by Stu Gillam
Part 4 of my ever lengthening story. Miguel and Quoquerdas continue their meeting.
Producers of the Grijalva leaf
The doused Grijalva which had so tantalized Miguel a moment ago and raised the benchmark of cigar smoking pleasure for him to a new zenith, deftly disappeared within the folds of Quoquerdas’ sleeveless jacket, where it was replaced with equal finesse by two Cuban Montecristos, one of which was offered to Miguel. The old fox’s graceful movements had an air of magical slight-of-hand, and Miguel mused on a quirky image of Quoquerdas performing a magic act for his amusement. Observing the man's slickness, he couldn't deny an innate respect for the man, despite his oft aggravating wiliness; or perhaps because of it.
The jacket reminded Miguel of a fisherman’s vest. It had pockets of all shapes and sizes crammed into every possible area of the garment. All that was missing were various hooks and lures snagged haphazardly across the breast and lapels. Add those, a couple of poles, some worms, (he knew exactly where to find that lot) and then the two of them could be off to the stream for a little angling action. It was the same garment Quoquerdas always wore, for Miguel had seen it many times before, and he knew that the man stocked it with cigars of all types and brands to be prepared with just the right cigar for any given occasion. For it was well known in Quoquerdas’ circle that different occasions required different cigars, whether for an important business transaction, sheer pleasure, to accompany a certain beverage being offered, or perhaps just because of the time of day. It was a garment well suited to the tobacconist’s needs.
As Miguel took the Cuban, his gaze went back and forth from the merchant’s pocked, swarthy face to the pocket within which the Grijalva had so grievously disappeared. He knew the worth of a Cuban Montecristo, and it startled him to think that he would happily trash this one in return for the Grijalva.
The clang and scratch of the merchant’s lighter rang out into the shop as he opened it and ignited it in one motion, all panache and flare. Fire was brought to both of their cigars in turn. A moment passed in silence as the two men kindled the heads of their stogies, nurturing the burn slowly, twisting the cigars around in the flame so they would cook evenly; men practiced at their art.
They sat back a moment, both becoming one with the sofa, sinking into it with growing relaxation. They sat one on either end, remaining silent a moment longer while they acquainted themselves to the fresh taste and aroma of a newly lit cigar; an unspoken agreement ever present between men of the leaf that all other business, no matter how important or inconsequential, must simply wait; must take it’s turn behind this ritual of introduction between virgin cigar and smoker. Soon the air around them hung heavy with smoke, the churning cloud whisps at the top lifting away slowly, begrudgingly, towards an old ceiling fan which hung above Quoquerdas’ desk across the shop.
Again, Miguel’s gaze turned back to the man’s face. He payed close attention to the eyes, trying to read the man’s thoughts. He failed.
“Tell me, Quoquerdas, what’s all this hoopla about, anyway?” He puffed his cigar, adding greatly to the heavy fog surrounding them. His eyes returned to the cigar clenched between his teeth, crossing slighly as he studied the beautiful wrapper leaf under his nose. “I can’t say I expected this kind of attention to my problem.”
“My worm problem. What else do you think?”
“Oh yes... of course. How silly of me to forget?” Quoquertas' eyes sparkled, and a playful smile revealed his gold tooth, which also sparkled. He returned to earth from his Cuban-tobacco-induced reverie, and brought himself forward on the edge of the couch. He turned his body sideways and faced Miguel to his left, crossing his legs. He waved his right hand in a gesture of dismissal, his cigar held cigarette style and leaving fluttering smoke trails between them as he spoke. “I want you to put that matter out of your mind. Please, just forget about the worms for now, okay? I’m sure, by the time our meeting here is over, you will come to see what an inconsequential matter it truly is.
"Before we continue, let me ask you something,” he said, changing the subject. “Do you have knowledge of your ancestry, Miguel? Do you even know from where your forefathers came?”
Because blood line was of primary importance as it concerned The Gift of the Grijalva Leaf, Quoquerdas always had a keen interest in identifying—as far as was possible—those sons who were directly descended from Hernando de Grijalva—the great Father of Progeny—yet were unknown to Quoquerdas himself.
There had been those, like Miguel, who were unidentified as kin to Quoquerdas and the rest of the Kin, and who did not know of their blood line, nor the significance of their heredity. Poor souls, thought Quoquerdas, they wander through life never aware of the awesome Gift that awaits them. All the men like Miguel, who had been found and welcomed, were questioned as such about their line of heredity. It benefited all to gather into their fold as many members as possible; for the unspeakable occasion where one day their numbers might dwindle to zero, giving rise to the death of the magic, concerned them.
Their numbers had grown and fallen throughout the centuries. But there had been a few times in their long history when a complete collapse in the Brotherhood had seemed imminent for failure to identify their kin. Yet, thankfully, they had always held on, if not by sheer luck alone, then certainly with the ethereal help of The Ones. The Ones did their protective best to secure and prolong the Gift, that which was their wont to give, to reward their champion of ages ago, Grijalva, by always and forever extending the gift to his sons descended there upon.
