Club Papillon

He walked slowly in the heat and smog and the smells of seared meat grilling back to his hotel.

It was not a luxury hotel. He saw the fat whore in an aqua blue dress and spike heels standing in a doorway across the street. She tossed her head and gave him a smile that managed to be both wry and inviting. She had a gold tooth. He ducked his head and gave her a small, shy pressed-lips smile that managed to be honorable and warm yet discouraging. He liked whores. He felt no contempt for this one.

He took the old creaking cage elevator to his room. Padding down the hall on a stained wine-red carpet that stank of a century of cigarette smoke.

He stopped at the laundry chute and glanced both ways. No doors were open and there was no chambermaid’s cart. He stepped up to the chute and put his arm into it and felt along the side. His fingers touched plastic. He reached in with both arms and peeled away two layers of duct tape and withdrew the parcel.

He carried the plastic wrapped package against his hip down the hallway to his room. Opened the door with his key and entered, shutting the door behind him by pushing it with a heel of his loafer. It clacked shut. He went to the sagging bed with its garish orange coverlet and set the package on it.

He then went to the window, as was his habit, to look down at the street. Nothing was going on but for traffic and the clanging radio of the small and dirty cafe across the street.

There was a stiff humid breeze and the curtains were blowing in. This breeze brought in the stench of Mexico City. Of dust and meat and earth and blood and horses and sweat and the perfume of a million streetwalkers. He shut the window. At once the little hotel room seemed eerily almost silent.

Lost in another dimension.

He took the switchblade from his trouser pocket.

A good knife, with a heavy steel handle that fit his hand well.

Flicked it open.

He bent over the parcel and cut away some of the plastic.

It was a tie-box. Yesterday he’d bought two exquisite ties at a men’s boutique in La Roma.

He shut the knife and put it back into his trouser pocket.

He tore away the lid of the tie box and tossed it to one side.

In the small, narrow rectangular box, packed in red tissue paper, lay his Remington .44.

Cleaned and oiled, lovingly, and ready for action.

He picked up the Remington, checked the safety (engaged) and removed the clip (full). He thrust the clip back into it and stuck the pistol into his waistband at the back.

He peeled away another layer of tissue paper. There was a Ziploc freezer bag containing his two extra passports and a thick wad of American currency. He’d depleted much of his travelling fund already, though he was living poor. He opened the freezer bag, peeled off three hundred in 50 dollar bills.

He stuck this small wad of cash into his shirt pocket.

He replaced the lid on the tie box. He was now sweating a little. Looking at how little money he had left now made him so tense that he began to sweat.

To a fugitive in Mexico or anywhere else, money is life itself.

He pulled open the top drawer of the small bedside table and got out his roll of duct tape. He tore off six more strips of the black, heavy tape with his teeth and fixed them to the parcel. Then he went to the door. He listened, his head bent. No footsteps. Nobody was out there. He opened the door, walked quickly to the laundry chute and reached in and securely re-taped the parcel to the rough plaster wall just inside, in the darkness where it could not be seen but only felt, and then only by someone feeling for it.

He went back to his room. He kicked off his loafers. He’d been wearing them without socks. He shut and locked the door and put on the chain. The lock and chain wouldn’t hold out anyone determined to get in but might give him ten seconds or so of time to react.

In the bathroom, he stripped down quickly, laying the Remington on the shut toilet seat, and got under the shower in the tiled stall. He ran the water hot, first, then cold — as cold as he could get it.

He soaped himself. His body was still hard. His fingertips passed over some of the old scars. There were two bullet holes and a knife wound.

He rubbed himself dry with a towel. His skin burned pleasantly.

He left the towel hanging over the shower rod and picked up the gun and went out into the room.

Naked, he stood at the small escritoire on which sat his Olivetti and two stacks of paper. One of the stacks was big, the other small. The big stack was all blank. The small stack was his book on the Group of 22. There were about thirty pages in it; he hadn’t counted exactly. He’d placed the pages with the typewritten faces down. He felt a small temptation to read over what he’d written, but he decided consciously against it. He’d heard that writers often felt a strong, almost visceral pull to reread their own pages, but that this impulse should be resisted until the book was done, or mostly done.

He went to the bed. He put the gun under his pillow and lay down naked. He gazed at the ceiling. Light reflected from the street was making flickering patterns on it.

He shut his eyes.

*

Twilight.

