The Suit Coat
Another night like this and Sábado thought he would starve or die of hypothermia. He'd be an alley corpse, hidden under some crumpled newspaper or garbage bag. A little boy would find him, looking for an errant foul ball and instead coming upon his mummified husk.
Sábado touched with a fingertip the coin in his pants pocket, then pinched it out. A penny. Someone must have left it in his hand while he slept, sometime between 7 and 10 AM, between the bakery and the bus stop.
A penny. May he never again work a day in his life, hallelujah. He spat and put in his pocket.
It had only been two or three years by his count since he had looked at the under-life of the city with disgust. He'd grown up secretly expecting to be someone, an important man with important things to say. It never bothered him to ignore their polite, deathly pleas for help.
Then came years of failed attempts at success, lost jobs, drinking and drug lapses. Finally he was fired from a telemarketing position and so was no longer able to pay for his apartment. He had no one left to call. In the days and weeks after that, he came to the slow realization that he'd met the same demise as the people he'd dismissed. Now he felt sorry for anyone on the street, sorry for himself. They were all people whose other, better lives had fallen through.
Sábado shuffled on, tossing the penny hand to hand. If he couldn't scrounge enough to buy some bread, he'd find some other way. He'd steal—eat garbage. He'd done it before and would do it again, but there was nothing enjoyable about it.
He tripped. Something was caught on his shoe and didn’t come with him when he stepped. It pulled him back, and he would have stumbled if not for a quick hop.
“Let go!” he hissed, then saw what his foot was caught on.
It was a suit coat, attached to his shoe by a button that had wedged itself into a hole in the sole as he stepped over.
The button was attached to the end of a sleeve, and didn't come free when he tried to kick it loose. He had to use his fingers to dislodge it, prying the button with thin fingers. When he got it unstuck, Sábado squinted at the suit coat. In the moonlight, it was a dark blue, navy, with darker pinstripes. A fancy thing.
A rich man's suit coat?
He shivered a little, presented with this opportunity for warmth. Even in April, when the sun warmed the earth longer, the nights were uncomfortable.
He picked up the suit coat. It smelled of cologne. It was dry. An hour ago it had been raining hard, which meant this suit coat was newly-lost. Sábado considered carrying it, but that would make for even more suspicion. He looked around, saw no one, and slipped the suit coat on. It fit him, and it was warm. He started walking again.
His stomach growled, and he thought about ways to get money, and being as he'd tried many without success, he decided to sell the suit coat. He wasn’t an expert on fancy clothing, but he imagined it was worth a few dollars.
I might stay alive a while yet, he thought, then started his search for a place to sleep.
An hour later, having squeezed behind a dumpster and covered himself with paper (all the cleanest scraps, so as not to dirty the suit coat), he couldn't sleep. Someone would come across him, see the suit coat, and kill him for it. He might not wake up. He tried convincing himself he was invisible here, in this alley, under this paper. He was nervous but the suit coat comforted him.
Eventually sleep came, a subtle uncaring killer of consciousness.
He woke to a vibration. Everything was orange through his eyelids. The garbage in the dumpster, warming, rotted and stank. Sunday morning. Bzzz bzzz bzzz. The vibrating came with sounds—a bell sequence that reminded him of children who tap the tops and sides of glass jars filled with different levels of water. He pushed his paper aside and looked around, trying to find the source of the bells, seeing nothing aside from the back of the dumpster, the crumbling red brick of a laundry building, and dirt.
The vibration again. Sábado realized this time it was coming from him. He sunk his hands into both side pockets of the suit coat, his right touching something rectangular, cold and vibrating. He took his hand away, startled, then laughed. The ringing stopped, and when he put his hand back in the pocket, so had the vibrating. He pulled the phone out and put it in front of his face. It must belong to the man who lost the coat.
The phone's screen said 9:13 AM and "One missed call." Beneath that, "Lunes—9:13 AM." Sábado frowned. It wasn't Monday; it was Sunday. As he held it, the phone bucked in his hand, and the ringing started up again. On the screen, a little image of a woman's face. He squinted, but the quality was low. Below the picture it said, "Lunes calling."
He fumbled to stop the ringing and pressed some button on the side. It stopped. Then, from a foot in front of his face, a woman said "Domingo?"
"Domingo, are you there?"
Sábado almost said no, almost told the woman he wasn't Domingo, but something in her voice needed him to say yes. This was an important call. This woman was very upset. And so he said, "Yes, I'm here."
He realized he would not sound like this other man Domingo, but too late. She was crying now, big gasping sobs.
"What is it," he whispered, hoping it would help disguise him. "What's wrong?"
"It's Ramón," she said, spitting the name like a mouthful of phlegm. "Ra-mon," it came, with all the force and spite he could imagine put into a name.
"We had a fight," she said, enunciating each word like she might run them all together if she didn't. "We had a fight about you."
The words weren't accusatory. Instead, her voice lifted when she said them. She loved Domingo, whoever he was, wherever he'd gone. Sábado didn't know what to say. From her voice, he imagined she was beautiful.
Maybe he would tell her now that he was someone else, end this charade. I am not this man Domingo, Sábado practiced saying in his head, my name is Sábado, and I have no money, and I just happened to find this man's suit coat and phone on the sidewalk, and I wanted the suit coat so badly that I didn't check the pockets.
He said nothing.
"I can't talk long," she said. "He knows I call you, that I talk to you. He watches me all the time. But I can get away tonight. During the show. I'll come to the apartment, and we'll talk about what I can do about him. Will that work?"
Sábado didn't think it would. She might show up, but Domingo...well, there was a chance he would be at home. He'd just lost his suit coat. However, Sábado couldn't say no.
"I have to go, brother. I love you. Until tonight."
She hung up. On the screen, her face flashed three times. She was beautiful. A name flashed across the screen: Lunes, Lunes, Lunes.
"Lunes," he breathed. What a coincidence.
Then he thought, brother?
He shrugged. He would keep the phone, in case Lunes called again, but he would sell the suit coat for a little bit of money to eat.
A peculiar thing happened as he walked. The people who saw him didn't whisper to each other, didn't turn the other way. Did he look rich now? Unthreatening? Or maybe they coveted his suit coat. He might get more money for it.
A hot dog vendor had his cart parked in front of the grocery store, no line, a squat man rubbing his hands together while small puffs of steam littered the chill morning air.
Sábado's mouth watered. He sighed, shook his head and kept walking.
The neighborhoods worsened as he walked. The city spent little money on what had become the slums. "Too dangerous" to receive funding.
He saw a little girl with a cup and spoon, sitting on a sewer grate. Her teeth were mismatched in color and growing crooked, and when she saw him, a charming smile blossomed on her face.
"Please, señor. Tienes algo para mi? Do you have anything for me?"
Sábado shook his head. "No, little friend. You and I are in the same boat."
"Not you, not you! You have money; I can see it. Tienes dinero! Dámelo? Give me some."
"Oye, chica. Listen. I have no money. If I had any, I would give you some. I'm a beggar just like you, living alone on the street. My mother died, and my father left me, and I would have perished in this city if it weren't for the charity of strangers. I found this suit coat last night. Now people think I'm rich. Pero no es la realidad. No tengo dinero. Mira:”
He pulled the penny out of his pants pocket and held it up. "A penny's all I got. You want it?"
