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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/553047-The-Three-Kings
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #553047
Three young Texans visit Mexico on Christmas Eve, looking for adventure.
The Three Kings

"Damn Border country! When a Norther comes through, ya cain't decide whether it's a ice storm or a sand storm," grumbled Grady Cole as he slammed the door of the hunting cabin behind him. "Man, that two-holer was cold. Liked to have froze my whatzis off."

"Well, you were born lucky, Grady,” drawled John Allen Bozeman. "You ain;t got much of a whatzis to lose." He was cleaning a rifle and had spread out solvents and cloths on the rickety wooden table.

Martin Wheeler, scrooched down in his sleeping bag, complained. “Shut the damn door, Grady! You raised in a barn? It’s cold enough in here without you leavin’ the door open.”

“Ain’t my fault. We’d be in a nice motel on Christmas Eve if I’d had my druthers, instead of this, this...”

Words failed Grady as he gestured around the tiny shack which barely had room for three iron cots, the stove, the table and chairs, and their gear. A bare light bulb hanging from the rafters was the only twentieth-century artifact; otherwise the cabin was a throwback to the days of the cattle drives. A gust of wind shook the building, sending icy drafts through cracks in the unpainted wooden planks, their only protection from the wild night outside.

Grady set his jaw and stared at John Allen who stubbornly kept his eyes on the job at hand. Finally John Allen sighed, put down the cleaning rag and looked directly at Grady. “Now we all agreed that this would be best . . .” he began.

“Did not!” Grady was indignant. “No one said we was gonna stay out here in the brush for Christmas.”

"...for guys takin’ off on a huntin’ trip,” John Allen finished.

John Allen was used to challenges from Grady. Since childhood, he’d been the leader with Grady often bucking his decisions with Marty just happy to be trailing along. Despite a few boyhood scrapes, he’d kept them out of serious trouble with Marty's loyal support. He looked to Marty now, expecting the usual confirmation.

Marty, burrowed deeper into his sleeping bag and wouldn’t meet his eyes. Instead, he spoke to the rafters. “Well, Hell, John Allen, it is Christmas. Them deer'll hunker down in the brush tomorrow to keep out of the cold. We’d be wastin’ our time tryin’ to hunt. . . .”

"Hah!,” crowed Grady. “Marty don’t wanna stay here neither.”

John Allen looked from one to another and knew he’d been had. Marty and Grady had planned their attack beforehand. Like any good general, John Allen knew when it was time to retreat.

“So where y’all want to go? Back to San Antonio? Even if it wasn’t more'n a hundred miles off, it ain't a good . . .”

“Honky tonkin' in Nuevo Laredo.” Both young men chorused.

“They got some little honeys there, and I'm gonna get me one," Grady sang to the tune of "Kansas City."

"Sides, John Allen, there's some ‘dears’ there in Boys Town we can hunt up,” said Marty, leaping out of his sleeping bag to reveal that he was fully clothed with his boots on.

“All right,” laughed John Allen. “I know when I’m licked. We’ll go.”

“What’ll we do with our stuff--our money and guns and all? Think we ought to take it with us?” Grady mused out loud.

“Yeah,” said Marty, suddenly anxious. “This shack probably looks like heaven to a wetback walkin’ through the brush on a night like tonight.”

The memory of the hunting shack’s appearance when they’d arrived sobered them. The room showed signs of a recent stay by Mexicans on their way to the cities of El Norte. Even in this seemingly deserted country you couldn't be too careful. Anything they left behind was liable to be gone when got back.

“Shoot. We’ll have to take it all in the camper.” John Allen was back in control.

“What about the guns? Them Mexican Federales take a dim view of folks goin’ cross the border with guns,” said Marty.

“Hell, Marty! Don’t be a scairdy-cat,” jeered Grady. “It’s Christmas. The border control will be drunk and lookin’ to go home themselves. They don’t ever check cars goin’ across the border to Boys Town nohow. We been stuck here for a week without nothin’ to do but sit on our butts in a deer blind. Let’s get outta this here dump. We’re gonna howl tonight!”

He howled like a coyote at the moon.

“OK,” said John Allen. “Last one packed and in the pick-up buys the first round of Tequila and beer.”

