Page 13


customers, it was motionless. The beer vendor, Polo Noriega, entered the door, carrying a beer case. Carefully, he avoided the outstretched legs, walking lightly over them and continuing toward the pile of cases in the corner. For an instant after, Vicente sat, staring at his legs, abstractly. Then his eyes widened, his jaw fell to his chest, and his nose quivered. “Hey!” he snorted, without moving. “Beer man! You’ve got a problem! Come back here.” He waved his arm loosely, yelling. “Don’t you know any better than to walk over a man’s legs?” He slammed the sweating bottle hard on the table. “Come back here!” Gordo, the bartender, signaled Polo to ignore Vicente. Polo began to arrange the beer cases. The customers began stirring, and Gordo walked over to Vicente, wiping a full bottle of beer with the dirty apron hanging from his neck. “Take it easy, Chente,” he said, putting the full bottle down and wiping the table with the edges of his apron. “He doesn’t mean you any harm. Come on, now. This one’s on the house.” He slid the bottle toward Vicente. “There.” “What do you mean, take it easy!” said Vicente, brushing aside the streaks of black hair from his forehead. “You get that beer man over here.” He pointed his finger toward the floor. “Now!” The other customers began easing themselves out of their warm chairs, taking off their felt hats, wiping their black-belt mustaches nervously, and moving off to distant tables, stumbling against chairs and each other. They knew Vicente would fight like a bull. He had beat up a wellknown trio of toughs who came in from another territory to challenge him. Toribio Monclova ended in Robert B. Green Hospital with a pair of broken ribs. Marcelino Sentido broke a leg in the fight, and Selmo Regalado broke a foot and twisted an elbow. Gordo knew better than to argue with Vicente. He waived toward Polo. “Come here, Polo.” Polo took off his cap and walked slowly toward Gordo, not looking at Vicente. Sweat broke out of his brow, running down his pallid face. Gordo put his hand on Polo’s shoulder. “Here he is,” he said to Vicente. “Now what do you want with him?” Vicente banged on the table with the side of his fist. “I want him to undo the widow’s curse.” The customers looked at each other, whispering in low bass tones, shaking their rough heads, and raising their black eyebrows. Gordo scratched his bald head. “The widow’s curse?” “Yes,” said Vicente. “And don’t pretend you didn’t see him put the curse on me by walking over my legs.” “He did?” “Yes.” Vicente pointed with his finger: “And now he must cross over again backwards.” “Oh, well,” sighed Gordo. “If that’s all you want . .” Gordo patted Polo on the back. “Come on, Polo. Go along with it.” Polo was running the sleeve of his work shirt across his brow, wiping at the drops of sweat, not moving. Vicente glowered. “You see, Gordo. He did it on purpose. Now he won’t undo the curse. But one thing is sure. If he doesn’t cross, my wife will soon become a widow, according to the curse. But so will his, according to me.” “What are you waiting for?” Gordo asked Polo, who was shaking all over. Vicente leaned back, and said. “Look, Polo, or whatever your name is, just do as I say and everything will be all right with me.” Polo looked at Gordo. “You see. Gordo, if I do walk over his legs again, the curse will fall on me. Once it is set in motion it cannot be stopped.” His brow was sweating heavy drops and his nose was twitching from side to side. Vicente looked dark and menacing. “Now cross. It’s your curse.” “Here, have a drink.” Gordo handed the full bottle to Polo. “Drink some of this, then go ahead.” Polo took a deep drag of beer. Gordo patted him on the back. The customers looked on from a safe distance. “Go ahead, now,” Gordo urged Polo. Polo raised the bottle to his lips again and took another deep drag of beer. Suddenly, he changed his grip on the bottle and broke it on Vicente’s head. Vicente fell on .the table. The customers dived under tables, jumped behind each other, or like Polo disappeared out the front door. Polo was not arrested for assault and battery, or anything. Vicente recovered and is now sitting inside of dim No Te Rajes Bar, with his long legs stretched across the aisle and a bandage around his head. Selso And sitting in San Antonio, deputy constable, Selso Almorraras de Leche, a big man with a rough head, was in Lupe’s Grill, making a deal with the owner of Schnell Finance Company, a small man with soft hands. Selso was saying, as he stuck his thumbs behind the lapels of his business suit, “I want the job. I can do it. I haven’t won this repossession gold pin five straight years for nothing. There isn’t one in the West Side who can say that.” He slapped hard on the surface of the table for emphasis. “And I mean, Mr. Schnell, not one.” “Oh, no,” coughed Mr. Schnell from across the table, stabilizing his cup of coffee. “I was not questioning your talents, assuredly. That’s why we always pay you in advance. But you can understand our prior concern. Normally we would have called another deputy. But they are all on other jobs. And the deadline is today. The repossession warrant has to be served today. It is a tedious job, but we need action.” Selso wiped the sweet-roll crumbs from his thick mouth. His eyes narrowed. “How much is the contract for?” Mr. Schnell leaned back. “Not much, Selso. It is only for the repossession of a hundred-dollar mattress.” “And how much is there in it for me?” The small man produced a yellow pencil and a piece of paper from his suit pocket. “Let’s see. Your commission . . .” he said, tabulating with great care “. . . will come to nine dollars.” Selso moved his head from side to side. “Look. A man can’t live on that.” He pointed out the window toward his pickup truck. “I have to pay my assistant at least fifty cents. Make it ten-fifty,” said Selso, sitting back on the complaining chair, “and it’s a deal. After all, the job is slightly different. I have to be at my best.” Mr. Schnell took the repossession warrant from his pocket and spread it across the table. He looked at Selso and said with a strained smile, “do this job for nine-dollars and we will be most grateful, in terms of future contracts.” “Look,” said Selso, putting his cup of coffee on the table impressively, “don’t give me that line. We are both businessmen. And we can talk straight. You hire me to do your collecting because you are afraid to do it yourself. As long as there is merchandise to be re-taken, you have to depend on guys like me, with guts. Now, how about it?” “Nine and a half,” strained Mr. Schnell, leaning forward to emphasize that he meant business. “Nine and a half.” “You make a rough deal, Mr. Schnell. But I’m always ready to be fair to my friends,” Selso said, putting on his ten gallon hat, swishing the warrant from the table, and .taking the nine and a half in advance from Mr. Schnell. “I’ll see you later.” He headed for the door, flashing his gold teeth, motioning to the cashier that Mr. Schnell would pay the bill. Half an hour later, the truck stopped in a muddy alley before a small house with a small garden in front. Selso jumped over the mud puddle by the truck and landed feet-first on a small bush of roses. He reached the porch and rapped on the trembling walls next to the screen door. “Ay! Ay!” Sharp cries of alarm came through the broken window where the curtain moved, revealing an ancient eye for an instant. Then the door opened cautiously. A tiny lady, with a network of wrinkles covering her face, appeared, wheezing. “Yes?” Selso stepped back a pace, unfurled the repossession warrant, and like .a medieval town crier reading the latest word from the king, he read it in grave tremolos, for fully twenty minutes. ” . . . thus, this warrant authorizes me to repossess said mattress for my client. But before I do, I must . . .” Selso yanked open the door and thrust the warrant into the hands of the old lady. ” . . . serve this warrant as it is now in your hands.” The old lady, who had been listening abstractly, said, “Qtte?” December 9, 1966