A Pink Dormouse Production
In the end they stayed at the motel for a night longer than planned before setting off for Canada. The mariachi vowed never to drink bourbon - or at least that particular brand - again, once his head was clear enough to think about anything at all. Sands had been in a worse state, and was still complaining about it on the day that they left.
They spent their first week in Montreal staying in a four star hotel, at Sands' instance, room paid for with Sands' money. The mariachi assessed the public transport situation then sold the car. It was one less way they could be tracked. He had made one last call to his mysterious employers, just after crossing the border, leaving a message on the voice-mail that he and Sands were fine, but would not be expecting any further assistance. Then he had thrown away his cell phone and bought another.
Finding a more permanent place to stay proved rather difficult. His current funds did not stretch to buying an apartment in the city outright, and most letting agents seemed to require proof of employment before they would put him on their books. Equally, it seemed that most potential employers expected to be given an address before they would consider any application. So he scoured the postcards on notice boards in bookstores and cafes - leaving Sands free to flirt with the maids and waiting staff, he suspected - until eventually he found someone slightly more sympathetic to his situation.
"One month's rent in advance and three months' as deposit," the woman said, after the mariachi had told her he would take the place as seen, and as soon as possible.
"The ad said one month's rent as deposit." He was certain of that, the wording had been in both French and English, so he could not blame someone else's translation skills.
"Where are your references? Proof of employment? Anything else that will convince me that you are not going to disappear owing me money?" The woman's words were delivered in a kindly enough tone, as far as the mariachi could tell. He was having a little difficulty with certain of the accents in this city, as well as with the number of signs in French only. His new landlady also tended towards putting dramatic emphasis on certain words, but then what could he expect from someone in her late fifties - at least - who wore a dinner jacket during the day?
The mariachi shrugged and counted out the bills onto the kitchen counter. They could not go on living in hotels indefinitely, and now he had an address, he could always find a job to supplement his ever-decreasing savings. It would be better not to contact Fideo and Lorenzo unless the situation became desperate. Doing so could draw unwelcome attention onto them or onto him, depending on who was being watched by whom.
He was as yet unsure what to do about Sands. There seemed to be even less opportunities for a blind, half-crazy ex-killer than for a musician-turned-killer in this new home of theirs. Sands was bound to get bored, and into yet more trouble, if left entirely to his own devices. First things first, the mariachi decided. He would fetch Sands and their luggage, and set about moving them into this new home he had found for them.
"Do I get my own keys this time?" Sands placed his bag of records carefully on the floor in the far corner of the room he had decided - by some arbitrary decision - was 'his'.
"Of course," the mariachi said, handing the set of three keys to Sands. "These two are for our front door. And this is for the main door downstairs. Got that?"
Sands ran his fingers over each in turn.
"I'll probably remember which is which better than you will. Now fuck off and do the hunter-gatherer thing, while I figure out where stuff is."
The mariachi rolled his eyes, shrugged and then complied. Even if half his gestures were lost on Sands, they still made him feel a hell of a lot better about being ordered to do what he had been planning on doing anyway. On the way out of the building, the landlady stopped him.
"Are you still seeking employment?"
"I'll find something soon." He was not as hopeful as he tried to sound. He had excellent false papers, but that was about all that he did have in his favour.
"Ah," she said, thoughtfully, "my friend, she is hiring. You should talk to her tomorrow. Here is the address." She handed him a business card for 'Chenie's Bar'.
"Thanks." The mariachi pocketed the card. "Is there anything I can do for you in return?"
"Pay your rent on time. Don't break anything. Don't hold wild parties."
He could probably stick to those guidelines. The mariachi made his farewells to the woman, and carried on in search of food.
"Call me Chenie," the bar's owner said. "Everyone else does." She looked to be around the same age as the landlady, with almost-certainly-dyed auburn hair, in an elaborate style. She was another who seemed to favour evening clothes during the day, although hers were of a more feminine nature. She appeared to be British, which was surprising in a city full of French-Canadians.
"Chenie." He paused, considering how much he hated the name Sands had chosen for him to have on his passport. "My friends call me El."
"And pull up a chair. We don't stand on formality here." She waited until he was seated at the table, across from her, before continuing. "Now, Marie-Clare has said she'll vouch for you so I hope you aren't going to let either of us down. We go way back, you know, back to when we were both trying to make it as Las Vegas showgirls."
That explained a few things, the mariachi thought. Sands had told him some stories featuring the casinos of Las Vegas.
