Días Contados

(Numbered Days)

Chapters 21, 22, 23, & 24

Translated by Matthew Cornetta

Días Contados is a modern Spanish novel set in Madrid. I read it for the first time in 1992, while traveling in Spain. Its author, Juan Madrid, is famous throughout Spain for his incisive and sensitive journalism which has captured the spirit of change in his country since the death of Franco. Indeed Spain is a country of great change, especially in the changes that have taken place since "la movida" in the late Seventies up through the mid Eighties. Días Contados is particularly graphic in capturing a glimpse of life in Madrid at the end of "la movida." Here is our eighth installment.

—Matthew Cornetta, Translator.

Chapter 21

The four of them walked between the sets of bright yellow barricades. They kept close together and headed toward the lights. Huge waves of people rolled in from all directions, but only those who had already paid were allowed to enter. Charo clung to Antonio’s arm. She was radiant—her eyes glittering, as they seemed to reflect an unraveling ribbon of light. Vanesa jerked and bounced to the rhythm of the band music which flooded the entire area.

The show began with the stage suddenly emerging like the platform of a submarine. Everywhere it bristled with huge loudspeakers and high powered spotlights... Five musicians seemed to convulse on stage as they played their various instruments. A concentrated mass of heads and arms suddenly roared with enthusiasm, here and there re-echoing the music in thunderous choruses... From time to time, mounted police officers would skirt along the fringes—dark and silent and menacing on their stolid horses.

Many fans chose to sit on the ground, smoke their hash and drink their beers. There were still others, who moved among the crowd armed with little baskets of sandwiches and beer for sale. The ushers and security people could be distinguished by the bright yellow bands on their forearms. Their number one job was to make sure nobody entered without paying. Antonio did his best to mix and mesh with the majority—he moved his arms and mindlessly jived to the music. "Waaaa—ooh!" Somebody by his side shouted. "Yeahhh!... This is the balls—fuckin’ awesome!" Added Vanesa. "We gotta find some caballo!" howled Lisardo. "Let’s find someone who’ll sell us some... Then we can go see the bass player... He’s my friend—bitchin’, eh?" He nudged Antonio with his elbow. "Awesome." Antonio replied.

Charo remained fastened to Antonio’s arm, and though they were being pushed and jostled from all sides, she never allowed him to break free. "Eh!" shouted Vanesa in Charo’s ear—"The music’s busting my ear drums! C’mon girl, let’s get the caballo already!" "I don’t feel like shooting up." Charo replied. "Cut the shit, Charo, ‘cause you’ll just complicate things." "Well, go then, bitch. Go wherever the fuck you want! I’ll stay here with Antonio." "I brought the money!" Lisardo howled. "That’s for the concert," Charo explained—"and then how’ll we get in?? Looks to me like it’s pretty difficult to jump the line without paying." Lisardo and Vanesa pulled away and lost themselves in the multitude... Charo stared at the ground in thought. Alone. After a short while she went after them. In the fringes of the tree line which offset the concert area, there was a hardened young woman, wearing a tee-shirt and no bra. With her black teeth, she worked over a piece of gum. "Eh, have you seen Luís?" She asked Antonio. Antonio explained to her that he did not know any Luís. But she didn’t seem to hear or want to hear, and she repeated the question. Antonio noticed that her breasts were somewhat saggy. "Anyway, you got any cigarettes?" Antonio tried to explain that he wasn’t really a smoker and that the little he had.... But the woman was washed away in the flood of people... A deranged looking young man shuffled by, scraping his large boots across the concrete path. He was brandishing a large baseball bat. Antonio noticed a yellow arm band sewn to his sleeve. He decided he would roam close to the yellow banded enforcer, who batted down all those who tried to enter the fair grounds without paying.

The entire area was blanketed with empty beer bottles, strewn papers, and residues of half eaten food. Suddenly, Charo found herself behind Antonio. Still, she had to shout for his attention. "Eh! Eh, Antonio!... C’mon... We’re gonna shoot up over there in the trees... You coming or what?... Lisardo scored some good stuff and we have fresh needles... We...we just bought them." Charo’s face was glowing in anticipation—stray hairs hung tenderly in her eyes... "You already... You know I..." started Antonio fitfully.... "Uhh, one shot was enough for me." Charo only shouted louder, this time directly in his ear— "If you want you can have the first shot!" "Save it. I’m gonna go for a walk." "Well... What a concert, eh? They’re really on tonight... Lisardo said we could probably get in for free—he’s already talked to the bass player, I think. Don’t you see him up there?" Charo pointed in the direction of the stage—to the origin of all the noise. And all the light! ...The crackling glimmer which reflected through the trees and bounced off the night sky like the reflection of a vast forest fire. But Antonio was unable to see anything—scarcely could he make out the band members who only appeared as miniature figurines, darting ceaselessly to and fro. There was no way to distinguish one from the other. Antonio simply nodded, mumbling things like, "fine" and "sure". He told Charo that he would wait there, however, because he needed to rest before he got into all that partying. "Well, we’ll be in the trees," replied Charo, throwing her arm toward the left. "Please don’t run off ‘cause we have to talk..."

