Día de los Muertos: Chapter 25

Twenty-Five

The Plaza Tijuana / 10:25 P.M.

The boy had followed Calhoun across the street from the Escondido. Calhoun had sent him away twice. But the boy wouldn’t go. He’d wandered off into the plaza as if he were watching out for him. The plaza was still full of people and music. The mariachi band still played on the bandstand. It was pure Mexico for the musicians to ignore the riot. The holiday was reaching its drunken crescendo and no riot was going to stop it.Calhoun looked at the boy and waved him away. He kept scanning the street, expecting a taxi to pull up with the Vascos. They were late. It was 10:25 and they were supposed to be there already. He knew Miguel would be back with Celeste in a few moments and they would have to leave. It was too dangerous to stay any longer.

A car stopped. Calhoun watched Slaughter get out. His driver took off. He trotted across the street. “I have to go with you,” Slaughter said.

“What?”

“The fucking PFN are looking for me. They came to the Coco Loco looking for me.” Calhoun smiled. “They’re killing foreigners, Calhoun. Murdering them in the streets,” Slaughter said. “They have a list.” The Englishman looked scared. He looked at Calhoun, then out into the Avenida. The traffic had slowed, the rioters scaring the usual army of taxis away.

“There’s no room,” Calhoun said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there’s no room in the jeep.”

“We’ll make room,” Slaughter said.

“I don’t feel like it,” Calhoun said.

“You can leave Guzman.”

“No. He paid for his ticket,” Calhoun said. “I’ll pay you,” Slaughter said. “You can’t bloody well leave me here to die.” Slaughter looked down the street. He could see a band of milicias. They were cleaning out another tourist bar.

“Looks like you got a problem,” Calhoun said. The music started up on the bandstand. The solitary voice of the singer came over the loudspeakers in the trees. Slaughter looked down the street toward the men.

“Look, Vincente, we’re both white men. This is a city of-”

“Of what…? You helped make it, didn’t you? You and me. People like us.”

“I promise you. We’ll come back. As soon as this is over, we’ll be partners. I have money in San Diego. Just get me over the wire,” Slaughter said. The brassy sound of the mariachis came up over the loudspeakers above them.

“It doesn’t matter. You and I are finished. Part of the past. Something new is coming. We’re part of the past,” Calhoun said.

“What are you talking about? You’re crazy.”

“Am I? Look around you. Listen to the music. They’re not going to take it anymore. It’s changing. They’ve had enough of people like you and me,” Calhoun said. The spotlight from the plaza raced over his face.

“Fuck you. You have to take me,” Slaughter said.

 

They were coming up behind him and he hadn’t even seen them. Twelve or more men crossing the Avenida. They’d spotted the two foreigners and come running. Calhoun could see their brassards.

“Hey, it’s the crazy one.” It was the man from earlier on the stairs. The one with the bloody hands. He was the leader. Calhoun spit on the ground. Slaughter turned around.

“El Inglés,” the man said. “You son of a whore.”

“Calhoun, use your gun,” Slaughter said. The men laughed. One of them swung a club in the air for emphasis. The other men made a semicircle around Slaughter. The boy ran up and held Calhoun by the jacket, standing between him and the gang.

“He is one of us,” the boy said. The band began to play, the rhythm of the music speeding up.

“The gringo has many friends,” Bloody Hands said. The other men looked at the boy and smiled and made jokes.

“What friends do you have, Inglés?” Slaughter looked at the men surrounding him.

“I got money. I can pay you,” Slaughter said.

“Your money’s no good tonight,” Bloody Hands said. “Everything isn’t money.” He turned around. “El Inglés wants to pay us.”

“You’re all a bunch of niggers,” Slaughter said. The music rose up louder through the speakers. The men dragged Slaughter off toward the fountain at the center of the plaza. The boy hung onto Calhoun’s jacket while they did it. They beat the Englishman down in front of the fountain. When they were finished, Bloody Hands climbed in with him and held him under the water.

The jeep pulled up. Miguel was sweating. “She’s not there. She left hours ago.” Calhoun bent down and held the boy. He gave him a hug.

“I want you to be my father,” the boy said.

“Okay,” Calhoun said. “Relatives do things for each other, don’t they?”

“Yes,” the boy said. Calhoun pulled him back and looked at him. “I want you to go across the street now. I want you to go into the Escondido and I want you to stay there. Do that for me now.”

“No, you need me,” the boy said. “You need me to protect you.”

“I’m going to be all right. If you want me to be your father, do what I ask.” The boy looked at him, then down at the ground and nodded. “I’ll come back for you tonight. I promise. You and me and my friend will go to Mexico City together,” Calhoun said. “I promise you. Now go wait for me in the bar.”

“You promise me?” the boy said.

“I promise you. We leave tonight. Here are the tickets.” Calhoun took the tickets out of his pocket and handed them to the boy. The boy took the envelope.

“Okay, I’ll get ready. I don’t like Tijuana anyway,” the boy said.

“Me, either,” Calhoun said.

“Will you be my father?”

“Yes. I’ll be your father. Now go.”

“Amigo, you’ll be the worst father in the world,” Castro said. He had gotten out of his car and come and stood by the clock. “We’ll give them five minutes and then we have to go. The border patrol and DEA were at the motel. They are waiting for you,” Castro said. “Hey, amigo, I think this day, I scheduled too much. You were right.”

“I told you,” Calhoun said. “You always do too much.”

“We should have done just half of what we did,” Miguel said. He’d sat down on the bench, playing with his cowboy hat as he spoke. A cab pulled up. Calhoun saw Celeste’s red hair and ran toward the door. He was happy like he’d never been. In those few seconds, Calhoun felt as if all the bad luck had finally been changed. She looked at him from the back seat. He turned to Miguel.

“That’s her,” he said. “I knew she’d come.” And then Calhoun saw that Paloma Vasco was driving the cab, and it all changed.

 

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