“Robert.” A name called in the darkness. “Robert.” My grandfather. “Robert. What do you think you are doing? Put the gun down, you fool.”
The barrel was stuck hot against my cheek. A hand in the darkness reached out and snatched it from my encumbrance. I held my arms out locked, focusing a phantom rifle at a hollow scene of dead leaves and shrubbery. The hand reached out again and stole me from my fixation. “Stop your foolishness, Robert. You got her. Come now.”
My grandfather took me by the arm and marched me over to where it all happened; by the bushes mottled with berries of red and flowers. There she lay, in all her morbid glory, peaceful and solemn and holy. Bright brown and bruised red like Ophelia in the river among the foliage in Denmark. I ran my small hand over her soft brown fur. She was still warm. My grandfather snatched it away. “What do you think are you doing? Come on, Robert. Help me lift her.”
The journey back home was silent. No more Joni Mitchell on the radio. No songs for the dead. Just my grandfather and I sat silent and cold as we rolled past an endless legion of pine on either side of the road. They stood to attention, solemn and reverent. The decorum of the Canadian wood not lost on me at that tender age. I looked to them from my window and gave my salute.
I started to think of the young fawn estranged from its mother out there alone in the woods. I wondered if he’d be ok, if he could survive. If he could make his own path. I concluded that I couldn’t be sure in any case. And that made me real sad.
Ricky looked up from the steering wheel and placed his hand on my shoulder. “You ready for this, gringo?” he said.
“What are we doing exactly?”
“Follow my lead.”
He got out the car and walked towards the store, full of purpose now. I could feel his sweaty energy as he paced across the gravel, onto the pavement, and through the dusty screen door, into the grocery shop. He slicked his hair back with hands and started browsing the aisles, feigning real interest in their produce. Tortilla breads; cans of beans; band-aids and rum and carpet cleaner. He picked up products and read labels before putting them back down again and moving on. I stood in the corner of the store watching. The young boy clerk had so far said nothing.
Ricky would always take his time in browsing a place when we were out on a job and to this day I still don’t know why he did it. He just did it. Every time we went out. Like a tactic in building suspense prior to some fantastic happening, or a strange meditation to swell the air with febrile energy; like a stalking beast savouring the few delicious seconds before a kill, dragging each moment on so as to draw as much he could from it. Ricky put a lot of stock in proverbs and idioms, and he tried to live his life by them. This was his calm before the storm I guess. And what a fucking storm.
Ricky walked up to the counter and ordered cigarettes. The boy got him a twenty pack of Benson & Hedges menthol. Ricky lit one. He put his hands down on the counter, took a drag and breathed out smoke long and heavy down towards his chest. He was calm. The boy was calm. They glared at each other mutual with their eyes fixated. The boy stared back nervous and tentative, lost in the horror of this great olive baboon looking down at him, staring down at him with furious and unyielding zeal. He didn’t show it though, the kid. You could just feel it being there. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I just stood at the back browsing the beer selection.
Eventually the kid spoke, broke the tension and asked Ricky if there was anything more he could help him with. Ricky stared him down a while longer before asking for the owner.
(at the time when this happened I was new to Mexico and I didn’t really know what they were saying. Actually I was pretty perplexed by the whole situation and the speed at which it escalated to its conclusion. I’ve since learnt Spanish and can now relay back to you the sequence of events with relative accuracy. With that in mind I hope you trust me to be reliable in translating it all to you, with the dialogue in Standard English. God speed).
“I’m sorry but my grandfather is sick. I’m looking after the store until he’s better.”
“Just get you fucking grandfather, please. Ok, calbron?”
“No, I’m sorry sir. As I told you before, he’s sick. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Puta madre!” Ricky smashed his fit down on the counter. “Is there anything you can help me with, calbron? A kid. You? Fuck no, fucking pendejo.”
The boy was scared. I felt kinda bad for him stood there terrified and all but you know, business is business. I didn’t know much about Ricky at the time, but I understood that maybe once long ago Ricky was a boy pissing his pants in a store while a great olive coloured baboon shouted in his face and slammed his fist around. Or maybe Ricky had a son somewhere also pissing his pants being verbally savaged by some other illiterate tyrant. It’s the natural order of things. The universe is a complex thing.
