Port Town

by Yves Jaques

 

Pete looked to his feet as they stepped off the curb. The cobblestone streets had flattened him earlier that day, knocking the wind clean out of him. He’d lain on the stones clawing at his chest with Jake standing over him yelling "What the fuck are you doing?"

His leg still smarted where it’d gotten scraped over the stones when Jake had dragged him out of the street. Dragged him out of the street like he was running a shrimp pot up out of the surf. And all the while the cabbies laying on their horns in mad symphony.

"So what are we doing anyhow?" asked Jake, his head turning to watch a group of women crossing the street.

"We’re walking."

"No shit."

Pete grinned at Jake. "Look smart ass, how about I trip you up and drag you across the street like you did me?"

"That wasn’t my fault."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."

They made it across the street and stepped up onto the curb, Jake’s head still craned over his shoulder. They were getting close to the nightclubs, music and people flowing in and out of doorways, talk and laughter rolling in waves like the crashing surf a block away. They passed a group of burned blondes, hair white against the bisque of their skin.

"Did you see that one?" asked Jake.

Pete was scanning the names of the night clubs across the street.

"Did you see that one?" repeated Jake.

"Paco Paco, been there, Marilyn’s, done her, Cayman’s, done that, damn Jake what are we doing?"

Jake’s head was still craned to the left. "I mean did you see the ass on her?"

"Jake, they were the color of lobsters." Pete stopped on the sidewalk and grabbed him by the arm. "What are we doing?"

Jake turned his head away from the retreating women. "What are we doing? What are we doing? You whine just like my kid brother."

"Fuck you. This is our last night. You know we’ve been everywhere and what did we get? Nothing. Paco Paco, Marilyn’s, Cayman’s--"

"I know, we’ve gotta find a new place."

Two very young Indian girls came swirling about them with little trays of gum packets. "Chiclets, Chiclets," they chanted, their tiny hands patting softly on the boys’ bellies.

Jake knelt down and smiled at the older of the two girls. "Como estas, guapa? Digame, que quieres?"

The older girl smiled back, and held out her tray of chewing gum. "Chiclets?" she said again.

"Chiclets? No me gusta! Vamos!" Jake snarled at her with his stained teeth and she jumped back in fright.

"You asshole." Pete fished in his pocket and pulled out a peso, handing it to the girl. She took it gingerly before dropping a few packets of gum into Pete’s open palm, and running off laughing with her sister.

Jake and Pete kept on down the street, shading their eyes from the setting sun. "Look at those little brown legs," said Pete laughing.

"That’s dirt. That’s not brown."

"Yeah? Well, if they’re so dirty how come their teeth are so white?"

"Anybody can have white teeth."

"Yeah, well you don’t."

"Anybody can have white teeth, long as they don’t chew." Jake kicked at a dog sleeping in a doorway. "You know, I wouldn’t mind finding myself one of those nice and brown ones come to think of it." He spat. "Fuck all these white bitches."

"Don’t you think they were a little young?"

"I’m just talking about a brown one. Not those brown ones. Anyway, old enough to bleed, old enough to breed. You know that." Jake laughed and spat another wad of brown saliva.

They’d reached the end of the street where it sank beneath a dune of sand. There was a small restaurant fronted by a pair of umbrellas stuck at angles into the ground. Along one side of the street, a softly humming motor home faced the sea. Thirty yards away the white tips of the waves rose to fall exhausted on the gritty beach. A short pier ran out into the surf and at its end a crowd of Mexican boys were drinking sodas and throwing lines into the water. Pete and Jake walked out on the worn planks. They watched as the lines tied with rotten meat were thrown over the side of the dock. Blue-shell crabs took the return trip, pulling frantically at the flesh as the boys pulled them away and dropped them into laundry buckets.

"This is dork," said Jake.

Pete looked over at him. "Remember when we went down to Lake Ponchartrain at the beginning of the school year?"

"Yeah."

