Mexico City, Mexico, 7 May 2015:
Jimmy Santos strode down the street, maneuvering along a crowded sidewalk, brushing shoulders with people outfitted in a montage of working class clothes. An occasional woman dressed in a white blouse and colorful skirt or man in a suit could be spotted in the rambling crowd. The smell of fried chilies, corn, and chicken mixed with exhaust fumes from a procession of passing late model cars and trucks. It was a hot day, making the usual heavy smog hanging over the city seem all that more ominous. Colorful red, green, and white tattered ribbons and ripped banners still hung precariously from the lampposts and walls, evidence of the recent Cinco de Mayo Celebration. Local food hawkers standing next to their stainless steel rolling kitchens and vendors in front of their shops called out, tempting potential customers. Mixed between the shops were small cantinas and restaurants, filled with an earlier evening crowd.
Recognizing the cantina described to him by his employer, Jimmy stepped under a small wooden sign hanging above the sidewalk heralding the La Laguna Azul Cantina, or the Blue Lagoon Bar. A big man, Jimmy had strong legs supporting a barrel chest, with thick arms and neck. While he had grown up in Los Angeles, California, his short bushy black hair, light brown skin, and soft flat facial features marked him as having a Central American Indian lineage. With dark polyester trousers and a tight fitting yellow cotton imitation Lacoste polo shirt, Jimmy looked like a local.
Walking through the arched doorway was like stepping back in time. A thin layer of dirt grated under the soles of his shoes as he stepped onto its terracotta-tiled floor. The brick walls were painted brownish-tan with no decorative embellishments, except for a black plastic clock and a faded picture of Pancho Villa in a worn frame, both in need of dusting. An old wooden bar, running along one side of the room, with no mirror or bottles of liquor adorning the wall behind, was manned by a thin and wrinkled bartender dressed in a red plaid shirt and white apron. A veil of smoke hanging in the air, fed by the bar patrons’ glowing cigarettes, twisted into misty contrails by three slow-moving ceiling fans.
The cantina was filled with men sitting around heavy round wooden tables on a variety of wobbly chairs. Some dressed like Jimmy, as if they had just stepped from behind a low-paying desk job. Others, clothed in dirty jeans and T-shirts, looked as if they had just departed a nearby construction site. Most of the tables were topped with a bottle of cheap tequila, accompanied by small clear glasses partially filled with the yellowish liquid. A spattering of brown beer bottles shared the same space as the tequila and glasses. Saying little to each other, the men were undoubtedly drinking away the memories of overzealous and demanding supervisors or the recollections of a day of hard labor. Two young female waitresses--both with long black hair, dressed in short green dresses, red sashes, and white ruffled blouses--worked to keep the bottles and glasses full.
Jimmy saw the two men at a table in the corner of the smoky room, both appearing to be Mexican. One, short and skinny with a lazy eye that looked wide, was dressed in neatly ironed black jeans and a white western-style shirt. The other, wearing Wrangler blue jeans, was the same height as Jimmy but lacked his bulk.
This man had narrow-set eyes and deep pockmarks on his face with half of his left eyebrow missing. He wore a black silk shirt and matching vest with a heavy gold chain looped around his neck, a seemingly unlikely wardrobe choice, to Jimmy, on such a hot day.
Jimmy knew the two men were there to meet him because of the out-of-place laptop sitting at the center of the table. The two men looked quizzically at Jimmy as he entered the cantina, likely wondering if the big man could be the one for whom they were waiting. Jimmy smiled and nodded at the men and began working his way toward them, weaving through the tables of bar patrons. Both men nodded back with unsmiling faces.
As Jimmy moved his large body through the crowded bar, he inadvertently knocked up against a chair of one patron and then, a few steps later, bumped a shoulder of another. The victims of the accidental collisions both turned with scowling faces then, once observing the offender’s size, both quickly looked away, returning to their drinks and muted conversations.
“Buenos tarde, caballeros,” Jimmy said, greeting the two men as he approached the table. “The smog is not nearly as bad as usual today.” These words had been given to him to confirm these were indeed the men he had been directed to meet with by his employer.
“The smog is always bad, except when the sun is down,” the skinny man replied in heavily accented English. It was an unusual statement that made no sense but was the response for which Jimmy had been expecting and hoping.
Pulling out a chair from the table, its wooden legs scraping across the dirty terracotta-tiled floor, Jimmy lowered his massive body onto the seat. The joints of the chair groaned under the weight. Glancing down at the tabletop, he examined its rough surface. With deep gouges and burns from unattended cigarettes, the heavy wooden table showed years of wear. One of the waitresses stepped up and tapped him on the shoulder, asking him what he was drinking. He ordered a beer.
