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Authors: Thomas Sanchez

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34

T
he phone was ringing in his apartment as Younger jammed the key into the lock of the door, twisting it frantically, pushing the door open and grabbing the ringing phone off the hook.

“Hello!”

“Nathan?” Kathleen’s voice came across to him distant and weak, as if she were calling down to him from some very high place.

“Where are you? Kathleen, are you all right?”

“Fine. I have a monstrous headache, but that’s not important.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“Home. I’m safe at home. But someone has been calling for
you here all morning. Someone named Ignacio Gasset. Do you know him?”

“Wino Boy.”

“Well, he sounded very drunk. He said he had to talk to you. He has information. He said it was a life-or-death matter and you must go to him.”

“Where?”

“He said it wouldn’t be safe for you, to be very careful.”

“Where?”

“In the Barrio. On Flores Street in a boardinghouse above Butch Mendoza’s poolhall. Do you know the place? It sounds like a flophouse.”

“I know the place.”

“Nathan?”

“I’ve got to go.”

“Please be careful. If something happens to you, I’ll never forgive myself for giving you this man’s message.”

“You did the right thing, Kathleen. And I’m always careful.” Younger hung up the phone, pulled his suitcase from beneath the bed, snapped it open, and took out the gun, tucking it under his belt as he ran from the room. He didn’t stop outside to get a cab; he kept running, sprinting up long blocks and across to deserted Flores Street. All the stores were closed; there were no people to be seen anywhere. Even Mendoza’s poolhall was closed, the shades pulled down over the green windows. Younger tried the door next to the poolhall. It swung open before him. A sleepy-looking woman with huge looped plastic earrings dangling from her ears sat behind a battered counter.

“Ignacio Gasset! Does he live here? What room is he in?”

The woman quietly set her movie magazine on the countertop and smiled shyly at Younger. “
Yo no sé
.”


El viejo. El borracho


Ahh, sí. Señor
Ignacio.” She pointed up the staircase behind her. “
Número cincuenta y tres
.”

Younger ran up the stairs, checking the numbers on the doors down the length of a narrow hallway. He found the number. He
slipped the gun from beneath his belt and pulled back the hammer, then placed his hand carefully on the doorknob, pushing the door back slowly until he saw the trail of blood glistening across the floor. He shoved the door all the way open. “Wino Boy?”

Wino Boy’s eyes stared straight up and dead at Younger from the floor alongside the bed, a broken wine bottle next to him, its jagged glass covered with blood. Wino Boy had not brutally slashed his own throat from ear to ear with the jagged bottle. The word scrawled clumsily across the wall in Wino Boy’s blood gave testimony to that:

DIALGOD.

Younger ran back down the stairs, shouting at the woman, “
¡El teléfono! ¡El teléfono
!”

The woman reached beneath the counter and brought out a telephone. Younger grabbed it from her and dialed frantically. He dialed God. The line was not busy; it clicked in Younger’s ear. Younger heard steady breathing, then a voice familiar and unmistakable, the words measured and lilting, sweet and pure as if pouring from the heavens themselves.

“Is that you?” Younger shouted into the phone. “Answer me! Is that
you
?”

The words of the Voice were so intimate, so close, his very breath was in Younger’s ear. “We are waiting for you, Mr. Younger. Don’t be too long in coming.”

“Where are you? I’ll come right over. I’ll be right there!”

“We cannot wait forever, Mr. Younger.”

“Tell me!”

“At Miss La Rue’s.”

Younger threw the receiver down and ran out the door. As the taxi he flagged down sped through empty streets, he knew why the Voice had tricked him into going to Wino Boy’s. The reason had to be Kathleen. Younger knew she was in love with him and the Voice just discovered it. She could no longer be trusted; she was too dangerous. The Voice had to have time to
kill Kathleen, and then kill him. Younger jumped from the cab as it screeched to a stop outside Kathleen’s apartment. He couldn’t think of anything but getting to Kathleen before the Voice did. He had to save her.

