Día de los Muertos: Chapter 22

Twenty-Two

Hotel Empresa / 9:45 P.M.

They stood waiting in an alcove at the back of the hotel. Calhoun had rolled the refrigerator dolly with Guzman strapped to it to the elevator and then through the hotel’s empty kitchen. It took every bit of Calhoun’s considerable strength to handle Guzman. The girl had put several of the suitcases on the room-service cart. They had to leave the rest of them up in the hotel room. The trio came out at the back of the hotel to the service dock. Hotel workers watched the three of them go down the concrete ramp to the parking lot.”I’m going to roll him up to the Cuauhtémoc,” Calhoun said. He didn’t know what else to do. It was too dangerous to call a taxi. He’d hidden his jeep at the Cuauhtémoc because he was afraid to use it. The police, he knew, used the cab drivers of Tijuana as informants. There was a complex web of police eyes and ears on the streets, fruit vendors, store owners, plainclothes men, something gringos didn’t understand about Mexico with their naïveté. But it had been that way since the revolution. If the Mexican Federal Police were corrupt, they were not, contrary to American accounts, fools or Keystone Cops.

The girl had changed clothes in an attempt to look more ordinary. She’d put a scarf on and some ordinary pants and a T-shirt that was several sizes too big for her. Calhoun was looking at the street that passed in front of the hotel. The idea of wheeling Guzman all the way to the Cuauhtémoc by hand seemed impossible.

“How far is it?” she asked.

“On foot… I don’t know. He’ll meet you in Los Angeles,” Calhoun said. The girl looked at Guzman. He was strapped to the dolly. Several dirty white canvas straps wound around his girth. Guzman couldn’t see her because Calhoun had put the dolly down, leaving Guzman supine.

“Monica, I love you,” Guzman said. He tried to turn his head and see her.

“Frank, I don’t know what to do. I mean, if you don’t show up.” A four-door white Ford pulled up at the loading dock. Breen got out from behind the wheel of his government car. “What the hell is going on?”

“I want you to take this girl to L.A.,” Calhoun said. “She’s going to give you a suitcase when you’re finished. The Beverly Wilshire hotel. Right now… You’ll be a lot richer for it. Don’t say I never did you any favors,” Calhoun said.

“Vincent, they’ve been to the Amigo. There’s a bulletin out for your arrest on both sides of the border. You better come with me,” Breen said. He looked at the girl for a moment. Then at Guzman, finally realizing it was a man on the dolly.

“Max, do me a favor and shut up. Put the girl in the fucking car and get her across the line.” Breen looked at Guzman, trying to take in the strange scene.

“…That’s Frank Guzman, Vince.” Breen turned white, like he’d been hit with something cold. “It’s Guzman, isn’t it? The guy everyone is looking for.”

“Yeah, the fat man himself,” Calhoun said.

“You aren’t going to make it, Vincent. It’s completely crazy. They’ll kill you.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“Don’t listen to him, gringo, we’ll be all right,” Guzman said, trying to see who was talking.

“Vince. It’s not worth it. Just leave them. I’ll get you out of here. Leave them here. For Christ sakes. Guzman’s death, Vince.”

“Yeah, so am I. Max, take the girl to L.A. Do yourself a favor.”

Breen took his gun out. “No. I’m not going to let him get you killed.” Breen lifted his gun and pointed it at Guzman. “You’ll get him killed… For what…” There was a shot. Breen fell backwards. No one had been watching the girl. There was silence for a moment, just the report of the pistol shot against the concrete walls of the loading dock. Calhoun walked over to Breen, then looked back at the girl. She was still holding the little gun. The bullet had torn a hole in Breen’s throat. Breen scrammed up on one knee, tried to say something. He looked at Calhoun and tried to stand up. The girl shot him again.

Calhoun turned, he had his gun pointed at the girl but couldn’t pull the trigger. He tried to pull it. He wanted to pull it but couldn’t. She looked at him. He walked up to her and ripped the gun out of her hand and punched her. The fat man was yelling. Calhoun walked over to Breen and knelt down. Breen was trying to talk. Calhoun put his ear near his lips.

“I… I… I…” He reached up and tried to touch Calhoun’s face. Calhoun tried to push the throat wound closed. He looked at the girl. She was crawling toward Guzman, her mouth bleeding. The suitcases had rolled down the ramp and turned over in the parking lot. One of them was open, the money thrown out.

