(This follows “Reputation” and will make a little more sense if you read that first.)
Mamie’s in Nogales was, hands down, Johnny’s favorite bordello. Mamie's girls were cleaner than most, Mamie's booze was stronger than most, and best of all there were rooms upstairs where a man could spend an entire night with a girl if he paid it all up front.
Mamie herself showed him upstairs. He peeled off a few of the bills he had collected from Slade, tucked them into her ample bosom, and asked her to send some dinner, a bottle of tequila, and a girl, in that order. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek before shutting the door behind her. He pulled off his boots and collapsed onto the creaky little bed.
Fingers laced behind his head, he stared at the sagging ceiling and thought back over the job he’d just completed. An honest assessment of what worked and what didn’t helped keep him alive in his dangerous trade; he’d mentally reviewed every job since he started hiring out five—no, six years ago, now. Since the job in…he couldn’t recall the name of the town, but he would never forget the aftermath of that plate glass window shattering onto the boardwalk.
Sometimes he thought something in him had shattered, too.
He wrenched his thoughts away from the window to concentrate on the task at hand.
Curtis Slade was a piece of shit, but men who hired guns usually were. Johnny had gotten used to it, mostly. Looking back on it, the situation should have struck him as comical — the crowd cheering chubby little Alaniz as he gathered up the money, Alaniz shaking his hand there at the end…he couldn’t recall any other time when the guy he was hired to kill had shaken his hand.
And all he’d had to do was trade on his reputation. Just being Johnny Madrid was enough to get the job done.
Johnny sighed. So why didn’t he feel some sense of satisfaction?
Why didn’t he feel proud of a job well done?
Why didn’t he feel good about an easy day’s money?
Why didn’t he feel relieved that he hadn’t had to kill anybody?
Why didn’t he feel anything?
Shouldn’t he feel…something?
He didn’t. He felt nothing.
He wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t horny. He wasn’t anything. He was numb. Blank.
And there were tears spilling out of his eyes, running down his face, dripping into his ears.
A sharp knock on the door sliced through his emptiness. “Your dinner, Señor.”
A seductive darkness had grown in Johnny’s mind. He didn’t want to leave it. He knew he should answer the door but allowed the darkness to hold him back. He managed to say, “Go away,” loud enough for the serving girl to hear; he heard a hesitation before her footsteps retreated down the hall.
His sense of relief was short-lived when he realized Mamie would be up in a while to see if he still wanted the booze and the girl. Damn. He didn’t want to talk to her. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. He wanted to fall into that endless pit where it was okay to feel nothing, to want nothing, to be nothing.
He’d been there before.
The day waned. Nighttime crept through his room and embraced him until he could no longer tell where Johnny Madrid ended and the blackness began. Someone knocked but he was lost in the emptiness; he didn’t answer.
The door opened. A sliver of unwelcome light fell across him. He knew it was Mamie even before she spoke his name; he didn’t respond. He wanted her to go away. When he’d fallen into the void before, Mamie had tried to help him out of it. He didn’t want her to try again. He didn’t want her to know he was meant to be lost in the darkness.
After several moments of silence Mamie closed the door with a quiet click, trapping the relentless night all around him and within him.
Did he sleep? There was no difference between sleeping and waking in his black cocoon. Thoughts of blood, of death and betrayal, of rejection and pain threatened just below the surface of his mind. He fought their emergence by concentrating on the void, by embracing the darkness. In its inky depths the emptiness of his existence mattered little. He wished for the night to last forever.
The dawn broke anyway.
The sunlight annoyed him. It irritated him to realize he needed to take a piss when all he wanted was to exist, unbothered, alone, in the abyss.
He lay still for a few minutes but the urge wouldn’t go away. With a sigh he rolled over and reached under the bed for the chamber pot. Unavoidably, once again, the physical demands of life overcame the shadows—for now.
Mamie looked him over critically when he came downstairs. She insisted he eat breakfast even though it tasted like dust to him. She said nothing about last night but pressed a package of jerky and biscuits on him as he headed out the door.
Johnny left town quietly as he always did, laying a false trail as he always did. An action once born of necessity, it added to his reputation. Madrid showed up, did his job, and disappeared.
No one knew he was spending longer and longer between jobs, alone, craving the darkness.