Along the horizon, south of the United States, an expanse of crenellated concrete rises out of the Pacific and vanishes into the east, making tangible the intangible: an imaginary line bisecting a land once one. Tall and proud The Wall stands. Forty feet high and twenty feet deep. Its surface unadorned with design or texture. Just flat and grey through and through. Mighty enough to thwart the charge of fifty thousand Spartans. Priam of Troy would have envied it, the great lodestar of American Jingoism.
With his M16 in tow, Marcus patrols the rise of The Wall. Sweat accumulates at the small of his back, sliding down his legs one annoying bead at a time. As he plods his way to the end of The Wall, he keeps a watchful eye for any and all projectiles flung and shot from the Junk Yard, the archipelago of derelict cars and scrap metal running parallel along The Wall. His eyes keen on the rustling behind the jalopies, scouting for heads and peering eyes. The cat and mouse game of border patrol.
Overhead, the leaden sky hangs low and foreboding. He hasn't seen a bird in weeks. All he's seen is the grey of smoke and blight.
The air smells of rot. He looks over the Wall and there it is: the carcass of a stray covered in squirrelly, white specks. And then two other mutts trotting toward the ocean, what will be a failed attempt to flee Mexico. If this were a person, he wouldn't care. A human would know better, would know of the under water fans that repel any and everything back into Mexican waters. But these dogs—and the dogs that will come tomorrow—don't know this.
"Control, we've got rot on mile marker .25," Marcus says into his shoulder mic.
Gas, then fire.
He walks on, remembers when the ocean spat out a decomposing whale, as if the earth itself was protesting the Wall.
A report of gunfire cracks the still air. Marcus drops for cover.
Then he hears a guffaw and looks up at the guard tower nearest him, sees the barrel of a rifle peaking out of the window.
"You missed," a voice says from within the guard tower.
"Fucker!" another voice says.
Marcus hops to his feet and walks past the guard tower as quick as he can, ignoring the goings-on of the men inside.
Marcus winces and turns his head to see Davis, a fellow man in green, learning out of the guard tower, his scalp shaved, shiny, and vascular. Another bald head pops out beside him, giddy. Walsh.
"Kowal! How are you, you bastard?" Walsh says.
"They got the camera on now, you know?"
"Do they now?" Walsh looks at the camera post parallel to the guard tower, smirks. "I have it on good authority that it's down for maintenance, so I'm using the opportunity to shoot some 'cans. Want to join—"
The joke that never grows old.
"Incoming!" Davis shouts.
Marcus ducks low and slides behind a parapet. A splash of glass and flames spreads across the walkway beside him.
"Where'd it come from?" Marcus asks.
"Eleven, twelve o'clock," Davis says. "It doesn't matter. Just shut up and shoot!"
"Woo!" Walsh shoots wildly into the Junk Yard.
"Kowal," Davis screams over the gunfire, "what are you waiting for?"
Marcus positions his rifle and sets his sights. He doesn't see the offender, so he shoots at random objects: a TV, three different jalopies, a refrigerator.
"Cease-fire! Cease-fire!" Someone shouts, so Marcus stops shooting. He keeps his eyes on the Junk Yard. He has to look ever vigilant.
"Kowal, see anything?"
"No." He doesn't know whom he's talking to. "Looks like a one off."
Marcus peers over his shoulder. Walsh and Davis stare into the Junk Yard.
"Two o'clock," Davis says, squinting into his sights. "Dumb bitch is standing right in the open, to the left of the blue F-150."
Marcus looks into the Junk Yard and sees a woman in a tattered yellow dress. She is screaming at someone out of view. Get of out of the way, he pleads silently. She doesn't, and her knee explodes. Her shin caroms off the front of her thigh and falls twisted and limp beside her.
"Boo yah!" Walsh says.
The woman in the tattered yellow dress collapses beside her shorn leg and shrieks in bloody agony. A man in combat fatigues steps beside her. He just stares. Confounded by the odd physiology of her body. It isn't until she clutches his ankle and wails that he comes to and drags her into safety.
