Día de los Muertos: Chapter 14

Fourteen

Amigo Motel / 1:30 P.M.

Calhoun hung onto the telephone. He’d placedsome bets with his bookie the day before and had forgotten to check in until now. He turned the TV on with the remote control: MTV cut to throbbing pulchritude around a pool, butts and babes, hunks in trunks, grinding it. Calhoun watched the screen as he dialed.There was a news flash…a library in Tijuana had been blown up… Something called Manos Blancos was claiming responsibility. The local TV station didn’t bother to turn down the music, they just ran a news ticker across the screen. The words floated over the smiling face of Daisy Fuentes on the MTV Countdown.

“Press one if you want to place a bet…two if you want to speak to someone in Management,” the recording said. Calhoun pressed two.

“This is Calhoun. How did I do?”

“Hold please.”

“Fuck hold…how did…?” There was the sound of rock music suddenly, then a recorded voice giving odds on Wimbledon. Then the Tyson fight in Vegas. Maybe he’d take some action on the Tyson fight, Calhoun thought. Why not? He heard a pause, the hum of his bookie’s office, a side conversation.

“Well… How’d I do?” He was back on hold.

Calhoun’s hand clamped down on the phone, moist from where he gripped it. How many times had he been on the phone like this, squeezing the phone like his life depended on it? Have to have a winner now, he thought.

“I’ll be right with you. This Calhoun?… Hold a second,” the bookie’s voice said.

“Yeah, how did I do?” Calhoun asked. “Well… How’d I do, for fuck’s sake?” He watched a drop of sweat roll off his nose and fall on the dirty glass top of the night table.

“Checking… You really want to know?… Zip. The doughnut. Not one out of nine, amigo,” the bookie said. “And that’s the naked truth.” Calhoun lowered the phone. He felt as if someone had hit the elevator button that said fast-down. He leaned his back against the wall.

“How about another crack at it?” the voice said. Calhoun put down the phone, didn’t bother to answer.

He started with the TV. He pulled it out of the fancy armoire, wrenched it free. Calhoun’s huge upper body, veins bulging on his arms, wrestled with the box. The cable cord saved the TV for a few seconds until, finally, Calhoun, grunting like a barnyard animal, got it loose from the wall. He ran toward the bathroom with it, rammed the thing into a corner.

He kicked in the mini-bar door, his expensive shoes cracking through the rattan facade and stopping. He got on his knees and ripped the mini-bar door off the refrigerator, gutted the contents with his big hands, scooping bottles, candies, nuts out onto the carpet. He hurled the bottles through the bathroom doorway and heard them break. The door in his hands, Calhoun backed away, sweating, looking for something else to smash. He saw the painting of three clowns staring at him on the opposite wall and threw the door at it. Missed. The three clowns continued to stare at him, satisfied.

 

Calhoun went across the room and pulled back the curtain, moved the blinds and looked out on the sun-blasted courtyard of the motel. He knew Celeste was waiting for him. He had said they’d go out to lunch. The idea seemed funny after everything that had happened since he’d seen her that morning at daybreak. Calhoun let his eyes wander the Amigo’s courtyard. He stopped when he saw a maid’s cart piled with linens and buckets in front of Celeste’s room. He’d come back and found a note saying she’d checked into her own room. He wasn’t surprised, somehow. Has it really been ten years? He’d been so stupid and young. If she’d just said something, that she’d loved him, that it wasn’t the way the prosecutor had said that day. It wasn’t the way it had come out in the papers at all, not at all. How could something get so twisted? It wasn’t twisted until the newspaper had gotten their lies into it. Until they’d made it the way they’d wanted. But that wasn’t the way it had happened at all.

He watched Celeste come out of her room and walk to the Coke machine at the end of the courtyard. She was older now, twenty-seven, a woman now, not a girl, even the way she walked was womanly; she’d gained weight in her hips; he remembered the way they’d been, thin, like a boy’s hips. He watched her thin arms and the way her waist tapered, her red hair pulled back. She was better looking now, he decided. With the money he’d left her, she’d bought a pair of new jeans and a Mexican cheap gauze blouse that showed off her pretty shoulders. He remembered she was a working-class girl with working-class ideas about what was fashionable. He held the cord to the blind and wrapped it around one of his fingers. She looked his way for a moment, wondering, probably, when the fuck he would get around to her. A car started in the courtyard. Calhoun looked quickly at a family heading back out into the world. Their car was noisy. He knew he’d do it, just like that. I went all the way to Palmdale to find out what? He couldn’t decide what was eating him, specifically. That I would get back at her, because if I didn’t…I might… What?… Why did it still matter?

He watched the car leave, its broken turn signal papered over in red plastic – on and off, on and off. Celeste was looking his way again, carrying a can of Coke; coming down the arcade, looking at his room. She knew that he was back because the jeep was parked in front of his room. He wondered what she would think about the fact it was all busted up. He saw her hesitate for a moment, looking into the sun, deciding whether to come over. He told himself to get rid of her. Lust and hate gnawed at him like rats in a basement, gnawing and tearing at him. He’d tried to ignore them but couldn’t, not one second more. He held the curtain open and watched her finally turn around and go back into her room.

