Señor Bravista hurried from the hotel and crossed the zócalo.
From her terrace, Ana Garcia watched Manuel dig more graves.
Killing never stops in Marsella.
Dying never stops in Marsella.
Ana wants Philemon’s seed before they kill him.
She wants his baby before they cut his head off and toss it in the Cuaca River.
Señor Bravista knows this.
And he has promised Ana Garcia she will have her way.
He laughs as he hurries to her house.
“Stupid woman,” he says out loud.
Ana Garcia came in from the terrace and sat down. She pushed Poco away with her bare feet but not before she buried her toes, painted parrot red, in the cat’s thick yellow fur.
Her lips parted.
Her eyes closed.
Her breasts cleaved.
Her body hummed—a warm continent with its own sun and moon, its own ebbing tide, red, salty, flowing monthly, burning and claiming an empty shore, time and time again.
The ceiling fan made love to her warm skin, damp from the heat, and to the dark, tender cleavage exposed, and the naked red toes.
The old cat found a cool corner and turned itself into something formless, as if discarded and forgotten.
Ana took a deep breath. Right on schedule, she thought to herself, and got up to answer the door.
She had given her maid the day off. Go walk in the breeze. Put your feet in the cool fountain. Buy some seed for the birds. Eat sweets and say Hail Marys. Doze off at the graveyard. Go. Go. And be late getting back.
Ana opened the heavy wood door. “Come in, Philemon. I have been expecting you.”
Philemon took her hand and kissed the back of it as if she were royalty.
Ana gave him a peck on each cheek.
They stood there, facing one another, though he much taller than her. He looked down on her breasts heaving and yearning to get closer. She tilted her head back to expose her neck as an invitation to come closer but kept her eyes half-open, watching him.
He did nothing.
She took Philemon’s hand and caressed her own throat with his fingertips and then placed the palm of his hand on her pounding heart. As soon as his skin touched hers, Philemon felt he’d put his hand on a crystal ball, or the restless eye sockets of Estrella Vespertina, and he instantly had a vision of himself grabbing both her breasts and squeezing them so hard she cried out for mercy.
“Mi Dios! They are so tender. Please stop!”
“No! I want you!” He imagined himself shouting, and squeezed her hard again, enjoying watching her try to wrench herself free and yet clinging to him like barbed wire.
“Madre de Dios!” she screamed in pain.
Philemon released her. Tears streaked down Ana’s cheeks. She tried to bite him but he caught her by the hair and slapped her. She wound herself around him while he tore at her robe. Ana fought him and gripped him and begged him and beat her fists against him. Yes. No. No. Yes. Please. Please don’t. Please. Please don’t stop.
He felt this was what it was like to tangle with a python. Deadly. He tried to pull her off of him but there was no getting hold of her. The more he struggled the harder she held on until at one point he could barely breathe.
He envisioned them wrestling their way into the bedroom.
“Ana, let go!”
“No, I won’t. Never!”
“Gawd dammit,” he screamed.
Philemon could see himself grabbing her arms and heaving her over his shoulder where she landed on her back on the bed.
“Gawd damn you!” Philemon would then jump on top of her and begin choking her long neck with both his hands.
“You know you want me!” she cried as she fought and coughed and gagged and pulled at his hands.
He wouldn’t let up so she slugged him in the face.
“You fucking bitch! You’re just like all the rest of them!” He let go of her and grabbed at the blood spurting from his nose.
“I want you now!” she commanded.
“No way, Baby.”
She was the widow on the hill above the Cuaca River.
She was beautiful, fruitful, bountiful, irrefutable, irresistible, no sense, no war, no death or drugs nor amount of money could touch what pulled him to her house though he fought it and hated it and avoided it and it made him sick, nauseous, aching, painful, his head pounding, and now here he was on top of her.
Ana tried not to cry. “I want baby.”
“No baby,” he said firmly.
“Soon, Philemon. Or too late for me. I grow too old. Please, Philemon.”
“Sorry, Baby. But no baby. Now or ever.”
Someone was at her door ringing the bell.
Philemon snapped out of it.