"She won't be walking right for a while," Davis says.
Marcus hangs his head. He can't look back into the Junk Yard. He stands, continues down the rise of The Wall. The cries of the woman trailing him.
Marcus bolts out of bed, shoes on his feet. He unhinges the chain door guard and unlocks the dead bolt and the four-dial combination padlock his conscious self could only open with a laminated cheat sheet. He runs out into the dark, under the moon still loitering in a bruise-purple sky.
His feet know the terrain. They skip over the third, loose step on the staircase outside his apartment. They take him down Santa Ynez to Glendale Boulevard, toward the glimmer of moonlight on the half dozen steel frames rising above the ruins of the downtown skyline.
They steer him around Echo Park Lake and its pre-dawn fishermen, over the rough-hewn potholes and broken glass lining Bellevue Avenue, the spatters of puke up Edgeware Road. Through Angeleno Heights, past its historically-preserved Victorian architecture and contemporary gentrification, the apartments of the working poor—brown folk from Mexico and Central America—alongside those of urban hipsters vying to buy any and all property on the market, and then onto Sunset Boulevard. Past a curbside memorial where an array of dwindling votive candles light a framed photograph of some brown kid no more than sixteen or seventeen in a purple soccer jersey—the phrase "Fly Emirates" emblazoned across his chest. No Olvidados reads the sign beside his photo.
His feet take him past the main throughway to Dodger Stadium and the sooty white cube that was once Evans Adult School and up a length of Figueroa Street into the concrete hills of Chinatown.
And eventually, back home.
Amidst the darkness, Marcus hears a voice, a word repeated over and over again, as if muddied by water. Syllables squashed and stretched, swelling around his dome and reverberating through the ether.
Then he feels the slap.
"Get up, retard."
Another slap to his cheek.
Marcus gasps and launches out of bed, grabbing at the air, as if emerging from the choppy waters of a shipwreck, and tumbles onto the hardwood floor.
"You okay there, retard?" the voice, familiar and annoying, says behind him.
Marcus props himself up onto his forearms, turns around. Through the darkness and the shadows, he sees an oddity on his bed: a dark figure clad in shades of green and red, as large as a linebacker in perennial off-season.
"Turn on the light, and tell me what are you doing here," Marcus says.
"Lying in bed," Gomez Gomez says and fidgets with the lamp beside the bed.
For a split second, amber light fills the room, but the bulk of it vanishes with a pop. All that remains are dim sparks of light.
"You'll need to replace that bulb," Gomez Gomez says.
Marcus catches and trails Gomez Gomez's eyes as they survey his things: the 60-inch TV connected to an Xbox 360 and a PS4, the coffee table littered cans of Coke he should have tossed out days ago, the robot figurines atop the bookcase, and the set of adamantium claws encased in a plexiglas box on the end table beside the sofa.
"Wow. I expected your fortress of solitude to be different. To be honest, I was positive—fucking positive—you had a refrigerator full of human skin and a whole transvestite station set up next to a full-length mirror. I can't tell you how relieved I am that you're just hiding nerd-vana from everyone."
Marcus hops to his feet. "Okay, time to leave." He slaps Gomez Gomez on the thigh. "I need to sleep."
"But I'm so comfy right here. Can I just stay? I'll be your teddy bear." He opens his arms for a hug and grins.
"Come on, man. Get up already." Marcus slaps Gomez Gomez on the thigh again, but Gomez Gomez snatches his hand and drags him into the bed and bear hugs him from behind, tight.
Marcus rolls with it at first, lets Gomez Gomez rag doll him around. It's Gomez Gomez's way, but then Marcus catches a whiff of a familiar must and then stomps on his foot.
"God damn!" Gomez Gomez releases Marcus.
Marcus hops to his feet. "Get the fuck out!"
"Dude, calm down."
"Get the fuck out!"
"Calmate, Marcus." Gomez Gomez puts his hands up in the air. "I was just fucking around. I'm sorry."
