Music rose from the jukebox. First a whispered woman’s voice singing, then gentle guitar spilled over a seductive dance of bass, percussion, and piano. Jarette immediately recognized the song and the singer. Once I Loved by Astrud Gilberto.
“You like this, Cowboy?” Delilah asked from her side of the bar.
“Yes and no,” Jarette replied. “It reminds me of somewhere. And someone.”
“Doesn’t all music do that,” Delilah finished pouring two more shots of whiskey, set one down in front of Jarette, and drank hers.
She continued, “When I think of this song, I think of Manuel. God, he was handsome. Muscular but not in a Schwarzenegger way. I hate that on a man. He was tight and lithe. Like a Mexican Iggy Pop.”
The music grew into a full bossa nova orchestra with strings, a flute, and horns. Middlegate Station was still mostly dark under the dim lights. Slivers of daylight could be seen coming from under the bar’s blinds. A ceiling fan rotated slowly carrying Delilah’s words through the air in spirals.
“It’s why I put this music on. The memories,” she said and her story emerged.
“I got to Tulum with nothing but a backpack filled with clothes, some paintbrushes, and a few rolled-up sketches. My Spanish wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter. Most of the Mexicanos had at least rudimentary English skills. I had about 500 dollars in pesos and the locals pointed me in the direction of a cheap cabana on the beach.
“I was there for a week and was sitting on the beach one day on a blanket looking out at the gorgeous Caribbean water when Manuel drove up on an ATV. I hate those things, so I judged him for driving one. But he was beautiful. It had been a while since I’d been with a man. Ever since Oaxaca. And I wanted him. A girl’s gotta eat,“ Delilah winked at Jarette.
“He was a real suave player. He didn’t need to talk me up much. Once he learned that I liked to hang out with Latinos, he took me into the village across the highway to a cantina. We threw back Pacificos until it was dark. I was drunk enough to know he was going to take advantage of me, so I decided I’d take advantage of him first. We ended up back at my cabana and I got what I wanted.
“That carried on for days. Then for a couple of weeks. Every afternoon about siesta time, he’d roll up on his ATV. He worked for an all-inclusive gringo hotel down the beach, and lunchtime was his time to get laid. I figured he was doing that with a few girls and I also figured he was married. I didn’t know who he was married to though. When I found out, it was the start of the end.”
From the jukebox, Astrud Gilberto sang her song Dreamer and Delilah interrupted herself and sang along quietly, “Why are my eyes always full of this vision of you? Why do I dream silly dreams that I fear won’t come true?”
Her face darkened and looked equally sad and haunted. She placed a cup in front of Jarette and said, “Here’s your Irish coffee. You gettin’ the road dust outta your head yet?”
“My near-death experience is becoming a dim memory, yeah. The music helps. And your voice,” Jarette said.
“Glad to hear it. Because I’m not gonna stop talking until the jukebox runs outta quarters. I dropped about ten dollars in there. This story hasn’t ever been heard and it needs to be told, Cowboy.”
Jarette put the cup to his mouth. The Irish coffee was lukewarm and he drained his glass. The caffeine gathered with the shots of whiskey in his system and created liquid electricity. He looked at Delilah and the sliding curves of her body, plunging into her neckline, down into her bosom.
She knew he was staring at her breasts when he nodded and said, “I’m listening.”
“Ya see, during those afternoons in my cabana, after we’d have our way with each other, Manuel would talk. He spoke English pretty well. Manuel’s wife was the mayor’s daughter. Tulum’s mayor. Her name was Rosa Marie Mendez and she was a nasty bitch. Manuel might have gotten around, but Rosa got around more.
“Manuel explained that he had been married for eight years and had six children with Rosa. But he didn’t think any of them were his. She had a lot of boyfriends. Rosa Marie was a puta. And a borracha. All their kids lived with her abuelita because Rosa couldn’t take care of ’em and she didn’t want Manuel near their kids.”
“But Rosa Marie had family money and Manuel liked that. So he tolerated her because he didn’t really need to work. Working for the all-inclusive — driving that ATV up and down the beach — acting as security — that was his time to be free. And I knew it was also his opportunity to pick up on beach gringas like me.
“It didn’t take very long for Rosa Marie to find out about us. Not even a month. Her boys would show up and spy on me. Manuel and I managed to hide out and find places to go. Empty beaches. Places in the jungle. It was all very romantic. And getting caught was part of the thrill.”
An eerie quiet settled in the bar between songs. Only the fan over their heads made any noise as it moved air gently through the bar.
“One night, Manuel knocked on my cabana door. It was strange because I only saw him during the day. He said that Rosa’s boys were coming and they were going to bring me out into the jungle and cut off my hands and feet. Leave me there to bleed out. I didn’t believe him. I laughed. He urged me. Begged me. But I was stupid and naive.”
“Three of Rosa Marie’s boys broke into my cabana that night and Manuel tried to defend me. They had machetes and they stabbed him. Many times. Blood was all over him. And them. In the fray — in all that mess — I ran out into the night.
“It was a cloudless sky but it was a new moon, so it was dark. I got to the beach and I just ran. I didn’t know where to go and what to do. I was in nothing but a sarong and I was barefoot. Rosa owned the town — or her dad did — and I knew if I went to the polícia I was fucked. She’d know where I was.
