didntseeit: (princesa es sola)
[personal profile] didntseeit
The Moth don’t care if the Flame is real,
‘Cos Flame and Moth got a sweetheart deal

-- Aimee Mann

1999, Mazatlán

They are sitting on a beach, their shoes lying forlorn against the sand with his jacket. It’s the height of the tourist season, a glittering humid night made loud by laughter and music from the club not a hundred meters away. She’s dressed in red and black, crimson bustier and charcoal-dark miniskirt coyly flirting between sexy and whore. Killer-whore with a knife strapped to her calf and he keeps his hands to himself even as he passes the bottle back. Some drink he’s never heard of, nothing like tequila, and he wonders how she can toss it back like that.

Turista, she says, and her voice, a quiet, smoky contralto, is husky with amusement.

I never would have guessed, and his own voice hovers somewhere between ‘aw, shucks’ and sarcasm.

You still haven’t thanked me.


Saving you from revealing where you hide your gun.

He’s too good, too old at this, to start at her words, but she does get a slow, considering look. The gold glitter on her eyes, on her brown skin, matches the necklaces hanging down past her breasts, but he sees the burn on her wrist, the thin scoring of a blade across her shoulder. He remembers her drawing that knife and the bright smile on her face as she promised to spill blood.

He notices that she has a wisp of a curl hanging down the back of her neck.

Who said I only have one, and his smile is bland and insincere and you doing anything tonight all in one.


Mexico is your beat, and for the first few weeks you do nothing although that’s a lie. You breathe in the air of Ciudad Juarez as one pulled from under the sea; you rest your head against the steering wheel in a single moment of pure gratitude; you drive south as fast as you can until you are a state away from the US border; you do what you do best and ignore the past even as you wrap yourself in your experience.

You rent a hotel room in some breaking-down town named for an unknown saint, and you don’t think about the claustrophobia of Langley. In Tijuana you sit in bars and cantinas; sometimes you talk, other times you listen; you pass the money over and the first time you see your whispers and information end in bloodshed on the street, you smile.

Mexico is your beat, and in your head you play a theme song of trumpets and guitars and a lone, discordant piano as you wind your way deep into the country. It’s not that simple, naturally, but you find yourself settling in without really settling in at all. Rent for a week, a night, a month, and then drive away. Come back, maybe, or maybe never. You buy yourself a cowboy hat just because you can and pick up some of the local lingo for the way the words roll from your tongue. Gringo, always and forever, but you don’t care; you are too yourself to be anything other than a turista, too selfish to do anything other than recreate your mask of soft-voiced cynicism. Every laugh every cry every dollar, every drop of blood and every time you pay a girl in too-tight clothes to pretend that she’s doing it for anything other than the money, you regain yourself.

You throw shapes, and they catch them. You set them up and you watch them fall. You are Sheldon Jeffrey Sands.

And you are always in control.


You like to say, later on, that you picked her up in a bar. It has a slightly sleazy air, a slightly proprietary air about it that you find pleasing, and with the right smile picking her up in a bar means that everyone is an adult here, everyone knows the rules of casuality and sex, and I picked her up so fuck off. It helps that her own smile turns crooked and innocent by turns, that she is wide-eyed and husky-voiced when she answers why with he’s good in bed.

You always say it with the right kind of smile, but the first time she says because he makes me laugh without even looking at you, it slips.


The bar story is, of course, a lie. But you are good at lies.

She was better.


Thing is, she saved your ass. You have a talent, well, you have lots of talents, but one of them is annoying people. It is a highly underrated talent, for annoyed people get much better results when you work them right. But this night down in Mazatlán, a glittering whore of a city, you are a little too drunk to be cautious and not drunk enough not be dangerous and you annoyed someone. His macho minions grabbed you by your jacket and hauled you outside and it could have been unpleasant - hell, it was unpleasant - until Smoky-voice spoke up.

Not her name, of course, but you didn’t know her name then.

She, this strikingly attractive creature, spoke up.