The child was unimpressed. "You have money, señor. I can see it in your inside pocket. There." She pointed.
Sábado looked. There was a slight bulge by his breast pocket. He patted it then reached into the lining of his suit coat to find the pocket's opening. He pulled out a money clip, thick with twenty dollar bills and plastic cards of all sorts. Domingo's life. Sábado reminded himself he should get the guy back his things...but he couldn't plausibly return the money clip or the phone without also returning the suit coat.
People lose things all the time, he said to himself. I deserve it more than he does.
"Here," Sábado said, pulling a crisp twenty from the clip, then another. He counted out three more. He put five bills, one hundred dollars in the child's tiny hands. "Don't sleep outside tonight, okay?"
The girl nodded, eyes wide. “You can’t be giving me this.”
“I’m giving you this,” he said.
“Thank you, sir. What is your name?"
The girl nodded again and ran off, holding the bills tight to her chest.
Sábado pulled another twenty for himself and began the walk back to the hot dog vendor.
"Two hot dogs, mister. No, three!"
He sat on a street corner, eating his hot dogs. Cars drove by, tourists flowed down the street like bright-colored gods accosted by dim beggars with dirty hands. He knelt down, hands to his face, eating fast. The first two dogs he didn't even taste, all he got was a quick sense of his stomach filling. The third he ate more slowly, trying to roll every bit of the meat and relish around on his tongue, to savor it. He finished and was thirsty.
From another stand he bought a soda and stood drinking it in the sunlight, Adam's apple moving up and down like the tourists as they bounced past.
The tourists paraded by, coming to look at the architecture, the history and antiquity of a real Mexican city just miles from the border. they snapped pictures of the poor, intrigued by the idea of a poverty this all encompassing, and while not often sympathetic they seemed to appreciate the manner in which their subjects starved. Add some bloated bellies, some black teeth, and your story back home just got better. The tourists would offer money or not, and if they gave it went to the children, and because of this the children were hardly able to keep their earnings.
Often the money from the tourists came back to the children's keepers in return for certain protections. They received food enough to survive, and protection against trafficking. It was very rarely worth it to leave a keeper, even with the money made, because a few dollars wasn't enough to last more than a week or two alone. Sábado thought about the little girl. If she'd had a keeper, a hundred dollars was enough to get clear of him, and Sábado hoped the girl would.
Soda finished, he walked to a park where he'd slept several times. It was small, closed off, and the only people he saw there with regularity were dog walkers. He sat on a bench near a swingset and opened the money clip.
It now contained: Three hundred and sixty dollars in twenties, a membership card to a nightclub called the Blue Midnight, and a driver's license. The picture of the man in the driver's license picture was, by all rights, him. Domingo could have been Sábado's twin brother, after a shave and a haircut. He spent extra time with the driver's license, looking into the man's face and reading the name. He was feeling a strange sense of duplicity, of merging, because he more and more thought of himself as Domingo Ramirez, though it wasn't right.
The suit coat's former owner had money, which could mean he also had a nice place to live, a job, a car, and friends. A life like Sábado always wanted. It was too good to be true and might be still if the real Domingo was still around. Maybe he had only lost a suit coat or maybe something worse had happened to him. Sábado resolved to find out. First, he would navigate to the address on Domingo's driver's license.
It was a long walk and took him toward the financial center of the city. He found himself in front of a tall apartment building, shining metallic in the sunlight, rising far higher than was comfortable to look.
There were no beggars here; this was the domain of the wealthy and powerful.
Sábado's destination was an apartment building taller than most in the city. Taxis and motorcycles drove up and sped off frequently. Well-dressed men gathered near a wall, opening little boxes and pulling mail out. Sábado walked up and squinted, trying to read. Ramirez, Domingo. Apartment 7C. He turned to the stairs.
"Hey! Hey, Señor Ramirez!"
He almost kept on but realized the surname of his alter ego was Ramirez. Sábado turned, half-expecting to be tackled, and saw a man with a smile wider than his face. A doorman, or a bellhop. Sábado slowly smiled back. He waited for the man to speak, to identify himself, but he didn't. Sábado cleared his throat.
"How are you?"
"Oh, I'm very well. Couldn't be a nicer day out, could it? Well, maybe."
Sábado was wringing his hands together and saw that the smiling man was taking a bemused sort of note of it. He pulled them apart and shoved them in the pockets of his suit coat.
"Yes, I guess not. I'm going to..." Sábado said. He gestured behind him, to the stairs.
"Of course you'll be wanting to go upstairs, to your room. I'll just walk you up."
Why, why? Any more time around me and you'll realize I'm not Domingo. But he said, "Right, no problema," and so Sábado and the smiley man walked up the stairs together.
They ended outside of 7C, with Sábado sweating under his suit coat. He had expected to show up, find out where Domingo lived, and investigate without being bothered. He hadn't counted on being recognized so instantly. But perhaps it wasn't so bad. This man thought he was Domingo for real, not some impostor. He couldn't believe it.
Sábado tried the door. It was locked. He felt in his pockets.
"I must have lost my key."
The smiling man laughed politely. "Señor Ramirez, you asked me months ago to keep a key for you in case of this situation. I could tell when you came in that you were confused, that you didn't recognize me." He pulled a long skeleton key from his back pocket and put it into the keyhole. A turn, push, and the door swung open.
"Oh. Thank you."
"Is there anything more I can help you with?"
"No, no. Thank you again." Sábado turned as if to close the door from the inside. The smiling man put his leg through the opening and took a breath as if he would like to say something. He was no longer smiling. He now looked concerned.
"Can I just say, señor, that when you left yesterday, I did not expect you to return. With Ramón as Ramón is, it would most likely have been better for you if you hadn't."
The leg was gone, and then so was the smiling man. Sábado closed the door slowly and then locked it. Who is Ramón? He shrugged; he would look around, discover who Domingo was, or what had happened to him, and then he would leave. Hopefully without running into the smiling man again, or Ramón, whoever that was.
He was struck first by the bank of windows covering the whole left of the main living area, angling out and offering a majestic view of his city. The sun was setting. The star tumbled slowly through the atmosphere, bathing the city in cool red. He searched the bathroom, the kitchen, looked through the refrigerator, under the couches and the bed in Domingo's room. Nothing of interest surfaced; either Domingo was very neat, had not been there very long, or he did not possess very many material items. The closet was empty, and the walls were bare. In the drawers of the dresser, he found a pair of nice black pants with dark gray pinstripes. He switched them for his own.
He took advantage of the large bathroom, showering the filth of his street life away. He dozed with his head against the ceramic tile wall, dreaming that he belonged here. That the thrum of hot water on his skin was his own, and not another man's. When he pulled himself from the shower, he was the color of the setting sun, and vapors lifted off him like from an early-morning manhole. He found Domingo's razor and shaved his face, feeling more and more that Domingo didn't exist at all, that this life had been waiting for him all along. His long hair he pulled behind him in a ponytail and wrapped it with a black rubber band he found in the drawer beneath the sink. He dressed.
Sábado sat on the couch across from the window, watching the darkening sky. He felt in the suit coat pockets for all of Domingo's things and laid them on the seat cushion beside him. He felt better; lighter. Then he remembered who he was and that he should be leaving. The Domingo experiment would have to continue another day.