There was a wandering man, seemed to pick up Antonio’s scent. As he slowly approached, Antonio noticed his long ponytail, held in place by an imitation ivory barrette—and his mustache was striking too—handlebarred like Salvador Dalí’s. He wore an embroidered vest which hung loosely over his naked, gaunt torso and from his neck dangled various collars and beads. "Eh, eh, man...you man! Aren’t you Colina? Your name’s Ricardo Colina, isn’t it?" He began to unravel a blanket, filled with bracelets, pendants, and leather braided chokers. Antonio drew closer— "And you’re Balmaseda, right? Except that you grew a ponytail, no?... So that nobody can recognize you, right?"

The stranger laughed, flashing a mouthful of large yellow teeth—"So what are you doing around here? Where’s your camera, man?... Aren’t you working?... I, for one, gave that horseshit up years ago..." "Oh, I’m just checking out the lay of the land... well... for the moment anyway. Incidentally, I’m not Ricardo Colina." "Don’t sweat it, man. I was just trying to let you know that yours is a familiar face... Really!... Anyhow, my name isn’t Balmaseda... So what are you doing in these parts?" "Like I said, I’m just checking things out." The guy was puffing on a cigar-sized joint which gave off a lightly acidic aroma. He passed it to Antonio who, in turn, took a couple of deep drags. "I grow it myself. Pretty good, eh?" "It’s... Awesome." The stranger laughed again as Antonio passed back the joint. "As I was saying, yours is a face I know... Lately I’ve been selling these trinkets. Gloria and I make them. Gloria’s American... You know... a ‘New York woman’. Well anyway, she’s the balls! ...Just stick around and maybe you’ll get to meet her. She must be around here somewhere because she likes this band. Hey, these guys are awesome, don’t you think?" "Yeah, they’re all right."

"Gloria’s been in film—Gloria’s the girl I was telling you about. I’m still teaching her to make bracelets and when she gets it, she’s gonna be a real pro. I can already see she’s got all the makings of an artist; but still this trinket business takes a while to learn..." He passed Antonio the joint yet another time. Antonio dragged deep, his head feeling as if it were wrapped in a wet quilt... The stranger continued: "You remember Mercedes, my old girlfriend?" Antonio shook his head. "Well now, she could make bracelets... She even taught me a thing or two. God she was something else when she got her fingers moving!" "Where’s Mercedes now?" asked Antonio. "She’s dead—happened just last year... You hear me?... just last year... You see, she was a real artist—a real transcendental type. Anyhow, she liked to dance. She said that it helped her to achieve some sort of trance. Well, one night she was dancing out on the balcony—something about soaking in the essences of the night, the cosmic rays, you know?... Well, she was wearing this long, long dress and they said she must have caught it on fire with a joint or cigarette or something. I mean I was sleeping in my room, you know?... I didn’t know what the hell was going on... The music must have been turned up full—at least, that’s what I would guess... Anyway the next thing I know, the firemen are there, pulling me out of my bed... Oh man! You should’ve seen her! She was turned into a little pile of charcoal. I don’t know... She kinda looked like a little black monkey—unreal! I never thought a person could shrink so much... Ughhh!! And you couldn’t even recognize her face, her body...nothing... And me, in the room next door—just flopped out in bed with all this going on... I didn’t even hear a scream and, believe me, she must have been screaming... Just imagine!... Well anyway, it’s been real seeing you again, Ricardo—oh, I almost forgot! You remember Lucas?"

Antonio shook his head, but the talkative stranger continued: "Yeah you do. He was the editor in chief of ‘Cambio 16’. You must remember him." "I only did one job for ‘Cambio’. I think they used two or three of my photos." "Whatever... Ciao, man! We’ll catch each other another time." Antonio expressed the same, saying ‘ciao’ and telling him yes, they’d see each other the next time around...

In the large wooded area surrounding the park, Antonio caught sight of a woman who lowered her pants and proceeded to urinate in the dark shade of a large tree. He thought on not having brought along his Leica... Now he was missing out on a stupendous photograph... Her buttocks were fleshy and they glowed in the white light which reflected from the stage. When the girl had finished, she suddenly looked up and realized that he had been watching her. She smiled and stuck her tongue out suggestively. Then suddenly, she darted off. Antonio remembered how back in high school he had seen one of his female friends, Ita, urinating on the grounds. He recalled that she was so disturbed, that months went by before she would even speak to him.

