Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money Part 8
The morning sunlight streamed through the open windows of Don Gerardo's dining room, painting the simple chamber in golden white.
An old-fashioned ceiling fan kept the fresh air moving.
Pilar and I sat close together, on rustic oak chairs, at an equally rustic oak table, sipping coffee while going through a dead man's belongings.
Don Gerardo's men recovered Beau's strongbox from the bunker we'd escaped from. There wasn't much else to be found. The man traveled light.
The box was nothing more than a thin rectangle of dented metal worn gray by years of use in inhospitable climates.
Dried blood rimmed the edge of the key Pilar used to unlock it.
“It appears he was not lying to you when he said he was not here just to find you,” she said as she pulled a stack of file folders out of the box and dropped them on the table.
Dossiers, fourteen in all. American fugitives.
Mine was on top of the pile.
Pilar slid it across the table without opening it. She unfolded her blue jean-clad legs and rested her feet in my lap. Her toes brushed the soft fabric of the borrowed red guayabera shirt I had on.
I looked at the name typed on the front of the manila folder.
I might have even said it out loud.
Pilar busied herself with the other folders, scanning through each before replacing it in the box.
“It's funny,” I said, “when Beau had me in the basement he told me he wouldn't lie to me. I believed him.”
“He was an honorable man in his way, Mateo. I have known many men like him.”
The blades of the fan over the dining room table hissed through the air. The ticking of the old grandfather clock in the corner seemed very, very loud.
Pilar didn't look up from the file she was reading but I still felt her eyes on my face.
The words almost got out.
I stopped and pivoted out of the minefield.
She packed a smirk into one eyebrow, raised high.
I cleared my throat and held the open file folder up in front of me.
“What do you see that troubles you so, Mateo?”
I set the dossier on the table.
“Strange feeling seeing your whole life laid out on paper. It's all here. Everything. Every place I've been since I left the States. He knew where I was and what I was doing. If he was getting this information in real time he could've taken me down whenever he wanted.” I laughed, kind of. “And I thought I was so careful, so smart.”
“And yet here you are, and he is...”
“Doesn't make sense.”
“Mateo, he has notes on every man here.” She thumped the strongbox. “Yes, he could have apprehended you. He did not. You are alive. He is dead. There is nothing else.”
I put my hand on her foot. The feel of her skin, cool and supple beneath my fingers, chased away some of the anxiety.
“Do you want to read it? Beau's file on me?” I asked.
“Is there something in it that will tell me why he wanted information about my father?”
“No. Not a God damned thing.”
“Then I do not need to read it.” She smiled. “Not today.”
Pilar spent the afternoon showing me around the property.
In addition to the main house-- a sprawling one-story dwelling with a fresh white paint job and a red tile roof-- I saw a barn-like structure used to house employees, a number of wooden sheds, and a huge glassed-in greenhouse.
The green fields and the orchard of pomegranate trees gave the place a lazy, bucolic feel. If you weren't looking for it you might not notice you were in an armed compound.
“So it's just you and your father here?” I asked as we stepped into the shade of the orchard.
She didn't answer right away. Something far in the distance had caught her eye.
All I saw was grass and sky.
“We are what is left,” she said.
The groan of an engine cut the conversation short.
Pilar moved the gun from the small of her back to the front of her jeans and stepped out of the trees.
A blue pickup truck with four armed men in the bed rolled up the dirt road and stopped by the house.
We walked out to meet it.
The driver-- a petite woman with long hennaed hair in khaki coveralls-- jumped out of the cab and pulled Pilar aside.
While they talked I looked over the four guys in the back.
Two of the four-- brothers by the look of them-- had the perceptive, intense eyes and prominent noses characteristic of the indigenous. They wore their black hair long, in loose ponytails.
The other two were shorter and more wiry. That's where the similarities ended. One of them had deep brown skin and had more hair on his upper lip than he did on his head. The other looked like he'd never been out in the sun before-- fair-haired and ashen.
All of them wore old t-shirts and stained cargo pants.
I felt like a rodeo clown in my red guayabera.
Each man had a rifle and at least one handgun showing.
Pilar and the driver disappeared into the house.
All four guys in the back of the truck lit stubby filterless cigarettes. One of the brothers offered me one. I didn't have the heart to refuse.
I leaned up against the truck. They came over to my side to be sociable. We eyeballed each other in silence while we smoked.
The guy who gave me the cigarette tapped me on the shoulder.
“Queremos ver sus heridas,” he said.
I gave him the gringo look.
“Sus heridas,” he repeated. He drew short lines across his chest with his forefinger. “Want see.”
I shrugged and unbuttoned my shirt. I held it open while they inspected Beau's handiwork, nodding their approval and muttering amongst themselves.
All four of them favored me with a congratulatory clap on the back.