Ana stood there, still holding his hand between hers, staring curiously at him.
“Cómo está? Are you alright, Philemon?”
Clang! Clang! The bell rang again.
“Yes, fine. Bueno. I’m just going to use your baño for a minute.”
Philemon went the bathroom to throw cold water on his face.
Ana Garcia smoothed her hair, patted her chest as if to quiet a rambunctious animal, and crossed herself. Then she opened the door.
“Señor Bravista!” she said rather loudly. “What a surprise! Qué pasa? Cómo está usted? Come in, por favor.”
Ana put her finger to his lips and cocked her head towards the bathroom.
Señor Bravista nodded with understanding and went past Ana to the chair underneath the ceiling fan.
Philemon thought it odd when he came back into the room and not only saw it was Señor Bravista who had arrived, but that he was removing his perfectly shiny black shoes and putting his perfectly black stockinged feet on the footstool.
Señor Bravista, even more startled to see Philemon, began to cough. Ana hurriedly brought him a glass of cool water. Philemon sat down.
Ana sat down and looked at both men.
Her life constantly buoyed by men.
And bullet-holed by men.
They occupied her life as if it were a hotel, come and go, her heart a vast lobby, pay or not pay, permanent guests, temporary lovers, but her mind made the reservations, and just as quickly cancelled them, and still nothing changed.
Nothing changes along the Cuaca River.
No one spoke.
Only the cat awoke, meowed in question, and when it got no response, went back to sleep.
“So, Bravista!” Philemon loudly broke the silence. “I didn’t expect to run into you here.”
“Philemon, Philemon.” Senor Bravista shook his head and laughed. “Sometimes you are not like a killer. You act so innocent. Un niño. With the eyes, open wide.” He just shook his head and laughed.
Philemon glanced at Ana who was fiddling with the cross that hung between her breasts from a thick gold chain around her neck.
“Yeah, that’s me. A babe in the woods,” Philemon replied. “So how do you two know each other?”
Señor Bravista kept shaking his head. “Philemon, my good man. Everyone knows each other in Marsella. There are no strangers. You know that.”
“Apparently they know some well enough to take off their shoes and put their feet up.”
“Philemon!” Ana blushed.
“You look pretty cozy there, Bravista. Kind of like the man of the house.”
Señor Bravista laughed so hard his feet hit the floor. “You are jealous of me!”
“No-I-don’t-think-so,” Philemon said slowly and deliberately.
You slimy son-of-a-bitch. Now it makes sense. Always on the scene, the holy man with impeccable taste, the fastidious shoes, the black robes that never get dirty or sweaty or wrinkled, the manicured hands, the black hat over the perfectly trimmed salt-and-pepper hair, the impeccably white linen handkerchief always folded just so and tucked into the woven black authentic leather belt, and the black moustache and goatee with rich specks of gray trimmed to perfection. I should have known by the eyes themselves. Darting behind wire-rimmed designer glasses like a pair of ice-blue dice constantly rolling. Jesus, he’s right. I am innocent. Naïve’s more like it. No, I’m fucking stupid. Estrella was right. My mother was right. The goddamned parrot was right. Well, they sure as hell didn’t know it was Bravista any more than I did. We all thought it was The Yellow. I can’t let on I know or I won’t get back to the hotel alive. Shit, this means Ana is part of it too. Why didn’t I put a bullet between her eyes when I had the chance instead of wasting all this time hoping to put my ricardo between her legs? What an idiot I am.
Philemon realized Señor Bravista had stopped laughing and both he and Ana were staring intently at him.
“Are you alright?” Ana asked. She exchanged glances with Señor Bravista.
“Me? Sure. Never better. I just remembered I told Jessamina I’d be back way before now.”
“But you just got here,” said Ana.
“Well, that kid worries about me like an old mother hen.”
“I will go,” said Señor Bravista. “I am the one interrupting.” He glanced at Ana who looked so disappointed.
Philemon stood up, motioning to Señor Bravista to stay seated. “You haven’t interrupted a thing.”
“But Philemon,” Ana protested.
