“Cigarette?” Aguilar eyed him closely, looking for the fear.
“Sure.” Chavez put on casual. Even in the tightest spot, don’t give them the satisfaction.
“Excellent, then let’s proceed. Ready!”
But Chavez wasn’t ready. The night before he only managed to doze off occasionally in the oppressive heat, and the little sleep he got was filled with visions of demons in pursuit. More than once he woke up with his teeth grinding his tongue to a pulp. This is the last job, he told himself.
But today looked promising. First thing this morning he got an unexpected visit from Silvia, who applied her special brand of relief. She’d completely ignored him when he first started working for her father, so he returned the chill, just to let her know it was no loss. But it sure as hell didn’t feel like a win. Now, three months in, she’s putting the love on him. Don’t try to figure why something works, just let it work.
Afterward, she lay on her side, running her fingers through his hair.
“My father wants to see you” she said. Big brown eyes, long black hair, smooth olive skin, she was the only one who could say that and make it sound like good news.
“What’s he want me to do now? Turn his idiot militia into an elite strike force?”
“No, he says your secret police have information that you need to hear.”
“What, they find a suspicious goat lurking in the shadows?” These newly-minted strongmen are all the same. As soon as they get the throne they set up the tightest security possible, only to spend the rest of their days imagining conspiracies. “And since when does he send you to deliver his messages? Does he even know you’re here?”
“Never, he would kill us both.” Her eyes blazed, then softened as she rolled onto her back. “I don’t care anymore. After what he’s done to me, I don’t mind dying with you.” It was how she said it that shook him. Calmly, with resolve, like dying that way would be worth it as the ultimate fuck you to the old man. He convinced himself she didn’t mean it. But just in case.
“C’mon, you’re all he’s got, and you’ve got it good.”
“You don’t know what I’ve got. I’m a prisoner in this place. Take me with you when you leave. I want to see Buenos Aires, Acapulco, Dallas. You will take me there, won’t you?”
He felt the vise tightening, Silvia on one side, Aguilar on the other. “Let me go see him, find out what’s going on.”
Aguilar’s secretary led Chavez through a maze of marble corridors to the main office. The hike ended when two narrow wooden doors were pulled open to reveal a spacious room, floor and walls of mahogany, lit by tall windows with white lace curtains. In the center of the room sat a wide glass desk on a round blue carpet. Sitting behind the desk in a high-back black leather chair was Aguilar.
“Señor Chavez, my friend. I was looking for you. And I found you.”
“Yes, you have. Here I am. ”
“No, no” he said, spitting out a chuckle. “I found you yesterday. And this morning.” He rose and walked over to a window overlooking the courtyard. “You have trained my people well, I must commend you. But it seems the students have already surpassed the master. Perhaps the loss will not be so great.”
“You’re not even halfway there, General. But if you don’t need me, I’m sure you can find someone else stupid enough to take the job. If there’s nothing else, I’ve got work to do.” He heard the doors close behind him.
“There is one more thing, Señor Chavez.”
His mouth was parched. The cigarette bobbed crazily on his trembling lips.
He could hear his grandmother calling him. “Come here, Chango!”
He was so small, so high up in the tree that she couldn’t see him. “Come here!” she called again. But her voice wasn’t coming from the ground below.