A BAD HEMINGWAY STORY
by a bunch of people
Marta opened the fading wooden doors of the house and slowly walked out into the sultry breeze of the summer night. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the sweet fragrance of the trees that bore many leaves but no fruit. It had been a long day, full of men flush with the excitement of the running bulls, rank with a heady mixture of sweat, tequila, and more sweat. Marta walked out into the dusty road and looked out over the horizon. There would be no more men tonight, only silence, and sweet wine.
She reached into her hip flask and took a long draught. As the cooling liquid disappeared down her throat, her thoughts turned to Ignacio. Ignacio, the man for whom she would wait an eternity. She looked out again across the arid land and could see the clouds of smoke from the slaughterhouses in the distance. Ignacio had ridden off in that direction. Or maybe it was east. It all seemed so long ago. Marta sighed and turned back towards the house.
Once, the house had served as a mission. Pious men and women from the northern lands had come to calm the barbarous hordes and infuse a sense of peace into the chaotic lives of the poor, stinking masses. Their light hair, strange vestments and irksome habit of knocking on the doors during dinner struck a chord with the simple folk of the village. Alas, it was a minor chord, and they soon were chased out by an angry mob which was short on teeth yet light of foot. Those were brutal times.
Over the years, the sprawling edifice had become a house of ill repute, although those who frequented the establishment spoke more kindly of its repute. The house was at the junction of the road to the mighty slaughterhouses and the metal mills to the south. Travellers often stopped for the night, to revel until dawn in the hospitality of the women, and to enjoy a hot, hearty meal of tinned meat.
Marta took another long, languorous drink of sweet wine, pale comfort against the quiet of the night. In the distance, a lone coyote cried out as if in solemn affirmation of the moment. Marta looked out in the direction of the sound.
Ignacio, she thought. I'll be waiting.
She will never forget that first night they met, set against the backdrop of the Great War.... He, an idealist, full of brute hope and tender sinews. It was hard to imagine him in battle, so Marta would choose not; believing instead that her lover sailed the seas to discover exciting lands and perhaps bring back some spices in the process.
In the twenty years since, she had witnessed not only the degeneration of the
mission and its surrounding areas, spurred on by industry; but more to the point,
the degeneration of her soul. Women such as her used to have great dreams of
wifely obligations and maternal prospects.
"O, pobrecito," she chided her lover as he stepped on the train. He was barely a man then, barely a hint of a mustache. "No eres un hombre, pero vas a luchar en la guerra."
Ignacio smiled, despite the anxiety lurking behind his eyes and spoke the words that still burned in Marta's heart:
So, she waited.
The fact that Ignacio was a horse didn't bother Marta, for she was an imaginative woman, and liked to be deeply satisfied. What did bother her was that Ignacio was a talking horse, and as such, was always in demand in Amerika and other places abroad.
And Ignacio was also a mighty fighter, and so he went off to the war to be ridden upon by men who would not value his grace and scent. But she would not cry. She was a strong woman and although the waiting would be hard she would endure it.
Now, 2 decades later, she still waited leaning idly agains the archway of the brothel.
"Marta, customer waiting", called down Fabricia. Fabricia was a wild child from the lands of California and although her breast was not firm as the legends told, she had a firm hand and a voice that carried far.
Marta sighed and climbed the staircase carefully, her wooden leg giving her a little trouble on this humid night.
She was startled when she saw who it was that was waiting for her.
It was Ramon, the useless one armed drunk.
Closing her eyes she laid down on the bed and told Ramon to do what he must and be off.
He came. And after he came he fell asleep, as all men must do.
Marta took Ramon's money, and put it in the little coffer she was using to save for a trip to France. In France, a whore, even one with a wooden leg, would be treated with respect. And she had always wanted to learned their wonderful language, so full of deceit and false promises...
