Authors: Patricia Highsmith
The policeman strolled away without a word, and Andrew didn’t know whether he was going to be ignored or whether the policeman was going to return. The policeman returned with a second policeman, and they opened his cell door.
The desk officer had gone off to lunch, and Andrew was not allowed to use the telephone.
“I waited until twelve as I was told!” Andrew said, feeling that his Spanish was improving under his difficulties. “I demand—”
The two men took his arms. Andrew squirmed around to look at the wide open door again, hopefully, but it was empty save for the figures of two police guards standing facing each other, or rather leaning, in the doorway.
“You wait in your cell,” said one policeman.
So Andrew was back in his cell. He had thrown up his breakfast of watery chocolate and bread hours ago, and now there was a smelly plate of something on the floor by his bed. He picked up the plate and tried to throw its contents through the barred window, but half of it fell on the floor.
“Ah—tee-eee—ta—coraz—zón . . .”
sang the idiot in the next cell.
“Adiós, mujeres . . . des al . . .”
Very likely he’d have to wait out the siesta period till four! Andrew uttered the worst curse he knew in English. The fact that he had the strength to curse cheered him. He would telephone his sister at four. He fell on his bed, not caring if he slept or not, wanting only the hours to pass until four.
Andrew was asleep when he heard the clink and scrape of various closures on his door being undone. Ten past four, he saw by his watch, and he got up from the bed, blinking.
“You come,” said a policeman.
Andrew followed the one policeman to the front room again. The desk officer was on the telephone now. Andrew had to stand for several minutes while the officer made a few calls one after the other, one a personal call: the officer was asking about somebody’s baby, and spoke about a dinner next Saturday night. At last the desk officer looked at Andrew.
“Spatz Andreo—you are to leave this building, leave your hotel, leave the United States of Mexico—for your safety,” he said.
Andrew was puzzled, but leaving this building sounded pleasant. “I am free?”
The desk officer sighed, as if Andrew were not completely free of suspicion, or even guilt. “You have my orders,” he murmured.
Andrew had nothing of his own in the cell, so he did not need to go back. “The
from the American Consulate—”
“No one from the Consulate is coming.”
Had the Consulate telephoned? Andrew thought it wise to ask no more questions.
“You will leave the country within twenty-four hours. Understood?” The desk officer handed Andrew his tourist card and a square of paper which he tore from a block and of which he had a carbon copy. “Please give this paper to the Mexican border police or the passport control at the airport before eighteen hours tomorrow.”
Andrew looked at the form, which had his name, tourist card number and 18:00 written in with a pen. It was an order to leave, but in the list of “reasons” nothing had been indicated.
said the desk officer.
Two policemen, one of whom drove the wagon, took Andrew to within two streets of the Hotel Corona, and asked him to get out and go straight to his hotel. Andrew started walking. He was aware that he looked filthy, and wavering from weakness he might appear drunk also, so he avoided the eyes of a couple of the townspeople—a woman with a basket of laundry on her head, an old man with a cane. They both stared at him. Had he imagined that the old man had nodded and smiled at him?
said a small boy on the sidewalk near the hotel door. This was a greeting, the boy had smiled shyly, and dashed on at a run.
Señor Diego was standing behind the counter in the hotel lobby when Andrew entered.
Andrew said in a weary voice, and waited for his key.
“Buenas tardes, señor,”
replied Señor Diego, laying Andrew’s key on the counter. He nodded slightly, with the hint of a smile.
A contemptuous smile? Did Señor Diego know already, having been informed by a telephone call from the desk officer, that he had to leave the country in twenty-four hours? Probably. “Can I have a bath, please?”
He could. Señor Diego went at once to the bathroom, which was down the hall from Andrew’s room. Andrew had had a couple of baths there; one paid a little extra, that was all. Andrew unlocked his room door. The bed was made. Nothing seemed changed. He looked into the top of his suitcase and saw that his folder of traveler’s checks was still there. His billfold was still in the inside pocket of his jacket in the closet, and he looked into it: several thousand pesos still, and maybe none at all had been removed.
