Día de los Muertos: Chapter 16


Downtown / 3:20 P.M.

Selena’s “Tú Solo Tú” was on the juke box.We’re all finished off in the war of life – some just take more killing than others, Calhoun thought, looking at his beer. He thought of running to a theater and hiding from himself. He saw Celeste waiting for him back at the motel. He was stone broke. He smirked at himself in the brown tint of the Dos XX’s bottle. He looked up at the yellow barroom wall in front of him.No se puede vivir sin amar, a sign said. There was a collection of Mexican homilies in Victorian script on the wall. “You cannot live without love,” this one said.

He wiped his face. He didn’t know what to do. It was the first time in his life he’d felt this way. He needed money and didn’t know what to do. He was sweating again and felt lightheaded. Scared. He remembered the professor. He was there now. Broke. He owed El Cojo money he couldn’t pay. In Mexico City maybe he could find something to do…a job. Celeste would go with him, money or no money. He would take care of her. He would stop gambling. Never again, he told himself.

“They got a new donkey at the Coco Loco,” the bartender said. Calhoun looked up from the bottle. The bartender had put his hands apart to show how well endowed the donkey was. “He’s coming down the street now,” the bartender said, nodding toward the window. Calhoun saw the boy leading the donkey. It made him sick. The bar was empty. This wasn’t one of his regular haunts. But he’d wanted a quiet place where people didn’t know him. He knew he had to be more careful now. He knew El Cojo would hear soon enough about his big loss and come looking for him.

“I stay away from the Coco Loco,” Calhoun said. “I don’t go any place that has the condom machine by the bar…that’s a rule of mine.”

“You miss the show, amigo. They got a new girl, you know, with the donkey. A Yugoslavian. She…” Calhoun didn’t listen. It was too disgusting. The man made the international fucking sign men use, clenching his fists, moving his arms toward his body. “Fuck the donkey twice… She fuck the donkey at nine and eleven, man.”

“There’s a lot of things I don’t do in Tijuana. That’s one of them,” Calhoun said, wiping his mouth, tasting beer. He wasn’t listening.

“She got big tits. The donkey likes it. I think he like it when they have big tits.”

“I’m sure she does,” Calhoun said. “I don’t go to the Coco Loco. Do I look like a fucking college boy?!”

“Amigo, she’s very pretty. They never had one like that… You know, not with the donkey. Look…look, the boy takes the donkey now,” the bartender said. He pointed out the window of the bar. A boy was leading the animal down the Avenida Revolución. It was black, its legs shorter than a horse’s. He brought it down every afternoon from La Cumbre. It was the boy’s job to bring the donkey down to the Coco Loco bar and get him ready for the show, comb him down, put his straw hat on. Sometimes he washed it out in the street on the sidewalk with a bucket and a brush, all part of the show.

“Not right… Everyone gets a turn with the donkey, I guess,” Calhoun said.

“Hey, the donkey is lucky,” the bartender said, wiping the bar in front of him. “He shits outside and he fucks inside. It don’t get any better than that.”

“Yeah, but they don’t pay him,” Calhoun said. The bartender burst out laughing.

“Hey, that’s funny,” the bartender said. “…but it’s an imperfect world, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Calhoun said. “Full of jokes… Full of them. Now bring me another beer and leave me alone.”

“Sure, amigo. Sure, I leave you alone.” The bartender walked down to the cooler, uncapped another beer and sent the bottle sliding down the wet, empty bar. Calhoun stopped it. He got up and went to the juke box by the door and played Selena’s “I Could Fall In Love.” Two men walked into the bar and sat at the end near the door. They had the PFN uniform – cowboy hats and boots – and were wearing their arm bands. Since the devaluation of the peso, there were more and more of them. The bartender came down the bar and got their order.

“Hey, where’d you guys get those hats,” Calhoun said, turning around, all the hate from the day coming up into his throat. He wanted a fight. “Versace or what?” he said in English. The bartender looked at him, frightened.

“¿Qué dice el gringo?” one of them asked the bartender.

“He wants to know where you get those hats,” the bartender said.

“Dígale que coma mierda…tell him to eat shit,” one of them said.

“Amigo, he says he thinks you should leave. He says the bar is for pure Mexicans,” The bartender said.

“He does?” Calhoun said. “How come? Somebody that fucking ugly is lucky to get any kind of company at all.”

“¿Qué dijo el gringo?” the bigger of the two said, looking down the bar. He’d made out the word fucking.

“The gringo says he’s a fascist, too,” the bartender told him. The big one smiled back down the bar. He stuck his hand out in the fascist salute and lifted his beer, very übermensch.

Calhoun stuck his hand out halfway, then stopped and scratched his ear. “He ain’t used to being with human beings and he appreciates us when we give him the chance,” Calhoun said.

The bartender came back down the bar and wiped the spot in front of Calhoun.

“Señor. Please leave before there is any trouble.” Calhoun looked the bartender in the face.

“Fuck Hitler,” Calhoun said. The two men looked down the bar at him. The first one closest to him got off his stool and broke the beer bottle in one easy motion. Calhoun saw the bits land on the bar. The guy had a grin on his face from asshole to earlobe.

“Did you know Hitler was a faggot?” Calhoun said, speaking loudly. He tried to sound like one of the Englishmen in Sense and Sensibility. “He used to fuck Göring in the ass every Saturday night. He’d get Himmler to watch and suck his dick when he was finished.” The man was walking toward him hefting the broken bottle.