She said, “Boys, leave the gringo idiot alone, now.” And thing is, or was, that her voice never rose. It was quiet and refined and she had a golden snake coiled around her bare upper arm. Princesa mestiza, but the princess was idly twirling a knife in her right hand like she knew what she was doing and stood for perfect balance.

“Andres, Andres, Andres…”


“Go back to Texas, Andres. Or at the very least, drop him. What is he? A tourist. Not worth your blood.”

Andres the Tex-Mex had narrowed his eyes and then she had smiled. It didn’t make her pretty, nothing so soft; it was a bright smile, a cheerful smile and, in the context of the twirling knife, an altogether dangerous smile.

Andres had left, but only after she personally promised to spill his blood then and there and excessively.

You never did say thanks for the rescue because you were too busy. Too busy dusting yourself off and eying those long brown legs in that short black skirt, too busy talking and listening to that purr of a voice that reminded you, awkwardly, of high school fantasy with the princess coming down to sit amongst the outcasts and ridiculed, crossing her legs under a little skirt and begging with big liquid eyes and refined long vowels please now you. Too busy drinking some Mexican concoction you never did catch the name of and asking why and then why not, my hotel’s not that far.

Too busy shoving her against your car and finding that she tasted of alcohol and nicotine and other kinds of potentially fatal addiction.


The whole thing was near a nightclub, and Mexicans have the same word for that and bar, so maybe it isn’t too much of a lie.


You never tell anyone about the second part. Too galling.


She picked your pocket.


A brush and a stumble in a busy street, murmured perdón and it’s fine and you haven’t gone ten steps before you stop and pat your jacket and desperately try and catch sight of someone, anyone. Black hair, dark hair, brown hair, brown faces but none match that whispered apology.

Fucking verbal Cinderella, but going about asking have you stolen my wallet would be only slightly less humiliating than asking what size shoe they are, and probably just as dangerous.

Besides, she left a business card. Blank, except for a message in blue ink that looks like it wants to be cursive and black when it grows up.

I’ll be at El Rumor if you want your wallet back.


She hasn’t signed it.


It starts raining at one, and by the time you arrive your hair is dripping and your jacket is soaking. You take off your ever-present sunglasses and glance around the cool, pleasantly dark restaurante. The waiter tries to catch your eye but it’s already caught by a brown-haired woman in a white dress with glasses.

She’s reading, to most intents oblivious to the world around her, but there is a mirror in the corner and you can see that if she looks up, she has a view of the front door.

If she looks up.

¿Dónde le gustaría sentarse?

I’m meeting someone, thank you
, and gesture to her. She doesn’t look up, but the waiter just nods.

Ah, Señora Ajedrez. I shall bring another menu, señor.

You nod yourself and roll the name around your mind as you walk over

Ajedrez. Akhedres. Ajedrez.

Not the worst name in the world, unless you convert it to English. Ms Chess. Ms Chest, and you have an amused smile as you start to hang your jacket on the back of a chair. It’s that, and nothing else, that makes her look up.

You stop.

She smiles at you, a twisting curve of her mouth that you remember. Oh, yes, you remember. Smoky-voice. She looks different, wearing that ivory dress with her hair down around her shoulders. Smaller, almost. Quieter, even after she slides the glasses off and puts them back in their case. The hands are the same, long and graceful, those lips and dark liquid eyes, but in your memory, she was more…

More a figment of your imagination, really. The woman (you are tempted to say girl, señorita, because she can’t be more then what, twenty-four? twenty-six?) in front of you is real. Poised as you didn’t remember, curvy but not as you exaggerated, and for all she twirled a knife before, you know what it feels like to circle those slender wrists with your hand, and that lends a vulnerability that you think she might just hate.

“I see that you are settling in, Sands.”

She matches the refinement in her voice now, but you flash her a bland smile and sit anyway.

“You say this because…”

“You’re forty minutes late.”



“How do you know my name? I was under the distinct impression that we didn’t exchange them.”

“I said ‘ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies’.”

“Is Ajedrez your real name?”

Her crooked smile widens to impish, and the nearly sweet expression is just as disconcerting as the feminine dress. She’s pretty with that smile, pretty with the mole on her left cheek. She should be in sepia, black and white, 1930s glamour with a backless gown of slippery silk and a single bracelet.

