Authors: Robert James Waller
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
SLOW WALTZ IN CEDAR BEND
OLD SONGS IN A NEW CAFÉ
JUST BEYOND THE FIRELIGHT
ONE GOOD ROAD IS ENOUGH
Copyright © 1995 by Robert James Waller
All rights reserved.
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New York, NY 10017
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First eBook Edition: September 2009
and sad songs.
And for Jim Flansburg and Jim Gannon
who trusted in me, early on.
I mean, Luz was really good, kind in her heart and all that. Christ, she was just a simple country girl, doing the best she
could for herself. “You should’ve seen her—she was knock-’em-dead beautiful sometimes, most of the time, with a flower in
her hair and pink lipstick on. Even in that cheap straw hat Clayton Price bought her. I still see her that way… in that cheap
straw hat and yellow dress and him carrying her across a little river in the Mexican backcountry—a butterfly in the keep of
a fer-de-lance.… Clayton Price, that sonuvabitch. Still, you had to admire him in a perverse way. I even felt sorry for him
a couple of times.
Danny Eugene Pastor, October 1994
Clayton Price’s edge was that he never hesitated, never once, not as long as I knew him. While the rest of the world was standin’
around waitin’ for the bell to ring, he was already out of his corner and swingin’. In the old days, he’d have been gone while
the bad guys were still gassin’ their trucks. Can’t figure out what happened, what he musta been thinkin’ there at the end.
MacKenzie Watt, mercenary
his guy Lobo, whose real and true name was Wolfgang Fink, played better than good flamenco guitar in a place called Mamma
Mia in Puerto Vallarta. Had a partner name of Willie Royal, tall gangly guy who was balding a little early and wore glasses
and played hot gypsy-jazz violin. They’d worked out a repertoire of their own tunes, “Improvisation #18” and “Gypsy Rook”
as examples, played ’em high and hard, rolled through “Amsterdam” and “The Sultan’s Dream” with enough power to set you two
times free or even beyond that when the day had been tolerable and the night held promise. Lobo, sun worn and hard lined in
the face, looking over at Willie Royal bobbing and weaving and twisting his face into a mean imitation of a death mask when
he really got into it, right wrist looking almost limp but moving his bow at warp speed across the strings, punctuated here
and there by Lobo’s stabbing ruscados and finger tapping on the guitar top.
Good music, wonderful music, tight and wild all at the same time. On those nights when the sweat ran down your back and veneered
your face and the gringitas looked good enough to swallow whole—knowing too they looked just that way and them watching the
crowd to see who might be man enough to try it—people would be riding on the music, drinking and clapping in flamenco time,
dancing around the dinner tables.
It was crazy back then, crazy good if you didn’t look too close. The music as a mustering-out call at first, then later in
the evening as wallpaper for the nighttime thrusts of a rumpled expatriate army whose soldiers never spoke of bolixed lives
and stained little souls. Upriver Sally was working in bronze and Hillside Dave was foundering in what he called his “Regressive
Matisse” period. Most of the rest were just talking about doing something—nothing small, understand—the “gonnas” per hour
roughly equaling the number of tequilas consumed. From any kind of distance at all, it looked like amoebas navigating a glass
slide, on the search for the nearest pile of food and being more or less content with what they found, mostly less. Less seemed
easier and didn’t require a reduction in beach time.
But none of that mattered unless you thought about it. And thought was to be restrained, if not suppressed, regarded as some
antiquity from a former world. A world from which all had fled… or had been released, depending on your charity and point
of view. Reflection or remembrance, any or all of that, pulled up things best left buried deep and covered over. Sifted through,
boiled down, flipped twice and double fried, it had become a simple place to be. A kind of perverted Darwinism, where the
flesh ruled but the species declined.
So it was: the music played and the people clapped. And the people danced and things were good for a while in the evenings.
In Puerto Vallarta, in a place called Mamma Mia.
Luz María and Danny went there almost every night except when the royalty checks were late coming from Danny’s New York agent.
In that case they’d lie around their grubby little place down on Madero and drink cheap tequila and screw their heads off,
which was sometimes even better than listening to Willie and Lobo. Or maybe something like Willie and Lobo—tight and practiced
and wild all at the same time. After living with Danny for two years, and starting even before that, Luz had willingly shed
most of the old strictures and hangups of village life, including Catholicism. That wasn’t easy, but once it was done, it
was done, and done full and pure and forever. That’s what Danny believed, or wanted to believe. Made things easier for him,
thinking that way.
As Danny said once, speaking with the kind of certainty coming from a ragged blend of drink and experience, there’s absolutely
nothing like a twenty-two-year-old Mexican woman who’s gotten herself liberated and opens up and starts screaming for Jesús
Christ to save her immortal Catholic essence while doing every single thing standing in direct contradiction with her words
and really meaning she hopes Jesús won’t take her now at this moment—maybe later, but not now—not now, with her body sweated
and her head tossing from side to side on the pillow and her slim, brown legs waving in the air or draped over the shoulders
of a gringo—Danny Pastor, in this case—who’s doing his best to put her headlong through the adobe at bed’s end and making
other superior efforts at seeing she at least spends time in purgatory, if she lucks out at all.
