Saturday, April 30, 2016

Boystown: The Return (a novel)

Chapter 2. On the Hunt

By Ed Rogers

[The foreword, prolog, and first chapter of Ed Rogers’s new novel appeared here last month. It is available in its entirety as a Kindle book.]

A two-hour layover in Chicago afforded me the opportunity to throw back four rum and cokes. The first alcohol that had passed my lips in over twelve-years, it tasted like home. The airplane was still climbing when I went to sleep. I dreamed of the farm and Gina.
    By the time I knew something was wrong with Gina and made her go to the doctor it had been too late. The cancer was Stage 4 and within three-months she was gone. I spent the next few years in the bottle and into any woman who would give me the time of day. However, it was not a sad dream; it was the good times before the cancer. I wasn’t part of the scene. It was as though I hovered just outside. I could hear laughter from the house and I knew it was Gina and her two girls. I smelled the dust and animals, the turned earth, the kitchen fires, and Gina’s perfume. It felt so wonderful I wanted to stay there forever.
    I awoke with a start as the seat-belt bell rang and the pilot announced we were landing in Mexico City. My eyes were wet and I was grinning.
    The Four Seasons was a 5-star hotel, but not in the heart of the city. However, it was close to the old home of Emperor Maximilian the First, and his wife Carlota. I liked the hotel. While in Chicago, between drinks, I looked up hotels in Mexico City and made my reservation. It was all it advertised to be: Large, open-air-lobby, with plenty of chairs and couches and they offered a computer hookup anywhere in the hotel. The rooms were spacious. I had a king-size bed and a man-structured bathroom. There was a 54-inch flat-screen in front of the window, which covered the back wall and overlooked the garden and swimming pool. The best thing about the hotel was it was filled with mostly tourists from all over the world. The hotel felt like a little Quebec south of the border. It was close to the historical center of town, where Pepe and Janet Holloway, the mother of the missing girl, had a room at El Grande de Sol. A lot of the tourists were there because of the landmarks, which were close by – plus you could drink the water if you were so inclined. I stuck with the beer. I remembered what the water in Mexico could do to a person’s body, and it’s not pretty.
    It took me only a few minutes to unpack and clean up. I had packed light – one suit that I wore down and jeans and pullovers. One pair of dress shoes, which I came out of the second I was in the room. At the bottom of my bag were socks and my cowboy boots. I held the boots up and looked at them for a few minutes. I smiled as I wondered if they knew they were back in the land of their birth.
    I had a towel around my waist and my hair was still wet when the bellhop knocked on my door with the package I had paid him to get for me. Five minutes later I was dressed and headed out of the room. As nice as the hotel was, I didn’t have time to enjoy the visit. Each minute that ticked off the clock brought Pepe’s son, Manuel and his girlfriend, Rebecca, that much closer to death. The kidnappers would have to make a move soon, and the odds of its turning out to be in our favor weren’t good.
    As I passed through the lobby, I was confronted by a tour group from Germany. They had their maps out and were pointing at what they believed was their next stop on the tour, each one sure their idea was right. I inched around them and made for the door. Once outside, my breath was taken away by the hot air. I reached out with my right hand and caught the corner of the building to let the dizzy spell pass. Trading the coolness of Canada for the heat of Mexico would take time to get used too. The clean air up north was a lot easier to breathe than the thick, heavy substance that assaulted me outside the hotel.

