Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money - Part Two
For a man who said he wanted to sleep at night Antonio made a habit of hanging around the cantina all the way into the small hours.
He seemed to like to standing at the end of the bar, watching me over the rims of his glasses. He never moved, never came to help no matter how busy the joint got, which worked out okey since the place was never crazy busy.
I couldn't figure how Antonio made his money. The man wasn't soaking his customers on drink prices and he certainly wasn't making it up on volume.
Most nights ended the same way my first night had. Antonio handed me my night's pay, a bottle of beer, and told me to shut the door when I left.
Then one night, Antonio handed me my night's pay and a bottle of beer, grabbed one for himself, and said, “I'll walk you home.”
The moon and stars provided just enough light to avoid the piles of dubious character as we made our way down Diego Street-- Abandonados' main drag. The bugs gave us all a break by hanging around the handful of exterior electric lights instead of buzzing around our heads.
The place was dead quiet. Our footsteps on the pitted macadam of Diego Street seemed very loud.
The night wind carried the smells of old cook fires and refuse on it as it ran through the ramshackle buildings on the main street.
The soft light made the chicken-wire fencing glow and revealed a lazy mist floating over the drainage ditch.
The market square in the middle of town-- the scene of outright pandemonium on the heavy trading days-- stood silent but you could still pick up the permanent buzz of activity in those empty stands and abandoned tents.
Not far from the market square sat a large, well-maintained house. It had two stories, an inviting front porch, and sported a fresh coat of red paint.
As far as I knew nobody lived in it. I couldn't get anyone in town to tell me anything more about the place.
The place I was staying was off the main drag.
Antonio and I made the left turn onto an unnamed dirt road and headed into the darkness created by the trees on either side of the road.
We hadn't said a word since leaving the cantina. I didn't need to tell him where we were going. A widow, Senora Marquez, owned a ranch house at the end of the dirt road. She had three extra rooms and took in boarders when they came through Abandonados on their way to somewhere else.
The insect hum got louder as we passed through thicker foliage. The noise, combined with the broken shards of moonlight dotting the road ahead of us, had a hypnotic effect on me.
Antonio's shook me out of it.
“What?” I asked.
He had a vise grip on my shoulder. Fear began to stir down in my gut.
“Silencio,” he snarled, pressing harder on my shoulder. “Abajo. Down.”
He didn't wait for me to obey. He hauled me down to a rough kneel and turned his back to me.
I peered around his legs but saw nothing in the darkness across the road.
Antonio cocked the hammer of a pistol I didn't even know he had on him. That sound is high on the list of things that'll make you want to piss yourself when you hear it in the dark.
My heart was already racing but it found a brand new gear as we waited for what felt like days.
I thought I heard rustling coming from across the road but it didn't last long.
Antonio held me down for another few seconds and then let me stand up.
“What the hell was that?” I demanded.
“Nothing,” he replied. He had not yet taken his eyes off the other side of the road. “Coyotes.”
We started walking again. Neither one of us mentioned the fading scent of cheap tobacco in the air.
“You should find another place to stay,” said Antonio.
“I'm thinking the same thing. Besides, I'm outdoors as of tomorrow.”
“I paid Senora Marquez for a week. Tonight's my last night. No tengo dinero para mas tiempo.”
“Where will you go?”
“I'll think of something.”
He stopped me again when we got just in sight of the house.
“I have a place. Very near the cantina.”
“Yes. The shed.”
Antonio's shed sat in a swale about fifty yards away from his bar. It was an adobe brick hut stuck in the mud. Its surprisingly solid wooden door had the words, 'fuera de sus limites', stenciled on it. 'Off Limits'.
“I can't pay you,” I said.
He waved that away, along with any other objections I might have offered.
“If you want it it's yours. Costs me nothing.”
“All right. Sounds like a plan.”
“Good. And take this.” He handed me his revolver. “Six bullets. If there are less when you give it back to me? Don't give it back to me. Comprende, cabron?”
“Yeah. Yo comprendo.”
I stuffed the gun into my front pocket. I didn't want to look at it.
Antonio turned and started to walk away.
“Buenos noches, Matthew.”
I let him get a few steps down the road.
“I didn't kill my wife,” I said.
He didn't turn around. He didn't even slow down.
I watched until he was completely out of sight and then quick-stepped it over to Senora Marquez' house.
I brought my gear over to Antonio's shed the next afternoon. By then, said gear consisted of a couple of shirts, a pair of pants, and some underwear, my copy of 'The Sun Also Rises', a razor and some soap.
I also had a cracked brown leather satchel. I kept my fake work documents in there, along with a spare pair of canvas shoes and a switchblade knife I picked up before leaving the big city many months ago.
The shed felt bigger inside than it looked from the outside. There was water in the corner closest to the canal but otherwise the dirt floor was dry and the place didn't smell too bad.
A rickety but serviceable camp cot placed on the wall furthest from the water-- and the circular burn marks in the dirt floor- made me feel right at home. I wasn't the first drifter to have bunked down in Antonio's shed.
I propped the unscreened window on the back wall open with a stick I found on the floor and dropped onto the cot.
It was no worse than the one in Senora Marquez' spare room.
Compared to a lot of places I'd bedded down since leaving the big city behind Antonio's shed was the Ritz.
I stretched out on the cot, with Antonio's revolver resting on my chest, and stared up at the warped boards in the ceiling.
I hadn't slept much the night before. The encounter with Antonio's, 'coyotes', and the ensuing sleepless night had me feeling the after-effects of the kind of hyperactivity associated with paranoia. I was exhausted but still wired and my gut was sore from all of that extra adrenaline settling in it.
It wasn't as hot in the shed as I thought it would be. With the door cracked and the window open I got a decent cross breeze working. I allowed myself fifteen minutes to enjoy it and then got up.
I stashed the revolver in my pants pocket and went to work.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.