“Stupid… I…” Breen said.

“What?”

“I love you,” Breen said.

“My friend,” Calhoun said, standing up. He looked at the suitcases in the halogen light and the way the money drifted across the parking lot in the wind. The girl had crawled over to Guzman and was holding him, wiping the blood from her face.

“He was going to hurt Frank,” she said, looking up at him. “Nobody hurts Frank.” Calhoun looked back at Breen’s body, the blood running down the little ramp. His body seemed pathetically small.

“He was my friend,” Calhoun said again. The girl got up, walked over to the body and took out his wallet.

“I need his papers,” she said. “Which ones are they? His papers! So I can cross.” Calhoun looked down at the body, then at the pretty, bloody face of the girl fishing through his friend’s wallet. “The papers,” she said. “The money. We have to think about the money. Now.”

Dia Spacer

“Where are you going with that man, señor?” Calhoun wiped what he thought was sweat out of his eyes. He stopped and propped the dolly up in the dirt road so that Guzman faced the traffic like a fat Jesus on the cross. He’d struggled with the fat man up the Avenida Maria De Leon that led up to La Cumbre and the Hotel Cuauhtémoc. It had taken everything he had left, physically. He’d had to stay out in the street like the donkey carts, wheeling Guzman along over the chuck holes and through the pools of dirty piss-water. His arms were burning. He heard the sounds of the cantiñas along the way in his ears. He was exhausted. The crowds on the sidewalks coming down the hill toward town stared at him, at the strange scene of a white man in a white suit pushing the dolly up the dirt road in the miserable electric street light of Tijuana’s worst neighborhood. They couldn’t see what he was pushing exactly until they got right on top of him.

Calhoun had moved around the parked cars. Guzman got heavier by the minute, making him sweat. Calhoun’s cotton jacket was drenched, the material sticking to him. Every step with the fat man hurt. Calhoun had to carry him almost supine, his biceps burning, his feet sometimes slipping in the dirt and donkey shit, so that they both fell more than once. Guzman was telling him to be careful each time, almost hysterical.

There were moments when Calhoun couldn’t see, something he thought was sweat dripping into his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. The evening became a watery nightmare of car headlights and the sharp stares of people on the street as they rolled by. The fat man was talking sometimes, asking to be stood up, asking for a drink. Guzman could hear the music from the bars and wanted to go inside for a beer. Calhoun kept moving, the pain and the agony in his joints blotting out what Breen had said to him before he died. “I love you.” That’s what he’d said. And what had his love got him? A bullet in the throat, Calhoun thought.

By the time he heard the boy ask him what he was doing, Calhoun was breathless and exhausted. Calhoun stood Guzman up. A donkey passed, almost knocking Guzman over. Calhoun smelled the animal. It was the donkey going downtown for the show at the Coco Loco. His sunglasses smeared with sweat, Calhoun halfway heard Guzman asking for water. They were in La Cumbre now, only a few blocks from the Cuauhtémoc.

“Where you go, señor… with that man?” The kid was tall and skinny and there were four other kids with him, sixteen or seventeen years old. The kid talking to him had on a hairnet, the kind that comes to a point just above the nose. They were wearing plain white T-shirts and over-sized blue jeans and standing in front of one of the scores of small cantiñas that blared ranchera music. Even at night the dust from the road was thick and you could taste it. A truck passed and blew dust into Calhoun’s face.

“You mean my uncle Billy?” Calhoun said in English. The fat man tried to look at the kids.

“Dice que es su tío,” one of them translated.

“I don’ think that your uncle,” the one with the hairnet said in broken English.

“Sure it is. That’s my Uncle Billy,” Calhoun said. He tried to spit but he had no liquid left.

“You look like shit, señor,” Hairnet said.

“So do you,” Calhoun said. He noticed that his jacket sleeve was streaked with blood. He touched his face; it was warm and sticky.

The other kids came down the steps into the street. Pedestrians passing gave quick sideways glances at the group in the street. Calhoun had put his havelock on Guzman’s head. It had done the trick, hidden his face enough so that you had to get very close to see who he was. Calhoun reached over and pulled the hat straight.

“I think, señor, you have a big problem here.” Hairnet held up a copy of the photo El Cojo’s man had taken that morning showing Calhoun standing next to the priest.

