Author: Guede Mazaka
Gringo's slouching on the stool, watching the flies buzz his tequila. He's just been sitting there, occasionally taking a sip. His hair's stringy as a dog's, his head stays bowed as if he's praying. They've marked him out since the moment he walked in.
The moment he walks out arrives, slow with the fever-heat. He tosses some crumpled bills onto the counter, paper stains atop wood ones, and ambles off. Passes one guy who's had his leg out for a stretch, and doesn't even fucking notice the foot. Gringo trips, curses, and a round of laughter is handed about the room.
"Hey, Americano. Sorry about that."
The other men at the table, the poker players gambling with houses and wives and dignity all scratched onto makeshift chips, they throw down their cards and rise. One's flipping a coin with his fingers, flashing silver. He leans down and holds out a gun. "Lemme me help you up."
And the gringo begins to laugh.
It's a handful of silver, but not even comparable to Judas' compensation. Chump change. Literal milk money. And it's scattered across the concrete, proud eagles glaring balefully up at the nice shiny soles coming down.
And Sheldon would like to scream, but it's a bit stuck. Voice isn't coming along, give it a moment, would you? I'll make it your while.
But the men are bored, waiting for their shipment to show up in this little shithole alley of their grand city, and so they've decided to have some fun with the kid who was stupid enough to wander in.
They check the bills, damn their nitpicky bureaucratic assholes. As if they've got nothing else to do but ask hey, where's the whorehouse fit into the scheme, boy? What's this, son? Well, Agent Sands ain't their whipping boy, and he ain't letting their little accounting scruples cramp his style.
He uses the cell for business and for the pleasure he knows he can write off as business. Ajedrez is a fucking beautiful unholy combination of the two, all sharp numbers in her nails that dig and tear, and soft cries when he finally wrestles her into opening up, just a crack. Because by now, that's all he needs, baby. Just the little edge of fracture.
The quarter goes in, makes a funny chunk and Sands starts to curse the fucking piece of Japanese-designed Mexican-made useless shit. But then everything clicks and the dial tone gets replaced by sweet silver ringing.
One of them thinks he's cute and gives him a lollipop. Hey, kid, this is a crime scene. Go home, you'll see it all on the evening news.
Fuck you, Sheldon thinks, because he's ten-going-on-eleven, and he's seen it all. Rapes, murders, backstabbing, plain old incest-hell, that's just his mother's soaps.
He tells her his scrapes are from a touch-football game gone screwy. She buys it, mostly because she's too fucking loaded to remember he hates any organized sport with an unholy passion. And she never even notices his crushed hand.
The next day, he uses his lunch money to buy a token and takes the early train down to a free clinic he knows about because his mother hauled him down there, the last time dear old Dad shoved in a bun to bake and then forgot to send the paychecks to keep the oven gas on. The quarter's the last to go in-biggest coin he's got, but he doesn't care. There's a wad of green in his coat pocket says he's doing way better.
Another day, another fucking drag of bad pork and shittier alcohol, wizened lime garnishes and even more wrinkled grannies giving him the evil eye. His goddamn reception's out, so he's left with the dented crackwhore-stained payphone in the corner. Only fucking line this little posterchild for National Geographic's got.
"Hey, get me the fuck out of here." Sands taps his toe while the other end bullshits congrats on his great work, calls him the best agent to ever hit Mexico, he knows he knows the natives like the back of his cramping hand, doesn't he?
What Sands knows is that he's tired of the white powder drifting through every-fucking-body's veins, hyping them to the big lights and flash cars, and he's tired of it being too fucking easy. He knows they aren't transferring him out, no matter how much penance he's done.
Well, fucking fine. He'll up the ante himself, and he'll collect big while everyone's still scrabbling in the dust for El Dorado. As if a legend's going to hang around in mud and shit and dead chickens. There's one about three feet from Sands' shoes.
He turns away, rolling his eyes, and his thumb slides into the change return slot. Comes out with round silver that glides down and crosses his palm, and he thinks it's a pretty nice omen. Fucking finally.
They drag the hysterical crazy fuck on his feet, smack him around a few times. What's funny, compadre? You break your cock whacking off, or what?
Nah. His sunglasses fall off, and everyone shocks back a step. Even in Mexico, it's a pretty goddamn nasty sight. Just went to bed with Luck, woke up with Death. Really fucking weird, isn't it?
And then the coin-flipper gasps, fingers convulsive around his bit of shiny. Because it's the wrong bit of shiny. His gun's gone.
Not gone. Just misplaced. Whoops. The blind man's got it, and got some other dumb fuck's, too. But there's no way he can shoot, right?
One of the friendly neighborhood gangsters gets careless, joking around. Lets himself be pushed a little too forward. Maybe he's looking forward to a nostalgic spot of bullying. Maybe he thinks Sheldon's a real fucking pretty little toy.
Whatever. Fact is, the pistol's right there, and the fucker's off Sheldon's hand. It hurts-God, it hurts-but the fingers are kind of working and it's good enough to pull the trigger. He's too small, see? Can duck between their legs, get behind and pull the drop on them.
