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My life as a working stiff in the Mexican economy began during the third week of September, 2004. I pulled up to the front of Don Hector's massive home-cum-showroom-cum-warehouse complex just before 8am, completely ignorant as to what my exact duties were to be, how much I was to be paid for my labor, or even the exact time I should have showed up in the first place. I was to figure out the answers to these questions rather quickly, as it turned out: almost everything, almost nothing, and not a minute before 9:30am, so help me God.
Don Hector's compound was surrounded by an ornate concrete and garishly golden metal fence so massive that it would have taken a tank to storm the gates. I couldn't detect any signs of movement through the little vertical slats in the grillwork, so I rested my bicycle against the partition and sat down in the shade. I've never particularly enjoyed new social situations, and this especially included the first day at a new job. I had expected to feel some tension or nervousness, but instead I felt myself still drifting along in that warm current of emptiness that had settled upon me during my last trip to Monterrey. It wasn't that I didn't have anything to be afraid of, I ruminated. It was just that I no longer had any way of connecting with that fear. I could still sense it, like one can feel the power and immensity of the sea when standing on the beach at midnight; I just couldn't see it. This must be what someone dying of cancer feels, I thought, when they realize that nothing more can be done. "Fuck it" is not a viable survival strategy, but sometimes survival itself loses all allure. If I had known that this null-state was to be a more-or-less permanent condition for the rest of my life, I probably wouldn't have accepted it so easily.
The morning routine at the muebleria was fairly regular. At around 9:45, either the señora or one of the children would leave the house, walk across the large internal courtyard where the delivery trucks were parked, and enter the showroom. A few minutes later they would exit the gate and lift the metal shutters that protected the showroom's windows during the evening hours. On the morning of my first day of employment, it was Doña Maria who met me at the gate. She gave a small start when she finally noticed me, though her surprise quickly turned to pleasure as she identified me. Shakespeare once had one of his Richards (the Third of His Name, if I recall correctly) remark that "for by his face straight shall you know his heart." I've seldom known this to be the case (in fact, I've more often taken such naiveté to be a working definition for ignorance of the human condition), but with Hector's wife the bard might have been on to something. Maria was one of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met. From the very first she embraced me and it wasn't until years later that I came to the conclusion that she had probably always known that I was a bad apple. Some people believe in good and hope so much that they can carry you and all of your assorted cynicisms and neuroses along in their wake. I don't believe that the law of karma has any sort of ontological reality, but if I am wrong, she is going to have a really pleasant next life.
That morning she showed me which keys unlocked the metal shutters, and I spent a few minutes lifting these into their frames. I would manage this task twice a day, six days a week for the next ten months. By the time I had finished with this, Hector's youngest son, Raul, had descended from the house and was sitting on one of the couches near the entrance door, watching the news. Raul was a burly man roughly my age, with his father's large shoulders and scowl and his mother's kind eyes. He wasn't generally known as a morning person, but had shown up early that day to meet the odd American son of a local gangster. He seemed a little skeptical of my story, but overall he treated me with civility. Within a few hours I would figure out exactly why he didn't seem to mind my presence.
Don Hector arrived at around 10 o'clock. He wasn't big on pleasantries. Or compliments. In fact, he pretty much made up for these deficits with a surplus of orders and demands, with maybe a complaint or twelve tossed in for flavor. I had expected to be doing construction work, but I spent my first three hours as a tiny cog in the machine of the economy lugging furniture. Behind the storeroom sat a large warehouse of perhaps 25 by 35 by 20 meters. The z-axis is important in this description, because Hector made up for what he believed to be a shortage of space in the horizontal sense by stacking furniture on top of itself, sometimes as high as forty feet. The place was a literal mountain range of sofas, davenports, settees, desks, tables, wardrobes, and the like. It was pure chaos back there. I couldn't detect a single discernible organizing principle for why certain items were stacked together. I did, eventually, figure out a few basic laws that governed Hector's warehouse, after spending a few hours summiting its peaks and crags: if one needed item A, it could absolutely be counted upon to be directly underneath item B, which in turn could be counted upon to be directly underneath item C, which was under D, etc., etc., ad-backbreaking-infinitum. The number of items sitting on top of what you needed seemed to be in indirect proportion to the rapidity with which the customer needed the item, annoyingly. Initially Raul and I were Hector's worker ants, until he managed to disappear after about thirty minutes. That, I discovered, was Raul's superpower. It also explained why he wasn't more skeptical of my story: I was the new Raul, the new lightning rod for Hector's mercurial temper. As I worked, I could feel the jagged fragments of the bullet in my left arm tearing into the flesh. On a few occasions I almost asked for some help, but I swallowed my words. It felt good to hurt, somehow. Right. Justified. It still does.