She gave the house cut of the money to Maria, the hostess that evening, and went outside for a stroll and her nightly cigar. The cigar came from the land of Cuba where men were said to drive loud American cars and to party on the beach to the music called raggea. Or was that Jamaica. It would not matter, for the cigar was flagrant and dizzying.
She never gave much more thought to the man named Ramon, for little could she care for someone lower then even her.
She cried a little at this but wiped her ears with an ancient napkin, put the cigar out on her wooden foot, spat the remaining tastes (and amazingly another tooth) into a nearby bush, and returned to her protected world, the brothel.
When Ramon woke it was nearly noon. His head throbbed in the way it would if a hundred bulls were to run through it chased by sweating and leaping spanish youths. He lay in the tangled sheets for ten minutes staring at the fan that turned lazily on the ceiling. It did not interest him, but it was something to look at and to occupy his tired mind.
The woman was in the washroom. She was washing herself, which is what women do when they are in the washroom. The gritty sounds she made when coughing or clearing her throat disturbed Ramon, and he tried recalling the events of the previous night. All he could remember was sweat and hairy armpits. He gathered the rest of his clothes and left, for he decided that it was better to not witness her return to the bedroom. He descended the stairs of the brothel like a man descending the stairs of a brothel.
There were some who would call him a useless man, for he had only one hand and it was usually holding a bottle of liquor. Today, it held a bottle of the sharp, crisp Cartenza which he had stolen from an old Mexican man yesterday afternoon. He hated the taste but he drank it, for he hated the Mexicans even more.
But those who would call him useless did not know that the hand sometimes held a stiletto. At those times he was not merely a one-armed drunk, but a one-armed drunk assassin they called Le Artiste. He had killed many men and many farm animals, but he still did not know why they called him "Le Artiste". Or, for that matter, who "they" were.
When he got to the bottom of the stairs he remembered what it was he had celebrated the night before. A job. He remembered meeting the man they called the Inglese. The fat, smelly man who drank the mojito and whistled while he spoke. The man had hired him, for a price of one thousand pesos, to kill a man. It had something to do with a betrayal, but Ramon did not remember the details. The details were washed away by the Cartenza. He only remembered what was important: the time, the place, and the name.
He was to kill a man named Enrique. A man with a mustache.
Killing is work for men. It is work for men whose hearts are hard like the stones that the Chinos crack with their pickaxes as they carve out the Gran Santiago Railroad. It is work for men who drink whisky without taking the cigarette from their mouth. It is work for men who snore.
Ramon was such a man. He snored. He drank whisky (though admittedly he did not fancy cigarettes). He, who had once danced with the coquettes in the streets of New Orleans, he was now a hardened and brutal murderer. He never felt the regret that sits in the gut like uncooked carnitas. He had killed and he would kill again, for that is what hardened and brutal murderers must do.
It had not always been so. He had once been a little boy, playing in the narrow
streets of Heces De Nuestros Santos Toros De Los Lugares Muertes. He remembered
his Momma's long brown
He dropped the empty bottle, for now it was time to take out the stiletto and wipe it menancingly upon the side of his trousers. And so that is what he did.
As he wiped off the stiletto he thought back on the boy he had taken it from. Santos had been the meanest of the boys in the orphanage he had been placed in after his father had killed his mother. Santos had loved to bully the other boys and threaten them with the shiny knife with the bone handle.
"While you are sleeping, I will cut off your ears..." he would whisper to them as they lay on the bunks at night.
Santos would always have the knife with him and he loved it as one would love a child or younger brother.
But Santos did not mind when Ramon had finally taken the stiletto from him. He did not mind at all.
Then again, he was dead at the time.
For days Ramon continued drinking the whisky, thinking about Santos, and wiping the blade upon the side of his trousers, waiting.
Finally, after 5 days had passed he went out into the street and immediately went back inside. The bright light had taken him by surprise and as the cantina was dark and dank, he was never quite aware of the time of day.