“What do you think?”

You take a deep breath, and then let it out.

“It’ll do for now. But I feel that it is only fair to warn you, I will find out your name, señorita.


“Didn’t you have a diamond ring on that finger last time we…met?”

“We all make mistakes.” Her tone is cool. You wonder where she is hiding her weapon, and then wonder how sharp those chopsticks in her hair are. “I would be wary of calling anyone but a very young girl señorita, Sands. It is patronizing.”

“Ah, of course.” You flash her your bland and insincere smile and she laughs, softly.

“You are going to get into trouble, and I’m not going to be around to save your ass.”

“I have survived quite capably up until now.”

“So I saw.”

“I was drunk.”

“I know.”

“How do you know my-”

“Had lunch yet? On me,” and even as she speaks she is lifting her hand to summon the waiter. You’ve been trained to watch people, and there is an unconscious class to her movement. It wouldn’t occur to her that the waiter wouldn’t see, and because it doesn’t, he comes over.

¿Qué quieres tomar?

Milanesa con pollo, y-

¿Su normal?

Smoky-voice, Ajedrez, flashes him that quick, impish smile. “Si. Y quiero una pulque.

The waiter has already written it down and glances at you. “I would like the puerco pibil and a tequila with lime,” you say and then wait until he’s bustled off to the kitchen. Once he goes through those swinging doors, you look back at her.

“How do you know my name?” Your voice is quiet, but that is nothing new. She shrugs and leans back in her chair. You can hear the hard surface of her shoe or sandal or whatever she is wearing slide against the rough stone of the floor, and just keep watching her.

“You are Sheldon Jeffery Sands. United States of American born, you travel a lot. Work.” Her voice makes a mocking question of the word, but you know that she has the answer. It’s in her smile, in the fact that she took your wallet in one of the smoothest pulls you’ve seen on anyone.

“Been here eight months. Mexico, I mean. Culiacán two days. Which reminds me…Bienvendida, Sands.”

“I don’t normally find being robbed welcoming, Ajedrez.”

A nonchalant, one shouldered-shrug.

“I’ll give your wallet back soon enough.”

“So what are you, cop or fed?”

“How would you describe yourself? Cop or fed?”

“Federal officer.”

“Then I am the same. Don’t fuck things up.”

You laugh at that, soft and almost surprised and very scornful.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, sweetheart. Your boys do a fine enough job of that all on their own.”

Ajedrez gazes at you from behind her lashes, not so much coquettish as leonine. Poised, waiting, not even a foot tapping out your dying minutes.

You’ve always had a morbid streak to you.

“Cute,” she says at last. “We do what we can.”

“Underfunded, undermanned – I mean understaffed-” you are rewarded by those lips pressing into a straight line, “picked from army, government, police and the streets to do the impossible. Charge in like you’ve watched too many American police go get ‘em shows. Oh, no. I don’t need to do a thing to watch you fail.”

“Funny, I thought America was all get tough on drugs.”

“The government is.”

“You work for the government.”

You wince.

“Please, Ms Ajedrez. I know we’ve only just met, but you make me sound like a public servant.”

A quick smile, almost bitchy, chases her mouth.


Flatly, “That’s worse and you know it.”

That gets a laugh, a real one, and it’s the laugh of someone who isn’t this refined lady or that girl with the knife. Someone else, which is all a little frustrating. You watch her, and shake your head slightly.

“Did you know who I was, before?”

Simply, “Not a clue.”

“So why’d you save me?”

“Piss off Andres. Besides, I was on vacation, and if he had started beating you up, I’d have to step in.”

“Most cops here wouldn’t.”

“Well. I’m not like them.” Her eyes flick down for a moment, and then up with a sudden thought and smile. “Besides, I am not a cop. I’m a federal officer, and don’t you forget it.”

“No, ma’am.”

You,” she says, straightening as the waiter arrives with a tray, “are irritating.” Quick service, you think, uncommonly quick. Maybe she’s related to the chef. Maybe she’s doing him on her days off.

“Just…part of my charm.”

