He recognized her immediately as she walked into the room, framed for a few seconds by the traditional knickknacks that were considered decor by the long-time owners of the much-loved Mexican restaurant.
She spotted him and with a wave of hand blessed the Virgins, Martyrs, Saints and Elvi that were layered in the maze of faded turquoise walls and mango door-frames. He thought she looked the same, older and wiser perhaps but still a magnificent woman.
“Gloria,” he said standing up to kiss each cheek. “I’m so glad you could get here.”
“Hola, Vicente, you look marvelous for an old coot. I was so surprised to hear from you after all these years, plus having you here in person is so wonderful.”
“Oh my, has it been that long? It seems like yesterday. You look fabulous. I see that life has treated you well.”
“Yes, I was counting the years since I last saw you in person when you swooshed into town to tell me that you had decided to move to the Baja for good.”
He motioned the waitress over. “Do you still enjoy Margareta’s Glori? If so we’ll have two Margaritas blended, no salt and with your top of the line Tequila, por favor.” The sullen, heavily tattooed server said nothing but brought the drinks to them promptly.
“Tell me, Vicente, what brings you back up north. I follow your occasional tweets. How is the hotel business? I’m sure the resort is a huge success.”
She sat looking at his lined face tanned deep copper from too many sun-lit days, thinking about those days before he met his wife Maria-Tuliza who passed a few years back. Thinking back to those days when the two of them first went down to Baja in that ancient VW bus made her emotions rise to the surface. She felt vulnerable and raw.
“Remember when we first cruised down the coast? We were such innocents on a barely paved road.”
“It was before the gringos gentrified that wild place and people like me capitalized on that freedom.” Vicinte’s eyes closed and a smile arose from his thin lips. “Yes, well that is the main reasons I came up here. My memory of you and my past life was jolted by an incident that happened recently. That and the fact that I am, now don’t be alarmed, but I am sick, Gloria. I have to get my affairs in order and an old coot like me has a lot of loose ends.”
Gloria felt tears starting but aging up was the same for all of the Boomers. Parents died one after the other; your children’s children were going to be ready to have children soon. This was the reality they all faced.
“What do you have Vicente? Something exotic I hope nothing ordinary like cancer or heart failure?”
“Oh Glori, it’s a long story without a trick ending. I’ll tell you later. First I wanted you to know that an old friend of ours wanted me to get in touch with you.”
“Oh My God! Let me guess. Was it a man? Did he have golden brown skin? Did he ask about Gloria or did he say his wife?”
“Well, obviously you know just who was asking.”
She leaned back in her chair a smiling at the old memory. She closed her eyes. “I can see him now, well not as he probably is now but how he was when we all met. Do you remember that club?”
“Yeah, we just talked about that a week ago down in Cabo.”
“In this huge world how did you manage to run into Mr. Tonio Naciento Torres?”
“Just by chance, at my resort. He’s been living outside PV for years. It must have been fate that somehow we recognized each other. He looked great, very fit, bald now and still wearing those square sunglasses perched on his nose. Very tough looking harder than before like he’d been through a hell of a life.”
“I’ve got to tell you a little story, something about me that you don’t know.”
“I think this calls for another drink. Verdad?”
The server noticed his look. Vicente ordered two more margaritas and a plate of nachos while Gloria found the bathroom. Settling back in her seat taking a long sip of the fresh drink, she began her tale.
“Vicente, we have known each other for the best part of our lives and even though we haven’t hung out for many years there is one part of my life you know nothing about.”
“Wow, Glori. I am surprised. I thought we had talked about everything over the years maybe not in person but… I’ll shut up and let you tell it.”
“When we were together there was a big reason that I broke up with you.”
The memories of those days long ago came flooding back to Vicente, the first trip down the Baja, the many nights at that run down club where they spent so much youth and time drinking and drugging in the dark, recovering sanity on sunny afternoons on hot sand.
“We met Tonio there, remember?”
He could almost smell the sultriness of Club Nuevo, the sourness of cheap Tequila, the sharp drain of cocaine in his throat.
“Tonio would come into the club with his posse.”
The image of the gang was etched in his memory, the first officers leading the formation, his Capo first, to his left the enforcer and to the right the tall dark-skinned woman. Tonio protected in the middle with two more toughs backing him up.
“Remember he would swoop into the club and then arrange everyone’s place at the tables set aside for him. Tonio, of course, always sat facing the door flanked by his protectors, welcoming those who came in to ask favors or pay him what he was owed or just to entertain him.”
He could still see the flashing eyes of the prettiest waitresses who would take turns each week, available for his use, anticipating the enormous tip he would leave.
“When he saw that we were regulars and also cokeheads he demanded that we sit at his table as his guests. We really got caught in his web, drinking the best, snorting the finest, dancing and singing every week for months.”
It was after almost a year of this outlaw life that somehow he decided to make drastic changes in his life. He was so cruel to Glori. They had epic arguments that bordered on violence. He told her he was leaving. He told her she was ruining his life. He gave her a one-way ticket back to Seattle.
“You were so mean to me at the end. I was thinking you were having the time of your life with me. I was sure we would be together forever and then, BOOM. I was cut loose. Tonio had plans to move to Mexico and quietly, secretly asked me to join him. Towards the end of spring before our breakup, Tonio and I had an affaire. We really found a connection during those halcyon days. There was such intensity in his eyes. I felt desired, protected by his power.”
“And I didn’t suspect a thing. I had no idea Glori. I became so possessed by my desire to capitalize on the country. I had a vision of being the richest landowner on the Peninsula.”
“I took your offered trip back here but only to pack my things. I turned right around and flew down to Mexico. Tonio met me and set me up in his new compound. It was quite beautiful surrounded by Bougainvillea, overlooking the ocean. I had a maid, a cook and a driver with a brand new bulletproof Mercedes.
I had all the trappings of a well-kept mistress but I was lonely. He was always away doing “Business” for weeks at a time. I never knew if he was going to be gunned down by rival gangs or thrown in prison.”
“How long were you there? I have so many questions? Did you get any of my letters, the ones begging you to come back, that I was wrong, that I was sorry for the way I treated you.”
“I stayed for a little over five years. I mean I really loved his strangeness. We did get married in Mexico but I was never sure it was legal. A man came to the house a month after I moved in and performed a beautiful ceremony. Tonio put a ring on my finger, kissed me in front of his gang and staff and from then on always introduced me as his wife.”
“Damn, I don’t know what to say. He told me that a lot had happened to him since those Baja days. What is really funny is I think he is still a drug dealer. He came to my hotel nightclub in the same style as the old days flanked by his generals, not the same ones of course but the same style. Once we got re-acquainted he asked about you.”
“Tell me Vicente, are you still in touch with my wife, your ex-girlfriend, Glori? Please, if you hear from her tell her I still love her.”
Glori smiled,” Cool, he did say his wife. He remembered.”