He opened his eyes to see that the sunlight was almost gone.

The ceiling was pink. Then, slowly, the pink vanished.

He got up and dressed again. Shirt, briefs, trousers.

He put the gun into his waistband at the back and put on a loose brown silk jacket to cover it.

He stuck his bare feet into the loafers.

He went out.

Into Mexico City.

Into the city of jackals.

*

He didn’t want to sit in the hotel room clicking typewriter keys tonight.

He felt like celebrating.

Maybe it was because of the brusque hurt he’d inflicted on the two Mexican petty thieves. Or the comical looks on their faces as he did it.

It had reminded him how much fun his life of action once was, hurting people with elegance, devastating speed and absolute impunity.

But no — that wasn’t it.

He was just feeling lonely. Morose, even.

Actually, more than loneliness or moroseness — tonight, he was suffused with saudade, a deep and terrible longing that threatened to devour him whole.

And the pistol? The pistol was for merely for any one of potentially hundreds of unforeseeable contingencies.

*

As it happened, there was such a contingency, and it arose, as they often do, out of nowhere.

*

In the glare-ridden noise of a Mexican boulevard, the blue eyed man was sauntering slowly past the Club Papillon, noting the blue lights of the entrance and the pounding beats echoing in what must have been a vast industrial space inside the building, when he noted a sleek red Lotus cruising up smoothly to the curb. It was an eye catching car, and he slowed his pace to appreciate it. Other pedestrians did, also, and the two thick, tall, colorfully tattooed bouncers working the front entrance raised their heads higher with interest. The doors of the Lotus hissed upward like wings, and out of it as if from a fairy tale climbed two desperately beautiful dark haired, teak-tanned girls in glittering low-cut cocktail-style sheaths — one flashing gold, one glittering silver with sequins. Laughing, the driver tossed her key to a parking attendant, who looked as if he could not believe his luck and had trouble deciding what he would rather look at, the car or the girls. But the girls, click-clacking on high heels, mostly naked and smooth and hypnotically voluptuous all over, were gone very quickly into the smoky, blue-pulsating interior of Club Papillon, so in the end he had to settle for stroking the roof of the car before he slipped into it, lowered the doors, and drove off with a throaty vroom.

The blue eyed man didn’t watch the Lotus speed away from the curb, however. He was looking across the street, at a parked black Humvee. A sparking cigarette butt flew out of a one inch gap in the Humvee’s rear side window, then the door opened and a young man in a leather jacket worn over a floral patterned silk shirt and jeans and black cowboy boots stepped onto the street. He had a relaxed, flat, ironically candid nowhere-and-everywhere at once gaze that the blue eyed man had come to associate with a certain type of deadly individual. The opposite door opened and a bald man in a blue silk jacket and khaki pants and black motorcycle boots came around the rear of the Humvee and joined Cowboy Boots and they walked slowly together yet apart across the street to the Club Papillion and joined the small line of people waiting for approval to enter.

The blue eyed man watched as Cowboy Boots lit a cigarette. Bald Man was glancing around. There was a small curved bulge at the base of his spine under the blue silk jacket. A pistol grip. One or two or three men — it was impossible to tell, because of the blacked out windows — were still sitting inside the Humvee. It was a hit, or a kidnapping, or some kind of take-off. No question.

Did it have something to do with the two beautiful rich girls? Two beautiful and misbehaving young rich girls driving up to a club alone and going in without bodyguards? His intuition said: Si.

He thought about it for only an instant, then walked over to the line and joined it. He was standing about five people behind Cowboy Boots and Bald man. Close enough to inhale the smoke of Cowboy’s Boots cigarette. It was a clove cigarette.

Cowboy Boots would be quick, ruthless, flamboyant — and insane. He probably favored a knife for a weapon. Bald Man would be the brains, also very quick, cold under pressure.

The blue eyed man had a sense that this was not about money. There was something extremely iconic and crazed in the air. A killing? Maybe. Maybe worse.

*

He got into Club Papillon easily. The bouncers were there only to run off people apparently without money, obvious riff-raff.

He walked around the place in the pulsating blue and red lights until he glimpsed the two posh girls at a corner table, drinking and laughing excitedly, flanked by two young men they’d apparently cut from the dance floor.

Cowboy Boots and Bald Man were at the bar, rarely taking their eyes from the girls.

It was as he’d feared.

Maybe much much worse.

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