His close-set eyes burned with intensity as he furrowed his brow in anticipation of Miguel’s answer.
“Well, not really. I remember as far back as my Great Grandfather on my mother’s side, and only to my Grandfather on my father’s side, if it is the paternal lines you refer to. But none further back than that, and I don’t know very much at all about their history.”
“Do you know if your father’s line moved from another country? Surely you are not native to our lovely island here?” He already knew the answer to this, yet he wanted to probe the extent of Miguel’s interest and understanding.
“Hmm... I’m not sure on my father’s side, but I’m fairly certain that my mother’s ancestry hails from Mexico... as does Maria’s.”
“Ah yes... lovely Maria. I hope she is well. I will never forget her Arroz Con Pollo. Such magic!” Quoquerdas gazed up into the smoke, a far away expression upon his face; saw that heavenly plate of soulfully prepared chicken in his mind’s eye, that which had been served to him some years before. He pulled at his cigar. “Ahem... excuse me. So, tell me, Miguel, of your brothers and cousins, nephews?”
“My two brothers are dead. The idiots got caught up in the drug trade.” Miguel lowered his head a moment, recalling memories of their lives. A sadness appeared evident about his eyes. He instinctively brought the Montecristo to his lips, an adult pacifier to calm him before he continued. “I have a cousin, Juan, who lives in Cuba. And then there’s Diego." He hesitated. "No, no... wait. My God, that’s right! He died last year. Terrible car accident. I didn't know him well. So um, that’s it really. All of my uncles have passed away.”
Quoquerdas stroked the salt and pepper frizz of his goatee, “Hmm, I see. So much loss in your family, Miguel. I’m very sorry. Though, I should like to meet this Juan sometime, if ever he visits you again.”
A moment passed. “Never mind,” Quoquertas said, brushing the question aside. “It’s not important right now. What is important, as I can see by the look on your face, is that we right the wrongs done to you this day. I...”
“You mean the wrongs done to me the last few years!" Miguel interjected before the man could continue. "This isn't the first time I’ve been plagued with those stinking... what's that name? Lassoridrom... Litoridemer...” He broke off a moment, thinking, but a second later knew he’d never remember it. “You know, the worms. I shouldn't have to tell you this, about storing them and all. It’s the heat, man, where you keep them up on your shelf. That tends to...”
“Yes, yes, yes... I can see you are all very well versed, all up on your tobacco storage knowledge,” the old fox quipped haughtily. “That’s all very impressive, my friend, but such, ahem... heady subjects have no place here tonight.” His sarcasm scorched Miguel. “Let us move on.”
Quoquerdas paused a moment, seeing Miguel’s expression. He noted a shadow there, sensed the note of dejection, the man having been cut off and trifled like that, and unable to delve properly into his grievance. Quoquerdas’ judgement in character advised him to add something further; for he knew he must put the man at ease, must gain his trust if Miguel was to become open minded enough about the magic soon to be revealed to him, and certainly the revelation that he himself was to become the new Producer of that magic! “Really, Miguel, I can guarantee you that after this night, you will never fall into that sad state of affairs again. Not so long as you are my kin.
“Miguel, listen to me. You are as yet unaware, and I know this is all going to sound very strange indeed, but it has become apparent to me that you are part of something... well, something that's very special. Something wondrous beyond your wildest dreams.” Quoquerdas spoke with a mixture excitement, forcefulness, and delicacy. “It’s something precious to me and my... or should say ‘our’ kin, so I will not tolerate any flippancy with what I’m about to tell you. And, for God’s sake, not one word of what we are to speak of here tonight should be uttered outside this shop... or to anyone outside the Kinship. Understand this... and NEVER forget it!”
Fifteen minutes ago, when he had barged through the door with worm on his tongue, Miguel would not have himself tolerated such a tone as that last, or at least would have endeavored not to. But his mood had changed significantly since his fleeting experience with the Grijalva. Such was the uncanny, nearly spiritual, boost he’d got from that extraordinary cigar. He felt alive and fit, as if the mile and a half walk he’d completed was nothing more than a stroll across his living room. Just that short moment with the Grijalva, and a sense of rejuvenation and well-being had washed over him, as if the Golden Egg of Gaiety and Happiness had been cracked over his head letting an effusion of those qualities flow down upon him. He felt strangely uplifted.
He smiled pleasantly at his new buddy, Quoquerdas, puffing some more on his Montecristo. “That’s twice now you’ve mentioned ‘kin’. Is that why you asked about my ancestry? What is your meaning?”
“I mean just was I say.”
“Are you suggesting that we’re related?”
“That’s ridiculous. How could you even know such a thing... and all of a sudden like this?”
“I know because the Grijalva tells me so.”
