Marieta

Marieta introduced me to sex; Marieta introduced
me to killing. She was Indio’s whore.

I no longer remember Indio’s real name. Everyone
called him that for his likeness to the Indian chief on
Hatuey beer’s label. Indio bought every comic book
in the newsstands but since he was illiterate, I
became his designated reader.

He had the body of a bronze Apollo. Women
loved his built and the way he laughed doing
a brief dance. He had childlike ways.

At age seventeen he fell for a young prostitute fresh
from the farm. Marieta was sixteen when her father
sold her to Lorenzo. Lorenzo had a small cathouse at
Matanzas’ La Marina red light district. This pimp had
spent most of his life in jail for several offenses
ranging from petty theft to homicide.

People feared his reputation for being good with a
knife. The pimp wasn’t happy when he learned that
Marieta gave Indio free sex. The beating he gave
her left Marieta unable to work for a week. The sight
of her swollen face enraged Indio. He sought Lorenzo.

The police inquiry concluded that Indio killed the
pimp in self defense after wrestling the knife from
him.

Indio by unanimous vote of the cathouse’s three
prostitutes became the youngest pimp in La
Marina.

A month later, taking my seat on the sidewalk next
to his comic books, I proudly said, “I’m as old as
you. Today I’m seventeen.”

“Well, I guess you’re a man now. I’m going to give you a present.” He jumped up. “Let’s go for a ride.”

We drove in his red Olds convertible to La Marina — foreign sailors strolled along talking in Nordic tongues. Their words sounded harsh and cold like ice chunks falling from a fiord. We parked in front of a bar. El Indio bought me a saoco made with rum, coconut water, lime, and sugar. We clinked glasses and to my dismay, he announced, I had come to lose
my cherry.

Everyone in the bar cheered. Men yelled advice. The bartender pulled me aside and told me to go home. “It’s no good to lose your cherry in a brothel. My cousin helped me with mine.”

“Was he gentle? asked Indio. He laughed and danced at his own joke. The bartender brought another saoco. “This one is on me.” He handed me a cigarette and
lighted it for me. “Courage!”

He made me feel as if I was about to face a firing squad. Leaving the bar, the sidewalk felt rubbery under my feet.

Darkness besieged the dim streetlights. The smell of sewers, of rancid lard boiling in large frying pans inside the vending stalls floated in the air. The calls of scantily clad women leaning out of windows sounded shrill and sad. This was evil. It dawned on me evil was using people as if they were things. These women were slaves serving time in hell. I felt
like turning around and going home. I slowed down and Indio walked ahead with a swagger. He turned around and looked at me.

“You’re not chickening out, are you?”

I was as trapped as those women. My pride wouldn’t let me back down. Indio pushed a green door and held it open for me. I stepped into a small living room. A red bulb tinted the gloom with a feeble glow. A dark old man wearing a ridiculous red wig dozed in a rocking chair. Indio poked him with a finger and he blinked at us with moist eyes.

“Tell Marieta to come here.”

“She’s occupied.”

We we took our seats on a row of chairs alongside a wall.

The old man stared at me with pensive eyes. “Is this his first time?” he asked in an effeminate tone.

“Yeah”

His stare became keener. Indio offered Camels. The old man smelled the cigarette greedily, and placed it behind his ear. I smoked, and fidgeted on the wooden chair. My hands sweated. The sudden jiggling of the bead curtain adorning the door leading to the bedrooms startled me. A man rushed outdoors. Indio stood up, stretched and yawned. “Let’s go,” he said and walked through the curtain.

Indio opened a bedroom door. The girl sat with her back to us combing her long black hair in front of a blemished mirror. She wore a white sleeveless white dress. The unshaved hair in her armpits struck me as the edge of forests did— alluring, mysterious, vaguely dangerous.

“Marieta, this is Juan. Today is his first time, and his birthday. I want you to understand this, Juan is my friend, and the son of lieutenant Lomita of the secret police. Show him a good time for free as often as he wants.”

He winked at me. “Have fun.” He slapped my back and left.

Marieta looked at me. Her eyes lingered. I crossed my arms. Her eyes softened. “Don’t
worry. I seen worse.” She came over and kissed me on my acne red cheeks. “Come on, let’s sit.”

I looked with concern at the semen stained grayish sheet, but sat next to her.

“So, Indio and you’re buddies?

“Sort of, I guess. We don’t see each other that often, really.”

