The Zunter by Jacques Carrié

 

“Who’re you?” asked the local farmer, after introducing himself as Ignacio De Oliveira, a long, loosely rolled-up cord hanging from one shoulder. Hours ago he had captured a rebellious cow with it.

“I’m a Zunter,” replied the foreigner in broken Spanish, dressed in local clothes so as not to attract attention to other town people.

“What do you do?”

“I hunt down former tyrants and dictators. The remaining ones…wherever they hide.”

“…the remaining ones?”

The explanation boiled down to the important world events that had culminated with the passing of the “End of Sovereignty of Nations Law” by the United Nations, after which ninety percent of all tyrants and dictators around the world were arrested in their own countries, then tried and incarcerated, or executed in Switzerland. Incarceration time was proportional to the time they ruled their countries. Execution severity and style were proportional to the number of people they had executed and the unspeakable atrocities they had committed. Most of these inhuman fellows and their wives were executed by firing squad, blindfolded. It was so simple, one single, powerful UN-voted resolution and no more tyrants and dictators in the world. Likewise, no more kings, emperors, czars, sultans, and supreme leaders. Suddenly the world was ninety percent more peaceful. But ten percent of these sons-of-bitches were able to escape and hide before being apprehended by the law. The Zunters hunted down a few more of these disgusting creatures who used to rule countries like devils…believing they were gods.

“Yes, the remaining ones,” said the Zunter.

“I see…” said the farmer, showing a strange expression of wonder and respect. “Any leads lately?”

They began to walk side by side, slowly, leaving the recreation sports store where they had met, heading toward the old bridge.

“I’ve heard there’s one hiding in this region…” said the Zunter, much more informed than his words would show, but allowing the farmer to show his own knowledge of it.

“You’ve heard right.”

“Does he speak Spanish?” asked the Zunter, seeking a confirmation of what he already knew.

“Yes. That’s what people are saying around here.”

“Then I must cross Brazil off of my Latin America list,” said the Zunter, halting on his march. He had already removed French Guyana a week ago.

Halting too, the farmer raised his voice, “Just the opposite. Plus you’re stepping on it.”

“You mean he’s here…in Brazil?” The Zunter removed his hat to scratch the top of his head. “I didn’t know he could be here. This was just my starting point, my starting country—well, I thought my plane had landed in Venezuela—for my search in Latin America.” He replaced his hat. “But…do they speak Spanish now in Brazil?”

“No, only here in Brazuela—Brazil’s newest acquired land, the rich hydroelectric region we conquered from neighboring Venezuela after the war. It used to be called Estado Bolivar.” He smiled. “We’re bilingual now.”

“I see. No wonder the word “Venezuela” was missing from the airport I arrived to. Last time I was here, six or seven years ago, it was all over the place. With all the changes happening lately in our world, one never knows where one is at any time.”

They continued marching.

The Zunter now stared at the man’s shoulder. “How long is your lasso? It looks very strong.”

The farmer smiled proudly. “Oh, about thirty feet. Long and strong enough to keep my cows well behaved.”

The Zunter laughed. “I’m sure they are.”

“What does he look like…this tyrant you’re after?” asked the local farmer. He was the type that didn’t pay much attention to world news, even current events, unless they affected his town in some way. Plus rumors, if any, were usually just rumors. But his instinct told him this man knew a bunch more than he’d shown so far.

“Short, chubby…big ears, long bumpy nose…fat lips, dark bulging eyes…”

“Sounds like someone I saw recently…in the grocery store or the pharmacy,” said the farmer guardedly, his voice a bit tight. Above anything, he didn’t want to become “the town snitch,” only that his simplistic nature didn’t quite cooperate.

“…thin receding black hair.”

“Yeah…I think so.”

They stopped walking.

The Zunter pulled a photo out of his shirt pocket. “Here…recognize him?”

The local man took a casual look. “Yeah, that’s Horacio…he lives in this neighborhood,” he said genuinely, but regretting saying it almost immediately, with a certain amount of fear.

“Any idea where?”

“No. But this is a small town. You’ll find him.”