"Shotgun! I got dibs on shotgun!” shouted Marty.

“Like Hell!" said Grady. You cain’t call shotgun ‘til you’re outside, ready to go. That’s the rule!”

“Can too. What rule? Who says you got to be...”

John Allen sighed and tuned out the same old argument. Sometimes it seemed like he spent all his time trying to keep Grady and Marty out of trouble. They were still a couple of kids, playing, while he tried to shoulder the responsibilities of a man.

He hoped he'd made the right decision about going to Laredo. They’d needed a break away from their usual haunts, and the hunting trip had seemed like a good idea. Oh well, he thought and grinned, no sense worrying about it on Christmas Eve. Boys Town was in for trouble tonight . . .
. . . .
During the ride to Laredo they passed a bottle back and forth, singing old songs and getting drunk. At the Rio Grande bridge, John Allen’s friendly greeting, “Buenos noches. Vamos solamente a Boys Town,” got them past the Mexican border control. The bored khaki-uniformed Mexican officer, having heard it from thousands of men and boys over the years, waved them on without a break in the forward motion of their pick-up.

They rolled down the main drag of Nuevo Laredo among a throng of Mexicans returning from across the border. There weren’t many Anglos. Nuevo Laredo wasn’t big on gringo tourists on Christmas Eve.

It was after midnight when they finally hit the outskirts and the unpaved road to Boys Town. The Norther had brought rain with it. The gray caliche road was slick and full of deep potholes containing a viscous liquid whose origins didn’t bear thinking about. They splashed, bounced and slid through muck that would have daunted anyone without a pickup or four-wheel drive--or a full set of horns---but the blazing glow of garish neon signs lit up the night ahead of them, beckoning them on.

“Thar she is, boys! Disneyland West! Eeyaahhhh!” Grady screamed his version of a rebel yell.

Grady tended to be loud when excited or drunk. John Allen figured Grady was two for two at this point, and they weren’t even at the whorehouses yet. It looked like he'd have to play nursemaid again to keep Grady out of trouble.

“God damn it, Grady! Will you cut that out? You’re right in my ear, fool!” Marty was pissed. Big, genial, and reliable, Marty was the quiet one of the group and never said much. When he talked, it meant something.

“Well, excuuuuse me, hoss! I thought we was goin’ to howl tonight!”

“Just do your howlin’ in somebody else’s ear for awhile, or you’ll be gettin’ more of me than you’d ever want.”

“Listen up,” said John Allen. “We don’t need no problems down here. Howl all you want, but don’t get no one riled, OK? Mexican jails ain’t no fun.”

“Hey, Man, no problem! Just tryin’ to get myself worked up into a good mood.” Grady chuckled softly to himself.

The pickup jounced through the potholes and eventually came to the wall around the three acres of hell known as Boys Town. The cinder block wall was over ten feet high and had broken bottles set into a cap of concrete at the top. Since Boys Town was open to anyone who wanted in, it dawned on John Allen that the wall was there to keep people in. People who needed a fast way out.

A guard hut, much like those at private sub-divisions in the States, stood sentinel at the gate entrance. Another bored policeman waved them through. On their right, , was a small police office with a couple of barred cells attached. The cells were open to the weather, and the views of passing cars. Several tired-looking whores, spending a merry Christmas in the calabozo for God knew what crimes, peered back at them through the bars, calling out raucous epithets in Spanish and broken English as they drove by.

At the first intersection, above the entrance to the club on the corner, a huge neon sign flashed--Pappagalllo--identifying the largest of the fifty or so clubs in Boys Town with its own high wall that enclosed a flagstone parking lot. Many patrons considered it the best club because it had the most girls and a lot of flash. Tonight, however, though neon lights still lit up the night, the iron-work gate was closed. John Allen drove over anyway and stopped outside the gate. Grady jumped out and peered through the bars, then turned to his friends and shook his head.

“Damn place is closed," he called out, clearly disappointed.

On the corner, near a taco stand, three men stood around a blazing fire of mesquite wood that sent sparks like a thousand fireflies flying up into the cold and clear night sky. A Mexican in his twenties left his spot next to the fire and approached Grady, gesturing negatively with his hands. He wore a very light jacket despite the bitter wind and cold.

