Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fiction: Boystown: The Return (a novel)

Chapter 4. Pepe Espada

By Ed Rogers

[Chapter 3 of Ed Rogers’s new novel appeared here on May 30. It is available in its entirety as a Kindle book.]

The Ford van stopped in an alley. The ugly bastard pulled the hood off my head and threw the side door open. Then he jerked me to my feet and slammed a meaty fist into my gut. As I gasped for air, he shoved me out the door and onto a pile of garbage bags. I lay doubled up, arms around my mid-section, wondering if I would ever breathe again. The gun and knife bounced off my back and the van sped away. A lifetime later I pulled in my first good breath of air and straightened my legs. The assholes seemed to like hitting me in the stomach.
    An overflowing dumpster stood beside the black bags I sprawled across. The smell created by the heat of the day was sickening, not to mention all the flies buzzing around. I guess I should have been thankful they choose to put me beside the dumpster instead of in the damn thing. I made it to my feet and stumbled across the alley holding my knife and gun. I put the knife back in my pocket and the gun back under my belt, but I still was not that steady and used the wall as a brace. I leaned against it for a few minutes and brushed the dirt and grime off my clothes. I ran my hand through my hair and tried to put myself into some kind of order.
    There was a wide street at the end of the alley where I saw a bunch of people and cars moving about. I thought, Thank God, I’ll be able to get a taxi. I walked as upright as my body would allow and stepped onto the sidewalk. I received a look of disdain from a well-dressed passerby I bumped into. I must have looked like a wild man as I materialized from the alley. I ran my fingers through my hair once more and tried to put it back in place. I looked at the front of my shirt and pants and brushed at the dirt on my clothes. Then I panicked and felt for my billfold. It was still there – a very good thing – I needed a taxi. I let the air out of my lungs.
    As I stepped to the curb, I realized where I had been dumped. Hell, I was downtown and only a block from Pepe’s hotel. The last thing I needed to do was go back to the Four Seasons without seeing Pepe. I had forgotten he expected me to contact him. And I needed to talk with him while I was on my feet – before I crashed. The way I felt, once I hit the bed there was no telling when I’d get on my feet again, and I had a lot to do before I slept.
    It was a hot day. The sun, high in the clear sky, became blinding. It felt like a strobe-light pulsating in my brain, and with each pulse there was a shot of pain. Somewhere and somehow, my sunglasses hadn’t made it out of the van. I tried to stay deep within the crowd. From living in Canada so long, I was as white as a piece of paper and with a gun stuck in my belt the last thing I needed was a cop questioning me. On the corner I spotted a vendor selling hats. I paid him $20 for a $3 straw cowboy hat and took time to bend it into shape. The light changed and I crossed the street toward the hotel with the rest of the herd of cattle.
    It was a good-looking hotel. Only three stories and sixty rooms, it catered to people who were willing to pay a high price to be pampered. The hotel had two rows of balconies, which wrapped around the top floors. With Roman or Spanish columns spaced between every two windows, the place cried out for the return of royalty.
    The front had six or eight marble steps leading to the entrance. The steps were wide and set in a semi-circle. With my back straight and head up, I boldly ascended the steps. It had been my experience in the past, if you acted like you owned the place, employees were afraid to challenge you. However, halfway up the staircase I was met by the doorman, who I could only surmise from his approach had not read that part of the handbook.
    I could tell he was a Mexican, but he spoke Oxford English. “I am terribly sorry, sir. You cannot possibly enter the hotel dressed in such a fashion!”
    “My relation is a guest here and if you will call him, he will tell you to let me come into the hotel. I’m sorry about the clothes, but it is important I speak with Mr. Espada.”
    He kept shaking his head. I thought it was going to jump off his shoulders. “There is a telephone across the street. Call Mr. Espada and he can meet you out here on the street. However, I cannot allow you to come into the hotel dressed like a beggar.”
    That pissed me off. I may have looked a little rough around the edges, but I sure as hell didn’t look like a bum. I pulled two one-hundred-dollar bills from my billfold and shoved them into his hand. “Stop fucking around with me and get me into Mr. Espada’s suite. I don’t care if we go through the hotel or the kitchen as long as we do it now.”
    He ran the money through his fingers a few times and crammed it into his pocket. “Stay behind me as we go into the lobby.”
    We entered an enormous hall with a ceiling made of stained glass. From the front door it was possible to view the entire hotel. I felt like I was standing inside a real-life picture. The sign at the door said the ceiling was built by Tiffany in 1908. It was unbelievable – the size alone was impossible for me to get my head around. It covered the ceiling of the lobby from the door all the way to the open glass elevator at the other end – at least seventy yards. Looking up I counted three stories. On each side I could see that the rooms opened onto an open-air walkway, which overlooked the lobby. I felt a tug on my shirt and we turned left along the wall until we came to a service elevator.
    “Mr. Espada is in room 319. If you get caught, I will be the one who calls the police – are we clear on that?”
    “Thanks, and don’t worry. I’ve never seen you before.”
    He turned and headed outside just as the elevator door opened.
    I pressed the up button and heard the swirl of cables and stepped back as the door opened. I walked in and pushed 3. For an old hotel the elevator was very fast, and in no time I stepped out onto the walkway of the third floor. It was easy to find room 319.
    I couldn’t help but wonder how our meeting would turn out. We hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. The last time we met I had been close to his age now, and that had been a short business trip to sign the papers when we bought the winery. His wife then built a wall that we could not get past. It was a shame, but we all make our own bed – and we have to sleep in it.

