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Chapter 7
LUCKILY, I WAS closer to the door.

“Hey! Uh, do you know ángel?” I stammered as I stepped between Caballo and his only way out.

“The teacher at the Tarahumara school? And Esidro in Huisichi? And, um, Luna, Miguel Luna …”

I kept shotgunning names, hoping he’d hear one he recognized before body-slamming me againstthe wall and escaping into the hills behind the hotel. “… No, Manuel. Not Miguel Luna. Manuel.

His son said you guys were friends. Marcelino? You know Marcelino?”

But the more I talked, the more his scowl deepened, until it looked downright menacing. I snappedmy mouth shut. I’d learned my lesson after the Debacle at the Quimare Compound; maybe he’dcool out if I kept quiet and gave him a chance to size me up on his own. I stood silently while hesquinted, suspicious and scornful, from under the brim of his straw campesino’s hat.

“Yeah,” he grunted. “Manuel is an amigo. Who the hell are you?”

Since I didn’t really know what was making him skittish, I started with who I wasn’t. I wasn’t acop or a DEA agent, I told him. I was just a writer and busted-up runner who wanted to learn thesecrets of the Tarahumara. If he was a fugitive, that was his own business. If anything, it boostedhis credibility: anyone who could dodge the law for all these years with no getaway vehicle excepthis own two legs had sure made his bones as a wannabe Rarámuri. I could set aside my obligationsto justice long enough to hear what had to be the escape tale of a lifetime.

Caballo’s scowl didn’t fade—but he didn’t try to get around me, either. Only later would Idiscover that I’d gotten extraordinarily lucky and stumbled across him at a strange time in his verystrange life: in his own way Caballo Blanco was looking for me, too.

“Okay, man,” he said. “But I’ve got to get some beans.”

He led me out of the hotel and down a dusty alley to a small, unmarked door. We stepped over alittle boy playing with a kitten on the doorstep and right into a tiny living room. An old womanlooked up from an ancient gas stove in an adjoining alcove, where she was stirring a fragrant pot offrijoles.

“Hola, Caballo” she called.

“.Cómo está, Mamá?” Caballo Blanco called back. We took seats at a rickety wooden table in theliving room. He’s got “mamás” all over the canyons, he said, little old ladies who’d fill him up onbeans and tortillas for only a few centavos during his rambling vagabond runs.

Despite Mamá’s nonchalance, I could see why the Tarahumara were spooked when Caballo firstcame whisking through their woods. Fantastic feats of endurance under an unforgiving sun haveleft Caballo a little on the savage side. He’s well over six feet tall, with naturally fair skin that hasweathered into shades ranging from pink on his nose to walnut on his neck. He’s so long-limbedand lean-muscled, he looks like the endoskeleton of a bulkier beast; melt the Terminator in acauldron of acid, and Caballo Blanco is what comes out.

The desert glare had scrunched his eyes into a permanent squint, leaving his face capable of onlytwo expressions: skepticism or amusement. No matter what I said for the rest of the night, I couldnever tell if he thought I was hilarious or full of shit. When Caballo turns his attention on you, helocks in hard; he listens as attentively as a hunter tracking game, seeming to get as much from thewarbles of your voice from the meaning of your words. Oddly, though, he still has anabominableearforaccents(as) —after more than a decade in Mexico, his Spanish clanged so badly itsounded as if he were sounding it out from phonics cards.

“What freaked me out about you—,” Caballo began, but suddenly stopped, bug-eyed with hunger,as Mamá plopped big bowls in front of us and futzed over them with chopped cilantro andjalape.os and squirts of lime. The snarling look he’d given me back at the hotel wasn’t because Iwas standing between him and freedom; it was because I was standing between him and food.

Caballo had set out that morning for a short hike to a natural thermal pool in the woods, but oncehe spotted a faint trail through the trees he’d never seen before, hike and hot tub were history. Hetook off running, and was still going hours later. He hit a mountain, but instead of turning back, hebent himself into a three-thousand-foot ascent, the equivalent of climbing to the top of the EmpireState Building twice. Eventually, he linked onto a path back into Creel, turning what should havebeen a relaxing soak into a grueling trail marathon. By the time I shanghaied him in the hotel, hehadn’t eaten since sunup and was nearly delirious with hunger.

