Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money - Part Three
The cantina was deserted.
Scratchy, rapid-fire Spanish from the soccer match on Antonio's television bounced off the shabby walls. The announcer sounded angry. The home team must have been sucking wind.
I didn't like it.
There should have been eight to ten customers lounging around the bar by then. For the first time I was happy to feel the weight of Antonio's revolver in my pocket.
Silence, followed by a crash and grunt coming from somewhere in the back.
I vaulted the bar-- and almost collapsed the whole thing-- and found Antonio trying to wrestle a card table out of his junk-filled pantry.
The two of us muscled it out of there and set it up in the corner furthest from the bar.
I didn't ask him what was going on and he didn't offer to explain.
He also didn't have any chairs so I snagged the four least-moldy crates from the dock out back and placed them around the table.
Antonio called me over to the end of the bar when I was done.
“We should talk, cabron,” he said.
“Que pasa? What do you want to talk about?”
He took off his glasses and wiped them on the tail of his shirt.
“You are from New York City?” he asked. “The city among cities?”
I sighed, sick of the conversation before it even began.
“Yeah, Antonio. Manhattan born and bred.”
“And what did you do in New York City?”
I tried to ignore him.
He raised an eyebrow and glared at me over the tops of his glasses.
“I ran a restaurant, Antonio. All right? I ran a fucking restaurant. Why are you asking questions you already know the answers to?”
He dropped a crooked grin on me and fished a folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket.
I snatched it out of his hand and opened it up.
There was a slight dampness to it from time spent in Antonio's sweaty shirt pocket but it was still the cleanest piece of paper I'd held in some time.
My own eyes stared back at me from the paper. My mug shot took up the top left corner with the right profile shot next to it. A photo of me from the winter I tried to grow a beard graced the top right.
Big text filled the middle of the sheet, all in Spanish. I didn't get it all but words like, 'fugitivo', 'Americano', and, 'homicida con premeditacion', weren't hard to translate.
The number of zeros in the reward made me glad I hadn't eaten anything yet.
“Where did you get this?”
Antonio took the paper from me and put it back in his pocket.
“A man came through town this morning. He had some mail and a handful of these papers with him.”
I reached over the bar and took a plug of tequila straight from the bottle.
He smirked at me.
I took another gulp of tequila and replaced the bottle under the bar.
“Thanks for everything, amigo,” I said. “Gotta go.”
“You are making a mistake, Matthew. A big mistake.”
I stopped at the door and turned around.
“You see the size of that reward? I gotta get the hell out of here before someone other than your coyotes recognize me.”
“They already know who you are.”
I needed another shot of tequila.
“We people of Abandonados are poor. Not blind. Or stupid.”
Antonio ducked behind the bar and put the bottle of tequila out in front of him. He un-stoppered the bottle and put it back down.
I resisted the urge to lunge for it.
“So why aren't they in here hauling my gringo ass to the nearest police station?”
The answer to my question came from the doorway.
It went, “Because, Senor Hammond, the reward offered for your capture is not worth the cost of turning you in.”
Antonio and I both turned to look.
The man standing just inside the cantina wore a good white linen suit. His white Stetson was the finest piece of headgear I'd seen in country.
He was short and slight and approaching the back end of middle-age, but what he lacked in stature he more than made up for with presence.
The eyes peering at us from beneath his hat brim missed nothing. The power in them made one less apt to notice the deep crags in his cheeks. He had a good mustache and a strong chin.
His English was almost without discernible accent.
“Don Gerardo,” said Antonio. “Bienvenidos. Sientase, por favor.” He indicated the card table with a wave of his hand.
Don Gerardo nodded and walked all the way into the cantina. He stopped at the bar to eyeball me up close before he continued on to the table and sat down on a crate without apparent concern for his clothing.
“Stay here,” murmured Antonio. He retrieved one of those earthenware jugs from under the bar and scooped up two glasses on his way to join Don Gerardo at the table.
I watched from the bar as the two men talked. Every so often one or the other of them would look my way but their conversation got lost beneath the soccer announcer's histrionic patter.
A shadow moving on the far wall snatched my attention from the table.
Somebody was behind me.
I knocked over the bottle of tequila when I spun around. My hand floated near the pocket containing Antonio's revolver.
Both men at the table jumped up at my sudden noisy movement.
Antonio smirked at me and resumed his position testing the tensile strength of the crate.
Don Gerardo remained on his feet for an extra few seconds. His eyes found and held mine. He looked at me as if re-evaluating a decision he'd made and then sat back down at the table.
The woman standing in front of me in a man's canvas shirt and a pair of hip-hugging blue jeans looked nothing like Don Gerardo. Her light tan skin looked ivory compared to his deep brown and her blue eyes had neither the shape nor color of her father's eyes. Her dark brown hair lay unrestrained about her shoulders. She didn't have Don Gerardo's features but she had his aura.
She righted the tequila bottle I'd knocked over and gave me half a smile.
The conversation at the card table resumed, or rather, Don Gerardo talked while Antonio listened in silence. I knew he was talking about me but he no longer had my attention.
“You don't look like a killer,” said the woman by the bar.
Her English was nowhere near as clean as her father's.
“There's a good reason for that,” I replied.
She accepted that without comment and gave me the once-over while I tried to remember where I'd seen her before.
“What does your father want with me?”
“You'll have to ask him.”
The sun caught her profile as she looked toward the open door.
I remembered. I saw her the Sunday before I started working for Antonio. There had been some kind of street festival after church that day. She was among a group of young women in brightly colored dresses. They walked and sang, accompanied by men with guitars, and she was right in the middle of it all, smiling and dancing with flowers in her hair.
“If you didn't do it why did you run?” she asked me.
“No choice. They were gonna convict me no matter what. It was run or face the death penalty. Or worse.”
“My wife's family are... dangerous people.”
She raised an eyebrow at me and took a drink of tequila from the bottle.
“Mr. Hammond,” called out Don Gerardo from the card table. “Please join us. You as well, Pilar.”
“Bring some more glasses with you,” said Antonio.
I reached behind the bar to grab the glasses and followed Pilar to the table. A guy could get used to that view.
“What is that stuff in the jug anyway?” I asked her.
“Chicha,” she said. “Fermented maize and fruit juice. Very strong.”
Pilar sat down next to her father. I took the crate across the table from her.
Antonio filled all four glasses with chicha.
“What do you think of Matthew Hammond, Pilar? Can he be trusted?”
She took a long look at me over her glass of chicha.
“Creo que si,” she said. Another half smile.
Don Gerardo nodded and settled back on his crate.
“You are under my protection, Senor Hammond, because I would like you to do something for me.”
I risked a taste of chicha. Pilar was absolutely right. It was strong.
“I don't seem to be in a position to refuse,” I said.
He acknowledged the point with a nod and sipped some chicha.
“There is another gringo nearby, Senor Hammond.”
“Please, call me Matthew.”
“This gringo has money, Matthew. People tell me he is headed for Abandonados. Why? I do not know. I would very much like to know.”
“And you think I can find out for you.”
“You have eluded detection in my country for some time now. You must be a resourceful man. Yes. I believe you can get the information I seek for me.”
He finished his chicha.
“And, Matthew, as you said, you are in no position to refuse me this favor.”
I looked to Antonio but there was nothing to be read into his stony, bespectacled stare. I looked to Pilar but she was even less helpful than Antonio.
I put the glass down and folded my hands in front of me on the card table.
“Okay,” I said. “Give me the lowdown.”
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.