As he rose to his feet, reaching for the money clip, there came a hard knock on the door.
He stifled the urge to yell anything and instead stood motionless.
"Domingo, it's me—Lunes!" His spine tingled when he heard her voice. He'd forgotten about their meeting, about the promise he'd made as her brother. "Open the door, Domingo. I need to speak to you."
He left the money clip and walked to the door. He turned the lock and pulled the door open. A large man stood there. Sábado had almost no time to lay eyes on the woman behind him before he was leveled by a hard shove to the chest.
"Ramón, you said you wouldn't hurt him! That you just wanted to talk!"
Oh, Ramón, he thought, this is the man I'm supposed to be afraid of. His vision swam, and he tried in earnest to focus on the woman in the open doorway. Instead,the steel toe of a big brown boot caught him in the face. Should have just left the suit coat alone. Now I'm going to die. He clenched his eyes shut and heard a scream. Then a door slam.
"Don't worry, baby, there will be talk."
Then an expulsion of bad breath invaded his nostrils as the big man whispered, "Isn't that right, my friend?"
"What do you want?" Sábado's voice was even. He'd been beaten before; it no longer made him afraid. Pain was inevitable. He simply wanted to know.
"Here, my friend. Stand." Then Sábado was pulled from the floor by his lapel.
They stared at each other. Finally, the bigger man looked away. "I know about your suit coat."
Sábado licked his lips. A fine crust of blood had formed at the corner of his mouth, and it stung as he tasted it.
"I know it's the suit coat that is the secret of your success. Since you employed me, I've watched you gain nothing but power and respect. And I thought it was because of you because you were in some way superior. But no; it was the suit coat. The suit coat that gives you money."
Sábado chuckled. "How silly."
"Yes, of course, it is silly! But I have seen it give you thousands of dollars at a time. I have seen you check all of your pockets and find nothing, and ten minutes later come up with a bundle of hundred dollar bills. And for the longest time I never even thought about it. How stupid."
His face scrunched thinking about it, but then he smiled. "It's my suit coat now, it will give me the money. I will buy the cars, oust the club-owners. I will become the powerful leader. And I will not let the secret out like you did."
Sábado considered for a moment. The suit coat was still his.
"I won't give it to you," he said.
"Then I won't ask for it."
Ramón pulled a handgun from his pants and pointed at Sábado's head. Before he could say he was not Domingo, Ramón had pulled the trigger, and Sábado felt a sucking sensation as he was pulled from existence.
Hell was a desert at night, cold and dry. His mouth was full of sand. His muscles, his bones hurt. He laid there a long time on his back, confused and unwilling to move. His tongue moved over his teeth, and he spit, groaning as he pushed up onto his side. First, all he could do was blink into the dark, but then he pulled his right hand out of the dirt and wrapped it around his head.
It was whole.
He felt his face. It stung, and he felt faintly nauseous. His nose was still broken, even here. Wherever he was. Hell still made the most sense. He rolled onto his back and wondered if he should try to stand. The sky was fogged over but the moon was full. It dizzied him, and though he was already flat on his back, he tried to steady himself against the ground. The thumb of his right hand was caught. On what?
The suit coat. He still wore it. He might have smiled; it didn't matter—no one was there to see. With his other hand, he patted the other pocket, the one on his breast, and he pulled from it a bundle of warm bills. Cackling, he threw them in the air. The breeze scattered them into the night. He laughed until he was choking, and he was a body shaken against the ground like a rat in a dog's mouth.
He awoke again, and by the position of the sun, it was almost noon. Perhaps an hour shy. The heat baked his skin, and he felt that he was in the midst of a fever. He pulled himself to his feet, slowly and with an itch in the back of his throat like wool. He didn't think about where he was, or why. It didn't matter.
The desert was complete, the same in all directions. When he was a boy his father had taken him into the sea on a small boat and they had drifted for hours until it was not clear which way they'd come. He'd cried then, out of fear for being lost forever, but his father had found them a way back. He didn't remember how.
It didn't matter. He was lost forever now, and he had no father and this time he did not cry. The ground was baked clay, hard and flat and his feet left no sign. There were no birds or trees. Once in a while he saw a tuft of grass, but never any water.
The heat made his mind into a waxy melting thing and he pulled his pants and undershirt off to keep cool. The suit coat remained on his shoulders. He carried the clothes in a bundle for an hour before realizing he was better off with them on, that to be bare under the sun would kill him quicker. He had quit trying to convince himself that he was dead. His face hurt, and he thought about Ramón's shoe. He pulled a wad of bills from his breast pocket and tore them up, cursing the suit coat. Why couldn't it make water? Something useful? He fell asleep with his head tucked inside of it and when he woke it was dark again.
He wandered for three days, and by the third day he was almost dead. His lips and eyes had swollen and cracked from the dehydration, and he was sunblind. At last, he found himself on his hands and knees, shivering, trying to spit the sand from his mouth but unable to conjure any saliva. He thought he should take the suit coat off and pillow it under his head so that he could finally sleep. But the suit coat stayed on, and in the distance he heard a dull roar. Coming to get me, he thought. Coming to take me there for real.
He tried to look and through the blur thought he saw one of the demons flying toward him, screaming his name with dust and light. He settled his head in his hands and waited to die.
It wasn't a demon. It was a vehicle. He could hear the engine and the sound the tires made on the desert floor. It rolled up near him and stopped, and then a door opened.
"Dios mío, friend! What are you doing out here?" a man said, and he heard him step out of the vehicle. Then the other door opened and someone else stepped out.
He pulled himself up and squinted. He couldn't see very well, just blobs. Dark shapes moving in front of him. He waved a hand. His mouth opened, and he tried to say, "Help me," but croaked instead. "Water," he tried to say, and then quit.
"Jesucristo, mi amor, he's almost dead." A woman's voice. Familiar. "Get him in the truck; we've got to get him back into the city."
"We don't have room."
"Put him in the truck bed."
The man sighed, and bent down. "Listen, friend, we're going to bring you with us."
He tried to answer or thought he did, and then he was in the man's arms, feeling like a child. The feeling made him grin and doing that sent him reeling into unconsciousness.
When he woke again, he had the sense that much time had passed. An incredible amount. Weeks, or years even. But he also held within him a sense that this was wrong, that no time had passed at all. His little finger tapped against something soft. He was in bed, and there was a cold washcloth on his forehead. He tried to open his eyes but wasn't sure if he'd done it because he still couldn't see. He tried to say a word, but the only thing escaping his lips was a low moan of pain.
It was quiet here, no siren of hot wind and sand against his eardrums, and he became aware of his breathing. Someone else, too. He blinked open his eyes and tried to see who it was, but his vision was still impaired, and all he could make out was a subtle blob to his right.
"Where am I?" The words came out this time, like a knife across brick. The blob jumped, and leaned forward. A cup or ladle was pushed to his lips, and he opened his mouth.
"Don't talk. Here, drink. Drink."
He tried but only managed a few small sips. If the desert had been hell, then this tiny trickle down his throat was heaven.
"You're back at my place. In the club, Blue Midnight. One of the upstairs rooms." The Blue Midnight, he thought. He recognized the name of the club—from the card inside the suit coat pocket, Domingo's. And the voice...