"The time that crawdad locked onto that chick’s toe and she started screaming?"

Jake chuckled. "Shit yes. I remember. Damn."

"You jumped in to help her--"

"And stepped on that fucking nail."

Pete kicked a loose splinter into the water. "But even so you got that crawdad off her toe."

"And got laid."

"And got laid. And I had to carry all our shit up to the car cause you could barely walk. Who would think stepping on a nail could get you laid."

They started back down the pier, the names glowing in the distance, Cayman’s, Marilyn’s, Paco Paco.

Pete said, "Hey Jake, you know what you said about looking for a dark one?"

"Yeah."

"Did you mean it?"

Again they passed the now brightly lit motor home, its generator still humming in the sudden dark of twilight. Jake pounded on one of the windows. "Yo! Anybody in there?"

A man’s face appeared at the glass. "Whadda ya want?" it mouthed at them.

Jake spat at the face and it jerked back, hands violently closing the flimsy cloth curtains. "Fucker," said Jake laughing and kicking one of the mobile home’s tires.

"Jake, we never been in there before," said Pete, staring off down the street. Jake followed his gaze. The sign outside the place read Mariachis Locos.

Jake said, "Mariachi. They’re gonna be playing that damn two-step shit. It’s like Tex-Mex only no accordion. Where I’m from the spics play it in their trucks. Stereos as loud as in a nigger car. They pass you in the street all you hear is BOOMP-boomp-BOOMP-boomp-BOOMP-boomp."

"I’ve never heard anything like that. Sounds cool." Pete walked away.

"No, c’mon Pete. It’s dork." Pete didn’t stop. Jake trailed him. "Damnit Pete--"

"Look, you said you wanted a brown one. Where better to get you a brown one?"

"You stupid farm boy. You and your cornfields and corn holers and four-H scholarships, fuck you."

Pete stopped, glared at Jake. "Goddamn Texan with your trashy mom and your dumb ass athletic scholarship. What are you gonna major in? Basket weaving?"

"Fuck you Petano! You’ll be selling dogs up in the stands while I’m playing down in the field sucker." Jake laughed in Pete’s face.

"I’m going. I don’t care if you come with. You wanna get you a brown one, come on, otherwise don’t. But I’m going." Pete turned back around and started walking again. Jake followed.

Out front the bouncer was nursing a Coca-Cola and swinging a bit of string. As they got closer he launched into a spiel: "Esta Noche, El grupo mas espectacular! Los Musicos Lunaticos! Mariachis de Guadalajara con el cantador Juan Gallardo! Juan Gallardo, El tigre de San Rafael!"

The bouncer waved them in.

"You see what I mean," said Jake.

" What was he yelling about anyway?"

A waitress flitted up and motioned them to a table. "Would you like something to drink," she said by rote. They ordered tequilas and beers.

"You see what I mean," said Pete, gazing at the waitress’ legs as she stepped over to the bar.

"Yeah, I see her and her five Chinese brothers."

"I thought she was Mexican."

"It’s a kids story. About five brothers who could really kick some ass."

The band played an instrumental. Jake rapped his knuckles on the table in time to the music. It was a big fat band, five violins, two trumpets, a guitar, a biguela, and a guitarron. The guitar player was a young kid, maybe seventeen. He was a flashy player. A young cock. "Joven! Joven!" the crowd was yelling as he vamped all over the neck. "Toca! Toca manitas! Manitas de plata! Toca!"

"They like that guy," said Pete.

"Yeah, they’re saying ‘Hit it! Hit it silver hands.’ That’s a good line, silver hands."

The band segued into another song, trumpets blaring. As the horns settled and the violins kicked in, a hulk of a man strode onto stage, a chrome-plated pistol strapped to his side. His head seemed huge, even on his large frame. He cracked a winning smile, swiveled smartly to the left, and caught a microphone that came flying out from side-stage. The mariachi did another quarter turn, and with a horsey flip of his head began to sing in a clear, rich tenor.