We adjourned for lunch at around 1pm, and I biked over to a small taco joint down the road. After lunch, Hector directed me upstairs to the new showroom annex, where I laid tile. Occasionally I would be called down to help load various pieces of furniture onto Hector's large red Chevy truck, and then he and Raul would leave on a delivery. I ended the day a little after 7pm, exhausted and smelling of mortar, sweat, and muriatic acid.
That evening I trudged back to the Hammer's ranch to take a cold shower. The breeze was strong, so I sat in the hammock for an hour or so and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. One of the new kittens had taken a liking to me, a little gray furball of a thing, and it would sit happily on my stomach as I petted it. As I did so, it would knead my stomach with its claws, an odd behavior that I've never quite understood, not being a cat person. I had never been one to appreciate the simple life, and some part of me sat amused while the rest of me sat exhausted, watching the horizon darken.
The days progressed, each introducing me to another of Don Hector's tasks. The man owned seven homes in Cerralvo and two in Monterrey, and most of these were filled to the brim with furniture. It became obvious that Hector had converted me into a proxy for my "father" and intended to boss me around in a way he could never order around the Hammer without running the risk of being shot about a thousand times. There were many times when said something acerbic or even outright hostile, but the weight of history pressed my lips together. More than perhaps any other period during my sojourn south of the border, my first few weeks working for Don Hector seem a blur to me. Only three events stand out clearly to me, all of these years later.
The first took place at one of Hector's properties, a large home with a pool that the family simply labeled "La Alberca." This was a rambling Spanish colonial mess of a building, with weird Doric columns around the back patio and inappropriate Palladian windows. The backyard saved the place, though. This was a space of several very verdant acres and rolling hills. One section was covered in neat rows of pomegranate trees like something out of Italy. A ten foot concrete wall separated this oasis from the masses on the north and east sides of the property, save for a gap of roughly 120 feet at the far southeastern point. For some reason lost to the past, one of the previous owners had left this section of the partition open, save for 23 heavy wooden posts that ran in a line from the terminal end of the house down to the wall. Maybe there had once been a reason for running barbed wire down this section (to make it easier to herd animals?), but Hector wanted to completely enclose the grove and the posts had to be removed before construction could begin. Raul and I were tasked with removing these objects, so we loaded up one of Hector's trucks with a few shovels and picks. The patron seemed to think that we could finish this project in a day, so I also threw my bike in the bed of the truck so I could ride home from there.
It took Raul and I about twenty minutes to realize that this "simple assignment" was going to be a royal bitch. The soil was a sunbaked mixture of rocks, more rocks, and packed sand and gravel that seemed to be only marginally softer than concrete. It didn't help that the posts were fairly rotten, so you couldn't really yank on them or use them for leverage against the soil. It also didn't help that the guy who had sunk them was apparently trying to build something that would last until the End of Days, as he had set each of the 8-inch diameter posts in a 70 or 80 pound pool of concrete, which was itself buried nearly three feet into the ground. It took Raul and I almost 45 minutes just to get the first dislodged. We were about halfway through the second when Raul received a call from his father and had to leave to take care of something. He promised to return, but neither of us believed this.