* :* * "I’ve been wanting to tell you something, Antonio, but I’ve been too embarrassed. You know, we haven’t known each other very long but..." "What?... what?... Tell me." "You think you’d like to live with Vanesa and me?" "Why Vanesa too?" "Hey! Vanesa and me are like sisters. In reform school we swore an oath that we would never separate... But if you come in... I swear that I’ll stop shooting up." "Do I have to give you an answer right now?" "No... But if the three of us are going to Morocco together, then I have to be your only girl—understood?" "I already have a wife...well... an ex wife, sort of... We separated last year. An amicable separation." "Tell me about your wife, Antonio." "My ex? What could you possibly want to know about my ex?" "I don’t know... Anything, like, when did you meet?"

"We met at college... We were both in our first year...yeah...both of us were studying fine arts... Anyway, pretty soon we were married and I dropped out. Truth is, I was never motivated to go to college in the first place.And then there I was, married and enrolling again—this time in the school of journalism. Again I dropped out before the first year was through. My wife went on in fine arts for two or three years—I don’t remember exactly. Anyhow, once in a while she talks about finishing it up and getting her degree..." "Hey! C’mon, c’mon—hurry!" Charo suddenly shouted. She pulled him by the elbow and all Antonio could do was squeeze his forehead in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the hash he had been smoking. Again he began to suffer the shivers. "There!!... There’s Fátima... Fátimaaa!!" Charo let go of Antonio’s elbow and ran toward a couple. They were leaning against a tree and smoking up. Nearby there was a large wooden table—the typical kind used by happy families on Sunday picnics. Charo practically collided with her girlfriend, as the both of them were a bit over enthusiastic about greeting each other. They hugged tightly while happily jumping to and fro. Fátima’s boyfriend looked almost adoloscent, his blushing face covered with pimples.

"Oh, oh, oh, ooooh..." Howled the two girls... Presently they began to settle down and talk in low voices—the hushed murmur occasionally pierced by a sharp chuckle. Antonio drew closer in order to catch an earful... "People are assholes, ya know?... I’ve had one letdown after another. Everybody is ‘me, me, me... I’m up to my tits in egotists, ya know?... I’m thinking about getting away to Las Alpujarras—to a little town called El Bubión—really pretty—I think I’m gonna start making pottery... Anyway, I think I’d like it." "Charo peppered her cheeks with kisses." "Sweetie!... beautiful sweetie...oh Fátima, you’re so beautiful!" "And you, Charo? How’ve you been?" "Right now I’ve got a little room overlooking la plaza del Dos de Mayo. It’s pretty small but it’s alright. It’s everything I need in a little box." "And Vanesa?..."

"Typical Vanesa—you know—She’s got a boyfriend but she doesn’t love him. That’s the way she is." "Well, I’ve given up everything. I’ve had enough of getting jerked around...frying my brain...and going nowhere. I’m through with men too." She pointed to the kid by her side. "He knows lot’s about the music scene; he’s a disc jockey... Hey you! Isn’t that right?" The kid shrugged his shoulders, commenting: "They have a little of the Liverpool sound. At least that’s what I would guess... What are you guys into?" "Rock, Flamenco..." Fátima responded, paying more attention to his comment than his question. She then added: "In any case, Ring...ring...Talk To Me, besides having a Liverpool influence, has a lot of Ketama and Pata Negra—Jesus! Aren’t you listening to the music?" "Whooo hoo hooo!" Shouted the pimply faced kid—"this is some good shit."

On that note, Fátima flashed him a derogatory look... "Right now," Charo continued, "I have a little bit of a problem. Alfredo’s been bumped up to a grade three and they’ve transferred him to Carabanchel but... Ah! But we have a little party tomorrow—this one’s a real one—at least that’s what I heard... You remember that party last year?... Remember?... with Vanesa and Pili...? Christ, we had a ball!" Antonio drew closer still... A group of teenagers passed by, shouting and bullshitting—all of them playing air guitars.....

* * * There were two of them holding the kid down. He was down all right—fighting for his every breath—blood on his pants, blood smeared on his face—he had the eyes of a madman... ...There was a third guy, squared off, standing—the better to lay his boots into chests and stomachs. Each time he would back off two or three paces, take aim, and let fly—poom! And the two holding the kid down had no qualms about adding their own little seasoning of slaps and punches to the head. ...Nearby, a park employee watched in amused silence... ...Vanesa embraced Lisardo from behind, rubbing herself up and down his back... "Give him the bat—the bat, you imbecile!!" shouted one of the guys holding the kid down—"Kill him, for Christ’s fuckin’ sake!" The other guy holding him down could only shout, "That’s for my sister, you fuck, for my sister!" He forced his fingers into the kid’s eye sockets. ...Someone commented, "This is how assholes learn their lesson..."

The kid was trapped and the beating went on. His helpless, agonizing writhing was just cruel enough to sustain a crowd of onlookers.

