Día de los Muertos: Chapter 24

Twenty-Four

Banco Popular / 10:00 P.M.

Banks in Mexico close late. The Vascos had counted on that to make the difference, but, being foreigners, they hadn’t counted on the holiday. Customers, who had come in to cash their checks before the weekend, were queued up at the counters. The bank was packed when they walked in the doors.

Now, five minutes later, the guard at the Banco Popular was dead. He was lying in the middle of the bank’s brightly lit lobby, his entire face cratered from the impact of the M16 bullet. Paloma Vasco had shot him. The guard, in plainclothes, had shot her mother as soon as they walked into the bank. He’d shot her mother in the stomach, and she was halfway in the bank and halfway outside, her body holding the doors open. Everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong. The general alarm had been pulled and was ringing loudly. Paloma was in charge, her father no longer able to cope. He was trying to pull his wife out of the door by her feet. He had worn a gray suit and he was on his knees crying and pulling her. He’d thrown down his gun and was oblivious.

“Get the money, Celeste,” Paloma screamed. “Get the fucking money!” Paloma reached over and slapped her in the face. “Get it now!” She could hear her father trying to get his wife out of the doorway. Paloma let go a burst of fire over his head. The glass in the doors exploded and they swung open, and her father dragged her mother back into the bank. She was bleeding from the stomach, the blood pouring out of her, spilling onto the clean white marble floor, oozing toward the customers who’d been made to lie down with their hands on their heads.

Celeste stepped over the red ropes of the queue and went from teller to teller with the bag they’d brought. The frightened young women looked at her.

“Just dollars,” Celeste said. She found her voice again and felt better now that Vasco had stopped screaming. “Just the dollars,” she said. “Quickly.” She lifted the M-16 up and brought the muzzle down on the marble counter at the first teller’s chest line. The alarm was so loud that she had to say it again. The teller hadn’t heard and was picking up peso notes and throwing them into the bag. Paloma came over the ropes and took the pesos out of the bag and threw them in the air and screamed.

“Sólamente dólares!” The teller, shaking, picked out the packages of dollars they had in the till and dropped them in the bag.

“You have to leave her, papá, she’s dead.” Vasco looked at his daughter, then at his wife leaning against the marble desk in the middle of the bank. “The police are coming, papá, we have to go. You have to leave her.” Paloma was pulling him by the coat. He looked at his daughter as if she were a stranger. Paloma Vasco had her M-16 slung in a fighting position so that she could maneuver it and at the same time pick up the valise she had dragged from the safe. They heard the sirens in the street. A crowd had gathered across the street and was looking at them. One of the red streetcars that came from downtown San Diego had come to a stop just across the street on the American side.

“Pick up the other bag, papá! Please! Pick up the bag! Papá, the police.” Paloma Vasco looked for a moment at her mother. She reached down and double-checked that there was no pulse. It was as if she had been born to be a soldier.

Paloma opened up on the police before they could get out of their car, the M-16 cutting through the windshield, shattering it. The bullets pocked the doors of the Mexican squad car, rocking the occupants. There was no going back now. One of the policemen crawled toward the streetcar. They ran out of the bank, Paloma in the lead, Celeste behind her and Vasco dragging his dead wife by the sleeve of her dress, her body bumping over the tracks.

Dia Spacer

“I want to thank you for opening the door,” Calhoun said.

“Yes, señor.”

“I need two tickets for the one o’clock to Mexico City,” Calhoun said.

“Señor, I’m afraid that is impossible, the bus is full.”

“No, you don’t understand… I need two tickets for that bus tonight!” Someone threw a rock through the window next door. They heard the crash and the laughter from the crowd.

“I’ll give you a thousand dollars for two tickets,” Calhoun said. He took a wad of bills he’d taken from Guzman and put them on the counter. “Two thousand.” The man watched Calhoun count out the money, his face tarnished by a terrible sweat. “Three thousand then… you see, it’s my girlfriend. We’re going to get married in Mexico City,” Calhoun said. “And I can’t disappoint her. We’re in love and we’re running away together,” he said. Calhoun stopped counting and looked at the man.