By the time I had dragged the fourth post out of the way I was in a fine mood. My arm was hurting like a son-of-a-bitch and this pain was dragging my thoughts into the downward spiral that usually creeps up under such conditions. This was the beginning of my second week as an employee of Hector's, meaning that I had already been paid for my first six days, a paltry but industry standard 750 pesos. This, for the interested, was a buck and a quarter per hour at late 2004 exchange rates. Variations on the theme of "being too good for this shit" were so loud in my mind that I didn't notice my audience for several minutes.
La Alberca was located in a nicer part of the town, a place filled with high walls and very few stores. There hadn't been much in the way of foot traffic on these streets, and when I thought back on this event later that night, I couldn't figure out how my watcher had managed to get within thirty feet of me without my having seen or heard him. Nonetheless, there he was, standing silently near a gray metal door leading into one of the anonymous compounds, plastic sack in one hand and a rolled up newspaper in the other. The morning was turning blazing hot and it took me a moment to recognize him through the dusty haze. It was his severe wire-rim glasses more than anything else that facilitated the connection: Julian Volcaste, factotum, gun runner, chess genius, and heaven knew what else. I rested my shovel on the ground and leaned against it, returning the stare. Considering his penchant for uncomfortable silences, I decided I would eat each of these posts before I said anything first.
We sat like that for at least sixty seconds before he slowly ambled across the road. He was dressed in gray chinos and a blue button-down oxford, roughly the same old-man uniform as during our past meetings. The bag in his left hand was filled with produce, and it was obvious that he had just come from the market. He looked tired but alert. That was Julian in three words: tired but alert.
"Boy gringo," He spoke, finally, giving me an obvious close inspection.
"I never pictured you doing manual labor. I find humor distasteful, but no doubt there is a good joke lurking around somewhere in this scene. I shall leave others to make it. Does your father now own this land?"
I ignored his question. "That your place?" I asked, nodding towards the compound across the road, a Mediterranean-ish looking place mostly hidden behind tall trees.
He ignored my question as well. "Seems like rough work, bad for the back, and the hands, those soft hands of yours." I winced a little at this, but couldn't come up with anything witty to say before he went on. "You seemed more intelligent than this when we played the chess." He paused, staring at me over the lower rim of his glasses, obviously trying to bait me. I said nothing, letting him have his little moment. "I'm given to understand that you now live in a taller. If only such places had some sort of implement or device whose purpose was to lift heavy objects," he said, before pausing. "You know, like a car." At this he turned his back on me and walked across the road and disappeared behind his concrete barrier.
My initial feeling was one of anger. I may have been plenty stupid, but even I knew that you had to get under an object before you could use a car jack. Getting under the concrete anchors was precisely the problem, and if I could just do that at my whim I would have been done with the entire project by now. I threw the shovel down and went to sit in the shade. I sat down angry, and I would have remained that way for a very long time had I not had the strangest idea that Julian was watching me still from the darkened windows of the second story of his house. At first, I simply didn't want him to see me acting like a child, so I ratcheted down my emotions and simply sat there. I can't really describe the process that took place as I stared fixedly at the nearest post, because it happened very quickly and without discernible phases. It went something like this: what really angered me was that for some reason I wanted Julian to take an interest in me. I couldn't really say why. He just seemed more professional than anyone else I had met in Mexico, someone who always knew what he was about, wherever he was. I needed that skillset. He seemed like someone who could say a thousand things that I might not like but who wouldn't lie to me. He was competent, I decided, a quality that is the secular equivalent of what "holy" means to the theist, a status and quality that I have rarely encountered but for which I have searched all my life. It came to me that if this was a true description of Julian, he wouldn't have mocked me unless there was some purpose behind the words.
I sat staring at the nearest post for about ten minutes, working it out, deconstructing the problem. This is something I more or less do naturally now, but it was a first for me on that sweltering day, at least in this pure, systematic way. Then I got up, located my bicycle, and rode back to the taller. In twenty minutes I was back, my satchel bulging with its load. To the first post I clamped a large pipe wrench, roughly eight inches off the ground. Once secured, I placed a floor jack directly underneath the wrench's head. I couldn't believe how well this worked: the posts rose from the ground like magic, even with a massive load of concrete stubbornly attached to their bases. I was done with the entire undertaking by 1pm. As I was piling the posts up for removal, I glanced back across the road to Julian's place and found him again leaving his compound on foot. I smiled at him and pointed to the pile of poles stacked near the street. He didn't smile - I don't think he knew how - but he did point his index finger at his head, tapping it twice before walking away. Message received. For the first time in ages, I didn’t feel like a complete failure.