A wave of delight swelled through the audience. "Canta! Canta!" they yelled, as his voice surged through the room. A well-tanned couple, tourists, walked in, sat at the front and began yelling along with the crowd.

"Who the hell do they think they are?" said Pete.

"Who, them old farts?"

"Yeah."

Jake shook his head and took a pull on his beer. The Joven banged away to the delight of a group of young Mexican women, who sat happily at the edge of the stage.

"That guy’s got it good I bet," said Jake.

Pete watched their waitress walk towards them with their third set of tequilas and beers. Her white shorts showed bright and bleached next to her brown legs.

"You think he gets laid a lot?"

"What?" said Pete without turning.

"You think he gets laid a lot?"

Their waitress stood at the table setting drinks down before them. Pete sat transfixed by her navel.

"You ain’t even listening to me." Snapping sideways, Pete’s head fixed on Jake. "That’s right, look at me. You ain’t gonna get somewhere that way. It’s just like back home. I got me a Mexican once. Back home. You gotta talk to em. Just like back home."

Their waitress had set their liquor down and was walking away. "Only thing is, they don’t speak any English." Jake raised his voice, "Moza! Moza!" The waitress turned and he motioned her back. He stared at her, eyes wide. "Mi guapa, te quiero. Quiero su cuerpo celeste." He spoke in a sweet sing-song. "Digame guapa. Me quieres? Quieres bailar conmigo?"

The girl reddened. "I don’t understand," she said, and turned away, back to the bar.

"Now you see? She was warming up to it. You can’t just go staring at their tits like a sleepwalker. I grew up around plenty of Mexicans. Our maid was a Mexican when I was a boy."

"Fix me up with her Jake."

"You fix yourself up big boy. Shit, don’t mess with those brown ones anyway. Not here anyhow. When I did it, I picked one I knew didn’t have any brothers. That little thing you’re staring at probably comes with a dozen or more. And they fight."

"But you said you wanted a brown one."

"Yeah? Well I’m thinking better. Not here anyhow."

The mariachis finished up another song. The well-tanned wife of the well-tanned tourist couple jumped up and alternated between furious clapping and fingers-in-the-mouth whistling.

"Damned if she don’t whistle like a man," said Jake.

The husband was half-turned in his seat, looking back out the door.

"I think that’s the man was in the motor home," said Pete. "I think maybe he’s looking at us."

Jake was staring off towards the bathrooms. Their waitress was walking over that way. "She is damn fine," said Jake.

"What?"

"The waitress, she’s hot. You know, I think she’s full-on Indian."

Pete followed Jake’s gaze. "I think I’m going to the bathroom," he said, getting up and wandering off. Jake’s attention drifted back to the stage where the pot-bellied player of the biguela was launching the band into yet another love song. Loving and fighting, was there anything else worth singing about?

Pete turned the corner to the bathrooms. He saw the waitress jiggle the handle to the Women’s. It was locked. She folded her arms for the briefest of moments, and then strode over to a varnished door that opened into a metallic glare. She was gone. A crone stood by the bathrooms, stock still, holding out her hand palm up. She waved a roll of toilet paper in the other. Pete pulled his front pockets inside-out, headed for the Men’s, and then abruptly swerved over to the varnished door.

It led outside to a walled courtyard topped with cemented shards of broken glass. They sparkled in the metallic glare of a bare bulb screwed to some conduit hanging over the doorway. The far wall had a gated opening, and in the middle of the mostly empty courtyard stood an old school bus. It was painted blue and had sheet metal rocket fins riveted onto its sides and roof. Spray-painted in swirling letters just above the undercarriage Pete read, Los Musicos Lunaticos.