Marcus huffs, runs his fingers through his hair. His chest heaving.
He can still smell that must.
"No, man, it's the dead of night, and all I want to do is sleep, and you're fucking groping me." Marcus plops down onto his couch, atop something soft, yet stiff. He jumps right back up. His black suit, the hanger inside the jacket. He doesn't know why it's there, wonders if he laid it out in his Lost Time. He tosses it atop the arm of the couch and sits back down. He leans forward, works his palms into his eyes.
"I think you broke something."
Marcus looks at Gomez Gomez kneading his foot.
"How'd you get in?"
"I saw you zombie-walking again. So I followed you."
Marcus doesn't want to ask, but he knows he has to.
"Where'd you find me?"
"On Lemoyne. Between Sunset and Montana."
Lemoyne. A month ago his neighbor spotted him on Lemoyne, asleep on a lawn, the sprinklers in full swing.
"You should ask the city to post one of those yellow caution signs out front, warning people of the special-needs person living up here. You know, you."
He needs another lock, something his unconscious self can't crack. If that's even possible.
A rattling bell and squirrelly growl sound from inside his closet.
"That better not be that rat of yours gnawing on my stuff."
"Loki, get over here!"
An overstuffed burrito of a Chihuahua emerges from the closet and waddles across the hardwood floor, past Marcus, and hops into the side of the bed.
"Your dog's a fat piece of shit."
Gomez Gomez lifts Loki onto the bed and scratches the scruff of his neck.
"This right here is the embodiment of our people: a marginalized breed, but loud and stubborn and an overall pain in the ass, characteristics we need for change."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Why don't you take his marginalized ass home and let him rifle through your crap?"
"You should be thanking him that I found you." He scratches Loki's jowls. "If he didn't have to take a leak so fucking early, you'd be out there by yourself, getting run-over or molested or whatever the fuck happens to you when you're out there."
Marcus looks outside, into the penumbra of nightfall deepening into the west, and then kicks his legs up onto the sofa.
"Still no word on my cousin."
The one thing Marcus didn't want to hear about.
"My dad's expecting a call from kidnappers. Of course, he hasn't told my mom that. She's going crazy as it is. Keeps saying the Lord will lead him the way. I don't know, dude."
A sullen moment passes in the semi-darkness of the room.
"Alright. Time for my sister's quinceañera. I laid your suit out for you."
"Seriously, who has a birthday party at eight a.m. on a Thursday morning? And you've got to stop saying that. It's not going to kill you to call it a sweet sixteen."
"First, dude, it's cheaper to rent a banquet hall on a weekday. Second, when I'm out there, I'll say that sweet sixteen, assimilationist, fear of the man bullshit, but when I'm with my people, even your half-breed ass, it's a fucking quinceañera because she's fifteen, not sixteen, dick. Now go take a shower."
"You're going to get your teeth kicked in if you keep saying that."
"Only if you rat me out."
Gomez Gomez heaves himself out of Marcus's bed. With the absence of his weight, the mattress springs crankily compose themselves.
"I'll pick you up in an hour and a half."
Marcus rolls onto his side, away from Gomez Gomez.
"Okay? Marcus, you hear me?"
"Yes, I hear you. I'll see you in an hour and whatever minutes. Get the hell out already."
Gomez Gomez snaps his fingers. Chihuahua paws scamper across the hardwood floor.
Marcus lifts his head up from the couch.
"How many kids are missing school because of this?"
"They go to school in the inner-city. They'll probably learn more at the quince."
"You're an idiot."
"Probably. Shut up and shower up. Bye."
The door opens. Loki jingles out and down the stairs in staccato steps. The door closes. Relief.
He wiggles his right ankle. His achilles is sore and stiff. He should have worn the ankle brace or taped it up. He rolls onto his back, looks at the stucco ceiling. With the scant light emanating from his lamp, it looks like the surface of the moon.
Lemoyne, he thinks. Always Lemoyne between Sunset and Montana. He'll figure it out someday.