She gives you a dry look from under those lashes, but there is more than a hint of a smile curving her mouth and that makes you feel like you’ve won something.

“So,” she says as she picks up her fork, “what do you think of Mexico?”


It’s still raining after lunch, but she turns down your offer of a lift. Clever girl, you were thinking of killing her. Oh, nothing perverted (much), just principle. But as you watch her shrug into her jacket and walk off down the street, you find yourself thinking. Young, impulsive, federal agent, attractive, good in bed…

You smile.


Later, you find that she had used your money to pay for lunch, and start thinking that killing her was the right idea all along.


It’s a slow week. For a city controlled by one of the most powerful drug cartels in Central America, Culiacán is disappointingly quiet and, besides; you haven’t seen this much rain since Holland. So you stay in your hotel room. Watch the news (mostly devoted to organizing this year’s celebration of dead relations), ply the phones, glance up from your laptop every now and then to critique the porn and the day you hack into the AFN’s database is the day that the sun starts shining and two men open fire in a Chinese restaurant.

You take it all as a sign and give her a call.


“Ah, Ms Ajedrez, doing anything on Saturday?”


“Because I was wondering if you cared to join me at the bullfights. You know, cultural learning and appreciation while I’m in the area kind of deal.”

“…you are impossible to believe, Agent Sands.”

“Pick you up at your place say, eleven?”

She hangs up.


Those two men, from the Chinese restaurant? The police uncovered their bodies three days later, although perhaps ‘uncovered’ isn’t the right word. Discovered, came across them hanging upside down from the station’s balcony at six in the morning.

They never did find their hands.


“Why do you like this?” You ask her at last, watching her smile as the gold-and-scarlet matador dances out of the black bull’s way.


“Are you actually aware of what they do to the animal? They stab it, beat it, wound it-”

“Him,” she corrects, tucking a stray brown curl behind an ear before glancing at you. “He’s a bull, so he is male.”

“Yeah. That’s not my point.”

“No. I’m sure your point is something to do with how the bull is moderately tortured before they let him into the ring and that it isn’t exactly a fair fight. I haven’t decided if you think this is a good thing or-” There is a breathless pause, followed a disappointed sigh as the bull misses his executioner and gets stabbed again for his troubles.

“Or a bad,” she finishes.

You aren’t bothering to watch what is happening in the ring, just her face. Or rather, her mouth, as it is hard to gage her expression behind those large sunglasses.

“Why are you here?”

“You asked me out.”

“Exactly. Why didn’t you shoot me?”

“Get in trouble, wouldn’t I? American and all.”

“I don’t think that’s it at all.”

“Oh really.”

“I think you’re impulsive. Dangerously so. Clever, but young. And a girl. And yes, you are a girl. Beatriz Rosita Guadalupe Ajedrez, born 1974. Twenty-five, you’re a child playing a man’s game.”

“My, my, you can be insulting.” Ajedrez’s voice is neutral. You really wish she wasn’t wearing those sunglasses, but you have a suspicion that it wouldn’t make a difference.

“Had your name changed when you were thirteen by your mother. Both running from something, someone. Daddy beat Mom? You?” Her mouth turns crooked, but she stays silent. “Went to college in Miami, came back, recruited into the AFN. Only female agent in the area. Either you’re that good, or you’re screwing someone to stay. I would say that I know all about you, but someone has gone back and erased records. I suspect it was you. Trying to hide from someone, sugarbutt?”

“Do you want to know why I like the bullfights, Sands?” Ajedrez asks, finally turning her head to look at you just as the crowd gasps and people start to moan. Despite yourself, you glance at the ring. You are just in time to see the bull toss the matador into the air. Blood in the air, blood on the sand, and you turn back to catch her impish smile.

“I like watching the bull win.”


You walk her down to the street, close enough to claim her without touching her, but when you start moving to where you’ve parked your car you’re walking alone. When you look back she’s standing there, watching you with a look of faint amusement.

“Why’d you ask me out?”

You shrug. “Whim.”

Her smile widens.



“Liar.” Her tone is almost fond.

“Now that’s not polite.”

“But do you deny its truth?”