There were stacks of empty beer bottles in cases along one side wall. The other side wall was empty. The waitress was gone. Pete walked across the silent, deserted courtyard, his shoes scraping over the stones. When he got around to the far side of the mariachi bus, Pete unzipped his pants, pulled his dick out, and started pissing. At the sound of the spray hitting the ground he caught a movement off to one side and swiveled to face it. It was the waitress. She was squatting close by. He had missed her in the darkness beyond the pool of metallic light. Her shorts were around her ankles, and a quiet little stream slipped away from her amongst the dirt and stones of the courtyard. They stared at one another like beasts surprised in the forest. She almost lost her balance, but caught herself with her two hands and froze. Her eyes seemed enormous. She was enormously beautiful squatting there in the dirt.

"It’s all right. I just wanna go to the bathroom," said Pete, looking suddenly from the girl to his penis, white and worm-like in the glow of the bulb. Like something that belonged underwater. He could hear the piss streaming out of the girl.

"Full-on Indian," he said to himself. "A brown one."

The urine was coming out slowly, impeded by his stiffening erection.

"Maybe you want to get it on?" he said to her.

She stared at him blankly, not understanding. She was looking past him.

A man came running out of the darkness of the bus, his frilly mariachi shirt rumpled and untucked. Pete was done, just facing the waitress and holding his dick in his hands. She was frozen in place, no longer pissing, just squatting there with her shorts down, and Pete staring at her beaver. "Full-on Indian," he rasped under his breath.

He had just the time to turn towards the footsteps when a fist crashed into his face and sent him sprawling backwards, almost into the girl. The last thing he noticed before a boot tip sent him into darkness was that his head was resting in a puddle.

"What’s the difference between a beer and a piss?" said Jake to a passing waiter. The waiter gave him a puzzled look. "About cinco minutos." Jake rose and walked across the club to go to the bathroom. He gave the toilet crone a peso and got a few squares of toilet paper. As he headed for the Men’s he heard something that sounded like a carpet beater. He turned to the crone with a questioning look.

"El amigo de usted," she said, pointing towards the varnished door. "En el jardin." She gave him a smile all gums and cracked teeth.

Jake stuffed the toilet paper in his pocket and jerked open the varnished door. A bare bulb glared in his eyes. He saw a blue bus standing in the middle of a stucco-walled courtyard. The door closed behind him. He could hear a woman laughing. It sounded like it was coming from the other end of the courtyard, and so Jake hitched up his pants and bent over to peer under the bus. He could just make out a man lying flat in the dust on the far side. A second man was standing over the first. Jake could see his chrome-tipped cowboy boots glinting softly in the blackness. He couldn’t see the woman who’d been laughing, but he heard her sound again and realized that she was crying.

Hitching up his pants again Jake soft-shoed it over to the back of the bus, and then sprinted around the side, his head lowered like a charging bull.

He caught the man with a shoulder to the kidney and the man gasped as his back arched and the air rocketed out of him. He was sent sprawling, clattering on the stones. Jake waited. The man didn’t move.

He went over and looked at Pete; noticed his dick hanging out of his pants. Jake put a hand on Pete’s chest, and by his mouth. He was out cold but breathing. Ditto for the man, whom Jake noticed had the same black and white uniform on as the musicians in the club. As he rose off his knees a dog bounded off the bottom step of the bus and latched onto Jake’s calf. It was a mongrel, but it had a solid jaw. Jake gave a howl of pain and shook his leg in the air, carrying the dog with it. It clung on, biting deeper, its head snapping from side to side, Jake frantically trying to get it to release its hold.

"Goddamnit," screamed Jake, and started pounding its head with his fists. He planted his foot in the dirt and kicked it in the flank with his free leg. The dog yelped and let go. He kicked it again, a penalty kick and it went skittering across the lot to smack against the stucco wall. "You want me to treat you like a goddamn football, I’ll treat you like a goddamn football," he muttered.

Jake looked over at the woman. He saw it was the waitress. She was squatting over the stones and still crying. Her shorts were around her ankles, and the ground was wet around her. He walked over and squatted facing her. "Que pasa compa˝era?"

She kept crying.