He went to the bed and pulled on his shoes. For a moment, he wondered what he had in mind, exactly. He saw himself walking across the courtyard and barging in. Asking her why she’d done it. Why she hadn’t told them the truth. All the anger came back, the weight of it, like something he was carrying on his back. The judge looking at him, and his father, and the reporter who had followed the story and written all the lies. They were all there in the courtroom. And you weren’t there. I prayed you’d show up…walk into the courtroom and tell the truth. Prayed like a little kid. Just tell them I love you. Really love you, he’d said to himself over and over that morning in court.

The phone rang. He looked at it a moment and went to pick it up.

“I just promised Slaughter we would cross the girls by seven tonight.” It was Castro.

“I should kill him… That’s what I should do,” Calhoun said.

“Amigo, you’re acting very strange. How are we going to do it? We have to cross the Vascos at ten-thirty.”

“We’ll cross the girls at the line… Right here in town,” Calhoun said. “It will be quick.”

“No, I think it’s too dangerous. Maybe we…”

“I’m busy right now! I’ll meet you at the Arizona at six. Bring the girls down from the Cuauhtemoc.” Calhoun hung up the phone. It rang almost immediately but he didn’t bother to pick it up. Fuck careful. It’s Castro’s fault for doing too damn much.

Calhoun opened the door. The sun hit him in the face. He crossed the motel parking lot, felt the softness of the asphalt, knew what he was going to do to her. In his head, the judge was talking about the Marine Corps and how it was his only chance.

Calhoun glanced several times at his father behind him. The hate and shame in his father’s eyes. The judge passed sentence, a sentence that wouldn’t go on his record. The smile on the reporter’s round white face. The reporter nodding, as if he’d written the script himself: statutory rape; the high school teacher that had banged his student and gotten away with it until now. The reporter had squeezed every dirty thing he could out of the story, day after day of lies. He’d gotten them, the family in Palmdale. Calhoun’s father was principal of the high school. Disgrace spread over his father’s face as the judge banged the gavel. They adjourned into the judge’s chambers. Calhoun was told he could join the U.S. Marine Corps voluntarily or go to jail. Calhoun joined up the same day in San Diego. Two weeks later the School Board fired his father. They never saw each other again.

 

Calhoun crossed the courtyard and saw that her room door was half open, there was music coming from a radio on the maid’s cart. She was doing Celeste’s room now. He’d forgotten to put a shirt on. He walked through the open door of the motel room and told the maid in Spanish to get out. He’d shoved the automatic into his belt. The woman took one look at him and left without saying a word. Calhoun watched her walk past him and close the door, almost running.

Celeste was bent over, shoving her old clothes into her pack. He hadn’t even tried to be quiet. He was wearing just his pants and shoes. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Why hadn’t you come to the courtroom and told them the truth? It wasn’t ugly. It wasn’t like it said in the paper. I was in love. You told me that you loved me. You’d cried when you said it.

Calhoun heard the door lock click, felt the click in his hand as he locked it, leaning against it for a moment. Celeste turned around, still squatting on her haunches, her ass against the new white jeans. She stood there a moment, frozen, then straightened up.

“You bitch,” was the first thing that came out of Calhoun’s mouth. He came across the room, his eyes checking the bathroom. He saw a toilet brush, a pile of towels. He walked up close to her. She hadn’t moved. It was as if she knew all along that it would happen; that for years she’d expected this scene to be played out, and she’d only been waiting for it, that anything else would have been impossible, that their first encounter had just been a prelude to this – the two of them alone with unfinished business.

“Why didn’t you tell the truth?” He grabbed her by her new blouse, felt it rip, saw the white bra underneath. Saw the new orangeish lipstick on her face. She was saying his name, just his name.

“Vincent… I know. Vincent… I know…” Calhoun heard her say something else, but the sound of his father was in his ears and the sound of the sheriff and the courtroom and the way his father trotted alongside the car in the parking lot screaming obscenities at him. He’d looked for her even then, had wanted her to tell the truth about them, was expecting her to somehow stop it.

He felt the bra come off in his hands, its elastic strength, the pulling of it, then her breasts, warm white, the nipples, her throat, her eyes meeting his, the bra in his hands. The sound of his words like they were coming out of someone else’s mouth. He saw her lips moving, heard his name again, her voice sweet, misunderstanding, thinking he just wanted sex. He ripped the blouse away down to her waist, the shredding sound of the material ripping off her shoulders, the thin material giving way like paper. She tried to stop him, then stopped trying, confused by what he wanted. She reached out for him.

“Why didn’t you go to the courthouse? Why not?!” He grabbed her by the arms, shook her, asked her again, why hadn’t she gone to the courtroom. She stood there, nothing in her eyes, face blank. She was looking at him as if she were waiting for him to unlock something with his questions. She tried to touch his face, he slapped her, knocking her onto the unmade bed.

