Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money
I was eating a plate of rice and beans in Antonio's spot at the end of the bar when someone ducked their head in to announce the Gran Gringo's arrival.
I followed all seven of Antonio's customers out of the cantina and made it out to Diego Street in time to watch the Gran Gringo roar into town in a mud-spattered jeep.
I let the day drunks stagger well ahead of me when we reached the market and blended into a small gaggle of farmers watching from their carts at the edge of the square.
The Gringo, with his native guide-- a little guy in a red bandanna and expensive shades-- in the passenger seat, took Diego Street at a crawl, without honking at slow-moving pedestrians or gunning the engine to scare off the goats.
He tipped his tan straw Stetson to a trio of young women, all three of whom made a great show of not looking at him.
Once the way cleared he picked up a little speed and then parked in front of Don Gerardo's big red house by the market square.
Don Gerardo, in another fine white suit, stepped off of the porch as a pair of blue jean-covered legs that could have spanned the Panama Canal climbed out of the driver's side of the jeep.
The market square-- a bustling, noisy place at mid-day-- had gone quiet enough for me to hear the Gringo's snake-skin boots crunch on loose gravel in the road.
The man stood a full head taller than Don Gerardo, maybe a head and a half, and appeared even taller as he stretched the miles out of his shoulders. The back of the denim button-down shirt he had on looked impossibly dry.
The guy in the bandanna and expensive shades didn't get out of the jeep. He didn't even turn his head to take in the conversation.
Don Gerardo and the Gringo didn't talk for long. They exchanged a few words then shook hands and climbed up on the porch.
I smiled as the scent of jasmine filled the air behind me.
“What do you think?” asked Pilar.
She moved up next to me by the farmer's cart. She looked very comfortable in jeans and a bright red blouse.
I took in another breath of jasmine before answering. She'd come by Antonio's the night before for a shot of tequila and a little small talk. That jasmine scent cut right through the pungent cantina stink. A guy could get used to that scent.
“Big fella,” I said. “Doesn't seem too bad. So far. What do you think?”
She smiled but didn't say anything.
“Your father seems to be doing all right. What does he need me for?”
“He wouldn't have asked if he didn't need you. When will you approach him?”
“I was thinking of letting him approach me.”
“Yes,” she said. “That is wise.”
She ran her fingers through her hair.
I kept my eyes on the two men on the porch, but not because I wanted to.
Sunlight glinted off the Peacemaker the Gringo wore wild-west style on his hip.
“In a public place,” I said.
She smiled again.
“That too is wise, Matthew. Very wise.”
She gave my hand a gentle squeeze before walking around the farmer's cart toward the big red house.
Like everyone else who spent time around Abandonados the Gringo found his way to Antonio's cantina.
I found him standing at the bar, drinking a cup of chicha, when I turned up for my evening shift that night.
His Stetson sat on the bar in front of him.
The guy in the bandanna and shades was nowhere to be seen.
It was early so the night crowd had yet to arrive in force. Only the diehards from the day crew were still hanging around.
Antonio was in the corner under the television, having an animated conversation with one of the day regulars.
I nodded a greeting to the Gringo as I ducked behind the bar.
He returned it and took a sip of chicha.
“You like that stuff?” I asked him.
He chuckled and put the cup down next to his hat.
“Not sure like's the right word, friend.”
He spoke in a smooth baritone that seemed in keeping with the short brown hair and long sideburns. His face had that tanned leather look a man got from spending a lot of time outdoors.
“We used to drink chicha all the time when I was in Peru. Didn't expect to find it up here. I could smell it as soon as I walked in here though.”
“The local bigwig is half Peruvian. Antonio makes it for him from a family recipe. It's illegal to brew the stuff but since it's for the big man himself...”
“Is that right? You must be talking about Don Gerardo. Know him? I just met the man myself. Now that you say it I can see a little bit of Peru in him.”
He extended a big hand across the bar.
“Mirebeau Lamar Blaylock,” he said. “You can call me Beau.”
I shook his hand and winced for a death grip that never came.
He looked at me for a long couple of seconds and released my hand.
