A wide smile spread across her face. “I don’t think Señora Gomez knows I’m here. It was Ernesto who wanted me to stay out here.”
“So he could hit on me.”
“You have got to be kidding. He’s only about fifteen.”
“He says he’s eighteen. He asked me if I was married. When I told him I wasn’t, he asked me for a date.”
“And where does one go on a date in La Reina?”
“Right here. We’re having dinner and then we’ll do some dancing.”
“Have you lost your mind?”
“Lighten up, Hubert. He’s a nice kid. Innocent. He probably just wants to have his friends see him with a woman. Plus, there will be a chaperone.”
“His great grandmother?”
My mouth opened, but it evidently had nothing to say, so it closed.
“And you won’t be alone,” she said. “He’s arranged for you to have a date as well.”
“Oh, no. I appreciate you driving me up here, and I’ll go along with boosting Ernesto’s ego, but I am not going on a blind date in La Reina, and that is final.”
While I was talking, Susannah was watching something behind me. I heard footsteps. A woman about Susannah’s age appeared at our table.
“Hubert, I’d like you to meet Ernesto’s sister, Sirena.”
Her name was well-deserved, a femme fatale who could lure sailors – or pot thieves – with her enchanting voice.
“Hola, Huberto. Ernesto me dijo que habla español,” she said in a throaty voice. She sounded like an Hispanic Hepburn.
“Un poco,” I said, stupidly. I probably speak Spanish better than she did, but her appearance flustered me. She was like a tamale, delicious but not good for you, a burgeoning young woman in a sheaf of a dress that couldn’t quite hold her assets. This is why men behave like idiots, I said to myself.
The bar had begun to fill as the day ended and people gathered to unwind. We sat in the booth – Susannah and her precocious boy toy on one side, me and my fellow chaperone cum temptress on the other.
A plate of carnitas appeared. Beers showed up on the table. The jukebox played. Susannah and Ernesto danced, he holding her like a life raft.
What the hell. I took Sirena’s hand and we waltzed to the strains of Freddy Fender.
Si te quiere de verdad
Y te da felicidad
Te deseo lo mas bueno por los dos
Pero si te hace llorar
A mi me puedes hablar
Y estaré contigo cuando triste estas
The last line in Spanish translates, I’ll be there when you are sad. The English is better, I’ll be there before the next teardrop falls.
I guess they changed it to make it rhyme, but it lost something in the translation.
She smelled of baby powder and hair spray. She came easily into my arms and put her head on my shoulder. I was not tempted in the least. It was a party. In the arc light of the moment, we were performers on a stage, nothing more.
We returned to the table when No Seas Cruel started playing. I like Fender’s Spanish rendition of the old Elvis hit, but I don’t know how to dance to it.
The place was now overflowing, in part because every teenager was there watching Ernesto and Susannah dance.
Not a few of them and some of the older patrons as well were giving me strange looks. Not looks of hostility or even curiosity. More like admiration mixed with concern.
Ernesto’s replacement as barkeep was named Baltazar. I thought of him as Baltazar de los ojos as he approached our booth.
“Sirena,” he said, “Hugo is on his way.”
Baltazar walked away. Sirena seemed frozen in place.
“Sirena,” I said, “who is Hugo?”
“Mi novio. But he don’t use ‘Hugo’. He use his nickname.”
Wonderful. I was the blind date for El Bastardo’s girlfriend.
“Tell Susannah I’ll wait for her in the truck,” I said, abandoning my chaperonal duties.
But it was too late. El Bastardo was charging into the bar, his biceps bulging from his muscle shirt and his eyes doing the same from his bulldog face.