"The money's not the best but you'll more than make up for that in tips. And I tell my boys the same as I tell my girls - what you do out of hours is up to you - but no direct touting for business while you're on paid time."
The mariachi wondered whether he should be flattered or offended. It was a long time since he had been referred to as a boy, even by someone old enough to be his mother. And he was certainly not going to be touting for business in the manner this Chenie seemed to be implying.
"I'll remember that. When do you want me to start?"
He returned to the apartment after spending some hours exploring the city, only to find that they had a visitor and Sands had a blade - a long, thin, sharp-looking blade.
"You decided to come home then?" Sands said, playfully pointing the tip of the blade somewhere between the mariachi's heart and throat.
"Put that away." He pushed the blade aside.
"You're just no fun," Sands muttered, sliding the blade inside a rather elegant cane. "And after my friend, Yves, here went to so much trouble to find me a proper sword-stick."
The mariachi rolled his eyes at their visitor, whom he now recognised as one of the waiters from the hotel they had stayed at. The very young, good-looking, blond waiter, who had paid Sands so much attention - to be precise.
"Yves, eh?" He racked his brain for the appropriate reaction to the situation. "Can I get you a drink?"
Yves shook his head.
"I have to get to work." He looked across at Sands. "I'll be around tomorrow."
"Yeah, right. See yourself out. I'll have a beer, thanks, El," Sands added, sounding not at all grateful.
The mariachi fetched two beers from the refrigerator. It looked to be a lot better stocked than when he had left earlier.
"Oh, yeah," Sands added. "Don't go rearranging the cupboards. Unless you want whole peppercorns in anything."
The mariachi opened one of them to find a selection of cookery staples. Very interesting, he thought, as he returned to the living room.
"You know how to cook?" he said, as he handed one of the beers to Sands.
"Might do. You leave everything well alone, and I'm sure you'll find out eventually."
"And your friend?"
"Yves? He called me, asked if there was anything he could do for me. Not jealous again, are you?"
"I'm not sure we should invite too many people here." The more that knew where they were, the more chance that the wrong people would find them.
"We can't keep running forever. It's not like I want to hold a house-warming or anything."
Annoyingly, Sands was right in a way; they probably were safe here, so long as they did nothing to draw attention to themselves. Making a few friends was no different to getting a job, in terms of visibility.
"From now on," the mariachi said, "we discuss it first."
Working for Chenie was not so bad, as it turned out. The clientele were almost all successful, well-paid executives and did, indeed, tip well. Chenie took the time to get to know her staff and the mariachi began taking his guitar into work with him, to play for her before or after his shift. Some nights he stayed late to drink with Chenie, and exchange tall stories. He doubted many of Chenie's were true - or if they were, they had happened to someone else - but then, he would hardly tell her the exact truth in his stories either. He kept his guns and the rest of his arsenal in perfect working order, just in case.
Sands, meanwhile, was spending a lot of time with Yves. The mariachi never asked for details about their relationship, but Sands was always home at night, even when that translated into the early hours of the morning. He rarely slept in his room, preferring to bring the covers through to the living room and curl up on the couch, with the volume of the TV turned low, snarling at the mariachi to 'leave the fucker alone' if he should try to pick up the remote and turn the set off altogether.
He could indeed cook, but only when he felt like it. Other times, there was not much point even asking so the mariachi either cooked or bought carry-out for both of them. Sands still had money somewhere too, since he kept buying T-shirts with stupid logos on them - black because black went with everything - and more records to play on the stereo system that had appeared within two days of their moving into the apartment. He never asked about the mariachi's work and the mariachi never volunteered the information without being questioned.
It was early in the evening, about a month after the mariachi had started working for Chenie. He turned around to hand over change to a patron, when he glimpsed Sands walking in on Yves' arm. He had a feeling that this was not going to go well. Sands sat down at the bar.
"Hello, El." There was definitely something unfriendly in his tone. "A beer for me and a mineral water for the designated driver."
"Certainly." He told himself to stay calm. He was sure that Sands had more sense than to cause a scene in public. He served the drinks and took the money.
Sands handed the water to Yves, along with some loose change and an instruction about 'go feed the juke box'. Then he turned back to the mariachi.
"What the fuck do you think you are doing?" he hissed.
Well, maybe it was not going to be a major scene, he hoped.
"In a bar? Fuck it, you're a killer, same as me." Sands voice was low, menacing. He took a long swallow from the bottle of beer.
"I was," the mariachi replied calmly. "Now I work here. It pays the rent. Our rent."
"Fuck, El, you could have found something better." Sands had another long drink from the bottle.
