The woman’s Spanish was not the Italianate patter of Argentina and when the girl at the hotel front desk asked after the origin of her lilting tones she answered Mexico. And your occupation, the nosy girl pried. An executive, the woman answered. In truth she had been a police administrator in the city of Matamoros for two decades. She was rather unremarkable looking, short dyed red hair and a wide face and some excess weight that hid the reality of her strength. Most of the staff thought her a lonely widow visiting the desert city at the other end of the hemisphere to linger in tiled plazas and gorge herself on beef and wine. The maids confirmed an air of grieving. In her room she had arranged a votive of a framed picture of a dimpled adolescent girl and candles burned nightly and a small ceramic figure of a gaudily painted skeleton queen.
During her days she drove her rented car to the slums in the foothills. She looked at the shacks and cement homes and talked to people in the rough butcher shops and bars, showing some of them a creased photo of Pepe Blandón Reyes. All denied knowing him but the pallor the question cast in some of their faces made her think they did. She bought a Brazilian handgun from an old man with a glass eye and shot the piece in an abandoned vineyard, pulverizing bottles whited with dust in the still air.
On the beginning of the fourth week she spotted Pepe strolling through the Plaza Cubana in a paisley print designer shirt, shoes glistening waxily. He was holding the hand of a thin brunette in enormous sunglasses. Trailing behind the pair was a Sicilian-looking man with the shoulders of a rugby forward. Pepe had frosted his hair an unlikely shade of blonde and had swelled significantly around the middle but she did not forget the finely proportioned face of the dope lord’s son that had once sat at her dinner table, his hand gripping her daughter’s thigh. In one of his rages he had beaten the girl blue-black and dumped her dying in the desert wastes to be set upon by coyotes.
She tailed them to a steakhouse with a yellow awning just off the promenade. The restaurant was half-full, mainly Argentine businessmen taking power lunches and a scattering of European backpackers. She ordered a flank steak and pretended to read a travel guide. Pepe stood and walked to the restrooms. She chewed a bite of steak to mush and rose.
Her entry was nearly soundless. Pepe looked up from buckling his belt and saw her and blanched. She shot him in the throat and below the eye and heard a crested section of skull-bone clatter against the plaster wall beyond. He fell in a spouting heap. She walked back down the hallway and out a back exit and down a fire escape. In the alley a bullet whispered under her earlobe. Another tanged the rim of a dumpster. She turned and shot the rest of the clip at the Sicilian as he clambered tripping and bellowing back up the fire escape. She threaded her way through the tourist crowds on the promenade, a delirious pain spreading to her lower abdomen, half crouching and grimacing like a mad gnome.
At the hotel she locked herself in her room. Her blouse under her windbreaker was crimson and she peeled off that groaning pelt and could see a bullet had passed cleanly through her, snapping a rib. With much difficulty she dressed the fleshy bloom of the exit wound.
Outside there were sirens bleating to the scene of her crime or another. She lit the candles by her daughter’s picture. Even striking the matches was agony. She sat by the window and looked down at the avenida. In time she saw a black SUV pass and pass again and park. She watched the men who climbed out. They had leather jackets and sunglasses and swollen bellies and stubbed cigarettes out under cracked boots and were killers. One of them opened the trunk and handed shotguns to the others. With trembling fingers she began to reload.