“I think you come with us,” the kid said. “El Cojo is look for you.” Hairnet reached over and ripped the hat from Guzman’s head and put it on. Guzman was scared. One of the other kids turned the dolly around so that Guzman was facing the sidewalk. Calhoun looked at Hairnet through his dark glasses that reflected all the lights of the shops.

“Hey, muchachos, how about some beer?” Guzman said. He tried to lift his hand but it was strapped down. He’d started complaining of thirst almost immediately. Calhoun looked down on the mountains of wet flesh. The fat man picked up his hand as best he could, looking up at the night sky, the fat face unsure of what was happening around him.

“Muchachos, I buy you the whole cantiña for a big cerveza now,” Guzman said.

“Me va a comprar la cantiña,” Hairnet told his friends. They all laughed. More people passed them. There was a shift change at ten in the maquiladoras and the streets in La Cumbre were full of workers coming and going to and from the factories, some of them in their white uniforms.

“Fuck you.” Hairnet spit on Guzman’s face. A big yellow glob stuck on his forehead.

“Hey, you spit on my Uncle Billy,” Calhoun said. “Why did you do that?”

“‘Cause I felt like it, asshole.”

“I need the hat back,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun laid the dolly down in the street so that Guzman was supine. The kid pretended to adjust the hat. It shaded his whole mean face. The others hadn’t said anything, watching Calhoun. The one with the hairnet took a knife out of his pocket while Calhoun leaned over the fat man. He opened it up. People on the street hurried past and pretended they didn’t see anything.

“Hey muchachos. I buy you the cantiña for a cerveza. Get me a cerveza, huh?” There was a disgusting whining quality in Guzman’s voice. He was squinting into the headlights. People in the passing cars were looking at the boys, knowing what was going on, but not doing anything about it. Not in La Cumbre.

“Give me the hat, kid, before somebody gets hurt.” Calhoun said it in Spanish this time so that there wouldn’t be any confusion. Calhoun stood up. He looked at the boy and saw him in double vision. He blinked, hoping it would change. He suddenly felt cold. He tried to open his coat but something was happening to him, something strange, the sudden dyskinesia. He tasted something running into his mouth. Calhoun blinked again. The boys blurred. He didn’t see the knife. The fat man said something. It became a nightmare vision, the fat man was trying to get up off the dolly, fighting the straps. Calhoun bent down to pick up the dolly again and stumbled, dizzy. He heard the laughter from the boys.

“This motherfucker is bleeding from his fucking eyeballs man, check it out. Motherfucker is bleeding out of his pinche eyeballs man, check it out,” one of the boys said. Calhoun saw a face move down close to him. He tried to reach for his gun but something was standing on his arm. The face looked strange, double, then triple, so there were six eyeballs staring at him, a bandanna on the forehead. He flexed his hand and felt the pain race through it.

“You one fucked-up motherfucker, pal.” Then the face pulled away. Calhoun brought his chest up off the ground. He willed himself to stand, slowly. All the time cars were moving past him trying to avoid him, honking. The fat man asking for help. He felt something sharp in his shoulder and saw another face again pushed up against him. Hairnet’s. Calhoun looked at his shoulder and saw the buck knife stuck into it, the kid’s hand planted around the black handle, his head turned, laughing with his friends, like they’d just played pin the tail on the donkey.

He’s going to kill me. The thought suddenly penetrated through the effort Calhoun was willing into his body. He watched the hand grasp the black handle of the knife and pull the blade out, all of it in triplicate. He saw in slow motion the clean silver of the knife coming out of his shoulder, the sound of pain. A guttural sound from Calhoun’s throat that you might have heard from an animal.

“I’m going to kill you.” Calhoun heard himself say it. The kid was in front of him. He’d stepped back but there were three kids, three knives. A car horn sounded, the world was shrinking away. Calhoun turned to the right and saw the faces of the crowd in the street, the squares of white maquiladora uniforms. The giant headlights of a bus. Calhoun realized suddenly that he was kneeling and not standing. That he was looking at Hairnet’s knees.

“What are you going to do to me, motherfucker, bleed on me?”

“I buy you the whole cantiña.” The fat man was digging in his pocket. He held up a wad of money. The kid looked at it like he’d never seen money before, surprised.