Ajedrez walks towards you then, hands in the pockets of her shorts and her head slightly bowed. When she reaches you she glances up.

“You asked me out because I am young, and impulsive, and a fed. I’m not sure if my gender has any relevance yet. Already had me once, why not again as you fish for information?”

So wise so young, they say, do never live long.


“I don’t need your information, señorita.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Never hurts, does it? Having a source.”

“Or I could just kill you anyway,” you say just to watch her reaction. “It’s a principle of mine, you see.”

“You could.” Her voice is neutral, with a chaser of amusement.

“You have a better idea?”

“Well, maybe I don’t need you either, but a source in the CIA would be…useful. And we already know each other, so why not?”

“You’d sleep with me just for information?”

“Jumping the gun a little, don’t you think?”

“No, not really.”

She snorts. “Men. That was a one-night stand. We weren’t supposed to see each other again.”

“You changed the game when you chose to steal my wallet, little miss fed. Not me, you. So if we are now going to have a relationship with a bit more longevity, we’ll just have to work out something different.”

“Sex and information?”

You give her a bright smile.

“You got it. Deal?”

She takes your offered hand, but instead of shaking it she steps closer and tilts her head up.

“Kiss me.”


“Kiss me, and you have a deal.”

You look at her with narrowed eyes. You note the planes of her face and the wisps of hair falling out of her pony-tail. You notice the way her t-shirt curves around her breasts and how her fingers are long and slender and hot to touch. You notice that mocking good-girl smile and with your other hand on her neck you don’t kiss her gently. Hard and deep, wipe that smile off her face even as those long fingers fist in your shirt. But she kisses back just the same and you aren’t sure what to think when she pulls back.

“Deal it is, then,” and even with her voice huskier than before, you have no idea what is going on in her head.

“Deal. I’ll drive you back?”

“Nuh-ah,” Ajedrez says, backing away smoothly.

“Why not? I drove you here without doing anything unspeakable.”

That gets a grin even as she shakes her head.

“I don’t trust you, Sands. I never will.”

You pause. “Make a bet on that?”

She makes a show of thinking about it.


And with that, she turns and vanishes into the crowd.


2000, Mexico City

It’s a hotel room, dark blue by night and lit only from the streetlights outside. Rain on the window forms a steady drumbeat and flecked shadows on the papers sprawled out over the coffee table. Computer print-outs, grainy photos with red circles, scrawled notes, two cups, a handgun and a mobile phone that starts to buzz and flash.

There is a jacket flung over the back of a chair, some crumpled jeans on the floor, and a bra caught on the bedside table. They are on the bed, his face veiled by her long thick hair even as his hands clutch her hips. Scars on their bodies, bullets and knives and ink; muscles bunch and move underneath the monkey on her shoulder-blade, the heart on his upper-arm.

Don’t, she says, her breathing coming fast and ragged, don’t you even think of getting that phone.

He moves his hands, grabs her and twists them so that he has her pinned to the bed. He watches as she tosses her head, trying to get her hair out of her mouth with her hands captured.

Not a chance, babe, and the kiss is rough, possessive, passionate.


Sometimes, you think Mexico is the largest place you’ve ever been. All that wilderness from coast to mountains to coast again, and it’s a good thing you love your car, because you spend so much time in the cursed thing.

The radio could improve, though.

And sometimes…sometimes you think that Mexico is the smallest past you’ve ever been, and it’s impossible to hide because you are walking out of a hotel in Apatzingán and you’re spaced out thanks to hours of talking and cajoling and wheedling and fucking information out of a cop-turned-drug runner called Ana Rosa Martinez, and someone calls your name.

You haven’t heard that voice in years, and when you turn to look at the lanky American lying in the gutter, you wonder just what the hell has happened to him.


“This place,” Dalby is saying as he pours tequila onto the table, “this place is fucking fucked.”

You light a cigarette, and try and ignore the way your back stings. If there is a next time, maybe you should ask Rosa, very nicely, if she could maybe not use your back as a scratching post, but you know you’ll just forget.

Maybe it’d be easier just to not go back to her.