“I just kept running in the dark until I fell into the sand on the beach. I was on my hands and knees, and I thought about Manuel. Oaxaca. The States. I was so alone in that moment. Then, I decided to find her.”
Delilah’s face grew angular and ashen. Hair fell from where it was tied on top of her head. Some blond in the brown glistened under the bar lights. She continued.
”Manuel had taken me to his home one day. We drove on the beach on his ATV. I was holding him and I was happy. We got to a spot and he pointed at a huge, white-walled hacienda right on the beach. A beachfront mansion. We didn’t go inside because he said Rosa Marie was in there and he laughed about it. Called her a vaca borracha and we drove off in the opposite direction.
“That night, after they killed Manuel, I went to find Rosa Marie at their house. I crept along the beach for several miles until I got to her. Hiding and listening as I went. Moving over rocks — in and out of the jungle — following the coastline possessed.
“When I got to the hacienda, my feet were bruised and bleeding. I knew she would have security around the house, but it was dark. The wind had come up, clouds had blackened the sky, and a storm was coming. The ocean was getting very choppy. Waves were landing on the beach harder and harder, and getting louder and louder.
“I saw her when I got there. Rosa Marie was lying on a lounge chair on her veranda. Her white gauze dress was blowing and whipping in the wind. But I saw no one else and no security. No one but her.
“The pounding surf and wind helped me stay quiet and the lack of moonlight kept me hidden as I crawled up near her. I was a shadow and when I got close, I saw her eyes were closed, her mouth was open, and she was snoring. Next to her was an empty glass bottle laying on its side. The remains of a bottle of mezcal. I hoped she was passed out drunk and moved closer.
“I got right next to her, right by her body, and the wind was blowing even harder. I could feel the spray from pounding waves on my face when I put my hands around her throat.
“That’s when she opened her eyes and looked at me. Those bulging eyes. But she couldn’t scream because she didn’t have any breath. I made sure of that ’til the end. Until she didn’t look at me anymore.”
Ice dropped in an ice maker somewhere in the back of the bar. Astrud Gilberto sang, “The rest of my life I will bring her roses and roses and roses of love.”
Jarette swallowed. Saliva mixed with the flavor of leftover whiskey and coffee. He had never killed anyone, but Delilah had. Or so she said. Maybe she was lying? Or maybe this was a confession?
Now, it’s only her and me in the middle of an empty Nevada desert.
He asked, “How’d you get outta there?”
“I know. It sounds like a tall tale, Cowboy. But it’s not.
“After I strangled that bitch, I dragged her off the veranda and into the storm. I took her out to the water. I wanted her to get swept out to sea, but her body just rolled around in the surf. I kept thinking I’d be seen. That they’d kill me. Or arrest me. But I didn’t care.
“When I finished pulling her body into the water, I thought maybe they’d think she drowned. She was drunk after all. Her body was floating half in the water and half on the beach. I was totally drenched. Water was dripping off me and my feet were red and swollen.
“Then I looked up. I saw them. Two of them. Standing on the veranda. One man with a machine gun. Another with a machete. Just lookin’ at me. One of ’em nodded his head. Then I heard the other one say, ‘Te vas ahora,’ and he shook the end of his rifle barrel down the beach.
“I didn’t think; I just started running again. I couldn’t feel my bleeding feet in the sand. I couldn’t feel anything except for the way Rosa Marie’s neck had felt on my fingers.”
Delilah stopped talking and rubbed one hand over the other. Then, she continued speaking.
“I needed dry clothes, but I knew Rosa’s boys might still be at my cabana. It was sunset when I got there and people were moving around. Tying things down because of the storm. It was starting to rain. I risked it and went inside the front door of my cabana.
“There was no one there. Not even Manuel’s body. Nothin’. On the bed, there was a paper package. I unwrapped it and there was a photo of Manuel and me smiling. Laying on the beach. Someone had taken the photo secretly. My face and Manuel’s face stared up at me.
“Underneath the photo, there was a small stack of pesos. Just enough dinero to get a colectivo to Playa del Carmen, get a bus to Cancun, and book a flight outta there. The rain started to really pour and people were running inside. I decided to do the opposite. I went out on the highway and waited in the rain until the colectivo came. I never looked back, Jarette. Not once.”
She trailed off. It was quiet again. The music had stopped and so had Delilah. She looked up at the ceiling and then broke the crisp silence.
“Murdering someone is hard…the first time.”
Then, she smiled wickedly and seductively from the side of her mouth. Her eyes had changed color. The green had narrowed and was surrounded by a halo of brown that evaporated into blackness.
Her mouth moved, heating the air, “So, Cowboy. It’s nearly midday and we’re half drunk already. You’re a criminal on the run lookin’ fugitive type. How ‘bout I shut down the bar, lock the door, and let’s go upstairs?”
She dipped her finger into the last remaining cream in his empty Irish coffee glass, placed her finger in her mouth, sucked off the cream, and said, “A girl’s gotta eat.”
If you missed any part of my Tedium series, click any of these links below:
Part 3: The Alamo Inn
Part 5: Rock ‘n’ Roll Meltdown