The Zunter reflected a bit. “I’ve found and arrested three of them in the last ten years,” he said with a glorious, little smile. “I’m sure I’ll find him.”

They renewed their march, heading toward the old bridge.

“What do you do with them, the dictators and tyrants, once you catch them?”

“They go straight to the Purging World Tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland, and I never feel sorry for what comes next.” Neither did he feel sorry for his money rewards, the compensations earned for his efforts. For each man captured, his bank account in Scotland, where he lived with his wife and daughter, grew by ten million dollars. But he saw no point in mentioning that.

“I’m really curious…is torture part of the deal?”

“You bet. Slow torture.” He cleared his throat. “Let me give you just one example. To start with, they’re fed cockroach sandwiches wrapped with raw paper money—the money they stole from the nation. And they must eat them or get flogged by prison guards until no food is left on their plates.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Other forms of torture await them…and the final act.”

“The final act?”

“Yes. Death by firing squad—the same way they used to execute oppressed people.”

They were now crossing the bridge, overlooking a rather large river. Drifting winds seemed to be pushing the copiously running waters pregnant with nasty currents.

“You’ll have to excuse me, but I have to do something I do every day at 6:00 p.m. on this bridge,” said the farmer, his face abruptly serious.

Surprised, the Zunter asked, “What do you do?”

“Please, ignore this personal indulgence of mine. It may take a half hour or more. Continue your walk and carry on with your mission.”

“I’m curious, what do you do every day on this bridge?”

“I pray. I pray for forgiveness…for failing to see and stop the demons that affected one of my young daughters a few years back.”

“What demons?”

“You see…she…she was only 14…was gay…something I completely rejected…until she jumped to her death…right here…”

“I’m so sorry…”

“I’m also afflicted by my other daughter. She wants to be an actress…so young, only 12. Can you imagine?”

“I can…” said the Zunter. “One of my boys became an actor. He’s now married to a screenwriter and lives happily in Scotland. They’re both well off.”

“So you approved?”

“Absolutely.”

“How old was he when he made his plans known?”

“Eleven.”

“Well…I’m divorced and alone and expect my daughter to help me here on the farm. Plus, I could never afford her acting classes and the things she’s dreaming of…to make it on the silver screen…”

“Don’t forget that she’s an individual person first…and your daughter second…not the other way around. Please begin your prayers. I’ll continue my stroll. It was a real pleasure to have met you.”

And he continued crossing the bridge, heading for the park.

***

Horacio approached the large tree in the backyard of an old, abandoned house he’d been occupying for some time now. It held a colorful talkative parrot on one overhanging branch.

Dame la patita…prrr…” said the parrot, staring at the short, chubby, mildly disheveled man.

“Have you eaten today?”

Dame la patita…prrr…” said the parrot, moving left and right on the branch, staring at the man’s long, bumpy nose and dark bulging eyes.

“You have. I can see that,” said the man.

Dame la patita…prrr…

The parrot bent and stretched his head forward, closer to Horacio, quickly repeating the same words in Spanish, meaning “give me your little leg.” Those words sounded peaceful and sweet and innocent to him. His best medicine under the circumstances.

“I’d like to remain your friend forever, too…but the world is after me…”

Dame la patita…prrr…

“…I’ve lost everything…the palace, the planes, the cars, the money, the reputation, the freedom…my latest wife and children…”

Diga, diga…prrr…dame la patita…prrr…” said the parrot, meaning “keep talking…keep talking…prrr…give me your little leg…prrr…”

“…I’ve lost the power…the possessions…the entire country…”

His country, Las Canarias, used to belong to Spain. Fighting for independence, it eventually gained it. But democracy soon turned into dictatorship, and more recently into tyranny.

Va a llover…prrr…” said the parrot, meaning “it’s going to rain.”

Dame la patita…prrr…

“…I’ve lost the convenience of owning everything…the mountains, the rivers, the bridges…the cities…the people…”

No te muevas, te voy a matar….Por qué jefe? No, no, no dispare, se lo suplico…” said the parrot, meaning “don’t move, I’m going to kill you….Why boss? Don’t, don’t, don’t shoot, I beg you…”

“…I’ve lost the pretty young girls…”

Porque ya no me sirves, idiota…BANG! BANG!” said the parrot, meaning “Because you’re of no use to me anymore, idiot…BANG! BANG!”