“It’s all blood,” Dalby continues, ignoring that he’d promised to talk about the gangs and power, not just show what happens when you use their shit with tequila. “Blood and bullets and it’s so fucking beautiful, you know? Like you imagined. I imagined. We all imagined, maybe not you. You.” He tosses the shot back and tries to pour another. This time, he mostly succeeds. “It’s like, I dunno. Y’got blinkers on and you can’t see anything. I mean, you haven’t freaked yet. Not like me. I freaked, man. Oh, god, did I fucking freak. I just…I was in Tibet, and that was cool. Lost Hannah, though. All that Zen business, and being calm. Suited her. You know Hannah and her guns. Last I heard she was with this mercenary group of flipped-out Israeli kids. That was about, uh. Ten years ago? But here. Jesus. Thought India was bad. This is worse than India. India comes with a warning. Not this place, oh no. We just think Mexico and Latin girls and guitars and sex, and leave all the mind-trips to India. You expect them there. All that fucking cricket. And elephants. Bloody elephants.”

“Dalby, what are you on?” You ask, and watch with a faint smile as he laughs and laughs. It’s like listening to broken glass, nails down blackboards and he finishes with a hiccuping giggle.

He’s a wreck, you find yourself thinking, distantly and beyond the roar of blood in your years, an utter wreck. Always a dismaying state to find a classmate, even if it was the CIA training program.

Maybe especially if it was the CIA.

“Dunno. Life and death. Don’t need any drugs. Course, they help. Lift the blinkers and turn on the lights. Ethanol. Hey, remember? Science? Vids with Ethanol crashing the atomic party and sending all the little kidlet elements fucking high. It was great and. You know, I think I get it.”

“Get what, exactly.”

Mexico. You could vanish if you want to, wrap yourself up in lies or maybe even the truth.” Dalby ignores your sudden snort of cynicism. “Listen to me. You could just…disappear in the jungles and deserts and ruinous excess like those artists and fascists and fanatics. Ascetics and addicts, and it just sends you out. Gotta go to extremes, gotta create a lie just to live and you find yourself. You look at some sunset or or a ruin and there is this chick, right? Mayan, and she’s got these turquoise eyes in this dark face with all that black hair and she’s laughing with her friends in Spanish and that’s Mexico. It’s all conquerors and the conquered, all tied up in the blood.” Dalby sighs. “Shoulda stayed with her, man. Shoulda stayed. She was the best fucking lay I’ve ever had.”

You lean back in your chair, and for a moment you just watch the smoke curl and drift into the air.

“Have a name?”

“Teresita, from the Greek meaning ‘reaper’. Made a joke about that, Lady Death with her sickle-”


“-whatever. She thought it was great. You know, they laugh a lot. Nearly slice off your fingers, and they laugh. Any other place it’d be all concern or indifference. Not here. I mean, it’s not like they are laughing at you, ‘cause you’re laughing, too. Just relief. Nothing went wrong. It’s messed up.”

“Should I ask how long you’ve been here?”

“Nuh. Time’s different here. You’ll learn. You’ve been here, what?”

“A year.”

“It’s 2000, right? Wasn’t the world supposed to end?”

“Maybe it did. I was entertaining a very accommodating young lady at the time, and didn’t actually notice.”

“Whore, contact, girl?”

Your eyes flick over to him. You try to cover the pause by reaching for your glass, but you know that he notices. Strung-out, drugged-up he might be, but he graduated same as you.

“Girl,” you say, not knowing what Ajedrez’s reaction to that classification would be. You make a note to find out.

“Well, well, well.” Dalby smirks at you.

…On second thoughts, self, ignore that memo. “It’s not that hard to get one.”

“Try and keep her, though. Now, there’s the trick. Like her?”

“She’s a liar, and a sociopath, and she picked my pocket. Nice ass, though.”

“Aw, Sands, mate. She’s your match.”

That gets a cynical laugh directed into your glass. “Hardly.”