* * *

Again they passed the pony tailed guy who was selling trinkets. "Eh, Ricardo, Ricardo! You wanna buy a bracelet? Some herb, eh? I grow it myself." Antonio shook his head no. Charo dragged on his arm, pulling like she wanted something. "Let’s not wait ‘til the end; let’s go now," she insisted. "Anyway, later on the subway’ll be closed... Hey...you know that guy?..." She pointed to the trinket seller. "He used to be a pretty good journalist, but I can’t recall his name." Charo stopped and, turning Antonio around, she kissed him hard on the mouth— "I’m dying to have you inside me, Antonio... Let’s go... Let’s go right now..."

Chapter 22
After they had made love, Charo and Antonio remained naked together in the bed. Subtle beams of light emanated from the street lamps on the plaza. The pale light diffused through the thick city air, reflecting through the skylight and projecting a dull, window shaped glow on Charo’s sweat glistened stomach. Antonio gently caressed her.

"See, Antonio? Didn’t I tell you that all I need is a little rodding and then I’m over the drugs? But I better stop talking about it—ha, ha—or else we’ll be doing it again. Ahhh.... I’ve gone a whole year without sex, Antonio. Did it show? Well, it’s been even more than a year... God, what an urge I had!"

She took Antonio’s face between her hands and inserted her tongue in his mouth—the saliva thick and syrupy—Antonio moaning, pressing closer to her... "Ahh...wha...whatta treat...! Gaaa agg gaa... How good you feel!..." Charo babbled. "Let me get a good look at you," demanded Antonio, an impulsive, lusty rasp at the bottom of his voice. "Mmmm... yeah, yeah, look me all over.... Look what I can do for you..." She began to massage her sex, her thighs, her belly... She kneaded her breasts and tweaked her nipples... Antonio buried his face between her legs, entered his tongue amidst her darting little fingers... "Ay, ay ay!... I ca... I can’t go any...Bite me there...go on...there, there... that’s it.. spread it with your fingers...Look at it... Rub your tongue up an... stick your tongue in—more, more...to the bottom...aaa... you like to look at it, don’t you?... ooh, you do! Well, suck it then, honey... Suck it slowly, very slowly and never stop... Oooh, like that, like that...like you wanna eat it all up... isn’t it delicious, sweetie?"

Vanesa suddenly entered like a whirlwind; but she was sharply halted at the sight of Charo and Antonio. Her cheeks moistened with tears. Charo sat up. "Eh!... What happened?... Weren’t you supposed to be with Lisardo?" Vanesa kicked a chair, knocking it to the floor... "Where’s the fuckin’ pills! C’mon, hurry it up—tell me, where the fuck are they!?" Charo jumped from the bed and, rushing to Vanesa, she embraced her. Vanesa buried her head in Charo’s little shoulder—her sobs growing louder. "Okay...okay, sweetheart. Tell me what’s happened." "Just get me the Valium. I want to sleep." "I’ll get them...I’ll get them...but please tell me what’s going on—c’mon Vanesa, you’re starting to scare me, sweetie." Charo rummaged through the clothes on the floor. Finding her wrinkled mini-skirt, she searched out the pockets. She took out a little bottle of sleeping pills and passed them to Vanesa. "Okay?... Now tell me what happened already."

Vanesa opened the bottle and immediately swallowed three pills... "Lisardo... What an asshole! We were in the ‘Laughing Cow’ with some friends—you know—Luisa, Fernán, Pili... and two or three more. Everything was really cool—I mean really marvi, you know?... Fernán telling one joke after another... Well, you know how he is... Pili had some choice herb—I mean this stuff was top quality... And somebody else—I don’t remember who—brought some coke that was so good it tasted like candy..." Vanesa paused, as she suddenly felt the stare of Antonio—who by this time was sitting up in be and listening attentively— "Then what," stammered Charo, tugging her arm, "what happened next??... Why are you like this now?... C’mon, tell us what happened to you." Vanesa kept her eyes on Antonio as if she were trying to recognize him... The silent seconds passed like centuries... Presently she looked back to Charo—

"Ahh...it was nothing. I went to pee and when I came back, they were all gone. The whole lot! They ditched me..." Vanesa stripped down to her panties. Antonio couldn’t help but notice her breasts, small and pointy, with pink nipples that stood hard and erect. "Let’s go to bed now, sweetheart," Charo beckoned, "c’mon." The two of them nestled under the covers. Vanesa pressed her face into Charo’s shoulder while passing her hand across her stomach. Meanwhile, Antonio sidled over to the extreme edge of the bed. "I’m freezing," whined Vanesa, as she twined a leg around Charo. "You’ll be asleep soon, and don’t worry about being ditched... You forget about them, honey; you’re better off here, sleeping with me..." Vanesa purred—a slender thread of saliva flickering from the corner of her mouth.