He heard the sharp intake of breath that accompanied the twitch the blob made. But Lunes recovered.
"How do you know my name?"
"Lunes, it's me—your brother Domingo! Don't you recognize me?"
"Domingo?" She sounded suspicious.
"Yes, Domingo Ramirez! You are my sister! Am I so changed that you cannot see me anymore?"
"Oh, oh!" The blob straightened up and got much taller suddenly. There was a clatter—the chair being knocked back. "Oh, oh, Domingo!"
She dropped to her knees and buried her face in his chest, sobbing.
"I thought you were dead," she said through choked gasps. "I thought I'd never see you again."
"I thought those things as well," he said.
"But you've finally come back to me. My brother, my long lost brother. My Domingo. I haven't seen you since we were so small."
Domingo became confused. What was she speaking of? It had been less than a week, hadn't it? With the gun, and Ramón. And then somehow the desert. When had he and Lunes been small? At that moment he began to feel that everything was wrong, that the comfort Lunes had given him was false, and this feeling was compounded when he realized that, lying here in this bed, he no longer wore the suit coat. He struggled against the woman's weeping head and pushed sideways, groaning. Lunes was a blob falling back, surprised.
"What, what is it, Domingo?"
Domingo (and that is who he was now, wasn't he) struggled frantically to think of the right thing to say. What should he ask? Finally, he settled on it.
"The suit coat. Where is my suit coat?" There was a frantic edge in his voice that Lunes must have picked up on, because she got to her feet and moved quickly to the other side of the room, returning with what he could only assume was the suit coat.
"Here, it's here. Are you all right? No one's touched it." But almost seeing it, knowing where it was, wasn't enough. He needed to be wearing it; nothing would be okay until he was wearing it.
He took it from her and began sliding his arms into it, trying to find sleeves.
"Wouldn't you like your pants first? I mean, if you are in a hurry to leave..." She sounded hurt. Domingo pulled the suit coat the rest of the way on and sat back on the bed. "No, no. It's just that the suit coat... It's mine."
He could imagine the confused look on her face, and struggled for a different way to explain, but came up with none. It was greed, it was love. It was having gone through what he had, with only the suit coat to comfort him. His only friend when the lights had gone down in the desert. However strange his answer must have seemed to her, she let it go, because then she was ladling more warm water to his lips and he sucked at it carefully. Despite his care, the front of him became wet, and he could feel the lines of liquid tickling his skin as they made their descent.
"How long have I been here?"
"Three days. We found you on a Wednesday night. It's Saturday. Now tell me, brother, do you feel well enough to try walking? You were able to sit up rather well, I saw."
Domingo flexed his legs. They were sore, and that simple action was almost unbearable. "Dios...I don't know. I don't think I can."
That is all right." She sighed, then, and said. "What a strange thing, my brother, come back to me. After more than twenty years—I had almost begun to give up, you know. Mi hermano, back from the dead. What happened during all that time, Domingo? How did you escape?"
Domingo was overwhelmed with that feeling that something was terribly wrong here. What was she talking about? How he had escaped Ramón? But then why twenty years? None of it made sense.
"What year is it?" he asked, suddenly certain that he'd been unconscious for much longer than three days.
She told him. "2004, of course. July."
He must have looked like an infant then, his mouth open, his eyes staring at nothing in particular. It wasn't the year; that was the same. But four days ago, when he'd found the suit coat, it had been somewhere near the end of September. The first week in October, even. And now it was July?
"Yes. Julio. What is wrong, brother?"
'No. Nothing." He shook his head and laid back down. "Perhaps...perhaps I should get some more rest."
She stood up quickly. "Yes, yes of course. I shouldn't have gotten so excited. I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "It is wonderful to see...well, to hear your voice again. I love you, Lunes." His voice cracked when he said her name.
"And I you, brother." And she was gone, leaving Domingo alone with his broken body and his blindness. He slept.
The next few weeks were characterized by liquid meals and attempts to walk, and by gradually returning vision. Lunes kept close watch over him and told him stories of her life, and when she did this, he could hardly believe how strong she was. She told him how she had come to the city as a young girl, alone and without her brother, and had been picked up by a group of drug dealers and raised under dubious conditions, as they groomed her to become an object of lust to the rich. She was beautiful, even then, and would be sold to the highest bidder when she was old enough a virgin prize. Weeks before the auction, Mexican police caught wind of it and raided the premises, finding enough drugs, guns, and broken women to take the men away for a long time. Again, Lunes found herself an orphan. She spent time in shelters and on the streets and lived in a fashion that Sábado connected with until one day she was approached by a man who claimed that he saw through the filth and the hunger to see her true beauty and that he would like to offer her a job.
The man saved her life, she said, and gave her a job dancing at the club he owned, called the Blue Midnight. Sábado was uncomfortable with the idea of Lunes stripping, and hearing her talk about it made him angry. The man hadn't saved her life at all—just exploited her body. He became even angrier when Lunes told him that the man had then taken her off the floor and given her a room upstairs and that he'd begun to pursue her romantically.
"Who is this man," he demanded one day, "Who treats you so terribly and makes you so grateful?"
She looked away. "He is a good man, Domingo. I know it doesn't sound like so much, but he has taken good care of me. He loves me."
"Who is he, Lunes?"
"His name is Ramón. I haven't told him you are here because he'd only get angry. Don't go looking for him, or I will lose you."
Ramón. The man from before. Who'd kicked him in the face and shot him like a dog out of simple greed. He was here too, three months earlier. Sábado felt his heart go cold, and a smile break through the angry mask of his face. Oh, Ramón, he thought,_ you will not get away for what you have done, or for what you will do._
It was during these weeks that he fell even deeper in love with her. If she only knew, he sometimes thought, that I am not her brother…but the thought always stopped there. It was wrong, but he was glad she thought of him this way. And the discrepancies in time began to make sense—if this was truly July (which the warm breeze traveling in through the shutters seemed to reinforce) then he'd been taken back in time. Perhaps when he'd been shot. Perhaps sometime in the desert. He wasn't certain. What he was certain of, almost completely now, was that if it had happened it had happened because of the suit coat. He'd come back, Lunes had found him, and when he'd told her he was her brother she had acted as if her brother had been gone since childhood. Which meant that the man he'd pretended to be, the original Domingo, had not been her brother either—had, in fact, been him all along. It explained so much—why he and the man in Domingo's driver's license had looked so similar. Why the man at the apartment complex had recognized him. Perhaps he knew all of this, intellectually, but it still took another event to drive it home.
One day, Lunes had coaxed him out of bed and was intent on taking him for a walk, out and down the street. He agreed, even though he was still weak, and his vision hadn't fully returned. Enough of it had, however, to let him see that Lunes was a supremely beautiful woman. Someone a man like him would have never dreamed of actually being around. It was strange that until this point he had never seen her, had in fact, only heard her voice, but it made his heart ache for her, along with the rest of him, even more.
And so they walked outside, and he held onto her hand and let her guide him down the sidewalk. "Where are we going?" "You'll see."
He was almost not surprised when she stopped in front of a familiar building—the building he'd gone to when he'd begun his search for Domingo Ramirez. The hotel in which he should have died.
