Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money Part 7
I'm standing on the edge of the arroyo, looking out in the heat over miles and miles of arid nothing. It's the middle of the day.
Dirt. Sky. That's all there is. Not even a cactus to break up the line.
I'm shirtless. Barefoot. Bleeding from cuts and gouges that cover most of my torso.
I've got a gun in my hand.
Single action service revolver.
How do I know that? I'm not a gun guy. But I do know it.
Single action service revolver.
The longer I stare out to the horizon the more I think I'm wrong. I am wrong. There is something out there-- a dark square. I can just make it out behind the wall of heat.
It's a house. No. A building, at least three stories high, and I gotta get there. I must get to that building. I must.
The heat is a physical barrier to forward movement, thick and cloying, but I push through it and set off.
I move at a crawl but I am moving. I can no longer see the building out in the dead offing though I know it's there. It calls to me.
Walking. Walking. Walking.
I'm out of the arroyo now. The ground has become an endless series of ridges and swales.
I'm cooking in the sun, my face sweat-begrimed and peeling, the cuts on my body dried and leathered.
I'm not going to make it, I think, but I stumble over the next rise and slide to the bottom.
Buzzards circle overhead.
I get off my ass. The fuckers can't have me. Not yet.
I try one step and then another and I'm moving again.
Eventually, I realize that the buzzards are well ahead of me. They're not coming for my flesh after all. They circle for a while longer and then swoop down to the earth and disappear from view.
I spot them on the ground when I get over the next ridge.
The carrion birds scatter as I approach.
It's Beau they've been munching on.
They've been at his eyes and his cheeks. The angry red wounds Pilar left on his neck and throat have gone black in the dry heat.
His Stetson sits on his chest.
I pick it up and put it on. Why the hell not? That's too much hat to waste and Beau doesn't need it.
The buzzards return the second I shove off. Buffet's open, boys.
The hat brim cuts down on the glare. I can see better and farther.
The building is right in front of me, miles and miles away, but it looks so close that I find myself reaching out to touch it.
Miles and miles to go before... something?
Small rock outcroppings grow into full-blown mesas and hoodoos as I trudge on. The ochres-- reds and oranges and browns-- give the land depth and texture. And shade.
The temperature drops twenty degrees and the air gets breathable.
I make faster time and barely notice when the ground gets harder. Rockier.
And now I'm running, running as fast as I can. Faster than that even.
I must get to that building.
I don't know how long I've been traveling but I've been gone long enough for the season to turn.
A cold wind slices into me as I run. The rain stings.
I'm back in Manhattan, running up Amsterdam Avenue. My bare feet slap on the wet pavement, just audible over the noise of the city. Traffic. Horns. Voices. I should be knocking people over as I barrel down the street but I'm not. I go right through the umbrella-wielding masses like they aren't even there. Nobody stops to gawk at the bare-chested, bleeding man with a cowboy hat and a handgun running up Amsterdam Avenue in the early evening.
Fucking New York.
Another two blocks and I know where I am and where I'm going. Somebody screams, a roaring, primal scream. It's me but it takes me another block to realize it.
Hard right at 78th Street, so hard that I leave skin on the pavement. I'm two-thirds of the way down the block and then I'm there. I'm standing in front of that building.
The Upper West Side brownstone in which I share an apartment with my Roksana.
My soon-to-be ex-wife.
The rain stops. All is hushed. No traffic. No horns. No voices.
Only a fast, rhythmic pounding remains.
A heartbeat. It's not mine. I have no heart.
Roksana! Her heart races, ever faster, and faster still.
And then it slows.
It stops altogether.
Two men in matching black and red track suits and severe haircuts burst through the brownstone's front door.
Russians. I'm sure of it.
I married a Russian girl, into a huge Russian family. Half of my own family came to America to escape Stalin.
I know a Russian when I see one.
At that same moment two uniformed police officers round the corner and hustle down to my building. They pass the Russians on the steps and enter the brownstone.
I holler at the Russians as they walk right through me, heading for Columbus Avenue. I take aim and fire. Six shots, loud and fast.
Neither of them falls.
They don't even turn around to look.
I drop the revolver and rush into the building.
The lobby, drab granite and stucco, is empty.
I take the stairs two at a time up three floors and stagger out into our hallway.
Dead sconces hang moribund on the walls. All but one bulb is out.
The corridor is quiet, silent. This hallway has never been silent.
No television bleeding out from Mrs. Rosenberg's apartment. No jazz from the Hartman's place. The guy in 3C isn't vacuuming. No piano practice for eight year old Juanita Marquez.
Just a quiet that deepens with every step I take.
That one lit bulb-- mounted right next to our door-- burns brighter as I get close. I see the cobwebs and the dead flies caught up in the brass and glass fixture.
No keys. No problem.
I don't have to kick our door down. Somebody's already taken care of that.
All I have to do is step inside.
I already know what I'm going to see in there. Bookshelves. A red leather sectional sofa. An old-fashioned ceiling fan. Framed Hieronymous Bosch prints on the walls.
A neat stack of moving boxes in the middle of the hardwood floor. The boxes contain Roksana's belongings, packed up for when she's ready to move out. Move back to her father's place in Brighton Beach.
I know what I'm going to see in our apartment. I don't want to see it again.
But I must.
I step over the threshold with my eyes closed and when I open them I'm standing alone in the apartment.
Everything is exactly as I last saw it, down to the mail in the tray by the door and the green ceramic coffee mug on the end table next to the couch.
The police officers I saw enter the building are nowhere to be seen.
