The murder was senseless. There was nothing to gain from it, no beef to settle. Mrs. Gonzales, 84 years old, living in the same house her entire life. The streets called her Mamma Maria. The set could stop in at any time for a hot meal. She made the best tamales in Laredo.
She’d bled out in the kitchen with a slit throat. The high-ranking members above me deemed it my fault. The street’s safety rested on my shoulders, and I’d failed her. I refused to believe them at first, until I saw the signs.
Since birth, we were warned of Cuco. Misbehave and Cuco comes. One of my foot soldiers mentioned the idea. I laughed it off, then; this was obviously gang retaliation. We retained many enemies over the years, my set especially, and to even consider this being done by a folklore boogeyman would have jeopardized my rank.
But the signs were there. The footprints, the smell—even the bag. I had been in Mama Maria’s kitchen just the night before, and I hadn’t noticed any bag. But the next morning it sat on the kitchen counter, filled with bones stained with the blood of their owners.
We didn’t call the police; no reason to. We were more capable of delivering justice than those brainwashed, corruption-filled wastes of life. The service was held in our graveyard, where they always were. As her body was lowered into the dirt, we tossed roses onto the casket. Rain followed, muddying the fresh dirt lain over her.
Each of our high-ranking soldiers attended the recession at her home, many sullen and grim, some hiding tears. I walked past the doorstep and shivered at the eerie silence that greeted me; it seemed to fill the house’s interior with something foreign. Mama Maria always had her music playing and something cooking in the kitchen. The only sound that resonated in the home now were the six sets of heavy footsteps of the ones she left behind.
“Any ideas?” Somoto ran his hand through his gray beard, eyes tired.
I didn’t say what was on my mind.
Manny pushed his fingers through his hair. “Cartel, maybe? We paid them, right?”
“Always give them their cut,” Somoto said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The walls creaked and the floorboards moaned from the wind, bringing in the storm. Somoto lit a cigarette. “I heard a rumor of Cuco,” he said.
Manny burst into laughter, but it faded when he saw Somoto’s face stay unsmiling. “You’re serious?”
He blew smoke from the side of his mouth. “You think I’m not?”
Manny’s jaw dropped a little, and I saw his eyes dart to me. “Cuco… Like when we were kids?”
“The signs are all there,” I said. “You’re not the first to say it, Somo.”
Manny stammered, scratching his head. “Wh-what do you even know about Cuco?”
Throwing the black bag over his shoulder, Somoto headed towards the door. “Probably more than you think.”