Anyway, on a soft, hot night in 1993, when the sewer system was having its own troubles south of the Rio Cuale, Danny and
Luz drifted up from Madero to hear Willie and Lobo. But the sound system in Mamma Mia wasn’t working up to expectations. That’s
what Lobo claimed and got sullen about it. After a while Willie started saying that, too. So Willie and Lobo took a long break
and went to work on it, broken speaker or some such thing. Luz and Danny walked down the street, dodging tourists and sailors
who’d come off an American military ship anchored in the harbor.
For no reason other than doing it, Danny pulled Luz into a hangout called El Niño. El Niño had big wooden shutters that swung
open on two sides, along the front where you could look west across Paseo Díaz Ordaz through exhaust fumes and see the sunset
on Banderas Bay, and also on the south side looking down on Calle Aldama, where street merchants held up fake silver bracelets
to the tourists sitting in El Niño because the guide books said that’s where tourists ought to go at sundown.
In the corner of the main room was a particular table where you could put your back against the wall and sweep the room and
see who came in, who was walking along Aldama on your left and what was happening out on Ordaz. On the night in question here,
with the bar crowded and people talking louder than conditions called for, that special table was occupied by a guy with neatly
combed, medium-length silver hair. He was wearing a blue denim shirt and khakis and sitting by himself, drinking a Pacifico
with lime. Had a photographer’s vest folded over and lying on the windowsill next to him.
Luz and Danny found two seats at the bar and were drinking straight tequila shots with lime plus the usual salt. Danny was
talking to the bartender about fish and sun and passing days, while Luz María moved her hand along his thigh—sometimes a little
higher when she thought nobody was watching. The touch of Luz María’s hand along his leg—and sometimes a little higher—got
Danny thinking maybe they ought to stumble back down to Madero and get crazy with love when he noticed the guy at the corner
table reach under his vest on the windowsill. Nothing too unusual about that. Later on, Danny couldn’t remember why he was
paying attention to the man or, for that matter, to anything at all except what Luz was doing along his leg.
Smooth and easy, but quick at the same time, the man checked the room, then lifted the vest a little. Had a gun under the
fold, some kind of automatic pistol with a noise suppressor on it. Nobody was watching this except Danny, far as he could
tell, since a mime was doing his thing across the street on the Malecón, the cement promenade along the sea, while a Maríachi
band was playing just behind the mime and sending out a high decibel count for thirty yards in all directions. Everybody was
concentrating on the show, including the waiters, while the bartender was tending to someone down the line. But Danny Pastor
was staring at this guy with silver hair, like he couldn’t believe what was going on was going on and sometimes still can’t
believe what happened actually did happen when he thinks back on it.
Up came the vest a little more, the gun still mostly covered, and the man’s hand jumped three times. No sound that Danny could
hear over the Maríachis. Just a slight bounce of his hand when he fired. He folded the vest double, stuffed it in a knapsack
sitting on the floor by his chair, and looked around. After scanning the room one more time, the man got up and laid out a
ten-peso bill, then made his way through the tables and went down the front steps to the street.
While Danny was sitting there temporarily immobilized and feeling like he’d just watched a short instructional film on audacity,
which ended without being finished, all hell broke loose out on Ordaz, the Maríachis cycling down a little at a time as they
figured out something had happened. First one trumpet peeled off, then two of the violins, then the second trumpet stopped,
and so on, until they ground down raggedylike and out of tune. They were all looking south along the street, and people were
running along the Malecón in the same direction as the band was looking.
Danny slid off his stool, the bartender asking,
Danny said he didn’t know what was happening but that he was going to find out. He walked over to the table where the shooter
had been sitting, leaned across it, and looked out in the street. People were crowded around a green Nissan sedan, and he
couldn’t see anything, so he went down the stairs of El Niño and out on Ordaz.
An American naval officer was lying on the cobblestones, his body twitching and blood coming from a neck wound. Danny, gut
tensed, walked past the officer, glancing down at him then quickly away. He went over to the Nissan, stepped on the back bumper
and looked over the crowd. Two Mexicans in white short-sleeves and white pants were holding snub-nosed .38s in both hands,
pointing them at the sky while they sweated buckets and looked all around with a kind of strange, crazy fear in their eyes.
A heavyset gringo in gray slacks and a resorty shirt was lying face up, with the bottom half of him on the street and the
upper half on four steps leading from the street up to the Malecón. Dead center in the gringo’s chest was a dark wet spot
and a pencil-size slice on his left temple where a bullet had grazed him was oozing red, and he was not moving even the tiniest
muscle from what Danny could tell.
Danny went back inside and told Luz and the bartender what he’d seen, mentioning also he didn’t think it was a good place
to be hanging around in general, not even for a minute and time to finish their drinks since the
were arriving in waves of sirens and confusion. He figured they’d be up in the bar pretty soon, hassling everybody’s ass,
and he was also thinking he might’ve been the only one who saw anything, so he hustled Luz María out the back door and over
to Morales, heading south toward their place on Madero.
Danny was holding Luz’s hand and pulling her along pretty fast. She was half running to keep up with him and asking what was
going on, why he was hurrying this way. Probably some kind of premonition, but for reasons that weren’t clear to him, he wasn’t
ready to tell her the whole story, that he’d seen the hit. All she knew was some kind of shooting had taken place. She didn’t
know Danny had seen the shooter do it and that he was pretty sure he’d been the only one who saw it.