Saturday, August 30, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 56

“You are here at a time of awkwardness.”

“No kidding, Luis. Your sentence structure is indicative,” I say.

“There may be some things, some events, even good friends should not witness or even be aware of,” he says.

“Especially good friends,” Gina says.

Feels like I’m playing charades. “Say what?”

“The possibility exists one could later be asked questions under oath,” Luis says. “And therefore threatened with imprisonment.”

“Questions like, did he tell you this, did she say that,” Gina says.

Okay. Now I get it. What they’re saying is, I don’t want to know what the hell is going on.

“It would be better for you to leave,” Luis says. “In fact, I have an urgent errand.”

I shake my head. “I practically just got here and I’m very hungry.” I glance at the menu. “Or at least give me a little hint. Does this mystery have something to do with Bluefish?”

Luis clasps my shoulder in his right hand. The grip is stern, meant to get my attention. “There is no time. You must take a letter to the post office for me before six o’clock, por favor.”

Moving to the cash register, Luis digs beneath the coin tray. What the hell are these two up to? My shoulder thanks me for arranging its release, but warns against further refusal. Luis’s fingers pinched me like pliers.

Luis hands me a brown number-ten envelope addressed in neatly printed block letters to Rosalinda Sanchez, c/o Teresa Guerrero, 23 Libertad, Zempoala, State of Veracruz, Mexico.

“It is most important,” he says. “I trust only you.”

“Can I have a burrito when I come back?”

Luis smiles. “Umberto will make you something special. Now hurry.”

I sigh. Anybody but Luis, I’d tell them to stick the letter. Anxious for my dinner. Gina here beside me. Hells bells, man. Why would I want to leave?

I brush a napkin across my lips and push off my stool.

Luis says, “And please, mi amigo. Do not read the letter.”

I stare at him. Gee, pal. That’s some level of trust. Imagine Luis thinking I might open his personal, private mail. About to do him a favor, he slaps my face.

I lock the doors of my Camry and rip open the brown envelope. I know, I know. But eight years of stockbrokering withers even an honest man’s conscience. With me, Luis’s privacy has no shot.

Looks like a letter to his sister. Didn’t know he had a sister. And a check for thirty-eight thousand, five-hundred and sixty-four dollars. Nice. Like the envelope, both the check and the letter are for Rosalinda Sanchez.

My Dearest Sister,

It has been ten years since I said goodbye to our small village by the sea. Ten years since I last saw you, Juana, and Esmeralda, my fatherless nieces. Though I long to return home, I cannot. You know as well as I that our family and the village need the American money I send.

Because there is new danger for me here in New Jersey, I would like you to have the money which I have enclosed. Instead of the regular monthly amount, this check represents everything I have saved in the last ten years.

I hope you use at least part of the money to enroll my nieces in a private school where they will learn English well. The money was always for you and their education. The only thing different is that you are to have the money now, in case this danger proves too great a hurdle. Do not be frightened by my words. You know how I tend to dramatize the simplest events.

I must also tell you about a woman I have met. Nothing has been arranged. I have not spoken of my feelings yet. But I believe I have fallen in love.

Ha. I can imagine your smile as you translate this last sentence. Or perhaps Aunt Teresa is reading this letter to you, and the old woman has made you all laugh making her silly voices.

I imagine the whole Guerrero-Sanchez family will be much surprised that I mention my love for a woman. But no one could be more surprised than myself. I did not think myself open to such feelings, especially in America. Yet here I am, your lonely brother, imagining the love a wife and children would offer.

Her name is Angelina, little angel, and though my back was to the door when she first entered my restaurant and my life, I still felt her power, her presence. A tingling at the top of my spine.

Without turning, I knew a great warrior had walked into the room. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was a woman, a mature woman, but with flashing dark hair and shiny bright eyes like the girls from Veracruz. A woman that made my heart beat faster with desire.

Enough. Perhaps one day you will meet her. Who knows what life brings?

Though they must have forgotten by now what I look like, tell Juana and Esmeralda that I love them. And remind them their uncle urgently wishes his nieces to learn English. Until I see you all again, I remain,

Your loving brother, Luis.

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