The orange cat darted down the stairs past Younger, meowing loudly like an obsessed spirit. Younger ran to the top of the steps, the gun out and ready to fire. Kathleen’s door was open. He saw her down the narrow hallway, content and serene, calmly sitting in one of the fat chairs, a small blue Mankind Incorporated book open on her lap. Younger walked down the hall, carefully, expecting at any moment that someone would jump out at him. He stepped into the living room. In the other fat chair he saw the Voice.

The Voice smiled up at Younger, his words gliding, as if borne on a silver platter. “Ah, dear Mr. Younger. We were beginning to lose hope. We thought your journey would never end.”

Younger was astonished, standing so close to the Voice; the man was far older than the vigor of his voice implied, old enough to be Kathleen’s father. The wrinkles of his face were smoothed over evenly by a deep tan. Stamped across his lips was the indulgent expression of one patiently awaiting the world to serve his superior motivations.

Younger aimed the gun above the slender bridge of the Voice’s nose, between the gaze of his piercing eyes.

“That’s not the appropriate action to take, Mr. Younger. A very un-American activity, shooting an unarmed man, a defenseless man.”

“A man who just killed Ignacio Gasset.”

“Comrade.” The Voice’s benign gaze did not leave Younger for a moment as he spoke to Kathleen. “I want you to shoot Mr. Younger.”

Younger was afraid to take the gun off the Voice. He turned his head slightly toward Kathleen. He saw her lift the book off her lap, a gun held steadily in her hand as she raised it before her, pointing it straight at Younger.

“Comrade, I want you to send a telegram to our American patriot who thinks he’s going to win this war.”

Younger felt the sweat in his hand around the gun. Outside in the distance a siren wailed. He couldn’t distinguish if it was an air-raid siren or a police siren.

The gun wavered in Kathleen’s hand, as if she had it pointed at the wrong person. She brought her other hand up to support it, then shifted the direction of the barrel slightly so it was trained on the Voice.

“Do your duty, comrade. Shoot him
now
.”

Younger pulled the trigger, the explosion kicking his hand back, the force of the bullet ripping open the Voice’s forehead in a shattering sound of bone and metal. The gun was heavy in Younger’s hand, an awesome weight with a fearful gravity of its own, as he turned it on Kathleen. Outside the wail of the siren grew louder.

Around the red rims of Kathleen’s eyes a watery film glistened, like heavy moisture on a windowpane, threatening to break and streak down sheer glass. She held her gun in trembling hands, pointed straight at him. “Don’t make me shoot you, Nathan. Don’t make me choose again. Leave!”

Younger took a hesitant step toward her. “I’m sick of the ideologies. What good are they if they destroy people? Both sides have made us killers. Now we’re going to kill each other. We can’t let them kill us, Kathleen.” He started to kneel down before her and she fired into his heart.

Kathleen was above him. Way above him. He couldn’t reach her. The sun was behind her red hair. A brilliant desert sun. She was like a bright angel on the rim of a canyon. So far away. She kept calling and calling, but he was so deep in the canyon with the river running cold next to him he couldn’t hear her. He felt like his heart was broken in two. The hurt boiled up and out of his chest and stung his throat. He thought he heard her words, her white face against the hot breath of the snarling sun, a bright angel, her words coming cool as she leaned over the edge of the
canyon in the hazy distance, a tear falling from her eye, a bright diamond spinning brilliantly down, trapping all light from the kindly heavens before going black. He felt the cool breath on his face, lips on his lips, robbing the last breath going out of him. He felt as if he was being born again.

Copyright
©
1978 by Thomas Sanchez

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sanchez, Thomas.

  Zoot-suit murders: a novel / Thomas Sanchez.

  p. cm. — (Vintage contemporaries)

eISBN: 978-0-307-49895-3

I. Title. II. Series.
PS3569.A469Z39 1991

813’.54—dc20  90-55670

CIP

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