The Gomez Albatross
Marcus leers at Gomez Gomez as they wait in a single-file line outside the dance hall staging Sandra Gomez's quinceañera.
"Are you kidding me? Why can't you just walk right in?" Marcus says.
"It's part of the contract, dude. Everybody has to be searched. Just relax. It'll be fun."
"The groping or the party?"
"I'd say both."
Marcus isn't really frustrated with Gomez Gomez for the wait. Rather, the girl six people ahead of him in line. He can't help but stare at her. He tries to avert his gaze, looking into the street, the cars zipping by, Gomez Gomez adjusting his neon green bolo tie, the lavender crepe-paper roses adorning the parking meters, the pastel balloon arches enclosing the entrance, haunted by the fetid stench of piss and other human foulness. But his attention invariably comes back to her. Her hair, spent of red dye. Now shades of pink, orange, and blond. Tied in a bun. He doesn't imagine run-of-the-mill guy things as he stares at her, like how she looks naked or how it would be to fuck her. He's simply enthralled by her, by something he can't quite place. For a moment, an infinitesimal fragment of time, he wonders if he knows her. Then he realizes the utter ridiculousness of the idea. He doesn't know any women, not anymore.
Before she or anyone notices his staring, he turns his gaze to the twisting bicolored streamers, fastened together like strands of DNA, snaking their way around the wrought iron burglar bars of the dance hall, and the unmistakable street art from the tagger Raza: Polyphemus the cyclops tearing a stake out from his one eye, screaming, "Nobody is trying to kill me."
The two elephantine security guards at the front door are not gentle. The more obese of the two paws at Marcus's arms, chest and pockets and skids a potbellied palm along each thigh, right into his crotch.
"What I tell you?" Gomez Gomez says with a slap to Marcus's back. "Action like that usually costs forty bucks."
When the party begins, the second floor ballroom transforms into a claustrophobic whirlpool of undulating lavender balloons and sloshing, pink ruffled streamers, and parents-cum-amateur photographers scurrying around the dance floor, vying for the perfect shot of the fourteen-member court being unveiled. Chatty heels and flashing bulbs sing low under Thalia's "Quinceañera" as seven teenage boys decked out in black suits, purple ties, and glossy hair stride onto the dance floor, one step at a time, cradling the delicate hands and waists of seven teenage girls in muted pink gowns and white peep-toe pumps. Marcus wants to run away from it all, but he remains seated—if squirming—in his foldout chair at the rear of the dance hall, listening to one of Gomez Gomez's aunts or cousins with gold cuspids jaw on about Hector, the infamous missing cousin.
Though he'd like nothing more than to be left alone, completely sheltered from the world and its intrusive inhabitants, Marcus knows it's not practical. He knows he needs at least one friend, to have dinner with or see a movie, lest he comes off as the creepy recluse he fears himself to be. He knows he needs an excuse to leave his apartment, if, for anything, to simply leave his apartment. It is for this reason that Marcus allows Gomez Gomez to take him to bars and clubs to hit on women he couldn't give a shit about. And why he attends Gomez family functions with linguistically-awkward introductions to myriad aunts and uncles, fumbling the English language, and third and fourth cousins from a farrago of branches on the Gomez family tree. The desire for normality forces Marcus to remain seated and feign interest in a story he's heard ten times over.
With the court introduced and assembled in a chorus line, the seven couples fan out into a circle, leaving an opening for the lady of honor, and all stops for her. Marcus looks over at Valentina Gomez, the Gomez family matriarch, at the table of honor. She watches on, her eyes glossed over. A forced smile on her face. Her right hand clutches a wad of tissues, her left the top rail of the empty chair beside her, Hector's chair. She spies the entrance, squints. Marcus looks over his shoulder. There's no one there.
When he turns around, Marcus sees her coming his way. He looks back on the procession and hopes she doesn't notice him or the empty seat beside him, but she does and takes the seat.
"Have you seen him?" she asks and glances at the entrance.
