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Authors: Alexander Yates

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BOOK: Moondogs
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“How far is the mosque from here?” Littleboy’s voice startles him so much that he drops Kelog, whose fighting spur—attached today for the first time in years—makes an ugly noise against the gravel.

“Idiot,” Ignacio says as he reaches down to recover Kelog and coo to him. “Don’t say that. Keep your mouth shut.”

Littleboy shuts his mouth and breathes through his whistling nostrils. He takes obvious glances over each shoulder and then puts on what he must think is a nonconspiratorial expression. He looks like he’s trying to pass something so big it hurts a little. He makes Ignacio sick.

“Come on,” he says. “Walk behind me, and don’t say anything to anybody.”

Without another word, they make their way along the street. Ignacio slips down the first pedestrian alley they come to and walks the labyrinthine footpaths in the general direction of their destination:
the Blue Mosque. He’s not happy to be getting so many curious glances from passersby, and his hands shake, his long nails scraping audibly on his cheap slacks. The paranoia and the shabu have kept him awake for days now. The bags under his eyes are swollen so dark it looks like he’s weeping tar. People avoid him in the narrow corridors between shanty walls; sometimes stepping in sewage to do so, as though they’re afraid what he’s got might be catching. When they pass Littleboy—dutifully a few steps behind—they’ve got no choice but to keep hugging the walls. He’s almost as big across as Ignacio is tall, his head large as a breadfruit. He’s got to duck every few steps to avoid do-it-yourself power lines, stolen cable and jagged aluminum siding.

But of the three of them, Kelog by far gets the most attention. Ignacio expected this—bringing him along is a calculated risk. He’s conspicuous, but if shit goes down he’ll be needed for protection. Even in retirement he’s an impressive bird. His comb stands erect as a crown, the plume of his tail is thick and his talons are solid as a fat kid’s fingers. Back in his heyday he put larger opponents away in the first round, leaving them open and disgorged like fancy unpacked handbags on the arena floor. He has thirty-three wins to his name, which may as well be thirty-three thousand considering the lifespan of your average working gamecock. If he hadn’t started going blind he’d still be at it. And Ignacio would still be spending his earnings unwisely. And he wouldn’t be doing something as dumb, and risky, as this.

The alleys widen as the villains get farther from the main road. Palms compete with makeshift antennas for canopy space, each a perch for sooty pigeons and wild sparrows still dyed red and green from the holidays. Shanty windows breathe talk radio in the heat, their corrugated roofs shimmering like skillets. The squat buildings seem more solid out here, built of concrete masonry blocks and insulated with mortar and foam. Some have fenced-in gardens; sunny resting places for chained dogs or old men chained by gravity to rattan lounge chairs. The old men heckle passersby as though it’s charming.

“Hey!” one of them says, noticing the spur fastened to Kelog’s foot. “You’re going the wrong way, pal. The arena is
that way
.” He points.

Ignacio quickens his pace. He can see a blue-capped minaret ahead and it’s all he can do to keep from gawking. The alley opens further and they come abruptly to a white outer wall with a sprawling low dome beyond. The area around the mosque is quiet, save for a pair of shirtless teenagers in black-and-white crocheted caps playing basketball on the pounded dirt. The one with the ball freezes mid-pivot to look at the strangers and then, as though he’s deemed them boring, shoots against the plywood backboard.

Ignacio and Littleboy walk along the wall to the arched entrance. It is trimmed with indigo and a vein of stone-inlaid Arabic script. “You’d better wait here,” Ignacio says. “Don’t come in unless you hear me yelling. Or, if I don’t come out for a long time, then you can come in.”

Littleboy bites his bottom lip and it quivers under his front teeth. His eyes glisten.

“Don’t do that,” Ignacio says as he hands Kelog over. “I’ll be just fine. But if I’m not, then don’t you dare run away. Come in and help me.”