Mexico City is worse than L.A. The Indians built the place on a lake, for God sake. Who, the hell would build a city on a lake? The old buildings, streets, train tracks – everything – sinks into the mud a little each year. Not to mention earthquakes – mud makes for a very unstable foundation. The city goes from old, almost old, to brand new. Skyscrapers and modern buildings – which I’m told can withstand earthquakes and do not sink – make up the new and improved Mexico City. Stay on the wide streets and freeways and you’ll never have to see the city Jay and I knew.
    Back in the ’60s, when Jay and I flew around the city, even then the air had a yellow tint, and from that high up looked like a dome. I don’t think we gave it a second thought. When you’re young, it seems for the most part that you tune out the bad things that you cannot change. It was only toward the end of that decade that the youth – older by then – started to believe they would be able to change the world. But they changed nothing, and over the years the world and the air around Mexico City had gotten worse. The smog over the city was thick with emissions from cars and black clouds of poison belched from old diesel buses. The weight of the air crushed the land like a heavy, wet blanket. I looked at the other people hurrying along the sidewalk and realized I seemed to be the only one that gave a damn. The Mexican people don’t get the credit they deserve. From before the first Spaniards set their feet on the soil of what would be known as Mexico, leaders, cults, bandits, armies, and every kind of disease known and unknown to man have tried to wipe them from the face of the earth, but they’re still here and still killing each other.
    The street was packed with people. They rushed about their busy day while breathing in the poison without a care in the world. Funny how the things I had thought of as commonplace as a young man troubled me now. Somebody said, “Youth was wasted on the young.” I’m sure whoever said that was looking at the shorter road of life ahead. However, I did feel sorry I had pissed away so much of my youth. Or, maybe I had been in Canada longer than I thought. Hell, I was in Mexico now. It was the land I had called home for most of my life. I needed to get back that feeling of belonging to the land, the smell, the people, the air, and the dirt and grime. It was the only way I was going to be of any use to Pepe. I had to make Mexico a part of me once more.