“I’m always getting lost and having to vertical-climb, water bottle between my teeth, buzzardscircling over head,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.” One of the first and most important lessons helearned from the Tarahumara was the ability to break into a run anytime, the way a wolf would if itsuddenly sniffed a hare. To Caballo, running has become as much of a first option in transportationas driving is to suburbanites; everywhere he goes, he goes at a lope, setting off as lightly equippedas a Neolithic hunter and with just as little concern about where—or how far away—he’ll end up.

“Look,” he said, pointing to his ancient hiking shorts and Dumpster-ready pair of Teva sandals.

“That’s all I wear, and I’m always wearing them.”

He paused to shovel steaming mounds of spicy beans into his mouth, washing them down withlong, thirsty pulls on a bottle of Tecate. Caballo polished off one bowl and was refilled by Mamáso quickly that he barely slowed his spoon, moving his hand from bowl to mouth to beer bottlewith such ergonomic efficiency that dinner seemed less like the end of his long workout and morelike its next phase. Listening to him from across the table was like listening to gas pumping intothe tank of a car: scoop, chomp, chomp, gurgle, gurgle, scoop, chomp, chomp, gurgle …Every once in a while, he’d lift his head and deliver a brief torrent of storytelling, then dip backdown to his bowl. “Yeah, I used to be a fighter, man, ranked fifth in the world.” Back to thespoonwork “What freaked me out was, you just came blaring at me out of nowhere. We’ve hadkidnappings and murders down here. Drug nastiness. Guy I know was kidnapped, wife paid a bigransom, then they killed him anyway. Nasty stuff. Good thing I got nothing. I’m just a gringoIndio, man, running humbly with the Rarámuri.”

“Sorry—,” I began, but his face was already back in the beans.

I didn’t want to bug Caballo with questions just yet, even though listening to him was likewatching an art-house film in fast forward; traumas, jokes, fantasies, flashbacks, grudges, guiltover grudges, tantalizing fragments of ancient wisdom—they all came calliope-ing past in a blurtoo quick and disjointed to catch. He’d tell a story, move on to the next, skip ahead to the third, goback and correct a detail in the first, gripe about the guy in the second, then apologize for gripingbecause, man, he’d spent his life trying to control his anger, and that was another storyaltogether….

His name was Micah True, he said, and he came from Colorado. Well, California, actually. And ifI really wanted to understand the Rarámuri, I should have been there when this ninety-five-yearoldman came hiking twenty-five miles over the mountain. Know why he could do it? Because noone ever told him he couldn’t. No one ever told him he oughta be off dying somewhere in an oldage home. You live up to your own expectations, man. Like when he named himself after his dog.

That’s where the name “True” really came from, his old dog. He didn’t always measure up to goodold True Dog, but that was another story, too….

I waited, scraping at the label of my beer bottle with a fingernail, wondering if he’d ever simmerdown enough for me to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Gradually, Caballo’sspoonwork slowed and came to a stop. He drained his second bottle of Tecate and sat back,satisfied.

“Guadajuko!” he said with a toothy grin. “Good word to learn. That’s Rarámuri for ‘cool.’”

I pushed a third Tecate across the table. He eyed it with that skeptical, sun-scorched squint. “Idon’t know, man,” he said. “Not eating all day, I can’t hold it like the Rarámuri.”

But he picked it up and took a sip. Thirsty work, rambling up sky-scraping mesas. He took a long,chugging pull, then relaxed way back in his chair, tipping the front legs up and lacing his fingersacross his lean belly. Something had just clicked inside him; I could tell before he even saidanother word. Maybe he needed those last twelve ounces of beer to loosen up, or maybe he’d justhad to blow out some pent-up steam before relaxing into his story.

Because when Caballo started to talk this time, he kept me spellbound. He talked deep into thenight, telling an amazing story that spanned the ten years since his disappearance from the outsideworld and was full of bizarre characters, amazing adventures, and furious fights. And, in the end, aplan. An audacious plan.

A plan, I gradually realized, that involved me.

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