“You like her. Because this girl, she’s Mexico. And you think it’s all just sex, you’re just fucking her for the hell of it and she’s hot, all those curves and eyes that pierce your soul and a voice that hits you there, you tell yourself, it’s just the sex, or the convenience, or the information or to fuck her father or brother or something, but it’s not. Just her. She’s got the face of an angel and the body of a goddess, and she’s like one of those red sports cars that look like they are going fast even when they are still, and when they are going fast it’s the smoothest damn ride of your life. And she’s dangerous, because she’s got your Achilles heel and you keep coming back. Might be the way she laughs, or brushes her hair, or the way she hates the way she wants you to hold her, it doesn’t matter. It just fucking gets you and that’s it.”

You put the glass down and bring the cigarette back to your mouth. Your eyes don’t leave his face. “Or I could just kill her, before she does anything.”

“Won’t work. She’ll stay. Twist in your head, because she’s got you. It’s too late, amigo. You’ll remember the smell of the shampoo she uses and the taste of her and how fucking red her blood was and she’ll drive you mad. And then you can’t take it anymore so you drink and string yourself up on drugs and-”

The man had killed the thing he loved, And so he had to die.

Dalby blinks at you, and rubs his face. His fingers, you notice with some detachment, haven’t stopped shaking.

“I know…I know that. Wilde. Reading Gaol, yeah?”

“Yeah, sure.” You don’t actually care, just something to shut him up.

“What happens?”

You shrug, stub out your cigarette, pour him another drink.

“Killed his wife, had to die. Feet dancing in the air.”

“You’re getting the hang of this poetry shit.”

“You don’t have to be insulting.”

“What was the rest of it…Yet each man kills the thing he loves, By each let this be heard, Some do it with a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a kiss, The brave man with a sword!

“Dalby,” you say, though you know it’s no good. Once he starts quoting poetry, you either sit and listen until he decides he’s finished or put the man out of his misery. So you just get another drink, toss it back, and watch.

You wonder how he killed that Mayan girl.

Some kill their love when they are young, And some when they are old; Some strangle with the hands of lust, Some with the hands of gold: The kindest use a knife, because The dead so soon grow cold.

Probably didn’t strangle her, would have disfigured that lovely face.

Some love too little, some too long, Some sell, and others buy; Some do the deed with many tears,” that you can see, and it makes you smile, “And some without a sigh: For each man kills the thing he loves, Yet each man does not die.

You vote for either a knife or a gun. “Are you quite done?”

“Yeah, yeah. Poem goes forever, you know? It’s just….just get hung already, you’re depressing me.”

“I think that’s the idea.”

And so he had to die.

“Kill yourself over a girl, I’m not coming to the funeral.”

For some reason, this strikes him as utterly hilarious. You pay the bill for the drink, and you leave him giggling at the bar in disgust.


It’s been two days, and you’re passing time at a mechanic’s in Apatzingán as they try and work out why your car won’t start. You pick up a newspaper because you’ve finished the magazines and there’s the article. Brief and short, no suspicious circumstances, although you’d have thought that suicide was mildly bizarre.

At least Dalby had the decency to shoot himself. You had been worried that he would find inspiration from Wilde and hang himself, which of all the ways to go you find personally the most unsettling.

You aren’t surprised at him, but you do wish that the damn poem would stop echoing in your mind. Or, if that is impossible, that Dalby would stop saying the words in that sing-song voice.

Like he can see something that you can’t.


Despite your word, you attend the funeral.

You’re the only one there.


Your hands won’t stop shaking.

You took a risk, calculated and cold, and they freaked and now they are dead. Blood on the walls, floor, table, you. Them. The money. The fucking money. There is blood on the money and you sit there and laugh. It’s nothing like Egypt, you know what to do. Get up. Search them. Get the information and a gun and walk off into the sunset and Mexico isn’t Egypt. Colour and life in the stone instead of all that damned bleached-poor white. Quick-fire and sexy Spanish, not guttural Arabic. Latest posting, not first assignment.

But your hands won’t stop shaking, and when your phone rings, you flinch and swear and it’s all so ridiculous.

So you laugh, and you are still laughing when you answer the phone.

“Yeah, hi, I’m sorta busy right now so if you could be so ki-”

“Sands, you okay?”

You let your head fall back against the wall. Ana Rosita’s blank eyes are staring into your soul, but you ignore them.