"Look out for him, okay?" she says and pats Marcus's thigh.
"He has a birthmark behind his left ear," she says as she taps the back of her left ear. "It looks like a bunch of grapes."
She grabs his hand. Her palm moist with tears.
"You know, Hector was born on the same day as Sandra. In Colima," she says. He has heard her tell this story before. "Premature two months." She chokes up. "He should have died."
Marcus doesn't want to hear this.
"His heart wasn't strong enough, but Hector held on."
Marcus knows what's next. She'll say that her and her sister prayed before altars and icons of Mary with Child. That because they prayed, God listened. That the green tracer approximating his heart beat and life at the precipice of death peaked higher and higher as the days wore on. And that on the third week of being connected to an orchestra of bleeping and sighing machines with fluttering lights and rotating numbers, he opened his eyes and hiccuped, "mami."
"He was our miracle child," she says.
Marcus wonders how bad it would look to walk away and hide in a bathroom stall. He tries to slide his hand out from her moist grasp, but she won't let go.
"It was my idea to send him up here. My idea," she says. "It's my fault," she gasps, struggling to hold it together. "I should have known they would kidnap him."
She presses that wad of tissues to her face and bawls.
Marcus knows he has to say something.
"It's not your fault," he says after a long pause made worse with her hand over his. "You don't know if he was kidnapped." Though it's more than likely.
She squeezes his hand and forces a smile.
"Here she comes," she says.
Sandra Gomez enters the dance floor in a muted pink gown of her own with a silver tiara atop her head, guided by her father, Esteban Gomez, a minotaur with a thinning, artificially black pompadour. Once they take their place in the center of the circle, the waltz begins.
"I need to go. I'm sorry to do this to you," she says.
"It's okay. Hope you feel better."
She smiles and walks back to her seat.
Marcus can't rid himself of that bunch of grapes.
After the cutting of the cake and the all too familiar sweet sixteen prank of plunging Sandra's face into the cake and the surprise dance, a popping-and-locking, break dance routine to the eighties' sounds of Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," and Valentina and Esteban Gomez's toast to their beloved Sandra, which Valentina can't bring herself to finish when she looks upon Hector's empty chair at her table, the crowd in attendance hits the buffet. Some, the dance floor. Marcus takes to the street, fleeing the embarrassment of being caught staring at the girl with the once red hair.
He leans against a swatch of green and black spray paint, still redolent of its application, beside the two elephantine bouncers and wonders if she really saw him. It was possible that it wasn't him she shot that glance at, that furrowed brow and curled lip of disgust. There were other people seated around him, any one could have been the object of her scorn. He ignores the small voice telling him otherwise.
That Marilyn Monroe mole.
"Those bitches up there are fine as fuck, huh?" The less obese of the elephants at the front door says. "You see the one in pink? God damn!" The lesser elephant punches the palm of his left hand for emphasis. "Wish I could get me some of that, you know what I'm sayin'?"
The more obese elephant chuckles with his right hand over his mouth, as if trying to contain his laughter.
"Weren't they all wearing pink?" Marcus says.
"Oh, yeah. Shit, well, I'm talking about that one bitch with that ass. You know which one I'm talking about."
Marcus doesn't respond. He gives the lesser elephant a polite nod and smirk and turns his head, wishing away the elephant's attention.
"Shit, my bad. You must be familia. I meant no disrespect, homie. It's just those girls are beautiful, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"No worries, man. I don't even know anyone upstairs."
"What you talking about? I saw you come in here with that one foo, the quinceañera's brother."
Marcus fakes a guffaw.
"That's my friend, Arturo. Dude's a good liar. Honestly, we don't know anyone here. We found the invite for this chick's party down the street and thought, why not? You know what I'm saying? Free food. Girls. Speaking of which, I better head back up and make sure no one takes my seat. I'm sitting at the table with the finest bitches up there. Later, homies."