Calhoun let him get close. He stood up smiling, opened his coat and pulled out his forty-five. The man tried to run toward him. Calhoun saw the fear on the man’s face. He fired into the man’s shoulder at half a yard. The bullet tore through him and hit the other man in the leg, knocking him off the stool onto the floor. Calhoun walked toward the man on the floor. He stood over him. He stepped on the man’s hat and crushed it.

“What is it you motherfuckers want, anyway?” Calhoun wiped his face with his palm, then looked back at the bartender, who’d turned white. “He’ll live,” Calhoun said, walking out. “And we’ll all regret it, I bet.”


There was marimba music on the plaza. A troupe of dancers from Patzcuaro, in those big wide straw hats and sandals, white baggy cotton pants, had come up to play for the holiday. The plaza was crowded with tourists. Calhoun pushed through the crowd. He had a strange look on his face as he crossed the plaza. The music was dark and forlorn – country music. Music from another world. A world that didn’t belong in Tijuana, a music from the jungles much farther south, complex and melancholy. He grabbed a red-capped college boy from the back and spun him around.

“Give me your wallet.” The American boy looked at him in panic. Calhoun brought the forty-five up and put it against his temple. “Give me your fucking money!”

He got across the plaza, stepped out into the traffic and went across the street into the Tres Estrellas office.

“I’ll take two tickets for the express to Mexico City,” Calhoun said. The ticket agent looked out from the black bars of his booth. He wore a cap with the company’s logo, three gold stars. The office smelled of car exhaust from the plaza. It had a few chairs, the counter, and a map of Mexico with red lines showing the company’s routes.

“It leaves at one o’clock in the morning,” the agent said. He was a short, squat Indían, his skin red-colored. He said it as if that fact would put anyone off from making the trip; Mexicans were always phlegmatic about travel.

“That’s okay,” Calhoun said.

“How many?” the agent asked.

“Two…two tickets. Two tickets – one for me and one for my…one for my wife.” He put his hands through his hair. “Yeah, one for me and one for my wife,” he said again.

The man stamped two tickets for the express. Calhoun unfolded the college boy’s billfold and took out forty-three hundred pesos and paid. He tucked the tickets into the pocket of his coat.

“You got the last tickets,” the agent said. “That’s always good luck.”

“How long does it take?” Calhoun asked. “To get to the capital?” He was holding the kid’s billfold open, looking at it. The room started to get small, his whole body started to shake. He put his hand on the counter.

“Oh, that depends. This is Mexico. You could have bad weather in Durango,” the man said. He turned to look at a map on the dirty wall behind him showing Mexico and all its states in primary colors, a big red star where the capital was in the center. “And the holiday…two days,” he said, contemplating it, “más o menos. Two days, si Díos quiere. If God wills it. But Mexico City, she’s always there, no?”

The two looked at each other for the first time. Calhoun didn’t look like the type to leave Tijuana by bus, the ticket agent thought. The young gringo looked odd, his face flushed; he was sweating. He was very handsome, well-dressed, clean shaven. Not like some of the gringo students who came in.

“The plane is quicker,” the man said, watching him. Calhoun didn’t answer him. He took his gun out and dropped the empty clip on the floor of the office. The man looked suddenly horrified. Calhoun jammed a fresh clip into his weapon and turned around and walked back out into the street. He went down the sidewalk. Women and children, tourists, filled the sidewalk. He heard the music from the plaza. Faces seemed bigger. He saw a woman grab her child and pull him out of Calhoun’s way. He saw the man he’d wounded stumbling out of the bar into the traffic, trying to cross over to the plaza. Someone screamed. The man turned around and froze, spotting Calhoun. He started to trot, thinking Calhoun was coming back for him. A taxi slammed on its breaks, hit the wounded man, sent him in the air into the intersection. His body hit several people, knocking them down like bowling pins. Calhoun kept walking. A young white couple jumped into a doorway. Calhoun kept walking, retracing his steps into the bar. The bartender was on the phone. The police still hadn’t answered. There was a long red scum on the floor. The man he’d shot was lying on the floor, his eyes open. Calhoun reached down and turned him over. He took out his billfold, grabbed the cash, a big wad of dollar bills, and threw the wallet into the bloody spoor and went back outside. There was the sound of ambulances now. He stopped on the street. His knees were wobbly. There was a crowd of people looking at him. His hands were red with blood, the bills falling as he stood there. He focused on the sidewalk, looked at the lines, heard someone crying in the intersection. He watched a red-stained dollar bill float gently in the hot air toward the dirty sidewalk, like a leaf from a tree. Things were moving. He sagged to his knees suddenly, then fell flat out, face down. He put one elbow on the sidewalk. He tried to focus on the feet in front of him. All he saw was shoes and socks and a woman’s legs, fat ones, someone running out of the corner of his eye. Not sick. Get up. Get up. Not sick! Tickets. Going to get married. Get up. He heard a siren. Then another scream. The wounded man was dead in the intersection. Calhoun tried to stand but couldn’t. He was lying almost face down. He saw his red hand stretched out on the sidewalk, clutching a handful of blood-wet dollar bills. He felt the sun on his face but he couldn’t move.

“Don Vincente.” He heard the kid’s voice. Police car doors. He felt himself being dragged to his feet. The boy had him trotting toward the plaza. It made a strange sight, the small boy holding him by the waist, running with him into the crowd.


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