"You are well enough for your own room now, and I've gotten you one. In this apartment building. It is close enough to the Blue Midnight that I will still be able to see you as often as I have been, and you will be able to come see me as well."
"But Lunes, you didn't have to-"
"You are my brother, Domingo. I would do anything for you." Domingo's head bobbed to the ground. He felt guilty, and he found himself reaching for the pocket of his suit coat and bringing out a roll of bills.
"It must have cost—here, let me pay for it." She put a hand up. "Please, no. Keep it. I am glad to have been able to help, and -"
"Lunes!" A man came rushing up to them, and then stood before them, staring at the money in Domingo's hand. "Lunes, what are you doing? Who is this?" The man made himself large before Domingo, casting a shadow over him.
"It’s the man we saved from the desert, Ramón, and you won't believe this! He is my long lost brother Domingo, the one who was taken by the government when we were both only seven years old!" At the mention of Ramón's name, Domingo's knees locked up, and he gritted his teeth. He returned the money to his pocket and stared into the man's face. He did seem to have Ramón's characteristics, though Domingo couldn't see as clear as he'd have liked.
"The man from the desert?" Ramón seemed confused. "But you took him to the hospital, didn't you? That's what I told you to do."
"Yes, I was going to. But he woke up he recognized me. He's my brother! I wouldn't have just dumped him at the hospital after that—he deserved better attention than that. My attention."
"Your brother, he says. This man that you found in the middle of the desert, on the edge of death, that you nursed back to life, this man tells you he's your brother, and you believe him? And what's this money he's trying to put in your hands? A bribe?" He turned his attention to Domingo. "Are you trying to bribe your way into my girlfriend's life?"
"No," Domingo said.
"Please, Ramón. Calm down."
"Calm? Why should I be, Lunes? When in the past weeks have you even mentioned that you were keeping a man at the Blue Midnight? Hiding him from me. And now you believe he is your brother?" Ramón spat, and suddenly became silent. They stood there, the three of them, and the tension of it was almost too much for Domingo.
“Señor, this is not the place." He said it as if to an old friend, but the reality was he'd like to throw a fist into the man's throat.
"Mierda," the big man hissed. "This is all shit." He shoved Domingo in the chest. "You are shit." It perhaps shouldn't have been hard enough to knock him to the ground, but it did. Then Ramón was hanging over him, spitting words into his face with a ridiculous mix of force and quiet. "You may not have to bribe my Lunes to believe your lies, but you will have to bribe me. Give me the money."
"The money, you lying prick. The money you just put back in your pocket."
"Oh. That money," Domingo said, but he didn't move. The big man snarled and pulled open the suit coat, reaching into the pocket where the money had come from. He pulled out a wad and shook it in the smaller man's face. "I may not know who you are, but I know what you are. And I know what you're trying to do here." He looked around huffing. "Let's make a deal, friend. Since you have all the money, let's say that from now on I work for you. You pay me, and I let you live your life. You pay me, and I don't get the authorities involved. You pay me, and I don't hurt you in front of your sister. From now on, I work for you, and this is how you're going to pay me. And you might as well get used to it. Do you understand?"
Domingo said nothing; just stared at the blurry face in front of him.
"Now, friend, we're going to leave. Come on, Lunes." He grabbed her by the arm and led her away, down off the sidewalk. Lunes didn't struggle; perhaps she was used to this behavior, perhaps she was smart enough not to cross the man once he had his mind set. He watched them go, or what he thought was them; the sidewalk was full of people now, bustling past and staring. None of them helped him up.
He rolled onto his hands and knees and slowly got to his feet. Then, wincing, he walked into the hotel.
The man at the counter was familiar: the same man who had let him into his room the first time, only with much shorter hair. "I'm here to check in for a room. Domingo Ramirez?" The man nodded and flipped open a ledger, and began going over it with his finger. "Ramirez. Yes. Your sister was in here earlier; she said she'd be back with you to check in since you didn't have identification. I assume that since she isn't here, that you do? I'll need that to give you the key."
"Oh, right. The driver's license." The one he didn't have yet. Domingo opened his mouth to add, "Well, you recognize me, don't you?" before catching himself. This was the past. He chewed on his bottom lip and frowned. This could be a problem. "You know, I think I might have left it...I'll just come back."
He turned around and began to walk away, and then had a thought. Curiosity led his hand into the suit coat pocket, and though he was almost expecting the card to be there, still the feeling of laminate against his fingers sent a chilled shockwave down his spine. He pulled the license and looked at it. The suit coat, it would seem, made more than money. A lot of good you did me in the desert, he thought.
"Wait," he said, turning back. "I seem to have made a mistake. Here it is, right in my pocket." The man raised an eyebrow at him and took the card, barely glancing at it.
"Yes, that's you. Here, I'll get your key." Domingo tried to act calm, and then the key was in his hand. "Enjoy your stay here a la Buenisima Semana." Domingo nodded and started toward the stairs. Another thought struck him.
"One more thing, if I can ask."
Domingo reached into the pocket again, this time feeling for and finding a bill. He crumpled it and put it into the cashier's hand.
"I have a medical condition. I suffer from memory loss and dementia. It's probable that one day I will show up here looking extremely confused, almost as if I don't know who I am or why I'm here. I need you to keep an extra key handy, so you can let me into my room if that happens."
The man at the counter nodded. "Sure I will, Mr. Ramirez. Not a problem at all."
Domingo smiled. "Thank you." He turned one final time and did not see the smiling man unfold the bill, did not see the look of shock on his face, or how quickly he then pocketed it.
The hotel room looked the same as it had, and for some reason even though it had been the site of a traumatic event, it felt like home to him. Comforting. He would visit the Blue Midnight tomorrow, he decided. And if Ramón were there, he would begin his manipulation of the man. Thinking of it gave him the feeling of satisfaction as if he'd solved a problem, and he followed that feeling to the big bed where the afternoon sun lulled him to sleep.
The next day as he was getting ready to go out and take his walk to the club, there was a knock on his door. He paused. "It's me, Domingo. It's Lunes." He thought back to the last time she'd said something like that, couldn't help it, but of course there would be no Ramón out there waiting for him this time. That would come later. "A moment, Lunes." He threw the suit coat over his shoulders and pulled open the door. She thrust her way in.
"I'm so sorry about yesterday, I had no idea he would be following me, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. He's often doing things like that. Ramón is a jealous, troubled man. He comes close, but I don't believe he'd ever hurt anyone. Not seriously, at least."
Domingo bit his tongue.
"Anyway, I came by to give you this." She thrust a little phone into his hands. He recognized it. "My number is in there, you can call me whenever you need to," she said. "I just...well, I don't think it would be a good idea for you to come by and try to see me, at least not for now. Not with Ramón being like he is. I told him that he's not to take any more money from you, and he agreed that he wouldn't, so he won't be around looking for you."
"Did you tell him where I'm staying?"
Lunes looked hurt. "Of course not! Why would I do that? If he knew where you were, he'd be tempted to come anyway, no matter what I had said.'
"Tell him. He's going to figure it out sooner or later."
She looked confused. "I don't understand."
"Never mind. Just let me ask one thing. As your brother."
"Why are you with this man when he's so clearly not a good man, when he's so clearly wrong for you?"