“The Grijalva?” Miguel barked, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Ah, my son, the Grijalva’s powers are many.” Quoquerdas fully understood the delicate nature of the matter at hand. Trying to introduce one to the reality of an ancestral magic bequeathed through birthright was a tricky endeavor at best. This he’d come to realize over the years. It required a certain finesse and cunning to ease one’s mind into belief. There was a special touch involved with convincing a man to take The Box with him, to perform the procedure. And then, he thought, then all is made so plain. If only I could just show him.
Although, none where better suited for this task than Quoquerdas, which was precisely why he, among all the kin, had risen to become Overseer of The Gift.
But when the new Producer was someone outside the Brotherhood, which was not always, but was now the case, he still found difficulty in deciding how best to proceed. How best to enlighten him... my new young kin? he wondered. He’s a quirky sort, this one... so meek and straight laced. He smiled pleasantly at Miguel. He works hard, comes in here to buy his shitty cigars, yet finds enjoyment in them nonetheless. He puts up with me and my moods. He avoids the village rabble, stays away from the bars. He comes home to his beautiful Maria, and his boy, Pico, loves them fiercely... this I know. And why not? She is a beautiful woman. She cooks for him like a master chef, like he's a king, and his boy is healthy and strong. He’s a simple man, a contented man. He eyed Miguel with interest, continuing to smile. And I can respect that... hell, I might even envy him in a way. He stroked his goatee again, the habit ingrained in him through the long years. Not like his brothers, I can see. The drug trade, he’d said. Hmm, God knows I would have had an easier time with them.
He motioned to Miguel with his cigar, inviting the man to imitate him as he brought it back to his mouth, twisted it between his lips and drew heavily upon it. "How's that cigar, Miguel? Fresh from Cuba."
Miguel followed the tobacconist's lead, puffing on his cigar, which bought a moment’s more time for the merchant to contemplate. "I like it just fine. But I'd rather have a Grijalva... for sure!"
There is no one way to do it, Hector, Quoquertas continued pondering, You know that. For this one, I must tread lightly. I must ease him along. And if I have to, I will trick him. Indeed, after giving him The Box tonight... well, he’ll think he’s way ahead of the game, getting that priceless thing in return for a shitty bundle of cheap cigars. So I must stress the importance that he performs the procedure at least once before he gets any silly ideas about selling it. Just once, and don't I know how that silly notion will be swept away forever!
He removed the cigar from his mouth. He considered a moment more what tact he should take before he spoke again. “Tell me, Miguel, how did that Grijalva affect you?”
“I must tell you I’ve never tasted better.”
“Yes, I’m sure... but tell me, how did it make you feel?”
Miguel did a double take, then scratched his head. “Feel? Well, you know, it did have a peculiar effect on me, strangely enough. In fact, now that you mention it, it made me feel quite fine indeed! It was actually a little weird. It kind of... well, I seemed to forget all else around me that moment. Just me and that cigar. It made me feel warm... kind of like, I don’t know... embraced?” Listen to me, he though to himself, I sound like an idiot! But he could not refrain from speaking out like that, for the Grijalva did incur a powerful experience upon him.
“Indeed, kin, indeed! I know of just what you speak.”
“You do, eh? Well, I’ll tell you, I would have just one of those cigars in reparation for that whole bundle of worm sticks.”
“You shall have many more than just one, my dear boy. You shall have a lifetime of them!” Quoquerdas laughed joyously.
Miguel mistook the seriousness of that statement for one of jest upon the laugh, and laughed along with Quoquerdas, then densely replied “I’m sure I can’t afford them.” He though for a moment. “But why have I never seen them on your shelf?”
“Because they’re not for sale. They exist only for us, my cousin.”
“Alright, enough of this. I still have no idea why we’re sitting here together, chatting and smoking like old pals when I should be on my way back to Maria.” He scratched his head. “Listen, Quoquerdas, I truly appreciate the time you've taken with me in regards to this concern, and I’m grateful for this wonderful Montecristo you’ve shared with me, and that taste of the Grijalva, although I’m not sure why I wasn’t permitted to smoke it through... but anyway, can we finally bring this to a resolution? Will you, or will you not, refund or replace the bundle of worm sticks?”
“My dear boy, I see I have not thus far been successful in stoking your excitement. Allow me to get to the heart of the matter. I’m going to make you a generous offer here tonight, Miguel, one that will last you the rest of your life.” He paused a moment, studying Miguel’s face but finding only blankness within the expression. “Let me ask you: How would it strike you to be able to smoke Hernando de Grijalva cigars for the rest of your days? Eh?” His smile was grand, broad as mountain valley.
“I would like that very much, Quoquerdas... but as I told you before, I’m sure I can’t afford them, not cigars that good, no matter what kind of ‘special’ deal your prepared to give me. I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this. I’d be happy with a replacement bundle of my usual, if you would be so kind... or at least a refund.”
“You must listen to me, Miguel. Aye, yi yi... you’re not listening! I told you before that they are not for sale. They exist only for OUR pleasure.” At this, he scooted off the edge of the couch, putting his arm around Miguel’s shoulder. “Come, I want to show you something.”