“Hey, who is that hombre?” Carlos gestured with the end of his rifle.
“What man? Ah, in front of La Panaderia?” Juan barely glanced. He kept his attention on the ruin of the old Décor building on the other side of an enormous, cracked and pot-hole ridden parking lot. If he let himself get distracted, Los Guerreros del Perro would take them out.
“Si’, that one. What is he doing?”
“Who cares?” Juan refused to look again.
“What if he is one of them? A new recruit, maybe?” Carlos just wouldn’t let it go.
“You watch the building, then.” Juan turned his attention to the strange man across the street.
He seemed to be talking to the display window. Juan would have assumed he was just another street crazy, except that he didn’t gesture wildly, or have a crazy look in his eye. He merely stood there facing the glass, talking quietly. He fostered the impression of having a conversation with someone inside.
Which might be the case. The alley Juan and Carlos huddled in ran between buildings just down the block from La Panaderia on the same side of the parking lot. They couldn’t see anything inside the building.
“Go check it out,” Carlos said.
“You check it out.” No way Juan wanted to be out in the open where any rival gang, Los Guerreros del Perro or otherwise, could shoot him down.
“Can’t. I’m the one with the rifle. You go.”
Juan would have argued, but Carlos was the better shot and right now, they needed his skill. “All right, I’ll do it.” Juan ducked around the corner. There wasn’t anyone but the strange man around, but maybe he just couldn’t see them.
“Oye. ¿Qué estás haciendo?”
“What?” The man turned to him. He was a gringo. Now, close up, Juan could see that under the black cap the man’s hair was a sandy shade of brown. He seemed a bit older, in his forties maybe. His angelic blue eyes seemed clear enough, but Juan didn’t trust them.
“Um… I’m sorry. I don’t speak Spanish.”
Juan used a couple of potent cuss words and turned away. Clearly, this was not someone from one of the gangs.
“Wait!” The man grabbed his sleeve. “Can you tell me how to get to Wyoming? I seem to have taken a wrong turn.”
Horrified, Juan tried to shake him off, but the man had a grip like iron. “Me soltó! Let go.”
“I’m in Mexico, right? Which way is North?”
“You do not know where you are?!” The man was a crazy after all. Juan yanked his sleeve loose.
“If you could just point….”
“Hey, what’s up?” Carlos came out of hiding. “What’s taking so long?”
Juan gestured to him, trying to get him to go back into the alley, but Carlos paid no attention. He’d taken no more than a dozen steps when someone used a rocket launcher, sending a round right up the alley where they had been. The rocket whooshed and screamed across the parking lot to wedge into the building next to El Décor.
Carlos’ hair whirled violently in the rocket’s passing. His eyes went very wide and his jaw dropped. If he had not come out of the alley when he did, he’d be dead now. Carlos and Juan both turned to watch the missile.
The explosion rocked them on their feet. Juan felt it mostly in the rattle of his chest bones and the fine grit of dust in his face. The boom in his ears seemed gratuitous on top of that. The bright ball of red and yellow flame that erupted from the spent building went beyond comprehension. He stared at it for entirely too long.
“Huh. Pretty.” The strange man said. Then he turned toward them, held his hand out and smiled politely. “Hi. My name is Andrew Banks. Please help me.”
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Disclaimer: I took some artistic license here. I’m pretty sure El Décor has been bulldozed. I couldn’t find it on Google Maps, anyway. Even when it did exist, there was no bakery across the parking lot. Instead, a run of low buildings featuring things like onyx tables and tacky key-chains shared common walls. No alleys anywhere handy. Next week I have every intention of going into the inside of El Décor, the one in my head, anyway.