I walk past the moving boxes and head for the bedroom. My stomach churns but I keep moving, inching toward the room where I'll find my wife lying dead on the floor.
The room is dark. I look behind me but cannot see the doorway I just passed through.
A single candle flickers to life. One candle, spreading a dim, warm glow through the room.
This is not our bedroom. Nothing of ours is here. The room is empty except for an ornate gold-framed mirror on the back wall.
I stare into the mirror but see nothing in it. No reflection. Nothing.
The candlelight fades almost to full darkness and then recovers.
I go over and pick it up and that's when I feel her presence.
Roksana, standing behind me, close by the mirror.
It's her. She's standing, facing me, in front of the mirror. Her long blonde hair is down. Her black nightgown hugs the curves I know so well.
She does not speak to me, does not move. She doesn't even look my way.
A sudden gust of wind blows out the candle.
But before the light is extinguished an image appears in the mirror.
She's looking out from within, right hand reaching forward. Her bloody fingers leave red streaks on the glass.
And then I'm alone in the dark. The candle is gone. Roksana is gone. I stumble around, struggling to feel my way, but can find no walls. No door. There isn't even a floor.
My chest constricts with panic and my stomach drops.
I'm falling, falling in the darkness.
I scream and flail and scream some more.
It's all I can do.
I fail. Again.
Pilar shook me awake.
“Mateo,” she growled. “Mateo... Where are you, Mateo?”
I sat up in the bed.
She rested her hand on my bare shoulder and watched my face while my eyes adjusted to the clean, white light.
The bandages around her wrists brought it all back, all at once.
I took some deep breaths to bring my heart rate down.
The sunlight coming in from the open window next to the bed made the room glow.
I put my hand down over hers.
“I'm right here, Pilar. I'm right here.”
“You lost a day, Mateo. More than a day. Thirty-six hours.” It felt like it. I was sore, top to bottom, with a pounding headache and a case of dry mouth so bad it burned.
Pilar sat next to me on the bed, legs stretched out in front of her, in a simple off-white sun dress.
“What do you remember?”
I took a long drink of the horchata she had me mainlining and thought it over. The cinnamon-heavy drink felt wonderful on my throat.
“We were in your pal's shop-- the curandero?”
“Right. Aurelio. I remember lying down on his cot and him kneeling down to check out my wounds. Not much after that.”
She refilled my glass and stared at me until I drank some more.
“I remember looking for you but you weren't there.”
“Yes. There were things that needed to be done. People I needed to contact. We could not leave it as it was.”
I nodded and finished my horchata.
Pilar moved to pour me more.
“Give it a rest, okey? I drink any more of this stuff I'm gonna turn into a grain of rice. It is rice, isn't it?”
“Yes, Mateo. Rice, water, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.”
She took the glass from me and put it on the nightstand.
“That's all I've got,” I said. “Don't remember a thing between Aurelio's and waking up here.”
I laid back and got my first real look at the room, a good-sized bedroom with white walls, a white ceiling, and a stone floor covered in spots with off-white woven throw rugs.
Someone had pulled the white curtains back from the window to let the breeze in.
“Did you dream?” she asked.
“Yeah. Quite a trip.”
“Where did you go?”
“You don't wanna know.”
“If I did not want to know I would not have asked.”
I thought about it for a second.
“I went home.”
Pilar nodded and left it at that. I don't know if it was my voice or my face that did the trick.
“Some of your cuts were deeper than we thought they were. And they were very dirty. Aurelio knew how painful it was going to be to get them clean and cared for so he gave you something to... take you away from it while he worked. It affects some people more than others.”
“Just lucky I guess.”
“Here,” she said. “I'll show you.”
She drew the sheet down, baring my naked body down past my hip.
I grabbed onto the sheet and looked at her.
Her upper lip curled and she grinned.
“You Americans, always bragging about your free society, yet you're all so... delicate where the human body is concerned.”
The gauntlet had been thrown. I felt honor bound to pick it up.
I smiled and raised my hands in silent surrender.
She grinned some more and ran her fingertips across my ribcage.
“These were the worst,” she began. “Not a lot of protection. He nicked bone here. I'm afraid they're going to hurt for some time.”
I nodded, transfixed by the play of her fingers on my skin.
They danced down my abdomen.
“These are nothing. He meant to scare you with these.”
She smiled at me.
“A strong man can admit to fear without shame.”
“I don't know about that. Fear doesn't even begin to cover it.”
She trailed the tip of one index finger down to my hip.
“This was one of the deepest,” she whispered. “It must have hurt a great deal.”
“It did.” I whispered back.
I watched her face, in profile, while her hands lingered over each of my wounds. The soft sunlight gave her dark hair highlights. I loved the way it fell over the side of her face as she leaned down to inspect Aurelio's stitch-work.
I got a good look at the bruise under her eye when she turned her head to look out the window.
“I saw your face when Enrique brought me in,” she said. “You would have killed Beau yourself if you were free to.”
“Any man would've.”
“I do not believe that is true.”
She turned back to face me.
I stroked her damaged cheek with the back of my hand. Our eyes met. Neither of us blinked.
She allowed me to draw her closer.
“Do you think this is wise?” she asked as she slid under the sheet.
“Wisdom's overrated, Pilar.”
She shot me a grin that made my heart seize up, then pushed me back against the headboard and straddled me.
“I warn you, Mateo,” she said. “In your present condition I might just kill you.”
She grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me, a warrior's kiss. Savage. Nothing held back. We came together in a crush of lips and teeth and tongues, without any pretense of tenderness. This was release, raw and feral.
When we broke it off to breathe the look on her face said, 'no quarter'.
Didn't want any.
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.