“What you two do together?”

“I read to him.”

“You read to him? What?”

“Comic books.”

She laughed. “Get out of here.” You kidding me?”

“No.”

“What else?”

“We talk about sports and girls. Sometimes, we go fishing and drink beer.”

“You seen a naked girl, yet?”

“Yeah, in pictures.”

“Well, here is the real thing.” She pulled her dress over her head. She stood up and struck a pose. Her beauty was heart stopping.

“Well, what you think?”

I swallowed, but my mouth was dry. I stared.

“Never mind.” She pushed me down on the bed.

Later, as she escorted me to the door she turned me around. “Don’t tell Indio I came with you.”

“Did you come, really?”

“I’m a sucker for virgins.”

I was now her prisoner. The moment I hit the sidewalk the longing to return began gnawing at me. Despite my moral revulsion for the degradation these women suffered, I knew I’d be back again, and not only soon, but often.

I saw Indio at the corner bar but I wanted to be alone with my new feelings. I kept going. I
walked three miles to get home.

The following evening as I stepped inside the small parlor, the old man stood up pushing
down with both hands on the rocking chair’s arms.

“Follow me.” We went down the hallway. He placed his hand on my shoulder and whispered.
“that man sitting in the parlor is waiting for her, but you go first. You’re a friend.”

I moved away. He withdrew his hand. He wore cheap perfume. He walked like a girl.
During the day, he cooked and cleaned for the whores and in the evening he acted as madam.

He took me to the dining room. The girls were eating black beans and rice and fried pork meat chunks. A bottle of red wine stood on the table.

“Girls, this is Juan, Indio’s friend,” said Marieta.

The two women looked at me and went back to their food. They were of dubious age and race. I detected a little Chinese in their eyes, some African in their hair, and some Caucasian in their features. They had been pretty once, but life had taken a hammer to their beauty.

“Help yourself,” Marieta pointed to the table.

“No, thanks.”

“You can’t just sit there and watch. Have some wine.”

The old man grabbed the half empty bottle and drank from it.

“Colorado, you’re such a pig. Go back to the front. You know Indio will slap you around if he finds you here drinking when guests are in the parlor,” said the older woman.

“Who cares? It won’t be the first time,” he said.

“I think you like it, you old pervert,” the other one said with a mouth full of rice.

“Do I ever speak about how hot you are for each other? Do I ever tell Indio how you steal from him? As long as you give me my cut, you can steal all you want from the dumb bastard.” He took a last sip, gingerly placed it on the table and left swinging his narrow hips. They laughed.

He was called Colorado for his red wig. Beside all his others duties he was the girl’s favorite sad clown.

“Let’s go to the bedroom. You can bring the bottle if you want.” I left the bottle on the table. I wasn’t going to drink wine tainted with Colorado’s spittle.

“Sit.” Marieta patted the spot next to her. The same grayish sheet was on the bed.

“So, I’m flattered. Two days in a row. You coming tomorrow too? I don’t mind. I like you. So, your father is a police lieutenant, eh? You must know lot’s of interesting cases. Go ahead, tell me about a juicy one.”

“My father doesn’t talk to me about his work.”

“You two aren’t close, eh?”

“He leaves early, and comes home late.”

“I bet you miss him.”

“Not really.”

“Um! You know Cesar Ramona?”

“No.”

“He’s a friend of mine. He was arrested last month. Ask your father if he’s okay.”

“If I ask, he’ll want to know who asked me.”

“Tell him he’s your friend. He goes to your high school.”

“What did he do?”

“Nothing that I know of. He has a big mouth and likes to talk politics.”

“I don’t know Marieta. My father is going to have more questions than answers.”

“Please, try. But don’t mention my name.”

So far I had three secrets to keep. One from my father and two from Indio. My sense of
loyalty was making me uneasy. I didn’t want to cause harm to these people, but I felt my
loyalty was to my father and friends, not them.

While we were making love she moaned softly.

Later, I asked, “How come you didn’t moan the first time?”

“I don’t know.” I came both times. She slipped a ten in my shirt pocket. This was a lot of
money for her. She only charged one peso per trick.

“What’s this for?”

“A present.”

I took it out an offered back.

“It’s very rude to refuse a present.” She put the bill back in my pocket.

I felt this wasn’t a present, but a bribe. It was Judas’ money.

Two days later as I sat down on the bed, she asked about her friend.

“He is dead.”