"Like what?" he asked. Then he realised - Sands was worried about the threat to his own identity. "This isn't about me, is it?"
"Of course it's fucking about you. Are you even listening to me?" Sands finished the beer and stood up. "Yves! Forget the juke box, we're leaving."
The mariachi watched them walk out. It could all have been so much worse. It probably would be much worse when he got home.
"Bad break-up?" asked a woman waiting to be served.
"Cranky room-mate." He turned to look directly at her, wondering how much she had overheard. "It's a long story."
"So I gathered." She extended a delicate hand with perfectly manicured nails. "I'm Helene, and I would love a spritzer."
He took her hand lightly, and kissed the air directly above it.
"Pleased to meet you, Helene." He gazed into grey eyes, a little less world-weary than most he saw in this bar. "My friends call me El." He remembered that he was supposed to be working and released her hand. "Which wine would you like in your spritzer?"
Chenie came through a short while later and took over most of the bar work, while the mariachi carried on his conversation with Helene. He rarely had the opportunity to talk at length with someone new - with anyone for that matter, who was not Sands or Chenie.
Eventually Helene looked at her watch.
"Damn, I was supposed to be at a function around about now. And still, there's no sign of my escort. I know I told him where to meet me." She looked the mariachi straight in the eyes. "I don't suppose you..."
"I'm working until we close up." He glanced over towards Chenie, wondering if she would class this exchange as 'touting for business'.
"No you're not." Chenie walked over. "It's quiet tonight and you deserve it - you work twice as hard as anyone else here. Get on with you."
The mariachi looked at her and then at Helene. Both were in cocktail dresses; he was less formally dressed, since Chenie had never insisted her bar staff dress up to the extent that she did.
"Are you sure I will fit in?"
"Smart-casual covers a range of sins." Helene smiled. She stood up and picked up her purse from the bar. "If we leave now we have the choice of a walk or a cab."
He enjoyed the party. He enjoyed Helene's company. And then he surprised himself by accepting her invitation to stay, after he had escorted her home. It turned out to be a good decision. She knew what she wanted from a man, was not afraid to tell him, and gave as much back in return.
There was much to be said, too, for just lying in bed holding someone afterwards. He had slept alone for far too long, he realised - on the train with Sands was not at all the same thing - and Helene did not seem the type to make unfulfillable demands on his emotions. In fact she had stated that from the start. Her career was her number one priority, and she had no time for any man, who got in the way of her ambition. The BMW that had once belonged to her ex-husband, and was now parked alongside her Porsche, was further proof of that, if any were needed.
So, on Helene's initiative, they made an arrangement. One which should meet the needs of both, and would be continued over dinner later in the week - once Helene had consulted her social diary, and the mariachi had checked his rota with Chenie. He retrieved his guitar from the bar, and returned to the apartment in a much better mood than he would have expected, after the confrontation with Sands.
Sands was waiting for him at the apartment. Or, at least, Sands was sitting on the couch, and seemed not to be paying attention to the crappy talk show playing out on the TV. He was wearing a grey-checked shirt, which looked to be at least two sizes too large for him, and which the mariachi had definitely not seen before.
"You came back." Sands turned the TV off.
"Did you expect that I would not?" The mariachi sat down next to him.
"No, you're too stubborn for that. Did you have a good time too?" He leaned back and the shirt fell open at his neck, revealing a trail of bruises around his throat, and disappearing under his T-shirt.
For some reason the mariachi's mind jumped back to their last prolonged stop in the US.
"You are being careful, aren't you?"
"I could ask the same about you and Ms Chanel Number Five. Unless," Sands smirked, "there's something else you haven't been telling me."
Satisfied that Sands was in no mood to argue that morning, the mariachi reached over and took his guitar out of its case. He began to practice a tune Chenie had said she wanted to hear, and that he thought he had more or less memorised now. Sands rolled onto his side and, neatly avoiding the guitar, curled up with his head against the mariachi's hip.
"'Black Magic Woman', Santana 1970 - written by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac in - " He yawned. "Take my advice, El, don't get involved with teenagers. They're fucking exhausting."
Sands, of course, failed to take his own advice. He was much easier to live with, however, and made no further remarks about the mariachi's job. They could have carried on as they were indefinitely, alternating - roughly - nights when they were both at home with nights when one or other of them did not come back until morning. But the mariachi's luck never ran that way.
For the third day in a row he suspected that he was being followed as he left Chenie's Bar. He doubled back and cut through a shopping mall, hoping to lose whomever it might be in the crowds. Unsure of his success, he left by a different exit then flattened himself against the wall and waited. When no one who looked suspicious emerged after half an hour, he felt confident about going home by a roundabout route.
