When the killers gave Eduard the choice between the machete and the tire, it was sometime after midnight. They had been beating him since nightfall.
They broke down the front door and flooded into his home. Seven men, most in gaudy, expensive clothes, brandishing pistols and shotguns and blades coated in tissue and dry blood. Their leader was dressed as a priest but had no collar around his throat. They struck Eduard and put a gun to his face, a knife to his throat. The Priest asked if Eduard would like to go for a drive as his men tore up the house. They put a bag over his head and drove in circles as the sun descended from the sky. They cursed and threatened to be there for his wife when she came home. The Priest silenced them with a bullet. Eduard could feel the white heat of it pass close to his face, smell the spray of powder burning through the cloth over his face. A weight slumped against him and the rest of the ride was quiet. The wind cut through the broken window and Eduard could smell the desert.
The killers took bets behind the circle of headlights. The blade was the most popular option, but Eduard read the newspapers and he knew it would not be as quick or simple as a beheading. They would start with his feet, chopping them off at the ankles and tying a tourniquet around the stumps. He would sit in his pain for maybe an hour, getting to know it as something real. He would scream and try to crawl to safety but they would be there to kick him back into the arena of cars. Then they would take his knees. The killers made a game out of it, trying to draw out the murder for as long as possible.
Choose the tire, the Priest said, bent above the prone form of Eduard. It will hurt; there is nothing I can do about that, but it will be over with sooner than you would think. The smoke will put you to sleep and it’ll be done.
The stars were out, and this far from the world they saw everything. Every finger had been broken, some several times. Eduard’s teeth were smashed from his jaw, his blood trailing down his face, his throat. Eduard asked for the tire and the killers groaned. A voice said, We can still use the machete, but the Priest cut him down.
There is no joy in this for me. I am a soldier and these are my orders.
Eduard wanted to ask why, but he found no words. It did not matter, though. This was the death he was born into. Two killers came and handcuffed each of his arms to a chain. The chains were attached to the bumper of a car. The men behind the wheels took just enough pressure off of the brake peddles to pull Eduard to his feet, his arms extended, shoulders and elbows and wrists out of sockets. The Priest stood before Eduard and placed a comforting hand on his chest.
I will say a prayer for you if you will give me the same benefit.
Two of the killers put a tire around Eduard’s neck. His face and chest were splashed with the gasoline pooled inside. Each breath was fought for. One of the killers laughed. The Priest shot him in the center of his back and ordered him to be left for the coyotes. Eduard begged and the Priest relented. A match was lit and dropped into the tire. His screams echoed through the night and birds of prey mocked him. The Priest did not lie, it was over fast. As the flames spread, over his body and into his lungs, the Priest put a pistol to Eduard’s forehead, but it was not needed. The man went quiet. They unhooked the chains and the body fell, flesh still smoldering into the dawn. The smoke and the ashes caught the wind and were carried across the desert, to the coast and over the ocean.