Lunes let out a loud sigh and put her hands at her hips. Like she'd been asked this same question many times by many different people, and was tired of answering it. Domingo raised an eyebrow at her, daring her to answer him honestly. She dropped her arms and looked down. She looked weak.
"I don't know. I wonder myself all the time. He aggravates me to no end, with his little stunts and his behavior. But he has his moments too. He can be extremely romantic when he wants to be, and I guess I've always had this idea that if I just do the right things, then he'd be like that all the time. Because that's the Ramón I love. I guess I put up with the other part of him because of that. That and...well, I guess you could say I owe him." She made a dismissive laugh. "I should just tell you it's because he's such a wonderful lover, and that you should be jealous. That's what I tell all of the other girls at the Blue Midnight. The working girls."
"It was Ramón, wasn't it? The man who got you to quit dancing. Gave you a job at the bar."
She nodded. It made sense—there was still loyalty to him. Even if he was the bastard who owned the place, who had put her in the position to spend her innocence so cheaply to begin with. Then he'd simply gotten greedy, seeing something that he wanted for himself and nobody else. The thought made Domingo's heart pump harder, sending adrenaline spiked with anger and jealousy through his veins.
"Would it change anything if I told you that I didn't want you to be involved with Ramón anymore?"
"Are you telling me that?"
Domingo shrugged. "Would it change anything?"
She paused for a long moment. "Nothing you'd want it to. But I appreciate that you care." She kissed him on the cheek, a quick peck. Domingo blinked—her lips were soft, and her smell was almost more than he could take. "Now, I have to go to work. Ramón will be wondering where I've gone."
Ramón came to collect his second paycheck two days later, and when Domingo had returned from a brief walk around his new part of the city, he was waiting just outside the door to the hotel room.
"Ramón," Domingo said amiably. "What a surprise."
"It shouldn't be, you lying dog. I said I would be back."
"But three days? That seems too soon. Like you weren't busy enough to keep from thinking about me. What a shame, I can't imagine the kind of work you do would leave you with any free time unless you were doing it poorly."
Ramón hissed in his ear.
"You know why I'm here, and it doesn't have to do with business. It has to do with Lunes and the money. Now unlock the door so we can go in and talk."
"Talk business? I thought you said it wasn't business. Someone with an agenda like yours would do well to keep consistent. Besides, I don't think it's necessary to go through all that. Let's take care of it right here. In the hall."
Ramón narrowed his eyes. "Okay, Domingo. Right here."
Domingo reached in his suit coat pocket and pulled a bundle of bills from it. "Here." He held his hand out. "Let's make it four days next time."
Ramón weighed the bundle and fingered through it, but Domingo could tell he was faking—there was no way he would have been able to count it all, not with the amount Domingo had pulled (and it was quite a bit).
The bigger man grunted, satisfied, and perhaps a little dismayed. Maybe he had hoped for something else, a refusal of payment, a sort of showdown. It seemed all he was left with was money.
"Three days. Not four." He turned to leave. "I will be watching you. And I have told Lunes that she is not to be in contact. She may be stubborn, but she will obey me."
Domingo winked. "However you want to play it." He doesn't know about the conversation Lunes and I had last night, on the telephone. It had been a mundane enough conversation, but when mere contact was being denied, it meant something for Lunes to have called him.
Ramón cocked his head as if trying to figure if there had been something in Domingo's phrasing that was cause for alarm. In the end, however, he must have decided against it, because he finally left Domingo and went the other way, and down the stairs. Domingo smiled.
Inside the apartment, he pulled a pillowcase from one of the pillows. He sat in the bathtub with the suit coat and the pillowcase, the pillow under him. Every four or five minutes he'd pull a handful of bills from the suit coat and stuff them into the pillow case. He did this for six hours until it was full dark and he was hungry. And he would eat, would eat food so expensive it would probably make him sick. Before that, though, there was money to count. Lots of it.
He dumped the pillowcase on the bed. The bills were mostly twenties, with other denominations peppered in. Fives, fifties, ones, hundreds. He put the twenties in stacks of fifty and kept the others aside. Before long he had thirty stacks of twenties, or thirty-thousand dollars. He put it back into the pillowcase. From the remaining bills, he took twenty hundreds and divided them up into four rolls of five. These he tucked into the lower right pocket of his suit coat. The ones and fives he put into the lower left. The fifties, which totaled sixteen hundred, he tucked into the drawer by the bed with the few remaining hundreds. He left the pillowcase on the bed, where it looked just like all the other pillows.
On his way out of the building, he tipped the smiling man a hundred from his inside pocket, which had filled itself again.
Outside of the Blue Midnight, he stood in the street and looked up. His belly was full of buttery lobster. The club was brightly lit, neon-stained bass from inside made the air in his lungs hum. He checked his pocket, but the thing he was looking for was missing. He'd been standing here for twenty minutes checking the pocket, but it still wasn't there. Maybe he was doing something wrong. Shrugging, he got in line. There were three men in front of him, and they were all ushered inside after a group of three drunks stumbled out. It was his turn, but the door guard just stood there, staring at him. Domingo watched the door.
Another man left. The door guard turned to him and held a hand out. "Member card."
"Oh, right." Domingo put a hand into his suit coat, hoping this time it would be there, and he almost didn't believe it when it was. "Here it is.” The guard took it, looked at it, and then nodded. Domingo was in.
He took three steps inside the club, moving toward the bar when someone shouted. Then he was being grabbed, not by the door guard, but by another man. Domingo said nothing, and let himself be pushed out the door.
"Marcelo," the new man said, "This is the pendejo from Ramón's new list. What are you doing letting him in?"
Marcelo, the door guard, looked confused. "Oh, of course. My mistake."
"Keep him here. I'm getting Ramón."
The door guard pulled Domingo to the wall and held his chest with one beefy arm.
"Don't try to get away."
"Of course not." He said it cheerfully, and Marcelo's eyebrow lifted a little, mouth twisting into a sneer.
And then Ramón was there, with the man who'd grabbed Domingo and two others. Four hired men. An amount he could work with.
"Oh, hello, Ramón."
"Shut up. What are you doing here? I told you to stay away."
Domingo smiled. Ramón nodded at Marcelo, and the bigger man pinned him against the wall with both arms. Ramón pulled back and sent a fist into Domingo's gut. He doubled over.
"Answer the question."
Domingo came back up, gasping. Through it all, he kept the smile. "I'm confused. Did you want me to shut up or not? Hell of a way to treat your boss, Ramón." The other men looked at Ramón, who rubbed his palms together.
"You aren't my boss.”
“Oh? I must have misunderstood. You said you were working for me. That's why I'm paying you, isn't it? So you can keep my club alive? My muscle under contract?"
A smarter man would have realized what was going on and said yes, but Ramón was angry.
"Your club? Your muscle? Who are you kidding? These are my men. Handpicked."
"Faithful, too, right? But how faithful would they be if they knew how hard you were going under? Cutting their pay, and they understood. Hard times. Let me ask you, Ramón, how much of that money I gave you did you pay my muscle? I'm guessing none."
He looked up at Marcelo, who was chewing his bottom lip.
