Sanchez's Tigers

Jimmy called me around nine o'clock the previous night and told me he needed me for a job. I was gonna tell him to screw off, but then I realized I hadn't done any jobs for a while, and I needed money, and I wasn't doing anything else tomorrow. I was always doing jobs with Jimmy. He was a real annoying guy, talkative as a parrot and a looped record. Doing a job with him would take up the entire morning, and then he'd insist we spend the afternoon boozing it up in some dirty little Cantina in downtown San Pablo.

I knew Jimmy from way back. We were both instructors in the School of the Americas. Libertad, paz, and fraternidad all the way. But then some of our star pupils went a bit overboard and got busted for crimes against humanity. The pictures of the charred remains of the innocent civilians were plastered all over the six o'clock news. Not even Reagan would have me and Jimmy stay after that.

So we went to Colombia. It's dinky, dirty, little country right on the equator. Ever since the world lost interest, it had been consumed in civil wars that would make the American one look like a sequence of skirmishes. Nationalists and Revolutionaries turned into Communists and Fascists, and that was before the Drug Lords and their Narco-Terrorists showed up and things got really confusing. Colombia's hot and muddy, and filled with jungle, but there's one good thing about it: For people like me and Jimmy, there's always work. People need killing, and in Colombia everyone's willing to pay good American dollars got a job well done.

We were real close when we started out, me and Jimmy, doing all kinds of jobs together. Shooting people from a distance, hacking them apart up close. We played quarterback for every team in the Colombian league, and got rich enough to gamble it all away and start again. Time passed and we developed a nice little routine where all we had to was sit back and watch. I began to get a bit sick of Jimmy and his constant talking.

But then I got an idea. I had been waiting for a chance to off Jimmy for a long time, and this would the perfect opportunity. I told him I'd do what he wanted me to do and got a good night's sleep.

I found his car parked outside of my building, the prisoner was in the back, gagged, bound, and utterly terrified. Jimmy loved it when the victim was afraid. I'd call him insane, if I wasn't suffering from that same malady myself.

"Hello," I said.

"Hello," Jimmy said. He scooted over and drew a big pistol, something you'd see in a Hollywood action flick, and pointed it at the prisoner. He was a terrified little Indian man, the same breed that was building stone temples when the Spaniards came with civilization, Christianity and smallpox. "You drive. I want to talk to my friend here."

I nodded and sat down and started driving. I didn't have a gun because I didn't need one. I had a bowie knife though, and I knew I would need that.

We weren't driving for ten seconds before Jimmy started talking. "His name is Hugo. He's sheltered some FARC-EP fighters a couple days ago, the same ones that torched the plantation where he works. His boss found out and wanted him dead." FARC-EP stands for the Fuerzas Armas Revolucinarias de Colombia- Ejercito de Pueblo, a paramilitary organization that had gotten its guns straight from the USSR, until that outfit fell apart, but by then, they had all the guns they needed.

"We taking Hugo to see Sanchez's tigers?" I asked, but I knew the answer.

"Yup. You know the way."

I sure did.

Jimmy soon started talking with Hugo. The poor little Indian was gagged, so it was a pretty one-sided conversation, but Jimmy liked it that way. He hated communists, and those that sympathized with them, and he wanted Hugo to know it. "You know what you're problem is?" he asked the gagged peasant.

Hugo shook his head. I guess he spoke enough English to understand Jimmy. Poor bastard.

"You're too goddamn stupid, you know? You want to create a perfect society without any classes, or laws, where everyone can do whatever the hell they want. But you know what? Humans have done that before. A long time ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, we didn't have any classes or leaders or any of that stuff you and your people want to get rid of. And you know what? It was awful. Everyone lived in these crappy little huts, or caves, and that's if they were lucky. And everybody was poor and starving and always killing each other. Did you know that humans spent ninety-nine point nine percent of their time on earth in that state? Can you imagine that? Order is such a new invention. Most of humanity's time was spent in um…what's the word?"

"Anarchy," I suggested.

"Anarchy," Jimmy said. "That's the word. And you darn Red idiots, with your bombs and your AK-47s, you want to send us all back to that. You want everyone to be poor and have crappy little lives. You damn idiot."

He talked on like that for the whole time while I drove the car. I took the back roads, making sure no one would follow me. Soon the concrete gave way to dirt, and then stones and mud after that. I stopped the car and got out, and Jimmy got out too, his big gun aimed at Hugo's head. Hugo couldn't move that well, but he scurried along as fast as he could, hoping not to upset Jimmy and his gun.

"Do you know where we're taking you?" Jimmy asked. "Any of this look familiar to you?" We found the path to Sanchez's Manor, overgrown and broken, but still visible. The two wrought iron gates had fallen in on themselves, overgrown with jungle, just like some of the native temples that Hugo's ancestors had built with their bare hands.

"Sanchez's Manor," I said.

"Correct." Jimmy smiled as he saw the truth dawning on Hugo's little brown face. "You know Sanchez, right? The fat cat was your country's national hero back in the 80s. Rags to riches, all from exporting cocaine to my country and getting our kids addicted to it. He did real good for himself, went off and built this whole big mansion."

The jungle fell away as we reached the outskirts of the main building. It was as big as a Vanderbilt or a Hearst dream house, decorated lavishly and garishly. The grounds went on for miles. Sitting on a huge pedestal near the entrance to the mansion was a statue made of Al Capone's car, the real one, which Sanchez had bought. Slowly, the vines from the jungle were crawling over the mansion, the statues and broken fountains, burying them for good. It was a war between nature and civilization and nature was winning.