"Eh, Pili told me she’s seen Alfredo... He’s got the release program or something and he takes the day shift." "Pili told you this? Are you sure, Vanesa??" "Yes, yes I’m sure. He’s got the release program and...Oh! And he’s working for Ibraín." Charo sat up suddenly, leaving Vanesa’s head to flop down on the pillow—"Wait a second, Vanesa... Alfredo’s working for Ibraín? This is true...?" "Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m telling you. He works for him and Ibraín gives him...let’s say, plenty—something like one gram out of each ten... Your Alfredo is rich, Charo, rich!" Vanesa attempted a smile but she couldn’t make it. Suddenly, the whites of her eyes showed, mascara stained her half closed eyelids... She was asleep, saliva now running down her chin. Charo’s eyes welled with moisture and tears trickled across her cheeks. She pulled the covers over her head and reclined again. She dried her face with the dirty fringe of the sheet. She crammed her head against the wall, casting a forlorn gaze at the cracked ceiling. There followed a prolonged silence. Antonio touched her arm which prompted her to ask: "What...? What’s been the biggest downer you’ve had in your life, Antonio?" He didn’t respond. "I think this is mine... I already knew that Alfredo was through with me, ya know? But women always think these things. Now it’s real. It’s happened, and when a woman finally knows for sure that her husband is lost...well..." "I’ve had my share of being left in the cold, and..." Antonio paused, remaining pensive...

"Men only want women for the sex. But we want some tenderness, some recognition, too. Is a little tenderness that hard? Ughh! You’re all assholes." "It’s not that simple." "I love you Antonio. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have slept with you." "Listen Charo. I was telling you that I’ve had my shares of bumps and bruises... I remember when I was only eight or nine years old, me and a couple a school mates went down to la calle Espoz y Mina to play foozeball in one of the arcades. I think the place was called Billares Victoria. Anyway, somehow one of the metal bars on the game got broken... Jesus! We nearly pissed our pants and then all of a sudden we were running because the manager started shouting from the back. My friends got away, but he caught me from behind and slapped me nice, back and forth the face. Then, when he had me good and scared and crying, he told me that he was going to hold me until my father came down and paid to fix the stupid game. I’ll never forget that guy, Charo—dirty, unshaven, bow legged—and he had a big black change purse attached to his belt..."

"My aunt Adela, she was my—let me see—my mother’s sister—no—she was my Uncle Ernesto’s wife. Ernesto was a fisherman just like my father... Well, aunt Adela once gave me a beautiful pink purse—oh! It was so pretty! I liked it so much, I took it everywhere. But one day my mother took it away to punish me for cutting school and going down to the river with my friends. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much—so much I thought I was going to die... Still, I suffered worse as I got older. ...Right after Vanesa and me escaped from the juvenile court, we met this guy—this kid. His name was Pablo. He was nice—really good looking—and he liked to call me his girlfriend... He was so sweet, the poor thing. Anyway, one night we saw him out on la plaza de Santa Ana—I mean, literally sprawled out on the bricks and bleeding to death. Somebody had cut a huge whole in his chest and still Pablo was able to drag himself out to the middle of the plaza. I don’t like the sight of blood, Antonio, it frightens me. Uggh! When I first started having my period, I got so scared. I thought I was wounded or something and I would cry. Jesus, how stupid! I thought I was sick or dying...I don’t know. Anyway, thank God I almost never have my period anymore... It’s probably ‘cause I shoot up. Woman who shoot up hate their periods in general, ya know? And I’m not really a junkie or anything..."

Vanesa moaned and murmured in her sleep. She instinctively reached for Charo and, once she felt her, she edged closer, while passing her hand across Charo’s breasts. "...All I can say is, what happened to me down at the arcade was the biggest scare I ever had in my life—a real downer. I mean it—I just can’t think of a time when I ever felt worse. Ughh! That guy shut me up in a dark storage room, filled with junk. You can imagine—broken tables, chairs...heaps of shit. Out of pure fright I went and pissed my pants. Eh, have you ever been so scared that you pissed your pants, Charo? Oh, it’s the worst! You can’t help it; it just comes and comes and it runs down your legs... There’s nothing you can do; how could you? You lose all physical control because you’re shaking in terror—because you’re trapped and cornered—terrorized and reduced to a pile of shit. That’s how that fuckin’ asshole manager kept me—and for at least two hours, when my father finally came. But... Do you know why I waited so long? Because my father took his time on purpose—said he wanted to teach me a lesson! Like I needed a lesson after pissing my pants in a filthy, dark cell! And worse! The whole time I had been thinking how my good, kind father was coming to save me—to rescue me. I can’t even describe to you how let down I felt about him! It’s curious how children are... Children are the... What I’m trying to say is that children can perceive much more than older people."