Both Raul and Hector seemed shocked when I pulled up in front of the muebleria and parked my bike outside. They were relaxing in the AC near the front of the Store. Hector looked at his watch, before remarking disapprovingly that it was not yet 6pm. I shrugged. "I'm done with the posts. What's next?" Now Raul looked really surprised, and Hector downright suspicious. So suspicious, in fact, that he took me and his son to the site, purportedly to load the infernal posts into the truck for disposal, but mostly to have a reason to fire Don Rogelio Rios's son for lying on the job. I couldn't see Hector's face from the bed of the truck when we pulled up to the pile of posts, but I can imagine it nicely. I never told them the trick.
This incident spurned the second major development of those days. The magically uprooted posts really impressed Raul, who saw himself as some sort of power lifter and toughie. That I had completed a task that he had given up on so rapidly caused him to reappraise me, and he soon invited me out with him, his girlfriend, and best friend Oswald in Monterrey that weekend. I had some doubts about going; I mean, I barely knew the guy, and he seemed a little indolent to me. I initially told him that I might have to help my dad with something that Sunday, but that I would get back with him in a few days. Raul didn’t give up, though, and we ended up playing some video games together after work a few days that week. It became quickly apparent that Raul and I had something very much in common: we were both foreigners in Cerralvo's cultural context. As we killed each other repeatedly in the twisted world of Unreal Tournament, he told me about having spent his high school years in Monterrey. The city, with all of its entertainments, varied cultures, liberal politics, and, frankly, its women, had ruined Raul for life in a small town. He didn’t say as much, but I could tell that he was feeling crushed between his desires to flee the monotony of Cerralvo and his familial duties. His sister Cynthia was really the only other postmodern individual in his immediate circle, and she had her own reasons for keeping Raul at arm’s length. I quickly realized that in me, Raul had visions of hanging out with a 21st Century Man, an American from the cosmopolitan mecca of Miami. It struck me all as very sad, both that he believed such a lie and that I had to live it. I eventually changed my mind about going to Monterrey. We drove down in his Nissan Tsuru, a vehicle which has no American analog but which is the approximate size of a telephone booth with wheels. Once in the city we met his girlfriend Esmerelda and his best friend Osvaldo, who was studying medicine at a local university. The bar they selected in the Barrio Antiguo would have felt perfectly at home in any metropolitan city in America. I'd seen it all before: the same juiced up, sleeved out degenerates manning the velvet ropes at the door; the same hipsters, all dressed alike, all simultaneously trying too hard not to look like they were trying at all, and, failing this, trying to look like they were only trying "ironically"; the same flawless chicks in the same vanishingly short skirts that would cease to interest you within a few hours at roughly the same time you were trying to put your clothes on quietly and get the hell out of dodge before you actually had to talk and discover that you had nothing in common save for a desire to be alone. I had swum in these seas before. Hell, I had worked in them for years. I probably could have popped behind the bar, twirled a few bottles, lit up a few gaudy 151-based shots with lurid names, and gotten a job instantly. Instead, I just felt tired, old. Still, for all that, there was a sort of comfort in the familiar. The crowd was young, urban; they spoke in a Spanish completely distinct from that in Cerralvo, and I discovered that I could understand them better because they used a vocabulary loaded with cognates. I didn't know it at the time, but the Barrio Antiguo sits very close to Tec de Monterrey, one of the better science, math, and engineering universities in the Hispanic world. These were intelligent youngsters, privileged, more oriented towards New York or Paris than Mexico City. I didn't want to be there, but I didn't want to be there less than anywhere else at the moment. In any case, my old friend Don Julio pretty much dropkicked my higher-level functions into abeyance. He's pretty good at such things.