Marcus is never himself at social gatherings. To the man who used the urinal beside him, he's the soft-spoken choreographer of the day's performances. To the elderly couple at the bar, he's John Foster, the city health inspector secretly investigating food poisoning complaints against the catering company. "Just avoid the beans and rice," Marcus tells them. "They're crawling with bacteria and semen, or so the complaint goes." To Flora Beltran, a Gomez aunt he'd never met, he's Art De La Rosa, Sandra Gomez's much older boyfriend her parents don't know about. "Don't tell anyone, yeah?" He tells her.
Back on the second floor, Marcus enters a cultural speakeasy come alive, the throng of partygoers dancing to the sounds of spirited trombones and trumpets jiving to congas and clacking claves. Marcus scans the ballroom and finds Gomez Gomez on the other side of the herringbone dance floor, with a peculiar scowl on his face, glad-handing guests at the buffet line.
"Hey, I need to talk with you," Marcus says.
"Give me a minute," Gomez Gomez says, as he takes the hand of some kid who could pass for his younger brother. "I'm Sandra's brother," he says, "Thanks for coming." His voice absent any inflection. "Who you here with?"
"I'm going to take off," Marcus says.
"Esmeralda," the kid says. "She's part of your sister's court."
"Yeah, that's great," Gomez Gomez says and slaps the kid on the shoulder. He turns to Marcus. "I might need your help in a bit." His eyes drift back to the buffet line.
"Sorry, man," Marcus says, "but I have to go. I've got some crap to take care of."
"You and I both know you have nowhere to go."
"What the hell do you know and what the hell are you looking at over there?"
"No one. Then where do you have to go?"
"I have to pack up for my next rotation."
"Okay. One question: how you getting home?"
"I'm going to call an Uber."
Gomez Gomez rolls his eyes.
"Here's why you're retarded. If you were going to leave early, why didn't you come in your own car?"
"Because I didn't want to drive all over the place."
Gomez Gomez grabs Marcus by the shoulders. "Just get a plate and wait for me, okay? Don't be such a bitch. And her name's Luz. She works with me. If you want to talk to her, talk to her, but stop staring at her like that. The shit's creeping me out."
He slaps Marcus on the shoulder and focuses his attention back on the buffet line. He brushes aside the older couple in matching beige outfits and introduces himself to the pair of young men behind them.
"I'm Gomez, Sandra's brother," he says to the man with the lighter complexion. "Who you here with?"
Marcus grabs a plate and returns to his seat. He picks at his food but doesn't really eat. He longs for solitude. When the woman in the gold sequin dress to his right leaves for another plate, he spots the recurring wart of Gomez family functions headed toward him: Sergio Gomez, Gomez Gomez's uncle and luminary in the struggle for Latino Rights. A Malcolm X figure to Gomez Gomez's pacific Medgar Evers. He hobbles toward Marcus, dragging his left leg with its surgically repaired ACL, injured throwing himself into a barricade of police at a protest in San Diego.
"Kowal, Kowal, Kowal," Sergio says and pulls out the empty chair beside Marcus and, with a grunt, drops himself in it. "Sorry it took so long to walk over. The knee, you know," he says with a grin.
Marcus rises from his seat. Sergio grabs his wrist.
"Relax. I'm not here to talk shit. I'm here to talk history, forgiveness."
"Let's not and say we did."
His phone vibrates in his pants pocket.
"Please," Sergio says. The sincerity in his voice seemingly real. "Just give me a moment."
Marcus reads the text message from Gomez Gomez: Don't make a scene. Just grin and bear it. I owe you one.
Marcus sighs and sits back down.
"So in Mexican lore, we have this woman of infamy: La Malinche. Do you know of her?"
Sergio leans forward.
"Please fill me in."
"I didn't think so. La Malinche was a slave of the Cacique of Tabasco, but after the Spaniards conquered him and his peoples, the Cacique gave her up to them—that is to say, Hernán Cortés—along with nineteen other slaves and gold and whatever, as a tribute, a pledge of fealty. As it would, she became Hernán Cortés's interpreter, then lover. Hernán Cortés, the man who brought about the downfall of Mexico."