I stepped off the curb and flagged down a taxi, handed the driver the paper with the cross street written on it, and rested my head against the back seat.
    He held up the paper. “Que?”
    “Por favor.”
    The driver mumbled to himself and shook his head in disbelief. No doubt he cursed his luck – out of all the gringos in town; why had he picked up the crazy one?
    The warm breeze through the taxi’s open windows blew over my body and dried the sweat. As I leaned my head against the seat I realized something had changed. I was no longer looking out of old eyes, which watched the days of my life slip past and looked forward to nothing more than a good meal and a soft bed. I felt young and alive once more – I had a purpose and a reason for taking up space on a dying world. I decided then that if my life were to end here in Mexico, then the feeling I had right then was worth the price. It removed any doubt I had about what I must do to free Manuel – from where I sat, hell didn’t look so scary.
    Most of the taxis had A/C, but they used it only when they thought it would get them a tip. I didn’t look like a big tipper. I was dressed in old jeans and cowboy boots. The blue shirt I wore hung on the outside of my pants. It hid the small .38 revolver that was stuck in my belt and dug into my stomach. It, along with a name of a big player in the dope business by the name of El Rojo, had cost me $300. I didn’t really know if the gun worked, but it had taken the bellhop only 45 minutes to find me a gun and twelve bullets. Money was still king in Mexico. Hell, for the right amount of money a person could buy anything. I figured that was what happened to Rebecca Holloway. Young white girls brought a high price. But why they took Pepe’s kid was the big question. Maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time – it made no sense. Whatever the reason, with each hour that went by his odds of being alive got shorter. They would sell the girl and hopefully ask a large sum of money for the return of Manuel. If they didn’t, it would mean only one thing – he was dead.
    I knew I should call Pepe, but I was winging it, and until I had a plan, it would be a waste of time. Pepe and Rebecca’s mother could pray and wait in their hotel, which was close to the police station. I had to do something, and if it required silver or lead, I was ready to use whatever it took. My mind was made up, and God help the son-of-a-bitch that stood in my way.
    I watched out the window as we circled El Angel de la Independencia. It’s a beautiful Angel in the center of a round-about. There are very few pictures of Mexico City that do not include El Angel. We passed a sign that pointed the way to the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan and then passed the Museum in downtown. I never was the tourist type. I guess I’m best described as an American going nowhere but always in a hurry to get there. The driver charged me $10 even though the pesos on the meter added up to $6 in American money. I guess he got his tip after all.
    I was on the north side of town. The bellhop told me if I was looking for drug pushers and whores, North Town was where I needed to be. He was right – it looked like hell on earth. Homeless bums and drunks were everywhere. They lay in doorways filled with filth, while skinny stray dogs fought for the crumbs in the piles of garbage. The strong smell of piss filled the air, and there was the undercurrent of decay and rot everywhere. Boarded-up store fronts spoke of a better day – a day when families lived and shopped along tree-lined streets and children played on the sidewalk. Happy times were gone and only evil remained.
    I could feel the eyes on me – this was not a part of town gringos called home. A white person walking on their turf was like waving a raw piece of meat in front of a pack of hungry dogs. The pack held back and waited to see who would go first. Once the smell of blood was in the air they would all come and take their share, but someone had to lead the pack and he was the one I wanted. I crossed the street and heard footsteps move closer. I knew the asshole would make his move soon. Halfway down the block I turned left into an alley and flattened myself against the wall. The feet began to run – I pulled the gun from my belt and when he turned the corner the short barrel was ten inches from his nose. His eyes popped open and his hands shot up over his head. I watched as fear gripped him and his mind shut down. A gringo with a gun wasn’t on his menu for the day. I could see him search his brain for the English words that could save his life.
    “Amigo. I do nothing. No kill.”
    “Ahí es donde te equivocas, asshole.” Do you speak English?
    “Yes, yes! I speak.”
    I put the gun to his forehead and for a moment I watched the bead of sweat run down the barrel. “Don’t lie to me – don’t bullshit me. I will ask you a question and you will give me the answer I want to hear. If not; I’ll paint that brick wall with your brains. Entiendo?”
    Tears run freely down his cheeks and he couldn’t keep his eyes open. It takes a strong man to look death in the face. At least he hadn’t pissed his pants. “Si, I understand.”
    I removed a piece of paper with my name and cell number and put it in his shirt pocket. “Do you know where to find El Rojo?”
    His eyes opened and his fear level jumped up many more notches. “You don’t find El Rojo. He finds you, and then you are no more.”
    I pressed the barrel harder into his flesh. “What did I tell you about wrong answers?”
    “No, no. I find him for you.”
    “That’s better. When you find him – give him that piece of paper and tell him I’m waiting for his call.”
    He smiled and I believe if not for the gun at his head he would have laughed. “You want El Rojo to call you?”
    “You do this and I won’t have to come back here and kill you.” I put a $100 bill in his pocket. “This is for your help – make sure it doesn’t go toward your burial.”
    “I do this, you dead before the sun set.”
    “You take care of business and you won’t have to see me again either way it turns out.”
    I lowered the gun and his smile grew larger. “Okay, hombre. I wish I be there to see you take the bullet.”
    “I’ll ask him to send you a picture. Now, get your ass in gear, the clock is ticking.”
    I backed away and he ran down the alley. I took a deep breath and stepped around the corner. I knew he would look back, and not seeing me would add to his fear.
    I walked toward the bus stop. There was no hope of a taxi in that neighborhood. I had seen a bus on the way into the area, and now another was on the way up the street. I moved quickly toward the broken glass that lay across the sidewalk. The glass had covered the area in front of the seats where families had waited many years before.
    The eyes on me had moved deeper into the shadows. However, I felt them as they followed my every step. I had little to worry about. Two men had gone into the alley, and nobody would dare mess with the one who came out – the pack was without a leader.
    I stepped onto the bus and the smell wasn’t any better than the street. The rot had seeped into the very soul of the city. The rich could put up all the shiny new buildings they wanted, but they would never get rid of the decay. Old Mexico lived on no matter what they built. Mexico was born old and it didn’t handle new very well.

The bus took an hour to make the thirty-minute trip into downtown. It stopped at a corner close to the Plaza de la Constitucion. I got off and I stepped from the curb to flag a taxi, but before I could get my hand up, a white Ford van stopped and its side-door opened. Two men jumped out, put a black bag over my head, and threw me inside. I started to fight until I felt the gun on the back of my head. My arms were twisted and tied behind my back. They then ran their hands over my body – my .38 and small pocket-knife were removed. They released me and I bounced around on the floor as we raced through traffic. My head banged the floor-board with each bump in the road. I figured if they were going to kill me I’d be dead already, and I had to move before my brains were knocked loose. I tried to sit up, but the best I could do was roll on my side, which helped.
    “Who are you?” I asked. “What do you want?” But there was not a sound.
    We rode like that for some time – I bounced around and they acted like church mice.
    After an hour or more, the road surface changed. It felt as though we crossed two or three railroad tracks and we were driving on cobblestones.
    I came up on one elbow. “Where are we going?”

Copyright © 2016 by Ed Rogers