"That's why I've come to pay you each in person," Sábado said. He put a hand in his lower pocket and brought out a roll of hundreds, and took his other hand to grab Marcelo's wrist. He closed the bigger man's hand around the roll. He leaned forward and said in the man's ear, "Come find me. Why have this bucket of dumb skimming your pay when you can get it directly from me?" Marcelo pocketed the money and looked down. He let go of Domingo.
"Why you dirty, lying hijo de puta!” Ramón lunged at him, punching at his belly again. Domingo turned, expecting it, and Ramón's fist met brick. He yowled.
Domingo walked around behind Ramón, who'd fallen to his knees and was clutching a hand that now seemed attached to his forearm at an odd angle. His knuckles were covered in blood. Ramón gritted his teeth in the red neon light, eyes clenched tight. Even so, a tear or two escaped and rolled down his cheek.
Domingo pulled his head close to Ramón's ear. "I don't think we're going to keep going down your path, Ramón. This is my game now. In the morning I'm going to the bank, to pay off your loans. The Blue Midnight will be more mine than yours, and your relationship with Lunes will become incidental at best. Tomorrow, you will finally work for me. What can you do about it?"
Raising himself to his full height, he looked pointedly at Marcelo. "So? What are you doing standing there? Get this man an ambulance! If you can't do that, what use are you?"
Marcelo pulled a phone from his pocket with a sly smile. Domingo nodded at the other men and walked back into the Blue Midnight. He took the stairs and found the room he had spent so much time in. He knocked.
"What is it, Ramón? I'm tired, and hardly dressed."
"It's not Ramón," Domingo said through the door. It was open before he had a chance to wonder if she'd heard him. There she was in front of him, standing in a lace nightgown that barely covered her shoulders. The soft cups of her breasts teased him, and the gown hung open just enough to give him a flattering view of her smooth dark legs. He was helpless, and the adrenaline that had been coursing through him from his encounter with Ramón turned to jelly in his blood.
"Domingo! What are you doing here? Ramón would kill you if he found out. Why didn't you call? I would have snuck out." She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him quickly inside. She locked the door. She led him to her bed he sat on its edge, trying not to look at her. She sat beside him and massaged his back through the suit coat.
"Are you all right, brother? You look startled."
“I’m fine. I just wanted to see you. I suppose I just wasn't expecting to see you like this. You are a very beautiful woman." Lunes blushed, and for the first time seemed to realize her state of dress. She got up quickly, stepping to her dressing corner and pulling the divider closed. As she dressed, Ramón tried to calm himself. She thought he was her brother, and so her guard was down. He would be wrong to take advantage of that. Still, he couldn't get the picture of her out of his mind, standing in front of him nearly nude with a look on her face that was some mixture of concern, confusion, and joy. It was impossible not to fall in love, and though Domingo had done the impossible once already (with the help of the suit coat), he didn't stand a chance against Lunes.
She came out dressed in sweat-clothes, which, while covering her much more fully, still gave him the benefit of viewing her feminine outline. It was easy to imagine her naked, her body along with his, her smell in his nostrils. He tried to think of something else, but all he came up with was Ramón. Ramón, his body moving in waves against hers, his grinning devil's face as he took advantage of her once again. The thought set his teeth on edge.
"I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable," he said, "It's only that..."
"I understand," Lunes said softly, looking at him with thinly-veiled amusement. "It simply didn't occur to me. I'm flattered, Domingo. And thank you for telling me-anyone else would have kept his mouth shut."
He laughed nervously. "Perhaps I should have."
She blushed and looked away, and Domingo cleared his throat and looked at the door instead.
"You won't have to worry about Ramón keeping me away anymore. I settled things with him downstairs. He's going to make me a partner."
"A business partner? For the Blue Midnight? Domingo, I don't know if you know this, but that might be a terrible idea. This place is going down. It may only have a month or two left. Ramón can hardly sleep at night. If he's convinced you, it's because he wants you to fail."
"No, Lunes. It was my idea. I'm going to the bank in the morning."
She fell silent. She looked at him for a long time. Finally, she sat on the bed, not as near as last time. It was as if for the first time she realized there was more to him than she'd thought. Something to be wary of. Domingo looked guiltily down at the suit coat.
"I know that it may not be my position to ask, but, Domingo...where are you getting all of this money? Is it coming...are you a part of the drug pyramid? Or are you stealing it?"
"Nothing like that. It's money from before you found me. I had a very different life then, one that almost killed me. I really would rather not talk about it." Technically, none of these were lies. He'd gotten the suit coat before she'd found him, at least in his personal timeline, and he had almost starved to death on the streets of Trampos.
She nodded slowly. "All right. But please tell me if you are in trouble, all right? I don't want anything to happen to you, not after I've already lost you."
"I promise. And I promise nothing will happen to me. Or to you."
His whole body was vibrating for want of her, and he couldn't stop himself. He pulled her to him. She buried her face in his chest, and even though it felt like stealing, like cheating or lying, he kissed her on the cheek. Please, God. Stop me before I do something she won't forgive.
There was a hard rap on the door. Lunes leaped to her feet, eyes wide. She looked from the door to Domingo and back, panicked.
"It's him," she hissed. "You have to hide."
Domingo didn't move. He let out a long breath in relief and then stood up. He walked to the door and opened it. Lunes stood staring, frightened disbelief crossing her face. It was Marcelo.
"The ambulance came to pick him up, boss. What did you want me to do now?" Domingo pulled a small wad of cash from the suit coat pocket and deposited it in Marcelo's hand. "Back to business as usual, Marcelo. I'll be back tomorrow night."
"Yes, sir." The expression on the bouncer's face made it clear he already liked new management much better than the old. He turned and left.
Domingo walked back to Lunes, who hadn't stopped staring.
"Ramón broke his hand on the brick wall of the building earlier. They're taking care of him at the hospital. I've already told the workers I'm going to be taking over." He hadn't, not exactly, but he felt they were already getting the message. "I should go and get some sleep," he said. Lunes nodded slowly as if she were in shock.
By the time he was gone she still hadn't moved.
He took the pillowcase to the bank the next morning and walked out as the majority owner of the Blue Midnight.
He stopped by the hospital. It was small and poor, with only two sections. The Emergency Room and an operating theater. It was staffed with four or five nurses and one doctor. Anything major had to be sent elsewhere, to one of the other hospitals in Trampos, though the conditions at any of those were also less than ideal. There were several small examining rooms that connected off the Emergency Room, and Ramón was in one of these, having his cast fitted. Domingo described Ramón to a nurse and though she hadn't wanted to tell him at first he put a wad of cash in her hand and she pointed to a room. For another wad, she told him how long he'd have to wait. He decided not to. He wrote a note for Ramón on hospital stationery and handed it to the nurse. She smiled at him.
At the Blue Midnight, employees were still cleaning up from the night before. The club wouldn't open for another five or six hours, but Marcelo let Domingo in. He made the rounds and introduced himself to all of the employees as the new co-owner of the place, and told them their jobs were intact. Better than that, in fact, he was giving them all raises.
At the hotel, he sat on his bed and pulled money out of the suit coat.
The next day he bought a sports car. He hadn't especially wanted one, but couldn't think of how else to spend his money. He was driving around in it, down in the slums where he used to live. Where he still did, in fact. He got a sudden urge to visit himself, to tell him about the suit coat, and about Lunes. But that might spoil the plan because no rich man had visited him.