We crashed out at one of Don Hector's houses in San Nicolas. The place was pretty nice, a small two-bedroom home of perhaps 1800 square feet. Cynthia had managed to escape for the weekend as well, apparently, because when we arrived she was there along with three of her girlfriends. She paid me about as much mind as she had the entire two weeks I had worked for her father, and I laughed internally at the Hammer's stupid theories. Cupid, he was not.
These Saturday night trips became a custom for me. Regardless of whether Raul was going or not, I would leave work around 5pm on Saturday, bike home, take a shower, and then walk to the bus station. Once in the city, I would select one of the cheap hotels in el centro, and then spend that night and all day Sunday first to map out the city in my mind and then, eventually, to understand it. I went to a lot of museums and theaters, whatever spot of culture I could find on the cheap. I figured out how to get into university libraries without a student ID. I reconnected with the web at small internet cafés, and listened to all sorts of presentations by professors and cranks in the public squares. I returned to the market again and again, learning to navigate its immensity. Within a few months, it felt like home.
Life settled into a steady rhythm. I started playing guitar a lot with Cynthia at night after work. She was far more skilled than I was, but I had the benefit of having been exposed to bands she had never heard of before. The full team of Hector's workers returned after their three week vacation, and we started a series of projects for the patron. I laid block. I used the ARC welder. I broke my back lugging couches and loveseats and mattresses. I still felt mostly numb, but I was at least tired at night, and that goes a long way towards consuming one's attention. Raul and I hung out a lot, and I noticed that he actually started working (a little) with the construction crew, just so we could talk. It wasn't a life, exactly, but it was something close.
The holiday of Halloween has been slowly invading the Republica for years. An American invention, it is seen by the elder generation as a crass and dishonorable assault on the holier occasions of All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Dia de los Muertos. This, of course, only fuels the younger generation to embrace it all the more strongly. Edgar was nuts over the concept of trick-or-treating, and he had convinced his father to have a party at the house on the 3lst. I think the Hammer was ambivalent about the idea of costumes and candy, but he could usually be counted on to enjoy having the family together to eat his food. The man kept three large refrigerators in his kitchen stocked with food just for such occasions. I wasn't even planning to attend, but Edgar kept bugging me about it so much that I finally relented. The issue was truly settled when I came across an absolutely pristine uniform for an ICE agent in the market in Monterrey. I couldn't help myself. The idea of a gringo illegal alien showing up to a Halloween party in Mexico in the costume of the American agency tasked with catching Mexican illegals was too much for me. It was like an irony supernova. I don't know, maybe the hipsters in Monterrey were rubbing off on me. I didn't know what to expect at the party. Some pumpkins, maybe, a few bowls of sweets. Some kids dressed up as animals, perhaps, or comic book characters. In deeply Catholic Mexico, I sort of figured that witches and devils would be out of the question. What I didn't expect was to see Rudy - the real Rudy, the legitimate son of the Hammer - pulling up to my taller shortly after I returned home from work. The last time I had seen him was the day five months before when he had pawned me off on his father. When he had left me in the hands of Smiley, a massive sociopath who got his name for cutting throats. When he had lied to both me and his father, I reminded myself instantly. The Hammer and I had discussed the possibility of seeing him again, but Gelo maintained that Rudy only really showed up in Mexico every few years, and only when he needed something from his father regarding the drug trade. Given the fact that he had deceived his father so thoroughly, Gelo opined that he didn't think we would be seeing his hide again for years. But there he was, smiling broadly at me, reaching his arms around my back to clap me on the shoulders, as if we were viejos camaradas. My mind churned with indecision, but I played the cards he dealt and welcomed him with as much warmth as I could fake. He patted my cheek with one hand, commenting on my tan.
"Just trying to blend in a bit. A few more months and I might be as brown as you."
"Don't count on it. You're a gavach hasta al tronco."
"Your pops know you are here?"