Littleboy gravely tries to shake Ignacio’s hand, but Ignacio pulls away. He walks through the mosque entrance and finds himself in an empty courtyard surrounded on all sides by a white colonnade made featureless and bright in the midday sun. Dark arched doorways lie at irregular intervals beyond the columns, some of them open and others closed. Ignacio peeks inside one and sees a pair of concrete tubs filled to the brim with water, ringed by shallow troughs and drains. A young man in reading glasses sits on a stool beside one of the tubs, running water from a spigot over his bare feet. He looks up at Ignacio and smiles warmly. Hoping to look like he knows what he’s doing, Ignacio stumbles into the room. He dips his hands into one of the tubs and washes them. He wets his forearms and his face and the back of his neck. He exits, dripping, and hears the young man behind him chuckle.

Ignacio peeks through arched doorways until he finds the large prayer room—confident that the Imam should be in there. He kicks off his shoes, grabs a knit cap from an empty desk by the doorway and walks inside. The carpet is the color of sand and feels good against his feet. It bunches up, here and there, around several white pillars
garlanded with strands of beads. “Hello?” Ignacio calls. The prayer room replies with quiet. He looks about the walls and sees more beads, some prayer mats and unintelligible script running upward in a continuing frieze. It’s nothing like the church in his old seminary, where the wooden eyes of the saints and Mary and baby Jesus and grownup Jesus were everywhere to stare you down. As frightening as he’s always found them, the absence of faces here disturbs him even more.

“That was a quick ablution,” someone says. “Are you in a rush?”

Ignacio spins to see a figure framed by sunlight in the doorway. It’s the young man from the washroom—fully laced and dressed in a crisp white shirt. His slacks are ironed and wisps of a goatish beard cling to his chin.

“I’m sorry …” Ignacio looks down at his toes, and as he does a few greasy droplets of water drip from his head and spatter the carpet. “Am I doing something wrong?”

“It’s all right. Come on out, why don’t you?” The young man steps aside so Ignacio can exit the prayer room. He accepts the cap back from him and drops it on the desk, slightly apart from the other caps. Ignacio is jarred by the realization that this young man is the Imam he’s come to meet, and he takes a moment to recover. He’d expected a transplant from the savage south; a bearded asskicker streaked with gray like molten stone. But this young man has a coffee-shop softness. He looks even more like a Manileño than Ignacio does.

“My name is Joey,” the Imam says.

Joey? Ignacio thinks. Joey?

They shake hands and look at each other for many moments.

“You don’t wish to tell me who you are?” the Imam asks.

“You can call me Mr. Orange.”

The Imam smiles. “I love that movie, too,” he says.

Ignacio sputters. “I telephoned you,” he says. “I telephoned you. Yesterday. About that thing. The thing I’m selling?”

“Oh.” The young Imam looks let down, disappointed in his new friend. “I said on the phone I wasn’t interested.”

“That’s because you don’t understand what it is.”

“Even so. Even if I wanted it, this isn’t a place to sell anything.” The Imam begins walking through the bright courtyard, back to the washroom. “Please leave,” he says without looking back.

Ignacio chases after him, the courtyard tile burning his bare soles. “Wait!” he calls. “Just take a

“No, thank you.” The Imam makes to close the heavy washroom door but Ignacio jabs his naked foot through the frame. “Please go away,” he says in an angry voice.

The door presses—not too hard—against Ignacio’s foot, and he panics at the thought of having taken so many risks only to fuck this up now. He fumbles in his pockets, grabs a small rigid card and shoves it through the door so the Imam can see it. The pressure on his foot ebbs. The Imam is silent behind the door. When he finally speaks his voice echoes pleasingly against the tile walls and floor.

“What is this?”

Ignacio feels a brief flutter of confidence. He asks the Imam what it looks like.

The door opens slowly and the Imam plucks the card from Ignacio’s fingers. It’s an Illinois driver’s license, three years past expiration, picturing an overweight white man with glasses and a full head of sandy hair. The Imam backs into the washroom and sits again on the wooden stool. He looks from the license back up to Ignacio.

“I told you that you’d be interested.” Ignacio slips inside and sits on the wide rim of one of the concrete tubs—acting cool and awkward.

“I don’t know what this is,” the Imam says.

“Of course you don’t.” Ignacio winks. He taps the side of his nose twice, significantly. He kicks the washroom door closed and seals them both in hot half-darkness.

“No.” The Imam drops the license on the tile between his feet. “I really don’t know what this is.”