"Ughh... Alfredo never loved me, no no, never... They said that he’s been on the open program or whatever it’s called. The bottom line is that he’s had the opportunity to come and visit me, and he hasn’t taken it. I mean just even to drop by— he could’ve at least done that. That’s what I think anyway..." "He really let me down, my father did... Then I realized that he was a bastard—a mean minded man, a simpleton—oh... and on top of all that, he didn’t love me. No, I didn’t matter to him at all. Isn’t it funny, Charo, how smart children can be?" "I’ve never been smart. I just fall in love with everybody." Antonio sat up, as he saw that Charo was falling asleep. Vanesa still clung to Charo, sobbing and shivering in a half sleep. "Charo, eh, Charo." He beckoned. He shook her and she murmured something; then she snuggled closer to Vanesa. He stripped the covers off of them. He saw Vanesa’s dirty panties, sweat soaked and sticking tightly to her buttocks. Charo’s pubic hair ran wild, creeping out of her panties and vining over her stomach and groin. He got out of bed and retrieved the Leica from his pants’ pocket. He adjusted the lens and switched on the ceiling light. Then he backed off a few paces... Clic, clic, clic...

He stepped up on the bed, taking overhead shots until the entire roll of film ran out. Afterwards, he bent down and stroked Vanesa’s cold white buttocks. Soon he had his finger deep inside of Charo. He moved it round—in and out—listening intently to the squishing sound it made...

Chapter 23
The last of the bar crowd departed with the come of daylight. Rosa leaned against the cash register, smoking a cigarette. She had just finished recording the receipts in her spiral notebook. The door squeaked open and in came Alfredo. He pulled up a stool at the counter. "Milking the till, Rosi? I’m sure you got a fat, little business going—all you bartenders do." He reached across the counter and pinched Rosa’s cheek. She pulled away, shouting— "Don’t you ever fuckin’ touch me again! I don’t like to be touched, got it!" She angrily stamped out her cigarette and kicked it under the counter.

"Don’t pull that act with me, little girl. I’m on your side, okay? Seriously, I’m fascinated by business—so tell me—how much do you skim off the top?" He winked at her—"Just for curiosity’s sake. I bet you got a nice nest egg goin’ for when you get old, eh? Ahh... I shoulda been a bartender... Anyhow, when I get my own pub, you can be sure nobody’s stealing from me. I know all your tricks. That’s right, Rosi, inside of a few months I’m gonna have my own pub... Already I’ve seen this gorgeous little place for sale in la calle Amaniel. I’ll give it a quick once over and be open for business two days after I buy it. Looks like I can get it for maybe nine or ten million" ($70,000-$80,000) "but the owner’s a real sharpie—he keeps talking about twelve million" ($100,000). "We’ll work it out... And you know the first thing I’m gonna do? I’m gonna hire a lotta chicks—hot chicks to serve drinks. If you wanna fill up a cash register, Rosi, nothing does the trick like gorgeous women. I’m tellin’ you—I know about these things. And to manage the place I’ll get myself a real smooth shyster. Good idea, eh? And if I can’t find myself one of those, I’ll get myself a cop. Either way they’ll never shut me down... I’ll just hang out on the cushions, eh Rosi? Dressed up, looking good, and mingling with the customers—just enough, but not too much. I wouldn’t want to abuse it, you know? So...? Whaddya think? Whaddya think about me being set for life in just a few months?"

"Are you finished?... Good, now why don’t you make yourself scarce because I’m waiting for Ibraín. Go on. The door’s right over there in case you forgot."

"Ibraín? If you’re waiting for Ibraín you better sit down, honey." "What the fuck are you talking about?" "Ibraín’s not coming... You see, me and him are partners now. I’m here with your order; and from now on you’re gonna place all orders with yours truly." "Wait, wait... What are you sayoing?" "Just what you’re hearing—Jesus balls!! Ibraín—and—me—are—partners! I’m bringing you the five grams of party powder. That’s what you asked for, right?" Instinctively, Alfredo scanned the room, looking to the half ajar door, back to the tables, behind the bar too. He made sure that the cleaning guy had already swept the floor and taken out the garbage. Yeah...he was finished. There was nobody else. The place was empty...safe. "Stop shittin’me. You...? Partners with Ibraín?" "Affirmative, over and out. Now go get me a beer already, my throat’s a little dry."

"Bar’s closed." "What the hell difference did that ever make!? Go on, pour me a beer." Rosa stared at him in silence... "So I heard you’ve been upped to a grade three." "Open program and all, honey. They turn me loose at nine in the morning and I don’t have to be home until ten at night. Pretty sweet, huh?... Are you gonna get that beer or what?" "I don’t wanna hear about beer until I see the product." He dug into his pocket and pulled out a small package wrapped in tin foil. Holding it up quickly, he allowed Rosa a split-second peek, before immediately concealing it again. "There it is, weighed to the milligram. Now where’s the dough? It’s sixty thousand"($500) "right?" "Ibraín and I do deals at ten thousand a gram, not twelve. Twelve is the prep school price, not mine. But you should’ve known that already, no?" "Don’t make me laugh in your face, sweetheart. Each gram is twelve taleguitos... So, let’s do the math—five grams would be... sixty taleguitos. I think that’s right, unless of course Pythagoras was lying."