Before I knocked, I checked out the stained glass once more. It was even more impressive up close. The detail was not unlike a fine oil painting. I shook my head at the contrasts within Mexico. The ugly and the beautiful walked hand in hand.
    Pepe opened the door and stood for a few minutes as he tried to place the familiar, but yet not so familiar face. He was different also: he was older and grey peppered his hair, his shoulders drooped, but more from the pain in his heart than age. He had filled out, but I knew him the second I laid eyes on him. Finally I said, “Hello, Pepe.”
    His arms flew around me and I thought it was possible we both could go over the rail.
    “James, James. Thank God you’re here.”
    “Do you think we could step into your room? We’re making a hell of a scene out here.”
    As he pulled away from me, he turned his head and wiped the tears from his eyes. With his back still toward me, he led me into his suite – and quite a suite it was: all one room, but three times as large as a normal suite, and each part had its own theme. At the foot of the king-size bed, a picture window allowed a view of Plaza de La Constitucion and the square. Then to the left of the window was a table for eating. The other side of the room had a full office – with desk and computer. In front of the desk were a couch and two full-size chairs completing the decor. There was a 54-inch flat-screen, which hung on the wall behind the bar, and it was a full-size bar – none of that mini-bar crap that was in my room.
    “Have the police found out anything?”
    Pepe walked to the bar. “No. And I don’t think they are trying very hard. Would you like a beer – or maybe something stronger?”
    “Beer will be fine.” I took the beer Pepe handed me and went to the couch, where I let my old body slide into the softness of a very expensive sofa.
    Pepe went behind the desk and pulled out the leather chair. “James, you look like shit. What the hell have you been up to?”
    “Nothing for you to worry about. You know me – I poked my nose into the wrong side of town and paid the price for being stupid.”
    Pepe reached for his beer but held it between his lips and the desk as a smile brightened his face. “Did you learn anything?”
    “I learned that getting the shit beat out of me hurts a lot more now than it did thirty years ago.”
    Pepe took a drink and set the bottle back on the desk. “You found out nothing about the kids?”
    I took another drink before I answered him. I knew what little I had could mean nothing and I didn’t want to get his hopes up. “Nothing about the kids. Have you really not heard anything from the police?”
    “Janet, the mother of the girl, has hounded them day and night.” He raised his hands in a sign of surrender. “I’m lost, James. I don’t know what to do or where to turn. Each hour we don’t hear something is an hour closer to never getting them back.”
    I raised my bottle and took a long drink. What I had to tell him next wasn’t going to make things better but he had to think of himself and forget the girl. I decided to share what I had. “I didn’t find out anything about the kids, but I have a lead. It may be nothing – the source is not the best in the world – so please don’t get your hopes up. However, if it turns out to be a good lead, it will mean maybe we get Manuel back, but the girl is gone.”
    “Why would the girl be gone and my son still be alive?”
    “I believe they only wanted the girl. Pretty blond white girls bring big money along the border. I believe they have shipped or they are in the process of shipping her north. After that is taken care of they will deal with Manuel. If you are lucky you will get him back – for a good deal of money. However, if they believe that is too dangerous, they’ll kill him.”
    “What kind of a lead do you have? Is it on the person who kidnapped them, because we can turn it over to the police and maybe save both of our kids?”
    I took another drink of beer because the conversation was about to get ugly. “The police are not your friends, and somehow you need to get the mother to back off – for a while anyway. If she pushes them hard enough, someone will leak word to the kidnappers to cut their losses and kill Manuel. With too much pressure they will not take a chance on a money exchange.”
    His eyes had a hurt look about them. “What about her daughter? There has got to be something we can do.”
    I got up, walked over and put the empty bottle on the bar. “The next time you hear from me, I’ll either have Manuel or I may know what has happened to him. It would be wise not to tell the mother her daughter is not coming home.”
    Pepe stood and walked around the desk. “I’m coming with you – he’s my son.”
    “It’ll be better if I do this on my own. The fallout isn’t going to be pretty. I’ll be turning over the apple cart and a lot of people will lose money and they’ll be mad as hell. Besides, if I do get him, I’ll need you ready to fly him out of the country. Like I said, the police are not your friends. If they catch you with Manuel they will feel like fools. To save face they’ll find something to charge you with and they’ll hunt me down and sooner or later we’ll all end up on a slab.”
    I started toward the door. “Remember what I said – tone the mother down a notch or two. It isn’t like she’s helping anything.”
    Pepe walked close to me and for some reason whispered. “How can I get in touch with you in case the kidnappers want to make a deal?”
    I opened the door and rested my hands on his shoulders and for a moment. I saw that little lost boy on the streets of Boystown. “If they will make a deal, take it – you won’t need me. But deal or no deal, I will kill the son-of-a-bitches for coming after my family.”
    “James, please check in with me. I’m going crazy about Manuel. I don’t need to be worrying about you being dead.”
    I laughed and sounded braver than I was. “You should know it takes a hell of a lot to kill me. However, if you don’t hear anything from me or the kidnappers in two more days, go home, because we’ll both be dead.”