“Oh no!” She covered her mouth with her hand. “How did he die?”

“Trying to escape.”

“When was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, thanks for asking anyway.”

I had not asked. I went down to the basement where the cells were located. He wasn’t there. If he wasn’t there, and he wasn’t free, he was dead. And they all die trying to escape.

The following week she asked me, “You know captain Diaz, don’t you?”

“Yeah, he’s my father’s boss.”

“You know where he hangs around after work?”

“Yeah”

“Tell me the address.”

“Why do you need to know?”

“Last week he left his briefcase here.”

“Give it to me. I`ll see he gets it.”

“No, I don’t want him to know I told you. Tell me and I will do something very special
for you.” She kneeled and unbuttoned my fly. She leaned her head on my lap. “Please.”

“I told her the name of the bar and the time he usually visited.”

A week later, I burst into the parlor. Colorado tried to get up to greet me. I pushed him down. I stormed through the curtain.

“She is with a customer. You can’t go back there,” he yelled.

I pushed her room’s door. A man was on top of her. “Get out!”

He turned around. “Who the hell are you?”

“Juan Lomita.”

“I don’t give a shit. You get out before I knock you on your ass.”

I unbuttoned my shirt and showed him the Colt 45 sticking out of my belt.

“You gonna shoot me over this here, whore? Get out and wait your turn.”

“Leave, please. He’s lieutenant Lomita’s son. I’ll make it up to you, later. Go!” Marieta pushed him off. She gave him his cloths. “Dress outside.”

The man left giving me an angry look.

Marietta approached me with a worried expression. “Juan, you can’t do that. You have to
wait your turn.”

“Shut up! Captain Diaz is dead. Someone left a bomb in the bar. Three people are dead, five are wounded.”

“Oh, my God.”

“Oh my God, my ass. To whom did you blabber?”

“No one. I swear.”

I pushed her down on the bed, and grabbed her hair. I pulled her up by the hair. “Who?”

“No one.”

I yanked again.

“Nobody. Please, Juan, believe me.”

“I don’t believe in coincidences. “You either tell me, or you will tell sergeant Ramirez in the
interrogation room. Do you know why people call him the surgeon?

“Juan, I know nothing. I swear.”

“They call him surgeon because he has a hospital operating table and all kinds of sharp instruments down in the basement. They say he was a medical student in his youth, and knows how to expose the nerves and cause terrible pain. The room is sound proof, but I have heard people scream from my father’s office on the second floor.”

She reached for her cigarettes on the night table. Her hands trembled. She couldn’t light it. I lit it for her. She inhaled deeply. “I didn’t lie to you. I still have his briefcase here.”

“Let’s see it.”

Marieta bent down and lifted a floorboard under the bed. She handed me a small leather briefcase. I opened it. Money overflowed. “How much?”

“Four thousand pesos. Keep the money. It’s the money he collects every month from all cathouses and bars. No one but us will know. What you say?”

“You mean to tell me he didn’t come back to get four thousand pesos?”

“You know he’s an alcoholic. He was drunk. He passed out. I went to another room and kept on working. When I returned, he was gone and I found the briefcase under the bed. Maybe he forgot he came here with it.”

“Is that why you and Indio killed him, to keep the money?”

“No, Juan, it’s just a terrible coincidence.”

“Get Dressed.”

I took her out. There was a wall phone in the hall— a wooden box relic. “I have to make a phone call. Hold this.” I handed her the briefcase.

“I have to go to the washroom.”

“No.'”

“Juan, I have to. I’ll crap in my pants.”

“Okay, but hurry up.”

It took a full minute before they answered. “Police station.”

“Who is this?”

“Officer Chavez.”

“Hi, Tomas. It’s Juan.

“Hold the line.”

I waited for five minutes. “Juan, your father isn’t in.”

“I don’t want him. I want you to send a squad car to Indio’s whorehouse. Do you know the address?”

“Sure do. What’s the problem?”

“I’m bringing one of the girls to the station.”

“Oh good. We need some cheering up.”

I hung up. I knocked on the washroom’s door. No answer. I pushed it. The door was locked. “Marieta come out!” Silence. I threw myself against the door, but only hurt my shoulder. It always worked in movies.

“What’s going on?” Asked Colorado coming from the parlor.

“Get me a hammer to break this door”

“Indio ain’t gonna like that.”

“Get it, now!”

