old pal. And they’ve been reported all through South and Central America. Even north of the border."
"Anybody actually see one of these beasts?" I asked as I touched the flame from my Bic to the tip of a Marlboro, promising myself it would be the last of the day.
"Yes. Two witnesses. Miguel and his sister."
"I’d like to talk to them," I said.
"That’s no problem," Jim said. "Consuela works at the cantina, and this time of day, we’ll probably find Miguel there, too."
The cantina was a one-story adobe-and-wood structure at one end of a dusty street, away from the nice shops and white villas of the expatriate Americanos. This was a local watering hole, and while Jim seemed at home there, I felt a lot of wary eyes on me as we walked through the beaded curtain over the door. It was dark inside, and it took my eyes a few minutes to adjust, but when they did, I saw Jim heading for a long wooden bar. I followed.
I took the stool beside Jim and was pleasantly surprised by the bartender. She was about eighteen, tall and shapely, with long black hair that fell to the middle of her back. It was tied back, but not braided. Her skin was dark and smooth, her lips full, and her eyes were black obsidian. She was lovely.
"Walker, old pal," Jim said. "This is Consuela Martinez, Miguel’s brother."
"Pleased to meet you, senorita."
"Thank you, senor. Can I get you a drink?"
"I’ll take a cold Corona, if you have one."
"Is your brother here, Consuela?" Jim asked.
She nodded and pointed towards the back of the room. "Si. He’s waiting for you, Senor Gunn."
She placed an ice-cold bottle of beer on the bar in front of me, beads of condensation running down the glass. "Go on back. I’ll get Maria to watch the bar, and I’ll join you in a minute."
I took my bottle and followed Jim to a dark booth in the rear of the cantina. I still felt like the other patrons were staring at me suspiciously. Miguel was about twenty-five, skinny, with dark circles under his eyes. He looked exhausted. He had a nearly-empty bottle of mescal in front of him. He hardly looked up as Jim and I slid into the booth across from him.
"Miguel," said Jim. "This is my friend Walker. Remember, I told you about him?"
Miguel muttered something in slurred Spanish. All I caught was "gringo."
"You must forgive my brother," Consuela said as she appeared suddenly at my elbow. "He hasn’t slept for three days and he’s been drinking far too much." She sat down beside him and put a hand on his arm.
"What happened?" I asked.
"We’ve been losing goats for almost a month. One, two a week. Three nights ago, Miguel took our father’s rifle and decided to watch the herd and see if anything attacked them. About midnight, I decided to take him some food and coffee. When I arrived, he was asleep."
"I was not asleep," Miguel muttered.
"Suddenly, there was a disturbance among the goats, and most of the herd broke and ran away. I took my flashlight and Miguel and I went to investigate. What we found chilled my blood, senor."
"What did you see?"
"It was a monster, senor. It had one of our goats down on the ground and was sucking the blood from it. I swear, senor. It was El Chupacabara."
She was completely serious. "Can you describe it, Consuela?"
"It was about the size of a child, but it had large eyes that glowed white in the dark. It had a row of spikes running down its back and a short tail. When we shined our light on it, it whipped its head around and stared at us with those terrible devil’s eyes. Its mouth was filled with sharp teeth."
"So, what do you say, old pal?" Gunn asked me.
"I don’t follow.’
"You’re a hunter, Walker. You want to help us kill this evil little goat-sucker?"
"I don’t hunt anymore, Gunn. Did anyone call the authorities?"
"The official line is that these little monsters don’t exist," Gunn said with a smile. "Even though I know the local cops believe in it. But there’s nothing they can do."
"So you want me to go out into this hills with a rifle and shoot the thing."
"No," said Miguel suddenly. "I will shoot the chupacabra. Tonight. And I will go alone."
"Miguel," his sister whispered. "Mr. Walker is a famous American reporter. Maybe he could go with you, so he can tell the story to his readers."
Miguel thought about it for a second. "Then I will be famous, too?"
"Sure," I said.
"Then he can come."
It was soon agreed that Jim Gunn would drive me out to the Martinez farm after dinner, and come nightfall, I would go with Miguel in search of the legendary goat-sucker. Before leaving the cantina, Consuela took me aside.
"Please, Senor Walker. Take care of my brother. He hasn’t been well since we saw the monster that night."
I looked into those dark eyes. What a damned fool I am for a pretty girl.
"I will, Consuela.
"And we’ll get the damned Chupacabra, too."
To Be Continued