Wacky Wednesday – “Buenos Aires”

23 May

I stopped in the hallway. The peeling wallpaper, yellowed with heat and tobacco smoke, caught my arm as I swayed and fell against it. The gurgling suspicion in my belly had hardened into a knot of agonizing certainty, and my skin flashed hot, then cold, then hot. I was sweating so much it was vulgar.

I don’t know how or when I made it to my room, but when I came to I was half-sprawled on the creaking, flimsy mattress. I felt nauseous, and turned in time to vomit yellow in a discreet pool on the floor. I saw the ceiling fan, ludicrously slow, through a gossamer film as my eyelids fluttered. The pain was unreasonable, unfair. I was conscious enough to know that I was about to die.

*

Twenty-four hours later, I was alive. If I’m honest, it felt more like a punishment than a mercy. The poison had hit me all at once, like a baseball bat to the gut, completely incapacitating me. I had been a fool.

When I woke, my head pulsed as though it was a balloon someone was filling with acid. My mouth was cottony, my tongue leaden. It was night-time, profoundly dark but for the moonlight slanting through from the balcony. I stumbled on wooden legs to the doorway, the night breeze like a gift from God on my face. That lanky American with the glasses, I thought. You bloody idiot.

Gripping the front of my skull in one hand as though it would fall to pieces if I didn’t, I listened to the tuneless saxophone from the cafe outside. I hated it. I hated the happy voices, singing and laughing, and the soft clinking of cutlery and glass. I hated the muggy heat. I hated this stupid, beautiful city. My stomach spasmed, and I doubled over, giving a small shout. I hated myself. I felt like crying, and laughed aloud at the childishness of it.

Four hours, a fitful sleep, and a coffee later I was more lucid. I read the cable from Control with a steady hand. Either she gave me the gold willingly, today, or I was to slip on my gloves.

*

“We’re like warrior tribes,” she said. Her accent was rather thick, but she hid her nationality well. Not that it mattered much here. Her hair had been bleached – recently, by the look of it. She was American to the untrained eye. I looked at the perfect little mole on her cheek, and saw Moscow.

“How do you mean?”

“You know, arguing over who has the biggest stick. Boys with toys. We’ve built a house of cards, and soon it’s going to fall down.”

The dead drop had been changed at the last minute. Now it was this cafe, a mile down the cobbles. I couldn’t see what was wrong with the last one. Either way, I didn’t care. My head still whispered razor-sharp promises of another sleepless night, and I was eager to get it done.

I splashed another shot of firewater, pulled it back grimacing, and slammed the glass onto the wicker table. She smiled at me, raising an eyebrow. “How rude of me,” I said, and filled her glass again too. She sipped at it daintily. I struggled to keep my impatience in check.

“I drank your drink,” I said, finally, and her hand stopped on her way to her mouth. “Last night. In case you were wondering. It was the American.”

She looked shocked. “Good God.” Realization spread across her face like the sun wiping away a shadow. She regarded the shot in her hand, and elected to put it down. “Why…why would you do that?”

I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t. Except that I did, I was just too stupid to acknowledge it.

“Listen,” I said, my voice low. “Tell me what you want. There’s no time; I don’t know why you’re mucking about. Tell me, and let’s get the hell out of here.”

She smiled again. Christ, she was pretty. “You know what I want. A new identity. A new life.”

“And in exchange?”

“Everything they ever told me. A lifetime’s worth of gold. You know as well as I do: it’s not meant to last. When everything ends, I want to make sure I’m on the right side.”

That tugged a grin out of me, despite myself. I poured again. There was a small sound, a pyp that could easily have been a bird or an insect or any number of things, but for some reason I heard it and looked up. Her smile was gone, and I felt a sudden lump in my throat.

She crashed face-first into the wicker table, knocking our drinks onto the stones. People around us cried out and the cafe burst into a commotion. My nerves were on fire as I scanned the crowd, and in an instant I saw him: tall, bespectacled, with strands of dark hair sweat-stamped onto his forehead. He lowered his pistol, and ran.

*

At about three o’clock that morning, he found me. It took a great deal of shouting for him to convince me to put down the broken bottle. I didn’t care that he was unarmed – I was ready to murder the bastard.

“Why,” was all I could say, sputtering out the word like the drunken, miserable fool I was. “Why?”

“Do I have to spell it out?” he said, flustered. “She was a dangle, pal. A con. She was onto you from the get-go. She had less gold than you’ve got in your mouth.”

My buzzing head was thick with abuse and fatigue. I should have felt sad.

I felt nothing at all.

I slumped into a chair and stared into space, the room spinning around me. “The drink,” I said.

“That’s right,” he said. “Me. Trying to save your dumb Limey ass. You gave me away at the cafe, I had to do something.”

I looked up at him. “I suppose thanks are in order.”

“Nope,” he said, pulling up a knocked-over stool and sitting beside me. “Just do me a favour, will ya? Pick up that phone, and order another bottle.”

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2 Responses to “Wacky Wednesday – “Buenos Aires””

  1. Moni May 23, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Have you read The Rum Diary? You could take over for Hunter S. Thompson.

    Drinking, vomit, women, hot weather, general tone of bitterness & confusion – all wrapped in to one.

    More of this any day of the week!!

  2. Your Father May 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I agree with Moni, this is good stuff, Jojo. I particularly like the liberal use of simile. You have a way of creating a mood, and transporting the reader to a time and a place. Well done!
    Mom says “Can I have your first published book autographed? And you can pay me back with your Pulitzer Prize money.”

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