Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money Part Six
Beau sighed and dug into my midsection again.
He drew the blade down, stopping just above my right hip.
I groaned. I'd have screamed but screaming took too much energy.
“You're makin' this awful hard on yourself, friend,” rasped Beau. “Answer my questions and all this stops. You got my word on that.”
I glared at him-- it was a glare in my mind-- and gave him the same answer I'd been giving him since he started cutting me up.
“I. Don't. Know.”
That was the problem.
I hadn't told Beau anything, not because I was being a loyal soldier. I just didn't have the answers. I didn't know.
“I don't know,” I repeated.
He stuck his hand under my chin and raised my head up, reading my eyes.
“You know what, Matty?” He wiped the knife off on my pants and closed it up. “I believe you.”
I slumped. My chest and midsection were a bloody mess, criss-crossed by a baker's dozen cuts and gashes of varying lengths and depths. The worst of them were around my sides where he'd gone in deep enough to scrape ribs.
He went to the table, picked up his Peacemaker, and holstered it.
I didn't know what to make of that so I let my head droop like it wanted to. I felt him eyeballing me while he paced.
“You can't help me,” he said, “so I guess I gotta get someone in here who can.”
I looked up.
He walked to the doorway and leaned out into the hall.
“Bring her on in, Enrique.”
My stomach dropped. All of a sudden the pain I felt in my gut was worse than the pain on it.
A barefoot Pilar appeared in the doorway, hands cuffed in front of her. Her white wifebeater had a rip in it and her jeans had bloody tears in the knees.
Enrique, right arm hanging in a sling, came in after her.
She did not look at me as he shoved her past the table and dropped her onto the chair.
“Gracias, amigo,” said Beau. “I think I got it from here. You go on and watch out front. You see anyone you let me know.”
Enrique nodded and left the room.
Pilar raised her head to stare at Beau.
The shiner under her left eye and her split bottom lip stirred a pure, Neanderthal rage in me.
Beau spotted it before I could force it down. He looked from Pilar to me and then back at Pilar.
“Seeing how you two are takin' moonlight strolls in the woods together,” he said, “I'm gonna guess you mean something to her.”
He looked to Pilar for confirmation. She responded with stony silence. He turned back to me.
“Don't you worry,” he continued, “I'm not gonna lay a finger on her, Matty. There's lines I just won't cross. But she's got the info I gotta have so I got no choice but to keep cuttin' on you until the lady tells me what I need to know.”
He took the knife back out and tapped me on the chin with it.
I gave him as hard a look as I had left in me.
“Not bad, Matty. Not bad at all.”
He opened the knife.
“I've been workin' outside so far. Flesh wounds. Haven't cut anything important. Now, that might have to change. Then again, it might not. It's up to the lady here.”
He turned and looked down at Pilar.
“So how 'bout it, ma'am? You interested in keeping your boy here in one piece?”
Pilar straightened up in the chair and spat on the floor, dead between Beau's boots.
Beau sighed and shook his head.
“Women,” he said, turning to face me.
I allowed myself one deep breath. My heart sped up and my vision blurred as the panic set in. I forced myself to keep my eyes open as he raised the knife to my chest.
Pilar exploded off the chair. She kicked Beau's legs out from under him.
He dropped to his knees. Hard.
She threw her cuffed hands over his head, planted her knees in the small of his back, and pulled.
The knife hit the floor.
He swung his arms around and bucked but she just tightened the choke hold and hung on. The two of them toppled over backward. He landed on top but it didn't help him. The more he thrashed the harder she yanked the cuffs and chain against his throat. He made two futile grabs at the Peacemaker on his hip and then tried to grab hold of her wrists.
Blood ran down from his neck, staining the front of his white shirt.
Pain blazed through my upraised shoulders as I tried to yank that hook right out of the ceiling.
Hank Williams kept right on singing through it all, punctuated by Beau's gurgles and the slapping of his boots on the hard tile floor.
Beau made one last frenzied attempt to force a hand, a finger, anything, between the chain and his throat but Pilar was locked in.
His legs kicked for a few seconds more and then stopped. His hands dropped down to his sides.
Pilar rolled Beau's body off of her and sat up. She was breathing hard and her wrists bled from deep red cuts.
The serene expression on her face belied the horror of the moment.
Beau's dead eyes bulged and his head lolled at a disturbing angle.
The hook, or maybe it was the ceiling itself, finally gave way. The floor rushed up to meet me and I know I hit it hard but the pain didn't register.
While I shook my head clear Pilar grabbed Beau's Peacemaker. She broke it open and checked the cylinder and then went through his pockets.
She had the cuffs off of me before I could make sense of everything that had just happened.
“Let's go, Mateo,” she said.
I didn't move right away. I sat there, still in a daze, where I'd fallen and stared, mesmerized by the progress and soft patter of her bare soles as she made for the doorway.
She stopped and listened for a second and then ducked back inside the room, off to one side.