“…the tenderness of their bodies…the softness of their faces…”

…a-a-a-h-h-h….Cállate y muere…en el lago de tu propia sangre…”

said the parrot, meaning “…a-a-a-h-h-h….Shut up and die…in the lake of your own blood…”

***

Light drizzle kept few people wandering in the park this afternoon. Birds flew low, expecting rain. Except for a parrot that stood perched atop the head of a bronze statue honoring a historical figure.

Nearby the Zunter sat on a bench, reflecting on the events of the day, mostly unwinding from the pressures of his job. Happily, it had been a productive day.

Dame la patita…prrr…

Looking up, he noticed a talkative parrot and smiled. Plus he understood Spanish.

Va a llover…prrr…” said the parrot, meaning “It’s going to rain…prrr…”

The Zunter smiled again.

En el nombre de Dios…no me mates, Horacio…prrr…” now cried out the parrot, moving his body left and right in distress, his words meaning “In the name of God…don’t kill me, Horacio…prrr…”

The Zunter directed his piercing eyes to the parrot with alarm. Had he heard right?

No, no, no…no me mates, Horacio…se lo suplico…prrr…” cried out the parrot.

The Zunter stood up suddenly, comprehending something larger than this.

But it was too late, a sharp blade penetrated his back. Fortunately, in the split second preceding this act, the Zunter had moved his upper torso slightly to one side in an attempt to reach the talking parrot with an extended arm, causing the stab to fail hitting his heart. However, when the former tyrant of Canarias tried to stab him a second time, shouting with rage, “Nobody messes with Horacio! Especially you, Detective Sherlock Holmes!” he found his neck pulled out of the way, along with the rest of his body, by the farmer’s lasso from the horse he was mounted on. In no time the lasso wrapped around Horacio’s body firmly, rendering him immobile thanks to the farmer’s rodeo skills.

“I just happened to trot by…” said the farmer politely.

***

The sky had turned darker when the Zunter reached the bridge at the important time a week later. He felt better from the wound, having spent two days in a local hospital and three in a hotel reading a thick mystery novel by Stephen King.

He was the type that often talked to the walls about his own problems, when not reading, watching TV, or looking out the window in pursuit of a shapely young girl in bikini by the pool. “Good thing I brought a spare box of hard contacts with me …to replace the one I lost when this idiot stabbed me…”

Slowly, he marched on the bridge, now shrouded with fog, hoping to get lucky. “Detective Sherlock Holmes?” he teased himself with a little smile, remembering Horacio’s fiery words.

There he was!—the farmer—on his knees, facing the river midway on the bridge.

The Zunter waited patiently, watching him pray.

Finally, the farmer rose to a standing position solemnly. He turned to face the Zunter.

“Hello, Ignacio. I was planning to send you a Thank You card,” said the Zunter, “but I don’t know your address, so I thought I might just drop by and hand it to you instead. It’s inside the envelope. I’ve been assigned to Asia to hunt down another tyrant. My plane will leave early in the morning tomorrow.”

“Thank you for the card…”

“I’d like to ask you, if you don’t mind, not to open the card until tomorrow afternoon. It’s just a silly thing from my part. Nothing to worry about.”

“Sure. No problem.”

***

In the afternoon the next day, after feeding two horses, the farmer opened the card.

A handwritten note attached to a personal check payable to Ignacio De Oliveira read:

“Enjoy the enclosed five million dollars. Most of it should go to your daughter’s acting career and any endeavor she might want to pursue. My best wishes to both of you. –The Zunter.”


Jacques Carrié is an award-winning writer. He has been around (Columbia University, Texas A&M University, Lee Strasberg Theater Institute). He writes in English—his third and preferred language. He grew up in the south of France, went to school in Toulouse, and lived several years in Venezuela before flying to New York City for good.