“No open tonight. Ees closed.” He smiled ingratiatingly.

“Shoot! I was hopin’ to see that little filly Maria that was here last time,” said Grady. “You know Maria?” he asked the Mexican.

The Mexican shook his head in bewilderment, obviously not knowing whether to laugh or shoot the gringo for making fun of him. There were at least a hundred Marias working the clubs of Boys Town.

Grady realized his predicament. “Maria Elena De La Cruz,” he amended. “That last name help any?”

The Mexican recognized the name and realized Grady was serious. His eyes lit up. He earned tips from the girls and bartenders for customers he steered into a club. Finally, there was a chance that some money was to be made on this cold and bleak Christmas eve.

“Ah, Si! Maria de la Cruz! I take you to her. She no work here no more. She at the Club Estrellita Blanca. Ees enceinte. Entiendes? You unnerstand?”

“Nah! I don’t speak Mex.” Grady walked over to the pickup and leaned in the window. “This wise guy says Pappagallo's is closed. But he can take me to that girl I told you about. She don’t work here no more. What do you guys want to do.”

“Hell, I don’t care, Grady.” John Allen was resigned to a long evening. “This is y’all’s party.”

“Don’t matter to me, neither, Grady. Let’s just get on with it.” Marty was ready to start the ball rolling.

The Mexican realized the discussion was going his way. He started walking down the rutted street, looking back over his shoulder and gesturing for them to follow. Grady got in and John Allen drove slowly after the Mexican who'd put his head down into the biting north wind. They cruised along the wall of the Pappagallo and around the corner into a back street. Here the bright lights of the main intersection quickly gave over to a pot-holed street and dark shuttered buildings. It was obvious that Christmas Eve was not a paying proposition for whorehouses. Most of them were closed. In the distance at the far end of the street, however, a blinking sign--white light bulbs outlined the shape of a star-- beckoned a welcome to the Club Estrellita Blanca.

They pulled up in front and looked around. A khaki-uniformed Rurale whose policeman’s hat had a “forty-mission” look appeared magically from nowhere and stood with a flashlight at the driver’s door, ready to serve as a parking attendant. It was a little unnerving to see a parking attendant with a .357 magnum in a cartridge-filled belt stretched around his fat waist.

“Momentito, Senor,” John Allen said politely to the Rurale. “What do you guys think? Want to leave the guns in the camper?” He didn’t want to show the guns by taking them inside, but the area was poorly lit and desolate.

“Man, I don’t know,” said Marty. “This place ain’t like the Pappagallo. I wouldn’t mind leaving ‘em in the truck in the parking lot over there, but here...?” His face betrayed some nervousness in the glaring white light from the blinking sign.

The young Mexican came over, anxious to help. He recognized the problem from long experience. The gringos needed reassurance about the safety of their car and possessions.

“Ees OK. He watch you car for you. You give him some money. Ver’ safe.” He nodded vigorously.

“Hell, let’s go for it,” said Grady. “Leave the rifles and shot guns in the truck--but I’m keepin’ my pistol and all my money out of sight.” He patted his parka.

"Got that right," said Marty. John Allen nodded.

Grady got out of the truck, and walked inside the door, now being held open by the young Mexican guide. Marty and John Allen looked at each other, then shrugged, and got out of the car. John Allen dickered with the parking attendant for the proper payment while Marty shivered in the wind, looking on.

The first thing Grady noticed when he got inside was Christmas decorations. A straggly Christmas tree with a string of old-style bubble lights on the tree sat next to an old Rockola jukebox with garish neon lighting. Someone had started to trim the tree with silver icicles and gold bunting, but stopped after completing one side, giving it an odd, off-balance look. Plastic holly wreaths were scattered around the walls near electric plugs and tiny red lights winked on and off from within them like blinking red berries.

The long bar was to his right with a big mirror in back outlined in strings of Christmas lights. The front of the bar was made of glass bricks that had pink neon behind them, giving the room a pale pink glow. A concrete floor, painted with chipping blue paint, completed the decor. White tin tables and chairs, advertising “Carta Blanca-Cerveza Mas Fina.” in red and green painted logos, surrounded a bare central area to create a “dance floor.”