Enrique, armed with a revolver, stampeded into the room.
He saw Beau's corpse crumpled on the floor and gasped. Then he spun toward me.
Pilar kicked the gun out of his hand.
I ignored the pain and dove to pick it up.
She caught him flush in the jaw with her elbow. The crunch of bone and teeth made me cringe.
He teetered and fell over.
She dropped with him, wrenching his bad shoulder with one hand and jamming the barrel of the Peacemaker into his crotch with the other.
He howled in pain. And terror. Blood trickled out one side of his mouth.
She cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger.
She cocked it again.
He stared at her, wide-eyed, too shocked to move.
She cocked the Peacemaker a third time.
He started to hyperventilate.
She gave his shoulder another tug and leaned in close to his ear.
“Escuchame, y escuchame bien. Como me chinges en mi propia casa, ya veras lo que pasa.” She pointed at Beau. “Lo que le hizo a el, no fue nada. Pero lo proximo...”
Enrique bleated something I didn't understand and Pilar didn't care to hear.
“Cuentaselo a tus jefes,” she said. “Cuentaselo a sus jefes de el. Cuentaselo a todos, pendejo. Tell them all.”
I grabbed the handgun off the floor and stood up.
“Vamanos, Mateo,” barked Pilar.
She stepped over a keening but otherwise catatonic Enrique and staggered out of the room.
I nodded like an idiot and followed her out.
The hallway was dark and narrow, without any recognizable features. I followed Pilar to the end of it and then up a flight of spiral wrought-iron stairs to the main floor.
“What did you say to him?” I asked.
“I told him to tell his bosses that they're fighting the wrong fight.”
We came up in an empty kitchen and exited the house through a door on the other side of what I assumed was the living room.
The bright sunlight blinded me but even without a good look around I knew we were not on Diego Street.
I blinked away the blur.
The structure we'd come out of was a one story concrete bunker in the middle of an empty dirt lot. No windows, no porch. Just the one door.
A gentle wind stirred the dust and put some grit in the air.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” replied Pilar. “I was hooded for the drive out here from town.”
“How the hell did he get the drop on you in the first place?”
We walked around the bunker to Beau's jeep.
“Enrique is not incompetent, Mateo. He's very good at what he does. And he was not going to take me to you just because I asked him to.”
“You let him win?”
She dodged the question by rummaging around the back seat.
“Bueno,” she said as she tossed me a black t-shirt. “Hold that against your cuts. You are still bleeding.”
“What about you?”
Out in the sun, the cuts and gouges around her wrists looked even angrier than they had inside.
“I am fine.”
I pressed the garment against the worst of the wounds and climbed into the passenger seat.
“Got the keys, Pilar?”
She smirked at me as she reached down below the steering wheel and started pulling wires.
Several hours later we pulled up next to a bodega in a busy little town far to the west of the bunker.
“We are not far from Abandonados, Mateo. The man who owns this store is my friend. He will help us.”
Children played soccer in the alley across from the bodega. People on bicycles and on foot came through, talking and carrying bundles of food and other necessities. A bus idled by a stone fountain in the public square near the end of the street.
A small bell tinkled as we opened the door and stepped into the bodega.
The scent of burning herbs and candles hit me and made my eyes water.
A pair of rotund women perused canned goods in the aisle down the middle of the store.
Pilar chose an unobstructed aisle and led me to the back of the store, through a beaded doorway, and into a dim, cool room.
The smell of herbs was even more overpowering in there.
“Aurelio!” called out Pilar. “Esta aqui?”
A light came on-- a desk lamp on a cinder block set next to a cot.
The thin man on that cot sat up and rubbed his eyes.
He had long brown hair which hung loose around his shoulders and a nose to match. Tattoos depicting flowers and stars ran the full length of each arm, converging in the middle of his chest.
His only garment was a pair of rough canvas pants.
Pilar explained the situation in rapid-fire but hushed Spanish and when she was done Aurelio got off the cot to make room for me.
She stood back as he leaned over me and took the shirt away from my chest.
Something flickered in his eyes but he pushed it away and began to examine my wounds.
“Is he a doctor?” I asked.
“Aurelio is a curandero, Mateo.”
Curandero. A spiritual healer. A fortune teller.
That explained the herbs and the candles.
“He also spent many years as an army medic.”
Aurelio favored me with a beatific smile.
I let my breath out and took a look around the room.
One wall was full-- floor to ceiling-- of vials and bottles on bookshelves. Another was just as full with candles and books.
The wall next to the cot was covered with a colorful tapestry. A seated figure on a low hill took up one side of it. He-- I think it was a he-- looked across the distance at another seated figure. A psychedelic sun swirled above the both of them.
My chest stung as Aurelio began to clean out my cuts with some kind of clear liquid.
“Don't forget to let him fix you up too, Pilar,” I said.
I got no answer.
Pilar wasn't there.
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
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.