The story: 4
Adivinanzas de Mundo sat on an isolated side street of Anaheim. The single story boarding house served meals and more importantly shots of whiskey. When we walked in every man’s eyes locked on Senka. In here time ticked more slowly, all references to the modern world were left at the front door.
From the men drinking at the tables and bar, it was easy to see how the Adivinanzas de Mundo made their nut. I put an arm around Senka’s waist and motioned to the bar following a path worn into the wooden floor. Men drank shots for either consolation or to consolidate their courage. I was hoping for the former.
“Whiskey,” I said.
The barkeep set a single shot glass in front of me and glanced at Senka as he poured the shot.
“I’m looking for some help,” You could see the patrons around the room cock an ear in our direction.
“Senior, the town is full of men in need of work.”
“Not that kind of help, I got a …I got a … a curse. See, I crossed this bruja. And she laid this curse on me.” Men crossed themselves and took another shot. The barkeep shrugged and gestured like he was helpless.
“People around him keep dying, relatives, strangers, it doesn’t matter,” Senka said. A couple men bolted for the door, leaving unfinished drinks on the tables. Clever girl.
“I went to see a priest and he told me to pray. He died the next day. I was thinking maybe another bruja, could undo the curse. You got any ideas? Your life may depend on it,” I chimed in.
“El Alemán!” The barkeep blessed himself.
“Who is this El Alemán? And where might we find him?” I asked.
“Leave a bottle of tequila under the oak tree at the edge of town at sunset and then come back at midnight, he will be there.” The barkeep set a bottle of tequila on the bar.
It was getting close to sunset and we only had a few minutes to wait. We found the tree a short walk from where the street ends. A golden light tinged the leaves as the sun reached the top of the hills. I set the bottle among the twisted roots. Senka looked around. I couldn’t help doing the same. No houses or people in view. Hard to tell how this shaman is going to know we’ve been here and left him a bottle. We lingered a few minutes watching the sun turn from a disc to a dome over the distant hills, and then we headed back to the cab, a two minute walk. We drove back to town and picked up a couple of flashlights from the five and dime.
There was no moon and the night was clear, cool and full of stars. I killed the head lights and drove by starlight and instinct for the last mile. If we were heading into something like a trap, I’d rather not have them see us coming. I turned off the engine and coasted just as far as the cab would go. We got out of the car and let our eyes adjust to the starlight before we headed to the oak tree. I could see the tree looming large in front of us, but our steps didn’t seem to carry us any closer. No matter that we started out a little early. Now we were going to arrive exactly at midnight as directed.
I saw a shooting star end its flight over the looming darkness of the oak tree. We made it to the spot we left the bottle. It stood just where we left it, wedged into some roots. It was empty but the seal was unbroken. Nice trick. We looked around and not a soul to be found. We walked around the ancient tree trunk and there, back where we started, squatted a man on his haunches smoking a cigarette. Even better trick.
“I take it you’re the shaman? I got a message to see you about circles of speech, and a skeleton,” I said.
“A skeleton you say! Yours or mine?”
He had a German accent that didn’t fit with his peasant dress and olive dark skin. He talked without looking up at me. The red tip of the cigarette brightened as he inhaled. The moonless night, festooned with stars, chilled the air with a light intermittent breeze. I felt cold. Senka rubbed her arms to stay warm. The shaman in his sandaled feet and homespun shirt and pants didn’t seem to notice the chill.
He took another drag of his cigarette and then stomped it out under his foot. He offered us both a cigarette and we both took one. He didn’t offer a light. I wish I had my lighter but had left it in the car. I tucked the cigarette into my coat pocket and Senka tucked hers behind an ear.
“I was hoping you had something for us to pass along to our associates,” I tried.
He looked at me and cocked his head ever so slightly. “And who are your associates?”
“Look we’ve come a long way and we want the merchandise, whatever it is,” I had about all I could take of this late night mystic mumbo jumbo. Just then a coyote leaped out of the brush behind us carrying a surprised rabbit in its mouth. Senka and I both turned startled and ready for a fight.
We turned back and the shaman was gone. We both switched on our flashlights and searched the surrounding brush. We found nothing. The chill of the night finally sent us back to the cab. Least we had a couple of cigarettes. I was rooting through the glove box looking for my lighter, as Senka twirled her cigarette between her fingers. I was cold and looking forward to a smoke.
“What brand is this?” Senka asked.
“That country shaman probably rolled his own,” I said.
“This was machine rolled and it has some markings,” she shown her flashlight on the cigarette.
I looked over. Sure enough, the cigarette had a skull printed on the side.
“These ain’t Lucky Strikes; I’ll grant you that,” I said.
“Maybe they are,” Senka said.