It was all amiable enough but something was off. I saw it in their faces, in the furtive glances and clenched jaws. Not to mention the firepower.
I buttoned up and turned to watch for Pilar's return.
The driver came out first.
She shooed me away from her truck and climbed back into the cab.
Pilar wasn't far behind her.
She'd switched her sandals for a pair of black workboots but what really caught my attention was the rifle she had slung over her shoulder, the sawed-off shotgun she held in one hand, and the pistol stuffed into the waistband of her jeans.
She carried a burlap sack in her other hand.
“Let's go, Mateo,” she said.
She did not stop. I had to jog to catch up with her around the side of the house.
The truck's big engine roared to life behind us.
Pilar and I pulled a tarp off a jeep and jumped into it.
“What's going on, Pilar?”
She started her up and backed away from the house.
“There is a... situation in Abandonados,” she said.
“What kind of situation?”
She moved the jeep in front of the truck and led the way down the long dirt drive.
“I do not know. The man who escaped to warn us did not live long enough to explain. Now, Mateo, please. Let me think.”
I shut my trap and tried not to think about the awful things we could be driving right into.
Pilar's burlap sack sat in the footwell in front of me. I opened it and took a look.
Antonio's pistol and the knife Beau used to carve me up looked back at me.
“I knew better than to tell you to stay at the house. You will need the gun.”
I reached into the bag and retrieved the pistol.
She glanced at me.
“The knife you earned.”
For once, the town of Abandonados lived up to its name.
We rolled into an empty, silent town.
There should have been people all over Diego Street. There should have been cars and bicycles and mopeds. There should have been chaos in the market square.
We left the vehicles near Don Gerardo's big red house.
Pilar directed the men to make a building-to-building search.
“If you find something,” she said, “come and find me. Defend yourselves if you must but do not attack without us.”
“Where are you going?” asked the red-haired truck driver.
“There is one man who would not run away. We go to find him.”
Pilar and I spotted nothing unusual as we climbed over the fence and headed toward Antonio's cantina. The muddy field and the woods were as silent and still as the rest of the town.
She stopped at the edge of the trees, paying close attention to the ground between the woods and the cantina.
“Do you see?” she asked.
Lots of Bootprints.
She readied the sawed-off shotgun. I drew the pistol.
“I am going in the front door,” she said. “You take the dock entrance. And Mateo? Do not start a fight.”
“I won't. But I'll finish one if I have to.”
She smiled and kissed me on the cheek.
“See that you do.”
I found no one on the dock when I crept around the back of the cantina and sidled up to the door.
A sultry wind swirled he full foulness of the canal all around.
Two log rafts swayed unattended on the water at the dock's edge.
I took one last look up and down the canal and then ducked into the cantina.
Pilar was already inside.
Antonio's bar was even uglier when it was empty.
I looked around at those familiar green-gray walls, at the table in the corner, and that crappy bar. I moved behind the counter,
“What is wrong, Mateo?”
Antonio's earthenware jugs littered the floor-- in shards.
“I think we have a problem.”
Somebody in the back room groaned.
I raised the pistol and went in.
Pilar vaulted the bar and followed me.
The room was a disaster area. All of Antonio's accumulated junk lay scattered around, even more crushed and broken than I remembered it.
One piece of furniture had survived.
A folding chair.
We found Antonio lashed to it with hemp rope.
Blood covered most of his head and face, matting his hair. Half of his glasses still hung from one ear.
Pilar swore under her breath.
I swore out loud and opened Beau's knife.
“Cabron,” he murmured as I knelt behind the chair to start cutting him free.
“Gonna be all right, man,” I lied. “Gonna be all right.”
Someone had broken all of his fingers. It was hard to saw through the rope without hurting him even more.
“What the hell happened, Antonio?”
We heard the gunshots before he could answer. Heavy gunfire.
It sounded like war.
“Mateo,” barked Pilar. “Give me that pistol.”
I stopped cutting and handed her the gun. She gave me the sawed-off in trade.
“You know how to use that?” she asked.
I gave the weapon a quick once-over. It seemed self-explanatory.
“Got it covered.”
“Good. Stay with Antonio. Defend him. We owe him that. I owe him.”
“Stay here? Where the hell are you going?”
The gunfire outside got louder.
I grabbed her by the shoulder and kissed her, hard and sweet.
“I'll be right outside, Mateo,” she said.
She nipped at my lower lip and then walked back into the bar, a pistol ready in each hand.
There was no more gunfire. The sudden quiet made the approaching bootsteps seem that much louder.
I hefted the shotgun and waited behind the bar.
Pilar moved to the middle of the room and trained one gun on each door.
“They knew we'd come here,” I said.
“They said they had my father.”
I gave it half a second to sink in.
“Who are they, Pilar?”
She looked from one door to the other and back again.
“I do not know, Mateo. But we are about to find out.”
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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.