So he stayed inside for another 6 hours, drinking the whisky, thinking about Santos, and wiping the blade upon the side of his trousers, waiting.
Finally, the smoky evening had arrived and all was ready. Ramon took to the street, staying in the shadows. The people in the street all saw him, for he was terribly conspicuous dodging from archway to archway, from shadowy den to shadowy den, but the people did not care, for they were drunk and the town was filled with stilletto armed assassins dodging shadows.
He finally arrived at the door of the cantina he was told Enrique would frequent. He opened this door and walked inside. He sat on a stool next to a dreamy faced man who was busy pouring a glass of whisky for a woman with a hairlip, a woman who looked like she had been drinking and sitting here for days. The evening was young and Ramon could wait. The barkeep brought him a tin mug and a bottle of the whisky Ramon was so fond of since his days as a coquette.
As he poured the first drink the door opened, and two men, one younger, and older walked in.
"We have captured the bulls that run, Enrique" said the younger of the two to the woman who sat at the bar and who looked like she had been drinking and sitting there for days.
The woman ignored his words and flitted her heavy eylids at the man with the bottle.
"Pour me another, Joquain, pour me another and I am yours"
"Is this her?" the man leaned over toward his compadre, waiting for an answer.
The man with the bottle clenched his jaw and kept his eye on the bottle, like a bull fixes on the red fabric. Ramon sensed that he was in the right place, but maybe at the wrong time.
"You have news for me?" he asked the woman.
"Why should I talk to you?" She didn't look up at him, not even for a second. "You should go back out to the streets where you belong. Go find a pillar to hide behind. I know what you are... even if I don't know who you are which I do."
Ramon could tell by her voice, and the thickness of the air, that they knew why he was there. The bartender started washing glasses, the glasses that were already washed. Ramon has seen that before. He had done that before. Each time a bartender pretends to be busy, it can only mean that he knows something is about to happen.
Drawing upon his childhood days of washing clean glasses in the company of bitter, tough caballeros, Ramon began to rethink his decision to enter the saloon. A stilleto could do no good to protect him from the danger he was getting himself into.
But there he was.
How could he hide behind Pilar? a man of some three hundred kilos cannot hide behind Pilar. Pilar who had not eaten since the corrida seven years ago. Seven years ago when the whore, Concertina, had spit in her flan.
A man like Ramon, large and simple, cannot easily hide. And an assassin who cannot easily hide gets little work.
Ramon had not killed for some time and was hungry. His knife was hungry. Ramon could hear it whining next to his fat thigh. For it is hard to eat enough to keep three hundred kilos fed.
Ramon began to think of eating Pilar.
"it is a sad thing when I, Ramon, must think of eating a stick like PILAR!" he spat.
"Damn you Enrique it's us, Fred and Maria" Maria said.
"I am already damned" replied Enrique, and it was true. The alcoholism, the man Ramon being here probably to kill her, the hairlip, and the secret she held, she was in fact quite damned.
"A damned fool, Enrique!" said Fred, as he broke a lonely bottle of whisky over Ramon's head. Ramon, having not expected being hit in the head with a bottle, was very surprised when he fell to the floor.
Joquain rose quickly and stood between the fallen man and the angry man.
"Oh Fred, why, the man is just a poor one armed drunkard" Joquain said. "Leave him be"
"Ok" said Fred as the bartender rose from behind the bar and began drying the glasses again with his apron.
"Oh Fred, Maria, I am glad you have returned safely", said Enrique, finally turning around to meet them.
"You are a strange woman, but that is why I love you so" said Maria and joined her at the bar. Joquain helped the falled man to his feet.
When Ramon stood, his head was dizzy, dizzy as if he was high on the root of the cactus the Patriotos often shared with him during his days in Mexico. But this was a common state for Ramon, and he was familiar with it.
He moved forward with his single arm extended, the blade well concealed beneath his palm.
"I don't think we're finished" he blurted out slowly.