“Have you the flash-drive?” the skinny man asked.
“I do,” Jimmy replied as he pulled a thin silver flash-drive from around his neck and put it on the table next to the laptop.
Opening the laptop, the skinny man turned it on and then picked up the flash-drive. Once the Windows desktop appeared on the screen, he plugged the device into the computer’s USB port, moving and clicking the cursor onto the appropriate icons. The flash-drive’s contents appeared on the computer’s screen. As the skinny man inspected the files, the waitress brought Jimmy’s beer, setting it on the table in front of him. Taking a long drink of its ice-cold contents, Jimmy casually watched the skinny man moving the curser from file to file.
“It is confirmed--this is what we expected,” the skinny man said, pulling the flash-drive from the USB port and closing the laptop.
“Then we’re finished,” Jimmy announced. “It was nice doing business with you gentlemen.” Smiling, he took another long drink of beer.
Acknowledging him with a grunt, the two men pushed back from the table, leaving Jimmy alone without saying a word. Jimmy remained at the table, drinking and flirting with the waitresses, both of whom ignored his efforts. Between his flirtatious advances, Jimmy glanced at the time on his wristwatch, waiting for the second meeting of the day.
He didn’t have to wait too long. A tall fit man dressed in a dark blue suit and an open-collared white shirt walked into the cantina ten minutes later. With short dark wavy hair, bushy eyebrows, and light brown skin, the man could have been Mexican or any other nationality lying near or south of the equator. Jimmy waved, and the man began making his way over to the table as the other patrons nudged one another, gesturing toward the well-dressed person crossing the cantina. He was an anomaly for that cantina. His attire marked him as outsider, and that made him an oddity.
“Good afternoon, Jimmy. I hear everything went well,” the well-dressed man said with a crisp Midwestern-American accent as he sat down across from Jimmy.
“It was pretty easy. I got the right reply to my comment about smog and then handed them the flash-drive. They plugged it into the laptop and checked its contents, and then they were off. Easiest money I’ve ever made.”
The waitress approached the table and asked the well-dressed man in Spanish if he wanted something to drink. The man looked puzzled at her question.
Jimmy repeated the question in English. “Do you want something to drink?”
“No thank you,” the man responded and, as Jimmy began to translate his response back into Spanish, the waitress turned and walked away.
“I guess she understood what you said.” Jimmy chuckled, while looking over his shoulder at the waitress’s green-skirted bottom swaying back and forth as she weaved through the cantina clientele.
“As I was about to say, it is always pleasant when the delivery goes smoothly,” the well-dressed man said as he pulled a thick envelope from his jacket pocket and handed it to Jimmy.
His eyes widening, Jimmy took the envelope and lifted the folded top, peeking inside. “Ten thousand?”
“It’s all there. You can count it if you like.”
“Not in this place. I wouldn’t make it to the door.” Jimmy laughed. “I’ll have to trust you.”
“Jimmy, I have another delivery and was wondering if you might have a recommendation.”
“I’ll do it,” Jimmy blurted out, hoping for the possibility of earning more easy money.
“This one is in Thailand. I need someone familiar with Thailand. Preferably, someone who knows the language.”
Sighing, Jimmy paused for a moment, thinking about the man’s question. Then a smile crossed his face, as if some pleasurable memory had come to mind.
“As a matter of fact, I do. He’s a bit like me, though. A big drinker but always gets the job done.”
“What’s his name? Where does he live? I’d like to contact him and see if he meets our requirements.”
“Last I heard, he had just moved back to the States from Thailand.”
Taking another long drink of beer, Jimmy drained the bottle. The waitress saw him emptying the bottle from across the room and ordered another from the bartender.
“That was about six months ago. His name is Tommy. Tommy Luck. I think he lives in the Washington DC area. Maybe Arlington or Alexandria. I haven’t talked to him directly but heard the news of his return to the States through a mutual friend.”
The well-dressed man took out a pen and pocket-sized notebook and began writing the information down. “You don’t happen to have an address?”
“Naw, no address. Just a name and general area.”
“His name is Tommy Luck?”
“Thomas Bacon Luck is his full name,” Jimmy added.
“That is an unusual name.” A raspy cluck erupted from the well-dressed man’s mouth, making Jimmy wondered if it was his version of a laugh. Looking up at Jimmy, the man then asked, “Is he the only one you can think of?”
“Yeah, if speaking the language is a requirement. Not too many Americans speak Thai. It’s a tough language to learn. A tonal language. A lot of the words sound the same to us Westerners but have big differences with just the way you pronounce them. A lot of those Southeast Asian languages are the same.”