"Digame, que ha pasado?" He pulled the squares of toilet paper from his pocket. "DispÚnseme," he said, stretching out his hand and wiping her wet cheeks. He felt clumsy. He wanted to take her in his arms. She was so still. She seemed to be in shock. He saw her look over and the dog came stiffly up, breathing heavily. The fight was gone out of it, or it had lost its mind. It put its forelegs clumsily onto the girl and licked her face before walking over to the unconscious mariachi and setting itself down with a whimper.

Jake saw the girl’s eyes shift focus.

"Eh Joven. Blaaaanco." The word drawled out. "La chiquita. Su hermana?" A booming laugh. It was the singer. "She is your sister? Su negrita?" he said. Another laugh. The big-headed man was still in his outfit, but he had the chrome pistol unholstered and was passing it lightly from hand to hand.

Jake heard the varnished door slamming shut. His only view of it was framed by the ground and the belly of the bus. All he could see was a crowd of legs in black and white pants.

The singer looked over at the marching feet, and then back at Jake. "Joven, Vaya! Me intiendes? You understand? Go gringo!"

"Claro. Pero mi amigo." Jake pointed at Pete lying motionless on the cobblestones.

"No es mi problema."

Jake looked at the men drawing nearer and stood up off his haunches. "Ay˙deme Se˝or," he hissed quietly.

The singer, again eyeing the musicians said, "No puedo. No son mis hermanos." He chuckled.

The men rounded the bus. They looked over at the singer who holstered his pistol and stepped aboard the bus. They surrounded Jake and the waitress, none of them speaking. The pot-bellied man that had been playing the biguela swung his instrument case and connected with Jake’s head. "Bastardo!" he yelled. Jake fell in the dirt next to Pete. The waitress cried out, "No! No le molesta!"

Somebody kicked him hard in the ribs and yelled, "Eh gran chignon, Te gusta los pies?" The men laughed. Again the waitress cried out, "No le molesta! Bastante!" From where he was lying Jake could see her stand up and pull her shorts on. He saw her move towards the men. Heard her push at them. Heard them walk away.

Everything looked a bit fuzzy and he was having trouble breathing. His leg hurt like hell. The dog came over and licked his face, its breath reeking of rotten teeth. Jake hadn’t the strength to beat it away. The smell of diesel surprised him and he heard the groan of gears as the bus lumbered out of the courtyard.

And then all was silence once again. Just the glass-topped walls, and the stacked bottles, and the hard cobblestone courtyard. He could see that much from where he lay.

And the dark legs of the waitress flitted through his field of vision. He yelled out, "Ay˙deme!" His voice came out choked and he realized he was crying.

She came over and squatted in front of him. She wiped his face with her hands. And it made him feel warm, like a little boy with his mama. He hurt so bad he wanted to snarl, and her white teeth were so perfectly made. "No es mi problema," she said, "No is my problem. Pero, momentito. Puedo ayudar." She started to walk away.

"No, wait!" Jake gasped it out. It was awful to be left alone. But she passed into the club and was gone.

He could move his head a bit, and he looked over at his friend. "Pete," he rasped, but Pete didn’t stir. "Pete, I told you not to fuck with those brown ones." The glare of the bare bulb was terrible to him, and again he heard the slam of the varnished door. His breath came a little less ragged. She’d found help. He could hear leather soles slapping on the stones. And then a face leered over him. It clenched a half-finished beer in one of its hands. It said, "Yo! Anybody in there?"

It walked a step away and Jake felt beer spatter his face as the dull thump of a bottle against someone’s head rang out in the night. And rang out again, and a third time.

Then it was over him again, saying, "Yo! Anybody in there?" And a voice called out to it from across the courtyard, "Honey! Hurry up! I wanna get back home. I think we left the generator running!"

The thing over him yelled back to the voice, "I’m almost through! You know how many margaritas and beers I had!"

And before the bottle could crash down on him Jake said, "Fucker."

 

Yves Jaques can be reached at yjaques@tiscalinet.it