Día de los Muertos: Chapter 23


The Escondido Bar / 10:00 P.M.

No one knew where the riot started, exactly. By the time Calhoun drove down from El Cumbre, the streets around the city center were in chaos, bands of men smashing windows, people running out of businesses with television sets and pieces of furniture and boxes of sodas and Pampers. As in the Los Angeles riots, the police had retreated from the streets. Calhoun drove on, one hand on the horn, swerving, driving fast, the jeep with its big black bumper intimidating, the horn loud. The fat man lying in the back asked what was going on. You could hear the sirens and the fire alarms on individual businesses blaring as they drove down the hill toward downtown, toward the Plaza Tijuana with its holiday lights shooting up into the night sky. 

Miguel had called the station. Celeste wasn’t there. She hadn’t answered his calls at the Amigo either.

“What do you mean she’s gone?” Calhoun said. “I checked, señor. I went to the room myself.” The kid was standing in front of him at the bar. There were tourists in the back of the Escondido staring at the way Calhoun looked.

Calhoun had come at the busiest time through the front door and stood there for a moment, bleeding from the shoulder, his clothes dirty, the jeep parked out in front on the street, the music from the celebration on the plaza behind him. He’d stood there and looked for the kid. One of the waiters had rushed up to him and Calhoun had pushed him away.

“Get me the kid,” he’d said.

“Señor Vincente, you’re…”

“Get me the fucking kid.” He’d said it loud and people in the bar had turned around and stopped talking.

“I need the kid, that’s all… I’ll be in the bar.” He concentrated on the bar for a moment, its wood-paneled reddish hues, and the sound of people’s voices. He’d walked in amongst the whispers and walked up to the bar and leaned on it, his shoulder bleeding through the bandage Castro had made for him.

“Tecate,” Calhoun said. The bartender looked at him.

“Señor Vincent, good evening.”

“Good evening, Fernando.” Calhoun reached for his lighter but it wasn’t there. He took out his cigarettes and looked around the bar as he put one in his mouth. The bartender lit it for him.

“Tecate, Fernando. Por favor. There’s a riot… uptown in the hills,” Calhoun said matter-of-factly, exhaling. “They’ll be down here before too long, I imagine… Kick some tourist booty.”

“Si señor. ?Cómo no? Tecate.” The bartender had missed what he’d said. He was looking at the wound, at the way the blood had stained Calhoun’s white jacket. Calhoun picked tobacco out of his teeth and saw himself in the mirror. He hadn’t shaved; he noticed the red stain on the white coat, the dark brown of his beard and his eyes. The pupils were dilated from the vet’s injection. It made him look frightening. He smiled at himself. The bartender brought the Tecate and a glass. It was quiet now. People started talking again but were watching him.

“How are you this evening, Señor Vincente?” the bartender said carefully.

“Not bad, Fernando. How about you?” The bartender put both hands on the bar.

“Did you get in a fight, Señor Vincente?”

“You should see the other guy,” Calhoun said. He said it loudly and several people around him started to laugh. It was the kind of humor Mexicans liked.

“You are most definitely bleeding, señor.”

“I realize that, Fernando.”

“Would you like something for that, señor?” He was about to say yes when they brought in the kid. Calhoun told him he wanted him to take a taxi and go to the Amigo, to room twelve, and bring back the girl he found there. He gave the boy money for the cab ride. Then he turned around and waited. Someone came in and said that the riot had moved closer into town, that maybe it was getting dangerous.


“She’s not there, señor,” the kid said again. Calhoun looked at his watch. It was ten-fifteen. He had to meet Castro on the plaza in twenty minutes to pick up the Vascos.

“They said she checked out, señor.” Calhoun knelt down and looked into the boy’s eyes. He was scared of the way Calhoun looked at him.

“Boy, you’re lying.”

“No, señor. I’m not lying.”

“Yes, you are. You didn’t go to the hotel!” “Señor, they don’t know where she is.” Calhoun held the boy by the shoulders and looked into his eyes.

“What else?”

“The police were there, señor—gringos looking for you, señor. I heard them talking.” Calhoun started to shake him slowly at first and then hard, then suddenly stopped.

“I’m sorry, kid.”

“Señor, you are hurt.” The kid reached up and wiped the red sweat that was collecting on Calhoun’s face, wiped it on his own shirt, leaving a streak on the front of it. Calhoun looked at it, then stood up and walked toward the door. The Yaqui girl from the night before was standing on the sidewalk looking at him, caught in the light of the street, her hair shimmering. She was selling roses, had a bundle in her hand.

“See! You were wrong after all, I’m still alive.” He pushed past her out into the street. The jeep was parked on the plaza side where the taxis parked. He looked over at the Tres Estrellas office and saw a gang of PFN men smash the windows out of one of the big tourist bars. They were dragging American college boys out into the street. The dancers came out onto the sidewalk half-naked. Calhoun walked by them in the chaos. He had his forty-five out at his side; no one bothered him. A dancer grabbed him by the arm and he pushed her away; kept on walking up the sidewalk. Two old men came by. They were trying to move a new washing machine. They had it perched on a tricycle and were guiding it up the street. Cars honked at them to get out of the way. Calhoun stopped in front of the ticket office. The door was locked. He shook it. One of the old-fashioned blinds pulled over the door came up by itself. The ticket agent was standing behind the counter. Calhoun knocked on the door with the butt of his pistol, rapping the glass.

He held his finger up and made the “2” sign. “I need two tickets to Mexico City.” His face was bleeding. The ticket agent had never seen anything like it. The whole city had exploded and now people were bleeding from their eyes and ears, the man thought.

Calhoun turned around and leaned against the door. He was crying now. He screamed into the night. PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR. PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR. MY WIFE AND I NEED TWO TICKETS TO MEXICO CITY.. PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR… FOR GOD’S SAKE HELP ME.


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