“Here. Take it,” Guzman said, trying to see them. He struggled to turn in the dolly, his big fat arm in the dirt like a ham.

Calhoun got to his feet while the kid was taking the money. With everything he had left in him, he pulled his forty-five out of its harness. The effort was almost too much. He stumbled into the kid. He blew his hand off at the wrist. Blood splattered Guzman’s face. The kid turned and looked at him, surprised, the bills blown into the air.

“I told you to leave my uncle the fuck alone.” Calhoun had the barrel of the forty-five tucked under three chins. He looked into the big set of eyes in pain, confused by the sudden burning explosion. Calhoun wasn’t sure what would happen when he pulled the trigger. The kid was talking when the bullet went out the top of his head, blowing gray matter all over Calhoun’s face. Calhoun held the dead body for a moment, then threw it into the traffic. The others scattered, some back up the stairs into the cantiña, one of them ran into the street, another two across the street. People on the sidewalk ducked. Calhoun turned on two of them on the stairs. Pick him up. Go on. Pick up the fucking dolly. He had the gun out and was pointing it at them. His eyes were cloudy. He wiped the mess on his face with his sleeve.

They went that way down the street to the hotel, Calhoun, the gun out at his side, the pachucos holding the fat man. They rolled him up into the lobby of the Cuauhtémoc. “Call Miguel,” Calhoun said from the door. He looked at the night man who thought Calhoun was some kind of monster. “Call him right fucking now!”

 

They had Guzman leaned up against the bathroom door in room twelve, still strapped to the dolly.

“Well, Vincente?” Calhoun was sitting in the chair across from Castro. He was trying to explain. His jacket was crimson and gray on the right side. Every time Castro tried to get him to take the jacket off, Calhoun waved him away and said it would be all right. Castro could see the wound, could see it drizzle blood while they spoke.

“Amigo, if you don’t stop the bleeding, you are going to die. Is that what you want?” Castro said.

“Who is this man?” Guzman said. “Who is this man?” Calhoun turned and looked at the fat man.

“I haven’t introduced you two. Mr. Guzman, I want you to meet my good amigo, Mr. Castro.” Castro turned around and looked at the man in the dolly.

“Frank Guzman, I suspect,” Castro said.

“That’s right, all five hundred fucking pounds worth. King-size billionaire. What movie does this remind you of? Come on! How about King Kong?” Calhoun said. Castro smiled, but he was scared. It was the first time Calhoun had ever seen him scared.

“How about Orson Wells in Touch of Evil, huh? ‘Lay off the candy bars’… huh? Well, amigo, you don’t seem so happy to see me,” Calhoun said. “I’m very glad to see you… definitely,” Castro said. “Touch of Evil. Why didn’t I think of that… You’ve fucked up this time, amigo. That’s Frank Guzman.”

“I know, and we’ve got to get him to Palmdale. Right, fat man?”

“Yes,” Guzman said. “You get me to the American side. I give you lots of money. I promise…”

“Shut up,” Castro said. “Amigo, you’ve gone too far. You can’t get Guzman across. Every policeman in Tijuana is looking for him. Do you understand that? Judiciales from other states. Everyone. They are to kill him on sight and anyone with him. You can’t pay me enough money to cross him.”

“I pay you more fucking money than you ever seen,” the fat man said from the wall.

“I said shut up, you disgusting ton of shit. If we turn him over to the people that want him, we will have it made. I promise you. We can go on doing what we’ve been doing,” Castro said.

“Amigo, I don’t think you understand. I have to get the fat man over to Palmdale. I’m asking you to help me. There’s a broad waiting for the fat man in L.A. She’s got money… lots of it. I know where she is. You can have the money. She’s alone. Suitcases full of the shit. Just help me get the fat man to Palmdale and keep a little of the money for me, and I’ll tell you where she is.”

“Look at you, you’re sick,” Castro said, shaking his head. Calhoun raised his hand and waved him away. “Full-blown dengue fever. I called the doctor. And what about your shoulder?”

“That’s just a scratch. The broad, she’s fine… Your type, too. And I’m sure she hasn’t gotten laid in a long time.”

“I pay you both more money than you ever seen… More money than you could imagine.” Castro and Calhoun turned and looked at the ridiculous figure, the grotesque quality of his fat that hung between the straps, the way his chest heaved as he spoke, the short beard that had grown on his unctuous face. They both burst out laughing simultaneously.