Red starts creeping toward his money, and he's still young enough to think that's disgusting. So he carefully wipes his coins free, just as carefully as he does the gun before handing it back to the nice corpse that'd lent it to him and as he picks up the area. Because his parents like a clean home-well, they like to pretend they have one. And if they don't, Sheldon's the one who gets blamed. It's self-defense, really, the way he's learned to put objects back precisely where he left them.
Except for the wallets. Because those bastards made him late for his cartoons, and they fucking well owe him.
He's getting sloppy, says Texas.
He's fucking insane, says Colombia. And believe me, I've seen insane. He's worse than the motherfuckers that snort up the fucking country.
He's got his head halfway up the crack pipeline, and he ain't coming out, says the border.
Langley knows that's not quite right. Sands likes his edge too much to dull it with drugs. But he is getting sloppy.
Let him, it tells them.
Gringo's walking out the bar when he trips a-fucking-gain. He thinks about torching the place, just because that routine's so stale it's a goddamn Styrofoam copy.
But the little cause of his accident's, well, little. So he picks it up instead. That fuck's quarter, not so snappy now because it's caked in blood. He rubs some of that off, feels the silver burning through his hand.
Sheldon's not going to think about the weird dark shadow that appeared behind that slick-dressed son of a bitch. It doesn't make sense-and besides, it didn't hang around. So therefore it wasn't worth paying attention to. He's learned long ago that hypothetical and theory and possibility are just toys for the rich and famous.
Rich. Silver's gleaming in his pocket, nestled down in a whorl of crisp green. It's almost enough to make his hand stop hurting. It is worth enough for his hand to be killing him like it is.
So he thinks of silver instead. Silver, silver, silver. Like drops of power sparkling in his palms. It's enough to pay off the toll for the trip, he thinks. Enough for him to start buying his way out.
He sneaks into the bathroom with the big mirror, shiny like the coins, and he starts practicing the fast walk, the fast talk. Because he's not taking any more. He's goddamn dealing.
Money's a lying, treacherous, triple- and quadruple-timing short-skirted bitch that doesn't even have the decency to shut the door when it does a runner. He hates its fucking guts, because it damn near took his.
He's glad he can't see green. Gold was a little harder to shake, but enough tequila sloshing down his raw-scraped throat, scorching his veins into hard-baked strings, and soon he started seeing it instead of pirates' treasure and bank vaults of bullion.
But he can't throw silver. It's the fucking prick of pricks, wheeling around, lying on his eyeholes when he wakes in the middle of the goddamn night. It hangs with him, and it won't be replaced with anything. Not water, not gunmetal-not even mirrors, though he hates the very idea of those. Fucking useless, but only to him, and that. Is. What. Hurts.
If everyone else is using it, and he's not, it starts to imply something's wrong with his picture, doesn't it? And now he doesn't have the power or the funds to flash a correction at that.
Silver. Can't just be money, can it?
He's leaning against the phone outside the bar, tap-tapping the coin along its side, trying to think. Recall that little bit of really fucking shit childhood he never thanked anyone for.
It'd been behind those fucks, at the edge of the sidewalk. Brilliant web as it caught the sun, and maybe that's what messed with the shadows. Laced them with silver, up each side like chains knitting the boogeyman together. Or maybe that was Frankenstein's staples.
Sheldon can't help but remember that, as he's sitting on the doctor's lap and pretending to be cute, as he's staring out the window that overlooks another chainlink fence. This area's smog-stuffed, blacker than the hell the local gangs name themselves after, so the metal's not so bright. It's just plain gray, no gleam.
Hold still and you won't feel a thing, tired old liar says. She's wearing a rat's nest on her head, graying and ragged, and she's got the look of dying idealism all over her. Too many AIDS patients frothing on her doorstep, too many ODs being carted away. Probably.
He doesn't listen to her. He just watches the fence, and the hole in it. The gap's a circle, almost perfect, and for a moment, he sees a face turned sideways framed in it.
It's almost the same profile. He can feel it, music flowing off nose and cheek and jaw.
What? Like Sands would ever see some dead white guy that just happened to shake the right hands the right number of times with the right amount of money being passed on. God knows the President of nothing, fucking nothing, has ever done anything for him.
There's a glass sitting by the man. Water, it smells like. Or rather, it doesn't smell. So it's water.
Sands orders a tequila. It's actually pretty good. Thing is, he's a bit short on change. The bartender sounds like a rabid Doberman, curling to leap, when he finds out, and Sands really doesn't feel like scrounging for bullets to reload his gun, but if he's got to, he's got to. Whatever.
He doesn't have to, in point of fact. A palmful of silver gets slapped down, and the bartender goes off to nose around someone else.
"I saw you coming," Sands tells the mariachi.
"I heard you coming." The case creaks as El puts away his guitar, then presses something into Sands' palm until the flesh is engraved with the imprint of the coin.
Twenty-five cents. U. S. Mint.
"What'll this buy me?" Sands asks, taunting.
El's quick on the reply, this time. "Nothing."
And Sands is thinking that's good. Can't cheat the ferryman or the fucker with the scales with a little something, he's found. Or with anything. But maybe…maybe nothing will work. He strokes the pad of his thumb over the coin, then shoves it down into his pocket and picks up his drink.