He mentioned his concerns to Sands later, while he was making an especially thorough check of their weaponry.
"It's probably nothing," Sands said, testing the point of his sword-stick. "If anyone was going to find us, they would have done so before now."
"Take this anyway," the mariachi handed him a .22 semi-automatic. "You might as well have that as well as the revolver."
"At last," Sands drawled, "a bit of imaginary danger, and you finally let me have a real gun. Don't suppose I could have something a little heftier?"
"You get what I give you." Satisfied that all else was in order, the mariachi closed the guitar case, and slid it back under his bed. "And be careful who you kill with it."
"Don't kill random civilians; don't let the bad guys away with minor injuries; yeah, yeah, I know the drill. What about your ladyfriend and my boytoy? Are we arming them as well?"
"I don't know," the mariachi said slowly. He did not want to drag any more innocents into this - enough had been involved over the years already - and he had no time to train the others in self-defence anyhow. "For now, I think we should not tell them. If I'm right, then we'll talk about this again."
He telephoned Helene and cancelled their date for that evening. There was no point in drawing more attention to her than was necessary.
The apartment block was unexpectedly in darkness. Even the emergency lighting seemed to be out. The mariachi cautiously felt his way up four flights of stairs, and then along the corridor, counting off the doors as he passed them. When he touched his own door, it swung slowly open on dropped hinges.
He called out, and was answered only by silence. He pushed the door fully open, and groped for the light switch, certain it would be useless. His fingers slipped on wetness, before finding and flicking the switch. The apartment was suddenly bathed in light, revealing the bodies.
Helene lay nearest to the door. He bent to check her - stomach wound, and very dead. Ignoring the tightness in his throat, he moved on to the next. - Yves, shot in the head at close range, no doubt about him either. There were two trails of blood leading out of Sands' room and then out of the apartment, as if further bodies had been dragged out from there. The mariachi called out again. Then he pushed the door open.
Sands had obviously gone down fighting. He lay sprawled on the blood-soaked bed, a gun in each hand, his body riddled with bullet holes. The mariachi sagged back against the wall in disbelief that things could end this way.
"No. God. No. I never - "
He sat up in bed, and groped for the light on the nightstand. Then he switched it on to reveal Sands leaning on the doorframe. The mariachi sagged back against the pillows.
"You're alive." He should have known it to be a dream - Helene never came to the apartment, and Yves did so only rarely these days.
"Last time I checked." Sands smirked. "Some of us have more sense than to get hit by a guy having a nightmare."
"We're leaving." He was certain of that, but less sure that Sands would accept his reason.
The mariachi considered the matter. They had ties here, and it was not as simple for him to up and leave with Sands in tow as it would have been for him by himself.
"No. But as soon as possible. What I saw in my dream - "
" - We're leaving because of a fucking dream? Jesus, El, you were all for staying and fighting earlier."
"You've got until the end of the week to say any 'good byes'." He was in no mood to argue the point. "Then we're going."
"Christ." Sands shook his head. "And I thought my life already made less sense than a Syd Barrett solo album. One thing, El, make sure you buy us a decent car to leave in - I don't want to abandon yet another record collection."
The mariachi told Marie-Clare first, since she lived in the block. Then he went to the bar and gave his notice to Chenie.
"I'll be sad to see you go," she said after he had given her what he hoped was a believable explanation.
"If I could have stayed - "
" - I know." Chenie smiled. "You two look after yourselves - wherever you end up," she added, with an air that implied she knew more about his real reasons for leaving than he had let on.
"I'll send you a postcard some time." He got up and kissed her quickly on the cheek. "Thank you for everything."
"Thank you," Chenie said, "May you have many more adventures before you go out in a blaze of glory."
He had deliberately put off telling Helene until last. They had an arrangement rather than a relationship, but it had still been a wrench to see her dead in his dream. And he doubted that she would feel nothing when he left. But there was no use asking her to accompany him - her career would come first, always - and he respected that.
"Your friend, Sands, was here earlier," Helene said, handing him a cold beer. "He said you had planned a surprise meal for me. Good thing he let it slip - you know how busy I am right now. But I've kept Friday clear."
"I'm," the mariachi took a gulp of beer, "leaving on Saturday."
"Yes, he told me that as well. That's the reason for the meal, surely?"
"Yes, obviously." The mariachi wondered fleetingly why Sands had arranged this for him, then decided his time was better spent making the most of the time he had left in the city, and with Helene.
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