There were big white spotlights in the plaza. The city had moved them in for the festival. The big bars of light cut through the olive trees and shot light on the dark offices above the plaza. Calhoun walked through the revelers who hadn’t noticed the riot yet. He headed for Hughes’ office. He crossed the street, looked up and saw a light in the window and went up the stairs. A few men in cowboy hats ran down the stairs toward him. One of them looked at Calhoun’s face. For a moment they looked at each other. He was one of the waiters at the Escondido, and they recognized each other.

“Ignacio,” Calhoun said.

The man said nothing.

“¿Ignacio, qué pasa aquí?”

“El Facismo happens here, señor Vincente.” Calhoun put his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“I know you. What are you doing, Ignacio?”

“We’ve had enough,” he said. “For once in our lives we are going to have a voice. For once in our lives, all the people that your kind spit on everyday, are going to spit back.” The two looked at each other. It was an odd look, something passing between them as if they’d both understood each other in some way that wasn’t normal, yet profound.

“What are you talking about?”

“Tonight we take back what people like you have stolen from us. Tonight all over the country we are taking Mexico back from the gringos and the homosexuals and the Jews.” The other men had stopped on the stairs above them.

“Ignacio, shoot him. What are you fucking with him for? He’s a foreigner.” One of the men took a gun out from the small of his back.

“No. He’s all right. Leave him alone. I know this man. The police came to the restaurant. They’re looking for him. He’s one of us.” Ignacio said.

“Fuck him. He’s a foreigner, a Yankee. Let’s kill him,” the other one said. Calhoun looked up, could see that there was blood on the man’s hands who wanted to kill him. He was pointing a gun at him.

“I said leave him alone. I know this man. He’s one of us,” Ignacio said.

“Fuck you,” Calhoun said. “No, I’m not. Fuck all of you.”

“Ah, he’s fucking crazy, Ignacio.” The one at the top of the stairs put his gun back into his belt and they started off.

“Can’t you see the gringo’s crazy? Look at him,” another one of them said. “He’s fucking bleeding out of his ears.”

Calhoun grabbed the last man by the arm. The one that wanted to shoot him.

“I’m looking for Dr. Hughes. Is he here?” The others went on, their boots loud on the stairs. Someone laughed.

“Viva la muerte,” the one he stopped said. He tried to push him aside. But Calhoun was too strong. Calhoun let him go.

“The doctor, is he here?” There was more laughter in the stairwell and then they were gone back out onto the street. Calhoun turned and looked at the steps again; they seemed steeper than a moment ago.

Calhoun looked up at the top of the stairs. He heard voices, whispering voices. His mind was playing tricks on him. He was sure of it. He turned back toward the street, saw a group of men run by, wraiths of light and noise. He held the handrail and spoke to himself. He patted his pocket. He had the tickets now. He lit a match and looked at his watch. It was 10:30 exactly. In fifteen minutes he would have to be back on the plaza, ready to leave. He needed the doctor to fix his shoulder so he could drive.

Calhoun climbed the stairs, grabbing the balustrade as he went. He pulled himself up the dark passage. At the top there was a watery yellow light at the end of the hall in front of him. The doors were yellowish shapes and something else, impressions of darkness. Calhoun turned and felt his shoulder and walked toward where he knew the office was. It was late but he’d seen a light in the window and took a chance that maybe Hughes would be in, that he could fix his shoulder well enough for him to drive.

“It’s Vincent Calhoun.” Calhoun knocked on the door. There was no answer. “It’s Vincent Calhoun!” It was quiet in the hall, just the watery yellow light and the feel of the thick glass on the door. Calhoun put his head on the door and ran his fingers over the bumpy, cold, obscured glass.