Grady surveyed the room from just inside the door. His guide had already set up at the bar, draped on a bar stool with an expectant grin showing white teeth beneath his skinny mustache. The bartender made a swipe at the bar with a dirty rag, waving him over, hollering, “Come in, Senor. Come in. What you wan'? Cerveza? Tequila? Whiskey? First class. We got it all. First Class.”

Grady’s innocent blue eyes took in a table full of whores near the sorry Christmas tree. They wore their best finery, as though they were at a Christmas prom, but the tawdry satin and taffeta gowns were too tight for their chubby bodies, cut too low in front and worn too short for the desired air of elegance.

He ignored them for the present and carefully eyed the only other occupied table in the room near the Rockola. Two huge Anglos sat by themselves, staring down morosely into their drinks. Observing their worn jeans, snap-button shirts, and scuffed boots, he decided they were cowhands from one of the South Texas ranches. They briefly looked up at Grady--dismissed him--and went back to their drinks. The place was dead. Too dead for Grady Parham when he wanted to party.

Grady hunched his shoulders and swaggered over to the bar, humming a little tune. He returned the bartender’s hopeful smile. It was a slow night for all the employees of La Estrellita Blanca. Grady aimed to change all that.

Tres tequilas, amigo. Dobles! Y tres cervezas!

Immediatemente,Senor!” The bartender started pouring with a flourish.

Over by the Christmas tree, a restless rustle of taffeta similar to the raspy sound of a mildly disturbed snake den indicated the senoritas recognized the arrival of a live 'mark.' One of the girls went over to the Rockola, and soon the sound of Sam the Sham, belting out “Wooly Bully,” filled the room with Christmas cheer.

The guide came over and whined into Grady's ear. “You wan’ to talk or dance with f the senoritas? Muy bonitas! ver' pretty.”

“Not yet, Amigo. I'm waitin’ for my friends.” He smiled. The Mexican smiled back.

Grady grabbed his tequila and turned his back to the bar, hooking his boot heel over the brass rail at the bottom. The perfect picture of a man of the world, he thought, as he surveyed all he could master. John Allen and Marty had yet to make an appearance at the door. Apparently they were still checking out the stuff in the camper and making a deal with the parking guy. Grady knew he had to judge his timing real close. Just after he threw down his double tequila, he spotted the shadow of John Allen on the frosted glass door. Perfect. He rapped out a challenge in the general direction of the two cowboys.

“My buddies comin’ through that door there can whip the shit out of anyone in this place.”

The flat statement echoed in the bare concrete room.

It took only a second for Grady's remark to burn through the alcoholic stupor of the cowboys. They jumped to their feet just as John Allen and Marty entered the bar. The screech of their tin chairs scraping back on the bare concrete made John Allen and Marty temporarily halt their pilgrimage toward the bar and turn to the sound. They were met by the sight of two rawhide-tough, very drunk cowhands heading their way with fire in their eyes. John Allen and Marty gaped, knowing they’d walked into a jackpot without knowing why.

Que habla? Que pasa?” screamed the astounded guide. Being truly bi-lingual, he was able to realize what Grady’d said—and what he’d started. He grabbed Grady by the arm, but was shook off like a bad idea. Falling to the floor, he hissed at Grady, “Maricon! Pendejo!

Ordinarily, Grady didn't tolerate name calling by Mexicans, but tonight he was drunkenly tolerant. Hell, he supposed the guy was entitled--since he was responsible for bring them here.

The bartender didn’t have a clue to what was going on, but from long experience recognized Texans on the prod with mayhem on their mind. He ducked behind the bar. Grady decided he’d better keep an eye on the bartender to make sure nothing serious happened. He didn’t want him coming up from behind the bar with anything more dangerous than a club.

He took a quick glance to see how his pardners were doing. He was proud of them, by God! The wild bull-rush of the cowboys had thrown Marty and John Allen back against the wall. Shock and surprise made them easy targets for some pummeling until they started to get their legs under them. Now Marty and John Allen began to hold their own against the bigger, but drunker, cowboys.

The whores had begun screaming when the cowboys suddenly surged up, recognizing what was coming, even if they didn’t know the why of it. Now two of them got up on the table to see better, and the sound of them jumping up and down on the tin tabletop gave a nice ‘boing, boing’ counterpoint to Wooly Bully.

