Día de los Muertos: Chapter 17

Seventeen

Downtown / 5:30 P.M.

Calhoun was lying on a bed in one of the hotel rooms they kept around the city. This one had a view of the bullring and a technical college from the window in front oft of him. When he’d woken up he could hear the students outside on the street getting ready for evening classes. He wasn’t sure what had happened or how he’d gotten there. He didn’t know that the kid from the Escondido had called Miguel and they’d brought him there. He’d listened to Castro’s voice and now tried to pull himself upright on the bed.”Slaughter expects the cargo in San Diego…by seven tonight. No excuses, amigo… And he wants to see you on the plaza when we’re finished,” Castro said. “I just hope you stop shooting people and then collapsing.” Calhoun rolled on his side. The bed was very soft. He looked on the nightstand and saw his cell phone and cigarettes.

“There’s just one little problem. How the fuck do we do that now? I just shot two men in the middle of the fucking day in downtown Tijuana,” Calhoun said. Castro was sitting in the shadows across from the bed. Calhoun reached for his cigarettes.

“I took care of your problem. The police matter is closed,” Castro said. His voice was relaxed, quiet. “It was very queer, but I got the case and determined the two individuals at La Cantina Machete shot each other. Police work is always a challenge,” Castro said. “I do my best.”

Calhoun got up on his elbow and looked at his friend. He saw Castro’s harness, two forty-fives and the extra clips on the shoulder holster hung over the chair in the corner. “Good.”

“Don’t thank me right now. Because soon you are going to be angry with me.”

“Yeah, how come?”

“I can’t say just yet. But I had to do it. As your friend. You have to believe me.”

“Okay…well, I guess I won’t worry about it.”

“That’s the spirit. Just remember it is for your own good. I don’t want to talk about it anymore because I think maybe I made a mistake but it’s done now… Someone called,” Castro said, changing the subject. “…your cell phone while you were sleeping. They hung up.” Calhoun shrugged his shoulders. “Slaughter is waiting. He wants to know how we propose to do it now. It’s too late to take them through Palmdale. He has to have them in San Diego tonight by nine o’clock.”

“Maybe I won’t do it at all. Maybe I changed my mind.” Calhoun sank back on the soft bed, holding his cigarettes. He knew what he said was the wrong thing. “Not today, anyway.” He heard Castro laugh.

“Hijo de la gran puta. I don’t know about you, but I plan on living to see my thirtieth birthday,” Castro said. Students’ voices came up through the open window. They were happy, youthful voices, carefree and in stark contrast to the mood in the room. Calhoun knew that his illness had made things worse, that it would be almost impossible to get the girls across in time.

“Miguel. I’m…”

“You’re scared, amigo?”

“Maybe I am. Or maybe I’m just sick of it all.” His cell phone began ringing. Calhoun let it ring. Castro looked at him the way he’d been looking since the morning. As if he knew something but didn’t want to talk about it.

“Don’t you answer your phone anymore? I think someone is very interested in talking to you.”

Calhoun picked it up. “This is Breen… They’ve decided to come for you here. Here in Tijuana.” Calhoun heard his partner’s voice. He rang off, folding the phone up, and fell back on the bed.

“Who was it, amigo?”

“If you call me amigo again…I think I’ll shoot you,” Calhoun said. “I’m serious.” Calhoun felt something flop on the bed at his feet. He pulled himself up on his elbow and looked on the bed by his foot. It was one of Castro’s automatics. The policeman was smiling at him. It was that smile Castro had that was all nerve and balls and mayhem in a light brown package.

“Go ahead, amigo. Go ahead and shoot me. But you still have the cargo at the Arizona, and Slaughter expecting them in…” Castro looked down at his watch. “…in less than two hours.”

Calhoun lit a cigarette, finally, going through the ritual with a new package, trying to think of a plan.

Calhoun sat up on the bed. “I should kill Slaughter,” he said. He heard Castro laugh.

“Not a good idea. You don’t have the pelotas for that.” Calhoun could hear Castro move in his chair. Heard his cowboy boots drag across the floor. He grabbed his rig and strapped it on. He fastened the Velcro strap around his narrow chest and cocked his cowboy hat forward.

“I’ve got pelotas,” Calhoun said. He swung his feet over the bed.