“Thank you, Jimmy,” the well-dressed man said as he pushed the chair back and stood up. “If we have another delivery in Mexico, I’ll give you a call.”
“Please do,” Jimmy replied, encouraged by the well-dressed man’s parting words.
Continuing to drink for several more hours after the well-dressed man had left, Jimmy stood up to leave and could feel the effects of all the beers he had consumed. Slightly dizzy, he made his way to the arched door, again bumping into several of the seated bar patrons. Their reaction mimicked the earlier victims. Even in a drunken stupor no person was foolish enough to challenge a man of Jimmy’s size.
Lampposts illuminated the now dark and nearly empty sidewalks with a yellowish glow and few cars moved along the once-busy avenue. Walking back to his hotel, Jimmy passed a small group of men taking turns drinking tequila from a bottle on the steps of an old tenement. A little farther up the street, a tired-looking prostitute in a short black dress with fishnet stockings and scratched patent leather high heels, clearly past her prime, asked him if he wanted a date. Jimmy ignored her. Stopping by a small convenience shop, he bought a bottle of tequila. Four blocks later, he approached his hotel, carrying the tequila bottle in a brown paper bag.
It was a cheap hotel, used by the local prostitutes on an hourly basis. The hotel entrance was marked by a small flickering blue neon light that simply stated Hotelero. The lobby was small and need of a good cleaning, and the night clerk, a thin and somber man dressed in a dirty white T-shirt, sat behind a dark wooden counter with peeling veneer. A wide chicken-wire screen separated him from the hotel’s clientele.
“Not much protection there, pal,” Jimmy commented to the clerk while tapping on the chicken wire. “I could be through that in ten seconds.”
The clerk passed the room key under the screen without uttering a word. Picking up his key from the counter, Jimmy walked past an aged elevator with gated doors and a no funciona sign hand written in thick black ink on yellowing paper fixed to its call button. Climbing a set of narrow steps leading to the upper floors, he drunkenly bounced off the walls of the stairwell several times while struggling to the third floor.
After unlocking and opening the door, Jimmy paused at the threshold, teetering against the frame. The walls, covered with a faded floral wallpaper, were faintly illuminated from a single bulb hanging from the hallway ceiling behind him. A metal-framed bed and thin mattress, along with a small wooden bed stand in need of paint, made up the only furniture. A small window provided a view of the neighboring building’s brick wall. With no maid service, Jimmy’s bed was unmade and the sheets looked as if they hadn’t been washed in weeks. The room smelled of a mixture of urine and mildew.
A nearly indistinguishable shadow crossed the room’s wall and Jimmy felt a narrow blade slip between the ribs in his back. The pain was excruciating as it pierced through the nerves surrounding the ribs and grated across the bones as he turned to confront his attacker, dropping the brown paper bag with the bottle of tequila. Its contents shattered and spilled onto the floor at his feet. The sheer power of Jimmy’s spin forced his assailant into the doorframe and, with the impact, the man lost his grip on the blade handle. It was too dark to make out his attacker’s facial features, so Jimmy grabbed the man’s hair and slammed his head against the doorframe, splintering the wood. As the man’s head bounced off the wooden frame, he fell to the floor.
A wave of fatigue overwhelmed Jimmy, and he began coughing up blood. As he reached down to grab his assailant, the man pushed Jimmy away with his feet. He stumbled backward, falling onto the small bed. The bed’s metal frame shrieked a high-pitched squeal under his weight.
The collision with the thin mattress buried the blade farther into his back. Sitting up, Jimmy attempted to reach around and extract the weapon but the thickness of his arms became an obstacle. He could not reach the blade handle. His attacker stood up in the doorway, rubbing the side of his head and watched in silence.
Unable to find the strength to stand, Jimmy knew he was dying. He realized that the blade must have punctured his heart or aorta, disrupting the flow of blood to his body. He breathed heavily but to no avail. Life-supporting oxygenated blood never arrived.
“Por qué?” Jimmy weakly asked, falling back onto the mattress, the bed frame squealing again. When the man did not respond, Jimmy asked again in English, “Why?”
“The world won’t miss you, James Santos. You’re a drunken idiot,” his attacker replied in American-accented English, the voice sounding unusually soothing.
Jimmy knew the man was right. He would not be missed. Before taking his final breath on a dirty unmade bed in a budget hotel room in Mexico City, Jimmy thought of his old friend Tommy Luck. He wondered if Tommy would have a better outcome during his delivery.
© 2017 by Patrick Ashtre