“Pleasure to meet you, Matty. You don't mind if I call you Matty, do you? Got a cousin by the name of Matty so it just sorta rolls off the tongue.”
Over the past year I'd gotten used to answering to any and all variants on the name Matthew.
Beau looked at me again but didn't ask the question he wanted to ask.
Instead, he asked about the town.
I gave him the facts as I saw them.
“I gotta tell you, Matty,” he said, “sure is nice to talk to someone I can understand. Spanish and me just don't get on. Guess I don't have a head for languages.”
“You spend enough time here you'll pick it up.”
“Sure. I'm sure I will.”
We got back to talking about Abandonados.
“This town,” said Beau, “I'll grant you it don't look like much now but there's potential. Big potential, Matty.”
“Potential? For what? You got nine buildings, six of them crumbling and rotted out, a big empty lot where a factory once stood, and a couple of hundred shanties up on the hill.”
“That lot's a good site, I hear.”
“Have you seen it? It's full of rubble and sinkholes. There's even what's left of an old truck sticking out of the ground in one spot.”
He waved my objections away.
“You're right- this one village by itself isn't much but there's six more of 'em in an eight mile radius. That's a lot of people who could use some decent work. And when we get our business up and running we'll have it to offer 'em. I mean, you got a highway not two miles out and good roads that connect up.”
“Good roads? That's a stretch, wouldn't you say?”
Blaylock emptied his cup and held it out for a refill.
“I would say just that, Matty. But the roads are there. All we gotta do is come in and build 'em on up and we got ourselves a first rate road system.”
“You have that kind of cash?”
“Gotta spend money to make money, Matty. Gotta think big to make it big.”
I took a good look around the bar. Antonio's evening crowd was beginning to trickle in. I filled his cup and left the jug on the bar.
Antonio was behind the bar, doing my work for me while I talked with Beau.
“So I'm not thinking big enough?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
“I think you're right.”
“There you go, Matty. You're on your way. I could use a man like you in my operation.”
I eyeballed him while he sipped his chicha.
“I don't work for local rates, Beau.”
“You don't say. Isn't that what you're doing right now, Matty?”
I didn't answer him.
“Where you bedding down? Here? Upstairs maybe? Out back?”
I didn't answer that question either.
He smiled at me. “You know,” he said, “I've got a whole floor to myself over at Don Gerardo's house. Damned near got the whole place to myself. Four extra rooms. You're welcome to one of 'em if you're interested.”
“What kind of job would I be doing for you?”
He laughed and took a look around the cantina.
“Does it make a difference?”
“I suppose not.”
“That's right, Matty.” He put his hand out again. “Do we have a deal?”
I shook his hand.
“We sure do.”
He toasted me with his cup and drank the rest of his chicha in one swallow.
“I gotta give Antonio two weeks notice though,” I said. “He's been good to me.”
“Two weeks notice,” he said to me. “That's fantastic. You know what that is? That's integrity, friend. Integrity. I knew it as soon as I saw you. Two weeks. Still, go ahead and move on over to the house whenever you're ready. That way you'll be all set up and ready to go in two weeks.”
He picked up his hat and put it on.
“And then you'll tell me what I'll be doing for you?” I asked.
“Yup. We'll talk about it then, Josh.”
My heart stopped for a second. The name echoed in my head.
I didn't want to look up at him but I forced myself to do it.
“I bet you haven't heard that name in a spell.” He leaned over the bar and spoke into my ear. “Don't worry, friend. We've got stuff to talk about before anything happens. You come on over to the house when you can and I'll lay it all out for you. You got options. I won't lie and tell you they're good options but you got 'em. And in case you were wondering, running's the worst option of all.”
I stood there and said nothing.
“That's smart, Matty,” said Beau. “Take your time. When the words come they'll be the right ones.”
He tipped his hat as he turned to leave.
“Be seeing you, Matty.”
When he was gone I poured myself a cup of chicha.
Antonio shook his head and gave me the stink-eye while I choked it down.
“Interesante,” he said.
“Yeah. A little too interesting.”
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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.