“I think you’ll stop for a beer and forget all about it.” Castro got up out of his chair and picked his gun off the bed. “But I like you anyway.”

“Miguel, what did you agree to, why am I going to be mad at you?”

“I can’t tell you right now…anyway we have this very big problem,” Castro said. “We have to have the girls across the border in San Ysidro in less than two hours.” Castro picked up the cell phone.

“Yes. Okay. Fine,” Calhoun said.

“Amigo, are you listening to me? I have to call them back with a plan.” Castro pointed to his watch again. Calhoun just looked at him. “I’ve got to call Slaughter back,” Castro repeated.

“Fuck…all right. All right! We’ll do it here…right in town. Right at the wire. That’s the best I can come up with.”

Castro picked up the cell phone and, pissed off, began to díal. “Let me talk to Slaughter…” He looked at Calhoun, who had gotten up and gone into the bathroom. He covered the phone. “Okay. You haven’t told me what we are going to do.”

“God damn you, I just did. I’ll take them across here…use my DEA credentials.” Calhoun looked at his face in the mirror above the sink as he spoke. He was pale. He ran the tap, splashed himself with water.

“That won’t work,” Castro said. Miguel spoke to Slaughter, told him to hold on a moment. Castro held the cell phone against his chest.

“What the fuck do you want me to do…?” Calhoun said.

“We have to think of something else.”

“Guess what, I don’t give a fuck.” Calhoun came back into the room wiping his face with a towel.

“You’re going to be caught. It’s stupid. It’s amateurish. We aren’t…”

“Just meet me at the fucking Arizona in an hour,” Calhoun said. Castro got back on the horn and told Slaughter they were taking them across right at the line. Calhoun could hear Slaughter swearing at them on the other end of the phone. Castro folded up the phone. There was a knock on the door. The vet from the track stepped into the room. He had his doctor bag in his hand. Miguel turned around.

“I promised Slaughter you wouldn’t pass out.” Calhoun looked at the vet and then at Castro. He didn’t understand at first. He put the towel down. “I had to promise him or he was going to get someone else to do it and then he was going to kill you,” Castro said. “I had to agree.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” The vet looked at Calhoun and nodded. The vet was drunk. He teetered a little. He took something out of his coat pocket. Calhoun started to turn around and was struck from behind. Calhoun fell to his knees, stunned, halfway on the bed. Castro picked him up and rolled him onto the bed, then pinned his shoulders down with his knees. They looked at each other for a moment. The vet came over and looked over Castro’s shoulder.

“Hey, I know you.” The vet moved to the other end of the bed.

“Miguel…no…get the fuck off me!”

“Amigo, I can’t. I promised and I don’t think you’ll make it through the night if we don’t do this.”

“Miguel, you don’t understand, this guy isn’t even a fucking doctor. He’ll kill me.”

“Yeah? What are you?” the vet said from the foot of the bed. Calhoun heard the needle-rubber sound and tried to fight, kicking his feet out violently, but he felt the doctor climb onto the bed and pin his knees. He felt the weight of both men on him. He looked up into his friend’s face.

“Miguel, god damn it, you don’t understand, this guy is going to kill me. I saw…” He felt the icy cold needle slip into his thigh.

“I may not be a doctor,” the vet said, getting off the bed, “but I promise you one thing…this motherfucker here won’t pass out now.” The vet popped his face over Miguel’s shoulder again and looked down at Calhoun.

“That shot might make you a little horny, son, but otherwise you’re going to feel, well…special,” the vet said. He started to laugh one of those deep West Texas laughs. Miguel climbed off him. For a moment the two men looked at him. The horse medicine they’d just injected him with started to come on. Calhoun could feel it. It was as if his heart had just been expanded in his chest. Then he felt icy cold.

I’m a dead man, he thought. Then, for some reason, he started to laugh. The vet looked at Miguel and made the he’s crazy motion with his finger and went out the door.

“Amigo, look at me. I’m sorry.” Castro was shaking him by the shoulders. Calhoun’s eyes had rolled to the back of his head and he was still laughing. It was the strangest thing Castro had ever seen. The veins on Calhoun’s neck looked like rubber hoses. Castro looked back toward the vet for help. But he was gone.

 

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