Andrew took clean clothes with him into the bathroom. The humble but tidy bathroom looked luxurious. He soaped himself, washed his hair, cleaned the tub with a scrubbing brush he found in a bucket, then soaked his jeans, shirt and underpants in more hot water, soap and cleaning powder, and rinsed his hair at the basin. Life had its sweet moments! And goddamn the Consulate! A fat lot of help
Or, Andrew thought a moment later as he pulled on clean Levi’s, had the American Consulate rung up this morning, said or threatened something unless the police station made itself clear? Andrew decided to keep his resentment or his gratitude to himself until he learned something definite.
He hung his damp clothes on hangers at the window in his room, and put some old newspapers on the tiled floor below them. Andrew did not know what attitude to take with Señor Diego, whether to consider him friend or foe or neutral, because certainly he hadn’t been helpful yesterday when the police had come and taken him away. Andrew decided to be merely polite.
“Señor Diego,” he began with a nod. “I leave tomorrow morning. On the first bus for Mexico City. So—I should like to pay you now.”
Señor Diego reached for Andrew’s note in a pigeonhole behind him, and he added the item of the bath with a ballpoint pen. “
Here you are.—You are looking better now!”
Andrew smiled despite himself, as he pulled limp pesos out of his billfold. He watched Señor Diego count his money, then get some change for him from a locked drawer under the pigeonholes. “
And—the boy out there—” He went on, “He is dead?” Andrew knew he was dead, but he had to say it, in the form of half-question, half-statement.
Señor Diego’s eyes grew small and sharp under his graying brows, and he nodded. “A bad boy.
Someone shot him,” he finished softly, with a shrug.
Everyone hated him. Even his family. They threw him out of the house long ago. The boy stole. Worse!” Señor Diego pointed to his temple.
Señor Diego’s tone was friendly now, man to man. Andrew began to understand, or he thought he did. Someone with a grievance against the boy had shot him, and maybe the whole town knew who, and maybe the police had had to find someone to take the blame or at least be suspected for a while, to keep up a show of justice. Or perhaps, he thought, if he hadn’t been naive enough to insist on reporting the shooting, the body would have simply lain there for hours until somebody removed it. Now Andrew understood Felipe’s pushing him out of his bar, not wanting to hear what he had to say. The town had had to shut him up.
“Yes,” Andrew said, putting his pesos into his billfold. “A bad boy—with the little cats.”
With people—shopkeepers! A thief! He was
bad!” Señor Diego spoke with fervor.
Andrew nodded, as if he agreed absolutely. He went back to his room, and slept for several hours.
When he woke up, it was dark. The Bar Felipe’s jukebox played a mariachi song with xylophone, guitars, and an enthusiastic tenor. Andrew stretched and smiled. He smiled at his good luck. Twenty-four hours in a Mexican jail? He had read about dirtier jails, worse treatment in jails in books by Gogol, Koestler and Solzhenitsyn. He was ravenously hungry, and knew the little restaurant off the plaza would still be open, if Felipe’s jukebox was playing. Andrew put on his cotton jacket against the evening cool. When he dropped his key on the counter, one of the men guests in the hotel said good evening to him, looked him in the eye, and gave him a friendly smile.
Andrew walked towards the little restaurant whose jukebox music he could hear before he reached the corner where he had to turn, the music overlapping for a few seconds with that from the Bar Felipe. There was no table free, but the young woman who served, who Andrew thought was the daughter of the woman who cooked, asked one man to move to a table with his friends, to whom he was talking anyway. Andrew was aware of more glances than on former evenings, but these glances seemed more friendly, as if the men knew him now, as if they were not merely curious about a gringo in the town.
A man of about fifty bent over Andrew’s table, extending a hand. In his left hand he held a small, heavy tequila glass.
Andrew swallowed some of his first course of stuffed green peppers, put his fork down, and shook the man’s thick hand.
said the man.
Andrew knew it would look rude to refuse. “Okay!—
“Tequila!” the man commanded.