Ignacio stares at him. He can hear Kelog crowing impatiently outside. The chain net jingles as the teenagers shoot hoops. Engines rumble distantly on the main road.

“I have that,” Ignacio says, pointing down at the license.

“You have what?”

Ignacio puffs his cheeks in frustration. For all he knows, there is a team assembling on the corrugated rooftops outside. They’ll be waiting by the exit with a bag for his head and shackles for his wrists and legs. He doesn’t have time for these games. Ignacio scoops the license up and mashes his finger into the white man’s face. “That!” he yells. “This!

“You have the person?”

Ignacio nods.

“I understand,” the Imam says, in a crackly voice. The crackly voice encourages Ignacio. He’s caught him off guard, and that’s always a good position to bargain from.

“So I was thinking, that, you know, you, being who you are … I watch the news. I have subscriptions. I follow what’s going on. It wasn’t a leap for me to imagine that someone like you would be interested,” Ignacio says.

The Imam puts his head in his hands, as though thinking. Ignacio, on a roll, can’t stop talking.

“Because I’m not stupid. I’ve seen enough movies to know that if I try and do the whole … that, you know, if I call up his
. If I say meet me at such-and-such with this much money. That shit
ends well. And I know plenty about you guys and those guys. I mean, there’s a war on, am I right? They call it a war. They call it that on their websites. And you do too—don’t argue. I don’t judge. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m just here to check if you want him. Or if you know folks who’ll want him. You know who I’m talking about. Abu Sayyaf. MILF. Jemaah Islamiyah—don’t think I haven’t looked into this. I’ve done my research. They’ve paddled all the way to Malaysia to kidnap tourists. I’m making it easy on them. And on you.”

Joey the Imam looks up from his hands. “So you’re here to ask if I want this person?”

“I’m here to ask if you want to buy this person.
.” Ignacio leans back and nearly tips into the tub. He adjusts his weight and tries to look comfortable.

The Imam says nothing for a long time. Then he stands and opens the washroom door, once again flooding the small space with sunlight. He disappears without a word. He returns some moments later, flanked by the shirtless teenagers who were playing basketball outside the mosque. They’ve taken their caps off, and their heads and chests glisten with sweat. They look larger in the confined space of the washroom. Not boys, but soldiers. Older, in a way, than Ignacio himself.

“We need to talk about this,” the Imam says. “You have proof he’s still alive? Proof he’s well?”

Ignacio nods, trying to restrain his grin. He doesn’t want to overplay his hand. Joey the Imam closes the door and approaches with the teenagers. They all stand around Ignacio. He feels their breath on his skin even before he opens his mouth to speak.

Chapter 2

Benicio Bridgewater left the main building of Montebello High, crossed the parking lot and sat at one of the carved-up picnic tables. He pulled a paperback history of the Philippines from his bag, found the dog-eared page he’d bent over at the end of lunch and picked up again where he’d left off—Bataan had just fallen to the Japanese. Americans were rounded up while hundreds of their Filipino allies were made to dig their own graves. Japanese soldiers saved bullets by executing their prisoners with ceremonial blades. Cut off from the mainland, soldiers on Corregidor Island prepared to mount a final defense against the Imperial Army. The authors of the history didn’t attempt to sustain tension or drama—they made it clear from the beginning that the little island was doomed.

Benicio’s father had sent him the book a few months ago. It arrived
in an oversized package stuffed with styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap, covered with bright stamps and postmarked on the same day that Benicio finally agreed to spend the summer with him in Manila. He wasn’t sure exactly what route mail took to travel from the Philippines to Charlottesville, but his father’s package seemed to have had a rough trip. It arrived looking rained-on and dropped, the book inside warped and brittle. His father’s note on the cover page was so smeared it was almost illegible.
, it said,
I finished this a few weeks ago and couldn’t believe I’d lived here so long without knowing some of this stuff. Think you’ll enjoy it. I mean the book, and the country. So glad you’re coming!
Below that, in a different color of ink, his father had added,
Thanks again for what you said at the funeral. I’m really so sorry Benny. About all of it. I can’t wait to see you

BOOK: Moondogs
11.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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