The window was open. The bird had flown away. I went outside to wait for the squad car. It took twenty minutes. The station was six blocks away. I thought of the slogan above the reception desk, “Crime is our first priority.” Well, it didn’t mention fighting, so it could be true.

“What’s going on, Juan? Where is the girl?”

“Take me to Indio’s house. I gave him the address.

“I thought we were taking a girl in.”

“What took you so long? She’s gone.”

“Chavez didn’t say it was an emergency. I stopped for coffee.”

“Could we get going, please.”

“Sure, would you like the siren on?

“Just get going!”

“Watch the road, for Christ sake. You almost ran over that dog.”

“We can’t be concerned with dogs while chasing criminals.”

Indio’s mother opened the door. ” Hi, Juan. You just missed them. Indio and Marieta just left a few minutes ago.”

“Did they say where they were going?”

“No, but they took two bags with them so they might be away a few days.”

“We need to look inside. Police matter.” She moved aside.

“What did they do?” She sounded alarmed.

They were not inside.

“Where now?”

“Take me to the station.”

I realized I was out of my depth. I had been outwitted by an illiterate pimp, and a farm girl. My ego felt crushed, and more humiliation was headed my way. I needed to talk to my father. Marieta and Indio were implicated in those deaths, but how and why? Had they murdered him for money? Were they Castro’s spies? Could they just be innocent victims of a coincidence? I hoped so, then, I’d be innocent too, because it was me who had placed Diaz at that bar. I was certain my father could find out who did it and why.

When I opened the door of his office, he was reading a report. He watched me approach
with his mean brooding eyes.

“Do you have a problem?”

“Yes, I do. I need to talk to you?”

“Sure, sit down. Is it about that whore you’re seeing? I heard you were bringing her in. Is she here?”

“No, she escaped.”

“I see. She’s not the only one in town, you know?” A smile fluttered on lips carved across
his face like a scar.

“Father, her and Indio are implicated in Diaz’s death.”

“Oh!” He leaned back and regarded me with pupils as hard as bullet tips. His sallow pock marked face, his sunken cheeks, his thin black mustache, his dark suit made him look more like a funeral director than the most feared policeman in town.

I told him everything I knew.

He stood and walked toward me. I tensed. My hand gripped the armchairs. He sat on the
desk’s edge and patted my hand reassuringly.

“Juan, I received a call from general Campos in Havana. He’s promoting me to captain.”

“That’s great, Father. Congratulations.” There was no doubt in my mind that he deserved that promotion. He had run the police office for years. Diaz was only a pompous, drunken figurehead.

“Thanks. We’re in a delicate position here. Those two have fled town. If I put out a bulletin for their arrest and they are caught alive, they will implicate you in this crime. Even if no charges are filed against you, your loyalty to the regime will be in question. That will jeopardize my promotion. You must not say a word of this to anyone. You understand?”

His words hurt me more that the blows I deserved for telling a whore the whereabouts of an officer of the secret police. I always have rationalized my father’s reputation as a salaried killer for the regime as something he had to do to protect our country from chaos and communism. Now he was telling me he was willing to let those two go unpunished for
the sake of a promotion.

What was going on? Was my father implicated in Diaz’s death? How come his promotion had been decided so soon? Had the order to kill Diaz come from Havana? Had Diaz drunkenness, corruption, and inefficiency become too much of a liability for the regime? Was it easier to kill the brother of a goverment minister than to fire him? Were they
planning to use his death as a pretext for more arrests and killings of the regime’s enemies. But if that was so, why involve me? Could that have been a safety feature that Marieta introduced to feel more secure? I felt as dizzy as if he had pistol whipped me.

“But, Father, are you going to let them go free?”

“Don’t worry. This pair isn’t joining a monastery. They will be arrested for another
crime, someday. And then we’ll close this account without any record of your involvement. You’re a man now and a Lomita, not a word, not even to your mother.”

As far as I know, they were never arrested and as I write this, I still don’t know who killed Diaz, or why.

“Yes, sir.” I looked at his face. One day I’ll look like him, I thought. My eyes moved to the
window— light was fading, tinting the rooftops tiles the color of blood. The sadness I felt when first visiting the red light district washed over me.

Father slipped a twenty in my shirt pocket. “Go have some fun. It’s saturday night. Life goes on.”

I was by the door when he called. I turned.

“Fernando, across from Indio’s bordello has a very nice young girl. Her name is Conchita.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

His thin lips curved up for a second, and then the smile was gone.

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