“So now, pendejo, what I need you to do, is pick up that fucking phone and call your sick fucking grandpa. Can you do that for me? Fucking please?”
Ricky turned around and looked at me.
“No.” said the boy.
Ricky went grey. Instantly. All human blood left his body momentarily, as if it were about to re-emerge again phoenix in a fury of hatred and fire. He was still grey though.
“What did just you say?”
“I said no”, repeated the boy.
Ricky’s face twisted and contorted beyond natural possibility. His brow so low now it covered his eyes. Bile and molten venom was brewing in his gut. He was nearly ready to spit it out when the boy pulled a twelve-gauge shotgun up from under the counter and pointed at Ricky’s forehead. Ricky was grey no more.
I’ve always wondered why, since the invention of the screw cap or the twisted bottle cap, the advanced race that we are, still insist on plugging beer bottles with the primitive vacuum seal of a traditional bottle cap; as if beer were some forbidden nectar only to be harvested by man after some great trial of guile and wit. This gold and shining token bestowed upon man as a final gift from the gods, a farewell to their children, wishing them drunk and merry for the duration of eternity. Or maybe like Adam in the garden, beer was presented to man as a trial; a test from the makers to determine the holy resolve of their opus; whether man could rightfully ascend to the rank of angel and join their mothers and fathers in the administration of the republics of the universe. Man failed.
I picked up a Bud and cracked it on the side of the shelf and drank it.
Silver icelets of sweat rolled slick down the cheek of Ricky’s stony face. But to this day I maintain they were beads of heat, not fear. Staring down a twelve-gauge barrel of potential and precarious doom, Ricky was composed; collected and zenful. Calm in the face of this frantic hysterical boy screaming at him about justice and poverty and his sick grandfather, with his pubescent finger hormonal and erratic on the hair trigger of a twelve-gauge shotgun. Ricky slowly slid his right hand off the counter and reached around his back for the gun nestled between his boxers and the waistband of his black trouser pants.
“Put your hands on the fucking counter.” Screamed the boy.
“You fucking asshole.” Said the boy, tears in his eyes.
“Hey, kid it’s ok. Relax” said Ricky, soft and comforting.
“Don’t tell me to fucking relax, you asshole. You come here, you rob from my grandfather. You are a criminal.”
“No, no, no, kid you have misunderstood my intentions. I am an old friend of your grandfather. I came to pay him a visit while he sick, ok?”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Lie, me? No, you’ve got it wrong kid, I don’t lie.”
“You are a liar and a criminal.”
Ricky didn’t respond this time.
“You make me sick. Ever since I was a kid I watched people like you come into our store, our family business, take money from my grandfather, my father, my mother. I’ve watched people like you suck the lifeblood from our stores, our towns, ours states, from Me’hico. Watched you bleed it like a cut pig until there was naught but offal, and then you bled that too. Our forefathers fought and conquered and triumphed over the corruption of Díaz and for what? For a beast far more foul and ugly to take its place. The Me’hican project had so much hope, but she has failed. Someone needs to do something about it. I’m going to start.”
The boy held the shotgun, still pointed zealously at Ricky’s forehead. Ricky was calm, and plagued with sweat. Their mutual gaze iron and indestructible smouldered red-hot. The air was congested with unbreathable tension and it choked them both. Me too. “Enough” said the boy. “For Me’hico.” He cocked the shotgun.
And then, as if with intervention divine from Hades the boy lay on the floor with blood running slowly from the side of his skull. Ricky leaned over the counter to observe the fallen revolutionary sprawled there with the shotgun resting awkwardly by his side; broken glass and beer glittering him “Fuck me” exhaled Ricky as he returned from adrenaline asphyxiation “is he dead?” He asked, not me, but the universe. He shrugged.
Ricky walked around the counter and opened the cash register and emptied it of all currency, coins and all. “Let’s go, Robert.”
When we got outside Ricky stopped short of the car and hugged me, earnestly, for ten seconds or longer. When we finished our embrace he shoved a wad of pesos in my breast pocket and patted my back, “you did good, kid” he said. “Let’s go home.”