Rosa opened the refrigerator and pulled out two frost covered bottles of Mahou. Placing them on the counter top she quickly flipped off the caps and took a long swig from hers. "I can’t believe that Ibraín didn’t tell you about our arrangement." Alfredo took half the bottle in one gulp and replied: Well...he didn’t—not a word. Maybe you don’t rate anymore. Those things happen, you know? That’s life... You can’t expect a man to be forever captivated by the same chick—no? After all, variety is the spice of life. That’s what me and Ibraín believe anyway... None of this getting involved shit. Besides, it’s no good for the business we’re in. Naa...we’re traveling light—picking up somebody here and then letting ‘em off there—find ‘em, fuck ‘em, and forget ‘em and that’s that." Rosa noted Alfredo’s sleek black jacket and his silk shirt. They both seemed like recent purchases. "Listen, I’m tired and I don’t feel like getting into a big hassle. Yesterday I got to bed at four in the morning and I haven’t even seen my bed today. I still gotta do the receipts because... because that’s what the boss wants. I know what everybody says: that I have a short fuse, that I fly off the handle—and maybe they’re right. So please, you of all people, don’t push me." "Eh, Rosi...girl... What’s with the speech? Are you saying that you’ve got a hard life? Well I didn’t get no fuckin’ picnic! I’ve spent the last year in prison—prison, eh!! So don’t start whining about your dish pan hands..." "I’d like to live without stress and anger—sure—I’d love a life where everybody did what they were supposed to do... Then the world would be such a nice place, ya know?... But it looks like I’m just gonna keep getting angry—God! And I just hate getting angry..."

"Oooh... I hear you Rosie! You’re a real philosopher slash waitress. Man, my head’s in a whirl! But seriously now, where the hell do you get all this blah, blah, blah...!? You got the sixty bills or don’t you?" "You listen and listen good to what I’m gonna tell you. This ain’t the first time I’ve done business with Ibraín. We’ve had an agreement going for a long time. So don’t make me have to explain it any further... You’re not leaving here without giving me those five grams. Even if I have to cut you open and pull your guts out like spaghetti—got it?" Alfredo drank off the rest of his beer, set it down calmly, and licking his lips he sneered— "You cut me open?" Rosa deftly reached under the bar and pulled out a switchblade. She tripped the catch and out whipped a narrow, six inch blade. She held it menacingly before Alfredo’s eyes and repeated— "That’s right. I’m gonna cut you open." Alfredo looked to the door. "I won’t leave you enough time to escape," Rosa assured—"You can try if you like—but let’s just say that you’re working days with Ibraín will be over if you don’t give me those five grams." "Ibraín said nothing about giving you a share. Twelve thousand a gram. That’s all he said." "It must have slipped his mind." Alfredo slowly eased off his stool.

"Fine...You guys can settle it later, okay? As for me, I got business to take care of." Rosa seized him, putting a tight clamp on his arm. She continued, talking slowly and seriously— "Sit down, maaan... We’re not finished yet." He hesitated. "I said, sit down." He sat down and Rosa waved the switchblade in a gesture of cruel authority— "Now, I’m gonna give you thirty thousand up front and the rest after we talk with Ibraín, okay? This coke is for a party we’re having with some playboys. Vanesa, me, and your wife’ll be there—didn’t she tell you?" "Charo?... No, no...I don’t know anything about no party." "Well, we’re getting twenty thousand apiece. That’s guaranteed cash. Then, who knows how much more we’ll get for the marching powder—you understand?"

"Jesus... It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Charo... I’ve been real busy setting up all this distribution with Ibraín... What did you say? Twenty thousand apiece?" "Yeah... plus what we get for the coke. These rich guys don’t give a shit about how much drugs should cost... Are you getting all this or should I start over?" "Sure...sure." "Yeah...Sure! Ya know, you got your head up your ass, man! Don’t you know that your wife is gettin’ poked by some photographer?... Eh? What about that...?" "Photographer?" "Yeah... They’re neighbors. See how cozy!"

Chapter 24
Rafa looked rather inconspicuous in his black leather jacket and faded blue jeans. He raised his hand, calling the attention of Pepe, the manager of Bodegas Rivas. The place was lively—bustling with the usual breakfast crowd. "Two more coffees." Rafa ordered. "And a little wedge of tortilla," added Lisardo, "Is that okay?" "Yeah... yeah, go on," Rafa signalled to Pepe, "Have one of the waiters bring him a piece ‘cause he must be very, very hungry." "Hey man, I didn’t get no dinner last night." Rafa rested his elbows on the counter— "I’m satisfied with the progress we’re making. You know, we have a nice little operation going here, so long as we keep our heads cool... Well, let’s just say that there’s money to be made." "Like you don’t make money already." "These are the fringe benefits that come with the territory. So I practice a few tricks of the trade...why? Because I’ve been around long enough to know that I deserve what’s coming to me... Anyhow...the building is in la calle San Felipe and it’s so old you can literally see it cracking and peeling before your eyes." A waiter arrived with the coffees and the tortilla. Lisardo immediately dug in, breaking the triangular wedge of omelet into huge chunks. He wolfed them down, stopping only to moisten his throat with hot gulps of coffee. Rafa raised his cup, toasting— "To fortune."