Then he thought of Ramón. He should not be using the money to please himself, as with the car, but to destroy Ramón. The man who had and would try to kill him. It crossed Domingo's mind that perhaps he had brought Ramón's murder attempt on with his current foul treatment of the man, but he also knew Ramón would deserve whatever Domingo could give. How he had trapped the woman Domingo loved, how he had treated her behind closed doors. And he had pushed Domingo, back before his sight had returned. Ramón was not a good man, and although that was enough for Domingo to justify his actions, he tried not to think about what those actions meant about him.
He hired a team of men to follow Ramón and make themselves visible every once in a while. Before the first week was out, Ramón didn't walk so much as a block without looking over his shoulder. Domingo wanted the man scared, restless. Always on the precipice of fight or flight.
He hired different men to bounce at the Blue Midnight, and when these showed up, even Ramón didn't know of the switch. But the old were gone, serving Domingo as personal bodyguards, and Ramón couldn't go without protection. So he did what he hadn't done since he'd been a little boy with a big brother. He sat back and let it happen. The last of Ramón's pride was dwindling, and Domingo knew he had to have begun admitting he'd been beaten. He also knew that didn't mean the man wasn't mad. Didn't mean he wouldn't be after Domingo until the smaller man was dead. He was perhaps even now purchasing a pistol and bullets.
Domingo met Lunes twice a week at a corner pastry shop. They would compliment each other's choice of dress, and Domingo would try hard not to fall in love even more.
With each meeting she became less and less reserved, giving him even more reason to feel as if there were a romance between them. But at the end of the night she would always kiss him on the cheek the same, always give him the same perfunctory hug. And part of him was glad. Maybe he'd tell her, sometime. That he wasn't her brother, that the jacket he never took off was a time machine that gave him all the money he could ever want.
The money had been another obstacle over the months. He realized that there was about an hour he spent every day where he didn't do much but change the channels on the hotel television where he could be pulling handfuls of paper from his jacket.
So he started doing that, and eventually the money took more than pillowcases to hold. He piled the paper in the corner of the room and put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. He'd find somewhere to put it besides the bank because employees from there had started to look at him with hungry eyes like he was a cow in a piranha pit. On his way home from the bank one afternoon he stopped in front of the post office to tie his shoe, and when he stood back up again saw an envelope display. Envelopes, he thought, and just the right size. So he bought the lot and began to pack his bills into the envelopes. After he'd filled it up, he licked the front and addressed the money to someone who might need it. A bum named Antonio who'd taught him to live the first week of homelessness, who he eventually found crouched in an alley, nibbling on a corn cob. He sent it to charities. But mostly it went to his mother, in Dallas.
Finally he found himself unable to sleep through the night, as he'd wake from dreams of Lunes in a cold sweat. When he looked outside his window what he felt was an impending kind of finality, rushing toward him. He no longer felt for the jacket when he awoke, but instead had started hiding it. He was tired of looking at it, tired of feeling as if it needed milking. He wanted to be rid of the thing. In the early mornings, he would sit in the bathtub and let the water rain down on him, hoping to find himself awake. It was during one of these soakings that he realized he was suffering just as Ramon must be. Unable to sleep, unable to exist in the waking world. Anxious all the time, expecting some shoe to drop. Finally, unable to bear the feeling any longer and convinced that the only way to rid himself of it was to lose the jacket, he took it for a ride. He didn't wear it but instead kept it in the passenger seat of the car. He sped through the old part of town, where he'd found it, balled the material in his hands and threw it into the air. He knew where it would land.
He also knew what tomorrow would bring. It was time to put the last drop of his plan into effect.
The money was all gone, along with the jacket. He slept easy that night.
Outside her brother's hotel room, Lunes stood with tears in her eyes, impotent fists balled at her sides. She could hear the struggle going on inside, and knew she could do nothing to stop it. She'd seen the gun in Ramon's waistband just as he'd slammed the door shut, and understood that with the hatred her boyfriend had cultivated toward Domingo over the past two months, there was nothing but Ramon's willpower to protect her brother from death. She would hate him forever, might even try to kill him, but Ramon wouldn't see that, not now. He had no willpower, saw nothing but the problems directly in front of him. If Domingo antagonized him even the smallest bit, resisted whatever terms Ramon gave him, he would die.
She could see it ending no other way. He'd tricked her into getting the door open for him and then locked her out. Why had she been so stupid? He had told her he wanted a truce with her brother, that he knew that if he wanted to be with her that he would have to learn to respect and accept Domingo as part of her life. And she'd been proud that he'd been so eager to please her, especially considering his recent moods. But now, oh what a bastard! How she hated him.
Lunes pounded on the door with her fists and mustered her breath to scream for Ramon to leave her brother alone-the scream melted into an unintelligible sob, and of course, Ramon ignored her. He'd gone too far for her to stop him now.
Then, she heard a click and knew that the gun was out, that the final ultimatum had been reached. Closing her eyes, she held her breath and prayed as hard as she could that the gun would not go off. Please God, let my brother—
Domingo was dead, had to be dead. Lunes crumpled to the floor.
Ramon's voice reached her from inside the room. "What? I don't...where did he..." Before she was able to make sense of it, a finger was on her lips. A familiar man was looking into her eyes, and it was her eyes she couldn't believe. Su espiritu. But ghosts couldn't touch you, could they? And he looked just as alive as he always had.
"Do-" but his finger stopped her, and he smiled. He pulled her to her feet and began to walk her silently down the hall. To Lunes, it seemed he looked different somehow, but couldn't figure why. At the stairwell a group of policemen were waiting, guns drawn.
"He's in 7C. He's alone and armed with a handgun. The door is locked."
One of the policemen nodded and motioned for the others move down the hall. Domingo pulled Lunes gently along, making sure she was able to go down the steps. From behind them, there came a flurry of muffled shouting, and then the sounds of a scuffle. CRACK! CRACK! Two shots, and then everything was silent. Lunes put a hand to her ear, and then to her mouth. Ramon...had they killed him? She found she didn't care what happened to the man. If he was dead, then she was relieved. She turned to her brother.
"How did you—“ She started to say, and then chewed her words. "I thought I heard you die."
"I'll explain that. I'll explain everything."
They walked into the lobby, and the smiley man smiled at them. "You have a good day, now, you two." She nodded slowly as if she hadn't completely got the mans' meaning. She looked once more at Domingo, and as they stepped out into the street, she realized what was different about him. "Your suit coat. You're not wearing your jacket." And he'd never gone anywhere without that suit coat, not since she'd found him in the desert.
He smiled at her. "The suit coat was a tool. It helped me with the job I had to do. I don't need it anymore."
And she saw that he believed it. He took a breath, as if wanting to say something else, but he didn't.
"What is it?"
He looked at her.
"Lunes, I'm not your brother."
She should have been surprised, should have stopped and asked him to say it again. But somewhere inside, she supposed she knew this already. Maybe she'd known ever since he first appeared out of nowhere. But the prospect of having her brother back had been too wonderful to ignore. She'd wanted to believe then. Now, late at night, she found herself doubting him, and clinging to that doubt. The feelings that had been growing inside her hadn't been those of a sister for a sibling.
“I'm not your brother,” he'd said, and she'd nodded.