The Rurale came in, took a quick look, and scurried back out the door. Grady decided things were starting to liven up.

“EEEYAAAAA!" he howled. "Y’all whip those two, John Allen, and I’ll go find a couple more." Then he jumped up on the bar so he’d be out of the way and still have a good view of the fight.


Bartender! Dos mas tequilas! My buddies are a little busy, so I’m gonna drink theirs.” He downed the two double shots that were sitting on the bar.

Bar fights are always too short, mused Grady, admiring the battling contenders. If a sucker-punch don't finish them immediately, they usually wind up with a lot of wrestling without many punches thrown. Ain't nobody in good enough shape to really fight for more than a minute or two at the most.

This fight was no exception. In fact, it was shorter than most, since the cowboys were drunk to start with. In short order both sides stood glaring at each other, chests heaving, but most of the fight out of them. Marty’s shirt was torn, and one of the cowboys had a split lip where John Allen had head-butted him, but there were no permanent injuries.

Grady took charge. He walked over and grabbed hold of the befuddled cowboys around their shoulders.

“Hell, boys, I reckon I was mistaken. Don’t look to me like my buddies can whip cream.” His patter was designed to keep the cowboy’s limited attention span on him. “Here, lemme buy you boys a drink. My name is Grady Parham. We just come down from a huntin’ lease up on the Nueces, lookin’ for a little Christmas cheer.”

The bewildered cowboys, stupefied by drink and the unctuous babble of Grady’s voice, were ushered over to the bar by the smiling Grady. The bartender’s head came up over the bar, and he peered around, looking for the storm that had only lately struck his bar. His face mirrored his amazement when he saw Grady arm-in-arm with the cowboys. The whores, similarly amazed, had cut their screams off in mid-note. Their faces mirrored their thoughts: loco gringos! Quien sabe what they'd do next?

“Bartender! Set ‘em up for my friends, on me. Their money’s no good tonight” Grady dusted off the hat of one cowboy which had fallen to the floor. He patted their backs, seemingly artless, but all the while his hands moved over their bodies, carefully checking for hide-out knives or guns. Grady was a clown but not a fool. “You guys OK? Not hurt bad or anything?”

“I reckon not,” said the freckled red-head with a dubious look back toward his erstwhile foes. “Name’s Red, and that’s Duane.”

“Pleased to meet ya! You guys pack quite a punch.”

Grady glanced back over his shoulder to check out John Allen and Marty. John Allen was helping Marty tuck his torn shirt in, and silently mouthed at him, “What’s going on?” which Grady blithely ignored. He gestured expansively over to his friends.

“John Allen! Marty! Come on over here and meet Red and Duane.” Speaking to the cowboys, he added apologetically, “They’re a little shy right now. Don’t take no notice and in a little while they’ll introduce themselves.”

“Grady. Can I see you a minute? Now!” There was no give in John Allen’s voice.

Clapping his new friends on the shoulder, Grady swept up the two tequilas that the bartender had re-poured and marched over to John Allen and Marty.

“Here you go, guys. Where the Hell y’all been? I’m already on my third...”

John Allen leveled Grady with one punch to the chin. From the floor, Grady shook his head, slightly stunned, and looked up in injured innocence from a puddle of spilled tequila.

“Now, why’d you go and do that for?”

“I don’t know how you did it, Grady, but you’re responsible for that little fracas.”

“Just tryin’ to liven the place up a little, John Allen.” He grinned. “Looked like a morgue in here when I walked in.”

“Dammit, Grady, you got to grow up. We don’t need to be drawin' any attention down here” Seeing Grady beaming up at him angelically, he finished lamely. “Ah, the hell with ya.”

John Allen limped over to the bar, followed by a silent, but angry Marty. Grady got up and followed them over to the bar. Now that he’d had his fun, he was ready to follow John Allen’s lead.

****
After a few drinks, a new spirit of comraderie arose between the erstwhile foes since they shared the lonliness of Christmas in a foreign land. The young Mexican guide, judging the moment to be right, sidled over to John Allen. His manner suggested he wanted to talk, and he recognized the responsible 'jefe' of the trio.