"Ditto," mumbled Lisardo, his mouth full and his cup unraised. "So tell me. Where does this asshole take his meals." "I don’t know...here, there... in the low key restaurants around the neighborhood. I know he especially likes to hang out around la plaza de Santa Ana. That way he stays close to home. Oh, and at night he’s a changed man. He decks himself out like a movie producer and throws bankrolls away at D’Angelo. Everybody treats him like he’s some kind of lord. Ahh...but you don’t have to worry... whatever I say goes. You can ask the girls." "This is important Lisardo, ‘cause if you’re fucking me... The other day I couldn’t say anything. I was at that ballsy photographer’s place...that Antonio." "You just get them there little bags of powder and those whores’ll sing like a couple of canaries. All they give a shit about is drugs. I’m tellin’ ya, get ‘em the stuff and they’ll tell you all about Ibraín. For three grams of smack, they’d hand their mothers over."

"Lower your voice, the whole neighborhood can hear you." "Now you see what friendships are worth...We’re all fucked." "Fine, fine...I believe you...Another thing..." He lowered his voice and drew close to Lisardo. "Are you sure you’re not packing?" "No, no... Fuck no. C’mon man, lighten up. Stop being a pain in the ass about every little detail. Besides, I never carry a gun. Eh, by the way, with this building thing did you talk directly to my father?" "Yes, with your father. He told me, great, that he would take a look at the one on la calle San Felipe—the same building we’re talking about." Lisardo’s voice grew suddenly stiff— "Yeah? And what did he say?" "Jesus! Everything I told you already! The property’s a steal; he can get it for a song. All I need to do is wait and your father’ll give me the cue." He lowered his voice again "As soon as he gives the word, I’ll put it in motion—put a little scare into some of the neighbors, you follow?" "Didn’t my father say anything else?" "The usual. Let’s see... I called him at his office early this morning... Everything, business as usual, you know?" "Yeah, but did he ask about me?" "Yes... And I told him you were doing fine." Lisardo mashed the fork into the rest of his tortilla "He didn’t ask about me! What the fuck are you trying to sell me, Rafa!?" "Listen! He’s fed up—fed fuckin’ up to here! C’mon, you should know that already."

"This tortilla sucks. I might as well be eating a fuckin’ brick." Lisardo shouted for the waiter. He complained, saying the tortilla was ice cold and dry. He told him to put it in the microwave and he ordered a side of ketchup. He chugged the rest of his coffee and continued— "But he gave you some money, right?" "Not yet... It’s not time. As soon as he’s secure with the building... Looks like he’s got a plan to put in some delux apartments, or...whatever." "Oh, but you’ll get paid, right?" "He’s going to pay me, like always." "And you can’t throw me a little something?" "You don’t look insane to me Lisardo. So why are you confusing me with a charity organization, eh?... Don’t fuckin’ mention it again." "Fine, man, fine... Don’t make more problems for me." The waiter returned with the half-eaten tortilla. Lisardo smothered it with ketchup and dug in a second time. "You’re a fuckin’ ingrate. You know that? I’m the one who tells you when and when not to take it up the ass. Got it? Whatta you think, that I’m your fairy godmother or something?? C’mon!" "Don’t treat me like some fucking asshole. I know I’m a lot of things, but that’s not one of them, okay? You’ve been my appointed guardian for a good long time and don’t you forget that that is what my mother pays you for." "That’s enough!! I swear I’m gonna send you over you little fuck!! I’ll have you inside bef—" "I’m sorry, man. Excuse me. It’s just that everybody’s in a little deep around here...Fuck." "Good. Let’s just forget all about upsetting our arrangements... What’s gotten into you anyway? Is it because you’re broke?" Lisardo shrugged. "Having a change of heart?"

Lisardo shoved the last of the tortilla into his mouth and extended his hand. Before swallowing, he mumbled, "Give me seven thousand. You can tell my father and he’ll reimburse you. We’ll call that my commission for being your broker. That’s how you cops make your money anyway, isn’t it? Well, I want my share too." "The detective sighed. Then he reached into his pocket, pulling out a five thousand note and two one thousands. Lisardo shamelessly grabbed them and added: "Hey, why don’t you go up there right now and talk to them. I’m positive you can convince them... You got the smack?" Rafa sighed— "Now you’re telling me how to do my job?"

Next Month, Chapters: 25, 26, 27, 28 & 29