He tried the doorknob, it opened. He swung the door in. The waiting room had been ransacked, all its furniture overturned. Something was scrawled on the wall in spray paint. The door to the consulting room swung open. Hughes looked at him. He was bleeding between his legs, the blood like satin in the half darkness. Hughes’ face was white.

“I need your help. I was stabbed and…” Calhoun said looking at him.

“Help?” Hughes said vacantly.

“Yes. I…”

“Help?” Hughes said again. Calhoun looked behind Hughes. The consulting room was dark, and then suddenly painted bright by the light from the plaza.

“What happened?” Calhoun said.

“They did something to me. I took a shot. I can’t feel anything, now,” Hughes said. He hadn’t moved. “I took a shot,” he said again.

Hughes was sitting on one of the couches in the dark. He could see the blood falling in waves over Hughes’ shoes. Calhoun reached for the light switch.

“No! Don’t!” Hughes screamed. “Please don’t. I’m going to die soon. I don’t want to see what they did.” Calhoun felt his hand on the switch.

“I could get someone.”

“No.”

“What happened?” Calhoun said. He came across the room. He saw Hughes sitting clearly now. The spotlights from the plaza swept by the window again, giving the room an eerie white dim glow.

“I’ll be dead in a few minutes,” Hughes said. “I can’t feel anything now. Nothing. Maybe… four minutes.” Calhoun walked close to where the doctor was sitting. His lap was full of blood. He looked up at him. “Why?… I didn’t even know them… There’s some alcohol in a blue bottle… in there… clean the wound with that…” Calhoun looked into the destroyed consulting room. “In the drawer… there’s a butterfly bandage in the drawer… inside, fourth down. On the left I think… clasp the wound together, pinch it.” Hughes was talking like a textbook now, his lips moving but not opening much. Calhoun looked at his lap. “Pinch the edges of the wound together, then apply the dressing so that…” Calhoun saw the razor slit in the pants, through to the white underwear, as the light from the plaza got brighter.

“Jesus Christ… They’ve… They’ve… Jesus Christ.” Hughes stopped talking. Calhoun waited for him as if he had simply had a lapse for a moment. Calhoun reached over and touched him. He was dead. Calhoun walked into the consulting room and switched on the light. They had smashed everything. The table and drawers were pulled open, gauze and blue paper strewn all over the floor He went to the bottle Hughes had described but it was broken, smashed. He saw something on the floor and stopped, he’d nearly stepped in it. He looked down on the floor and saw it. Saw what they’d cut from Hughes. He backed away, terrified by it. The bright spotlight flooded the room again, moved across the wall, across a crude yoke and arrows spray-painted on the wall.

Calhoun went to the window. He could see the lights below on the plaza swirling helter-skelter, touching the four corners of the plaza. In the lights he saw the rioters and the band still on the bandstand and revelers who didn’t realize what was happening and the little lights in the olive trees. He saw Castro’s car pull up in front of the Escondido, then make a U turn on the street and park in front of the old clock on the plaza. His cell phone rang.

“Where are you?” Castro said.

“Above you. In Hughes’ office.”

“Could he help you?”

“No. He’s dead.”

“Can you drive?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you better get down here, amigo.”

“Do you see them… the Vascos?”

“…No, not yet. We have no protection from my people. No one will help. The fat man is too hot. We go alone tonight.”

“I want you to do something,” Calhoun said.

“What?”

“Miguel, I want you to drive to the Amigo motel and check room twelve for a girl. Please. I’ll come down there and wait for the Vascos. It will only take you ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Please. If she’s in the room bring her here to me.”

“No.”

“Miguel, I’m in love with her. I’m leaving tonight for Mexico City with her. I’ll give you all the money if you just go look for her. I can’t go, the border patrol is looking for me.”

“God damn you son of a bitch.” The telephone was cut off. Calhoun watched Miguel’s car swerve out into the traffic. He heard the fires and the horn blare. It disappeared up the Avenida. Calhoun’s face was suddenly painted by the lights as they swept over the room.

 

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