“Senor? Your fran?” He pointed toward Marty who was busily sucking down a Carta Blanca after the dust-up. “Hees pistola drop out of hees jacket. Ver’ bad, if la policia know you got guns. Sabes?

He pulled Marty’s pistol out of his own worn jacket and furtively passed it to John Allen. John Allen covered the pistol with his coat and nudged Marty. When Marty turned around, John Allen put his finger to his lips for silence and slipped the gun back into Marty’s pocket.

“Oh, shoot!” gasped Marty.

“No harm done, I reckon. Amigo, here...," he nodded at the Mexican, "...picked it up and brought it over. Gracias, Amigo,” he said, smiling at the young guide. He slipped him a bill.

De nada, Senor. Mi nombre, my name, ees Pastor. You want to talk to some girls, now?”

John Allen noticed that the whores had calmed down and were preening in their chairs by the Christmas tree. A skinny one in a blue dress winked at him, all the while chewing gum and shaking her right leg which was crossed over her other knee. Either she was on speed, he thought, or she showed some physical skills and motor dexterity that might be handy later.

“Sure. That’s what we’re here for.”

He smiled back at the girl, and she immediately got up and walked over to his side. Her companions followed, swooping down on Marty and Grady like brightly colored birds of prey.

John Allen soon lost track because he found himself looking into luminous dark eyes set in a heart-shaped face framed by lustrous long black hair. She was young--had to be in her teens--and even in her garish outfit and overly made up, she was very pretty. She looked up at him because she had to be no more than five feet tall, and he was over six feet without his boots.

“You buy me one drink, honee?”

“You bet, darlin’. What’er you havin’?”

“He knows.” She motioned to the bartender who had already started pouring an amber colored liquid. When he slid it over the bar, she picked it up along with a small plastic token. Then she reached up to put it to John Allen’s lips. He knew the gesture was to reassure him that she was really getting booze, but he didn’t care. Besides, he doubted he’d like it. He shook his head.

“Taste!” She insisted.

He gave in. It was Presidente brandy. Not bad, but not what he wanted to drink all night. What he wanted all night was this girl beside him. She was a pretty little thing.

“What’s your name, darlin’?”

“Rosilla. It means the little rose.”

“Mine is John Allen.”

She ran her hand through his curly hair. ”Guero. Blondie. Y muy guapo!

This last was directed at one of the girls surrounding Marty and Grady who laughed and said something back in rapid Spanish that John Allen couldn’t follow. He vowed to learn some more Spanish. Maybe this girl could be a “talking pillow” and teach him.

“Hey, John Allen. They really do know Maria Elena. And what Pastor here was tryin’ to tell me earlier was that she was pregnant. She just had a baby tonight in her room in the back of this crummy place. Ain’t that somethin’?”

“Not unusual,” said Marty. “These folks have most of their kids at home. No money. No place else to go. But this baby was really born in a crib,” he laughed loudly. Marty was getting drunk.

“You wan’ see the little baybee?” asked Rosilla. “She name him Jesus because he born on La Navidad.”

John Allen really didn’t want to, but Grady was gettin’ maudlin drunk. Soon, it wouldn’t do but for everyone--including the whores, the bartender, Pastor, the cowboys and his bunch—to troop to the little room off the patio in the back to see the new baby.

The room was about what he’d expected. A tiny cubicle of blue-painted concrete blocks containing a small upright chest and a bed. Cheap clothes of every variety hung on a wire across the back wall. There were no toilet facilities. A large tin pan of water provided both customer prep and after business douching. A crucifix was attached to the wall over the bed. John Allen thought it was strange to have a religious symbol there. But maybe not. Probably He was needed in a place like the Estrellita Blanca most of all.

John Allen wasn’t much on new-born babies--they all looked like wizened monkeys to him. But all the whores cooed and cried, so he pretended to admire the baby too. The mother had a glow about her that all new mothers have, and he wondered how she managed that in a run-down bordello in Boys Town. The miracle of birth, he guessed. She looked up from nursing the baby and smiled tiredly at John Allen.