The day before, Pepe Espada had come down the stairs still tying his tie. The Wine Growers Association’s monthly meeting was in an hour. He paid no attention to the ringing phone – he was late and had no time for idle chit-chat.
    As his fingers went around the door handle, Rosa, their maid, called out, “Mr. Espada, it is a phone call for you.”
    He hollered, “Take a message and I’ll call them back.”
    He stepped out onto the porch, but before the door closed he heard words that stopped him cold: “It is the American Embassy in Mexico City – they say it is very important.”

Pepe sat in his study with his third drink. Judith, his wife, lay curled in a ball on the couch. The doctor had been called and the pills had stopped the wailing and reduced it to a whimper. But Pepe knew that sooner or later the pills would wear off.
    Manuel Eirksen Espana was Pepe’s only child and the light of his life. He was a bright boy, never made under an A in any subject, and was liked by everybody. He could have gotten into any college he wanted, but he chose to go to the University of Mexico. Pepe tried to talk Manuel out of going to Mexico, but once Manuel made up his mind he never backed down. It was like talking to a brick wall.
    Now his son had been taken by a person or persons unknown and Pepe had no idea what to do about it. After talking to the Embassy he called the police telephone number they had given him and spoke with the officer in charge of the case. The officer assured him that they were on top of it and they would call within a few days, hopefully with good news.

Copyright © 2016 by Ed Rogers


  1. This is GORGEOUS writing, absolutely thrilling. I confess I started at this chapter, not having tuned in before. I wanted to stop and go back to the first chapter, but your storytelling skills wouldn't let me put it aside, even though I didn't understand all the details. I am excited to now go back to the start. Well done!

    1. Of course, Ed, I agree with Eric. And I even enjoyed the novel more the second & third times I read it!

  2. Thank both of you for the kind words.