“That’s what you want, isn’t it? That’s what they all want in the end,” she said. Her face had gone cold. He had his hand up and dropped it.

She tried to get up. She was talking to him but he couldn’t hear anything but his own voice, voices from the trial. He put his hand over her mouth and felt for the edge of her panties with his other hand, felt her warm belly and pulled, digging down until they came apart in his hand, ripped away from her body.

“This isn’t going to make it better,” she said. He heard that. He cupped his hand over her mouth, and for a moment he just held her that way, her lips moving against his fingers, her nose flaring. The hot breath. She wasn’t struggling. But he wanted her to struggle. He kept his hand over her mouth and undid his pants. All this time he had blamed her for what had happened to him later. It’s her fault, all of it. Ending up here like this.

The car had stopped at the intersection of the courthouse. The reporter and the DA were walking across the lawn. The curious were watching his father – the fallen principal of Palmdale High. Calhoun had turned around in the squad car as best he could because of the cuff. The sheriff was saying to him that it wasn’t fair, that he’d heard the real story from his daughter, how all the kids in the school knew the real story and that it wasn’t fair. But Calhoun didn’t pay attention, he was watching his father’s face, studying the transmogrification of a man that had been destroyed. Principal of the high school to nothing in the space of a few weeks. The School Board was talking about firing him that morning, the sheriff told him.

She hadn’t moved. Calhoun had her shoulders pinned to the mattress, pushed into the starched clean sheet. He saw the words “Hotel Amigo” stitched on the pillow. He didn’t want to see her face. He rolled her over and pushed her face into the mattress and finished undoing his pants, felt for his cock.

Then he was suddenly there, in the room. Really there, his cock in his hand, her fleshy white ass, the torn panties, Celeste’s voice muffled by the mattress, her neck red where he held it. She was coughing. The idea of killing her crossed his mind and scared him. He stopped, felt his weight on his knees, felt the bed sag. He let go, zipped his pants up and got off the bed, the anger and the hard breathing still in him. For a moment he looked at her body – the way her waist was narrow and beautifully white, her breasts pushed against the mattress. He backed up into a wall, watched her turn on the bed slowly, sick with what he’d done to her, ashamed of what he’d thought. She coughed and wiped her face, looked at him, her face deep red.

“I want you to,” she said, her voice hoarse from coughing. “I want you to. I want you to.” She kept saying it, until it was more horrible than what he’d been about to do. “I still love you, Vince. I want you to. I understand. I want you to. Please.” She was sitting up now, moving what he’d torn, holding herself on her knees, reaching for him pathetically, looking at him that way, trying to smile, a smile that he couldn’t look at.

“I’m sorry. I…I…” He was breathing hard, could feel the painted back of the door against his naked back. “I’m sorry, Celeste. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He was crying, didn’t even realize it until she got up and touched his face, kissed him.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m sick. I don’t know why I did that. Today out there I saw…” He moved his hand toward the desert. He was dripping with sweat. He felt a chill from the fever.

“I don’t care. I love you. I don’t care.” He was trying not to listen. For a moment he reached out and touched her hair. The reporter was laughing at his father. Calhoun had seen that just as the light turned green. His father stopped his screaming and looked at the reporter who had ruined him. He was laughing at him.

“I still love you, Vince. I never stopped. I never stopped. I want you to do this. I want it to be the way it was. I’ve wanted that for a long time, the way it was between us then. The way it was before…”

He kissed her. Brought her to him, felt her breasts on his chest. He kissed her neck and her hair. He kissed her on the mouth, put his arms around her, crushed her to him, the gun between them, cold and oily.

“Hold me, Vince…hold me, baby,” she said. Then she brought him back to the bed, as if the years had been rolled back magically, neither one of them thinking about what they had become, just what they had been. They made love, her on top of him so he could look into her eyes, watery and sexual, and her teeth biting his lip the way he remembered and the way he loved. When it was over, he didn’t want to move or think or say anything because now he was in love again and he didn’t want to be. But he was. For the first time in years. They both looked up at the ceiling and the years rolled back to when they were young.

 

“We’re going to leave tonight,” Calhoun said. Celeste had her face on his chest. She pushed her hair off her face, ran her hand up his chest to his chin. “I have to go. Right now. I have to go somewhere important. I want you to wait for me here. Will you do that?” He got off the bed and started to dress.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll wait.”

“I’m sorry for what I did. For…”

“I’ve seen worse,” she said. “Forget it.”

“No past, only future.” Calhoun said.

“Yeah. Vincent?” Calhoun stopped, his hand on the door knob.

“Yeah.” He turned around. He was smiling at her, like they were kids again.

“If I told you that I…I mean if you knew about what I’ve been…would it matter?”

“I don’t care. I love you. I don’t care.” She was going to explain. He held up his hand. “What difference could it make now?” he said.

He walked back to his room and grabbed a shirt; it was getting late. He had to get to the track. He had to place that bet. He was sure it was the bet that would change his luck. Things were changing now, he told himself outside, starting the jeep. He was sure of it.

 

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