"Sure," he responded, taking a seat on one of Emilio's patio chairs. "How else would I know where to find you? Is he pissed off at you or something, making you live in a shithole like this?"
I shrugged. "It's not so bad. And I doubt he's any more angry at me than at you," I said, fishing for some sort of status check. Something about all of this seemed very...off...but I couldn't decide in what way. I mean, this was his family down here. So what if he came to see them?
"Aw, he's cool. He knew I was full of shit when I handed you off. But he really seems to like you for some reason, so it's all to the good. Anyways, vamos. I'm supposed to get you so we can start eating."
I excused myself and went to put on my ICE uniform. Rudy seemed a little drunk, maybe a little stoned, but, again, so what? It was a party. People do that. He didn't seem to understand the joke behind the uniform. He didn't even seem to notice it, a fact I found odd. As we drove over to the Rios compound I became increasingly convinced that he was coked up, and I allowed myself to believe that my feelings of uncertainty found their origin in my natural wariness around the inebriated. Even then, I wondered if I was deceiving myself.
The Hammer had gone all out. The pavilion in the center of the green space was hung with white and orange lights, and one of the large barbeque pits was fired up and smoking. Most of the extended family was in attendance, the children sporting cheap costumes. Princesses of various sorts seemed to be the popular choice for the girls, while the boys sported an assorted collection of pirates, vaqueros, and, oddly enough, two policemen. Edgar had found a plastic rat's mask somewhere, and had pinned a homemade tail to the back of his pants. He seemed in high cheer, as always. Even some of Gelo's goons had showed up, though I couldn't pick el Lobo or Smiley out of the crowd when we first arrived. The Hammer took one look at me and nearly fell down laughing. Seriously, I'd never seen him like this. Chuy and Abelardo had obviously spent some time in the States, because they got the joke as well. Edelmiru - whom I hadn't seen since the day I witnessed how the family shipped their dope - laughed nearly as hard as Gelo. He wiped a tear away and tossed me a cold Carta Blanca. Only the Mochaorejas didn't seem to understand the costume, or, if he did, he didn't react to it in any way. Aside from the Marines knocking down the front gate, he didn't seem to react too much of anything, at least not in what you could call a normal, human manner.
The strangest reaction of all came from Rudy. He seemed startled at first, his pug-like head swiveling from me to his still-bent-over-in-mirth father and back again. I wouldn't have thought much of this if it weren't so unexpected; of all of the people present, I figured he would have appreciated the gag, considering it was the two of us that had scammed our way past both the ICE and the INS in June. For the tiniest of flashes, something akin to anger flowing into hate ghosted across the muscles of his face. It was gone in a microsecond, but I had seen it. He quickly turned to me and smiled, as if he were finally in on the joke. I could tell he was just trying to decide if I had noticed his moment of honesty. I smiled back, not knowing what else to do.
Rudy soon drifted away, and the womenfolk began bringing container after container of food out from Gelo's kitchen. There was cabrito and chicken fajitas, chilaquiles, enchiladas, chilis rellenos, tamales, carnitas, taquitos de tripa, frijoles de loya, empanadas, marronitos, manuelos, champurrao, churros, and a dozen other dishes I couldn't pronounce then or remember now. It was epic, as these things go. The party started winding down around 10pm, when the little ones began drifting off to sleep in their mothers' laps. Some of the men hung around until well past midnight, talking, drinking, and listening to me play an old guitar of Edgar's, accompanied by Edelmiru on his accordion. I wasn't anywhere near his league, but he made me look decent. A little before 11pm Rudy got a call on his cellular and departed. I didn't see him go, but Chuy told me he had mentioned he was going to meet a girl. I was about ready to leave as well, and went in search for the keys to Edgar's truck. El Raton was sloppy drunk by this point, his mask hanging down the back of his neck and his tail long lost; there was no way I was letting him take me back to the taller. I figured I would steal his truck and he could hitch a ride with someone the next day to pick it up.