"But you know what happened to Sanchez, don't you?" Jimmy went on. "Us Americans wised up and killed him. Shot him full of holes until he looked like Swiss cheese. And he left this whole mansion just lying here, abandoned. But that's not the only thing he left behind."

We turned a corner and came to Sanchez's zoo. There were statues of dinosaurs, the big toothy ones that made little boys excited, scattered around the empty cages. Bones, some of animals, some not, lay on the ground around the feet of the dinos. We passed a diplodocus and walked up into a viewing tower over the largest enclosure.

"There were some tigers that Sanchez owned, the prize of his collection," Jimmy explained to Hugo as we climbed up the stairway into the viewing tower. "These aren't ordinary tigers, oh no. These are blue ones; a weird mutation happens sometimes. You know how rare blue tigers are? They only appear in a certain province of China, and only once in a generation, just like a man of Sanchez's character."

Hugo seemed to be getting the idea now. He was sweating, and not from the heat. He was moaning, but he wouldn't run, not with Jimmy's Hollywood pistol glued to the back of his neck.

"Blue tigers are man-eaters, you know," Jimmy explained to Hugo. "They're statistically proven to be ninety-nine point nine percent more vicious to humans than the orange tigers or the white ones. So when the cops came here and led most of the other animals away, they left the tigers. Tigers have gotten short shrift lately. I read in a book somewhere that zookeepers get bitten more by zebras than by tigers. But they still have some charm to them. I'll bet that after we toss you into the cage, and the tigers come out, you'll wish to whatever saint you give daily offerings to that they were zebras."

The viewing tower looked directly into the enclosure. Part of the fence had broken away, allowing the tigers to go wherever they wanted, and no animals were visible except for a few birds. The blue felines had run off into the jungle, but we knew they'd come when they smelled the meat.

"Cover me," Jimmy said, handing me the gun. I covered him while he tore off the gag and the ropes. Hugo shrieked out a couple of words before Jimmy took his pistol back and pushed it into the little Indian's face, shutting him up.

"You want to know my favorite part of this little exercise?" he asked. "I'll tell you. It's the look in your eyes when you see the blue tiger coming out of the trees, loping slowly towards you. Most people have never seen a tiger like you will. Sure, they see them on TV, and maybe even in zoos, but never out in the wild when they're a threat. But when you see that blue tiger, and when your eyes meet, then you get that look. It's a look you never see these days, not when a man loses his job, or gets a gun pointed at him, or even gets pumped full of lead. When that cat is stalking you, you get a certain glint in your eye. It's the glint of a deer or a rabbit, of prey."

"Can we cut to the chase?" I asked. I was getting bored.

"Almost!" Jimmy shouted at me. "Now where was I? Ah yes, the look. Our ancestors must have felt like you will. We spent ninety-nine point nine percent of our history crawling around in the jungle, being hunted by tigers and their bigger friends. We were strong back then, and I think we still have some of that strength in us. That strength led us to become the top predators, and to build cities and put the tigers in zoos. It's time to test that strength."

Jimmy shoved and Hugo fell. He landed in the enclosure, and ran to the walls, but Sanchez hadn't spent his millions on a flimsy barrier. Hugo couldn't get out. And then the tiger came. Just one, blue as a summer sky, with greenish black stripes. Hugo saw it and yelped in terror, screaming and praying at the same time.

"Look," Jimmy said with a smile, "he's got that glint in his eye."

Jimmy was right.

Then there was a growl behind us and we both turned around. Two tigers, smaller than the one in the enclosure, but still big enough to be a threat, were crouched at the foot of viewing tower, slowly walking up the stairs. Jimmy's pistol swung up, aiming at the two cats.

You see, for all of Jimmy's pretensions, there were three things he didn't know:

The blue tiger that Sanchez bought? It was pregnant, and after it had dropped its litter of cubs, there was just a matter of time before they grew up in big hungry adult tigers, maybe not blue, but still just as dangerous.

Tigers don't really need to eat that much. One human being should be enough to feed a family of three for some time. Plus, Jimmy had been putting a little weight on recently.

I can't stand Jimmy's monologues.

So I took out my knife and I stabbed Jimmy in the hand. He yelped and dropped his pistol, and then I picked that up and walked backwards, pointing the pistol at him. He stared at me in disbelief and pain.

"What are you…what are you…doing?" he cried.

I tossed him the knife, slick with his own blood. It fell at his feet. "You've always been interested in the time before history. The ninety nine point nine percent. Here's your chance to live it."

I ducked out of the way as the two juvenile tigers pounced. Jimmy went for the knife. He didn't last very long. Then the two tigers were busy with him and not with me. I jumped out of the viewing tower and landed in the enclosure, next to Hugo, who hadn't noticed what happened upstairs.

The mother tiger was closing in on us, looking like she was ready to pounce. She was silent and sleek and utterly beautiful. I shot her with Jimmy's pistol, and she fell over on the ground in an azure heap.

Hugo stared at me in fear and amazement, his brown Indian eyes wide open.

I pointed to the jungle. "You can run in there," I told him. "It's dense and crowded and filled with plants. Nobody knows just what's in the middle of it all. They'll never find you."

"Gracias," he said.

I nodded. Hugo ran off into the jungle and I slipped out of the enclosure through the same hole, but went around and walked back to the car. I drove slowly back to San Pablo, enjoying the silence.