“Let’s take up a collection for the little feller,” he blurted out. Much to his own surprise, he found himself pulling his roll out of his pocket and peeling off hundred dollar bills onto the worn pink chenille bedspread. Grady and Marty followed his lead and soon, the cowboys, the whores and everyone crammed into the crib were raining bills down on the astonished mother and sleeping child..
****
The group returned to the barroom and ended the party sometime in the wee hours. John Allen’s last memory of it was of Marty and the cowboys trying to teach sobbing whores how to sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

Finally Rosilla pulled him aside. “Baybee, let’s go to my room.” She smiled up at him and waited.

“How much for all night?” He realized there wasn’t much night left, so he amended, “For a long time.”

“I give you me for free, un regalito, how you say ‘present’ for La Navidad--but you have to pay for the room.”

“Well, Merry Damn Christmas,” he said.

John Allen hadn’t really wanted to come down to Nuevo Laredo on this trip. Deep down in his bones, he’d felt it might be dangerous. But now he was glad that he had. He knew there was nothing real about this, but tonight he had a pretty girl who wanted to go to bed with him, and it didn’t matter that it was her business on three hundred and sixty four days of the year.

She put her arms around his waist, then pulled back slightly when she felt the gun and holster in the small of his back through his heavy coat. Then she hugged him even closer. He shrugged, and was humming, “Bearing gifts, we came from afar...” as she led him to her room.
****
John Allen woke up sneezing. Rosilla laughed and tried to hide the feather she’d been using to tickle his nose behind her back. He tried to get it from her and she rolled over, pulling him down onto her. He never got around to finding the feather.

The next time he awakened, it was full daylight. He had a raging thirst and a splitting headache. Tequila and beer! Shit, he knew better. He lay there without moving, looking at a spidery network of cracks in the ceiling of Rosilla’s crib. Rosilla! He started up and found her looking at him with those big doe eyes.

Feliz Navidad, John Allen.” She rolled the sounds of his name around on her tongue in apparent wonder. He had a feeling she’d never called any client by name before. At least, not afterward.

Feliz Navidad, Rosilla.” He matched her, magic for magic.

“You a ver’ bad man, John Allen,” she chided him and mockingly shook her finger at him. “I never do that before.”

“Seemed like you enjoyed it...for the first time, I mean.” He grinned, and finally she couldn’t keep the mock stern expression on her face. She broke down and grinned back.

Claro que si!” she exclaimed in agreement, then amended. “But I never do it for free before.”

He couldn’t hold back and laughed aloud. It was an infectious laugh and she joined in. John Allen thought this might be the best Christmas he’d spent in a long time.

Suddenly, from the hallway, he heard the familiar snick of a round being chambered in a gun. He rose silently up from the bed and reached for the gun on the bureau in one smooth motion. She looked at him, questioning his movement, and he held a finger up to his lips to warn her to be quiet. The door burst open. . .

****


Crime Spree Ends in Nuevo Laredo Gunfight


Special to the Houston Chronicle by Mary Hart.
Laredo (AP) Dec. 25th. (/b}

Three young Texans accused of a crime spree in bank robberies across Texas were gunned down today by the Mexican Judicial Police. The gunfight in the notorious red-light district of Nuevo Laredo left four police dead and three wounded.

A woman bystander, Rosilla Martinez, is in critical condition, and not expected to live. Reported killed by the Judicial Police were Grady Parham, 23; Martin Wheeler, 24; and John Allen Bozeman, 24, all of Iona, Texas. The FBI and Texas Rangers notified the Mexican Judicial Police that the trio might be heading for Mexico. The Mexican police were tipped by an unknown informant that one of the trio was spotted carrying a pistol in the bar.

The three men, known as the Gentlemen Bandits because of their polite demeanor during their brazen daylight robberies, never committed any violence on bank customers or personnel. However, law enforcement officers warned the Mexican authorities that the gang was considered to be armed and dangerous. According to Sheriff Lon Hitzfelder of La Vaca County, Parham was reported to have told his younger brother: “We aim to go out in a blaze of glory like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

None of the robbery money has been recovered. The FBI refused comment, but is rumored to be in search of a local Nuevo Laredo woman, Maria de la Cruz, to talk to her about a rumor that the men stashed their money with her. She and her baby have not been located at press time.




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