Marcus bounces his knees. He knows where this is going.
"That she did this wasn't so bad—she was a slave after all. In terrible situations like that, you do what you have to do to survive, but here's the thing: when La Malinche learned of a Cholulan plan to attack Cortés and his men, she didn't try to help her people, the rightful heirs of the Mexico. Instead, she turned her back on her people and told Cortés about it, the man who enslaved and raped her women and killed her men. Hell, that puta even pretended to help the Cholulans and lured them into a trap that slaughtered them. From this, an expression was born: Hijo de La Malinche. To translate it in a way you would understand, it means 'son of the traitor.'"
"Want to get to your point already?"
"I forgive you. That's what I wanted to say." Sergio places his hand on Marcus's bouncing knee. Marcus shakes it off. Sergio snickers, raises his hands, and leans back. Smiles. "I forgive you, Kowal. You can't help what you are, what you do. It's in your blood. That you've turned your back on your people to be a border guard isn't your fault. It's your whore of a mother's fault."
"Awesome." Marcus chuckles, shakes his head.
"She gave herself to a white man and denied you any natural sense of loyalty to your people."
"Thank you for that. If I ever run into my mother's ghost, I'll be sure to pass that on to her."
"You, too, have allowed that blood of Cortés, the soul of La Malinche to turn against your people."
"White blood, right? You're saying white blood's bad. If that's the case, why don't you go give that ginger over there a talking-to about his inherent evil."
Over on the dance floor, a white guy with red hair gyrates his body like a fork stuck in the garbage disposal.
"True, Chester is as white as it comes, but he's done more for our people than you ever will."
"Maybe," Marcus says, "Maybe Chester's here to find a Mexican mate, have her birth his child, and taint the bloodline in an unconscious fit of genetic colonialism."
"You're a fucking dis-race. You know that?"
"I love your wordplay, dropping the G there to form pejorative." Marcus stands. "It's cute."
Sergio snatches his arm and rights himself alongside Marcus. His indignation in full bloom.
"One day The Wall will come down. Know that, and when that day comes, you'll have to answer to your people."
Sergio releases Marcus and takes a calming breath. He adjusts his Windsor and says, "See you around, Kowal," as always, placing emphasis on Marcus's surname.
Gomez Gomez staggers from out of the crowd. "Come here," he says and throws an arm around Marcus's shoulders, and brings him in tight.
"Your uncle's a dick. You know that?"
"Yeah, yeah. Look, I need your help," Gomez Gomez says, as much a whisper as the ruckus in the room will allow. "Have you seen any strange guys around?"
"I barely know anyone here."
"Look, my aunt said she met my sister's boyfriend, some fucker our age. Of course, Sandra's denying everything, but I'm going to find him."
Marcus smirks. "Relax, it's me."
"No. Seriously, it's me. I was just—"
"Dude, I don't have time for your shit. I got to find this guy and kick his monkey ass."
Gomez Gomez notices a small crowd beside the entrance. "Shit. What now?"
Marcus follows behind him. Because that's what friends do, he reminds himself.
At the center of the crowd is Valentina, sitting on the floor, her back against the wall. Her thin mottled arms wrapped around her chest. Her face a weeping stone. The dozen or so people around her are either shaking their heads or bawling.
Marcus sits at the table closest to the crowd. Gomez Gomez walks to his mother, kneels before her, and puts his hands on her knees. She remains stoic, as if he wasn't there. Tears trickling down her weather-worn cheeks. An uncle or cousin kneels beside him and whispers into his ear. Gomez Gomez's shoulders slump forward. He kisses his mother on the forehead and walks back to Marcus.
"What's the matter?" Marcus asks.
"The Rugerio Cartel's got my cousin. They got Hector."
Michael Leal García teaches and writes in Los Angeles, CA. His work has been featured in Your Impossible Voice, Apogee Journal, and The Carolina Quarterly. He is currently writing his first novel.