“Tequila!” echoed the others.
again when the tequila arrived. In a discreet way, the dozen men in the restaurant toasted him. The young woman waitress suggested a special dish, which she said was ready in the kitchen. It turned out to be a substantial meal. When Andrew pulled out his billfold to pay, the waitress said:
” She wagged a finger and smiled. “You are invited tonight.”
A few of the men laughed at Andrew’s surprise.
At a quarter to eight the next morning, Andrew’s bus, which had been half an hour late, rolled away from the plaza on the road to Jalapa, where he would board a larger bus. The town of Quetzalan looked sweet to him now, like a place he would like to return to one day. He smiled at his recollection of a man and woman, American or English tourists he had seen getting off the bus one afternoon in the plaza: they had gazed around them, conferred, then got back on the bus. Andrew shied away from the memory of the dead boy, though the vision of his white-clad body came now and then, quick and brief as a camera flash.
In Mexico City he rang Houston. He could catch a plane and be in Houston at 6:15 that evening, he told his sister. Esther sounded delighted, but she asked why he was coming back so soon. He would tell her when he saw her, he said, but everything was fine, quite okay.
Esther’s husband Bob picked Andrew up at the airport. Houston was another world: chrome and glass, Texas accents, the comforts of home at his sister and Bob’s house, containers of milk and ice cream in the fridge, a two-year-old tot who was learning to call him “Uncle Andy.”
After dinner, Andrew told them about his last couple of days in Mexico. He had to tell them, before he showed them his drawing and painting efforts, which they were eager to see. Andrew had expected to narrate it smoothly, making it a bit funny, especially his time in the old jail-formerly-palace. But he found himself groping for the right words, particularly when trying to express what he had felt when he realized that the boy was dead.
Esther’s face showed that he had made his story clear, however, in spite of his stammerings.
“How awful! Before your eyes!” she said, clasping her hands in her lap. “You should try to forget that sight, Andy. Otherwise it’ll haunt you.”
Andrew looked down at the living room carpet. Forget it? Should he? Why? Or forget the jail also, just because he hadn’t realized why he was there, because the jail happened to have no toilet paper? Andrew gave a laugh. He felt older than his sister, though he was a year younger.
“Any news from—the girl you liked up in New York?” asked Bob.
Andrew’s heart jumped. “In Mexico? No,” he replied casually, and exchanged a glance with his sister. He had told his sister that he had had a bad time with a girl he liked, and of course Esther had said something to Bob.
was what he had to forget. Could he? Any more than he could forget the instant when he had realized that the patch of red on the white shirt was blood?
In New York, Andrew returned to his friends’ apartment in SoHo, where he had a room of his own. Someone had been sleeping in his room in his absence and had paid rent, so the main owner of the apartment, Phyllis, didn’t charge Andrew for the three weeks he had been gone. Andrew got his part-time job back, as the arrangements were informal and he was paid by the evening. He checked in again at the Art Students League. He made several sketches of the boy lying on the sidewalk of the plaza, and tried a gouache in green, gray and red. He did an oil of it, two oils, then paintings based on the sketches he had made of the Mexican hills. He worked afternoons at his painting, and all day on the days when he did not go to the League in the morning.
One night in the SoHo restaurant where he worked, Lorrie was sitting at a table with a big fellow with dark hair. Andrew felt as if a rifle bullet had gone through him. He spoke to another waiter, who agreed to serve Lorrie’s table, which was in Andrew’s assigned area. Andrew continued working, but he felt disturbed and avoided glancing at Lorrie, though he was sure that she had spotted him carrying trays, moving back and forth past her table. He loved her as much as ever.
That night Andrew could not sleep, and got out of bed and started another painting of the dead boy. Death, sudden death at thirteen. The jagged and pointed leaves of the palm trees were dusty gray-green, outlined in black, as if in mourning. A curious pigeon flew into the picture, like a disappointed dove of peace, maybe soon to be converted to a bird of prey. A ghostly and skinny kitten stood amazed on stiff legs, confronted by the milk and the blood which had just reached the cement of the walk. One of the boy’s puzzled eyes was open, as was his mouth, and there was the pie pan inches from his fingers. How would the colors look by daylight? Andrew disliked painting by electric light. No matter, he had felt like painting it once more.