Gelo's house was dark when I approached it. I had never been inside by myself this late at night, and I hesitated a moment before entering. I found Gelo standing in front of one of his massive refrigerators, his face limned by the cool white light coming from inside. Despite his earlier cheer, he appeared a shrunken figure, sad, alone. He sensed my presence and looked over at me,
"Vengo para las llaves de la trocka de Edgar," I explained, feeling as if I had just interrupted something sacred.
"So," he said, closing the door. The room descended into complete darkness, until he flipped on a tiny lamp over the sink, "We were both wrong."
Despite my fatigue, I knew exactly what he was talking about. "He came back."
"Yes, the hijo de la gran chingada come back." He moved to a window, pulling the blind to one side so he could look out upon the pavilion and the small group of revelers that remained. "The two of you, you no are friends."
I couldn't tell if was a statement or a question, but it didn't really matter: in either case, the answer was the same.
"No," I admitted.
"No friends," he repeated. "There is no friends."
Something about the way he said this made it sound like a final judgment.
"I've had a few," I disagreed quietly. "I haven't known much love in this life, and when I found it I had a hard time understanding it. I usually handled it very poorly, but I did now it when it came."
He continued to stare out the window for so long I began to think about leaving.
"Love?" He said slowly. "No, there ees no love. Ees una fantasia, una ilusion."
I mulled this over for a few minutes. This was a side of Gelo that I had glimpsed before, but I seemed to be getting the full tour now. I wasn't sure why, what woke this up in him. If it had been anyone else, I would have thought he was drunk. I could still see him as I had found him, standing alone in the dark in front of his massive fridge. "If that was true, you would have spent, what? A thousand bucks? Two thousand? On all of that grub. You wouldn't have three stainless steel Viking Sub Zeros in your kitchen loaded with food. You wouldn’t have done the things you had to do to fill them," I added, softly.
"You see the mirage and believe you find the water."
"Edgar loves you. So does Pedro. Your nieces and nephews feel the same way."
"They don't even know me."
"They still love you unconditionally."
At this he turned to look at me, cocking his head slightly. "There is no unconditional love. Only unconditional need."
"Maybe. That explains why they are here. Why are you?"
"Obligations. Mi deber," his eyes flashed, and I saw the killer. "Why are you?"
I got the message. "Like I said, I'm looking for Edgar's keys."
"They are on the hooks."
"Okay, good night."
I walked to the wall by the door and found the set I was looking for. I was just about to get the hell out of there when he called me again. I turned in time to see him remove a large manila envelope from the top drawer of a roll-top desk in the corner. He handed this to me. I opened it, and out poured two more envelopes. Each contained a full identity package, one from America, the other from Mexico. The American set included a birth certificate, driver's license from the state of Oregon, and a passport. The Mexican envelope was filled with paperwork: passport, federal driver's license, IFE card, birth certificate, tax data, school records including a degree in economics from UNAM, and military service record. I whistled at these last two. I was, apparently, a former Captain in SEDENA.
"Not bad, eh, Rudy?" he asked, looking up at me.
"Rudy? He went that way," I pointed over my back. "Apparently my name is Alejandro. Or Conrad, depending on which wallet I have in my pocket."
"Yes, good. Now, buenas noches." He turned to walk towards the hallway leading to the bedrooms, disappearing before I could think of a way to thank him. I stood there for a moment, then turned to go.
Back in my taller, I spent an hour or so memorizing the facts pertaining to the new me. New mes. The economics a bit was a joke; what the hell did I know about any of that outside of what Paul Krugman whined about in his op-eds? The product looked top-notch, though, and I really had no doubts that they were completely, totally legit. The Mexican set had me listed as having double nationality, with an American mother. This would explain my physiognomy and my accent, at least. All in all, the legends were flawless. I felt safer than I had before, holding the envelope to my chest as I lay down on the cot. Safer, that is, until I thought about Rudy. I couldn't shake the thought that I had missed something, me and the Hammer both. Something obvious in hindsight, invisible to the present. His presence made me feel like it was already too late to save myself from something, that it had always been too late.
|Thomas Whitaker 999522|
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351
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