“Just peachy-fine, sugarbutt. Just peachy fine.”

“Sands.” Just one word, and it’s a sigh on the other end of the phone. You can picture her head sinking into her hand, fingers clenching her hair. You picture it so clearly that you can stop giggling long enough to breathe. In, out. In, out.

“Look, Sands, it’s nothing, I can call back-”

“No, don’t.”


“Just, Ajedrez?”


“Do me a favour.”


“Just…keeping talking, will you. Anything. What you did today. Who you screwed over. Plans for killing your boss. Just. You know.”

“Sure.” Her tone is softer than before, but you don’t care. You fell off the tightrope of control and broke the veneer of untouchability and shattered the thin ice and all that shit. It doesn’t matter. Her voice is warm and feminine and rich as velvet; a voice to wrap yourself up. It’s a voice to ground you in the promise of sheets and skin and something altogether better than this, and to continue the use of metaphors she’s a net and a ladder and you pull out the wires and earpiece so that you can use your hands and listen to her at the same time.

It takes less than two minutes of her voice for your hands to stop shaking.

You can’t quite bring yourself to care.


“Why, Ajedrez, what are you doing calling so late?”

“I was in the neighbourhood.” Her voice is light and breathy. You can’t decide if she sounds like she’s going to pass out or cry.


“Can I come up?”

“…you weren’t joking about the neighbourhood bit, were you?”

A choked laugh.

“God, I wish I was. I’m in the carpark. Can I come up?”


“Need to use the bathroom.”

You raise an eyebrow in the general direction of the door.

“Room 24.”


You hang up.


“Are you sure you meant bathroom? Because, I have a lovely car just downstairs. If you promised not to get blood all over the leather, I’m more than happy to drive you to the hospital. I’m told it’s practically professional, and has a much lower fatality rate than you might expect.”

She doesn’t even bother glaring at you, and that has you more worried than you like.

“Know how to take out a bullet?”

“I’ve done it once or twice. Bathroom’s this way and easy does it.” You catch her as she stumbles and guide her to the bathroom. Tiles, easy to clean, bath easy to hose off and as she gets into the tub and sits down on the ledge, you open up the cabinet to find your tools.

“Sorry, out of morphine, but I’m told that tequila does in a pitch…”

“Fuck off, Sands.”

You are bleeding all over my motel bathroom. And the carpet.”

“Sorry.” She even sounds like she means it, and you unscrew the lid and pass the bottle over. Ajedrez takes a long drink, but she’s using her left hand. A pause, and another long drink, and she gives it back. You look at her, battered and bloody and shivering faintly, and you sigh.

Well, there goes all plans for sleeping tonight.


By the time three am rolls away, you’re down to picking the broken glass and grit from her feet. She’s drunk, drunker than you’ve ever seen her, and nearly asleep from it all. You’d almost say that she looks adorable like that, all sleepy-eyed and soft, wrapped up in a blanket like a caterpillar. You’d almost say it, but her bottom lip has been split and in the morning her right cheek is just going to be one fat old bruise.

You had been idly contemplating tracking down who had beaten her up and making their life hell, just from the principle of it. But her clenched-teeth scream as you finally managed to pull the bullet out of her arm changed your plans a wee bit.

You’re going to kill them. Nothing creative, just a few bullets, but you are going to kill them.

As soon as you work out who.

“Hey, baby, what’s the time?” Ajedrez’s voice is slurred with sleep and alcohol. You find it doesn’t detract from the picture in the slightest.

You tell her and she laughs.

“Hey. Happy anniversary, then.”

You can’t help but smile at her, albeit crookedly.

“You’re a sick, sick woman.”

“S’why you like me.”

You open your mouth to reply, but her eyes are closed and her breathing is even. You finish her feet, bandage them, and pack everything away. You contemplate leaving her in the bath, but…

Hell with it.

You pick her up and carry her over to the bed, managing not to drop her.

“You’re heavier than you look, AJ,” you inform her, and you know that if she had been awake she would have hit you for that. That gets a smile, even as you turn off the lights and pull her close.

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October 2007


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