He gazed upon Enrique, the man he was to kill. The man was a woman, but now there were two of them in his sight. Ramon was not a smart man, but he was not a stupid man either, so he lashed out at both Enriques.
He was on the ground again, for he had fallen from a blow of another bottle upon his head. It was time to sleep now, he thought. Maybe this strange episode was just a bad dream. He drifted off quietly.
"Why Fred? I think he was just a dumb drunk trying to be a little friendly!" Joquain started to say, but stopped short for Enrique had a knife sticking out of her left breast. She was smiling at him and he realized she was not aware of the knife in her left breast. He pointed at it to help her become aware.
Maria and Fred watched as Enrique removed the wooden breast with the knife sticking out of it, as she pulled the knife out with her teeth, and as she quickly replaced the breast in her brassiere.
"Did you really get the bulls that run?" she asked Fred.
The bartender poured them a round of drinks.
"The bulls that run..." thought Ramon as he drifted off. He had not thought about the bulls that run in a long time, not since his days as a boy playing in the narrow streets of Heces De Nuestros Santos Toros De Los Lugares Muertes. The bulls had run there too, and he had run with them. He could no longer run of course, for it is difficult for a man of some 300 kilos to even walk, but he still remembered it. He also still remembered Santos, and the memory made him want to wipe the blade of his stiletto upon the side of his trousers. But the bulls were not here and the stiletto was held by the strange woman with the wooden breast, the woman with the mustache. It was a confusing time for Ramon.
"Yes, Enrique, we have freed the bulls that run." said Fred after he drank the whisky down with a single tilt of the glass. He spilled a little of it on his shirt, but nobody said anything to spare Fred the embarassment that men should not feel.
"We have freed the bulls and we have killed the fascists. And now all of El Presidente's men are searching for us. They have found one of the Patriatos, Grigosh, but he was already dead."
Maria lowered his head, mumbling something under his breath.
"How could they know who you were?" asked Enrique, holding her glass out while Joachim poured her another whisky.
"I don't know..." said Fred, and then after a long pause added "I just don't know".
"And the machina?" asked Enrique, "Where is the machina?"
"It is where we left it", said Maria, "at the fascist train, with the many dead bodies".
"El Presidente's men surely have it by now", added Fred.
"You will have to leave" said Enrique. She finished her drink and shrugged off Joquain with the distaste of those who feel distaste for perpetual drunks. "I know the perfect place to hide".
She took Maria by the arm and led him out the door. Fred followed.
Joquain turned to a lone matador sitting in the shadows and measured him with his eye. He would do. He moved closer.
The night was warm and smoky, like all Spanish nights, and they walked slowly, enjoying it, and keeping silent. Enrique knew the town well and led them through back streets and alleys. El Presidente's men would be out there looking for them. El Presidente's men with the dogs. And the sabres. And the orders to bring Fred and Maria back dead or alive.
They came to the doors of the old town mission, no longer a sacred place from what Maria had heard. They were greated by an ugly woman with a wooden leg and welcomed inside.
"You will be safe here, at least for a few days, " said Enrique. "I will return soon with a man who will take you to Cartagena. There you can hire a boat and sail to Gibraltar and cross into Africa where you will be safe.
"And what of you, gentle Enrique" asked Maria.
"Someone has to keep fighting El Presidente. You have done your part. El Presidente will never find such bulls that run again."
"That man, the large man in the cantina, he was trying to kill you" said Fred for that is what he had been thinking.
"That was Ramon", said Enrique, "he has been doing this for more than 5 years and he will continue. I will deal with him as I have always."
Before Maria could open his mouth again, Enrique turned and left into the night, disappearing into the shadows like an unlucky archeologist sinking into an ancient tar pit, never to be seen again.
"I have always wanted to see the sea" said Maria.
"And I have hoped to never see it again" said Fred.
END OF CHAPTER TWO
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