“Time flies. Even when you’re not having fun.”
“You come back mañana? Por favor?”
He looked long and hard at Ana.
“Adiós,” Philemon said.
Ana locked the door behind him.
Major announced the ringing phone from his perch in the sunroom.
“I’m coming!” Rhoda called back to the parrot.
“Hello,” she answered, pulling up a chair at the same time.
“Mother?” a voice asked.
“Philemon?” Rhoda gasped. “Are you alright?”
“Of course I’m alright. Would I be calling you if I wasn’t?”
“Thousands of miles away and you’re still an asshole.”
“I love you too, Mother Dear.”
“Don’t smartmouth me, Philemon. And remember, these phones could be tapped.”
“Gawd, you love this I-Spy intrigue, don’t you? Meanwhile it’s my ass on the line. I’m the one down here in this hellhole smelling the rotting bodies in the Cuaca River and wondering, gee, how’s my dear old mother doing?”
“Watch who you’re calling old.”
“That’s it? That’s all you got to say?”
“What do you expect?”
“WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?” Major chimed in.
“Oh Christ, there goes the parrot putting his two cents in.”
“Major’s insight is worth more than two cents which is more than I can say for you right now.”
“Are we going to keep up this stupid conversation or can I tell you why I called?”
“Go ahead,” Rhoda directed. “But watch what you say.”
“It’s not who we thought.”
“It’s not who we thought?” she repeated.
“Now you sound like the goddam parrot.”
“Shut up, Philemon. Stop talking. Don’t say another word on this phone.”
A long silence passed.
“Okay,” he replied.
“Now listen to me. I’ll run this past Estrella. She will not be pleased. We were certain it was…”
“I know. Dino Yellowmexican.”
“Positive. He’s a scumbag and deserves to be tortured on a daily basis,” said Philemon. “I’d love to be appointed to that position. Still, it ain’t him.”
“That’s why you sent me, isn’t it?”
“You’ve fucked up plenty of times before.”
“Then you and Estrella can get your asses down here and figure it out yourselves. I’ve about had it.”
“Okay, Son. Don’t get your dick in a knot. Just keep all this to yourself. Do you understand me?”
“Don’t you want to know who it is?”
“When he’s dead, let us know.”
“Gosh, Mother. Thanks. Thanks for your concern for my welfare. Thanks for your support.”
“Oh, shut up, Philemon. You’re a grown man and we’re tired of your whining bullshit. You know you are the only one who can carry this out and, by God, you better do it. And don’t get in touch with me or Estrella until it’s over. Comprende, pendago?”
“Yeah, yeah. And you have a nice day too, Mother Dear,” Philemon replied and slammed the phone down.
“Son of a bitch!” Rhoda exclaimed, rubbing her ear.
“SON OF A BITCH! SON OF A BITCH!” Major concurred.
Rhoda picked the phone back up and dialed.
Estrella’s eyes clicked in her head as she answered the phone.
Rhoda blurted all the news into her ear.
“Impossible,” Rhoda replied.
“No, it is possible. But who?”
“I don’t know.”
“Does Pheel-e-mon know?”
“Yes, but I told him not to say anything over the phone.”
“This means he’s on his own now.”
“Because everybody wait now for us to make the one move you and I we so sure about. If we make any other, we all be killed.”
“Maybe I should go,” said Rhoda.
“Stop right there, mi amiga. He needs to finish the job. Not cry on his mama’s shoulder.”
“YOU’RE RIGHT! YOU’RE RIGHT!”
Estrella couldn’t help but hear Major chanting in the background.
“Listen to your bird, mujer.”
She heard Rhoda take a couple of deep breaths.
“Rhoda, he may be stoo-pid on many levels but Pheel-e-mon is the only one can do the job. He’ll be alright.”
“I suppose so.”
“You know so. Now have a drink. I will too. We will toast your son, stoop-id as they come. You know I care about his white ass as much as you do.”
“Si, Señora,” Rhoda mumbled.
“Go stroke your bird. I’ll go stroke myself.” And laughing hard, Estrella hung up.
To be continued….