“No!” Castro said. “Not Touch of Evil.”

“Then what?”

“I can’t think of anything I’ve ever seen that looks like that tub of shit, Vincente. You know something-you are crazy. Look at you. You’re bleeding to death… you have dengue fever, and you want me to die with you for some money supposedly in Los Angeles, held in trust by a pretty girl.”

“That’s right.”

“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re part Mexican.”

“I said I pay you more money than you’ve ever seen.” Guzman said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Calhoun said. “We got the picture, fat man. You’re going to make us rich.”

“He’s bleeding from his eyes,” the fat man said. “I saw him. Your friend is bleeding out of his damn eyes!”

“Dengue hemorhaggic fever,” Calhoun said out loud. “And I’ve been using a condom, too.”

“Very funny, amigo, very funny.

“Well, are you going to help me or not? I haven’t got all day,” Calhoun said.

“I can see that,” Castro said. It was the fat man’s time to laugh.

“When did you leave Guzman’s hotel?” Castro asked.

“Less than an hour ago.”

“Fat man, if I help my amigo, here, I expect to be compensated.”

“You’ll be shitting hundred dollar bills. Both of you. Shitting them,” Guzman said.

“Did you hear that, amigo? We are going to be shitting hundred dollar bills,” Castro said.

“Yeah, he’s some kind of poet,” Calhoun said. “Well, Miguel, are you in or out?” Castro ran his fingers around his narrow waist, tucking in his shirt carefully. He looked at the fat man, then at Calhoun.

“Where is this girl?”

“Well, if I tell you that, you might just decide to go to L.A. without me,” Calhoun said.

“Amigo, I’m your friend, but I’m not stupid. Where is she?”

“…The Beverly Wilshire, in one of the cabanas.”

“How much does she have? Tell the truth,” Castro said.

“I think maybe three, four million at least.”

“He’s going to leave you, stupid. You’re stupid,” the fat man yelled. He began gesticulating, the straps on the dolly holding him back. “Asshole. He won’t help you.” He flailed his arms, the straps of the dolly squeezing the fat into balloons.

“All right, but we get her to bring the money to Palmdale.” Castro went across the room and picked up the phone.

“Get me an American operator,” he said.

 

Calhoun was in the toilet throwing up. He was on his hands and knees. It was a horrible sound. Castro closed the cell phone and shot it into his holster.

“They have road blocks at every exit of Tijuana, amigo. They’re expecting me at headquarters.” Calhoun couldn’t hear him. Castro went over to the fat man. He was drinking a glass of water. The straps on the dolly had bled into his suit so that there was a slight pinkish run from the sweat and the straps. His fat hung around in bulges, looking like peas in a bag. Calhoun walked back into the room from the bathroom.

“If he dies, I’ll kill you myself and still get the money. Do you understand that?” Castro said.

Guzman nodded. “He isn’t going to die,” Guzman said. He kept drinking, pouring the water into his open little mouth. “I need something to eat. I’m very hungry,” Guzman said. “Could we somehow…”

You should be in a fucking zoo,” Castro said.

“Amigo, if you get me a sandwich, I’ll pay you a thousand dollars; no, ten thousand dollars.” Castro stepped back and shook his head. He had a bad feeling about it all. A very bad feeling. He turned around. Calhoun was standing in the doorway of the bathroom trying to hold himself up. He was sweating like he’d run a marathon. His mouth was dirty.

“What does Bette Davis say in that movie?” He wiped his mouth with a towel and looked at his friend. His eyes were bleeding. Castro had heard it described, but he’d never seen full-blown dengue hemorrhagic fever before. There was a fine red sweat on Calhoun’s face.

“…’fasten your seat belts… it’s going to be a bumpy ride’,” Castro said in a monotone, quietly. “I called headquarters, they’ve brought in people from Baja Sur, more judiciales. The roads are all blocked. They raided Guzman’s hotel.”

“Good, we don’t want to make it too easy on them, do we? I mean, you’d think he was a great big fat guy that stuck out like a sore thumb… What are you looking at, fat man?”

“Nothing, it’s just that I thought maybe, I was wondering if I could get something to eat. Before we go,” he said.

 

Don’t want to wait for the next chapter?
Click here to buy the book now.